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A Day in the Life of a Writer Who Also Teaches

For those of us who write novels, at least from my perspective, it’s important to live in the world of the novel with some degree of consistency while the writing is underway. Leaving the writing for stretches of time makes it hard to sustain the momentum that writing long form narratives requires. When you teach, as I do, and when you relish the challenge of teaching young writers how to improve their craft, and when you get addicted to the verve and energy the writing workshop creates, it can become a delicate negotiation between the time spent on the two [...]

By |2019-10-07T07:24:11-04:00October 7th, 2019|Blog, Uncategorized|2 Comments

Two Stories at Once: Finding the Resonant Truths

Technique? I can teach that in a writing workshop. What’s tougher to teach—really, I can only extend an invitation—is the ability to think and to feel in terms of opposites, to know, as Thomas Mann said, “A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth.” If you’re paying attention, life will teach you that. My father was a gruff man, a man of temper. During my rebellious teenage years, we clashed. We said vile things. Sometimes we shoved at each other. My kind and timid mother endured it all. She didn’t deserve the ugliness we brought into [...]

By |2019-09-30T07:27:10-04:00September 30th, 2019|Blog|6 Comments

What Were They Thinking?

As fiction writers, we make decisions about how close we want the reader to be to our main characters’ thoughts. Sometimes the point of view is very distant as it is when we’re reporting our characters’ actions or their histories or describing their landscapes. Take, for example, the opening lines of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”: The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. . . . The American and the girl with him [...]

By |2019-09-16T07:12:15-04:00September 16th, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

A Teacher Who Took the Time

This week I re-watched the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, because I wanted to see my former teacher, Lucy Gabbard, the woman who had such an effect on me when I was first an undergraduate and then a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University. She’s billed as “Flat Tire Lady” in this film because she’s one of the women in need of assistance when a tire goes flat and Bill Murray comes to the rescue. She has a line of dialogue in a later scene when she thanks Murray at a community gathering. Just to see her sweet smile and [...]

By |2019-09-02T08:06:21-04:00September 2nd, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

Courage, Confidence, Curiosity: Writing the First Draft

My neighbor, Uwe, likes to walk. I mean, really walk. Five, seven, ten miles—it’s nothing for him, and he’s a little shy of 75 years old. Sometimes he’s on the treadmill next to mine at the local YMCA where I run five miles every other day, but I know he likes to get out on the trails at a nearby park and nature preserve. Another neighbor, Tim, often accompanies him on Sunday mornings. So last night, at a backyard gathering, Uwe confirmed that Tim would indeed join him this morning. Then Uwe asked me if I’d like to come along. [...]

By |2019-08-26T07:47:39-04:00August 26th, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

Being Good Stewards of Our Gifts: Advice for Writers and the Writing We Do

I just got back from Vermont yesterday, which explains the lateness of this weekly post. I was teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference along with many of my favorite colleagues. (By the way, this conference, at least to my way of thinking, is one of the very best.) This morning, one of those colleagues, Dinty Moore, posted this quote from Jane Kenyon: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as [...]

By |2019-08-19T12:29:46-04:00August 19th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

“Whatcha Doin’?”: Surviving a Writer’s Dry Season

I came back from teaching in the Miami of Ohio low-residency MFA program yesterday and found we’re still in the middle of a dry season here in Columbus. The lawns are brown and crunchy, and, truth be told, it depresses me to see them that way. Even those who are watering, or have irrigation systems, are having a hard time keeping up. The landscape makes me think of things ending, and not in that pretty, crisp-air, autumn sort of way. This dryness calls to mind a dormant land and a fallow period, one that suggests that things just might not [...]

By |2019-08-05T07:23:59-04:00August 5th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Teaching and Revising

I’m leading a fiction workshop this week—a good warmup for another academic year about to begin—and it occurs to me that the way I approach the discussion about a manuscript may offer a useful scheme for those interested in strategies for revising a first draft. My custom is to first consider—and to invite my workshop participants to consider—what the draft seems to be interested in.  What are its obsessions? To what does it devote the most space? What lies at its heart? Answering such questions inevitability leads to an articulation of the center of the piece. Such intimate knowledge is [...]

By |2019-07-29T08:51:10-04:00July 29th, 2019|Blog|4 Comments

Hot Enough?: Practicing Subtext in Dialogue

We’re having a heat wave. Temps in the mid-nineties. Heat indices well over a hundred. Cathy and I went out yesterday afternoon to do some shopping, and the volume of traffic was noticeably lower. The stores were a bit emptier. There was no waiting for a table at one of our favorite restaurants. If a city this size could ever seem like a ghost town, it came close yesterday. The malaise of a hot day in summer always reminds me of the scene in The Great Gatsby when Tom and Daisy and Nick and Jordan decide to drive into New [...]

By |2019-07-22T08:18:40-04:00July 22nd, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

The Variation in the Habitual: Creating Scenes

We’ve hit a stretch of hot, dry days here in central Ohio, each day like the one before it. The grass is brown, the trees are dropping their leaves, the sun blazes. I long for a variation in the pattern, something out of the ordinary, something to make me say, “Ah, here’s something different.” Such is the lifeblood of scenes in a narrative. A good scene depends upon such dissimilarity. Otherwise, why have a scene at all. A character’s actions or words demand dramatization. We have to dramatize because something extraordinary has happened. This doesn’t mean some grand event like [...]

By |2019-07-15T08:05:15-04:00July 15th, 2019|Blog|3 Comments