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The Best Days: Deepening Stories with the Ordinary

Yesterday, a Saturday, I worked out while Cathy slept in, and later we went out for breakfast. It was a beautiful October day here in the Midwest—sunny and warm—and we’d talked about going down to Circleville for the Pumpkin Show, but Cathy had gotten home late the night before after a week in Illinois for her work, and we were content to stay close to home and let the day come to us. Which is how we found ourselves in a mattress store lying on a number of beds while other customers passed by, and we all pretended it wasn’t [...]

By | 2017-10-25T12:27:30+00:00 October 23rd, 2017|Blog|4 Comments

Making Stories Matter in Creative Nonfiction

I could tell you a story, as I do in my essay, “Bastards,” about the night a young man opened the back door to our house and stepped inside while my mother was washing dishes. I could recall, fact by fact, what happened next. The relevant question for those of us who write creative nonfiction is one of why I’ve decided this is a story worth telling. It’s our nature to tell stories, and we have a number of them at our disposal. When we write, we usually choose to tell the ones that have left us mystified or unsettled [...]

By | 2017-10-17T21:50:24+00:00 October 9th, 2017|Blog|14 Comments

Leaving the Retreat: Keep Doing the Good Work

I’ve just come home from the Antioch Writers’ Workshop Fall Retreat, where today I listened to writers talk about how important it is for them to find the time to do what makes them happy—moving words about on the page. I’ve been among folks who enjoyed the gift of time this weekend. They made significant progress with their projects. They had the benefit of being with folks of like mind, folks who understand the passion for the written word as well as the frustrations that are par for the course for anyone who makes writing a life choice. One of [...]

By | 2017-10-17T21:47:48+00:00 October 2nd, 2017|Blog|8 Comments

Facing the Blank Page: The Courage It Takes to Write

We’re one week away from the official publication date for my new craft book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, so I thought I’d post the acknowledgment page from the book along with a selection from “The Writing Life” section that pays tribute to my mother and to all she unknowingly taught me about what it takes to courageously face the blank page. First, the acknowledgment page: My fourth grade teacher once told me I had no imagination. I’ve never forgotten. This is a book for all those who dare to dream and to devote themselves [...]

By | 2017-09-25T06:46:11+00:00 September 25th, 2017|Blog|6 Comments

Telling Stories: Writing about Writing

We’re two weeks away from the official publication date for my craft book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, something I never could have seen coming when I started this blog way back when. Before this blog, I’d never done much writing about writing. Instead, I’d done a good bit of talking about writing around the workshop table. At first, I didn’t want to do this blog. My web designer had to convince me it was necessary to draw traffic to my author site. I’m glad I listened. I was hesitant because I felt that time [...]

By | 2017-09-18T07:39:15+00:00 September 18th, 2017|Blog|10 Comments

Moving Forward: Stella the Cat Gives Writers Advice

Last week, Cathy and I went to our local humane society and adopted a cat, an eight month-old orange tabby we named Stella. As we understand it, female orange tabby cats are rare, so Stella is special indeed for all sorts of reasons. Our poems, stories, essays, novels, memoirs are all special as well, marked by how unique they are, coming as they do from our own particular visions and styles. In other words, the things we write are special because they can only come from us. Give everyone a single premise, for example, and invite them to put it [...]

By | 2017-09-11T08:02:57+00:00 September 11th, 2017|Blog|6 Comments

Bad Parental Advice for Future Writers

When I was a boy on our farm in southeastern Illinois, my parents had a telephone that was on a party line, which meant that if a small boy chose, as this one did, to pick up the phone from time to time, he might be able to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. My grandmother caught me one day and made it clear that I was a very bad boy to listen in on what our neighbors were saying. My mother reinforced this when she told me that eavesdropping was something polite people just didn’t do. It strikes me now [...]

By | 2017-09-04T09:12:54+00:00 September 4th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments

Compression and Expansion in the Short Story

I heard Hilma Wolitzer say once that writing a novel was easy; you just brought in all the family. Her point was that the form of the novel invites a larger world than that of the short story. The novel makes room for a large cast of characters and events as well as a broad stretch of time. This isn’t to say that the novel always expands, nor is this to say that the short story always restricts. I do, believe, though, that the short story often depends on compression for its power. And yet, the short story must be [...]

By | 2017-08-28T07:31:15+00:00 August 28th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments

Another School Year: Fail Better

Autumn Semester classes get underway this week at Ohio State University, and as they do, I’ll enter my thirty-sixth year of teaching. I know I’ve written about this before, but two stories bear repeating. My mother taught elementary school for thirty-eight years. She found plenty to keep her busy in her retirement. She helped my father on the farm, she worked as a housekeeper and laundress at a local nursing home, she tutored students who needed extra help with their lessons. Then the day came when she stopped working at the nursing home, and my father died, and I moved [...]

By | 2017-08-21T07:43:46+00:00 August 21st, 2017|Blog|8 Comments

Let the Details Do the Work

I’ve just returned from a week at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, where I taught a workshop focusing on the novel. Six novelists sat in a room with me for two hours and fifteen minutes each day, and together we workshopped excerpts from their novels in progress. We also used The Great Gatsby to think a bit more deeply about everything from structure to characterization, detail, point of view, and language. We even found time for some corny jokes—okay, I found time for the jokes, all with a pedagogical purpose, of course. Here’s one: A frog [...]

By | 2017-08-14T07:33:27+00:00 August 14th, 2017|Blog|4 Comments