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First Drafts: The Delight of the Surprise

This afternoon, Cathy and I made our first pilgrimage of the growing season to Bambi’s Produce Market a few miles out in the country from where we live. Sunday afternoons, so it seems, are perfect for such trips, partly because we have the time and partly because such drives remind me of similar ones I used to go on with my parents when I was a child in southeastern Illinois. “Let’s take a ride,” my father would say, and off we’d go. We had no destination and no purpose. We merely drove for the sake of driving. We never knew [...]

By |2019-06-24T08:07:52-04:00June 24th, 2019|Blog|5 Comments

Pressure Points in Narratives

I’ve told this story before, so please excuse me for telling it again. It has so much to do with everything I want to say about pressure points in narrative. On the last night that my mother lived independently, a package addressed to her neighbor was accidentally delivered to her. My mother was a kind woman who believed in being a good neighbor, so she put on her coat and a rain hat—the kind women of a certain generation kept folded in their pocketbooks—and prepared to take the package to its rightful owner. This was in early March in southeastern [...]

By |2019-06-10T07:59:28-04:00June 10th, 2019|Blog|4 Comments

We Were Here: Subversive Precision

I was eighteen in 1974 when I picked up my now-wife, Cathy, for our first date. It was the era of 8-track tape players in cars, and I had a Craig in my Plymouth Duster. The tape I played that night, as I drove to the Avalon Theater, was Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. Its best known tracks were “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock.” I was particularly fond of the latter, and am to this day. Cathy doesn’t remember any of this, but trust me, it’s true. I told her as much today when we were [...]

By |2019-06-03T13:13:44-04:00June 3rd, 2019|Blog|6 Comments

Decorating a Scene: Description in Narrative

Here we are on Memorial Day, and our peonies are in bloom. These showy, fragrant flowers were in every bouquet that my mother always made to set upon our family’s graves on what we then called Decoration Day. I look forward to their buds opening this time of year, not only because I enjoy their colors—ours are hot pink and creamy white—and their perfume, but also because they connect me to this family tradition. The flowers, then, are more than decorative. They’re also evocative. They summon an emotional response that comes from my mourning for a childhood, now gone, as [...]

By |2019-05-27T09:10:09-04:00May 27th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Time and Narrative in Memoir

When it comes to writing memoir, we can never give full expression to an entire life. We have too much from which to choose—too much time, too many moments, too many characters, too many questions. We can, though, find a narrative arc that, if handled skillfully, will contain more of the past, the present, and the future than the literal timeline of the memoir can dramatize. I call this timeline, even though it may be happening solely in the past, the dramatic present. I’m talking about the narrative arc comprised of events happening in chronological order in a select period [...]

By |2019-05-06T05:49:33-04:00May 6th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Writing into the Mysterious and the Unresolved

On this Easter Sunday, I’m thinking of the small country church I attended when I was a small boy. The Berryville Church of Christ sat on a gravel road just south of the crossroads where my grandmother lived cattycorner from the general store. There wasn’t much to Berryville: that store, two churches, a defunct school, and a handful of houses. The Church of Christ was a white clapboard building with a brick chimney, windows along its sides, and the door through which we entered each Sunday, intent on salvation. I’m over sixty years beyond the time I’m recalling, but I [...]

By |2019-04-22T08:37:28-04:00April 22nd, 2019|Blog|5 Comments

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 |2017-10-25T12:27:30-04:00October 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 |2017-10-17T21:50:24-04:00October 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 |2017-10-17T21:47:48-04:00October 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 |2017-09-25T06:46:11-04:00September 25th, 2017|Blog|6 Comments