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To Form a Community of Writers

I’m off to teach at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Workshop. If you’re ever in the market for a summer writers’ conference, I highly recommend this one. It’s all about the craft! No agents, no editors, and none of that toxic atmosphere of “who’s made it, and what do I have to do to make it, too.” No, “Look at me, please!” No anguish or despair. Just a lot of talk about writing. The workshop size is small—I have six in my novel workshop—and the spirit is collegial. We’re all there to not only make ourselves better [...]

By | 2017-08-07T04:12:02+00:00 August 7th, 2017|Blog|17 Comments

Writing from Moments of Dislocation

Last week, I made a post about the role dislocation may play in the creative process. More specifically, I invited you to think about the moments in your own lives when you felt like an outsider. I also invited you to think about narrative as a response to these moments of dislocation. How do these moments attach themselves to us, helping to form us as writers, and how can we transform them into stories, either fictional or personal narratives, that readers will find not merely interesting, but also compelling? It seems to me that the development of the writer begins [...]

By | 2017-07-31T07:26:08+00:00 July 31st, 2017|Blog|8 Comments

Dislocation and the Birth of a Writer

I imagine that most of us, given our druthers, would choose to live an orderly, measured life, but, of course, we know that isn’t possible. Something always goes wrong, either a small bump, or a life-altering event. I’ve come to think that such changes are necessary to the writer. Some sort of dislocation occurs, and we write in response to it. At least, it’s always been that way for me. As many of you know, when I was barely a year old, my father lost both his hands in a farming accident. My mother took me to live with my [...]

By | 2017-07-24T07:20:17+00:00 July 24th, 2017|Blog|12 Comments

Bravery and Empathy

On Friday evening, my wife and I had the privilege of attending the capstone event for the Young Writers Workshop that we have at Ohio State University each summer. I believe it’s been about nine summers now. I remember closing the deal with our generous donor when I was directing the creative writing program back in 2008. Thanks to our donor, up to thirty high school students from Columbus City Schools get to attend this week-long workshop free of charge. The lucky students get to take morning classes in all sorts of things to do with writing, and also to [...]

By | 2017-07-17T07:44:25+00:00 July 17th, 2017|Blog|8 Comments

One Way to Shape a Narrative

Here we are on the other side of the Fourth of July. We’re in the heart of summer now, but I can feel its end and the coming of the crisp days of fall and then the biting winds of winter within the hot, sunny days that will still be ours for some time. Book-length narratives—whether we’re talking novels or memoirs—are like that. The end is always contained in the beginning. Think of The Great Gatsby, which opens with Gatsby longing for Daisy, with Tom Buchannan’s affair with Myrtle Wilson, with Nick Carraway’s romance with Jordan Baker. In Chapter 7, [...]

By | 2017-07-10T07:12:30+00:00 July 10th, 2017|Blog|12 Comments

Bringing the Periphery into Focus in Memoir

Last week, I posted an old photo on Facebook, a picture of me when I was 14 or 15. It was a Polaroid shot that my friend Doug took. In the photo, I’m sitting beneath a tree in my backyard holding my cat, Clyde. At first glance, this is a picture that makes me chuckle because I’m so desperately trying to be cool in my Annie Green Springs tee-shirt, my flared-leg Levis, my Buddy Holly hipster glasses which weren’t retro yet, or hip, just the normal eye-wear at that time, and the traces of a goatee. In fact, I believe [...]

By | 2017-07-03T10:06:38+00:00 July 3rd, 2017|Blog|6 Comments

What Might Have Been: Using Fantasy in Memoir

I saw my father juggle oranges once. No, that’s a lie, a flat-out impossibility because, as you know, my dad lost his hands in a farming accident when I was barely a year old. So, of course, I never saw him juggle oranges. Oh, but how I wish I had. I wish I had a memory of my father juggling oranges, maybe even bouncing one off his bicep. So much of my life with him was lived in anger. How I wish he’d been the jaunty sort who could’ve juggled those oranges and maybe even whistled “Pop Goes the Weasel,” [...]

By | 2017-06-26T07:03:42+00:00 June 26th, 2017|Blog|10 Comments

Strings of Cause and Effect: Writing Our Ancestors

When I wrote my second memoir, Turning Bones, I combined twelve years of research into my father’s side of the family with my imagination. These ancestors had left few documents behind, and furthermore, my family never talked much about them when I was growing up. My ancestors, then, were mysteries to me. They were, for the most part, gravestones in cemeteries. After my parents were gone, I inherited a few old family photos and two pages from a family Bible upon which someone had scrawled births, deaths, and marriages. With these in hand, I set out to see what I [...]

By | 2017-06-19T07:39:46+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Blog|3 Comments

I Celebrate My Friend’s Good News

Let’s start with the calla lilies. Cathy and I got home from a trip to Illinois late Wednesday night and found a box from ProFlowers, an online delivery service, on our front porch. A dozen calla lilies, complete with vase. Yellow calla lilies and white ones and purple ones and peach ones. Beautiful trumpet blooms that remind me of frosted glass. They need a rest after flowering as if to say such beauty is hard work. I have a friend who skates in the roller derby. When I embrace her after a bout, her hair drips sweat on my hands. [...]

By | 2017-06-12T07:22:55+00:00 June 12th, 2017|Blog|14 Comments

Only Connect: Our Hearts Grow Larger

Cathy and I enjoyed a weekend of company. First, a friend and former-colleague was our house guest. We all attended the wedding of a former student. Then on Sunday afternoon, a former student and her husband came out to the house just for some porch-sitting. What a vibrant weekend of connections with the dear ones around us. This has me thinking about the life of the writer, and how disappointment—and, yes, downright rejection—can make us go inside ourselves to the dark places of doubt and despair. Neither has ever been any writer’s friend. Sometimes I think that antidote for the [...]

By | 2017-06-05T05:56:18+00:00 June 5th, 2017|Blog|6 Comments