All Alive to Each Other: What Stories Have in Common

’Tis the season for March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing, leading to the championship game and the annual commemoration of this athletic competition, the song, “One Shining Moment”: “That one shining moment you reached deep inside/One shining moment, you knew you were alive.” I can think of no graceful segue from these song lyrics to Sherwood Anderson, and Winesburg, Ohio, other than to make the leap and invite you to follow. In Anderson’s story, “The Untold Lie,” two farm hands are husking corn in a field at dusk. Suddenly the younger man confesses that he’s “got [...]

By | 2018-03-19T07:59:45+00:00 March 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Happy Birthday to Brevity

I was very fortunate to be on a panel celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the fabulous online journal, Brevity, at this year’s Associated Writing Programs conference. I joined Beth Ann Fennelly, Daisy Hernandez, Heather Sellers, Ira Sukrungruang, and founding editor Dinty Moore for a reading of flash creative nonfiction and some thoughts on the genre itself. As I was in my post last week, I was interested in talking about how my flash cnf is so often tonally driven. When I write essays like the ones in Brevity—essays of fewer than 750 words—I sometimes use a communal voice to capture [...]

By | 2018-03-12T08:35:04+00:00 March 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments

The Sounds Our Living Makes: A Tonal Approach

Sundays in my childhood home were usually days of quiet and peace. The sounds of such surrounded us. In the summer, I listened to the whirr of an oscillating fan that took its time pivoting back and forth. Its breeze lifted the corner of the pages of a Life magazine on the coffee table. My father napped, the Philco radio by his bed tuned to the broadcast of a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. The voice of play-by-play man, Harry Carey, rose and fell with the outcomes of each at bat. The crowd was a gentle murmur in the background. [...]

By | 2018-03-05T08:29:20+00:00 March 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Pay Attention

I write for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that something in my past or in my imagination or in the world around me requires my attention. More and more, I’m convinced that the ability to pay attention is the most important skill a writer can have. “Try to be one of those,” Henry James said, “upon whom nothing is lost.” We have to pay attention so we can see the nuances and contradictions that exist in any given person, or situation, or detail, or image. I assume you’ve all seen those optical illusions that [...]

By | 2018-02-26T08:33:46+00:00 February 26th, 2018|Uncategorized|8 Comments

What Pauses Can Do for a Narrative

Yesterday, there was work to do—there’s always work to do, something to write, something to read—but, after brunch, Cathy said, “Why don’t you just rest?” I gave her my standard answer, “I’ve got so much I need to get done.” Her response? “Sometimes, it’s okay to not do anything.” So it is in the stories we tell. There comes a time when it’s okay for our characters to rest; it’s fine for us to allow them a few moments of pause. Here, then, are three ways we can think about what we can accomplish by slowing the narrative pace. 1.         [...]

By | 2018-02-19T08:25:08+00:00 February 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|7 Comments

Teachers Making a Difference

I had the privilege of talking to students in the AVID Program at Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, last week. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. The program is “a college readiness program that targets students with the potential of attending college who are not enrolled in advanced classes.” It helps prepare students for college, and I’d add it helps prepare them for life. One of the teachers in the program, Alice Ellenburg, proudly showed the group I was with a wall in the hallway that displayed enlarged copies of her students’ college acceptance letters. At her encouragement, [...]

By | 2018-02-12T07:51:43+00:00 February 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|5 Comments

Memoir as Discovery

A childhood friend sent me a snapshot today, one I didn’t know existed, but one I was so very glad to see. It’s a photograph of me in the home of my childhood friend. I must be around ten or eleven. I’m sitting on what appears to be a love seat, or an oversized stuffed chair. I’m wearing a green polo shirt and jeans with the legs rolled into cuffs. I have on low-cut white tennis shoes, and I’m smiling at someone out of the frame. It means a good deal to me to see that smile because there were [...]

By | 2018-02-05T12:18:33+00:00 February 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|3 Comments

The Addition and Subtraction of Revision

Cathy and I finished putting together a one-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle last night and were surprised to find we actually had one thousand and one pieces. Yep, you got it. We had a piece that was obviously meant for someone else’s puzzle. Oh, lordy, don’t you know that writing can often be like that. Let’s say you’re moving along with a plot, and you’re just letting things happen and you get to the end and you realize there’s this one plot move that wasn’t necessary because it had nothing to contribute to the closure. Now it’s just like that extra [...]

By | 2018-01-29T08:40:54+00:00 January 29th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Gather and Release: The Energy of a Narrative

Finally, after a brutal stretch of snow and ice and cold, temperatures have moderated, and the thaw has begun. All that snow will now melt to water and run off into streams and tributaries and storm drains. Once we get above freezing, it has to go somewhere, right? During what I like to think of as a time of gathering, the snow accumulated and the cold set in, and I went out into it with my shoulders hunched against the wind and the muscles in my legs tensed as I carefully made my way over ice. I felt the tension [...]

By | 2018-01-22T08:03:11+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

How We Spend Our Days: It’s Never too Late to Decide

I’m writing this post late on a Sunday evening because my wife and I spent the afternoon traveling from our home in Ohio to her hometown (a mere five miles from my hometown) in southeastern Illinois. We were supposed to make the trip tomorrow, but we decided to beat the snow that’s forecast for later this evening and on into the morning. It’s cold out here on the prairie. At the Casey’s convenience store, men in Carhartt overalls pump gas into pickup trucks. Somewhere down the street, a dog barks, agitated by who knows what. The strangled voice of a [...]

By | 2018-01-15T11:23:53+00:00 January 15th, 2018|Uncategorized|13 Comments