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On the New Year

Something about the current state of things in our country invites me to share this post from a few years ago, updated a tad to account for the passing of time. When I was a boy, it was my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition to gather for an oyster soup supper, followed by a rousing round of Rook, a trick-taking card game, that pitted one set of partners against another. We played a lot of Rook in those days. My father and my uncles were competitive, and the games were full of big talk and big egos. One uncle in [...]

By |2019-12-30T08:27:02-05:00December 30th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

To Cherish the World: A Christmas Wish

I was back in my native southeastern Illinois last week, and I happened to have a little dust-up with a stranger at the local fitness center. Let’s say we should have agreed to disagree and left it at that, but we didn’t. She, a very nice elderly lady, broached a subject she shouldn’t have brought up if she really wanted to know my opinion. I tried to warn her. I said, “I’m not sure you want to start this conversation with me.” Nevertheless, she persisted. She was soft-spoken and polite. Her white hair was neatly coifed, and she reminded me [...]

By |2019-12-23T08:06:24-05:00December 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Staying with Our Characters in Their Present Moments

We’re in the midst of autumn here in central Ohio. It won’t be long before I’ll be pulling up the tomato plants and putting the patio furniture in the basement or the garage. I’ll leave the large table and cover it for winter. In the cold months to come, I’ll stand at a back window and watch snow pile up on that cover. Only a few evergreens will provide a touch of color in the landscaping. But for now, there are still tomatoes to pick and there are hydrangeas still in bloom. In a little while from the time I’m [...]

By |2019-10-14T08:11:55-04:00October 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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

What Would You Do?

A week or so ago, in those idle few minutes before I was to leave my office to teach a workshop. I picked up my copy of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and reacquainted myself with “On the Rainy River.” Is it a short story, an essay, or something else? The question is irrelevant because, no matter what we call it, we’re left with the same narrative, the story of a young boy named Tim O’Brien, who, after being drafted during the Vietnam War, drives north in Minnesota as far as he can before getting a cabin at the [...]

By |2019-09-23T08:20:42-04:00September 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Following the Trouble to Its End

When I run on a treadmill at the Y on the weekends, the television in front of me is often showing a program, which I believe may be called Dr. Chris Pet Vet. It’s a show about pets in need of care for one reason or the other. The owners bring their pets to Dr. Chris, and during the course of the show he gives them the diagnoses, discusses his suggested treatment, and then performs it. Along the way, the show stresses that the treatment will be tricky and there’s no guarantee that it will be successful, but of course [...]

By |2019-09-09T08:08:11-04:00September 9th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Taming the Shaggy Beast: Letting Your Novel Write Itself

The laconic comedian, Stephen Wright, once said, “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” Now there’s a man determined to tame the shaggy beast, as Henry James called the novel form. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer a few more practical strategies for getting the job done than just imagining you’ve gotten to the end by putting the numbers on blank pages. So with that in mind, let’s start with the notion that our novels all exist, fully formed, in a pre-vocabulary state, and are just waiting for us to find the words [...]

By |2019-08-11T16:00:35-04:00August 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Don’t Wait: Write!

Cathy and I decided to make a little weekend getaway after the Fourth of July, so we headed up to Ohio Amish Country. We love the rolling hills there, the sight of haystacks in the pastures, the cows and sheep and goats, the sound of horseshoes clip-clopping over pavement as a horse and buggy passes. We were surprised to learn that the Amish are favoring bicycles as a mode of transportation these days. On Friday evening, as we drove into Berlin at dusk, we encountered a steady stream of bicycle and buggy lights in what used to be known as [...]

By |2019-07-08T08:28:15-04:00July 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Driven by Desire: Character and Incident

"What is character but the determination of incident?” Henry James wrote. “What is incident but the illustration of character?” The desire need not be for something grand, but it does need to be intense enough to put a character into action. Take, for example, the father in Holly Beth Pratt’s “Nighttime Ride.” Here’s the opening paragraph: The dad had a sweet tooth; it was something fierce. When it got ahold of him, no matter where he was—clearing invasives on the job, taking the kids for a weekend, eating his one-pan dinner—he had to satisfy it, like if he didn’t it [...]

By |2019-06-17T07:35:54-04:00June 17th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Lives of Splendor: Characters and Free Will

This morning at breakfast, a large group—too large to sit at a single table—came into the restaurant. Half of them sat at one table, and the other half took an adjacent table, which was behind where Cathy and I were sitting. I really didn’t take much notice of them until I heard a man’s voice behind me say, “Aaron, do you want to sit over here?” Mind you, at this time, I had no way of knowing whether the Aaron being addressed was a male or a female. “Aaron,” the man said, “do you want to be a little girl? [...]

By |2019-05-20T07:35:37-04:00May 20th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments