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The Narrative before the Story Begins

When we construct a narrative, whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction, we’re well-served by giving some consideration to the question of what readers need to know about what happened before the story begins. In other words, characters, whether inventions or real people, carry certain histories into what I like to call the dramatic present, by which I mean the sequence of events at the heart of the particular story line. Something has happened before that story begins to take shape on the page. Characters’ histories help create the actions and events of the stories we come to tell. A common [...]

By | 2018-08-12T23:51:26+00:00 August 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Be Specific: Truthful Stories for Untruthful Times

All my life, people have confused my name with that of Lee Marvin, the actor known for playing hardboiled characters and also for live-in girlfriend Michelle Triola’s palimony suit in 1971. It happens time and time again. Sometimes people actually introduce me as the actor. Sometimes people try to turn the name confusion into a joke. In either case, each time someone dredges up Lee Marvin’s name, I cringe, even though I always quite enjoyed his performances. I cringe because by now both the confusion and the joke have become stale. That doesn’t keep each person, however, from either failing [...]

By | 2018-08-06T07:32:36+00:00 August 6th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Writing a Novel’s Opening: Paying Attention

I’m getting ready to teach a workshop in novel writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. This will be the tenth consecutive year that I’ve taught at this conference, which I think is one of the best in the country. I could tell you why—an emphasis on craft and not publishing (no agents or editors lurking in the weeds), small workshop size (six participants), stimulating craft talks, an egalitarian atmosphere with accessible faculty members, an abundance of social activities, outstanding readings by faculty and participants alike, individual conferences for each participant—but what I’ve come to tell [...]

By | 2018-07-30T06:51:28+00:00 July 30th, 2018|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Elements of Surprise in Good Writing

We like to be surprised when we read a short story. When I was a young writer, I thought I needed to come up with plot twists that no one could see coming. One of my writing teachers once told me he always expected that an elephant would eventually appear somewhere in a Lee Martin story—not that a literal elephant ever got space in one of my stories, but you get the idea. I was trying so hard to surprise readers on a plot level, I ignored the source of the most satisfying twists in a story, the ones that [...]

By | 2018-07-23T07:38:49+00:00 July 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|8 Comments

Artifacts and Memoir

My grandmother, Stella Inyart Martin, was said to have “healing hands.” She knew the old folk remedies—the value of sassafras tea, horehound, ginseng, blackstrap molasses. When my grandfather’s first wife was dying of tuberculosis, my grandmother was the teenage girl who came to care for her. A few years after my grandfather’s first wife died, he married my grandmother. I’m thinking about her today because lately I’ve had reason to find the heating pad she used. She died in 1965, and I’ve kept that heating pad all these years. My wife is recovering from knee replacement surgery, and extreme pain [...]

By | 2018-07-16T07:39:09+00:00 July 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments

So Sorry, I Didn’t See You

Lately, as my wife recovers from knee replacement surgery, she’s been taking advantage of motorized carts in the grocery store. As I walk beside her, I notice the way people react. Some of them treat Cathy as if she’s invisible, going to great pains not to look at her. Others give her smiles that I’m sure they don’t intend to infantilize her, but still, there they are, those sweet, sad smiles that say, “Look at what you can do, bless your heart.” Then there are the people who truly don’t notice her because. . .well. . .because they never really [...]

By | 2018-07-09T07:46:33+00:00 July 9th, 2018|Uncategorized|10 Comments

Let’s Keep Going

Three weeks ago tomorrow, my wife Cathy had knee replacement surgery. The surgery took place early in the morning, and that afternoon the physical therapists came to get her out of bed—to get her up and moving with the aid of a walker. A side note: Cathy has violent reactions to most opioids, but she agreed to try Dilaudid after her surgery. When the therapists got her walking, she made it to the end of her bed before she said, “Bag.” She was referring, of course, to a sickness bag. I grabbed one and gave it to her. When she [...]

By | 2018-07-02T06:59:20+00:00 July 2nd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Nuts and Bolts: Details, Language, Content

I have no idea what to say to you today, so let me begin with a nut, not of the edible kind, but a nut meant to fit itself to a threaded bolt. A square nut, a hex nut, a wing nut, a lock nut. The list goes on. And what about the bolts? Flange bolts, eye bolts, U-bolts and J-bolts, shoulder bolts, sex bolts. And washers: flat, fender, lock, high collar lock, Ogee. The language of hardware. I start there because when I don’t know what to write, I rely on the physical world and the details that comprise [...]

By | 2018-06-25T09:42:20+00:00 June 25th, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Caretaking and Writing

Last week, my wife Cathy had knee replacement surgery and is now recovering at home. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share some things from this experience that may prove helpful to all of us as we continue our writers’ journeys. One of the things I’ve heard Cathy say to those who ask how she’s doing after surgery is this. “On Monday, I had pain in my knee, and that pain wasn’t ever going to get any better. Today, I have pain, but that pain is eventually going to go away.” The lesson for those of us who write? [...]

By | 2018-06-18T09:08:04+00:00 June 18th, 2018|Uncategorized|8 Comments

Faith on Publication Day

The publication date is finally near for my story collection, The Mutual UFO Network. Tomorrow, on June 12, the book will be officially released. As you know this is also the day for Trump’s summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, but what you probably don’t know is it’s also the day when my wife, Cathy, gets a new knee. She’s been in pain for a long time, and it’s time for the pain to stop. As she’s been fond of telling people, on June 12, she’ll get a new knee, and I’ll have a new book. “One of [...]

By | 2018-06-11T07:58:29+00:00 June 11th, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments