Creating Memorable Characters

Cathy and I spent last week cleaning some things out of what used to be her parents’ house in Illinois. In the process, we came upon several old family photos. I love looking at old photographs even if I don’t know the people in them. The photos take me into a time period in the…

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Characters and Pressure

My wife Cathy has spent this weekend canning and freezing: blackberry jam, bread and butter pickles, and corn. I’ve lent a hand: toting, shucking, mashing, cleaning. My mother spent her summers preserving food, so it’s a nostalgic thing for me to listen to the jar lids popping as they seal, the hot jars cooling, the…

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My Mother Gives Me a Writing Lesson

(In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m giving another life to this old post.) As I dream of spring on this cold January day, I’m reading through some old letters from my mother, written in her widowhood, and I’m struck by the sound of my own voice in hers and the lesson she offers the writer…

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A Little Something Sweet: Plotting Our Fiction

We start with a bit of jelly on a plastic lid. Cathy and I were having breakfast on a restaurant’s patio this morning and bees were swarming around each table, trying to get at everyone’s food. “All they want is a little something sweet,” Cathy said. Then she took the lid off the little plastic…

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Using Relics in Narratives

Yesterday, my wife Cathy was sorting through her purse when she came upon her now-expired YMCA membership card. “I guess I don’t need this anymore,” she said. Indeed our membership cards are now relics of a before-time that no longer exists, that time when COVID had yet to arrive. During the pandemic, we bought our…

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And Then What Happened?: Plot in Short Fiction

Jhumpa Lahiri’s story, “A Temporary Matter,” opens with this sentence: “The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.” Eerily resonant with the shocking news out of Texas this past week about the cold weather and the failure…

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Struggle and Empathy

We’re nearing the middle of January, which means the end of the month is in sight.  Given the challenges of the pandemic, I thought it interesting to revisit this post from a year ago. A native Midwesterner, I’ve always thought of winter as an endurance test, and each signpost along the way—the end of January,…

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Stories That Matter

I’m going to be presenting a session at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop on Friday, a session called “Writing Stories That Matter.” In preparation for that event, I had to think about exactly what I mean by stories that matter. William Faulkner, in his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said, “. . .the young man…

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