Category Archives: Writers Blog

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Writing the Mundane in Flash

When we study fiction writing, we talk about conflict as a means to plot and we talk about tension being integral to scene and dialogue. So in workshop stories, we see a lot of breakups, a lot of arguments, even the occasional war story. We watch characters deal with death and loss and illness and pasts that – I noticed in my own work, too – I would never want to experience myself. And haven’t.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on two things in my writing: flash fiction, and how to generate interesting fiction out of my own fairly mundane life.

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When Can a Writer Lie?

When does a writer tell stories that repudiate his or her closely held convictions?

For any writer, authenticity looms large. Write what I believe, I tell myself. Write to promote admirable aspirations, or to alert readers to perils they ought to avoid (we might call these counter-aspirations). Write to express myself as honestly and sincerely as I can. In a world without fixed meanings, in a universe indifferent to my own strivings and sufferings, what lodestar can serve a writer better than sincerity and honesty in expression?

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Losing the Fear and Loathing of Reading Your Work in Public

Reading your work out loud in front of an audience can be a bit like standing naked on a crowded subway platform…or so I would imagine. I’ve only done the former, never the latter. And I didn’t do my first public reading until I was well into my professional career as a rock music journalist and author. It was terrifying, but also gratifying. I guarantee this: do a public reading and you’ll gain insights into your work that you’d never attain otherwise. You’ll grow as a writer; and maybe you’ll even sell a few extra copies of your book.

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Connecting with the Disconnects

The questions always come up: Who’s your favorite poet? Who were your influences? Neither is easy because there are so many right answers and not all of them will be top-of-mind at that moment. Philip Levine. Naomi Shihab Nye. B. H. Fairchild. Jim Harrison, who’s known much more for his prose than his poetry. David St. John, both for his poetry and his incredible generosity as a teacher. Later that night in bed I always remember more names that I could have mentioned. You know, what I shoulda said.

But it’s not always the poets you admire who have the most influence on your writing…

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The New Frontier: Writing for Video Games

Today, we novelists still invent, but it’s an invention informed by three centuries of our predecessors’ work. If we are explorers, we are not Marco Polo or even Lewis and Clark, but their modern day descendants, exploring the last remaining uncharted corners of the novel form.

But I am not only a novelist: the bulk of my professional writing has been for video games, far younger as an art form, and still relatively unexplored as an art form. Exploring the possibilities of this new medium means finding narrative techniques unique to this form—stories that can only be told in the form of a game. Over the course of this piece, I’ll highlight a few of the unique stories that games have allowed me to tell, or to experience.

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Ten Things I Know About Writing…

Ten things I now know about writing that are guaranteed to help you; ten things I wish I had known when I began thirty years ago, here in one sweeping whizbang, sometimes in my words and sometimes the words of my betters, but, in any case, here’s what I’ve learned, every arrow in my quiver…

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Some Like It Hot

To add tension to a scene, make a character too hot or too cold. If you fiddle with a story’s thermostat, you can force even a wishy-washy Hamlet into action. This is because our bodies constantly send out feelers, via the senses. If our fingertips tingle with cold, we put on gloves. If our hair feels hot to the touch, we seek shade. The body’s response to temperature extremes can drive an entire plot.

I learned this lesson from a short Russian novel.

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Trusting Left Field

Connecting with the writer within at times demands that we open ourselves to the unknown. We must learn to trust “left field,” the part of writing that cannot be explained by any writing technique. Something from left field comes unexpectedly and may not seem to make sense. It reminds us that as creative writers, we are NOT in control. We must learn to step aside, a humble action to let the writing create its own path.

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Break the Line Early

I’ve argued that consistent use of a single, consistent measure for the lines of a poem is meaning-bearing in itself and one of the most significant choices a poet can make in the construction of her work.  Part of the legitimacy of this claim rests on the fact that to establish a consistent measure is to lay the ground against which any departure from that measure is striking and powerful;  another part rests on the fact that line-breaks are a critical focal point of verse construction.  It is evidence of the complexity of poem-making that I do not contradict these facts when I tell you that breaking your line early is a great way to start a poem.

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Crock-Pot Novelist

Slow-cookers have always amazed me. A hodge-podge of meat, vegetables and whatnot gets tossed in the Crock-Pot in the morning. The ingredients simmer together all day. Their flavors blend. Their aromas comingle and fill the house with the tang of possibility. Come dinner time, the medley has been transformed into a savory meal that brings the whole family to the table with anticipation. I love cooking this way.

My novel writing is also slow-cooked. A hodge-podge of ideas, research, themes and characters get thrown into the pot in the beginning. Then they simmer together, for a very long time, before they are transformed into the rich, savory story I want them to become. Slow-cooking a novel isn’t nearly as easy as slow-cooking chili, stew or gumbo. Yet, if the mix of ingredients is right, the result can be just as fulfilling.

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Recent Blog Posts

Writing the Mundane in Flash

September 15,2014 When we study fiction writing, we talk about conflict as a means to plot and we talk about tension being integral to scene and dialogue. So in workshop stories, we see a lot of... Continue Reading

When Can a Writer Lie?

September 03,2014 When does a writer tell stories that repudiate his or her closely held convictions? For any writer, authenticity looms large. Write what I believe, I tell myself. Write to promote admirable aspirations, or to... Continue Reading
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