Category Archives: Writers Blog

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On Being a Dictator

If you see a person walking along engaged in a vigorous conversation with no one else around, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s escaped from the nearest asylum.  It could be me talking to myself.  But don’t be concerned, don’t interrupt me, don’t bother me at all — I’m writing. Yes, writing.

It’s been more than twenty years since I gave up the keyboard and took up a recorder for my first drafts.  Since that time, I’ve dictated over a hundred novels that way on an innumerable number of microcassettes, then later as MP3 files on a digital recorder, speaking the words aloud, rather than typing them into my word processor. In other the words, telling the story. The way storytellers always used to do…

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The Health of Self-Forgetfulness

“As with most first-book poets, the farther Franco gets from himself, the better his work tends to be.”

That’s a sentence from David Orr’s review (mixed) in July’s New York Times Book Review of James Franco’s (yes, the movie actor’s) new book of poems. I’m not sure if it’s true or not (I mean of first-book poets in general), and my high-school teacher would have said Orr should have written “further”—but the idea of getting farther from yourself by writing poetry is interesting to me…

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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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Recent Blog Posts

On Being a Dictator

October 14,2014 For most of my career I have used a recorder to dictate my writing as I hike trails in mountains or forests (or bike trails or river walks…just about anywhere I want to be).... Continue Reading

The Health of Self-Forgetfulness

September 29,2014 “As with most first-book poets, the farther Franco gets from himself, the better his work tends to be.” That’s a sentence from David Orr’s review (mixed) in July’s New York Times Book Review of James... Continue Reading
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