The posts below are puerile odes to the fragility of language. Steal one letter, just one little letter from a thing, and that thing becomes a different thing. And hopefully it becomes a funnier or weirder or sexier thing. All the titles below were written by two friends on the wrapper of a spinach and cheese croissant from Au Bon Pain. They are the offspring of spinach, cheese, and coffee. The descriptions that accompany the titles were written by one friend, and are the offspring of bourbon and Doritos.
The Da Vinci Cod
In which Dan Brown discovers the secret history behind one our greatest minds, (and one of our greatest fish). Continue reading
Everything depends upon the correct choice of elements for a prescription, the proper tools for a mechanic, the proper measurements for a recipe, finely tooled gears for mobiles and appliances. If this is true, then a poem may require the same type of deliberations in the choice of devices, form, metaphors, place, time, narrator, speaker or voice, tone and rhythm. Each one of these requirements depends as much upon intuition as it does upon inspiration. The poet’s job is to breathe life into the event or experience so that when a reader encounters a poem he or she is encountering the event for the very first time. Whatever the circumstances, the writer may be called upon to rely upon trial and error, which for the sake of this exercise is called: revision. Continue reading
On a clear twilight in 1990, having been married for three months and recently graduated from high school, I began to drive home from work, pulling out of the parking lot just as the sun was setting, when my car was broadsided by a San Diego city bus. No one thought I would survive my head injury then, and no one who knew my injury thought I would survive the coma let alone recover. After I got out of the hospital, I could only begin to overcome such a poor prognosis by reading the Bible, writing, and being in a continual learning mode in regard to the world in general. The hardest part of overcoming my prognosis was everyone’s belief that I wouldn’t. People thought of me as incapable given how bad my injury was. The doctors said I wouldn’t recover. Writing became my savior, and I think it’s important to know writing has such healing properties.
In my favorite story I like to tell in response to why and when I became a writer, I say, “Mrs. Hinds’ third grade class, Salford Hills Elementary School, 1996.”
It’s a feel-good story, albeit cheesy, about how a tomboyish stub of a girl wound up with allegedly the worst teacher in history, spent a whole summer whining (“They should call her Mrs. Hinney!”), then admittedly grew to love her. And most importantly, found a love for the arts. Mrs. Hinds was in her seventies when I had her, and those first few autumn months, I kept a list in my desk of how many times she said a few key phrases:
This is a story I’ve been working on for a several months, having published a much shorter version a few years ago. It’s part of a collection-in-progress, and is about two girls’ (Stoffi and Gert) severed friendship over a stolen brush that escalates into other, more violent acts in Pre-WWII Germany. In the scene I am working on, Stoffi, whose parents raise German Shepherds, overhears at school that a puppy has drowned, and realizes that Gert was the one to steal it.
1. Stoffi was successfully not listening to the girls talk about the camping trip, and would have continued to believe that a ghost had snatched the puppy from their pen had Emma not said that Rebecca was the one to find it.
In the first version of the scene, the reader knows that the puppy Gert stole has drowned. In this sentence, Stoffi gleans that something happened to the “it,” but doesn’t know what it is.
2. Stoffi was doubly invested in not listening when she got to school, and would have succeeded had Emma not said that Rebecca was the one to find it, the it being anything, tracks in the dirt, raccoon scat, a bird’s nest, any of one nature’s wonders.
On the first day of my Topics in Publishing class in DePaul University’s M.A. Writing and Publishing program, we watched The Five Obstructions, a documentary about Danish filmmakers Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier. Leth had been von Trier’s mentor, but von Trier wanted to put Leth to the test by asking him to revise one of his films, The Perfect Man, five times in five different ways. Continue reading
First delivered to my Intermediate Fiction class in the new grass behind Lind Hall, May 7, 2013, with big debts to my teacher Charles Baxter for his good thoughts on stories, and to Mary Ruefle, whose essays I hold close.
Here is what Mary Ruefle says about writing letters in her lecture, “Remarks on Letters”:
“What I am trying to tell you is this: every time you write an unengaged letter, you are wasting another opportunity to be a writer. The greater the disparity between the voice of your poems and the voice of your letters, the greater the circumference of the point you have missed. The demands upon you, as a writer, are far greater than you could have guessed when you filled out your application form and mailed it.”
And what I am trying to tell you today is that writing fiction is so much like writing a letter: It’s you in a room in a chair before a screen, a page, trying to say something that will matter to someone else—a someone who is, as a rule, nowhere in sight. Who may not even exist. If she does exist, she may never read what you write. It may not get to her. And yet, you have to act with the urgency that she will. Continue reading