Thursday, March 23, 2017

"When you don't feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place . . . "

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Make this the year you finish your book! Sign up for Year of Your Book at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center.

Starts January 11. Wednesdays 10:30 to 12:30.  Runs all year in six-week sessions. 

(If this time doesn't work for you, contact me for info about weekly one-on-ones.)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Last Meeting of Write the Story at the Ferguson Library

This week we had the last meeting of our wonderful 12-week short story class at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT.

As one of our last exercises, participants made their own writing prompt "tarot cards," posted here:

The Ferguson Library Tarot Cards

(my originals here.)

The library will publish the stories from our class, and will hold a book party in the spring. I'm going to miss you guys, but look forward to seeing you at the party!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Class Recap for 11/15

We weren't able to hold class in person today (looks like I have strep throat!), so we're holding an online discussion. In addition to talking about the first of our final revisions, I want to offer this exercise:

Christmas is still a few weeks away, but this beautiful prose poem has been on my mind this week:

"A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas 

One thing I love about it is the way he allows his memories to come back to him on their own terms. This is an especially useful model for memoir, but it works, too, for fictional characters, when you're trying to get them to tell their story. 

Rather than laying everything out in chronological order, Thomas makes the act of remembering, of trying to figure out what to tell, part of the story:

I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. . .   . All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

At times he allows his personal version of the past to become completely unmoored from the factual:

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills . . . 

This personal vision resonates with the image, within the story, of the coloring book he received as a child: 

a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any color I please, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds.

By allowing himself to give us the harp-shaped hills, the sky-blue sheep, and all the rest, Thomas frees himself from having to tell exactly what happened and in what order, and gives us a vivid, personal rendering of his childhood holidays. Instead of plodding through year by half-remembered year, he follows his memories where they lead, and in this way paints a much richer picture. 


Read "A Child's Christmas in Wales." (Or listen to the author read it here.) 

If your character could paint and color the past any way they wanted to show how it looks to them--any way at all--fill the hills with wolves, put red flannel petticoats on the birds, make the sea sing carols--what would they show us? Set a timer for fifteen minutes and let your character speak.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Optional Reading: Bonus

I want to add this short, apocalyptic story. It's about disaster, denial, and not being able to predict the future, and it's been on my mind today.

"The Invasion from Outer Space," by Steven Millhauser

Friday Optional Reading: Cheever Again!

This week's optional reading is the same as last week's: John Cheever's "The Country Husband." Most folks didn't get a chance to get to it last week—which was fine, as it was optional. But I'd love it if you could try to read it this week, and focus on the ending in particular: the paragraphs beginning with the lines "It is a week or ten days later in Shady Hill."

As you read, look for images and ideas he has picked up from earlier in the story. The elephants crossing the mountains is one. Can you spot more? 

And what about the tone of this section? I re-read it just now and was shocked to find no mention of gin in it! In the softened, sentimental, and achingly sad quality of the end--the section beginning with the line "It is a week or ten days later in Shady Hill"--I always get a strong sense of drunkenness--and I feel pretty sure that Francis Weed, like Cheever himself, and probably every other other suburban dad in the 1950s, would be a little drunk at that hour, so I was surprised to note that it doesn't actually say that in the story--the image of him holding a cocktail is so vivid in my mind. Isn't it funny how that can happen? What do you think of the tone? 

This is my favorite line: 

"The village hangs, morally and economically, from a thread; but it hangs by its thread in the evening light."

 Here's the story again: