the next writer in the series: july 1, 2014

fenton johnson

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

wxw: tomales bay


Five amazing days–October 16-20–at the Marconi Center in Tomales Bay for Writing By Writers‘ first conference with Dorothy Allison, Ron Carlson, Pam Houston, Fenton Johnson (Fenton the Human), Antonya Nelson, and Carl Phillips. Morning workshops. Afternoon panels. Evening readings. The … Continue reading

brattleboro literary festival: after

Brattleboro Literary Festival

More than 50 authors were loose on the streets of Brattleboro, Vermont, for the fun and successful Brattleboro Literary Festival! The Literary Death Match was hilarious–Adrian Todd Zuniga as host. Roxana Robinson read against Rigoberto Gonzales , while Pam Houston read … Continue reading

writing by writers

writing by writers

Some of my favorite writers will be teaching workshops this coming October at Tomales Bay–Pam Houston, Ron Carlson, Antonya Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, Fenton Johnson, and Carl Phillips. Writing By Writers is hosting six workshops October 16-20, 2013 at the Marconi … Continue reading

not every sentence can be great but every sentence must be good


Thrilled to have a craft essay in the new issue of Brevity, which includes fifteen brief wonderful essays by Sven Birkerts, Brian Doyle, Robin Hemley, David Jauss, Thomas Larson, and more. Plus other craft essays by Philip Graham and Mary Clearman … Continue reading

shifting light

From Colorado, California, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and Germany–we are a writing group that meets twice a year in person and exchanges manuscripts two other times by mail. We read a book a month and discuss it online. We also eat and hike. Sometimes we dance or howl. Ten to twelve women, depending.

Last week we met in Creede, Colorado, at Pam Houston’s ranch. For one, it was the first meeting with the group. For me, it’s the beginning of my fifth year. The food was spectacular–maybe even better than usual–or maybe I was hungrier. On Wednesday night Summer Wood read from her new novel-in-progress. On Thursday night we sat outside and listened to the sounds of MoJones as the light shifted above and around us.

rock stars (plural) at awp

Get ready for some name-dropping rock star highlights from awp 2011 in Washington DC: running into Josh Ritter in the bar Wednesday night…ricotta pancakes with sour cherries Thursday morning…sitting behind Jennifer Egan on Saturday and hearing her read “You (Plural)” from A Visit From the Goon Squadseeing the millions of real live books on the book fair tables…listening to Josh Ritter give his first reading and listening to him sing…a nice, long visit with Robin Black…dinner in Adams Morgan with Benjamin Percy and Pam Houston, and Fenton Johnson and Pam Houston…seeing all my VCFA friends and wonderful conversations with Dave JaussSue Silverman, Patrick Maddenlunch with my niece and a friend, listening to Charles Baxter on book reviews “to say a book is boring does not say anything about the book; it says something about the reader”… Elizabeth Cox on the dialogue in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”…Jill McCorkle: “She’d a been a good writer if there’d been somebody standing there with a red pen her whole life”…Richard Bausch on Hemingway edits…quick visits with Sheri Reynolds, Hannah Tinti, Maribeth BatchaBruce Machart, Robin Oliveira, Tony EprileEllen Lesser, Richard McCann, Vivian DorselRobin HemleyConnie May Fowlergoing to the book fair again and again and seeing all the millions of real books out there in the world, meeting in person Mike Curtis, Cornelius Eady, Lucy Corin, Richard Peabody, Megan Sexton, Matt Bell, Diane Goettel …books, bookmarks, buttons, and more…

the last day

Well, it’s Saturday, the last day the ten of us will be together at Pam Houston‘s ranch in Creede, Colorado. Lots of reading and little extra time. Our next meeting will be seven days instead of six.

I’m up early to finish reading manuscripts. Two stories this morning then a phone conference on two stories this afternoon. Last night, after Greg and Tina opened on electric guitars, Pam read the amazing end of the book she’s just finished. We’ve been hearing sections for a while, but no one had heard the end. Wow. Now the waiting until we can hold the book in our hands and read it over and over again.

It was a quick week. Welcome dinner Monday night. Two manuscripts on Tuesday with a talk on language–the beauty of sentences–that afternoon by Greg Glazner. Then back for the best salmon I’ve ever tasted. Tuesday, three novel excerpts, then that evening, a reading by Summer Wood from her soon-to-be published novel Wrecker, as well as a reading by Greg from his book in progress.

Thursday we left papers behind and hiked in Phoenix Park up to the waterfall. It was a stunningly beautiful day with a bright blue sky and shimmering aspens everywhere–quakies. Lunch outside at Kip’s. And then the Saints game–party courtesy of our New Orleans writer, Karen, including seven-layer dip, a jersey, and a particularly good photo of Jeremy Shockey.

Yesterday, four stories, a pasture walk, and then a novel excerpt bring us to our wonderful evening last night. After today’s work, it will be dinner and a play in town.

I’ll be up at 5:30 in the morning for my drive back to real life.

not searching for structure

I’m trying not to search for structure. I’m trying just to write. I wrote a few pages this morning.

With the other things I’ve written, I’ve seen the structure from the very beginning. As I type these words, I realize: I’ve also seen the story from the beginning too. So, hmmm…

Anyway, I’ve just read a few pages in Mark Rose’s Shakespearean Design. I spent ten minutes taking apart Pam Houston’s Sight Hound–8 chapters within which 12 different narrators have sections, some speaking only once.

Now I’m on the floor, playing with books. I’ve taken all of Ellen Gilchrist‘s books off my shelf–all 22 of them. I quickly return to the shelf her 1987 and her 2000 versions of Falling Through Space (her journal), as well as her book on The Writing LifeAnabasis (her novel that takes place in ancient times), her Collected Stories, and my hardback copy of The Anna Papers.

After a second’s glance, I also return to the shelf her two lives-in-stories: Nora Jane and Rhoda. I love these two books in which all the stories she wrote over twenty years about Rhoda are collected in one volume and those about Nora Jane, in another volume.

That leaves me with three stacks: her six other novels, her nine other collections of stories, and her one collection of novellas.

I start with the novels. The first one I pick up is The Anna Papers–possibly my favorite. There’s a Contents page:  a Prelude, and then five named parts. I skip the prelude, read the first paragraph of Chapter 1, skip to the second to last page of the first part and read. I turn the page to Part II, then another page to read the beginning of Chapter 15 (so the chapter numbers continue through the parts). I want to catch the reason for the separate parts. I read two and a half pages and am swept away.

That’s when I hopped up to write this post. The Anna Papers is one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to write. To do this. What she did.

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