Friday, December 12, 2008

Good news!

Hi K,

I have good news, and these days, with all the doom and gloom, I'm just going to sing a little, enjoy a good moment in my life. My story, "Swimming with Dolphins" in Chautauqua, 20th Anniversary of the Chautauqua Writers' Center has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. How lovely to know the editors think it's such a good story. This certainly helps me to keep my butt in the seat, my fingers tapping away.

As a matter of fact, that's what I'm going to do right now. Work on that that final draft (I hope!) of the next novel. . .

Peace and all good things,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dear K,

We keep talking about the publishing industry and then get depressed and have to change the subject to happier things. There are, thankfully, happier things in both our lives. But shit... I'm afraid I'm going to depress you again. I found this story while searching for news about the publishing house where my novel is supposedly being read. Go take a look at this.

What do you think about them apples?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

new job

Dear K,
Hello again. Lot’s of excuses for not writing sooner. One of them, though, I get to blame on Neal, who suggested a few novels to read. I got Beauty, by Sherri S. Tepper, and I’m loving it. So thanks to Neal for that. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and the story completely pulls me in (as well as the writing), and I find I’m making more time to read again. It’s amazing the time you can find to read when a book won’t let you go.

Also, I’m writing again. A couple essays, the next novel, book reviews. Can’t say what triggered it, but I’m glad it’s back again. And I’ve started another job. (I’m one, obviously, who pieces together my life. Sometimes I wonder if a nine to five job would be easier–I’d be in one place all day, get a steady paycheck, etc, but I just can’t see myself doing that.) Anyway, I’m going to work part time at Loganberry Books. I went there a few weeks ago and "I’d love to work here," slipped out of my mouth, and I realized I meant it. Harriet, who owns the place, actually took me at my word, called me up, interviewed me (that was not easy–she had a test I had to take, and I freeze on tests), then called and said she’d like to give me try. I imagine I’ll shelve books, sell books, take care of books, all in this lovely bookstore, somewhere around 15 hours a week. Stop in if you can. I’ll be there Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.

So now I’m teaching at JCU, Hiram (coming up), Antioch’s low residency program, have a few private students, am working at a bookstore, and writing. It’s not as much as it sounds–I still have the best life, writing this now in my PJ’s, loving all I do–and then there’s Ron, loving me and helping in all ways. And I write more the less time I have. Don’t know why. You ever find you do that? Write more when free time actually gets tighter? I wonder what that’s all about.
Anyway, off to read a bit of Beauty. I’m with Neal–I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Dear K,
I am ashamed. Something in my emotional core yelled duck and cover, and I have. I have never played chicken like this before. I believed I was tougher than any adversary. Words and will power. Friends and good karma. These things would get me through. And they did. You know that. And really, I’m okay, safe and sound and loved. But I can find peace now only in a small space I’ve found for myself. I apologize for this, because it’s wrong not to fight the need to duck and cover–if I’m not in the actual way of harm. But so much I love is. Which makes it even worse I’m not up and fighting, but allow me this, please, for a little. It’s just my turn, and I’m taking it. There are so many people out there speaking up about the world and politics, in wise and passionate ways. I can’t add to that, and I never meant this blog to do that anyway. It was supposed to be about writing and reading. So here: I just read The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. A page-turner. A fascinating story that pulled me into a make-believe world. I need more page-turners. God, remember reading Shogun for the first time? The Stand? If you have any suggestions, let me know. I want a big fat book.

Peace and all good things,
and love, always that,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

what's up

Dear K,

Sorry I haven't written to you for a while. Lot's of excuses, but the one that's really stopping me from even the simple task of sitting at my computer and typing is the state of publishing and what's happening with fiction these days. Not that's there's not great books out there being published, but . . . hell you know what I'm taking about. You read Publishers Lunch, too, and Publishers Weekly. It's scary, just like everything is these days--politics, economics, the environment. . . I want to stay in bed, or live in the woods. I can hardly breathe when I read the news.

But we can't stay in bed all day or hide in the woods--although the novel I'm working on, when I work on it, is exactly about someone who has decided to hide, literally, in the woods. But the real me is out and about, taking in what is good in the world, like the two great literary events in town last week, The Lit's Writers & Their Friends Event, and The Anisfield Wolf Book Awards. And I'm teaching at The Western Reserve Writers' Conference this coming Saturday, and then I'm doing a really cool gig at The Cleveland Clinic, talking about my art to patients, their families, and the people who work there. The Clinic has set up a program with The Cleveland Arts Prize to bring past prize winners in to talk about their art. I'll let you know how that goes. Just wanted to say hi, let you know I'm still around.

Peace and all good things,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

what is creative nonfiction?

Dear K,

Since I’m teaching Creative Nonfiction now at JCU, I thought I'd look up some of the words I wanted to talk about on the first day of class, just to see how they were "officially" defined. I went to Some of the definitions made me less sure about what the words themselves really meant, and I always hate it when they use a version of the word to define the word. But as I went along, one word lead to another. It became a circular/maze kind of game that had some appeal to me, to see how enlightened and confused I could get at the same time. I printed up this list and gave it to my students. It seemed a good way to start a conversation about this class, which is really an art class offered through the English department. I wanted to give them some warning that it wouldn’t be like most of the other classes they might be taking, where there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. What I found by looking up the definitions was a good way to begin this conversation. So I thought I'd show you it, too, since this is the kind of stuff we talk about. I didn't get to "Truth" yet, although it certainly did come up in the classroom conversation.

Creative Nonfiction: Your search for 'Creative Nonfiction' did not match any dictionary results.

Fiction: 1) Something invented by the imagination. 2) An invented story.

Nonfiction: 1) Narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality. 2) Literature or cinema that is not fictional.

Literature: Writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.

Story: A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

Narrative: 1) A story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. 2) A book, literary work, etc., containing such a story. 3) The art, technique, or process of narrating.

Subjective: 1) Existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective). 2) Pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation. 3) Placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

Objective: 1) Something that one's efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish; purpose; goal; target: the objective of a military attack; the objective of a fund-raising drive. 2) Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion. 3) Intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.

Art: 1) The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. 2) The class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria.

Aesthetic: Pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality.

Monday, August 25, 2008

state of mind

Dear K
I’ve been in LA for five days, visiting my kids and my nephew’s family, completely disconnected from my normal reality. We ate great food, drove through Beverly Hills, walked along Venice Beach, played poker at a casino, went to The Getty, hung out in my nephew’s hot tub. I checked my e-mail 3 times, quickly. Now I’m back home, have been awake only a few hours this morning, and have been on the computer most of that time.

I have almost lost the ability to hand write, or to think about writing when I’m away from my computer. (And it has to be my computer, not someone else's) My brain connects writing with my computer. My brain connects work and self-importance to my computer. According to a fascinating book I’m reading for a review, Everyday Survival by Laurence Gonzales, our brain writes scripts (and we’re also born with pre-written scripts right in our DNA), and it takes a great deal of effort to rewrite or change these scripts, even if we understand that what we’re doing is not good for us. I moan and groan that the computer is ruining me, and yet. . . Here I am.

Here I will be.

Monday, August 18, 2008

20 Something Writers

Dear K,
I’m reading this book, 20 Something Essays by 20 Something Writers, because I’m going to teach a creative nonfiction course at JCU this fall. Yeah, not fiction. Just the way the scheduling worked out–they have a new guy, for a year, maybe more, to replace Steve Hayward, and he’s teaching all three Fiction Workshops (I imagine that will be a difficult task, workshopping 45 students. Whoa), and I’m doing the Intro to Creative Nonfiction workshop, which I do have some qualifications for, having taken that MFA course Neal Chandler taught (he’s brilliant, you know that, right), and I’ve had some essays published, but it will be a new course, and a new syllabus, and new books and exercises and all that, so I’m reading this book, and my god, it’s stunning. These writers. . . They are really, really good, and I start to think about how much talent is just blooming out there, and that maybe one of my students might be someone who has this kind of a gift, and I can help them find their voice. . . well, that would be very cool. Also, it gets me back to wanting to write stuff like this. Yeah, I’m inspired. So, here I was, moaning and groaning about not getting to teach fiction, and as often happens, it’s really a gift. It makes me work harder, read more. Think more. Want to write. Want to teach.

Anyway, I want to recommend this book to you. It’s edited by Matt Kellogg and Jillian Quint. There’s an essay by John Fischer that’s beautifully written and informative, about Internet technology and how it’s changing his life–and not in a good way. I’d sum up his thoughts for you, so I could sound smart, but I’ll leave it to him. That’s up to him, and if I don’t tell you anything (except I really love it) then he gets to surprise you, word by word. Also, take note of "You Shall Go Out With Joy and Be Lead Forth With Peace," by Kyle Minor. Wish I had the guts to copy this one for my class and hand it out. (I found this book too late to put it on the required reading. Paula McLain just recommended it to me. She taught this course last year, but isn’t this time. (But that’s her story to tell.) This story, the one by Kyle Minor, well it might be too edgy for my JCU students. Not all of them, but some. The language is a bit "rough" too. I have to be careful. Maybe after I get to know them better. . . Anyway, his essay made the hair on my arms stand up. No joke. That’s a rare thing. If you read it, let me know what you think. Also"Tricycle," by Rachel Kempf is wonderful. Most of the essays are. Just thought I’d mention it.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

A letter to K

Dear K,

I’ve been thinking about this blog thing, pretty much figuring that I need more photos. Bells and whistles and blinking avatars. Something bright and shiny like fishing lures. Then I figured out what was wrong.

I began this blog because it seemed to be a good way to offer information about writerly things that I think, do, or will do, and it was, in my head, written to a general public, a writerly general public, which reduced the reader to a common denomnator, and my words felt common, and only vaguely interesting. Heartfelt, but dry. Even I wouldn’t stop by often. Maybe blogging is easier than making a lot of phone calls, or mass e-mails, but it somehow bores me to tears. This will not work. Not for you. Not for me.

The blog entries that interest me most are those that share a quick personal moment, or an intriguing or lyrical line one might think about for the rest of the day. Someone opens a tiny door in their head for me to peek into, shows me something quite personal they are willing to offer to others. Something they care about. They hold it out to me and say, if you like, here it is. Thanks for looking. I grow bored with the doors that are too wide open, where I feel as if I’m watching someone trim their toenails.

So, while writing a blog post about how I think about writing a blog (all of which I erased twice already), I came to wonder what it is I want from blogging, and who I’m writing to anyway. I don’t want to generalize my reader, so that my words become careful and sweet, even if somewhat helpful. (To me? To them?) And yet, I want to, need to, blog. The world of writing, and publishing, is changing, and I need to try to get my feet wet in this river of webwords. I need to see if I can swim here, too–or not. And I want attention, just like everyone else who blogs. I want to say something in this public format.

So, this is what I’ve come up with, for now. I’m going to write to a particular person. Make it personal. I picked you because you’re a writer. Maybe you’ll write back. Or not. No pressure. Maybe other people will write in. But I’m going to write to you, K. Hope that’s okay. (People may think they know who you are, but don't worry, they can't be sure. I can name four writer freinds who's names start with the letter K.)

Short notes from now on. Probably. Sometimes I go on too long. You know that about me. You’ve been very kind to let me go on. I’ve always felt you were a really good person to talk with.

Until the next time,
peace and all good things,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Workshop at The Spencer canceled

Note: My writers' workshop at The Spencer (see previous post) has been canceled. They are going to revamp their whole special events calendar. It was their first year at trying to offer programs and events, and they’ve just realized that their wonderful ideas may have been a lot of fun, but maybe they were over ambitious in their expectations. They are scaling back by about half, but promise me I’ll be there sometime in the next year. So for those of you who have expressed interest, I’ll certainly post something as soon as I know when that will be. Thanks for those notes letting me know you were going to register, and I hope to se you there in the future.

P.S. I get lovely notes from people who stop by this blog, sent to my e-mail address, which is perfectly fine, but I’d love to develop a place where writers can talk and get to know each other, so please remember to post a comment here too!


Friday, July 25, 2008


I’ve been in Chautauqua for almost two weeks, and I’m so lucky to be able to have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to (mostly) pick and chose when I take a break from work and the day-to-day demands of real life. While I’m there, I’m living my fantasy life: floating in my pond, hiking in the woods, reading for hours in the sun or shade, moving slowly, writing by hand in real paper notebooks. I try to stay away from the computer. Which is why this post has taken so long.

The day after I got back, I taught at Cleveland State University’s Imagination High, and nothing gives you a kick in the ass to get back to writing as when you see all the talent and enthusiasm of the next generation coming up behind you. (Okay, a few generations.) This is what amazes me most: I give them a writing exercise, and they do it. They make it happen. They create something wonderful using only pen, paper and their minds. An example of one exercise: They create a complex character using a pair of shoes (I brought a box of shoes in) and a three page questionnaire I’ve written up. (The shoes idea is from a writing exercise in Outspoken, a book by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger.) Then they need to chose a particular time in their character’s lives, place them in a specific place (from a short list I give them, such as a hospital, family dinner, running across a yard, or at a country fair or amusement park. I tell them that their character’s heart is racing. Why? What’s happening? Then they write, heads bent over paper. They make up wonderful stories. They surprise me. They surprise themselves. What great energy! I get infected by it. That’s what we do as writers, we find ways to infect ourselves with the spirit of invention and imagination. We do it by reading, teaching, talking with other writers, watching people, dreaming, hiking in the woods.

In an impromptu panel discussion, Jonathan Fairman, who lead the workshops, answered a student’s question about writer’s block with the following suggestion, one he heard from another writer. (I will call Jonathan and get that writer’s name, and add it to the next post.) Here’s the suggestion: If you have writer’s block, go to a place where you are completely alone, and bring nothing along with you, nothing to write with, nothing to read, nothing to do. (No knitting, cards, etc.) Sit there for a few hours. I love this suggestion. How "out-of-the-box" is this idea, and how dead on? This is why I love teaching at writer’s workshops for teenagers, to get inspiration from the students and the other teachers. How lucky am I that I get paid to do this?

What’s your answer to writer’s block?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Writers' groups on the west side

The very first question I received following my last post was a question from Susan, a writer who took classes I taught at Imagination II, at the Rocky River Nature Center. What a beautiful place that is! She’s wondering if I know of any writers’ workshop groups on the west side, near Berea and North Olmsted. I’m sorry to say that I don’t. Maybe someone reading this post might? Can anyone let us know about writers’ groups in that area?

Sometimes The Lit keeps lists of writers’ workshops. The Lit is the new name for the old Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, which has been around for close to 30 years. If you are a writer and don’t know about The Lit, you should go to their webpage and learn about them, and see what kind of help they might be able to offer you.

Also, sometimes libraries and bookstores offer writers’ workshop groups for their patrons and customers. I’ve just sent letters to many of the libraries in and around Cleveland, offering to speak to groups who might be interested in starting a writers’ workshop, so call your library and ask if they have any other patrons who might be interested in getting together there to workshop their writing, or if they already have a group going. See if you can start your own group, with their help, using a room in their space. Libraries and bookstores are a good place to start if you don’t really know the other people very well. (Better than inviting strangers to your house, or going to their's, at least until you get to know them, and decide if the group will really work out for you.)

So, at least I have a few suggestions. If you can help Susan, please post a comment.

And finally, I’d like to recommend a book. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Her writing is stunning, her characters vivid and heartbreaking. The dialog is dead on. It’s a collection of short stories that are tied together by the character of Olive Kitteridge, who appears in some as a secondary character, and in other stories as the main view point character. It’s a wonderful book if you’re a reader, and a must read if you’re a writer.

Peace and all good things.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chautauqua Writing Classes, and blogs

Anyone who knows me at all knows that Chautauqua, NY has been an important place in my life. I’ve been going there since I was five weeks old. I’ve never lived in the Chautauqua Institution, but that’s where the boys’ and girls’ club is that I went to (where they tossed me, screaming, into the lake twice a day), and the theater where my father acted and directed (and I worked for four summers.) I’ve taught at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center several times, and now I’m going to be doing a workshop at The Spencer Hotel, in the fall. I’m giving some advance notice here because I’m going to cap the class at nine people, so that everyone will get the attention and help they need.

The Spencer Hotel has author's themes for each of its rooms, and offers writing workshops, as well as a lot of other fun packages. Here's a link to the writing classes. You can scroll down to find my class.

And speaking of things Chautauqua, I’ve got a new short story out in Chautauqua: 20th Anniversary of the Chautauqua Writers' Center. It’s a collection of poetry and prose by writers who have taught at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.

And speaking of me, this is exactly what feels so weird about blogging. I’ve got this place where I tell you what I’m up to. Well, that’s all nice and helpful for people who are looking for writing classes, or maybe something I’ve written, but obviously a blog needs to be something more. I follow friends’ blogs because they share their thoughts, photos and drawings, and by going to their page I feel like I’m staying in touch, even on a busy day. I don’t go to the blogs of people I don’t know–except for this one I used to go to called Miss Snark. She’s a literary agent who gave some great advice and answered questions about writing and publishing, all in a very funny, snarky voice. She’s stopped blogging now, but you can still go and see her archives.

So, since I’m a writer, I guess some writerly things would be nice on this blog. I’m going to give this a try. Post something writerly every week. Maybe a quote, maybe a bit of advice I’ve just heard and loved. Maybe a book recommendation. Maybe something writerly I’m thinking about at the moment. And, like Miss Snark, I will try to answer some writerly questions. So send me a question, to and I’ll pick the ones I might actually have an answer for, or a thought or a suggestion.

peace and all good things.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Imagination High

Hello again. As promised, I’m going to try to keep a list here of some of the teaching and reading gigs I’m doing, so here’s the next one: I’ll be teaching fiction writing at Cleveland State University's Imagination High. This Creative Workshop for High School Writers takes place Monday, July 21 through Saturday, July 26. You can get further information about this workshop at

Friday, June 6, 2008


Well, I’ve stepped into a blog–pushed actually by the charming and adamant Michael Salinger, who entirely believes I might be able to figure out how to make posts and keep readers and friends updated on my oh-so-exciting writing life. It does seem this might be a good way to let you know where I will be reading or teaching next. (For those of you who have been so kind to have asked.) I’m not much of one for writing a public journal, and I may not be making frequent postings, but I will try to keep this site up-dated with any news I might have about my writing life. So if you’re interested in coming to a reading, or finding where I’m teaching a class or doing a talk, this would be the place to look. My website will also have some kind of simple calendar, with dates and times, although this blog will probably have the most recent information.

Thanks to Michael for setting up my website and this blog, and taking the time to help me into the big wide world of the web. I’m taking baby steps for now. So Michael, when you read this, I expect you to applaud, and say "Good girl, you can do this."

Now I have to figure out what I am doing in the next few months, and post that next.