Monday, September 22, 2014

So You Want Some Rules….Or Would it be Advise?

I've never been big on all those "rules" and "tips" all over the Internet about writing. Do this; don't do that; blah, blah. But…

Stephen King put together a list recently and I must say, it's pretty darn good…

His list of twenty rules

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”
12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”
15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creative Nonfiction?

This is the essence of creative nonfiction. And leave it to Emerson to say it precisely. 

"The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the Universe which runs through himself and all things.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm going to read this to my students in the Radio Storytelling class. See if they agree. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ten Books with the Biggest Influence

I was reading a fellow author's blog just the other day and he listed the books that he very much wanted his children to read in their lifetimes. Books that he said were the most influential to him in his life. The Bible topped the list. And for him, it was important that he offered these titles to his sons and daughters.

My two boys would most likely give me some big time ribbing if I made such a list. They would think it was somehow pretentious and terribly parental. "Seriously, Dad?"

But the post did get me thinking about the books that have made an impact of some sort. And maybe, if my sons see this, the idea of actually reading these books might rub off. Maybe. LOL.

Here are my ten in no particular order.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

The Sun Also Rises, Ernst Hemingway

Go Dogs, Go, P.D. Eastman

Wild Stories, a collection nonfiction stories by the likes of P. J. O’Rourke, Rick Bass, Thomas McGuane, George Plimpton, and Hampton Sides, to name just a few. 

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Call of the Wild, Jack London

The White Album, Joan Didion

The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson

Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, William Butler Yeats

Oh, there are more. But I think this is a good top ten. And you?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Writer's Game of Tag

I was pretty fast when I was young, fast enough to avoid getting tagged and told, “you’re it!” But speed has gone the way of my hair. So, Mary T. Wagner, the author of When the Shoe Fits…Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances found it relatively easy to catch up with me. This is not to imply that Mary is super fast, although she’s certainly pretty quick with her wit and insight. If you’ve ever read her work or heard her read her stories at a live lit event, you know that. And it is also not to imply that I am so terribly slow that anyone can “tag” me. Let’s just say that running after and away from people these days is a far different game than it was decades ago.  

This little game of blog tag comes at a great time. This early autumn, the new Dream of Things edition of Any Road Will Take You There will be released. I’m so honored to be part of the Dream of Things family. Publisher Mike O’Mary is dedicated to offering “meaningful books” and I’m so thrilled that he believes Any Road Will Take You There fits in that category. Plus, this spring Dream of Things will publish my collection of essays: There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard. And once again, I am indebted to Mike and Dream of Things.

Still, Mary is the star here today. She’s the one who invited me into this blog tag and I am here to keep the game going!


“What am I working on?” – Lots! I teach college and I’ve got two classes underway this fall. One is a radio storytelling class where we take creative nonfiction stories written by the students and turn them into audio presentations, like something you might hear on This American Life. It’s really a wonderful process and the students have great stories to tell. I also continue to work as a reporter and anchor for CBS radio in Chicago. And I’m working on the final details for the new release of Any Road Will Take You There.

I also have a novel I’m hoping to get published soon. I’m now working on final edits and have at least one publisher interested. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The novel is entitled Night Radio and revolves around a young man who has dreams of being the next great Rock n’ Roll radio personality at a time when music on the radio had cultural relevance. But his own demons and the mistakes of his father haunt him, eventually derail him, and then ultimately help to inspire him to host a special radio event that will be the most difficult and rewarding of his life

“How does my work differ from others in its genre?” – My work is different, I believe, in that the stories – true or fiction – revolve around the male experience. Most of my work is creative nonfiction, memoir, personal stories, with a uniquely male perspective to them. Believe it or not, men can be introspective and deeply emotional. I try to bring that out in my work. The books and essays are not the male version of what some call “chick lit” or women-centric stories, but rather they are tales of how men fit into the world, about their dreams, worries, mistakes, and miscues. I want to shine the light on vulnerability, a trait rarely acknowledged by men. I frequently encounter men who tell me how I have been able to put into words what they had not been able to say. And the women who read my stories say they have given my books to the men in their lives as gifts. I am truly honored.  

“Why do I write what I do?” This may sound trite or cliché, but I have to write what I write. It is part of who I am and what I want to be. Even if I were not being published, I would probably write the same stories. It is like breathing.

“How does my writing process work?” – There’s a process? LOL. Yes, I guess there is. First, I write nearly every single day. It may be very short, but I write. It’s important to stay limber. Like working out; you have to do it regularly.

I also keep notes on my computer and in several Moleskine journals. I refer to them often and when I’m ready, I start to write. Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” This is exactly how I work. I write to discover my story. It’s not the other way around. I use no outlines, only the aforementioned notes, then I redraft over and over until I dig through the words and find what I’m trying to say.

And now it’s time to get back to the game…

I’m tagging two authors, both wonderful writers with incredible stories.

Madeline Sharples’ memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the harrowing but ultimately uplifting tale about her son Paul's diagnosis with bipolar disorder, through his suicide at her home, to the present day. It details how Madeline, her husband, and younger son weathered every family's worst nightmare.

In addition to Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) a book about women in nontraditional professions and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show,Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (2010). Her poetry accompanies the work of photographer Paul Blieden in two books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy as well as appearing in print and online on many occasions.

Madeline is now a full-time writer and is working on her next book, a novel, based in the 1920s. She and Bob, her husband of 40+ years, live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles.

And there’s Eleanor Vincent. 

Eleanor has unbelievable courage to tell a story that is both heartbreaking and healing.

This is from the Dream of Things website. I couldn’t say it better:

Swimming With Maya demonstrates the remarkable process of healing after the traumatic death of a loved one. Eleanor Vincent raised her two daughters, Maya and Meghan, virtually as a single-parent. Maya, the eldest, was a high-spirited and gifted young woman. As a toddler, Maya was an angelic tow-head, full of life and curiosity. As a teenager, Maya was energetic and independent – and often butted heads with her mother. But Eleanor and Maya were always close and connected, like best friends or sisters, but always also mother and daughter.

Then at age 19, Maya mounts a horse bareback as a dare and, in a crushing cantilever fall, is left in a coma from which she will never recover. Ultimately Eleanor chooses to donate Maya’s organs. Years later, she is able to hear Maya’s heart beat in the chest of the heart recipient. In a story that has been called “heartbreaking and heart-healing,” Eleanor Vincent illuminates the kind of courage, creativity, faith, and sheer tenacity it takes to find one’s balance after unthinkable tragedy.

Madeline and Eleanor…you’re now IT.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thinking About Nature

I need to walk in the woods more. I am a member at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago, and get there far less than I would like. And I did hike in The Rockie Mountains recently. But I read today a passage in a beautifully written book I picked up recently. The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich. It's creative nonfiction, a memoir of sorts, and it is stunning. Like all good creative nonfiction, the pieces in this collection are about far more than they first imply.

In an essay entitled "On Water," Ehrlich writes about life, it's changing, evolving nature and its magical link to nature itself.

"Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still. Lovers, farmers, and artists have one thing in common, at least -- a fear of dry spells, dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize. Too little water brings on the weeds, while too much degrades the soil the way too much easy money can trivialize a person's initiative. In his journal, Thoreau wrote, "a man's life should be as fresh as a river. It should be the same channel but a new water every instant."