The secret life of the alphabet.

December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments


I spend most days creating characters out of words—which is pretty abstract.

Even more abstract are the words themselves, figments of the collective imagination of a set of symbols called the alphabet.

Each letter is translated to sound in the mind, but a letter also exists in its own right as a shape on the page, a shape with an attitude, a personality.

Take A for instance. A is confrontational. Note the wide stance, the arms crossed on the chest. A is adamant, stubborn and tough. Being a writer who struggles with confrontations I’d diffuse A’s anger by bringing B into the scene.

B is that bosomy older woman who will hug the mad right out of anyone, even a hot head like A.

C shows up in my stories a lot. Open, receptive, a good listener. Having C in a story allows the writer to turn exposition into dialogue making critics less likely to ding them for loading up on exposition and backstory.

D is that dandy who thinks he’s all-that—note the straight back and the thrown out chest. Writing D I’d like to give him a secret fear, something to make him, if not likable at least more human, but I have a hard time getting past the smell of his cologne. « Read the rest of this entry »

St. George Souvenir.

November 17, 2014 § 6 Comments

Shrimp boat.Every November I lead a women’s writing retreat on St. George Island. I spend the days before we sequester ourselves in the ultimate “room with a view,” inventing the writing exercises we will do when we gather around the sprawling dining room table.

Here is one of the exercises from our latest retreat.

Begin every paragraph with the words Where I come from… Then choose nouns from the provided list to write about.

I wish you could read your way around that table, but you’ll have to settle for looking over my shoulder:

Where I come from the dogs are mostly pit bulls with vacant eyes and mangy collars. They hit backyard fences hard, or wander, a few links of chain jangling. Their damp noses are the color of pencil erasers. They slink across yards stopping only to lift a leg on an azalea bush.

Where I come from the older trees that convinced us to choose this neighborhood are quietly dying. Live oaks and water oaks drop limbs on cars and swing sets. Something about the changing climate; too wet. too dry, too hot, too cold is felling these giants that have held up the sky for so long. Dismembered, they sit in piles by the side of the road in chunks too large for firewood. « Read the rest of this entry »

Following the light.

September 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sunflowers in Maine.Watch a field of sunflowers.

Like an audience, the flowers turn, tracking the progress of the sun across the sky.

Heliotropic, sunflowers always follow the light.

Once, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I saw dozens of ravens, each in the top of a tall pine.

All faced into the storm, oriented to ride the whip of that wind.

Like the sunflower, like the raven, each of us seeks a direction to face that makes our lives possible.

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Write some. Live some.

June 7, 2014 § 11 Comments

Cass, peeking through the knothole in the fence in the stage version of "Crossing Jordan."

Cass, peeking through the knothole in the fence in the stage version of “Crossing Jordan.”

In 1998—a lifetime ago—I began writing a book called “Crossing Jordan.”

It was my third novel, and I was still finding my feet as a writer.

I am almost always spurred to write a story by some small, random incident that would otherwise be quickly forgotten.


In this case it was a conversation with the girl next door who said her family was about to move because there were getting to be too many black people in our neighborhood.

As soon as the door closed behind her, I sat down and began to write.

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He grinned.

February 2, 2014 § 6 Comments

English is a well-upholstered language.

A Harvard/Google study put the number of distinct words in the language at 1,022,000 with an annual growth rate of 8,500 words.

Resourceful and robust, English equips the writer with muscular verbs, subtly shaded adjectives, not to mention adverbs (which should only be used in a pinch).

Consider the verb “to walk.” Not much color there, no vivid mental picture, just a workman like verb for putting one foot in front of the other.

But “walk” has about sixty synonyms, each with a different shade of meaning: strut, limp, sashay, amble, lumber, march, pace, plod, meander, stride, stagger.

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Hob-nobbing with my brother wizards.

September 29, 2013 § 5 Comments

Author on the road.When asked why he is taking off in that balloon, the Wizard of Oz replies, “Why, to confer, converse and otherwise hob-nob with my brother wizards.”

And that’s what I did last week, although “brother” is misleading, as most in the field of English and reading education are female.

The wizards of the Florida Reading Association gathered in Orlando, at a sprawling resort called Rosen’s Shingle Creek, which did its best to convince us we were not in Kansas anymore.

Which was good.

Teachers spend their working lives in Kansas, struggling against tight budgets, standardized tests administered to non-standardized kids, seventeen minute lunches and no bathroom breaks.

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Under the rainbow.

September 14, 2013 § 13 Comments

Her whole job is an exercise in short-term memory.

Which one gets scrambled. Which gets over-easy. Which cup gets topped off with high-test, which with decaf.

She’s so dog tired some days she only knows right from left if she looks at her hands: regular right, decaf left.

A cup of Joe.She will probably arrive at the pearly gates armed with regular right, decaf left. And she’ll say to St. Peter, “Can I warm that up for you, hon?”

She’ll top off his cup, then ask, “You mind getting that big door? My hands are kinda full.”

She’ll be wearing her white support hose, hopefully without runs–and hopefully it will be close to payday, so she’ll just have had her hair done.

Couldn’t hurt to stride into glory looking good.

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