A Bird’s-Eye View

A Bird’s-Eye View (a new essay about the writing life)

“Maybe you just need some distance.” Words often offered as a gentle suggestion when perhaps your writing isn’t going as planned. Maybe you’ve even said these words to yourself. You keep re-reading the same pages, changing a word or a sentence. Then putting the original word back in. Looking at other drafts and deciding you should have stayed with Draft #3. Or maybe Draft #5 is better. Or maybe…

Therein madness lies. Or at the very least, frustration.

But you have to stick with it, don’t you? Persevere. Now’s not the time to wimp out. You always knew that Draft #2 was your best. Maybe the ending from #4 could be tacked onto Draft #2 somehow. That ending was really good. Some of your best work. Continue reading

A Writer’s Writer: May Sarton

Every writer I know keeps notebooks (whether “real” notebooks or virtual) where they write or record things other (usually more well-known) writers have said that strike them as helpful, or just plain lovely. These notebooks are usually also the repository for other random thoughts the writer might have: story ideas, books they want to read, authors they want to check out – basically anything that might pertain to their writing life.

Going back and looking through these notebooks is a favorite activity of mine. I count it as “real work,” which means that when I go through these notebooks I am actually finding all sorts of potential “jumping-off points” for my own work. This is very helpful when I am casting about for what to work on next, or when I need a break from what I am working on.

I often share quotes from other writers on Twitter, but many of the authors I like best do not share their observations in 140 characters or less. With that in mind, I offer some of my favorite quotes from random notebooks – quotes that I liked so much, I felt compelled to find a pen and notebook to record them. (Seems like a somewhat arcane task, nevertheless…) Continue reading

Denis Johnson: An Appreciation

One of my favorite writers passed away on May 24, 2017 at age 67. I was re-reading his work and came across this review/appreciation that I had written a couple of years ago.

Denis Johnson writes with a unique, confident, and oddly compelling voice in a style that does not fit “normal” criteria for structure, characterization, or narrative plot. Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter.

The eleven linked stories in Jesus’ Son are all narrated by an unnamed protagonist, a young man who lives a grim life of addiction and alcoholism, but who is also somehow funny and likable (to the reader, anyway). He is the ultimate flawed character, and his only redeeming quality throughout these stories is that he knows he’s flawed. Sometimes he tries to remedy this; often he just doesn’t. The writing has a hallucinatory quality to it, a steady stream of the subconscious that is so dead-on and piercing in its observations of surroundings and of the people the protagonist bumps up against. Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor: An Appreciation

(After reading Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch, I wrote this appreciation/review.)

I find that there is something inherently satisfying, as a writer, reading about another writer’s life – even when that writer is stratospherically in another universe of literary skill and reputation. And in Brad Gooch’s thorough and admiring 2009 biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (amazingly, the first comprehensive book-length biography of O’Connor), the reader is given a large picture window through which to view the author’s life.

That picture window gives us a view mostly of O’Connor’s life at Andalusia, the family “farm” in Milledgeville, Georgia, where O’Connor lived most of her sadly shortened adult life, and where the author honed her craft through shrewd observation and painstaking work habits. However, biographer Gooch, praised for his previous biography City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, also gives the reader a comprehensive and fascinating glimpse into O’Connor’s formative childhood, adolescent, and college years. Although it may be that those of us who have never spent any time in the American south are more susceptible to being charmed by southerners and their (to us) quirky lifestyles, family relationships, and un-imitatable ways of speaking. Continue reading