Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eight Rules for Writing a Short Story

Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules

for writing a short story:
(I've posted these before but they are worth posting again.)

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O'Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

There Were Hundreds

today I saw leaves
rising and falling 
in the sky
turning slowly
so light on the air
almost like feathers
dark on one side
silver on the other
far, far
I don't mean
they were falling from trees
they were high as kites
I had to squint
not believing
wondering what science
made this possible
who would believe this
without factual explanation
there were hundreds
while I was thinking all this
they moved on
but before that my husband
had burst into the house
saying, Come look
and I wondered
what's the hurry

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Haiku #284

faraway croaking
hard to believe
it's really a bird

Haiku #283

first tick:
my husband finds it
petting his favorite dog

Haiku #282

This cold rainy evening
I pinch my hamburger
the dog looks up

Haiku #281

spring rain
the roof leaking
upon Trakl's poems

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Published Haibun #2

My second published haibun is here:

Early Spring

I lay in the field
waiting for the morning sun
to melt frost from my bones
by late spring I will leave you
my brass zipper
buttons and the bottoms
of my shoes

After Reading Rilke's First Elegy

I whispered something
it flew into a flock of doves
a thousand ears and eyes
just as he said
the birds felt it
with more passionate flying

Haiku #280

beneath the pink sunset
of a clearing sky
a sprinkling of snow

Early Spring

rain all day.
by evening, snow.
in a graveyard,
on top of a tombstone,
a wreath of purple flowers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Haiku #279

in winter's brown stubble
a black bird waits for spring
yesterday I spread wildflower seeds

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Early Spring

Rain all day.
By evening, snow. 
In a graveyard,
on top of a tombstone,
a new wreath of purple flowers.
Home, beneath the pink sunset
of a clearing sky, 
a sprinkling of snow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Haiku #278

gray cat
on my stone buddha

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It has been awhile since I tried out my win-journal software. This is just a test to see if it publishes to my blog.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joseph Campbell Meditation #2

"Perfection is inhuman.  Human beings are not perfect.  What evokes our love--and I mean love, not lust--is the imperfection of the human being.  So, when the imperfection of the real person peeks through, say, 'This is a challenge to my compassion.'  Then make a try, and something might begin to get going."  from Pathways to Bliss

I have to begin by saying this:  writing about this quote makes me feel like a hypocrite.  It's so utterly true that what I value in others (their humanness) I try to deny in myself.  So it stands to reason that one of the hardest things for me to do always has been to write truthfully.  To write truthfully means I will have to reveal some unsavory aspect of my psyche or my experience.  I don't mean factual truth, but the truths about my shame and my fears.  

The characters in stories I love best are flawed ones, and when I read a story I try to think of the characters not in terms of judgment but in terms of compassion.  This truly has become one of the most pleasurable aspects of reading for me.  In Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, there's a character named King who lies, drinks, neglects his child, and beats his wife.  And yet it is clear from the narrative that Erdrich, the writer, doesn't judge King.  By extension, she challenges the reader not to judge him, but to love him. 

One of my favorite authors, Andre Dubus (who wrote the great story from which the film In the Bedroom was made), said that his characters are neither good nor bad:  they are human.  When I read--or write--a story, I try to empty myself of biases or preconceptions, and I try to deeply penetrate the characters' minds.  If the story is well-written, you'll be able to do that.

I try to come to each writing project--story or poem- with a fresh and open mind.  My process is organic.  I create and then wait.  Create and wait.  I don't stop until a work "feels right."  Or until it's plain to me that the story is never going to work.  Sometimes it never feels right.  I used to think I was failure when this happened; now I shrug and move on.  It wasn't meant to be; there was a fatal mistake in it somewhere.  Perhaps the idea will morph into something that will work later on.

My writing feels right when every sentence seems true.  Each new day I'm a different person, minute to minute, second to second, I am evolving, understanding more, or sometimes I'm backsliding and trying to get back to where I was.  Writing is a record of the evolution of your consciousness.  

I used to try to make my writing perfect; I don't anymore.  I want it to be human, to say something clearly and truthfully.  It's easy to master techniques; it's hard to say something that's true.  Every molecule of our being resists it because our authority figures have punished us for the kinds of failures we most need to explore in our writings.   

It's all about love, man, it's all about love.

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for a character of pure evil in a story.  There are people who cannot be redeemed, who have no conscious, who are ciphers, blanks.  Literature is full of villains, and sometimes a story needs one for balance.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Joseph Campbell Meditation #1

"Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place.  Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life.  The Kingdom of God is within you."  from Thou Art That

I owe Joseph Campbell a lot.  When I found Power of Myth, I understood I had discovered a work that would dramatically change my reason for writing.  I'd been living for so long without a center.  I was in a dry place.  I wanted to write but the writing was dead.  I still feel that sometimes, but now I know how to reach the center of my creativity.  Not that it's always easy and not that I'm always successful.  But at least now I know I have a center; I know how it feels to write from that place.

I was reading recently that Bob Dylan said that his spirituality comes from his participation in song.  I relate to that.  More and more I am learning to compose from within.  I've always done this, but the writing hasn't always been grounded in the reality of every day life.  My earliest writing efforts were boring and vague, not effective at all in conveying my consciousness.  I've been talking to students a lot lately about how stories and poems are records of consciousness.  We are separated from each other because of geography, worry, or fear; it's art that brings us together because in art we see another's mind and we understand we aren't alone.  In a flash, we experience a moment of wholeness. 

I don't mean that we should just write about positive or pretty things.  Ugliness also must be addressed. 

a rogue wave

may be the result of a number
of factors coming together
such as a strong wind multiplied
with other effects
the point is

you don't know it's coming
your life is really okay
your life is going as planned
your sea is calm
you take
your ordinary lunch with
a glass of red wine
you are actually bored

honestly the world
is dead except
unknown to you

there's the wave
the anomaly
the wine you notice

is a little bitter
tastes too much of oak
your bread is dry and those
birds in the distance
they are nothing but gulls

*I've been thinking a lot about the rogue wave that struck the cruise ship recently.  It seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for the things in life that we never see coming.  This is just a raw, rough draft, but I really needed to get it down.  My blog is so great because it always invites me to compose.

A Poem (3)

so tired

dreamed last night
of a magnificent palace
of polished wood and glass
through the front doors lay
everything the heart desires
I stayed a long time
and when I had to leave
I went to the back doors
as the rules required

beyond was flat desert
sand, scrub, and a washed-out sky
in the blinding sun
I saw a giant turtle
it was dead
trapped inside a weathered fence
its mouth was open 
its eyes slanted and fierce

I turned back 
the palace was crumbling
the doors had locked behind
and my beloved was nowhere
in sight

*I think this dream was inspired by the movie Paris, Texas, which I recently watched twice, once with the commentary and once without.  Also, I've been reading and writing a lot lately about the death of the beloved.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Poem (2)

so tired

dreamed last night
a student gifted me with a tall
bottle of ink

India ink, strong-black
I craved it like a vampire
craves blood

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Poem


so tired

dreamed last night
my pen kept running
out of ink



About Me

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back

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