Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

Examining a Passage from The Goldfinch

March 26th, 2014 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Novel Reviews, Process | 8 Comments

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch 

I posted earlier on the brilliant, beautiful novel The Goldfinch.  I had to do so in broad swaths, given how dense in character and plot the novel is, just to give you a taste of it. But now I want to go back and drill down on just one passage, to analyze what makes the writing—to me, at least—so marvelous. There are so many paragraphs I could choose, but I was particularly taken with the following description of how Hobie, the furniture restorer who takes in the young, homeless Theo, trains him in the art and craft … Read More

Salter and Aciman on the Past

May 8th, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Process | 3 Comments

Street in Rome (Photo by Sean O'Neill@oneillsdc5)

Portico d’Ottavia in Rome  (Photo by Sean O’Neill@oneillsdc5)

Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m teaching an online memoir course.  I’m captivated by watching my students grapple with and write about the past.  Here are two passages for writers and anyone else who muses about the nature of memory, one from a novel and one from an essay, both beautiful and thought-provoking.

The first is from the narrator of the novel A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter:

Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like

Read More

Vivian Gornick on Situation and Story

September 24th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments


Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

In her short book called The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick describes one of the most useful and important ideas about writing that I know:

“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.  The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” 

I just critiqued a novel where Gornick’s concept seemed particularly relevant.  On the whole it’s an amazing novel, Read More

What the Reader Needs…

September 5th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments


The Antioch Review

“…to be conscious of what the reader needs and only what he needs…” 

I first encountered this bit of writerly advice in 1984 in The Antioch Review, in a piece written by Nolan Miller, who was then Associate Editor. It has served as a North Star of writing for me ever since.  

Miller was a short story writer and novelist who taught creative writing at Antioch College for over fifty years.  The Antioch Review, remarkably, has been publishing continuously since 1941.  It publishes fiction, essays, and poetry, from both emerging and well-known Read More

Henry James’ Weak Specification–eek!

August 8th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 10 Comments


“Office at Night” by Edward Hopper

I live in fear of weak specification.  I consider it the eighth deadly sin: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and weak specification.  I’m guilty of it, I admit.  I’m only human, or, some would say, all too human.  I strive to overcome my weaknesses, to improve myself in every way (occasionally) but especially in the matter of weak specification.  I try to be diligent, only to find it sneaks up on me. 

I first heard the term “weak specification” years ago when I read a piece by Flannery O’Connor called “Writing Read More

Colm Toibin and “What is Real is Imagined”

July 17th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Process | 7 Comments


Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin

In an essay called “What is Real is Imagined” in the July 15, 2012 The New York Times, Colm Tóibín describes being back in the remote place on the Coast of Ireland which his family visited in the summers until he was twelve.  When he passes the house where his family once stayed, it’s his parents’ bedroom he sees in his memory with its iron bed and the cement floor, and the clover he smells is the same as it was in 1967.  Or, as he amends, because he is trying to dream that world of … Read More

On Sentences, Part I: Jhumpa Lahiri

May 7th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 3 Comments


Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

The New York Times published several pieces on Reading and Writing in the Sunday Review section on March 18, 2012.  At the time I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s eloquent essay called “My Life’s Sentences,” which I planned to reread sometime.  I kept the whole section, intending to read the other pieces, “when I had time.”  Of course I forgot about it all, until recently when I was reading Francine Prose’s (how did she get a last name like that?) book called Reading like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who want to Read More

Writing about Other People in Autobiographical Writing

April 10th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Musings/Reminiscences, Process | 1 Comment

One of the things that comes up a lot when people are writing memoir or autobiographical stories is other people– those you’re now exposing to the world: your parents who, let’s face it, could have done a better job; your children whom you love dearly but who obviously inherited a few errant genes; your relatives whom you will still have to see for Christmas dinner;  your lover who texted you to break up;  your long suffering spouse who now has his sperm count in print; your friends who hadn’t realized you were taking notes; your enemies who got off lucky Read More

Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir

December 14th, 2011 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Process | 2 Comments

I just came upon a new (to me) book on memoir writing which I want to recommend: Fearless Confessions: a Writer’s Guide to Memoir, by Sue William Silverman ((  I learned things from it and will use some of her ideas and language in the memoir workshop I’m teaching in Key West in January.   She also has the most amazing bibliography of creative non-fiction books on her website

I thought I had read all the books on the craft of memoir, but nooooo. Lately I’ve sort of read two other (to me) new ones: The Memoir Read More

Russell Banks’ Descriptions and “Try Harder”

December 5th, 2011 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Process | 4 Comments

I’m reading the new Russell Banks’ novel, Lost Memory of Skin, and I’m pretty enthralled with it. I’ll review it here when I’ve finished it.  It’s about a young man known as The Kid who has done time for a sex crime (apparently sex with an underage girl, but I’m only halfway through and it hasn’t been fully revealed yet), has to wear a GPS monitoring device, and can’t live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather—which reduces him to living under a south Florida causeway with other sex offenders.  A sociology Professor doing research on homelessness and … Read More