I’ve read thousands of manuscripts and worked with hundreds of writers over
You haven’t heard from me in awhile. I’ve been in hibernation. Ever have one of those periods?
I’ve been finishing a book and–let’s face it–grieving the loss of my mother and my dad, too, who died a few years earlier. I’ve been trying to figure out who I am in the world since they’ve gone. (more…)
You love them. You hate them . . . You yearn to record their greatness. You seethe to burn them good. The heady month of hearts and flowers seems a fine time to consider what all this emotion can do to the success of […]
It’s winter in Santa Fe now, and the colors are chalk brown and muted green huddled amidst the white of mounded snow. In my fireplace I burn Pinion pine, and it makes this northern New Mexico town smell like a perfumed temple on winter days.
What makes you fall in love with a story? What makes you feel you are living it at the moment the words enter you from the page?
For me, it’s the details. I care about the music of the language and universal themes, but as I read narrative nonfiction, and the world of story rises before me, I want to see it, taste it, smell it, hear it, and feel it on my skin.
I open writing classes by asking students: “What did you hear today? What did you smell?” At first those writers, who hurried distractedly to class, sit mute.
“I smelled toast,” one says.
“I heard my alarm clock.”
Over time, they get excited and start to pay attention. They come to class eager, shooting hands into air before I finish attendance.
“I heard a bird!”
“That one with the orange stomach.”
“You mean a robin.”
“Cool,” says the student, grinning: “I heard a robin.”
I believe we must become students of our senses, awe-struck again like babes toddling through life, eyes wide at all that swirls around us.
What did you smell today?
The more we catalogue quietly in our minds the details of our days, the more those details work their way into our narrative nonfiction and perpetuate the dream that is story. The more we spin the dream, the more our writing captures readers.
“I was in a dream,” a reader reports after finishing a book. “I wish it had never ended.”
How many of you have said those very words upon finishing a grand book?
I said those words today as I walked into the painting gallery of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the greatest collections of art in Europe, and then I wept, privately, of course, but such moments do that to me, so grateful for the opportunity to […]
I have never been so happy as I was yesterday to see a decidedly Western shopping street replete with all the standard flagship stores. It’s just not the sort of place I seek out, and yet yesterday I purposefully took the tram and then the […]
I have been traveling for days, one day on the train, a late night in the new place, a full day exploring, and then back to the train. It’s been a demanding schedule and not particualrly conducive to evenings of reflective writing for my website. But now I am in Berlin, and I have stories to share. I’ll do that over the next few days.
As I sit here on the couch of my apartment in the former East Berlin, listening to Deutsch on the TV murmuring in the background (a good way to learn the language), I pull together some photos from my walks around Berlin, and some thoughts.
Prenzlauer Berg, where I am living, is a mix of familiar Western gentrification, and crumbing buildings that survived the War but not the Soviet occupation. Flaking sandstone apartment blocks vie with Bauhaus-influenced boxes. The trendy bio (organic) market down the street—not unlike a Whole Foods market in the States—shares the neighborhood with boarded up buildings plastered with concert posters and graffiti. I walk down streets lined with new buildings, monuments to minimalism, but then out of no where a pre-War building swallowed in a tangle of overgrowth appears.
People stride by as if it is the most normal of things; but it is not. Nearly eighty percent of Berlin’s historic buildings were destroyed in the War and yet seventy years later here stand a few that survived, although they were never restored or kept up. It’s an odd juxtaposition, different from urban decay in other cities, because somewhere near here I know a bomb exploded and took with it block after block of buildings. Many of those that did not fall were later razed by the Soviets. I walk for miles, and street after street blurs together with a mix of gritty, pre-War, brick buildings swirled with graffiti, and brisk, urban glass and steel constructions spilling clever shops onto the sidewalks.
The Wall may have come down 23 years ago but Berlin is far from clearly defined.
I’ve begun again sojourning through Europe searching for the final pieces to complete my new book. It feels different now than it did on my first journey to discover my parents’ trail through Europe, which they made right after World War Two. That trip of […]