Story Clothed

The novelist, film director, and screenwriter John Sayles once told me that he went about town trying out his story ideas on people. This was Newark in the late 1980s, and the ideas were embryonic—inklings from the daily news that sparked his interest and that he thought had narrative possibilities.  This was the best time to […]

Working Papers

Something finished comes from something unfinished. Sketches for the painting. Drafts for the writer. Once in a while, these things are available for public scrutiny. One writer tells me of his time in the British Museum studying edited manuscripts, Charles Dickens, for example, splayed right before him. It was access to the writer’s thinking—his cross […]

Living Out Loud

Not long ago, in a café where my husband’s photos hung, I had breakfast with Pamela, the co-founder and editor of Seven Days. Her newspaper is the indispensable press in these parts, with print and digital editions. Pamela’s hair—short, standing, certainly red—might be first thing anyone notices about her. But there’s also her wardrobe, a […]

Anything Else?

The first line of Lorrie Moore’s essay, How to Become a Writer, reads: First, try to be something else, anything, else. The essay goes on smoothly and brilliantly from here, and traces a writer’s progress from an early age to maturity, but the first line hangs with me. I spend all week looking at other […]

What’s Important?

At the café the other day, a writer-friend of mine named Bill noted the approach of his 65th birthday and announced that it was time to let go of everything except what was valuable. If it didn’t have value, he didn’t want to do it anymore. This made very good sense to me and I […]

What’s in a Name?

The novelist, film director, and screen writer John Sayles once told me that if he had his way, he’d name all his characters Ed. It’s so short, he said. He had things to say. Why type out a Sebastian or a Giancarlo when you just want to get to it? Compare this to the experience […]

How to Write an Opening Line

In an effort to learn from my betters, I’m always on the lookout for a great opening line, and the daily news never disappoints. This is how one of my favorite writers—Michael Kimmelman, art critic for The New York Times—started a front page story earlier this month. By at least one amusing new metric, Michelangelo’s […]

Owning a Word

Word by word, writers build something. Once in a while—not too often if ever, for most of us—a writer will employ a word so well that it becomes his or her property for the indefinite future. American playwright, performer, feminist, activist Eve Ensler comes to mind. As it happened, Eve was a college classmate—intense, even […]

Winged Messenger

Bruce Chatwin, English novelist and travel writer, was the first author whose death, twenty-one years ago, made me sad.  A devoted reader, I thought we could have been friends. I liked his work, admired his storytelling. I was intrigued by his life.  And I learned from him. A free man, he could take off on […]

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