Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Please check out my new website:


All updates and information will be made to the new site and not to this blog!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Editing

As I read through my recently published story, "Swallowed," (Here, in case you want to check it out.) I got to thinking about how I had edited and revised it, and I figured it would make for a good blog post with some practical craft and writing advice.

In its current ("final" I would say, but what writing is final? Perhaps "published" is the best term...) incarnation, "Swallowed" is 5500 words.  A medium length short story.  In the version that I initially sent out to Gulf Stream (et al.) it was 9000 words.  A long short story.  A couple of places rejected it with a note saying: its good, but too long.  Gulf Stream took the time to say: we like it, we want it if you can make it shorter (by ten pages).

So, I began to hack.

At first, cutting off just under half of a story feels a little daunting.  Okay, a lot daunting.  But, in some ways, getting rid of thousands of words is easier than getting rid of a hundred.  You can't tell yourself -- I'll just trim back on adjectives.  No.  You've got to get in there with a machete (and then follow up with a pruning shear).  

So, off I went.  The editors had been kind and suggested I cut the start.  This is almost always where to go when you need to cut something. Get rid of the runway and let the story takeoff sooner.  That was two thousand words gone. 

For the rest, I looked at places where the main character went off on tangents or told about his backstory.  This was much harder for me to cut.  As I took out passages, I kept wavering, thinking: this is good character development... or, this funny!  

Maybe it was.  Maybe it wasn't.  The bottom line was that the story was too long.  Something (lots of somethings) had to go.  I didn't let myself read through the piece until I'd finished making the cuts down to the page limit they had set.  I cut (almost) everything that wasn't related to the forward motion of the plot: getting my character on his journey as soon as possible and then not letting him pause.

Then, when I'd gotten down to the page limit they suggested, I saved it, turned the computer off, and let it sit for a few days.  I worked on other stuff.  I tried to forget it.  Then I went back to "Swallowed" and read it through without letting myself change anything (okay, except for typos).  It was coherent.  It was faster.  It was, perhaps, better.  But the truth is: I missed a lot of what I cut... 

Deep breath.  Cutting your writing is hard.  But here's what I told myself as I made those final edits and sent it back to Gulf Stream:  I'm the only one who knows what's missing.  No one else will say - hey what happened to that awesome joke on page 3?  Maybe that's the author's burden, to know all the orphans and might-have-beens and close-calls and nearly-made-its in the piece.  

What I'm offering is a piece of advice that I often give to my students (and need to take to heart myself).  If a piece is good, it will probably be better if it is shorter.  Almost every story has some slack in it.  And even a little bit of slack can kill a good story.  Set a challenge: trim a thousand words.  Cut a story in half, length-wise.  Make that your writing project of the day.  It almost always makes it better.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Author Video is Posted

Among the many awesome things that Simon & Schuster does for its authors is put together an author video... it's meant to introduce the novel as well as explain some of the connections between my life and the novel and the process of writing, too.

So... here's the link to check it out: Author Video

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Peter Gizzi on Writing Implements

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a reading in honor of Emily Dickinson's Birthday -- it was at the beautiful Folger Theater.  Peter Gizzi read his own work as well as Dickinson's.  It made me realize that though I have often read her verses, I have seldom heard them read, and it makes a tremendous difference.  Poetry was meant to be heard.

Out of all the erudite comments that Gizzi made about Dickinson, about poetry in general, and about writing broadly, I most enjoyed an off-hand comment he made.  The topic at hand was Dickinson's habit of writing on scrap paper (envelopes, receipts, etc) in pencil.  Gizzi said of his own composition process:  "The pencil is my drug of choice."

I love it.  Not only another hand-writing writer, but also the idea that the writing itself, the mechanical process of it, is somehow drug-like.  In a good way.  It is intoxicating and overwhelming and out of body. True even if you use a pen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Short Story in Gulf Stream Lit Mag

Check out my short story, "Swallowed," in the current issue of Gulf Stream Lit Mag.  The journal is full of awesome pieces!  Mine is a retelling of the Book of Jonah.  I've always thought that Jonah was one of the funniest books in the Bible, but the humor often gets lost in translation.  So this is my attempt to correct that!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Your Favorite Lines

In a recent class, we were reading Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," and comparing the two endings of the poems.  The original ending read as follows:  

Or whether the secret ministry of cold
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon,
Like those, my babe! which ere tomorrow's warmth
Have capp'd their sharp keen points with pendulous drops,
Will catch thine eye, and with their novelty
Suspend thy little soul; then make thee shout,
And stretch and flutter from thy mother's arms
As thou wouldst fly for very eagerness.

Coleridge, in revising, cut everything after "quiet moon."   We discussed the revision and why he had made it (settling on a resonance created with the reiteration of the "secret ministry" that begins the poem), but agreed that the original final lines were lovely (for many reasons).  At this, the professor said: yes, they are.  But it is often the case that one must cut one's best lines.

His words reminded me of advice I had received (and since forgotten) in my MFA program: if you find yourself attached to a line -- remarking to yourself on how much you like it, keeping it in, draft after draft, even as other things change -- then it is probably a line you should cut.  

Now, I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, but in general, I've found it to be a pretty good one.  And since remembering it, I've gone back over a few drafts of works in progress and made myself stop at every line that I really like and challenge myself: am I keeping it because I like it or because it is what the story/essay needs at this moment.  Generally, I'm keeping it because I like it, not because it is "right."  (This is, for me, particularly true of metaphors.  I come up with some comparison in my mind that just works and I don't want to change it, even when other readers point out that it doesn't work for anyone else.)

I hope that others find this writing tip useful.  If nothing else, it is yet another way to dive into a draft that you're almost done with a pay some close attention to language.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pushcart Nomination

Many thanks to the Heavy Feather Review... for not only publishing my short story "In the Dark" but also nominating it for a Pushcart Prize.  So cool!

Here's their page:  http://heavyfeatherreview.com/2013/11/25/our-pushcart-nods-are-in/