Thursday, November 28, 2013

GivingThanks: A Writer's Primer

In contrast to the earlier blog post which wallowed in cynical Thanksgiving bleakness, I'd like to offer up a list of things for which I'm truly thankful as a writer.

A is for Apple:  One of my very earliest computers--way, way back in the Pleistocene Era when PCs were powered by brontosaurus blood--was a second-hand Macintosh, given to me by my father after he upgraded to a newer version of a Mac (something which only weighed a svelte 15 pounds).  I enjoyed my year with that device, but when it came time for me to get a new machine, I went with an Acer, leaving Apple computers behind.  It remained that way for the next couple of decades until this past summer when I purchased a MacBook Air (on which I'm now typing these words).  True to its last name, this slim laptop is lighter than air.  A day after bringing it home, I snapped a selfie of my MacBook balanced on my fingertips.  Now, I take my works-in-progress with me wherever I go.

B is for Barnes & Noble:  I will forever be grateful to B&N for selecting Fobbit to be part of their Discover Great New Writers program.  As any Discover alum can attest--especially those of us who are debut authors--this kind of recognition gives our books much-needed rocket boosters in those early days of publication.  While I have mixed feelings about big chain bookstores, I still have vivid memories of haunting the store's stacks when I lived in El Paso, Texas, and Anchorage, Alaska.  On my recent return trip to Anchorage, I asked about the city's independent bookstores and was told there were none--apart from Title Wave Books which is now used-books-only and Fireside Books which is about 40 miles north in Palmer.  So, at least one major American city's readers are grateful to have a bookstore--chain or otherwise--where they can go in and hold real, "dead-tree books" in their hands.  Who knows, maybe they'll discover a new writer along the way.

C is for Children:  I would be less of a man, half-a-husband and an all-around empty-shelled human being if it weren't for Deighton, Schuyler and Kylie Abrams.  They're all adults now, but they're still just as lovable and loving as when they dressed up for Halloween as a banana, a clown, and Commander Riker from Star Trek.  Read my words--any words I write--and you'll hear them there humming below the surface.  They are the second-strongest influence in my life (next to my wife).

D is for Dani Shapiro:  I started reading Still Writing back in June, when it was still in galley form.  From the first day, I decided to take small sips from this inspirational book about writing by the author of Devotion.  I hesitate to call it "writing advice," because that's not really what Shapiro does.  She doesn't advise, she shares and encourages.  Or if she does drop pearls of advice on the page, it's only because we really, really need to hear it:
Here's a short list of what not to do when you sit down to write. Don't answer the phone. Don't look at e-mail. Don't go on the Internet for any reason, including checking the spelling of some obscure word, or for what you might think of as research but is really a fancy form of procrastination....Sit down. Stay there.
Shapiro, who has taught at Columbia, NYU, the New School, and elsewhere, divides her book--which is the size of a small Methodist hymnal--into three sections: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends; she then further separates everything into smaller, bite-sized sections with headings like "Inner Censor," "Fog," "Bad Days," and "Astonishment."  Most of the book is written in plain-spoken language, as if Shapiro was sitting across the table with a steaming mug of tea, honestly telling me what I need to hear.  Every so often, there are densely-lyrical passages which demand to be re-read and then re-read again for their music and meaning.  Like this one:
When it comes to storytelling (and it's all storytelling) I often tell my students that we need to be dumb like animals. Storytelling itself is primal. It's the way we've always come to understand the world around us--whether recited around a campfire, or read aloud in an East Village bar. And so it stands to reason that in order to tell our stories, we tap into something beyond the intellect--an understanding deeper than anything we can willfully engage. Overthink and our minds scramble, wondering: Should we go in this direction? Or that one? Words can become so tangled that our process can feel more like an attempt to unravel the mess we've already made. We create obstacles, then strain to get around them. Our minds spin webs that obscure the light. We second-guess. We become lost in the morass of our limited consciousness.
Is it any wonder that, as I turned the final page of Still Writing this morning, I closed the book softly, held it on my lap, and spent a quiet moment at my writing desk, giving thanks for this gift Dani Shapiro has given me?  I can count on one hand the number of books I've re-read in my life, but I plan to go back to the beginning of Still Writing tomorrow and read a section each day, continuing to glean its pages like it was an Our Daily Bread for authors.

E is for My Editor at Grove/Atlantic:  The first time I spoke with Peter Blackstock on the phone, I could barely understand one out of every three words coming from his mouth.  Peter was a recent immigrant from Great Britain and, along with his accent, he had a habit of rushing his syllables.  I stood there with my cell phone clapped hard against my ear, nodding idiotically whenever Peter paused for breath (idiotic because, duh, he couldn't see my nods on his end of the line).
      The phone call had been arranged by my agent, Nat Sobel, shortly after he emailed me to say that there was a certain young editor at Grove who might be interested in making an offer on Fobbit, but first he wanted to see if I might be a good fit for the publishing house, a writer easy to work with.  I've since learned that "easy to work with" is agent-speak for "agreeable to cutting 130,000 words from a manuscript you've just spent six years writing."  I agreed to call Peter the next day.
      At the time, I was working out of the Montana State Capitol building as part of my duties as legislative liaison for the Bureau of Land Management.  I found a relatively quiet nook on the second floor of the capitol building and, as legislators and lobbyists buzzed all around me, I dialed the number Nat had given me.
      I recounted the scene in an earlier blog post here at The Quivering Pen:
      ....a light, chipper British voice answered, “This is Peter.” When I told him who I was, he immediately launched into a round of embarrassing, effusive praise. Whether it was a poor phone connection or Peter’s thick accent, I had trouble understanding everything he said. I was, however, able to pick out the words “brilliant” and “fantastic” (words which I’d come to learn were some of Peter’s favorites).
      In the first five minutes of that phone conversation, I knew I’d found my champion for Fobbit. I've had many editors in the past, but none so gung-ho as Peter Blackstock. As any writer can tell you, the enthusiasm of a single reader is often enough to help you carry the ball all the way from the 50-yard line to the end zone. Even in that first phone chat, I could tell Peter was the equivalent of a tight end who’d catch Fobbit, tuck his head, and run full-bore for the goal posts.
I simply cannot thank Peter enough for his wisdom, his patience and his never-flickering enthusiasm for both me as the author of the first book he acquired for Grove and for me as a person.  Peter has continued to buoy my spirits post-publication and, frankly, he's one of my best friends.  Even if I can hardly understand a word he's saying.

F is for Friends of Fobbit:  As I was approaching the final stages of writing my comic novel about the Iraq War, I flew into a panic and plummeted in a smoky spiral of self-doubt.  What if they didn't like it?  And by "they," I was specifically thinking of military readers.  Would they think I was mocking them?  Would they not understand that I was on their side in the complexity of emotions surrounding our 21st-century wars?  Would pissed-off readers drive thousands of miles across the country to stand on my front lawn and throw rocks at my house?  My worry was, of course, unfounded and unnecessary.  Certainly there were, are, and will always be readers who don't appreciate Fobbit's satirical look at the buffoonery of the war machine--and I'm totally cool with that.  But since the book was published last year, I have been overwhelmingly touched by the positive response--from both civilian and military readers.  Soon after the book was out in the world, I received this Facebook message from a reader:
      Sir: I am a Public Affairs Officer in the Canadian Army, trained at the Defense Information School and with two tours in Afghanistan. The first was with a Canadian Infantry BG down in Kandahar, but the second was at a Headquarters in Kabul deep in the Green Zone with all USAF/USN enlisted PA staff. Suffice it to say, Fobbit had me in tears I was laughing so hard and also shaking my head at some of the things you wrote that I knew to be true. Best post-War on Terror book I have read yet. Congrats on a fine novel.
Thank you, Ed. You made my day, my week, my month, my year.  And a King-Kong-sized Thank You to all the other readers, silent and vocal, who took time out of their lives to read my book and later said that time was not wasted.  I love you all.

G is for Government Job:  Like 98.6%* of published authors, I need to have a "regular job" to pay the bills and buy food to shovel into the machine of my body so that my brain keeps firing pistons and my fingers don't stop moving across the keyboard.  I am fortunate to be a Writer With a Day Job, in the employ of the U.S. government (I'm the public affairs specialist for the Western Montana District of the Bureau of Land Management).  Despite scary and needless hiccups like government shutdowns, I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing when I'm not writing.  Besides, every so often, I find myself trailing a wildlife biologist while hiking across the slope of a mountain, looking down at diamond glints coming off the ribbon of a river and I'll think, "Damn, I'm actually getting paid for this?"

*A random figure I pulled out of my ass.

H is for Hugs From My Wife:  Every writer needs to be hugged at least once a day.  Jean Abrams gives the world's best embraces.  She really does.  Guys, don't be haters.

I is for Independent Bookstores:  I don't want to live in a world without independent bookstores....and I don't believe I'll ever have to.  Books stimulate conversation at a personal level.  This is what bookstores offer us: gathering places for lovers of language and storytelling--whether that's exulting over the prose of Walt Whitman or Wally Lamb.  Sure, we can grab a cup of coffee while we're at it and maybe pick up a party game or a stuffed animal or a yoga mat along the way, but books will always be the beating heart of these stores.  In the nearly 18 months since Fobbit was published, I've been the most fortunate of writers who has traveled the span of the country for book festivals and bookstore readings from Miami to Seattle, from Texas to Alaska.  I've had the chance to meet many booksellers and I truly believe they, along with librarians, are the superheroes of our American culture (I've even inscribed words to that effect on some booksellers' copies of Fobbit).  The stores have ranged from the huge, multi-storied Tattered Cover in Denver to the small-as-a-shoebox Brazos Bookstore in Houston (though tiny, Brazos easily wins a medal for the way it lovingly displays its books; manager Jeremy Ellis has created beautiful shrines of book pyramids everywhere you look).  Sure, some of those small shops are struggling and I read far too many bookstore obituaries in Shelf Awareness every week, but the one thing I saw in every bookstore I visited this past year was dedication.  These men and women love books and they are determined to keep ringing their cash registers and passing good literature across the counter with a hearty, "Here, read this!"  So, no, I cannot imagine a world without Fact and Fiction, Country Bookshelf, Quail Ridge Books, Elliott Bay Book Company, Auntie's Bookstore, Rediscovered Books, Elk River Books, City Lights Books, Flyleaf Books, Politics and Prose, Green Apple Books, Harvard Book Store, Iconoclast Books or Red Lodge Books.  It would be a colder, bleaker, less friendly world indeed.

J is for Jean:  On his deathbed, President Andrew Jackson reportedly said, "Heaven will be no heaven to me if I do not meet my wife there."  As for me, it will be a dark hell of eternity if Jean isn't there with me on the Other Side.  This coming Tuesday marks 30 years since the day we said, "I do."  We've been "doing" quite well since then.  Over the past three decades(!), it feels like Jean and I have merged into the same person.  You might as well call either of us "Javid" or "Dean."  She is me, I am her.  Mathematically-speaking two goes into one once, and stays that way forever.  As a writer, I'm blessed to be married to someone who serves as equal parts cheerleader and goader.  She high-fives me when I get good news, and she pokes me with a stick when I'm in a slump ("Why did you waste your time answering email this morning?  You should be up there writing.").  Is she, on occasion, a jealous "writer's widow"?  Sure, but who wouldn't be?  The work of writers is solitary and done mostly in silence.  Jean is a social person; she needs to have noise and stimulation and desires my company more often than I'm prone give it to her, I'm sure.  And yet, she understands my need to create and the circumstances under which the words must be written.  She is patient, she is kind, she is not easily-angered nor does she keep a record of wrongs.  She is, in every sense of the word, the perfect wife, the good wife, the best wife.  The wife I never knew I needed until she arrived like a gift.  And, hopefully, she is the wife who will be there with me on the Other Side when all breath stops and the blood comes to a standstill in my veins.  Men, don't be haters.

K is for Kindle:  I'm not going to be one of those self-righteous, holier-than-thou writers who go around preaching the evils of Amazon, then sneak home at night to switch on their Kindle Fires.  I'll gladly, freely admit I own a Kindle.  I purchase books from Amazon (along with books from independent bookstores), and I read as many e-books as I do "dead-tree books."  I love the convenience and portability of my e-reader--even if it might be a passing fad which will eventually go the way of the eight-track, rotary-dial phones and the brontosaurus.  I believe this world is big enough for places like Amazon and independent bookstores, that it's not an either-or world.  Kobo (my other K e-reader) is one step toward proving that independent bookstores can be part of e-publishing.  I purchased my Kobo reader from Fact and Fiction and now any books I purchase via Kobo are credited to a sale at F&F.  It's not a perfect setup--indie bookstores only make pennies per e-book sale--but it's at least movement in the right direction.  I have more than 8,000 volumes in my personal library at home and e-book are the necessary solution to reduce the overcrowding.  And so, I straddle both worlds in my reading habits.  I have two hands: one for my Kindle/Kobo and one for one of my 7,000 cloth-bound books.

L is for Libraries:  Two Thanksgivings ago, here's what I posted at the blog as I remembered the first book I ever read on my own--coincidentally an EZ reader about the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims:
      Thinking of this book brought back memories of the days, circa 1968, when I would walk from my brick home on Arch Street in Kittanning to the Armstrong County Public Library. At the time, it was less than two blocks away, just down the hill near the east bank of the Allegheny River. I held my mother's hand, skipping ahead, pulling her along the sidewalk, impatient to get to the House of Books. The library was built in 1860 and had Italianate-style white columns at the front entrance. From my small perspective, it was huge--high ceilings, an imposing front desk which one approached like a royal throne, and, along dark passageways behind the desk, towering shelves full of books (adult books) which would someday be mine once I mastered the English language.
      On this one day in my memory, I went to the children's section--just to the left of the front entrance, flooded with sunshine from tall windows--and found a book which would be the cornerstone of my entire life. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. Back then, it was just a book with interesting people in funny costumes.
      The name of the book and the author are lost to me now, but I do have a very strong sense of the book as a physical property. It had no dustjacket and the cover (or, "boards") of the book had the fine-grained weave of a painter's canvas. It was the color of salmon, of crushed berries, of raw venison meat. Inside, each page had a photo of Pilgrims--suffering persecution in the Old World, sailing on the Mayflower, stepping onto Plymouth Rock, exchanging handshakes with what the book called Indians, walking across fields with dead deer collared over their necks, sitting at a long wooden table groaning under the weight of food.
      In truth, maybe the book had none of these pictures. The one I do remember is a photo of a man encased in conquistador armor, his head lifted as he looks at a distant horizon. For whatever reason, that image is seared in my memory and I am certain of nothing else but this. The fact that these were color photographs and not painted or hand-drawn illustrations must have really fucked with my young, malleable mind. I was five years old and here, right here in this book on my lap, was photographic proof of Pilgrims! The authority of this printed and bound book convinced me they had cameras back in 1621. It took years of primary and secondary education to convince me otherwise.
      This half-remembered, forgotten-titled book is an important landmark in my reading life because it is the first book I recall checking out of the library, taking home, and--for two weeks--feeling like I possessed the words and the photos between the covers. My mother had been reading to me for years and I had probably learned to start "reading on my own" around the age of 4. But this book, this story of Thanksgiving with its photos of faux-Pilgrims, was different because I claimed ownership of the words.
      I have owned them--thankfully, gratefully--ever since that morning in the high-ceilinged, dust-moted air of the Armstrong County Public Library. Nothing of this life I now know would have taken shape if it weren't for those first pieces falling into place: the skipping walk with my mother, the beautiful authority of those white columns, the reverent hush of the air inside the building, the sunlight falling on the spine of this particular book, the librarian rubber-stamping the due date in blue ink inside the front cover, and the two weeks I spent with the Pilgrims as they found a new world.
A grateful nod also goes to the Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming for giving me my first paid job when I was 13 years old. A paycheck for being allowed to work with books all day long during the summer? Ecstasy!  A special shout-out of thanks also needs to go to Lee Miller and Regan deVictoria of the Butte-Silver Bow Library here in my adopted Mining City.  They've been overwhelmingly supportive of Fobbit and my writing career for the past two years.  Thanks, ladies!

M is for Mom and Dad:  For the twenty years before Jean came into my life, there were these other two people who had a hand in sculpting my character.  I think they did a fairly decent job.  I am thankful for the foundation laid by Claire and Dan Abrams--both the firm hand of discipline and the soft embrace of tolerance.  They gave me numerous gifts, among them a love for the music of words: my mother read to me most nights as she tucked me into bed; my father, a Baptist minister, delivered the poetry of Scripture every Sunday from the pulpit.  I absorbed it all like a sponge.  Where would any writer be without the nurture and nature of parents?

N is for Nat Sobel:  Agent extraordinaire, a debut novelist's dream come true.  Nat has been in the business for more decades than I've been alive.  And I just turned 50.  There are photos of Nat hanging out with Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne--that's how far back he goes.  He's a Manhattan legend, known for his savvy street smarts and the kind of personal networking that would put an overstuffed Rolodex to shame.  So, when I was in Iraq and I received an email from him saying he was interested in reading more of my writing (he'd seen one of my war journal entries posted online at a blog), I was flabbergasted, flattered and flat-out pumped full of ego.  Nat Sobel, agent of James Ellroy and Richard Russo, wanted to take me on as a client?  Oh, hell yeah!  I spent the next week walking around Camp Liberty in Baghdad feeling superior to every other soldier I passed on the way to chow--those poor schlubs who didn't have a literary agent as great as the one who was now representing me.  That feeling passed as soon as another mortar landed on Camp Liberty, injuring a soldier at the fitness center and reminding me that, agent or no agent, I was still a vulnerable, flesh-made man who hadn't even started writing this supposed war novel Nat was so eager to read.  Well, damn.  Guess I'd better get busy with it.  Now here's the coolest thing about Nat Sobel: he stuck by me for six years--six years, mind you--with nothing to show for it.  I gave him zilch, nada, not even a nibble from half a chapter, in all those years.  Every six months or so, he'd email me: "How's it going?  When do you think I might see some finished pages?"  But he never ever lost faith in me.  He knew that someday he'd have a finished stack of pages in his hand.  And he did, after six years, he finally did.  Thank you, Nat for never giving up.

O is for the Oprah Phone Call I Hope to Receive....Someday.

P is for Pen:  I am grateful for both The Quivering Pen (and all the readers who've come here every day for the past three-and-a-half years) as well as the physical pen I hold between the fingers of my right hand, a Pentel EnerGel, metal tip with a 0.7mm ball.  It has a rubberized grip, a soft weight, and an effortless release of ink which flows across the pages of my Moleskine notebook in an unbroken ribbon.  Most of us take our writing instruments for granted.  Not me.  I'm so thankful we no longer have to scrape the pointy end of burnt sticks across the flat surfaces of rocks.

Q is for Quiet:  Picture me at 4 a.m., sitting in my second-story office overlooking my tree-lined street here in Butte, Montana.  I'm in my shorts, T-shirt, and slippers.  At my elbow are a mug of coffee and a blue glass of water with tiny bergs of ice cubes floating on the surface.  Nothing moves outside, not a car will go by until the newspaper deliveryman pulls up at 6:30.  The room is so still I can hear my cat's paws on the staircase.  My laptop is open, the screen is half-filled with words, the cursor is blinking.  After a few sips of coffee, my brain sputters to life.  I am ready.  I lift my fingers, bring them down on the keys, and the quiet of the day is sweetly, blissfully broken.

R is for Raymond Carver: And Charles Dickens, Stewart O'Nan, John Irving, Washington Irving, Richard Ford, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nathanael West, Ron Carlson, Joseph Heller, Anne Sexton, Norman Mailer, Tim O'Brien, Lewis Nordan, Flannery O'Connor, Russell Banks, Edith Wharton, Michael Chabon, Herman Melville, Elmore Leonard, Billy Collins, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, James Fenimore Cooper, Ellen Gilchrist, T. R. Pearson, Benjamin Percy, Stephen King, William Faulkner, and The Next Writer With Whom I Will Fall in Love.

S is for Still Writing by Dani Shapiro:  Can you tell I really loved this book?  For the past five months, it has been the rudder of my life.  Speaking of which, here's one more passage--this one is the entire section titled "Building the Boat":
      I was in the middle of my second novel and struggling.  Instead of engagement, I felt a nagging worry. Had I lost my way? Maybe I had taken a wrong turn--but where? One afternoon, I met a friend of mine, a poet and novelist, for coffee.
      I feel like I'm in a boat in the middle of the ocean and there's no land in sight," I told him.
      He gook a sip of his drink and peered at me over his glasses.
      "Yeah," he said. "And you're building the boat."
T is for Teachers:  In particular, I'm thankful for three of my educators who have each done their part tossing vegetables and spices into the stew that is now my writing life:
      Debbie Schlinger, ninth grade, Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Wyoming.  Mrs. Schlinger was one of the first champions of my creative writing.  She recognized something in me that even I hadn't seen up to that point.  The true test of her faith in me was when I turned in an essay--one I was quite proud of--and it contained several sentences which began with conjunctions like "And," "But," and "Though."  I was nervous handing it to her, expecting to be red-penned into humiliation.  To my surprise, she smiled and said, "I like what you've done here."  One month after Fobbit's publication, I received an email from her which said, in part: "I am so thrilled for your success and truly can't believe I had anything to do with it, except I do remember well how much I enjoyed reading whatever you wrote. I did know you had talent beyond normal--or maybe interest in writing beyond a typical 9th grade boy.  It was always a treat to sit down and grade your well written thoughts. Who'd have guessed what could be? Makes me realize the truth in Langston Hughes poem, 'Dreams'--glad you didn't give up on yours."
      Don Simpson, twelfth grade, Jackson Hole High School in Jackson, Wyoming.  Admittedly, Don Simpson was a bit of an odd bird, and he'd probably be the first to tell you he wasn't cut out for the job of teaching high school English.  He came to us that year from the college in Moscow, Idaho and he carried all the pretentious airs of a university pedagogue.  And I loved him for that.  He was so much smarter than the rest of us--he claimed to have written a novel (unpublished) called The Scatological Implications of Brick-Laying.  I loved him even more for that title alone.  Mr. Simpson ("Dr.," actually, since he carried a PhD. in his back pocket) challenged us to think beyond our years and we responded accordingly.  One other thanks I owe him: he introduced me to the works of John Updike.  God bless you, sir!
      Frank Soos, professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.  The success of a graduate student's career depends in large part on how he clicks with his graduate advisor.  To my good fortune, Frank and I fit together like puzzle pieces.  Frank is a thoughtful, laid-back individual--thin as an exclamation point, tall as a drink of water.  When he speaks--in a gentle, Southern drawl--you know the words have been carefully chosen long before they pass over his teeth and tongue.  In my years at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Frank cut me no slack but also pumped me full of encouragement.  To this day, when I approach the renovation of a sentence during the rewrite process, I ask myself, "What would Frank do?"

U is for Uniform:  As any reader of Fobbit can probably guess, my feelings about the Army are complicated.  It was a 20-year love/hate relationship with the scale tipping just a little bit in the direction of hate.  But as much as I may have grouched and groused about my time in uniform (and specifically about having to wear one of the world's ugliest uniforms every day), I am nonetheless overwhelmingly filled with gratitude for my employer who consistently put a roof over my head, gave me and my entire family free medical care, always deposited a paycheck in my back account, and took me to places like Thailand, Africa, Japan, and the wonderland of Alaska for nine years.  It also taught me how to have a strong fist of self-confidence--something I may never have found on my own left to my own devices.

V is for the Valley of Despair:  I'm thankful for the dark days, the blues, the attacks of the Dull Blahs.  For without them, I would not fully appreciate the really good days, the productive, energetic bursts of writing.  Thank you, Lord, for this supremely wise balance of light and dark in our lives.

X is for That Toy Xylophone I Had as a Kid and for the Valuable Lesson It Taught Me:  I should not pursue a career in composing music.

Y is for Yearning:  I want to be a better writer.  I long to compose better sentences, mold more interesting characters out of the clay of words.  It is this leaning forward, this yearning, this scanning the horizon with binoculars which fuels me to keep writing One.  More.  Day.  Here's Dani Shapiro once more with some parting words on the subject:
      The only reason to be a writer is because you have to. Most of the time, even if you've achieved publication and are lucky enough to be one of the few writers left in the country who are sent on book tour, you will find yourself in some small city where you know no one, in a hotel right off the highway that smells like room sanitizer, getting ready to give a reading where you might have an audience of five people sitting on folding chairs, two of whom work for the bookstore, two of whom are distant cousins of yours, and one of whom is a homeless person who gets up halfway through your reading and shuffles out. (True story.)
      The real work involves a different kind of ambition: the creative kind. No writer I know is confident in her work. Just as Raymond Carver marked up his published stories with his red pencil, writers cringe when forced to reread our own prose; we're plagued by the certainty that we haven't quite achieved what we'd hoped we could. The work is only as good as our small, imperfect, pedestrian selves can make it. It exists in some idealized form, just out of reach. And so we push on. Driven by a desire to get it right, we do our work in the hopes of coming close.
Z is for Zzzz:  At the close of the day, there is nothing--and, brother, I mean nothing--finer than pulling back a corner of the bedcovers, sliding a leg onto the mattress, plumping the pillow beneath my head, and spooning into the waiting back of my wife.  She is, simply put, the best sleep companion this writer could ever ask for.  Guys, don't be haters.


  1. "The only reason to be a writer is because you have to."

    THIS. Times a million.

  2. After reading your post I am encouraged to write my own alphabet of thanks!

    Thank you!

  3. An inspiring and heartfelt list. I am nearing the end of "Still Writing" myself and it is, as you say, a blessing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. ...refreshing humility is becoming.