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How I Wrote My First Book

I spent about a decade so obsessed with writing the next Great American Novel that I didn't finish anything. I wrote and re-wrote the same first chapter of the same failed book. I must have done it 50 times. I did it so often, I got sick of it. I eventually gave up fiction writing altogether and spent most of my free time overdrinking at $1 PBR nights, cigarette in hand while I had rambling, late-night, angst-ridden psuedo-philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and art with whoever (whomever?) was nearby. My come-to-Jesus moment happened a decade (and many...

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My first-ever speaking engagement

Earlier this month, I got to speak to the Plot Sisters, a remarkable group of local writers who have been meeting every other week for nearly five years. Every writer should be so lucky to be part of such a supportive group! I was a little nervous, but mostly, I felt honored that anyone would want to hear me speak on writing. I don't think I said anything too stupid (something of a rarity for me), and I walked away envious of their great relationships with one another. Writing is a lonely art. When you...

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5 things I hate myself for doing

1) Surfing Facebook when I should be writing 2) Writing a story because I thought it'd sell 3) Worrying what readers will think of me 4) Setting aside a story before I've finished it 5) Pretending I can't think of anything to write (aka "writer's block") because I'm too damn scared/undisciplined to do it I am a Cowardly Lion -- a sack of insecurities. I count each word a victory, a bone for the skeleton of some new me. Success is this: doing less of what we hate, more of what we love....

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Drinking cat’s milk

I had to read this passage twice: "Once I put my face against the body of our cat as she lay with her kittens, and she did not seem to mind. So I pursed my lips against that full moon, and I tasted the rich river of her body." That's Mary Oliver, and she wasn't writing fiction. It's from her 2016 essay collection Upstream. My first thought: who the hell does that? My second thought: who does it and then writes about it? Apparently, the answer is 81-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning poets like Mary Oliver. I started reading her after...

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Privilege

In the 1920s, a 17-year-old boy named Richard Wright was starved for books. Broke, black, living in the Deep South, he wasn't allowed to use the library. So he talked an Irish Catholic co-worker into letting him borrow his library card. Then, he forged a note for the librarian. "Dear Madam: Will you please let this nigger boy have some books by H. L. Mencken?" He "walked out with a copy of a book that would change the course of his life" (per Ryan Holiday). Not long after that, Wright caught a train to Chicago "before...

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Forgiveness

When I was a reporter in North Carolina, I wrote a story about a choir made up of people with HIV/AIDS. I sat in a church pew and interviewed one of the members. He was a young black guy who you couldn't help but like. He was soft-spoken, slow-moving, always smiling. I asked him how he got HIV. "From a girl I was dating," he said. "She didn't tell you she had it?" He shook his head no. I put down my pen and notebook. "She knew, and she didn't tell you?" Nope. "We're still friends," he said. "How can you be...

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Letter to my son on his first birthday

Dear little buddy, Before you came along, I was always looking ahead -- charging forward. Now, I want to stop time. I think about it a lot. I'll hold you and wish I could just stay in that moment, trying to remember every detail. Here's one of my favorite times of day: walking from my truck to the house after a long day of work. I know as soon as I open that door, I'm going to find you crawling on the floor. I'll call out your name, and you'll pause for a second before you smile...

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Ode to my first house

Once, I asked dad to take me to his boyhood home. We sat there, engine idling. I stared at the siding, the green shutters, the stump in the yard and tried to feel something. My dad didn't say much, but I'm sure he felt a lot. He'd grown up there with three brothers, all of them dead; his parents dead. And here's this house, filled with different people, different stories, entirely different lives. Now, my wife and I are selling our first house, moving a few miles away to Bellbrook. I keep thinking about the fact that...

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Setting sail with Margaret Wrinkle

"I'm going to get a little woo-woo here," Margaret Wrinkle says. That's code for going deep down in it – for talking about things with elusive definitions; things we must analogize. "Your rational mind is a boat drifting on the ocean of your subconscious," she says. "Do you want to tell the story from the tiny boat or from the ocean?" Wrinkle keynoted yesterday at the Antioch Writers' Workshop in Yellow Springs. The room was dim, hushed as she described the 15-year journey that lead to the publication of her first book, Wash, in 2013. It's...

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Will you pass the 100 year test?

Wikipedia editors debate who deserves an entry on the site. In the past, it was common for the "100 year rule" to be evoked. It was a simple, one-question test that went like this: will this person be of general interest to the world 100 years from now?  If the answer was yes, that person was granted an entry on Wikipedia. If the answer was no, well, sorry pal; history's moving on. Much debated, the test eventually got dropped in favor of more general criteria. I still think about the 100 year test, though. It keeps the flame alight. Will...

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