Monthly Archives: March 2012

Highway to Hell

In his book On Writing, Stephen King famously said, ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’ I happened to hear someone invoke this dictum on a recent occasion due to the use of a single adverb in a sentence someone else had written, the use of which she found objectionable. This person then went on to further invoke Stephen King’s equally famous metaphor comparing adverbs to dandelions overtaking a lawn and turning it into an unsightly mess.

So with all that in mind, let’s have a little pop quiz. Please identify the following three (3) examples:

1) ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’

2) ‘So we beat on, boats against a current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

3) ‘And now, when Danforth and I saw the freshly glistening and reflectively iridescent black slime which clung thickly to those headless bodies and stank obscenely with that new, unknown odor whose cause only a diseased fancy could envisage — clung to those bodies and sparkled less voluminously on a smooth part of the accursedly resculptured wall in a series of grouped dots — we understood the quality of cosmic fear to its uttermost depths.’

O.K. Time’s up. Pencils down, please. The answers are as follows: Continue reading



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Scavenging for Fuel

What fuels my writing process—aside from caffeine and chocolate? Sometimes I’m tempted to turn to books that are far too familiar or similar to what I’m writing. (And sometimes that is just what my process needs.) But I am often better served by books (or other media) that are “foreign” to me in some way. Whether it’s poetry, essays, science writing, or other nonfiction, books written by authors from another culture or country, new music, or art galleries, I think exploration “shakes things up,” allowing the unexpected to percolate through my subconscious and enrich my work.

For example, this past month or two, I’ve read (or have read portions of) the following: Continue reading

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Writing as Calculus by Jilanne Hoffmann

Here’s a wonderful post, actually a follow-up post to Jill’s trials with her son and his school writing assignment.

Jilanne Hoffmann

Thinking about writing—and my son. In a recent parent-teacher conference, one of his teachers suggested that my son is a perfectionist, and that’s why he’s so reticent to put words on the page. She told me how she sat down with him one day to brainstorm ideas. As they came up with idea after idea, she would occasionally say, “That’s a really good idea. Why don’t you write a story about that?” Each time, my son would say, “No, I don’t want to…” And his voice with trail off and fall into a sort of despondent monotone. It was like no idea was worthy enough, not inspiring enough for him to go through the effort of thinking about the words he would need to write his story.

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Filed under Howling at the moon, Rants


Love, love, love, this little book! Picked it up at Green Apple Books in San Francisco last night. The vignettes are set in, and inspired by, various SF pubs and eateries. From the back jacket: “Will the cocktails break your heart? Will the ice cream make you call your mother? Reviews are plentiful. Menus can be found online. But there is more to dining out than what arrives on the plate. Somewhere between making eye contact with the server and figuring out the tip, we fall in love, make plans to escape, dream of other worlds.” 

This work has been described as a blend of Richard Brautigan and Raymond Carver. 

Writing: Ian Tuttle

Illustrations: Jason Toney

Lovely book design: Megan Enright

If you don’t live in SF, you can buy it through PayPal. And no, I have not met the author, but he’ll be at The Stable in San Francisco for the Cincinnati Review Release Party on March 26, 2012.


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by | March 21, 2012 · 1:31 pm

Kudos for “The Sense of an Ending”

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011 Man Booker Prize winner) leads the reader through the murky passageways of memory, while musing about the nature of time and history.

The story opens with fragments of memories that, according to the narrator, are arranged “in no particular order” along with the caveat—“what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” With this first paragraph, the book’s tenor is established. Continue reading


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Tracy K. Smith, on Getting to that Untamed, Untrained Place to Write.

All of us need to learn how to step away from the controls when we write first drafts or take on deep revisions.This essay speaks to the need for and importance of letting go.

My daughter is screaming in the next room because she wants her father to give her something he is not willing to let her have.  Her little voice has swelled and stretched so it now seems to be something she could, if she wanted, ride down the stairs and out the front door of our building.  I want! I hear her say, the a of it opening up into a wide, flat surface, while the anger winds and unwinds itself like the engine of a well-built vehicle. I waaaant!

When I first started writing poems seriously, I remember longing for that kind of unappeasable need, longing to tap into something capable of causing so much internal unrest I’d have to step aside and let it have its way.  I didn’t have my daughter’s sense of purpose, perhaps, or her innocent belief in the veracity of her own need and the…

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Seeking that Elusive Aha Moment

It’s the surprise discovery that ties everything together. It’s the jolt of clarity that I feel in  in my core. It’s the suddenly acquired measure of wisdom that will be part of me for the rest of my days. It’s what I hope to find when I read.  And it’s why I write.

The greatest Aha Moment that I’ve ever read is  Carver’s, “A Small Good Thing.” If you haven’t read it, stop whatever  you’re doing and read it.   Continue reading

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Spotted Writing Stunts

Dear Friends,

The other day I walked into a coffee shop wearing a T-shirt I bought a in Port Townsend on a self-designed writing retreat. The barista read my shirt, said, “I don’t get it.”

“Instead of hiring someone to do it for me,” I said.

“Okay, but is that bad?” she wanted to know. Continue reading


Filed under Howling at the moon, Notes from the coffee shop

At the Bottom of a Well and on Top of the World

Lately I’ve been interested in reading Haruki Murakami’s newest magnum opus 1Q84, but then I overheard someone who was already halfway through it, saying about the book, ‘All things being equal, I would rather be re-reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.’ So that’s what I did.

I heeded her warning and am re-reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the book many consider Murakami’s masterpiece.

And it’s only upon this second reading I have discovered that what on my first time through seemed merely a confusing and surpassingly strange story — the type of book only a Japanese writer could have written — was, the second time around, really a long and involved (not to mention, fascinating) metaphor for what a writer goes through in order to produce a novel. Continue reading


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