Monthly Archives: February 2013

Students of the essay take note: the above post from Café Casey is a lovely take on the learning process, whether it is painting, composing, or writing. Owning and then transforming “influence.”

Café Casey

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 5.53.48 AMI was looking at a picture of bamboo. I love bamboo. I have spent so many hours painting it. In my sumi-e practice, I have painted a million bamboo plants. In the beginning, I thought this was insane repetition. In Western schools you don’t sit and write the letter “e” a million times. Maybe that’s why I always flunked handwriting.

I used to sit and work on the same image or same kanji hundreds of times. Eventually, I learned, it was all the same. To create an image a thousand times is to create it once. Bamboo, chrysanthemum, a cherry blossom–whatever. The goal is to reach perfection. The reality is that perfection doesn’t exist. The perfection is, in fact, in imperfection. Sometimes, our drive to be perfect consumes us. We suffer. Practicing these arts teaches us eventually that the learning–the experience–is in the journey–perfection is just a destination to imagine…

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Filed under Craft, Howling at the moon

Fat Prose

In his excellent book on the craft of writing (On Writing), Stephen King presents a diatribe against the unnecessary use of adverbs. He wasn’t as hard on adjectives and I think he should have been. Both are modifiers, which are words and phrases that weaken or even uglifiy what otherwise might be good writing, by adding layers of fat to what was elegant prose. This is certainly not new thinking, yet, lately the use of the word, “so” has grown exponentially as a modifier of the phrase, “Thank You.” It’s no longer adequate to express one’s gratitude to another for anything by simply saying, “thanks,” “thank you,” or even “thank you very much.” It’s come to be expected that a complete “thank you” includes the phrase, “so much,” as in “Thank you, so much.”

On the page the word, “so,” appears innocuous, particularly since it consists of but two letters, but recently it has invaded and cheapened the phrase, “Thank you.” I suspect that “so” initially entered the lexicon as a way to enhance “Thank you,” and/or to take the place of the word “very.”

Part of what bothers me is how much equals “so much?” Is it measured as a percentage of the original Thank you? That would be difficult to quantify, but perhaps not as much, because that original thanks refers to an action done by someone else that engendered the original thanks. Now the word, “so” has become overused to the point where it no longer enhances the original Thank you. And modifying our prose rarely strengthens the text; instead the writer feels the need for a crutch and the result is weakened writing.

Thank you for reading this.


Filed under Rants

Waiting for Robin Hood

While I ponder the nature of time, taking the time to find the right word, create the right sentence, and place those right sentences in order until I have a piece that “works”—I am filled with a sense of dread as challenges to write 12 books in 12 months or to write a novel in a month pop up online like prairie dogs. Now I’m not slamming those particular endeavors, no siree. Anyone who can put out that many words deserves respect for their hard work.

And yes, it does light the fire of urgency under writers who are sitting on their thumbs. It gets their hands out from under their butt cheeks and on the keyboard or wrapped around a pen, putting words on the page. But let’s now talk about a little thing like QUALITY. Continue reading


Filed under Craft

What a Feelin’!

Happy 30th!

Beals BackbendIt’s been three decades since director Adrian Lyne brought us the film Flashdance. In case you missed it (or were just a playful glint in some hot postman’s eye when it premiered), you can relive the same story structure in Coyote Ugly from 2000, directed by David McNally and featuring a gutsy blonde wannabe singer instead of a gutsy dark-haired wannabe dancer.

In celebration of Flashdance, my favorite-ist film ever, until Jan de Bont gave the world Speed in 1994—here you may be excused if you are now bored out of your skull, but the film Speed beautifully illustrates three-act structure, and you can learn a lot by watching it 50 or 60 times. Plus, whichever way you swing, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are easy on the eyes—anyway, I put on my well-used Flashdance CD and started dancing around my bedroom in the shirt I’ve been wearing for 48 hours and my long underwear, doing my best Jennifer Beals imitation—or for any of you purists out there, my best Marine Jahan imitation. Continue reading


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Group Writing Critique: “Holiday Parade” by Lisa Lynne Lewis

 Welcome to the dogfight! Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and your comments are welcomed! For this round we requested a story from Southern California–based writer Lisa Lynne Lewis (see her bio below). We very much enjoyed reading “Holiday Parade” and give our thanks to Lisa for being part of this forum. This was a particularly interesting endeavor for us, as we all had a slightly different takeaway from the story, which made for a thoughtful as well as enjoyable discussion. You can find more of Lisa’s work at Literary Mama.


From “Holiday Parade”

  Emily held her pink-mittened hands over her ears. “Why do they have to do that? It’s so loud!”
            Debra looked at her daughter, hands still over her ears, her light-brown hair spilling over the fake fur hood of her silver parka. She’d seemed pretty unconcerned about the lockdown when Debra had picked her up after school on Monday. “It was gross when they made the boys pee in the trashcan,” she confided in Debra. “Mitchell and Ben really had to go, but the teacher wouldn’t let them out to go to the boy’s bathroom.”           
“That is kind of gross,” Debra agreed.
“But it was in the corner and she put the flip chart in front of it so we couldn’t see,” Emily added. “So it was OK.”
Comments from the Dogpatch:

Thanks for the story, Lisa! Here are my thoughts: This piece is about being safe in the world and the folly of thinking we can be “safe” anywhere. This delusion is and should be owned solely by children. Being a parent, I identify with this theme as my son gets older and loses his innocence. And I see this in action when parents move out of the city to the “safe” suburbs or small town rural areas. It’s a timely topic, given the recent massacre on the East Coast. Continue reading


Filed under Craft, Dogfight

The Grapes of Mocking

I had to re-blog this from It is just too hilarious. Thank you, Robert!

Steinbeck Mocks the Publishing Process

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