Monthly Archives: December 2013

Every Story Needs a Villain, Part Two

Last time, some of you may remember, we were discussing the lack of villains in the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Hopefully by now you even may have seen some of these films for yourself.

But as a refresher let us review the stock Miyazaki storyline: A bratty young woman on the cusp of adolescence is cut off from her parents or her family situation and must find her way back home. Along the way she will come into contact with a boy about her own age, an ambitious dreamer, usually an orphan, who will help our heroine find her way back. And while our young heroine will appear unchanged on the outside to both family and friends, on the inside she will have grown as a person and become stronger and more able to handle whatever life has to throw at her; though by story’s end she will also be saddened, even a little disillusioned, by the outsize effort that has been required of her.

Now I would like to discuss the most recent novel by Richard Ford, Canada, and the ways in which one artist’s approach to ‘bad guys’ in his story can be so very different from another’s.

Canadian flag

In the story that it tells, Canada is remarkably similar to many of the films of Hayao Miyazaki: a teenaged boy is cut off from his family situation and tries to find his way home—only in his case there is no home to return to. However, and in contrast to Miyazaki’s work, there is a very clear bad guy who drives the second half of the narrative, and who brings about the requisite change in our hero that allows him to complete the journey that is the plot of the novel, as well as his life.

Like any good story, the stakes for the protagonist have to be high, as well as clearly stated, and Ford achieves all this in his opening paragraph:

First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first…. Continue reading



Filed under Craft

An Evening at the Independent Writers’ Studio

Clover BuildingIn downtown Bellingham WA, on bustling Holly Street between Cornwall and Bay Street, you will find the Clover Building—whose ground level houses a bridal shop and a printing shop. If you’re a writer, you must grow immediately bold and enter, because inside, amidst an array of private offices, counseling rooms, even an ayurvedic wellness center, you will find the Independent Writers’ Studio, a third-floor haven for writers of all sorts with one thing in common: they come to the Studio to study and write with Mary Elizabeth Gillilan.

Most Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, and many other times, you’ll head up the tall flight of stairs (or you can hop into the elevator) to find Mary in her white chair, book in hand, or at work at the large polished-wood table that doubles as her desk and a gathering place for writers.

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan, founder of the Independent Writers’ Studio and Editor-In-Chief of Clover: A Literary Rag.

The author of Tibet, a novel in journal form, and garnering awards for her writing and editing—including a Governor’s award for editing a history of Washington State—Mary has been leading writing groups for more than thirty years. At the I.W.S. gatherings, she gently and quietly guides both emerging and seasoned writers in their craft, offering advice for how to hone a line or bring a character’s motivation into focus.

Clover Winter 2013

Clover Volume 6: Winter 2013, published by The Independent Writers’ Studio

This night was my second visit to the Studio and my first time at an I.W.S. night. By the way, your initial visit is free and if you decide to continue (as I know I want to!), there’s a modest fee for a month of workshops that now occur Mondays and Wednesdays. And London bus–style, you can jump on or off when it suits you and your writing, although the writers I met at this visit were all long-time habitual attendees. After a timed writing to some optional prompts, on the lineup this evening was a coming of age story set in Alaska and a tale about a pair of high school sleuths. As the newbie, I was invited to read my pages, too, so that added some cheap sex in a car. You know that high you get from coming together with other writers and sharing and discussing your work? So I’ll just say, great high! Continue reading


Filed under Publication

More Notes From Squaw Valley Writers Workshop

Hope everyone is warm. Just received a note from NASA, saying they’ve identified the coldest place on earth, where temperatures can dip to minus 133.6 degrees F (minus 92 degrees C) on a clear winter night. No, it’s not in the Grinch’s heart. It’s in Continue reading


Filed under Craft

Five Irrelevant Questions for David Gardner

Hello from the Dogpatch. We’re happy to share this wildly amusing post from Mike Allegra’s blog, heylookawriterfellow. Enjoy reading, and if you’re so inclined, answer the “interview” questions!

Five Irrelevant Questions for David Gardner.


Filed under Howling at the moon