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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back to Work

Our Students.  I am so Proud.
For the past week, I was the "good cop" co-teaching a novel-writing workshop at Kenyon College, alongside Nancy Zafris, author of The Home Jar, Metal Shredders, and Lucky Strike.  Last year there was a third teacher, Geeta Kothari, who couldn't be with us this time.

Nancy is beyond all doubt the most brilliant writing teacher I've ever known.  An anecdote to prove this: a student reads fresh work as she listens, either staring into her lap or with cocked head perched in the notch between thumb and forefinger .  Then, after a few seconds' pregnant silence, she will say, "Read me the fifth sentence again."

Who the hell is so attentive she listens sentence by sentence?  The reason for the confusing verb tense in the anecdote above, is that I have seen her pull this stunt on more than one occasion.

During this year's workshop, Nancy brought in paragraphs showing how authors shift smoothly from objective to subjective point of view.  (Everyone who's not a fiction writer is now audibly yawning, but to the rest of us, this kind of thing is fascinating.)  As Nancy revealed the structure of these paragraphs, my jaw literally dropped.  I am using "literally" correctly here, with close attention to its actual meaning.  There was a gap between my lower lip and upper.  Had there been a strong wind, it would have made a low whistle blowing across my gaping mouth.

We worked our students like sled dogs, but, by golly, they rose to the task.  There's not a one of them that didn't take a giant stride forward as a writer.  (Oh, and lest I forget, a returning alum announced she has received a publishing contract for a manuscript she worked on at Kenyon.)  I am home now, glad to be back with my wife, dog, and chickens.  The tomatoes are coming in and I have corn I need to husk.  Tomorrow - I'm going to wait one more day to let the radioactivity subside - I'm going to return to my own manuscript, my head a-buzz with insights gained from last week.  (I put some frogs in my story, and couldn't think how to use them, but now I think I see the solution.)

I am a lucky man.


  1. I think Man could pull a great sentence out of a salamander. Since I'm a lower life form than that, I'm living proof