Showing posts from 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s always a daunting task to pull together a list of my favorite albums of the year, but each year I try to do it.With that said, I will probably leave off something I love.And there will most likely be glaring omissions that I “should” have on here, but don’t for whatever reason.This list is not necessarily a “best of” so much as it is a gathering of the albums I listened to the most this year, perhaps because they are the best albums of the year or maybe just because they struck my mood the best. At any rate, I think they are all high quality records that everyone should check out.I’m listening them here in reverse alphabetical order, simply because it’s too hard for me to rank them.  I hope you will list your favorites in the comments below.  
Holly Williams-The Highway.Yes, she’s Hank Williams’ granddaughter.And her daddy is Bocephus.But that doesn’t matter because this is definitely one of the best written albums of the year, and Williams has the vocal chops to pull it off bea…

The Most Patient

I had a blessing this evening.
     Often, just before dusk, I take a walk in our backyard.  I especially love evening walks this time of year, when the cool of the day settles down over the land and the early autumn light fades like a lamp that is being dimmed. The crickets and other night things have thinned their singing since the heat left with summer's dying, but a few sing on.  Their songs seem sweeter and more tender in the fall, as if they know their demise is at hand.  Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote that crickets were "the sound of silence made audible" and during this time of year, when the leaves are just beginning to turn and the smell of change hangs in the air, there is the timbre of a silence quietening more during each gloaming.
     I like this time of day best of all because there is a stillness that is palpable more than seeable or hearable.  We know the stillness is there if we are still enough to take note.
     After I had walked the yard once…

Real Work

I come from hard-working people.
     My mother was orphaned at the age of nine, raised by cousins, and the first person in her family to graduate from high school.  She never had a bicycle or a birthday cake as a child.  My father was the next-to-youngest of nine siblings all being raised by a single mother after my paternal grandfather died when her youngest was still an infant.  Dad, like his brothers and sisters, had to leave school to work and help support the family.  A desire to be of more help led him to volunteer for the Vietnam.        Once my father returned from the war he spied a beautiful young woman at the local hangout, Finley's Drive-in, and before they knew it they were eloping to Jellico, Tennessee, a state border town that made an economy out of marrying people.  Justices-of-the-peace were everywhere in Jellico.  One could even get married by the butcher's case in the back of the IGA there (my cousin did so).  My parents found a little church,…

Make Your Writing As Clear as MUD

I always recommend that fellow writers look to film for inspiration.Readers think in a cinematic way.They are exposed to moving images constantly.We can learn much from the storytelling qualities of the movies.I particularly look to cinema to learn more about writing tense scenes of dialogue and to better present pacing and plotting.Most of the great movies of real storytelling have to be seen at home since so few of them make their ways onto the big screen.It is a rare treat to be able to go to the movie theatre and see a film that is a feat in storytelling.Nowadays the cineplexes more often showcase the latest action thriller in which everything is constantly being blown up.So I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to go to the movies with my daughters recently to see a movie that did just about everything right.Not only did it tell a beautiful, layered story, but it also presented a way of life rarely captured on film.One of my goals as a writer is to not only tell a good story…

Paying Homage

While in Louisville this week to participate in festivities honoring the Dalai Lama's visit I had the opportunity to linger at my favorite historical marker again.  You can read about my connection to this spot in this recent blog post about Thomas Merton, if you haven't already.  Truly a sacred spot for me, and many others.  I always get a boost out of visiting this marker while in Louisville.  I think it's important for us as writers to have places to go like this.  In England and Ireland literary spots abound because so much attention is paid to the rich literary history of those countries but often in America that gets overlooked.  When you can, seek out places that should be important to us as writers. I've been lucky to be in many places that were integral to the lives of writers like Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mitchell, Lee Smith, Willa Cather, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Denise Giardina, Alex Haley, Flannery O'Connor, A…

The Best Simple Advice

To be a better writer:READ.
Here are the novels that have had the biggest impact on me as a writer.They’ve taught me how to tell a story, how to write a sentence, how to make a plot, how to write a scene of dialogue.They’ve proven to me that all good writing is about emotion.They’ve taught me about life and about writing.This is an ever-changing, evolving list, but today these are the most important novels to me (lots of poetry and nonfiction has been important, too, but I'm focusing here on fiction).
Isabel Allende-The House of the Spirits Harriette Arnow-The Dollmaker Margaret Atwood-Alias Grace, The Handmaid’s Tale Larry Brown-Father and Son, Joe, Facing the Music Chris Cleave-Little Bee Emma Donoghoe-Room Willa Cather-My Antonia, O Pioneers, Death Comes for the Archbishop, The Song of the Lark Michael Dorris-A Yellow Raft in Blue Water Louise Erdrich-Love Medicine, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No-Horse Denise Giardina-Storming Heaven, The Unquiet Earth Graham G…

Make Biscuits, Not War

Make art everyday, any way you can.

Work on your novel.  Or poem, essay, short story, play, screenplay.  Or a painting, song, sculpture.  film, photograph.  Most of all, expand your notion of what art is.  Anything that is made with care can be art, too.  The art is what goes into it almost as much as what comes out.  The art is in the making as much as the end product.  So if you can't put your energies to that novel today, keep your creative juices flowing by making art in your own way.

Bake homemade biscuits.  Plant tomatoes.  Hoe your garden.  Make a pie (give it to a neighbor).  Read a book to a child (performance art).  Walk in the woods and make an art of observation.  Have a dance party in your living room.  When my daughters were little, we did this almost every night and those are some of my best memories.  Develop all those pictures that are stored on your laptop and make a photo album that you can actually show to people.  Find a recipe you always wanted to make, go…


Very often when I am on the road and do a Q&A after a reading or presentation, people will hesitantly raise their hands and when called upon will ask:  "What inspires you?"  It's a question I always dread because the answer is too simple, and too complex, all at the same time.  When I give my honest answer:  "Everything," half the audience might think I'm being  facetious while the other half may think I'm corny.  But it's true.  As writers, we must be open to everything in the whole world moving us to write.  For me--and it doesn't have to be like this for everyone--writing feels like a kind of worship, or prayer.  Not just the act of tapping out words on the keyboard, but the actual thinking process of writing.  It is meditation, prayer, worship, living.  If that sounds overwrought, so be it.  

In my new novel I am often looking to the writings of Thomas Merton to guide my lead characters.  Merton was a Catholic writer,  poet, activist, mys…

Geography of Fiction

When writing fiction, it always helps to have a geography in your mind, a space within which you can walk around and orient yourself so that your characters know where they are, which way to move, where to stand, how to be in that space.

In my new novel most of the action takes place in Key West, Florida, although my main character is a man from rural Tennessee.  He sees the island from the point of view of an outsider so he thinks of it as exotic, foreign, even like a world that is the opposite of his own.  As one of the lines in the novel says, he has gone from "a world of trees to one of the sea."  He loves Key West, but he is forever missing his home, the fictional community of Harpeth River, Tennessee (based on several small communities along the Harpeth River in the area just outside Nashville).

Throughout the novel he is drawn back to a pivotal moment in his life that happened near the banks of the Harpeth River.  It's a moment that haunts him.  This is just one …

The Urge for Going

My new novel is largely populated by people who are running away with something.  Some of them are running from love, others from hate.  Some are trying to outrun their grief while others are in self-exile because of past mistakes.  All of them have had the urge for going that is so perfectly articulated in one of Joni Mitchell's best songs, and one of the cornerstones for my novel's soundtrack.  I encourage everyone to create a soundtrack for any long piece of writing they're doing.  My novel soundtracks usually have about 75 or 80 songs.  Some of the pieces show up in the actual piece of work but others simply inform scenes.  All of them help me to get to the emotional truths of my characters and even sometimes reveal things about my characters that I wouldn't have known had I not tried to understand the music with which they identify.  In this particular video it is not only the words and music that are important, but the images, too.  I must have listened to this …

Listen to Your Elders

I grew up surrounded by older people, and I stuck as close to them as I could.  I hid beneath kitchen tables, porches, and quilting racks so I could eavesdrop on their juiciest stories.  But I also piled into cars with them when they went to town and told stories about each house we passed, sat in John boats with them while they fished and gave tips on the best way to reel in a bluegill, walked the hills with them while they announced the names of trees and plants and tuned their ears to birdcalls so they could identify their songs.  Most of all, I listened to their stories.  Stories about hard times, old times.  Stories about ways of life that were gone with the wind.  But within those tales there was always something to apply to the right here and now.  There was always wisdom weaving itself in and out and around their words.

We don't mix generationally enough any more.  The young stay with the young, the old with the old.  And something incredibly valuable is lost because of t…

Going to Key West (Using Music-2)

Litte Fire is my first novel to be set completely outside somewhere I have actually lived.  The novel is essentially a road novel with the majority of the action set in Key West, Florida.  Since the book is about a man from rural Tennessee who has kidnapped his child and is on the run, he feels like Key West is the most exotic yet reachable place for him.  While writing the novel I was lucky to have help from friends like Annie Dillard, a resident of Key West, and the Studios of Key West, which offers lodging for artists.  I came to know Key West very well, spending a lot of time there not as a tourist but experiencing it through the eyes of my main characters, who were on the run and found it to be their strange new home.  One of the things that absolutely helped to put me there was choosing music that not only talked about the ocean but also songs that made me feel as if I was in Key West, even when I was back home in Kentucky, conjuring it while I tapped away on my laptop.  Here a…