Monday, May 27, 2013

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 but to also show a particular culture.  I strive to preserve rural ways of life since our modern media seems intent on either ignoring rural America or perpetuating stereotypes that life in rural places is something only to be escaped or ridiculed.              
            Mud, the new movie from Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) is an exception on all counts. 
            Like the best storytelling, Mud slowly reveals more and more layers.  Just when we think we know where it’s going, it takes us down another bend of the river. 
           We can learn a lot as writers by how much the story is revealed through the dialogue and how much is revealed through silence.  These are two essential lessons for writers.  The visuals are simple and stunning.
            Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Mud is that it shows a real world that few people know, although many think they understand.  Mud is set along the Mississippi River in Arkansas and showcases a disappearing way of life of those who live and work on the river.  The sense of place is palpable and has a profound impact on everything in the movie.  Like the best stories, the action could not happen anywhere else.  That is the importance of sense of place. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are those that show a character passing through town in the back of his father’s pickup, watching as a very rural yet very New South passes by him, a New South that is not the romantic places of pastures and plantations but one of locally-owned Mexican restaurants, Dairy Freezes, junkyards, boat storage, new apartment developments.
             And these are people I know.  Rarely do I see them portrayed correctly on film.  They are working hard to get by (mot people would see them as poor; they don’t think of themselves that way, and neither should the viewer), don’t set an awful lot of store by material things (if only the culture as a whole could agree), and they care deeply about one another and their place in the world.  During one memorable scene a woman and her son approach a roadblock that first appears to be a wreck.  “Oh, I hope nobody’s hurt,” the woman says, dragging out each word like a little prayer.  Anyone who’s ever traveled a country road and come upon an accident has most likely uttered these words in that same exact cadence.  It’s a scene that only someone intimate with rural life could have written and directed. 
            I thought a whole lot about Beasts of the Southern Wild while watching Mud.  They are similar in many different ways.  And while I liked Beasts a lot, I also had some real problems with it:  why did those rural people have to be dirty all the time?  Why did they have to live with trash piled up in their homes?  (and I won’t even get into the gender stuff that bothered me…the little girl always being portrayed as masculine to show her strength (can’t strength be shown in the feminine, as well?), the father never receiving a true comeuppance for abusing her). But in Mud, these people are living rough but not nasty, some of them even making their living off of trash (in one great scene a character says, “That junk is his liveliehood!”) but never letting it overtake their lives the way the filmmakers portray it in Beasts and so many other movies about rural folks. 
            While there are many things to appreciate about Beats of the Southern Wild, it is interesting that that film had to rely on a fantastical South to be widely accepted, as so often is the case.  But Mud is unapologetic in presenting a rural place just as it is, with no romanticizing or vilifying.  That’s a hard feat to pull off and a balance that can only be achieved by an entire cast and crew who have a deep understanding of the place and its people. 
            One of the best things about Mud is how believable the characters are in expressing their love for one another.  Several times during the movie children and parents say “I love you” to one another.  Yet it is never done in a sentimental way.  Because this movie is dealing in the realness of life, in the best kind of drama:  the family dynamic.  We get the sense that we are eavesdropping on a real rural family in the midst of high drama.  It is that best sense of storytelling that Shakespeare spoke on when he said that (paraphrasing) all of life’s little dramas happen in the bedroom, meaning of course, that the stories we care the most about are those that happen in people’s homes:  small, intimate, real. 
              I could go on and on about this movie but the main thing I will say is this:  go see it.  There hasn’t been this great a depiction of rural life in a long, long while, and it joins a handful of other films that I think do justice to capturing contemporary life in a rural place (the main ones that come to mind immediately:  That Evening Sun, Come Early Morning, and Winter’s Bone). 
            The cast is phenomenal, too.  I’ve never been a big Matthew McConaughey fan but I will be rooting for him when he gets his much-deserved Oscar nomination for this role.  Sarah Paulson  and Ray McKinnon are quietly brilliant.  Sam Shepard gives his best performance in years and Reese Witherspoon is very effective in a nuanced turn that could have easily come off as a stereotype.  But the whole movie rests upon the backs of the two child actors, Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland (in his debut), who perfectly capture the speech and posture of modern rural boys. These are the kinds of boys I grew up with:  tough, vulnerable, witty, resourceful, wise beyond their years not because of street cred but because they had seen people work hard all of their lives. 
            It's not a totally perfect movie (small spoilers:  there is a very confusing shot toward the end and the lead boy too readily responds violently to adults; I didn't believe that little boy would punch Matthew McConaughey in the mouth) but I loved every minute of Mud and I can’t recommend it highly enough to everyone, but especially writers needing a boost in their creativity. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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, Alice Walker, and others.  I am determined to one day visit the birth-town of Willa Cather and the grave of Zora Neale Hurston.

Monday, May 20, 2013

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 Greene-The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair
Thomas Hardy-Jude the Obscure, The Woodlanders, Tess of the D’Urbervilles
S.E. Hinton-The Outsiders
Zora Neale Hurston-Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Garbriel Garcia Marquez-Of Love and Other Demons, Chronicle of a Death Foretold
John Irving-A Prayer for Owen Meany
D.H. Lawrence-Sons and Lovers, The Fox
Harper Lee-To Kill a Mockingbird
Toni Morrison-Beloved
Micahel Onndaatje-Coming Through Slaughter
Marilynne Robinson-Housekeeping, Gilead, Home
Lee Smith-Fair and Tender Ladies, Saving Grace, Black Mountain Breakdown
Wallace Stegner-Angle of Repose
Alice Walker-The Color Purple

Friday, May 17, 2013

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 to the store and buy all the ingredients, and do it.  Get your mother to teach you how to make those aforementioned biscuits.  Cut flowers from your yard and make arrangements throughout your house.  Change the oil in your car.  Build that deck you've been wanting.  Rearrange your porch furniture.  Rearrange your bedroom furniture.  Organize your tool shed.

My point, of course, is that we must stay creative.  We must never become those people who just come in from a long day of work and plop down in front of the television or computer to numb ourselves for hours.  Okay, sometimes plopping down in front of the television for a numbing session is required, but it should definitely be the exception and not the rule...and I know plenty of folks for whom it is the rule.  For God's sake, put away your damn cell phone for awhile (unless you're using it to create a film or a song or a photograph or a blog, but put it away for awhile after you've done that.  Your hands need to be free).  Keep your mind working,  churning, turning.

I've made my point.  Now I'm going to eat those biscuits.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


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, mystic, and a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky although he was a native of France.  He lived from 1915 until 1968 and became a priest in 1949, the year after his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, became an international bestseller and inspired thousands of people to flock to monasteries in the United States.   He wrote more than 70 books that often focused on spirituality, social justice, and interfaith religion.  His most enduring legacy is probably his ecumenical work.  He was a pioneer of melding the Christian tradition with Asian spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama.   

Although I was born and raised in Southeastern Kentucky just about two hours from where Merton lived most of his life, I was brought up in a very anti-Catholic environment and never knew about him until I was studying for my Master of Fine Arts at Spalding University (a Catholic school, coincidentally) in Louisville, Kentucky.  While out on a stroll I found a historical marker about Merton--only about a block from my dormitory--that changed my life forever.  On the corner of 4th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard in the heart of downtown Louisville the historical marker gives a nice, brief biography of Merton on one side, and on the other states:

A Revelation
Merton had a sudden insight at this corner Mar. 18, 1956, that led him to redefine his monastic identity with greater involvement in social justice issues.  He was "suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people..." He found them "walking around shining like the sun."  Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. 

This is a strange kind of historical marker to be found in America.  In this country we are not much on marking mystical sites, as would be much more common in Europe and Asia.  So I continue to be surprised that this plaque exists.  And I continue to be so very glad.

Because it was another sign to me that we must constantly be on the lookout for discovering new things, which has been the key mantra I have adopted as a writer and have talked about many times before, including a few times on this blog.  

And because it made me know that I had to find out more about Merton.  The first book I bought by him was New Seeds of Contemplation.  It is now one of my all-time favorite books and is definitely the one that had the most tremendous impact on my spiritual education.   

As soon as I read that plaque, I looked around, and I had a better empathy for the people around me.  I remembered a favorite quote by Plato:  "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  And I thought:  that'd be a good thesis for a novel.  And that's when Little Fire was born.  

Years went by before I was able to start that novel that I tucked in the back of my mind until other projects were borne.  And finally I was able to work in a scene where someone else has a revelation like Merton's.  After a long battle with doubt, my character has an epiphany of goodness around him that changes everything.  

The lesson here, again, is that we must always be on the lookout for everything to inspire us to write.  When people ask what inspires writers they expect us to say our children, or nature, or something like that.  But we must be inspired by everything.  As Merton said, Everything that is, is holy.  And if that's true (I think it is), then everything is worthy of our attention and can feed our creativity.  

To learn more about Merton's revelation, including reading his journal entry about the moment, visit this great page.  There is also a beautifully written look at the marker here.  

Photo credit (Merton): 
Photo credit (marker): 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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 example of how I have created a geography of fiction to fuel my writing.  Whenever I needed to feel I was with that character in this integral moment in his life, I would often go to the banks of the Laurel River, very near where I grew up, and where my parents still lived.  A couple times I went to the actual Harpeth River of the book but since that is about three hours from me, in times of need I let the Laurel stand in for the Harpeth.  The same elements are there:  a quality of light that is filtered through river-fed leaves, the slow, barely noticeable movement of the river in summertime, wildflowers waving in the sunlight just before the woods swallow me up at the river's edge.

I go there to get into my character's mind, to know his world better, to know the geography he thinks of as home.  Even if you are creating a world completely different from your own, I recommend having touchstone places that allow you to get beneath the novel's skin and roam around.

I'm including here a couple of very short videos that show you the place that has helped me know the character of Micah Sharp so well, and to create a scene that was life-changing for him and will haunt him forever.  Go here to see the Pasture.  And here to see the River. If I play my cards right, readers will feel as if they've been to this place, too.

And a not-so-gentle reminder to all writers, and all people:  get outside more often.  Nothing will do a better job of making you a better writer, or a better person.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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 song a hundred times while working on Little Fire.  And each time I learned something new.

Only use songs in your books that truly play an important role in the work of art.  Never use a song just because you like it.  In this novel, Joni Mitchell herself becomes a sort of character because for a couple of my characters her music articulates all of the heartbreak and pining they have felt throughout their lives.  Mitchell is an artist who has always incorporated motifs of travel, loneliness, and heartbreak into her work so it's only natural that she be a musician featured in a book that deals with the same themes.

Also it is important to point out that when listening to a song that is this perfectly written I am not only learning some emotional truth about the characters' lives but I am also being inspired by such perfect writing as Mitchell's.  Every line is a wonder.  Surround yourself with art--music, photographs, paintings, films, whatever--that inspires you with its beauty and complexity.

Note:  Don't let the French at the beginning throw you; that only lasts the first few seconds of the film.

Urge for Going, by Joni Mitchell

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell trembling down
Bully winds did rub their faces in the snow
He got the urge for going And I had to let him go

He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

The warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going, they've got the wings to go

They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
And I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay jut another month or so
She's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

And she get the urge for going when meadow grass is turning brown
All her empires are falling down
Winter's closing in

Monday, May 13, 2013

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 that.

To become a better writer--to become a better person--talk to your elders.  Listen to them.  Ask them to tell you stories.  Or let them be.  You will learn something, no matter how you go about it.

In this picture is my aunt, Sis.  She is almost 80.  I have been listening to her tell stories my entire life.  She has informed my writing more than anyone else and my character Anneth, featured in Clay's Quilt and The Coal Tattoo, is loosely based on her.  She has worked hard all of her life.  She has laughed and cried and done everything in a big, beautiful, messy way.  That's life.  That's the way I want to live. And that's how I want my characters to live:  by giving it their all.  By experiencing everything they can and loving all of it while they are able.  Sis taught me that.

Last winter she and I visited the holler where she lived as a little girl.  Puncheon Camp, deep in the hills of Leslie County, Kentucky.  In this picture you can see the hill behind her where she took a shortcut across to get to elementary school.  The creek was twice as big when she was a girl, half of it pushed underground when the road was built.  Back then the creek served as road, too, with horses and even some trucks rumbling their ways over the rocks and little waterfalls to get to the top of the ridge.  Her family had some terrible times on Puncheon Camp.  But some great ones, too.  That day she told me dozens of stories I had never heard before, even though she's been telling me stories every since the mid 1970s.  She is an endless font of good tales.

If I hadn't been listening to my elders as a child, and even now, as an adult, I would have missed out on so much.  My writing would not have bloomed without them.  We live in a world where people know more about vapid celebrities than they do about their grandparents.  We live in a world where we never go over to visit our elderly neighbors.  Change that about yourself and it will make your life and your writing better.  I guarantee it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

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 are a couple of the songs that helped put me there the best.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Murmuration

Above me, thousands of birds were moving together in a black swarm that rolled and turned.  They became a comma on the sky, then a thin dotted line, a black pond against the orange of evening.  And then, they moved down so close to the ocean that I could feel the breath off their wings. --Little Fire 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wondrous Love (Using Music-1)

I don't know how to write without music.  Everyday I listen to songs over and over again while I compose scenes.  I know each of my characters' favorite songs, and I listen to them almost everyday while working on my novel.  And I also know songs that are important to particular scenes in the book.  So I listen to them throughout the writing day.  When I am not at my laptop I am always thinking of my novel and the people who populate it, so often I am singing the soundtrack to my novel as I work in the garden or walk in the woods or drive down the interstate. 

Music is my best resource for jump-starting my creativity everyday.  

Here is one of the most important songs to the novel.  For my main character, Micah, this song makes him think of how hard he once believed and how badly he wants to believe again.  In fact, when he hears this song, he is able to believe--if only momentarily.  Here is one of the all-time greatest voices--Jean Ritchie's--singing one of the best songs I've ever heard.  Below that is another version I'm listening to throughout the day as it is closer to the way the song is sung in the novel--by a choir in a large church.  "Wondrous Love" is an American folk song that became a standard gospel tune.  Because of its elegant lyrics it is often mistaken to be an English ballad but most musicologists believe it came out of the Appalachian tradition and then was folded into worship services, particularly those of the Episcopal church.  The internet is such a great resource for novelists because it gives us easy access to things like this that may have been harder to seek out in the past.  

For more on living like a writer everyday read my essay "The Art of Being Still" that was published in The New York Times in December 2012.

Photo-"Jean Ritchie with Sugar Maple Leaf", (c) 2009, Silas House, taken at The Hindman Settlement School

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Whitman's "Miracles"

In my new novel, Little Fire,  I'm exploring themes of parenthood and religiosity.  I'm thinking a whole lot about what it means to be a parent, how far we will go to be a good parent, how we must sometimes step back and  understand that what might be best for our children is not always the best thing for us.  I'm also thinking a whole lot about contemporary definitions of Christianity and how saying "I'm a Christian" might mean something totally different to you than it does to me because of those changing definitions.  I'm thinking about religiosity and even Christianity in a more ecumenical and inclusive way, too.  My main character, Micah, is someone who has only recently started to explore theology despite having been a fundamentalist preacher for the past ten years.  The two things that completely opens his mind are books and music.  He is lucky to discover writers like Thomas Merton, Willa Cather, and Walt Whitman and musicians like Patty Griffin, Joni Mitchell, and Jim James.  After losing his faith, Micah begins to rediscover it within the notes of music and the words of books he encounters. Through art he is able to once again see the everyday miracles all around him.

Today I'm taking my writing inspiration from Poem 22 of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1900 edition), commonly known as "Miracles":

WHY! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,         5
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,  10
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,  15
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,  20
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct, and in its place.
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,  25
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.
To me the sea is a continual miracle;  30
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

I'm Back

After a long hiatus I'm finally back to blogging.  I'm currently in the homestretch of finishing my new novel, Little Fire, and every morning I am looking for inspiration to carry me through my writing day so I can finish the book.  For the next few weeks I'm going to try to share those writing inspirations with you.  You never know where the inspiration might be lurking: photographs, poems, songs, paintings, the woods, prayers.  I hope you'll check in with me and hopefully the things that help me to get this book written will somehow have an impact on you, too.  Some days I may not post anything and some days I may post three things.  I never know until the writing day draws its first breath.  Happy writing.  Happy reading. --Silas