Monday, August 26, 2013


This morning, the yellow buses lumbered down the road and took my children to their schools.

The day stretches before me, seven hours of uninterrupted quiet. It will take some time to get used to the peace--the summer was fun-filled, boisterous, the house often taken over by the kids and their friends.

I have been on sabbatical since July 1. But, what with the busy-ness and the occasional halcyon afternoons which find me in the hammock staring at clouds and day-dreaming, I have not accomplished so much in terms of my sabbatical goals.

And what are those goals? Mostly to continue research in policies regarding opioid analgesics that can disrupt--or equilibrate--the balance between medical access to pain medications and abuse of these same drugs. It is a passion I have explored for twenty years, starting with my dissertation. In addition to research, I have harbored an idea of writing a non-fiction book about the topic, one accessible to all, not ideas relegated only to academic medical and policy journals. So I will start outlining a book proposal, drawing on my decades (!) of experience in this area. As well, I will have more time to work on my novel, and more time to read.

I do not begrudge the last seven weeks of idle time. For it wasn't really idle. All the while, ideas and other stuff percolated on their own. For the first time in many years, I feel rested.

For sabbatical shares the same root as Shabbat (Hebrew), the Sabbath. The time of rest. And that is what sabbatical should do most of all--rest the worker, her body and mind, spirit and soul.

I am ready now. Ready--and excited--to see where my mind takes me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Revisioning the Novel

I have been working on THE MINISTER'S WIFE for almost two years, creating my characters, their histories, their destinies. They seem alive to me, so alive that at times I dream of them. When I wake, I can't remember who I am or where: am I in Afghanistan, Boston, a South Dakota farm? There is something delicious about sharing that level of intimacy with characters, of delving this deep to make them seem real. This is one of the most tangible rewards of writing, at least for me.

When I started this project, I envisioned a series of linked stories, each of which could stand alone, but which, in their totality, told a larger story. Think of Olive Kitteridge, or A Visit from the Goon Squad, or As the Great World Spins. All gorgeous, amazing books told in separate stories.

My decision for this approach was based on three things: 1) the yammerings of multiple characters demanding their time in the limelight; 2) my desire to write a *proper* short story (longer than a flash fiction but shorter than a novella); and 3) practicality--my writing program does not easily accommodate work-shopping an entire novel.

But what a struggle. Using the linked stories structure is goddamn hard. Trying to force big stories into small spaces. Knowing when to reveal information, and when to hide it. Understanding a character's motivation for heading into war without writing four pages of back story. Since I started this project, the container has worried me, bothered me, kept me up at night and, at times, paralyzed me from writing.

So after two workshops, and the insightful critiques of classmates and an awesome instructor, I have come to realize that shoving expansive stories into 7,000 word stories is not my style. THE MINISTER"S WIFE must be a novel, not linked stories. My characters have so much to tell me (and you), and their stories are expansive and fluid and span too much time to be relegated to a story. They twist and weave through each other, like tributaries.

So, as I revise this material, this is the structure I must find: something that allows multiple POVs to flex and bend with each other, to travel over time and over the page without arbitrary and jagged breaks. Maybe I will find a new form to tell my story; maybe the final product will look more traditional than I originally envisioned. I don't know.

But this I do know: I am excited to revise, and rewrite. The feeling of moving forward lightens me.

My fellow writers: what has been your biggest struggle in writing, and how have you overcome it?

Dear readers: have you read any novels with multiple points of view that might be helpful to me?


Friday, August 02, 2013


I read a lot of stories--in my workshop and as editor--and I find it funny how some writers present flawless work, free from typos and punctuation woes and egregious grammatical errors, while others present what reads like a rough draft without even a word checker's blessing.

Although these rough stories often have that elusive thing I think of as voice, the first paragraphs are so riddled with inaccuracies I find myself getting annoyed, angry even. Why waste my time? My eyes are too tired, too impatient, to wade through multiple split infinitives, gerunds running wild, and ubiquitous and improperly used semi-colons; they drive me mad.

On the other hand, when a writer in control of her material breaks a grammar rule, exciting things can happen. Like effective fragment use. And starting sentences with conjunctions can make the reader pause in a powerful way.

Myself, I eschew adverbs, gerunds, and improper use of possessives. But I love, love, love the effective use of fragments.

And you?

What grammar or punctuation 'rules' bug you the most? Which rules do you love to flaunt?

And why?