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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

A QUORA question…

Recently (or not so, but now I’ve re-found the forum) I came across an interesting question: WHAT ARE SOME GOOD WRITERS GROUPS TO JOIN ONLINE?

Firstly, I have some strong opinions about “learning to write fiction”, and even stronger about writers groups. Without getting into those bags of snakes, here is my answer to the above question:

You might find a writing group that helps you look further into your writing. That would be good. However, be aware that fellow writing group inmates may have the same “problems” or need help as much as yourself. Do you really want to take advice from people who likely — practically speaking — can’t write any better than you do at this point?

What you need, conversely, is a good mentor, or better yet, someone who knows books and how story works and what’s all inside character and narrative. A friend, a lover, an acquaintance? Maybe you can find this person within an online group. Wonderful.

Ultimately, however, you’re going to have to learn from the masters, those who’ve come before you, those whose proven craft of storytelling is obvious from the first sentence and doesn’t let up, won’t let you go, even long after you’ve completed the book.

For that I have a decent list you might begin with: Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Iris Murdoch, Mary Gaitskill, Saul Bellow, Nabokov, V.S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux and Alex Theroux. Read everything by Philip Roth. Read the Russians, the French; Goethe and Cervantes; Dickens and Henry James (he was more Brit than American). Read Edith Wharton. All of these authors provide a master-class in the techniques — and art — of writing fiction.


My latest novel is “Max, the blind guy” from which you can read an excerpt here.

#Writers and #characters who “smell”

This morning I was about to light an incense stick, a patchouli and sandlewood mix. The wooden matches available in town are a bit difficult to light: never on the first strike. This time was no exception. However, the spark and smoke the match made triggered an image in my mind.

When the magnesium-sulfur odor entered my nostrils, my memory flung me back to my childhood home, outside Chicago, in the yard under a falling sun, dusk: me, holding a cap-gun, blasting away at the tree. In the present I stood holding the match, but my past played the memory before my eyes. I liked to shoot the gun toward night because that’s when the caps, when exploded, would be most visible: red and orange, a puff of smoke.

In my yeasty imagination, I was either a criminal or an FBI agent, depending on my mood. I’d run, crouch, take aim, and fire. Run again, spin around the corner of the brick house, and fire again. I could do this for an hour, or as long as the roll of caps lasted.

Back in reality, I struck the match again, and this time it lit, and so I put the flame to the end of the patchouli stick, and the stick into the dugout. I thought of that cap-gun game again, and wondered how long it had been since I’d last thought of that, or another, cap-gun memory.

The image-trigger (no pun intended) of smell was on top of Aristotle’s list of means to have characters feel an emotional connection. Emotion and arousal were key points in Aristotle’s POETICS to drive home story. No writer today should be without owning their characters’ sense of  smell; also, ask yourself, Why do they smell these things in this way. We’re all pretty much different, even in our sameness.

Stop and smell a rose today. And wait to see which image it triggers.


My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015 from Siren & Muse Publishing. Read an excerpt here that you won’t find at on-line bookshops.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.