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New Mexican Books to Read While Self-Isolated

19 Mar

As part of my job as Community Schools Coordinator at Peñasco ISD in Northern New Mexico, I recently attended an Equity Council workshop hosted by the New Mexico Public Education Department.  One of the big discussions was on changing the narrative in our schools, which can mean a lot of things and be applied differently in every school. But, one thing it almost certainly requires is giving our students, teachers, parents, and communities the opportunity to tell their own story rather than having it told to them by others. As both a writer and teacher of both writing and literature, I’m a firm believer in the power of books to shape our narratives of who we are and the nature of the world we live in. So, since we’re all self-isolating, I thought I’d offer a list of recent books that are either set in New Mexico or by New Mexican authors (or, in some cases, with a close, New Mexico-adjacent focus). All of these books were published within the past few years, reflect the people who call New Mexico home, and are excellent reading and great for teaching. The list includes picture books, middle grade, young adult, horror, mysteries, fantasy, poetry, and nonfiction.

I’ve listed the books in alphabetical order by author. All links are to Albuquerque’s BookWorks, which is offering free shipping during the month of March. I’ve surely left off some great books, so please respond with suggestions for titles in the comments!



Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura Y El Misterio del Chupacabras by Xavier Garza

El Paso native Garza writes the sort of kids books that you still remember as an adult, a comic mixture of folklore, mystery, and The Twilight Zone. His latest series features the boy detective Vincent Ventura encountering the legends of border tales. These books, written in both Spanish and English, have at their center the essential goal for all books: to provide pleasure. Learning is fun, and so are these novels.





I’m Not Missing by Carrie Fountain

Las Cruces native Fountain is perhaps best known as a poet (this outstanding poem has been making the rounds on social media), but her debut young adult novel reveals the breadth of her talent. During her senior year, Miranda Black’s best friend, Syd, runs away—suddenly and inexplicably, leaving behind nothing but a pink leopard print cell phone with a text message from the mysterious HIM.





The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Jones is Blackfeet, from Texas and Colorado, and one of the pre-eminent masters of horror in the United States. His latest novel, out in May, follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way

If that’s too bloody for you, try his novella, Mapping the Interiora tender (seriously) story of a boy who suspects his trailer is haunted by the ghost of his father.



The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

This novel retells one of the foundational narratives of the Americas, the travels of the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca through what is now Florida, Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico. Only four members of the expedition survived, one of whom was Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. This novel, mixing adventure tale and social commentary, tells the story of the expedition from his point of view. The book is one of the most exciting, most enjoyable I’ve read in the past decade—but it also has some scenes that feel uncomfortably relevant.




Lowriders in Space by Raúl the Third

This graphic novel tells the story of three friends who enter a contest that will take their lowrider into space. El Paso/Juarez native Raul the Third’s illustrations resemble ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, and the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. For younger readers, Raúl the Third wrote and illustrated ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the MarketHis books will remind you of your friend back in the day whose drawings cracked everyone up and could have made a career out of them—Raúl the Third actually did it!


Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Few authors have exploded onto the literary scene quite like northern New Mexico’s Roanhorse. She’s written an urban fantasy series set on a post-apocalyptic Dinétah (Roanhorse is indigenous and married into a Navajo family), a Star Wars novel, and the middle grade novel Race to the Sun, about a 7th-grade Diné monster hunter (published by Rick Riordan presents, of Percy Jackson fame). Her story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™,” available online, won pretty much every award possible in science fiction/fantasy.

A note: Some Dinè writers have taken issue with Roanhorse’s use of Diné narratives. You can read their objections here in Indian Country Today. And you can read a response by Northern Cheyenne Two-Spirit Journalist Adrian L. Jawort here in the LA Review of Books.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

El Paso’s Benjamin Alire Sáenz has been winning awards for decades, and this young adult novel is as beautiful a book as you’re likely to find. Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.




Trust Me by Richard Z. Santos

This debut novel takes the political intrigue and suspense that we’re used to finding in Washington D.C. and transplants it to the land battles of New Mexico. A skeleton unearthed at a Santa Fe construction site sets off an exploration of innocence and guilt, power and wealth, and the search for love and happiness. The novel is published by Arte Público, the press that first published Sandra Cisneros and remains the oldest and largest Latinx-publishing house in the United States. This novel is so good—so intrinsically tied to the people and politics of New Mexico—and for that reason, perhaps, it never struck a nerve with big New York publishing houses. But, trust me (ha ha), it’s excellent.



The Tombstone Race by José Skinner

Set in places as diverse as Fort Sumner, Taos, Chimayó, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Clovis, the fourteen stories in The Tombstone Race explore the surprising connections and disjunctions between rich and poor, urban and rural, old and new, ugly and beautiful. Based in part on the author’s experiences as a Spanish/English interpreter in the criminal courts of New Mexico, Skinner’s stories navigate the state’s changing cultures with humor and heart. These are stories that have no interest in the tourist’s view of New Mexico but dig into the complex experience of living the many lives that exist outside the tourist spots.



Retablos by Octavio Solis

El Paso’s Solis is a famous playwright, but he turns to fiction and memoir in this collection. The New York Times directs readers to Retablos if you want to know “what’s life really like on the Mexican border. Solis grew up just a mile from the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, and he tells stories about his childhood and coming of age, including his parents migration to the United States from Mexico, his first encounter with racism and finding a Mexican migrant girl hiding in the cotton fields.” If you’re a teacher and love Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, this is the book you should be teaching with it.



All Who Enter Here by Erika Wurth

This novel offers a contemporary, New Mexican version of the famous novel The Outsiders. Matthew escapes a life of misery in Farmington only to find himself initiated into one of Albuquerque’s gangs. His new friend decides that their little Native American gang deserves to be as big as the Mexican gangs in Albuquerque, bringing in new business from deep inside Indigenous communities in Mexico. This is a tough novel but also one of beauty and compassion.





Cuicacalli / House of Song by ire’ne lara silva

Texas poet ire’ne lara silva grew up in a family of migrant workers who traveled back and forth between Texas and New Mexico. I feel fortunate to call her a friend; she’s one of the most generous and wise writers I’ve ever met. Part song, part grito, part wail, part lullaby, and part hymn, her latest collection Cuicacalli / House of Song is a multi-vocal exploration of time, place, and history. Song lives within and without the poet’s physical and spiritual experience of body, of desire, of art, of loss, and of grief on an individual and communal level. The poetry sings survival, sings indigeneity, sings some part of the tattered world back together.



A Poetry of Remembrance by Levi Romero

Romero is the 2020 New Mexico Poet Laureate. In his most famous collection, he takes readers through familiar details–leaking faucets and lowriders, chicharrones and chicken coops–and remembers familia, comunidad, and tradiciones from his upbringing in northern New Mexico’s Embudo Valley. Alongside his training and jobs in the building trades and the architectural profession, and now a teacher, his writing has maintained and nurtured his connection to the unique people and land he knows so well and that have seldom been represented in American poetry. The book’s a decade old, but since Romero is the state’s first poet laureate, it remains an absolutely current read.


Whereas: Poems by Layli Long Soldier

Oglala Lakota citizen and Arizona native Long Soldier has deservedly received a lot of attention for this book of poetry. Whereas confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, she creates a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.


Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers: Poems by Jake Skeets

Diné poet Jake Skeets’s collection is an unflinching portrait of the actual west and a fierce reclamation of a living place―full of beauty as well as brutality, whose shadows are equally capable of protecting encounters between boys learning to become, and to love, men. Its landscapes are ravaged, but they are also startlingly lush with cacti, yarrow, larkspur, sagebrush. And even their scars are made newly tender when mapped onto the lover’s body.





The Book of Archives and Other Stories From the Mora Valley, New Mexico by A. Gabriel Meléndez

A native of Mora with el don de la palabra, Meléndez mines historical sources and his own imagination to reconstruct the valley’s story, first in English and then in Spanish. He strings together humorous, tragic, and quotidian vignettes about historical events and unlikely occurrences, creating a vivid portrait of Mora, both in cultural memory and present reality. More than a century ago, villagers collected scraps of paper documenting the valley’s history and their identity–military records, travelers’ diaries, newspaper articles, poetry, and more–and bound them into a leather portfolio known as “The Book of Archives.” When a bomb blast during the Mexican-American War scatters the book’s contents to the wind, the memory of the accounts lives on instead in the minds of Mora residents

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxane Dunbar Ortiz

Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire. For younger readers, Jean Mendoza and Nambé Pueblo citizen Dr. Debbie Reese have co-written an adaptation, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People.


The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown’s mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well. As anyone living in New Mexico surely knows, this is nonsense. In this book (a finalist for the National Book Award) Treuer, Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, blends memoir, history, and reporting to tell the story of struggle and thriving success of tribes and their citizens across the country. An entire section is focused on the Pueblo tribes.


A teacher at the Equity Council workshop told a small group that no state in the U.S. can match New Mexico’s rich and textured history. The books on the list reflect a great many aspects of that history and the ways that it’s reflected in the lives all around us. Read these books, share them with others, and discuss them with friends, family, and students. Then, if you feel so moved, start writing or telling your own story!


Michael NollMichael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories and author of The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction.


Write Like Anne Enright? You Should Be So Lucky.

8 May

Write Like Anne Enright? You Should Be So Lucky” was published at Fiction Writers Review.

In seventh grade, I won a story-writing contest at my small, rural Kansas middle school. This may seem like no great shakes since there are, in any given day, more shoppers in your nearest JC Penney than were competing in that contest, yet I was proud of myself. I had beaten Ian, he of the dirty rhyming poems; Lucy, whose poem about an angel would later wow our freshman class; and Jacob, author of the first short story I ever read that was not “Gift of the Magi” (entitled “The Gig,” it was about a band getting a gig). My winning piece was sent on to the next level, sponsored, as I recall, by the American Legion. My parents seemed genuinely awed, asking how I had come up with something so wild. I hadn’t actually thought about the origin of the story’s best elements: the magic necklace, the wizard, the boy who would save the day. In horror, I realized that I had cribbed almost every detail from Chessmen of Doom or whatever John Bellairs novel I had just devoured during the daily, hour-long bus ride home. I kept this fact a secret, but every night I prayed to God (literally, because I was Catholic) that the judges would not select my story.

They did not.

Legally speaking, my story may not have been plagiarized, but to me it felt like a cheat. Imagine my surprise, then, when years later as an MFA student, a professor suggested that we retype the opening to one of our favorite novels or stories to get the feeling for the words on the page. Keep typing until your imagination takes over and makes the story your own.

“But won’t that make our work sound just like theirs?” someone asked, just as someone always asked. We all feared sounding like our idols.

Another professor in the same program told us, “You should be so lucky.” It was both a joke and meant quite seriously. We, all of us, desperately wanted to be so lucky.

Can one really learn by copying?

Read the rest of the essay at Fiction Writers Review.

Pub Day!

27 Feb

The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction is officially a real thing that exists in the world. Thank you to everyone who helped make it a reality, especially my editor at A Strange Object, Jill Meyers. You can buy the book wherever fine books are sold: your local bookstore, Amazon, and direct from the publisher. You can also find me and the book at one of these events in March:

BookPeople / Austin, TX / March 1, 7 pm: Book launch for The Writer’s Field Guide, featuring special guest Bret Anthony Johnston

AWP Conference / Tampa, FL / March 9, 10:30 am: Cracking the Code of Great Fiction (at the A Strange Object table, 1708)

AWP Conference / Tampa, FL / March 9, 7 pm: A Night of Brief Readings (and party!) with A Strange Object + McSweeney’s + Sequential Artists Workshop at Gram’s Place (a Gram Parsons-themed treehouse and bar!).

Brazos Bookstore / Houston, TX / March 22, 7 pm: Reading/event for The Writer’s Field Guide, featuring special guest Chris Cander

Interabang Book / Dallas, TX / March 26, 7 pm: Reading/event for The Writer’s Field Guide, featuring special guest Tex Thompson

And, if you’re in Corpus Christi or College Station, keep an eye out for news of a Writers’ League of Texas event in March at your local libraries, featuring myself and WLT Executive Director Becka Oliver.



Read to Write Stories Editor Michael Noll Discusses His Story “The Dependents”

27 Oct

My story, “The Dependents,” is about a couple in a rural Kansas town who tries to help their neighbors and botches it. The story is about race and immigration and personal tragedy, and I got to talk about it in a Facebook live session sponsored by The New Territory, where it was published. In the video, I discuss the craft behind “The Dependents,” including how I chose the POV and the drafting process.

7 Craft Lessons Every Writer Must Learn

13 Sep
Check out my craft essay, "7 Craft Lessons Every Write Must Learn" at the Huffington Post Books blog.

Check out my craft essay, “7 Craft Lessons Every Write Must Learn” at the Huffington Post Books blog.

The Huffington Post has published my essay, “7 Craft Lessons Every Writer Must Learn.” I use excerpts from seven stories to illustrate the ways that writers approach issues of setting, character, dialogue, language, structure, and scene. Check it out!

An Interview with Stacey Swann

4 Apr
Stacey Swann's story "Pull" appeared in Freight Stories.

Stacey Swann’s story “Pull” appeared in Freight Stories.

Stacey Swann has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a contestant on Jeopardy!. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, The Saint Ann’s Review, and The Good Men Project, and she has served as editor of the journal American Short Fiction. She also edited the mixed-art project, The OwlsShe lives in Austin, Texas.

In this interview, Swann discusses her approach to “Pull,” which offers a contemporary Texan take on the age-old subject of unrequited love. A writing exercise inspired by the story—especially the way Swann traps together two incompatible characters—can be found here.

Michael Noll

Did you purposefully pair the characters from “Pull” to highlight their incompatibility? Or did Lou and Jo simply find their way to the page?

Stacey Swann

When it comes to drafting fiction, I always like to say that my subconscious is way smarter than my conscious brain. I didn’t set out to make Jo and Lou incompatible, but I suspect that my subconscious, after so many years of writing, tends to maximize tension when it can. I did intentionally want the relationship to make Jo feel trapped and limited, though. Can a person feel trapped and limited by someone they are essentially compatible with? I’m a pessimist by nature, so I’d probably say yes. I’d have to write another story, though, to figure out whether that scenario would have as much tension!

Michael Noll

The parallel between the human couple and dog couple—the dogs can’t help fighting—is very clear and seems intentional, and yet it’s not at all awkward or forced. Perhaps it’s the old saw about dog owners resembling their dogs, but I never thought, “Oh jeez, give me a break.” In fact, the story seems much richer because of the dogs’ presence. The beautiful final line couldn’t work otherwise. How did you make the parallel, highly literary and artificial by nature, seem so natural?

Stacey Swann

Jo’s dog Spider is actually based closely on my real dog (King) that I had as a child, right down to being shot by a neighbor. Funnily, he’s the only “real” character in the whole story. (Most of my settings are autobiographical in my fiction, but almost none of my characters are.) I’m glad you found the parallel natural! The naturalness probably stems from the fact that I didn’t start out with the dog/people parallel in mind. I started with Spider and this idea of Jo returning home to a depressed ex-boyfriend. I didn’t know yet how the story would end, that Jo’s actions would parallel Spider’s and Lou would suffer like his own dog. If I had, I fear the build-up might have been much more heavy handed.

Michael Noll

The first paragraph of the story is quite clear about how Jo feels about home. You write that Jo “doesn’t like what home turns her into. She’s less herself in the place where she should most be herself—if we are what we come from.” A lot of beginning writers would shy away from defining a characters’ feelings so clearly, yet you do it right away. How did this early, clear definition affect how you wrote the story?

Stacey Swann

The final version of that paragraph is actually not that different from how it came out on the first draft. It’s likely that I was nailing down the character for myself, as the writer, before I let her loose in a scene.  When I look at my short stories as a whole, I tend to think of them as pretty pared down and minimal. I suspect this is because of the short fiction I was reading at the time and the overall atmosphere of my MFA program, where I got my “training” as a short story writer. A lot of what was getting workshopped was dirty realism in the Raymond Carver vein. Always favor showing over telling. Now that I’m working on a novel, I find myself telling all over the place and those tend to be the sentences with the most heat.  Overtly dealing with my characters’ psychology is what I really want to write about, I just used to tamp it down more. I think that opening paragraph is an example of my natural inclinations. Of course, I still worry that once my novel is drafting, I’m going to have to edit down like Lish did to Carver. Maybe my natural inclinations are still wrong inclinations.

But I digress! As to the question of how it affected how I wrote the story, I think that by stating that Jo doesn’t feel like herself at home, it established a tension in the reader that Jo didn’t belong there. This tension is directly at odds with her stated intent to move back home, and so the engine of the story starts moving from that first page. Perhaps opening with “telling” is more effective if what the author is telling feeds straight into the central conflict of the story?

Michael Noll

In the story’s fourth section (the one that begins with “Lou’s depression started after they left for college”), you quickly sum up months and years of their relationship. Again, this is something that beginning writers often struggle with. How do you know what to summarize and what to dramatize?

Stacey Swann

I had a lot of trouble with the backstory in “Pull.” If you compare my earliest drafts to the final product, you’ll find much of the present day story is the same.  However, the backstory wound up changing quite a bit as I tried to make Lou a more sympathetic character. I knew I wanted the story to have two narrative arcs: Jo after she returns home alternating with the story of both their prior relationship and what happened to Spider. I like symmetry, so I wanted to balance those as equally as possible. Because the present day story was pretty short, covering just a day, I had to compress as much as possible of the backstory. I only put things in scene if they were hugely important. I think the key to good summary is still relying on specific details. It can almost trick you into thinking what you’ve read was really in scene. Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t” does this masterfully.

Michael Noll

I’m curious how editing other writers’ work affects your own work. Do you ever read a story and think, “Well, I won’t do that” or “That’s amazing, and I’m going to steal it?” It’s become a cliche that we should keep our editing brains and freewriting brains separate, but it also seems inevitable that the two will affect each other. What do you think?

Stacey Swann

I think my time at American Short Fiction had a huge impact on my learning curve as a writer. I started volunteering as a reader there while I was still in grad school and for the next seven or so years, I read dozens of submissions a month. For some reason, it is so much easier to see the flaws in our own work after we’ve seen them in someone else’s. And I likely picked up the good stuff simply by osmosis. My primary agenda was always whether or not I thought the story would be a good fit for ASF. But subconsciously, I was probably filing away plenty of things to steal.

I tell my writing students that while they are drafting, they should lock their internal critic in the trunk of their car and just drive. I find revision easier and more enjoyable than drafting, and that’s mostly because that internal critic is such a jerk while I draft. If I don’t put him in the damn trunk, he’ll drive me away from the computer. Of course, that also means my first drafts are huge messes, and it can take me multiple revisions to even pin down the basic plot arc. I used to think revision was 100% about the critical brain because that’s the only part I use when editing others. I certainly wouldn’t want to let my freewriting brain loose on someone else’s work, but I’m starting to think there may be room for it when I revise my own.

April 2013

Michael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

Put Snakes on a Plane

2 Apr

Stacey Swann’s story “Pull” was published in Freight Stories.

No movie ever had a better premise than Snakes on a Plane. If good fiction traps incompatible characters in a room, then what could better than a crowd trapped 20,000 feet above ground with humanity’s oldest enemy. The problem, however, was that the trapped characters had shallow motivations and desires—bite, not get bitten. As a result, the movie had no way to advance or explore the premise. Why do the snakes want to bite the people? Who cares? They’re snakes. It’s what they do. What is the passenger’s ulterior motives? I’ll let Samuel L. Jackson fill you in

So what does great fiction have to do with a B movie? Like Snakes on a Plane, fiction seeks to trap together incompatible characters. The difference is that the incompatibility itself is complex. A clear example can be found in Stacey Swann’s story, “Pull,” which was published here at Freight Stories.

How the Story Works

Unlike the snakes and the passengers, who hate and despise each other equally, the characters in Stacey Swann’s story, “Pull,” suffer from a far more complex incompatibility: unrequited love. As the story makes clear in the final, devastating line, the two characters are incompatible, but only one of them knows it—and even that knowledge cannot save them.

So how does Swann do it?

First, she carefully sets the stage: Jo and Lou are in love.

Then, she defines each character: Lou is a depressive who drops out of Texas A&M and only feels better when Jo returns home while on break from Stanford. Jo, on the other hand, realizes that “she was sad every time she saw him.”

At this point, a lot of writers might wonder what comes next. If Jo is at Stanford, how do you get her back to small town in Texas that she doesn’t like? How do you trap them together? Swann does it by making Jo a casualty of the economy. Her newspaper job has vanished, and Jo, like so many young people, has no choice but to temporarily move home—where her old boyfriend awaits. Perhaps, Jo thinks, the old romantic fire still smolders. Maybe they’ll catch on together. But, of course, that’s not what happens. The events that occur must occur, and, as a result, we read this brilliant final line: “There will always be things we can’t keep ourselves from doing, no matter who it hurts.”

The Writing Exercise

Let’s follow Stacey Swann’s model:

  1. Create a premise: X and Y are in love. X and Y are in prison. X and Y are sailing across the ocean (Life of Pi), X and Y are college friends.
  2. Define each character, stressing the incompatability: X loves Y, but Y is way too old (Harold and Maude); Y is X’s only friend, but Y is an invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit (Harvey); X is neat and uptight, and his roommate Y is an easygoing slob (The Odd Couple); X loves Y, but Y is impotent and can never be with X (The Sun Also Rises).
  3. Trap the characters in a confined place: a lifeboat, a car, an apartment, a small group of friends in a strange city.
  4. Explore the situation. Don’t worry about story or plot. Write a few scenes and see what happens. For instance, what happens if impotent Jake is at a bar and sees the love of his life Brett with another man?

An effective entrapment will make the situation seem inevitable. Of course Jake Barnes is impotent; he was in the war, and the war was terrible, and many soldiers came home injured, and everything that came afterward was bad. Of course Jo returns to her small Texas hometown; where else would she go after losing her job? She couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco without money.

Spend some time thinking about the entrapment. If you find the right approach, and if your characters are compellingly mismatched, you may find that it sparks your imagination and the story begins to write itself.

Good luck.

Welcome to Read to Write

24 Jan

All writers read to learn. We can’t help it. Every story is an opportunity to improve our own craft.

We take stories apart, finding and borrowing techniques to use in our own work. The challenge is learning how to read in order to learn. Once you accomplish that, imagine the possibilities. Every day, a journal is publishing new and exciting work. Every day, we can sit down at our computers or notebooks and write, if only for ten minutes. Why not pair these activities? If you’re already reading and already writing, then you’re ready to become a better writer.

On this blog, we’ll read one story each week with the goal of finding tools or strategies to help inspire, organize, or craft our own stories. When possible, I’ll post an interview with the writer. Once a month, we will pair a contemporary story with a classic to see how different writers approach the same technique or problem. Each “lesson” will culminate in a writing exercise designed to put the technique to work.

The writing exercises are simple, fun, and effective. A former student wrote, “I’ve been in lots of workshops, a few brief encouraging ones with Joy Williams and Robert Stone, and have worked one on one with a few good writers, but I’ve gotten more from this than any workshop I can remember.”

The first exercise will be posted on Tuesday, February 5. Subsequent exercises will be posted on Tuesdays (as you settle into the workweek and need something to get you through it.)

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