For ten years I've given my writing students at St. John's University this exercise: I ask each student to stand up and say, truthfully, their name, where they live, and something that they like to do. When they've all done that, I ask them to stand again and this time make up a name, a place where they live, and something they like to do.  Continue reading...
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To be or not to be, that is the question.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Happy families are all alike, unhappy families are unhappy each in their own way.

What do these famous sentences have in common? They are all general statements.  Continue reading...
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Whenever we read fiction, a three-way bond springs to life between the writer, the reader, and the characters. Writer and reader are real human beings, the characters are imaginary, but to write a believable story, the writer must convince the readers that the characters are as human as he or she and we are, and draw us into a conversation in which facts of life may be compared and foibles confessed.  Continue reading...
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Blog Excerpts

Worst Opening Lines, 2011

"Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine..." So begins the winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which competitors write incredibly bad opening sentences to incredibly bad novels. Read the whole thing, and the rest of the results, here.
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During the 1970s Boston underwent a process of school desegregation which resulted in “forced busing,” where children from white neighborhoods were assigned to schools in neighboring black neighborhoods in order to achieve racial balance across the school system. My earliest memories were of boarding a bus in my safe and middle-class white neighborhood and driving through the blighted areas of Roxbury and Dorchester to my elementary school. On the way we passed run-down houses, boarded-up storefronts and empty lots filled with litter and marked by graffiti.  Continue reading...
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Give anyone pen and paper, ask them to write two hundred words on any subject under the sun, and if they do, you'll get back a piece of writing brand-new in the history of literature and a glimpse into that writer's unique and personal vision.  Continue reading...
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As soon as I read about them, I was drawn to the real-life rags-to-riches story of the Fox sisters. Two ordinary farm girls from Western New York, Maggie and Kate Fox gripped their community by claiming to be able to communicate with the dead. They became celebrities in the bargain, sowing the seeds of an international religious movement that would eventually claim a million followers.  Continue reading...
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