Aside from writing prose, I write songs, maybe five or six a year. Usually I have no idea where they come from. One day I'm strumming my guitar, thinking of this and that, and suddenly a chord or a fragment of melody catches my ear, or a few words pop into my mind. I repeat them and wonder, is this the seed of a song?  Continue reading...
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The lure of making resolutions for the new year is practically irresistible. Lose ten pounds. Go to the gym three times per week. Stop smoking. Start meditating. Save more money. Do a better job of managing stress. But I'm now inclined to think we should abandon them altogether and replace them with rituals.  Continue reading...
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The film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods just opened to much critical acclaim. Musical theater and film are very different, and revising and adapting one's work is a challenge, but what changes and how it changes can offer us insight into the art and the artist.  Continue reading...
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Sing, goddess, sing the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus... The Iliad's immortal opening lines have let countless generations of readers know just what to expect from this primal epic poem of Western literature—angry men at war—and they have not been and never will be disappointed.  Continue reading...
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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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Here's a problem facing most writers: We want our writing to be better, so we turn our laser-like gaze on what we are writing, the product. In fact, what we really need to focus on is the process.  Continue reading...
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In my recent reading I've gone on a major Mark Twain kick, and with every page I read, my admiration for Twain's writing grows. William Dean Howells, a contemporary and friend, called Twain "the Lincoln of our literature," and the title rings true, both for the plainspoken American vernacular that the two mastered, and for the boldness with which they faced our democracy's ugliest stain, the enslaving of African-Americans by European-Americans.  Continue reading...
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