Tuesday, September 30, 2014



Summer has left us behind. Leaves are changing colors, falling.  The sky is gray and foggy.  The air is cool and growing colder.  It's the season for poetry.  Let's write some.  Here are a handful of ideas:

1. The hallmark of great poetry is imagery. A truly compelling poem paints a picture and invites the reader into a vivid scene. Choose an image or scene from one of your favorite poems and write a poem of your own based on that image.

2. You’re feeling under the weather, so you put the teapot on. Soon it starts to scream. Write a poem about the sound of a whistling teapot.

3. Write a poem about an inanimate object. You can write a silly poem about how much you admire your toaster or you can write a serious piece declaring the magnificence of a book.

4. The beach, the mountains, the vast sea, and deep space are all great for tributary poems about places. Write about the city you love, the town you call home, or your favorite vacation destination.

Send me your poems.  I'd like to read them.  And if you want feedback, let me know or take the workshop listed below:


Wednesday, September 24, 2014


By Gary Soto

A toaster,
A plate
Of pennies,
A plastic rose
Staring up
To the sky.
It's Saturday
And two friends,
Merchants of
The salvageable heart,
Are throwing
Things onto
The front lawn –
A couch, a beanbag,
A table to clip
Poodles on,
Drawers of
Potato mashers,
Spoons, knives
That signaled
To the moon
For help.
Rent is due
It's somewhere
On the lawn,
Somewhere among
The shirts we've
Looked good in,
Taken off before
We snuggled up
To breasts
That almost made
Us gods.
It'll be a good
Day, because
There's much
To sell,
And the pitcher
Of water
Blue in the shade,
Clear in the
Light, with
The much-handled
Scotch the color
Of leaves
Falling at our
Shoes, will
Get us through
The afternoon
Rush of old
Ladies, young women
On their way
To becoming nurses,
Bachelors of
The twice-dipped
Tea bag. It's an eager day:
Wind in the trees,
Laughter of
Children behind
Fences. Surely
People will arrive
With handbags
And wallets,
To open up coffee
Pots and look
In, weigh pans
In each hand,
And prop hats
On their heads
And ask, "How do
I look?" (foolish
To most,
Beautiful to us).
And so they
Come, poking
At the clothes,
Lifting salt
And pepper shakers
For their tiny music,
Thumbing through
Old magazines
For someone
They know,
As we sit with
Our drinks
And grow sad
That the ashtray
Has been sold,
A lamp, a pillow,
The fry pans
That were action
Packed when
We cooked, those things
We threw so much
Love on, day
After day,
Sure they would mean something
When it came

To this.

POETRY FOR ALL: a poetry workshop
7 to 9 pm at CULTURA IN PILSEN
1900 S. Carpenter St. , Chicago

Thursday, September 11, 2014


TEN RULES OF WRITING (with thanks to Elmore Leonard)

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …

…he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

One or two details are enough to give the reader the image of the character.  Focus on other senses, rather than the visual: voice, smell, sound, and so on.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10. And finally:

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.  Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn't care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

And the most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Write for a 1-hour free private consultation

Monday, September 1, 2014

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from your experience and imagination

Today I want to share with you an exercise to find out what you might want to write about:

1.  Draw a big circle.  In the middle write WHAT FASCINATES ME?

2.  From the circle draw lines with all possible answers of what fascinates you.  Are you curious about the monarch butterfly?  Are you fascinated by the names of winds or hurricanes?  Do you want to learn more about the seven wonders of the world?  Write down all your interests.

3.  When you're done with that, choose one of those and freewrite for a while.  Every day spend a few minutes writing about it and then put it away.  After a week or two, read what you have and begin to draft a piece.

4.  Draw another big circle and write WHAT'S THE POINT OF TELLING THE STORY? in the middle.  Again, draw lines out of the circle and write the possibilities to that question.

5.  List characters that might be used with that story.

6.  Draw a third big circle and write WHICH POINT OF VIEW?

7.  Draw lines out of the circle and plot the characters you have listed.

8.  Choose one character and answer the following questions:

- upper class, lower class?
- hot button topic?
- what's the thesis?
- what's the weather?
- what's the opening sentence? 
- what's the conclusion?

9. Once you've done a good amount of writing with those questions, start to read and revise and edit.

10.  If you get stuck, go back to the circles and try other possibilities.

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from your experience and imagination
The Newberry Library, 60 West Walton, Chicago
Saturdays, 10-12 noon, starting September 20
To register go to www.newberry.org