Archive for July 27, 2011

Jeanne gave us two poems, “Notes to Self on Comfort” by Elizabeth Bradford, which consistently used the word “balm,” and one of her own, “Next to Me,” which consistently used the phrase “Next to me.” She asked us to write a list poem using a repeated phrase, with the wild word “list.”

Even Jonny was stencilling his pages.

Jonny kept us indoors again (it was pouring rain on my way to class) and talked about the tools used in readings. If showing and telling are important distinctions in the written word, open and closed focus have to be kept in mind with oral presentation. Open: eye contact, speaking to audience.  Closed: a variety of uses. Some of which were speaking to an absent other, prayer, introspective, interior thought, ar a question to which you do not expect an answer. Some description may also be read closed, for instance by looking at an imaginary scene.

Peggy talked about revision. I’ll put the list she gave us below, but first she had us discuss some of the things that invite us into a book and things that put us off. My list? I look for a book that makes me forget I’m reading it, and characters I can care about. (I may care about a villain by wishing he were dead (or worse) but I shouldn’t be indifferent about him. What I don’t like? A book that bores me  or that is unclear Two essays were mentioned: I Could Tell Your Stories by Patricia Hamph and The Art of the personal Essay by Philip Lapate.  She told us to revise first for what was not there; then for what should be removed.

The book will be called "Feathers," and here's a feather for the cover.

In the afternoon we finished the stenciling to embellish our pages—32 copies each good copies, picking our 4 worst of 36 as discards.

Peggy’s revision list:

Peggy Shumaker


1.  Find three places to make the writing more precise.

2.  Introduce a turn, a plot twist, a new direction.

3.  Up the emotional ante.  What feelings did you overlook?  What feelings would be unexpected at this moment?

4.  Change tone for a moment.  (somber/humor, noisy/quiet, grubby elegant)

5.  Turn some declarations into images.

6.  What’s not there yet?  Identify three places you might expand.

7.  Add some element of surprise.


Peggy (center) on the first step of the production line.

8.   Trim deadwood.

9.  Remove the working title and see what else is possible.

10.  Add three repetitions.

11.  Introduce a formal complexity.

12.  What have you avoided?

13.  Look at each character.  What does the character bring to the piece?  How else can that character act?  What else can that character reveal?

14.  How have you handled time?

15.  Look at your transitions.  Which ones work invisibly?  Which ones call attention to themselves?

16.  Do you have elements of public, private, and inner lives in this piece?

17.  Are the factual details accurate?

18.  Consider your setting as vital as a major character.  How else can details of place inform the emotions of your piece?

19.  Where does your dialogue give the illusion of actual speech?  Where does it come off as wooden, posed, windy?

20.  Mess with the plot.  When should it be linear?  When should it jump?

21.  Be aware of what a change in diction makes possible.  Is your word choice very plain–on purpose?  Is it ornate?  To what effect?  Where can you use jargon or slang or coinages?  Where can you use words from another language?  Where can you use words from a specialized area of knowledge?

22.  Look at the balance of image, scene, and action.  Keep to a minimum exposition and summary.

23.  Ask yourself, what does the reader need to make this journey with me?

24.  Have you bossed the reader around?  Talked down to her?

25.  Question the point of view.  Whose story is this?

26.  Why is the point of view character telling this story now?

27.  Listen to the voice.  Is this the right voice to tell this story?

28.  Is the voice credible?  If not, how can its unreliability benefit the story?

29.  How would a shift in point of view change this piece?

30.  Is this piece built mainly on scenes?  Images?  What’s driving this piece?

31.  What connections (discoveries, epiphanies) does this piece make?  Which ones should it leave for the reader to make?

32.  What should be resolved?  What should remain unresolved?

33.  What didn’t occur to you in the first three (six, dozen, 127) drafts?

34.  What secrets are your characters keeping?

35.  Are there parallel stories (ideas, scenes, images) that will enrich this one?  How can you braid them together?

36.  Fragments?  Why not?  For effect.

37.  Rhetorical questions?

37.  Be ruthless on behalf of the poem, story, or essay.  Your favorite part may have to go.

38.  If you ask a trusted reader for advice, think hard about what parts of that advice to take.  Maybe you can apply great advice to the next piece you write.

39.  If you change the order of some sentences (lines, paragraphs, chapters), what happens?

40.  Listen to your piece.  Read it aloud.  Notice where you hesitate.  Look at those passages again.  Read it again.  Listen again.

41.  When you’re almost done, what’s left for the reader to feel?  What’s left for the reader to think about?

42.  Look at the promises this piece makes.  Has it fulfilled them?  Has it thwarted the reader’s expectations in interesting ways?

43.  If anything you can think to do with this piece would only change it, not make it better, maybe you’re done.

**Proofreading is another process entirely.  Do it often.  Ask for help.  Your eye will correct errors, especially in the final stages.


I watched the new Disney live-ation Alice in Wonderland recently, then went back and watched the original cartoon version, and finally rechecked the books. Plural. Disney used bits and pieces from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (cards) and Through The Looking Glass (chess) with a fine disregard for which world was which, so unless you’ve actually read both books, you may have trouble sorting out which quotes came from which book. I might add that the blurb for the combined book also mixes up the two worlds.

“I’m older than you, and must know better.” Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Lory is insisting on primacy in figuring out how to get dry before the Dodo comes up with the idea of the caucus-race. What’s a lory? Webster’s unabridged says it’s “any of a subordinate genus of birds of the parrot family, usually of a red color, inhabiting southeastern Asia, Oceana, and the Malay Archipelago.” So at least it’s from the same part of the world as the Dodo.

“What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations? Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice cannot see why her sister is reading such a boring book.

“Nobody can do two things at once, you know.” Carroll. Context? Through the Looking-Glass. The White Queen is advising Alice to think of something else rather than cry.  Obviously she hasn’t heard of multitasking, but then recent studies have shown that it isn’t as effective as people like to think.

“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” Carroll. Context? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is the question the Mad Hatter asks Alice. According to Carroll, the answer is “Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat, and it is nevar (sic) put with the wrong end in front.” (I think it’s a pretty lame riddle, too.)

“They know I can’t get at them, or they wouldn’t dare to do it!” Carroll. Context? Through The Looking-Glass. The Tiger-lily in the garden of live flowers, annoyed at the impudence of the daisies.

“It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” Carroll. Context? Through the Looking-Glass. The Red Queen to Alice, just after a frantic race to stay in the same place.

“All working societies have to balance the tension between individuals and society.” Bowling. Context? This is from my new book, Tourist Trap. It is part of Roi’s discussion with Penny of some problems with her society as they are pulling the sleds with the hang gliders back to the storage shed.