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ON WRITING, RACE, AND RANDOM REFLECTIONS

What Keeps You From Writing?

Did you plan to start on that new writing project yesterday, but then discover that your oven needed cleaning—urgently? You simply couldn’t stand the flaky grime one more day. Or the phone rang just as you sat down to begin and two hours later you realized you allowed yourself to get caught  Read More 
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Middles

I’ve read books that start so well I think contentedly, Ah, this one I’m going to like; but fifty or seventy-five pages in the prose goes flat, the plot grows confusing or boring, and I close the book in disappointment.

Yet as a writer I understand: it’s easy to bog down  Read More 
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Details

The details you use to ground your writing are like the spices you sprinkle on your food. They give it life and make it uniquely your own. When I cook petrale sole it’s too bland unless I splash ginger powder, garlic, and red pepper into the pan. Sometime I sauté a green onion,  Read More 
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CIRCULAR NARRATIVE

I love circles, especially in writing, where the author cycles back at the end of an essay or book to a reference from the opening. Joseph Campell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces defined this pattern in drama, myth, and religious ritual: a protagonist, forced from home, leaves the ordinary world to  Read More 
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The First Sentence

“The opening sentence should be like an arrow shot from a bow: it will shoot through the entire text.” The late biographer Henry Mayer, a generous man, once gave me this advice. I’d approached him after a reading for his biography of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and when I asked him a question he offered to meet me for coffee.
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The Joy of Writing

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, Webucator Bob Clary asked me for an online interview. As a committed novelist, I was happy to oblige.

Q: What were your goals when you started writing?

I wanted to contribute to a national conversation—especially about race and gender equity. As a white woman who’d been married to an African American man and as the mother of biracial children, I had a perspective I hoped might provide a bridge for white people.
And I loved the mere act of writing, playing with words, creating well-crafted sentences. During the busy years of child-raising, two jobs, and night school, I found little time for formal writing. But late at night I poured my desires and frustrations into a journal, which exercised the writing muscle. Sometimes I experimented with poetry, and always read voraciously.  Read More 
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The Great March for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

(Blog first posted on Women Writers, Women Books site)

I’d bought the car at a police auction for $25. You could do that then in New York City: ride the subway to some out-of-the-way lot full of junked cars, make a bid, and the next day, the car might  Read More 
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On Writing and Not Writing

There actually is a difference. As an author and columnist who’s been steadily writing, nearly daily, for twenty years, in the last few months I’ve become “a writer who emails, and writes on the side,” as my colleague Meg Waite Clayton says. Promotion for Mama’s Child has spawned endless emails: details  Read More 
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Creating Fictional Characters

Creating fictional characters is one of the most mysterious aspects of the enigmatic activity we call creative writing. Here I sit, the author of a novel, imagining beings who have never really lived. Often they are composites of many people I’ve known, fused with bits of my own experience or personality; but ultimately they become their own people, whose voices I hear.  Read More 
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Why I Write

Writing, for me, is pure: totally involving, pleasurable, existing only for itself, not the end product. In the same way I cherish hiking a trail in the woods early morning, eager to see cottontail rabbits leaping into the brush, or the joy I get pulling weeds in my flower garden--where the aromas of leaves  Read More 
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