When Critics Say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’


Two years an eBook—now in print—STORY STRUCTURE EXPEDITION: Journey to the Heart of a Story. It continues to draw rave reviews, such as: What the hell sort of book is this, anyway? It doesn’t teach us how to do anything. It’s a “how-to” book that morphs into a novella. You can’t do that! I recently […]

I’ll Go Anywhere as Long as It Is Forward

Congo River circa 1880

I’m mucking around south-central Africa in the year 1873. I’m navigating my way through the heart of a story that started out as a faux-memoir about a journey into the “heart of darkness.” Just when I felt sure I had morphed into pure fiction, I meet Dr. David Livingstone. On his deathbed. David Livingstone, explorer […]

The Sense of an Ending


House of Cards, for example—the title says it all.  The collapse of the protagonist’s empire is not a matter of if but when.  Ambition is tragedy’s ally.  Desire is a set-up.  The world is a trap laid by (Satan, God, the fiction writer, you name it/her/him). Fiction can’t help but reveal secrets of the human […]

How Many Writers Does It Take…

Artist: Gerrit Dou

“How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?” Funny how quickly a “light bulb” joke gets you chuckling.  You don’t even need a punch line.  Which proved to my advantage recently when I began a presentation leaving the question hanging.  Some wise guy in the audience supplied an answer.  Perfect.  It left […]

How Does Your Fiction Smell?


We were driving to our favourite deserted beach to decompress in the transcendental silence of seals intercepting salmon returning to their spawning grounds, when I asked my wife if she had ever read a novel in which the protagonist was following a scent, but unconsciously, not unlike those salmon.  In detective novels, of course, the […]

Monstrous and Free


“Monstrous and free”… The phrase arrested me as I reread Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Marlow, the English river boat captain, is describing the jungle that surrounds him: “…there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.  It was unearthly…” I get the chills. Landscape as literary device—Conrad uses it to characterize Kurtz, the rogue ivory […]

The Case of the Transcendental Cheetah


In which we watch the sun rise in a story’s dark heart. Beyond Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, farther up the Congo near the river’s source in the central plateau, that’s where I lived and worked for two years dodging hippos on the rivers of Zambia as I calculated cross sections and measured water currents […]

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