Works in Progress: Nightwriter

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The joys of the nightwriter are various: the quietude of the midnight hour; a slow glass of wine; soft jazz the radio; the gifts of the subconscious bubbling up, unbidden, while all the waking world’s asleep.

When I get busy with work, the way I am now, the only writing I do is drafting, and I do it just before bed. My requirement is a new sentence each night (as that which we don’t quit, I’ve found, eventually gets finished). But I usually wind up writing more, and now, a week or so into a new story, I tend to look up suddenly and realize an hour or more has passed–and tomorrow morning is giving me that sort of pissy look that says, “Really? Again?”

It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, though, because when the next night rolls around, I’m ready to go back to that strange place that only exists between the covers of this journal. So I crack it open and read the last entry.

Who wrote it? Who knows? And who knows where it will go tonight?

Many are the writers who love the early morning hours, the deep stillness of the dark before day. But if you are a nightwriter, a magic carpet appears around ten o’clock at night, and you can ride it anywhere.

Monday Muse: Sleeping Bear Dunes

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This Monday, I’m feeling inspired by the Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan, not far from where I grew up. That’s because I just submitted an application to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park artist-in-residence program. If I get the fellowship, I’ll have a chance to live in a Forest Service cabin near the park for three weeks in September.

Who knows what my chances are! But it’s surely not as competitive as Yaddo or Sewanee or some of the more prestigious writing residences, right? I wouldn’t even have known about it if not for artist friends from Interlochen who still reside in the Great Lakes State.

I fell in love with dunes in fourth grade, during a trip to P. J. Hoffmaster State Park near Grand Haven. To quote from my application: “There I learned that many of the seemingly different landscapes I knew and loved on and around the coast [of Lake Michigan]—the beaches, the shifting cliffs, the sandy trails through forests of beech and pine—were in fact all different faces of the same thing, and that thing was a dune.”

The letter of intent in my application goes on to say, “I moved West after my senior year of high school, but I’ve returned to those dunes every year of my life. Two years ago, I took my husband to Sleeping Bear for the first time. A Southerner, he stood and stared, amazed by those deep blue waters, those fine white sands, and beyond them, the back dune forests. Through his eyes, I recalled the sense I’d had as a child—and later as a teenager, exploring the environs around Traverse City—that this was a landscape a person could lose herself in, a place that could inspire a lifetime of art.”

Friends, wish me luck!

PS> Image via Steve Keighley/ ( For some reason, the caption didn’t seem to come through on this post…

Friday Roundup: Ursula K. Le Guin on Racism, Anarchy, and Hearing Her Characters Speak

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I love the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, and in this I’m not alone. Though she’s primarily known as a science fiction (SF) writer, her admirers include literary heavyweights like David Mitchell, Salman Rushdie, and the fabulous Zadie Smith, who said that “Le Guin writes as well as any non-‘genre’ writer alive.” In this interview, reposted from Structo this week on LitHub, you’ll find nothing more than UKL being UKL, which is always pretty brilliant.

In particular, I appreciate her thoughts on fictional utopias–how she realized that anarchy, as a philosophy, did not have its own utopian novel. So she wrote The Dispossessed, easily one of my favorite SF novels.

She also says some cool things about how sometimes, as an author, a story can come to you because you hear it–either a first line or a character’s voice or perhaps both. I experienced something like that myself with my SF novel Kublai (though, in the end, I will probably throw out the original beginning; it’s definitely a work in progress).

Every writer knows that beginnings are a special kind of magic–a process I think of as “piercing the veil.” If a story is a big undifferentiated field of associations, a beginning (however it comes to you) is a point, and from a point you can draw a line–and from there, you’re off and running, trying to keep up with the thing as it rolls along down an increasingly steep incline.

Or maybe that’s just me!