Writing: Nonfiction

I published a short article in Faculty Focus about a simple yet wildly effective teaching technique, that’s probably great for anyone doing any kind of teaching or training: “A Simple Trick for Getting Students to Ask Questions in Class.”

Your students have questions, but they rarely ask them—especially at the beginning of the semester. They feel awkward or embarrassed, or maybe it’s just inertia. Whatever the cause, the vast majority of student questions go unasked. For teachers, this is wildly frustrating because we can’t answer the questions they don’t ask…

I put together a very short blog post that is, in theory, about my story “Speedeth All,” which was published in Crazy 8’s anthology Love, Murder & Mayhem. Not sure this really qualifies as nonfiction, but here ya go.

Brace yourself for some shocking news: life is unfair. You may have noticed that it’s the people who have life the easiest who tend to focus the most on life’s injustices. This is probably because those people are used to either being treated fairly as a matter of course, or being given unfair advantages. After a while, people like that come to accept injustice in their favor as their natural due.

I wrote “’No’ is the Beginning of the Conversation” for the blog Motive Means Opportunity. Published on 6 Sept. 2016, it talks about my experience as a private investigator.

When I decided, about 14 years ago, that I wanted to write mystery novels, author Donna Andrews recommended that I take training to become registered as a private investigator. (“Registered” is the proper term in Virginia.) She’d done it, and learned a ton in the process. This sounded fascinating, and really valuable. So, fueled in part by a raging midlife crisis, I leapt at the chance to go to the same highly-regarded school she’d attended (sadly, no longer in operation).

Forming Section and Chapter Breaks.” Au Courant Press Journal

Section breaks are fairly simple. These breaks are used throughout a chapter or short story to indicate that there has been a change in scene, location, or time. Sometimes they’re also used to indicate that the perspective has changed. These breaks are helpful indicators for the reader that something significant has happened, and it helps them adjust to a shift.

What Can I Tell You? Setting and Description.” Unleaded—Fuel for Writers

My creative writing students often ask me how much setting and description stories or novels should have. The answer, of course, is: “It depends.” Some authors’ personal style is to avoid description and setting—in some cases altogether—and that’s a perfectly acceptable choice if it’s done well. Also, the shorter the work is, the less room one typically has for such concerns. In flash fiction, for example (generally but not exclusively defined as stories of 1,000 words or fewer), there is typically little to no description, and minimal setting.

The Art of Paragraph Formation.” Au Courant Press Journal

Paragraph breaks are one of the most basic tools that a writer uses, but many writers find them confusing. Common mistakes include massive paragraphs, paragraphs that don’t stay focused, or breaks that confuse the reader. If paragraphs are something you’ve had trouble with—or if your paragraphs are often longer than a half page (in nonfiction) or a quarter page (in fiction)—then read on!

Clichés are the Worst Thing Ever.” Unleaded—Fuel for Writers 

A cliché is a phrase, plot point, character, etc., that is overused and overfamiliar. Clichés make your writing seem boring, unoriginal, and simplistic—all things that good writers strive to avoid like the plague (see what I did there?) in order to keep readers focused on the story.

My review “Distant Creatures: Review of Amina Cain’s Creatures” was published in the gorgeous journal West Trade Review 5.

My essay, “Calisthenics for Trees,” is available online in About Place Journal.

I remember reading somewhere, maybe a dozen years ago, that wind is like calisthenics for trees: the motion strengthens them and makes them grow better. For this reason, it’s important not to stake young trees too tightly or for too long, or they’ll become brittle over time.

This struck me as absurd as I stood in my dining room window one night, looking almost straight up at the dozens of huge trees towering over the house, watching them whip around like blades of grass in a strong breeze.

My writing has also appeared in Neo, The Washington Free Press, and Gaia, and I’ve written scintillating certification exam prep materials for New Riders Press.

Other writing available on the web now:

Additional blog posts on Unleaded–Fuel for Writers.

I have several entries in the Encyclopedia Virginia, though I have recently noticed some issues introduced in editing.

Breakin’ the Law – a column about writing about PIs

The Glamorous World of Surveillance – Ditto

My (old) Blog – has only a few entries, but may be interesting.