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Fiction

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

I like to tell my students that every conversation is a fight.

Well, at least in fiction. In fiction, every character has a desire, and it’s usually the case that no two characters have exactly the same desire. It’s also usually the case that dialogue is not just talking—it’s a forum in which characters try to move the situation toward their interests. And if conversations are opportunities for characters to pursue their desires, which are not the same as what other characters want,...

Two boys

“Scenes from a Life of Sport” by Robert Shuster was published in NAR issue 301.3.

Some years ago, a friend of mine asked the writers she knew to compose a short piece, on any subject, as a gift for her thirtieth birthday. I found the request delightful—I was, I must admit, rather smitten with Jan’s charms—but didn’t quite know what to do. Something philosophical? Something funny? A page of...

Our Halloween treat continues with a story called "Skin Dreams" by Kent Nelson from issue 296.4, Fall 2011. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

The room is dark; Justine wants darkness to sleep.  It’s a requirement for her, like silence and warmth.  But now a smooth gray light appears as a rectangle around the heavy-lidded blinds, so I know it’s morning.  I’m lying on my back next to...

On "Goodwill" by Jason Lee Brown

After I publish a story, I usually enjoy feedback from my nonwriter friends more than my writer friends, though both are great. I grew up in a small town in central Illinois, and my hometown friends are blue-collar workers who find it amusing that I publish my little stories in journals they’ve never heard of. What I’ve learned from this feedback is that I know I have developed a good character when my friends say they know who in our hometown the character in my story really is. For me,...

Long ago, I became a collector of words and visual images, especially black-and-white photographs.  I keep my journal with me at all times to record beautiful imagery, arresting details, and anything that makes me question life in a way that demands a story.

Below are selected steps from a prewriting journal exercise I designed to begin an original story using black-and-white photographs as creative inspiration.

I hope this exercise will be as fun and as...

I get most of my ideas when traveling, in a car, on foot, on a plane, no matter.

On the interstate one day, I was passed by a Doritos 18-wheeler. I liked the graphics. Then a truck pulling a trailer piled high with milk crates. Soon after at a rest stop I noticed a young man playing guitar at a picnic table in the shade. These images struck me as peculiarly American, anecdotal evidence. Of something.

It’s usually just one, the image or thought that inspires the conceit for a...

Making "Territory"

There’s an entry in my diary from August 2014. I remember writing it. I was propped up on the bed of an old caravan I’d rented and which sat smack bang in the middle of a wildlife park in the Northern Territory, Australia, where I was researching for a novel about animals. The wildlife park housed thousands of captive native animals—crocodiles, endangered northern quolls, microbats. But wild animals had made their home there too. As I wrote in the diary, a wild barking owl “woofed” overhead...

My characters never write their endings. I feel exasperated when I hear writers say ‘the characters just took over and the story seemed to write itself’, as if the writing could be a glide through the first draft and revision, or maybe no revision. The length and the very nature of the short story, its economy, precision and mystery, suggests puzzle, conundrum, the prizing open of an oyster to find, not a pearl, but a live creature. Every story worth writing has at least one seemingly...

Angel Dust

For the 2016 spring issue of The North American Review, I was inspired to have the viewer of the magazine be an outsider peering in. Since “Angel Dust” deals with magical moments in secret, it gave more importance that the readers are looking from the outside. I recently started to buy more photography books for reference and found this unique book, entitled Elsewhere by Marieken Verheyen, which is filled with different windows around the world. I was inspired by the how...

“Don’t be afraid to get really strange,” my dad told me several summers ago, while helping edit my first novel. “You can always scale back later.”

As always, I took his advice to heart. For, as a writer and creative writing professor, Dad’s editorial input was invaluable.

These would be his last words of advice to me about writing.

Dad, along with our actress mom, raised my sister and me in sleepy Midwestern towns, enlivened with magical bedtime books, such as Thomas...

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