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The short story "Sea Dogs" published in the March-April 2007 issue of The North American Review is based in part on the year I ran away to Europe, helped build a schooner in Denmark, and crewed on her maiden Atlantic crossing in the tail end of hurricane season 1966. An Old Danish sailor who had sailed with us on the first leg of the voyage told the Danish newspapers that we would never see the West Indies alive. We were that incompetent. What if he were right? “...

Writing starts from the world—doesn’t it?—something you see or hear, or hear about. Newspapers. TV. Restaurants. Coffee Shops. Family Reunions. Bus Stops . . . a “trigger,” was how Richard Hugo put it, and it arrives from anywhere, anytime, like meteors, fish bites, hail, or dawn. Sometimes it can be as simple as a word. Take sabotage, coming to us from sabot, the French word for wooden shoe. The first instances of “sabotage” were likely peasant revolts against oppressive landowners,...

How did your parents meet? I remember when my friends in grade school compared notes about the first romantic meetings of their moms and dads—my parents went out in high school, mine met on a blind date, mine at the movie theater—and they’d turn to me with an extra charge of curiosity, a more purposeful focus: How about mine?


I’m fascinated by gimmick memoirs—what’s sometimes referred to as “schtick” lit. You know the kind of book I’m talking about: Julie & Julia, Nickel and Dimed, everything by...

I was at work on a second memoir, a book about my father, to follow You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, the memoir I’d written about my mother, when my father died. Dumbstruck and grief-stricken, I lost my way in writing the memoir and I had to tell my editor I was unable to work. Grief, it seemed, prevented me from writing lines that went all the way over to the right side of the page. I found it suddenly impossible not only to write prose but to read prose and, for the first time in...

I wrote “Electricity” while employed in the main office of Unity for the Homeless in New Orleans. I worked with a woman 20 years younger than myself who had worked with ACORN for most of her adult life and had been involved in running one of their community radio stations. Our conversations kicked up memories of my own time on the airwaves on a station in Washington, D.C. We’d talk around our desks, hers or mine, the other of us standing with papers in our hand, and when she gave me a lift...

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