Click-clack the Rattlebag


Photo: Michael Kirkham/Heart


Are you looking for a good scary — but not too scary — short story to read? Here’s a new one by Neil Gaiman titled “Click-clack the Rattlebag.” It’s a good example of pacing, description, imagery, irony …. all the things we strive to achieve when we write or tell a story. It’s also a story that would work either written like it is here or as a performance piece for something like Write of Way.

If you’re not familiar with Neil Gaiman, consider this a warning: His stories are addictive. Enter at your own risk.


Introducing Pablo


Pablo is an easy-to-use photo tool to help you create images for your blog posts. You can use the backgrounds Pablo provides, like I did above. Or better yet, you can use a photo of your own. As you’re out and about this summer, consider taking background photos that you might later use with your blog posts to add interest and color on the page.

Tips for epistolary writing

old letters. jpg

Tips for Epistolary Writing

Formatting: Your letter should look like a letter (or whatever medium you choose). Include a header with the address and a date, a salutation, and an appropriate closing. Also, make sure these elements are appropriate for the style of letter you’re writing. A business letter will look different from a personal letter which will look different from an email.

Point of view: You’re still telling a story, even though the form is epistolary. Probably you’ll write in a mix of first and second person points of view. Also remember that this is one time when you (your character) is actually writing to another character. So it’s OK to use “you.”

Story elements: Make sure you include well developed characters, tension, a resolution to the conflict, dialog, subplot. You can assume the reader will pick up some subtext, but it’s not like a real letter in which the reader already knows the letter writer and his or her history. You’re bending a genre to fit your purposes.

Tense: Often you will want to open the letter in the present tense, and then move to past tense. For example, “I am writing to you to tell you…..” Then move on to what happened that the letter writer wants to share. Remember in Ketchup Clouds, the girl starts with the jam that isn’t blood and what she wants the prisoner to know about that and then moves into what happened a year ago when she killed a boy. It’s easy if the letter-writer is writing about something that happened a year ago. If the events happened in the recent past though, make sure you don’t slip back into present tense. The end of the letter and the closing should move back into present tense. “I hope this letter finds you well. Your friend, Jane.”

Characters: Make sure you know your characters well. You don’t need to give all the information about them in the first letter or two. Reveal information as the letter writer unveils the story. Also, remember that characters are developed through experiences and behaviors, what they do, not who they say they are. So don’t have your characters tell about themselves as much as they tell about the things they do, which show who they are. An exception might be if your character is an unreliable witness to events or tends to lie about her own character in relation to how she or he actually behaves. In that case, having her tell something about herself that’s in conflict with how she acts shows something about her reliability in describing herself.

Plot and subplots: People rarely write letters about just one topic. They include mundane details from their lives, information about more than one event or person. They include details to invite the reader into their world. You need to do that too, or you’ll end up with nothing but a concept for one storyline instead of a complete, complex story about a character’s life.

(photo credit:

Truth or lies in creative nonfiction

Check out this cartoon titled “Everything you ever wanted to know about truth in nonfiction but were afraid to ask: A bad advice cartoon essay.” It’s an easy-to-understand discussion of the difference between fact and fiction, cold facts and truth in storytelling, and a little bit of history about creative nonfiction itself. Sometimes creative nonfiction writers get so stuck on writing something exactly as it happened they lose sight of the storytelling aspect, which is the creative work. This cartoon does a good job explaining the boundaries.

The website is called Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have to say about writing. Their blog has an interesting design too, if you’re into things like that. Probably professionally designed. They’re both experienced, published, and award-winning writers, so they know something about the business of writing.


You Will Hear Thunder

Portrait_of_Anna_AkhmatovaI took one of those silly Facebook quizzes that told me my poet BFF would be Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). Here’s a translation of one of her poems, in honor of National Poetry Month and poet BFF’s everywhere.

You Will Hear Thunder

You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.

That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.

~~ Anna Akhmatova

I Want to Write Different Words for You

I want to write different words for you

To invent a language for you alone

To fit the size of your body

And the size of my love.


I want to travel away from the dictionary

And to leave my lips

I am tired of my mouth

I want a different one

Which can change

Into a cherry tree or a match box,

A mouth from which words can emerge

Like nymphs from the sea,

Like white chicks jumping from the magician’s hat.

~~ Nizar Qabbani

(photo credit:


I found a really cool tool called Padlet that might help you generate ideas and organize the letters you’re writing this quarter. Double-click anywhere on the screen, and you’ll get a box where you can write; drop in a document, photo, or website; and move and sort individual letters. If you sign up (it’s free for the basic model), you can save and share your padlettes on most social media sites.

With the basic, free version you can change the wallpaper and the layout. Unfortunately, you don’t get the cool effects that make your padlette look like real letters or diaries. That costs $30.

Here’s the really simple example I made in class. Try it out. See if it helps you write better letters.