Blog

I affectionately call this blog “Constant Comment,” which is what my college roommates termed my stream of opinions about all things literary. Years later, when my then-romantic obsession (and now-husband) Bruce Bigelow learned of the pun, he smiled, noting that “Constant Comment is a Bigelow tea.” Here, then, are my constant comments—random musings on the craft, with kudos for brilliant writing and scorn for bonehead errors.

I may not be a Prius, but I am a hybrid

I am getting tired of keynote speeches at writers conferences (like ones I heard in 2014) that go for bombast and ignore the merits of traditional publishing. Sometimes I want to say to speakers who overlook the tremendous value that remains for writers who land a contract with a traditional publisher, “Thou doth protest too much.”

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Beach reading, bed reading, book reading

II’m just back in California after leading a writers retreat on the beach where I grew up, in Hawai‘i. So it’s time to share some good reads and to let you know about a few cool updates on this Web site. Oh, and to let you know about the next retreat!

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Bookends

Last September, the New York Times Book Review introduced a new section called Bookends. Each week two writers respond to a question about writing and the book world.

One question that stood out to me was “‘Write what you know’—helpful advice or idle cliché?” That was asked of Zoe Heller and Mohsin Hamid in March, 2014. Both Heller and Hamid get to the heart of what the adage truly means, that writing what you know can extend beyond just your personal experiences.

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What I learned about writing at Hale’iwa Elementary

In two weeks, I leave for Hawai‘i, where I will lead a writers retreat on the beach I grew up on. I’m super excited. The retreat is sold out, and we have a couple of pretty amazing sessions at night that invite Native Hawaiians to share their artistic culture. In the first, visual artists who created a mural at the camp share thoughts on how to make art that reflects the ocean, the mountains, the spirit of place. In the second a scientist with The Nature Conservancy who also happens to be an esteemed chanter will tell us about the ecology of Mokulē‘ia, as well as the lore and legends about the place. His name is Sam ‘Ohukani‘ōhi‘a Gon, and he will sing and chant, too.

In homage to all this, and sort of randomly, I thought I’d share one of my favorite passages from the new Sin and Syntax, on “finding the right pitch”…

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Moseying back to slow writing

A while ago, I wrote about how I am a naturally slow writer. This didn’t serve me so well as a newspaper reporter—the necessary superficialities of stories banged out on deadline frustrated me. I am happier writing for magazines and books, where part of the idea is to arrive at dense, layered writing, the product of much rumination and even more crafting.

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What a scene!

Place looms large in all the work I do—whether in travel writing (when I’m trying to capture the essence of another country or culture), or in narrative journalism (when I often begin with a scene to draw my reader into the story), or even in Facebook status updates (when I try to sketch a place with a few poetic images). Want some tips on writing scenes?

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Keeping things curt

Anyone who has followed my posts or read my books knows that I love long-form writing: novels, novellas, deep news stories, rich magazine stories, even e-singles. But that doesn’t mean that sentences shouldn’t be stripped to their essentials or that passages should be padded unnecessarily. Three books extol the virtues of the nonverbose, with some […]

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Tangled up in verbs

If only the phrasal verb had a sexier name. Then you might be as enamored of them as I am. These vexing words are created when a little adverb or preposition hitches a ride with a verb and changes its meaning in the process.

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Start sketching

Most writers who consider themselves storytellers know that characters are key to any great yarn. Yet developing characters is harder than you think.

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