Archive for September, 2015

Your story pitches and how to deepen them

September 24, 2015

My theme for class tonight it to look at your story ideas and see how we can deepen them. You need to imagine what the story might look like and then go out and get the material you need to write them. It’s a tall order. Those of you who haven’t written one should do so.

Jazzi Black

Large gusts of wind carry whispers of the world ending. They pass from country to country with smells mixed of paranoia and irrelevancy.  Filmmakers attempt to illustrate global warming creating a fog of confusion that plagues the minds of mass populations.  Is it real? Will the sun fry us all if we continue to drown the ozone with toxic gases? Is it possible there may not be as much water as we thought? Should I be afraid?

Courtney Haywood

My story’s title is called “When My Eyes Opened”

The story begins with a flashback story of the character questioning himself/herself, “where did I cross the line? When did I cross the line, or better yet what drove me to the point to where I went left despite the fact of my understanding of the consequences for my actions. Sitting here with the I.V. in my arm reminiscing on what it would have been going to jail instead of practically lying on my death bed. “Never would I have guessed myself in a hospital from someone else’s rage over something I seen so childish”

Tiarra Brooks-Chatman

 My story is about a 15 year old boy searching to find the her in him.  Battling with rejection of his immediate family, friends and society; he turns to his aunt for comfort.  Lost in a world of his own he just wants people to understand, “…she does’t listen to me, none of them do.”

Gbeminiyi Ope-ewe

My idea is to expose people to the necessity of why it is important to know your genotype before getting married.

Am doing this using the story of a young boy who lost his life to the disease narrating his ordeals and what he wanted to accomplish but series of crises would not let him.

Am telling the story of the parents”avoidable mistake” so readers can learn from it and be informed about the pain Sickle Cell brings with it.

The story would also feature Sickle Cell in the Nigerian Context. It would form the basis of the story.

Chris Lassiter

I would like to cover the someone’s journey to homelessness and the possible continuing journey out.

Also, I would interview someone who.has recently been released from incarceration and the plight of returning to society.

Jonah Gilmore

Being in the Superdome for nearly a week brought out survival skills we never knew existed. My brother and I took turns sleeping to watch guard as if we were in the middle of a war zone trying to avoid death. Little did we know, those survival skills were everything our mother preached about growing up. “When I’m dead and gone, all you guys will have are each other.”

Dominique Toussant

 The army national guard soldiers, known by active duty military men and women as “the weekend warriors,” are not regularly recognized as important as active duty. However, many have been sent to war, suffer from many medical conditions due to experiences overseas, and issues with dealing with the stress of the civilian world. Just like active duty members they are called upon, many times, very unexpectedly and are forced to stop there civilian jobs and conduct military duty. Even though jobs are suppose to hold there positions, a lot of times there are fired because there military lifestyles is an “inconvenience to them”. This of course cause financial issues and much more for the soldier making them question if they made the right decision. I know for me personal I joined for the educational benefits and I was under the impel reason that this would effect my schooling so national guard was the best decision for me in order to attend school and still have a civilian life. At times it can be frustrating having to drop everything and play soldier for a while but it is what I signed up for. I want to exploit the struggles of being in the military, national guard specifically, and tell soldiers stories of trying to maintain a civilian life while being on call for the military.

Jasmine Lofton

A Female DJ like myself, named DJ superstar! She’s different because she is a FEMALE just like me who also is a DJ. I want to show the hardships for her back in 2000s till now

Chioma Emuka

In Houston’s crowded rap scene we find a diamond in the rough, trudging his way through all of the deadweight molding his own little empire.

Houston rapper is DIFFERENT for different reasons.


Hilton Als on Richard Pryor

September 21, 2015

Hilton Als, the theater critic for The New Yorker has written some brilliant stuff. Here is a story from 1999, which doesn’t seem so long ago, about Richard Pryor. Notice the opening, the tone of the opening. This is risky, creative stuff, journalism at its finest. Well worth reading the whole thing. And check out the video that is described in the opening.


Winter, 1973. Late afternoon: the entr’acte between dusk and darkness, when the people who conduct their business in the street—numbers runners in gray chesterfields, out-of-work barmaids playing the dozens, adolescents cultivating their cigarette jones and lust, small-time hustlers selling “authentic” gold wristwatches that are platinum bright—look for a place to roost and to drink in the day’s sin. Young black guy, looks like the comedian Richard Pryor, walks into one of his hangouts, Opal’s Silver Spoon Café. A greasy dive with an R. & B. jukebox, it could be in Detroit or in New York, could be anywhere. Opal’s has a proprietor—Opal, a young and wise black woman, who looks like the comedian Lily Tomlin—and a little bell over the door that goes tink-a-link, announcing all the handouts and gimmes who come to sit at Opal’s counter and talk about how needy their respective asses are.

Black guy sits at the counter, and Opal offers him some potato soup—“something nourishing,” she says. Black guy has moist, on-the-verge-of-lying-or-crying eyes and a raggedy Afro. He wears a green fatigue jacket, the kind of jacket brothers brought home from ’Nam, which guys like this guy continue to wear long after they’ve returned home, too shell-shocked or stoned to care much about their haberdashery. Juke—that’s the black guy’s name—is Opal’s baby, flopping about in all them narcotics he’s trying to get off of by taking that methadone, which Juke and Opal pronounce “methadon”—the way two old-timey Southerners would, the way Juke and Opal’s elders might have, if they knew what that shit was, or was for.

Juke and Opal express their feelings for each other, their shared view of the world, in a lyrical language, a colored people’s language, which tries to atomize their anger and their depression. Sometimes their anger is wry: Opal is tired of hearing about Juke’s efforts to get a job, and tells him so. “Hand me that jive about job training,” she says. “You trained, all right. You highly skilled at not working.” But that’s not entirely true. Juke has submitted himself to the rigors of “rehabilitation.” “I was down there for about three weeks, at that place, working,” Juke says. “Had on a suit, tie. Shaving. Acting crazy. Looked just like a fool in the circus.” Pause. “And I’m fed up with it.” Pause. “Now I know how to do a job that don’t know how to be done no more.” Opal’s face fills with sadness. Looking at her face can fill your mind with sadness. She says, “For real?” It’s a rhetorical question that black people have always asked each other or themselves when they’re handed more hopelessness: Is this for real?

Night is beginning to spread all over Juke and Opal’s street; it is the color of a thousand secrets combined. The bell rings, and a delivery man comes in, carting pies. Juke decides that everyone should chill out—he’ll play the jukebox, they’ll all get down. Al Green singing “Let’s Stay Together” makes the pie man and Juke do a little finger-snapping, a little jive. Opal hesitates, says, “Naw,” but then dances anyway, and her shyness is just part of the fabric of the day, as uneventful as the delivery man leaving to finish up his rounds, or Opal and Juke standing alone in this little restaurant, a society unto themselves.

The doorbell’s tiny peal. Two white people—a man and a woman, social workers—enter Opal’s. Youngish, trenchcoated. And the minute the white people enter, something terrible happens, from an aesthetic point of view. They alienate everything. They fracture our suspended disbelief. They interrupt our identification with the protagonists of the TV show we’ve been watching, which becomes TV only when those social workers start hassling our Juke, our Opal, equal halves of the same resilient black body. When we see those white people, we start thinking about things like credits, and remember that this is a television play, after all, written by the brilliant Jane Wagner, and played with astonishing alacrity and compassion by Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin on “Lily,” Tomlin’s second variety special, which aired on CBS in 1973, and which remains, a little over a quarter of a century later, the most profound meditation on race and class that I have ever seen on a major network.

The art of memoir: Texas writer Mary Karr

September 19, 2015

Mary Karr is a poet who became famous for writing a memoir, The Liar’s Club, about her redneck father and crazy mother and growing up in the Port Arthur area. She has since written two more memoirs and now a book, The Art of Memoir, that has grown out of her experience teaching at Syracuse University,

She is coming to Houston to give a talk and sell books, but the event is already sold out. The NY Times reviewed the book,  I”m not sure if this is the best book to buy about memoir. You might try reading some memoirs instead. The review notes some of the memoirists she writes about.

When she teaches Nabokov, Ms. Karr freely admits that he has little in common with the other writers she looks at most closely here: Maya Angelou, Harry Crews, Michael Herr, Frank Conroy, Frank McCourt, Geoffrey Wolff, Tobias Wolff and Kathryn Harrison. “He’s just your standard virtuoso aristocrat from a gilded age,” she says of Nabokov, after citing passages from “Speak, Memory” that violate her basic teaching principles.

Everyone knows Maya Angelou’s I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but check out Jessmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped. She visited TSU when she was in town for an Inprint reading series.

That leads me to Inprint, a literary society that brings distinguished authors to Houston to read. The readings are held downtown, usually and tickets are $5. I’ve been involved with the organization for the last 20 years, and I highly recommend checking out the reading series.

Writing is the only way to become a writer, but reading and reading about writing are essential.

Te-nehasi Coates on black incarceration and Tyron Dixon on log lines.

September 18, 2015

Stories keep landing in my email. The latest is on the mass incarceration of blacks. This has long been a sore subject for me, since back in the 1980s when I started writing about Texas prisons. I haven’t even read Te-nehasi Coates’s story yet, but I’m recommending it. Find some time to read it slowly, and see what a good journalist does. It may be of use to some of you in your own research. If nothing else, for your own awareness.

Tyrone Dixon was good, wasn’t he? The biggest factor holding his  writer friend back was fear. Don’t be afraid. Plunge ahead. The biggest mistake is holding back, trying to make it perfect. Get started. Write something imperfect, maybe not even very good. Get something down and make it better. You have an editor to work with.


Don’t miss the graduate student meeting next Wednesday

September 17, 2015


From the Writer’s Almanac

September 11, 2015

I urge you to subscribe to The Writer’s Almanac, a daily email newsletter with a poem and short items about writers and history. Today for example, offers a gem from a writer who once worked for the Houston Post. Check out the quote.

Today is the birthday of William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry(books by this author), born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). He’s the author of the beloved short stories “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and he became a writer while serving time in a federal prison for embezzlement. He was sentenced to five years, but was let out after three for good behavior; during his incarceration he published 14 stories, and wrote about 400 more upon his release.

Henry said: “You can’t write a story that’s got any life in it by sitting at a writing table and thinking. You’ve got to get out into the streets, into the crowds, talk with people, and feel the rush and throb of real life – that’s the stimulant for a story writer.”

For next week

September 10, 2015

Read John Ed Bradleys story “The One Left Behind,” and compare “The Middle Way,” which describes the basic feature form. Both of these items are in the “pages” section of the blog in the lower right-hand corner.

You should also read RV Cassill on Writing Fiction, a chapter form his book.

A website tracking capital punishment

September 10, 2015

The Marshall Project is named for Thurgood Marshall, for whom the TSU law school is named: the first African American justice of the Supreme Court.

It is an online reporting site edited by Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times and is dedicated to covering criminal justice matters, long a special interest of mine.

Their latest project tracks capital punishment. It’s titled The Next To Die.

Here is a link to a story I wrote for the Houston Chronicle, published last Easter Sunday, a 4000-word piece about a futile death penalty appeal. Sometimes a story is not about victory but defeat.

Two stories linked to a story idea

September 10, 2015

Two links to a story idea from Chi. Let’s discuss where this could go.


Tell me a story: a great poem by Robert Penn Warren

September 10, 2015

Tell Me a Story” by Robert Penn Warren

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood

By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard

The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon

And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,

Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.


Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,

Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,

But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.


Audubon: A Vision (Random House, 1969) is a tale of a violent episode in the wilderness, involving the famous American naturalist and painter John James Audubon. In the poem, Warren employs Audubon as a vehicle for exploring the questions of human identity, empathy, and mercy. In this final section, the narrator steps out from behind Audubon and speaks autobiographically, defining the essential ingredients of a story.

Robert Penn Warren was a well-established poet, novelist, and literary critic. He remains to be the only writer to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. Among his many accomplishments, Penn Warren received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts, and was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. His writings continue to echo their contribution to American literature.