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Scott Lax Blog

Truman Capote on Voice

Truman Capote said to the "Paris Review," "What I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening." I may have quoted this before, but I think it bears repeating.

When you tell a story, pretend you're with people you care about. You want to impart to them the story that it's your heart, the story you need to tell. Let the words come out naturally. Forget about style, and even craft (at least on the first draft), and all the junk you learned in your writing class, be that in high school (likely freighted with the desire to please your unpublished teacher), or in college - even in an MFA program, where you're pressured to sound like so many others.

Tell your story in your own voice. Learn grammar and style and usage and then fix it up and let it fly. It's your story; don't let it be sunk by literary fashions. Capote knew this; that's why he was one of the greats, however screwed up and inconsistent he could be. The cat knew how to write.  Read More 

Let's Say You Don't Know What To Write

Let's say you sit in front of your laptop day after day and can't seem to find the words for a story. If so, I have a suggestion.

We're carbon-based life forms. So are pens and pencils and papers. If you need to connect, or reconnect to the act of writing, pick up a pen or pencil and write something in a notebook or on a scrap of paper or stationary or something.

As writers - if we are physically able - we need to connect our bodies to the page on occasion. There's something special about the act of writing. Your brain fires up an idea. It travels through you. It comes out of your hand and into your pen and onto the paper. It's physical. It's what our ancestors did.

Computers are wonderful; they've changed the world. But don't lose sight - or feel - of what it means to write. To really write. If you haven't done it in a while, see how it feels. See what comes out of you. See how it looks on the page, how personal, how unique, how non-crashable and unhackable it is. It's not logged permanently in a cloud of ether. It's for you, or someone special, or posterity. You can even tear it up and make it go away if you decide you don't like it anymore.

I write in a notebook. Though I write fiction and nonfiction and blogs and emails on a computer, and am grateful to be able to do as much, I connect - every day - to pen and paper. For me, it's as important as connecting to nature. My primary exercise is walking, and a large part of that is connecting to the sky, the air, the sun, the movement of the trees, the sound of the birds. it's a part of my day that connects me physically to life; so is writing - pen to paper.  Read More 

Toni Morrison and How We Treat Our Children

I try not to get into politics or sociology or the like on this blog, but when you write, you observe, and when you observe, you have a point of view.

One point of view with which I agree is that of Toni Morrison, who said:

"Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth."

Politically, socially, in terms of religion and our overall actions, wouldn't it be wonderful if the first and most important question we (by that I mean all humans, not just Americans) answered, be it about health care or economic policy or war, was: "How will this affect children, most especially those who have the least?"  Read More 

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

Right after the terrible events of September 11, 2001, The New Yorker published a poem on its back page. It's become one of my favorite poems. I've read about its origins (it wasn't written for 9-11, but, such is art, it fit the moment). I reprint it here with gratitude to the Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski, as well as The New Yorker for printing it. I use this poem in my classroom frequently, as a way of showing power of writing, of poetry, to find beauty and meaning in the world even in the face of the worst circumstances.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

By Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Translated by Renata Gorczynski  Read More 

On Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM

Jonathan Franzen has written what many are calling a great novel: FREEDOM. I haven't read it, so I can't comment on the work itself, but I can say that Franzen acts like a writer, by all accounts.

And I like that. A lot.

What I mean is that he isn't primarily a self-marketeer; he isn't a novelist that tries to figure out what will sell and what the trends are. From everything I've read about him, it seems he is a man who loves language and how people use it and how they relate to one another with it; and then he translates that to fiction, which is, for many of us, as important and true as anything that's actually happened. Fiction goes to the heart of life.

I hope Franzen's passion for writing literary fiction makes an impact on readers in the same way as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, Phillip Roth, Sherman Alexie and Tim O'Brien have made. We need stories about love and family and everyday life, not just about vampires.

Literary fiction is to writing what organic food from the farmer's market is to your dinner plate. I hope that Franzen is one of the new breed of chefs.

I'll be back with how the dinner tasted soon; in the meantime, I applaud Jonathan Franzen for keeping the faith.  Read More 

On Burning Books

The controversy over the (now cancelled) Qur'an burning was yet another unfortunate and backward incident in the sad history of American anti-intellectualism and fear-mongering.

Book burning is never good. It's a sign of intellectual weakness and moral fear. I'm glad it was cancelled, but disgusted that it was ever considered. Hitler and his ilk burned books, which is simply one step beyond banning them. Banning books still goes on throughout America to this day.

For anyone who ever considered burning a book, I suggest reading it instead. Or giving it away.

Don't these book burners get it? This is what radical fundamentalists want: attention. What do they think terrorism is? It's not only about killing; it's about getting attention from the survivors. Moderate Christians and Muslims get it. So do all who follow a path of tolerance and moderation.

Speaking of religion, Happy New Year -- Rosh Hashanah -- to Jews world-wide. May this year bring us peace in the world. May all people live in harmony.  Read More 


I'm happy to say that my new column for THE FATHER LIFE MAGAZINE, is up on their website. They're great guys to work with, and I look forward to sharing my journey with readers about our baby, who is due late this year. I'll be posting the press release as soon as some of my website glitches are worked out.  Read More