Tuesday, January 24, 2017

First Publication of the New Year, and thoughts on the perfect detail

I don't think I mentioned I have a poem up in the latest issue of Abyss and Apex. The poem is one I wrote for my younger son, who always has good (and tough) science questions for me.

So, please enjoy "The Volume of the Universe."

On a writing craft note, I've been thinking about one of the book's I'm currently reading, Tana French's The Secret Place. I'm a recent convert to her Dublin Murder Squad stories, and one of the things I like best about them is her keen eye for detail. See, as writers we hear a lot that we need to 'show, don't tell.' And that's good advice, as far as it goes, but there's also the matter of making sure the right--the best--detail is there to bring the scene to life.

So, in the beginning of The Secret Place, French introduces a character, a teenage boy. She brings him to life, rowdy and secretive, close to his friends and ambivalent about his boarding school. And this is how she ends the scene:

Chris Harper is all ready for this year, he can't wait; he's got plans.

He has eight months and two weeks left to live.

That last line: Nine words, one syllable each. It's specific. It's just the right amount of specificity, in fact. If she'd said 'about nine months,' it would have made me think of pregnancy, not murder. If she'd strung out months, weeks, days, hours, it would have taken on a ridiculous quality, like a lovelorn comic character mourning a busted relationship. Instead, it's a finite boundary, beyond which Chris Harper will cease to exist. The clock begins to tick. Reading that line gave me goosebumps, and it made me want to read more.


  1. Jennifer - I just get goose bumps reading you...wonderful essay and I'm going to chech out French's series. You find poetry in everything.

  2. Thank you so much! Your kind words are a great boost. And I'm trying to remember that the roots of poems extend everywhere, even at times like these. <3