My Amazon Revenge: Reviewing my Reviewer

categories: Cocktail Hour


I am confident that a lot of people enjoyed reading my book, Return of the Osprey.  That confidence is based on letters and conversations, and some pretty good reviews.


But one person who clearly did not enjoy the experience was a man who goes by the alias of “Dobx.” In fact Dobx disliked it so much that he chose to reveal his displeasure in a review on


I have been understating so far: Dobx hated the book.


Here is Dobx’s review:


A poor version of Walden Pond redux, June 3, 2010


Dobx “Dobx”

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

One of Four Stars

This review is from: Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder (Paperback)
We live on a sound on the Outer Banks and erected a nesting box, perhaps 50 feet from our dock, this March. We were fortunate enough to attract a nesting pair who built their nest, and we currently have three chicks in the nest.
I was hoping to get facts about ospreys from the book, but alas instead I got ruminations and regrets and etc. The author really wishes he was an osprey.
I think this is one of the worst books I have ever bought.
If you want osprey facts, simply Google osprey facts and save yourself from the author’s angst.
If I want to reread On Walden Pond, I have a well-thumbed copy.

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Guest contributor: Jim Lang

Bad Advice Wednesday: Birthing Your Bastards

categories: Cocktail Hour

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Literature's Most Famous Bastard?

Literature’s Most Famous Bastard?

This week I finally began to tackle the chapter of my current book project that I have been dreading more than all of the others put together. It’s the largest and most complex topic of the book, but also the most important, so I’ve been feeling this enormous pressure to get it right. And since every other chapter of the book begins with a brief narrative example of some kind, I’ve been trying for weeks and even months now to keep my eye out for the perfect anecdote that would illustrate the main idea of the chapter.


A tiny little flash of an idea came to me last weekend, and so I ran with it. It was a small story but I worked it hard, kneading every detail until eventually I could foresee how it might stretch into three full paragraphs and maybe another two paragraphs of exposition. About midway through getting it all down, as the story was burgeoning into life, a thought popped into my head as suddenly and clearly as if someone had spoken it into my ear: “None of this is going to make it into the final manuscript.”

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The Worst Moment (Before the Best Moment)

categories: Cocktail Hour


Jermaine KearseThat Kearse circus catch was right up there with the all-time worst Boston moments, a full-on baby-hook Buckner Bob-Stanley-trotting-in Ray-Hamilton-roughing-Stabler Aaron Boone Tyree Bucky Dent of a moment. Of course, unlike the others, it was immediately washed away. But at that moment….that sickening moment….

If you are a Seattle fan, simply flip my title around: The Best Moment (Followed by the Worst Moment)



Girlhood. (Supah Sunday Edition.)

categories: Cocktail Hour

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First, our Massachusetts pals Matt and Ben help Bill and Dave explain Deflategate HERE.

Next, here are a couple of pics, seven years apart.

brady moss


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Celebrating Ed Abbey’s Birthday

categories: Cocktail Hour


Photographs courtesy of Milo McCowan and Lyman Hafe

Photographs courtesy of Milo McCowan and Lyman Hafe

Today is Ed Abbey’s birthday and Orion magazine is helping celebrate by running both an article and a blog of mine, both excerpts from my forthcoming book, All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.


Here’s an excerpt of Orion’s blog excerpt to give you a taste:


It is a tricky business being an Ed Abbey fan these days. We shift toward uneasy ground. Because Abbey is no longer just a writer whose books you read; he is a literary cult figure who has followers. The skeptical reader recoils: “Oh, I don’t want to be part of that.” But clearly Abbey lives, at least in the West. Fresh off the press the same week I visited Ken was an article in the Mountain Gazette, a journal in which Abbey himself often published, in which M. John Fayhee, the editor, took no small delight in mocking the Abbey fandom: “They wore clothing that looked like what Abbey wore. They drove vehicles that would meet with Abbey’s approval. They tossed beer cans out of truck windows because Abbey did.” This hit a little close to home. I thought back to my days in Eldorado Springs and remembered the cans of refried beans I ate, part of the official Ed Abbey diet. I fear I was, unbeknownst to myself, a sort of groupie. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: How to Get on a Roll, or, The Value of Momentum

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


I’m re-posting this, one of our very first “Bad Advice” blogs, since it goes with some things I’ve been saying in the “Just Write” class I’m teaching this term.

Momentum.  I say the word so much in my classes that I wouldn’t blame students if they walked out or threw bricks.  But I’ll say it again.  Mo-men-tum. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole writing game–the whole of life?– is contained in that one word.  How do you get in movement and stay in movement?  The question.   How to get rolling and, more importantly, keep rolling?

As for the “keep rolling” aspect (which, momentum being momentum, is the easier part) many people have tricks, usually some variant on Hemingway’s habit of stopping when you know what sentence you’re going to write next.  That’s not for me.  For one thing, if I know the sentence, I’ll write it down while I’ve got it.   For another, it’s just too rational.  “If I know what I’m doing I can’t do it,” said Joan Didion.  That’s closer to it.  Momentum, whether starting it or keeping it, is about the continued thrust into the unknown.  The decision–if it even is a decision– to move forward without or beyond the aid of reason.  Momentum is the march into darkness when your sensible (and fearful) side is telling you stay put in your clean, well-lighted brain.

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Sixty by Sixty: A Meditation in Mosaic Upon the Sixtieth Birthday of the Haystack School of Arts and Crafts, and My Own

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays



Elysia at Haystack, 2013

Prologue (in Sixty Words, Too: One to Grow On)

This essay is about the power of collaboration. Written in my sixtieth year, it’s a mosaic of sixty juxtaposed sections, each of exactly sixty words, a total of 3,600 tesserae, or assorted bits. The multiples may be read in any order, inviting readerly collaboration. Please number the boxes as you go to create a fresh path for others to follow. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Fight Through the Fear

categories: Cocktail Hour


ropeAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m teaching a graduate class this spring called “Just Write,” the idea being to clear away clutter and get down to the business of actually writing.


Last week, during our first class, I mentioned the “Christmas morning feeling” that early morning feeling writers sometimes get, when they go to sleep early thinking about the next day’s work and wake up excited to get to it. (I think I plagiarized, or half-plagiarized, that phrase from Donald Hall’s great book, Life Work.)


Well, suffice it to say, not every morning is Christmas morning. Over the last week I have woken up with a feeling not of excitement but dread. I suppose I could pin actual reasons on that feeling (an operation on my leg, anxiety about my forthcoming book) but it feels more free-floating than that. That creepy something-bad-is-going-to-happen uneasiness. Or, to put it more simply: fear.

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Wallace Stegner on Largeness

categories: Cocktail Hour


steg teach        I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years in the company, or at least with the mind and words, of Wallace Stegner. It has been a bracing experience. One thing I’ve noticed about his thinking is that there is always a movement toward the general, an imperative to think more broadly and openly, a preference for the long view over the short, the large over the small. This was not just an intellectual commitment, but a spiritual, or at least a personal, one. “Largeness is a lifelong matter,” he once said. The goal was (and is) magnanimity.

            The “largeness” quote is contained and given context below by Stegner’s answer to this interview question: Should the teacher, in the process of instruction, consciously try to shape a student’s personality or enlarge him or her as a human being?

            Here’s his reply:

           Well, I have some fairly strong feelings about that. I do not believe I can teach anybody to be a bigger or better or more humane person. But I do subscribe to the notion that, in order to write a great poem one should be, in some sense or another, a great poet. This suggests that any writer had better be concerned with the development of his personality and his character. Continue reading →