This Issue Dedicated to Alie Smaalders
October 21, 1923 – March 12, 2018
SHARK REEF Cofounder, Writer, Literary Citizen, Mentor Extraordinaire

This is the story of how SHARK REEF came to be and of the remarkable woman, writer and friend, who modeled what it is to be a writer.

“Writers grow on the trees on Lopez,” Alie Smaalders announced to me in our early days together in the late 1990s. It did seem true. Memory is hazy at best but in my mind’s eye, I still see fellow writer Laurie Parker and me stopping on the wooden library steps

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October 21, 1923 – March 12, 2018
SHARK REEF Cofounder, Writer, Literary Citizen, Mentor Extraordinaire "

The Winter of our (Dis)content

What better moment in our profoundly messed up time to quote Richard III? Shakespeare can really write about dysfunctional regimes. I find myself thinking about the plays that focus on the rot at the top: Richard the III of course, but also Hamlet, King Lear, and even Measure for Measure, where a predatory puritanical ruler tries to blackmail a beautiful novice into having sex with him. A lot of Shakespeare sounds familiar to me right now.

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Listen. Stories Matter.

The older I get, the more surely I understand that stories are all we have. That often the littlest stories are the ones that catch our heads and hearts.

When my son was born, I imagined it would be the big moments I’d cherish — the rolling over, crawling, walking, talking. And I do recall those things, but not as clearly as I remember tiny moments. I’ve realized, see, that he doesn’t need me to

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A Short Bit about Magic and Miracles

I think the magic of reading and writing is the startling places to which it whisks our brains and emotions, most notably the places inside ourselves that we’ve forgotten or didn’t know about in the first place.


I said that not long ago. I got to be part of the June 3 “Local Writers Read,” sponsored by SHARK REEF and Lopez Bookshop, and when I was asked to give a little bio and a few quotations to be used in my introduction, that’s what I said.


I was wrong.

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To Do Is To Be

If I have any advice, it’s to never write an intro like this at New Years.

First, intros are predisposed to summarize.

Second, New Years is downright freighted with reflections and expectations and resolutions and dejections and yearnings and lessons and dreams and hopes and failures and sins and second chances and the need to somehow box up all this, label it “last year,” and forge madly ahead.

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Taking Risks

I want to be unabashedly forthright: Jon Pearson’s “Saving Santa” is not only my favorite piece in this edition of SHARK REEF, it is my favorite piece I’ve read in a long time.

That includes taking my eighth-grade students on a six-week romp through poetry, reading essays by E.B. White, Scott Russell Sanders, Annie

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Rules of Writing

I’m teaching again. Since I last taught five years ago, they’ve taken to calling my subject “language arts” instead of English, which is likely more accurate. English in a U.S. school is not the study of the language, nor is it grammar, literature, writing or linguistics. It’s somehow more and less than any one of these.

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Saying What You Mean

So much writing doesn’t say what it came to say. So much tries to say more than it was meant to, and sags and splits and spills adjectives and adverbs and unholy descriptive phrases. Or pieces try to cheat, saying less than they need to, and they fail, too.

The fine, hard writing might begin as something dark and rank, but in this bog the bones grow.

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