Some say you can't teach writing, but I believe you can give students the tools and opportunities to become better writers. My courses in writing fiction are grounded in that belief. I respond to student writing the same way I respond to my own, with a combination of approaches. The organic approach is based on the idea that our work grows out of us without our being quite aware of what we're doing, and we need to prune judiciously (and semi-ruthlessly) if we're to give this wild thing its proper shape. The other approach, what I like to call the Lego-Block approach, assumes that the exposition and scenes we write are building blocks which can be moved about (even discarded and replaced) as the story requires. We build and shape, shape and build. I believe in close attention to text, and that the true work of writing is in revision. I'm as likely, though, to pose questions as make suggestions; it's important to step away from the work from time to time and see it in a larger context--an exercise in where are you going, where have you been?
I'm especially interested in voice, and in trying to extend the range of one's own narrative technique as a means of getting the story told best. This can be seen, certainly, in the range of voices found in my published work. I've inhabited the voice of everything from a 56-year-old female town clerk in Matty's Heart (New Rivers Press, 1984) to that a 27-year-old woman looking back at her 17-year-old runaway self in American Beauty (Simon and Schuster, 1987). In The Clouds in Memphis (University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), I've told stories from the perspective of a mother coping with the loss of one of her children by a hit and run driver, from the perspective of a real estate developer trying to smooth over everyone's feelings after a drowning in one of his subdivisions, and from the perspective of a young woman trying to find out the real story behind her sister's death in an industrial accident. Most recently, I've explored the voice of a son trying to understand his parents' marriage and the mysteries of his own in The Company Car (Random House, 2005).
In addition, I have an interest in modern and contemporary fiction, in the novella and the short-story as forms, and in the literature of Central Europe (perhaps best evidenced by the anthology I edited, The Boundaries of Twilight: Czecho-Slovak Writing from the New World (New Rivers Press, 1991)).