The kind of ‘thank you’ we creative writing teachers usually only dream of

Reprinted with the writer’s permission is this email, from Jeffrey Gerretse, former student at USC MPW (Master of Professional Writing.) It’s letters like this that remind me that what we (as writers) do matters, and that the best thing we can do is to pass it along.

You may not remember me, but I was a student of yours at USC, 2006-2008. I’d read The Vorovich Affair as part of my reading for your fiction workshop, and I’ve mentioned you repeatedly to my wife when I talk about my time at USC. (She and I have been married a little over a year now; she didn’t know me back then.)

Anyway, because of the great things I told her, she tracked down a hardbound copy of Spring Thaw and bought it for me, knowing that was one of your books that I hadn’t read. What a wonderful thought!

Spring Thaw (novel)

Spring Thaw (novel)

Last night I finished the book. It was fantastic. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed it. I stayed up later than I’d planned to just so I could finish it before going to bed. I was so close to the end — I absolutely needed to read it through to the last page. Great job!

The novel I read before Spring Thaw was Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which itself is very lyrical, and I thought reading Spring Thaw immediately afterwards was a perfect pairing. I love that your story moves so quickly, yet you spend the perfect amount of time beautifully describing the island, from the landscape to the events taking place. As did Dandelion Wine, Spring Thaw showed me how powerful the perfect description can be.

I also noticed that the novel deployed many of the same writing strategies you promoted as an instructor at USC. For example, the end of every chapter gave me a reason to immediately turn the page and start the next. I loved that.

So I just wanted to send you a note, point out that here’s another student who remembers all your great advice, and congratulate you on producing such a wonderful novel. It’s still affecting people, still finding new readers. (And this morning I gifted the Kindle version to my wife. She’s gonna love it!)

I’ve been a working writer since 2005, working on staff at a software company doing business writing. I’m very grateful to be writing for my paycheck, but I’m usually too drained at the end of the day to do any writing of my own. And I was so out of practice — I’d even slacked on my reading — that when I did try to write, it was a tortured process that left me with nothing but garbage. I kept trying to rework old stories, hoping to capture something worthwhile. I never did. I started to think that I didn’t have the imagination for creative writing anymore, that maybe I should focus my technical chops on writing for the business world and give up the idea of selling stories or scripts or books.

Then, last Christmas, my wife’s sister (an enthusiastic recent English grad) gave me Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. She’d been talking about it since the day I met her years ago, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. Now there was no excuse. I started it in January and couldn’t put it down. It just unlocked something inside of me, and my imagination started going wild. It was like I’d been reborn. It’s like the book told me I could write about anything — anything! Because that book was about so many different things, and lyrical and beautiful, and haunting and true.

In the intro to the book, Bradbury talked about his writing process and it just clicked with me. I realized that I needed to stop writing with a computer, that I didn’t have the discipline to keep from getting distracted, and that being at a computer was one thing that was getting in my way. For the past month or so, I’ve been writing by hand into a notebook. Nothing but one word in front of the next. Suddenly I’m writing stories again — full stories, in one sitting. After I wrote my first story in years, I flipped through those handwritten pages and just started crying. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I had found something to say again. All that self doubt just fell away.

That’s where I was when I started Spring Thaw. I needed something to maintain my momentum, keep me going creatively. I needed something that showed me how powerful writing could be, how powerful story could be, and that’s exactly what I found. It was a wonderful, magnificent experience. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been missing in my creative life. I couldn’t have asked for a better book at a better time.


He was also kind enough to give the recently-published Kindle version of Spring Thaw a rave review. Read it here. Thanks, Jeffrey!

Rich Ferguson interviews S.L. (Sid) Stebel

Rich Ferguson, poet at large, in a far-ranging radio interview that triggered memories of my writing career that not only surprised me,  but may prove helpful to those who may be contemplating a commitment that can (and perhaps should) last a fully productive lifetime. Included are memories of my 50-year friendship with Ray Bradbury – which it can safely be said was of enormous benefit to us both, and to the generations of writers each of us influenced.

Click here to listen online.

Words matter

After tripping over a broken sidewalk slab at last Sunday’s Pacific Palisades Farmer’s Market, some thoughts:

My profound thanks to the Fire Department paramedics for their timely arrival and excellent medical care – and for pointing out that while they were bandaging my wounds three other people had ‘tripped’ over the same slab. Later, Karen K Ford, my as always cool-headed wife, arranged to be dropped off (by our friend Annie Nichols) so we wouldn’t have to make a 2nd trip to pick up my car. And finally our heartfelt thanks to the staff at UCLA’s Westwood Campus Emergency Medical center for their superb professional care.

However – and with all due respect – as a writer, and a teacher of writers I can’t resist taking issue with what I consider the mis-use of a word in their discharge medical report wherein the diagnosis of my condition was: “injuries resulting from stumbling into a fall.”

When asked, what I said to the examing medical practitioner was that “I tripped.” The offending object which “tripped” me was a slab of sidewalk cement raised up by tree roots, causing me to “fall” – which in fact felt as if I were being launched into space by some malevolent though unseen force. This should not have been described as “stumbling” (defined i n Webster’s dictionary as “to stagger because of a false step, to walk unsteadily or clumsily, to speak, act, or perform aything, blunderingly or confusedly, etc.)

To trip, on the other hand, Webster says, is “to cause (Italics mine) someone to stumble.”

Words matter. The difference looms large because saying that those who ‘stumble ‘ and hurt themselves make it seem as if my multiple injuries (abrasion of the upper lip, a protruding tooth (which fortuitously I was able – in my semi stupor – to reset into its socket, plus an abraded kneecap and skinned left thumb and heel of my left palm) were self inflicted. The aftermath 1From iPad 121813 216The aftermath 3In fact, having jogged for more years than I can remember, and now reduced by my rapidly advancing years to fast walking, I always walk at as rapid a pace as circumstances allow, so that when I caught my toe against this particular uprooted sidewalk slab I was hurled forward so unexpectedly fast I was lucky to have got my hands down to break my fall. (Unfortunately, just as I was congratulating myself at having made a safe landing, my face was whiplashed sideways into the cement.)

I was lucky not to have suffered worse injury. But since words do matter: I say I tripped – and thus let there be a correction made to the record, so that no insult be added to the list of injuries.

S.L. (Sid) Stebel, Turned 90, Announces He Will Not Retire

Stebel announces he will not follow in the footsteps of writers Phillip Roth and Alice Munro

Stebel announces he will not follow in the footsteps of writers Philip Roth and Alice Munro

This just in: S.L. (Sid) Stebel, responding to inquiries from unnamed sources, announced today that having just turned 90 makes him more, not less eager to continue writing.

In light of the recent retirement announcements by top novelist Philip Roth, and the beloved short story writer Alice Munro, Stebel wishes to assure whatever fans he may have that he will continue his daily writing stints until he has finished Captain Jett, Crime Buster!, a novel about radio during the fractious 1932 Presidential Campaign, or until “they find me comatose with my forehead up against my computer screen.”

Blessed with reasonably good health, happily wed to the prize-winning fiction writer Karen K. Ford, and with his health care covered by Medicare and the Writers Guild of America, WWII veteran Stebel has assembled a crack medical team that has assured him that “So far, so good” is as much assurance as anyone in his position could expect.

Stebel is a five times published novelist, produced playwright and screenwriter, and former Lecturer in the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. Called the “best writing teacher that ever was!” by Ray Bradbury, Stebel is also author of “Double Your Creative Power!” writing reference used at NYU, USC, U of Maryland, and others, and a founding workshop leader at the famed Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference.

In related news: four of Stebel’s previously published novels were recently re-released as Kindle ebooks, with print-on-demand versions in the works. Said Stebel, “See? I told you: I’m not going anywhere (as far as I know.)”

For further info or to book S.L. Stebel for speaking engagements or cocktail parties, contact: Karen K Ford at

“Stump The Savant!”

This week at the 2013 Santa Barbara Writers Conference we’ll be playing “Stump The Savant” – mornings at 9 a.m. Anyone who has a writing question that is NOT answered in “Double Your Creative Power!” will receive ABSOLUTELY FREE a brand spanking new 100% cotton T-shirt emblazoned with the bookjacket’s front cover.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL! A daily absolutely free drawing for a gratis (look it up!) copy of Stebel’s post-holocaust thriller “The Collaborator” in an audio rendition by the peerless Michael Bell.

DYCP now available for Kindle

Double Your Creative Power by S.L. Stebel

Double Your Creative Power by S.L. Stebel

The writing book by the man Ray Bradbury called “The best writing teacher that ever was!” is now available in a Kindle edition ebook. It describes, in clear and understandable terms, how opening connections between the conscious and subconscious minds enables a writer to connect on a deeper level with his or her audience, then follows it with step by step, practical applications. “Double Your Creative Power” contains practical advice and exercises you’ll return to again and again to enhance your natural gifts, including ways to banish writer’s block, develop ideas and tap into the stories you were born to tell. Used in writing programs at NYU and USC, this is the one and only writing book you’ll ever need; a reference that will take up permanent residence on your writing desk.