In a luminous collection of essays, prolific children's author, poet, and novelist Willard (Sister Water, 1993) speaks of the magic and craft of writing. Many of these 13 pieces describe the power of poems in their ancient role as incantations that call us to see the objects and beings of the world anew--and of the power of stories as parables. The truth nestles hidden inside a good story, contends Willard, who quotes Eudora Welty: ``Fiction is a lie...Never in its inside thoughts, always in its outside dress.'' One of the most vivid lessons Willard ever got on the importance of giving truth some ``outside dress'' came from a University of Michigan student who briefly rented a room in her parents' rambling house. Willard relates that, according to young Danny Weinstein, Truth used to go around stark-naked, scandalizing everybody until he happened to meet Parable, who dressed him up: ``Truth put on a white linen suit, a pink shirt, and a black tie, and what do you know? People invited him here, they invited him there, they shook his hand when they met him in the street. Since that time Truth and Parable are great friends.'' Inspired by Weinstein's story, Willard weaves a series of delightful parables that dramatize basic writing principles like ``show, don't tell.'' The best stories, says the author, pull the reader into a special, ceremonial time and space in which past and present coexist. A writer must learn to wait actively for such tales, for they always seem to come through chance, as though delivered by angels. These are the stories that preserve the inner truth of beloved ancestors and places, that resonate--even if not explicitly--with the timeless human incantation, ``Once upon a time.'' Willard strings together insight after insight, creating a celebration of, as well as a guide to, the writing life.