Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Christmas Means

Christmas morning dawns. Here, in North Carolina, I am the first one up, so I drink my coffee and watch the wrens and nuthatches attack the suet hanging outside on the deck. For me, one Christmas happened last night, when most that is left of my biological family gathered at my mother's house. Christmas Eve is hectic, and involves last-minute wrapping and cooking and other details. The children--teenagers now--gather upstairs to talk while scanning their Instagrams and emails; the adults sit at the kitchen table, drinking wine while the glazed ham finishes baking.

Later, we unwrap presents, one at a time. This is the moment the kids define as Christmas--the receiving of gifts. The surprise of finding out what is in the box, in the bag, in the card. As the presents are unwrapped, I wonder most about how they came to be, what sparked the thought to purchase or make a particular item for a particular person. The process behind the present.

I had many Christmases this year. The one last night, of course, and the one at my own home several days ago before we journeyed to my mother's home. I had Christmas at Thanksgiving with my husband's family, with his sister and mother. I experienced Thanksgiving in Newport with my friend Colleen. Christmas came to another friend's small cottage on Hardy Pond, and in Leicester, my Aunt and I celebrated with yoga and rice pudding. 

Christmas came in Hershey Park, and in Homewood before writing class, and in my hammock while the swallows swooped through the air for bugs. It came during early morning walks with my husband waiting for our daughter's bus. Christmas arrived in a CSA bag filled with kale and Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Christmas came during meditation and over meals made with tomatoes and asparagus from the garden. Christmas comes every morning the ones I love wake healthy, happy, hopeful.

May you have a joyous Christmas, whatever it means to you, and when. 

Peace...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

CRAVINGS

This time of year, between the gatherings of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the glitz of New Year's, I find myself craving many things. Cookies, for one. I do love homemade cookies, and Christmas is the time to dress up cookies in their finest. I make an apricot-pistachio biscotti dipped in white chocolate which could be my ticket out of my day job.

I also crave smell. The resiny scent of pine, of exotic cinnamon and cardamon, the clean scent of snow.

I crave music. If you listen, winter is full of sound--howling wind, the tinkle of snow flakes, the groaning of tree limbs under their weight of white. My children perform in their winter concerts, and their music sates me.

I crave light. The days are so short, and so dark. Snow, at least, reflects the little light there is and gives even the grayest day some hope. We've had snow on the ground for a week now, a rarity in this part of the world. At BJs, I bought a Happy Light, and I sit in front of it and bathe in the replicated sunlight every day.

Even as I crave sound, I crave its absence. Silence, the space between everything else, is as great a gift as noise. Now, as I write this, the house is silent, everyone still tucked in their beds. They will rise, and the day will become full of busy-ness. This afternoon, I will find silence in myself when I go to yoga nidra. May that silence carry me through the upcoming week.

What do you crave in this dark time of the year? What is it you want most?

Peace...




Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Leftovers

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving feels much like the last shreds of turkey still on the carcass, the bowl scrapped clean of cranberry sauce, the last slice of apple pie.

A bit tired.

But tired in a good way. Many people travel to family and friends over Thanksgiving--we certainly did--and being with those you love, these familiar people, has a way of centering me, of preparing me for the onslaught of winter.

This week and the next few are the lull between the next days of activity--Christmas and New Year's. I love thinking about gifts to give and make, shopping for the best deals, preparing my annual jams and cookies. I love traveling south to visit my mother and sister and nieces, enjoying their company and the rituals of the season.

There is comfort in their familiarity, in the routines, and this comfort is necessary to get us through the dark months of January and February (the longest month, truly) when we draw inward. The memories of these visits will give me sustenance, for these are the months I write, really write, for what else is there to do (other than read)?

This time of year, I realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by generous people--my families, my friends, both old and new, both virtual and cyber. I am thankful for my health, and the health of my husband and children. I remain thankful for the ability and freedom to express myself.

I will spend the next few weeks finding ways to express my gratitude. This is the joy, for me at least, of the holiday season.

And to start off my shopping, a trip to THE MILLIONS, where I hope to find a gift or two for my writing friends (I especially like #17, a subscription to a literary journal of the month--fantabulous idea).

Happy days of gratitude, and peace...





Tuesday, November 12, 2013

WHERE I AM and WHERE I'VE BEEN

I'm on sabbatical, which means my daily day is not my usual daily day. Sure, I go to my actual office every 2-3 weeks, mostly to meet with my graduate students and post-docs, and to review research projects. Because none of those go away on sabbatical. But the rest of the stuff--the committee meetings, the lectures, the administrative duties--have (mostly) disappeared.

Most folks on sabbatical go exotic places--Thailand, Italy, India--or work at another institution. My life with kids precluded extended travel, but I have been on a few short trips:

1. BOSTON! Well, Cambridge. And beyond. My favorite place in the world. My graduate student and I went to attend a totally unique conference--geospatial analysis approaches to health problems. A fancy phrase for mapping. Very cool to look at the association of risk and protective factors in 3-D. And did I mention my brilliant student won the Conference's Communication award for her poster on national treatment admissions for prescription opioid abuse? We ate lobster fra diavalo in the North End to celebrate. I spent the rest of the week catching up with colleagues and dear friends and my wonderful Aunt, visits that took me to Waltham, North Reading, Leicester, and Newport.

2. JOHNS HOPKINS! My office away from work. I have a class on the Homewood Campus on Tuesdays, and it is bucolic in the afternoon. I grab a caramel latte and sit on a bench and write and think and wish I was a college student again. 

3. NEW YORK CITY! I'm here NOW. Kind of. I'm taking a non-fiction book proposal course with GOTHAM. Tell me, would you pick this up if you saw it in Barnes and Noble: Un-Balanced: The Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse and the Programs and Policies that Got Us There?

4. TAOS, NEW MEXICO! A gorgeous place, with snow-capped mountains and arid desert. I'm digging clay from the earth--here, it sparkles with mica--to make pots the way the Taos Pueblo Indians do. Rather, my character Sheila is in Taos, but through her I get to live vicariously.

5. REISTERSTOWN, MARYLAND! Home sweet home. I spend most of my day at my desk, working on manuscripts and research proposals and gearing up for a new NIH-funded grant on COPD and Depression in Older Adults. I read a lot, including David Sheff's new book CLEAN, which deals with the piss-poor way our society deals with addiction. Timely and important stuff. I see my kids get on and off the bus, and get to make smoothies for them, and help with homework, and eat lunch with my husband.

Nothing fancy, but the rest has done me good. I am bursting with ideas, and that's what a sabbatical is supposed to be all about. Peace...


Friday, November 01, 2013

Witching Hours

It's 6:30 in the morning, and black as pitch. The wind moans through the trees, rattles the siding. The flaming maple will be bare of leaves when day beaks. As usual, I am up before everyone else. It is a rare morning when I sleep past six.

Last night, our street was empty of trick-or-treaters. Only Henry and Will and I knocked on doors, gathered our goodies. For the past eight years, our neighborhood gathered at one end of the street to trick or treat together. The men attached hay-carts to mowers, the babies and toddlers pulled behind in wagons. After, we'd gather for pizza and drinks, and catch up until next year.

But now, the kids are older. They have other friends, other places to go. On our short street, the children in five families go to five different schools. Sometimes, it feels lonely...

Tomorrow we move the clocks back an hour. The morning will brighten, good news for the kids waiting for school buses. Bad news for after school and after work, when dark will descend with a vengeance.

Winter comes. And yes, if this post sounds melancholy, it is. Just a tad. Time to hibernate, time to turn inward. Peace...

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ten Great Things

1. The weather: Indian Summer that goes on and on. Perfect days for reading, writing, thinking, drowsing in the hammock.

2. The corn: The lack of rain has made this summer veggie oh so sweet. Made up some corn and crab chowder, and my son proclaimed he wanted to learn how to cook.

3. My kids: Doing well in school, adjusting to the next step of 'adulthood'. But do we ever grow up? I hope not...

4. The latest issue of JMWW: Jam-packed with delectable fiction and poetry and book reviews and more, more, more. Read it NOW.

5. Tim O'Brien's IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS: What a fabulous novel. O'Brien's writing is out-of-the-box and out-of-this-world. Want shivers? Read it.

6. Best bit of writing advice: "In dialogue tags, place the name of the speaker before the verb," Ellie said. "It gives the narrative forward momentum.

7. Best bit of information on how to read a short story: The climax usually comes at the end, ideally the penultimate sentence (Eudora Welty is genius at this).

8. The U S of A: Despite our warts and differences and diversity, still the best place to live.

9. The garden: And my husband for tending it.

10. My friends: You know who you are, cyber and real. With you, I dine and w(h)ine, work and play, write and read, experience and dream.

What's on your gratitude list? Peace...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Susan Diaries (or The Poop on the Best Little Book This Year)

The Merrill Diaries, the latest novel by writer and friend Susan Tepper published by PURE SLUSH BOOKS, tells of love and life and being in your twenties and all mixed up. Merrill is a feisty young woman whose yearning for love and adventure takes her around the world and in and out of several relationships before landing where she needs to land. After reading The Merrill Diaries, I had so many unanswered questions. I worried about Merrill. So Susan and I had a little chat…


Susan, what inspired this remarkable story? Tell us exactly where you were and what you were doing when the character of Merrill popped into your mind.
I first wrote Merrill as a middle-aged, multi-married woman for the Pure Slush anthology 'gorge'. I had to follow a pre-set narrative written in that group novel, use the setting of the novel, and follow after a story by Stephen Ramey. That Merrill became the genesis of this current book. This book The Merrill Diaries wasn't my idea. Matt Potter the publisher of Pure Slush and the 'gorge' book came to me with the idea of an all Merrill book. He came up with the title. It was winter, and I felt quite resistant. I wrote him back, "I can't live with that woman for an entire book." He was quite persistent. He thought she was a really funny and alive character in 'gorge' and he kind of wore me down. But I knew I had to write her 'differently' in order to be able to do this current book. I feel an author must have a strong relationship to the protagonist for a book to work. And I didn't want to write about a middle-aged woman and what that entails—I am a middle-aged woman, and wish I were still in my twenties. All my writing involves some kind of wish fulfillment. What I remember about the actual writing of The Merrill Diaries was that it began during the fall of 2012, then my computer crashed, and I finished it in my kitchen on my laptop. I think.

You open The Merrill Diaries with a reference to Merrill's mother and how she would steal little things. To what extent has Merrill embodied her mother's character as she grows into a grown woman?
Merrill's mother is like an ever-present ghost in the book. When the story begins, she has already passed along to the next life. But when alive, she was a strong, take-charge kind of person. And I think an intimidating mother to both Merrill and her younger sister, Nan. What the mother stole were other people's histories, and thus, in a way, she stole their lives. Kind of how some tribal cultures believe a photograph will steal the soul. Merrill picked up a lot of her mother's resiliency, plus her mother's love for the finer aspects of the material world. But at the same time, Merrill is a contradiction in that she is always fighting off her mother, the little 'messages' from her mother that come into her mind as she tramp-steams through her twenties.

I find your answer interesting, in that it seems Merrill spends a lot of her young adult life trying to make her own history. Is this largely a response to her mother's modus operandi?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s what all young people do. Want their lives to be their own. I think that’s what teenage rebellion is all about. A natural separation from the family and its value system. Merrill has a rebellious nature. Some people are born with that. I’m like that, so I guess I carried it over to her.

‘gorge’ was a lot of fun, to read and to write. I returned to the two Merrill chapters in that book and found Merrill remained the same in many ways—but also matured. What do you think Merrill learned from her madcap adventures across the world when she was younger?
I find it so interesting you saw a link between the young Merrill and the middle-aged Merrill. I don’t see it that much. As for what she learned as she roamed the world— probably nothing she didn’t already know. I think we travel and explore to confirm what is already etched on us like a map drawn at birth.

Of all her men, which, if any, did Merrill love?
I think she loved them all in different ways. And in different degrees of love. Teddy, her first husband, she loved the least. Merrill is a sexy gal, and Teddy fell short in the bedroom. Eddie, the guitarist, was her sexiest match. At one point she says that things might have worked out with Tom (her second husband) had the living situation been somewhat different. 

Why does Merrill have such a difficult time committing to place—and person? 
Merrill views the world as a huge, lavish smorgasbord: food, people, places, lovers, husbands, ideas. I’m like that. I have a voracious appetite for discovery which led me in many different directions and careers. I guess I carried it over to her in the story. I wanted her to have fun. I also wished to do all the things she was doing—when all I was doing was sitting on a heating pad typing her story most of the winter. Someone had to have some fun!!! As for commitment, that’s a hard question. I think the men she chose didn’t measure up after a while. As I mentioned, she might have stayed with Tom if she didn’t feel so isolated in the countryside. She liked him and respected him. She also might have stayed with Eddie, if (---) hadn’t happened. Circumstances intervened. Life can be that way. And Merrill loves adventure. Some people are just born to it.

I really want to talk about the ending, but without it being a spoiler for readers. So let me just ask you one question—is this the watershed moment in Merrill's life?
Well, how can I answer this? Hmm... let’s just say it ‘restored’ her in ways that needed restoring.

Let's discuss craft for a moment. This book enraptured me for so many reasons: the character of Merrill, the originality of this coming-of-age story, the settings. I laughed out loud in many places, and I cried in others. But most of all, the writing itself has an effortlessness about it, a transparency. You, the author, are never present. So I wonder: how many drafts or revisions did this story take you? Because the voice is spot-on.
It's a good question, Linda, because it covers more 'ground' than you would suspect. I started writing the book feeling moderately good, though I had taken a horse fall last year and that caused some back problems. Then, the day I was to travel to AWP in Boston, my back went completely 'out'. I was literally bent in half that morning screaming in pain. My husband threw a coat over my nightgown and carted me over to a chiropractor-friend. I did not make it to AWP. From March until now, my back has been in bad shape. I wrote the book in a haze of pain. I often thought I couldn't finish it, but my husband prodded me on, saying, "You can do this." So, in some ways I was not present. I wrote almost in a trance. I just wrote and wrote and at the end of a writing period, had no idea what the hell I had written. I just kept going.

There were places where I ‘mixed up’ things— such as the two Greek guys (the good guy and the bad guy!). I found it in revision, thank heavens! I just didn’t know what I was putting on the page and couldn’t remember my earlier chapters. I had to go back and re-read the book several times, and clean up any discrepancies. I kind of add and subtract on the ‘clean-up’ part in general, it’s my novel writing style. 

Then at one point in the spring I quit for a few weeks to try and regain some strength. Then I went back at it. I think the reason you don't see the author anywhere in the writing is because the author (me) was somewhat missing in time and space. I did a kind of automatic writing. I have wondered if the book might have turned out differently had I been feeling good. I believe the parts of the book where the character is most vulnerable are points where I felt most vulnerable to the pain in my body. I kind of transferred my physical and emotional space over to Merrill. Let her take the hit for me. I don't know if it was cathartic, I just know it's how I wrote this book.

I think Matt Potter was worried at one point, because I had been sending him chapters, then I just stopped. But he never said anything to me, never asked. I think if he had pressured me, I might have totally caved and stopped writing. He's the kindest person and has a deep regard for the feelings of his writers. So, anyway, I picked up the writing again and started to send him more chapters. He wrote to me then, saying he'd been worried and was relieved to see the book moving forward. Just that. I'm really glad I wrote this book.

It also amazes me that I was able to infuse quite a bit of humor, considering my own circumstances. But my family is that way. We had some pretty dark times (as do all families) and yet we managed to poke fun at situations, and we have laughed like crazy afterward. I think this is a huge thing—being able to laugh off the pain of life. Merrill did that in many instances, and that kept her going. So in that regard, she and I are sisters in trauma. We're both survivors and we manage to keep our style thing going. When my dad died, I refused to cry at the funeral because I didn't want the cousins I don't like to see my tears. I cried buckets in private, but not at his funeral. Merrill would do that too, I believe. What the heck—life is a bitch. You have to be feisty and laugh off a lot of things to keep on going.

Yeah, life is a bitch. But life is what fuels us to write. Tell me—what's up next in your life, writing-wise and otherwise?

My greatest fear is that my back won’t totally heal. I really need everyone’s good vibes on that score. I’m still writing stories. I have a comic road novel completed that I’d like to see published. It has a male protagonist. An excerpt was published in the new Thrice Magazine (READ HEREรจ Squirrels). I also have another unpublished novel written about a woman who leaves her husband after a long marriage. But if the genie popped out of the bottle and granted just one wish—my body back to normal.
Susan, I will send you my best vibes for good health. Thank you so much for this frank and insightful chat on The Merrill Diaries and your writing process. Best of luck, and peace…


Susan Tepper is the author of The Merrill Diaries (a novel in stories) released this July by Pure Slush Books.  She has also written two other published novels, a story collection, and a poetry chapbook.  Her novel What May Have Been (co-authored with Gary Percesepe) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, 2010.  Tepper has received 9 nominations for the Pushcart Prize.  FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar in NYC has been ongoing sporadically for six years.  Tepper is a contributing editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the monthly author/interview series UNCOV/rd.  www.susantepper.com

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Want to Send Me A Story?

Then read what makes the editor in me happy as hell. Five points to think about before sending a story to JMWW or any other market up at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

Peace...

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

You Called Me a What????

The wonderful and very international Michelle Elvy, a talented writer, editor, and columnist at Awkword Paper Cut, has learned a new Finnish word: Pilkunnussijas. She called me this, and being the good Finn I am, I hurried to find out what this word meant, because it sure did not sound like a nice word (then again, does any Finnish word sound nice?).

I am a Comma-Fucker. And, according to Ms. Elvy, so are a few other writers, including John Wentworth Chapin, Christopher Allen, and Sian Williams.

Which makes sense given this month's article at Awkword Paper Cut is all about grammar, the rules to keep and those to break. It's a lot of fun, and will allay your worries about the lay/lie conundrum, fragments and daleks, buts and other body parts, and so much more. Check it out.

And, of course, peace...


Monday, August 26, 2013

Sabbatical

This morning, the yellow buses lumbered down the road and took my children to their schools.

The day stretches before me, seven hours of uninterrupted quiet. It will take some time to get used to the peace--the summer was fun-filled, boisterous, the house often taken over by the kids and their friends.

I have been on sabbatical since July 1. But, what with the busy-ness and the occasional halcyon afternoons which find me in the hammock staring at clouds and day-dreaming, I have not accomplished so much in terms of my sabbatical goals.

And what are those goals? Mostly to continue research in policies regarding opioid analgesics that can disrupt--or equilibrate--the balance between medical access to pain medications and abuse of these same drugs. It is a passion I have explored for twenty years, starting with my dissertation. In addition to research, I have harbored an idea of writing a non-fiction book about the topic, one accessible to all, not ideas relegated only to academic medical and policy journals. So I will start outlining a book proposal, drawing on my decades (!) of experience in this area. As well, I will have more time to work on my novel, and more time to read.

I do not begrudge the last seven weeks of idle time. For it wasn't really idle. All the while, ideas and other stuff percolated on their own. For the first time in many years, I feel rested.

For sabbatical shares the same root as Shabbat (Hebrew), the Sabbath. The time of rest. And that is what sabbatical should do most of all--rest the worker, her body and mind, spirit and soul.

I am ready now. Ready--and excited--to see where my mind takes me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Revisioning the Novel

I have been working on THE MINISTER'S WIFE for almost two years, creating my characters, their histories, their destinies. They seem alive to me, so alive that at times I dream of them. When I wake, I can't remember who I am or where: am I in Afghanistan, Boston, a South Dakota farm? There is something delicious about sharing that level of intimacy with characters, of delving this deep to make them seem real. This is one of the most tangible rewards of writing, at least for me.

When I started this project, I envisioned a series of linked stories, each of which could stand alone, but which, in their totality, told a larger story. Think of Olive Kitteridge, or A Visit from the Goon Squad, or As the Great World Spins. All gorgeous, amazing books told in separate stories.

My decision for this approach was based on three things: 1) the yammerings of multiple characters demanding their time in the limelight; 2) my desire to write a *proper* short story (longer than a flash fiction but shorter than a novella); and 3) practicality--my writing program does not easily accommodate work-shopping an entire novel.

But what a struggle. Using the linked stories structure is goddamn hard. Trying to force big stories into small spaces. Knowing when to reveal information, and when to hide it. Understanding a character's motivation for heading into war without writing four pages of back story. Since I started this project, the container has worried me, bothered me, kept me up at night and, at times, paralyzed me from writing.

So after two workshops, and the insightful critiques of classmates and an awesome instructor, I have come to realize that shoving expansive stories into 7,000 word stories is not my style. THE MINISTER"S WIFE must be a novel, not linked stories. My characters have so much to tell me (and you), and their stories are expansive and fluid and span too much time to be relegated to a story. They twist and weave through each other, like tributaries.

So, as I revise this material, this is the structure I must find: something that allows multiple POVs to flex and bend with each other, to travel over time and over the page without arbitrary and jagged breaks. Maybe I will find a new form to tell my story; maybe the final product will look more traditional than I originally envisioned. I don't know.

But this I do know: I am excited to revise, and rewrite. The feeling of moving forward lightens me.

My fellow writers: what has been your biggest struggle in writing, and how have you overcome it?

Dear readers: have you read any novels with multiple points of view that might be helpful to me?

Peace...

Friday, August 02, 2013

GRAMMAR RULES

I read a lot of stories--in my workshop and as editor--and I find it funny how some writers present flawless work, free from typos and punctuation woes and egregious grammatical errors, while others present what reads like a rough draft without even a word checker's blessing.

Although these rough stories often have that elusive thing I think of as voice, the first paragraphs are so riddled with inaccuracies I find myself getting annoyed, angry even. Why waste my time? My eyes are too tired, too impatient, to wade through multiple split infinitives, gerunds running wild, and ubiquitous and improperly used semi-colons; they drive me mad.

On the other hand, when a writer in control of her material breaks a grammar rule, exciting things can happen. Like effective fragment use. And starting sentences with conjunctions can make the reader pause in a powerful way.

Myself, I eschew adverbs, gerunds, and improper use of possessives. But I love, love, love the effective use of fragments.

And you?

What grammar or punctuation 'rules' bug you the most? Which rules do you love to flaunt?

And why?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What to Say?

This the question I have asked myself the past month as I ponder the blank white space of this blog.

It isn't that I don't have stuff to say (me? with no opinions?), it is just that many of the things I want to say are not ones I want to haunt me in cyberland beyond my physical demise. But I haven't been in the mood, to write here or hang out on facebook or twitter or bloghop. Just not in the mood to socialize. It also doesn't help that the cold I had two weeks ago morphed into acute bronchitis, which has left me feeling weak and flaccid and full of throat tickles that become full-body coughs when I talk too much.

So what can I say?

The kids are good. Both of them. Number One Son is finishing his week at Rock Shop Camp. Number Two Daughter performed in three shows of THE LITTLE MERMAID before full houses. Somehow my husband and I have agreed to host a slumber party tomorrow for three girls and two boys (separate levels of the house). Indeed, #2 and her two friends are embarking on a sleep-over marathon, a progressive slumber party of sorts. The question remains: will she be a human I care to interact with come Friday?

Husband is good. He revels in the garden, his creation. Despite the whacko weather, it is one of the best years for flowers. We'll see how the raspberries and kiwis fare as the second round of stinkbugs hatch.

Myself, I am three weeks into my sabbatical. I am working on a couple of grant proposals with potential collaborators, and fleshing out my own proposal on opioid analgesic use and diversion. I spent a week at Common ground on the Hill and wrote some flash memoir and learned to play my native American flute. I have read six books. I have made zucchini bread every week, several pies, a batch of triple-berry jam, and read in the hammock when it is cool enough and/or not raining. We have shot off fireworks and eaten ice cream most nights.

In terms of writing, some big decisions on my current project THE MINISTER'S WIFE. The stories have become too sweeping to keep this as a novel of linked stories, so it is becoming 'just' a novel. Which is fine. I have been struggling with forcing the various stories into boxes that are the wrong shape and size. It is freeing to let the stories rip. All this upheaval thanks to my wonderful instructor and classmates at Hopkins.

I usually can't write flash while in the midst of novel land, but I will have a few small non-fiction pieces coming up in Flash Fiction Chronicles and Awkward Paper Cut. Will keep you posted on those.

So what are you up to?

Peace...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

LOVE IN THE DESERT



11/22/2008
We come here to discover our origins. Outside, snow glitters to the end of the world. We join Xavier and Lucien in the concrete pod perched on the South Pole. Two years to melt and analyze ice, breathe recycled air, eat dried fish and tinned vegetables. Never going outside. I am not sure I can do this. But our grant ran out. And I love you.

2/14/2009
Years of study in musty stacks bound us together, years of long nights in the laboratory posing hypotheses that disintegrated to dust. Love for truth turned into love for each other.
Today you sketched me a rose.

5/4/2009
We perfect the mechanical thaw.

6/5/2009
We analyze the first melted ice core. One litre of potential life. We scan the water millimeter by millimeter, seeking life invisible at 10,000X.

10/9/2009
You sight it first, the fragile twisting helix. Xavier takes over, you withdraw in a sulk. We melt ice, faster.

11/11/2009
The fever melts Xavier’s eyes. We slide him out the door and onto the ice.

11/23/2009
Lucien succumbs. We keep melting ice, catalogueing nothing. The air hangs heavy.

12/5/2009
Tonight you shake me awake. “Amalie, come,” you say, your eyes like embers. You pull me to the microscope. “See?”  

The field glares white.

“Yes,” and I cry.

12/13/2009
I find you slumped over your papers, laptop humming. I remove your watch, the amber bead hanging around your neck. I pocket your wedding band.

12/20/2009
I can see the white mound of you.

12/25/2009
Without you, without the others, there is more room to breathe. I power down the microscope, the freezer, remove my jacket and boots. Later, I will open the chute. The air will liven me: ice crystals will embroider my eyelashes. I will walk into the desert, breathing at last.



My contribution to FLASHMOB2013, the international flash fiction blog carnival and contest extraordinaire. A non-competing entry, as I am one of the organizers, along with the brilliant Michelle Elvy and equally genius Christopher Allen. Over 100 authors from around the world. Check it out. Winners announced June 22. Peace...

Thursday, June 06, 2013

We WantYour 300 Words--NOW!


June 22 is International Flash Fiction Day, and to celebrate all stories short and stupendous, a few of us are hosting FLASHMOB2013, a blog carnival and contest. What you need to do to do:


1) Write a story 300 words or less (send us something that pushes boundaries;

2) Then send the following to flashmobjune22@gmail.com:

--the link to your story
--the story in the Text of the email WITHOUT your name at the top
--a brief bio
--a funky pic

3) Send us your best by JUNE 10.

Of course, there's prizes. And the judges are spectacular writers from all over the world. Read more about it at the official website: FLASHMOB2013.

So get writing. The clock is ticking.

Peace...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gray Days

Seems every day starts out gray, either veiled in fog (liked this morning) or spattering the earth with a fine mist. If I did not know better, I would swear I was in London or Seattle.

I would like Mother nature to make up her damn mind--really rain, or push the clouds east, over the ocean. The precip is not enough to do our garden much good, just enough to slicken surfaces.

The sun did break through late yesterday afternoon. I managed to find some time after dinner to suspend myself in the hammock. Closed my eyes. Listened to the birds chatter, cars drive by, lawn mower sing, children laugh, basketball thump asphalt, bull frog sing, cicadas chant. A meditation.

I had not yet seen the news, nor heard it. I did not know tornados had leveled a town in Oklahoma.

I will keep my gray days, and be grateful for a natural ferocity no greater than annoyance.

Peace...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

PICKING RHUBARB -- For My Mother

Cutting rhubarb in the rain,
the mottled leaves thick with mud
and slugs, I wonder if these plants,
robust now, will stand another
season in this shaded corner.


If not, next spring my husband
will surprise me bearing rhizomes,
and plant them so my garden
will be as my mother’s, and
her mother’s and, perhaps, all
our mothers’ before.


I’ll slice the stalks into chunks
for pie, mine has strawberries,
though she says berries ruins
the rhubarb; she makes sauce
and eats from the pot, still warm,
spoon clanking against the sides,
a smile trespassing her face.


Tendering these stalks, making the pie,
heralds me a holder of apron
strings, honoring our history
unmarked with words or trophies, and
thus, all the more important.


I wonder how my daughter
will grow her rhubarb.



My mother loves many things, but in the food world one of the things she loves most is rhubarb. I also love the tart fruit, as does my daughter (in the form of pie). Every spring I look for the leaves to emerge from the black, rotten-looking stump of a stem. When they finally pop through the earth, I think of my mom, both of us celebrating spring's arrival.

Happy Mother's Day Mom! And to all the mothers in the world.

Peace...

Friday, May 10, 2013

AFTER THE TSUNAMI

Very pleased to have my story AFTER THE TSUNAMI featured at Every Day Fiction. Please take a look. A huge thanks to Gay Degani and the rest of the good folks at Flash Fiction Chronicles for hosting the String-of-10 Contest, and Kathy Fish for selecting my story and taking time to chat with me about the story.

Peace...

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

ROW HOUSE Up @ Blue Fifth Review

Very pleased to have ROW HOUSE, a story of creation out of detritus, featured as a broadside at Blue Fifth Review. Thank you Michelle Elvy for your gentle guidance of writers' words from everywhere. Peace...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Birth Day


Celebrate!
Promises of cake
& candles
light this morn
flush with spring rain & lilac;
a lone tree frog sings.


(a shadorma to celebrate--why not?)

Peace...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chit-Chat at Flash Fiction Chronicles

Thrilled to be Interviewed by Queen of Flash Kathy Fish over at Flash Fiction Chronicles. We chat about writing small stories and the genesis of my story AFTER THE TSUNAMI, upcoming at Every Day Fiction.

Thank you Kathy for the provocative questions! Peace...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life Comes at You Like a Wave

I am trying hard not to let what happened in Boston sink me deeper, sink me to the point where I give up on the goodness of the world. On the inherent goodness of people. This latest attack on people (I won’t call them innocents—aren’t all of us innocent to some degree?) makes me want to flee. But to where? Is there a safer place to live? A saner place?

I know that the horror I felt on Monday night, watching the news unfold, will fade. The images will blur around the edges, the facts become murky, the way a pond darkens as autumn leaves fall on its surface, then sink, rotting, to the bottom.

After all, what can I recall of Newtown?

I have hardened. I don’t like this quality, but I think it is part of human hardwiring, part of the armor which lets us survive. It is how we humans are evolving. In 100 years, or sooner, we will be a species with dexterous thumbs and a missing empathy gene.

After living half a decade I can discern good from evil, hopeful from hopefulness. But my children cannot, or at least not so well, and I can only imagine how the continued onslaught of horrible and ugly and villainous and tragic affects them. It makes me wonder if the decrease in our mental health--and the increase of our drinking and drugging and gunning—is our Darwinian desire to not feel the pain. Peace...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hmmm...

It has been awhile.

I have written my Daily Poem.

I traveled to North Carolina, to visit family during the kids' spring break, and then entertained more family who came to visit us.


I returned to work, the children back to school. Back to routine, which comforts.

I managed to enjoy the warm days and cool evenings, which lightens my mood.

I heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra play its wondrous score for Fantasia seen on the screen.

I found some peace and quiet in my heart, much needed.

I breathed.

What have you been up to these past 10 days?

Peace...

Monday, April 01, 2013

If It Is the First of April

Then it must be National Poetry Month.

No fooling.

My favorite month, for what brings more joy than to read and write poems every day for a month?

Here, one of my favorites from William Carlos Williams. It reminds me that spring is coming, the earth cracks from its cold and the green spears of life will soon poke through.


THE RED WHEELBARROW

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.



So spare, so elemental, our attention drawn to a single object. This is Willams' gift--to paint a still life from an every day item using fewest words.

And now time for me to contemplate my daily poem. Every year I join the April Poem-A-Day (PAD) group over at POETIC ASIDES, the brilliant poetry Writer's Digest blog moderated by Robert Brewer. The theme today: new arrivals.

Pull up a pen, and play along. Peace...


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Randomities

Yesterday morning I ran into a friend, a woman of great wisdom whose last name I do not know. We see each other on the metro sometimes, and yesterday, as the snow dropped off branches and slid off roofs in great sloppy chunks, she recounted a snowy day two years ago. She had just left her husband, an abusive man, and her youngest son had been diagnosed with a kidney cancer that would bloom into three different cell lines. She stood on the metro platform, despairing of her life, feeling the deep indigo of depression settle in her with an inky sigh, when she noticed the tall ornamental grasses bending under the weight of snow. Each long blade, thinner than a knitting needle, carried a few inches of snow. Occasionally more snow would fall on top, and the blade would bow deeper, the snow would tumble off, and the grass would spring back upright. She told me: God never gives us more than we can take. We bend but when we go as far as we can, God releases our load. I carried this image with me all day.

I am re-writing my third person narrative in first person because Maryam feels so distant to me. I want to bury myself into her, find her essential truth, the nugget of her. She is elusive, this character, and I think it is because she is too much like myself.

For class, we are reading The English Patient. A lyrical masterpiece. If I could manage one page of Ondaatje's genius, I will die a happy writer.

I have a sabbatical coming this summer. Six months to think. To experience. To read. To ponder. I am focusing on pain and opioid medications and the thin balance between medical use and abuse. An issue I have considered for almost twenty years, starting with my dissertation. It seems forever until July 1, yet I know it will be here in a blink, and the 6 months past sooner than that.

Time is the enemy these days. If you think about it. Which I try not to.

The Spring issue of JMWW is out. I am very proud of the three pieces of fiction, gorgeous words rendered by Tara Laskowski, Nate Pritts, and Emily Kiernan. As a writer, I always feel thrilled and humbled to see my word in their home. As an editor, I feel like a midwife of sorts. Please, read--you will be moved.

Peace...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Still Quiet...

Still quiet on the internet front. Mostly because of work, which has had a lot of activity, and because of my writing course, which requires a close reading of a novel a week, plus writing assignments. And because we had a slew of fantastic submissions to read through for JMWW.

I did go to AWP in Boston, which you can read about HERE.

And I have been writing, in slow spurts, but at least I am writing.

My heart still aches, though not so much. I have hope. I remind myself that every moment is just that--a moment. It too shall pass, to be replaced by another moment.

I  know, I know... I sound very Zen these days. Mindfulness has become an anchor for me. It is what keeps the butterflies of anxiety at bay.

Spring happened, which also brings hope. What a gray, dreary winter this has been.

Peace...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Glitter Blues @ MiCrow

So very happy to have my small story GLITTER BLUES up at MICROW 8.The theme is luminous and the issue, well, is full of shiny light. A gorgeous set of pictures and words, with a cast you will recognize. A huge thank you to uber-editor Michael Solender for publishing my work.

More later. I have been off the grid, mostly because I have been at AWP. Details forthcoming. Peace...

Monday, March 04, 2013

Flash Fiction Chronicles Fifth Annual String-of-Ten Contest--We Have a Winner

And it is... ME!

That is, my short story After the Tsunami.

What a completely happy, wondrous, joy on this Monday morning! I love this contest, I have entered every year, a couple of times come up as a bridesmaid but never the bride.

Thank you Guest Judge (the incomparable) Kathy Fish, Flash Fiction Chronicles editor Gay Degani, and the rest of the folks at FFC. Peace...

Friday, March 01, 2013

Lost In Thought

So pleased to be published in this amazingly gorgeous issue of LOST IN THOUGHT. In great company with the likes of Jen Knox, Jules Archer, Tina Barry, Josh Denslow, Harley May, Michael Gilliam Maxwell, Gloria Mindock, Bud Smith, and so many others. And the art! Thank you to editors Kyle Schruder and Robert Vaughan. 

Peace...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

At The Top of Each Breath

Is a moment where air stands still, no inhalation or exhalation, a moment of golden silence.

This is the pause, the place to find yourself, to be.

Find this space.

Then, your lungs push out the air collected, you cannot stop it (the body is a beautiful thing), and your breath shudders through your blood, your skin, from head to toes, and you arrive at the bottom.

Another pause. Another moment to be.

Your lungs breathe in.

It is in these pauses I find peace.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Quiet

Life at home has needed my attention. I am not writing, barely thinking, and feeling the thrum of anxiety beat against my ribcage like some crazed bird at a window.

I'll be back... eventually. Meanwhile, carry on... think good thoughts, positive ones--fill the world with hope.

Peace...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I May Have Problems

But The Pitch isn't one of them.

CLOSER TO NORMAL makes it past the first hurdle in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

The odds are still woefully against me.

But are they?

ABNA accepted 10,000 entries in 5 genres: General Fiction, Young Adult, Romance, Mystery/Thriller, and Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror. Of these, 2000 make it through the Pitch Round, 400 in each genre (~1:5 odds). Of each 400, 100 will make it past the Quarter Finals (1:4) and into the Finals. Of the 100, there will be 5 winners (1:20).

Breaking down the odds into steps feels so much more palatable than the 1:Gazillion odds of getting read after throwing your story over the cyber transom. It's nice to have hope. Peace...

Friday, February 08, 2013

Mindful Mutterings

It. Is. What. it. Is.

That's kind of the basis of mindfulness meditation. To be in the moment, and accept it. At least, to accept it without judgement.

That's the hard part.

So I am actually taking an 8-week couirse, led by a physician who used these techniques herself when in crisis some years ago. Based on the work of Jon_Kabat-Zinn , author of Full Catastrophe Living, my course takes me through the physiology of stress and anxiety, the way the brain works in relation to stress, and ways to tackle it: yoga nidra, full-body scans, sitting in silence, breathing.

I decided to take the course when I realized I was exhausted from letting every. little. thing bother me. The half-heineyed drivers, the people with 16 items in their grocery cart, the shennanigans of my work colleagues. Most of all, I was tired of worrying about things yet to happen: whether my son gets into the high school of his choice, my daugther's battle with school cliques, my sabbatical, my health. Where we might live in the future.

I was tired of feeling like a different tiger was crouched to consume me every other minute.

I'm half-way in, but so far I have learned to pause before reacting, to breathe. And that comes in handy at 2 in the morning and all the past and future worries consume. And I have begun to realize that it does not make sense to worry about those things I cannot control; in the end, all I can control is my reaction to people and events.

And they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

So, how do you handle stress? And what's stressing you these days?

Much peace...

Friday, February 01, 2013

Riddikulus

My life. Is.

I mean, how much else can go wrong?

We pay *professionals* to install a new sink and counter, but end up with a broken hot water main. The result? The Pergo kitchen floor ruined, the downstairs sliding glass doors frozen from the waterfall, and a 2x8 hole in the finished basement ceiling. Riddikulus.

A respected peer-review journal holds our manuscript for 10 months. We beg every month for an update. The editor explains the reviewers are reviewing. We withdraw our manuscript, the data's old as last year's apples. The result? The editor comes back with minor edits. Meanwhile, we get rejected by another, lesser journal. Riddikulus.

Back to the pros. The plumber gives us a sink drainer that doesn't drain--there's no holes. Result? Home Depot and $2 later gets me one that works. Riddikulus.

Wind blusters snow this morning, the roads are covered, and slick. Last week, when there was no snow, the school system closed the schools. Result? Kids went to school but barely made it. Riddikulus.

The day job finally flows. Deadlines loom, I am one hour away from finishing and--the power goes out. Entirely. All three floors, including the President's Suite. This last Wednesday. Result? Power still out, all from some undetected leak that destroyed a major part of the electric. Riddikulus.

So what's nutso in your life?

Peace...

 



Sunday, January 27, 2013

1 of 19

From the New York Times: FDA Likely to Add Limits on Painkillers

I was 1 of 19 who voted to reschedule hydrocodone, a Schedule III prescription opioid used to treat and manage pain, to the more restrictive schedule II.


14 generic companies make 81 versions of this narcotic combination drug most know as Vicodin and as House's drug of choice. Hydrocodone is THE most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. It is supposed to be prescribed for moderate pain related to acute conditions.


I have opined about the need for prescription opioid control before. Indeed, this is a topic I have struggled with in my professional--and personal--life.

My decision came after considering close to three inches of documents, two days of scientific and public testimony, and my own experience the past twenty years studying both the under-treatment of chronic pain and the ravages of prescription drug abuse. Amidst much rhetoric and appeals to improving the education of prescribers, dispensers, and patients about this product, my decision ended up based squarely on the science.

For me, though, this was truly a Sophie's choice--there will be unintended, adverse consequences no matter how the Food and Drug Administration eventually decides. If rescheduled, restricted access for those with legitimate medical need may result in poorly managed pain; if kept in its current schedule, hydrocodone will continue to contribute to the burgeoning epidemic of opioid abuse.

This is not a new problem. Education has not worked, professional regulation has not worked, nor have the current incarnations of prescription drug monitoring programs, to curb the abuse, diversion, and deaths due to unlawful use of opioids. Upscheduling hydrocodone is no panacea, but at least it has the potential to blunt the rise of abuse and, most of all, made it tougher for our young people to access. Peace...


Sunday, January 20, 2013

LOST

No, not the way I feel, but my newest obsession. I know, you watched LOST live when it premiered eight years ago, and I remember catching parts of a few episodes, but it never quite stuck. Maybe it was the late (for me) time slot, maybe it was that then, as now, I hate shows interrupted by commercials. Maybe it was we had a crappy 19 inch Sony.

But this past summer at a yard-sale I found the entire first season DVD set, still wrapped in shiny cellophane. For a buck. So every night as a family, we watch it, never able to stop at just one episode, inhaling at least two every night.

I have pondered why I am drawn to the show. The plot twists and turns, filled with survivor-type action, as well as mysticism: monsters, the Others, the way compasses don't really point north. Fascinating characters, presented in a perfect blend of present-time action and flashbacks. These folks are FLAWED, and endearing because of their flaws. And eye candy galore, both scenery (shot in Hawaii) and, ahem, the actors themselves.

As a writer, these are all characteristics to emulate.

Last night, Boone Carlyle died. He is, er was, my favorite character. A callow, privileged youth, hobbled by his infatuation with his step-sister. I like him, he reminds me of Ben, one of my own callow young male characters. My daughter and I wept, at the loss of our favorite character, at the sacrifice the island demanded of him, of Locke's duplicity, at the unfairness of it all. Tonight, perhaps we will discover why the window  to the hatch found deep in the jungle began to glow, whether the Others will come out and play, find why those blasted numbers--4 8 15 16 23 48--are part of the hatch's structure, and what they mean.

Thank God huluplus has the remaining seasons!

Peace...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I've Always Wanted to be a Surgeon

Which is probably why revising stories is my favorite part of writing. First drafts typically make me tremble in fear--the page daunts, the characters not fully gelled (if at all), the infinite possibilities. So many choices can deaden the process.

But after the first rush of story is laid down, the fun begins. The first revision stage involves building up--fleshing out the character, filling in plot and story gaps, developing the environment. Sometimes characters are added, as are new scenes. The first revision of a novel is the longest time I spent with any revision--sometimes years--more than the initial draft.

I then let the story marinate.

The second revision stage involves subtractions--killing my darlings, including characters who don't do double-duty, the endless scenes in coffee shops, dialogue which takes up space but which does not fill. The second revision,and many of the revisions after, are often bloody, and it is this part of revision which scares and fascinates me so. I feel a bit in awe when my characters and chapters lie bleeding on the floor.

The story then marinates, again.

But this stage also involves a more important piece, and that is the revisioning of the story: how it should look and feel. Once again, the possibilities are endless, including changing POVs, tense, voice, era. Often, the second revision stage entails rewriting, if not the entire story, then large chunks.

The final revision is when I polish, when I work the sentences and word choice, the epigraphs, remove tics and tags and redundancies. I shine my apple to a high polish.

Like all good things in life, writing (especially novels) takes a lot of time. I recently undertook a challenge with a colleague to polish our first novels. We had a deadline, part self-imposed, part real, which essentially gave us a month that spanned the holiday 'break'. I had not revisited my story for almost a year, even though I began writing this story January 2, 1996. (Seven is an auspicious number).

We read each other's work, provided extensive critique, absorbed, and revised. She provided the key as to why one of my two protagonists didn't work--the voice (always the voice) and the reason: the narrative distance was unclear, which made the audience muddy.

I spent 2 weeks revising her voice, coming close but falling short, and then in the thick of it i received some input from an editor in the small press business, who echoed what another agent in the biz told me over a year ago, when I placed CLOSER TO NORMAL into marination: tell the story from one POV.

In once week, I revisioned my story to Ben's POV. It is a leaner, more elegant story, and one that certainly places you in his head. Removing Phoebe required losing 25,000 words, several plotlines, and her voice, sweet but overridden by Ben's charisma.

The story is submitted. It also is marinating, again, for now I cannot shake Phoebe, she's a little pissed she's relegated to supporting role. When she screams loud enough, I'll pull her and story out of marination, and revision, again.

Peace...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

So Much to Say...

I want to talk about reviving my first novel and totally hacking out one of my two POVs... and about this issue of narrative distance and how important it is to *know* when establishing voice... and LOST, the television show we're watching and how fantabulous the scripting and characters and acting are... (yeah, I know, you watched it six years ago but I'm always behind the ball, and I never read NYT best-sellers until they're bumped off the list)... and the winter issue of Winter Issue of JMWW, which is phenomenal... and the mindfulness meditation course I'm taking and how excited I am about FINALLY doing this program... and how I'm totally grooving on my children and their little passions... and gorge, which is a raucous and bawdy and hilarious novel told in stories by amazing writers like Robert Vaughn, Gay Degani, Meg Tuite, Gill Hoffs, Susan tepper, and oodles of others, even MOI, and edited by the intrepid Matt Potter... and Kurt Cobain was a very good person, a gentle soul, and his music haunts me... the rash of assaults on my campus, it's the economy, stupid... and class starts up again in two weeks and I'm excited because this professor is sooooooo excellent and we'll read eight or nine novels and DISSECT them for form and structure, EXACTLY what I need right now... I really want to talk about all this stuff, a lot, but... I'm out of time, on deadline with a novel and I must, must, must get revisions done so I can start to submit this baby, again.

Peace...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Seven Year Itch

Hard to believe I've been writing seven years. I remember feeling this urge, a compulsion, to write about someone named Benjamin Michael and all his unnamed troubles seven years ago today. Back then, I thought I was, like my protagnist, insane. Later I found out it was merely the muse grabbing me by my female balls and handing me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

I had dinner tonight with friends. Three of us, all artists, spoke about how we often felt we had no choice in creating--the creation chose us, we served to channel something greater than ourselves. The energy one feels while in the flow is remarkable, miraculous, and once touched you always want it. The elusivity of the muse is one thing that spurs me on to write, the desire to be consumed by its gift, for most of the time creating feels a futile task, one word marching before the next. Creation at times feels like duty, an onerous task.

I feel grateful writing chose me. I feel thankful for the inspiration, for the dreams and ideas that spawn Benjamin Michael and all my other characters and their worlds. Mostly, though, I am thankful for all of you who read my words, for without an audience, a writer is but a lone tree falling in a desolate forest.

Peace...