Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolved... No Resolutions

Why argue with the inevitability of failure?

Rather, embrace what works and ignore the rest.

And THAT is my credo for 2010.



What would the end of December be without the obligatory 'got-done' list of the year? Here's mine...

Golden handcuffs... aka tenure. Yippee!

The Writing... This year I decided to write through the cruddy economy, focus instead on craft rather than continue the futile game of 'find an agent'. I learned so much from incredible writers and teachers: Rachel Kadish (Lesley University), Katherine Taylor (Gotham), Jordan Rosenfeld, and Peter Selgin (Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions). End result -- lots of words churned:

--52 poems (7 accepted for publication)
--17 flashes (6 published)
--1 'real' short story (GONE, forthcoming in 2010 in Harbinger*33)
--77k worth of PURE.
--Not to mention 94 blog posts.

The Reading... Read 39 novels, 5 memoirs, and a lot of print and e-zine stuff (The Sun, Bellevue Review, Ploughshares, Every Day Fiction/Poetry). In the end, life got in the way of reading and reviewing all 12 debut novels published by independent presses. Got 2/3rds through, but what fabulous reads -- see sidebar. I'll continue reviewing books, focusing on independent presses, throughout 2010.

The best stuff though? Really? Amazing flash fiction and poetry by writers flying (undeservedly) under the radar. Check out #fridayflash on twitter and follow the urls for super short reads. Or check out the blogs of My Fellow Crazies.


THANK YOU for hanging here with me and my words. May the best continue to come. Peace, Linda

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Loneliest Tree

Once, high on a golden hill, lived the smallest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the littlest fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the littlest fir tree was lonelier than ever.


One Spring day, a wren chose to nest in the smallest fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the firs.

“There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and healthy and green.”

He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

“So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

“Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”


That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. Afterwards, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the littlest fir tree and told stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One day, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said.

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

The leaves of the forest Maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The man came to the orchard, but always alone; the littlest fir tree missed the boy’s visits. On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard, still alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and soon, the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk autumnal air. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The littlest fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.


The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the littlest fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.


Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his brothers and sisters, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

“This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The littlest fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the axe’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

“And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

“Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. He hugged the littlest fir tree, and icicles tinkled to the ground.


Happy Holy Days. Peace, Linda

Friday, December 18, 2009

Silver Bullet

I sit in back, behind your sycophants. Schizophrenic mouse brain cross-sections fill the projection screen. Your nasal drone bores me, so I surf the net. Of course, I know these data -- this is my work of which you talk.

Spit gathers in my mouth. But I close my eyes so I do not have to see your white hairy face, and breathe deep: Truth is virtue.

You cannot steal my energy.

When I open my eyes you are small again. I boot-up my laptop. Headlines flash on tweetdeck.

Stocks up at bell’s open.
Explosion at Afghan prison kills 9.
Lockdown @ V-Tech - gunman still at large.

I click. The url takes me to Blacksburg, a place I do not know. But I do know this school, this Virginia Tech. Two cousins went there, long ago. Now they teach in Cali.

“Compound J-23 induces glial cell regeneration.” You point the laser at the dendrite’s pink-stained branches. “In other words, my compound rebuilds the brain’s hardwiring!”

Our compound.

“The dual efficacy of J-23, so novel among antipsychotic agents, is why the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have funded my work.”

Three students down.
Professor dies in classroom.

The silk bow-tie flaps around your fatty neck, gobble-gobble like a turkey. Your hypocrisy at the seat of truth nauseates me. I turn back to the news, imagine you cowering behind your desk, shitting your pants in fear, and smile.

“J-23 is a perfect silver bullet for refractory schizophrenia,” you say. “As well, as you can see in these tables, it also reduces symptoms of mania and anxiety.”

Chairman Professor, you fail to mention the serious side effect. But I know you will not. Not while I sit before you. I reach into my backpack, to make sure. Yes, yes, my dissertation is still here. I am proud of my work, it is a contribution to the field, but you refuse to sign. You do not tell me why you refuse.

At first, I believe you refuse because you think I am stupid. You think all of us Chinese not so smart because we hesitate before we speak. We know because when you talk to us, your voice gets loud and you enunciate every syllable. We only wish to be precise – it is Chinese nature.

Now I think you refuse because of that night last year. I worked late, past midnight, we had a grant proposal to submit. You came in from a dinner, surprising me.

“We could be such a team,” you whispered, your liquor breath hot on my neck. You pressed me against the bench. When I struggled, you covered my mouth with your hand. I closed my eyes when you unzipped my pants. You did not forgive me when I cried afterwards.

“We do not air our laundry,” you said before leaving me on the cold floor. The next day I switched advisors. You did not forgive me that either.

3 professors, 13 students dead in engineering hall
Multiple shooters feared

You disgust me. I click on the blog, the one I made in case you refuse me again. It is linked to a sham account no one can trace to me. One post holds three pages. My experiment, the one where six mice treated with J-23 bit and clawed each other to death. You left that part out of the grant proposals. You know of this finding, your name is on the report. Scanners make so much easy.

Now, I am finished my work. I am to become Doctor of Philosophy, just like you. But you do not sign the papers. Because of you, I do not graduate, do not accept post-doc. I lose visa and now, I will return to Guizhou Province to teach biology to children. All these years, a waste.

I feel the hotness in my head, behind my eyes. I close the blog and stare at the news.

Gunman shoots self
Shooter identified, sophomore student Cho

Cho. Korean. Stupid, he should know violence is not the way of justice. He gives us Asians a bad name.

You stop talking. The students pack away their computers. I wait until everyone leaves. Then, I go to the front, to you. I bring my dissertation. You look up from the podium. Your jaw hardens.

“Yes?” you say.

“Please, Professor, sign off on my thesis,” I say.

You shake your head. “Fatal flaw.”

Hypocrite. You never read my work. You should, it is about our compound. But you refuse to read at your peril.

“Data limitation,” I reply softly. “It is good research.”

“We have a level of excellence to maintain.” You close your book and walk away.

My breath heaves in my chest. I walk to the back desk. The hotness returns. This time, I let the tears come. When my eyes dry, I click on the blog. It takes a second to paste the url into tweetdeck, a few more to address the link: @NSF, @NIH, @reuters, @AP, @googlenews, @Fox.

I push update.


As described HERE, I am participating in the DZANC Book Write-a-Thon to raise awareness and funds for all the great work this small independent press does for emerging writers and young people's writing groups. If you believe in their mission, please help out and CLICK HERE AND DONATE UNDER MY NAME - Linda Wastila.

The above very experimental fridayflash was written for this effort in response to this prompt:

For purposes of the write-a-thon, we'd like to have everyone write a piece - a poem, short story, nonfiction, memoir, etc - where some bit of news that a character has come across via the reports on the internet affects the events of a particular story. This can be the major motivating focus of a piece - a character hears about starving children in Kenya and decides to fly off to work for Doctors without Borders - or some minor thing - a news report of a fire working as a metaphor or motif within the piece.

Please give generously. I'll be raffling off a copy of LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES (Peter Selgin, Dzanc Books) top everyone who drops some change.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part Deux: The Dzanc Write-a-Thon

I started off this year challenging you to put your money where your mouth is and read debut books published by independent presses. I walked my talk and bought, read, and reviewed 9 debut indy-pubbed books here on my wee bloggo. Along the way, I read some fascinating books, corresponded with authors and editors, discovered some super small presses, and, hopefully, helped a few readers connect with writers flying (undeservedly) under the radar of the mainstream press.

When my father entered hospice, I kind of petered out on the reading end of things. Did a lot of writing, though -- much cheaper than therapy and fewer side effects than Prozac and Ativan. Now there's a perfect opportunity to combine two things I love best: write like a maniac and help out others.

About the Cause: I love Dzanc. Not only do they put out fabulous books, but they also have heart -- they care about emerging writers, literacy, and the world we write in and read about. Dzanc Books is a non-profit organization, established to not only publish great books, but to work nationally in set communities to provide writing workshops and year round programs for students and adults alike. These programs include the Dzanc Writer in Residence Programs, The Dzanc Prize, and the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions.

How It Works: The Dzanc Write-a-Thon is like any other a-thons you've supported or participated in your lifetime, only with writing being the catalyst to the raising of buckolas. On Friday, I'll catharse my response to a prompt provided by Dzanc for the day's #fridayflash. Your job? Donate whatever you can -- a dollar, five dollars, ten dollars, whatever you can spare. You can drop your change HERE Just click on my name. And let me know if you've contributed -- I'll raffle off a copy of Peter Selgin's LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES.

Peace, Linda

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stuff Those Stockings!

There's still some time to boost this year's economy, and what better way than buying a book for your favorite curmudgeon -- or yourself. Here's my top ten picks published this year.

Indy Debut Fiction
--Peter Selgin marries schizophrenia, filmography, and the detritus of Vietnam in my personal favorite novel of the year: Life Goes to the Movies (Dzanc Books)

--A moving story of race and poverty in the deep South: Mudbound (Hillary Jordan; Algonquin Books)

--A coming-of-age story like no other, Holden Caulfield meets James Frey All about Lulu (Jonathan Evison, Soft Skull Press)

--Family dysfunction in upper class New England, belly-aching funny mixed with a good dose of tears Apologize, Apologize! (Elizabeth Kelly, Twelve)

Other Notable Fiction
--Await Your Reply (Dan Chaon). Amazing story about identity and loss and love and life. Amazing.

--Beautiful Children (Charles Bock). The underbelly of Las Vegas. Also a debut novel, one that makes my socks curl with envy.

--What happens when an anthologist and a photographer infiltrate the heroin-using society that lives under the freeway ramps of San Francisco? A riveting narrative about the daily struggles of our invisible citizens: Righteous Dopefiend (Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg, University of California Press)

--Michael Greenberg's story about the summer of his daughter's psychotic break is pure poetry in motion: Hurry Down Sunshine (The Other Press)

--The amazing thing about Stephen Elliott's story is that it's true: The Adderall Diaries

Fabulous and Free
--Fabulous flash fiction -- download it for free. Read my story -- DEFECTION -- and the other 49 smashing tales: Flash Fiction 40


A heartfelt thanks to all of you for your support and kindness these past few weeks. Your words floated me more than you will ever realize. Peace, Linda

Thursday, December 10, 2009

End of the Line - #fridayflash

Eyes twitching from the wipers smearing snowflakes on the windshield, I leaned forward, following the head beams piercing a path through the dusk. At last I saw the mailbox marking our property. My economy rental turned up the gravel drive toward the antique farmhouse, pale against the mountain’s shadow.

Mrs. Snyder stood silhouetted at the front storm door. I imagined her arms draped across her ample girth, foot tapping on the pine-planked floor at my late arrival.

My boots crunched over ice-glossed snow covering the unshoveled walk. She creaked open the glass door, lips downturned. After months of her services I still forgot her first name. She looked like an Edith.

“He’s napping, Phoebe,” she said. Coat already on, she wound her neck with a fluff of purple acrylic. “I fed him an hour ago – meatloaf, baked potato, fruit cup. Notes are on the kitchen counter. See you Sunday. At four.”

Without waiting for a response, she lifted her roll-away and never-ending bag of yarn and bolted into the same snow-squalling dark in which I’d arrived. My thank you evaporated in the air.

I locked the heavy oak door behind her, then leaned against it. God, give me strength, I murmured. Help me get through this weekend.

The house smelled sour, like mothballs intermingled with sweat. The ponderous ticking of the grandfather clock trailed me down the photograph-lined hall leading to the den. I paused, as I always did, to view my life: pictures of me with Mom before she died: in the kitchen up to our elbows in flour, in the garden picking flowers, on her lap at Christmas. And the photos afterwards, the ones of me draped in baby-blue satin prom dresses, in mortarboards and gowns clutching sheepskins, me with Ben, disheveled but ecstatic after hiking the Presidential Range. I touched the smudged glass where our hands locked, then sighed.

The wood stove crackled and hissed. Daddy dozed in his easy chair, a fuzzy gold afghan covering his knees, one of Mrs. Snyder’s projects. He looked younger than his 64 years, at peace, not so tormented. Newspapers littered the floor around his chair, one folded back to the crossword puzzle, only a few answers penciled in. He used to be so good with words.

I collapsed on the couch and flipped through an old Yankee Magazine. The Great Ice Storm, Yankee Swopper, Cranberry Recipes, Soothe Your Colicky Baby. I stared at the pink-tinted cheeks of the plump infant who seemed to be smiling right at me. Oh God, babies everywhere, even here. I dropped the magazine to the floor.

Even though I knew it was only thirty year-old hormones fueling my baby obsession, the knowledge didn’t make the pain any easier. Trips to the grocery store tortured me; it seemed every woman had a child in tow. Even at work, parents pushing babies in strollers filled the hospital halls. But for now, Daddy was my infant, overgrown, needy and querulous. Weekends, when I returned home, I did as any mother did -- ate when he ate and slept when he slept. Thank God I didn’t have to diaper him, although that was only a matter of time; the course of his disease was relentlessly certain.

My stomach gurgled. I should eat, review Mrs. Snyder’s notes, haul my bags upstairs and unpack before he woke. I should call Kevin, let him know I’d arrived safely. Then again, I’d probably end up harping at him over his huge screw-up this morning in the OR, and I didn’t have the energy. I should do many things, but I was so blasted tired. I pulled the corduroy pillow under my head and stretched along the plaid sofa. For just a few minutes.

The baby from the magazine floated in my mind, reminding me of my dream, the one where I stand before an open door, infant in my arms, calico cat swirling around my ankles, green smudged against a band of purple rising on the horizon. In the dream, the sun always shines on us, a single focused beam, like a spotlight in a play. I often wondered: what was I looking at? Who was I waiting for? I grasped at clues – the cat, the mountains, the sunny open door – hoping they were portents of my future because I always felt so calm when I awoke.

The memory of the dream trailed me into half-sleep, projecting itself onto the hallway gallery documenting me and my past, my Mom, my… there were no pictures of Daddy. Not a single one. Because he was always the person who took the pictures.

The grief erupted hard and without warning. I crammed my face into the pillow to muffle my crying. After Daddy stopped being Daddy, there were no tangible reminders of his existence. I was the end of our line.

And I could not bear that thought.


Excerpted from PURE, a novel under construction.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nobody Solves a Problem Like Maria

Maria Schneider, that is. Head Honcho and founder of EDITOR UNLEASHED, the coolest watering hole for writers this side of the planet, Maria actually cheers when someone hands her lemons.

Because, you see, Maria is a creator -- of words, ideas, and paradigms. And those lemons are just another tool to her.

Maria is a dynamo, creating a new website for writers, launching her digitial platforms and dragging her readers (many of us screaming) with her. She's exposed us to agents and editors, slush piles and contests, twibes and tweets, doling our cupcakes along the way. But most of all, Maria has shared herself in a very human way.

Maria granted me my first 'break' as a writer -- she named this blog as one of 20 'writing blogs to watch' on her Project 20/20 Blogroll, back in the days when she headed the helm of Writers' Digest. Since then, our paths have crossed often, and I appreciate her grace and generosity -- with me, and with other writers.

My writing buddy John Towler says it best...

"Maria is that rare soul that has risen to the top of her profession, yet still makes time for all those struggling up the ladder. I am grateful for all she gives back to the writing community and particularly for her kind words which have inspired me during times of doubt."


We appreciate everything you do, Maria. Keep rocking our world. Peace, Linda and John

(And please sign the guestbook)

Friday, December 04, 2009

His Name Was Bill

Too much work. Too many patients to keep track of. Three still in Infusion to see now, Number 72 first. Sure could use a coffee, something to eat, but that new nurse keeps paging me. So I’m late? Everyone here in the hospital is late. Not my fault they called a staff meeting for nine this morning just to announce furloughs. Won’t change a thing for me – as long as Jensen Martell keeps throwing money at us to do trials of their wonder drug, I’ll be hustling these floors.

Waiting room’s packed. Two cops are guarding the bathroom door. Must be felon treatment day. Prisoners get cancer too, and since we’re a state hospital, we get them all.

At reception, the patient charts are stacked in piles all over the desk. In no particular order. I pull Number 72’s chart. Where’s the damn clerk – off to lunch? Why does she get to eat?

Patients fill all the seats in the main room, two surrounded by police. They’re sipping Hawaiian Punch and watching Jerry Springer on the television. Chemo day must be like vacation for them. One of the patients is in leg chains. I don’t find Number 72 in the other, smaller infusion rooms. He’s been in the trial for nine weeks. It surprises me he’s lasted this long. Tough old guy, wish I could remember his name.

I open the chart, it’s at least 2 inches thick. Where’s his CAT scan? I need the damn scan.

I head back to reception. Number 72’s head scan is lying on the desk. She hasn’t even put it in the chart . I wonder what else is missing? His bloods? Urine? Nope, they’re all there.

I throw the CAT scan against the light box. White lines of the skull and jawbone show up clean and sharp on the right side; the left side is a black hole. Not good. Not good at all. Jensen Martell will not be happy their silver bullet’s tarnished, at least in this population. I may have to terminate the trial, this regimen just isn’t working. And that means I can’t hire a medical fellow for next year.


A nurse rushes past, carrying a tray of syringes, gloves, and tape. The ID hanging around her neck tells me her name is Marge.

“Where’s number 72?” I ask.

Marge looks at me blankly, then juts her chin towards the main room.

The third prisoner’s back from the restroom. Six cops line the wall, guns holstered. I find my patient in the fourth chair, the one in the corner by the window. He’s sitting upright, not leaning into the seat. His hands cradle his knee caps. Today a woman is with him, too young for his wife, probably a daughter. I’ve seen her before, too.

I pull the curtain and the rings rattle along the rod. Number 72 startles, his eyes look up, scared. Hers do, too. There’s no stool to pull up, she offers her seat but I wave her down.

“I have your cat scan results,” I say. He nods, almost imperceptibly.

“The tumor’s grown,” I say. “There’s mets to the lung and a blotch on your lymph node, under the ear. You know what this means?”

He nods. His daughter reaches out for his hand and squeezes it. He grasps her fingers hard.

“You can’t continue with the trial,” I continue. “The nurse will come in a few minutes to tell you about your palliative care options. We offer hospice, you know. And if you need to see a social worker, we can arrange for that.”

My stomach gurgles. I glance at my watch. If I hurry I can get to the cafeteria before they close.

“Any questions?”

“Daddy?” she asks. “Any questions?”

He grunts something unintelligible. She leans toward him but he grips the sides of the arm chair and tries to push up. When the daughter reaches behind his back, he shoots her a defiant look. She steps back towards the window. He tries again. I wonder if they have grilled chicken today, remember I need to pick up Ellie from ballet class on the way home. On the third try, he finally stands, swaying in front of the chair. His right arm trembles toward me.

Number 72 has a surprisingly firm hand shake even though the bones themselves are so frail they could snap if I grasped harder.

“Thank you,” he says. He collapses back into the chair. Sweat beads his forehead.

“You’re welcome,” I say.

I open the curtain. The cops and robbers are still there. Behind me, the woman cries softly. I pause; four minutes before the salad bar closes. Marge the nurse enters the curtained room. I walk to reception, lay the chart on the pile. The elevator whisks me down to the main floor.

“Bill,” I say out loud. “His name was Bill.”


I wrote this last night. Shortly after posting, my father, the patient in this story, passed away after a year-long struggle with a sinus cancer. I will miss him...

Peace, Linda

Monday, November 30, 2009

What I have learned this past week...

--Making up a hospital bed with a terminally ill person lying in it is a science

--Managing pain is an art

--Writing 50,000 words in one month is easy

--Writing 50,000 words worth their paper is not

--Eating meatballs and spaghetti on Thanksgiving Day is amazingly satisfying

--Most of my greatest friends I have never met

--My children are capable of accepting sadness and death

--My father is the strongest person I have ever met, aside from my mother.


The Writing... I 'won' NaNoWriMo on Day 29. This year, I was fussier with my words, not satisfied with 'filler'. I'll detail the process later, and how I dealt with slow periods (I refuse to call them blocks), but first I want to read through the 152 pages (!) I wrote these past 30 days. Now, Clayton Pettigrew calls me, perhaps because North Carolina inspired this particular character and I have spent so much time in that state. Several contests and submissions to send in, after receiving my fair share of rejections...

The Reading... I've given up on GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, it's just too intense for me to read right now. I'll return to it after the New Year. Now, in the thick of PEOPLE OF THE BOOK which is stunning in its structure and evocative retelling of history.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Kodacolor Moment

My eyes land on the photo: the two of us at Nantucket harbor, the sunset glowing behind us, a gaudy Mai Tai, while I stare into the camera, serious as the wind whips my hair, but he looks at me, eyes soft, mouth curved in a small smile. I pull the picture from its Lucite frame, gaze at it nestled in my opened hands, and tear it; the rip cleaves his face in two, a jag of white interrupts his smiling mouth, but then I shred the pieces in half again, and again, until my hand fills with ragged-edged papers. For a reason unfathomable to me, I blow; the soft shards float in the air like dandelion seeds parachuting on a gentle spring breeze, scattering and drifting downward, covering the bed, my slippers, the cracks between floor boards, scores of pieces reflecting his hair and mouth and shirt and hands and eyes. I fall on my knees, scramble to pick them up, but the small bits hover in the invisible drafts created by my outstretched hands, eluding me.

God, he’ll always be with me.

I sob again.

Excerpted from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. A similar version appeared in Six Sentences, Volume I, 2008.

Peace, Linda

[Don't mind me, I'm a Technorati verification tag SFKHCCNQP63W ]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I Write

I sit here in the near dark, and wonder: why is it I pound away at the keyboard, creating scenes about people who never existed but in my imagination and my heart? What compels me to pour word after word on a blank computer page, even as my father's labored breathing fills the room, seems to tremble around me in time with my own pulse? I look up only when his noises stop, my body clutching at the sudden silence -- is this it? And after his breaths resume, it seems to me so pointless to write, there are so many reasons not to, especially now, when every second should be savored, remembered, never forgotten.

I write for many reasons: for joy of the word, the love of my imagination, to share stories, to make truths, to discover myself, to make meaning of an incoherent world, but now, late this night, I write madly because the sheer motion of putting down the words is the only act within my control.

Peace, Linda

Thursday, November 19, 2009

High Flyer

My very atoms vibrate: from caffeine, from sleep deprivation, from the constant moving forward. From erratic consumption of my mood regulators. But my mind is sharp, focused; my dreams, Technicolor wonders. Everything I touch explodes from this magical sub-cellular energy surging within me. When I press on the closed hollow-wood door to my shrink's office, it flies open with a bang, the knob gouging the plaster wall. He sits at his desk, the room dim but for the green glow of a single lamp, head bowed, not noticing my tumult.


Originally published in Six Sentences, Volume I, 2008. Excerpted from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT.

Prayers today to: John, Franklin, Tracie, and so many others.

Peace, Linda

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Outlines, Like Rules, are Made to be Broken

Today marks the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month. Word count-wise, I'm about a day ahead of myself. Every night, before I fall asleep, I review the scene I wrote earlier, then look at my synopsis to see where I'm heading the next day. I sleep, hoping my subconscious kicks into gear while I sleep and the morning will bring brilliance in abundance.

Making an outline ahead of time keeps me on track -- sort of. But a funny thing keeps happening along the way to the end of my scenes -- new characters invent themselves. Very bossy folks, these new supporting cast members include Victor and Nayla Borenchenko, disabled scientists who defected Russia, and Jeremy, a glassblower with a drug habit. So the middle is a muddle, but I see the way out of the crazy maze I've weaved. And I'm having a blast.


Good friend John Towler, writing group buddy from the Nudge-Nudge Collective, and friends Greta Igl, Stephen Book, and Jane Banning, have released 30 Days, 30 Writes, a chapbook of short prose and poetry created last April in response to daily prompts. You can download the free pdf, or purchase the print copy. Treat yourself to some excellent reads.

Another friend, fellow fridayflasher and Harbinger John Wiswell from The Bathroom Monologues, faces surgery this Friday. He's suffers from a life-long neuromuscular condition and because of his per-existing condition, is unable to obtain health insurance. But rather than ventilate about the general suckiness of our health care system, I ask you to dig into your pockets and jiggle up some change to help him pay for his procedure. Please support a great person and writer by donating whatever you can. You can read more and support him HERE.

Write hard, dig deep, appreciate every minute... Peace, Linda

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pharming - #fridayflash

The small room reeks; yellow urine puddles by the john, streamers of toilet paper and clods of crap circle slowly in the bowl. I do my thing, then cling to the sink as white and grey dots skitter across my open eyes. A hot, heavy fullness bubbles up my throat; an urge to vomit up all the chemicals strikes me, but I swallow it down, blast the faucet and splash myself with water. Bloodshot eyes stare back from the glittering glass, the green of iris obscured by vacant, opaque cisterns. I shake my head, but nothing changes; the stranger gazes back at me. Someone bangs on the door, so I turn from the sink, stagger back to the ballroom.


(A rerun, originally published in Six Sentences: Volume 1, 2008, and an excerpt from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT)

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Future is Here

Have you ever prepared yourself for some future event -- a marriage, a birth, the completion of a doctoral degree -- and the date seemed unreachable, the journey neverending? You dream about the culmination, prepare for the emotional and physical and spritual aftermaths when 'it' is attained. Then, suddenly, that impossibly faraway intangible is here. Now. And you wonder -- when did the future catch up with today?

A hospital bed was delivered to my father yesterday. The future has grabbed a toe-hold...


The Writing... If it's November it must be NaNoWriMo. As of day 10, I have amassed 18,452 words, all told in Ben's voice (or some facsimile). Even though I used a fairly detailed outline to knock out significant scenes, of course I followed some unpredicted tangents, resulting in the creation of two new characters, including Nayla, a animal lab tech with a prosthetic leg, and her husband, brilliant neuroscientist Victor Borenchenko, both defected from Russia. But I've had the most fun with antagonist Stanley Minkenstein, the shrink running the clinical trials. Here, an unexpurgated excerpt from the weekly staff meeting:

"Um, wait folks," Stan said over the murmur. "One more thing."

The room quieted.

"You kiddos read this?" He held up the print copy of the The Chronicle of Higher Education. No one nodded. "Well, do peruse this fine rag. A lot of folks think it's just about literature and political science and all those other soft pansy disciplines the academy's unduly fond of. But The Chronicle also provides insight into the culture and politics of academic science. So please -- educate yourselves. You can learn a lot about how to advance your career -- and how not to. For instance, take a lesson from these idiots."

He waved the paper over his head before sliding it across the table. It landed in front of me. I peered at the headline. "Postdocs blog their disgruntlement over ivory tower abuses."

Stan stared at me hard over the heads of the exiting students. "Never, ever crap where you're fed."

The Reading... Who has time to read? I'm too busy writing. Actually, still plugging away at GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, as well as Richard Russo's EMPIRE FALLS and Geraldine Brook's PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

I know, I know -- I've not posted a debut author from an Indie press review since September. In part, real busy. In part, the two books I purchased were pretty awful and I couldn't finish them. In part, life's really been socking it to me, so...

Write hard, live harder... Peace, Linda

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bookends of a Life: II

Only the steady thump-thump of the hissing machine, valves pressing and depressing against your will, remind me you are here. Like you, I dress in white; like you, many patients call me angel and I guess I am, administering to their wounds and sighs and bedpans and now, ministering to you, embellishing the chart with your vitals, watching you waste to a shrunken, wheezing vessel. The clacking ventilator reminds me of the ice cubes rattling in your highball the nights I nagged you to stop, your hands jittering between the glass and the cigarette, but your yellowed fingers stabbed and twisted the butt into ashes, proving you did not love me - enough. You moan and turn your withered face to the weak gasp of winter sun bullying its way through the window. It’s only a matter of time, I rationalize, and fiddle with the tubing, adjusting the flow. The morphine races down to the catheter in your wrist and I wonder: Mama, did I love you enough?

Originally published in 6S: Volume 2, 2009.

Peace, Linda

Sunday, November 01, 2009

And They're Off...

This morning marked the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I was up (per usual) at 5:30, suffering from a Babe Ruth-Butterfinger-Twix hangover. It was slow going - I've been in deep edit mode, and in deep edit mode with another character who 'speaks' in present tense - but I managed to churn out ~1,100 words and will work again tonight.

I'm better prepared this year than last - a scene-by-scene outline, considerable pre-writing around my characters, and a new notebook to keep notes. I'll preface every writing session with a 5 minute longhand 'dump' session to get in the mood of my tasked scene. My gameplan? Ten days per character. I'll spend through November 10 focusing on Ben, then switch gears to Kevin (which nicely dovetails with my GOTHAM class submission due date for that character), and wrap up with Phoebe scenes. Of course, I anticipate tangents galore, but it feels good going in with a map.

Looking forward to the luxury of focusing on PURE. A whole 30 days. I'll be posting excerpts, updates, and #fridayflashes.

Write hard, live harder. Peace, Linda

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bookends of a Life: I

Do I love you enough? You, the aftereffect of endless appointments and near-daily blood sticks, the needles’ cross-hatches marking me a junkie of sorts; the disappointment of every failed implant only fueled my appetite for the next humiliating procedure under the tented sheet, legs parted wider than the jaws of life. You, my quarter-million dollar princess; you, whom I desired more than my soul, my marriage; you, who for years existed but in fantasy: your warm baby-powder body snuggling against my breast, lazy afternoons playing peek-a-boo in Indian summer leaves, the scent of your milk-stained breath… Now, your red face agonizes confusion, wanting food, wanting sleep, wanting, always wanting, your selfish wail pervades, your needy blue eyes follow; I can’t shower, can’t piss without you clinging to me. You have transformed me into an aimless, sleepless wraith pacing the endless hall and all I want is to slam you against the wall or hand you to a stranger, perhaps the woman who gazed longingly at you in the park, but I keep pat-patting, trying to get you to burp into the disgusting white flannel draped over my shoulder, my snotty badge of motherhood. Isn’t this proof enough of my love?


Bookends come in pairs, so look for the other one next Friday. Prepping for NaNoWriMo and my writing class, so this week's a rerun, originally published in 6S: Volume 2, 2009.

Peace, Linda

Monday, October 26, 2009

Leaves Whisper...

Writing a chunk of PURE, I realize I am writing in parallel time. In my story, it is October, in a book-filled cabin nestled high on a New Hampshire mountain, and Ben is finding his truths and pondering the decisions he needs to make. I walk and the wind whips up the ochre and crimson and gold leaves, and they eddy around my feet and I feel Ben.

I feel passings as well. Autumn conjures in me a melancholy...

The Reading... Still immersed in GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Also close to finishing my October debut novel pick (I'm late, I know); it's a story that's taken me some time to get into. Have 3-4 other books in various nooks and crannies of my home/car/office, as well as reading BELLEVUE LITERARY and POETS and WRITERS. Good stuff...

The Writing... Focusing on PURE, preparing for the insanity that is National Novel Writing Month. But I've worked on several short stories, a poem, and even futzing with BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. Speaking of, this week I received a handwritten (!) postcard from one of my favorite Indy presses politely passing on BTB along with a reason why. Somehow this rejection made me feel good; perhaps it was that someone: 1/ read it; 2/ bothered to write me 18 months after I'd submitted (and their website is clear they don't respond unless interested); and 3/ they used their stamp. So.

I'll be scarce for the next month. Life, writing... both so time consuming.

Live well, write well, be true to your heart. Peace, Linda

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Survivor - #fridayflash

Another Thursday night.

She usually looked forward to sharing the next hour with her husband, but tonight she felt weary. Leaning on the table, she pushed away her half-eaten Stouffer’s lasagna and pulled herself up. Wavering over her walker, she adjusted the dial on the portable oxygen tank to highest flow.

The walk across the kitchen seemed interminable. She paused at the counter and gathered the supplies. The cans rattled against the metal basket. At the living room entrance, she rested again. The carpet slowed her down; it always did. She adjusted her nasal cannula. After a few breaths, she shambled the last steps to the Lazy Boy.

Her husband’s white hair always shocked her; once, it had been jet black. But she loved the feel of it now; spun silver soft as the Lamb’s Ear edging the front walk. He slumped in the chair, washrag pressed against the side of his face where the tumor had eaten into his jaw bone. A good man, an obliging patient, his tee shirt was already rolled up to his chest.

“Dinner time.” She tried to sound chipper.

He grunted, nodded his head, but didn’t look at her.

The tubing unwound in her hands, unreeling like a garden hose. She leaned over him, feeling precarious without her walker to steady her. Her hand trembled against the warm skin of his stomach, shrunken so that the skin folded in canyons. This time she managed to slip the tubing end into the port on the first try. It wasn’t always that easy. Tears of relief welled in her eyes.

She wheezed and gripped the side of the recliner to catch her breath. She shook one can, then the next, struggling with the pop-tops. Arthritis crippled the finger that had once quilted and knitted, that had wrung weeds from the earth and turned patients in their hospital beds. She despised her weakness.

He grunted again.

“Oh. What’s for dinner tonight?” A new part of the ritual she kept forgetting. “Tonight we have meatloaf with lots of catsup, mashed potatoes dripping with butter, and, of course, peas. The LeSuer ones you love. For dessert, Boston cream pie. Your favorite.”

He grunted again, but managed a weak smile.

She smiled back. She hung the bag from the IV pole and slowly poured in one can. Liquid the consistency and color of gravy slowly edged down the clear tube. She sighed as she sank to the couch and waited for gravity to pull sustenance into his frail body. He watched, too, his eyes anxious on the bag.

She wondered whether the artificial nutrition had any flavor, whether he could somehow taste it through his blood. Whether it satisfied. To her, the liquid smelled the way chalk tasted. She thought of the meals they had shared the past 49 years: the duck confit and profiteroles in Paris, the smorgasboard of salmon and cheeses enjoyed in Sweden on their second honeymoon, their daughters and grandchildren gathered around the Thanksgiving table. The glasses of wine, the morning coffee. Thursday night pizza and television. All those years.

“Honey, do you remember when we—“

He grunted. “Shush.”

She bit her lip, averting her gaze to the floor. Her mouth flooded with a metallic wetness.

He looked past her, to the wide-screen. Buff young bodies dove into crystalline water in an exotic country she would never visit. Jeff Probst’s voice filled the room. “Last week, on Survivor…”. She looked again at the mud-colored nourishment flowing into the hole in her husband’s stomach and wondered how many more Thursdays they still had left. She patted his knee.

“I love you.”

He grunted, eyes still glued to the tube. But he released the remote, circled her trembling fingers, and squeezed them tight.


Excerpted from... life.

Peace, Linda

Monday, October 19, 2009


It's the National Day on Writing.

So, go... write. Take 10 on your lunch break, take a mental health day, and write yourself silly. And when you're done, contribute your stuff HERE.

Since I write every day, I guess my life is one national holiday.

Peace, Linda

Friday, October 16, 2009

In the Name of Science: #fridayflash

Even before the acrid-sweet smell of urine and cedar assaulted me, I knew. No usual scurry of rodents swarming to greet me, their provider of food, water, and amphetamine. My eyes adjusted to the crimson light intended to keep the animals in a constant state of calm. On the left counter, Dinesh’s white mice, fat from gorging three times their weight every day, bumped up sleepily against Plexiglas. In the adjacent cage my new rodents, the experimental ones shipped this week from Cornell, shuddered with shallow exhalations.

But not my bipolar mice. In that cage I didn’t discern any shadowy humps or sleeping forms, just smaller shapes larger than droppings and food pellets. I tapped the glass, hoping to prod my manic, nicotine-addicted subjects from under shavings and race to me, back-flipping and tumbling over each other in their eagerness for attention and drug.


I rattled the cage. Still nothing. The glass was splattered with black dots. Dread pushed past my chest. I should’ve listened to Dinesh; he’d mentioned that batch was acting bizarre, nipping each other and the fingers that fed them. Of course he blamed J25, but I’d brushed him off, attributing the biting to the genetic modifications in that particular mouse strain.

The silence troubled me. My hand trembled on the wall-switch, hesitant to flick on the lights, to wake the mice and screw up their circadian cycle.

I blinked in the abrupt fluorescence.

Jesus. A severed tail poked through wood chips. Under the water bottle, a gnawed paw and a flurry of black hairs littered the cage floor. One body lay twisted in the corner; the slick white of its spinal cord glistened. An ear mangled in the running wheel. Several bloodied quadriplegic trunks scattered in the cages, surrounded by other, less recognizable lumps of flesh. I counted. Five mice, dead. Where was the sixth?

Acid burned my throat. I swallowed and swallowed as seven years of meticulous scientific inquiry horribly deep-sixed. As hope for my own silver-bullet cure vaporized.

Shavings rustled. An ebony mouse crept from the carnage, chin and whiskers reddened. In that instant, the murderer seemed to grin at me. Something in my heart clanged, another tumbler on a lock, and shut down, click-click-thud. I pulled out the drawer, reached for the camera, the lab book, but there was so much, too much, to document. It was still early; no one else was in the building, not the techs who would incinerate the animals. Later, at feeding time, Dinesh would find the mice, and Dinesh was a good friend, a loyal colleague. He’d clean up. He was good for cleaning up messes. Besides, I didn’t have time, I had a train to catch, funeral arrangements to make.

Those were my excuses. I flipped off the light, picked up my bags, and fled.

(Excerpted from PURE, a novel under destruction)


BEG, BORROW, STEAL Book Give-Away ===> We gotta a winner! Actually, we have three winners! Other Press sent a promo copy along with a personal copy, so I'll give away both AND will donate a copy of HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE, out in paperback, to a lucky third winner. More than two dozen readers expressed interest in Michael Greenberg's latest work. Winners were selected using the most scientific of methods -- I wrote everyone's name on strips of paper, balled them up, and threw them in my Greek fisherman's hat.

Drumroll please... and the first name is... Paige! The second name drawn is... Reesha! Third prize winner of the HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE goes to Marye Ulrich, herself an aspiring memoirist. Please drop me a line with your email (drwasy AT gmail DOT com) with mailing addresses and I'll get these shipped out el pronto.

Reesha gets bonus points for leaving a comment: Begging is definitely my favorite method. Most of the time it has involved begging off work for time to write, begging fiance/family members for time alone to write, or borrowing someone else's time while they read my manuscript and give me feedback. I have a wonderful cousin who always takes my calls at 3 in the morning if I have writer's block and patiently listens to my writerly woes. But the time is borrowed. She calls me in the middle of date night sometimes!

I'm with you on the begging, and may I please have access to that cousin of yours?

Peace, Linda

Monday, October 12, 2009

What folks are saying...

About Beg, Borrow, Steal - a Writer's Life (Michael Greenberg, Other Press)

"Greenberg skillfully explores issues that range from the profoundly tragic to the delightfully funny." Kirkus Reviews

"Beg, Borrow, Steal is a writing memoir that belongs in the company of classics, such as Grace Paley's Just as I Thought, Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction, William Gass's Fiction and Figures of Life, and Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings..." Foreward Magazine

You can catch Michael Greenberg here:

October 16: Northshire Books, Manchester, VT
October 28: One Book, One Community, Danbury, CT
October 31: Texas Book Festival, Austin, TX
November 1: Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Taube Center for Jewish Life
November 3: Next Chapter Bookshop, Maquon, WI
November 4: Barbara's Bookstore, Chicago, IL
November 5: Magers and Quinn Bookstore, Minneapolis, MN

YOU CAN GET THE BOOK FOR FREE ===> Just leave a comment on this post or HERE. One lucky winner will be drawn from my magic hat at midnight this Thursday (10/15)


In other news... Nathan Bransford is having another FABULOUS FIRST PARAGRAPH CONTEST. The man's insane - already 500+ entries on day 1.

The Reading... Have I told you how much I love, love, love GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon? Amazing book. I don't 'get it' all the time, but it is an amazing work of art. Yes, I said art. Magnifico! I'll be at it for a few more weeks.

The Writing... Just finished METHOD WRITING short course by Jordan Rosenfeld. If you have a chance to take one of her courses, do - it is time and money well spent. NaNoWriMo starts in 19 days (!!!!!). I'm looking forward to 30 days of prose insanity. Buddy me (drwasy). Meanwhile, I'm mucking around with some shorts, some poems, BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, all distractions before I plunge again into PURE in a few days.

Life is full... outta here for a few days for basic training (the day job).

Peace, Linda

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Perfect Day - #fridayflash

Later, much later, when the shock wore off, people always asked, “Where were you?” That Tuesday, the one morning of the week I didn’t have to rush out to lecture the undergrad minions or schlep glassware for lab, found me in the kitchen with coffee and The Globe, relaxed, happy even. “One of the ten best days of the year,” the weatherman promised me earlier when my willing feet swept me along the Charles River, the dawn cracking into a shocking blue canvas. But the adrenalin rush soon eroded, it always does, and aloneness and self-doubt rippled through my cramped apartment, pricking at me to flip on the dusty ten-inch tube, a relic from the latest in a string of relationship disasters dating back to my birth. Chirpy babble filled the empty space, assuaging my weariness, but then a voice, urgent, erupted past my anesthesia and when I swiveled around, flames coiled around the tower; white billowing smoke obscured the building’s twin, a negative background to black specks flailing from gaping floors, even the ninetieth, his office. As the building telescoped into itself, smudging the faultless sky with its smoldering detritus, I vaguely wondered if my father was in Japan.


Thursday's flawless blue sky reminded me of That Day, which turned out to be a pivotal one for my character Ben. An earlier version of this appeared in Six Sentences on February 3, 2008. Excerpted in part from PURE.


PLEASE, leave a comment HERE and win BEG, BORROW, STEAL, a wonderful memoir by Michael Greenberg, author of HURRY DOWN, SUNSHINE.

Peace, Linda

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fiction: Live! In a Neighborhood Near You

My characters have problems, big problems, as they should; we want to give our protags grief. Like Kevin, my pill-popping, patch-chewing anesthesiologist. I base Kevin and a host of other mentally-ill and addicted characters on my research, for behind every data point is a real live story.

But the data came uncomfortably close this past week when a post-doc who studies the effects of drugs on the brain died after injecting buprenorphine ("bupe"), an opioid used as a "heroin substitute" for recovering addicts. The woman's boyfriend, also a post-doc conducting similar research, was arrested on possession. Both worked on my campus.

Last month, prescription drug abuse pricked my life when my pharmacist was arrested for distributing and using pain killers and tranquilizers. As someone expert in the abuse and diversion of medications, you'd think I might have noticed.

Prescription drug abuse is insiduous and hard to detect. There's reasons why users prefer prescription drugs: they aren't as dirty as heroin and other street drugs, they provide a reliable high, and they are available. Especially to the health professionals who prescribe, dispense, and administer controlled medications, and ther esearchers who study their effects. Addiction has many faces, most of them familiar to us all.

The tragedy of these two young people leaves me shaken, and determined to continue PURE.


DON'T FORGET ===> BEG, BORROW, STEAL Book Giveaway! Time is a ticking!

Peace, Linda

Thursday, October 01, 2009

when i refuse the lithium - #fridayflash

the angels whisper a cacophony -- unsullied by any elemental metal
i effervesce up up up to blinding sun -- swathed in immortalizing
armor i surge feet pumping a limitless engine immune to flames
licking from joy’s corona -- mad elixirs in my brain swirly
whirly bombard microcosmic synapses dopaminated nerves electrify
crimson corridors connecting muscle to mind

i hurl heavenwards

wings beat down the stalking shadow -- from here nurse is an ant
her entreaties flutter in my maelstrom -- i pause listen consider
the idiocies and the blazing beckoning white -- but bliss melts
blue hot hot hot -- my seraphim falter whistling screams on the
dive bomb their waxen pinons crackle-pop my legs and arms scrabble
in endless air -- nurse chortles at my spiral her teeth a jag
of evil normalcy -- minute orbs roll in her upturned palm

my shrunken incinerated hand hovers

The sun scuttles behind the moon, turning sky to asphalt, sulfurous and lovely.


Just playing, a very experimental piece for me.

AND CHECK OUT MY CONTEST - a free copy of BEG, BORROW, STEAL - A WRITER'S LIFE by Michael Greenberg can be yours!

Peace, Linda

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beg, Borrow, Steal - And Win!

MY OLD MAN was like Zeus's father Cronos: he couldn't bear the idea that any of his children might surpass him. Life radiated from the central pulse of his scrap-metal yard; the world beyond it seemed to make him defensive and nervous. Self-conscious about his lack of formal education, he took my bookishness as a personal affront. "What do you think is worth more," he once asked me, "a commodity or some goddamn idea?"

So is the theme established in Beg, Borrow, Steal - A Writer's Life (Other Press), the second book out by Michael Greenberg, This small treasure of 45 small, tightly woven tales of living a writer's life in the literary Valhalla of New York City quietly astoundone of my favorite memoirists. Less stories than vignettes, these slices of life are sensuous and bittersweet, tied together by a ribbon of yearning: for pasts, for compromises, for paths not chosen.

Last January, I selected Greenberg's memoir Hurry Down Sunshine to kick-off my debut author/Indy press review series. As with that book, the atories enthrall. Each chapter transports the reader to the intricacies of a life observed, one lived to follow his inner calling -- writing -- and the strugggles, mishaps, joys, and humor in keeping the integrity of that calling.

As a reader, what I love about Beg, Borrow, Steal is the total immersion in the physical environment that is New York; even as an outsider, the clamor of the family scrap metal business, the view of the Hudson from a derelict writing studio window, suffering the plague of rats, the rumble of the subway plunging through the bowels of the city all feel familiar. This world pores through his words, makes it real and vivid as a photograph, all told with economy and elegance. Which is why I love this book as a writer -- the prose, so tight, so bare of uneccessary words, yet so evocative.

Most of all, Greenberg provides flashes of making a living and a life as a writer, from selling counterfeit cosmetics from a vending cart to ghost-writing to sabotaging his own screenplay after being screwed by the director. All for the love of words. Read this book if you love New York, if you love excellent writing, if you are a writer.

Want your own copy of Beg, Borrow, Steal? Here's how. In 100 words or less relate how you have begged, borrowed, or stolen to live your dream. Leave your comment here or send your response to me via drwasy (at) gmail (dot) com. Put Beg, Borrow, Steal in the subject line. I'll swirl all answers in my magic hat and draw a random winner on October 15. PLUS... I'll publish the best five answers in a separate blog post.

Peace, Linda

Friday, September 25, 2009

Break Time: #fridayflash

Nausea pulses, a wave of jittering gray dots. The crash came so quick. But every stall’s filled; men stand three lines deep before the available urinals. Lemony disinfectant melds with ammonia piss and makes me almost gag. I lean over the sink, blast the faucet, wait for the place to clear but the door keeps opening.

Screw this. It’s too busy. I don’t have time to wait. I hurry out, resume my journey towards pre-op. Pale light filters through the atrium. Snow from last night’s squall dusts the glass of the domed ceiling. The fountain gurgles. Two kids toss coins, each penny dropping with a melodious ping. Making wishes no doubt: help my daddy get better, let my mommy bring home a baby brother, fix Grammy’s broken heart. If I had time and pennies to waste, what would I wish for?

Bette from ICU calls my name, snaps me from my daze. She waves, a tight curl of her hands, rubber clogs squeaking on linoleum. The smile plastering my face feels lopsided and too large, like it’s pulling my cheeks to heaven. I walk carefully but no one else seems to mind the wavering floor.

I stop before the Chapel. The hospital roar fades, replaced by airless silence. A lone woman kneels before Mary and Jesus, blond hair streaming down her back. For a moment I swear it’s Phoebe, but it’s not, it can’t be, Phoebe’s prepping anesthesia. I should be with her, but I’m in no shape to thread IV lines into veins.

Out of habit I genuflect before collapsing into the pew. My fingers tremble in the white jacket pocket under the ‘Kevin Sullivan, MD’ embroidered in black over my heart, searching for the packet I fished out of Mrs. O’s trash can. The foil crinkles.

The lady’s head lifts. I freeze. Her reddened eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t look like Phoebe at all; ersatz blond with sucked-in cheeks from too many face lifts. A lot of women look like this in Baltimore, the moneyed ones; I know their sort too well. I smile a quivery smile of sympathy and will her to turn back to the altar. She resumes her entreaties.

Say a prayer for me, baby - I need all the help I can get. I squeeze the patch between my fingers. Three drops, shiny and viscous, ooze into my palm like liquid crystals. Remorse pricks me, and disgust that I’ve come to this again, but then I greedily lick my hand and suck the foil. The initial alcohol taste turns sweet. Calm gilds my mouth and throat, spreads to my chest, my fingers, my world. The door opens, the blonde mourner’s soul floats in her wake. I surrender to the velvet-lined bench and the world cradles me.

Nothing else is more pure.


An excerpt from PURE, a novel currently under construction. Hope you enjoyed.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Ghosts of Belfast - September Debut Novel

Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow. He chased the whiskey's burm with a cool black mouthful of Giuinness and placed the glass back on the table. Look up and they'll be gone, he thought.

No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother's arms.

Gerry Fegan is a killer for the cause. But now that peace has descended on Belfast, the ghosts of those he has murdered haunt him night - and day: a schoolboy, a butcher, a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a mother and her infant, and seven others. To appease them, Fegan will kill the colleagues who gave him his orders. He wants peace, and a new life, and thinks he may find some happiness with Marie McKenna and her young daughter. Cast out of the clan for once loving an RUC officer, she becomes the unwitting lure for the killer who stalks Fegan.

Stuart Neville's debut novel THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (SOHO Press) is a fast-paced cross-breed of a story, blending crime fiction and horror with literary strokes. To sweeten the deal, the author provides a masterful and rare look at post-Troubles Northern Ireland, making the politics almost a character itself. Here, new-world consumerism has blunted the ferocity of past religious and secular differences, but not the drive for power.

Unlike most other stories in this genre, Neville provides a complex protagonist, a murderer riddled with remorse who hides himself in dark pints of Guinness and in the refurbishing of an old guitar. Yet Fegan has no qualms killing his former colleagues and friends. Fegan is deplorable, but the author manages to render him with sufficient sympathy to make me root for him to the end.

I'll confess my biases and conflicts-of-interest: THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is not my typical reading fare. But I've followed the author over the past three years in his (well-deserved) quest for publication, and frankly, this is a damn good read. The writing is sparse and original, the characters unique, the political landscape compelling, and the plot intricate and well-paced. Readers who are not aware of the politics of this part of the world may need to read carefully to grasp the intricacies and nuances of the story.

The Press... THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is published by SOHO PRESS, a house I've covered before. Many conside their crime portfolio to be one of the most eclectic and sophisticated in the business.

The Author... STUART NEVILLE is a partner in a multimedia design business in Armagh, Northern Ireland. This is the first novel in a series (YAY!). Read about his journey to published author HERE.

Peace, Linda

Friday, September 18, 2009

#fridayflash: Lifeguard Off Duty

Sun-kissed curls bouncing, the child patters through sea-foam. A shell glistens. Water surges, a wall of green and white. Sand shifts beneath her toes.

My small contribution to #fridayflash.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Food as Psychic Sustenance

Food is central in my life. Sure, I need food for sheer physical sustenance - we all do - but there is something about raspberries glinting in dew or green, yellow, and orange tomatoes sweating in olive oil and sea salt that thralls me. Nothing brings me greater happiness than creating meals from fresh ingredients, especially ones that are local, for the people in my life.***

I come by this love of all things edible from my parents. As a first-grader living in Solana Beach, California, I remember my tastebuds tantalized by corn-husked tamales and chile rellanos stuffed with cheese, sugar-dusted fry bread, Indian curries, and Chinese take-out. My eating horizons expanded when we trekked cross-country to the South and feasted on vinegar and hot-pepper basted chopped pork, Brunswick stew laced with squirrel, hushpuppies, and creole shrimp. Trips to the family birthplace yielded little necks steamed in broth, lobster rolls, Boston baked beans, hotdogs served in butter-grilled buns, and, of course, ice cream.

When any of us journeyed, be it to Chicago or London or , the first question always asked the traveler upon return, is, "What did you eat?"

Food is central in my writing as well. When Jimmy the Prince, fellow writer and dear friend whose fabulous THE DARK SIDE OF THE SOUL is now published, first read BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, he noted, "Your characters eat all the time. And drink too much coffee." Of course, I listened and removed most gustatory references. But not all. Mark Spencer, my first writing instructor, showed me how food and eating can be used to reveal characters' moods.

This past Friday, my father was admitted to the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center. He could no longer swallow. For weeks, his sustenance has come in the shape of cans of Ensure; the tumor made eating too painful to bring pleasure. Now his nourishment will not even pass his lips.

Food as my family lexicon is becoming a memory.


The Reading... Shhhh... my September debut arrived in the mail the day I departed to North Carolina. Still reading, but I promise you this - the story is a damn fine read, and a marked departure from the stuff I usually review. I'll post in a week or so. Also upcoming - one of my debut authors has a new book out, and I'll be giving away a free copy.

The Writing... PURE chugging along. My mind is pretty caulked up with all the emotional stuff going on; however, butt is in chair every morning. Drivel. Sometimes gems emerge from drivel. I'm happy just to keep the routine.

Other news... last week, this wee blog made the Top 25 Writing Blogs by popular vote at Editor Unleashed. I'm honored and amazed to be in the company of so many amazing sites, many of them my own favorite sites. Yay! Thank you readers! I adore you!

Keep writing. Peace, Linda

***Except, possibly, eating those meals and writing about them.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Perfect day dawned in brilliant blue,
shocking canvas of contrast: planes
fly black against far-flung heaven.
Even unbelieving prayer
muttered with quiet resigned breaths
could not foretell or forestall stains

gouging ground, splintering sky, staining
steel, scuttled lives, exhaling blue,
imploding in hydraulic breaths
screaming through city, hill, and plain...

Blue sky trailed by white plane flumes
marking a heaven all pray exists;
God’s breath stained by metal and fire.

Peace, Linda

Monday, September 07, 2009

Kreativ Blogging

Fellow blogger Jon Strother nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award. He knighted my wee blog last week. Thank you Jon - I am honored. Now it's my turn to pass along the prize. Without further ado, 7 favorite watering holes busting with creativity - hope you enjoy...

--Greta Igl @ FOR WRITE OR WRONG. Thoughtful contemplations on the process of writing, with a lot of excellent recipes thrown in to feed the stomach and soul.

--Paige @ PARADISE VALLEY 2 is a poet, photographer, paper maker, and all-around creator of beautiful stuff.

--Jodi MacArthur @ FICTION WRITER creates fantastical stories that amaze - and horrify.

--Michael J. Solender @ NOT FROM HERE, ARE YOU?. Funny, irreverent, and some damn fine writing to boot.

--Angel Zapata @ A RAGE OF ANGEL. This dude writes horror and (shhhhhh... it's a secret) poetry that makes the heartstrings sing.

--Melissa @ WINDSPIRIT GIRL. Poetess extraordinaire, she's mixing up words with images and getting "electroboy" results.

--John Wiswell @ THE BATHROOM MONOLOGUES. Pure, unadulterated fiction. Lotsa fun.

Part II of the KB award was a bit tougher - listing 7 favorite mystery writers. This was a stretch; I don't read much of this genre. Or so I thought. My picks tend to come from another century and have a decidely UK slant:

--Josephine Tey - The Singing Sands
--Daphne DuMaurier - Rebecca
--Wilkie Collins - The Woman in White and The Moonstone
--P.D. James - An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
--Carolyn Keene - The Nancy Drew mysteries
--Edgar Allen Poe - The Murder in the Rue Morgue
--Patricia Cornwall - Body of Evidence

The Writing... Ugh. Revamping PURE. Started off with 6 voices, then struggled with 3, now down to a single POV. I think I'll write several versions of the same novel, and choose the one I like best. I'm in no hurry...

The Reading... Just finished THE ADDERALL DIARIES by Stephen Elliott. Superb memoir. TOLSTOY LIED by Rachel Kadish also in the done read stack, and also superb - and very provocative for this ivory tower wench. Next up: THE SOUL THIEF by Charles Baxter, AVOIDANCE by Michael Lowenthal, and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Pynchon. That'll take up most of the rest of this year.

Hope your Labor Day involved very little laboring. Peace, Linda

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Life Is A Pomegranate

So much work, extracting those ruby seeds from the bitter pith, but so worth it when that sweet-tart juice squirts between your teeth.

Cold nipped at summer's heels, chasing her to some other clime. Is it any coincidence the temperature plunged to the 50s the day school resumed? Monday was a melancholy day, the end of a too-short summer. Rust tinges my garden. Hazelnuts have fallen to the ground, rejected even by the squirrels. The last of the raspberries dot the browned bushes, and the crickets' chirrups have replaced the incessant whir of the cicadas.

Two of my favorite Johns nominated my wee blog for 25 Best Writing Blogs over at Editor Unleashed. No, these dudes are not my customers (though I hope someday they’ll buy my books). John Towler, whose latest short LOTTERY WINNER, can be found in Your Darkest Dreamspell anthology, and Jon Strother, whose #FRIDAYFLASH has transformed flash fiction into a tweetable community event, are amazing writers and really generous dudes. CAST YOUR VOTE in the next week. Thank you guys!

Speaking of generosity, in addition to publishing books, DZANC Books also has Creative Mentoring Program where for a mere $50 for four hours, you get one-on-one attention from some of the best writers and poets around. I just finished a session with Peter Selgin (LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES) and received excellent feedback on my current NIP (Novel-in-progress).

Upcoming: Look for a free book give-away after Labor Day – one of my debut authors has a second one on the stands! Plus, I’ll wax on Kreative Bloggers.

Write long and strong… Peace, Linda

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Infinite Loop

Novelists are crazy, but what comes first: the writing or the insanity?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting Unstuck

I don't believe in writer's block - you write, or you don't. You may write drivel, but at least it's writing. Sure, there are mornings when I approach my desk and the old noggin churns up... nada. Rather than wring my hands exclaiming, "Woe is me - the muse has left the office," I stick out my tongue at all that white blaring back at me.

Rarely do I suffer a surfeit of ideas; indeed, I have more I can handle right now and if someone would like to purchase my storylines for (at least) 3 novels, 2 non-fiction tomes, several short stories, and countless poems, I'll sell them to you for... hours, days, months, all more precious than geld.

But I digress.

My writing does get stuck quite often, especially when I need to dig deep and get visceral. It's damn hard to convey raw humanity without lapsing into melodrama, the cousin to sex scenes' purple prose.

Lately I've struggled with finding the good in a couple of otherwise unsavory characters. I need to revela a kernal of possible redemption because, of course, I want my readers to empathize enough with these nasty dudes to care about their journeys.

Here's a writing exercise to get yourself deep and dirty. Go as yourself - or in character.

Ask: What one statement could someone utter that would make you (or your character) want to pummel that person through the ground?

Write the statement.

Write a monologue from the speaker's mouth. Include 1) the statement, and 2) the reason behind the statement. Three minutes. Do not pause, do not edit, do not pass Go. Just write.

Here's mine: "You're just a fucking nut job."

I don't get you. You've got health insurance; hell, the state pays for it, all the pills you'd ever want or need. All the hospitals, the shrinks at your disposal, but what do you do? Nothing. Your prescriptions pile up on your dresser like a stack of Wendy's napkins.

Jesus, Lou. My tax dollars at work. So get up. Now. Stop lying there in your skivvies. Jesus, it stinks in here - have you even showered? And for Cripe's sake, open the blinds, why dontchya? Let the fucking sun in?

You have so much damn potential. You were the smart one, you know. And why are you so sad anyway? Three squares a day, don't have to work at some shit job at Purina, roof over your head that don't need fixing. But you waste it all, you're just a fucking nut job. Do something - anything. Goddamnit.

Even Ma got us to school. She made us cereal, the milk had turned, but still... she packed us lunch. She even made our stupid beds, Lou. She did stuff. That day, she did a lot for us. Remember? Before she jumped.

Have at it - what'd you come up with? Peace, Linda

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Life Goes to the Movies - August Debut Novel

We were blackening pages, all of us, covering them with charcoal, leaving no traces of white showing, turning us black as Con Edison smoke, as abandoned subway station platforms and third rail rats. As black as the vacuum-packed blackness between stars.

So begins this love story, told by Nigel DePoli, an American-Italian art student desperate to escape (or at least ignore) his immigrant background, about his friendship with Dwaine Fitzgibbon (‘That’s D for Death, W for War, A for Anarchy, I for Insane, N for nightmare, and E for the End of the World’). A Vietnam vet, Dwaine pulls Nigel into his dreams of making movies and living life. These dreams become nightmares as Dwaine descends into madness and Nigel must decide whether he will follow his friend’s path or his own.

LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES (Peter Selgin, DZANC Books) is one of the rare books that make me Pavlovian-giddy before I even crack the spine to return where I left off. And if it weren’t for that nuisance called life, I would have finished the story in one fell swoop, the novel is that good.

Perhaps my enthusiasm is biased; I adore stories about young mad men with artistic bents. Perhaps it’s the book’s upclose examination of an unexamined phenomenon – the friendship of two men that has homoerotic overtones but is not homosexual. Perhaps it’s the passion Dwaine and, later, Nigel, bring to their lives. Perhaps the book wows me because of all the pretty film frames. But maybe, just maybe, it’s all about the writing. Phenomenal. Like here:

Gulls wheel under a dome of powder blue sky. Dwaine hacks city smog and cigarette smoke from his lungs. Strands of seaweed cling to our tuxedoes. The morning sun invests everything with a lemony, prehistoric glow, the kind of light that I picture dinosaurs trouncing through.

And here:

I sat there watching the candle flame flicker, wondering: what happened to me, to my life? Where was it? Where had it gone? Plummeting back to earth, wings singed off, crashed into the ocean: that’s what happens when you fly too close to the sun.

I'm always a sucker for an Icarus allusion, but this line serves as the novel's fundamental: choosing to live in the glare of a charismatic other or making your own light. Nigel’s transformation from a gullible, beige being to his own person is the strand underlying this story, juxtaposed against the seeming unraveling of Dwaine’s life. Or is it unraveling? The novel prods against what it means to be insane, and insinutes perhaps there are gifts found in madness.

I finished the book 30,000 feet over the eastern seaboard, sobbing into my cocktail napkin, alarming the suduko-playing woman beside me. I didn’t want the adventures of these two wondrous characters to end – so I started in again.

LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES is exuberant, lush, poignant, and funny and sad as hell. Please, read it…

About the Author: This may be Peter Selgin's first novel, but it’s not his first book. Drowning Lessons (University of Georgia Press, 2008), his first book of short stories, won the Flannery O’Connor Award. He also is the author of By Cunning and Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers (Writers Digest Books). LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES has an autobiographical edge: read this interview of Selgin in Pif Magazine, then visit his blog Dreaming on Paper .

About the Press: DZANC Books is the good doobie press of the indies. Besides having a stand-up portfolio of literary fiction, short story collections, and poetry manuscripts, the press sponsors the DZANC Prize for excellence in literary fiction and community service, and sponsors a literacy program for young people in Michigan. They’ve just sprouted a new literary magazine - The Collagist - and Dan Wickett is the proud papa of the Emerging Writers Network. Some may say the small press is dead; DZANC Books throws that convention on its head.

About the Bookstore: This copy bought at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, the best independent bookstore ever. Period. Right around the corner? Grolier, the best poetry-only store.

Peace, Linda

Harvested Today from the Garden...

Raspberries, hazelnuts, pole beans, Kentucky Wonder bush beans, asparagus, white peaches, Asian pears, basil, cucumbers, and tomatoes: yellow pear, green zebra, purple cherokee, roma, brandywine.

From our farm share -- tomatillos, garlic, basil, Blue Peruvian fingerlings, onions (red, yellow, white)

Dinner -- tomato salsa, roasted tomatillo salsa, grilled chicken breasts, corn/tomato/black bean salad, roasted asparagus, peach crisp with vanilla ice cream, reisling/traminer with raspberries

Happy eating... Peace, Linda

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All Worked Up

I recently returned from my first-ever, face-to-face writing workshop. Sure, I've gone to writing conferences, most of them chock-o-block with one hour quickie craft seminars and those oh-so-lovely pitch fests. But this past spring I was feeling masochistic, a little itchy to get reamed, truly reamed, by folks who know what they're doing. Plus, I thought a workshop intensive was one way to try an abbreviated version of an MFA program. So the last week of July I sojourned to Cambridge, conjoined with Boston in my mind as the place I came of age.

Lesley University's summer writing conference is not for those who envision munching bonbons while idly discussing the niceties of third person versus omniscient voice. Sure, we chatted about that sort of stuff, usually over meals, but for the most part it was constant immersion in craft and critique. For five days, I rised and shined for workshop from 9-12, then gobbled lunch, followed by an afternoon of craft sessions and readings. After another hasty dinner, there were evening readings by resident and guest faculty until 9. Of course, afterwards I was so exhausted yet simultaneously ennervated by caffeine and ideas that walking to any of the squares (Harvard, Porter, Central, Inman - I hit them all) for ice cream and beer with classmates was de rigeur. Then there were assignments to complete, and the cycle repeated itself.

So what's it like to be 'workshopped'? Somewhat intimidating. Classmate Thomas and I walked the plank first. We prepared approximately 4000 words of a work in progress, which our fabulous instructor Rachel Kadish (more on Rachel in a separate post) and fellow students (there were six of us in all) read in advance.

I workshopped the opening of PURE. A little scary because this novel is so in progress. Plus, my head was with another character from another story, so I struggled to sink into the chapter's cannibalized mice and the funeral.

At the table, I was instructed not to talk. Those of you who know me understand how difficult it is for me to zip my lips. Rachel opened up with the question: "What is this story about?" Which is a wonderful way to approach critique because you can see immediately how clearly (or not) you've told your story. Also GREAT fodder for pitches. Then discussion opened up: what worked? what didn't? what confused? was the prose sufficiently elevated? did the characters ring true? did POV work? tense? were writing fundamentals present? was the research sufficient? And so on.

After more than an hour of such disembowelment (PURE, not me), I was granted the floor to clarify remarks and ask questions of my own. Later, I reviewed everyone's extensive written line edits and globals.

What a rich experience. And an illuminating one. While my prose more than passed muster and the story itself was deemed compelling, it turns out I had a few too many balls in the air, which confused my classmates and instructor. In other words, exactly where was this story headed?

My new mantra: clarify, clarify, clarify. I'm revising PURE now, using these golden kernals as my guideposts.

Have you ever been workshopped? If yes, was it worthwhile? If no, would you?

Peace, Linda