Saturday, December 31, 2011

365 Days

Where did the days of last year go?

Days (and nights) flew by, consumed by family, work, writing. But everything seemed harder to come by, and as I round the stretch of 2011 I realize: I am tired.

This year, for the first time, my body began to feel its age. Ten weeks in physical therapy for a bum shoulder (exacerbated by the sedentary lifestyle of a writer and professor); now, an achy lower back alleviated by a new yoga regimen and Miracle Balls (no, not what you think). My mind also found difficulty focusing; between the stimulation of work, my writing program, and the gazillions of stories and poems begging to be born, sitting at my desk at dawn often felt an exercise in frustration.

Still, I managed to write:
*32 poems, 33,000 words on a novel-in-progress, 28 pages of critical essays for class, more than 2 dozen microfictions, major revisions on two novels, and a half-way decent query letter for CLOSER TO NORMAL that has (so far) netted a full and several partial requests

*A few honors: SHUT-EYE garnered an honorable mention in the String-of-10 contest run by Flash Fiction Chronicles, 2 poems made Robert Brewer's Top 50 Poem-A-Day picks, and Camroc Press Review nominated LAST TRIP for Best-of-the-Net

*Fifteen stories and poems found homes in literary journals run by editors I admire, including Monkeybicycle, Blue Fifth Review, Thunderclap!, Pure Slush, Right Hand Pointing, Eclectic Flash, Every Day Fiction, Connotation Press, The Linnets Wings, and Istanbul Literary Review. THANK YOU editors who found enough worth in my words to publish them.

*Reading informs my writing, so I read, always. I consumed a lot of novels and short story collections, but the reading went slower than in prior years: I read as a writer rather than a reader. I read this past year for structure, for understanding how the thread of theme is established in the first words. I will have another post soon on my favorite reads, but there are books I will not soon forget: OLIVE KITTERIDGE, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, THE BEE_LOUD GLADE, and collections of stories by Tobias Wolff, Aleksander Hemon, Meg Pokrass, and Laura van der Berg.

My day job demanded much, but rewarded more. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach my marvelous students and watch them move on to academic and clinical positions. Several new grants focusing on substance abuse in Maryland, the quality of psychopharmacological medication use in nursing homes, and depression in patients with emphysema kept my salary on par and revitalized my research.

But the past year is more than a list, more than numbers. The past year embodied a constant struggle to maintain balance and, for the first time in five years, writing did not always win. Until this year, much of my writing was driven by the fear the words would dry up. So I would write madly, compromising at times my relationships, my health, the chores. I no longer fear I will stop writing as suddenly as I started six year ago tomorrow. There is no need to rush, the words, the ideas, they all will incubate and percolate and marinate and be there when I am ready. For this realization I am grateful.

My only regret is the necessary busy-ness of this year required me to prioritize my time, which ended up limiting my involvement with so many writers and readers in my online communities. To visit your blogs, to read your words at fictionaut, to follow your successes via facebook and twitter... a treat to spend a few minutes with you. A tremendous reward. I hope time loosens a bit in 2012, so I can savor your stories and poems and lives.

I am not one to make resolutions, but I do know what I need to work on this upcoming year: my health, my family, my friends, and the slow approach to writing.

My Health: I need to fix my back, which means I need to walk 10,000 or more steps a day (pedometer - check), shed 10 pounds (Weight Watchers - check), and increase my flexibility (weekly yoga - check; daily stretches and Miracle Balls - check)

My Family: Spend more concentrated time with each of my children and, of course, the husband

My Friends: Spend more time with both virtual and cyber friends. Make phone call dates with those friends who live far away, share a meal with those who live nearby

My Writing: Remember to take time with stories and poems, keep them close until satisfied they are finished. Do not worry so much about finding homes but finding the right words.

Most of all, I hope 2012 brings balance, to me, to you, to the world writ large.

Thank you dear readers for sharing the journey. Peace...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


LOOSE SCREW, my story of age and and screw-drivers and toilet bowls, up at PURE SLUSH. Please, take a gander and while there, read the other stories coursing the age continuum by Gay Degani, Susan Tepper, Nate Tower, Bobbi Luri, and others.

A huge thank you to Matt Potter for featuring my work.


Friday, December 23, 2011

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 morning, 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 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 small 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 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. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.


May your winter nights be full of talk, of laughter, warmth and love. May you never be lonely.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holy Guacomole

Today someone told me Christmas is in six days.

Six days!

I should've figured it out from all the smarmy music piping from the ceiling while I shopped my local GIANT, all the pointsettias set up on risers, the ring-ring-ringing by the faux Santa outside the entrance. All the lights strung along trees and windows and the outlines of houses, all the Macy-parade-sized Santa and Frosty balloons poofing up at dusk.

Checking my list, and all I see are the 'to-dos': seven 20-page policy papers to read and grade; one student's dissertation to shepherd through defense; one visit to the Food and Drug Administration; six work meetings; two conference calls; and a partridge and a pear tree. And that's just work, and all to be finished by close-of-business Tuesday.

On the home front, well... let's just say cookies galore. And packing galore. And wrapping galore. I think/hope/pray the shopping is finito. But truth be told, I kind of like the end of the year hecticity, it feels so awful while it happens but ooohhhhhhhh soooooooo good when it ends. And there are the little gifts of respite--the nibbling of cookies, cards from far-flung friends, the arrival of mystery boxes delivered by Mr. UPS, a surprise from my husband ==>

I'm not writing a lick, hopes of sending stuff out for end-of-the-year deadlines kind of disappeared like the errant snowflakes spitting on my windshield this morning. But that's okay.

Still, anyone else out there kind of wishing the days would slow down long enough to catch up?

Peace... and don't forget to breathe...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Food, Glorious Food...

The marvelous poet Linda Evans Hofke hosts quite a feast--The 12th Language-Place Blog Carnival features FOOD! Chiles, pretzels, blood sausages, arepa and plaintains, ruby-wine haikus... travel along, see what wonders poets and writers and artists create about food from around the world. You can find my small piece about food and family under entrees. Peace...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Baltimore and all those other cities...

RIGHT HAND POINTING has a nifty e-chapbook out with the theme of cities. Feels like whirlwind around the world, and all from the comfort of your laptop. I have a ditty called BALTIMORE, and you may recognize a slew of other contributors, including Doug Mathewson, Tina Barry, and Andrew Stancek.

While poking around, do good and pick up a copy of Howie Good's DREAMING IN RED. You get some damn fine poetry and The Birmingham, Alabama crisis gets ALL net proceeds.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Two Years

Today marks two years since my father died. Grief softens over time, although it never quite goes away. Last year, I thought of my father every day, and remembering filled me with great sadness. Now, memories of my father filter through other memories, through chinks in my days. Sometimes he visits me in dreams. Sometimes we watch old videos of him and my mother visiting: his voice mingles with those of my children, of others living, and it feels as if he is here, with us.

I feel him more than I did; letting go of the constant sadness opens me somehow to his presence.

Of course I write about my father; his living and dying inspired me in many ways, and still does. I think of these small pieces as offerings, as cairns to mark his existence and my memories...

--An interview about how grief and anger led me to write NUMBER 72 and I SHOULD NOT HAVE RUSHED YOU THROUGH THE RAIN up at Connotation Press

--Letting go where my father loved best, the Outer Banks...THE BLUES ARE RUNNING

--Shared grief: a man and a squirrel: STONE

--A small poem, THE LAST TRIP, nominated as a Best of the Net by Camroc Press Review

I write to remember. I write to process my emotions. I write to share you with the world.

Dad, the day is breaking the dark now, a gentle fog shrouds our yard, but already I can tell the day will be clear and blue and full of sun. Today I will keep you in my heart, and mom, too. Peace...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Giving a Hoot

Nice things do come in small packages. HOOT, a new print and on-line literary venture, loves all writing--as long as it flies under 150 words. transplant, my small single-sentence story, up in the December Issue.

Thanks to editors Amanda Vacharat and Dorian Geisler for featuring my words. Peace...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

almost but not quite...

The month of November wraps up with a bitter-cold blast and a feeling of falling just short.

I wrote for NaNoWriMo, working on THE MINISTER'S WIFE, plotting out events and filling out characters. Lots of fun, but... fell waaaaaay short of 50k words. In the end, I am not sure I will even crack the 30k barrier. But hey, it is what it is.

I almost, but not quite, got a Pushcart nomination.

I almost got into the print version of a literary journal, but not quite -- just the online version.

Sometimes, though, almost is good enough. Peace...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Oh No Na No...

So it is November, the month of birds and words, at least for a few more days. I've had my fill of crispy skin and stuffing, but I'm still trying to get my full share of words in by the time December rolls around later this week.

I'm stuck at 26,000 words and change, satisfactory for me--when I started NaNoWriMo earlier this month, I had no intention of writing a novel, much less reaching 50,000 words. I've "won" NaNoWriMo twice before, and while I reveled in the sheer intensity of the month, in the end I used little of what I wrote in my final products. I don't consider those wated minutes or words; indeed, writing intensely provided a chance to build character, context, history. In other words, a way to get to know my characters intimately.

So, I decided to give myself the chance to wallow in writing for the sheer heck of it. Pre-writing, I call this process of crafting character sketches, scenes, playing out plots and subplots. Indeed, most of my writing has been answering the questions "who?" and "what if?" as they pertain to my current work-in-progress The Minister's Wife.

Who set the church on fire?
What if Maryam, the minister's wife, loved her husband's younger brother?
Who should die -- Nikko or Josh?
What if Reverend Martin decides to become an ardent peacenik?
What if Jill tells Maryam she's afraid of her son hurting her? hurting himself?
Who in the congregation will the poet prey on next?
What would happen if Maryamd reveals even one of the many secrets the congregants tell her?

There's lots of riches in my 26k words, lots of good stuff to mine later. But for now, the muse is in residence, the editor on a long cruise in sunnier climes, and I am pacing out my third novel as it unreels. A small snippet from this morning's session...

Friday night, after the players leave and her husband drives Pauline back to the nursing home where she lives, is Kay’s favorite time of the week. For twenty minutes she has the sanctuary to herself. The quiet soothes her. No television blaring, no Henry bothering her for this little thing or that, no voices from her past filling her head. For just a few minutes, she feels a remnant of herself.

She runs her fingers over the chimes Reverend Martin uses to end the moment of silence after the meditation. This is the only part of the service she misses, and she wishes anyone other than Reverend martin delivered those soothing words and allowed the silence. But he is still here, and when she remembers this, it seems a small stone lodges in her throat and a bitter steel taste fills her mouth.

She picks up an empty coffee mug, someone carelessly left on the fireplace mantle. A cricket, trapped somewhere inside, chirps its melancholic song. Odd, a cricket in December. Though the weather has been warm, a protracted Indian summer. While in the kitchen she empties the coffee urn and rinses it with warm water. She puts the bags of pretzels and nuts in the last cupboard, on the highest shelf so that pesky child will not pilfer them when he comes to church. Brat! If she’d had children, she would never let them run wild through the building, taking what did not belong to them.

Kay turns off the kitchen lights and then the overhead lights in the sanctuary. For a few moments everything is a perfect slate of black and she forgets where she is, forgets she is in a church and panic clutches at her chest, she is in the closet, the closet, and she hears someone crying ‘Mama, mama, please’ and the mothball wool of the coats drape over her, attack her. She fumbles for the light switch, and the room returns – alter, banner, chalice, kitchen, stacked chairs, speckled linoleum floor. She breathes again, the stone dislodges.

But she hates the over-bright fluorescence and she wants her peace. Just an instant. So she opens the drawer of the small table holding the chalice and withdraws the matches. Her small ritual, her way of making good with the god she is not sure she any longer believes in. With the matches and candle in hand, she returns to the light switch and the room goes black again. But this time Kay is not frightened, she knows where she is. Her eyes adjust, she walks carefully across the sanctuary again to the altar.

The sulphur smell of the match fills the air. The small flame flickers and Kay touches the thick white candle in the middle of the chalice. It almost flickers out, but then grows stronger. The walls gleam golden. Her shadow wavers, a giant against the ceiling. She picks up a thinner taper and lights in from the large candle.

For John, she says, my lovely son. She grinds the end of the taper into the bowl of sand, and lights a second. For Bill, I miss you, my love. My one true love. The second candle stands beside the first. She considers lighting a candle for her mother. The wick takes, then falters. For Henry.

She stands before the candles, the warmth filling her face, filling the sanctuary. For a moment, the world stills. Grace fills her, forgiveness, even for Henry. Even for Martin. Her eyes close. Yes, even for Martin.

Outside, a horn bleats. Kay rushes for her coat, her purse, and enters the night.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living Thanks

As I get older, every morning I wake feels like a gift. It is difficult, in the hustle and bustle of the day, to forget what each day brings: a chance to live. It is difficult to put aside the petty desires, the hurts, the annoyances, and just enjoy the instant. To Be.

Which is why I started a daily gratitude journal: bluetruedream. To keep me honest.

I am thankful for so much: my husband, my son and daughter, my parents and sister, nieces, nephews,other family, my friends. I give thanks for being raised by caring parents, for growing up knowing I was loved even if the words were rarely spoken.

I give thanks for having a job, for being able to ride the subway most days, for having the privilege of being a student again.

I am thankful for living in the United States, where I can live free, write free, speak free.

I give thanks for my gifts. And my flaws, for they make me strive to better myself.

And I give thanks to my students: I learn so much from them, about research and health and life, and courage.

Most of all, I give thanks for now. Not then, not tomorrow, but now.

What are you grateful for?


Monday, November 21, 2011

Query Hell

I've done this before, so I should remember how LOUSY, how draining, how FUTILE it feels to send queries to agents -- but I forgot. Or I somehow thought I'd grown stronger armor.

So. My stats so far:

4 email queries +
1 meet-agent-at-a-conference pitch ==> 1 full request + 2 rejects + 2 outstandings

Until today. A dark and stormy night, but the garbage needed to taken out and the mail to needed to be fetched. There, fluttering in the wind, 'The Letter'. Good news from agents does not come in the mail, it comes by phone. So.

A pass on the full.

So. The agent had complementary things to say, as well as one weakness which, perhaps, is fixable. I am not so wed to my story as it is told and, in fact, had considered taking away one of my two narrators.

And perhaps I will. Just as I might (maybe) repackage the entire novel as a YA story, age down my protag and make him a brilliant 16 year-old at Harvard, turn my medical student into a naive pre-med undergrad. As another agent three years suggested.

The beauty of writing is that there is no one RIGHT way; instead, the possibilities of telling a story remain infinitely boundless. And despite the low pay (hey, I DID earn $25 bucks for a short story), I guess I should feel fortunate I will always have a job rewriting this blasted novel.


There is a bottle of white chilling in the fridge. Off to ponder those possibilities.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


My husband, children, and cat left this morning in the thick dark of pre-dawn, headed to New England to visit his family. I will join them Wednesday -- too much work to leave early and join them on their adventure.

Watching them drive away, I wanted to draw them back, give each another, deeper hug. Always, I worry -- suppose something happens? Suppose we never see each other again? The necessity of separation, of not being with the ones you love in case, fills me, the mother, with a low-frequency anxiety. It makes me aware that living cradles the same cusp as dying, of 'bad things happening', and to grasp the now with both hands and both feet.

Already, less than two hours later, the quietude I have craved overwhelms. It's an uneasy solitude I will likely feel comfortable with just hours before I leave. I've filled the space with cleaning a toilet, a garbage can, of picking up the cat's food bowl. I have walked through every room of the house, picked up errant socks and crumpled tissues. I have drunk two cups of coffee and thought about this blog post. But I cannot dwell on 'what ifs', on those contingencies which control me and not the other way around. I have a few hours of quiet, and must make the best of them, for I will crave them again all too soon when in the midst of the turmoil and noise that makes a family and a life. Peace...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Number 72 and More @ Connotation Press

Two of my stories -- Number 72 and I Should Not Have Rushed You Through the Rain -- are up at CONNOTATION PRESS. Flip sides of the same moment, the stories center around a patient's last meeting with his oncologist. Editor Meg Tuite (and author of the gripping Domestic Apparition) interviews me on the stories, inspired by my father's experience with his health care providers.

Thank you Meg for publishing my work. Peace...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Notebook

Got me a new notebook this weekend, a nice blue number, Moleskine of course. I wrote CLOSER to NORMAL and PURE in black moelskines, the hard-cover varieties. But for THE MINISTER'S WIFE I wanted something a little rebellious, a little... ballsy. For this will be a dangerous novel. The notebook fits perfectly in my purse's outer pocket, and smells like possibility.

Writers drool over notebooks, pens, pencils, and laptops. At least I do. Last week slam poet extraordinaire Gayle Danley visited my son's school. I was jealous -- I never had such cool visitors to my school as a kid. She's a Baltimore resident, and is a National Slam Poetry winner. Here, Gayle's riff on notebooks.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011


In my Contemporary American Writers class we dissect the structures of stories: the fault lines, the sources of tension, the motivations of characters. But what keeps the story's innards from tumbling beyond its outline? What keeps a story contained?

We think of poems as having specific structures, of having a form, and they do--quatrains, concrete, haikus, rondeaus. But stories also have shapes, and these shapes should reflect the content and feel of the story. Just as a poem of love takes well to the sonnet form, so should a story of love be told in a form that conveys that love.

Aleksandar Hemon is a master of story containers. A Bosnian caught in the United States when war broke out, he chronicles the isolation and desolation of being an unexpected immigrant when all he loves are scattered across the world or, worse, stuck in Sarajevo. The immigrant story is an old tale, and a modern one. In THE QUESTION OF BRUNO, a collection of stories about disconnection and alienation, Hemon carries us into his world and leaves us with the same unsettling emotions he undoubtedly has felt. Each story has dissonance, and in large part that dissonance comes from the story's container.

ISLANDS, the opening story, consists of 33 scenes, many a few lines long, of stand-alone events told through the eyes of a young child visiting relatives on an island. Much like an island, each scene is individual, isolated, yet when taken as a whole, the scenes become an archipelago of sorts. In A COIN, two sides of events told by two distinct voices, one in letters, one in inner monologue. The expository narrative, however, is told in active voice, in a real voice--we experience events as the letters unreel--and the inner monologue is hazy, unreal, and slowly devolves into a sort of madness. Instead of turning us off from the graphic horror of Sarajevo and its snipers, though, A COIN invites us in with its hypothetical "Suppose there is a Point A and a Point B and that, if you wan to get from Point A to Point B, you have to pass through an open space clearly visible to a skillful sniper. In another example, THE SORGE SPY RING tells two stories in parallel, one a boy's fantasy of becoming a spy, the parallel story based on a historical spy told in footnotes.

Each of the eight stories in this collection have their unique container, none alike, yet simIilar in their sense of unease, of loss, of yearning for home. Taken together, the book reads with an odd asymetry, a lack of balance and neatness which we, as readers, want. Instead, we're delivered an unexpected sucker-punch.

So much yet to learn, to write. So many containers to fill.

Tell me--how do you contain your stories? If you read, what story structures move you? Peace...

BONUS: NYT review and excerpt of the book ==> HERE.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Road

As most of you know, I've felt fallow the last 3-4 months as far as the writing goes. The last push on CLOSER TO NORMAL kind of wiped me out, and short fiction lost its allure (at least for the time being). Sure, I've penned a few poems, very rough drafts that have yet to face the revision knife. But although glimmerings of the muse surfaced here and there, she proved a tease.

Earlier this summer, the concept of a larger project, THE MINISTER'S WIFE, a series of linked stories, came to me. I ran with it, wrote a few character sketches: the minister's son Josh and his troubled friend Nikko, newly-divorced and hungry Janice, and Alex, the predatory poet. But I hit roadblocks, including those described above and because some of the story felt a little too close to home.

Time has a funny way of healing, of forming necessary distance. So does the change of season. With the cold of November, my head and heart have settled into a truce of sorts. November also brings NaNoWriMo, the month where thousands of writers around the world engage in a fierce battle to write 50,000 words towards a novel.

I'm no weekend warrior when it comes to writing; I take the tortoise's approach, through temperament and necessity. But I accepted the challenge and am happily engaged in PRE-writing my story: fleshing out characters, eaking out their motivations and desires, figuring out setting and theme and, yes, even plot. And this morning, around the 5000th word, a line squiggled through the murk, a Point A to Point B, and that is the road.

Tangents will tempt me, and road blocks will require climbing over, but at least I can see the path. Peace...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

This City Street

Walking down
this city street -
pop sizzle and thrum,
Friday night sturm-
angst throbbing
doors slung open,
tables spilling,
concrete river
humming chit
chatter chortle
laughter escalating
desperation slinging
pomegranate mojitos,
appletinis, cabernet
sauvignon, goat
cheese pizzettas,
sly bullshit to air
space, words suspend
vapid in boom-boom-
boomlay-boom bass
clicking heels
lacquered nails,
innuendos bubble
champagne, lipsticked
rims, sighs, hopes
promises unfurled
whispers--I am
sated in the comfort
of my skin.


A snapshot of Boston's Newbury Street this past Spring 'round midnight... a detour on the one-year anniversary of the LANGUAGE>PLACE Blog Carnival, created and hosted by the inimitable Dorothee Lang. Check out the 24 destinations on the colorful map, then read on. Peace...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Poem I Wish I Had Written


I think of it with wonder now,
the glass of mucus that stood on the table
in front of my father all weekend. The tumor
is growing fast in his throat these days,
and as it grows it sends out pus
like the sun sending out flares, those pouring
tongues. So my father has to gargle, cough,
spit a mouthful of thick stuff
into the glass every ten minutes or so,
scraping the rim up his lower lip
to get the last bit off his skin, then he
sets the glass down on the table and it
sits there, like a glass of beer foam,
shiny and faintly golden, he gargles and
coughs and reaches for it again
and gets the heavy sputum out,
full of bubbles and moving around like yeast—
he is like a god producing food from his own mouth.
He, himself, can eat nothing anymore,
just a swallow of milk, sometimes,
cut with water, and even then
it can’t always get past the tumor,
and the next time the saliva comes up
it is ropey, he has to roll it in his throat
a minute to form it and get it up and dis-
gorge the oval globule into the
glass of phlegm, which stood there all day and
filled slowly with compound globes and I would
empty it and it would fill again
and shimmer there on the table until
the room seemed to turn around it
in an orderly way, a model of the solar system
turning around the sun,
my father the old earth that used to
lie at the center of the universe, now
turning with the rest of us
around his death, bright glass of
spit on the table, these last mouthfuls.


Sharon Olds wrote The Glass in observance of her father's death. I am in awe of this poem, how she confers such grace and beauty in an object that is quite horrible. Her own repugnance is manifest at the poem's beginning, but watch as she slowly softens towards the mucus-filled glass and turns it into a glorious sun, the remnants of her father the new center of her universe.

This poem teaches me so much about the thread of tension that must pull through a piece. Here, the tension wavers between horror and awe. The poem swings like a pendulum between these two extremes, deftly and transparently.

Much of my writing has focused on my own father's struggle with cancer and eventual death. I write around events, as did Olds--she wrote many versions of this poem. All I know is every time I read these words, by the end I feel my heart has landed on its knees. Peace...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Future Is Here...

and it's name is AMAZON.

Who needs a bookstore? an agent? and now, a publisher? No need for these middle-men -- Amazon has it all wrapped up, or so says the or so says the New York Times.

Fascinating new twist on the "market" called publishing. What do you think -- crisis or opportunity?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Weary of Dreary

I grew tired of gray, of death and dreariness, of depression economic and spiritual. Winter approached, the season of black on white, and it would be days before the sun painted color on the hill.

I grew weary of feeling dreary.

The past months had worn me down, a rounded pebble in life's river. I craved beauty, jagged edges to slap me awake, a haven of light. I craved an antidote, so I created ==> THIS.

Enjoy, and peace...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Eh, not me either. The well’s gone dry, so to speak. Then again, maybe my silence is a sort of PTSD reaction to the two memorial services I attended last week. Plus the loads of bad news that Keeps. On. Ticking like that damn Energizer bunny.

Seems everyone’s got it bad -- death, illness, lay offs, depression. Me, I’m actually having a decent spot of stasis with kids/hubbers/work/class (knock on wood). But so many people I love are having a tough go and my heart aches.

I managed to riff off this little poem over the weekend. One way to work out the sadness. First new writing other than a paper for class in weeks…


Today I baked an apple cake
three apples firm, not bruised.
New crop apples,
you would say, better
for eating out-of-hand,
but all I had in stock.

It is the dice of apples
that makes the cake,
too small and sauce;
too large, teeth break.
You supervise even now,
your admonishments louder
than the radio’s bray.

Flour sifts, ghost veils,
brown sugar churns
with butter, nuts cracked
for crunch, bones
of the cake. Collected,
the cake settles into
its greased glass coffin.

Cinnamon reminds me
of that mountain afternoon,
walking through sweet hay
fields to the orchards, fallow
then and frost-bitten.
Wizened fruits hung still
in cider-spiked air.

We carted our rare prizes
in brown burlap, bundled
in your lap, at your feet.
The truck bounced down
the rocky hillside,
and we laughed.

Later, with apple ache
rounding our bellies,
I cut into the cake
still warm, vanilla ice
puddling on your plate.

I wish grace to Cathy. Rose. Renee. Lynne. Becky. Henry. Your losses are mine, I wish I could shoulder them fully. Peace…

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall

I don’t remember much about falling off the wall, but what I do remains vivid – first the rending crack, a shaking sigh, and the green of the grass, each blade a perfect sword. My insides oozed out and coated the ground with a pearly sheen. The stark brilliance of the sky pained my eyes. Angels sung, a low thrumming hymn, and this peace, this grace overtook me and I cried, I cried, I was so happy! But then the men came in their shiny white jackets and picked up my brittle shards. My mind slithered down the hill, a rainbow of gold and pink and black. They caught the black but the rest escaped, and they bundled us up and carted us away in a screaming car and deposited us in a room without color or light and here I stay, swaddled like a baby, me and the black.

To this day, most people think I fell off the wall. Saying so kind of smoothes over the awkwardness of that event, just like calling someone who is rip-roaring drunk indisposed. But I know the truth, and until I speak it they will keep me here. “For your safety,” they tell me. Meanwhile, they bring me teeny white cups filled with luminosity: blue triangles, orange ovals, yellow spheres. Sometimes I swallow, sometimes not. What keeps me sane is the memory of that day looping through my shell of a head, the only other color in my otherwise black-and-white world.


Humpty Dumpty appeared earlier this week in 52, the final quarterly (and grand finale) of the 52/250 Flash-A-Year Challenge. Editors extraordinaire Michelle Elvy, Walter Bjorkman, and John Wentworth Chapin asked several of us *chronic* flashers to retell a fairy or folk tale. I chose Humpty because I'd always wondered if his crack-up was literal or metaphorical. Several of my older stories appear in weeks #44 (ANT FARM), #48 (TAINTED LOVE), and #52 (PHANTOM SISTER). Allow yourself to linger here -- fabulous work by many names you will recognize.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011


He stood on his porch and breathed in, long and full. Behind his ribcage, on the left, a twinge. He acknowledged the pain and bid it away with his exhalation. Sun filtered through leaves, dappling him in light and shadow. He focused on the red bird in the hedgerow. He raised his left foot into the cleft above his knee. Breathe in. I will beat this. Breathe out. Bad energy. He balanced on his right leg, a statue. A flurry of wings. He remembered the needle sticks, the crimson-filled vials, and wobbled in the small breeze.

Lying in the dewy grass in corpse pose, the stars of heaven above him, it was hard not to let worries take over his breath. He thought most of the burdens on his wife and teenage daughter. He thought of his yoga students missing class, of no longer learning at the feet of his guru. He itemized unfinished projects. The moon rose over the tree line, a huge white ghost, the air so clear he discerned craters and mountains. He focused on the largest indent and breathed but the holes in the moon reminded him not of a face but of lacunae, the holes in his body left behind by marauding white blood cells that multiplied and multiplied until they conquered the red cells and built their own fortresses, lemon-sized lumps circling his kidney. His breath leaked out and he bolted up with a choking sound.

After the surgery he slept, his body too weak for anything else. People fluttered in and out of his room, angel shadows leaving fingerprints on his forehead, his cheek, the top of his hand. He remembered what he taught his students, to breathe out bad and breathe in good, and he surrendered to his breath. On each inhale he imagined golden sunshine flooding his bloodstream, his organs, his muscle and bone, then pushing dead cells and other debris through his lungs and pores on each exhale. Days passed. He breathed gentle arpeggios and dreamt of standing in a glade of redwoods, birds circling his head, mountains towering above the treetops. Fingertips tented in prayer position, he raised his hands over his head, feet rooted to the earth, and breathed.


My friend Joe passed away this morning after fighting cancer with indomnitable spirit and grace. He leaves behind his wife and daughter, not much older than my son. Both are full of his same grace. I wrote this story for him when he was first diagnosed; this is how I will remember him -- solid, a calming presence, full of life. Peace...

Monday, October 03, 2011


How did this happen? Just yesterday it was hot, muggy, and I sipped white wine with raspberries from the garden...


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's all about tension

In class this week we dissected a story by Tobias Wolff in his collection BACK IN THE WORLD. I had not read Wolff before, and if you have not, I suggest you do: he writes some of the most honest, transparent prose I've had the pleasure to read. Simple lines, straight-forward words, yet when you break each sentence down, you get blown away at the mastery. Then, bundle all those sentences up into a paragraph or two, and you get blown away again.

But I digress. For now, at any rate -- we will return to Wolff momentarily.

Let's talk about tension. Tension is what propels us through a story. It is the journey the reader takes to discover whether or not the heroine gets what she desires most. As my instructor said, tension is suspense, and suspense is the space between when the question is asked and when it is answered. I've thought of tension primarily as a function of the story and, to a lesser degree, of character. It also is implicit in our syntax, our word choice, our sentence structure.

At the plot level, we put tension into our story whenever we can. We make our protagonists' lives miserable by throwing insolvable situations in their paths. We create sublot upon subplot to racthet up the interest. We end a scene at a harrowing point that makes us flip the page.

At the character level, we mess with their heads, make them desire that which they cannot have or, at the least, must work very hard to achieve. We provide our creations with yin characteristics that go yang with their lives -- a yearning for order when evicted from a shelter, a desire to be irresponsible when you are a child taking care of a younger sibling and all the grown-ups have abandoned you.

At the cellular level, how the sentence plays on the page also amps up tension. Read the opening paragraphs of COMING ATTRACTIONS, the first story in Wolff's book:

Jean was alone in the theater. She had seen the customers out, locked the doors, and zipped up the night's receipts in the bank deposit bag. Now she was taking a last look around while she waited for her boss to come back and drive her home.

Mr. Munson had left after the first show to go ice skating at the new mall on Buena Vista. He'd been leaving early for almost a month now and at first Jean thought he was committing adultery against his wife, until she saw him on the ice one Saturday afternoon while she was out shoplifting with her girlfriend Kathy. They stopped by the curved window that ran around the rink and watched Mr. Munsen crash into the wall several times. "Fat people shouldn't skate," Kathy said, and they walked on.

When do you sense tension in this excerpt?

For me, on the first read, I felt unease when I got to the phrase "shoplifting with her girlfriend" in the second paragraph. Buried between clauses, at first I thought I'd read this wrong, that she had gone "shopping" with a girlfriend. But no, I read it right, and this tipped me off to the potential irresponsibility of Jean.

But what about the first sentence? Imagine it read "Jean was alone." Tension? Not really. In fact, I would WELCOME some time alone. Add "in the theater", a place normally crowded, and a slight creepiness curls the edges of this sentence. The next two sentences seems routine, but then why is a young girl closing up shop and not her boss? And where is he anyway? Hmmm...

I chuckled to myself when I read the opening of the second paragraph -- a boss, ice skating at a mall instead of tending to his business! And then, this girl who shoplifts uses the formal phrase "committing adultery against his wife" instead of more casual and age-appropriate phrases as "screwing around". This choice adds yet another subtle layer of tension, one of moral ambiguity.

And so on. After two hours of meticulous examination (and hey, we're only half-way through this story), I realized that Wolff's story, seemingly simple, is masterfully complex.

I have so much more to learn. Yippee!!!!!! Peace...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Culture of Place - Language > Place Blog Carnival

Missing Summer, a quick detour on the 10th Language>Place Blog Carnival, hosted by artist extraordinaire Sheree Mack @ EVERY DAY CREATIVITY. Follow the world as others explore the culture of place, and check out Sheree's challenge to create one piece of art every day through 2011. Peace...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best of the Net

I am honored to have a small poem nominated for Best of the Net - LAST TRIP, published by the superb Camroc Press Review last October.

A huge thanks to editor Barry Basden for publishing and promoting my work. Peace...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Middle-Aged Mama Has Her Mid-Life Crisis

For some reason last spring it occurred to me that being a full-time professor/mother/wife, while fun and fulfilling, did not occupy enough of my time and sanity. Days chugged along quite satisfactorily; the kids were happy, the husband well-fed and agreeable, my students had enough funding to keep them in rice and beans. Myself, I had a routine, one that kept me writing in the mornings, blogging and editing in the late evenings. I managed on my six hours of sleep, and felt pretty good about life, love, and all the other things in the world.

Then summer hit. Ennui settled in with the humidity. I hit walls – with work, with writing. Life felt aimless. It drove me crazy.

I considered withdrawing my life savings and buying a Maserati sports coupe. I contemplated running away to Italy or maybe Maine, to shelter at Haystack awhile. There were quite a few days I almost did NOT take my exit and kept driving, driving, driving. Restlessness thrummed under my skin like an electric current.

But I am not gutsy enough to throw myself into too much adventure. Perhaps all I needed was something to percolate the spaces between my synapses. I decided to pursue a dream I’ve had ever since I started writing 5 years ago. So on a whim I applied to a graduate program in creative writing – and got in.

Going in, I had reservations – this was an MA program, not an MFA. I was not/am not sure whether I’d rather go the MFA route (more on this later). But for now I am an official student in the Johns Hopkins MA in Creative Writing program. I am quite certain I am the oldest student in the class. I am also quite certain I have less exposure and training in the humanities than my classmates. Walking around the Homewood campus reminded me of Chapel Hill, which of course vaulted me back to my own undergraduate memories, my mispent youth.

The MA is part-time, of course. One course a semester. This semester, Contemporary American Writers. One class in, and already my brain’s flexing like Gumby. Asking the provocative questions:

• When I ‘like’ something I read, why do I ‘like’ it?
• What are my core set of beliefs regarding life? Regarding art?
• How do writers elevate life into art?
• Why do I write?

I have never sat in a classroom with a dozen other people passionate about writing and reading and art. Wow. Even though my first class occurred during one of the worst emotional weeks of my life, for almost 3 hours I forgot my grief, my anxiety, my frustration. For 3 hours I was transported and re-energized.

We’ve been discussing this video, a TED talk by Shea Hembrey, a contemporary artist who took on a phenomenal challenge -- he became 100 artists. Take a peek, and tell me -- would you, could you, do this with your art? Your writing? Why or why not?


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits

My head flings thoughts these days like buckshot. Already I miss the deliberate ease of summer.

A sense of apocalypse fills my gut -- earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and now (again), stinkbugs. These nasty critters munch on our fruits, and with every bite they inject a small drop of yeast which ferments the crop's insides into a mushy mess. Asian pears, seckels, kiwis, raspberries, gone. All gone. As the weather cools, they will slide through cracks and settle inside. There is no cure for the stink bug, exxcepting perhaps the cat, who chases them with relish...

My children are settling into routine. Routine is good. Necessary. More for me than them.

The Writing... Not happening. Not one new word other than the blather here and in my journal and a short story I've edited to death. The past few weeks I've treaded water, exhausted from the big push to get CLOSER TO NORMAL (the novel formerly known as BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT) out to agents, the water seeping into our basement, work, and Important. Family. Stuff. But I've been thinking of PURE, of my characters and the plotline, thinking of making Ben a Buddhist type who more and more believes in living clean, including sans medications. And why not? There's growing evidence that psychiatric medications are making us sicker. Finally, the writing ennui fades, I feel a slight tingle at the thought of picking up PURE again.

The Reading... Some people eat or sleep when blue. Not me - I read. One of the best recent reads is Steve Himmer's THE BEE-LOUD GLADE -- you can read my review at JMWW. I polished off several other novels as well, though which ones escape me. Lately, I've had my nose in short story collections, primarily because I need to read these books for writing class. Oh, did I mention I am a writing program? More on that later... Who would have thought a middle-aged woman with two tweenish kids who has absolutely NO humanities background would go back for a Master's degree in creative writing? Call me crazy...

Live hard, writer harder, love hardest. Peace...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Soup Bean Annie

I loved me a man once, more than I loved my Mama, more than I loved Daisy, the sweet mare Pa gave me before he upped and left. My Frank was a strapping man, and handsome too, a man who would as ready fix the roof as whip up a batch of pone. But he had the wanderlust, it gleamed strong in his eye.

There would come a morning when the sap started running and I’d wake and the bed was cold and bare as the root cellar. Then I’d know -- he’d left to ride the rails. But after some weeks or months passed, he’d come back, coppers in his pocket and stories in his head. I’d welcome him with a warm supper and warmer bed. Last time, though, remembering how cold summer felt without him, I begged to go along. “Ain’t no place for a woman,” he’d said. “No place.”

Four years and I ain’t seen him since. For a long time, I banged around in my cabin, aimless as a cloud. One morning, a man came knocking on my door. He wore raggedy clothes, but clean. He tipped his hat and asked, “Chore for a meal?” I almost turned him away. But then I hoped maybe some other woman would do the same for my Frank, so I set him on some task – chopping a cord, cleaning the flue, churning butter – and when he was done, I fed him drop biscuits and a bowl of bean soup. He reminded me of Frank, the way his face creased when he smiled, the kindly look in his eyes. The way he pulled his bowl in real close. The next day, charcoaled on the side of the privy, I found a sign, x in a circle.

The hobos come from hundreds of miles away. Some days I have me a mess of men at the table. I feel good knowing they’ll mosey into town looking for work with a full belly. They take care of the manly things that need fixin, which sets my heart at ease. When they leave, they scratch their symbols – “good meal here.”

These days, more and more men wander to my cabin. Most work a bit, but some don’t, the soft ones who ain’t so polite. The soup’s stretched thin, but I manage to feed them all. They sit at the table and swap their stories, new ones about the world coming to an end, about city men tossing themselves before oncoming trains. Lost their shirts, my men say as they slurp their soup, their eyes looking wolvish. Looking greedy.


Originally published this past spring in PURE SLUSH. Thanks to Matt Potter, editor extraordinaire, for taking this story for his International Women's Month issue.

Like Annie, my life's been a tough kettle of late. Today, a ray of sunshine to cling to. Life is good. Peace...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Memoriam

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
can 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.
Common words, sweet sacred prayers
lip-synched by believers heaven

sent from hell to transform heaven
marked by the golden crescent, stain
of a singular god and prayer,
cloaked in cheap polyester blue,
costume of the West, boarding planes
inhaling, exhaling, one breath

holy comingling with all breaths,
lifting as one to make heaven
on earth, to be done, in the plane.
It is foretold, on pages stained
sepia older than time, blue
ink and red seeping in prayer.

Father, mother, children all - pray
the ancient songs with soft breaths,
for God cannot hear in this blue
twilight; sing who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy love stained
by unseen portents, for the plane

is a steel-bound casket, the plane
pulses with souls insistent, prey
trembling, mortal flesh and smoke-stained,
metal-wrapped in a dragon’s breath.
For the meek, the blessed, to heaven
will float ashen to brilliant blue.

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


Today marks the tenth year. I think of this elapsed time as the decade of anxiety, for all the years before 9-11 feel marked with an unearned ease of innocence, one to which we as a nation never will return.

Take time today to reflect, breathe, pray, remember.

Peace, Linda

Thursday, September 08, 2011


What happens when the writers who host Flash Fiction Friday challenge other writers with a tantalizing theme (city of lost children) under a 4-day deadline? Some amazing stories.

What happens when said Flash Fiction Friday writers contribute moolah for each submitted story? A TON of money to children's charitable organizations. Check it all out HERE!

Enjoy, and peace...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Missing Summer...

This year, summer felt interminable -- the unrelenting heat, the earthquakes and hurricanes, the stinkbugs. The garden withered this year, or rotted: plums turned into fermented purple masses, the raspberries made into juice, ther asparagus ruined by beetles, every Asian pear speared by a stinkbug. We fled to the mountains of West Virgnia. There, wide valleys lay prostate to the ragged mountains, the blue of sky startling. The beauty of the land made me ache. Wandering West Virginia with my family made me realize how loud we lived our usual life. Without television or the computer or cell phones, it seemed leaves rustled louder, creeks gurgled, twigs in the forest snapped with every animal's furtive movement. At night, I fell asleep with the windows open, the cicadas and crickets vying for attention. The night air thrummed until the sun showed itself over the ridge. We drank and bathed in the healing waters of Berkeley Springs. We traveled dirt roads to hidden swimming holes. We chased trains and hiked mountains and followed sign to caverns that were closed. We ate well, dining on local stream trout, tomatoes, mushrooms served benedict-style. The first day we stopped at a gas station and bought peaches from a local farmer, the juice dripping down on our chins and arms as we gulped the fleshy fruit. My son drank a vanilla shake every day. We stood 4,800 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, and marveled at the 75-mile views. Little did we know an earthquake rattled Baltimore at the same time. After 5 days on the lonely mountain, we left and drove slowly east on Route 9. The winding roads lowered us to the flatlands just west of Harpers Ferry. Antsy and hungry, we stopped for an early lunch in Martinsburg. Patterson's Pharmacy served us hot dogs, egg and bacon sandwiches, and vanilla frappes spun on an old mixer. We ate at the counter, of course, and I chatted with the pharmacists, as well as the owner (and mayor) of the town. The kids got a bang out of spinning on their stools, buying cards and Russell Stover candies for a dime each, and I got nostalgic for a side of the pharmacy profession slowly dying out. Our vacation was far from idyllic. We spent a lot of constant, non-distracted time together. In other words, we bickered. Feelings were hurt, words were said that could not be retracted. Although far away from the busy-ness of modern, workday life, there was little solitude. Boredom reigned in the evenings. I brought several books but managed to get through only two short stories. I brought my journals, and managed to write one paragraph. But every night my husband strummed his guitar while the kids and I played cards. Before I went to bed, I played my cedar Native American flute; the instrument sounded more pure, more honest in the mountains. Despite the arguments, the lack of solid sleep, the craving for an hour of alone time, I realized two thing: I love my family with uncommon fierceness, and I miss their constant company.

A quick detour on the 10th Language>Place Blog Carnival, hosted by the artist extraordinaire Sheree Mack @ EVERY DAY CREATIVITY. Follow the world as others explore the culture of place, and check out Sheree's challenge to create one piece of art every day through 2011. Peace...

All photographs except for Patterson's Pharmacy taken by my husband of the excellent eye. Peace...

Monday, September 05, 2011

14 Million

This is how many Americans remain officially unemployed. As many as fill the states of Illinois, Wyoming, and Vermont.

Millions more remain unofficially unemployed -- they've given up on the job market -- and millions yet more remain underemployed and/or under-recompensed. Today I will keep the hope and dignity of all these people in my heart as I remember Labor Day. Peace...

Thursday, September 01, 2011


WAITING, a story about pregnancy and receiving our heart's desires, up at Blue Fifth Review. Linger awhile, and enjoy the fine, lush words and art by Nora Nadjarian, Jenny Baker, Dave Malone, Rachel Dracus, and Dianna Henning. Scroll down for WAITING.

Thank you Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake for featuring my work. Peace...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And They're Off!

After two days of school cancellations due to the detritus left behind by Hurricane Irene, the kids are back in school.


Does anyone else feel this was the longest summer ever?

But a good one.

And speaking of sending off, just popped into the FedEx box a wee little manuscript to an agent who requested the full monty. I am exhilarated and terrified and not sure whether to vomit or weep.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

To Be Sung Underwater (Review)

The man sits hidden among pines on a bluff overlooking the grid of farms and county roads lying north. It is hot. Several times now the man has moved his three-legged camp stool to maintain full shade. That is how long he has been waiting and watching and drinking. He watches through a scope, a 3 x 9 x 40 Bushnell, the one he has used in his lifetime for large, wary prey – deer, for example, and sometimes antelope.

So begins TO BE SUNG UNDERWATER, a novel by Tom McNeal (Little Brown). But the man is not waiting for game but for a woman, the woman he loved twenty-five years earlier as a seventeen year-old transplant from Vermont. This is the love story between Willy Blunt, a young carpenter with pale blue eyes, and Judith Whitman, a driven young woman who comes to live with her father in Nebraska. In one summer, they fall in love and to Judith, marrying Willy seems the natural next and best step in her life. But when college takes her to California, Judith pursues her dream of a film editing career and forgets Willy. She marries a successful banker, has a daughter, and lives a dream life. But her marriage has secrets, some of them kept from her, and Judith becomes dissatisfied and restless with her life. She remembers the sweeter and slower times she had with Willy in the wide-open Nebraska plains. This story is about what happens when a woman trying to remember love reaches back into her past to find the man who never forgot her.

To Be Sung Underwater is both lush and transparent. The prose sings without drawing attention to itself. McNeal paints the beauty and harshness of Nebraska, as well as the rush and sparkle of Los Angeles, with enviable ease. The story alternates from past to present, and he weaves the two time periods seamlessly. For a man, McNeal writes girl good, especially when he writes Judith as a teenager. Here, the writing shines with wit and irony and the right touch of rebellion of every young person. This, when Judith first meets Willy, who has come to roof a neighbor’s house:

Judith watched him follow her in and didn’t stop watching until the door closed behind them. When she turned back, the station wagon was still there and the bearded roofer was looking her way. The red brim of his Purina seed cap was stained dark with sweat, and his amused expression seemed to suggest he knew a little bit more about this country and about this farm and possibly even about her than she ever would. It was quite an irritant. With all the hostility she could muster, she said, “What’re you looking at?”

The roofer made dropping his gaze seem like an act of deference. “Well, I was looking at you,” he said, then raised his eyes again and let them settle even more fully on Judith. “And I’ll bet I’m not the first.” He was smiling again.

Judith gave him a stony stare and said,” Are you half-witted or just easily amused?”

She expected this to send the roofer into retreat, but it didn’t. His smile in fact loosened slightly. He raked his fingers through his beard and said, “Just exactly how old are you, anyway?”

“Seventeen,” she lied.

He nodded, stared off for a moment, then turned his face to her again. “Well, then, I’d call you dangerous.”

McNeal shows great affection for his characters. They come across as honest, flawed, and compassionate. Judith is the girl of the seventies, a time when women began openly to flex their brains and muscles. She doesn’t quite trust relationships, even with Willy, due in large part to her own parents’ failing marriage. Willy uses big language and once had big dreams, but finds his talent and his lot in carpentry, in building things. This love estranges him from his father, who wishes nothing more than for him to take over the family farm.

Summer in Nebraska is full of lazy days drinking beer at secret swimming holes, making out in Willy’s truck, Thursday afternoon trysts in Judith’s bedroom while her father is away. Willy drinks beer in almost every scene, and I wondered why Judith, astute in most other ways, never questions his constant drinking. Her neglect of this detail plays a significant role in their relationship and in their ends. Without giving away too much, the finale has a Hollywood feel, perhaps too closely scripted and contrived relative to the rest of the novel. You sense the oncoming tragedy, the tension palpable.

McNeal writes a gorgeous, devastating tale, one which will make you rethink what is important in your life. It is a story of living a reflective life, even if that soul-searching comes too late for redemption. It is a story of choices made, and how to gain some happiness by returning to those wrongly made choices. Reading To Be Sung Underwater often left me in a state of peace, of serenity, an almost spiritual place. If this is what Rufus Sage, Nebraska feels like, then take me there. Transport me, the way this book does, to a place of greater grace.

About the Author: Tom McNeal's first novel, Goodnight, Nebraska, won the James A Michener Memorial Prize and California Book Award. His short fiction has appeared in the The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Pushcart Prize XXI. He lives near San Diego with his wife and sons. To learn more about Tom and his writing wife Laura, check out their website McNeal Books.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back Again

Back from a trip to West Virginia (it really IS remote). More on that jaunt later, but for now please take a gander at my story POISON PILL, thanks to the kind folks at Every Day Fiction. Peace...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You know you're a writer when...

You go back-to-school shopping and your kids get embarrassed because you're salivating over all the lovely Uniball gels and fine-tipped retractable Sharpies and smooth green Ticonderogas...

You know those 3-ring binders students zip up and throw over their shoulders like a book bag? These lovely school essentials now come with insurance. Yep, for a mere five bucks, if your binder breaks at any time in 2 years, you can return to your local Office Depot for a free replacement. You better believe I jumped all over that offer. Last year alone I bought three of those suckers -- for just one child. Kaching!

The crickets are chirping. Their song has replace that of the cicadas and tree frogs. Early morning, when I wake to write, a rogue cricket chirps from the basement. This is how I mark the wane of summer -- cricket song.

The end of summer means the beginning of school. This summer felt interminable. I'll be happy when that yellow bus turns the corner in another week. I think the kids will be too. A few days ago, after a particularly nasty spat of sibling sparring, I asked them, "Why do you fight so much?" My eldest sighed. "Mom," he said. "Summer is just like a long weekend. A really long weekend. We get bored, so we fight. Plus, it's fun."

This fall semester will find me on both sides of the desk. I teach a graduate level health policy class, a lot of fun and a chance to engage with the student seminar-style. But I'm also going to be a student myself, starting course-work for a Masters of Art in Creative Writing. I'm excited, I'm petrified, but mostly I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to keep all my balls in the air.

What are YOU looking forward to as summer winds down? Peace...

Monday, August 08, 2011


I slipped into the city swelter a fish returned to spawn...

This line came to me as I walked alongside the Lexington Market to my office. The hot summer smells of roasted peanuts and rotting vegetables, greasy chicken wings, hot tar from the pavers. A thin breeze brushed the city with the faint brine of ocean.

I have not walked this route for two weeks, yet all remained predictable: the commuters rushing to the sanctuary of the University, the young girl squalling in the unattended stroller, the dread-locked man nodding by the wall, the methadone kicking in. It occurred to me I had not missed this five block walk, that the daily ritual depressed me; I had felt lighter walking alongside the soybean fields in North Carolina.

Most of my co-workers drive to work and park in the eleven floors below our offices. They take the elevator and stay all day in hermetically-sealed rooms until their work is done. They take the return elevator to their car, and leave the city for cleaner, safer, antiseptic space. I used to justify my metro commute -- the walk through the hustlers and buskers, the whores and junkies, the workers who sell their wares, the street cleaners and parking lot attendants, the roving gangs of kids out of school -- as a needed dose of reality, innoculation against the sleepiness of the suburbs.

But for two weeks I didn't miss the walk. Now, I feel my edges turning blue. Peace...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shhhhhh... Summer Is in Progress

It's quiet here, and for good reasons. Most of all, I've been away, sweltering last week in North Carolina while visiting family. I've been a single mom, with Henry out West for his brother's wedding. The heat and humidity made most everything uncomfortable, and we did all get cranky being housebound, but we did manage to swim a lot, consume frozen confections of various types, and even take in a Mudcats ballgame as the sun set at 102 degrees. Beer and Dipping Dots made the weather bearable.

I didn't write a damn thing other than a short scene for my novel that came to me one morning. My blog post was written the week before and was a retread from last summer. I've barely blog-hopped, tweeted twice, and don't think I popped onto facebook a single time in ten days.

Back in Baltimore, a tad less hot. For three days I've had the house to myself, and have used most of that time to work on final edits on a novel, readying it for marketing. It may be hot, but it felt like Christmas when I unwrapped helpful edits from two talented and trusted writers.

I've also ruminated a lot, mostly on being a mother and the difficulty in finding a balance between being a friend and being a disciplinarian. Raising children is a lot like writing a book -- there are infinite ways to get to the ending. I'm fairly tolerant of their antics -- they are just kids after all -- and try to use their less-than-admirable times as teaching moments. But sometimes Mama comes undone, and that's cause for reflection. Mostly I realize I not perfect, and neither are my children, and try to cut all of us some slack.

Reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz) which started slow but quickly catapaulted me into the culture, history, and mouthfeel of the Dominican Republic. I wish I understood Spanish, Diaz sprinkles the language throughout; I know I am missing the fullness of his work in my half-ass translations.

Two more days of vacation. This is the first time in 16 years I have been away from work for two weeks. I've enjoyed the laziness, the solitude, the reliance on pizza and tomatoes from the garden, the absence of the internet. It's gonna be hard to leave the slow lane. Peace...

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Every day you Mama flirts with Constantine in this goddamn market, maybe he you daddy. But you lick you ice cream, little pink tongue like a cat’s, flick, flick. Lick fast, girl, the heat’s gonna melt it. Like summer’s melting me. I ‘member when I ate ice cream with my mama. Ten years? Twenty? Dunno how old I am, but I ‘member how the cold creamy freeze my brain. What? You holding that cone out for me? Spit rushes, my fingers twitch close, and you jump, drop the damn thing, laughing at me scooping the mess off the sidewalk, all greedy.


A retread from last summer, but certainly I feel the heat pulsing back up at the pavement at me a year later. Originally Published in Dog Days of Summer, an anthology of 100 word stories pulled together by Michael Solender. Read on for more summer heat. Peace...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Poetry in Place

This week's story is a poem, actually, and part of the LANGUAGE>PLACE Blog Carnival. This month's edition is hosted by Walter Bjorkman, a fellow Marylander, at his digs QUIK-BAKE SYNTHETICS. Peruse the mighty-fine holdings of writers you will recognize. My small contribution is HERE.

Enjoy, and peace...

Monday, July 18, 2011

The knee bone’s connected… or mystery diagnosis

For about three months my right shoulder has had these weird tingles, like it’s fallen asleep. The pins-and-needles feeling comes at random times – while dead-heading daylilies, sleeping on my side, flipping pages in a book. Being the half-assed clinician I am, I ran to the nearest medical authority – MEDPEDIA – to read up on all the possible causes for what is medically termed parasthesia.

The first step of the differential diagnosis is to characterize other symptoms. Pain? Nope, just an achy feeling at times, often upon waking. Weakness in arm? Double nope. Hand weakness? Not at all, though sometimes my fingertips felt tingly, too. Any swelling of the joint? Redness? Blueness? None at all.

Just the tingling, which was started to cramp (pun intended) my writing style.

Reading all the possible causes of tingly shoulder freaked me out. Multiple sclerosis? Sarcoma? Multiple myeloma? Arthritis? Dislocated shoulder? Mini-strokes? Oh my. I made haste to consult my primary care doctor. She ordered a full-body bone scan and lab tests requiring six vials of blood and two cups of pee. She then wrote me out a referral for 12 visits to a physical therapist.

Now I am not a physician, nor do I play one, though I DO create characters who think they are doctors. Thus, I do have some credibility in assessing my physical health. Furthermore, it IS fun to pretend you’re a doc with a patient’s life in your hands. So please, play with me and name that diagnosis. Other relevant information to consider:

>Height: 5’2’’
>Weight: Just north of normal BMI
>General health: Excellent
>Exercise: Walk 10,000 steps most days, pilates, yoga
>Hobbies: write, read, some gardening
>Hearing: within normal limits
>Vision: blind as a bat without corrective bifocal lenses
>Family history: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cancers galore, emphysema, lupus

All labs and blood work came back normal. Can you guess my mystery disease?

Winner gets a copy of DAMN SURE RIGHT, a damn fine collection of edgy shorts by the damn fine Meg Pokrass, published this year by Press 53.

Feel free to ask clarifying questions in the comment section. Have fun, all you Doogies! Peace…

Thursday, July 14, 2011

JUST BREATHE (Miriam's Story)

Arms by my side, I lie on the floor in the dark floating on a raft of breaths. I try to relax – that is why I am here, after all – learning to relax, but the towel bunches under my lower back and I want to yank it out, pull hard, like a Christmas cracker, for the pop, the small prize, the fortune, but of course, no such luck. My stomach gurgles thinking of the almond wafer melting in my mouth, which in turn makes me think of communion, though why I don’t know, I am the wife of a Unitarian Universalist minister, we have potlucks, and Catholic churches give me the willies.

The instructor’s voice wafts disembodied over my head: Remember to breathe.

My yoga teacher says the same thing every Thursday night. How ridiculous - breathing is an autonomic function, buried deep in the brain stem, as instinctual as apple pie and motherhood. Or perhaps not absurd, since motherhood eludes me and is the reason I am prostate in corpse pose on a carpet trod by hundreds of filthy shoes with a dozen other women all trying to envision the same thing: a tiny sperm swimming up the fallopian canal, making it’s touchdown with the egg, the fertilized embryo dropping like a feather to settle in the womb. Maybe I should heed the warning to breathe. Maybe these three years we’ve focused on the wrong body part – maybe it is my lungs that need fixing, not my baby making organs.

I want to return to the meadow, the one the instructor walked us through minutes ago, the one carpeted with sunshine and daisies and tall, waving grasses. In my imaginings, I wear a white dress and run in slow motion towards my first lover, a tall man, a philosopher with long wavy hair who proved, in the end, rather abusive. But how I loved that hair! Running my fingers through those auburn strands, braiding them into baby dreadlocks after screwing all afternoon on the narrow dorm mattress we threw on the floor. Bring me his head, I think, that will help me relax. I giggle in the quiet.

The instructor stands over me.

--Anything wrong, she whispers. I shake my head, mortified to be singled out. Then just breathe, she says.

Just breathe. Just relax. Right. As if relaxing will fix my faulty womb. The hormones haven’t, nor the nightly progesterone shots in my gluteus maximi, or the countless surgeries transplanting our beautiful, delicate embryos in their beds of nourishing tissue. Not the second mortgage making all this joy possible. Just breathe. As if the reason for my miscarriages is due to not breathing, not relaxing. I don’t have time to relax. I should be grocery shopping, the only milk in the refrigerator smells like sour cream. I should be making a casserole to eat later this week, or paying bills, or scrubbing toilets, anything other than lying here staring at the back of my eyelids.

--Inhale deep, she tells us all. From below your belly button. Breathe from your uterus. Bathe your growing baby in positive energy. Breathe in that golden sunshine from the meadow.

I concentrate on the three 4-week embryos cleaving to my uterine wall, sucking up nutrients, dividing from one cell to two, four, eight, sixteen, growing into a blob the size of a peanut, a golf ball, limbs emerge, a head, a spinal cord glints in the ultrasound. Hello, I say to my future child. I love you. Tiny fingers wave in amniotic fluid and for an instant everything goes white, goes warm, and I float with my daughter in the calm swells of my body.

--Breathe deeper. The floor shudders as the instructor walks past.

I breathe in, to bathe my babies in that golden sunshine, my blood pulsing around them, protecting them, but halfway through the inhale my throat clenches -- it is all so impossible, the embryos are too tiny, too fragile, mere cells surrounded by disaster.

Air wooshes out. I breathe in again, one, two, and on three my throat constricts again. I cannot I hold enough air with one breath, so I breathe and breathe, faster and faster, my chest heaves, my pulse thrums in my ears, and my baby disappears in a jagged flash of light. The meadow peels back, the flowers, the golden waving grass, my white dress, gone, all gone, and somewhere in the room someone gasps, someone cries, and the instructor kneels beside me, her hand on my back , and she holds me, she rocks me, and I want the floor to split open and swallow me, a useless woman who cannot make babies, who cannot even breathe.


Meet Miriam, the Minister's Wife. She's younger here, though not by much, a decade or so, but this is how I envision her story opening. At least today. Peace...