Monday, January 31, 2011


More ice and snow and other coldish stuff heading here tomorrow. I'm getting tired of the stuff. And much as I love my kiddos, it sure would be nice to have them at school more than a day a week.

LOVE is in the air. Right next to those heart-shaped pink boxes edged with lace and filled with chocolates. And to celebrate, friend and fantabulous writer Jodi MacArthur is hosting a Viva la Love Pen contest -- what does LOVE mean to You? Write your own elevator love pitch and win... a LOVE Pen! But hurry, just 3 more days.

Fascinating post by writer Amber Sparks on productivity, publishing, and all the associated angst in our twitterfied world. Provocative stuff, and will make you ask yourself: plug in, or plug out?

Remember John Boy? From The Waltons? From like the 1970s? So we're watching season 5 and a fancy-schmancy family from New York moves to Walton's Mountain (daddy was a stockbroker and then the market crashed). The college-aged daughter knows Max Perkins and wants to share John Boy's work, but when she reads his story, it lacks a compelling hook, the story needs to 'be tougher'. Which of course promulgates angst and chest-pounding about writing for art versus writing for the market. Some things never change...

Stay warm, stay safe. I'm heading to DC later this week, work and the AWP meeting. Hope to see some of you there. Peace...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bearing Witness

In the meeting house this morning, silence. No machines thrumming, no rumble of moving earth. Six others sit in equal quiet. A blue jay caws from someplace distant. I look down to my clasped hands. The query runs through me: Where there are hatred, division, and strife, how are we instruments of reconciliation and love?

Pews creak. Blue pulses below my wrist, skin thin as hope. The jay cackles again, the same or another I cannot tell, but Franklin rises and slides the door bolt. No one speaks; it is understood our other Friends fled South through the excavated tunnels. Decades ago, the Sin Papeles built the tunnels and immigrated North. When they crossed the border, broken and naked, we sheltered and fed them in our safe houses until they ran down our schools, shot the police, and bankrupted our hospital. Their children hold the town captive.

Still, we hold Sin Papeles to the light.

To the light we hold our Friends traveling South. I hold my daughter, her husband and infant to the light. My cousin Lorraine, the kindergarteners I taught. I hold them all to the light.

A shadow in the window. A flutter of blue feathers. Footsteps rustle brittle leaves. Far off, the staccato of gunfire. I smell the smoke before I see it curl past the window. Muriel reaches for me and we grip hands.

We are instruments of peace, we whisper. We are instruments of love.

I hold us to the light.


A rather dystopian ditty inspired by the 52-250 Flash a Year Challenge theme: border town. I recently went to a Quaker service; it seems that hour of reflection resonated longer and deeper than I thought -- this is the second story spun from that visit.

A foot of snow in Maryland. The ground glitters in treacherous beauty. Peace, Linda

Monday, January 24, 2011


Winter is when I dig deep, get the most and best writing done. There's something about the cold and dark that narrows the focus, reduces distraction, makes me turn inward. But already I yearn for a warmer sun, some green to push through the snow.

I have so many different projects in various phases of undress, yet when I come home from work, eat dinner, hang with the kids, I'm so exhausted I can only write in my head.

Just charted out this year's travel:
--February: Washington DC (AWP)
--April: Washington DC (Disparities in Behavioral Health conference)
--April: Boston (Muse and the Marketplace)
--April: North Carolina (see my mama!)
--June: Seattle (AcademyHealth)
--June: Charlotte, NC (General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association)
--June: West Virginia (cabin in the mountains for a week -- yee-haw!)
--July: Redwood, California (my BIL's tying the knot in a winery!)
--August: ????
--November: Boston (Gerontological Society of America and Thanksgiving with family)
--December: North Carolina (see my mama again!)

Travel exhausts and exhilarates, clears the clutter from my head.

The Writing... I love working on this latest revision of novel #1. Some heavy-lifting -- rewriting one voice from present to past tense -- but mostly it's all about the writing, the style, the right word. The best word. The last few weekly flashes have spilled on the page, almost effortless. Nice for a change. I'm getting itchy for a new novel, though. But then there is PURE to revise... sigh...

Still working on a chapbook of prose and poetry, a few contests to enter and conferences to apply to, and yes, pulling together a writing portfolio for graduate writing programs. Shoot me, please -- am I really contemplating going back to school at my age?

The Reading... Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout) left me homesick for New England, and with a twisty unease in my gut. Beautiful, lush book of connected stories. The underbelly of a quaint Maine town. Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult) kept me on edge for the two days it took to me read. I keep dreaming of the characters, they've stuck with me. Next up? A few anthos...

A tired post. But a happy one. Peace...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Way It Is

The preschoolers scampered through the garden, clutching their butterfly nets and insect cages. The teacher pointed out the katydid marching up the daylily scape, the leaf cutter chomping through the Brandywines. Her long hair stuck to her neck, and her inner thighs chafed from sweat. She craved iced coffee, for the coldness, for something to shock her into feeling.

“Look Miss Nancy! Ladybugs!”

The children jostled around the sedum. Nancy moved slowly, trying not to wince. The ladybugs swarmed the waxy leaves, hundreds of them, coupling and uncoupling, falling to the ground. Paler colored beetles took flight. The males pursued, wrestling the females with their tiny legs. The pairs swirled down like maple seeds.

A small girl sobbed. “They’re fighting.”

Nancy stepped towards the child. Pain seared through her pelvis to her sitz bone, reminding her of last night, of Roger stumbling through the dark to bed, rousing her with his beery breath. He’d yanked down her panties and took her from behind, hard. When she cried, he thrust harder. She felt something in her backside crack and she rolled away. He slapped her cheek as he came all over her stomach. The welt stung almost as much as the single word he’d spat at her when he left.

Nancy stroked the crying girl’s hair, translucent in the sun, and considered whether to correct the girl. Fighting, mating. Everything seemed filmy. She touched the end of her sleeve to her eyes.


Inspired by the 52/250 Flash a Year Challenge theme: animal behaviors. As a writing friend commented -- animals have 4 behaviors: fighting, feeding, fleeing, and mating. I think I covered them all. Peace...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Double Humble

Two people whom I respect very much -- as writers, of course, but even more as good souls -- have bestowed awards on me. These awards mean a tremendous amount, because of what they represent and because of their grantors.

HUMBLE #1. Two weeks ago, in celebration of International Creativity Month, Deanna Shrayer created the Creative Genius Award.

Deanna named me along with these amazing writers: lyrical genius Alison Wells, noir genius with a heart Ant Venutolo, slice-of-life-makes-us-laugh-and-cry genius Cathy Oliffe-Webster, and brave and honest genius Rachel Blackbirdson. Of course, Deanna is a genius herself, a master of writing stories that move and for forging community.

I'm rather flabbergasted to be considered a creative genius. I think of genius as the spark, the seamless telling of truths, the conveying of vision. For me, writing is hard work, a process and practice in persistence. It's also finding courage to dig deep, to take risks with your words, to write huge. While everyone who writes is brave when the put down the words (and braver still to share them), a few fellow writers consistently place their convictions behind their words, and do so in beautiful ways. To me, this is genius. I celebrate:

Melissa, also known as WINDSPIRIT GIRL, for the use of images with words that cause me to pause and think (and feel) deeper.

John Wiswell, creator of THE BATHROOM MONOLOGUES, for somehow being able to invoke sadness, outrage, and humor simultaneously in his stories. Despite the veneer of humor in many of his pieces, there's usually a deeper, darker core.

Lou Freshwater, the woman behind BABY'S BLACK BALLOON, for words which always ring pure and true. She writes honest words about honest things that make us human.

Mark Kerkstetter, THE BRICOLEUR who layers words with art, and combines them to create provocative and evocative words. he says he is not a philosopher, but...

Please, check out these wonderful and generous writers. Learn from them. Enjoy them. And thank you Deanna for the tremendous honor.

HUMBLE #2. Late this afternoon, after a rather hectic day involving an ice storm which kept schools closed, the first day of college classes, meetings bunched back-to-back, I treated myself to a few facebook minutes and found Lou Freshwater had bestowed a rather special gift on me: the Sui Generis award. Last summer, Mark Kerstetter created this award for Cathy Oliffe-Webster, who then passed it along to Lou. So there is a wonderful geneology to this award, one I treasure.

In Mark's words: Sui generis: one of a kind. This is a token of appreciation for someone who's irreplaceable, someone unmistakable, someone who practices great and totally unique artistry.

A beautiful award. One to savor and keep close. I will pass it's spirit along when the time is right.

Thank you Lou. And Cathy. And Mark. I love your spirits. Peace, Linda

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mister Fix-It

She found him in the pantry, fly unzipped, tilting over the recycle bin.

“Oh Dad,” she said and led him to the bathroom. She hosed down the urine-soaked container, then returned to the bathroom with a clean pair of boxers. He sobbed into a terry towel. She rubbed small circles between his shoulder blades. Skinny like bird’s wings, she thought.

“For Cripe’s sake, I built this house,” he said. “You’d think I’d know where I put the goddamn can.”

She waited behind the closed door while he changed. He’d installed the second bathroom twelve years ago, during his one week of vacation. Lined up like ghosts on the front lawn, the second-hand porcelain fixtures had embarrassed her. Her father whistled the whole week, annoying Gershwin tunes between his teeth, happier than a hog in poop because he was banging away on a ‘project’. She could barely hem her surgical scrubs.

A string of obscenities punctuated the burbling water. She opened the door. The face cloth dripped in his shaking hand, spattering his tee shirt.

“What the hell is wrong with me?”

“It’s the Parkinson’s,” she said. “The neurotransmitters aren’t quite connecting in your brain.”

“Harrumph.” He tilted his head at her, then shuffled down the hall. “My brain’s just fine.”

At dinner time, she found him in the basement. Back to the door, he didn’t notice her as he plowed through the toolbox.

“Loose screws, my ass,” he muttered. “Now where’s the goddamn philips?”


Inspired by this week's 52-250 Flash a Week Challenge theme: loose connections. Tough theme, at least for me. Of course I gravitated towards something health-related.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saving The Rainforest and Other Good Things You Can Do Now!

Tired of all the lousy news and the lousier weather? Got the post-party holiday blues? Already bombed your resolutions?

Three ideas to bust your blahs.

Save The Rainforest. You may not be able to turn around the economy, but you can help save an important ecosystem -- the Amazon rainforest. A new blog -- RECLAIMING THE RAINFOREST -- shows how making a few small changes in your lifestyle can make a difference. The blog's creator is a kid who cares -- my son, age 11. So check out his first blog, follow the links, and get edified on the rainforest.

Get Moving. Bet you didn't know sitting too much can kill you. Whether you are fit -- or not -- sitting too much increases your risk for life-threatening conditions, including heart attacks and diabetes. The good news? Getting up every hour and walking for 5 minutes reverses all the bad chemically stuff in your body. So Writers, Readers -- get up and shake your booty!

Write that Novel and Get It Published. Yep, think I'll crank out a novel tomorrow, in between breakfast and my golf game -- How about you? Writing the novel is a slow-going endeavor, but when it's done (really done), time to get an agent. JM Tohline, soon-to-be-pubbed author, went right to the source to find the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents -- the agent. One hundred of them, in fact. Almost a dissertation, this blog post may be the most valuable piece you'll read all year if you're shopping your stories.

Win A Contest. After you've polished your novel to the point where it shines, enter this contest sponsored by Chuck Sambuchino, editor at WRITERS DIGEST and host of the blog Guide to Literary Agents. But this 'Dear Lucky Agent' contest is only for literary types -- no genre allowed! Send your logline and the first 150-200 words by January 23, midnight EST. Go HERE for details.

Breadcrumbs and geniuses up later this week. Peace, Linda

Thursday, January 06, 2011

It’s True What They Say

…and when I open my eyes I see what a perfect shot, the arrow stuck in the side of my neck, a fountain of blood sinking the snow like maple sap, and Dave barrels through underbrush, his breath heaves white clouds, he’s lost his hat, there’s a bald spot in back I’d never noticed because even though he’s my little brother he’s five inches taller, and he sinks to his knees, shit, shit, shit, oh shit, then fumbles in his camo for his cell and I laugh, you idiot, you fucking know you can’t get a signal this side of the mountain, but he jabs at the stupid buttons anyway, and then Pa grasps my fingers, odd because he’s never held my hand and he’s dead ten years anyway, and he says with his eyes, it’s time to go, and below spins green and white, this brilliant heat fills me, and I turn to Pa and say, hey it’s true what they say on those tv shows, those people who die and come back, and when he smiles I know I’m dead and it’s okay this peace falls over me, a kind of grace I feel after I mow the hayfield all sweaty and happy, and when I think of Marisa, the swell of her belly, and I wait for the tug, the one that yanks me back to Dave blubbering over me in the cold bloody snow, I wait and wait, but Pa grips me harder and…


Inspired by the 52-250 Flash-a-Year Challenge: floating away. And by the bio television series I Survived -- Beyond and Back about folks who die, then return to describe their experiences. Evidence of an afterlife? Or merely the barrage of neurotransmitters shooting off in your brain as your body shuts down?

Who knows. And who cares? All I know is their stories reassure me about death. Comfort me. Peace, Linda

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Five Years...

Five years ago today, I started tapping out words. Writing a novel was not on my 2006 to-do list, but a character and his story had nagged me for several months, and I figured, what the heck? Four months and 183,000 words later I had a (pretty awful) first draft of a story I called BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT.

I'd like to say I haven't looked back since, but I often wonder: had I known how damn hard it was to get a story or poem right, would I have even started BTB? Would I have chosen this writing path? Because knitting a scarf or throwing a pot or putting up two-dozen jars of peach preserves is so much easier and much more tangible. Writing IS hard, amazingly hard, the most difficult challenge of my life with the exception of parenting. But writing also is the most rewarding. Indeed, one of the headiest moments of my life was penning 'The End' for the first time. Kind of like giving birth.

Since January 2, 2006, I figure I've written close to a million 'creative' (i.e., non-work) words. This includes two novels (and their discarded drafts), one 'real' short story homing in at 5k words, close to fifty short fiction pieces, a hundred poems, a handful of essays, and with this post, 359 blog entries. Them's a lot of words. The payoff? More than two-dozen legitimate* publications, almost $2,000 in cash**, a few contest wins or placings, and the satisfaction that every now and then something I write makes a difference to another person in some small way.

Life is a journey. Writing is the raft, and the paddle. After five years of delving, of perseverating late nights and early mornings, of hitting blanks and gnawing pencils, I finally feel I can shrug off the mantle of 'hack'. I no longer look forward to the day I become a writer; I AM a writer.

So thank you for helping me row, for skulling down the river of words with me. Peace, Linda

Photo by my son, age 11.
*i.e., involving an editor making editorial decisions.
**the money spent on courses and conferences, books and supplies far outweighs my earnings.