Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolved... No Resolutions

Why argue with the inevitability of failure?

Rather, embrace what works and ignore the rest.

And THAT is my credo for 2010.



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

Golden handcuffs... aka tenure. Yippee!

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Loneliest Tree

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said.

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

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

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


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

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Holy Days. Peace, Linda

Friday, December 18, 2009

Silver Bullet

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

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

You cannot steal my energy.

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

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

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

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

Our compound.

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

Three students down.
Professor dies in classroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunman shoots self
Shooter identified, sophomore student Cho

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

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

“Yes?” you say.

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

You shake your head. “Fatal flaw.”

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

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

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

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

I push update.


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

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

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

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

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, Linda

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stuff Those Stockings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

End of the Line - #fridayflash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I could not bear that thought.


Excerpted from PURE, a novel under construction.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nobody Solves a Problem Like Maria

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

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

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

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

My writing buddy John Towler says it best...

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


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

(And please sign the guestbook)

Friday, December 04, 2009

His Name Was Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Where’s number 72?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any questions?”

“Daddy?” she asks. “Any questions?”

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

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

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

“You’re welcome,” I say.

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

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


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

Peace, Linda