Friday, June 29, 2012


IN SECONDS, THE MUSICIANS WERE IN TUNE, in synchronicity. Josh listened to the others, adjusting as they changed, and the song became a cohesive whole. When they finished the song, Nik called out “Summer” and they moved into the song Josh wrote three weeks ago, a slower, sweeter song that Nik sang solo. When Josh looked up, Mr. Sheridan stood by the basement door, framed by light filtering down from the front hallway. He was still in red tie and a black suit jacket, and wore a frown Josh could see even in the dim of the basement.

            The song wound down. Nik’s mouth hardened when he looked towards the door. He cut the ending three measures before the keyboard ended.

            “What?” he said to his father.

            “Josh needs to go home now,” his father said.

            “Why? Is something wrong?”

            “He just does.”

            “What about Vee?” Gemma said.

            “Vee is welcome to stay,” Mr. Sheridan said. “Josh, please get your things, all of them, and go. You are not to come—”

            “Why Vee and not Josh?” Nik said.

            “Things at church,” Mr. Sheridan said. “You know—”

            “What the fuck are you talking about?” Nik said.

            “Don’t use that language with me, young man.”

            “Don’t tell me what to do,” Nik said.

His hands wrapped around the microphone. Josh was afraid he would fling it at his father, he was afraid instruments and bones would break, so he quickly rested his guitar in its case and locked it. He picked it up by the handle.

            “Until you pay the bills around here, what I say goes,” said Mr. Sheridan. “Help your friend.”

            “That’s okay,” Josh said. “I have everything.”

            He slung his backpack over his shoulder. Gemma and Vee watched  him with big eyes. Nik stepped toward him. Josh raised his hand, to stop him.

            “I’m okay, Nik,” he said again. “I figured this might happen.”

Josh wanted to cry, he didn’t understand why adult disagreements had to spill over into his life, his friends’ lives, it all seemed to stupid and needless, but Nik had the dark look in his eyes when he got angry, the same look he had when he threw a fifty pound amp into the orchestra pit when the teacher cut Nik from band practice for showing up late, and the time Nik slid a cafeteria tray across the table with such force it left a foot long gouge in the wall.

            Josh approached the door. Mr. Sheridan didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Josh squeezed by. At the top of the stairwell, the kitchen blazed in yellow incandescence because daylight savings had not started and night fell with vengeance. Mrs. Sheridan hummed from the kitchen, a bit too loud and happy. He couldn’t place the name of the song, something ridiculous from the seventies. She looked up at Josh and stopped humming but didn’t say anything, just smiled that smile he’d seen in church. She turned to the sink, humming again. Josh didn’t say good night or good-bye, just let himself out the door.

Behind the closed front door, Josh heard Nikko’s mumbled yell, “Fuck you” and his father’s reply to get upstairs, get to his room. By the time Josh got to the end of the short drive way, the small house trembled from music played so loud he could not make out the song, only felt the incessant pounding of the lower register of the keyboard, the scratch of electrified guitars.

            The clouds opened. Rain pounded from the sky. Josh began to run, backpack thumping hard on his spine, stumbling over his guitar, grateful for rain to hide his tears.


The fourth installment of long story under construction. To read the rest, go HERE. As always, thank you for reading my work. Peace...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Without Poetry

Jen Michalski, editor at JMWW and my *boss*, was kind to let me vent about a world without poetry. The Writing Program at Johns Hopkins, where I am a student in Fiction, axed its Poetry program last week. We are hoping for a UVA kind of reversal, so please read the post and sign the petition, but only if you write or read or otherwise give a damn about writing, about words, about creating a literary community and maintaining its vitality.

If you care, please go ==>>  HERE

Otherwise, please don't bother.

Thanks and peace...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Very pumped to find my wee story The Way It Is in the June 2012 issue of Scissors and Spackle. Brilliant writer Joani Reese guest edited the fiction portion of this issue, and from the looks of it, she has a future as an bang-up editor, too. Available on-line and in print, this issue features work by some of the best fiction writers (and poets) around: David Tomaloff, Bill Lantry, Jules Archer, Mary Ann Knowlton, Meg Tuite, Alex Pruteanu, Gita Smith, Andrew Stancek, James Claffey, Susan Tepper, and a whole host more. Check out Ghostwaters by my 'neighbor' Luke Rolfes for one of the most honest portrayals of loving someone with an addiction.

If you still don't have enough to read, check out JMWW's Summer 2012 Issue, also jam-packed with poetry, fiction, and book-review goodies (including that Bill Lantry fellow again). 'tis where I wear my editor's hat, so always pleased when each issue comes together in a beautiful package (due to our Jen Michalski's fearless vision).

Happy reading, and peace...

Thursday, June 21, 2012


THE NEXT AFTERNOON after he finished his homework, Josh walked to Nikko and Gemma’s house to practice. The four met there most days after school; Josh’s garage was packed with his mother’s canvases and paints, and Vee had neither a basement nor garage.

Only Gemma was in the basement.

“He’s in the bathroom,” she said when Josh asked about Nik. “He’s worse than Vee, primping and all. He’s been there since we got home.”

They did not speak of the petition. Instead, Josh tuned his guitar, the spare he left at their house, while Gemma went upstairs to wait for Vee. Nikko emerged from the bathroom, humming under his breath. A red-and-grey flannel shirt hung over his fingers. Nikko nodded at him, then turned to the keyboard, rubbing his left arm.

The girls came down, giggling and carrying a half-gallon of lemonade and plastic cups. Vee gargled with the juice before practice.

“Clears the vocal cords,” she said, but the boys laughed and called her a prima donna.

While Vee gargled and warmed up with arpeggios, Gemma passed out copies of the newest song, Ode to Youth. Nikko had penned the lyrics, Josh the music.

“Dudes, listen up!” Nikko said. “This is our best to date. Seriously. It starts out slow—note the largo—with Vee singing a capella. Then I come in on keyboard, still slow, on the second line, Josh joins on electric four measures later. Then watch--the time shifts to two-two and awaaaaaaay we go. Got it?”

Josh positioned his strap; he knew the music but it was the first time Vee had seen the score. She put down the cup and scanned the first page.

“Pitch, please,” she said.

Nikko found the middle C on the keyboard. Vee hummed the tone, then nodded.

“One, two, a one two three,” said Nikko.

She hit the C pitch-perfect and sang the first two lines without seeming effort, her voice pure and strong. Nikko joined on keyboard, and then Josh played. Gemma kept the beat with a steady rap on the snare; they needed a drummer but there was no one suitable at school. The basement filled with sound and Josh felt himself on the brink of relaxing, of losing himself between the notes. Nik sang with his eyes half-lidded, swaying on his feet, while Vee stood still, gripping the microphone pole as if it kept her tethered to earth. Her eyes slanted sideways towards Nik, his gaze met hers, his mouth curved into that crooked smile of his and when she blushed, Josh knew: they were sleeping together.

He closed his own eyes. He could see the attraction, though he himself was not attracted to Vee; she was too colorful, too loud, a walking carnival. Vee was too out there, though so was Nik. Josh did not understand his attraction to Nik, or to Gemma, Nik’s temperamental opposite. He thought then of kissing Gemma, of how her lips would yield like a warm peach, and of kissing Nik, of being with both of them at once, and an image of laying with them on Gemma’s pink ruffled bed flashed in his mind and he missed a note. The song tumbled into confusion.

“What was that chaotic mess?” Vee said.

“Sorry,” Josh said. “Lost my place.”

“Gotta focus, man,” Nik said, but he wasn’t mad, not even irritated, and relief washed over Josh.


Installment 3 of THE RUNAWAY (you can go here and here for the first two scenes). As I was writing this story this week, something felt off-kilter, so I mucked around with POV and tense, and ended up moving from third present to third past. We'll see if the tense change sticks, but for now all seems to flow. Peace... 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Change of View

You know the feeling when a story isn't working? You rework and rewrite, ditch scenes and give your character a whole new personality--or shed his old traits. After hours--no, days--you don't know why the story still reads flat and lumpy (think potatoes without enough salt or mashing to wrap your head around that juxtaposition), and every early morning greets you like a funeral.

You start to think this one's due for the incincerator, so you toss it in a drawer or a folder or even use the hard-copy to line the birdcage.

You wonder why you ever decided you wanted to write. Why you thought it was enjoyable.

It is not.

You think about washing your kitchen floor with a tooth brush. Now THAT is fun.

But Butt In Chair, so...

You work on something new. This is not your choice. And as you plod along wrapping your head around a new situation, new characters, new words, it comes to you--switch the point-of-view.

You start the rewrite. Again. It reads smoother, the words gel together. You change the tense, and then magic begins.

You bolt from bed every morning, wanting to write. Writing is good. Life is good.

Anyone else ever feel my pain? What's sticking your creativity now?


Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Yes, go for it"

Yesterday, sitting on my sunny deck with two friends talking about losing people we loved. One friend, who lost her husband this time a year ago, talked about how her teen-aged daughter had spiraled into a funk the past few weeks. "What's the point?" she had said to her mother when asked to clean up her room. "It only gets messy again."

Her mother continued to note how difficult, how long, so many days felt trying to raise a daughter alone. How she felt she had to always keep on top of two lives--her own and her daughter's--and make so many difficult decisions without another's trusted opinion. It all exhausted her.  

The daughter cleaned her room, but not after breaking apart.

"I miss daddy," she said. "He was the one who let me have dreams. He was the one who said 'go for it'. He didn't care about how messy my room was."

My friend's story reminds me of the different roles parents play--the mother focused on keeping order, of meeting responsibilities, of keeping on task. The father so often the parent who plays, who builds dreams, who looks beyong a particular moment. Many of my women friends are in the tenuous position of parenting without their partner. They struggle to raise their children to balance responsibility and all those practical things with hope, with vision, with dreams. They have to be a mother, and a father.

My father was my cheerleader, the person who encouraged me to strive for what often seemed unattainable. Certainly, my mother cheered me on, but it was dad who shaped the vision. He loved nothing more than gather his family, his dog, and his fishing gear, and travel east to fish the sea. This is where we talked, where we dreamed ourd dreams, for ourselves, for each other, for our family. I miss him. I miss his dreams.

Crossing Ocracoke Sound

Cormorants dive-bomb,
skimming up blues and other
chum churned in the ferry’s wake.

Ahead, the island where
we slept amidst sea oats
singing at higher pitch

than the gulls’ keen,
were we licked butter
and more from the others’

fingers, sweet crab claws.
One hunger sated we
walked into sky coral

colored, sure of night
and the next... now,
though, the engine thrums

deep through my soles,
constant with the sea,
your pulse, a memory.

Happy Father's Day to those of you who are fathers, and to those of you who listen to your children and say: yes, go for it.


Friday, June 15, 2012

WAITING (The Runaway II)

JOSH SITS ON THE BOTTOM STEP. Mom’s glass is empty except for a single ice cube, half-melted. Scotch, he can tell by the thin line of yellow rimming the bottom of the glass. The refrigerator does its shuddery thing, followed by the clatter of ice cubes released into the plastic bin. He wonders where Absalom is, whether he’s curled up on his parents’ bed or hiding in the baker’s rack with the cookbooks and herb pots. Without mom, the house feels too quiet, too still, and she didn’t lock the door on her way out.

His thigh vibrates, and at first he thinks it is Absalom, his tail wrapping around his leg when he wants a treat, but it’s his cell phone, wedged in his pocket. It’s Nikko, texting him.

u hear?




the petition


to fire your dad




indeed   special k called-does your mom know?

she left


she drives when she gets upset

so she knows

guess so

wanna come over?

Josh wants to be with his best friend, he feels all nervous and twitchy inside, but he doesn’t want to walk the five blocks by himself. And he doesn’t want mom to come home and find him gone. Absalom pads down the steps. Josh pulls the cat into his lap.

better not


who signed the petition?



Josh pushes his phone deep into his pocket. Absalom throbs against his chest. Josh settles his chin in the cat’s fur. He suspects Nik’s mother signed the petition. Last Sunday, her face looked plastic, she kept smiling this weird fake smile through choir practice, joys and concerns, even the stupid story for all ages, and then, when his dad stood behind the pulpit, her face slid into her usual disagreeable expression: lips pursed into a hard line, forehead furrowed.

What a phony. Even Nik and Gemma can’t stand their mother. Nik calls her Jill the Pill.

Then later, during coffee hour, Josh saw her talking in the corner with Miss Kay and Miss Carrie. The three women clumped tight, sharing hard whispered words, fingers jabbing the air between them. Jill pulled out a paper and Carrie read it and laughed, that big horse laugh of hers, and everyone stopped and stared at her for a minute before resuming with mini-bagels and coffee.

That paper was the petition.

Head beams splatter against the living room wall. Mom’s Civic pulls into the driveway. Josh pushes up from the step, Absalom under his arm, and hurries up to his bedroom. He shimmies out of his sweats and flicks off the light and the stereo.

The hallway light sheds a long yellow line across the wooden floor. Downstairs, keys drop on the hook, banging the door. The cupboard under the sink creaks. Then the thud of the half-gallon J&B on the table, the scrape of chair legs against the linoleum. She’ll sit there until his father comes home from the board meeting; the first Wednesday of every month is like this.

The sheets float cool against his bare legs. He dreads school tomorrow, dreads being tired all day, dreads seeing his mother’s face grim and grey as she butters toast for him. His stomach buckles, a noose, and he thinks about texting Nikko, asking him if his mother signed the stupid petition, but if his friends says yes, then Josh doesn’t know what he’ll do, so he shuts off his phone, throws it gently towards his backpack piled near his closet, and buries under the blankets.


The second installment of THE RUNAWAY, my story in progress. To read the first, go here. 

MUCH appreciate any help on the texting 'dialogue'.

Happy Friday all, and thank you for reading. Peace...

Monday, June 11, 2012


Up to my elbows in these tart pink berries. My bush, prolific every summer, went ripe over the weekend. I picked close to two gallons Sunday morning.

Eaten out of hand, red currants will make your mouth pucker. But pressed with a pestle through a fine mesh sieve, the juice can be made into many splendoriferous delights.

I got almost six cups of juice. I froze five cups for red currant sorbet, to reduce with red wine for a pork loin glaze, and to mix with raspberries later this summer for jam.

One cup went to make this delicious red currant chiffon pie. I had seen the recipe two years ago and finally had the chance to make it. I varied the pie crust, using shortbread cookie crumbs held together with melted butter, the entire crust baked for 15 minutes until browned. Then, the filling: 3 eggs yolks beaten with 1 cup currant juice, 2 TBP lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and one packet unflavored gelatin. The entire mixture warmed over medium heat until frothed to a boil. Cooled for ~45 minutes
until the texture of corn syrup. Then, 3 egg whites beaten to soft peaks, with 1/4 cup sugar gradually added and beaten until stiff peaks. The egg whites folded into the cooled currant mixture. Then beat 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream to soft peaks, and fold into the currant mixture. Pour into pie shell and chill ~1 hour.
Delish. And in less than 24 hours, almost gone. Peace...

Thursday, June 07, 2012


WHEN THE PHONE CALL COMES, Josh is upstairs, in his room, listening to Eric Clapton on earphones and fingering the guitar frets. The ring breaks through the music, a tinny whine, and at first he thinks the CD is going bad. The song ends, the phone keeps ringing, and Josh knows something is wrong. It is eleven at night.
He removes the earphones and places his uncle Jeremiah's guitar carefully on his bed. It’s his dad calling, he knows, another church Board meeting gone late, but still Josh’s stomach knots, the way it balled tight the last time the phone rang this late two years ago. The Army captain had called from far away, his voice crackly from static, and on the extension Josh heard the man describe how Jeremiah was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, he had gotten blown up in Afghanistan, and if they wanted to see him, they should go before he died. His uncle didn’t die, but he lost a leg and broke three vertebrae, and the thought of seeing him crippled in a wheelchair, unable to hike, to walk, to be normal, makes Josh too uncomfortable to visit him fifteen hundred miles away in South Dakota.

Josh creeps down the stairs. Downstairs, light from the kitchen leaks into the living room. The new cream sofa looks like some obscene ghost. He likes the sound of this phrase—obscene ghost—and wonders how to work it into lyrics.

Mom sits at the table, murmuring into the phone. She always murmurs. She used to yell, a lot, or at least express herself with a loud voice, but now she just mutters under her breath. Her voice used to embarrass Josh, especially in public. It didn’t matter if the gym was packed for the concert or she was at the other end of the mall, Josh could always hear her voice, stalking him. But now, she’s quiet most of the time. She went quiet when she returned from Germany after seeing Jeremiah. Then, the church crap took away what was left of her mojo. She lets Josh have his way most of the time, but there are times when he would rather her scream at him than lock herself into the garage with her canvases and paints.

Ice clinks. Her fingers grip the glass so hard he is sure it will splinter in her hand.

“Yes, yes,” she says and slugs back the rest of the drink. “So it is done. At last.”

She hangs up and stares at the door, as if she expects it to open any minute. Josh’s stomach flip-flops and he tries to remember the couch, the cool descriptive he thought up. She stands up and walks to the door, takes the keys from the hook, still in dad’s old pajama bottoms. Josh likes that his mom wears his father’s clothes. She slides into her Crocs and opens the door.

There is no sound—not her feet on the linoleum, not the door creaking open, not the sound of crickets. The car starts, soundless. The headlights carve a path through the dark, a camera flash in the window as she backs the Civic out the driveway. Her purse still hangs on the knob by the door, and seeing it is all that keeps Josh from freaking out because he knows she can’t go too far or too long without her purse.


Meet Joshua Anselm, sixteen year-old son of Martin and Maryam, the minister and his wife. Josh also is the nephew and godson of Jeremiah Anselm, who you met here and here .

This is the first installment of many as I write my way through THE RUNAWAY, a chapter in my novel-in-progress THE MINISTER'S WIFE. I need structure to get these stories finished, and I figure if I have a #fridayflash deadline to meet, I can get 500-1000 words in this ~10,000 word story written every week. So please, stay tuned--I promise some smiles and a few tears. I WELCOME any and all feedback or suggestions. These are all very rough drafts. Peace...

Monday, June 04, 2012

What's Going On?

It's June. Yesterday it was April, I turned two score and ten, and summer seemed interminably far away. Four more days and my kiddos are free.

With most of my students gone for the summer, work has puddled into a slower routine. Life has, too. For the first time in eleven years, I have *real* weekends, ones not marked by mandatory church appearances. The silver lining in Henry losing his job is the extra day.

Other than the line of T'storms and tornados that blew through Friday night, the weather this past weekend was as perfect as it gets. I got in some serious hammock time both afternoons. Kind of healing to watch clouds sputter by, open up and then contract around the sun.

Reading a lot--UP FROM THE BLUE by Susan Henderson. LONE SURVIVOR by Marcus Luttrell. GILEAD by Marilyn Robinson. THE GREAT GATSBY by Fitzgerald. Short stories by Dubus and Hempel and Lydia Davis.

Tomorrow begins class #3 in my progression towards my MA in Creative Writing. This class focuses on setting, the role it plays in story and how it interacts with characters (and vice versa). We have a book a week to read--fiction and non-fiction--and I'm kind of excited. I like the structure the program provides; I need it.

Writing-wise, I'm putzing around with a few shorts and poems that need fixing. I feel lazy, not in the mood to submit. I feel lazy about working on my *big* stuff. Finishing up revision two of THE HUNTER numbed me, made it difficult for me to get my mojo back. The case always when I finish up a chunk of a big project.

I have another crit group, online. Some amazing poets and fiction writers, very blessed and honored to be invited to work with them. A couple of stories coming out soon, a contest I hope to submit to, or not. The hammock beckons more than the desk these halcyon days.

What's going on with you?


Friday, June 01, 2012


Reptiles evolved into birds. They sprouted feathers, developed hollow, air-filled bones, and skimmed the greening earth. Dragons, arrested half-way between reptile and bird, perched on volcano rims, breathing fire and brimstone. Only human, I wished to evolve; fueled by tapped-out lines of snow, fire ignited my belly, my bones, I floated, a dragon.

Another PRESS53 Pokrompt, this one requiring two facts and two fictions. Peace...