Refilling the Creative Well (Today Might Be the Day)

I haven’t written any fiction in over a month. Not a poem, not a story. Nothing.

The last time I tried, the whole experience was fraught with pressure and guilt, me sitting there at the computer talking to myself: Come on, come on, you can do this. Write something. Anything.

The occasion was a Halloween short story contest in a writer’s group I belong to. The group hosts these sorts of things several times a year, and generally I like to do them because they impose deadlines, and I most definitely work harder when I have a deadline and someone to (potentially) disappoint on the other end.

Anyway, the participants were all given a story seed: some image or phrase that was supposed to be woven into the story. My seeds were the Ivy League, a woman who used to be a twin, and a lonely knot. You could choose from among your seeds or use them all.

And I had nothing. I sat at my computer for days; started story after story, then deleted what I had written. I stressed over it, cried a little bit, and then I made a decision.

I just put that bag down and walked away.

2015 will go down as my most successful writing year to date. I’ve had six stories and eight poems appear in various places. I wrote a good bit more. I graduated with a Master’s degree. I just needed to give myself permission to let that be enough.

Since then I’ve read books, worked in my garden, and watched a lot of TV and movies. The ideas, the voices and the stories, are coming back, swirling around in my mind, whispering in my ear. This week I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 20 people, so I’ll be busy as hell. Still, the words are coming back, so I might just sneak out for a while to write.

Today might be the day.

Coming to a Birdhouse or Bathtub Near You

Today is what I’d call a perfect autumn day. A light, soft rain is falling, and the air is filled with the smell of decaying leaves and the earth beginning to put itself to sleep. I know some may find this surprising; to most people the perfect autumn day involves crisp breezes and a bright blue sky.  To me, though, that sky seems almost menacing. It reminds me of a cheap kid’s toy, of the bright, forced cheerfulness of hard plastic. Caitlin Kiernan calls it the “wide carnivorous sky.” It’s like being trapped inside a marble. Give me gentle rains and cloudy skies any day.

I haven’t sorted through the vacation photos yet, but when I do, I’ll post a few here. It was a wonderful trip, mostly because we were all jammed in a car for two weeks, and we got on one another’s nerves, and we got closer, and we saw half the country together. I got to show the LOML and  my kids things I’d been wanting them to see for a long time. I got to see things I’d been wanting to see for a long time. I have to admit, however, that toward the end we were all very homesick. It’s good to be home.

While we were gone I had a couple of poems come out into the world. The always-gorgeous Liminality published it’s Autumn issue, and my poem “The Garden Wild” is part of the line up. This poem was a kind of tribute to my mother, who, though she lived her life enveloped in a miasma of pain, gave me the gift of gardening, and my love of the natural world.  Eternal Haunted Summer is a beautiful webzine I discovered this summer, and this month their Autumn Equinox issue features my poem, “Anchorite,” written, as so much of my work is, about my ongoing 20-odd year obsession with the LOML.

Yesterday, in an ongoing effort to divert the local raccoon tribe from my vegetable garden and back porch, we set up three feeding stations out in the north field. I’ve trained a wildlife camera on the area, and so hopefully I’ll be able to post a few pictures soon. In the meantime, the crows and squirrels have found things much to their liking. Hopefully that’s a good sign.

Today I’m decorating for Halloween with my kids and working on what I hope will become an annual Halloween horror story. This year I want to get back to the source; the idea that Samhain is the day when the spirits of the dead can interact with the living. No vampires or zombies or witches; just a good old fashioned ghost story.

I’ve Glimpsed Our Future, and All I Can Say Is…Go Back

Mounting panic as we prepare to launch into the great American West next week. The LOML and I continually joke that we’re reenacting National Lampoon’s Vacation, nervously laughing in the dark while we piss our pants hoping that’s not actually the case. To say I’m a little intimidated would not be an exaggeration. In my personal life I’m constantly torn between being who I really am, i.e., an artist and a gardener with a decidedly weird-skewing worldview, and giving my kids the All-American mom-and-apple-pie Mayberry upbringing that was denied me. Yes, I know that exposing them to some weird is a good thing, and I try to keep that in mind, but when you grew up in a home where ‘weird’ translated into kids taking care of parents instead of parents taking care of kids, you tend to shy away from going too far with that shit. Case in point: the great American road trip, and my desire for my kids to see some of their own homeland before jobs, responsibilities and general LIFE get in the way for them as it does for us all. I have this growing panic that I’ll forget something, or that our house will fall down or be swept away by floods while I’m gone. Call me crazy. You won’t be the first.


Time Is Not A Pony Ride*

Autumn is coming. **

Every year I always find it interesting how you can feel it, even in the midst of 90º+ days, if you stop long enough and just listen. Some of the trees are already almost bare, and while much of that is due to the recent 5-week mini-drought, you can almost hear the trees sighing with fatigue, ready to shrug off this wet, soggy spring and dry, punishing summer to sleep for a while, and try again next year. It’s a smell in the air that at first comes only on the occasional breeze, but gradually deepens and stretches itself out across the land. In spite of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of winter weather (I can never truly get warm when it’s cold outside) I welcome the autumn. Just like the trees I’m worn down by the incessant heat, and I feel their need for rest pulling at my heart. Everything needs to sleep. Everything needs to dream.

Yesterday I planted four raised beds of beans and peas, the first time I’ve ever tried a fall crop of them. There was one bed of Provider, one of Royal Bush (a very pretty purple color), one of Piggott peas, and one of Crowder peas. Beans and peas are one of those things I’ve never really mastered, mostly because I can never figure out if I’m harvesting at the right time, or, if I am, how to preserve what I’ve picked. In any case, we’ll see.


*David Byrne

**Doesn’t sound as dramatic as GRRM, but there you have it.

On the Making of Magic, Pt. 2: An Invocation

Writing is hard, and I don’t mean do-I-put-a-comma-here hard; I mean the overwhelming majority of my working time consists of me sitting in front of the screen, just staring at it. Usually, eventually, something comes to me, but it’s very, very rough and has to be gone over again and again, the seams ripped out and resewn together in different ways until I can look at it and not shudder. Even then, it often ends up abandoned. I have a folder with hundreds of unfinished pieces in it; times when I thought I had the nugget of something extraordinary, only to discover dead ends or (worse still) that what I was writing was ordinary, clichéd, or just plain uninspired. Heinlein said you should always finish what you write, but for me that would just be murder. Sometimes I can come back to a piece later, and figure out how to fix it, but more often than not, dead just means dead. I move on.

Then there are the days when I sit down at the computer and the words come easily. Those are the magic days, when I’ll wake up with the first line of a story or poem sitting there in my fingertips, just waiting for me to write it down. On those rare occasions it almost feels as if someone else is in control, and I’m just the typist sent up for the day from the secretarial pool. I’m sure there are any number of books or blog posts dedicated to explaining how to “beat writer’s block” and bring on this state of creative frenzy, but for me it remains magical and a bit mysterious. Enough so that, rare as they may be, those days more than make up for all the others spent staring at a blank screen or an absurd amalgamation of clunky sentences.

The only invocation I know is a burning curiosity about everything in the world. I have books on ancient history, permaculture, genetics and Pre-Raphaelite art. I spend hours in bookstores, libraries, and museums, my head bent at odd angles as I peruse titles or study the tiny details of paintings. I spend even more time outdoors, studying the patterns in nature: weather, the seasons, how things grow and change. My invocation to magic isn’t about begging for inspiration; it’s about filling myself with a million bits of knowledge, things that can coalesce into ideas, poems, stories. I often joke that writers are jacks of all trades but masters of none, but in a sense this is not only true, but essential. Whoever said “write what you know” was only half right. There’s nothing wrong with writing about the familiar, of course, but the best writing comes when we fill ourselves with the world. Like any true magic, it can’t be tamed or trained to show up on command, and I’ve learned to live with that.

After all, that’s what makes it wonderful, isn’t it?

On the Making of Magic, Pt. 1: A Manifesto

I don’t blog here very often, mostly because I lead a chaotic and over-scheduled life, but, partly at least, because I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of author blogs–the audience building, online community engagement, and marketing strategies that writers are frequently encouraged to employ for the purpose of making one’s voice stand out amongst the ever-increasing din of the modern world. When everyone is speaking at once, author or not, one must inevitably raise one’s voice louder and louder, it seems, in order to be heard, and I, to put it mildly, have little to no interest in a shouting contest that involves a billion other people. I’d prefer to just sit back here at the back of the room, like I’ve always done, and observe the bedlam from a bit of a distance.

Also, although I was something of a political spitfire as a young, piss and vinegar-filled college student, these days I rarely even express political sentiment beyond sometimes reposting the odd meme that catches my eye on Facebook. That isn’t to say I don’t still have my piss and vinegar-fueled, far left political opinions; I just rarely express them outside the confines of my own small circle. Just as with the authorial self-promotion, I don’t really have any strong desire to try spend my days attempting to shout louder than everyone else around me. And let’s face it: honest, sincere political discourse with an eye toward understanding and compromise is dead in this country. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.*

That being said, however, I am a writer, and write I must. I feel the same drive to mark out my little piece of territory (virtual or otherwise) as the next person, and with it comes the desire to not only tell the stories, but to provide some kind of personal context for them—to wrap a little piece of myself up and present it to whomever takes the time to come by and take a look, as it were. These are the truths of the world that I’ve found, collected and kept precious like the box of stones and feathers and bits of metal I collected as a child. These are my fireflies in a jar, the posters on the wall I fall asleep under each night. This is my magic, and this is how I make it.


It’s 32°F right now outside my window. Yesterday, it was 81°. Twenty-four hours ago  I was wearing shorts and working in my garden; today it started snowing. I know it’s nothing like the shit the Northeast is having to endure, but jeez, I wish spring would just get here already. I’m hanging on, trying to keep myself from falling into the abyss of depression I can never seem to avoid in winter, but I need the sun to come back soon. If I lived in the North, I’d have to be medicated. I’m sure of it.

All I want to do is go back to sleep. Wake me up in May.

Yesterday was spent catching up. On submissions, which had been stacking up for two weeks; on grading my kids’ school work (ditto); and on a thousand other projects I have going at any one time. Growing summer vegetables from seed. Sorting and tagging our mp3 collection. Revising fiction. Finishing the horse paddock. House repairs. Editing the thesis.

Seriously, I could go on and on. Ad nauseum. The problem is, I never know when to stop, and just finish what I’m working on. I have this theory, or habit, or whatever you want to call it, where I keep myself excited and engaged with the world by adding more stuff to do. I spend my days checking off little subtasks that never seem to add up to any one big thing. Or maybe they do, and I’m just so immersed in the ‘doing’ of it that I never take the time to come up for air.

I read somewhere that true gardeners never actually take the time to enjoy their own garden; when they look around all they can see are the flaws, the unfinished beds, the weeding that’s been neglected. I think it’s a very accurate description of my gardening style, but also my life in general.


I Have Faith But Don’t Believe You

Two pieces of wonderful news as I woke up yesterday morning. First, my poem, “The Time of Last Scattering,” which appeared in Star*Line 37.1, has been nominated for a Rhysling Award. It’s a huge honor to be nominated among so many poets I admire. I am truly, absolutely, thrilled by the news.

Second, I learned that my poem, “Robot Love Song,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Ideomancer, a beautiful speculative fiction journal that highlights some really wonderful fiction and poetry. My poem, “Visiting Hours,” is currently live there, along with works by Mary Soon Lee, Bogi Takács, Alexandra Seidel, and others, so go check it out.

This weekend, like every weekend with decent weather and no social or child obligations, was spent working on The Homestead. Much was accomplished: laying out three new vegetable beds, spreading and compacting about twenty fuck-tons* of dirt and limestone to build up the road into the horse paddock and get a handle on the mud problem around the gates; cleaning out one of the three nearly blocked drain culverts on the property, edging and nearly finishing mulch around one of the flower beds. After a couple of months with little or no chance for yardwork, it was welcome, though we were both utterly exhausted at the end of the day.  Still, it was a good kind of tired.

This weekend as I worked, I thought: Writing keeps me sane, but gardening keeps me happy. Maybe it was a childhood spent making mud pies or roaming the forest; maybe it’s my wild imagination that carries me into the woods for night after night of dreams, but for whatever reason, I need to be outdoors as much as possible. I need to be barefoot, with the soft grass beneath my feet and mud between my toes. I need to make things grow in the earth. Otherwise, I just grow increasingly miserable, and nothing will help it.

Currently it’s warm and cloudy outside, the dark, windy weather before storms that I so love. Unfortunately I’m stuck inside today, catching up on all the work I neglected in order to be out there Saturday and Sunday. My office has windows, though, so there’s that.


*This is an actual unit of measure, equal to roughly 10 craploads.


Post title: “Don’t Swallow the Cap” by The National.

Half in Love With Easeful Death*

Yesterday morning was a mad dash to beat the rain, as I like to plant new things then to avoid the task of dragging a hose over to water them in. We sort of made it, if you don’t count a couple of short showers and some misty drizzle. The downpours held off until late afternoon, though, so I call it a success. The big accomplishment was putting in the raspberry bed, including the posts and wire trellis to hold the canes. We now have three of this variety: 1 blackberry, 1 muscadine grape, and the aforementioned raspberry. If I can manage to keep them alive, we are in business, berry-wise anyway. While we were out there I also planted the new Anna apple tree, to replace the one that died last year. Barring catastrophes, the vegetable garden goal this year is three more raised beds, bringing the total to eight, not including herbs, the berries, and the orchard. It’s a huge endeavor, this garden, so we’re working on it in stages, because otherwise we’d do nothing but that for months on end, and that sort of thing is just impossible around here.

The big writing news is that, after working all afternoon and half the evening (thanks to the Loml getting everyone out of the house for a few hours in the afternoon), I finally have a complete working draft of my master’s thesis. Including the short stories, it comes in at 112 pages, which is REALLY long for a master’s, but the stories go where they go. Now all that’s left is a couple of months of revision, my defense, and getting through this semester’s workshop class, and I’ll graduate in May. I’m so relieved; I’d really started to think that I wasn’t going to make it this semester either, and the thought of dragging this already-two-years-overdue degree out any further is almost more than I can bear. The work caused me to miss the deadline for this week’s Codex Weekend Warrior flash story, which sucked, but there’s only 24 hours to work with. As it was I didn’t make it to bed till 1, sleep till 1:30.

Onward, excelsior, etc.

*The title of this week’s poem, and maybe a short story.