The Ancients

capilano_suspension_bridge_vancouver

In 2018, I traveled to Vancouver, B.C., and spent an afternoon at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. After a few hours crisscrossing between the treetops, we descended back to the ground to exit, and passed a display titled Our Biggest Guest.

It told the story of a November night in 2006, when a storm-felled Douglas Fir tree nearly took out the bridge, and the harrowing means to clear the giant: “The park had to be closed for 3 months in order for the tree trunk to be safely removed. With 17 tons of weight on the bridge, the trunk could not simply be lifted otherwise it would create a spring-like effect shooting the bridge, tree, and any one on it up into the air. Instead, small slices were removed one at a time while pulley systems carefully lifted and swung the remaining tree from its perch.”

This story was my main souvenir from the trip. From it came my newest short fiction, Arabesque, now available to read on Fiction Southeast, or check out the audio version on Audiomack.

Thanks for reading or listening!

Book of Days

cranes_overhead

In 2019, my New Year’s Resolution was to work on a writing prompt every day, using A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves as my guide. Whether I had five minutes or five hours, the goal was simply to make it a daily practice. I wrote longhand each day, sometimes in plain notebooks, other times in fancier leather-bound journals. I alternated between drugstore ballpoint pens and bold purple inks. I made it the whole year.

In 2020, my resolution has been to work through those prompt exercises like a miner, extracting useful nuggets, in an attempt to produce a polished short story each month. Nearly five months in, I’ve been keeping at it, although “polished” may be a relative term.

A bit of validation, though: I’m pleased to announce the first of my prompt stories has found a home. Check out my newest published fiction, Serotiny, in issue 6.1 of The Maine Review. (Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, nearly nothing from the original prompt exercise made it into the final draft.)

Thanks to editor Rosanna Gargiulo for her thoughtful edits, as well as the incredible readers of SWIG and Andrew Wagner for their invaluable feedback.

As always, thanks for reading!

Photo courtesy Matthew Macy via Flickr Creative Commons

Winter Into Spring

My husband tells me the first day of spring is tomorrow, yet the forecast for my morning commute is a brisk 28 degrees. Not quite there yet…

Fitting, though, that “Seeking Warmth”, the latest excerpt from our graphic novel, Stony Road, was just published this week – and by a publication in a place that’s always warm, no less.

Seeking Warmth screenshots

Check out the story on the Aquifer: The Florida Review Online website.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to warmer days.

When Armchair Travel Isn’t Enough…

Australia State Library Melbourne

If you know me well, you know I love books and travel in equal measure. In fact, books often inspire my travels. So it was a great pleasure to research and write my newest travel story for Fodors, Beyond the Page: 10 Fascinating Destinations for Bookworm Globetrotters.

Given the ample options for our literary destinations, it was tough to narrow down the list to just 10 places, but my editors and I did it! Our literary locales include such far-flung places as Melbourne, nicknamed the City of Literature, and as close by as the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, a favorite author gathering spot that’s also featured in many a novel.

Take a look and, if you’re so inclined, drop me a line and tell me your favorite literary-inspired destination!

Read more

Photo courtesy s2art via Flickr Creative Commons

Little by Little…

Patty by Rick Stromoski

My uncle and I have been working on Stony Road, a graphic novel, for about three years now. We took a year to research and outline, a year to write and illustrate, and a year to revise and pitch agents and publishers.

In addition to pitching the entire book, we’ve also been pitching excerpts as stand-alone short stories. Patty, the first excerpted short story, is this week’s lead piece in Booth literary magazine.

As a writer, I found it a fascinating exercise to storyboard this sequence, to think visually to convey the scene, rather than relying on language to walk the reader through the story. In a way it was quite freeing: Before working on this project, I never had the opportunity to have artwork do the heavy lifting. Having a new medium to help shape a reader’s understanding was new and novel; I quite enjoyed working in this format.

Hoping to have more updates on this project as we continue to pitch. In the meantime, many thanks to the team at Booth!

Image copyright Rick Stromoski

Even Weird Stories Can Find a Home

This photo shows the subway platform at Sullivan Square in Somerville and Charlestown, Massachusetts

I am a creature of habit, always heading to the same spot on the platform to catch the train, and this macabre progress check became routine: Get off the bus. Swipe my monthly pass. Head to the left, down the stairs, toward the three billboards. Check for the rabbit. Get on the train.

Dead rabbits, subway trains, and the passage of time…I’m pleased to report that even weird stories can find a home. Check out my newest short story, “Sullivan Square,” now up on Scout Somerville and Scout Cambridge.

Photo courtesy The West End on Flickr Creative Commons

Read the First Chapter from Beneficiaries

This photo shows a dilapidated barn with a green bicycle leaning against its front wall.

It seems I’ve taken an unexpected hiatus here on the blog, one I hope to remedy in the coming weeks and months. Why the hiatus? I’ve been working on other writing projects, including Beneficiaries, a novel in short stories.

I’m pleased to share that Embark, a literary journal for novelists, has included the first chapter of Beneficiaries in its second issue. Embark has a great premise in that they only publish the first pages of a novel, “those crucial first pages that must engage the reader’s attention and often receive more polishing than any other part of the book”, as they so eloquently put it.

Here’s the first glimpse of “Barnstorm”, aka Chapter One of Beneficiaries:

The barn was scheduled to come down that afternoon. The demo team had arrived early, however, and worked with efficiency and skill. Caroline watched them fill a dump truck for the third time in two hours and reverse back out to the road; the driver steered with caution. The monstrous truck bleated as though it were as small and vulnerable as a lamb, as if it wouldn’t easily crush any comers that dared to cross its path, even at this slow speed. Caroline sipped a cup of coffee at the kitchen sink, shifting her gaze from the truck to the new empty space now in front of her, noting how the barn’s footprint seemed so much larger, ironically, without it.
It had come down without a fuss, without any protests or resistance. It hadn’t been a lightning storm, or a Nor’easter, or termites that had done it in—though those had all taken their toll, of course. Rather, it had been the gradual soft rains of the past hundred and three years, the sea-salty air that exfoliated the barn’s support beams, the heavy snows that weighed the roof down like a pressure cooker. When the bulldozer came, it took only two hits for the entire structure to crumble like a wad of paper. Rick, the foreman, raised the crane to the roof and tapped, then raked the shovel across the shingles like a comb untangling a strand of knots. The barn’s north and west walls bowed to the ground. Rick pivoted the truck on its base and extended the shovel toward the southeast corner, as graceful as a lion going in for its last wound before a kill. A swift puncture to the base and the barn collapsed in on itself, the old timbers groaning as they fell; a moderate dust cloud rose as the boards settled onto the earth.

 

Want to read more? Check out the full chapter, as well as my Author Statement, over on Embark.

Photo courtesy Alexander Shustov on Unsplash

How to Change Banks: My Changing Banks Checklist

This photo shows a closeup of George Washington's image on the US $1 bill

If you follow my blog or my social media accounts, you’re aware that I recently changed banks. The process took me five months and I ended up paying about $50 in fees to do it. (I originally thought I paid $75 in fees, but one fee ended up getting refunded. Anyway, I digress…) Given that the whole point of this exercise was to stop giving money to my old bank, I found ponying up for these fees incredibly frustrating.

Looking back, I realize that, despite careful research, I made several mistakes along the way—expensive mistakes. Mistakes and unnecessary transactions come with fees attached, and the system is designed for consumers to make lots of mistakes.

Think about it: The changing banks process is already arduous enough. Add in a few fees, and you may get frustrated, angry, discouraged, and/or apathetic. (I’m guilty of the first three.) Worse yet, you may stay put or stop the changing banks process altogether.

Don’t! Persist and move your money to a bank or credit union that better aligns with your values. I’m here to share my experiences, step by step, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Here’s my changing banks checklist so you can avoid fees, spend less time in the process, and preserve your sanity.

The Changing Banks Checklist

  1. Do your research and select a bank that aligns with your values.
  2. Open new accounts at your new bank.
  3. Activate your new debit/ATM card (if applicable) and order checks.
  4. Switch your paycheck direct deposit (if applicable) to your new bank.
  5. See if there are any fees to transfer funds from your old bank to your new bank, and make a plan to deposit/transfer money to minimize what you’ll pay in fees.
  6. Also consider the amount of time it takes for the transfers themselves in your plan to avoid fees (e.g., my old bank charged $3 for a three-day transfer; deposited checks were free and typically took a day or two to clear).
  7. Make a list of all your bills and services that were paid from your old account, including utilities, credit cards, magazine subscriptions, insurance payments, retirement savings, recurring donations, smartphone apps, etc.
  8. Once you have sufficient funds in your new account and/or a few paychecks have been deposited, go through your list of bills and services, one by one, and change each autopayment and/or electronic billing information over to your new bank account.
  9. Monitor your new and old accounts for approximately a month or two to make sure everything is migrating over as expected. Are your paychecks getting deposited to your new account? Are your recurring payments getting taken out of your new account? Are there any straggler bills or services getting paid from your old account? (If so, switch those over ASAP.)
  10. You’re almost ready to migrate everything over—but before doing so, double-check all old bills to make sure they’re set up with your new account, including the next scheduled payment. (I missed one auto pay bill and overdrew my account, leading to a hefty overdraft fee and having to scramble to transfer money back, which sucked.)
  11. When you’re confident you’ve covered all your bases, transfer the majority of your money from your old account to your new account, leaving enough funds to cover required minimum balances (if applicable) to avoid any fees.
  12. When this last transfer clears, call or make an appointment at your old bank to close your account.
  13. Close your account, request a cashier’s check or cash for any remaining funds from your old account, and deposit that in your new account.
  14. Shred your old debit card.
  15. Celebrate! You’ve successfully navigated an incredibly arduous process and migrated your money to a bank that supports your values. (I, for one, treated myself to a honey-dipped doughnut from Mariposa Bakery.)

A final thought: At first, I avoided many in-person conversations because I thought I could save time and money by doing things over the phone or online. Then, after receiving conflicting advice between my old bank’s customer service reps and the website experience—and paying fees for it—I ultimately decided to make an appointment and wrap everything up in person. The in-person meeting took all of 10 minutes and was actually the most pleasant, fee-free, and efficient interaction with my old bank.

(Yes, based on that last exchange, the irony of my new bank being all-online is not lost on me. However, from my experience thus far, they have outstanding customer service.)

Have you changed banks? Which steps did you take to do it? Share your expertise by leaving a comment!

Photo courtesy Rafael Gonzalez via Flickr Creative Commons

Community Gathering

This photo shows a New York City billboard of Ellis Island children covering the side of a building

I’m actually not sure which generations of my family were immigrants—my great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents, I’d presume. There are mysteries on both sides: My maternal grandmother’s family has many gaps from her illegitimacy; my paternal grandfather’s gaps stem from his estrangement with my father.

The bottom line is most of us, as Americans, are immigrants.

What I know of my lineage: My mother’s father’s family emigrated from Danzig, now Gdansk, a then-disputed territory on the border of Germany and Poland. Because of this inconclusive geography, I don’t know if my ancestors considered themselves German or Polish, and throughout my upbringing, both heritages were mentioned. These Eastern European relatives settled outside Pittsburgh, with many descendants still there.

My father’s mother’s predecessors came from County Clare in Ireland. Growing up, I never heard her mention her Irish heritage, although some email exchanges before my first trip there revealed said county. When I asked for a specific town within County Clare, she said she didn’t know.

My mother’s mother—New York City, full stop. Her father may have been Welsh. Her mother—no one knows. Thomas and Andersen were the last names. UK? Ireland? It wasn’t discussed.

My father’s father—Italy. Where in Italy? Excellent question. Throughout the years, I heard Naples, Rome, Sicily. While studying abroad in Rome, I found a street near my apartment in Trastevere—Viale Cesare Pascarella. Good enough for me, in the absence of other concrete signposts. Rome it would be. My grandfather passed away a few years back, and I never had the opportunity to ask and find out for myself. Such is the dynamic of respecting the parental relationship and the boundaries that have been long drawn.

These origins, and many customs, have long been lost. However, two things were kept, with varying degrees of success: food and religion.

Nana’s food: My father’s mother liked to cook. She was an Irish cook, first and foremost, with a specialty for roast pork, potatoes, sheet cakes. She did adapt to her first husband’s cuisine, however, and made a decent red sauce. (Sauce was the term, never gravy.) When I think back to meals around her New Jersey table, though, adaptations of what was readily available were frequent features: small white potatoes, brimming with salt, out of a can. Red Jell-o, both cherry and strawberry, sometimes with banana or pineapple, sometimes not. (Young me preferred not.) Pickled beets and onions. So maybe not so Irish after all…

Grandpa’s food: My mother’s father gravitated toward hearty Polish dishes. Potato soup. Pork and sauerkraut. Bread and roast meats. I was at his bedside, giving him a rundown of all the food I had eaten on a trip to Poland, when he passed away. The last words he may have heard were my descriptions of pierogies, kielbasa, and piwo w sokiem.

Religion: All sides were Catholic, although at the end of their lives, most grandparents were lapsed. To my knowledge, none of their children or grandchildren are practicing. In fact, of all the grandkids, only one was confirmed. (Me.)

I don’t know why my ancestors emigrated from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland.

I don’t know if they were good, decent people.

I don’t know if they were demonized.

I don’t know if they worked hard.

I don’t know who they were.

I can only look back two or three generations, and the gaps are still vast.

And with that blank slate, I look at my new fellow Americans, coming in from all over, for a myriad of reasons, and I know—you too could be my family.

You belong here, too.

Ellis Island children billboard photo courtesy June Marie via Flickr Creative Commons