A Loaded Word

A cracked pomegranate sits on a plate with loose seeds and juice scattered on the table

“Pith”, the title of my new short story in Wilderness House Literary Review, is one of my favorite words, dense and layered with meaning. As a noun, it refers to spongy plant tissue or a body’s soft interior; it can also mean the essential part. As a verb, it means to kill. It’s a word in constant dance with its context – move this way, and it could be a refuge; shift slightly, and it’s peril. By either interpretation, it’s impactful.

I hoped to weave these multiple meanings into the story, a simple one of Dara, a young woman attempting to connect with her elderly father, newly vulnerable at this moment in their relationship.

I also wanted to create a personality test for the reader, and purposely left the time period vague. Set this story in late 2018, for example, and the tone reassures. Place it in January 2020 and inspire dread. I leave it up to you whether to support or kill.

Thank you to fiction editor Ian Halim at Wilderness House for selecting my work, and to the women of SWIG and Andrew Wagner for thoughtful critiques.

Read Pith in Wilderness House Literary Review >

Photo courtesy Margaret Jaszowska via Unsplash


The black coils of an Eastern Rat snake shine under a light

In my latest story, what happens when a person whose default setting is avoidance has to deal with the highly unpleasant, immediately, and all by themselves?

In Solo Shift, my new short story in The Petigru Review, Tanya, the owner of a small cafe and mercantile, finds herself face-to-face with a snake just before the Sunday-morning rush. As the story unfolds and she addresses the urgent at-hand, the long-put-off becomes clear.

Interestingly, this story first came together in September 2020 (the year of prompt stories) – and here we are, two years later, seeing it published just as September ends.

Thanks to the editorial staff at The Petigru Review, especially Sue Cryer and Maria Picone for such a fruitful collaboration, and my constant readers – the unparalleled SWIG workshop and Andrew Wagner.

Read Solo Shift in The Petigru Review

Photo courtesy David Clode via Unsplash


Two swimmers in side by side lanes swim the backstroke

Early in my career, work and life were separate. It was considered unprofessional to be vulnerable or personal at the office. Relationship drama? Family problems? Health issues? Check them all at the office door, focus on the bottom line, and bring maximum value to your employer, no distractions.

But as I’ve switched roles and companies over the years, I’ve noticed a shifting ethos in corporate culture, especially when I’ve taken jobs at startups. Employees are increasingly encouraged to “bring their whole selves to work,” but this got me thinking: What does that mean, exactly? Who defines “whole self”? And what type of an employee might prefer to keep things separate and private?

That’s the setup for my newest short story, Backstroke, published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Under Review.

Thank you to Meghan Maloney-Vinz and The Under Review editors for publishing my work, and to my SWIG workshop readers and Andrew Wagner for always-thoughtful feedback.

Read Backstroke in The Under Review >

Photo courtesy Ryan Fleischer via Unsplash

Tie Goes to the Writer (and Editor)

A view of a prison hallway seen through steel bars

In On Writing, Stephen King says the following about getting initial feedback from close, trusted readers:

If you give out six or eight copies … you get back six or eight highly subjective opinions about what’s good and bad in it. If all your readers think you did a pretty good job, you probably did. This sort of unanimity does happen, but it’s rare, even with friends. More likely, they’ll think that some parts are good and some parts are, well, not so good. Some will feel that Character A works but Character B is far-fetched. If others feel that Character B is believable but Character A is overdrawn, it’s a wash. You can safely relax and leave things the way they are (in baseball, tie goes to the runner; for novelists, it goes to the writer). If some people love your ending and others hate it, same deal – it’s a wash, and tie goes to the writer.” (pp. 216-17)

I recently used this advice with my new flash fiction story, The Sleepwalker, published this month in Every Day Fiction. When I workshopped this story with my writing group, it got mixed feedback: Some thought it worked fine, others thought it needed an overhaul, getting more in depth with the character and the actions that created their circumstances.

Potential wash, I thought.

Then, fellow workshop member – and award-winning flash fiction writer – Kat Gonso not only championed it, but also suggested a drastic revision. She recommended leaning in to the flash and distilling even further.

In her notes, she included a ~350-word version (cut from my original draft around 500), and suggested I pare it down even further. I sat with it a bit, tweaked a few sections based on her suggestions and additional workshop feedback, and sent it out to a few journals.

Every Day Fiction expressed interest, and then also shared their team’s notes. Their reader found it problematic. The fiction editor liked it and wanted to publish it.

Tie goes to the editor, and by extension, me.

Read The Sleepwalker in Every Day Fiction >

Photo courtesy Matthew Ansley via Unsplash


A neon-red anatomical heart wall hanging sits behind a steel grid

When I was growing up, my mother had a paper wall hanging, a scroll unfurled between two wooden sticks, featuring a dusky rose against a yellow-and-gold striped sunset. On the top, in thick dark letters, it read, “If you love somebody, tell them.”

In my newest short story, Structures of a Heart, Jonah can’t quite follow these simple instructions. For those who know him best, though, his reticence may not matter.

Thanks to the women of SWIG and Andrew Wagner for reading multiple drafts and always offering helpful feedback, as well as to the editors at Chestnut Review, and especially D.E. Hardy, for their care with this story. Read – or listen to – it now in the Autumn 2021 issue.

Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Letter to a Ghost

A sandy path between dunes leads to the hillier dunes in Provincetown

I first encountered Richard McCann, poet, essayist, novelist, professor, in the mid-90s, in Writers in Print and Person, a literature class at American University. His name, a guest author on the syllabus, accompanied the required reading of Ghost Letters, his poetry collection. It was a modest gathering, maybe fifteen undergraduate students, and on the designated day he took a seat at the head of the discussion table, maneuvering his swollen abdomen into a too-small chair. He had a mottled complexion, large hands, thin blond hair that brushed his eyebrows and earlobes. Ice-blue eyes that concealed glaciers of sorrow.

Before we delved into the Q&A, he charmed—and disarmed—us all with a few witty, self-deprecating jokes. Still, even in laughter, his eyes were the saddest I’d seen, then and maybe still. He’d been through the unbearable: he was the last person standing in his family of origin, his partner lost to HIV. The multi-decade culling of his community; his own health crisis. He’d seen some shit. He wrote it all down. He polished the retellings, so what would stagger or even fell others became poems. He made the profane beautiful, and the beautiful sublime.

I learned of his death, Monday, January 25, 2021. I knew he had been chronically ill since the nineties. I knew he was 71. But it still stunned. He was the endurer. He was the recorder. I texted an old friend, who had also studied with him: It’s like the witness isn’t supposed to be mortal.

The spring semester of my junior year, I registered for McCann’s course, Literature of AIDS. This was 1998, and while the pandemic may have been somewhat muted compared to the previous decade, it still loomed and threatened. “Who signs up for this—are you all masochists?” he asked the small group of us, maybe twelve, on the first day of class. Perhaps we were. I only knew that, while we were heading into some dark places, I trusted McCann would be a revelatory guide. He was. Here were instructions on how to live with pain. Templates on how to declare one’s worth. Introductions to artists-as-warriors: Mark Doty, Jean Valentine, Tory Dent, David Wojnarowicz, Paul Monette, Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, voices that howled and wept and celebrated and refused to be silenced, even in death. Here were participants and witnesses, each class session such a shock wave of love and loss that we often stumbled out into the university quad, stunned into post-lesson silence.

Over the years, what I found enduring and remarkable was McCann’s invitation to witness, to have given our small collective a glimpse into how to stare down what tries to come for you, to break you and your loved ones, your whole community. The betrayer mattered not and could take many forms: a pathogen. A policy. Your own pathology. What mattered was, even in the midst of the attack, one could still say, I can create from this. I must create from this. McCann wrote and taught about the body—the ailing body, the desirous body, the decaying body, his own and others. How strange to think he has finally left his – to have at last cast off the source of frustration, creation, betrayal and beauty – and now leaves only a body of work.

At our last class, the appointed hour came. McCann said something poignant and kind to wrap up; I don’t recall the exact words, just the commingled sadness and gratitude that comes when any meaningful experience concludes. What I do recall is no one moved or spoke, as though we could will more time into existence. Of course, who knew better than McCann that we couldn’t? He looked at us, immobile and mute, and waited.  

“Go,” he finally said, and we did, reluctant, reverent.

Photo courtesy jenny k via Flickr Creative Commons

Stuck in the Mud

A man stands on a beach in front of a beached whale that has washed up on the shore

Going into 2019, I was a bit depleted creatively. I struggled with a long-form fiction project and was out of ideas. While I did not want to take any time off, I also did not feel inspired.

I remembered I had purchased a prompt book, Judy Davis’ A Writer’s Book of Days, while on vacation in Asheville, North Carolina, a few years earlier. It had sat on my shelf, unopened. I retrieved it and skimmed the intro and its basic premise: a prompt a day.

That could be a good New Year’s resolution, I thought. Daily prompt, no pressure, no editing, no time limit or word count, just the practice.

I kept at it and didn’t miss a day. I wrote longhand. By the end of the year, I had a stack of notebooks filled with potential stories.

In 2020, I used the notebooks as starting points, with a new resolution: 12 short stories from the prompts, one per month.

Time and Tide, newly published in MudRoom magazine, is April’s story, although the process was much longer than that:

  • April 2019: Original prompt
  • April 2020: First draft of the full story
  • April – December 2020: Two workshops with the SWIG writers’ group, plus additional helpful feedback from Robert Scott and Andrew Wagner
  • January 2021: Pitches, final revisions
  • February 2021: Publication

For more details, MudRoom editor Maiasia Grimes generously invited me to discuss the writing process in the magazine’s newest interview.

Thanks for reading!

Photo courtesy Sue & Danny Yee via Flickr Creative Commons

Short, to the Point

A waitress in a diner stands in profile silhouette in black and white

Thank you to the team at Levee Magazine for publishing my newest short fiction, Embolus.

A bit of process notes on this one: Embolus went through multiple revisions over the years and received mixed feedback, both from my writing workshops and editors at literary journals. It certainly mystified me as I worked on it. I knew I wanted a mood piece that spoke to something the main character considers unspeakable, something she knows but prefers as mystery. Something intimate and also foreign.

I’ll say little more, just that the timing of Embolus’ publication in Levee’s fifth issue, in the throes of the novel coronavirus, and the rash of high-profile diagnoses this week, seems a little too timely. Can we ever really acknowledge our vulnerabilities?

Photo courtesy Tyler B Dvorak via Flickr Creative Commons

The Ancients


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


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