200 on…Pentaculum Writers’ Residency at Arrowmont School of the Arts, Gatlinburg, TN

Anticipating Gatlinburg, I readied for hard core historic…for plaques about battles and declarations, bronze memorials to the fallen. Maybe a diorama, a restaurant with waiters and waitresses in period costume. I imagined a library with sepia maps and an Information Center with CD tours for rent.

So I felt a right prat when I found Gatlinburg packed with people buying sugar and carbs--candy, taffy, ice-cream, corn dogs, burgers, whiskey, moonshine—from stores shaped like castles and pirates and prisons. I smiled at the balconied “Vape” stores, restaurants selling burgers, pizza, ribs, Chinese buffet. It had stores where you could pose as characters from the Wild West, where you could have your initials put on anything, where you could buy your girlfriend a sexy nightie, your dog a biker jacket, your son a Confederate poster for his bedroom.

You couldn’t buy real things…like kettles or matches or six-packs of Pepsi.

There were no banks or Realtors, no chiropodists. No library. No book store. There were no African Americans or Asians or Latinos. 

Gatlinburg won’t be pulling at me this week, tempting me away from my work. Small mercies.



200 on...Incorporating memory into the "Mucking Fess" of fiction

Signed and dedicated copies of THE BEGINNING THINGS available for preorder $11:95 plus shipping.

“It’s hard,” she said, “when things change. It’s hard to know what to do when things aren’t what you think they are.” He joined in, teaming trousers with matching shirts and ties, the entire outfit bulging on one hanger. “It’s a mucking fess."
Tot to her grandfather in The Beginning Things

I grew up when society was pushing fathers towards a larger role in childrearing and my dad seemed to struggle with that. We kids knew he loved us, but that knowledge came from what he did (worked hard, fixed shit) rather than from what he said. When he did speak, it seemed he was comfiest when he was being funny with his puns and spoonerisms.  

He’d read me signs: “Dorry, No Sogs,” “Ho Nawkers!.” At dinner, he’d demand “A Tug of Me!” and “Spore Muds, Mother!” When I got older, he became more risqué: “Billy Sugger!” he’d cry. “For Sod’s Gake!”

My dad would never have said that something was a “Mucking Fess” but I like to think he probably thought it.  

Dank you, Thad. I yuv lou loads.



200 on...The Things We Make

Signed and dedicated copies of THE BEGINNING THINGS available for preorder $11:95plus shipping.

I've always made things. As a kid, I sewed doll dresses from scraps lifted from mum's mending box. I knitted cardigans for babies: miniatures in pink and blue. I made Madeleines--sweet sponge "turrets" brushed with jam and rolled in desiccated coconut—and served them to my parents while they watched the wrestling on the telly.

As a teenager, I made plans: how I'd marry someone with TIME; how I'd live in a house with a lawn all the way around; how my husband would love me more than anyone he would ever meet. Ever.

As a woman, I made mistakes which brought me howling into truths about myself and into change..and into prose and poetry. I howled into stories, into poems, into novels.

Last year, I visited my sister in Greece and she taught me to crochet. We sat watching the ocean and I crocheted pot covers threaded with evil eyes. When I came home, I began to crochet little “give away” bookmarks for The Beginning Things.



200 on...magiking an artist

I have some amazing friends. I blogged a week or so ago that I adored the cover art for my book The Beginning Things and was sad that the artist was “unknown.” The image of a girl on a chair came from a stock photograph company, and no artist was tied to the painting.

This week, I opened a Facebook message from Debbie Spanich, a good friend and colleague. She cryptically announced herself as my “fairy godmother” and sprinkled me with a link. The link was to, a site that sells royalty free stock photography. And down there on the twelfth line of a page showcasing a Russian artist’s work was my girl on a chair. 

I’ve Facebook-friended the artist. Let’s hope I get a reply. If I don’t, I’ll try something else.
But the main thing is that we get to credit the artist on The Beginning Thing’s back cover.

Here's another from the same artist.

And next week, Debbie gets to share how she tracked down the girl on a chair (I’m guessing some image-recognition software as opposed to divination or the smoking of magical herbs). Either way, Debbie IS my Fairy Godmother. She’s turned an image into a story. 

Abracadabra—that’s magic.



200 on…unknown cover artists

Art is hard work. Whether it’s writing or sculpting or painting or making killer cupcakes, creating is hard work. And all too often, the creator receives scant acknowledgement.

When Underground Voices and I decided on the artwork for The Beginning Things, I wanted to acknowledge the artist in some way…like include her name on the acknowledgements page…give her a big shout-out on social media…or send her a copy of the book.

But it turns out that the artist is unknown. UV discovered TBT’s gorgeous girl on a stock artwork site, and for whatever reason, the site owners were unable to let us know who painted her. 

I would love to somehow hunt the artist down. There’s a part of me that wants to buy the original and have it hanging up on my wall. I know that somewhere it exists. It might be tiny – a little 8 x 4 pastel sketch. Or maybe it’s bigger—some huge canvas. Or maybe—horror of horrors—the artist photographed the original and submitted it to the online artwork site, and somehow, the original was lost or destroyed. 

Hunting down an artist from an artwork is nigh on impossible, but the possibility haunts me.


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200 on…G-strings and front covers

Underground Voices recently finalized the cover artwork for The Beginning Things. I love it – it’s understated and seems to have caught the “sense” of twelve-year-old Tot, the novel’s main character. They’ve kept me involved in the process—a move that makes me love working with small independent presses.

UV originally sent three options. I had trouble deciding between two of them: I liked the composition of one (a framed image that allowed the title to stand against a plain background) and the artwork of another. UV combined the two to arrive at this final choice.

There was one further revision: the original artwork showed the girl wearing a slightly cropped sweater which exposed the band of a tiny G-string. While Tot is sexually active (and that’s a big part of her story), she is naïve in many ways: she wouldn’t wear sexy undies. UV responded to my concerns immediately and had the image edited to lengthen the sweater.

They sent me two sets of the original artwork: one portrait image of the front cover only and a landscape image of the front and back cover spread. This landscape version has proved a great choice for promotional postcards. I love Vistaprint!

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200 on…Ego, “Desiderata,” and the Writing Life

Recently, I was struggling with ego’s seesaw. I explained to friends that writers are often private people—loners who tend towards isolation. That’s how we get the work done. But once the writing is done, we need to persuade people to back our work…either as publishers, promoters or as buyers. That requires ego.

Of course, everything requires ego to some degree. But promoting and receiving praise for my work engages my ego in a big way, and that can be dangerous for a recovering alcoholic like me.

There are clear connections between ego and my drinking: if someone offers me a drink and I take it, I’ll want the rest of the bottle (or wine box); if someone offers praise, I crave more…and more and more. I abstain from alcohol, but the success of my work doesn’t allow me to abstain from ego.

My pal, D, responded with a copy of “Desiderata” in which Ehrmann says, “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

With ego, the healthy answer rests inside balance. But as with sobriety, the challenge is maintaining that balance.

(Image by Irene Shpak at



200...on choosing covers

Underground Voices, CA

Lovely emails the past two days from Underground Voices, my publisher. Cetywa sent me mock-ups to consider, and that’s rather magical in itself. Sometimes, the author doesn’t get that opportunity.

I get that though. The process COULD be a nightmare for all concerned. The author might get precious and pooh-pooh each option: it’s easy to be so invested with characters and settings that we already have an image in mind that won’t budge. Or the publisher might offer options the author feels run counter to narrative.

I have four to consider so far. One uses the wrap-round from front to back cover—an approach used on Scott Neuffer’s Scars of the New Order. But while the design is brilliantly stark and edgy, it’s too…coastal. Too American. The others feature girls—all adolescent and wonderfully complicated. We’re playing with a hybrid: the artwork from one and the layout from another.

Now that I’m not freaking about the actual artwork, I’m fussing about typography and resolution. What font takes the story and hands it over? Will the printing process render the type sharply on the card stock? Will I hate the non-matt stock (I have an odd thing about the lovely waxy feel of matt stock)?



200...on the lyric novel

When I hear the phrase lyric essay, I think creative nonfiction…Brenda Miller, Sue William Silverman, Amy Fuselman. But I've just finished Elizabeth Hardwick's lyrical, snappy 1970s novel Sleepless Nights and I'm thinking that this too, with its short sections, its dipping in and out, the sharp and acute focus on the moment, shares many features of the lyric. Its moments mimic thought: they are, on the surface, unconnected in the broad sense of the term, each finely wrought with the white space’s pause for reflection/disconnection. But together, they deliver a whole life.

Sleepess Nights makes me wonder. It feels like memoir. It has the flavor of Coatzee's Elizabeth Costello: not so much in terms of content but more in how the main character navigates the material.
Sometimes the universe pushes me where I don’t want to go. Lately, I’ve been writing poems that want to ramble, fiction that keeps showing me, Clockwork Orange style, photographs from my childhood. And I’m reading Sue William Silverman’s The Pat Boone Fan Club. All is pushing me to consider the lyric essay.

How the genre scares me.

(Sleepless Nights arrived in a box of Kitsch love from Charlotte Hall. How I love unbidden books.)

Sleepless NightsSleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not an easy read. It requires the reader to suspend the need for completion and that can be tough. Hardwick's narrator looks back on her life and examines her intereactions with others, moments, places, decisions. She alights upon each and looks closely and deeply. In many ways, this is a collection of flash fictions, of lyric essays. Once I got my head around that, I settled in and began to enjoy it. I could see this as cinema, albeit avant garde! It's the kind of book I would hope to return to, to reread. It's the kind of book I'd like to think I might try to write one day as memoir...a continual dipping into memory.

View all my reviews



200…on Ten Writer Stable and short story author Scott Neuffer

When Underground Voices contacted me with an interest in The Beginning Things, I did research before I signed on the line. I wanted to get a feel for their authors. I bought a few books and have to say that it was Scott Neuffers work that persuaded me to sign. Ive got to know Scott over Facebook and email and find both man and work share certain qualities. The writing is honest; it looks at the world head-on; its not cruel, but its sharp enough to demand careful attention. And I like to think that Scotts a bit like that. Get ready to tackle school shootings, obesity, alienation, sexual addiction, racism...and love in all its varied forms. 

Scars of the New Order came out in 2014 and is about to go into a second edition.

Scotts my second horse. Hes down at the end of Ten Writers Stable. There are eight stalls between him and the poet Robert McNally. I didnt split them up because I think theyre crabby and might kick at each other: its more that I see them as thoroughbreds who will be nice to the other eight when they arrive. 

Feel free to feed him an apple.



200 on...Robert Aquinas McNally's _Simply to Know its Name_

I love Robert Aquinas McNally’s work (and his name). He has a slew of books—nonfiction and poetry—and is a regular in anthologies and literaries. He’s also a really nice bloke. Very down-to-earth and that’s important to me. I can’t be dealing with egos that are buffer than mine.
Robert and I met because we both submitted manuscripts for the Briery Creek Liam Rector prize last year. His, Simply to Know its Name, was snapped up by Grayson Books in West Hartford, Connecticut, and mine, Bone Song, was taken by Briery Creek Press in Farmville, VA.
I met his work because we decided to swap books and write reciprocal reviews. Robert was quick out of the gates and reviewed Bone Song last week, so I’m going to have to be content with coming in a close second.
I spent a few days with this collection to work out why I loved it so much. I discovered that much of their power is in the language and ended up recording “Gray Fox” and posting it as a clip. To read my review of Simply to Know its Name, hustle over to Amazon.
(Robert is horse number one and has the stall right next to the feed buckets.)



200 on…supporting writers writing

A colleague of mine said in a recent interview that if we’re really interested in supporting literature, be it poetry or fiction, we should be prepared to support at least ten “writers writing.” That support could take many forms. We could buy their books, invite them to read with us, share their successes on our social media spaces. We could offer them a place to stay if they read in our towns. We could share hotel rooms with them at expensive conferences. A creative list is endless.

I took a hard look at my own support of writers writing and I wasn’t too impressed with myself. I have, like many of us I imagine, fallen too firmly on “lack of finances” as a reason not to be a writer actively reading/supporting/championing. I am determined to change that.

The first step is to assemble my ten. I want to invest in writers whose work I respect and enjoy reading. I’m up to three so far. Three writers who are new to me and whom I support purely on the strength of their writing

If you were to put together your own stable, whose names would you paint on its stall doors?


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200 on...public displays

Consider life's shop windows: all manner of lures from cheap white-flour iced buns and drowsy wasps to worn women sweating under the world’s red lights.
Consider the online window, the tablets’ and iPhones’ screens: how Zillow’s houses in the country call to me: “Come home, come home, leave the city for the black of Rustburg’s nights, shot through with stars, with the howls of hunting dogs ripping across corn fields.”
Consider window shopping: how I coveted the Bally heels in the high-end store at the top of Watford’s High Street in 1978 and bought them with my first pay packet, wore them with fishnets to work at the ink factory so I might stand before Frank who laboured within the process blue mill in shed #3; how I am always refurbishing this house, the atriums of this heart.
Consider windows we open to our lives: how we pull strings to crack blinds just enough to slice the world; on better days, we tear down the blinds, open the windows wide on everything we have inside: this is who I am; this is who he was; this is who she was. How I never knew—not really knew—any of them.

The store: Galaxie Moderne, 1225 Main St #303, Lynchburg, VA 24504.(434) 846-0077
The poem: mine…and his…and hers.

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200 on…Diehards and Bookabilia

We diehards, we "I'll never read on a screen-ers,” are reading on screens: on iPhones, iPads, tablets, Kindles, Nooks: Dostoyevsky consumed on an 8” x 5” screen…in Tahoma 12pt. Poe’s Conqueror Worm scrolling down a “Hello Kitty” iPhone. 

We’re reading in the spaces in which we wait, tired magazines discarded in the recycling: we wait for medical procedures hunched over, isolated and intent, thumbs turning virtual pages, tapping links that seduce us down alleys from which we cannot find our way home.

(The cloth primer, read and soaped in the tub—our first book (My very own book!?)—moves from the supermarket shelf to the kitschy “yester year” store. We’re nostalgic, rubbing our fingers over the fabric’s printed words and pictures, remembering the roar of the tiger (“Hear Him Roar!”), the yap of the little dog in the shop window (“Woof, Woof!”). Our children wait in the backs of our cars reading Animé on impossibly thin tablets.) 

Our paraphernalia finds its way to Goodwill, to Etsy stores specializing in vintage for we have no need for bookends, for leatherette bookmarks, for the mid-century bookcase. We need earphones, links to virtual libraries, charging stations, apps, an account with iTunes. 

Diehards. Readers.



200 on…Celebrating Ten Years Post Pathways

Fact then Fiction.
 “Peace came slowly if it came at all. Each morning, it hovered on the edges, like hope, as he stumbled his way, trembling and sick, out of bed to the bathroom to stand beneath the shower until the hot water ran tepid, until his morning shakes could be explained away as the result of too much cold water on an old man’s body. He hadn’t deviated from the habit, even after Millicent’s death; it was as if habit held him together. The shower, the keeping down of breakfast and strong coffee settled the shaking into a constant bee-winged vibration behind his rib cage. Peace didn't arrive until he gave in: a glass of wine, beer, cooking didn’t care back then. Today, it was pickier. Today, Dan’s brand of peace demanded a bottle of Bells. What had happened? He had asked himself the question time and time again. What had caused the shift from his being a peaceful two-pint-a-night man to a drunk who couldn’t drive without a bottle of whiskey under the seat?” 



200 on… Math(s) and Walking Bubs

Saturday at Clemmons Lake: In the parking lot, I calculate dogs: 3 pickups: 2 saloon cars. Anglers in trucks bring buckets, hooks, worms, and fast food; they don’t bring dogs. People in saloons bring fast food, kids, and/or dogs. There is a possibility of at least 5 dogs, but more likely only 2.

Bubs is leash-reactive. He panics when restrained. #1 and #2 on the dock, fisherman #3a by the overflow. I can’t separate fishing from the death of fish like I can’t separate Southern Comfort from getting wasted. Woman #1 and Woman #2 plus 3 kids on the playground: 1 concrete turtle, 1 plastic dragon-fly, and 1 metal fish climbing frame. 0 dogs.

I let Bubs wade out. He doesn’t swim, but he likes to wallow. It pisses off the fishermen and I make sure he wades as close to them as possible.

Back at the parking lot, I wrangle him into the car. He’s wily and knows Car + Back Seat = Walk Over. I tempt him with biscuits I do not have. Each time, he forgets I welch on deals. We head out thrifting where Bubs will sleep through 3 Goodwills.

55 on 221 and the car smells like geese, deep water, and stale eggs.

(Photograph from Lynchburg's Discover Lynchburg page.)


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200 on...terror and valium

For fifty-seven days   |  we have stood inside
recovery’s weather     |  house, balanced on its beam
"Odds are one of us is going out" Bone Song

I'm taking valium at noon. 10mg. At 1:30, the handsome Dr. Carvejhal will extract/pull/yank two teeth, perform a bone graft and sinus lift and if there's enough anchorage/no infection, he'll place implants. There’ll be gloriously minty airline-hummy nitrous oxide sifting through the nose clip throughout.

I'm terrified because I can’t wait to take the valium.

I'm terrified because for the first time in ten years, I plan on getting a little fucked up.

I’m terrified because since picking up the prescription (I delayed for a month), I’ve thought maybe I could take just one and save the other for later.

I’m terrified because although I know that the program that saves my life every day differentiates between medication taken as prescribed and medication taken at will, I still see medication as reward and not as medication.

I’m terrified because for the first time in ten years, at 11:55 I will disconnect my wifi: I have a history of sending hugely inappropriate messages when fucked up.

And that’s why Nan is arriving at 12:30 to drive me there. She knows where I’ve been, where I can’t afford to go again, that, unchaperoned, there’s a chance I might not get out.

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200 on voice: losing it / finding it / hating it

Talking to yourself is a sign of madness: conjures old women, stacked up one above the other in high rises, talking out their days to budgies, cats, to photos on bureaus—who they saw, who wore what, what needs to be done, what doesn’t. I’m early. Fifty-four & talking to the dog, to the stir fry, to the dead. Call it pre-writing, the planning out of poems and plots. I’m talking to myself. In a mangled accent: London submerged under fifteen years of America. 

Dinner at the President’s house. High art & wood paneling. Everyone talking: “snow…frozen in high schools...stand up, stand up against ignorance…ignorance. I’m chewing/rehearsing: jump in, say something now, no, now, no, now, now, no, now, now, now, no...

3:30pm interview for Bone Song. 3:23 Want to vomit. Presenter plays opening bars, introduces me, my name, my book. Dig down into Britishness, my voice for strangers. I conjure Judy Dench…Maggie Smith. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. I jump in, say something, feel its clipped consonants, its shortened vowels. Said something else. Said something else.  Said something else.

Friends said I sounded comfortable. My sister said I sounded British…and then American.

One day I’ll sound like me. 




200 on…Listening in the Classroom

Beginner, begin with life. Don’t forget your mother,
your meds, bees. Be quiet under critique. Incredible.
“Hard to Believe”: Bone Song

It’s week three: time for Def Poetry. I need to balance the Yeats and Kinkaid I played them last week. I tell them we need to hear poems coming from poets’ mouths. watch them watch the poets. They smile at Mos Def’s sexy Shakespeare, laugh with Mali at “What Teachers Make”: they’re keen to be part of this writers’ club, to try on for size its in-jokes and distain. 

They get tense with the anger inside Yellow Rage’s “Listen, Asshole.” I love this tension. I want them to love it, too. Flow Mentalz “They Call Me Drama” moves them from tension at social commentary to tension caused by turds and semen stains and blood on white jeans. Anything’s game when it comes to subject.

When we hit Sanchez’s  Poem for Some Women,” they’re eager but unsure of how to react to this crack house, to the word Pussy, to a woman whose pussy is too loose, a woman who swaps her “pretty little girl” for crack, who returns days later with a cheap denim jacket…rape’s consolation prize.

They leave like workers from a hive, buzzing down the corridor with Def Poetry, about what poetry might be. I listen hard; I keep struggling with that question and its answer.

(Photo from