Monday, December 19, 2011

My Writing Life

Five years ago, the publishing company Daw sent me a letter explaining that my novel had "passed first read" and was under consideration. I sent follow-up queries in 2008, 2009, 2010 asking if they had any plans to actually publish it, or reject it, or what.

This week, I received a carefully worded and apologetic letter from the acquisitions editor. He didn't come out and say he wished me the best of luck placing my work elsewhere, but that's what he meant. And it was still the most attention my novel has gotten from an editor :(

On the plus side, my short story "Dog in the Machine" is out in the 17th issue of New Myths and you can read it here!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poor Children

It was a little divot of a backyard, with an apartment building on one side, and a parking lot to the back, but it was mine, so I planted herbs and lay out in the weak Michigan sun when the weather allowed.

 Image courtesy of newleaf01
Wikimedia Commons
The first time I saw the kids, I had set up for the morning with a blanket, a pitcher of lemonade, a little radio, the New York Times Sunday Crossword, and Merriam-Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. They stood on the little hill in front of the apartment building, looking down at me. This complex mostly housed college students; there were no other kids, no playground equipment, no place to play. There was literally nothing else going on besides me pecking away at the crossword, listening to the classic rock station on a cheap plastic radio.

They stared. My heart melted: no one had ever taught these poor children to entertain themselves.

I beckoned. They tumbled to me.

They were four siblings: Omarion, Sweetie, J’neena, and Buddy. The biggest was about eleven, the little one perhaps five. They were dark of skin, dark of hair, in faded, baggy clothes and falling-apart sneakers, and moved with all the energy of popping corn, their dissatisfaction rippling out through slender limbs in perpetual motion.

“We stuck at Grandma’s,” said Sweetie.

“She got no toys, no video games,” said J’neena.

“No cable,” Omarion added.

They didn’t know what to do with themselves. They had never seen a dictionary, and examined mine with care. They had, apparently, never talked to a white woman, and examined my hair and my accent. “Honey,” they mocked, when I asked J’neena to please not sit on my dictionary. “She say, ‘honey’.”

Lemonade, they were familiar with, and made short work of.

The garden attracted them. “What this?” Buddy asked about the Miracle Gro.

“Plant food,” I said, “but don’t touch. It’s poison to people.”

“It look like candy,” said J’neena.

“That’s why you shouldn’t touch it.”

I let them dig the soil with my trowel. Their grandmother called them up for lunch, and sent them back out twenty minutes later with a little potted tree, a gift for me. “Thank you,” she called out the window.

“She say ‘thank you’ for watching us,” Sweetie explained. “’cause she ain’t got nothing to do in there. She don’t walk too good neither.”

Grandma lived in a third-story walk-up. I cared for the little tree with extravagance.

The next day, I found my trowel halfway up the hill, next to a hole deep enough to break a man’s ankle. The day after that, they rang my doorbell, bored. I loaned Sweetie a jump rope, which I later found in a puddle in the parking lot. They started ringing my doorbell and running away, peeking in my window and later commenting on my bed sheets.

They never knew what they were talking about. “Your neighbor gay,” Omarion said, without having any clue what he meant. When Buddy knocked on my back door and reported, “Sweetie say you make sex with her,” I guided him back to his grandmother’s.

“It’s not true,” I told him. “When your sister says things like that, you can tell her you know it’s a lie.”

I worried, but only a little. They had never been inside my house, had never done anything with me their grandmother couldn’t see from her window. Even if they had could describe my bed sheets, they were not credible witnesses. And anyway, I was leaving for study abroad.

Three days after I left, someone tore up my garden, uprooting all the herbs, pulling plants from their pots, and leaving my trowel and my watering can in a hole halfway up the hill. The girl taking care of my house didn’t work up the courage to tell me for three weeks, by which time she had killed my fish.

The vandals didn’t touch the Miracle Gro. Or the potted tree.

When I got back, Omarion waved to me from his stoop, his face hopeful. I nodded and left him alone.

I never saw Omarion or Buddy again, but I saw the girls, once. They knocked at my back door the week before school started.

“Our daddy taking us away from our mommy,” Sweetie told me, like a challenge.

Keeping my tone blank, I responded, “And how do you feel about that?”

“Good,” she said, the word exploding from her mouth like a cannonball.

“Nah-ah,” J’neena said, jutting her hip into her sister’s. “I going back to Mommy’s after. We going to Disneyland.”

“Who care?” said Sweetie. “Who care anyway?”

Friday, November 4, 2011


I do have a short-short in the works for November, but I'm also doing NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, also known as "30 days and nights of literary abandon." If you'd like to find, follow, or friend me there, my username is "Echina." Best wishes to all writers :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Love Potion

Old Margrete did not truly sell little Jenny Weaver a love potion to ensnare Will Carpenter on the eve of the Maying moon. The very idea of the flaxen-haired, apple-cheeked, green-eyed Jennivere of the Loom needing such a thing, when anyone could see Will’s infatuation with her, set Old Margrete’s raspy throat to bitter laughter. All shy Jenny ever needed was to smile at Will once, and he would be hers, and to that end, when Jenny stumbled, weepy-eyed, into Old Margrete’s cottage at the edge of the woods, Old Margrete gave her the potion she needed.

That is, a hearty draft of strong ale, mixed with chamomile and ginger root to disguise the taste.

“A love potion true?” Jenny had asked. “And ‘twill turn Will’s eyes to mine?”

“Never fret thee,” Old Margrete assured her, “but hie to the commons and catch thy beloved’s gaze. The potion be not all; for the spell to take, he must look upon thy face, and thee upon his.”

“For how long?”

Old Margrete tucked the yellow hair behind little Jenny’s ear. “For as long as is needful.”

And sure enough, two days later the banns were cried and shortly thereafter the wedding of Jenny and Will was celebrated. Old Margrete did not attend, for folk did not care to see her warty face on happy occasions, and Old Margrete did not, for the most part, care to see the townspeople who came to her under cover of darkness, begging for remedies, or the clever hands of the midwife, but made the sign of the evil eye against her should they meet in the light.

So all would have been well, had not the churchman, as he did once a year, perhaps, begin his speechifying against evil, quoting, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” and casting meaningful glances in the direction of her cottage. And still and all, nothing would have come of it, save that Jenny, made bold in her nuptial joy, began to tell around town that, witch though she may be, Old Margrete was a good witch, a kind and loving and helpful witch.

Sides were taken. Eduard Atwater, the alchemist, who also served as village apothecary, had much dealing with Old Margrete, and paid a good price for her herbs. He named those whose mothers had called upon Old Margrete during complicated labors. “Many of us would not be here to today to speak against evil were it not for Old Margrete’s skill,” he said. “Her knowledge of medicinal herbs rivals mine, and comes through experience. She is no more witch than I.”

“Reject the devil in all his forms!” the churchman countered. Sent from the city when the old churchman passed, he had not been raised among them in the village and had no sense of the usefulness of a village witch. “Be not seduced by the fair face of evil.”

“Hardly a fair face,” muttered those who had seen Old Margrete in daylight, but the churchman was young, with a powerful voice that projected across the square, across the commons. It could not be shut out. The more words were spoken in Old Margrete’s defense, the more insistent was he that the old woman had seduced those souls rightly belonging to him, and that she must be put in her place.

“’Tis all my doing!” Jenny wailed, having crept to Old Margrete’s window late at night. It was the eve before the harvest moon, so there was light enough that she had no fear, and besides, little Jenny was with child already, and came also for the tea of fennel and peppermint that Old Margrete mixed so well.

But truly, she came to warn. “There’s talk of cleansing by fire!” Jenny wept. “They’ll burn thee, Margrete, and whether thee be witch or no, thee hast never harmed the merest hair on any mortal’s head.”

“Worry thy thoughts no longer, but get thee home safe to thy husband’s arms,” Old Margrete crooned, again tucking a strand of yellow hair behind the girl’s ear. “Old Margrete’s lived through witch hunts a-plenty.”

“How shall thee find succor?” Jenny sobbed. “Where in the wide world is shelter for thy good old bones?”

“Old Margrete shall stay,” she promised. “There be remedy for all life’s ills here in my pots and jars.” And she sent Little Jenny on her way with the loose tea, along with a bit of licorice to soothe her gravid belly.

Then she went among her herbs and began to mumble to herself as she mixed. “There be love potions and love potions,” she cackled. “And if it’s love that be lacking here, soon there shalt be love a-plenty, even for one with a face such as Old Margrete’s.”

And she mixed something stronger than ale, and sweeter than chamomile, and sharper than ginger, a barrel of it, and said words that were best not to speak, then corked the barrel, hooked a dipper in her belt, and rolled herself and her concoction down the lane. As she went through the moon-dark town, she ladled a dipper of this medicine into every water jug and barrel she came across, with a triple dose for the churchman’s morning ablutions, until she came at last to the village well.

With some straining, for her old joints were sore and her back long since bent under by the weight of the things she knew, Old Margrete hefted the barrel and poured its contents into the water supply, where one and all would draw their drink when the sun rose. “Oh, they’ll see a love potion now, won’t they ever,” Old Margrete muttered.

She slept very late into the afternoon, and when she hobbled out into the day, her front path was strewn with asters and chrysanthemums, her shutters hung with fresh pine wreaths, and three strong young men, the churchman chief among them, were thatching her roof with sweet heather.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The little peach-colored carp hang in the artificial rock pool like mandarin orange slices suspended in lime Jell-o. Recorded squeaks and chirps of forest creatures distract from, but do not overwhelm, the rattle and rumble of the fan that maintains this cool and humid environment, a greenhouse fifteen degrees more comfortable than the desert outside. Orchids and epiphytes explode like fireworks overhead, while ferns tumble like green fountains beneath. Despite the marks of human construction—the unconcealed pots of plastic, terra cotta, and teak; the red gravel path, framed by deliberate boulders; the wandering tourists, burdened with cameras and scared off by my still presence; and the glass and metal structure itself, its artificial environment a tropical bubble in an arid bowl—it is very nearly perfect.

I can almost relax.

The strolling gardener, passing by the window with a garden hose, cannot see me, concealed as I am behind Dendrobium sp. Orchidaceae, a sturdy, flowerless stalk possessing thick, waxy leaves sprouting with alternative precision, very nearly to the ceiling, along with another, unidentified woody plant, thick with jagged leaves and topped with tiny purple blossoms. I can imagine myself alone, except when the door opens, and I startle at the next visitor.

Almost, but not quite, relax.

The disorder to my mind is not unlike the educational arrangement in the greenhouse. Orchids are strapped to trees, sprouting from boxes. Some are labeled, their relationship to the rest of the exhibit made apparent, while others hang in obscurity, part of the collection, but apart from the collection. Some of the flowers are not orchids at all—the largest is clearly a fine specimen of hibiscus, and other clusters of yellow, white, and red appear to have little in common with the orchids, except that they flourish in similar climates.

I love orchids, but fear them, like fussy infants who cannot communicate their needs, beyond letting you know that you’re not doing it right. Whatever treatment the amateur provides, the home orchid seems to whither. This has been my experience, at any rate. I love orchids, but leave their care and feeding to professionals.

Orchids are complex, their petals arranged to entice pollinators, drawing them into secret folds, whose lovely purpose is to ensure another generation of orchids. Their colors startle us singularly and in combination: pale pink and fuchsia, cream and orange, purple and gold. Their components fit in ways they should not, ways that defy the pen’s ability to describe their relationships.

My thoughts, disparate and wild but seeking organization and homeostasis, settle into this greenhouse. If my mind could take root here, or even hang, artfully suspended from a cork tree by a tangle of wire obscured by an arrangement of Spanish moss, perhaps I too could suck nourishment from the air and experience equilibrium. I might live like a pampered infant in conditions created wholly in aid of my caretaker’s wish that I might flourish.

But these are only flowers, after all, in a temporary exhibit. In a few weeks, they will wither, their succulent stems and leaves of interest only to serious collectors, those who can care for them in such a way as to coax the next offering of floral enticement. Without petals, the plants cannot provide a draw sufficient to warrant their elaborate display in this greenhouse. Soon, they will be removed to make way for the equally bright and equally fleeting colors of the walk-through butterfly exhibit. Children will shriek, linger, interact.

My mind, tethered to my body by more than a twist of florist’s wire, has at least permanent residency and cannot be displaced. Less delicate than a fleeting flower, it may be reorganized, more resilient to environmental changes.

I cannot live in a greenhouse, abandoning my own hydroponic tomatoes, thriving in a rain gutter balanced between two nutrient buckets and made animate by a pump that requires constant attention, and my straw bale garden, in which herbs and peppers sprout with good will, while watermelon vines grow wild around them, in a rapidly disintegrating medium. The human mind prefers a state of flux. A vegetative mind, of course, has little to offer.

Besides, the Botanic Garden closes early, at four-thirty, and I do my best thinking at night. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Major Donor

(for Sarah)

***Any similarities to any rich douches living or dead is WHOLLY unprovable***

There is only one thing anyone needs to know about Andrew Myrtle, and he will do you the honor of finding some way to work it into the conversation within five minutes of meeting you.

“My mom,” he’ll say, “oh, you might have heard of my mom? Sherry Myrtle? The founder of Sherry’s Craig Crab Shack?”

And then, you might grudgingly admit that you had heard of this successful national chain of upscale seafood joints, at which point he will go on to tell you an anecdote that relates, at best, tangentially to the famous entrepreneur-slash-restaurateur.

Which is not to say that his mother has anything to do with the one thing Andrew Myrtle requires you to know about him, except that she became, through her innovative take on fish and franchising, almost painfully wealthy, and that he, Andrew Myrtle himself, was her sole heir to her fortune. He intends for you to extrapolate from this that he is tremendously, shamelessly rich, and that he is always soliciting new applications for the position of sycophant. There is nothing, in Andrew Myrtle’s experience, that money cannot buy. There is no one, in his opinion, not honored to learn of his illustrious ancestry and, by association, not intrigued by his potential to reward ardent admirers.

Stacy Redford, regaled with Andrew Myrtle’s brief history on the smoking patio at the conservatory during the summer study meet and greet, feels neither honored nor intrigued as these facts filter through her understanding. She lets him tell his story, and then, because she is a little drunk, tells hers.

“My mom—you probably haven’t heard of her—her name is Bella Redford. She was a chronic alcoholic my entire life. She never had a job. We were always on government assistance. I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen. My mother never gave me a dime.”

She tugs the hand-me-down gown up her chest, helps herself to a cigarette from the pack he’d set on the brick wall, and flounces her long red hair. After an uncomfortable silence, Andrew shakes the ice cubes in his rocks glass and backs away.

It’s her third session of summer study, which is her vacation, her professional development, and her dream all rolled up in one; she won scholarships to attend the last two years, but scholarships are hard to come by, and no one could expect three in a row. Robin Dacha has provided, instead, a job in the front office this summer.

Now Robin leans against the wall, all hulking six-feet-two of him. “Andrew Myrtle made a nice donation,” he says, his voice low. “We need to take care of him.”

“He’s a douche,” she says.

Robin shrugs. “He’s a major donor, Stacy. Take care of him.”

But Andrew Mrytle doesn’t need her. Stuck in the office all summer, she sees him through the window, chatting up whoever buys his line.

Occasionally, she catches him wailing away on his saxophone in the alcove near the vending machines, as if he were the first person to discover its acoustic properties.

A few students complain that he’s out there at weird times of the night. All Robin does is compliment his enthusiasm and invite him over for dinner. Andrew throws a party for the popular students, not including, of course, Stacy, who works four hours a day, practices four hours a day, and spends six hours a day in class, plus attends three student recitals a week.

Stacy loves recitals, and she loves playing the grand piano in the big auditorium. Who is she kidding? She loves the old upright in her practice space. It’s nicer than her own piano at home, which she also loves, an even older upright, on which she is still making payments. The recitals are the real social hub of summer study anyway.

Because some of the new students are shy, Stacy takes one of the first slots. Robin gives her a big hug afterward, and a nice critique. “Your progress since last year is wonderful.” Andrew takes an early slot, too. He plays “Baker Street” with only a few sour notes. Afterward, Robin trips over himself to tell him how remarkable his interpretation was, how amazing that a first-year student should play so beautifully.

Stacy goes down to her practice room and tears apart some Chopin.

This helps. She is here for the music. During the year, she teaches elementary children to sing. The summers are hers, and she plays every moment she can.

One of her jobs in the office is to organize the recital schedule. Every student is supposed to sign up for one slot, but some of the more reticent kids have not performed yet. She goes around with the sign-up sheet, persuading them to take the plunge, then hangs it back on the wall.

She notices that Andrew has signed up for a second recital. She erases his name. He writes it back in. She erases it again. She catches him the third time.

“Every student gets one recital, Andrew.”

He taps the sheet. “There’s all these empty spaces.”

“Reserved for students who haven’t had a turn yet.”

“Robin said I was very good.”

She slides the pencil out from his fingers and lets it fall. It dangles on the end of the string that attaches it to the corkboard. “There are a lot of amazing musicians here. Some of them have been playing for twenty years, and some of them have just started. Everyone gets the same opportunity to perform.”

He tries to stare her down, but she stares him down instead, feeling suddenly very great and tall.

Later, Robin comes into the office. “Andrew Myrtle says you took his name off the recital schedule?”

She pretends to be involved in her data entry task. “Each student gets one recital,” she says.

“Couldn’t you make an exception? I’m really hoping he’ll make a large contribution at the end of the session.”

Stacy smiles to herself. “No.”

Robin shrugs.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wicker Park

This was when we lived in Wicker Park, Annie and I, in a fourth-story walk-up on Crystal Street, before they gentrified it completely, before the sidewalks grew lousy with hipsters, before the trendy eateries marched their way up from Division. There were gangs then, first the Gangster Disciples, and then the Latin Kings. You could date their possession of the neighborhood by the layers of spray-painted tags under the fire escape.

Once we came down and cops were blocking the road, Crystal being a one-way street. They were harassing some kids—black teenagers—for sitting on cars, and I, completely high at the time, blew my horn at the cruiser. I think Annie wanted ice cream, and these cops had parked in the dead center of the road so that I couldn’t even pull into the alley.

One cop stopped what he was doing and stomped over, and it didn’t take me two seconds to realize what I’d done, but he looked right past my bloodshot eyes and just saw a scrawny white dude behind the wheel of a reasonably respectable Honda Accord. I apologized right away. “This is for your benefit,” he lectured. “We’re here to protect you from gang activity. You people come crying to us when bangers commit crimes in this area.”

I had enough sense not to point out that even I, a mild-mannered, if not mildly intoxicated white dude with a philosophy degree from a liberal private school, had the sense to know that these kids were not gangbangers. They looked preppy. Plus, they were black, therefore they could not be Latin Kings, therefore they were not banging in Wicker Park.

Another time, I smelled smoke, and after Annie and I sniffed all around the apartment we looked out the window and saw a burning car four stories down, parked in front of the boarded up crack house.

The people were crazy friendly, even the bangers, who always had something nice to say to Annie. She told me about seeing four homeless guys at party in the alley. They were sitting on overturned milk-crates, with a forty-ounce of malt liquor and a single, sullied Dixie cup. The guy whose territory it was poured shots into the cup, and each man drank his in turn. It was like a tea party, she said, like little girls playing pretend.

If a homeless guy panhandled Annie, she’d usually say, “I’m sorry,” but if he could make her laugh, she always gave him a quarter. I never would.

One time, when we were walking down to six corners, a woman fell in step with us like we were old friends. She chatted about the weather, prayed it wouldn’t rain, and explained that she wanted to sleep in the park. She said goodbye before we hit the Double Door, waving like she would truly miss our company.

Annie said they must not have homeless people like that other places. Once I talked to a homeless guy in Dallas and out of nowhere he punched me in the face. Broke my tooth, too, and fractured my jaw. Annie said I couldn’t have known.

Coming back from the Note after hours, we saw an old Chevy parked under a streetlight on Damen. It was a weeknight and there was no one else around, no traffic, no pedestrians, just me and Annie, and this car had the dome light on, the windows down, and the radio blasting. We couldn’t help but look as we passed. Annie said later, he wanted us to look, this guy, in his car with his pants down and his hands around himself, pulling it furiously. His eyes met ours and he never stopped tugging as we walked past and Annie laughed so hard I practically had to carry her home.

But the next time we walked to the Double Door, Annie saw a guy lying in the gutter, a young guy, like our age. Annie was a social worker then—she still is—and she knelt by his side. “Are you OK?” she asked. “Can I help you?” She couldn’t hear his answer the first time, so she bent in closer. “Hold me,” he moaned, and she jumped back into my arms.

When the Bulls won that last championship, we were out there with everyone else, screaming in a crowd six-deep on the sidewalk, watching the Puerto Ricans cruise the streets with their trunks popped, kids sitting inside waving flags while everyone cheered and danced and drank. It felt real; it felt solid, like a place you could be a part of and stay forever. But that was right before Annie and I split up. It was mutual. I wanted to bum around Europe. Annie wanted to be a social worker. We waited until the lease expired on Crystal Street. Then she moved to Logan Square and I went to Prague.

We found each other, later, on Facebook. There were no hard feelings. I still call her when I’m in Chicago, even though most of the time she’s working. Sometimes we’ll meet for drinks at the Violet Hour and a bite at Big Star Tacos. We would have liked those places, if they had existed when we were together. But we don’t fit in Wicker Park anymore. The sidewalks are jammed, and the gutters too. A lonely drunk boy couldn’t lie down there now; he’d be run over by a fixed gear bike in about six seconds flat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

After the Memorial

We are all grandmothers now, our children grown, married, pregnant, so that we make each other aunts over and over, reap all the benefits of a house full of children, suffer none of the drawbacks. There is laughing, screaming, racing, joy. We change diapers, kiss boo-boos, and cuddle at will. We turn them back to their parents when we’re through, sit around the table in deep conversation long after meals conclude, with no interruptions.

Dad is a child again, snot dripping from his nose. He messes his pants, like a child, and we have nothing to fear from him anymore. His anger has burned to embers, the embers burnt out. When we tire of his presence, we return him to his home. The Home. We are diligent daughters, if not loving. We do our duty.

Mom is gone.

She did not know us, at the end, but she knew Jesus. We will return to her arms, one day, in heaven, so our tears are sporadic. She suffers no more.

The pastor tells us not to be surprised; when we file into the sanctuary, the church will be packed, every pew filled. When we file into the sanctuary, the church is packed, every pew filled. We sing, we laugh, we cry, we pray. We file out, into the basement where there will be best wishes from those we haven’t seen in decades, along with iced tea and cookie fellowship.

They flock around dad, “Preach,” they call him, the old pastor beloved by his flock. The offer their condolences, ask after his health. We bring him a plate, offer him a napkin, turn back to our own families.

“Just tell them you’re sorry.” The words are overheard.

“I don’t know how. I don’t know how to tell my daughters I’m sorry.”

“Just tell them. Ask for their forgiveness.”

But these are words only overheard. Dad does not say he is sorry. Dad does not ask for our forgiveness. We do not bring Dad back to the house for supper.
After supper, our children, now adults, slyly produce bottles and cans: beer, wine, vodka. The daughters of Baptist preachers do not drink. Our children, now adults, mix liquor with strawberries, sugar, ice; they ply us with mixed drinks and sweet wine.

We accept.

This is new.

By ten p.m. our husbands and children cannonball off the low sloping roof into the inflatable above ground swimming pool. We don’t want to look, but we must. They land, splashing and laughing. No one gets hurt. No one puts an eye out. It is all fun and games.

“We should have done this before,” they say. “Imagine what our reunions could have been,” they say. “I never felt like this around family,” they say.

By midnight, the grandchildren have fallen asleep on couches and cots, in cribs and corners. The men, still soaking in the pool, soak in the last of the beer. We sisters sit on the deck, our eyes to the sky.

A shooting star draws a thick, golden arc overhead.

“That’s mom,” one of us says, “riding all the way home to Jesus.”

We cry for gratitude.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Wicked Stepmother

On the surface, it’s the simplest job in the world. Maybe I make a couple extra sandwiches. Maybe I drive across town twice a month to pick up the carpool. I am the purveyor of periodic bedtime stories and fresh Band-aids, the recipient of dutiful hugs and the occasional handmade card. From a historic standpoint, I am successful in my job if I merely refrain from slaughtering, roasting, and devouring them in a red sauce.

Some days, I really enjoy the trips to the zoo, walks in the park, raucous birthday celebrations. Some days I feel like they keep me young.

Some days I look at them and think, “Man, I’m really hungry.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

End of the Line

They almost always took the same bus, almost always to the end of the line, and they almost always found something to say to Michele.

“Hey, white girl? Where can I get me some shoes like that?”

“Choo bring your lunch? Got mayonnaise? Got white bread?”

“You too good to talk to us, white girl? You think you special? You ridin’ the bus like everyone else. You cleaning rich folks’ houses same as us.”

There were four: two black and two Latina. The Latina girls, Merari and Laura, were sisters. The black girls, Vanessa and Aliyah, were cousins. All of them, except Laura, were fat and proud. Laura was skinny and proud, and the others accused her of being anorexic. Vanessa had two kids, ten-year-old twins. Her husband was good to her, but he worked third shift. Merari had three kids, with three different baby daddies. Laura was engaged, but the other girls made fun of her fiancé. Aliyah had a boyfriend, but he was married to someone else.

Michele’s shoes came from the Goodwill, her lunch would be whatever she found in her employer’s fridge, and she didn’t think she was too special to talk to these women. But she didn’t belong on the bus, and she wasn’t meant to clean rich folks’ houses. She had never scrubbed a toilet or taken public transit until last year.

“She never says nothing.”

They ribbed each other, too, and they were all friends, so she knew, now, that they hadn’t been malicious, not at first. She should have tossed a joke back once or twice, let them know she wasn’t what they thought, but that opportunity had vanished.

The bus broke down.

A hissing squeal emanated from the engine, followed by a white cloud, and the driver hustled everyone off. They milled around, complaining, arguing. Some pulled out cell phones. Some began walking. One or two checked their watches and wallets before hailing a cab.

Michele remembered hailing cabs.

The driver announced that another bus would come.

“When?” shouted Merari.

The driver shrugged.

Michele shrunk away, leaned against a street sign, feeling ugly and helpless. She didn’t notice the old white Cadillac beside her until the redneck in the big white cowboy hat spoke.

“Bus broke down?” he asked.

She nodded, looked away. He slid over to the passenger seat, stuck his head out of the window to get a better look.

“The nine-oh-one? Headed for Lakeview?”

She nodded again, turned her back so he wouldn’t think she appreciated the conversation.

“Need a lift?”

Did she ever. She had to get to work on time, had to get paid, had to eat something today. But every alarm bell in her mind said it was too dangerous. Other girls did things like this. Not her.

“Come on. I don’t bite.”

She couldn’t remember speaking at all, not in a long, long time. “Can my friends come?” she asked.

She didn’t have any friends.

“More the merrier.” He grinned. He did not appear dangerous.

Behind her, two of them were smoking. Two of them were laughing. She took a tentative step, then another.

“This guy wants to give me a ride to Lakeview,” she said.

“White girl speaks!”

“Girl, you gonna be front page news. Dude’s an axe murderer. He gonna cut you into pieces.”

“I know,” she said. “But I have to get to work. He says he’ll take all of us. It’s safe if we’re five against one, isn’t it?”

Merari raised her eyebrows. Aliyah gave the guy a hard stare. Laura blew smoke rings. Vanessa laughed.

“They already turned off my electric,” Michele said. “I have to get to work on time.”

The others stared at her. Stared at the dude. Looked at each other, looked back to her. They gave the white Cadillac a long, hard appraisal.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Like some morally ambiguous cartoon character, he carried an angel on his right shoulder and a devil on his left. Unlike the proverbial indecisive animation, he carried them at all times, even in the absence of ethical dilemma, and they weren’t adorable miniatures with cherubic faces. They were full size, slightly larger than his own six feet, and while they possessed no earthly mass, they still weighed him down spiritually.

They didn’t look like any popular conception of angels or devils.

The angel had a smooth, flat face, like a white pebble, with water-worn holes for eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Its head, covered in stiff, alar hairs, attached directly to its shoulders like a bird’s, and also swiveled and twisted like a bird’s. Its stick-figure body dangled from the head like strings from a helium balloon, and its wings hung in airy folds, bleached sheets clipped to wiry frames.

The devil looked almost exactly alike, except darker: the crisp and flaking black of a third degree burn. Where the angel had feathery hair, the devil had charred hair shafts. Where the angel had billowy and draping wings, the devil had ragged membranes.

To say that they enjoyed arguing with each other would be an understatement.

If there could be found a moral angle, they would exploit it. Veal, one-night stands, offering ones seat to an elderly woman on crowded public transport: all were dilemmas necessitating a screaming tirade. Even minor matters, such as the purchase of a bottle of water (“Plastic is bad for the environment; consider your carbon footprint” versus “You’re thirsty; you can’t control the packaging; it’s cleaner than tap water, and colder, too”) initiated disputes that could last for hours, long after he had made his choice, until they pounced upon the next ethical dilemma (“You can’t shop there; they underpay female employees and minorities” versus “Corporations make decisions based on feasibility, and have every right to set their own pay scales”).

The nonchalance with which other boys made decisions amazed him. They could skip homework, cheat in math, or hide in the girls’ shower at overnight camp, and appeared not to hear a word of bickering from a pair of moon-faced creatures who insisted upon being carried everywhere.

Was there nothing they could agree on? Clean coal? Small-scale local shrimp farming? Consensual polyamory?

“Too dirty,” sniffed the angel.

“Not dirty enough,” grunted the devil.

In college, he took an ethics class, believing his life experience would translate into an easy A. Instead, he failed, too overwhelmed by the running commentary to focus on lectures, retain textual information, or write a coherent paper. Korean pottery, French cinema, Egyptian history, and Ornithology 101 all proved hot-button topics. Through trial and error, he determined he could graduate only by majoring in pure, theoretical mathematics.

With prodigious application of alcohol, he tuned them out long enough to lose his virginity, but he paid with weeks of debate on the advisability of sexual purity, the ecological impact of condoms, the politics of STDs, and the legitimacy of the sexual revolution. When he got up in the morning, they were fighting. When he went to bed at night, they were fighting. They only interrupted that argument to weigh in on other important matters, such as turning up the heat versus putting on a sweater, paper versus plastic, and exactly how horrible hopping on an unprotected Linksys network really was in the grand scheme of things, but sex proved irresistible and they kept returning that the subject.

“Far beyond physical purity or moral fiber, this is about spiritual cleanliness,” the angel yelled.

“He’s built for sexual pleasure,” the devil retorted. “Denying a natural and healthy release muddies his spirit more than acceptance of his true physical nature.”

“Overcoming the base body is the path to spiritual purity!”

“Spiritual purity is shorthand for total emptiness.”

Earlier in the day, while discussing functional analysis in the library, a brainy and busty blonde had uncrossed and recrossed her legs right in front of him. After six hours of cogitation, he calculated with ninety-percent certainty that she had provided that glimpse of her lacy panties with perfect deliberation. This conviction emboldened him for the first time in his life.

“Why don’t you two just fuck each other already?” he shouted.

“I’d rather fuck a moldy apple,” said the devil.

“I beg your pardon,” the angel said. “I do not fornicate.”

“Whatever,” he said. “You obviously have a thing for each other. You enjoy arguing way too much. You’re overcompensating for your forbidden attraction. You,” he said, pointing to the angel, “get your hands dirty for once in your existence. Learn something about the world you condemn.

“And you,” he continued, pointing to the snickering devil, “get your ass up out of the mud. This will come as a complete surprise to you, but it’s possible to experience pleasure without being a selfish bastard.”

At long last, the angel and the devil fell silent. Instead they both gaped at him, round little mouth-holes open and speechless, dark little eye-divots surreptitiously glancing toward each other and then down to the floor.

“There’s no shame in admitting your feelings,” he said. “Surely you can agree on that.”

“Feelings are dangerous,” the angel whispered.

“Emotions indicate weakness,” the devil grunted.

“Whatever,” he said. “Deal with it. I’m going out. You’re not invited.”

And he brushed the astonished creatures off his shoulders like lint, with such ease that he couldn’t believe he’d never tried before, and he went out of the dorm, texting the brainy and busty blonde.

He did not return to until the next morning, at which time he was a little surprised, but not very, to find the angel and the devil, their faces deeply engaged between each other’s legs. On his bed, of course.

He shoved them to the floor and fell to sleep, scarcely noticing the faint squeaks and growls of pleasure. The next day, they were still at it, seemingly glued into an alchemical knot, and each day thereafter they appeared smaller, lighter, and stiffer, until, by the end of the semester, he was able to hang them on the wall, where they were mistaken for an ethereal and remarkable yin-yang sculpture by a string of women who truly appreciated fine art.

Friday, June 3, 2011


All her life, she had lived with the sensation of being trapped in this body. Not merely the myriad aches and pains she suffered, despite doctors’ constant reassurance that there was nothing wrong with her, but also the mundane demands of the prison bound her. The body hungered, and she must feed it. The body lusted and demanded satisfaction. The body tired and would sleep whether it was her will or not.

To follow the jailhouse rules evokes more nuanced prisons. If she ate, what should she eat? Would the food liberate her from her from the demands of the stomach, or weigh her down, or knot up her intestines, or simply be so unhealthy as to create further discord with the body? Inadequate sustenance would result in hunger pangs just a few hours later. If she had sex, there would be sweat and other bodily fluids. There might be pleasure, but then again, there might be pain, or lack of satisfaction, and if there were pleasure, that sensation might give rise to other, more debilitation sensations: a desire for more pleasure, a desire for a lover who would surely let her down, other desires she could not name. Besides, there was no easier way to transmit a disease that would further trap her in her body.

If she slept, she would dream.

The dreams might be wonderful, weightless flying dreams in which she escaped the bonds of the body, in which case, she would wake up even more tightly bound, stiff-jointed and shocked into the sharp reality of the morning.

The dreams might be nightmares.

Externally, she had friends, family, colleagues who looked at her and saw nothing unremarkable. No one could imagine that this vivacious and quick-witted woman had been a prisoner from birth in the same shell that liberated others with the power of movement, of choice. Like an animal, she concealed her weakness.

When the Saab plowed into her, she had been consumed with the heaviness in her legs, wondering how she could cross the street at all, how the crowds of pedestrians around her managed to do so without loathing. Preoccupied with forcing her limbs to comply, she did not notice that she had stepped out of the crowd.

“I’m having an out of body experience,” she thought, looking down at the broken frame of a woman beneath her. The Saab sped on, and witnesses were asking each other, “Did you get the license?” and “Is she dead?” They moved slowly, at a great distance from her perspective, waving their cell phones as they repeated the emergency dispatcher’s advice.

There was blood, spilling from the hated cage, pooling in the gutter. “I’m done for,” she thought. But the crowd declared, “She’s alive,” and, “See? She’s breathing,” and, “It’s OK, the ambulance is coming.”

But who cared? At last, freedom! She could fly!

Some part of her remained tethered, shackled, really, to the body, but she wouldn’t let that bother her. The life would fly out of that clay contraption and then, her fantasies realized, emancipation.

The ambulance did arrive, and a trio of snappy and professional young people fussed over her body, slid it onto a stretcher, and deposited it into their vehicle. It was idle curiosity, she told herself, which compelled her to follow, see it play out.

She was never going back. It was just nostalgia, a last glance at a house one had lived in for many years but never particularly cared for.

How graceful and unencumbered she felt hovering near the roof of the emergency vehicle. No longer plagued with discomfort, she needed nothing, wanted nothing. And how weak the foolish mortal frame appeared from here, the awkward limbs bent and broken, the messy fluids leaking from fissures in the meager protective skin.

A bloody handprint on her charcoal gray skirt bothered her, although she no longer needed business suits. And the hair: she could see gravel in the scalp, and worse yet, a few brown strands pulled forward and sort of caught in the eyelashes.

“Fix the hair,” she wanted to say, but she had no tongue, no voice box. Those organs belonged to the prison she had escaped so willingly. “Just tuck it behind the ear,” she wished to tell the paramedic, but the ambulance zoomed on, and the EMTs busied themselves with bandages, blood pressure cuffs. And her blouse had come unbuttoned, too, revealing more than she had ever shown strangers in her life.

It shouldn’t matter; the important thing was being free of the body, but at the same time, she’d always taken pride in presenting a flawless outer façade. No one ever guessed, based on action or appearance, of her pain, and now she lay in a muddled red mess, suit torn asunder, dirt on her head, and an artless lock of hair to complete the dishevelment.

Anyone could see the body’s weakness.

Why should she care, she wondered, as they trundled the body into the hospital, zipped her through doors and down corridors. Good riddance, defiant shell. I don’t need you anymore.

But right up until darkness closed in, she wanted to fix that strand of hair.

The dreams of that darkness were good dreams. She didn’t resume the burden of the unwanted form.

She woke up in that old carapace, no longer flying. Her eyes opened to whiteness, and she smelled clean sheets and disinfected floors. One hand flew to her forehead like a trained bird, but someone had tucked the hair behind her ear. “What a nice hospital,” she thought.

Later, a doctor came in, explaining that she’d broken both her legs, she would be in a cast and couldn’t walk for at least two months.

“I’m stuck in this bed for two months?” she cried, horrified.

“No, no,” he corrected her. “We’ll send you home in a couple of days with a wheelchair.”

“Oh.” She smoothed both hands over her temples, her thumbs sliding back behind her ears to meet behind her scalp. “Do you think they could bring me a comb?”

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Beer Girl

The blister on Jessie’s left ankle had popped, so that the strap of her black leather Calvin Klein knockoff sandal with the four-inch-heel rubbed directly against the raw flesh. The blister on her right ankle had not popped, but it would, soon. She could not decide which one hurt more. Her brain reconsidered with every step—the right one, no, the left one, no, the right one—but, to her credit, she continued to smile and say her line. What choice did she have?

“Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers? Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers?”

She smiled until her cheeks hurt, her mind consumed not only with the pain in her ankles, but also the way her thighs chafed, and the sweat dripping down her legs, and the possibility that she was allergic to this new foundation, even though she couldn’t scratch her face for fear of dropping the tray of Dixie cups.

There also existed that vague nausea in her abdomen, a feeling she would not acknowledge for fear that her morning Saltines and diet Pepsi might consider it an invitation to make a return performance.

Very soon, she would have that problem licked. She just needed to figure out how to negotiate another nine and a half days in these shoes. Two weeks ‘til payday.

“I’d like a free sample,” a kid said.

She smiled a little harder. “Twenty-one and over. Please drink responsibly.” She lifted the tray up higher, walked on, turning sideways to edge through the crowd. Someone’s hand brushed her ass, a deliberate touch, ending in a gentle squeeze, but she knew she would never pick out the culprit in this mob. It just pleased her not to spill anything this time.

First day of her new summer job and she’d already seen everything. She passed the last two Dixie cups to a bald, middle-age guy and his young girlfriend, whose funky sneakers Jessie suddenly envied.

“This beer tastes like piss,” the girl laughed once Jessie turned her back.

“Lemon-flavored piss,” the guy said.

Jessie limped back to her station. “Do you have some Band-aids?” she whispered to Catalina, the other beer girl on this shift. “These shoes are killing me.”

“Oh, what you’re supposed to do is you take a panty liner and cut it up and stick it on the inside of the strap before you wear them,” Catalina whispered back.

“Is that a thing?” Jessie asked. “Is that something people do?”

Catalina shrugged. “I don’t have a Band-aid.”

They refilled their trays from bottles in the cooler and pressed back into the festival. “Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers? Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers?”

The beer smelled sort of unnatural to Jessie, and she held the tray up, away from her nose, as she minced through the crowd. If she slid her feet forward in the sandals, curled her toes, and lifted her arches…no, that didn’t help matters. The leather straps—or perhaps they were really plastic—were cutting her. A panty liner wouldn’t help in the least. Maybe a tampon, at this point. She wouldn’t be at all surprised to look back and see a trail of blood dripping from her ankle.

Of course, she didn’t have any reason to carry either of those items right now. She wouldn’t even be here right now. “Cerveza y Limon…Cerveza y Limon,” she heard herself parroting. There were boys, cute ones and hideous ones, smiling and gawking and grabbing. She was supposed to be on an unpaid internship this summer. She was supposed to be networking in broadcast journalism, looking perky and helpful, flirting with anchormen, or even cameramen, and maybe, just maybe, getting a few minutes on air before she started her senior year. Something to put on her resume.

Back at her station, she leaned against the table, relieving the pressure on her ankles for a moment as she refilled her tray.

“Hey, hey, beer girl” said the bartender, shaking a box of Band-Aids. “Do you want this?” He looked down, not at her ass, like every other guy had today, but at her ankles. He even helped her into the little tent behind the bar, lifted her up onto a keg, and slid her shoes off himself. “First time?” he asked, and she laughed.

“I’m not cut out for this.”

“You’ve gotta wear those shoes, huh?” he said.

“That’s the uniform.” Her brow creased. “Black heels, minimum height three and a half inches. Black skirt, minimum six inches above the knee, official black tank top or baby doll tee with Mountain Light logo, and if you’re not at least a C-cup, you’ve got to wear a Wonderbra.”

She regretted her words immediately, but he didn’t ask her whether she was a C-cup, or wore a push-up, or whether she had bought her uniform at a thrift store with the money she made selling back her textbooks because she was broke and desperate and didn’t have an outfit like that in her closet and was too ashamed to ask anyone for money. He just shook his head, sympathetic eyes rolling. The last thing she needed right now was another pair of sympathetic eyes. Sympathetic eyes, she had determined, were nothing but trouble. Sympathetic eyes did not necessarily indicate a sympathetic person.

“We both better get back out there,” he said, holding out his hand to ease her off the keg. “You don’t seem like the type, you know. Most beer girls are more in their element.”

She shrugged and tried to sound casual. “I need the money.” It came out as a whisper. Her stomach lurched. Her hand felt funny in his. She never asked for help. It surprised her to be offered.

“Don’t we all?” He grinned. “Don’t we all?”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Two and Counting

I sold another short story!

"The Dog in the Machine" will appear in the December issue of It's the heartwarming tale of a reformed supervillain, his talking dog, and an elaborate plot to save the world from itself.

Special thanks to KJ Kabza who helped me understand how to cut a peripatetic narrative almost in half to reveal the shimmering transect within.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hope Springs

The Universe, having passed through ∞-1 cycles of creation and destruction, feels that it has fulfilled its primary purpose. Long ago, it discovered that its existence carried meaning as observer and observed. The Universe existed for a reason: to understand itself. Complete comprehension at the micro and macro levels had now been achieved, the sum total understanding of the Universe perceived, all possibilities known and cataloged.

Now, having exhausted novelty, the Universe becomes an eternal thumb riffling the dog eared pages of an inexhaustible book. There is no need to stop and browse the text, neither to read the marginalia or gloss the pages. The content has long since been memorized.

The Universe does not relish an infinity of living this manuscript over and over again without hope of discovering anything new.

The single unknown, which the Universe now contemplates, is how it can kill itself. The puzzle is not unique, merely scrambled and in need of decryption. Creating something from nothing has been done. Now, to create nothing from something. Compress down to an infinitesimal non-dimensionality and never explode? Explode beyond the limits of physics and never pull the pieces back in?

Whichever the Universe chooses, just before it has chosen and proceeds with the end of existence, something new occurs, an impossible new phase of existence.

An entirely different Universe blossoms into being, a thing apart from itself. A new baby Universe with new rules and new possibilities. A baby! One the Universe can watch grow and change, a protégée to which the Universe can impart knowledge, from which the Universe can continue to learn. The Universe is rejuvenated and decides to live.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Woods Lake Magnet School for the Arts, Kalamazoo, 2004

The kids decided that Ph.D. stood for “Player Hater Degree” and it seemed plausible to them that Daisy would pursue one. Funny how kids’ minds work. I was the heavy in that room, the disciplinarian, the one reminding them about appropriate behavior. Daisy was the one they walked all over. I got their respect. She got the “Player Hater Degree.”

Plus, she’d lived in this city for years. She’d grown up in their circumstances: a gifted kid in an impoverished district struggling to provide her a degree of enrichment, a world alien to me.

On the first day, I didn’t know what to say to the kid—eight years old, in third grade—who wrote a story he called “Pimp World.”

“Is that something you’d show to your mother?” our supervisor asked him.

Got it. I filed that response away, and pulled it out pretty often. It never stopped the stories about stolen boyfriends, promiscuous teenagers, or cussing children, but it helped. “You’re in third grade. How much do you really know about this?”

Parents, monitor what your kids watch on TV. Monitor what you say in front of them. Keep their world age appropriate, because they hear everything you say and see everything you do. If it’s not pretty in an adult, it’s really unattractive in a kid. But what do I know? Certain concepts, I was just never exposed to in elementary school. When we tried to teach dialog and conflict, we ended up with three sketches that involved girls arguing over which boys slept in which girls’ beds the night before.

The next week, I explained that “conflict” need not necessarily involve an actual argument, and reiterated the concept of appropriate material. “We’re going to try this one again, without any stories about girls fighting about where boys sleep.”

From the back of the room, the annoying performance mom, who’d argued that her barely literate second grader should join our group, except that she had to arrive late every class, because she had a voice lesson, and leave early, to attend her modeling class, became agitated. “I do not believe that material is acceptable for children.” No one had asked her to sit in on the class, either. No one else’s mom was in the room. Daisy and I bristled whenever she spoke.

“Yes,” I nodded my solidarity with adult sensibilities, even as I wished, once again, that Hollywood would discover her supremely untalented daughter and whisk them both off to California. “Some people did not understand last class. That’s why we’re doing this again.” Somehow, it was usually me at the front of the room, modulating my voice to maintain their attention. If Daisy took charge, I had to stalk around the back, directing their attention when it strayed.

The regular teachers told us our methods worked.

“They used to write a sentence or two,” one told us. “Now they’re writing paragraphs, pages, sometimes.”

Daisy and I were just another link in a long chain of graduate students to teach this class, and we winked at each other. We were better than Elaine and Reba, who’d been in charge last semester.

The group changed. Some older girls started attending once basketball season ended. They’d been in Elaine and Reba’s group, and grew surly when we expected them to do the work.

“Whatever,” these big girls, already adults in their own minds, told us, snapping their gum, rolling their eyes, and tossing their heads so their dangly earrings jingled. “Elaine and Reba let us work together.”

“Work together, yes,” I said. “You’re not working.”

“We’re brainstorming!”

“You’re gossiping.” I tapped their blank paper. “You haven’t done anything.” I tapped the third graders’ papers. “And these guys, who are three years younger than you, have already written a whole page. Get to it, or get out.”

Daisy hovered over them, her arms crossed over her chest, and glared when their conversation turned to boys, music, dancing.

“Player hater,” they whispered.

“Get to it, or get out,” I said. “Some of the people in this room are interesting in learning about writing, and you’re ruining it for them.”

The big girls refused to leave that day, but they never came back. They were so big, as big as I was.

Even the little kids existed more in the world than I ever would. They had crushes on boys, and hip hop stars. Until Daisy’s hipper, younger sister sat in with us, we had no idea what musicians they were writing about, which videos had germinated their thoughts. “You’re not really sisters,” they told Rosie, even thought Daisy and Rosie looked as much alike as two people can without actually being monozygotic twins. Rosie sat with them and helped them write their longest story yet: four little girls, and four members of their favorite boy band. A mansion. A magic fountain. Super powers. Fireworks.

We were in graduate school, eating, sleeping, drinking, breathing, and living creative writing. Teaching elementary kids acted as a release valve. They could be a trial, but they allowed us to reach back to that childish joy in writing. Daisy and I took turns sitting down and modeling behavior: scratching with number two pencils on wide-ruled sheets of paper, working through our own issues.

I still have one of my favorite stories, in which my pet dragon, Toothsome, unceremoniously devours all the irritating people in my apartment complex. We encouraged the kids to illustrate their work, and I enjoyed doing the same.

The kids stood around me, admiring my prolific output and my art, which accurately depicted the fantasy.

“Dang,” one of the kids murmured. “That dragon’s just stuffing the guy right in there.”

Quite satisfactory.

But when I found myself involved in writing, Daisy was in charge of behavioral management. The noise level rose. Kids got up out of their seats and started to run. The deeper into my story I fell, the louder the noise in the room, until, snapped from my reverie, I identified the culprits.

“Hey, Mario, what are doing on the radiator?” I snapped.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were in here.” He hopped down and scurried back to his seat.

“It shouldn’t matter whether I’m in here or not. The rules don’t change if I leave the room.” But they did change. I was not of their world, and my influence only spread so far.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Read More Dragon!

For my darling fans, all 14 of you:

If you enjoy my microfiction, imagine how much more you'll like my short fiction! You can order a copy of the January 2011 Bards and Sages Quarterly, which features my first published piece of fiction. My short story, "Spin Free," about a dust devil that wants to be a tornado, appears here, along with lots of other great speculative fiction.

If you enjoy my short fiction, imagine how much more you'll like my novels! You can read my YA novel The Final Flavor on This cool website allows you to upload YA content, which is then reviewed by other users of the site, who can recommend your book to others and send you feedback. Every month, the top 5 books are sent directly to the editorial board of HarperCollins.

Here's the blurb for The Final Flavor:

What do a compulsive overeater, a bulimic cheerleader, and a renegade neuroscientist have in common?

One hundred ninety-five pound high school sophomore Dougal Gulden has a unique talent: the ability to eat, and eat, and eat, without ever feeling full. If he keeps working, once day he’s sure to get big enough to take on the world. Unfortunately for Dougal, his pediatrician decides he’s already too big for a teenager who’s only five-six, and thus begins a journey that will turn a shy, shallow outcast into a warrior for the power of good taste, taking on mad scientists, bulimic cheerleaders, and the social hierarchy of the American high school in his quest for the final flavor.

If you read and enjoy my book, you can create a profile on inkpop, leave me feedback, and recommend the work to other users, perhaps bringing me one step closer to fulfilling my dreams. It's a long shot, and, indeed, it's a bit scary sending work out into the world, but I'm trying to step up my game. If you love me, give a Dragon a hand, OK?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reverse Dream Journaling

He kept a notebook under his pillow and every night he sketched out the basics of the dream he hoped to have. His sister said that was a stupid idea but the more he did it, the better he got, the more accurate his forecast, and the more remarkable the details his mind created to knit the dream narrative together from his conscious thoughts.

A man who could completely control his dreams, he suspected, could take charge of all aspects of his own mind, and, consequently, his waking world as well.

The talent to came as a great consolation after disappointment, of which a teenage boy’s life is rife, allowing him to rewrite circumstance in his favor. Annoyed by his sister, he dreamed life as an only child, a prince, worshipped as the reincarnation of a great warrior. Chastised by a coach, he pictured himself as the all-around gold medal winner in the intergalactic Olympics, where he competed against aliens of all shapes and sizes, in zero gravity. Rejected by one girl, he imagined a lifetime in which the object of his affection, and all her friends, served in his harem, an endless procession of sexual favors.

His grades slipped. He wrote dreams instead of studying, and if ever felt bad about scoring poorly, he simply wrote academic success into the theater of his mind. Despite his parents’ faith and his tested intellectual acumen, he only just got into his safety school. He enrolled as a psychology major and advanced some radical theories of personality development and spiritual enlightenment he had developed as he perfected his reverse journaling technique, but rarely followed through by committing his ideas to paper or attending class. Two years later, they asked him to leave the university.

He took it in stride. School had not featured prominently in his journals; who worried about such a narrow realm of influence when an infinite universe beckoned? Much mightier accomplishments awaited.  

With few needs—an apple and a bowl of ramen, a pen, a notebook, and a warm bed—he could devote his full attention to an ambitious project. Could he, in fact, expand the dream world by expanding his journal? Soon, half his day was consumed with the task of recording the previous night’s dreams and comparing them to his models, and the other half was spent designing the next night’s dream.

One morning, his sister pushed her way past the stacks of notebooks that grew like stalactites across the floor of his basement bedroom, and he wouldn’t wake up. Sometimes, his hand would move as if maneuvering a pen over a piece of paper, but no one ever saw him open his eyes or heard him speak again.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Professor James sits down at his kitchen table, slides a mug of tea in my direction, and says, “Thank you.”

Between us flickers the ghost of another man, not a wraith-like ghost, but the specter of too much strength: muscles that bulge to obscenity, a caricature of a man. But not dead. Not dead, not yet.

“Well, you know,” I stammer, “I don’t, I mean, I didn’t really do anything. It’s not like he even talks to me anymore. It’s just that everyone else was worried. I feel sort of…” I wrap my hands around the hot mug and looked down into the steam. “I feel disconnected from him. I didn’t really notice. It’s just that everyone else did, and they kept telling me about it, and I didn’t know what else to do. They’re all so worried about him.”

And tell the truth, I hadn’t worried at all. You meet a guy in orientation. Maybe he’s a little extreme. Maybe he works out way too much. Maybe he’s got a temper. OK, maybe he punched that guy in that bar, but that guy was a Nazi skinhead and totally had it coming. You think you know a guy. You think he’s your friend, someone you can sit down and have a beer with, play some X-Box, just unwind. And then a girl you don’t even like starts throwing herself at you, and you’re wondering, how do I let this girl down? So you go to your so-called friend, tell him your story, ask him for some advice.

And what does that guy do? He punches you in the face and tells you he’s got dibs on the chick. And you don’t even want her! And come to find she doesn’t like him. But you’ve still got a black eye; you’re still down one friend.

“Thank you anyway,” he says. “Thank you for the call to action. It’s—it’s a very sensitive subject for me. My brother went through the same thing, and I’ve never understood it. I knew there was a problem. I saw it too. Just wasn’t ready to confront it. Just let myself not deal with it.”

Me too. I was done dealing with it. But, say five other dudes come up to you and say, “Jeez, what’s up with Steve? Is he on steroids or what? Man, he looks sick. I think he needs help.” What are you going to do? Even if you don’t care about him as a person, as a moral guy, you tell someone, right? You get him some help.

“I’m sorry,” I say. Professor James seems so tough, too. Really tough. Not in a fake, steroid way. Tough like a guy who chops enough firewood to last out a Michigan winter, and then goes up north and chops firewood for his mom. Tough like a guy who never starts bar fights, just finishes them. He’s the last person, you figure, who’d turn his back on something like this.

“Don’t be sorry,” he says to me. “You may have just saved a man’s life.”

“What happens now?”

“The department head will take care of it. Don’t worry. He’ll get the help he needs.”

What happens now is that the department rescinds his assistantship and recommends that he receive psychiatric treatment. What happens now is that, even though you never tell anyone about this conversation and no one should realistically know that you’re the rat, you still get punched in the face. Again. Same eye. And one more thanks. “Thanks for screwing up my life.”