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Out Now: Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest

2 Nov

I am delighted to have a pair of short fairy tales in Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest, out now from Scablands Books! This beautiful foil-stamped anthology, edited by Sharma Shields and Maya Jewell Zeller, features an incredible roster of Pacific Northwest authors, such as Gary Copeland Lilley, Rick Barot, Shawn Vestal, Tess Gallagher, Ruth Joffre, Nicola Griffith, Kate Lebo, Elissa Washuta, and Lucia Perillo, to name just a handful, and has some wonderful illustrations as well—you can preview a couple of them, including one from my story “Moss Child,” here. You can pick up a copy directly from Scablands Books, or at Atticus, Auntie’s, From Here, and Wishing Tree Books in Spokane. If you’re based in the Pacific Northwest, your local library might like to know about it! Here is the “Suggest a Title” form for Seattle Public Library; many library systems have similar forms.

Working Backwards

28 Jan

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

I haven’t posted story snippets to this blog in a long time, but I had such a wonderful time this morning at a generative workshop for the Jack Straw fellows, I wanted to share one here. We discussed our writing concerns and what we’re dwelling on now, and the general theme among us all had to do with connecting dots and making leaps. Kevin Craft, our curator, then offered this concept he learned from Heather McHugh about hypotaxis and parataxis–the causal-oriented and the free associating, waking logic and dream logic.

Then he pitched the Story Spine exercise, which originates from improv. It’s a basic exercise offering a rigid structure for a story that is then written quickly, using free association. The stakes are low. I used the basic plot of the novel I’m working on now, which made the exercise feel somewhat mechanical, though the final step seemed to open up for me a more expansive way of seeing the ending–something I will continue to ruminate.

Then Kevin asked us to do the exercise in reverse. I decided not to write from my novel and just let myself go. This version of the exercise was very fun. And I can see why you need to go forward first, to feel the mechanics of an unfolding story, and why thinking backwards can allow the writing to get wilder. Here’s that backward story I wrote:

And ever since that day, she held that stone in her mouth before bed, as a reminder. Finally, she chose a slick green stone on a rocky beach strewn with sea vegetables. And because of that, she went to the coast, to look at something wild and open and to fill her lungs with salt. Because of that, she felt all tied up in a box, a sensory deprivation tank. Until one day she crouched in on herself into the tightest ball. And every day she tried to be smaller and smaller. Once upon a time, she didn’t want to be seen.

One month into this program, and it is already so helpful and generative and amazing.

Made at Hugo House Fellowship Reading – Video

11 Oct

In case you couldn’t make it or wanted to watch again, here’s the video from my final Made at Hugo House reading. I read half of my story “Healers,” which I workshopped at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop this summer and which may be the final story in my collection MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME. Many thanks to Samudre Media for recording!

Audio Excerpt from “Dirty”

11 Jun

I’ve recorded a brief excerpt from the opening to my novel Dirty and uploaded it to SoundCloud. You can listen to it right here:

In case you missed it, an essay I wrote about my novel was featured in Airplane Reading.

From “Fetch” by Kathlene Postma

9 May

Kathlene Postma‘s reading is next week, and I’m so looking forward to it. An excerpt from her story “Fetch” is up on The Furnace blog to give you a taste.

The Furnace

Here’s a tiny taste of Kathlene’s gorgeous story “Fetch,” which she’ll read at Hollow Earth Radio in just one week!

It seemed as if she had been the one to die, so light she felt, so porous and open to the snowy sky. When the surgeon explained she was fortunate to still have her leg, she fixated on a hawk that hung every day over a nearby cornfield. It seemed frozen in the air.

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Overheard in the Ladies Room at Pacific Place

2 Jan

Over the holidays, while waiting for the restroom, I overheard this exchange and have been so enraptured by it (read to the end to feel the rapture) that I’m convinced at least one person, if not multiple, could write a short story, if not a novel, from this tender seedling. Please do share if you do!

“Mommy, it’s not coming out.”

“Well,” says the mother, from a neighboring stall, “you don’t want to eat your fruits and veggies. That’s what happens when you don’t eat your fruits and veggies.” Time passes. “Are you ready? Do you want my help?”


The mother flushes, exits her stall. “Get out,” she says, “so I can come in.” A big brother, about seven or eight but large for his age, comes out, smirking. A gold earring, maybe it’s a stick-on, gleams in one of his lobes. The mother enters the stall. Clucks her tongue. “Why isn’t there a toilet seat cover?” She sighs, loudly.

“Mommy,” the big brother says, face near the closing door, eyes half-closed and dreamy, “I love you.”

If you liked that, here’s another inter-generational overheard, in Florence:

Snippet from a longer thing

1 Nov

The weekend passed slowly, with the Saturday morning walk in the woods (with singing, of course), afternoon game of snooker, and dinner with the Grumleys in the nearby chalet. The Grumleys had two boys and a girl, a yapping terrier named Frances and a rasping parrot named General Attawalpa. Frances, when nervous and especially yappy, usually aggravated General Attawalpa, whose previous owners had taught him to say “Sucks to yer assmar.”

Mr. Grumley, a specialist in Peruvian archaeology at the local university, and Mrs. Grumley, a retired ballerina, took their family on weekend trips about as often as the Pieters. The parents usually had post-dinner ruminations while the children ran off to play, usually right about when Mr. Grumley extracted the pipe tobacco from his left pocket. Mother and Father Pieters generally took Mr. Grumley’s occasional dinner table lectures with good humor, as they were usually truncated by Mrs.Grumley’s inquiries about the development of the Pieters children in comparison to the Grumley children, and often, what that loud ruckus in the rumpus room was.

“Oh yes,” crooned Mother Pieters with earnest eyes, “Our Booboo is the head of his class. He will be a great biologist one day.”

“How nice,” said Mrs. Grumley. “Our Daniel wants to be a cardiologist and our George is an impressive athlete.”

“Now, now, dear,” said Mr. Grumley, puffing on his pipe, “Let’s not brag so much, or the greatness of our children might turn them to stone.” Mrs. Grumley giggled.

“He’s referring to Inka myth, you see,” said Mrs. Grumley.

“We know,” droned the Pieters.

From the rumpus room came a great crash, followed by silence. The four parents rushed in, saw Zanzibar standing on a toppled bookcase, hands on hips, pigtails awry. The three other children stood in one corner of the room, stunned.

“Oh ho ho ho,” laughed Mr. Grumley. “Trying to scale the Andes?”

Zanzibar blew here hair out of her face. “No,” she said, furrowing her brow. “I knocked over the bookcase, Bucko.”

“Now, Zanzi, why can’t you be a good girl for once? Go into the parlor, and wait for us there,” said Mother Pieters. Zanzibar fumed and stomped out of the room. The men re-erected the bookcase, and everyone helped re-shelve.

The littlest Grumley, with large green eyes and cinnamon curls, took her thumb out of her mouth. “Zanzibaw is scehwee,” she whispered to her mother. Mrs. Grumley nodded to her child, clucked her tongue in admiration at her three-year-old’s remarkable astuteness.

Lost At the Aquarium

4 Oct

Eels slithered, sinewy, in the dark water of the dirty tank. Electric eels. Lala stared at them, watched them dance, mouth agape. Absently, she poked at her dry lips, twirled a soft curl. What made them electric, she wondered? She stood closer, pressed her nose to the glass, and smeared her little finger on the fog prints she created. Thought of Miss Janet in a hot pink leopard print leotard, teaching the electric slide in jazz/tap class.

The din of Mrs. Burger’s second grade class trickled away, but was easily replaced by new din. Lala looked at the information on the electric eel’s plaque. She read the words quickly, her eyeballs jumping from line to line, then looked back at the undulating animals.

“Did you just read that whole thing?” a strange woman asked, astonished. Lala didn’t want to hurt the lady’s feelings.

“No,” she said. This seemed to satisfy the adult. Lala looked around to find her classmates gone, the parent-volunteer having ushered them away—but when? How long had she been staring at the eels?

Lala walked toward the exit of the Eel House, picking her nose. She wiped her finger on the yarn around her neck, attached to a construction paper ID card. “LALA” it said in red glitter on glue globs. Her school, grade, and teacher neatly printed underneath in Mrs. Burger’s cautious hand.

Lala wandered from the dark building into the gray light outside. She squinted, and found the penguin habitat. The penguins seemed stuffed, standing so still on their plastic rocks, painted white to resemble ice and snow. Lala wondered if they were real. She peered closer. Finally, a penguin dove into the water, its awkward wings becoming graceful fins. Lala wanted to be graceful too. She gave herself a twirl, watching her skirt fly up, and skimmed her palms against the soft, ruffled denim.

She looked at the penguins again. One of them was stuffed. How lonely it must be, Lala thought. It was a very mild winter. Lala fidgeted in her wool tights.

She moved on, twirling her hair, and found the polar bears, great big lumps of whitish gray fur. They seemed to sleep, paws shielding their little black eyes from the harsh Coney Island light, the wrong type of salt wafting in from the Atlantic. Lala found them sadder than the penguins. One bear rolled on his back, paw out like an open palm. Then it rolled again, dragged itself up and dove into the water, its tired face becoming serene as a manatee.

Lala had enough. Where was her class? She was ready for lunch. The errant parent-volunteer, Chichi, had promised cupcakes. Lala had spied multicolored sprinkles. She considered consulting a security guard. But there they were, lining up at the gate to leave. She joined the end of the line. Mrs. Burger tapped her head, the last in the count. They filed onto the yellow bus with the squeaky green seats.


29 Jun

Ride through the sickness. That’s what she had to do. She leaned against the red wall and shut her eyes from the milling crowd and ambient, amniotic lights. Her eyelids shielding her from the flashing bulbs and the photogenic smiles.

She leaned against the wall and against his reassuring torso, standing behind, and listened to the lulling acoustic music, the music that spoke blue in the face of the all the red, that was the peppermint for her nausea. A tranquilized cover of “Eight Days a Week” almost droning, but beautiful in some narcotic way. She couldn’t see the musicians if she tried, stuck there in the back on the stool the bartender had pulled out for her. She shivered once, twice, curled up into the music beneath her eyelids and rode it out.


23 Jun

(another story snippet)

On the balcony Luda dreams, feeling the morning air on her face. British women, she has heard, have beautiful skin, because of the moisture in the air. She thinks about this and lets the dew seep into her pores. Brown and white pigeons ruffle their feathers in a coop in the corner, coo-cooing at her and each other. She holds a butcher’s knife, idly twirling the point on her calloused finger. Which one will be for dinner?

Suddenly, a great white bird alights on the ledge, bristling, head cocking curiously. Luda stares at it. The cockatoo reciprocates. She fears it will speak, it will reproach her.

“Come in, come in, sweet bird,” she says, opening the door to the apartment. She’d love it as a pet. Would like to teach it to speak and sing. Pissou the cat looks out from under the kitchen table, two green eyes in the shadows, his black tail switching stiffly back and forth. The cockatoo has other plans: no apartment block for him. He leaves as abruptly as he came.

Luda shrugs. She puts the knife down on the ledge and opens the pigeon coop, selecting the plumpest of the bunch. She holds its body in one hand and delicately, lovingly, uses the other to break its neck.

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