Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Without words these days, but still seeing  what kind of startling fiction can come from truth, and how truth is only our own fiction, the world as only we see it. So images, for now.  My own.  None of these are true.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013


At times, I have to leave writing alone for a while, play with other things.  Be other places besides in my head with all those words and plots and characters.  So, that's where I am right now, playing with photography, and that's what I'm going to put on this blog for a few weeks.  Simple images I'm collecting, holding them in place by sharing them. Let me know what they say to you.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Molt

The Molt

A drift of deer
appear in the morning fog,

tufts of winter fur
on bushes, shrubs,

as if leaving behind
a favorite shirt, faded
to pale,
a sliver necklace,
you once gave me.

Then they’re gone.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For Ron

No moon, just catch your breath
dark. What we wanted:
The light
of a billion stars.

This storm passes too slow
for the movement of us, caught
in the box-step, ready to rumba
and roar.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Killing your darlings means taking out what doesn't work from a story, even if you love it.

This one landed here for a final breath.

As the day's heat lessens, birds cry out calls of ownership, love and need, all mingling together into a clamor of I’m hereRight hereStay awayHelloHelloFind meLove meWe’re starvingFeed usHurryMomMineHelloStay awayHurryHello!  Hello!”
Indigo Buntings scissor the air with high pitched song.  Blue Jays arrow from branch to branch, announcing their flight, more important than anyone else.  Crows gang up on bigger birds.  Want to fightCome on, come on, want to fight?  Sparrows, the white trash of the bird kingdom, serenade more sweetly than expected.  Mourning Doves pretend to be owls in the distance.  Chipmunks (not birds, but want to be their friends even though they are often ignored because they are like the boy who cried wolf) make an annoying sound like a nail being hammered into tin, over and over and over again.  Cardinals only speak to each, so much in-love that they must stay in constant contact.  Hawks, high above, whistle like a tea kettle in the heavens.  And robins sunbathe, waiting for a moment of silence before bursting into full fledged song, putting the rest to shame. 
Then by nine or so, they begin to quiet, and the world belongs to louder voices coming from inside houses built too near each other, the narrow alleys encasing the echoes, holding on to them until morning when they finally drift upwards with the fog, leaving pressure on eyes, aches in throats, and dreams in tender hearts of a sweeter song, somewhere, sometime, long ago.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Another poem for poetry month


After deaths
shared, breaths
held, words
measured, false gods,
now we don’t speak.

Remember the tall hay,
gooseberries? I dared you
to climb that tree.

It’s time
to cobble us together again,
no one left but us
to die.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Any suggestions for a title?


I pebble poems,
nuggets dense
as dry hearts.

Only I know
what shape
they braved
before I carved them
from the vein. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another part of the story

At the age of twelve, I’m at school in the cafeteria when our neighbor approaches the table.  I turn to my friend and say, “My father’s dead.  I got to go.  See you tomorrow.”
     I will put this scene into many of the stories I will write, over and over again, until I am only a character.
My mother remarries three years later, we move, and I’m furious.  I’m also flunking everything.  (It will turn out I’m dyslexic, undiagnosed back then, even though I spell words with the last letter first, and vowels are only strange little shapes that make no sense at all.)  One day a teacher gives me an F on a paper and asks me to come to his office.  His office is dark and small and he sits behind the desk as I stand.  “Do you know why I gave you an F?” he asks.  I shrug.  I’m good at shrugging.  “I take off a full grade for every three misspelled words.”
     I haven’t a chance then and merely nod.  But on an impulse I ask, “What did you think about what I wrote?  Is it okay, otherwise?”  It’s about the Civil War.  I did a lot of research.  I’m beginning to get interested in the Civil War.
     “I won’t discuss that until you fix the spelling,” he says.  I look at him.  He’s serious.  I walk out of the office, out of the school.  I go to a public phone and call my mother.  It’s cold out, November, snowing hard.
     “I’m never going back,” I tell her as we drive home.  There’s silence for a while.  She thinks before she speaks, not like me.
     “Fine,” she says.  “It’s your life, but what do you want to do?”
     Oddly, I still want to know more about the Civil War, science, what’s in books, poetry.
     I find a place called Friends Free School.

The school is in a gold dome Temple, three bus rides across town, an hour away.  Tim, my English teacher, is indistinguishable from the students who all wear torn blue-jeans, tie-dyed shirts and long hair.  One day he asks me to read one of my poems.  I do, blushing, trembling, head hung down.  I have been here less than a week and want nothing more than to impress everyone because they are all so cool, even though some don’t show up at school often.  I do.  I come every day. 

This is the poem. 

Laugh at me
      and I will laugh along
for then we’ll all look gay
     to someone passing by

Thirty-three years later Tim–who has moved away and hasn't seen me since that year at Friends–will come back to town, find me, and take me to lunch.  He will have this poem in his wallet.
This is why I write.  It’s how I talk.  It’s how I make friends.  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Once, a long time ago

Once, a long time ago, I thought I'd write a memoir.  Here is a piece of that experiment.

August 27th, 1966
My brother and I sleep on green canvas cots in the barn. My sister, who is only six, sleeps in the house. In the early morning I awaken to a trembling on my chest: it's a chipmunk! I scream, and it scurries off. My brother throws a cow bone at me for waking him, but he’s sleepy and it clashes against the slats of the barn wall. He has a collection of cow bones from the neighbor’s pasture. He’s trying to make a whole cow, but he will grow up and drill gas wells, leaving the pieces behind.  
My brother and I eat Special K for breakfast. My sister eats only white toast. No one forces her to eat vegetables or fruit, get some iron in her blood. There is, at this moment, a freedom at home, an agreement to let some things slide.
My father has hung a long rope from a high branch of the sturdy maple in our front yard. At the bottom of the rope is a dowel from a broken chair, tied to the rope with knots I will never learn. I sit on this swing, an Olympic contender. There are specific feats I must perform, exactly right. I pull back, push off, lean back, pump, point my toes, hold one arm out, fingers cupped together. On the back-swing I must switch hands. I do this very well. The trees applaud.
Inside, my mother cooks cabbage soup, my father’s favorite, although he won’t eat today. The house and her clothes will smell bitter for days. My mother stands over the soup and stirs, and only now that I am a mother do I know that she wept into that broth no matter what she made us believe.
In the woods, I tie my sister to a mast. My brother makes me walk the plank. The trees oblige: there are so many masts, so many planks, so many places to hide. My brother dares me to eat currants that grow along the back field, and I do, even though I know how bad they taste. My sister eats only one, but doesn’t spit it out, and we tell her how good she is. She doesn’t understand much yet, but she will.
We keep our voices low at dinner. Upstairs, my father coughs. My mother excuses herself, and doesn’t come back down for a long time. We do the dishes. Afterwards we sit in front of the black and white TV. We watch the pictures of our planet, sent down from the lunar orbiter. We see the ball of our earth, the tattered cover of clouds, the shadowy shapes of continents. My mother comes downstairs and sits between us on the couch, laying an arm over my brother’s shoulder. Later we go outside and look up, but can’t find the moon. From outside we hear that cough, and I count the repetitions like the seconds after lightening.
My brother and I sleep in the barn. A branch scrapes against the roof, prying at the shingles. We pretend we’re in a cabin in Alaska, wolves pawing across the roof. We play at being alone. In time, we’ll be perfect at this. We’ll be fine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On mothers lessons

Bottled water, matches, flashlights, batteries.  Rice, beans, lentils.  Canned tuna, chicken, salmon.  Canned fruits, vegetables, soups, milk.  (What else comes canned?  What am I forgetting?)  Chocolate, hard candies, sugar. Salt, flour.  Sharp knives, can opener.  Candles, hurricane lanterns, kerosene.  Bandages, gauze, duck tape, antibiotics.  These are the words I go to sleep by, or that, more likely, hold sleep at bay.
              The list has been with me since I moved out of my family’s house and into my own home—at the age of seventeen.  I left my family but I brought along my mother’s fear of the end of the world, and her fantasy of surviving by keeping a well-stocked basement hidey-hole, a room you don’t show your neighbors.  And I brought along, no matter how many times I moved, her love of apocalypse writing.
              The first poem I can remember my mother reading to me when I was about six is “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Longfellow.  “Come hither!  Come hither! My little daughter / And do not tremble so; For I can weather the roughest gale / That ever the wind did blow”
              Oh, her eyes lit up as she read it!  Although my father was the actor, and she was never interested in the stage, she delighted in reading aloud the gloomiest tales.  I grew up with Poe and Shakespeare.  In my childhood, and even now, reality was a tricky concept.  Pretend was rehearsed and memorized, and performed. 
              Her physical belief in the worst to come, and our survival, lay in the basement, behind a wooden door.  (Even she must have known that door should have been made of steel, not flimsy wood.)  It was the time of the cold war, and books like Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank sat on our bookshelves like bibles. 
              She didn’t see what was really coming—the death of her husband, the father of three.  She had no weapons, no provisions, to save him from cancer.  We survivors, tied together at the mast of loss, held on.  Apocalypse stories must have lost their appeal.  Instead, Anne Tyler, with her stories of odd characters finding redemption, filled the bookshelves, along with bestsellers of the worst sort—with rich women getting revenge on the world. 
              My mother is dead now, of cancer, the same kind that took my father, lung cancer.  They both smoked cigarettes, the invisible gun of their youth.  I have inherited a dozen hurricane lamps.  Nobody needs that many hurricane lamps, except me.  I will take all the help I can get.  Because I believe in my mother, and my mother believed in me.  I will continue on, come hell or high water.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On reading an ARC

ARCs.  I read a lot of ARCs—which are bound galleys—uncorrected proofs of books--and are not for sale but are sent out by the publisher to potential reviewers at newspapers, magazines, libraries, bookstores, blogs, etc.  Basically, if you’re lucky, your publisher prints a good deal of these.  They want to get a buzz going.  The people who might be most interested in your book get to read it first.  And therein lies the rub.
              A lot of work goes into the final book, rewrite after rewrite, and we writers want readers to read the perfect gem we have been working on for years.  Pull you into our story, captivate you with the characters and plot, keep you in our dream world.  Show you how brilliant we are.  It’s a piece of art, worthy the reader’s time.  We don’t want you to see the imperfections, the missing or misspelled words.
              There are a lot of words in a novel or book, and up until that last, hopefully perfect version, we do make mistakes.  The words are in our heads but haven’t made it to the page, or we’ve typed boot when we mean boat but just haven’t caught that mistake yet because the word boat is in our head and the mind wants to see boat, so it does.  It takes agents and editors and copy editors to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Ah, you screwed up here.  Did you notice?”  And we thank them.
              But the process isn’t done by the time that ARC is printed, and sending it out to readers that I really want to impress makes me wince.  Because I know when I’m reading an ARC for a review, I see those mistakes, and suddenly I’m a line editor, not, say, a charming and verbose kidnapper, or girl waking up in the future.
              So here’s the question, for those of you who do read ARCs.  How forgiving are you?  Have you ever read the final version after reading an ARC?  Is an imperfect version of a piece of art not a big deal?  Or, am I making too much of it all?     

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On art and money

Today I’m only going to ask questions.  Does it make sense to struggle to make your art a business?  What happens when you have to find a way to make a profit?  Do you fall less in-love with your art?  Or do you have to look at it more closely, understand what it’s saying, what it’s doing, how much power it has to grab someone’s attention and emotions?  Do you need to ask what it’s worth?  Not only financially, but emotionally, and in effort—yours to create it, and someone’s time to experience it?  Is an element of art the process of thinking ahead to sell it? 
     Obviously there are degrees to this question, and “art” can be interpreted in many ways.  Some may argue that commercial art is not “their” kind of art.  But I've met a few authors who produce what I might term commercial art, and they believe themselves artists, as much as I believe that about myself.  They talk about character.  They talk about place.  They talk about their writing.  They talk about their love of the process (along with their despair about the difficulties).  Who am I to draw a line?  I either appreciate their end result, or not.  Or waver, seeing it’s power and its flaws.  The same can be said of any novel I might read.  Any painting I might look at. 
     Artists need to support themselves.  But how does that change us, and change what we create?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Starting your own writers group

For anyone who might be interested, I’m giving a talk at the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library this next Saturday—January 26th, at 2:00 PM.  I’ll be doing the same thing at the Fairview Branch on Thursday, January 31, at 7:00 PM.  They’d love for you to register, but you could just show up, too.  Here’s the description, and the link.

How to Start a Writing Group
Branch: Beachwood - Meeting room
Type of Event: Classes
Date: Saturday, January 26, 2013 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
And keep it going smoothly!  Sarah Willis, founder of The East Side Writers -- in existence for 22 years -- will share her advice on starting and running a successful writing workshop.  You will learn how to bring together peers to discuss and improve your fiction, nonfiction, poetry or memoirs. We will cover how to critique helpfully, listen to feedback, and use suggestions, along with the nitty-gritty of how to find your peers, and when and where to meet.  This class will be helpful even if you are already in a writers' group.
Instructor Sarah Willis has published four novels.  Her first, Some Things That Stay, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, won a Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature in 2000, and was made into a movie in 2004.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Questions about rights

I’m full of questions these days.  So here’s one.  I love the photos on Beautiful Planet Earth, and Beautiful Amazing Earth.  Who wouldn’t?  Forests fringed with frost, forests spongy with dark green moss, mountains, lions, Monarch butterflies.  I can gaze at them for hours, share them with my Facebook Friends, but I’m beginning to believe that some of the photos were not taken by the person whose name is posted in the top right corner.  I look up those names, but am lead to Facebook profiles that don’t mention anything about being photographers.  One guy has hundreds of photos, all over the map in style and type and places of the pictures he posts.  I messaged him, but my message got bounced. 
              I want to share the lion’s face, because it entices me, but I want to credit the photographer.  What’s happened to taking (and giving) credit?  Is everything on the web for grabs?  Can someone use a photo of me, or of my farmhouse, just because I’ve shared it online? 
              Some photos have a connection to a webpage, that you can like, and follow, and that seems the decent thing to do for a photo I want to look at for more than a moment, a photo I want to come back to, to save.  But what about the rest?
              So, here’s the simple part of the question: Do you think twice before sharing a photo online, be it your own picture, or one from someplace like Beautiful Planet Earth?  How do we applaud the artist?  Is sharing enough?

The name attached to this image is Mart In.