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Friday, December 28, 2007

16 things I learned from guest-editing "qarrtsiluni" Insecta

Photo credit: Today's photograph at qarrtsiluni is flyy by Emilie Zoey Baker. For more, wing over to qarrtsiluni.

The Good & the Bad


I have always had a terrible weakness for people, their endearing, funny, and un-funny foibles as well as their abilities and their rising-above-self merits, and I still do. I especially liked getting to know Ivy Alvarez and the managing editors, Beth Adams and Dave Bonta, and I relished most of the correspondence with writers and artists.


Never shift to gmail for editing without learning how to use it first, or you will accidentally shoot a bunch of rubbish and notes to somebody and confuse them mightily.


Ask and it shall be given! There’s nothing wrong with nerving oneself to ask somebody you admire for a piece—I asked Paul Stankard for some images, even though I thought he was entirely too famous to bother with us. But he did bother with us. Hooray!


Some people have no self-control when it comes to submissions. After a while, this becomes funny, and a certain name becomes a cherished byword.


It’s lovely to see a piece go through multiple revisions and come back a stronger and more controlled piece.


Now I appreciate magazine editors properly.


Never, no-not-ever sign up to guest edit a magazine during a period that covers both Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially if you have three children and a rotten respiratory bug.


Being fuzzy around the edges, I never ever remembered whether a person had been widely published or not, according to his or her letter. Prior publications made no whit of difference to the work.


Visitors to blog-style online magazines still visit but do not leave comments around Christmas Day.


Come up with an interesting topic and hone the work: a startling number of readers will show up.


Dave Bonta is a gen-u-ine character, wonderfully cantankerous and beauty-loving, and he ought to be in a novel. Maybe he is in a novel. I’ll have to check.


I am excessively dutiful. I do not want to be an editor, because such things would take over the little wisps of time that I gather together to do my writing.


One for Ivy, for luck: Axolotls are useful little beasts, loving and burning and doing handsprings and frolicking.


I am burdened overmuch by a Southern tact handed down from my maternal grandmother, Lila Eugenia Arnold Morris, an upright and shining pillar of her community, a fervent-to-burning Southern Baptist, and a woman who gave birth to nine children and managed to rear them right despite the Depression and many losses.


Rejecting people you know or e-know is not any harder than rejecting people you don’t know. It’s all the same amount of hard, that hard nugget of no.


Never-ever-ever say that your dear mama, your darling wife, your darling husband, your granny, your granpappy, your adorable kitty, your sweet addled puppy, or any other beloved family member really liked your poem just exactly the way it was. Even if your poem is exceedingly attractive and alluring, this becomes a stumbling block and a hindrance to two editors, who then walk around said stumbling block and talk about it until finally they send your poem back to you with what are really quite sincere regrets, along with a certain amount of bemusement.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bottles, qarrtsiluni, more--

New wine

Illustration to my story, "Drunk Bay," in the current issue of Postscripts: here.

Old wine in an old bottle

In honor of Advent, the annual money-grubbing Christmas movie rush, "The Golden Compass," and the "dust" kicked up by Philip Pullman, I resurrect an old post from the depths of blogdom--back in the era when I was mostly writing for myself, no doubt! Here is "Pullman, Lewis, & the world-changing redemption of the ordinary."

New wine in a brand new bottle
qarrtsiluni is sputtering and spinning along in good bug fashion. Ivy Alvarez and I are working on our sixth batch of submissions right now and will probably wait until the deadline of the 15th to begin on the seventh, unless there is an unexpected Deluge. One of the great things about accepting a call to work on a project like this is getting to know the co-editor and managing editors, and I have enjoyed the contact with all three.

One thing that I have re-learned is how very satisfying it is to take a piece that has some flashes of brilliance but really needs more work and help somebody shove it closer to perfection. I feel very pleased with the pieces that are up and those that are in the queue waiting for a turn. It would be interesting to have a site where one attempted to help somebody revise every day--one poem or story per day--but it would take an inordinate amount of time. Of course, it would also be pleasing to have one's own pieces treated in such a detailed way!

Another thing I notice is that the level of competency out there in the world is quite high. The difference between the poems taken and the ones not taken tended to be in the areas of style, love of language, or something we might call vibrancy: the illusion that a work has some degree of life. However, some pieces we didn't take were interesting and lively but seemed to demand more revision than we felt we could fit into our schedule--and the room in our schedule simply had to decline as we moved closer to the submission deadline of December 15th. Some pieces we didn't take were well done but felt too familiar; others we seized on immediately managed to de-familiarize and enchant the ordinary.

We have some surprises hidden up our sleeves and hope to delight and please some more before Christmas. The last postings will be up by early January at the very latest.


Photo: Artist's bottle house window in bright sun with a misbehaving camera, Wilmington, North Carolina. August 2007.


Bottle trees

One of the things I want next year is a bottle tree. In a dreary Yankee February, one needs (this one needs) a little bit of Southern color and dash and trash. Otherwise, one might just take the dirty snow at the edge of the street too much to heart. The magpie and the homesick child in me demand nothing more than a bottle tree.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tinnerty Leaves a Note

During Advent, an evidently-tiny elf sometimes leaves very small messages around the house for N, who a terribly busy small person and easily bored in the absence of daily Peewee football. As I am still laboring away on qarrtsiluni Insecta with poet Ivy Alvarez--please go see our magnificent bugs in word and image--and still struggling to recover from that pernicious bug, The Flu, I now present one of those notes, found under my pillow along with an uncomfortable lump that turned out to be books.

Still wondering what to give your great big lumpen friends of the human kind? How about one of these gigantic books, packed like St. Nicholas's pack with good stories? Love, Tinnerty

There! Getting an elf to write one's blog posts seems an excellent idea. I may have to continue the practice.

Logorrhea has to be the most imaginative idea for an anthology in years. John Klima, editor of Electric Velocipede, invited writers to contribute stories inspired by a winning Scripps spelling bee word. Mine was smaragdine, a word I knew from the marvelous Puritan poet, Edward Taylor. Daydreaming about the metaphysical poet, stuck in the wilds of Massachusetts, I came up with a story called "The Smaragdine Knot. " (I confess to having used the divine Mr. Taylor before, as the unnamed Puritan minister at the close of Catherwood.)

Excerpt from "The Smaragdine Knot"

"Smaragdine" podcast mini-tale by Jeff Vandermeer, from his round-up story that hit each of the words in the anthology.

For author bios, more excerpts, reviews, and more, go here.

Looking for an Epiphany present? Rich Horton's Fantasy: The Best of the Year will be out on New Year's Day. In it, you may find my story, "The Comb." Here’s an Amazon link for reference.

Other recent and forthcoming appearances that may be of interest to the literary shopaholic include my novella set on St. John's, "Drunk Bay," forthcoming in this month's issue of Postscripts (U. K.). The issue is forthcoming in hardcover and paperback. Soon coming up is a story in Firebirds Soaring, the next anthology from Firebird/Penguin and Editorial Director Sharyn November of the magnificent red hair. For more upcoming publications in anthologies and magazines, as well as information about recent publications, see my bibliography for more information.

And here's one final suggestion...

Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling's Salon Fantastique recently won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology.

The collection includes my "Concealment Shoes" (a Locus Recommended Reading pick.) This is a story that--unlike most of my work--uses real elements from my life. The concealment shoes were at one time in the living room chimney. All three of my children and one of the cats (the calico, not the idiot Russian Blue, cute and bug-eyed) make appearances, and my 1808 house gets a starring role, along with a nearby bit of the Village of Cooperstown. It is related in setting and characters to the story "Rain Flower Pebbles," forthcoming in Postscripts (U. K.)


Image credits:
In order of appearance, the covers shown are from Bantam, Prime, and Thunder's Mouth.

Friday, November 16, 2007

qarrtsiluni's Insecta issue

If you miss getting a new post from me, please flit, flee, and fly by qarrtsiluni and take a look at the blog-style issue Ivy Alvarez and I are guest-editing. We have had to devise some new modes of organization to handle the submissions and now have moved to gmail, where we are hip-deep in spreadsheets and Google documents. We're doing a lot of revision with writers, and that's interesting but time-consuming. Until we're done, I'll be a bit scarce both here and elsewhere. Submissions close on December 15, so I suppose we may be finished by 2008. (See prior post for more information.)
A Happy Thanksgiving with no flies on your turkey! It's on my dratted birthday this year, so be sure and give a dollop of thanks on my behalf. I'm going to be giving thanks for the Return of the Husband from Montana. Being a single mother for more than a week makes me appreciate all those forced-to-be-stalwart women who trudge along with too much of a bundle on their backs. I think they need a celebratory month. Why not? Gloomy old November could be Single Mother Month. Meanwhile, my Mike's hiking and fishing and shooting in faraway Montana--and saw a lovely ermine yesterday, with one black drop on her perfect snowy fur.
At left: "green bottle fly," courtesy of nezbitten and

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Guest-editing "qarrtsiluni" with poet Ivy Alvarez

Call for Submissions:
Insecta at qarrtsiluni.

We live in a kingdom of insects. Glancing from the infinitesimally small fairyfly to the giant stick insect, we find that this is a weird and various world. The catalogue of nocturnal moths, thrips, butterflies, caddisflies, angel insects, snow fleas, bristletails, mayflies, silverfish, and bugs is endless and the names evocative.

For this issue of qarrtsiluni, we are interested in art — poem, painting, story, nonfiction, photograph — inspired by insects. We are equally interested in writing about insects, being just as enamored by Thoreau’s ant battle in Walden as Frost’s butterflies, “Tossed, tangled, whirled and whirled above, / Like a limp rose-wreath in a fairy dance.”

We expect a wild variety of explorations on this subject, with work undergoing that mysterious metamorphosis of revision, to be finally shined up to a high beetle-like polish. In insects, the final step in transformations leads to the fully-formed imago — Latin plural, imagines.

Go to for more information about my fellow editor. For more information about qarrtsiluni, jump to Dave Bonta and Beth Adams (editors and founders) have added some new general information about submissions.

For a little reminder of how wild, wacky, and wonderful the insect kingdom is, try hopping here. Here's a paragraph cut from the description above that suggests some of the insect world's variety: "Consider the form and nature of insects and how that might relate to the shape and colour of a poem, story, nonfiction sketch, or image: insectus, or 'cut into sections'; Goliath, a beetle; the framework of exoskeleton; coevolution with flowers; the grasshopper and the cricket; refined organs for perception; the mysteries of flight; the ability to walk on water; emission of light or sound or scents to communicate; compound eyes; a nymph; incomplete metamorphosis and complete metamorphosis and hyper-metamorphosis; egg; larva; pupa; cocoon."

If I know you, know that I will refrain from making the very final decision on anything you might send, though I'll vouch that you're a good egg! As I'm especially busy this month--the usual maniacal pace plus company, two of my children in "Beauty and the Beast," a husband going off to Montana for a jolly wilderness adventure, my birthday on Thanksgiving Day, etc.--I may not be quite as speedy as I would like. But please send, whether I know you in the web or in the world, or whether you are a stranger.

Photo credit: I'm usually scrupulous about attributions and using public domain work, but I couldn't resist posting the glasswings that I received in my email on November 2. Their arrival seemed all luck and serendipity, as I hadn't mentioned qarrtsiluni to the sender. If anybody knows how and to whom I can credit these pictures, please tell me.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Haunted Painting

I had a lovely All Hallows Eve trooping about with either Robin Hood or the Earl of Huntington, age 10, in his tights and bloomers (what are those things called?) and fine green cloak and velvet-lined green hat with a long pheasant feather (thank you, Mother, for the beautifully-made outfit and thanks to the Mighty Hunter for the feather.) I wore an a circa 1960 prim green coat with giant buttons and a pillbox hat made of fur (also circa 1960 and thank you, Gail, for hat and gold-and-white hatbox) and pearls. Just call me Jackie O. If not Jackie O, then call me the Queen. And if not Jackie O or the Queen, then call me Emily, the mother of the soon-to-be-mentioned boy with pants on his head. She told me ("You look like me!") that she had just bought the very same coat and hat, circa 2007 and now retro. I told her my elegant garb cost only four dollars. She was chagrined.

Later on, after Robin or the Earl frolicked and trick-or-treated for a while with a Death Jester and a boy with pants on his head (what was he supposed to be?), we picked up a gentleman in black velvet cap and cloak and long-nosed Venetian mask... That was the Earl's dad and Jackie O's husband. And the three of us went straight to a nearby house and asked for a treat, obtained by prior supplication: to see the haunted picture. The frame is bolted right through the walls of the house, so we had often paused to contemplate the bolts. The huge full-length portrait hangs on the wall in the stairwell and shows one of James Fenimore Cooper's great-nieces with a background of the sea at Newport. She has on a marvelous dress with transparent, heavily-crimped sleeves and a bonnet with a long blue river. She looks a bit severe and not quite pretty, but I think that is mostly the result of an old-fashioned hairstyle with a part straight down the middle and pulled tight to each side. Not too many of us would look attractive subjected to that particular fashion.

The village story of the painting says that after she died and her husband remarried, a good deal of poltergeist activity started up, until the they were forced to bolt the picture through the wall so that it would never be taken down. The current owner had a more prosaic story, so we'll not think about that!

The painting turned out to be by the German-born painter Carl Brandt, who was the first director of the Telfair in Savannah. The collection still includes a number of his paintings. My Aunt Sara used to take me to the museum when I stayed with her in the summers, so the link to childhood was a pleasant surprise.

As for the other letters in our family alphabet soup, B has been laid very low by a bug, and R seems to be fighting it off. We must not be sick for the musical! Cross your fingers and say your prayers.

* * *

October 30

The bulbs are in their bed
Feeding on their meal of bone.

The jack-o-lanterns bear
Brief, vegetable witness

As ghosts tap at the door
Still hungering after sweetness.

--from A. E. Stallings, "All Hallows," Archaic Smile (University of Evansville, 1999), The Richard Wilbur Award

A safe All Hallows Eve to you! N has gone to school in a black-and-red cap with a long tail of spikes, furry blue and green socks, and gold jester shoes. It is p. c. Crazy-Hat-&-Sock Day at the elementary school. I don't think that's so bad, since it means that children who are forbidden Halloween can frisk and play. Tonight he plans to be an insane Peter Pan. Next year is already covered: he'll be a tourist. Of course, once people start quarrying in the dress-up mountain, they often change their fickle minds and metamorphose five or six times.

* * *

Once more a book has vanished in mid-read. This time it was David Grossman's See Under: Love. I was in the Bruno Schulz section. In fact, I was at the point where Bruno Schulz disappears from his old life. Has this happened to anybody else while reading See Under: Love, I wonder? Perhaps no one has managed to read past the disappearance of Bruno Schulz because the book itself dissolves into air or is pilfered by aerial spirits.

All Hallows Eve is almost upon us. The disappearing might be work of this 1808 house and a pestering poltergeist appropriate to the season. We live on a haunted corner, and quite a number of ghosts make appearances in nearby houses. N is quite resistant to the idea of a "G," as he calls a ghost, but we were invited to come inspect a well-known haunted painting on Halloween night, so I hope he will go with me. I imagine it would give him some local fame among his elementary school cohorts.

Because I have not been finishing See Under: Love when not fetching pumpkins to carve or taking N to Peewee football or dropping B and R at musical practice or escorting some letter or another to piano class, I have been reading other things over the past weekend.


Paul Muldoon's Poems 1968-1998

Who's to know what's knowable?
Milk from the Virgin Mother's breast,
A feather off the Holy Ghost?
The fairy thorn? The holy well?

Our simple wish for there being more to life
Than a job, a car, a house, a wife--
The fixity of running water.

For I like to think, as I step these acres,
That a holy well is no more shallow
Nor plummetless than the pools of Shiloh,
The fairy thorn no less true than the Cross.

--from "Our Lady of Ardboe"

How Yeatsian the things of that little fragment are: the drop of milk, the Spirit feather, the fairy thorn, the saint's well, and the ordinary abashed by them all.

Tommaso Landolfi's "Gogol's Wife"

At this point, confronted with the whole complicated affair of Nikolai Vassilevitch's wife, I am overcome with hesitation. Have I any right to disclose something which is unknown to the whole world, which my unforgettable friend himself kept hidden from the world (and he had his reasons), and which I am sure will give rise to all sorts of malicious and stupid misunderstandings? Something, moreover, which will very probably offend the sensibilities of all sorts of base, hypocritical people, and possible of some honest people too, if there are any left?

The hook on the fly that has been tied so many times still finds his fish. The narrator's delay, his hesitancy to divulge, and the secret and its reasons still work. And we readers, we surely are not among those who are stupid and base; we will rise to this mysterious occasion.

Joe Hill recently published a story about an inflatable boy. Nikolai Vassilevitch's wife who is "a balloon" is surely his mother.

Ilse Aichinger's "The Bound Man"

His absurd steps and little jumps, his elementary exercises in movement, made the rope-dancer superfluous. [The bound man's] fame grew from village to village, but the motions he went through were few and always the same; they were really quite ordinary motions, which he had continually to practise in the day-time in the half-dark tent in order to retain his shackled freedom. In that he remained entirely within the limits set by his rope he was free of it, it did not confine him, but gave him wings and endowed his leaps and jumps with purpose....

I cannot help thinking of certain Kafka stories in which a strange art is created through its limitations. The poetry of constraint is mastered. And yet it is the sort of dream-like story that can summon other readings, other analogues that help to define what it is. I remembered the story of Kaspar Hauser that has appealed to so many writers and artists: the mysterious attack, the hampering restraint set on the young man, the sudden exodus. And I thought of Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Pigeons," in which the tale of an old man who feeds pigeons under a sky darkened by chimney stacks becomes a lament for the Holocaust. The inexplicable beating and binding of the protagonist, the learning of a way to live inside the cruel and mysterious rope, the closing that yokes growth and death with destruction of memory: all these reminded one that Ilse Aichinger was a young Austrian during World War II.

Vasily Aksenov, "Little Whale, Varnisher of Reality"

I got up, went into the bathroom, washed, and then stopped by the bedroom for a look at Whale. He slept like an infant hero, arms and legs flung wide. The creases of his baby fat had not quite faded away; they still marked his wrists, his dimpled paws. In his sleep he smiled a sly little smile, evidently busy completing various droll and delightful turnabouts in his kingdom.

I doubt that Aksenov could have gotten away with his paean to the charm of his little Whale if the narrator were not so busy dreading and contemplating an awful phone call, made by the end of the story, and if he were not so ever-conscious of his own past and current misdeeds. His desire not to spoil the Whale's "droll" vision of the world and his need to tell the truth to his child, as much as he can--though certainly not about the pretty, airy "Mam'selle" who Whale encounters--is another source of the tension that propels the story forward and keeps the story from becoming too laden with charm.


And that was the reading part of my weekend. The rest was Peewee football and the like, with brisk winds and yellow leaves.

If you have any ideas about where See Under: Love might have gone, tell me. You may have seen it flapping heavily past on its many thin wings. Perhaps its white leaves are turning to mulch in the nearby forest. Perhaps it is hibernating under the eaves of a distant house. As All Hallows approaches, a curious "G" may be curled up on a windowseat, nestled around the book.

Credits: Telfair photograph from Spooky photograph courtesy of and Jasper Greek Golangco of the Phillipines.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fae Malania, Writer

Fae Malania died this morning. Although her family is long gone, friends gathered in at her bedside to recall her sweetness and to make the responses in the prayer book as Father Abbott of Christ Church led a service. We paged through her three photo albums and looked at a lovely young Fae, and then we followed the thread of her life through pictures.

The window was open, the watch stopped on her arm.

Outside the sky was wonderfully blue, the hills autumnal and muted.

You should have wept her yesterday,
Wasting upon her bed:
But wherefore should you weep to-day
That she is dead?
Lo, we who love weep not to-day,
But crown her royal head.

--Christina Rossetti

When has a "wherefore" ever stopped anyone from crying?

Reprint of an old post from fall, 2005. This dates from when we threw two book parties in her honor, one at Christ Church Cooperstown (home of James Fenimore Cooper, Susan Fenimore Cooper, Paul F. Cooper, William Wilberforce Lord, Fae, me, and many another writer) and one in the parlor at The Thanksgiving Home.

Fae Malania is one of my very favorite old ladies in the Village of Templeton. In 1961 she published a collection of spiritual essays with Knopf--a prestigious publisher then and now. This month the book is being resurrected in an elegant small paperback with an introduction by Lauren Winner and a biographical essay (that's by me.) The text has been slightly revised, with a new order given to the pieces, but it's interesting to see how well they have stood the test of years.

These are beautiful, lyrical essays, with an interesting sensibility behind them. The history of their re-publication is astonishing, if you know anything about how very difficult it is to get a reprint on a book that has been out of circulation for almost fifty years. Over a year ago, the book was submitted to three publishers, was highly praised by all three and received offers from two. That's a score any writer would find quite acceptable. John Wilson (Books & Culture) and Lil Copan (Paraclete Press) helped us along the reprint path, and now the book is being launched by Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. One curious bit of rightness about the choice of publisher is that Fae's husband, Leo Malania, was instrumental in organizing and overseeing the revision of The Book of Common Prayer, published by Church.


"Fae Malania's lovely book is a small offering, like a hazelnut. Like the hazelnut, this book is a reminder of God's love. And like a hazelnut, it can unlock a world."
--Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath

"The resurrection of a good book is always cause for celebration. 'The Quantity of a Hazelnut' is a very good book indeed, neither extremely loud nor incredibly close but quietly unforgettable.
--John Wilson, Editor, Books & Culture

"With beautiful language and a winning confessional style, Malania offers a spiritual vision that is steeped in traditional Catholicism while open to truth in diverse places."
--Jana Reiss, author of What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual
ISBN: 1-59627-014-4


About the title of the book:

I had an awful dream once, it was a terrible dream, terrible things happened in it. There wasn't any future in my dream. It was all gone, lost, irretrievable; and by my fault, by my own fault.
At the deepest point of my despair, in the twinkling of an eye--though nothing was changed--everything was changed. I was holding--something--in the curve of my palm. Its weight was good to the hand, it was very solid, round. It might have been an apple, or a globe. It was all that mattered, and in it was everything. Even in my sleep, I think I cried for joy.

A long time later in the "Revelations" of Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century English anchoress, I met my dream again, and I knew it at once.

"In this," she says (this vision or, as she always calls it, shewing)--"In this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and to my understanding it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon and thought: 'What may this be?' And I was answered in a general way, thus: 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it could last, for methought it might fall suddenly to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: 'It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it, and so hath all-thing its being through the love of God."
--Fae Malania, The Quantity of a Hazelnut

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Peg Leon, the Frolic, & Steve Cieslawski solo show


Tuesday morning I had the fun of going to R's class with Peg Leon to talk about growing up as a writer-to-be and answering questions. Peg has a first novel, Mother Country, that I read in manuscript some years ago. I hope she has many more to come! Half the class had been at R's birthday party last weekend, so it was a comfortable setting with lots of well-known faces. Several of the girls in the class have written a great deal--R with short stories, A with a novel ms. Afterward Peg and I went to the Stagecoach for a hot drink and yacked about kids and publishing.

The annual frolic of games (we must have the beloved Game of Murder!) and mayhem went off well, as usual. For the first time, I notice a decided tone of maturity. There was a good deal of nostalgia, looking backward to prior R-birthday parties and the funny things that happened and the games that were played. Traditions violated and traditions carried on were noted. When one is a sophomore in high school, one has at last reached a pinnacle of reflection with the past glittering to one side and the future gleaming cloudily on the other. As always, people arrived in costume and changed clothes nonstop well into the next day, so the dress-up box saw some mighty action. I keep finding outrageous clothes strewn in odd corners. Meanwhile B added in the new element of games from his Theatre Arts class. The amount of lusty singing increased a great deal. Some of the guests have been in chorus together for five years now, and their voices are getting bigger and more fluent. The birthday extravaganza never fails to be touching and give me hope for the future. "O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautious mankind is! O brave new world: That has such people in'it!"


Steve Cieslawski (artist for the hardcover jacket of The Curse of the Raven Mocker) sent me the catalogue for his third solo show in New York. You can read his essay and catch thumbnail glimpses of his pictures (as well as some by his wife, Gina Freschet) on the web here: William Bennett Gallery. Steve uses "a variation of the technique of the 17th century Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer. Each painting is done with many glazes of different colors. The effect is one of light traveling through perhaps 20 layers of glazed pigment and bouncing back through layers to form an inner light source. Every inch of the canvas is meticulously painted so that each day, with the changing light, the viewer will invariably see something new and different." Steve's visionary portraits of the psyche and her world remind me of Wallace Stevens:

[CREDIT: Steve Cieslawski,
"The Garden"

William Bennett Gallery
October 20-
November 18

A collection of new paintings and illustrations completed in the past two years.

Opening Reception:
Saturday, October 20th
6pm - 9pm
RSVP for the Exhibition Opening
or at 212-965-8707]

Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
--from "The Idea of Order at Key West."

So take a look at another vision of the "blessed rage for order" and linger by the "fragrant portals, dimly-starred." If you are in the city and have a chance, go see the show!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

News & Sillies & Confession & Praise


Mako Fujimura does the most interesting collaborations. I had the fun of doing one with him not long ago, and here is a new one that sounds especially attractive. If you're in New York City, this just might be something wonderful to do:

Fujimura Studio Announces: Makoto Fujimura to become first visual artist ever to paint live at Carnegie Hall in his collaboration with Susie Ibarra, composer.

World-renown percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra will premiere her new work, Pintados Dream (The Painted's Dream), a concerto for percussion and orchestra, in collaboration with visual artist Makoto Fujimura and American Composers Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 19th. Tickets are available at or by calling (212) 247-7800.

While Fujimura and Ibarra have collaborated and experimented with live performance art several times in the past three years, this premiere will represent a first for Carnegie Hall: never before has an artist painted on stage during a performance there. Fujimura's technique, heavily influenced by Japanese Nihonga as well as American abstract art, provides a visual complement to Ibarra's largely improvised percussion sounds, underscored by the American Composers Orchestra.

Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, uses all natural materials in his art. "I am more and more convinced that the imperfections are more important to define humanity than perfected products. Acrylic and synthetic mediums can accomplish great feats in design and other plastic applications, but in direct painting, I believe that natural mediums.... have 'memory imprints' of the past, and Japanese materials in particular (reflect) a collaboration with nature, heritage crafts and art."

Educated bi-culturally between the US and Japan, Makoto Fujimura's paintings have been exhibited all over the world. He was honored in 1992 as the youngest artist ever to have had a piece acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. He was also the youngest person ever to be given a Presidential appointment to the National Council on the Arts, the highest arts position in the United States.

Susie Ibarra's Pintados Dream (The Painted's Dream), a collaboration with visual artist Makoto Fujimura and American Composers Orchestra, will premiere at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 19th. Tickets are available at or by calling (212) 247-7800. The performance will be repeated in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Harold Prince Theatre of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, University of Pennsylvania. Details can be found at

International Arts Movement will host a fund raising event to commemorate the event. "Evening with Fujimura and Ibarra" will feature a studio tour, premier seating for the October 19th event, and buffet meal at IAM's brand new Space 3839, as well as invitation to the reception with Susie Ibarra and Makoto Fujimura. Please contact Christy Tennant at for more information. Photo credit: IAM press release.


N: Hey, what do you think this?

(Slaps torso wildly)

N, in a silly but fierce voice: The Macarella!


R (15) and N (10) are cutting up on the way back from North Carolina. R slaps N playfully.

R: How dare you!

N, in an obscure and romantic foreign accent: Oh, what a beautiful lady. But so dangerous!


N calls out as the car passes River St. at night: Guys! Penguins! Go back!

The penguins turn out to be a crowd of orange cones nesting on the sidewalk and in the street.

The Next Morning

(Much teasing from older siblings over breakfast.)

N's salvo: Why would there be so many if they're not penguins in disguise?

Teenagers, arguing about whether one of them is a midget or not.

Small classmate turns to R: Well, what do you think? Am I a midget or not?

R: Only a little.

Meanwhile B is a senior of 18 and still plans to be a general (he has been deeply, deeply obsessed with military history since first grade) and President. Dear reader of these words, my advice is that you immediately put on your boots and tremble. Trembling in boots is a time-honored mode of dealing with fearsome prospects, and it's as good as anything as a way to get ready for the Dominion of B.



Yes, I now confess my utter laziness in not checking for Firefox, Safari, Utnostifelque, Opera, Rosti, Snitter, Lear, and other browsers in re-making my simple, primitive website at However, as the planet has whirled around the sun once more and time has thus come round for the famous 2-day birthday bash of R, I simply have time for nothing else than the usual events plus the approaching extravaganza of drama, gustatory piggishness, songs (some mocking), detection, sleeplessness, costume changes, charades, etc. You will just have to put up with the darn ignorant thing as is, at least for a while. I'm just too busy. Also, some of us are web morons and not even properly ashamed.


I am now officially expressing my gratitude to teachers of small children. Do you know how hard it is to teach the same dratted material four times in a row to hordes of children packed full to bursting with questions?

It wore me out.

Let's pay the teachers more, or at least give them a good lie-down and a cup of tea.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Whirling in the wee hours

2:00 a. m. is upon me.

What a day: a decent amount of good bookish news; kid-ferrying and homework accomplished; jolly unexpected praise from many also bookish quarters; revised my dang website (making many frustrating errors along the way) and got a grant sent off. I have been whirling and must now lie down. There are new updates on my bibliography page in answer to a request from a kindly editor, so if you're interested in my magazine and anthology publications, go see. And there's a new home page in need of tinkering. If you have an opinion about what's wrong with it, let me know. I am the only gremlin at work at I'm first-rate at making hash out of the e-ether.

Good night, all.
Photo credit: Thanks to Griszka Niewiadomski of Poland and

Friday, September 28, 2007

Shards from the Kaleidoscope

The Emperor's New Clothes

Horrible for aspiring literary writers yet delicious for the satirist is the evidently newsworthy fact that topless model "Jordan" has published a second novel called Crystal. "'It begins: "Oh my God, look at the queue!" Crystal exclaimed, taking in the long line of wannabes which snaked out of the London hotel and halfway down the road.'" Adam Lusher reports that Crystal's pursuit of a singing career has sold far more copies than the entire Mann Booker list put together. (Three have sold less than two thousand copies; two are still under the three-thousand mark. One hates to think what the numbers would have been without the help of an important prize.)

The idea of a half-naked model arriving for her book launch party in Cinderella's crystal carriage and escorted by a bevy of handsome fellows is an almost perfect image of the state of the Land of Books in our time: truly, the successful Emperor and Empress of Books must have no clothes and look darn good in her relatively-new birthday suit (surgically and cosmetically enhanced, of course!) To be strictly truthful, I must admit that it's alledged she wore a dress on the occasion, but who wants to be strictly truthful in this context? After all, she acknowledges help in what is called the authorship of the book, so she does not appear to be so very strict an author.

Good news

For the past few months, I've been chucking half-read books out the nearest window. I began to believe that I was now unable to finish reading a novel. Yesterday I went down to that exemplary used book store, Willis Monie's, and bought a book for R, Kafka's The Castle for me, and David Grossman's See Under: Love. And I am reading happily. I even stayed up too late and felt exhausted today. This made me feel oddly pleased. I'm still a reader.

Sight of the week

On Wednesday night an enormous peach of a harvest moon was hovering over soft blue trees when I went to pick up N from football. The little boys--and a few little girl footballers--drifted out of the clouds that had settled on the playing fields. Many of them wore team shirts that appeared the same orangey shade as the moon in the dusk. Everything was simplified: twilight blue, the moon-peach color, the white clouds clinging to the playing field, the green grass. Utterly fetching.

Photo credit

Diane Slocum, member, Friends of the Library, Huntington Library, Oneonta. A cropped version of this picture ran in our local Cooperstown Crier, along with an article by young writer Dan Pelletier. He took a good deal more trouble with the article than most people do, and has garnered praise--people say that the quotes "sound like me." If you've ever been interviewed for a feature, you know that accuracy in quotes is rather unusual and worth saluting. Dan is an M. F. A. student at Goddard College who freelances for the Crier and works at Hartwick College; you may see his stories and novels-to-be some day.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Little Man of Letters

Just now a little man with an accent drifted into my mind. He was perspiring but did not take off the black raincoat over his dark suit. I’m not sure whether the coat looked shabby or was merely smeared with chalk dust on the arms. I was trying to place the accent, unfamiliar to me as a child; it would not have been French because I had moved from Louisiana and knew a smattering of French, learned from neighbor children. Somehow I imagine that he must have been Spanish or Italian.

I was like him in a way. In the landscape of Kansas, I was profoundly strange. Nobody who talked like me went to Washington Elementary. I was a drawling, sweet-talking astonishment in an era when few people had televisions or traveled far on vacation. Nor did many people move to the heart of the country, although there were a few families who had come from elsewhere—my father had come to teach at Fort Hays State, and so did others. This foreign man in his black suit and I were both as strange as Peggy, a pretty little girl in my class with tiny stubs for fingers. Her father had fashioned rings to fit her fingers, a thing that struck her classmates as cunning and a bit magical.

Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps I have made the man in the black coat foreign in memory. Perhaps we were both strange in having a love for words. He was a traveling penmanship teacher: a circuit rider preaching the Word. In his briefcase were brilliant colored chalks. Never again have I seen sticks of chalk quite so jewel-like. He especially liked to scatter rubies and emeralds, and he reminds me now that memory is a rich and myth-making thing.

I was the penmanship teacher’s pet because I had the most wretched handwriting in the class, perhaps in the entire school. He took me on as a special project. I can remember spending hours in the tiny pink house across from the ball park, laboriously writing the alphabet and then sliding the transparent Palmer alphabet card over my letters to check them. By year’s end my handwriting matched the card.

I wish that I could remember his name. We moved away; we were always moving because a Georgia sharecropper’s son can’t stay still too long. He has to see the world. Of course, it’s hard for a child to remember all the names when they change so often.

The penmanship teacher would come into the classroom while we were somewhere—recess, it might have been—and would have partially written some motto on the board by the time we filed to our seats. He had a lovely hand with Spencerian tendencies and liked to lavishly elaborate the capital letters. His arm moved freely, the decorative flourishes streaming behind his fingers. It seems impossible to recapture a world in which children play out-of-doors or read and hardly know television—where they are held spellbound by a dark-eyed man with a stick of sapphire chalk.

Photo credit: I have borrowed the image of Plymouth Schoolhouse from, the Kansas Travel and Tourism website. The school dates from 1874 and was moved to campus of Fort Hays State in 1977. Penmanship was one of the subjects taught there.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Val / Orson

"Alice was now tall enough to reach the top of the little glass table, and so at last she picked up the book. The neatly printed label attached by grocer's string read, 'Buy Me.'" --from Alice's Secret Adventures in Wonderland

My limited edition novella, Val / Orson, is forthcoming from Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers' P. S. Publishing in the U. K. (Thanks to publisher and editor for requesting a manuscript!) Although the book won't be out until the end of 2008, now would be a splendid time to order, because the first class or international shipping costs will be free until the end of this month:

Val / Orson page:

Special Offer: Free Postage on all pre-orders until September 31st
To mark our major schedule update announcement we're making this special offer until the end of September 2007: Free Postage on all pre-publication orders placed before October 1st 2007! That's right, if you pre-order any items from our list of forthcoming titles and complete your order by September 31st (full payment has to reach us by that date to qualify) then we won't charge you our usual postal rates for those books. The book(s) will be sent out as soon as they're published by our usual first class / international airmail carriers.

I'm thinking about changing the title back to Valorson.... That combines the names of the twins into one and also makes a pun.

This novella or short novel (whichever you please) is planted on the boundary line between what's commonly called realism and the realm of irrealism. That is, though the setting is contemporary--the story takes place among (and on, very much on!) California redwoods--and events take place in the realm of possibility, the tale has an aura of the marvelous because it makes use of legendary materials by borrowing threads from the story of a pair of famous twins, Valentine and Orson.

Of course, I don't believe in realism; there's nothing about a book that's not the sheerest fabulation, because the fabric of words is such very different stuff from a yard of muslim or velvet. It may feed me, but it will never be an egg.

Want to know more about the legendary source? Here's a brief introduction: that mentions source and uses by other writers. I snagged the Nancy Ekholm Burkert poem-and-picture book when it came out from FSG, and it's quite lovely. (One of my former editors there, Robbie Mayes, told me that the model for the handsome twin boys was her son.)

Two of my long stories are also forthcoming from P. S. Publishing's magazine, Postscripts. Drunk Bay will be out by Christmas; Rain Flower Pebbles will appear in 2008.

Photo credits are due and the following: for the sequoias in snow, Vlad Romascanu of Montreal, Quebec, Canada; for sequoias in mist, Marcin Jochimczyk of Sosnowiec, Slaskie, Poland. Many thanks!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A story, a prize, a summer

PHOTO: "Cloistered Assemblage" paperweight by Paul Stankard, glassblower and lover of words. I'm drawn to his floating orbs and tiny root people (look carefully at that tangle of roots) and mystical blossoms. For more, go to Yes, you may send me one!


The house had very large windows that went down quite close to the floor. These windows had drawn shades that were an inhumanly dun-yellow color, a color like that of old lions in the zoo, or the color of corn tassels, of cottonwood leaves after they have lain on the ground a while—that bleached and earthen clayey white-yellow.

Some time ago—I don’t remember when—I thought to rid myself of this sort of repetition of metaphor, rhythmical and hypnotic but redundant. It seemed to me a sort of tic of our time. The more metaphors one piled up, the more detailed and yet more diffuse the original subject became. They had no function; there was no adequate reason for their existence.
But in Harold Brodkey’s story, “Ceil,” that sort of repetitive piling-up of detail that cannot finally lead one to a single clear vision is the whole being of the story—structure, goal, impossible desire. The narrator’s struggle to bring into focus the mother who died when he was a baby is a heaping up of detail that cannot call her into being. It is all “useless significance.”

It seems that all flaws are usable.

By the end of the story, one finds that even living women are difficult to know. The narrator's gleanings, quoted from the woman who raised him, give way to a comments about her by a third woman. Ultimately, the truth about women—or, indeed, about any human being—proves slippery.

One of the things about the story that I find interesting is the way Brodkey moves from two tiny paragraphs: “I was born in her bedroom, at home” and “I feel her, I feel her moods” to a thing that the narrator believes to be a memory. A train passes and shakes the house.

One thing that interests me here is inheritance. The description of the train with its build-up and falling-away strikes me as one of those passages that owe their existence to Mark Twain’s famous description of the arrival and departure of a steamboat in Huckleberry Finn. In part that may because I’ve written a description of a train that reminded me of Twain. But if you are an American writer, you very likely can’t help remembering Twain when any human conveyance arrives with great bustle and departs, leaving a lull in its wake.

I think of Hemingway’s claim that all American literature descended from Mr. Mark Twain.

The long train passage appears to have some sort of correspondence with the simple statement that the narrator was born in the house. The steady shaking that moves with “quickening rhythm” toward “unremitting noise,” “battering waves,” and a state where the house “throbs in an aching shapelessness” is an analogue to his mother’s body and the uncontrollable rhythms of childbirth. All these details—so clear when placed together—are submerged in the larger description of the train. Afterward, in the next section, he remembers the country smell of the house. Then he recalls his mother’s torso in a print dress. The next section is the one quoted above, beginning with “the house had very large windows.” Juxtaposition makes one read the country house as a parallel the country-loving Ceil. Likewise, the closed-in house suggests an analogue to the “isolated” mother.

People are link-making creatures. The less “bald” the links are, the more satifying it is to leap the chasm.


My penpal Howard Bahr has won The Michael Shaara Award for his novel, The Judas Field (Holt, 2006). Since most news on the literary front is discouraging—the decline of book review sections and the death of reading and poor sales seem to be the focus of book-related headlines these days—I feel very glad for this piece of news. It’s curious that Howard, my penpal Philip Lee Williams, and I have all won the Shaara. We’ll have to chalk it up to good taste and put up a clubhouse sign; I’d like a treehouse somewhere.


Summer has flown. Among other things, B and R experienced a certain amount of gainful employment. N attended a prodigious number of day camps and one away camp. While he was there, I went with R to the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. She was under their age limit, so I served as chaperone and sushi provider for a week—went to Steve Bissette’s movie night but otherwise kept my head down except at the end of the day, when I popped in to look at the work done. We stayed at the down-at-the-heels but pleasant Hotel Coolidge, just down the street. After it rained, a fire hose hung off the roof, discharging water in great arterial bursts. It was my easiest week of the summer. I worked on a book, walked, and had picnics.

At the end of the summer, the children and I zoomed off to North Carolina—to Cullowhee and afterward to Aiken, South Carolina and then to Sunset Beach, all with my mother; I regret that I didn’t make it to Chapel Hill, as I wanted to see many people. But it was lovely to spend time with my mother and one of my cousins, and my husband flew down for a stay at the shore. R was stung by jellyfish. How long does it take for that irritation to go away, I wonder? I had two especially grand days for poems at the beach, and came home with six new keepers. Good fishing!


For those of you who were interested in Fae Malania and the reprint of her book, Fae is in the hospital. She is 88 now, a time when hospital visits are not so much of a surprise. Yesterday she seemed much better. I smuggled N over for a visit, as he is good for spreading cheer.


Is it possible to talk about books and do a reading without meeting some young, aspiring writer? Only if he or she is shy and doesn’t speak, I suppose. I like talking to them but also feel a kind of sadness, since the path through publishing can be so thorny. One wants to warn them about peril and black slough and promises that are only a fine glitter. Perhaps their way of publishing will be altogether different from mine, given the flux of things.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Huntington Library, Oneonta

Remember that snowed-out talk-and-reading, the one when we had more than a yard of snow? I'm hoping for no blizzards or cataclysmic downpours on Monday the 10th at 7:00 p.m. at the Huntington Library in Oneonta. I'm glad the library ran the title in the newspaper, because my notes for the old talk died with the computer! Against Brokenness: Gusto and Strength in Poetry and Fiction. I'll yack and read some poems and a few excerpts from a just-finished novel. Afterward, Q & A.

Picture credit: this old picture of the Huntington, pre-addition, was taken from

I'll be back here afterward, despite deadlines and next week's visit from the Village Tax Assessor Man! In New York State, that's a fearsome thing.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Global warning: This post was committed by an extravagant person late at night. It was 2:00 a.m., to be exact. It had been 2:00 a.m. all day, but now it was 2:00 a.m. with a vengeance. Some people with a long day should go to bed.

Last night we had takeout from Foo Kin John (name dear to wised-up local schoolchildren), and I had a startling and memorable fortune: You are in over your head. It is time to get professional help. Since I received Happiness is a new home on the day we bought our first home, and Good news will come to you from far away the day before I was invited to a faraway interview that led to a life-changing faraway job, I am forced to consider the possibility that the Higher Power occasionally chooses to speak to me through dratted slips of paper stuffed inside curls of dough.

He seems rather direct in this message.

Moreover, it is a highly important date in my life, one fraught with fraughtnesses.

However, this is the busiest summer of my mother-of-three life, and I hardly have the time to consider the implications or the fraughtnesses. Moreover, I promised not to blog about anything until September, so nobody will be reading this, or counseling me as to whether I really ought to spring up, rush out, and clutch assorted professionals to my bosom. Does that message mean a nanny, a head-shrinker for the mama, a head-shrinker for the children, jolly pills for me, relaxy pills for the zooming-about children, a chauffeur (lovely) and general ferryman or ferrywoman, a lady in white squeaky shoes to take me on a nice long spa visit to the funny farm, or what?


Don't feel impelled to embrace any of those, but maybe I'm deluded, and the cookie is sneakily pointing out my delusion. Here's my opinion: what I could really use is a spectacularly efficient yet affordable cleaning lady. Doing one's own cleaning is definitely over-rated.

If you find your way to me, despite the fact that I have sworn off blogging due to the frenetic pace of a summer with certain adorable but overly-busy children, consider the implications of The Cookie, as I cannot, being too busy to consider, render, or even plop the problem into the waiting vessel of a blog post.

In stray moments, if and when they arrive, I'll hang around the shores of Glimmerglass, looking for a message in a bottle.

Morning questions: Does God have a sense of humor, and what sort? How busy is too busy? Am I there yet? Why are we having such fantastic-for-a-Southerner hot weather? When am I going to finish those stories? When am I going to reread the novel I wrote at Yaddo one more time? Where's my dang datebook?

I'm missing R, who is at camp. Time to go commit a letter. Unless the datebook says otherwise. When I find it, that is.

Bookish: Ben Steelman, the books editor at The Wilmington Star-News, has started a blog on his newspaper's website. Bookmark . His "veries": very amusing; very smart; very well-read. That's a good combination.

Kiddish, trala:
N, age 10, to small cousin: So where's your birthmark?
C: Mine's at home.

Dervish wheel: Credit is due to David Ritter and for this photograph that so accurately described the whirl of summer: from the Arizona State Fair, 2006.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wahoodles Soup

Update, July 24: No, I'm still not coming back until September, but just wanted to note that my penpal Howard Bahr has moved from Henry Holt to MacAdam/Cage for his fourth novel. They are going to publish the book that springs out of his life as a train-going man, long ago. How wise they are. I have a train ms. lying around as well. Someday. But Howard really knows trains. Now, back to my maniacally-busy summer.
Update, July 8: After much wrestling with my laptop, I can now enter my own web sites! That dratted McAfee! So I will definitely be back... With a report on frolics at the Center for Cartoon Studies and other odd excursions.
Aporia, 2007
Dead-as-doornails computer, laptop that won't access blogger, raging carpal tunnel, three children in a chaotic summer of workshops and camp-ferrying and so on: I'm taking July and August "off," friends and passers-by. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mornings with N

Small play, about events from the last week of 4th grade, all parts played by N:

Booboo, Dude

Little dark-haired girl points to booboo and says: OOOooh! My earring fell off!

N, jaded, unimpressed: Then why isn't it bleeding, dude?

LDG, sweetly: I don't know.

LDG adds cloyingly: Dude!

N, still jaded: Dude, I bet you put a fake ear over your real ear.

N breaks into "gotcha" hand motions: Ka-chao! Ka-chao! Ciao!

And another:

Combing the Radio

N is brushing the bedside clock radio with a small blue brush.

N, in case I'm wondering: I'm just combing Junior.

N pats the radio.

N: You're set to go to school, Junior.

N: Time school.

N: It goes very quickly, actually.

N pets a shark. Sticks shark in my face: Dude, man, what's so funny, man?

N's shark: I'm in a different world.

N's shark: I'm on Mars.

N's shark strains loudly for breath: There's no water on Mars.

N's shark appears disturbed: Oo, I'm having a baby!


N's shark: Baby, wait for me!

N's shark walks around the bed on its tail.

N catches my eye.

N's shark: It's because I'm on Mars, dude. Ciao, baby!

Ear credit is due and photographer "S." of Canada. Thanks, S.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes from the Dream Palace


No sooner had I posted than great-glorious-fandangled news came in for B, our eldest child. Since tiny boydom, he has been obsessed with history, particularly military history.

He just received his statewide grade on the New York State Regents exam for U. S. History, which he took after AP History: 99.

Yes! Unadulterated wahoodles!

I forget all about our groans, moans, and bloody sweat with Geometry and Chemistry. I forget all about Sisyphus and his darned rock, and I fly up the hill, tossing armfuls of flowers at the natives below.

Fireworks, confetti, champagne!

Go, B, boy historian!


Four of us (N being snoring upstairs) just watched I, Robot on a defective machine--an odd concept, given the story. Now R is up late, babbling about different categories of manga; I understand very little, but she is burbling fluently and happily, as though a little punch drunk (last Regents exam was today, so maybe she is.) She has an intense desire to learn Japanese...

Latest invite: my next (the last was with Jeff Vandermeer) KGB Bar reading in New York will be January 8, 2008. The other reader is Dan Braum. This one's in support of Electric Velocipede--zine proprietor, John Klima, who also edited that curious spelling-bee anthology, Logorrhea (Bantam.) The first time I was at KGB, I read my Logorrhea story, inspired by that mystical green word, smaragdine. (I knew smaragdine from the poetry of Puritan metaphysical poet, Edward Taylor, so it's a story about a version of him.) So I am Klimaesque at KGB again.

And I've agreed to write another story for an anthology theme I know nothing about--since I had so much fun writing "The Chinese Room" for an A. I. anthology, why not? It is interesting to be stretched in some odd direction: the request as Procrustean bed, though a pleasant one.


Writers know that The Day Job can be a dubious good--that is, bread-and-butter with "no jam today," our little black dress or stranglehold tie, our dear little hovel with electronics, our bunting for the baby--the means by which life as we know it in these united States is rendered possible, as well as impossible.

But here is an astonishing thing: a writer who started in the small, small press world has successfully quit his day job. Here is his lovely, lively website, Ecstatic Days: And there you will find an example of Absolute and Consummate Dervishness that may just rouse you to caper and frolic and go without sleep in proper Vandermeer style.

Credit: Artwork by Scott Eagle, from Vandermeer's City of Saint & Madmen and Secret Life. I picked these because Eagle's artwork is the backdrop to Ecstatic Days.


“If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing.” --Kingsley Amis

I'm still thinking about this one. Perhaps it is especially intended for funny and satiric curmudgeons. Or perhaps I am too nice. Lucy wants to know where Mack the footman has been. Perhaps I should go looking.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mezzo Cammin

I have some new poems up at that lovely site, Mezzo Cammin, the online journal of formalist poems by women:

Here We Go Round (strange matters around the mulberry bush); "

Self-portrait as Dryad, no. 4 (I frolic as a birch dragon in an applewood cave);

and Self-portrait as Dryad, no. 2 (I am a silvery-gray snarl of branches.)

The door is via, and you can find me by looking under either contributors or poetry.

Credit: Birch tree by Collette Fitz of Phoenix, Arizona. Courtesy of the photographer and

If you missed the latest Long Grass Book, please go chutes-and-ladders down to the next post.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Paean to The Long Grass Books, no. 4: In the Morning

Update, 13 June: Now this must be what contitutes the thing known as "perfect timing." An interview with Philip Lee Williams, done several years ago, has just come on line at The Istanbul Literary Review. It's an enlightening encounter between Phil and William Walsh. Phil talks frankly about worldly success, his books, the assaults on his heart, introspection, publishers, and much more.

Here's a clip: "To me, the great part of being a writer is the writing. All the rest of it is business stuff. When something great happens with the business stuff, you have two hours of happiness. When something really hideous happens, you say 'crap,' and you have two hours of being disgusted. It really isn't much more than that after you have been around for a long time. You don't sit around and get ecstatic except when you write. And of course I treasure it when someone says they love my work."

* * *

In a world where poetry professors gift their own students with major prizes and one little monkey scratches another's back, I'm reluctant to review this nature book, because the author is a penpal of mine. I've never met him, but we've exchanged many emails since 2001, when we were supposed to be on a panel together. Thanks to a bad back, we didn't meet at the Southern Festival of the Book, but now when I read In the Morning: Reflections from First Light, I know a lot about the author and the people and places he mentions.

So this will not be a review.

It will be, however, an attempt to shed light.

Feel free to leave a comment, as always, but if you have any questions for the author, ask away, and I'll pester Phil for an answer.

In the Morning is a classic Long Grass Book. I imagine that many people won't recognize the publisher: Mercer University Press. The copy I ordered is a trim, well-made hardcover, and the fact that Mercer chose to publish Philip Lee Williams is a credit to the press.

In the Morning is Phil's twelfth book, a kind of love song to his home state, its flora and fauna and people; in the past few years, the state of Georgia has been regularly laureling him with awards for his body of work (novels, poetry, and nonfiction), so the feeling must be mutual. Phil's a creative man, and he's a notably kind and tender-hearted man, so all the attention he has gotten lately seems especially pleasing.

To show the spirit of the book, I'm going to offer a variety of passages from it. And I'll append a few comments from other people who have admired its qualities.


Now, though, the mud has been washed away, and once more the creek is shining, sparkling. Murphy and I have come down to look for stones and artifacts, and already I have found an enormous amethyst crystal, pale purple and perfect, and a rim-sherd from a clay pot made on this land more than a thousand years ago. p. 28

At first, they appear almost black, like charcoal outlines in a book of nature identification, but soon their raw sienna paints itself on their flanks. The ivory spots that speckle the fawns come out like constellations. And their eyes are brown, what I see in the mirror each day, but much more alert, purposeful, and unknowing. The doe's right ear flops toward something I cannot hear. p. 34

Crickets that produce these sounds also have "ears"--on their front legs. (Stridulating grasshoppers have "ears" on their first abdominal segment.) Some species can make sounds at a mind-boggling 100 kilohertz, though humans wouldn't know it, since the higher range of our hearing ability is about 20kHz.

Which means that what we hear of this morning cricket chorus is a fraction of what's actually out there. (Lest we feel superior, one species, the snowy tree cricket, actually recites the temperature. Add forty to the number of chirps it makes in fifteen seconds, and you'll have the temperature in Fahrenheit. Science is full of fascinating and moderately useless bits of such information.) p. 64

It's early on a foggy spring morning, and we have already uncovered the clear outlines of the fort, bastions and all. We have found the skeleton of a man who we believe is Lt. Coytmore. We know his body was buried inside the fort, and it's the only such burial here. Looking on his skeleton, laid out neatly, I feel a shudder of sorrow for the man and his stupidities. p. 101

The mangrove-lined shore was probably half a mile away. Our houseboat bobbed several yards behind me in the Gulf of Mexico. I remembered well enough what you do not do around a shark: thrash and make a lot of noise. So here I was, in the middle of a spreading pool of blood, wearing sneakers. The shark came up then, and I could see his blood-drenched mouth and the 3-inch-long teeth and his wild, dead eyes. p. 120


Georgia writer Philip Lee Williams communicates both the wisdom we gain from the wilds and the wisdom we gain from science in language we want to read aloud for its sheer beauty.
--Betty Jean Craige, author of Eugene Odum: Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist

Wise, engaging, and unfailingly profound, In the Morning awakens our weary senses to a whole cascade of mornings...
--Amy Blackmarr, author of Above the Fall Line and Going to Ground

Like morning itself, this book is quiet, gentle, and enlightening.
--Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, Wild Card Quilt, and Pinhook

...Williams has found nature where millions of us live--just as Thoreau once found it on the edge of bustling, antebellum Concord.
--Edward Larson, Pulitzer Prize winner for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial

Monday, June 04, 2007

Post-party cravings


After various bouts of company and three birthday celebrations for N, I am depleted and hollow, my ears ringing like a pair of abandoned shells. (Meanwhile, N is insatiable. Not satisfied with a picnic and vigorous games to polish off the weekend, he wondered if somebody couldn't come over to play late last night. Oh, to have the fount of energy that is 10!) Nothing but play and pre-play drudgery has been accomplished around here, and it's time to get back to some serious dreaming.

Caught in a downpour yesterday, I scurried home and then curled up in a blanket to read a manuscript and commit a blurb, something I haven't agreed to do in quite a while. More about that book, Auralia's Colors, anon.

Today I'll whisk my house in order and start reading the manuscript I wrote at Yaddo. Nothing like a little time to give some fresh seeing.

Cravings for a book

I'm having a great desire to read or reread something funny, a desire that comes to me now and then and must be satisfied. If you have a passion for a certain funny book, send it my way. Some of my favorite funnies and funny writers are: Henry Fielding, Tom Jones; Terry Pratchett (I really love his children's books, and I really should read Going Postal); Chaucer, of course; Robertson Davies; A Confederacy of Dunces (strike that--I don't know if it's a favorite because I haven't reread it: the great test); Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (so wonderfully, marvelously indebted to P. G. Wodehouse for the Drunk Lecture scene) ; most anything by the immortal Plum Wodehouse; heaps and heaps of Twain (and, as always, living in Cooperstown and having read a good bit of Cooper, "The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper"); lots by Evelyn Waugh, Burgess, Dickens, etc. I've laughed over Daniel Pinkwater, reading him to children. Ditto Sachar and Holes.

What to read or reread? Maybe Amis junior. Maybe Amis senior. Maybe Vonnegut? I have a neighbor across the park who adores George MacDonald Fraser. I've read Steel Bonnets, his wonderful nonfiction account of the border reivers, but never anything else. Stephen Fry? I've never read him, though I like his turns on the Wodehouse stage. He must have soaked up a good deal of Wodehouse along the way.

Maybe Dodie Smith? I was thinking of getting I Capture the Castle for my daughter, but maybe I need to read it myself. What are the funny novels by women? Jane Austen is funny, in her two-inch-of-ivory manner. Who else? I haven't read Smiley's Moo... I've read the creepy Shirley Jackson but not the funny one. Interesting that she could be both, isn't it? I wonder what that says about humor, and how close it is to the awful. I definitely want to read Bad Manners by Maggie Paley, who was at Yaddo last month (seems moons ago!) That's a funny book...
Wild bittersweet
jarvenpa has been reprinting her poems at
I have been thinking, brother, of the white peonies
that bloomed that spring our mother died
a ragged splendor along the boundary line
having survived so many hard winters

& being green fires, green bonfires at midsummer
despite the North Dakota storms, holding their own
electricity & stubbornness. Not, you understand
that they are symbolic, or anything more
And you get the rest of that poem, "Waiting for Spring in the Continued World," and more if you go see!
Print thresholds

This is just for people who like to keep up with my shenanigans. First, stories: “Power and Magic” forthcoming in the Firebird/Penguin anthology, Firebirds Soaring, 2008; “Prolegomenon to The Adventures of Childe Phoenix,” in the current issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet; “Drunk Bay” is slated for issue 13 (Winter 2007) of Postscripts (U.K.); I’m unsure about a date for “Rain Flower Pebbles,” as I thought that was issue 11 of Postscripts but didn’t see it on the list; The Chinese Room,” We Think, Therefore We Are ed. Pete Crowther (DAW Books, forthcoming); “The Comb,” Fantasy Magazine; “The Seven Mirrors” forthcoming in anthology of novellas from Prime; “The Four Directions,” forthcoming in an anthology tba, “The Gate House,” forthcoming in Argosy; “The Salamander Bride,” forthcoming in “The Beastly Bride” (Viking, 2009). “The Smaragdine Knot” is out, timed to match up with the Scripps spelling bee. Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories, ed. John Klima, (Bantam Books, 2007.) My novella, Val / Orson is slated for late 2008 at P. S. Publishing (U. K.)

I’m a little fuzzy on poetry publications, as my notebook has as many legs as a spirobolid millipede (homage to Dave Bonta) and is always wandering into crannies, but "Self-Portrait as Dryad, No. 4," "Here We Go Round," and "Self-Portrait as Dryad, No. 2" are to appear in the June issue at Mezzo Cammin—“an online journal of formalist poetry by women—and “The Sea of Traherne” appeared in the April issue of Books & Culture. Oh, and "Botticelli" at qarrtsiluni and "A Fire in Ice" (a riposte to the Billy Collins poem, "Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes") in an issue of The Raintown Review guest-edited by Joseph Salemi. Hmm. Can’t forget Klima’s Electric Velocipede, scheduled for fall: “When Demons Ruled,” and “Why the People Disliked Art, Circa 2005.” An old poem, “Children of Paradise,” is being reprinted in the 35th anniversary edition of Cold Mountain Review. There are a few more that I can’t remember… But then there's so much in life I can't remember!

Credit: The half-headed mannequin is courtesy of the photographer, Georgios M. W. of Denmark, and