Like many other creatives, I’m trying to spend my COVID-19 quarantine learning new skills, working on projects that feed my soul, and making badass art. I’m offering daily creativity prompts (Monday through Friday) on Instagram — please join me, tell your friends, share the 1-minute video series as you like.
The prompts are intended to foster some deep thought, new perspectives and (most importantly) fun. No prior artistic experience required. No judgement, no agenda, no wrong answers.
At long last my short story, Catching Out, which won the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, has been published. You can read it in the 2018 edition of the The Thomas Wolfe Review or, more immediately, you can read it in full here:
Granted, it wasn’t everyone who showed up to the gym in flannel and work boots, but Nevada Bloom could just as well have been carrying a sign to say she didn’t belong. Not there, and not anywhere, really. The night before she’d shaved the hair on the left side of her head clear down to the scalp. The prickle of stubble that snagged the threads of her stocking cap would grow back blond, a poor match for the feathery black strands still covering the right side of her head. But she was okay with the dichotomy.
Nevada shoved her hooded sweatshirt into a locker and quick-changed into ratty track shoes, mainly because work boots made too much noise on the treadmill. The soccer moms in their pink tops and grey knee pants stared at her as it was. She also kicked off her black jeans so she was just skinny, hairy legs in green running shorts. Denim chafed after a few minutes of jogging. It was a problem she’d have to address another day, though the point was not to have to jog for very long. Not if she did it right the first time. Continue reading →
I just learned that my short story Dysfunctional Slumber Parties was a finalist in this year’s Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition. Though I don’t get any prize money, writing is such a subjective business that any kind of achievement is worth a celebration. There for I am:
Inspired by the painting “My Heart Lives Outside My Body,” (pictured) by Daniel Nevins. This post is part of my writing experiment #30DaysofArt. Find more entries here.
One day the heart got a hold of a crowbar and pried itself out of its prison. It had been locked too long in the dark tower, not able to see anything, just taking the mind’s word for what was out there. But the mind got everything wrong. It had a lawyer’s reasoning and a miser’s unwillingness to part with its riches. “Don’t give more kindness than is required, ration your smiles, never trust more that you need to,” it advised. But the imprisoned heart slept on its coffers of gold and wondered if it wouldn’t rest more peacefully with fewer cold, hard coins rattling beneath its vertebrae.
The escape was not without its fallbacks. “What’s the point of building a tower anyway, if not to keep something in it?” the mind asked. The heart fluttered nervously, grappling for purchase on the outside. The mind was right about that at least — the outside was a smooth suit without shelves or crevices. Certainly no bars. Maybe all along the bars had been less about restriction and more about protection.
And, it was all so blindingly bright. The heart felt itself burning in the sun and shivering at night. But it could see stars for the first time ever. Orion made its way across the winter sky and the heart swooned a little.
“Stop that,” the mind scolded. “You can’t go around just falling in love all over the place. Plus, you’re bleeding on everything. You’re a mess.” It was true. The heart was naked and raw. It thudded and gurgled and made a fool of itself. It was scared a lot. It wished it had a heart-shaped suit of armor. But still it stayed, trying to balance on a shoulder like a good guardian angle, whispering sweet nothings into the closest ear. Sweet everythings, really, because everything — after the initial rush of panic and doubt — was sweet and rich and bathed in wonder.
The heart swayed to music, drank rain, stuck out a capillary to catch the first snowflakes. It shivered as much from anticipation as from chill. Everything was a thrill, every caress of the wind, every passing glance of a stranger, every new song, every saturated color. The heart dressed itself in fresh paint and feathers. It admired its newly acquired scars.
“This has gone on long enough,” the mind said. It was using its patient-but-getting-sick-of-this-shit tone. “You have a place. IT’S INSIDE. Go back to your room and do your job.”
But the heart was in love again and again and again. It would not listen to reason. It wouldn’t even slow its roll enough for those prickling words of insecurity to catch up.
The heart surged toward its new desire. It rushed and throbbed. There was danger everywhere, outside the body. Car horns, sirens, hungry bears. But the new love was so beautiful, so real, so rare, so close. The heart wanted nothing but to fling its wealth at the feet of its desire, to rattle and beat a new poem, to curl into the curve between its love’s neck and shoulder.
The heart said that it would never go back.
“You’ll die of exposure,” the mind grumbled.
“I might,” the heart shrugged, like what could be better? It checked its look and fluttered its lashes. It leaned toward love like it was immune to gravity, like at any moment it might grow wings.
You’re sitting on the back deck watching a small, brown rabbit nibble grass. He’s nervous, shooting you worried looks. But he also stays, keeps eating. It seems like a sign of something good, or at least not a sign of anything bad and sometimes it’s enough to just be still and watch a rabbit be a rabbit.
And then the weird next-door neighbor, the one who lurks behind his expensive shrubbery, pops out from the mock orange. The rabbit darts away and even though you shouldn’t take it personally, you feel your heart sink.
“Come see what I have in the garage,” the neighbor says. You’re going to decline because, seriously? Who would even think that’s okay to say? But then he adds that it’s a time machine.
Image from the Predestination film poster
Okay. All the rich people who move to the mountains from Atlanta to retire can afford central air and reclaimed wood kitchens. (You have already pointed out that your kitchen is also wood. The original. And more than once you’ve reclaimed it from the rats, so. Maybe that will be the big trend in ten more years — rat-salvaged wood kitchens.) But this guy. This guy is so particularly rich that instead of installing a cedar-lined sauna or a recording studio, he’s gone and bought a time machine. Continue reading →
The first thing you think when the leaves begin to fall is that it’s not really autumn yet. There are so many leaves that the few lost will never be missed. The shoulder season is not a season at all, but the new now, and it will never end. That’s actually four thoughts, but it feels like a single, continuous idea, and you’d stay there, drifting on the updraft of that idea, were it not for the immediacy of the next thought — the fraternal twin directives of gold and crimson: proceed with caution and full stop — the world you know is dying, and you will never love again.
Of course that’s a lie because everything in October is the bristle and thrum of love. Gold and crimson mums flourish on porches. (Later they will wither, but in the first chilly flush you want to press your face into their bosomy softness.) There’s a proliferation of pumpkins, the piecing together of costumes, the promise of velvet-dark corners in which to steal embraces from masked strangers. The piles of quilts and the cold nights that lull you into dreams. What are dreams if not love, the ultimate abandonment of the senses? Continue reading →
When I was a kid, young adult literature wasn’t called YA. It was called Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Thank god for Judy Blume — I’m pretty sure I read everything she wrote (and, thanks to Deenie, lived in fear of failing the scoliosis test and spending high school in a back brace).
But since YA wasn’t a thing, with all the marketing and shiny, neon-colored covers that go along with it, I also read a lot of stuff that might or might not have been written with teens in mind — and certainly hadn’t been vetted (unless you count the town librarian’s withering glare at the check-out desk).
So here are four inappropriate books that I read, and maybe shouldn’t have read, and loved even though theyreally confused me.
1) Go Ask Alice: The first awesome thing about this novel was that it was supposedly anonymously written. And supposedly “a real diary,” as the book’s cover boasted. This was before Oprah old off James Frey for his fake memoir. Continue reading →
The following TEDx Talk is by Jonny Geller, literary agent and CEO at Curtis Brown. He makes some great points about the importance of knowing what a book is about — sounds simple, but it’s not always so easy for an author. Start at the 11:00 mark for the section I’m quoting here — but there’s tons of fantastic advice throughout.
Sometimes writers themselves don’t know they’ve stumbled on a story that might hit on that chart, which may seem a bit odd because they’ve spent a long time writing 300 pages. But I’ve often sat in my office with young writers and said to them, “What’s your story about?” And they’ve said, “It’s about love and death and marriage and redemption and betrayal.” And you go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what’s the story about? Can you complete the sentence, ‘This is the story about a man or a woman who …’” and they’ll be stumped, because it’s very difficult. To reduce a complex story to one sentence is hard. But I believe it’s absolutely crucial. If a book is to become a big, bestselling book, you have to be able to communicate the core idea easily. Not all narratives lend themselves to that, but I do believe that every great classical narrative can be reduced to a sentence. — Jonny Geller
This is what I’ve been thinking about lately: appropriation. It’s become a bad word (along with privilege). Racial appropriation, cultural appropriation. The taking of ideas and identities. And I think we can all agree that in an overarching way, it’s a bad thing. White bands not only appropriating the blues, but getting rich on music made by black artists who were never recognized for their work. White kids wearing headdresses to indie-rock shows. (White folks do a lot of appropriating.)
Recognizing it is good and necessary. Having the conversation is important. But there’s also the issue of art being, to an extent, a byproduct of appropriation. Usually we call it inspiration or influence. It’s cool to be influenced — in fact, it’s pretty lame to huddle down in one’s safe space and only create art from that small corner of knowledge. There’s a criticism directed toward those artists who don’t take enough risks, don’t venture outside of their comfort zones, don’t explore other cultures or bring a diversity of viewpoints in their work.
And, though we writers have all heard the “write what you know” maxim, we all only know so much. Eventually experience has to give way to the unknown — especially in fiction — and that’s when the rich, deep, imaginative work begins. Continue reading →