New work!

Hi, friends! I’ve got a post about a new short story I’ve been working on over at my new website, If you’d like to stay in touch with me and what I’m doing, please consider subscribing! You’ll find the sign up form at the side of the page:

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Hearts for Charleston — Maggie’s for Rev. Daniel Simmons

Honored to have my tribute to Rev. Daniel Simmons posted here, as part of this beautiful collaborative quilt project in remembrance of the Charleston Nine. (Also, I’m a huge fan of Rhiannon Giddens, posted at the end.) ❤

Pattern and Outrage

“Although he died at the hands of hate, he lived in the hands of love.”

Artist and educator Maggie Rose of New Jersey made this heart in honor of Reverend Daniel Simmons.

This tribute written by Susan DeFreitas (published with her permission (find her blog here)) gives you some background on the pastor and expresses our collective grief:

Vietnam veteran, Purple Heart: Allen University, Phi Beta Sigma;
Master’s of Divinity; pastor; father, grandfather.
How many times did you wonder if today was the day
you would die? Some days last longer than others, we know,
and the world must have slowed in its rotation the hour
enemy fire found you, the young black soldier
in that green heat, when your bright blood
sought the earth. Did it return to you,
that green day, when enemy fire, as if traveling through time,
came to reclaim you? Those hours in the ambulance, the hospital,
the operating…

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue

whisper_0Ursula K. Le Guin has said that scenes with dialogue are where emotion happens in fiction. According to the emerging body of neuroscience on fiction, such scenes are also where fiction most clearly approximates actual lived experience, that “vivid and continuous dream” of which John Gardner spoke.

That may help to explain why readers love dialogue—some so much so that they’ll skip right over your meticulously written descriptions and summaries to get straight to the goods: people talking to each other.

But dialogue is also a place where things can easily go south. As an editor, I have become far too acquainted with all the ways that otherwise competent writers can absolutely hamstring their fiction—precisely at the point it counts most.

Read the rest of latest post for Litreactor here.

7 Tips for Higher Word Counts in 2015

writingThe New Year is often a time when we take a good hard look at what we accomplished (or failed to) in the previous twelve months while looking ahead, in glory, to all we will accomplish in the year to come.

Of course, most New Year’s resolutions are no more than the big brother of that to-do list you made in the morning that causes you to actually LOL in the afternoon (otherwise known as a Planning Fallacy). That’s why it can ultimately be more productive to focus on establishing new habits in the New Year rather than simply focusing on the same goals that continue to elude you.

Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: if you want different results, try something different. Something that might help you overcome those obstacles—psychological, personal, or logistical—that have been holding you back from the glory that is rightfully yours.

Read the rest of my latest for LitReactor here!

Snake Charm: Backstory

snakes-and-roses-469x469The PDXX website was built around the idea that, rather than having emerging female writers struggle to build a platform on their own, they could come together to share each other’s work via a curated online magazine that kicks all kinds of ass  (i.e., “literary feminism for the working writer”).

I like this idea a lot, and I’m hoping that if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll consider following my work at PDXX.

My second story for PDXX, which went live last week, is called “Snake Charm.” It’s the story of a twelve-year-old girl who finds a book on witchcraft in her grandparents’ house in Florida, and decides to cast a spell aimed at getting the boy she likes to like her. She winds up getting what she wants, in a roundabout way, but discovers–as we all do, maybe, in coming of age–that “every rose has its thorn.”

Those of you who know me well will recognize that many of the elements of this story are, in fact, true. I did spend weeks of my junior-high summers with my grandparents in Fort Myers, and my grandparents are, in fact, Guyanese. Even the book of witchcraft, and the discovery of it on my grandparents’ bookshelf, is real–though it was a cheap paperback, not a hardcover (published no earlier than 1968, based on what I remember of its cover).

It’s true too that my grandparents were Christian and high-minded, but I came to realize over the years that my grandmother’s brand of Christianity had room for all sorts of hoodoo, be it Hindu (she believed in fate, or kismet) or the occult (at one point, apparently, she copied a book of “secret knowledge” by hand, banned at that time in Guyana). She talked to trees and plants. Toward the end of her life, she was a big fan of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. She even seemed to believe, at times, that the resurrection of Christ was a sort of a metaphor (though I never heard her use the word) for the resurrection of the body here on earth through the life cycle of the soil.

All of which is to say, my grandmother’s spirituality was far more complex than that of the grandmother in the story, and for all I know, she had picked up this book somewhere on purpose, based on a genuine interest in witchcraft.

As for the rest of the story–I did consider trying one of the spells I found in the book, though I never did; I did once have a crush on a boy at a water park in Michigan, and my first boyfriend was indeed from Miami; but the guy from Miami is still alive and well, as far as I know, and currently making a living as a maritime pilot in the Everglades. (Also, he was a fan of Led Zeppelin, not the Dead, and he never sent me roses, wilted or otherwise.)

I do write purely imaginative fiction (such as the sci fi novel I’m working on), but stories such as this tend to function more as a sort of imaginative rearrangement of real elements, or tall tales. It seems as if I almost have the stuff to write memoir–to tell the story straight–but not quite. My imagination takes liberties, in ways that tend to surprise me.

A good example of this is the dark being in “Snake Charm” that rises up out of the mango tree in the grandparents’ backyard when the spell is cast. My grandfather really did pick things up he found by the side of the road and hang them from the trees in the backyard, and I always did find this a bit magical. But who knew that this genie would appear this way?

In a way, I think, much of the creative process is like that. You rearrange the real to fit the demands of the imaginative form–and along the way, if you’re lucky, some dark thing rises up out of the mango tree and asks you a question. Maybe one you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

Monsoon Variations, A Hypertext

Monsoon Variation, No. 1

Heat stills the day and stops it. The dust has settled thickly into crevices, coating outdoor surfaces, stuck to flecks of petrified sap. The forest has gone without rain so long the veins of the trees have gone dry, and bark beetles worm their way among them. The blue of the sky is blinding. The ravens speak their own name for themselves. Silence.

Two small clouds appear and wander aimlessly across the sky.

They bring others, more substantial.

They begin to speak amongst themselves.

They grumble, flash testily at one another. The wind shifts.

The first drop falls like a hallucination.

The second, as if

hours later. Fine raindrops form wet circles on concrete. Hopes rise.

The rains retreat.

Now the first fat drops pelt the pavement in stumbling starts and stops,

splashing the sidewalks and soaking the sap; the raindrops build up speed and momentum

until the wet stains on concrete repeat rhythmically and connect, erasing the dust between.

Soon the rain is pounding overhead, suffusing the cool with juniper.

Neighbors open up the blinds, the windows, the doors, and lean on front porches, tank-topped, shirtless.

Kids run splashing down the streets.

The plants in the garden all nod in agreement.

The ravens gurgle.

Down below, the magic chord is struck.

Fat white grubs with eyes like small children

are waking.

Monsoon Variations, No. 2

The highest layers turn the whole of the sky as dark as a bruise, purpling the mountains in the distance. Middle layers of pale grey nimbus are sucked into updrafts of warm air rising, shaping themselves airily, like meringue. Perfectly opaque cumulus descend to the underlayers, whitecaps in an ocean of gray. The clouds coalesce in a vast Western stormscape, hot air rising up from the canyonlands, hitting the pockets of cool roiling in the upper atmosphere, descending, delivering


Lightning stitches the atmosphere, razing the high hills.

Thunder resounds like the bombastic cymbals in a Valkyrie opera, cracking the sky like an egg.

The clouds come rumbling back with kettle drums, accompanied by a high, singing wind.

Wind chimes whip around and pull themselves loose;

potted plants are overturned on back porches;

flags flail furiously downtown.

The clouds boom laughter and confrontation and assent.

They hurl wind at one another and bend the treetops.

They open up the sky and roar.

Rain pounds the pavement, the treetops, the rooftops, the cacti. Rain floods the gutters and storm drains, frothing. It washes out the washes, turning arroyos to rivers, adding inches to reservoirs. The sustained downpour strips the paint off old sheds and rusted trucks. It deafens drivers inside their cars. It pummels the mountain in rivulets, and sluices the cliff face clean.

The trees in their smoky voices are singing, come rain, come again, come from on high, come down and drown the spark of fire, come rain…

The clouds descend to the mountaintops and the temperature drops. They let loose a rain of hail.

In the ground, fat white grubs are growing, crystallizing the mineral caliche. They fight their way to the surface of the earth, scale the sides of trees and houses and wait.

Monsoon Variation, No. 3

The garden has run to riot, spilling over the fence. The snails have traced their silver mucus trails across the flagstone path. The worms have long since come up for air, died and dried in the morning sun, and gone mushy again in the rain.

In the woods, the creeks are running, cutting serpentine curves of granite into singing cataracts. Water drums in stone chambers, ephemeral streams echoing the rhythm of rain, days later, as it continues to fall, into cool green pools hung with sunlight.

Tiny, speckled frogs cling to speckled boulders, bathed in spray.

Rare salamanders hatch from a foam of eggs. Sensitive creatures with three tiny fingers, they hold to the submerged surface, their larval fishtails waving, circulating in the current of their miniature, shrinking world.

Wildflowers explode like fireworks in succession, red speckled flutes floating in the forest, contested by hummingbirds whirring white noise amid twining blue morning glories, wild yellow snapdragons, and sweet peas, blushing pinkly beside the trail.

The cicadas launched today have cracked the back of their mineral carapace open like an egg.

They have emerged, wet and wide-eyed, giant green bugs with disastrous wings.

Now the sun has sucked the moisture from those tentative organs, rendering them rigid.

Now the cicadas have joined the chorus, those raucous maracas lighting up each tree in turn in a wild, dense wall of sound.

All of them, together, are singing, come rain, come again. Come crack the wild weather overhead, come again, speak and crack the sky.

Dig a little deeper, come back,

come again.


Speak the words the wind has said,

come rainsong,

come again.

Thousands of unseen eyes are opening.

Life blooms from the molecules of the air.