publishing

restoration ecology

A year of big changes, many of them good, has meant stretching in unexpected ways. Experiencing an emptier, quieter household after sending a kid off to college. Becoming busier as an educational consultant. Listening to a body that seemed drawn to injury for the better part of three seasons. Learning about what it means to be a good bee “mama” over winter when we lost both hives (and were left with 60+ pounds of surprising, delicious honey).

There’s more that’s not worth reporting here, and there was enough of it that my fiction life is one I threw under the bus. Often, I write in spite of frustration and anger, but not this year.

Still, I’m always writing in my head, and I’m hoping now that I’ve sat down again to make words, those stories I’ve been percolating about will present themselves. I’m hoping they’ll turn up, ready to show me what they’ve been up to after being kept from the page. Not unlike all those jars of honey we’ve processed which was meant to feed bees through the winter and instead feeds us.

While I dive in to crafting new stories, I’m grateful and delighted about an old story new to world at Sundog Lit.

You can read it here.

Sundog’s editors helped shape this piece and encourage me to see what I couldn’t, and I’m honored, thrilled, and tickled they said yes.

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Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

on being tender

Most days, these days, I count to 5 before I read the news. While I’m counting, I ask myself if my time would be better spent reaching out to someone or engaging in joyful pursuit. Or both. Not that I’ve put my head in the sand. Far from it. But I’m interested these days in boundaries that also allow for light. There’s a long, troubling haul ahead culturally, and sustenance for the fight, for me, is going to come from remembering both my impermanence and the importance of celebrating tiny, fierce, joyful things.

I’ve been thinking all week, since my book group meeting, about Brian Doyle.

I first met writer Brian Doyle through the pages of Orion magazine, where his pieces made me giggle and want to read them aloud or memorize them or lean into my husband and whisper them. Delicious series of words that tongue-twist and whirl and leap. “21 Laws of Nature as Interpreted by My Children” reminds we humans not to get too big for our britches: “If you can’t make a new ant, don’t kill an old one,” reads #20. “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever” pokes fun at the preachy earnestness of environmental writing, which so often bludgeons readers with stridency and dire prognostication.

Here’s his last paragraph from that essay:

“And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor, and a hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of espresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but rivetingly there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat.”

Doyle’s writing’s often silly, unwieldy as Faulkner, and this side-door play with language works like a water mark you can see when you hold the artifact up to the light, or a flavor you can taste hours later. That kind of fun with words piques curiosity, keeps you reading.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of his novel Mink River, a book I read faster than I wanted to and stayed up late to do it a few nights running, aware that such fast tour through the pages was a disrespect to the writer’s deft ability to make prose read like poetry. Mostly, when I consider Doyle’s work, I think of the word wonder. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to infuse his characters and their perspectives with an awe about living most of us seem to miss, busy as we are with the big problems, the minutiae, the plans and goals and hiccups.

Time with Doyle always makes me realize that in this short stint of living, I’d be better served to use wonder as my lens. There’s a choice about perspective, after all, and sometimes choice takes both purpose and a bit of work.

I recommended Martin Marten as my book group’s February read. The same friend who sent me Mink River gifted me Martin Marten in early summer as my son was about to leave home for college. It was the perfect gift, and I read it in the hammock in the week before we delivered Owen to his new chapter. Doyle’s story was a reminder that sending a kid out into the world is a new chapter for parents, too; when anyone you love peels off on his own path, he’s both inextricably bound to the place from where he’s come and forever separate in a new way. Both joy and sadness can set up shop next to each other in one’s heart, and that’s the vital rub of living.

Martin Marten, about a boy called Dave, his family, and the colorful collection of characters in their small Mt. Hood town of Zig Zag, Oregon (a town below where I’ve spent some time skulking about in the woods, a magical place), is another testament to Doyle’s wondrous outlook, to his fine ear and artful craft, to his bedrock sense that the world is a brief, glorious journey, and that the people along for the ride with us are full of wonder, too, even if they are also simultaneously curmudgeonly, or afraid, or confused. The novel unspools the twin coming-of-age of Dave, the boy, and Martin, the pine marten, and their stories weave and flirt together and apart as they’re both tossed and turned in life and love.

Dave’s younger sister is as precocious as any child you’ll meet in fiction. But I didn’t mind her ability to so candidly talk about feelings or her spatially gifted genius. Her words to her brother – the same words that ring long after the story is over – are to “be tender.”

Could there be any better words to adopt as your theme song? Especially now, when most days it feels like tenderness is a fleeting impulse, with so much hateful rage and fear on the wind.

A few years ago Brian and I both had stories published in the same journal, and I ginned up the courage to email him and tell him what a fan I was. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he emailed me back within a few hours with genuine enthusiasm and his signature silly swirl of language. Neither too important nor too busy to respond, despite his much more impressive publications. His swift, embracing tone of collegiality is something I’ll remember always and work to pay forward, too.

Our book group meetings always involve a writer review, and a friend came this week prepared to share Doyle’s accomplishments in fiction and essays, his background and family story, and his working life as editor of Portland Magazine. This story isn’t all about joy: I didn’t know until this week that Doyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November. He had surgery a few weeks ago and is recovering in the hospital after a complicated procedure that’s made post-surgery complicated, too, not to mention survival.

In Martin Marten, Dave spends a good bit of time exploring the “Daveness” of being Dave. In a note to his readers in the days before surgery, The “Doyleness” of Doyle sounds an awful lot like the character he built for us, so full of light:

“stories are holy and nutritious and crucial. Stories change lives; stories save lives. … They crack open hearts, they open minds…It’s more important than ever before to hold hands and catch and share stories of substance and grace and defiant courage and irrepressible humor…The alternative is to ‘allow nothing in our lives but sales pitches and lies.’”

“We could change the world if we told the right story,” Doyle said. 

Indeed.

I hope, Brian, that you can feel me hugging you from here with defiant tenderness. That you can hear my stories rising up with the stories of so many others.

Doyle Family Support Fund.

 

Categories: book review, books, community, family, fiction, nature, publishing, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

theft

From time to time I’ll be reviewing books at the Kudzu Vine, the blog associated with Kudzu House Quarterly, where I’m also a reader. This month I had the pleasure of reading and writing about BK Loren’s debut novel Theft.

bkloren.com

bkloren.com

Loren’s a skillful craftsman, a thoughtful environmentalist, a damn good storyteller. She’s also published Animal, Mineral, Radical: A Flock of Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food, and she’s a frequent contributor in the pages of Orion Magazine. You can read her “Dreaming in Dirt” in those pages here.

I’m delighted to occupy the planet with a writer paying attention to the tussle between people and place in all the right ways. The publishing editor of her first book told Loren she wrote like she was “raised by wolves.” Which seems about right.

 

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evel

Last month I took my daughter Riley to a soccer tournament in Twin Falls, the town where Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River in 1974. Denied the chance to attempt a leap over the Grand Canyon, Evel had learned a thing or two about bureaucracy. In order to pull off his dream in Idaho, he leased land of either side of the river and built a a ramp on one side, hoping the trajectory of this slope would propel his special steam-powered rocket with enough momentum to shoot the mile-wide gap. He was unsuccessful, poor bugger. His parachute deployed early and down he went, just missing the water, landing on the same side of the river as the jump, and breaking his nose.

Between soccer games, Riley and I hiked to what’s left of the earthen ramp. Still ramp-like in formation, it’s nonetheless a “structure” you might miss without the signs. After all the hype around town about its genesis, it’s a little underwhelming, a monument insufficient in a lot of ways to represent how Evel’s schemes riveted the country then. As a kid, I paid attention to Evel’s antics, his spangled costumes, his thousands of broken bones.

Now, above the Snake River, base jumping’s the thing. Around the bend from Evel’s ramp, jumpers hurl themselves from the Perrine Bridge, many GoPro-ing their falls, each of them hoping no parachute malfunction will deliver certain death, which happens often enough. One guy I talked with, who’d just come back from Malaysia where he’d jumped off the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (twice the height of the Perrine Bridge), told me the Perrine jump was dangerously short.

Riley and I watched twenty or so jumpers that day. It was terrifying to watch. I can’t imagine the terror of free falling. The week after we left town two jumpers died when their chutes failed to deploy.

Somehow, Evel survived all those stunts he performed and died instead from lung disease in 2007 at the age of 69.

For at least a decade, Evel’s been a household name at our house. It seemed right to make the time to visit one of his jump sites and talk about how what seems crazy to one person means inspiration, passion, and desire to another.

In the way the world is spectacularly weird so much of the time, while we were on this trip Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment said yes to my essay “Evel Kind of Love,” which you can read here.

Deepest gratitude to Flyway for including me in June’s issue.

 

 

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saltfront

 

saltfront cover - Issue 3

saltfront cover – Issue 3

Deepest gratitude to the editors at saltfront for including me in Issue 3. It’s hot off the presses and gorgeous.

Out of Salt Lake, ecological storytelling is this journal’s jam. I’m thrilled they said yes to my story “The Leaving Half.” About a Japanese-American girl working at a gas station mini-mart across the street from a pulp mill, the story’s also about loss and love, destruction and preservation.

Sorry online readers, to read Issue 3 means buying these pages and treating yourself to some really lovely poetry, art, and fiction. I promise supporting this small band of literary soldiers will be worth it.

Here’s a teaser:

More than this, there was his art sprung from the skins of what he purchased at the Timber Mart.  The plastic triangular casings from pre-made refrigerated sandwiches. Little Debbies or gum or hamburger wrappers.  Unsettling at first, the found objects that boomeranged back to her, origamied as fish or birds, others cut and collaged into tiny landscapes.  Most she carried to her apartment and staged on the bookshelf opposite her futon couch, where she could sit and examine his puzzling presence.  On tender days when she felt most alone, she’d rearrange the tableau of his art.  Tug gently on the folded wings of the birds, willing them to fledge and soar above her, their flight a glorious transformation, weightless.

 

 

 

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humdinger

ShenandoahWashington and Lee University’s literary magazine whose contributing authors often appear among winners of prizes like the Pushcart and O. Henry, has done two things right this year:  publishing Heather E. Goodman’s story “Humdinger” in the spring, and then selecting her as the co-winner of their annual Shenandoah Fiction Prize.

A story of two friends, Beth and “Henry,” the sort of women I want to be when I’m much older – gritty, outdoorsy, fierce – “Humdinger” is also about love and loss, the complicated tangle of the human heart’s desires, human restraint and recklessness.  And ice fishing, which is fantastic.

Here’s hoping this story will go on to reach a wider audience and win other prizes.

Meanwhile, read Goodman’s story here.

 

 

 

 

 

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loft

www.loft.org

 

Many thanks to the Loft Literary Center for the invitation to write about creativity and how I try to keep that motor running.

You can check out my post here at the Loft’s Writers’ Block site, where lots of folks smarter than me are noodling about all sorts of topics related to writing.

Also check out Heather’s post from a few weeks ago.  I’m tickled we’re in the same virtual space together.

 

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resurrection

As she often does, in her latest story “The Resurrections” published at Terrain, Heather E. Goodman writes about complicated relationships that are real, gritty, honest.  Her characters muck around in each other’s hearts and on the land, aiming for grace, yearning to be understood, seeking forgiveness and sometimes getting it.  There’s palpable tenderness rising up out of this hardscrabble life etched by a series of deaths.

The narrator grieves the death of his wife Elna, of his father, of the business he and his father built together, of his youth and the loss of a young man’s full life.  “The Resurrections” isn’t a long story, but it’s stitching is both intricate and simple, giving the impression that Goodman knows exactly what it’s like to be a grieving widower, an older man on a threshold between a past he can’t do anything about and the awakening knowledge that he’s got enough life left in him to hope for the future.

Goodman’s prose is spare, always, and prismed here with the flinty winter landscape and a friendship that resolves to thaw itself nonetheless.  Even the animals have agency and longing, evident in the hound dog Beagle who can’t seem to help digging up his dead friend Smokey, a cat.

Delicious fiction.  Read it.  It’s the sort of story you’ll carry with you.

 

 

Categories: book review, fiction, nature, publishing, short story, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

lemon queen

This spring has been full of firsts.  Spotting meadowlarks and mountain bluebirds.  Watching a pair of screech owls raise their clutch. Rescuing a kitten from the engine of my car (a story on its way in another post) that rode around smashed on top of the manifold for at least 75 miles and lived to tell about it.

Of course, the explosion of life in the natural world is largely about work done behind the scenes beforehand, which is the case with so many other things, and also with fiction.

Blue Earth Review has been kind enough to say yes to publishing “The Lemon Queen” in their latest Spring Issue, Volume 12.  As always, I’m deeply grateful and tickled that another creation is out in the world.

BER Volume 12

 

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depth perception

Deep and sincere thanks to Matthew Limpede and the staff at Carve Magazine, who said yes to including the story “Depth Perception” in their Spring 2014 Premium Edition.  I’m in great company in these pages and ever grateful for the chance to be there.

 

2014_1 spring.png

Categories: fiction, gardening, outdoors, publishing, short story, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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