I got the idea for “The Banquet at the Center of the Maze” from a scene in a jigsaw puzzle (which, if you’ve read my story “Sasha’s Pattern, Sonia’s Edge,” shouldn’t come as much of a surprise). My kids and I were working on a puzzle called Lost in a Jigsaw, a hedge maze of various scenes in diagonal perspective where each non-edge piece is the same shape (!), so you must first decipher which pieces make up which scene, then how the scenes fit together to form a cohesive maze (which I swear isn’t an oxymoron), and as I’m typing this I’m thinking of all sorts of metaphors for my writing process. Anyway, one part of the puzzle shows a table set with food. Empty chairs. No banqueters in sight. It got me wondering, who would go to all that trouble in the midst of those twisty hedges?
For my poem “Hooves on Gravel, Like Teeth on Bones,” I wanted to try a pantoum. It seemed like a great form for a maze poem, winding back upon itself like one giant dead end. The title popped into my head, so I plugged it in as one of the lines and built the rest of the poem around that.
Wow, I did a lousy job providing updates this month. Things may have looked quiet around here, but I wrote some poems, did some story editing, completed a new flash draft (thanks to a workshop from one of the masters, Tina Connolly), and have a couple of exciting announcements coming next month.
As for this year’s National Poetry Month, I kicked things off by attending a virtual reading by Kim Stafford, in which he called poems “implements of connection.” I love that.
I went through some old files and found letters from my late maternal grandmother, complete with some of the light verse she used to compose. On one of her poem cards, she’d attached a sticky note with the dictionary definition of an ode and wrote, “Don’t you think this qualifies?” I do, Grandma, I do.
I know I made reference last month to a lighter, poetry counterpart to my story “Hell-ium Balloon” coming out soon, but first up I’ll have two darker poems in the next issue of Coffin Bell.
I sometimes go out of my way to avoid putting too much personal life into my stories. At least, not without multiple layers of disguise. But for this one, I reached outside my comfort zone to address a sensitive topic more directly, in the hopes it might help someone else out there or at least call attention to an experience that doesn’t appear to be the norm. I’m positive I had undiagnosed postpartum depression after one of my pregnancies. I wish I’d gotten it diagnosed and dealt with properly. If you can relate, please know you’re not alone.
How did I end up delving into this topic in my writing? By combining it with another experience, one that’s happened more frequently since I became a parent: having a half-deflated balloon drift through my house. It’s kind of silly during the day. But at night—oh, at night…
By the way, if you’re craving something on the lighter side (dare I say, even twee), I’ve got something due out for you soon.
I’m feeling behind on a lot of things right now. It was last month—last month!—that I stayed in a beach house for the first time, which is kind of wild considering I grew up only an hour and a half away from the Oregon coast (we always just did day trips). This time, my family stayed for the weekend and braved the winding road in and out of Ecola State Park, explored Fort Clatsop, and toured Astoria’s Columbia River Maritime Museum. At my husband’s urging, the four of us went out to the beach after dark one night. We hadn’t taken a vacation in a year. It was so nice to get a change of scenery and pace!
Confession time: When I was a kid, I hated going to the beach. I used to complain about it each summer, and pretty much the only part I enjoyed was my dad taking me to feed the seals at the Seaside Aquarium. As an adult, I’ve grown to appreciate my complicated relationship with the beach, especially as I’ve experienced different ones.
My family is pretty much snowed in for a few days—nearly business as usual in the pandemic, since we wouldn’t be going out much anyway. And with telecommuting, no more snow days for me for work. But with the long weekend, I’ve been chipping away at various works in progress.
I recently received a couple acceptances that at first glance couldn’t seem more different: one a poem, one a short story; one a light fantasy, the other dark/horror. But both from deeply personal spaces, with some thematic connections. More to come on that.
My flash story “Riddle Hatch” features a sphinx egg, a strong aunt, and her curious nephew. You can read it now at Page & Spine’s Outta This World page.
I wrote this during a quick writing exercise at the PDX Writers retreat I attended before COVID-19. Our retreat leader, Jennifer Springsteen, produced three items from a bag and passed them around: a metallic tool, an egg-shaped stone, and a sculpture of a person in a despondent position. Then we had 15 minutes to incorporate all three into a piece. It was a great challenge for me to get out of my own way, throw words down, and try to wrap everything up quickly. I completed the rough draft in the nick of time.
When I wrote this story, my workplace at the time had hired a bunch of new people within a few months. The email announcements kept popping up, and I took the pattern of their structure and decided to write a story based on it. Once I had a few details in place, I researched job titles, qualifications, work histories, etc. I enjoy unexpected story structures, from Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” posing as a school assignment, to the creepy message boards of Candle Cove. I’d already written a tale, “Little Seed,” as diary entries, so this time it was great fun trying to create narrative out of an email or two.
I don’t typically write year-end recap posts, but finally getting through 2020 seems a good excuse to celebrate wins, however large or small.
I set a personal record for new fiction wordcount published—not raw story count, mind, but new words of story out in the world—helped along by “Desert Locks” since I write so short
I also set personal records this year for reprints (which included a mixofanthologiesandpodcasts), new poetry drafts and publications, and fiction submissions—yeah, not to mention rejections (which one of my writer friends always points out means at least I’m putting in the work)
I co-taught my first writing workshop and got to use some of my day-job skills in the service of bringing others’ writing into the world (and best of all, my collaborator and I received positive feedback in the participant evaluations)
After years of attending cons, this was to be my first foray into being a panelist—and as fate would have it, my first experience would be virtual Worldcon, with some amazing professionals spread across the world whose work I greatly admire
I placed in an international poetry contest and participated in my first ever virtual reading (which was also my first poetry reading since college)
I received invaluable mentorship, friendship, accountability, and other support from my network
But the biggest writing highlight for me this year was that I received fan mail!!! All the uncertainty, rejections, misunderstandings, and other hazards of the writing life… For me, they’re worth it if it gives my work a chance to resonate with readers. If I’ve been able to provide anyone a touch of hope or adventure or understanding or respite, that’s the biggest win of all.
I have a poem appearing in Rhizome Press’s new, intriguingly titled anthology Extreme Sonnets. My Petrarchan sonnet “To the Hillslope” first appeared in the Santa Clara Review, and I’m so pleased it’s available to readers again, this time in the company of so many other explorations of the form.
I still remember workshopping this poem in one of my classes. The final line originally referred to a lee, but I ended up reworking that to a plain. I had to change the whole final stanza to accommodate the new rhyme scheme, but I think it was worth it. The word “plain” has some thematic importance that “lee” never did.