Monday, April 7, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour @ Woodbird

My first MFA workshop at Vermont College was taught by two wonderful human beings. One was Larry Sutin, who took me aside the first day I was there, long before my story was workshopped, and in his quiet and ever-humble but when-he-speaks-you-believe-him-voice said, “Your story is really very good. Really. Beautiful.”

I probably would have packed my bags and left (I was terrified) if he hadn’t been there to say that to me.

The other was Diane Lefer, who brought such no-bullshit honesty to our workshop I found myself smiling every time she spoke. She was keeping us real--keeping us honest with ourselves about our motives and the inherent politics in our work and whatever coy shades we were trying to hide behind.

Diane recently started this blog tour. The idea is for writers, all over the world, to answer these same four questions, and then introduce more writers and invite them into this ever-expanding web/thread of voices about why, how and what we write.

I was previously invited to take part but declined because I’m not working on my own fiction as much as I’d like to right now and thus writing about my work and process seemed like it would contain a little too much BS. But then I was asked again, and I thought about Diane, and all of the other wonderful friends who have participated, and realized I was hiding behind coy shades by saying no.

Plus, this here woodbird is about connection, right?

So here are my answers to the four questions. I’ll then lead you back to some others who have brilliantly traversed this terra firma before me.

What am I working on now?

I am working on finding a way to make a living, raise two young children, build a house, lead a sustainable life, and write. This is, as anyone who has been here before me knows, no easy feat. I recently started an editing business for myself, which is how I’m paying the bills. My writing—oh, sweet writing!—is simmering in the background in multiple pots. At the front of the pack is my nearly-finished-for-two-years collection of short stories. They take place in Southern Vermont where my father was born, where I was born, where my children were born. They are about women and ghosts and animals and the ways in which we humans are shaped by the landscapes we inhabit.

I’m also editing an anthology of short fiction set in Vermont which will be published by Green Writers Press in the fall of 2014. Contemporary Vermont Fiction: An Anthology will include work by Annie Proulx, Howard Frank Mosher, Julia Alvarez, Robert Olmstead, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Castle Freeman, Laurie Alberts, Jeffrey Lent, Suzanne Kingsbury, Miciah Bay Bault, Bill Schubart and Joseph Bruchac. Oh my…what a line-up! I’m beyond-elated about this project. (And still have a lot of footwork to do to make it happen.)

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

My whip-smart friend Stephanie Freidman used this George Saunders quote in her writing blog tour and I’m going to steal it to use here. He wrote, “Originality in art means settling into who you actually are.” Any writer’s work, at its best, is unlike anyone else’s because we’re writing from who we authentically are instead of trying on the voices/ideas of others. I am the third generation in my family to live on MacArthur Road (named after my grandparents) in Marlboro, Vermont. Because of this I don’t see the individual as an individual—I see the individual as inextricably intertwined with their extended family and their landscape. My parents are farmers—I grew up shoveling cow shit and moving hay bales and stacking firewood and emptying sap bucket after sap bucket into the tank on the back of an ancient Ford truck. Because of this I don’t see human beings—our livelihood or our happiness—as separable from the trees and fields and seasons and creatures that surround us. I have a deeply rooted world view of interconnection and I try to write that interconnection into my work because I believe in the political and environmental necessity of doing so and because to do so makes the work a genuine reflection of me and the way I see the world.

Another way of saying this would be: my work contains lots of fields, trees, cabins, hippies, farms, wild animals, old houses and daughters. 

The house/cabin we've been building for the last 10 years

Why do you write what you do?

I think I already answered this one…but who doesn’t love another shot.

I write what I do because I’m a quiet introvert who has found writing to be the most effective way to make my voice heard in this world.

I write what I do because it’s what I know, and I think my subject matter contains a window into alternative lives and ways of living that may open windows for others.

I write what I do because I believe we will only know and truly love places when they have been rendered in art, and that doing so can thus birth empathy, understanding, stewardship and compassion.

A non sequitur: in my dream world someone would look up from a story of mine and ask themselves, Am I living the life I want to live?

them mornings

What is your writing process?

Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha. Ha. In my life before children I used to get up at six and write for two hours before going to work.

In my life with one child I used to wake up at five and write for an hour before she woke, then for another hour during her nap.

In my life with two children I occasionally get twenty minutes in the morning, before they wake up, which I use to write a blog post. I can’t go diving into my fiction unless I know I can get safely lost there, and those wide expanses of time just don’t exist in my life right now.

But in some ways that’s okay. Because my children are a deeply important part of the writing process. They are helping me discover what is important to say. They are the fire keeping those pots warm. They flay the heart open with their love and fevers, and what writer’s heart wasn’t better off flayed and open? 

So there you have it. Woodbird’s addition to this ever-expanding web of voices.

In lieu of introducing new writers into this series I’m going to send you back to some former entries, by wonderful writers, deserving of a re-run:

If you follow their links you’ll be lead into a lush world of goodness and find more links to great entries…enjoy the journey, friends!


Thursday, April 3, 2014


It's sugaring season around here, which means this is the daily afternoon-into-evening scene: these four little ones, sitting on this old van seat next to the evaporator, chowing down on pretzels and sugar on snow and whatever other unhealthy treats they can get their super grubby mitts on. 

They love each other, these children. And are getting to know themselves through one another. 

For my eldest (the butterfly in snow pants) there is school, and the friends she makes there, but at the heart of her life is this family that loves her unconditionally for who she is; that listens when she talks; that lets her know she is an all-important cog in this extended family wheel. 

There are all sorts of reasons it's groovy to make your own maple syrup--synchronicity with the natural world, time outside during mud season, affordable delicious nectar of the tree gods--but this family piece is another one. There is love in the sugar house. There is security in the sugar house. A "we are all in this together" steam-faced stickiness in the sugar house that can override some of the world's less loving elements. 

So to my parents, who are not sitting by the wood stove with tea right now writing this, but are down the road lighting a fire in the evaporator and preparing for the next ten hours of boiling (2000 gallons of sap already and the day's run hasn't even begun!): a simple and inadequate thank you. Your little people are lucky. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

most influential

15 most influential authors in no more than 15 minutes is going around on Facebook, and I've been tagged. Since I have an aversion to the aesthetics of Facebook (superficial, I know), I'll post here in a place that carries the illusion of solid ground.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Alice Munro
Toni Morrison
Terry Tempest Williams
Annie Dillard
Gary Snyder
Alistair MacLeod
Robert Olmstead
CD Wright
Jamaica Kincaid
William Faulkner
Eudora Welty
Flannery O'Connor
Michael Ondaatje
Wallace Stegner
Joan Didion

Oops, I think that was one too many. And I'm no doubt missing many others, but my fifteen minutes are up.

Yours, dear ones?


Monday, March 31, 2014


It's been a pretty great week around here. There's been a thaw--the sap is running and we spend our afternoons collecting buckets and communing amidst the purifying steam of the sugar house. 

There's been an internal thaw, too. Hang out around this lady enough and you begin to believe that you can manifest, via clear intentions, the things you want in life. My rootstock is firmly planted in the soil of pragmatic skeptics, but I'm (again, thanks to this lady) dipping my feet in that different kind of water. 

No matter the source, there's been a thaw. I spent my mornings last week editing someone's novel. My "office," thanks to a year of dreaming/scheming/inention-setting, was my grandparents' farmhouse up the road which our family has just re-occupied after six years of having (wonderful) tenants living there. 

Ty and I hired a babysitter this weekend because, for the first time, we could afford it. 

So. I'm off to work. In the house where my grandma's ghost reflects off every inch of woodwork. She was a badass woman, that grandma, who found a way to make money doing what she loved and was good at. 

Her last words to her three grand-daughters: just do it. Whatever it is: do it. 

Kind of like a Nike add, but very different. 

I'm grateful. 


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

chickadees, a shingle


I set up a website for myself. A shingle. Different than woodbird, but connected. I did so because I want to do more freelance editorial work--work I love, and believe I am good at--in the hopes that I don't have to go back to cleaning other people's toilets for a living.

I'll still use this dream trailer to sing my little morning songs. (I.e. there are chickadees outside my window at the feeder, doing their little chickadee dance, who quickly disappeared when I tried to snap their photo. Smart birds.)

Another way to write this post would have been:

Please check out my new site! Write me if you need or want help!

I admire you all.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

If you've noticed a lot of pictures of this book in my recent posts it's because I've started a short story book club and this is our group's first selection.

We'll me meeting tomorrow night in my grandparents' farmhouse up the road (sans, sadly, sunglasses). But there will be wine involved, and friends and, hopefully, strong and varied opinions.

This is, in my book, the way to beat the never-ending-winter blues.

What's keeping you afloat, friends?


Thursday, March 13, 2014

avocado honey

My family just returned from a week in Southern California. It looked a little like this, and this, and this. It gave us a much needed fix of Vitamin D, old friends and perspective.

Last night I read this article on place in fiction by Luis Alberto Urrea, a self proclaimed "place-harlot" like me. He wants to live every place he goes. Just as I do. It's one of the reasons I travel--to imagine me (or now, us) in other houses under other trees and other skies. It's also one of the reasons I write: to live those multitudinous lives, under multitudinous skies.

We don't get away often anymore. It had been two and a half years since any of us had been on a plane. We'd barely left the county. (Yes, county, not country.)

But doing so does us well. Seeing the ocean does us well. Dry, desert air does us well. My children's eyes brightened. Freckles popped. Their legs moved.

And then we returned home to our house in its woods: a place we love as much as (or more than) any other. My kids spent yesterday afternoon in the sugar house boiling sap with their grandparents and cousins. Expansion and contraction. Horizontal vs. vertical ways of knowing. Outward and inward. It's snowing now.  There's tea by my side. But it's sweetened with avocado honey, from those other trees, those other bees. Ya know?


Saturday, February 22, 2014

the sky is pink

This morning: the sun is shining, it's a balmy thirty and the sky is pink.

This afternoon: a woodland snowshoe/walk with a woman who knows her beavers.

Hurrah, hurrah!

Friday, February 21, 2014

mm, morning

I don't know how this happened but I am loving this winter. Not typical of me. Yesterday: a snow lady, a broken blue typewriter and sledding with friends. Today: ice covered trees, multi-generational cowboy boots, more sledding and more friends. 

My children are wildflowers (singing, this instant, at the top of their lungs, and clopping like wild horses in said boots). 

And the light? The light is back. 

The light is back. 

Oh my oh my the light is back. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

true, white, blue, deep, blue, white winter

4:25 am.

It is winter here. True, white, blue, deep, blue, white winter.

Downy snowflakes all day yesterday.

I fell asleep last night with both my babes in bed with me and let them stay there--a rare treat. This morning the cat and moon woke me, at what I assumed was five, and I spent twenty minutes trying to untwine myself from my children's eight, soft limbs which kept flopping back over my chest accompanied by a whispered, "Mama."

They love fierce, these babes.

But I made it, out of bed, and downstairs, only to discover: it was 4.

Too early. Way too early. The day may be doomed. But what options are there?

Yesterday two strangers in the grocery store told me that I have remarkable children and must be a great mother.

It was that kind of day. I didn't describe, to those strangers, the other kinds of days we sometimes have. I just smiled at my children and said, Yes, you ARE remarkable!

We're all trying our best.

There are moments that shine.

Oh, mon chéris.

We did go looking for "California shoes" at the thrift store and came home, instead, with new shades and a beautiful blue typewriter, which I'd seen in a dream the week before.

That kind of day. One that shines.

Well, the rooster is up, which means it must be five. I'm going to make myself a second cup of tea and read my book by the fire.

Ta ta, loves.