Witchy Weekends: The Frog Wish (part 2)

Hello again! As you already know if you’ve been reading this blog for longer than a week, I’m doing something a little different for this year’s Witchy Weekends series. Instead of sharing movies or books or music with you, I’m sharing with you a story I’m writing, a work-in-progress. (I’ve already written quite a bit of it, but not every last thing yet.) This is a bit of an experiment for me, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Here’s the plan: each weekend this month I’ll share a scene with you from this WIP (in which one of the characters is a witch), and you, dear reader, get to share with me your reaction to it. That’s right, I’m crowdsourcing a beta-read. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t really know what to expect — though you all are a very nice bunch, so I’m not expecting you to be rude.  🙂

Click here to read the first scene. (And I recommend you read the scenes in order for the story to make the most sense.)

Feel free to post in the comments what you think of the scene, any aspect of it, and what you think is going to happen next in the story. I’d love to know!


“The Frog Wish” (part 2)

The antiques store, a peeling pier-and-beam house in the unzoned Montrose area, was nothing if not old. But then all the vintage and antique shops lining this street were. It was like two blocks living in the past amidst some conspicuously hip restaurants and the artsy residential section of town. Eleanor climbed the noisy wooden steps to the front porch and opened the screen door. The oak door, whose red paint had faded to a morose coral, was propped open and blocked her view of what had probably been a dining room in the 1930s.

“Hello?” she called down a hallway lined with ornate wooden furniture. The living room to her left contained several sideboards and secretary desks, as well as some framed prints she thought might have dated back to the forties. She glanced around the oak door: the dining room was filled with small tables and their chairs. She heard a scuffling coming from the depths of the house, someone’s boots shifting on the wooden floors.

“I’ll be there in a sec,” a voice called out from the labyrinth of dressers and bedframes and curio cabinets and chairs and vanities Eleanor knew the house contained. All of these antique shops were alike­­­­––too many pieces of old furniture wedged into rooms barely big enough to hold both the merchandise and a passel of customers.

“I’ll come to you,” Eleanor answered and picked her away through the hallway to the next open space. Openish. At least the merchandise seemed to be in good shape. Other than a thin layer of dust on some of the taller pieces and the persistent aroma of incipient mildew germane to pretty much every place like this on the Gulf Coast that didn’t have central air and heat, the proprietor seemed to have a good handle on how to take care of the antiques. That encouraged her.

The shop owner came into view, navigating a row of end tables. He was an older man, probably approaching sixty, in a dark green t-shirt and blue jeans. He saw Eleanor and waved.

“Hey there.” His subtle twang suggested she was dealing with a born-and-raised. “I’m guessing you’re Ms. Richardsen.”

“I am,” she said, walking toward him with hand outstretched. He shook it. “Call me Eleanor.”

“Righty then.” He looked around. “I’m Joe. I just got some new dressers in last week, so the shop is a little bursting. But the––you were looking for bedframes?––I have some nice ones, about a hundred years old, from upstate New York.” He waved her toward the next room. “Rich mahogany stain, some lovely carvings.”

She needed a new bedframe because Lucas had taken theirs when he left. She’d bought a new mattress and box springs and metal frame on casters the same afternoon, because where else was she going to sleep? Moira had offered her the guest room at her house for as long as she needed, but Eleanor was determined to make her own space as quickly as she could.

It didn’t help that Lucas was Moira’s cousin and might show up there, looking for either company or commiseration or spells. Moira was staying totally neutral with her uncanny ability not to take sides. Maybe all the meditation kept her centered? Eleanor had no idea.

“How about this one?” Joe moved an umbrella stand made from a tree trunk off to the side and wiped a chamois cloth across the top of a queen-sized headboard peaked with an elaborately carved medallion. The image looked familiar, somehow, a triple spiral curling in on itself. It was pretty, but she didn’t know where she’d seen it before. The stain on the wood highlighted its grain pattern; the diagonal patterns on either side of the midline created an oppositional symmetry she found pleasing.

“I love it,” she said without thinking. She should have shown a little more hesitation to get the best price. Too late now, though. “Matching footboard?”

Joe nodded. It was propped up behind the headboard for some reason. “The side rails are solid and strong, no warping or chips at all, but you’ll need to add your own slats to hold the mattress and box.” He sniffed and scratched his scalp. “Probably four good two-by-fours oughtta do it, but get six if you want extra stability.”

For what? she thought sullenly but just nodded her head. She knew the enthusiasm in her eyes had dimmed. “How much?”

He leaned his head from side to side. “Six hundred, but we can work something out if you buy anything else.”

“Like what?” she asked. “Does this bed come with any matching pieces?” Lucas had taken the dresser, too, but she didn’t care as much about that. He was into Scandinavian “clean lines,” which she found utterly lacking in character.

“Course it does.” He smiled and led her toward a cluster of bureaus. “This is part of the same set.” His chamois wiped the top of an imposing cabinet almost as tall as she was. It had numerous large drawers and matching cabinet doors on the sides. The legs were carved in a style she didn’t see often. Every detail, down to the carved horn knobs, was thoughtful and deliberate. The top of the piece lifted with a trap door to reveal a modest storage space––she imagined it filled with gloves and the occasional decorative fan, maybe an embroidered handkerchief––and a place for a mirror, which was missing. That didn’t bother her, though. The bureau was gorgeous and in good shape.

“This is becoming an expensive appointment,” Eleanor said, injecting a note of caution into her voice.

“It’s solid stuff. You won’t find this design anywhere else in Houston.”

That much was true. She hadn’t seen anything else like these in all her years of collecting.

“Take both pieces, we’ll call it nine-fifty.”

“That bureau is missing its mirror.”

Joe grinned. “I got plenty of mirrors here.”

Eleanor sighed. She was going to buy this furniture, she already knew it. She didn’t even really mind how much this was costing her; she’d prepared for that when she’d decided to furnish her bedroom with antiques––to remake her own space in her own image, as it were––and these were fair prices for the value.

She backed away from the bureau section and followed Joe toward a room filled with glass. A single chandelier in the middle of the ceiling was reflected in thirty or forty mirrors lining the walls, so even though it had just a few warm bulbs in it, the room was the brightest in the shop so far. The selection was overwhelming. She could understand why this room was so far back in the labyrinth; in the front room it might scare customers off.

She turned around in a circle under the chandelier, trying to absorb all the different mirrors. Seeing herself reflected in so many distortions and angles made her a little dizzy, so she avoiding looking at that; she focused on the bevels and frames and occasional imperfections in the surfaces. Then another piece, framed in dark wood and standing so tall it nearly grazed the ceiling, caught her eye.

“I really like this one,” Eleanor said, pointing to the large mirror in the corner. It was propped up against the wall with a chiffonier in front of it, obscuring its bottom half.

“That one? Really?” Joe asked.

Eleanor looked at him, a little surprised by his hesitation. “Is something wrong with it?”

Joe shifted his weight and put his hands in his pockets before answering, as if he wasn’t sure how to explain to her what ought to be incredibly obvious. “Well, it’s just got all these water spots on it, so you can hardly see anything clear. We even tried Windexing the thing, but that’s as clean as it gets.”

“It’s not so bad.”

He looked at her skeptically, as if she weren’t looking at the same mirror he was. This mirror had long jagged streaks of frosted imperfection ripping its smooth surface from the top of the carved frame to the bottom beveled edge.

“I think it was in a fire or something,” he offered.

“The frame is marvelous, though, don’t you think?” She wasn’t sure why she was defending this piece, since she was pretty sure she could talk down the price if he didn’t expect the mirror could be sold.

“Well, yeah, it’s all right––but I’ve got a similar frame, in a smaller scale, over on this other mirror over here…” His voice trailed off as he made his way toward one hanging on a wall. It was an oval about a foot wide. The price tag was just about the same as on the one Eleanor had picked out, but her mirror couldn’t have been smaller than four feet by seven.

She looked at Joe over her nose as if amused. “There’s hardly a comparison.”

“But the glass on this one is perfect––you can’t hardly even see through the other one. It’s been here forever.”

She pretended to consider this point; she never really looked into mirrors much, anyway, but she loved having them around. The imperfections wouldn’t bother her at all. She walked carefully back over to her choice.

“You’re right, this one is quite flawed,” she said. “Perhaps you could lower the price on it? I mean, if you aren’t selling it otherwise, I could take it off your hands. Especially if I’m taking those other two pieces.”

The dealer looked like he was thinking about her offer, then said, “Ten percent off.”

She chuckled, ha! “How about twenty?”

“No, fifteen.”

“Sold if you’ll deliver all of it to my house for free. I’m just in the neighborhood here.”

“Yeah…okay. I can have someone bring it around this afternoon.”

“Done,” she said cheerfully, shaking Joe’s hand and then reaching into her purse for her wallet.


Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
*  What did you like?
*  What confused you, if anything?
*  What needs work?
*  What are you most interested about?
*  What do you think will happen next?

Click here for the next installment in the story!


Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!

Witchy Weekends: The Frog Wish (part 1)

Welcome to October again! This year, I’m doing something a little different for my Witchy Weekends series. Instead of sharing movies or books or music with you, I’m sharing with you a story. A story I’m writing, a work-in-progress. (I’ve already written quite a bit of it, but not every last thing yet.) This is a bit of an experiment for me, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Here’s the plan: each weekend this month I’ll share a scene with you from this WIP (in which one of the characters is a witch), and you, dear reader, get to share with me your reaction to it. That’s right, I’m crowdsourcing a beta-read. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t really know what to expect — though you all are a very nice bunch, so I’m not expecting you to be rude.  🙂

Feel free to post in the comments what you think of the scene, any aspect of it, and what you think is going to happen next in the story. I’d love to know!


“The Frog Wish” (part 1)

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him.

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.”

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week. I thought you might enjoy it.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk cloth covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said.

Moira wrinkled her nose in a cute smile and sipped, then said, “What do you think of the new cards?”

“They’re lovely. Have you used them yet?”

“Just some idle browsing.” Moira set down her tea. “Would you like a reading?”

Eleanor glanced at her watch. She still had half an hour before her appointment with the antiques dealer. “Maybe a quick one.”

“Go ahead and shuffle them then,” Moira said and spread the silk cloth across the table. After Eleanor handed the cards back, Moira laid out three in a row, face-down. She turned the middle one over. “The Empress.” She gave Eleanor a sly smile. “Where have we seen this before?”

Eleanor dismissed it. “Yes, yes, you’re very optimistic about my ability to effect control over my own life blah blah blah.” She drank more of her tea.

Moira shook her head. “Not with that attitude, I’m not.”

“Please continue.”

Moira sighed. “In your past…” She flipped over the left-most card. “You have the five of cups.”

Also no surprise. Neither of them said anything, because neither of them wanted to argue about Lucas. Not again. Eleanor looked at the figure on the card mourning the spilled wine and ignoring the full chalices just out of reach. Moira gazed at it, too, but rather than say anything, she buried her face in her teacup.

After a moment, Eleanor cleared her throat. “Go ahead,” she murmured. “Show me the future.” As if a deck of cards could do such a thing.

Moira flipped over the last card. Death. The card that meant not actual death, but change. Big change. The kind of change no one could help you with or see you through. The kind of change you had to deal with alone.

“Well.” Eleanor took another sip then placed her teacup down as quietly as she could. “I suppose that’s good news, then, isn’t it?”

Moira looked up at her and crooked an eyebrow.

“I mean, right now, almost any change has got to be good. Hasn’t it?”

Moira laughed then, and the tension in the room crackled into a broken web. “We can do a longer reading later, if you like.” She gathered the deck into her hands and began idly shuffling them.

Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in all this stuff.”

Moira paused and gave her a skeptical look. “That would explain why I’ve done more readings for you than anyone else in the last fifteen years. Combined.”

Eleanor opened her mouth to speak but found she had no clever response, so she downed the last of her tea instead. “I need to go anyway. Work beckons.”

The wind chimes in the front room signaled a customer had come into the shop. “So it does,” Moira said and took both teacups back to the tiny closet she’d turned into a snack station.

Eleanor wrapped the cards carefully back in their cloth and returned them to the box, closed the lid. “I’ll call you later,” she said. Moira nodded and they both walked into the front room, where a skittery young man was looking through a small box of watercolor greeting cards.

“I’m looking for a gift,” he said before Moira could even ask.

She nodded. “I know just the thing.”

This caught him off-guard. “You do? But I haven’t told­­––”

Moira shook her head gently. “No need.” She smiled, and he suddenly stopped fidgeting.

“Oh,” he said, looking a little confused. “Oh.”

“I’ll show you.” Moira gestured to the garden just beyond the open back patio door. He nodded and stepped toward it.

Moira patted Eleanor on the shoulder and slipped something into her pocket. “Call me later,” she said and walked back toward her customer.

Eleanor felt a small hard something wrapped in ribbon next to her car key. “Will do,” she said and headed out the front door to a meeting that would be far more straightforward than this visit had been.

A single croak stopped her progress halfway over the threshold. She turned and saw the frog again, perched on the desk, watching her. She resisted the urge to tell it good-bye. It was a frog.


Eleanor paused. Then she shook her head. “Nope.”

She walked out.

Continue reading the story! Click here for part 2.


Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
*  What did you like?
*  What confused you, if anything?
*  What needs work?
*  What are you most interested about?
*  What do you think will happen next?

Check back next weekend for the next installment in the story!


Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!

The FINIS. Book-iversary Comes to Instagram

This month is the book-iversary for Finis., and I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to it while I’ve been promoting The Sharp Edges of Water and starting the school year back up. But I have managed to get a few IG posts. I don’t know if they’re as visually dynamic as the one I made recently for SEW, but they do tell a little bit of a story in a series of three posts. My favorite part of all of this is that these posts contain new character cards for Elsa, Lois, and Gerard that were made by my daughter. Her interpretations of these characters go beyond what I visualized, and I really like them! I’ll let you head over to IG to read the accompanying text, but here are the visual details.

In Which I Create A Halfway Decent Instagram Post In Support Of My Book Party This Weekend

I am not a good photographer. I’m not even a mediocre photographer. I have trouble taking decent pictures of inanimate objects in natural light, let alone anything more complicated than that.

But I’m trying to make the effort over on Instagram to make worthwhile posts. Tonight I made a book post that I actually think might not be too bad. It took me a while. And since I don’t share nearly enough photos here on the blog, I’m sharing it with you here.

This Saturday at 3 p.m. you should drop by Blue Willow Bookshop if you’re in Houston, because we’re having a party there and then for The Sharp Edges of Water. Expect poetry and gifts and merriment. Expect Houston and Los Angeles. Expect mermaids. Bring your questions. It should be fun.

Monday Earworm: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

My dad with one of his cousins on a street named for a president.

Earlier this summer, while I was in Maine attending an absolutely amazing writing retreat, my parents were in Lebanon. It has been a lifelong goal of my father’s to go there, to see his family there, to see the country his people come from. He was born here in the States, but he has always wanted to go over, and this year he finally took the chance to do it. He and my mom went with a handful of close cousins and a really big tour group.

part of the Lebanese coast



For my father, this journey was a dream come true. He is a passionately religious man, so he loved that they visited numerous shrines and historical holy places of various faiths. He is intensely devoted to his family, so it was wonderful for him to experience it with his wife and cousins. We are deeply rooted in our Lebanese heritage, so going to see the country and its shores and its many important sites, and to eat its food at every meal and to attend a sahria at night and to spontaneously break out into dabke at lunch with many of the other tourists, was glorious. Two of our cousins occupied the presidency a few decades ago, and so to meet the current president was a little bit of a treat.

They also went to see a Kahlil Gibran site, of course. How could they not?
We asked them to send us photos. Dad sent us eleventy jillion photos of temples and shrines. Here’s one.

I’m happy for my parents to have made and enjoyed this journey, but what their experience taught me is that chasing one’s dreams — as hokey as that sounds, let’s be honest — is a worthwhile pursuit. Seeing the fruition of his dream inspired me to believe a little more confidently in my own.

Dad planted a cedar tree in honor of his grandfather, who immigrated to the States about a century ago. My parents have played a small part in helping Lebanon’s cedar reforestation efforts.
Mom standing next to some cedars so you can see the scale. These are pretty big trees.

I’m a hybrid author, as you may be aware. I’ve been published in a variety of ways, including independently, traditionally, and through small presses. One thing I’m still hoping to achieve, though, is agented representation for my literary fantasy novels. They are the biggest and broadest literary endeavor I’ve made to date, and I want to go the full traditional way with them if I can. And this week, that first novel is headed out my electronic door to agents. Wish it good luck, will you?

But it’s Monday. I’ve promised you an earworm.

This is probably my favorite Tom Petty song of all time, and I’m not gonna lie, the video reminds me a little bit of The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.

What dream are you running down right now? Share it in the comments, if you would, so we can all wish you well on your path.


Two Upcoming Readings and a Sneak Preview of My Next Book — For You!

Today I have a few announcements: some upcoming readings and a sneak preview opportunity for you.

This gorgeous mug will be part of the Writer’s Gift Box, one of the door prizes being given away at the BWB event.

The most exciting news here is my upcoming event at one of Houston’s most beloved independent bookstores, Blue Willow Bookshop! If you’re going to be in town, definitely mark your calendars now for Saturday, August 17th, at 3:00, when I’ll be reading from and discussing The Sharp Edges of Water. This promises to be a fun event with an author Q&A­­­­––that’s right, bring your questions for me!––and door prizes and books galore! Even if you already have a copy of my book, come and pick one up as a gift for a friend or family member who likes to read or write. You can check out Blue Willow’s site here for more details. Their address is 14532 Memorial at Dairy Ashford 77079. I don’t mind telling you that the Blue Willow event is a Very Big Deal, and it would be really helpful to make a strong showing there, so please come out for it and pick up one (or more) of my books there!

I’ll also be reading with a few other Mutabilis Press poets at River Oaks Bookstore in Houston on Saturday, August 10th, at 4:00. We’ll celebrating the new anthology, The Enchantment of the Ordinary, and while I’ll be reading my poem from that book, I’ll also be sharing a more recent poem or two, including from the Moss Wood Writing Retreat I attended back in June. The bookstore address is 3270 Westheimer Rd. 77098.

beautiful cover art and design by Lucianna Chixaro Ramos

Finally, would you like a sneak preview of my next book? I’m offering my readers the chance to get a free advance reading copy of either of my next two books––one fiction and one poetry, depending on your preference––before they’re published. You’ll even have the opportunity to give me beta-reader feedback on it if you’d like to! In order to take advantage of this offer, just post a review of The Sharp Edges of Water on Amazon. Now, if you follow the writing/publishing industry, you might have heard that Amazon has been taking down people’s reviews in an effort to remove illegitimate ones, though some genuine ones have been removed inadvertently in this process. I have not experienced this (knock on wood!) and also know that all my reviews are genuine and not planted (except for one baffling troll who posted a weird review of Finis. back in the day). Anyway, Amazon has changed the rules for how reviews get accepted. Fortunately, we know how to navigate their guidelines. You can watch a full explanation here, but I’ve summarized the basics for you:

  1. To contribute a review on Amazon, you have to have spent at least $50 there in the last year, not including promotional discounts.
  2. Amazon doesn’t allow reviews to be posted from people in the author’s household, or from more than one person connected to any same household or bank account or credit card.
  3. Amazon doesn’t allow paid reviews, so your review shouldn’t indicate that you’ve received compensation for it.
  4. Amazon deletes reviews that come in under two days after you’ve purchased a book from them because they assume you can’t possibly have read the book so quickly.
  5. Avoid sounding too chummy with the author in your review: in other words, please don’t ever refer to the author by their first name only, but by either both first and last name or just their last name or “the author”; also avoid sounding “unbiased” by not indicating in your review that you regularly see the author in person or are friends with them in real life.

Watch the video for a full explanation of how all these things––and others specific to authors and not readers––work, but these simple guidelines I’ve distilled for you will get you most of the way there. To find my book on Amazon, be sure to type in the title and my last name into the search bar. (And once I get 50 reviews, my book will actually get into their searches! So yes, reviews do matter, even if they aren’t 5-star reviews.)

Thank you again for all your love and support, and I hope to see you on August 17th at Blue Willow! Bring your friends. And if you take me up on the review/ARC opportunity, send me a screenshot of your review on Amazon, then tell me which book (fiction or poetry) you’d like to get a sneak preview of. Until then~

All the best.

Moss Wood Writing Retreat 2019

Two years ago I did something for myself that was so far outside of my self-care comfort zone it changed me: I attended a writing retreat. That’s right, I left my family for the better part of a week and went to Maine to focus entirely on writing. While I was there, I realized that I hadn’t done anything so expansive to nurture my creative self in…well, way too many years. Definitely not since before I had my own family, and maybe not even then.

Last month, I went back.

The Moss Wood Retreats on Penobscot Bay in Maine are a gift to writers. Run by director and author Patricia McMahon, this experience gives you the chance to escape from whatever nightmarish summer weather you’ve been experiencing and settle in with a handful of other authors and just focus on your craft for several days. Two years ago I attended a workshop led by Gregory Maguire, which was glorious, but this year’s retreat, led by poet Josh Kalscheur and Patricia herself, was really different and completely fulfilling. Patricia has moved to a generative format, which means that the bulk of the group sessions focus on the generation of new material.

So most mornings we would have four writing exercises which included excellent prompts and then writing time, followed by voluntary sharing. In the afternoons we were on our own and could work on the pieces we’d written that morning; in the evenings during our after-dinner salons, we would share what we’d worked on, if we wanted to, as well as other poems that we found meaningful or enlivening. I also found time outside of these, including at night in my room before I went to sleep, to work on my own other projects if I wished. (I’ve been editing one of my novels this summer.)

I can honestly say this year’s retreat might have been the most productive week of writing I’ve had in a really long time. Aside from the novel work I did on my own solitary time, I wrote so much poetry. Possibly eight or ten of the poems I produced that week will turn into something publishable.

One of the fun exercises we did over the course of the week was to produce a collection of centos. At its simplest, a cento is a type of found poem in which all the lines come from other places. So every person at the retreat anonymously contributed a page of their writing, either a poem or a page of prose. We then browsed these pages and harvested from them lines we particularly liked and then fashioned those seemingly random lines into new poems. We shared these on our last evening together, and the centos were all so very different in scope and tone and subject! They were also delightful; I really loved finding out which fragments resonated with everyone. Here is my poem:

Moss Wood Cento
            Moss Wood Writing Retreat, 2019

Carnivals always start the same way:
three boys, three sharp-rocked beginnings
grabbing clandestine hand-holds;
spirits of slain warriors speaking from open mouths;
a tarantula stabbed with a stick;
the occasional hint of cabaret music.
Between the border of yellow birch and
the far shore of rockbound pine,
the tether of some other-than-temporal sea
pulls and pulls with the urgency of future demands
on the boy-man stashed behind the garage,
dreadful poverty and sadness floating across his face,
a grunt-crank biscuit in one hand and
a two hundred-year-old scroll in the other.
The memory of children’s cotton candied fingers
keeps his brusque demeanor at arm’s length.
He works in the negative, his pattern
a mystery to me, but a crease between the bridge
of his nose and his eyebrows is the absence
of sailboats long since stored for the winter.
Will we learn something by the weight of them?
He and I will never be young enough
again to think that friends don’t die.
You can keep your emptiness;
all I hear is sirens and defiance,
loud as a burst of gunfire through ghosts.
I’ve stopped believing in magic.
We are all dodging death,
scattered, secluded, incidents of light.

The phrase “two hundred-year-old scroll” is from one of my novels, a work in progress, but everything else in this poem came from the other nine people’s fragments. I offer my sincere thanks to all of them for their contributions to my poem.

Late on the last night of the retreat, a bunch of us new friends put on temporary Sherlock tattoos as a lark. (Mine read, “I never guess.”) Then around midnight, when three of us in the upstairs bedrooms were still awake and packing for our departures the next day, some spontaneous slumber party fun broke out. Two of the other ladies decided they wanted to see how long my hair really was and flat-ironed it for me. We squealed like adolescents as we did each other’s hair and helped each other pick out the clothes we would be wearing to travel in the next day — clothes we would wear home to Houston, to Louisiana, to Scotland. We shared pictures of our families from our phones and promised to write. And to write and to write and to write.


If I could, I would attend this retreat every year. It happens in early June, so if it sounds like something you would benefit from, put it on your calendar now. And if you want to hear more about this retreat and its marvelous director, Patricia McMahon, I’ll be interviewing her tonight on the LivingArt show on KPFT; the show begins at 6 p.m. central time.

While you’re waiting for that to happen, please enjoy these lovely photos of the landscape I looked at every day I was there.

This is the view of the bay from the screened-in porch where we had a lot of our morning group sessions.


The sun setting on this distant, unused lighthouse pretends to set it on fire. (The faint lines are from the window screen.)


Here’s the view from one side of my bedroom this year. (The faint lines are from the window screen.)

Monday Earworm: Florence + The Machine (and My DFWCon Wrap-Up)

I’ve been a little absent on the blog this past month or so because I’ve been traveling quite a bit for my writing. You’ll hear about some of my trips a bit later because I’m also on book deadline and neck-deep in edits for two projects. Wheee!

Last weekend, though, I attended DFWCon in the Dallas area, which is my favorite writing conference ever. It’s the only one I still make sure to attend every year, and it was recently voted the Best Writing Conference in Texas, so there’s that. (You can already register for next year, by the way, and the super early bird price lasts until July 6th. I recommend it. Just click on register and choose the 2020 option from Eventbrite.)

Aside from pitching to agents and seeing a bunch of my friends who don’t live in Houston and having the chance to network with other people in the writing industry, a good conference gives me the opportunity for professional development. Sometimes this means classes on craft, and sometimes seminars on the business side of writing. (I don’t want to give away too much just yet on projects in the works, but there’s a strong chance you’ll find Instagram and a podcast in my future.)

One of the highlights of the conference this year was meeting and hanging out with this guy, whose blog is one of my very favorites. His books on writing craft are also top-notch fun.

Chuck Wendig is really excellent.

Among the most fun classes I attended there was Liara Tamani’s Poetic Prose, a subject I hold near and dear as a cross-genre writer. She talked about what makes lyrical prose stand out and gave us some exercises on how to create it ourselves. Although this is a subject I already know, I liked having the exercises to jumpstart my creative voice at 8:00 on a Sunday morning. I may be super conversational on the blog in an earworm post, but crafting lyrical prose in my more formal creative work is fun.

On the way home from Dallas, this song came on my iPod, and when Aaron commented on its layers, it occurred to me that some features in it are a pretty good example of this kind of writing. What’s your favorite line in this song? Leave it in the comments!

Also, if you have any favorite Instagram accounts or podcasts, leave those in the comments too. I’m interested.



Just a Quick Note About This Weekend…

Hey there. This is just a quick post to tell you about two fun events I have coming up this Saturday in Austin, Texas, so if you’re in the area, please do stop by!

First, I’ll be speaking to the Austin Poetry Society that afternoon. Among other poetry- and writing-related goodness, I’ll talk a little about my recent Kickstarter experience and also lead a poetry writing activity. Come join us at 1:00 at the Carver Branch Library (1161 Angelina Street, 78702).

Second, that night I’ll be reading and signing copies at Malvern Books. Nia KB will be sharing the stage with me. Our reading begins at 7:00, and the address is 613 W. 29th St., 78705. Here’s the Facebook event page for it.

Both events in Austin are free and open to the public. I hope to see you there this weekend!