On Publishing "Girl U Want," a short fantasy

I have a new short fantasy out in Dappled Things. (In print only, and selling fast.)


I had such fun writing, "Girl U Want," because of the interesting bits that wended their way into the tale: Craigslist, single motherhood, Devo, church, job interviews, and the novel, Watership Down.

Reflecting how the character of Fiver hopped into the background of this story, I found a wonderful current conversation of Watership Down at Mythgard Academy. I am enjoying it very much! 

Here's to the mysterious intersection of faith and magic and all the ways life may become infused with wonder.

Winter in Summer / Summer in Winter


“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."
                                                    —Albert Camus

It's searing hot in the Willamette Valley!

I love the above quote, and it works the other way, too. A respite from our circumstances can be found within: summer in winter; winter in summer.

One sweltering August, pregnant with my first child, I took to singing Christmas songs. Belting out, "Let it Snow" helped me feel cooler, mentally, and somehow physically. (Who knew my daughter would be singing to me Christmas songs in choirs for years to come?)

Wildfire Writer Ken Robinson brings a wry, poignant quality to his stories and poems, and he, too, has been cooling down this summer by visiting a chilly season of the soul. Which is to say, we poets can use it all: the happy, the sorrowful, the rainstorm, the heat wave.


Wintry Mix        / Ken Robinson


The winter drags on.

The furnace is broken,

the landlord is hiding,

no one can find him.

I forgot to buy coffee.

Now my car won’t start.

Only yesterday, my cat up and died,

and when I dug his grave,

a water pipe burst.

Picture frames are falling,

the carpet is receding,

revealing floorboards that are rotted.

This morning, I cut myself shaving,

and now I am bleeding.

If that’s not enough, 

my favorite lamp just burned out.

And last night you left me,

this time forever, 

as I lay sleeping.

So here I sit, all alone in the dark.

Outside my window, a willow tree is weeping,

renegade storm clouds flirt, slow dance,

and become as one,

and the rain falls like tears,

sounding a relentless pitter-patter.

A lone mockingbird complains,

but none of this really matters,

for the sky is alive,

as am I.




The photo is Portland's Council Crest in winter, by Christi Krug

Cutting to the Chase: Editing Dialogue in Fiction

Oh dialogue. It can be scary the first time you take it on. This is the case whether you're writing fiction, nonfiction, or memoir.

When I look over my work from previous decades, I find the dialogue is what needs the most help.

Usually, I've said too much, added hems and haws, or included information it wasn't natural to include.

Dialogue takes on a true-to-life sound when we break it up and keep it brief.

We tend not to use complete sentences when we speak, and most of us don't explain things at length—in fiction these become "info dumps."

Things to remember when writing dialogue:

  •  Avoid complete sentences. Leave off the first word. How different "Miss you," can sound versus, "I miss you," but it lands in an interesting way, off the cuff.
  • Don't worry about substituting fancy words for "said." That can be distracting or annoying. This word, said, is said to be pretty much invisible. You can mix it up now and then, but don't struggle with different verbs here. Try taking out the attribution altogether. Change paragraphs when a new speaker begins.
  • If it's not natural for the characters to provide certain information, ask: does the reader *really* need to know this? How can I get the information across in other ways?
  • Remember you're simulating natural speech. Fiction is not truth. (Memoir isn't even truth.) You don't have to include every word you normally would. Think of your favorite movie—now imagine a scene with a phone call. How often do you hear, "Hello?" and "Goodbye"? These things are implied, but clipped out—and our minds supply the niceties and fill in the chinks. Let the reader's mind fill things in, but don't belabor the back-and-forth of everyday exchanges.
  • To make it snappy, cut words. Then go through and cut it again. Chances are, it still makes sense. If not, see below.
  • Use body language, tone of voice, and gestures to show the emotion conveyed in these your brief snippets. Follow the glances. Show the eye contact or lack thereof. 
  • Use your character's breath. Pause the dialogue, and add she said where she would take a breath. If a run-on sentence, make it really a run-on sentence, to show character or emotion, but do this sparingly. She's gotta breathe sometime!
  • Make every character's voice their own. Know your characters, and what's special and different about how each one speaks.
  • Let your characters say what they need to say, but don't let words clutter the page. Make sure every word counts, means something, is placed, by you, with care. You are the master puppeteer, using exactly the language needed to tell the story.

Below is a snippet of mine, about 15 years old. Out of curiosity, I'm seeing how many words I can delete from these few lines of dialogue. And I'm adding some actions and gestures that fill in the emotions, as you can see. (In yellow.) Also, when the action happens right next to the dialogue, you don't need to say who is speaking. (It's most clear for the reader when you have one speaker per paragraph.)

They talked, hushed. Mom’s voice was choked. with tears and panic, said, “I don’t know. 

Grand sounded far away. Have you Been taking your medicine?”

Aunt Beryl said, shook her head.She Needs professional help.”

Grand said studied the tablecloth. She probably Got her dosage wrong. She’ll perk up.”

No,” said Aunt Beryl threw her hands up. “This is a real crisis.” She said something I couldn’t catch, and then, “Hensington Mental Hospital.” 

I hate That place,” moaned Mom.

Magic Objects: Revealing the Messages in Story and Life

One of the many things I learned from Joanna Rose and Stevan Allred, my writing teachers at Portland's Pinewood Table, was to pay attention to "magic objects."


Things will show up in your story. A sewing kit. A flashlight. A bottle of Woolite fabric wash.


When you realize these are more than random objects, you can let them have magic powers, as it were. They call up emotions, and become alive with power.

My memoir narrator, a six-year-old kid, senses the presence of her disabled mother when she smells the sweet-starchy scent of Woolite. That bottle comes to stand for so many things: fragility, tenderness, ineptness. Poverty, because they don't own a washing machine. Care, because of the hand-washing. Loss. That bottle was so often empty.

What's gorgeous about magic objects is that they appear 1) in your stories and 2) in your life.


Especially when you are going through transitions, note the things that keep showing up - when you walk, when you wash dishes, when you get in your car.


First, look for the magic objects. Choose one. Take walks with it, and sit with it, and sing to it, and really listen. Notice what it is saying to  you.


You could put it on the dash of your car, on your kitchen counter, at your bedside. 


Let magic have its way. 


Your story and your life are not complete without it.

Dream of a Midsummer: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Portland Center Stage


Notes to self after seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream at Portland Center Stage.


If I hadn't seen this play, would I be making my current story a love story, and changing the hero from male to non-binary?


If I hadn't seen this play, would I have stayed home on the third evening of summer, and recycled my own boring thoughts?

Would I have laughed myself silly, smiled until my face hurt, or giggled with a weird combination of wonder, embarrassment, shock, admiration, delight, and surprise?

If I hadn't seen this play, would I have connected so dearly, in such deep harmony, with my queer friend who came with me?

If I hadn't seen this play, would I have thought about the era four hundred years ago, when males played female parts in Shakespeare's plays? Or how, when you scratch the surface, so many of Shakespeare's characters are gender fluid?


If I hadn't seen this play, would I have appreciated the glorious fragility and adorability of humankind?

The answers are: no, yes, no, no, no, no.


If you can, get to Portland Center Stage this weekend! It's your last chance for a YES of an experience!

*Both photo credits:  Tamera Lyn for Portland Center Stage