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Sounds like a whisper

Some songs shouldn’t be timeless because we, the collective we, should be able to learn and move forward. But that is obviously not the case, at least not in this country. So why not give it another (tenth, fiftieth, thousandth…) listen.

Sign here

This time last week, I was in the car, on my way to Boston for ALA Midwinter. Before I go further, shall I share a few key secrets? Yes? Excellent. Nothing I like more than admitting things publicly.

1. I have never been to a book conference.
1a. I haven’t been to any other kind of conference for…maybe ten years? And that last conference? It was on midwifery and had well under one hundred participants and was held on a farm AND I was called to a birth before I had been there an hour.

2. Other things I have never been to: book launches, book signings, theme parks.
2a. I have been to precisely one reading. It was roughly twenty years ago, and it was a writer whose work I loved. She read from her book about being struck by lightning and what happened after that. When she finished reading, she took a few questions. One was less a question than it was a wish to lead the writer to say the words the asker wanted to hear. The other? “Do you write about horses?”
2b. Why haven’t I been to other readings? There is an intimacy in listening to someone read their own words that I find a little intense. No matter what those words are. I was once in a play in high school that required I perform lots of monologues, some within hand-holding distance of the audience. In the final one, as I sat on a stool and spoke, a friend’s mother reached out and patted me on the knee. That’s how close readings feel to me. Also, I’m afraid of being the person who stands up and asks do you write about horses?

3. I have no books in my collection that have been signed by their author. A few that have inscriptions from the giver. One or two that came to me through used book channels and have loving inscriptions from people I have never known and will never meet.

4. I have both a loooong name and a squiggly signature.

Stepping back out of the confessional, shall I continue? Rainy Sunday, drive to Boston, remembering something new I’ve forgotten to pack every five minutes. Nice beeswax lip balm? At home. Sundry things that help me cope with anxiety? On the counter.

Luckily, my beloved spouse is driving me, because he is exactly the sort of person who will spend his Sunday keeping me company on the road. And then sitting on a bench for several hours and waiting for me with great patience. And then driving me home. He’s the best. Ever.

We arrive at the right time. We leave our warm cozy car and get on a bus. We leave the bus and enter the giant conference center. (It is about as unlike a midwifery conference on a farm as you can get.) I meet my lovely and thoughtful editor, who leads me around to look at things. What is this like? Well, imagine a giant trade show, only the vendors are mainly publishers of books, and the freebies are not things like key chains made of machine parts, or bags of water quality sampling gear, but books. Many many books, in a room roughly the size of a football field. And I am afraid to take any. One does not merely take books from stacks and walk away with them. It is a reality unfamiliar to me, and it is only thanks to my editor’s gentle encouragement that I end up with any.

It is then time for the signing portion of the event. Things that people who ask me to sign an ARC do not know: items 1-4 from above; the extensive signing practice event I held with my family the day before, in which I practiced small talk (It’s very rainy today, isn’t it?) and answering questions (Yes, I have read that book.) and, of course, signing while doing both; and the hours I have spent trying to make my signature look less like something that happened while countless volts of electricity surged through me.

Which brings me to the takeaway lesson for anyone who has felt awkward walking up and asking for a signature in a book. While there are writers who have never experienced a moment of doubt in their blessed lives (I’m sure there are, somewhere), there are also people like me, who are smiling while thinking remember all the letters in your name: J…E…N…WHY IS MY NAME SO LONG! And more than anything, even more than the worry about whether their signature actually looks like a name and not a hairball, they are so VERY VERY grateful that you are asking for that scrawl. Or telling them that their daughter is looking forward to the book so much, or that you are so excited to have a copy. Or even just standing there, looking nervous while asking, because that writer may be thinking of all the times they have been too chicken to ask for something similar, and the fact that you’re standing there may be reminding them to be a bit braver. Don’t be afraid. You are stellar.

Those are the sorts of things that go through my mind as I sign books in the booth. That, and how awesome my editor and all the Abrams folks are, because they make this all feel so effortless. I am pure gratitude, even if my name looks a little like an unfortunate geometry accident.

And that, dear ones, is my adventure for the week. Thanks for tuning in.

The only true currency

I have never been cool.

For the most part, it’s no longer a struggle to admit that. In a coolness-obsessed society, it can be such a relief to simply step out of the race. When I was the kid dancing alone in her room in front of a poster of Michael Jackson, that wasn’t the case. Or when I was secretly listening to classic rock, knowing that it put me in the same category as the kids in baseball caps and shitkickers, a category outside the bounds of cool in our college-centric town. Or dating someone who wished I looked like the girls on the Ultimate team, and still clinging to him because I was sure no one else would ever find me interesting in any way.

Back then, my lack of coolness hurt.

I blame homeschooling for part of it, but not the part that people assume. Homeschooling didn’t make me weird. It made me honest. Homeschooling meant that I didn’t learn to compare myself to other people. There were no rules about what to like or not to like. By the time I transitioned into school, I wasn’t very malleable, but I also wasn’t very guarded. Bad combination for a kid.

In movies, the not-cool kids were either the joke, or they were swans-in-waiting. The Breakfast Club didn’t rock my world. No one loved Ally Sheedy as she was; they loved her once she was remade. And I was pretty sure that a hairband and a bit of lipstick wasn’t going to evolve me into someone who got asked to dance.

Personalities can be hard things to grow into. They’re ungainly, they never look quite the way we imagine they should, they fit funny in places. They require alterations, though never as many as the world would make us believe.

So, here I am, a lot of years later and still no cooler. Small talk is not my thing. I don’t know much about vast swathes of pop culture. I love books that no one else does, because all it takes to woo me is a line or two that resonates. Same with music. I’m not easily disturbed by bugs, or mice. I’m happiest in jeans and a tee and sneakers. Hiking boots if I’m looking to feel a little tougher.

In my own life, all this works. I am happy. I’m often not what other people want me to be, but they’re often not what I want either. I expect myself to be kind, and to listen. I’ve figured out how my personality fits. If I were going to say something to my younger self, it would be this: You are never going to be just like anyone else. The best you can do is to be wholly yourself.

The end of the year

I’ve been avoiding Driftwood. Not for any good reason, or, rather, not for any easily explainable reason. Part of it has been that I’ve been in a continual state of falling behind. Funny how hard it is to say no to things when it should be so simple.

Part, though, is that everything is changing. I started blogging for the entirely mercenary reason that it was on the list of Things That Writers Do, and I wanted to be a writer. It felt awkward and uncomfortable to stake my claim on a patch of Internet soil and hang out the laundry of my life. But this completely unexpected and truly magical thing happened: people talked to me. I started to love blogging, thanks to those of you who responded and made me feel like I was part of a neighborhood, not just out on my own. The marketing piece–the reason I’d started and the thing I’d been most uncomfortable with–became secondary. It was nothing more than talking with friends about stories that were coming out.

It’s been good.

However, there’s a world of difference between announcing a new short story and trying to market a book. DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD, known as Crossroads to anyone who’s been around to hear Blue’s story, will be out May 17, 2016. In order to do my part for it, I have to be louder than I am by nature. After thinking things through, I decided I don’t want to lose the quiet of this place, where I go to talk about hummingbirds and trees and how it feels to write and live. So, I’ve created some other online spaces for DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD and my promotional efforts.

If you want to see what I’m doing elsewhere online, you can find me in the following places:

My website (thanks to my little brother and Websight Studios);

my Tumblr (most of what I put there is reblogged content that touches on themes from Blue’s story: music, homelessness, loss, hope, though also some book updates);


and Goodreads (where my profile is minimal and my list of books is often not a reflection on reality).

That doesn’t mean I’ll never say anything about the book here. Rather, I’d like to be able to treat it as something I talk about as part of writing, not the reason to talk about writing.

Enough of that. It has finally snowed here…a bit. We left our Solstice offerings in the rain this year, and turkeys and chickadees came out to thank us. Now I’m off for a walk and some fresh air. If any of you are in Boston for ALA Midwinter in January, I’ll be signing ARCS at 11:00 am on the 10th. And if you would like something from my secret stash of swag–postcards and stickers at this point, with guitar picks to come–drop me a line. I’m happy to share.

May the coming year be exactly the one you need. Blessings, everyone.


Rather than describe them, I’ll just use some pretty pictures.



I don’t want to use this blog as a means to hard sell DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD (more on that to come), but I feel like this space has been such a big part of the journey that I want to show off the results.

October 8, 2015

The sky is spotless blue. The maple in the front yard has turned red, more or less overnight. The windows are closed, leaving our noses with reminders to clean the litter boxes and check the bin of onions for bad ones.

Summer is gone.

For all our work canning–peach jam, tomatoes, salsa, grape jelly from the feral grapes in the woods–we do not have enough to make it through the winter, because the winter is always longer and harder than we plan for.

Yesterday, I was given something to eat by my son and two friends. A little nub of a flower–Spilanthes, though I didn’t know it at the time. Eat it, go ahead, it’s not poisonous, they said. I did eat it, and trusted that the not-quite-burning sensation that followed would fade, and it did. Eventually. Once that feeling ended, I was left with my mouth, only something slightly difference than before, my tongue exploring the corners, everything awake, alive. But there had been that moment, that almost-burning place where I had to remind myself that it would end, trust that what I had been told was true and it would not last forever.

Winter won’t last forever either. No, it’s not here yet, but the red in my yard tells me that the trees will be bare all too soon. We are transitioning from flowers beneath the windows and hummingbirds to moons glimpsed through barren branches and owls.

In the meantime, there are pumpkins to roast. There are turkeys in the yard daily, and in the road, and roosting in the trees at night. There are autumn olives for picking along the borders of fields. There are wool socks, and knitting to take out, and patches of sunlight to sit in. There are books to read, and, hopefully, books to write.

The season of home begins, for everything on this land, in these woods. Burrows and berries and acorns and sleep. It is time.

A bit of shameless promotion

(Really, that title is a total lie. All promotion feels at least a little shameful to me. I’m too old school Yankee: Take nothing from no one; be beholding to none. Blame my forebearers.)

Anyway, a bit of book news! DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD is now available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ll admit to not being a big Amazon user, and this book doesn’t actually come out for another eight months, but if you like the idea of ordering a book and receiving it months later, after you’ve forgotten about ordering it, when it feels like a surprise gift rather than a planned purchase, then head on over here.

Beyond that, I have little to say today. I’m busy wondering about the 1-2 inches of rain predicted for tomorrow, and the sections of my house wall swaddled in plastic as it waits to be finished, and how those things might interact. We need rain, but after weeks of none, I could have gone just a few more days…

Being real

It’s the kind of day to set aside for making grape juice in advance of making jelly. It’s the time of year to restart my sourdough for when the weathers cools. It’s a place of quiet, of reflection, rather than rushing about. Of reading, of listening, of being.

I’ve been thinking a lot about three posts on online authenticity I came across a few weeks ago. The first one came to me via Facebook and was about a writer working on chronicling her life truthfully on her blog. It interested me because I have a visceral dislike of social media as a place of, if not lies, than at least very limited truth. Facebook is a land made of high points and absolute tragedy, but most lives are composed of more basic materials than those. Most of us navigate an endless terrain of up and down. Most of us have families who do as well. Honesty–naming the things that keep us awake at night, the things that we struggle through during the day–is a scarce commodity.

Which is not to say that there are not brilliant things about social media as well. Twitter is an incredible tool in the hands of activists, for example. As a writer, it might be challenging for me to find other writers in my area (actually that’s a lie–it’s hard not to hit a writer when tossing a stone around here), and venturing into the wild internet realms can help me find my kin.

But I’m interested in the realness of people: the unpredictable, the frightened, the lonely, the awkward, the uncertain. I want to know how we survive the things life tosses us, what we learn along the way. Success is so much better to hear about when I know what has come before it.

Which brings me to the second post. It’s a powerful interview with Shira Erlichman, a poet who has written a series of odes to lithium, the medication that stabilizes her. In the interview she says the following: “When I look out into the cultural landscape and the only time I see the mentally ill represented is when people are in distress, I can’t possibly see a reflection that gives me hope. To not see examples of mentally ill people thriving is essentially to always feel death on the horizon.”

That stuck with me. Because just as we are not always successful, we are not always suffering. It’s true of all people–lives tend not to be all misery–but, again, what we see online rarely gives us that sense. This is particularly true with mental illness. We are taught that it is shameful to admit mental illness. We are taught that there are hierarchies to such admissions, that saying we were once depressed is more okay than saying we are bipolar, that it is better to say we are rundown by the flu than to confess that our brain is what keeps us in bed all day. All that shame prevents us sharing the good pieces just as efficiently as the bad. In fact, we are far more likely to admit mental illness on social media when we are in, or have just come through, a crisis. Our lives are far more than that, though. We are far more than sadness and fear.

I came across the previous pieces on the same day. This last one arrived in my inbox the following day. I first encountered Ben Hewitt through an essay he wrote on unschooling. In this post, on why he is choosing to step away from regular blogging, I found something refreshing, something so often true and so rarely stated: what we offer online is frequently a product. We are rarely fully ourselves. In some cases, we simply trim away the boring bits (does anyone really care how many times I cook eggplant when it is in season?). In others, we hide the essence of who we are, and in doing so, we damage not only other people, but ourselves.

It can be an exhausting line to walk. It’s one I frequently find wearing. Because I am messy; because the people I love most are messy, too. Because this world is not half so clearly defined as we choose to portray it.

I am forty-five years old. I am the homeschooling mother of two kids, and while there is a limit to how much I say about that online (because their stories are not mine to tell), it is a fundamental piece of my life. I have been married for eighteen years. I am as much chaos as I am hummingbirds drinking nectar outside the bedroom window. I write because it sustains me, allows me to find ways through dark times. I am more familiar with dark times than I care to be, but I am also full of light. I crave solitude, and sunshine, and I rarely answer my phone. Being a work in progress, I require editing from time to time, and daydreaming, and some technical support. I have big feet, which keep my from falling over, and long hair, which mostly annoys me.

I’m just me, looking for how to be most real.


Because it’s now appearing elsewhere, I thought it was time to show off the cover for DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD. Ready? Close your eyes.

Open them.

Final cover

There were a galaxy of things that I thought might end up on on the cover. Blue’s guitar was the one I desperately wanted. It’s a truly weird experience to have someone else translate your book into an image: kind of thrilling, kind of terrifying. In this case, the end result was everything I hoped it would be. Thanks so much to the design team at Abrams (the inside is as beautiful as the outside). Monica Ramos is the the artist. More of her work can be found here.

I don’t have the official copy yet to offer you as a book teaser. My original description grew less accurate as I wrote my way toward the end. Some characters you can’t know fully until you’ve gone the distance with them; some truths are hard to grasp in the bumbling along phase.

So, let’s leave it here for now. If you’d like to read the catalog copy, it’s available on Goodreads. If you’d like to read my original description, it’s here. If you have questions, ask away. I’m happy to answer.

Moose Summer

This summer has been too brief. It always is, but this one has been even more fleeting than most, full of things ending before I have a chance to understand that they’ve begun. It’s telling that the dream I woke from this morning had me standing by the ocean, the waves coming in against the rocks, and saying, “it can’t be over, I haven’t even done everything yet.”

But the slant of light in the afternoon makes it plain that time is turning, whether I’m ready or not. The hummingbirds are busy working the bee balm in the backyard. They can often be seen sitting on a limb that fell from a tree next to the house and created a little bower for them to rest on between sips. Should I saw up the limb? Yes, but not yet. One hummingbird came and hovered at the window screen today, peering in while my family made plans for the day. We do like to watch one another.

This has been the summer of the moose. First, a cow and calf crossing the road as we came around a corner. Moose are so large and so unexpected that my brain is slow to categorize them. First I’m thinking shadow, and then large stump, and then, oh, of course, moose, followed by BABY. I’d never seen a calf before, and she was lovely and almost the exact shade of chestnut as the foal at our friend’s barn, and almost the same level of fuzziness.

A few weeks later, my son came down from working in the neighbor’s yard. “There’s a bull moose up there. Come and see.”

I went, certain that it would be gone by the time we arrived. No, he was still there, head buried in the apple tree he was efficiently stripping. Because the foliage was so lush, and he was so still, it was hard to see him clearly, even though we were only about twenty feet away. Long legs, and an occasional eye peering out. Then he moved, and again, that feeling of not being able to make sense of the sheer size of him. At one point he tipped his head toward us, displaying the massive bowl of his antlers. Eventually, he left, ambling off unconcernedly to some other bit of moose business.

Since then, I’ve seen the cow and calf once more. They trotted out onto a trail ahead of my husband and I as we were walking on evening. They never looked back, just continued down the path for a bit before cutting back into the woods. My husband saw them again on up the hill last week. I’m sure it’s the same pair, making the rounds through their territory.

It’s good to have them in the neighborhood.

So, here we are. Mid-August. All the things I meant to do remain, for the most part, undone. I have not made it to see the Van Gogh exhibit (yet). I have not worked on painting all the things that need painting in my house. Or begun the carpentry that needs to happen in order to make better spaces in our little house. Or read the stack of books in the corner. All those tasks, none completed.

But, I have seen moose. I have paddled in a kayak with my daughter in ocean water. I have hiked along rocks for hours, and watched a school of porpoises swim by. I’ve been still long enough to keep company with a resting hummingbird. I’ve eaten blueberries, and tiny gnarled apples taken off ancient abandoned trees. I’ve watched a young hawk eat a small bird in the maple tree my children swing on.

A little paint to be splashed, a few boards to be hammered–those jobs can wait. One cannot ignore the magic passing by in favor of the eternal mundane, after all.

P.S. For those wondering about the book, it continues along its bookish way. It’s not quite time to share the cover with you, though I can tell you I love it. I have seen the proofs, and the design is beautiful. For any GoodReaders among you, it can be added to your shelf here.

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