Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Gift From Emily B.

Auntie Em
I've never been very good at birthdays.  My cards and best wishes tend to always be at least a little bit belated.  So it's no surprise that I'm two days late in wishing Emily Bronte a happy 196th birthday.  But my wishes are no less sincere.

Especially since she's the one who has given me a present:

There it was in my mailbox over the weekend, a box of the new paperback edition of Catherine, my Young Adult novel inspired by Wuthering Heights, looking every bit as spiffy as I could have hoped.  (It hits the bookstores on August 19th and is available for preorder now at Barnes and Noble and BAM!

So happy birthday, Emily Bronte, and thanks for the inspiration.  You may be almost two hundred years old, but in my heart you'll never be a Brontesaurus.

Fresh Start: Exploring Cumberland, Maryland

Unlike most things, moving gets a little harder each time you do it.  Apart from the sheer grunt work--packing, lugging, and unpacking--there's the aftermath: the wearying prospect of finding all the things you need to get by in your new life--a grocery store, a reliable mechanic, bookstores, a coffee shop, restaurants, and like-minded people to spend time with.

Still, there's something bracing about a fresh start.  And now, after finishing up a dietary internship in Morgantown, West Virginia, my sister Melody is getting one--a new job and home in Cumberland, Maryland. 

Nandi moves in
Since I happened to be in Western Maryland this weekend, the two of us went off on an expedition.  Our mission: to find the hot spots--places where Melody can spend her weekend afternoons, or do a little shopping.  This mission was more challenging than it sounds.  One of the ten poorest cities in the U.S., Cumberland's thriving businesses are few and far between. 

We headed for the city's historic district and found this pretty little pedestrian walkway:

Though quiet for a Saturday night, it did have some nice restaurants, galleries and stores tucked away here and there.  After some browsing and a very nice dinner al fresco, we walked toward the Potomac and discovered a park dedicated to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath.

A trail led us to the very edges of the city where the air smelled unimaginably green and sweet.

After that we drove back to Melody's new place on the outskirts of town to sit on her porch and watch deer graze.  

But first we said arrivederci to downtown Cumberland:

The hills are alive with new beginnings

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nightsun 2014: A Dispatch from Frostburg, MD

Self Portrait with Underwood Behind Glass
Sometimes writers just need to be with other writers--to obsess about craft, to get moral suport, fresh inspiration, and feedback on our works-in-progress.  And sometimes we just need to take a few days out from our distracted lives and go someplace else.

For instance, Frostburg, Maryland:

View from the Coffee Shop
A sleepy mountain town near where Maryland meets Pennsylvania meets West Virginia, Frostburg is home to Frostburg State University and, for four days each summer, to the Nightsun Writer's Conference.  

This year's Nightsun faculty included Marion Winik (nonfiction) and Clint McCown (fiction):

Poet Bruce Weigl:

Science fiction writer Brenda Clough:

And, representing YA fiction (with occasional forays into poetry), me.

In between craft sessions, workshops, and readings, participants could grab a latte and a little outdoor writing time at this charming coffee shop

or browse at Main Street Books, a great little Frostburg indie:

The driving force behind Nightsun is this guy, the indefatiguable poet/fiction writer Gerry LaFemina:

Gerry Gets Things Done
 While Main Streets run through a lot of small towns, very few of those Main Streets house a Center for Creative Writing--a warm space of books, literary magazines, poetry broadsides, comfy chairs, and a gumball machine from which, for twenty-five cents, you can walk away with a poem.

Thanks to Gerry, Bruce, Marion, Clint, Brenda, and all of this year's gathered Nightsun writers for welcoming me into this charmed space of writers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Loosen Your Tie, Dear Sir: A Poem By Amy Lemmon

Today I'm sharing a seductive poem by my longtime friend poet Amy Lemmon who dropped by earlier this week for a stop on the late summer blog tour.


Loosen your tie, dear sir, admit instead
the mouth I proffer soft along your nape.
The office locked, phone mute, calls forwarded,
let go the herringbone, the oxford’s drape.
No words. No sound. Not even a slight nod.
I’ve read your eyes, taken their rapid shift
to mine in humdrum rooms, dull talk abroad,
dull folks. I’ve felt our glances hold and lift
above the meeting table just too long
for happenstance. The signal’s out. So strong
despite our work, despite our separate rings,
we’d dance and tangle, circus-like. We’d cling.
Yes loosen, do, the armor. Let it fall.
I’ll entertain your body’s carnival.

For another taste of Amy's work, drop by The Best American Poetry here and here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Poet's Playdate: Sunday in the Park with Lisa Barnett

Duck, duck, goose!
Lately I've become a bit obsessed with how much sun and fresh air I'm not getting while I stay indoors writing all day. So this Sunday I took a little walk with my friend, neighbor, and fellow poet, Lisa Barnett.  

She introduced me to a lovely trail not far from my home--one I'd never known was there:

We wandered in the direction of a nearby duckpond:

And then we exchanged poems in the shade.  

As always I was blown away by the precise intelligence at play in Lisa's poems.  Here's one I've admired for a while now, the title poem from her recently published book.

Love Recidivus

Whatever it may be, we may suppose
it is not love, for love must leave its trace
like contraband seized and displayed in rows;
is not sufficient reason to erase

the careful lives we have so far lived through—
there is no call for us to undermine
the walls we've built; no need to think anew
of all the chains and choices that define

us still. And yet for all our fine intent
a single touch ignites the night and tries
resolve past all resisting. What we meant
before we mean again; fidelities

have yet been known to shift and come undone
and all good reasons fail us, one by one.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blog Hopscotch: The Tour Continues

Today the tour of blogs by writers/artist/musicians continues.  Let's toss our pebble and hop from one to ten and back, trying not to hit any of the lines.

Dianne K. Salerni goes first.  She's the author of The Eighth Day, the first in a thrilling new trilogy of Middle Grade adventures, and also of two historical YA novels, The Caged Graves and We Hear The Dead are YA historical.   Here's her blog post.

Next up is poet Amy Lemmon, my longtime friend and the author of the collections Saint Nobody, Fine Motor, and, in collaboration with Denise Duhamel, Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation.  I'll be sharing a poem by Amy later this week.  In the meantime, though, click here to visit her blog post.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Greetings from Asbury Park: A Love Song With Snapshots

Why do I love Asbury Park, New Jersey?  Let me count the whys.

1.  Its charming, friendly coffee shops and restaurants: 

Breakfast at Toast
2.  Its boardwalk, perfect for a stroll.

3.  Its history, as embodied by the formerly grand Casino building, name checked by Bruce Springsteen in "Sandy," now a picturesque ruin.

4.  Its moxie.  Asbury has done a great job of bouncing back after that other Sandy (the hurricane) and some very rough decades.

A peek inside the carousel house
5.  Its funky storefronts on the boardwalk and beyond.

The cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do

6.  And most of all: its incomparable music scene.  

Eddie Manion with Joe Grushecky at the legendary Stone Pony

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Burning the Bowery: A Night at John Varvatos with Jesse Malin

Glitz and glam: chandelier at John Varvatos on the Bowery
One of my major life regrets: I never saw a show at CBGB--though I lived very near New York City in the 1980s.  My excuses are boring and involve being a broker-than-broke grad student in Yonkers where the buses stopped running at 11 p.m.  CBGB closed its doors in 2006, and despite how large it looms in my imagination, I was pretty sure I'd forever missed my chance.

Like The Ramones CBGB is no more
A few years ago I even popped into the high-end John Varvatos boutique which stands on the hallowed ground CBGB used to occupy.  I got kicked out for taking cell-phone pictures of its punk-rock posters and the stage now used to display men's shoes.  

Last Thursday night, though, I was miraculously granted a do-over when Jesse Malin threw a concert at John Varvatos.  The doors opened and I hurried deep into the grungier-than-thou darkness, straight to the stage--or as close to it as I could get.

Once I'd staked out my place, I got into the very long bathroom line.  When I finally reached the front, the nice bouncer man beckoned me into a narrow space beside the stage.  Imagine my shock when I literally--and I do mean literally--bumped into E Street Band stalwart Little Steven Van Zandt!

Turns out Little Steven was on hand to introduce Jesse.  He told us the show was being recorded for satellite radio and exhorted us to make a lot of noise.  

Which we proceeded to do.  

Jesse's shows are always high-energy, but his NYC shows are easily his most intense.  He's been called a king of the Bowery, and at the very least he's a local hero.  The New York audience adores him, and he clearly feeds on that adulation. 

So any NYC Jesse Malin show is special, but the Varvatos show was even more so. For the first time, Jesse played most of the material from his soon-to-be-released album, though he did throw in a couple of old favorites and covers for good measure.

The ghosts that haunt the former CBGB must have been smiling to themselves and pumping their fists.

Oh, and another great thing about the show: I got to enjoy it with an old friend, poet and punk rocker Gerry LaFemina.

Here's one of Gerry's poems about the '80s punk scene, the title poem from his new collection, Little Heretic.  

One By One We Vanished

Another Absolut & cranberry juice. Another
broken evening, here near the landmarks of my adolescence:
Cherry Tavern, CBGB, Pyramid Club—They’ve all
disappeared into the collective memory of aging punks.
Exploited, Bad Brains, Minor Threat. Seems like

forever ago. Seems like forty-eight hours. Whatever
god I worshiped then (that girl in tight leather &
high heels, the cat who listened to my complaints),
I believed could save me from the brokerage firms &
Jesuits that seemed like the permanent forecast.

Kraut, the Circle Jerks, D.O.A. I
listened to drum barrage, screech & feedback thinking—
maybe—the holy spirit would fill me with distortion.
Nights like that—like this—lingered without end.
One by one we vanished into our

particular futures. Thus it seems so
quixotic to be back. Yet familiar, too. The bartender
returns with a fresh drink. He looks like
someone I knew those days; I recognize his laughter &
that tattoo on his arm of a mohawked teddy bear.

Understand, I stepped onto St. Marks earlier &
virtually every storefront had transformed although
westward still lay Broadway, Sixth Ave, the Hudson.
X, the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers. I listened to them,
yes, the songs like hymns I still remember: little

zealot that I once was. Little heretic.

Gerry back then

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kali Nichta: Goodnight to my Greek Novel

Oia, Santorini: The World's Greatest Sunset (picture by Shawn Krahmer Heal)

Kali nichta!  That's the Greek phrase for goodnight.  Yesterday I finished up the third draft of my Greek novel, gave it a kiss on the cheek and bid it kali nichta--for now at least, while I turn to other projects.
The book is a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, set on a high school class trip to Greece, with stops in Athens:

View from the Acropolis 


photo by Shawn Krahmer Heal
And Crete:

photo by Shawn Krahmer Heal

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Glimpse of Something Sweet: A Poem by Anna M. Evans

photo borrowed from

On yesterday's stop on the writers-who-blog tour I mentioned the poet Anna M. Evans.  Anna's new poetry collection wears this saucy cover photograph:

And it includes this lively sonnet:

My Life as a Can-Can Dancer

There's nothing like it! When we form the line
most men lean forward slightly in their seat
and while we dance, forget to drink their wine
hoping for a glimpse of something sweet.
I flaunt my petticoats and flash my thighs—
high kicks, jump splits—it's meant to be erotic.
They all want us—I see it in their eyes.
The choreography is so hypnotic
they can't do anything but sit and stare
and at the end our skirts fly overhead
so they can see our frilly underwear.
I have my pick of whom I take to bed
letting them know that if they're happy to
they may leave gifts of money. Most men do.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec weighs in

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Not-So-Accidental Blog Tourist Strikes Again

Photo lifted from
Poet Anna M. Evans recently invited me to take part in a virtual tour of writers/artists/musicians who also happen to blog. Our mission?  Introducing readers to blogs they might not otherwise encounter.  

Here's Anna.

Her poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of Fellowships from the MacDowell Artists' Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and winner of the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers' Choice Award, she currently teaches at West Windsor Art Center and Richard Stockton College of NJ. Her new sonnet collection, Sisters & Courtesans, is available from White Violet Press. 

Visit Anna online here.  I'll be featuring a poem from Sisters & Courtesans later this week. 


Now here's the part of the virtual blog tour in which I answer four quick questions about my own writing process.

1. What am I currently working on?

This summer I’m revising my fourth young adult novel, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in Greece.  

I'm also reworking some poems, trying to put together a new poetry collection.  

Finally, I've also begun work on a third project, a rock and roll-themed novel for an adult audience.  I’ve been meaning to tell this particular story for a while, and I hope to at least put a teensy dent in it this summer.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That's a tricky question, one best left for the critics. As a writer, I’m less conscious of making my poetry and prose different from what’s already out there and more conscious of simply making my poetry and prose as good—as entertaining, honest, nuanced, and alert to the subtleties of language--as I can manage.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

I’m interested in playing around with literary tradition.  That’s why I’ve been retelling classic novels—so far Jane Eyre (in Jane), Wuthering Heights (in Catherine), and A Room With a View (in Love, Lucy, due out in January 2015).  

A still from the glorious Merchant-Ivory adaptation of A Room With a View
And it’s why I often—though by no means always--write poetry in received forms. 

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

I read a lot of whatever type of writing I'm hoping to produce myself.  When I'm writing a novel inspired by a literary classic, I reread that novel, listen to audiobook versions in my sleep, watch film adaptations--basically do what I can to absorb the source material until I’m ready to set it aside and do my own thing.  

After that I work out an outline to give me a sense of general direction, though I may take many detours along the way.  

Oh, and I drink plenty of this!


And now here's the part of the post where I introduce you to the wonderful writers who have accepted my invitation to hop aboard the virtual blog tour.  

First, meet poet Amy Lemmon.

She's the author of two poetry collections: Fine Motor (Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Press, 2008) and Saint Nobody (Red Hen Press, 2009) and co-author, with Denise Duhamel, of the chapbooks ABBA: The Poems (Coconut Books, 2010) and Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation (Slapering Hol Press, 2011). Her poems and essays have appeared in Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Court Green, The Journal, Marginalia, and many other magazines and anthologies. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she has contributed articles to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poets and Poetry, and the Facts on File Companion to Twentieth-Century British Poetry.

Amy holds a PhD in English/Creative Writing from the University of Cincinnati and the recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship, as well as scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, West Chester Poetry Conference, and Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Awards include the Elliston Poetry Prize, the Ruth Cable Poetry Prize, and the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Prize. She is Professor of English at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, adviser to FIT Words: The Club for Writers, and Poetry Editor of the online literary magazine  Amy lives in Astoria, Queens, with her two children.

Visit her online here.

And my second blog tour invitee is YA novelist Dianne K. Salerni.

Here she is:

Dianne's the author of The Eighth Day middle grade fantasy series (HarperCollins) and YA historical novels, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) and We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks).  Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

Visit her here!

Dianne K. Salerni and Amy Lemmon will be posting their virtual blog tour entries a week from today, on July 21.  

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...