Trees in Winter

Oh, tree, once so full and green with leaves. How small you look now, with a single squirrel dropping acorn shells from your thinnest branch. How he balances on the lightest end, snatches his treat before it falls and flips back to safety nearer to the trunk, where he can rip that spare meat from its shell, and shed the rest to the ground.

Which is bare, too, you know. Bare and crumpled with dry, winter’s leaves that crunched beneath my feet as I came to you in the way of withered and dying things. At the stoplight, I spotted two faded butterfly wings, folded together like an overlarge purse before a polite departure. By the riverbed, which is always more stone than water, a bird nestled down into its coat, puffed itself into a ball and shivered into the wind. Shaking, I set my things down here, where my numb fingers could safely peck at the keyboard, a small defense against the advancing front.

But now I must leave, tree, as the air is cool and growing colder and it is time for me to slip back into a cave of my own. In the spring, we will both have fresh haircuts and emerge youthful and blushing to embrace the season.

Will this same squirrel join us then, or will he have leapt far away from here in his hunt for survival, ending his journey somewhere unknown to you and me? I cannot answer that, tree. But I look forward to seeing you then, and, too, all the furry rascals that call you home when times are good and the weather is fine and we are all so full of life and cheer.


Yeah! You Twine That Algae!

Most of the time, the story of how a story is made is boring. The Great Story Birthing often takes one of the two following forms:

  1. The Hollywood Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of a shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, and, shower still running, pen an entire story in one sitting.
  2. The More Often Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of my shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, remember that I most often write on a laptop, eagerly tap out five brilliant lines, go eat a slice of an entire box of pizza, forget about the story, return to it a week later, try again, hate myself for not being a better writer, eat an entire box of pizza, and repeat this cycle for several years until something finally manages to reach a somewhat conclusive ending, oftentimes because my house is at that point flooded and I have other things to take care of.

Sometimes, though, a story is something you carry with you throughout your life — something that grows as you grow, both personally and as a writer who goes from thinking ALL SENTENCES ARE COOL to knowing the precise rhythm and feel that make her heart sing.

And that, friends, is the story of the story I’ve just had published on, And How the Algae Twines!

The first time I wrote this story, I was a sophomore in college, staring out my dorm window at the shifting snow drifts howling across the campus quad, thinking of another time when the world was also made of snow and I could feel my first real relationship reaching its zenith and beginning its long, slow descent into the frozen ground. The result: a creative short essay, and the feeling that I wasn’t done.

The second time I wrote this story, I was mored on the shores of a criticism-ridden grad school workshop, trying to be a better writer than I felt I could be. Somehow, I stumbled upon this old essay, languishing in an ancient Word file, and found myself horrified at my use of language, yet intrigued by the thoughts, images and emotions that lay behind it. I returned to my keyboard, and tried to remember what it was to feel. The result: a thirty page behemoth, with ten pages of striking imagery, ten pages of a writer reaching for a moral, and ten pages of a 24-year-old woman, demanding her true experiences find an outlet. And a workshop with an excess of praise and an excess of criticism that would change my writing forever.

The third time I wrote this story, I had been torn down to my core. There were no safe places left — not for me, not for my work. Everything I did was wrong. There was no warm hearth upon which I could nestle. After so many years of fighting for independence, I was on my own and barely able to breathe. Left with the few words that meant something to me. The few words that wouldn’t leave me alone.

It’s been three years since the third time. Three years, and this story has won awards, and finally found publication. The joy of finally seeing this story in print…well, I can’t quite put that into words. Nor can I promise I won’t write this story a fourth time, as I navigate the shriveled climes of my very non-snowy setting. But I can say that the story of this story — this story that began nine years ago and continues on — is one I will carry with me, wherever I go. This story has not left me.

You can read And How the Algae Twines at

Can’t Finish What I Started

I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I’m a master of beginnings. As in, my MFA really stands for, “Master of First Attempts.” But middles? Ends? Yeah, not so much. Let’s just say if my hard drive is a vast desert, story beginnings bounce like tumbleweeds over the horizon. And there I am, dragging my parched, sunburned body along the sand, just trying to capture one of them — any of them — in my maniacal story web. How’s that for dramatic imagery?

Rather than attempting to give this post an end here, I’ll toss you over to Write By Night, who have been kind enough to publish my musings on the subject of beginnings that have no end. Here’s the article. Voila! Go forth! Complete something for once!

How I Feel When Salespeople Call

Sure, we all get sales calls. But if you’re a business owner, you really get sales calls. For every one expert blogpost I’ve run for my business so far, I’ve gotten one sales call a day. And the thing is, they use all of these tactics that just play right into all of my weaknesses, namely my tendency to muse things over aloud, rather than just saying, “No/yes, I will/will not do this,” as well as my willingness to open up to anyone when they ask empathetic questions, even if they’re obviously BS. I just cannot tell you how much I hate these calls. They’re so manipulative that it’s impossible to tell if something actually is valuable to me, and, while I’m listening to them blather on without pausing, all I can think about is that I should be writing right now.

So, I’ve put a little comic together, just for you, salespeople who call me when I’m trying to write or get other things done…

Yertle the Turtle Ooblecks All Over the Places We Go

So so so SO stinking excited to see Shmoop has posted these Dr. Seuss literature guides I contributed to. Heavily. As in, I wrote the bones, and I’m freaking proud of how those bones came out. They’re strong, now Calcium +D! The guides I worked on are:

Yertle the Turtle

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Check ’em out, especially if you’ve never heard of Shmoop before. You SHOULD…HEAR OF THEM, THAT IS. Think Sparknotes, but with Tina Fey clips embedded. TINA. FEY.

When Brains Grow Claws #Feedmeseymour

It wasn’t too long ago that I was riding the crest of a creativity wave. Which, by the way, is a lot better than a perm wave.

Is there something in my hair, or is this…my hair?

As I finished my quest to blackmail myself into completing the first draft of my very first book, ideas were popping up everywhere. Inside the world of my book, I was writing flash fiction, diaries, poetry, songs. Showing off to myself…for myself.

And then, once the deadline passed, I collapsed. Which is kind of something I do…

For the length of my academic career, I’d push myself to the max only to return home during breaks, put on a hoody, sleep for twelve hours a day and communicate in grunts. Except, ever since I’ve come out of graduate school and worked both freelance and on my own businesses, that’s not really something I can do. Because, even though the robots will one day be able to write better than me (thanks for the heart attack, Wired senior writer and not my boyfriend, Steven Levy) they can’t do it yet, and I can’t afford the robots that will do my accounting and marketing.

And so, my hibernation this time around has been work, work and more work. I hid from my book:

But, no matter what form my creative, deep-thinking hibernation takes, it’s only a matter of a month or so before my brain reawakens. Kicking. Screaming.


It starts as a tingle in my fingers and lips. My muscles need to move, stretch, show off what they can do.

Push it! Feel it right in those phalanges!

Then there comes the inevitable neural clawing. My neurons are fingers, squeezing any bit of stimulus or complex information that made the mistake of waltzing into my hungry mind when it only meant to go for a morning stroll. I feel like I’m going to die if I don’t take some complex scientific or philosophical problem and piece together all the scattered bits into one discernible whole.

I must analyze some thing. I MUST ANALYZE ALL THE THINGS.

And then there come the dreams. When I’m in the middle of a creative flow, my dreams are dead, white space; there’s just no energy left for anything complex. But when I’m craving creativity, my dreams are Hollywood blockbusters. In high school and college, they were torturous, dramatic movies with complex narratives that ran an entire arc. It’s all going wrong, there’s a tornado on the horizon, there are spies and intrigue. The world is saturated with impossible feats and colors. Something is after me, and it’s not far behind.

These days, they’re just as vibrant but less dramatic. Absurd, in most cases. Playing PRISON TELEPHONE at the PRISON.

A dramatic plea from the Real Mr. Ed to set the record straight about the sanitary habits of buffaloes.

I’m actually a buffalo. This horse look is for TV only.

And let’s not forget this gem from 2006: Not Without My Spleen: One Director’s Look Into Power, Bureaucracy and Body Parts. I’d say more, but I used it as the basis for a story and I’m still looking for a publisher.

Sure enough, after month’s of placid sleeps, last night I had a very involved dream about a woman named Yaddis who was trying her best to be respected in a male-dominated workplace. It was a musical, and the men performed a catchy if misogynistic song and dance number about not wanting to sit next to Yaddis in the lunchroom. I believe it went something like:

Yaddis, Yaddis.  Ain’t gonna sit next to ya Yaddis, Yaddis.

Yaddis: she smells!

Whether or not this was a dream about feminism or about the perils of being named Yaddis, I’ll never know.

What I do know is this. I can feel the pressure building behind the dam – ever more so as a rare rain falls from the Austin skies (well, not so rare that it couldn’t toy with Ira Glass last week). That moody, writerly feeling is descending. I can see my characters, sitting in the dark, dank hallway. Shivering. Cold.

Come to me, my pretties. It’s time for us to remember what adventure is all about.

Houston, we have a book. And hair.

Thanks to all who came out tonight and all who sent support from afar! Tonight was the perfect celebration for a very sweaty, panicked month that packed BIG RESULTS. It was great to see everyone and I can’t wait to see all of your projects on Accountabillibuddy!

And major kudos to Write By Night for hosting, Brian Nicolet for being an awesome writing coach, Adam David for some excellent shear work, my family for listening to me read all 29 first drafts of my first chapter, and STEPHEN LEVY for being the most wonderful, supportive boyfriend a girl could ask for.

And now for my next feat: revising the entire thing!

Oh boy…