My novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, is forthcoming from What Books Press!
I’m overjoyed and gobsmacked to announce that The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival is forthcoming (October 2021) from What Books Press. I’m so grateful to Rod Val Moore and Kate Haake and Gronk all who are working to make What Books Press such a fabulous collective. I’ll share more news when I can. For now, please mark your calendars for October, and get ready to enjoy the show!
p.s. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post, or the writing of this novel.
I keep many emails in my inbox. I don’t always archive, delete, or (if I’m honest) even read all the messages that arrive there. What’s weird is how often the precise number of messages in my inbox is 318. Maybe I am trying to recreate that place in any way I can, even through my electronic inertia and disarray.
“Originally published in 1912, this novel was one of the first to present a frank picture of being black in America. Masked in the tradition of the literary confession practiced by such writers as St. Augustine and Rousseau, this “autobiography” purports to be a candid account of its narrator’s private views and feelings as well as an acknowledgement of the central secret of his life: that though he lives as a white man, he is, by heritage and experience, an African-American. Written by the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, in its depiction of turn-of-the-century New York, anticipates the social realism of the Harlem Renaissance writers. In its unprecedented analysis of the social causes of a black man’s denial of the best within himself, it is perhaps James Weldon Johnson’s greatest service to his race.”
The novel is extremely relevant and feels very modern. When I heard “Lift Every Voice And Sing” growing up, I don’t recall learning about the life of the person who wrote it. The resonant anthem seems almost incidental in Johnson’s life story, just one of his many varied works, although music was central to his existence. I’m grateful to know these things now. How different so much would be if I had been taught more about the writer behind the beautiful song, when I was a child.
May we teach our children and ourselves more fully about what our country is made from, so that we may lean toward what it finally may and will be…
Lift ev’ry voice and sing, ‘Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…
Cleaning a corner of my office…going through a box of stuff from when I taught a 9th grade creative writing class. In the box, I found a stack of half-pages detailing an extra credit assignment I offered the students at the end of 2019. Though I rarely read my own work to the class, in this case I had shared my story “Curb Day” which is about dragging items out of your house and life. Finding this assignment now (as I drag to the curb what I no longer need from that job) seems very resonant! Use it if you want to.
DRAG IT TO THE CURB!
Number from 1 to 10.
Pretend there was a day when the trash collectors would take ANYTHING…start with the phrase, “I would drag to the curb…”
List 10 things you would drag to the curb.
Find an item that seems like it wants your attention and circle it.
5 minutes: Describe the item in detail. Pure description.
Let the dragged item become part of a brief narrative/story.
You can be the narrator/main character, or you can assign someone else to deal with the item.
You can write in 1st (“I dragged…”) or 3rd person (“they/she/he dragged…”).
You can fictionalize as much as you want to.
You can even change your mind about dragging it to the curb, and drag it back into your life!
This book is great! I got it for my teen to read, and she loved it, and then I read it, and I also loved it. Very accessible but not at all dumbed-down, it’s a really helpful guide for young (and older) people to help frame the importance of moving toward justice. With writing/reflecting exercises with depth and power. I recommend it highly!
Because the first sold out so quickly, Egaeus Press is offering a second printing of the haunted house anthology, CROOKED HOUSES. The anthology contains my story, “Your House, Any House. That House.” You can find out more here!
Happy new year! May 2021 be gentle and kind to you, as it wipes the mess of 2020 from its shoes.
Reading my novel-in-progress, I found this bit, and I like it so thought I’d share. Completely torn from context but so what.
“In the silence, there are actually heaps to hear. Train your ears. Slow your breath until you glean what’s left. What’s been missing. The exhalation. Feel your shoulders drop. Everything you’ve been ignoring during The Disaster hasn’t disappeared. Even if it’s in the river and snagged on a rock, been taken captive, or submerged in mud, it’s still there, still out there somewhere. Maybe sleeping, maybe waiting. Maybe it’s only the bones. Maybe the next thing that happens is: whatever’s waiting wakes up.”
It’s fascinating to read through the pages of a novel I began writing in 2004 (that’s not a typo)…fascinating seeing how the “now” me filters through and makes sense of it…very strange. Like when Owl meets himself on the stairs in Arnold Lobel’s excellent book,Owl At Home. (“There must be a way,” said Owl, “to be upstairs and to be downstairs at the same time.”) I hope my next novel will take a shorter span of years, which may yield a psychically simpler writing process, I think? But this bit is new-er and informed by my fascination with embodiment, trauma, resilience, holding many things at once…etc.
(STAY TUNED because I will have some good news to share in the not too too distant future…)
If we are human, there is sure to be grief in our past, present, or future. We can deny or try to avoid this fact, but to me it seems better to prepare and find helpful resources.
My friend Laraine Herring has written (and illustrated!) The Grief Forest, a beautiful and necessary book, really a container for process and feelings, and a light along the path through grief. A picture book intended for all ages, this book is a gift to the world: beautiful, deeply resonant, and reassuring.
2020 has brought me and us plenty of reasons to grieve. I’m so grateful to Laraine for manifested a book that will help lighten the burden.
What works best, as a way in? The idea, or the image?
The problem with THINKING (about IDEAS) in your HEAD.
(This is adapted from a presentation I gave at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in March of 2018.)
How many times have you heard others (or yourself) say or think, “I can’t think of anything to write!” Lynda Barry talks about why thinking isn’t the way to get anywhere. Moving away from having to think of an IDEA to write about, toward accessing what she calls the IMAGE WORLD. She makes a distinction between the top of the brain and the back of the mind (where the images live). (If you don’t know about Lynda Barry, look her up! The book SYLLABUS is a great resource, as are her TED talks and YouTube exercise videos.)
In a college class I was teaching in 2018, I noticed how this tension works itself out when I used a prompt from Nick Bantock’s THE TRICKSTER’S HAT and asked students to write a list of “unusual” things that have happened to them. I saw them engage in the act of not-writing: they got caught on thinking WHAT IS UNUSUAL? And that question (and the judgment built into the tag of “unusual”) engaged a less-helpful part of their brains. It led me to gather more evidence about what I have experienced: THINKING is kind of a problem, actually, when we’re trying to start from scratch, and come up with the stuff to write about. At least it’s a problem for me. Put another way—THINKING (in that way) doesn’t help start or sustain the flow state I want and need when I am writing.
Another example: In 2016 when I was WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at the Omega Institute, the rule was that we were to draw our daily self-portraits (2 minute index card drawing of ourselves in various scenarios) and introduce our portraits to our neighbors (let the index card self portraits meet each other). On Thursday, Lynda asked us to draw ourselves dancing. We did so. I held my card up to the card of the person next to me, and she said something like “oh, I love how you…” (whatever she said escapes me now) and I FELT THE OXYGEN LEAVE THE ROOM. Just because this well-intentioned human next to me made specific comments about what I drew! I always think about that when I teach, and when I write.
The thing seems to be how to keep the most possible oxygen in the room, in the practice, to sustain the process of creation.
When we’re going to write, we have to move from stagnation and stillness—from the cold state of not-writing. What often stops me is the inner critic. I think the inner critic is connected to that thinking part of the brain.
We have to get moving. We have to start by NOT getting stopped.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a beautiful and generous glimpse into a young writer’s emergence, where family and sense of place both act as characters in the story. I hope you will read it. Two poems that really stood out to me:
On p. 80:
miss bell and the marchers
They look like regular people visiting our neighbor Miss Bell, foil-covered dishes held out in front of them as they arrive some in pairs, some alone, some just little kids holding their mothers’ hands.
If you didn’t know, you’d think it was just an evening gathering. Maybe church people heading into Miss Bell’s house to talk about God. But when Miss Bell pulls her blinds closed, the people fill their dinner places with food, their glasses with sweet tea and gather to talk about marching.
And even though Miss Bell works for a white lady who said I will fire you in a minute if I ever see you on that line! Miss Bell knows that marching isn’t the only thing she can do, knows that people fighting need full bellies to think and safe places to gather. She knows the white lady isn’t the only one who’s watching, listening, waiting, to end this fight. So she keeps the marchers’ glasses filled, adds more corn bread and potato salad to their places, stands in the kitchen ready to slice lemon pound cake into generous pieces.
And in the morning, just before she pulls her uniform from the closet, she prays, God, please give me and those people marching another day.
And this beautifully embodied gift on p. 217:
It’s easier to make up stories than it is to write them down. When I speak, the words come pouring out of me. The story wakes up and walks all over the room. Sits in a chair, crosses one leg over the other, says, Let me introduce myself. Then just starts going on and on. But as I bend over my composition notebook, only my name comes quickly. Each letter, neatly printed between the pale blue lines. Then white space and air and me wondering, How do I spell introduce? Trying again and again until there is nothing but pink bits of eraser and a hole now where a story should be.