University of Iowa Alumni News & Happy Friday

It was a delight to be featured in Alumni News for my alma mater, the University of Iowa. I spent four glorious years writing in Iowa City and the many hours of critiquing and workshopping are nostalgic and smile-inducing to this day. Moreover, I’m so pleased at the shoutout for Off Campus Writers Workshop (my home away from home) and its 75th Anniversary Anthology ‘Turning Points’ (Windy City Press, 2021). I’m so proud of this organization and their endeavors; it is a true honor to be nominated to the Board of Directors as the Head of Promotions.

For more on the feature, CLICK HERE.

Psst! Couple of fun facts:
1. Yes, I am slightly mortified that the photo chosen for this feature has my naked foot in it.
2. That painting on the desk is one of my original works.
3. The day this photo was taken might have been the only time I’ve used a blow dryer and curling iron all year. Enjoy.
4. I’ve had that plant for nearly two years but if you look closely, you can spot the price tag still on it.

Making the Short List: Fiction Prize

Looks like I forgot to share this nugget of delicious news. Last week I found myself echoing a familiar statement, “I’m not really a fiction writer. It’s not my strong suit.”

A writer friend lovingly pointed out that I was recently shortlisted by Five South Literary for a Fiction Prize. She wasn’t wrong. I was randomly inspired to pen a quirky ghost story based on my love affair with the movie ‘Beetlejuice.’ I submitted it on a whim and nearly peed my pants when I learned that editors read it and enjoyed it. “Hmmm,” she said. “Sounds like you might just be a fiction writer.”

Fiction is a battlefield. It requires extra armor for me. There’s usually a lot of huffing and frustration. But I still manage to get something on the page. So maybe I should stop discounting my efforts so much. I will simply embrace the moment and feel proud.

P.S. Congrats to Aliza Pelto, who went on to claim the grand prize!

Book News: Writing About COVID w/ Capsule Stories

Let’s get real: it was excruciating to write about COVID while existing through COVID. Whatever I managed to get on the page never felt right and it usually didn’t follow any kind of format, likely because I felt like I was drowning- drowning in e-learning, in uncertainty, in anxiety, and just about every other stressor you likely felt as well. In short, I wrote a LOT of very weird $%&*.

It took a long time to feel like I had something significant to share. So when I wrote a piece of flash (this means under 750 words and presenting with a succinct narrative in a profound moment), I knew it was something I could stand by. I knew it was a marker in time, a notch in history. I sent it out and received word last month that it would be picked up by Capsule Stories for their Second Isolation Edition (work written entirely during quarantine). Some literary publications put out digital magazines, some still print, but in this case, Capsule publishes in paperback. So I am humbled to share that my piece ‘Self-Storage’ has been published in this anthology.

I wrote ‘Self-Storage’ when I realized my then 5-year-old had outgrown the little handmade fabric mask that my sister had sewn for her. I grappled with the notion of storing and saving things from 2020, knowing full well that sometime in the future, one of my grandchildren will tell me they need to write a paper on the ‘pandemic of 2020’ and would I answer some questions? I know those days of retrospect are coming.

And I truly feel like this story (all 1 page of it) can explain it all- the heaviness, the energy, the worry, and the desperate attempts to make the best of it when I could.

If you are so inclined to purchase this book, it is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and available by request wherever books are sold. I sincerely thank you for supporting my words and my work.

eBook Sale: Get Turning Points for $2.99

I’ve got high-give kind of news- the eBook for Turning Points is on major sale this week: just $2.99! (yes, cheaper than that latte you are holding).

This is a great opportunity to add the Anthology to your Kindle or eReader device. As always, thank you for being a supporter of my writing and the many writers of Off Campus Writers’ Workshop.

Happy Hump Day. Happy reading.

Three Fun Things: Book Launch, Workshop & Pizza

  1. Book Launch: This past Sunday, Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop celebrated the official book launch of ‘Turning Points,’ our 75th Anniversary Anthology. Over 125 participants gathered on Zoom for curated readings, remarks from our President, and info on Summer programs (we move to monthly workshops and then pick up again in September). I auditioned and was selected to read my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ along with two of my fellow critique group members: Ronit Bezalel and Joyce Zeis. Because my story takes place in a coffee shop, I switched my Zoom background to embody the spirit (and aroma!) of a café (see photo above. Yes, you can find Zoom backgrounds for just about any occasion).
  2. My weekly writing workshops continue to be sanity-savers and reinforce why I need critiques- because it identifies the weak spots, it bolsters the plot, and it helps the story go from ‘okay’ to ‘hot damn.’ My Monday Writer Workouts are facilitated by Nadine Kenney Johnstone, who’s a force of nature as a writer, writing coach, and podcaster (Heart of the Story). This past week I workshopped with Ria Talken and it was an absolute gift to hear her reactions (a chuckle, a gasp) and to glean her perspective. Ria wrote a beautifully candid blog post about the experience and I implore you to check it out here, and follow her writing. She totally captures the Aha! of branching out beyond ourselves to create stellar writing.
  3. Pizza: Tonight, I’m heading downtown for al fresco drinks and wood-fired pizza. Last December, I took a StoryStudio class (via Zoom) on getting ‘over the hump’ with novel writing. The class concluded after 6 weeks, and I really felt the letdown- things were just starting to get in a groove! Some of us decided to try to keep the momentum going, so we continued to meet on Zoom every Thursday night: 1 hour of writing, 30 minutes of workshopping. Nearly seven months later, we are all planning to meet for dinner…which means I will meet them in-person for the first time. We keep joking about who will be surprisingly tall.

Book Release: Turning Points

It’s been a surreal week and I was able to do something I’ve dreamt of for so long: walk into a book store and hold a copy of my book.

In sharing this news, I think it’s important to infuse this caveat: I’ve had many other writing/book projects fail. I had a children’s book and a literary agent that never crossed the publishing finish line. I lost my longstanding newspaper column during the pandemic (and learned of this by reading The Chicago Tribune). I had a book of columns get rebuffed. I’ve had a full novel get a ton of buzz from agents without a single bite. All of that was devastating. But I still kept writing.

We never quite know what makes some projects flourish while others flounder- timing, trend, and a handful of other unique details. But I am immensely proud to have my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ anthologized in Turning Points, the 75th Anniversary Anthology put out by the Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop. It was a marvel to collaborate with other writers- my first time doing so (also my first foray into fiction).

In being a Winnetka-based writing group, I was so heartened to see the response of readers willing to order this book through our local, indie book shop, The Book Stall. When I received the shop’s weekly newsletter, I was astounded to see Turning Points prominently featured on their Bestseller list. It was truly humbling. It made me especially thankful for all of my failed endeavors- yes, you read that correctly- to be a writer to learn to hold hands with the heavy onslaught of rejection. To grow from it. To fuel for the next opportunity. To push for what seems impossible.

If you are interested in ordering Turning Points, please consider ordering from your local book store. If that is not a possibility, please consider Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or inquiring with your local library.

One last thought to anyone who writes or has an urge to write- just keep going.

At Long Last, Some Book News

It is delightfully surreal to share that I have a book coming out. My short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ will be published in an Anthology titled ‘Turning Points.’

The backstory: I am a member of Off Campus Writers’ Workshop in Winnetka. The group is marking its 75th Anniversary as a longstanding Chicago writing group and as such, is publishing a short story Anthology- a whisk of mystery, fantasy, contemporary, historical, memoir, and the many turning points that move us ahead.

This is my first published work of fiction. It’s a process that began way back in October of 2019- yes, simpler times. What I love about Anthologies is that there is a little something for everyone. In my critique group alone, there were stories of a long-fought war, a high school student attending Turnabout, a neighbor curious about a new baby, and a cherished puffer coat passed down to a friend in need. All of these short stories tugged at me in unique ways. As for my story? It appears under the section titled ‘Unexpected Outcomes.’

You can preorder ‘Turning Points’ at The Book Stall in Winnetka. In belonging to a Winnetka-based writing group, it was important to us that we support our local, independent book store. Thank you for shopping local and for supporting the amazing contributors of OCWW.

Elegy in a Pandemic: Letter to myself

(today I participated in a workshop through Off Campus Writers Workshop and there were some brilliant grief prompts presented by Chen Chen, who served as instructor/moderator. Here is what came out)

Dear ambitious scholar,

Grief is my dog’s collar tucked away in a box, high on the shelf in my closet.

My favorite shirt, the chambray button-down from that classic secondhand store, is fading away. I found two more holes this morning, one of which was hiding in plain sight near my elbow. It won’t be long now. I used to think it would crush me to lose this shirt- not the jewelry in velvet boxes or the designer trenchcoat- but this, this faded, tattered shirt with the heart-shaped pocket. It’s lesser now, the crush of it all.

I have been furious with my writing lately. It’s never been easier or harder. I’m writing everything: poems, fiction, nonfiction, and sex. Yes, sex writing was a whole class. The hours are long in the writing chair, in front of the writing screen.

All this writing has allowed me to manifest though. To bring out the grief without yelling at my kids or pulling at my hair. I continue to tread water in an angry sea. Yet I force the handholding of language and grief. Say it out loud or it doesn’t count.

What am I to do next and how can I do all of it? Everything within me is desperate to come out. How do I know the way? How do I know the path without directions?

Ambitious scholar, take notes and take your time. You will get there. You will get there.

Start Me Up

The new year has rolled out and the rollercoaster has begun. In just the first half of January, there have been dramatic shifts and prods within social media, government, law enforcement, D.E.I., journalism, and more. Brad Montague touched upon the enormity of this time as ‘toomuchery.’ The world keeps changing, the world keeps staying the same. Routine mixed with chaos, stirred with uncertainty. What happens when our very democracy is under violent attack and my child approaches me and asks for help with homework? He’s working on calculating area. Length x width.

The other day I impulse bought a set of clearance rack barrettes from Target. As if that would help anything. As if it would lessen the anxiety. But they sparkle on Zoom. They shimmer under the light of our dinner table. They help hide that awkward hair length I’m at- the growing-out-phase. But really, there is no help for moving through uncertainty. Sparkle is merely a distraction.

Family continues with distance and technology, and the occasional freezing cold walk at a forest preserve.

Our dog, Putter, continues to burrow on our laps and spread the warmth wherever she goes. In the ever-chill of a midwestern winter, I don’t really mind it. I’m just not always ready when I’m sitting down with coffee and a furry bundle leaps into my startled lap.

On Tuesday, Fitz cracked open an Ina Garten cookbook and made the fanciest comfort food he could find: lobster BLTs. They were sensational. A hall-of-fame kind of sandwich.

Clean, purge, donate. Every year this happens. The doling out of holiday decor, the sweeping removal of it, and my insistence at stripping things down, down, down to necessity. In a world of no control, I have to stop myself from pacing or organizing. In doing so, Fitz dug through office drawers and uncovered a treasure among relics (a rolodex! ancient biz cards!). Before the world changed and tilted, he had purchased a pair of earrings on Etsy for me. My initials. The two letters that have been singular in my identity for so long. A really lovely, thoughtful gift. It reminded me of that moment in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark is in the attic, attempting to discreetly hide presents…until he uncovers a dusty Mother’s Day gift from 1984. Oops.

I picked a helluva time to start school again but the program was just too good and the Instagram ad hit at the right time. Despite the chaos of schedule, I have really enjoyed eCornell. I’m studying Diversity & Inclusion.

Every day is still fresh. Every opportunity is still present. Yes, this year has already been too much, but many days lay ahead. Many days lay ahead. Start me up.