Silent Paddle

At my family’s camp Up North in Wisconsin, one of the most beloved traditions we still follow today takes place far outside Birch Trail’s property lines. Our beloved BT sends out nearly 65 wilderness trips each season, taking the campers climbing on the granite bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, hiking in the Isle Royale National Forest, paddling down the mighty Namekagon river, or from lake to lake in the  Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Some of the most beautiful scenery to be found on all of god’s green earth.

I never took to backpacking as much as I did to the boating-oriented trips because, to me at least, it always seemed rather silly to carry a week’s worth of camping gear and food on one’s back when a lovely little canoe or kayak could manage the heavy lifting for you  instead. Though most of our days during those canoeing and kayaking trips were filled with talking, laughing, and singing (there is a whole lot of singing and cheering that goes on at Birch Trail) our trip leaders would inevitably institute another long-held Birch Trail camping tradition: the silent paddle.

There isn’t much about silent paddling to describe that you wouldn’t already assume; enforcing an hour or two of total silence as the canoes, kayaks, or sailboats cruised across the water allows a young person the opportunity to really notice the exquisite beauty and quiet of their surroundings, as well as to go inward and notice what those surroundings could make her feel. As a deeply imaginative and introspective kid, I truly relished those silent paddles, and they include some of my fondest memories.

On my sea kayaking expedition with NOLS in 1999 along the southeastern coast of Alaska the summer after my senior year of high school, I was surprised and much delighted to discover that silent paddles were a tradition among their ranks as well. Though I often found myself battling rainy skies versus the sunny ones of my summer camp days, and struggling against powerful swells and strong currents of unprotected ocean waters much more challenging than the gentle rivers and lakes of my Midwestern wilderness sojourns, there was still something comforting about not having to talk.

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I Defy You, Stars

This spring has been a mightily busy one, with lots of traveling and working and of course, lots of writing. With a somewhat normalized schedule ahead of me for the summer, I’m fully engaged in the aim to finish my novel by the end of August. Not only is fall a great time for pitching, but it’s also, I believe, just about the point at which my sanity will bear no more strain.

So here you see me, writing like a madwoman. And it is magnificent. I wake in the mornings thinking about the day ahead of me, how to get through it quickly so I can sit down and write at the end of it. In the shower, where I seem to have some of my best ideas, I scribble feverish, disjointed thoughts on my waterproof notepad. On the bus, I become that girl who lets her belongings drop to the yucky floor as she writes sloppy notes on a too-small notebook. At work, I steal ten minutes here and five minutes there to add just one quick line or fix that nagging dialogue tag in my draft. The randomly acquired Hello Kitty flashdrive I use to transport my work drafts has become my most prized possession, and I hate all things Sanrio. I get home from work, walk the pup, assemble some kind of  dinner, and hunker down in the office accompanied by said dog, a sliced pear, and a juice glass filled half-way with vodka. There, the work commences. If all goes well, I’m still typing away come midnight. Then I shower off the creative demons and dark juju, climb into bed weary but happy. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “I know what happiness is, for I have done good work.” And off I go to dream of, about, and as my characters, waking bleary-eyed in the morning to do it all again.

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Blog Series: The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing: A  Real Emotional Girl


Many thanks to my dear friend and literary homegirl Janet Buttenwieser, author of Guts, for tagging me in the Good Reads project, THE NEXT BIG THING.  Below is a first for me as it was for her; a self-interview about my memoir.

What is the title or working title of your book?

A Real Emotional Girl: A Memoir of Love and Loss

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This book was actually my father’s idea. When I came home with the rest of my family to be with him for the remaining months of his life, I had left school and was worried about being able to graduate on time. My dad suggested that perhaps I could write an article or essay about my experience of caring for him as he neared death and get some kind of credit for it when I returned to college. As it turned out, I was indeed able to get an independent study grant—two of them, in fact (one to write the book and one to edit it), so that I could graduate on time.

I can’t honestly say that I would have a writing career at all, or would ever have written a book, had it not been for my father’s initial inspiration for this incredible book. More importantly, the book helped me heal and will hopefully do the same for others.


What genre does your book fall under?

Literary memoir

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Me – Well, if I really had my druthers, I’d pick Jennifer Lawrence.

Dad – Robin Williams. Full stop.

Mom – Sally Field

Dylan – Kit Harrington

Gabe – Taylor Kitsch

Uncle Wooby – Dermot Mulrooney

Alan – Ed Begly Jr.

Susan – Blythe Danner


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A story of daughterhood and fatherloss, of growing up and looking in, and ultimately of love overcoming all else.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I actually flew through the first draft in just a few months, but it was a real piece of shit. Thank goodness publication came a whole decade down the road so that I had many years to figure out what the hell I was doing!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by my father’s unbelievable capacity to love—that was strongest from start to finish. But I also wanted to write the book that I so badly needed and could not find when I was in the very darkest pits of my own grief in the wake of his death. I set out to create something that could provide solace and companionship to others as they march through that same darkness, and I so badly hope that I’ve accomplished that goal.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Of course the book sounds like a real Debbie Downer, and it’s not a light read by any means, but there are funny parts, and there is an uplifting ending that might just leave you feeling altogether happy.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am proud to have my book published by the fine folks at Skyhorse Publishing from New York. You can purchase a signed copy at or on



Next up, look for NEXT BIG THING blog posts by fabulous authors Kelly Davio, Ann Beman, and Joe Ponepinto.

What’s at the Core of the Core Ideas

Along with my faithful writing companion, Kelly Davio and several other writer pals, I attended Jennie Shortridge’s release party for her latest book, Love Water Memory at Elliot Bay Book Company here in Seattle. The party was a rollicking good time, complete with booze and schnibbles, and—best of all—music performed by the author and her friends/bandmates. Jennie is a brilliant writer with the most lovely singing voice, and I envy her beyond measure. I was truly blessed, and quite humbled, when Jennie graciously endorsed Girl with a great blurb several years back and I have ever since admired the way she seems to effortlessly move through this crazy industry.

While Jennie read and discussed her new book, she talked about the genesis of the core idea behind it: a newspaper clipping about a couple who found their way back to one another—and back to love—after one of them suffered a rare form of amnesia. Listening to Jennie describe how she came to weave her own story from this nugget of a core idea got me thinking about what compels writers to do what we do, to tell stories. No two writers truly accomplish the task in the same manner, but at the heart of it, we do because we cannot imagine a life without writing.

J.K. Rowling once said that the idea for the Harry Potter series came to her while she rode home from work one day on The Tube, and the train pulled into King’s Cross Station, the character of young Harry Potter suddenly appeared in her mind fully formed. Stephen King says that the plot of his bestseller, Misery, came to him in a dream. For me, the experience of stumbling upon inspiration to write has been varied. For my memoir, obviously the story was already there and was already pretty good (at least, that’s what the reviews say so far), and I just had to make sure to tell it right. The idea for my current project came up a little more adventurously: while skiing in white-out conditions on the Summit at Snowqualmie with my brother, Dylan, about three years ago, he turned around to ask me if I was alright and I assured him that I was. Then, he asked, “It’s kind of ominous, isn’t it? Looks a little like the end of the world.” Boom—in a single heartbeat, the concept for a post-apocalyptic, volcanic winter story waltzed right on in to my mind, my protagonists desires and conflicts, trials and allies, mentors and loves all swirling around in my head just like the snow whipping around my face as I moved down the slopes. And poor Dylan had to endure my wild, ceaseless and barely coherent brainstorming for the remainder of the day.

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Earning that Title, One Tear at a Time

Do not be so sweet that people will eat you up, nor so bitter that they will spit you out.

-Pashto folk saying

It’s been a great week, full of some damn exciting developments: I’ve purchased a brand new car and landied a hard-earned promotion at work, and yet I’ve had an awfully rough go of it all. That might not make much sense to some of you, but to those who have come to know loss and grief, it makes perfect sense, because you know that after suffering a life-changing loss of someone close to you, all good things become bittersweet rather than purely sweet. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, my old Volvo wagon blew her tranny and is now going to the great Volvo lot in the sky. She served me well and kept me safe on the road for the last five years, and I was sad to see her go. I was pretty certain about what kind of car I would buy next, how it would all go down, and indeed the decision has essentially made itself. I considered and drove a few different cars, sought advice from several knowledgeable folks, and did a good deal of research on Consumer Reports. My big brother, Gabe, held my hand from 2,000 miles away and helped me through every single step of the process. In the end, I settled on a new 2013 Subaru Forester, with not many—but just enough—of the niceties to make me feel like I’ve gotten something pretty fancy-pants. I got a great car at a great price, and I cried the entire way through it.

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All Grown Up and Stuff at AWP

I’ve just returned from my fifth trip to the annual AWP Conference (the Association for Writers and Writing Programs) , and am proud to say that I’ve yet again survived the thrilling ordeal. It’s taken me two days, three loads of laundry, about six servings of pasta, and many hours of sleep to recover and recombobulate after the exhaustion and overstimulation of the chaotic, 12,000-attendee conference, but I am once again walking and talking like a human being.

This year’s conference was almost like a homecoming, in a way: I caught up with old friends, signed and swapped books with said friends, reminisced over the silly foibles of my not-so-distance youth in this industry, and looked back at the distance I’ve traveled thus far in my writing career. When I first attended the AWP conference in Chicago five years ago in Chicago, I was fresh out of my MFA program and had no idea what trajectory my career would take. I had only submitted my work to a handful of literary journals, and had only been published in one. I certainly never dreamed that in a matter of years, I’d be editing one of the industry’s most reputable literary magazines, and would have published my debut memoir, A Real Emotional Girl by a New York-based publisher of substantial prestige (In hardcover! With a photo insert!).

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The Girl on the Cover of Girl

Next week is the annual AWP conference, to be held in Boston this year, and I’ll be attending the weekend’s festivities for yet another round of literary gluttony and general mayhem along with my faithful companions and fellow editors of The Los Angeles Review: Kelly Davio, Ann Beman, and Joe Ponepinto. In addition to the densely scheduled and attended panels, workshops, and readings, as well as the whirlwind of nearly ten thousand like-minded artists crammed into one overburdened convention center, there is also the delightfully overstimulating chaos of the AWP bookfair.

I spend about 90% of my bookfair time manning the LAR booth where we sell issues and subscriptions, say hello to all the contributors we’ve come to positively adore over the years, and–of course– participate in some of the best people-watching around. But that other 10% of my bookfair time belongs to the decadent hour or two or five I get to spend blissfully wandering the crowded rows upon rows of the world’s best literary magazine, arts programs, small presses, and writers. For those of us in the writing biz, this is heaven. I savor that experience of say hello to old friends every single year, and every year I buy too many books and magazine and merchandise because I find myself wanting EVERYTHING. Best of all, though, I look forward to drinking up the sights of so many gorgeous, hard-won books on display, all those richly crafted nuggets of knowledge and emotion and art wrapped up so finely in the kind of design feats that can knock your socks right off. Heaven, I tell you, heaven.

One of the things many non-writers are surprised to learn about the publishing process is how little control an author will usually have in the selection of his or her cover art. Luckily for me and Girl, the incredible team at Skyhorse Publishing included me on the decision and welcomed my feedback in what proved to be a thrilling and highly educational search for that perfect image to represent my book. Because I’d been dreaming of publishing this memoir for so many years, I came to the table with images already in hand. I’d held onto a photograph taken by progeny photographer Holly Henry, and was delighted when the designers at Skyhorse responded well to it. Galley copies were printed with that original image, which was a haunting and somewhat polarizing image, and I was elated. While all the little loose ends of font choice and alignment were still being settled, word came down from on high that we’d have to choose a new image, and do it quickly.

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Another Year Down

Today marks eleven years since my father’s death. It’s another anniversary, another little hurdle to walk over. Like all the anniversaries that have passed, I woke this morning, remembered what day it was, and tried to decide how I felt about it. I’ve written about these anniversaries a few times before, and I’ll likely do it again, because they’re a big deal. But unlike all those other years, I’ve decided to this one a little differently.
I talked with my mom and brothers this morning—each of us checking in with the others to simply connect, and remember together, all that we went through eleven years ago and every day since. But after that, got out of bed, walked my dog, and went on with my day. The Green Bay Packers came away with an important win against longtime rivals Chicago Bears, and that’s a pretty good thing. And there are other good things today—lots of them—and, taking stock of it all, I decided that I’m not going to be sad today. I miss my father more intensely than ever before, but I’m determined to spend the day feeling happy, grateful, and at peace. So far, so good.

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All Aboard!

The Los Angeles Review’s January Online Workshops, 2013


Looking to give a meaningful gift to a loved one, or perhaps yourself this year? How about a creative writing workshop? It’s *literally* the gift that keeps on giving.



Our online workshops are a chance for you to work directly with the editors and the notable contributors of The Los Angeles Review, and to interact with likeminded writers from all over the world. Each four-week intensive workshop will give you the chance to write new work, gain feedback on existing work, and learn fresh angles of approach to writing that can surprise both the writer and the reader. Because the workshop’s lectures, writing assignments, and discussions take place in our online workshop environment, there is no set class time; writers from all over the country and the world can participate on their own schedules.

This January, we ‘re pleased to offer the following two courses:

Oh, the Places We’ll Go: Engaging with the World Around Us with Nonfiction Editor Ann Beman

This four-week workshop will focus on places and journeys, whether to exotic locales or merely to the foodtruck in the paint store lot. This small group of writers will meet online from January 7 to February 1 to discuss examples of place-related nonfiction from two hot issues of The Los Angeles Review and to critique student work. Best of all, we’ll delve into new and unexpected territories, generating prose through immersive exercises based on short weekly lectures. Register via Submittable here.

Sweating the Small Stuff: Learning Verse with Poetry Editor Tanya Chernov

This poetry workshop is designed for writers who want to jump-start their poetry practice, those who want to keep the engine oiled, and those who approach writing and reading with sincerity. You’ll do plenty of writing and reading, and have lively discussions about both the craft and the process of poetry. The weekly homework assignments (workshopped the following week) are designed to provide fresh angles of approach that can surprise–even startle–both the writer and his/her readers. As writers, we all get stuck in ruts, and every writer must know how to go about digging oneself out of those ruts. If you’ve ever sweated over three words and a comma, you know what we mean. If you believe in inspiration but also believe in plain hard work, then this workshop is your jam. Register via Submittable here.

The Details:

Minimum enrollment: 3. Maximum enrollment: 8. Each class will begin on January 7, and will finish on February 1. Registration opens December 4, 2012, and closes January 4.

The cost for each class is $165. Your registration includes two issues of The Los Angeles Review, which will be used as texts for your class. In the week prior to your first class, you will receive your instructor’s syllabus, your online workshop login, and any additional readings provided by your instructor.

(Please note: In the event that you need to withdraw from the course, a 90% refund of your registration fee is available up to the date of the first class. In the event that minimum enrollment is not reached, you will be refunded 100% of your fee.)


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What We Lose to February

I know, I know—it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve written a post, and I get yelled at all the time for it. The truth is that I’ve been so immersed (infected might be a more accurate term) in writing my next project that I’ve barely come up for air, let alone had time to write the kind of blog post I know my readers deserve. So please bear with me as I stumble in and out of real life as I finish this book, and cross your fingers that I survive the process. I’m not joking–I may not make it though this one.

And speaking of the writing process, let me tell you—this life I’ve chosen for myself, this writer’s life—it ain’t for pussies. The incredible amount of discipline and dedication it takes to see a manuscript through to the end is indescribable, unnamable. That focus and devotion takes such an awful lot out of me, and when I’m working as fiercely on a project as I have been these last few months, I find that I can neither think nor talk about virtually anything else.

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