“This Is the Greatest Love Story and Ghost Story,”* memoir, Salon
…The houses we passed [in Charleston] were vast, boxy mansions, as lavish and as importantly grand as wedding cakes, with columns and pastel paint and porticos and wrought iron. Maybe it was how our tour guide’s gossipy stories of past and present intertwined melodramatic deaths with mournful ghosts—having learned tourists tip better on ghost stories. Hand in hand on a sunny afternoon, the houses swelling on one side of us as water sparkled on the other, with Fort Sumter on the horizon and dinner plans for shrimp and grits, I asked Steve, “Have you ever seen a ghost?”…
*NOT the title I provided!!
“The Person in Front of Me on the Metro Found Out Someone Close to Her Died,” flash essay in Washingtonian magazine
...People gaze into tiny screens, lost in tiny worlds of … what? We can’t see if it’s Facebook, games, Netflix. We don’t know which e-book is so enthralling, what the incoming text message advises. Most times the Metro is as quiet as an old-fashioned library. It’s what I thought I wanted, but I don’t like this desolate silence, either....
“One True Thing,” short fiction, from The Collagist*
“...We were all young back then, or so it seemed to us. If there were old people—"old" meaning anyone older than us—at the MacBride Writers' Conference in 1996, we didn't notice. We were busy with ourselves, and no world existed beyond us, our egos, our writing, our dreams and hopes, our gossip. Some of us were on working scholarship to the conference as waiters, and some of us earned scholarships because our poetry was published in a literary journal deemed important, and some of us—though we were so, so young—had published our first book, which was the holy grail: publish a book. Those people were luckiest of all, coming to the writers' conference on a fellowship, which was the golden ticket. None of us paid. Paying was what regular people did, not us.
“We were obnoxious, toting bottles of crummy red wine into dinner and toasting ourselves in loud voices, clustering at the back of the room during craft lectures to lean and whisper in each other's ears….”
*Included in the forthcoming short story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
From "I Am the Widow," short fiction, r.kv.r.y.*
"Just like at any movie or TV funeral, his casket gets put up front, set under specially focused lighting, parenthesized by yardstick-high sprays of white gladiolus. Plump velvet kneeler in front of him, velvet curtains behind. Top half of the box open, so we can see his face. If we want to see him dead, that is, if we want to look right at death. There are plenty ducking their heads, twisting necks around and staring up high into the ceiling or deep down through the carpeted floor. Not me. Right off, I grab hold of his hand, entwine my fingers around his, not because that feels so great but because it unnerves the people circling me. Hell yeah. I’m grabbing a dead man’s hand. I’m grabbing my dead husband’s hand. Maybe I won’t let go. Maybe I’m going crazy."*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
From Hobart, “What I Could Buy,” a short story:*
“What I could buy with the insurance money they gave me when you died:*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
“One Ferrari, red or black, assuming V-8 instead of V-12, assuming premium gas, assuming insurance, assuming no major breakdowns or repairs, assuming no super-long driving trips, assuming street parking, assuming ironic fuzzy dice to dangle off rear view mirror. Or:
“Four separate world cruises, assuming 107 days at sea, assuming Queen Mary 2 on the Cunard Line, assuming supplement for a single room, assuming balcony, assuming one glass of wine per night, assuming no more than twelve land excursions as arranged by the cruise ship personnel, assuming winning at the casino, assuming internet access, assuming laundry service. Or: …”
From "Acquiescence," flash fiction published in Shenandoah:*
“The body flew on a different plane, arriving in Detroit two days ago, at 7:37AM. She tracked its arrival online. Not a soldier or a famous politician, just her husband, age thirty, suddenly dead.”
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.***
“Ten Things,” short story, The Sun magazine:*
"He once compared you to an avocado. He was never good at saying what he meant in fancy ways. (You had a boyfriend in college who dedicated poems to you, one of which won a contest in the student literary magazine, but that boyfriend never compared you to anything as simple and real as an avocado.)"
***"Death Notice," essay, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine:
“Headache,” a chapter excerpt from the novel SILVER GIRL, in Works (of Fiction) In Progress [WIPs]
Suburban Chicago, 1982
The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were.
“You answer,” she whispered.
It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed….
"No one likes to hear about such a loss. Euphemisms help: a loss. Passed on. I refuse those words because they're soft, hiding the reality that this could happen to you; someone you love could drop dead one Sunday morning while eating cornflakes. (Or that someone could be you.)"
From The Crab Orchard Review, PDF or link to archive
“The Chicago Brother”Chicago, 1899Sitting on the cold stoop as snow flurried around him, Jozef felt as useless as a third boot. Upstairs, his wife was huddled deep in Ludwika’s bed, in the front room where the window was. When any of them were sick, that’s where they lay to get better or to die: little Janka with the fever was the last one, and she had passed on after a long, terrible week; mass was being said at St. Casimir’s in two Sundays. Now his wife, Krystyna—not sick, but with a baby that had been coming for too many hours, so it was her turn in Ludwika’s bed, her turn to lie in the front room.
He had resisted, wanting her to stay in the back bedroom; yes, it was on the airshaft, dark and dank, crowded with the bedding for the little girls, but wasn’t it better for Krystyna to be in a place she knew—the faded wallpaper with the roses, the cracks in the ceiling zigzagging like summer lightning?—“she’ll be fine back here,” he had said, but the women ignored him, lifting Krystyna, pulling her, prodding her into the front, into the bed where people died. How Ludwika could sleep with those ghosts, but she did.
From “Sophomore Outing,” a live storytelling event in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2011. Hosted by Story League. This is a YouTube video.*
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.
Reading Guide, A Year and a Day
An essay about writing Pears on a Willow Tree and the first chapter (scroll down)
For fun: my adventures learning how to can, The Washington Post:
"When novelist Leslie Pietrzyk told me that home canning is one of the 50 things she wants to do before she dies, I had to wonder what else is on the list. What's so exciting about putting up a couple jars of peaches?"
Updated: February 2015