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Praise For My Work

...sinister, funny, suggestive...

Jon McGregor
Author - This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

...evocative, fully amplified, and wise...

Nancy Zafris
Fiction Editor - Kenyon Review

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The Not Walrus

Every time I tell this story I say it was a walrus and my husband interrupts and says it wasn’t a walrus, because there are no walruses in Wales. He says this fact in a voice that implies that everyone knows there are no walruses in Wales, but I don’t think that everyone knows. He does this all the time, interjecting in my stories - linguists call it co-narrating, but I have another name for it.

So maybe it wasn’t a walrus, but it was something like a walrus — a seal, a manatee — I don’t know. I’m not an animal expert.

“A zoologist,” he says, “you’re not a zoologist.”

We were spending a few days camping along the Welsh coast, our tiny pop-up tent perched on the edge of a green rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. I mean, the landscape was like a painting, like how an artist would imagine the Welsh coast — that was exactly how it was. But wetter. So much wetter.

In the morning we put on our rain gear and found a trail leading from our campsite and followed it along the water in the direction of Fishguard, the nearest town. We walked for a while, and the cliff got shorter and the water grew closer, and that’s when we saw it — the not-walrus — laying on a rocky beach just below where we were hiking. My husband found a route down to the water, and I followed him. We wanted to get a closer look, and to take a picture.

That’s when I slipped in the mud. As I tried to stop myself from tumbling off the low cliff I reached out and grabbed the first thing I could — a clump of tall, red, reeds.

Are you okay? my husband said.

Yeah, I said, just a little muddy. Then I looked at my hand. It was covered in tiny white blisters, and they burned like embers.

Oh, my husband said, that’s not good. Then he used his phone to take a picture of the plant I had grabbed. Just in case, he said.

In case what? I said.

You never know, he said, just being prepared.

That’s his Boy Scout training kicking in.

“Eagle Scout,” he says, “You're a Boy Scout until you're 18, but you're an Eagle Scout for life.”

So the Eagle Scout and I went down to the water where the creature no longer was, and I held my hand in the icy Irish Sea and tried to cool my burning skin. Then we walked a couple more hours, and got to Fishguard by lunchtime, just as the rain was breaking.

Near the main square in a little wood-paneled pub I ordered a pint, extra cold, and held it in my bilstered hand. Then we each ate an order of fish and chips and watched the rain come back. Two pints later I couldn’t feel the blisters anymore, and the Eagle Scout and I walked back to our camp.

"Some day I'll take you real camping," he says, “you’ve never been real camping.”


Writing in Tunisia

It was the last summer before the Tunisian revolution and the first summer after I got married - and I was traveling across Tunisia next to a Jesuit priest. The priest and I had become good friends because he is a devout man from the Congo and I come from a long line of irreverent cowboys.

Our tour group skipped across the country, landing in beautiful hotels with Islamic courtyards and Mediterranean tiles - charming places full of Germans. After dinner the priest and I would sit in the unlit courtyards and discuss philosophy and writing and the philosophy of writing. When we heard the evening call to prayer we stopped talking. Sometimes we didn't say anything again for a long time.

By the time we got to Hammamet I had started writing a short story. It was the first piece of fiction I had written in years and I spent a long time on the balcony of my hotel room, writing and listening to the ecstatic laughs of German children crashing down the hotel's water slide.

Over the next year I edited that story several times, making small, important, pedantic, and meaningless changes - then I submitted it to The Kenyon Review's Short Fiction Contest.

I won that contest, and went to Ohio, and today my story is being published.

I recommend Tunisia in the early summer - but if you go, remember to bring a light jacket. It can be quite windy.


I Won Literary Death Match, London!

The first round of LDM is competitive literature on stage, the second round is usually some kind of party game that they pretend is about literature--but is actually about charades, or dancing, or throwing something at something else. I am always up for competitive literature, but have spent my life avoiding party games. Except for whack the piñata. Oh man, I love me some piñata.

But they did not have a piñata. They had another game that I wouldn't have been able to do without tons of help from the audience and two amazing volunteers (here, and here).

After I won, they gave me a very fancy medal to wear and we stayed out late talking about what makes good literature, great European cities, and a strong marriage.

It’s enthusiasm.


The Paris Review's Flash Fiction Contest

The Paris Review had a flash fiction contest. They challenged writers to compose 300 words, narrating this picture, in the style of a well known author. I, of course, chose Hemingway. Then they picked my story as one of the finalists in the competition!

Read my entire story HERE.


Crafting Very Short Fiction

A good friend of mine, Tamar Levi, interviewed me about writing short fiction. When we had this discussion a 700 word short story of mine had just won a short fiction competition. Then, last week a ten word story I wrote won another contest for very very short fiction. I’m slowly whittling my stories down to ever shorter and more brittle sentences.

My new goal is to write a perfect story with just one word, and then to recite that story all over town, while people throw flowers and money at me.

Until then you should read Tamar’s blog post.

You may still throw flowers and money at me.

I’m around.