Once upon a time, before the time of writing, famine came to Wisconsin. There was nothing for many animals to eat, and they wasted away to nothing. A mother bear with two cubs determined to leave that land and go somewhere else, somewhere across the great lake now known as Lake Michigan. The mother bear encouraged her two cubs that the land on the opposite shore was within their reach, and so they set off to swim. Ten miles from the Wisconsin shore, the first cub sank—he could swim no more. The other cub tried to keep going, but also sank not much farther than her brother. The mama bear was heartbroken, but she could not help her cubs. She swam to the Michigan shore of the great lake, and lay down on the beach, looking out over the water where she lost her cubs. The Great Spirit felt the mama bear’s sadness, and caused the two cubs to surface as small islands in the water. The mama bear still lies there, watching over her babies, while the sands heap up around and over her.

That is the story of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Probably most Michiganders know the story.

The Michigan side of Lake Michigan is spectacularly beautiful. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is something to behold. (No knock against Wisconsin, where my amazing sister lives! I’m just not as familiar with the Wisconsin side.)

I was thinking about this story while walking on the beach in Naples, Florida, where my brother lives now. I was thinking about the many associations of sand—summer beach fun, but also the sands of time.

I read this story, Sand at Gulf Shores, Alabama, just inside the Gulf State Park, which was right next to the condo we stayed in for our honeymoon. There is something about coastline that sings of melancholy, and the threshold between the known and the unknown.

This story appeared in Wild Roof Journal.

What I’m Reading. And Where I’m Reading It.

Since my husband is a gigging singer-songwriter, I get to bars and wineries and micro-brews a whole lot. And I’m the nerd who brings a book for the occasion. Here’s what I’ve started reading this new year.

Reading now: Ragman by JG Faherty. First off, what a great title for mummy horror! At The Liquor Hut, in McLeansboro.


And earlier this year, Road of Bones by Christopher Golden at 618 Taphouse drinking a hard cider brewed in St. Louis.

And the first book of the year was The Best Horror of the Year, vol. 14 edited by Ellen Datlow. Blue Sky Vineyard, Cabernet Franc.

I also read The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. Barnes & Noble is hosting Grady Hendrix in a Zoom event tomorrow. Sign up. It’s free.

We had an eerie, all-day fog today. It was like being inside a rain cloud. A fog to soften the edges of the world, to mute already drab colors, to muffle some sounds and let others carry, seemingly arriving from nowhere.

What better thing to do than visit a cemetery? There are lots of little cemeteries in the area, where century-old tombstones and new burials mingle.

This story appeared in 206-Word Stories: A Horror Anthology, published in 2022 by Bag of Bones Press.

This is a funny sort of story to read on my honeymoon—the story of a new bride or bride-to-be who escapes into the ocean.

I’m not planning any such escape.

But I do find jellyfish interesting. They can be so beautiful in the water, so peculiar washed up on the beach. They thrive, evidently, in exactly the kind of conditions caused by warming oceans—increased acidification and decreased oxygen—that hurts pretty much everything else. What a strange thing to contemplate, a reversal of evolution, the resurrection of invertebrate dominance.

All of that flowed into the story of radical reclamation of agency.

This video was made at Gulf Shores, Alabama. The beach was sparsely populated, and was just perfect for strolling in the surf, or for sitting and reading this story out loud.

This story was a finalist in a monthly flash competition at Retreat West.

Look at this jellyfish! It looks like a sand dollar!
Also, I need to learn to size photos…

What I’m Reading. And Where I’m Reading It. November 2022

Of course I always take a book on vacation. Usually two, in fact. Even if I’m pretty sure I won’t have time to read. So, here’s what I brought on the honeymoon at Gulf Shores — a horror novel set in the Gulf Shores. Of course. And I did not have time to read it. Instead of chilling with a book on the beach, I prowled the beach, up and down, from the condo across the Gulf Shores State Park and beyond, at least once a day. I finished the book back home in Southern Illinois. At a winery. Because of course that’s where I would read.

The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Big ol’ 5 stars. I may never look at a sand dune the same way again.

The wine is Peachbarn Winery‘s rosé. I often drink their Old School Peach, which is a dry peach. It’s like biting into a peach right off the tree, but not an overripe one. So freaking good. But their rosé is a real treat too.

Greetings the Gulf Shores!

And here’s how we honeymoon. I recorded three readings on the beach. Tim played two open mics.

This day there was very little beach traffic despite it being a beautiful day. Off-season is definitely the right time to visit the Gulf Shores.

I wrote this story for a 53-word contest. I didn’t win… but I also couldn’t see adding any more words to it. It was the way I wanted it in just that many words. I sent it later to Mojave River Review.

I have a love – fear relationship with sharks. I love them, but I am absolutely terrified of them. I suppose Jaws might be partly to blame, but mostly it’s the facts that get to me. I’ve watched dozens of documentaries and film clips, and while I accept that sharks — even big ones — don’t go swimming around looking to eat people (they are successful hunters, if they wanted to eat more people, they would), they still scare me.

Real reason? They come to me in my dreams as sort of a “yeah I already know that” warning that things are chaotic in my subconscious. They are the only animal out of the many I dream about that speaks to me in English.

The dream where a shark spoke the most clearly came when I was quite young. I dreamed a shark was above me in the water, a Great White that time though I often dream of Blue Sharks. I swam down to a ship wreck to hide – and idea of dubious merit. The shark said, “I’m going to get you!” And I replied, “No, you won’t!” He said something else but I don’t remember what. Probably if I remembered, I’d be famous or something. But, as in a fairytale I failed the test. Perhaps.

On a recent road trip (honeymoon!) my husband (omg, I’m married!) and I stopped for the night in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley’s hometown. There is a statue of Elvis there commemorating his 1956 homecoming concert. We stopped in to see it.

So much associated with Elvis is over-the-top, commercialized, glittery to the point where it’s hard to tell if it’s mockery, idolatry, or an extension of Colonel Tom Parker’s vision for Elvis. It’s hard, sometimes, to see authenticity.

But I did in Tupelo.

Joe Makowski was “lucky enough to have seen Elvis 81 times!” That’s true devotion. That’s love.

Laura O’Dwyer from Ireland, dedicated a brick at the statue just this year (2022), and says, “Elvis thank you for sharing your music and love.”

Every dedicated brick in the walkway has a similar message of gratitude for music shared.

Elvis grew up dirt poor. His family was into country music, and he got into gospel and rhythm & blues he heard in black communities in Tupelo.

Did white America find it easier to love Elvis than black blues and rhythm and blues musicians? I’m sure that was a factor in Elvis’ success. But I’m not convinced it was his “fault.” Elvis loved the music that was around him as he was growing up, he had an amazing voice, a genuine musical interpretation, he was charismatic, he worked hard and he got lucky.

Elvis’ music was a unique blend of the musical styles he loved, and it had a whole lot to do, not just with the birth of rock & roll in this country, but also with the “British Invasion” in the 1960s that brought The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to America. Love him or hate him, but to deny his musical influence is willfully silly.

That’s not to downplay other musicians. We wouldn’t have rock & roll without Little Richard’s flamboyant combination of gospel and blues. Nor would it sound the same without Chuck Berry’s riffs. And there is a long list of black blues musicians without whom we wouldn’t have rock & roll, or outlaw country, or heavy metal, or rap, or huge sections of pop music.

I walked around Elvis’ statue, reading the 3-line tributes on the paving bricks. And I see love. People love Elvis. His black-velvet voice, as it’s been called. For what he stirred in their hearts. And that’s real. Because here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t move you, if you hate Elvis, if you think his music sucks, if you think he’s overrated. There was an authenticity there that spangles and capes and the Colonel couldn’t cover up.  

I was thinking that day, what if Elvis hadn’t been as famous? If instead of a phenomenon, he’d been simply part of a larger musical movement? Would our world look different, maybe less divided? It seems ungrateful to wish Elvis’ fame had lifted others along more than it did. And yet, I wonder if, without the Colonel’s big fame vision, it might have.

Elvis was a true cultural catalyst. He embodied the necessary combination at that time and in that place that turned a musical style into a revolution.

But he paid for it with his life. And that’s a tragedy.

I didn’t expect to like our chickens as much as I do.

That’s a weird thing to hear from someone who loves animals as much as I do. But I hadn’t been around chickens much, and I didn’t realize how frankly hilarious they can be! They really are little, feathered dinosaurs. Ours are on the friendly side of skittish, though they can be quite chummy if you have a can of sweet corn for them.

I wrote this story shortly after we got our first chickens, when we still lived at Resurrection Mule Farm (I’ll tell you the story of that name some day). I was delighted at getting different colored eggs from our variety of hens. I still am, to be honest.

And there’s nothing quite like a laid-that-morning egg from a free-range hen.

But, when you have free-range chickens, and you live near a national forest like we do at Underhill, you have predation. For us, it’s coyotes mostly. Maybe a fox sometimes. And there’s a bobcat in the neighborhood. I’ve not seen her, but she might like chicken, too.

I didn’t actually have a Wyandotte when I wrote this story. I am always on the lookout for them, though, because they are so pretty. We aren’t set up for chicks, so when we need to replace chickens, we get pullets – half-grown hens. I really loved the Wyandottes we had this past fall and through the summer. Alas, we’ve lost the lot of them to coyotes—several in one day. So our chickens are sometimes in their yard now. I’ve been hearing coyotes nearly every night as we near Halloween. And one very near the house last week that might have been a fox.

I love coyotes. I really love foxes. I do wish they’d lay off the hens, though.

In this story, the Coyote is a man. I hope you enjoy.

The story first appeared in Third Point Press.

Bonus video is one of my favorite Wyandottes.

Devil’s Kitchen Lake produces a lovely echo. So when I yelled FUCK, the single syllable expletive rang through the stillness, coming back to me in a quieter voice. That was the day I tipped my phone into the lake attempting to make a kayak-reading video.

Here is my return to the kayak reading. No tripod this time.

I am on Little Grassy Lake. The late summer sun was blazing low on the horizon but still over the trees. First I went to the cove around the way from Party Rock. I was either blinded or backlit. So I crossed the lake to a cove with a deserted camp building and the remnants of a pier. Eerie, in the way abandoned places often are.

However, still too sunny.

So I paddled across the cove near a rock ledge and that worked OK. As I was finishing up, I heard the distinctive cry of a raptor on the wing. Not much later, a bald eagle flew over the cove to land near the abandoned camp. And I didn’t drop my phone in the water. So, a good day.

I often dream I am in the ocean. This story came from such a dream.

The story appeared in Blue Fifth Review.