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…

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.

As much as I love wilderness areas, there is something undeniably satisfying about hay bales in the field. And round bales are so picturesque.

(Almost as good as hay in the barn, when I have horses. Though then I prefer square bales.)

Anyway, I love the smell of fresh hay. It’s like summer and fall all at once.

I took advantage of the last few round bales in our back field to do a quick place reading. It’s Too Late appears in The Molotov Cocktail, which was a goal publication for me. Extra-cool when it works out that way. Check out the yin-yang illustration that accompanies the story online!

The germ of that story was an incident that happened years ago, before I bought my first horse and had a partial-lease on a horse in Michigan. Dusty was a registered Paint, a tri-color buckskin paint. I went out to ride one afternoon as a storm was brewing, and the tension in the air, and the horses’ reactions to it, made me feel electric. But also, observant enough not to ride.

I called on that memory as I challenged myself to write something spooky about something I love.

I hope you enjoy!

I have a weakness for running water. I love following creeks and brooks along in the woods. When I was a kid, I’d even follow a ditch and imagine all kinds of adventures.

This little creek probably has a name, but I’m calling it Rocky Comfort Creek because it’s near a road of that name. The Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois is patchwork in places, and Rocky Comfort Creek is one of those places. I love living so near a forest, and so near places to hike and explore.

I wrote this story from a prompt, and like many stories written that way, it wandered around until it figured out what it wanted to be. I see an influence from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was first published in Ghost Parachute, a journal that has gotten better and better over the years. I absolutely love the illustration with this story. I hope you enjoy!

Once upon a time, I went to a car show and it changed my life.

I was a newspaper reporter at the time, working for a hometown paper that came out twice a week. It was a pretty good hometown paper. I even won an award for a story I wrote there. ‘Nother time.

We took turns, the other fulltime reporter and I, covering weekend events. I got the car show. Father’s Day weekend, as I recall.

I like Corvettes, myself. Mustangs. El Caminos – I had one of those once.

I walked up and down the rows of cars, snapping pictures (we were our own photographers at this paper), talking to people for my news story. You know.

I went past a few cars parked together, and a group of 20-somethings sitting in camp chairs. The three or four girls in the group were similar to what most girls (or maybe just me) want to look like – slender and toned, great hair, great legs. They and the guys of the group were sitting, looking around. Looking bored.

I noted them and moved on, just about ready to wrap it up and file my story. I heard music coming from across the park – 1950s music. Thought I’d check it out on my way out.

It was a bit of a party. The first thing I noticed was a woman, a bit older than me at that time, probably mid-40s, about my build, which is to say, could lose a pound or 20. She was wearing tight pants and a halter top and had her hair piled up on her head rockabilly-style. She was on the rumble seat of a car dancing to Chuck Berry. She was having a great time. Some people were watching her, some were dancing by their cars, some were drinking beers and chatting. Like I said, a bit of a party.

I was jealous. What confidence! Call her an attention-seeker if you want to, but you weren’t there. She was living in the moment. She was “let’s have fun, right now, let’s do this, fuck you if you judgy.”

Before I left, I noticed the 20-something guys hanging out near that car with that slightly-overweight “oh hon should you really wear that?” dancing redhead. Their cute little, asses-in-chairs girlfriends nowhere to be seen.

I decided right then I’d rather be the less-than-perfect-but-enjoying-life woman than the super-cute-and-super-uptight girls.

Yeah, I know, judgy. Unfair. Making a determination based on very little evidence.

C’mon, you wanna be her, too.