What I’m reading and where I’m reading it. And what I’m drinking for part of the time I’m reading it.

So, this first one is a book about a woman driving alone in the mountains on her way to a horror convention, and encountering the Mothman or something like it and assorted other baddies along the way. For reasons I’ll explain in mid-April, that one skeered me. Below by Laurel Hightower is genuinely scary but it’s also empowering.

I enjoyed that book at Ebb & Flow Fermentations in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Ebb & Flow has got just the best vibe. Inside it’s eclectic funky, and outside it’s herb garden magic. It’s February, so we’re inside. They have a series of beers named after goddesses and made by their women brewers. This one is Arduinna, which they describe as a dark saison ale with chocolate malt and roasted hickory bark. It was a perfect match.

Into the Forest and All the Way Through by Cynthia Pelayo is a collection of poems based on real life / true crime stories of murdered and missing American women and girls. It is heartbreaking. It’s one thing to read or write fiction that has murders — even if you are drawing from your own experience, you know the story itself is fiction. It’s another to write true crime — most of that is written in a clinical, research-forward way. Cina Pelayo goes into the heart and all the way through to your soul. I’ve not read anything quite like it.

So after all that seriousness, it seems almost stupid to talk about reading it in a bar during Valentine’s week. Johnson Bar in Paducah, Kentucky was all done up for the holiday, in reds and blacks and pinks and hearts and arrows and naughtiness and snarkiness and a nod to the heartbroken. The red lighting made the pictures kinda cool. That’s a Paloma I’m drinking — they do complex cocktails very well, but that night I was more traditional.

I am honored to call Meg Pokrass my friend. She has been my flash fiction mentor, a source of encouragement and inspiration, and a supporter when I needed a hug followed by a kick in the ass (all virtual). She lives now in Inverness, Scotland, the gateway to Loch Ness, and if Nessie is going to show herself to anyone, it’ll be Meg. They are two of a kind — mysterious, shy, beautiful and playful. Kissing the Monster Hunter is a series of flash fiction stories about a monster hunter. And love.

I was at Hill Prairie Winery upstate in Oakford, Illinois. They have historic pictures of horses on the wall — Morgans, a Percheron stallion, mules, work horses, all of them previously associated with the place in days of yore — so you know I loved it. The wine in this picture is Fireside Cran-Apple Spice, which tastes like a mulled wine.


My base line, for which I do not apologize is: Fuck censorship.

I would rather deal with the problems of “too much” free speech than any of the problems of suppressing freedom of speech and expression. 

I’ve been going off on Facebook a bit about the proposed — and I think pending —bowdlerization of author Roald Dahl’s books for children — which I read as a kid, and read to my son when he was young. So I’m going to say a few words here.

When young readers encounter an author like Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein, they know immediately this is something different. The tone. This isn’t an all-is-sunshine atmosphere, this isn’t Disney, this is darker. They instinctively know to be wary.

And they should be. 

Let’s talk about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, probably the most famous of Dahl’s books for kids because of the two Willy Wonka movies. Dahl doesn’t hold back when he’s describing the children who tour the magical factory. His narrator is a bit mean. Most kids reading this tone will feel a little bit uncomfortable — and ultimately probably a little bit defensive of at least some of the children. 

It’s masterful, really. A reader starts out not liking the children, and then finds herself confronted with the notion of justice, and mercy. All the children broke rules in the factory — and they all broke rules according to their own natures. Of course Augustus Gloop is going to be tempted to break a rule (which he learned after the fact, if I remember correctly) pertaining to eating candy. Of course Mike Teavee is going to be so focused on television waves that he ignores the rules. Young readers realize the kids broke the rules and were punished — but did they really get what they deserved? And what does that mean anyway? Is it justice? What about the role of mercy?

Of course young readers want Charlie to win. In the book, he wins the factory because he’s the last child standing — the others have all met their Oompa-Loompa-enhanced fates. Young readers want to be more like Charlie than like Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregard. 

And what is Charlie? He’s respectful, considerate, appreciative and lucky. 

And what is the factory? Well, on the tour, it’s a pitfall-ridden series of challenges. Not unlike life. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is exactly modeled on original, un-bowdlerized fairytales. And those tales taught lessons, too. Many of the same lessons. Be appreciative. Take advantage of opportunities. Be kind. Don’t go with the crowd — do what you believe is right. Be respectful, but not cringing. Be discerning — pay attention, and be humble enough to learn. 

That’s a lot for a kid’s book that is also crazy funny, snarky, complicated, silly, imaginative, and at times a bit scary. 

Kids can handle it. 

This bowdlerization of Roald Dahl’s books bothers me on many levels, not the least of which is my maxim: Fuck censorship. But also because of the contemptuous opinion of children the censors evince. Stop telling kids what to think. Let them figure out a few things on their own. Let them face challenges and learn to do the right thing. Let them understand that, even when someone has done something wrong, there ought to be a path back. And that some wrong behavior isn’t tolerable. Let them begin to understand that we are all shaped by our environments, but how we respond is up to us. Let them face meanies and baddies in literature, so that when they come upon them in real life, they know what they are seeing. Get out of their way a little bit. Have some faith. Roald Dahl did. 

A foggy early January day and mysterous atmosphere led me to drive around looking for cool places to hang out. It’s not hard where I live. I found a spot near the Panther Den Wilderness area not far from a really cool attraction, the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, a zipline and suspension bridge site.

This story, Renaissance, is a re-write from an older, much longer story I wrote several years ago and shelved. I knew I wanted to do something with it. What needed to happen, as it turns out, was for me to whittle down the word count to just less than half of the original — and then to do that again.

The story appears in Legerdemain: National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021, edited by Santino Prinzi and Nod Ghosh. It’s really an honor to be included in the anthology.

What I’m reading, and where I’m reading it.

I forgot to include this one in the last round.

Sour Candy, by Kealan Patrick Burke, a novella that had me cringing with every page. Not gross-out cringing, but “this is a nightmare and I want to wake up but also see what’s going to happen” dread cringe. In the very best way. Tragic, occasionally funny, always scary.

This picture is a little bit of a cheat because I’m not in a bar. I do occasionally read other places! This one is a lunchtime read at Harbaugh’s Cafe. Great cover, eh?

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu is—and I don’t say this lightly—the most important book to come out about pandemics during the Covid pandemic years. Though he started writing it well before most people in the world had ever heard of a coronavirus, this book, which begins with the discovery of a centuries-old little girl who was killed by a virus, which is soon unleashed on the modern world, is relevant in a way a book deliberately about the real pandemic probably could not be. It’s about grieving and living, about family and purpose, it’s sad, and funny, and mysterious, and philosophical. I’m blown away. Also, I get to interview the author for the SIU Alumni Magazine. Cuz he went to SIU. Where I work.

I’m at Shotgun Eddy’s in Eddyville. The outdoor stage—which, in January, is not where Tim played—features a tie-line for horses. Eddyville bills itself as the Trail Riding Capitol of Illinois, and I’m pretty sure they own that claim. And yeah, that’s a good ol’ Stag beer.

Stay tuned. I’m reading now about the Mothman.

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.