About Me

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My work can be found in REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, Pank, New Delta Review, and Gargoyle #57, among others. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. Currently, I'm an Associate editor for Narrative Magazine. In 2011, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Read: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

These days you can go to a sex offender registry and learn where the convicted offenders live in your area and how many there are. What the site can’t tell you, or at least, doesn’t at the moment, is the exact crime each of these registered offenders was convicted of. Without this information, you’re likely to lump all of them into the scary child molester/abductor category and not give them another thought. At least that’s what I did, until I read Russell Banks’ “Lost Memory of Skin.”

When I first heard Banks had written a novel featuring a convicted sex offender as his main character, I was skeptical. I’ve read his work before, I know how absolutely brilliant Banks is, but man, asking a reader to sit with one of the most deplorable kinds of characters for over 400 pages was asking a lot. As a reader, I wasn’t sure I could do it and as a mother, I wasn’t sure I could stomach it. Then one day, I picked up “Lost Memory of Skin” and read the first sentence, then the first paragraph and the first page, and the second, and so on, until I realized I was hooked. Because, in the end, the fact that Russell Banks writes about the down and out in our society with intelligent, highly readable prose kept me reading.

I learned there are various shades of gray in the matters of sex offenses and there are many levels of offense. For instance, a child molester and an eighteen year old who has sex with a minor (even a year younger counts here) both get labeled as sex offenders. There is no public differentiation. And with technology in the picture, there are more and more ways young people can make mistakes that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Such is the case with Banks’ protagonist, the Kid. In the course of the novel, we learn why the Kid is an outcast and living under the bridge with the rest of the area sex offenders. And it is through Banks’ skillful characterization, his ability to go places most of us would turn away from, that we can come to have empathy for him. Not only is there a human story here, but there’s also a mystery: a professor of sociology has decided to interview the Kid and he has a hidden past of his own, a past that soon catches up with him. Banks has us questioning the Professor’s motives right to the end.

Compelling and beautifully written, this book is an important and timely read.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

There’s nothing pretty about poverty or the cruelty of dog fighting, however Jesmyn Ward writes about both in her latest novel, “Salvage the Bones,” with spectacular beauty.

Esch, the narrator, is fifteen and living in a small Mississippi town along the Gulf with her alcoholic father and her three brothers, one of whom loves his pit bull beyond all reason. Esch, enthralled by the myth of Medea and Jason, begins to see the story mirrored in her own life, in her dealings with Manny, the young man she imagines she loves, and in her brother’s dog, China, whose instinct to kill seems to be fiercer than her instinct to nurture. Motherless, Esch is left the only girl in a house full of males, and when she figures out she’s pregnant, she tells no one.

Ward structures the book using time. The story begins twelve days before Hurricane Katrina hits and each chapter is a separate day. We’re all familiar with Katrina’s devastation so tension is already built in, but Ward doesn’t stop with a little bit of trouble. She gives us characters so poor they’ll eat Ramen Noodles uncooked and chase them down with a packet of dry spice. She gives us a father stuck in his grief; a pregnant narrator who’s too young to be savvy in affairs of the heart, and a mother pit bull raised to fight, all on top of the category five hurricane bearing down on a family unequipped to properly prepare.

The story gripped me from the start and there were a few moments in which I found myself holding my breath, but what elevated this story from compelling to an absolute must-read was the quality of language:

“Daddy said that Randall and Skeetah and me came fast, that Mama had all of us in her bed, under her own bare burning bulb, so that when it was time for Junior, she thought she could do the same. It didn’t work that way. Mama squatted, screamed toward the end. Junior came out purple and blue as a hydrangea: Mama’s last flower. She touched Junior just like that when Daddy held him over her: lightly with her fingertips, like she was afraid she’d knock the pollen from him, spoil the bloom. She said she didn’t want to go to the hospital. Daddy dragged her from the bed to his truck, trailing her blood, and we never saw her again.”

Despite all the tragedy, this is a hopeful book, a testimony to the power of love and community. Currently, “Salvage the Bones,” is a finalist for The National Book Award, and this is one reader who’s rooting for it.

*Review first appeared in the October 30 edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kathy Fish: Interview

I’ve known Kathy Fish through an online writing site for nearly a decade now. Back in 2003 I asked Kathy to help me with my first flash fiction attempt. I’d noticed her short pieces, saw how even back then, she was a master with the form. Years later, she’s still amazing, and her work is playful and intelligent and fresh and will entrance you with its tragic beauty then two seconds later make you laugh out loud. Each of her pieces in her book, "Wild Life" is a glistening, detailed world in miniature, replete with humor, longing and willful creatures.
Kathy has graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about her process, her stories and her writing desires.

Katrina: I’d like to begin with your process. Where do you write? Do you use pen and paper? Computer? A mix of both? Do you have a set time? Number of words? Music? A certain required beverage? What is a typical writing day? What is your dream writing day like?

Kathy: I always begin with notebook and pen. I don’t think I’ve ever started any writing at all on the computer. I need time to scribble. And it’s all over the page. If something feels like it might be good I circle it. After awhile something clicks and I know I’m ready for the keyboard. I’m very unstructured. I don’t give myself a time limit or word count goal. Coffee is always involved. I know the writing’s going well if the coffee gets cold.

A typical writing day is spent messing around on the internet for longer than I ought to until I’m seized with guilt and shut it off. I stare out the window a lot. I take my dog for a walk. I pour another cup of coffee. Maybe after two hours I start to scribble in my notebook. I look out the window some more. My dream writing day is when I get past all of this and go into that beautiful trance, where I forget everything and look up, finally, two hours later and have before me something that feels real and right and pretty decent. A dream writing day is when it feels effortless.

Katrina: “Land and Sky and Cosmo,” is a hilarious story of a young woman trying to seduce her boyfriend, full of details such as this one in reference to the woman’s uncle telling them how to scare off a bear while camping: “He said make yourself look bigger, wave your arms and yell and he demonstrated and we saw the forest of his armpits.” I love that you chose to echo their environment in the description of armpit hair. What was the seed for this piece? How did you come up with such a perfect question to end the piece? I mean, this is a question often unasked, but present in all relationships, and I don’t think I’ve seen it before in fiction offered in just the right moment, said so beautifully and with such hope.

Kathy: I feel, often in my life, that I don’t connect in those moments when I most want to. And that the scene plays on nonetheless. It’s like small talk when you really want to say I love you. And the scene plays on and we go along and there’s so much courage to that. We swallow our disappointments and heartaches and the small ones are just as important as the big ones. That was my seed for this piece. So here is this woman, desperately wanting to connect and she knows it’s not happening and she wants to confront that. I’m interested in people who are just about at the end of their rope. She wants answers and she’s not getting them. She’d been deceived and it wasn’t the first time! That, right there.

Katrina: “The Cartoonist” is brilliant in its subtext and its ability to convey mood and lingering tension. I loved the title which instructs the reader and the last line which completely changed the color of the piece. Can you talk a little about its inspiration?

Kathy: It’s narrator as observer. That is her only part in this scene. To observe and sketch. Family dynamics as cartoon. Harried mother with exclamation points all around her head. I wanted to drop the brother in right at the end, just bluntly like that, to show how the cartoonist sees him. Smaller than everything and everyone else, because she sees him as he sees himself. It was just another way in, to write it that way. In my own family dynamic, as a child, I hardly said anything at all. I had six older brothers. I watched and listened and learned and that is what my cartoonist is doing in this story.

Katrina: “Lioness” is so amazing that it made me excited and teary when I read it. You describe the despair, the helplessness, the suffocation a mother feels when her child is ill so damn perfectly. I loved this:

“This house is getting tighter like that vacuum that sucks the air out of things so you can pack your quilts and sweaters and pillows into smaller spaces. You could pack this house into a dresser drawer, open it up in the springtime.”

But the moment she imagines a nuclear winter outside on her walk and determines, “This broken planet needs a hero,” is the moment in which she seems to find her super-hero strength. Brilliant. You’re a mother of four. I can guess what inspired it. However, what were the challenges, if any, in writing this piece?

Kathy: Yes, much of the inspiration for this story came from life. I’ve had so many times of being home alone for days with a sick child or two sick children and that claustrophobic and desperate feeling of, this is all there is, this will never change, Spring will never come, etc. One of my children went through a period of high fevers and febrile seizures. It was the scariest thing I’d ever gone through. I wanted to take that experience and notch it up, to put my character right on the edge to the point where she believes the snow outside is nuclear snow, that she is the only hope for her child and for humanity. The challenge was letting myself as a writer go to that strange place and letting that peculiar voice take over the story and letting her say the things she did without going, oh this is just too demented. To trust in the story.

Katrina: Your endings are sometimes ambiguous and always artful. I’m thinking specifically of two pieces: “Spin” and “The Bed.” In “Spin” your ending mirrors what the protagonist does every day with her son. It’s their life in one line. It’s also a hopeful line. And in “The Bed” this last line: “I go to him, but I can’t get any closer than this,” aptly describes a universal truth not only about relationships but about life itself: the distance between people can never fully be breached. How do you come to your endings? Are they easier than beginnings or more difficult?

Kathy: Endings are definitely more difficult for me. And one of my most common self-edits is to cut the last line, ending on the line before it instead. The last lines of my early drafts tend to feel too much like a wrap-up. They feel too neat, often, even contrived in order to achieve that neatness.

I’m glad you felt the hopefulness at the end of “Spin.” That’s how I wanted that story to feel, that this mother is never going to stop trying to connect with her child. To me, there is such joy in that alone, in stories and in life. It’s so not about everything being perfect or all problems being solved, it’s about not giving up. The ending of “The Bed” is sadder, more resigned, I think, in its recognition of a connection that will never be fully made.

Katrina: The precision and freshness of your details make me think of poetry. How often do you revise a piece? Do you write line by line, not moving forward until a line is just the way you want it, or do you get a quick draft down and work with it?

Kathy: Thanks, Katrina! I’ve always been a line-by-line writer, revising as I go. I actually enjoy taking my time, fussing over words and sentences. I have had a few stories that seemed to come out very quickly, but it’s not my normal process.

Katrina: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Kathy: Charles Baxter, Amy Hempel, Joy Williams, William Maxwell, Edward P. Jones, Salinger, Tolstoy, Julie Orringer, Raymond Carver, Jane Austen, Flannery O'Connor…also, I love and admire the work of my friends who are writers and who are amazing.

Katrina: You have another collection forthcoming. Would you tell us about it?

Kathy:”Together We Can Bury It” from Cow Heavy Books. It’s a collection that keeps evolving. The title has changed three times. It’s gone from being a chapbook of flash fiction to a longer collection of both short shorts and longer stories. I really like the mix of work included, the emotional tone of the book as a whole. Molly Gaudry is a gifted and thoughtful editor and just a joy to work with. And the cover is gorgeous.

Katrina: What’s next?

Kathy: Is it too much of a cliché to say I’d like to write a novel? Well, I’d like to write a novel. And plays. I’d love to write some plays. I’m feeling a tremendous need to stretch and try new things.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Read: "We the Animals" by Justin Torres

At only 125 pages, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres is slight in weight but not in substance. The narrator us tells the story of his growing up with two older brothers, a well-meaning but often ineffective mother, and a mercurial father, mostly using the first person plural point of view.

“We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.”

So begins Torres’ novel as it eloquently speaks of what it was like for the narrator to grow up in Brooklyn with parents of different cultures, with poverty a perpetual threat, and with a passion for words no one else in the family shared. The narration is spare, precise, lyrical, and Torres’ point of view choice aptly captures the swirling, joyous mess that is brotherhood. The brothers in this family are often rolling, wrestling, hitting, a united front against all others, a tumbling trio of lion cubs.

Told in succinct and startling sections, our narrator invites us to witness this family’s trials beginning on his seventh birthday and on into his early adulthood. Though there’s abuse, it lingers on the peripheral, slightly out of our focus, to allow for the real story: how a person can emerge an individual out of such an all-consuming entity that is family. Metaphorically, the consequence of the narrator finding and claiming his individuality works on both a large and small scale.

An Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, Justin Torres spent five or six years working on his debut novel and his patience has paid off. “We the Animals” is fierce in its ability to evoke potent emotion with poetic language and veracious insight.

* Review first published in the October 12th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Elizabeth Gilbert on TED

I've posted this before because it helped me write a draft of one of my novels in about three months. And I'm reposting because I'm in a bit of a writing funk and thinking maybe it might help me again and anyone else who may be in a funk with me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Read: Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr

After reading Anthony Doerr’s second collection, “Memory Wall,” it was easy to understand why it won the prestigious 2010 Story Prize, a prize created in 2004 to promote story collections. The paperback edition, released in July 2011, also includes his story, “The Deep,” which won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, a prize that offers the highest cash award given for a short story.

I admired all six stories in the hard cover edition, but my favorites were “Memory Wall,” “Village 113” and “Afterworld.” The title story, which won the 2010 National Magazine Award for fiction, is set in the not-too-distant future and features a wealthy South African widower beset with Alzheimer’s. Through new technology she’s able to relive memories that have been medically extracted from her brain and recorded on cartridges. As she becomes more and more reliant on the cartridges, she’s visited nightly by a mysterious man and a young helper—a memory thief—in search of one very valuable memory. Everything comes to a head and in the end, Doerr manages to infuse redemption and humanity into an otherwise bleak story.

In “Village 113” a village is about to be sacrificed for the construction of a new dam. Li Quing, a young, earnest man working for the Village Director, is put in charge of relocating everyone. His own mother, a seed keeper, is resistant. The story illustrates not only the struggle between generations, mother and son, new and old, but also the relatively new struggle between nature and technology.

“Afterworld” begins: “In a tall house in a yard of thistles eleven girls wake on the floor of eleven bedrooms.” We learn this is the house in which the protagonist Ester Gramm spent her childhood, an orphanage in Hamburg, Germany. Through the course of this beautifully rendered story, we also learn that Ester’s imperfection will ultimately save her.

So what makes Doerr’s writing special? His stories seem to have it all: imagination, suspense, metaphor, intelligence, verisimilitude and emotional depth. He uses the imagined to more aptly describe reality. But perhaps it’s his use of language which has the accuracy and vividness of poetry and his willingness to take on larger mysteries:

“Nothing lasts,” Harold would say. “For a fossil to happen is a miracle. One in fifty million. The rest of us? We disappear into the grass, into beetles, into worms. Into ribbons of light.” It‘s the rarest thing, Luvo thinks, that gets preserved, that does not get erased, broken down, transformed. –“Memory Wall”

*First published in the September 18th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Passages North-Literary journal

Passages North has a brand new website and Jennifer A. Howard has taken over as Editor-in-Chief.

They have a cool new blog and they've linked several stories and poems in their archives including my story, Blue Moon.

Monday, September 26, 2011


My family and I are off on an adventure to Barcelona!! As much as I love these trips and am so very grateful, there's a little part of me (maybe not so little) that wishes to be at home writing. That said, I realize each of these trips and other things life throws our way, good and bad, enrich my writing soul.

I hope your journeys are marvelous adventures, whether real or fictional.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Echolation" by Myfanwy Collins

is now available for preorder!! Myfanwy is an incredibly talented writer, and I cannot wait for her debut novel!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Read: Recommendations

Here are some books that I've read in the last month or so and loved:

Richard Bausch's "Peace" and his latest short story collection, "Something is Out There." "Peace" is a powerful, slim novel set in Italy during World War II; and I've loved his stories for over a decade and this group is just as elegant, real, masterful, as his previous collections.

"Vida" by Patricia Engel. The language in this novel/novel-in-stories is energetic and lyrical and the narrator is larger than life.

"This is Not Your City" by Caitlin Horrocks. These stories are amazing and tense and the characters are faced with real consequences. The narration is beautiful.

"This Beautiful Life" by Helen Schulman. Timely premise and this writer knows how to create a beautiful sentence.

"Anatomy of a Disappearance" by Hisham Matar. Subtle and powerful, the narrator experiences the disappearance of his father and the narrator is left with all of its implications.

Also, if you're looking for an intelligent nail-biting read:

"Before I Go to Sleep" by S.J.Watson. The narrator loses her memory every night she falls asleep.

"Turn of Mind" by Alice LaPlante. The narrator in this one has Alzhiemer's and she's accused of murder.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Wish Tank

Love the idea and the sentiment of Laura Ellen Scott's new blog Wish Tank

I can't wait to read her book Death Wishing

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Read: A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

“A Good Hard Look” by Ann Napolitano
The Penguin Press
978-1-59420-292-6 July 11, 2011

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” is the epigraphic quote that begins Ann Napolitano’s new novel, “A Good Hard Look.” Even if you haven’t read Flannery O’Connor and experienced her unflinching characterizations and situations rendered with sharp wit, you will feel as if you know her after reading this memorable portrayal. Milledgeville, Georgia, the town in which O’Connor lived, comes to life in Napolitano’s assured hands, and its characters are just as lively and flawed as you’d expect them to be.

One of the women, a pampered belle, is terrified she’ll end up a character in Flannery’s work, an unflattering replica doused with Flannery’s acerbic humor. A boy suffers from crippling anxiety except when he’s around his summer employer. Two women take care of each other’s child and the result is that a girl gets the nurturing she needs and a boy moves too quickly into adulthood. After a wealthy, married man is asked to teach Flannery to drive, they develop a clandestine friendship, and a police man lives for earning a promotion and little else. Firmly in the center are Flannery, hindered by her illness, yet dedicated to her work, her mother Regina, whose devotion to her daughter is deeply affecting, and a flock of raucous peacocks. As in O’Connor’s work, there are larger questions of religion and grace throughout. The people in “A Good Hard Look” are leaning toward self-destruction and one irreversible, calamitous misstep will bring others down like dominoes in its wake.

Napolitano is a gifted storyteller, recreating Milledgeville and its imperfect but well-meaning people, lending a sensibility that’s arguably in keeping with O’Connor’s vision, yet grounded in her own modern voice. In this vein, Napolitano offers us a look at characters on their rough and painful journey toward redemption.

O’Connor once wrote, “I am not afraid the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.” I imagine Ms. O’Connor would have approved of “A Good Hard Look.”

* Review first published in the August 14th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

Read: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
HarperCollins/ June 2011

Ann Patchett’s latest work, “State of Wonder” has everything I love in a novel: science, exotic locale, mystery and ethical exploration. Marina is a pharmacologist whose boss sends her on a mission to the Amazonian jungle of Brazil to prod and report on the scientist working for his company. She’s also been asked by the wife of her deceased lab partner to learn more about the circumstances of his death and to retrieve his body. What Marina actually finds there in the jungle will delight and intrigue the reader and maybe even elicit a shiver or two.

Dr. Swenson has been working on a fertility drug in the jungle, stringing her employer, Vogel, along for years. She’s as tough and harsh as the environment she inhabits and she’s not about to be pushed. When Marina, who was once her student, meets her again in Brazil, she learns more from her old teacher there than she ever did from her lectures.

A riveting and intelligent story, “State of Wonder” also explores the implications of interfering with indigenous cultures, and underlines the need for maintaining a balance between offering solutions for medical problems and diseases and protecting those social and ecological systems from which solutions are extracted.

Anyone familiar with Ann Patchett’s work will know how skilled she is in creating tense situations which force her characters to react and this book is no exception. The smooth, authoritative writing captivated me from the start, the lush details and fascinating premise kept me engaged, and the last pages were truly wondrous.

*First published in the August 21 edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

Friday, July 29, 2011

Read: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith by Jennifer Haigh
ISBN: 9780060755805

These days perhaps few are surprised when they hear of a priest under suspicion of inappropriate behavior—similar stories have made headlines for a couple of decades now. In Jennifer Haigh’s new novel “Faith,” not only do we get the unexpected, but we get a layered, complex, and evocative tale with richly drawn characters as well.

Haigh’s character, Sheila McGann, tells us how her half-brother Art became one of the accused priests and how that accusation destroys his life. The author’s brilliantly controlled structure prevents us from receiving all the facts at once so that we can never be quite sure of how things really went down. Through most of the book we may be wondering, is Sheila’s recounting of what happened reliable? Is she forthcoming with all the information? Does she really know her brother? After all, the attention Father Art lavishes on a lonely boy with an often negligent mother could reasonably appear suspect given the history of similar transgressions within the church. We’re left wondering only until the moment Haigh decides to relieve us of that doubt in one stunning, illuminating scene which arrives near the end of the novel. This new revelation will alter perception of events that transpire before and after. Not all things are as they seem, and Haigh reminds us of this as she skillfully explores the meaning of faith and all of its nuances.

“Faith” is a remarkable novel, both for its strong rendering of place and the salt of the earth people who inhabit that place, and also for its invitation for us to think beyond our assumptions, maybe even discard them altogether. It’s a novel that will not only deliver answers, but will also leave the reader with deep, profound questions.

*Review first published in the July 17th edition of The Pilot.

Read: Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

When I first read the publisher’s introduction to Francisco Goldman’s “Say Her Name,” I have to admit I was distracted by the fact that the novel appeared to be more truth than fiction. Francisco Goldman really did lose his young wife, who was also a talented writer, to a horrible swimming accident while on vacation in their beloved Mexico. As I was reading, I kept wondering why not simply a grief memoir? Perhaps calling it fiction allowed Goldman the distance he needed to write of such a painful event, perhaps the author strayed from the facts here and there. Eventually, the beauty of Goldman’s lyrical prose convinced me to let go of my questions and trust the writer.

Goldman’s elegant precision in laying out details of the couple’s daily lives is impressive as is his use of metaphor and language. I was also impressed with the design of the book because it was after reading so many details, of the characters’ histories, desires, frailties, each detail described in an exacting, loving manner, that I felt I had come to know these people, thus making the tragedy of Aura’s death all the more affecting. Goldman doesn’t withhold, he freely admits to his failings and he keeps the reader guessing as to why Aura’s family would blame her husband for her death. “Say Her Name” is the perfect example of the kind of alchemy made possible with words and heart. By the time I’d finished, I realized Goldman had not simply written a story of grief, he’d written a love story.

*Review first published in the July 10th edition of The Pilot.

Read "22 Britannia Road" by Amanda Hodgkinson

When Janusz Nowak boards the train to help Poland’s cause in the Second World War, he leaves behind his young wife, Silvana, and their infant son, Aurek. Soon after, the Germans invade Warsaw and Silvana is forced to flee with her child and find refuge in the woods.

Skip ahead a few years and the war is over, but its scars remain. Janusz has relocated to England with every intention of becoming a proper Englishman. Word of his wife’s and son’s survival compels him to send for them in the hopes they can all begin again as a happy family, far removed from Poland’s painful memories. Janusz realizes, however, that starting over isn’t as easy as he imagined when he’s confronted by the war’s changes on his wife and the fact his son is a wild and fearful creature he hardly recognizes.

The premise was intriguing enough to entice me to pick this one up, but Amanda Hodgkinson offers so much more as life-altering secrets held by both Janusz and Silvana are revealed and new complications arise. The narrative is spare and beautiful, and the story, utterly captivating. Alternating between past and present in the voices of Janusz, Silvana, and their fascinating son, Aurek, Hodgkinson has written a complex tale of loss and recovery, love and redemption.

*Review first printed in the June 5 edition of The Pilot.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Read: "Touch" by Alexi Zentner

My review of Alexi Zentner's wonderful debut novel is in this Sunday's edition of The Pilot:

Alexi Zentner’s stunning debut novel “Touch,” begins much as a snowfall might, dropping quiet hints of tragedy and hauntings with a meditative melancholy, then builds in intensity until the reader is buried in the story’s fierce grip. Set deep in the woods of northern British Columbia, in a time when men dream of gold, the fight for survival, whether pitted against man or nature, is still very much relevant.

The novel opens with the narrator reverently describing his father’s skill floating logs down the river, and later, his skill with storytelling. The narrator, now an Anglican Priest, has returned to his boyhood town of Sawgamet to tend to his dying mother. The town, with its history of gold mining gone bust and its life-crushing winters is a character as indelible as the people who settled it. Pierre recounts the stories his father told him, how his father mangled his hand trying to tame the logs and how his grandfather, Jeannot, little more than a boy, walked thousands of miles across the continent to finally settle in an area of woods in spite of the monsters and spirits dwelling there. It was in those dark woods that Flaireur, a dog Jeannot had stolen from a witch, lay down to rest and refused to move except to drink from the river or relieve himself. Later, after he discovered his dog had a keen sense for gold, Jeannot understood before anyone else that gold’s promise of wealth was fleeting and real survival depended on making use of the trees. And it was under the shelter of those trees that Jeannot would fall in love with the woman who haunted him thereafter.

Zentner is a sublime storyteller. Clear, pristine prose and striking imagery make this book a standout. Sprinkled with magical realism, “Touch” is part adventure story, part ghost story, and foremost a love story, a testimony to the unwavering, enduring power of love, a love unhampered by ordinary boundaries of time and space.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The latest issue of Pank is live and includes three beautiful stories from Michelle Reale, an essay by Lidia Yuknavitch, and among many excellent stories and poems, my story "In the Fall."

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

The Other Life by Ellen Meister
ISBN: 978-0-399-15173-4
G.P. Putnam

Imagine having the ability to second guess your life’s most significant choices. Imagine the ability to go back to the fork in the road and travel down the other path. Would that ability be a gift or a burden?

In Ellen Meister’s new novel, “The Other Life,” Quinn Braverman is living in the suburbs, happily married to her steady and giving husband, mother to a lovely son, and pregnant with her second child. Though she lost her mother to suicide seven years earlier, she has a good relationship with her brother and father, and a friend in the quirky woman who lives next door. Life is good, if not terribly exciting. However, the day she learns that the baby she’s carrying has a serious, and potentially fatal, abnormality, her serenity is shattered.

Quinn has always known about the portals, the openings to another possibility. She’s never actually tested them, though she’s come close out of curiosity. Now, desperation drives her to slip through one of the portals, a crack in her basement wall, to her other life, the one in which she’s remained with her needy, shock jock boyfriend, living a childless, high-powered life in the city. In this alternate reality she can feel relief from the pain of her future and relief from her fear for her unborn daughter. Something else tempts her to keep returning to this other life: in this reality, her mother is still very much alive. After moving back and forth between the two lives, Quinn is forced to make a decision because the portal is closing.

Meister magically makes the impossible believable and keeps the reader guessing right to the end. “The Other Life” is funny, sexy, poignant, and also unflinching in its willingness to tackle subjects some people may find difficult: depression, sexuality, quality of life. “The Other Life” is a stunning story of love, marital love and sibling love, yes, but perhaps more emphatically, the indestructible love between mother and child.

*Review was printed in the May 15th edition of The Pilot.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Off Topic: Editions de Parfums by Frederic Malle

It started out innocently enough. I was researching perfume for a future story. I was not a connoisseur myself, in fact, I even went a few years without wearing any perfume at all. My past perfumes were far from boutique: Ralph, by Ralph Lauren, Happy by Clinique and Aqua di Gio by Armani. All very nice and very safe. All non-orientals because years ago when I was young and foolish I became very ill on too many rum and cokes while wearing Opium. Anyway, two years ago, I tried a sample of Flowerbomb, which was different from any perfume I'd worn and it got me to thinking about perfume, about the people who create them and the people who wear them and also about the people who critique them. So I started checking out the perfume blogs and began my education which, eventually led me to Frederic Malle's boutique collection of scents, all created by a small group of master perfumers.

All the Malle perfumes I've tried so far are indeed masterpieces, though not all are wearable for me. They have completely transformed my expectation of a perfume. There are scents to smell nice, scents to attempt to cover body odor (FYI: it doesn't work people and I do wish you'd stop trying) and then there is the Frederic Malle line. These perfumes are nothing short of wearable art.

The Parisian company is nice enough to send you three free spray samples for 20 euros of shipping cost (or you can go to Barneys and try them there). I've tried Carnal Flower, Lys Mediterranee, Un Fleur de Cassie, En Passant, Iris Poudre, Une Rose, Lipstick Rose and Parfum de Therese. Of these, the only one I had a strong unpleasant reaction to (and I'm hyper-sensitive to smells) was Parfum de Therese as it smelled like rotten meat on me and turned my stomach. Une Rose is too big of a flower for me--it's a big lush Georgia O'Keefe rose and too heady for this time of year, but still, it's beautiful. My favorites are Carnal Flower, En Passant, Lys Mediterranee, and Iris Poudre. Carnal Flower is a lush, green, complex tuberose scent. En Passant is just as described: a bush of white lilac in the rain. The scent smells exactly like the lilacs that grow in my southern yard and less like the ones from New England, but incredibly lovely nonetheless. Lys Mediterranee smells soft and salty sweet, and is intriguingly complex, and Iris Poudre is my winter scent. Less like powder to me and much more like something yummy to eat, this is an amazing iris and vanilla perfume.

In my research, I've learned about notes and noses and sillage, learned the difference between marine and metallic notes, learned about flankers and niche houses. But most surprising to me is that I fell in love with perfume for the first time, truly fell in love.

My favorite and most edifying perfume blog: Now Smell This

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison’s “West of Here” is a gritty, full bodied epic set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington. The beginning pulls the reader in with beautiful, assured narration and indelible characters who embody the spirit of the pioneers who ventured west in search of opportunity. These are men who set out to move the course of a river, who imagined selling ice gathered at mountain tops, who envisaged electric stairs, and who dreamed they could save the culture of a people. These are women who believed their voices and actions were valuable; for one woman that meant to send her child away to a better life, for another, to break out of a destructive pattern, and for another, to attempt to stop big-money progress with the power of the written word.

A few chapters in, Evison introduces a whole new set of characters as he travels forward in time to the lives of the descendants of the men and women who settled Port Bonita. The transition comes as a surprise but as the reader comes to know these new characters he won’t mind being ripped from the earlier group. Connecting the two time periods are the Elwha river, the men who tried to tame it and their descendants, the Native American settlement of Jamestown, and an odd shaman-like out-of-body experience in which the Native American boy, Thomas, switches places with a modern day Khallam Indian, Curtis.

The themes are familiar: man versus nature, Native American wisdom versus progress, the tangible versus the mysterious, but Evison’s quality of writing and depth of character take these themes to an enviably high level. By the end, the reader realizes the author has threaded these two disparate sets of characters seamlessly to offer a rich, multi-layered novel that satisfies.

*Review first published in the March 20th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines, NC

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pacazo by Roy Kesey

Roy Kesey’s “Pacazo” is not a book to be rushed through. It is a work as fine as any classic, meant to be read again and again, slowly, with attention. It is the story of John Segovia (when John was a boy, his father told him he was a descendant of Juan de Segovia), a North American ex-pat historian working in Piura, Peru as an English professor. He’d come to Peru and not only fell in love with his late wife, but seemed to fall in love with the land and all of its quirks, failings and beauty. We meet John after his wife has been brutally raped and has died, disoriented and wounded, in the desert. John spends much of the novel overcoming the urge to seek violent revenge, sometimes while carrying his infant child around in a snuggly. He seems to always be plotting, seeking, and nearly always on the verge of being fired, and though he’s clearly suffering, avenging Pilar’s death seems to give him a purpose, as does diminishing the ill effects of El Nino on comfortable living.

The narration, told in the present tense and from John’s point of view, is a hybrid mix of collage and stream of consciousness. Scene blends into historical discourse which blends into dreams remembered which blend into sensory observations, sometimes within the same paragraph, sometimes within the same sentence. The result of which lends the feeling, at times, of being unmoored thus reflecting the narrator’s state of mind. The novel is laced with humor and packed with startling imagery: pacazo shit raining down on John’s head, whole mountains collapsing, and details of how a stingray’s “barbed spine will plunge in and rip out, taking its plug of flesh.” Not only rich with history and detail, the novel also offers insight on Peruvian manners and customs: for instance if someone pauses before he says yes to an invitation, he’s politely saying no.

John Segovia is a magnificent, lumbering, well-meaning character, and in “Pacazo” the country of Peru is a character just as prominent, just as magnificent. After reading this imaginative, refreshingly unique novel, I feel I know the place and its people enough to hold them both in my mind and heart, almost as if I’d been to Piura, Peru myself.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

T.J. Forrester: Interview

T.J., let me begin by telling you how very much I admire your first novel, “Miracles Inc.”". Fast-paced, witty, unflinching, narrated by a unique and unforgettable character, this novel succeeds on so many levels. Congratulations!

A. Thanks so much, Katrina.

Q. How long have you been writing? How long did you work on this novel?

A. I've been writing since 2000.

In 2002, I began work on the novel, but I wasn't capable and frustration got the best of me. I put away the manuscript. When I started getting a handle on the craft, something that happened in 2005, I focused on the story for about a year and still didn't make headway.

Along about that time, I began work on Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail, and this is the collection that garnered so much attention when I queried agents. I signed with Leigh Feldman, who is now with Writers House, and she wanted a novel partial to sub with the collection. So, I sent her the first eighty pages of Miracles, Inc. She said the story was cliched. I rewrote another eighty pages, which I didn't send because I didn't like them very much. A few days later I started again, and this time the novel came together from sentence one. (I'll take a shot at explaining why in the answer to the next question.)

From then on, facing a Simon & Schuster deadline, I worked twelve hours a day. It was exhausting, and I had to squeeze in time for exercise and eating right or I couldn't stay alert enough to make progress. If I add up the failed attempts and the tangents that led to nowhere, I wrote somewhere around 300,000 words to come up with the 70,000 that made the final cut.

Q. What came first for “Miracles Inc.,” character or situation?

A. During the writing of this novel, I tried for years to bring the main character to life. I started close to the action, I started far from the action, I gave him different characteristics, and put him in different situations. The chapters turned out bland, bland, and blander. Finally, I woke up one morning understanding that the story begins after the bad thing happens. I put Vernon Oliver on death row, and his voice revealed itself from sentence one. When I heard that voice, that's when I knew I had a character who could carry the novel.

To answer your question, the character and situation were so entwined from the get-go it's impossible to separate the two.

Q. That fact that you take the reader into little known worlds makes this book even more special and fun to read. How were you able to lend such verisimilitude to televangelism and to death row? What was the extent and process of your research?

A. I went to a few faith healing meetings when I was younger, so I have some knowledge of the Pentecostal religion, but I mostly used my imagination to pull off that part of the book.

To research death row, I spent many hours in the library. Still, I wasn't comfortable in trying to precisely portray prison life, so I put my main character in a fictional institution south of the real death row in Florida. This setting, I felt, gave me more freedom to fictionalize his incarceration.

However, research is only the start of lending veracity to fiction. The other part of the equation is writing with significant detail. A word to younger writers: fiction readers rely on their imaginations and if you add too much detail you take away the fun. Too, if you don't put in enough detail the fictive dream never kicks off. The trick is finding the right detail and the right amount of detail. Sometimes it takes revising a scene many times to get it right.

Q. The pacing is break-neck and yet slows down at the right moments. Did you cut anything out to achieve this pacing or did it "fall” out this way?

A. I don't remember making a conscious decision to slow things down or to speed things up. I blame a lot of my writing on intuition. (There is still so much that is mysterious about the process.)

Q. You handle the large and small scale seemingly with ease, widening the lens and narrowing again when necessary. Is this something you were conscious of?

A. That part of my writing comes naturally.

Q. You nailed the voice. You nailed the character. For all the trouble Vernon gets into, his desire appears to be simple: to live comfortably with the woman he loves. This simplicity makes him incredibly likable despite his failings. How did he first show himself to you?

A. I didn't know Vernon had a lover until I began the second chapter, so when he first appeared he was unlikeable. Developing his relationship with Rickie softened him up and added a complexity he wouldn't have otherwise had. I suspect Vernon resonates because we all have desires and what greater desire than one lover for another?

Q. Which do you prefer to write, short stories or novels?

A. I like both genres, see the act of creating a short story as rewriting until I form a narrative that fills a bubble. Hard, but not scary. Writing a novel is a set of train tracks heading across the mountain and is much more intimidating because I never know if I'm angling toward a cliff or a bridge. If pinned down, I like writing novels better than writing short stories. There's something about long term immersion that's attractive to obsessive personalities.

Q. And lastly, what does the L in Vernon's name stand for?

A. Lamar.

Thank you, T.J., for answering these questions and thank you for writing such a dynamic book!

T. J. Forrester comes from a family of four and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. He prefers to sleep on the ground and is no longer scared of bears. His stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Emerson Review, Harpur Palate, The Literary Review, The MacGuffin, The Mississippi Review, Potomac Review, and Storyglossia.

He wrote Miracles, Inc. while living in Virginia. The attic room was small, chilly in the winter, but his landlord was very kind and fed him when he was without food. His second work, a novel-in-stories titled Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail, is forthcoming with Simon & Schuster in the spring of 2012.

He blogs at his personal website. tjforrester.com

Thursday, January 27, 2011


My story "In the Fall" will be appearing in Pank in May. I've been an admirer of Roxanne Gay, one of the editors of the journal, for a while now. I've been reading her blog and I'm amazed how gorgeous and meaningful her posts are. She's a natural.

"In the Fall" started out as a 6000+ words story and I kept shaving off the dead areas, again and again, until I ended up with the final piece just under 1200 words.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Writer and blogger Myfanwy Collins reviews Kathy Fish's new chapbook "Tenderoni" here.

I'm looking forward to reading it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


is Laura Ellen Scott's collection offered in installments by Uncannyvalley.

Each of these first three pieces shows just how talented and imaginative Laura is. My favorite so far is "The Brewsters."

Excerpt: The tin screams as we enter forcibly to stand inside damnation. The Brewster children sleep in a pile, stuck together like old candy. Their parents are naked and chattering in the tub of a wringer washer, tipped over. Sometimes I think I want a love like that. They don’t even know we’re here.

Lit Journal Giveaway

UPDATE: These have now found a new home.

I'm willing to send all of these journals or a few to the first person who emails me with his or her address (tdenza@nc.rr.com). Rather than send these to the recycling center which just doesn't feel right, I'd like them to go to someone who will appreciate them.

The Kenyon Review Fall 2006
Zoetrope Fall 2008
A Public Space Spring 2006
The Missouri Review Winter 2007
The MacGuffin Winter 2007
American Short Fiction Winter 2007
The Baltimore Review Winter/Spring 2007
The Chattahoochee Review Winter 2007
Ninth Letter Spring/Summer 2007
The Missouri Review Winter 2008
Ninth Letter Spring/Summer 2008
The Gettysburg Review Winter 2007
The Chattahoochee Review Winter 2006
Fourteen Hills Summer/Fall 2006
Harpur Palate Volume 6 Issue 2
cream city review 30th Anniversary Issue
Cimarron Review Winter 2007
Southern Indiana Review 2007
Ninth Letter Fall Winter 2008-9
Parting Gifts Spring 2007
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