Mom rode. Dad wrote. The story galloped on…

“She’s the Rider,” I used to say, pointing to my sister. “And I’m the Writer.”
It held for decades, until she started writing poetry, darn it:

Lying in the
Milky Way
sprinkled like
cornmeal on
the sky,
watching the traces
of fireworks
millions of miles away.

Early morning moonlight
through the ponderosa pine
the moon dance crystalized,
while the owl sang.

No—she’s good. But not that we can switch it up to the Poet and the Prose-writer, since she has a novel hidden away in the mountains back behind Boulder, and, yes, thank you very much, I do write poems too:

Stars scatter all the way
to the ground
Headlights illuminate
a creek bed gouged into green, then brown
(earth cutting into earth)

Signs loom and then pass silent in the dark
time –
sleepless –

Our Greyhound dreams, a nightmare or two
cross and interlace,
scroll restless down the driver’s back
My son, 14, nods warmly into me, so like
the baby he just was
The moon is half

There, back between the hollows of
your frosted hills,
one light –
who’s home?

Anyway, who says the labels have to be so hard and fast? I ride herd on the commas (or lack thereof) in my sister’s poems. She questions a too-prosaic word or applauds a shortlist achieved.

And when my novella is longlisted for Regal House Publishing’s Fugere Book Prize , meaning, possibly, publication as a book, she cheers it on. (Disclaimer: the long-distance conversations in the novella between brother and sister come from a series of my sister’s hilarious emails re gardening for, shall we say, dummies).

When I don’t win the prize, the nearly-forgotten Rider part of the old equation kicks in—I waste no time getting back on the horse , researching more novella competitions, and finding three to enter post-haste.

In the saddle. Yee-ha ~

Oh. In the photo? My only horse show. Ever.



Door locked. Outside light off. That was how I was greeting the returned trick-or-treaters of 2021.

It didn’t feel quite right, but I refused to hand out candy that wasn’t good for them, chocolate that was dependent on child labourers.

Except then I started hearing the scurrying feet, the first excited voices. A bold one, too eager to be deterred by the dark doorway, rings the bell.

How can I ignore them? But then, what can I give them? Spying, on the top shelf of the hutch, the old wooden salad bowl Mom and Dad used to fill with shiny apples and boxes of raisins on Halloween, I grab it. Rinsed, dried, it’s beautiful. And still empty. The doorbell sounds again.

What do I have to give away? I scan the kitchen, living room again. The answer, patient, stares back.

Are the kids still there?! I rush to the door, and fling it open. “Just a sec. One sec, okay?”

They’re patient too, and when I return with my bowl brimming with books, rendered speechless. Still, it takes them only a moment to adapt, to start giving each other book recommendations. “Oh, I’ve read that – it’s really good!” “Look, this one is all about…” “Your little brother would like this one, right?”

Many thank you’s, and then, clutching their books, they chatter and giggle back down the path and to the next door. Turning to ferret a few more books off my shelves, I hear one little girl’s happy conclusion: “I think this is going to be a different kind of Halloween.”


This Booktober, um, October, I’m thinking ahead. Stock up at Value Village. Make sure I have enough books for all ages. Classics. New favourites. A couple of YAs? Board books. Remind everyone who loved the idea last year and thought it should be annual. (Wait, how has a year gone by already?) Photoshoot? Sure.



There is a certain kind of magic that can only happen in the world of books…

Early August, warm day ~

My front door stands open all morning for the breeze.

No sound or sight of a delivery truck, but suddenly, as I turn the corner into the kitchen, I see a slim package lying in the unswept entry.

A book, though I haven’t ordered any.

Return address: TOR Books, NYC

Mailing label: Malmo, Sweden

And within: an uncorrected proof copy of “A Prayer for the Crown-Shy”, by Becky Chambers.

My mind circles and spins. This is the sequel to by far my favourite book so far this year: “A Psalm to the Wild-Built”.

But who/why/how?

I’m not on the author’s mailing list, didn’t rate the book on Goodreads, haven’t won any free-book contests.

In the book is a “Letter to Readers” in which Becky speaks of ”…wondering why hopeful stories are something we’re expected to grow out of, or no longer need.” “Hope,” she continues, “is a key ingredient in every book I’ve written, but I wanted to lean into that even further.”

“Same,” I whisper. My climate fiction, though not always the happiest of themes, is never eco-thriller— the inspiration, the foundation, the epigraph are all hope. In my Middle Grade novel, rude ghosts beset a diverse step-family MG, and it is hope that begets the listening that is finally the solution. Two children run away from the endless crises of the world in my just-completed adult literary novel. How could I have written this without placing them in the sheltering hands of the Maine Woods, without channeling the certain heart of the child?

I look down at “A Prayer for the Crown-Shy” as it sits, wholly unexpected and still inexplicable, but comfortable, truly beautiful, in my hands. Perhaps hope magnetizes hope?

   And books, on August mornings, fall from heaven…



Stories, of course, line my family bookcases. On one of the shelves sit my own stories in journals and anthologies. And since that shelf isn’t quite full yet, they’re bracketed by 5 of my literary mentors: Saroyan and Kingsolver, E.B. White and Salinger and Kenneth Roberts (yes, Bradbury and Doig sit above).

I think they’re all up to something. My story Bread, written probably 15 years ago, submitted over 60 times, semi-finalist here, winner there, and finally, in 2018, shortlisted and published, quietly inhabits its lovely forever-home in bosque, issue 8. But somehow it has been still on the move.

At least 5 years ago, I visited the Old-World bakery that inspired the story, told the owner that it had won an award, offered him a photocopy of it. Confused, he waved it away. “No no no.” It was okay. This was entirely in keeping with the place, the story, my one-sentence summary for it:

“The bakery is a shapeshifter, a vertical spin through history; the bread expensive; the baker a quiet mystery.”

Today, I receive an email from him.

I am the baker. If you remember when you came here like 4 years ago and we talked and then you wrote a short novel about me and the bakery ?
If you dont mind can you send me a pdf copy of the short novel ?
Your friend who works with you told me that is a very fascinating story ! Thank you very much !
Have a wonderful day !

It is a fascinating story, gifted by the bakery and clearly eager to get back there. I’m so glad I can do even better than a pdf—bring him my extra issue of bosque, along with a few copies of the story.

A bit of magical realism with your stone-ground wholewheat loaf?


                                                                                     The magical bakery

RIGHT THERE, a lockdown flash fiction piece


Fine, true, it was in a cemetery. What can I say? Not that I would post that, maybe, or tweet the fact, but yes, I own it.

Hey, it’s a different world now, right? And when we Liked each other’s comments on a Local Music page, then ran across each other again in a Green New Deal thread, then became Friends, it wasn’t long before we wanted to see each other in flesh and blood.

No restaurants. None of the parks opened up again yet. Not a single bar. So I took a chance. I don’t mean a COVID-era screw-social-distancing chance; more like a he-may-never-reply-to-this chance.

In these long slow times, I had been pondering exactly that—time. It was like I now, finally, had learned how to inhabit the present: hearing birdsong, studying a fallen pine cone, gingerly planting seeds.

But wait, behind the immediate, there would rise every so often a swift breeze from the future, tipping me into conjecture and confusion and hope, asking me to set questions against trust, and measure mission by the rule of belief. An impossible place. Just give me straight apple blossoms; give me the winging gull.

Later, with dark perhaps, might come a different sort of wind. The past, of course, whistling half the night to have me remembering childhood, pondering my parents, dreaming layer by layer into further generations; tumbling back.

Which is how I came up with the cemetery for our meeting place. I wanted to scatter rose petals and purple irises across my brother’s grave. I wanted to sit silent, to watch, to hear small bees in the California lilac above it.

I needed to cover it all—bring past, hold present, have faith in future—as I met him first time amidst fading gravestones, under ancient oaks, eyes following together the tumbled clouds.

“Wonder if one of the mausoleums is open…” he grinned.

I punched his arm. We didn’t need to be anywhere but right there.

We had time.



For 3 years, I’ve been spending 6-8 weeks at home, 3 days on the train, 6-8 weeks across the border with my mom, 3 days back on the train… And repeat. I’m so fortunate to still have Mom to read old family letters in German to, to have 2:00 brunch and play MadLibs with, to share the odd wry comment or giggle.

It’s quite a switch from her house to mine, and every time I get home, the forest of books and undergrowth of paper/s seems to be, well, flourishing. This last time, it was suddenly too much.

Within 12 hours of getting back, I’m clearing off shelves and emptying drawers; inspecting one note or form or clipping at a time; determinedly filling the recycling bag. Until I find this:


Okay, wait—

This was the Enizagam Fiction Contest.


Fiction Judge Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

I submitted my story Child.

Child WON that contest.

It was published in the next issue of Enizagam.

I was there in Oakland to read at the launch.

(I have a photo—I can prove it!)

I take a deep breath and read the letter again. ???

Maybe… as we leave years and layers of documents to their own devices, they begin to get seriously bored? Start joking around with each other? Come up with alternate versions of reality, parallel possibilities, some good old fake news?

I mean, I won, yes?


Reading the letter to my son now, I’m beginning to veer ever so slightly off base: “You remember when I won, right? You read the story. Remember how… I mean, look, the issue’s right here on the bookcase with my other publications!”

Um. The issue’s not there.

For a moment, I really do believe in an alternate universe where:

Child went unrecognized.

I was advised to try again.

(Maybe I was kidding myself.)

(Maybe none of my writing was any good.)

(Maybe I wasn’t even a writer.)

Doubt. A growing dizziness. In self-defense, I go to bed.

*  *  *

Middle-of-the-night realization, verified early the next morning:

Of course—I submitted 2 stories to that particular contest.


 Rent Asunder was, in that disconcerting letter, the one enjoyed but not accepted.

Child made it.

Reality rules.



Sunrise gilds the Utah desert and tints the far mountains a dusky rose. My curtains open all night, I wake slowly, watching faint tracks winding to a spill of water, another shelf of tumbleweed and scrub, the hawk motionlessly surveying all…

And then I wake suddenly. Zephyr! What are we going to do? It’s not like we ever came up with a rescue plan. And how long till Grand Junction?

I scarf my breakfast, and hurry to the lounge car, but of course, despite confused dreams of cats and conductors, neither of us has any new ideas. The rest of the cat crew still asleep, we decide that all we can do when we get there is act as independent observers, play it by ear.

“And if we have to, somehow save her.” We both sigh. Yes, somehow.

The Book Cliffs…

Ruby Canyon…


And then the endless rail yards that mean we’re there.

Detraining, my fellow cat champion from coach and I from sleeper, we scan for Humane Society officers, head toward the crew car. Now what?

The first conductor we ask seems, strangely, to know nothing about a cat. Not good. But the second has excellent news. “The stationmaster here decided to take her home.”

He’s going by right now, in fact, Zephyr’s carrier balanced on the seat next to him in the cart.

“Thank you!”

“That’s so great!”

Before long, the whole cat crew has converged in the station to say their goodbyes.


From the receiver of the station phone as the stationmaster holds it away from his head: “You are NOT bringing another cat home!”

Oh. Fifteen minutes till departure. We all look sadly at each other, then back at the sleeping cat.

It’s another crew change, apparently, Salt Lake City engineers heading toward their rides, and new ones arriving. A conductor checks in at the wicket, and as we study her, it’s as if we’ve been inspired en masse.

Zephyr is lifted out of her carrier. “Did you hear about her yet? Look at how sweet…”

“With us since California!”

“Isn’t she gorgeous?”

Conductor Spaulding leans in closer. “She certainly is a pretty one.”

“We named her Zephyr.” I think we’re all holding our breath.

“Maybe when I get back from this run, I can ask around for a friend who could take her.”

But in the meantime?!

She continues to pat her. “Or at least get her to a no-kill shelter.”

Not a happy ending after all? But then as if by miracle, the cat finds her way into the conductor’s  arms just as a quick-thinking fan says, “Right, so, we named her Zephyr Spaulding.”

Time slows down, then speeds up, and when the whistle suddenly sounds, Conductor Spaulding carefully sets Zephyr back in her carrier. “Okay, I’m crazy but I’m going to keep her. Ready to go, girl?”

Zephyr Spaulding closes her eyes and seems to smile as she boards her namesake once again, for Nebraska, Iowa and parts east…




…California Zephyr, eastbound…

Swaying back to her seat from the baggage area, she hears faint cries, but no, it would be somebody’s tablet, another passenger without headphones. Never mind.

Patches of almost-Christmas snow in the Sierra Nevadas, and then



Sailing through Sparks…

No, wait, that was definitely a meow. Make that much meowing. Where’s it coming from?

Dark falls over the desert. As she pulls suitcase after suitcase off the luggage rack, the yowling becomes more urgent. Other passengers circle. It is a cat. Trapped in a soft carrier beneath three layers of bags. Black. Wide- and golden-eyed. Whose?

Word spreads. “Couple in the next coach had a cat out at the last stop.” Ah. Thank goodness. But not. The couple, finally located, is surprised, even offended. “Our cat’s right here. It’s not like we have two.”

Cold night in Winnemucca…

By now it’s a whole convocation track-side—coach and sleeping car passengers, assistant conductor, car attendant, then the conductor, who’s sought the owner from dining car to locomotive, and drawn a blank. And so?

“Wish I could keep her.”

“I’ll take her, seriously.”

“Unfortunately, she’s not Amtrak property, so we couldn’t release her.” The assistant conductor sighs, pats her again.

“Are we positive somebody didn’t fall asleep, and they just haven’t heard us?”

“But she was meowing way before Reno, so it’s been, like, at least five hours!”

“Hey, there’s a can of food in her carrier. Can we feed her?”

“Of course.” Next thing, the conductor’s back with a bowl of water. “We’ve radioed management. We’ll have to follow their lead.”

By the time we reboard, word is that someone from the animal shelter will be meeting her in Elko.

Meanwhile, the cat posse takes things into their own hands: an entire parade through the coach cars, cat protesting in the forefront, and no passenger unquestioned. But nothing.


Nobody there to meet the cat. The shelter’s already closed, so now our newly-named Zephyr’s been taken to the crew cab for the night; she’ll be picked up instead tomorrow in Grand Junction. But now we’re worried.

Tête-a tête in the lounge car till well past midnight… What will they do? Is it a no-kill shelter? Google says not. We can’t let that happen! What if one of us went to the new crew getting on in Salt Lake City and said, ‘Man, I just woke up and I can’t find my cat!’ Or else, let’s see, if the clearly elder of us played the memory loss card, and…

No, we’re getting way too overtired here. Nothing we can do. The only plan is to meet here again just before Grand Junction, and hope for inspiration…

~ To be continued ~


We commemorate the end, 100 years ago today, of a war. We weren’t there, but still we can feel the relief, the weight finally lifted, the peace that is so necessary to our souls.

Breathing deep, shifting our eyes forward, today we too need to serve―not cross an ocean and fight an enemy, but to fight, right here, in our own homes and hearts, the greater enemy of unsustainable habits that are marching us toward the most terrible of possible wars, over food and water and a square foot of safe land.

Fight our self-centred thoughts and unthinking actions; our insistence that everything’s okay because so it seems to be for ourselves; our knee-jerk wish for always more; our belief that we are entitled to what we have, and others not so much; our unwillingness to look at what we are doing to the world, the creatures upon it, our children and each other; our lack of will to make the biggest or even the smallest change; our turning, again, a blind eye; our unadmitted greed, which sets the stage for Nothing for Anyone; our refusal to really care…

History says that we must care. Caring, to be real, must take shape in hope and in action.

Today, please, 100 years out, take a first fighting action to help spare us all from a future worse than any war.

Need action ideas? Please ask.


    All of us come bringing stories to this late-September Midwestern place of reunion (bring them everywhere, really). It’s just that many of mine are already jotted down, input, printed or published. This ends up being a gift―to me, and hopefully to others, as I listen to old and new friends, and often find a story that fits each tale.

– As a classmate’s wife talks about living in Florida, I hand her my way-too-late-trip-to-Disney World story, Room on the Planet

– A fellow grad I don’t quite remember has lived, like me, the sadness of their father’s struggle with Parkinsons― that’s what the above story is really about; I give them a copy…

– The lost-girl-in-LA story, Rent Asunder, goes to a California classmate…

– To a physician and then a friend lamenting their forgetfulness goes The Edible and the Beauteous and the Dead, about a man finding the gift in his gradual loss of words…

–  One classmate worked for NASA, and now writes science fiction―to him, some climate fiction, Water and Oil, or the reluctant robot story, At the Corner of Railroad and What Looks Like Amen

And of course as I listen to highlights, ponder the decades, and wonder at how the cliques and gaps and chasms have become as nothing (how all we are about here is finding common ground), now memory and inspiration fold into each other―it looks like there will be more stories to come ~

Hey, we’re all classmates in this strange school of life. If any of the above stories speak to you, email me at, and I’ll send you a copy. Or give me another topic that’s on your mind―there just might be an app, I mean, a real live story for that…