"Good Bones," a poem by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

(photo by Chris Lawton from Unsplash)

 As someone who loves to write and read ghost stories because of the metaphors they provide about what we can see and not see, about what we can know and not know, and about what is haunting us, I love Halloween. This year Rosie and I dressed up as a prisoner arrested for "disorderly conduct" and the friendly, unarmed police officer who is keeping the streets safe from her thievery--mostly of popcorn and covers.

Now that we are into November, I know many of you are keeping the party going by participating in National Novel Writing Month. I take my (police) hat off to anyone attempting to write 50,000 words in a month. How do you do it? I've heard the key to success is "Don't look back." 

Seems like good advice for those of us trying to get a lot of writing done, and those of us walking up creaking, chilling stairs...


Back to School Photo, September, 2021

    I returned to school this past week, teaching three sections of The 99-Day Novel through the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival over Zoom (see link below). Thirty writers will be starting (or starting to revise) a novel before Labor Day, and finishing their goals, whatever they are--to finish a skeleton of a novel or to finish a completed manuscript--before the holidays. My job is to shepherd them through the process and to be their most helpful reader and their most enthusiastic cheerleader--a job I absolutely love!

    I wish all students and educators who are returning to school a happy and healthy year. May we make new friends and grow in "old" friendships, may we learn new things, may we learn from our failures and rejoice in our successes, may we have fun!, and may we attempt feats just out of our reach...

    What are you doing and learning this September? I wish you well in your endeavors!

*For more information on the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival upcoming classes, sign up for their email list/ go to: ISWF


The book I'm working on now, GHOST MOTHER, has been inspired by one of the world's great novels (novellas), Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, which poses the question, Are there ghosts, or is the narrator going insane? It has taken me about eight readings, but I have finally determined the answer to that question. (And no, I won't give it away here. You must enjoy the tortuous delight of reading it for yourself eight times!) I have loved so many of James' novels, and have learned so much from all of them, but this one is my favorite. It continues to inspire and amaze me. Henry James' birthday was this week, on April 15, 1843. I am so grateful he was born, and so grateful he wrote all of the beautiful and complex books that he did. Do you have a favorite James novel? A favorite ghost story?

Happy birthday, Henry James!


Astronomers tell us that Jupiter and Saturn come together every twenty years, but they haven't come this close together in four hundred years, or this close together at night in eight hundred years, so tonight should be something to look at!

Astrologers tell us that when the Great Conjunction happens on the Winter Solstice, it signifies new beginnings, and that we should take the opportunity to think about what goals we want to attain in the coming year.

For writers, of course, this probably means what writing goals we want to accomplish.

Do you want to write every day this coming year? Do you want to submit more? Do you want to start a novel? Finish one? What are your goals for 2021? Apparently now is as good a day as any to write them down. Why wait 'til New Year's?

Whatever your writing goals are, I wish you great success in reaching them.

Happy Winter Solstice!

(copyright free photo by David Menidrey via Unsplash)


Like everything else, Halloween was a little different during our global pandemic, and I was impressed by how inventive and creative people were in finding new ways to celebrate and distribute treats. Some things never change, however. See Rosie the pug, above, my beloved best friend, who hated wearing a costume just as much as she always does. She was an astronaut in her rocket just long enough to seem very skeptical about a life in space with a flimsy spacesuit and no treats, while I snapped a few pictures, and then she was back to unencumbered freedom again--until I will put a Christmas hat on her, that is.

Halloween over, I awoke the next morning with a marvelous feeling: It was Sunday, November 1! I love it when new months fall on Sundays or Mondays, don't you? The entire month seems like it is filled with possibility!

I have so many plans to accomplish: so much teaching and editing this month. I also hope to enjoy some walking in brisk air before it snows, and to read and watch scary books and movies in whatever free time I have! What are your hopes and dreams for a new month that begins on a Sunday?

James Baldwin was born on this day, August 2, 1924. Nearly one hundred years later, we are of course still dealing with racial injustice in America. (The mural above was created this summer, on a boarded-up window of a store front after the protests, where I live in Madison, Wisconsin.)  I first read Baldwin as a teenager, when I checked out NOTES OF A NATIVE SON from the library; the book was an excellent lesson in empathy, and Baldwin was an excellent teacher. Today, in honor of his birthday, I'm posting some of my favorite quotes from the great American author, many of which seem more relevant today than they have ever before in my lifetime:

"We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exit."

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read."

"There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one's head spin. But the way to be really despicable it so be contemptuous of other people's pain."

"Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

Happy birthday, James Baldwin.

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