The Book of Magic Places

Excited to have a flash fiction fantasy story in the latest issue of Alcyone Speculative Fiction and Poetry! The issue is up on Amazon in either Kindle or paperback format.

Alcyone: Issue III: Speculative Fiction and Poetry

My contribution is called “The Book of Magic Places.” It’s a story of worlds within worlds, and it was so much fun to write about the different settings. Here’s the Pinterest board I used to inspire me while I wrote:

My favorite new word: feghoot

Last year I had a blast reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. Not only did I learn a lot about verse, but I got to encounter all kinds of fantastic poetry vocab, like dithyramb and trochee, to name a few.

Little did I know I had yet to meet another fantastic member of the poetry lingo set: the feghoot.

What, you may ask, is a feghoot?

The feghoot is a coda, a little pun tacked onto the end of narrative verse. It turns out that feghoots have been in my life since early childhood. The ending I learned to “Little Rabbit Foo Foo” is a classic feghoot:

“Hare today, goon tomorrow.”

The hare half of the pun should be obvious even to someone who has never heard of “Little Rabbit Foo Foo.” Here’s a link to the lyrics if you’re curious about the goon.

But before you click, take my advice and watch out for the Good Fairy.

What I Learned About How Thor Got His Hammer

Some of the most fun reading I’ve done so far in 2018 is Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I absolutely loved the way Gaiman rendered the fun and danger of the adventures of the Norse gods. And as a Tolkien fan who’d had little exposure to the Norse myths, I was tickled to see the origin of the characters and special powers of the elves and dwarves. In particular the story of how Thor got his hammer was a great example of the craftsmen dwarves, their artisanship and their endearing blend of greed and work ethic.

The origin of Mjollnir, Thor’s lightning hammer, starts much like a recurring nightmare I’ve had most of my life: Thor’s pretty wife, Sif, wakes up to find herself bald. Hair razed and gone for good, thanks to the trickster, Loki. When I imagine her shock at the sudden and unexpected transformation of her appearance, I feel for her in my gut.

But luckily Sif is a goddess, not a mortal. And she’s a well-connected goddess. In order to avoid Thor’s wrath, Loki promises to obtain new hair for Sif, hair that will make her prettier than ever.

Where to get such locks? The dwarves, of course.

The dwarves are true craftsmen, and they’re not just makers of beautiful objects, they dream up and turn into reality the magical artifacts that populate the mythological universe. They’re the unsung heroes who give the big players some of their biggest powers. They’re like the patron saints of today’s makers.

While Loki is hanging out with the dwarves, he gets to see them solve Sif’s baldness problem and create other wonders, as well, such as a magical ship that can fold up small enough to put in your pocket.

I want one of those.

Loki, being Loki, tries to stir up more trouble and more magical item innovation. But he’s got to get the dwarves to work for free. He bets his own head in a match to pit a couple dwarves into outdoing the magical hair and the nifty folding ship created by their rivals. The dwarves, proud of their craft and greedy for both fame and fortune, fire up the forge and get to work.

The myth goes into detail about how Loki turns himself into a stinging fly and tries to derail the expert work of the dwarves. But the thing is, these short, strong artisans will produce marvels even under the most dire of circumstances. Thor’s hammer is created under such duress, Brokkr’s eyes are blinded with blood by the time Loki is through with him. Thanks to being blind, the handle of the hammer is shorter than it should be, so Loki gets Mjollnir for free to appease Thor and gets to and keep his head…

…well…there’s a little more to the story than that. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s Norse Mythology!

What I Learned about the Incredible Downsizing Marine Iguana

My favorite fun fact of the week came from browsing the National Geographic feed on Instagram. I came across a picture of a marine iguana–not the most striking image I’ve ever seen on the National Geographic feed–but the description beneath the image really caught my attention.

The marine iguana can shrink. I don’t mean it dehydrates itself, or loses fat. I mean it reduces the size of its skeleton! It can lose up to 20% of its size!

Why would the marine iguana evolve to do that?

Biologists believe it’s an adaptation to help the iguanas survive in times when food becomes dangerously hard to find. Instead of starving to death, marine iguanas downsize. As smaller predators, they require less food to stay alive.

Doing a little more research, I learned that not only can iguanas shrink, but they can grow again when food becomes more plentiful. You can check out the article on Gizmodo here.

Evolution is all about stayin’ alive (cue the Bee Gees here). What a fascinating way to survive in times of scarcity.

What I Learned About Affect vs. Effect and Learning from Mistakes

One of the very best ways to learn something new is by making a mistake. But despite my love of learning, I get all prickly and defensive when I discover I’m in the wrong. It’s one of those conflicts between personality and values that I try to create in fictional characters to make them seem more human. I guess it makes me more human, too.

Being able to learn from mistakes is a skill, one I need to improve. So I was pretty pleased this evening when I practiced learning from a mistake with something approaching a positive attitude.

This week I received a story rejection in which the editor offered feedback. Much like learning from mistakes, the opportunity to learn from a rejection is invaluable. Getting comments from any industry professional instead of a form letter is gold.

While reviewing the helpful editor’s comments, I noticed a line item concerning misuse of affect and effect. I’d long ago classified affect as an adjunct of the word affectation: a pretense, putting on a certain mannerism that’s not quite genuine. In fact, if you check out the Merriam Webster Dictionary, this is still the definition emphasized for affect.

However, according to the helpful editor who rejected my story, the Oxford English Dictionary, and one of my go-to online grammar references, Grammar Girl, when in doubt, I should use effect as a noun (cause and effect) and use affect as a verb (the cause affected the result). Even Merriam Webster will agree that using effect as a verb implies the actual achievement of a final result, not merely influencing a result, which is what I intended in my offending sentence.

Use effect as a noun, affect as a verb. Pretty simple, but I have years and years of incorrect habit to overwrite. Thanks to the helpful editor pointing out my mistake, I hope to remember correct use in the future. More importantly, if I can be grateful instead of prickly and defensive when this error was pointed out to me, maybe I can have that same attitude the next time someone lets me know I’m in the wrong.

What I Learned About Sharpies and Toothpaste

Exploding pens and markers are pretty disappointing. Even more so when permanent ink destroys something important.

Today as I was deep into a Marie Kondo style tidying session, I picked up a marker. I should have guessed just by holding it that the royal blue Sharpie did not spark joy. But I had to press further and test if it could still write.

I gripped marker, I squeezed the cap…

My husband came running (I screamed) to find my hands dripping in viscous, bright blue goo. My desk was splattered with thick ink.

Soap and water did nothing to remove the permanent marker from my hands, nor did it clear the Rorschach blots that stained my desk. Rubbing alcohol removed the worst of the ink from my hands. Toothpaste, the internet advised, was the solution for the desk.

Driven by the belief that whatever I tried would be most effective if attempted immediately, I squeezed mint toothpaste all over my desk and scrubbed with a paper towel. I now see I was supposed to use a proper paste (not the gel I had handy) and a scrub pad instead of a meager paper towel. But, you know what? Gel and paper towels not withstanding, the toothpaste worked like magic. All the blue stains lifted from my desk in a matter of minutes.

Yes, I had to rinse my desk of toothpaste, and yes, my bluish fingers tingled for twenty minutes after from having bathed in all that minty gel. But my desk was good as new! And I was filled with gratitude for internet searchable household hacks, especially the ones that really work.

What I Learned About the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition

This year I’m adventuring with Douglas Adams’ science fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I just started the fifth book in the “increasingly misnamed trilogy.” I now appreciate just how handy a towel can be, and I share in the relief that “DON’T PANIC,” is written in reassuring letters on the cover of the encyclopedic tome that gives the series its name, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

During one of our recent reading sessions, my husband noted that The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a precursor to a modern technology so ubiquitous it has become a household word: Wikipedia is essentially a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Criticism of collaborative knowledge repositories abounds, but no matter the pros and cons of Wikipedia, there’s no doubt its presence has changed our reality.

As I researched the parallels between Wikipedia and the science fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide, I learned that author of the series, Douglas Adams, actually founded an online collaborative encyclopedia based on the Guide. Here is his vision statement of what he hoped to create with the Earth Edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide:

“A collaborative guide, one that was written and kept up to date by the people who use it, in real time.”

He also wanted to to be:

“A place to share knowledge and celebrate the things you love by writing about them.”

Adams’ vision became a reality in 1999, two years before the launch of Wikipedia.

It’s so cool to look back and see what science fictional technologies have now become part of our everyday lives. But it’s a rare thing, indeed, to see an author reach beyond his fictional creation and bring his ideas into the practical world. has had its ups and downs, and its inspirational founder is no longer alive. But The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition is still up and running. Recent entries include The Beatles Blue Album and The Potato Dumpling War of 1967. looks like a wonderful source to learn all kinds of things I never even knew I didn’t know.

What I Learned About Charlotte’s Web and The Elements of Style

When I brought my signed copy of Vacationland home from a live show and book signing by one of my favorite podcast personalities, Judge John Hodgman, I was determined that it wouldn’t just collect dust on the shelf. The signed copy was hard won by my valiant friend, who secured tickets to the signing against all odds, drove me through the dark, rainy streets of San Francisco to the event, and suffered vandalism to her vehicle on said San Francisco streets, all with good cheer and no complaint.

But reading Vacationland took some effort. I have a lifelong habit of neglecting to read signed books. Perhaps it’s some lingering shame at my shyness when meeting the author, or it could be I’m an eBookworm at heart, and paper books are for looking pretty on the shelf, not for reading.

When I found myself under the weather and sofa bound for several days, I seized the opportunity to devour Vacationland. I read it from cover to cover in less than 48 hours. Take that, procrastination.

Vacationland concerns Hodgman’s two vacation homes, one in Massachusetts, one in Maine. The home in Maine is near the residence of a famous American author. Hodgman drops hint after hint about the famous author’s identity, but never gives his name. As I feverishly flipped the pages of Vacationland, I became more and more intrigued by the mystery of the unidentified writer. Who was he?

In a fit of sofa sick day madness, I scoured the internet to investigate Hodgman’s clues. My sleuthing didn’t get me any closer to an answer. I was reduced to asking the internet if anyone knew who the mystery writer was in Vacationland.

Several someones did. Most agreed Hodgman’s mystery writer was E.B. White.

I pulled up E. B. White on Wikipedia and learned that I’d read not one, but two books by the author. I’d have never guessed these two disparate, but fundamental reads from my youth, were by the same writer.

E.B. White is famous for having written, among other children’s books, Charlotte’s Web. I will never forget this story, which I heard sitting in a circle of classmates at the feet of our elementary school librarian. Just the title can still evoke my first taste of dreading loss, then somehow finding sweetness and beauty in its inevitability.

But E.B. White did more than just write children’s stories. Turns out he is the White half of the celebrated Strunk & White Elements of Style. This is another volume that made a big impression on me early in life. Although the Chicago Manual of Style is now the more go-to authority on the nitty gritty particulars of written expression, Strunk & White will always be my first grammar and style love. Elements of Style is slim, succinct, and unapologetically opinionated. When I read it, the reasoning behind the rules, as much as the rules, themselves, shaped the way I communicate.

Thanks to Vacationland I learned that E.B. White hated the spotlight, hid out from publicity by sneaking onto the fire escape, and hid out from New York City in rural Maine. Hodgman expressed profound admiration for the man, particularly his desire to be known for his work, not as a personality. So I hope E.B. White would be pleased that, up until this year, I had no idea who he was, but his books have always loomed large in my life.

V-Day But No Me Day

Candy hearts, cardboard hearts, cartoon hearts on TV: thudump, thudump. The fourteenth isn’t just V-Day, it’s my birthday. Only a few more hours to go. Will Mom remember her promise?

I’ve left hints. Doodled paw prints on my homework, dived into dog videos on YouTube, perused puppy training tomes.

I dig out Candy’s old leash from the kitchen junk drawer. Nothing left of Candy but this leash and her photo in a silver paw print frame. Now she’s gone, I walk around like a vampire. Stake in my heart. The stake never comes out. I never go poof, I’m walking dust.

The only thing that could save me from being the undead is a puppy.

Mom promised a new dog for my birthday. That was way back in April. Does she remember? Is my birthday even happening this year?

No party plans, no presents beneath Mom’s bed. It’s like my birthday’s papered over in pink and red. I’m forgotten amid chocolate, roses, cheesy valentines. V-Day’s happening, sure, but no me day.

It’s all a ruse. Must be. Part of the big surprise. I’ll wake to a wriggly fur ball squirming on the quilt. Hot, wet tongue. My vampire days done.

Counting down to birthday morning in achey, stakey undead heartbeats: thudump, thudump.