Americana-Themed Podcast Newly Released

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I’m excited to share that the latest episode of Artifact Chat, a monthly podcast of curated intersections between America’s past and present is now live. In this episode, “The Vintage Wedding Dress,” I sat down with Kristine Engel, curator of Meringue, a vintage formal wear boutique in Chicago’s Roscoe Village, to chat about the dresses in Kristine’s collection, the history of wedding fashion, and why re-imagined vintage is an aesthetic that appeals to modern brides.

Listen online or follow the iTunes link for a free download at

Good Fences: A Lesson in Writing Concrete Images

This evening, my husband is walking the perimeter of our rental property and installing chicken wire over the gaps in our failing white picket fence. He has chosen the best time of day for this labor. Sun glazes the delicate new maple leaves and the unmowed grass and the marbled hastas planted along the line. In the yard, our dog romps back and forth, his tongue lagging from heat. He jumps up on sections of rotting fence, sending them slinging.

From where he is bent walling in the irises, my husband removes an ear bud and smiles at me and our two-month old, who I hold across my chest.

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“Good fences make good neighbors,” he says. Continue reading

Image Journal Turns 25

Image is a quarterly journal that publishes art and writing that contemplates the intersection between religious faith and modern culture. This spring the journal turns twenty-five, and I am excited to be among the writers featured in the anniversary issue! In addition to the Image blog, Good Letters, which provides thoughtful inquiry into a variety of contemporary issues on a regular basis (I highly recommend checking it out), each issue of the journal includes a preface from the editor, Gregory Wolfe. This issue, the preface is called “Cloud of Unknowing”. It reflects on the growth Image has undergone these past twenty-five years but also revisits the principle mission the founders set out to accomplish. Wolfe notes that art and faith inform one another and both are ventures into mystery. Wolfe explains, “In the early Christian church, a mysterion was a sacrament, which consisted of something ordinary that had been changed—shaped into an artifact by God and by man—and which enabled the grace of God to be sensed, as through a glass darkly.” Art can be a sacred venture between God and man, and, often times, art-making commences in a place of darkness or unknowing. This has felt especially true to me in writing the short story, “Tenebrae” which appears in the pages of the anniversary issue. Tenebrae means shadows or darkness, and Tenebrae services are traditionally held on one of the last three days of holy week leading up to Easter. It seems fitting to me that this piece would appear in an issue concerned with the veil between us and God.

Naming Your Characters

Recently, my husband and I hit the baby name books in anticipation of the birth of our daughter. We made lists; we consulted baby name sites, friends, and family. We considered name meanings and trends in popularity. And, when she finally arrived, we still took a few hours selecting from our narrowed list. Choosing her name felt like an important responsibility, because we knew the name would stay with her for her whole life, could shape her in someway, and would provide insight into who we, as her parents, anticipate that she might become. Names and their origins can have similar significance to our characters, whether real or fictionalized. Here are a couple of things to consider when naming your characters along with examples from well-known writers. Continue reading

Creating Setting: Don’t Neglect the Physical World

When readers first approach a story, they typically look for the following key information:

1. Where are we?

2. Who are the important characters?

3. What’s the initial problem or conflict?

Writers who neglect any of this situating information in the first few paragraphs can leave a reader disoriented, frustrated, and in danger of walking away.

People are accustomed to interacting with the world around them through the senses, and the imagined world of a story is no different for readers. In fact, when the conflict is still taking shape, and the characters and their motivating desires are still emerging, the physical world is often the first foothold.

Continue reading

Hot Off the Press

Sou’wester has been described by New Pages as “a bright, energetic publication that can be read in pajamas or pantsuits—that is, on many different levels that all seem to work well and function cohesively.” Sou’wester recently released the 2013 spring edition which is a special issue celebrating women writers. I am delighted that my short story, “The Green Cadillac,” appears in this issue. Check them out here .

Combating Character Clutter—Whose Story Is It?

One of the problems with the early drafts of my novel was that I had too many characters. This is a common problem for many new writers. I became so absorbed in each new character I developed that the story quickly became a series of rabbit trails with no clear protagonist. In my workshop classes, peers had wildly different preferences on how I might develop the story and what characters to keep or toss. The reason was because I had failed to choose a direction for the story and to assert the character the reader was meant to vie for. Instead, all of my interesting people where pulling readers in too many directions and exhausting their attention. I needed to focus.

Part of the problem was that I will still in the early stages of the project. I didn’t know what the story was yet. I was just writing scenes with the same characters in them and letting my imagination run wild. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this when a story is just emerging from its primordial ooze. That is important, especially for a large project. You don’t want to edit too early. In fact, it can be useful to check out all the people who show up for open auditions before committing to the select few who will carry the narrative forward. However, eventually, often pages and pages into the process, the auditioning must stop and cuts have to be made. Continue reading