Short Fiction

The American Scholar — "We Shall Go to Her, But She Will Not

Return to Us"

Four years ago a born-again folk duo came through Pulverdale, gigged at the harvest festival, and knocked up Cici Carver’s older sister, Dane, a 16-year-old atheist with a weakness for men who sang harmony. Dane would never tell which Christian folkie was Trevor’s father, and Cici suspected that Dane wasn’t sure herself. Rona Carver bore her teenage daughter’s pregnancy with the cultivated stoicism she’d been honing since she divorced Dane and Cici’s father years before. Kit came and went and came and went, and there was always a spot at the table, and no one Rona’d rather welcome into her bed, but she was no longer naïve enough to expect anything from the man. From Dane, Rona didn’t expect much but disappointment....

Five Chapters — "Don't Sweat the Petty"

They dispatched Georgia to fetch the best man. The Midwestern humidity was relentless; she fiddled futilely with the car’s nonfunctional AC controls. John Smith had flown in from California to Iowa on the same flight as the groom’s father, step-mother, and half-sisters — über-blond 17-year-old triplets, each more gorgeous than the last — and Georgia had to wait in the old Subaru with the blinkers on while John lingered outside the baggage claim flirting shamelessly. The girls were only a few years younger than Georgia, but made her feel particularly spinsterly as she watched them chit-chatting in the rear-view mirror....

Virginia Quarterly Review — "You Were My Favorite Scarecrow"

Calista Wertheim was, in her time — as most people are, in their times, I suppose — lovely. She had a propensity toward all things batik and slashed her way through life with that mane of frizzled yellow whipping behind her. Garry loved her, and I assume she him, with a devotion and a level-headedness I admire and understand. We were close friends, the four of us — Calista and Garry, me and Witold — for many, many years. There were countless dinners in Chinatown, summer barbecues, Sunday brunches on the terrace. We attended each other’s events: Witold’s openings, Calista’s benefits. I use the past tense: Witold is dead, and though Calista has not yet passed, she is gone from us in most ways that merit use of the present....

WordSmitten — "Woman With Backwards Uterus"

My freshman roommate in college was a delightful southern belle who dated, during our junior year when we were no longer roommates, a very attractive guy who I knew slightly from a fiction writing class. Years later — nearly ten, in fact — we were reintroduced, via email, by an editor who'd published both of us in his literary journal. We were both still writing fiction. An email correspondence ensued. A lively, witty, dare-I-say flirtatious correspondence....

Shorter Fiction

NANO Fiction — "Attributes of Baking Soda"

Baking soda absorbs odors. It can be used, thus, as a deodorant. Also: as toothpaste. A poultice of baking soda removes freckles. Baking soda cures everything from an upset stomach to a fractured skull. Some say it’s an aphrodisiac. Others say: amnesiac. Baking soda is a leavening agent, capable of volcanic activity. It is a levitating agent, capable of invisibility. If you are a ghost-tracker, you know that baking soda can be used very effectively in the tracking of ghosts. If you are a crack dealer, baking soda is a lucrative business substitute....

TriQuarterly — Five Shorts: "What Hair Does," "In Bed with My

Parents," "Lull," "Iris Murdoch’s Taste for Kale," & "The Last Marathon Brunch"

The New York Marathon goes past my folks’ building, and for decades they hosted a great marathon brunch — an excuse for Mom to cook up big pots of autumn squash soup and Chicken Marbella and roasted beet salad, and drink champagne in the middle of the day. And in early November of the year my father lay dying — Alzheimer’s — in a rented hospital bed set up in their room, my mom saw no reason to cancel the annual party. “I’m not just going to sit around and wait for him to die!....

Camera Obscura — "Deer at Rest"

Driving home near dusk this evening after visiting hours at the eating disorders clinic where I’ve incarcerated my daughter in hopes of keeping her alive, I passed something on the side of the road that nearly killed me. On the fast lane shoulder, up against the median, where the asphalt still held the sun’s heat, a mother deer lay spooned around her baby, the two of them contented as cats, and my heart broke the way a mother’s does at such sights, but then instantly seized with fear as I imagined the moment when, the ground grown cold, the deer would stand, stretch their spindly limbs, and start across the road for the forest....

Eyeshot​ — "Some Notes on Etiquette"

1) Don’t say you’re going to do something unless you actually plan on doing it. You and I were playing I’ll show you mine if you show me yours: we said 1, 2, 3, GO, I pulled down my pants, and you laughed and ran away.
 

2) If it’s going to be a one-night stand, let it be a one-night stand. Say: “Hey, it was nice meeting you, maybe we’ll run into each other again someday at some other wedding.” Don’t say: “Let’s talk soon.” Don’t call from O’Hare when your connecting flight home gets delayed. Don’t send cute postcards, each time promising the next card will be “more scenic,” each time promising a “next”....

Eyeshot — "How It Was When I Lost My Fingernail"

When I was ten and still dysfunctionally in love with my mother — and she with me — she accidentally slammed my finger in a folding chaise lounge. I was screaming and she was freaking out, so horrified she’d inflicted tangible harm on her only son that I wound up comforting her. When I finally got myself into the house — left her there by the pool, apoplectic as a first-time father-to-be waiting outside the delivery room — my fingernail was hanging by a thread, like a tooth ready for yanking.....

The Atlantic​ — "Fundamentals of Communication"

Communications is not my field. I teach Fundamentals of Acting I and II. I used to do the Dramatic Monologue, alternating semesters with Advanced Improvisation, and sometimes I even staged a production spring term, but there have been cutbacks and a new dean who seems to think that art is as dispensable as coffee from the basement vending machine. Dean Ford would actually be a decent enough guy if not for his unbounded enthusiasm for democratic systems of check and balance. He's so gung-ho about "putting the community back in community college"....

The Iowa Review — "The Challenger Disaster at Smiling Goat"

Us goatherds watched the launch on a TV so ancient, its picture so distorted, we could barely tell liftoff from incineration. Christa McAuliffe was ash raining down from the Sunshine State sky before we even understood she was dead. I was working that winter near Oviedo on Smiling Goat Ranch for a farmer by the name of Scarpalli. He had a Superman curl in the middle of his forehead and wore — unapologetically, year-round, in Florida — a pair of tremendous snow boots, as if to insulate himself from goat shit by any means possible, but I thought the limp and drag of his gait might indicate concealment of a club foot, maybe an amputation....

Nonfiction

The New York Times— "Living With Music: A Playlist"

I moved to Iowa City in 1995 for graduate school and left, weeping (with a homesickness that has not yet abated!), in 2007 for a job and a man — now my husband — on the East Coast. We live in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley, and we’re happy, but I still pine for Iowa, the place I’ve felt most at home in this world. I’m working on a novel set there; my narrator has fallen in love and left her husband of three decades for a man who lives 500 miles away. Her longing for him is in everything she does — and it’s not hard for me to access. If I’m not already actively missing Iowa, it only takes a song....

The Believer — "Underway: What Are You Working On?"

On the desktop: stamped, addressed, unsealed manila envelopes of job applications with Post-it checklists of what’s in them and what still needs to go in them; the line-edited manuscript of my new novel, Osprey Island, which needs to be gone through in the next six days; a galley of John McNally’s new novel The Book of Ralph; a Post-it list (“garage door, MULCH, kitchen sink drain, Jen’s light”); a dirty spoon; a bottle of zinc lozenges; One Story issue #27; a nearly empty two-liter bottle of Hy-Vee seltzer water; a receipt from the New Pioneer Co-op for two scones, a Sunday New York Times and a bag of Newman’s Ginger-O’s, which were on sale for $2.49 and are really really good dipped in milk and have inspired odes by my poetess-friend, Laurel Snyder....

The Believer — "Motel: Pull'R Inn" with Erin Ergenbright

A John Deere dealer by trade, Ernie Ropp started hosting tractor pulls in the vast fields of southeastern Iowa in the 1970s. These events commanded crowds, and in 1977 Ropp built the Pull’R Inn at the intersection of Highways 1 and 22 in Kalona, the “Quilt Capital of Iowa.” With a population of approximately 2,300, Kalona boasts the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi.

 

Ernie Ropp passed away in the mid 1990s; Dick and Pam McGriff have managed the Pull’R Inn for the last four years. “We get a bus tour through from England every year, and two from Texas,” says Pam. Though appreciative of tourism revenue, Dick is dismayed by those visitors who seem to view the Amish “like they’re circus animals on display”....

Post Road — "Some Things About Kevin Brockmeier"

1. Kevin Brockmeier is the author of a brilliant story collection, Things That Fall From The Sky; a heartbreakingly beautiful novel, The Truth About Celia; and a children's novel called City of Names.

 

2. The first thing I ever read by Kevin Brockmeier was a story called “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin,” and I didn't get it. I remember telling people: “This guy in my grad program, I read a story he wrote—he's in workshop with a friend of mine—so in this story the main character is literally half of Rumpelstiltskin!...

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