It’s been a few years, and there’s a chill in the air. When the time comes and my current books are launched, they may have to include a new paragraph on the copyright page. To whit:

Dear Reader:

This whole work is about me — my story about as much of the world as I’ve experienced. The world is vast. Imagining, let alone claiming, that I’m trying to speak for or in the voice of you or your family or your kinfolk, tribe, culture, religion, conspiracy theory or whatever you identify with or as — well, that’s about you and the alchemy of storytelling. If you find yourself in this work and dislike what you find, don’t make it about me. Write your own story. That’s where you’ll find what you’re looking for.

— the Author


I’ve been struggling a bit with my emerging writer’s identity. I realized that, while I have many clear ideas for children’s books that I could be pitching and selling quite readily, that’s not my primary motivation right now. I’m so full of secrets that I need to tell. This is very scary. What if they get me in trouble? What if no one cares? 

In this mood, I think about Bobby McFerrin, the musician who got famous for his song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He is one of the bravest artists I have ever encountered. I remember the first time I saw him in performance, online in a video recorded after he’d repudiated “Don’t Worry.” He stood before a huge audience on an empty stage with nothing but his self and a mike, and brought the universe of human music down to earth. Every person in that dark audience, including me, was persuaded to enter his dream with dancing hearts.  


And in this video, look at how he rejects the efforts of the people behind him to turn what he is doing into mere amusement, that old shuckin’ and jivin’ for the Man. The audience, after that first spontaneous tonal jump, is 100% with him, learning what he has learned, delighting as he delights. The men in the chairs — you feel sorry for them. They’re trapped in a nervous, tittering hell of their own making, while McFerrin and his happy flock are playing in Paradise.  

Earlier in my life I turned my talents to making a living. Now, with the wolf farther from the door, I have space to make art. Dark stage, invisible audience, just my mind and my words. Cue the spotlight. Here we go.

The Seven Stages of Woman

Jacques’ speech in As You Like It by Wm Shakespeare (Act II, Scene vii) reinterpreted

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one woman in her time plays many parts,
Her acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the crosspatch helper, with her ideas
And tightly braided hair, pulled from her play and set
Unwillingly to work. And then the lovesick,
Sighing like a furnace, fizzy with delight
When her eye’s fancy returns a look. Then a Mother,
Full of strange life and bellied like the moon,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Claiming the better method
Even in the night’s wee hours. And then the Karen,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and hair of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so she plays her part. The sixth age shifts
Into the spare and careful yogini,
With spectacles on head and purse on back;
Her youthful size, resumed, covered in skin
Too dry and loose, and her woman’s voice
Turning again toward childish uselessness,
A melancholy sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


For the past five-and-a-half months I’ve been living in a dream world of my own making. I miss it.

When I was a child, I read to escape. Escape from boredom: our TV was a tiny black-and-white with no cable, I didn’t like sports and my school friends lived scattered and far away. Escape from company: I like quiet but I was in the middle of six kids and my parents liked to entertain, so I would retreat with a book to my bedroom or, if that wasn’t safe enough (I shared rooms with an older or younger sibling until I was 15), to the assured solitude of under-the-guest-room-bed. Escape from pain: in the worst year of my childhood, I read hundreds of folk- and fairy-tales, craving the triumph of the youngest over the oldest, the poor over the rich, the dreamer over the doer, the weak over the strong, whether through magic or the hero(ine)’s own, surprisingly sufficient nature.

One of my favourite writers, Diana Wynne Jones (may she rest in delight), said somewhere that she started writing for escape, too; that she and her sisters were insufficiently supplied with books to read and so she had to write to relieve the privations of not-so-benign neglect. I didn’t envy her lack but I did wonder what it would be like to be that motivated. I wanted to write so badly but couldn’t seem to stick to it. My notebooks were full of sparky ideas, beginnings and endings; I constantly described things in my head, in beautiful sentences that went nowhere; I wore myself out trying to figure people out and cast them as main characters in their own stories. I wrote good letters, all this time, and I helped many, many writers of stories see their way through sticky bits to the best story they could create, as an editor of children’s and YA fiction. I learned so much.

Finally, I got a job where I could create and write short works and be paid for them immediately. I went through hard psychic times, in which I figured out a few things about myself; I was seized by a story idea that wouldn’t let me go and which I worked on for over two years while I figured out a few more things about myself, including the probability that I have ADHD (diagnosis pending). With that last discovery, I’ve been able to forgive myself for “wasted” time and really get to work, using all the skills I’d gained so far. While I was working on my YA science/speculative novel, I discovered that I could get lost in writing the way I do in reading. I can wrestle with the angel of attention and win its blessings: total absorption, suspended time, surprise and delight and, finally, a finished project — beginning, middle and end.

The title of my novel is Otherwhere. I think there is going to be a sequel.

P.S. I have been blown away by this photographer, whose Instagram posts have often captured exactly and eerily what I imagined for my invented lands.

Rethinking Storytelling

Once there was a frog who had a —

No, not “had”

Once there was a frog who wanted to be a bird.

And how about also a bird that wanted to be a frog?

That’s ridiculous.


Why would a bird want to be a frog? It can fly, and it has all the space of the skies, and a frog just …

Has a swamp? A swamp is everything a frog needs: water for breathing and breeding, land and logs for calling and mating, bugs above for food and mud below for hibernation…

But it’s so dark and gloppy. The sky is wide and bright and—

Why would a frog want that?


Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay


Why they’re so awkward — and why we’re stuck with them

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

One of the main characters in Otherwhere, the novel I’m writing, is presented as gender-indeterminate. I’ve been using they/them and it’s hella awkward. I’m a skilled craftsperson striving to make my prose as clear as possible, and some of my readers still say it’s confusing.

Otherwhere is an SF novel involving a world of three gender categories, so this is pretty key. As a reader, I get impatient with having to learn rafts of vocabulary to get along in an invented world, so I chose to go with the now-familiar they/them substitution. I included the neologism “themself” because it seemed strange to have a self-reflexive pronoun be plural when the character it referred to was obviously singular. It mostly worked.

As a reader, I get impatient with having to learn rafts of vocabulary to get along in an invented world.

Then I changed my mind. I admitted to one of my readers that I was making a point. We all know that they/them is an imperfect solution. I wanted to prove how imperfect it is. I was proving it — but was it at my story’s and reader’s expense? I’d invented names for the third gender category (par for children and twane for adults); it now seemed logical that I should do the same with its pronouns. I wanted something simple and easy on the English-language ear and tongue, and I settled on eh/em/ans. Then I went to work.

And discovered that I wasn’t done with they/them as neutral third-person singular pronouns. Let me show you:

Vesca frowned and looked at her hands, thinking. “Have you ever met someone who just does what they want, without hesitation? When you challenge them, or take exception, if there’s injury of some kind, they apologize and make amends if they can. But this woman … she wasn’t like that. She didn’t seem to feel she’d done anything wrong. No one in her community would give her a child, so she took one. From a stranger, so no House in her community would be offended. She talked like it was logical … clever, what she’d done. Like we were stupid for not seeing that.”

Now, the rule I’ve put in place in my world and my novel is that, until a character has been formally introduced, their pronouns must be third-gender/neutral. I tried replacing they/them with my invented pronouns in the paragraph above and found myself thinking, Wait. Who am I talking about? The meaning of what I was writing had changed — because it turns out that, although using they/them as singular pronouns is natural to English grammar, it is necessary and specific to ONE situation. In the paragraph above, Vesca is talking about an indeterminate, hypothetical someone, not an “actual” person, and they/them is absolutely correct. We use they/them as impersonal personal pronouns: referring to persons but still belonging to the group that includes it, this, and that. We use they/them when it feels rude to use “it.”

We use they/them when it feels rude to use “it.”

That’s why using they/them as gender-neutral singular personal pronouns feels awkward and wrong: because we’re coming from a place where this usage is wrong. In conversation, where we have an actual person in mind, we can manage it. In writing, where our minds are already working full-time on suspending disbelief or following a train of thought, this new usage is especially challenging.

However, we’re stuck with it, because invented pronouns are even MORE awkward, especially in writing. Rereading my draft, I found myself struggling with my own inventions, because, unlike the few-and-far-between nouns I’d invented, the pronouns called attention to themselves constantly. I believe this has been my difficulty with invented vocabulary all along: it’s a visual-mental distraction that burdens the reader with too much decoding, thereby disrupting understanding and sympathy.

That’s why I changed my mind and changed em/en/ans back to they/them/themself.

Invented pronouns are more awkward than they/them, especially in writing. They are a visual-mental distraction that burdens the reader with too much decoding, thereby disrupting understanding and sympathy.

It’s Official

I am “defecting to the typewriter”. I believe in the luck of my children, who have not devoured me; I believe in the luck of my husband and lover, who keeps a free woman. (Thank you, Carolyn Kizer!) As of March 1, 2021, I am a writer only. The first day went great. The second day started earlier and with even more enthusiasm. Here’s a little bit of what I’m working on:

In dole service I was a little more judgey, because I was older and looking for something — evidence, reasons, a clue. Dole service has a element of choice to it, at least until the choices become who you are. I was working in a market, once, wrangling folding tables and sweeping floors. It was the kind of market where the hard goods are second- or third-hand and the groceries are all past their best-before dates. A frowsty-haired woman named Brinda had a table there, displaying gloriously scented bruised pineapples and small piles of limp or desiccated vegetable items I didn’t know the names of. I bought avocados from her. I only knew one thing to do with them, a kind of creamy, spicy spread, and the very soft, beginning-to-blacken ones she offered suited that purpose. We got to talking about journeying and I said I was thinking about going home for the solstice festival.

“Oh, I never go otherwhere for something,” she said. “I just go, and see what there is when I get there.”

“Why?” I asked. 

She squinched up her face as if tasting something sour. “You gotta to leave at the right time, and get the hops timed just so,” she said. “Weeks in advance, sometimes, you have to plan. And life’s not like that; you can’t count on things staying the same for long.” She shook her head. “Too chancy. I go when I want to.”

I didn’t know what to do with that. I felt sorry for her mysteriously stormy, precarious life so prone to falls. On the other hand, her reasoning felt itchy. Wasn’t it more unsettling to go any otherwhere at a moment’s notice than to go with planning and purpose? So what, or who, was chancy here?



The way a magnifying glass — like, those solid domes of clear glass or resin you can glide over the page — makes the one bit under it large and clear while the rest of the sentence runs on indistinguishable: that’s how it is when you’re young. Every one moment so intense and important, and at the same time having no clue, no clue what it’s all about.

That’s how it is when you’re young…

I grew up believing life must have a narrative. In that narrative, the main character has drive, has purpose, has intent. In my late teens and early twenties I kept looking for a telling thread to guide me in the maze my lived life seemed to be, the one word or phrase that would give me a clue. I didn’t understand that the sentence is a run-on of literal transcription, and meaningless as such. Time and experience bring the meaning, the loupe of memory telling hindsight’s tale about itself.

Author’s Note

In one of my writing projects, characters sometimes speak or think in a language other than English. As a writer, I need to be able to use that language when I feel it is necessary and I hope that reader will receive (consciously or subconsciously) the flavour or meaning that I am trying to convey in my choice. Of course, I understand, actually hope, that most of my readers won’t understand it. Small interjections that resemble those of English are pretty easy to figure out, and repeated words become familiar through context and use. But a whole sentence is a challenge that we both, writer and readers, will need to find a way through. 

There are various techniques for dealing with the use of a language other than English in a story, according to my experience as a reader. 

Glossary. Before the story if not much of the language is used, at the back if there’s a lot of it. To parse a sentence the reader looks up individual words until she gets the jist of the whole sentence.

Repeat in English. Give the phrase in the other language, then repeat it in English.

In-story translation. A creative variation on the above. Have a bilingual character repeat the question in English before answering it, or respond in such a way as to make the other speaker’s meaning clear.

Footnotes. Use the other language as desired, providing a translation in a footnote.

Endnotes. Same as above but using endnotes, either at the end of the chapter or chapter-by-chapter at the end of the story.

Instant translation. Introduced by e-reading. The publisher of the digital version of the book provides a pop-up translation feature that the reader can access by selecting the relevant word or phrase. 

Reader initiative. The reader enters the word or phrase into a translation app or asks someone who know the language to get the meaning. 

I confess I am an impatient reader and will guess at and or skip over foreign words and phrases until a sense of missing out on something begins to irritate me. Only then will I bother to use the tools the book provides. This includes footnotes; I’ll look at a few but ignore most of them, especially if the few I’ve looked at haven’t added anything significant to my reading. Endnotes even more so — I simply can’t be bothered to interrupt the flow and flip to the end of the chapter or the book. However, I will review them when I’m done reading the story. Same with glossaries — I’ll read through when the story is done to see if I missed anything.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think I’m the best guide as to what approach is the best here. So, I’m putting it out there. What should I do?