Category: novel writing

Pushing the River: FLASH flash

It was not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Madeline had been divorced for more than ten years. She had braved a string of relationships that progressed from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passed the peak of its climb and in that split second, there was no going back: momentum had taken over; it was utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at that moment, there was love. There was real love.

And then there wasn’t.

Madeline took time to lick the wounds of disappointment. She allowed the lesions of dashed hopes to scab over. She understood that persevering was an ongoing matter of keeping one’s optimism just enough ahead of the injury of experience to keep going.

After a time, she would go back online, pouring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage. As crazy a universe as online dating was – she recalled a friend aptly calling it The Wild West – it was essentially the only path to meet people. Since Madeline worked alone, had never buddied up to a man in a bar, and didn’t attend church, she reconciled herself to the necessary methodology.

Madeline worked hard to extinguish the flame she had carried for Jeff. But the feeling of being part of something larger than herself – everything from the ongoing sense that life was bigger and mattered more, to the immeasurable joy of small, everyday moments – was a living spirit inside of her.


I am up to my eyeballs in re-writing/editing my novel Pushing the River.  The above snippet is excerpted from an early chapter. The first paragraph remains from the original draft; the remainder was written yesterday.  It struck me that it could stand on its own as a Flash.  It also struck me as being remarkably similar to the Flash I wrote entitled “January 2,” which suggests that I still endeavor to get it right.  WATCH FOR THE RELEASE OF PUSHING THE RIVER THIS SUMMER!!!

photo by Garry Winogrand


Smoke: Flash Fiction

It was the way she held her cigarette that I would remember. Her hands were always so small, the fingers so thin. You could not see from one end of the kitchen to the other , the density of smoke from cigarette after cigarette had nowhere to go. It choked the room. It obscured the cabinets, the floor of the room she had waited so long to redo.

It was very nearly the hand of a child.

I don’t want you to come anymore, she said. I want this to be the last time.

Was there gray in her hair when we first met? I was trying to recall. But always the pale, slender hands , the plain gold wedding band, the narrow silver watch whose face she could no longer read without her glasses, which she detested and never wore.

But I want to come, I said.

She could no longer see the cabinets, nor even the beloved built-in breakfast nook where the two of us sat. It was not the smoke. She had not seen much of anything around her for a number of years. Not since Jeff jumped.

I mean it, she said. Please don’t.



As I work on the final draft of my novel, I have been playing with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.

Heads Up

The first time I saw How the Grinch Stole Christmas was 1969, the same year that Tim was my first boyfriend. We watched it together, Tim and I, along with my brother’s other best friend Doug. My brother wasn’t there somehow, even though we were at my house.

We watched Grinch in a lightless room, something my family never did. It was believed that watching a bright screen with no other light in the room was reckless and hazardous, and could have tragic consequences, which remained vague and therefore almost mystical. Doug sat at one far end of sofa, Tim at the other. I curled up with my feet resting against Doug and my head in Tim’s lap. Every so often, he reached down and touched my hair.

The magnificently long-suffering, but loyal and philosophical dog Max. The clenched-hearted Grinch. The village of Who’s whose joy at their mutual sense of belonging transcends all evils. Snuggled between two Nice Boys, I felt safe and warm and protected and loved in a way that was precious and rare.

When the boys left and my parents said that They Had To Talk With Me, I was certain that I was gonna get clobbered for watching the television set in the dangerously dark room. A terrible wave of guilt shot through me, a pang at having been so lulled, so incautious.

“Never, ever put your head in a boy’s lap.”

This was so entirely unexpected, it took me a minute to even decipher the words. The meaning. And when I did, I was even more bewildered. “What?” I said.

“Your head was in Tim’s lap. That’s not something you can do. Ever.” One of them said while the other stood there in a rare display of rock-solid alliance.

“What?” I said again, looking from one to the other.

“It’s not fair. To the boy,” my mother said. “It’s too stimulating.”

My father bit his lip.


As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I have been playing around with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.

We [wee microfiction]

When we got off the highway, the kids asked me if they could open the windows. When they were in their 20’s, and I was in my 50’s, I wondered if there would come a time when I would no longer think of them as The Kids. Now that they are both over thirty and have children of their own, I realize that they will always by my kids. Like they say in the song at the end of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the animated one, narrated by the unparalled Boris Karloff; not that live action trash): “just as long as we have we.” That’s how long.



painting by Andrew Wyeth

A Whirl of Snow, A Glint in the Moonlight

“How could this evening have taken such an ugly turn,” Madeline thought to herself. She loved Christmas, and even though she was not terribly religious and thought it kind of cheesy, caroling with her old church youth group struck her as a giant hoot.

It was much colder than usual for mid-December, and a snowstorm that had been predicted for later that night began hours before expected. Houses were decorated, lights twinkled everywhere, it was blustery and freezing and snowing furiously hard — to her mind, a picture-perfect backdrop. The cold and the fact that she didn’t sing very often made her light-headed and giddy.

Other than the fact that the hot chocolate was essentially lukewarm brown water, and that, as usual, a couple of the kids had poured a flask full of vodka into their cocoa and were using an inordinate amount of effort to not fall down, she was having a wildly good time. Singing. Christmas! A boyfriend!! They had been going together for nearly three months.

“Don’t fuck with me.” There was an edge in his voice she had not heard before.

“Of course I was talking to him. I’ve known him since I was, like, six years old.” The party. Deja vu. All over again.

“What were you saying to him?” Tim asked.

“What was I saying?”


“What was I saying? I don’t remember! I’ve been talking to everyone!” Madeline’s voice was taut with frustration.

And despite what she knew to be true, she was overtaken with the sense that she had done something very, very wrong. She must have. This was her boyfriend – her crazy-curly-haired, insanely-blue-eyed boyfriend –and he was clearly angry.

“Tim, I’m sorry. I can’t even remember what we were talking about. It wasn’t important.”

“Well, you sure looked fucking happy.”


All of the other kids had trickled back into the church, leaving the two of them alone in the driving snow.

“Shit, I don’t have boots on,” she said. “Can we go in?”

“You don’t give a shit about me.”

He reached one hand into an inside coat pocket, and pulled something out she strained to see. The moon — or maybe it was one of the streetlights that flooded the church parking lot and lit up the whirling snowflakes — glinted off the object in Tim’s right hand. It was a razor blade, a very old, very rusty razor blade.

Before she could react, before she had time to consider being afraid, Tim had spun on his heels and was loping through the shin-deep snow, the long fringe of his buckskin jacket flying everywhere.  A final flash of metal and moon. His arm fully outstretched. The silhouette of his back quickly vanishing against the mad snowflakes and the black winter sky. She ran after him, ten or twelve steps perhaps, before her feet were thoroughly soaked and freezing, and there was no sign of him at all.

She gripped the edges of the stainless steel sink in her kitchen, not sure whether she would vomit. But when her mother asked her how the evening had been, she said, “Fine. Fun.”

That was as much of an answer as her parents would expect from their fourteen-year-old daughter, and they beamed widely at her as she brushed past them, not noticing that she clutched her stomach with white-knuckled fingers as she climbed the stairs to her bed.



As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I have been playing around with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.

hope you get a kick out of the photos…

First Party

It all began with that party. The first one she had ever been to, well, a party that was anything like that one. She didn’t even know the girl– the one whose parents were away that night– but she knew that Samantha had legendary status somehow. For Madeline, it was a rare chance to be out with her new boyfriend– her first– without any grown-ups around. They held hands. They wandered from one dark candle-lit room to the next in the little house with no adults. Intoxicated, awed, and tamping down her trepidation all at once, Madeline thought to herself: so this is what people do, when they can do whatever they like.

She thought she may faint when Tim introduced her to Chad Howe, whose grandfather had founded a military academy. Chad had parlayed that heritage, together with his skinny-boy looks, Buddy Holly horn rims, and shockingly deep, authoritative voice into a high school persona that shot him into the stratosphere of Hippies Who Mattered. It felt like Chad looked straight into her soul as he said a quick hello before helping his girlfriend – who had a plaster cast from her toes to her mid-thigh – into the back of a friend’s van. He ceremoniously closed the door, leaving a number of hangers-on standing around, staring at the ground.

Oh my god, Madeline thought: He’s having sex in that van! I am thirteen years old, and I am at a party where Chad Howe is fucking his girlfriend in a van! How totally cool is that?!


Tim wrapped his arm around her shoulder and whispered in her ear, “I’ll be right back. Gonna go talk to a friend.”

“Oh, I’ll go with you,” Madeline said. “Want me to?”

“Nah, something I got to talk to him about. Be right back.”

The time that Tim was gone blurred. Samantha sitting in an old arm chair, by herself in a dark corner, head hanging down so her long, deep brunette waves fell completely across her face, nodding ever so slightly in time to the music. Madeline wondered if Samantha was ok, thought perhaps she should ask her, but then got worried that she might be bothering her, interrupting something Madeline didn’t understand. Plumes of incense twirled madly whenever someone moved. A guy wore round blue sunglasses in a night black house.

When Tim wandered back beside her, he was different. Woozy-seeming. He chuckled a little, to himself, and mumbled something she couldn’t understand.

“Sorry, what?” she asked him.

“What the hell were you doing talking to that guy?”

“What guy?” she said.

“Don’t fuck with me. You were definitely talking to him.” Tim held up his hand, his palm facing her. In the dark of the room, it was hard for Madeline to tell what she was looking at. A circle. A perfect circle, faintly reddish-brown, traced the periphery of his entire palm. “It’s from a candle. I put my hand right on the candle and held it there.”

“What?” Madeline said, grabbing his hand to look at it more closely.

“I did it to prove my love for you,” Tim said.

“Hey, is there somebody here named Madeline?” said a guy who was standing at the front door.

“Your dad’s here. To take you home, I guess.”


As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I am playing around with several new ideas — such as the one above.  Perhaps one or more of them will come together into the next long[er] work.  Stay tuned!

Conversational Vortex

It’s June, it’s Friday, and it’s time for another chapter excerpt from my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  In the two weeks since I last posted, and with the help of dedicated readers/friends, I conceived of a new way to structure the book and have been hard at work.  I say with hope and fear, it’s possible that I am within striking distance of a completed new draft!!


Conversational Vortex

Claire, along with every other member of the family, had an irrational but intense distaste for Madeline’s coffee maker. Claire’s very first job had been in the coffee house directly across the street from her apartment, a place she had such a deep and abiding affection for that she still found any reason to drive past it more than ten years later. In the years and the motley assortment of coffee joints in the time since then, she had babied and cajoled her fair share of finicky machinery in order to produce the sumptuously rich shots of espresso and foam flourishes that kept customers standing in line for her creations.

She would not even go near Madeline’s useless behemoth.

The thing had been a gift from a long-gone beau and held no particular sentimental place in Madeline’s heart. Still, it was there; and Madeline had been raised by a woman who said “I’m too Scotch to throw it away and get a new one” enough times that it had stuck, especially considering that her mother had no Scotch ancestry whatsoever.

Each and every part of the coffeemaker required precise handling and placement – the handle of the filter basket needed to be facing forward for brewing; the lid of the basket assembly then had to be positioned just so; likewise, the lid of the coffee pot itself had to be screwed on to an exact point and then placed meticulously under the filter assembly. This so struck Madeline as an apt metaphor for nearly all aspects of her life – that great effort and painstaking care were requirements—that she never questioned the coffeemaker, nor felt put upon in carrying out the steps each morning that resulted in an excellent and deeply satisfying pot of coffee. After all, wasn’t it her own daughter who had said, “Not everything that’s really hard is also good; but everything that’s really good is also hard.”

No one could ever figure out whether it was one specific thing, or a compounding of smaller things that tipped the scales for the old coffee pot. Every so often, the scoundrel would simply refuse to allow the brewed coffee to flow smoothly into the carafe below, but would erupt like a volcano, spewing a scalding muck of boiling water and coffee grounds across the entire kitchen counter, sending rivulets down the cabinet doors and dark streams across the floor.

It had happened to everyone in the family at one time or another, and each of the family members had their own unique response: it happened to Madeline only once. When it happened to Kate, she practiced putting the various parts and pieces together over and over and over, until she was certain that she had mastered it. But once satisfied that mastery had been achieved, she promptly forgot every step of the procedure and needed a refresher course each time she started anew. John managed to be someplace else, nearly always, when a pot of coffee needed to be made — he so relished the cared-for feeling that came from someone placing a freshly-made, wonderfully warm, aromatic cup in his hand. On the other hand, if elected, he held no rancor nor possessed any fear about the crusty old pot; he approached it with an even, calm attitude, expecting that everything would turn out just fine.

Claire gave it a very wide berth. She snarled at it, scowled in its direction when she went about the business of her cooking. Truth be told, she preferred to not even pour herself a cup from a fully-finished batch, so convinced was she that the diabolical device could not be trusted under any circumstances whatsoever and was, in fact, capable of genuine Evil.

Claire’s distaste of the wicked pot was so great that she did not budge from her treetop, arty nest until she heard Madeline’s feet hit the floor of her bedroom below at approximately 6:58. Even then, Claire did not move a muscle until a safe period of time had passed, and she could descend the stairs with certainty that the morning’s fresh pot of coffee awaited. Which she generally did not drink, although she usually agreed to have Madeline pour her a cup, noting the obvious pleasure it gave her mother-in-law; but Madeline would later find the stone-cold, untouched mug squirreled away in a corner of the kitchen.


After years of managing the opening shift in coffee joints, Claire had long ago lost the ability to sleep in. She awakened each day sometime between four am. and five, and having her life spread out before her in one large room enabled her to accomplish a great deal in the hours before Madeline opened her eyes to the new day. By the time “good morning’s” passed from each of them to the other, Claire had: read passages from a variety of books that recent events brought to mind; corresponded, both on paper and via email, with people across the world who had stirred her soul into a permanent, unmovable, ferocious loyalty; written in her journal; scanned vintage anatomical drawings; continued the eternal process of organizing her thousands and thousands of photographs taken from world travels; jotted down ideas for a new children’s book she was writing; and curled up in the corner of the room so she could manage a long, impassioned, whispered conversation with her husband in a voice so hushed that Madeline would not even have the barest murmur invade her dreams.

“I have so much I need to get done today.” Claire squeezed herself into a small corner of the sofa that was closest to the door, as if the proximity to an exit and the sheer discomfort of her position would magically propel her. She cradled the cup of untouched coffee between her two hands and blew across the steaming surface.

Claire alternated between two mood states that Madeline thought of as more or less “off” and “on.” In the “off” times, Claire walked with her eyes cast on the floor. She moved with such stealth that it was nearly impossible to know where she may be in the house, or if she was even there at all. She shrugged in response to any communication directed at her. She gave the ardent impression of wishing to be invisible, or perhaps to disappear entirely. During the “on” times, she could be stunningly talkative. The shifts came as a bit of a jolt to Madeline, when the same young woman who had slunk around in the deep shadows for a time suddenly plopped down on the sofa and became downright chatty, mustering an astonishing string of words, sentences, paragraphs, ideas that were not only exceptionally articulate, but were also delivered so blindingly goddamn fast that Madeline had to concentrate especially hard on the content lest she get carried away by the breathtaking delivery itself.

She had an assortment of expressions that she peppered frequently through any and every subject she happened to be addressing, a trait Madeline found so utterly charming she waited for each new occurrence and was brought very nearly to tears by them. These included:

At all whatsoever
I mean, I feel like
Incomparable boob
I mean, are you fucking kidding me?

and Madeline’s personal favorite:
conversational vortex

“Did you hear my big fight with John last night?” Claire asked.

“What!? No!” Madeline responded.

“Nonsense. I can’t believe you didn’t hear it. I was seriously screaming at him. Because
he was being a complete ninnyhammer, I mean, I feel like he started it because he was actually screaming into the phone at me, I don’t even remember a time when he’s yelled at me like that, ever, before, when he was that mad and yelling so loud I actually had to hold the receiver away from my ear a couple of times, I mean, are you fucking kidding me? Seriously, Madeline, it’s a little hard to believe you when you say that you didn’t hear any of this.”

“I seriously didn’t. Are you OK? Is everything OK?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. We talked again this morning. For a long time. That’s why I’m running so late and I can’t do this, I can’t do this right now. I can’t sit down on this spot on this couch and next thing I know some sort of thing has taken possession of me, hours of our lives have passed, and I realize that once again I have fallen into the conversational vortex that exists in this room! I do not have time for this today at all whatsoever.” She paused. She shifted just slightly from her previous position of being bashed against the arm of the sofa.

“Possibly, it’s already too late,” Madeline said.

“Nonsense,” said Claire.

George Brassaï - Girls at a Café

bottom photo: Brassai