assurNewly-hung stars light our path through the grove, fat with summer fruit. I crouch low against Arye’s back, my fingers buried in her mane. Wound round my throat Nachash eggs Arye on.

They’re gaining.” she calls out as if we don’t already hear the hooting, stomping melee that is Ben and Keves, coming up fast behind. A great rumble of laughter rolls through our lioness ride as she clears a felled tree.

The ram and his boy will lose time going around.

We reach the clearing and fall in a heap beneath the trees at the edge of the moonlight field. The air is still warm and heavy with the scent of jasmine. Quince, pomegranate and figs hang above our bed of clover. My belly growls.

Arye licks her fur with a practiced boredom as Keves clambers into the clearing. “I told you so.” She purrs without looking up.

The girl weighs less than this brute.” Keves gasps, catching Ben in the arse with the tip of a horn as he slides to the ground.

Paws beat hooves yet again my friend.” Nachash says with barely concealed venom.

Would that you had either.” Ben flops down beside me, his salty heat stirring another hunger.

Sustenance!” he demands, looking to Nachash and then the shadowy clusters of fruit above. Her eyes narrow, but she slips over my shoulder and scales the tree. Moments later, a fat fig nails Ben in the forehead.

I snatch it and manage a bite before he lunges, then take secret pleasure in his flesh against mine, as he wrestles it from my hand. When he’s claimed the fruit, I shove him off and finally swallow my bite.

Immediately fire fills my belly, my vision blurs and my limbs grow heavy. On the insides of my eyelids flash visions of desolate land and rivers of blood. I open my eyes to find my friends crowded ‘round, shadowy figures against a darkening sky.

Arye calls for help from beyond with an unintelligible roar. I feel Nachash at my shoulder but hear only a hissing as her tongue flicks my ear. In fact, in all the commotion it’s only Ben I can understand.

Azazel!” he spits out my name out like a curse, “What have you done?”

The whole world has changed in an instant.

I will forever bear the blame.


Details on The Dark Fairy Queen‘s Midsummer Night Dream flash fiction contest are as follows:


America, My America – An excerpt


America! My America!” Jordan shouts as he comes pell-mell down the hallway and into the dining room. Max’s red graduation gown floats out behind him, a Burger King crown is secured at his brow with a blue bandana, and he’s waving a plastic lightsaber overhead, dangerously close to every light fixture he passes.

“The lights,” I say. “Watch the lights!”

“Yeah, let’s go to Oakland for the big lights,” he says.

“No, the kitchen lights!” I point as his still-flailing lightsaber makes a wide arc and just misses the globe overhead.

“Are we going to Jack London Square?” Max asks, deftly flipping the omelet in the frying pan. When the kids were younger, we frequently spent the Fourth of July in Oakland watching the fireworks display over the water, but this year Jay and I have other plans.

“We figured that since we’re in a legal firework county this year,” Jay says, “we’d go old-school.”

“Why do I get the feeling that old-school is going to suck?” Jordan asks, lowering his lightsaber long enough to pluck a sausage link from the plate on the stove.

“Running around the apartment complex with two sparklers apiece does not constitute old-school,” Jay says as Max carries the eggs over from the stove and we all tuck in around the table. “After breakfast, lose the cape and we’ll go get some fireworks.”

“The gown, you mean,” Jory says, swishing a wide sleeve with a flourish. “It’s a cap and gown, right Mom?”

“At the moment it’s a crown and gown, but technically, yes, I think you’re right. Now eat.”

“And by the way it’s my gown,” Max says, “and my America.” He smirks, recalling the sleep-talking episodes from his childhood, during which he inexplicably shouted “America, My America!” over and over again.

They return later in the day with fountains, an afterburner, Saturn Missiles, bang snaps, black snakes, sparklers and a Pagoda, which they present with all the flourish of game show hostesses, reading the descriptions and warnings on each paper wrapper aloud.

Shortly after dark, we join our neighbors in the street. Jay lets Max do most of the setting up and lighting of the fireworks. Jordan struts across the street to chat up a cute pixie girl and a tall black boy with a mohawk who are sitting on the tailgate of a truck, trying terribly hard to look bored. When the sparklers come out however, Jory rushes back across the street to grab a box.

“I’m taking some for Iris and Bret, too.” He waves the box in front of my face.

“Do not chase little kids with them. I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t trip!”

There is an indescribable magic in the smell and the smoke, the pop of flashers and the wail of a Whistling Pete, a slow-motion enchantment in the dusky silhouette of a child on a bicycle, riding circles in the street with sparklers trailing behind. When our own firework stash has been depleted, Max, Jay and I linger at the edge of the driveway, delighting in the flares and flashes up and down the street.

A few blocks away, someone lets loose with mortars, which burst up over the rooftops, reminiscent of our Jack London Square days. I call Jordan back from his new friends and we head out to the backyard for a better view of the overhead show. Max drags the futon from the porch out onto the lawn and flattens it out so we can lay across it, with our legs dangling off the side. Iggy and Lola jump up and shove themselves in between us.

It is one of those rare nights where we are connected and at peace. It’s funny how a thing like that can swell in your chest unexpectedly.

These first few weeks back in Modesto, Jordan has been calm and congenial. No screaming fights, no slamming doors or strange behaviors. I keep expecting at any moment for the newness to wear off, but for now it is holding.

As we lie here on the folded-out futon in our first real backyard, I realize that in just a month, Max will be eighteen. Grown. And even Jory is only three years out from adulthood. Yet for tonight we are all children, eagerly anticipating each glorious explosion in the night sky above us.

“America, my America,” I murmur, reaching over to ruffle Max’s hair.

“Mom, you’re not gonna start singing that Lee Greenwood song, are you?” he asks.

“I’m going to try really hard not to.”

[this is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice, currently available at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.]

Anne Lamott, Bigotry and Pee-Pees


Dear Anne,

Your name has been a sacred one in this house full of writers, with our dog-eared copies of Bird By Bird, Stitches and Traveling Mercies. So it pained me more than many when the transphobic tweet blowing up my Twitter feed this morning was yours. Your response to the hurt and anger produced by your comment on Caitlyn Jenner;”Will call HIM a SHE when the pee-pee is gone”, was to suggest that œwe can agree to disagree. But that’s bullshit.

You don’t get to agree to disagree about someone else’s experience, or negate their existence and NOT be called out for that bigotry.

Perhaps you’™re embarrassed to admit that you are ignorant about transgender people. Maybe you honestly don’™t understand that the dig at Catlyn Jenner is a slap in the face to every single person for whom gender is complicated. Especially those who look up to you. Or looked.

I want to believe that your heart was in the right place but you just didn’t know. Because I don’t want someone to have to think of this ugly incident and your snide misgendering when they read this:

“You need to apologize to your grandmother.”

“Is she going to apologize for being a bigot?”

“Probably not, kiddo.”

She rolls onto her back and shoves her hair out of her face with both hands. “Grandma Jo doesn’t think you can be gay or transgender and a Christian at the same time.”

“Yeah, well she doesn’t think you can be a Christian and a Democrat either. But what one person thinks doesn’t change what’s true. Even if it is your Grandmother.”

I sit on the edge of the bed and start untying her shoelaces like I did when she was little. She lets me, flexing her feet and wiggling her toes when I pull her shoes off.

I say, “Anne Lamott says that ‘You know you created God in your own image when He hates all the same people you do.’ I shared that quote with your Grandma once, and she thought it was great. Maybe one day she’ll realize that her picking and choosing what God disapproves of is the same thing, but we’re never going to win that battle by fighting with her.”

Alice shoves my hands with her feet, and I tickle the bottoms of them until she squeals and pulls them away.

“She loves you,” I say.

“But she doesn’t like me.”

“Of course she does. You just challenge people’s assumptions about things they think they’ve already got sorted out, and that’s terrifying.”

(excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice)

I SO hope that you didn’t fully understand how your jokes wound women who will never have access to necessary healthcare, children who hope that one day their bodies will align with their inner selves and the parents, partners and loved ones of those people who fight such ignorance and cruelty every day. Because then, we can fix this. You can take the time to learn about the lives of trans people and perhaps even teach others to be more open and accepting.

The truth is, Annie; I’ve learned so much from you over the years and through your books. But maybe it’s time for you to listen and learn. It’™s okay to make mistakes, as long as we correct them.


Jules Vilmur (aka laurastina)


Snapshot circa 2005


[It’s been nearly two years since I smoked my last cigarette, but I found this bit tucked away in a pocket just now and it made me smile.]

The kid is maybe sixteen, slouched on a stone bench outside the bus station. His hair is unkempt and hangs in his face. He wears perpetual boredom like a heavy mask. There’s a pencil poking out of his back pocket, visible only when he leans forward to tie the too-long laces of his left sneaker. She recognizes him right off, knows he rides the 69West into town and up to the High School every morning. Occasionally early, usually late.

They don’t take much interest in one another, the woman and the boy, until she withdraws a pack of Winstons from her pocket and lights that first, morning cigarette. Slowly, shyly, he comes to life.

She pretends not to notice, as he stands up, hooks his thumbs in his belt-loops and shuffles across the space between his bench and hers. “Do you have another cigarette?” He asks, not quite looking at her, his eyes mostly obscured by a mop of dark hair.

She laughs, right off, one of those you-are-so-foolish-to-even-think-it laughs, and then says, “Dude, I SO can’t give you a cigarette.” It’s the laugh she’ll regret moments later, as he stares at his shoes and rubs the toe of the left one over a pebble on the pavement and then shuffles back to his bench.

For the woman, the seven minutes, which pass, between her laugh and the arrival of their bus, are thick with internal mumblings. Of course you did the right thing. First off, it’s illegal; contributing to the delinquency of minors and such, and secondly, you’d kick the ass of anyone who handed your own kid a cigarette. Hell, you should march right over there and let him have it for even asking, tell him how bad cigarettes are, how stupid you were to pick that first one up and how gutless you feel about not putting them down. You should ask him if he’s ever sat with someone who’s dying of cancer or even worse, ‘cause you know full well that it’s worse, sucking on a breathing tube for the last eight years of their life; having fucked up their lungs to the point of emphysema. You should call the school, tell his mother, shake your finger; smack him silly so he has half a chance of not ending up like you.

Still, she regrets the laugh, the way he hung his head and slunk back to his bench. I’m not trying to be an asshole, kid. I’m just doing the right thing.

 As she stands to board the bus, as she waits for the kid and an old woman on crutches to board first, she realizes that she’s rolling the smoke she didn’t give him between her fingers and thumb. Dude, I SO can’t give you a cigarette. If, however, one falls from my pack, into your lap as I jostle past, headed for the seat nearest the back exit, well it’s your luck, not mine.

And the thing she’ll remember, years later, is how that mask of perpetual boredom dissipated, how he nearly lept up out of his seat, twisting to make eye contact in that instant after the cigarette rolled from her fingers into his lap. Like Christmas morning, like puppies and shiny new bikes, like Disneyland and pizza; caught off-guard the kid’s mask evaporated completely.

As she slipped into her seat, four rows back, the boy still staring over his shoulder, waiting to make eye contact, waiting to mouth an exaggerated “thank you”, she was amazed at how good the wrong thing felt.



Within a week, I read two narrative non-fiction books that were deeply connected in theme and evoked a powerful emotional response. Both Man Alive and The Other Wes Moore examine the journey to manhood; what it means and how it is achieved.
For the two Wes Moores, whose stories are traced in The Other Wes Moore, this passage was fraught with peril, poverty and the absence of fathers. Growing up in West Baltimore and The Bronx, the boys had similar struggles and yet their lives diverged greatly, one going on to become a Rhodes scholar, Army officer and accomplished writer/speaker, while the other is serving a life sentence for a heist in which an off-duty police officer was killed.

Do you think that we’re products of our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. Others’ expectations of us or our expectations … I realize how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.

A series of letters and visits between the two are the basis of Moore’s analysis as he examines what manhood meant to each of the boys and how they faced the approaching need for responsibility – caring for family, trying to better themselves and their lives, sometimes achieving, sometimes failing.

Thomas Page McBee’s
path to manhood, chronicled in Man Alive is likewise fraught with obstacles. As a female-bodied man bearing the scars of family trauma and reeling in the fresh vulnerability of surviving a mugging, McBee’s experience is unique and his insight, broadly relevant.

It seemed possible to me, in the dry heat of that courtroom, that heaven was a metaphor for the grace of perspective you get when you die.

Through intertwined narratives of past and present, McBee explores both the perception of and his internalized messages about what it means to be a man. In a story that could be full of heroes and villains, we find instead nuance and complexity. McBee comes to terms with the humanity of his abusive father and mugger, freeing him to embrace manhood on his own terms.

I highly recommend both books and hope you will read more about Thomas Page McBee and Wes Moore.