Sometime last month, as the weather started warming up and the days began to get longer, I realized that I was breathing deeper, feeling hopeful, and closer to “normal” than I had in a long while. It made me aware of just how tense I had been this past year: shoulders tight, jaw tight, brow furrowed. All the time.

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year tight with fear and anxiety, worrying about how to keep my loved ones safe, how to help the kids get through this, how to create positive memories in the midst of it all, how to practice gratitude, how to try and support those who need help and those who are working to make things better, how to be a friend without the luxury of shared time and space, how to prioritize, self-care, and keep connections.

My friend Nancy Hightower is a college professor and writer living in New York City. She spent much of the last year of quarantine alone in a city that is well-known for bringing people together.

Nancy, like many people, moved to NYC to be with people. What happens when all those New Yorkers, who usually breathe life into the public spaces that are the nervous systems of that vibrant city, are forced to disengage and isolate themselves?

Nancy would mask up and go on walks every day in her neighborhood, and she started taking photographs of what she encountered.

Nancy reflected in a mirror with trash on the streets of NYC.
Nancy reflected, from her Patreon post, “The Shadow Pandemic.”

What Nancy photographed over the last year is the subject of her Patreon (and for those who don’t know what that is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables supporters/patrons to pay and support artists for their work). She shared a lot of her photos with me over the changing seasons, and they were rich food for my imagination. I think it’s a similar reason that so many people took refuge in Animal Crossing, Instagram, and TikTok. We needed windows into worlds outside our own.

Nancy’s photos capture relics of this moment; they are tiny portals into people’s lives left on doorsteps and balanced on mailboxes, draped over fences and hung from lamp posts. It was as if New Yorkers, forced into their apartments and unable to inhabit their museums, cafes, restaurants, galleries, bars, and parks, started leaking bits of their lives and themselves onto the streets. Here was a cookie jar beside a pair of vintage cowboy boots filled with plastic flowers, there was a lamp and a typewriter and a bag of rice. Sometimes it felt like poetry, other times like an art installation, or a Rorschach test for the state of mind of a city mourning and struggling.

Nancy has started sharing those photos with accompanying essays on her Patreon. The most recent one about how we have been changed by the pandemic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it. She’s made it public, so you can follow the link to see all the photos. You can join her Patreon if you’d like to read/see more.

Nancy writes: “This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore–alone, or with other people. I’ve had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I’ll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time.”

We have all been changed by the events of the past year, for better and for worse—as a nation, as cities, as neighborhoods, families, and individuals. We won’t be able to see just how far those changes go for a a while, but I think they will go deep.

Pandemic self-portrait post-vaccination.

We are still in a pandemic. The numbers are rising even as more people are getting vaccinated. There is hope, but there is also a need to remain disciplined. I feel like when I look into the mirror, I’m more than a year older. I think about my grandparents and their parents before them, who lived through war and famine and so much death and sacrifice. They were changed by those events too. Some of them shared their stories, and I am grateful.

It’s going to be important to remember, to document this time, to share our stories, to listen to one another when we finally come together, to really see ourselves and our neighbors  as we emerge from this—inevitably changed.

Writing Process Blog Tour

This post is part of a blog post relay on craft, which the wonderful Nancy Hightower invited me to join. Nancy is the author of Elementari Rising. She has a poetry collection, The Acolyte, forthcoming with Port Yonder Press, and her short story collection, Kinds of Leaving, was shortlisted for the Flann O’Brien Award for Innovative Fiction.

My take on craft:

1) What am I working on?

While my second novel, The Supper Club, is out on submission, I’m working on my third novel, Mother Christmas, a historical fantasy set in Ancient Turkey. I’m also writing the script for a graphic novel, Sticks & Bones, with artwork by the incredible Madeline C. Matz. The story follows displaced house spirits/household gods (brownies, domovyky, the tomte, etc.) who are being hunted in America.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My writing falls under the category of speculative fiction, more specifically magic realism, but I draw from an Eastern European folkloric tradition rather than a Latin American one. I enjoy looking at the mundane world through the lens of myth and fairy tale, bringing those magical stories into a contemporary context. In my work, I explore moments of revelation—epiphanies that come to light when two seemingly contradictory elements (like the magical/realistic) intersect. Those liminal spaces are my creative obsession—the places where ideas meet, where personalities collide, the crossroad moments in history.

3) Why do I write what I do?

What I write has been called “diaspora literature,” especially my first novel, The Silence of Trees. Diaspora literature is primarily concerned with the individual’s or community’s attachment to homeland. It is born from their sense of yearning for that homeland, an attachment to its traditions, religions, and languages. The diaspora writer creates from the threshold, from the border.

My grandparents came to America from Ukraine after WWII. Like many Ukrainian Americans, my sister and I were raised with one foot in each world: speaking Ukrainian at home, going to Ukrainian school, church, and dancing on the weekends; but also participating in modern American culture.  The Ukrainian language and traditions of our ancestors were being wiped out in the Soviet Union. We were taught that it was our responsibility to keep those traditions alive in America. Typical of the Diaspora experience, we were raised to retain a collective memory/vision about our ancestral homeland. I have no doubt that this is where my fascination with “the threshold” was born.

This directly ties into magical realism—with its crossing of borders that allow the writer to celebrate the myths and folklore of home, while creating tension in the story that echoes the experience of being ex-centric, out of the mainstream.

Ultimately, I think I write what I do to explore the paradox of the union of opposites.

4) How does your writing process work?

Most of what I write begins with a question, and those questions come from so many places: reading books or articles, people-watching, going for a walk. I usually write to explore the possible answers: What makes some people bury the past, while others celebrate it? When faced with cruelty, how can two people have such a dramatically different response? What happens to all those teeth? How might the ancient gods of the ocean respond to a devastating oil spill? How might house spirits communicate with one another? For me, the act of writing is the joy and magic of exploration.

As far as process, I most often write at night. I put the kids to bed, wrap up mundane tasks, and brew a pot of coffee. The nighttime has a natural air of magic and mystery, which makes it easier to leave the “real” world behind and slip into the world I am creating. The “writing witching hours” are usually 10pm to 2am. In the morning, after getting up and dropping the kids off at school, I tend to the business of writing. That’s when I do most of my editing and revision, emails, etc. Then I try to get in another four hours of writing in the late morning/early afternoon. Generally, the more I write, the happier I am. I feel like there are so many stories to tell, and I’m trying to find the time to get them all down.

* * *

Next up on the Writing Process blog tour are two fabulous writers: Brooke Bolander and Amelia Beamer! Look for their blog posts on May 19th!

Brooke Bolander‘s work has been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare, among other venues. She writes stories of indeterminate genre that some might classify as slipstream, although simply calling them weird would probably do just as well.

Look for Brooke’s post at:

Amelia Beamer is the author of The Loving Deadthe number two zombie novel of the past decade according to Barnes & Noble. She works as an independent editor and proofreader with major publishers including Shueisha English Edition, a new general imprint of popular Japanese titles translated into English. She built her publishing career working as an editor at Locus for seven years, and for three years before that as a student assistant at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. She publishes short fiction, book reviews, poetry, and cultural criticism. Her most recent short fiction appears in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, and Zombies vs Robots: Women on War!  

You’ll find Amelia’s post at:

Things Literary and Fantastic

This past weekend I returned to New York City to spend time with the wonderful Nancy Hightower (who just signed her poetry collection, The Acolyte, with Port Yonder Press).


I also met with my new literary agent, Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Sara represents children’s fiction and adult fiction and non fiction. Her clients include NYT Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry and USA Today Bestselling author Jeff Hirsch; her authors have been nominated for Edgars and the Morris Award, and have been on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and in the Top Ten. She is consistently ranked among the top three YA and MG agents in Publishers Marketplace.

We had a lovely chat, and I know that my next book, The Supper Club, is in good hands.

Following our meeting, I headed to WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn with Nancy and Brooke Bolander to attend Jeff VanderMeer’s reading from his new book, Annihilation.


Jeff is a terrific reader—clever, witty, and well-spoken, and it was a fun event (so be sure to attend a reading and get your book signed if he comes to a town near you). I love stories where the setting is a character, so I’m especially excited to read Jeff’s newest novel, set in an eerie version of southern Florida’s wild coastline.


Friday was all about Electric Velocipede. Run by John Klima for twelve years, the beloved magazine published quality genre fiction by more than 250 writers, including Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford, Rachel Swirsky, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jay Lake.


A release party/memorial service at Bluestockings Bookstore celebrated the 27th and final issue of Electric Velocipede and featured readings by ten writers who have been published in Electric Velocipede over the years:


After Bluestockings, people were invited to an after-party at David Edison’s place in the East Village. Earlier in the day, with the help of Stephen Segal, Nancy, Brooke, and I had gotten to work transforming David’s apartment with red lights, blue lights, and hanging skeletons.


The space invites that kind of playful decoration, so we turned the three floors into a “Danse Macabre” backdrop for writers, editors, and other creatives to gather and celebrate John’s magazine and the excellent writing he published over the years. It was a full house and a joyful last hurrah.





The following day, we were lucky enough to enjoy a lazy afternoon with friends, the perfect way to wind down and end my visit.


I caught the plane back to Chicago early the next morning (narrowly avoiding the next snowpocalypse-vortex), to come home to the family and a visit from the lovely Maura Henn, who was traveling through Chicago on her way to Minnesota.


I think back to 2008 when I was living in Germany and feeling such a lack of creative community. Just over five years later, and I am grateful to be surrounded by talented, innovative, imaginative writers, editors, agents, and artists. Some are in different cities and others are in the same neighborhood, but we are a community.

It is certainly possible to navigate these waters alone, but for me, it’s so much more enjoyable to have a cherished circle. We do the work, we make our art, we tell our stories, we support one another when we can, and when we come together, sometimes we make magic. Together, the journey becomes as meaningful as the destination.