About Me

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Hello! I'm a writer from central New York who has bipolar disorder. Among other topics, I write about mental illness and writing. I have short stories published in Lynx Eye, Lost Coast Review, The Outrider Review, Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Mondegreen, The Linnet's Wings, Cobalt Review, Breath & Shadow, The Round Up, Postscripts to Darkness, Masque & Spectacle, and several other journals. I have essays about mental illness in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine, and an essay in Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness & Health, a book that was published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. In December of 2016, The Mondegreen nominated my story "Santa Lucia" for a Pushcart Prize. I've written a novel entitled Purple Loosestrife and a novel entitled Hoping It Might Be So, both of which I am submitting to agents and publishers. I'm working on a novel called Dark and Bright as well as a book called Violets Are Blue: Essays About My Bipolar Life. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in English from SUNY College at Brockport. I hope you enjoy your visit to my blog!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Goals for 2015

My goals for 2015 are not really different from my goals for 2014, all of which I accomplished except for getting into better physical shape. I've had my ups and downs with that, and I've got to have a lot more ups. I'm forty-eight years old and there are things I simply must do to maintain good health.

Other goals from last year included continuing to send my novel out. I did this, and more frequently than the year before. I also continued to submit and publish short stories, a 2014 goal, and I continued work on my memoir. All of these continue to be goals for 2015.

I have another goal as well for 2015--a goal I didn't mention at the close of 2014. I want to try to live my life more mindfully and in the moment. Part of this involves continuing to meditate, and I'd like to try to do this every day. And part includes changing my mindset to one that is more mindful. I want to experience things and events as they happen and not worry as much about what could happen or what the future might bring. As I get older, I truly realize the importance of this. Wasting time worrying is just that--wasting time. And time is something we never get back so we must spend it wisely.

One last thing--more fruits and vegetables! I don't do too badly with this, but I want to eat more of these. So I've gone from the profound--mindfulness--to the mundane--being sure to eat my fruits and veggies. But, hey, they're good goals and they're my goals and I want to pursue them.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

I had a wonderful Christmas and plan to have a mellow New Year's Eve with hors d'ouevres, sparkling grape juice (I don't drink alcohol), and New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest. I'll watch the 2015 ball drop and toast the year to come. New Year's Day is a bit of a downer. It's the day I take down my Christmas tree and all my Christmas decorations. But in a way, I don't mind getting my house back to normal. It always looks so clean and uncluttered once I put the Christmas stuff away.

I haven't been doing much writing lately because I've been making merry. But I have started a new story called "Such a Lovely Girl". It's a ghost story about a girl from the past named Eleanor Cutler and a woman in the present named Diane Constantine. I hope it will come out to be spooky and atmospheric and a little dream-like. I've also been working on my memoir, but I've come to a point at which I'm finding it more difficult than ever to write. I'm at a point of being ready to write about the years of my first marriage. Those years involved a lot of emotional and psychological pain, and I don't know if I'll be able to write about them, or at least to write about them adequately. I want to distance myself from that time, but with memoir, you want to get in close. Well, I can only do so much as give it a go and see what happens. My psychiatrist thinks it could be cathartic and therapeutic. I guess we'll see. I'll certainly stop writing about that time if it triggers anything negative.

For Christmas, the most "writerly" gift I got is a necklace my sister Jenny made. It has a tiny book that she bound herself and attached to a lovely chain. I've put a picture of it here. The little book can be a place in which I write ideas or quotes or just words I come across that I like.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year! I look forward to 2015 and what it might bring. So far, I have two pieces coming out in 2015. I have to submit more so that I can try to raise that number. I plan to work hard in 2015 and think positively. I also plan to work on being in the moment (mindfulness). May you all have a mindful 2015 as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Cure"

I received word today that my short story "Cure" has been accepted for publication in the journal The Literati Quarterly. "Cure" takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war in a small village where everyone is dying of radiation sickness. A man named Richie Parker comes to town with news that he has a cure. Who is Richie Parker and will his cure work? And what is his connection to a long-dead boy from the village?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

December's River Ram Press Blog Post

My blog post for December has been published on the River Ram Press Blog. Please do have a read! It's about the holidays and how to get through them when you have a mental illness or some other difficulty in your life. I give examples and tips about how I get through the holiday season. I hope readers will find it interesting and perhaps helpful!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas Is Coming!

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I decorate for Christmas and begin to prepare for the season. This year, I haven't done any shopping yet. Some years I've gotten a head start, but I'll have to do all my shopping in the few weeks before Christmas this year.

Some people with mental illnesses have a really hard time during the holidays and I always try to keep them in mind. As for me, I have a pretty good time of it. I love Christmas and New Year's and get excited for them every year, and I tend to do very well as a person with bipolar disorder. I think because I go to my uncle's for Christmas Eve and either my mom's or my aunt's for Christmas Day, the pressure is taken off of me as far as entertaining goes. And for New Year's, I stay home with my family and we have our own little celebration, so that's stress-free, too.

I would recommend that anyone with a mental illness try to minimize the demands placed on him or her at the holidays. It's okay to say no to things, and it's okay to let someone else do the entertaining if that's how it works out. Just relax and take good care of yourself (exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, talk to your therapist and people you trust). Happy start of the holiday season, everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November

I love the month of November. First of all, it's my birthday month. I was born right in the middle of the month on November 15th. Then it's Thanksgiving month, and I love Thanksgiving. And then, once Thanksgiving has happened, it is, for me, the opening of the Christmas season. I always put up my Christmas decorations on the day after Thanksgiving, and I feel I can start listening to Christmas music at that time.

A lot of people where I live in upstate New York dislike November's weather, but I love it. It's chilly out and most of the leaves are off the trees. We might have cold rain or even snow. But for me, it just makes it all the cozier inside. Plus, I love winter, so I don't mind getting a little taste of it in November.

I'm very bothered by the way Black Friday has migrated into Thanksgiving day. There are stores opening for business on Thanksgiving morning! Last year, I believe stores opened for business on Thanksgiving evening, but now, there are stores that will be open for the whole holiday. It's one holiday that we all share. It's secular, so people of any or no faith can celebrate it. It's not commercial. Sure, we buy a lot of food for it and maybe some decorations, but it's not a gift-giving holiday. I believe that everyone should have the day off so that they can celebrate with family and friends. Instead, it's starting to be treated like just another day, except that people have off from work so that they can go shopping. This disturbs me.

Well, I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, and I don't even go shopping on the actual Black Friday. I'm busy decorating for Christmas. I'm grateful this Thanksgiving month for typically being well during the fall and winter. A lot of bipolar people have trouble with the longer periods of darkness and, if you live in a climate like that of upstate New York, the inability to be outside as much of the time. But because I love winter and don't mind "hibernation mode", I don't tend to have serious problems with my mental state. I have more of a tendency to have trouble when spring and summer come. But that's material for a different blog post. For this one, I'll end by saying that I'm thankful for November and the way I live it.

My November River Ram Press Blog Article

My latest River Ram Press Blog article is online. This article is about my writers group, the Central New York Creative Writers Cafe, and the importance and camaraderie of a writers group. I write about the dear friends I've made through the group and all the support, help, and encouragement they've given me since 2008 when I joined the group.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My October River Ram Press Blog Article

My October River Ram Press Blog article is now available. This one is about side effects and the writer with bipolar disorder. Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Under the Bookcase"

My story "Under the Bookcase" is now available in The Outrider Review, Volume 1, Issue 4. It's available in either hard copy or digital form. Click on the link above then scroll down the website's main page and you'll see the issue for sale.

This story is about a troubled young man named Cole Ingram who becomes entwined in the lives of husband and wife Richard and Debbie Goodwin. Richard and Debbie, at first a lonely couple, are passionately drawn to Cole as he is to them. A strange and powerful love develops between the three. But Cole is not who or what he appears to be, and his secrets could lead to tragedy.

I am particularly fond of this piece and of Cole Ingram. I had a good time developing him and his story and feel honored to have had the work published by The Outrider Review.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Where Did the Title Come From?

I can't really say that I have a certain method for coming up with titles. Usually they just come to me... a phrase or word that simply sounds right. There's no rhyme or reason to it really, except for one story that got its title from a real life story.

"The Adirondack Room" is that story--it just came out this October in The Round Up Writer's Zine. It all began with a phone call to my sister. I called her and accidentally transposed two numbers, and a lady with a bright, cheerful voice answered, "The Adirondack Room." I apologized for having called the wrong number and hung up (this all happened on an old-fashioned land line). I called my sister again and clearly transposed the same two numbers, because again a woman's voice answered, "The Adirondack Room." This happened several more times on different occasions--I just couldn't seem to get those two numbers in the right order and continued to reach the Adirondack Room.

My sister and I imagined the Adirondack Room to be the way it turned out in my story. Definitely a 1950s, Cold War era, mountain lodge meets glamor vibe. We decided to look up the Adirondack Room and find out what and where it was. We even thought that, upon finding it, we'd go there and see if it lived up to our imaginings. We conducted extensive Google and Internet searches but found nothing. We finally decided that either the Adirondack Room was a room within a party house, or that it existed only in the space between two transposed numbers and the link between two phones. Twilight Zone stuff, if you will. I like the latter explanation.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"The Adirondack Room" Is Available

My short story "The Adirondack Room" is available in the new October issue of The Round Up Writers Zine (The Round Up Writer's Zine, Volume 2-1, October 2014).

This was a fun story to write. It's about a place called the Adirondack Room and what happens there in all the room's splendor. Who is Ben and what happens to his toupee? What's happening in the Nevada desert while the unnamed narrator is in the Adirondack Room eating fondue and drinking pink ladies? What happens in Browncroft, Pennsylvania?

You can go to the journal's website and click on "Download". This will open up a .pdf of the journal on your computer. My story is on page 24. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Painting and Writing

Here I sit in my paint clothes and paint glasses (an old pair that can get paint on them) having just primed a door and part of a wall in a new exercise room that we've added to our house. The area already existed when we bought the house--it was a little room off the garage and outside the backdoor that had two large closets in it, some empty space, and a door to the backyard. We took down the closets and put up another door between the room and the garage so that the room is fully enclosed.

And now we're painting it all. What color is it going to be? Well, one wall has three panels that are respectively green, blue, and yellow. Two other walls are bright red. And the final wall will be beige. Kind of crazy, but we wanted it that way. The room has a treadmill and a recumbent bicycle in it, and who wants to look at plain white walls when working out?

While I was painting today, I thought about writing and the whole metaphor I could come up with about writing being like painting. It strikes me as kind of a lame metaphor, kind of obvious (first you have to prime, blah, blah, blah...), but it's true. The new door has new molding around it and all of it is unfinished. So it needs primer, paint, tape to keep the paint under control, and the actual act of painting the little parts, the hard to reach parts, and the big parts that will show the most. It's those little and hard to reach parts that remind me so much of writing. Subtlety, nuances--these things have to be just right, elusive enough to be provocative, but clear enough to make sense. Likewise, painting, in my opinion, should all be high quality, whether it's some little corner or a whole wall.

I'm working right now on a memoir chapter that's at the "little and hard to reach places" stage. I've got the chapter written, but there needs to more... some spot-on details, something evocative, the reaching of a hard to reach place that will make the chapter shine. It's tough. I feel like I'm crawling around on the floor with a little paintbrush, getting paint in my hair and on my clothes, trying to reach that spot that will make it all come together, that will make all the twisting and bending worth it. I know I'll get there, but like all good projects, it takes patience and time and a lot of hard work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What I'm Currently Reading...

I'm actually reading only one book right now (the others are on hold) because I have the book out from the library. When I get a book from the library, I have to dedicate all my reading time to it because I'm not a very fast reader. The book I'm reading is Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, an author I very much enjoy (The Andromeda Strain is one of my favorite books).

Jurassic Park the book is very different from the movie in a lot of good ways. It's far more scientific, which I love. I especially love when the character Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the movie) explains chaos theory, which is something I'd like to read more about on my own. I find this theory fascinating.

I do love Jurassic Park the movie, but for entirely different reasons than those that make me love the book. It's a fun, scary, suspenseful movie--one that goes well with popcorn. There's science in it, but not to any great extent. There are mostly dinosaurs and people trying to keep away from them.

I highly recommend the book if you haven't read it already. I realize I'm behind in reading this book now, but I just never got to it when it first came out. I'm glad I've gotten to it now.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Acceptance for "The Adirondack Room"

This morning I found out that The Round Up Writer's Zine would like to publish "The Adirondack Room" in their October edition! I've already been published once in this journal. "A Good Boy's Tale" appeared in Volume 1-1, September 2013. I'm happy that they've accepted another story.

It's a great journal. On their website, they say, "The Round Up Writer’s Zine is a fresh space devoted to transgressive pieces, dark humor and works laced in sarcasm. In fact we are partisan to works that are edgy and/or possibly offensive. If this sounds like the type of literature that you secretly (or not so secretly) love to read, this is the place for you!"

I'll tell you a little about both these pieces:

"A Good Boy's Tale" is the story of Kip and his best friend Bobby Bouillon. Their unsavory activities begin with stealing candy bars and eventually lead to a partnership as DWI defense attorneys. But what is the fate of Kip and Bobby Bouillon? And will their fates differ?

"The Adirondack Room" is an odd and anachronistic place that brings about a lot of questions. What's happening in Nevada? What happens in Browncroft, Pennsylvania? What becomes of Ben's toupee? The answers to these questions might be found in the Adirondack Room, or might not.
 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Teasers?

My husband recently told me that when I announce on here that I've had a story come out, or forthcoming, that I should tell a little bit about what it contains--kind of like a movie preview. So to that end, allow me to give "teasers" to a story that just came out, as well as one that's forthcoming.

"The Pattersons" is in the anthology Postscripts to Darkness, Volume 5. It is available on the anthology's website and on Amazon. "The Pattersons" is about an all-American family--Phyllis and Tom and their children Judy, Billy, and Suzy--living in a desert town at time when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and Davy Crockett was still on television. The story takes place on a very strange day for the Pattersons. Who can explain the events that are occurring around them? Read the story and find out!

"Under the Bookcase" is a story I have forthcoming in The Outrider Review. It's about a mysterious young man named Cole Ingram who becomes involved in the lives of a lonely couple, Debbie and Richard Goodwin. What will happen as Cole becomes more and more entwined with the Goodwins? And what exactly is under the bookcase?

Just imagine that both of these teasers started with that ubiquitous male movie announcer voice saying, "In a world where..."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Goodbye, Robin Williams

What more can I say about Robin Williams's death that hasn't already been said? It saddens me greatly not just that he's gone, but that he was depressed and took his own life. Please, whether you have a mental illness or not, if you think you can't live your life any longer, seek help. Call the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. You and your friends and family can also visit the National Suicide Prevention website to learn more about suicide and how to prevent it.

Goodbye, Robin Williams. I'll miss you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"The Pattersons"

My short story "The Pattersons" is out in Postscripts to Darkness, Volume 5! You can also get it on Amazon. I'm particularly fond of this story and I'm so glad it's appearing in this anthology.

Please do pick up a copy and read about the all-American Pattersons and their lives.

Monday, July 21, 2014

July's Blog Article for River Ram Press

My River Ram Press blog article for July has been posted! You can see it here. It's about the bipolar states of mind and how they can affect writing. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

At the Edges of My Mind

It's time to write a new short story. I've been working on editing and submitting ones I've already written, and I've been working on my memoir, but I know it's time for a story when ideas, images, people, conversations, and descriptions start playing around at the edges of my mind. This has been happening for a few days now, and it's part of my writing process.

I think I know what I want to write about. I think I want to write a ghost story, only the ghost is that of a living woman who's haunting a man who let her go. But I want to make it eerie and dark, the way a good ghost story should be.

I love the idea of being haunted by the living. Like really haunted. This is what's compelling me right now. The idea of sensing, seeing, feeling, and hearing someone who isn't dead and gone, but who is a manifestation of what... Guilt? Wistfulness? Despair? It could get dark and drive a person mad, I think. Perhaps that's what I want to do with this story idea.

I'll have to start out with a few sentences, a few paragraphs, maybe a scene, and see where it goes. It's all part of the process, which is a process I love.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Two Acceptances!

I've recently gotten work accepted twice. My memoir piece "Jenga" will be published in a mental health anthology by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective, and my story "Under the Bookcase" will be published in a journal called The Outrider Review.

The title for "Under the Bookcase" came to me from the Shirley Jackson novel The Sundial. In it, at the very beginning of the book, a snake slithers under a bookcase. That's the last the reader sees of the snake, and throughout the entire novel, I wondered about that snake. So in the beginning of my story, a snake is spotted in the living room of a house owned by a married couple, and they watch in horror as the snake slithers under a bookcase. The snake appears again in my story--it comes out and is seen again--so in a way, I answered my own question about what happened to the snake under the bookcase in Jackson's novel! It came into my story... and I suppose you'll have to read the story to find out what happens to it.

Dreaming of a Ph.D.

I have my B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and my M.A. in English from the State University of New York College at Brockport. Getting these degrees in English was always my dream, and it's a dream I've accomplished. While I did teach at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York for ten years, I got these degrees primarily for what they would teach me about literature and writing. I've always been a writer, and I felt that having a bachelor's and master's in English would be beneficial to me.

Now I have a new dream: to get my Ph.D. in English. I've got my eye on the State University of New York Binghamton University. Binghamton has a Ph.D. in English in which you can either do a research dissertation or a creative dissertation. I'm interested in the latter. I imagine that one's dissertation in this track would be either the writing of a novel or a collection of short stories or perhaps both (it is a Ph.D. dissertation after all). Binghamton is not that far from Syracuse, so it's worth looking into.

I wouldn't do this immediately or even in the near future. I'm helping to put my son through college at the present time--he's in his first two years and plans to transfer for the next two or three years to a nursing program. At least, that's his plan at the time. But whatever he ends up doing, he's doing it now, and there just aren't the means for me to go after my Ph.D. while he's working on his bachelor's degree.

But maybe when my son is set and there's an empty nest, I can think seriously about getting my Ph.D. It's a dream but I think a worthwhile one. I would love to be Dr. Emily Glossner Johnson, but more than that, I would love to gain the knowledge that a Ph.D. would provide for me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy July!

It's July 1st and it's brought a heat wave to central New York. The humidity is oppressive which is what's making it so hard to handle, at least for those of us without central air conditioning. I have a pool, however, and I like having the windows open. We have fans around the house as well.

My cats are very hot. William, my black cat, likes to put his head under pieces of furniture when it's really hot.

It's kind of hard to concentrate on writing when the weather is like this, though I do find that I get things done. Everything just seems to be slowed down. Even reading in this weather seems to take me longer than usual. But it's summer, and this is the kind of summer we get here in central New York. Happy July!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Akathisia, Hypomania, Mania, and Writing

One of my bipolar medications can cause a side effect called akathisia. Akathisia is a feeling of inner restlessness and an inability to sit still or remain motionless. I had been having slight feelings of akathisia caused by my medication Abilify, so my psychiatrist lowered my dosage with the intent of getting rid of these feelings. So far, it's working.

You would think that something like akathisia would be good for a writer, that it would mean boundless energy and being constantly in motion, getting work done. But this is not the case. It's a highly unpleasant feeling, even when it's as mild as what I was experiencing.

Hypomania (a lesser form of mania) and mania are the same way. During episodes of hypomania or mania, you feel as though you're tremendously productive, creative, wondrous--a genius. You feel as though you're getting so much done. Well, maybe you are, but the quality might not be what you think it is when you're in that state. I've written while either hypomanic or manic, and when I look back on some of that writing, I find that it ranges from mediocre to downright bad--incoherent, disorganized, lacking in real creativity. Unfortunately, however, sometimes what I produce in these states is good, and herein lies the danger of bipolar disorder and a reason that some people go off their medications. They want to grab those good moments and fly with them. If they're some kind of artist, they want the high and the art that it can produce.

But I won't go off my medication for the possibility of a few good pages. It's not worth it and, as I said earlier, it's dangerous. As for akathisia, while you may feel an inability to sit still, you can't really work because you can't sit still. If a person on an antipsychotic is experiencing akathisia, you want it to stop. You want to get back to the ability to relax, be still, and accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Scott

My current obsession is F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read The Great Gatsby back in college (though I should read it again), and I recently read Tender Is the Night. I loved the latter; in fact, I loved it more than Gatsby, of which I am very fond. I'm now reading This Side of Paradise. And I have a bunch of other of his books in my queue. I'm also reading a biography of him by Jeffrey Meyers called Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. This was written in 2013 and sounded good in the description on Amazon and in the author's preface (he describes what he concentrates on the most, and it's stuff that I want to know about--for example, Fitzgerald's drinking, Zelda and her illness).

I tend to do this with various famous people--I get interested in them and then read a great deal about them. A few years ago, I was obsessed with J. Robert Oppenheimer and read a number of books about him and the Manhattan Project. There are still books about him that I want to read. I'm consistently obsessed with Shirley Jackson and still reading my way through her body of work and planning to read books about her as well.

I'm not sure why I get obsessed with the people with whom I get obsessed. I guess there will just be something about them that draws me to them. Often with writers, it's that I love their work. But with someone like J. Robert Oppenheimer, I guess it's what he did and how it ended up. I'm interested in all things atomic and nuclear, so obviously I'm interested in the Manhattan Project. But upon finding out more about Oppenheimer and his post-war activities, I had to learn more. As far as F. Scott Fitzgerald goes, I'm fascinated that much of his work came from his life, and it was an interesting life which contained success, failure, and tragedy. I'm sure I'll know much more about all of this once I've read his biography.

By the way, I'm still reading Eric Schlosser's book about nuclear weapons--a very long and dense but excellent book that I will be reading for another few months.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My June River Ram Press Blog Article

My June River Ram Press Blog article has been posted! You can see it here. It's about the wonderful literary journal Breath & Shadow and the opportunity it provides writers with disabilities. It's a terrific voice for the disability community!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting Up When Down...

Bipolar disorder can be so unpredictable. Sometimes I'll feel down for no reason at all, and it will come on with no warning and (hopefully) leave as quickly as it came on. Feeling down is different from depression, even mild depression. It's just a feeling of sadness that I can't shake, and it comes with a bit of fatigue and lethargy.

So I've felt this way today--mostly this afternoon. I wrote for a while and that helped. I actually worked on my memoir, Violets Are Blue: A Memoir of My Bipolar Life, and surprisingly this lifted me up a bit. (It comes as a surprise because I was working on some darker stuff.)

Something else that lifts me up is looking at photos, especially old photos. I love to look at my son's baby book, for example. And I have a few pictures that I've put here that cheer me. One is from 1981 and is of me in the Fairport Historical Society fashion show in Fairport, New York. We wore actual vintage dresses that the historical society had. The one I'm wearing was from the 1920s.

The other picture is of me and my sister when we were very young. This picture strikes me as especially appropriate for the present day because my sister is a professional genealogist. She runs a business called Family Sherlock. So to look at us in the late 1960s and to think of all the ancestors who brought us to be in that moment excites me.

So anyhow, I'll keep chugging along... the little engine that could... and finding a way up from down. I can do it. I already feel better just having written this blog post and having shared my feelings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Between

I haven't blogged in a while and I've missed it... and you, dear readers.

I think there are a couple of reasons for my hiatus. First would be springtime. With a somewhat large yard that contains many gardens (put in beautifully by the former occupants of our house), there's a lot of outdoor work to do. I love gardening, though it does get overwhelming at times. But I try to keep myself together and break it down into manageable bits. I'm not always entirely successful, but I figure as long as the front yard looks really good (since there's a stockade fence around the backyard), then I'm doing fairly well.

A second reason for my hiatus would be, I'd have to say, the work I'm doing right now. I finished up "You Kill Me", my story about washed-up rock star Jimmy Gemini, and brought it to my writers group where I got excellent feedback. I'll work on it some more, and then begin submitting it.

I'm also working on my bipolar memoir, which I've decided at this point to call Violets Are Blue: A Memoir of My Bipolar Life, and I've finished one chapter called "Infidelity". I'm now struggling to write a chapter called "Childhood Is the Kingdom", which is, rather obviously, about my childhood and what I believe to be early signs and symptoms of my bipolar disorder. But it's going very slowly and it feels as though there's so much I could write and get into. I have to find some sort of theme or focus, otherwise I'll just be floundering. In fact, floundering is exactly what I'm doing right now.

So I'd like to write another story and leave the memoir alone for just a little while. And yet I feel torn about this because I've been on a good roll with the memoir. I'm not sure what to do. Maybe I should just work on both--alternate between them. This is what I did while working on "Infidelity" and "You Kill Me", but "Infidelity" came to me much easier than "Childhood Is the Kingdom" is.

I guess I just have to keep thinking and having "Childhood Is the Kingdom" in the back of my mind while I find a focus. And meanwhile, why not start another story and keep submitting stories? Sounds like a plan to me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May's River Ram Press Blog Article

My article for May has been posted on The River Ram Press Blog. This article is about a sense of place for people with mental illness, especially writers with mental illness, or writers who are writing about mental illness. I get into information about my hospitalizations and how they felt, and the sense of place I've developed in both life and writing as a result of my bipolar disorder and the places it's taken me. Please do have a look by clicking here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

As a writer, I'm an avid people watcher and listener. I also pay close attention to the little things that happen in life that could possibly trigger stories. Sometimes things happen that are just so brilliant, so awesome, I feel I couldn't even have made them up, because in addition to being brilliant and awesome, they're really weird.

One such thing happened to me and my son. We went into a gas station/convenience store to pay for gas. The man working was probably in his thirties, tall, with hair that looked vaguely 1970s. A Bryan Adams song was playing in the store, and when I went to the register to pay for gas, the man said, "How are you doing?" in an eastern European accent, and then nodded to nothing in particular, smiled, and said, "Bryan Adams." He said it as though it were a secret between us, something only we knew the true meaning of. I've filed this incident away and hope to one day use the eastern European Bryan Adams man somewhere, somehow.

Another thing happened on a recent Fourth of July when my son, husband, and I were sitting in a crowd of people by the river that runs through our village, waiting to watch fireworks. We heard a man nearby say, "I seen her taking shit that don't belong to her." It sounded funny to me, and it made me think, who is she and what is her relationship to this man? What is the shit that she's taking?  Where was this man when he saw her taking the shit that didn't belong to her? Incidents such as this trigger thoughts in me that might lead to stories. I've remembered this man and his statement and periodically ask myself these questions. Perhaps one day in my fiction, I'll answer them.

If you're a writer, I feel you have to be a close watcher and listener of people. And you have to pay attention to the little weird things in life. Sometimes all it takes is one odd moment to come up with something fabulous.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My April River Ram Press Blog Article

My article for April is now on the River Ram Press blog. It's about creating characters with mental illness and the healing that this provides. Click here to read the article. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Getting Inside a Story

I'm working on a new story about a washed-up, formerly addicted rock star named Jimmy Gemini. The story has a working title of "Jimmy Gemini", though I think I'm going to want to change that. There's another problem with the story: I haven't yet been able to get inside of it.
 
What I mean by this is a bit hard to explain. When I'm writing a story, it really takes off once I'm inside of it. I imagine a hole in the fabric of spacetime, or a little tiny wooden door, and I have to find this hole or this door and climb inside to get into the world of the story. The hole or the door might be just one word, or a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a description, and suddenly something opens up and I'm there... I'm able to write the story and feel in sync with it. This opening and getting inside is an elusive thing. I can't force it. It just has to happen.

So what do I do before this happens? I write and keep writing. And sometimes I feel like what I'm writing is forced crap, but I keep at it anyhow because the right word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or description always comes to let me inside.

I guess what it all comes down to is that you have to write in order to have something to write. You have to keep going until something forms and takes on life and a story is there. People here in central New York have complained a lot about the winter we had this year. It was harsh, but I kept saying to myself, "Spring will come. It always does." And it has. Likewise, even when I'm struggling with finding that hole in the fabric of spacetime or that little tiny wooden door, a story will come. It always does. Because once I have an idea for a story, I don't give up until I have a story. Sometimes the story is radically different from the initial idea, but still it exists. Jimmy Gemini will get his story.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What I'm Currently Reading and Writing...

Well, I'm still reading Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety because it's 485 pages long and I'm not that fast of a reader. I absolutely love to read and it's imperative to do as a writer, but I've never read very rapidly. Anyhow, I'm also reading Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (I loved the movie--the book is already better) and fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science.

I wish I could read a bit faster because there are so many books I want to read, but instead I read like the English major I was: very carefully and thoroughly. I also like to savor a book that's really good. You know, the kind of book that you're sad to see end.

As far as writing goes, I've just started a new short story called (at this point) "Jimmy Gemini". Jimmy Gemini is the washed-up rock star who appears in "Mr. Gribbles Eats a Beetle" (Literary Brushstrokes, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2012). I feel that he needs his own story. I'm not sure what it is exactly yet, but I'm having fun discovering it. I've also been working on my memoir about bipolar disorder. Just recently I finished a draft of a chapter called "Flowers and Psychosis" and I'm working on a draft of another chapter called "Pity Party".

My memoir continues to be difficult to write. Revisiting parts of the past is hard, and yet it almost seems like a cliche to say that it's cathartic. Of course it's cathartic. What I really want it to be is something that others can relate to--both those with mental illness and those without. While my experiences may be unique to me, I'm hoping that there's a certain universality to the experiences that enables readers to step into my shoes. Then of course there's the challenge of keeping the memoir from being maudlin, melodramatic, or sensationalized. I try to write in a direct, matter-of-fact way that effectively conveys the truth. And then I must admit that, through it all, it can be fun to write at times. For example, I've used Puddles Pity Party (Puddles is "the clown with the golden voice") to get into the chapter entitled "Pity Party". And I've used wonderful memories from very early childhood of roses and violets to get into "Flowers and Psychosis". These bits were fun to write--to fit Puddles into what I was going to describe, and to remember the roses and violets of my childhood.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Flash Fiction: "Tom Cruise Doesn't Give a Damn"

Tom Cruise Doesn't Give a Damn

By Emily Glossner Johson


            Tom Cruise enters the Target store in the town of Clay, New York, with his bodyguards and entourage. Everyone in the store pretends not to notice. There’s no telling why Tom is in Clay, New York, and at Target specifically. Perhaps he sensed that the good people of suburban Syracuse would generally let him be. And they do.
            Initially, Tom and his posse sweep up and down the aisles at a fast pace. It’s natural for Tom to walk briskly—it’s his usual gait. The entourage—all male and eager, earnest, clean-shaven—has to rush to keep up with his stride. The bodyguards remain a bit ahead of him to the left and the right. Tom wears a leather jacket like he did in Top Gun, a pair of jeans, and black cowboy boots. What would it look like if he tucked his jeans into his boots? Would it start a trend? His posse would surely follow suit. They all wear cowboy boots, too, and surely the group of them would tuck their jeans into their boots if Tom did. But as it is, the bottoms of Tom’s jeans rest easily around the boots with perfect creases.
            Eventually, Tom’s pace slows and he stops to look at various items. He stops at the end caps where the bargains are. He doesn’t need to buy bargains, and he doesn’t particularly like doing so, but on this day, he lingers at the end caps. He finds a large, three-wicked vanilla candle marked down to $4.79. He gives it to a young blond member of his entourage to hold. He finds several binders marked down to $3.34. He gives three of them to another of his willing people. In the automotive section, he browses the car air fresheners. He doesn’t need one, but still he picks one out. It’s in the shape of a pine tree and smells like strawberry. He hands it to a youthful red-haired fellow in his posse.
            He wanders through the clothing for little girls. Suri wears designer dresses, expensive pants and shirts, designer shoes. She carries tiny designer bags. But still Tom finds several sequined blouses and shoves these into the arms of another fervent follower.
            He picks out computer games that are $9.99—their regular price. Mahjong, bingo, a horse racing simulator. He shows no emotion as he picks up one after another. These he tosses to one of his bodyguards—a big man now relaxed, aware that nothing untoward is going to happen in the store, that people are only glancing furtively at Tom and looking away when he looks up.
            At the end of the shopping excursion, Tom and his entourage and body guards go into the snack bar. Tom demands popcorn all around for his people. He himself gets a big soft pretzel. He asks for mustard and then struggles to open the little packets to no avail. He finally gives up and slips the packets into his jacket pocket.
            There he is, eating his pretzel, surrounded by people who will do his bidding in a heartbeat, who hang on his every word. He is a man who jumped on a couch for the world to see, and a man who counts Scientology leader David Miscavige among his best friends. He knows secrets and has risen to levels of which he’s proud. He has millions of dollars available to give to his church, and he gives his money freely. He is awarded medallions in fancy, glittery ceremonies.
            Tom is in the small crowd of his associates, standing there, eating his pretzel, unable to open the mustard packets. He’s in Target in Clay, New York, surrounded by his people. He doesn’t smile his famous smile. He is wearing a black t-shirt underneath his leather jacket. His black cowboy boots gleam. Occasionally he glances around as though looking for something or someone, but most of the time, he keeps his head down. Tom Cruise doesn’t give a damn.

My Latest River Ram Press Article

My latest River Ram Press article has been posted on the River Ram Press Blog. It's about creating characters with mental illness from the perspective of someone (me) with bipolar disorder. Please do read it and comment freely. I'd love to get the responses of writers and non-writers alike.

Writing about characters with mental illness is something I do often and is near and dear to my heart. I love all my characters, even the ones who misbehave or act downright heinously, but I have a special place inside for my characters with mental illness because I know how they feel and I understand the struggles they go through.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, beloved readers! I am 1/16th Irish, which I know from my genealogist sister who runs her own genealogy business, Family Sherlock. Despite being only a wee bit Irish, I still celebrate St. Patrick's Day by having something for dinner that seems appropriate, plus this year, I made frosted shamrock cookies.

Part of why I love St. Patrick's Day is because my favorite color is green. And because it seems to herald spring, which is in just a few days. Here in upstate New York, it's not at all spring-like yet, but it'll come. It always does.

On a different note, what am I currently working on? I wrote a chapter of my memoir called "Flowers and Psychosis" which took off from my blog post called "Flowers and Bipolar Disorder". It's longer, though--it's about eight pages long. I've also been working on submitting short stories. I have "Obituaries", "The Tiger Earring", and "Under the Bookcase" out there. I look at Submittable with regularity, which can kind of drive a person mad, but it's hard not to look. Then there are the submissions that don't use Submittable, and I have no idea what's going on with those. Oh, well. Waiting is part of the process. One must be patient.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flowers and Bipolar Disorder


My early childhood consisted of flowers, the memories of which are among my strongest and most vivid. We lived on Arbordale Avenue in the city of Rochester, New York, until I was four years old. There were two old women who lived on our street who had beautiful gardens--so lush and enchanting and magical. My sister and mother and I were in their gardens once, their white cat lurking, and I smelled their roses. The smell of roses continues to take me back to that precious, fleeting, summer day. And then there were wild violets in my aunt's backyard under a pine tree. Beautiful and mysterious, they grew in shade, the smell of them with me still. I can't look at or smell a wild violet without going back.

I always want flowers. I would have fresh cut flowers in my house every day if that wouldn't become too expensive. And I would have more flowers growing in my yard than I have these past springs and summers since we've lived in this house. But I'm not very good with them--they don't seem to flourish.

It strikes me as being like bipolar disorder: the mania of a profusion of fresh cut flowers, flowers every day that cost more and more, and the depression of flowers outside not flourishing. Perhaps this is why I hang on so tightly to my memories of the old ladies' roses and my aunt's wild violets. These memories remind me that thriving is possible even in the darkest times, and that fresh cut flowers can come from one's own yard--perhaps not in manic profusion, but in simple, lovely bunches, balanced and good.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Influence of Mister Rogers

I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you I like, it's you,
It's you... I... like! 
                  
                       ~Mister Rogers

I grew up with Mister Rogers and was heartbroken when he died too young a number of years ago. Mister Rogers taught us about kindness, acceptance, friendship, and love. He influenced me significantly, and he continues to do so in my writing. It's not in ways that are obvious to me while I write, but in my whole approach to developing characters.

I think what it comes down to is that I love my characters and accept them for who they are. I try to be kind to them, even if I'm killing them off or making them behave heinously. The general point is, I try to treat my characters in a realistic way, and I hope this makes them as believable as possible and helps to get my readers invested in them. This is not to say that all my characters are worthy of love, or lovable, or good people. Some are none of these things. But when I treat them kindly while creating them, I feel that I create more thoroughly developed, multidimensional characters. It's difficult to love and care about a cliche or a cardboard cut-out.

To forget to love the character as simply one's own creation, the way a person might love his or her own child, I believe keeps a writer from fully developing that character. So think of Mister Rogers when you're creating your characters. Accept them, love them--they're your own and nobody else's. And be proud of them. I have a feeling that William Shakespeare was probably proud of Lady Macbeth. Perhaps not proud of her actions, but proud of the mere fact of creating her, of bringing such a memorable, significant character into existence.

Friday, February 28, 2014

What I'm Currently Reading...

In addition to a number of short story anthologies, including a fabulous one containing all of Raymond Carver's work, I'm reading, in nonfiction, Eric Schlosser's Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safey and Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. In fiction, I'm reading Joyce Carol Oates's First Love.

Regarding Command and Control, I'm fascinated by nuclear weapons, the Manhattan Project, and the Cold War. I love the science and the politics behind these things. I've read many books about these topics, including four books (maybe five?) about J. Robert Oppenheimer. I think that most people have that one period in history that fascinates them... mine is post World War II America--the Cold War, the fear surrounding the bomb, the "nifty fifties" (which weren't really always that nifty), and the change in the world's psyche because of the existence of nuclear weapons.

I've been reading King's On Writing but set it down to read some other books. What's good is that it has two parts, so I set it down right before part two. Now I'm picking it back up again.

Oates's First Love is really a novella, so I'll read it fast and then have to figure out what fiction to read next. Perhaps Shirley Jackson's The Bird's Nest. I have a few Shirley Jackson novels I haven't read yet. Yay!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Slash and Burn

I recently slashed and burned my story "The Adirondack Room" and turned it from a short story into a piece of flash fiction. After letting it sit for quite a while (maybe a year or so?), I read it while it was still a short story and didn't like it. But there were aspects of it I liked very much and wished to keep. So I kept the title as well as the Adirondack Room itself with its anachronistic Cold War atmosphere. I kept the nuclear bombs, the shrimp cocktail, and even the toupee. But I cut it all way, way down. It's a strange piece that seems more interested in description than plot, but I like it.

What I would recommend to anyone who's not happy with a longer work is to attempt to turn it into flash fiction. Because there are so often good things in unsatisfactory longer pieces that you don't want to give up on. Nuggets, pearls, passages... whatever you want to call them... don't ditch them just because you don't like the short story they appear in.

And if you don't like a piece of flash fiction? Well, you can always cut it down to Twitter fiction (a TwitFic) which is what I write on Twitter. TwitFics are tiny stories that fit within the parameters of a tweet. So we're talking maybe three, more likely two, and perhaps one sentence, but if the words work and you like them, give it a try!

Monday, February 17, 2014

When a Writer Feels Like a Moron

Sometimes when I'm revising a piece of work, I find problems with logic or timing that make me feel like a moron.

I'm revising "Under the Bookcase" (again) and I found a spot in which two characters discuss something that one of the characters hasn't yet revealed. Another thing I discovered: one of the three main characters is a college professor, and I realized that I had the story set in July when he might not be teaching, or at least not teaching during a traditional semester. So I'm having him teach a summer course, which I mention quickly and subtly just so that the sharp reader won't think that I think the traditional semester goes into July. I also found a spot in which I have a character sit down at a table twice. He sits down, then a few sentences later, he sits down again--but meanwhile, he hasn't gotten up. So what is he doing, sitting in a chair and then on the floor? Suffice it to say, I fixed this so that he sits down only once.

But all of this is part of writing (writing is rewriting). You've got to carefully read and read and read to make sure you haven't goofed stuff up. Revising isn't just a matter of checking mechanics but of checking for problems in logic and timing and such.

I've attached a picture of a goat to this blog entry, not because I think goats are morons, but because I felt kind of like the look on that goat's face when I was reading my story and finding problems. For the record, I think that goats are anything but morons. I love goats.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blogging for River Ram Press

I have a new project with River Ram Press! I'll be writing a monthly article for their blog about mental illness: living with it, writing with and about it, and overcoming the obstacles it presents. My first article (February 2014) is now on the blog. You can see it by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Goodbye, Philip Seymour Hoffman

He was a year behind me in the class of 1985 at Fairport High School in Fairport, New York. I was in the class of 1984 and our high school was very large, so I only knew him from the plays he was in (yes, he was an actor even in high school). I followed his career--as did so many of us from Fairport, New York--with pride, awe, and deep admiration. He was a super star--the best actor, in my opinion, of my generation. The loss I feel is significant and somewhat personal since he was a classmate--one I didn't really know, but a classmate just the same.

Goodbye, Philip Seymour Hoffman. May you rest in peace. We'll never see you in a new film again, but fortunately we have so many films to look back on.

Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Escape"

My story "The Escape", which was published in Lost Coast Review, Volume 5, Number 2, Winter 2014, is now available! It's on Amazon in hard copy and for Kindle.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Emily's Pity Party

I recently discovered on YouTube a clown named Puddles. He looks not like a circus clown but rather a clown like Pierrot. He's part of  a group called Puddles Pity Party, and in the YouTube description of the video I found, he's described as the sad clown with the golden voice. In this particular video, he sings with Postmodern Jukebox the Lourde song "Royals". The words, while not of his creation, suit him. In fact, I enjoy his rendition of "Royals" more than I do that of Lourde. Puddles is very tall, well over six feet, and he does indeed look sad in his Pierrot-like costume and make-up with the tiny crown on his head. But then he should be sad. After all, it's his Pity Party.

Pity. As far as having bipolar disorder, I try very hard never to pity myself, and I don't want pity from anyone else. Bipolar disorder has changed the trajectory of my life, but in many ways, it's been for the better. I think it's made me a stronger, more creative, more imaginative writer. I believe I've had bipolar disorder my whole life, and I've been writing for my whole life, but the official onset of the illness in 1995 opened the floodgates and brought on writing nearly every day with joy, determination, compulsion, sometimes frustration (inevitably), and completion--not in the completion of what I write (although that happens), but in completing me.

This is not to say that I love having bipolar disorder. I don't. Every day holds some sort of struggle, hopefully and often small, but sometimes enormous. It's a difficult, complex disease. There's no cure; there is only treatment. And it's lifelong. It affects me in one way or another every day. But I also manage to write almost every day, and I have nine short stories published, two forthcoming, many more to submit, a novel (Purple Loosestrife) that I'm submitting, a memoir that may come to fruition, and poetry and creative nonfiction that I've written.

Bipolar disorder has also done something wonderful for me regarding rejections. It's not that they don't bother me, or don't hurt, or don't discourage me, but they tend to roll off of me more easily than I think they do for other writers. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can be as bad as some of the times I've gone through with my illness: four hospitalizations, two partial hospitalization programs, switching psychiatrists and therapists and not always for the better, having taken many medications through the years, getting hypothyroidism which I believe is related to my illness and having been on lithium for ten years, surviving a bad first marriage that didn't help matters at all, and other things too numerous to relate here. No rejection is as bad as any of these things. I've developed a thick skin. I can take it because I've taken it.

Meanwhile, I wouldn't wish bipolar disorder on anyone. There are many brilliant, creative, wonderful writers who don't have it or any other mental illness and they're fortunate. But pity? That I don't want. Things happen. We're born the way we're born--we don't choose it; it just is. So Puddles can have his Pity Party. But Emily's pity party won't be happening.