Beautiful Weekend

The Southern Festival of Books went very well. The weather was lovely (except for Friday, but that didn’t seem to dampen too many moods) and I got to see a bunch of people I know and talk books and it was really lovely.

There was just a general mood of optimism that was nice. Everyone seems to think that things are going to be much different in the book industry and no one knows how but there’s less “we’re all going to die” about it.

I’ve also noticed the beginnings of a split (so, the fact that I’ve noticed it makes it certain the split has been happening for a while) in the “self-publishing” world. Somehow, the “I published this because no one else would because it sucks” and the “I published this because no one else would because, for as much as the publishing industry talks about the importance of diversity, it’s really hard to get a book with a protagonist like x or a setting like y or a plot like z published through traditional means” books are differentiating themselves from each other. Even at a place like the Southern Festival of Books, which is solely focused on traditionally published works.

I also think it’s both surprising and not surprising (considering the good work Chet and Ben are doing over at Third Man) to see that we’re back in an era when poetry matters. Who would have thought, even five years ago, that the most interesting discussions about what it means to be a person and an artist would be happening in poetry?

It really felt like people were resolved to just persevere in telling good stories to each other and that made me feel good and optimistic about things too.

2nd Spooky Saturday–More Headless Harpes

I wrote two other stories about Harpe Brothers, or people who claimed to be. I wrote this one to round out the set.

A Woman With a Mason Jar Walks Along the Natchez Trace Mumbling to Herself

by Betsy Phillips

Wiley Harpe, Wiley Harpe, the pike they put your head on is long gone, and your skull is also missing, its final resting place forgotten. But the wind and the woods, they still remember the sound of bone on bark and the last noise that still means you in this world–knock, knock, knock.

You heard there were witches here and every place their feet touched earth, the grass refuses to grow. And you, you hopscotched those bare spots, placing your feet in the footsteps of those women, daring them to come and get you.

And then bad luck got you instead. If there was one thing you must have thought, when you were standing on the gallows waiting for your last fall, it was that witches were no real worry. A man’s enemy is more often just his own misfortune. No witch did you in. It was just the coincidence of you and a man who recognized you standing in the same crowd.

That’s a mighty big coincidence, don’t you think, Wiley? If you do still think, out here in the woods, you being mostly a memory of a bad time and a knocking noise most folks mistake for a lazy woodpecker.

No, your downfall lay in your predictability.

Your brother. You remember him? Big ol’ Micajah Harpe, shoulders broad as an ox’s back, fists like two hot anvils? They say he killed at least two babies, just out of the blue. Once upon a time, a baby cried and he grabbed that baby and slammed it into a stone fireplace or a cave wall or the cold, hard ground. It varies from telling to telling–how many babies, what he broke those small, delicate skulls open against. But the point is the same–he was an impulsive man.

He knew what he wanted and the moment he wanted it, he did it, being used to facing no real opposition to his whims due to his size.

That’s not a man who plans. He’s never had need of learning how.

You know what kind of man learns to plan, to scheme, to double-cross? Sure you do, Wiley, sure you do. The one who cannot win without a strategy learns to be strategic as a matter of necessity.

Do you think your brother ever suspected? When the posse was on your tail and there were two ways to safety–over the hill and through the swamp–you sent him over the hill and took all your wives through the swamp. You knew, yes, yes, you did, that, when given a choice between a swamp and anything else, men will choose to chase the evil-doer who stays on dry land.

Sure, maybe you thought he had a chance of escaping. But you had to know you were probably sacrificing him to save yourself.

There are so many stories about that moment and in almost every single one, it’s him, your brother, who is said to have urged you and your shared women into the swamp. Because who could have believed you would have planned against him? That you would choose your own life over his? The mistake they make is assuming you had honor.

But we know better.

A man who escapes with you will, soon enough, wish he’d escaped from you. First that murderous brute, your own blood, Micajah, and then that old land pirate, Charles Mason, who busted out of jail with you and then met his end when you chopped off his head for the reward.

Too bad about that man in the crowd. Yes, too, too bad. But you and your brother traveled with three women, and you had to know, from that old Scottish play, three is the smallest coven that works. Three women sleeping with devils.

Doesn’t always work out well for the devils. And stories get passed down, Wiley. Yours came to me. And I knew I would find you out here in the deep woods, little more than a cold shadow, a shiver that runs down an occasional spine.

Do you think a man can be redeemed? You must have given it some thought all these years, sitting out here among the trees, watching time pass, waiting on those angels or devils who’ve neglected to collect you. Do you think a man who kept his women sick and lonely and afraid can change? Can a man who can’t be trusted near a baby be trusted to raise a son? And, even if a man could become someone different, someone a woman could love without pain, do you think he would?

I’ll be honest, Wiley. I don’t. I think there are kinds of evil that pretty much carry through. And worse, I know it doesn’t matter. Learning the truth about a man? Well, a woman’s not always allowed to protect herself or her child. There’s always some judge, some preacher, some cold-hearted father saying “you made your bed, you lie in it.”

You kill the men who give you freedom, Wiley Harpe. That’s what I know about you. It’s almost like you can’t resist.

So, what do you think will happen when my husband comes home and he finds it empty–no furniture, no drapes, none of the plates we got at our wedding, no sign of me or the boy at all—nothing except for an oddly decorated Mason jar sitting on the kitchen counter?

I don’t think he’ll be able to resist opening it, maybe hurling it at a wall in anger and breaking it into a thousand sparkling pieces. And, if not, I have no doubt you’ll convince him to twist the lid. To let you go.

And what happens when you get loose in that house with him, Wiley Harpe, what then?

Southern Festival of Books

Even though I hate crowds, my one exception is the second weekend in October when I get to sit outside all day and talk books with people. Love it. Love it.

Did I show you the afghan I’m working on?


I also realized that I have to schedule my nine nights for next week. I don’t have nine other nights in a row this month when I don’t have stuff going on.

Every year I’m swamped in the fall and yet, this year, I’m surprised.

The Cubs

I used to love the Cubs, but then they dicked over Andre Dawson and Mark Grace. It bothered me that they were neither good nor loyal. I would have forgiven disloyalty if it would have won us some games and I would have forgiven a bad team that ways loyal to its players, but to be neither? To suck and be disloyal?

I always wondered if I would climb back on the bandwagon if they got their shit together.

And I am surprised to find that, no, I really don’t care. Apparently there are ways you can break a young girl’s heart so thoroughly that the middle-aged woman she grows into remains cold to you.

Chuck Wendig’s New Book

I just finished Chuck Wendig’s new book, Zeroes. It was fine! But more than that, I don’t really feel qualified to say. I read a lot differently when I’m writing than I do when I’m not, so I can’t say whether you, as a reader, might  like it. I, as a writer, really did. One thing he does that I want to think hard about for my next draft, is his specificity. I think that I tend to gloss over the details that I don’t think are that important in a story, because I hate when unimportant things are given too much attention.

I don’t have Wendig’s book in front of me, but let’s say that we’re writing a story about a guy who goes to the store to get some orange juice and, on the way, he gets abducted by aliens. Let’s say that the least important element in the story is the car he takes.

The kind of writing I don’t like might go something like “He gently eased his Levi-encased buttocks onto the leathery seat of the musty old El Camino, the color of sunsets or fresh, coppery menstrual blood, and rested his cracked hands on the ancient wheel. The car smelled of elderberries, freshly picked by young virgins on a cool, Spring morning.”

A lot of my writing goes like this: “He got in his car and he drove toward the store.”

But a Chuck Wendig-ish sentence goes something like “He got into his rusty, old El Camino and headed up the street to the IGA.”

You don’t spend too much time reading about things that aren’t important, but you spend enough time on them to get a taste of something you otherwise wouldn’t get. You can see how “he got into his new Lexus and headed up the street to the Whole Foods” changes the whole flavor of the sentence, implies a hundred different things about this “him” than the other “him,” none of which you can even begin to guess about my “him.”

I’m not terrible at that kind of specificity, but I’ve been hip-deep in this novel long enough to know that I’m not great at it. Watching someone just nail it sentence after sentence after sentence makes my inadequacies really stand out to me.

Flat Lands, Big Sky

I always have really mixed feelings when I go back to Illinois–a mixture of terror and homesickness. Not as bad as the last time I went to Michigan and had to cry in the rest stop to work up the courage to keep driving, but still some feeling of both wanting to be there and fearing that I might see someone who used to know me, who I used to know, and wondering what that would be like.

C.S. Lewis in Your Writing Group

We were briefly talking about what it would be like to have C.S. Lewis in your writing group and how that might explain a lot about why Tolkien had songs and histories of various grasses and chapters devoted to wandering around in circles, because Lewis would be all “Today, I have an essay on why there’s so much suffering and whether children deserve pain” and everyone else in the group would be all “Um, we’re still helping Tolkien get through this tricky part about… um…” They all look at Tolkien.

“This song about trees?” He shrugs.

But I was thinking about it on our walk this morning and, lord, could you imagine Lewis’s elevator pitches?

“Okay, it’s an allegory about Christ and the dangers of modern women set in a magical land with lions.”

“Okay it’s an allegory about Christ and the dangers of modern women set in space.”

“Okay, it’s a book of essays about Christ and the dangers of modern women.”

Can you imagine the time he was all “Okay, it’s a book about bureaucratic devils.”

All the other Inklings chime in “and the dangers of moder–wait, what? Just about bureaucratic devils?”

Tolkien’s all whispering to his neighbor “So, I don’t need this song about a sword to distract him?”

Lewis is confused. “Yes, just bureaucratic devils. Why? Do you think it needs some dangerous modern women in there? I could add some.”

“No, no, no. This is great. Much better than our idea.”

1st Spooky Saturday–Aunt Karen

This one sat in my “almost done” folder for a long time, but, upon rereading it just now, I really like it. I don’t know what I thought wasn’t quite done.

Aunt Karen

By Betsy Phillips

The kids handled the changes better than the adults. We were floundering. Not for answers. We had answers, terrible answers no one wanted to hear. We were floundering for a new set of superstitions that would keep us safe. We got rid of the dogs—not sure if they were carriers—but then we had nothing to alert us except our own eyes and ears. So, we brought dogs back from the verge of extinction.

There were a lot of sleepless nights back then. Every knock and creak woke you. Was it something in the house? Near the house? But if none of the dogs were troubled, you told yourself there’s nothing to worry about. Another superstition. What if the dogs were in league with them? And why wouldn’t they be? That’s what the women at the grocery store asked. What had we done for dogs so great that they wouldn’t have sold us out?

But we didn’t do another extermination. And most of us were glad for the folks who kept their dogs hidden. Glad for the strays that could be coaxed back into town. We put our trust in them once again.

And the kids played with puppies like we never made the grave mistake of trying to get rid of them all. Like we might not have been making a grave mistake keeping them with us now. I guess that, when you’re new to the world, you don’t have any expectations for how things should be. For all they knew, there was nothing strange about learning to handle a silver dagger almost as soon as you were old enough to close your hand.

Like people who got their ears pierced as infants and don’t remember the pain, they didn’t remember how they got the scars from learning how to handle the blade, just that such scars were common.

We adults had no words for what had happened. Not words we were willing to say to each other. We didn’t want to be reminded.

But the kids, well, like I said, they handled it better. When my nephew, Evan, was younger, I found him at the park, talking to one of his little friends about some other little kid who had fallen off his bike. Evan said, “Oh, yeah, and then he wolfed all over” and he demonstrated by shaking and lolling his tongue out to the side.

“He what?” I asked, trying to keep my voice light.

“Aunt Jen, he wolfed all over, bleurgh!” and then he stuck his finger down his throat and wretched.

“That’s how my mom died,” the other kid said, growing more serious. “She got wolfed all over and bam!” The kid mimicked stabbing someone in the chest. My heart leaped into my throat and I reached for Evan, almost without thinking.

“Oh, Karen,” I said, so quietly I almost wasn’t sure I’d said it aloud. If Evan heard, he didn’t seem to notice. He laughed and mimicked the same motion and then the two ran off, playing monster killer.

I remembered how my sister Karen had been with Evan and I tried to be some of that for him. Strong, brave, loving. Tried to at least fake it, for his sake.

After I lost Jimmy and the kids, I was done, you know? I respected the government’s request that no one in my situation kill herself. I understand it makes it too easy for everyone who’s lost so much to just check out, once they see how it is, how peaceful, and calm and over.

So, I kept on breathing. I just quit living. I stayed in my house and let life go on without me.

Until Karen called.

I could barely understand her. It was still mid-afternoon, but her voice was already gravelly and her words sounded like they were coming through the wrong mouth. “Please,” she begged, “Come get Evan. Say he’s been with you.”

When they found someone who changed, they killed everyone who was with that person that day. That’s how I lost my Jimmy and the kids. Little Meg picked it up from someplace and that was the end of them. I was in Ohio helping my mom with my dad. That’s the only thing that spared me. And my dad got found out anyway. And I lost my mom and dad, then, too. Our mom and dad. I guess what spared me then is that they didn’t find my dad until the next month and they didn’t realize it wasn’t his first time.

After that, I kept to myself, half-mad from grief. But when I got that call from Karen, I went to her house and sobbed into her misshapen arms, already prickly with coarse hairs, and I took that boy to my house and I pretended like I babysat him all the time. No one ever questioned me about it.

And then I had to go on living, because he needed me to, because his mom couldn’t be there for him. And so I did my best for him.

When he was fourteen, the Sheriff came to our door.

“You doing all right here by yourself, Jen?” He asked. He looked over the top of his sunglasses at me.

“We’re doing okay, Sheriff,” I said, trying to seem friendly, but making no move to invite him in, even though, judging by the sweat on his brow, he could have used some water or an ice tea.

“Notice anything peculiar?” He asked. He squinted at me, as if he could, if only he adjusted his eyes right, see if I was lying to him. I tilted my head toward the interior of the house, like I didn’t want to talk to him about it in front of Evan. I stepped out onto the porch with him.

“Cooper down the road says your herd is looking smaller,” the Sheriff said. “You know you’re supposed to report any loss of livestock.”

“Sheriff,” I said. “I lost three cows last month and if you call Arlene and ask her, she’ll tell you I called it in. I’ve got a carcass I found a few days ago, yes, and I didn’t call it in, but it’s not my cow.”

“Cooper says you’re way down.”

“Sheriff,” I sighed. “It’s just me and the boy. We can’t handle a herd as big as Jimmy had. I sold half this spring. I can show you the receipts.”

“Well, show me that carcass,” he said.

“I think it’s just coyotes,” I said.

“You can never be too sure,” the Sheriff nodded. “Seems like those things are gone, but you know it’s cows first, then humans. We need to be vigilant.”

That’s a superstition as well. Cattle kills and human attacks have nothing to do with each other. But we want to pretend there’s some way to tell if they’re back. Some forewarning before the bad times.

“DTR,” I said as I smiled. Duty to report.

“That’s right, ma’am,” he said. I showed him the carcass and he looked at the bites. Too small to be our husbands and wives. “Coyotes,” he agreed. After all, how could a child take down a cow?

“Have you seen anything suspicious?” I asked. “I haven’t heard of anyone… you know… no families…”

“Not in years,” the Sheriff said.

“Good,” I said and I meant it. I walked him back to his truck.

“I just always thought this stuff was made up in Hollywood,” he said. I nodded. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

“What?” I asked.

“If that was true, what else is?”

It wasn’t much after that when we found out. I was asleep, three dogs in bed with me, when Evan shook me awake one black night. I could hear the nervous pacing of his dogs out in the hall.

“Aunt Jen,” he said. “I heard a noise.” I sat up, groggy. Like he did when he was little, he crawled up onto the bed with me.

“What did it sound like?” I whispered. But then I heard it, a loud thump, like something large had landed on the roof. I fumbled for my glasses and Evan worked to keep the dogs calm. When I found my way to the window, I peeked out into the darkness. The moon was not quite full, but it was large enough that, when the clouds parted, I could see by it. And there, in the trees, perched like buzzards, were gaunt, lanky bald men, their red eyes glowing, their sharp teeth long and glistening.

“You have your knife?” I asked Evan.

“Of course.” I could hear the hint of teenage disgust that I’d even thought the question was necessary. “What are they?” He asked.

“Something bad,” I said. “Something really bad.”

First thing in the morning, I called the Sheriff’s department. It took the Sheriff no time to get to my house, because he’d been with the county coroner up at Cooper’s place. Cooper was no more. He’d been torn limb from limb.

“No blood, though,” the Sheriff said. “Not like back then.”

“I saw them,” I said. “They weren’t. These were something else.”

Then the Sheriff got a call. It wasn’t just Cooper. Most the families in this part of the county were gone. Butchered and drained of their blood. Probably not in that order. I had to bring the Sheriff in the house, though I hated to. Poor man was heavy with grief.

“You are about the only ones who are left out this way,” the Sheriff said. “It makes no sense. Why would they leave you be?”

I shuddered. “I don’t know. They were on the house and in the trees. I don’t know.”

But after he left, it was all I could think about. Why were we spared? It’s not like we’d had advanced warning. My dogs hadn’t even woken up, before Evan came in.

Oh, I thought. Oh.

I went down to the basement and moved the far shelves away from the wall. I knocked on the door hidden back there and a soft voice said “Come in.” I undid the padlock and entered the small room.

“Karen?” I asked. “How’d you sleep last night?” She looked rough, so I guessed her answer before she gave it.

“Not well,” she said. “It’s not even the full moon yet, and I wanted to be out. I had a dream of killing. You have to be sure I’m locked in here tight come this weekend.”

But I tell you, I left her door unlocked, from that day on.

Away, Away

I’m off to another con. I have mixed feelings. I’m excited. But what if I miss the dog? What if the dog misses me? How will I finish this afghan?

Maybe the dog could finish up the afghan and send me pictures. All problems solved.

Anyway, check back in here tomorrow at six for…um… a story, the likes of which I forget. I think we’re starting with a tale of revenge and witches. If not, then it’s a tale of revenge and dogs. Or a tale of revenge and another dog. Or a tale of revenge and a parrot. I’m just saying, I basically write the same story over and over again. Ha ha ha.

No, I do think tomorrow night is the one about wandering around Mississippi talking to yourself like a lunatic.

I hope you enjoy it.


I wrote about writing Ashland. I am genuinely glad to see that it’s an interesting read. It makes me feel better about my writing abilities at the moment. Ha ha ha.

This morning, as I was walking the dog, I had a realization about a later part of the book. It made me wonder if I could somehow figure out a way to walk the dog, have a realization, fix that part, walk the dog again, have another realization, etc. But I don’t suppose you could guarantee the realizations.

For me, writing is a weirdly physical thing. I do feel like I’m somehow squeezing or wringing this thing out of me.

And I had hoped to be farther along in this revision before October, which is in so many ways the busiest month of the year for me. I don’t want to lose track of the things I need to do to the book, you know?

A Bitterness in My Heart

The thing they don’t really get into in the story of the Prodigal Son is that the son who stayed behind is only temporarily pissed at the son who left. Eventually, he comes to realize that his dad is a jerk and he’s a chump and that his brother probably had good reasons for running off.

The Prodigal Son is not the problem in that family.

I try, very hard, to not think about the stupidity of my family and how it makes my life harder, because it really, really upsets me. But I also sometimes feel a great conspiracy between the Universe and my family against me, so that, just after I get a phone call about how my parents bought my brother a new washing machine (after everything else), I’m sitting on the side of the road with my hazards on so that people know to watch out for the Butcher, who is looking for a bolt on the side of the road so that he can replace his battery so that he can move his van to someplace safe so that he can put in a new alternator, all bought with money much depleted after a trip to my folks to help them with chores around the house.

After the ceiling fiasco, I vowed never to be in a position to need money from my parents again and, knock on wood, I have not been. (And again, thanks to everyone who made that possible.)

But I can’t let it go. The healthy thing would be to say “Well, it’s their money, their fucked up relationship to our brother, their problem. If it makes them happy or doesn’t or whatever, not my business.” Even just typing it here, I feel better seeing it out loud. We are all adults and what they do is their business and not a reflection on me and my life. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.

But I don’t feel it in my heart.

In my heart, I feel like they choose, every day, to make sure my brother’s way is as easy as they can make it and they think I should find my own way. And then their feelings are hurt when my way isn’t what they thought I should do. And so, here we are.

I’m pissed. They’re hurt. The world goes round.

Singing in the Shower?

The thing about the orange cat is that he often approaches living with us as if he is an anthropologist from an advanced culture sent back to make sure this flock of morons doesn’t kill itself. After Sadie died, he began going on walks with me in the morning, as if he thought I was too stupid to find my way back unaccompanied. Before Sadie died, when she would be standing in the yard, having forgotten why she went out there or where she might go if she didn’t want to be there any more, he would go out and herd her back inside. If the Butcher is not here, he sits in the Butcher’s spot on the couch, not sure why so much couch sitting is necessary, but determined to make sure the ritual is kept up, even in the Butcher’s absence.

Last night, he went into the TV cabinet, proceeded to sing loudly in a way I’ve never heard him do before, and then emerge. And, all I could think is that, sometimes, we go into the smallest place we’ll fit, close the door, sing loudly, and then emerge. So, I think he was trying it to see if it would do anything for him.

I didn’t notice any appreciable difference.

One More Ugly Confession about Ashland

Rereading the October stories made it clear that the writing in Ashland sucks. Like, you would not read my stories and read this book and think that I’d written the book after I’d written the stories. So, this means that, after I get all the bones and joints of the story how I want it, hinges opening how they should, I’ve still got to fix that.

So, the big goals stand:

  1. Finish Draft 4.
  2. Do a version of the beginning that starts in the present day.
  3. See how I like it.
  4. Possibly do a draft that accounts for the new beginning.
  5. Improve the writing of the whole thing.

And I need to rework the television crew earlier in. But I had an idea that might work that goes along with my slim-down efforts–i.e. there can’t be that many camera guys in the world. So, if I have one group of camera guys with the ghost hunters and the television crew has a camera guy, might not that one of the camera men be the same person?

This Weekend

Many of my plans fell through. Much rewriting got done. I had breakfast with a friend that went clear past lunch, we were both laughing and solving all of the world’s problems. I’m making an afghan for my grad school friend who’s in Australia kind of having a rough go of things. Yes, I’m going to send her an afghan in the middle of her summer. Oops.

It’s just one of my regular diagonal granny square ones. I really like those.

I was going to tell you all a little bit about how the writing is going from a practical stand-point. I’m still retyping. I have a file called Ashland 3 open on the left side of my screen and a file called Ashland 4 open on the right. Ashland 3 was an exact copy of Ashland 2, my first massive revision. Ashland 4 started out blank. Following along Ashland 3, I either typed whole new things that had to fix what was wrong with the story into Ashland 4 or typed what was there or made minor corrections.

Sometimes I go out and walk the dog and I’m struck by an idea–like, for instance, what my bad guy responds to is not people who know him well, since most of the people who know him well come to loathe him, but people who love the house. That’s the thing that puts you in a semi-protected bubble from him. But I’m not anywhere near fixing that scene in Ashland 4. So, I go ahead and skip to that part in Ashland 3 and fix it there so that it is right, or closer to right, when 4 finally gets to that point.

I’m liking the shape of this version a lot. It’s very slimmed down. The two things about the shape of it that I still feel uncertain about, which still require major mulling over are one small and one large. The small thing is that, at the end, a TV crew is present. We’ve never been introduced to them before. It makes sense that they would show up at the end of the book, but it violates my belief that, in a working horror novel, nothing new is added in the last quarter of the book. I’m still not sure how to work them in earlier, probably deeply in the background, but they need to be there. Since my house doesn’t have a TV, this is a problem. My house does have a radio, though.

I’ll have to think about it.

The other thing is that I’ve now read a lot of haunted house stories and a convention of the genre is the slow descent into batshit stuff. At the moment, this is how Ashland works. But I’m not sure it’s the right way for it to work. I don’t want to change it yet. I want to get the mechanics of the whole story working right. But it’s hanging out there–I may not yet have the beginning right. Like the first quarter of the book. That’s daunting.

Spooky Saturdays

Okay, I have a plan for October. Not as awesome as previous Octobers, but, in my defense, I was farting around and trying to write a novel. So, here at Tiny Cat Pants, we’ll be having Spooky Saturdays. Five previously unpublished, spooky, though not horror, stories. Fun for the whole family, if yours is the kind of family who says “fuck” a lot and has trouble with the police.

So, every Saturday, six o’clock in the evenings my time, throughout the month.


I know I’ve told you how shocked I was to learn that my German ancestors didn’t all come over in the late 1800s. My mom’s great-grandfather, a Fisser/Fisher, came over then and married a Swedish gal who also came over then. My dad was assigned to some of the earliest churches he was assigned to because, in the 70s/80s, there was a big push to get everyone Social Security cards, so elderly people had to have some proof of birth. A lot of times, in these old farming communities, the proof of birth these elderly people had was their baptismal records. My dad doesn’t speak German, but he could read enough of it to translate the records, hence his gigs.

My Grandpa Phillips, the story goes, was the first person in our family who only spoke English. Considering his birth date–right before World War I–it makes sense that he’d not have been taught German. But, folks, I assumed, if his mother–born Ina Mae Hiestand–was bilingual, then she was probably the daughter or grand-daughter of immigrants. No, those stubborn bastards had been in this country since before it was a country. They just never gave up their German ways. “German ways” in this case being extreme grouchiness and a love of sweets.

Oh, lord, I’m not having some kind of writing crisis this week! I’m reclaiming my roots!

Anyway we’re descended from the brother of the guy who built this house up in Kentucky. There’s as many generations between the guy who built that house and Germany as there is between me and that guy.

In the Times today there’s an opinion piece about how we should all reclaim our German roots, which have been all but lost, supposedly. I don’t know. My family hasn’t given up extreme grouchiness or a love of sweets or bratwurst or chicken fried steak or a fondness for Mennonites. But what would it mean for us to embrace our German culture? The one from 1730?

My dad has a friend whose family never did give up speaking German. They spoke it in secret, even after it became so suspicious to do so. When his friend went “back” to Germany, a place his family hadn’t lived, also, in almost four hundred years, he couldn’t understand a damn person. He finally located the place his family was from and he could understand their dialect, but they had a hard time understanding his. They thought he spoke like a weird, very old person.

Even if the anti-German sentiment in the 20th Century hadn’t taken place, we would be nostalgic for a weird, old Germany that contemporary Germans would find strange.

I don’t know. I guess I just find it strange to try to reclaim A German ethnic identity. If you just go by who spoke German, my parents are the same amount of German–each had a German great-grand parent. But it strikes me as absurd to think that Grandpa Fisher and Grandma Phillips would think they shared a common culture. He came directly from Germany. She most decidedly did not.

On the other hand, we did grow up hearing stories of how German prisoners of war at Fort Custer were sent out into the town to work and how some of them disappeared into the community never to be found when the war ended. So, I guess finding fellow German speakers might have been enough for some camaraderie.

But, I don’t know. I still come down on the side of “reclaiming” German roots being something like “making up a stereotype about Germans and then treating that as if that’s how we all should act.” I’m not particularly interested in that.

I will, however, continue to be grouchy, as is the way of my people.

Tan and Purple

They’re putting up a new building on Charlotte and they’re finally putting the outsides on it. It’s this mix of tan and kind of purplish slate bricks. I really like it. Both because Nashville loves the fuck out of tan buildings and it’s nice to see something that spices it up, but also because that stretch is filled with both a lot of tan buildings and a lot of purplish gray buildings.

It’s as if someone looked at the neighborhood they were putting the building in and… made their building fit it!

So, that makes me happy.

Mean Cat

The Red-Headed Kid was sitting here watching 22 Jump Street–I laughed, but was embarrassed for laughing, since it’s really stupid; on the other hand, Channing Tatum’s having a good time being a movie star and it’s hard not to find that endearing–when New Kitty walked in from the other room, came up to the Red-Headed Kid, and bit him.

Not even in a mean way.

Just like “I wonder if you’re edible. No? Okay, well, cool.”

The Red-Headed Kid was not even surprised, which is also a testament to how mean she is.

In Good News

My little cousin posted pictures of her and her brother at her father’s grave, because today is his birthday. So, familial efforts to thwart that were, indeed, thwarted.

So, ha ha ha.

It’s Probably Me

I’m limited my exposure to things that stress me the fuck out, including unfollowing everyone on Facebook who is still trying to argue that poor Texan could have had a bomb and that he was the asshole, not his school.

I’m still just filled with rage every time I get on the internet. I prefer Facebook filled with babies and puppies and how fucking nice your life is. Hell, I’d rather know how your life is sad and hard for you right now. I don’t want to know how afraid you are of children you don’t know and will never meet or how, even though you break the law 90 different ways, you’re on the side of authority when it comes to picking on children.

I hate the idea that writers are writers whether they’re published or not. I cling to that idea like a fucking life raft. I hate when I say it to myself because I feel like I’m letting myself off the hook, that I’m making excuses for not being good enough that I can live with. And yet, I also believe that it’s true.

This is just the stage the book is at. Not the book. The book is in okay shape, I think. Or being shaped into okay shape.

This is the stage I’m in while writing the book. I hate everything. I resent that I work so hard on this and nothing’s going to come of it. I’m pissed that I let these self-defeating thoughts live in my head.

I’m mad that people are mean and stupid. I hate that I am so mean and stupid to myself.

Long Time

Tomorrow, this blog turns 11. I know children younger than my blog. I’m in the middle of a small existential crisis, but I don’t really feel any sense of crisis about the blog. I know why I do this. I get to write. I get to interact with lovely people. I get to organize my thoughts.

Ha ha ha. This is literally the only thing I do that makes any sense to me.

I wrote a thing this weekend for another place. (I’ll holler when it’s up.) I thought it wasn’t very good, but the editor loved it. It was nice to be reminded that, just because I can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes doesn’t mean there isn’t a forest.

Stupid Sunday

I made a tactical mistake scheduling all my chores and deadlined things for Sunday, because I am dragging today. I did get a lot of crocheting done, though, because I had to sit around various waiting areas.

I’m going to Archon in a couple of weeks and I’m excited and nervous.

I’m in a kind of frenzy with the book. It’s weird to be working so hard on something that might come to nothing. It’s weird to even think that it might come to nothing. Writing, in general, is a weird thing.

I’ve got to get something decided for October around here. It will be half-assed, though, folks, I can promise you that.

I think this October is going to be weird, in general, but it’s good to open yourself up to weirdness. Still I’m getting nervous about how booked up I am. First weekend is Archon. Second weekend is SFB. Something’s threatening to happen the 17th.  I’m running out of nine consecutive unbothered nights. I might just have to block off the 22-30 now and refuse all engagements.

“Their Culture”

I think, if parents are begging you to stop something and kids are trying to shoot their way out of their circumstances, then, no, this pedophilia is not “their culture.”

The sad and upsetting part is that, if we allow pedophiles to bring their victims to our bases and we require our troops to look the other way and punish them if they don’t, then it is “our culture.”

But, yes, let’s have more war, always war, continuous war. Remind me again why the Taliban was worse than this?


Today I finished the shitty Constantine-ripping-off podcast I’ve been power-listening to. There are two kinds of guys I find utterly irresistible–“I am a brilliant, hairy wall” guy and “I am a miserable, but mysterious, fuck.” If Bigfoot started smoking and trying to conjure demons, I would abandon my life to track him down and throw myself at him. I would not be cool enough for Esoteric Bigfoot and that bums me out more than I can tell you, and Esoteric Bigfoot is not even a real thing.

Fuck, now I’m sad.

Oh, right, the poor-man’s John Constantine pod cast. It was terrible. I listened to ever episode with rapt attention. I binged listened to the whole thing until they killed him off. Oh, fuck them, those terrible pod cast writers. But it’s not popular enough for there to be any spoilers about whether he lived through being killed off. So, I had to keep listening.

And he did indeed live. And the ending was so sweet and he told the weird goth girl that she was the only thing he loved and I got all teary.

But I’ve been thinking about it. Why is a cliched character on a terrible pod cast so compelling? I think it’s because he is who he is so vibrantly. The writers might not have known what else they were doing (though it is kind of weird how much better the third season got, as if they all ran away and got MFAs before writing it), but they knew how to write a character who stays true to himself.

I find that really inspiring and compelling.