My work most frequently arises out of passion and curiosity surrounding a particular issue, which leads to research, which in turn sparks my imagination. I search for the unusual angle, something overlooked in the history of a time or place. Often this fresh angle comes through locating the work in the lives of ordinary people whose stories have been lost or ignored, with the goal of enlarging our engagement with wider, unfamiliar worlds. Moreover, I tend toward non-traditional forms of writing to defamiliarize the familiar in ways that reenergize archetypal stories.
My novel, THE LAST WHALER (forthcoming in September 2024 from Regal House Publishing), is set on the Svalbard archipelago where in June 2017 I had the privilege of sharing The Arctic Circle Summer Solstice residency with artists and scientists aboard the barquentine ANTIGUA. A retrospective narrative set in the 1930s and 40s, the story concerns a widower-whaler’s exploration of guilt both over his wife’s death and his time hunting beluga whales at a remote site on Svalbard. Sources of inspiration include A. S. Byatt’s “A Stone Woman,” its fascination with the natural world both as science and metaphor and its moving yet unsentimental core. Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD also serves as a model in that the bleakness of its world is tempered by the intensely loving father-son relationship at its heart and by a worldview in which individuals transcend the most desolate conditions. Both Byatt and McCarthy explore in unique ways (as I like to) how the political shapes the personal, translating global context to human scale, devoid of polemics and reflective of the ambiguity surrounding complex eco-political trends and causalities.
Another example is my novel in stories FALLING THROUGH THE NEW WORLD (Gold Wake Press 2024), which arose out of a fascination with my personal history as the American granddaughter of Italian immigrants and the events that spurred that history—World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. My mother often told the story of her own mother surviving the epidemic while her sister perished, calling for water to quench her thirst until her last breath. That image of two sisters sharing very different fates traveled with me down the years until I could finally understand enough about Italian history and that country’s involvement in World War I to write about their impact on my characters’ lives, primarily through the lenses of the stories’ female protagonists. Though many of the stories take place in the 1900s, they nevertheless address themes relevant to contemporary concerns: the impact of the political on the personal, displacement caused by immigration, and the ways in which identity is subsumed into an adopted culture and its mores.
My novella BADLANDS (Miami University Press 2008) was inspired in part by a passage in Melvin Gilmore’s “The Truth of the Wounded Knee Massacre” regarding the genocide of American Indians there in 1890: “There were about four hundred people in Big Foot’s band. [...] Of the victims, there were 164 bodies buried at Wounded Knee [and] about one hundred survivors. The rest were not accounted for.” I was haunted by the idea of these 136 “disappeared” human beings. An image emerged of one such young woman, an infant strapped to her chest, dying while trying to protect her baby. From there, the novella evolved, exploring the central idea of how external events forever alter private lives.
A second collection of stories, LAST WORDS, represents a range of styles. Although sometimes challenging structurally, each story has a heart that is profoundly human, exploring themes of caretaking, regret, guilt, revenge, the pursuit of beauty, and more. Among the more traditional stories, “The Stag” is a meditation on regret surrounding the ebbs and flows of a long marriage. Less traditional are several stories that appropriate forms to reinforce their content. For example, “In the Deep Wood” borrows the form of fairy tale in looking at the oppressive nature of living up to a standard of beauty. And “The Last Glacier” gives a nod to Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as its narrator, the earth’s last glacier, voices despair over the melting Arctic.
A graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA program and a former lecturer in the MFA program at Rosemont College and the creative writing program at Bryn Mawr College, I have won several honors, including Miami University Press’s Novella Prize (2006) for BADLANDS; prizes in COLUMBIA’s Fiction Contest, QUARTER AFTER EIGHT’s Short Prose Contests, NEW MILLENNIUM’s Short Short Fiction Contest, and POTOMAC REVIEW’s Fiction Contest; and residencies at Hawthornden Castle, Galleri Svalbard, and Vermont Studio Center. In August 2024, I will be participating in the Arctic Circle Alumni Expedition set to circumnavigate Svalbard.