Birdland

  SHRIEKING IN DESPERATION, the panicked bird flapped its wings into a blurred flurry of yellow, flinging blood in dotted strings of crimson across the walls and ceiling. The harder the teenage boy struggled to hold it down, the more the canary cried out, triggering a cacophony of screeching and squawking from every aisle of Gump’s Birdland. “Stop!” Fred Gump yelled. He ran from the front of the store, bumping young Marie Schioppo out of the way to seize the boy by the shoulder. Spinning him around, he yelled in his face. “Stop it, Michael! What in the hell are you doing?” The boy stood paralyzed in Gump’s grip–all but his hands, which, out of his control, swooped left and right, up and down until Gump wrested the frenzied creature away from him. Grabbing a clean, white towel from the Read more…


La Befana’s Silly Song

Saikie shivered standing in the vestibule before her own front door, the big, ornate wooden door with the frosted glass window that opened directly into her family’s sitting room. She stood counting, and, as she was fifteen and old enough to count while at the same time think of other things, she thought about why a door would have a window if it was going to be a window you couldn’t see through. The shiver was more nervousness than from being cold, even though just outside the other door—the door on her right, the big wooden entry door that opened out onto the wooden porch, the door with the window you could see through—everything out there was covered in snow. Snow she’d like to be playing in right now, while it was still morning and the other kids hadn’t had Read more…


Man got to sit and wonder

FOUR YEARS PRIOR, we’d met in 8th-grade English. Another four and his body, identifiable only by dental records, would be pulled from a car found burning in a park. I admit that like the coroner, I assumed it a suicide, given his past attempts.

Even though it spanned a mere eight years, what began as a middle-school friendship with Terry Holcomb Good proved to be among the most significant of my life. Now, the letter I hold in my hand 45 years after his death reminds me just how significant a relationship it was. Read more…


Heading for Dirty Sixth

  WITH THE MORNING SUN WARMING HER BACK, Candace pedaled her light blue Huffy past the bars on East Sixth Street and began coasting downhill toward her destination just the other side of the I-35 overpass. She was headed for work at Eve Bonner, the black sheep of Austin’s contemporary gallery scene. It anchored this end of an eight-block stretch of lounges, music clubs, and tattoo parlors known as Dirty Sixth. The bleaching, low-angled glare reached deep into the concrete canyon beneath the overpass, giving her a clear view of the tiny bivouac of homeless people that slept there every night. She’d often say they were the ironic legacy of UT excess from the 60s and 70s: burned-out psych majors or starry-eyed hopefuls who’d expected, by now, to own rewarding careers as social workers. It never occurred to her that the same could be said for Read more…


That’s no enigmatic smile. It’s a condescending smirk.

  MAYBE YOU HAVEN’T subscribed to this site,* or aren’t following my progress on the three novels in The Butterfly Myths series (here, on the Facebook page). If not, you wouldn’t know about my latest spin-off project. Set in current day Austin, Texas, Book 3’s villainous Francis Giocondo, an embittered art critic, will make it his mission to destroy the late-blooming art career of my main character, an innocent, if misguided, painter of butterflies. Safely ensconced in his downtown high-rise, Giocondo uses his website, MoaningLisa.org, to publish scathing reviews of artists he believes lack the proper social or political agenda in their work. He regularly dispatches his like-minded minions, called The Moaning Lisas, to hover ominously at such art exhibitions wearing Mona Lisa masks to express smug disapproval of the art on display (he says that’s not an enigmatic smile the Mona Lisa Read more…


Loie Fuller Taught Me Some Moves

  COULD ONE POSSIBLE BLOCK to our creativity be…our creativity? I came up against that question this week and now must admit that, for me, the answer is a definite yes. I have Loie Fuller, “the Butterfly Girl,” to thank for it. I had stumbled upon a quirky little black-and-white film clip from 1902 documenting a mesmerizing performance by Fuller, an apparently famous turn-of-the-century American dancer. And I was mesmerized, not because her performance is technically flawless or artistically significant. It’s none of that, as a century down the road her dance moves have turned into a cliche. But it has a sweet innocence that in the moment transported me. (More about that another time.) The creative interference came because electrical storms in my head were short-circuiting another creative thing I wanted to be doing at that moment, which is of course writing these books. Instead,  going off like Read more…


I Have to Write

  YES, I HAVE TO WRITE. But what’s that sound like to you? That I’m merely compelled? To write something, anything? Perhaps I have been. Fitfully, as in this blog. Or of late, writing novels, obsessively, sometimes in the chair above. But for me that statement–I have to write–now carries a greater sense of urgency. Perhaps even emergency. I’ll try to explain. I’d already been writing professionally for years when, in 2012, my mother died at the age of 82. It was for me the end of a long struggle. By that, I don’t only mean her struggle, against the loneliness and isolation she had claimed for herself (drawing it up around her like a soothing, suffocating blanket). Nor do I mean her battle with the emphysema that would, in fact, finally smother her. Rather what I’m referring to is the end of my own struggle, to somehow reclaim the Lost Years–that dark period, beginning when I Read more…


An Gorta Mor

  ANTHONY SCHIOPPO QUESTIONED why, if Ireland was so grand, what could have happened to land the cantankerous Donal Moloney in Lindera, Pennsylvania. Donal’s answer? It started with potatoes. “Along comes the blight,” Donal said. “An jus’ like that–” He snapped his fingers. “–no more potatoes. No more potatoes? No more food.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “No more food? No more Irish.” He spoke of skeletons, millions of them, gone the way of all flesh. Though all Donal knew was what he’d been told, having been, as an infant, smuggled out of the country in the arms of his grandmother. What he’d been told, that along with what he saw in his mother’s distant stare. “…twas like she never made it out,” Donal muttered softly, caught in the glimmer of the cheap, cut-glass ashtray, as if he himself was peering across the sea. “Like she was still stuck Read more…


The Secrets of Levi Isinglass

  QUESTIONS? YES, the parents who sat before Levi Isinglass in the Lindera School music room that day, they asked a few. But just as many questions were left hanging in the air. Most of them about Mr. Isinglass himself. Still, they didn’t ask. Perhaps no one wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, it wasn’t every day a talent scout from a fancy Chicago music academy came rolling into town, dangling the prospect of a singing career in front of their starry-eyed kids. These steelworkers and their wives might be doomed to die in this Ohio-River-valley-mill town, but that didn’t mean their children had to. Nonetheless Mel Katz remained skeptical. It takes a liar to spot a liar, and he knew Levi Isinglass had to be hiding something. And given the stranger’s secretive nature, the owner of The Tartarus Club could also tell it wasn’t just any little secret, rather one he suspected might Read more…


Katz & Mouse

  THOUGH HIS SHADY POOL HALL was a front for other, even shadier activities, that little operation tells you all you need to know about minor kingpin Mel Katz. (Seen above in a suit and fedora, his henchmen by his side.) Considering who he was–a small-time hoodlum who liked to toy with his victims–what more fitting place could there be than The Tartarus Club, with its games of billiards and poker? And what more appropriate home for one who played so fast and loose with dangerous mob connections? But don’t feel too sorry for Mel’s clientele, people who were at least somewhat complicit in their own victimization. The otherwise upstanding citizens of Lindera–and even the police themselves–tended to look the other way when it came to his loan sharking and illegal numbers game. Though, in the end, they would all be forced to face the truth. And head-on, so to speak, since not long after he’d fled town unexpectedly, he started coming back Read more…