A Path that Goes for Miles


Recently, my husband, Preston, and I took a trip back to my hometown in Ohio. He wanted to pack our bicycles, which we rarely use when we are here in Tennessee, so he got out the bike rack and hoisted it and our bikes up onto our car, and we drove the seven hours with them atop. 

The week we were in Ohio, a heat wave came through, and it was sweltering—so much so that I didn’t take evening walks, as I normally do when I am in my hometown. We ended up getting out in the morning only; during the afternoons and evenings, we stayed inside where it was cool. I was thinking we might not get on our bikes at all.

But one morning my husband said he wanted to go for a ride, and I was up for embracing the heat and sweat, so we got on our bikes and pedaled to the Little Miami Bike Trail, which is blocks from my parents’ house. This SW Ohio trail is 78 miles long—not that we were planning to do more than a few miles of it—and is part of the nation’s largest network of paved, off-street trails through woodlands, farms and towns. The bike trail has run through my hometown for decades, and I’ve walked on it a mile or so, but I hadn’t gone too far on it in many years. 

In fact, the last time I could remember going more than five miles one-way on the trail, I was in my twenties, and I was dating a man who loved to ride a bike. He loved biking so much that I bought a black bicycle just so I could ride with him. One day we biked the trail all the way to Xenia and back—sixteen miles round-trip—and another day, when we had been dating about six months, we biked to the beautiful bridge partway to Xenia and got off our bikes and looked over the edge into the Little Miami River. It was September, and I can’t remember now if it was hot or chilly. In my memory, it was just right. He was quiet at first, as was I, staring down into the water, and then he asked me to marry him. I can’t remember now if he had the ring with him or not. I only remember that he asked, and I said yes, and it was the last time we biked to that bridge and it was the beginning of our engagement that led to a marriage that eventually led to a divorce a few years later and to the end of a thing I had believed in so steadily that it stunned me that it was over.

I was not eager to return to that bridge, especially in those first few post-divorce years when memories were still sore and tender, but that was so long ago. 

When Preston and I recently rode down the Little Miami Bike Trail, I was unaware of how far we had gone until suddenly there was the bridge and there was the river. Sometimes it’s good to not know where you will end up before you get there. The bridge was bigger than I remembered, more metal, more height, but memory does that—changes things as we change. The bridge was still beautiful, serene, a place to think about important things, a place to look over the edge and contemplate questions and answers. Preston and I stood side by side and peered into the water from up high. 

I’ve thought about how this place was once a point of happiness for me, and later one of melancholy, and now just another place on the trail, a stopping point before we turned around. 

Preston and I got on our bikes and pedaled the miles back to the place I grew up. We got ice cream. We slept late. We got coffee together in the morning, as we always do, with his carrying my computer for me into the Emporium so I could write while he ate breakfast across from me, waiting for me to be ready to go on with our day.

I’m glad the bridge is still there, that it waits without judgment, the water reflecting what it sees and nothing more. I picture the two of us in its reflection. 

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Photo of road by Martin Castro from Unsplash.com

A Small Thing to Want (in 23 Steps)

This is how it happens:

  1. July 2011: At the Antioch Writer’s Workshop in Ohio, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Press 53 gives a publishing talk to participants—yes, that includes me. I am just a face in the audience of over a hundred people in stadium seats in a building that sits next to a cornfield on the edge of the town I grew up in. The boonies, but a good kind of boonies. Later I will remember the publisher and editor-in-chief—Kevin Morgan Watson—as knowledgeable, easygoing, and willing to answer any questions. But I’m not ready for questions, as I don’t yet have a book. I hope one day I will.

  2. January 2014: I start my MFA graduate program in creative writing, focusing on memoir.

  3. June 2014: I get stuck—big-time writer’s block—while sitting at my desk that faces a window that frames trees and a birdhouse. I am trying to work on my memoir and getting nowhere while the birds flit around and peck and eat. I start writing short stories (fiction!) to get unstuck. Because these short stories are fiction, I don’t have to stick to the truth. I am free! This works. I am unstuck. I write whatever the hell I want, just for me. Eventually I get back to my memoir writing, fully unstuck.

  4. August 2014 (or so): I apply to study fiction in my MFA program. I am accepted.

  5. January 2015: I start studying fiction and realize how similar fiction writing is to memoir writing, but also how vastly different. I learn an incredible amount from a professor who is a badass. I want to be her, but since I have already reached mid-life and I am who I am, I give thanks that I know her and hope some of her badass-ness rubs off on me.

  6. September 2015: I get diagnosed with a disease. I have to rise to the occasion and be strong. I realize I do have some badass-ness in me after all. I do my best to complete my graduate school work and meet my deadlines. The days get shorter. The grey of winter nears.

  7. January 2016: I graduate from my MFA program with a completed memoir manuscript. I take the next few months to revise it and then start submitting it to publishers.

  8. April 2016: I am out weeding my garden when I get an email saying that I have been offered a book contract for the memoir (yay!). Twenty minutes later I realize I need some guidance on vetting this publisher. Who might be able to help me? I remember Kevin Morgan Watson from Press 53 and email him. He is kind enough to advise me, even though he doesn’t know me (I was just one face out of a hundred, after all), and I gobble up this advice.

  9. May 2016: I turn down the book contract. I decide to revise my memoir again (even though it has already been through the gristmill during my MFA program. I know, I know! But I can’t help it, and yes, the manuscript does improve).

  10. August 2016: I send my memoir out to one more publisher, Platypus Press. I am still waiting to hear from the others, but this publisher is the only that has my newly revised memoir manuscript.

  11. October 2016: Platypus Press offers me a contract for my memoir. I get the email while in the Charlotte airport, heading back to Ohio for a visit. Ohio is my lucky charm. I say yes, yes, yeeeeesssss! This will prove to be a wonderful decision. I write Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53 and thank him for his help on vetting publishers.

  12. June 2017: My memoir, The Going and Goodbye, is published.

  13. 2017 & 2018: I go on my book tour. I talk at bookstores, book clubs, whoever will have me. When I am not doing book events (and when I am not working at the funeral home) I am writing fiction. People ask me, “Are you going to write another memoir?” I tell them I have nothing more to say about my life at this moment—I put everything into the memoir. But that’s not exactly true. There are stories from my life I couldn’t remember in detail enough to render them adequately (and truthfully) in my memoir, so I left them out. I take the heart of these left-out stories and make them into fiction, where I am free to make up details and dialogue since fiction means describing imaginary events and people.

  14. September 2017: I attend a weekend writing workshop for fiction. My teacher kicks me in the butt. Figuratively. It hurts so much that I stop writing fiction for months. I just can’t look at it. The bruise will last longer than I think it will. But even as I am rubbing the sore spot, I know she has given me a gift, and that my writing will get better because of her. By spring, I will be writing again. By summer, I will see my writing is, indeed, better. That summer, I will write the best short story I have ever written.

  15. March 2018: I attend AWP (Association of Writing & Writing Programs) for the first time. It’s the biggest writing conference in the U.S., and I am overwhelmed. I walk the AWP Bookfair in search of potential publishers for my short story collection, which isn’t yet complete but on its way. I go to the booth of Press 53 and talk to Kevin Morgan Watson, remind him I’m that person he advised, and thank him again. We talk books. We talk writing. We talk literary stuff. He asks me what I am working on. I tell him a short story collection. He says to let him know when I finish it. I am happy about this and keep what he says tucked in the back of my mind.

  16. September 2018: I drive to Burnsville, North Carolina to give a couple of talks at a literary festival. Sweet mountain town, great weather, shops and restaurants. I know no one. I wander around solo, and then I run into Kevin Morgan Watson at the pop-up bookstore. He remembers who I am. We talk books. We talk writing. We talk literary stuff.

  17. January 2019: I send Kevin Morgan Watson my short story collection—well, I send him a query and the first story of the collection. He writes me back after a few days and says send the whole thing.

  18. February 2019: Crickets.

  19. March 2019: Crickets.

  20. Most of April 2019: Crickets.

  21. End of April 2019: Kevin Morgan Watson messages me and asks if he can call me. I say sure. This is going to be the pity call, the thanks-for-your-cute-little-book-but-I’m-going-to-have-to-pass phone call. He knows me, so I figure he is being polite enough to call and let me down rather than email me. Which is nice, don’t get me wrong. He calls. I am standing in an aisle at Lowe’s, my dog on a leash in one hand, my cell phone in the other, my husband near me searching for the right light switch to match our others. Kevin Morgan Watson tells me he wants to publish my book. He wants to publish my book. Because I do not know him well enough to whoop out loud, I do not, but I do say thank you and that I am excited about the prospect. Which I am.

  22. May 2019: Kevin Morgan Watson and I talk contract. We talk story choices. We talk title of the collection. He introduces me to Claire, assistant short fiction editor at Press 53, and she uses the term “maximum pronoun clarity,” and this tells me she and I are going to get along just fine.

  23. June 2019: Claire and Kevin and I talk story choices. We talk title. We agree on A Small Thing to Want. I sign the contract. This is how it happens.

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Photo of road by Michael Coury from Unsplash.com

Let Me Tell You About Gayle King

It all started when CBS This Morning did their re-do and became more serious news, and my husband and I started watching it every day while eating breakfast. There were the three anchors: Charlie, Norah, and the third one (but really the first one if I’m being honest): Gayle King. Sure, I had seen her before on Oprah once or twice, but she wasn’t really on my radar until I started my days with her, Gayle King and I drinking coffee and talking about the news together. Well, okay, sort of. I mean, it felt that way.

Gayle King is funny, personable, down-to-earth. She always says the thing I am thinking. For example, if there is a guy on the news who has had a terrible parachuting accident and barely survived but then in the interview says of course he wants to go parachuting again, Gayle King might say something like, “Maybe he ought to rethink that.” She makes comments like, “I don’t know: She didn’t look so happy to me” and “I wonder what his mom would say about that.” 

Exactly! I always think.

And somewhere along the line, as the years passed and Gayle King and I would talk about the news every morning together (I mean, kind of), and then when one day in 2016 I was back in my hometown for a visit and I looked across the street, and there, THERE was Gayle King, surrounded by a camera crew, walking along the street with Dave Chappelle (he lives in my hometown), doing an interview, I wanted to shout, “I LOVE YOU, GAYLE KING!” which is the moment I realized I did.


And no, I did not shout that.

Some of you have heard that story already. But here’s what you don’t know: Back in January, I sent Gayle King a letter detailing how much I admired her. I wrote: “I love that you are smart and funny . . . that you don’t shy away from asking tough questions, and that you like who you are, exactly as you are (a hard thing for many women to accomplish) . . . I want to thank you for being a role model to me and many.” I sent that letter with a copy of my latest book, 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17, because it took guts for me to publish this book, and Gayle King is the Queen of Bravery, aka Guts. 

And guess what. GUESS WHAT? She wrote me back. Well, okay, sort of. I got this, the photo you see in this blog.

“Wish I had your book at 17!!!” it says.

I think the subtext is: she and I are best friends now. Right? I mean, it’s obvious, right?

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