Last weekend I attended my high school reunion. I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. The advantage of a small town is that most of the people at the reunion I’ve known my entire life. The evening was filled with nostalgia; reconnecting with old friends while re-hashing the past. Toward the end of the festivities my feet were killing me, (never wear heels to a reunion, I don’t care how how tall and slim they make you feel, you’re still short and fat.) On top of that I was extremely tired. At about this time, a classmate approached me, wrapping his arms around me and remarking he was happy to see me. After freeing myself from his grasp and his over-powering stench of cologne, I realized I had no idea who he was. A quick glance at his name-tag offered no help. But the fatigue of reunion babble was getting to me so I played along.

The conversation went something like this:

“So Nancy, any kids?”

“Six,” I said, then added, “Wait,uh, four.”

“Which is it then, six or four?”

I laughed at my faux pas. “Four, the other two don’t count.”

He flinched, dropping his jaw, not a wink of humor. I’m not sure if it was fatigue or my aching feet, but his reaction was too good to pass up. I felt tiny horns begin to grow from the top of my head.

“So I hear you’re a writer. Where can I find your books?”

“Amazon.” The horns now inching up from my scalp. “I write under a pseudonym, James Joyce.”

“Really? A guy’s name huh? That’s weird.”

Okay now he was asking for it. No recognition of James Joyce was akin to blasphemy. “I felt it was necessary since my novel Ulysses was banned in the U.S.”

“Wow! What’s it about?”

“It’s about a young man’s walk-about in his hometown, sort of a parody of Homer’s Odyssey.”

“Yeah, I get it. Like walking around Brainerd. That’s cool. What else have you written?”

The horns were now visible and beginning to curl. “Finnegan’s Wake. It’s written in a style I perfected, stream of consciousness. That bitch, Virginia Woolf gets all the credit for it, but I took it to a whole new level.”

“Virginia Woolf? Did she graduate with us?”

Who says reunions aren’t any fun?


A friend of mine recently commented on my ability to expose myself so openly in my writing. At first I wasn’t quite sure how to respond since I don’t think I do expose myself. I write fiction, not memoirs. I do, however, expose my characters. I work very hard to make them fully realized individuals, and hopefully I am successful, but they are not me. The truth is I am boring. I lead a normal life; married, four children, stable, stable, stable….Where’s the fun in writing about that? And who would want to read it? That’s the life I want to live not write. God help me if I ever do become one of my characters!

Some of the comments I’ve had over the years are startling, including those from friends. They go something like this: I didn’t know you were in psychotherapy, when were you in jail, I’m sorry about the incest you suffered, so you hallucinate? My favorite was from my husband who after reading a sex scene in Magel’s Daughter, said, “Okay, that’s not you and me, so who did you do that with?” It’s not me. It’s how a character, who is crazy, has sex. Good writing requires imagination and the ability to put yourself into another mind and body. Writing requires honesty, which can be frightening. I am a student of human nature and every thought and action generated by my characters needs to have a certain verisimilitude or readers will not engage them.

Years ago I worked with a writing coach and he gave me a piece of advise; write like no one will ever read it. This was terrific since at the time I was terrified by the thought of my mother reading my novel. By the way, she has read it, and she laughed all the way through the book. I will always try to be brave with my writing even if it offends, otherwise why do it?

The Rock

The focus of my writing has always been; what’s under the rock. I have uncovered treasure under the rock, sometimes it is ugly, obscene, and shameful. Sometimes it has beauty and humor.  I am drawn to the dark and creepy places, maybe its the humor I find there. To bring these things to the light requires a little magic. Magic in the form of touching the unknown and the unknowable. But it is accessible to us all for that magic resides in our collective human experience. For instance, in writing about a character who is suffering from psychosis, she might touch her unknowable through hallucinations. Some of you have met her, Karin Olina in Magel’s Daughter, my first book.

Her mother Magel, is the matriarch of psychosis, thus giving rise to her daughter’s lunacy. Story telling in magical realism has its challenges and rewards. I recently saw the film August in Osage County. That story is realism–raw and dark. My story is all of that yet brings in a touch of magic; these women come from a long line of witches–Norwegian witches. Yes, they exist. Magel differs from the Meryl Streep character in that her dysfunction is hilarious–if not a bit crazy. Haunted by her mother and her dead grandmothers, the preceding matriarchs, Karin walks down a dark path, gathering tools for survival. Her specialty tool being the spell of sex.

Aren’t we all haunted by the comments and actions launched by family members alive or dead? And along the way of life, haven’t we gathered our own special tools to survive? I think so, and wouldn’t it feel good to dig it out from under the rock and have a good laugh?

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