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Searching For Inspiration at the Creepy Church Camp


I’ve been struggling just recently. Nothing too serious, nothing completely debilitating. Just a lack of inspiration. I write about water a lot and I think it is because writing is a very elemental thing for me. Inspiration typically comes from a word or a phrase associated with the four elements. It will get me going, get trapped in my head like a horrible song verse. I won’t be able to put it down. I’ll start with a place and write my way in. But recently, nothing has been jumping out at me.

So, I tried the normal go-to’s:

  1. Wine
  2. Music
  3. Reading
  4. Wine


And, when none of those helped, I decided to go find some inspiration swimming around in the thick humid Carolina air. Sometimes writing is an active sport – the more I practice, the better I get. And, some days, I just don’t got the goods. But, I have to show up everyday and try.

We have a little park near our house (or, kind of near. Nothing is really near us) called the Chatham Northwest District Park. A far off thunder storm was calling but we decided to risk it – packed a lunch, grabbed our trusty frisbee and headed out.


When we first discovered this park, it was unnamed. So, we named it the Creepy Church Camp. I don’t know the exact history and I don’t really care to know it – the mystery is a lot more seductive than the truth. It was clearly an old camp ground with a lot of religious markers but it was falling apart. And, like most things that decay, in the right light, it is really kind of beautiful.

The county is fixing it up which is a complete shame, in my opinion. Safer, probably. The low hanging electrical wires and hobo filled cabins are, most likely, not great for children. The first time we hiked out the old trail, we imagined Imageall the campy (pun intended) horror movies we could create. Old falling down cabins with raccoon families bunking down. Picnic tables destroyed by huge fallen trees. The Creepy Church Camp is what I’d imagine a camp would be like after the apocalypse.

I’m surprised every time I see another living soul scouting about  in the Creepy Church Camp. I’m not ashamed to admit my first thought is usually: zombies. Worse yet, scary 70s church camp zombies. Those are…like…the worst kind!

But, it really is spectacular. If you walk along the trail, you’ll find little wooden markers pointing out smaller paths straight out into green moss and Oak. The first path we found was the “Prayer Area”. We walked out and found a mess of wooden benches situated in a circle. I’m not a religious person, but if you are, I can’t imagine a better place than in the middle of thick woods with the sun streaming through the canopy to worship. Just, please excuse the super creepy  blood stained cross. I’m not joking.


I looked everywhere for my misplaced inspiration. It wasn’t in the cabins. It wasn’t in the Imagelichen growing on the north side of the trees. It definitely wasn’t in the amphitheater – and I looked there twice. I fed the sweet little fish the remnants of my sandwich but they hadn’t seen my inspiration anywhere.

We listened for the thunder, watched the clouds roll in black like a charcoal painting against a milky blue palette. We walked and walked, the air sweltering and sweat dripping down our backs. We watched tiny toads jump across the trail, seeking out the shade. Every once in a while, we would find little pockets of cool ozone, the harbinger of nasty weather to come. It smelled like bark and dirt. The clouds began to spark. Still, no inspiration.


It doesn’t matter. I’ll find it somewhere. In a wine glass. In a playlist. In the Gillian Flynn novel I am reading (Dark Places – book review pending). It never really leaves me for very long. But, when it is missing, I feel anxious. Class on Tuesday means I better come up with something. It will come, it will come. Deep breath, it will come.

Tonight’s Playlist:

  1. Round Here – Counting Crows
  2. Low – Cracker
  3. Cocaine – Eric Clapton
  4. Lost in Your Eyes – Debbie Gibson
  5. Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash
  6. Gods and Monsters – Lana Del Rey
  7. Me and The Devil Blues – Robert Johnson
  8. Toxic – Yael Naim
  9. I Know You Care – Ellie Goulding
  10. Faith – George Michael
  11. My Sharona – The Knack
  12. Ten Cent Pistol – The Black Keys
  13. This is what makes us girls – Lana Del Rey
  14. Heavy In Your Arms – Florence and the Machine
  15. 99 Problems – Hugo
  16. Kiss with a Fist – Florence and the Machine
  17. Collarbone – Fujiya and Miyagi
  18. Damn These Vampires – The Mountain Goats
  19. Angel – Jimi Hendrix
  20. Here You Come Again – Dolly Parton
Inspiration? You A-hole. You down there?

In A Farming Country


Clouds were spun like sugar at a carnival, pure white puffs set against a brilliant blue sky. In those days, all the mysteries of the universe were quiet, a whisper lost in the wind. Grainy stalks of corn reached up from the loamy soil. A gravel driveway, shrouded by forest that lasted a mile in a farming country, was full of anxious monsters. Monsters that were sprouted from vines on trees and sagging shadows. Monsters that were always hushed when I walked to the school bus, granting me passage. I needed them to be kind. But, how I wished one of my cousins would fall prey.

barnGrass grew waist high in a field left fallow to tend itself back into usefulness. Our Summer was – and is, still – marked by hay season and the grinding of tractor gears. The big red barn sat nestled against a hill, sheltering the animals like a long-suffering mother waiting each night for her children to come home. Step by step, hoof to hoof, they’d come in a long line, cows walking nose to tail.  I would fall asleep each night listening to the nicker of the horses, the mewling cows, the pule of the crickets. The whole farm chorused.

Pastures led to fences, led to forests that surrounded our home and sheltered us in a strongbox of our own making. How arrogant one can become when barbed wire and Buckeyes stand hale against the world.

My Father, the strongest man I ever met, sat tiredly beside the yellow Formica dinner table with the metal rings along the edge. With a resigned smile for a daughter begging to play; wrestling in the living room with chocolate ice cream rimmed around my lips. Or, with a tear and strangled voice, “Baby, Grandma is dead.” Again, I am sitting on the yellow padded kitchen chair, pulling at the cracked vinyl and blanched foam.

My Mother, a mausoleum to her own sainted mother, soothed tears brought about by the vulgarity of being the youngest of three, always chasing the others and never quite catching up. She taught me how to knit, simple stockinette stitches, the night I accidentally killed my white kitten, Snowball. I cried as I wove, tears soaking the yarn at my finger tips. She ran a hand over the crown of my head, knitting her fingers through my hair until the tears stopped.barn3

Autumn passed make-shift memories of leaf piles and down filled jackets into my mind. The smell of leaves burning still carries visions of smoke drifting through an electric night sky. Countless times we gathered around the fire like pagan worshipers thankful for the hunt, for the close of the harvest. Nothing could have been more benign that those moments, entranced by the dancing flame, we celebrated the simplicity of our life.

Clearing the drive of snow in the first dawn of winter brought forts compacted like huge snowballs. Our throats full of laughter, I would bump against my brother as we cleared new paths, our cheeks bright red against freckled pale skin. He thought he was Superman in his crystal cave. I thought he was stupid. When the gauntlet was thrown and war battled between the snowmen we’d become, the first ball of ice was usually mine.


My sister found a beagle our last winter on the farm, stranded along a country road. Its ribs stuck cruel against skin thinned by starvation. She brought it home and begged for its life and sure enough, it ended up in a straw filled dog box behind the house. She had no way of knowing that with its belly full of loving dinner scraps,  it would growl and bite in her direction. My father named her Bitch but we christened her Lady.

When Spring found its way back to us and winter was swept from our front porch, confusion hollowed out the house. Piece by piece, our furniture, our things, were stuck like livestock on a truck and moved far away. In the empty rooms, our laughter would echo of times past but eventually, the orange shag carpet of the living room absorbed the noise and left the house eery in its silence. But, these memories of my first home smile at me as new puffy white clouds grow daily and I will wear that grin forever.

Hay Season

Note: All photograph credits belong to Katherine Wallick, my awesome sister. 

Earth and Water


“I didn’t ask for much,” he said in a voice of crushed rock. “I never asked for too much.”

“You say that, man. You say that all the time, Ed. Problem is, ain’t no one left to care,” Detective Waters replied.

Ed smiled over at the detective, a drowsy close-mouthed tightening of pink chapped lips. He couldn’t stop himself from licking them every time the cold wind blew through the trees. Detective Waters kept both eyes on Ed, his right hand seemed to be resting comfortably on the service revolver holstered at his hip.

“Yeah, well, maybe I could make you care.” He tipped his head back, took a deep, slow breath. He felt a chuckle, barely more than a bubble of trapped air in his barrel chest.


“I wasn’t askin’ for earth and water, man,” he continued, his eyes blinked once, slow, as if he was awakening from a long lazy dream. He shifted to lean against the tree at his back, his orange jumpsuit a glaring contrast to the muted browns and greens of the shadowy forest. His fingers flexed as he tried to draw the blood back into his cuffed hands. It felt like pins and needles against his skin. “That’s what the Persians used to say: Earth and water,” Ed’s voice was a whisper against the steady shhnnk of the shovels, the grunts of the men digging. “Absolute submission.”


“What the hell are you talking about? We didn’t bring you here to listen to your garbage.” The detective took two steps away from him and drew in a deep, weary breath. Ed lifted his manacled hands to scratch his cheek. His fingernail scraped over the stubble and left an angry red mark against his pale skin.

“This life has a way of making a man want to go back to the earth,” Ed said, as he watched the men digging around him. Watched as they turned that black earth. When the first white bone popped up from the dirt, he looked away. When things are buried, they should stay buried, he thought. When something goes to the ground, it becomes sacred. “Problem with you men is you got no respect for the work a man dedicates his life to.”


Being Your Daughter


Being Your Daughter Means…

I can spot when someone is cheating at cards

because of the countless ways your eyes would shift to my hand

how bold your lies are in Gin Rummy and no where else.

You will always quietly kick my tires or check my oil when I’m not looking

Because, even though I am fully capable,

My safety is a reflex that you cannot ignore.

Being You Daughter means…

I can come to you with any sadness

And like the sun burning away the early morning fog

You can make my day seem so much clearer.

We can share a simple meal, a cup of tea, a quiet moment

And neither one us needs to utter a word

To hold an entire conversation.

Being You Daughter means…

No matter how old I am, what I am doing, or where I am going

All I have to do is look pathetic enough and call you “Daddy”

and immediately soften your anger.

My entire life is measured in your footsteps

Those that walked before me, clearing the way

So that I could appreciate the forest without ever feeling lost.

Being You Daughter means…

Every memory, every bruised knee, every burst of laughter

is colored by the way you made me feel about myself

and the whole world around me.

I can still feel you holding my whole body upside down,

letting me walk on the ceiling, squealing with laughter and trust

Because you have never let me fall.

Happy Father’s Day, You old card cheater!  


The Problem With Introspection

The problem with introspection is that it has no end.

– Philip K. Dick

In 2003, I was accepted into the Southampton – Long Island University Master of Fine Arts program. Based on my fiction portfolio, I was offered a small scholarship of $1000 a semester. I’d attended the 2002 Southampton’s Writer’s Conference and fell in love with the program. A writer’s life was for me, it seemed.

But, I turned it down. I didn’t attend any MFA program. Instead, I shacked up with my boyfriend of five years, moved from our hometown in Ohio to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and got a job at Borders Books as a Cafe Supervisor. We didn’t know anyone in North Carolina. We had no prospects. All we had was the belief that it would work out – we never even considered that it wouldn’t.

When we first arrived in North Carolina, Michael and I did a weird thing. We printed up copies of our resumes, put on our nice traveling sales-people dress clothes and starting walking around business parks. We passed out our resumes to over 80 places. It took us over three days to run out of resumes. The very last place was a little office in Cary. We didn’t know what they did. We didn’t care. Michael was in I.T. and I was marketing myself as an administrative expert with strong communication experience (which, was a total crock. In college, I’d been a writing intern at the American Red Cross and I was desperately trying to parlay that into something useful.)

A man answered the door and led us inside. It was after 5pm and he was, apparently, the only person left in the office. He looked over our resumes, asked us if we were a package deal. We both answered emphatically in the negative. Turns out this particular office was a technical writing firm. They were always looking for writers but I didn’t really have the necessary experience. They’d been toying around with the idea of adding an I.T. person, however. He took our resumes and sent us on our way.

Time passed and nothing seemed to come of it. We’d worked through a lot of dead leads like that. Michael got a job at Home Depot. I bounced around different Borders book stores in the area – my nagging sense of ambition never let me rest too long. In retail, if you want to succeed and you aren’t too busy getting stoned by the dumpster, you can rise up through the ranks pretty quickly. I did. And, then, Michael got a call from that little office in Cary. He was hired on as their I.T. person. We were thrilled – the people were great to him and it was our first sign of success.

By the time 2004 rolled around, I was a manager (still in training) at the Waldenbooks at Crabtree Valley Mall. But, at Christmas time, they told us our store was closing. It was my first indication that the entire company was about to quietly collapse. Michael had been offered a new position in the I.T. department in local government and was leaving the technical writing firm. We’d become friends with the director and she did something that really rarely happens: she gave me a shot.

I don’t think I really deserved it back then. I was a fiction writer and not the least bit technically minded. I was brought on as a Junior Technical Writer. I felt successful for the first time. Michael and I bought a house. We got married. I was promoted to Senior Technical Writer. I started to deserve the shot she’d given me.

Michael and I bought some land way out in the boonies. We saved up our money and finally built our dream house. I was promoted to Project Manager at the technical writing firm.

When you are a writer, it nags at you. You can’t really give it up for long. I toyed with it – writing things but never sharing them. I’d do NaNoWriMo in November and then throw the novel away. When I was younger, it was my whole identity and I’d turned my back on it. Getting back into it is like getting back into running after an injury – it clanks and hurts. It is awkward and hard. In the beginning, there are more bad days than good days. It can be discouraging.

I become friends with another writer, Molly Schoeman, who is the epitome of kindness and support. She encouraged me to keep going.

I started taking continuing education writing classes at Central Carolina Community College. I was lucky to be grouped with a really amazing teacher and a group of fellow writers that took the craft really seriously. There is a real pressure to show up and not suck when you are surrounded by people that are truly good at what you want to do. It is said that if you want to get better at something, surround yourself with people that are better than you. If you have enough ambition, it can work. I’m still working that out.

I’ve started submitting stories to literary journals and I am just now beginning to see some success. I decided to take it seriously. No more shrugging and blowing it off. When people ask me what I do, I’m going to say I’m a writer, because I am. No more qualifying it with “technical” because that’s a cop out. If I don’t take it seriously, why should you?

I think about that MFA program and wonder what would have happened if I’d accepted my spot. I might not be married to Michael. I might not live in my pretty house in the woods. I might be even further in debt with student loans than I am now. I might be a barista at a coffee shop, somewhere. Or, a bookseller at another book store. I might have found success because I’d taken the craft seriously at a younger age. I don’t know, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I don’t regret it. When you are a writer – or a singer, a painter, a woodworker – you don’t have a choice. You’ll do it in secret or you’ll do it on the weekends. You’ll tie your whole self up in it. You’ll shy away from it because even the idea of failure will hurt too much to try. But, hopefully and eventually, you’ll start to take it seriously again.


Book Review: Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates


Written in prolepsis, this novella tells the story of Kelly Kelleher, a young woman who meets a US Senator at a friend’s Fourth of July party. Only known as “The Senator,” a thinly veiled version of Ted Kennedy, Kelly finds herself in his car on the way to a romantic interlude. Kelly is an analogue for Mary Jo Kopechne, the woman at the heart of the Chappaquiddick Scandal (See A car accident thrusts the potential lovers into a swamp, into the titular black water. The Senator breaks free. Kelly is left trapped in the car as the water rises.

The first time I read this book, I was in eleventh grade. It was on our required reading list. Forgive my momentary melodrama but this book changed my life. I am so thankful for my eleventh grade English teacher for assigning this book. I’ve probably read it 15 times since then (to be fair, that was a long time ago).

I have always been a reader. I read all the normal kid stuff and a lot of inappropriate adult stuff at a young age. It was something I shared with my mother and sister. We passed books around the house and even though we are now far apart, we still tend to do it. Reading Black Water made me realize, perhaps for the very first time, that fiction was a serious art form. It has the power to illuminate swampy marshes. Truth becomes invention.

The themes in the novella are profound:

  • A younger woman trusting an older, charismatic man
  • Violation of that trust
  • The heart of American politics
  • The process of death
  • The operation of femininity
  • The inner workings of a scandal

All told in 154 pages.

When I am in need of inspiration, I’ll find myself grabbing a copy of Black Water and opening it at random. It was, in fact, the basis for my short story, Boys of the Way Back. Some chapters are only a paragraph long – I’ll read it like I would read a poem. Lots or repetition and syntax. Lush imagery. All read between the lines.

I’ve recommended this book to a lot of people and its been pretty polarizing: they either absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. I will always fall in with the former.

Fiction’s Victim


In high school, I was on the school newspaper. I was a writer, and later an editor, of The Camel Tracks at Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming. We later changed the name to The Humphrey Herald, and as far as I know, its still called that to this day. I was a hard hitting journalist – publishing such awe inspiring pieces as Valentine’s Day: The Darker Meaning and The Great Simpson Debate Continues. Oh, 1995, I miss you in a lot of weird ways.

I’ve always loved writing fiction. In ninth grade, I spent an entire year in math class writing a romance novel in a black and white composition book. It was pretty slutty for a ninth grade girl afraid of boys. It was full of supernatural elements, damsel-in-distress-like situations, an impossibly sexy overbearing man and the one woman that could change him. Every month, I would go to the book store and buy those monthly Harlequin serial romances. I would devour them. It really sort of messed me up on a very basic fundamental level. My husband would agree.

I wrote a story in my tenth grade English class called ‘Cancer of the Soul’. I was very proud of this piece – so proud that I pushed for it to be published in my journalism class, despite the fact that it was:

  1. fiction
  2. completely inappropriate.

Here is the basic breakdown of the story: Narrator, told in the first person, is sexually abused by her father. Narrator is terrified, believes nothing could be worse than the nightly visits of her deviant father. Until that one fateful night when her father bypasses her door and moves down the hall. To her little sister’s bedroom. EPIC REVEAL! So heartbreaking! And poignant!

Good stuff, right? A little dark for a tenth grade English class, maybe. A little dark for a school newspaper. But, I was good. I was ready. It was published. We spent the requisite time developing the layouts of the pages on our old Macintosh desktops in Journalism class – white space was a real problem back then. We sent it off to the printers. It came back and was distributed to the student body. Not one single person ever said anything to me about my story. In hindsight, I see that we neglected to tell the reader that it was fiction. I certainly hope that was obvious. My father probably hoped that, as well.

I brought an issue home and gave it to my parents, completely oblivious to how it might make them feel. My father is a quiet Midwestern Guy – spends a lot of time in his garage. I remember him calling me out to that garage to talk after he read my story. I didn’t recognize that he was confused. I didn’t see that he could be hurt.

Let me clarify: my father is wonderful. He was a little scary when I was younger – in that way that all great fathers are. He was good and kind and always thought the best of us. Even when we didn’t deserve it. So, for him to read this story must have come as a real shock. Also, I don’t have a little sister. (My mom does have a brand new puppy that she treats like a child, but that is the closest I’ve gotten.)


As he worked at his bench in the garage, he asked me about my story.

“Where did you come up with that?” he asked me, never once looking up at me.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “What do you think?”

“Things are ok with you?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I responded. Why wasn’t he telling me how great he thought my story was?

“Ok, go help your Mom with dishes.”

Case closed.

It happens in quiet ways – writers start to pull from real life experiences and oftentimes, our loved ones are the victims. And, sometimes, fiction is just fiction. It gets messy though. People get hurt. But, as a writer, no one in your life is safe. I didn’t learn that until I was older, when I could look back and see what my writing could do to my loved ones. Its a lesson I still violate to this day. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I will probably never stop doing it. I don’t know how else to do this.

People read fiction and they want to read into it – if I write a story about a woman killing her husband, I’m dissatisfied with my marriage. If I write a story about an alcoholic, I have a drinking problem. Not true. Look for the smaller moments. The quiet moments. That’s where I am.  You might be there, too.



  1. How innapropriate was the comic beneath my story!? I had nothing to do with that one!
  2. The picture of Bailey, my mother’s favored daughter-dog, was taken by my mother: Nancy J. Downing