“She comes upon the clearing and a word arrives with the bird: ballgown.”

That’s the first line of the story. Many of the first lines of my stories arrive like that. They fly into the clearing, and land fully formed.

“… the word and the bird landed at the same moment.”

 If I have my wits about me when a first sentence lands in the clearing of the imagination, I can follow the image, writing about what unfolds as it unfolds.

It’s an exciting process. I rarely know what is going to happen next. The characters surprise me with their arrival, and I don’t know if I am going to like them or not.

Sometimes, being a writer feels exactly like being a reader. When I am writing in this way, I don’t know what is going to happen next.

Bloodline is about cancer, maybe. Or maybe it’s about the connection between children and their parents. Many of my stories, I think, are about the state of childhood, what I remember it being like, what it looks like when I see it in my own children. I started writing seriously when my first child was an infant, and I was awake in the night. I would hold the baby, and in the stillness, sentences would arrive. I would stay awake to follow them, to write them. I really, really did not get very much sleep in those days.

This story is for my friend Brian Mitolo. It’s not about anyone I know.

I don’t think I saw a cardinal until I was about 30 years old. It was startling.


This story first appeared in Descant, 123, Winter 2004 and in The Turkish Anthology of Canadian Literature – Beyond the 49th Parallel – – 49. Paralelin Ötesinde – Kanadah Yazarlardan Öyküler.