A Year and A Half (or Thereabouts)

Last post April 2017.

I should have known the year was going to be a doozy when I ordered this coffee.

Oh dear. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I have excuses. Some of them are good ones. Others, maybe not so much.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been forever. It feels as if just yesterday I was waxing rhapsodic on this very blog about my yellow flats (who are still in my closet, unlike their blue fraternal twins which fell to Hippo’s patient watch a few months ago).

See, the year of 2017 had started rough. Adam’s grandmother passed in February and the timing meant I needed to cancel an event that was really, really important to me — speaking at my alma mater as a “Real Author” type. Hippo was recovering from her first knee surgery. And then things really started to roll. There was illness and weirdness and chaos and travel. Dutchess had a cancer scare. A close friend’s life fell apart and I tried to be closer to help. I felt useless and hopeless.

And so 2017 teetered awkwardly onward, the revolting political climate darkening any horizons of escapism. I traveled more than I wanted to. I was tired. I was burnt out from my second novel and the demands of editing and nonprofit were at least finite, so I threw myself into them, hoping I could still call myself a writer. I took teaching gigs on the off weeks I managed to be home.

By June I’d managed to wind up with a nasty case of pneumonia, diagnosed at a walk in clinic when I finally got scared of not being able to breathe. But Adam’s family was incoming for a visit and Hippo’s second surgery was in the hopper. There wasn’t a ton of time to rest.

My grandmother went into the hospital around that time, saying she had something stuck in her esophagus. The ER docs said it was steak and sent her home with orders to see her doctor. She didn’t. In October I flew home to take her to the doctor myself, but she’d already been admitted to the hospital with extreme blood loss. She was stable and happy to be waited on when I arrived, but it wasn’t long before her doctor pulled me aside to show me that her cancer markers, which are normal under say, 45 or so, were in the 300s. We didn’t have much time. We needed to make her comfortable. She was very, very angry when I finally managed to explain it to her. She threw me out of her hospital room.

Mama’s dogs, Leo and Nova, at her bedside. They were adopted by old friends in GA.

I moved home to Billings to live with her, leaving Adam and the dogs behind. Those of you who’ve nursed cancer patients don’t need me to go into the mud and blood of it all. The palliative care was fair, although she didn’t want hospice and the clinic was not understanding of that decision, asking me to lie to her that I couldn’t take the burden. She was feisty and active until the very end, and there weren’t any problems that were rocket science save controlling her nausea and pain. And that we managed eventually.

My relationship with my grandmother was (and is) complicated. She was a beautiful woman with many gifts. She was also abusive and narcissistic and cruel, turned so inside of herself that she was unable to trust love or friendship, believing there was a finite amount of both. She gave me the gift of raising me, though she never stopped reminding me of what it had cost her. She kept my mother and I at odds in ways small and enormous. She pushed away so many of those that wanted to say goodbye.

And yet. I wouldn’t trade those three months at her side for anything in the world. I wasn’t angry at her anymore for her lies, her insults, the slaps of her bejeweled fingers, her ability to twist the truth into a narrative that made her at peace. She was also human, frightened, angry, dying. And maybe it was the opiates, but she seemed to have a larger capacity for love in those last days. Not that it was a picnic for any of us. But she did hold our tiny family close in the end and she loved us in the ways that she could.

I am thankful for her motherhood and her loyalty. I am thankful for her mistakes, too, so that I can love those things within myself and grow them into something else.

The grief has been complicated, too. As was the estate. As was taking guardianship of her brother. As was paying the bills and selling the house and sorting the possessions. All of it eating away 2018 as if there’d been no break between this year and the last. I’ve been mildly sick a lot. I’ve been away more than I’ve been home this year. In all this year’s chaos there’s been a kitchen remodel that tested the bounds of sanity, sickness and emergency room visits (yes, plural, no not mine), and more death and more cancer and a septic tank disaster and subsequent impending basement remodel. I lost my editorship at my magazine because the publisher decided we didn’t have a clear vision and wanted a hiatus to rethink.

The shoes don’t stop dropping from the skies. Perhaps they won’t. Maybe this is just how life works and before this I’d been lucky. Perhaps this is my Jobian test (which I have most assuredly failed.)

But, in the last week or so, I feel I’m finally emotionally able to get back to the table. I’ve managed not to drown so far. So I must be able to try again to put all this into words. Not these words, but story words. To write, like Adam says, “back when you were happy.”

I go through this, dear reader, not to bore you with the mundane details, but more for the selfish reason that I must account for a year and a half of my life that I misplaced in a maelstrom. I did that. I own the responsibility, or perhaps the blame. And what I can do now is move ahead. Write more passionately than before. Take back my own artisanship. My time. My space. Try again. Anything else is giving up.

That, I will not do.

I will not do that because in part, I did not go through this time alone. My network of support and friendship is deep and wide and for that I am at a loss for words. Grateful does not begin to describe the swell of whelm when I think about who showed up: in person, virtually, on the phone, through the mail, in ways tiny and ways I cannot repay. Each and every time, I was stunned into humility. This was love I might not have deserved then — or ever deserve. And yet, love isn’t a meritocracy.

My relationship with my remaining family grew in unexpected ways, as well. Adam’s family showed up in sisterhood and parenthood and constant care. From Germany, my cousin Valeska gathered up a miracle of resources to bring her four children to say goodbye to their great grandmother and be at her funeral. Mama was reticent about visitors until those children walked into the room and she could not help but love them.

Adam’s sister Sara and Hippo, February 2018.

My mother and I are healing in ways I never dreamed… I’ve always known she loves me, but there was a point when I had no idea if she’d ever like me, like my company, like who I was. That fear is mostly gone. I’m so proud of her and us and the ways we’ve begun to grow as a mother and daughter, even though we weren’t left much for blueprints. Likewise with my uncle, artistic, hilarious, beautiful Bruce, who I adore, but worry I am too much for sometimes. He was there the night Mama died and so many other nights when we went through things words don’t work to explain. We had to rely on each other in ways we hadn’t before. And I love him even more, if that’s possible, and I no longer wonder if that’s mutual (even though I’m sure I periodically work his last nerve).

Living apart from Adam had its own set of challenges when we reunited. There was sadness like molasses that had to be warmed. There were misunderstandings and resentments, choices we’d made with the circumstances at hand that hurt and festered. I’d made a choice to deprioritize our life, and had to make amends. But that, too, ultimately found us in a space for more empathy, more understanding.

All of us, we came out okay — broken, for certain — but like the cliche, certainly stronger, with love not exactly bigger, but a different shape. One that encompasses us and allows us to trust. Those lies, the animosity, the unsure-ness of it all. It’s gone now. What’s left is raw soil for us to cultivate.

And me, I have this garden of a life. These people, these dogs, this blank page, and this cup of coffee. It’s time to put them to use.

See you soon.



Yellow Shoes

Back in September — lo, when the world was a simpler place — I bought two pairs of shoes. A sturdy red pair for walking and a yellow pair of slip-on flats. I walked myself into blisters in the red pair on a trip to Oklahoma to see friends (and the visit was well worth it), so the yellow shoes were my best friends on the airport ride home.

I’ve since worn those shoes to Ohio, Montana, Montana again, Ohio again, DC, and the Rainforest near Lake Quinault. For the past month or so, I’ve been lucky enough to be home and the yellow shoes have had a bit of a rest, which is good, because they are about to fall apart. They’re an apt metaphor for my state of mind, which has needed some rejuvenation. I’ve started back on my third novel in earnest, with a slight detour for puppy knee surgery for Hippo.

In the next months, I’ll put the yellow shoes back on and head to California a few times and, if I’m lucky, swing past Montana. But here at home, I’ll be teaching at a super cool workshop called The Seattle Writing Workshop on May 6th in Redmond, across the pond. I’d love to see you there, talk books, read manuscripts, and do the old network-over-wine stuff (always a fun part of any conference), meeting up with friends old and new. You can read more about the event here.

Wishing you a wonderful April of writing, reading, and Spring-greeting. xo

Out & About

Every year the agonizing choice hounds us as the autumn turns the leaves to golden, amber, and red: to turn on the heat or not to turn on the heat. Besty Friend and the Las Vegas-born puppy were almost popsicles this morning, so I bowed to the 57 degree temperature reading and flipped the heat to ON.

Besides this valiant seasonal battle, there’s a lot going on around here. After visiting Tulsa and then stopping in at the Montana Book Fest, I’m home for a few weeks before continuing on to Columbus for World Fantasy. In November, I’ve been invited to do a couple of special readings. 1. On November 2, I’ll join The Gay Uncle Time to read some summer camp stories for their theme, Bless the Beasts & the Children. On the 15th, I”ll be reading for the Inkwell Seattle series celebrating this quarter’s theme of Dystopias! More info on all of these can be found on my event page.

Hope to see you all out and about. xo

Hello, July. Goodbye.


Hippolyta Marie Siefker-Griep (Not recommended for peak productivity.)

Friends, an update has been a long time coming. The summer has flown in and past and through at a most alarming speed. After some whirlwind, post New Charity Blues launch travel, my get up and go got up and went. I gave my Easy Street staff the month off and bought a puppy. (She and Dutch are getting along swimmingly, but the puppy has a desire to work on the computer that would send most copyeditors into apoplexy.)

It hasn’t been all political conventions and bon bons, though. I’ve been helping to launch Prison Renaissance, a collaborative non profit aimed at breaking cycles of incarceration. I’ve been catching up on Easy’s submission queue and reading contest work from The Lascaux Review. I’ve even been reading for fun! (I’m in the middle of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins for those keeping track.)

I spent a bit of time last weekend chatting with my dear friend Sarah Meckler-Tate, who now runs the lovely Golden State Media Concepts Book Review Podcast. I talked so much they had to give me two episodes. The first is available via iTunes now and the second should be up next week. It’s always exciting to talk about writing, but getting to talk to a friend about writing takes a lot of pesky nerves from the equation.

I’m also working on my latest book project, Virgie’s Guide to Hell. Re-entering the world of satire via a contemporary hellscape has been a lot of fun so far. We’ll see where it takes us. Onward to August, no doubt where I’m headed to the sweltering Midwest for a wedding, skipping Worldcon, but then it’s on to the Montana Book Fest, some time with friends in Oklahoma, and World Fantasy in Columbus. I hope to see some of you along the way. As always, thanks for reading. xo

New Charity Blues – Now Available

IMG_4317It’s been a whirlwind of weeks here at the Bulldogge Fortress. I was in Los Angeles for AWP 16 where I participated in one, wonderful creative nonfiction reading with Under the Gum Tree and moderated/read with a fantastic group of women for Women Writing SFF.

I returned with some souped-up variety of pestilence and before I could finish sniffling, it was time for the New Charity Blues Launch Party and then it was, all of a sudden, yesterday: Release Day!

So now you can get your readerly hands on an ebook, paperback, or the lush and gorgeously narrated audiobook version (seriously, it’s good). You can also read an excerpt here! Thank you to those of you who are celebrating with me. It’s been a wonderful journey from start to finish, and I can’t wait for you to meet Syd and Cas. xo

Returning from the Rainforest

Last weekend, I spent 4 days in next to the beautiful Lake Quinalt, at the Rainforest Village Writers Retreat. This was my 4th year in attendance, but every year is a unique experience. I wrote, after my very first year there, that I felt as if I’d finally found a space to be valid. Writers were at all levels of their careers and credentials didn’t particularly matter. Everyone was there to write.

This year, I was late, due to an unscheduled and unprovoked assault by my own body, which I fully intend to turn in for a new model as soon as one becomes available. It’s been a slow year so far, fighting strange illness, fevers, and exhaustion, and the social aspect of Rainforest was daunting. I’d spent my first two years mainlining Pinot Gris and basking in the euphoria of creative energy. This time, thanks to a ruptured ovarian cyst, I spent the majority of the time with my heating pad and my lap-held laptop, looking out over the lake from our cabin’s balcony.

The wonderful thing was, everyone understood. Everyone was gracious and kind and so immersed in their own work, absences (mine and others in similar straits) were noted but not an affront. I included the delay as an example during my Thursday talk “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers,” which ran the gamut from what the world does to us as artists to what we do to ourselves. My wonderful roommate, Jill Seidenstein, has a blog called Slowbloom, reminding us, “No one yells at a flower to bloom faster.” My roommates, Jill along with G.G. Silverman and Malia Kawaguchi, brought me breakfast, conversation, and encouragement. I wrote 2500 words — not much, but still forward. I came home and wrote 4,000 more. Forward. I completed the outline and sent the sample to my agent. Forward.

My own lecture from Rainforest was something that came back to grace me. I’m so thankful for the writing community that I’ve surrounded myself with. I’m so thankful to call so many of these people true friends. I’m thankful they remind me to give myself a break, that this life is a marathon, not a sprint, that it’s okay to live in the here and now, making the decisions that make us happy, not the decisions that please everyone else. Lifelong lessons from lifelong relationships.


The Stabby Awards

Griep-LettersToZell-19807-CV-FT-V7As an unabashed Reddit lover (and lurker) I was delighted to discover Letters to Zell has been nominated as one of 2015’s Best Fantasy Novels (note, not Best Debut).

If you are a Redditor or know and love someone who is, take a look at this amazing list of literature and perhaps put in your vote using this link. If you loved Letters to Zell, feel free to give it an upvote, but there are a lot of great books on the list that are also deserving of love and champagne and unicorn sprinkles. I’m splendidly grateful to be in their company. Best of luck and to all a good Stab! xo

Onward to 2016

Friends, I’m delighted to share a collection of poems up today at Sick Lit Magazine. It’s a great new pub and I’m so excited to be a part of their first year, humbled they offered a home to this tiny collection of pieces.

In other news, Publisher’s Weekly included New Charity Blues in their list of anticipated Spring 2016 titles. It’s nailbiting season between now and April 13th, and I cannot wait for the book to land on shelves. Though it is different in many ways from Letters to Zell, I’m hoping the journey toward home and friendship is one that resonates with readers.

Happiest of New Years to you all and thanks, as always, for your support. xo

Year’s Best

I’m thrilled to share some recent news about Letters to Zell. The Editors over at Amazon chose it as one of the Best 100 Books of 2015! I’m delighted to be in the company of so many amazing authors and works. The Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania also kindly nominated LTZ as their Book of the Day earlier in November. Last, but certainly not least, I wrote a little something for Writer’s Digest about how I found my superstar agent, Cameron McClure. More soon, and thanks, as always, for reading.