Stories from the land (of Oz)

The Yellow Brick Road

The Yellow Brick Road and beyond

When I first learned about an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in the mountains, I couldn’t resist. At the time, I was taking a creative nonfiction class and had essays to write, so I planned my adventure with an eventual essay in mind.


Afterwards, sitting at my desk, I sifted through my notes, photos, memories, and thoughts about the experience and drafted a mess to be workshopped by my peers in class. With feedback and advice in hand, I let the work stew for a while until I had some clarity regarding sequencing and organization.

View from the peak

View from the peak

Eventually, I knew exactly what to do: Rather than organizing the essay around me and my adventure there, I needed to organize the essay around the land and the stories it held. From there, reworking the narrative was simple. After sending it out to a few places I had success in October. (Yay!)

So what did I learn? Listen. Write. Share. Allow the story to unfurl. Write some more. Persist.

You can read the essay in the 2015 New Southerner Literary Edition.


Balloon frame

Balloon frame

Hermit huts

This past summer I explored the California coast with my husband and our two teenagers. We flew into LA and headed north from there. For the first week it was an adventure a day: the Avila Adobe in historic Los Angeles, Ojai, Morro Bay, Silicon Valley, Tiburon, Mt. Tamalpais … miles of California landscape flew by each day as we made our way up to Trinidad in Humboldt county, where we spent the rest of our vacation time. From the heat and palm trees to the endless fields of greens and orchards of olive trees, sea otters and zebras, up towards field after field of grapes and into the land of the giant redwoods: we got to see a broad picture of life there on the west coast.


  In two weeks, we couldn’t hope to see all there was. We had more suggestions and ideas than we had time, so we took things day by day and found the places that suited our mood and whims that day. And each day had a story to tell. I recorded bits of stories in travel journals, and I’m hoping to bring back memories of the stories we found on our west coast adventure, one short essay at a time.

Between San Francisco and Trinidad, we couldn’t resist stopping to see the Hermit Huts at Hendy Woods State Park. A relatively small park, Hendy Woods hosted a Russian immigrant named Petro Zailenko who lived alone in the woods for nearly two decades.

This was our first venture into the redwoods, and the forest swept us into a fairy tale for a few glorious, mysterious hours. Petro built his huts out of fallen limbs and burned out tree stumps, surviving on squirrels and whatever he could scrounge from surrounding farms and park visitors. He even dismantled shoes that he found, sewing them back together to make complete pairs in his own size. According to some articles posted in the park, he was satisfied with his lot in life and lived fairly comfortably, considering the circumstances. As romantic as it sounds to live in the woods, I imagine it was a tough life. It gets cold in those woods, and he had only what he could find in his limited area. Still, he had made peace with it, which I suppose is the best answer for anyone. His story is a reminder to us that gratitude is both possible and necessary. If he had plenty, so should we.

Treats for you sci-fi and fantasy lovers

Here’s a list of science fiction and fantasy treats I’ve been accumulating. Enjoy!

  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to promote this upcoming anthology of fantasy and science fiction stories: Altered States, edited by Amy Locklin. Published by the Main Street Rag, it includes an urban fantasy story written by yours truly (scroll down on the page, you’ll see me there in the list of contributors). I would love for you to order a copy for yourself or give it as a gift, it’ll be a treat!

  • This History of Science Fiction map, created by Ward Shelley. You’ll want to order a large print so you can read the detail and see just where Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance and Mary Shelley fit into the grand scheme of things. So much literature originates with fear and wonder, take a look. I dare you to resist.
  • Just for fun, see how old you are on other planets, and gain a few more birthdays: Your Age on Other Worlds. If you write these types of stories, I suppose this could be useful in character building too.
  • A summer reading list of fantasy titles for you. (I’m loading the Kindle for vacation with a few of these.)
  • And, finally, here’s a link to the Absent Willow Review. With science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories, it’ll pull you out of your orbit for a little while.

Alien Yart

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