“Side Window” (NYC Midnight Round 2, 2020)

Earlier this year, I participated in NYC Midnight’s Short Story Competition for the first time. Each writer is assigned a genre, character, and subject that should appear in the story; then, they have a limited amount of time to write a short story (Round 1 was 8 days and 2,500 words; Round 2 was a mere 3 days and 2,000 words) . Everybody gets feedback; the top five writers in each heat move on to the next round, which is shorter and has a shorter word limit. My first round story, “The Engagement,” earned me a spot in Round 2!

My Round 2 assignment was “romance – isolation – a graphic designer,” and I didn’t place for Round 2, but I’ve shared the story (below) and beneath the story I’ve pasted the feedback I received from judges – just as with Round 1, they were absolutely right, and I should probably revise with their feedback in mind at some point. Writing these stories under time pressure was really fun and exciting, especially since other members of my critique group, Indyscribes, were involved – we gave each other fast feedback to polish these up, but obviously more time (and more words!) would’ve helped.

Even though I didn’t end up making it to Round 3 (which was sort of a relief, as that round coincided with Covid-19 crisis e-learning AND finals, an utter nightmare), I really enjoyed the contest and definitely intend to participate again next year.

I wrote my story with a few nods to the classic Hitchcock movie Rear Window, which I have seen, but long enough ago that I had to do some googling for the details (turns out I was definitely combining Hitchcock’s work with The Simpsons‘ parody episode in my memory).


(With apologies to Alfred Hitchcock.)

Isolation and frustration are making Lily a little bit loopy, but luckily, the handyman across the way knows how to fix that.

Lily thumped her good foot against the leg of her desk in frustration. She shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position, despite the ankle-to-thigh cast protecting her broken knee. Giving up, she restarted her computer–again

Most of the time, Lily loved her life. Until about a week ago, when an SUV had turned across the bike lane without signaling and sent her flying off her bike, it had been perfect. Now, with her income way down and medical bills looming and her computer flaking out and her mortgage payment due, she hated basically everything. 

Especially her current project, a cover and marketing materials for a novel about two idiots who fell in love without ever speaking to one another. 

The novel centered around a small-town baker and the hunky sheriff’s deputy who was too shy to talk to her when he was picking up his daily donut. The heroine looked a lot like Lily–long, dark hair; strong jaw; green eyes; Pantone 62-9 C skin. 

Lily had been loving the book before her accident, but she hadn’t been able to finish it yet: first the painkillers, then panic that she might miss the deadline and have to reduce her fee, which she couldn’t afford. 

This morning, even the candy-pink shade she’d chosen for the cover background made her want to scream; she couldn’t imagine anything more obnoxious. 

Well, other than the flippers gutting the house next door. Those guys were a perfect example of “no company is better than bad company.” A week before her accident, they’d found her trying to fix the loose step to her front porch. After a few minutes of listening to them argue about the best way to repair the problem, repaint the porch, and replace all of her windows, she’d considered turning the hammer on them instead. 

Now the loose step hardly mattered, since the doctor had ordered her to avoid standing and walking whenever possible. Lily had been home alone since returning from the hospital, but isolation was a step up from their attempts at conversation or the terrible music they blasted while they worked. Thank God for noise-cancelling headphones, Lily thought, since the weak seal on her window didn’t block a single note.


Al sighed as he pulled up to the site of his cousins’ latest attempt to get rich: flipping houses. It was huge: three stories, looming over the bungalow next door. The exterior paint was so flaky it looked like the house was molting, and two of the windows were boarded up, like missing teeth in an old man’s smile. 

Al’s cousins seemed to think a BFA in painting meant he’d know his way around house painting, too, and he’d needed the money too much to protest, since, after all, he had a BFA in painting. His novels had been selling pretty well lately, and he was hoping for a boost when the newest one came out next month, but student loans were calling, and pride didn’t pay the bills.

“Hey, AJ!” Chad slapped Al’s back. 

“What’s up, cuzzo?” Brad said, pointing finger-guns in Al’s direction. “Ready to make this masterpiece, or what?”

Al forced a grin. “Where do you want me to start?”

After a ten-minute argument about where he should start derailed into whether the countertops should be soapstone or marble, Al realized the only solution was to put on his noise-cancelling headphones and get to work. This house had great bones; if those two didn’t cover the whole thing in shiplap and “live, laugh, love” wall decals, it would probably be gorgeous when it was done. 

Al went out and grabbed a box at random from Brad’s truck. 

“Checking out the neighbor, huh?” Chad asked when he came back in. 

Al hadn’t been, but Chad didn’t believe him. 

“Don’t bother, man. Total ice queen. Wouldn’t even let us quote her on a new porch.” 

Al glanced at the house next door. “What’s wrong with her porch?”


Lily had a clear line of sight from her home office to the remains of the kitchen under renovation; she assumed it would soon be covered in subway tile, shiplap, and whatever countertop was trending on HGTV this week.  

Waiting for her poor computer to reboot, she noticed exposed wiring hanging down from the ceiling, awaiting new light fixtures. Then someone walked into the kitchen and set down a heavy-looking box. 

That wasn’t Chad or Brad. Lily blinked and straightened, the sudden movement causing a sharp twinge in her knee. She gawked at him through the two windows between them. 

Blond hair; skin a ruddy 108-8 C or so. She enjoyed the way his arms flexed as he balanced the box on the cabinets the flippers had spent so much time struggling to get into the kitchen. 

Maybe he could feel her staring; he looked up and their eyes met. Lily gave an embarrassed wave. 

He smiled and nodded, then left the room. 

Lily’s computer chirped out its reboot tune, summoning her back to work, and she suddenly found that she could picture the silent deputy after all. 


Two days in, the most interesting thing about the job was the neighbor. His cousins hadn’t put up shades, and from the kitchen, he could see right into her home office, where she was doing something with three computer monitors, none of which faced the window. 

She reminded him of a Waterhouse painting–the Lady of Shallott, bent over a computer instead of a loom. At first, he wondered why she always seemed to be so still, but yesterday he’d watched her roll out of the room on her desk chair, her whole right leg in a stiff cast. He hoped she hadn’t tripped on the loose board on her porch steps. Maybe he should put a note in the mailbox offering to fix it; it would only take a second. He could do it on his way home. 


Lily was still struggling with the cover layout–she blamed the constant pain from her knee; this bakery romance design should’ve been, well, a piece of cake–and she decided to take her daily break to ogle the blond angel who had fixed her stupid porch step yesterday. He was halfway up a ladder, doing who knew what, but she didn’t really mind, since the window framed his lower half like a work of art and it meant he couldn’t catch her staring. 

Maybe she should ask if he wanted to pose for stock images. She’d bet that butt could sell a lot of copies. 

“Get a grip, Lily,” she said to herself. “He’s probably married. Or gay. Or gay and married.”

She tried to tear her eyes away, but then he shifted his weight from one leg to the other, and–

Lily sighed contentedly. 

Work could wait. 


Al climbed down the ladder and allowed himself a glance back into the neighbor’s office. She was once again engrossed in her work. She’d just written “SURE” on his note asking if it was OK for him to fix the step, so he’d done it last night; probably didn’t make much difference with her broken leg or whatever. 

Strange that the houses were built so close together with the windows lined up this way. They were like fish in adjacent tanks–free to see each other, separated by glass. 

Hmm. Al pulled out his phone and jotted some notes. He liked to get new ideas down right away, before they evaporated. 

Chad and Brad came in, arguing about cabinet hardware and whether the backsplash should be herringbone or horizontal. Al glanced over at the neighbor again, envying her peaceful solitude, where she could just focus on whatever it was she was creating. 


Lily considered throwing her computer out the window–but then she’d need a new computer and a new window; she couldn’t afford either, let alone both. 

The cover was done–finally–but halfway through the social media graphics package it had frozen, beeped mournfully, and collapsed into the Blue Screen of Death. “I’m on a deadline,” she informed it, but it was unimpressed. 

She rolled down the hallway on her desk chair in search of a snack. Tragically, Hot Handyman wasn’t visible when she rolled back, so she decided to give the bakery romance another try. 

By the time the shy deputy finally declared his love, via bullhorn, the baker had already designed their wedding cake. After what she and the deputy had gotten into with whipped cream and icing about fifty pages previous, Lily couldn’t blame the baker one bit. “Good for her,” Lily said. 

Now back to work. Glancing across the way, she was surprised to see Hot Handyman. The other two must have left, because nobody was playing ear-splitting dreck. Hottie was focused on his smartphone, so she looked her fill. For inspiration, she told herself.  

Suddenly everything was coming together. She finished the graphics package and emailed the files to the author. A day and a half to spare before her deadline! Plenty of time for revisions. 

Movement caught her eye and she looked back into the house next door, where McHotterson seemed to be bouncing up and down, delighted with something on his phone. 

“His modeling contract came through, I bet,” she told the houseplant perched on the edge of her desk. “He leaves for Milan tomorrow.” 

The plant didn’t respond, which was, Lily thought, a good sign. She debated: would it be easier to roll to bed or try to deal with her crutches?

Her phone pinged. The author loved it! No revisions needed!

Now if only Muscles McMansion over there would do some shirtless pushups, her night would be complete. 


The next morning, Lily woke to discover the author had posted a cover reveal and tagged her, and now her notifications were going berserk. She scrolled for a little while, enjoying the feeling of accomplishment, and then idly scrolled back through the author’s previous posts. 

To a selfie.

Of the Hot Handyman. 

Lily looked up, through the window, to where he was once again glued to his phone, leaning against the unfinished cabinets in the torn-up kitchen.

“No,” she muttered. “No way.”

She had just assumed the author was a woman, but they’d only communicated in writing. The author had signed everything “A.H. Jeffries.” 

“No freaking way,” Lily said, startled, with a sudden flashback to the deputy’s creative use of frosting. She stood up for a closer look, forgetting her knee, and crashed to the floor with a shout. 


Al heard a crash and a shout from the house next door, yanking him out of his euphoria at his cover reveal going viral. He swore and bolted for the door. 

Al ran to her office window. The two houses were only six or seven feet apart, but he would’ve felt like an idiot trying to signal from the kitchen and if she needed help she probably couldn’t let him in the front door. 

He knocked on the window and yelled, “Are you okay?”

All he heard was a groan.

“I can call somebody,” he said. “Or, uh, I could come in and help you? The window’s not locked.”

“Okay,” she said, and it wasn’t till he was halfway in the window and heard her yelp that he realized she must have said “It’s okay”–don’t come in–and not “okay, go for it.” 

“Sorry,” he said. “I thought you might be hurt.” 

“Are you A. H. Jeffries?” she demanded, pushing herself up onto her elbows.

“What?” Nobody knew his pen name offline. How… “Yes?” 

“I’m Lily,” she said, rolling onto one side and offering a hand to shake. “I designed your book cover.” 

“That was you?” he asked, hovering toward her, wanting to help but not sure how. “Oh, man, it’s incredible!” He shook her hand, then helped her stand. He didn’t mind at all that she was leaning on him. In fact… “Lily,” he said, with feeling, “I could kiss you!”

“Yeah,” Lily said. “You could.” 

Judges’ Feedback

One of the best things about the NYC Midnight contest was the feedback – clearly the judges do a lot of this. Each judge gives a “glow and grow,” as it were, and is only identified by a number. Here’s what I got for this story:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1651}  Your title was fun! I enjoyed how you slowly developed the relationship between these two people who have only seen each other through windows. We are rooting for them to get together.  {1611}  This was such an engaging story, with well-developed characters, excellent pacing, and incredible details to ground readers in the narrative. A pleasure to read.  {1845}  I really enjoyed the way that you naturally allowed the chemistry between these two to build. Their budding relationship felt believable and exciting, which made the ending all the more satisfying. The vulnerability that went into Lily’s character was a nice touch as well. Great job with all of that!  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1651}  The fixing her step part threw me off. You set him up as an artistic painter in contrast to his cousins who are builders. How is he able to fix her step properly, and also, how does he get the message to her in order to ask to fix it? Also, he’s a novelist? I’d pick one skill to focus on for him. He could be a starving writer and still paint houses for money. Overall, I’d find a way to divert us from the realization that Al is the author until Lily discovers it herself.  {1611}  I have nothing here. So tightly written.  {1845}  This is such a small detail, and I can totally understand why Lily has such a negative attitude at the moment, but I would suggest incorporating just one or two extra moments in which she feels happy. If she is consistently negative throughout the entire story, you run the risk of the reader not liking her personality. But maybe you can just add an extra moment in which she is happy enjoying a simple pleasure (other than the man ogling), like a tea or her book. Again, this is a tiny detail, but it could possibly make her all the more likeable! Also, I would end the story with a physical connection – letting the reader enjoy that kiss of theirs! Otherwise, this was a great romance!

I really like this style of critique – I can look for patterns in the feedback, and decide when/how to incorporate it. Maybe someday I’ll give it another pass and see what happens!

geometric shapes with watercolor

ETCW 2020: Stay Home Edition

This blog was born as part of my Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship, where I got to blow $10k on writing workshops and a sweet new laptop (thanks, Lilly Endowment!), and one of my annual traditions is to update it during Teacher Camp, aka the Extending Teacher Creativity Workshop which is usually held at Indiana State University but this year–for obvious reasons–was held virtually.

Susan Powers, the woman who organizes the event each year is always an incredible powerhouse but this year, considering I got THREE shipments of workshop supplies and swag, and so did everybody else, she deserves a medal.

Sessions were held over Zoom, and while I certainly missed the delightful catering that characterizes most years’ workshops, and the random encounters with such a wide swath of my profession, it was great to still be able to see my “camp friends” and try out some new things. Each year after the first year teachers can choose a big workshop and a “mini” workshop; this year, I chose Made to Create (aka a watercolor workshop) for my major course and a bracelet-making workshop for my mini. That meant I got a box of watercolor supplies, a lightboard (!!), modeling clay and twine, a very sharp Exact-o knife, and a whole bunch of other treats (black masking tape! Very sharp scissors! A variety-pack of Sharpies! Yes, I am easy to please).

toddler watercoloring
The decoy paint station was a hit!

Our instructor for the watercolor workshop worked her tail off, too, making us TEN videos highlighting different skills, techniques, and projects. After setting up my work station, and then setting up a decoy station to distract my kids, I got to work, and…. managed to watch and paint along with three of the ten videos.

Don’t get me wrong – I still had an excellent time. And since the videos are still up for the time being, it’s possible that I might “catch up” later (not likely, mind you… but possible!). It was hard to carve out the time while I was still physically at home — when I go to Terre Haute, I’m gone, so it’s a lot easier to focus — but I still really enjoyed what I got to do.

It also let me be a student on a Zoom call and really experience the distractions, frustrations, and challenges of e-learning from the student side. There were some plusses (doing the videos when I wanted to, at my own pace) and some minuses (having to do videos instead of being in the room with others, to learn collaboratively or get immediate feedback). I already have a tendency to “go rogue” on things like this, and being in a room full of other people can help me stay focused and keep me from losing track of time (two opposite problems, both of which I have when it comes to art).

me and my toddler, who is brandishing a paintbrush
Two novice painters!

As usual, I finished ETCW grateful for the Lilly Foundation and its support of Indiana teachers, with some good ideas to steal and some reminders about what doesn’t work (definitely remind everybody who isn’t talking to stay on mute… yikes).

Now I’m going to go bust out my sewing machine and see if I can make my ETCW2020 t-shirt into an ETCW2020 face mask. Wish me luck!

Staying Home

Well, I was just thinking what a shame it was that I hadn’t updated my blog in so long that I had to go look up my login/password info, and I looked back to see that my last update was… right before ‘normal life’ crashed and burned thanks to Covid-19! So I suppose that explains why.

the front yard of a brightly-painted house with a verdant garden, sloppy grass, and a Black Lives Matter sign, on a sunny day
lots of home improvement projects, not so much with the blog updates

I got to try online-only teaching for the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, which was quite an experience – it felt like being a first-year teacher again, and not in a good way – and now I’m hovering in uncertainty with the rest of the world – planning for the worst, hoping for the best: I’m set to start school again (staff orientation) next Tuesday in person, but the board has pushed our start date back and put us on a hybrid model (50% of students in the building at a time, blended with e-Learning) so no matter what happens (hybrid? Virtual?) I’m sure 2020-2021 will be a heck of a learning experience.

I mean, if we didn’t understand before, we certainly know now why “May you live in interesting times” is a vicious curse.

Being used to “Dwell[ing] in possibility” like my good friend Emily Dickinson, that means I basically haven’t done any planning for the school year (yet), despite the fact that (once again) I have five preps and 2 of them are new (English 9 Honors, an all-new class, and English Lab, a remedial class that has to be planned anew each year to meet student needs (at least the way I do it)). Interesting times indeed!

So I’m going to try to figure it out as I go, as usual, and I’m going to do my annual “oh hey look a blog” posts any day now – ETCW was virtual this year, which was both better and worse, and I have another short story from the NYC Midnight competition to post – and maybe, just maybe, add some more teaching-related content… as soon as I wrap my head around online and/or hybrid teaching!

Clockwork, Curses, & Coal… Oh, my.

One of my goals for March is to finish and submit a story to Rhonda Parrish’s latest open call for submissions: an anthology of “punked-up fairytales” called Clockwork, Curses, and Coal: Steampunk and Gaslamp Fairytales.

Of course, first that means I have to, uh, come up with an idea for the story.

But I’m optimistic! Deadlines are good for me. Submissions are free. And I’ve really admired Parrish’s work (she edits a lot of cool anthologies!).

So I started googling “best fairytales” and other weird search terms, hoping the kernel of an idea would eventually pop into something interesting.

I bounced around a bit until finding this list of “10 Classic Victorian Fairy Tales Everyone Should Read,” which mostly just made me want to go read Victorian fairy tales and/or re-read Vanity Fair (yes, I am the obnoxious English major who actually loved Vanity Fair and read it more than once, on purpose, for fun).

So, now I’m off to go read “The King of the Golden River” and “The Selfish Giant” and “The Golden Key” and maaaaybe “The Rose and The Ring,” although it’s listed as a novel and I love you, Thackery, but it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be able to read your fairy-tale novel and then also re-imagine it in steampunk before the end of the month.

NYC Midnight!

This year I entered my first writing competition! I chose to jump into the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition 2020. I was super excited about it, partly because I thrive on external deadlines, but partly because it’s something I’ve never tried before. Read on for more about the competition and a link to my entry for Round 1!

Continue reading NYC Midnight!

“The Engagement” (NYC Midnight Round 1, 2020)

This year, I participated in NYC Midnight’s Short Story Competition for the first time. Each writer is assigned a genre, character, and subject that should appear in the story; then, they have 8 days to write a short story that’s under 2500 words. Everybody gets feedback; the top five writers in each heat move on to the next round, which is shorter and has a shorter word limit.

Hopefully I’ll be participating in subsequent rounds as well – but for the first round in January, I was assigned to write a comedy featuring customer service and a wedding planner, and if you’d like to read it, here it is. 🙂

The Engagement

Madi plays along with a fake engagement to help out a friend, but isn’t expecting the real connection she finds.

Continue reading “The Engagement” (NYC Midnight Round 1, 2020)
#etcw branded swag (bag, sticky notes, travel mug, t-shirt, notebook, writing utensils)

#ECTW2019 (Day 2)

Today I learned that I’m still capable of waking up, rolling out of bed, and getting out of the dorms in about 10 minutes. (I feel a little groggier than I remember feeling in college, but that’s probably because it’s fifteen years and two kids later.)

After spending some of yesterday’s writing time writing that last post, and the rest of it fighting updating WordPress and then fighting with that and Twitter about a Twitter widget, and then giving up on the Twitter widget and nuking it in favor of a link to my Twitter page (FANCY), about all I had energy for was to stuff myself full of dinner and go do some arts and crafts in the dorm lobby. So, uh. Not a lot of writing got done.

But look at these pretty alcohol-ink washers I made!

This morning I woke up to the calendar reminder that my pages are due today for IndyScribes (ten pages due, and I have written… none, whoops).

Luckily I’m in a writing workshop for most of the day! So I’ll get started on that… any minute now… I’m sure…

#ETCW2019 (Day 1)

So, it’s July, and I have the great pleasure of being (for the third time) at the Extending Teacher Creativity Workshop at Indiana State University in Terre Haute for the next three days!

One of the many benefits of winning a Lily Teacher Creativity Fellowship (besides the humungous grant – $10k when I won in 2015, and $14k now) is an annual invitation to what I think of as Teacher Camp – previous recipients gather in the ISU student union to do one Workshop and one Mini-Workshop, and they feed us generously and gift us lavishly and try to freeze us to death (whoops, no, that’s just the a/c).

Continue reading #ETCW2019 (Day 1)

hey look I have a blog

So, I haven’t updated in like a year and a half… I blame that on this dude:

Kid #2, offering you tea from his plastic tea set

He’s one. So… I suspect that explains it.

Tonight I spent some time updating my bio photo (hmm, my hair is now… eight inches longer and much more purple?) and cleaning up odds and ends, but I’m really hoping to update more regularly (uh, what else is new?!?). I definitely have some “Lessons from the Classics” posts in mind, since I got to teach AP Literature & Composition for the first time, and because I reworked my Creative Writing class a bit. Next year I’ll be teaching a one-semester Poetry elective for the first time (!!!) so I’m excited to dig into that genre more (I am not often an inspired poet, but I am a competent one, and I’m open to improvement, so…).


Last week in English 10 we did an experimental project that turned out really neat, so I’m going to brag about it here!

We’ve been reading selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses using some lesson plans from EDSITEment! to build from. For this plan, we compared and contrasted three versions of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth: one from NewsELA, A. S. Kline’s translation of Ovid’s version, and the poem “Eurydice” by H.D.   At first I wasn’t very excited about HD’s, but as often happens when I analyze a piece of modern poetry, I started to like it more and more each time I read it, and by the time I taught it to the students, I was envisioning a really cool art project to engage them in the poem.  Continue reading Eurydice