Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Category: news

A script to finish, a man to burn, a drum to build…

During my sabbatical from novel-writing, I haven’t exactly been idle. Here are a couple of things that are going on right now.

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Turning my short story ‘Axe’ into a screenplay. I had been working closely with a Scottish screen-writer to turn my short story ‘Axe‘ into a drama for TV or the ‘big screen’. Currently, many scenes have been written, both from the story itself and from additional narrative material I have provided – and it’s looking good!

However, the screen-writer has had to pull out, for unforeseen private reasons, and he’s not certain whether he’ll be able to take up the task again. I fully understand the reasons he gave me, and he left the ball in my court as to what to do next. Between us we have a substantial amount of material. I think my choices are as follows:
1. Do nothing, in the hope that the screen-writer may be able to resume the project at a later date; this of course runs the risk of the whole project stalling completely.
2. Try to finish the script myself; this is not my area of expertise, and I am, after all, on a writing sabbatical.
3. Get together with my literary agent and look for another screen-writer; my previous collaborator would be okay with that, but it would need someone who could build seamlessly onto the work already done.

I’ll let you know what turns up.

I Tamburisti di FIREnze. If you don’t already know about Burning Man, find out about it. It’s a festival, for want of a better word, or rather an annual gathering of people in the middle of a desert in Nevada, USA. Whilst there, people perform, make things, share, live together, interact, laugh, work, and generally enjoy themselves. But the main thing is that they do so entirely without money transactions, or even barter transactions. Everything that is provided is a gift entirely without strings, given in the hope that everything will be paid forward in some way. It seems to work, right down to the clearing away of site debris afterwards.

renThis year the theme is The Renaissance. I was contacted a few days ago by the Project Coordinator of ‘Camp Thump Thump’, a group that regularly attends Burning Man, giving lessons in drum-making and drumming, letting people build, play, and take away their own drums. For 2016 the group has adopted a theme based on renaissance Italy – the time of the Borgias, the Medici, and Leonardo da Vinci – and have reinvented themselves as I Tamburisti di FIREnze for the duration of this year’s Burning Man. The Coordinator asked me to provide some Renaissance-flavoured text for their use, and I have been working on pen-portraits of (fictitious) 16c Guild-members for her.

I’m not yet sure whether or how my work will be used, but again if it is, I’ll let you know.

My Gothic spring continues…

The manuscript of KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE is open in front of me, and my collection The Last-but-one Samurai and other stories is currently being edited. Meanwhile Angélique Jamail has featured another of my Gothic poems from 2010 on her blog…

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Tribute

Whenever a famous figure dies there is a race to pay tribute, as though we competed against each other for our mourning black. Though I must confess to donning a virtual black armband on Facebook from time-to-time, I don’t often do my funeral keening here. Over the past twenty-four hours two well-known authors have reminded me that we are all mortal. I don’t claim to have known either of them – I had a brush with one of their publishers recently, but let’s not go there again – but I do wish to note today that each of them had an influence on my writing.

Harper LeeAt the time I started writing seriously, Harper Lee had published one single work of fiction. However, that was the book that would come first to mind if ever one was asked to name a 21c American novel. Chances are that To Kill A Mockingbird would spring to one’s lips before anything by Hemingway, Sallinger, Fitzgerald, or even Steinbeck. Why? As a piece of literature it did not represent any great step forward, it offered no breakthrough in technique or genre. What it did do, however, was capture a 1960s Zeitgeist, and capture it early. Or did it? It was published five years after Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat in the bus, and thirty years after the era it depicted. What was outstanding about it was that, notwithstanding its being written primarily for an adult readership, its narrative voice was that of a child; that child observed no great world events, but simply watched what happened in a small town in Alabama during the Depression, noting the attitudes of people of one race to those of another. Of course there’s much more to the book than that, and indeed if there is any change in racial attitudes by the end of the story it was the merest flicker of the needle on the dial! The tabula rasa of the child-narrator’s consciousness was a wonderful device for presenting truth without judgment, enabling the reader to see beyond the rights and wrongs that thirty years of hindsight reveal, to the ordinariness and humanity of the characters. To Kill A Mockingbird has never been out-of-print, is read by young and old, and is studied both by schoolchildren and academics.

By the time I had published my second novel and had realised that neither of them was the modern, Scottish equivalent of To Kill A Mockingbird, I knew that I would never do what this writer whom I admired so much had done. I would at one time have gladly sacrificed the two fingers I use to type, if I could have written one novel that contended with Lee’s, and then retired from writing as she did. And then last year she surprised us all by publishing a second novel. Controversy surrounded Go Set A Watchman from the beginning. Was it Lee herself who had authorised the publication, or was it released under someone else’s influence? Was it a stand-alone novel or a sequel to Mockingbird? Was it anything more than a draft of some chapters of her first attempt at a novel that followed Scout Finch from childhood to womanhood and Atticus to old age? I bought it and read it – how could I not? – and reviewed it. It inspired me to write a short story – now abandoned – about the lowering of the Confederate flag outside the courthouse of a small American town.

I wept yesterday. I’m not ashamed to say, though it is silly to admit it, that I felt bereft. Perhaps it’s not silly at all, because I have felt her influence throughout my own writing career, and it feels as though something in my own life has been wiped out. So this morning I had to steady myself afresh when I learned of the death of Umberto Eco.Umberto Eco Here was another writer from whom I claim influence. As a semiotician, Eco had a mind that was adept at cracking the codes of language, literature, culture, and philosophy, and reassembling them to tell stories. He dreamed up scenarios, pulled contexts from the thin air of history, wove plots that bent logic round like a Möbius strip, built on unlikely premises his unexpected yet inevitable outcomes, filled his books with compelling characters, played hide-the-easter-egg with references (no, not that Baskerville, this Baskerville; no, not that Foucault, this Foucault). Where he influenced me in my writing was firstly in that genius for unexpectedness. Secondly, there was his realisation that language was merely a code for something else that was going on, for a reality beyond the words themselves. I don’t mind admitting took direct from his The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana the idea of having a (supposedly) amnesiac protagonist and used it in my novel-in-progress The Deptford Bear.

Lives, ordinary or famous, do not end conveniently. Books do not close, they are left open. Curtains are not drawn, doors remain ajar, and our talk of eras ending is meaningless. What has ended, in the case of Harper Lee and Umberto Eco, is (merely?) their ongoing contribution; we may, if we wish, draw a line under the canon of each, construct a convenient timeline for them. In dying, they have not done anything that the rest of us don’t do. Their immortality will be a thing of our imagination, but in that they will be as solid to us as Atticus Finch and William of Baskerville.

HAV YU SEEN DIS GURL?

The sequel to From My Cold Undead HandKWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE – is being prepared for publication!

HAV YU SEEN DIS GURL

HAV YU SEEN DIS GURL?

The editing process has begun on the sequel to my first YA vampire novel. I’m working with the eagle-eyed editor whose built-in detector for not just typos but lame turns of phrase* is, even as you read this, scanning the manuscript. He’s making it ready for publication this year!

The story itself jumps ahead several years from the first novel, into a throughly dystopian setting. Some of the characters express themselves in a ‘conlang‘ called NU AMERIKAN, and all of the official notices are printed in it too. But don’t worry about that, as it is only seeded through the book and doesn’t hurt the flow of reading. Basically, NU AMERIKAN is a simplification of modern American English, rather the same way that George Orwell’s fictional ‘Newspeak’ related to the English of Great Britain. Creating it was a stimulating intellectual exercise – and fun.

But the prime purpose of the novel is to be an adventure. There is a new… hero? protagonist?  A couple of the characters from From My Cold, Undead Hand appear again, but it might surprise you how they appear. Importantly there will be lots of action, in a nightmare landscape full of danger. More news as I get it.

 

*Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but sometime’s I’m guilty of that.

‘Pitlochry, as the dread hour approaches.’

I don’t appear to have a ‘reblog’ function, so I can’t re-post my agent’s report on the reading of my short story ‘The Ice-House’ here. So, please click the photo of Pitlochry Festival Theatre at dusk to be taken there.

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‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’ reviewed.

fmcuhReader Anastacia Zittel recently sent this review of From My Cold, Undead Hand to the Readers’ Favorite web site:

From My Cold Undead Hand (Where the Vampires Are, Volume 1) by Marie Marshall is the first book in what promises to be a thrilling, interesting take on vampire legend and lore. Chevonne Kusnetsov is a teenager living in the near-distant future, a world that you will recognize but it is subtly different from our own. Chevonne is like any other normal teenager – she goes to school, has friends, has a mother who worries about her, stays home alone after school reading books, but her ‘job’ is not the job of normal teenagers – she researches and kills vampires. This isn’t a Buffy the Vampire Slayer world, where the vampires are all beautiful, but our world where the vampires just want you dead. Chevonne is a Resistance fighter, and she’s out to save mankind.

Marshall does a fantastic job with creating an alternate world for us, where the action happens at a breakneck pace. From using technology that isn’t developed yet, to using weapons not designed yet, to using language and phrases not spoken yet, she creates a universe that is strangely familiar to us, yet it’s a place where you have to watch your back or you’ll be dead. Vampires aren’t glamorous, it isn’t romantic to meet a vampire in the alley behind the school, and they most certainly don’t sparkle. Marshall also does a remarkable job of tying in the classic vampire novel, Dracula, but makes you believe that it’s all real. This is a book that will leave you breathless for more!

The sequel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE – Volume 2 of Where the Vampires Are – should be published this year, so watch this space!

Hear ‘The Ice-House’ at Pitlochry!

Ice House

A stretch of the Scottish coastline, though deceptively close to the port of Dundee in one direction, and the ancient city of St Andrews in the other, was a lonely expanse of sand dunes little more than a hundred years ago. Nowadays there is a pinewood and a car park near one end of it, and tracks to walk, but back then it was a solitary, almost inaccessible area. Somewhere, hidden in the dunes and pines, is an old ice-house, once used for storing salmon. A young woman, out for a day’s hike in the summer of 1919, stumbles across it, and awakens an old, dark mystery…

That is the premise for my eerie short story ‘The Ice-House’, and if you come along to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre on Friday 12th February, you will hear the whole tale unfold, as it is read out to the audience there by actor Helen Logan. Yes, once again one of my stories will feature as a winner in the Winter Words Festival‘s competition – ‘Fearie Tales’.

The time, 9.30pm. The venue, the River Room at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. I dare you to be there!

 

 

It doesn’t hurt to ask, but don’t build your hopes up.

watchOver six months ago several things came to a head seemingly all at once. Firstly the flying of the Confederate flag – or rather its lowering – became an issue all over the southern states of the USA. Secondly a prominent activist was outed as trans-racial. Thirdly, Harper Lee’s publishers released Go Set A Watchman.

The latter was significant to me. Harper Lee had always been a heroine of mine, for writing one of the monuments of American Literature – To Kill a Mockingbird – and then retiring. I wanted to do the Scottish equivalent, but as soon as I published my second novel that was out of the question anyway – that fact always makes me smile.

With the near-coincidence of these three things, it occurred to me to write a short story, set in 2015, in which a young female couple, one of whom is of mixed racial heritage, have a rendezvous in the Alabama town where one of them has her roots. Together they see how the town has coped with the realities of the twenty-first century. The central event in the story is the lowering of the Confederate flag at the town’s courthouse; but also the couple visit, in passing, an elderly lady who can remember her childhood in the town, during the Depression. My story remained unfinished. I had planned it as a tribute to Harper Lee, and it only really made sense if I could call the elderly woman ‘Jean Louise Finch’. This was, as I say, to be a serious story and a tribute, not ‘fanfic’. So I did the polite thing and got in touch with Ms Lee’s publishers to ask permission, leaving the story unfinished.

Well, seven months later, long after I had forgotten about the project, I got my answer. No. Not only could I not call the elderly character ‘Jean Louise Finch’, I could not use any character names out of To Kill A Mockingbird or Go Set A Watchman. That’s fair enough, I guess. Not only that, but I could not call the town ‘Maycomb’. Okay, I can see the logic in that, given the interdict on character names. But apparently I could call the town ‘Monroeville’ if I wanted. Well thanks, I know I could – any writer is free to set a story in a real place – but the point would be lost. In any case, seven months after the event(s), the moment for the story has passed. It remains unfinished.

But I thought I would share a passage with you, just for the heck of it. Very little else of the story has been written, and now probably won’t be; so what you have here is a little insight. The accompanying pictures are of the old and new courthouses in Monroeville – and just to be clear, the new courthouse can be seen to be flying the Stars-and-Stripes and the Alabama State Flag, not the Confederate flag, which was another reason why fictionalisation was necessary. By the way, the story was to be called The Standard of the Camp, which is a reference to Numbers 1:52 and Numbers 2:2 in the Bible.

*
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Judith parked the car a few blocks away, and we walked hand in hand, joining one of the little streams of people approaching from every direction to swell the small crowd in front of the building. It was indeed a small crowd as a proportion of the population – only a few hundred – but unless a person had a reason to wish to be there for what was, after all, only a minor piece of history when taken with the bigger picture, why make a fuss and stir yourself? To Judith and me, with our own union being also a small part of a bigger picture, there was a reason to come. There was to be no ceremony. Simply, at six o’clock, the Confederate flag was to be lowered from the flagpole outside the courthouse, never to be raised there again. It was to be an occurrence, that’s all.

“Has that flag always flown here?” I asked Judith.

“Not sure,” she said. “The way I heard it, it wasn’t raised anywhere at all until the nineteen-twenties. There’s a picture somewhere of the old courthouse during World War Two, and it had the Stars and Stripes on the flagpole, and another picture taken during the Cold War that shows the same. Someone told me that a group of local politicians pushed through some measure when Obama got elected President. But hell, I’ve hardly ever been down this part of town before, so I wouldn’t know.”

“I guess people didn’t really notice until it became an issue.”

“You got that right!” said someone near me.

I get that. When something is just part of the scenery you don’t notice it. Then one day it’s gone, maybe a tree is cut down or a building demolished or something new built, and the best you can do is wonder what’s wrong with this picture. The Stars and Bars on a biker’s jacket or tacked up in the back of a neighbor’s garage can just be scenery. Until someone decides to become a semiotician, and – bam! Just how important to us all was disposing of this symbol? Apparently it was important to APT and WSFA as they had cameras there, so it was potentially news.

The clock at the old courthouse began to strike the hour. A side door of the newer building opened, two uniformed court bailiffs came out and began to walk diagonally across the lawn towards the flagpole. The buzz in our little crowd died down. I could see that a reporter from one of the TV stations had stationed herself between the cameras and the flagpole and was talking into a microphone. There were no salutes, there was no fuss, one of the bailiffs untied the hoist from its cleat, and began to hand-over-hand it. The flag began to descend, slowly. As it did, a knot of men nearer the front began to chant.

“USA, USA, USA…”

I could see a veteran’s cap, I could see a biker’s bandana, I could see a couple of hand-held Stars and Bars being waved.

“God, they say we Americans have no sense of irony, and they’re right,” said Judith.

“Look at another way, honey,” I said. “The way these guys see it, the ideal of the United States is that the whole is not greater than its parts, there is no over-riding principle that can impose itself on a constituent state, and indeed upon the right of an individual’s expression. In some way that’s what they believe in. In their view of history, that’s what the Confederacy was fighting to establish and the Union was trying to crush.”

“That’s an extraordinary opinion to come from an African-American,” said a voice behind me. I looked over my shoulder at the woman who had spoken. I hadn’t heard any hostility in her voice and I couldn’t see any in her face.

“I guess I’m repeating something I heard from someone here in town,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong. To me that flag is just what they say it is – the symbol of white supremacy – and although I’m not from these parts myself, I’m glad to see it taken down. It’s just that the person who gave me that idea also told me that something like nine out of every ten Confederate soldiers had never seen a black person, let alone owned one. They didn’t decide what the flag meant. Somebody else did.”

“Hmm.”

Judith nudged me, and I turned back. People had their iPhones out, taking pictures of the lowering. Some were taking selfies.

“You want a picture?”

“Nuh-uh. No thanks.” For many reasons I did not.

The flag came to the end of its journey. The guys chanting fell silent. I stood on tiptoes to watch the two court bailiffs detach it from the hoist and fold it without any flourish. One of them tucked it under his arm and they began to walk back towards the courthouse. What would happen to it now? As long as it never flew again, did I actually care? Judith and I turned to go.

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*

I recall a similar thing happened when I had an idea for a full-length adventure novel featuring a character created by a fellow-Scot. Her creation was not a pleasant character, he was in fact the arch-rival of her protagonist. But I saw in him the potential lead in a story about a cynical adult wizard. So I wrote to her publishers and asked for permission. And of course the answer came back in the negative. Now, I am all for authors protecting their intellectual copyright, given current social and commercial circumstances. I feel no rancor to either Harper Lee or to JKR because their people said no. Indeed, my cynical adult wizard – Agent Delta of the Chthonic Intelligence Agency© – still exists on my virtual drawing-board, is not named as anyone in any other work of fiction, inhabits a milieu nowhere near any boarding-school, and may come to life in a way that infringes no copyright.

1On the other hand, when I got in touch with Irvine Welsh and asked if I could use his name as the central character in an epic poem – Welshday – in which he journeys through the city of Edinburgh in the company of an inebriate detective and a living statue, in a tribute to James Joyce’s celebration of ‘Bloomsday’, he replied “Why not! Go for it!”. All of which leads me to the point of this post: it doesn’t hurt to ask. Countless authors have based novels and stories on pre-existing characters – the Flashman novels, James Bond novels by Kingsley Amis and William Boyd, and so on. Sometimes a living author will hand on the baton willingly to a successor, and the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.

As it happens, Welshday was never finished either. I know the concept of unfinished writings seem strange, almost like the idea of failure. But I draw the analogy with a painter’s studio – no one finds it strange to find drawings, sketches, studies, and unfinished works there, so I have no qualms about admitting to countless novels, stories, and poems that never made it (yet!) to completion. In fact Welshday gave rise to some good stand-alone poems, so here’s one of them for you. Our journeying hero and his inebriate companion visit a bar in Leith, where they are accosted by a Russian seafarer who claims to be the only survivor from the sinking of the submarine Kursk. It’s a sestina:

 

Old Rimbaud said, “Let’s go and take a glass
of whiskey in a jostling pub I know.”
I, like a sodding numpty, dogged his steps,
And tracked him to a clapped-out, frowsy dive,
Where half the clientele were missing ears –
the other half were shouting to be heard!

We’d been there half an hour when I heard
a Russian sailor tap the falling glass;
he grabbed my sleeve, said “This is for your ears
alone, no other bugger has to know.
I heard my skipper calling dive-dive-dive,
as I slid down the conning-tower steps…”

Old Rimbaud, blootered, sunk down on the steps;
the Russian bellowed at me, to be heard.
“The air inside gets hotter when you dive,
the sea is slagged and dark as bottle-glass.
The ghost of every bugger that you know
floats by, and there’s a pounding in your ears!”

His sliding, slootered accent hurt my ears.
I thumbed my belt and slipped some salsa steps;
I said, “Now tell me something I don’t know,
no half-arsed, half-cocked tale already heard,
no shite enigma darkly in a glass,
no bonny buck-and-wing, no duck-and-dive!”

He scowled at me and, miming a crash-dive,
resumed the tale that battered at my ears,
while I, to ease my pain, sucked at my glass.
“Kolesnikov took all the proper steps,
and we went aft – perhaps you might have heard –

but when you’re frigging shark-bait, boy, you know!”
I shut him up, and said, “Here’s what I know –
no fucker made it home from that last dive –
They all asphyxiated, so I heard!”
He laughed, he jeered, I stopped my ringing ears,
and sat down with old Rimbaud on the steps,
to spit at all the demons in my glass.

When ghosts well from a glass you always know,
You’re sitting on the steps of some sad dive,
and though you stop your ears you’ll still have heard!

The Winter 2016 Showcase at ‘the zen space’…

… is now on line! This time round, haijin and poets from all over the globe have been taking pot-shots at crows, and the result is murderous. Visit here, and join in the caw-rus…

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So, what are you doing if you’re not writing?

Apart from feeling guilty, you mean? No, seriously, that is an issue.

authoressWhen I think about it, my output over the past few years has been quite something. I have to remind myself that, since about 2005, apart from having finished four novels (three of which have been published and the other is with my publisher awaiting publication), having had at least two-hundred-and-fifty poems published in collections, anthologies, magazines, and e-zines, having written enough short stories to fill over two volumes, I have taken part for five years in a poem-a-day project. So why stop? Why stop that poem-a-day, and why halt progress on my latest novel after 20,000 words? Well, let me be clear about this – I needed a break, and believe me I’m feeling the benefit. Output had taken over from quality, and I was exhausted and frustrated.

So where does the guilt come from? I don’t know. Maybe from the little imp on my shoulder who keeps whispering to me, “You’re an ex-writer, that’s what you are! Now you’ve stopped, you’ll never start again.”

Maybe, in fact, it has to do with the continuing output of fellow-writers I respect. There they go, merrily taking part in NaNoWriMo and suchlike, galloping though the creation of a novel in a single month, filling their blogs with poetry, writing columns of advice for colleague-authors, posting their goals and how they have achieved them… I could go on line now and find, with ease, confident articles on the discipline and routine of writing, and below each I would find an almost endless roll of comments thanking the writer for his or her sage advice. And I would know that, try as I might, I couldn’t stick to anything like such a routine. I might manage it for a week… ten days…

And yet, there’s all my output. I must have had some impetus and discipline somewhere. You would think so. A colleague said my writing was ‘visceral’, meeting that it sprang from emotion, from feelings rather than thoughts. When I consider that such movements in art and writing as modernism, expressionism, and imagism have influenced me, I guess she could be right. Certainly when I set out to write something, with certain exceptions, I do not start out with the goal of reaching a goal. By that I mean that my work is seldom driven by the end, I do not start my novels, for example, with the resolution of the narrative already in my mind*. I describe such a practice a ‘male’ writing, by which I mean it is driven along by the desire to reach a single climax, to use a sexual analogy. It’s the authorial equivalent of ‘getting your end away’. And it is something that is so ingrained in our culture, that it is hard to counter, hard to offer any other way of doing things. As we say in Scotland, ‘it’s aye been’, or at least its ingrainedness gives that impression. Writers like Virginia Woolf showed us that it simply didn’t have to be so, it didn’t have to be the unwritten rule that we all revered like Holy Writ. Yet it lurches along still, like some kind of zombie. There, that’s today’s thought – ‘Zombie male writing’.

To me, there was so much left undone in modernism, as though they picked up the ball, ran with it, passed it to the next author, who just stood there and let it drop. I know, I know, my mixed metaphors are murder today…

Where was I? Oh yes – what have I been doing if not writing. Well, same as ever. Holding down a job, editing, playing my part in family routine, coping with physical and psychological conditions (my own and others’), reading, in fact all the things I was doing while I was writing. Y’know, I wonder where I found the time to write so much! So will I let all these mundane necessities fill the available time, will I become used to them, so used to them that I will one day forget to write, forget that I ever wrote? Well, let’s face it, one day we will all close our eyes on daylight and not simply forget what we were but lose the forgetting too. Life is about letting go. So it is, of course, possible that I will never write again, ever.

Possible, but improbable.

Despite the imp on my shoulder, I’m not an ex-writer. Hell, what am I doing right now if not writing? I haven’t stepped away from my work entirely. I jot stuff down, the odd word, the odd phrase, the odd idea. I go through my unpublished corpus to see if there is anything worth submitting to a poetry magazine**. Ideas on how to progress my novel – the one I’m half way through, the one I always wanted to write – keep circulating in my head. And anyway, competing with the guilt-imp is the wee wight on my other shoulder, telling me that if I don’t go back to writing someday soon, I’ll end up in that charming little beauty spot located, I’m told, near Harrisburg PA.

Near Harrisburg PA

Gonnae no dae that! Gonnae no!

__________

*Many writers claim not to do this, but frankly it’s what most of ‘em do!

**I haven’t submitted anything since about 2013, at which time I devoted all my energy to writing a collection specially for a publisher. The result was my prize-nominated I am not a fish.