Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: Cigarettes and Astrid Lindgren by Regi Claire

Welcome back! It's the third Thursday of July and time for the third reflection in the 2015 Summer Library Series.  This summer's season began in Philadelphia, travelled through the rural towns of Washington, and now crosses over to Switzerland.  Please enjoy this memory by author Regi Claire, who takes us into her childhood by way of a small school's attic library.

Primarschule Mūnchwilen,
Photo by Roland Zumbuehl
Cigarettes and Astrid Lindgren
by Regi Claire

Regi Claire as a child,
Used with author's permission
When I was eight, I read a whole library. A library? Yes. Housed in a small attic room with a combed ceiling, up a steep flight of wooden stairs from the stone-flagged second floor of my village primary school. But why the sink and cupboards? Why the thick cigarette smoke? Well, the library must have been an afterthought. 
        First and foremost, the room was for the staff. The table was always littered with debris after the teachers' mid-morning break: full ashtrays, empty cups, a coffee pot, milk jug, spilt sugar  and, best of all, a plate of leftover cookies. Out of the whole week, Saturdays were the only days we kids, or at least a couple of us, were allowed into that smoky sanctum. And, boy, didn’t we fight for it!
        Picture the little girl then, with her straight hair and almost-straight frock, dashing off her arithmetic exercises extra-quick to be eligible for the cookies  and the books that would make her head reel with magic. Luckily, my maths skills were up to scratch. ‘Off you go, Regula (the tedious version of my name). And you too, Karoline.’
         Generally it was girls who got chosen  probably because our hands were marginally cleaner… You didn’t think we were sent upstairs simply to have fun, did you? Pleasures are usually dampened by duties, in our case by soap suds. The water, which our teacher would run into the sink before leaving us to do the washing-up, was so hot that when you plunged in your hands they came out looking boiled. At least this made us feel grown up.
        The school library consisted of two long shelves above the counter and sink. And so, after tidying away the dried cups, spoons and saucers and polishing off the last of the cookies, we would climb the short ladder to check out the books. We loved fantasy, adventure and romance. Authors such as Astrid Lindgren, Ottfried Preussler, Erich Kästner, Klaus Held, Lisa Tetzner and Federica de Cesco were among our favourites. We knew we didn’t have much time before the teacher returned to take us back to the classroom, but for the few minutes up on that ladder under the eaves, choosing our booty, we were the happiest schoolkids on earth.
        That was how, to my mind, dish-washing became synonymous with libraries and cookies. These days my husband reads to me while I plunge my hands into the suds after dinner. By now we must have shared close to two hundred books  far too many to fit into that little library at my old primary school!

Regi Claire grew up in Switzerland and now lives in Scotland. She speaks four languages and is the author of four books of fiction, all written in English: Inside~Outside (1998), The Beauty Room (2002), Fighting It (2009), and The Waiting (2012). She has twice been shortlisted for a Saltire
Regi Claire,
photograph by Mike Knowles

Scottish Book of the Year award. One of her stories was selected for Best British Short Stories 2013. A former Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, she is now a newly appointed Royal Literary Fund Lector for Reading Round Scotland. She is married to poet and novelist Ron Butlin. You can read several of her stories online, such as "The Tasting" and "Fighting It." To learn more about her and her work, please visit

Books by authors in the Summer Library Series will link directly to author-friendly sites, such as the press itself or to the international library search engine, Please support small publishers, independent bookstores, and our libraries.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: On Libraries and Vans by Maya Jewell Zeller

We're in the second week of the 2015 Summer Library Series, where each Thursday brings us a new writer reflecting on his or her childhood in the library. This week, we're moving from a branch library in Philadelphia to a mobile library in Washington State.

Dedicated readers of the series may remember a travelling library in England that we learned about in the first season in Dan Powell's piece, "The Library Delivered."  This week's installment will change the landscape where the books travelled, but not the pleasure of finding them when they stopped. Please enjoy Maya Jewell Zeller's memories of the mobile, rural Washington lending libraries.  Enjoy!

"No longer in service, this old TRL bookmobile now resides on private property
just south of Amanda Park, Washington. Photo taken 19 Dec 2011. Library Service to this area of rural
Washington is now provided by the Amanda Park branch of Timberland Regional Library."
Used under CC license
On Libraries and Vans: a Western Washington Pastoral
By Maya Jewell Zeller
Where my family lived wasn’t a town. It was a series of backroads off Rural Route 4, a river bend tourists would have driven past—or did—if it wasn’t for their interest in the covered bridge, promised like a Meryl Streep movie, if you take the turn indicated and head down the hill, past the tangle of maple and alder, sword fern and salmonberry, through the field of hay grass and thistle with the nettled edge. 

            I didn’t know what a RomCom was, or really much about American culture beyond our valleys. But once a week, my mother took us to the library van in Naselle, a fifteen-minute drive from where we lived. I thought of that van the way I imagine some kids in cities might have anticipated the ice cream truck—at first, with excitement over their new flavors; I could almost taste the books, their potential—and soon, with familiarity, having had every kind, intoning which I would choose based on my mood, the color and definition of clouds. It wasn’t long before I had read every children’s book in the van, and moved on to YA, and then adult.

            The van of books was part of the Timberland Regional Library System (TRLS). TRLS libraries serve the five Southwest Washington counties Grays Harbor, Thurston, Mason, Lewis, and Pacific. In the late 1980s, before TRL expanded to the 27 libraries they have today, they utilized Bookmobiles—vans stationed in the rural-est of rural communities so children like me could check out books, add to their growing understanding of the tangible world.

            The library van was a small castle of knowledge, imagination, possibility. Like my natural library of plants, it held both familiarity and the promise of something beyond that familiarity. So, when I think of libraries, I think of vans. I think of my other kind of “library van”—the kind that happened when my family left the valley I knew and drove away in a VW bus made up like a small home on wheels, traveled every couple months to make a little cash so we could keep paying our cheap ($150/month) rent, keep living in the old farmhouse with the bathtub falling through the floor and the fields and fields and brambles and sky and river.
"Willapa Hills" by Emily Geddes, Used under CC license
I’m ten. It’s summer, or more specifically, a summer-like fall. Our parents have pulled us from school again, and I’m at a library in Winlock, in Raymond, in Shelton, in Elma, in Hoquiam. It doesn’t matter which one. Whichever it is, I know this library. They are all over Southwest Washington, in all the rural towns of the Willapa Hills. My mother and father leave my sister and me at the library, a natural babysitter, while they re-cover billiards tables.
            For an hour or so, we sit obediently in the stacks, reading children’s books to one another, exploring the magical realms of endless language. But we’re children, and we wander . . . like our library van, searching for more library vans, searching for curious lands, our hands curious and searching for curiosities.
            In one town, we find a bank with a fountain.
            The fountain is full of coins!
            What a joy for two children whose books are loans, whose toys are whistle-grass and bull thistle, who live sometimes itinerant van lives. We gather the coins into our pockets—shiny quarters, coppery pennies like a river gleam, like lit seeds on an unmowed hay field, dimes, nickels—our pockets full, we pitch some back and wink at the drive-through attendant who barely believes our kindness to return what we’ve rightfully found: her mouth open in surprise at our generosity! 
            Rich as queens, we duck into gift shops, buy plastic boats, books, in a thrift shop a paper bag of lingerie for one dollar—from the fill-a-bag-for-a-buck bin—and parade back to the bank with our boats and our extra change we throw back in coin by coin. We wish and wish and wish and wish for more.
            I wish for a library building, a book castle. I wish for a frosted cookie.
            This is our library of monetary wealth: a bank fountain, from which we liberate what we can, give back what we don’t use.

            In another town, we are to wait in the van. Our parents are in the tavern, and we have little toy bears, our snacks, our books, the libraries of our imaginations. We leave it all, except our brains. Behind us is a river, we can hear it, but we have to navigate a steep slope lush with maples and alders, we have to scramble down to reach the bank, a rock bar where we hop among the boulders looking for ones where our little hips will fit. We settle on some granite lumps from which we can see the other shore—not more than thirty feet across the river, where a more silty/sandy gravel bar juts out in a wide arc just below the field above.
            Nothing happens. We sit, we watch the river move around its rocks.
            It is as if we are thinking of which book to choose—looking at the opposite shore, not even scanning, really—when we feel the earth begin to vibrate, nearly imperceptible at first, so neither of us speak of it, then noticeable, our bodies humming with the hum and us turning toward each other, then loud like thunder and across the river a cloud of dust and golden moving gods, their hooves and the hum and the air dust we can now taste, its chalky presence, the cloud of these animals’ bodies—a herd of wild horses, honey colored palominos coming down the bank, the water splashing, their bodies unaware of us, fixed points, the whole library of horses we are inside for only a moment, really, before it moves on, and is gone, and we hardly believe it has been there at all except we’ve both witnessed—been witness to, been one with, the spirit-rich reality of it. The kind of event that, had you been alone, you wouldn’t whisper a word of to anyone, for fear it wasn’t real, or sharing it would make it less so.

            I still think of that as one of the most visceral moments of my life, the Wordsworthian library of that moment, in which all my senses were alive, and I knew nothing.
            My mother learns from the owner of the tavern that a family owns and keeps the land so the horses can live there. Later, I check out a book from the library, read about wild horse herds and how they are in danger in the west, all over America. This herd is an anomaly.
            But no amount of information competes with the duende of that moment when the wild horses were around me, or the monument my memory has made of it since.
            In the early 1990s, the rural town we then called home—where we’d had the grace of a Bookmobile—replaced the van with a funded, fixed library building. But I still think of the van where first I worked my way through the picture books, young adult novels, moved on to “gardens,” eventually went off to college, where the century-old building was bricked and cavernous and unmovable by wheels, and smelled of musty carpet-bag couches and unwatered spider plants.
            And, later, and now, with digital technology, I know I can access the world--but still when I visit a library, online or in person, I imagine it as a van full of colorful spines, stopping in the closest town, and me inside—filling my bag with books I'll then haul in our van around our little corner of the state, the state another library itself, and me a librarian, cataloguing plants and coins and wild horses and all the viscera into their little shelves of memory.


Maya Jewell Zeller is a poet living in Spokane, WA. Her first collection, Rust Fish, is available from Lost Horse Press. Her chapbook, Yesterday, The Bees, will be published by Floating Bridge Press this autumn. She is the fiction editor at Crab Creek Review and teaches at Gonzaga University. She runs a reading series, leads workshops, gardens, and raises two children with her husband, Chris. You can enjoy these poems, "Astoria" (The Florida Review) and "My Grandmother's Cow" (Rattle). To read and learn more, visit her website:


Books by authors in the Summer Library Series will link directly to author-friendly sites, such as the press itself or to the international library search engine, Please support small publishers, independent bookstores, and our libraries.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: Scofflaw by Simone Zelitch

Welcome to the inaugural post of this summer's library series!  I'm pleased to showcase a third season of excellent writers and their reflections on growing up in the library.  The series originated in Summer 2012, when I was awarded an Artist Trust Fellowship that gave me the time to work on my fiction and other creative projects.

I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and looked forward to the annual public library summer reading program: the appearance of new colorful bookmarks on the circulation desk, the hanging of a banner of that summer's theme, and best of all, all the shiny new books that began to arrive and were set out in cardboard displays on the children's shelves but remained cloaked in sheets until the opening day.  It was a wonderful anticipation to experience. 

But because those programs are for children, and I've left that phase in most ways, I wanted to create something that provided that same excitement for grown-ups and returned us all to the library.  May you find the same excitement each Thursday when a new library reflection is released here at What She Might Think, from now through August.  And may you find yourself returning to the library nearest you and supporting this important aspect of our lives. 

Please enjoy this reflection by novelist Simone Zelitch, whose many early books came from the circulation desk at a branch library in Philadelphia.

The front of a single story library with a green roof and two glass doors. Foreground is sidewalk sheeted in rain.
Picture of Bustleton Branch Library

by Simone Zelitch 
The Bustleton branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia looks like a highway rest step: a single-story structure with long, narrow windows and a corrugated green roof.  It’s located next to Washington High school, which was an easy walk from our house in Northeast Philadelphia.  My mother claims that she took out fifteen books a week for me.  I never came along which made the process more efficient, but could be the reason why I have no early memories of libraries, no sentimental images of choosing my own read-out-loud book and watching a librarian stamp it with the due-date.  It also may explain why I couldn’t grasp that these library books were shared property.   I’d dog-ear pages, crack spines, and stain whatever I was reading with whatever I was eating at the time.   You might say that I left my mark. 
Photograph of two, dark-haired young girls in a photobooth. One is older and wears a hat, and the other hugs her from behind, head on her shoulder. They hold a small ceramic cow.
Simone hugging her "hippie sister"
who now works as a digital archivist.
Used with permission of author.
Things got worse when I began to check out books on my own. I didn’t return them. Cheap paperbacks like Paul Zindel’s The Pigman migrated from the library’s wire racks to my bookshelf and stayed there, along with dozens of case studies about teenagers who drifted through a hostile world until they finally found the person who understood them. I was that person. No one could love those books like me. Returning them to the library felt just plain wrong, as though I was condemning Lisa Bright and Dark or Dibs in Search of Self  to a life of abandonment and alienation. Besides, my older sister—a hippie and a role model— had so many library fines accrued that she was actually forbidden from ever taking out a book again,  and I had to do everything she did. In short—though I wouldn’t have used those words when I was twelve—returning library books felt like giving in to a conformist culture. 
What was the turning point?   In 1977, when I was fourteen, I actually wanted a book that was in demand, Alex Hailey’s Roots. Did the library have a record of all those unreturned paperbacks?  Maybe not, because they put me on a waiting list, and when my turn came, I took home a thick hardback with the same bold cover that had appeared at the end of the opening credits of the miniseries, and I propped it on my nightstand so it would be the first thing I’d see when I got up in the morning. Actually, the book wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be, but I did return it on time. After all, someone had done the same for me.  
Maybe that’s when I realized that libraries demanded a kind of social contract. Who read my nerdy paperbacks before I came along? I looked at the call slips and saw the long strip of stamped months and dates.  Eight readers had checked out I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. They were decent enough to return it so I could get my chance to read about a schizophrenic teenager and her German therapist. It’s romantic to imagine you’re the only one who loves something. It’s astounding to realize that you’re not alone. Who were the readers represented by the back-and-front eternity of stamps on Prince Caspian or Player Piano? Who took out Le Guin’s The Dispossessed or Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid or just about anything by Orwell or the autobiography of Emma Goldman?  In the days before social media, it wasn’t easy to find these people, my people, my tribe, but the stamped cards were proof positive: That tribe existed.    
It took me a long time to understand that honoring the social contract of a library isn’t conformist. It’s countercultural. In a consumer society, libraries aren’t about what we own; they’re about what we share. Given this understanding, when I look through my own crammed bookshelves, what should I do when I come across a copy of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t that was due on March 12, 1973?  Should I return it?  Probably.  

Simone writing in her room, 1978
Used with permission of author

Cover of Zelitch's novel,
Simone Zelitch has published four novels, most recently Waveland. Earlier work includes The Confession of Jack Straw, Moses in Sinai, and Louisa which was the recipient of the Goldberg Prize in Emerging Jewish Fiction. Her work has also appeared in The Lost Tribe Anthology and has been featured in the NPR broadcast and the published anthology Hanukah Lights.  Recent honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Fiction, and residences at the Edward Albee Barn and Yaddo.  She established a Creative Writing program at Community College of Philadelphia and currently coordinates their new Degree in English.  A new novel, Judenstaat, is forthcoming from Tor books in Summer 2016.  Visit her website here:
Books by authors in the Summer Library Series will link directly to author-friendly sites, such as the press itself or to the international library search engine, Please support small publishers, independent bookstores, and our libraries.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coming Soon: Summer Library Series 2015

Yes, it's that time of year.
Time to read.
Time to go to the library.
Time to pay the fine for the library books that you kept meaning to return.
Sarasota, FL 1958. Flickr, no known copyright restrictions.
And it's almost time for the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think, where writers from around the world reflect on their childhood experiences in the library--from the non-experience to the befuddled experience to the awful experience.
I'm lining up the writers we'll begin hearing from in July.  But until then, like any good fan, please enjoy the summers' past writers as you prepare for the writers who are in the wings, typing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Chapbook Now Available!

My story "How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble" is now available as a chapbook from The Head and The Hand Press, a fantastic craft publisher in Philadelphia.

To get a copy:
A) If you're in Philadelphia, you can pick up a copy from a vending machine in Elixir Coffee.
B) Order directly through the press: 
C) If you'd like a signed copy, I have some available in the stash that follows me to readings/signings.

For Option B, send me a message and we'll go from there.

Photo Credit: The Head & The Hand Press

About the Story
A sister vanishes. The sister who is left is trying to find her, even once she knows she's dead.

It was published originally in The Minnesota Review, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist in the Kore Press Short Fiction Award. The judge of that award, Karen Brennan, said this about the story:
"What I most admire about this fine story is the author’s ability to render hyper-dramatic—almost gothic-- material with a beautifully orchestrated lyricism that never over-reaches itself.  Indeed, the story of the young girl grieving for her murdered sister is made even more poignant for its distant, almost oracular point of view, a point of view that allows the reader to glimpse not only the protagonist’s confusion and sorrow, but also the indifferent, soulless landscape in which she wanders.  A little Cormac McCarthy, a little Carson McCullers, “How the Sun Burns” is full of dense atmosphere, apocalyptic overtones and heart."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Good news! The Sun Burns in a Chapbook

My story "How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble*" will be released as a chapbook by The Head and The Hand Press next week, March 12.  

If you're in Philadelphia, you should swing by the release party.  If you're in the Pacific Northwest, then listen to the skies for a party, and follow the sound. :)

The chapbooks will be sold out of a vending machine at Elixir Coffee ShopStay tuned for more purchasing details.

Here's the official announcement from The Head and The Hand Press:

Update: You can purchase the chapbook directly through their website
Cost? $3.00, includes S&H

*The story was originally published in The Minnesota Review and named a finalist in the Kore Short Fiction Award.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Underground Voices Press Presents "The Lightning Tree" as Part of E-Series

Good news! Underground Voices Press is running an e-series of standalone stories, and my story "The Lightning Tree" kicks everything off today.  You can purchase it for the super great price of $1.50.  

"The Lightning Tree" will be in my next collection How The Sun Burns.  An earlier version of the story was originally published in Aeon Press's anthology, Box of Delights.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let's Meet at the Library: After NaNo WriMo Novel Editing Workshop

National Novel Writing Month has ended again, and it's time to start shaping all those words into the novel you wanted to write and the novel we want to read.  But where to begin and how to presume? Probably not by querying an agent, or asking for advice from your best friend--who doesn't like to read anyway, or by beginning to circle your typos on page one.  

Instead, join your fellow writers in the Revision Workshop I'm leading at the North Spokane Library this Saturday, December 6, from 2-3 PM.  We'll discuss ways to re-vision your manuscript, how to think about the revising process, and take part in a hands-on activity to make you feel more confident in the editor's chair.

The workshop is free and open to all interested fiction writers, regardless of genre.

North Spokane Library
44 E. Hawthorne Rd
Spokane, WA 99218

For information about this and other cool classes offered at Spokane County Libraries, see the schedule.  See you on Saturday!

Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Some Kind of Reader by Tim Greenup

From Montana to Delaware, from Michigan to Indiana, this year's sometimes-annual edition of the Summer Library Series comes to a close "somewhere in Oakdale, Minnesota" with this reflection by writer, Tim Greenup.  Thanks to all the writers who took the time to write original work for the series, and for all the readers who have enjoyed the work (and hopefully a bit of summer reading via your own local library). Without further ado, Tim Greenup, everybody:  


Some Kind of Reader
by Tim Greenup

I can only recall two things about my childhood library - itchy red-orange industrial carpeting and a wall of windows with sunlight coming through them - which both strike me as pretty commonplace sights for a suburban public library of the late 80’s. For certain I can say this of the library: it was somewhere in Oakdale, Minnesota and my family rarely went there.

Growing up, we weren’t exactly “book people.” We were TV people, and TV was king. We watched Cheers and Roseanne while eating hard shell, ground beef, tacos on flimsy foldable TV trays. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and laughed about Balki from Perfect Strangers. We went to church and stopped for donuts afterward, never exchanging a word about the sermon, but about the Starship Enterprise instead. We enjoyed our simple cathode ray pleasures, and reading, we’d been taught by TV, was, well, boring. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

That said, we did have a few books on a shelf in our living room, like a 12 book series on various peoples of the American West ("Plains Indians", "Mountain Men", "Homesteaders", etc.) and some book about the Civil War. I never saw either of my parents open these books, and I cannot recall anyone in my family ever voicing an interest in these topics. But the books remained on that shelf until the whole house got packed up and sold off a few years ago. The mint condition of the binding at the time of their packing suggested that no one had ever read them.

As a boy, I puzzled over the origin of these books. Perhaps they had belonged to a brave warrior and my family had been entrusted to keep watch over them while he fought valiantly in some far off place. Perhaps the only thing keeping him fighting was knowing that one day, when he got home, he could sit down and read at length about the Dust Bowl. It was our duty to keep that dream alive. More than likely, though, we'd been gifted the books one Christmas and didn’t know what else to do with them, so we put them out and went on with our lives. Nevertheless, I grew to like how the books looked lined on that shelf and what this small library suggested, albeit inaccurately, about the type of people that we were - smart.

Through grade school I began to build my own library of unread books. At school book fairs I bought as many as my pet sitting dollars would allow. When teachers handed out Scholastic and Golden Books catalogs for class book orders, I was always able to convince my mother to order me a few, for I would read them and reading them would lead to many future successes. Or that’s what I told her at least - something I’d picked up on 20/20. In reality, I thought that if my classmates saw me with enough crazy stacks of books, the smarter they would think I was, the more they would respect me and, in turn, the better I would feel about myself. I collected books with a desperate, misguided passion.

Whether my intellect ever crossed a single one of my classmate's minds, I will never know. I do know, though, that eventually the stacks of unread books in my bedroom got to be too much. They crowded my dressers and grew dusty. They stared at me, feeling neglected. I felt guilty, but turned away. I couldn’t read, it was just too boring, something teachers urged you to do and why should I listen to them? Urkel was on.

At some point, my father saw all the books I had amassed and made the wild assumption that I was some kind of reader. He offered to take me to the local library, that strange place with orange carpeting and sun blasting in from all sides. On our way there, we decided we would check out a book that we could read together. I stared at the paperback covers on the revolving plastic book rack. They didn’t seem all that different from the books I had in my bedroom. Some looked scary and haunting, while others looked heroic and brave. Some suggested hijinks or mystery or romance. We opted for a book titled You Are a Monster, which was part of the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series of the time. Cramped on my twin bed, my father and I read and read. It didn’t make me feel smarter or more respected, but my brain seemed to stretch in ways it never had before. Had my father not been there, I may not have allowed it to stretch like it did. But he was there, and I felt safe. The room was quiet and warm. I thought about the story long into the night.


Tim Greenup is a writer and teacher in Spokane, Washington. His poems have appeared in Redivider, Leveler, interrupture, and elsewhere. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Head & the Hand to publish How the Sun Burns

Good news! Philadelphia-based publisher, The Head & the Hand Press, is publishing the title story of my next collection.  The story "How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble" will be available as a chapbook this October.  The story was originally published in the minnesota review, nominated for a Pushcart, and was a finalist in the Kore Press Fiction Award (2012).  Stay tuned for how to get a copy.