Monthly Archives: July 2011

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 16-Rejection Slips, Part One: KEEP YOUR FAVORITE!

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


The current binder I use to keep track of my submissions. For a long time, I had five or six very large four-inch binders that contained rejection slips and acceptances going all the way back to 1992. I no longer have them; this is the only tracker I keep now, and I clean it out frequently.

The inside of the binder. Each sheet protector holds two submissions, unless there happens to be too much correspondence connected with one submission so there isn’t room for a second.

Are you a writer? If you are, do you remember your very first rejection slip? I do, and although I knew it was somewhere in my files, I wasn’t sure where. While going through everything I own and getting rid of stuff, I came across it in a file marked “Special Letters.”

I know, it doesn’t seem like a writer’s first rejection should be held in such high esteem, but to tell you the truth, this one was so magical because of where it came from and what it meant it is my earliest memory of writing-related correspondence.

It was 1985. I was fourteen years old, and had been writing short stories since I was five or so. The only places to which I’d ever “submitted” my stories were to my teachers (pretty much the only people who supported my writing besides my friends, my Auntie Del, and my cousin Maryanne), or to my elementary and middle school writing contests or magazines.

My favorite television show at the time was the new Twilight Zone series, which had just begun airing on CBS on Fridays as part of the Fall Line-Up (remember THOSE?). I had watched the original Twilight Zone whenever my mother had it on, but this new, updated series was much more hip to my teenaged eye. After watching a few episodes and loving the endings of each, I got the thought in my head that a short piece I’d written might make a nice fit for this TV series (oh, man, did I understand NOTHING back then!). I typed it up on the old manual typewriter I had at the time, somehow got my hands on CBS’ address (remember, there was no Internet; I probably looked it up in a huge directly in the library), wrote a letter to go with it, hitched a ride to the post office with my Mom so I could get stamps (she wanted to know what the stamps were for, I told her I was sending thank-you notes), and mailed it from school.

I kept a copy of the letter I sent.

Here’s the cover letter I sent with my story. I know, it’s pretty badly written and stiff. I have to say, though, I was gutsy for 14. Then again, I didn’t know there were rules, let alone what they were. Had I NOT been ignorant of the way these things worked, I probably would have been too terrified to send in anything at all—and it’s unlikely I’d be where I am today. PS-You can read the story in the next photo, but I don’t think it has the ‘twist’ ending, nor do I think it’s well-written or complete in terms of conflict or anything.

Here’s a copy of the story. It’s typed on onion skin erasable paper.

About a month later, I came home from school and opened the mailbox—and was surprised to see a familiar logo: that of The Twilight Zone TV series! I was shocked I’d gotten a response that fast (remember, this was the world pre-e-mail and pre-Internet). And it had also come from an entirely different address than the one to which I’d sent it. I set down my book bag, fished the letter from the mailbox, and, at first, held it in my hands in disbelief. There was a name typed underneath the logo: Rockne S. O’Bannon.

The envelope that came in the mailbox.

The back of the envelope. I find it interesting that the address from whence it came is completely different from the one to which I’d sent it.

Wow. Rockne S. O’Bannon himself had typed his name under the return address! Yes, of COURSE I knew who he was. His name appeared on the credits as the series’ story editor, and he’d written one or two of the show’s segments. Other writers for the series included names of people whose stories I read all the time, like Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury.

I opened the letter and, even though it was a rejection—and it stated my story hadn’t even been read—I wasn’t disappointed. Rockne S. O’Bannon himself had written a personal letter on his letterhead to little old me! And he was even nice enough to send back the self-addressed, stamped envelope, which meant I could re-use the stamp (of course, I never did; I wanted to keep my prize intact)!

The letter I received from Mr. O’Bannon. It’s typed, on a typewriter—undoubtedly the most modern one available in 1985—and is on a dark gray 100% Cotton 32-lb. stock.

My story was returned to me in exactly the condition I’d sent it. It was quite obvious it hadn’t been read.

The SASE he returned. I’m not sure if you had a choice in what designs on the stamps you wanted back then, but I find it amusing it was a whelk, which means if I DID have a choice, I probably deliberately picked it for good luck.

So there it is, my first rejection. That letter should have crushed me, but instead, it fueled the fire. Because to a lonely fourteen-year-old kid who didn’t get any support for her writing from her parents, this was not a rejection: this was communication. This was response.

I started looking up magazines and sending my short stories all over the place. I became addicted to checking the mailbox, to receiving rejections, or even just ‘we don’t accept fiction, read our guidelines’ from those invisible, God-like beings called Editors.

I attribute my entire career to Mr. O’Bannon’s letter.

What’s more interesting, though, is to think about what I’d done, as well as the response I got, in the context of my own maturity, how things have changed in the submissions process over the years, and how my experiences during those years have altered my once-naïve view of it all.

As I’d mentioned in one of my photo captions, I had no awareness of rules. No awareness of ‘type it this way’ or ‘this is how you write a business letter’ or ‘oh my God, you do NOT send your unsolicited ideas to television!’ Being my fiancée works in television, I understand now it’s an entire process that, in itself, has changed since the 1980s—and had I not been ignorant, I probably would have been too embarrassed to send anything. It was a true case of ignorance is bliss.

What I also find amazing is that at that age I just had no fear. I had no fear of anyone saying ‘no,’ but it seems like, when everyone did say no, I somehow just accepted it as “part of the business”—well, it certainly couldn’t be because my stuff was BAD, right? There had to be some other reason, yes! My typical teen arrogance, in essence, saved my ass—I never questioned the quality of my own work. I was really lucky I started when I was so young and bold and naïve, because that attitude never changed. It just grew and matured along with me (now I certainly do understand that yes, my stuff can be bad). But I’ve been submitting for so many years it’s literally become routine, like paying bills. Yes, once in awhile I have that stab of disappointment because I got rejected by something I REALLY wanted to get into, but it goes away with a glass of wine and then it’s on to the next. I often wonder, if I hadn’t started all this when I was ignorant and bold, would I still be doing it now? After all, I know adults today that have all their writing hiding in drawers because they’re afraid of rejection. Would I have been like them?

Something else that, in retrospect, is amazing: this letter, in the days before e-mail and Internet, got where it needed to be and came back in just about thirty days. First, it was sent to a general address for CBS in Hollywood. No name, no attention of, nothing. The fact that someone at CBS opened it, took the time to read it, probably had to figure out where the hell it was supposed to go, and THEN took the time and effort to make sure it got into Mr. O’Bannon’s hands is incredible to me, especially when I think of how our world now is so fast, so computer-based, that I suspect sometimes snail-mail that isn’t specific is just tossed at a lot of places.

Second, Mr. O’Bannon HIMSELF then stopped what he was doing to actually peek at the envelope’s contents, recognize an amateurish cover letter composed on what-was-even-then-considered an outdated, shitty typewriter, recognize that this was unsolicited material—and still sat down and dictated a courteous, respectful, professional, NOT condescending and polite response to his secretary to type up and send back to me. My letter was part of three people’s normal course of business. I was on a to-do list. What’s amazing about that? Well, first, we know now that submissions of any sort have to go through channels. Guidelines must be followed. If you don’t do it right—and especially if you send unsolicited material that could be potentially a legal land mine for them if your idea is ever used and you notice—you’re likely to not get ANY response at all, let alone one that had some thought put into it AND made a point to be considerate of the recipient’s feelings.

Which brings me to my next point: Mr. O’Bannon’s kind response was my very first experience with rejection, and I’m glad it was. In the years that followed, every once in awhile I’d get one that was nasty (yes, really), or vague, or upsetting in some other way (like full of misspellings), and I’d think, ‘gee, if this one had been my first rejection instead of Mr. O’Bannon’s, I wonder if I’d even be doing this at all.’

So, you’re asking me now what this has to do with The Goodbye Project? I’ll tell you in Episode 17: REJECTION SLIPS, PART TWO-BURN THE REST!

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 15–Handbags

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.



Are you a shoe girl, or a bag girl?

I’ve always been a bag girl. I can own three pairs of shoes and they’re all black and almost the same, but bags? I could have bags for every occasion and a bag to match every outfit. In fact, my handbags, at one time, took up four times the space of my shoes.

Every few years—and many years before I started The Goodbye Project—I’d go through and clean out my tubs of bags without photographing them, which now I regret, although I’m certain there are many photos of old handbags I used to wear in the backgrounds of several photos.

I kept one tub of bags with which I just can’t part—ones that are all in good shape. Here are the last few I’m letting go, and the memories associated with them. They’ve already been donated, but I’m proud to say each was in very good shape enough to donate. I don’t ever donate stuff that ripped or grubby or damaged, so whoever gets any one of these should be pleased—each one has a lot of life left in it.

Dad always filled our stockings every Christmas (I have to admit, the last few years he was alive I was filling all the kids’ stockings and he was filling mine, although a couple of years I bought stuff for myself and stuffed my own). He gave me this case for Christmas in 2006, and I carried it for a few years until it split apart. Because it was his last Christmas when he was able, I just couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I kept it for awhile. Now it’s time to let go. I tossed it. It was in terrible condition and I couldn’t in good conscience give it away.

Here’s the case with all the other stuff I got from Dad. You can see the case was filled with items—travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, some band-aids, and the like.

This was one of my favorite bags; I bought it in 2001 at Old Navy, and it became a favorite, especially during Fall and Poe season. It was especially appropriate for autumn in New England.

Me, November 3, 2002, at Poe Park in the Bronx. I had gone to visit Poe’s Cottage and was carrying the sweater bag that day. At that time, the bag was new—I think I’d only owned it for a couple of months, which would make sense, because Old Navy’s Fall line probably would have been out in late August.

I loved the bag so much I carried it through the winter. Here it is on February 23, 2003, in a hotel room in Mystic, Connecticut. It was my annual Fear & Loathing birthday weekend at Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, I forget which one we did that year. You can see there’s a journal inside it—I never went anywhere without one at that time in my life.

Turns out the sweater bag was lucky! I won a couple of hundred dollars that weekend at the slots. This was when they still took quarters (now, everything is on a card). It’s fun to win still, but it’s just not as much fun as seeing all those quarters come flying out of the machine. Notice I won on the Titanic game—I have an obsession with Titanic, and we’ll be talking about that in future episodes. This was taken Sunday, February 23, 2003.

I loved this fur bag. I purchased it at Old Navy probably after Christmas in 2000, and the only reason I say that is because I know it was a winter favorite in 2001. At that time, I had a faux fur coat, and this was a perfect match.

Me in 2001 in a hotel room in Mystic, CT. This was another of our famous Fear & Loathing weekends—we’d go to the casinos to celebrate my birthday. This was just before dinner February 2, 2001—we ordered pizza from Angie’s, which is a really great pizza place in town. You can see the fur bag at the left of the picture.

That same February weekend in 2001, only this was on the Saturday, just before we went out to hit the casinos. The fur bag is at the left of the photo; behind it, my red IBM Hunter Thompson typewriter. Yes, I even traveled with that damn thing.

Part of the reason I was probably attracted to the fur bag was because it reminded me of something a woman might carry in the 1960s. At that time, in the early 2000’s, winter was a big deal in our house, and on snowy nights we’d spend time watching a lot of those old turkeys like Winter-A-Go-Go (my favorite) and Ski Party. Above, Heather, me, and Walter, at right, at the annual Beatnik Party that was held every year up at one of our friends’ houses in Bridgewater. I was carrying the fur bag that night; it was the perfect compliment to my outfit. Photo taken March 1, 2001.

In the early 2000’s, just as there was an annual Beatnik Party, there was an annual Winter-a-Go-Go Party. The Go-Go Party was usually in January; the Beatnik in February or March. Here, at 2001’s Beatnik Party, Heather and Holly check out the “record” set I made—basically, a scrapbook of that year’s Winter-a-Go-Go party in the form of records. I carried the fur bag to the Winter-a-Go-Go party that year as well.

Here I am in Kaitlyn’s house with John of Loki Graphics, New Year’s Day, 2003. If you look behind me, you can see the fur bag—it was, along with a small tote bag, all I brought. Charles and I were hanging out on New Year’s Eve by ourselves, we called Kaitlyn, and she said, ‘get in the car and come here.’ So we did. It was totally last minute; we were out of the house and making the two and a half hour drive in just under 10 minutes flat. It’s one of my happy New Year’s Eve memories.

I loved this brown quilted bag; I acquired it in early 2007 and used it up through late August 2010 as my main handbag—when I went and bought an alligator-pattered laptop bag to use, because I was tired of not being able to grab stuff—I’d always have to dump out my whole bag to find what I was looking for, and with the publication of Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—well, my already limited time became even more limited, so I needed to get more organized. The bag is still, though, in awesome shape—you can barely tell it was used for three years as an every day bag. It went to Goodwill.

One of the neatest features of the brown quilted bag was its detachable matching wallet.

I also liked the lining on the bag. It is, even after three years of use, in mint condition.

March, 2007. The quilted bag was brand new then, and it came in handy because it was not only big enough to carry all of my every day essentials, but also tall enough to hold files I might need for writer’s group or meetings—therefore, I didn’t have to carry a separate tote. Above, Carol, me, and David Roberson knock back a couple of cocktails after a Pencils! Writers’ Workshop meeting in Wilton, CT. I really miss Dave—he passed away a couple of years ago. He was not only a talented writer, he was a good friend. I associate this bag not only with Pencils! Writing Workshop, but with him. So it is a little tough to give it away.

I headed to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, in the summer of 2007 to begin my graduate program in Creative Writing. The brown bag, of course, was with me—even though I had to adapt, after eighteen years, to walking all over a huge campus again, so it mostly sat in my room unused in favor of a backpack. At left, McKenna, my dear friend Cyn (who passed away in December 2010), and me take a break on a hot summer day. That was the moment the three of us met, actually. Another reason I’m having a hard time letting go of the bag. But you know what? I’m moving to Florida. I just won’t use it again.

Oh, man, is this ever soooo 1980s. I made this purchase on purpose—I wanted something 80s-ish to wear to my 20th High School Reunion in July of 2009. Why silver? Well, it also had to match my navy blue dress. I had silver shoes and a necklace too. But the real reason I chose this style is because I had a maroon bag back in the mid-1980s—which I referred to as my DeeDee McCall bag, because it reminded me of the bags that character from the TV show Hunter carried—that had exactly the same style of flower and ribbed top.

Here’s the “DeeDee McCall” bag I mentioned in the last caption. Here, it’s being carried by my friend Emily, as she was playing the role of McCall in a scene we were doing to pass time waiting for our parents to pick us up from chorus practice after school. If I had to choose a “favorite bag of all time,” this bag was it. I was heartbroken when the strap broke and I had to get rid of it. This was taken in March of 1985 outside Schaghticoke Middle School in New Milford, CT.

Billy Buckbee, me, and Greg at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 1989. It was the only time I used that silver bag—whoever gets it will find it in mint condition—but it’s still hard to get rid of because that was a very magical night.

Maria Giannone, Me, and Melissa Poodiak at the New Milford High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, July, 2009.

There’s an interesting story behind this one. A friend of mine purchased a gift for his wife for Christmas, 2008—cosmetics or jewelry, I guess—and this bag and purse set came with his purchase. He knew his wife wouldn’t go for it, but knew I would (“you like all that flashy retro stuff,” he said). Of course I was thrilled to get this, and it was my winter 2009 bag—I used it for going out and when I didn’t want to carry the big huge brown quilted bag anyplace. The small purse was perfect for carrying business cards.

Here it is on the bed in my dorm room—Giles 3—up at Goddard’s Winter Residency, January 4, 2009. That was a unique residency. First of all, it was HELL IN THE SNOW. Every time we turned around it was snowing again. We could barely get off campus, it was gray, it was cold, we had a leak in my dorm room (because some idiot decided it would be wise to design the Village Dorms with flat roofs—seriously? In Northern New England? What was he smoking?)…but we also threw the best graduation dance ever—Cyn, me, and Julia did the shopping, so there are lots of funny stories about Cyn (from down south) driving in the snow, the people at the supermarket not knowing how to count, and icing down the shrimp with fresh, clean snow because we’d forgotten to buy ice. The bag accompanied me on that very special day, so those are the associated memories, and being that Cyn is gone now, it’s harder to let this go than it would normally be.

As a treat, here’s what that winter up at Goddard’s January Residency 2009 was like. One good thing about being in SNOW HELL was the opportunity to drink—and then do stupid things like sled as though we were ten years old. Here’s one early afternoon impromptu sledding party. The snow was literally up to our knees. It was hard for everyone to walk, let alone haul the sled back up the hill. Joining me are my friends Charles, Joe, and Julia—and there are a few other classmates as well, but they’re not in the video.

The women of Giles. Left to right, Julia, Julie, me. Amy is across us. Yes, we’re all in lighter clothing, but trust me when I tell you our dorm was hot all the time—some of it might have had to do with the fact that Goddard was doing this experimental program in which they were heating some of the dorms using “recycled” vegetable oil from fryers in Burlington restaurants. The place was hot, we were always thirsty, our hair and skin always felt like it had a sheen of oil on it, and worst of all—we all reeked like fried onions. I’m sorry, I didn’t see that as a “healthy” alternative to regular heating oil. It was absolutely disgusting.

This bag was also an Old Navy choice; I bought it in the late summer of 2005 (I also bought an orange one just like it, as I recall) so that I’d have a bag that would fit my camera, maps and money.

That’s me, September, 2005, in the tunnel under the Railroad Station that empties into Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. That was the first time I used the green bag. What else is significant about this photo? I ended up buying the Splash Mountain full-sized attraction poster at my Dad’s request—he was redoing his bathroom at the time and wanted something to “cheer the room up” (um, it was still avocado green and the over-the-sink cabinets and wood accents were still dark dark walnut, so I really didn’t see much difference when it was done). After he died, I got to keep the poster (the frame broke, which is fine with me since it was—you guessed it—dark, dark walnut! YAR!). The poster is rolled and carefully stored and will grace a wall in my new home in Florida—once I get a really cool appropriate frame for it, that is!

September, 2005. Me wearing the green bag in front of one of my fave current Magic Kingdom attractions—The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. My short story “Charlotte’s Family Tree,” which is in my collection Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World—is set in the treehouse. You can get that book here:, or, if you want a signed copy and I’ll send you some goodies with it, you can order from here:


If you missed my interview on LA Talk Radio’s The Sheena Metal Experience July 11, the archives are up, and you can listen to it here:

Sheena and I had a great time and two hours flew by like nothing while we covered some topics I don’t usually address in interviews.  We shared personal experiences (she grew up in a haunted house and those stories are CREEPY!), uncovered obsessions with tragic disasters and fires, compared the differences between Disneyland and WDW and reminisced about our extinct favorites, took a look at Disney character development and compared notes on our run-ins with dangerous sea creatures. Don’t miss it!





GhoStory Guru: “The Day Ghost” by David Huddle

Ever wonder what goes on in your house when you’re not home? David Huddle’s main character in “The Day Ghost” does—just like the rest of us—and what’s haunting his second floor turns out to be the last thing he expected.

“The Day Ghost” is an unusual ghost story, and that’s what sets it apart. It certainly isn’t your typical chain-rattling chill-fest set in a creepy castle; instead, it’s set in every day modern environments—and what’s haunting David isn’t that much different from what haunts many of us every day. That’s what makes it disturbing: the very same thing could happen to you at any time. For that, I have to place it on my “Genius” list.

You can find “The Day Ghost” in Ghost Writing: Haunted Tales by Contemporary Writers, edited by Richard Weingarten, here:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 14–V

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


Who remembers when V—the first miniseries, not the most recent one—aired on television back in 1983? The two-parter was absolutely the talk everywhere: the Visitors are lizards! Oh, my God, did you see her swallow that guinea pig? How did they do that? A year later, the three-part follow-up, V: The Final Battle, delivered such shocking surprises as the birth of twins—one lizard, one human—and the secrets of the Visitors’ “Conversion” process. V: The Final Battle aired in May of 1984.[1]

I was in middle school, and was tantalized by all the talk in the halls. I wasn’t allowed to watch either miniseries—my parents felt it too scary. By the time The Final Battle aired that October as a lead-in to the ensuing series, though, I was 13 and made it clear that I did not care what they thought and was watching it anyway.

I got caught up on what I’d missed and was hooked. Several friends of mine at school were watching it, too, and soon it became part of our daily lives.

It started with each of us choosing a “role” from the series to play. While I don’t remember exactly who was who, I can tell you that my friend Kristina was Mike Donovan, I was Diana, my friend Sam was Julie, my friend Sue was Elizabeth, and my friend Shannon was Lydia.

Back in the mid-1980s, it was the cool thing to do to pass decorated notebooks back and forth in class: you’d write a note in the book to say something to your friend, pass it to her, she’d either pass it back to you or someone else, et cetera (many of the ones I saw floating around the school were adorned with sticker collections—remember those?) In this way, plans were made, gossip was shared and rumors were spread. We wrote notes to each other not just as ourselves, but as the characters from the series.

Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes in the fall of 1984—before we got into V. You can see the big attractions before V were Hunter and The A-Team, but there are the names or references to several other extinct shows on there—who remembers Paper Dolls? (If you don’t, you can check it out here:

Also, you probably can’t see it well in this photo, but part of the cover is cut out (I suspect I moved it to the cover of some other notebook), and if you could read the handwriting beneath the hole, you would see part of the word “Magnum” (for Magnum, P.I.) and part of the world “McCormick” (probably Mark McCormick, from the TV series Hardcastle & McCormick). I got all of the wording and pictures from the T.V. Guide. Yes, for those of you too young too remember, T.V. Guide used to be a decent magazine with lots of cool artwork that enticed you to watch your favorite programs. I found another V Geek who knows this to be true—check out his very cool page here:


Here’s the notebook we had for passing notes AFTER V became the center of our universe. This notebook was probably from the winter of 1985, because I believe the episode to which the artwork at the center is referring is called “The Champion,” which aired on February 8, 1985—the night I had my birthday sleepover. Part of the party was watching this episode. One of our favorite dialogue exchanges which we quoted often in the halls was one that happens to be cited on IMDB (it truly is a funny piece of dialogue, so I’m not surprised):

Lydia: I’ve never been defeated in mortal combat.

Diana: Idiot. If you had been, you would be dead.

The note-passing gave way to full-blown role-playing. To pass the time until the next episode, we’d role-play, mostly in school at lunch, or in the halls between classes, but if we were at someone’s birthday party or over someone’s house, we’d play there, too. Here are photos of some of us in action (I’m pretty sure my friends are going to kill me, but why not? Click on the photos to see the captions alongside them—it’ll tell you who’s who):

To maintain the momentum, I produced a weekly newspaper (which I did all by hand in colored marker) called The Reptile Republican. I only made one copy of each issue, and it was passed from person to person. There were 25 issues; this is Issue #24. I only have #24 and #25, and thought they were lost to history until I recently reconnected with childhood friend (and Mike Donovan! Ha!) Kristina Hals, who discovered she has the first 23. Considering how much time and effort it looked like I put into these, I’m amazed I was a straight-A student (except for math and gym). And now, here’s Issue 24 in its entirety:

I enjoyed doing Reptile so much I made supplements in between issues. Here’s a card I made, although it’s not clear what it was for (somebody’s birthday? Watch TV this week? I have no idea—I don’t remember):

If you’ve gotten this far, then you’re probably wondering what I’m letting go: six of the eleven paperbacks in Pinnacle Books’ 1984 tie-in series (Tor had a series also, but I never owned or read those). I bought each one as it came out. Here is the full list of titles in the series:


V: East Coast Crisis

V: The Pursuit of Diana

V: The Chicago Conversion

V: The Florida Project

V: Prisoners and Pawns

V: The Alien Swordmaster

V: The Crivit Experiment

V: The New England Resistance

V: Death Tide

V: The Texas Run

For some reason, I did not read or own The Alien Swordmaster, The Crivit Experiment, or The Chicago Conversion. I don’t remember in what order these books were published, so I could have missed them, or I could have grown beyond V by the time they hit the shelves. Still, these books were an important part of my escapism. They especially kept me going when I was away from my friends, like on weekends or family vacations.

Left, my sister, right, me, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

My brothers, Chip, left, and Chuck, right, eating gummy worms V-style on our grandmother’s lanai in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1985.

While many fans of the old Friday night V series speak of it with nostalgic disgust, I think it’s true that we often glamorize stuff we watched on TV from our youth, and when we rediscover it in adulthood, we often can’t believe how campy it was. If you’re a V fan who wishes to engage in some of this camp, here you go:

To purchase V: The Original Miniseries

To purchase V: The Final Battle

To purchase V: The Series

To watch full episodes of the series online through the WB, visit here:

And now, the tie-ins with which I’ve parted:

Although I wasn’t a big fan of the books that didn’t feature the original characters, I remember liking this one because it was set in Florida.

I don’t think there was any love-interest in this one, although I don’t recall exactly. I just remember waiting for it with the turn of every page and it never showed up. Anyone know if I’m thinking of a different book in the series?

I remember being disappointed in this one. I just didn’t like the characters and wondered why they didn’t just let the Visitors blow Connecticut off the map. I was really hoping for that to happen in the story, and it didn’t. I seem to remember it took place mostly in Boston, but my memory’s fuzzy.

It was a tough decision to get rid of this one. Diana was my favorite character.

There are two that I’m keeping—favorites that are full of highlighting and comments and in the worst shape you can imagine: V and Death Tide. I’ve read those two a few times over the years, and I’m sure I’ll read them again.

[1] In case you’re all wondering? I didn’t care for the new series that debuted in 2009, and here’s why: there weren’t any surprises. We all know they’re not who they say they are—AND we all know everything’s done with CGI. Where’s the magic in that? I made it through the first episode and that was it for me.

Short Takes: Giersbach’s “Million Dollar Find”

If you love tag sales and flea markets, then you know how exciting it is to find a true treasure.

But what is treasure, really, when you’ve got a lost, rich past—and an empty present? Find out in Walter Giersbach’s short story “Million Dollar Find.” It’s in r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal’s Summer 2011 Vol. 6 No. 3 issue. You can read it here:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 13—Down in Flames

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


A fine writer and friend of mine, Chris Emmerson-Pace, pointed out once that fire is a recurring theme or motif in my fiction.

I’ve always had some sort of strange interest in disasters—mostly firey ones—and I didn’t know why, even as I kept collecting books like Fire in the Grove and The Circus Fire—books that didn’t just sit on my shelf; books I devoured and defaced with research and notes.

Now, though, because of The Goodbye Project, I’ve spent time processing and thinking about why it is I’m attracted to certain things. In the case of disasters, they’re metaphors for situations in life: something grand and beautiful—something light—can always fall into unrecognizable ruins—something dark (it’s probably the same reason I have an obsession with abandoned buildings). One of the most moving passages I’ve ever read which illustrates this appears in Ron Elliott’s Inside the Beverly Hill Supper Club Fire: “I glanced around the garden. At least 100 bodies covered the ground, making it look more like a battlefield than the lovely spot where sparkling fountains, pagodas, and flowers had saluted many a radiant, just married bride’s promenade. How well I could recall their beaming faces’ disclosure of the dreams alive in their hearts. Now the garden hosted the dead, their blank eyes staring unseeing; their dreams tragically and abruptly ended.”[1] Such disturbing eloquence should serve as a reminder that each one of us needs to stop and cherish every single minute we’re here—because the next minute? We may not be.

I don’t think I knew anything about the Hindenburg until I was sixteen. New York Times reporter Leonard Buder lived a couple of miles from me, and I don’t remember how I was lucky enough to get invited to his home one day, but it probably had something to do with my position as the high school columnist for the local newspaper.

I remember him giving me a lot of good advice on being a reporter. But at that time in my life, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I was doing it because Dad said he wouldn’t pay for college for marine biology. So, I’m sad to say I don’t even remember what Mr. Buder’s wise words were. But I do remember something else—our entire discussion about The Hindenburg disaster. And here is where Dali’s Persistence of Memory comes in: I could swear, even to this day, that he pulled out a scrapbook and was showing me old clippings of the great zeppelin in flames, and the pictures were burned into my memory. However, given how he would have been 8 or 9 at the time of the event, I don’t know if this memory is something my mind may have fabricated—the famous photo of the thing going down in flames is everywhere. It’s possible we simply talked about the Hindenburg as a major turning point in media coverage of events, and I made an association later.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because after that I spent some time in the library with the microfilm and microfiche, reading all the material I could find on the disaster and its aftermath.

Over time, my interest in the airship waned—and most of the books I read on the subject I checked out of the library—so there isn’t much in my collection on that subject. In addition, several dedicated, passionate people out there host websites that really should be turned into books—they’re well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. My two favorites are Patrick B. Russell’s Faces of the Hindenburg and Daniel Grossman’s Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins (links to these are below the photos). So in essence, I feel as though I can re-visit trusted sources anytime I might be curious.

Here’s the scoop on what I’m letting go; I’ve put some links to information on the Hindenburg disaster if anyone is interested.

Published by Scholastic, this book is intended for younger readers. I picked it up because I liked the extensive detail of the drawings.

This book featured Hindenburg as the cover art probably because it would be the most eye-catching, but it literally did contain an article on several of last century’s greatest disasters, including some I’m sure have slipped out of our general consciousness, like the 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire and the London Killer Fog of 1952. This book is no longer in print, and I can’t even find a used one anywhere online so I can give you a link—however, there is a book called Catastrophe! The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time, by Stephen J. Spignesi, and that is available from Amazon here:

I was going to ditch this video set, but then discovered it’s not available on DVD, so I’m keeping it—the DVD the History Channel and Amazon have is 54 minutes; this set is 100 minutes on two VHS tapes. To purchase, visit Amazon here:


Faces of the Hindenburg

Patrick B. Russell has spent many years building this site, and has conducted painstaking research into the lives of each of the Hindenburg’s passengers to provide in-depth biographies. In many cases, he has had direct contact with the passengers’ kin. He updates this site every time he receives new information—and, earlier this year, he posted an approximate position of each passenger on board at the time of the disaster. This site truly honors those who didn’t survive—and those who did.

Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins

Daniel Grossman has the most in-depth site on airships in general—let alone the Hindenburg—that I’ve ever seen. There are photographs of Hindenburg’s interior, detailed close-ups of the ship’s décor, diagrams, specs on the interior and exterior, a diagnostic of what happened in the last few moments, and more; Grossman has worked closely with historians to provide much of the information ( Find the site here:

The Hindenburg Photos: -A Mystery-

Todd L. Sherman found a scrapbook of his grandfather’s that contained photos of the Hindenburg—but a few things didn’t match up. This page details his burning quest to uncover the truth. Why do I like this page? Because I have lots of mysteries in my past like this, too—and I think, so do we all. The coolest thing about this is that other people from all over the world have written to him with bits of information to help him solve the mystery. It’s worth the read; the detail Sherman gives is amazing.

Herb Morrison’s Groundbreaking News Coverage on Old Time Radio: Radio Days: A Radio History

James F. Widner has an astounding collection of old time radio broadcasts. To hear Herb Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as it occurred, visit the link below. The explosion happens just after minute:second  8:30, and the recording seems to skip or miss a couple of Morrison’s words; a fascinating explanation for this also appears on this page (apparently the explosion was so powerful it jarred the then state-of-the-art recording equipment):

[1] Ron Elliott, Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company), 15. Note: this book was reissued in paperback in 2010. Here’s the link in case you’d like to purchase it:

THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 12–The Shell Collection

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.


My shell collection.

The box in which I kept my shell collection.

Okay, I’ll admit my shell collection wasn’t very impressive: that’s probably because I wasn’t out to collect them, it was more like every once in awhile I’d come across something cool on a beach, someone would give me a shell as a gift, or I’d buy an interesting one as a souvenir from a sea-side vacation. But each shell (or piece of animal, as you’ll see) was also special because after I became an aquarium volunteer I was not only able to identify what which animal it belonged to pretty easily, I knew something about the animal’s biology or behavior. The shell collection, and my interaction with it, was a constant reminder of the excitement I felt as an aquarium volunteer—and was a constant source of inspiration for several of my short stories, among them “Jingle Shells,” “Cancer Moon” (unpublished), “Tooth and Claw” (unpublished), and “Gorlak” (unpublished).

The fascination with shells began, oddly enough, nowhere near a beach. It began in my parents’ dining room way back in the 1970s, when I discovered a dried sea star (back then, I thought “starfish”) they had sitting on their hutch.

The dining room was like everything else in my parents’ house—dark. Growing up in that house was like growing up in a cave. It was dark, it was damp, it was always getting hit by lightning and the bottom floor was always so cold in the winter you could see your breath (oh, and did I mention that we had to spend a lot of time thawing out the frozen pipes using a hairdryer?). If you think I’m exaggerating, feel free to ask my three siblings and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was probably why, once I’d had my first taste of bright, sunny Florida, I never wanted to come back.

As children, none of us was allowed near the hutch. It was full of my parents’ most sentimental, fragile stuff—their wedding cake topper and engraved cake knife set, plates from various states, the crystal wine glasses, the punch bowl, the serving platters, the china, Dad’s childhood poached egg cup—and a nesting doll from the Frisian Islands (Föhr), where my Dad’s father’s family is from.

It was that nesting doll that grabbed my attention, and why I was near the hutch one afternoon when I shouldn’t have been.

Above, my cousin Maryanne holds my brother Chuck, 1974. Look in the background—that’s the hutch. The sea star, which isn’t visible in the picture, was on the first shelf. Some of you might recognize it, because now the hideous thing is in my dining room.

I grabbed the nesting doll and pulled her toward me, and that’s when I noticed the sea star. At first I thought it was a big cookie—it reminded me, for some reason, of those colorful, oversized giant sugar cookies I saw down at a deli near us where we used to go every Sunday to get fresh black ‘n’ white cookies—although I didn’t try to eat it. I shook it, and I could hear little parts or something rolling around inside; it seemed very fragile. At that point, Dad came into the room and asked me what I was doing. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was “a starfish from Florida.”

“It used to be alive,” he said. “It lives in water.”

This made me excited. “Like, down at the beach?” (I was referring to our community’s beach on Candlewood Lake).

“No, they only live in salt water. In the ocean. You won’t see those until we go to Florida again.”

After that, the Forbes’ Common Sea Star (I wouldn’t learn that’s what it was called until many years later, after I started aquarium volunteering) became a symbol of hope. Every time I thought I’m never going to get out of this hole I’d go to the hutch, pick it up in my hands, run my fingers along the creature’s prickly tube feet, and count the days until our next trip to Florida.

Sometime during my adult years, while I was no longer living at my Dad’s, the Star disappeared. In 2008, my father passed away, and I was thrilled to re-discover it. It hadn’t gone far from the hutch—it was just inside it. It had been shoved into a drawer with a menagerie of items that didn’t go together, such as photos, placemats, and remotes for televisions we no longer owned. It also wasn’t in bad condition—only the end of one arm, where the creature’s “eyes” would be, had a small chip in it. I decided to keep it, and took it home.

The Forbes’ Common Sea Star (Asterias forbesi) that was my symbol of hope. I am not getting rid of this; instead, I packed it in bubble wrap and placed it in my childhood keepsake box. I’m very thankful it survived and I’m grateful to have it—and when I rediscovered it, I automatically had some new memories attached to it, like how many kids I’d freak out at the Touch Tank when I’d tell them the story of how a sea star eats: by inverting its stomach into the body of the prey.

That sea star was one of the many items or experiences that contributed to my fascination with the sea and my eventual role as an aquarium volunteer, but my love for it would eventually lead to collecting all kinds of other stuff that, sadly, I just can’t keep. Here’s a little tour of my aquarium adventures and the shells that I am letting go.

My Maritime Aquarium volunteer badge. I started working at the aquarium in late June, 2001; in my tenure there, I logged 1,319 hours. Very often, I’d work all day long both Saturdays and Sundays. I just loved it.

That’s me working the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s Touch Tank, summer, 2001. There were several stations where we could work, but the Touch Tank was my favorite. Here, I was making the spider crab (Libinia emarginata) “sleep” by turning it on its back so the kids wouldn’t be afraid to touch it—actually, it’s not really anything like sleep at all. It’s a defensive pose to ward off predators.. A little-known fact? I was actually TERRIFIED of working the Touch Tank when I first went to work there, BECAUSE of the crabs. True story: I’ve anxious-ambivalently romanced crabs since I was five, when my father had carried me to a Long Island Sound sandbar, set me down, and made his way back to the mainland. “You can do it, Kristi!” he’d called. “Walk to me!” Between us, a submerged field littered with half-buried—but very much in motion—crab claws; I imagined, attached to each indigo, white, bright orange pincer, a salivating beast. Whimpering like a seagull, I’d squinched my eyes closed and walked toward my father’s beckoning gestures. I made it pinch-free, but the experience scarred me, and I possessed a fear of crabs that wasn’t cured until I started working the Touch Tank.

April 5, 2002—I was working an overnight (a camp-type deal in which the kids sleep over at the aquarium) at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Here, I’m talking all about the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus). My favorite stories to tell about this crab involved its instinct (and terrifying) Silurian, Cambrian and Devonian ancestor Pterygotus, which could grow up to nine feet. I had a photo I used to show the kids. If you want to know what Pterygotus looked like and get a sense of its size, here’s a pretty good model: I also liked to show the kids how the horseshoe crab uses its spike-esque tail to flip itself over, and got a huge thrill out of allowing the kids to stick their fingers into the crab’s chelicerae (pincers near the mouth) so they could feel that there was only pressure and not a pinch.

Part of being an aquarium volunteer at Maritime involved working outside events. Above, me and fellow volunteer Judy work the aquarium’s booth at Norwalk’s annual Oyster Festival, September 7, 2002.

In March, 2002, I signed on as a Fishes & Inverts volunteer at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut. I never wore this badge—no one in our department wore badges—because the work was hands on, you crawled around a lot, you were up on ladders over tanks, et cetera. There was just too much danger of it falling off, or getting snagged on something. I logged 207 volunteer hours during my tenure at Mystic.

I was also a member. This is one of the stickers that never quite made it to my car.

In January 2009, I visited the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Set near one of the tanks was the above container—a familiar sight for me, since this was exactly the same system we’d use for storage and distribution of feeds at Mystic Aquarium, even though this clearly belonged to the Education department and not to whatever their F&I department equivalent is. Lettuce is a common feed, by the way—even the fish need vitamins and roughage!

Of course, visiting aquariums is as much fun as working at them! Here’s me in the salt marsh exhibit at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island, June 21, 2002.

Me at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island’s Touch Tank, June, 2003. The girl in pink is my niece, Andi.

A Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata), caught on the beach at Duck, North Carolina (in the Outer Banks), June, 2003. I only kept him for a half hour or so. He was safely returned to the beach with his buddies.

Ghost crabs were always a favorite of mine, and they figure prominently in more than just one scene in an unpublished novelette of mine called Gorlak, which I wrote back in the early 2000s. For fun, I’ve put one scene in which the crabs are prominent here. I’ll just give you this caveat: this has the potential to be a great scene to move the story forward in terms of both escalating danger (plot) and clarifying the issues between Petra and Simon, but in its current state it feels like it’s an outline. I’ll definitely be reworking this entire book when I get to Florida. Still…enjoy!

Gorlak-Chapter 5, Last Scene

It looks like I’m examining a mussel at the New England Aquarium (Boston)’s Touch Tank in October, 2004.

Remember when I talked about my favorite things to do with horseshoe crabs? Here, I’m showing Nathan’s nephew Jakob that there’s no pinch—only pressure—to the crab’s chelicerae. This photo was taken at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, April, 2006.

I know, isn’t this awful? There isn’t just an adult in here, but a baby hooked around the adult’s tail, so look closely. I am not sure what species of seahorse this is—I’d say Potbelly (Hippocampus abdominalis—the most common varieties you will see in aquariums are abdominalis and H. erectus), but not only are the skin markings inconsistent, the shape is a little too classic, especially since baby Potbellies tend to be extremely slim in the middle. If I had to guess, I’d say a Zebrasnout, because although you can’t see it in the picture, if I look at the object itself very closely, the animal appears to have markings consistent with that species. I have no idea how old this paperweight is; my housemate picked it up for me at a tag sale. I am actually NOT getting rid of this—I’m keeping it. Just because it’s the only seahorse-related object I own, and on my first day volunteering at Mystic, they asked me to water change a behind-the-scenes seahorse tank. It was my first time getting a siphon going, and I ended up with a mouthful of seawater. One of the most interesting things about seahorses—besides that the males give birth—is that they have no stomachs.

This is a Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), which you’ll mostly find from Alaska down to Southern California. I bought this at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke in 2003.

This is the endoskeleton of a Brown Sea Biscuit (Clypeaster rosaceus). Sea biscuits are echinoderms, just like sea stars and sea urchins. They are indigenous to the southern North American coast: from North Carolina to Florida, the Bahamas, the West Indies.

This is a variety of “knobby” sea stars, such as the Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus). I remember being thrilled to find this in the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke gift shop in 2003.

I swear, I really DID take a photo of a Chocolate Chip Sea Star in a tank, and I’ve been through all my files and can’t find it. So, I’ll give you a picture of another pretty sea star. This one is, I think, a Cushion Star (Oreaster reticulates). The reason I’m leaning toward Cushion Star is because of the way the knobs on its exoskeleton are not only equidistant, they form a “network” of squares and that’s a dead giveaway for that species. This was taken at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends (formerly The Living Seas) Pavilion in Orlando, Florida, in September, 2006.

Clams are, in all fairness, not my forte. So many species are so close to each other in shape that for me it’s tough to sort them out. I’d say this is a Northern Quahog, but the “notch” at the top doesn’t lean the right way, so it could just be a good old Surf Clam. I’m totally guessing, so if anyone knows for sure, please give a shout out.

The glass jar in which I kept the smaller, smellier shells and pieces of animals (God, I opened this, the stink was out of control, even for me, who has no problem with dead fish/animal smells).

While this endoskeleton is commonly referred to as a “Sand Dollar,” it isn’t. Technically, it is a Keyhole Urchin (Mellita quinquiesperforata), although in fairness, it’s more closely related to sand dollars than to urchins. How can you tell if you’re buying one at a shop? Look for the single large “keyhole” toward the middle (if it’s an adult). If you’re looking at a box of really small ones, chances are they weren’t adults yet, and the “keyhole” shape might be filled in.

This is an egg case for a skate—sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Purse.” While skate cases are basically of similar shape, they can be different, depending upon the species. The one pictured here is a Winter Skate (Raja ocellata ) egg case—notice its “olive” coloring and the very long, curled tendrils on either end. You’ll find these commonly washed up on the beaches of New England, but I know for a fact I got this one from Mystic Aquarium because we had that species there at one time. At Norwalk, on the other hand, the types of skates we had were mostly Clearnose (Raja eglanteria). Their egg cases are more toward black in color (think Hefty garbage bags) and are more plump, and the “purse” part of it is shorter in length than the tendrils.

A young Clearnose Skate in the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s nursery area, April 5, 2002.

I have to take a break here and tell you a couple of stories about my experiences with skate cases.

It seemed like—particularly at Norwalk—the skates were always producing them, and most of the time they were empty: nothing in them, so they’d float. On one occasion, I was working an after-hours wedding reception at Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, and the cocktail hour was set up in the Long Island Sound gallery on the second floor near the Touch Tank. The bride came to me, very distraught. She said it looked like the fish in this one tank were dying.

I left the Touch Tank in the hands of the other volunteer, but not before I grabbed the keys to the back-up area for that section of the building, just in case. I had already, at that time, been working for Mystic for a few weeks, so I knew more about intakes/outtakes and how the tanks and filtration systems worked than most of the other volunteers, who were only trained in facts and procedures (why I went to Mystic in the first place—I wanted hands-on experience. I wanted more doing and less talking). The bride led me to the Sandy Bottom tank—this was a tank that contained Clearnose Skates, Weakfish, Flounder.

The Weakfish were listless, some of them listing to the side, a couple resting on the bottom. The gills were still pulsing. That was when I noticed the water had a “soupy” quality to it—it looked thick, almost like how heat waves look coming up off asphalt if it were air we were dealing with.

I knew that had something to do with the water not being aerated properly.

I had to admit I was panicked then, but I told the bride it wasn’t a problem and thanked her for alerting me. Then I took the keys, went into the back up area, climbed the wooden stairs that lead to the top of the Sandy Bottom tank, and was relieved to discover that the source of the issue was right in front of me: without getting too complicated, I’ll just tell you that everything was jammed up behind a bunch of empty skate eggs. I got a net, I removed them, and by the time I left the aquarium a few hours later, the “soupy” water had thinned out quite a bit and the fish looked like they were beginning to recover.

That was one problem with empty egg cases. Occasionally, you did find a full one.

Below in PDF, a section of my journals from that year entitled “Embryonic Mess,” dated April 14, 2002. Enjoy!

Day Before Mystic 04-14-2002

At Mystic Aquarium, it was the Horn Sharks (Heterodontus francisi, I THINK) in tank T-13 (don’t hold me to that, I’m pretty SURE it was T-13, but it’s been eight years now) that were always laying eggs. Above, one I removed from the tank and kept—I pulled about fourteen out of there on that day, more than enough to go around to the education department, etc., and still keep one. Yes, it was empty!

These are egg cases for the Channeled Whelk (Busycon canaliculatum). They are Gastropods (snails), and are usually strung together, so a strand of them is sometimes referred to as a “Mermaid’s Necklace.” From a journal entry entitled “Salt Water,” I wrote about working at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk dated December 5, 2001: The woman stands up. “Yes,” she says, “what is that thing?” I reach in and retrieve the Mermaid’s Necklace. “This,” I say, “is an egg case for a Channeled Whelk, which is a Gastropod – a snail.” I hand her the necklace. “It just feels a little bit like a wet garbage bag. It’s constructed of a high-grade biological protein that the female makes from a gland in her body. What she’ll do is she’ll weave a strand like this and bury it in the sand and then she’ll make each one of these pillows and fill them up with eggs, about 20 to 30. It takes her about 2 hours to make each one of these pouches, and it takes her two weeks to make something about this size, but I’ve seen them bigger.”

I miss those days as a volunteer, and every once in awhile it’s still possible for me to get a taste of that. Provincetown is one of those places where it’s possible.

Here’s some neat discoveries I made on the beach at low tide behind Norman Mailer’s House in Provincetown, Mass, August 14, 2010.

This was the view from Norman Mailer’s back porch in the morning before class started. When the tide is out, it’s possible to walk almost as far as the eye can see. Boats are sitting on the sand, animals are left behind. It’s almost like walking in a Dali painting. But it’s also like walking into a glassless aquarium. On my walk, I ran into some children, and it gave me the opportunity to share some of what I knew about the animals we found—it felt like old times.

The following are all items I picked up walking at low tide in Provincetown, or on the beach in Newport, RI.


I just photographed this but didn’t pick it up. It’s obviously a clam or mollusk.

This is a Northern Moon Snail shell. There’s a Hermit Crab hiding inside.

The Long-Clawed Hermit Crab (Pagurus longicarpus) in the shell of a Moon Snail. On a couple of occasions at the Maritime Aquarium, I got lucky and saw one of these run out of one shell and into another—basically, moving from one home to another. It’s hysterical—they make a mad dash, and if you blink you miss it.

This is the carapace—actually, when I picked it up it turned out only to the be the “back,” so to speak—of a Lady Crab (Ovalipes ocellatus). This was not a molt; rather, it’s probably what a feasting bird left behind—when I flipped it over there were bits of the animal’s flesh stuck to the underside.

A baby Common Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata). This little male was pretty feisty, but his teeny pincers really couldn’t do very much, so I spent time making fun of him. Trust me, I’ve been pinched by adults plenty of times and it HURTS.

If there was any crab it took me the longest to learn how to handle effectively, it was the super-aggressive Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), a nasty-tempered invasive species that found its way over here from Europe. This one is covered in Jingle Shell Clams (Anomia simplex).

This one is a male. Flipping him on his back like this puts him “asleep.” He won’t be pinching me this way.

See how these Jingle Shell Clams sparkle! Totally cool. However, this crab is displaying its defensive posture. Don’t get too close.

The kids I met on the beach had a red wheelbarrow in which they were keeping their live treasures (they did plan on returning them, they just wanted to “play” with them for a little while). Here in their wheelbarrow, we see the Green Crab (which I put in there for them) in the back corner and an assortment of small gastropods. The two gastropods you can see clearly in this photo are called Shark Eye (Polinices duplicatus).

Here, we see a Hermit Crab hiding in a shell I can’t identify because of the photo (this is a different Hermit Crab than the one I was holding before; one of the kids picked it up and put it in there) and four Shark Eyes lolling about.

Holding the Shark Eye.

Holding our Shark Eyes. I love picking up snails, especially on a hot day. Their “feet” feel cool on the palm of the hand.

The pool in which we found most of our treasures.

Here’s that little Libinia again! I love it! He’s so mad! “Scrappy” is the word I would use here.

These loopy tracks could have been made by the Hermit Crab I found nearby, but it’s more likely they were made by a small gastropod, such as a New England or Mottled Dog Whelk.

An anchor/float for a boat. When the tide pulls out, stuff like this just rests on the sand. It reminded me of something in a Dali landscape, so I took the picture.

This baby female Green Crab is missing a claw.

This female Lady Crab hid as soon as we put her in the bucket.

I stuck my finger in the water in front of the crab, and out came her claws in defense. She is pissed off.

A Lady Crab carapace and two Clearnose Skate Eggs. I found these on the beach on Provincetown on April 4, 2010.

April 4, 2010, Provincetown: I picked up that Lady Crab carapace and cleaned it out so I could keep it, but it was so fragile it broke in half. I kept these pieces in the jar.

Crab claws I found on the beach in Provincetown, April 4, 2010. I’d say these belonged to a Lady Crab, but they don’t seem long and thin enough, and they’re also too long and thin to be from an Atlantic Rock Crab, even though the coloring and pattern for an ARC is consistent. If I had to guess, because of the shape and the fact that they’re uneven, I’d say this is a type of Mud Crab with which I’m unfamiliar.

Several clam shells I kept in the ball jar. Again, clams are a weak point for me (well, other than EATING them!). There are probably a few different species here. If anyone wants to take a stab at identifying all of them, please do. Put some stuff in my comment fields.

This is a common Jingle Shell (Anomia simplex). The inspiration for my short story “Jingle Shells,” which was published in Full of Crow Fiction’s October 2010 issue. You can head over and read that here:

Shell for the Common Slipper Snail (Crepidula fornicata). I can’t even tell you how many inside jokes there were about “fornicata” in this poor snail’s scientific name. If you’re wondering about that, I’ll tell you: it’s because these snails stack on top of each other and pretty much it’s what they do all day. Larger shells are on the bottom, smaller ones on the top, and if I remember correctly, they can change sexes. I’d have to look it up again to be sure, but that’s what I remember—unless I’m confusing it with something else. I have a lot of facts in my head and sometimes get them mixed up because it’s been so long since I lived and breathed this stuff. I’m surprised I remember all the Latin, to tell you the truth.

This is an older oyster shell, I think. It’s pretty badly damaged. If anybody can tell me what this is and why it looks like this, I’d appreciate it.


I will be on The Sheena Metal Experience TONIGHT on LA Talk Radio at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. I’ll be discussing ghosts and Disney and probably bunches of other fun stuff with Sheena, who’s an awesome host.

If you wish to listen live, you can click here at 8pm ET/5pm PT and click on the right side of the page on the Channel 2 “Listen Live” button. A player should pop right up and you’ll be able to hear the show:

If you can’t listen in, I’ll be keeping you posted on where you can hear the archives.


Jean Ryan’s short story “The Spider in the Sink” is now up on Read Short Fiction! If you are fascinated with storm chasing, tornadoes or are a fan of Storm Stories or Twister, then you’ll want to check this out.

Spoiler-free comments:

I was sucked in from line one, but the beauty of this piece for me was that I didn’t know from paragraph to paragraph exactly where it was going; I also am a fan of the second person POV as long as it’s done well: when it’s done well, it has the most haunting and almost ominous quality to it. This is certainly one of the best pieces of second-person POV I’ve ever read, a true testament to the fact that choosing a POV for a story can make it a winner or a loser. In this case, it’s a winner.

Also, the spider has long been a symbol of fate—and certainly, when we talk about tornadoes, there is always that element of fate involved (that line from TwisterYou haven’t seen it miss this house, miss that house, and then come after you!” comes to mind).

“The Spider in the Sink” is one of those stories that’s going to stick in my memory for a long, long time. Catch it now at Read Short Fiction here:

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