Humans could be devils, but her dogs, only angels. Madeline decided they needed to move to higher ground. She needed to escape the low flatness that stretched on mercilessly in the middle states where she had been born, fallen in love, married, given birth, divorced, and started life over with a series of lovers. In between all this, degrees in psychology and writing, lessons in painting and piano, and, most importantly, litters of Flat-Coated retrievers. She bred them, trained them, scrupulously screened potential clients, and released them if and when the right home announced itself. Then and only then was she willing to give her broods up. Amazingly, her pups never lacked for good homes. Clients sent pictures, holiday cards, and notes on the pups’ progress, sometimes for years after adoptions. She made a point to stay in touch; as best she could, she made sure her dogs were cared for.
Breckenridge was first and foremost a ski town, but it wasn’t for the slopes that she settled into a valley several miles from the condo-stacked downtown. Compared to their acres outside Niles, Michigan, where she’d spent the last fifteen years in a marriage sustained mainly by her need to be married and his need to “have” her, as he so bluntly put it, the Colorado town was unburdened by age, clouds, and the petty gossip of a smallish city. Niles had become intolerably small once she had sued her ex’s ass and won the house as part of a large settlement that would ease her transition back into making a living. Most who lived in Niles were from there, unlike Breckenridge, where “natives” were as rare as cloudy days in winter. Breckenridge was blessedly, transparently, new, with street after street of modern condo apartments terraced against steep mountain slopes. The riverwalk along the town’s single creek: new. Roads: newly paved, to ensure tourists’ ease in driving from condo to ski lifts. Storefronts: new, following the trend of other ski resorts revived with dot.com dollars and Texas oil rebounds. The good news was that she and the ex had bought one of those condos back in the late 80s, when the bottom had first dropped out of oil and all the Texans (whom the locals excoriated with bathroom graffiti) bailed out, leaving the local economy in tatters, including a glut of “investment properties.” Fritz’ practice as a corporate psychiatrist had only been helped by the recession, so they had had the cash to buy when the sell-out began.
One morning, months before buying the Breckenridge condo was even an idea, she and Fritz had literally woken up in a Michigan ski lodge and looked out at sheets of heavy, wet snow bowing the hemlocks outside their balcony view. Turning to face each other, they proclaimed their mutual desperation for Colorado powder.
“Why do we settle for this crap?” Fritz had sighed, then rolled away from the window and into her warmth radiating from the 400-thread count sheets. “We drive five hours on roads that maybe get halfway plowed before the wind drifts over again, spend a fortune on lodging and food because it’s either feast or famine in this godforsaken place, and every time cross our fingers that an ice storm or soggy snow won’t screw the whole trip up.”
“Because we live in Michigan, and that’s all we’ve got?” Madeline had said, tongue planted halfheartedly in cheek. In the end, she was a realist about such situations, but that didn’t mean she didn’t aspire to something better. Just exactly what “better,” though, she could not say. Fritz typically voiced his opinion on “better” before she had a chance to consider her own views. She rarely, if ever, found herself disagreeing. One thing that had initially attracted her to him was his inherent good taste.
“Typical Midwestern response,” Fritz had replied. Born in Chicago, Fritz did not consider himself “Midwestern.” At the time, Madeline couldn’t tell if he was trying just as lamely as she was to joke, but after the divorce was finalized, she decided he had just been his usual, prickish self.
The condo they had selected was identical to hundreds like it stacked like knocked-down cereal boxes from the valley to the ski lift. They told themselves its generic feel didn’t matter. After all, they would only spend a couple of weeks during ski season, and during the summer, Madeline and Gardenia, their daughter, would be so busy exploring the vast lodgepole forests and tree-forsaken tundras that returning to a nondescript space at the end of a day of skiing or hiking would be tolerable, if not a relief. All they would have to do was open the sliding glass doors and sit out on their compact-sized balcony to renew their day’s rendezvous with Nature. The rest of the year a rental agency would lure skiers willing to plunk down enough cash to cover most of the mortgage and agency fees, leaving only property taxes and utilities for Madeline and Fritz to shoulder.
Fortunately, Madeline had had the foresight during the divorce to claim not only the Niles house, which she would promptly sell before moving just over the border to the larger community of South Bend, Indiana, but also the Breckenridge “loft,” as she and Fritz had come to call it. (It did, after all, have a loft-like room where Gardenia slept on a daybed, overlooking the living room.) When the realization came that she could no longer live among the devils of flatness, and that her Flat-Coats, not to mention Gardenia and herself, needed to start fresh, she congratulated herself for not caving in to Fritz’s sentimental pleas to keep the loft and give her cash instead.
“We felt like a family there,” he said wistfully, across her attorney’s cherry-finish conference table. “Gardenia and I will still have a place we’ve shared together.”
Never mind that he was rarely available for either Gardenia or her during their marriage, nor that he hadn’t, in the end, respected her choice to stay at home and raise their daughter. Add to that how he grew increasingly cold and distant after Gardenia herself entered therapy. He blamed his wife, the stay-at-home mother, for what had happened to his daughter. But he took it out on both of them, for proving he was not, after all, able to control his family’s fate.
For the first few years after the divorce, she had kept to the same routine of holidays and summers in the condo. She and Fritz had agreed that Gardenia needed as much stability as possible. Although the divorce could not be helped (at one point during marriage counseling, he had proclaimed her incompetent as a mother), they both agreed that Gardenia’s life needed to change as little as possible, given all she had endured. But as her daughter grew into adolescence, and memories of her suffering at the hands of those small-town devils began to soften, Madeline decided the time was ripe to make a break with their past and start over, up in blue, blue mountain skies that, as the song went, “held no secrets and told no lies.”
“Why Flat-Coats?” people sometimes asked her. They said this not knowing the heartbreaks of breeding these happy, sensible, responsive dogs. Flat-Coats rarely lived more than ten years, the last almost always including crippling arthritis, hip dysplasia, or a pernicious form of cancer to which the breed tended to succumb. Most often, the question was based on Flat-Coats’ relative invisibility among pet owners. When she gave the usual answer, “They are the happiest, smartest, most people-pleasing dogs alive,” the next question was invariably, “How did you first learn about them?” She steeled herself with yet another stock answer. “I met a breeder,” she’d say, and leave it at that. It was true enough.
It was Madeline’s therapist who pointed out the connection between her daughter’s ordeal and the dogs Madeline had chosen shortly thereafter to breed. “They led you to the source,” said Jeanne, a Jungian counselor. Their neighbors in that rural area just outside Niles had had a litter of Flat-Coated Retrievers that often sniffed around a crumbling outbuilding belonging to Gardenia’s caretaker, Bonnie, and her husband Clem. It was in that outbuilding where, for nearly three months, Gardenia had been ritually offered as a “sacrifice” in Satanic rites performed by Bonnie’s 15-year-old son and his slightly older male companion for a secret clan of followers. “Devil worshippers,” Fritz had called them, in a rare shift away from the clinical language he typically used to describe human deviance.
Gratitude being hard to come by in the days, weeks, and years after Gardenia’s liberation from evil, Madeline poured her affections into her daughter’s “rescuers,” the Flat-Coated Retrievers. No matter that it was sheer coincidence that brought the pups to Gardenia’s aid. Madeline could not love those dogs enough. Their high intelligence and inclination towards mischief when bored struck familiar notes with her. They could open locked gates, steal food stored on high counters, open cabinet doors to raid the trash. Keeping them occupied kept her focused, too. Otherwise, she was apt towards actions that later would come back to haunt her. As with the lovers she took before, during, and after the divorce finalized. Her first conquest was a professor at the local university who had just signed off on his fourth divorce, this last one from a former student. That dalliance had nixed any hopes of her obtaining full-time teaching in the department, where she had suffered the humiliation of two years of part-time teaching in hopes of getting her foot in the full-time door.
But as therapist Jeanne also pointed out, her adoption of those pups ensured that both Madeline and her daughter would, for years to come, live with concrete reminders of that horrific experience. Fortunately, relief also came in the bodies of such intelligent, sweet-face dogs. She picked two littermates, a bitch and a stud, and soon was searching for proper mates for both. She did not plan it at the time, but later, during the years after Gardenia left home, studied sociology at Hobart and William Smith, and moved to Philadelphia to be closer to her internet girlfriend, Madeline would keep breeding the offspring of both Josie and Jasper, the original pups. She made a point to retain at least one pup from every other litter, her goal to breed more from within her own pack instead of depending solely upon outside blood. Jasper and Josie’s bloodlines, as it happened, were no less than sterling. She stood to lose more than she gained by diluting them too much.
By the time she was ready to start over in Colorado, she knew the loft could not accommodate a teenager, four Flat-Coats, and a baby grand piano (the by-product of a period when she needed proof of her own talents, honed by lessons, displayed at recitals). She sold the South Bend house first, to finance a down payment on a house with five acres and a creek far enough outside Breckenridge to lose any view of the condos. She now loathed them as symbols of her marriage’s narrow confinement, vivid reminders of the guilt and self-hate she still carried from placing Gardenia with an after-school caregiver while she took classes for a Masters’ in Family Counseling.
Even after years of professional training and, of course, therapy, she might never understand how she missed the signs of Gardenia’s terrible ordeal. But at least now she had smart, able retrievers to help her and her daughter recover.
Gardenia, as it turned out, was not anxious, as was Madeline, to start over, far away from the site of her terror. Jeanne, however, had warned her of this possibility. “For her, it’s still loss,” she had said. “Trauma forges bonds that are hard to loosen, let alone break.” Later Madeline realized that Jeanne just as easily could have been speaking about Madeline herself. Was it, after all, self-determination and careful planning that brought her to five acres outside Breckenridge, or more a series of missteps that she could not control? Was control not only Fritz’s issue but hers?
To Madeline’s shock and bewilderment, Gardenia still spoke with concern, even worry, about Bonnie’s son, Adam, whom she claimed was in love with his older co-captor. “Adam worshipped that guy,” she’d sigh and shake her head mournfully. Until the trial, “that guy” had only been know to Gardenia by his “underground” name, Lucifer, a name she studiously avoided repeating, even as she recalled, obsessively and without restraint, Adam and his infatuation with another male. “He made Adam fall for him,” she said for years later. Madeline had been impressed, in spite of her repulsion of the subject, by Gardenia’s precocious wisdom. Even at nine, she had been highly attuned to others’ feelings, almost uncannily so, Madeline thought.
However, Fritz had dismissed Madeline’s observations with a wave of his well-groomed hand. “Love had nothing to do with it. Classic case of sociopathic personality disorder.” Fritz was, first and foremost, an MD, but in matters of the mind he was a by-the-book behaviorist. In contrast, Madeline had no interest in prescribing psychotropic drugs or predicting behaviors of lab rats. To her, a student as of yet devoid of clinical experience, therapy was a bubbling vat of theories that a good practitioner drew from as the moment arose. It gave Madeline no small satisfaction to know that after the divorce, Fritz had gotten wind of her selection of a Jungian to help her through her transition. Madeline had always had a vivid, powerful dream life that she had once thought might be put to good use in Jungian analysis, but her marriage to Fritz had all but squashed that possibility.
“Neurological phantoms, “ was the phrase that had kept her pinned to his psychiatric dogma. She sometimes speculated as to whether she would have been as quick to take on lovers post-Fritz had she consulted with a Skinnerian, or even a Freudian, instead of Jeanne, her Jungian guide.
Just as Gardenia obsessed about Adam’s well-being after his capture, Madeline, after Fritz’ continued trumping of her fledgling diagnostic forays, found she could not quiet the lyrics to “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” sung by Tina Turner, inside her head. It was as if her brain was a radio transmitter whose dials were operated from a remote and unknown location. She wished she could change the station; she wished she could flip a switch and have Gardenia focus not on her torturer but on herself, the life she had ahead of her, not the wasted life of a besotted boy who loved other boys but could only love them through the terrors of others.
The one interruption to Gardenia’s obsession with Adam came with Josie and Jasper. On various days, Gardenia would come home after school, plunk down on the white pile carpet in the living room, and call the retrievers, patting the floor for them to sit, facing her. “Now tell me,” she would begin, and proceed to ask them a series of questions vaguely reminiscent of what her therapist might have asked yet more deliberately playful. “Do you love me? Do you love Mom? Even though we control everything you do?”
“Not everything,” “Josie” would reply (in a higher-pitched, somewhat nasally voice). “I still chase the neighbor’s dog when it barks its fool head off.”
“Who controls who?” “Jasper” would offer, a lower, throater voice offsetting his sibling’s. “We are so cute that we convince you to do exactly as we want without you ever knowing it.”
“Shhh!” “Josie” would interrupt. “You’re giving us away!”
“I’m already onto you,” Gardenia would reply. “And I love it.”
“She loves us!” “Josie” would exclaim. And Jasper would echo her words right away, in mock-surprise. And then Gardenia would lean into their proud, sleek chests and bury her head close to their steady heartbeats. Later she would tell Madeline, “They are my guardian angels.” The fact that she and Fritz had not raised her as religious wasn’t a puzzle. The real puzzle was that she trusted them to tell the truth when no humans could be trusted.
As a girl, Madeline “talked” to her pet collie, Smokey. Years later, after she took up writing, partly for therapy (Jeanne was a big believer in journaling) and partly for a sense of mastery and achievement, she took up communicating with Smokey again, in the afterlife, although she resisted using that word, “afterlife.” She just “heard” Smokey the same way she “heard” any other fictional character “speak” to her as she wrote. The idea to write in Smokey’s voice came to her while listening to Gardenia, Josie, and Jasper “talk” to each other. She realized that her first person narratives of what each dog was thinking, spoken out loud whether or not Gardenia was present, were not so far from Gardenia’s full-fledged “conversations.” The only difference was that she, Madeline, never directly responded to the dog’s narratives. It was as if their stories were separated from her own by some invisible barrier.
Remembering Smokey, Madeline also recalled how her amused older brother had sometimes eavesdropped, as if he was connecting to Smokey through her, afraid to look childish at the ripe old age of 15. Once she had used a small tape recorder, anticipating her later interest in journalism, to capture the conversation for subsequent analysis. Jack already considered himself a communo-anarchist, ready to flee the parental coop as soon as he found the right tribe with which to journey. However, in suburban Aurora, Illinois, there was a distinct lack of communo-anarchists, not to mention war resisters or even your run-of-the-mill flower children. From early on, Jack had fashioned himself a lone wolf. When two years later he did, finally, break free and hit the road, she marveled at his intelligence even as she mourned his absence. She felt her own boredom creep over her, and eventually began her own campaign to unlock the mental and social prohibitions her heartbroken parents had desperately tried to impose.
“So you think Smokey has something to say?” Jack asked as Madeline tapped the mic, listening for feedback.
“Mm.” Jack was always trying to be the cool big brother who “grokked” his little sister. At the same time, he always stressed that she was little sister. So Madeline offered little ammunition for treating her as lower on the food chain.
“What’s it like to be a dog around here?” Madeline pointed the mic at Smokey’s nose. He sniffed it hopefully, then turned his long, elegant face aside.
It took Gardenia’s playful chats with Josie and Jasper years later for Madeline to remember what those “interviews” had produced. Remembering felt like one of those out-of-body experiences that she’d read about but had never had herself, not until she heard Gardenia speaking in Jasper’s voice:
“I get stepped on a lot when I chew my bones.”
And just as readily, she remembered Jack’s voice. “Right on, Dog Man,” he had sighed. “Right on.”
Those “blue, blue mountain skies” lived up to reputation. Cobalt at sunrise, azure at noon, a teasingly protracted flame-to-indigo in the evenings, the clear, dry air at 9500+ feet held no lies, including hers. Just moving to higher ground, she discovered, did not magically make the devils depart. For those first months unpacking, organizing, reorganizing, and planning, the secrets she had harbored, the violent images she had dreamed then instantly forgot upon waking, now stalked her throughout the day.
In South Bend, Gardenia’s needs had been powerfully present from the moment Madeline opened her eyes. Now those needs were no less powerful in their new circumstances, but still, something had shifted. Back East, she recognized the creak of each stair, the direction of the wind rattling the oak leaves. Robins and cardinals surrendered their innocent songs. Her new-found vigilance after the Ordeal had amply rewarded her with nearly superhuman powers of memory and perception. She knew the difference between ice cubes rattling their descent in the automatic icemaker and precarious dishes shifting in the drainer. She knew the faint gas smell in the fireplace’s updraft mixed with the moldy dampness of soot, unlike the chemical burn of an exhausted furnace fan. But even beyond her five senses, she knew when Gardenia was in distress at school, when the rain was coming just by stepping outside, that Josie or Jasper were plotting to escape the white picket fence in chase of a rabbit or the neighbor’s Llasa Apso, without physical evidence. And she knew before her last lover, another part-timer, a PhD positioning himself for full-time teaching, ever breathed a word that he was returning to his estranged wife, newly tenured at Notre Dame. And that she, Madeline, would never return to Fritz, ever, except to demonstrate an independence and authority more all-encompassing and instinctive than his. She never questioned she would, in due time, arrive at such achievement. What she didn’t anticipate was how painful that certainty would become.
Maybe it was because she spent so much time breeding, birthing, feeding, training, and loving companion dogs that her awareness of the invisible grew to the point where she trusted her instincts as much, if not more, than she trusted those of her Flat Coats. She took to literally sniffing the air when met with a puzzle, problem, or uncertainty. Or, conversely, in anticipation of pleasure, as with her lovers, their pungent muskiness and play of fingers already arousing her before their actual arrival. And also, the daily discipline of recording such sensations and perceptions, as Jeanne had prescribed but that she had already begun before her therapy, reinforced and strengthened this emerging awareness, one that was startlingly similar to what she had known as a child, in communion with her beloved Smokey.
But outside the newly new Breckenridge, still pulsing with the heady fumes of fresh paint, lumber, drywall, and endless dust, her five acres of creek bed and tidy but distinctly lived-in ranch house, sheltered by the damp, ghostly white trunks of young aspen, stripped away any sense of “normal.” Her previously assured, right-to-the-gut sense of what was what, that anchored her in the realness of things, now scattered in the thin membranes of high altitude light. The price of her move to escape the Flatness was to relinquish its comforting haze, its moist breath of woods, corn and soy fields, lawns, lakes, and rivers, even the sooty, scarring carbon and ozone that bloated an already weighty atmosphere. Only now that she had left it did she realize how it had, in fact, protected her from the true horrors of what she and Gardenia had had to endure. She felt an odd gratitude for it, as she now faced a vulnerability now absent such defenses.
From this vulnerability arose her “talks” with Smokey. They felt all the more authentic because she had not sought them. She had not even dreamed them. The words just came, in a voice she did not immediately recognize. She had been content to let the voice speak through her journal writing, lazily attending to what she had initially regarded as sheer whimsy. But the more she wrote, the more particular and urgent the voice became. “I am your spirit guide,” it had said. (At that point she knew the voice simply as “it.”) “I will lead you safely through the dangers ahead.”
Back in South Bend, Jeanne had remained open to whatever language Madeline offered to describe her experience. “Spirit” was not a word Jeanne used to prompt such descriptions, and Madeline, surprising herself by lining up with Fritz’s disdain for the word, typically maneuvered around its use. One day, however, it had popped out before she could find a way to avoid it. “It’s like Gardenia’s lost her spirit,” she had said. “Not that she doesn’t have it, but that it’s lost.”
Jeanne was quick to note this shift in Madeline’s language. “What do you picture when you say ‘spirit’?” she asked.
“Light,” Madeline quickly replied, surprising herself once more. It was as if someone else was speaking through her, though again she disdained, along with Fritz, the notion of mediums or channeling.
“So Gardenia’s light is—lost?”
“No—sort of. More like—dimmed.”
“And you want to brighten it?”
Madeline had had to think for a moment. She wanted to simply agree. But the “voice” was tugging her in a different direction. “More like I want to get out of her way,” she said finally.
Jeanne looked genuinely puzzled and concerned. “You’re in her way?” she repeated gently.
Madeline remembered the tears that burst forth, soaking her carefully made-up face, startling her cool, dry neck, plunging between breasts crisply covered in a white, tailored shirt, the kind that catalogues used to evoke weekends at the shore or spotless informality among friends on summer evenings. She remembered, however distantly, an image of herself leaning over, clutching her stomach, nausea boiling her gut dry.
“My protection is her obstacle,” she gasped. The contradiction was startling and awful to speak, let alone recognize. All her efforts since Gardenia’s ordeal were just such obstacles. The horrible sense of Gardenia alone, without protection, thrashing about without being able to protect her adolescent self adequately, seared Madeline’s heart. Unlike her own childhood, Gardenia had had no Smokey, not even an idealistic older brother to help her realize her own sense of things. In this way Madeline began to understand the deep gaps between her experience and Gardenia’s and to grieve more fully for what she could not know. In turn, she clung to the retrievers, intermediaries skilled at traversing whatever obstacles they found. The Flat-Coats might be a legacy of an evil past, but they were the only ones she knew, sure-footed and brave, that could navigate the horrific territories of her daughter’s loss.
The more Smokey “talked” through her writing, the more she remembered. But beyond the memories was a new story, Smokey in his current life. “The past is always with you,” he wrote one day. That morning she had placed the last book on its shelf and hauled the last box to the garage after flattening it. The move was now complete.
This time, instead of silently thinking her response, she wrote it in dialogue with Smokey. “That’s what terrifies me.” Then she closed her journal. This was one conversation that would go no further, at least not today.
Yet Smokey’s voice persisted as she paced the new house, straightening, flicking off dust, correcting the least detail out of place. “You thought I was dead.”
You are, she thought, and the words burned her throat, unspoken but still alive. You are. Then her mind was flooded with images.
Weeping uncontrollably for what she later found out was hours. Shaking her head violently. No. Her voice growing stronger with each refusal. No. No. No. But others were stronger. Their hands stronger. She believed if she did not let go of her beloved that he would live. As long as she stayed strong. As long as she remained faithful to the task. Who would dare separate her from her one, true love?
She remembered waking up in bed the next morning, startled and alone. Smokey was already in the car, spread out on a blanket in the rear hatch, not in his travel crate. Her parents relented and let her lay with him on the way to the vet’s. At one point she had looked into Smokey’s eyes and distinctly felt his attention. His look was startling and humbling: He was concerned for her.
This, she thought now, pacing the kitchen floor, teacup in hand, had been the beginning. In that moment, accompanying her beloved collie to his end, she had not thought of herself, only of him. Of that she had been certain. But Smokey’s compassion had pierced that illusion. That was when she finally felt that the voice she had conjured, the one that had come through all their intimate conversations, was not just the hope that imagination nurtures, but really real.
She was due to pick up Gardenia from school in an hour. In the meantime, the house asked for nothing. All of a sudden, she had nothing to do. They had made it. Weeks and months of moving were over. She refilled her teacup, sat in the gently aged wingback next to the fireplace that would, in coming months, be home to Smokey’s tales of ongoing adventures. He would tell her of other dogs in need, of mountains and rivers that stood in the way of their rescue. Of his desire to serve, and to lead, for the good of all. Of his never-ending love for her that he needed her to know and recognize. It was him, he told her, who sent the Flat-Coats to Gardenia. And they would continue to retrieve for her and for Madeline whatever they needed.
So what if now, in middle age, it all seemed so childish? Madeline asked herself as she settled into the chair’s wings. So what if she talked to her long-dead dog? So what if she believed two retrievers would heal them? Who would ever know but her?
Speaking to the dead had never been Gardenia’s way. Rational, sensible, compassionate Gardenia. Perhaps it was because she never actually knew anyone who had died—no grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. She never spoke to her dead turtles or gerbils, fish or mice. She released them with sadness but, oddly enough, without regret. Even before the Ordeal she exhibited a premature maturity. “All things must past,” she would say. Madeline was sure she was quoting the George Harrison song that she’d discovered on an old vinyl album in her closet.
Speaking to the living was another matter. Just yesterday evening, conversing with Josie and Jasper, Gardenia had responded to their question, “Will you love us forever?” with a look in her mother’s direction, a look that had caught Madeline by surprise for its penetrating concern. “Yes,” Gardenia replied. Her voice pushed out like a life raft towards Madeline. She froze, startled to see herself so vulnerable in her daughter’s too-wise eyes.
The mantle clock struck half past the hour. She sat up, placing the empty tea cup on the table beside her. So, again, what did she have to lose in talking to her dead pet? “What’s it like to be dead?” she asked, almost flippantly, expecting nothing but cliches or platitudes—the answers one expects to hear when confronted with the unknown.
Smokey quickly responded. “Dead is just another story.” His response was just quirky enough to keep her keen, sensitive mind interested.
“Tell me,” she said, settling back into the arms of her long-familiar seat.
Mary Ann Cain’s fiction, nonfiction essays, and poems have appeared in literary journals ranging from venerable standards such as The Denver Quarterly, The Sun: A Magazine of Ideas, The Bitter Oleander and The North American Review to experimental venues such as First Intensity and LIT. Her novel, Down from Moonshine, was published by Thirteenth Moon Press in 2009. She has received two Indiana Arts Commission Individual Artist grants. Her recent critical work on writing theory and praxis includes a collaborative book (with Michelle Comstock and Lil Brannon), Composing Public Space: Teaching Writing in the Face of Private Interests (Heinemann 2010). She has also published a monograph on writing workshops, Revisioning Writers’ Talk (SUNY Press 1995), as well as numerous articles and book chapters about writing and writing instruction. She is currently Professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne where she teaches fiction, creative nonfiction, rhetoric, and women’s studies. Her latest project is a nonfiction book about the legacy of Chicago artist-teacher-activist Dr. Margaret Burroughs.