The Child Finder

The day has finally come—one I’ve been anticipating for quite a while now. I read The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld last fall and loved it so much, I reached out to Denfeld for an interview. Little did I know that an excerpt of that interview would become the exclusive back matter for the paperback copy of the book!

The Child Finder is a suspenseful, empathic, and heartfelt exploration into the terrifying depths of the human soul. And the book cover alone is a masterpiece with its fairy-lit, sea green snow. I can’t recommend this book—all of Rene Denfeld’s work—enough.

You can read the full interview here (first published by Michigan Quarterly Review).

Sandbox Notes: May We All Reincarnate into Craftsman Lobsters


Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

The Headless Women of Hollywood Project.

A woman attacked by police because she was cutting dandelions with a knife.

A rainbow in Montpelier.

Eiko Otake and her deliciously moving blanket (video).

Cherry blossoms and reincarnation. 

-(No, I did not really find a buried human heart still beating. Again, just read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. It will explain the current terrain of my brain).


About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.


Sandbox Notes: Luna, The Moose, and the All-Seeing Birch

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

The definition of lunula (which was the Word of the Day on August 19, 2018)

Save the Sacred Albino Moose (this old story from 2013 was recently brought to my attention, thanks to The Front Gallery of Montpelier)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. A must-read.

This is why bananas smell like nail polish. 


About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Introducing: Sandbox Notes

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to pal around with the exquisite musician and composer Carla Kihlstedt during the MFA in Music Composition residency here at VCFA. Over cans of Conehead IPAs, we talked about anything and everything. Favorite books, social and language development in children, Carla’s latest project “Black Inscription,” the Borges lectures,  Mary Ruefle, etc.

Later, Carla mentioned Marina Keegan’s lists of “Interesting Stuff.” I don’t recall the context around why she brought this up, but I remember being afraid to say I didn’t know about Keegan’s lists. I, of course, did know about Marina Keegan and her posthumous book of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness. Curious to know more about the “Interesting Stuff,” I scoured the internet and found this beautifully genuine and heart-wrenching tribute written by Anne Fadiman, one of Keegan’s professors at Yale. On her application to take Anne’s creative writing class, Keegan wrote: “About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.”  

I continued reading the article, to the part where Anne retells how she received an email from another student, breaking the news that Keegan had died in a freak car accident, five days after graduation. Below, a smiling girl in a mortarboard was shown in a photo with her mother and father. I couldn’t read any further, suddenly blurry-eyed and sobbing alone in my tiny studio.

It’s odd, isn’t it? Staring at a photograph of someone about your age, who is no longer alive. It’s a much different thing than reading, say, Charlotte Bronte or Virginia Woolf (someone you know lived in a very different time than now. We have come to accept the fact that they are no longer living.) But Keegan should be here. I  couldn’t stop thinking about her all that day.  I was so moved by the stories of Keegan, her curiosity, her realness, and something clicked for me. Marvelous things are all around us, brimming with stories and captured detail. I wanted to capture it too. I don’t want to let all these hints of stories pass me by.

So beginning this past Monday, I decided to pretend 10,000 eyes were covering my entire body and opened my whole self to whatever the world wanted me to pay attention to. I carried a sketchpad with me everywhere I went, and recorded every marvelous thing, thought, wonder.

It was also Carla who told me that she often encourages her music students to take the first two months of their semester for playing “in the musical sandbox.” She explained the sandbox phase to me as “a period when you’re just playing with your materials to see what they want to do before you ask them to jump through flaming hoops with bows on their heads for the paying people.” The sandbox is just as applicable to any art, but especially to writing.

Each grain of sand contributes to the fullness of the sandbox. The more sand, the more castles and faces and cakes you are able to create. Simple, right? It also isn’t lost on me that some of our best development and thinking as a kid happened in those sandboxes. Time evaporated, dripping off your head with all that sun sweat. This was where we went to focus in the extreme. For many children, this is still the loci of their first go at creative flow.

That being said, let me introduce you to Sandbox Notes.

Sandbox Notes is an experiment in observation and openness. In just one week, I’ve already found the value in this level of awareness. Writers frequently talk about keeping their “writer’s notebook” which always seemed to daunt me. I suppose this is my own way of keeping a kind of practice, one I know I can sustain. After a particularly difficult and down day yesterday, feeling guilty for a lack of productivity, a friend told me: “You processing life and your emotions is helping you to create what you will eventually create.” Perhaps Sandbox Notes is one potential way for me to process, discover, and absorb. After all, in order to write and create things, we do need to get out there and experience life. This practice serves to encourage me to be a witness, a detective, a collector of EVERYTHING. 

Each Monday, I will post a photograph of the sandbox collection from the week prior—always right here on the blog, so stay tuned!

I’ve had a lot of fun this week digging in the sandbox, and I hope it continues to be fun to both collect & read as it goes along and as the project evolves.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome! 

Why We Write: A Community Space for Reflection

A few months ago, I wrote a post about “why I write” which I concluded may change as I go through my days, and that’s exciting to me. Reflection, self-awareness, and self-love is something I’m really trying to work on this year. I’d suggest that all of us could benefit from constantly working to improve this aspect of our lives, this listening to ourselves. Especially writers and creative minds – who are not always inside our own brains or bodies at any given moment, but may be inhabiting characters, dreamscapes, rhythms, trances of flow, colors, etc—we’re always confronting reality through a complex lens that wavers unfailingly between hyper-connection and ultra-detachment.

I created this brief writing prompt for the students at the Fuente Collective Youth Studio, but I hope that you are able to take what you need from it. (This is geared toward the writing field, but feel free to bend and shape it in any direction you need it to go):


Writing Prompt: Why We Write

It can be very exciting to talk about all the ways we can get published, but it’s also important to know WHY we want to get published. And this answer can be different for each person. What do you want to get out of your writing experience?  It’s easy to look at JK Rowling, and think wow, her life seems pretty great, right? But not everyone WANTS to be JK Rowling and that’s okay!

This exercise invites you to reflect on why you write now, and to project into the future of your career as a writer. Spend a few moments, or however long you would like, thinking through these four questions below, jotting down notes. Remember you can come back to these questions at any time. Keep them with you. Return to them often.


I write because…



(A few prompts in case you get stuck: Why do you write? What draws you to creating stories and putting them on paper? Do you love characters? Do you love how delicious certain words sound in your ears? How does writing help you think and process your life and the lives of others? What does it mean for you to be writing “in the zone”? Do you remember the person or experience that first got you interested in writing?)


In the future, I see myself….



(A few prompts in case you get stuck: What does your writing life look like in the future? Would you like to publish a book? Do you want to get paid to read other people’s books and write reviews? Do you want to give readings and do public tours? Do you see yourself as a private writer who doesn’t want to be famous, but just wants to share work with people? Do you want to make your work free and accessible?  Do you see yourself as an editor of a magazine? A teacher? A writer, although writing won’t be your day job? Anything is okay. This is your chance to dream.)



My audience is…




(A few prompts in case you get stuck: Who are you speaking to through your writing? Who do you want to connect with? Who do you envision reading your work? Are they people in your hometown? People with an interest in sports, in food, in animals? Do you want to teach your audience something they don’t know, or share a new perspective? Is your work for people older or younger than you; is your work ageless?)


I’m interested in writing about…



(A few prompts in case you get stuck: What are the topics, themes, ideas, places, people, cultures, subjects that make your writing uniquely yours? Write a list of nouns. A block of text. A word scramble, map, or tree, perhaps. Just write what comes to mind. What are you obsessed with? What are you curious about? What do you not understand but want to try? What are you afraid of? What brings you joy?)

This is a community space – so please feel free to share your answers and comments below! I’d love to see the diversity in thoughts, in why we write, in what we want to do with our writing, in what we want to write about. Perhaps I’ll even share my own answers, too!

Words of Encouraging Advice

Yesterday, I Skyped with Fuente Collective, a Houston-based writing center for both young and adult writers, to talk about Hunger Mountain and debunk the mysterious world of submitting creative work, but mostly my aim was to emphasize the importance of literary citizenship and how young writers can start being active in their own literary communities now. The talk went really well! The 14-to 18-year-olds are in such a great space, what with the support and generosity of their instructors Layla Al-Bedawi and Tayyba Kanwal, and the opportunities for writing and growth that FuenteCo provides. I’m very excited to work with Fuente again in the future!

In preparation for the talk, I put together a tear sheet for the group, including a brief overview of Hunger Mountain, and information about our current submission call. 

Also included on that tear sheet were a few “words of encouraging advice” that I collected from my fellow students and a few of the professionals I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The blurbs I received back ranged in topic from encouragement to follow one’s passion, tips for the act of writing itself, engaging in the literary community, and advice on how to send out work and get published. I think these words of wisdom are great reminders to keep us on our heart’s path, no matter your age or years of experience. I know I will print these words out  and paste them on my wall above my writing desk.

Enjoy these heartfelt blurbs below. Let them inspire you, speak to you, and stir up your creative juices:

Encouraging Advice from VCFA Students and Faculty: 

Everything I’ve ever learned about writing came from my mother and my father. My father taught me that nothing beats working hard. And that is exactly true with creative writing. The only way to be a successful writer is to make writing something that you do often and ferociously. But you cannot just work hard and become a great writer, and this is where my mother’s advice comes in. My mother taught me to be passionate about what I do. And for a writer to be great, they need to not only work hard but also love to work hard. They need to love the act of writing, the act of thinking about writing, the act of revising, the act of sending work out into the world. So write hard and love writing hard. ~ Sean Prentiss, author of Finding Abbey


Someone told this to me when I was young: Keep writing and always believe in the wilds of your imagination. ~ Kayleigh Marinelli, VCFA student


Don’t procrastinate. If you want to be a better writer, read carefully and pay attention to what others do and how they do it. Ask questions. Go to classes. Write as often as possible. Play with words. Enjoy telling stories. Find out as much as you can, read widely. And yes, don’t put it off for another day or year, but claim it now.  ~ Sarah Leamy, VCFA student


Don’t wait for inspiration to write. Simply write regularly and often. Sometimes, the work will fall apart. Sometimes it will come together and surprise you. It’s not so simple as “journey over destination” or “practice over product…” nor is the point of writing in the finished product alone. The point is that you weave writing into your life and let it become your inspiration. And do this with your reading to. Read. Read. Read. And keep reading. ~ Lizzy Fox, Associate Director of the MFA in Writing and Publishing program


There are two things that every writer needs: willingness and a community. Willingness is the ability to just make yourself start writing: even if you’re not feeling it, even if you think you’ve somehow lost any talent you might have once had, even if you’ve convinced yourself that your current work-in-progress is a worthless dog’s breakfast. You may need to fill a page with nonsense before you start to flow, but flow you will. The other thing you need is a community. We can get lost inside the hard bone casques of our skulls, and having trusted friends around keeps us grounded. When one of us is doing well, it gives the rest of us encouragement to push on. When one is having a hard time, there’s probably at least one other of us who just finished a story, or solved a vexing plot puzzle, or at least just learned a great new macadamia-nut cookie recipe. Find a crew. For writers, who are often temperamentally a solitary lot, this can be the biggest challenge. But it always, ALWAYS pays off. ~ Paul Daniel Ash, VCFA student


You are not alone. There are billions of people in the world and some of them need to hear your story, and this will only happen if you tell it. ~ Valentyn Smith, VCFA student




You Know You’re Back in Vermont When…(A Mostly Photo Essay)

Gah…in my move back to Vermont, I’ve really fallen down on the blog job. So here I am, attempting to redeem myself with a mostly photo essay (with some words, too).

You know you’re back in Montpeculiar when the trees warn you they are for panda purposes only: 

Last Wednesday, I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which was a delightfully magical film about the life of Fred Rogers. It encapsulated an era so dearly. When the credits started, we as a collective theater not-so-furtively wiped our soggy eyes and stepped back out into the mundane Main Street dusk. It was so bizarre to leave that theater and go on with our lives, partly in that Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has never had a reboot, has never been overtly commercialized, has never transformed into a pop culture consumerist ploy. It is so wholesomely what it was for the time that it had: a dedicated space and time for the sole purpose of engaging, encouraging, educating, and loving children. Please do go out and see this film, if you have a chance! (Of course, writing this post did jog my memory to the time I found this mug for sale at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.) 

What I’ve been reading : In my latest trip to the downtown library, my eyes were apparently larger than my reading stomach can handle in a two-week checkout period. Nevertheless. she persists! Stack includes The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and yes, studying up on the Grammar Bible itself: The Chicago Manual of Style. 

Through pure spontaneity, I hitched a ride with two friends last weekend to attend the 10th Annual Bookstock Literary Festival,where I stocked up on books by Gabriel García Márquez and Maira Kalman (I’m having a bit of a Maira Kalman moment lately; totally enamored), sampled Red Kite Candy’s salted caramels, sat like a fangirl student in the first row of Robin MacArthur‘s reading of Heart Spring Mountain, and heard the legendary Eileen Myles read (and share a story about their false tooth.) What an absolutely incredible poet performer! 

On the writing front: I’ve been on a bit of a flash fiction writing stint, thanks to the photo prompts provided by Midwestern Gothic. (I was a finalist for their 2015 Flash Fiction Prize here with this photo below!)

I find that flash fiction and photos pair so naturally together, because a photo in its essence is a bound moment in time. Yes, in that moment, the future and past seep in, stored in the collective memory and experience of that place and its people. But there’s a border cropping the photo to its size, just as flash fiction word limits (e.g. 500 words) imparts a border on the told story. Which details are seen and which details are just outside of the border are decisions that have to be made by the keen eye of the writer—almost as if we are writing our story with the disciplined filter of a camera lens.

This weekend, a few of us from the cohort are heading down to a rural New Hampshire camp for a two-day homemade writing retreat. At least writing is the goal…but the mountains, the lakes, the trails are always calling.