Monthly Archives: October 2009

16 Moving Tips from an Expert



Among my top five areas of inadvertent expertise (including country ham slicing and cover letter-writing) would have to be moving.  Since Richard and I have been together (9 years), we have moved 12 times. We’ve moved for lots of reasons, some good (grad school, buying a house), and some not-so-good. In L.A. we moved when our neighborhood was suddenly in disputed gang territory and I saw someone get shot at 5:00 in the afternoon. In New York I could not stand the G train and its interminable waits. Last year our landlords were foreclosed upon–well, actually that was this year. But I tend to see years in terms of leases, so some years are really short. Now we’re moving back to North Carolina, to our very own house in the woods. We consider this an exciting and positive move, even if the circumstances have made it a little rushed.

Most of the characters in my book don’t move very much at all, which is probably true for most sensible people. However, if you find yourself moving (for whatever reason) and are in need of some tips, here are mine:

1. If your neighborhood does become the center of a gang war, you should definitely move if at all possible. Even if you’ve only lived there two weeks. If you are loading a truck, have someone stand with it so you don’t get robbed on your way out.

2. Get all of your boxes and moving supplies at once so you don’t waste time. Most places that sell them will let you return the unused ones, and if you’re getting them free, then they’re free anyway and you can give any extras to someone else. Craigslist is a good place to get and give away free boxes.

3. Use extra household items as packing supplies, and pack to the top and corners (for box stability). For example, Richard likes to use T-shirts to fill extra spaces. I’ve found that pillow cases, tea towels, and tablecloths are good for wrapping framed pictures, vases, and other fragile items.  

4. Richard used to mark our boxes of CDs with a code word rather than writing “CDs,” but I don’t think people steal CDs anymore. If you have a box of iPods, you could label it “CDs” or “books” and shady movers would probably leave it alone.

5. I think the dish saver boxes and the little foam sleeves are a good investment if you’re going to keep them. They save a lot of time, and for me the kitchen is both the last and the most complicated room to pack. Consider donating all of your canned goods and non-perishables. This is really easy if you’re moving in the fall, as I am.

6. Richard says wardrobe boxes, which are very large, are good for moving a collection of guitars. And if you have or know any kids, you can cut a door in them and paint them and make a house. 

7. If you alphabetize your books or records, try to keep them in the same order as you pack, and mark the boxes A-F, G-J, etc.

8. Tape your boxes securely, and label the room destination with a thick permanent marker.

9. Sell things you don’t want on Craigslist. People on Craigslist will buy anything–Richard says you can list “one shoe” and a pirate will email you asking when he can pick it up. Price fairly, but a little higher than you think. You can always negotiate down, and if you price too low, you’ll have 100 pirates begging to buy your shoe.

10. If you’re going to hire movers, I suggest renting and driving the truck yourself and hiring the movers separately (look at the Better Business Bureau and online reviews to see if they have a lot of irate customers first). I’ve found that this is cheaper, and they don’t have a lot of annoying rules about what can go on the truck–you rented the truck, so you are the boss. Watch the guy on the truck–he’s not doing anything except resting and/or bossing the other guys around. That’s your job.

11. Movers are always worried about whether and how much you’re going to tip them–understandably, because people are cheap. It’s a good idea to tell your movers ahead of time that you are a generous tipper, especially if they get everything done by a certain time or are extra-careful with your porcelain unicorn collection. Actually, carry the unicorn collection in your car. Movers are better at improving their speed than their carefulness. 

12. Have cold Gatorades on hand for your movers, because they (and you) will be thirsty. As a teacher, I can tell you that Gatorade is great because you don’t have to waste so much time taking breaks to pee.  Red and orange are the most widely accepted Gatorade flavors. Your movers will prefer the larger bottles.

13. Try to stage your house ahead of time with the truck packing in mind (my dad says stage it with truck unpacking in mind, but I’m always more concerned about getting out than getting in). In my system, boxes go first, so put them near the front door if possible. Tie the furniture down with rope–you don’t want stuff sliding around. Remember that you are the one who cares whether or not your stuff gets broken, so check everything.

14. Make sure you have a lock for your truck. A regular combination lock works fine, but you can use a bicycle U-lock if you don’t have a combination lock. You should have a strong lock if you’re moving a long distance and parking the truck overnight. When we moved from L.A. to New York, I remember that the mover made a little sleeping cavern for us in the truck, just behind the cab. It was very thoughtful of him, but I don’t recommend this. 

15. My dad likes to give the extra tip of beer, but I think that whether this is tacky or not depends on your location.

16. Finally, save all of your boxes. You never know when you’ll need them again.



Filed under Uncategorized


Most of Mattaponi Queen, with the exception of one very short story, was written outside of workshop. When I started these stories I had just finished my first, difficult year of classroom teaching and I was very happy to be alone, working. I spent most of that summer in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, reading and writing and enjoying the quiet. I think I finished drafts of three or four stories that summer. I showed them to very few people and then tucked them away again until the next summer, when I would have more time to work.

Writing is notoriously solitary, which I don’t mind at all, but it is nice to have a chance to collaborate every once in a while. I feel lucky to have a publisher that takes feedback from writers so seriously–very early on, Graywolf Press asked lots of smart questions about the book, its audience, and how it might be presented to readers. One of the first things I did for the book, in fact, was complete a design questionnaire intended to help the book designer create a meaningful cover. 

I did a lot of thinking–about colors, images, associations–and also researched artists and photographers whose work might represent the book well. Then I remembered an artist whose work I admired on a design blog: Frances Pelzman Liscio, a photographer who creates intricate and beautiful reliquaries out of bones, animals, and flowers. As a Southerner and enthusiastic outdoors-wanderer, I love relics, and even have a story in the collection that features them. Fran’s work seemed perfect. Graywolf liked the idea and generously arranged for her to create a custom reliquary for Mattaponi Queen.

The only difficult part? I live in an apartment in D.C., and the things you find on the ground around here are not exactly camera-ready. My mother, however, has lots of relics and odd collections found in and around my parents’ two-hundred-year-old house (many of them dug up by our family dog, Griffin). She packed a big fishing toolbox full of them–flower stems, beaver skulls, Civil War bullets and buckles, buttons, toothbrushes, bottles, spoons, a “diamond” ring–and we sent it to Fran, who graciously sifted through four levels of stuff. She even asked for and read a few stories that I sent her.

This is what the inside of the toolbox looked like:


A few weeks later, amazing and startling images appeared in my in-box. 

A few weeks after that, I had eight covers to choose from, designed by a talented book designer. It was exceptionally hard to choose–I asked family, friends, the Walkerton postmistress–but I think the one I picked is perfect, more richly evocative of the world and characters of Mattaponi Queen than I could have ever imagined.

Want to see it? Graywolf shared it on Friday via Twitpic:

Don’t forget to follow @GraywolfPress on Twitter:


Filed under Uncategorized