I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.


March 1, 2024: Joan Frank


Juniper Street, Joan Frank’s most recent novel, brings us a time and a place. The narrator’s childhood, a childhood that comes with its own weather system and mood—heavy heat and melancholy. “We dashed from house to car on Juniper Street because the heat closed around you, a kind of paste.” Like the heat, this story, the narrator tells us, “has hung over me—haunting, hounding… I warn you: memory won’t finally sweeten out like a piece of ironed ribbon. I tell it to loosen its grip.”

And like an Anita Brookner character, this narrator doesn’t want anyone to look at her. Nothing to see here. This story is about Mary, she insists, my childhood best friend. And to prove it, she will not even bother us with her name. The novel opens with a letter addressed only to “Dear ___.” But every story about Mary works to loosen a story about the narrator, and most importantly the story of her mother’s death at a young age, the narrator and her younger sister being the ones who could not wake her. “It is possible your mother just wanted some sleep.”

Juniper Street will take you back to childhood days when best friends trailed sisters and brothers and parents and their houses and their rules, which you knew as well as your own. In Mary’s family, there were four children, and their house was loud and chaotic. “When your parents are crazy, you’ve neither time nor emotional capital to ponder it at length…You act to survive… ” In the chapter following details of Mary’s father’s morning-after rants, our narrator, who remains unnamed, tells us, “In my family’s Juniper Street house, by contrast, we did not demonstrate rage.”

Even the food they ate on Juniper Street has something to tell us. About Mary’s family,

All their food thrilled me. Real, unapologetic food. The dense, rich, truck-driver kind advertised by family restaurants and casinos, the kind people with no second thoughts about eating demanded and devoured. It wasn’t that I was not fed at home, but my parents’ relationship to food was complicated, furtive, embattled. My stepmother was grim and controlling about what we ate.

This novel, slim as a book of poetry, was published by the wonderful C&R Press after winning their Fiction Award. Its stunning cover is the painting by John Willis, “Franklin Street Bay Window.”

In her book Because you have to: A Writing Life, which won the ForeWord Reviews Silver Book of the Year Award, Joan makes an interesting point.

Writers can never ignore the perpetual, imbued irony: needing to be left alone so that we can make work which, fundamentally, strives to connect.

Perhaps like the Juniper Street narrator, we can only connect by telling someone else’s story.

Joan also reviews literary fiction and nonfiction for The Washington Post and Boston Globe. Here’s the beginning of her most recent review.

Roxana Robinson’s stunning new novel, “Leaving,” cost me some sleep, and continues to reverberate. A study of the complex joy and pain of late-life love, it is a tour de force and arguably her finest work yet.

Joan Frank is the author of twelve books published by a myriad of wonderful independent presses. Where You’re All Going: Four Novellas won the Gold Medal, 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. And Joan’s 2017 novel, All the News I Need, won the Juniper Prize for the Novel. Joan is a MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a Ragdale Fellow. She lives with her husband in California’s North Bay Area.


Come back on MARCH 1st to read how JOAN FRANK spends her days.