Set in the 1990s, A Thousand Howls in Silver Air meanders across Florida, the swamp-green state that dips like a hook into two bodies of salt, and the Mid-West, a paper-gray place like a sigh, a flock of geese above a river. The story begins in an undergraduate literature class, when Poetry meets Love, an eccentric woman who will change her life forever. Love reveals her soul through her writing, quickly becoming Poetry’s idol, but the intensity of their relationship leads to destructive outcomes. Poetry must rely on her commitment to her art to steer her through the loss.
A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is a character-driven, hybrid novella written in vignettes and poems. The main characters follow the echoes of literature, music, art, nature and dreams on journeys of self-discovery, and the plot explores relatable themes of female friendship, home, love, identity and sexuality.
Here’s a sample chapter from A Thousand Howls in Silver Air. Please read, listen and enjoy.
Love lingered at green lights.
People honked their horns at her, and at first, she would ignore them. If they made too much noise, she'd yell back, "Hey! Can't you see I'm watchin' the sky change color?"
Love's car was a girl, and her name was White Rocket. This 1971 Buick was big and loud. Technically, with the years of rust and wear, she was more of a dirty blonde. She drove ok, but she made a rough first impression. Love didn't mind.
"In her heyday," she would boast, "when the space program was fresh, and everyone was glued to their TVs, watchin' Neil Armstrong do his moon dance, my Rocket was flyin' for real." Then, she'd pat the enormous dashboard and rev the engine a few times.
Love regularly practiced what she called 'orbital' drives.
Living in Florida had several advantages when undertaking these missions. First, it was a long, skinny state, and therefore easy to drive across. Second, both coasts had gorgeous beaches, and this made sunrises and sunsets predictably breathtaking. And third, the East Coast had Cape Canaveral, and you couldn't get any more thematic than that.
Her ritual began at sunrise, just outside the Cape in a place called Cherie Down Park. Cherie Down had a boardwalk covered with a canopy of twisted mangrove branches that led to the beach. Love always started by walking ceremoniously under that natural archway, one slow step at a time. This was her wedding; she was the bride marrying her groom, the ocean. She greeted him with a radiant smile. Then, she would sit on the beach, breathing deeply, counting the colors as they appeared in the sky, feeling their reflections in her eyes.
After a few hours, when the moon had faded back into a clean blue, she'd stand up and begin to pack her Rocket with picnic food, a bottle of wine, a battery-operated cassette player with her favorite tapes, a blanket, baseball cap, and sunglasses. With all the gear in place, she unfolded a map across her lap, and counted down, "Three, two, one, blast off!" Then she turned the key and pressed the accelerator.
The day was hers.
Most people would have driven the fastest, most direct route to get from one side of the state to the other. This would have taken about three hours. But Love had the whole day, and she did not believe in highways. She liked back roads. There was so much more to see. She could stop at a roadside stand for boiled peanuts and fresh orange juice. There were state parks with swamp birds to watch. A flea market might even be open, and who knew what treasures could be found there?
The day was hers. She could meander.
From Cherie Down, she drove Astronaut Blvd over the Banana River onto the Bee Line. No matter how many times Love made this trip, the names of these places always made her chuckle. The Bee Line, which mere mortals called State Road 528, led to another one of her many treasured stops, Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park.
At Hal Scott, Love got lost. She did this on purpose. There was something about wandering for hours in nine thousand acres of flat woods, losing track of time- except for where the sun was, or how shadowy the day felt- that made Love understand a certain totality. Lost, yes, she felt small, insignificant, and a little afraid, but it also gave her something: the calm that only standing next to an old growth tree in a dense swamp could make you realize. Some of the bald cypress and long leaf pines in the park were two to three hundred years old, and they were capable of living thousands of years if untouched by man or other natural disasters. Those big trees taught Love that time was indeed slow, just as she often felt it. The trees validated her philosophy, made her feel like some kind of immortality might indeed be possible.
After she had sufficiently lost her bearings, and then found her way again, back to the Rocket, Love ate her lunch and contemplated the clouds. Every Floridian knew that summer skies begin soft and light, but as late afternoon approaches, they get heavier and darker with thunderheads. These clouds were beautiful in the way they slowly puffed up, filling with water, like thousands of balloons. But once those beauties let loose, it was better to take cover and wait out the storm. Better not to try and drive through a blinding deluge. Love had to time it just right, so she looked at her map to estimate where she could take cover. If she drove on 528, and made it all the way to Williamsburg, she could stop at a Village Inn for pie and wait until the skies cleared.
Her timing was almost perfect. The first big drops splashed the back of her neck as she dashed into the diner. Sipping bitter coffee and savoring warm, sweet apples in a buttery crust, she watched it rain for a good hour. Everything felt peaceful, and as the storm abated, she strolled out to her car, having decided upon her next leg of the trip. She'd snake her way up to Highway 50, composing her own personal soundtrack along the way.
She played Van Morrison's "And It Stoned Me" first, in honor of the rain. Singing about water filled Love with memories of the pure joy of swimming. Next, to sustain her singing and dancing momentum, she chose Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee."
"Poets," she thought, tipping the rim of her baseball cap, "here's to both of you."
For the remainder of Highway 50, Love's list included, among others, Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, The Aquanettas, Concrete Blonde, Tom Waits, and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. By the time she reached The Green Swamp, her back was sweaty, her throat was dry, and she felt like royalty.
The Green Swamp was another sacred stop. Here were the headwaters of four major Florida rivers-the Withlacoochee, the Ocklawaha, the Hillsborough, and the Peace. Many state residents did not know it, but this place was vital to their survival. It was here that rainwater trickled through the soil to replenish the Florida aquifer system, the primary source of drinking water for most Floridians. Because the Green Swamp was elevated, and the underground aquifer rose very close to the land surface, this region acted as a pressure head for the aquifer.
"Hello there, vital water spouts," Love said, as she faced Southwest and then East, where the Hillsborough flowed out from the Withlacoochie. With her palms pressed together, close to her heart, she bowed to each of these waterways. Then, she turned North to bow to the Ocklawaha, and finally South, to bow to the Peace.
"Thank you, Great Waters," she whispered, and then she recited the names of the many people who for centuries had held these rivers sacred, "Thank you, Apalachee, Calusa, Choctaw, Isti, Miccosukee, Tequesta, and Timucua."
The last curve of her orbit took her onto Pine Island Drive to her sunset destination of the same name, Pine Island Park. On her way, she drove through Weeki Wachee, and as she passed this iconic attraction, she tipped her cap to the synchronized swimmers who still entertained tourists in the City of Live Mermaids. Some native Floridians hated this park. They said it was exactly what Florida did not need, a cheesy, old, cheap attraction. These same folks, however, would use their resident status to get discounted tickets to Disney World. Love laughed at this. To her, there was at least some skill involved in what the mermaids did. It was true that when Florida started to use tourism as its major source of revenue, this marked the beginning of the end for much of the natural beauty of the state. Still, Love hoped that performers in the water on a regular basis meant that someone was at least trying to keep the water clean.
Love felt hopeful and inspired at the end of each of her orbits. All that time alone in the car with her favorite musicians, complimented by the quiet of the swamp opened up new stories. The road gave her the time to listen, the space to think.
She played the final song of her soundtrack, "Circle," by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. She popped open her wine and drank it straight from the bottle. Sitting in the sugar sand, watching the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, Love toasted the sun and all the colors in the sky.
She rode a Silver Meteor
leaving swamp green
for smoky blue
where punk rock girls played mean guitar
singing for cash,
in the Lounge Cars.
She drank beer with a union man,
crossing the West,
speaking his dream
of honest work for honest wage.
A kind, young man
in the dome car,
under big skies, next to glaciers,
conversed with her
and rock climbing.
She played poker with British boys
in cowboy hats
tipped with respect
to Jack Thorp tunes.
She heard the canyons echoing
Apache, Hopi, Navajo,
weaving poems into pleated hair.
from the Midwest,
knitting in their seats, spoke to her,
"We saw your braids,
guessed you were smart.
Come and sit down.
We sold our homes, hugged our children
to chase new dreams,
before we die.
Speak your story aloud, honey.
Now is the time."
Girl on a train,
trip of her own,
she had thoughts open as the West
a shining sea...
Why were cities named for angels
and crescent moons?
Could time be caught
in rocking glass?
Was every Sunset Limited
to a few hours,
or could she ride
a train past death?
Could her bones lift into the sky,
her skull grow horns,
her pelvis wings?
Could her spine stretch
into four hundred vertebrae,
snake back in time,
stitching up wounds
parting new trails?
She saw her country before her
out those windows,
splendid mountains blown to pieces,
wide rivers damned,
all in the name
In the name of America,
East pushing West,
paid with their lives.
Dynamite blasted habitats.
Black ants, pikas,
thread snakes, cougars
scattered like stars.
She rode across her continent,
a Silver Star
As accents slipped from nasal quick
to slow, open
mouths of the South,
She had travelled eight thousand miles,
linked into one
her home, country, culture - a dream,
just passing through...
"One important thing is that A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is a love story. There’s also the life of an artist, female friendship, coming of age, being on the road, and a host of other themes, but first and foremost it is a messy, realistic, deep love story."
- Ralph Williams
"I love the movement in the chapter, "White Rocket, Silver Meteor." The images of place build and swell like Florida clouds as Love and Poetry make their pilgrimages. Each time I put this chapter down, I start dreaming up my next road trip, determined to bring some of Michelle's poetic eye along with me this time."
- Rebecca Wise
"In A Thousand Howls in Silver Air the prose and poetry sit together like a strong dialogue, a conversation and echo, a speech and a song. This rhythmic, tuneful, multilayered and beautifully textured book resonated with me on a personal level. A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is good company, wise, a piece of art, intricate and well-architected."
- Jen O’Hagan
"I could wrap myself up in these words and go to sleep. A Thousand Howls in Silver Air reminds me when I first learned to whistle. Makes me want a drink. I can taste it. I feel the heat and how its heaviness slows everything down. I love how strong the women are in this story. There is excellent music, imagery and foreshadowing within the poems. A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is evocative. It feels like home when I read it."
- Christine Finke
"The shifts between prose and poetry in A Thousand Howls in Silver Air feel natural, as if we as readers were joining the author not only in reflecting on her experiences but also in understanding how these individual memories are connected in her mind. There are several points in the book, including the last chapter, that reminded me of a polyphonic melody: multiple streams of dialogue or recorded thought processes that sounded simultaneously but never competitively, all seeming to work toward the author’s goal of finding a kind of harmonic balance in these past experiences."
- Allen Daniel
"A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is intimate, raw, funny and sad. It is an Americana wanderlust story about a relationship between a brave, sensual poet and a vulnerable, impulsive writer. This brilliant, beautiful book made me cry until I crumbled, and I was grateful for the parts that put me back together."
- Loretta Olek
"A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is a book of healing and time travel. I felt this all the way through, the traveling toward and the letting go, the perfect timing of the chapters, the way they showed up and carried through, like a perfectly tracked mixed tape. This complex novella is filled with pathways, passageways, prismatic layers, vulnerability, funny moments, clarity, compassion, and honesty. A Thousand Howls in Silver Air is for anyone connected to past, present and future simultaneously."
- Kate Kyle