impressions of svalbard (2)

impressions of svalbard (2)


Pyramiden was an actively haunted ghost town. Weeks could go by with no visitors, and then one afternoon a cruise ship might arrive unannounced carrying 700 tourists, with well-dressed women making their way up the rutted dirt road in high heels, and not even one of the crew thinking to bring a gun, despite the threat of polar bears. The young Russian guide did his best to guard them as they explored the many empty rooms of the former Soviet utopia, its movie marquis featuring sun bleached posters of Michael Douglas, who had been starring agelessly through the long polar days and nights since 1998.  In the massive hotel, two older women baked fresh pastries every day, ever prepared for a moment such as this to open their small shop for a brisk business in chocolate and vodka. Across the courtyard in what had been the family dormitories, gaping windows coated in birdshit looked out over a decaying playground. When the wind changed, the endless shrieking of the birds grew deafening.  Over dinner on our ship, the guide confessed to having stumbled upon a KGB office in one of the basement rooms. How the hackles had raised on his neck when he remembered stories of torture and contact poison. How even he, a man of a different era, was not immune to certain ghosts.

impressions of svalbard (1)

impressions of svalbard (1)

impressions of svalbard


there was a feeling of the vastness of the sky. and of being so close to the top of the earth that there seemed little to hold me in place. the landscape, devoid of trees or of anything to measure myself against other than the ship, the icy crags, and the immense horizontal ribbons of sky and sea, made me tiny- as tiny as a footprint, or a fish. at the same time, i felt the power and utter belonging of being so small: anything could happen in this world where a day could elongate into months, and the shifting of the ice crackled like a storm of unseen creatures about to break the surface.

small, fierce things would like to come home with you

small, fierce things would like to come home with you

collage of covers

small, fierce book covers

small, fierce things, my new book of illustrations and stories, is sold out! However, if you would like to special order a copy,  contact me!  


I am delighted to announce that in conjunction with Achiote Press, my new book is ready for purchase!  There are 50 handmade, hand-sewn copies ready to slide, crawl, scurry, bound, leap, wing, flutter, slink, creep, dig, and nose their way into your mailbox. All you have to do is click the button below and decide how many small, fierce things you want!

Details: Each books is 5″ X 5″ and 70 pages long. They are printed on acid-free coverstock, hand-sewn using fishing net that I found washed up on the beaches of Svalbard (yes, the North Pole!) Each book has a unique cover created from  found textiles and photographs, and contains 12 stories and 28 pen-and-ink illustrations.

Here is what some wonderful people have said about small, fierce things:

L.J.’s Fierce revels in the often queer intersection of the human and non-human worlds, with a focus not so much on the digital world (which we might now have come to accept), but on the animal: how the harmonica might make a rooster berserk, or the way a man whose frown “seemed permanent” might appreciate eye contact with a porcupine for “the way it had come to be there in his hands.” This book is a series of anti-selfies: off-kilter moments full of wonder, not presentation; this is not a window display but a corridor of funhouse mirrors. You might look the same when you’re finished, but something inside will be different.

Evan Karp, founder of Quiet Lightning

In LJ Moore’s small, fierce things, feelings you never thought to name become animal, donning flesh, fur, spikes, feathers. Nightmares walk and secrets play the banjo. These very short stories, written simply and without guile, vibrate with power and mystery, celebrate the authority of ambiguity. What does this mean? Moore has a way with last lines that feel unexpected but inevitable, lines that pin her characters to inescapable fact but open up a world of feeling in the reader, a simultaneous shrinking and explosion of possibility. These tales dance at the edge of fantasy but are never twee, never merely fanciful. They are too serious, too much about the sad predicament of being human, to be reduced to the whimsical, though it is clear that Moore is enjoying herself, letting her characters speak for themselves in awkwardly charming ways. The animal drawings that accompany the stories preceded them, according to Moore, and the stories came about as illustrations of the drawings, rather than vice versa. The drawings are sharply rendered, slyly funny, with more than a hint of the bizarre. They, along with the stories they fueled, bring to mind Flannery O’Connor’s famous line, The Truth Shall Make You Odd. I think Moore would be okay with that.

Sarah Fran Wisby, author of Viva Loss, and The Heart’s Progress (forthcoming from Plain Wrap Press)

Cats bring prey to feed their young and LJ Moore must be part feline because her small, fierce things sustains us. In words and illustrations, Moore brings the wilderness of the imagination to our front porch. It’s a bloody gift, still warm. Good kitty.

Tupelo Hassman, author of Girlchild

“As its name suggests, small, fierce things offers world in miniature–finely tuned observations that break open upon contact, secrets within secrets, hidden worlds that lie at the borders between the natural world and human consciousness. Wondrously illustrated and carefully wrought, LJ Moore’s work is a strange and uncanny delight.”

Colin Dickey, author of Afterlives of the Saints, and Cranioklepty

Each story in this collection reveals an unexpected and mesmerizing portrait that spins with the exquisite energy of dreams. Populated with all manner of creature-guides, and ranging from the far north to your grandmother’s bathroom towels, small, fierce things is a constellation of bright marvels not to be missed.”

Stacy Carlson, author of Among the Wonderful

 Not convinced yet? Read an excerpt.

Interested in the process of how this book was made? Scroll down!

Outtakes from the making of small, fierce things:

small, fierce things take over my bed
small, fierce things take over my bed
small, fierce things getting together
small, fierce things getting together
sewing the spines of small, fierce things
sewing the spines of small, fierce things
small, fierce books
small, fierce books
the sound of Svalbard, and the purpose of mystery

the sound of Svalbard, and the purpose of mystery

San Francisco
September 8, 2012
278 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

Svalbard. This is where the journey aboard the barquentine begins. To my English-centric poet’s ears, the name sounds like water running over ice. Like something silvery and fluid. It slides like headlights over a white wall, or like an otter buoyed by its playful nature. At the same time, it has teeth, this otter, and this word: Svalbard.

I find I can’t look down when I say “Svalbard.” It is a word inherently long-sighted, and makes me look up and outward.

All place-names have their inherent music: consider, for example, Snohomish, which sounds to my ears like walking through a bog, or slushy snow. Or what about Oropollo, which I heard someone say in the hallway the other day, and seems to be a surname and not a town. But Oropollo… it sounds like a rooster crowing through a beak full of honey, and doesn’t it translate roughly to something like “chicken of gold?”

And what about Affpuddle, Anton’s Gout, Barton in the Beans, Eccup, Droop and Fogo? Or Scragglethorpe, Scratchy Bottom, Vobster, or Titty Ho? All in Britain!  Britain wins. Except maybe for Toad Suck, Arkansas, which my family has attempted to find numerous times after seeing the sign on the Interstate for “Toad Suck Park.” I mean, who could not go there, given the opportunity?

So Svalbard… I wonder to the Norwegian ear, does it have the same soft ring, or does it fall on native ears the way, say “Duarte” or “Placentia” or “Fontana” falls on mine?

Mystery is all about what you don’t know. Mystery is all about how something sounds, or seems.. .not what it actually is.

Or maybe not. Maybe mystery grows… maybe it’s impossible to completely resolve certain states or experiences… places we can’t replicate, or predict, or dissect: like love, or hope, or epiphany. Or what about experiences we share but can’t possibly report back from or explain… like death, or the fashion sense of the 1970’s?

Is it really possible to know all there is of something? Absolutely and completely crawl inside it and solve it for zero? I don’t think so. I think the more we invent new ways to see, the more there will be. Think about telescopes: first our world was the center of the universe, with heaven hung like a chandelier above it, and a big pit underneath full of flames… now we are riding an expanding bubble full of whirling suns into a what or where without a name. There’s a mystery to wrap your head around.  Orthe invention of microscopes, which revealed smaller and smaller structures until they stop being matter and are just vibrating forces.. and even then we detect, behind that, the shadows of those forces. Or what about chess?

Is all this still about Svalbard? Yes. It’s about the music of names. It’s about naming mystery… about looking closer and deeper. Of adventuring. Of being happy, ecstatic at how the mystery of things keeps refilling itself to keep pace with our relentless curiosity. That’s the point, I think– or if not the point, it is the grand prize. Not to know, but to keep wanting to find out.

Svalbard… for now it is a name, and a chain of islands near the top of the world. On a map I can walk easily across the oceans with my eyes to it- a place that almost everything on Earth is south of. And soon, I’ll know a little more.

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

San Francisco
September 6, 2012
279 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

focal area of arctic ice meltI dreamt I was a polar bear burrito.

As in, I was seeing the world from the perspective of a polar bear. I was very  hungry and there was a delicious smell, a hot, living, promising smell. I followed the smell to a smallish, bluish lump, which I then ate. Then, as often happens in my dreams, I was both the bear and the bluish lump, which was in fact a person asleep in a sleeping bag, and i was that person. I was both the polar bear and me asleep in the sleeping bag, inside the bear. These are the impossible insights of dreams.

When I woke up, I started to think about polar bears. What is my polar bear gestalt?

There is the polar bear of the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1990’s, the affable, rotund cartoon swilling sugary liquid alongside cavorting penguins at an idyllic pole where it is always Christmas. The idealism is sickly-sweet and hard to take, and it’s difficult to forgive the basic geographical impossibility of penguins (Antarctic) being anywhere near polar bears (Arctic) except perhaps in a zoo. Or in dreams. Or in a fantasy where a natural predator has become a slothful, sentimental tool.

The next image that popped into my head was that of Iorek Byrnison.

He is one of the heroes of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. This is him in his battle gear. He’s both savage and kindhearted, and like most characters in books, he is not an actual polar bear, but a Polar Bear: a cipher constructed of fears and wishes. He’s indomitable strength, tempered by a human sense of honor and chivalry. He’s more powerful than pain, as he can’t not fight to the death. he’s a dream bear, and a story bear. He is how we bear (oh yes, pun intended) to deal with how merciless actual survival can be. That’s the beauty of characters in stories- they can force the world to be a place where things make sense, and where fairness and safety can be won, and even sustained.

With that alarming synchronicity that often accompanies dreams, I saw this article today on the BBC: Arctic ice melting at ‘amazing’ speed, scientists find

In it, the Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) says:

“…we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”

This is the moment where the dream and the day collide: if an animal, a real animal in danger of becoming extinct within the next 50 years is dreamt of as this:

but actually looks like this:

then it is time for the dream to change.