The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CLAPP) recently anthologized story of mine called Uncle Sam City” in this book:

It’s a collection of short stories that emphasize setting; the story I wrote was set in Bangkok, Thailand.  Other authors collected include two author-friends of mine from my time in Oxford, Ohio: David Harris Ebenbach, who was, for a short time, a local writer in those parts and Joseph Bates, a resident writer at Miami University who taught one of my grad seminars there.  He was actually the first to workshop “Uncle Sam City,” when I submitted it as “untitled”.  It’s gone through several changes since then.  I’m really honored to be in a book with these two–they are wonderful, imaginative writers and fantastic folks.

Other authors in the collection who I don’t know include:

Jenn Winter, Brandon Tietz, Dan Treadway, Robert Duffer, Heather Skyler, Elva Maxine Beach,  Delphine Pontvieux, Emma Riehle Bohmann and Lorraine Boissoneault.  Traci Kim is the editor.

For information about how to access the collection see this page on the CLAPP Center’s website.

In Memory…

Yesterday I found out that a local Detroit performer, Blair, passed away over the weekend. A blogger for the Metro Times did a nice write-up on him, which will give you a sense of who he was and what he accomplished in his too-short life.

I first met him while working with this theater group in the city in preparation for a trip to South Africa.  He taught a poetry class for senior citizens at Hannan House, and I observed/assisted when I could.  I knew nothing about poetry but learned a lot about it from him–mostly about capturing emotion in description.  He was good at that.

The trip was rough for me. The first time I’d been out of the country.  I didn’t get along well with the people who brought me (to be cryptic about it…) and was a real mess during the plane ride home.  As I was sorting the experience out, he told me some hard truths that I’m still trying to grapple with, about catching problems early and solving them right away.  About being quick to communicate.  I didn’t want to hear any of this but of course he was right.  I can’t say I was a good listener but I did hear what he said.  Right after that, he offered me an opportunity to open for him at a music concert the next week after we returned.  This was my first musical gig, and though I still write songs and perform them, my fiction has lately dominated most of my time and artistic energy.  Thinking about him makes me want to pick up my guitar again.  That’s beside my point–I am remembering Blair for his amazing kindness to young artists, for his generosity.  He probably thought I was really young and naive, which I certainly was, but in that conversation he helped me out every way he could. I want and try to be like him.

The last time I saw Blair perform was a couple of years ago, when he released a debut CD with his band, The Boyfriends.  Though he was a fantastic musician, it’s his poetry that I will remember him by the most.  He performed this poem as a tribute to our city:

He was important to us.  We will feel his loss for a long time.




another old writer (i’m newly obsessed with)

Toni Morrison is 80.  She published her first book at 39.

I’m taking a ton of summer classes (by ton I mean three) and for two of them I had to read Toni Morrison novels–A Mercy and The Bluest Eye.  I’ve sort of bookended her career, I suppose.  Now I’m tearing through Beloved on the side of all my homework (i.e. write four response essays and read two other novels by Wednesday…) and I think it might very well be the best book I’ve ever read.

I love that I can go through nearly two decades of school (counting kindergarten) and still pick up new writers to be obsessed with.  This reminds me of why I think it’s silly for writers to be competitive–sure, our own success and glory is pretty great, but isn’t it also great to read good books?  Don’t you want publishers to release as many good books as they possibly can? Don’t you want the people who write these good books to be your friends?

I will probably never “know” Toni Morrison, but for the record, she did recently appear to me in a dream wherein we were going out for pizza and bowling and she was really nice. And now that I’ve transitioned back to the main subject of this post, I am going to say, once again, that we can learn from writers like her that there is no need to rush our writing careers or put pressure on ourselves about how much we should have published by when.  Just write well, live a long time, and write a lot.  And read Beloved if you haven’t yet.

Meet Rachel Levy

At Miami University of Ohio, I was fortunate enough to meet and study fiction alongside one of the most skilled an imaginative writers out there.  Rachel was known for turning in paragraph-long stories that accomplished more than our thirty-pagers.  I’m excited to share with you her story “Becoming Deer,” which PANK Magazine published in their latest issue.

You can read more of her fiction here:

“Ocean” and “Worms” in issues 2 and 3 of Ghost Ocean

A Turkey Baster is Just like a Penis in Smokelong Quarterly

Smokelong Quarterly also posted an interview with Rachel here


On a final random note: That image is a from a painting I found by googling “haunted deer”. 😀

age and writing

I think we often put timeline-pressure on ourselves, particularly about what we hope to have published and when.  Maybe the New Yorker puts it on us with its best under 40 issues.

Meanwhile, Alice Munro was 37 when she published her first book, according to her Wikipedia site.  I admire her for lots of things–sustaining tension, her dark regionalism–but one of my favorites is that she was born in 1931 and she’s still kicking. Hard.  She reminds me that I don’t have to rush progress and that it’s cool to stay alive and keep writing.


writing from overseas and Zoetrope

Do you all know about the Zoetrope workshop online?

This was a really important resource for me when I was writing from overseas.  They have several different genres–fiction poetry, flash fiction, playwriting–and readers/writers from all over the professional scale.  You have to read and review five stories before you can post one.  Shorter stuff generally gets reviewed first. They have more directions on the site.

I found it great for figuring out what works and what doesn’t work in a story.  Also, some of the writers on there are spectacular readers. A lot of them, like me, were writing from places with less access to writers. I still keep in touch with writers I met on there.

It’s Francis Ford Coppola’s site.  Apparently everything you submit is potentially considered for Zoetrope’s magazine, but with the slush pile over at that publication, it’s hard to imagine.

should aspiring writers go to grad school?

If you have read my about page you can probably predict that I tend to answer this question with an enthusiastic yes.  Here’s why:

student writers have to write a lot

they have to read a lot

get to talk with someone about writing at least four times a week

meet established writers

go to readings all the time

get exposure (and perhaps funding) to go to writing conferences

get really good at reading other people’s work

if they teach or tutor, get really good at line editing and spotting errors

All of that said, I followed some advice coming out of undergrad that I should take some years off before applying to an MFA program.  I took four years; I spent two in Detroit and two in Bangkok.  This decision worked out really well for me because I was exposed to tons of communities in a short amount of time. I worked as a nanny, an actor, a musician, a research assistant, a tutor.  I stocked a department store, directed radio-performances for the blind with a cast of senior citizen actors, traveled to South Africa, India, Vietnam, and to every region in Thailand.  I picked up a lot of cool anecdotes on the way and I am curious about a lot more things than I was before I met all the people from those experiences.

In both of my graduate programs for creative writing, I’ve had friends and colleagues  who have come straight out of undergrad.  Some of them probably could have benefitted from exposure to life experiences outside of the academy but some are spectacular writers and write about cool stuff.  It really depends on the person.

In my experience, street-cred made me a more rounded writer, but school made me a better writer.  I think anyone can get tons of life experience and still be a terrible writer because, if they are anything like I was, they weren’t sure how to send their stuff out, what to read, who to talk to. There are ways to find this stuff out but, if they are anything like I was, will have a much harder time outside of academia.  Whatever the case may be, I have a hard time believing someone could go to graduate school, work hard (this is key), and come out at the same level they went in.

I will end this post by saying that I initially wanted to go to grad school so I could work in the academy and be a writer.  I’m more skeptical about this now–about my ability to land an academic job with an MFA.  The market for the writer academics who inspired me to write in the first place is totally different than the market will be for me.  I still don’t regret spending all this time in school.  Writing is the only thing I know I’ll be doing three years from now. Regardless of what I do–whether it’s getting more street cred or adjuncting or whatever, I’ll be able to write better than if I hadn’t been a student.