Let It Be What It Needs To Be

Posted on 13 January 2015 | No responses

It’s a new year, I have a hot cup of green jasmine tea in front of me, and I just had to shut the blinds to keep out the snow glare. It’s also my final semester of the MFA program and my thesis  — a new collection of stories — is coming together. Enter the worry dolls I recently received from an instructor. They might look cheerful right now as they dance around on that gourd, but let’s just say they have their work cut out for them.

The same instructor offered this advice about the thesis: “Let it be what it needs to be.” This is what I’m trying to do as I revise my stories and write new ones. Or as I teach my undergraduate creative writing workshop, or as I read fiction submission after fiction submission for Mid-American Review, or as I continue to contemplate novel revisions. (The novel that is not part of my thesis or MFA work — just a separate book project I’m working on at the same time. Brilliant plan, I know. Bring on those worry dolls.) As always, I’m well aware of my good fortune for being able to direct my attention and anxieties to these writing issues in the first place.

A few quick updates, since I haven’t posted in a while:

  • When I’m not here, you can sometimes find me posting on the Mid-American Review blog. We have a Pets with MAR feature that, unbelievably, I have not yet contributed to. Yet. Saucy and Cirrus will have their day on the MAR blog, I swear.
  • My AWP panel is set for Friday, April 10, from 3-4:15pm.
  • My story “How to Be a Hero” was published recently by Green Mountains Review.
  • Portland Review recently accepted my new flash piece, “No Dog,” which was inspired by Lydia Davis’s “The Dog Hair.” My story will appear in an upcoming print issue.
  • Smokelong Quarterly published my flash piece “A Girl Walks Into a Page.” Artist Amy Trosino created the intricate and, in my opinion, astounding art for this piece. She recently sent me a print, which I intend to hang in my writing room.

None of my recent publications have included the stories that I consider to be the heart of my thesis (or, perhaps, even stories that will end up in the thesis at all). This is how I usually work — I write and incubate and holds things close until they are ready. The collection is not ready yet, but it’s getting there. I can already see a glimmer of its final shape.

Back to work.




5 Reasons You Need to Attend Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing (Nov. 13-15)

Posted on 2 November 2014 | No responses

This post originally appeared on Mid-American Review’s blog: “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Winter Wheat 2014.” I will present two workshops at Winter Wheat. On Friday, Nov. 14, from 3pm-4:15pm, I will present “Write Like It’s Your Job: Developing a Writing Routine.” And on Saturday, Nov. 15 from 9am-10:15am, I will present “I Regret to Inform You: Dealing with Literary Rejection.” Finally, I’ll also participate in the editors’ panel from 2-3pm on Friday. See the post below for more Winter Wheat details.

5. Ready to register online? Put away your wallet. Good news — no fee is required when you register online for Winter Wheat workshops! We encourage attendees to register for sessions online ASAP to help us with some logistics and session planning, but there’s no need to dig out your credit card. We do have a suggested donation of $50, which can be paid either online or on-site at the conference — and truly, every last donated dollar makes a huge difference to Mid-American Review – but there’s also no pressure. Donations are incredibly appreciated (and help keep this conference running), but right now we hope you’ll register purely to plan and sign up for sessions. Come for one afternoon or for the entire festival; it’s your choice!

4. Got ten bucks? Take 20 minutes of an editor’s time. This year, for the first time ever at Winter Wheat, Mid-American Review editors will offer private 20-minute manuscript consultations for a $10 donation. This $10 for 20 opportunity provides personal and specific feedback on manuscripts and allows time for questions. Consultations will be scheduled individually with each writer to suit the writers’ and editors’ festival schedules. Spaces are limited, so sign up soon! Manuscripts of up to 10 pages (any genre) should be submitted to mar@bgsu.edu. Put “Winter Wheat Manuscript Consultation” in the subject line.

3. We’re 8 sessions short of a Crayola 64-count box of crayons. That’s right — Winter Wheat is bigger and better than ever this year with a mind-boggling 56 workshop sessions held over two days. Head on over to the sessions listing page to start combing through all that literary goodness so you can plan your time at Winter Wheat. In the meantime, here’s just a taste of some of the workshops that will be offered:

  • Selfie Revolt: How Millennials Can Rewrite the Coming-of-Age Story
  • Websites for Writers: Launch Your Website in a Weekend
  • Bitches Be Crazy: Portraying Madness in the Short Story
  • Blurred Lines: What Hybrid Texts & New Media Can Teach Us About Genre
  • Poetry and Nightmare
  • The Sentence: Acoustics, Syntax, and Style

2. Did someone say Anne Valente? Marcus Wicker? Allison Joseph? Sharona Muir? They’ll all be reading at Winter Wheat. (View the full schedule of keynote readings here.) And don’t forget to check the workshop sessions page for more literary luminaries — like Matt Bell — who will be in attendance and leading workshops.

1. Off-site after-party! We’re shaking things up this year and hosting our post-conference event off-site at Grumpy’s in downtown Bowling Green. From 5:30-9:00pm, join us for some food, an open mic, a cash bar, and more. Who knows…as the night goes on, we might even pull out karaoke machine. (Important: Please be sure to to register for the off-site event if you plan to come!) We hope you’ll join us Saturday night to kick back and raise a glass to a successful Winter Wheat.

Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing, will be held Nov. 13-15 on the campus of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Find conference details here, view sessions here, and register here. Join the Winter Wheat Facebook event page here.

Photo: Malcolm Carlaw

I’m a Cheap Date

Posted on 10 October 2014 | No responses

I recently updated my Events page, and I think this can of PBR set off by glitzy lights about sums it up: some fancy stuff mixed in with the simple and the cheap (and the free). In other words, something for everyone! From AWP in Minneapolis in 2015 (I’m presenting on a panel, giving a reading for Living Arrangements, celebrating Mid-American Review‘s 35th anniversary, among other events) to my MFA reading to editor speed dating to publishing panels and more, I’m getting around.

The editor speed dating takes place Saturday, October 18 at Barrelhouse’s Conversation and Connections conference in Pittsburgh. For a mere $5 donation, you can get 10 minutes of my time as the fiction editor Mid-American Review to offer on-the-spot feedback on your story.* I’m also presenting my session on creepy narrators at this conference at 9:30am. But the big event — the one I’m helping plan and am so excited about this year — is Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing, held Nov. 13-15 (with workshops taking place on Fri. Nov. 14 & Sat. Nov. 15). I will participate in a special Mid-American Review roundtable, present two workshops (one on developing a writing routine and one on dealing with literary rejection), and also participate in our inaugural private editor consultations ($10 for 20 minutes)…and then hit the bar at the after-party because that is going to be one busy weekend.

So if you’re in the general Great Lakes area — or know other writers who are — please consider coming to Winter Wheat, Conversations and Connections, or even my MFA reading. Maybe we can grab a PBR afterward.

*Actually, it’s not possible to request a specific editor during the Conversations & Connections speed dating event, purely for logistical reasons, but take heart. All of the editors are cheap dates, and it’s only $5. Go for it.

Photo: Eric Tastad


Ben Stroud on Writing, Self-Doubt, and Publishing Dreams

Posted on 25 September 2014 | No responses

Last week, the Bowling Green State University MFA program welcomed Ben Stroud to campus for a Q&A and reading. Stroud is the author of the story collection Byzantium (Graywolf), which won the 2013 Story Prize Spotlight Award and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Fiction Prize and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Kansas City Star, Best Summer Book by the Chicago Tribune and Publisher’s Weekly, and a Best Book of the Month by Amazon.  Currently, Stroud is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Toledo.

Having the chance to sit down for a small, intimate Q&A session – and then head out to dinner to share a meal – with visiting authors is just one of the perks of this MFA program. And I have to say that I particularly identified with many of Stroud’s comments. He was honest and forthright about the writing and publishing process, from acknowledging the pressure we put on our first books to the reality that publication doesn’t make us happier or better people.

♦  First line of Byzantium (from the title story, one of my favorites): “I was born a disappointment.”

♦  What Kyle Minor said about Stroud’s writing: “His stories provide the reader with transport, and not to the vivid and continuous dream prescribed by John Gardner, but rather to the theater of the pleasures of the joltingly unfamiliar, where the previously obscured dark corners of history get the dignity of a brief moment under the hot lights in the hot room where there is no glass or screen to safely separate the audience from the rough actors.”

And now here’s a peek of some of Stroud’s comments from our Q&A:

On the writing process: Things suck until they don’t.

On writing a story collection: It’s a messy process – I didn’t have a master plan.

Advice he received from a teacher about the ups and downs of a writing career: Anything good that happens? You have two days, but then you go back to feeling like a loser.

On doubt: It doesn’t take long for doubt to creep in. As writers, we all face self-doubt.

On first books: If you publish your first book, it might have been your dream, but nothing’s changed. The first book is so fetishized. Before it’s published, you have high hopes…but you’re stuck being the person you are, being human.

On the MFA: Take risks and chances in the MFA. The hardest time for a writer is post-MFA.

On the expectations writers have for their careers: Things don’t happen the way you want them to, but something even better might happen [eventually]. After years, things come together.

Shared Stories: Short & Sweet x5

Posted on 14 September 2014 | No responses

tornado warning by rachel gardner

If you’re stuck in front of your computer right now, you might as well read something short and possibly sassy, or weird, or maybe stunning or gutting. This array of short-short fiction and nonfiction should do the trick:

1. Enhanced Fujita for Tornado Alley Widows by Elizabeth Breazeale. Liz is a member of my fiction cohort at BGSU, and this story is gorgeous and weird and haunting. I know Liz well enough to expect nothing less from her. Here’s the first line: “When our husbands come home we dress in blacks and greys because they tell us we look beautiful, colored like wall clouds and downbursts.”

2. Calcification by Rebecca Schwab. I read this nonfiction piece recently in Brevity. The last line just kills me, but here’s the opening: “Less than a year had passed since my mother died from a burst valve in a heart no one knew was faulty. That’s raw when you’re ten. And then Buttercup died.”

3. Gretel’s Revenge by Jackie Cummins. Jackie is another MFA friend, and her Hansel and Gretel retelling is sharp and fresh and startling: “The woodcutter is at a loss. Gretel, not quite fifteen, is cavorting with lycanthropic girls, stumbling home in the dim hours of morning, reeking of urine and musk, tufts of gray fur stuck in her lip gloss, eyes manic and bright.”

4. A Girl Walks Into a Page by yours truly. My bizarre flash piece was chosen as a Smokelong Weekly pick, and it will soon appear in the next Smokelong Quarterly issue. It’s about girls and books and reading and terror and imagination, with some dragons, vomiting ink, math equations, lost airplanes, and much more mixed in. (And check out that amazing artwork by Amy Trosino — I’m honored to have such an intricate work of art accompany my story.) “A girl walks into the pages of an Amelia Earhart biography and loses herself in mist. For months she circles the skies, blind, while waiting for the fall.

5. How I Liked the Avocados by Wendy Oleson. I’ll end with another Smokelong Quarterly story, just one I stumbled upon a few months ago and enjoyed: “When we get home I can’t sleep; I eat the avocado in the dark, standing over the wooden cutting board. I eat the skin because it is thin and from your tree.”

What are you reading?

Photo: Rachel Gardner

This Is What Novel Revision Looks Like

Posted on 5 September 2014 | 1 response

In addition to all that other stuff I did over the summer, I spent a lot of time revising my novel. A lot. Of time. Here’s what that looked like:

That’s a fairly classic example of the day-to-day revision extravaganza. I’ve got my tea, my computer, my notes, and, of course, Cirrus completely in my way. But sometimes it got even messier. Like when I tried to draw a “map” of a certain section of the novel. Hint: Using highlighters and arrows doesn’t necessarily help make sense of anything:

I also had fun reading through some of the marginal notes I left myself months ago. I wasn’t always very nice:

But it all worked out. I finished the draft at the end of August, and it’s now in the hands of a few beta readers. So I’m back to writing stories, which is generally going well. Or at least until Cirrus decides to sit on my hands again as I work:

Summer Roundup

Posted on 29 August 2014 | 3 responses

In my MFA workshop this week, we talked about the writing work we may or may not have accomplished over the summer months. The general consensus in the room was of guilt and shame and regret — you know, standard writer stuff. Such is life. I know I didn’t meet all my incredibly unrealistic goals, but I did get some good work done. More on that later. For now, I present my summer photo roundup, aka proof of why I didn’t write thousands of pages this summer.

First, there was the painting. My old house desperately needs paint everywhere. I didn’t get to every room, not by a long shot, but it started to feel like it:

But seriously. There was a lot of paint happening this summer. Not an insignificant amount landed on my clothes, skin, hair, and even, in one unfortunate case, right in my eye.

Then there was the total front porch rehab.

And don’t get me started on this fun little project:

At least it turned out okay in the end:

I did manage to have some fun when I wasn’t drowning in house stuff. Like my trip with Peter out west, where we camped:

And saw amazing things like the world’s largest fiberglass cow:

Plus the wonders of Yellowstone:

And climbing to great heights:

Oh, and bison. So many bison.

Even when the trip came to an end, the good times didn’t stop. My friend Rose and I decided to embrace life’s messiness at a mud run:

And the Gay Games came to Cleveland:

But then all of a sudden it was only days before I had to return to the MFA program. I realized, at this point, that throughout my busy summer, I neglected all the gardening work I’d pledged to do. Oops:

And now summer is over and this is what I have to look forward to:


In other words: I’m back! See you soon.


Cartoon Friday: Amazing Exploits

Posted on 15 August 2014 | No responses

I’m peeking in to say hi, but I won’t stay long. I have exactly ten full days of summer break left before classes start, and I’m trying to use them wisely. As I typed those words, a turkey vulture flew over my house. It passed directly over my writing room window and gave me a menacing stare. I think I’ve been put on notice. Back to work. For now, here are some cartoons.


Writer Cartoon I'm writing a book. Just as soon as I finish this riveting game of solitaire.

The Polka-Dotted Notebook

Posted on 24 June 2014 | 4 responses

I haven’t written much about this here, but last year, my two best writing buddies each moved to opposite sides of the country around the same time I started my MFA. This was a big change for all of us, both individually and for the critique/support writing group we’d developed over the years.

This week, I was looking at a journal (pictured above) and, for a few minutes, couldn’t remember who gave it to me or even if it was one I’d purchased myself. The three of us gave gave out matching journals multiple times, so we all have sets of notebooks that were gifts from each other. The fact that I couldn’t immediately remember who purchased this one nicely encapsulates our writing friendship and how intertwined our writing lives had become. (When I did remember who gave me this journal, by the way, I felt silly for temporarily forgetting — she bought it in Europe a few years ago.)

My copy of this particular polka-dotted journal has been long since filled with words, and now new notebooks await me. So in the spirit of filling the page, I’m going to take a summertime break from this blog. I’ll be back either in late July or sometime in August. Until then, I hope you write your heart out. I know I will.

Cirrus Conquers Fourteen Hills

Posted on 11 June 2014 | 4 responses

My story “Under the Linden Tree” is out in Fourteen Hills. Before I give you what you really want — more photos of my cat, Cirrus, clutching that very journal — let me share some submission stats, if that kind of thing interests you.

This story surrounds a photographer, Sam, who photographed his sister nude when they were growing up; decades later, he still fosters ambiguously unhealthy feelings toward his sister. An editor at a top-tier literary journal praised the story and writing but told me that “it’s the second story of the first five I’ve read that uses photographs as as way to begin and organize the story,” so it was a pass. A rejection from another journal offered, “The fiction editors have discussed your piece a number of times because we found it to be one of our favorite submissions. The difficulty is that we have received over 500 submissions, and while we enjoyed your piece, due to page constraints, we are not going to have the space for such a long story.” (The story is about 6,000 words, for anyone keeping track.) Overall, the story received seven rejections, about half personalized/tiered, before being accepted by Fourteen Hills a week after that last personal note.

Rejection aside, Cirrus stepped right up to pose with the issue. I’ll let him take it away:

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