5 Random Things for 2017

Posted on 4 February 2017 | Comments Off on 5 Random Things for 2017

This blog might be as blank as the face pictured above, but I’ve been busy behind the scenes. Here are a few updates:

Write, walk, repeat. The picture above features one of the sculptures at the Fields Sculpture Park at the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, New York. I was invited to the Writers Omi residency for two weeks last fall, where I spent my days writing and walking through the sculpture fields and my evenings breaking bread with writers from across the world. I miss the lonely walks, the wind, and all that time to write.

Taboo extravaganza. My secret is out: One of my in-progress manuscripts is a short story collection surrounding all things taboo. In 2016, my taboo stories appeared in the Kenyon Review (online and print), Ninth Letter, Chicago Tribune, Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, Notre Dame Review, and Beloit Fiction Journal. This Kenyon Review interview and these blog posts detail some of my taboo research.

On a blog roll. While I might not keep up with this blog, you can find me blogging for the Kenyon Review. In the last year, I’ve written about the Ferrante novels, disintegrating books, the story behind my middle name, virginity auctions, MFA expectations, living the dream, my avalanches of literary rejections, and more.

Getting weird with it. This summer, I’ll be teaching a weeklong writing workshop about innovative story structure during the first week of the Chautauqua Institution’s 2017 season. My other teaching-related news includes a feature forthcoming in Poets & Writers later in 2017 that explores the role reassurance has on aspiring adult writers.

The real world. It’s impossible to ring in 2017 without acknowledging the election results and their implications. I shared my initial response to the election results here, offered an account of the Women’s March on Washington here, and interviewed a friend surrounding deteriorating attitudes toward Muslim Americans here. And here is a bonus politically-inspired fairy tale.

Until 2018, if not before.

5 Random Things for 2016

Posted on 7 January 2016 | Comments Off on 5 Random Things for 2016

Happy 2016, and may your new year be as fierce as this centaur wielding a bow and arrow. Here’s a quick update on what I’ve been up to:

1. I’m here to judge you. In a good way, that is. I’ve updated this site to reflect my manuscript critique services. I specialize in critiquing book-length fiction and nonfiction projects; many of my past clients have lived in the Cleveland area, but I’m expanding to offer critiques to writers in other areas, too. Details about my critique services, including my fees and terms, along with testimonials and FAQs, can be found here: Manuscript Critiques.

2. I never said I was modest. As far as my own writing life is concerned, I’ve been busy behind the scenes lately. My short stories are forthcoming in the following journals in 2016: Kenyon Review (both online and in print), Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Puerto del Sol, Washington Square Review, South Carolina Review, and the Among Animals anthology. I also have a short personal essay coming out in Equus, a horse magazine (because I had to follow up that Cat Fancy publication somehow).

3. Wearing my teaching hat. This year, I’ll be teaching writing workshops (including a short fiction workshop, flash fiction and nonfiction workshops, and more) at the Cuyahoga County Public Library and Literary Cleveland. You can find more information on my Events page.

4. Retreat, retreat. In September, I’ll be attending an annual island writing retreat that was created by some friends and writing colleagues. When I say “island,” I mean of the Lake Erie variety, not the tropical kind. So don’t get too jealous. But there will be lots of wine, plus beaches and a ferry and, hopefully, cake. So there’s that.

5. Wanted: satirical cats? I’m currently serving as a contributing editor for Neutrons/Protons, a humor and comics journal. Check out the submission guidelines here. Cat lovers are particularly encouraged to submit.

Image: Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts


5 Random Things: Where Am I Going, Where Have I Been

Posted on 15 July 2015 | 1 response

1. A few days ago, I was on a bus in Oregon sneaking glances at the young woman writing in a notebook in the seat in front of me. I watched her write this: “Hello, new journal. It’s nice to meet you. I look forward to seeing where life will take the two of us. It’s been a while since I really got into the habit of writing. I find the more I don’t write, the harder it is to get started again. To slow down enough to get my thoughts onto paper…” and then she turned the page and I couldn’t read on. I didn’t feel guilty about reading those words, or writing them down, or typing them here, and maybe that says something unflattering about me, but really I felt so bolstered by what she wrote, so simply hopeful and glad.

2. Yesterday I was waiting in line to buy dinner in an airport when the woman ahead of me said into her cell phone, “You never call me back. I’m starting to think you don’t want to be my friend anymore,” and this moment highlighted such a parallel in my own life that I lost my appetite.

3. Last weekend, I dressed up in someone else’s clothes and wore a wig and a face mask and danced in a gloriously crazy parade, where I sweated and smiled nonstop and made eye contact with strangers partly because I was asked to and partly because how could I not.

4. I finished my MFA. Or I am finishing my MFA currently, because I’m on a summer fellowship and that means I’m taking one final online workshop. But mostly, I’m done. I moved out of my half-time hovel in Bowling Green. I’m still working on my thesis, a collection of short stories I believe in and am more excited about than anything else I’ve ever written, maybe aside from my current novel in progress. I’m not done with either project yet, but I’m working hard. I am getting somewhere for sure.

5. I’m not attending any writing conferences this summer, but I did stop by Tin House this week when I was in Portland to visit my friend Jennifer. She and I both attended Tin House in 2013, and I miss it, but I miss her more. She gave me a purple necklace and we talked about writing and books and submitting our work. The visit was far too short, and I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture of the two of us. Now my trip is over and I’m at home. The cats are sleeping next to me. I am writing. I am reading. I am back, and I am on my way.

Photo: Benjamin Chan

AWP 2015: Cake & Kegs

Posted on 6 April 2015 | 1 response

I wish.

Spring is here, my thesis has been defended, and I just went thrift shopping and bought three more purple shirts to add to my ever-purpling wardrobe. It’s also AWP time. Here’s where I’ll be, dear readers, in case you too are Minneapolis-bound and would like to say hello:

Thursday, April 9, 2-3pm: Mid-American Review table (#1728)

Thursday, April 9, 6pm: ExtravaCHANDRA reading with fellow BkMk Press authors. I’ll be reading short excerpts from “Live Model” and “The Ballad Solemn of Lady Malena” — in other words, about lingerie window models and creepy figure skater stalkers. We’ll have snacks! Loring Park Arts Center, 1382 Willow Street 55403 (four blocks from the convention center)

Friday, April 10, 1-2pm: Mid-American Review table (#1728)

Friday, April 10, 3pm: I’ll be moderating and participating in the panel “The Long and the Short of It: Five Debut Authors Divulge How They Got Their Short Fiction Collections Published, Buzzed, Reviewed, and Read.” This will be so helpful to anyone interested in one day publishing a short story collection — I know I wish I had received this advice several years ago. Room 208 C&D, Level 2

Friday, April 10, 8-11pm: Mid-American Review 35th Anniversary Party. We’ll have cake and a keg! Please contact me directly for the specific party details; I’d love to see you there.

I can likely be found at the Mid-American Review table at other times throughout the conference, as well. Otherwise, you can probably find me in a session, wandering confused and overwhelmed through the bookfair, or guzzling coffee. See you there!

Photo: Richard Jones


Let It Be What It Needs To Be

Posted on 13 January 2015 | Comments Off on Let It Be What It Needs To Be

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 | 1 response

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 | Comments Off on I’m a Cheap Date

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 | Comments Off on Ben Stroud on Writing, Self-Doubt, and Publishing Dreams

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 | Comments Off on Shared Stories: Short & Sweet x5

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:

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