The Weeklings Anthology

Uncategorized, May 8th, 2013

The Weeklings just released their first e-anthology, Revolution #1: Selected Essays 2012-2013. Edited by Jennifer Kabat, Sean Beaudoin, Janet Steen, and Greg Olear, this anthology features the work of some terrific writers, Robin Antalek, Lauren Cerand, Samuel Sattin, and Jess Walter, just to name a few. I’ve got a piece in there, too.

Best thing is that it’s only $4.99, and the good people at The Weeklings believe in paying their writers, so all money goes directly to the authors.

Read more about why you should buy The Weeklings Revolution #1 here.

Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction

Uncategorized, April 23rd, 2013

Delighted to announce that my short story collection, Hibernate, won the 2013 Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction!  

Hibernate: Stories will be published by OSU Press in 2014.

About the book:

In this collection of stories — winner of the 2013 Ohio State University Prize for Short Fiction and finalist for the 2011 Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction — characters slowly wake to hard choices. A Sudanese immigrant tries to start a life with his girlfriend in the United States, only to find himself pulled toward his mother’s past. A group of American tourists visits an Indian Pueblo and realizes their tour guide isn’t at all who they expected. Their ship moored on the ice, a captain and his men cling to the company of narwhals and Eskimos. Published separately in numerous literary journals, these stories form a dazzling landscape of the strange and joyful.

Writers on the River in May

Uncategorized, April 12th, 2013

I’m so excited to be giving the first ever workshop for Writers on the River in Corvallis, Oregon!  It’s already sold out, but if you’re interested in attending, contact these great people and get your name on the waiting list.

To read more about the workshop, click here.

On May 20th, the Monday before the workshop, I’ll be giving a presentation, “The Story and the Question,” which is open to the public:

In my workshop on the 25th, I’ll be talking about where and how to end a story or novel, so it only seems right that I first speak a little about beginnings. When you sit down to write, where do you begin? With character? Voice? Plot? Setting?

How much do you need to know – if anything – before you start committing those words to paper? Should you have a theme? Adopt (or already know?!) a particular style? Can you figure out some of this stuff along the way?

I’m going to argue that you begin with a question that you know you’ll never be able to answer. A question that means enough to you that you’re willing to fumble towards it for 350 pages. Nabokov has a fancypants description for this: “the subliminal coordinates with which to focus the plot.” Jim Shepard calls it “the question to which the novel keeps obsessively returning.” Call it whatever you want, but this is the question you are writing the book to figure out. The question is the eternal engine. Once you know your question, you are ready to begin.

This presentation will last roughly one hour and will move fluidly between an informal lecture and audience Q & A. We will likely look at several examples of these novel-generating questions and consider possibilities for our own. 

Presentation: The Story and The Question: May 20, 2013 6:30-8pm
Dennis Hall at First Presbyterian Church, 114 SW 8th St.
Corvallis, OR

Workshop: May 25, 2013  Meet @ 9:45am for all day workshop
Imagine Coffee House (Community Room) 5460 SW Philomath Blvd.
Corvallis, OR 

Lion Fever in The Weeklings

Uncategorized, February 1st, 2013

Remember the mountain lion that walked from South Dakota to Milford, Connecticut?

I wrote about him — the ensuing hysteria, fear, excitement, and the assumptions made by the media and the public — in my first piece for The Weeklings:

Read Lion Fever in Connecticut.


Uncategorized, December 19th, 2012

Honored to have a story in this gorgeous anthology out February 1st, edited by Persis Karim and Anita Amirrezvani.

The Bandages Come Off

Uncategorized, August 10th, 2012

For some reason, I’m the one standing up here, but the truth is, if we’re going to talk about writing, if we’re going to dissect a story, we should be on our knees. Not to worship – although yes, reading a great story is like being inside a cathedral, the power of the words hushing you, turning your head this way and that. We should be on our knees because we’re in this thing together. I have no monopoly on storytelling. You have stories – you’ve brought them with you, whether you know it or not – and I will have failed you if I remain standing behind a podium or on a stage instead of on my knees right here with you, our hands in the dirt. The truth is that if we want to get into this thing – this process of writing – we better be ready to get down and excavate.

I’m not trying to be flowery when I say these things. At any reading I’ve ever done, there is always someone who asks me, “What advice would you give to someone trying to publish?”  I tell them to forget at first trying to publish. I tell them to read and keep reading until they find some book, some writer, who sets them all aflame. Then practice getting close to that flame. Get your hand closer until you go from discomfort to sizzling palm, until you say, I cannot write as well as this writer and it makes me sick. Are you there yet?  Yes? No? Either way, read some more.

I tell my students that Sherwood Anderson, now no more than dust and bone fragments in a box, will teach them more than I ever can sitting across from them with some flimsy handouts. Read and read and read and then, Step 2: write fearlessly. What does that mean? To write fearlessly? Not to dump your diary on the page like a pepper shaker. Keep your diary. But dump your passion on the page. Dump your blood.

Look, you’re going to leave this talk and go eat a cheeseburger somewhere and go home and feed the cat and sleep and dream, but remember this one thing, if you remember nothing else I say: No one has ever read something and said, you know, there was too much passion in this.

Here’s something I wrote recently, fearlessly. And when I say fearlessly, I mean that I was fearless writing the words – I did not stop them – but I was terrified to let them be published. My ego said, my secret shame said, why would anyone care what I have to say? I took my ego and my secret shame outside and beat them to a pulp. They pissed their pants, and I hit send. Be brave. It’s okay to look foolish. Hit send.

By now you realize there is nothing glamorous about this. I write; I have written. What I do is go into a room, wrestle my butt into a chair, tug on my face, eat potato chips, write some words, delete those words, write new words, re-arrange the new words. Hate it, fall in love with it, do it all over again.

Here’s what I don’t do. I don’t walk around waving my arms, saying, “You know, I love the idea of being a writer.” You know what? Being a writer means being poor and anxious and vulnerable and competitive and grasping. It’s not at all romantic. If you want a fantasy gig, try Iron Man, flying around with flames shooting out of his feet. It makes no sense to talk about all the great American novels you’re going to write if you’re never going to write them.  If you want to write, sit down, uncurl your fingers, and for heaven’s sake, write.

I don’t wait for inspiration or muses or bugs landing on my shoulders, whispering in my ear. Here’s what I also don’t do: aim for perfection. The biggest mistake my students make is that when I ask them to write something, they start acting like their world is made of glass. They get scared. When the stories come, they sound like they’re being told from inside a gym sock. It’ll get closer to perfect when you revise, but for now, just begin. Screw caution. Write with muscle. Write about work, write about what’s happening in the world or what’s happening in your bedroom. Aim to make someone feel something.

Go word by word. Write the way that Spiderman gets around. Let one image unfold into the next. A student wrote this sentence: “Those words haunted her, and soon it made her crazy enough to be checked into a mental institute.” I wrote this sentence as another option: “Those six words, thick and heavy as asphalt, haunted her, took her down a road so far and fast she couldn’t turn her head, took her, finally, to a place without windows.” Those words, what words? Give them weight, a number, connect them to the tangible. From asphalt grows the road, Spiderman’s web. From the road grows the journey (far and fast), the inevitability of “crazy” conveyed by the fact she can’t turn her head. She can’t see any other options. Mental institute just sits there. Make it “a place without windows,” and we feel what a mental institute could be, what it would mean for this character.  One image unfolds into the next.

You know what breaks my heart? On more occasions than I’d like to admit, someone will approach me and say, “I should sit down with you and tell you some of my stories, let you write them down.” When I ask this person why she doesn’t write her stories herself, she always says, “Oh, I can’t. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the gift, the way with words.”

If you have a story to tell – and you know you do – tell it. Write it. Get it down. Don’t leave your children to a stranger, to some uncertain moment in the future, what you imagine to be the perfect hour. Take off the bandages and describe what you see, scabs and dried blood. This is what good writing is, the things we don’t yet realize we need to see. If the bandages are tight, slice through them with your pen. Watch the ink stain the muslin. Be brave. Get down on your knees.

– Excerpted from a talk I gave at the Nye Beach Writers Series, May 2012.

Three Great Writers You Should Be Reading Right Now

Uncategorized, July 21st, 2012

Author Victoria Johnson recently published her own letter to herself at sixteen, A Life Without Pictures, which you can read here. I loved participating in this series with writers Harrison Solow, Signe Pike, Thaisa Frank, and many more. Victoria’s piece is the series finale, but the series itself doesn’t seem to want to end.

“What advice would you give to your sixteen year old self?”

Three brave and brilliant writers answered the question: Chris Clarke, author of Walking With Zeke, wrote this godawful gorgeous response.

Jessamyn Smyth, quadruple-threat writer and editor of poetry, prose, short fiction, plays (and more!) wrote this piece, Skinless. Read it and be gut punched, awed, electrified.

 Last but not least, Dale Favier and Glimmer. God, this will break your heart. Dale is the author of two collections of poetry that you’ll want to buy after reading this, Opening the World and Not Coming Back.

If you want great writing, gobble up everything you can by Chris, Jessamyn, and Dale. Track down their stories, books, and blogs. I promise you this: Theirs is the kind of writing that makes you want to leap up and run around the block three times.


Escaping into Montana’s Rattlesnake National Recreation Area

Uncategorized, June 13th, 2012

I can’t think of a better way to spend a week than hiking Montana’s Rattlesnake National Recreation Area just outside of Missoula. I wrote about it for the Escapist Traveller here.

Maps at Sixteen

Uncategorized, June 5th, 2012

Writer and filmmaker Victoria Johnson graciously invited me — along with fabulous writers Harrison Solow, Signe Pike, Erica Goss, and Lita Kurth — to write a guest post for her website. What advice would you give to yourself at sixteen? I took a crack at answering that question here.

“Keepers” in The Rumpus

Uncategorized, May 10th, 2012

For a few years after grad school, I worked as a housekeeper. Hard work, as you’d imagine, and strange. You’re invisible, yet you have intimate knowledge of strangers. What they eat, when they last had sex, last went to the bathroom. Diaries, teeth in a glass. Remember to tip, folks, and if you want to save someone’s back, strip your bed. I’ve got a short piece up about the experience here at The Rumpus.