Publication News and Other News in Ohio

I’m pleased to announce that A cappella Zoo has once again been so lovely to me.  They’ve reprinted “The End of the Objects” in their Queer and Familiar Collection, so maybe it’ll get a few more readers.  The web version goes live in November, if you don’t mind waiting.

I also have a story on its way at Literati Quarterly.  It’s one of those stories that’s been out a million times and come back a million times.  I started sending it out when you had to use envelopes and SASEs – that’s how many times it’s been rejected. Thanks to an excellent editor, Erin Pringle, I was able to whip it into a different shape and send it back out into the world.  Now it has a home, and I’ll post a link once it’s up.

IMG_1441This past summer, I took a huge painting job that afforded me the opportunity to spend a week just outside Millersburg, Ohio. I wrote, read Kevin Brockmeier, and listened to Amelia Curran for six straight days.  It was a dream come true. I had no idea that Ohio was so beautiful, but I did graduate from a series of Texas public schools and never once took a Geography class. I lived in a little farmhouse that I’m pretty sure was haunted by the ghosts of small farm girls whose deepest desires included showing me their faceless dolls.This picture is downstairs in the quaint little farm house. It was peaceful despite the ghosts, and I cranked out a few more chapters of the first draft of Blood Makes Noise.

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A Year In Shelving, part 1

I have been hesitant to use this blog for anything other than its intended use, but a couple of weeks ago, I changed my mind.   This is part one in an ongoing series of posts about THE LIBRARY at the tiny high school where I work.  Last week, in my year-end review, I said some things to my director about what the library is and what it isn’t, and I realized only when it was coming out of my mouth that this might be the only time I’ll ever get to carefully curate a collection of books for other people to read.

May, 2014

The new English teacher and I have been given the library, which up until this summer has been a series of metal rolling shelves that sit at the back of the auditorium.  The books might be relevant and well-selected, but there is no way any student knows this right now.  More often than not, the shelves are shoved together so no one can get to the stacks at all.  Students spend their lunches making out between the shelves and then leave their P. Terry’s wrappers at the feet of Steinbeck and Woolf. It’s not their fault.  It’s no one’s fault that our school needs to grow and that we are creatively sharing classrooms and space.  We’ll grow soon enough.  Right now, though, the books are non-existant to students and teachers alike.  My goal for this year is to make the books in the back of the room re-appear.  Like magic.


The first phase of this magical transformation is the development of a student-to-student recommends section.  I’ve gotten a ton of great books, and I definitely feel an obligation to have read most of the books on the shelf so that I can make suggestions and (if necessary) defend its honor to parents and staff.  The good news is that  a lot of kids still love Vonnegut, Salinger, Lee, Lovecraft, O’Henry, and Walker.  I also figure I’m safe with all the John Greenes and the JK Rowlings, which basically jump into backpacks and read themselves to the kids.

I’m not an avid reader of young adult books, but not for any good reason.  I’ll still go back and read my favorites (S.E. Hinton’s Tex, Zindel’s The Pigman, Kerr’s Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, Bloom’s Blubber, among others) every now and again, but I’m usually reading those books because something weird just happened and I’m sad.  I should, as a teacher of young adults, keep up with what they’re reading.  But when I get home at night, usually the last thing I want to do is open a book detailing the dramatic adolescent undoing of somebody or other.  More likely than not, I’ve just spent the last 10 hours of the day with actual teenagers.  I am also currently co-parenting two teens, so at any moment in my life, the chance of a real-life undoing is very high.

There are quite a few YA books on the list that I’m working my way through so I can make real recommendations, but for the most part, I’m looking at the stack* without much hope.

*While I didn’t make it through the stack, I did read quite a few of the students’ recommendations, many of which were not YA-specific.

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The Monsters, real and imagined

In this past week, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina. Both feature women with a need to escape prisons created by men.  There’s a certain amount of violence associated with both movies, a certain amount of sexual and physical ownership that the women characters must both endure and work to subvert. Angela Watercutter at Wired addresses Ava’s problematic mode for escape, and its mistaken feminist identity.

Both movies have their male champions – Caleb in Ex Machina and Max in Max Max – but their roles are complicated and less than heroic.  This nice guy persona has been nicely unpacked by Jacob Hall in a terrific article about feminism in these movies:

“Because we see the movie from his [Caleb’s in Ex Machina] perspective, we miss that his falling in love with Ava — his instant, desperate affection and desire to spring her from captivity — is almost as shallow and dangerous as Nathan’s more overt misogyny. To Caleb, Ava is still an object; a symbol of sex that needs to be saved, not a sentient being who deserves to make her own choices. Nathan created women so he could own them and control them. Caleb is just seeking permission to do the exact same thing.”

So Caleb dies because he is just as dangerous as Nathan, ultimately.  Max bows out because “The times are changing and men like him are being left behind.”

What struck me as strange, however (especially in Ex Machina), is how uncomplicated both Nathan and Joe are. While Immortan Joe’s cartoon brutishness is played for laughs and squicks, Nathan’s off-putting intensity belies nothing at all.  He appears cruel and controlling in the beginning, and dies cruel and controlling at the end.  Oscar Isaac, of course, is such an arresting actor that I’d probably watch him in a Transformers movie.  I kept waiting, though, for Nathan to crack open and reveal something more nuanced – evidence of a truly brilliant mind, or a truly sinister mind, or both.


Instead, there are a few strangely weightless conversations about consciousness and existence, and one mountain-top admission of drunken, apathetic nihilism.  This is where the film breaks down for me.  He’s easy to discount, easy to dismiss as drunk and crazy and completely avoidable.  Apart from his role as the creator and owner of what is essentially a fictionalized Google, he’s a jacked, drunk, mad scientist in a lab-castle on a hill in the middle of nowhere.

I expected him to be insidious, smarter than me, smarter than Caleb, smarter than Ava, even.  I expected him to be the Promise Keeper Baptist Youth Leader of my youth who successfully enticed my smart, sweet friends into his control and then tried to have sex with them. The desire and wind-up of the truly nefarious.

I suppose I should end this by saying something about how I’m just glad that I’m able to write about mainstream movies and their differing feminist perspectives, but I’m not going to do that because remember the ’90s?  We were like: things are totally changing for women on the radio and in the movies and on the TV.  And that was 20 years ago.

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Things I’ve Read – Summer 2014 Edition

It’s been a good summer for books!  I have to say that I’ve tried to quit audible several times over the past few years, and I always go back to it because it’s the only way for me to afford new books.  I still can’t retain things I read on a screen (kindle or otherwise), so it’s books or audiobooks for me.  And audible is a deal if you want to read/hear books that are still in hardback.  Here’s what I’ve read this summer.  Some I’ve loved more than others.  I’ve starred the ones I’d recommend.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche *

Remember Me Like This, Bret Anthony Johnston  *

An Untamed State, Roxane Gay  * 

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris  *

Dreaming Yourself Awake, B. Allan Wallace (when you need to control even your dreams)

Elizabeth Bishop -Life and the Memory Of It, Brett C. Millier *

Shirley, Susan Scarf Merrell

Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson  *

The Metamorphosis  (Sara Bernofsky translation)

How to Read Literature, Terry Eagleton

Poems, Poets, Poetry, Helen Vendler  *

Blasphemy, Sherman Alexie  *

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

The Harlem Hellfighers, Max Brooks  *

Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor  *

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, Jessican Abel and Matt Madden  *

The Gloria Anzaldua Reader  **

Admittedly, several of these were re-reads for a new class I’m designing.  Still on my re-read before fall shelf is Zami by Audre Lorde  *, The Stranger by Albert Camus, Macbeth, and the damn Canterbury Tales.

I attended a training that confirmed both my hatred for group work and my blind desire to impress even the crankiest of instructors are still intact. Even though we are a room full of teachers, we quickly devolve into caricatures of our own students.  DudeBro talks A LOT, but doesn’t know what “prose” means.  Doctorate politely listens and nods, all the while dying inside because there are no jobs in academia.  Flatiron gets so frustrated with a difficult poem that she loudly reports to HATE It Because It Makes No Sense.  Genderqueer confuses people in the bathroom and refuses to explain the origin of his/her middle name, even when asked outright.   High Heels refuses to put away her ipad, even after being asked about twenty times. Quiet Guy is brilliant.  And judging.   And then there are some genuinely nice people who never get to say a word.


It is good practice to put teachers back into frustrating classroom situations where they have little power.  The instructor held our 30 hours of inservice over our heads as though they were grades, asking us to sign in and out with specific times.  We had little say over how we were to work and how we spent our time (two afternoons were spent in useless field trips).  I always leave these situations with much more compassion for my students, who are forced to navigate these class structures every day in seven different classes.  Even though we’ve got small classes, those dynamics don’t cease to exist.  I made several pages of notes just about how I need to change my own classroom expectations and structures to make sure that everyone has a little bit of say in how they work (alone or in groups, quietly or with music, at home or in class, on a screen or by hand, etc).




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The Next Step

I’ve got a story coming out in Heavy Feather Review this summer, and it’s another story about a trans person. I think I’ve written exactly one story that’s not about a trans person.  Even in that one, there’s a secret trans teenager in the background.  She only has one line of dialogue, but I’m pretty sure she’s thinking about coming out to her best friend in the drive-through lane of a Starbucks.

There’s no shortage of writers out there talking about rejections and how to deal with them, so I don’t have much to add to the conversation about that. Thank god for the internet, though, because it really IS nice to know that someone once told Alice Munro that her work was unsaleable.  And Octavia Butler, and everyone else I love, probably.

In truth, I don’t usually mind rejections, because it means that someone read (presumably) the first paragraph of my story before shooting me a polite no-thanks.  It means that I’m still in the game, that I had something to send out two months ago, and that I might have something to send out in another few months or so.  I’m not terribly prolific. 

It also helps that I’ve been a reader and editor for a few publications, and I know that when I’m rocketing through a slush pile, I’m not thinking personal thoughts about the writer or feeling competitive or like I’m Ruler of the World.  I am just looking at the writing and wishing sincerely to be moved.  That helps.

There is one rejection, however, that I do wish to talk about, because it causes a different kind of anxiety, and not one that is wholly about writing and/or publishing.  My story collection, which is a bunch of stories about trans people, was rejected last year from a trans-centric publishing house for being a little too “Trans 101.” They’re looking for the “next step in the conversation.” I got it, immediately. They were right; my stories are full of fucked up self-loathing folks stumbling through transitions they don’t want to deal with.  Or running away from transition, or running away from someone trying to beat the shit out of them.  Or they’re just already dead and pretty cool with that.

What I wonder is this: when writers are obsessed, is there a next step in the conversation?  I can’t help but think that I will need to come to some sort of peace with transition before I can even start to consider the next step, and I cannot imagine being at peace with transition.

 I know it happens for some people.  There’s a river to ford, a safe place to bank on the other side.  Then it’s over, and everyone (including you) moves on.  Drivers licences are different, names are printed in the paper, nobody tries to punch you in a public bathroom.  However, It’s been 13 years and I still can’t make a solid pronoun choice.  What’s more, I don’t even want to.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to participate in the next conversation when it happens.

My favorite writers, the ones to whom I return frequently, offer me the consolation of similar obsessions.  Every story I read by Michele Faber, for instance, or Rachel Ingalls, or Shirley Jackson, or Octavia Butler, unsettles me in familiar and winning ways.  I can return because I have not outgrown their prose, and I don’t have any answers to the questions posed.  Often, I don’t even remember the stories – I only know that when I open the book I will be reminded, and then mystified again.

I don’t have any answers here, either, only questions about how to write a story outside an obsession.  Why would I spend my time writing that story? I probably wouldn’t.


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walls and bridges

1. The Question: I never know how to respond when my students ask me why we have to read so many books about “different cultures.”  My first reaction is anger – an unwieldy, emotional kind that is impulsive and cruel.   It is precisely for this reason that I always keep a cup of iced coffee nearby.  I reach for it when I need a few seconds to think about how cool it is to have a job.

If I’m lucky, I can compose my face into a generous smile and begin to ask students questions about what they deem to be “different” about the culture in the book at hand.  Eventually, after much pencil tapping and shrugging and uncomfortable side-eyeing, we reach the groundbreaking conclusion that the book is not solely about A White Straight American Experience.  The students repeat phrases like “it hits you over the head,” and “rubs your nose in it,” as though they’re being potty trained by a sadist.

If I’m not feeling so lucky, I’ll say something about literature being a conduit for all human experience and leave it at that.  After all, we have syntax and shit to talk about.  I’ll promise myself that I’ll  dedicate a Research Sunday in the near future to the answer for this question and I’ll promise myself that I’ll get it right next time.

Both responses are wrong: incomplete, superficial.

2.  The Walls:  In the Time of the Butterflies, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Life of Pi, The Awakening, anything by Gloria Anzaldua

Nick Hornby reports crying tears of frustration at the hands of Iain M. Banks’s Science Fiction novel Excession in a 2005 Believer column.  Even the blurb on the back filled him with terror.  I feel similarly when trying for any point of time to make headway into The Fellowship of the Ring or the first book of The Game of Thrones.  I want the experience of having read these books, because I want to participate in conversations about Ents and Dire Wolves when they are happening around me (as they often do).  However, I don’t want the experience of ACTUALLY READING the books because I hate them.  I don’t know why.  I do like dragons and Renaissance festivals.

I have a wall when it comes to detective series novels.  I’ll read a one-off thriller with no problem.  But as soon as I turn the book over and see that this same detective is making a return visit to the pages, I suddenly can’t be bothered.

Another wall: All Historical Fiction.

This doesn’t mean that I am particularly snooty.  I’ll read just about anything about a serial killer, a school shooting, or a person who rides horses.

All readers are going to have natural walls.  Some books need to be read anyway.

3. The Bridges:  Fight Club, Fist Stick Knife Gun, Gilgamesh, Hamlet,  Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

I guess it’s not rocket science, but it will take more than month of Research Sundays to figure out how to teach students that walls are sometimes worth scaling (especially since I can’t read a book about a dragon), and experiences are worth reading even if no one is interested in appropriating the coolest parts.




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I see a long journey and its end.  The face in the crowd is yours.  I see a long journey and at the end of the day the face in the crowd belongs to you.  I am reading something.  You think I forgot this, but I didn’t.  I am reading something and you are listening and we have never met, so it’s the end of a long, long journey.  The face in the crowd is yours.

Once, it happened in a town far away from both our homes and I forgot to look for you because I was so nervous.  After I read, sick with a fever that refused to abate for days before or after, I stood, sweaty and bigger than everyone there.  I just stood there and didn’t look.  If ever, at the end of a lifetime of years, you are finally there, I might forget to look.  I might miss your face.

There is only one lifetime of years, and it’s the lifetime or the years, never both.  You have to choose.  These hands are ten years older and ten years more beautiful; the scar from our time is still visible on the middle knuckle, the biggest one, the busted one, the one that grew back strong and crooked.  It is because you are not dead.

The dead are gone and about them I am wistful with eyes full of stars and dreams that bend hard upon the violence of loss.  You are not dead, and I am not wistful.  I am curious about your voice and the way you get in and out of a car, the way you order a coffee and snap a red leash onto your dog’s collar.  I am new and whole and curious now, and it was a long journey that’s now at its end.  All our memories are of things that never happened.

There is one picture of us that I still like.  You are seated at an outdoor café in Fredricksburg, and the sun is just about gone.  You are probably having peaches or something. Your teeth are big and bright in the dusk, your eyes in shadow.  The darkness looks to be coming down the street, rolling in on a cloud.  You don’t know it’s there, and neither, probably, do I.  There’s a book in your lap – one that I bought you and wrote your name in.  One you sold later, after. The darkness has already made a home in your eyes, but all I see is love.  I am not in the picture.






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