Category Archives: essays

Why I’m Not Suited To Write Non-Fiction

I have the bones for a brief, imaginative essay about ghosts, last words, and social paranoia, partially inspired by a shocking and mysterious post made by an acquaintance weeks ago. I admit I am the biggest sucker for vague-booking–not that I do it–but I am the social media eavesdropper  for whom the form was invented. For a long while the poster’s statement–just three words–has been resting verbatim within the essay. I thought about substituting alternatives to the words, but this particular list and combination burns like an after image even when I replace them.So they are still there at the bottom of the sixth paragraph.

I had just about decided, out of decency, to turn the whole thing into fiction when the person I’d hoped to shield posted yet another incredibly manipulative statement. Not a cry for help , but an announcement of a sacrifice that cannot be stopped. That could have been stopped, but now it is too late. No one can help, but the person wants us all to feel the horror in real time.

I know the person is sick, but I feel nothing but anger and a particularly non-creative desire to keep the essay as NF and move ahead. I really want the privilege of context to get  those three words out there.

This is not a responsible urge.

cover image: LA Dawson Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) hatching.

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Rambling thoughts about Community, College, and The Big Secret

Part 1: How to get Published

Who among us, upon completion of our MFAs, did not receive a packet that contained The Big Secret? The Big Secret is why we have all been wildly successful in publishing from Day One.

I’m responding to Cathy Day’s blog post entitled “For the man who called me for advice about how to get published“in which she describes her frustration about, well, the man who . . . His question was impossible to answer, and she was too busy with her own teaching, writing, etc, to give him any answer that he would perceive as helpful. I may never be as well known as Ms. Day, but I get this question, too–enough that I’ve prepped a one-page sheet of resources that I send to anyone who asks.

Now I know my one-sheet is both a deflection and a deception, at least in form. My one-page looks like a guide, but it is really a kind of slivered autobiography, as in “these are the resources that are useful and stimulating to me.” However the format suggests that becoming part of a literary conversation and joining a community of writers is primarily a matter of discipline. Unfortunately, this is the illusion perpetuated by folks who use the word “platform” in conjunction with promoting their writing.

Me: Well, I’m off to build my platform, ttyl. 

SH: Make sure it’s up to code.

In my current novel project, I’m writing a lot about maps, and pieces of maps that look like they should go together but never do.  That’s how I feel about most things. As relates to writing and publishing, there is a lot of good advice out there, but the best of it is never comprehensive. The map is a fantasy.

2. Inside and Outside

The other part of Day’s essay got me thinking about the relationship of the college/university to the community. I grew up in a small town near a large university, and it was a given that if you had a question you could either call the library or the university. Is that still a thing?  I remember my Dad and I took a 20 ft Japanese tapestry to an the Asian studies specialist for an analysis–my Dad had gotten the thing in a mysterious “swap”–and the Professor explained that it was not some rare piece of art but a contemporary advertisement for soda pop. We took up a lot of his time, and never once was there the consideration that 1) the Professor had other things to do, or that 2) we weren’t educated enough to ask the right questions of the educator. Were we intellectual moochers, like Day’s caller? There are a lot of comments suggesting that he was a jerk and a time-sucker.

I’m not comfortable with that. Not yet anyway. Now that I’m in a state sponsored knowledge service industry, and I’m the one getting the questions that range from grammar to writing to publishing, and most recently curricular development from a competing institution, I really don’t know where my sympathies lie.

When we say there are no stupid questions, I suspect we always speaking to our own: students, writers and other insiders who have been through question boot camp. So to those others, the loners and the unconnected, it seems like we need a way to talk about the organic nature of writing and community. Otherwise they tend to fall prey to the map sellers.


Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons

October is usually Tara Laskowski Month, partly because her birthday falls on Halloween, a time of year everyone seems up for a lot of partying, probably to build up strength for the family time at the end of the year. Tara is the senior editor over at Smokelong Quarterly, and she and I work at the same university. This year, there’s extra Tara attention because her first book, the hilarious and wicked Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons has been released by Matter Press. Full of biting little mock essays about coping with one’s own dark weaknesses, Manners is a satire of self-help books, and you are going to love it. The delightful cover art is by Brandon Wicks. A book release party will be held at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA, Saturday October 27 at 5pm. OMP is a great store that also sells chocolate and wine. Come on out!

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On “Being Indie” at The Next Best Book Blog

I gas on about 2011 like it’s gone at TNBBC’s blog.

Maybe we’re all indie now.


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