Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lovers Leap: Marry/Fuck/Cliff, or The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name

First Warning: this is bs I wrote after coffee. Apologies to scholars who have really thought this through.

Second Warning: All the Spoilers, but you should already know these things anyway.


In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem” Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarity fall to their deaths into the gorge of Reichenbach Falls, ostensibly during a struggle. Doyle’s intent was to put an end to his most famous character and move on to other literary endeavors, but he was forced back into writing more Holmes stories, both set before and after the fall. In doing so he only barely explained the plausibility of Holmes’ survival, thus launching the second most enduring fandom/canon panic we’ve ever seen–the first being New Testament.

Holmes and Moriarity are not the first characters to jump off a cliff together, but that appears to be an irresistable touchstone, especially for film and television artists who, as with the series finale of the divine Hannibal, are openly paying tribute to Doyle’s failed attempt at throwing his greatest creation away—literally.

Doyle’s cliff is a powerfully cinematic choice for intense, same sex relationships to be consummated, but really, any simultaneous destruction will do. You don’t have to Thelma and Louise it. You can, for example, do the cliff tease, especially if your relationship hasn’t really peaked yet, as in the scene where Butch and Sundance dive into the river. When they are ready for the ultimate union of souls, when the only thing left is for them to make out or die trying, then it’s their two guns against the Bolivian forces. That’s a kind of cliff dive in itself. Another alternative is to pretend that Doyle “meant to do that” and embrace the cludgy fake-out, allowing bonded characters to “die” so that they can live together. House is a good example in that he fakes his death–seriously, the old dental switcheroo?– so he can go riding into the sunset with Wilson, whose terminal cancer means that sunset is coming down fast. While contemporary psychology has managed to situate Freud in history, storytellers have not and are often blind to the most obvious of symbols. That blindness=the dark side of “suspended disbelief”–aka the single biggest enabler of marginalization.

In it’s ending, Hannibal wrenches the subtext free and puts subject of love right out there. I know I’m putting a lot of faith in the dramatic choices of a team of television writers whose series was abruptly canceled, but I like to think this is the last cliff dive we’re going to see for a while, and that the “unnamed fierce bond requiring mutual destruction” is a device we can shelve alongside fireworks, waves crashing, and all our other anachronisms for orgasm, transgressive or otherwise.

Tagged ,

Mean Bone First Draft

Yesterday I committed to getting to the end of my first draft of the murder book I’ve been writing: The Mean Bone In Her Body. I knew what I wanted revealed, and I understood the consequences for the characters. As a way of forcing it, I labeled the section THE END, and then spent eleven hours composing something around 2000 words. That’s not even 200 words an hour.

But I did it. I got to the end. The end is very talky and needs a lot more coloratura and slapping around (you know, drama), but that’s the fun part. I’m at roughly 85k words, and I expect that to creep upward during the revision.

So what’s it about? Here’s my stab at jacket copy (with help from Erin F.!)


Elizabeth Murgatroyd, a professor in New Royal University’s Crime Writing Program, is skeptical about her most successful student…and not just because Jeaneane Lewis is unstable. Shortly after beginning her studies, Lewis discovers a murdered military widow and her two small children in a backyard garden pond. When she writes about the crime, Jeaneane exposes the college town’s worst kept secret: New Royal, Ohio is as dependent on the Corrections industry as it is on Higher Education. And now, it looks like the University has made a grave mistake in combining the two.

A one night stand with the killer marks the beginning of Murgatroyd’s uncovering the truth…not only what really happened in that grim backyard, but inside Jeaneane’s broken mind.

So, if this book flies with my publisher, I’m looking forward to trying to create a series set in New Royal. The idea being that the Crime Writing Program attracts “non-traditional” students.

Tagged ,

Brain Melting Quote From Alan Cheuse

“When someone says they’re confused, they’re lying.”

This is the kind of thing he liked to say, and that’s how I will remember him.

He passed on July 31. We’re still receiving daily buckets of books for him to review.


Alan’s tribute page here.


Here, have a logroll, they’re delish

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 9.39.42 AM

Can you trust my book reviews? Probably not. When I look at my output on commercial sites like amazon or goodreads, it’s clear I rarely write narrative reviews for any author I don’t know in some capacity. It takes focus for me to distill my thoughts about a novel into a slim and sassy paragraph, so I tend to save my energy for signal boosting purposes. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever written a glowing review for a shitty book, and when I write longer form reviews for literary sites (as when I wrote for Prick of the Spindle), I’m definitely analytical and critical.

In terms of non-narrative reviews, I’m pretty stingy. I might rank fewer than a dozen books a year–why? I’m a slow reader, and I don’t finish books I don’t like. That also means that when I do rate books, I’m giving out 4 and 5 stars.

Obviously I’m thinking about this in light of amazon’s latest efforts in book review quality control –there’s weird stuff going on, with reviews being removed, ostensibly because the reviewers “know” the author as determined by a proprietary process (social media, of course.) An author friend of mine just saw every review of his Kirkus lauded debut removed, only to be restored later. My reviews are still up–both by me and for my novel, so I’m assuming amazon’s policy and practice are evolving, and that the algorithm is experimental for now. The concept of “know” is a fascinating one–always has been in the lit world.

Tagged , ,


Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 1.55.56 PM

The last word in the ms so far is “coward”


The Path might not be a path


Too many good things happening! 1) My former student/current friend Jonathan Harper‘s debut collection, Daydreamers, has been nominated for the Kirkus 2015 Fiction prize. Check out the full list of nominees here–it’s amazing. 2)ARCs of Art Taylor’s debut novel On The Road With Del & Louise roaming around in the wild, and you may be able to get your hands on one via a Goodreads giveaway that ends June 28.

On the horizon, we’re expecting Erin Fitzgerald’s novella, Tara Laskowski’s second collection, Steve Himmer’s third novel, and of course, my second. We all started this journey at different times, but it feels like we’re reaching important benchmarks together. This leads me to wonder if, as a writer, I haven’t been laboring under the wrong metaphor all this time–maybe this stuff is less path-oriented than event-oriented–like doomsday only way better–and we’re the best preppers.

Tagged , ,

That Time of Year Again . . . Wigleaf Top 50!

t50mainpanel2015That time of year again came even later this year, but the Wigleaf Top 50 (very) Short Fictions 2015 is live, and once again I’m really happy to have been on the reading team. This year, Mel Bosworth ran a tight ship as the Series Editor, and scored a real coup with Roxane Gay as our Selecting Editor.

As always, this year’s Top 50 and the Longlist feature exciting new authors alongside the usual suspects, and can I just ask what’s happening over at dogzplot? FIVE stories on the shortlist!

Congrats to all—


Tagged , , , ,

Novel notes: The first 10 pages

I know we have lots of anxiety about those first ten pages, especially when we’re looking for an agent or a publisher, so this may seem like counter-intutitive advice:

You’re first 10 does not have to be high energy, crowded, or chaotic to “hook” your reader. Hooks are for yanking fish out of water just before you kill and eat them. Your reader isn’t a trout.

How about assuming your reader has picked up your book quite willingly. She’ll probably want credit for that. A little respect, even. You know what would be nice? A particular and focused moment. Something to care about and some ground to stand on.

Consider the opening to Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked:

    Welcome to Sunny Florida! A sunburnt man in a Crocodile Dundee hat poses in front of the Citrus Travel Shop. With one hand on his waist, the other raised and dangling a shellacked baby gator, the man in the postcard grins unnaturally and beckons the hapless tourist to come and visit beautiful Crystal Springs.

   James turned the postcard over.

   Your daddy’s dead.

   You might want to

   Come on home now.

That’s about as focused and singular as you can get, a man reading a postcard. But it’s an important damn postcard, and there is no way that Post’s reader is going to put her book down. Tree is a thrill ride of a book, but Post doesn’t need to start with the beer brawls or the car chases. She starts with a moment, the moment the postcard is turned. A moment that is easy to understand and yet compelling.

Another example is in the first pages of Steve Himmer’s FRAM. The job of his first chapter is to introduce the ridiculous secret government entity that is The Bureau of Ice Prognostication, and like all spy novels, comic or otherwise, FRAM‘s plot is wild. So how does it start? With a lightbulb. A single lightbulb that has lasted far too long:

   That bulb had crackled and hissed through his years in BIP’s office, hanging from the same few inches of cloth-wrapped cord it had in the early days long before Oscar’s time. It persisted despite losing some luster, despite ancient filaments fraying and sizzling and threatening to snap.

What a simple image, full of portent.

Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Sure, the first chapter ends with the killer plowing a car through a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair, but it doesn’t start there. It starts with a careful and intuitive study of two characters waiting in that line–people with all too real economic problems, who–after we get to know them and care about them–will be run over.

I don’t have anything very sophisticated to say about this. Just putting it out there that sometimes it’s a good strategy save the noise for later and use those opening pages to establish a relationship with the reader. Try centering her first, then knock her off her pins.




Tagged , ,

holy moly, #pitmad is tomorrow, June 4

As I’ve mentioned before, Pandamoon Publishing (the folks who will be putting out my next novel, and with luck, my next-next novel) are big fans of #pitmad and its offshoots. In an eyeopening post on her newly launched blog, P’moon CEO Zara Kramer offers some tips for participating in Twitter Pitch Party Season:

7 Questions to Ask to Know if You’re Ready for #Pitmad: The Twitter Pitch Party

While Zara’s #MSWL is eclectic, I want to point you to an earlier post in which she amplifies her interest in seeing pitches for novels grounded in American History and the West:

My Manuscript Wishlist (#MSWL) for This Week: American History . . . The Wild, Wild, West, Please! 

Though she tagged that as her wish for the week of May 21, I know this is an ongoing interest, and when I read pitches for last March’s #Pitmad, I was surprised that there weren’t more titles in this category.



Tagged , ,

Check out my pandamoon pages!

So tickled–Pandamoon Publishing has totally refurbished/rehabbed their site, and these are my pages!!!  Because The Juliet  is still in early production, some of my areas aren’t complete, but you get the idea. Under the 20 Qs (which is just the Top Ten for now), I panicked when asked about my favorite sport. I’m think of adapting the blog to be a better match to the main P-moon site, color and arrangement-wise.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.14.51 AM



Tagged ,