First readings of the semester

This semester, we’re starting out with George Saunders because I can’t think of a better introduction to anything than that.

George Saunders

We’re reading “Speaking of Style” by Debra Spark from her book Curious Attractions where she talks about style really being about your vision of the world. I’m pairing it with “Sea Oak” by George Saunders (a story so funny [and tragic] I tried reading it aloud to my husband but was laughing so hard I could only get through the first scene) as well as “The Tenth of December” from the book by the same name. These stories are clearly written by the same author, but have very different outlooks on the world. In class we’ll read highlights of this interview with Saunders from The New Yorker. Here’s a excerpt:

“Getting through that and finding yourself at the other end of the tunnel—it opens up a certain space in the artistic mind, I think. Living through those twenty-five years and then making a fictive world that had only pitfalls and misfortune would feel false. And/or incomplete. If you think of a work of fiction as a kind of scale model of the world, then the positive valences—where things turn out better than you thought they would—ought to be in there somewhere, too. Something like that.

“So in this book—although there’s still a lot of cruelty and darkness and all of that—I found my eye being drawn to the moments when things don’t go totally down the shitter, and asking, well, how does that happen? I started to feel that, at certain points in some of the stories, the most interesting aesthetic motion—the plot twist, if you will—was the one that swerved away from what I might call the habitually catastrophic.”

Ah, George Saunders. I read your work and have to practice my Jealousy Abatement Breathing.

It goes to 11

Ever since we moved to semesters, I’ve struggled to figure out just how to teach my Advanced Fiction Workshop. It’s a big class–twenty-five, which is way over the number of students recommended by AWP–and to even get through that many workshops takes most of the time. I’ve decided this semester, in order to get through two stories each, I’m going to shorten the amount of discussion time to twenty-five minutes each story so we can do three a day. In order for me to do three a day, I am only doing bullet point responses instead of writing full letters to the students. Something had to give, and this way we’ll have about six full weeks to discuss issues of craft, essays on craft, literary citizenship, and published stories, discussions I think are very valuable. Plus, I’ve discovered Powerpoint and memes so these discussions will be very well organized and colorful.

I also decided to only allow stories for workshops and not excerpts of longer works. The two main reasons are so 1) I can see a full narrative arc from the student and they are required to write beginnings, middles, and ends (beginnings being the easiest. If I could just write beginnings for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy [but very incomplete] writer) and 2) I feel unless we’re all working on novels and gearing discussions, readings, and workshops toward that structure, the novel excerpts end up with a watered-down workshop that’s not as effective. I’m expecting some push-back about this decision.

I’m starting my eleventh year teaching at Wright State this fall, and my first as a promoted professor. I marvel sometimes that I was lucky enough to end up in this profession, and marvel too, that after ten years, I’m still overhauling my syllabus nearly every time.

What I’m reading: Blackout by Sarah Hepola


“Not taking a drink was easy. Just a matter of muscle movement, the simple refusal to put alcohol to my lips. The impossible part was everything else. How could I talk to people? Who would I be? What would intimacy look like, if it weren’t coaxed out by the glug-glug of a bottle of wine or a pint of beer? Would I have to join AA? Become one of those frightening 12-step people? How the fuck could I write? My livelihood, my identity, my purpose, my light–all extinguished with the tightening of a screw cap.”

Thurber House

I’m super excited to be teaching another workshop at Thurber House this fall!


This class will be on creative nonfiction. They’ve got a great line up this season, including workshops with Lisa Lopez Snyder, Gigi Morgan, Tom Barlow, and others. Check out the whole schedule here!

Review: There’s Something I Want You To Do

I have a new review up at Heavy Feather Review of Charles Baxter’s There’s Something I Want You To Do, a new collection of stories.


I didn’t say this in the review, but it’s not my favorite cover in the world, mainly because I kept setting it on the coffee table and then wouldn’t be able to find it. Other than that, I really liked it. At this point Charles Baxter could write a grocery list and I’d want to read it.

What I’m reading: The Wife, Meg Wolitzer


You sound bitter, Bone would say.

That’s because I am, I would tell him.

Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.

‘Listen,’ we say. ‘Everything will be okay.’

And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.”

Summer reading so far

As if it’s not apparent yet, I’m a lover of lists. I made one at the beginning of summer of books I wanted to read, and here’s how it’s going so far:

Get in Trouble, Kelly Link
Ghosting, Kirby Gann
There’s Something I Want You to Do, Charles Baxter
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, Hallie Ephron
Faith, Jennifer Haigh
This is a Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
Thunderstruck & Other Stories, Elizabeth McCracken
Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio
Burying Water, K.A. Tucker
Lexicon, Max Barry
I Can’t Complain, Elinor Lippmann
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Landline, Rainbow Rowell

As much as I love a list, I’m also a bit resistant to doing exactly what I’m told so I read these instead:

I Was Told There’d Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
Cycle of the Werewolf, Stephen King
Duma Key, Stephen King
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin (even better the second time)
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King
Joyland, Stephen King
The Winter of Our Disconnect, Susan Marshart
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Linda Tirado (I’m on a nonfiction kick)
Finders Keepers, Stephen King (the last of the SK novels!)
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett (lovely)
The First Bad Man, Miranda July (hilarious and weird!)
The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb
Everything’s Eventual, Stephen King (starting on the short stories and novellas now)

What have you been reading this summer??


Review: Get in Trouble

I have a new review up at Heavy Feather Review: Kelly Link’s story collection Get In Trouble.


In some ways it made sense for me to review this book (I love short stories; I have a Ph.D. English) and in some ways it was a stretch (I am very much a realism girl), but there’s something so captivating and odd about Link’s work that makes me love to sink in and enjoy the weirdness as I work it through my head.

If you haven’t read her stories yet, I highly recommend them!

Word’s Worth class

I’m super excited to be teaching a Word’s Worth Writing Center class tomorrow, Tuesday, August 4. They are known for great writing instruction and chocolate, and I promise no matter what, there will be chocolate. I’m relatively confident about the other thing as well, because if there’s one thing I love to talk about it it’s the short story, so imagine how happy I am that’s my topic. For more information on their one-time classes and longer-term classes, check out their website!

Lots of great stuff going on here in Dayton!

It’s the house that matters

After Barry moved in, he put his previous house on the market. My soon-to-be-husband’s soon-to-be-ex house is a great house: craftsman style, lots of oak flooring and touches, a renovated kitchen, big workspace in the basement. It’s also an older house, and even though it’s in a great neighborhood with wonderful schools, it took about a year to sell. The biggest thing we heard from potential buyers was that they were disappointed it didn’t have a garage, and the second most cited disappointment? The master bedroom was too small to accommodate a current bedroom set.

I admit, this baffled me: the idea  you wouldn’t buy something as huge and permanent as a house you love because it couldn’t fit your dresser. But a few years ago in a hail-Mary the day before a Thanksgiving we were hosting, Barry and I had to run to Sears to buy a dishwasher and ended up getting white to match the current, dying appliances. Since then we’ve made plans to renovate the kitchen in a few years, so when the fridge went kaput a month ago there was much debate between white to match the dishwasher or stainless steel. I figured since we’d already bought the dishwasher we should get white to match, and I was disappointed to think I’d have to get white then when we did the renovation. And then it struck me: oh my cripes, was I really debating changing my mind on a super-huge renovation project to match our $500 dishwasher?

And then it really struck me: this is so much like revision. All too often, I’ll spend hours trying to get around cutting one sentence I love or trying to reason my way into a plot point making sense, and always, it would be easier to just cut my losses (or paragraphs) and start fresh. I need to keep in mind the big picture–the story overall, or the house I love, or the version of the kitchen I want despite the money or time investment that’s already happened. There’s always a cousin who might need that old bedroom furniture or a dishwasher, or a charity that would love the donation, or that file marked “deletes” that you think you’ll go back to someday but never do but that somehow makes you feel better in the middle of the night.

Always remember: serve the story. Do what has to be done. Better to have lost that time and those words than lose more before you inevitably do what needs to be done.

Keep checking back around 2018 for news about a great deal on a dishwasher.