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Writers love food

I got together with some girlfriends to write at a friend’s house. This is what she served us for lunch:


In case you can’t see all the gloriousness, it’s chicken salad and pita, guacamole and crackers, roasted broccoli/onions/carrots, edamame, perogies, and three kinds of cookies.

This might be the happiest I’ve ever been writing.

Two great writers you’ll want to read

I could not be more excited to update you on the going-ons of my former students. My chest is bursting with as much pride as my pants are from all the holiday eating.

James Brubaker’s story collection Linear Notes was published in 2014, and his second, Black Magic Death Spheres: (Science) Fictions, won the 2014 Pressgang Prize and will be published this year. You can read an interview with James here.


Ryan Ireland’s first novel, Beyond the Horizon, will drop this spring and he’ll have a book launch at Books & Co at the Greene on April 16, 7:00. You can read an interview with Ryan here.


These dudes are killin’ it!

I threw a party for my students

I had two awesome classes this semester–both with great group dynamics and full of great individuals–and since there wasn’t a single person I was scared to let know where I live, I decided to throw a party at my house to celebrate the end of the year and all the hard work they did.

Since we moved to semesters at Wright State, the creative writing curriculum has become a lot more streamlined and I feel like students are really moving through as a cohort rather than taking random classes here and there and never learning each other’s names. On semesters, I’ve seen real bonding happen between the students as they see each other time and again, and they’ve grown a lot more comfortable together giving and getting feedback. I’m hoping at some point two students will start dating in one of my classes and I’ll be invited to the wedding and introduced to their parents as the one who made it all happen. Parents so rarely seem happy to meet creative writing professors but I think this could be the exception.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but honk honk. I think the party was pretty great. I bought wristbands and had my husband card everyone. Guests were delighted to eat frozen pizzas and drink free beers (I’m not going to lie: we used it as an opportunity to get rid of some bottles people had brought over that we didn’t like and students seemed happy because the beer was still a few steps up from what they could reasonably afford. I remember in college when my girlfriends and I wanted to take it up a notch and let the boys know we were classy, we’d get Coors Light). Mostly it was great because of the guests, who were funny, lively, sweet, and a delight to hang out with.

I’m thinking this might have to become an annual tradition. I remember how much it meant to me when professors opened their homes to me when I was a student and how fun it was to socialize with them as people and writers. It’s another reminder of how as writers we’re all facing the same blank page, and how far community and free pizza can go to making it feel less alone.

Thanks to all my great students! I hope next semester’s punk-asses can live up.

A good time

Thanks to Barnes and Noble for a fun Friday night! And thanks to Kristina McBride, Suzanne Kelly, Katrina Kittle, Martha Moody, and Sharon Short for sharing the table, and to all the readers who came out for the event.



How to raid your friends’ missteps for dialogue

The other day my friend Tracy and I were yakking on about our theories on something and she said, “I could be wrong. I’m just stabbing in the dark.” She must have combined “take a stab at it” with “shot in the dark,” and I have to say, this is my new favorite saying. It’s so much more visceral and visual than either of the others, although I don’t think I want to theorize with her at night anymore.


What we write about

My friend Sarah and I like to say we only have six topics of conversation:

  1. Hard work trumps brains
  2. Our one friend who can’t get his shit together
  3. Our careers and what we’re working on
  4. What we’ve eaten and/or plan to eat
  5. People’s spending habits
  6. 97% is still an A; ie, we don’t need to be perfect (something I’m confident no one has accused either of us of)

People like to say that every story has been written before so why even write. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but I can tell you that Sarah and I are very happy to have these conversations nearly every day; we are delighted to repeat them nearly verbatim. Were Sarah and I to talk about things we think we should be talking about–topics that might impress other people and be more important than the calories in a steak and blue cheese salad at Panera (surprisingly high at 790!)–the talk would be stilted and fake.

Write the story you want to write. Don’t worry that it’s fresh, only that you and your characters are invested.

Generalization: the more you know someone the less you understand them

I was having lunch recently with one of my favorite couples and the woman was discussing her thought process about something–probably the plan for the day or a purchase she was going to make or something she was going to eat counterbalanced by something she wasn’t going to eat. Regardless, there were a lot of variables going into the equation and it made complete sense to me, but her husband of ten years turned to her and said, shaking his head, “Sometimes I think I understood you better when we first started dating.”

This struck me as terribly funny, terrible and funny being one of my favorite combinations. I don’t want to generalize about men and women here–although as I’ve pointed out, I think these kinds of shortcuts are something we often do whether we want to or not–but when a relationship is new people often try to put their best foot forward, to seem easygoing or engaged in a way that’s hard to sustain. I assured him, it’s not that people, particularly women, are trying to be manipulative, it’s that we’re trying to project the person we most want to be.

It’s like what Lee Martin was talking about at AWW, about there being two stories in a good short story, the one the character tells herself and the real story. I need to think more about how to get this dynamic in the piece I’m working on.

I earned my stripes

Bootcamp is officially over. I’m exhausted and possibly dehydrated. I ate a lot of almonds and chocolate covered things. I mean, a lot. One guy said to me, “Every time I see you you’re eating.” Thanks!


But I also got a lot done. A draft of a new short essay, drafts of two stories I started earlier but couldn’t seem to finish until now, a draft of an article with advice for creative writers on the academic job market (spoiler alert: don’t drink a bunch or be annoying).

I know there are people out there writing a lot faster and producing a lot more, but all that in a week for me? Good Jesus.

I could win a major cash prize!

One of my favorite games in the world is Boot Camp Bingo. Noeleen, a bootcamp regular and semi-sergeant, came up with the game two years ago based on all our terrible habits. Deborah can’t make it through a session without going to the bathroom; someone always thinks they have a valid excuse for being late; someone is always shouting out “motherfucker.”


Those who win get their prize for the day (as do those who don’t, as long as they did their work), which is “the chance to win a major cash prize!” ie, a lottery ticket.

It’s amazing what we have to do to make writing fun.

My favorite bootcamp motto: It’s not for everyone. Only winners.

Back in 2008 my writing group got together and decided we needed a week of ass-kicking to get going on some projects, and from there, bootcamp was born.

A few times a year we get together on campus at Wright State and lock ourselves in a room from 9:00-4:00 for a week. There are many, many rules. No web stuff (except for research), no email, no talking or crying (except on breaks), lots of snacking. Everyone must commit to sixteen of the twenty sessions, and if you arrive late, you’re banned from the room for that session. We’ve found the more hardcore, the better.

Each day follows a set schedule:

8:30-9:00 – set up
9:00-10:15 – session 1
10:15-10:45 – break
10:45-12:00 – session 2
12:00-1:30 – lunch
1:30-2:45 – session 3
2:45-3:00 – break
3:00-4:00 – session 4

It started with just five of us but has grown to as many as twenty-five people at a shot and is open to all faculty and staff at the university. And I think all of us who have done it would agree it’s one of the best things to happen to us as writers. I get more done in this week than I do in six weeks of the semester.

As for logistics, we each pitch in seven dollars a day for lunches (anything leftover goes to the Friday happy hour). We divide into teams for each day and that team is in charge or ordering the lunches and getting us all prizes for surviving the day. Yes, prizes! We’re all from different disciplines–English, history, social work, economics, etc–so it’s not about feedback, it’s about carving out time to work and getting our butts in the chair.

Plus, prizes!

This week I gear up for another five days of bootcamp. And right now, since it’s not happening yet, I’m super excited about it.