Archive Page 3

We are pleased to welcome Russell Rowland to this month’s Writers on Craft. Russell was born in Bozeman, Montana, in 1957. His first novel, In Open Spaces, made the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list and was named among the “Best of the West 2002″ by the Salt Lake City Tribune. It received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. Rowland’s second novel, The Watershed Years, also garnered rave reviews and was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for fiction. His third novel is High and Inside, the story of a former Red Sox pitcher who moves to Bozeman, Montana to try to rebuild a shattered life. High and Inside was also recently named a finalist for the High Plains Book Award.

Rowland lives in his home town of Billings, where he teaches at MSU-Billings and offers private editing consultation. He has taught at Boston University and was a writer in residence at St. Mary’s College. Russell holds a BA from Pacific Lutheran University and an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

I’m a Faulkner guy. So if I get to that level of discouragement, he’s my ‘go to’ guy to get inspired. He’s the one writer that consistently shows me that you can break every rule in the book and still make it work, which is exactly what I admire about him. It’s kind of odd, because my style has never been anything like his…it’s more about the spirit of his work, I think. Plus I love the way he manages to jump around to different points of view without ever losing the reader. One of my favorite passages ever, in all of literature, comes from the Snopes trilogy, where Faulkner takes us into Benji Snopes’ love for the family milk cow, and it just breaks your heart. He wrote as if he could do anything he wanted and make it work, and that inspires me.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Well, when I was first starting to get some things published, I went through a phase where I was open to advice from anyone and everyone, especially other writers. And I got caught up in trying to solve every issue that anyone pointed out. There was one novel in particular that I sent to a bunch of people, and I was getting a ton of conflicting feedback. It took me a while, but I eventually realized that if you take everything anyone says as valid criticism, you’re never going to be able to satisfy everyone. But more importantly, you’re probably not going to end up with the same book you started with, or the book you had in mind. You’re going to lose your own vision. So I have learned to trust just a few people, people who have my best interests at heart, and people who are able to read others’ work without trying to turn it into what they think it should be. People who will help you come up with the strongest version of what you’re trying to accomplish.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

Ooh, that’s a great question. I suppose the main thing that’s changed is that I’m trying to be less cautious, and considering bigger possibilities. Early on, most of what I was exploring with my writing pertained to me and my relationship with my family and with Montana. And of course those are still huge issues, and themes that come up over and over again. But I think I’ve become way more aware of how important it is to think about the bigger picture. For the book I’m working on now, my first non-fiction book, I’m traveling to every county in Montana and doing research about its history, but also talking to people about what’s going on now. And it became very clear early in the process that this book has nothing to do with me. I’m just serving as a recorder…I’m telling a much bigger story here, about other people, from years before I was around, and from places far from anything I’ve ever experienced. So it’s forcing me to get out of the way and let their stories take the limelight. It’s been an incredibly enlightening experience so far. And also freeing, because I don’t have to think about myself all the time, which is too much work. I have no idea how it will affect my fiction, but I’m kind of eager to see.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

Oh, besides saving the world, you mean? Heh. Well, I’m not sure I can say anything very original about that. I suppose it’s the basic idea of holding up a mirror to people who are interested in learning more about themselves. I know when I read something that blows me away, a lot of what gets to me about it is that someone has expressed something that I feel deeply about in a way that I never thought about before, or in a way that I can’t imagine expressing myself. It gives meaning to things because it takes away the isolation of feeling them yourself and thinking that you’re alone with the human experience. We are never alone if we have books that give us that connection to humanity, especially segments of humanity that we may never come in contact with in person.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Wow, okay. I’ve never been asked THAT one. I suppose the thing that’s been hardest for me to get through my thick skull is that approval from others is highly overrated. If you have a handful of close friends, you have enough to accomplish anything and survive anything. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have that kind of core group of devoted friends that I’ve had for decades. So the periods where I’m not able to get my next novel published, or the one that just came out is doing shit, or what the fuck ever is going on don’t have nearly the impact they would if that kind of success was what I was relying on to keep me GOING as a person. I will never be in a place where success is that meaningful to me because I have amazing friends.

Setting is an important aspect in your books.  In your “Tips for Writing a Novel Interview,” you mention about the genesis of some earlier work, “Place was a huge factor in my first two novels, because they were based on my own family history. My mother’s ancestors were homesteaders in Eastern Montana, among the first wave of cattle ranchers in the area.” You also mention using places that were formative to you as a person.  In your latter or more recent work, can you speak to whether or not place or personal history still hold as significant a role in  your process and selection of plots—do you think place will continue to impact what enters your work as a motif?  Why or why not? 

Another great question. And the simple answer is yes. It will always be important. Because Montana has had such a powerful impact on me as a person. I lived in twelve different states after I graduated from high school, and I always knew I’d come back to Montana someday because it is so much a part of who I am. And I think living all over the country gave me an even greater appreciation both for what Montana has to offer and for what it means to me. My last novel is more about how an outsider experiences Montana, so I’ve tried to explore what this place means from different angles. The novel I just recently finished is one about what it’s like to be different in the West, so that’s another angle. In fact, it’s called The Difference Between Us. As far as why, I guess it goes back to what I said earlier about trying to understand myself and my family’s past. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Montana…I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many great writers are from this state.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

The Difference Between Us is about a murder that takes place in a small ranching community. Tom Butcher, the guy who gets killed, is a very popular and successful rancher who has never married and has always had a reputation as a ladies’ man. So there were many people who had reason to kill him. But there’s a new family that just moved into the area, and the father of that family had a little bit of a disagreement with Tom the day before the murder. So the community’s suspicions quickly fall on the new guy. I’m still looking for a publisher for this book, and in fact I’m looking for an agent because my last one and I went our separate ways.

But I do have a publisher for the book about the counties of Montana. That book, Fifty-Six Counties: An American Journey, is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2015 with Bangtail Press, who published my last novel. Allen Jones is the publisher there and he’s doing some amazing work for a publisher that’s pretty new to the game. So I’m excited to be working with him again. Thank you for interviewing me, Heather.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

When I was asked to serve as the Editor’s Eye for June, I was both intimidated and flattered. There are so many talented writers on this site and I lack an MFA or other academic credentials that might better qualify one for the task. At the same time, I felt an obligation to “give back” to an institution that has been a source of delight, challenge, and encouragement in the two years since I joined. I hope my small contribution helps Fictionaut continue to flourish. What made the Editor’s Eye job especially tough is that even among those stories and poems that didn’t rise to the Recommended list, there were many deserving of more attention than they received, making it difficult to limit my selections. I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s picks, if you haven’t already.

Kohala 1962-2014, by David Ackley—I read this quiet poem early on in my process and found that I liked it more with each returning read. The vivid imagery, the sense of longing, and the mystery surrounding the author’s attraction to this place (if there is one other than  Kohala’s natural beauty) combined to make this piece a standout.

Adjunct Survival Syllabus, by Miranda Merklein—First, I enjoyed the innovative structure and biting humor of this “story.” Second, I liked that the author brought much-needed attention to a subject that deserves even more—the sad plight of adjunct professors and the students they teach. Surely, our educational institutions owe more to both.

Real, by Alison Wells—Flash fiction meets science fiction in this well-executed and sensitive story of a father and daughter discovering common ground in the most uncommon circumstances. The success of a story like this depends largely on the balance and careful weaving of the fantastic with the, well, with the real. Alison Wells gets it just right in a voice that invites us in and keeps us reading until the end.

Why No One Writes Epics Anymore, by John Olson—Overall, John Olson’s work strikes me as well-crafted, thoughtful, and delightfully subversive. This particular piece illustrates all of those aspects. I don’t know why no one writes epics anymore, but John’s explanation makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve read.

About that Leg, by Randall Stickford—Longish stories (those over 1,000 words) by new or infrequent contributors often receive short shrift on Fictionaut, not because we’re bad people here but because we’re busy and otherwise engaged and bottom-line this is a social networking site with a literary twist—very humanly, we tend to give based on what we get. Anyway, this is a smart, realistic story about men being men in the worst of our doglike ways. The tone, pacing, and characterization are spot on.


Gary V. Powell is a former lawyer and stay-at-home dad to a thirteen year-old son. His stories and flash have appeared most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifiact, and Camroc Press Review. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, several of his short stories have placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest  (2013), and The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. A self-published novella in three stories, Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons, is a prequel to Lucky Bastard.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.



Since joining in 2008, I have found Fictionaut a wonderful place to read and discover great writing. Taking a turn at Editor’s Eye has been an honor, and like those before me, a challenge, since many of the stories I loved received more than 5 stars. However, there was no shortage of gems, and I’m happy to recommend them.

Amy Geeleher’s The Trappings of the Rabbit is bold and lovely, contained in a list of punchy, evocative sentences. Images pop up, raising questions about the narrator’s desire and motive. Who is this “darling” she or he is speaking to? Why is the dew “cagey” and darkness better “when the oxygen slowly stops”? There is violence here, and searching, for what? Art? Beauty? Death?

Lost & Found, by Miranda Merklein, is a tricky sort of tale. It’s hard to pull off recovery ward depictions without veering toward the cliché, but Merkelin does it by sticking to the particular, the mattress that it too short for its frame, the dented and scuffed door, the three-shift holding tank. The narrator’s body language, too, is so minutely told, her “finger looped around the key ring lid” of her “titanium water bottle,” containing all the dread and fear of seeing her loved one locked up, sporting a “new silver crop haircut,” a “mechanic crochet” who she begins to identify as the patient in the photos of the brochure they hand out, bent over a glass table to place a Black-eyed Susan in a trumpet vase.

I loved Jerry Ratch’s The Little Mouse Who Started Feeling Slightly Nauseous for its humor. This brief poem is the love-child of William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” Its magic is in the narrator’s complicity in the mouse’s suffering. “At some point,” the narrator says, the mouse will have to stop nibbling from the “moldy cake.” There it is! The narrator doesn’t say, don’t eat that moldy cake, or stop eating that moldy cake. No, Ratch gives us something better, something richer and more devious. Let us all eat cake!

I also would like to recommend two pieces from the archives that received 5 or less faves, Jake Barnes’ Wonderland and Sarah McKinstry-Brown’s Snow Angels (after Sandy Hook).

Barnes has a great ear for listening in on conversations. Wonderland’s L.A. is noir at its best, its embattled characters driven by failure and lust. One young woman sits across from a cowboy who whispers in her ear. “Oh, no,” she said. “He’s just being supportive. I’d never sleep with someone just to get ahead.”

McKinstry-Brown’s Snow Angels (after Sandy Hook) works as an historical marker of loss, but also as an elegy for the children who “don’t know how the world emptied.”


Marcelle Heath is an associate editor for Wigleaf’s Top 50 and Copy Editor for Atomic Ranch. She works as a freelance editor in Portland, Oregon. Her website is

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

We are pleased to welcome Bonnie ZoBell to this month’s Writers on Craft feature.  Bonnie’s new linked collection from Press 53, What Happened Here: a novella and stories, was released on May 3, 2014. Her fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was published in March 2013. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.  She has held resident fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, VCCA, and Dorland, received an MFA from Columbia University on fellowship, and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College. Visit her at

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

I’m not someone who despairs over the state of modern literature because I think there’s a lot of good stuff out there. Just recently I’ve read and loved Jen Michalski’s The Tide King, Roy Kesey’s Pacazo, Pamela Eren’s The Virgins, Cliff Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch—I could go on. Why waste my time reading a bad contemporary book where there are so many good ones? Throw it against the wall. Pick up the next one.

When I’m feeling in a state of despair about my own work, reading something exceptional completely inspires me. I won’t say I’m never jealous, but the awe over what’s possible with language outweighs the despair—works by Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison, Gina Frangello, Raymond Carver, William Trevor or Gabriel Garcia Marquez help lift me out of a funk as I realize all the possibilities out there.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I feel increasing free to be who I am as a writer instead of trying to be like other writers or caring how people think I should write. If I want to use a well-placed adverb or adjective, I do. If I don’t want a transition between thoughts, I don’t use one. Rules are meant to be learned and then tossed aside so that instead a story can be told the best way possible without adherence to rigid current trends. I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I used to by the problems that invariably come up because the older I get and the more years I do it, I accept there are always going to be problems in writing. The more creatively I can solve them, the more inspired the story.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Get a dog. If you don’t have one, you’re missing out. You’ve probably heard how loyal they are. If you’re good to them, they’re good to you. They will lie at your feet staring adoringly at you while you write, even if what you write isn’t very good. Then, when you feel like committing suicide because of what a waste of time your day at the computer has been and you throw yourself on your bed, they will lick your ankles and your eyes. Eventually, one of them will urinate on the rug or grab the beginning sheet of a roll of toilet paper and run throughout the house, and you will get so angry, you’ll forget about everything else. It’s much healthier to be angry than depressed.

You’ve just embarked on a book tour for What Happened Here; can you relate your experience of being an author on a book tour? What are the best and the worst elements of traveling to promote a book?

I’ve enjoyed being on tour. It’s a break from regular life, and I planned it specifically so that I would get to see a lot of old friends and relatives I haven’t seen in a while. Tonight my niece Izzy came to a reading in Raleigh, North Carolina, because she’s going to Duke. I also saw a great friend from when I was an undergraduate who’s living nearby in Durham. And I saw new friends who I only knew from the internet. I’m very ready to go home on Sunday. The hardest part of the trip is figuring out how many books to bring, trying to close your suitcase with so many books in it, and being strategic enough that that the airline doesn’t make you unpack your suitcase and put heavier things in your carry on.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

What Happened Here just came out last month, so mostly I’ve been doing what I can to interest people in reading it. You don’t want all that alone time at the computer to be for naught. I am salivating, though, to get back to a novel this summer that I wrote some years ago. I stopped working on it after a million twenty-two rewrites in the face of what seemed like insurmountable problems in it. Two things make me think I can fix this book I’m in love with:  1. A lot of time has gone by and I think I’m a better writer now and I’m not so tired of it. 2. I’ve come up with what I think is a solution to the main problem.

A short excerpt:

We hiked across a meadow until a hundred yards ahead at what seemed like exactly the  same time all three of us suddenly noticed that something was different up there in the cliffs that day.  Maybe it was the raking sound that made our heads turn toward the adobe house that had been there forever. There’d always been a rumor the place buried on the mesa was made of tin cans. Dead pines and dried buckwheat, sage and lemonade­berry had always hidden it but had now been dragged to the side, raked well away, so that the structure stood bare to the ele­ments. For the first time, we could see that the old structure still had four walls and a roof.

Fascinated, we pointed out to each other an old sky-blue Mercury station wagon parked a short distance away from the house, the rear tailgate open and the back filled with suitcases, boxes and other belongings as if someone actually thought he could live there. How could someone own the bluffs?

Two grownups came around from the back.  The man and the woman set their rakes down on a nearby boulder and lighted the dead brush on fire.  Smoke and flames shot from the heights of the sandstone mesa—a fire the people seemed to be containing.

That was when we spotted the incredibly strange girl up in those hills, a small figure with white hair—the only sign of life now that the adults had wandered off.

The girl seemed far more peculiar than her parents, who were, after all, doing a job up there. This strange girl sighted us right off, though her parents had never even noticed our presence.  She stared at us as if there were no fire flickering up into the skies right behind her.  Heat and smoke seemed to not even affect her, though soot and the strong scent of burning sage had already made its way to my nose. Her skin should have been too hot for her to stand still.  Instead of reacting to all that burning, she gazed at us as if we were the oddities.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

I thought this was going to be an enjoyable task, and on some level it was, but mostly I have found it to be a daunting one. The reason is simple. Almost everything posted on Fictionaut is worth a look. The writing here is highly original. The writers are also very genuine to boot. And they never seem to give up on themselves or their art for too long after a setback before they are back on track with another try to get your attention and be noticed for their creative efforts. This makes me smile all the time. Fictionaut is full of amazing people who love to read and write. But it’s very difficult to isolate the overlooked writer on board because they don’t stay hidden for long. At first I would leave my own little comments, come back and discover that the comments on a particular piece were beginning to multiply. (This knocked them out of the race for Editor’s Eye, where we get to celebrate some of the works posted during the last 2 weeks that received 5 or fewer faves.) Then I simply didn’t leave any comments at all, but just kept my eye on a piece I liked. Inevitably, someone else noticed that work, too, eventually, which is nice, which is great, but it makes it so hard to pick out and promote pieces that may have accidentally been overlooked in the daily process. So my hat is off to all those who came before me and spotted their list of gems. It’s harder than it looks. Here’s a sampling of what I found, in no particular order:

Sunburn by Maria Rumasuglia

A beautiful love song that sings its heart out and bravely sculpts the person in question out of ache and knowing, a complete and tender picture. Bravo performance.

gravelortian part 9 by Chad Smith

Poetry that yawns and screams at you at the same time is pretty hard to pull off under any circumstance: ”Take an axe to the machines/ See the robot run away with the spoon/ Connect the borrowed jumper cables and shock it awake a few more times.”

Five Million Yen: chapter 71 by Daniel Harris

Ben plays politics and life goes on.

Miguel’s Fence by Rudis Muiznieks

Nicely done, beautifully set up, so good, a full rounded snapshot of the meaning of meanings.\

In Knucklebones, This Is What We Keep by Peter Richter

a children’s game mined for rich metaphor, both clever and telling.

The Lovers by Marc Lowe

Very much like a surrealist painting, but what I like, what I look for, is sentence structure and courage in syntax — all here.


Darryl Price is the poetry editor for Olentangy Review.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.


We are pleased to welcome Ryan W. Bradley to this month’s Writers on Craft.  Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic’s shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children’s bookstore. He now designs book covers. He is the author of four poetry chapbooks, three full-length poetry collections, including The Waiting Tide, and a collaborative collection with David Tomaloff. He is also the author of a story collection, and Code for Failure, his debut novel. A novella, Winterswim is forthcoming in late 2014. He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

The only thing to do when I despair at the state of my own work is to keep looking at it, as painful as that can be. Reading other writers can only make me feel worse. I can’t tell you how many times I go to bed thinking about how shitty of a writer I am, but like many feelings in life, these moments drift and are interchangeable with moments of pride and even arrogance about my writing. If I make myself keep going back to it I know that the roller coaster will stay on the tracks and I’ll see the same things I’ve seen before as I go past.

Beyond my work I don’t know that I despair at modern literature at all. But there are writers who make me love the world more than the world deserves to be loved at times. Neruda, for sure, but even writers who were far less hopeful, like Raymond Carver. I tend to re-read writers for the way they make me feel, the way my chest is split open taking in the sentences, the way I writhe in envy at their sheer ability.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Don’t be dismissive. If you’re having a hard time nailing a piece, or if you are given advice or criticism that is hard to take in, don’t write it off, don’t ignore it, don’t shy away from it. Go on a bender if need be, but go back to the work afterward. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your work can’t be improved because 99% of the time it can be, and that’s not a knock, it’s just a fact. Everything can get better, so why not help it get there? Stop worrying about how much you’re producing or about producing at all. Worry about creating something that is worth creating.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I take myself less seriously all the time. When I think about how seriously I used to take myself, take my writing, it makes me sad. I wasted so much time on that. You can write serious stories, poems, whatever, without taking it seriously. It’s life, it’s art, but that’s it: life and art. I beat myself up constantly about my writing but at least I’m learning that it’s okay to step back, to say I want to have fun again. I don’t want writing to be a labor of love or hate. I want it to be a craft that I enjoy, the way I enjoy other artistic endeavors, like designing book covers. It’s rare for designing a cover to not be fun. And it’s definitely hard to not take the “pursuit” part of writing seriously, and I still do often. I get down or jealous or frustrated, but I’m getting a little better at letting go.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I struggle with this, and maybe in part because I don’t take it seriously anymore, but I’m not sure that literature or art in general needs to have a purpose. And if it does have a purpose it’s too esoteric, for the sake of inspiration, aesthetic pleasure, beauty, and yes, even though some writers don’t want to hear it: entertainment. People wouldn’t still be reading books if they didn’t enjoy them. And like it or not that base enjoyment isn’t a product of some deep analysis or high-minded relationship with humanity and the universe. No, it’s much more primal. Enjoying something that has “artistic merit” doesn’t make it any less a form of entertainment, it just means you’re attracted to different aesthetics than the people you think have “low-brow” tastes. We’re all seeking entertainment.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

I think the not taking yourself seriously thing works here, too. But really I’m a deeply flawed human who is constantly trying to evolve and make my way through life. Louis CK has this riff about people saying life is short. “No it’s not,” he says, “it’s long. It’s really long.” And really that’s all the more reason to try and do what you love to do and be around who you like being around. That’s what’s going to make the days worth it as they pile up.

Your creative work spans fiction and poetry, among other things.  If you had all the time in the world to work strictly on your creative work, which new projects would you pursue and why?  Also, can you speak to how being a poet has impacted your prose here—what you feel each genre gives and takes?

There are a lot of things I want to write, things that may never be fully realized not only because of time, but because of psychological motivation maybe. If I had all the time in the world for these endeavors I would no doubt finish more of them than otherwise, but I would probably also spend more time on other creative work. I always wanted to be a filmmaker and I think I would pursue that more if I had the time, it brings together a lot of my artistic interests into a single medium and I think that I could do something I would feel proud to create.

As for the poetry/prose issue, I’m not sure what crosses over between the two for me. I’ve always been a pithy writer, sometimes to a fault, and it would be convenient to say that came from starting out in poetry, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It’s likelier to have come out of being impatient and blunt, just as my tendency to write uniformly short lines of poetry comes out of obsessive-compulsive issues.

Poetry feels more personal in some ways, mostly because I fall very easily into writing in the first person. Fiction for me is more of a true excursion, a commitment to a journey even in the shortest of stories. I’m sure both have had impacts on the other, but they also seem to occupy separate portions of my brain as I rarely am able to write them both during the same periods of time. I tend to go on streaks of one or the other.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

My third full-length poetry collection, The Memory of Planets, has recently been released, but I’m gearing up for the release of my novella, Winterswim in December from Civil Coping Mechanisms. I’m excited because it’s my first fiction to be released since my novel, Code for Failure and they are drastically different books. While Code for Failure was an autobiographical exploration of factotum storytelling, Winterswim is a twisted story about religion, mythology, sex, death, drugs, and my home state of Alaska. I’m also very fortunate that in addition to the print version Winterswim will be released as an audiobook by Blackstone Audio and that’s very exciting. Beyond that I am holding out hope that my second novel, A Hard Place to Die, and my baby, an Alaska-set story collection called Nothing but the Dead and Dying, will find homes.


Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

My experiences with Fictionaut have always been framed by my writing — submitting stories, treasuring the responses, enjoying the Recommended pieces. It’s less fraught as a reader; my ego is off-duty. There’s so much going on here, with nothing but the wide-ranging inclusiveness to bind it all together, and I love that! An excuse to put all my nagging concerns aside and read every single piece posted to Fictionaut over two weeks: what a rare treat.

Stories that appeal to me polish a spot in the frost to let me peer through the window. Or they make me laugh. Or they show me something new or true. I would much rather read than explain what I like; it feels like a failure of the imagination to say what I like, because something new will soon come along and show me just how wrong I was.

I made one little new rule for myself here: I only selected stories from writers whose work I have never before read. So I am now a fan of seven new writers…

“The Graduate” by Jim Breslin

I love the vividness of both paths here of the boy; I feel intimately connected to this story. My son turns 18 as I write this, so that couldn’t be it…

“A Totally Inaccurate Reduction of the Second Generation Immigrant Experience in America During the 20th Century” by Chris Okum

In this portrait of a faceless man, Okum cleverly reveals a face. The piling on of cliché is done to tremendously witty and thoughtful effect. Halfway through it arrested me and grabbed my attention: You’ve read all this before. Look at it.

“Pen and paper” by JP Kemmick

The first three sentences! Oh, how I love these sentences.

“Four Bars” by Neil McCarthy

I love that these are four bars, not four imaginings of bars. This nails it.

“Tarzan” by Dallas Woodburn

I don’t know everything that’s going on here, but I am so very grateful that Woodburn lets me mull it over. The agony of the family for the boy breaks my heart.

“The Roach in My Bathroom” by Charlotte Hamrick

The opening image pulls me in immediately, and I admire how this comes full circle.

“The Broken Ones” by Misti Rainwater-Lites

Raw and biting and clawing to the surface for air: the narrator here is soaked in bile and it made my toes squirm.


John Wentworth Chapin lives and writes in Baltimore, Maryland. He is at work on yet another final draft of the same novel. John is a founding editor of 52|250 The Year of Flash and A Baker’s Dozen: thirteen extraordinary things.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

My turn in the editor’s chair. Thanks for the invitation.

This is a great chair, much like Captain Kirk’s on the Starship Enterprise. From here I get to study various life forms in the Fictionaut universe. Some of them  (their silver lamé uniforms notwithstanding) look a lot like me! Others are generated by a creative DNA quite different from my own.

For new readers of the Editor’s Eye feature: my task here is to shine a little light on some pieces posted during the last two weeks which received five or fewer favs and impressed me, in some way. My selection process involved both indulging in work I loved at first sight and trying (it’s hard!) to step away from the beloved familiar into the possibly stimulating unknown.

Some of my original choices gathered more favs as the days went on and had to be scratched off my list, which is a good thing, of course. My still-eligible picks:

Untitled part 2 by volleyball mugwump

A wonderfully manic portrait of a mother daughter relationship heightened by the mother’s impending death. This story is a fine example of how surface tension can support deep emotion without breaking apart. I had no idea of the range of flavored vodkas available until I read this piece! I enjoyed all its 3300-plus words.

Blood by Pines, by G.E. Simons

Like a sprint through quicksand, away from the jaws of one death, perhaps into the arms of another. This piece held strong sensory appeal for me. I could smell blood and dogs and taste snow. I felt a pall of loneliness surrounding this story.

Calypso by Iain James Robb

An excursion into luxuriant language and phrasing, well worth the trip even if (as in my first reading) only partly understood.  Try a second reading with the author’s comment in mind. Aha!

A Manual for Readers by David Backer

Learn how to approach several varieties of contemporary fiction in this handy manual, which ended up being so engaging that I wanted to take all these stories home for dinner.

Letter to a Lost Friend by P.R. Mercado

An unapologetic and unrelenting lament of the many ways in which life and sub-par companions have disappointed the narrator, somehow refreshing in its refusal to be satisfied and grateful for merely being above ground. I enjoyed the self-awareness evident in the lines, “generally, my life is yet to be lived, even.” and “No one else has a catalogue /of my failures and loneliness /that is so comprehensive”.

Exile by Jeffrey Flannery

A beautifully written story of isolation, with a touch of strange that kept it my head some hours after reading. This is the first of Mr. Flannery’s work I’ve read and I look forward to more.


Carol Reid lives on the west coast of Canada.  She is in the process of constructing an accordion book of micro and flash fiction and trying to keep the puppy from eating it.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

As a reader, my criteria are simple and subjective: I like what grabs me, what gets under my skin, what makes me feel. The voices here at Fictionaut are so diverse, it almost comes down to something like this: What’s best? A carrot or a hummingbird? If there is a common thread to writing that draws me more than anything else, it is an author’s courage to expose something deeply felt or thought without expectation that it will be popular or attention-grabbing, so long as I can feel the subject matter is meaningful to the author and presented with compassion, whether it be tenderness or horror.

Here are a handful of recent stories that I believe deserved more attention:

Kait Mauro “Five True Things

A concise capture of a moment of loneliness in relationship.

Loyola Landry “That Place Underneath the Spreading Ficus

Serene artist encounters muse, then slides into yearning; then obsession spreads; then . . . oh, just read it yourself.

Chris Okum “Martin Sorcese on Jealousy

I’m blown away by the compelling voice here. I feel like I’m trapped sitting across from the narrator. I kind of want the gift he offers in the first line, but not the rest of the baggage. It’s just too much. I’m mesmerized, and at the same time I want to run as far as I possibly can.

James Knight “Mon in the forest: a fragment

A collection of fragments (originally tweets) that hang together like a dream with fairy tale qualities, not to mention fairy tale characters. There’s a light-hearted and innocent feeling to this piece. It made me think of the tarot deck fool wandering out into the world with an attitude of “bring it on.”

Eric Sweder “Romance

A long, well-written study in helpless disbelief as the narrator’s lover slides into neo-Nazism, ending with the narrator derailed into a totally incongruous response to devastation.

Ryan Parks “The Bachelor’s Hymnal

A crisp explanation of bachelordom.


Beate, lives and writes in Silver City, New Mexico. Her work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. She has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.


We are pleased to welcome Paula Bomer to this month’s Writers on Craft.  Paula Bomer is publisher of Sententia Books and the editor of Sententia: A Literary Journal as well as a contributor to the literary blog, Big Other. Her writing has appeared in The Mississippi Review, Open City, Fiction, Nerve, and Best American Erotica. Her collection, Baby & Other Stories, is published by Word Riot Press. Her debut novel Nine Months is a Soho Paperback Original. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

Yes! I reread Philip Roth, in particular Zuckerman Bound, and Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene while revising Nine Months. Both books exemplify to me that satire is, or can be, high art. I reread obsessively Tolstoy’s short fiction while writing Baby and Other Stories. And my newest book, Inside Madeleine was inspired by firstly, Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior and also Jesus Son by Denis Johnson. Then, later, the short stories of Richard Yates. I’m a big re-reader.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Honestly, I don’t agree with “kill your darlings.” I think one should stick to their gut when writing, especially short stories. I do find I tend to tweak the beginning and ends almost always. But ten or fifteen years into writing, I stopped editing unless the story or book was accepted. I wasted a lot of time and energy editing things that weren’t going to be published, when I wasn’t in contract. Never again. Also, if you think you are getting bad advice—I got lots of it—you probably are right.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

My interests have changed a lot in the past twenty years, or so it seems. I’m more sentimental than I was when I was younger. And I have a lot less energy, which makes writing even harder, not that I’ve ever found it easy. Basically, writing is like squeezing water from a rock. And yet, I’m committed and always have been. At times, even when it’s so difficult, the blank page is my best and only friend.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I have no idea. I used to think it was “important” in some vague way. Now, it’s just a part of who I am—I’m a reader, a writer.  I guess it’s about connection. It helps me be less lonely.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Be kind. And if someone is an asshole to you, you don’t have to be kind anymore. The latter took me a while to figure out and I still have issues with it, but really, it sucks being a doormat. My Christian upbringing made it difficult for a while to get rid of toxic people. But I’m 46 now and have much less tolerance for bullshit.

Your creative work is often bold in that it flouts conventions expected from women.  Do you feel that conservative reactions to previously published books, either as an author or a publisher, cause you to react by pulling back or pushing the barrier harder with your subsequent publications? 

I would say I pretty much stay the course. I’ve tried to pull back- it felt dishonest. And a lot of people think I push barriers. I know as a young woman I did so purposefully. Now I sort of can’t help myself, or so it feels that way. That said, some of my work if purposefully less “in your face” than other works. I do hope that I can experiment in style and substance.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

I’d love to publish a collection of essays. I wrote a bunch for Big Other and some other places that I’ve been fiddling with collecting into a volume. I probably will never write a memoir. I have a collection of stories and a novel that both need some work. My website is recently redesigned by the amazing Adam Robinson so it’s now easier to read some of my more obscure stuff online. For instance, an old website called Verbsap still has this weird piece I wrote in the form of a letter to Angelina Jolie. Sometimes, I just have to mess around. I even had a secret, not so secret, tennis blog for years. It was written in the voice of a boozy, sex obsessed tennis fan with too many cats.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: