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When it comes to giving other people compliments I’m kind of a dick. It’s not that I don’t want to say nice things, because I do, I really do. If I had my druthers I would walk around all day pointing out what’s best about each person I see, because I am a people person. My problem, however, is that the voice that comes out of me when I decide to say something nice is not a voice I recognize, and it’s not a voice I’m very comfortable with. The voice, to me at least, sounds exactly like the voice of a ring announcer. Michael Buffer. That’s who it is. My brain tells me it’s time to say something nice and gives my mouth the command and my mouth opens and out comes a voice that makes it sound as if the fight is about to start. I don’t know why this is, or what to do about it. All I know is that there is nothing I can do about it, so I usually just keep my mouth shut when it comes to niceties, which, I’m sure, makes people think I’m a dick. So when Michelle Elvy got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to host the Editor’s Eye I said, Yes, of course, because I want to be a good citizen of Fictionaut and give praise to some of the great work I see on a daily basis. But then I thought about it, and I said – I said this to myself – I said, What am I going to do about that voice? I was worried that I was going to sound like a fake, or worse, that my compliments would seem canned. Not only is my compliment voice obnoxious, but I lack the critical vocabulary that’s necessary to really tease out what’s good or great about a piece of fiction. I either like something or I don’t, and sometimes I really have no idea why. That being said, I think I should finally get around to giving my picks. Let me just say upfront that I loved each and every one of these stories. I am always happy to see work by Eamon Byrne, because of his intelligence and slightly inscrutable air; I get giddy when I read Crabby McGrouchpants because he reminds me of a Richard Brautigan, if Richard Brautigan was a former gutter-punk.  Tabatha Stirling gives me a curdled, creamy sensation in my nethers and makes me feel like I’m following a trail of breadcrumbs to a most beautiful and sublime death. G.E. Simons wields words like a wizard. Shiela Luecht seems to understand something about all of us we would rather not admit. Good work, everyone. Now, let’s get ready to rumble.

Chris Okum lives in Los Angeles, California. 

We are pleased to welcome Jen Michalski to this month’s Writers on Craft. Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize. She is the author of two collections of fiction, From Here and Close Encounters, and a collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now. In 2013 she was named one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and won a “Best of Baltimore” for Best Writer from Baltimore Magazine. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and host of The Starts Here! Reading Series. She lives in Baltimore, MD.

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 know you have been a fan of Virginia Woolf and Shirley Jackson.  Are there books you haven’t spoken of in interviews that are still private magic for you?

That’s a great question! I’m constantly reading, so I feel as if subconsciously there’s always a trickle of dialogue occurring between other writers and myself. But I do consciously re-read some books for guidance on an approach, or language, or pacing. I’ve been reading some Louise Erdrich lately because I’m in the middle of a novel that’s much more cyclical for me, and I’ve always loved the way Erdrich layers narratives on touch of each other, slowly filling in different pieces of the mosaic until it makes sense to the reader. Many times, though, I try to find something new—a new author or a new story from a known writer. I want to be blown away by novel or ingenuity or tenderness and feel the urgency to respond. Pamela Eren’s The Understory had that effect on me this year. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a writer, either—I’ve been meditating a lot on Shane Carruth’s last movie, Upstream Color. It’s such a confusing and layered viewing, about a parasite that it is harvested in plants and people and produces fugue states but also psychic connections, but it’s so intense you can’t get it out of your head and you feel compelled to deconstruct it.

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

For many years I read submissions for the journal I manage, jmww (although I don’t get to read as many as I used to). As a result, I’ve tried to put my own work aside for a week and then pretend it’s someone else’s submitted story when I read it again. Because we get so many submissions, sometimes I don’t even read stories beyond the first sentence or paragraph. And the questions I ask of submissions (Is this something we’ve seen before? Am I going to remember reading this story tomorrow? Do I care about the characters in this story? Does the writing stand out to me?) help me to figure out whether my piece has any chance of making it out of another journal’s slush pile. I think all writers should do some sort of stint at a literary journal—to see what other people are writing, to see the recurring problems in stories submitted (weak first sentence, no conflict, poor word choices, uninteresting characters).

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

I’ve been talking a lot about this lately, it seems! As a writer, I’ve kind of evolved over the years from short stories (with a small detour into flash for a year or two) into novels. I always like to think of it as when I was a little younger, I was more interested in distilling the essence of things into the short form, making a statement, because I didn’t have much experience in the world and I was still learning myself. Now that I’m older, I still haven’t learned much, but I find I like to linger in places instead–the process interests me more than an overarching statement. I no longer feel writing has to be about something. For me, I’ve always written as a way to understand things, but I don’t even necessarily care what the outcome is anymore. Even if I set out to write about a complicated relationship with a relative but wind up writing about a blue hippopotamus instead, I no longer feel as if I’ve failed as a writer. I might try to reverse-engineer how I got from point A to point B, but even that doesn’t matter anymore. Writing is just something that is, like breathing. It doesn’t have to wind up in the Barnes & Noble or in the trash it. It’s just output, thoughts. It’s my process.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I think it’s history, psychology, entertainment, and religion. The preservation and analysis and celebration not of actual events but of human consciousness.

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

As a human being writer — Write what you want to write about, and make it as authentic as you can—don’t skimp. Also, to be a writer, you should be a reader, too, and supportive of the writing community in general and the one around you in particular. But, at the end of the day, it’s you and your words in front of you, a solitary activity, and even if no one else will read the words you’ve added to the page, you shouldn’t be able to keep yourself from writing. Writers will write even if there are no readers left on earth.

As a human – Live authentically. Live well. We’re never promised tomorrow, or happiness, or companionship, or security. You are the sum of your life at any time and are wholly responsible for it. Be grateful for luck, and work hard when you aren’t lucky.

You’ve spoken before about the role that your dreams can play in generating ideas for work.  I envy you that vivid dreaming.  You’ve also spoken about novel writing as a form that compels you more and more, aligning combinatory spokes of stories to create a larger narrative.   Have you ever gone without dreams for years, dreams you could recall?  How closely laced to your emotional experience are your dreams? 

I don’t go more than a day or two without dreaming! I’m not sure I could be a writer without them. But I’m lucky: I’ve always felt different growing up, as a result of my sexuality and being a little chubby and shy and being a little eccentric, and my inner life, consciously and subconsciously, is very rich as a result. So I don’t differentiate that much between daydreaming and dreaming. Either way, I’m able to sink deep into myself and live in the world that I’ve created there. For years, it was a world that helped me survive—a place in which I could fall in love with another woman, or where my family life was stable and supportive, a place where I was well-liked for me. Now, awake or dreaming, it’s often just a world in which stories happen.

I think Joyce Carol Oates is right on about dreaming: “[O]ne can experience in sleep tortures that, in ordinary consciousness, would be profoundly traumatic. And yet one isn’t expected to take them seriously….” I do a lot of emotional work in my dreams, and I pay careful attention to the emotional responses I have in them. Of course it’s most important for my own well-being, but I try to create the same emotional impact I experience in dreams in my writing. What other great place (aside from your dreams) can you be a 100-year-old Chinese woman weeping uncontrollably about a person she lost thirty years ago?

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

Aqueous Books is releasing a collection of my short stories, called From Here, on September 30th, so I’m pretty excited about that. I just finished a second novel that’s going through submission, and I’m about 100 pages seriously into a third (and not so seriously into two others). I’m always happiest, most fertile, when I’m overwhelmed. The scariest thing in the world to me is when my head is quiet. 

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 was frankly surprised, pleasantly so, when Ms. Elvy asked me to take a turn at Editor’s’ Eye. I basically just hang out on the outskirts of your fine Writers’ Community here and I don’t write often but when I do I value Fictionaut as a place to take off the training wheels and see how the piece looks on the elegant page upon which our work gets posted. Maybe as I do, most of us enter the Fictionaut site with a flash fiction and/or a short poem expectation and that doubtless means that longer pieces do not get the number of “reads” the shorter pieces do — which is too bad. I look to Fictionaut for exceptional writing and each time I open the site some is here, waiting for me.

Linear-Critic by Ann Bogle

What I enjoy about Ann Bogle’s work is that she continually surprises me with both the form and unique content of her stories.

At the Syria Mosque by Chris Okum

Each time I open Fictionaut I immediately look for Chris Okum’s work which interstices humor and real names placed into situations that are usually so intense that, as I read, I forget to breathe.

Forever-Four-Eyed by Roz Warren

I had not read Roz Warren’s work before and I’m really happy to find this well-told story in which she cites the diminution of eyesight and the increasing fuzziness of words. This line makes me smile with each reading: “I even wear them when I swim.”

The Princess of Fillmore Street by Randall Stickrod

The twists and turns of this strange, convoluted relationship kept me off balance – in a good way. I left the story hoping he would be done with Sarah, thinking, but he probably won’t be.

On-Being-Offered-a-Seat-on-the Bart-Train by Joanne Jagoda

I’m sure some of us, as we age,  appreciate a compliment and in our mind imagine it to mean a bit more than its intent. This poem lets us imagine more than is meant and returns us back to reality.


David James resides in Atlanta , Georgia, and upon entering the third trimester of his life he’s found himself reading a lot and often staring at walls. He sometimes maintains his magazine-type blog. He has had just three stories published. Two pieces were picked up by Barry Basden and ran in Camroc Press Review in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and one piece was picked up from Fictionaut by editor Cheryl Anne Gardner and published in Apocrypha Abstractions in 2011.

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.


To misquote Gary V. Powell from a month ago, I have plenty of academic credentials, but none of them is an MFA. Still, I don’t feel bereft without one! Below are efforts that struck me quickly, hence there being only 4. And they are all short.

If you’ve read Editor’s Eye before, then you know the drill.

The Meat Lady by Jery Ratch

Such a winning title! Funny / sad, or quirky / sad are big with me, so while it’s a little repetitive (perhaps using it as a song lyric would work best) you can’t go past the image of this sad woman handing out morsels of meat. Is she paid for it? I think she is, but an old homeless woman handing out (what?) in a public space keeps coming to mind instead, rather than in a supermarket, which is probably what she’s really doing.

Longshot Down Undah by Dennis Mahagin

Sad hopeless cases pretending to be people they’re not is a favourite theme with me too (in fiction, not in real life) so this has immense appeal. The killer line is so simple: Be yourself, it can’t hurt forever.

And just in case you wanted to know, if he wanted to be really authentic, he’d say “Gidday” or “G’day” (either spelling is fine) and “Oi!”

I’m a Bohemian American by Jery Ratch

The punctuation in this needs to be fixed up, but I adore pigs and the idea of packs of pigs and packs of poets running around Prague and its environs made me laugh. For me, writing is about using words to create images in people’s minds, so the picture at the end of poets and pigs trying to each take over Prague’s Staroměstské náměstí (the main square in the Old Town) as the famous clock bongs and the tourists scatter as the poets scream and the pigs squeal, well, it had me then.

1 by Tabatha Stirling

The shock of the word cunt makes this piece. Place it earlier, and it alienates too much. But here it made me laugh out loud, the precious words and almost dainty pictures smeared away by the force of the final image.


Matt Potter is an Australian-born writer who keeps a part of his psyche in Berlin. Matt has been published in various places online, and he is, rather amazingly, also the founding editor of Pure Slush. You can find Pure Slush here, and more of his work at his website here:

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 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: