Friday, September 13, 2019

Order now, read in 2020: Hezada! I Miss You from Awst Press

To celebrate the Montana Book Festival and my newest book, Hezada! I Miss You, Awst Press made these fantastic postcards and are now, now, now taking orders! These are pre-orders, which means you order now and receive it as soon as it's released! Reserve now, find it in your mailbox in February 2020 so hot off the presses, it'll burn off your fingerprints (not guaranteed).

Hezada! I Miss You
What's it about? Well . . .

The last Midwestern travelling circus is due to arrive in a rural village it has visited for a century of summers. Like the village, the circus is on its last leg. It’s down to one elephant and a handful of acrobats. The circus boss’s sweetheart is dying. The former starring act is recovering from cancer. The assistant, Frank, plans to retire after this show. Meanwhile, twins Heza and Abe wander the hot fields and roads, waiting for the circus or anything better. Hezada! I Miss You is a novel that explores tradition, love, and suicide—set under the fading tents of small-town America and the circus.


To meet me in Missoula at the Montana Book Festival, see my schedule here:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Meet Me in Missoula at the 2019 Montana Book Festival

Let's meet at the Montana Book Festival this weekend. Here's where I know I'll be.

📙 Friday, September 13th at 11:30 AMWillow Springs Reading
Location: The Public House, 130 E. Broadway St.
Description: A poetry/prose reading and a Q&A with Northwest writers who have all been published in Willow Springs Magazine. Willow Springs is the top-ranked literary journal affiliated with the Eastern Washington University MFA program.

📙 Friday, September 13th at 2 PMCelebrate Queer Voices
Location: Missoula Public Library, 301 E. Main St.

📙 Saturday, September 14th at 11:30 AMThe Fractured American Dream in Fiction
Location: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties, 314 N Higgins Ave
Description: Join these novelists in a discussion of the American Dream as portrayed in our novels, what it means to pursue it, the shifting nature of what it means from one decade to the next. Each of our novels deals with the American Dream in some ways, the pursuit, the failure, the impact, the fleeting nature, what happens when it slips through your fingers.

For the full schedule of events, visit
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Heard about Hezada! I Miss You? Pre-order at

Sunday, September 8, 2019

THE BIG REVEAL: Uncovering the cover of Hezada! I Miss You

One of my favorite parts of the lead-up to a book's publication is the cover reveal. Luckily, all of my books have covers that I love and that seem to complement the content. I gasped the first time I saw LK James's cover for Hezada! I Miss You. 

It was early summer when it appeared on my phone, and I went around the whole day finding people I loved and asking if they'd like to see the cover, and then, without waiting for their answer, I'd do the big reveal.
Are you ready? I'd say.
Are you ready?
Are you sure?
And then, I'd turn over my phone.

They'd move the phone this way and that until they could see with the light.
And then.
Then, friend, they'd gasp. With their mouths, their hands, their whole faces.
I'd grin with them. I'd clasp my hands, lean forward, with the child inside me who knows she has the perfect object to bring to show and tell.
Isn't it perfect? I'd say.
It is. Yes.
I love it, I'd say because you can prolong the moment of appreciation, and I always try when I can.

Then I'd take back the phone, returning the cover to hiding, and swear them to secrecy regarding what they'd seen.
Hundreds of people I showed that day.

No, but that's how many I wanted to show. That's how many I think should see it. Imagine the collective gasp. Imagine all of us looking at the same picture and thinking, Yes. Yes, that's right.

Well, today, friends, we can do that. I'm not sure of when you'll find this, of your time zone, of how to time your gasp to another's, but we will have to do our best.

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Cover of Hezada! I Miss You, illustration by LK James


Do you see that elephant? Do you know how my father loved elephants? He would bring home ceramic and glass elephants in the white boxes from downtown, from the Bird's Nest jewelry and gift store. My kindergarten teacher's husband owned the store, and every gift to my mother from my father came from there.

And the elephant's expression. Do you want to cup the elephant's face in your hands and press your forehead to its forehead? I do. Do you know that feeling? That's the feeling of the novel. That's what I felt, deeply, when writing it. So deep it ached. So deep the ache hurt and many days I dreaded opening the manuscript to work on it.

Is there an elephant in the novel? Oh, yes. Yes. And that feeling, too, is there.

And what about the flower in the elephant's trunk? Do you know what that is? It's called several different names, which I didn't know until the internet, but in the Midwest, on my road, in my childhood, my mother called it Queen Anne's lace; it grows along the road my mother pushed my stroller up, then I toddled, walked, bicycled, then ran from. Had I never taken any classes on the body, I'd imagine my veins patterned like Queen Anne's Lace.

What about the frame? Its blend of Art Deco and circus poster. Its whimsy elegance. I love it. Imagine how carefully our artist drew it. Imagine her bent over her desk. Imagine. 

And the colors! The red and the blue! The banner, the script, the placement of A Novel and Erin Pringle. 

Do you love it? 
What else do you love about it? 
Will you love it with me? 
If you don't love it, let me love it until you love it, too, so we can love, together.

Thank you, LK James. 
Thank you, Awst.
Thank you, friend, for looking.

About Hezada! I Miss You
The last Midwestern travelling circus is due to arrive in a rural village it has visited for a century of summers. Like the village, the circus is on its last leg. It’s down to one elephant and a handful of acrobats. The circus boss’s sweetheart is dying. The former starring act is recovering from cancer. The assistant, Frank, plans to retire after this show. Meanwhile, twins Heza and Abe wander the hot fields and roads, waiting for the circus or anything better. Hezada! I Miss You is a novel that explores tradition, love, and suicide—set under the fading tents of small-town America and the circus.

View more of LK James's illustrations here:
Learn more about Awst Press here:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How I Found Missoula and More at the Montana Book Festival

View of Missoula, MT on a morning in 2017

Because my novel Hezada! I Miss You is to be published soon, I'll be participating in the 2019 Montana Book Festival, this September 12-15th. It will find me reading with Willow Springs, talking about the Fractured American Dream, the Fissured Family, and reading work with other queer writers. I am so grateful and glad to return to Missoula. So glad.

The first time I met Missoula, Montana was on a very hot July of 2011, closing in on the first anniversary of living in Spokane and of my sister's death. My spouse and I were trying to stay married, and had just left Spokane for the first time since moving there a year before. We were headed for a trip home to Texas where we'd met and lived for nearly a decade. Then the car broke in Montana.

I'd bought the car in 2003 with part of the fellowship money I'd been awarded to attend grad school in Texas. In July 2003, my best friend Alexa and I had driven in that car from Illinois to Texas to find an apartment for me to live in. By July 2011, I was living in Spokane, Alexa was dead, as was my sister, and now the car would soon show symptoms.

The trip to Texas stopped in Missoula. Well, it had started failing after we'd pulled off the interstate to discover a little art gallery. I've always wanted to be the sort of person to see a sign for a cool thing and impulsively turn off to see it. It was a summer in which I was searching for any other life but my own, so when I saw the sign, I pointed, and we exited. We both wanted to discover beautiful things. Maybe we debated stopping. We had a schedule, after all, as I'd plotted our trip across an atlas of KOA stops. I'd reserved them in advance. But we took the exit and drove away from the interstate toward the Hope of Something Good. 

Ohrmann Museum and Gallery, Montana 2011
I'm sure we argued about turning back or going forward. I'm not sure how I won. But on we went, and we found the Hope of Something Good, better known as the Ohrmann Museum and Gallery. And it was a good discovery. It's an art gallery surrounded by farmland and big sky. The artist's house is just up aways. Around the gallery are large metal sculptures. The gallery is built like a storage shed with a Western-style exterior and holds a warehouse of paintings by the same farmer who is the self-taught artist and sculptor.

To find the gallery, for something like that to exist in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then to move through it, felt like the petal of a larger promise. To return the favor of that feeling, I bought a print we couldn't afford, and the artist's wife handed me the credit card receipt to sign. It was our vacation, we hadn't fought in the gallery, and for moments looking at the sculptures it seemed to me that we were together in the way we wanted to be.

Polar Bear Sculpture by Ohrmann
Polar Bear information board
Maybe we wouldn't remember the gallery or any of this without the troubles or without the pictures that I still have. But it was here at the gallery, print in hand and our shared delight at such a place, that when we climbed back in the car that the car started having troubles.

It was here that the reward for leaving the beaten track became the bad omen, the reason we should have kept driving, why we were the way we were, why this whole trip was ridiculous. There we sat, dogs panting at our shoulders, in the middle of art, yes, but also the middle of a lot more. Of course, the farmer-artist came out to try to help. I'm sure we followed the choreography of lifting the hood and examining the engine's labyrinth while the metal sculptures stood around us reflecting heat, and I simultaneously thought of polar bears in the wrong climate and the deadly garden sculptures in Stephen King's The Shining. 

When the car started, we left. It was a long road back to the interstate. The Hope of Something Good was gone. We stopped in the nearest village, but the mechanic was gone. Probably it was a Sunday. So we drove on, at slow speeds to the interstate and crawled on toward the next exit with signs of life not just signs for a faraway attraction. The next time we pulled off, the town was bigger, and we waited for a mechanic who never showed up. I remember how hot it was. No trees. We sat in the dugout of a park baseball field. We walked the dogs. We left. My husband stood on a pitcher's mound and showed me how he once pitched. He'd hated it. And now?

Once we gave up on that mechanic, we debated Missoula. Perhaps we'd driven past it, and now we had to return. However it was, Missoula is where we had to go, at minimum speeds, until we reached the KOA there. And there we stayed for two wonderful days.

KOA Missoula
Those two nights at the Missoula KOA were beautiful. Maybe they shouldn't have been. The cynicism of authenticity would bet against it. KOA is a franchise campground, after all. It thrives on sameness, from the hallmark triangle-roofed Kamping store that often houses family recreation activities (ping-pong) and laundromat services. The trademarked Kabins. The Missoula KOA held the same swimming pool that I'd swum in at every Alabama KOA and up through the North Carolina KOAs when I was on my first book tour in 2009. 

But nothing had ever gone wrong in my life at a KOA. My affection for KOAs is their 1970s decor. Their insistence on good days dovetailed with my disbelief in good days. The way each KOA owner plays her own variation on the KOA theme. Whether the putt-putt golf has new green felt or hasn't been used in thirty years, every KOA seems to agree both on the human attempt to have respite from life, which juxtaposes pleasingly with my belief that reality prevents respite and that the discordant sound of reality, or as it relates to KOAs, the nearby interstate, will never let us be free, fully, to be. Some people live year-round in KOAs. I've seen campers with miniature picket fences built around them. Flowerbeds. Street signs with the resident's name standing on poles that share bird feeders. Most people pass through. But the campgrounds are like tiny, pedicured planets outside of time.

I have never felt fear at a KOA like I have in standard hotels. I spend less time locking myself in a hotel room while imagining a maid finding my dead body the next morning, and more time walking the campground, waving at people in lawn chairs, following paths landscaped to resemble a more rugged and less reservations-only camping experience. 

That summer, though, I wanted the trademarked respite. More than anything I've wanted, probably, outside of resurrection of those I love. Those two July days at the Missoula KOA allowed for that wish. My life felt far away from the walls of the little cabin. My better life was allowed to live. The pancakes were free. Families camped around us. Workers zipped around in their golf karts, attending to whatever needs kampers have. My husband and I read aloud to each other the joyful and dire news of a town whose patterns did not affect us. We were voyeurs. We were, perhaps to the other campers, a young married couple, pre-children, pre-family packages of mosquito repellent. What did we look like to everyone else? Better than we were.

The result was I never wanted to return to Spokane. I begged to stay. And maybe these many years later, we would still be living in that cabin, bellies full of free pancakes, but when we tried to reserve the cabin for a third night, we learned that a motorcycle convention was coming to town. The cabin was booked. Every cabin was. The whole campground would become a constellation of shiny metal, leather, and the sound of engines kicked to start. So we had to leave and take our car, our dogs, and our lives with us. 

We'd return to Spokane, driving at the slowest speeds possible, through heat and the stink of new oil. All of Montana was under construction, it seemed. Or maybe it was Idaho. It was interstate. The car wouldn't drive in reverse. It had a hard time even shifting into first, much less second. Seems like we had to skip first to trick it into shifting at all. Sometimes shifting the car would lead to it shutting off. Sometimes it wouldn't start. For the next six months, we'd plot our parking strategically, avoiding flat lots and searching for spaces with a downward slant until, finally, our adjunct and graduate assistant paychecks could afford a mechanic and the almost assuredly bad news that would come from it.

Over the next seven years, our marriage would end, I'd fall in love with my current partner, I'd have a baby, we'd all learn how to co-parent a child of three parents without artifice or tension. I'd shuck my desire to become a tenured professor and start writing part-time while teaching children's tennis. My father, my sister, and my best friend would continue to be dead. I'd write a new book. In those years, if I thought of Missoula, I thought only of that KOA campground, and that was good. Two good days are worth remembering. Luckily, though, I would meet Missoula again in 2017, in better circumstances, and on a second book tour, this time stopping at the 2017 Montana Book Festival. 

Fact and Fiction Storefront
Missoula, MT 2017
During my book tour for The Whole World at Once, I applied to participate in festival, and they accepted. So in September 2017, I arrived in Missoula with my partner and three-year old. I was nervous to meet the writers I would share discussions with, cynical of any writer-related activity that involved more than sitting quietly to write, and so I bought the books of all the writers I'd been scheduled to share time with. My hope was that, by reading their work, should the writer ask about my day, I'd have more to offer than Good and a long, awkward pause. 

In short, the 2017 festival came at a time where life had become steadier so when I attended the festival, I could do so as a fully engaged participant. The result was that the festival ended up bringing me friends and deepening my connection to this region of the country. To hear a region's writers talk about that place is, to my mind, the best way to learn about where you are, the culture, the problems, and the positive. Who else, besides a region's artists, have spent so much time living, studying, and reflecting on it? Thus, after days of attending panel discussions and participating in them myself, I finally became connected to the Northwest and the writers who called it home, whether home was in Montana, Idaho, Washington, or other nearby states--the Northwest was what counted as our shared roof.

Fact and Fiction Books -
Book Display, MBF '17
There, I took part on a panel about fairy tales and reality, and met Wendy Oleson, Donna Miscolta, and Melissa Stephenson. We sat side by side at a table at the back of Fact and Fiction bookstore, talking narrative, tragedy, reality, and more. The audience was packed in the chairs, and we were all there together, thinking and talking and listening. It was like the best first day of school that you could imagine, if you already like school and harbor a deep wish that this year you'll meet real people, as opposed to book characters, who love the same things you do. There was the blip where a man asked us about being women writers, or something woman-related, and then interrupted Donna when she began to share her thoughts. More a confirmation than a blip. Of what it is to be, or happen to be, a woman with thoughts at the front of a room instead of in the audience. I've never forgotten it, though. More than a blip.

I found Melissa online before the festival, and our friendship grew quickly. We learned that we'd just missed each other at the same MFA program in Texas, that we thus shared an overlapping group of friends, that our siblings had both died by suicide, and that we both grew up in the Midwest. Usually, just finding another Midwestern writer is enough to secure a friendship, but to share in common so much more? That's how people say words like destiny. At the time, she was a year out from publication of her memoir but starting to enter the whirl of promotional activities like the panel at the festival. 

That her memoir revolves around her experiencing her brother's death while I was a book away from a novel revolving around the experience of my sister's has helped to strengthen our friendship and, thankfully, given me the ear and wisdom of someone who understands nearly exactly the worries or quandaries or after-effects of the same kind of grief, particularly as a writer carrying this grief. Later, she would come to Spokane to read from her memoir Driven, and I was lucky to be in the audience. 

Melissa and me at her event at Auntie's Bookstore
Summer 2018
I started reading Donna Miscolta's novel of stories, Hola and Goodbye at the festival, but the festival lasted a weekend, and her stories cover a century, so it took me a little longer to finish. It's a beautiful book, and reading it made my memories of our discussion at the festival that much more nuanced. Never one to let go of someone who helps me understand the world, I've kept up with Donna. And she has, thankfully, allowed for it, letting me interview her about the book and her writing. She also contributed essays to both the summer library series and to the Book Your Stocking holiday reading countdown. 
Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories
Donna Miscolta
A few weeks ago, she shared the great news that her newest book is coming out in 2020, and while we won't see each other at the Montana Book Festival this year, I have secret hopes that we'll meet several times in 2020, which will make the book tour for Hezada! I Miss You a more welcoming venture if it's to be more a reunion of writers and friends and less a tour of empty chairs and new spaces. Though strangers are good, too. 

I will get to reunite with Wendy Oleson at this year's festival. We're sharing a panel again, this time celebrating queer voices. She was the first queer writer I'd met as one myself, so her appearance in my life may resonate more in my memory than mine in hers. But even if she doesn't remember me, I'll have read her recent works and, should she ask me about my day, I'll have more to say than Good. 

A few months after we talked fairy tales at the festival, I checked my email and found that none other than Wendy Oleson had won the Gertrude Press prize. Because I'd read her chapbook Our Daughter and Other Stories to prepare for that panel, I saved that email announcement so I'd remember to purchase her next title: 

Gertrude Press
November 21, 2017
    Wendy Oleson * Reviews * $10 Off  
Wendy Oleson_THIS ONE

Our 2017 Fiction Chapbook Contest winner has been selected from a fantastic group of submissions: WENDY OLESON!

Her brilliant collection, PLEASE FIND US, was chosen by our guest judge, Robert Hill, and will be out early next year. * CONGRATS! *
Wendy Oleson is author of Our Daughter and Other Stories (Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award Series). Her stories, poems, and hybrid texts appear in [PANK]Crab Orchard ReviewThe Journal, and elsewhere. She has received fiction fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and serves as editorial staff for Fairy Tale Review and Memorious Magazine. Wendy teaches for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension and Washington State University at Tri-Cities. She lives with a hiccup-prone dog, Winston, and her wife in Walla Walla, Washington.

At the 2017 festival I participated in two events, the fairy tale panel, and a reading and Q and A. The reading was with Polly Buckingham, and this was probably the biggest affirmation for why regional book festivals are so important, not only for the readers who attend but also for the writers who find each other. Polly and I may have lived a mere twenty minutes away from each other, but Missoula brought us together. On the festival mornings leading up to our reading, I'd walk to the coffee shop Bernice's Bakery and, while my son and partner slept in, I'd read Polly's book of stories, The Expense of a View. 
Reading Polly Buckingham
Bernice's Bakery, Missoula, MT 2017
To read Polly's stories was to learn that the distant figure who walked the empty shores and fields of memory and grief was my kindred spirit. To realize that not only was she alive (my literary kindred spirits are often long dead), but that she also lived nearby felt like the purest of luck. It turned out that she would read my stories and find in me the same distant figure. 

We have since become fast friends, extending our friendship from writing into triathlon training. Most every weekend this summer we've worked on our front-stroke in the lake by her house. We will have done two triathlons together this summer. One in July, and our next is this weekend in Priest Lake. My first and second triathlon to her umpteeth. It's seems a strange route to thank the Montana Book Festival for my triathlon training, but it's because of it that when I take every third breath out of the water it's Polly's head and arms swimming ahead of me, it's her I follow to a favorite rock, into another lap, or back to the dock through green water that shows nothing but the women I imagine floating beneath us as we slip forward on the surface.

Polly and me after a training swim for the Valley Girl Tri
Summer 2019
Already with this next book, I'm having a new experience with book events than I did with my first and second books. This time around, I live in the same city I did when my last book came out, so I'm returning to a festival instead of arriving for the first time. The friends and fellow writers I found last time are with me now, too. I've stayed put, and the reward is continuity and return. I like it. I like looking forward without fear and wondering what new people and new books I'll find when I'm there. 

This is to say, now when I think of Missoula, the layers have multiplied. It's the Missoula carousel, watching my child photograph rain puddles on the sidewalk, meeting new friends, reading books that have clarified the world yet another time. It is refuge and real. Now, I can say that I know it's coming time for the Montana Book Festival. I can tell the way summer is falling away and the books of writers I've never met have begun arriving at our door. 

Missoula, Montana
The Sky in 2017

Friday, August 16, 2019

Novel Progress Countdown: Six Months to Publication

When I first announced the certain publication of my next book, Hezada! I Miss You, I imagined posting monthly updates about what was happening behind the scenes. Good idea, poor execution on my part. But I do have an update, even if it's already August and less than six months to publication.


Advanced Reader Copy: The advanced reader copy (ARC) has been created. The e-version is in the inboxes of writers who have agreed to blurb the novel. The print version is going out today. The readers will have approximately two months to read the novel and return their thoughts to Awst (the publisher).

You've likely run across an advanced reader copy of a book; it's the one that may not have the final cover on it, and probably says NOT FOR SALE, or something to this extent. I imagine that the copy is something like a cut of a film released to the rating agency but not to the public. But I know little of film. ARCs will be sent to reviewers and magazines as well. This is how publicity somehow miraculously happens before the public can reach the book. Buzz.

The Cover: The cover has been created, and it's stunning. LK James is the brilliance behind the cover. First, I received images she'd gathered on a Pinterest board that she thought might be up the alley of the book. I added some myself. Then she sent me three different sketches of how she imagined the cover. A little while later, she sent me a much more finished mock-up, and swore me to secrecy. I took her oath. But I can say that I absolutely love it. Love it. I love it so much that I've had internal debates about tattooing it on my shoulder. Is that silly? Is that pretentious? Does it matter what others think if I clearly love it? The cover will be revealed soon, soon, soon! The aim is the first of September. Start your anticipation.

The Book Trailers/Teasers: Phoebe Waldron has been working steadily on creating a book trailer for Hezada! as a way to get the word out about its existence and arrival. She started combing through vintage circus footage and transformed it into animation. She sent a few possibilities to me, which is how I know any of this. A few months later, she took the transformations onto another plane in how they looked, and by adding her voice in the background reading excerpts of the novel. She suggested that I could record excerpts, and she'd remove her voice and dub mine in, but I enjoyed the way that she read it, from her voice to how the words moved with the image. After all, she knew exactly how she wanted to sync what she said with the visuals she'd created. So, we're leaving her voice on the trailers. That pleases me greatly. The trailers will begin showing up on social media sometime in September.

Events: Even with the book half a year away, I've started scheduling events related to it, which means that my writer self will start appearing publicly again after a few years of hibernating after the release and book tour for The Whole World at Once. I have already two events this September and two in October. The first is the Montana Book Festival, September 12-15, which is my favorite book festival. Then, at the end of September, on the 28th, I'll help launch McSweeney's Indelible in the Hippocampus at Auntie's Bookstore. In October, I'll be on libraries on north and south Spokane. On October 5, I'm telling a story to children, ages 2+ as part of the South Hill Library Con, then at the end of October, on the 26th, I'll be leading two writing workshops as part of the Spokane Writer's Conference, one on writing with grief, and a shorter one on how to incorporate or use visual art as part of the writing process.

Pre-sales: Why a cover release? Why book trailers? Why events about a book no one in the audience has read? Because pre-sales. To sell a book, the book needs money behind it. Yes, the press may have some savings from past book profits, but often those "profits" are used to balance out the production of their last catalog of books, however big or small that catalog is. Ordering a book several months before it's published helps the book succeed; you're one of a team that every publisher and writer needs to help push the book uphill. The bigger the team pushing the book up the hill, the longer the book can glide down it without stopping or hitting a rock once it's published into the world.

Why pre-sales? Why such an emphasis on sales? Are you a capitalist? 
No. All of this, from the cover to the trailers to the events is, to my mind, how to move the book into the brains of the people I wrote it for. After years of working on the book, thinking about it, scribbling ideas down, writing it out, rewriting it five, ten, and so many times--after all the living, grieving, questioning I've done such that this novel is the result, now it's ready to be read. So, this is how to get it read. It's pretty beautiful that so many people take part in such an endeavor. By the end of the book's sales, maybe the publisher will break even. Maybe I will be able to cover the cost of gas and lodging at events with the sales from the book. Maybe not. Probably not. But all the people I will meet, the discussions I'll get to engage in, the new books and ideas I'll learn about, the readers who will discover my writing--all of it will be where the profit and value comes from.

Let's check in closer to February in regards to the publication process and where we are. How does December sound?

Important Links from this post:


Monday, April 15, 2019

When Your Past Wasn't Present: Semi-Finalist in 2018 Faulkner Competition

And then there was the time I realized, nearly a year later, that my novel, Hezada! I Miss You, was a semi-finalist in the 2018 Faulkner Competition.

So, good news, folks. ;)
I'd like to thank Google for logging my past so I can learn about it later.

And better news, Awst Press​ is publishing Hezada! in February 2020 
Which is to say, some things about my life I do know in advance. This version of the novel is also twenty thousand times (or so) better than the past version.

Should you want to read my name on the list of semi-finalists, here's the link:


Monday, April 8, 2019

Read This Book: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay (Harper 2018)

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture is a collection of essays by writers across the spectrum (of gender identity, sexual orientation, social class, culture) who discuss the experiences, silences, and analyses of what it is to live in a society enshrouded by rape culture. This is no ordinary book but it is full of ordinary experiences made extraordinary by our continued insistence on disregarding, gas-lighting, and denying that these experiences happen all the time.

In "The Life Ruiner," Nora Salem writes, "What is it about secrets that endows them with so much power? More pertinent: Why was I so obsessed with keeping mine? Why for so long?"

In "Good Girls," Amy Jo Burns writes, "The good girl is nothing more than a myth. We long for her for the same reason we long for utopia: Neither exists."

Stacy May Fowles, in her essay "To Get Out from Under It, begins by reminding everyone that part of the effect of this culture on personal memory is that "... the world fills you with doubt over the legitimacy of your own story."

From Roxane Gay's introduction regarding the project of this book to the final essay, "Why I Didn't Say No" by Elissa Bassist, the book is an intense and important examination of, and testimony to, the relationships of ourselves to others, of ourselves to our culture, of trauma to shame, silence to ghosts, of culture to our interpretations of who others expect us to be.

This book is not a primer for those who have been unaffected by Rape Culture, though this book certainly demonstrates, by its culmination of voices, that no one is unaffected, even those who believe themselves exempt (who would? how could that even happen?).

In reading the book, I remembered what it was to go to books when I was growing up in a very rural and small town, when books were the only reliable and safe place to learn about life because I had the distinct feeling that, in person, I was not being told the whole truth about the world. And maybe that was because people didn't know how to speak about it. Or because people didn't want to hurt my feelings. Or because the darkness of the world hurt their feelings and they thought I would be affected similarly (as though the world might heal itself if we didn't tell it about its wounds).

Or because they had bought into some mythic beliefs about keeping me innocent (based on their beliefs about innocence and how they imagined me) or because they were censoring the world in the way they wished the world to be instead of how it was. Or because this is how the world was given to them, and so this is how they knew how to give it--as not quite itself, as part wish, always.

Or because no one had spoken to them honestly about the things I expected to be spoken to honestly about, and so, eventually, they'd forgotten that these were things to speak about.

Or because no one knew the questions I would have except for the books that anticipated both my questions and different ways to consider the questions.

Or because people maybe thought that if they were to talk to me about things that they had no solution for, I would think less of them, as though solutions are required before acknowledging problems, injustices, conundrums, gray spaces, confusions, errors, and anything else that a tried and true narrative can't, or refuse to, contain (or allow us to avoid).

Not That Bad is a book you probably need to read, in your own time, in your own safe spaces, at a pace you can handle. And before you decide not to read it, first pick it up and read from it. Hell, skim it, even before you settle in to following every word to the next. 

But here, before you think this book isn't for you: no one would have written the essays in this book if they'd read essays like these elsewhere, if they'd already seen films that cover what they're writing about, if they'd already heard in everyday passing the words that they're setting down on the page. Roxane Gay would not have thought to create this book, collected these essays, found a publisher for them if she thought other books did a great job of doing exactly what she's doing here. These are not essays you've read 1,000 times before. All of these writers have clearly written essays for you to read. Roxane Gay has clearly chosen essays for you to read. The publisher has clearly published a book of essays that should be read. In some ways, the book reminds me of one of the rape counselors in the book who tells one patient that her reactions are like the reactions of so many others who seek her out, but only the counselor sees the pattern and can transmit this because the clients have been shamed out of ever sharing these stories, so all find themselves thinking it's just them. The book is a conduit. That's what I'm saying.


Here's the link to Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

Monday, March 18, 2019

Novel Progress Countdown: 11 Months from Hezada! I Miss You


Book Publication: February 2020
We are 11 months away from the publication of my next book, a novel, Hezada! I Miss You

I like a countdown. So, every month closer to the release, I'll provide an update on what's happening behind the curtains; there's much that goes into the production and publication of a book, and I find it all pretty interesting. Of course, not every publisher follows the same path, but once you've worked with two publishers, you start to recognize the basic arc from acceptance to contract to publication, and I'm seeing similarities now that I'm with book publisher number three.

Before we review what's happening in March, here's what happened December 2017-March 2019:

December 2017
I finished Hezada! I Miss You after years of work. I then stepped away from the novel because it centers on events that break my heart, and I couldn't look at it anymore. It was done.

November 2018: Acceptance Day
In mid-November, on my son's birthday, I received an email from Awst accepting the book.

November-February: Deep Revision
I'm probably more unique in this, because once I learn that a piece will be published, my perspective on my story, book, novel shifts. Now, I see through a lens that imagines actual readers (or the pressure and dismissal I associate with actual readers and reviewers). This time when I read through the work, I see new ways to move the language, reduce the language, shape the characters, answer questions readers would have that aren't answered or maybe could be articulated more clearly.

This is not to say that I didn't perform deep revision previous to submitting, but once it's accepted the "finished" quality becomes tenuous as I read through it. As such, I am absolutely not the easiest writer to work with. For example, even though the editor made extremely light notes, I was much harder in my review of the piece and ended up, for example, rearranging the narrative arc to make it read more clearly and smoothly. So, when I say deep revision, that's what I mean. For Hezada, I went through several deep revisions from Acceptance to Contract Day (November-February).

January: Request for Blurbs
Sometime in January, I started querying writers about potentially reading the novel and writing a blurb about it; these are the blurbs that appear on the dust jacket (not the reviews you read in newspapers, etc). I probably should have waited until I had signed the contract, but I was moving through such a self-made swamp of revision that to keep my mind fresh, or boost my confidence, or to make the book feel more real, or maybe to send a light at the end, I started working lightly on the production side of the book. I also reached out to a photographer to reserve her for a future author picture.

February: Contract Day
I signed the contract in mid-February. Typically, from Acceptance to Contract Day I only tell my closest family members about the acceptance. For example, my mother didn't know until a week or so before the announcement. The space between the acceptance of a book and signing the contract of the book is often several months wide, at least, that's been the case for me in all three book instances and in most all story acceptances. We could also call this the space of highest superstition akin to the first trimester, hence the not-telling anyone.

March: Announcement Day
The day that the news goes public that a book exists and will be published. This is not the same day the contract is signed. For Hezada, we announced March 1 on social media and websites; here was Awsts's announcement; here was mine: (You'll find the same on our social media sites.)

What's happening right now?
  • The book has moved from the editor to the copy-editor. The copy-editor will complete a final proof of the work itself while formatting the manuscript for the printer (for when that time comes). This will become the Advanced Review Copy (ARC).
  • The marketing person is working on a book trailer.
  • I've completed a marketing questionnaire and created a spreadsheet for promoting the book (potential bookstores, reviewers, media outlets). I've contacted only a few at this point.
  • I have found two potential venues for the book release party.
  • There's likely even more that is going on behind the scenes, but this is what I know.
How can you help as a reader?

Book Publication: February 10, 2020
We are 11 months away.


Friday, March 1, 2019



After many years of writing, stitching, thinking, walking, running, wondering, writing more, weeping, laughing, rewriting, musing, pondering, writing and writing and word-weaving and word-cutting, I am pleased to say that I have finished. And the result is a novel named Hezada! I Miss You.

The novel takes place in a village that, in my imagination, is very similar to Westfield, Illinois, a village not where I grew up but whose children I grew up with when Casey schools consolidated with Westfield. In the novel, there is a travelling circus, one of the last tent-circuses in the Midwest, and it has come to this village every summer for over a century--the last stop of the summer before returning to Florida to hibernate until it begins its travels again in spring.

And so here we are, with a circus not as it was . . . but as it is, falling apart. Here we are in a village not as it was . . . but as it is, storefronts empty except for a diner, a hardware store, a thrift store. Both circus and village wish for a thriving past they've heard of from the memories of others, and may well never have existed.

Enter Heza and Abe, twins.
Enter Frank.
Enter Hezada! the trapeze startlet and artist who once flew in the big top but years later, after a radical mastectomy, has moved to a different tent, act, life.
Enter acrobats, jugglers.
Enter Kae. Oh, my Kae.

Enter Awst Press, a publisher in Austin, Texas that has chosen to publish this novel--which means my word-work is done, and I can give the story to you now.

On February 10, 2020, Hezada! I Miss You will be bound for bookshelves, bookcases, airplanes, bathtubs, beds, reading chairs.

And I am pleased to say that.

I hope you can celebrate with me now, and again in Spokane, in Austin, in Casey, and all the places we must meet our lives to exchange this story. I think it's worth reading, through heartache and laughter, which it has, both.


P.S. Visit Awst Press for their more official announcement of Hezada! I Miss You


Monday, February 18, 2019

BIG Announcement Coming SOON!

Here is your official announcement,
announcing an announcement
to be announced on March 1, 2019.
See announcement (below).
This is an announcement.