Stories and Poems and (Forthcoming) Books, Oh My!


When I was in graduate school and studying fiction, I had to turn in a story to the class, but I didn’t want to turn in something I had already written prior to the semester starting, so I wrote a new piece. I called it “Claims College.” It was different from any short story I had ever written in that, instead of being all serious, it had a dash of my humor. (Graduate school is supposed to push you out of your comfort zone, right?) It was about a married guy, Nathaniel, who decides that when he goes to an insurance work conference, he wants to have sex. And not with his wife. 

I hadn’t intended it to be funny at all, but then these characters (Octavio, Maggie, Tammy and Bridget) appeared and took on a life of their own. I like it when that happens. I let them tell their own story, and I wondered along with them: Would Nathaniel have the guts to make a conquest? What woman would he hit on, if any? And did he really want to have an affair, or did he want something else?

I didn’t know, at least not until I finished writing it.

Eventually I sent “Claims College” off to several literary magazines and waited. Most of the time (99% of the time, in fact) rejections come as form letters, but one—which came from a reach magazine for me—gave me a no along with feedback: “We really enjoyed this piece,” they wrote. “The interesting setting of this insurance conference, the memorable Octavio, and overall, the prose were impressively crafted.” But, they said, the story needed another rise in tension. 

I went back to my story, I read it again, and I realized they were spot-on. I revised it again and again, adding more tension exactly where they had said it was missing. What a gift that feedback was, so rare but so helpful. I also changed the title to “Trying to Grow.”

A few months later, Platypus Press asked me to contribute a short story to their Shorts (digital-only fiction) series. I sent them three stories, including “Trying to Grow.” I was sure Platypus Press would pick one of the other two, but they chose Nathaniel’s story. And now it feels like we—Nathaniel and I and all the other characters—have found the perfect home.

You can find out more about “Trying to Grow” here.

In other exciting publication news—a new book and a poem:

I am so thrilled to announce that on November 27, I have a new book coming out called 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17, which you can read about here. My next blog will be about the origin story of 52 Things, and how this book almost wasn’t, until I got fear out of my way. 

And last but not least, I have a new poem up, “Immigrant,” which you can read here. Thank you, Antioch University MFA’s Lunch Ticket staff for selecting my poem to be featured in a Spotlight.

Sable's on the Hayride


In a recent blog post, I talked about my piece, “Katy Perry Is Crooning and Won’t Stop Just Because I Did,” getting published in Brevity. The editor asked me to write a blog post about the origin of that piece, and I found myself writing about the village of Yellow Springs and how I miss it. (This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has read my memoir—I can’t imagine writing a book about my life and not talking about my town. There is of course so much more to say on that subject, as my little village is quite unique, but alas that wasn’t what the blog was about.) Here it is:

On Writing “Katy Perry Is Crooning….”

I grew up in Yellow Springs, a village in Ohio, and I return to it several times throughout the year to see my parents and to be in a place I still love and that most feels like home to me. I live in a city now, not a very big one—population 65,000—but large compared to the town in which I grew up with a population of under 4,000. 

You want to know what it’s like to grow up in that small of a town? One Saturday afternoon, many years ago, our German Shepherd, named Sable, jumped our picket fence and ran to the school grounds a block away, as there was a festival happening there, and my sister and I, likely early teens at the time, had gone to it. Because Yellow Springs is a small town, the news traveled fast to us. People recognized her as our dog, but they didn’t just tell us, “Your dog is loose.” We were told, “Sable’s on the hayride.” (And yes, she was.)

My high school graduating class had 69 students (and we had a big class), so at YSHS we didn’t just know everyone in our grade: we knew everyone a year below and a year above, and most of the students from two years below and two years above, and on and on. We only had so many people to know, and this made the business of knowing easier. Even today, I am always struck by the number of people I know and who know me when I go anywhere in Yellow Springs, even though I have not lived there for twenty years. 

The piece, “Katy Perry Is Crooning and Won’t Stop Just Because I Did,” is about one day in my small town, a day when I was there a few months ago. On the morning of that day, while out and about in Yellow Springs, I talked to a villager (a person I have known for decades) who told me of the unexpected death of a man earlier that same morning, someone who is a few years younger than I am. This villager told me about the death of the person not just because it was sad and jarring—his being under fifty and, from outward appearances, in seemingly good health—but also because there was an assumption I would know him. And I did.

These are the kinds of assumptions you can make, though, in a small town. Later that same day, while I was taking a walk, I ran into the brother of the man who died. Only in a small town can you hear terrible news about a person and then a few hours later happen to run into the family bearing the weight of that news. Only in a small town can you also know the brother, even if you have not lived there for twenty years.

In my small town, I didn’t feel right about not saying anything, not stopping to offer my condolences to the brother. Perhaps I would have felt or acted differently had I been somewhere else. Perhaps the news might not have seemed as sad and awful had I not known who they were, had the news been that of complete strangers.

I realize I have used the words know, known, knowing so many times in trying to tell you how all of this began.

I started writing down snippets that night (more a listing of details) and then wrote the piece fully while in a coffee shop in downtown Yellow Springs. I was finishing up a full-length poetry manuscript the week of my visit, so this piece’s first incarnation was as a poem. The poem became an essay only after I decided to submit it to Brevity. I write very prose-like poems anyway, so all I needed to do was take out the line breaks. Oh, and I also had to change one detail—I had taken some creative license with the placement of the car since poems don’t have to adhere to the truth, but for this to be a creative nonfiction essay, the car needed to be where it actually was in “real life,” as they say. 

I miss living in a small town. I miss my village. I miss knowing so many people and being known the way I am known there—not because I am famous but because I grew up there and have a history there, a history I am still building, even though I don’t live there anymore.

This blog post was originally published on the Brevity blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the latest issue of Brevity, you should. It’s always a winner. Thanks again to Dinty Moore for selecting my piece—I’m still overjoyed.

If you missed my blog post about me and Katy Perry getting into Brevity, you can find that here.

I do know some of my blog subscribers are from Yellow Springs. I can’t thank you enough for sticking with me through the years. I hope you saw a little bit of home in this blog. The tree featured is one of the ones on Enon (near the stoplight on Dayton Street by the high school), on the plot of land where Vernay used to be. I take a photo of this tree every time I am in town.

Secret Ingredient


Today is National Poetry Day in the UK. I’m envious, as I have been longing for our own country’s celebration of poetry throughout the month of April when I get to feature poems I love from other poets.

Recently I talked poetry with Vick Mickunas on his WYSO radio program, Book Nook (you can listen to it here). We talked about accessible poems, which I prefer and which I hope that I write (as opposed to what-the-hell-does-that-mean poems). I recited a few of my own poems, some published, some not. One of them was “Secret Ingredient,” which got published in the Santa Clara Review this year.

I’ve talked before on this blog about aiming for at least 100 rejections a year (I’m at 93 as of today for 2018), which I don’t mind getting because it just means I’m that much closer to an acceptance. It also means that any acceptance letter I do get is a gift, and when I get a generous letter—as I did from Santa Clara Review—that details exactly why the editors chose my work, well, that’s a golden gift. Reading that acceptance letter made me cry (in a good way).

In honor of National Poetry Day in the UK, I’m posting my poem, “Secret Ingredient,” because someone in California liked it enough to publish it, and for that I am very grateful.

Secret Ingredient

When I want to please my father, I cook butternut squash. 
Peel and boil, broth and curry, mash the soft squash 
against the sides of the silver pot that for two decades has managed magic:
solids to liquids, disparate to inextricably together.

When I want to comfort my mother, I bake fudgey cake from a tattered
recipe that calls for cups of chocolate chips, pecan halves, cocoa
powder. Glaze slips down the sides, solidifies when cool. 
My mother shaves off slivers, licks the knife clean.

When I want to feed my sister, it’s white bean soup: great northern,
grown in the Midwest, just like we were, where one summer she painted 
the picket fence, and I cooked us two frozen dinners: salisbury steaks,
gravy, potatoes, apple pie. Cicadas rattled songs from trees after seventeen years.
The sun hung onto the early evening sky, the light of youth and never enough. 
We ate sitting cross-legged on the grass, scraping the bottom of our tin trays.

For my husband, it’s red lentils with cayenne pepper, 
a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro. When we’ve run out of words, 
I add a dollop of sour cream, and it melts into the dish without needing answers. 
When he’s tired, when he’s down, I bake a yogurt custard pie with berries,
a crust crushed from ginger snaps and strawberry jam. 
It’s a dessert of opposites: baked then chilled, sweet yet tart,
the outside cracked, the inside soft. 

When I miss the once, the used to be, I soak black beans overnight
as stars slip across the Southern sky. In the morning, I add bay leaves,
more than necessary. My mother used to make it look so easy:
chopped onions, minced garlic, cumin and coriander and a long boil. It is simple 
but takes some time. Toward the end I shred tortillas, crack open eggs 
and drop them in, wait until the yolks cloud over, 
a pan of yellow eyes going blind.

“Secret Ingredient” was originally published in Santa Clara Review. Thank you for this honor.

A special thanks to Vick Mickunas for inviting me onto the Book Nook. It was a true pleasure.

If you missed my posts during National Poetry Month, you can find them here, featuring work from all these fabulous poets: Ada Limón’s “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” Ariel Francisco's "For the Man Pushing His Mixtape on the Corner of Biscayne and 167th," Courtney LeBlanc's "Self-Portrait as a Thunderstorm," Denise Weuve's "The Haircut," and Whitney Roberts Hill’s “Sorrow.”)