On Hugging Trans People: Essay up at Catapult

How did “hug a trans person” become a meme? Why do people I hardly know praise me for my “bravery”? How did I acquire shady, semi-legal testosterone back in ’01? And what does all this have to do with the Spanish conquest of the Americas???

I explore these questions, and more, in a new essay for Catapult. Read it here. (If writers wrote their own headlines, this one would be: “Seriously. Don’t Hug Me.”)


Fall Online Classes (Sept./Oct.)

Psyched to say July’s online classes went swimmingly! I learned to use Zoom and many writers showed up to make bold narrative decisions, subtle character discoveries and revive objects and people thought lost to childhood.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be on a month-long diy writing retreat (aka hiding in my house with the internet off). What kind of person would I be, though, to leave you hanging? Fortunately, no one has to answer that question because here are classes for September & October. (There’s also a lower fee for current Canadian residents because the exchange rate is bonkers.)

To register for either, fill out the form below. I will send payment details by email. (Fees are fully refundable until 7 days before the date of the first class.) Oh, and for those freaked out by online classes, Zoom is free, easy to use and very, very close to being in-person. Besides, you can wear your dog-walking sweatpants with the milkshake stains and no one will know.

IMG_20131231_234320Plot 2.0: Characters making choices – $30/1 day
Class meets once via Zoom.

Plot binds a story together and powers it forward. It emerges from our characters’ longing and fears, and makes a reader care. The hint of a compelling plot inspires agents to request the would-be author’s manuscript. A plot turns a collection of vignettes into a novel. Understanding how plot works is often the key to fixing a broken first draft, or reviving a project that got boring halfway through.

Yet many of us confuse random bad things happening to our character, with a true plot—which centers around characters, even shy ones, making choices.

Through reading and discussion of published fiction, craft essay excerpts, lecture and guided exercises, participants will learn how to use plot as a diagnostic tool in revisions, and, if you’re an outliner, how to use it from step one. We’ll also practice forming good first draft habits so plot can develop organically.

All levels of writers welcome—just bring yourself and your preferred writing implements.

Schedule: Class meets for 2 1/2 hours over Zoom. date TBD November 2018
Fee: $30usd ($35cad for current residents of Canada)

1388559360687.jpgUnder the Surface: An exploration-based class for writers at all levels – $160/6 weeks
Class meets via Zoom every other Sunday. On alternate Sundays, students will post their writing in a forum and respond to their group member’s writing any time over the following week.

Why do you write—or want to?

Like it or not, our writing reveals us. Our private questions and observations about the world surface from beneath the writing as if in invisible ink. Maybe you keep writing stories about father-daughter relationships; or betrayal lurks in every poem, popping up when you least expect it. Or maybe you can never quite get to that thing you need to say, the words always the wrong ones, the novel stalling at chapter three.

In this 6-week class, writers at all levels will write in series, digging down to their hidden questions and themes. Each week, participants will create a short piece that repeats one element (a character, an object, a form, an opening line) from their previous week’s exercise. Writers will respond to each other’s work in mini-workshops, designed especially for a deep reading of work in progress. Zoom classes will include reading and discussion of contemporary masters of subtext, including Jesmyn Ward, Eileen Myles, Hilton Als and Kayla Rae Whitaker.

Through this practice, participants will begin to uncover what they are really getting at. They will develop characters, themes, a sense of voice and even forge new metaphors to express subtext.

This class is for writers at all levels, in all genres. Ideal for generating new work and developing existing projects.

Schedule: Sundays, September 16th-October 21st. Class meets live over Zoom for 2 hours on 9/23, 10/7 and 10/21 at 3pm Eastern, 12pm Pacific Time.
Fee: $160usd ($175cad for current residents of Canada)





Online Creative Writing Classes (July 2018)


All classes meet live via Zoom from the comfort of your wifi connection. Fill out the form below to register. (Fees are fully refundable up until 1 week before class meets.)

I ran a survey a few weeks back and got some awesome responses from writers who have piles of projects they want to deepen or develop with more craft skills, to used-to-be writers and beginners in search of a jumpstart. There’s hopefully a little for everyone in the classes I’ll be offering in July. In any case, I am inappropriately excited about them.

Sense & Memory: A generative writing workshop
(2 1/2 hours; meets once) $30
Sunday July 15th at 3:30pm Eastern/12:30pm Pacific Time

This one-day intensive will use the writings of Saeed Jones, Rita Dove and Terese Mailhot to inspire explorations into our personal past. We’ll focus on childhood—when our sense impressions were most vivid, and use immersive exercises to revive smells, voices and muggy days lost to conscious memory.

Participants will learn techniques for translating dim impression into sharp details and will have the option of receiving feedback from peers on work generated in-class. (There will also be an option to continue meeting beyond the initial session if the group wants to.)

This class welcomes writers at all levels, especially those seeking to play and discover.

Character Development: Obsessives, Dreamers, Secret Keepers & Moody Mothers (2 hours; meets twice) $50
Sunday July 22nd and Sunday 29th at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific

The believable but bland character is the writer’s nightmare. Whether we’re writing a poem cycle, biography or a novel, we want readers to feel strongly about our characters. That starts with characters who feel strongly themselves, whether they are organizing a prison break, on a mission to alphabetize the Chef Boyardee at Rally’s, or desperately trying to keep their safe life from changing.

This intensive class will use a mix of craft lecture, discussion of fiction and non-fiction examples from Rachel Kushner, Jamaica Kincaid, Tommy Orange and Claudia Rankine, writing exercises and constructive feedback to explore ways of finding our characters’ hot core and translating it to the page. Participants will bring short homework assignments to each class (assignments will be provided a week in advance).

This craft class welcomes writers at all levels who want to be challenged.




Survey! Wanna take an online creative writing class?

IMG_20180505_094117_521 (1).jpgStarting this summer, I’ll be offering (live), small group (max. 10-12) online creative writing classes over Zoom. My priorities are that online classes be affordable, challenging and have the lively, focused discussions of the in-person experience.

Right now, I’m guessing that classes will include deep dives into craft and technique and workshopping, but that all depends on what potential class-takers are interested in!

If “potential class-taker” sounds like you, I’d love to hear your (multiple choice) preferences on this 2-minute survey.

Jack Dyer Fiction Prize

Delighted and proud to learn my story, “Dogs of America,” won the Crab Orchard Review’s 2018 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize. I’m especially excited because the story is very gay, has a trans narrator and nobody comes out or dies or is tortured over their identity (though plenty of slouching and recreational paranoia occurs). Gay team win!

The contest issue will be live in September. I’ll post a link then.


Best American Short Stories 2016 & National Writers Series WIR

Two cool things that have happened recently:

  1. I found out via an email from an acquaintance that my story “Bad Things That Happen To Girls” was named as a one of the year’s 100 Distinguished Stories by Best American Short Stories 2016. So cool! One of the best parts is see my name on the same page as my mentor (and one of my favorite short story writers), Nona Caspers‘, and Charles Baxter’s. Charles Baxter’s son was one of my brother’s playmates as a kid, and so he was the big important writer in the scenery of my childhood. Years later, Burning Down The House gave me my most important lessons (yet) in writing. The whole thing feels like a handwritten note from the universe saying, you’re on the right track, buddy.
  2. I became Writer-in-Residence  with an alternative public high school in Northern Michigan. Which means I am currently watching leaves change color and hanging out with a bunch of hilarious/emotional/smart/cool teenagers. Surprisingly, I am also getting a lot of writing done.

Upcoming class in San Diego!


Hey SD writers! I’ll be teaching this 5-week class (Point of View: Who’s telling this story anyway?), starting 4/10, on the challenging-yet-thrilling art of Point of View in fiction and memoir, and would love to have you there.

“Point-of-view has been called the story or essay’s “camera lens.” If so, the narrator is our cameraman, shuffling around the edges of the frame, zooming in, panning out, applying filters of language and emotion that color the reader’s view. You can write well without having a clue what’s going on behind the camera—but knowing your cameraman makes it a heck of a lot easier.

In this five week class, we will read point-of-view masters like Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore and Junot Diaz, to see how narration works in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person. Through structured exercises, lecture and discussion, we’ll cover the elements of narration and point-of-view as they apply to fiction and memoir. Students will leave class with a strong grasp of the basics and the answers to their burning questions, including when to use an omniscient narrator, how to stick to a given POV, when to break the rules and how not to get swallowed up by a 1st person narrator.

*Some prior familiarity with point-of-view is helpful but not necessary. We’ll start simple.

**Plan for ~30 minutes of at-home reading/writing per week.”

Register early!

Your Definitive #AWP16 Survival Guide

AWP Survival

Which writer mcnugget will YOU be?

Every year 12,000 book nerds, introverts and agoraphobes with vulnerable egos pack a big city convention center to see writer-friends, sell books, get drunk, attend AA meetings, consider the state of literature and give local lunch restaurant waitrons a collective stress-induced heart attack.

If this sounds like your idea of fun, there is probably something wrong with you. Then again, literary writers are people who choose to devote thousands of hours to a pursuit whose most reliable product is an abiding feeling of failure. So in fact, there plenty wrong with you already, AWP or not.

I actually happen to love the AWP Conference, because a) high book-nerd factor, b) low agoraphobe factor and c) brilliant AWP survival strategy (see below). In the past, however, I narrowly escaped hating AWP/having a weekend-long anxiety attack, rescued only by my brilliant survival strategy (see below). Since it’s brilliant and all, I thought I’d share it with you.

(Nota bene: if you are in any way book-nerd famous or even moderately successful, I apologize for all the people trying to tear your clothes off/have sex with you/season you with envy, then kill and eat you. I also apologize for being one of those people. My only advice is to crouch down behind someone more famous/moderately successful than you for the duration of the conference.)


 a completely biased listsicle for getting the most out your annual nerdfest

  1. Know why you’re going.

There are a lot of reasons to submit yourself to the shitshow described above: You run a lit mag and want to connect with writers and readers. You just published your book and want people to know about it. You have no clue how the literary industry works and want to learn. To meet the nice editors who keep rejecting your epic prose poems and maybe find out why. To see your writer friends. To hear about new teaching strategies. To find  presses that would be perfect for your work. Etc. These are legitimate reasons. Reasons that will allow you to respect yourself. There are also plenty of other reasons, though, and you should be honest with yourself about if yours include the following:

  • to renew your dislike of other writers
  • to kindle the fires of jealousy
  • to reunite with a residency “friend” who used to be more successful than you but is now much less successful and feel the happy brain chemicals flow
  • to prove to yourself that you can put on clothes and leave the house for three consecutive days
  • to give out your business cards, because it’s your only chance all year and you have a really sharp design
  • to have unrewarding sexual encounters with strangers
  • to have unrewarding sexual encounters with old friends
  • to have unrewarding sexual encounters with your literary heroes
  • to find out which of your literary heros are currently having unrewarding sexual encounters with one another
  • to get far drunker than responsibilities of partner/job/children will allow you to do at home
  • to foster the self-loathing that tbh is your primary motivation to keep writing
  • to meet the nice editors who keep rejecting your epic prose poem so you can disapprove of their taste and intelligence with greater accuracy
  • because everyone else is doing it and you’d rather be a lemming than a lone wolf with FOMO

Whatever your reasons for attending, determine how realistic your goals are and if they can reasonably be achieved.

  1. Be realistic about how many off-site events you can attend.

Base this on your real life habits. If you go out twice a week in real life, you should easily manage 1-2 events a night. If you live in cave with your dog and a 90s-era booklight for companionship, you should attend a panel Thursday morning and then fly home.

  1. Have a quiet place to decompress.

If you’re sharing a hotel room or airbnb, agree on quiet hours and whether you will be bringing friends/literary heroes/frenemies back to party and/or have unrewarding sexual encounters.

Ideal AWP hotel room quiet hours would be “from the time I arrive in LA until the time your plane leaves the tarmac”. Make a yes-no-maybe list, in each column including the disruptive activities you are both comfortable with happening in the hotel room. For instance, “tiptoeing in well-padded socks” should be on your yes list. On your no list, “coughing multiple times in an hour or after 7pm.”

An inflexible roommate, or one with a head cold, may refuse to adhere to even these simple rules. Fortunately, convention centers have many out-of-the-way, carpeted nooks. (If you’re making your living off either writing or teaching, the convention center’s carpeted nooks will be much nicer than your hotel room anyway. You may even opt to sleep here.) Use these comfy spaces to write, tweet, organize your notes or curl into the fetal position. Because your fellow writers are observant (if nothing else), expect others to follow your lead. When this happens, be friendly. Make some amiable small talk! You will soon have your cozy nook all to yourself.

  1. If you don’t like the panel you’re at, leave.

Some people go to a panel, grab a seat in the front and stay there, no matter if the panel is called, say, “How To Teach A Riveting Composition Class”, and the first presenter whispers his entire presentation into the carpet, then cries himself to sleep at the podium. Actually, that would be interesting. What is much more likely is that either the panel turns out to be on a completely different topic than it claimed, the panel called itself a “probing discussion” but is actually a guerrilla reading of conceptual poetry, or the participants will obviously have thrown together a completely arbitrary panel only to get discounted registration [no I have never tried to do this, I’m offended you would even ask] and are monotoning their way through a badly organized presentation whose subtext screams WE WOULD LIKE TO RETURN TO THE HOTEL BAR NOW PLEASE.

This is one of those times when you really should do what everyone else is doing. See them? They sat right by the door and are now slipping quietly out the side doors and heading to Hip-Hop As Poetic Form or 5,000 Reasons We Rejected Your Manuscript. Some of you feel guilty just reading about imaginary conference attendees walking out of an imaginary panel. You feel terrible for that imaginary panelist who cried himself to sleep. That’s wonderful! You have lots of empathy–which is great for your writing. You know what else is great for your writing? Going to a panel that doesn’t suck.

  1. The book fair I: make friends.

Take advantage of your first dud panel experience to visit the book fair. Ideally, this will happen Thursday at 9:15am, when the book fair tablers are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and have not yet remembered how much they would rather be at home collating something. Book fair people–editors, journal readers, faculty–are really, really nice. Astonishingly nice. THIS IS THE ONLY TIME DURING THE WHOLE YEAR WHEN PUBLISHERS WILL BE NICE TO YOU. Take advantage of this friendly environment to learn about presses that might be a good match for your work. Apply any dating advice you’d give to a hetero teenage boy to your own behavior: express a genuine interest in the girl, ask thoughtful questions, give more than you take and no matter how much you want to get laid, do not assume she owes it to you or that your horny attention is necessarily a compliment. (Analogy legend: girl=small press; take an interest= buy something or at least consider buying something; laid = published; horny = what your impersonal desperation to be published looks like to an unpaid editor.) As in teenage dating, the bar is pretty low, so be a gent and vault it.

  1. The book fair II: shop early and shop wisely.

Before you arrive at AWP, consider your budget, setting an amount you can afford to spend on books (versus food, drinks, entertainment and cab/lyft rides). Quadruple that number. That is the amount you will spend.

Prioritize what books you want to purchase in roughly this order:

  • books by your friends and/or teachers
  • books you know you will buy anyway (and this way your $$ doesn’t go to paypal or Visa or amazon or other form of unspeakable evil you subscribe to)
  • books and magazines from presses you think might be right for your work
  • books by a panelist you liked or someone you heard read at an event
  • books you like the cover design of
  • books that include a free tote bag or at least some candy
  • books that are near someone cute and/or book-nerd famous who you are hoping will be impressed by your purchase
  • books you are gripping so tightly you have broken the spine because there are 3,000,000 people crammed into this book fair and it’s got to be against fire code and if there is a fire you will get trampled and die of a combination of shattered bones AND suffocation which have to be the two most painful ways to die

It’s smart to buy books you want by Friday, as they do tend to sell out.


“Bad Things That Happen To Girls” available in print, online and by podcast

I had the simultaneously unsettling and awesome experience of hearing complete strangers (smart ones) read and discuss my story, “Bad Things That Happen To Girls”, on this podcast yesterday. (Is this what being a grown-up writer feels like?) It was part III of what’s been a dreamy little post-Nelligan Prize ride:


Part I: see above.

colorado review

Part II: Lauren Groff said these things! And she’s a writer I love!!

Part IV, somewhat unrelatedly, is that Fourteen Hills nominated my end-of-the-world pussy story, “Destroyed Flowers Everywhere“, for a Pushcart Prize. I really respect the editors at 14H, and it means a lot to me that they liked my story enough to give it special mention.

Is it obnoxious to go on about this stuff? I don’t know. (Is it internalized misogyny that causes me to feel ashamed for publicizing good news? Probably.) What I do know is that this is the first time strangers are reading–and being affected–by something born out of my weird and secret little brain. I’ve been writing (and quitting writing) for my whole life, meanwhile inside this fantasy we all have, that someone might care about the things I’m dreaming up. For this second anyway there’s proof (hello, inner accountant) that someone does. I hope I can hold onto this feeling. And fuck it. I’m happy.

P.S. You can read the Nelligan Prize story online for free here or listen to it here.