Tag Archives: publication

Comfort in a Cookie

You Are Not What You EatFor an exercise in my fiction workshop, each student was given a fortune cookie and asked to interact with it. We interacted: we broke them, read the fortunes, nibbled on the cookie chunks or chomped them down in one bite. The exercise was about magical thinking in our own lives and our readers’ lives, and how stories so often rely upon the magic of symbols, the mystical confluence of coincidences. Despite of our capacity for logic, we often attach special meaning to mundane things.

I wanted to resist that superstitious behavior. I am, after all, a pretentious English Major, cold and unfeeling, so I instinctively dismiss all fortunes found in cookies, or any other bourgeois baked goods.

In this class, we have also discussed publication (and lack thereof) at great length. “Writing is an industry of rejection,” the instructor has pointed out. While we try to have thick skin, rejections pile up and start to hurt. So when I read my fortune, I will admit that for a moment I gave into magical thinking:

You will soon be receiving some good written news.

It could have been written just for me. Why not? Why can’t I find a little comfort in a cookie? Most writers know to take rejections in stride, but it’s difficult to take for so long, so why not admit that I wanted some factory-produced strip of paper to let me know that if I wait just a moment longer, I’ll get a big publication in a well-known journal?

After class yesterday, I checked my email, and was surprised to find a response from a literary journal I’d sent a collection of environmental poems to back in December. My heart skipped a beat as I read the email quickly, and to my utter amazement, the journal rejected the poems.

Maybe you thought for a moment that I got a big publication. I’d hoped so, too. Maybe I’ve just demonstrated how easily I can connect an arbitrary object (a fortune cookie) with the right combination of values and aspirations lurking in you, the reader. Or maybe not. Perhaps I’ve manipulated your own experience with rejection, especially if you’re a writer. This is an industry of rejection, and good fortune doesn’t correlate with publication. I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep writing and revising, and every now and then I’ll allow myself the comfort of dreaming that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get some good written news.

Fellow writers, how do you cope with rejections? Or have you fortuitously gotten any publications lately? Let me know in the comments, and spread the writerly love.


Letter to My Future Self Before My First Reading

Brick Wall Portrait

Dear JK,

I’m writing to you because you are about to give your first reading as a published writer, because you stand on the edge of a stage or conference room with a book in your hand, one that you wrote. I don’t know if it will be a collection of poems, short stories, essays, a novel, or a memoir, but I hope it’s good. I want to remind you of a few things.

Right now, I write to you from a place of uncertainty. I’m surrounded by brilliant writers; the competition is tough, and my creative impulse waivers at a moment’s notice. Rejection is a constant, and probably always will be. So before you begin reading, thank the audience for attending. They don’t owe you their ears but you owe them gratitude, and more than that, you owe them a good show.

Remember to read like a presentable version of yourself. Be a performer. Slam your stories, sing your poems, dance your essays. Dig deep to make it memorable.

Remember everybody who brought you to this point: friends, colleagues, allies of your writing, advocates for your experimentation. Remember professors, agents, editors, and your family. They put you behind that mic, after all. Your enemies, hopefully, will show up and sit stroking their lap dogs and sneering at you from the front row.

Obviously your forty-seven lovers will attend as well, so give them a nod of thanks for the inspiration they painted across your body. After all, they gave you something to write about in the first place.

Please remember that you are not here because of you deserve it. You’re here because the world gave you a head start and you navigated forward. The world does not owe you this reading, nor the publication it celebrates. Anybody can write, but only a privileged few can publish. I’m glad that you’ve made it through the fire-branding scorn of rejection and the whiplash of criticism.

Keep one final fact in mind before you step up to the mic: this reading begins your afterlife.

I write to you from the position that getting a book published and reading it publicly, bringing it to life with my voice (ugly as it is) is only an impossible dream. After it happens, I can die happy. And now that you, future self, are going to fulfill this pre-death wish, you are about to embark on an afterlife. Nothing that happens after this first reading can ever hurt you, because you’ve already beaten mortality to your dreams. The time between the moment you begin reading and the moment you give in to the biological inevitability of silence will be the equivalent of Eternity. It will be heaven from here on out, no matter what hell the critics put you through. Nothing can hinder the momentous beauty of what you are about to do. So, I implore you, enjoy the reading. Even if it ends up being your last, even if you end up without a career or subsequent publications, you’ve already made it to heaven.

I hope it’s nice there.

Sincerely and forever writing forward,


P.S. I hope you’ll never forget how much of a hopeless romantic you really are, and that you spent so much time listening to Father John Misty’s “I Went to the Store One Day” while writing letters to yourself.

Two Poems Published in NEAT

Portrait of the City as FatherhoodI’m pleased to announce that two poems of mine, “Portrait of the City as a Love Story” and “Fatherhood,” have been published in Issue 9 of NEAT, a lovely online journal showcasing Midwestern writers, and the edition is up for viewing now. I’d be honored if any and all read them, and the other excellent work in this edition of NEAT. There’s obviously only one adjective to describe this: cool.

While the city in this picture is Lincoln, the first poem was actually written in Minneapolis.


P.S. I listened to “Tristesse Suspendue” by Chic Gamine and “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family wile writing and revising these two poems, respectively. The songs should demonstrate the drastically different moods I was in while writing them.

Big League Academia

New WriterTwo months into my first year of graduate school, I think I’ve finally started to settle in. The workload is not beyond my management (I somehow function better with less sleep), the faculty are just as thoughtful and thought-provoking, and my descent deeper into the cult of academia is going smoothly; soon, I’m told, I’ll be a card-carrying postmodernist. The support my writing receives is frequent, and the possibility of a writing career is even starting to take shape.

For example, this past week I had the opportunity to meet with two agents and two editors, to have them critique a section of my novel-in-progress and discuss the publishing industry. They told me what they liked about the short section, offered insights, made revision suggestions, and allowed me to see the project in grander terms. I learned that when I eventually get an agent and editor, publishing becomes a collaborative effort, a group project. They offered to stay in contact when I have a polished draft. Suddenly, the fantasy of publication no longer feels so impossible.

Is this it? Is this the next step for my writing? Or is this just the next phase in my hike up the ranks into academia? I ask myself this question because I’m surrounded by people who have it figured out already. I’m surrounded by serious academics, doctoral students devoting years to studying, students fulfilling long-term plans. Many of them took a break after college to figure out the rest of their lives, get married, travel, go on adventures, experience things they can then write about. And here I am, fresh out of my undergraduate career.

Am I here because I want to be a writer, or because I want to be an academic? I feel like a kid who doesn’t yet know what he wants to be when he grows up, and time is running out. Do I teach? Get a PhD? Another MA? An MFA? Is there life after publication? Or should I let my ambitions dictate my future? Tired of studying tragedy but never taking that study out of the classroom, I still want to join a charity, volunteer in a hospital in Palestine or Afghanistan or Jordan, or work on an organic farm in Chile or Brazil. I want to see the world, because I know if I stay in the confines of an English Department, I’ll run out of things to write about.

I’m still just a kid, academically speaking, and I’m surrounded by intellectual adults. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked about my PhD, as if that’s the only end in sight, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve silently shrugged and changed the subject. I only have until next fall to figure it out, though. Do I become a career academic? Teach? Work? Let me know in the comments your own thoughts or plans.


Who’s Afraid of Creative Nonfiction?


I’m pleased to announce that my creative nonfiction essay “Connecting the Dots” has been published in the Fall 2015 edition of Away. I also have the pleasure of announcing two additional publications, one poem and one nonfiction essay, forthcoming in Spring through NAU, but those will get their own post when the time comes.

This publication marks several firsts for me: the first nonfiction publication, the first piece that was workshopped heavily in a creative writing class, and the first time I’ve worried about how my audience will react. Creative nonfiction is difficult to write; unlike fiction, in which I can distance myself from the conflicts through artificial characters and situations, nonfiction requires me to place my own life under the lens. And now I have two nonfiction essays about to circulate. One is a love story; the other is about a moment in my life when I came close to committing suicide.

Nevertheless, labeling something nonfiction lends an air of authority to the subject. I can claim responsibility for my actions and thoughts more concretely, and thereby claim more certainty in how I articulate my understanding of the truth. I’m proud of this publication, and I’d be honored if any and all read “Connecting the Dots” as well as the other great nonfiction essays in Away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more writing to do.


P.S. While writing this essay, I listened to Bizet’s Menuet from his L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2, which I reference directly in the essay; “All is Well” by one of my best friends Ryan Biter, which encompassed what I felt at the time; and Chateau Lobby # 4 (In C for Two Virgins), by Father John Misty, for no particularly special reason whatsoever.

One Final Poem Again

By tradition, I try to write a poem every day during April, and by tradition, I always fail but nevertheless end up with a stack of pretty good poems. Last year, though, my final poem for the month accompanied a stinging cloud of rejections; this April is different. Tonight, a ten-minute play I wrote will receive a staged reading at Firecreek Coffee in downtown Flagstaff;  two days later, a short story I wrote will be published in Garbanzo Literary Journal. At the beginning of this month, I attempted a poetry slam, though my poetry simply cannot be slammed. So to conclude National Poetry Month, by tradition, here is one final poem.

Tray of Flowers

In Which the Love Poem Deconstructs Itself

This is only a love poem
no different from the ones that grow every Spring
along the spindly fingers of trees pointing in all directions.

This is only a love poem
that wishes to drop the word “only” from its rank.

This is a love poem longing to separate itself
from all the other love poems,
green with confident cliches.
This is an autumn love poem, blushing red
at the realization that it has slipped
from the branch in deliverance.

This is a love poem
that wants to be more than everything
love poems are expected to be,
wanting to be a knotty hurricane of flowers
pulled from the oven when its recipient
expected only a mediocre cake.

This is a love poem that wants to evolve
and move the genre entirely
from its obsession with nature imagery
and comparison of love to concrete things,
usually in long, organized lists,
moving swiftly from leaves in Spring
to leaves in Autumn to flowers in the oven;
it wants to subvert itself, come out of its cocoon,
but keeps falling into the trap of its own patterns.

This love poem wants to be a nightlight
that keeps its recipient warm at night,
or cold if its recipient so desires,
but this love poem is going places,
it’s creating a makeshift bed of compassion,
but is still dissatisfied with its direction.

This love poem wants to be a nightlight
but one that only glows laughter,
because this love poem is on the cusp of an epiphany,
realizing that no matter how deeply a love poem plunges
into a spiraling pantheon of epiphanies,
no matter how many times it reinvents itself,
this love poem will only be able to convey
its own simplicity, its deep green reduction
of twelve quasars of emotion to a single four-letter word;
its stanzas, like bricks atop one another,
will eventually fall into a pile,
making love poems a fleeting matchstick,
but the love inside this love poem,
the poem slowly begins to realize,

will st ill b e there

af ter

lan               gua                  ge

in     evi         tab       l      y

f           a               i                  l                       s


The Case of the Empty Inbox

The Vast Unknown In December, I submitted five short stories to small literary presses and journals for potential publication. One sent me a rejection within a week, but the rest took their time. Four months later, I had received one new rejection, leaving three still looking over my work or letting it rust in a fat stack of emails from countless other writers.

Curious about the long wait, I looked up each remaining journal to check the reading periods, see if they posted information about a delay, or (I vainly hoped) had published my work and simply forgot to tell me. I remembered that one journal had not sent a confirmation email, and I discovered that it was no longer active, and indeed no longer available. Their links on databases for writers only took me to empty Could Not Be Found pages. Information about it existed on other sites, blogs, and five-year-old lists of calls for submissions, but the journal itself was simply gone. I know it was up and running in December when I sat at a cold kitchen table adjusting my cover letter and drinking Christmas-gift coffee. It’s not surprising that small online journals struggle, even stop publishing, but what would prompt it to vanish from the face of the Internet?

Somewhere in the foggy bays of the web sits an email containing a short story, a cover letter, and my name at the bottom. Is it still drifting along in the electronic waves, lost forever? Did it find itself to the inbox before the editors abandoned their little island? Did anybody bother to unpack the document in its cargo? Did other emails not make it in time and drift away into the darkness? I once read a sample of short stories and poems from this journal, not only defunct but scuttled and drowned, without proof that anybody once perused its archives, and it’s a bit spooky. I will probably never know why the little journal disappeared. The mystery may go unsolved forever.