“Rhinestone Cowboys”—A Seven-Part Essay Series

I wrote a 7-part essay series for Coil Mag (Alternating Current) exploring my love of the problematic Western genre. Part-memoir, part-historical, with original watercolors, “Rhinestone Cowboys” looks at erased stories, forgotten films, rewritten history, and memory, asking: AT WHAT COST? WHY AND HOW IS THIS GENRE, STILL, SO SIGNIFICANT?

You can read the full, seven-part series here (and each chapter below). You can find some of the watercolors (and more of my art) here.

Part 1: All Down But Nine
Part 2: Crooked as a Virginia Fence
Part 3: Acknowledging the Corn
Part 4: Shoot, Luke, or Give Up the Gun
Part 5: Beat the Devil Around the Stump
Part 6: Rode Hard and Put Up Wet
Part 7: Flannelmouthed Liars

Eternally grateful for Leah Angstman and everyone at Alt Current/Coil for giving me the space to discuss these films, the Western genre. Eternally grateful to y’all that came on this ride with me.

New CNF piece “Blue Raspberry” at The Boiler

I’m thrilled that my CNF piece “Blue Raspberry”—about my time working at Abercrombie & Fitch, feelings of inadequacy, and the lengths we’ll go to to fit in—is in the new issue of The Boiler: 

When I woke up twenty or so minutes later, I had drooled on the clothes, made a sort of nest. I looked at myself in the mirror: ruddy-faced, blood-shot eyes, sunken cheeks. On the wall behind me hung a poster advertising the new styles of jeans for the upcoming winter season. I admired the way they hung on the hips of the male model, how they fit him perfectly, even though I knew how these photos worked: clothes pinned and pulled back, tightened and loosened for maximum perfection.

I’m really so thrilled—The Boiler is a fantastic journal and I’m stoked to be a part of this double-sized, superb issue; a huge thanks to Sebastian for including this piece.

2018 Best of the Net Nomination – “Holograms” (Little Fiction)

I’m grateful: My short story “Holograms”—about a young woman trying to find her place in the world while working a crummy summer job at the Michigan International Speedway in the early 1990s—was nominated for the Best of the Net by Little Fiction!

I”m thrilled to be a part of this stellar cohort. A huge thanks to Beth Gilstrap and Troy Palmer of Little Fiction for being so gracious and championing this piece.

You can read “Holograms” online here.


“Rhinestone Cowboys Part 6” at The Coil Mag

In my penultimate RHINESTONE COWBOYS essay, “Rode Hard and Put Up Wet,” I write about the West we are left to imagine but never see:

The Western became popular — especially back east, in cities, a world away from its goings-on — for many reasons: a desire for wide open space, freedom from the government, the allure of being dependent on no one and nothing but your wits. It was pandering, plain and simple, that drummed up the tall tales and the myths that crawled into our collective consciousness.

You can read the previous chapters here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Coming in Part 7 (the Finale): Lou Diamond Phillips in Young Guns II and the legacy of the American West in film.

“Rhinestone Cowboys Part 5” at The Coil Mag

In Part 5 of my bi-weekly essay series RHINESTONE COWBOYS at The Coil, I write about the lack of Native American representation and the erased role of the “other” in Western films:

The pulp stories — and tall tales — that lived on before westward expansion and through today are, too often, harmful stereotypes. We learn in history classes so little about the West and then fill that vacuum with everything gobbled up in popular culture — it’s unlike any other genre in any other medium, perpetuating dangerous misunderstandings and racist stereotypes.

You can read the previous chapters here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Coming in Part 6: Richard Harris in Unforgiven and Revisionist Westerns.

Workshop — Iowa Writers’ House (October 2018)

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Iowa Writers’ House in Iowa City, October 26-28.

My course, titled The Searchers: Finding the Story in the World; Shaping the World into Words, will look at only work through what it means to be a storyteller, but how to find the story worth telling—keeping ourselves and our readers engaged.

Here’s the full course blurb:


In “The Searchers,” author and publisher Robert James Russell will not only work through what it means to be a storyteller, but how to find the story worth telling—keeping ourselves and our readers engaged. As writers, it’s easy to forget that we arestorytellers—take away social media and publication fanfare, and what we’re left with, at a most basic level, is our desire to tell a story we feel is important and necessary. But how do we know what makes a good story? Whether the material is better suited for a poem or vignette? Whether you’ve stitched together the right pieces to yield the most effective whole?    

In this course, Russell will address these questions, helping writers determine when to identify when a story or manuscript is too light on detail or when it’s overwritten; he will give advice on shaping a piece—from initial brainstorming through final edits—including how we carve stories out of our lives and create meaningful narratives; additionally, writers will, through various exercises, craft stories not only from their own experiences, but from the world around them, with an eye toward publication, ultimately asking: What is the story we’re trying to tell? Who is it we’re trying to reach?

Writers will leave this workshop with a renewed sense of vigor in their craft and confidence in their ability to suss out when a piece is working or not—when, and how, the story’s worth telling. In addition, we will discuss important resources for writers, examples of fiction and nonfiction that instruct and move us, and resources to get pieces published. This workshop is designed for writers of all levels and backgrounds.


The line-up of workshops/faculty this fall at IWH is incredible, and I’m overjoyed to be coming back.

For more information on my workshop (including pricing and registration), click here.

Workshop — Bending Genres

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching an online workshop with Bending Genres September 21-23, 2018!

My course, titled The Rapture of Being Alive: Plaiting Our Personal Narratives Into Flash Fiction, will look at how we can craft better flash fiction through mining—and weaving in—personal experiences, memories, and physical senses.

Bending Genres, brainchild of the supremely talented writer, editor, and teacher Robert Vaughan, offers a host of online and in-person workshops and retreats, aimed at beginners and experienced writers alike, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be participating.

For more information on my workshop (including pricing and registration), and information on all the IWH workshops, click here.


“Rhinestone Cowboys Part 4” at The Coil Mag

Part 4 of my seven-part, bi-weekly essay series RHINESTONE COWBOYS is up at The Coil Mag.

Here, I muse about the immigrant experience in Western films and how sometimes it takes an outsider lens to see ourselves clearly (including artwork of Ben Mendelsohn in Slow West):

It is through this perspective that we gain the best understanding of the genre’s importance — it doesn’t really matter what a cowboy is, but what the land and the open space and the attitudes and the ability to cobble a life together, a new, greater life, perhaps, say about becoming an American.

You can read the previous chapters here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Coming in Part 5: Wes Studi in Hostiles, and Native American representation in Western films.

New CNF “High Low” at Atticus Review

My CNF piece “High Low”—about being fourteen and church camps and awkward first kisses and how Nada Surf’s song “Popular” has affected me all these years—is up at Atticus Review:

When I have my first kiss a year later, as a sophomore—a late bloomer, my friends joke—we’ll be at her house in the basement playing point-and-click games on her computer, alternating between Sam & Max and Myst. She’s more popular than I am, but still not popular. I have no idea why she’s interested in me.

This is a super personal essay that took so much out of me to write and I’m grateful to Jen Maidenberg for publishing it.