White Oak Felled, Remembered

A massive, ancient tree being felled by lightning isn’t news in of itself. But I’m drawn to this story for a few reasons: First, Michigan State University is my alma mater. Second, I remember this tree when I went to school there. Finally, this tree existed for nearly 200 years before the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan (MSU’s predecessor) was even formed.

It’s a nice a change of pace from headlines that read “Massive white oak removed by school to make room for blahblah”—we see enough of these headlines. For me, this fascination with physical place as a starting point for memory, as something that can affect us emotionally, is hugely important to my work, my thought process. I look at old growth forests, for example, and wonder what the world was like when they were yet saplings. I wade through forests and undergrowth and am in awe of all those that came before and stood, perhaps, exactly where I stand. In this instance, I calculate how big this tree must have been already when American itself was born. I find this exercise humbling, and, for my writing, it ignites deep within me: who are we, our problems, in relation to this magnificent natural world? I tend to start with place when I write anything, I start their and branch out, so this thinking helps me put myself in relation to the world.

Per the Lansing State Journal:

A small portion of the centuries-old tree remains between the MSU Museum and Linton Hall in the West Circle area of campus. It previously shaded a stone water fountain dedicated by the class of 1900, which served both humans and the horses they rode to campus. Before that, the land around what is now West Circle was occupied by local Native American tribes, Telewski said.

You can read the whole article here. Here’s hoping they do something appropriate with the remains (on display, somewhere, perhaps?).

2016 Pushcart Prize nomination

Well, fantastic! I’m thrilled to have my story “Wolf Hunt, 1946” represent Cowboy Jamboree Magazine‘s 2016 Pushcart Prize nominations.

My story, about a girl in 1946 who goes hunting for a wolf in the wilds of a mountainous forest, can be read online.

Really grateful to Adam and Constance at Cowboy Jamboree Magazine—means a heck of a lot. The others they nominated…I’m in some stellar company. Really honored.


I have a particular fascination with forests. I try, often, to figure out: Where did this come from? And then, I think, it’s always been because of its life—when you stand in the woods you can sense life around you: birds and bugs and the earth and, of course, the trees themselves. Thus, this TED talk gets to me, deeply:

“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery—trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

We know so little about forests, about what’s beneath our feet—how it all works together. Figuring this out, or starting to figure this out, is endlessly fascinating—and vital. For too long we have treated trees, and plant life itself, as non-intelligent. We’re just now starting to see how wrong we were. It is imperative we understand what it is we are razing, paving, and otherwise dismantling, and how this will, inevitably, harm us beyond the obvious ways. Seeing that there is a communication at work here like we had otherwise not envisioned is illuminating.

Comic: The Terrible Speed of Mercy

Here’s something fun: uber-writer and uber-human Jeremy Bronaugh and I put together a cute little Ghost Rider comic called The Terrible Speed of Mercy. The idea was simple: How horrible would it be for Ghost Rider to go grocery shopping? Everything he touches becomes imbued with the fires of hell…what would that look like?

So, I wrote the story (wordless, which, IMO, was needed here) and Jeremy drew and colored this gorgeous piece of art. Seriously: Jeremy rocks, and I’m honored to have worked with him on this. the-terrible-speed-of-mercy-color

New story “Wolf Hunt, 1946” in Cowboy Jamboree Magazine

I wrote a little story about a girl in 1946 who goes hunting (by herself) for a wolf in the wilds of a mountainous forest (titled, aptly: “Wolf Hunt, 1946”) in the new issue of Cowboy Jamboree Magazine:

She had been tracking the beast alone for much of the morning, fearless as she wandered beneath great clusters of tamarack that surrounded the wetlands to the east, the great swatches of red maple and black ash that blanketed the north. She had brought with her only a rucksack filled with dried fruit and bits of moose jerky and had, slung over her shoulder, the Remington 550-1 which had belonged to her grandmother, acquired years earlier in order to protect herself and their land. It wasn’t a wolf-hunting gun—it wasn’t the caliber for such an undertaking—but she had no other choice.

I’m honored to be sharing space with these other tremendous. This new issue is subtitled “With Alacrity!”—and boy, howdy, is it.

You can also download/view the issue directly as a PDF.

Visiting Writer, University of Findlay, October 20, 2016

I am beyond honored and excited to be visiting the University of Findlay on October 20 to talk shop with some creative writing classes, and to read from my new book (due out next year by Dock Street Press), New Plains.

The main event, my reading, will be held in Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Room 254, at 8 PM, and it’s open to the public.

If you live in the Findlay/Ohio-ish area, stop on by!

More information here.

New flash piece “Where Sawgrass Meets Sky” at Saw Palm

I’m excited to have a little flash fiction piece—called “Where Sawgrass Meets Sky”—at Saw Palm‘s Florida narrative map project:

Hugging the road is a guard rail, like any other, and past that is an expanse of … grass? Is this swamp? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen swamp. I look closer, narrow my eyes: Rows of long grasses bordered by humps, mounds of dirt and earth. Is this a farm? I’m thinking about what I know of Florida, what they grow here besides oranges. These don’t look like orange trees.

My piece takes place in Ft. Lauderdale, eating Sub Zero-brand ice cream. I absolutely adore Saw Palm, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this project.

Film, Thoughts: Midnight Special

As the eponymous character Mud says dreamily in the Jeff Nichols film Mud: “She is like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.”

This is how I feel about Jeff Nichols’ oeuvre: He creates films grounded in reality, characters bogged down by darkness that are trying, desperately, to do right, and yet there’s something hazy, surreal, even, about them that draws you in, hypnotizes.

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Nichols has said in interviews (this is me paraphrasing, natch) that he does not care for weighty, unnecessary exposition. That he strives for emotion over plot. This, I think, leads to a richness and depth to his characters, which compliments the natural unfurling of his stories (with zero info dumps, I might add, to date!) he’s known for. There is plot in each of his films, absolutely, but it’s secondary to crafting very real worlds, wherever/whatever they may be, and very real characters. In the case of Midnight Special, we believe in Michael Shannon’s pain, his love for his enigmatic/alien son. When we see glimpses at the end of a world that sits atop our own, see beings made of pure light walk among us for a moment, towering, otherworldly structures twisting up and peering down at us…it’s not silly. It’s gut-wrenching and tender. Like the gobsmacked bystanders we hover over, we’re in awe, too.

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I think, if pressed, I’d say Take Shelter is my favorite of Nichols’ films, but there’s something so wonderful about Midnight Special, its frenetic energy, its ability to pierce my nostalgia center while still giving me something new and startlingly unique, that makes me think I may, upon subsequent viewings, change my mind and re-order this list someday.

Look, this is everything I want a movie to be. We’re drenched with stellar performances, and even the background players—whose characters aren’t nearly as fleshed out (nor need to be), such as Adam Driver and Joel Edgerton—are lush and full of life and histories. We don’t see these histories on screen—for example, we don’t find out where Kirsten Dunst’s character has been the past couple of years—but we believe that there are stories there, events that have happened, and see this guilt and weatherdness and history in the dialog (written) and the performances (acted). And, again, there’s no unnecessary info dumps here—Do we ever really know what The Ranch is? What they were previously doing prior to Alton’s downloaded sermons? No, and it doesn’t matter)—and the film is better for it. We get what we get, when we get it, and not a moment before. And that, to me, is a strategy I wish more filmmakers/screenwriters would embrace (which The Witch also did so well): to trust in our ability to figure it out.

This is a pulpy chase film with serious heart, serious acting chops, gorgeously shot and scored, with a supernatural third act that’s incredibly moving, and I can’t stop thinking about it, can’t recommend it enough.

My score: 5 out of 5 swim goggles


2016 Waasnode Fiction Prize runner-up

I am absolutely thrilled and honored that my story “She Lit a Fire” has been selected as runner-up for Passages North‘s 2016 Waasnode Fiction Prize runner-up.

Judge Tiphanie Yanique had this to say about it:

This story is written smartly from the first person perspective of a father who is witnessing his transgendered child’s transition from male to female. Though the father is a dead beat and the child an angsty young adult, the reader feels for both of them as they navigate the American wilderness on an impromptu camping trip. A darkness at the heart of the trip keeps the reader feeling on edge. Ultimately, it is the dad who undergoes at least a couple of transitions over the course of the story.

“She Lit a Fire” will be appearing in Issue 38, which is due out in 2017. I am humbled and so excited and can’t thank the judges enough for selecting my piece. Eep!

Check out the Passages North site for more information.

Interview at WMUK (NPR)

I was recently interviewed by Zinta Aistars for her WMUK (NPR Affiliate) program Between the Lines about my work with the non-profit Writers’ Center Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters (GLCL):

Robert Russell is the director of development at GLCL. Asked about what GLCL does, he brims with enthusiasm. “Literary arts are open to everyone. Anyone can write down thoughts. You don’t have to be published. There is healing in writing. It’s a kind of therapy, and it also connects people. I’ve always thought the literary arts are vastly under-appreciated.”

You can listen to the entire interview at the above link. And you can find out about GLCL here.

Thanks to Zinta and everyone at WMUK for having me—I’m beyond honored to be able to participate in this important conversation.