New essay “Dolos” at Gulf Coast

The final part of my art + words series ORIGIN STORY is up at Gulf Coast. DOLOS examines my fraught history with water, estranged family relationships, how we’re irrevocably changing the planet.

I’ve seen breakwater works all over the world, often crude blocks of rock or cement dropped in shallow waters as a deterrent, or used to help create jetties. Here, I’m stunned not just at the quantity of dolosse, but how they seem to halo the island, as ubiquitous as sand and rock and trees and rain. I lean up from the back seat of the tour van and ask the driver if he knows about them, how old they are, if he has any information about them. 

He doesn’t know what I’m talking about at first, so I point to a dolos, then the scores of others we pass. East of us, a storm is darkening the sky. The waves are violent and crashing. He says, laughing, “They protect us from god.”

Read Part 1 (Purple)
Read Part 2 (Wood)
Read Part 3 (Pigeon)

New essay “Holarctica” at Essay Daily

Delighted to have an essay about Nebraska at Essay Daily as part of their #Midwessay series. I write about the pains of leaving the upper Midwest and the beautiful joys of the prairie.

According to Nebraska pioneer folklore, to cure any illness in cattle, hang bittersweet around the animals’ neck.
     On a hike in a nature preserve, after I see a penned-in herd of buffalo grazing lazily in a greened-over pond, I find a strand of bittersweet growing wild along the trail. I stop and look up. It really is spears of pink light here chucked down from heaven. The buffalo snort, indifferent to my presence. A Cooper’s hawk circles above, hungry for field mice and toads, clearing the path ahead. I put a wad of the bittersweet in my front pocket and carry on. It’s still too early to see if it’ll make any difference at all.

New essay “Pigeon” at Gulf Coast

Part 3 of my four-part art + words essay series ORIGIN STORY is up at Gulf Coast. PIGEON examines pets and death, the routes we take in life, and our oft-overlooked proximity to all living things.

What is it to call an animal or a plant a pest, anyway? To say it does not belong wherever it might find itself? We worry so much about words like endemic and exotic, forgetting that these beings will outlive us all, will find a way to migrate even if we weren’t here. We scour the globe, leave home, find adventures in new places. We spread ourselves along wall-sized, push-pin festooned maps in our bedrooms and wish to be anywhere but here. But an animal? Invasive. A plant? A weed.

Turns out, we just numb ourselves to the majesty surrounding us.

Read Part 1 (Purple)
Read Part 2 (Wood)

New essay “Wood” at Gulf Coast

Part 2 of my four-part art + words essay series ORIGIN STORY is up at Gulf Coast. Part 2 examines WOOD (but also: trees + our bodies + loss).

It’s 2008 and I’m living in a cheap apartment complex outside of Detroit. I’m in a relationship growing distant by the day; neither of us laugh any more, we barely talk. Instead, we eat takeout over my beaten up coffee table watching reruns of tv shows we’ve seen a hundred times already. The beige paint on the outside of my building is peeling, showing a light blue base coat. It’s springtime and wet here, showers almost every day, wind slapping the roof and cheap siding. Inside, they’ve pasted peel-and-stick wood paneling along the bedroom and living room walls as some sort of placation.

Check out Part 1 here (all about purple).

New essay “Purple” at Gulf Coast

I’m absolutely thrilled to share Part 1 of my new four-part essay series ORIGIN STORY over at Gulf Coast. This first essay is all about purple and its origin—but also adolescence and identity, t-shirts and snails.

A pasture of violets in an abandoned construction lot down the street from my childhood home that will, decades later, be filled in with cookie-cutter homes. There are so many purple flowers sprouting up around massive piles of dug-up dirt and stray cinderblock foundations laid and forgotten that they—their color—is no longer a novelty. Alone, my bike laid against the trunk of a nearby fir, I pluck them in handfuls and grind them into my palms furiously to see if the color will rub off on me.

This series uses my art (a sample below), history, artifact, and personal anecdote to explore the origin of everyday objects and ideas and how they—and each of us—might yet be extraordinary. A huge shout-out to Kaj Tanaka and all the editors at Gulf Coast for giving me and this series a chance.

Check out Part 1 here.

Robert Russell, Lake, February (2021; watercolor on paper)

Round Robin: a CHEAP POP reading series

One thing I’m grateful for in 2020 is how the landscape of literary readings has changed. Where they used to be in-person only, tough-if-you-don’t-live-near-by events, accessibility of readings and author events via Zoom has exploded and given folks a chance to hear their favorite writers talk/read in a way they haven’t previously.

My darling CHEAP POP will be dipping into the online reading series circuit starting in November 2020 with the launch of ROUND ROBIN. The series (which I’ll be hosting) will be bite-sized readings by authors we’ve previously-published at CP, all centered around a theme (the theme for our first reading on Nov. 18, 2020 is CHANGE).

Incredibly excited about this opportunity to expand CP’s reach and give folks a safe, exciting (and, hopefully, inspiring) space to see/hear writers read and chat about their work. Details of our first event are in the image below: DM the CP Twitter account or email them at for the Zoom link/password. Hope to see you there!

Online (Free) Workshop: The Sky is a Story

I’m delighted to have a writing lesson called THE SKY IS A STORY up at Pidgeonholes as part of their LESSONS FROM A DISTANCE, a series of free writing workshops created on a range of topics by a range of authors.

What this lesson will (hopefully) get you to do is consider the words we, as writers, choose. Or, perhaps, maybe it’s this: think about what your default is, the crutches we all have—in word choice, but also genre, form, content, perspective and POV.

I use the sky and weather as an entry point to discuss word choice, plot points, the importance of world-building, while also touching upon other inspirations (like art) to help us build our writing vocabulary.

So, when we describe anything, we’re speaking figuratively, because we can’t literally, or actually, describe what any of us are experiencing.

What I want you thinking about is all the little things that make you who you are, on any given day, and how we lean into our words when we write. It’s hard to come up with new ways to say something, and the sky—and/or the weather—is a great place to start.

You can check out my lesson here, and the rest of the LESSONS FROM A DISTANCE curriculum is worth checking out, too.

Interviewing Sara Rauch for Fiction Writers Review

For Short Story Month at Fiction Writers Review, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Sara Rauch about her debut collection What Shines from It. We talked about finding inspiration in the natural world, Shel Silverstein, using visual art to help plot and plan, and the importance of hope.

I think of all those books I read, all those songs I listened to, when I was younger (hell, even now), that helped me understand there was something larger than myself out there in the world, something to look forward to, something to discover, something like solace, something like transcendence. If I can help bring any of those feelings, to anyone, through writing, then I will continue to attempt to do so, for as long as I am able.

You can read the whole interview here. Grateful to the editors of FWR, and for Sara Rauch for her time.

2020 F(r)iction Creative Nonfiction Contest

I’m thrilled to be the judge for F(r)iction’s 2020 creative nonfiction contest, along with uber-talents Charlie Jane Anders (short story), Devin Kelly (poetry), and Alina Stefanescu (flash fiction).

Per F(r)iction’s site:

Our editorial staff favors stories that celebrate the weird, take risks, and are driven by a strong, unique voice.

Submissions are due by March 31, 2020, with a $500 prize at stake.

You can find full particulars on the F(r)iction site. Good luck!