“The missing girl’s got a mouth on her”

At the beginning of my NEA Fellowship, I worked as a temp. For my first assignment, I subbed for the switchboard operator at a local call center. At this point in the story, people usually say “I’m sorry, that sounds like the worst job in the world.” And it does — it totally does sound like the worst job in the world. In reality, it was actually kind of awesome. Though our relationship was at first strained, the telephone and I soon got33080577092_d5752f0a7d_k along famously. My co-workers were kind and supportive and wonderful, even though they knew I’d only be in their lives for a few weeks.

And there’s something about that, too. Temping is a bit like working as a ghost. People aren’t used to seeing you in the lunchroom or by the busiest Keurig or in the Subway down the street, chowing down on a Veggie Delight. Working as a ghost may sound terrible, but it’s a terrific blessing for a writer or for anyone who likes to eavesdrop, really.

There was a lot to listen to, too. That month, all of the TV and radio stations buzzed with the search for a missing teenage girl, who quickly became the subject of almost every conversation I overheard. No matter where I went, people worked through the details shared on the news, creating their own narrative. When it was revealed that she was traveling with her teacher, the details sometimes turned sinister — and, more often than not, they turned against the girl, transforming her from pitiful victim to predatory vixen.

In the lulled moments between tidal waves of incoming calls, I started putting together a poem about her story, about the ways in which she shifted and changed in characterization until it wasn’t — it couldn’t have been — her story anymore. I’m very lucky to say that that poem, “Amber Alert,” ended up in one of my favorite journals, The Shallow Ends. That link will take you to the main page, where a single poem appears every week. My poem is here, in the archives, if you’d like to visit it, too.

Also, I’ve got some pretty major news coming up, folks. As Rachel Maddow would say, watch this space.

Two Interviews

Around this time last year, I wrote a post in which I talk about the way I’d been presenting myself online as a writer. You can read the entire post here, but, in a nutshell, I realized that writers — myself very much foremost included — often post about our triumphs online: acceptances, publications, grants, awards, and general out-in-the-public-good-things. The truth is, though, that that’s not exactly the full truth when it comes to writing. For every triumph, there are twenty crumpled drafts sleeping in an overflowing trash can. For every acceptance, there are fifteen rejections (yes, I actually averaged that out). For every grant and award and prize and good thing, there are a thousand rejections, deadlines missed, failed drafts and frustrations and blocks of writer’s block so bad that the blank page starts looking like your worst nightmare. In other words, what you see of a writer and their work through their Internet presence is often only the tiniest sliver of a portion of what being a writer and doing that work actually means.

In that post last year, I promised to try to be more open about the writing process and the submissions process. I promised to focus on process, not just on product, and especially not just on published product. I’ve tried to keep that promise, but this whole


This is a photograph from the 1965 World Encyclopedia yearbook, in case you were wondering where my obsession with the Cold War came from.

life thing totally got in the way and I haven’t had time to keep that promise as fully as I’d hoped.

I have, however, been talking about my process in other places. The Bellingham Review was kind enough to publish two of my hybrid pieces — “A Portrait of the Body in Facts” and “Love, N.1” — in Issue 74. I’m always grateful to literary journals who treat their writers well, and the Bellingham Review treats their writers very, very well (if you’ve been thinking of sending some work their way, you should totally send some work their way). You’ll find a brief profile of me in the Contributor Spotlight section of their website. Full disclosure: I answered these questions right after having a procedure on my jaw and was still on pain meds, which may explain why I decided to send them a selfie in which I look angry at cameras, walls, and my own hair. It also may explain why I totally forgot to mention that “Love, N.1” was partially inspired by my obsession with reference books. As a kid, I spent a lot of afternoons with my father’s set of World Book Encyclopdias. A lot of the images that appear and re-appear most frequently in my work — birds, butterflies, human anatomy, planarian worms (honestly, that entry freaked me out more than almost anything else) — are the images I remember most from these books. Later, my love of reference books extended to the dictionary (in case you are at this point wondering, nope, totally didn’t do the sports or the popular thing when I was a kid). After reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, I found myself far into an obsession with the mother of all reference books: The OED. “Love, N.1” takes inspiration for its format — and some found content — from the OED.


A messy first draft of one of my Dateline poems.

Also, Stephen McClurg was kind enough to post an online conversation we had up at Eunoia Solstice. I’m not sure that my answers do his excellent and insightful questions justice, but I tried. Topics covered include but are not limited to: ampersands, etiquette books, death birds (which would be an excellent band name), private schools, pop culture, prosody, reality television, sprung rhythm, and sad trees (which would also be an excellent band name). You can check out the interview here.