Booklist 2016 and my reading goals for 2017

It’s been another slow year in reading. I could make excuses — I spent the early part of the year mourning my grandfather’s death, and then we moved in the middle of the year, and I’ve been writing full-time since fall, and the election knocked the wind out of me — but they’re just excuses. Still, as last year, it’s been quality over quantity, and I’m happy with my list this year even if I am eager to start making a bigger dent in my to-read stack in 2017.

So here’s the list of books I read this past year:

  • 30 Americans: Rubell Family Collection
  • Reader’s Digest Complete Do-it-Yourself Manual
  • Adrianne Harun, The King of Limbo
  • Alec Clayton, Tupelo
  • Alexis M. Smith, Marrow Island
  • Andrew Malan Milward, I Was a Revolutionary
  • Barbara Drake, What We Say to Strangers
  • Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes
  • Bill Yarrow, Pointed Sentences
  • Bobby McDonald, Out of the Darkness: The Black Face of Hopkins County Volume III
  • Christian Kiefer, The Infinite Tides
  • David Mason, Ludlow
  • Doug TenNapel, Cardboard
  • Emily O’Neill, You Can’t Pick Your Genre
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Jac Jemc, A Different Bed Every Time
  • Jonterri Gadson, Blues Triumphant
  • Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, Rift
  • Len Kuntz, I’m Not Supposed To Be Here and Neither Are You
  • Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife
  • Margaret Malone, People Like You
  • Michael Hemmingson, Pictures of Houses with Water Damage
  • Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
  • Mo Daviau, Every Anxious Wave
  • Monica Drake, The Folly of Loving Life
  • Raina Telgemeier, Sisters
  • Rolfe Cobleigh, Old-Time Farm and Garden Devices and How to Make Them
  • Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  • Tim Winton, Dirt
  • Tony Earley, Tall
  • Tsunetomo Yamamoto, trans. by Alexander Bennett, Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai


And also, here’s a list of comics I’ve read, both in trade volumes and in single-issues I’m collecting:

  • Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls (issues 4-10)
  • Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk/Joelle Jones, Mockingbird (issues 1-8)
  • Jason Aaron and Olivier Coipel, The Unworthy Thor (issues 1 & 2)
  • Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman/Steve Epting, The Mighty Thor (issues 1-13)
  • Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, Spider-Gwen (issues 6-12)
  • Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, The Flintstones (issues 1-6)
  • Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, with Cliff Rathburn/ Stefano Gaudiano, The Walking Dead (trade Vol. 20-25)
  • Roxane Gay/Ta’Nehesi Coates/Yona Harvey and Alitha Martinez/Afua Richardson, World of Wakanda (issue 1)
  • Ta’Nehesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze/Chris Sprouse, Black Panther (issues 1-8)

I like to do breakdowns of my reading, just to see what I’m getting into and what I should read more of. This year, for some reason, story collections outweighed novels 9-7, which surprised me — pleasantly! I love story collections and they deserve more support.

I also only read 4 poetry collections, which feels like FAR too few, and only 4 nonfiction books and 3 religion/philosophy texts, which also feels light. (I also contributed chapters to a nonfiction text — a new student writing handbook for the community college I worked at. And writing nonfiction takes a hell of lot more time and effort than reading it!) Then again, my whole list this year is light, so I suppose it’s not as surprising as it feels.

The past few years, I’ve tried to be more conscious of the diversity in my reading habits, but habits being what they are — and the publishing industry operating the way it does — I often fail my own expectations. That was the case this year: of that list, only a bit more than a third are by or included women writers, and only eight titles are by or include writers of color. That’s not good enough.

To be fair, that’s partly because some of these are older nonfiction works from an era and in genres that favored men even more a few — or several — decades ago than they do now. And some of these are in a field that today still far too heavily favors male creators: comics. The comics I read this year involved nine people of color and six women as writers or artists (I don’t know the personal lives of all these creators, so I don’t know how many comics I’m reading involve LGBTQ writers or artists), but Black Panther and World of Wakanda alone account for six people of color and four women. These are two stunning, groundbreaking comics, but I still have plenty of work to do diversifying my reading habits, in comics and in general, so it’s something I’ll be looking at as the new year begins.

So that’s my mission for the coming year: read more books from the list my friends helped me create a few weeks back. Expand, learn, embrace, support.

And read, read, read.

May those efforts make for a happier 2017 for all of us, gang!

“We have no time for sorrows”


Like most straight guys my age — and, I’d be willing to wager, a great many gay guys and a great many women — I first fell in love with Carrie Fisher in her role as Leia Organa. And it wasn’t because she was a princess. It was because she was a fierce, determined fighter, an independent woman with the intelligence and fortitude not only to hold a leadership position in the Rebel Alliance but also to resist Darth Vader’s mind probes and stare down Grand Moff Tarkin even as he obliterated her home planet. And afterward, when Han and Luke and Chewie got themselves cornered in their attempt to rescue her, she saved the boys, blaster in hand and sharp commands on her lips.

Her character taught me a lot about what I should value in a woman.

Photo: Paul Archuleta, FilmMagic:
Photo: Paul Archuleta, FilmMagic:

But as I grew up and came to know Carrie Fisher as an actress beyond her role as Leia, and then as an author and a brave, outspoken feminist, I learned a much more profound respect for Carrie Fisher the person. She shared a lot of traits with the role that brought her fame, but as a human being, she deepened those traits, made them human. Her writing was wry and deeply smart, her Twitter commentary refreshingly blunt and comedic, her television appearances and interviews wicked and fiercely feminist. Her public and honest battles with her demons, inner and external, demonstrated profound bravery; her ongoing refusal to be boxed into any image, even one crafted by herself, was inspiring.

And now she is gone.

I am weeping over this today. Which is silly, really, because 1) I didn’t know Carrie Fisher at all except as a celebrity; and 2) she is just the latest in a long string of celebrity deaths this interminable, rotten year. There’s no reason her passing should feel so personal, let alone affect me more than any of the other celebrity deaths in 2016.

But it does feel personal. In many respects, Carrie Fisher — or, at least, Princess General Leia — was the first woman I loved, in that simplistic way one loves one’s idols as a child. And Fisher, the person, had so much to offer our world; her voice, now more than ever, was so necessary. Her humor and her ferocity and her humility and her feminism. Her contradictions: as Leia, Fisher exhibited a complicated mix of perspectives, sometimes cynical and biting and decrying the limitations of hope but also placing so much of her hope in others and carrying so much hope for others. As a writer and as a person, she expounded on that complexity, shared much deeper versions of that cynicism as well as hope.

6x6pxv7And now that she is gone . . . what? Do we wallow in our loss? Yes. I will, anyway. But then I remember a meme about Leia I saw the other day, about how Leia had lost everything — her parents, her entire planet, and in The Force Awakens, her brother, her husband, and her son — and yet she still held it together and never once was tempted to the Dark Side. And I remember a line from the first film, A New Hope, when she arrives at the Rebel base and meets with General Willard: he tells her he had feared for her when he heard the news about her planet, but, getting straight to business, Leia replies, “We have no time for sorrows, Commander.”

And so we carry on, in spite of our sorrows. We take up Fisher’s feminism, her determination, her humor, her self-reflection. We become our own hope.

But I’m still going to weep awhile longer. Because Carrie Fisher: you were our hope, and we miss you.

Ruining a box to extract a treasure

Okay, that title is dumb. I didn’t ruin the box at all. (My wife even complimented the pretty shipping label!) But I did cut the box open, and there’s a story there.

When my first book, Box Cutters — also a chapbook of short fiction — came out and I received my first copies in the mail, I cut open the box with a classic Stanley utility knife in honor of the title and cover image:


I used that same Stanley knife to open the first shipment of Hagridden:


And today, I used that Stanley knife to open my first shipment of Where There Is Ruin:



I love that Red Bird Chapbooks included that little handmade notebook with a red bird stamped on the cover! I also love that each copy of Where There Is Ruin is hand-numbered and includes a little drawing of this year’s red bird, an owl.



And yes, you’re reading that number correctly: this is a limited run of 100 copies, so get yours today!

But copies 1 and 2 are going to live on my bookshelf, in the fiction-collection section, right next to Box Cutters and in the company of Bill Roorbach and May-Lan Tan and Nance Van Winckel and John Carr Walker, as well as another Red Bird chapbook, Meg Tuite’s Her Skin is a Costume (that’s hers with the hand-stitching to the right of my books, just before Meg’s Bound by Blue).

Copy #3 goes to my parents (it’ll be in the mail soon, Mom!), and I have another dozen to sell, so look for me at readings in the Pacific Northwest! Or go ahead and order yours directly from Red Bird Chapbooks. What number will you get?

Bodhisattvas amid the ruin, and the treasure you can give

At my old Buddhist community in Portland, tonight would have been Bodhisattva Night, a social gathering (mostly for the kids, but definitely for the young at heart as well) in which the sangha comes together and talks about what it means, this time of year in the West especially, to give of oneself, wholly and without question, in the spirit of pure compassion.

Last year was my last Bodhisattva Night among my Portland Buddhist community, and I told a story there about my recently-deceased grandfather taking in a local homeless addict. But right now I’m remembering my first Bodhisattva night with my Portland community, when I told the story of a certain Christmas Eve back when I was in high school. My family was struggling then, so much so that — unbeknownst to my younger brother and sister — we were at risk of losing our house. I was just old enough then that my parents had confided in me the truth of our situation, but it still hadn’t really sunk in yet. That Christmas Eve, we attended our Presbyterian church as usual and the preacher gave a sermon about the needy, about the Christian importance of providing shelter and comfort, especially during the holidays. He explained that someone in the congregation was suffering greatly but quietly, that someone was at risk of losing their home, and I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, those poor people. I don’t know how long I’ll have my home, my small bedroom, but these people — wow. At least for now, I’m able to help them out,” and I tossed into the collection plate five dollars from my job bagging other people’s groceries.

Later that night — almost Christmas Day, by the clock — my family got a knock at the door. It was our Presbyterian minister. He didn’t stay long; he knew he was intruding on family time, especially so late at night. But he wanted to bring us a check from the church, representative of the funds the congregation had raised that night.

We were that family he’d spoken of.

16621936_1481239612-685Yesterday, a friend of my sister’s — the younger sister of my own high school friend, whom I’d worked alongside at that grocery store — lost her husband in a tragic car accident. And that family — suddenly — finds themselves under tremendous financial burden. These are young people, far too young to be thinking about life insurance or funeral costs. And it’s Christmas, and today is a birthday for one of that man’s children; another child’s birthday is next week. All of that — the birthdays, the Christmas, and everything that follows — is now at risk, because that family’s sole earner was taken from them in a terrible accident.

Right now, my sister and her friends are rallying around their former classmate to provide Christmas dinner and Christmas gifts for those kids. It is a tremendous and beautiful effort, a perfect example of the treasure one can find amid the ruin. But the family needs more than just one dinner and a few gifts. And there, you can help:

Go visit the GoFundMe site, set up by a friend of a friend, and donate if you’re able. Help that family in the way that, so many Christmases ago, a community helped my family.

Here Is My Ruin / Here Is My Treasure

The title of my new chapbook, from Red Bird Chapbooks, is Where There Is Ruin. It’s a title I borrowed from a line by Sufi poet Mevlana*:

“Where there is ruin, there is hope of treasure.”

When I told my mother the title, she thought it sounded awfully bleak, and indeed the stories in this collection might seem that way at first: a mother and son wrestling with the absence of a father, youth witnessing a teen suicide, dead pigeons invading a man’s balcony, forgotten bodies decaying in the woods. But in every story there is at least the possibility of hope and beauty and love, and for me, that’s the point: to find — to seek out — the pinprick glints of light in all our darkness, to breathe life into those little flames.

To that end, I’m announcing a movement, and you all get to participate. I’m calling it “Here Is My Ruin / Here Is My Treasure.” The idea is to post something online — a blog post, an Instagram pic, a Facebook status, a Tweet, whatever — about something that is generally considered broken, ruined, lost, or grieved but that you have found comfort and pleasure in.

For example, years ago, while traveling in Austria, my wife and I visited the Friedhof der Namenlosen (Cemetery of the Nameless) outside Vienna. The cemetery was established by neighbors in the 1840s to accomodate the lost, nameless bodies that washed ashore from the Danube. Some were suicides, some were accidental drownings, but all were mysteries — all, to translate literally from the German, had lost their names. So the people living in the area established the cemetery and built a little chapel and, for a hundred years, buried the lost bodies and cared for the graves.

A society cares for cemetery still, and while my wife and I walked among the iron crucifixes and slate placards, we marveled at the little flowers and wreathes adorning the graves. Then I spotted on one of the graves a decapitated teddy bear, bits of leaf stuck in the white fluff mushrooming from the neck-hole. I squatted beside it and scanned around until I found the head, face-down nearby in the dirt and evergreen needles. I retrieved the head and brushed it off and replaced it on its body atop a grave.

This is what I’m talking about:

Here Is My Ruin


Here Is My Treasure


And now it’s your turn. Consider your own ruin-turned-treasure, your own example of how you find comfort and hope in even the worst situations. Pick a platform — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your blog, the nearest telephone pole — and share your idea. Call it “Here Is My Ruin / Here Is My Treasure,” use the hash tags #HereIsMyRuin and/or #HereIsMyTreasure is appropriate, and somewhere in your post (preferably near the beginning and/or end) mention that it is in response to my chapbook Where There Is Ruin. And then link to the chapbook at Red Bird, like this:

Where There is Ruin, by Samuel Snoek-Brown, from Red Bird Chapbooks

Order here:

When you share your Ruin / Treasure, be sure to leave a link in the comments so I can check it out! And if you really do go staple yours up on a telephone pole somewhere, share a pic of it with me! 🙂

And don’t forget to order Where There Is Ruin from Red Bird Chapbooks!

* The Sufi poet Mevlana is more widely known in the West as Rumi. Either name is fine, but I’ve been to the man’s tomb in Konya, Turkey, and there, he was known as “Mevlana,” or “our master” — a teacher. I remember the reverence I felt in his tomb as I walked quietly amid the Muslim pilgrims praying in corners. I have carried that reverence with me, and ever since then, I have thought of him as the teacher, Mevlana.

Cover reveal for Where There Is Ruin!

It’s almost here! My new chapbook, Where There Is Ruin, will be out from Red Bird Chapbooks later this week! And today I’m revealing the cover!


The cover image is actually a detail from the painting Peace — Burial at Sea, by J. M. W. Turner (1842) (yes, that Mr. Turner).

It’s a perfect example of the Mevlana quote that inspired my title, “Where there is ruin, there is hope of treasure”: if you look at the original painting, of a steamer during the sea-burial of Turner’s friend David Wilkie, you might be so attuned to the ship — with its somber light surrounded by all that heavy smoke — that you wouldn’t even notice the tiny bird in the foreground sea, this quiet moment of release and freedom. But the folks at Red Bird Chapbooks spotted it, and it makes for a beautiful cover!

My chapbook will be out later this week, so stay tuned in the next couple of days for order information, promo material, and more Where There Is Ruin news!

Holiday shopping, literature, and a thousand lights in the coming night

Usually, around this time of year, I tell you all the books I’ve been reading, or all the books I’ve been buying, or all the books in the past year or so by friends of mine, and I suggest you make your holiday shopping list from it. It’s a way to support literature and my literary community.

This year, I’ve decided to do something slightly different.

A couple weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that I was building a holiday shopping list and asked for recommendations of books, recent or upcoming, that are by or that celebrate:

  • African Americans
  • American immigrants
  • Americans with disabilities
  • American women
  • Arab Americans
  • Latinx Americans
  • LGBTQIA Americans
  • Muslim Americans
  • Native Americans
  • and (as I wrote on that original Facebook post) “any other voices that you think will counter the nationalist white straight cisgender male bullshit that we will refuse to let dominate this nation”

More than two dozen people chimed in and built a wide-ranging list of books, a few classic but most of them recent, including memoirs, novels, poetry, and comics and graphic novels.

So this is your holiday shopping list, gang. As I wrote in my original FB post, “Out of the fiery oven of this furor, let us feed millions on our words.”

Many thanks to all those people — writers, publishers, librarians, teachers, and avid readers — for helping build the list. This is mostly their work; I’m just here to learn. In fact, many of these I haven’t read yet — I asked for this list in part to add these books to my own to-read shelf so I could listen through the page to all these beautiful perspectives — so I can’t say much about them all. But the folks who recommended these books said interesting things about them, and I think they’re all worth exploring. Some of the suggestions were for whole authors — someone’s entire opera — so for those, I’ve just listed the name followed by (in general). I’ve also added any books from my own reading this past year that do fit within the parameters I laid out above.

And now, at last, things for you to gift/read this holiday season and through the years ahead:


But wait, there’s more!

One person responding to my Facebook post recommended donating to or joining the ACLU (you can also give gift memberships to other people):

And a friend in Texas, whose African-American daughter has been the subject of racist attacks at her Texas college, has been reminding people of the importance (now especially so) of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s work to track hate crimes and protect victims of hate crimes. To support their efforts, you can donate or join here:

These reminded me of John Oliver’s excellent list of other potential organizations and charities we can support, as well as the list of ways to help the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their efforts to protect the drinking water of millions. So here is John Oliver’s list, with links (quoted from the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Facebook post):

  • To support women’s health, donate to Planned Parenthood ( or the Center for Reproductive Rights (
  • If you don’t believe manmade global warming is a silly issue, give to the Natural Resources Defense Council (
  • If you don’t think refugees are a terrorist army in disguise, donate to the International Refugee Assistance Project (
  • You may also want to donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (, the Trevor Project for LGBT youth (, or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (
  • And to support journalism, subscribe to a newspaper and donate to ProPublica (

And here is the list of ways to help the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux, from Indian Country Today:


Another way not listed on the Indian Country Today site is to support the two legions (yes, legions!) of veterans heading to the DAPL site to protect the water protectors. They have a fundraiser to help these veterans pay for transportation, food, gear, and emergency supplies:

And now it’s your turn, gang. What other books and writers should we be reading? What other organizations and efforts should we be supporting? Leave your thoughts in the comments — and please, keep the comments constructive. I shared this list to uplift and support and educate, and I’d like the comments to reflect that spirit.

On NaNoWriMo and writing the end

The first novel I ever finished was my undergraduate thesis. We English majors were supposed to write a 30-page scholarly essay, like a shorter version of a masters thesis, but I talked my mentors into letting me write a 300-page comedy novel instead, mostly because I figured the only way I’d ever finish a book would be with mentors hammering me with deadlines. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to reach the end. Then one day, on a long road trip with my then-fiancée (now my wonderful wife), a line occurred to me. Jennifer was napping in the passenger seat, and in the silence of the road I was daydreaming about my novel and some of the scenes I’d already written, and from one of those scenes, a single line flashed into my mind. It was connected to a moment early in the book, the first “turning point,” if you will, where the main conflict had begun, and suddenly, I saw the way to resolve that conflict and reference that early scene. The whole thing became so clear to me that I woke up Jennifer, asked her to root a piece of paper and a pen from the glove box, and dictated the line to her.

When she’d written it down, I told her, “I think you just wrote the ending to my novel.”

And that was how I met my undergrad thesis deadline and finished my book, because with that line, I had a direction, a concrete moment to move toward.

Almost ten years later, at the AWP conference in New York in 2008, I attended an address by John Irving, and he spoke in part about his process and the importance of the ending. He always began with the ending, he said, because if he didn’t know where the story was going, he would never know how to even begin a novel. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I still liked the process of discovery, of starting at the beginning and finding the book as I went, like an explorer or the book’s first reader. Let the ending remain a surprise, I figured.

At the time, my first published novel, Hagridden, was only an idea in my head and some notes in a folder somewhere. The next year, when I sat down to tackle Hagridden during my first NaNoWriMo, I knew the story I wanted to tell but I had no idea how it would actually end. I understood the direction but not the terminus. Which was fine for a while. But then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, the last scene came to me, the only possible conclusion, and though I’d been drafting more or less in order, writing my way through the novel from page one onward, in that moment I hurriedly jumped ahead wrote the last scene just to see it. And that was it. When I hit my 50,000 words and declared the novel finished, I hadn’t quite reached that ending yet — I actually wrote a chapter in that first draft that went “some more stuff happens here until we reach the end” — but I knew the book was done because I knew where it would arrive.

This past Sunday night, on the twenty-seventh day of NaNoWriMo 2016, I found the ending to this novel. I was not yet finished with the story — I’d not even reached the 50k mark at the time — but I wrote the last scene, possibly even the final lines.

I wrote those lines near the end of the evening and I went directly to bed, trying not to fret over them too much. As good as the words felt when I wrote them, I wasn’t sure if that was my ending or not, and this is the mad dash of NaNoWriMo — I try not to put too much stock in anything I write during November. But the next morning, when I reread the last paragraph, it made such good sense. It served as the right kind of reflection on the emotion of the book I am now writing, yet it didn’t feel too heavy handed, too pat. Nothing about that scene plays on explicit moments elsewhere in the novel; there are no pieces falling into place here. Instead, it feels like resolution in the classical sense, something I typically avoid in fiction but which, here, feels right, feels necessary.

And, knowing that — seeing the resolution I am now moving toward — all the other planned moments in the book make more sense than they ever have. The motives underlying my main character’s actions are clear to me, even if they remain unclear to that character. I’m not just writing scenes to write them; I’m not moving through all this violence and chaos gratuitously. I have purpose now. My characters have purpose now.

And for the first time since 2009 and Hagridden, my NaNoWriMo novel has purpose now.

And that is plenty to drive me past November, past the 50k mark (I reach 53k last night, and as of this writing, I’m currently at 60,028 words), and into the rest of this book, writing and writing, until it’s finished — until I’ve reached this ending.

But in the meantime, here’s celebrating probably my most successful NaNoWriMo since my first one! And that is a fantastic ending to the month of November.


Some observations as I enter my final week of NaNoWriMo 2016

When I began the first version of this novel a few years ago, I thought it was about one man, a character I named Sergeant Tom Cleaver. My mother-in-law had sent me a book of obscure Texas histories and real-life wild characters, and I read about one crazed man so violent and so charismatic that I wondered what he must have been like in real life, and I set out to write that man’s story in the guise of my Sergeant Tom.

When I tossed out that first draft and began again a couple of years ago, I did so because I’d realized that such a character as Sergeant Tom — a legend in his own mind, a fiction of his own making — could only accurately be described in multiple facets, from multiple perspectives, and I needed to write a larger, more expansive novel that was as much about the times that Sergeant Tom lived in and the people that gravitated to him as it was about the man himself.

When I tossed out that draft and began again, I did so because I had gotten lost in the din of those multiple voices and realized I needed to know these characters — and Sergeant Tom especially — more intimately. I wrote quite a bit of a draft focused on Sergeant Tom’s inner life, his background, his childhood even. I wrote almost 100 pages and I hadn’t gotten past Sergeant Tom’s mid-teens, and I realized I’d lost sight of the novel I had originally set out to write.

This year — these past few weeks, in fact — I have discovered a new truth: I’m not writing about Sergeant Tom at all. I’m not writing about his grandiosity or the fools that gathered around him. The real story — the story I should have been telling all along — is about JW Coe, the one man who finally saw through that grandiose leader, that braggadocious tyrant, and, in Coe’s waning years, sought to to amend for the violence he committed on Sergeant Tom’s behalf.

The plot of the book largely remains intact, though I have thrown out all the old scenes and rewritten them with this new purpose, not as rowdy Western action sequences but as JW Coe’s memories and regrets. In that sense, while the plot might be more or less the same, the story is radically different, changing sometimes before my eyes as I discover the words on the page. I also have restructured the novel entirely, with a new driving motion, new locations, new history to explore and unveil. The characters I tried on in the second draft are mostly still here, though they have become radically different people as I consider them through Coe’s memory and as the story changes in the writing of it.

As of this morning, I have written 41,156 words on this new story. And as I near the 50k mark for NaNoWriMo, I am more aware than ever that this novel is going to be dozens of thousands of words longer than the 50k I’ve nearly achieved. This was a realization I had in the second and third drafts, and the remaining length made me nervous then — it’s one reason I set the book aside in those drafts and eventually decided to start over. I prefer a shorter novel, a tighter book, and I wanted to keep this novel better reined in. But now, resting in the heart and mind of JW Coe, I have become more comfortable with letting this book unfold itself into a longer story.

This is something that Allen Weir told me last year at Sewanee, to let the book tell itself and give it the space and the time it needed, and while I understood back then, in an intellectual way, what he was getting at, I am beginning to see now what he must have seen then: the expanse of this story, and the time it will take to excavate it.

Over this Thanksgiving week and weekend, when I took a break from the book to focus on family and food, my wife asked me how the book was coming. It wasn’t a casual question, it was a sincere inquiry about my process, because she knows how many times I’ve set this book aside, how difficult it’s been to find the right story in it. And I told her it was coming along okay, but that I had a lot more work to do. And I realized as I spoke that while I was nearing the finish line for NaNoWriMo, I still have a lot of work left to do, and I told her I would probably carry on this project well beyond November 30. I hope to finish a draft before the year is out, but I’m not putting any hard deadlines on it. Because what I’m seeing unfold is JW Coe’s journey of discovery — of recovery, really — and that kind of journey takes time. So I’m just going to sit with the book and hear it out, let Coe tell his story and Sergeant Tom’s story and all the other stories he has to wrestle with until he finds his peace, and shares it with me.


Creative Colloquy and the Tacoma writing community

Yesterday morning, I shared the news that I had a new story, “An Understanding,” at Tacoma’s literary site, Creative Colloquy. Last night, I was one of the four featured readers at Creative Colloquy’s monthly reading series.

I read first, followed by Dianne BunnellAlec Clayton, and Kristine M. Smith. Because I wanted folks to bring a little web traffic to Creative Colloquy and read my story there, I decided to read a couple of other pieces at the mic: one of the stories in my forthcoming chapbook, Where There Is Ruin; and a microfiction piece, related to a scene in Hagridden, that appeared in the Microfiction Monday Magazine Best of 2015 anthology.

Dianne Bunnell read from her fictional memoir The Protest, Alec Clayton read a charming story about a ’70s roadtrip from the Deep South to New York City, and Kristine M. Smith read from her memoir about befriending DeForest Kelley (yes, really, THE DeForest Kelley!).

During the “intermission” (alas, singer-songwriter Maddy Dullum couldn’t make it last night), I swapped Alec Clayton a copy of Hagridden for his novel, Tupelo, and then I had an espresso — the venue, B Sharp Coffee House in Tacoma’s Opera Alley, is a delightful place with seriously decent coffee (I’m an espresso snob) and fantastic decor.

The South Puget Sound  area has a fun and supportive and talented community of writers, so the open-mic was rich with other great readers — some of whom had been featured readers in the past and some of whom made the journey to Tacoma from Olympia to share poetry and prose with us. Some pieces were beautifully emotional, some humorous, and several powerful pieces got into politics and our response to these harrowing times. Writers like Christina Butcher and Shae Savoy and Emilie Rommel Shimkus and DL Fowler and Leah Mueller . . . . while the reading series is officially divided into featured readers and open-mic, both times I’ve been the evening has felt more like two halves of one big celebration of literature and literary voices. And I was thrilled to be part of it last night.

Congrats to all the readers, and thanks for such a lovely evening!

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