Brainstorm 2016

Photo by Calum MacAulay

Last Thursday and Friday, my final free days before the start of the spring semester, I read months’ worth of articles I’d collected on succeeding as an independent author and on how artists support themselves in this crazy “I don’t read anything that ain’t free” economy we find ourselves in. Then, I wrote two drafts of a plan of action for this spring (and, hopefully, beyond). Finally, to give my ideas a sanity check, I wrote to the people who already support me: my patrons on Patreon.

A couple of core ideas came out of these two days of brainstorming:

  • I should be releasing at least some of my work simultaneously to patrons and to the public, in order to better enable sharing (and thereby increase my readership);
  • a balance must be struck between work released for free and work saved for publication in paid markets with wider distribution (journals, magazines, and anthologies);
  • my stories should be shared in multiple media whenever possible, in order to capture the attention of more eyeballs and earholes; and,
  • attention must be paid to balancing my work for Clarkwoods with my teaching and familial commitments, and with my need, as a high-strung worrywart with a penchant for downward spirals, for some daily quiet reflection.

And now, having sat with these ideas for a week, I’m ready to make some changes to the way I do business as a writer. Here’s what I’ve got planned:

  1. Get back to writing 7 days a week, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a day, treating the exercise of my mind with the same seriousness that I treat the exercise of my body;
  2. Separate my daily writing practice from my near-daily Web-publishing habit by publishing 3 drafts per week instead of the 5 that I publish now;
  3. Publish 1 of those 3 stories simultaneously to both my private Patreon channel and to the public (leaving the other 2 exclusive to Patreon), streamlining the sharing process for myself and my patrons (who currently have to wait a day after they’ve read something they love to share it with everyone else); and,
  4. Syndicate that 1 public story far and wide, as both Web-based text on variety of channels, as an email newsletter, as a podcast/series of audiobooks, and on YouTube.

Since Monday is the day I release new episodes of my existing podcast, Horribly Off-Topic, and Friday is my busiest day as a teacher, I’ll be releasing stories on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And since Thursday is my one day off from teaching, it’s the day that makes the most sense for the simulcast of the 1 public/Patreon story.

Got it? Awesome!

There’s oodles more I could share from Brainstorm 2016, including how I’ve scheduled my whole life around being done with work and present for my children and family by the time I pick up my youngest from childcare each afternoon, but this article is already too long. If you’d like to chat about my plans, or anything else, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Thanks, as always, for your support.


Photo by Ian Schneider

Photo by Ian Schneider

In the school library, on a slip of college-ruled paper, I scrawled the name Ross Perot. Then I folded that thing in half, walked it over to the table where Sonya McCrush stood guard over the wooden ballot box, and tried not to stare at her chest as I stuffed it in. She smiled at me, her braces glinting under the fluorescents, and I blushed then ran away, stumbling over my shoelaces as I raced toward the school newspaper’s office, where I could hide until the final bell rang.

I sat at the table in the office, listening to the guys debate the merits of Ten vs. Nevermind, not daring to intercede on behalf of Dirt, and waited for the intercom to crackle to life and give us the results. I scribbled in the spiral bound sketchbook that was my constant companion in those days, and I thought about my friends at the comic book store, working class heroes who slept on a mattress they hid beneath the table of long boxes. They were the ones who had told me who I should vote for, who told me there was really no choice at all. I thought too of my father, that bleeding heart, who had probably blown a jay that very morning before ticking the box for Clinton. And I thought of my mother, who couldn’t be bothered, who told me over breakfast — her second screwdriver of the morning already in hand — that it didn’t matter anyway.

The P.A. came on out in the library and we cracked the door to listen. We cheered as the old man announced that our guy had won our mock election. We cheered as loudly as we’d boo that night, when we realized that our voices didn’t count yet, that rebellion was only something we were playing at, like a game at recess, something we’d been doing for so long that our parents didn’t even ask us about it anymore. Didn’t even notice.

Didn’t even care.


Photo by Roman Kraft

Photo by Roman Kraft

There are photographs I save for rainy days. I keep them in a wooden box where my grandmother used to stash her tips from the diner, and where her mother used to hide the tiara she swore was stolen from the palace when it fell. There’s an inscription on the inside of the lid, a mess of Cyrillic letters no one in our family has been able to read since the day my great-grandmother put the crown upon her head and the gas tube in her mouth, but the photos are stacked so high that you can’t see it anymore.

And so, obviously, I don’t keep it locked. In fact, I couldn’t lock it if I tried. Nobody’s seen the key since the olden days. Grandma, before she died, swore her mother had been buried with it. “To stop the secrets,” she told me, rubbing the belly where the cancer hid. Not from her, and not from her doctor, but from everyone else.

So, you see, saving the pictures for the worst of times is an act of will. There’s no place in this one room that I call home to hide the box, so it sits amongst my school books one week, behind the dishes the next — wherever I am afraid to look.

But when it rains, I look. When it pours, the deluge pounding against the rotting roof above my head, the walls weeping around the dormers, I sit in the middle of the floor with the box and I look.

There are men in monocles, mustaches for miles, and ladies standing behind lace curtains. There is a churchyard in winter, drifts of snow ornamenting the tops of tombstones. And there is baby held still upon a lap, smiling despite its parents best efforts to keep the whole thing serious and stoic. After all, why not? They have placed a tiara upon her head, and isn’t smiling all princesses were meant to do?


Photo by Jason Rosewell

The bitter boy
beneath the bed,
he was born of a thousand shadows.
The raw material of a man,
a puppy with raw meat
in his mouth,
a tongue he bites
because his mother tells him to.

Black blood on his teeth,
and on the knuckles
of the fist he scrapes
against the knots
in the floor,
in his stomach.

In his ears,
guitars scream
the way he wants to
but can’t.
Fingers scrape against strings.
Callouses open
and bleed
like his mother,
who comes
into the room
and brushes two fingers
across his quivering lips,
lips that long to open,
to collude with teeth and tongue.

‘Shush, sugar,’
she tells him.
‘You’ll have your turn
to scream.’

An Update on My Grandiose Plans

I have an update tonight instead of a story, but I think it’s an important one.

At the beginning of this month, I announced a rather ambitious plan to create a best-of collection to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my Draft a Day project. If you’ve been following along throughout the month, you’ll know by now that the project grew more ambitious in scope as the weeks wore on. And I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I am delaying publication of the book until February at the earliest, but possibly later.

The thing is: I want to do this right.

Though I remain proud of my first two collections of short fiction, both efforts felt rushed. And though I know, given the fly-by-the seat-of-my-pants nature of the Drafts project, that I could wing this and all of my hard-core supporters would understand, I have pretty big ambitions for this book.

First, I want it to arrive as an ebook, a print book, and as an audiobook. And I want those books made known to as many people as possible.

Second, as I mentioned above, the scope has grown. This is not just a best-of collection of the Drafts project; it is a true follow-up to my first two collections. Conceptually speaking, the structure I’ve envisioned requires significant tweaks, which it will take time to make. The narrative’s in fine shape, but there’s way more editing to do than I’d expected.

Third, and perhaps not least importantly, I’ve had to adjust expectations of myself due to a larger-than-expected teaching load this spring. This dramatically decreases the amount of time I have to focus on the book, so I need to be realistic.

Rest assured that patrons will still have first crack at pre-orders and will receive a special discount as soon as I’m ready to take the wraps off of this thing.

Since there won’t be enough stories from January to collect into my normal monthly anthology for patrons who give $3 or more per month, the stories that have been published in January will be collected with February’s stories.

And since I don’t have an anthology to publish this month as I promised I would, all patrons at the $3 level and above will get a free digital copy of my previous book, All He Left Behind, in thanks for their support and patience.