BURN PILE: Let's go to the movies... Digital Stories & Human Hearts


This frosty loveseat at the bus stop across from the UM campus wasn't very inviting, but it brought to mind Sofas, a digital story that touched me (and, according to YouTube, about 10,250+ others). Sofas is a brilliant example of digital storytelling--sincere, simple, and honest, a result of the work going on at StoryCenter. Their motto is "Listen Deeply, Tell Stories," and both are skills we're in heavy need of today. In homage to Sofas, I've pulled a selection of digi-tales for you to enjoy, laugh with, and cry over. These are personal testaments to the myriad ways our lives weave into a human whole, despite differences we impose, fabricate, and perpetrate. Remember in this holiday season that the only wars we wage are those we create, that hatred and othering only isolates yourself, and that to fight the good fight is to fight for the good of all. 


~ Story Center ~

Sofas - by Wayne Richard

A story about a young man, home, homelessness, and sofas.

Listening ... and Telling - by Elizabeth Ross

A story about persecution, multigenerational abuse, and the sanctuary of artistic practice.

Content Advisory: This story addresses child sexual abuse, rape, and homicide. 

Content of Character - by Bess Turner

A story about becoming an activist, racial inequality, and, ultimately, some justice.

This Is My Home - by Bill Tall Bull

A story about grandparents, the Sand Creek Massacre, the Cheyenne people, and one man's healing process through the Healing Run.

The Gift of Nonviolence - by Leroy Moore

A father, a son, a beating, an activist, and dead weight.

Content Advisory: This story addresses the topic of child abuse. 

The 8th Step - by Ed Popovitz

A story about a man, a dog, and getting clean.

Rites of Passage - by Nikiko Masumoto

A story about comparing one's educational experiences with those of her grandmother who graduated from high school at a concentration camp for US citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.

Wrecking/Renewal - by Ray Baylor

A story about hope in the wake of urban "renewal" and the loss of family homes and established neighborhood communities.

Unmapped roads - by Heather Browne

A story about a mom, a son, a divorce, and a road trip.

What Remains - by Sara Prahl

A story about a picture, a woman, degenerative MS, and what remains.

My Write to Draw - by Max Bessesen

A story about a cartoon named Billy, sharing creativity, and becoming a writer.

The Mayor of Mooresville by David Queen, UM MFAer, way-cool human, and awesome storyteller.

What happens when a man builds his own town from the ground up?


And, as a reminder that sometimes trash, tape, and an engaged imagination are all you need for a revolution, Austin Kleon nails it again:

Hint, hint: http://nationalhomeless.org/ 
"The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected."

BURN PILE: TransgenderFetusScience-basedVulnerableEntitlementEvidence-basedDiversity

I’m just gonna leave this here. Right at the top.

Report: Trump Bans ‘Transgender,’ ‘Fetus,’ ‘Science-Based’ From CDC Documents

By Mary Papenfuss and Anna Almendrala

“We cannot replace truth with bias,” a bioethicist says.

In an astonishing order, the Trump administration has banned the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using seven words — including “fetus,” “transgender,” “diversity” and “science-based” — in any documents used to prepare the agency’s budget, The Washington Post has reported. […] Instead of the words “science-based” or “evidence-based,” analysts were told they could use instead: The “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the newspaper reported.

"The Post’s source could not recall a previous time in any other administration when words were forbidden.”

* * *

Some awesomeness to counter the awful:

* ­­* *

Why I Write, Katie Kennedy
December 15, 2017
By Kathleen Kennedy at Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write because I want to make things better, and stories teach us what to do when you discover the ring is evil, or just where papa’s going with that axe.”

About Women Writers, Women’s Books:
We are an online literary magazine by and about contemporary women writers from around the world. Women Writers, Women’s Books was launched in 2011 to be another platform for contemporary women writers and authors around the world writing in English.

* * *

At formercactus --prickly writing for keen minds:

Re: Our Apocalypse Plans” — Amy Kinsman

“The cats have gone who knows where, but dogs traded in their common sense for loyalty a thousand years ago and, lately, they’ve been howling at their moon goddess for intervention on our behalf.”

* * *

From January 29, 2017, at the Jellyfish Review:
My Body Feels Full of Stars by Lydia Copeland Gwyn

Mom is in the bathroom with a miscarriage. She lets me hold her hand on the toilet and tells me about the baby coming out of her the same way she told me about menstruation last week when I learned she was pregnant. This time we’re crying. Her hand covering mine is like the wet place in a layer of leaves.”

* * *

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About
At Longreads, Michele Filgate reflects on her teen years with an abusive stepfather and a mother whose silence protected him.

"While I write, my stepfather sits at his desk that’s right outside my bedroom. He’s working on his laptop, but every time his chair squeaks or he makes any kind of movement, fear rises up from my stomach to the back of my throat. "

* * *


Our Reaction to “Cat Person” Shows That We Are Failing as Readers
When we look to our texts to teach us not how to think, but what to think, we suffer for it
by Larissa Pham

“Cat Person” seems to have transcended its form as a short story — or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the discourse around it reflects how the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has collapsed in recent years. In short, we are failing as readers.
When we cannot even understand that a short story is fiction, and that a writer has carefully chosen how to construct her world, with its own architecture and a universe separate from our own, we flatten it completely, and we also flatten our own ability to think critically."

* * *

“If you have ever had a problem grasping the importance of diversity in tech and its impact on society, watch this video” ----------------->

* * *

It’s Kristen Arnett’s birthday!
Go say hi: @Kristen_Arnett

Then read an interview with Kristen at Full Stop, and celebrate by buying her latest for yourself and all your friends. It’s at Split Lip Press!

Kristen says:

"I think I’ve gotten better at procrastinating thanks to Twitter! Maybe a little better at joking around. I’m not sure if it’s made me a better writer, but it’s put me in touch with people who are GREAT writers, so I’ve gotten better by reading their work."

* * *

While you’re in the gifting mood…

You Can’t Wrap a Five-Figure Deal: Gifts for Writers
by Allison K. Williams at Brevity’s Blog

"Stocking-stuffer: See what books you’ve bought in the past six months but haven’t reviewed yet. Spread some goodwill around by writing some quick thoughts and clicking four or five stars. Especially if the writer is at less than 50 reviews: crossing that threshold really helps their visibility online. Copy-paste Amazon reviews to Goodreads, because every little bit helps."

But don’t be stealing your Xmas books this year:

Indie Bookstores Tell Us About Their Most Stolen Books
Which volumes walk out the door most often, and why?

Book People, in Austin, Texas, says:

“We lose a lot of manga, but certainly odd is that we lose ethics books from our philosophy section.” — Steve Bercu, Owner”


BURN PILE: Cat People. Sex, badly written, and goodly. Lydia's cowboy on film.

Cat Person

By Kristen Roupenian

This short story in The New Yorker gets the top of the page to itself. The tweets I quote below read like comments in a highly caffeinated MFA workshop:

  • I like The New Yorker short story everyone is talking about, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it. What’s with all of the haters?


  • Gonna catch heat for this opinion but I solidly don't care: relatable as it is, "Cat Person" is a plodding & poorly-written story until the last few lines. But even that ending fell flat for me bc the language & characters are so devoid of nuance.


  • This is the realest shit I ever read.


  • I actually think that New Yorker piece about the cat person guy is awful but not just in the way you guys are saying it is


  • everyone is geeking over that "Cat Person" story in the New Yorker but are we just ignoring that the author literally wrote the words “small log of his erection” to describe a boner


  • Here is MY so I read "Cat Person" tweet and really, what I want to say is, y'all – it is actually the first piece of fiction in the New Yorker I have *ever* read.


  • This. Is the best. Story. I have. EVER. Fucking read. In. The New Yorker.


  • I have not read the New Yorker "Cat Person" story yet.


  • The "Cat Person" story in The New Yorker is well-written, relatable, and feels brutally honest (despite being a fictional tale). That said, it's also deeply uncomfortable and I *personally* don't understand the point of it. Would be open to discussing (if anyone in my feed cares)


  • it's 4am and i'm drunk and i just read that fucking cat person story by the new yorker and i have more words to say about it but for now all i can is that i hate it and people's responses to it are fucking awful and i hate it

* * *

Bad sex, cont.

Have We Gotten Better at Writing About Sex?
This year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award winner isn’t as cringeworthy as previous years

By Natalee Cruz


“Bad sex is starting to be not that bad, per se. There’s no discussion of any kind of the cringe-worthy metaphors to sex you hear from that guy in your MFA.”

The Bad Sex Award Inspired Me to Work Harder at Writing Good Sex
By Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

“You might argue that shaming authors who embark upon the tricky business of writing about sex is mean and unfair, and will discourage aspiring novelists from going near the subject, despite it being a significant part of experience. Furthermore, is it not snobbish and prudish and, well, awfully English? You can’t imagine the French getting worked up over some writer overusing the word ‘moist’.”

* * *

What We Do for Work
By Caitlyn GD

“We didn’t come here to argue so we just do as told, knee-highs to the kitchen floor.”


Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Caitlyn GD

“This story is meant to tell an aspect of sex work that is specific to a certain degree of autonomy and privilege that doesn’t encompass every sex worker’s experience. I decided that there were going to be pieces of them and their lives that were unanswered and contradictory and that allowing that was more of a service to them.”


By Meghan Phillips

“The costume is Little Bo Peep from last spring’s production of Shrek: The Musical, but everyone at the party thinks I’m Mary, like Mary had a Little Lamb. With mint jelly, one of the brothers says, and I look up from my red cup because the only other person I’ve ever heard make that dumb joke is my dad, and this guy’s certainly not my father.”

* * *

Reality check:

Enough: America’s Wholly Visible Underbelly
By The Rumpus, November 28th, 2017

Collegial Indecency: Sexual Assault in the Ivory Tower
by Ada Cheng

“I should have screamed and yelled, pushed him away, or kicked him, but I didn’t. I did say no. Over and over again. Politely and respectfully.”

ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.

* * *

From pw.org:

“A few years ago I used to tell myself I wanted to marry a cowboy.” In this short film produced by Park Pictures, director Alison Maclean adapts Lydia Davis’s short story about an English professor who fantasizes about a life of adventure. 'The Professor' is included in Davis’s collection The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)."

BURN PILE: Lists and pillow books. Judgment. Monsters.

Things I Hate.jpg


I live by lists.

  • To-do.
  • To-think-about.
  • What-if?
  • Inventories of written stuff on the hard drive, manila folders boxed in the closet. Junk. Fragments. Revisable or revisitable.
  • AA’s moral inventory is a list.
  • So is confession.
  • How do I love thee? Let me make a list.
  • This thing, this Burn Pile, is a list. They all are, in one way or another. Lists of lists.
  • A list of destinations.
  • Or, no… A list of starting points.

* * *

Poets & Writers creative nonfiction prompt references a list.

"In The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris, the eleventh-century Japanese poet and courtier created a series of lists based on her daily life. Her topics included "Hateful Things" ("A carriage passes by with a nasty, creaking noise"), "Elegant Things" ("A pretty child eating strawberries"), "Things That Have Lost Their Power" ("A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air"), and "Things That Should Be Large" ("Men's eyes"), among others. The list form allowed her to celebrate, or denigrate, details that may have otherwise been passed by unnoticed. This week, take ten minutes to invent and populate a list of your own: the more specific, the better. Make more lists with each day if the spirit strikes you."

"The sounds roll off the tongue like poetry, with the same resonance and authority that transcends mere meaning. They are accompanied by a little swarm of facts worn almost meaningless by repetition and familiarity."

  • Read more of The Pillow Book in .pdf form here.

* * *

The New Yorker rolls out in its “Sunday Reading an archival list of political humor coverage.

Hive Mind
The stinging comedy of Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal.”
By Emily Nussbaum

Expletives Not Deleted
The profane satire of Armando Iannucci’s “Veep.”
By Ian Parker

Hasan Minhaj’s “New Brown America”
By Doreen St. Félix

Vive John Oliver
By Sarah Larson

The Goat Boy Rises
By John Lahr

Small Wonders
Comedy, off the radar.
By Emily Nussbaum

…which uses up my allotment of free articles for the month, and it’s only the 3rd!

To do:
       ~ re-up my New Yorker subscription…

* * *

On most folks’ list of fears is public speaking, but it’s a matter (sometimes) of what you’re speaking about. Hera Lindsay Bird says she gets “more embarrassed reading a really sincere love poem out in front of hundreds of people than I would one about a blowjob.”

Hera Lindsay Bird: poet of exploding helicopters and dick jokes
In which “the New Zealand poet explains the 90s sitcom references and unembarrassed passions that have gone into her eponymous debut.”

* * *

Are you reading this from behind bars? Or do you anticipate doing some writing in that circumstance? Enjoy the Winning Manuscripts of PEN America’s 2017 Prison Writing Contest, “one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.”

Centering the Voices of Incarcerated People: Emile DeWeaver, cofounder of Prison Renaissance, writes about the influence of James Forman, Jr’s book, Locking Up Our Own (one of The New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2017) has had on his work. This essay originally appeared in Colorlines.

* * *

“Talk to anyone who worked in book publishing this year and no matter how chipper the conversation may begin, once you’re a few drinks in the talk will turn gloomy.” The Year in Best-Sellers examines the titles of 2017, what sales and popularity actually mean to readers, and tells us about them.

* * *

And yeah, one list just keeps growing.

All The Actually Decent Men in Fiction We Could Think Of
Hunting for a few good men? It’s harder than you think, but [Electric Lit] found 16.

As to (some of) the rest, What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?
By Claire Dederer in the Paris Review.

* * *

To do:

  •  “I know a publishing house that would glut your ledgers with more gold than you could shake out of a dwarf, if your manuscript arrived wrapped in my endorsement.” Boneset, By Lucia Iglesias

"I savor the opportunity to discover new talent, but I don’t relish playing God in other people’s lives. Most of all, I dread the chats with the losers. They say they want the truth no matter how painful—'Tell me why I was eliminated and how I can improve' —but what they really want is validation, something to assure them their talent has been recognized."

A symphony conductor's extended bow,
a stranger's arm out a car window giving the go around signal,
mail addressed to the previous tenant.

* * *

BURN PILE: Casseroles and Fake Pies


There is no recipe this week, only a quick-loading casserole of leftovers I’ve accumulated during the Thanksgiving break, all wonderful in and of themselves.

Since you may still be in a digestive stupor, enjoy The History Behind 5 Thanksgiving Traditions Americans Love, then go for it in the links below. Here you are:

* * *

From BuzzFeed’s "Dark Times" series, here’s new short fiction by Manuel Gonzales: Blondie.

“My wife’s friend Becky sold them the house, and she’s the one who told us they were neo-Nazis.”

* * *

Thanksgiving for Native Americans: Four Voices on a Complicated Holiday, by Julie Turkewitz, in The New York Times.

Sherman Alexie: “I guess it’s trash talking: ‘Look, you tried to kill us all, and you couldn’t.’ We’re still here, waving the turkey leg in the face of evil.”

* * *

From drDOCTOR, Sarah Lippmann on painter Jessica Zemsky, fairy tales, and the uncomplicated beauty of devoting life to love. (At drdoctordrdoctor.com, a domain name you can’t help but love.)

Life is Good: I Recommend It, by Sara Lippmann

I do not come from artists. What I come from is a line of almosts, of not-quites. On my mother’s side, my grandmother was a would-be actor, whose dreams went unfulfilled. Self doubt, fear of failure: these traits I know well. She became a teacher instead. My great-grandfather, too, itched with creative impulses. Or so the story goes. He wrote, he drew. But one must provide a roof. He chose dentistry, and not for his love of teeth.

* * *

Writers and writing, always, always:

From the transcript:

We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures.

Over time, my self-doubt has morphed into a kind of self-pity. I’ve watched people who were next to me at the starting line cross over into Multiple-Books-Published and Award-Winning territory while I lag behind, sweating and panting. When they are nice people, I am truly happy for them. When they are not, I hate their guts.

* * *

The Cathy Ulrich Rocks section.

* * *

More from Electric Lit. Kelly Luce (@lucekel) tweeted:

I love all the pieces I edit for @ElectricLit equally but I must say, I love this one the equalest.

This Kelly praise is for A Deep Dive into Uranus Jokes: Exploring the 19th-century roots of a low humor staple by Albert Stern.

* * *

The Because If You Don’t, You’ll Regret It section:

* * *

For dessert, Sarah Bakes a Fake Pie, then the facts get checked. Your Post-T-Day reality from D.C.

 * * *

Skeleturkey image via I, Toony [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nobody likes me!

Nobody likes me!

BURN PILE: Warning! Graphic Content Ahead!

Graphic novels have "achieved something comparable to the complexity and density that can be achieved in a novel while transcending the novel format’s limitations with artwork that is an integral part of the medium rather than merely being illustrative of the plot." Britannica.com


In the distant past, comics were inextricably lodged in my head as either superhero venues, or for saccharine characters like Archie, or Disney cartoons' cash-machine merch-able stories. Later, underground works like the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, or R. Crumb’s "Keep on Truckin’" vibe provided super anti-heroes, along with horror, like Creepy, Eerie, and so on. It’s certainly not news that this is an incorrect outlook, and limited to the world contained in a 1970s drugstore rack, beside Harlequin romances and pulp novels. I learned better of the genre late in the game, probably with the realization that many of the movies I'd enjoyed were based on graphic novels, and owed much of their appeal not only to the story, but to the look of the original art, as well. (The Road to Perdition comes to mind, and Ghost World.)

The release of my friend Deb Olin Unferth and Elizabeth Haidle’s I, Parrot reminds me of all the rich worlds that have found expression both visually and verbally since those days. So, I’ve rounded up some standouts, some lists, and even some argument against graphic novels being taught as serious literature.

RUMPUS EXCLUSIVE: An Excerpt from I, Parrot, by Deb Olin Unferth and Elizabeth Haidle. 

Malvern Books hosted Deb Olin Unferth and illustrator Elizabeth Haidle as they discuss their new graphic novel, I, PARROT, with Mary Helen Specht, author of MIGRATORY ANIMALS

"Unferth (Wait Till You See Me Dance, 2017, etc.) has written a heart-wrenching, occasionally unbelievable tale of family and feathers. The illustrations, by Haidle (Mind Afire, 2013), are beautiful. They are understated and playful without sacrificing texture or creativity." Kirkus Reviews 

Radtke Cover+2c+new+skyline-01+(2).jpg

Imagine Wanting Only This


“Remarkable. . . . a breathtaking mix of prose and illustration. . . . Radtke is able to create beautiful if odious universes out of the potential of ruin, finding infinitesimal shades of nuance within a soft, greyscale palette. . . . Stunning.”
The Atlantic, qtd. on http://kristenradtke.com/

Read a chapter here at HuffPost.

Check out The Guardian's Graphic novel special: Celebrating the booming art form and marking 10 years of the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize.

From Zadie Smith to Ethan Hawke: why we love graphic novels
Famous fans tell us how they got hooked and name their all-time favourites
by Zadie SmithEthan HawkeSam BainAmanda PalmerNick Hornby

~ Related, from the Guardian, on graphic short stories:

~ Tor Freeman has been named winner in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017. This is her entry: If You’re So Wise, How Come You’re Dead?

~ 'I was in shock!': On the 10th anniversary of the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize, we [The Guardian!] talk to previous prizewinners from Isabel Greenberg to Julian Hanshaw, and to 2017’s star, Tor Freeman.

A List of Lists!

11 Can’t-Miss Literary Graphic Novel Adaptations
By Cassandra Neace, June 19, 2017

The 10 best graphic novels of 2017
By Michael Cavna Nov 15, 2017

Comics Cross Over at Library Journal | Genre Spotlight: Graphic Novels
By Douglas Rednour, June 13, 2017

13 "Literary" Comic Books and Graphic Novels for Book Nerds
By Crystal Paul.  Feb 22, 2016

Older lists:

10 Graphic Novels for the Literary Minded
By Kelly Thompson February 27, 2012

Drawn Out: The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels
Rolling Stone, May 5, 2014

On the other hand...

Graphic Novels Are Trending in English Departments, and That’s a Problem
MAY 15, 2017 Shannon Watkins for The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

"One reason is that the majority of graphic novels tend to advance political agendas. The graphic novels found on course syllabi and on reading lists often deal with controversial political issues such as social justice, immigration, gay rights, etc. …

"Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with reading about these topics or with discussing them. But what is particularly concerning about assigning these politically charged books is that it seems to be part of a larger push to rid the university of its traditional focus, and to push a social justice agenda."


BURN PILE: Even from a Dumpster fire, embers will rise.

This week, a small offering of embers to chase:

From their About page:

Narrative is dedicated to advancing literature in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging reading, as the gateway to understanding, across generations, in schools, and around the globe. Our digital library of new literature by celebrated authors and by the best new and emerging writers is available for free.

In early fall of 1989 my friends Craig, Mick, and I tried to summon a demon—Astaroth, the crowned prince of Hell, if I’m remembering right—to the driveway of Craig’s suburban home.

  • And, in closing, an opposing view from the heart of Julien Baker.

“She closes out the song by singing the word 'rejoice' again and again, right up against the crack in her register, whipping up the crowd into a tent revival of the heart.”

From "Julien Baker Believes in God" by Rachel Syme in The New Yorker. And in the same venue, Jia Tolentino takes a more recent listen in "The Raw Devotion of Julien Baker."


BURN PILE: The "What have you done to its eyes?" Edition

Halloween is a mere 3 sleepless nights away, and this weekend it may as well be here, upon us, within us, overtaking us, swallowing our souls whole... Welcome to the Burn Pile's collection of spooky fun and not-so-cheery glimpses of our inevitable doom.

Art by Josh Cooley , from  The Chive,  " Movie scenes get turned into an R-rated children’s book "

Art by Josh Cooley, from The Chive, "Movie scenes get turned into an R-rated children’s book"

So what's at the core of our attraction to the frightening, anyway? Why do we need to jump out of our skins now and then? Why do we crave it?  “A Fondness for Fear: Why Do We Like To Be Scared?” offers insights into fright nights, when "our thoughts can just take a break and we can enjoy being fully in our bodies, feeling primal and animal. When you’re on a rollercoaster or in a haunted house you’re not thinking about your bills, your classes, your relationships or your future…"

“13 Scary Short Stories You Can Read Online to Get in the Halloween Spirit”
Kristian Wilson warns that "if you came to this list looking for your standard collection of ghost stories, you might be disappointed. I have chosen stories that run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy, and everything in-between, because any story can be spooky if you try hard enough. This list includes webcomics, creepypasta, and classic stories from your favorite, spooktacular writers, including Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes), Joyce Carol Oates (The Accursed), and Karen Russell (Swamplandia!). Some of the stories have their moments of humor, while others are just downright unsettling."

From Kristian's list come two for your immediate consumption:

          How to Get Back to the Forest by Sofia Samatar.

"And bugs—the idea of a bug planted under your skin, to track you or feed you drugs—that’s another dumb story.
Except it’s not, because I saw one."

           "The Bongcheon-Dong Ghost" by Studio Horang

An animated webcomic with the warning that “reader discretion is advised for pregnant women, the elderly, and those suffering from serious medical conditions.”

Here's a perennial frightener, the Reddit thread that never fails to bug me out. See what you think of these tales of high weirdness in the woods: I'm a Search and Rescue Officer for the US Forest Service, I have some stories to tell.

"When we found her, she was curled up under a large rotted log. She was missing her shoes and pack, and she was clearly in shock. She didn't have any injuries, and we were able to get her to walk with us back to base ops. Along the way, she kept looking behind us and asking us why 'that big man with black eyes' was following us."

Why I Decided to Become a Witch
“I didn’t always identify as witch; I used to be pastry chef.” These everyday women spill why they identify as witches, what that entails, and what their witchcraft means to them.


“I really liked Practical Magic, too, but…”
"So... You worship Satan?"
"What? Next you're going to tell me you're a lesbian, too?"
YouTuber cutewitch772 shares choice unsolicited opinions in “SHIT PEOPLE SAY TO: Pagans, Neopagans, Wiccans, Witches, etc.

PJ Harvey “The Devil”

     As soon as I'm left alone
     The Devil wanders into my soul

2007 - White Chalk

William Peter Blatty, author and producer of The Exorcist, on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

If you’re short on time and need some instant fight or flight hormones, drop in at the 10:49 marker and listen to the audio recording Blatty brought along of an IRL exorcism in progress.


Black Sabbath's original video performance of the song "Black Sabbath" www.BlackSabbath.com

Finished the new season of Stranger Things already? Here are more prime watchables from Netflix: 11 Great Underseen Horror Movies on Netflix "The streaming service has well-trod classics like The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street. But how about these lesser-known frightening films?" by SCOTT TOBIAS

And now for something really scary from the “This is no dream. This is really happening!” files:
Full Frontal's (Hot As) Hell House | October 25, 2017

Don’t worry. “You will not float away.”

If you've had enough of evil creeps creeping, or maybe just need to feel better about yourself, your Halloween party hangover, and the universe as a whole, have a serious virtual soul cleansing and envastment. Enjoy the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram right here at your desk or on your phone.

death halloween holy shit full size snickers.jpg

BURN PILE: “I’ve got good news! That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

Dorothy Bendel looks behind the curtains in the red room to ask What ‘Twin Peaks’ Can Teach Us About Writing—And Experiencing—Trauma.

‘Twin Peaks’ storytelling shares similarities with “hermit crab” essays, braided essays, and other experimental forms that provide structures we can upend.

Serious fun and games at Playtime.pem.org: Turnabout: A Story Game by J. Robert Lennon

Turnabout 20stories_SIZED.jpg

You stare at the folded paper in your hands,

knowing you shouldn't open it, but also knowing that you must.

 “J. Robert Lennon presents us with an engaging maze of story—move left, right, up, down, and find a new twist with each read.”

And look!

J. Robert Lennon has visited the Burn Pile before, with "Hibachi" by J. Robert Lennon - A Single Sentence Animation from Electric Literature.


Joanna Walsh Is Setting Language on Fire: Tobias Carroll and Joanna Walsh at Electric Lit.

I’m a writer because I know that language is a borrowed or stolen, imperfect and communal attempt to create meaning. It’s best not to take it too seriously, but it’s also good to take that unseriousness as seriously as possible.

All Accounts and Mixture contributor, Brian Czyzyk, stands “In Defense of Beige” at Gulf Stream. My choice for Most Surprising Defense? “Color of Patti Smith’s tongue.”

Samantha Grad talks with Emily Elizabeth Thomas about the power in “intelligence and grit” at Amadeus: “Lola: Girl Got a Gun”: Director Emily Elizabeth Thomas on Female-Focused Storytelling “…when I was a kid growing up in Texas, I wanted a gun. I wanted it to be bubble gum pink, with roses painted on the side. I think I thought it would give me power that I didn’t have, and I didn’t yet know the trauma that guns cause.”

At Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People), “Rachel Zucker speaks with Erika L. Sánchez about her first book of poems, her first YA novel (currently shortlisted for the National Book Award), her experience as a sex advice columnist, how her manuscript became a book, writing unlikeable characters, shame, obsessions, sex, making things up in poems and prose, authenticity, feminism, Buddhism, and DACA.”

If you’re not acquainted with Owen Egerton, stop by the monkey cage for a visit. “Unspeakable” at the PowellsBooks.blog:

If we could just say what it is to be alive, if we could communicate directly the cosmos of experience inside each of us, we wouldn’t be driven to color canvas, pen operas, or spend years of our brief lives typing out fictions; or stand at the bars of a cage dancing and screaming.

We are pulsing with hunger and starlight and we don’t have the words to say it. But we do have stories.

Thank you, Owen, for this week’s mic drop.

BURN PILE: Author Interviews Wonderland Edition

When the words come hard and you need a minute of procrastinatory inspiration, interviews with authors you love (or don’t know you love, yet) are a route of re-entry to your own work. Reading or watching or listening about writing feels like something constructive while you’re behaving less like a creator, and more like a nonproductive lump, staring slack-eyed at the computer. And for avid readers, interviews offer a look into an author’s head, a “Behind the Music” for wordmongers. The humans creating your favorite books are (you hope!) as fascinating as the books themselves, and the interviews, like literary works, are timeless.

The Paris Review is my top-of-the-heap inspiration source, for their series of author interviews dating back to the ‘50s. (The price of a subscription allows access to the periodical’s entire online archive. Seriously. Everything.)

There's a video series, too, on authors’ “My First Time.” Sheila Heti speaks here about her first story collection, The Middle Stories.  Subscribe for free to the video series.

Here’s the playlist so far:
My First Time Video Series.

Through a stroke of required-reading luck, I’ve been enjoying the work of Cate Kennedy this week. Along with her stories, the Net is graced with Cate’s interviews, both text-based and on video. Indulge yourself:

Unbraiding the Short Story with Cate Kennedy,” at World Literature Today: “If I had to sum up in one word what ‘the human condition’ is, I’d say that word is ‘ouch.’ … Human fallibility seems to be a preoccupation I return to over and over again. What people do when they’re behind the eight ball or floundering with a hit that’s come out of left field. Not so much what they think or say: what they actually do.”

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In a Griffith Review piece, Cate reveals: “…one of the powerful things about writing from ordinary life is the elements you select from it are immediately recognisable to people. So you can hide things in plain sight, in a way, or subvert expectation.” (Here’s the story referenced in the interview, “A Glimpse of Paradise.”)

Last in this Cate Kennedy-obsessed list (there are many more online), an in-depth live video interview: “At this Sydney Writer’ Festival session, award-winning writer Cate Kennedy speaks to publisher Hilary McPhee about her highly regarded debut novel, The World Beneath.” Go watch it here.

Google any author, and you’ll find a wide-ranging selection of windows into nuns or other inhabitants of their head. And as long as I’m in this video rabbit hole, join me. Here’s the entrance to burrow into another favorite brain: search for George Saunders interview on Youtube…

Look! It's George Saunders and Stephen Colbert, “George Saunders has a Nun in His Head.

Dig into the craft-mind of Missoula author, Melissa Stephenson, in Michael Noll’s interview series “Read to Write Stories.” Michael’s blog (with a book coming soon) “features weekly writing exercises based on a story, novel excerpt, or essay that has been published or made available online.” The list of authors Noll interviews is a mile-long scroll of goodness. Have a look here.

Prefer to simply listen? Start with Sarah Vap and Rachel Zucker, at Zucker’s Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People).

Not to be left out, CutBank interview excitement is on the horizon, too!
We’ve got our own interview feature coming early next week, as Jason Bacaj brings us a conversation with William Finnegan. Finnegan is a UM alumnus, New Yorker staff writer, and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for his memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. And of course, you can find videos to get you warmed up for Jason’s interview. If you're in Missoula, Finnegan will be giving at craft lecture October 13. See the Facebook event listing for details.

Okay, one more from Cate Kennedy, at WritingtheWild.net: On the act of writing the early drafts, getting the first rush on paper vs ‘crafting’ later on: “Getting into a ‘generative’ state of mind, though, is harder – it’s a brainwave state, pretty much, rather than a learned expertise – like daydreaming. The less analysis and second-guessing involved in this state, the better.”

To wrap this Burn Pile up tight, enjoy A Giant Dog falling into another kind of rabbit hole… Here’s “Roller Coaster,” from their fourth album, Toy. Something of a visual interview with a twist: AGD’s Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen adventure through a day in Disneyland, while, ahem, in a mindspace reminiscent of (Go Ask) Alice … in Wonderland? Read the article here, or click play on the wide-eyed video trip.

Thanks for the reminder, Karma.

Thanks for the reminder, Karma.

BURN PILE:  ~ Arting about art ~

Writing about writing, painting about words, seeing things others don’t hear, and more songs about buildings and food.

One of our great privileges here at CutBank is to publish the All Accounts and Mixture feature. The works are as varied as their authors. Poems. Stories. Essays. Indefinables. All of them stunning and strong.

The blend of music and memory in “Conversations with Paul,” by David Meischen, inspired a leap into a note-taking, brainstorming rabbit hole which swallowed me in tangents, twisted connections, trainwrecks of thought, and unrelated wonderings over what’s so enchanting about art that includes other art, or is about art, or is experimental in overlapping genres and mediums. What qualifies as “experimental,” anyway? “Conversations” isn’t a piece directly about music, yet Meischen weaves the Beatles throughout the narrative, and this twining of mediums led to another All Accounts contributor, Crystal Hartman and her piece, “Visual Response to Federico García Lorca,” featured on the blog back in July of 2014.

Here’s Sir Paul, covering his old band’s stuff: Paul McCartney - Abbey Road Medley (Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End) - Live In Tokyo 2013

Another side tunnel in the rabbit hole leads to written art about the visual, including a visit with poet Lisa Beech Hartz in the Mud Season Review and Rust + Moth, a dip into ancient Listlandia for Ten of the best: examples of ekphrasis, followed inexplicably (like most synaptic paths of association) by a brief foray into synesthesia, and the paintings it inspired in Melissa McCracken, and finally down to the sidewalk with one more poem about painting at the Street Lit blog: “You Paint Loud.

Today (Sept 29/17) at a Montana Book Festival panel on the inner workings of lit journals — a panel moderated masterfully by CutBank’s own Editor-in-Chief, the wisely-nodding Bryn Agnew — experimental work got a mention, and the role of online journals in providing space for that experimentation (when it works!). Sundog Lit in particular meets that need. (They announced their Best of the Net nominees today.) Also discussed was the Oxford American’s successful melding of music and literature, which, in a flash of unfocused clicking, led to Björk, as experimental as ever in the Guardian’s Track of the Week: The Gate, “perhaps the Björkiest thing that’s ever Björked.”

And in the end? More Songs About Buildings and Food.

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The answer is “Yes.”

BURN PILE: Burnt Books

"Jorge Luis Borges noted that ‘of all man’s instruments the most wondrous is, without any doubt, the book ... it is the extension of memory and imagination’. The key word here is ‘memory’. Books form the collective memory that any conqueror, dictator or fanatic seeks to destroy."
Kenneth Baker, "Burning Books"

As if meant to counterbalance the forces of the universe, the Montana Book Festival (Sept 27-Oct 1) shares the calendar with Banned Books Week. You owe it to humanity to join us in Missoula to celebrate all things lit (and pie and whiskey, and such).

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There will be no burnings (and no bannings) of books or other goodness, although you might just get a little lit yourself. The full festival schedule is right here, and while you're running around Missoula, be a good citizen and visit the festival's sponsors.

The Burning of Books or St Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians, By Pedro Berruguete, 15th century

The Burning of Books or St Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians, By Pedro Berruguete, 15th century

The American Library Association takes on the hefty mission of providing "leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” (Emphasis is emphatically ours...) Part of their chores involve dealing with challenges lain on the table by folks who wish the world conformed more tightly to their own views. Here's the top 10 from last year. You might detect a theme running through these challenges... Hmm...

At BannedBooksWeek.org, you can dig into 10 Deliciously Dangerous Poetry Books, an examination of Banned Books that Shaped America (I'm thrilled that Where the Wild Things Are made this list!), and although the map is a tad outdated, Mapping Censorship is an interesting view of what and where in the efforts to shut down access to "questionable" literature. Missoula apparently had issues with Jon Jackson's Dead Folks and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. 

Signature-Reads.com gives Tom Blunt, offering up 16 Quotes from Great Authors for Banned Books Week. Among these is the closer for this week's Burnpile, from Henry Louis Gates Jr., “2 Live Crew, Decoded,” 1990:

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

The comments are wide open. If you've got thoughts, let's see 'em.

Be kind, be generous with your art and your heart, and Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum.

BURN PILE: The season is upon us —

…for submissions!

Submissions for the CutBank print edition are now open. Our print journal is accepting submissions of fiction or creative nonfiction up to 8,500 words, and poetry up to 5 poems per submission. Electronic only, please. There is no fee, and full guidelines are right here: http://www.cutbankonline.org/print-edition/

The CutBank Big Sky, Small Prose: Flash Contest is still open, but shuts down entries tomorrow, September 16. There’s a $500 first place prize, with publication in CutBank 88. Two runners-up will be awarded $50 and publication in CutBank 88.  All other submissions will be considered with submissions for the CutBank print edition. Send us 750 words or fewer. Lyric essays, prose poems, short essays, vignettes - send us your best, most dazzling short form prose. Hurry!  Entry fee is only $7.00. Submit here: https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit

David Byron Queen, in the fiction track at UM’s MFA program, has a fabulously unsettling flash piece up in the latest issue of (b)OINK: "Bonesetters." And Renée Branum (UM MFA 2017), is the Nonfiction Winner of Aquifer, the Florida Review Online’s 2017 Editor’s Award, with her essay, “Bolt.”  

The Cassini spacecraft made the ultimate sacrifice, and is now mind-and-body melded with Saturn. Its life ended in a fiery, “do no harm” way, to ensure our horrible terrestrial microbes wouldn’t rub off should Cassini bump into Titan or Enceladus, two of Saturn’s SIXTY-TWO moons. Coverage here, at WAPO.

Elsewhere in the sky, we’ve had atmospheric issues nationwide (that’s an understatement), yet some beauty may still come of it. The Northwest may be seeing its season of flames and haze end soon, and yet, words remain, some of them gorgeous in their ominous tone. Or just plain gorgeous. The Seattle Times turned to artists and writers to turn smoke into art.

In the random notes file, we’ve got wonders from all around:

Until next time, here’s Elvis Costello, and his pitch to “write every day” … sort of. 

BURN PILE: Once upon a time, a (hu)man walks into a bar…

…or hunkers down by the campfire with a story of the big one that got away, or gives in when the kids demand before bed: “Tell us again about that time when…”

How would we know who we are, if not for our stories? When we share them, we reveal the book inside the cover, the person inside the persona we either design for the judging eyes of others, or an identity imposed upon us by circumstance. “Listen,” we say. “Let me tell you who I really am.” Detroit, whose cover blurbs might point to tales of “abandoned auto factories and urban desolation,” has taken steps to present a fresh narrative. Edward Helmore writes in The Guardian of how, “irritated by the relentless focus on ruin porn, or pre-emptive stories about the city’s tech resurgence, Aaron Foley will attempt to offer a more nuanced portrait” of the city and its people, in “Detroit redefined: city hires America's first official 'chief storyteller'”  

Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, tells us stories about stories and the science behind them in a fascinating (and entertaining) Ted talk. “Every day in our lives we are trying to impose the order of story structure on the chaos of existence.” Telling stories to ourselves, and constructing narratives to inhabit is a survival skill, a winnowing of information overload. But other questions bubble up: Why do “we care so much, especially about fiction? About the fake struggles of fake people. Why is that interesting to us?” Have a look: https://youtu.be/Vhd0XdedLpY

The “chaos of existence” leaves most of us little time for stories, other than trying to predict the path of our days, or to look back and try to shoehorn those days into our chosen narratives. There’s always time for flash, though! The New Yorker discovered flash fiction recently. “Smithereens,” by Aleksandar Hemon, 741 words that revel in the “endless joy of converting something into nothing.”  Visit the entire collection: Flash Fiction: A summer of very short stories, for 10 of the New Yorker's favorites.

(b)OINK presents its 2017 flash contest winners, pieces small and brilliant and distilled.    
The winners were chosen by Kathy Fish, who you can get to know better in an interview at The Other Stories, in which she discusses the evolution of “Sway.”

CutBank’s Big Sky, Small Prose flash contest is open for submissions, but not for long! Entries are welcome until September 16. This year's contest will be judged by Zach VandeZande, an Assistant Professor at Central Washington University, who will choose examples of the most “interesting, compelling fiction and nonfiction prose in 750 words or fewer.” Pare and polish and submit your finest. There’s a $500 first place prize, with publication in CutBank 88, and two runners-up will be awarded $50 each along with publication. All submissions will be considered for the print edition of CutBank Literary Magazine. Guidelines are here, or head straight to Submittable to enter your work!

Take Note! Cutbank’s general submission season opens soon, September 15 - February 1, and we’re always open for your contributions to the blog! Submission guidelines at CutBank Online.

BURN PILE: Hey! Who are you, anyway?  Art, heart, and smoldering questions about reality and writers.

Who are you when you write? Where does the line blur between the identity of an author conjuring wordworlds, and the persona of their voice as written? How does the reader perceive the two (or more?) voices, and how do they relate to them?

    In the spirit of identity crisis, let's celebrate the late Eleanor Hibbert’s birthday. Primarily a novelist, Hibbert’s 1993 obit in the New York Times provides a long list of pseudonyms: Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Ellalice Tate, Victoria Holt, and Jean Plaidy. “She never revealed her maiden name or age,” the piece reads. “Two of her publishers listed conflicting birth years, 1906 and 1910. For years the true identity of the writer behind the three [most successful] pseudonyms was a tightly guarded secret in the publishing world.”
     More recently, we have “Dear Sugar,” the eclectic advice column at The Rumpus — the columnist’s identity revealed as Cheryl Strayed only after Wild took off. (You can find Sugar/Strayed's fabulous and famous WLaMF column here. Mind you, it’s NSFW, but all the more powerful for it.)
     JT LeRoy and the enigma of hoax versus pseudonym has pestered truth seekers since the ‘90s. Read backstory on the nonexistent JT at The Guardian, then meet the author behind the mystery in the documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story. While you’re bingeing instead of writing, indulge in the moral horror of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, the film made while the world believed JT was real. (Both are streaming on a device near you.)
     Meanwhile, the saga continues: Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern are at work on a film about Savanna Knoop, the woman who played (in real life) the writer who didn’t exist: “A Behind-the-Scenes First Look at Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern in JT Leroy.”

Truth, Love, and Answers may seem in short supply these days, but art — no: ART — can lead us to Heart in an unjust world. Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings gives us a look at the words of LeRoi Jones, writing as Amiri Baraka, in a “lyrical manifesto for largehearted living.” Jones reminds us “We have / each other, and the / World…” Art speaking truth to power, right? (Yes, please and thank you.) Read the articles linked within, and at the end of the page, too. 

Last note for the day: A Burn Pile thumb goes up for Lit Hub’s feature piece, “Where Are the Likes? Coming to Terms with Being a Writer on Social Media,” in which Nick Ripatrazone wonders whether our friends clicking love buttons for our successes means anything when it comes to connecting to our work… “Congratulations on publishing a poem is a second’s worth of action; reading and understanding that poem is a real commitment.”

A big CutBank thanks to all of you. Don’t forget to be kind. Don’t forget how much the world needs you. Be generous with your art, your heart, and your energy!

PS: Coming soon: Our regular feature, All Accounts and Mixture, will be presenting new works for you in the next weeks. Keep an eye out for it! 

BURN PILE: New Lit TV, Great Young American Novelists, Good Friends, and Something Funny from McSweeney’s

In this week’s Burn Pile, CutBank brings you all your essential literary entertainment needs (at least for another week-or-so). Binge-worthy TV shows, work from great young American novelists, a heartwarming story of friendship and cannons, and something funny from McSweeney’s:

·       Two new literary TV shows debuted recently: Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and STARZ’s American Gods. Read related articles from The New Yorker here and BookRiot here.

·       The excellent folks at Granta have also released a special issue featuring the best of young American novelists. Get the issue featuring Emma Cline, Catherine Lacey, Jesse Ball, Lauren Groff, Karan Mahajan, and Claire Vaye Watkins here. In addition, read LitHub’s feature of “10 More of the Best Young American Novelists” here.

·       Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is also coming to the Apollo stage. Read The New York Times write-up here.

·       In other news, Johnny Depp spent five million dollars on a cannon to blast Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes—what a good friend.

·       And finally meet Thad—your worst student—courtesy of McSweeney’s.

Stay strong, friends. CutBank out.

BURN PILE: Advice for Book Lovers, Rebecca Solnit, and Congestion of the Brain

We ordinarily come up with some sort of theme for the Burn Pile—a feature in which we offer up a smattering of the week’s lit-related offerings—but our picks for this week are perhaps best described as “grab bag.” Consider the following, no less tasty for their randomness:

  • Have you seen the New York Times’ “Match Book”? It is—wait for it—“an advice column for book lovers.” People write in asking for recommendations based on previous likes/dislikes/obsessions, and writer-cum–book critic Nicole Lamy responds via columns with titles like “Busy Dad Seeks New Updike” or “Books for Globetrotting Girls” (both published this week). Is it just me, or is this both heartwarming and profoundly comforting?    
  • The New Yorker’s “Page Turner” reviews Rebecca Solnit’s new book of feminist essays, The Mother of All Questions. The genesis of the collection was Solnit’s infuriating encounter with a male interviewer in which he insisted she explain her decision to not have children. The encounter is, as Page Turner notes, “a self-conscious corollary” to the incident from Solnit’s earlier feminist work, “Men Explain Things to Me”—an essay that gave rise to the term “mansplaining.”
  • John Scalzi, a Los Angeles Times critic and Hugo award-winning novelist, offers readers a ten-point plan for getting creative work done during a Trump presidency.  Necessary and dare we say inspirational.
  • And because more than half our staff is gleefully morbid (oh how they delighted in explaining corpse farms to me at our recent content meeting), I’ll leave you with Lit Hub’s piece on “The Notorious Legends and Dubious Stories of Ten Literary Deaths.” Click-baity? Sure. But you know you want to hear the attending doctor’s thoughts on Edgar Allen Poe’s suspected “congestion of the brain.” Drank himself to death? Maybe… maybe not. We won’t even get into that turtle that supposedly struck Aeschylus in the head.