BURN PILE: "In the Shadow of a Mountain." From National Walkout Day to March for Our Lives, students are demanding a saner, safer world.

In the Shadow of a Mountain

by Bryn Agnew
Editor-In-Chief, CutBank

On March 14th, 2018, students from the University of Montana participated in the National Walkout Day to protest gun violence in schools.

The signs read WE CAN END GUN VIOLENCE, EDUCATED PEOPLE DO NOT NEED TO CARRY GUNS, MOMS DEMAND ACTION, and MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS. Someone starts a chant: “Enough is enough,” yet no one joins in. As far as protests go, the Walkout at the University of Montana is pretty tame. The signs, a single megaphone, a moment of silence. Letter writing materials are distributed. People register to vote. Sitting on a bench, just behind the crowd of my fellow students, a man sits down next to me and talks about the difference between fishing for trout in the Kootenai and fishing for bass at Lake Fork, TX. Looking at the crowd of students, he says, “I don’t do this gun stuff.”

Washington DC, National Walkout Day
Photo by Lorie Shaull

There is no way to know what he means. The verb is weak, the statement vague. But I wonder why he tells me this, on the bench away from the crowd. I can’t help but think that he doesn’t consider me a part of the crowd, and I wonder if I’m even a part of them.

In the weeks since the Parkland shooting, I walk the UM campus haunted. To my office in the LA building, to the UC for lunch, to class in the afternoon, I wonder where the shots will come from. At the Walkout, sitting on the bench, I cannot will myself to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow students for fear of being an easier target. I am a traitor to them.

After, I text my friend saying, I think it is tragically American that I could not will myself to stand in the crowd for fear of being shot. I think of the statistics we are constantly being reminded of: you are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning while being chewed in half by a great white shark than to be shot in school. We are reminded that we are irrational. That this will never happen to us. I shame myself for my own fear.

Pennsylvania Ave March For Our Lives
Photo by Shawn Thew-EPA

Yet, this fear is all many of us have known. On April 25th, 1999 I was eight, sitting in church with my parents. The pastor walked to the pulpit and said the most searing words I’ve ever heard: “This week was hell.” Five days earlier, the Columbine shooting happened. Fifteen dead, twenty-four wounded. I learned what the word “hell” actually meant.

There are students at UM who were born after Columbine, who have lived through the constant fear of being shot at school, who grew up participating in active shooter drills the same way I grew up participating in fire or tornado drills, the way our parents hid under their desks hoping the ply-board and cheap metal would save them from the mushroom cloud. Please, listen to them.

Mt. Sentinel looms over UM, and by the bronze statue of a bear, they—we—gather. Because it is tragically American to be shot in school. We don’t want to be good Americans. We want to be the Americans the “good” ones hate. Apathy is a privilege. Yet, sacrifices to the gods of gunpowder should never afford apathy. Approximately 7,000 children have been killed by gunshot wounds since Sandy Hook in 2012.

We gather under the mountain because the fear is not irrational. Our institutions of knowledge, growth, and creativity are plagued by the fear. A shadow over the campus. This is how we live, fearing what could happen to our school, to us.

I am proud of my fellow students and our educators all over the nation, looking out of the shadow, saying however we can, “Enough. Not one more.”

"March for Our Lives: hundreds of thousands demand end to gun violence." 
The Guardian, U.S. edition.

Leni Steinhart on A.M. Joy:

“We were just in New York just last week, doing a panel there, and a couple of students were coming up to us and saying you’re inspiring to us, we’re looking up to you, we’re going to fight with you, and I just tell them, first of all thank you, but we’re just students who want to create change, and we hope that they march along with us today.”

What are your thoughts?
Let's keep this conversation out front. 

Talk to us. We're listening.
We'll add you to this post and tweet to our readers. 

Send your comments directly to cutbankonline@gmail.com.

A BURN PILE of Post-it notes to self. There are good things all around. Great things. Pick one. Click it.

The Force of Decency Awakens

by Paul Krugman. Opinion in The New York Times.

"Suddenly, it seems as if the worst lack all conviction, while the best are filled with a passionate intensity. We don’t yet know whether this will translate into political change. But we may be in the midst of a transformative moment."

* * * 

Swing Your Partner

New fiction by Jean-Luc Bouchard at Pithead Chapel.

"When I asked everyone their opinion, they all said the same thing: “You always seem happy to me.” So I took their words to heart, because if the whole world tells you something, it’s probably true."

* * *

If I had a dog I’d name it Virginia Woof.

Literary Pet Names Using Puns Unworthy of Their Namesakes

A list of laughter by Kristen Arnett and Mary Laura Philpott at McSweeney's.

* * *

Honeysuckle and Jasmine

Fiction by Rachel Abbott at The Stockholm Review of Literature.

"We did not notice at first that we were aging out of our games. The restlessness of early adolescence settled over us one summer like an itchy blanket. The Beanie Babies became lifeless, fuzzy sacks. It wasn’t that we realized we couldn’t time travel or dig all the way to China; we just didn’t want to try anymore."

* * *

Is it too late to write about AWP? Because I feel a thread coming on. Rereading my notes from the WRITING BAD ASS & NASTY WOMEN panel, I’m finding so many gems that seem appropriate to share as students protest & as I’m thinking about misogyny yet again.  https://twitter.com/MaureenLangloss/status/974012009749581824

Is it too late to write about AWP? Because I feel a thread coming on. Rereading my notes from the WRITING BAD ASS & NASTY WOMEN panel, I’m finding so many gems that seem appropriate to share as students protest & as I’m thinking about misogyny yet again.

* * *

Joshua Mohr at LitHub: The Time I Robbed a Liquor Store

On Confession, Guilt, and the Impossibility of Absolution

"[D]o our mistakes really deserve mercy? Can something as simple as time erode the severity of our indiscretions?"

* * *

Forgive Me South Dakota

New nonfiction by Vivé Griffith in the latest Hippocampus.

"My grandmother didn’t tell me 20 miles can be so many things. Bend after bend. Rising and falling. The road blocked, buffalo illuminated in my headlights. Beep the horn before the one-lane bridge. Use the brights. Squint into blackness, turn another curve."

* * *

On Hysteria

Nonfiction by Renée Branum at The New Limestone Review.

"Wanda was prone to fits of hysterics, was known to fall out of her chair laughing on occasion. She would quiver on the carpet, folded up like a hand that couldn’t quite make a fist. And because she was old, was always old as far as I can remember, this was a little frightening."

* * *

The Male Glance

By Lili Loofbourow at VQR.

"The male glance is how comedies about women become chick flicks. It’s how discussions of serious movies with female protagonists consign them to the unappealing stable of “strong female characters.” It’s how soap operas and reality television become synonymous with trash. It tricks us into pronouncing mothers intrinsically boring, and it quietly convinces us that female friendships come in two strains: conventional jealousy or the even less appealing non-plot of saccharine love. The third narrative possibility, frenemy-cum-friend, is an only slightly less shallow conversion myth. Who consumes these stories? Who could want to?"

* * *

The Magazine Interview: the American Gods and Coraline author Neil Gaiman on his outsider status and open marriage

“This isn’t doomsday, this isn’t armageddon... I guess fundamentally I’m an optimist.” 
Interview by Helena De Bertodano

* * *

A Place You Can See the Stars

Fiction by Cathy Ulrich

It’s different here, he says, than in the real world. He calls it the real world. He lives on a street with lamps all up and down it, a place where it’s never dark.

He says: I come here so I can see the stars.

* * *

What makes a good short story?
With Chris Power – books podcast

David Sedaris once said: “A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.”

* * *

Why this? Why not?

* * *

Best of the Net 2017 at Sundress Publications

"This project continues to promote the diverse and growing collection of voices who are publishing their work online, a venue that continues to see less respect from such yearly anthologies as the Pushcart and Best American series. This anthology serves to bring greater respect to an innovative and continually expanding medium in the same medium in which it is published."

* * *

Stormy Daniels is crushing President Trump at his own game

"One remarkable feature of Stormy Daniels' chess match with Trump is that shame — this White House's usual instrument against its adversaries — isn't working. Porn stars don't find shame especially useful, and Daniels is no exception. This poses a problem for the president: Daniels (aka Stephanie Gregory Clifford) is utterly unembarrassed about profiting off her connection to him. She's unembarrassed in general. As the president's most virulent defenders have come after her, she's parried their attacks with jokes that defang them. Cracks about her age earn GILF humor, cracks about her being a prostitute have her crowing with glee. She's so good at this that her attackers often end up deleting their tweets; it's just not worth it."

* * *

Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223

Interviewed by Paul Winner

"Huddled in a hoodie, Williams made coffee with almond milk before sitting across from me at a pine table. She got up several times to retrieve objects or fuss with the dogs. When the talk was over, she drove us into town for a martini and we returned after dark. There was a fat moon. She cut the truck’s headlights and moved, very slowly, through the herds as they sniffed and stepped aside, hides glowing with moonlight.

“Forget the interview,” she said. “Write about this.”

* * *

Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?

As I emerged from alcoholism, I had to face down a terrifying question.

By Leslie Jamison

* * *


Katie Flynn reads from “In the Skin,” and we interview Associate Editor, Essence London, on why she voted for the piece. Listen here for an glimpse of our latest issue and insight into our selection process.

“In the Skin” was originally published in Indiana Review 39.2, Fall 2017.

* * *

To the Future Readers of Lucie Brock-Broido

By Stephanie Burt

"I remember her telling early-nineties students, often for the first time, about Jane Miller, Denis Johnson, Frank Bidart, and on and on. I still have the photocopies, some divided into categories that she made up (for example, The Swerve)."

* * *

Why Reading Sherman Alexie Was Never Enough

As the #MeToo spotlight moves to Indian Country, epidemic violence against Native women meets tokenism in publishing.

* * *


A Mud Season Review interview with Lynne Feeley

Our nonfiction editor Mindy Wong recently had this exchange with Lynne Feeley, our Issue #36 featured nonfiction author. Here’s what she had to say about her writing and revision process, her inspirations and influences, and the research involved in crafting her essay “The Measurer of Ruin.”


* * *

Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks

The agony and the ecstasy of America’s favorite chain restaurant

by Helen Rosner ( @hels )

* * *

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can't and that is why
They know not if it's dark outside or light

BURN (it all down) PILE: the presidents' day edition.


                        The sky will never be an ocean, 

no matter how often you write it that way. 

Georgia Dennison, "Mount Saint Helens—"

* * *

Emma Gonzalez of Douglas High Calls Out Trump, Politicians & NRA.

BURN PILE: “What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929-January 22, 2018)

Breaking into the Spell

The queen of science fiction on war, the problem with literary realism and learning to write as a woman.
By Alexander Chee

* * *

* * *

The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin

The literary mainstream once relegated her work to the margins. Then she transformed the mainstream.
By Julie Phillips

* * *

Ursula K. Le Guin on Anger

“Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous… It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.”

* * *

Celebrate the Life & Writing of Ursula K. Le Guin (R.I.P.) with Classic Radio Dramatizations of Her Stories



* * *

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.

* * *

Ursula K. Le Guin On ‘Starting Late’ as a Writer

Posted by Mark Armstrong, from a Paris Review interview with John Wray.

* * *

Ursula Le Guin: ‘Wizardry is artistry’

As Ursula Le Guin receives the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards, she talks to Hari Kunzru about alternative fictional worlds

* * *



* * *



BURN PILE: Inspiration 2018

Quick! Before classes, or work, or tonight while the kids are asleep, or packed into any carve-it-out-and-take-a-minute time you’ve got, just go soak up inspiration from these folks.

* * *


* * *

From The New York Times, “Women’s March 2018: Thousands of Protestors Take to the Streets.

“Desiree Joy Frias, 24, of the Bronx, and her grandmother, Daisy Vanderhorst, wore red capes and curved white hoods — the telltale outfits of the enslaved child-bearers of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was recently adapted for television from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian science fiction novel.”

See? It’s literary news.

* * *

Largesse cover.jpg

In celebration of the release of The Largesse of the Sea Maiden—reviewed here, by Michael Schaub at NPR—experience “Now.” A poem about which a friend said: “Wow. He sure knows how to inhabit the ineffable.” (Sorry, but I’ve only been able to find it online as a Facebook post.) The Poetry Foundation has many more of Denis Johnson’s poems available here.

* * *

The Poem Climbs the Scaffold and Tells You What It Sees. Natasha Oladukun. The Adroit Journal.


Read in whatever order, but read Paige Lewis’s “Eager,” and this note to the poet at One Great Things.


Oh, mortality, and all that comes before it… “Assisted Living” by M. Stone, at formercactus.com.


FEAR NO LIT presents: Show Your Work, Episode 10: Laura Citino - "What She Does When She Gets Lonely" in podcast chit chat, and Citino’s story is right here at Split Lip.


If you missed this one at Pithead Chapel, you have no excuse now to miss it again. “This Dog, This Shower, This Bench, This Morning” by Janet Frishberg.

From Twitter: Taylor Johnson's "Nocturne" in Tin House


If you lean more toward longer short fiction, Longreads has recommendations for you, in “10 Outstanding Short Stories to Read in 2018

* * *

Back when we had a presidential president, Alexander Chee’s “21 Lies Writers Tell Themselves (And How They Can Stop Lying To Themselves And Become Awesome!)*” ran in The Awl, which, sadly, is ending its life on the Net. Go while you can.

* * *

Was it you?Harry Potter book known as 'Holy Grail for collectors' stolen by burglars
Valuable edition of JK Rowling's first novel was one of only 500 printed in 1997

* * *

This month’s issue of Brevity is (as always) filled with jaw-droppingly strong nonfiction. Some standouts to hit from here are “At My School” by Courtney Kersten, and “Turn, Bend, and Spread” by Michael Fischer. 

“The bathroom walls are a battle. Between dissent and Magic Erasers, between wrath and paint, between the kids and the janitors.
I sit on the toilet and read—about the protests back in November, about the institution protecting rapists, about Chance the Rapper, about which Instagram accounts to follow, about whether or not Jeff Sessions is Hitler-incarnate, about the taco place downtown that gives you diarrhea. Do NOT go!!! I read the messages one day and watch them morph the next; the graffiti augmented by agreement, argument, or thick lines of deletion.”

                                                                                From “At My School” by Courtney Kersten

* * *


Inspiration at work.


Later, y'all.

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.