Writing Trans Characters

When I was in my early twenties in the early part of the aughts, I gravitated towards anything with a transgender character. Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the bizarre zombie flick and Guitar Wolf vehicle Wild Zero, The Kink’s “Lola,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild...

A Balancing Act

As a memoirist, I often write about my family. I don’t worry too much about offending the people I write about for one simple reason– they’re dead. When you die, you lose the chance to object to what people say about you. I don’t know if I even could write as candidly as I do...

Write Like a Cow: On Taking Craft Cues from Your Subject

In her chapbook The Cows, Lydia Davis begins with the promise of drama: Each new day, when they come out from the far side of the barn, it is like the next act, or the start of an entirely new play. They amble out from the far side of the barn with their rhythmic, graceful...

Beyond Beautiful: The Significance of an Objective Critique

“Beautiful.” If I had $10 for every time I heard this word during my first MFA residency, my full tuition for the residency would be back in my bank account. Beautiful. This word, which I reserve for something unique or rare, something that makes me take pause from life, was assigned to just about every...

The Shared Space Between Reader and Writer: A Case Study

I often teach classes on the form of the “hermit crab” essay, a term Suzanne Paola and I used in our textbook Tell It Slant. Hermit crab essays adopt already existing forms as the container for the writing at hand, such as the essay in the form of a “to-do” list, or a field guide,...

Going Cold: Writing Emotion, the Earley Scale, and the Brilliance of Edwidge Danticat

In a scene that is central to Edwidge Danticat’s novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, eighteen-year-old Sophie Caco’s mother guides her gently to her bedroom and “tests” her for virginity—with a finger, just as Sophie’s grandmother tested the mother and her sister every week. It’s an invasion that shatters Sophie’s sense of boundaries and will make her...

Consider the Prompt

Writers, on your marks, get set, go— I was supposed to be doing this writing, and/but/so… * A little background: I heard a celebrated writer say that. That is, she’d written it. That is, it turned up in the middle of an essay she read for a roomful of writers. Come to find out “this...

When Free Writing Will Not Make You Free: Resistance Training for Writers

In July 2013, I ran a marathon up Mount Adams near Trout Lake, Washington. Nobody questioned my physical prowess, because the accomplishment was indisputable. But, if you actually pressed your fingers against my belly, you would have felt pudge, and you probably would have been surprised to not feel functioning abdominal muscles (you’d also be...

On Riding and Writing Boldly

It was the summer of 2013, and I was in midair. My horse, Eragon, was not very tall, but I’d been launched from his back on a hillside at speed, so I had a long way to fall. My view of the sky between Eragon’s ears flipped to the approaching ground, studded with sticks and rocks....

Can You Hear Me Now? How Reading Our Writing Aloud Informs Audiences and Ourselves

In this Craft Essay, Kate Carroll de Gutes uses special characters (up and down arrows) to indicate how to score our own writing to improve our vocal delivery.  She suggests symbols to show us—at a glance—where we want to slow down, speed up, pause, emphasize.  Because WordPress cannot handle the specialized symbols, this essay, “Can You Hear Me...

The Editor at the Breakfast Table

I groaned. I sighed. Beneath the table, I pounded my fist on my knee. The old man was at it again: editing one of my papers for class. “Now, I know this is tough,” he would say, “but this will make you a better writer.” Then, cruel as a Cossack, he would slash through a...

The Nose Knows: How Smells Can Connect Us to the Past and Lead Us to the Page

“Whatever the odor, it is a marvel how it clings to me and how apt my skin is to imbibe it…. If I bring my gloves or my handkerchief near [my mustache], the smell will stay there the whole day. It betrays the place I come from.” —Montaigne, “Of Smells” “Follow your nose. It always...