Twin Cities Book Festival

October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Coming to the Twin Cities Book Festival this weekend? You should drop by and say, “hi,” while I’m working at the Red Bird Chapbooks booth! We’ll have lots of chapbooks, old and new, for sale, as well as info about how to get involved with the press as a volunteer or author.


Not coming to the Twin Cities Book Festival? What’s a matter, brainless–don’t you know it is the best literary fun you can have in Minnesota all year long?

There’ll be lots of presses if you’re interested in finding a publisher and lots of schools, workshops, and MFA programs if you’re looking to improve your craft.

Plus, the place will be lousy with awesome authors: TOJitW favorite Mark Rapacz will have a table for his new book Boondoggle (there will be a review here shortly after I get my copy at the fest) and a new favorite of mine,Andre Alexis, will be talking and signing–his Fifteen Dogs has, so far, been the funniest and most surprising book I’ve read this year (I can’t wait to see him at 2:30, so just don’t drop by the booth then).

And if you just want books, there’s no better way place to get your hands on both the hottest and most obscure tomes out there! You can get all the details and the full schedule here.

Redbird Chapbook Submission Period Now Open!

July 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Got some great short stories that form a cohesive unit? A dozen flash fiction pieces that explore a theme? Or just one, gorgeous longer short story?

I hope so, because we’ve just opened our 2015 Possibilities Period at Red Bird Chapbooks! For the duration of July and August, we’ll be accepting collections of fiction, poetry, CNF, and everything in between, so send us your best. You can find the full guidelines here.1435580753

Didn’t think chapbooks were for fiction? We’ve been trying to combat that misconception for years, and I think we’re finally getting some traction. When I started with Red Bird, we had a handful of brave authors sending their manuscripts, while last year there were nearly a hundred fiction chapbooks to choose from, and even with Nancy Hedin joining the team, I felt like there was more good work in the pool than we were able to choose for publication. Though I know how awful it feels to hear that as a writer, it is a great problem to have as an editor! We’re publishing six incredible and diverse collections of fiction in 2015, whereas we didn’t even have six submissions that first year.

This year we’ve added on Beth Mayer for a third fiction editor, so we will be publishing nine fiction chapbooks in 2016! That said, after impressing a lot of folks from all over the country with our lovely, handmade books at AWP this past spring, we are expecting even more great work will come pouring in this year, so make sure to send your best stuff.

Interested in knowing more? Here’s an interview I gave to Bonnie ZoBell at Everyday Fiction a few years ago, detailing what I’m looking for in a chapbook and what makes them such a great format for a fiction writer.

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

June 5, 2014 § 4 Comments

Hey all! My pal, my hero, my once-and-future dungeon master Andrew Blissenbach of Mandrew’s Blissenblog invited me to take part in this #mywritingprocess chain that has been sweeping the blogosphere. I met Andy when we were both getting our MFAs from Hamline University, and I’ve admired his slightly intimidating writing since before we became friends. I say intimidating not just because Andy takes masculinity in all its permutations and perversions as his subject, but because he does it with such skill, bravery, intelligence, and passion that it always felt hard to live up to his energy if you had to read a piece after him. Since graduating, he’s started an awesome blog featuring his CNF explorations of masculinity, which you can check out here (or you can jump right to his #MyWritingProcess post here.)

So here are the questions he challenged me to answer:

1) What am I working on?

A metafictional erotic thriller / comedic murder mystery / romantic slasher called Slash.

Here’s a little synopsis: Alexis Bledsoe would die if anyone found out about her secret crush. As star of TV’s #1 family drama, she’s certain coming out of the closet would J-Episode One Coverend her career. Worse still, her one true love is America’s hottest actress, Lissa Blaine, who just happens to play her older and prettier sister each week on Koop’s Kitchen.  So Alex hates Lissa, too: wishes her dead every time she stumbles onto a tabloid cover with a cocktail in hand and some new B-list beefcake on her arm. Desperate for an outlet each night after filming wraps, Alex closes the shades on her trailer and reads slash fiction on internet fan forums: trashy little tales written by viewers about an imagined romance between her and Lissa’s characters. All unbelievable moans and trite whispers, Alex believes them a secret best taken to her grave–until an anonymous author begins to post violent slash stories that seem to foretell the death of the cast of Koop’s Kitchen. When real life actors start dying in scenes suspiciously similar to those Alex has been reading, she is forced to search the stories for suspects and clues instead of steamy caresses. And with everyone she knows a potential perverted murderer or future victim, keeping her true self a secret is more a matter or life and death than ever before.

I’m self-publishing it serially but already have a near-final draft of the whole thing done. I’m just going through and tweaking/polishing each episode as I put them out now–not the most exciting part of the process to me–so I’m also working on a few short stories to keep my muscles up.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As you can probably tell from the description above, Slash is all over as far as genre is concerned. Really conservative genre stuff usually bores me, but I find working with genre very fruitful for my creative process. The blank page can be really scary, but with genre I feel like you get a free outline to start with; I just usually find my creativity excited by tearing certain parts of the conventions down instead of building them up and filling them in.

For example, there are some sections of the novel that I hoped would read like an erotic thriller, but I never wanted to let the reader get too into it for too long, so I often found myself using either some comedy or vertiginous metafictional effect to pull back—not out of the story, but out of the flow of pure expectation and satisfaction that the most formulaic genre stuff works on. With the metafiction in the story, I found it most fun to ally the readers with the protagonist as things get interesting, only to make a little critical fun of them both for liking it (and the author for liking writing it) after the climax.

If I have a beef with genre (especially with the way books are sold on the internet), it is that it is often a way for readers to get only what they want, to only read about the sort of characters they like, in the sort of scenes that are interesting to them, thinking thoughts that echo the readers’ own opinions; I feel like a book should challenge a reader’s expectations, and the way I’m trying to do that with Slash is by layering all these expectations that can’t possibly all be satisfied.

3) Why do I write what I write?

After rereading the above, I realize I must sound like a pretentious literary snob. But trying to better myself, to challenge myself, is one of the reasons I write. I find writing to be the kind of labor, like learning something complicated or going on a really exhausting bike ride, that can be the sort of challenge that turns easy, making time melt away as consciousness sinks into something deeper. I write because I feel bad about myself when I’m not challenging myself in that way; I write because I feel like I owe it to everyone who wrote the books that have changed me; I write because I turn into a weepy brat with bad self-esteem when I stay away from the page for too long.

Shoot… that sounds even more pretentious. But I write WHAT I write because I want to be unpretentious. In addition to putting all that sex and violence and humor in Slash to play with genre, I also did so because I thought that people would like to read about all that sex and violence and humor.

My favorite novels are those sorts of novels, like Jennifer Egan’s The Keep or Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, that are both fun and challenging to read, because they get you in with genre elements but then make you look deeper into them and think of them in new ways. I’d like to think it stems more from some deep, democratic love of humanity than just a thirst for royalty checks, but I do want to reach a wider readership than really hardcore literary fiction like Finnegan’s Wake usually touches. I want my writing to be inviting, and putting familiar genre elements in a story is a great way to keep the front door open for a lot of readers. What I do with you once you’re in the house is another matter…

4) How does your writing process work?

I always start loose, with pencil and paper. With the first novel I wrote, for my MFA thesis, this meant doing what Pat Francisco, master of the Creative Process, calls a “shitty first draft.” Basically this entails just letting loose a stream of, “Okay: this happened and then this happened and then that happened—but wait, I forgot to say that this other thing happened between the first and the second things, which makes this next thing make perfect sense…” over however many pages and days it took until I had a beginning, middle, and end, even if they didn’t show up in that order.

Given the episodic nature and genre elements of Slash, I started by loosely outlining the general arc of the whole thing and broke it up into sections, then made increasingly articulate outlines for each episode. (There was even a stage in the early planning when I thought of developing it as a comic book, making it easy to think of Episodes as trade paperbacks collecting the individual issues, which eventually became chapters.)

Even once I got writing, though, I stayed by-hand for the first full draft in order to stay loose creatively and keep myself from getting worried about and continually re-editing what came before (because there’s good no reason to change the start, anyway, until you know the end). Plus, it kept me flexible in the next draft; I find I’m much more willing to make changes as I’m typing it all up than if I’m just rereading what I have in MS Word.

Once I had the full typed draft, I let my wife read it, and then started revising it, episode by episode. For these penultimate revisions, I’m really focusing on giving each episode its own arc; they obviously aren’t going to be able to be read on their own, since the over-arching mystery is the focus, but I want them each to offer some small conflict and resolution so that there’s some satisfaction feeding readers in the wait between episodes. I’ve been sending these episodes out to writers I trust (MANDREW himself, along with Josh Wodarz and Benjamin J. Kowalsky) for one final round of comments before I tweak a few last scenes and sentences based on their comments. Then it is off to my proofreader, the astute and infallible Eve Proofreads, after which I format for ebooks and the zine version. (I am thinking of sharing my book-making tips in a future post, so I will leave them out of this writing process discussion.)

These final steps of revision, publication, and promotion are the most boring part to me, though; I much prefer the planning and dreaming stages to the fine-tuning and word-worrying of the last steps.  As a result, I’ve found it helpful for my enthusiasm and sanity to keep some small projects going to break up the monotony of copy-editing and promoting that has taken up a lot of my time since starting to publish Slash.

photo (4)

The 4th Draft of a new short story, written on the back of signs from the grocery store I work at.

Here’s a sneak peak at a short story I worked on between episodes and am currently sending around to lit-journals. As you can see, it is hand-written on scratch paper, but it is really the fifth or sixth draft I did. If I’ve learned one concrete thing about my process over the years, it is to stay off the computer for as long as possible. I think I finally typed up the next draft, which became the final draft after a little copy editing. In addition to the reasons I listed above in favor of pen and paper, I feel like the computer has several strikes against it. In addition to the distraction of the internet, since becoming a self-publisher, the keyboard has increasingly become a space of commerce and competition to me, which is detrimental to my creativity.

Anyhow, hopefully that was of some interest to someone—at the very least, I think I learned a few things about myself typing it up. In addition to all those nuts and bolts, emotion plays a big part in the creative process; one of the most prevalent, in my case, at least, being doubt.

15484_100457BThat’s why I chose Mark Rapacz for one of the next links in this blog-chain. Since I first reached out to him about his awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project I wanted to include in my fan fiction recommendations posts at Slash, he’s been a great source of encouragement, enthusiasm, and FB links to all sorts of  news about fan-fiction that have kept me going every time I’ve wondered if all the work would amount to anything. Plus, he’s also a visionary publisher and an incredible writer: if you like stories that challenge your expectations, try his beautiful and elegiac western, Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the MachinesHis post will appear next week at

BIOMark Rapacz is the founding editor of Blastgun Books and an editor and partner with the neo-pulp press Burnt Bridge. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone Review, Revolver, Martian Lit, The Booked. Anthology, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He has short works coming soon from Plots With Guns and The East Bay Review. His novella, Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines, was recently re-issued as a historically accurate dime novel and is available through IndyPlanet and Amazon. Whenever he gets the chance, he forces people to read his work of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction, Tongue-Cut Ninja. He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he works at Stanford University and continues to write stories.

vljWhen a little encouragement isn’t enough to outweigh the doubt, I usually enter the stage in my creative process called despair. When I feel like what I’m doing will never be good enough or that, regardless of how good it is, no one will ever read it, it is my lovely wife, the poet and scholar Jenny McDougal who talks some sense into me. She’s incredibly supportive and encouraging—not to mention a great poet, professor, and founding editor at Versus Literary Journal, a home to all pop culture obsessed literature. After you check out her post, be sure to submit that series of Super Mario haikus you’ve been working on for years.

Bio: Jenny McDougal lives and writes in St Paul, Minnesota where she teaches English Literature at St. Catherine University. She is a semi-finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Water~Stone Review, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry and Prose, Paper Darts, Red Bird, Dinosaur Bees, sleet magazine, and elsewhere. She loves roller-skating, discussing feminist narratives in literature, and most things that are neat.

PrintThe other side of doubt and despair is the dreaming part of my creative process, where anything seems possible and the ideas seem to stack beautifully, one fitting perfectly
into the next, until I’m sure academics will be studying my body of work centuries from now. When I first started my MFA at Hamline University, I looked up to David Oppegaard, who had recently graduated from the program and had already published a book—with a blurb from Stan Lee! I dreamed of being David. Many years later, I’m still looking up to him, as he just put his fourth book out, the gritty western horror story And the Hills Opened Up. His post will appear next week at

Bio: David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker-nominated The Suicide Collectors (St. Martin’s Press), Wormwood, Nevada (St. Martin’s Press) and And the Hills Opened Up (Burnt Bridge). David’s work is a blend of science fiction, literary fiction, horror, and dark fantasy. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University and a B.A. in English from St. Olaf College. He lives in St. Paul, MN. You can visit his website at




May 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you’re  stopping by The Oldest Jokes in the World on account of  MANDREW‘s stop on the #MyWritingProcess blog hop, howdy! Thanks for taking a look around. I’ll have my own answer to those questions up later this week, but in the mean time, you can read a few good jokes and a bunch of bad ones in my jokealong series, check out my slightly academic essays on literary humor in the menu to the left, or head over to to check out what I’ve been working on lately: a serial novel called Slash. It’s the only metafictional erotic thriller / comedic murder mystery / romantic slashser to be chosen as an Indie Reader Top Book Pick. You can read a free preview of the first chapter by clicking the cover below and check back in a few days to see how I came up with it all…

J-Episode One Cover

Get Hooked

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

It is that time again: if you live in Minnesota, you should be gearing up for the Cracked Walnut Literary Festival! Featuring 25 readings at an incredible array of venues throughout April, it will bring the work of over a hundred writers to diverse audiences. Each night has a unique theme, so there should be plenty of interesting connections to draw. You can get the full schedule of events here.

I will be reading at 7pm on Friday, April 4th at The Coffee Shop Northeast (you can get full details here) and will share the stage with a couple of friends I’m looking forward to seeing again and some new names I’m excited to hear for the first time. The theme of the night is “Hooked”; I’ve written a lot about addiction in the past, but I’m planning to read from Slash in order to get everyone in the audience hooked on it’s unique blend of literary/trashy suspense. And I guess, while not as classic as alcohol or drug addiction, the novel’s protagonist is addicted to erotic fan fiction, so it works with the theme in that way, too.


In addition to hooking people on Slash (which will be FREE on April 4th-8th, by the way!), I hope the reading will hook everyone on the Cracked Literary Festival, as well. It is a great part of the Twin Cities Literary Community that writers and readers in other cities ought to be jealous of and that we Minnesotans should support in every way possible. I’m planning on attending a few in addition to the one I am reading in (my wife is reading at the April 14th event), and I hope to see you there.


Indie Reader Approved!

February 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

Just wanted to draw your attention over to my serial novel Slash‘s first major review: 5 stars from!IR-Sticker-IR-Approved--150x150

They’ve got plenty of flattering things to say about the writing, characters, and plotting, but for our purposes at The Oldest Jokes in the World, I’ll just share the pull quote from the top of the page: “SLASH is a masterfully done serial novel that anyone who appreciates well–written fiction should find to be an enriching read, artfully both comedic and dramatic.” The emphasis there is mine, because, as long-time readers of this blog will know, that blending of the comedic and dramatic is one of my main literary aims. I gather from writers I admire that it is generally best not to let the reviews affect your work one way or the other, but it was really encouraging and affirming to see that readers are not only understanding but enjoying what I’ve put so much work into.

You can read the full review here and learn more about Slash at And to celebrate the good press, ebooks of Episodes One and Two are now just 99 cents each at Amazon and Smashwords!

Announcing SLASH Episode Three: “Boy/Friend”

January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m proud to announce that the third installment of Slash, “Boy/Friend”, is now available in all major ebook formats.J-Episode Three Cover In Episode Three, a new slash story finally gives Alex the chance to prevent another murder and convinces her that Perry, the show’s nosy new guest star, is behind the mysterious deaths. Despite her lackluster investigatory skills, Alex has an easy time keeping a close eye on him because this week’s script includes their big make-out scene.

You can find it in any ebook format–Kindle, Nook, ipad, pdf, whatever–at my smashwords page.

Or you can get it for your Kindle from amazon here.

It is also available for your Nook directly from Barnes and Noble’s site.

There is also a handsome physical version, much like the mysteriously minimalist first two episodes, but with a pink inner cover. If you live in the Twin Cities, you’ll be able to find it at Common Good Books in St. Paul or Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis by the middle of the month; you can stay tuned to the facebook group for announcements about when they receive the latest deliveries. Or, if you live elsewhere, you can mail-order it from my Etsy store.

I normally reserve the free previews for, but since this one is mostly comedy, I thought I’d post it here, too. To get a sense of the series as a whole, you can preview the whole first chapter here and an excerpt from Episode Two here, but all you need to know for this scene is that Alex is painfully shy and trying to foil a potential serial killer without drawing too much attention to herself.


As soon as she had skimmed to the end, Alex started searching for some way to contact Sylvia Camp, the young woman who played Mel.

Audiences so loved Sylvia’s sassy courage that they’d been demanding a spinoff even before season 3 ended: Momma Mel and Mel’s Many Munchkins were leading title suggestions on the Internet (though Alex had always thought Mel’s Mammaries would best capture the appeal). In the true test of whether a character had seized the nation’s subconscious, had been inundated with slash stories starring Mel over the winter and spring. A few featured her and Stephie making love, but Alex always felt like she was cheating on her fantasy when she read them—and preferred to read about Mel giving it to Lissa, anyways. Despite America’s yearnings, Sylvia hadn’t been content to play Mel for a minute more than she needed to; during the few discussions Alex had managed to sustain with her, Sylvia bragged that she was hoping to use Koop’s Kitchen as a stepping-stone to more serious acting. So even though Alex had heard—during one of Lissa’s jealous tantrums—that PJ had offered Sylvia a recurring role for the fourth season, she’d left the show for new roles as soon as her contract was up.

Since moving on, she’d easily surpassed Alex’s level of fame with a few talk-show appearances, and this summer had been scantily-clad in nearly as many magazines as Lissa (though she tended to be in Maxim air-brushed bikini shoots as opposed to candid tabloid up-skirts). With two B-grade teen comedies on her CV, Lissa was still more famous, but, searching the Internet, Alex realized Sylvia might soon eclipse her as well.

Horror fan communities online were abuzz with news of Bull God: adapted from an acclaimed novel by an enigmatic director and starring Sylvia Camp, the minutest details of production were daily news, including the location where principal filming had begun a week ago. Alex was thrilled to finally have her research provide an answer but, as she’d only hit dead ends so far, was unsure of how to proceed. The studio lot where they were filming was between her apartment and the Koop’s Kitchen studios, but she couldn’t just show up at Sylvia’s trailer: Hey, remember me? The short lady who looks like she’s thirteen and always stares at your breasts? Yeah, thanks, I’m good—just stopped by to warn you: last night I read a seemingly-prophetic piece of fan fiction in which Lissa Blaine and I fucked across the hall from your corpse…

It would be easier if both ends were anonymous, so she decided to call in a bomb threat to the entire studio. While the phone rang, she realized, first, that she didn’t know what to say and, second, that she shouldn’t call from her own phone. As a result, she was thankful when a recording asked her to leave a message or call back during normal business hours. It was still only 4am, so she showered and dressed, then refreshed and refreshed her search results to make sure she wasn’t already too late when she left her apartment at 6.

She called again from a gas-station payphone, and when a man answered—“Thanks for calling DM Studios, this is Chet. How may I help you?”—she realized she still hadn’t thought of what to say. “Hellooooo?”

“Um, yes, sorry,” she tried to speak like a man, from deep in her throat. “I’m calling today to report a bomb threat.” While satisfied with the gravelly affectation disguising her voice, Alex was disappointed her meek manners shone through.

“Oh, no,” Chet said blandly. “Did you actually see the bomb, or is it just suspicious activity?”

“I’ve seen the bomb myself, yes.”

Chet continued, only slightly more concerned, “Because the New York City block in B6 is being used to film a pilot for a new bomb-squad procedural called Tick, Tock, Boom. Were you in B6?”


“Jeez, okay. I’ll call security right now. Where were you?”

“I’m not going to say.”


“I don’t want you to find it. I hid it.”

“Oh shit: so you aren’t actually ‘reporting’ a bomb threat, you want to make one. You’re calling to threaten with a bomb.”

“Sure, I guess. Yes. Consider yourself threatened.”

Finally, Chet sounded worried: “Why?”

“Um.” Throat getting raw, Alex croaked, “Because of your… culture of promiscuity which you promote through your films and programs… with loose sex and scantily clad women… and men, too, I guess… and gays and…”

“Then fuck you,” Chet interrupted, and Alex hung up.

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