the word "communication" in relief on a metal grate

Seems like the more I prioritize it offline, the less I do on.

But I’ve enjoyed the various instances of the 2006/2016 meme that have come across my feeds, so here’s a version of same.

2006: Working on The Rules for Hearts, also minicomics. Helped gut a house in New Orleans. Acquired Snag.

Had braces. Went to my first BG Literary retreat. Had a LiveJournal, username “thisisnotanlj.”

LJ userpic, November 2006:

2016: Working on novel which will likely have a different title by the time it’s done, therefore I won’t share its working title. Plus some comics which may also end up with different titles than their working titles therefore ditto. Had an essay published in The V-WordWent to my tenth BG Literary retreat. (Can that be true? I think it can.)  Taught comics writing in Denmark. Mourned, organized.

Selfie after most recent haircut with same stylist/friend as 2006:

Basically the same pose and also yeah I’ve had variations on the same asymmetrical haircut for more than a decade, fight me.

N.B. I was already going gray in 2006, but I wasn’t letting it show yet.

And here’s 2016 Snag, as recently documented by Jay Edidin:

snag drinking from the faucet

One week in Denmark

Last week I had the excellent opportunity and challenge to be a guest instructor in the Graphic Storytelling program at The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark.

animation workshop exterior

The opportunity aspect is obvious, including but not limited to: international travel, working with engaged & talented students, absorbing the culture of the school.

The challenge, or rather challenges: getting to know twenty students well enough, quickly enough, to offer useful feedback on their writing; assigning work that was demanding without being overwhelming, recalibrating assignments and talks based on student responses, and last but not least, doing all this while jetlagged! (I tried not to dwell on that last, though; the program employs a lot of guest instructors from outside of Denmark and the students told me they all complain about jet lag!)

I did have one day to adjust to the nine hour time difference before I started teaching. I spent a chunk of it at the cemetery, impressed by the hedges that provided a sense of privacy between graves, and by some of the older stones that included the profession of the deceased.

viborg cemetery  grave at viborg cemetery

I also wandered around Viborg.

I like taking shots of architectural details; I tend not to take photos of people which perhaps makes it appear that I was in a post-apocalyptic landscape. But there were people in Viborg, I promise.

img_6458 img_6426 img_6490 img_6495 img_6356  img_6503 img_6497 img_6492

Steve Hickner was also a guest instructor during the week I was there. He gave a talk with advice and insights about working in animation, applicable to related fields as well:

slide "Surround yourself with people who love their jobs" slide "Take advantage of where you are" slide: "Don't just show up. Participate. Ask questions."

Here’s the door of the room where I taught:

Tupilaq Room

One concept I emphasized: imposing constraints at the beginning stage of writing can paradoxically make it easier to get started. For instance, I suggested writing a story in which every important element starts with the same letter.

large letter S made of rusty metal

I expected that I’d learn a lot, and I did. I didn’t expect to also come home feeling especially inspired to get back to my own work. But seeing the students’ enthusiasm and lack of second-guessing throughout the week as they tackled the various writing assignments was incredibly valuable, and it made me excited to approach my writing in the same spirit.

Just as soon as I’m over this jetlag.


Status Update

Suddenly it’s more than halfway through September and I haven’t posted since July. The longer it’s been since my last post, the harder it is to decide what to tell you. What’s been happening when perhaps it seems like nothing has been happening?

Well: a lot. A few highlights:

I visited Jessamyn, and she took me to some of her favorite libraries. (Not all pictured.)

photo of brass doorknob with book detail

photo of cool metal library staircase

metal grate and wooden step stool

The BGLiterary retreat happened. It corresponded with both an air show and the Perseid meteor shower. So, in between, and sometimes during, discussions of craft and business, we stared at the sky.

I tabled and spoke on a panel at the excellent Boise Library Comic Con. Notable table interactions include the teen who told me they like “anything non-hetero” and the parent who talked about the limitations of the gender binary.

I moved a lot of furniture, including this filing cabinet.

filing cabinet with drawers removed filing cabinet drawers

I taught a Writing the Other class focused on comics.

I hung out on the periphery of the second day of XOXO.

heben negatu at xoxo 2016

Next month I’m teaching a week-long writing workshop for Graphic Storytelling students.

I met some alpacas.

mother and baby alpaca

As always, I’m trying to figure out how to make the best use of my time. Opportunities to teach are exciting but require a lot of preparation. The dayjob takes at minimum 40 hours per week. Spending time with friends & family is essential. (Spending time with alpacas is perhaps not strictly speaking essential, but is pretty great and was done with a friend, so.) Writing requires — well, again, a lot, including but not limited to focus, momentum, and stamina. I’m striving to get and/or maintain all three.

Hoping you all are finding focus, momentum and stamina for your endeavors, and that you also have chances to encounter, if not alpacas, then equally delightful equivalents.


I will be teaching a Writing the Other: Comics & Graphic Novels class on September 10

I was/am honored to be invited to teach a class that falls under the Writing the Other umbrella. I’ve been recommending the book by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward for years, and admire the ongoing work that they, K. Tempest Bradford, and others are doing to teach and expand on the concepts and strategies the book offers for writing characters and settings outside writers’ own experiences.

Here’s the class description:

Comics is a visual medium. Not everything about a story is apparent from a quick glance, but comics readers can tell a lot simply by flipping or scrolling through pages about who is, and is not, included. The class will be an overview of strategies for Writing the Other sensitively and convincingly in comics, including character and setting design, finding useful reference for your artist (including when the artist is you), dialogue and captions, and staging scenes.

You can register for it beginning August 6th, unless you’re a Writing the Other alumnus, in which case you can register for it Right Now.

It will be September 10th, 3-5 PM Eastern/12-2 PM Pacific, online via GoToMeeting. If you’re thinking of taking the class and there’s something you especially want me to cover, let me know!

And please also check out the other upcoming classes!

Deep Cover

I wasn’t going to write anything about Orlando. So often, when something brutal and devastating happens, the last thing I want to do is post about it, and mostly I don’t. And yet as I tab back and forth, social media to my manuscript to this window I’m typing in right now, I can’t stop thinking about something a friend said the other day, in comparing the ways we navigate our jobs and lives with respect to identity: “You’re in deep cover.” My Wikipedia entry notwithstanding, if you know me in my day-to-day life, my queerness is invisible unless I talk about it, and I don’t always talk about it.

But today I can’t not talk about it. I want you to know, whoever you are reading this, that I feel gutpunched, that I sent money to the Zebra Foundation as a small but hopefully useful action, that I listened to Nia King’s We Want the Airwaves podcast and read from The Collection: Short Fiction From The Transgender Vanguard and Glitter and Grit: Queer Performance from the Heels on Wheels Femme Galaxy and As The Crow Flies because I needed to experience queer voices, and that I’m trying to work on my own book-in-progress but I can’t stop thinking about all the voices that have been silenced.

Denver Comic Con

I’ll be tabling and speaking at my first Denver Comic Con in just a few weeks, June 17-19. I’ve heard great things about this show; I’m excited to participate! Here’s my panel schedule:

How Educators and Librarians Can Collaborate to use Comics in the Classroom Friday, June 17 10:30 am 11:20 am Room 302 – Education

LGBT Comics You Should Be Reading Friday, June 17 5:15 pm 6:05 pm Room 401 – Comic Books – Mainstream

Genderbend It! In writing Saturday, June 18 11:00 am 11:50 am Room 502/503 – Literary / Authors

All in the Comics Family Saturday, June 18 1:30 pm 2:20 pm Room 607 – DCC Presents

How Comics are Focusing on Women Characters to Encourage Female Readership Saturday, June 18 2:45 pm 3:35 pm Room 303 – Education Classroom

It’s Okay to Be (Geeky and) Gay Sunday, June 19 2:00 pm 2:45 pm Lab 8bit Stage

Hope to see Denver folks there!

When you’re not at the party

This past weekend, the vast majority of posts showing up on my various social media feeds were from or about AWP. Now I’m starting to see a flurry from comics comrades about ECCC, and from library pals about PLA.

When many of your colleagues and friends are at Professionally Useful Gatherings (let’s call them PUGs) and you’re not, it’s easy to feel like you’re Seriously Missing Out.

pug photo by Christopher Michel

by Christopher Michel via Creative Commons

Even the complaints about PUGs can seem enviable. Your PUG-attending pals have bags under their eyes from being out so late! They’ve lost their voices from talking to so many people! They’ve wrenched their backs from carrying all the amazing books & swag!

When you’re wishing you were where all the Cool Kids (of whatever variety is appropriate for your endeavors) seem to be, here are three things you can do besides endlessly scrolling and feeling sorry for yourself:

1. Look up information about next year’s event. Could you propose one or more sessions? How much would travel & lodging cost? Have you got friends in the area you could stay with? Are exhibitor booths/tables available and can you afford one? If you’ll be selling your work, how much would you need to make to break even? If you think it would truly benefit your career and/or morale to participate in the event, start planning how you can get there in the future.

By Sam Lavy via Creative Commons

By Sam Lavy via Creative Commons

2. Make plans with a local friend. If it’s nice out, you can go for a walk.

Photo of two pugs in sweaters by a river

By e_haya via Creative Commons

3. Do the work. Whatever the thing is that the PUG you’re coveting is about, get off the Internet and do that thing; it’ll get your mind off wishing you were somewhere you’re not, and you’ll have more experience by the time the next PUG comes around.

By Isabella Li via

By Isabella Li via


Twist Fate Challenge

I’m looking forward to being one of the editors for the Twist Fate Challenge! Let me quote from the press release:

Two popular apps that support young artists and writers are calling on teens to create works, twisting the fate of heroes and villains. “Twist Fate,” an art and writing challenge for 13 to 17 year olds, is being hosted by DeviantArt, the world’s largest community for visual art, and by Wattpad, the world’s largest community of readers and writers.

“Wattpad and DeviantArt are home to some of the most active and inspiring creative youth communities on the net. They offer a rich and motivating context for young people to connect, learn, and get feedback from others who share their interests and passions,” said Mimi Ito, co-founder of the Connected Learning Alliance and UC Irvine cultural anthropologist who specializes in learning. “This challenge is an opportunity for more educators and youth to tap into this creative energy and experience how social online platforms can fuel learning and engagement in the arts.”

Young people are invited to submit entries on the website of either DeviantArt or Wattpad from March 6 through April 6. The best stories, comic panels, illustrations or other creations will be chosen as finalists that will be reviewed by a panel of editors who will decide which ones to publish in a book. And, the book will be made available to the public in libraries across the country.

The editors are: writers Sara Ryan (author of “Bad Houses,” “The Rules for Hearts” and “Empress of the World”) and Lauren Kate Morphew (author of “Fallen,” Torment,” “Passion,” “Rapture,” “Fallen in Love” and “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove”), Disney/Pixar artist and animator Brian Kesinger and Antero Garcia, assistant professor of English at Colorado State University.

I’m excited to see what heroes and villains the writers & artists choose, and what forms the entries will take!

If you or someone you know wants to enter, the challenge is open from March 6 – April 6, and you can submit via either WattPad or DeviantArt.

5 things I recently learned that might be obvious to you but weren’t to me.

  1. If you’re attempting to have more precisely groomed/styled eyebrows, getting a magnifying mirror does not mean you’re “cheating.” Neither does using brow gel, the existence of which I was unaware until like a month ago.
  2. If you find it difficult to cram a change of clothes plus the giant stompy boots you want to wear afterward into your gym bag, wear the boots to the gym and pack your gym shoes.
  3. If you’re out of cinnamon, five spice makes a decent substitute. (In part because cinnamon is one of the five.)
  4. Baked oatmeal is the Platonic ideal of oatmeal. I just made some with chopped pecans, apricots & cranberries.
  5. Meta: when you’re learning something new and you get super frustrated, it’s useful to remember that frustration the next time you’re teaching something you find easy/intuitive, but perhaps is exactly that frustrating to your student(s).

The worst question you can ask a writer.


The worst question to ask a writer is not: “Where do you get your ideas?”

This is a clichéd question, yes. But precisely because it’s a cliché, we probably have a stock response. Even if we don’t, it’s fairly easy to come up with some kind of answer, whether flip or serious, about where our ideas come from. (“Overheard conversations, other books, music, art, strange objects seen on the street, the Internet.”)

The worst question to ask a writer is not: “How much money do you make?”

This is mostly an annoying question. If we’re not inclined to share our yearly profit-and-loss statements with the questioner, we can deflect it gracefully and with humor, e.g. “Not enough to quit my day job!” or “Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” Or, if we’re feeling feisty, with “How much money do you make?” But “How much money do you make?” is fundamentally an answerable question.

The worst question to ask a writer is not: “What are you working on?”

This can be a tricky question. We don’t always want to reveal too much about projects that don’t yet feel fully formed. We might have signed nondisclosure agreements. (Although if we have, we can give a very fancy, high-status-sounding answer: a slight smile, a shrug, and the acronym “NDA.”) We might worry that if we describe the project, the questioner won’t respond in a way that feels positive and we’ll start to doubt ourselves. But “What are you working on?” is also absolutely an answerable question.

The worst question to ask a writer is: “Are you still writing?”

It immediately gives the impression that the questioner thinks we might not be, that writing was a passing fancy for us, that perhaps we’ve decided instead to work on baking a perfect Victoria sponge, or squatting three hundred, or learning calligraphy — all of which, of course, are estimable and worthy activities, no shade to anyone engaging in any or all of the above.

But “Are you still writing?” is almost a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question. It puts us immediately on the defensive. We could answer by listing off our most recent and forthcoming publications. But we might worry that we’ll come off sounding like we’re bragging, or that our most recent publications were too long ago, our forthcoming too far in the future, or that regardless, they somehow wouldn’t count in the eyes of the questioner (wrong genre, wrong audience, inadequate distribution, etc.) There’s also the point that the fact that the questioner is asking implies that they aren’t aware of said publications, which means that we haven’t done a good enough job getting the word out about them.

If we don’t have recent or upcoming publications, “Are you still writing?” adds insult to injury. We’re almost certainly already beating ourselves up about it, and now we feel like the questioner may actually be asking “You mean you haven’t given up the ridiculous idea that you’re a writer?”

We could answer by saying what we’re working on, but that’s not what the questioner asked. A simple “Yes!” feels too terse. We’d like to think the questioner means well, but again, if they are, why would they ask about our writing in a way that casts doubt on whether or not it’s still happening?

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Geez, what’s the big deal? It’s a totally innocent question. Stop being so sensitive,” I might venture to wonder whether you’ve had many interactions with writers.