Book Reviews

Great Reads 2019

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

WOW. Give Angie Kim all of the awards. Miracle Creek is filling the gaping hole in my heart left by To Kill a Mockingbird (after realizing how problematic the “great American novel” was in so, so many ways).

Miracle Creek is one of the best books I have ever read. It has all of the perks of a mystery – having me staying up way past my bedtime because I can’t put it down – with all of the power and import of literature.

As far as I am concerned, this is required reading. I know it’s early, but Miracle Creek deserves to be on every “New Canon”/”New Classics” reading list. READ IT NOW (or later but SOON)!

– Goodreads Review from June 14, 2019

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is quite a remarkable book! Before starting it, I was skeptical about whether or not it was for me. I’m not a celebrity gossip junkie and, while I used to love reading historical fiction, lately I have found myself more interested in books addressing contemporary issues. But the celebrity aspect of the story gives it thematic depth. We all choose to repress and emphasize various parts of our identities, but those in the spotlight have to do so to an even greater extent if they want to be in control of their own narrative – and their own careers. And the historical element is made relevant as it is interwoven with a second story unfolding in modern day.

– Goodreads review from July 23, 2019

The Witch Elm by Tana French

When I bought this book, I thought it was the latest installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series, so I was a little disappointed when I realized my mistake. Somehow, though, it’s even better. Part of my love for the story may have come from the fact that I read it while recovering from surgery, so I could relate to Toby’s foggy headedness and frustration at how his own situation changed. But I think the main thing that made it better than her other books – which I really, really like but haven’t love-loved since In the Woods – was the voice. French is great at writing from the POV of detectives, but they generally aren’t, you know, funny people. The Witch Elm made me laugh out loud so many times – very unexpected for a mystery novel. I had no idea French was so funny. Plus, it takes on big issues: ableism, privilege, empathy, toxic masculinity. It’s kind of an important piece of capital-“L” Literature while still being a page-turning murder mystery. Brava, Tana French!

– Goodreads review from June 29, 2019

★ ★ ★
Other Great Reads
★ ★ ★

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
➡︎ Read my review here.

March (trilogy) by John Robert Lewis

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
➡︎ Read my review here.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
➡︎ Read my review here.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi, editor
➡︎ Read my review here.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham (adapted from the original by Harper Lee)
➡︎ Read my review here.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
➡︎ Read my review here.

Book Reviews

Great Reads 2018

Screen Shot 2019-01-02 at 10.21.00 PMAt the end of every year, I like to reflect on all of the wonderful books I have read over the past 365 or so days and highlight the standouts.

This is my fifth annual Great Reads post – apparently the only blog post I can reliably hold myself to doing each year.

I use Goodreads to set a personal reading challenge each year, and I can’t recommend the site enough for fellow readers and writers.

Check out my Goodreads author profile here.

I’m excited to share that I exceeded my 2018 reading goal of 33 books.

The 37 books I read this year include a lot of young adult novels, a few graphic novels, some classics, a little nonfiction, and a lot of contemporary fiction.

(I used to set my goal at 50 books each year, but it was very difficult to reach and pushed me to read shorter books just for the sake of my book count instead of reading what I actually wanted. In 2017, I set my goal at 32 – my age at the time – and have increased my goal by one book each year. Since this change, I have not only been able to read what I wanted, but I have also exceeded my goal every year.)

I really liked most of the books I read this year, but when I reviewed my Goodreads ratings, I was surprised to see that I was stingy with my five-star ratings. I only gave out two five-star ratings this year: one to Angie Thomas for The Hate U Give and one to J. K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

This is really interesting!

It might seem like the only thing these two books have in common is the fact that they are YA novels, but I’ve come to realize that they have a lot more in common than that. 

Thematically, they are both about a very specific type of coming-of-age: having the courage to stand up to authority and do what what you know is right, no matter the consequences. 

I also realized that they both follow the Hero’s Journey fairly closely. As a fantasy hero, Harry Potter follows the journey rather obviously, but Starr Carter’s growth as a character can be plotted on a Hero’s Journey diagram with an even better fit than Potter’s. 

On a personal level, these books also have in common the facts that I have read them multiple times and that I have taught them to my high school students. Neither of these books received a five-star rating from me upon my first read. Each time I reread the books, I picked up on more of the authors’ craft and fell more and more in love with the stories and how they are told.

This is significant because I typically don’t reread books. I usually only reread a book if I am teaching it. With so many books on my To Read list, who has the time to read something they’ve already read before?

But this year’s Great Reads reflection has brought my attention to the value of rereading. In the future, I hope to give more of my four-star books a second go. I am a book hoarder, so they are already in my possession. I just have to make it a priority.

If I love the book even more, then it was well worth my time. If I don’t, then maybe it’s time to let it go by passing the book along to a friend or donating it to a local free library.

Here’s to another year of great reads for all of us!

Book Reviews

Great Reads 2017

I’m so excited to write my fourth annual Great Reads post. I’m so excited, in fact, that I’m not even going to apologize for not writing enough content for the blog. (It’s been so long since I’ve updated this website that WordPress didn’t remember my log-in credentials. Worse, it’s been so long since I’ve even visited my own website that Google Chrome couldn’t auto-complete the URL…)

To be clear, the idea of this post is to list the top books that I read in 2017. Not all of them were actually published in 2017.

Before I begin, I have to give a big shout out to the Book of the Month club, which helped diversify my reading list. (Last year’s list was, regrettably, brought to you by all white male authors. Great books all the same, but I was ashamed that I couldn’t amplify any other voices.) Beyond adding women writers and writers of color, BOTM has helped me balance my 2017 reading list with contemporary authors, so this year’s list does feature a lot more new books than my previous lists have.

I joined Book of the Month in November 2016, and it’s been so much fun reading their selections this year. Fifteen of the thirty-nine books I’ve read this year were from BOTM, and six out of my nine top books listed here (including all of the top 5!) were from BOTM. My subscription was the best gift I have ever given myself. (If you’d like to check it out for yourself, use my referral link to get your first book for $9.99 plus a free tote bag.)

So here they are, folks: the nine books that earned a five-star rating from me on Goodreads this year along with the short reviews I wrote for each of them. Check ’em out.

  1. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
    Ruth Emmie Lang
    St. Martin’s Press, 2017

    33574161I expected to not like this book based on the premise, but I love magical realism, so I gave it a shot as my October Book of the Month pick. I’m so glad I took a chance on it – it’s easily one of my favorite books of all time. It was one of those books that you start reading really fast until you get close to the end, and then you start dragging it out just because you don’t want the dream to end! For me, the initial hook was the To Kill a Mockingbird allusions, but the characters quickly took hold of me and carried the narrative from there. I loved the structure; it was a unique way of letting the story unfold but not gimmicky in any way. Even though it’s classified as adult fiction, I can see a lot of my students loving this book as much as I do. I’m so impressed that this is a debut novel and can’t wait to read more of Lang’s work in the future.
  2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
    Neil Gaiman
    William Morrow Books, 2013

    I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

    15783514One of the biggest questions I had before reading this book was whether or not it could be classified as YA. But like the neopagan mythology Gaiman calls back to once again with his Triple Goddess from The Sandman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is neither YA nor not-YA. It just is. Most of the story is narrated from a child’s POV, and I think many of my teenage students would appreciate it, but I agree with other reviewers that the reader who will get the most out of the story is the one with nostalgia for childhood lost.

    It’s a short, quick read with a dreamlike – at times, nightmarish – quality that feels expansive while you are immersed in it but slips away as soon as you set it aside to return to reality.

  3. The Sun Is Also a Star
    Nicola Yoon
    Delacorte Press, 2016

    Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddIt’s difficult for me to review this book because it is so great that anything I write about it will feel lame by comparison. I expected to like this novel because of all the science – specifically, the interplay between cosmology and poetry – and I did love all of the scientific and historical interludes, but what really blew me away was how much heart the characters had. The main characters, yes, but even the minor characters, who still get to have their story heard no matter how few pages we meet them for. It would be easy for this love story to feel cheesy or sappy, but it was so earnest that I never questioned it. Beautiful stuff. My new favorite YA novel. 
  4. Exit West
    Mohsin Hamid
    Riverhead, 2017

    30688435There is something brilliant about the language here – wholly unique and yet completely ordinary at the same time, just like the story itself. The narrative is at once timely and timeless, and the book’s multiple identities couldn’t be more appropriate for a story of migration. I was unprepared for the supernatural turn, but it was a pleasant surprise because I love speculative fiction. I highly recommend Exit West for any reader who doesn’t mind a little magic in their realism.
  5. Dark Matter
    Blake Crouch
    Crown, 2016

    27833670I had so much fun nerding out with this one. Dark Matter has just the right amount of suspense, science, and heart. I can’t say too much more without spoilers.
  6. In the Woods 
    Dublin Murder Squad #1
    Tana French
    Viking, 2007

    237209This was exactly what I was looking for. I don’t normally read crime fiction, but I was trying to find a solid series that would hook me like a good TV procedural while still having the depth and texture of literary writing. I binge-read the first installment in a weekend, and though I feel a bit icky claiming a book this dark is “amazing” with my five-star review, I was literally amazed at what French accomplished. I can’t wait to devour the series; I hope she can keep this up.
  7. The Graveyard Book
    Neil Gaiman
    Dave McKean, Illustrator
    HarperCollins, 2008

    2213661This was such a perfectly written story. Loved it.

    Note – I feel I should elaborate now since I wrote such a sparse review of this one initially. I’m a late-comer to the Neil Gaiman party – just started reading his work three years ago – and I’m still playing catch-up. The Graveyard Book was my first introduction to Gaiman’s writing for middle grade/young adult readers, and it was such a treat. At least once per trimester, I cry in front of my students during sustained silent reading (SSR), and this was the Fall 2017 Made-Ms.-Trout-Cry book. The closest analogy I can make – though I am loathe to do it – is to Harry Potter but with the heart and magic of the entire series condensed into one volume. On the one hand, a part of me wished Gaiman had stretched out the narrative, so we could spend more time with Nobody “Bod” Owens, but there is such a gorgeous simplicity to the way Gaiman leaves so many of his stories open ended. It makes it impossible for him to disappoint me.

  8. Coraline
    Neil Gaiman
    Dave McKean, Illustrator
    HarperCollins, 2012 (first published in 2002) 

    589836Such a great book! Coraline is technically middle grade, but due to the creepiness, some kids might want to wait until they are young adults to read it. As an adult, I loved it! It’s really only the brevity and inclusion of illustrations that make it middle grade. Gaiman uses great words for young people building their vocabulary, but like a pro, he uses them sparingly so they can learn their meaning in context without getting lost as to what is going on in the book. I plan on buying a few copies for my classroom. It will make a great choice book for fall literature circles!
  9. Lucky You
    Erika Carter
    Counterpoint, 2017

    33825216I can see why so many people have given this book lower reviews. The characters felt realistic but were not always likable – it was hard to want to relate to them. And the plot was not conventionally driven. There were plenty of opportunities for conflict between characters, but the narrative largely skipped over all that to resonate in the quiet internal conflicts within each character. It’s not a long book, and it doesn’t come to a firm – or necessarily satisfying – conclusion.
    And yet, there’s something remarkable about this book. The narrative voice is luscious and lyric without being overwrought. The momentum is incredible, alternating points of view and skipping through time with each chapter to focus on set-piece moments that define each character’s experience. It was funny but serious at the same time, making me cringe, laugh, reflect, and keep turning the pages until – just like that – it was over.
    Many thanks to BOTM for the recommendation and for the opportunity to read a gorgeous early release of Lucky You. This is Erika Carter’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next. Note – I had a couple random people comment on my Goodreads review about how Lucky You did not deserve the rating and praise I had given it, so I had to add: “I would agree that this is not a ‘five-star’ book if five stars means it’s one of the best and most important works out there, but we aren’t defining the literary canon here. Goodreads defines five stars as ‘I really liked it,’ and since I really enjoyed reading this book, it earned five stars from this reader.”

Several wonderful books that I gave four-star ratings in 2017 almost got honorable mentions here, but since this year’s list features more books than any of my previous Great Reads posts, I thought I’d let these nine awesome novels bask in their five-star glory without any end-of-the-year amendments.

That’s right – every one of my top nine books is a novel. Apparently, I only read two nonfiction books and three graphic novels this year – no books of poetry, plays, or even short story or essay collections. Oops! I guess they got pushed down by all of the YA novels I added to my never ending To Read list…

Good thing there’s always 2018 – feel free to comment with recommendations.

If you’d like to keep up with my book reviews throughout the year, follow me on Goodreads at and/or Twitter @brooktrouting.

Happy Reading in the New Year!


2017 Goals

Each year, I set new reading and writing goals. Most years, I fail to meet them. How did I do this year? Let’s reflect and set new goals accordingly…

Read at least 36 Goodreads-countable books, plus as many non-countable texts as I want.

I technically failed this goal, only having read 30 Goodreads-countable books, but I read a lot that doesn’t count, and I finally read House of Leaves, so I’m happy with how I did. Now that I’m not in grad school anymore, I don’t have nearly as much reading built into my work week, so I need to recalibrate.

My Goodreads goal for 2017 is to read at least 32 countable books. Why 32? Because, as of today, that’s my age. Can I increase my books-read by one book each year? Only time will tell. Follow me on Goodreads at, and check out my Books to Read in 2017 board on Pinterest here.

Write something new and/or edit something old daily. Set deadlines for each project, and prioritize meeting them.

Epic fail. I knew I would fail this goal because I’m not a write-every-day kind of writer, but I should always be writing (and revising!) more than I am, so I’m going to carry this goal over to 2017 as-is.

Submit pieces that are ready at least once each week. Create a new submission schedule, and actually use it this time.

Another failure. I didn’t submit much this year, but this goal was a little unrealistic to start with. In 2017, I’m going to shoot for submitting at least once each month. It’s a little more my speed.

Develop new content for this website, especially resources for fellow writers.

Great success! I redesigned my blog this year and developed a resources for writers section. I haven’t added to it since the April launch, but the infrastructure is there, and I plan to increase how often I put out new “issues” gradually. In 2017, I plan to put out at least two.

Post on blog at least once each week, and share content on Twitter at least once per day.

Ha! I really didn’t do this one. While the Fracture tour was in full swing, I was pretty good about sharing the news both here and on Twitter, but by the time the tour was wrapping up, I was a little burnt out on the self-promotion. I’m going to be realistic in recalibrating this goal for 2017 and say that if I can post on the blog at least once each month, I’ll be happy. As for social medias, I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter very much in the past six months, so I think a once-a-week goal is much more realistic. Follow me on Twitter @brooktrouting.

Attend at least a dozen events that support my writing life, whether conferences, readings, or field research opportunities.

I think I met this goal. Most of the events were Fracture-related, but I’ve also had a lot of experiences that would count as field research. I’m going to carry this goal into 2017, but without a book release, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to meet. Also, I recently moved from Grand Rapids (population: about 200,000) to Ithaca, Michigan (population: about 3,000), so it’s not like there are a lot of readings or other literary events happening in the community (yet!).

In 2017, I will probably primarily meet this goal through field research opportunities, but I’d also like to start building a literary community in the heart of Central Michigan. Get in touch if you’re in the area and would like to be a part of it.


I have a lot of non-reading-or-writing goals for 2017 too. Many of them relate to food: cook six days a week, put in a garden, learn to can (and ferment!), get up early enough for the Farmer’s Market every week once it opens for the season, get ready for chickens in 2018 – I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the idea: lots to accomplish in 2017.

Happy (belated) New Year, and good luck achieving your own goals this year!

Book Reviews

Great Reads 2016

With every New Year, I like to call out my favorite books that I read the previous year. (Find my 2014 list here and 2015 list here.) This year, I am compiling another top books list for 2016, but this time, there is one clear standout and a handful of honorable mentions.

Again, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2016. Most of what I read was not actually published in 2016. All the books on this list received five-star “it was amazing” ratings from me on Goodreads. The runners-up are listed in the order in which I read them, not any kind of ranking.

Book of the Year337907

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I never ended up writing a review about this book, though I had intended to as soon as I recovered from the reading experience. The problem with reviewing House of Leaves is that any formal consideration of the book lends itself to dissertation-level thoughts that would have to be expressed in dissertation length to do it any justice. It took me years of trying to start House of Leaves before I finally committed and gave up my winter break to it. And by it, I mean madness. To read this book is to question your own sanity. It changed my idea of what literature is/does while avoiding gimmick with flawless execution.

Runners Up28282

Election by Tom Perotta

My Goodreads review: “A fun book – great read for a Presidential Election year.”

I don’t know if I would have felt the same sentiment had I read the book in December instead of February, but I’m going to let the comment stand.

15811496Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

My Goodreads review: “So good!”

If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s work before, you must read Cooked. It’s a wonderful exploration of food culture that will challenge you to take your relationship to food to the next level. If you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s work, I don’t know that this is the best place to start. Check out some of his earlier work first, but keep Cooked on your to-read list.

17707989Brown Dog by Jim Harrison

My Goodreads review: “Though each of the six novellas could stand alone, I really enjoyed reading them together as a collection. I had to take breaks to read other books between the novellas because there is a decent amount of recapitulation in each one, but I loved having all of them together in sequence. Harrison is one of my heroes, and I’m glad that we can still learn so much from him through his writing.”

934329The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Achievement Gap for American Children by  E.D. Hirsch Jr.

My Goodreads review: “Anyone with a stake in the American educational system—so, all Americans but especially educators, educational policy makers, parents, and advocates—should read this book. People who haven’t read a lot of pedagogy might find the writing a bit dry, but it’s the best written (and least bogged down in jargon, abstraction, and vagueness) book on education that I’ve ever read, so if you have had to read a lot of pedagogy, The Knowledge Deficit will be a page turner! I want to hand it out to every teacher, administrator, and politician I know.”

13533747The Wake (The Sandman #10) by Neil Gaiman

My Goodreads review: “After ‘really liking but not quite loving’ most of the volumes of this series, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the way Gaiman closed his story. I look forward to rereading the series and have a feeling I’ll appreciate it even more with additional passes.”

If you’re a reader of graphic novels, then I’m sure you’ve already read The Sandman, but if you aren’t, it’s time to check the Dream King out. I was never “into comic books” until the used book store in Ames moved away from downtown and a new comic book store moved in. I wanted to support my Main Street bookstore, even if most of their books are illustrated. For me, The Sandman was a gateway into a whole new type of storytelling. I highly recommend to anyone who likes good literature but isn’t “into comic books” yet.

12502523Breakfast of Champions by  Kurt Vonnegut

My Goodreads review: “Listen: You might not like this book if you have a problem with illustrations of assholes and wide open beavers. The assholes look something like this: *. You’ll have to read the book to see the rest of the illustrations. You might like this book if you have chemicals in your brain that make you like Vonnegut, his illustrations, his characters, and his dark humor. And you might like the way he gives the plot away in Chapter 1 and defines useful terms like legume for the reader. You might like that this book prominently features Kilgore Trout.

“And so on.”

22522808Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

My Goodreads review: “A wonderful collection, mostly short stories with a few narrative poems here and there. As in any collection, there were a few pieces that I didn’t enjoy as much, but there were many more great ones.

“I really enjoyed Gaiman’s introduction, which includes a brief note on each of the pieces. You can certainly appreciate the ‘disturbances’ without any backstory, but as I writer, I always love reading notes like these.”


What’s missing from this list? Authors who aren’t white men! I do make sure to include women writers and writers-of-color in each year’s reading list, but this year none of the ones I chose made it to five-star status. Looking forward to 2017, I’m planning to devote a lot more of my reading time to these underrepresented authors with the hope that I’ll be able to feature them in next year’s New Year post. Feel free to shoot me any recommendations you might have.


In addition to tracking my books read and books-I-want-to-read on Goodreads, last year I made a Pinterest board to track them as well, and I’m doing it again this year. Check out my Books Read in 2016 board here and my Books to Read in 2017 board here.

Happy Reading in 2017!

Creative Writing, Editing, Readings

More Michigan Fracture Events

IMG_0495Here are a couple photos from our April event at Lansing’s Everybody Reads. Sorry about the quality; we did have a professional photographer attend our Creston Wellness Center event, and I hope to share the photos from that soon.

Here also are a few more dates for upcoming Fracture readings in Michigan. As always, they are free and open to the public!

Saturday, August 6 – Traverse City, Michigan

Join us at the Horizon Books for a reading and book signing with contributors Stephanie Mills and Maryann Lesert as well as yours truly.

Details on the Horizon’s event page.IMG_0498

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with me as well as contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills.

Details on the UMBS event page.

Tuesday, September 20 – Lansing, Michigan

In partnership with Lansing Community College’s Science Department, Schuler Books (Eastwood) hosts the monthly discussion group Cafe Scientifique, an outreach program to promote public interest in science. This September, the group will discuss fracking and Fracture with contributor Maryann Lesert as their honored guest.

Find a list of Cafe Scientifique’s past events here.

There are still more events in the works, and on Thursday, I’m going into the studio with Maryann Lesert to talk to Lester Graham, host of Michigan Radio’s Stateside program. I’ll post those dates and a link to the interview when I have them!

A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s (newly redesigned!) website. Be sure to follow both the book and the press on Facebook to keep up with the latest news, and tweet at us @icecubepress, @fractureanth, and @brooktrouting.

Creative Writing, Editing, Readings

The Fracture Tour Continues


Photo by Taylor Brorby at our U Wyoming event

Here’s an update on our Michigan Fracture events, all of which are free and open to the public.

There are a couple more in the works—I’ll let you know when we have the details for you!


Tuesday, May 10 – Grand Haven, Michigan

Join us at the Bookman for a reading and book signing with contributors Stephanie Mills and Maryann Lesert as well as yours truly.

Details on the Bookman’s event page.

Tuesday, May 24 – Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Creston Wellness Center will host an evening of music by Sarah Barker and Max Lockwood as well as readings by contributor Maryann Lesert and myself. With just one week left to gather enough signatures to put fracking on Michigan’s 2016 ballot, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan will be on site with petitions.

Find details about this event here.

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with me as well as contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills.

Details on the UMBS event page.

A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s website.

Resources for Writers

FAQ: MFA or nay?

Part of my Resources for Writers is an FAQ page, and one of the questions I get most often from aspiring writers is whether or not they need to get an MFA. (Spoiler: No.) But should they? That depends.

This topic is far too complicated to adequately address in a few sentences, so here’s a lengthier response that will hopefully help potential MFA applicants decide if that particular brand of torture is the right path for them:

Do I need an MFA?


Should I get one?

Maybe! Getting an MFA was an essential step in my progression as a writer due to the path by which I came to writer—tangentially, that is. I thought that I needed one for different reasons: to learn more about craft, to develop my technique, and to have deadlines that forced me to make writing a priority. All of those things happened, but they weren’t what I expected.

The deadlines were helpful, but ultimately, a writer has to be able to prioritize writing without external incentives. The MFA gave me time to develop that habit of writing, but you have to be careful not to rely too much other people’s deadlines.

As for the craft and technique, I learned a lot in the classroom, but I’ve developed a lot more by nurturing relationships with mentors and colleagues. For me, the MFA was the perfect place to go from zero-to-tons of connections, but it’s certainly not the only way to get them. (Other ways generally require a lot of either luck or proactivity. Most writers aren’t lucky enough to fall into great connections, and often writers tend to be uncomfortable with putting themselves out there in person to strangers. But not everyone—if you love that part, go to AWP before applying to an MFA. (Post on AWP forthcoming in Networking Resources.))

Applying to MFA programs is a stressful, rigorous, expensive process, but it’s worth it for the right person and program. Here are some factors to consider before subjecting yourself to application season:

How much formal training do you have in creative writing?

If you’ve spent most of your life being an expert in another field and writing is relatively new to you, then it might really be helpful to go for the MFA. Admission is highly competitive, but if you’ve got the chops, most programs love the diversity an outsider offers. Do your research to find out which programs would welcome your experience. Look at the bios of their recent graduates—were they all 22-year-old BFAs when they were admitted? Maybe not the best fit if you don’t fit that description. (There’s nothing wrong with 22-year-old BFAs, mind you; I’ve learned a lot from them!)

How much time has it been since you finished undergrad?

Though taking the time off to do an MFA after starting your career might be more difficult, it’s generally beneficial to wait some time to process all you’ve learned and mature before heading into the MFA. I know plenty of writers who did go straight from undergrad to MFA (see 22-year-old BFAs above), but the vast majority of writers would benefit from waiting, even just a year before applying.

How able are you to relocate for a program?

MFA programs are notoriously selective, and as a director of a prestigious program recently told me, at a certain point, there really is no rhyme or reason to who gets an offer and who doesn’t. Obviously, they are selecting the best, but they get so many REALLY good applicants that the difference in ability between the person who fills the final slot and the next best person is virtually nothing. All this is to say that you might have to relocate if you want a fully funded program.

(Which brings me to an awkward question, hence the parentheses: Do you have lots o’ money? If you can’t afford to pay for your MFA with cash, you should only accept an offer for a fully funded program. Even “full-funding” might require the financially strapped to take out student loans, so while it’s incredibly helpful, it’s not the glorious free ride you might imagine. If you don’t get full funding the first time you apply, try again next year. I know so many talented writers who inexplicably didn’t get funding on their first round but had very lucrative offers the following year)

What are your career goals?

Many people go for the MFA in order to teach college afterwards, not realizing that tenure-track positions are a thousand times more competitive than MFA slots (which are already super competitive)—and now with Creative Writing PhDs being offered, your MFA is less terminal of a degree than it used to be. And unless you have zero student debt and zero dependents, one can’t live off of adjuncting full time. Of course, the dream of being able to live off writing alone is even more difficult to realize.

I teach in public schools and find it an ideal balance for my writing life—I have less time to write during the school year, but then I have all the time in the summer. Check out The New Teacher Project for one way to get into K-12 teaching.

But beyond teaching, there are a number of ways to keep the lights on as a writer. Think about all of the non-contemporary writers you admire—did they make their living at the university? Most of them didn’t and their experiences working outside of academia gave them inspiration for their stories that they wouldn’t have found on campus. You can be a Writer-with-a-capital-W while having a career doing something that has nothing to do with writing. It’s all about whatever balance works best for you.

Head back to the main FAQ page or check out other Resources for Writers.

Resources for Writers, RfW Newsletters

Website Redesign with Resources for Writers

I’ve been wanting to move things around on my website for a while now to create space for me to share resources with other writers, and even though it’s still a work-in-progress, I’ve gone ahead and launched the redesign.

My new  Resources for Writers page will feature recommended websites, books, authors, literary journals, and other resources that I have found useful to my own professional writing practice.

I’ll add to the resource library gradually in the weeks/months/years to come. It’s designed grow and change over time. Here’s what I have so far:


Resources for Writers

April 8, 2016


FAQ | Current Features: Advice for aspiring writers & dealing with writer’s block

Coming soon: Do I need an MFA? Should I get one anyway? Should I give my writing away for free? How do I build a writing community? How do I find places to publish my work? At what point do I need an agent? Are conferences, workshops, and contest fees all worth it? What should I be reading? How should I be reading?

Reading | Current Feature: Goodreads

More forthcoming on recommended books, websites, podcasts, and literary journals and how to read like a writer.

Writing | Current Feature: Writing Excuses

More to come, including writing prompts, craft book recommendations, and great places to find author interviews.

PublishingCurrent Feature: Poets & Writers

More forthcoming on publishing your work, including submissions.

NetworkingCurrent Feature: Wordpress

More forthcoming on using social media, conferences, and other platforms to market your work and build connections with readers, publishers, and other writers.

Teaching | Current Feature: Assay

More forthcoming on teaching, in general, and writing, in particular.

Writers to Follow | Current Feature: Tony Quick

More soon, including friends, colleagues, and other writers whose websites share additional resources.

Environment | Current Feature: Orion

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what all will come in this section. At the very least, expect writing prompts, teaching resources, reading lists, and book reviews with an environmental focus, including place-based and food writing.

Creative Writing, Editing, Readings

Fracture on Tour

Since early February, my co-editor, Taylor Brorby, and many of our contributors have been sharing Fracture with audiences across America–from Pennsylvania to Colorado, from Wisconsin and Minnesota to Texas, and all across Ice Cube Press’s home state of Iowa and Taylor’s home state of North Dakota. Though Ice Cube Press is a “Midwest Book Publisher,” fracking and its impacts know no such geographical distinctions.

I’m looking forward to joining the tour in April, traveling throughout my own home state of Michigan and even all the way to Laramie, Wyoming. All events are free and open to the public.

Stay tuned for additional Michigan events (including Harmony Brewing and Creston Wellness Center in Grand Rapids, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and Schuler Books in Lansing) as we finalize dates, but for now, you can plan on the following opportunities:

Tuesday, April 12 – Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Community College‘s School of Arts and Sciences and English Department will host an evening of music by Sarah Barker and readings by contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. Details on our Facebook event page.

Saturday, April 16 – Laramie, Wyoming

The University of Wyoming Creative Writing Program will present an all-day event devoted to Fracture, including readings, presentations, and book signings with contributors Kathleen Dean Moore, Rick Bass, and Antonia Felix as well as both editors. Find details about this event here.

Saturday, April 23 – Lansing, Michigan

Everybody Reads will host a reading with contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. I’ll update this post with a link to the event page soon.

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. Details forthcoming on their event page.

A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s website.