I come by my love of words honestly. My late father was a college photography professor but started his career as an English professor. My mother, a retired elementary school principal and teacher, was a bibliophile who carried a card for every library system within a one hour radius of our home when I was growing up (she still does). I spent every summer in not just one but several library summer reading programs. With parents that modeled and encouraged my inveterate reading, it is no surprise that I was eventually drawn to writing. In our family, the word was practically sacred.
I was born in the Queens borough of New York and though we moved upstate to the suburbs when I was two, we returned so often to our Irish and German family homesteads in Ridgewood and Glendale that these Queens neighborhoods continue to exert a profound hold on my imagination. Trailing my grandmother on her errands to Bohacks’ grocers, Jay Rose ladies’ boutique and the five and dime, strolling with my grandfather to Merkens soda fountain for a chocolate egg cream, all against the perpetual rumble of the Myrtle Avenue “El,” remain the dominant memories of my childhood. So were the grown-up conversations at the coffee clatches my aunts brought me to, where Perego prams lined the sidewalk out front. Inside, whispered gossip and the laughter of babies being passed back and forth made their own music. No matter where I have traveled or lived, most recently, for over two decades in the South, it is this place, the Queens of the last century, that resonates most deeply for me as a writing subject.
Books that reflected this city world, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and All of a Kind Family influenced me a great deal growing up. Later these would be followed by the work of William Maxwell, Alice McDermott, Charles Baxter, Nicole Krauss, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Rebecca Makkai, Chaim Potok, Laurie Colwin, and Adam Gopnik. A few of these writers attend to rural life, but most center on the rich blur of city life that mirrored what I knew.
I began writing my novel The Lost Son (forthcoming from Regal House Publishing in Spring 2022) in the years after 9/11, which impacted my extended New York family acutely. I had young children then and I feared for them, for all of us, in the early days of that new landscape, suffused as it was with the anthrax attacks and new terrorist threats (2020 to 2001 me; ha, you ain’t seen nothing yet). One way of coping was to explore in my fiction the story of my step-great grandmother, who had overcome great trauma and betrayal in her first marriage to live out her later years with my great grandfather, her second husband, in relative peace. If she could overcome such tragedy, surely I could address my own fears and carry on.The lesson turned out to be a powerful one and even now that my two boys are grown young men, one I continue to return to in difficult times.
In addition to The Lost Son, I have published The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Guide for the Rest of us, inspired by the Huffington Post blog I wrote from 2012-2018. Currently, I’m working on a multi-generational novel set in Astoria, Queens, that follows a family formed from the ashes of the burning and sinking of the steamship General Slocum in the East River in 1904 through the twentieth century. I also continue to write creative nonfiction.
I have another life, as an academic writer, determined to demystify and revolutionize the teaching of creative writing in higher education today, a topic I am utterly passionate about, a passion that has translated into several books, and dozens of essays and articles. I’m particularly proud of the most recent of these, also from Bloomsbury, Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught? which came out in 2017. The tenth anniversary of the ground-breaking collection published in 2007, this new volume is doubled in size, with most of the original essays updated and expanded and several essays on the cutting edge in the field.
My background includes an undergraduate degree from Connecticut College, an MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University and a Ph.D. in English with a creative dissertation from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. A professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas, I also direct the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop. I am also the Southern Regional Chair for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Board of Directors.
I live with my partner, John Vanderslice (the writer, not the indie musician), and an assortment of pets in a hundred-year-old American Foursquare in Conway, Arkansas, about forty minutes north of Little Rock. My two dogs, Mario, a rat terrier mix, and Asuna, a greyador mix, are my writing companions. Writing, family and teaching consume most of my life but otherwise, you can find me wandering a flea market or thrift shop when I can.
The elevated train tracks in Queens; John Vanderslice and me around 2010.