The Outrider Podcast: Genre Wars with Jenn Zukowski

Back in February, Kazuo Ishiguro made a comment in an NY Times article about him and his new novel The Sleeping Giant, that made Ursula K. Le Guin upset enough to write an article defending the fantasy genre and reviewing Ishiguro’s book . . . unfavorably.

I had read the Electric Literature article and shrugged. My grad school friend, Jenn Zukowski, read the Esquire article and posted it to Facebook, tagging me and asking me what I thought because we’d argued about genre a lot fifteen years ago and, at least between us, settled it.

We decided we’d get together and record a special show where we revisited our old argument in light of this new skirmish in the so-called “Genre Wars.” Jenn was the very first guest on The Outrider Podcast, and she teaches at several Denver area universities specializing in stage combat, creative writing, and literature, including classes on fantasy and children’s lit. You can find out more about Jenn at her blog, and you can download her episode of the Outrider Podcast at this page of my website,, or .

We hope you enjoy it.

The Outrider Podcast is available on iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (

The Ishiguro vs. Le Guin Articles

NY Times Article on Ishiguro

Ursula K. Le Guin’s smackdown

The Electric Literature piece about the dust-up

The Esquire article about the dust-up

A Good Critical analysis of the who she-bang.

Older articles about the Genre Wars and the Pullman speech

The Pullman Speech

The Outrider Podcast Episode 29 Lynn Sloan

In this episode I talk with author Lynn Sloan about the ghettoization of writers, the assumption of quiet domesticity, the fact that old white men aren’t alone on top of the great mountain of literature, and her years as a photographer, including her time in New York working for a major magazine that made a game out of sneaking a picture of naked breasts into each issue.

Lynn is the author of Principles of Navigation, out now from Fomite Press. Lynn has had short stories appear in such journals as Sou’wester, Nimrod, and Puerto Del Sol, and she has been nominated for the Pushcart Award. She’s also been a finalist for the Dana Award and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize. Before writing, she was a photographer whose fine art photographs had been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. You can learn more about Lynn at her website and you can learn more about her publisher, Fomite, at

The Outrider Podcast is available on iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (

March First Saturday Catch-up #3

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (wikipedia and Goodreads). Finally reading this after having on my shelf for years. YEARS.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf). Bought this the other day and it’s jumping the line.

The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell. Yeah, still working on this one. I like to read a section, and dwell on it for a while. Makes for slow going, but also makes for deep synthesis.

My grad school friend, Laura Hawley, has a short story out at Junoesq. It’s most certainly worth a read.

Debating whether to buy a season pass to The Last Man on Earth or not.

Started watching Spartacus: Boobs and Sand (the first season) on Netflix. I’ll give it a few more episodes. Lots of boobs in this, and background fake-fucking. It’s titillating, and seems to have some moments of pathos, but I’m not sure there’s much more to it than spectacle at the moment – might be the point though.

My sister and I had our usual music talk when she was in town for a visit from New York, which I always enjoy even if, there she is, in a land of new music, and she’s only sent me two new band recommendations. I was kind of meh on both, so she stopped. Fool. Keep sending them until something hits, dammit.

Now, although I am constantly on the look-out for new bands like Fear of Men, The History of Apple Pie, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and so on, I’m not above admitting I missed the boat on some bands back in the day: I didn’t buy my first Dinosaur Jr. album until a year ago despite a few of their songs catching my attention way back in the early 90’s when they were played on K-State’s radio station DB92 (innuendo and out-you-window. DB92 – I also remember the damn phone number for Pizza Shuttle after twenty years (776 5577 call us now at Pizza Shuttle)).

These days, I’m going back to pick up Superchunk, which I first heard of back in 1995 with the release of Here’s Where the Strings Come In, but never picked up an album until last week. I blame the “Buy it now on iTunes” feature on Pandora Radio.

Now, if someone can get me a copy of Pilate’s (they now go by Pilot Speed) first album Caught by the Window without send me to the Devil (Amazon), I’d be very appreciative.

Podcast News
Monday, my conversation with Lynn Sloan will come out. It was a great conversation, so get ready for that.

I’m working on lining up some new guests. My wish list remains the same as last time.

With Laura taking a personal hiatus while she focuses on furthering her nursing education and getting married. I’m working with a couple of friends to do the Shoptalk episode, as well as create some new content for the Podcast. Keep an eye out for that.

Still working on Far Nineteen. Putting in an hour in the morning makes it slow going, but it’s making progress.

I’ve been dusting off some of my poetry, and going through the notebooks I’ve been filling with stuff that has never been typed up. I may start experimenting with some classic forms as a way of exercising some forgotten linguistic muscles. May play with some cut-ups. Debating if I want to start sending out poems to magazines.

The short story “Dr. Zeus” was submitted to The Missouri Review, but I failed to pull the trigger on the story “Sunny” by the end of February. I think I had a bit of a crisis of confident with that one before sending it out. I’ll do a little more revising and get it out by the end of March.

“The Palace of Winds” was off to the AWP Awards contest last month, but since it is my only completed novel at the moment, I’m still using it to query agents. Anyone have an agent to recommend? I’m scouring the AAR website and the Poets & Writers website, but it feels like a damn dating site, which sucks.

Oh, and I sent The Palace of Winds off to Coffee House Press.

Random Thoughts

The Opening Shot: Ryan Boudinot writes this piece for The Stranger and it gets fired around the internet by writers and writers who are writing teachers. Among them, it begins to generate a discussion and a host of responses (here’s one that I liked), which I wasn’t aware was happening, and that gets written about at Salon by someone whose job it is to comment on these things as if they’re news. The crowd that took the most offense to Boudinot has even put together a website where they’re cataloging, with something I assume is glee, all the anti-Boudinot pieces that are being written.

So, first thought on those running the anti-boudinot site: they smacked down an asshole, do the really need to catalogue every wrinkle around the ring of his anus? Seems like you’re giving him way too much power over their time and energy.

Other thoughts: He wanted to be provocative. So, mission accomplished. Nothing creates a little provocation like hyperbole and, even better, straight, direct language.

First off, there’s a whole generation of kids who are now launching themselves into college and life who grew up on meds for ADHD, plugged into computers, helicoptered over by micromanaging parents, and bathed in unending concern for the maintenance of high self-esteem. Furthermore, because of the ease of self-publishing they can can flap their self-important gums to anyone, anywhere, at any time. So, frankly, Boudinot’s piece, to me, although cranky, mean, and sometimes misguided (see the bit about wishing some abuse victims had been abused more), represents a certain type of classic literary advice style, which starts like this:

Writing teacher curmudgeon says: “You don’t have what it takes, kid. Go be a plumber.”

The young would-be writer then has a choice: 1) Give up writing and go be a highly literate, well-read plumber or 2) Go prove the curmudgeon wrong by working hard, learning the craft, and writing, writing, writing.

Writing (and publishing) is often presented as easy – especially by the self-published – and, quite often, the good writers make it all look effortless. Furthermore, writers don’t tend to correct the reading audience’s illusions of what the writing life is really like out of simple politeness. If a reader believes we spend our days staring out the window at beautiful skylines and sunrises, diddling our muses and drinking good coffee while wearing silk pajamas, it can often seem like a special kind of rudeness to say to that reader, “No, actually, I get up at 5 a.m., shivering from the cold because I have the furnace turned low in January to save money, drink a cup of cheap coffee while I try to bang out a paragraph or so in the dark before I have to take a shower and go to my soul-sucking day job for eight hours.”

Yes, not every MFA candidate is going to go on to become a writer. And yes, as a lot of the critics of Boudinot have pointed out, every student should be treated with respect and compassion. But, the writing teacher is doing a lot of them a complete disservice if that teacher doesn’t tell those would be writers that if they can do something else, do that something else. Those MFA candidates who do end up doing something else probably didn’t have that mysterious X factor needed to be a writer. Those MFA candidates who hear the go be plumber speech and secretly say to themselves, “Fuck you, I’m doing this and I’ll show you.” Those are the ones who will keep working even after years of bad coffee and freezing mornings at the writing desk. And, a chunk of them, will be the ones that Boudinot didn’t think were “Real Deal” writers in his workshop.

Talent is subjective. Discipline, obsession, determination – whatever combination of natural inclination and learned habit is needed – are the elements of alchemy. The writers who keep to that after hearing the go-be-a-plumber speech can erase almost all of Boudinot’s other rants in that piece.

Thought – Boudinot’s sections on complaining, and being a serious reader. Those are just silly. Some people complain to relieve the stress of doing the thing. Around my family, if you don’t hear someone complaining about a chore, you know they aren’t doing it. If you hear someone mumbling and grumbling about cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, taking out the trash . . . they’ve got the sponge or the toilet brush or the bulging trash bag in their hands. Yeah, that’s not true for everyone out there, and I’m not trying to defeat a good generalized argument with my personal exception, but still . . . I thought that was silly. Now, about being a serious reader? I grew up in Western Kansas, I had a library card, my parents bought me books, read to me, etc. I’ve still not read Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I didn’t read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn until grad school. See, there was no one giving me direction as a kid. No librarian took me under her wing and fed me books, my teachers were working to keep the bottom of class on pace with the top of the class and since I fell somewhere in the middle, got mostly forgotten. I rarely failed, but I also rarely showed any interest in such a way that they thought to challenge me by giving me anything other than fragments and short stories by canonic writers. So, I read randomly, science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and pop fiction when I finally started reading the books my parents bought me. By Boudinot’s standards I didn’t become a “serious reader” until college, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I’ve also learned that reading can’t be treated like an obstacle course: Read Huck Fin by age 12, Mody Dick by age 19, re-read them at 30 or whatever.

Now, a thought on the abuse thing that everyone is all upset about. Yeah. That’s just overly mean to say someone should have been abused more to make their memoir more interesting. However, in grad school, some friends in a workshop had this particular experience: a student chose to write a semi-autobiographical novel about her childhood. As a child, she was sexually abused and that played a major part in her novel. The novel was written in the first person. Now, the class, after reading the abuse section for the workshop, began to comment that the narrator’s voice seemed to shift its tone and vocabulary level when the abuse scene came up. The narrator went from sounding like a 12 year old to sounding like a wise, 35 year old therapist. Now, this student already had a habit of arguing every point of criticism as it was voiced, and as the class discussed the tone of the abuse scene, the student got more and more agitated, finally collapsed in tears and wailed “But this really happened to me!” All discussion of the story stopped, and the teacher moved on to the next student’s story.

If you haven’t figured out what happened there, here’s the deal: this woman was using her MFA workshop as group therapy, and the constructive criticism of a problem in her writing got mistaken for a criticism of the veracity of her personal experience, and so she shut down all discussion. The class was trying to get her story to a place where the pain and confusion that a child feels at being abused would have the strongest impact for the reader, but this student couldn’t separate herself from her fiction enough to see the fiction wasn’t working. If a writer can’t separate personal critique from literary critique in a workshop, then it is indeed a problem for the workshop leader. Suddenly any discussion of a semi-autobiographical novel, or a memoir, turns the fellow students in the room from would-be writers into unpaid psychoanalysts and makes any discussion of the text about the author instead of the text and its success or failure at communicating the author’s intentions. In other words, the class purpose shifts from “help me be a better writer” to just plain old pathetic “help me.” And really, it would be cheaper for that writer to go see a real therapist than to enroll in an MFA program.



First Saturday Catch-up #2

Here we are, the first Saturday of February.

Principles of Navigation by Lynn Sloan. This book was sent to me by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, and the plan, once I’m finished, is to get Lynn Sloan on the podcast. At first, I’d thought this novel was a bit too domestic: a couple is trying to have a baby and has a miscarriage. However, as I read, I found the emotional and psychological depth to be fascinating and engaging. It’ll be out this month. I recommend it.
What’s also interesting about this book is its publisher, Fomite. Fomite is run by Marc Estrin, novelist, cellist, activist and fellow Unbridled Books author (I may have to get him on the podcast, too).

Still taking my small doses of Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell.

I’d share a To Be Read list, but it’d be too damn long. I have a 5 shelf bookcase where three shelves, one of them stacked two deep, is all “to be read” – and that’s just fiction. My bookcase dedicated to non-fiction is also littered with the “to be read.” Most of my read books are still in boxes at my mother’s house.

Saw the documentary Fed Up, about the sugarfood” processed & manufactured “edibles” industry. I’m not taking the “Fed Up Challenge,” but I am attempting to keep my consumption of added sugar to the recommended daily allowance of 24-36 grams (or 6-9 teaspoons) a day. One 12oz can of soda, generally exceeds the daily allowance of added sugar. It is fucking strange what the food industry puts sugar in, and why: bread, salsa, crackers, pasta sauce – you know things we might think of as “savory” instead of sweet – basically turning everything we eat into some degree of candy so that you’ll eat more. You’ll learn that not all calories are equal and that all this sugar basically turns off the body’s natural “I’m full, stop eating” mechanism.

Oh, and speaking of candy, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Cadbury ban. Claiming “brand confusion” Hershey has won a ban on British chocolates (Cadbury brands) being imported to the United States. I think the most telling paragraph in the article is the following:

Cadbury chocolate varies around the world. In the UK, the first ingredient in a classic Dairy Milk bar is milk. In the United States, where Hershey has the license to make and sell all Cadbury products, the first ingredient is sugar. Ms Madeley says her customers wouldn’t buy the US kind even if she stocked it.

Give Fed Up a watch. And check out the American Heart Associations’ sugar guidelines (unless you’re a detective, it’s hard to find this exact info on the USDA site because the sugar industry lobbyists got it buried).

Arrow is back for the second half of its 3rd season, and I eagerly await my download each week. At one of my recent salons, a friend and I had a semi-geek-out moment discussing comic book movies and TV shows. I was never a big comic book reader when I was a kid. Sgt. Rock and G.I. Joe comics were my favorites, but they never turned into any kind of gateway drug. I think my childhood comic book geek was stunted when my father took away my comic books after a confrontation I had with a babysitter involving a BB gun. That’s a long story, that ended with my father, a few years after confiscating my comic books and BB gun, finally hearing my side of the story and conceding that, despite beaning the babysitter’s brother (who was older than me) with an empty plastic milk jug, I had attempted to retreat from the screaming, aggressive babysitter more than once until I was cornered in my own room. “I suppose if you’re going to point a BB gun at a babysitter that might be the time to do it,” he said and gave me back my comics and BB gun – neither of which I ever used again. So, basically, the comic book movies are scratching that long ago suppressed itch. It must be something similar for my mother as well. She’s a big fan of the comic book movies, and is my regular date when a new one comes out.

Wetlands: a German movie about a troubled young woman who ends up in the hospital after a shaving accident. It’s . . . bizarre and funny . . . and, at times, gross. It’s on Netflix now (all links contain spoilers, read at your own risk). Oh, and the most disorienting and strange moment for me was when the teenaged girl main character goes to the hospital there’s no talk of money or insurance, and she herself signs her surgery waiver all without her parents being notified (in fact, the doctor asks if she wants her parents notified at all). At first I thought, wait, that doesn’t seem right . . . then I remembered: Germany has universal coverage.

Bob Dylan – Blood on The Tracks
My “soundtrack” to Far Nineteen.
Still, of course, in love with this Greg Dulli cover of the Leonard Cohen song – Paper Thin Hotel. I think you can still get a free download of the song on the Afghan Whigs website

Greg Dulli “Paper Thin Hotel” from Columbia Records on Vimeo.



This Monday will be the release of my conversation with Bonnie ZoBell for The Outrider Podcast. Bonnie is the author of the recent book What Happened Here. It’s very good. She has a great personal story, and a very good book with What Happened Here. I’m not telling you anything else because you should listen to the show.

Speaking of which, do you listen on iTunes or Stitcher? Either one, would you please go give the show a rating and review it? I’d greatly appreciate it (ok, caveat, if you hate it, keep that shit to yourself).

Up after Bonnie is Greg Michalson, co-publisher and editor at Unbridled Books. Greg is a fabulous person, also with a great personal story. After it comes out, pair it with Fred Ramey’s episode from December (iTunes) and I think you’ll start to see why Unbridled has such a solid catalogue and why, as bittersweet as it is, so many of their authors get snatched away by the big presses. These guys are doing the dirty, privately rewarding, but often publicly unrecognized work of discovering talented new writers. Go give them some love, buy some Unbridled Books (especially mine).

– My wish list of literary people to talk to for The Outrider Podcast
Michael Ondaatje (although I fear I’d be dumbstruck)
Jeff Talarigo
Will Christopher Baer
John Berger (fear of being dumbstruck)
Nina Revoyr
Steve Heller
Still working on Far Nineteen, my novel inspired by the 1921 Race War in Tulsa, OK, and their buried car time capsule.

I’ve brushed up a couple of short stories that my ex-girlfriend, Rebekah, said were good. One of them is called “Dr. Zeus” and is about a man whose girlfriend sends him to a fortune teller then, while on the way home, he witnesses a shooting that begins to change his life. The other is currently called “Sunny” and is about a young man who is feeling homesick and alone in a new town until he stumbles into a diner and meets an old couple and the young waitress they call Sunny.

This weekend I’m submitting The Palace of Winds, my loose retelling of Jason & The Golden Fleece set during the Depression, to a contest. Wish me luck.

I plan to submit “Dr. Zeus” and “Sunny” to journals by the end of the month.

RANDOM THOUGHTS (seriously, random. Don’t look for a logical essay here)
These random thoughts were inspired by this article on the Good Men Project website: Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men.

All five points resonated with me – even #5. But the one that really set me to thinking was #3 – There’s a reason for that emotional repression.

I wouldn’t lay 100% of the problem on testosterone, and I think Noah Brand makes a stab at it in that section, but I’m sure there was a word limit he had to meet. As it is, in a kind of Nature vs. Nurture analysis, Brand seems to land heavily on the side of Nature being dominant when, it is really more 50/50.

A side note here: one of the things that often irritates me in “modern American public discourse” i.e. internet comment threads and person to person debate, is that people often think the personal exception trumps the broad general argument. For example: someone says “Black people are still racially discriminated against” to which someone (usually a white someone) says “I’ve never discriminated against black people.”

Back to the point: testosterone is, indeed, a hell of a drug, but boys are teachable. In the right environment, with an attentive parent, all those teenage hormonal, testosterone driven urges can be managed without sacrificing the sweet little pre-testosterone boy.

Jay Mohr, in his 2012 special “Funny For a Girl,” talks about how little boys are the gayest people in the world (he’s punching us in the penis too hard – ?). I laughed the hardest during that bit because I saw myself as a boy in Jay’s description of his son. Before puberty, I knew I liked girls, but I also felt no shame or embarrassment or “gay panic” at holding my best friend’s hand in the dark.

Also, biologically speaking, the human “default setting” is female, meaning that whenever something goes wrong during gestation, the fetus attempts to reset to female. If there are two X chromosomes, we usually don’t see many genetic problems because there’s a back up gene on the other chromosome that can be used. With the XY combination, there’s a chance that a faulty gene on the mother’s X, won’t have a replacement on the father’s Y.

Here’s were I’m starting to go: with the intersex condition there are two common conditions that affect the human XX (female) pairing (a third really only affects cattle), but there are seven conditions that affect the human XY (male) pairing – almost all of which are caused by a lack of testosterone during gestation, or the inability to convert testosterone or block estrogen. Which is to say that biologically, it’s riskier to make a male than a female. Then, once that boy is born, society, generally, tries to squeeze boys through ever narrower and narrower passages. Don’t act like a girl (don’t cry, don’t complain, don’t whine, don’t talk about your feelings unless you’re going to talk about how angry or horny you are). Don’t act like a fag. Be ready to fight. Establish your dominance, whether in sports or debate, or nerdery . . . learn to use the threat of violence but don’t be violent unless you have to be violent.

Huh? What?

Anyway, it’s all led me to think a lot about my own urges to anger, to rage, to my own expressions of violent catharsis – the wall punching, the obscenity screaming and teeth gnashing, the door slamming, the object breaking and the subsequent bouts of shame and guilt that followed. I console myself that I’ve not hit or punched or kicked anyone since I was thirteen, but it’s a thin consolation considering that my last girlfriend cited those door slamming table thumping, curse laden bursts of rage as the reason she was scared of me and wanted out of the relationship. That is perhaps the biggest personal humiliation and source of shame for me – that everything else I ever felt for her was overshadowed, erased, by my occasional inability to control the beast.

This often influences what I choose to write about in my fiction. War. Violence. The failure of romantic relationships.

Historical District


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