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Prof type, single mama, and disabled queerdo // Books: The Not Wives; 16 Pills; Panpocalypse (March 2022)

Top tips from an essayist and writing professor

Photo: Wulan Sari/Unsplash

Here’s the quick and dirty version of what I teach my students in a semester. If you want me to teach you one-on-one, you can always hire me to be your #WritingBoss.

Keep a notebook. I have a little essay about this very thing to help you get started. Susan Orlean has a great one too.

Follow, support, and read other essayists. You can do that on Medium, and you can also buy (used or new) the work of essayists you love and admire. Being part of a community is such a huge and sometimes overlooked part of being a…


Yes, yes, Joan Didion, and goodbye and hello to all that

Photo: Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

In her now-legendary essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion writes:

Keepers of private notebooks are a differ­ent breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

And later:

How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a note­book. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed.

Didion is adamant that it’s not a diary and that it may be full of lies. But ultimately it’s about “keeping in touch” with oneself…


Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

I’ve been loosely following the latest iteration of the “Cat Person” saga. I’m not on Twitter, so the fact that it’s filtered into my social media, tells me that we’ve hit another one of those annoying zeigtgeisty moments where we seem to lose all sense of nuance, mostly because some women did something that seems autobiographical, aka, confessional, aka wrong, aka writing.

I read Alexis Nowicki’s “Cat Person and Me” last week with interest. I loved “Cat Person,” though the media and publishing frenzy around it stuck me as typical and dispiriting. I’ve read other novels, memoirs, and short stories…


(CW: Suicide and hospital trauma)

A dark hallway in a hospital with light at the end of it.
A dark hallway in a hospital with light at the end of it.
Photo by Nevin Ruttanaboonta on Unsplash

When I was probably too young, I watched the movie Frances with my mother. Staring Jessica Lange, the movie came out in 1982, and tells the story of movie star Frances Farmer and her tragic descent into institutionalization and eventually, horrifically, lobotomy. Farmer’s greatest threat to her safety and freedom is her mother, who eventually authorizes the ice pick lobotomy. That scene is still difficult to watch. In another harrowing scene, Jessica Lange screams in court after she’s sentenced to a jail term, “Have I got any rights?” I wonder the same about Britney Spears.

I’m not sure how old…


Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

My then boyfriend brought this book home for us from the library and I read it one sitting. I hadn’t seen a mixed genre book like this before, with such beautiful illustrations (the colors are red, black, and white mostly, sort of inky, sort of watercoloresque) of the protagonist having sex with her girlfriend and different men. The lettering was really special too — a unique font, not anything like I’d seen in published books.

It was the graphic novel Rent Girl by Michelle Tea with illustrations by Laurren McCubbin. Rent Girl is the working class story of a baby…


The top of a spiral lined notebook with four pieces of crumpled paper next to it.
The top of a spiral lined notebook with four pieces of crumpled paper next to it.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I joke with my students and #writingboss clients that I don’t believe in writer’s block and there’s no such thing as inspiration.

Letting go of the idea that we will be hit by a lightning bolt from the heavens while we sit in a pretty garret while wearing something frilly and/or sexy is especially challenging. Most movies or TV shows that involve writers show two versions of writing — the one where the writer stares at a blank screen miserably or the pretty garret where it all comes together.

Here’s my tip. I’ve written and published most of my books…


A large turquoise colored sectional with light blue walls behind it. There’s a small round coffee table in front of the couch, un-hung pictures on one side of it, and a pile of opened boxes on the other side.
A large turquoise colored sectional with light blue walls behind it. There’s a small round coffee table in front of the couch, un-hung pictures on one side of it, and a pile of opened boxes on the other side.

After reading Nicole C. Kear’s sad and funny essay, “What I Learned About the Pandemic When My Kid Got Trapped in a Couch,” I started thinking about what my couch has meant to me during the pandemic.

I moved in the middle of the pandemic, last June. I hadn’t planned to move, but I was living in a faculty apartment in a dorm and that gig was ending in a year. The students were forced to move out, and increasingly, it was just my kid, my cat, and one other adult, in a building that usually housed almost 300 people…


A stack of six books with multi-colored spines and pages showing.
A stack of six books with multi-colored spines and pages showing.
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

It’s hard to pick just five but here goes!

1. The Neapolitan Novel Series by Elena Ferrante — These four novels (I guess I’m already cheating!) which include My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, changed the way I think about story both as a writer and a reader. Ferrante has written the best literary soap operas of our time, and built into it the story of two best friends, Lenu and Lila, who are torn apart by men, class, love, children, and their…

Carley Moore

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