In Memoriam: Zach Doss

I’m devastated and heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of writer Zach Doss. Although we never got to meet in person, I got to know Zach online through his tweets and his writing. We corresponded through email throughout the years, sharing works-in-progress with each other and offering feedback and support. I loved his fabulist fiction with a queer bent and quickly found him to be a comrade-in-quills. I vicariously lived through his MFA experience and was looking forward to reading his story collection someday. When he graduated and was looking for work, I suggested he apply to my workplace. We had an open position in my department at the time. He had a phone interview with my boss and she said he was an absolute delight. She was almost ready to offer him the job but he ultimately decided Florida was not for him and went to pursue a PhD in writing in California. I have to admit, in hindsight, my recommendation for him to move here was mostly selfish – I imagined us hanging out at bookstores, becoming better friends, yelling at people to read each other’s books. We had planned on meeting eventually at the AWP conference, but I was unfortunately unable to attend this year.

Zach was an original talent and absolutely unapologetic in his love for the literary community. His passing is a huge loss. My thoughts are with his family during this time. Although he is gone now, he will continue to live on through the hearts of his loved ones and friends, and of course, through his stellar writing.

Here are some of my favorite stories he had published:

South Florida Poetry Reading

Starting the year off, a longer poem of mine has been published in the newest issue of the South Florida Poetry Journal. There’s also an audio recording if you’d like to hear it aloud and follow along. The editors invited me to do a reading – my very first reading anywhere – at the Broward County Library. I don’t like public speaking and I was nervous, but I think it went well. I met poet Denise Duhamel and she signed my copy of her latest book. She was funny and full of infectious energy. She teaches poetry at my alma mater and was trying to convince me to pursue an MFA. I still think about it from time to time.

More good news: I was recently named a finalist for the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Poetry. My poem will be published in an upcoming anthology alongside the other finalists and winner. The poem was inspired by “A Chinese Banquet” by Kitty Tsui. Please do yourself a favor and read her work. Her poems are coming back into print soon, which I’m very excited about.

I’m working towards a full-length collection and have figured out its structure. It’s helping to push me forward, along with a fresh spreadsheet keeping track of all my rejections/acceptances. I’m hoping these neuroses turn into something I can eventually hold in my hands and hug to my chest.

I’ll Be as Universal as You Want Me to Be

Originally published in Metazen (now presumably defunct, RIP), my story, “Year of the Queerling,” has been included in Best Gay Stories 2015. The anthology is now available for pre-order and will be published next month by Lethe Press.

Many gay writers wonder if they identify as a “gay writer.” Taken literally, this is silly. Of course you are a gay writer. However, it’s not the literal term that brings about such conflicted feelings, but rather the label used in terms of the literary landscape, readership, and what you see on bookshelves. It’s really the same question women writers face: Is what you write “women’s fiction”?

Many writers, more so than anyone else, have a great fear of being pigeonholed or put in a box. “We are not gay writers,” they say. “We are merely writers.” In other words, they don’t want to write only for a gay audience; they want to write fiction that transcends category and can be enjoyed by anyone of any sexual persuasion or background. Many will say this proudly, even though I think most of these sentiments arise from a great fear—fear of not finding a more mainstream readership (see: the straights) and fear of not being taken as seriously because of that. You write “gay fiction,” therefore, your perspective is somehow limited or bound by certain tropes of a genre. It can’t cross boundaries. At best, it may garner a cult following with a very particular readership.

It reminds me of a question once posed to Toni Morrison: Can she just not write about race issues for once? She looks puzzled at first, then feels insulted. Can she? Of course she can! She’s Toni Morrison. But Ms. Morrison wasn’t insulted because the question inferred that her writing abilities may be limited, no—she was insulted because the question inferred that the white perspective is the only valid perspective to write from, the only perspective that can be viewed as universal and possible of transcending category.

I admit: I used to feel the same way about these labels. I was that kind of writer. I understand these fears and where they come from, but I no longer care. I’ll just let the readers and publishers decide what words they want to use to describe my writing.

Basic Space

I decorated my desk at work, which is unusual. In terms of personal living space, I prefer things simple and often unadorned. Truthfully, I am just not very cognizant of the arrangement of objects around me and how they look next to each other. I don’t like giving myself more to clean and organize. I am quick to discard anything that isn’t a book or things to write with. I wonder if this is a common trait among extreme introverts; if we’re more likely to prefer organizing what’s jumbled up inside our heads and neglect what’s obviously right in front of us in the real world.

At the end of November, I went to the Miami Book Fair again with Melissa. This year, I was there primarily for Ocean Vuong‘s poetry reading. It was very emotional and I was awestruck. People were fanning themselves, and not just because of the unrelenting heat. Poetry is alive and quite well, I am happy to report. You just need to look for it. He read this beautiful poem that was published in Poetry. You should listen to it too. I cannot wait to get my hands on his debut full-length collection. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2016.

I had a very short story published in this month’s issue of Maudlin House: read it here. I was determined to send them something right when I first learned their name. Oh, and there’s the writing and beautiful design, of course.

Since it’s almost the end of the year, I’ll be posting some kind of best-of collage and vague resolutions soon. I reached my Goodreads goal! Fifty books read, which is pretty good for me. Poetry, short story collections, graphic novels, essays, huge tomes. Very eclectic. I also have my first ever memory jar that I’ll be able to open and spill out and show you what I collected throughout the year. Stay tuned. In the meantime, go and read the “A Year in Reading” series over at the Millions.

The Year of Poetry

Poetry month came and went. I did it right by reading tons of it: John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski (my first ever, if the internet can believe that), Adrienne Rich (all-time favorite still), Peter Campion, Juliana Spahr, Angela Sorby, Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Campbell McGrath. I think I may just extend it to make 2014 my year of poetry, much like 2013 was my year of women writers. It looks like it’s headed that way regardless.

About a month ago, I met Amy Tan. She was at FIU, my alma mater. The university presented her with the Lawrence Sanders award for her contribution to literature. I first read The Joy Luck Club in high school, one of the books that inspired me as a teenager to take writing more seriously. Her fascination with an indomitable mother figure also resonated. Her speech at the ceremony was funny and heartfelt. She discussed the idea of the writer’s brain being more porous, having less barriers. Her husband of 40+ years was in the audience with their little dogs in a bag. The next day was their anniversary and they were heading out to Key West to celebrate. Ms. Tan talked about the Dry Tortugas and how she wanted to swim with the sharks. She signed my copy of her newest novel: To Joseph, joy and luck.

I didn’t go to AWP this year, even though I’d been invited to do a reading at an off-site panel that focused on videogame writing. I’ve actually never been to AWP. It’s on my bucket list though. From what I’ve gleaned from Twitter, AWP always seems like a huge frenzy that causes a lot of exhaustion. But hopefully fun exhaustion. I would especially love to meet some of the editors from the literary magazines I read. And of course, maybe I’ll even bump into some writer friends that, up until this point, I only internet-know.

Speaking of internet friends, thanks to some help from Adam, I was recently able to start a Goodreads author page. You can now become a fan of me. Oh wow. It might make it easier since my blog posts will also update through Goodreads now. If you’re into that. And of course, my constant barrage of books.

In the past couple of months, I’ve managed to stumble upon a few bookish places in tight little corners of South Florida. I am always on the lookout–especially since there are hardly any bookish places within my immediate vicinity. I sometimes feel so culture-starved.

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One of these places was Second Edition Books. I went with my sister, who is always up for an adventure. She bought some Shakespeare, I bought some Lorrie Moore. There were shelves and shelves, stacks and stacks. It was crammed full. The bookstore provides a very homey atmosphere–rustic interior and leather armchairs. We sat in them and looked for the Great Catsby, the bookstore’s mascot. Catsby the cat lounges around the books. My sister pointed out that he also has an Instagram with a huge amount of followers.

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Another place I found was the Undergrounds Coffeehaus. The first thing I noticed: it’s not actually underground. In fact, you have to climb stairs to get to the door, where it warns you that no illegal substances are permitted beyond the threshold. Already I think we’d found a place with a distinct personality. Inside, there is a playful kind of chaos: board games set out on tables, shelves of books against walls, knick-knacks scattered all over. It seems like a good local hangout spot for artists and youth with that kind of alternative edge. Tattoos and green hair. They serve tater tots and lots and lots of different coffee and teas.

When I’m not exploring books nooks or working now, I write letters–actual paper and pen–in order to fill the void where the incessant blogging would be. If you wish to start an exchange, you can let me know at lettersforburning@yahoo.com. I promise I won’t burn them–not this time.