Pensive Prowler #4: How Not to Write a Short Story

Pensive Prowler #4 by DMETRI KAKMI

How Not to Write a Short Story

The intention was to write a short story, inspired by a friend’s painting. Five thousand words, at most. By the time I finished, I had more than 14,000 words, which hardly constitutes a short story. It was a novella, one that dug deeper than the modest chiller I planned to write when I encountered Shane Jones’ painting of a very realistic door.

Two thoughts popped up when I read the thirty-seven manuscript pages of the novella that was passing itself off a short story:

  1. I suck at short story writing.
  2. Is it best to plan a piece of writing and adhere to the plan, or should I allow the idea to lead me where it will?

Admittedly, I don’t entirely suck at short story writing. It’s just that I find it hard to corral ideas that fly out in all directions. Despite this shortcoming, I’ve written stories that went on to be quite successful in their own way. But the last time I was commissioned to write one for an anthology with a particular theme, the story blew out from 8000 words to 32,000 words. Of course, the editor rejected the submission, and who can blame her? I’m now turning that 32,000 words into a 65,000 word novel.

The original idea for the short story about a painting of a door was basic.

When I saw the life-size painting hanging in Shane’s stairwell, I thought it was a real door that led to a newly constructed room on the other side. Shane laughed and pointed out it was the same painting I had tried to open a few years earlier at his exhibition of trompe l’oeil, a series of visual illusions that trick the eye into perceiving a painted work as a real, three-dimensional object.


The top part of Shane’s painted door is taken up by a frosted glass window. That suggested infinite story possibilities to me. As we dined that evening, the alcohol-soaked grey cells in my head ticked away at the problem of the door in the stairwell.

I’m a fan the traditional ghost story. M. R. James, Susan Hill, Robert Aickman. They’re writers I turn to with reverence and awe; and their invisible presence was very much beside me at the table, talking over and above the real people sitting across from me that night.

I thought what would happen if you walk past the painted door one day and see a face in the glass? What would you do if you hear a cry in the night and discover it’s coming from behind the door?

That’s how stories begin, you see, and you have to be attuned to them. You have to listen when they come a-knocking at the portals of the mind. I listened, but I didn’t know what to do with what I heard. I saw a situation, but I didn’t see a character or a story. I went home, wrote it down, and there it sat for well nigh on a year, until Shane asked how the story was coming along. I told him it wasn’t. Soon after, he emailed a detail of the painting.

I had forgotten, but in the round silver doorknob, he had painted a reflection of himself standing at an easel, painting that very door. It’s an idea straight out of Jan Van Eyck’s 1434 Portrait of John Arnolfini and his Wife. The wryly observed, self-reflective (and self-reflexive) detail Shane sent me was exactly what I needed. It fed directly into my brain where it was suddenly water for dry soil; and quite unexpectedly a new idea sprang out of an old idea. Or rather two ideas combined to make a whole.

Sometimes this happens. You get an idea and you don’t know what to do with it. And then, three or four years down the track, you have lunch with a friend or turn on the television and stumble on another idea. The current idea is in perfect synch with the earlier idea. They glom on to each other and you’re ready to go. That’s why it’s important not to rush writing.

Anyway, finally, I knew what to do.

I would write a psychological ghost story about a man who confronts hidden truths about himself. With this came everything that had been eluding me for a year. (Patience pays.)

I saw a beginning, a middle and an end. I don’t begin writing if I don’t know how a story will begin and how it will end, right down to the sentence. The only thing I didn’t know was how to get from one point to another. I decided to let the story dictate a path. I even had the tone of the story, the style of writing and the main players; how the language would flow to become an integral part of the atmosphere. Even the central images and metaphors presented themselves, as if they had been hiding round the corner all along and now they could show themselves.

Writers are often accused of plundering friends’ lives. It’s sometimes true of me. For instance, three characters in The Boy by the Gate are my friends in real life, right down to their names, dress, speech and behaviour.

When I’m looking to create a fictional character and my brain refuses to provide the piquant detail, I see no reason why I can’t turn, in a desperate moment, to those around me and pick and choose features and attributes that will work for a story. Most writers do this and there’s no reason why shame or secrecy should to be attached to what is after all an organic process.

I decided there and then that fictionalised versions of Shane Jones and his partner, the painter Deborah Klein, would appear in The Door. Their warehouse apartment serves as a key location. Thankfully, they were flattered rather than horrified by the way I plunder their lives. Though, of course, the Sean and Dora you encounter in the story are merely leaping-off points, not the real people. In fact, what happens to Sean in the novella is more reflective of my state of mind at a certain point, rather than the real Shane Jones.

On one level, The Door is about facing darkness to shed light on life. The story takes a character on a journey through the upper and lower realms of his psyche, as he moves through transitional spaces (doorways and stairwells) that carry him from one state of mind to another. In that regard, the layout of Shane and Deborah’s split-level apartment, with the staircase, was perfect for what I needed. Why not use it?

Once I could see and hear the characters, the story dictated its own terms. The pace — slow and measured — was an obvious choice for the character’s hesitant, groping progress. And once I hit 8000 words and kept going, I knew I had a novella on my hands. Not a short story.

The story imposed its own length because, ultimately, a story is as long or as short as it needs to be. No amount of corralling can change that. You have to trust the process and let it take you where it will. But not too far from where you want to go.



Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

Episode 247: A President’s Day Special!

Episode 247 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

247 banner.png

This week’s episode is an eclectic mix of poetry, fiction, and an interview on the subject of the American presidency. This show features Jennifer Berne,


Shawn McKee,

Shawn McKee

Karen Best,

Karen Best

Christopher Booth,

Chris Booth
Jeremy DaCruz,

Jeremy Da Cruz

& Lauren Camp!



On Monday, February 27 at 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, at Bookmark It in The Lovely, Vanessa Blakeslee will lead a discussion of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here.


Episode 247 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Buzzed Books #50: Ari Banias’ Anybody

Buzzed Books #50 by Amy Watkins

Ari Banias’ Anybody


Ari Banias’ debut collection, Anybody (Norton, 2016), begins with a poem titled “Some Kind of We.” In it, his reason for writing is laid out as plainly as a thesis statement in a freshman composition class:

I am trying to write, generally and specifically,

through what I see and what I know,

about my life (about our lives?),

if in all this there can still be–tarnished,

problematic, and certainly uneven–a we.

Throughout the book, that “we” changes shape, from the American everyperson to pairs of lovers to family to gender groups.

What holds each “we” together is tenuous. For instance, he imagines that every home in America holds “the large plastic bag / with slightly smaller mashed-together / plastic bags inside.” As a basis for a poetic national identity, it’s not much, but it’s also probably true. There’s a gallon-sized ziplock stuffed with plastic grocery bags in one of my kitchen drawers as we speak. I use them to line the bathroom trashcan. Banias’ poem continues: “it is overflowing, and we keeping adding, / bringing home more than we need.” We are excessive, but we knew that already, didn’t we?

In poems about more specific or more personal groups, the imagery carries more emotional weight. In “Villagers,” immigrants to the US are recognizable by “boxes taped up and up then tied with twine | addressed on every side | in that careful longhand taught on other continents.” Because one of the book’s “wes” is the speaker himself–a person who has inhabited multiple genders, carried multiple names–images of clothing are especially significant: a nightgown that becomes a jellyfish, a tuxedo, “a sundress on a splintery / swingset in Texas.” In one of the collection’s most poignant moments, his grandmother, oblivious to his bound breasts and changing identity, places her engagement ring on his finger and calls him beautiful.

Many of the poems rely on a Frank O’Hara-esque stream of consciousness–images and ideas racing ahead of the poet’s or the reader’s ability to logically categorize them. Poetry is made out of this kind of risky juxtaposition, but great metaphors are recognizable as well as unexpected:

Some taught me famous names, to drop the coins of these

in slots of conversation so with others I might feel like we.

This is new, but it’s also such an apt description of the awkward pop culture currency teenagers (and some adults) trade in that it feels almost familiar, as if we should always have thought of it this way. The same poem continues:

But I at the shore of a sea, I on the pebbled, tar-smeared edge

of an island. There hungered or grumbled or stood an astonished I

I picked at like a splinter once part of something bigger.

That desire to be part of something bigger–to “feel like we” as well as “I”–is something that genuinely binds us as readers, as human beings. As Banias says in another poem, “There’s something to be said for individuality, / multiplied.”

Pair with a six-pack of whatever you like. Share it with someone.


Amy Watkins (Episodes 124161164192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #47: My Own Private Idaho [Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2] (1991)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

47. Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho [Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2] (1991)

Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho is a stylized, Midnight Cowboyesque romp through the gay underworld of the mid-and-north-west. Oh, and it’s sort of an adaptation of Henry IV.


Bill Stafford’s music takes the steel guitar of honky tonk music and extends that sweet tang to exotic Hawaiian proportions, defamiliarizing “Home on the Range” and “America the Beautiful,” and that sonic dreaminess combines with some visionary cinematography by John J. Campbell and Eric Alan Edwards that makes the scenery of My Own Private Idaho into an enchanting painting that is alive.


Gus Van Sant’s screenplay is poetic, grotesque, goofy, and seemingly documentarian at times.

Mike Waters (River Pheonix) is a narcoleptic gay hustler traveling the midwest. He is haunted by memories of his mother. He is befriended by Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), a rich kid whose father is the mayor of a city, who is slumming to make himself feel alive and test the systems of power that will gladly grant him a privileged position in it.


In one delightful metafiction scene, the characters of the film appear on the covers of blue boy magazines. Scott Favor offers his theories about the hustling life as his companions interject with their own opinions and objections.


Gus Van Sant’s complex mixture of various registers of dialogue makes it not that surprising when, a half hour into the film, Bob Pigeon, a latter-day avatar of Falstaff, shows up using a debased version of Shakespearean verse.


This is an especially loose adaptation, one that is bold in its weaving in and out of Shakespeare’s text.

When Prince Hal wakes Falstaff, and Falstaff asks the time, Hal says,

What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes capons and clocks the tongues of bawds and dials the signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.

In Van Sant’s idiom, it goes,

Why, you wouldn’t even look at a clock, unless hours were lines of coke, dials looked like the signs of gay bars, or time itself was a fair hustler in black leather… isn’t that right, dude?  There’s no reason to know the time. We are timeless.

The hijinks of this band of miscreants in the jangled aesthetics of Van Sant’s film seems especially appropriate somehow, and perhaps this is what allows us to lose ourselves in the story, and feel closer to its spirit. (Some of Shakespeare’s tavern scenes are, truth to be told, a bit stiff.)

Yet what is most surprising is not the Shakespearean slumming, but the story of Mike and Scott’s friendship. Scott looks out for Mike, whose narcolepsy makes him especially vulnerable, and throughout this peripatetic story, Scott will try to help Mike find some sort of closure with his mother.


Along the way, Mike will confess to Scott that he loves him, even though Scott will only have sex for money. Scott will love Mike, but their relationship will be threatened when Scott comes into his inheritance.

Mike will come to represent the underground lifestyle that Scott will choose to reject. Falstaff, and Bob, are essentially clownish characters. (According to E. L. Doctorow, Falstaff is a flat character.) The vulnerability that Mike will have to experience alone is a much deeper matter. And yet Gus Van Sant’s cameras will be gentle to him, in this unforgettable film.


John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 246: Erotic Poetry Night V (Smut, Actually)!

Episode 246 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.


This week features our 5th annual Erotic Poetry Night, featuring…

  • Naomi Butterfield
  • Ephraim Scott Sommers
  • Diane Turgeon Richardson
  • Wilson Santos
  • Stephanie Rizzo
  • Brian Downes
  • Rachel Kolman
  • Lisa Roney
  • Madison Strake Bernath
  • & your host, John King.

Episode 246 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #171: My Bloody Valentine

The Curator of Schlock #171 by Jeff Shuster

My Bloody Valentine

I’m not saying that Loveless is the greatest album of all time. Loveless is the greatest album of all time whether I say it or not. 

Happy Valentines Day everybody from the Curator of Schlock! There are some who would argue that I’m not a romantic, but that simply isn’t true. Heck, I did a whole Nicholas Sparks adaptation month for the blog back in 2012. I still ball my eyes out each time I watch The Way We Were (which is at least once a month). For this Valentine’s Day, I’m serving up something special: 1981s My Bloody Valentine from director George Mihalka. Sure, it’s a slasher movie, but it has a love triangle subplot going for it.


By the way, this is another one of those Canadian slashers, but at least this one makes no bones about the fact that this story takes place in Canada, Nova Scotia to be precise. So you’ll be hearing a fair share of “aboots” in this motion picture, but it’s all good. A Canadian was nice to me this week so I’ll lay off my usual jabs. Plus, we need to recognize Canada’s contribution to the horror genre. These slasher movies are ultimately just gory whodunits. And there’s probably no finer example than My Bloody Valentine.


The movie takes place in the small mining town of Valentine Bluffs, a town with a deep, dark secret. Many years ago some miners got trapped in the mine while their supervisors were getting all liquored up at the town’s annual Valentine’s Day dance. It was days or weeks before they were able to dig through the rubble to get those men out. They found only one survivor, Harry Warden, devouring the flesh off the foot of one of the dead miners. Don’t worry. The cold air down there probably preserved the bodies so Harry wasn’t eating rotten flesh. That would be beyond the limits of good taste.


I guess young Harry must have snapped after that ordeal, because he proceeds to dress up in his miner’s outfit (complete with creepy gas mask) and go on a killing spree. He drives a pic axe into the chests of his old supervisors and proceeds to rip their hearts out. Harry then placed those hearts Valentine’s candy boxes, leaving the boxes next to the punch bowl at the next Valentine’s ay dance. The town locks Harry away in a mental institution and cancels all future Valentines Day dances. This Harry guy is a bit of a party pooper.


Twenty years go by and the town decides to finally have another Valentine’s Day dance. And wouldn’t you know it, a bloody human heart gets sent in a Valentine’s Day box to the mayor of Valentine Bluffs. Could Harry, the cannibal, be up to his old tricks? Maybe it’s a new killer trying to ruin the fun for everyone. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.


Oh, and there’s a love triangle between one of the local girls and two losers. There’s also a mustached man who cooks Hungry Man dinners over the top of car engines. This movie has something for everyone.

Jeffrey Shuster 1
Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 245: Tom McAllister!

Episode 245 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to the novelist and memoirist Tom McAllister about structuring long-form fiction, the mystery of love, the addictive horrors of football, and other important matters.

Tom McAllister


Young Widowers Handbookbury-me-in-my-jerseycommercial-fictionan-exact-replica-of-a-figment-of-my-imaginationout-of-sheer-rage


Bookmark It

Follow Bookmark It on Facebook to learn more about Brave New Book Club, which is led  by Vanessa Blakeslee.

Episode 245 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.


The Curator of Schlock #170: Dawn of the Dead

The Curator of Schlock #170 by Jeff Shuster

Dawn of the Dead

“Don’t spit in the soup. We’ve all got to eat.”—Lyndon Baines Johnson


I first watched Dawn of the Dead back in middle school. I had purchased acopy of the VHS tape over a Christmas break back in 1989. I was no stranger to George Romero’s zombie movies at the time, having seen Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead earlier that year.


I think Dawn of the Dead initially disappointed me. Maybe it’s because my first forays into modern horror had been limited to those other two aforementioned George Romero films.  Back then, I tended to avoid modern horror movies because I was a chicken shit. The classic horror movies of the 30s and 40s and the gothic horror films of the 50s and 60s were safer, more familiar. Night of the Living Dead was shot in black and white so it served as a kind of bridge between classic horror and modern horror. Day of the Dead had been shot in the mid 80s, but the movie still had a mad scientist character along with a clear villain, familiar things for me to grab onto. But Dawn of the Dead (1978) was uncharted territory. 


The movie begins with a woman waking up from a nightmare. Her head is resting on crimson colored shag carpet, which is fixed to the wall behind her. Then I hear that blaring rock score by a band I would later come to know as Goblin. Listen to the main theme. Tell me it isn’t eeriest piece of music you’ve ever heard. The woman’s name is Fran (Gaylen Ross), an employee at a Philadelphia news station, where “the shit’s really hitting the fan.” There’s some kind of talk show going on where a government official is arguing with a Phil Donahue type host over the fact that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. The people they kill get up and kill! Fran’s boyfriend, Stephen (David Emge) demands that they escape the city with the network traffic helicopter. 


We switch over to a scene featuring National Guard and SWAT team members storming a tenement complex. A maniacal SWAT member named Willie goes “apeshit,” shooting up tenants before two other SWAT officers take him out. They are Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger). Roger informs Peter that he’s escaping the city by copter with his friends and asks Peter if he’s like to join them. Peter accepts the offer. 


Did I forget to mention that the tenement complex is full of zombies? The most disturbing scene is one of National Guard members busting through a boarded up door only to be greeted by dozens of zombie hands pushing through. Before long these men are swamped with the living dead as they try to get through a crowded stairwell. We never find out what happens next, if the soldiers get devoured or if they manage to escape. Keep in mind that all of this is in the first twenty minutes of the movie. We haven’t even gotten to the meat of the story. I’ll give you a hint as to what it’s all about. It has to do with a shopping mall.


With the exception of the biker gang at the end of the film, there are no clear-cut heroes and villains. We don’t get a Mr. Cooper or a Captain Rhodes. We get four people trying to survive a zombie wasteland, four individuals who I started off not liking too much, but who have since become like old friends. Some movies are like having visits with old friends.


Sometimes those visits include flesh-eating zombies. There are worse things.

Jeffrey Shuster 4

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

21st Century Brontë #31: The MFA Begins

21st Century Brontë #31 by Brontë Bettencourt

The MFA Begins

I kicked off 2017 with my first semester in Hamline University’s MFA program for Children and Young Adult Literature. I stuffed my suitcase full of workshopped stories, books, and more layers than what a Floridian knows to do with.

In St. Paul, Minnesota the underdressed can experience frostbite in under fifteen minutes.


Seven hopefuls started this semester. There were nine of us, but two chose to leave the program due to personal circumstances, a rarity for this program.

I wasn’t anxious about the workload. I was still shocked that I was there at all. I quadruple checked that I indeed was the Brontë who was admitted into such a competitive program.

I learned the term for my inability to recognize my skill and accomplishments: Imposter Syndrome. I thought the school made a mistake by accepting my application.

I felt like Harry Potter, because, I couldn’t possibly be a, a grad school student.

YA fiction author Swati Avasthi gave the first lecture of the residency. She spoke about the different points-of-view, their advantages and disadvantages, and her theories on how each tends to push a story element more than the others. For example, first person narration focuses more on character development, while third omniscient pushes the theme. I had pages of notes about unreliable narrators and psychic distance, which defines the level of intimacy the author wants to be when narrating through a character.

For ten days (weekends included) I attended morning workshops, afternoon lectures, and evening readings. Not all the events were required, and occasionally free time was technically in the schedule. But my training in selling artwork at anime conventions mentally prepared me. I guzzled Dayquil, orange juice, and abused cough drops. I wasn’t deepening my pit of debt to nap in the hotel room.

New students were required to introduce themselves many times. Thankfully, my peers cheered when I stated my interests for Young Adult Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Anime, Comic Books, and Cartoons.

Afterward, another new student named Cristina asked me about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her copies of Ms. Marvel comics now sit on my desk.

I was overwhelmed by the faculty and students’ support. I grew up in a city where you can’t make eye contact with another without coming off as weird.

Here people are friendly and curious.


When introducing myself for the 79th time, I told the story of my first undergraduate workshop, where I was told that I was too skilled to write about vampires.

For my first MFA workshop I submitted a short story about a barista who wanted to learn magic so she could work on her art. My peers said that the coffee shop setting was incredibly vivid, but they wanted to learn more about the magic.

Magic would’ve made others shame me in my undergraduate workshops. My professors then stressed literary fiction because inexperienced writers already have it hard with story craft without the complications of world-building a fantasy or sci-fi setting. The idea of genre fiction was completely dismissed. One of my professors wrote “no elves” in his syllabus.

And I can understand why the professors pushed character development most in a story. If we don’t have a connection with the characters, why should we care about what happens to them, even if what happens to them is supernatural?

Maybe I’ve proven that I have the basics down, that I’ve earned my place in that workshop. I’m sure the professor who told me to forget about vampires was trying to compliment me. But that’s what I read and watched when I was younger: The Vampire ChroniclesYu Yu Hakusho, Fullmetal Alchemist.

I want to write the books that I needed as a kid. And instead of aging up Ellie and my other characters, they can serve a purpose for a younger audience.

But it’s still awesome to sit in a class and discuss the elements of a picture book, or how to cater to the psychology of a middle grade versus a young adult audience.

I feel like the MFAC staff and the other students get that.


So I talked as much as I could without being obnoxious. I read my work out loud and answered questions. I kept stammering, but I was more excited than nervous.

I asked one of the admissions workers during the first semester luncheon about my application. I don’t remember how I worded the question, “Why me?” but she answered like it was the most obvious thing at that table:

“Because you’re a good writer.”

The rest of my semester will continue like an online class. Toward the end of the residency I was assigned an advisor. For the next four months I have the pleasure of working with Phyllis Root, who is equal parts amazing picture book author, and counselor for my stubborn case of Imposter Syndrome.

I have 40 pages of writing for my novel, a critical essay, and ten books to read from the reading list. Phyllis Root also recommended reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, to help counter all this self-doubt and just write.

If you’re currently in an MFA program, or if you have any questions about mine, please let me know in the comments section!

Bronte as a Bag with Legs

Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.

Buzzed Books #49: Paper Girls

Buzzed Books #49 by Whitney Hamrick

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls is an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning “Best New Series,” written by Brian K. Vaughn, famed author of fan favorites Y: The Last Man and Saga, and artist Cliff Chiang, of New 52’s Wonder Woman glory, who present a story often described as War of the Worlds meets Stand By Me or the natural inheritor of Stranger Things enthusiasts. Think Goonies or Monster Squad replacing all the wacky tropes with four solid gender-neutral characters.


Picture the suburbs, 1988, in the early morning hours after Halloween. Four 12-year-old girls deliver newspapers on their bicycles. On newbie Erin’s first day a group of teenage boys attempt to bully her until a small band of delivery veterans come to the rescue: smoking tough girl, Mac; loyal friend, KJ; and voice of reason, Tiffany.

The girls soon find themselves thrown into the impossible: parents and siblings, gone; neighbors, gone; symbol-speaking humanoids appear in metal armor zapping costumed kids to smithereens; teenage mutant space boys; war-horse dinosaurs: Quetzalcoatlus northropi take flight in an alien sky; and Kaiju-sized Tardigrades follow them through wormholes, which lead to the future and to an alternate reality. It’s the last day of life as they know it and they’re not going to take crap from anyone as they stumble through space and time as best they can.


Action, suspense, cliffhangers, and surprise encounters: every issue is unexpected, especial when uncomfortable reminders of the 80s occur. The girls are not sugarcoated and they are not seeking romance. They are people, in some areas flawed, and I love them for it.

I wish I could have been one of these girls, when I was child. I wish I could do boy things and not feel like a disappointment or a cheap imitation.

I wish I could be tough and smart and confident, but when I was their age, I was not.

I was scared. I was made scared by the caution taught to me about my gender. I could be either passive and obedient or unattractive and unladylike.

I was compared and measured against other girls and there was always someone cuter, smarter, funnier, and better than me.

I grew up angry, defeated, and bitter.

It’s so hard to be a young girl. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, something clicks and you know who you are.

If you’re lucky, your parents walk with you at your pace.

If you’re lucky, you were born tough enough to brave the world as you are or want to be.

If you’re lucky, your outside matches who you are on the inside.

If you’re lucky, you’re outside isn’t less valued than someone else’s outside.

The opposition to simply existing, which so many girls, young women, and grown women feel, is our reality and only those who squeeze correctly through the societal sieve can ignore the pain of others.

For this reason, Paper Girls makes me hopeful I can reimagine my emotional past.

I want to be friends with these girls, but I think I’d have been intimidated by them at the age of twelve.

I wish I were one of them. Reading the series, issue by issue, allows me the chance to experience positive female relationships as though I can rub a Microsoft Paint eraser over the parts of my life that hurt.

These girls are battle-tested bad asses. They run like girls, fight like girls, protect each other like girls, and do so without giving in to fear. The first criticism I expect for my interpretation: why do I insist on self-actualized girl representation being a marvel; and my reply will be: I’m so happy that these girls exist on the page. I am so happy I get to hang out with them and that girls of any age can join in the fun, too.

My favorite arch thus far begins in Issue #6 when Erin encounter her future self. Future Erin takes Xanax, she works as a reporter for the newspaper that she once delivered, she’s 40 years old, and she’s worried she doesn’t meet her younger self’s expectations of adulthood. While on an adventure together, the future grateful hugs her past and they both have the perfect facial expression for where they are in life at that moment. I felt like I was hugging 12-year-old me when I read it.


More than the beautiful art and the compelling writing, I fell in love with the work of Colorist Matt Wilson. The pinks are passionate, the grays are bold and moody, and the blues fade steadily lighter in the same breath. It feels like it’s living and more than just representation of sky, houses,  trees, clothing, and bicycles. The background has its’ own personality, but the main players look like old painted animation stills as they almost pop off the page. Wilson’s sense of lighting gives so much depth to every scene and a part of me imagines I could taste the story; I have yet to give into the impulse.

I will also posit that it is refreshing to see a man I trust with female characters continue to make me proud as his fan.

Let’s ride bikes. Let’s make 80s sci-fi references. And most importantly, let’s be girls. Let’s fight like girls for girls.

Issue #11 comes out on February 1, 2017.



Whitney Hamrick (Episode 235) earned a college degree in something she doesn’t do professionally. She has participated in the LitLando community since her first reading at There Will Be Words in 2011. Since then she has received two Best of There Will Be Words nominations, her work can be seen in Ghost Parachute, and she can be found on twitter: @karmafishwrap.