On Turning 47

On Turning 47


Two years ago, I wrote about turning 45.

Last year, I didn’t have much to say about turning 46.

But this year, I have thoughts about turning 47.

I have a lot of thoughts.

Today I decided to look through my calendar to refresh my memory from the past year. What I saw was a whole lot of doctor’s appointments.

  • Mine—I have a very bad back.
  • And my husband’s—he has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

This has been a year of “coming to terms.”

I’m coming to terms with the fact that: Continue reading

A Lesson about Sentimentality

A Lesson about Sentimentality


Tonight, I was going through a bunch of files and found one marked “Sentimentality.” It’s a craft lesson I once used in beginning creative writing classes to talk about cliché, abstract vs. concrete language, and unearned, Hallmark-y emotion.

It’s a one-page sheet. I’d pass this out and read it aloud.



Oh, what a wonderful thing God has created. There can be no other thing in the world that God created that stands for anything more beautiful than the family. Everything else in life–money, friends, houses, cars, school, sports, jobs–can come and go, but the family is always there. God didn’t make it easy for the family, but he made it possible–with hard work and everyone working together, caring for each other and working as one. Yes, God made man, then woman, then said, Be a family. This will be my most beautiful creation. 

This family means more to me than life itself. 


Then I’d ask the students to respond. How did these words make you feel?

Some claimed that they were very moving.

Okay. Show me where you find it moving.

That last line. “This family means more to me than life itself.”

Who is saying that?

We don’t know.

Who is “this family” in the last line? Continue reading

Publishing in Print and in Pixels

Publishing in Print and in Pixels


I published my first short story in 1995. Twenty years ago. How can this be?

In Print

I was a graduate student at the University of Alabama. I’d been sending out my stories for two years without much luck. Then, over Christmas Break 1994, I went with my mother, a hospice nurse, on a “death call” in suburb of Cincinnati. The experience stuck with me, and when I got back to Tuscaloosa, I tried my hand at writing a “short short story,” or what we might call now “flash fiction.” 742 words. I sent it to Quarterly West. and they accepted it immediately.

When I got the magazine in the mail, I marveled at it for awhile, and then I put it on my shelf. My poet friend Tim kept the journals in which he’d been published in a place of honor on his desk, like a trophy case, and so I did the same.

I also added a line to my very brief curriculum vitae.

“Hospice.” Quarterly West. 41 (Autumn/Winter 1995): 6-7.

A year later, I published a story in The Florida Review about a man raising his daughter alone. Another magazine on the shelf. Another line on the vita.

“Leon’s Daughter.” Florida Review 21:2 (1996): 88-98.

Slowly, I kept adding more journals to that shelf. More lines to the vita.

Out of Print

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Want to take a class with me?

Want to take a class with me?


This summer, I’ll be teaching a one-day intensive fiction workshop at the Midwest Writers Workshop here in Muncie. Here’s the scoop:

Short Story Fellows Workshop 

Those accepted into this intensive will have the opportunity to have their 5-10 page short story critiqued by me and by the whole group.

Specifically, you’ll be working to improve your facility with scenecraft (when to dramatize, when to summarize), point of view, setting, suspense, and readability.

All work will be discussed anonymously and read aloud.

To apply, send a 5-10 page writing sample in manuscript form (as an attachment) to Cathy Day at cathy@cathyday dot com. Applications will be taken from the day MWW registration begins (February 12) to midnight on March 27.

You will be notified of your acceptance by April 15 so that you can sign up for another intensive if you’re not selected.

Why you should apply

Because Midwest Writers is a great conference. Here’s a previous post extolling its many virtues.

Because normally, I don’t read work by people I don’t know.  I devote my energy to my current and former students–and that’s considerable. All writers get a lot of requests like this from people they don’t know. But I almost always say no. I just don’t have time, unfortunately. But this summer, I will say yes to six people.

Because the best thing a writing conference can give you is writing instruction. Not “how to market yourself.” Not a lecture on “how to write better.” But someone spending time with your words specifically.

Because your work will be read aloud. There’s nothing quite so illuminating as being physically present when a group of strangers experiences your work for the first time. You see them fidget when they get bored. You hear them laugh and sigh. You watch them lean forward in their chairs. (Ever since The Circus in Winter started its journey as a musical, I’ve realized how important and instructive “live reading” can be.)

Because your work will presented anonymously. Nobody will know whose is whose. This might make you more inclined to write about something embarrassing or difficult–which is probably your best material, actually. And you’ll get more honest feedback, too; people tend to pull punches in their critique when the writer is right in front of them.

Come to Muncie!

Registration for the conference opened up today. I hope you’ll consider applying!

30 Easy Pieces for English Majors

30 Easy Pieces for English Majors


This morning I woke up early, made myself some coffee, and got back into bed with my husband and my dog.

I needed to do a brain dump, a blog post, but I was too lazy to walk into another room and get my laptop.

So I grabbed my phone and started tweeting as @bsuenglish, the Twitter account for my department. And an hour and a half later, I’d tweeted 30 pieces of advice

I hope these words help others–not just the students in my department.

2014: My Year in Review

2014: My Year in Review


Was it a waste of my time?

In 2013, I posted to this blog once a week and enjoyed some pretty great stats. 47,000 unique page views. Up from 20,000 the year before.

But at the beginning of 2014, I declared (a little facetiously) that this blog was a waste of my time. Instead of posting once a week, I posted sporadically. About 17 times total.

And a funny thing happened: I still got about 43,000 page views.

How did this happen?

  • Well, I think I got Googled a lot because of the musical.
  • A lot of my old posts about Statements of Purpose and LORs, etc. still get read a lot.

Truthfully, a lot of my blogging energy went into this blog, maintained by my department at Ball State. If you read the post I’ve linked to, you’ll see the stats, etc.

Lately, my blog posts have been about administrating in higher education and my personal life rather than teaching and writing. I guess that’s what happens as time passes–the things that occupy space in your brain change.

I’ll be happy if you continue reading, despite these changes. Thank you.

My year in review

My husband published an essay at the Rumpus on the occasion of the death of chef Charlie Trotter.

The Indy Star did a nice story about me.

Spoke about Literary Citizenship at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop “Paths to Publishing” event. Reunited with Erin Flanagan and met Kirby Gann and Steve Saus.

The night I came back from Yellow Springs, my dog was hit by a car. He lived. We rejoiced.


Went to Seattle with my husband for AWP 2014. Loved Seattle. For some reason, I felt compelled to blog about my marriage while we were there. I put them on Tumblr rather than here. I don’t know why. “Traveling as a Couple,” “AWP Spouses.” And this one, too.

I wrote about my fear of and desire to be looked at on my Tumblr blog. (I wasn’t sure if these personal stories were appropriate for the Big Thing. I guess I felt safer posting them in this little corner of the internet where you might not see it.)

Took part in a roundtable discussion on Money and Creative Writing Programs with some amazing writers (Dinty Moore, Robert Hass, Elizabeth McCracken, and Yiyun Li. ) for Scratch Magazine.

My mom celebrating her first blog post.

Helped my mom start a caregiving blog.

Redesigned this blog. Click around. It’s kind of pretty.

Started a new job as Assistant Chair of the English Department.

Gave a talk at Hanover College because my book was the “common read” there. What an honor.

Published a two-part essay in Inside Higher Education about starting over in academe. Part 1. Part 2.  (This essay started as a blog post, which I sent to IHE instead of posting to my blog.)

Published an essay about the value of a degree in English at The Millions. (This too started as a blog post that I sent out rather than posting here.)

Taught with Dinty Moore at the Grailville Retreat Center for the Antioch Writer’s Workshop.

Found out I’m going to be an aunt again. To a girl this time.

Read with Ben Clark at the R.J. Julia Bookstore and at the Mark Twain House and Museum. What an honor.

West Baden
West Baden

Went to French Lick for a book signing that went bust, but got to stay at West Baden.

Did a webinar for AWP’s Career Services on Requesting Letters of Recommendation.

Saw two of my former graduate students publish books: Karin Lin Greenberg and Katie Coyle.

Saw a new production of The Circus in Winter.

Launched my department’s first e-newsletter. 

Lost two members of my extended family to cancer.

Reunited with an old high school friend and started trading work. Thanks to a new set of eyes, I got excited about my novel again. Worked on it a lot over Christmas Break and have applied for a sabbatical so that I can get that baby out the door.

In Conclusion

I started writing this post feeling like “Man, I don’t feel like I accomplished much this year,” but now I see that I was as busy as ever in 2014.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Have a great year!


This is what I’ve become, part 2

This is what I’ve become, part 2


A few weeks ago, I started thinking out loud about my new job. Here’s part two of my thoughts on the subject.

Don’t all 46 year old professionals wonder if they’ve made the right life choices?

Becoming a bureaucrat

For the last few years, I’ve been able to translate my teaching and writing into interesting blog posts for you, faithful readers.

But I don’t know if you’re that interested in what I did on Friday:

  • Inputted the schedule requests from four different academic areas in my department into a grid.
  • Approved some course equivalencies for a young woman studying abroad.
  • Met with an advisee who doesn’t know what to do with his life.
  • Met with an prospective student who knew exactly what to do with her life.
  • Proofread upcoming blog posts.
  • Tried to find people to teach unassigned classes or cancel them. Why are they unassigned? I can’t talk about it.
  • Answered 50 emails about lots of different things I can’t talk about.

Basically, I’m a bureaucrat.

My mad, bureaucratic, communication skillz:

Continue reading