It begins with a story: ten years ago, when I was an undergraduate at the University of North Texas, double-majoring in psychology and creative writing (poetry) I was prompted by my psychology professor to not go any further with that major because, simply put, I would do nothing with it. At the same time, I realized I was less interested in writing poetry and more interested in writing fiction. When I told my poetry professor, he suggested I write two stories and ask one of the department’s fiction writers to look them over. Over that next week, I drafted two pieces, and I slid them into that professor’s mailbox, not expecting to hear back any time soon, if at all; it was summer, and he didn’t know me at all. But then, a week later, he called me at home and asked me to come into his office. In the lamp-lit room, I took a seat, and he laid out the stories side-by-side on his desk. “Tell me which one is good,” he said, “and which one is bad.” Fairly-positive, I pointed to the more sensational story – with it’s stunning dialect, amazing plot twists – saying it was good. He shook his head. “No, that’s the bad one. And let me tell you why.” For the next fifteen minutes, he explained. All the things I thought made it strong were the reasons it was weak. As the minutes churned by, I wanted to dissolve into the floor. Just as I was about to leave, he said, “Okay,” and brought the other story forward. “Now let me tell you why this one is better.” It was a story about a kid who sells shrimp from a van on the side of the road, who one day has to deal with the health department showing up to shut the business down.

Over the next two years, as I went through the Master’s program at Miami of Ohio, I wrote a few more stories about this shrimp-selling young man and the people in his life, every so often submitting a new one for workshop. It was at the end of my final fall semester that a professor turned to me after a critique of one of these stories and said, “So where’s the book?” At this point, I had three pieces. By summer, when I had to submit my thesis, I had two more.

When I got to Western Michigan University to do my PhD, I was prompted to finish this book. Intent, I dropped three stories from my thesis and started over, now concentrating on creating a book about this family. Focusing on the grandfather, the father, and the son. I had just become associated with the genre of short story cycles (otherwise known as interconnected story collections or novels-in-stories) and decided this is what I wanted the book to be. By the end of my second year, I had a draft of the book. Then came revisions. Years of revision, evolving the book as more people – friends, agents, editors – read it and made comments, many suggesting it felt more like a novel, and I should write it as such. And so I wrote, and I weaved, and I polished, watching as the characters became more real until they were telling me what the story should be, and I continued sending it out…

Until finally one morning, when Robin Miura of Press 53 called, saying they wanted to publish the book. For months, we worked on edits, selected the cover, and went over proofs, and we did all of the many things that go into making a book. Until we were done.

And now, after all the work and years, Hustle is out. Finally, out.

So now another story, of how a book (this book, anyhow) got launched:

No launch can happen without books, so I will start with their arrival: I was excited to open the box, to have¬† an experience I’ve wondered about forever, since first seeing Back to the Future, when (spoiler alert!) Marty McFly opened his box. That moment came out of nowhere in the movie, but it has always been my favorite part of the film. So, I opened it up and voila:





Then on Friday, we got to King’s and saw the book on the display table. Yeah!!





As we set up, people gathered,

some of them bringing drinks, no less! Thanks to Mary, Kevin, Zach, and Anne-






I then introduced Paul Gonzenbach (formerly of the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up and now solo) and Josiah Feinberg, who played three songs.

Then I was introduced by King’s owner, sweet pea,


and I came up, feeling what I can only describe as a shotgun explosion of joy inside my head. It was tough to talk because I couldn’t stop smiling. But I managed to thank many people: everyone with Press 53 – including all of the writers (collectively), Kevin and Robin – my brother Jim, step-father Roger, my mother Kathy (to whom the book is dedicated), my colleagues at PLU, JP Avila, and finally Jen.


Then I read the opening chapter and part of the second chapter…


And I signed books.

And it was beyond-words incredible. Thanks to everyone who has been involved, every step along the way!