Some Advice on Applying to MFA Programs

K-State English

First, let’s dispel some of the myths.

If you say “Candyman” five times in front of a mirror, you will not get into Iowa.

No matter what you read on Twitter or The GradCafe, almost no one — no one! — with actual affiliations to creative writing programs believes you attend an MFA program to “get an agent.”

Even getting into an MFA program might not make you particularly happy or productive: grad school is hard, sometimes disorienting, sometimes despairing. It’s sometimes great, sure, sometimes.

Nine years ago, on the now defunct K-State Creative Writing Blog, we posted a list of tips on applying to MFA programs. Since then, so much has changed. (Remember when we didn’t wear masks all the time?) So much has stayed the same. Here’s an updated and revised version of that advice:

The realities

1. The most well-known MFA programs — those that receive lots…

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Facebook Author Pages Are Useless. Make One Anyway.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A writer asked me, “Should I start a Facebook Author Page? My book is coming out next week, but I want to keep my personal profile private and just get everyone to like my author page.”

What I heard: I don’t want to share my real self or genuinely connect, but I want people to sign up for my commercials.

Because yes, we share our blog links and promote our friends’ books, too, but these are all commercial activities. Read me. Buy me. Buy this other thing.

Nobody wants to be your customer. They want to be your friend.

Facebook already knows this. That’s why Facebook feeds you a steady stream of news from family and acquaintances, posts from interest groups you’re part of, and a very occasional post from that author page you liked a long time ago because your friend asked you to.

Even when you like and…

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If ever a band were to benefit from a Greatest Hits collection – and I use the term ‘Hits’ very loosely – The Trashcan Sinatras would be that band. With the right marketing and management and all those things that the Trashcans are seemingly so averse to, or just plain bad at, a TCS Best Of could do for them what similar collections have done for acts like Crowded House or James, acts whose definitive compilations are owned by every second home in the UK (pre Spotify statistic, clearly) and as such have helped those acts become household names. If the purpose of a compilation is to bring the artist’s music to a wider audience and perhaps encourage new listeners to dig deeper into that band’s back catalogue, then notwithstanding record company…

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Alumni Spotlight: R. Dean Johnson

Alma Matters (file under Morrissey puns)

K-State English


There’s this troubling question I’ve been getting since my second book came out. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but my first book, which is stories and not a novel, came out with a small press and didn’t get the fanfare. There were no interviews or Q&As at reading events. So I was caught unprepared the first time someone asked, “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”

The problem is, the answer: I was an adult. Out of college and working at an advertising agency. I’d been catching up on all the reading I should have done in high school or college since I was a business major, and after I finished reading Catcher in the Rye, the first book I’d ever read in its entirety in one day, I closed it and said, “I could’ve written that.” Embarrassing. But, it made me want to…

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Denis Johnson: Front Row, Center

To say Denis Johnson was at the 2016 Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon isn’t quite enough. He wasn’t just there. He was sort of everywhere—popping into workshops, sitting in at presentations, mingling at receptions, and going to readings, so many readings, and usually sitting front row, center.

I have a picture of him at Padgett Powell’s reading, DJ01which you might think makes sense, one big name writer honoring another. But Denis didn’t discriminate. If you were reading, whether he knew your name or not, he was listening.

I know because about a week before the Padgett Powell reading, Denis was at my reading. He didn’t know my name, I’m certain, even if we share the same last name. Maybe he was there to hear my talented and better-known co-readers, David Caplan and Frank X. Gaspar. It was exactly two weeks before my debut novel, Californium, was to be released, and it was the first time I’d be reading from the novel, my uncorrected proof in my hands, a room full of people, and Denis Freakin’ Johnson shuffling into the room and sitting about five feet away from me, front row, center.

I read what I hoped was a funny chapter, the one where a group of high school boys are Disquiet_Itrying to come up with a name for their punk band and running through a list of possibilities: Atomic Anarchy, Gone Fission, Second Thoughts, Screaming Mimes, The Variables, Solve for X, Los Punks, and ¿Habla Anarchy?.  To my relief, people were laughing in all the right places, including Denis. After the reading, he even had a suggestion for a band name: Dowager Orgy.

At the time, it was one of the most affirming moments of my writing career. Denis Johnson didn’t just listen to my work, he reacted; he engaged in it. It was better than any blurb or review I could ever hope to get because it was a gut-level reaction, it was positive, and it was Denis Johnson.

I haven’t had a lot of time for reflection, for hindsight. This was all still less than a year ago. But even before I learned of Denis’s passing, I understood that what is more important about that day is all the days I saw Denis, at all those other events, being a generous writer and a gracious person. A lot of people will, and should, praise Denis’s talent in the coming days and weeks. I hope, if they had the pleasure of meeting him, their experiences weren’t unlike mine. Of course I hope my writing can someday be worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as his, that universities might pair our books in Johnson seminars, but it’s more important to me, a much better goal, that I try to be the kind of writer Denis was when I met him—honest, engaged, and sitting front row, center.

DikNixon announces fall campaign stops

If you’d like to hear a bit of Californium: A Novel of Punk Rock, Growing Up, and Other Dangerous Things live this fall, you may be in luck. DikNixon (in the guise of my readings, book signings, and presentations) will be hitting the west coast and a few points in between.punk-reading-3

The complete (so far), fall 2016 Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour is below. A few events are still pending, and I’ve already confirmed a few more dates for spring, so if there isn’t a bookstore, university, or library near you on the list, there may be soon. Watch for updates.

If I know you, it would be great to see you at an event (and no, you don’t have to buy a book. It’s always great to see friends, old and new, at readings). And if I don’t know you, come say hi (you don’t have to buy a book either, but I’m assuming that’s what would bring you to the event in the first place).

Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour, Fall 2016

Sep. 17, Berea, KY – Presenting at Berea Writers Circle Meeting, 1:30pm

Sep. 21, St. Louis, MO – Reading at Subterranean Books, 6:30pm

Sep. 23 Lawton, OK – Reading at Cameron University, TBD

Oct. 4, London, KY – Presentation and book signing at Laurel County Library, 5:00pm

Oct. 8, Long Beach, CA – Reading at Gatsby Books, 3:00pm

Nov. 5, Frankfort, KY – Reading and book signing at Kentucky Book Fair, TBD

Dec. 9, Portland, OR – Reading at Late Night Library, TBD


SH 36 website banner

This spring they’ve been adding up:

  1. Soooooo many typos. In emails and manuscripts. On Facebook and Twitter. Maybe because I’m left-handed. Perhaps because I’m a four-finger and two-thumbs typist. Probably because I’m forever in a hurry and rushing through things without proof-reading well enough.
  2. There was that bike crash I had right before AWP. The one where I broke my left wrist and pinky finger, got a concussion (which only added to the typos), cracked my mandible, added three manly new scars to my face, and made me miss AWP.
  3. Like, a month ago, my essay “Errors” came out in the journal, Salt Hill, along with a lot of other excellent work (I’m really digging the story “Bald Bear” by Becky Mandelbaum), and I really should have thanked Jacob Collins-Wilson, the nonfiction editor at SH) and mentioned all of this a lot sooner, like, a month ago.

Californium. The novel.


So, this happened:

My, understands-my-novel-even-better-than-I-do, agent, Mackenzine Brady at New Leaf Literary, sold my novel to Plume – Penguin Books (USA).
There are edits and copy-edits and other things to come, but it will all add up to CALIFORNIUM sliding on to a bookstore shelf not too far from you (almost anywhere you are, they tell me) in May, 2016.

Feeling so very, very thankful.