Stephen S. Mills's Blog
July 21, 2016
It's hard to believe the year is already half over. It's been a busy one for me. I'm currently working on finishing a poetry manuscript and also diving into a new project that was jump started by a research trip I took to London in May.
This has been a year of change for me and focus on my writing. I haven't published as much this year, but have recently had three poems enter the world. The first is a poem I wrote after the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub. The shooting hit close to home for me since I lived in Orlando for almost five years and know many people there. IDK Magazine published my piece "Our Bodies Are Political" at the beginning of the month as part of an ongoing series about the event. And just this week Queen Mob's Tea House published two new pieces of mine titled "How We Became Sluts" and "My Students Talk of Color." I'm always thrilled when publications consider longer poems, which "Sluts" is.
Outside of writing, I have been participating as a mentor this summer to two high school students through the Adroit Journal's Summer Mentorship Program. It's been a great experience to see young writers pushing themselves and writing interesting and complex work.
As more news happens, I always update my publications list and occasionally this blog.
September 20, 2015
It's hard to believe it is already mid-September. 2015 is well on its way and fall is about to begin, which is my favorite time of the year. I thought I'd take this chance to recap some recent news regarding publications, events, and projects.
In publication news, I recently had a new essay printed in Lunch called "Thursdays at Red Lobster," which examines the film American Beauty among other things. I also had three poems featured in the July issue of Assaracus. And most recently, I found a home for my 17 page poem "A Brief History of How My Parents Didn't Die," which will be featured in an upcoming issue of Tahoma Review.
This month also marked the one year anniversary of my second book A History of the Unmarried, which came out on September 16, 2014. Right in time for the anniversary, Huffington Post published a great review of the book, which you can read here.
In event news, I have been asked to be a guest reader and speaker at the Reading Queer Literary Festival at the Miami Book Festival in November. I'm very honored to be included with so many other great writers. The events are taking place the weekend of my 33rd birthday, which will be a fun way to celebrate. I'm doing an event celebrating the Lambda Awards on November 22nd.
Finally, I am in the process of raising funds for a new research and book project. My goal is to raise $3,000 for a research trip to London in the spring. You can read more about the project and make a tax-deductible donation here.
Here's to a great fall!
August 2, 2015
Over the last two months, I've been guest editing the summer issue of OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts. It is with great pleasure that I announce its release. You can purchase either a digital copy (with sound) or a print copy by going here.
When I agreed to edit the issue, I quickly realized I'd never edited a specifically queer publication before. I've worked on many magazines and currently serve as the poetry editor for Animal, but an all queer publication was new and exciting for me. I was really pleased with the quality of the submissions I received from both known writers and unknown.
I worked to strike a balance in the issue between more established writers and emerging writers. What I love about using the word "queer" is that it encompasses so much. I looked for work that queered the world or experience. For some writers that was in the form or presentation of the pieces. For others, it was in the subject matter.
In the end, I'm extremely pleased with the issue and appreciate the opportunity to edit such a unique and powerful magazine.
Please buy a copy and read it. You won't regret it.
February 19, 2015
2015 is off to a good, but busy start. Quite a few things have happened in the last few weeks worthy of a quick roundup here on my official website.
First up, I had an amazing week in California doing a west coast book tour with two of my press mates: Matthew Hittinger and Brent Calderwood. We did six events in six days. It was a lot of poetry, a lot of bonding, and a lot of connecting with new and old fans. It really energized me in lots of ways and got me thinking about the whole idea of book tours and readings. What I found most interesting was the benefit of doing all of these readings with the same two other poets (we also did four events on the east coast in the fall). I found that we all became even better readers by doing these events together. We were constantly finding new and interesting ways our work connected to each other. All in all, my time in California was a great experience. I really loved exploring San Francisco, getting to spend a day at the beach in LA, and meeting so many new and supportive people. And we all sold a lot of books.
While I was on tour, I also found out that my book A History of the Unmarried was officially put on the Over the Rainbow list complied by the GLBT Roundtable of the American Library Association. This is a list that gets sent out to libraries across the country to recommend the best GLBT books published in 2014. It's an honor to have my book on the list (also Matthew's book and Brent's book made the list as well).
Lastly, I have a poem in the brand new (and redesigned) issue of The Los Angeles Review. I'm always happy to have work in this great publication. They have published me three times over the years and have always been very supportive of me and my work.
Here's to more good things in 2015!
December 30, 2014
I just finished reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please, which is the 77th and last book I will have read this year. In the book she offers this career advice: "You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look." She goes on to admit this is difficult to accomplish and that she struggles herself. While this bit of wisdom isn't necessarily that life-shattering, I felt like it was something that spoke to me and the year I've had and where I am at this point in my own career (in fact, Poehler's book offers a lot of wisdom and advice, which I normally hate, but Poehler made me like it).
2014 has been a good year for me in lots of ways. I published quite a few poems, a few essays, some pop culture pieces/reviews, and my second poetry collection A History of the Unmarried. I did more poetry readings this year than any other year in my life. I had the honor of reading at my alma mater and even got paid to do it (my first paid poetry event ever). I got a second adjunct gig in a traditional college setting, which I've been longing for. I adopted a new and wonderful dog (with only three legs). I read a lot of books. I saw a lot of great plays and art exhibits. I got a memoir piece published in a book about Atheists and got to read and speak at a few Atheist events (in fact, I'm now the go-to gay Atheist at Columbia University--just kidding, but kind of). All in all, I had a good year.
Since I moved to NYC a little over two years ago, I've been trying to forge a new path for myself. I've focused on writing as much as possible and I've dived into the adjunct world (which has some positives (flexible scheduling), but one big negative: horrible pay). Like someone in AA, I've tried to accept the things I can't change. I can't change the terrible academic job market. I can't suddenly make some school give me a full-time teaching job with benefits and security. I can't change how little I get paid to teach adjunct classes. The idea I once had for my life may not completely work out. I spent a few years being angry about this (sometimes really angry), but now I've come to some sort of peace with it. I still need more money to survive, but I'm casting a wider net and trying to worry less (I won't bog this down with my money troubles or you might get depressed). I love teaching, but I have to accept I may not be able to do it as a full-time faculty member (at least not for a long while).
What's partly kept me going has been my writing. In my darkest days spent teaching at a for-profit school in Florida, I wrote He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, which served me well. It sold well. It got nominated for awards. It won one. It helped open some doors for me when I moved to New York. It was like my invite to the party in some ways (though I sometimes think I've lost the invite and I'm crouched on the floor looking for it while all these other poets walk over me).
My first book also set me up for disappointment. When it came out, I was just so excited to have a book that I didn't focus that much on people's reactions and when the reactions were good and a year later I won the Lambda, it all felt a little unbelievable or like extra icing on an already really good cake. When my second book came out in September, I had a lot more in my head about how people might react and the reviews and the reading opportunities, which brings me back to Poehler's advice. She recommends a heavy dose of ambivalence when it comes to these things (which proves correct in my handling of my first book).
My new book has been selling well. I've heard only good things about it. I haven't even had an angry Good Reads review like I did with my first book (which is actually disappointing). But, at the same time, it's been like pulling teeth to get any publication to review it or interview me or talk about the book or whatever (as of this moment, I've had one professional review of the book in three months). It seems every publication that wants to talk about poetry (especially poetry by gay people) is only aware of about two books that came out this year and mine isn't one of them. This isn't for lacking of trying. It's just how things fall into place. I thought having one already successful book would get me invited to the table or get me something more. See, expectations are harmful. You heard it here.
As anyone who has published a book knows, it can be easy to get bogged down in negative thoughts no matter what is happening. We often focus on what hasn't happened instead of what has happened. We also compare ourselves nonstop to others, which is super easy to do with the Internet.
This is why, on this next to last day of the year, I'm glad I read Poehler's advice. Is it easy to shut off our need for outside approval? No. But I think it is vital to being successful. If we worry too much about what others will say, we may never do our very best work. I try never to censor myself in my creative process. I might later change things or revise or edit, but I let it all out first because who knows what might happen.
I'm not writing this to complain or to seek sympathy. I am very aware that I'm lucky in many ways and that I have many things to be thankful for. I'm not writing this to give you the impression that I'm bitter or I've been spending time sulking (both would be incorrect). I'm writing this because it's real. And I think as a writer we often feel alone in these thoughts because everyone is afraid to say anything that might make them look this way or that way. On the one hand, we put ourselves out there in the most vulnerable ways possible, but then also stay very guarded (or at least I do).
I'm growing up and I'm trying to care less what people think of me. Somedays I'm really good at it other days I'm not. I turned 32 this year. I have, in some ways, had more success as a poet than I imagined I would at this age, but I'm also a very driven person and I know I have a lot more to offer. I'm already halfway through a new book.
Like Poehler recommends, I do care about my work and I'm proud of what I've done. My second book is better than my first book. I know that. And maybe that's enough. Or maybe not. What do you think? (Just kidding).
Here's to another year of ups and downs and chances to do more, write more, and be more.
Here's to 2015.*
*I realize some of you will find this post annoying, full of bullshit, attention seeking, etc. But I don't care.
December 19, 2014
December always marks the on-slaughter of "end of the year" lists, which I both love and hate. They are fun yet frustrating and always subjective. It's truly impossible to make a list that everyone would agree upon, so I'm not doing that. I'm not naming my top ten books or films or TV shows.
Instead I've created a list of ten pieces of entertainment/art that I will remember from 2014 (or at least I think I will). This list is a combination of books, plays, TV shows, etc. that stood out to me. This is not to say there weren't other great things, but these are what I'm thinking about on this day in December sitting in my apartment with the hum of the Christmas tree nearby and my two dogs on each side of me.
Here's my list (in no particular order):
1. The Leftovers: HBO's new series blew me away. I read the novel a few years ago, but this adaption was perfection and took the novel to a whole new level. It was hands down my favorite new show of the year. I also loved True Detective, Fargo, The Affair, and The Knick, but The Leftovers struck a cord with me in a different way. It's a show that hasn't left me, and one I'll continue to think about in the years to come.
2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch: I've been a huge Hedwig fan since I first saw the film back in college. When I heard it was coming to Broadway, I was thrilled. I actually saw it twice: once with Neil Patrick Harris and once with Michael C. Hall. I'll be back in January when John Cameron Mitchell takes over the role. It's such an amazing show to see live, and I'm thankful I've been able to do so.
3. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: As a white liberal poet, it's pretty popular to say you like this book, but, in this case, the book is worth all the praise. It also seems like a fitting book for a year full of racial tensions in our country. But I liked the book mostly for its form and style. It shows you what can happen when you allow yourself freedom to explore. I've spent most of 2014 working on my third book, which is also about race, so it was also useful to read Rankine's in relationship to my own project.
4. The Comeback: The return of the amazing and under-appreciated HBO show didn't disappoint. I've been a fan of The Comeback from the very beginning. I watched it when it first aired and fell in love with Valerie Cherish immediately. I even wrote a paper on the show in grad school. The second season (nine years later) is just as thought-provoking and sharp. It's truly the best commentary about women in Hollywood that's out there.
5. Serial: I was late to the game on this one. Really late. I actually just started listening this past week, so this one just made the list. Serial is a podcast that examined a murder case and possible wrong conviction from 1999 over twelve episodes. I listened to all twelve in the last four days. It was engaging and thought-provoking. It raised great questions about truth, memory, and our justice system.
6. Snowpiercer: To be honest, I've really lost interest in films over the last decade. I used to be a huge film buff, but in recent years the film industry just seems so boring and lacking creativity. TV just keeps getting better and better and that's where I've devoted most of my watching time. But I did catch this fascinating sci-fi film and was pleasantly surprised. It all takes place in the future when the world is frozen and the last remaining humans must stay aboard a train (like the ark), which has a set class system that mirrors our society. If nothing else, everyone should watch it for Tilda Swinton's performance.
7. This Is Our Youth: One of my goals this year was to see more theater and I did. A few months ago I saw this play by Kenneth Lonergan starring Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin. The writing was sharp, funny, but underneath rather sad, and the acting was excellent. While the play is set in the early 1990s, it still felt very relevant to contemporary times, and I connected with many of the feelings and ideas presented.
8. Orange is the New Black: Netflix's huge hit got even better in its second season. The show went a little darker, but still provided great comedic moments. Overall, the second season proved this is not a one hit wonder. Can't wait for season three in 2015.
9. Mad Men: It's hard to make a list like this one and not include one of my all time favorite shows (and a huge influence on my second book). Mad Men began its final season in 2014 (the second half will air in early 2015). While it was only seven episodes long, it proved the show is still one of the best things on TV. The writing is hard to beat and the acting is top-notch. While I can't wait for the final episodes, I'm also dreading a TV landscape that doesn't include Don Draper.
10. Sweeney Todd: Towards the beginning of the year, I got the chance to see Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. It was only a five-night run, but thankfully I found out that they sell all seats for $75 on the day of (if they aren't sold). My partner and I got box seats that would have cost about $300 a piece and it was opening night. Not only was the performance amazing (truly one of my favorites of the year), but the room was full of celebrities from Meryl Streep to Neil Patrick Harris to Sondheim himself. It was one of my favorite New York nights I've had.
December 14, 2014
Thanks to Thomas March at Lambda Literary for writing a very nice and detailed review of my new book A History of the Unmarried.
March writes, "Many of the most compelling poems in this collection examine the liberties--sexual, intellectual, and imaginative--that intimacy can actually encourage, not just withstand. In these poems, even sexual freedom, when openly granted and shared, can become a manifestation of closeness."
Read his full review here.
September 29, 2014
My second poetry collection A History of the Unmarried officially released on September 16th from Sibling Rivalry Press. I'm very thankful to everyone who has already supported the book. I had a very nice release party here in New York City with fellow poet Matthew Hittinger whose new book The Erotic Postulate is also out.
Matthew Hittinger, Bryan Borland, and Stephen S. Mills
Please check out my events tab to keep up with future readings and appearances. I have quite a few scheduled in the next month here in New York City and one in Boston. I'm also planning events on the west coast for late January and early February.
If you have purchased the book, please consider reviewing or rating it on Good Reads or Amazon. If you haven't purchased a copy, you can do so from Sibling Rivalry Press and other stores. I am also selling signed copies myself. If you are interested in a signed copy, they cost $16 (which covers shipping) and payments can be made to my PayPal account using this email address: email@example.com. Send payment and your address, and I'll get you a book in the mail.
August 26, 2014
Last week I was tagged in a Writing Blog Roll Call where writers answer four questions about their own work and process and then tag others to do the same. It's a fun way to connect with writers and to see how people approach writing in very different ways.
I was tagged by my friend Mark Pursell. You can read his response here. I met Mark while I lived in Orlando, Florida. Over the years, he's become one of my best friends, and we still keep in contact since I moved to New York two years ago (In fact, he's coming to NYC in October to visit). In terms of what we we write, Mark and I are the opposite. He's writes mostly fiction, but some poetry, and I write mostly poetry, but some fiction. He was one of the few people I met in Orlando that I could talk to about writing, literature, and more (We actually talk about nearly everything). I'm honored to be tagged by him.
Here's my response to the four questions:
1. What are you working on?
My second poetry collection A History of the Unmarried is about to come out in September, but I'm currently halfway through a third collection. My current project, much like my second book, is focused around one central idea, and I'm writing it as a book, which isn't always the case for poets. But I really like working that way. I enjoy taking a theme or concept and exploring it in book length form.
This collection focuses on race, identity, and sexuality, which is challenging to write because I'm very aware of how people view discussions of race by white people and that's part of what I'm playing with. I'm particularly looking at race relationships between black and white people in a lot of different ways. The poems are using my own experiences, but also the experiences of others and incorporating more voices. Many of the poems explore Harlem where I've lived for the last two years. Some address the Harlem of 2014 and others look back at the Harlem Renaissance, which has been one of my favorite literary periods since I first studied it back in college.
I'm also devoting space to my hometown of Richmond, Indiana and examining the very disturbing history of the KKK in Indiana (a place many don't associate with the KKK, but at one time had one of the strongest groups of Klan members in the country). The book also takes a look at my own heritage, which includes a connection to two slaves from the 1840s.
The book continues my interest in what I call documentary poetry. I'm looking at history mixed with my personal experience, but through a poetic lens that blurs fact and fiction to get at a greater truth.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
The most challenging part of being a writer is finding your own voice, but with a lot time, practice, and the help of others, I've found my own way into poetry. I don't often see a lot of work that is extremely similar to mine. Of course, others write about the same topics, but I attempt to bring something fresh in my delivery.
I often mix humor with dark subject matter. I also play with the idea of the narrator in my poems. It's often a version of me, but not fully me. I also try to have strong honesty and rawness in my work. I write about sex often, but my poems about sex are not what many poets write (especially gay poets). Personally, I'm sick of the "Greek god" kind of admiration of the male body poems that so many gay poets have written over and over and over (seriously, enough already). I never write those because that's not close to reality. Sex is funny, unexpected, awkward, surprising, and human. I try to bring that aspect to any sex poem I write. The same goes for other topics.
My work also mostly leans toward the documentary like I said before. Sometimes that's just documenting my own life or incorporating history or the real life experiences of others. I also often juxtapose daily events against news events or world events to show the personal against the public.
That's all to say that I think the voice in my poems makes them standout. You can spot a "Stephen poem."
3. Why do you write what you do?
It's important as a writer (at least if you want to publish) to think about your audience, but it's also important to write work that makes you happy or that you enjoy. I write what I do because I'm interested in what I write. I write poems I would enjoy reading. I write about topics and issues that I find fascinating. If I'm bored with my work, then I know it's not working.
I also listen to my instincts. If something catches my attention, I write it down, I play with it, and I see where it takes me. I don't always feel in control of what I write. Many times the poems drive me.
4. What is your writing process like?
My process isn't always the same, and I've tried a lot of different approaches or exercises before. Currently, I don't force myself to write everyday, but I typically do any way. I have a pretty flexible schedule at the moment, so that affects my process and makes it a little looser. When I've had a full-time forty hour a week schedule, I've had to set aside specific blocks to write.
With most poems, I start with an idea or a line. That line is often the title. In fact about 75 percent of my poems begin with a title and then I write the poem. That's partly because my titles normally direct the poem or setup the situation of the poem. From there I write a draft that is pretty sloppy and contains the general movement of the poem (or at least what I think the movement will be), but with a lot of filler lines. After that, I typically put it away for a day or so before I revisit the messy first draft. From there I built a more fleshed out second draft, which then turns into draft 3 and 4 and 5 and so on. I'm a big reviser. I reread the poem over and over (always aloud). Some get to a more final stage quicker and others I put away for months and revisit them down the line. Of course, plenty go into an idea folder that I have for poems that didn't work.
In terms of book writing, once I have enough poems, I start playing with them in one document to see how they flow together or where they overlap. It also helps me see what is missing. What other kinds of poems need to be in this collection to make the idea work? I let the poems start talking to each other as well. In a book, I like for there to be little reoccurring ideas or images or thoughts.
After all those stages, I move on to feedback. I ask friends and people I trust to look over the manuscript and give me their thoughts both small and large on how it's working as a book as well as small line by line comments.
I hope this gives you some insight into my process. I'm tagging a fellow Indiana poet named Walter Beck. You can read a little more about him here.
August 13, 2014
For many small press authors, one of the biggest challenges is promoting your work. Touring and reading from your book is a great way to do that, but it takes money. Most small press authors have to pay for this out of pocket, which can be difficult or impossible.
This is why I'm so pleased that my press recently started a foundation to support small presses and small press authors. My publisher Bryan Borland calls the foundation a "tax-deductible version of Kickstarter." This foundation allows small press authors (not just those from Sibling Rivalry Press) to raise money for travel, research, and other literary events or workshops.
Currently, I'm asking people to donate to a book tour for A History of the Unmarried (my new book releasing on September 16th). All money raised will be going toward my ability to travel and promote the book. In the fall, I plan to do readings on the east coast and in the winter I'll be heading to California to read in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Your donation will help make that possible.
Here's how to donate:
1. Go to to the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation page for small press authors.
2. There you will see a drop-down menu of authors you can donate directly to. Select my name: Stephen S. Mills. Then add me to your cart.
3. On the next page, you can change the amount you would like to donate by increments of ten.
4. Then hit check-out and enter your payment information.
10% of all donations go directly to the running of the foundation and 90% will go to me. Your donation is tax-deductible and a great way to support the literary world.
For anyone who donates $50 or more, I will send you a free signed copy of A History of the Unmarried.
I thank you all for your support of my work whether you can donate or not. Feel free to pass this information on to anyone who might be interested, willing, or able.