Saturday, December 1, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Pitch letter example #2

Here's a second pitch letter, this one very recent, which I wrote for my review of Chris Hedges' book, America: The Farewell Tour. Note that I basically used two paragraphs from the review for the bulk of the letter. I sent this to three news-y magazine/journals that actually pay. Did get replies, nice ones, but they were no's. I decided to just make this review a blog exclusive, which does drive up visits, new readers, plus a lot of Russian trolls. So I don't know. Maybe I could have pitched to more places. I wanted to get the review out by December though, for the holiday buying season. Oh: I also found a typo posting it here. I'd spelled NYT, NTY. Doh. Learn from my mistakes!

For your consideration, my review of:

America: The Farewell Tour
by Chris Hedges
Simon & Schuster 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5011-5267-2 (hardcover)

Hedges earned a degree from Harvard Divinity School, then ended up becoming a foreign war correspondent for the New York Times, earning a Pulitzer along the way. The author of many NYT bestsellers, he teaches at the university level, hosts a show on the RT Network and somehow finds the time to teach in prisons.

America: The Farewell Tour collects a series of ethnographies, a 'tour' of different towns across America, interviewing people feeling the effects of American decay. Hedges generally gives little judgment, acting more as a witness, though including historical and cultural context from experts in the related fields. Sometimes though, Hedges provides a little argument, ways he thinks people on the left could be doing things better. His sympathies are definitely from the left, but just as definitely not with center-left Democrats. As a whole, the chapters form a larger, depressing, though honest picture of what's going on in (i.e. what's wrong with) America. That is, what's been wrong with America for a while.

Word count: 2,000

I hold a MA in Written Communication from Eastern Michigan University, and an MFA from The New School for Social Research. My reviews have appeared regularly at Entropy and Comics Bulletin, as well as Word Riot, Gravel, and Empty Mirror. Links available at my website.

I would be more than happy to send you the whole review.

Thank you,

John Yohe

Friday, November 23, 2018

America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges

America: The Farewell Tour
by Chris Hedges
Simon & Schuster 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5011-5267-2 (hardcover)

Chris Hedges doesn't mess around in his new book America: The Farewell Tour. He believes fascism is already entrenched in America, that it may in fact be America. And while this thought comes, surprise to no one, as a reaction to the election of Trump, Hedges is one of those troublemakers from the far left (like me) who thinks Trump is an effect, not a cause. He's also not unsympathetic to the working poor, and non-working poor, Trump supporters that Democrats have abandoned. When most writers might put their solutions at the end of the book, Hedges is already offering some general ones in his first chapter, "Decay", while discussing Antonio Gramsci, and Italian Marxist philosopher:

Gramsci would have despaired of the divide in the United States between our anemic left ad the working class. The ridiculing of Trump supporters, the failure to listen to and heed the legitimate suffering of the working poor, including the white working poor, ensures that any revolt will be stillborn. Those of us who seek to overthrow the corporate state will have to begin locally. This means advocating issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting for clean water, universal health care, and good public education, including free university education, that speak directly to the improvement of the lives of the working class. It does not mean lecturing the working class, and especially the white working class, about multiculturalism and identity politics. We cannot battle racism, bigotry, and hate crimes, often stoked by the ruling elites, without first battling for economic justice. When we speak in the language of justice first, and the language of inclusiveness second, we will begin to blunt the proto-fascism embraced by many Trump supporters.

Hedges earned a degree from Harvard Divinity School, then ended up becoming a foreign war correspondent for the New York Times, earning a Pulitzer along the way. The author of many NTY bestsellers, he teaches at the university level, hosts a show on the RT Network and somehow finds the time to teach in prisons. His style sounds like someone who has come out of a divinity school: When talking with his subjects there's a slight though compassionate detachment. Hedges only occasionally inserts himself in scenes, usually with a pointed question, but there's a warmth and obvious sympathy, and at least an empathy with what might be considered unsympathetic people: he's very aware that the poor white Trump supporters he's talking with are hurting, economically and sometimes physically, from an economy that has left them behind.

America: The Farewell Tour collects a series of ethnographies, a 'tour' of different towns across America, interviewing people feeling the effects of American decay. And at times just seeing the effects on people, is powerful enough. Hedges generally gives little judgment, acting more as a witness, though including historical and cultural context from experts in the related fields. Sometimes though, Hedges provides a little argument, ways he thinks people on the left could be doing things better. His sympathies are definitely from the left, but just as definitely not with center-left Democrats. As a whole, the chapters form a larger, depressing, though honest picture of what's going on in (i.e. what's wrong with) America. That is, what's been wrong with America for a while.

Hedges is at his strongest when he's basically just listening, letting people speak, but when he does have an opinion, he's made some enemies on the left for it, especially with the antifa movement, which he discusses in the chapter "Hate". I'm sure readers are familiar at least with the basics of the group, that they're 'anti-fascist', and that they are an aggressive response to the white supremacist demonstrations, like the one in Charlottesville when Heather Heyer lost her life.

Hedges was on the ground at the protest, talking to the white supremacists, who don't come off well. But neither do the antifa protesters. Their basic argument is that they need to wipe out the neo-nazis and white supremacists in these smaller rallies before they get bigger, that if people had just done that back in 1930s Germany, the Nazis would never have come to power. But Hedges, being a good historian, points out that in fact people did try to do that back then, and it was fear of militant, an violent, leftist protestors that drove people to the apparent stability and strength of the Nazis. Hedges fears the same here. Also, aside from the basic arguments about the right for anyone to have free speech and free assembly (meaning especially people who you don't agree with) guaranteed in our Bill of Rights, he argues that using any kind of violence during protests is actually an ego-trip that becomes more important than what people might be protesting for. Hedges uses a quote from another Italian writer, Ennio Flaiano, to sum it up: "There are two kinds of fascists: fascists and anti-fascists."

For making argument like this, his classes are protested and disrupted by the antifa folks. This left vs. left infighting reminds me of the Marvel Civil War comic book series, when Captain American and Iron Man and their respective teams fought while the Green Goblin took over. Except we have the Orange Goblin.

The irony is that for Hedges, in America: The Farewell Tour, it's already too late. Fascism, in all its forms, is already thriving in America, a view which he shares with his antifa protestors. I'm not sure. Maybe I'm in denial, but the fascism scare here reminds me of the whole Russia scare that's been going on in the MSM. The difference, of course, is that the liberals/democrats who talk of fascism and the Russians stealing our elections do so to distract and avoid blame for their own destructive and/or lame policies. Hedges isn't trying to distract, he really believes it, and believes the democrats are complicit, which is why he's not otherwise embraced by the mainstream media.

Hedges' ethnographic approach works less well when he delves into sex, and pornography, and prostitution, in the chapter titled "Sadism". His cause-and-effects are weaker, at least between the sex and everything else. He begins this part of his tour of America taking a couple classes on kinky sex at the former headquarters of in San Francisco, which Hedges plays/writes straight, just regurgitating what the 'instructor' says, though I'm not sure if his intention is to shock or amuse. But that's not even the (unintentionally?) funniest part of the chapter, which is when he writes a couple play-by-plays of scenes in porn movies. I wish David Foster Wallace was still around to handle this stop on the tour.

Hedges tries to tie the classes at the building to the porn that was filmed there, and to porn in general, which leads, always apparently, to prostitution and viewing child porn. I wish Hedges could have devoted an entire chapter to each of these subjects, because the line from people who like kink (Hedges is apparently not) to people who like to watch porn involving kink, to prostitution deserves more time, because the implication is that those of us who do like kink are guilty of forcing women into human trafficking. Hedges only ends up interviewing two porn actresses, neither of whom I've never heard of. He, and they, are pretty graphic about why/how they're not, and it's not pretty. But I would have liked him to interview more people who seem to have done ok in the industry, like Belladonna or Nina Hartley (who he actually mentions briefly for her role as a Hillary Clinton lookalike in a porn film). I would have liked, too, that he interview some sex/porn-friendly writers and critics like, say, Suzie Bright or Kate Bornstein. You don't have to be a prude to think prostitution and human trafficking are horrible.

The powerful part of the chapter is about those subjects. Hedges, though, downplays/negates his previous cause-and-effect for what I think, and I think he really thinks, is the real cause of prostitution, which to nobody's surprise is economics: poor women, and some men, end up in prostitution as a way to make money, because they don't have any other options in our beloved American (non)welfare system, though as Hedges shows, convincingly, no one knows how bad it can become, and they can/will be lied to and forced to do horrible things.

I don't deny that many porn actresses end up in prostitution, and porn itself can be/is prostitution—sex for money—but Hedges seems unwilling to believe that some normal real-life women actually like pain and humiliation with their sex and seems to believe, from the one 'expert' he interviews, that modern day porn has warped our minds such that we now only think in kink, and can only get aroused by extreme situations. An otherwise good historian, he could have, since this chapter is in fact called "Sadism", gone back to the writings of the Marquis de Sade, considered a literary hero en France, to see that humans have been perving out for a long time. Perhaps his divinity school-ness betrays him here.

Though America: The Farewell Tour does depressingly feel like a farewell, to perhaps literally the existence of America and at least to the idea of America as a great nation and certainly to the idea of America as a respected power in the world, Hedges has some hope, detailed in his final chapter "Freedom", with activist groups such the Catholic Worker Movement, Earth Quaker Action Team, Hands Up United (in Fergeson, Missouri), The Free Alabama Movement (organized by prisoners within the prison system) and the Standing Rock Water Protectors:

The resistance by the water protectors at Standing Rock provides the template for future resistance movements. It was nonviolent. It was sustained. It as highly organized. It was grounded in spiritual, historical, and cultural traditions. It grew organically out of community. And it lit the conscience of the nation.

The key word there is community, and not the kind you find online: Hedges doesn't have much faith in internet activism. Nor for mainstream politics. Despite what people would have you believe, especially after the 'blue ripple' of the mid-term elections, voting is not what will effect true change:

Resistance...will come from outside the formal political system. It will not be embraced by the two main political parties or most institutions, which are under corporate control....We will have to build new, parallel institutions that challenges the hegemony of corporate power. It will not be easy. It will take time. We cannot accept foundation money and grants from established institutions that seek to curtail the radical process of reconstituting society. Trust in the system, and especially the Democratic Party, to carry out reform and wrest back our democracy ensures our enslavement.

This process of institution building permits organizers and activists to eventually pit power against power. Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to frighten power elites do not succeed. All of the movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, the communists, the socialists, the anarchists, and the civil rights movement—developed a critical mass and militancy that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality, and democracy are just that. Only when the ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don't have one.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Pitch letter sample

Here's a 'pitch' letter I wrote to Harper's, the place I'd most like to write for. Alas. The big boo-boo was maybe the "re: nonfiction query" since it's a pitch. A query is for a longer piece, to a lit agent or publisher. I did actually write an essay, here, which ended up at Comics Bulletin. For free. Where I was already writing reviews. For free. I never heard from Harper's at all. Still, I think it's a decent pitch. This was a hard copy letter, and I included a list of my previous publications, or some. Which I would not do now. You can find them all at my website:

john yohe
portland, or 97210
March 20, 2014

Harper’s Magazine
666 Broadway, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10012

re: nonfiction query

I nod hello to Spider Man, but he's distracted by the third Catwoman of the day walking by in a tight black body suit. I'm on my way to the Feminism in Comics program—t was that or Metaphysics in Comics—but I may be late, because getting through the mob of superheroes is proving difficult, especially with a life-size Totoro taking up the aisle. Except, it's a Bat Totoro: he has a bat utility belt and what must be a bat cowl.

This is the world of ComiCons: Comic Conventions, where the freaks come out to meet their favorite comic book writers and illustrators, or to see and obtain autographs from the newest tv movie stars. Or to just engage in what is called 'cosplay'—costume play. In the meantime in the main convention hall there are booths galore, from indie comic publishing companies like Dark Horse, to local comic book stores selling new and used single-issues, compilations, and graphic novels. There are also panels galore, on anything from how to break into the comics industry, to the unique problems gaming couples experience and work through.

I will be attending the Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle at the end of March, and propose writing an ethnographic-type essay, 3,000-6,000 words about this sub-pop-culture phenomenon. My main question will be, Why? What makes these ComiCons so popular, especially since many of the participants may not even read comics.

John Yohe holds a MA in Written Communication, and a MFA in Poetry Writing. He is a regular reviewer at the website Comics Bulletin. Recent published nonfiction pieces on pop culture include “The Many Faces of Red Sonja” and “Slayer! : An Essay in Thirteen Parts.” A partial list of published works is included. Please see his website,, for a complete list, with links.

John Yohe

John Yohe: Published writing

Creative Non-Fiction:

"Holy Water." Scheduled to appear in the anthology On Foot: Essays on hiking in the Grand Canyon. Vishnu Press. Flagstaff: 2014.

“Slayer! : An Essay in 13 Parts.” SLOW TRAINS. March 2013.

“Puerto Rico in the Late 60s.” SALT RIVER REVIEW. October 2010.

“Barefoot Running Allowed Me To Run Again.” BAREFOOT RUNNING SOCIETY WEBSITE. July 2010.

“Academic” WRITING ON THE EDGE. Volume 19 #2 Spring 2009. UC Davis. Davis, CA. 2009.

Book Reviews:

“Dynamite’s Many Faces of Red Sonja.” COMICS BULLETIN. February 2014.

“What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned by Sherman Alexie: A Review.” WORD RIOT.  February 2014.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 “Sanctuary.” COMICS BULLETIN. February 2014.

Wonder Woman Volume 4: War. COMICS BULLETIN. February 2014.

The Black Beetle: No Way Out. COMICS BULLETIN. January 2014.

Lazarus Book 1: Family. COMICS BULLETIN. January 2014.

Bandette Volume 1: Presto!  COMICS BULLETIN. January 2014.

X Volume 1: Big Bad. COMICS BULLETIN. December 2013.

“The Day of the Triffids by David Wyndham.” WORD RIOT. December 2013.

“Who Will Save Red Sonja? Enter Gail Simone.” COMICS BULLETIN. December 2013.

“Ten Thousand Voices by Rick Kempa.” RATTLE. Summer 2013.

“Keeping The Quiet by Rick Kempa.” BOXCAR POETRY REVIEW Spring 2011.

“The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg: a narrative poem by Edward Sanders: A Review.” CLOCKWISE CAT. Issue #18 Summer 2010.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell: A Review.” Issue #7 February 2010.

The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert: A Book Review” RATTLE #23. Fall 2005.


“Ready Or Not.” WRITING ON THE EDGE Volume 20 #2 Spring 2010. UC Davis. Davis, CA.

“What Works For Me: Using Six Word Memoirs As Icebreaker and Intro To The Writing Process.” TEACHING ENGLISH IN THE TWO-YEAR COLLEGE. The National Council of Teachers of English. Spring 2010.

“Academic.” WRITING ON THE EDGE Volume 19 #2 Spring 2009. UC Davis. Davis, CA. Winter/Spring 2009.


"Brainstorm." Flash fiction at SMASHED CAT. Scheduled for January 2014.

“The Jacket.” FAT CITY REVIEW. June 2013.

"Humiliation." BLACK HEART MAGAZINE. June 2013.

“La Chingada.” SOL: English Writing in Mexico. scheduled for July 2013. Mexico City, Mexico.

"Umbrellas." AMARILLO BAY Volume 14, number 4. November 2012.

“María José.” SOL: English Writing in Mexico: SOL Literary Magazine Anthology, edited by Eva Hunter. 2012: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (Originally appeared in SOL: English Writing in Mexico. July 2011. Mexico City, Mexico.

“Horses.” SUBTLE TEA. Winter 2011.

“Riding Dragons.” SLOW TRAINS. Volume 10, Issue 1, 2010.

“A Northern Michigan Myth.” HURON RIVER REVIEW #9. Ann Arbor, MI. Spring 2010.

 “Masquerade” CELLARROOTS. Eastern Michigan University. Ypsilanti, MI. Winter 2008.

“Water” LEFT CURVE Literary Journal Oakland, CA. Spring 2006.

“Piñata” RIVERSEDGE Literary Magazine Winter 2006.

“Punta Concepción” BRIDGE Literary Magazine, issue 13, spring 2005 Chicago, IL.

“They’re For My Husband” BEST AMERICAN EROTICA OF 2004, ed. Suzie Bright, Touchstone Books, Simon and Shuster Publishing.

“What You Are” short story: LEFT CURVE Literary Journal. Oakland, CA. 2003.

“They’re For My Husband” LEG SHOW. May 2002. New York, NY.

“Violent Sex” RATTAPALLAX. New York, NY. 2002.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Query Letter Sample: La Chingada: Stories

Another sample query letter, this one for my short story collection. Comments and links follow.

john yohe
2651 xxxxxxx
portland, or 97210

October 22, 2012

Editorial Submissions-Fiction
Soft Skull Press
Berkeley, CA 94710

Re: La Chingada: Short Stories

A Mexican teen takes revenge on her sister’s killers. A Hispanic boy is pressured into taking part in a gang rape. A man spends a night with a young attractive heroin user. These stories and others, collected in my short fiction collection, LA CHINGADA, reveal the blurring of sex and violence in North American culture.

The audience for LA CHINGADA would include readers of Jim Harrison, Richard Ford, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Charles Bukowski, and Beth Nugent.

A list of published works, and a sample of published short stories, is included.

Thank you,

John Yohe

Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, as well as a teacher of writing. He has lived in Mexico, Spain, France, and traveled to six continents. His first full-length collection of poetry, What Nothing Reveals, is out now. A complete list of his publications, and poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing samples, can be found at his website:

This was a hardcopy letter, one of the last I've done, since Soft Skull at the time required it and I really really thought they would like my stuff. Alas. 

I included a hardcopy of sample stories, plus a list of my published short stories, and works in general, while still directing them online. I don't include a list of published stories in my queries anymore, or not for my novel queries, just reference some lit mags I've been published in, with a link. But I think for a collection that showing the lit agent a list of published stories is still a good strategy. Do I have any proof? No. I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

Since it's a collection, I chose to do a one-sentence summary of some of the more powerful stories, a strategy I'd seen on the back blurbs of published short story collections. I still think that's a good strategy. 

This query feels short. I could have added a page count, but I felt for a short story collection that that could change at any point, that some stories might get the ax. I suppose I could have estimated. I'm not sure what else I could have added, especially since my bio feels bloated. I was at this point deciding to take out my academic creds, which I still do. My thinking was to present myself as an interesting person rather than a MFA clone. I still do that.

I think I could have given more one-sentence summaries of more stories, to show more variety.

I have queried lit agents for this collection as well, with this same letter, I believe.

There is the question of calling the collection La Chingada, since that's a harsh term in mexican spanish, but I figure(d) go for it, be shocking, and find a publisher that wants to be shocking as well. Alas.

My other query letter samples, here, here, and here.

Some of the stories mentioned in the letter and in the collection:

Friday, November 9, 2018

Query letter sample: Masked Man

Here is another query letter sample, this one for my novel Masked Man. This was in hard copy format, thus the header, which I'll leave in for posterity, but note that you wouldn't do that for an email query: just start with their first and last name (no Mr/Ms even).

I do remember this particular agent I was querying a second time, since he'd asked for the full manuscript of my novel CAT, based on my query letter for that. (see link for that). I'm not sure that was a good strategy, since he didn't end up liking CAT. He said he didn't find the main characters sympathetic. So, I thought I'd try him with a satire/comedy, which he did not like at all. Though he did reply back with a personal letter to say so. That's about the most successful I've been with querying.

Note that I didn't include a list of short fiction published, nor did I even list places I've published short fiction in the bio. Oops. Nor even did I put in a personal note to him reminding him that he'd liked CAT et cetera. Which he chastised me for. Always put in some kind of personal note to them. Just a paragraph to let them know, why them?

On the other hand, I still think this is a good query: It summarizes and shows what is at stake in the first paragraph, and shows that readers of certain other western-ish books might like it. Plus have "Maria Jose" as already published.

My bio here reads 'academic', which I go back and forth on whether that's good or bad. I've lately taken out my academic creds and listed my unique jobs, which to me seems more interesting. But, I could be wrong. Maybe it's not either/or.

john yohe
__________ dr. #g
jackson, mi 49203

February 22, 2012

_________ Literary Agency
______Central Park W
New York, NY 10025

Mr. _____:

A retired ASU philosophy professor, after losing his wife to cancer, heads south, by horse, dressed as a famous masked ranger to rescue a “mexican señorita” he's seen in a dream. He is accompanied by an Apache community college poet dropout. Getting to Mexico and finding the señorita, María José, is the easy part. Getting out, in the middle of a narcotraficante turf war, is not.

My novel, MASKED MAN, is a satire/homage to southwestern novels from both sides of the border, including those by Ed Abbey, Cormac McCarthy, and Roberto Bolaño, with (ir)reverent nods to Cervantes' Don Quixote, the original buddy story. Word count: 50,000. Pages: 192

An excerpt from the novel was published as the short story “María José” in the online literary journal SOL: English Writing in Mexico, and selected for their “Best of 2011” anthology:

John Yohe was born in Puerto Rico. He holds a MFA in Poetry Writing from The New School for Social Research, and a MA in The Teaching of Writing from Eastern Michigan University. He now teaches writing full-time at Jackson Community College. A complete list of his publications, and poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing samples can be found at his website:

Thank you,

John Yohe

The first 20 pages or so of Masked Man can be found here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

New short story at HST!

A new short story of mine now up at HorrorSleazeTrash! I'm not giving the title here so as to avoid all the Russian porn addicts coming to my blog. Warning: the HST site is NSFW, though the content, and my story, is harmless and I hope fun. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Query Letter: Geronimo's Cave

Here is another sample query letter, this one for my novel Geronimo's Cave. Like my last query letter example (found here), I tried to put the agent right in the story in the first sentence, and then give a 'big picture' look of how the story fits in.

What I did not do: show what is at stake, or what Singer's obsession might be, which are supposed good strategies. I'm not so sure that 'what is at stake' is applicable in all cases, and not in this one. I could be wrong. It's happened before. But, if you see anything of use for your own query letter, feel free to steal it! Comments/feedback welcome!

I also did not include a list of my published fiction after the letter, which I had been doing with previous letters (which you'll see in the weeks to come). Lit agents don't ask for this anymore, and so I mentioned some literary magazines I've been published in, the most well known that they may have heard of, and hope if they're really interested, that they'll go to my website to see more. I do not know if they would, though visits to my website do go up when I send out query letters.

Alas, I received no nibbles on this from lit agents. I also tried querying indie publishers, and did get a nibble or two, but they were so indie as to be not even survive beyond responding back to me. Alas alas alas....

Note: Apparently, using Mr or Ms is now considered too formal, and you should just use their first and last name. Or so I've read.... 

Also also, this is the last time I ever still used actual an print letter for some agents. At this point, it was still a mix of both email and snail mail. Now, it's almost always email. But if you were doing print, you would put your address and info first, then theirs. Thankfully, it's easier now, but that means it's easier for everybody, and lit agents now get more queries. Though it's easier for them to pass. With email queries, you may now never get a reply back if they're not interested. It's not personal, but don't ever bother them by following up, and don't ever every call their office!

Begin query letter:

Mr./Ms. Their Name,

After a divorce, his sister's descent into addiction, and the death of his mother, TONY SINGER, a teacher at Mesa Community College, in Arizona, gives up his job, and his life, and goes off into the Superstition Mountains, to a cave once used by Geronimo, to die. While there, he receives visitors, both real and imagined (and remembered). This modern mash-up of two myths, the Christian Temptation of St. Anthony and the Tibetan Life of Milarepa, re-tells the lesson found in many spiritual paths: giving up everything.

Audience for Geronimo's Cave: readers of Sherman Alexie, Roberto Bolaño, Jim Harrison, and Kim Addonizio.

Geronimo's Cave
Literary fiction
Word count: 52,929

Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, fire lookout, as well as a teacher of writing. MA in Written Communication from Eastern Michigan University and a MFA in Poetry Writing from The New School for Social Research. His short stories have appeared at, Rattapallax, ENTROPY, Best American Erotica of 2004.

A complete list of all his publications, including essays and reviews, with links and samples, can be found at his website:


Twitter: @thejohnyohe

Thank you,

John Yohe

 The first 20 pages or so of Geronimo's Cave can be found here.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Query letter: CAT

Here is an example of a query letter for my novel CAT, for either a literary agent or an indie publisher. This is the one query letter that has gotten nibbles: requests to see the full manuscript. Alas, that's as far as I've gotten. What I would add, somewhere, is a paragraph saying why I'm querying that particular literary agent or publisher. I will post more query letters in the weeks to come, so you can see how my format has changed (not that that has necessarily increased interest). I don't put my blog and Twitter anymore, but who knows, maybe that helped? Feel free to borrow and steal anything you can use for your own query letter!

Their Name,

Ash and blackened earth. An elite wildland firefighting hotshot crew reaches the edge of a wildfire with chainsaws roaring, tanker planes and helicopters overhead. Cutting and digging line, they hope to catch the fire before it spreads out of control.

CAT: OR A SEASON IN FIRE follows DANNY SINGER during his first season on an elite wildland firefighting ‘hotshot’ crew, and his relationship with a female coworker (CAT) and the rest of the crew have as they travel the American west fighting forest fires for one summer.

With wildfires in the news every summer, CAT offers a look into the lives of wildland firefighters behind the media screen. My writing style comes from writers such as Hemingway, Sherman Alexie, Robert Bolaño, Jim Harrison, and Edward Abbey. This story would also appeal to readers of non-fiction works like Young Men and Fire and Fire On The Mountain.

Word count: 54,594

Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, and fire lookout, as well as a teacher of writing. His writing has appeared in ENTROPY, Rattapallax, Left Curve, Fence,, Best American Erotica 2004, and many other literary journals. A complete list, with links, is available at his website:

Twitter: @thejohnyohe

Thank you,

John Yohe

The first 12 pages of CAT can be read here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Moth Man

Happy to have my poem "Moth Man" in the new Manzano Mountain Review, which dropped on Halloween 2018!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Eat The Apple by Matt Young

Eat The Apple: A Memoir
by Matt Young
Bloomsbury USA 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63286-950-0 (hardback)

The literature from the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions that I've read (and I don't claim a comprehensive knowledge), both fiction and non-, seems to work at its most powerful in the short form. It's almost like Michael Herr's collection of journalism pieces about the Vietnam War, Dispatches (a great book) set the standard. I can think of major novels about the American Civil War World War I, World War Two and even the Spanish Civil War, but it's almost as if the way people, men, write about combat now has to come in flashes, flashbacks. Eat The Apple by Matt Young, though labeled a memoir, was assembled from shorter published pieces and could easily have been a collection of essays, or even in some cases short stories.

Eat The Apple differs from other military literature of this century (again, that I've read) in that Young includes his time at Marine boot camp and its absurdity as a prelude to the absurdity of deployment in Iraq. It reminds my of the movie Full Metal Jacket in this way in that I almost thought the book might be just about boot camp, but then halfway through or so we jump to Iraq. It does follow a linear timeline, but there are chunks of space in it: there's only so many days of sweating one's ass off that you can describe, and that's what we-who-haven't-been can't quite know, though we get the idea, that in the military, surrounding the moments of terror and awkward R&R binges, loom just days and weeks of monotony.

It differs too in its introspection: Young is unsparing on himself, though with (dark) humor. He's looking back about ten years later and fully acknowledging that his reasons for wanting to join the Marines—to change his life for the better could be the summary—are all bullshit and that if he knew, or thought about the reasons why America is there (still!), oil and money, then he would not. He could take it easy on himself and just say he was just a lost young man, but over and over Young portrays himself as a selfish idiot.

You've chosen the United States Marine Crops infantry based on one thing: You got drunk last night and crashed your car into a fire hydrant sometime in the early morning and think—because your idea of masculinity is severely twisted and damaged by the male figures in your life and the media with which you surround yourself—that the only way to change is the self-flagellation achieved by signing up for war.

You will ship out for recruit training to San Diego, California, in April 2005. Your family—broken and distant—will remain silent as to your decision. Only an ex-girlfriend, with whom you're still in contact, will beg you not to go with words of oil and death and futility. You'll wish you listened.

In fact, it's almost hard to read this as a memoir because I can't almost believe the fuckup narrator in Eat The Apple went on to earn a MA in Creative Writing and now teaches writing. That's maybe the tug of this text: trying to see the humanity in the younger Young and how he gets out (it's a memoir, we know he gets out) changed, or scared straight.

I say 'the narrator,' but another fairly unique thing about Eat The Apple is how much Young plays with that idea, with some of the 'dispatches' coming in third and (a seeming favorite, and effective) second person. Even second person plural. There's even one section in the third person POV of one of the boot camp sergeants. Does that even still counts as memoir? Makes me wonder if some of Eat The Apple was intended as short fiction at first, that Young, or his editor, might have later decided to collect the fragments together.

It works. I'm left wanting more, perhaps Eat The Apple could have been filled out, but on the other hand, as I said before, this memoir is a man working through vivid memories here, both in Iraq and back in America. Young is up front from the beginning: joining the Marines was a mistake, though he might have ended up dead or in prison otherwise, and/or just lived a life of desperation. The Marines changed him. Young would say for the worse. Still, here's this book, and this man who turned his life around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner
Scribner 2018 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5655-4

Three main threads weave through The Mars Room. One follows Romy Hall as she enters into prison, for life, for killing her stalker. The other two go back, one from around childhood to early teenager-hood, the third with Romy as young adult, leading up to he crime (The Mars Room is the name of the strip club in where she works). These three threads come in collage form, at least for the first part of the book, jumping around as a person's thoughts, especially as she's on the bus to life in prison, must do:

I had learned already not to cry. Two years earlier, when I was arrested, I cried uncontrollably. My life was over and I knew it was over. It was my first night in jail and I kept hoping the dreamlike state of my situation would break, that I would wake up from it. I kept on not waking up into anything different from a piss-smelling mattress and slamming doors, shouting lunatics and alarms. The girl in the cell with me, who was not a lunatic, shook me roughly to get my attention. I looked up. She turned around and lifted her jail shirt to show me her low back tattoo, her tramp stamp. It said

Shut the Fuck Up

It worked on me. I stopped crying.

It was a gentle moment with my cellmate in county. She wanted to help me. It's not everyone who can shut the fuck up, and although I tried I was not my cellmate, who I later considered a kind of saint. Not for the tattoo but the loyalty to the mandate.

Eventually the smaller pieces lengthen out into more vivid scenes, which Kushner writes equally as well. She is of course showing us that, despite what the prison guards seem indoctrinated to say (especially to themselves, so as to maybe be able to live with themselves) that these women are not in prison because choices they've made, but because being poor in America almost makes it inevitable.

Kushner weaves a fourth thread in with Gordon, an English Lit grad school dropout who teaches at the prison. He both gives us another, more outsider, point of view of prison life but also serves as a stand-in for the reader: he's not with the prison guards in thinking prison is a result of mere choices, but neither can he bring himself to entirely to trust the women he's teaching. Nor should he—they are lying and manipulating, but that's just survival, that's just how you get by when you don't have anything (and Romy realizes that being an exotic dancer was good training for prison life in how to get things from men). Gordon is torn—the women are obviously in pain in an obviously unfair system, and at least at first thinks he can help. But does he really want to help, or just make himself feel good by trying to help, and does it matter when he's just seen as a privileged middle-class nerdy white guy who can be manipulated by a little flirting.

There are a couple other threads, or chapters, from other characters' points of view, but though they don't take away anything from the story, neither do they really add anything, especially since they're not developed, and appear after readers have already latched on to Romy and Gordon. Really, it's Romy's story. Kushner makes her life so vivid that I just wanted more. Even Gordon remains mostly, though maybe necessarily, flat—we learn almost nothing of his life before the prison.

Kushner was recently featured in The New Yorker, so maybe now officially is a literary darling, but I suspect New Yorker readers might not be interested in reading just about Romy's lower-class life, pre-prison. I would—Kushner was influenced by two of my favorite writers, Charles Bukowski and Denis Johnson, both of whom get mentions in The Mars Room, and both of whom wrote almost exclusively about the lower-class/under-class life, though neither were featured in The New Yorker. But I fear that, as with the book (by Piper Kirman) and tv show Orange Is The New Black, but also with, say, Stephen King's The Shawshank Redemption, that there's a 'prison porn' fascination that middle-class readers and viewers (including me) have, which is like driving by a car crash: we want to watch and see how bad it is, but then drive on and forget it. That's not Kushner's (nor King's, nor Kirman's) intention, and in fact Kushner uses Gordon as the way to comment on how our prison system is a symptom of a larger problem, as when he's thinking about another inmate, Button Sanchez:

The word violence was depleted and generic from overuse and yet it still had power, still meant something, but multiple things. There were stark acts of it: beating a person to death. And there were more abstract forms, depriving people of jobs, safe housing, adequate schools. There were large-scale acts of it, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a single year, for a specious war of lies and bungling, a war that might have no end, but according to prosecutors, the real monsters were teenagers like Button Sanchez.

The implication being that the prison system is part of a larger war, which never ends. In this case, a war on poor people, especially poor people of color (though Romy is white). What I would hope, and I'm sure Kushner would hope, is that reading a book like The Mars Room builds both empathy and sympathy in readers and would lead to involvement in prison reform (Kushner volunteers at a womens prison). That aside, The Mars Room is just a good book. It's more like a book of horror, except the monsters are human, or the system is the monster, created by humans. You won't feel good after reading it, but this is life in all its gritty awfulness.

If interested in prison reform, or in helping in some way, here's a list you might try: