Member Spotlight: R.L. Maizes

Some of our members are just starting out writing poems, some of them are experienced fiction writers looking to break into publishing, and some are looking for ways to meet fellow writers and lament their latest wave of writer's block. At Lighthouse, we're here for the whole writer.

We're also here for spotlighting our members when their work finds a home (check out our recent kudos post). For Lighthouse member R.L. Maizes, that home is Celadon Books. In July, the publishing house will release her collection of short stories, We Love Anderson Cooper, some of which she worked on in a Lit Fest Advanced Workshop with Rebecca Makkai (applications for Lit Fest 2019 Advanced Workshops are open now). We recently asked her some questions about her journey, her faves, and Anderson Cooper. Read her answers below:


First, congrats on the new collection of short stories! What’s the most exciting part of the process, the first time a story really came together, the first time one was published, its acceptance at a major press, its forthcoming publication? And, how do you usually celebrate writerly success?

Thanks! I’ll start with the easiest question first—how do I celebrate? Vegan chocolate cake. Best eaten standing up, between meals, but fine for dessert as well. It’s the way I celebrate and also the way I console myself when facing the rejections that are part of every writer’s life.

As far as exciting parts of the process, finding a publisher for the collection was tremendously exciting, and in another, quieter way, the most exciting moments happened at my desk, when I wrote something I was proud of, that I thought would move people or make them laugh, or both. 

Can you tell us a little about We Love Anderson Cooper? What are some feelings readers can expect to feel? What might surprise readers?

The characters in We Love Anderson Cooper are treated as outsiders because of their sexual orientation, racial or religious identity, or simply because they look different. The title story is about a young man who courts the publicity that comes from outing himself at his bar mitzvah. “Tattoo” is about a painter, shunned because of his appearance, who inks tattoos that come to life. In “The Infidelity of Judah Maccabee,” a paranoid Jewish actuary suspects his cat of cheating on him with his Protestant girlfriend. The stories are meant to entertain and to evoke empathy.

A reader might be surprised to learn that one aspect of the story “The Infidelity of Judah Maccabee” is based on my life. When I first moved in with Steve, who’s now my husband, my dog Tilly switched her affections to him, which infuriated me to the point of madness. Writing the story, I made the dog a cat, so Steve wouldn’t suspect the story was autobiographical in that way. He wasn’t fooled.

Breakthroughs, obstacles, light bulbs, rages of writing the book?  

I don’t have an MFA or any writing degree. My writing education has come in part through Lighthouse workshops—in person, online, and at Lit Fest. After years of writing and workshopping, I put together a collection. I gave a draft to Erika Krouse to make sure it was ready and that I wasn’t making a mistake sending it to agents. She had it for about a month. During that time, I imagined her returning the manuscript and heaping praises on me and the book, which wasn’t how it ultimately went. Erika is so smart about short stories. Even though the critique stung, it was enormously constructive. I learned so much from it and from rewriting the entire book. Another year passed before I was ready to query agents. It was hard to take that extra year. I was impatient. While I don’t consider myself old, it’s also true that I no longer qualify for any of those emerging writer lists where youth is a factor. But I knew I had been given a chance to make the book better. So, I took it.

Where’s your favorite place to write? Is that where most of your writing takes place?

I move around my house. I’ll write a draft at my desk, and then to refresh my creativity, I’ll write the next draft on the bed. From there I’ll go to the kitchen, which is a very dangerous location. I move around naturally, being somewhat restless. In a creativity talk I attended, the teacher suggested a similar strategy. She said by changing the view where you write, you’ll inspire different associations.  

You live in Boulder County, how has Colorado shown up in your writing?

I grew up in New York and have lived in Colorado since 1996. About a third of the stories in the collection take place in Colorado. The setting in “A Cat Called Grievous” is an unnamed Colorado suburb. Weather—snow and ice—play a critical role in the story.

Which writers/artists/foods are you really into right now?

Right now, I’m reading The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso and really enjoying it. It’s about two very nasty women who live next door to each other and feud. But it’s also about racial tensions in present day South Africa. I also love Rebecca Makkai’s work. I loved her collection, Music for Wartime. The Great Believers will break your heart, as the best fiction does. I feel very fortunate to have studied with her at Lit Fest. Her critique of the story “Tattoo,” and her admonition to never stop at your first thought, but always to go deeper to something more original, has had a profound effect on my writing. Another favorite book from this past year is Nick Arvin’s Mad Boy. Who would have thought a book set during the 1812 war could be so captivating, so funny, and so tender? To anyone who hasn’t read it, go out and buy it right now. Another book I loved this past year was Steve Yarbrough’s The Unmade World. Steve writes with deep compassion for all of his characters. 

We Love Anderson Cooper comes out in July. Are you going on a reading tour? What are some locations your particularly excited to visit?

I’ll be reading in Colorado locations. Other than that, I’m not sure yet. The idea of reading my work to strangers is terrifying and exciting.

The cover is exquisite. How many Anderson Cooper-related answers do you have for questions about the title? How many bird-related answers?

I’m thrilled with the cover. I’m the least visual person I know, and I had all these ideas about what was going to be on the cover and how much I was going to hate it because you hear a lot from debut writers about how they hate their covers. But I love the cover. People ask if Anderson Cooper knows about the book, and honestly, I don’t know. They ask how the book got its title. In the first story, a boy comes out as gay at his bar mitzvah. His mother asks why he didn’t tell her first, reassuring him, “We love Anderson Cooper.” The image of the bird on the cover comes from the story “No Shortage of Birds,” about a girl whose father has died and whose mother buys her a pet bird to comfort her. Things don’t go well for any of them.

What else do you want readers to know?

One, your age isn’t relevant to writing and publishing. My age didn’t come up with my agent or publisher. The work was what interested them.

Two, my book is available for pre-order from the Boulder Bookstore, here, and from The Tattered Cover, here,  and everywhere else books are sold.


R.L. Maizes’s short story collection, We Love Anderson Cooper, is forthcoming from Celadon Books (Macmillan) on July 23, 2019. Her story “The Infidelity of Judah Maccabee” aired on National Public Radio. Her fiction has also appeared in the literary magazines Electric Literature, Witness, Bellevue Literary Review, Slice, and Blackbird, among others. Her essays have aired on NPR and have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Lilith, and elsewhere. Maizes is an alumna of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Lighthouse Writers Workshop Lit Fest, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop. She lives in Boulder County, Colorado.