Dystopian Story, Bright Future
“I just wanted to write characters that happened to be super-gay, and at the same time the plot is going on and the reader is caught up in it.”
Growing up in Cincinnati, homeschooled by Catholic parents, Dayna Ingram (MFA, ’12) found it “wasn’t easy to get books or watch TV with queer characters.” She didn’t come out until she was in college but recalls having “an underlying knowledge that I was different.” So as she grew into a fiction writer, her mission was simple: “I just wanted to write characters that happened to be super-gay, and at the same time the plot is going on and the reader is caught up in it.”
According to Publishers Weekly, she succeeded. Her new novel All Good Children, written and revised largely while Ingram studied creative writing at SF State, was named by the publishing trade journal as a 2016 Best Book of the Year in Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror. Another publishing trade magazine, Kirkus Reviews, gave it a starred review and crowned All Good Children one of the “Best of the Small Presses,” citing the writing’s “realism and emotional depth.” And in March, All Good Children was nominated for a prestigious Lambda Literary Award, which honors books featuring LGBTQ characters or themes.
Set in a dystopian world overrun by telepathic vultures, the story follows a 14-year-old girl named Jordan who’s chosen to attend a “summer camp” where teenagers are bred to feed their overlords. Confusingly attracted to her captor, Miss Omalis, Jordan joins a dangerous coup and is torn between a romance with her female cabin-mate and the manipulative flirtations of her enemy. The idea for the plot first struck Ingram when she was just 19 and studying creative writing as an undergraduate at Antioch College but, she says, “I soon realized I didn’t have the skillset to write the story yet.”
She gained that skillset at SF State, the only graduate writing program she applied to, by “learning how to be a better reader and pinpoint the reactions the reader is having and how the language is causing those reactions,” she says. She also gained a mentor and fan in Department of Creative Writing Professor Maxine Chernoff, who served as thesis advisor on the manuscript that became All Good Children.
“She said my book wasn’t usually the kind of thing she reads,” Ingram remembers, “but that she was enjoying it. She gave me detailed notes and was generally amazing.”
Chernoff feels the benefits ran both ways. “Dayna taught us and we taught her,” Chernoff says, noting that as a result of working with Ingram and other writers with similar interests the Creative Writing department has added speculative fiction to its undergraduate and graduate class offerings.
“Dayna was dedicated to her craft and at the same time she was a wonderfully open student and generous classmate,” Chernoff says.
The resulting accolades have been “kind of astonishing” for this unassuming and, by her own description, “hugely introverted” writer. Settled in northern Kentucky with her wife, five cats, two dogs and a 13-year-old son the couple is adopting, Ingram is now working on a “dark fairy world” novella trilogy titled Little Daughter. “My son likes to tell people, ‘My mom writes about lesbians,’” Ingram says.
At least one reader is eager for her future tales.
“I am certain there are many fine books in her,” says Chernoff, “and a long career in speculative fiction.”
We’re Also Reading
Swimming in Hong Kong (Lynx House Press, ’17), the debut collection from Stephanie Han (M.A., ’01), features award-nominated short stories exploring how people grapple with both international and interpersonal boundaries.
Kelly Loy Gilbert’s (MFA, ’10) Conviction (Disney-Hyperion, ’15), a hard-hitting YA novel that explores faith, family and crime, won rave reviews and comes out in paperback this fall.
Poet Kim Addonizio (M.A., ’86) changes gears with the hilarious, no-holds-barred essay collection/memoir Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life (Penguin Books).
Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live (Catapult, ’16) by Professor of Creative Writing Peter Orner was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award in the criticism category.