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Ethel Rohan

Raised in Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Potomac Review, and Los Angeles Review among many others. Cut Through the Bone was Long Listed as a notable collection by the 2010 Story Prize.


“Rohan’s stories are, more than anything else, about loss . . . and about the odd, endearing, and desperate ways that people fill the void or ignore it.”


“These stories create a sense of loss in the reader, an ache, but thankfully they avoid dull cynicism. Instead, they bear witness to the difficulty of living for oneself while sacrificing for others."

– Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine

“In this unforgettable collection, Rohan reveals her mastery in finding the danger of ordinary objects, the way they come alive when her characters hold them in their hands.”

– Kevin Wilson, author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

"This is a marvelous collection, filled with moments that startle and shatter."

– Laura van den Berg, author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us

" . . . beautiful and inventive, tender and absurd, quirky and heartbreaking, dark and strange and devastating."

– Michael Kimball, author of Dear Everybody,

"Ethel Rohan’s women, despite their wounds, are strong of spirit."

– William Walsh, author of Pathologies

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Cut Through the Bone

Story Focus: "The Long Way"


This past weekend driving to a party in the countryside just outside of Indianapolis, I was in a mood to be moved by music. I sang loud, I drummed the steering wheel, I grew goosebumps along the skin of my arms. Feeling nostalgic, I put in the CD of my old band No Heroics, Please (yes, we used a Raymond Carver reference as a band name, yes, we were nerds).

NHP still stands to this day as the best music I’ve ever been a part of creating. Even 5 years later, I can still listen to these songs, still feel the quiet expectation building in my chest as each song swells and rolls into itself, still feel the pride of orchestration prickling along the pores of my forearms. I wish that band had had a chance.

Ten years of my life I spent playing in various bands to various levels of success. I know well “The Long Way,” that constant hope and reach for elusive dreams. Putting in the hours at the fret board, sweating in tiny carpet-walled practice spaces, figuring out the Tetris game tactics of packing your band’s gear into the back of a van or trailer.

NHP was born out of the dissolution of another band when our drummer and singer quit. The remaining members, Matt, Louis, and myself, all wanted to keep playing together. I forget how we hooked up with Trent on drums, but I’ll never forget how he left us. We could each hold a decent tune vocally, but were honest enough with ourselves that we couldn’t carry a mic, so we decided to keep it instrumental.

From the first song we wrote, we knew who we were, we knew where we could go. We believed in that first song enough to write a 2nd, and a 3rd, and so on.

We believed so much in those songs, we went right to work booking a tour. We knocked out a couple decent live recordings of our first 2 songs, posted them on MySpace, and spent an entire summer doing what needed to be done: hours upon hours planning the route and booking the shows, designing t-shirts and stickers and other merch, writing enough songs to make an album and getting them recorded, designing a decent looking DIY packaging for the album. Hours. Hours.

We booked an entire tour on 2 shoddy live recordings…having never played a single show. How we believed.

And so did our girls. It’s only in reading “The Long Way” (unfortunately not published online, but available in Cut Through the Bone) that I really understand the grace and understanding that each of our girlfriend’s (wife in Matt’s case) had to get through that summer with us. And ultimately, the grace they had when the tour exploded from the inside, when Trent announced just before the first show of the tour that his girlfriend was being kicked out of her house, pregnant with his child, that he was sorry, but would have to go back home after that first night.

There’s more to the story, as there is with any story, but it’s unimportant here.

What’s important, is how after No Heroics Please, neither Matt nor myself went on to do any other music. Louis played a bit in other bands, and still might. I’m not sure. I’ve not talked to him in years. But, for myself, the implosion of NHP was a sucker punch from which I’ve never been able to fully regain my breath. I hardly play guitar anymore.

What’s important, is there are a lot of Ways. It isn’t just confined to the music industry. The Long Way exists for any endeavor a person believes in and is passionate about. The Long Way for you may be writing, painting, acting. It doesn’t even have to be an artistic pursuit. You may be trying to make partner at your law firm. Maybe running for a government office. I’ve seen The Long Way in a couple friends trying and trying to conceive a baby. I’ve seen The Long Way in a friend trying and trying to keep his veins clean. My Way now is no longer music, but I have my Ways.

What’s important, is you never stop walking The Long Way. If you do, that’s when you might as well call it a life. You might switch Ways, but don’t stop walking. And if you find someone to walk with you, recognize what you have in that, because looking back at it, I had no idea what I had then until Ethel showed me.

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  1. Jordan Blum said on 06/27/11 at 5:33 pm Reply

    I think I may connect with this post especially well given my current status as wholly unknown music composer (*cough* Neglected Spoon on Myspace *cough*) and semi-known music journalist. And I sympathize with the idea of a great band never getting exposure (and similarly, terrible, generic bands winning an award on the Grammy’s). I can’t tell you how much I hate most mainstream music and how many great artists I’ve received promos for that no one has ever heard of. Hell, I used to end a lot of reviews with “Ignore what radio and MTV say is ‘great’–the truly great music of today is being made by underground bands like _____.” It’s a crime, honestly.

    Anyway, I like your sentiment here. Follow your passion and never give up hope. I mean, if you are truly infatuated with your craft, it’s almost impossible to give it up, right? Right now I’m trying to become a contributor to a great English magazine called “Classic Rock Presents: Prog.” Why? Because I can write well and I have connections with the same artists they do. Every issue features coverage of several artists I’ve reviewed and/or interviewed, and it drives me nuts that I’m not writing for them…I’d even do it for free!! Anyway, I’m never going to give up my pursuit of this. I’ve followed this Long Way for about two months now, emailing the editor every so often with headlines about my newest interview with a band I know he’d love to have in his magazine. And I’m not going to stop until I get an email saying one of the following: “You’re hired!” or “Stop emailing me or I’ll have you arrested.” It’s my destiny to write for this magazine, plain and simple.

    Similarly, I’ve been rejected from a couple literary publications recently, but that just means I can now share my work elsewhere. I have to keep trying to get this stuff published. I’m also making a spreadsheet of every college in the area and including things like contact names, numbers, locations, and if I’ve applied yet (and when). I’m determined to teach ASAP.

    Of course, I mention all of this primarily to further illustrate your point (and not to feed my ego). You shouldn’t give up on your dreams; easy success only comes to those who don’t really deserve it (okay, that may be too broad a statement).


    Chris Newgent said on 06/28/11 at 9:41 am

    Rejection is a funny thing when it comes to writing. There’s an odd sort of yin and yang about it. You’re always told to brush off the rejections, not let them bother you, to grow a thick skin and don’t take it personally. But then, if that’s the case, why should we celebrate our successes? I’ve always had that question, and I think I’ve only recently figured it out.

    With rejections, there are any number of reasons. Your writing, for all intents and purposes, might be really fantastic. But, it’s just not a good fit for a particular journal, or even at a more micro level, not a good fit for a particular issue of a particular journal. It’s not that they’re saying, “You’re a bad writer,” just “Your words would be better served in another journal.”

    Whereas, with an acceptance, hell yeah take that personally! Because that means without a doubt that not only were your words a good fit, but they were good, they were liked!

    I don’t know. I’m ranting.

    I know what you mean. So much terrible music is lauded by the mainstream industry. The Grammy’s make me want to puke. There is some really incredible stuff going on in the trenches. I’ll have to check out your Neglected Spoon.

    The No Heroics songs are still listed on MySpace if you’re interested, too, Jordan.

    Jordan Blum said on 06/28/11 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks, Chris. I’ll check out TNH when I can. Yeah, the best music is definitely in the trenches. For example, there’s a phenomenal artist called The Dear Hunter who just released a 36 track album based around the 9 colors of the spectrum. He’s also released half of a planned six album concept…Acts I,II, and III are full of incredible stuff and they even reference each other in some spots. It’s too brilliant for the mainstream, and there are so many other artists who push boundaries and never make it. Ah well.

    I’m going to check out duotrope and look over my pieces and submit some. Maybe write some new ones too. I feel a bit inspired.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/28/11 at 11:37 pm

    So many voices, in music, in writing, in everywhere, all vying to be heard. It’s overwhelming at times, but if we don’t at least try …
    It’s impossible to know how much talent is a part of success and how much of success is voice, perseverance, luck, timing and belief.

    I believe and persevere hard with my writing. Sometimes exhaustion and self-doubt threaten to get the better of me, but the will to write is fierce. And thankfully so.

    Chris, thanks for bringing this focus to “The Long Way.” The yearning in this story still gets me.

  2. GBoyer said on 06/27/11 at 6:26 pm Reply

    I came of age in an atmosphere of disdain for success. It was maybe a way to soothe our easily bruised egos. This was Boston in the 90’s. The idea of the Long Path has been one I’ve definitely aspired to almost as the ideal way. We aspired to be failures and beautiful losers and creeps and freaks like all those delightful indie rock classics that were coming out then told us to be. And I still believe in embracing that. Although now my cynicism is tempered by a sort of watered down buddhism, sort of like what seems to have happened to Smog, but creative pursuits do seem to be better honed in obscurity, which isn’t to say that sometimes persons who are supposedly keeping it real are in actuality in serious need of a reality check.

    My friends are approaching middle age now, and have for the most part settled into some sort of steady career, and when I talk to them on the phone, they seem to fluctuate between envy and pity. “How great for you. You’re still making a go of it,” they seem to be saying one moment, and then the next the subtext seems to be, “But you can’t keep wiping ass for a living to pay for your publishing concerns.” How true.

    Chris, I enjoyed reading your post very much. I agree completely with the last paragraph. Although I do have to say that occasionally I fantasize about some kind of ideological suicide in which I no longer have to walk this path. Oddly enough, I often imagine success as just such a suicide even now, after 16 years of struggling on the periphery.


    Chris Newgent said on 06/28/11 at 9:48 am

    Oh goodness, yes. I don’t think that disdain for success has gone away even today, but of course, it all depends on how a person defines success. But, you can still see that disdain today when “name an indie band” suddenly pops up on the radio, and suddenly their OG fans are dropping them saying, “They were better before they sold out,” and all that. I still don’t understand what’s so bad about Modest Mouse’s more recent stuff. But. *shrug*

    Of course, I think a lot of that stems from jealousy. And of course, from a misguided belief in “money sucks,” or whatever.

    And I know what you mean about leaving the Long Way behind, but I’ve come to realize myself that that is just as much as suicide. I would be woefully unhappy not struggling to create.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/28/11 at 11:43 pm

    I also feel there’s so much disdain for success in the Irish culture and its confuses and saddens me. The Irish are known as ‘begrudgers,’ that mob mentality of keeping everyone down so no one has to feel bad about their tiny lot. But how then to explain the great Irish heritage in music and crafts and literature–and now golf! Perhaps its added testimony to the human spirit and how we yearn and strive and refuse conformity and sameness.

    I wish you all the best on your ‘way.’

    PS You know you were a ‘book giveaway winner,’ right? Please email me your address (via my contact page at ethelrohan.com) and I’ll send you the books you won.

  3. Ofelia Hunt said on 06/27/11 at 10:53 pm Reply

    I just read this story aloud to my partner. I really liked reading this sentence: “They cackle, show the dark pink holes of their throats.” I read it twice. I’m damned grateful to my partner…constantly having to hear me read everything I’ve written aloud, or being asked to read and critique, and years of comfort and support. I like this post. I thought of my partner’s old band (Velluto), which toured a little before we met and recorded only a couple songs, but excellent songs. The end of something like that is a serious loss.


    Chris Newgent said on 06/28/11 at 9:50 am

    Oh gosh yes. That sentence. I loved that sentence so much. And, at the end, the sentence about dreaming so much while awake, it’s a wonder he has anything left for sleep. Ethel has some glorious sentences.

    You’re a lucky one to have a partner like you have. I’ll have to look into Velluto. I am always grateful for new sounds.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/28/11 at 11:47 pm

    Thank you so much, Ofelia, for reading my work and sharing these moments. It means more than I can say to hear from readers and know how my stories affect them. Just on my trip to Seattle this past weekend, I stopped to listen to street performers and felt captured by their songs and music. I thought long and hard about how, and why, some people ‘make it’ and some people don’t. I felt both sad and hopeful.

    Thanks again.

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