A self-confessed “pop culture freak,” Lysley Tenorio peppers his stories with superheroes, Beatlemaniacs, bullied comic book fans and the forgotten B-movies of the Philippines, including one called “Squid Children of Cebu.”

His tales are dark, fantastical, funny, utterly unpredictable and sometimes violent. Some of his stories take readers into a world turned upside down.

While his smoothly written debut collection, Monstress, has earned rave reviews in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and NPR among others, Tenorio is quick to point out that good writing is a long and painstaking process.

“Bouts of uncertainty and outright panic do happen, because writing, for me, is very hard work,” he said.

Tenorio, whose family emigrated from the Phil- ippines to the United States when he was seven years old, has come a very long way since he first took up writing seriously. He was a senior in col- lege and read a collection by Bharati Mukherjee.

“I read her story collection, ‘The Middleman and Other Stories,’ and was blown away by her sharp, unsentimental, and wildly diverse stories on contemporary immigrant America,” Tenorio said. “That’s the book that made me want to write.”

When young writers ask for his advice, he is quick to tell them that they “must love sentences. Not just words, but sentences.”

This lifelong passion doesn’t leave much mental space for hobbies. “I tried decoupage,” he said. “But that only took for about three weeks.” When it’s time to relax, he tunes in to “Chopped” on the Food Network, or spends time with his partner, friends and family.

Lately, Tenorio’s work is getting plenty of recognition. He’s received numerous fellowships and awards and is currently working on a novel. And he continues to find great inspiration in the classroom.

“Teaching keeps me on my toes,” he said. “I’m constantly thinking of ways for my students’ writing to improve, and it makes me think about my own writing challenges.” 

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