Alumni, Central Washington University, Creative Writing, Department of English, Fiction, Horror Genre, Literature, Uncategorized

What Do You Expect From a CWU Alum Born on Halloween?

By Katharine Whitcomb

T.J. Tranchell saw his first horror movie at age five.

His hero is Stephen King. His favorite King novel is “Bag of Bones.”


Tranchell, 37, met his Blysster Press publisher at Crypticon in Seattle in 2014. He was encouraged to attend this gathering by his professors/instructors at our Department of English.

He has published two macabre books: Cry Down Dark (novella) and Asleep in the Nightmare Room (short stories), and has two more in the offing. These tales are not for the weak of heart.

Tranchell received his B.A. degree in English with a Writing Specialization from the College of Arts and Humanities’ English Department in 2013. Two years later, he earned his CWU M.A. degree in Literature.

Thumbing through Tranchell’s newly published Asleep in the Nightmare Room in which he vividly recounts his nightmares about creepy, crawly spiders; he immediately acknowledges the contributions of his teachers including: Laila Abdalla, Liahna Armstrong, Xavier Cavazos, George Drake, Lisa Norris, myself, and others.

Tranchell recalled his first meeting with me, and how the English Department was a great place to ‘do your own thing.’ He also bonded with Professor Armstrong over all things, Alfred Hitchcock. Tranchell told LaunchPad that he would not have reached his level of literary accomplishment without his teachers.


After a budding career in journalism came to an end, when his wife was selected for a job in Yakima, Tranchell decided the time had come to earn his degree in English with an emphasis on writing fiction.

Tranchell recognizes that journalism and creative writing both require story telling skills, but said that fiction is far more satisfying.

When asked if he worked on horror writing following a full-work week as a reporter covering stories, he demonstrated his love for metaphors: “The last thing a dish washer wants to do is go home and wash his own dishes.” Point made.

Tranchell said his professors and instructors at Central gave him the “freedom” to pursue his love of horror writing, but still made sure he was making “progress” toward his undergraduate degree in English, and later his graduate degree in Literature. He said his teachers made him better as a writer.

“I enjoy hearing people scream.” – T.J. Tranchell

He contends that horror books are scarier than movies of the same genre. Tranchell said that humans crave an emotional reaction in confronting their own worst fears in a safe environment. He questions why some will happily board the scariest roller coaster, but will cringe and cower at the thought of watching a Vincent Price or Jack Nicholson movie based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King respectively.


Tranchell said his CWU professors and instructors encouraged him to capitalize on his vivid imagination and pursue his fascination of horror. He said the collective philosophy of his teachers was: “Whatever the genre, good writing is good writing.”

Does Tranchell ever have to overcome the dreaded and scary, “writer’s block?” He replied that when he is “actively writing” that he is in a zone. His biggest impediments to writing are the demands of daily life.


Most recently he directed student media at the University of Idaho for two years, a position that ended on the last day of June. Today, he is a full-time “stay-at-home dad” and a novelist focusing on all things scary.

And instead of being the second-coming of Stephen King, he wants to the first iteration of T.J. Tranchell. Congratulations to T.J. and his readers.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Russian Cinema, Russian Language, Uncategorized, World Languages Department

It’s A Small, Small World

By Stacey Robertson

Is there a day that goes by without banner headlines about Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

Many of us can remember practicing “duck and cover” under our desks in elementary school. Cold War fears about nuclear war permeated daily life and haunted our dreams. Thankfully that era is over, and yet there is renewed tension with Russia.

Recognizing the world is an ever smaller place, we need to prepare our students for global engagements. Our World Languages Department offers American Sign Language (ASL), Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and Heritage Spanish. We believe that competence in two or more languages offers a competitive advantage in our rapidly-moving digitized international economy.photo1

World Languages Department Chair Dr. Laila Abdalla and myself were pleased to salute Dr. Volha Isakava, CWU professor of Russian Language and Culture, as she lectured on “Putin vs. Batman: Hollywood Icons Through a Russian Lens” as part of our college’s Celebrating the Arts and Humanities series, January 14.

Today, Dr. Isakava teaches about 30 students in first-year Russian, up to 15 more taking second- year Russian and about 10 in the third-year. Despite the challenge of learning a language with 33 characters compared to 26 in English, our students of Russian garner valuable skills for their future.photo2

“Across the nation, we have seen a defunding of many Slavic language programs,” Dr. Isakava said. “Where are the Russian experts? Russian has been designated as a ‘critical language’ by the U.S. government, and we need more people studying Russian language, culture, politics and history.”

Even though Dr. Isakava contends that “New Cold War” is a “loaded phrase,” she believes the “radical cool down” in East-West relations has made Russian and by extension Slavic languages even more critical.

Dr. Isakava was teenager in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, during the events that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A devoted student of English, she eventually participated in a Future Leadership Exchange, which afforded her the opportunity to immerse herself in English for a year in Minneapolis. Isakava went on to earn her Ph.D in Slavic Languages and Literature from the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Dr. Isakava joined the CWU College of Arts and Humanities two years ago as a tenure-track assistant professor in the World Languages Department.

Putin vs. Batman?

Putin vs. Batman? That seems like an odd combination. Not to Dr. Isakava, a “Cinephile” in her own words, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on 1980s Russian cinema during the age of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika Russia. Born in Yalta, her interest in Russian film comes from her father, who is a documentary filmmaker, and her mother, who served as a cinema critic.

Reflecting back on her youth in Ukraine and Belarus, Dr. Isakava said that Soviet cinema changed over time and was not just simply a propaganda vehicle. Indeed, the Soviet Union pioneered avanté garde films in the 1920s.photo3

Today, films such as the 2013 blockbuster, Stalingrad, about the decisive battle in the European Theater in World War II represent a renewed nationalism.

Russian cinema employs Hollywood techniques and yet aims to project a Russian character, often producing ironic results such as Putin dressed as the caped crusader telling a Russian youth that he should not be smoking marijuana.

Spending any amount of time with Dr. Isakava, one comes away taken by her energy and enthusiasm. She knows how important Russia and the Russian language are to our future. We are hopeful that more CWU students will embrace the challenge of studying the language of Dostoevsky (and Putin too).

Dr. Isakava’s Russian and the other languages taught by CAH’s World Languages Department are all part of our college’s Launch Pad to Your Future.