In My Ear 2020: A Playlist

It's time again for my favorite self-indulgent holiday tradition: the year end mixtape, which in the streaming age, has become the year-end playlist . There's some new stuff here, but a good bit of it older, so this isn't meant as some kind of Best Of 2020 list, just a record of what was in my ear over the course of the year and my shifting musical obsessions.  Alt-country and Americana stuff has been in my wheelhouse for decades, so it's no surprise that 2020 began on a rootsy kick.  Ian Noe's "Letter to Madeline," which my wife turned me onto, is as gritty a crime ballad as you'll find anywhere, and Aaron Lee Tasjan's "The Trouble With Drinking" is, with apologies to Steve Goodman, perhaps the perfect country-and-western song. Around the time I was digging into a lot of country-leaning stuff, I discovered Danielle Howle's Swamp Sessions. Back in the early '90s, her old band Lay Quiet Awhile was the first rock show this teenaged

Reading Roundup

It's been a while since I've done a reading round-up, so here's a quick rundown of the books I've read this summer:  The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull I learned about Cadwell Turnbull from a story of his on the Levar Burton Reads podcast. The Lesson is a phenomenal novel. Like N.K. Jemisen's Broken Earth, it uses science fiction to explore colonialism and oppression, and, also like those novels, it provides a narrative that does justice to those ideas and also works as an immersive story. Expect big things from Cadwell Turnbull in the future.  Radio Dark by Shane Hinton I'm a pretty slow reader, so it's rare that I knock out a novel, even a shorter one like this, in one sitting, but I read it all in one afternoon. The story involves a mysterious pandemic that leaves people catatonic, so it was pretty prescient.  Songbirds and Stray Dogs by Meagan Lucas Meagan Lucas is a great writer and an all-around good literary citizen, so I'd been meani

Eulogy for Melissa McFarland

I'm writing this to honor my friend, Melissa McFarland, who died earlier today, so it seems appropriate to begin by writing about the first time I knew we'd be friends. I'm sure that if she were here, she'd tell me I was remembering this all wrong. Memory is fallible and subjective, especially when a couple decades have passed and the one doing the remembering was blind drunk, so some of the specifics of this story may be inaccurate. But the essential truth of it is intact. Sometime around the year 2000, I was having a terrible night. I don't remember exactly why. Maybe it was some long-forgotten relationship drama. There was a lot of that going around back then. Maybe there was nothing in particular wrong, and I'd just had too many bourbon-and-cokes. There was a lot of that going around, too. Whatever the reason, I was hammered and alone, staggering down the street in Five Points, the nightlife district of Columbia, South Carolina, where we were both in gra

Life in the Circular Ruins

Death and the Compass "It's like a plate of shrimp," explains a would-be philosopher in Alex Cox's 1984 movie  Repo Man . "You think about a plate of shrimp and somebody says plate or shrimp, or plate of shrimp. " It's an attempt to explain what he calls the "lattice of coincidence" that lies atop the world, available to us only in glimpses as we fleetingly tap into the cosmic unconsciousness. It's a notion that wouldn't be out of place in a Jorge Luis Borges story, so it's fitting that my introduction to Borges came, in a roundabout way, through the movie.  Included in a box set I bought mainly for Repo Man back when buying physical media was still a thing is another movie, Cox's 1996 BBC/Spanish TV production of  Death and the Compass .   Stylized somewhere between Dick Tracey and Blade Runner , it's a mess, but its cultish appeal and its philosophical heart are undeniable, and it ultimately led me to seek out the B

Not Quite Quarantine

So we're in the middle of a pandemic. I guess I should be writing about it, but every time I try, it seems disingenuous somehow. Thousands have died, there are places in the world where hospitals are overrun and societies seem on the verge of at least partial collapse, and we're just starting to see the worst of it here in America. Things, are, as they say, not looking good. But here in my immediate circle, everything is, for the moment, okay. I don't mean to diminish the gravity of the situation or imply that everyone's circumstances are the same, but, in many ways, things are better than okay, they're idyllic for us. As I draft this, I'm sitting in the shade watching my seven-year-old son run around in the sprinkler like it's any other spring day. We've spent a lot of time outdoors, walking on the local trail system, doing yard work, lazing in the Eno hammock. We're eating five-star home-cooked meals and having occasional takeout. We're watch

So What Now?

It's finally real.  I Have Already Been Here Before  is published and available for order here . Obviously, I'm ecstatic to have it out in the world. But there's also something terrifying about the finality of it; these stories represent the bulk of my creative output for the past fifteen years. I've been tinkering with some of them off and on for much of my adult life. At the risk of being dramatic, the things I poured into those stories — both the stuff I was digging out of my psyche to write about and the effort and optimism it takes to work on any creative endeavor — kept me from losing my shit. And now they're gone. Or at least gone away from me to a place where they're free from my ongoing murder of all their little darlings. So what now? What now, when the future of my writing life, that part of me that meets the day every morning before dawn when the house is quiet and my dreams or nightmares are still fading into the fuzz of waking? That's

I Have Always Been Here Before is About to Drop

I've always wanted say I had something about to drop. That probably means people don't really say that anymore, but I'm going to say it anyway. I Have Always Been Here Before , a (very) loosely linked collection of short stories, will be available from  Cowboy Jamboree Press  within a week or so. These stories represent the bulk of the writing I've worked on over the past decade, so it's exciting, not to mention oddly terrifying, to have them collected in one place and out in the world. Here's a sneak peak at one of the stories, "The Big Scary Woods," originally published several years back by Moon City Review . It's a dark comedy about a failing marriage besieged by a pack of raccoons. I had a lot of fun recording this two-part audio version of the story. The links: "The Big Scary Woods" part 1 "The Big, Scary Woods" part 2 And here's another, an excerpt of the title story, originally published in Bull