Showing posts from 2019

Short cuts: Requiem

The details from the news article are sketchy: police were called to the scene, responding at 11:24 PM, finding the victim, a 45 year old man, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. The incident began as disturbance between neighbors and turned violent. One person was briefly detained, but no charges were filed. That last bit is puzzling. I assume it must've been a case of self-defense so obvious the person who pulled the trigger multiple times was only briefly  detained. He (she?) must've been standing their ground, as the law states. I hadn't seen this man who was killed yesterday in almost three decades, and we weren't particularly close friends even then. I'd heard his life had gone sideways in the time since I'd known him when we were kids growing up in the same church, for all the regular reasons. But this isn't about speculation. It's not about blame. It's about a memory. It is 1981. Maybe '82. Somewhen thereabouts. I am perhaps seven year

Short Cuts: Foreclosure

Even now, nearly thirty years later, I don't know exactly why we lost the house except that it had something to do with medical bills. Perhaps if my father were a drunk, he'd have gotten loose-tongued enough at some point over the years to spill it. But he's not, and we never talk about that dark time when the four of us lived in a camping trailer loaned to us by someone from church. We were eventually able (somehow) to get the house back, to stay on the sandhill field-and-pasture land on which my father had grown up, on which his dreams of having a herd of his own cows never materialized, so I guess it's a moot point now. Still, there are things from that time that haunt me like dreams of a past life I can't be sure I lived: my eleven-year old sister having a friend's mom drop her off at the house and walking half a mile through the woods in the dark to where we really lived, the logistics of four people living in a camping trailer, the frustration of w

Killing All Those Little Darlings

Aside from the admonition to write what you know, the most common writing advice is to kill all your little darlings. There's a certain poetic violence to the phrase, attributed to William Faulkner, meant to remind writers to be mercenary when it comes to revision. That wonderful little scene that doesn't quite fit in the narrative? Kill it. That image you spent five hours honing until it was just right, the one describing the gravy congealing on the plate? It takes the steam right out of that dinner scene you need to be fraught with tension. Cut it and don't look back. Sometimes the things we love the most are the very things we need to omit in service of the story. But it hurts so bad. Maybe the more it hurts to cut something, the more it needs to be cut. I think that's the case with a pet scene from my work-in-progress novel. Near the beginning of The Year of the Possum (I think that title might actually be a little darling itself, but I'll deal with that late

Two New Stories Up

Here's a quick update on a couple of stories that went up recently.  First is "Hell is Chrome," published in The Airgonaut , which specializes in surreal, fabulist, and just plain weird flash fiction. This is another story that I'd been tinkering on for a few years. I'd pretty much given up on it when I decided on a whim to dust it off and give it another round of revisions. It was already fairly short, but I cut it nearly in half during final revisions, and I guess sometimes less is more.  "Hell is Chrome" started as an attempt to write a quote-unquote science fiction story, picking up on the age-old trope of alien invasion, and from there it morphed into an exploration of the overwhelming sadness of the world. It also takes a few jabs at internet culture and social media. I don't write a great deal of overtly political stories, but this is probably the closest I've come to doing so. This one is important to me because it's the first

Summer Reading

Here's a quick rundown of the books that have taken up residence in my brain this summer. Lisa Ko's The Leavers This National Book Award finalist novel told from the points of view of a Chinese mother swept up in an INF raid and her son who comes to be adopted by an American couple came across my path quite by accident. I haven't read much fiction set in contemporary China, so I found that part of this story especially fascinating. It also made me resolve to read more books listed as finalists for the National Book Award.  Sheldon Lee Compton's Dysphoria I've been a fan of Sheldon Compton's short stories for a while now, but this was the first novel of his I'd read. It was the first book to come out on Cowboy Jamboree Press, which will be publishing my collection in the fall, so naturally I was eager to read it. It's one of the most memorable books on this list; the climax of this thing burrowed down into my psyche like a tick sinking its

Story Notes: The Ones That Got Left at the Altar

Though there will be a handful of brand-spanking new stories in I Have Always Been Here Before, most of them have been published in various places. Each of them had a long, twisted road to publication, garnering rejections and evolving through major revision overhauls along the way. Then there are those that got left at the altar. These four stories all found a home, only to have it disappear out from under them. Some of them are among my favorites in the collection, and they all represent hard lessons I had to learn about the publishing racket. "No Harm At All" had perhaps the toughest luck of all these hard-knock stories. I wrote it over a decade ago, and it was accepted to one of the first places I sent it—an anthology about modern masculinity being published by a small but seemingly well-established publisher in the Midwest. I was ecstatic about this publication. Two of my favorite big-name (well, sort of) writers had stories in it, I was working closely with an edito

Story Notes Double Shot -- The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County and The Lizard Man of Okamassee County

Though he may not be as famous as his cryptid cousins the Sasquatch and the Jersey Devil, the Lizard Man of Lee County is South Carolina's very own homegrown mythical beast. He's been spotted off and on since the late 80s, and a few years ago, I thought it was high time for him to get an origin story. I imagined the Lizard Man as a very human man afflicted with a generational curse, and the result was a story called, fittingly enough, " The Lizard Man of Lee County, " which found a home in  The Molotov Cocktail . After it was published, I kept writing about the Lizard Man. I changed his address to fictional Okamassee, South Carolina, and I started plotting a novel about him. That novel never came to be, but it did result in another story, "The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County," which found a home in Cowboy Jamboree magazine. Both of these stories (the former with a new title locating him in Okamassee County) will appear in the upcoming collection I Have Alw

Story Notes -- "Apple" / What I'm Reading

Some stories are a lot more work than others. My latest one, "Apple," is one of those. It was originally written several years ago for a Star Trek- themed issue of an online lit mag. It didn't make the cut, but I tinkered with it off and on for the next few years while I was working on other projects, and it's found a place to live at Boudin, the online home of the McNeese Review, which gave it the swanky retro-tv artwork you see here. Image courtesy of McNeese Review It's hard to believe that I hadn't found a way to weave Star Trek into one of my stories until I started writing this one. I began watching the original series in syndication, when it aired in the afternoons just as I was getting home from school, and as I grew older the franchise grew with me. It's fair to say that it remains one of my earliest and most enduring influences. "Apple" is in some ways a love letter to Star Trek. But there's something in me that makes me wa

Story Notes: I Have Always Been Here Before

One of the many things that no one tells you to expect when you become a parent is that the impostor syndrome will keep you awake at night. Maybe it's just the mind's way of slapping some sense into you and letting you know it's time to shape up, or maybe it's something altogether darker. I was ecstatic when my wife gave birth to to our son Faron in 2012, but a little part of me, the part that sometimes gnaws away at my brain in the middle of the night, couldn't believe the universe had entrusted me with such a helpless little miracle. No wonder, then, that the first story I wrote after I became a father features a man who has no idea what he's doing taking care of a baby. It follows Porter Jones, the manager of Cedar Lawn Mobile Home Park, who finds himself looking after a newborn left in his care by one of his tenants, who promptly disappears. As his brother prepares for a grisly competitive eating contest, Porter finds himself trying to hide the baby from a

I Have Always Been Here Before

It's been about a week since I learned that Cowboy Jamboree Press will be publishing my short story collection I Have Always Been Here Before  in Feb/March 2020. Cowboy Jamboree's online magazine has been around for a good while, specializing in grit lit, stories that, by CJ's definition, tend toward the "rural, hard-scrabbled, rough-hewn, pulpy, noirish ... and, of course, gritty ."  While some of my favorite writers -- Larry Brown, Denis Johnson, Dorothy Allison, Tom Franklin, et al -- are among the founding figures of the genre, and those are words I might use to describe my own stories if pressed to do so, I'd never really thought of my own writing that way until I stumbled across Cowboy Jamboree and felt at home there. One of the stories in this collection, "The Lizard Man of Okamassee County" was featured in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue of the magazine, and now I'm thrilled to be included in the initial CJ Press line-up along with four ot