Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Chaos Questions Has a Badass New Look


 Take a look.

Casting Out Into the Dark

So I teach writing. I never thought I would, because I have little to no idea of how I do what I do, be it good writing or bad writing. I just have no idea.

I sit down and write. One sentence comes from nowhere  - 

"The dragon spoke to me and I understood perfectly."

- and I start there. 

I have no idea what is going to happen. Honestly, I have no idea what's even happening when I write the sentence, where it comes from, why I had that thought on my mind to begin with. The entire process is an incredible mystery to me. Always has been.

But anyway, so I teach, and I have no idea if I'm doing any good. I think about it all the time. I teach three or so classes a semester online in the MFA program at Concordia University, St. Paul. I love doing it, I just don't know how much I'm helping the students. I'm a "professor" (I've mentioned many times that I'm just Shel, but it must be a requirement to call us professors) and I'm supposed to have pinpricks of knowledge at the very least to share. Mostly I find myself simply writing in their evaluations that this is good or this could use work, but I have no at all how to break down the process.

There are times the students know more about this breaking down of the process than I do. It's not really all that difficult to do. My process is so haphazard from the outside my suggestions are usually too broad (i.e. make everything you write as memorable as possible). But how does that happen? What are the steps to making the work memorable? Well, my answer is usually, "Remember that the way you see the world will always be entirely unique because no one has had your exact memories. Only you. It doesn't get more original than that."

But what is that teaching them?

I want to tell them to keep their thoughts under constant observation, keep complete concentration. And when something pops up like, "The dragon spoke to me and I understood perfectly," be ready to write that down and start running as hard as they can. Just keep running forward, word after word, and take the risk that what you're writing might not be any good, but it's by god going to come from a magical place, not from an overwrought and overanalyzed prison cell of the heart.

But mostly they only seem to care about grades and due dates and assignment lengths. Though it's possible one of my students might read this post, I have to say that that kind of thing drives me absolutely fucking crazy. I don't want those students thinking about anything except how can I express what's in my heart? Everything else, everything else, is secondary. I won't accept any other way of seeing it. 

Stubborn? Maybe. Idealistic? Maybe. It's possible I'm undermining the structure of our craft, but I doubt I'm doing anything on that level. I want to figure out how to teach passion, ways to set your heart on fire.

It's not asking much, right?

Friday, September 2, 2022

Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater appears today at Cowboy Jamboree...BOOM!

 My friend and publisher Adam Van Winkle published my short story "Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater" today at my author's page there at Cowboy Jamboree Press.

It's a story I've wanted to write for a long time and hadn't felt it yet. I felt it over the past couple months and had a blast writing it. The last third came as a complete surprise to me. It came together quickly.

So please go read "Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater" and comment here and let me know what you think. Thank you!


Sunday, August 7, 2022

"The Good Life" included in Best Small Fictions 2022

 Many thanks to series editor

and guest editor . Gone Lawn editor and BSF 2022 editorial/advisory board members . Read my included story at Gone Lawn #41.

This fucking amazing collection of short stories will be released soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

An Appreciation of Anthony Neil Smith's SLOWER BEAR

After reading Anthony Neil Smith’s soon-to-be-released new novel Slower Bear, I right away bought his prior novel Slow Bear to get as much as I could of Micah “Slow Bear” Cross. 

A fantastically drawn character can do that to a reader. It is, for me, possibly the biggest test of an author’s talent. I have often called it the Sherlock Effect. Slow Bear stays with me the same way Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective did after the first story of his I read. 

In Slower Bear, Micah Cross takes no time at all continuing headlong toward more violence and a unique sense of chivalry, though unapologetically self-serving at times. He is a former reservation officer with one arm (blown off in the line of duty) and a penchant, if not a preoccupation, if not an outright obsession for a pulpy glass of orange juice. Smith draws the line between likable and unlikable with an incredibly light hand, but Slow Bear’s core goodness stays intact throughout. If not entirely likable, Micah Cross is nothing if not memorable.

And that’s a start. But Smith was clearly not satisfied with only his mastery of character development.

As I read, the book really started in earnest for me when Slow Bear met Abeline, one of numerous women he has picked as possible one-night stands to have a place to sleep. It’s his primary concern. Not the sex. But a warm place to lay his head for a night. With the redheaded Abeline, an older lady who wears a Brooks and Dunn tour t-shirt “that showed her shape” Slow Bear finds more to like than usual.


This was a white woman, sixty-years-old, but sixty now didn’t look like sixty when Slow Bear was a boy. Sixty used to be old. Now, sixty was something else. Sixty could even be pretty, in the right light. Sixty wasn’t front porch rocking material. That night, sixty was horny.



And, for Abeline, when Slow Bear suggests a couple more nights together, her reaction says it      all.


She nuzzled in. ‘Honey, I’m up for more of this if you are. Not like anything in this house is worth stealing. So why don’t you tell me the real reason you’re on the road.’


Though they both are, as my granny said, smitten with each other, they’ve not yet given up their own selfishness or suspicion. So once the two have had their first burst of hard and mutually enjoyable sex, it’s clear that they have a connection, one that will soon be tested in high-stake fashion.

But we have first met Abeline in flashback. In the present, at the beginning of the book, Slow Bear finds himself the temporary guardian of two young girls kidnapped by one Gerardo, a Ukrainian sex-trader, who Slow Bear quickly dispatches early on. The two girls were hell-bound toward a sex trade industry swap, both “brown-skinned, but the older was Latino and the younger Sioux.” As he rescues the two teenagers, the older one lets him know there’s more to the situation and the plot, as they say, thickens. Slow Bear then beats a dead-heat dash back to Abeline’s place, having few other options he can think of at that exact moment.

Neil’s mastery at building characters is then turned next level when Slow Bear arrives and presents her with far more than she ever bargained for from a one-night stand, no matter how enjoyable it might have been.

Once the four of them strike out to find the people responsible, the novel, of course, follows the anticipated path of bloodshed and gunpowder that Smith has formed his reputation on, but these aspects quickly shifted to the background for me as I became truly enthralled with Slow Bear and Abeline’s growing affection for one another. It’s his deft ability to reveal that dynamic when Smith absolutely shines in this novel.

Don’t get me wrong, Slow Bear kicks plenty of ass (as does Abeline, in fact) and ultimately shows the true honor and dignity the reader always knew was there at his core once all is said and done. But those quiet moments in the book when Slow Bear reflects on Abeline in ways that puts his hardened heart on display even as it begins to change and soften are what I found myself most marveling at as a reader.

As this connection strengthens, Smith then expertly draws this abiding affection of Slow Bear’s out into the open. We see a man at the beginning of a real commitment showing grace, hard will, and even happiness in panicked, life-and-death situations, a man who ultimately takes no time whatsoever in making sacrifices for Abeline and the girls.

I went into Slower Bear expecting to read a fine noir novel by a gifted author I respect. I got this in spades. But what I didn’t expect was to come away with a renewed belief in the power of new love to push through even the worst of circumstances, as Abeline’s caring for the girls is also a dynamic we see form right before our very eyes. Smith ultimately offers us a side dish with his crime novel: the formation of an unusual family of four. I’ll take that with my shootouts every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Tomorrow CJ Press will publish THE ORCHARD IS FULL OF SOUND!

I had been writing this book, The Orchard Is Full of Sound, for nearly four years. Now it's going to become real thanks to Adam Van Winkle and Cowboy Jamboree Press. 

Published on the anniversary of Breece D'J Pancake's death in 1979, this is a memoir of mine that works to blend biographical elements of Breece's life, thoughts on his writing, and a search for answers long overdue.

Since discovering Breece in 2005 I've been captivated by his stories. But I have also kept a strong interest in his life, particularly why he shot and killed himself when he was 26 and in the middle of his emergence as an author.

I honestly do hope you all will buy some copies of this. I believe it'd interest you. Us writers mostly buy each others books or we wouldn't really have many sales. Writers: give it a go. Casual readers: I love you, whether you buy the book or not. But I'd rather you buy the book.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

An Old Literature, a New Literature: Sara Rauch’s WHAT SHINES FROM IT

Sara Rauch takes on familiar territory in her short story collection What Shines from It, out now from Alternating Current Press, and also unfamiliar territory. 

For the most part, Rauch’s stories exist in a realm like John Cheever’s—two people intimately involved in one another’s lives, the deep tension that can bring those two people at odds, and how both men and women handle these interactions.

What Rauch brings that is new is a view from more than just the husband and wife relationship. In her stories there are female couples who are trying to figure out where they stand on having a second child, there are complete strangers spending an afternoon trying like hell to connect to something, as well as a couple who are faced with a decision about a pregnancy that becomes just as complicated as those kinds of decisions can become.

Creating life, creating cohesion in life, connections, missed connections. It’s all here. And it’s handled with the deft hand of an author confident in her voice and what she has to say. 

In “Addition,” a story that follows Alex and Rose as they deal with daily pressures while not dealing with a big decision: whether or not to have another child. Rose delivered their first and, due to circumstance, Alex would need to deliver their second. Alex’s failure to commit to one or the other becomes a point of contention. Through Rose, Rauch poses a question that speaks to anyone struggling to sync up to another human being as Rose, near her wit’s end, says, “At some point, not making a decision is a decision.”

And herein we have that familiar territory of domestic dynamics, and others explored during the heyday of kitchen sink realism, but with a contemporary and far, far more brightly concern and a richer, more elaborate landscape. Throughout What Shines from It Rauch expertly lays out this landscape with an incredibly cool confidence.

In another story, “Slice,” we have a front row seat for the slow dying of a relationship that had hardly had time to get started. Emmeline and Sebastian. The couple. The entire rise and fall of their strained relationship is on display. It is in this story that Rauch shows how well she can stir nuance to create a slow deterioration. During a phone call, we get an incredibly insightful moment in which Emmeline recognizes one of the first signs. She’s making plans with Sebastian. 

“Can I come over? and I said, Of course, but I have to finish the buttons tonight, and he said, I won’t stay. What time? and I said, Seven. We hung up, and I stared at my phone, trying to remember when we’d last made such specific plans for no reason.”

The formality feels like the first tiny heartbreak on the road to a much more significant moment for both of them.

What Shines from It, which borrows its title from a line in Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, is a collection of razor sharp stories from a writer with something important to say. And what she says certainly does shine.

Buy What Shines from It here

Read more about Sara Rauch here

See Alternating Current Press's catalogue here

Chaos Questions Has a Badass New Look

.  Take a look.