Monday, December 27, 2010

Get A Glass, A Drink For You All

I've been staring through the window at all you fine folks the last few weeks. Mostly just that, and staying quiet otherwise. Sometimes I just like to watch. There's a lot to see, to read, to hear about. There's a lot going on in there. It's nice.

I put a temp hold on submissions to A-Minor until Feb. 1. Stocked up into late March, so I thought it was time. In related news, I've decided to step back from my everyday duties with Wrong Tree Review. Don't take that as a sign of WTR fading into the sunset. Just the opposite. I intend to work with Jarrid Deaton to get the material for Issue 2 in an online format in the next while, and Jarrid will continue the good work with that publication.

Jarrid and I teamed up in 2004 to publish the print journal Cellar Door Magazine for a year before letting it loose to run off to the woods and do as it would. CD was sort of my brainchild and WTR was sort of Jarrid's baby. We've just always worked together on these sort of publishing adventures. When the wheels slowed on WTR, I do what I always do: I started jumping into other things in the meantime. Giving Jarrid room to run with WTR just seems like the right thing to do at this point. I love it, am proud of it, and have no doubt it will continue as a fine journal. And I'm never far away. Even with solo projects, such as my journal A-Minor, I'm always looking to Jarrid for input and advice. We're just bound by words.

I have a collection of short stories in a full-length manuscript form called THE SAME TERRIBLE STORM sent to a press in Alabama where it will stand up beside other manuscripts and see if it can be the sexiest of them all. If it is sent home to me, I will tell it that I think it's beautiful and that I will always love it. I will. I've had several folks offer me words of encouragement and say awfully nice things about this little attempt of mine, and I can't say how much I appreciate all of those nice things they've said. Support. Without that, we're all just telling stories out loud in dark empty rooms. And y'all know that's what we'd do. The stories tell us what to do, not the other way around. We all know this.

In respect to kind words and support, I would like to share with you a couple things sent my way concerning my work that really lifted me up at a time when I truly needed it. One correspondence was from the poet Darryl Price (who spoke of myself and fellow writer, the brilliant Marcus Speh) as well as another from writer and editor Mark Reep. Please allow me to indulge and share these with you. This is the support most writers think was lost at some point during the 1920s in Paris, but still exists:

"It's not only the work, it's who you are and what you do for all the rest of us. You continually take time to promote everyone else's efforts, you're unfailingly encouraging and supportive. That's no small thing. And all you give in that regard is bringing good stuff back around to you too." -- Mark Reep

"Both Marcus (Speh) and Sheldon are to me the prime examples of the best and finest new writing taking place in the world today. Original, creative, willing to chance everything to make it sing for you. Whenever I'm lucky enough to read a new piece by either writer I'm immediately struck by how wonderful a thing writing can be and obviously is. They are both capable of turning a new found phrase on its head and emptying out old notions to find the perfectly edible nut in the moment and sharing it. It's discovery and invention and courage these fellows trade in, and that makes all of us as readers of literature very lucky indeed." -- Darryl Price

I would be hard-pressed to explain here in these few words how I feel the same about Price and Reep's work and tireless support of others, not to mention nearly every other writer I've come to know in the past decade.

Community is not lost, folks. We thrive and are as strong as ever. Each one of you, your continuous work at this lonely craft, your eagerness to shine a light on the person next to you, are but two of the many reasons for this.

A drink for you all. I insist.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Is Not A Story. This Is Music. Listen.

I visited my old homeplace tonight, a town in the County of Pike called Virgie. The home is brown and warm and sings memory and holds my grandmother, who I call Mother, as does everyone I personally know.

Mother taught my dad to play guitar. My dad taught me to play guitar. She learned from her Irish father, Augustus Payne Hobson, who played both the banjo and guitar and learned from his and his and his.

Song is our family crest, our language.

My cousin Gary Dwayne (Hosscat) and my uncle Gary Wayne (Father of Hosscat) joined me this evening. We played several songs while Mother sat at the head of the table and listened, as always, polite and attentive, the halo never more than inches above her head.

Then she retired to her bedroom. We continued. Minutes passed, and she came back from her bedroom, the walker appearing first from the doorway and then Mother herself, her eyes tired and her mouth drawn, her finger pointing to us. She demanded silence, and Mother spoke a prayer.

She reminded us that Jesus was the son of God and that no single person should question this. She raised her hands in the air, the walker a forgotten thing before her, a metal thing of earth with no place in this moment. She spoke in tongues and prayed for my mom, prayed for my mom's soul and thanked God that my mom was still alive.

She spoke again in tongues. It filled the warm brown of my homeplace like days of old, when my skin was without scars and my heart still beating, still whole.

When she finished, Mother praised Jesus and sat again at the head of the table, head dropped, the wet path of a tear shining across her strong cheekbone. Her beautiful and holy hands again placed patiently in front of her. She looked again at us, the soft blue of her eyes calm now and loving cast out across her children.

The three of us said nothing. We strummed the chord of G, we sang, we strummed the chord of C, and we sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and watched Mother raise her hands and praise and praise and praise.

For all the wrong I've done to the best of people I've known and the wrong I've done to myself, tonight I am reminded that her blood is my blood, and for the first time in such an awful long time I almost believe that because of this there may be hope.

Hope is enough tonight. Hope is a new life. It was not there yesterday.

Friday, December 17, 2010


My heart belongs to so many different women there's nothing left for me.

At 6 a.m. it's one from not so long ago. By afternoon it's another, a fine lady who slipped the hook, saved herself.

When it's time for bed they all come around, stealing my sleep. They should. It's the least they can do.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Are We Looking For, Mr. Crews?

"I think all of us are looking for that which does not admit of bullshit . . . If you tell me you can bench press 450, hell, we'll load up the bar and put you under it. Either you can do it or you can't do it—you can't bullshit." – Harry Crews

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Writer Needs Are A Group of Bullies. I Hate Bullies.

Here's my thought: I may have too many plates spinning. Not sure, but it's starting to feel that way. I'm busy and more busy with things that really matter to me professionally. But, man, look at those damn plates. Wobbly. That's my thought.

It could just be that my needs as a writer are pushing and elbowing my other literary interests around, bullying them. I hear those needs saying, "Hey, we were here first! We were here compelling you to write stories when you didn't even know that's what you were doing!"

But I knew this time would come, even as I was leaving port to explore the world of editing, publishing, promoting writing from others whose work I admire, etc. Now, what to do? This is the question standing in the center of the room, taking all my attention, because of a recent project deadline I was presented with as a writer.

I have until December 31 to have a polished, entirely publishable book ready for entry into a competition I'd be not unhappy to win. In that single sentence, here in this rectangle of a blog post box, it seems less...well, daunting. But it still is, there's no doubt.

I'm going to keep stretching the blanket in the meantime, but not so much that it rips. Anyone who writes and also branches out to edit or publish or review or promote others understands that his or her pen comes first. If this were not the case, we'd have nothing at all created and all else would become quickly irrelevant.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Cami

Just a memory of Cami: She sent me a 90-word story for Wrong Tree Review Issue 1. I wrote back and asked if she could add 10 words or so because we had a 100-word min. limit. I loved the fact that she wrote back and said she could not. THAT is a writer, I think. Those 90 words, like so much of her work, was exactly the way she wanted it. Just wanted to share that memory. Oh, and of course we published the story anyway. It was fantastic. That strength and conviction, alongside such talent, is what I will miss.

Here's our exchange about the story Cami sent to me after I asked if she'd send something for Wrong Tree Review Issue 1. Also, stay tuned near the end of this post for the full story eventually published in WTR 1 from Cami:


Me: A shameless solicitation...well, not completely shameless. I'm a little ashamed. But it's only because I've never solicited material before. But I'm glad I've been doing it. We've got some good people on board so far (David Erlewine, Stephen Graham Jones, etc.). I put out a little diddy called Wrong Tree Review and we're getting together material for a print issue this December/January. Was wondering if you'd be interested in sending something?

Cami: Wow, It's so cool that you thought of me! I'll try to put something together-- is there a website or anything for this?

Me: Very, very awesome! The website is Jump on and send away. So great that you're cool with sending something. Thanks so much, Cami. Roxane Gay just wrote me and she's on board. This issue may end up being everything I hoped. Looking forward to seeing something from you.

Cami: Great! I have a friend who's really good, too, can I ask him? It's Jason Lee Norman on here.

Me: Tell the old boy to shoot us something. I've read his work. It's solid, and thanks again. You rock it like Chuck Norris on a tilt-a-whirl.

Cami: Hey, I have a story I just finished writing, but it's only 90 words-- is that too short? I could send something else, if so.

Me: Sorry it took some time for me to return a message. A 90-worder, you say? Well, we usually have a min of 100, but let's have a look at it and see what we've got. Just send it back in a return message and I'll have a look. Does that sound cool?

Cami: Here you go-- I can't really add 10 words to it, but I can send something else, if you like.

The following is Cami's story that eventually appeared in Wrong Tree's first issue:

The Night Air, the Throats

Someone is running. Away from the ragged heath, toward slanting mountains behind a crossed Indian moon.

To the people he cannot be innocent-- it is understood that running sleepwalkers harm, maybe murder, feet separated of will, accomplices of wind and street.

all these trembling limbs already badly entangled one neck visible in the tackle moon a wonder to press against the tiny sing that sound!

I walk so nobody is screaming, why not? Really it is entertainment; everyone is running. Nobody wants to kill him.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GUEST POST: Cathedral by Marcus Speh

When our daughter is in school, my wife and I walk up and down our flat shouting “hard hard hard” at the top of our lungs, just because it feels so good and you can do it in so many different voices. Sometimes, this turns into something else. Often it doesn’t, because, you know, life is hard.

Workers have dug up the street in front of our windows. They’re tough. I watch a drunk guy cross the line and wander into the tough guys’ zone. The drunk guy shouts something. The workers ignore him. What they don’t know is that he ignores them, too.

Today, I came across this by Bergman:

"I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon's head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone."

I can see that “cathedral on the great plain.” It's huge. I could never build anything like it. I can also see you sculpt away on your stone saint. Myself, I’d pick the dragon’s head because I come from a long line of semi-professional pagans and eccentrics: we’re fire-eaters.

Lately, I realised that both music and books, listening and reading, have seriously taken a back seat in the amphitheatre of my mind: I listen when I write now and I read now only to write better. I have also (almost) given up on opinions: they can really get in the way of a story. With every firm opinion, a character or a whole cast must be discarded. Often, the ones we don’t agree with are the most interesting types. That’s a pity.

Bad music and bad books are full of opinions, too. I used to be able to stand them a lot better and I can’t stand them at all when I write which is what I do all the time now.

Take that concert I’m listening to. I switch it off and a space opens. Begs to be filled. No, untrue. Could be left empty but then it’d be empty like an empty hand or like a missing piece in a rare collection. No more listening now. And I also drop the book that I’m reading: it engaged me, it worried me.

This is what happens: I hear a truck on the road. A crane turning. Snow slushing under wagon wheels. A shout, then another. Someone crying softly. The street's a novel, now. My own breath, in, out, in. My heart beat. Tic Tac Toe. That worry is mine, it doesn’t belong to the book I just read. I want to do something with that worry, something different from the guy who wrote the other story. His is in, mine must out. In. Out.

I’ve begun to build a cathedral. The drunk guy waves at me and I wave back. He whistles: music to my ears. I can read it in his face: I’ve begun to smash a cathedral.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


– for Avalene Compton

So many long I've waited all these years to see them again, my children. So many long, these years.

The dead come at snowfall when it's all the mountain can do but not fold in on itself all this time.

The others watch clocks and come in the sunshine. They shine that way so bright like something of heaven in all these rooms when they come, they shine.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Who knows what to call this?

I've quit smoking. But, wait. There's a good reason for this lapse in faulty decision making. Bear with me.

It's simple. I don't have the money to buy cigarettes. That's right folks. Surprise, surprise. A good ole Kentucky boy is broke as hell.

But don't get out the pity party streamers and punch for me, please. This is normal for me. I've always been poor. It's just taking some time to adjust to working full-time and still being poor. Payday comes and, like everybody else, I pay what I can on bills, fill up the gas tank, etc. Then I'm left with nothing.

For two weeks it's like this strange real-life game of how to manage to continue living. I'm getting really good at it.

Well, not really. But who could be?

Point is this: generations back as far as spoken word history can tell me I'm from a bloodline that works hard every day and, somehow, stays broke. But it has shown us how to focus on other things. Work every day. Do the best you can. Then forget about it. No cigarettes. Cry me a fucking river! No food is the worst, and there's people who deal with that every second of their lives. I've been there plenty. No food is the worst.

Okay, that's my daily raincloud for anyone hapless enough to have wandering into Bent Country. Now, on to brighter things.

I'm thinking.....still thinking....okay, brighter things.....just wait, I'll think of something.

Ah, shit. Just think of sunrises or something, laughter, a lover's embrace, a full stomach, the smile a baby makes when you smile, an unexpected warm day in late November, a memory of playing with your dad when things were still normal, making the most of it, doing your best. Think of the little critter, your great and critter-like ancestor, that crawled through the muck and got upright instead of just laying there and dying like a bitch just so you could be here. Think of your obligation.

Think of people who love you hugging you until it almost seems okay to stop breathing.

Think of

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Review And An Upcoming Guest Post

I gave my thoughts on xTx's chapbook He Is Talking To the Fat Lady in a guest post at HTMLGIANT.

On the subject of guest posts, Marcus Speh will guest post here in the coming weeks. Be watching for it, folks.

That's it for now here in hellbilly land.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Just A Love Letter And Some Info And Some Rambling.

We had what you call a "short week" at the newspaper where I peel potatoes all day and so I've not had as much time as I would have liked to read xTx's chap. I've read five or so of the stories, and I'm still trying to reattach the top of my head. But I'm going to save my full thoughts for when I've fully read the chap. It's tempting, though, because I want to talk about her use of language and her ability to place through that language a reader in the exact spot she intends. But I'm going to hold off for now. Just know this...xTx will grab you and you are no longer a "reader" but a vessel through which she channels some of the most real work being done today. It's a rush. But, like I said...more on that later.

Mark Reep is awesome. He gave my story "Intruder" some Pushcart love this week, as did Emprise with another southern story of mine called "Go Get Your Honor." I'm bubbling over with Pushcart love. Thanks to Mark and Patrick for that. All we need is love. John said that. Lennon.

I want to take a moment to say that for the past month or more I've been working with Frank Hinton at Metazen as a staff editor. Frank, Chris, Caitlin, Riley, Len, and the whole gang are amazing to work with. Frank has vision. Frank is the type of creative person who spurs others to action, passion, drive. I'm just hanging on and paying close attention.

I corresponded with the insanely awesome Rusty Barnes this week about his work on Fried Chicken and Coffee, one of my favorite online journals, and Rusty put a call out for some good work from good writers. Take a look. See if you have something that Rusty might find interesting. He's also a founding editor of Night Train, so bring your A game. Give him some love. I'm going to, to the best of my ability.

So I've had my turkey for the day. Mashed taters, green beans, baked beans, dinner rolls, etc. Gave thanks. Ate like I wouldn't get a crumb for another month. I hope you guys did the same and were able to spend time with people who make your heart what it is. That's the whole show, folks.

Attention Andrew Bowen: I still haven't cut my hair. Next month will be one year without a cut. We mentioned some kind of marker and such, a cut off point, something earlier. Well, I've figured it out. I'm just not cutting my hair. In fact, I actually had my daughter, who wondered if it could be done, put it in a ponytail this evening. It's ponytail long. I'm digging it. cut off. I'm just not getting a haircut again. As Forrest would say: One less thing to worry about.

Mindy Beth Miller, who I interviewed some months ago here at this corner of the hellbilly world, was recently named by Kentucky Monthly as one of the five up and coming writers from the bluegrass. I love me some Mindy Beth, and just wanted to share that with y'all. She's a gem and a helluva writer. I've known that since the first time I met her in grad school.

Before I end this Thanksgiving ramble, I want to say that Roxane Gay is working to bring all of you fine folks an online version of Bluestem, Eastern Ill. Univeristy's journal. I think it's due out next month. Be on the watch.

Oh, now shit I almost forgot. Jarrid Deaton, aka JRock...and I are working to put together an online version of Wrong Tree Review Issue 2. He's already spread the word that we suck and couldn't put up the dough for a print issue, I think. But, it's all good. Online is fine. Look at that. I'm a damn poet. Look for this in the near future.

To you all....sending Irish love and luck and before we go let's get three sheets to the wind. What's say?

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'll Be Reading And Talking About What I Read Soon.

I'll be reading the rest of xTx's chapbook, He Is Talking to the Fat Lady, today and writing here about it within the next couple of days. So far, and as usual, xTx does not disappoint. Some of the most alive and breathing writing out there, folks.

So, I'll offer my words on this fine chap and this spectacular writer soon.

I want to take time to thank Brad Green who interviewed me for Dark Sky Magazine's "Spotlight On" series. A link to that interview can be found to the right of this post under the Interviews section.

In the meantime, I recommend listening to Tom Waits' The Early Years Volume 1&2 and keep your fingers crossed that he gets the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod he so rightly deserves in the coming weeks.

I'm listening to "Grapefruit Moon" as I write this and so now I must freewrite as I sign off....

Beneath a Cool Rock

He walked the woods in search of flat rocks, sandstone or shale. Rocks about the size of his fist and with moss, rocks near the base of trees, always shaded from the sunlight and tucked against the trunks of the trees, dark and waiting. Collecting them he would lift his shirt, find the place where his heartbeat was strongest, and press the chilled underside of each one against his skin, the mass of the whole unseen planet weighing down on him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hello Again, Loves

Well, I finished the 33-day Wikiphotomicro Experiment. Thanks to xTx for giving me that number to work with. She was quick Tuesday to write and give me a pat for plodding through to the end. She had done a similar thing I think it was this past April by writing a poem a day throughout that month.

By the way, xTx has a new chapbook out, but I'm pretty sure it sold out roughly eighteen seconds after news got around. But congrats to that thunderbolt of a writer.

The experiment was fun, though I'm not confident in very many of the micros and flash pieces after a certain point. It was difficult in that most of the random photos given by Wikipedia were, well, bland and stuff.

Some interesting things happened along the way that I've not had the time to mention. Degrees of Elevation came out, an anthology edited by Charles Dodd White. That was way very cool.

Also, Pank 5 landed and, well, honestly a bunch of other amazing things have went down. I've been looped into this wikiproject for so long it would take awhile to catch up. Let's just say that all the good people who consistently do good things have continued to do them and that is very rock and roll.

I've not submitted any work for publication in a great long time. My submitter button is broken, I think. Worse yet, my writer button is a little shaky. I tried to start on the Novel Writing Month thing but failed pretty fast on that one. I have started to assemble what could be a decent novel in the last two weeks, though. I'm about 60 or so pages in and I'm not hating myself or anything yet.

But that stalled a few days back and now I'm just reading Paul Ekman books, the behavioral scientist who formed the basis for Tim Roth's character Cal Lightman in the series Lie to Me. I'm obsessed. Facial coding. Universal emotions that show on the face in less than a second and then are gone. Whatever.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 33 - "The Truth"

Washington ain't all it's cracked up to be. Just a place like any other. The place is that way. The people more or less, too. Lots to see and lots to do if standing and looking at things counts for doing something.

I stopped shaving when I was thirty-four, the year my folks sent me to Washington. I get a two bit trim once a month to keep my looks, a dignified representative of the people. All that.

Truth is, I'd rather be hunting or fishing or any sort of thing like that. Somewhere out west where you can see the animals coming at you straight on. That's the truth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 32 - "All The Poison We Need To Share"

The elephant in the room is the fact that this guy in the front row is wearing a dress. It's probably not a dress. But we're just going to keep calling it a dress. It's likely a kilt. But then, well, we can see his legs. Dress.

He's happy though, so we're happy. Who knows who these other people are. We're in the corners. We serve the food and refill the glasses. We've read Fight Club too many times.

This guy, the guy in the dress, he's the only one we're not messing with, though. Balls it does take to do that. The rest of them – it's piss and spit and all the poison we need to share with every single person on this planet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 31 - "Converted"

All the booze in the world wouldn't save Hammer. All the pills. The coke. The whatever. He rolled through the county, a topped off 18-wheeler with no brake pads, splitting curves, dropping bars.

Vic paid him just fine. Almost two grand a week during all that time. Hammer spent it as fast as Vic gave it. Straight to the church parking lot to meet with Everett and Brown Eye or anybody the Kenworth's sent to deal with him.

Enough trips to the parking at night was fine, but it was going to happen eventually. A Sunday morning, Hammer told Brown Eye to meet him at the parking lot. There was a baptism going on out at Jimclara Creek. Hammer waited for just over an hour and then left.

Brown Eye wouldn't be there. Not at the church.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 30 - "The Moment of Death, the Moment of Creation"

The group had met all the so-called wizards of the region. Each brought before The Oracle, the only true path. But this boy was different. It was not what The Oracle said, and so it was not really said. But he was different, head lowered, shoulders slumped. Embarrassed by his power. All could see, and many noted his name. Remembered it for the time when he may no longer be here to say it himself.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 29 - "Why"

Where is all the grass, Daddy?

I don't know.

The bird is the same color as the ground. Is that the desert?

I'm not sure, hon.

I feel sad for the bird, Daddy. It looks lost or hurt. Is it hurt? Do you think?

Birds sometimes look like that. It's just way birds look.

The same way as Daddys?

A Pre-Post for the Wiki Project - An Epiphany

This one is short, loves. Here's what I've learned in my week off work as a journalist. It applies to both myself and to everyone.

It's simple. Most everyone thinks in extremes. The example I've most often thought about is the extreme spectrum that positions the risk-taker at one end and the calculated person at the other end. I have know idea what types of people exist along that spectrum. I've only every looked at first one end and then the other, divided people into these two categories. Call me naive...I deserve it.

But that ended this morning. I now realize the term "calculated risks" means something other than just a blending of two worlds along that spectrum. I have figured out how to blend the two farthest points along that spectrum.

A risk-taker with calculated motive and understanding. A bit of a show, to be honest. A real Barnum & Bailey sort of thing. It's truly phenomenal.

So, I feel better. Feel free to call me a nut job. You would be both accurate and completely wrong. See how it works?

Well then. See you later this afternoon for the Wikiphoto posting.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 28 - "The Fourth Lady"

The four ladies. I've known them all, except the fourth. One never hopes to meet her, I think. I think if there's a river Styx it is this fourth lady who will be standing there. Sure, the ferryman will be nearby, maybe admiring the view. Been when you're in this fourth lady's crosshairs, there is no view to admire.

She will take your memory and toss it like a stone into the oily waters to float forever. She might let you dive in, feel the heat and crushing weight of that water for as long as you can stand it. When, and that's if, you break the surface again, lying on the banks of Styx, she will be there.

This is now you, she will say, holding the round stone out in the palm of her hand, and you are the stone.

I never hope to meet her, this fourth lady, who will make all that I am a stone and turn stone into something the likes of me. Anyone who would do that to a stone, I cannot imagine.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 27 - "If Only I Listen"

Family don't have to stand on ceremony. What is expected. Cordial hellos, heartfelt goodbyes. I love yous every two hours.

But they won't listen. I stand and I talk. I move my hands to entice interest, to wake them. All else is motionless, void. But family.

My father would have insisted I wear a suit to this lecture. God is in the details. A man must show pride in himself.

I heard, God watches from the corners. I believed pride was vanity. I believed my father and the whole of our lives was constructed on ceremony, without need.

I grew paranoid and then exhausted. Then I needed money and knew I could mold these things into a fastball, a curveball. Whatever pitch I needed.

I speak often. Motivational lectures about finding that comfort zone with your wife, husband, son, daughter, father, mother, and on and on. But beneath my words, in every other word, like a finely woven fabric, a wedding ring quilt, is the real truth.

I wear the jeans and roll up the sleeves of my $160 shirt to put people at ease. I move my hands to wake them up. I speak to hear myself. If only I listen, someone learns.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 26 - "The Memories Most Likely Going Through His Mind"

Maybe he won’t come back tonight. Maybe he’ll drink a lot and fall on something sharp and won’t come back

Some people talk about the dark like it’s something that hides you away, and I just don’t understand that. Even when I do feel safe under the blanket. The dark feels like it wants to swallow me.

Mom asked me once if he ever fell asleep on the bed. He never has, but now I worry about that all the time.

But he’s not here yet and I’m just about to go to sleep, thinking maybe he really did fall on something, one of those big beer bottles I find behind the couch and inside the busted magazine rack that sits beside the tv that don’t work.

Mom says I can’t remember things from when my real daddy was around, but she’s wrong. I remember crawling around in the living room floor with belts sticking out of our back pockets like tails. Daddy said we were lions, big and proud and mean. When I tell Mom I remember this, she says it was my uncle Carter, Mom’s brother, not my daddy who done that with me. Maybe she don’t remember.

Pardner. That’s what he calls me.

Pardner, this. Pardner, that.

We’re going to buy you a new bike, Pardner, he might say, or, I love your Mom, you know that Pardner?

I hear that name whispering inside my head until I'm asleep and then, like magic, I'm up before everybody and straight outside. For just a minute I let my eyes drop to the foot of the stairs thinking maybe he’ll be down there all white and dead, but nothing’s there but some old mutt stretched out in a patch of sun.

The dog is yellow and I can see its sides moving in and out real slow like. It’s fur looks shiny in the sun, looks warm and shoots that yellow color all the way back across the yard. I make my way down the steps and to the dog. When I get right up to it, I see real fast it’s a girl dog. Her belly’s all flabby and hanging off her side and almost onto the ground and she’s got titties that are hanging down there, too. I hear yelping behind me, close to the little creek that runs beside our building, and look around to see five newborn puppies.

They’re all smaller than small and twisting around at each other, trying to get up a muddy creek bank to the mommy dog. Except the yellow shiny mommy dog is just laying there with her head all plopped back on the ground and stretched out in the sun breathing slow and relaxed like. I can see milk coming out of her titties, drops here and there, wasted on the ground with the puppies at the creek yelping and hollering for some.

I keep figuring the mommy dog will jump up soon, all at once, and go down to her pups, maybe pull them one at a time. They must have pushed right on down the hill and by the creek after she had them and wasn’t able to get back up there. I watch for awhile and then get tired of standing around like that and sit on the ground. But she don’t move, that bitch. She never moves. And the puppies, they just squirm across the ground by the creek pissing on each other.

Monday, November 8, 2010


To those gracious souls who have been reading my posts over the last twenty days or so:

My apologies for the many times I've missed my intended target of good writing on this Wikipedia project – and those I've felt good about, then all power, I suppose.

Thank you for reading, and it will all be over soon. I'll try to do better in the coming days.

With love, respect and gratitude......

Wikiphotomicro: Day 25 - "Dream a Little Drawing"

If they could only dream a little drawing, catch the moment, the second hand before it tick-jerked to the next. But the mesh of forest wrapping around them, shackles or rope pockmarked with beautiful colors that none of them would ever realize were blossoms.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 24 - "Bonnie, Clyde and Janice, Almost"

Janice pushed the gas, a foot like a shotgun barrel, stiff against the pedal, cocked, oil slick from shaving earlier that morning.

80, 95, 112...Speed, speed, speed.

But still her heart was empty, her mind the busted skin of a chesnut. Outside the window, guardrails blurred, a flatline of gray. Janice was already dead and Bonnie and Clyde had already made this better than she ever could.

Also, she would have to die to make it happen.

The guardrail slowed enough to see the random dents here and there. Her heart, still empty, now allowed fear to sit down, have a cup of coffee.

90, 75, 60...Reality, reality, reality. Now she couldn't even get a speeding ticket. No blue lights, no shootout, no immortality. The name Janice would never be remembered forever. The ages would forget her, her leg now a overcooked noodle, her mind still empty save the memory of how Bonnie was the baddest and Clyde was just a driver.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 23 - "Dusklight"

This is where we met. Pizza, cheap beer, pasta, low lighting. When it ended, it ended here, too. Pizza, cheap beer, pasta, low lighting. You'd think I'd remember what we said, not what we ate. Not the fact that something was born and then died in dusklight.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 22 - "Inner Thoughts From Left To Right"

Inner thoughts from left to right: My stomach hurts when did I get here look too clean; In the back just like that my choice they'll notice me more because I'm in the back; Pictures photographs look mean serious or smile my eyes so intense I'm magnificent; This is foolish but Aria when she dips just so I lose my mind; If ma where here my beard is no beard my ma would ask I shave I'll shave.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 21 - "The Shinest Shoes In the Graveyard"

Water poured from a boot is extreme. It wasn't raining like that, but it was raining hard. Harry Tackett dug most of the grave with a JCB 3CX backhoe, the arm stretching out, reaching toward us, then the dip of the bucket and another clump of sandstone and soil, bits of fingernail coal tossed at the edge of the fence lining the cemetery.

I hadn't been on a burial where at least four or five family members didn't have shovels, but none were needed here. Harry and the JCB worked without emotion and the grave happened fast.

That night I noticed my shoes were caked with dirt and streaked here and there with blades of grass stuck in the eyeholes and strings. I took out his shoeshine box and punched my fingers around the polish rags until I found the Kiwi can.

And though it was December, I went to the porch with my shoes in my lap and ragged them for half an hour, my breath smoke signals in the streetlamps. I ragged them until my knuckles ached, each one pounding under the skin, marble-sized hearts working in the cold.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 20 - "Discovering Hutch Gavin"

His family didn't find him. They wouldn't have as not one of them had visited in more than a year. It was strangers, sort of. The police officers, the deputy coroners. They knew Hutch, but didn't know really know him. No one did.

He had been dead maybe five days. The window of his bedroom was coated with a black film. The room was an assault on the senses. The younger officer, Neeley, wore a mask to keep the scent out, but it made its way in through his ears and when he tasted Hutch's death at the back of his throat he tossed up in the corner. Neeley was still dry heaving in the yard when they found the first medal.

In a trunk at the foot of the bed where the changed body of Hutch Gavin was found knotted and swollen, Officer Henson saw the Purple Heart first. He pointed it out and after the coroner's office had Hutch out of the house he and the others pulled the trunk into the living room.

The usual items, aside from the Purple Heart, but then two or three certificates and then another medal, a Bronze Star. Henson and two others continued until a shade of pale blue stopped them, froze them solid.

Henson pulled the last medal from the trunk. In the powder blue ribbon were captured bits of dust, the wing and leg of a fly. Henson stood stick straight, his chest pushed out, and wiped at the medal. Read the word over and over: Valor. He'd seen pictures of this medal, heard stories. Names came to mind. Alvin York. Audie Murphy. But never Hutch Gavin. Hutch Gavin should have been given a medal with the word Drunk written on it. Or Pothead. Not Valor.

Henson walked to the window overlooking the camp town of Sentry, an old coal camp, the houses placed along the hillside and roadside at perfect six or seven feet intervals. How many heroes lived in those houses? Not many. Drunks. Thieves. Pillheads. Most of them wouldn't work enough to strike a lick at a snake.

He shoved the medal in his pocket and went outside for some air. When a deputy coroner met him at the corner of the house he asked about the medals, said the boys had told him about it. Henson told him there were a couple. He said he'd seen them all before.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 19 - Tradesmen

The two men traveled together, but never spoke, only pointed and nodded, traded fossils found along the way, this one a plant, that one as unidentified as their own names.

Along the way, the search changed, shifted focus, but there was always the fossils and arrowheads and the curled skins of snakes and the peaceful lack of conversation so missing from the actual world.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 18 - Departure

Leaving that old place. Nevermind my suitcase, you. Not setting around here counting smoke signals, watch them make out with clouds. People got the wrong idea about around here. Luck rubbed off years and years ago. Tourists can kiss my boney ass. Nevermind where I'm going or my busted eye. Nevermind making sense of this. I'm leaving. You can stay.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Days 16 & 17 - "You Would Love Me More" and "Artwork"

You would love me more if I looked like Virginia Vallejo. You would love me more if I had hair the color of autumn leaves, a broken red with orange love. You would love me more if I had eyebrows thin and lips full, throat open for your mouth. I love you more now and more tomorrow. You would love me more if I never said that at all.


Van never collected. Anything. Baseball cards, stamps, comics, all the basics. Or anything else. On Free Comic Book Day, he happened to be at Scaller's Book Nook and Scaller, a man always laughing and smiling, gave him a comic book. Van read the comic, but mostly looked at the drawings. Artwork, Scaller, corrected him when Van told him he read the comic the next day. Artwork. Yes, artwork. Later that night, Van took out a piece of paper and pen. He wrote the word several times, two columns – artwork, artwork, artwork, artwork, artwork, artwork. The word looked strange to him when he finished. Clunky and strange. Artwork. He made a drawing under the list and put the piece of paper in a shoebox. And so it began.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 15 - Birthplace of a Hardcore Evangelist

Ten years old and I was at the edge of the pews watching the lights overhead reflecting off the pick guard of the Gibson Hummingbird like the light from God’s eye shining straight through the tiny building with its tin roof and curled wallpaper, soaking into the wood, my dad’s fingers moving like strands of wind-blown hair across the strings, that brooding and focused face always drawn down to the floor, never looking at the congregation or the other band members, always pulled down. Still-water eyes resting catatonic at a spot somewhere between the worn tops of his shoes and on through eternity, immortality.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 14 - Full

Only four of the mice remained, still circling the moist ground, their bellies dragging just behind their elbows, while the others had long sank beneath the familiar scent, full for now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 13 - Coming By It Honest

He learned to shoot from a high marksman. Oil like tears of joy and rags handled as delicately as a dove's wing. Banana clips and beer cans and the ring of shots, small snaps of thunder across the ridge, the only conversation. The hand that took his, fingers curved one over the other, an easy squeeze on the trigger, was his hand, was his future, shaky already at midday.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 12 - Bad Blood

Evan stretched across the porch swing while Cal slipped limp as a dish rag in a rain and wind slapped rocking chair. The house had been the brother's for hardly a week. Long enough to stack some canned green beans in one kitchen shelf and a two-liter bottle of Coke in the refrigerator.

On the walls were the same pictures that had always been there. Crushed beer cans dotted the living room floor, tabs twisted off and flipped into darker corners. Neither had been upstairs. When the rooms became too small, drained of air, they moved to the porch.

Today a storm was coming. Sunlight pushed behind smudged clouds and a northern wind was constant through the hollow, climbing ridges and then dipping again into the valley between Elie's trailer to the south and Mitchell's house nearer to their own. The crackle of fall leaves from that wind already sounded like rain too thin yet to see.

After a time, Cal pulled himself out of the rocking chair, cornered through the open front door, and came back with the war picture of their grandfather. He placed it on the warped floorboards of the porch. It tilted momentarily, then came to rest. He looked to Evan who stared at the picture floored between them like a drunk in a bar fight.

Just before the best of the storm came, the two brothers stood and placed a boot each across their grandfather's face, clapped a hand across the other's back, and started stomping.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 11 - Take This

Take this – the cheese grader and the blueberry candle and the cheap painting from the dollar tree and the laptop. Take the shower curtain and the bathmat shaped like a surf board and the knives and the guns. Take my albums, like the stupid fucking one with the lion on the front. Take that and frisbee it across the house. Take the house, the car, the sun-raped yard and every last goddamn toy, the swing set, the plastic picnic table. Leave me the pictures to turn backwards on the walls. Leave me one shirt, a pair of pants, socks and the boots. I'll wear his boxers like razors across my ass.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wikiphotomicro Day 10 - The Decision Makers

(Note: This is getting tough. Just once I'd like Wikipedia to give me a random picture of something awesome. Okay, Wikipedia? Just once. I'm writing these on the spot right after I do the photo search, so if you could give me something just a little more awesome tomorrow, that'd be grrrrreat. Okay, no more whining. On to the project.)

"What am I looking?"

"A football stadium, sir."

"I know that, Winch. Dammit, I'm saying what am I looking at it for?"

"The target, sir. It's the target for next week."

Katch dropped the photo on the table. It floated across the slick surface for a second or two then came to rest. Winch followed him to the window of the conference room, stood close.

"We don't have to keep doing this, sir."

"I know that, Winch. Sonofabitch, I know that."

The city was a picture in the window. Not an overhead shot like the stadium, but Katch could feel the humming of people in the landscape, the same humming he felt when he looked at the surveillance photo.

Unsanctioned. Unchecked. They could level Detroit, if they felt it necessary.

"Maybe we should level Detroit."



Winch wrote a few quick notes on a pad cradled at his belly.

"I'll give the order, sir."

Katch said nothing. The landscape made for a good lullaby.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 9 - Breakfast at the Old Mill

Eggs, runny. Runny as your dropped lips, raw. Raw eyes, flatpan bacon and a glass of milk, untouched. Untouched for so long, all we can do is eat.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 8 - Empty Rooms

"Look at this place! It's a mansion!" – The White Stripes, "Rag & Bone"

Let's populate this place. A place like this cries for voices, footsteps, love-making, fighting, drinking, sleeping, reading.

Here is where ghosts become bored and disappear. Let's give them something to haunt about. Life, life, life! Live!

Or would we could just leave now and never look back, let the sounds of this place weeping stay with us the rest of our lives. Who wants that? None? All?

Okay, on my cue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 7 - The Little Things

My uncle walked the railroad tracks on his hands. On his feet he could jump from one track to the other without falling.

Then one day he fell.

He didn't really fall, I guess. His foot just slipped off the side and he dropped into the gravel and chunks of coal and held his ankle like it was a wild animal trying to chew his leg off.

"Just took three-fourths the bark of my ankle, bub," he grunted.

He pulled his shoe off and peeled his sock down and there was the blood, blinding red, the color of a Christmas ornament or a drunk's eyes in the morning.

I'd never seen him fall before. Not on his hands or his feet. We walked on through the tunnel, my uncle limping, and didn't stop halfway through like we usually did to stand with our backs against the sooty boards while the afternoon C&O rushed past.

"I think it's broke," My uncle said when we got back to our street. "Luck. All of it bad and all of it mine!"

He forgot about all the times he didn't fall. I didn't remind him. And I should have. But we missed the tunnel rush, and in my own little way I was broken too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 6 - Teenage Prometheus Strikes Out

(Interior) Midday: Morton High School

HENRY: You remember the episode of The X-Files where the messed up monster Frankenstein kid is obsessed with Cher and putter butter sandwiches?


HENRY: Really?

BRENDA: No, not really. Freak.

Henry hands Brenda a peanut butter sandwich and returns to his desk, hands folded, a smile across his face like a cut.

BRENDA (munching away while staring ahead): Good sandwich.

HENRY (whispering to his math book): Wanna hear a song and have my baby?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 5 - The Runaway Finally Understands

Here is the same as anywhere. I traveled so far to know this, a bird in flight without a landing, and now the wind has changed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 4 - From the Ground Up

Get off the ground. Do I look like a woman who responds to begging? No, I don't.

That guy sitting in the other room? He's the Angel of Death. That's a capital "A" and a capital "D." Only thing is, he works really, really slowly.

Help him, and then we'll talk. Yeah, that's the deal. There's always a deal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 3 - Splitting Up Hairs

Clive gave the interview after the festival gig and the other band members gathered backstage and talked about Clive while Clive talked about himself, and there was no music after that and Clive gave more interviews and sang less and less. When he talked after that he never said the word "band" and he always used the word "sacked" and before long everyone believed him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 2 - Limp

I grew a flower, an orchid. Pretty color. A little lazy, this flower, hanging toward the ground like it might sniff out more water, but a nice flower.

She didn't say pretty when I gave it to her. She didn't say lazy either. Limp. That's what she said.

I gave her the poem after the flower. And then candy. Unoriginal, cheap. A stuffed animal holding a ridiculous stuffed heart big as my fist.

The flower was the prize. The rest was garnish, afterthoughts, something you only think about when its standing. Right in front of you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wikiphotomicro: Day 1 - Family Wagon with a Broken Wheel

Mama couldn't get Poppy out of bed this morning for the big thing in town. The big thing is I don't know what, but Poppy doesn't like it or want a goddamn hot shit thing to do with it.

He shouldn't talk that talk in front of you kids, Mama says while she pulls us through the crowd. Her dress is old but clean and she smells like breakfast, butter and beans.

Her hair is pretty, too, but I don't say a thing. I just hold her hand in the back of the crowd and pull my sister's hand behind me, a little herd inside a bigger herd heading out to the goddamn hot shit thing that is I don't know what.

The Wikiphotomicro Experiment

I'm going to try something. The Wikiphotomicro Experiment. Here's how it's going to work:

I'm going to do the "random page" thing or whatever it's called at Wikipedia and, if that page has a photograph, the plan will be to use that photograph as a prompt to write a micro-fiction piece. I'll do this every day for (Insert number of days here) and I'll have fun doing it.

Now, here's the thing. I can't decide on how many days I'll do this. So, I'm going to take the first comment offered, if any, on this post and go with that.

Note: The Wikiphotomicro Experiment will not be a consecutive project. I'll post the other things I sometimes post whenever the time comes for that, but it will be included with the micro. I just confused myself a little bit.

Anyways, there it is. Give me a number, lovers. Let's get started.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Dead Father Spoke To Me And It Was Cool

My dad's voice was a guitar last week. Well, actually a song played on the guitar.

Here's how it happened:

My cousin, Gary, played a song early one morning last week. We were in his kitchen, post campfire session the night before, and he was plucking this tune on the guitar.

"You improvise as good as anybody I know," I told him. "Like Dad used to do. It's great, man."

Then it happened.

My dad, who died this past April, spoke.

Gary started a song, mid-neck on the guitar, a ninth chord, then a transitional run, then a thumbed pair of bass notes that led into a full chord followed by a run.

That was my dad's musical fingerprint – ninth, transitional run, thumbed bass notes, full chord, run.

I was looking away when Gary started the song and I kept looking away as he continued. For me, those notes, a song played on the guitar, that song in particular, is the exact same as my dad's spoken words. I closed my eyes and listened.

"Your dad taught me that one, bub," Gary said. "He wrote it."

Music and my dad are one thing to me, always have been. This song was my dad speaking up through the dirt and roots from his place on the hill in Wright's Bottom.

I thanked Gary and stepped out to the porch for a cigarette. My eyes felt heavy and salty and I almost cried. It would have been the first time. He died on April 21 and I played guitar, one of his favorites, at his funeral on April 23, my birthday. I spoke to him as best as I could that day.

But I didn't think I'd hear his voice again. It was nice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

INTERVIEW: Stealing Some Time With Artist Cindy Ramey

Cindy Ramey has been drawing, making comics, taking commissions for as long as I can remember. Humble, soft-spoken and one of the hardest working artist I've had the pleasure to know, Ramey keeps her feet set and her eyes ahead, always working on that next project. Even more amazingly, she juggles this talent and the output that talent creates with a family and a full-time job that has little or nothing to do with her true passion. And through it all, there's always a smile, a kind word, a moment given to a fellow artist or writer to listen, truly listen. Ramey is that rarest of artists, maybe. The single talent in the room that can only be overhead praising the work of others and never her own. It was time to give her the chance to reflect on her own work. I'm so thankful she agreed to talk with me here.

Sheldon Lee Compton: We've talked a lot over the years about art and writing and that lovechild of all creative efforts – storytelling. But let's start with what it is that brings you to the work every day, day in and day out. Where does the need to create come from for you?

Cindy Ramey: What brings me to do this art day in and out is my need and want to tell a story about the characters that I have created inside my head. It's me wanting to be creative and share that creativity in comic/graphic novel form. Because telling stories with pictures is just what I love.

SLC: I know that you work a full-time job and have a family and do most of your work late at night once things have settled. It's a familiar system for many of us and it is love that keeps us going on all fronts, I couldn't agree more. So, tell us about what you're working on presently during those stolen hours.

CR: Yes, after the kiddo is put in bed, the night hours are when I work. Currently these last couple of months have been spent drawing up paid commissions for folks in order to purchase some new drawing tools. During this time, I have also been collaborating a new story with an artist from Louisville. So far characters have been developed, as well as the setting and the plot. The script is currently being written.

SLC: Before I jump too far ahead, let's talk about your two main comic projects, STARFIRE AGENCY and NIGHTSHIFT. These are published independently and portray anthropomorphic characters you've been developing for years. With a background in a broad spectrum of art forms and the degrees to show for it, what brought you to work with comics and with anthro characters in particular?

CR: First lets look at why anthro? Anthropomorphic characters were always something I enjoyed drawing since I was a kid. I enjoyed TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) cartoons and comics, Darkwing Duck and Swatkats. Those three would have to be the main shows that kept me drawing these sort of characters for as long as I have. TMNT having the strongest influence on me as an artist. I at one time wanted to get myself into animation, but once I got into college and had a chance to meet with a person in the animation field, I was sad to learn that cartoons were changing from what I knew. Funny "furry critters" as cartoon characters were being traded out for more loosely drawn "humanoid" characters.

That same day after meeting with the animation fella, I got to talk to Amanda Conner, a comic book artist, who at the time was the penciler for Vampirella. She had positive feedback for me upon seeing the short comic that I had made on computer paper and colored pencils. And so I have to say she caused me to keep up with drawing my comics.

I'll talk about Nightshift first, since it was the first story and plot that I created back in grade school. It has evolved so much over the years and I suppose it is my favorite story since it contains a lot of my loves as I've evolved as well. It's a story about a group of cops that live in a feline world. They have to keep the city from going corrupt under the hands of the Big Claw. Not only is this a cops-and-robbers plot, there's a group of vampires tossed into the mix.

Starfire Agency is a newer storyline that was created in 2005 as like a "Hey, webcomics look like a cool idea." So I made up this handful of college kids that go out on investigations of the paranormal just to see how I could fair with creating weekly pages. Soon, I discovered that Starfire Agency was receiving fans. So I kept the story going these last five years. Like Nightshift, this comic is anthro-based, with a wide variety of animals.

What some people don't realize is I do have stories and character that are non-anthro and sooner or later, once I get the chance, I want to tell those stories as well. There's just not enough time in the day.

SLC: I know you do a lot of work with other artists and often collaborate on several projects while also continuing your own comics and paid commissions. Walk me through one of these collaborations and also maybe talk about how these paid single commissions come about.

CR: Collaborating with other artists to get a final project is something that I've been wanting to do for about a year now. I do love doing my own comics, but at the same time, that can get lonely. Being able to work with another artist helps keep creativity up and ideas fresh. The three artists in the past that I have collaborated with are from other areas, so what we do is use an instant messenger and the internet to plot out our comic scripts. We create characters and mix them into this big plot we've created for them and just roll with the story, most of the time in a "role play" sort of form. The role play is then broken up into panels and pages for the comic.

Job roles between us artists are different. Sometimes I may be the penciler, while another may be the inker or colorer. Being in collabs has its drawbacks as well. Someone you work with or even yourself, may get slowed down with real life and so the project may not go very fast. But if everyone is working smoothly, it's like a machine.

The commissions I do are for individuals out there in the world that want their characters drawn. Commissions are what usually help me buy equipment and art supplies to do my arts with. Commission work also helps me pay for tables and travels for conventions.

SLC: You have an active online presence. Tell me about that and how it compares to your print work.

CR: The nice thing about having webcomics online verses the print is that you can sort of create a sense of community with other people, if that makes any sense. I know which fans like which characters and stories. I feel that I get feedback more often, positive and negative.

SLC: Do you have a routine when working, any certain things that you must have to spur creativity?

CR: I don't really have a routine anymore. Hah! When you have a kid, you draw when you can, which kind of goes back to the drawing at night. I do actually prefer to sit in front of the TV and listen to some sort of sci-fi show or mystery while I draw...though Spongebob or iCarly is usually on the TV screen now a days.

SLC: Here comes the stranded on an island question: If you were stranded on a, well, you know, what three comics or books or paintings, etc. would you like to have with you?

CR: If I were stranded on an island...I would hope to be marooned with a few boxes of bic mechanical pencils and a case of cardstock paper that miracleously did not get wet. So then I can create my own art and stories to help pass the time away and keep me busy.

SLC: Scenario: You have made it. Your work has been awarded and praised and has now found its place among the greats. What now?

CR: Easy...keep creating more stories, cause that's what I love.

SLC: How important is it that people close to you support your work?

CR: Its very important that my hubby and daughter support me. My hubby may not always understand what the heck I'm rambling on about half the time, but he's wonderful in helping out with proofreading, helping out with convention stuff. He supports me in my art, never once thinking it was just a waste of time for me. My daughter is supportive too, only being four, she understands just to give me a bit of time to complete art before we bake cookies or play a game together.

SLC: What's next for Cindy Ramey?

CR: Well, tonight? Once I'm home from work I'll be completing a freelance job and a commission. And starting in November, I will be hitting a new story Nox Prophecy that a good friend of mine and I are working on. It's a bit different from my other stories in that the main characters are humans and not anthropomorphic. So it will be a challenge and a good change.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Post That Starts With Structure Then Loses Focus

My friend and fellow writer xTx has a forthcoming chapbook. Find out more here. It was the first thing I thought of this morning, even before I flinted up my first cigarette.

Also, for whatever generous reason, Keyhole Press has an offer right now at their site that if you tweet about Matt Bell's new book HOW THEY WERE FOUND you can then download a PDF version of the book. I want the book in my hands, but I was so very eager to read it, I tweeted the shit out of that (which I would have anyways) and downloaded the PDF. Some good reading in store for me today.

I will put my a part of my liver or a kidney up on the black market or to anyone interested in order to attend AWP in Washington, D.C. Just keep it in mind. I drink pretty often, but I'm sure the liver is only dented at this point and not entirely broken. Kidney's good. Spread the word.

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to Amber Sparks' Ancient City project at Necessary Fiction, offering a short story called "Textbook" and she said good things afterwards at her blog that reminds me I might be human after all. I'm going to fall headlong into self-serving behavior and repeat her kind words below:

"Sheldon Compton has written one of the most realistic and sad and touching and hopeful and just all-around great stories about teen pregnancy that I’ve ever read. This is not really surprising, as Sheldon roots for the underdog in pretty much everything of his I’ve ever read. He’s got the empathy, the humor, the realistic optimism, and the eye for the hidden and scraped-out-of-sight in society to truly write on behalf and about those who are disenfranchised in some sense from the rest of society. His stories always make me want to go find the characters in them and give them a giant hug and tell them it’s going to be okay, even if it very clearly isn’t. Sheldon’s great and happens to be a writer I’ll read anything of his I can get my hands on."

Amber is talented and generous and lovely and I feel honored to have her speak highly of my work.

Oh...I'm about 30 + pages into a novel. I'm giving it one year and no more and this will be the last time I mention this longer project until I've either finished it or abandoned it.

I haven't washed my hair in three days.

My dog, Joe, shivers all the time like he's scared something is going to eat him. I tell him he's okay all the time, but dogs don't understand when you speak to them. He's a beagle – small dog, big heart. He has a cut on his left ear.

Also, I discovered the key to happiness. Sleep.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A-Minor: Dzanc's Best of the Web nominees

I'm pleased to say that I've nominated the following A-Minor stories for Dzanc's Best of the Web 2011:

"The Shell of Reflection" – Eric Beeny

"Traveller" – Nora Nadjarian

"Finales" – Hugh Fox

Best of luck, folks.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Birthmonth, Bent Country

This blog turns one year old this month. Strange. I've been looking back at my early posts and they're a little weird. But then I looked at some of my more recent posts and, well, they're sometimes weird, too. Besides, I like weird.

There's a mouse or a rat or a something in my bedroom. I've only heard it, a scratching and small thumps from the corner. It could be a clawed snake or anything else for all I know. All night last night I was up and down, throwing random things within two to three feet of me into the corner – a small alarm clock, a pair of basketball shorts, something that felt like a hat but could have been anything. Basically, I spent most of the night tossing half-known objects at an unknown animal in the corner. I got up this morning and felt like I'd pitched fourteen innings for team Animal Planet. I'm tired and a little punchy.

One of the blog posts I scanned across earlier was from last year when my uncle was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by New Southerner. I read this and had to smile. It's a little cool, because a few days ago Emprise Review nominated my story "Go Get Your Honor" for a Pushcart. I haven't talked to him yet but I'm going to suggest we visit Food City later today and have them make us a Pushcart cake. Also, I'm going to suggest we refuse to explain to the bakery employees what a Pushcart is, that we just act very nervous and rush them, ringing the bell, asking for a time-frame on when this cake will be done. I'm going to suggest that we do this while pushing shopping carts back and forth in front of the display case, a little makeshift Pushcart Derby where we are trying to get around one another.

Lately I've been more and more tempted to open spam in my email inbox. They're getting good at this, or I'm just growing more pathetic by the hour. A few have been made to look as if one of my ex-wives (don't ask) sent the message. That's pretty good. Bravo, Spammer Nation.

I've rambled a little. Like I said. Punchy. But suffer me this day, friends. It is Sunday and, after all, I have a one-year-old to take care of.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I've mentioned elsewhere that I read Mel Bosworth's Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom on a bus ride to Washington, D.C. That's a ten-hour ride from my neck of the woods in Kentucky.

After I finished reading, I still had nine hours left before D.C. That alone says something, as I do not read quickly. I read very slowly and deliberately. Always have. I just forgot to while reading this book. The pages just kept turning. David and Samantha kept popping around corners and then coming back and taking my hand and pulling me along. It was a rush.

I read the book twice more during the trip and each time found something else to appreciate. As is often the case with Bosworth's work, there is a lighthearted tone even in the most serious moments and the same can be said of more or less everything else of his I've read over the past couple of years.

A quick breakdown of my overall impression after each of the three readings are basically: David and Samantha = love. David and Samantha = fate. David and Samantha = a reminder that hope was never alive or dead or anything to begin with but was always there, present at the time of creation, perhaps, never born in this moment or that, but looping always with love and eternity in tow.

And then, aside from the overall feel of this tightly woven novel is the introduction of two characters drawn to one another through the confines of the fictive world in which they exist and also their near-holy ascension outside the realm of the narrative itself. Events are important but we're always reminded that getting to the next scene is almost secondary. The journey is truly the thing with this book. Destination steps aside. And when that happens, we have a man and a woman and all else is backdrop.

Bosworth gives us us an innocent voice in David and a strong force, a careening wind or cresting wave, in his Samantha. That's how I thought of Samantha while reading. David's Samantha. I imagined extra scenes in my head where David would introduce Samantha to other characters by saying, "This is my Samantha."

And when I did this, I was reminded of Bosworth's ability to inject the dramatic and deeply moving into his wit and humor and talent with a turn of phrase, his quirky characters. Just when you're reading a bit of dialogue that made you laugh aloud to someone on a ten-hour bus ride, you stop and think of Samantha or of David and you relax back into your seat and put a hand to your chest. There it is, you think to yourself. A flutter just behind my breastbone. A place I'd forgotten about while laughing, a place Mel Bosworth always keeps in mind and enters into carefully.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Song With Four Chords

It is a simple arrangement. There are a hundred songs made the exact same way, but it is beautiful in its melody and balance. G, E-minor, C, D, repeat. I rake the pick down the strings and G-chord punches through the church. The band follows. Bridge’s vocals are at first off-pitch and then smooth out. And so the song goes.

G-chord – and Sam now standing at the back of the church, the outline of a pack of cigarettes in his front shirt pocket. I push the bones of my hand into the neck of the guitar, squeeze it and feel old flakes of varnish chip away. Sam not even sitting down. Sam waiting at the back door by the sinner’s foyer where phone numbers of lost and moved-away church members were posted on the community board, ghosts. Sam dancing with the ghosts in the back with his cigarettes and his sorry face and his hands long and slender and eager. Sam dancing all through G-chord.

And then E-minor – a shift, a change in atmosphere and purpose. I can almost remember the scent of my grandmother. A lotion she wore to bed each night and the way the first knuckles of her fingers always bent and broke, buckled to get the chords just right without muffling the other strings. It is enough to stop Sam from dancing, thinking of her, and the song moves to a different place, away from Sam and away from Sheila. But the minor-major rise is coming. My fingers buckle inward, ready for the change.

C-chord – and veins climb across Bridge’s neck in conviction and beauty. Sam singing along in the back, lips wet and baritone with song, lips that had touched Sheila again and again while snowflakes dropped around their fisted hands. Lips that said I love you while kissing my wife. The church, with Sam moving again in the back, anxious, eager, and Sheila mute in the front, bored, over her shoulder.

And D-chord – bending down to bury me, close me up. Abrupt and fast, trying to bring back the dead and stir to life the living, then the Gibson slips from my thigh, drops off my knee in a rattle of sound. The last chord breaks away and drifts into nothing. All eyes to me and my scalded red hands folded in my lap, in prayer, in defeat.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

UPCOMING: Interview with artist Cindy Ramey

Watch this space in the coming days for an interview with artist Cindy Ramey.

Cindy worked with Jarrid Deaton and I several years ago when we started Cellar Door Magazine as the graphic designer and also as a contributing artist.

But this was only my introduction to Ramey and her work. In the time since, she has established herself in the ever-changing and ever-evolving world of comics. Both a talented artist and storyteller, I look forward to talking with her over the next few days.

Keep an eye out, folks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Before opening Shya Scanlon's IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE, the cover art is already setting the tone for his trapeze act with all the same tools any writer can find. It's just that Scanlon has a certain ear, an instinct.

The cover is minimalistic – a gray background interrupted only by the title in red at the top left, Scanlon's name in white at bottom left, and, just off-center, what is left of a broken pencil lead, along with a fast mark, hectic, rushed, something incomplete but with a breaking power. Something impulsive.

Inside are prose poems, each seven lines in length. With the first, "A Bargain," Scanlon puts his style on the table for the reader to consider, easing him into the broken logic of language, of theme and tone, that will tie this book in a spider's web, both beautiful and strong. Here is the writer offering us a "bargain" on something brand new in the canon of prose poetry.

"I have a house. I have a house. It is not my house that I have. It is not my house, anymore...A have now house about me anymore."

The narrator could be trying to sell you the house, a good deal, a bargain. The narrator might just as well be talking about himself. But one thing is certain – we are in different hands, a writer taking a bold chance at the "word level."

The reader may not at once adjust to Scanlon's syntactic innovation. The risk is a practice in building trust, coming to know this author's voice so the stories can be told in a way that only he could tell them.

A key thing found early on is the use of the second-person point of view. Throughout much of the book, with a handful of exceptions, this is employed. But not exclusively.

In stories such as "Six miles south" the former John Hawkes Fiction Prize winner also speaks of "we" and "I" within the same story, grouping them with the second-person "you." In this story that decision gives the piece the feel of a letter, something shared among good friends or current enemies, those close conversations found only among people with knowledge of one another's pain, happiness, hope.

In "Six miles south" these three points of view are wed and rightly so as there is a sadness of tone beneath the sharing, one of learning and of growth – all the ingredients of any close relationship.

"You said something new, and let me learn, and I passed this along, and passed it wider, a broken kind of wideness, a small and splintered thing. We sat together and watched it spread..."

But these are some of the technical aspects within this book and, though important, are almost secondary to the work as a whole. Brian Evenson says of IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE: "...there's really nothing else out there like it." It's as true a thing said of a book in a long while. Whether it is with a surreal piece, such as "Skeleton clock" (I went into outer space this morning.) or a piece about longing and self-worth as with "Imagine next" (Erin, sugar biscuit, you took me in like you have now taken in a dog.) Scanlon is pushing an emotion off the page. And even in this, he moves easily from one form to another such as the straight-forward narrative approach in "Daresies: Backsies" or the linguistically experimental dialogue of "A neighboring insert."

The best part of the trapeze act? The fact that never is the core of this book lost amid these risks and experimentation. Scanlon achieves across 59 prose poems not as much a linked storyline as a consistent feeling of something unmentioned but known to us all, the inner voices of our secret lives.

Yes, I googled myself. But look what I found!

I googled myself yesterday. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I have a busy online life and so I like to see what...