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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Hat Says: "Deny Everything"

I've spent the last couple days on the road and then briefly in Washington, D.C. covering a rally for the newspaper where I work. I'm tired. I understand that's more important to me than to you, but, all the same. I'm tired.

It was my second trip to D.C. and both have been job-related. I've walked right on by so many places and things I'd like to stand for a bit and enjoy. So this time, I took a few minutes and went across the street from where the rally was staged in Russell Park and had a good, close look at the Capitol Building. It was like that scene from National Lampoon's Vacation, the grand canyon scene with Chevy Chase in the cowboy hat clutching his wife's shoulder and bouncing a few minutes and then taking back off to the road.

I've finished a first draft of a review I've written of Shya Scanlon's IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE. It's a rich book, tasty and strange. It's a meal like I've never had. More on this later.

I received a copy of Mel Bosworth's GREASE STAINS, KISMET, AND MATERNAL WISDOM in the mail last week and purposely waited until my D.C. trip to read it. I wanted a friend with me on the ten-hour bus ride, you know? Anyways, Mel had me turning pages so quickly I ended up facing the possibility of spending the next nine hours with nothing to read. I didn't even bring anything else, which was okay, because I'm going to write about GREASE STAINS, too, so I just read it again and again in intervals until the bus stopped.

I bought a hat at a shop in Union Station (I'm addicted to buying, wearing, staring at, holding hats) that says "Deny Everything." I bought it in a gift shop, but it's a hat sold primarily at the International Spy Museum. I like it, but wearing it makes me feel somehow accused or already guilty or shady. My hat says: "Hi. I will lie to you." But I like it.

Nicolle Elizabeth contacted me through Fictionaut and asked if I'd like to talk to about A-Minor. I said yes and then answered the questions she sent and shot a message back. Now I'm worried I might have sent something else besides my originally intended list of answers. I don't know why. It's a nagging feeling, like I accidentally sent her a list of movies I'd like to watch in the next month or something.

I'll leave you with this interesting fact: Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Punch is I am pleased.


So I'm carousing through submissions at A-Minor and liking a lot of what I see. I'm also digging the fact that folks are sharing some A-Minor with others. For that I'm grateful. Just for kicks, I'm gonna do something I've not before and name the next three writers who will be published there to round out the remaining Mondays of September:

Sept. 13 – Nora Nadjarian

Sept. 20 – Michelle Elvy

Sept. 27 – Michael J. Solender

In regard to these upcoming works I have the pleasure of sharing I will say this:

I am punch. I am pleased. Pleased punch as is. Punch is I am pleased.

The above sentence was written to honor Shya Scanlon's style in his wonderful In This Alone Impulse.

Shya sent out a call to anyone wishing to have a copy of the book last month and I might well have been one of the first to raise my hand, waving and wiggling my fingers. A helluva guy and a razor sharp writer to boot, his book was in the mail within a couple days. For now, I'll share my favorite sentence: "It is something to wade in the snow like a chicken, lost."

I've read this three times now and just started my fourth read last night. I hope to offer my thoughts on this wonder in the coming days.


This morning I received a copy of Mel Bosworth's Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom in the mail. Beautiful book with Mel's own artwork on the cover from Aqueous Books, a press to watch for and watch closely, and read and support.

Once I've lapped this book up like cathead biscuits and brown gravy, sopping every word until the plate shines like a new penny, I'll offer some thoughts.


Amber Sparks has developed one of the most original writing projects I've come across for her September tenure as Writer-in-Residence at Necessary Fiction. The construction of a city's lifespan through stories with writers contributing by using found artifacts at the now barren site where the city once existed as prompts. See the most recent example here.

Okay, off to further consider my own artifact and tell its story to the best of my abilities.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Will Soon Be Dead, But Wrong Tree Will Not

Now that the summer months have passed, I suppose it would be appropriate, if not outright responsible and grown up, to mention to those who may be wondering that Wrong Tree Issue 2 is being completed.

We'd hoped for an actual summer issue target date, but the world of getting together a print issue is often a strange and long road. In any case, WT #2 will be available soon, and we're proud of this issue. Stories from some great talent and an interview with Chris Offutt, in addition to cover art from Sam Pink.

So, okay. Just a note. And remember: birds don't drink pizza. Trust me, that information could be handy. You never know.

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...