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.

Saturday, December 18, 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

LWB

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 www.wrongtreereview.com. 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

Mother

– 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.