Friday, December 30, 2011

Book and Song

Paul Kerschen's The Drowned Library is still available and will be for awhile, good people. Purchase here from Foxhead Books. Thanks.

Launch date for my collection The Same Terrible Storm through Foxhead is still set for January or February. Early proofs look good, cover, etc. Still have some edits to tune up in the coming weeks, but it's coming along nicely.

Here's a song I like:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wikiphotomicro Concludes for 2011

That's it folks. Twelve days was the number. It was fun doing this again, and I hope those of you who read enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 12 - "Signs"

Any sign will do. A sparrow at my ear, the sound of the C&O bending rails through Terry County, a whisper from something or someone unknown. We're never lost, just misplaced. The top shelf in the kitchen, tucked in a drawer full of thoughts all trying to smother us given the chance. But never lost. Still, a sign would be a welcoming thing, a branch clutched in the sparrow's beak, a wave from the engineer through early morning gloom, a whisper from a father or mother's voice telling us we're walking in the right direction, telling us to run before it's too late. Telling us all the things we've never heard before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 11 - "Inside Every Woman"

In my dream, Neva didn't so much cheat on me as she cheated in front of me, with three truck drivers while we ate breakfast at Clay's Kitchen. The four of them did so casually at our booth while my eggs sat untouched in a dirty plate.

I knew certain dreams could be visions from God. Dad dreamed of his own future, had witnessed to it, claiming it a vision, and these gifts were often inherited, the church said. Dad told everyone that his family would be taken from him and that he would not live long, his heart crushed.

There were no instructions in this vision, Dad told the stunned congregation, only the understanding that the Lord will not abandon me during this time. I came away with no instructions and no understanding, but the Neva in my dream was the Neva of my past. And that could never happen.

I met her while playing in a punk-rock band during my rebellious years away from the church. There was mostly pot and then more Budweiser and Old Fitzgerald and Jack Daniels on top of that, but a few years in, the band switched to cocaine. Rooms were left spotted with foul clues that humans might have spent time there, hard and strange time, warped time. I dabbled less with cocaine than some of the others, but during this period the music became a phantom excuse.

The few times I did take part, pinching my nostrils afterwards until it seemed the soft bones might push through the skin, I did so only because Neva was there, staring at me with warm hair and killer eyes. Two three four times she would bend over the coffee table in tight denim and take lines, that warm hair splashed out from her head, a giant dark hand, a claw with thousands of needle-thin fingers, clutching and pushing her head down from above, through the ceiling from some kind of heaven-hell, cheekbone against wood, throat stretched tight.

It was how she had looked in my dream in front of me and my cold eggs.

I decided to take action after my dream, but I spoke to no one about it. Mysterious, mysterious ways. A fanatic, an addict, believes in the excuse more than he believes in anything else. And when I prayed, I prayed very quietly while Neva slept beside me, the easy sound of her breathing steadying my thoughts like something holy, something wrathful.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 10 - "On Photographing the Archangel Troy"

Note: The following photo post is from a photograph not included at Wikipedia. It is from Shelby Lee Adams' new book of photographs "salt & truth". The short short is from one of Shelby's photographs on page 52 of the book, which can be purchased here:

On Photographing the Archangel Troy

I'm not going to smile while doing this, son.

This is a serious thing you're laying witness to. Faith that the All Mighty will cloak me in angel's armor borrowed from Michael on a slow day in the battle for all above us and all this worldly hardness below.

I won't smile.

I want the All Mighty to know I take his gift and blessing seriously. I want Him to know I'm a tough sonofabitch forged from this hardness, made a part of it, born from and raised in fire, who can join His ranks as soon as He's ready for me to fall in line.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wikiphotomicro Day 9: "Half a Sniper"

More tours in Vietnam than he ever spoke of, but most of us knew. A sniper, they said. Never him. He never said the word that I could remember. But at least three tours, and he returned home without injury.

Then, a month after Jerry came home he was hunting with his brother and through unclear circumstances his brother’s shotgun fired, the barrel inches from Jerry’s kneecap. He lost the bottom half of his leg, his brother dragging him across the ridge to the old home place and then to the hospital.

Three tours or more, and then half a leg gone and enough talent with a gun to be dangerous. And left alone.

Jerry made few friends after that.


In the truck, with his near-rotted set of crutches tucked beside him along the driver’s door, Jerry is talking about the roofing job we’re heading out to this morning. He climbs a ladder using the stump, climbs it faster than me or the other workers. He lays down more shingles and faster than any of us combined, using that same stump as a third hand to hold while he tacks.

It’s middle summer and we’re contracted on a small job in Kenton, so we start early, before dawn, to avoid as much of the heat as possible. Jerry is talking about this as the sun appears over the rounded hump of the Appalachians. A small but large-eyed bird begins to circle low in the sky, about twenty feet above us.

Jerry points it out, says for me to watch, and pulls a pistol from under his seat. He situates it in his left hand and sticks the pistol out his driver’s window. When he takes out the circling bird with a single shot, he pulls the pistol back through the window and casually places it under his seat again.

That’s something else, I say. But I’m worried. Jerry is right-handed, but that must not matter when it comes to killing. I’m hoping it’s a short day. Let it rain, let the building catch fire. His stump seems to talk, to motion itself in my direction from the edge of Jerry’s seat, taunting, explaining things I cannot understand.


Midday. Water. Sitting on the ground and off the roof. The ground always felt different after hours on a roof. More water, breathing, free arm dangling and broken it seems from packing fifty pound bundles of shingles to Jerry. Jerry could cover ten squares on a roof in a no time flat, but getting bundles to the roof was not an option.

I drain a second bottle, chew some ice from the cooler and ask where Jerry’s got off to. A couple guys tell me Jerry’s still on the roof, so I climb the ladder.

At the far end of the roof, balanced at the peak, Jerry is staring into the distance. I search for the sky for birds, remembering his shot from earlier that morning. The sky is empty, hot blue and three clouds.

When I make my way to him, Jerry tells me I’m wrong. I asked him what he was looking at, and he told me I was wrong. Wrong.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wikiphotomicro Day 8: "Perishable"

The icicle tasted like nothing at all. Not at first. Then before long there was the faintest bit of boiled egg, the sulfur from the mountainside where Shepherd pulled it loose easing through the top layer of frost as it gave way to the shine and streaks of mud beneath.

Dougie hadn’t asked Shepherd to stop and get the icicle. He had only pointed them out as they sped along Route 34. A stalactite row of them lined the rock wall and Dougie pointed and said, They look like teeth, Mom.

Shepherd pulled the car to the side of the road, butting against an embankment of snow piled by the county road crew, and parked.

Shepherd wasn’t Dougie’s real dad. He drank. His real dad did not. He was stronger than his real dad. He was taller. He always smelled like beer, but there was no beer belly sagging when he stepped from the driver’s side of the bitty MG they were driving and tromped through the snow to a large icicle hanging about ten feet from the car.

Dougie looked first to his Mom, but she only stared straight ahead through the frost-covered windshield. She was looking for something. That’s how it seemed. He let her look and examined his icicle.

Once, at the Terry County Fair and Bluegrass Concert, he saw a booth with candy that looked like the icicle. Only difference was it was colored all pink and blue, and a lot smaller. He broke the tip off and chomped at it – horse to apple, dog to leftovers.

It tasted strange, like eggs left on the stove overnight. In its slender body he could see bugs caught in the ice, small ones and a large one near the thickest part. Shepherd was yelling at his Mom and his Mom was still looking ahead. He couldn’t tell now what she was looking for, but he took another bite, a larger one this time, and wrinkled his nose.

Making sure he looked away from the rearview mirror when he did, Dougie gagged. If it were blue and pink it might taste better. This wasn’t like the candy at the fair, he finally said. It came out a whisper in the middle of all that talking and yelling and silence and searching.

Shepherd sped along the road until he jerked into Tackett’s Market’s parking lot. The MG door slammed so hard his Mom finally stole her gaze away from the windshield, turned to Dougie.

Watch now what happens, she said. Watch what happens now and see how bad it gets, she said, and Dougie knew what she meant as much as he didn’t know.

The MG door popped open fast. Shepherd tossed a pack of cherry Kool-Aid into his lap, told him to pour it over the thing and see if that helped. That’ll help, he said, and his voice has lowered and Dougie opened the pack and spread the contents across what was left of the icicle.

But soon the icicle was nearly melted. The icicle was more or less gone, a fragile thing in his lap, the raspberry sugar just bright, wet spots on his jeans and hands, the same as he saw later that night across the living room wall, the hardwood floor, across his mom’s high, proud cheekbone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 7: "From a Blast or a Divine Hand"

If I could invent myself, arrive in the world from a blast or by a divine hand, but invent myself, have some say in anything at all.

Bullfrogs and wings and not busting their asses.

After a time, I might reconsider the whole thing, my existence in this world or another. I might begin to wonder if I could reinvent those around me, train them to my will. In short, I might go crazy and stay drunk on creation and power and wrath.

Pillars of salt and fires and floods.

It would be nothing holy, though, unless you look to the heavens and see stars and constellations and then something more, a light brighter than can be seen by those still bitter for having been born without permission.

But I would have chosen to arrive, make my own North Star and follow it wherever my newly made heart might decide.

Solitude and loneliness, beyond imagination.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 6: "A Gold Dress for Madeline"

You sat for hours days on end for that painting, ma’am. It’s terribly strange you can’t remember. Do you remember the gold, actual gold, he draped you in? Nothing at all? Not the first memory? So strange, and sad, if you don’t mind my saying.

At least you should remember that gold, how it shined. It seemed to make the mop water brighter, better. It seemed to drip like wine from end of the mop. And this old dress even seemed beautiful in its light. You were radiant, ma’am, and you don’t have so much as a single moment of recollection.

Now that I consider it, you were pale and even more pallid now. Maybe a walk would do you good. We should go to the garden. You could stand beneath the peach tree you love so much. Fresh air and peach trees and flowers.

Where is the dress, ma’am? I should like to show it to my daughter when she finishes her work for the day. Not until then, mind you. He would never have that. We are not paid and given food and shelter and clothing to prance around in gold dresses.

But, if we were, we would remember it. So pale, white as a sheet, if you don’t mind me saying. And if you do, I don’t see much of anything you could do about it now.

Where is the dress, so I can show it to my Madeline? I know you will tell me, you ungrateful, weak woman. And if you don’t, then I will let you die here on this crumpled bed and be done with you.

Do you know what it’s like to see gold shimmering up at you from mop water? Of course you don’t. But you know what pain is. We all feel pain. That broken wrist of yours. It is nothing when compared to seeing your child stooped for all of her walking years, her little hands faded and wrinkled as dish towels.

So, I ask again – where is my Madeline’s dress? If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 5: "The Function of a Motor"

The dirt is always there, beneath the nails. It is permanent as a tattoo, broken across ten spaces from thumb to thumb. He eats lunch without washing, always. He has learned not to taste the oil and grease or tastes it and doesn’t care. These aren’t things he thinks about often. For now, as he is found to do, he thinks of nothing. If anything, he thinks of the sandwich pinched between the fingers, the small bottle of water at the tip of his boot, the rotating sun but only as it relates to the heat he must work in until quitting time. The world around him is simply the world around him and he little more than a part of that world, no more or less important than the truck that sits waiting to be fixed or the cloud that crawls the sky in need of nothing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 4: "Strike or Go Home"

Strike, strike and keep striking. Even when you’re on defense, making a defensive move, your making an offensive strike. War, argument, conversation. It applies to all of them. We won’t always wear these uniforms, but we can always take with us what we learned. What have we learned? Nothing. We’ve learned nothing but this: Mistakes are not made for us to learn from or for any other reason. Mistakes simply happen and we move forward, always striking. Or you can go home now and die.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 3: "Case Study"

Everywhere I’ve ever been has tried to eat me alive. How is this place any different? A warm home, working the rails, and now prison. These places are the same to me. They are trying to kill me, these places, these people.

I’m not paranoid. Not capable. It’s just a simple truth, and it’s because of the tamping rod that went through my head on the job.

I never gave that thing a nickname, but I did have my picture taken with it. A couple of times.

But I’m not inclined in anyway whatsoever to go over was is and what was not. What I can tell you is that the dent in the top of my head, where the tamping iron exited when I was setting the powder that day on the cut through.

I was a foreman. Foremen were required to do this. I was admired in this position. That much I remember. Then something went wrong.

To me it was nothing extraordinary, but the doctor who first examined me thought differently. He said the following in his initial report:

“I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct…Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.”

This was Dr. Williams. They took the case over from him soon after that, and it may have been because he was too caught up in the idea of my brain shooting out of my head than he was in helping. Who knows? Who cares?

I killed a man working the sideshows with me. He stole and he smelled bad and just generally bothered most everybody. I thought my fellow workers would understand. But, when they didn’t, I was fine with their crying and calling the authorities.

If you’re wondering, I killed him with the tamping iron. I kept it, until prison, by my side at all times when I could.

It just so happened I had my tamping iron near by bedside on the night this fellow worker, a pinched face man named Claude, tried to rob me in my trailer. I hit him in the chest, and when I saw it wasn’t enough, held him to the floor with my bare foot and shoved the iron through his neck.

I’m Hades bound down, they say, and they can say it all they want. But not a single person in this hellish place is going to send me there. You don’t take a tamping iron through the eye socket and on up through the top of your head to be taken down in such a simple fashion. No matter how much everyone in here wants me dead, everyone everywhere.

Maybe I could sneeze hard or cough and get that pulsing going again and simply get out of this world, this anticipation.

Maybe I shouldn’t be scared of a spoon rubbed down to a point or a toothbrush. I’ve seen worse.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 2 - "The Zoo Keeper"

It was no surprise everyone thought Butch was crazy. Opening a zoo for African wildlife on his private property. He tried to explain by saying he had the resources and time, the inclination, and when those three come together there wasn't much more you could do but go with your gut.

It was the inclination most people thought was crazy. The rest worked for them. Butch admitted it made sense, the finger pointing and names. But he couldn't explain beyond the basics. Anything else just made it worse.

During the first week of construction, he talked with a local reporter. The reporter seemed nice enough and Butch opened up, talked about the inner voice telling him to do this. It was the most truthful he’d been about the whole thing.

The reporter ran a story that made him look worse than before. The headline was sensational, the story, the quotes were hand picked to blow things out of proportion.

But weren’t they already? It was his brother who said this, just after he had the giraffes shipped in and placed. Thing is, Butch knew his brother was suspect, wanted money. Worse, needed it. He’d say anything to get him off the zoo idea in hopes his big brother would realize there were better uses for his cash.

All things combined to simply push Butch closer and closer to his project. When it was completed, he invited several of his friends and the public to visit. He hoped all would be understood once they arrived and took in the wildlife.

In the first hour, he knew this wasn't going to be the case. Butch heard the gunshot from his carport as he was walking down to meet visitors. A young man shot one a zebra. Butch had put no security measures in place and the young man, a student at the local college, entered without so much as a frisk.

After he shot the zebra, the young man fled into a nearby cropping of woods and was gone. The police located him the following day, but he never fully explained his actions. Said he didn’t even know Butch Gavin.

People called the shooter crazy and then the press made up names for him when they ran their stories. It was all familiar to Butch. He began the process of breaking down the zoo the following week. The animals went first, back onto trucks and various other vehicles.

Butch watched from his front porch, and found no inner voice keeping company with him. There were answers to it all, but he couldn't figure what they could possibly be or why any of this had happened.

He later visited the young man, now on probation and living back with his mother. The mother apologized endlessly when she opened the door. Butch saw the boy shooter sitting on the couch just above her shoulder. He called out his questions while the mother's eyes searched his own for something close to sanity.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wikiphotomicro: Day 1 - "Transference"

Elbow to elbow and tension, fear. It's almost as if fear is shifted from one person to the next through something as simple as elbows, tightly pressed together, but moving somehow in spite of everything. Everything you might think of as everything. All your everything thoughts.

Nobody looks skyward, where the smog and smoke and early morning hides the clouds, anything else that could be moving across the city. But it's nice to imagine.

Imagine a bluebird skirting across the lighter blue sky. Dipping here and there. Think of how you are the only person who sees this, and what it makes you feel. But don't say anything to anyone. Keep that revelation to yourself. That peace. Be selfish.

Everyone else is. Everyone. Oh no? Look around, listen. Really listen.

They've learned not to care, they know the city itself cannot feel fear. They are caught up in giving theirs to others, and the hidden sun is unreachable.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wikiphotomicro Revisited

Meant to start this again earlier this year and it got away from me.

Basically, for those who probably don't know, last year I chose a random article from Wikipedia and used the image provided as a prompt to write a short short story for 33 days.

That number came from the first person to respond to the original post about the project. I'd like to try that again, so the first to respond to this post with a number is the one I'll use for how long I'll have at it again.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Final Edits, Parker Fritz's "In the Fall", Pushcarts and Best of the Web...Oh my!

Some news in the past couple weeks:

Aside from continued work on my upcoming book The Same Terrible Storm, there's been some other news I'd be happy to share.

Parker Fritz has a photo-essay called "In the Fall" from Foxhead Books that was just the subject of a launch party. Visit here to see images from that launch, and buy Parker's book. Wonderful photography.

I'll take some time to thank Blue Fifth Review and their editorial staff for nominating my short story "Coming By It Honest" for both the Best of the Web anthology and for a Pushcart Prize last week. Congrats also to the others nominated by this consistently intriguing publication.

And just last night I was pleased to learn that Thunderclap Magazine nominated another of my stories from last year "From the Ground up in Four Movements" for a second Pushcart Prize for this past year. It goes without saying I'm more than grateful and humbled to have been considered along with so many fine writers.

Best of luck to all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Newness from Foxhead Books

Paul Kerschen's The Drowned Library is on sale now from Foxhead Books. Check it out here.

And have a look at Foxhead's trailer for Parker Fritz's photo-essay, In the Fall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not sure if this was published, so I'm splashing it out there.


They told me if I visited, asked too many questions, he’d kill me. I didn’t believe them.

He was the wisdom keeper in Carlyle County, and a woman was missing. I have duty to consider, as did Harry Trimble, who couldn’t be more dead. Three years this spring.

Carlyle’s wisdom keeper had one tooth. A front tooth. Larger than it should have been, not food worn, as most are, but still thick, as if this one tooth had just took over all the other teeth along the gumline. He was wrapped in a thin sheet when I sat down to talk, but removed it when I removed my campaign hat. It seemed every bone in his body pushed through to the skin and his eyes were fixed and glazed, full of pupil and without color. He looked worse than some bodies I’ve found.

He never entered his house. The day I saw him, he was on the front porch, just like they told me he’d be. Rusted nails and other fixtures I couldn’t place held wire screen in place around the porch. On the south end was his bed and the north end his photo album, which I never had the chance to see. It’s where I talked with him about Eve Redding, a young girl gone missing so long someone finally mentioned the wisdom keeper and got my interest up.

We talked for ten minutes. And in those ten minutes, the wisdom keeper prayed four times. He never entered the house. Not that day, and, as he said, not one day since Claudia gave him what I would call the burden, but the keeper called love. When he prayed, he prayed to Claudia.

She passed twelve years ago. What I would think were the strangest things, bothered him most of all, he said. The small things. A napkin used the morning before the afternoon she stopped smiling. A hair, curved like a cocked snake and stuck, once wet and now fixed, near the drain in the bathroom sink. It was too much pain to see those things now, he said. Too much hurt in a world already plenty hard enough.

For all those years he’d lived on the fringes of his home. The porch during warm months and a tool shed with a coal stove in the winter. Harry Trimble met with him in the month of April, as anyone interested can find on his tombstone.

There was an investigation, which I had no part in being new to the sheriff’s department then. The wisdom keeper watched the officers pick apart every inch of his property without emotion. Only when they entered the home did the sheriff and two others have to restrain him. Somewhere there’s a file at the station that details what was found in the house, but I didn’t read it before leaving. Hindsight being twenty twenty, and all that.

Eve Redding couldn’t be more dead, like Trimble. That’s what I learned at a price. Always a price. Claudia’s love was a powerful thing, the keeper’s burden a poisoned well of knowledge. My duty an albatross.

I’m sure there’s a file somewhere. Read it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Harry Keeps Teaching Us

That's what it should look like when you're writing your heart out, folks.

Just like that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fool's Gold

Vapors. Stench.

Everlasting this and that, so obscure.

Items from a kinder past, youthful, clear and light of heart, simmer in the heat at the foot of the bed. Float in the air, dust mites alive still after twenty years. Tokens of achievement, a feeling gone from you, but tokens floating in that heat of now.

More clearly, a broken Babe Ruth League trophy, the bat held in the Bambino’s hands gone so it’s as if George Herman is praying sideways.

Vapors. Stench.

This in mind, a fake gold trophy found in a shithole room that was a place so magical a talking rabbit might have led you there, you turn the glass and it is the vapors simmering, moving, and the stench, not tokens.

Fool's gold.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Foxhead Books Set To Publish My First Collection

I received my contract for review from Foxhead Books yesterday evening. Foxhead will be publishing my full-length short story collection, The Same Terrible Storm, as of now and at some point later on my collection of flash stories, Where Alligators Sleep.

Needless to say I'll be signing that lovely thing. It's twenty-three years coming, this book, and I'm enjoying every moment of it.

In the meantime, have a look at Foxhead's first offering, Paul Kerschen's The Drowned Library. This collection will be available November 1, but visit the link and read a sample. I'm in extremely good company.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm Totally Down With Shelby Lee Adams. BOOM!

I recently had the pleasure of an invite from photographer Shelby Lee Adams to visit Louisville and interview him and follow that up with a review of his latest book of photographs, "salt & truth".

This came about after Shelby Lee read an essay of mine published at PLUMB and included on his links page at his website. I was very much honored, to say the least. We've exchanged emails over the past few days and I feel I've found a kindred spirit who I already admired.

The link at Shelby Lee's website to the PLUMB post can be found here. It's just below the first of his many fine photographs.

Here's a song for you. You'll recognize the song and hopefully recognize the singer, and, if not, you gotta get on that. Enjoy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I'm Better With Numbers

Let me count the ways. Allow me that, and listen closely. Please.

One. Through and through, a blessed stone arrowhead beneath the tree root to the far end of the ridge.

Two. Miles suspended in all the water the earth offers while seconds, for once, gear down and step away, giving in. Just this once, in this life.

Three. While spinning in a ramble like a blackbird breaking the morning, even then, more then maybe. Never less. Dark-walking across those words, my fingertips chopping at the places where light once lived. Rambling with my heart slipped from shoulder to sleeve to palm.

Let me count the ways, and count and count and count. I'm better with numbers when your breathing can be heard.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Buddy Bolden's Blues and How Michael Ondaatje Caught That Magic

Read Michael Ondaatje's COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER and read it now, people. Serious. Put things aside and read it. It's about the jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, but, in wonderful Ondaatje fashion, it is fiction and reality and music and literature cocktail. Here's a sampling of Buddy's Blues:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Permanent Reminder

I never saw a wild
thing sorry for itself

- D. H. Lawrence

Inked mirror-backwards across my heart so I can read it clearly every morning I wake is going to be sweet.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Amputated for the Obit

They said it was congestive heart failure.

Don't whine.

They said pneumonia was a contributing factor. Fluid. Actually they didn't say anything. You found out in the papers. His face, serious, the edge of your twelve-year-old head just off to the side, amputated for the obit.

Cry me a river.

But you know the end was just a noble knight, a fellow soldier, pushing mercy through his chest by saber, by hook, by crook. But you know that was only the end. Death began years before and years to follow, self-inflicted wounds, stabs so subtle and kept in such secret no one noticed and no one cared. Until now.

The world's smallest fiddle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welcome, Nicolette Wong, to A-Minor Magazine!

Oh, the joy of seeing something I feel to be fine and good come into the hands of a capable and talented writer! Nicolette Wong is going to do things with A-Minor Magazine hardly imagined, folks. Please do send your best, those of you lucky enough to have Nicolette's hand on your work. Trust me, you'll not be sorry.

When Nicolette agreed to take the helm at A-Minor, she didn't ask why I was stepping aside, and I loved that. She is an energetic and fresh voice and talent. I like the idea of A-Minor with a new captain, someone who brings a different eye to that world. I like it a lot. Visit A-Minor and see what's up, what's new and SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT.

Thank you. Here's a song:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Inward (with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)

Inwardly all seems well. A stalactite hangs grinning, dripping its name so slowly you can hardly hear it above the humming of electrical wires. This is no cave. This is no abandoned street. This is inward, and inward is none and all things.

"Stay," says the nameless speleoth. "You must."

But though inwardly all is dark and well, you know, I mean you truly know, this place is no place for a person.

"You are not a person," it lies.

Hands made into anvils and arms boneless so they are muscled-strong as dock rope you swing away, breaking apart generations of collected whispers until, inwardly, there is light and a path now growing beneath your feet.

There is a fruited tree ahead and you set your gaze and walk and then run and then sprint and then fly for every broken thing to see. Listen to their cries, weaker than before and for sure defeated.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sounds Like a Breakup to Me

By Heather McCoy

Silent’s kin keel

Yore absents hertz two thee corps

Eye knead ewe, mown four ewe, whale fore ewe

Half two halve ewe

Fill ewe inn ma sole

Yore cent inn habits thee steel heir

Theirs know lite win yore aweigh

Theirs know piece

Aisle knot heel

Ewe cowered, ewe lyre

Eye maid ewe!

Ewe suite, vial prints

Eye caird fore ewe

Eye dyed four ewe

Eye lade bee sighed ewe mini knights

Ewe war vales too hyde yore pane

Yore torcher

Yore tiers

Sari eye deed knot sea

Silent’s kin keel

Prize Fight

Little water, they call it. It has properties and kick, remains in the head and soul upwards of two days. You have fought it and lost, won, came to a draw. Often and hard, you have judged the fight and thrown the punches, rang the bell and swept the trash when the world was empty. Silent as snow.

Music sounds different under that water, muted. Voices, too. And love, it suffers inwardly, unfamiliar with this kind of abuse. You recognize and retire into a brightness. Everything is concrete and random but important. Table, hat, kiss, touch, glass. Clear is the music and love lets go its suffering and you fight, ego strong.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


By Heather McCoy

I was madder than a wet hen. My friends had pulled me out of the frying pan and into the fire. I could feel my blood boil. I'd had it up to here with their attempts to make me happy.

Sure, time heals all wounds, but I was perfectly happy sowing my wild oats. Besides, I could still feel the egg on my face from the last relationship I screwed up. And I had always heard that history repeats itself.

Once bitten, twice shy, I did all I could NOT to fall for him. I was used to walking on eggshells around a drunken man who talked with his fists. The more I watched him, guitar in hand, the more I realized I should just take the bull by the horns. I would jump in head first - no reservations, no fears.

But this man was too good to be true. He sang like a bird and stole my breath away. His eyes his body, his smell - they all just sweetened the pot. Love no longer seemed like an uphill battle. It was as warm and inviting as grandma's kitchen.

He was a kind man; the type of man that would give you the shirt off his back. He was a real man - a man's man, strong as on ox. He had skeletons in the closet, but so did I.

I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and followed him out to the porch. "Hello," I mustered, tongue tied.

He took another draw from his cigarette, not missing a beat, before replying, "Hey."

I grew as water. It was time to sink or swim...

Now I look back on how I almost cut off my own nose to spite my face. He was nearly the one who got away. My dream man, my soul mate. I thank my lucky stars for my love and the twist of fate that brought us together.


Heather McCoy rocks it like a peanut butter famine (copyright Joey Goebel)

Play This When I'm Beneath the Stone

Sunday, August 28, 2011


By Heather McCoy

It was a dark and stormy night, raining like cats and dogs. There was lightning as far as the eye could see, and I had an axe to grind.

He was a bad seed, but I fell head over heels anyway. He danced to the beat of a different drummer; cold as ice and hot as a fox in a firestorm. His eyes looked straight through me. I grew weak in the knees and fell like a ton of bricks.

I had opened up a Pandora's Box, but I never take the path of least resistance. He came into my life, guns a'blazin and tore my heart out.

A Welfare Christmas

This is not a test. Please understand this is not a test.

(yes it is)

Friday, April 1, 2011

News in Brief.

I may be moving Bent Country to Wordpress soon. All things are not yet in order for that and I'm still trying to figure out some things. I want to make sure the old blog doesn't get lost in the shuffle for those who read it from time to time. But just saying. I might be looking for boxes soon. I guess, if the moves goes, I'll have a post here saying something like: "Hey, Bent Country is over HERE now" or something, and maybe the url for the new roosting place.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Thunderclap Magazine is out with Issue 5. They gave me love. It's late at work and I'm too tired to link (I know: Loserville: Population: Me). Anyways, Issue 5 is out and it rocks it like a slut in bad shoes. Buy it.

I'm currently working on trying to figure out a strange but small thing that occurred on Facebook earlier today. I'll never figure it out, and that's okay. That's the way things work. I'll eventually put it out of my mind.

On the more-self-promotion front, I also have work coming out soon from Moon Milk Review, Night Train and Connotation Press. Also Short, Fast, and Deadly as well as Fiction Collective accepted work from me today. Boom. I like people.

Potato cakes with bits of onion mixed in are good. Not good for my 1,200 cal diet with moderate exercise. But that just means extra working out. Okay.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Drink and Write.

I have little to say, which you will soon find out is a complete lie. I need to use the bathroom but I'm going to just hold it. It's like when you were young, maybe on the playground or at a birthday party, and you knew you needed to just go ahead and go, but no way was that happening. Miss a moment? No way.

So now that I have you thinking of how you probably need to use the bathroom, too. Let me just say that I've developed habits. Television, as I've mentioned here before, is one. It's an escape from reality. That's my real thrill. To be jettisoned away from this bad world and find another that has strict plot lines and developments that are not nearly as disastrous as those encountered in the real world. Oh, man....the REAL world. What a scary, scary place. No?

Of course I'm only joshing. The real world is a beautiful place. The sunshine beaming down on your face. The touch of a loved one. The sharing of stories among friends. The true feeling of accomplishment that comes with doing work that MEANS something. Really MEANS something. How can these things be replaced?

Better about telling me how these things feel. If they even exist at all.

I sent my boots to a boot person who fixes boots a week ago. When I gave them to him he said they would be ready (new leather soles, etc.) in two days. A week ago. That's seven days, I think. I wonder what my boots are doing right now while I wear these slimy Sketchers and wait for the return of real footwear? Are they sitting on a shelf somewhere wondering where I am? Probably. Jack Rear, I'm going to call him Jack Rear (copyright Joey Goebel). Jack Rear said he needed to order some piece of equipment to fix the boots with and that was the reason for the extended whateverthefuckitis. Well, I want my boots. Tomorrow, fixed or not, I will spring them from this boot-fixing prison and take them home. Half-done, not touched. It doesn't matter. I want my goddamn boots. And I will have them tomorrow.

Read a post earlier today about some lady who didn't like a review written about her book, which I think was self-published and is lame unless you're Walt Whitman or James Joyce and you're not, and laughed hard. I don't laugh often, so I was grateful to have this moment to get a good gut laugh in. My book is FINE! She said (exclaimed, yelled to convince herself, etc.). I just think it's wonderful. Roxane Gay the Great and Gorgeous posted about this at the GIANT. Thank you, Roxane Gay. You help make me laugh. Negative reviews? Give me all you can. I will eat them like oranges or apples with salt or watermelon, also with salt. I will drink them like black cherry whiskey. Reviews are just reviews. Opinions. If you're gonna get that worked up about a negative review, stop writing. Just fucking stop. Do something else. Plant corn. Build model airplanes. Get your own talk show. I forget the lady's name or I would have mentioned it. I'm glad I forgot it. She pissed me off.

Ah, the rambling I've indulged in these past few hundred words. It was silly, no? I hope so.

Keep it bent, folks.


Friday, March 25, 2011

REVIEW: Redneck Poems by Rusty Barnes

I'm not a poet. Wouldn't know a couplet from a coupling. It's why I rarely talk about books of poetry and even more rarely write poetry, but I felt a stout and strong urge to talk a bit about Rusty Barnes' REDNECK POEMS.

In this collection of fourteen poems, there is much to appreciated in as far as poetic device is concerned. I can recognize that much, but I'll go no further on that topic. Rusty moves as easily from poetry to short short fiction to longer works to editing the writing of others with equal ease and skill.

Here we're pulled into a world of hard people who by turns are aslo looking for nothing more than any of the rest of us – peace, companionship, redemption, and a healthy dose of risk in ultimately seeing these things obtained. At other turns, we're shown with a true Appalachian voice just how hard those edges can be, the misery that can come from falling against those edges as we traverse through the collection.

And at times, Rusty allows his characters to fail at the thing they most seek to obtain, as in "Hollywood Appalachian Noir: A Lesson".

In this poem, the narrator has decided to beat a guy's ass for more or less fucking with his woman, the sort of thing that spreads like wildfire in mountain towns, a virtual heat-seeking bomb of information that makes its way with record speed from the nursing home to the honky tonk.

"...I love my wife and Vaughan, /but with his sweat-thick hair and brandy snifter ways /like having a job and cold green in his pocket, /whiskey he doesn't have to color with tobacco /and
all the white teeth in sweet red gums
/he didn't have to pay for on a plan but was born /with. All the teeth in the world won't save him."

And so our narrator makes his move, but there is no hero moment to be found.

"...Vaughan turns round /and strokes my jaw loose on its strings with his hard-/working fist. I am no hand at the arts of mayhem, I fear."

Then in a moment of near metafiction that Rusty manages to pull off without the usual pitfall of authorial intrusion we find the narrator is telling of this encounter after the fact to a cousin as a warning of sorts.

"Soon I am ass-over-teakettle and not even Patrick Swayze /can save me now. Vaughan kicks me into next week, /from which I write this verse. Cousin, don't mess with a /ridgerunner woman."

It's a poem that gives that clear picture of redemption or revenge perhaps that ends, instead, with failure and defeat and then wisdom as a result. And this told through a mix of both lyrical and regional tongue. A strong start for the collection as a whole.

Many of the remaining poems will often move back and forth between this lyrical and common style, but is strongest when we have that in-your-face and matter-of-fact tone such as in "Ode to ___________", where the second stanza starts with both an observation and then confession, all written with economy and that regional voice Rusty has tuned into so well. That voice and this poem is testimony to how clearly Rusty keeps his sense of regional identity in mind and how also well he is capable of sharing it on the page.

"A woman I barely know called /me cowboy tonight. I auto-denied /it; but she's right."

For the most part, the fourteen poems in REDNECK POEMS deal almost exclusively with relationships between men and women, with the exception of two that come immediately to mind – "Cutter" (a father and daughter) and "The Electric Fence" (a group of boys) – which, by contrast, may not fit the overall theme of the collection beyond the idea of relationships and the dynamics within those relationships, but remain powerful even as they stand apart in a collection this size.

At times in REDNECK POEMS, Rusty will write from the man's point of view and then twist his pen and write with spectacular skill from a female point of view as in "On a Miscarriage."

"Outside the piss-yellow moon fucked against the sky. /She thought of the children lost in the night by blood/and by accident and by God. The stars don't twinkle, /she thought. They stick up there out of pure love /or out of cussedness. All those dead babies up there, /she thought. They dare not fall to earth, ever ever again."

This is never an easy task for a writer, to get into the mind of the other gender and especially when tackling a subject such as this, but I feel it is by far the strongest, most honest and well-crafted poems Rusty offers in this collection.

For a chapbook that comes in at just under twenty pages total, Rusty has packed these poems with meat and bone, the hardness of the land and its people, and the heart and heartbreak at core of it all. It's a collection of poems I'll return to frequently just for the joy of a well-told moment in the lives of characters both complex and yet simple in the best ways, and also for the talent in craft that is evident in each line.

To get a look at REDNECK POEMS for yourself visit here where you can buy a print version for a fair and reasonable price or download the chap for free.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Time Management and Breaking My Word.

Ah, hell.....too much going on at work today for me to finish up my thoughts on Rusty's fantabulous poetry. Sorry. It'll be up here soon though. Feel free to call me and expound on what a loser I am at time management and so on and so forth.

Remember, I love you all. Whatever love I have to offer after all my love has battled through, in whatever form from which to give, I give to you. And, yeah, dammit, I'll be giving it hell on REDNECK POEMS tomorrow. And of that you can be sure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UPCOMING: Talking About Redneck Poems by Rusty Barnes

I've now read Rusty's REDNECK POEMS and I'll be talking about it here tomorrow.

Until then, here is how I feel:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Strong Survive. Yep. Maybe.

This guy's name is James Justice and he, no joke, knocked a mule out once. He said he felt bad about it, but the mule was about to give him a good kick and he just reacted. I could tell he was being honest. He seemed genuinely remorseful about the incident, holding his head down while telling me about it. And he only told me the story after a friend of his insisted.

Oh, the hammer. Indeed.

Yeah, that's the largest sledgehammer in the world he's got there. It weighs 100 pounds. I lifted it to just about my shoulder and that was giving it everything I had. James hit that oak stump four good swings in about 20 seconds with it. Sometimes it is about strength.

The second largest, also in his possession, is a 60 pound beast. I did get a swing in with that one. Okay, I just bragged and made myself a little bit sick. I'll get over it. Besides, swinging it is not the hard part. The competition where they see who can swing the hammer X number of times in X minutes is the hard part.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Whole Pseudonym Thing.

Catherine Lacey, whose work I have to admit I've not had the opportunity to read other than posts here and there, shared this article about writing under a pen name a few days back called "Fear and Bravery of Pseudonyms". It sparked a bit of chatter, and I've been thinking about it, just hadn't written anything yet.

It'd be good to link to and read the article as well as the comment thread before continuing to read here. I'd recap, but the article and comments would be a more informative way of understanding the general thing itself and maybe also my final take on all of it. I left this as a comment on the thread as well. A rare thing for me, but anywho...

So anyways, here's my two cents:

I get the spark that started all this, to a point. But it's always the story itself that's most important. The very job of the writer is to step aside, drop behind the curtain and allow the reader to enter into a fictive world in which the hand of the writer is not seen. At least that's what I've read and been told. Who knows?

Point is, it's the story first and before all else. And I say this while withholding the fairly strong temptation to defend any other points made in relation to this post, especially the writer in question and others for that matter. I know it sounds simple, and as if I'm attempting to take this complicated and healthy debate and toss some water on it, but that's not the case. It's just that it's the work that matters.

Now, can I have my two cents back? I really kinda need it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm Going To Try To Walk 20 Miles A Day...Not Really. That Would Be Crazy.

I'm watching calories, trying to lose some weight. Walking three miles a day. Moderate exercise for now until it warms for good and I start back shooting basketball to burn some fat. It's about a quarter 'til 3 p.m. and I still have 780 calories to go before no more fuel for me today. I guess I'll tear into some supper at some point.

I'm trying to get back to my high school weight of 150 pounds by June. I'm at about 170 or so right now. Just tired lugging around the extra baggage, you know?

In some lit-related news, I'm at the table again editing for Metazen. Very happy about this and look forward to getting back into the swing of things at Frank's hangout.

I had a story called "On Eating, My Family" up yesterday at Eunoia Review. I was grateful they liked that story and published it.

My weekly post for PLUMB is up today. I write some about Hunter Thompson and share a video that shows HST doing his don't-back-down thing. Hope you get a chance to stop by and read it and catch up on any of the other posts that have went up there in the last couple of weeks.

I usually post about one story a month at Fictionaut, but this month I tossed two stories into the mix this month because I wanted to contribute to the new group, "What I Wanted". I've read a lot of good stories that came out of that group and felt like sharing what I could manage. Read that story, "1981, What I Wanted" here and the other "Courtship: Five Micros" here if you're so inclined.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Watch, Watch, Watch, or I Never Read Anymore

Hi. I'm Sheldon, and I'm a television addict.

Well, not really. I never watch television. Not exactly. The problem is I buy, borrow or "obtain" seasons of various series such as Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, etc. and then watch them. Completely through. Entire seasons, often one after another if I have them. I break the trance only long enough to eat and tend to other necessary issues.

I once watched nine seasons of a show in this fashion. The world felt fake to me after it was all done. More than eighty hours of television. It fried something inside me. I felt it happening and did nothing to stop it.

All of these shows, and the many others I've not named, are on television. HBO, Showtime, FX, or something. I don't even know. So technically I'm addicted to television.

Okay, so there's that. Only thing is, it's getting bad. If I finish a season of a show, then I have to immediately have another show or another season of that same show on hand or things get bad. I shift around through the house touching walls, sitting in chairs and then getting back out of chairs. I pour coffee. I smoke. I think I might even shake a little, right in the tips of my fingers. I start the season I just finished over. Episode 1. Sometimes I watch it all again, but it's just not the same.

The basic theories are there. Escape from reality and so on. I cannot dispute these or discard them. I have to stare them in the eye. Am I avoiding reality by watching television shows every free minute of my life? This is the question I ask myself.

I refuse to answer. I touch walls. I lay on the bed and then get up from the bed. I feel feverish.

So this is my moment of confession. My testimony. At this point, at this time, given the option to read a book or watch a television show I'm really digging, I will always pick the television show.

This disgusts me just a little bit. I'm suppose to be a READER so I become a WRITER or a better WRITER. Or something like that. I know this because I've heard it a gazillion times: three rules to writing are 1) read, 2) read and 3) read.

Ah, hell. Nothing I can do about it. I'm weak. Willpowerless.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Things That Are Going On.

I was a gastarbeiter at Marcus Speh's house Nothing To Flawnt. I shared a story there. What happens in the story is that people play cards. But it's about mortality and family and trust and admiration and the stuff. You know. I'm thankful to Marcus for having me over. My contribution was a story called "Full House Fall, Drop a Flush: A Half-Real Memory and Just a Story" and I hope you get the chance to have a look.

Robert Vaughn, writer and editor and a fine guy in general, currently hosts a program called Flash Fiction Friday on Milwaukee's Lake Effect at WUWM. It's a monthly show in which local authors can submit works of flash, 500 words or less, and normally they come into the studio and read their work. In this capacity, he selects a "national" author and reads a piece from them each month, as well. Robert has asked that I be his March national author and I happily agreed. As I understand it, he plans to read my story "Coming By It Honest", recently published in Blue Fifth Review. The live reading will be Friday, March 18, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., but it will later be archived at WUWM. I'm more than pleased with this invitation, to say the least.

I'm scheduled to take part in a reading at the Theatre Square Marketplace on 651 4th Street in Louisville in May. I have about a 6-8 minute bit to fill and I'm trying to pick some interesting material. It's been organized by two fiercely talented writers, Teneice Delgado and Stacia Fleegal, both former classmates of mine and as good a people as you'll hope to meet. Still, I'm trying to figure out which of my stories to read. I'm thinking two or three flash pieces would fit the time slot. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as I can never really get a pulse on the faults or strengths of my own work. It all seems fuzzy to me, like something I muttered in a fever-dream.

The new blog, PLUMB, for which I'm a contributing writer, is doing well. It seems a lot of folks are reading and stirring about it. And that's a great thing, a happy thing. I recently posted my first piece there about musician William Elliott Whitmore. If you've not visited the blog, I hope you can when possible. Eric Shaeffer at Legal Underground did and gave us a nod. Thanks for the mention, Eric Shaeffer.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

These Mountains, These Words: Part 3

One of the reasons Hemingway’s work endures is because of its unadorned prose and deeper levels of meaning. This is widely known. But like Breece Pancake’s stories, many of Hemingway’s, especially those from his first collection, In Our Time, have that specific Michigan woodland setting.

For Pancake, setting was paramount to his goals. The West Virginia mountains and coal mines and cornfields have a simplicity and hardness that is reflected in works such as “Trilobites,” “Hollow” and “The Honored Dead,” and are widely considered to be metaphorical reinventions of the characters that people Pancake’s stories, cornered by circumstance, existing amid, in spite of and in opposition to time and tradition, worn down, rounded and weathered, claustrophobic. Setting is the mirror at which each of Pancake’s characters stand, evaluating themselves in uncomplicated terms through what can very often be complicated situations. Everything Pancake achieves through setting as metaphor and as a character in its own right, lends itself to his overall style and approach of forcing himself to disappear into that landscape, into the language, allowing these elements to take center stage alongside his characters.

The short story, “Hollow,” opens with the main character, Buddy, working in the coal mine. The description is pared down, but powerful, and lets the reader know right away that setting is of great importance.

"Hunched on his knees in the three-foot seam, Buddy was lost in the rhythm of the truck mine’s relay; the glitter of coal and sandstone in his cap light, the setting and lifting and pouring. This was nothing like the real mine, no deep tunnels or mantrips, only the setting, lifting, pouring, only the light-flash from caps in the relay."

Here we have the notion and theme of being closed in, trapped, which is a common and underlying feeling among many Appalachians. The rolling mountains stand ancient and immovable at every corner, at every sharp curve in the road, a 280 million-year old reminder of limitations, the perpetual life -- work, eat, sleep -- and forever these basic things, with the surrounding valleys and ridges little more than long-vegetated prison walls to either be scaled or fretted over. This mentality can be found throughout Appalachia, haunting its residents and given voice through Pancake’s characters.

In his hometown of Milton, West Virginia, one of Pancake’s childhood friends, Robert Jackson, was interviewed as part of the same National Public Radio profile for which McPherson had offered his comments. Jackson, echoing Vonnegut’s comments to Casey concerning Pancake’s suicide, offered his opinion and spoke briefly about a key theme underscoring much of Pancake’s work, that of escaping both place and limitation.

"You know who I am in the book? I’m Chester the Shithouse Mouse, the one who got out. I got through life a lot easier than Breece did. Probably because I wasn’t as smart. I chose to compromise a lot more than Breece did. Breece was not going to compromise what he knew was the right, true, good way and there was only one way for Breece. And we all know that as we mature if we are going to live a halfway normal life that there are compromises that you make along the way to make life a little more simple."

Jackson’s mention of the “The Salvation of Me” character Chester is telling as it illuminates the duel sense of envy and disgust at those who managed to escape the confines of the mountains. Character would also become a primary avenue through which Pancake would erase himself and bring a more pure story to the page. But, in the beginning, at least, it was setting, his West Virginia, that would guide the young college student on his path to literary stardom. Returning to the short story “Trilobites,” which McPherson claims to be his favorite because it shows clearly the mutual relationship between the landscape and nature, Pancake takes us even further into the structure of his mountain world, beneath even the layered social structure of West Virginia, below the coal mine and the bars.

In this story Pancake introduces arguably his strongest brushstroke of setting, the ancient claim that holds his homeland, the fossils that float forever under the weight of the world’s oldest mountain range. In this image Pancake tosses aside any flare for words the lesser writer might have relied upon and drives home theme in an efficient way, combining the idea of history and the trappings that can develop from that particular land’s history. Inside the guts of the mountains are trilobites, arrowheads, and other items from another time that speak to the reader of Pancake’s work today, no matter where they may call home. Loneliness, desperation and insurmountable odds are not exclusive to the people of Appalachia, only highlighted along its ridges like cracks in a coal seam. The imagery speaks volumes while the writer only presents the case and steps aside, allowing this idea, this power, to take hold in its own right.

In “Trilobites,” Pancake uses this prehistoric marine creature as a metaphorical equivalent to the story’s main character, Colly, smothered beneath the pressure of the mountains and the expectations of his widowed mother to take up the responsibilities his dead father left in the form of a farm that needs tended. Colly’s frustrations, the tug and pull of his sense of purpose against his desire for something better, is the emotional centerpiece of the story and achieved through the character’s inner thoughts and the means by which they shadow that of the land itself. In the following passage, Colly’s inner struggle is made real for the reader through his description of the fields his father worked so hard to maintain. He’s pulled the old tractor from its place and driven out to the field.

"I sit there, smoke, look again at the cane. The rows curve tight, but around them is a sort of scar of clay, and the leaves have a purplish blight. I don’t wonder about the blight. I know the cane is too far gone to worry about the blight. Far off, somebody chops wood, and the ax-bites echo back to me. The hillsides are baked here and have heat ghosts. Our cattle move to the wind gap, and the birds hide in caps of trees where we never cut the timber for pasture. I look at the wrinkly old boundary post. Pop set it when the hobo and soldier days were over. It is a locust-tree post and it will be there a long time. A few dead morning glories cling to it."

The setting is telling the story for the author in this passage. The careful and economical use of words such as “ghosts” and “dead” to describe the heat and morning glories all echo to the reader the underlying tension of picking up where his father left off after dying. Also the reference to the boundary post and how long it will last and continue to be there on the land works to express Colly’s inner, if common, wish that his father were still alive. We are left to wonder to what extent Colly wishes this so as to ease himself of the burdens that were left to him after his father’s death and what portion of this is simple sadness for the loss of a loved one. All of this complexity from what appears a simple descriptive passage. Also, the key description of setting in the passage, the mention of the blight on the cane and how it was too far gone to be concerned with adds theme to the mix. All this detail within such a small space does not happen accidentally, any writer knows this, and works each session either making it to this level or failing. For Pancake, hard work was a tradition brought from the mountains and a way of life he carried over into his day to day efforts as a writer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Old Dogs and New Tricks

I have no agenda in writing this post. This is to say, it's very likely those few of you who actually come to read it will have left by the time I finish this sentence.

Okay, those of you still here. What I said was true. I have nothing significant or intelligent or insightful to say. I have no analysis of anything social, literary, historical or philosophical to say or comment on.

I am drinking a cup of coffee. I am sitting in front of my desk at work. There is a heater, one of those floor heaters given to me by an former co-worker who was fired about a month ago, at my feet. Well, it's actually aimed a bit more north. Nice and warm. See...this means nothing.

I'm freelancing a job right now. A ten-page paper about a guy who was a teacher here in East Ky. back in the 1920s and it's getting the best of me. Only thing is, the guy paid me half up front. So. Pressure = no results for me, at least as far as writing goes. However, I've managed to bang out about half the pages today, this morning and afternoon. So I'm feeling better about that. I care about that. You do not. It's cool.

I'm drinking coffee. It's the second round. I had a pot of coffee this morning and now I'm having a few cups this afternoon. Cops are hateful around here. Hall monitors. Tax collectors. They get really snippy and will have you reciting the alphabet backwards before you can say "DICKS" and shield yourself from being Tased. The coffee will come through for me. It always does.

I have the flu or pneumonia or something. I don't visit doctors or lawyers and avoid police officers whenever I can, so I can only guess. But it feels like flu. If I seem paranoid, it's because I am. Open your eyes, folks. Paranoid = prepped. What's the other option? Blindly accepting and then side-swiped and crying for the mercy of the court. I've been in court. There is no mercy. Only agendas, and people who know people. I know people, but not the kind of people who can help in those situations.

I once spent a night in jail because me and a friend of mine stopped on an overpass and he grabbed a road cone. Blue lights. Sobriety test. Jail. Phone call. Hung up on my ass. Spent the night. Come morning, I'm handcuffed chain-style to about a dozen other guys and sitting in a court room pleading not guilty, even though the cop saw us take the cone, had pulled in behind us and watched the cone be taken from the roadside. I pleaded not guilty and looked at the tax collecting hall monitor and almost...ALMOST....felt bad. I mean, he saw it happen.

How did that turn out? Well, I'm here, at work, pecking away at this post and not rolling cigs from packs of Bugler tobacco and trading my coffee and hairy biscuits for a smoke with a freakin filter. So, things turned out okay. Or whatever.

I'll be writing my first post for PLUMB, the new lit blog, that will appear on Wednesday, I think. I've been knocking around some ideas. Though equipped with two degrees, including a masters degree (don't ask how that happened) I'm not much for elevated discussion about the theory of theory or this and that or the line breaks of Ezra Pound or the muscular prose of Hemingway or the screw-story-concentrate-on-style approach of Joyce and Stein. I don't know what I'm about.

I guess I'm about story.

Where I'm from nothing is just told to another person fact by fact. It's always told in a story. There's the whole set up. Introduction, background, rising action, climax, etc, etc. All of that's important, I'm just saying. I tell stories, so my post will probably feel more like a story than a lecture or a suggestion or anything else for that matter. But listen closely and you'll find that inside that story is what I'm really trying to say. Too much work? I agree. I've always agreed. But old dogs and new tricks. You know how it is.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Just Got A Little More Ramshackle Review!

Ramshackle Review 3 is packed, including a story of mine called "Outside Eddie's Room In the World". Seriously, I'm linking to my story, but just have a look at this entire issue. It's packed. Capital P.

I wrote something earlier this morning and posted it at Fictionaut. It's called "Courtship: Five Micros" and you can go there and have a look or read below, as I'll post it here as well.

Here's "Courtship". The accompanying photo is by Chloe Cheng.

Courtship: Five Micros

The Old Roses

The old roses came from Ma Trent. The velvet rose I can't remember, but it's a rare one. Maybe he brought it the day he first came to visit with the silly hat, the day my brother said he seemed nice for a guy with big ears.

Tell Me About Her Hazel Eyes

They changed the way you know eyes that color will. Blue, green, blue, green. And it all depended on things like the sunlight or a cold room. Brown even, sometimes. Not often, though. Brown depended on my doing something stupid, and I'm a quick study.


Four children are left. One is dead. He could not be any more dead. And he made it through the war only to come back and die alone in a strange room. But they remember him the day he left for Korea. "You see this hand? This hand and the rest of me will look the same the next time you see me." That's what the fifth, the second oldest, said before he left for overseas. And she still sees him the day he came back, his hair cut perfect so that every black strand curved across his head like a halo bending in the darkness.

Like a Fairy Tale

He's a nice guy for somebody with big ears and that dandy hat sitting on his head like a rooster. She tossed a soapy dish towel at him. Don't say things like that, Son. But he was nice and the hat was a bad one. Maybe their first morning together it would call them awake and then just flop away forever after.

In the Dark

Poppy called me his baby and it embarrassed me then, but now I can see how sweet it was for him to do that. So we'd go to the porch for privacy and have coffee. Out there with him, my dress pulled tight at my knees, we couldn't see too far from the porch, it being well past dusk and full dark. But neither of us tried very hard, either. And good for us, knowing now everything yet out of sight.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Blue Plumb Banshees

My story "Coming By It Honest" is up today at Blue Fifth Review. Thanks to the Blue folk for working this story into something better than it was when first they laid eyes on it.

Southern scribe Charles Dodd White has extended a most kind invitation to me to become a contributor for a new web destination called Plumb. This will be exciting, and Charles already has several talented contributors lined up. Stay tuned.

Editors and readers...go nominate stories for storySouth's 2011 Million Writers Award over at Jason Sanford's house or the banshees will forever crowd your grave.

Friday, February 25, 2011

These Mountains, These Words: Part 2

In Pancake's short story, “Trilobites,” the main character, Colley, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he will not be able to take care of dead father’s farm. The land and his inability to work it weighs heavily on the young character, trapping him and intriguing him at the same time, and comes to the forefront through vivid descriptions of that confining landscape. Fittingly, the story opens with one of Pancake’s favorite characters – West Virginia.

"I open the truck’s door, step on to the brick side street. I look at Company Hill again, all sort of worn down and round. A long time ago it was real craggy and stood like an island in the Teays River. It took over a million years to make that smooth little hill, and I’ve looked all over it for trilobites. I think how it has always been there and always will be, at least east for as long as it matters. The air is smoky with summertime. A bunch of starlings swim over me. I was born in this country and have never much wanted to leave."

Like the mountains he worked so hard to portray in his work, Pancake’s approach in style is simple, but his message is vital, vital enough that he felt it important to make room for it and his language and remove what might be referred to as lyrical language or, the less distinguished term, purple prose, from his efforts altogether. This is a style often criticized and rarely used properly or with much success. Often, the result is the too clear image for the reader of the writer poised at the keyboard working words into sentences to make paragraphs, the tangible product of that diligent and talented writer at work that many authors hope to show to the world to redeem themselves, the effort and their profession. Most of the time this can be as disruptive to the reader as a mechanic at their elbows, clanging and scraping away at a hateful transmission or dented fender. Much of what is considered good or even great writing employs this ornate style. Two good examples can be found in the works of Michael Ondaajte and Tom Robbins. This approach is one of metafiction at its best -- language for language’s sake. However, and particularly in Ondaatje’s case, this style is central to the theme, as in his novel, Coming Through Slaughter, about the life and death of jazz innovator Buddy Bolden. The book chronicles his genius, his breakdown and the complex world of his music. The language and structure of the book is pitch-perfect in telling this story, its rambling and wild images and lyrical strangeness and shifts in point of view, all of which are reflections of techniques used in creating the improvised jazz sound Bolden helped create and which led to his untimely death. Likewise, as in the following passage, this style also works to establish the split lives of those who suffer from depression, as did Bolden:

"He’s mixing them up. He’s playing the blues and the hymn sadder than the blues and then the blues sadder than the hymn. That is the first time I ever heard hymns and blues cooked up together…It sounded like a battle between the Good Lord and the Devil. Something tells me to listen and see who wins. If Bolden stops on the hymn, the Good Lord wins. If he stops on the blues, the Devil wins."

In this passage, we have less ornate language as are predominate in earlier passages, but we have the highest level of imagery at play and the even the plain language of the old black man watching and listening to Bolden playing the cornet from across the street has a certain poetic quality. In this case, it works for the purposes of the overall theme of the novel. But in most cases, lofty imagery and flowery writing is hardly put to such hard work.

The urge to create something on the page that reflects back on the talents of the writer and his ability is not only overwhelming, for many young writers, it can be hard to understand any other reason for sitting down to work. The beginning writer might hear from friends who have just read the latest work questions about the language. For the casual reader, this is the most important point, the words used, the arrangement of sentences, even if the reader is not clear on how often they place importance on this single aspect of literature. But then, isn’t the whole point to impress the reader, to render them speechless with amazing works of literature? Maybe so, but the true writer, as Pancake may have felt, seeks to bury deep within the reader’s heart, not just with language, but with that which is being shared, the underlying meaning that hopes to find a home in the hearts of kindred spirits. Perhaps astounding the reader with vivid and amazing language is the widely held view on the subject, but the argument stands -- what does the writer risk in sticking to this idea? In the case of Tom Robbins, an indisputable master of the craft, the risk could be the loss of the very subject of the work itself in the amazing wake of his own words and expertise. Take for instance this imaginative and impressive description of Leonard Cohen from Robbins’ liner notes for the 1995 release of Cohen’s tribute album, Tower of Song:

"It is a voice raked by the claws of Cupid, a voice rubbed raw by the philosopher’s stone. A voice marinated in kirshwasser, sulfur, deer musk, and snow; bandaged with sackcloth from a ruined monastery; warmed by the embers left down near the river after the gypsies have gone."

Beautiful, there’s no doubt. Enviable, to say the least. The beginning writer, any writer worth his weight in copy paper for that matter, cannot help but stop after reading this description and envy Robbins’ skill, his turn of phrase and command. Robbins himself likely stood up from his desk after finishing this sentence and took a deep breath, realizing he had captured that most desired of game for the working author, that magic moment when everything in his chest of tools worked in perfect harmony. But does this passage and the rest of the notes included in this 1995 tribute album, which are no less brilliantly written, really pay specific and focused tribute to Leonard Cohen? It is Robbins’ mastery of language we think of after reading, most likely, and Cohen as hardly more than the scruffy canvas on which it was expertly played out. Losing focus of his subject or subjects is something Breece Pancake could never be accused of, and this itself is an achievement in literature found in few other places. Perhaps one of the most notable of places this can be seen is in the works of Ernest Hemingway. Joyce Carol Oates wrote that she was “tempted” to compare Pancake to Hemingway in her New York Times review of his posthumous 1983 collection.

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...