Friday, December 28, 2012

TRAJECTORY Talks with Me About Writing and Such

Over the course of a few weeks author Jan Bowman and I exchanged Q&A messages for an interview with me to appear in Chris Helvey's fine journal Trajectory.



Jan also interviewed me for her website.  That interview can be found here, if you're interested.

I received a copy of the print journal a couple days back, and it's an attractive publication.  It's easy to see the hard work Chris and others put into the journal.

 

And would expect nothing less from Chris and friends.  An excerpt from the interview, and information about how to order a copy to enjoy the full content of the issue, can be found at Trajectory's website.  

Chris remains one of the kindest people I've had the pleasure to meet and get to know, and this aside from the fact he has writing chops of his own that could crack a 2 X 4 without effort.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Upcoming The Same Terrible Storm Review from The Cut-Thru Review

Hillbilly's Note: The following is a review of my collection, The Same Terrible Storm, written by Mary Stepp, fellow professor at BSCTC and editor of The Cut-Thru Review.  Of course, I greatly appreciate the review and the journal, which has been good to me over the years.

Before we get to the review, below is a picture of an ashtray...Enjoy.




A Review of Sheldon Lee Compton’s The Same Terrible Storm  (Foxhead Books, 2012)



In his first short story collection The Same Terrible Storm, writer Sheldon Lee Compton delivers prose pieces that are powerful and steeped in authentic Appalachia, in its poverty, desolation, faith, and hope. The characters in Compton’s 22 stories are often surviving bleak circumstances, and he paints these characters, flaws and all, in a way that is honest and unembellished. There is nothing heavy handed in the story-telling. Therein lies the magic of Compton’s style—his ability to show plainly characters who are standing in the storm of life or personal turmoil and the way they hold tight to something that allows them to keep standing. Somehow there’s an undercurrent of hope even after all hope has been depleted.

In “Purpose,” for example, Brown Bottle teaches his nephew how to fight and tells him of his wartime days: “We were fighting for our lives, and that’s the best thing to ever fight for, ever” (13). This bit of dialogue represents a theme carried throughout the book. Characters—some combating addiction and poverty—cling to religion or family relations, even when those connections are strained. There’s a palpable refrain of fighting-to-survive.

What adds beauty to this collection is Compton’s lyrical style. Consider the concluding lines of the title story, “The Same Terrible Storm”: “When his mother stirs away from the kitchen window, like a shadow moving with a bank of clouds, Man spreads his hand out again on the rail. When the vibration moves from his hand into his elbow he keeps his eyes on the moon, keeps his hand on the rail, keeps it there for as long as he can” (45). In juxtaposition to the violence and tension, there are quiet moments and lovely landscape.

Sheldon Lee Compton’s The Same Terrible Storm is an impressive debut for any writer of any region. These stories—with their fierceness and quiet —solidifies Compton’s place as one of Kentucky’s great contemporary writers.


 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Novel, Teaching, Reviews, Nonfiction, New Hats at Foxhead Books and a Photography/Fiction Project

Since getting knee-deep into my novel, I've spent less and less time writing short fiction.  The spare time I've had when I'm not working on the novel has been devoted to finishing a lengthy essay that came about from a solicitation and a recommendation from Chris Offutt for an anthology due out sometime next year from Ohio University Press that will include essays from Dorothy Allison, Offutt, Ron Rash, and several others.

Set the writing aside, and the rest of my time has been spent, happily spent I'll add, getting my self situated to take on a few new jobs with Foxhead Books, the house that published my collection last year.  I can't say how thrilled I am about these new jobs with the Fox, but the word isn't actually official until after the first of the year, so I'll keep that under my hat until then.  But keep an eye out, because soon as I'm able, I'll certainly share the good news.

All that being said, I'll add that I've had the pleasure of picking up a couple gigs reviewing some fine books for Heavy Feather Review.  My review of Blake Butler's Sky Saw has already been published there and I'm currently working on a review of Robert Kloss' Alligators of Abraham (though I'm behind deadline on this last review and Jason Teal may be ready to give up on my ever getting him the finished review).  Hang in there, Jason.  It's coming, hoss.

The five or six short stories I have finished in the past several months have been for an upcoming book called A Thousand Words.  I think I've mentioned this project here before, but the general idea is that I'm teaming with photographer Heather McCoy for this fiction/photography experimental collection of short stories and photographs.  Each photograph (tentatively numbered at fifty at this point) will be accompanied by a short story of exactly one-thousand words.

In addition, as of Jan. 14, I'll be teaching a full load of English and Writing classes.  This after just getting student grades in for this past Fall semester.  We all know the grading process and how this side-task alone is at times enough to push all other work aside, at least until after finals.

So I'm working, just not publishing a great deal of short fiction as these two projects, in addition with my yet-to-be-announced new roles at Foxhead Books, are taking up the bulk of my work days.

And for that I'm happy.  Despite my drop in the submitting process and output of short stories, there's a lot going on right now.  A lot of good things, and I'm thankful


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Past Few Weeks

A busy couple few weeks.  Had a couple stories accepted at Pithead Chapel and The Cut-Thru Review, wrote a book review of Blake Butler's Sky Saw at Heavy Feather Review and started reading Robert Kloss' Alligators of Abraham for another review there later this week.  Butler was in fine style, and Kloss is blowing my mind.

In the weeks prior to that, my grandfather, Teddy Compton, passed away.  A preacher for more than fifty years, a man he saved during one of the largest revivals in Eastern Kentucky's history preached his funeral and my uncle, the Kentucky author and poet G.C. Compton, his oldest son, gave a eulogy that defied possibilities for what a son can do during such hurt for a father.  It may be the most beautiful and perfect thing I've ever heard read.  And couldn't have been more fitting for the strongest man I've ever known.

Just before my grandfather's passing, I was notified by Tom Williams, Chair of the English Department at Morehead State University, that my collection, The Same Terrible Storm, has been nominated for the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing.  I had just attended the ceremony in October for the presentation of this award to author Donald Ray Pollock.  I'm pleased to be considered, aside from any thoughts of actually winning.

There have been a number of other things take place in the past several weeks, some of which I may need to give more time before sharing here, but soon perhaps.

Oh, and if you haven't watched Crazy Heart, do so.  If you have, watch it again.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Morehead State University: Scott McClanahan Answers Questions and Steals Things

Was in Morehead, Kentucky yesterday for a Q&A session with storytelling warrior Scott McClanahan and Tom Williams, the Chair of English at Morehead State University and a word soldier in his own right.



The two spoke in an open forum and Scott took questions from folks in attendance.  It was a cool afternoon.  Before the session, I confessed to Scott I was once an accomplice to a theft from a hotel room in Morehead while doing a reading there in 2004.  He smiled, reached into his bag and brought out a small sign, the kind you see in the bathroom at hotels and such, the one warning guests not to steal from the rooms.

"I stole the sign that told me not to steal anything," he said and laughed.  "I think I'll take it up with me for a prop."

SCOTT SHOWING HIS HOT HOTEL SIGN


And he did.  And he pointed out to the folks at The Coffee Tree Bookstore he stole it, tying it into an answer he gave about stealing work for writing, stealing for creative reasons, stealing, stealing, stealing.  Picasso had said the same before, but Scott had a prop.  Win.

It was a true pleasure, after exchanging messages and chats for a long while, to finally get the chance to meet Scott, who was every bit as down-to-earth and sincere and honest as I'd come to think he might be through reading his work and corresponding with him up until then.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Some TSTS Reviews, and Rusty Barnes Wants To Give You Free Copies

I'm more than pleased to have two new reviews of my collection, The Same Terrible Storm, floating around this past week.

The first came at Rusty Barnes' Fried Chicken and Coffee.  His review, an appreciation post I'm highly grateful for, also comes with a cool offer.  The first couple cats to email him at the email he gives in the review will receive their own copies of the collection.  Check out what he has to say and comment to get a chance for a free book, that rare diamond in the lit universe.

The second review came from Necessary Fiction, and, thankfully, was another favorable offering on my work.  Like many good reviews, this one revealed things to me about my collection I hadn't really thought of before.  Now that's insight, folks.  Read the review, and anything else you can get your hands on today.

On a sort of related topic, Logan Rogers, the talented feller who worked as the graphic artist on the cover of TSTS, posted a picture of his son, who was the young boy pictured on the cover of the collection, holding a copy of the book.  Very cool.  So very cool.  Here's the little hoss with book in hand:


What a fine fine job, and such an honor to see this young man holding my book.  He looks great sitting there on those tracks.  He couldn't have done a better job.  Thanks and thanks!

Monday, October 29, 2012

I Gave Donald Ray Pollock the Wrong Book, Yep


I had the pleasure to meet and talk with Donald Ray Pollock a couple weeks back.  The author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time, Don is, without question, a fine writer.  But don’t doubt for a second that he’s a standup guy, too.

On invite from the gracious Tom Williams, I attended the ceremony at which Don was presented with the annual Chaffin Award in Appalachian Literature at Morehead State University.  Prior to the ceremony (and a thoroughly enjoyable reading from Don) Tom introduced me and Don and we spoke for a bit about the simple act of keeping the nose to the grindstone and having people around you who support such a strange profession as being an “author” and just shooting bull.

I had a few copies of my collection in the car and had grabbed one up to take to Don as a gift, a token of appreciation for sharing his work with all of us.  He accepted and I apologized for seeming strange, giving a dude my own book at his award ceremony, a day that was his day.  His response was perfect, saying, “Who would ever complain about being given a book?”

Truth, Don.  Truth.

All was well until I made it about halfway home.  I checked my other copies (all of which were signed to various folks I intend to send to friends, fellow writers, etc.) and jerked as if punched in the throat.  Don’s copy was right there in the seat beside me.  I searched the others and found one missing – my copy for Logan Rogers, the talented graphic artist who had designed the cover for my collection.

Now Donald Ray Pollock had a copy of my book signed, “Logan, thanks for the great cover work!  Enjoy!”

I wrote Don that same day and explained the mix-up.  Cool as a cucumber, he offered to simply mail Logan’s copy along to him with a provided address and said if I’d send another to him at his address, all would be well.

Try to beat that, folks.  That’s an understanding cat, right there.  So, again, thanks to you, Don.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Royal Flush: Five picks for October

I missed September.  I know.  Likely went unnoticed until I just admitted to it.  In any case, here's five picks for this month:

1.

Marcus Speh writes about blogging, and does it well.

"Blogging is a writerly virtue, not a necessity. It is a journal left on a subway seat but found again, every week."

2.

An old favorite revisited this month - Dave Clapper's "Winnie the Pooh and the Very Medicated Day" at Fictionaut. Originally published at Metazen.

"One day, when Rab­bit was tak­ing his med­ica­tions, Tig­ger bounced his car­rots to smithereens and Rab­bit had an idea. A won­der­ful, ter­ri­ble idea."


3.
Mel Bosworth Facebook status update (of which he has adopted a minimalistic style of late) dated Oct. 9.
"there was outside today."

4.
Jeff Kerr's story collection Hillbilly Rich.  See my review here at Bent Country.  From the back cover:
"The stories in Hillbilly Rich depict modern life in the Appalachian mountains on the Kentucky and Virginia border, a landscape beautiful and ruined simultaneously."

5.
D.T. Max writes a book about David Foster Wallace I want to read.
"It was my first biography and I thought it would be slow because one thing I’d already kind of learned is that there’s a lot of grief still in people’s hearts and you really can’t push people when they’re feeling bad. But the thing that was surprising to me, well, there were two things really: one was the amount of letters that I was able to unearth, which was really a treat."






Tuesday, October 9, 2012

REVIEW: Jeff Kerr's Hillbilly Rich, A Slim Gem


I remember a talk I attended once while folks were trying to teach me how to write better called “Slim Gems”.  That was the name of the lecture these two fine writers were giving.  They talked about The Catcher in the Rye and a dozen other titles most people fail to realize are comparatively small in length to other books but shine like new pennies, word for word.

I suppose they hoped to show us you don’t have to write six-hundred pages to say what you mean and mean what you say, and say it well, at that.

I don’t remember seeing Jeff Kerr there, but they could well have been talking about his set of stories, Hillbilly Rich.



Kerr, a native of Eastern Kentucky living for the time being in the world, offers up six stories and an essay in this collection from Blue Dixie Publications.  In the best of them, Kerr shows a knack for observation that couldn’t be more precise to the people and the region he’s writing about, such as these few passages from “The Red Wolf”:

When my wife Roberta took my boy Dan, I lost interest in things.  I still went to work and supervised the convicts as they picked up trash along the interstate, but I did the job like I was underwater.

I sat on the loveseat looking down at a Time-Life history book on Indians.  They had pictures of all the famous ones: Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Cochise.  All of them staring defiantly back at the camera.

I took a good hit off of my Jim Beam which I was drinking straight up from one of Dan’s Mighty Morphine Rangers glasses.  I felt the burn of the bourbon as I stared back in the eyes of them dead Indians.”

As the back cover says, “Red Wolf” is a story in which a man “sees the wildness and freedom he once had in the form of a red wolf”.  But more than that, Kerr gleams brightest in the tiny details that live inside the overall story.  Dan’s glass, for instance, grounds the reader in the protagonist’s hurt, places a vivid picture, a flash of anguish in the same way it often comes to any of us in our daily lives.

The ability to convey this emotion, or any emotion in such a short space, is something a writer cannot learn outright.  As with Kerr, it must already exist somewhere inside the writer and the writing then provides the lightning bolt as a means of delivery.

My favorite of the stories was “Primitive”, an exploration of outsiders, outsider art, servitude, integrity, and, well, I could go on but the thrilling aspect of this story is how much is packed within it without breaking the delicate shell of what Gardener called the “fictive dream”.

Will Ramey, an old, retired miner courting Black Lung, heard a voice as a young man while under the mountain, the voice of the Lord telling him to “make pictures to tell the truth of the Lord about times past and times to come.”

Over the years, the pictures would come to Ramey’s mind and he’d push them aside, tending instead to his family and other obligations. 

Kerr’s telling of Ramey’s struggles in the mines are worth a review in and of itself, but the moment that is pitch-perfect comes when the old miner gives himself over to his most recent vision, the one that finally finds him creating astounding works of art painted on “the surface of old gourds, slabs of wood, chucks and of coal”, works that eventually find him under the thumb of a fast-talking Northerner who visits and offers to “represent” him in selling his art.

And, oh, that vision, I tell you, flock, raised hairs on my arms.  Without hesitation I’m including a good portion of that full-bodied paragraph here:

One day I was out dumping a bucket of furnace ash onto the ash wagon out back by the car shed.  I closed my eyes shut and saw beautiful gardens of flowers I’d never seen in these hills.  Flowers that swooped and opened like great pink and blue tubas.  Flowers as long as train cars golden and shining with their own inner sun.  These flowers reached towards the clearest, cleanest blue sky I’d ever seen.  Animals of all kinds gathered hide to hair of each other and not a tooth or claw was raised.  People naked like children new to the world were smiling and walking among the animals and strange flowers.”

One last thing.  Buy it.  Seriously.  Buy it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Scar Lover

I was minding my business when a guitar string gave me this sweet gash.  Just lucky, I guess.

Monday, October 1, 2012

UPike, Shelby Lee, Still: The Journal, Jeff Kerr and Photographer Heather McCoy

Some news to share, and a guy happy to share it right here.

In the past month, I've worked steadily but with that nagging stitch in my creative section of brain that maybe things were slowing down - the story ideas, the grasp on the current novel, my talent (whatever there is of it) slipping into some corner both dark and cold and anything but inviting for someone searching.

But a reading and lecture I gave at the University of Pikeville Saturday and some good news earlier in the week and again this morning has provided the caplight needed to make my way out.

I was invited to be the Visiting Writer at UPike this past month and had a great time, had a chance to meet some great people and several writers who are coming up and working hard to hone their craft.  Left with an invite to visit English classes next semester to give lectures and walked away having turned some friends into strangers.  Can't ask for more than that.  Connecting is what it's all about.


Before this event, I got word from good friend and master photographer Shelby Lee Adams that he had spread the word about my new collection, The Same Terrible Storm.  I without doubt could not be more thankful to Shelby, a man who is more down to earth than anyone you'll meet and so stocked up with talent it'll take generations of those studying him to get close to being able to reflect what his work truly means to so many people.

A recently found friend, Jeff Kerr, writer and singer and native Eastern Kentuckian, has some material out I had been eyeballing closely - namely a collection of stories called Hillbilly Rich and a CD of spoken word and musical offerings called Jeff Kerr & The Hard Ballad Medicine Show.  My eyeballing ended Saturday when both arrived like found treasure in my mailbox.  Thanks to you, Jeff, for a generosity found only in those who truly want to share a story.  Visiting the mailbox that morning and starting in on Jeff's stories was like sitting outside Damron's gas station and hearing a local tell a story from a lawn chair five feet from the gas tanks I could only hope to tell as well on the written page.  I've already devoured most of the the book and CD and look forward to talking more about them both here at Bent Country soon.


Lastly - and this is two-fold - I received word from the good folks at Still: The Journal (those being, in particular, Silas House, Marianne Worthington and Jason Howard) that my short story "Lost Ball in High Weeds had faired well in the Still Contest had was published today in that fine journal.  Those interested in reading the story, and the rest of the issue (please), can find it here.  Included in the wonderful news that came way of the Compton household this morning was that my great love, Heather McCoy, has attracted due attention for her photography.  I'll keep the details under my hat for now, but needless to say of all the news that has come down the pipeline in the past few days, this one pleased me most of all.  Please take time and visit her website, Heather's Photography Ky.  Please take a worthwhile moment to have a look at the below photographs:




I'll finish by saying how grateful we are to live in a time when there is still room for those of us who work each day to add to the canon of work (in whatever small way) that has encouraged humankind to remain here and able to marvel at the world around us and reflect back to others the beauty it has given us for no other reason than the simple notion to share a good and fine thing as we happen to be lucky enough to come across it while passing through.




Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Honest Living

Bill Tussey sells his hand made crosses outside Holly Mart. Bill can't speak and Bill can't hear. But he can smile and show thanks. And he can teach us all something about how to live here together. Thanks to you, Bill.

Monday, September 10, 2012

# 644 by Eddie Speck

“Sit on that stool.  Look at the camera.  Smile.  Thank you.  Next.  Sit on that stool.  Look at the camera.  Smile.  Thank you.  Next.”

643 times he said that. 643 kid butts sitting on the neon green stool with the hot pink cushion.  643 different smiles – braces, no braces, crooked teeth, straight teeth, missing teeth.  643.

Cal motioned the next kid to stand in front of the backdrop.  Laser beams, so beautiful, he thought.  He scratched the clump of his ear, something he did when bored.  The clump was a swimming pool accident.  The kids always looked at the ear.  The stupid ear.



For whatever reason, he asked this kid his name.

“Shannon.”

“Alright, Scrandel.”  Messed up name for a kid or even a parrot, but whatever.

“No.  Shannon,” the kid said and wrinkled his fat nose.

“Ok, Shanlon, smile.  Wait, turn your head a little to the left.  Now, smile.”

Always gymnasiums on picture day.  Ball sack smell from the locker rooms.  Teachers standing in rows, watching him, whispering, laughing. 

One teacher, a man with perfect ears and no smile waved at him.  Feeling unworthy, Cal finger-combed a dark patch of hair over his ear stump.  Sethel was getting impatient.

“What way do you want me?” The kid said.

“Huh, what, there, Sethel?”

“It’s Shannon, and I asked how I need to pose.”

Cal held his breath as the bacon-faced lad sat waiting for an answer.

Blink.  Breathe.  Repeat.  Keep it together, Cal. 

“Knock that fetus off your ear and listen to me, grandpa!  Tell me how to pose for this!!”  Samanda’s lips didn’t move at all, but Cal heard every word he said.

“Put your elbow on your knee.  Good.  Now, make a fist.  Rest your chin on that fist.  Good.  Okay, now extend your elbow out straight in front of you while keeping it connected to your chin.  Great. Now look up and to the right.”

It might have just been the glee club improvising a little in the corner, but to Cal it was a choir of seraphim singing him on. 

Punch your own face, Sandwich.  That’s right.  Now we’re working.  Sing for me, sing for us all.  Sing for my stupid fetus ear which I will now name Evan as he is ushered in by the angels of forgiveness and beauty.  Now we are working.

“Hold it!  You’re moving!” Cal looked to his right.  “He’s moving, Evan.”

Whispers.

“Scratch everything!  Go limp and let’s start over.”

The kid let his arms fall to his sides.  He was breathing hard and looking around the gym.  Cal thought the laser beams brought out the confusion in his eyes.  Salamander slowly lifted his rump off the screaming fuschia cushion in an escape attempt.

“Just where does the mighty Lizard Lord think he’s going??  Sit!”

Salamander looked at Mrs. White, hoping for permission to leave. All he got was a stern look and a pointer finger directing him to sit down and play along with this maniac.  Terror made him want to run.  Terror made him stay.

“Mmm, yeah, uh-huh.  That’s a good idea, Evan.  Hey, Salamander, we’ve got an idea.”

The boy sat.  The boy shook, then stilled himself, awaiting instruction, destruction.

“Put your hands out in front of you,” Cal said.

Shannon held his arms out.  His hands dangled.

“Palms out!  Spread the fingers!”  Cal demanded, then smiled.  “Now bring them to your bacon face.  Hold your face in your hands.”

Cal felt the heavens calling, requesting this bacon nub of a person to lift himself to a place of true laser beams that split clouds and wrapped around the planet Venus to whip back and singe the very tips of the blessed feathers of, ohhh, the angels.

“Hear them singing, Nub?”  His voice quivered, and soon so did his lips and his eyelids.  “Raise your face to them!”

The whispers were gone.  Shannon braved a quick glance around the gym and saw only two students bent in the corner watching closely.  And one teacher, a flat expression on his face, arms crossed.

“He has wonderful ears, doesn’t he?” Cal said to the kid, who turned back then.  “Up! Raise your face up until your neck hurts.  It must hurt to be the right shot.  We will get this right, Francis.”

But it wasn’t right.  Cal stepped from behind the camera.  “Make it hurt, Francis!!”

“It hurts!” the lard-nosed porker squealed like the pig he was.  “It hurts really really bad!!”

“You’re not crying, Francis!  The angels need your tears.  Cry, Jimmy, cry!!”

Shannon cried silently as he heard the echo of Cal’s footsteps in the empty gym.

“We must get this right, Liam.  I’ll help you!”  Cal grabbed Shannon’s head between his hands, and Cal’s angels saw that it was good.

But not everyone agreed.

The rubber bottoms of his penny loafers screeched across the gym floor as Mr. Ken Doll headed toward the pair.  His gait as expressionless as his face, his fists swung like steel balls hanging at the ends of chains as he calmly approached Cal.

“Kindly pack your stuff and leave, sir,” his knuckles white and his face still empty.

“Hold it right there, Shirley.  Perfect!!”  Cal stepped toward the camera to capture the shot he had worked so hard to get.

“Out, now!”  Mr. Blank Stare clamped his hand around Cal’s arm and jerked him away from the camera.

“But I have to push that button!”  Cal leaned toward the camera, a child held back by his mother, his toy just out of reach.  “Look at Satchel.  He’s perfect! I must capture it!”

Shannon remained motionless on the stool.  Sweat, tears, or maybe both were trickling down the sides of his meaty face, then down his fingertips and onto his wrists.

“Go to the principal’s office and call your mom, Shannon.”  The boy jumped from the stool so hard it flipped over behind him as he ran out of the gym to safety.

“It’s time for you to leave!” the gym teacher stood, chest out, like a superhero protecting some make believe city from its make believe villain.

“I think you may have misunderstood, sir.  I was merely trying to help the boy.  I thought he was having an episode.  Then I realized, he was posing for me and I wanted to do him a kindness and snap the shot.”

Suspicious, but relieved, Adonis looked down at his feet.  “Okay, bud.  That kid was the only one to give you problems today, so I’m inclined to believe you.  He was the last one, though, so you still gotta leave.”

“But, sir, I have one last picture to take.  You haven’t been photographed yet.”

Hercules sat on the stool, and shook his shoulders up and down a couple of times, preparing himself for the shoot.  He stretched his neck back and forth until his fleshy pink lobes nearly touched their respective shoulders. 

“Is this good?” he asked Cal.

“Well, let’s try something.  Put your hands out in front of you.”

***

Eddie Speck lives in Ohio.  He has worked as a factory foreman, a carpenter, and, most recently, at an auction house. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

This Just Happened: blueprint blog: reviewforward

Blogging straight from the front door on this one, guys.  Follow the link and feel the rush of a grand idea.

blueprint blog: reviewforward: Welcome to Review Forward! Review Forward is a new online initiative for indie authors, for self published authors and for book blogger...


Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Guitar Worth $50



I have a guitar worth $50 I can sell

I have a guitar that can afford to go to hell.

From my cancer-colored gutter
These are my possessions.

 If there was a market for my skin
 I'd cut her.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Facecrap Destination

Hi folks,

A quick note to let those interested, if any, that the place to find me on Facecrap is now this link:



http://www.facebook.com/SheldonLeeCompton

Thanks, and I appreciate it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Shot in the Dark

Write.  The moment you stop doing this and start thinking, it's over.  Don't believe?  Doesn't make it any less true.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lightseeker


Often it is the most deserving people who cannot help loving those who destroy them.

                                                                                                     
               – Herman Hesse


           

Most of what you know about werewolves is true, but not everything.  That’s the way it is with anything.  You can only know something so much, really know it, understand it.  It’s the things you know that scare you.  What you don’t know would open your heart, maybe even feel like something close to sympathy.
But it still would never be enough.  The name given to me after a time was Bea.  But having a name didn’t change anything about what I am.  I kill.  People, animals, anything I can.  I have no choice as far as that goes.  I wish I did, and that’s one more thing you know about werewolves now. 
Here’s another – more than blood or meat, more than the flat face of the moon warming are bodies, or even surviving, Lightseekers, those like me, want to love again.  And sometimes we can, sometimes we’re able.  I am able.  And that pain is the truest torture of all.  Like anything else, you can only understand so much.  The rest you have to learn as you go, through experience and by pushing away fear at the moment when your mortal body and soul can feel nothing but fear.  It’s that strength that moves me to cry when I change.  Not the pain.  Physical pain leaves the body and is gone.
We’re not made, but born.  That’s one of the things you think is true but just isn’t.  I’ve never been bitten by anything larger than a mosquito.  I don’t remember my parents, have no idea if they were or were not Lightseekers.  I was left in a field, as far as I can remember, during a full moon.  Full moons are part of what you know that is true, but let’s stop poking around at your misconceptions.  It’s just mean and hurtful.  You think what you think, and that’s just fine.
I wasn’t raised by wolves.  Nearly laughed when saying that.  I hope you found humor there.  Laughter, love, peace, contentment.  These are the jewels of life.  No, I went my own way.  I grew, I fed, I managed.  I became, to most at certain times, an attractive young woman, though a bit lacking in general hygiene, maybe.  That is until I found Shirley. 
Shirley caught me tossing through her garbage one morning, naked and bare to the bone, soul and heart exposed, tired, lonely.  She was sixty-seven when she told me to come in and have a bite to eat.  I remember first, before anything else, closing my gaze on her jugular vein.  I could hear blood moving through parts of her body, a gushing and wonderful thing, warm and fine.  But she came to the edge of her tiny porch and held the railing with a hand made of flower petals.  I caught the scent of lotion off her skin from across the yard, and some kind of perfume.  She was a flower, and she was smiling at me.
I know now it was at first pity and that Shirley did not understand, moved by the sight of what she thought to be a homeless young lady who had maybe even been molested or raped or worse.  When she moved off the porch, I tensed my muscles in place and kept from bolting away.  It was the way she looked at me.  There was pity there, but something else, too.  Affection, concern.  When she was standing in front of me, she didn’t reach for my arm or place a hand on my shoulder.  She asked only if I was hungry and offered again to give me something to eat.  She looked through the garbage can and saw the possum I had been feeding on.  It had not been dead long enough to stiffen and the blood and meat, though slightly cool, was filling.  When she looked back to me, I wiped at my mouth where I was sure blood and flecks of dead flesh were mashed and smeared over my lips and likely my chin, too.
Shirley reached for me, she didn’t touch me.  She only reached out her flower petal hand and opened the gate to her yard.  I accepted her hand and she led me to the porch and into the house where I would live for another three years. 
The first thing I noticed was a kitchen warm and brown, just as you’d expect.  Comfortable furniture in the living room – a large couch and a soft love seat, a worn recliner positioned off to the side of the room, but lined up with a small television.  A dinner tray was moved aside scattered with plates of breakfast food, eggs, pork chops.  Shirley walked me to the recliner and moved the tray in front of my knees.  She then left to the kitchen with the plate, pulled a clean one out and scooped eggs and two thick pork chops onto it, placed a fork across the top, and brought it to me.  She pulled the dinner tray close and wrapped a blanket around my naked body, tucking it around my shoulders.  She said it was a ring quilt, which I’d never heard of before, but liked the way she said it with her smile and kind face. 
I quickly ate the breakfast.  It wasn’t the food I preferred then and still don’t prefer now, but we can eat the same food as others, it’s just bland and tasteless, but not something we reject as you’ve seen or heard before.  The food, though mostly having the same qualities as cardboard or notebook paper, is filling and we can sustain for a time in this way.  I made it those three years eating mostly Shirley’s fine meals made with love and care, but I needed to get into the moonlight on some nights and find real food.  I did this on nights when I could smell her lotion stronger than usual, could hear the rushing of her blood.  When I found myself watching the muscles in her arms tighten when washing dishes or cutting carrots and thought of how sweet those muscles would taste being torn from the bone, I would sneak out the window of the back bedroom and into the nearby trees along the riverbank and catch squirrels and fish and any other living things at hand.  I always wore the clothes Shirley gave me to help her in the garden so that dirt and branches and whatever else wouldn’t stand out so much if she came across them.
What I didn’t realize was that she already knew everything.  She knew it and it didn’t matter.  It was over supper one evening – soup beans and cornbread, all cardboard and paper, but I was thankful for it.  Shirley saw me struggling, though, I believe.  She went to the refrigerator and took out a pack of bacon from the freezer, thawed it in hot water for bit and then ripped it open, placing the meat on the plate.  Confessing she’d seen me leaving the house a few weeks back when the night was lit up like dusk, said she saw me change, and knew what I was doing.  She said this and pushed the plate closer on my dinner tray.
I pushed my face into the meat, let my tongue lead the way and then sunk my teeth through the fat and nice meaty parts, even the bits that were still hard and a little frozen from a quick thaw.  It’s wasn’t fresh kill, but there was taste.  Occasionally I glanced up, embarrassed, confused, but too hungry for taste and meat to care.  Shirley only smiled from her place on the sofa, her dinner tray angled toward the television where Sanford and Son played, it seemed, in a loop.  From that time on, Shirley made sure I had raw meat of some kind once a week and I stopped crawling out the bedroom window.  It worked for awhile.
Here’s what you need to understand – I loved Shirley.  That’s how I first realized things like me, animals, could feel love.  I want you to know this before I tell you that after three years I killed and ate her in her sleep.  I cried the entire time, even in my animal form, howls so loud it alerted neighbors, and I fled, belly full and heart heavy.  I had killed the only person who had ever accepted me and loved me.  I took her in her sleep.  Not brutally, the way you might expect.  I took her slowly, bled her out and then, when she stopped breathing, I fed. 
I had killed love, but still felt it in my changed heart even as I ran through the valley and into the woods.  When the light left and morning came, I cried the way you would cry, hard and endless and in a devastated way I don’t have to explain.  I am able to love.  And I kill.  These are things you must know.  Not that it is going to change your mind in any way at all.  But that’s fine. 
I can still love, and I’ve learned to love and not give in.  I love a man named James.  He gives me raw meat and watches the phases of the moon like clockwork and, on easy nights, we watch Sanford and Son.  On easy nights, I use earplugs when he sleeps so his blood isn’t so loud.  I love his blood the most.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Royal Flush: Five Stories for August


Here are five stories I enjoyed for August, all for different reasons.  Lately I've been more inclined to seek out stories that offer up a variety of thoughts for me.  I spent last month immersed in Southern Literature, and I love it.  But I need a jolt from time to time.  If you need one, too, check these stories out.




Jack Swenson - "Big"

Chelsie Bryant - "Dead in the Head"

CL Bledsoe - "Spice and Malice"

Jen Knox - "Getting There"

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nice Surprises


In the past couple weeks, I’ve had some nice surprises.  It’s always nice to get a nice surprise.

It began with renowned photographer and friend Shelby Lee Adams, who wrote me after reading my collection, The Same Terrible Storm, and offered the following words in response and support of my work:

“Our mountains and people are going through a squall, a modern tempo without the banjo.  People in this storm regulate and medicate.  Sheldon explores: a country rock band member, turned punk, saved in Jesus, pulling a gun on us.  Painting a house with needy young’ins. Young men stompin’ on their memories of a grandpa they hated in an old photo, cancer in places now it never was before.  In this book we experience hospital bureaucrats regulating a new cash crop, health care.  Coal miners working their shift, oblivious.  Everyone staying close fallin’ apart and coming together.  Sheldon’s words are kind, descriptive, intelligent, eloquent and needed.  He describes a world I know and wish had not come about just yet, yet here we all are.  Read this book.  A new talent has come out of the hollers.”

To say I’m pleased would be a huge understatement.  I have admired Shelby’s work for years now and am truly honored to call him a friend.  That he would take time to read my book and then, further, offer his thoughts is something I will never forget.

Then, a short few days later, Jan Bowman, who just interviewed me for the literary journal Trajectory, sent a note saying she had reviewed The Same Terrible Storm.  Please read her thoughts, “Place: Not Just a Location”, and be sure to explore the rest of her website, as well as Trajectory.

The last surprise came from the local college here, a place where I have applied to teach many, many times in the past.  I gave up on getting a foot in the door and sent a final email about a month or so back and then my phone rings and they ask me if I could teach a writing class for them.  Boom.  Surprise.  My first day is tomorrow.

I really couldn’t ask for more, professionally. 

Upcoming posts will include my five story picks for August and no small amount of rambling.  Be well, everybody.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Purpose" from The Same Terrible Storm published at Metazen

On July 31st Metazen published my story "Purpose", one from my current collection The Same Terrible Storm and also the story that has now become the basis for the novel I'm now working on, Brown Bottle.

I'm always grateful when any journal or group of editors or any individual takes the time to read something of mine and then offer to share it with others.  It's something that never wears thin, that generosity.

Strangely enough, I'm just now involved in an interview with Jan Bowman via email for a fine journal called Trajectory started up by author Chris Helvey.  One of the questions Bowman asked was if I'd ever finished a story that was exactly what I hoped it would be when setting out to write it, that hummed in the very way a story should.  My answer is "Purpose", plain and simple.

I hope you'll take time to drop by and read the story and the many others there as often as possible.  And, before I get back to writing words that are not true (weird that writers are just professional liars), I want to add a special thanks to Christopher Allen at Metazen who worked extra hard with me to bring the story to Metazen and hopefully to many others.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Words When I Can't Say Them


Humans can't live in the present, like animals do.  Humans are always thinking about the future or the past.  So it's a veil of tears, man. I don't know anything that's going to benefit me now.

- Townes Van Zandt


Thursday, August 2, 2012

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.

Truth is, I’m not at all scared.  I’m not at all anything.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Issue of Lost in Thought Is Coming Round the Curve.

The next issue of Lost in Thought is almost here! Robert Vaughn and team have assembled a great list of writers and artists, including this sneak peek from yours truly and artist May Xiong. Can't wait to see the entire issue! Includes work from Alex PruteanuMeg TuiteEryk WenziakChristopher Allen and many more talents!



Friday, July 27, 2012

The Story of Some Music


There’s a woman swaying in the crowd.  Stevie Ray Vaughn is playing Little Wing and the wind, you can feel the wind off to the right, coming from a river somewhere painted yellow.

Fixed in the studio, nothing real with guts, no one-take songs anymore.  They just robbed the next folks without leaving extras and pissed on the ones came before them.

Forget the music, it’s day.  Think of how a cat can tell you mean business by the look in your eye.  Underestimate it, go head.  Scars and just scars.

A James Valvis Story I Read This Morning.

Do yourself a favor and read this story from James Valvis:

Constant Threat of Downpour

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Preview Thoughts on Brian Allen Carr’s VAMPIRE CONDITIONS


What I’m looking for most when I sit down to read a book of any kind is to be told a story.  I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but this just doesn’t always happen.  Every now and again there’s a book that just gives me that feeling of sitting in a warm living room on a winter day and listening to someone who has command of the room tell me something about life and the world I would have never seen in just that way before or maybe every again.  The true storyteller has this ability, and one of those spinners is Brian Allen Carr, winner of the inaugural Texas Observer Story Prize, judged by Larry McMurtry.



I had the good fortune to read Carr’s upcoming book Vampire Conditions over the past couple of weeks, due out from Holler Presents on August 1, I believe.  The mark of this book, from the author of Short Bus, a Steven Turner Award Finalist, is two-fold.  There is the clear sense from the first pages one is in the hands of a capable writer, that safe place all readers seek.  And, secondly, there are no moments in any of the six stories included or three interludes in which Carr lets us slip from his fictive dream, one he shares well.

In the three interludes – Boy’s Town #1, Boy’s Town #2 and Slug Trail #2 – there is a lyrical style applied to otherwise gritty sketches that inform the overall feel of the collection.  It’s a tricky and brave thing, this, and done well here.  The finest of these moments comes in Slug Trail #2 where Carr flexes the poetic as well as I’ve seen in some time:

“You can step into the same river twice.  Larger still, that river can step inside you.  Swimming to your center.  A current unforgiving.  As if to say, ‘You might leave me, but I’ll barely ever leave you.’”

The story that stands out most clearly for me, the one that will stay with me long after I’ve moved on to other books, is “The First Henley”.

 The opening of “The First Henley” immediately sets the tone for a larger than life story and character:

“I know some of the details back and forth.  The first Henley was crippled.  His hands bungled by buckshot blast.  Both palms remained, but he’d lost all but his right-index finger.  It was his friend who’d done the shooting.  The first Henley was a gunman.  It was a fairly popular profession in his time.”

What unfolds is a story in which the myth of Henley builds and builds as with the best of tales with larger-than-life characters.  And the final lines…readers you will just have to experience them yourselves.  I’ve already committed them to memory.

Although, a mix of both sadness and humor throughout, “Corrido” will also stick with me for the humor so finely laced throughout, such as in this passage:

“’Brains,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said Juanita. ‘The brains of a goat.  We raise the goats ourselves,’ she leaned over with one hand and raised a window.  The lowing of goats floated in from the yard.

‘Brains,’ I said.  I reached for my cup and drained it.”

Vampire Conditions is a worthy read throughout, one I’ll return again, and that right soon for Carr’s sheer attention to craft and for that comfortable seat where a story is being told with perfect pitch.  Keep an eye out for it come August 1.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scott McClanahan's Interview at Other People

Just came across this today, but I've been buying everything Scott writes and listening to everything he has to say in the past few weeks.  This interview was posted at Other People.  Thanks to those folks, for sure.



The closest I can come to explaining my keen interest in this writer at this point is both his truthfulness in his work and in what he says.  I'm pulled in by someone who doesn't pull punches or hold back just because it might make someone uncomfortable because they disagree.

Scott McClanahan laughing at the world and what appears to be a bum eye.


There's something fresh about his views, his craft, his approach to the whole idea of writing and writing for fun and then seeing that turn into good things for him and for others.  It's just captivating.  Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Real Gritty Poetic Thoughts from Jeff Kerr




It takes a whole lot of whiskey and oxy to keep these snakes hid.

Dark and bloody clans screaming in these hills want to be justified on earth.

There’s hard ballads forming every rising sun day.

Mountains scalped and their spirits are never coming back no matter how many trees you plant.

The creeks gush in yellow foam like a running VD sore.

The well water is orange rust and stinks like rotten eggs.

The cool and clean waters of the hidden mountain spring is sealed by the federal government.

Drink pop until your wolf fangs rot and stub away.

The prescription pad is blank and waiting for Holy ghost power and testimony to enter the bloodline.

The body is rotting in the abandoned mine.

The check for the burnt house is lost.

The government man has been run off.

The hard ballad medicine show is ready to start.

Christopher Allen Reviews The Same Terrible Storm

Appearing today at Fictionaut is a review of my collection The Same Terrible Storm by gentleman writer, editor and madskills traveler Christopher Allen.  The review is a segment of the online community's recent addition, Books at Fictionaut.

I'm so very grateful for Christopher taking time to read the book, support it in so many ways since it was published in April, and to include his thoughts in this review.



A couple excerpts on what he had to say about it:

"Compton’s short story collection is a melodious, somber ballad of place. I’m tempted to call this a rural southern place, and it certainly is. But there’s a deeper place Compton describes in such rich detail. It is the burning place in the characters’ minds that they all seek to soothe. The persistence and medication of pain, witnessed but ignored by nature—and I will venture to include God as disinterested bystander—are at the core of almost all of these stories."


To say Christopher "got it" would be an understatement.  Can't say how much I appreciate his close read and studied thoughts.  And the idea of hope, an undercurrent in most of my work, was also not lost on him in this review.  Yet another reason I tip my hat to Mr. Allen and the gang at Fictionaut for giving him the space to have a say.

"But there’s hope, and I’ll go ahead and tell you Compton has saved the antidote that will calm the storm until the last story, the last stroke. Redemption and the relief from pain come through family, through a moment shared between father and son. Is this a message? Am I allowed to look for one? And if I’ve found one, does it matter if none was intended? I know one thing: if I were a character in one of these stories, I’d be looking for a sign from God that one day all my efforts would pay off, that I would someday be whole."


Read the full review at Fictionaut.  Drop by here at Amazon or here at Powell's Books or here at Barnes & Nobles or here at Foxhead Books to get a copy and see if you agree.

Monday, July 23, 2012

P.S. Regarding Wensink and the "Cover"

It's rare I post something twice in a day, and have never done so before afternoon, but this update concerning the decision made in regard to Patrick Wensink's publisher to change the cover of his book due to a close resemblance to the Jack Daniel's design was a must.

The link Patrick posted from a media blog partially detailing the decision, which came after JD's lawyer wrote Wensink, can be found here.

For those just arriving, read my post earlier this morning for a more full account of this intriguing situation.

Patrick Wensink and Lazy Fascist Press Keep It Interesting

I'm excited for a writer friend of mine, Patrick Wensink, and for good reason.  His book, Broken Piano for President, is, as of this writing, #77 on Amazon's list of top 100 best selling books.  A further breakdown shows it tops off at #1 in Satire and #12 in Humor  Check it out here.  That's a fine fine thing, but it's not the only thing interesting about Patrick's book.

The first time I saw the book, I loved the cover.  It's one of the best I've seen in a long while.  It's an image
most of us are familiar with who have bought or saw Jack Daniel's whiskey.  Like Patrick's work, this cover reflects that unique way he sees the world and the guts he brings to his craft.  Not to mention it's just cool at a time when cool book covers are becoming the norm.  That says a lot.


Not everyone agrees.  In particular Jack Daniel's.  Patrick wrote on his blog recently about receiving a letter from the whiskey manufacturer asking the cover be changed.  Of course, Lazy Fascist Press, the publisher, along with, of course, Patrick himself, will have nothing to do with this suggestion.  The letter is a beautiful bit of corporate this-and-that.  Have a look at what Patrick has to say about it at his blog here.


But simply because I find this whole thing fascinating, I'd like to also post the letter here for anyone who wants a quick fix before visiting the blog to read his thoughts.  See above right.  This is a letter for the ages, and one that should inspire lots of folks to hold firm on matters of independent publishing and the rights of writers and presses across the globe.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Good and Evil Make Friends. War Is Hard.

Nuff of that...I tried on a new jacket here at Bent Country.  There's squares everywhere and they spin and you can just scroll down and it loads old posts faster.  I just like it.  So that's why I posted this.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Lit Lab: Jason Lee Miller on His Story "Metaphor"

I first met Jason Lee Miller when we were both graduate students.  We talked at length, but it didn't take long to realize that he had arrived to the program fully formed.  I've always appreciated this about him, and so was more than happy when some years later I began to see his name crop up in literary journals.  Always a pleasure to read, Miller shares his thoughts on his story "Metaphor" today in The Lit Lab here at Bent Country.

To read "Metaphor" before hearing from the author himself, visit State of Imagination, the journal in which it was published.  The story can be found here.

***


Two things first off: it’s an honor to be invited to post here, and my deepest thanks to Sheldon for the invite; also the invitation was surprising because it means I might have successfully fooled a very smart person into thinking I know what I’m doing. I don’t. Let’s get that clear up front. And I don’t know how to tell you about my story “Metaphor.” It’s more like something I planted than something I wrote, and that means it’s very special to me.

It’s not hard to understand that this story needs some explanation—ironic because metaphors aren’t supposed to need explaining because that defeats the purpose. You’re supposed to feel in your gut what it means to you, and that’s supposed to be okay. Humans have only been doing this for millennia, crafting symbols that could stand by themselves and shape-shift in each observer’s particle-wave consciousness.

That’s not the world I grew up in, mind you. The world I grew up in cherished a small subset of very specific metaphors, contained in a book of 66 chapters, and one doesn’t dare interpret them for himself or invent new ones. What’s the meaning of a fish? Better guess it right, son.

But I’m not here to talk about that or my apparent need for spiritual counseling. Can’t get away from it, don’t guess. This story was a part of that process, though, a healing process, which I think has always been an important function of writing for me. “Metaphor” wasn’t necessarily directed. It wasn’t easy to write, or tend, either. I really just wanted to get my symbols straight. My own symbols. You can interpret them how you like, even though too much explanation is included in the package already, but at least it’s relatively short. Some people seem to be able to write a pure bead of truth in a very small number of words on the first go at it. I am not one of these people, and likely it hasn’t taken you three paragraphs to understand that I sort of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey it and hope for the best. The first draft was 45 pages and just enough to make anybody hate me.

That’s relatively minor considering what I was facing if I didn’t write “Metaphor”: a Terrible Absence of Truth, which is scarier than damnation. I tried to write it straight – the Truth, I mean – and couldn’t get at it, not completely, because it’s like trying to explain which side of a crystal is correct, like trying to shove the stars into a taco shell. I needed a metaphor, or a set of them, some viewpoint-dependent approximation I might eventually find satisfying. In the end, I wrote it – planted it – because I needed it, and I needed a version I could stow in a bucket with a small collection of other satisfying truths: water’s wet; the sky is blue; God is real; I love my family and everybody in it, rotten or saintish; and if I need something, somebody else needs it, too.

I started this mess in the fall of 2006, and didn’t finish it to my satisfaction until the spring of 2011, when while bored at work I had an epiphany landing on the side of dualism. Screw it – let’s just say I was Gnostically neoplatonic before being Gnostically neoplatonic was cool. Took me five years to understand that about myself, and thus five years to finish this story. I could tell you all about that, but if you’re like most, you squeezed out at least one snore before the end of neoplatonic. So instead of that, I give you some heady, maybe post-modern or post-post-modern (hipster?) metafiction and hope you understand me – somehow, somewhere within you.

Here are the basic mechanics: the story started in a lucid dream, the bud of an idea, a man in a fedora and trench coat tracing cathedral brick with his finger and trying to decipher a set of foreign words in his mind. I heard them myself, the words; they were voiced low and deep the way dreams and thoughts are, as though I hadn’t actually whipped them up somewhere in the back of my subconscious: eh lo ee hacindrum khetah bornati forum sin nattadurim.

Is that a language? No idea, but it does sound Hebrewish, Latinish, or Necronomiconish enough to pass as the real thing. Do the words mean something? Doubtful, but they will if you look at them long enough – they will! They will take shape as symbols of something; meaning will take shape on its own, despite you. The moment you wonder what those words mean is the moment the meaning is born and grows in you. It’s either beautiful or a kind of virus or both.

This is also the moment Nathan Gestalt is born, and his twin, the Bad Idea. Bad Idea isn’t a character in the story – it is the story itself. I call his twin that because as a storyteller I felt this obligation, as instructed in Storyteller School, to anchor the reader down in reality and then I ignored that completely. The rule, says Joseph Campbell, is that one cannot begin in unreality. One does not start in Oz or Narnia. One begins in Kansas or outside the wardrobe and walks the reader into unreality. This story begins at the Nothing – as far away from reality as one can get, and the reader gets only glimpses of reality, mostly through memory, which is nearly as false a reality as the Nothing.

The writer has many jobs, I suppose, and one of those is producing a reasonable mirror of reality. This is where I have two giant issues. The first is that I’m bored by and don’t really believe in reality (this is complicated), and naturally struggle trying to navigate it and don’t want to anyway. A writer writes what he knows, and what I know has nothing to do with the ground we walk on or the lilies of the friggin’ field. I’m still working on walking the reader to Narnia – that’s my next growth area, but for the time being all I know is Narnia.

The second issue for me was that Nathan is not real. I can see him. He’s a handsome, slender, tall fellow with a Roman nose, and he admires the men in old movies, their hats and suits and the way even paupers look cool in old photos, patched up knees and extra wooly coats. But, I must remind myself, he is not real no matter how much I can tell you about him or how much I entertain quantum theories about alternate universes formed with every choice we make. Where we are now, in case you’re lost, is the outer edge of imagination – vital root word: image – and to save myself from appearing crazy, I have to say to something smart about the difference between solipsism and solipsism syndrome. One is an unbreakable philosophy and the other is a certifiable mental illness. Let’s say it’s the first one, shall we?

As Nathan tried to understand the words, I tried to understand him, and soon he was not only an illusion, but a self-conscious one, imagining himself, dreaming himself. It wasn’t long before I discovered Nathan was in a coma on Earth, which is why he couldn’t tell me much, and why it was from this dream-state point-of-view that his story must be told. It was now just a matter of finding the right symbols, their meanings, if they had any, figuring out why he’s in a coma, which never happened for me because it didn’t matter, what he’s trying to understand, who cares about him, and why he might want to come back to earth at all.

And I had to do that without being preachy.

In, say, fifteen pages or less.

Without mentioning Plato’s cave.

After five years, I finally liked it, or 99 percent of it anyway, enough to send it out somewhere and stop profusely apologizing for it. It wasn’t perfect – especially the part about mosquitoes – but I found it satisfying enough, was okay with not quite understanding mosquitoes yet, even if I faked like I did. I hoped it might be a noticeable flick to the ankles of Kafka and Borges. I hoped that though dead they’d hear me, that they’d see I was trying to join their conversation and answer the same questions and come up with some maybe good-enough-explanation even if nobody but me understood it. This was my Message from the Emperor caught up in the Circular Ruins. This was my metaphor for unspeakable truth, my hope of making the ineffable, well, effing effable. It’s a failure. Such things always are, but it’s mine, and the irony of the failed symbol makes me smile for reasons I could never explain to you fully. To quote Borges: You who read me, are you sure of understanding me?

***


Jason Lee Miller is a technical editor and curriculum developer for the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium at Eastern Kentucky University and an adjunct English composition instructor at EKU and Bluegrass Community and Technical College. His creative work in short fiction and poetry have appeared or will appear in The Accolade, Blood Lotus, Danse Macabre, Dew on the Kudzu, The Copperfield Review, The Legendary, Ontologica, and State of Imagination. In April 2011, Miller accepted an invitation to be a book reviewer for the literary e-zine Gloom Cupboard.



The Airgonaut - 2018 Best Small Fictions & Pushcart Prize Nominees

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