Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Fictionaut Welcome and Primer from JP Reese

I belong to an online community for readers and writers called Fictionaut.  Recently, writer JP Reese posted this informative bit in the general forum and it seems perfect to share for anyone who may have an invite to the site and would appreciate the input.

"For those of you who are new, or trying Fictionaut again, welcome. It was difficult for me when I first joined Fictionaut to learn some of the basic navigational tools and etiquette, so here is a beginners' primer for new folks. If anyone else has any ideas to add, please do so:
• When you post a story, take the time while you're here to read and comment on a few written by others.
• When someone comments on your piece, respond, either on his or her wall or below the response to your piece. You can write a group response or respond individually if you have the time to do so. It's polite.
• If someone writes on your wall and you wish to respond, go to their wall to respond. If you write on your own wall, chances are they won't see it.
• If you have questions or concerns, write a note in the Forum and other people will respond to you there.
• Many of the longer pieces are frequently ignored, so if you have time, please give them some love.
• If you want constructive feedback on a piece, ask for it. People will not offer suggestions unless prompted to do so, as Fictionaut isn't really a workshop for new work; however, there are private groups that focus on this part of the writing process, so again, ask about them in the Forums and someone will respond."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Louisville Reading Went Well, Folks

The old reading in Louisville was a fine event, and the book gathering just before that.  I did okay, I guess, even though I had to sit down to read my pieces.  Well, just look at the was far too comfortable to pass up.

Note the Jesco Nation shirt.  No coat and tie for this mountain boy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

An Amelia Earhart Prompt Written for a Recent Interview

This came about as a prompt posed to me by Robert Vaughn.  I took a shine to it, so I thought I'd share it here.  The full interview, to appear in The Lit Pub, will be out sometime down the road.  For now, here's a sampling.  Thanks for reading.

Crossing a small creek while listening to “Take It On the Chin” by William Elliott Whitmore, I find her jawbone, strong and determined, even in that tiny vein of water.  Later, along a ridge north of where we came ashore, I trip across her leg, the boot laces still pulled tightly into an impressive knot.  I’m listening to Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes” while admiring the sturdy boot and the leg that had flown so high for so long.   I grow tired after several hours and find a shanty of some sort made of slim branches and great leaves spreading out for a roof.  As I enter, listening to Tom Waits’ “The House Where Nobody Lives”, I find a large stone.  Along the side of the stone is a single fingernail seemingly embedded into the rock, seemingly still clutching for purchase.  I’m about to heave when I leave the leafy shanty and lose my footing, sliding several yards into a clearing.  At my feet I see what at first appears to be a dead animal, its fur matted and clumped.  The closer I come to the thing I see its hair, a half inch of her scalp stretching across its underside.  The Pixies “Where’s My Mind” finally rolls through my ears.  I can still hear that distinct cry of the guitar as I make it back to the shore line.  I’m the first there, so there’s no news to share.  I walk the line, listening for the others when a foamy wave moves in over my ankles and then out again.  And now she’s looking at me.  Those eyes, blinding if stared at for too long, pushed back from the sea and onto the shore of her private and expansive cemetery.  And as I look at her eyes, and only her eyes, Hank Williams is there singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.  And I do.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grandfather Bob, the Stories to Come

My grandfather, Bob Mullins, a man who broke the mold himself.

Of the many family members I've included, with artistic license of course, in my work I've never explored my grandfather, Bob Mullins.  That's about to change.  I'm currently working on a story called "The Favor" which has a character based closely on him in the works now.  I cannot understand how I've went for more , than 20 years writing every day of my life and not found myself writing about this man.  The story of his life, the things he done, both good and bad, are the stuff of fiction.  Perhaps only believable through storytelling.

Left an orphan at a young age, he lived from house to house in his town, relying on the kindness of the clannish population to give him a bed and a meal in exchange for back-breaking chores through the day.  This developed a certain character within him that people still mention to me today when they find out he was my grandfather, though he's been dead nearly three decades.

Looking forward to diving into this well of information and select few memories I have.  The challenge: carving away at sentiment and presenting the story as it might be told by a longtime friend or town folk who hold to memories and tell them over and again.  It's time for me to join this storyteller's group.  I hope what I come up will be as interesting to you as it seems to be with nearly everyone I meet in my small town.

A sample?   Sure.  You see here he's wearing a deputy sheriff's uniform.  He did work at this for a time, his primary concern during this time (though he never drank his entire life) was to confiscate beer and liquor from those he pulled over and take it home, this coming after an agreement to let the boys off with a warning.  I still can't figure what he did with the booze, but I'm sure he figured something out.  We're talking about a guy who use to trade cars because one had more gas in it than the other.

At long last I may have put my father away as a primary subject, having now made peace with him, now gone just over two years, a man who once said after reading a recent story of mine: "McCoy Lee, you've killed me over a hundred times in your stories!"

Before I sign off, I think this Fictionaut discussion started by flash writer Meg Pokrass is an important one:

Please have a look and add any thoughts on the current trends at this reading and writing community that has done so much for readers, writers, editors and agents over the past several years.

Monday, May 21, 2012

In the Lit Lab with Kuzhali Ehm

I've come across a handful of stories over the past several years that have truly stayed with me. "The Ash Eaters" is near to the top of that small list.  I'm so very pleased to have the the author, Kuzhali Ehm, write a few words here today about that story.  To read the story, visit here.

"The Ash Eaters" is based on some of my experiences in school in Chidambaram. I don’t like mentioning this, because sometimes people will say things like, ‘what is a Chidambaram?’ and I don’t know what the answer is. Once I wrote a story that mentioned a place called Neelankarai and someone contacted me via the internets to say, ‘I wanted to read your story but we all had to pull out an atlas to find out where Neelankarai is and we couldn’t find it.’ I felt like they wanted me to do something about this but I wasn’t sure what to do.

Anyway, another reason why I don’t like mentioning that ‘The Ash Eaters’ is based on my school experiences is because sometimes people say ‘well why couldn’t you just write about that normally? Why make it deliberately difficult for the reader?’ And that makes me feel bad. I know I shouldn’t feel bad because writers are supposed to be like pfft you didn’t get my story because you are stupid but I feel bad anyway.

I actually did try to write this normally. When I did that, the piece was longer and very awkward and filled with detailed explanations for everything, especially the non-English words. It was among the worst things I have ever written, and I have written many very bad things. The editing and revision process for this story was a massive pain in the bum, because I kept feeling like I had to explain everything. I’m not sure if this is part of the baggage of being an Indian Writer in English, where you feel like you have to provide italics and explanations because if someone doesn’t ‘get’ it, you fail and you should kill yourself. I ultimately did away with all the explaining and the piece dissolved into a single paragraph, which was pretty close to what I wanted to say. It was also quite close to what school was like for me at the time. That was normal, at least for me.

I like to think that this piece has some meaning beyond the “difficult” names and constructions. I like to think that you don’t necessarily need to know what this piece is “about” to get something out of it. I also agree that this would have probably been an easier piece to ‘get’ if it had made more of an effort to explain itself. But I don’t know if getting someone’s explanation means that you get their story. I think that means you’ve just understood their explanation and the story is often a very different thing. Also, I think it’s slightly flabbergasting to assume that all narratives about school or anything are going to be the same, just because they are in English or just because they are about something we all share.

I want to say that I write this as someone who dismissed a lot of writing because I didn’t get the words or the narrative made me think and work a bit harder. I feel this is my loss. I do believe there are stories that challenge the idea of how a story should be and they aren’t what we’re used to, and I think everything gets a little more interesting when we allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities of what a story can be or say. I’m not sure if ‘The Ash Eaters’ does that, but it is a piece that made me really think about that, as a reader and a writer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If Tom Waits is an Archangel, then I'm a Neurosurgeon


The black tar in his head was more than he could handle.

Toe-tappin fun with his fingers deep in some dude's brain.

"Look what happens when I poke him here....Guy near beat himself out cold.  Good times.  Good times."

Air drummin' with a scalpel and scissors.  Little dewy drops of blood flickin' on everybody - the nurse's shirt pocket, Scalpy-guy's face, the wall.

Now it flows.  Yeah.  The music.  A cool crisp stream within the sludge.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blessed Beyond Words...Somebody's Holding My Storm

I'm blessed.  I'm blessed every day, regardless.  But check this out:

That's my book trailer for the collection from Foxhead.  Yep.  Stoked.

And folks are already getting their hands on copies.  Just this morning, my broster Jereny Tackett, a fine fine writer in his own right, got photographed in the act of having his hands on a copy by the love of my life, Heather McCoy, a fine fine photographer.  Everything is in line and perfect.  Check out Bern (my name for him since grade school) getting ready to get his read on:

So it's here, folks!  I'll be hitting up some places for readings over the next several months, starting with a reading in Louisville on May 25 just across from the Brown Hotel beginning at 10 p.m.  I'll keep y'all posted on upcoming readings as they get situated.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New work at (Short) Fiction Collective and Other Points of Possible Interest

I'm pleased to have a set of linked micro pieces "Courtship: Five Micros" up this morning at (Short) Fiction Collective.  Thanks to Patrick Trotti and any or all involved in seeing these pieces published.  So very grateful.  Hope you enjoy, if you have time to read them today.

Also, if you haven't had the opportunity to read my review here of Rusty Barnes' Mostly Redneck, please set aside some time for that today, as well.  The post can be found directly below this one.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I'll be traveling to Lexington this week to the Wild Fig Bookstore for a book drop off and to talk with Crystal Wilkinson, a writer who spends as much time inspiring others writers as she does producing fine work of her own.  Looking forward to that visit, as I have a loose date to read at her bookstore in the near future.

As for readings, I have another set up in Louisville on May 24 that I'm excited about.  Many of my old MFA mates will be there and it's always good to catch up and share words.  As for next publications, fwriction: review's Meg Tuite spoke with me for an interview that will appear there at some point this month (May 7, I believe the date was), along with my short story "Snapshot '87", a piece first appearing in the Appalachian anthology Degrees of Elevation, edited by Charles Dodd White, and one that also is included in my upcoming collection, The Same Terrible Storm.

Also, from what I can gather from twitter feeds flying about last night, me thinks The Same Terrible Storm will be shipping soon.  Can't wait.

A few more things before I start work this morning.

Jim Robison, a true writer's writer and all around grounded guy, made available his author's website at some point this past week after run-ins with gremlins of sorts.  Have a look.

Great interview with a former teacher of mine, Kirby Gann, at Matt Bell's The Collagist.

Okay, time to work.  My second collection, Where Alligators Sleep, is calling and it's never easy to double or even triple (my fantasy goal for the book) story count in a quick but craft-worthy fashion.  Then it's onto work on the novel, Brown Bottle.  This in addition to going through nearly 300 photographs from Heather McCoy for which I plan to write a flash collection including the photos either called Cold, Hard Pieces or A Thousand Words.  I do love a full day of work.

Oh, on tap for reading: Currently - Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; Coming up - Pinckney Benedict's Dogs of God, Adam Johnson's Emporium, and Jane Bradley's Are We Lucky Yet?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

REVIEW: Mostly Redneck by Rusty Barnes

I first read Rusty Barnes’ Mostly Redneck last year.  My intentions were to write a review at that time, but, in all seriousness, I just needed to recover and read it again, I believe, in order to think more clearly on the stories in this collection.

You see, the first time I read the book, I froze up.  My fingers would just hover above the keys of my computer, my brain in overdrive trying to convince my inner storyteller that I was worthy enough, had enough to say, that it made sense to even sit down to work.

If that sounds like overkill, then so be it.  It’s the truth.  And the truth’ll stand when the world’s on fire.

Gradually, I found myself, my voice again.  Barnes had pulled me into his fictive world so fully, so expertly, for a time I only wanted to read his sentences again and again and ponder how the trick was pulled off, where the lady in the box had vanished to.

The fact that I’m late to the game in talking about this powerful collection of stories is not lost on me.  But having now read them again, I found I learned more than before – about craft, about struggle and hurt and triumph and, most importantly, about humanity.  The stories in Mostly Redneck show us humanity again.  Not the kind of bitter or bored opinions we see daily on the national news or overhear in grumbles at local places of business, but the true human soul alive in all of us whether we’re good, bad or indifferent.

Within ten minutes of reading, I stopped and placed the book in my lap after reading the second sentence of the second story, “The Howling”,  partly a coming-of-age story and partly an examination of our animal nature versus our capacity to care for others .  I read that second sentence again: “The sky outside was the color of an old dog’s mouth.”  As expected, Barnes was going to be handing me moments of prose that had been worried over, worked at and polished.  Words that would unfold into stories just as original as those smaller choices, just original because of those smaller choices.

The very best writers, I’ve believed for some time now, will work in that way – sentence by sentence.  And it can be a huge undertaking.  Barnes is without question one of our best at this, and someone who makes it look effortless in the meantime.

Take this section from “Where Water Fails” in which Richard and Maggie face a tough decision after learning a child is on the way, something not in anyone’s original plans for their marriage.  Maggie has just told Richard and his reaction is to wonder aloud if the doctor in Elmira takes care of this sort of thing anymore.  With this, Maggie makes a decision of her own.  Walking to a nearby creek, she strips herself of her pants and, finding a stick, perches on a rock in the middle of the stream.  Richard approaches, apologetic and concerned, and is stopped by Maggie’s outstretched palm before opening her mouth.

“If you think it’s nothing.  You come do it.”  She strips stray branches from the stick in her hand and spreads her legs, offers the stick to him with one hand.  It looks like a knitting needle.  Richard can feel his breath come harder.  “You come fucking do it.”

Arranged in three parts, the eighteen stories that make up Mostly Redneck move from the rural area of Appalachia in which Barnes grew up to the less regional landscapes and circumstances, something Barnes has shown in past interviews he enjoys doing, rather than being considered an Appalachian writer and nothing beyond that label.

More often considered a writer and poet of Appalachian subject matter, in the second and third sections of Mostly Redneck, we learn differently or see our expectations met, and fast. 

In the story “When Sylvester Dances”, Barnes tackles what I consider one of the hardest topics to approach in fiction – that of Alzheimer’s disease, and that subject without the Intro to Writing type of sentiment too often smeared across pages handed to professors with trembling hands.  In Barnes’ story there is almost a celebration of man’s life, Sylvester, who confuses his granddaughter’s boyfriend with an old army buddy, mistakes his fuddled mind as having had too many beers with the guys, an aged man of the world who is currently living in 1942 and wants only to “go see Glenn Miller at the Tropicana.”

Barnes also brings the poignant slow grief of family into focus with skill in the story, as well.

“His daughter Judith and his wife Esther want him to sit up and pay attention to something, want desperately for him to weave a way through the barely translucent wall age has created between him and the rest of the world.”

And by the conclusion of the story, we are still with Sylvester while he dances across the floor of his youth, even as his end is near, even while his wife “buries her head in her hands” at the news.

“…Sylvester’s feet are tapping slightly against the metal rail of the bed, his fingers thrusting up and down in time, and they all gather, continue to gather, till there’s a small crowd, crying and laughing and panicking all at the same time, because it’s 1942, and when Sylvester dances, the world, by God, pays attention.”

Barnes takes what other writers might toss aside as trivial or sentimental and brings those dismissed notions to the highest caliber of prose in Mostly Redneck.  I’ve seen few other writers who can make words jump through rings of fire with as much ease and give us the circus that is our lives in a way that makes perfect sense to anyone lucky enough to pick up this book.  

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...