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.



Friday, July 13, 2012

New story in Fried Chicken and Coffee

So very pleased to have work appear again in Rusty Barnes' Fried Chicken and Coffee.  Read my short story "The Troubles".  Hope you enjoy, and thanks again, Rusty.  Always a great pleasure to be included in FCAC.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Five Fine Books for July

I meant to post five story suggestions each month here (I could post twenty or more, but five seemed good at the time) but I'm going to post five books this month instead.  Some recent purchases and fine reads.  If you've read them, I'm pleased to join the club, if not, please invest or visit your local library, if, like myself, you may not be able to invest at this time.

In no particular order of any kind:

* Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin



* Saints of Sanction County by Charles Dodd White



* Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball



* Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory



* The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje






Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Inventory", from the upcoming collection WHERE ALLIGATORS SLEEP


         (27) Various books, most dealing with math, history and carpentry from a time when teaching himself Algebra and learning to build a house gave his life some direction and deeper meaning.
         (14) Pill bottles.
         (2) Military outfits.  One is field fatigues and the other dress.  They have somehow faded despite having hanged in the closet for more than two decades.
         (1) Bed.  It is as stained as one would expect.  A six-foot long indention crawls up the middle, a trench formation twenty years in the making.
         (38) Plastic toy cars, the kind used with electric race tracks on Christmas morning. The toy cars are under the bed.  He put them there to keep from thinking of them.
         (237) Pills – Paxil, Lorcet, Buspar, Xanax, ad nausem.
         (1) Nightstand collapsed with random bits of candy wrappers, twisted cigarette packs.  The room smells of stale smoke and chocolate, body sweat.
         (3) Picture frames hanging above the bed.  All of them turned backwards.  A child's picture is on the other side.  Too painful he said many times.  Too hard.
         (4) Bottles of 2-Liter Coke.  They have long been emptied and are now filled with urine.
         (8,034) Days lost, whispers behind the ear.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

In the Lit Lab: Jarrid Deaton's "Shoot the Ballerina in the Heart"


If you haven't already, take a moment to read Jarrid Deaton's "Shoot the Ballerina in the Heart",  at > kill author and then have a look at the writer's thoughts on his story below.

*

First, thanks to Sheldon Lee Compton for the invite to write about “Shoot the Ballerina in the Heart” for the Lit Lab. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of “The Same Terrible Storm” so you can be a part of the Compton Experience. Heads ain’t ready.

There’s a granule of universal truth in every piece of fiction. I believe this. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t bother putting words on the page. That’s the thing that I find to be most fascinating about art. Even if the writer, the artist, the musician, even if they don’t set out to uncover something about themselves, about the world, it will always happen.

“Shoot the Ballerina in the Heart” came from my fascination with the damaged, the strange, and the beautiful.  Like the poster for Dario Argento’s giallo classic “Suspiria” with the ballerina image mixed with a trail of blood, I hoped to capture both wonder and tension in the story.  It’s possible to wrap up beauty and the strange like an ancient jeweled crown covered with stained butcher’s paper. That’s what I set out to do with every story I write.

  

For “Ballerina,” I started thinking about a man being forced to completely destroy something that fascinated him, about a man whose job it is to follow orders without question, and the decision to sacrifice his own life even though he knows it will not save the ballerina. He refuses to take part in her assassination, and by doing so, finally knows what kind of man he is. Sacrifice can be the ultimate show of both love and defiance.  The story took less than an hour to complete with very little editing, and it’s also one of my favorites.

If you ask me what the story is about, in the big, big, sense, then I would say it deals with being able to know one thing for certain, to be absolutely sure of just one thing, even if it means that finding that one universal truth will send you, at peace, into the void.