Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Cormac McCarthy Reading Plan

I rarely engage a reading plan. I tend to go in hot and cold streaks with different kinds of books. Lately, it's been horror novels and short stories, which I love. However, these due tend to veer away from style and focus more on narrative. The result is I start missing the great stylists and have to pick up a couple other books along the way such as those by Lydia Davis or Michael Ondaatje.

So I've reached that point again with my horror reading period. To balance it, I've decided to start on Cormac McCarthy's ten novels. I truly want nothing to do with his plays or screen treatments marketed as novels such as The Sunset Limited, The Stonemason, or The Counselor. Call be snobbish, but I want Cormac the novelist in his full glory, where he's most effective and potent.

Here's something to confess: I've only read one of his books so far. Child of God. I liked it, but wasn't interested in continuing with him at that time. Now I'm ready. I say ready because I know this means I'll have to read The Road. And I don't want to read The Road. I'm never ever going to see the movie. But I'll have to put this book under my belt, I guess. I'm just not thrilled by stories that put children in danger for long periods of narrative time.  Especially fathers and sons. I have fathers and sons issues. Thanks Dad.

But, all this being said, what have you all to add to the conversation. I'm keen to hear what some of you think about his work, those of you who have read more than I have at this point. Am I about to come face to face with the greatest American novelist?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Cowboy Jamboree nominates excerpt of DYSPHORIA for a Pushcart Prize

Well, it's nearing year end and my beard is growing in nicely and the Pushcart news is at my doorstep once again. This time coming from the genuinely amazing Adam Van Winkle and Constance Beitzel at Cowboy Jamboree Magazine.

The announcement came in today that the excerpt of my novel Dysphoria, published this past year at CJ Magazine, was chosen by Adam for a Pushcart Prize nomination. The novel itself was published by CJ Press earlier this year as its debut launch, a tremendous honor that is still resonating for me these months later.

I simply cannot overstate how much Adam and his press have come to mean to me. My work has been championed in ways I never thought possible, and done so tirelessly and with as much enthusiasm as I could have ever hoped for. And the rest of the CJ Press family - Ben Drevlow (buy his wonderful novel Ina-Baby tonight), Adam himself (grab a copy of his book Hardway Juice), and future stable mates Daren Dean and Joey Poole - the rest of the family have become good friends, invaluable colleagues, and sources of inspiration along the way.

It's a special atmosphere. The feel of something new and exciting is always tingling just around the corner, and Adam's vision for what he wants for his press is the most focused I've ever seen. The sky is truly the limit and I'm just happy to be along for the mile-high ride.

Here's CJ Press's catalog page - check out the titles.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

New story "I Am Not the Fist" published today @ Fish Bowl

This is the second story of mine Fish Bowl has published, and I'm as grateful this time as I was the last.

The first story was "Into the Mystic" and the story today is "I Am Not the Fist."

I'd love if you read them both, but surely the new one, if you've already seen the first. Below is the link:

"I Am Not the Fist" @ Fish Bowl

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Happy Hunting Ground: An excerpt from THE ORCHARD IS FULL OF SOUND

Last night I dreamed of the “happy hunting ground.”

He is thrust into the place of bones. These bones that look human but are not. They are different because, he sees now, the skulls are all wrong. But the rest of the bones are normal—legs, ribcage, bits of arms, shoulder blades. But what of this place? More tunnel than anything else, in the way a tunnel hides a promise of light directly within the darkness of its mouth. Following this promise, he moves ahead, no longer studying the skulls so closely, remembering, memorizing, the legs, ribcages, arms, shoulder blades, each part of each former person as tarnished pearls in the black.

When he at last emerges from the tunnel he is met with the most perfect spring day, an environment with the sweetest air and water, but a spring day that shimmers and then changes to the most perfect summer day where in the dry heat the deer make dust in the road.  Predictably, here comes cooler weather and the fog of fall with good leaves.

It’s a place called Virgie, but it could be Milton. Small town is small town. In this small town the railroad tracks move forward to the vanishing point and splits two giants of the great range—John Attic Ridge and Abner Mountain. The scent of creosote comes up in waves from the treated ties. As far as twenty yards out from the tunnel, the cool breeze moves in a wall against him. A coating of sweat turns cold on the back of his neck, and he is at that moment aware of the rabbits.

Across an expanse of bottom field at nearly the same level as the Big Sandy tributary running behind it, no less than two dozen rabbits stop all at once, spread out a few feet from each other and, seeing him, begin to beat the ground. But after no more than a few seconds of this, in perfect synchronization, they flop into the trimmed grass of the field, chin the ground for a bit, and then begin dancing, actually spinning in the air.

Seeing all the activity out in the open by so many rabbits, he raises his hand, his finger pointing forward like a barrel, the thumb held up like a hammer, and fires off three pretend shots into the bottom field. At once three of the rabbits begin to spin slowly and fall stiffly backward, their front feet cartoonishly clutching their chests before going entirely limp. He can’t remember ever seeing rabbits behave this way, but it was nice to be hunting again, so he fires off three more shots and three more rabbits pretend die. Then all six rabbits roll over in the grass and regain their lazy beating of the ground.

There is the strong urge to tell his mother about the rabbits. And you could shoot without a gun, never kill, but the rabbits would do a little dance, all as if it were a game, and they were playing it too. As he begins the letter to his mother in his mind, how he would explain this strange place and these strange animals, the season turns again. Winter with heavy powder-snow as the railroad tracks disappear beneath the weight; that thick scent of creosote doesn’t fade away as much as turn off as if captured in an unseen vacuum. It is replaced with the crisp sensualities of cold. When the snow stops he can see he’s at the summit of John Attic Ridge.

The summit is profoundly quiet. The mountain descends in sharp slopes all around him. The trees, the sky, the mineral flesh of the soil, the foliage—everything is white. When the first animal comes into view, it’s a big deer. The buck is heavy-horned and clumping along under its weight and power and constantly lip curling to get at the wind. It is also entirely white, including the beams and tines of its rack. A closer look reveals that even its eyes are coma white.

In line behind the buck are other animals, all white, including a small herd of goats, two thoroughbreds, and a massive and lumbering buffalo with a head like flaming torch of cotton. The horses are only visible within all the white when their tight muscles draw together to create the hint of grayish lines along their bodies. He grieves to tell someone how the buffalo snorted, tossed their heads from somewhere in the snowblind, to explain how it seemed a kind of language sharing a kind of secret.

All of a sudden he is tired, and materializing there on his side is his Army blanket. It is rolled tight and fixed to his waist by three shoestrings tied together in reef knots. There’s no question that he will bed down here on the summit in the snow, and so he is asleep nearly before he is flat on the ground. This is where he will write later he dreamed within the dream.

At Fleety’s she tells him the story of the bones. If he could have remembered the perfect spring and the dry summer and the white devouring everything in the winter he would have shared this with Fleety. But all he could remember where the bones inside the long tunnel. The skulls. This is why he felt it was a predetermined event, her telling him about the only thing he could remember from where he had been. He believes in fate, intervention, and destiny; he knows these are some of God’s tools to understanding.

The bones were poor people killed by bandits, Fleety explains.

He listens to her, but everything she says after explaining the bones comes in muffled bursts like a coughing fit into a pillow. Finally she takes him by the hand and at once they are both deep inside the tunnel where he started from. The bones are there, just as before, walls of legs, shoulder blades, fingers, hip bones. The skulls are more misshapen than before, less human. They are lighted in the dark by the faintly pearled tarnish. There is much about the bones that are the same, but there is more that is different now.

He has no time to study the bones or the tunnel walls closely. Fleety guides him to a place he must have overlooked the first time. She moves aside and allows him to enter this new place under a huge rock where no light should have shown. When he is standing fully inside the space, two things become clear: he is in a cave and he is irreversibly alone.

In this cave where light should be a fable, he finds a dogwood tree. It glows the kind of red those trees get at sundown and the buds are purple in that weird light. The scene holds his attention fast, even as the distant thumping of footsteps starts up behind him inside the darkness of the tunnel. By the time he looks away from the dogwood tree and turns to the sound of the footsteps, there is little time to do anything other than throw up his arms in a weak defense.

His forearms go instantly numb. Flecks of blood splatter his cheeks and forehead, warm at first and then drying and cooling. And then he sees the instrument swooping downward again toward his outstretched arms—a pick axe, but one much larger than usual.

The man holding the axe was much larger than usual too. Clearly mad as a hatter, he swung the weapon in bursts, crushing and chopping at the skulls. All the while he is yelling, explaining that he is trying to make them human-looking.

 Then I went back to the other side of both dreams.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Gillian Walker interviewed me @ Vestal Review

I talked with Gillian Walker over at Vestal Review recently. We discussed strange stories, the short story, legacy, and a bunch of other stuff. She was great. Here's the link to go and have a look.

Monday, October 7, 2019

An essay from my upcoming Breece D'J Pancake book today @ Secret History Books

Mike Lafontaine published an essay from my book-in-progress The Orchard Is Full of Sound today at Secret History Books. It's about Breece D'J Pancake and will be published soon by West Virginia University Press.

Here's where to go to read it.

And thanks.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Better" from Michael Chin's new short story collection YOU MIGHT FORGET THE SKY WAS EVER BLUE

Joel won the third grade spelling bee. The prize: the right to name the class the goldfish. He called her Mother.

When no one was looking, he took Mother from her bowl and crushed her beneath the weight of his social studies textbook.

Dad knocked on Joel’s door while Joel was masturbating. Joel had suspected the squeak of his bed springs was audible from outside his bedroom and had suspected his father might wary of washing cum stains from the pillowcase. Even so, Joel had hoped it was one of those things that he would never have to talk about with his father.

To his credit, Dad didn’t say anything, and Joel read the knock as a warning sign, like the police cars that waited in plain sight at the side of the road. The good cops cared more about maintaining order than collecting fines.

Joel met a purple-haired girl in his dorm, with white scars on her thighs like veins. Like lightning. He liked to touch them, just the way he played with the indentations the elastic waistbands of his tighty-whities left against his skin. She asked him not to touch, but he touched her anyway when he thought she had fallen asleep. She cried.

She told him she used to cut herself.

She asked if he wanted to go.

That she would tell him this made him feel like he might cry. This trust. This knowledge. It had to be love.

The next girl was softer. Her hair as brown as tree trunks and smelling of honey. She wore it long, often braided. They caught the biggest, coldest snowflakes of the season on their tongues.

Joel’s hands bled when they climbed trees that spring. He had never formed the calluses she had. Never been an outdoor child.

They spent the summer apart, but talked on the phone most days, until he ran out of things to say and she said that was okay, it was enough to hear him breathe.

In the fall he got drunk on whiskey for the first time and told her that he didn’t think she was very pretty and that her feet smelled.

Joel wrote bullet point descriptions for a company that sold traffic cones, hard hats, safety glasses, and harnesses.

Selling durability. Selling comfort.

He never slept enough. Started each day with a Centrum and a cigarette. The combination of the two on an empty stomach made him nauseous.

They couldn’t afford a honeymoon so they each took two sick days after the ceremony and fucked one another raw. Joel littered her clavicle with bite marks. Amy slept with her cheek on his chest, frizzy brown hair in his face. He sneezed, but didn’t move her. Dried the mucus with the back of his left hand. Petted her hair with the palm of his right.

Joel managed salesmen of safety vests and work boots. Same company. Different hallway. Office with a window. Sometimes he squinted his eyes and tried to see past that same lot where he had parked his car year after year, and tried to see back to the moment he became this round-bellied, gray-haired thing.

His stomach pained him. Like usual. Amy started his days with eggs or pancakes or French toast or corned beef. He ate it all. Without fail, between nine-thirty and ten-thirty he needed to shit. Sometimes, when he knew he had a morning meeting, he tried to force it out before he left home, or first thing in the office. It never satisfied him. Nature had to run its course. By the end of the meeting, sweat streaked his back as he squeezed his ass cheeks shut, smiling, red-faced, waiting it out.

Joel’s daughter peed all the time. They called her Penelope and he wondered if the name sounded too much like pee-pee and tempted the gods of urination. He had thought he’d relish the day she graduated from diapers, but it only meant that he needed to pull over the car more often, stop in the middle of grocery shopping to find the ladies room.

Still, he loved her. They taught her how to ride a bike. How to build snowmen. Against his wife’s protests that one or both of them would end up with a broken neck, how to climb trees.

They called their second daughter Jessie. The sound of a boy’s name in lieu of a boy. All of these women. Joel didn’t know what to do with them past a certain point. The great divide between child and woman where everything changed.

But before she grew, while she belonged to him, little Jessie seemed to crave him. She nestled at his side while he watched baseball. Fell asleep, the back of her head to the space just outside his armpit, knees tucked beneath her chin. He held her close. Through the rain delay. Through the final innings. Through the late night news. He would not risk moving and waking his perfect girl.

As his bladder filled and his eyelids drifted shut, he ran his fingertips over the ridges her socks had impressed on her little ankles.

Seventy-four minutes into the DVD, Joel realized that Penelope hadn’t gotten up once to relieve herself.

Unheard of.

He sat on the couch with a big red plastic bowl of popcorn.

Penelope sat on the loveseat. Green bowl of popcorn on the floor. Cuddled close under a red and black plaid blanket with her boyfriend. Their whole bodies were covered, faces peeking out, colored in flickering TV light.

Joel suggested they take off the blanket.

Penelope said she was cold.

Joel said they could get up and get another blanket. Have one for each of them. Two even. The hallway closet was full of them.

Joel made eye contact with his daughter and he knew what hatred felt like. He shoveled popcorn in his mouth and sucked the butter from his fingers.

Jessie, Joel’s golden child, made good. She delivered unto him a grandson, called Bray.

He asked her what kind of name that was. She said it was a roar.

Joel shrugged and held the boy face to face, when his roars had not yet evolved to words, but remained whimpers and wails. When he could open his eyes just wide enough to see his grandfather. When the child might just recognize the feel of human hands around his tiny rib cage, and just might begin to know love.

When Bray was five Jessie brought home a puppy, and the boy got to name him. Joel sipped coffee, turned beige with so much cream—the only way his stomach could handle it. He listened as Jessie explained that you named creatures after people you cared for. After people you admired. It was a way of distilling your love. Spreading that name so it might touch others.

Bray named the dog Grandpa. From that day forward, the boy and his dog were inseparable.

And Joel knew then this boy would do it all better.

originally published @ Extract [s]


Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He has three full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books) available for pre-sale HERECircus Folk (Hoot 'n' Waddle), and The Long Way Home (Cowboy Jamboree Press). He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with The Florida Review, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Find him online at and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

A Cormac McCarthy Reading Plan

I rarely engage a reading plan. I tend to go in hot and cold streaks with different kinds of books. Lately, it's been horror novels and ...