Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New NOÖ Weekly for holiday shopping anxiety!

Take a break from all that gift guessing and check out the new edition of NOÖ Weekly, guest-edited by Laura Eve Engel and featuring Karyna McGlynn, Sean Lovelace, Michelle Chan Brown, Patrick Lucy, and Adam Peterson. Here is a prose poem consisting of all my favorite lines:

I tried to pass myself off as a kind of candy. Agh, the most miserable lizard bourbons his doorstep. Down the hallway a woman in a man’s suit brings room service and has one of her three thousand daily thoughts: You better love this world, better love it soon instead of waiting around for it to love you. We wear our American luck like a fannypack. We can do can-do. The rare honeycreeper. A physical bear could body slam anything with a body but theoretical bear has no body. My mother had no god and it made her days in the hospital confusing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ani Smith edits a new NOÖ Weekly!

To celebrate a huge and awesome new edition of NOÖ Weekly guest-edited by Ani Smith—and featuring Stephen Daniel Lewis, Andrew Borgstrom, Brittany Wallace, Kuzhali Manickavel, Adam J. Maynard, and Melissa Goodrich—I have culled this prose poem featuring all my favorite lines/sentences from this edition's work:

onight, assholes, we are talking about the sky. How sad a world with money will become depends on your approach. Then I drank some Gatorade someone left in the stall because if I had AIDS, I could drink anything. I will smile benevolently at suicidal farmers and encourage them to name their tractors after me. Or we like tattoos that look like necklaces and necklaces that look like skin. Guess what I lied to her. All of my cardigans have defects. There is a baby driving a tractor in the neighbouring field. Watching a Troll on a beach eating a slice of chocolate cake.  I’ll know when there are sounds I don’t recognize in the night, braying or some such, and her milk splashes out of her, and her bloody baby horse comes out. I’ll know when I know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NOÖ Journal Zine Scene Spotlight

"From its very beginning, when Mike Young and Kyle Peterson founded the journal in Mt. Shasta, California, the mission was clear: to capture the contradicting nuances of place and hold a mirror to the community. Tension builds character-erects setting-drives time. Enlarging the localized tension for presentation makes art." — Deep thanks to Juan Carlos Reyes for his awesome spotlight/retrospective of NOÖ over at the Zine Scene. NOÖ has changed a lot in the six years we've been around, and Reyes does a good job narrating that history. There's also an interview with me in which I identify our dominant aesthetic as "a voice that would prefer sneaking away from the kitchen party and out to the shed, to make castles out of foraged Cheez-Wiz cans." Thanks, Juan!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Paul Harding: Selfless Man, Thinker, Tinker

It’s snowing in October and the trees and power lines are conspiring to imprison me in my house which can mean only one thing: it’s the lightning round! I recently received a late night email from Mr. Paul Harding, who was kind enough to answer a few questions, handing over his answers in a email poked with air holes, marked fragile: handle with care, for, as the man himself says - “Answers live…and I call them as I see them, right here, right now.” He is currently traveling after the whirlwind of success finally released him from its funnel cloud, shiny Pulitzer in hand, for Tinkers his “truly remarkable” (Marilynne Robinson) debut novel. And it is truly remarkable, to say the least. For those of you who haven’t yet, “do the read!” as Mike would say. But, “Beware!” as Lorca would counter, for this here book will read you as much as you read it. It’ll read you sideways. You’re sure to find yourself, like that small black dot of a figure on the cover, adrift, lost in a sea of white, body blind and snow blind, unable to see the hands in front of your face. They might be your hands or they might be your father’s hands. They might be your grandfather’s hands or the hands of a grandfather clock, spinning backwards, forwards, spinning every which way but loose. Loose as in a DNA ribbon, unfurling, unwinding, flapping in the wind, giving away its secrets. Jacob’s ladder deconstructed. So don’t lose yourself, or do, if you dare. Here’s a sort of, part 1, Schrödinger’s cat style:

How or where did the story idea begin for you?

PH: The story is based on anecdotes my maternal grandfather told me about his childhood growing up in Maine.

How much did it change and evolve over time?

I’m idealistic. The story did not change at all. My understanding and perception of it evolved over the course of nearly ten years of writing, rewriting, pondering, etc.

Is it autobiographical in any way?

Some of it is autobiographical. For instance, I apprenticed with my grandfather repairing antique clocks. The deathbed vigil is very much like the one my family had for my grandfather. But it would be difficult for me to be less interested in autobiography, per se. I am not much interested in myself. I am interested in the fact that I am a self, that my experience is as a “self” in this life.

The bold, opening line really lays it all bare. Did you have any reservations about the setting the story up in this fashion?

No reservations at all. I have an almost phobic distaste for plot shenanigans. So the way I solved – or prevented myself, really, from any kind of temptation toward sleight of hand manipulation of the material (e.g. “his mother was really a horse!”), was to lay out the entire plot in the first sentence. That forced me to adhere to the ideal that the story is all in the telling.

Some of my favorite scenes are descriptions of clocks and their inner workings, such as “…the escape wheel (every part perfectly named – escape: the end of the machine, the place where the energy leaks out, breaks free, beats time)…” It all just seems so perfect – the clock, time, the dying man immersed in his memories. Do you find it easier to find the sublime in simple description and direct, clear language? I mean, there is an ethereal, mystical, almost magical feel to whole thing (especially the forest, the epileptic fits, the hallucinations at the start), and yet, you seem to want to stick to the direct, the concrete, and elevate that through the language alone.

Yes, yes, and yes. Symbolism and Meaning with a capital “M” are not qualities that the author thinks up, intellectually, theoretically, beforehand and then super-adds to the material. If the subjects are sound, they are their own best witnesses, and so the author’s job is to merely (merely!) describe them as accurately, as precisely as possible. Then, the meaning and symbolism that is inherent in the subjects will emerge onto the page naturally. The process is properly exegetical rather than eisogetical. Profundity, I’ve found, is achieved by immanence rather than what is traditionally (I think) thought of as transcendence. I attempt full immersion rather than floating off into the ether.

There is a sense of both great distance (between the father’s and sons emotionally, geographically within identity and time itself) and closeness (the sharp interrogation you employ in exploring just about every object, sensation, sentence) in the novel. Did you set about to explore life on such a broad scale, or did it just work out that way?

Juxtaposition of the infinite with the infinitesimal is possibly the artist’s greatest means. In music it is counterpoint, painting contrast. The principle holds across mediums, though.

What are some of the toughest choices you had to make, about characters, or setting, etc?

I had to make the mother – Kathleen – nicer, kinder, more loving than the woman upon whom she was loosely based.

The Reasonable Horologist
– where did the idea for those sections come from?

The early writing I did was all about the deathbed vigil and Howard leaving his family. It thought, My goodness, this is a dire book; I need some variation, another key, some different textures. So, I started fiddling around with some tongue in cheek Enlightenment philosophy – “Welcome, dear fellows, to reason!” – and so forth. The idea, was, again, to put some contrast into the work, so that it would not keep striking the same note, the same tone (i.e., “mono”tone). Eventually, the material had to pull its own dramatic weight, which I hope I did in that the idea of a logical, rational, reparable universe would be a very deeply appealing idea to a man whose own youth had been so hapless and vulnerable.

Todd Orchulek

Monday, October 31, 2011

they can't mace the whole human race

Hope you're enjoying NOÖ [13]! This is our biggest issue yet, so be sure to browse extensively, maybe check out some new names you've never heard of. And be sure to leave comments. Everyone likes comments.

—Print issues will be appearing in cozy physical spaces once I get them from the printer and get them out into the world. We've got a pretty extensive distribution network lined up, but we always like to send to new places, so let us know (editors -at- noojournal -dot- com) if you want some NOÖs in your town. As always: they're free.

—Watch out for new NOÖ Weekly editions coming soon, guest-edited by Ani Smith and Laura Eve-Engel! I'm stoked to get both of these online and keep the NOÖ times rolling.

—Speaking of rolling, submissions are open again for fiction and poetry. Read the latest issues to get a sense of what we like and send away. We're currently reading for NOÖ [14], which will come out next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"The body is a costume, or it’s a costume that “eats” its own body, “eats” itself."

Over at Montevideo, Johannes Göransson spills some smart thoughts about the first of Matthew Suss's "3 From Suicide Mountain" in the most recent NOÖ Weekly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

NOÖ Weekly: Duende Edition (guest-edited by Ben Kopel)

Originally, the duende was a kind of Latin American goblin, from the same roots as dueño, the "real owner of the house." But thanks to Lorca, duende also means art for people who bring down the house (and hearth and heart) in soul-crushing fashion. Which brings us to the dark concoctive assembly skills of Ben Kopel, our newest guest-editor of NOÖ Weekly, and he is bringing us all the duende we can handle: dream chimes, roof capers, wanderer's sadness, king cake babies, donkey-baboon-capybara-woodchuck-kangaroo hips, death pole-dances to Nelly Furtado, landslide poetry comics, gold cobras, zombie cults, nightblooming, and one of the most epic love poems I've ever read.

Here are the beautiful goblins involved: LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Graham Foust, Chelsea Hogue, Gordan Massman, Bianca Stone, and Matthew Suss.

Definitely pet your inner duende and check it out. And stay tuned soon for a sneak peak at NOÖ [13], which is due out next month! In the meantime, in the duende spirit, here is a list of the songs iTunes randomly fed me while I put this edition together:

Back To Me - The Positions
Be A Little Quieter - Porter Wagoner
Hope & Fulfillment - Langhorne Slim
If The Brakeman Turns My Way - Bright Eyes
A Little Louder, Love - Connie Converse
Whiskey In the Jar - The Dubliners
Hearts of Palm - Ravens & Chimes
One Night Stand - The Pipettes
Bible Club - Adam Green
Here's to the Days - Drake's Hotel
Wake Up Hill - Old Man Luedecke
Leah - Roy Orbison
Duplexes of the Dead / Automatic Husband / Ex-Guru (Live on KCRW) - The Fiery Furnances
Try to Think About Me - Herman Dune
New York Is Killing Me - Gil Scott-Heron
Victory - Trampled By Turtles
Hold On To Your Breath - Simon Joyner
Oceans - The Format
Orion Town 2 - Frontier Ruckus
Where the River Let Out - Dave Dondero
Four Long Years - Oh! Sweet Music
Living and the Dead - Dave Dondero
All This Time - The Heartless Bastards

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

“I absolutely could not write Stranger Will today, with a kid" : An Interview with Caleb J. Ross

Caleb Ross is currently on an epic blog tour to celebrate the release of his two novels, Stranger Will and I Didn't Mean to be Kevin. We here at NOÖ Journal are happy to support flamboyantly ridiculous things like blog tours, and that's why we're happy to present this interview with Caleb by Nik Korpon, author of Stay God and Old Ghosts.

The interview covers Stranger Will and a lot more: messenger pigeons, human limbs, writing a book when you have a kid, and trying to please our overlords of search engine technology. Hope you enjoy! (And if you like the interview, check out the books!)

Nik: Why human remains? Also, why messenger pigeons?

Caleb: Human remains removal felt like the perfect vehicle for William’s [the "Will" of Stranger Will] moral conflict. A metaphorical disgust of human life can too easily—for me anyway—come across as trite and nihilistic, while incorporating a literal disgust with human life allows some elasticity with the metaphor. And when working this balance for 188 pages, elasticity is necessary.

I can’t deny the simple morbid fascination of human remains removal, though. Just the job title alone—profession human remains removal specialist—evokes the kind of imagery that I strive for with everything I write. I love a visceral reaction. And not necessarily by way of blood and guts. The grotesque—as in an ordinary story twisted just enough to jar the reader—can elicit a gut reaction often even moreso than blood. Flannery O’Conner’s “Good Country People,” for example sticks with me more than most things; the idea of a traveling bible salesman stealing a girl’s wooden leg simply can’t be forgotten. And neither can, I hope, the idea of a man scrubbing away the stains left by dead bodies.

The messenger pigeons offer a rare combination of curiosity, antiquity, and possible psychopathy. I grew up in a small town. When leaving via a north/south highway on the west end of town there was a small house with a giant animal cage blocking the entire eastern façade. I never saw who lived there, only the pigeons. The image of this house, more metal wire than brick, stuck with me. It was only a matter of time before I used it somewhere.

Together, the commentary on death allowed by the human remains removal and the tenuous human connection allowed by the messenger pigeons created such amazing opportunity to explore universally appreciated aspects of the human condition but through a unique lens. Even saying that—“the human condition”—feels too kitchen sink domestic drama to me; I have to dirty it a bit with a few blood splatters.

2. How did you reconcile the character of Mrs. Rose with the overall theme of the book?

I spent a lot of time trying to outwit Mrs. Rose. I wanted her to be a fluid symbol, something indefinable in much the same way that William is indefinable. Is she good? Does her philosophy make any logical sense at all? Does she have her own arc that crosses, and at times, matches, William’s arc? On all counts, possibly. But ultimately, I had to tone down the intellectualizing and accept that Mrs. Rose really isn’t any greater than a typical comic book villain.

As much as I like to claim my work is “literary,” (though not kitchen sink domestic, right?) and cannot be confined to mainstream descriptors like hero and villain, I simply cannot with Stranger Will. Once I accepted those designations, the book’s theme was allowed to foster, and with it my ability to erase my own ethical concerns from the page. This means that Mrs. Rose was allowed to be evil. She was allowed to be crazy, which allowed me to focus on William and how he shapes the novel’s theme.

3. You've said before that you wrote Stranger Will a while ago, but sold it after you'd already had a kid. How did the time (and child) change your read of the book?

The simple answer, from which a much longer diatribe may sprout, is that I absolutely could not write Stranger Will today, with a kid.

I started the first drafts of the book during my sophomore year of college. I wasn’t thinking at all about kids at the time. But I was thinking. A lot. About everything. I wish I could capture that head-space again; everything meant something to me in college. Every leaf, every sound, every lecture, every textbook. It’s like I was on drugs, 24/7. I am glad I was able to pair that ceaseless pondering with plenty of time to write. What came of that time was the first draft of the novel, a lengthy, unnecessarily angst-driven pile of crap. Years later, with Zoloft, I approached the novel with a more level head, and came away with a much, much better novel. My advice to writers, I suppose, is write your novel when you feel like shit; edit when you feel great.

Some passages I read now, as a father, and shudder. There’s a part in Stranger Will where a boy, eight years old I think, is learning to read. He sounds out the words on a note that was meant for his mother, a note that basically outlines how she plans to kill the boy. The boy is so excited that he knows how to ready, but has no idea what the words really mean. Damn that scene. 

4. How has your authorly understanding of fatherhood changed since then, or since the birth of your son?

I don’t know that my understanding, in terms of how I approach fatherhood in my writing, has changed much. I write the father figure often, and usually as a reluctant authority figure. That will probably stay the same.

Stranger Will is, I believe, the only piece I’ve written—definitely of such length—from the perspective of the reluctant authority. Usually in my writing the father pops in for a few scenes as a device to highlight certain aspects of the main character, and then he drops away.

If anything changes because of my own fatherhood I may begin treating the father figure with a bit more care. I understand the role in a way I never have before (side note: I grew up without a father, only me, my mother, and my two sisters). The father will always be a presence in my stories, and perhaps now just a more informed presence.

5. Being a father, and writing several stories about fathers and sons how do you think your son will react in ten/fifteen years when reading Stranger Will? More importantly, what would you say to him, on walking in and finding him turning the last page?

I’d say, “Wow, you got to the last page. It must not have sucked too much.”

I think my son will react to my work in the same way he might react to any story; I don’t think the thematic weight will affect him. He loves stories, he loves books, and I think the separation of author from author’s work will be a natural concept to him.

Actually, I hope he cares enough about literature to confront me about the book someday. It would be amazing to be able to talk with my boy about my work.

6. You mentioned in a blog post for Father's Day last year that your wife and son gave you a day to write. When faced with all that free time, though, you found yourself distracted and realized that you write better in short bursts. Two parts: Why do you think you function better that way (and is it a result of only having short bursts of time in which to write) and do you feel like you writing is shaped by this practice? By that I mean do you see your work as smaller sections built into sequences (similar to a screenplay) or as one longer narrative? Does that make sense?

Writing is exhausting for me. I spend most of my waking time thinking about what I want to write. Only once I have a few sentences in my head do I sit down to write. Those sentences grow to a few paragraphs, sometimes a page or two, and then I am done. Two hours tops, usually. I’ve always done it this way, even sans-child, though I will say that now with a child I find myself hyper-focusing my writing time. I’ll take my 15 minutes of time and cram my two pages into it. My writing hasn’t suffered through the shift in habit, but it has changed.

I have always written with the goal of producing smaller sections. I then weave these sections into each other as I draft out a novel. So, the finished product may not resemble the fragmented beginnings at all, which I suppose is the point of a novel; it should be cohesive, seamless.

7. I have to say, Stranger Will is a finely cut novel, and reads like the obsessed work of a compulsive editor. How far from the initial drafts is the final copy? Do you find yourself revising more than writing?

I actually really love editing, perhaps even more than the initial writing stage. So, yeah, I definitely revise more than write. For Stranger Will specifically, the final version is substantially different than the earliest drafts. Specifically, the entire first draft was written in first person perspective. There is nothing quite as satisfying, for me, as re-writing an entire novel. The amount of focus I am forced to dedicate to such an undertaking is extremely revealing.

8. You had a really interesting—and relevant (maybe frightening)—column on HTMLGIANT about writing for search engines. You're also one of what I think is a new breed of novelist, one who is using the dearth of social media to both expand your readership and inform the author-as-person. Has this influx of creating content for social media cut into prose-writing? The two seem almost, I don't know, dependent on each other. That you need the prose to back up the attention social media brings, and you need attention brought to the prose byway of social media. How do you make time for each? Do you find one eclipsing the other?

Unfortunately, dedicating as much time as I do to engaging with readers and authors via online networks like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and all the rest has sucked quite a bit of time from my fiction writing. Though, I got into writing not just to write, but to connect with people; novels just happened to be the best way for me to connect with people at length about a specific topic. Online social networking is the supporting converse to the length and intimacy of a novel. In a way, I have found it to be less a distraction and more of a necessary component to being a well-rounded author.

From a marketing perspective, you are absolutely right. The two aspects—writing (the product) and networking (the sales)—are part of the same piece. A lot of authors, myself included, tend to stay away from terms like “marketing” and “sales”; books are supposed to be better than commerce, right? But the fact is that books only matter when people read them. I think of social networking not as selling but more of helping readers find me.

As for time, I tweet a lot on the crapper.

9. You're right that, these days, the writing and the networking are just about equally important. You present a good case for this in the blog tours you've done (Charactered Pieces' Blog Orgy and Stranger Will's Tour for Strange.) How does I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin relate to Stranger Will? Do you see them as parts of an overall whole or two completely different books?

The novels are similar only in that they both deal with parental abandonment in some way. Some readers have noticed this thematic trend with my work, even back to Charactered Pieces. The realization really came to me as more a revelation than a casual observation. I never had a father growing up, so having been forced to see my work as a product of a non-traditional childhood I have to embrace the circumstances. Though, I’m just the kind of anti-establishment hipster that chances are less and less of my work in the future will involve this same theme. In fact, I’ll probably go the polar opposite way and deal with a smothering of parental support as a character’s main conflict. I’m the kind of guy that stops liking a song the moment he hears it on the radio, as irrational as that sounds.

10. When are you going to write a vampire novel?

I’m working on a novelization of The Lost Boys right now.

11. Everyone is debating the rise of e-readers and their impact of the idea of books. I want to go beyond that. When will we be able to download books directly into our brains, or have some Strange Days-type shit? Also, as popular culture seems wont to do, there is the diametrically-opposed use of typewriters on the rise. Which press will be the one to top them all and get Gutenberg on our collective ass?

If Steve, of Gutenberg fame, ever starts a press I think he would be a shoe-in. He’s got name recognition and Police Academy recognition.

The re-embrace of typewriters feels like a natural reaction to the rise in technology. It has happened with other mediums as well: vinyl records and film come to mind, two forms that most people outside musicians and moviemakers respectively don’t see much need for. I think the same about typewriters. Most readers don’t care how a book is composed, they just want the book. The return to a nostalgic medium is generally more a response of the producer rather than the consumer.

12. You talk about the human appendage trade in I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin and feature a fetus-in-fetu in the title story of Charactered Pieces. Are limbs symbolic of something bigger for you or is it more of a way to create a visceral reaction from the reader?

This, like the parent thing mentioned earlier, is also a recurring theme that, until readers called attention to it, I hadn’t consciously acknowledged. Though, unlike the parent theme, I think limbs (their removal, their grotesqueness, and their metamorphosis, as in the case with my upcoming novella, As a Machine and Parts) are probably less a product of my upbringing and more just morbid fascination. However, if I continue the trend, I hope readers will continue to play the role of my couch-side therapist and clue me in to a Freudian correlation. That being said, the image on the cover of Charactered Pieces is a foot…just a foot.

13. Both novels take place in highly specialized worlds. What kind of research did you do for each?

Stranger Will is primary images pulled from my experience growing up in a small town. The fields, the isolated environment, it felt natural to me. I don’t think Stranger Will would have worked if set in a larger town; a small town offers a sense of contention, of not being aware of the larger world, that made Mrs. Rose’s behavior believable. In a big city, she would have been found out much sooner.

I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin has some of the same small town imagery, but has too some settings pulled directly from my college days, which is still a small town but much larger than my hometown. The beef packing plant, the Laundromat, and a couple of the bars all come directly from Emporia, KS (IBP, Norges Laundry, and Town Royal, respectively).

I think fiction, more than anything, has allowed me to embrace and really own my small town upbringing. At one time I resented it. But now, it is more a part of me than any forced environment could ever be.

Caleb J. Ross: Caleb is currently engaged in his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin in November 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross.com. Friend him on Facebook: Facebook.com/rosscaleb

Nik Korpon: Nik is from Baltimore, MD. His stories have appeared in over 20 publications. He reviews books for the Outsider Writer Collective and is a Fiction Editor for ROTTEN LEAVES Magazine. He is writing his second novel. Visit him at http://nikkorpon.com/

Monday, June 27, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #11: Ella Longpre on Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor was everywhere. I read her in every town, in three states. It was “Good Country People” that got me. The smarmy Bible salesman and his side-part, he really thought he had everyone fooled, but I knew all about him.

Maybe the third time I’d read that story, freshman year in college, I had just broken with a fundamentalist religious group I’d belonged to for six years. Though I’d never met a Bible salesman, I recognized this character right away. I’d seen plenty of traveling preachers on tour, toting around their self-published books and Gospel CDs and charming Southern drawls. They visited our tiny congregations, young and inspired, often looking for a wife, preaching holiness, devotion, and reminding us that our daily focus should be the transcendence of our sinful flesh. As a teenager, I wanted to be one of them myself. I wanted to preach the word. I gave sermon-ettes on Sunday afternoons. I evangelized door-to-door. Then one day in Atlanta, I watched as one of those preachers committed a sin he had just, that day, preached against for an hour.

That moment opened up holiness for me, turned out its insides made of filthy rags. O’Connor’s Bible salesman opens up holiness, too—when he’s stolen Hulga’s wooden leg and finally unclasps his suitcase where all those Bibles are supposed to be.

Though I took a break from Flannery O’Connor after freshman year of college, I often re-told “Good Country People” in an effort to get friends to read her. I described that preacher in detail, and that moment when he opens the suitcase, and inside there are no Bibles, only glass eyeballs, wooden feet, wooden hands, hooks, and other prostheses pilfered from other girls in other barns. How his true calling is misusing religious devotion to cheat proud women out of their independence.

Last month, someone returned The Complete Short Stories to the library where I work. Thus ended my break from Flanner O’Connor. So many characters I delighted to watch yet again—serial killers, dishonest little boys, upstanding racists and oppressive mothers. I welcomed the South back into my heart and watched as O’Connor ripped it open, ripped the South open, slashing scissors through the great pillow of the South to find the iniquity hidden within. The struggle of goodness puffing itself up against evil until it deflates into a pathetic, mundane attempt of desperate people just trying to do OK.

I got to “Good Country People.” I was pleased—chatty neighbor, yes, she’s here, and here’s the judgmental mother, and the sour-puss atheist with the horse sweatshirt, and finally, the dopey potato-faced Bible salesman. This time, though, in the barn, when he opens his suitcase to throw in Hulga’s wooden leg, inside there are no prosthetic limbs or glass eyeballs or other stolen synthetic body parts. I had remembered the suitcase all wrong, and packed it, myself, with those limbs. Because really, in the story, his suitcase is empty, save for two Bibles. — Ella Longpre

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Monster Book

I had never heard of xTx or any of her writing when Mike gave me a copy of Normally Special and said, "You'll like this, it's really freaky." An introduction like that not only sparked my curiosity more than most conceivable things but made me compare xTx's writing to what was perceived to be my taste in literature. The verdict is that Mike was right, I did like Normally Special, and my reaction was directly related to its high content of freaky (see also off-kilter, bizarre, uncomfortable, queer, and "wtf"). This book is the first of California-based writer who publishes under a pseudonym in part because she's written a lot of things she's described as too fucked up for people in her real life to read. Learning this was curiosity-sparker number two. Then I read the book, cried on pages 11-12, and from pretty much there on felt an extremely wide spectrum of emotions including humbled, warm, disconcerted, embarrassed, empowered, and hungry. xTx explores loneliness, violence, and sexuality when they appear in the most unlikely of situations. Her characters are multi-layered and are, for the most part, total freaking weirdoes. This collection of short stories tests the limits of what we can empathize with and is successful if at the very least for its ability to simultaneously shame and make champions out of its readers. More specifically, after I read this book, I realized what a freak I am. And that I kinda like it.

"An Unsteady Place" appears in the second half of the book and is about a woman vacationing with her husband and children at a beachside rental. The house they stay in is nautical-themed down to the handles of utensils. The idea of a fail-proof vacation with a perfect family is supposed to seem unsettling in this context, especially after the speaker says in what I imagine to be a pretty deadpan voice, "There is no way to make a mistake here." This is pretty much setting up everybody in the story for failure, and sure enough, a few pages later our protagonist can't look her children in the eyes because she's convinced they are turning into sea creatures that will devour her alive. She counts the starfish decals on the walls incessantly, and when she gets the same number everytime, the normalcy of that seems to drive her further into madness. "An Unsteady Place" is an example of a time where xTx creates a character who goes completely crazy for what seems to outsiders as irrational reasons, if they even notice the growing psychosis in the first place. Another example is in "The Mill Pond," which deals with a totally different kind of outcast, a chubby, pre-pubescent girl cursed with a bitterly ironic name - Tinkerbell. She toes the edge of what it means to feel sexual, and her underdeveloped sexuality, especially in relation to the polluted motives of the adult world around her, feels disturbing, if not ominous. Without making any kind of negative connotation about sex in general, this story, like "I Love My Dad. He Loves Me.", draws parallels not between sex and being sexy, but sex and estrangement from other humans. Something is really weird and sad about Tinkerbell laying on her back in the sun, pulling her shirt up to her "boobies," and rubbing her belly, alone with her thoughts. I thought for a second that I felt sorry for Tinkerbell and her contemporaries but this reaction was probably just a defensive one. You know how sometimes you pity or hate a quality in someone else because you actually just see it in yourself? I felt this way about Tinkerbell, which I think is a pretty cool/ intense reaction for a writer to get out of a reader. We surprise ourselves by never feeling better off or more sane than these characters, even when they are doing things like fantasizing about a boy named Fritos stabbing himself 33 times in the belly. Other than being compelling and often charmingly relevant, the characters xTx creates in these stories are remarkable for a reason I didn't fully understand until "I Am Not a Monster," the last story in the book. This story's title and most of its first page sound like a character statement of a suspiciously unreliable narrator. But then the narrator says this:

"I am the most timid of monsters. They have removed me from my position within their ranks citing words like fail, coward, reject, weakling, useless, stupid, worthless, dumbass. I tried to hang within their monster ranks, I did. I do. I try every day. It's a reenlisting of a reenlisting of a reenlisting. Every day I think, I am there and every day they kick me out. They make me go back to my life. They know what I know and that is, I have too much to hold on to so I cannot truly be a monster."

I think it's amazing how this character, despite functioning as a complete social outcast, is even a freak perceived by the rest of the freaks. The "freak elite" perhaps. Because she (I assume she is a "she," there is something astoundingly feminine about the majority of narrators in this book), has "too much to hold on to," she cannot fully embrace and be open with her nonconformity. She is certainly a monster, but in a way less tangible way than being green and slimy and living under your bed. That would make things too easy for her. Instead she must privately deviate from the average human emotions, desires, and fantasies. You can't pick her out of a crowd because she looks exactly like everyone else. Only she understands how fucked up she truly is, and this understanding brands her perpetually alone. "I Am Not a Monster" was a perfect end to Normally Special for me because I felt this really exciting catharsis where I was reminded of so many other characters in the book and how they are all secret freaks in the same strange, lonely, undisclosed way. I also started thinking about other secret freaks I know. I thought of Dexter and Dennis Cooper's George Miles. Monsters with pretty brown hair and healthy relationships with their dads. Chubby comic-book readers or young mothers at beachside vacation rentals. Anybody whose weirdness goes completely unsuspected by everyone else, and maybe even by themselves. xTx has said in interviews that she writes under a pseudonym to protect the people in her real life from seeing this ugly, dark, societally "wrong" side of her. It's like under the guise of this alternate persona, her inner freak is unleashed, free to be as wild and disgusting and honest as her characters wish they could be.

Anyways, if that's not incentive enough to read this book, then maybe I should mention its size. It's small enough to fit in my purse, which is so small that I can't carry around a normal wallet anymore. It's cute. It's a cute, unassuming, strange little read.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Meet Phoebe Glick sounds like a teen rom com, but it's actually the title of this interview

That's right, Phoebe Glick is probably in some other disguise a rambunctious crime solver, but she's also the Summer 2011 NOÖ Journal/Magic Helicopter Press intern, and you'll be seeing her work around these here blog parts. Phoebe is a UMass Amherst student, a sub shop veteran, a fan of Biggie and Peaches, and a prolific blogger and photographer. When I first met her she told me "the weirder the better" when it came to literature, so I gave her a copy of God Jr. by Dennis Cooper and knew she'd fit into the NOÖ fold. To introduce her, here's a little Q&A:

Hi Phoebe! Where did you grow up? What is one interesting character you remember from your hometown?

I grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts called Holden. I tell people I'm from Worcester, which I hope sounds cooler, but which actually just sounds less clean. An interesting character I can think of on the top of my head is this guy who was always in the Holden Friendly's sitting with a cup of coffee and his briefcase open on the table at a ninety-degree angle. There were a bunch of wires and a computer screen in the briefcase. I went to Friendly's recently and he's totally sitting in the same booth, years after the last time I saw him. I'm pretty sure he's recording sounds.

What are some of your favorite books?

I love the Grapes of Wrath, Huckleberry Finn, and the Picture of Dorian Grey. In a broader sense, I like books with protagonists who are lonely or weird, and anything with a homoerotic subtext.

When did you first realize that language could make people feel things?

Probably when a woman from the Holden library read a ghost story to my second grade class about a creature that haunted a man for eating his tail. It made me feel a terror so real that I cried in the bathroom until my teacher sent someone in to ask me if I was having a "problem."

What is your favorite meal?

This is sort of complicated. Last summer I lived in Brooklyn for a month. Two feelings that will always characterize that time for me are that of being really hot and really poor. Perhaps to relieve these uncomfortable sensations, my food cravings took on the form of something light, heat-relieving, and expensive; more specifically: Pinkberry frozen yogurt. The first time I ate Pinkberry, my friend Lanny warned me that there was some kind of addictive ingredient in the pastel-colored, sweetly acidic, self-defined "swirly goodness." He also told me to order pomegranate flavor with raspberries and coconut shavings. It was love at first, uh, lick.

From reading your blog, I feel like you travel a lot. What are some of your strangest traveling experiences?

Once in Utah I almost drowned in a very strong whitewater rapid, and was brought to the shore by a six-foot-five-inch-tall blonde man whose spirit animal was a stallion and whose name was Tex. Because Tex spent so much time under the sweltering sun of the Western United States, cracks formed on the surfaces of his palms and he filled them with superglue to keep his skin together. Naturally, I fell in love with him. The way you fall in love with someone who saves your life. I'll never see him again.

Friday, May 27, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #12: Mark Cugini on Grace Paley

I've been riding Grace's dick for a while now. Grace dick-riders give her props for an assload of different reasons—her feminist activism, her colloquial voice, her clever insight, etcetera—but what she's so brilliantly adept at, I think, is owning the shit out of her shit.

This probably sounds vague. Good. It's supposed to. What I'm essentially saying is that when I read a Grace story, I know immediately that it's a Grace story, and this is what implores me to refer to her by her forename and her forename only because I'm sure you know exactly who I'm talking about.

Take "Wants," for example, which was the first Grace story I ever read. "Wants" is chock-full of all the necessary requirements we so frequently want from our fiction: conflict, that conflict's progression, an enormous change at the last minute. The thing, though, is that none of these elements are existing on their own but instead are eloquently unified for the sake of survival. It's sort of like what Gary Lutz said about words that are destined to belong together: without all of Grace's eloquences working towards one poignant whole, there would be no ripple effect, no rocking of the boat, and no Grace dick-riders.

And this, I argue, is what all fiction (or short stories or poems or novels or bathtubs) should be striving towards: an immense sense of ownership over the craft, a unity so strong that every last syllable is riding the current of one subtle ebb tide, easily drifting towards its own narrative coast so its readers can find it buried in sand. I'm supposed to be this romantic when I'm talking about these things, you see. If not, our stories will be lost forever, drifting further and further along on the endless current of boring, predictable prose. — Mark Cugini, editor of Big Lucks

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Todd Orchulek on The Lime Twig by John Hawkes

Ever wonder what would happen if those things you dream about but never, ever tell anyone about came true? Ever wonder what it would be like to live out your most depraved fantasies, you know, the ones that only come creeping out of your subconscious under the cover of darkness, behind the shadow of dream? Well, John Hawkes certainly has, and he was kind enough to share. The Lime Twig is the thing, and it’s a fever I have never quite gotten over. I first read it the summer before transferring to UMass and it’s one of the things that Mike and I talked about at our first meeting, where I landed my internship, NOÖ style. It was fitting that I had read it in the haze of summer, in a field, under the watchful eye of shape shifting clouds. The free association feel felt right. I named clouds. I listened to the brittle music of Hawkes's narrative, snapping the lives of the bored Banks and the unfortunate Hencher in two. I watched them squirm under the long scrutiny of Hawkes's wish-fulfillment-gone-awry microscopic lens. 

It all happens in the name of love, somehow, for as Hawkes says, “Love is a long scrutiny like that.” If you know nothing else about Hawkes’s style, you should know
that. The quote is applicable to the whole. The narrative lens filters like consciousness itself. It’s discriminatory, distracted and spastic. But there’s always love and there’s always terror; the two are forever inextricably intertwined, just like in life. And that’s what it’s all about, really. It’s like a study in love and terror and desire and the places where those things meet, and it’s all wrapped up in a tasty poetic prose tortilla. There’s also a horse and kidneys cooling on the ledge. Hawkes's other works - The Blood Oranges, or Death, Sleep and the Traveler explore similar areas, but in different ways, mostly without the overt sense of terror, and without the sinking feeling that The Lime Twig can give you. The Cannibal might be a sister to The Lime Twig, and, really, you can’t go wrong reading any of his stuff if you’re even a tiny bit curious. Finding Hawkes was, for me, like stumbling across some fantastic secret or discovering some previously unknown, underground band that you feel right away, from the first beat, the first note. I remember, straight off, I wanted to simultaneously share and not share it, him, with the rest of the world. I wanted to keep him all to myself, but in the end I knew I couldn’t do that. He’s too good. So here I am, shouting from the rooftops.

It’s that long sense of scrutiny that holds it all together, all the out of focus elements, the fuzzy in-betweens, the moments of reflection. Hawkes' ability to hone in on the most minute details renders certain scenes lucid, even transcendent. You’ll feel like you’re dreaming, or reading a dream, if that’s even possible. Some say it isn’t, but I disagree. I’ve done homework in dreams before. Yes, that’s about as exciting as it sounds, and no, that wouldn’t be an example of the kind of dream Hawkes' is talking about here. So don’t worry, or do, if you’re afraid of the dark, because this book is full of shadows. Read it in a well lit room. The narrative thrust oftentimes leads you into moments of uncomfortable clarity precisely because of its capacity to convey a sense of terror with a single image. Or just clarity, depending. You’ll find yourself immersed in an image, a smell, a sound—the smell of lime, the image of the horse, a pair of buttocks, or the sound of footsteps a floor below. You’ll wonder how you ended up there, but not how the narrative ended up there. And that’s an important distinction, because wherever the story goes, it feels right, even when things go wrong. It feels hyper real. You don’t wonder about it, while you’re reading, because it’s so brilliantly rendered. It’s only after you’re done (which won’t be long – at 175 pages, it is more novella than novel) that you stop and think, wait, what?

And the imagery haunts. Measured against those moments of intense, long scrutiny, the rest of the time things simply aren’t as clear, as is often the case with life, or dreams. That’s where it becomes, for me, “magic time” as Kevin Spacey would say (doing his best Jack Lemon impersonation), because it is a dream, after all. And like a dream, this novel is filled with those moments of transition, where identity and focus become blurred and fuzzy—people go in and out of focus, images appear and disappear, time speeds up or slows down without you even noticing. And then, boom goes the dynamite, things suddenly snap back into focus. And it’s a clear, lucid, sick focus that Hawkes throws at us. It’s a sharp, frayed, lyrical focus.

As for the story, well, Hencher’s the way in. He’s a fat man, missing his mother, living in the past. He finds a new outlet for his loyalty, the misoneist Banks, Michael and Margaret. Hencher wants to please them, to show what a loyal dog he really is, so he decides to help Michael fulfill his dream, owning a race horse. It’s a dream that everyone seems privy to, Michael and Margaret and Hencher, too. It affects all of them, the dream and the horse. Their lives and relationships are inextricably tied to that horse, Michael’s dreams, and their own.

“You may manipulate the screen now, William,” Hencher’s mother tells him in flashback, and he does. Hawkes does, too, subtly shifting perception and summoning tension at will, with a deft turn of phrase, or an image, suspended. He messes with holotropics, hanging the image of the horse in the middle of the narrative, in the Banks’ apartment, teasing and toying with the reader and reality. It’s unnerving, but an effective narrative mechanism:
“Knowing how much she feared his dreams; knowing that her own worst dream was one day to find him gone, overdue minute by minute some late afternoon until the inexplicable absence of him became a certainty; knowing that his own worst dream, and best, was of a horse which was itself the flesh of all violent dreams; knowing this dream, that the horse was in their sitting room-he had left the flat door open as if he meant to return in a moment or meant never to return-seeing the room empty except for moonlight bright as day and, in the middle of the floor, the tall upright shape of the horse draped from head to tail in an enormous sheet that falls over the eyes and hangs down stiffly from the silver jaw; knowing the horse on sight and listening while it raises one shadowed hoof on the end of a silver thread of foreleg and drives down the hoof to splinter in a single crash one plank of that empty Dreary Station floor; knowing his own impurity and Hencher’s guile; and knowing that Margaret’s hand has nothing in the palm but a short life span (finding one of her hairpins in his pocket that Wednesday dawn when he walked out into the sunlight with nothing cupped in the lip of his knowledge except thoughts of the night and pleasure he was about to find)-knowing all this, he heard in Hencher’s first question the sound of a dirty wind, a secret thought, the sudden crashing in of the plank and the crashing shut of that door.”
Once Michael gets involved with Hencher and his mob friends, things begin to change for everyone, and not for the better. Michael is spared, for a spell, and gets to live out his most lurid fantasies. Margaret and Hencher, well, not so much. It all quickly devolves into a nightmare from there. The chrysalis doesn’t change into a butterfly, but a beast.

What Hawkes does best is manipulate time. In this study of reality vs. unreality, or fantasy vs. nightmare, this has the greatest effect on the narrative. He has it on a string throughout, speeding it up, slowing it down, or suspending it altogether. He flashes forward, flashes back. He does away with it completely when it becomes burdensome. This allows the terror to bloom fully within the reader’s mind. And the image of the horse resonates and echoes throughout, from start to finish, for temporality has no dominion in the realm of dream or nightmare. For Michael, and for me, it carries with it an eerie, undeniable sense of jamais vu.

So, be careful what you wish for, or, at least, remember what that old adage, “if you can’t be good, be careful,” because who knows, there might be a horse out there somewhere with your name on it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #11: Carolyn Zaikowski on The Little Prince

Carolyn Zaikowski's tattoo: "I believe that for his escape he took
advantage of the migration of a flock of wild birds."
I read The Little Prince about once a year. I did not read it when I was little; I read it for the first time when I was about fourteen (though as a wee one in the eighties, I do remember The Little Prince television cartoon, and thus I've always known the imagery of his planet, his wide pants, and his sad rose.) I read The Little Prince once a year to remember what I care about and how I want to live as a person in the world, a world where love, sadness, foxes, roses, tipplers, lonely kings, simple lamplighters, merchants who sell thirst-quenching pills, obsessive businessmen, egomaniacs, snakes, obligations, and friends exist. A world where nothing is permanent and everything, no matter how much we forget, is magical, totally beyond the limited understanding of our human minds.

I do not say these things lightly nor to invoke cliché. The Little Prince is not just a "cute" book to me, my love of it not just a quirky or fun part of my identity. Each year I wonder, is this the right year to give it to my nephew, himself a little prince? At what age will he finally understand, and what does understanding mean? Perhaps it's I, in my self-satisfied adulthood, who has fallen from wonder and needs to be reminded that a plain hat and an elephant being eaten by a snake are not the same thing? I keep it next to my bed in a small pile of crucial books that includes Gandhi's autobiography, S.N. Goenka's guide to Vipassana Meditation, the Bhagavad Gita, and an archive of Thich Nhat Hanh. When a friend of mine died, it was The Little Prince we read at her funeral: "And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens... they will all be your friends. In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me." In my dark moments, I think of this. I go out to the hill behind my house, alone, and I am reminded of the expanse—sad here, glorious there, but every inch of which proves the impossibility of aloneness. When Antoine de St. Exupery's plane, which crashed and killed him in 1944, was found in 2004, a rush of heat filled my esophagus and pulse and I felt humbled with wonder. It is so good to remember wonder. "Is the warfare between the sheep and flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman's sums?" There is a small group of indigenous people in Argentina who speak Toba, a language into which only two books have been translated in modern memory: The Bible and The Little Prince. There is a reason why. — Carolyn Zaikowski, editor of Dinosaur Bees

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #10: Bradley Sands on Stephen Dixon's "The Stranded Man"

Stephen Dixon
Stephen Dixon is one of my favorite authors and I have no idea why. He does not write the type of fiction that I would usually be interested in reading. I have read more of his books than most people on Earth. Many of them are very long and go on for pages and pages without paragraph breaks. I got into his writing because before I moved to Colorado to attend grad school, I visited my parents for a few weeks and didn’t have much to do, so I raided my brother’s bookcase. He had an advanced reader’s copy of Dixon’s novel, Old Friends, that he had probably gotten from when he used to work for a newspaper. I read it and loved it. I don’t think my brother ever read it or maybe he told me that he tried to get into it but failed.

I always found it more difficult to get into Dixon’s story collections than his novels. At first, I am unable to read more than one story per day. Eventually, I really get into the books and try to read them in their entirety in a day because it feels like I have acquired the ability to enjoy more than one story in one sitting and if I don’t take advantage of this ability, I will lose it and go back to only being able to read one story per day. Since I don’t like reading story collections that way, I try to devour the entire book in one sitting if possible.

I checked his collection, Sleep, out from the library about 8 months ago. I was only able to get through a couple of stories before returning it because I had banned myself from reading adult fiction books to prepare for the endeavor of writing a novel for children. After finishing the novel, I checked the book out from the library again. I read a few stories here and there and it took me a while to gain the ability to enjoy more than one story per day. But I achieved the ability today and finished the book.

Regarding Dixon’s writing, he often uses protagonists who obsess over every decision and detail of their past, present, and futures. Obsessing about the future stands out in particular because the characters often consider the many ways in which events can occur in their lives and the stories include their rapidly changing speculations. I see this as a commentary on how every person on this planet is a storyteller because we all speculate about our futures, although perhaps not to the same extent as Dixon’s protagonists. This sort of speculation is very prominent in Sleep, or at least in the first fourth of the book or so.

I’m going to comment about a story that I read about a week or two ago: “The Stranded Man.” In the beginning, the protagonist starts out by describing his life on a deserted island and how he is lying in a hammock. Within a few sentences, he says, “Not quite a hammock. Nothing like one. On some dried grass, in a hut.” Upon reading this, it becomes a typical Dixon story. If this were a person’s introduction to his work, their sense of the story’s reality will be disrupted. For those who are already familiar with Dixon’s writing, these sentences reveal that the protagonist is imagining that he is on a deserted island. For about a page and a half, the protagonist continues to describe his life on the island and keeps changing his mind about certain details. Then it is revealed that he is not on a deserted island. Instead, he is at home, lying next to his wife in bed. He tells her that he was thinking about how he would be able to get himself to a deserted island that was thousands of miles from all bodies of land and be able to survive for years without being found. The idea of being alone is very appealing to him. The man’s wife does not seem bothered by this, but this is not a surprise in a Dixon story. The man tries to figure out how he would end up alone on a deserted island in a way that would not result in anyone’s death, but he cannot conceive of a scenario that would be successful. The wife suggests swimming to the island, but he says it would be too far. Neither he nor she come up with the idea that he could go alone to the island in a boat, although I suppose that wouldn’t work so well considering he would have a means to leave the island, but he could always destroy the boat. Soon, the man speaks of the “stranded man” of his fantasy as if he were a separate person from himself. His wife falls asleep and he continues to contemplate ways to reach the island. He imagines meeting a native girl and becoming her lover. They have children together. No, he never meets a native girl. He fantasizes that his wife is a native girl. After years, he is rescued. His island family comes back with him to the United States. No, they does not. His wife remarried while he was missing. He grows old and dies in the native girl’s arms. No, they go back to the island. Their children decide to stay behind and have children of their own. The man’s children sometimes visit their parents. He dies on the island. Or does he? — Bradley Sands, author of Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You and editor of Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #9: Frank Hinton on sex stories

"I was alone in the house, my family was outside working in the garden and I snuck into my parent’s room and found a yellowed paperback called You Always Remember Your First Time. I didn’t understand what it was about but read the first story and discovered what sex was and maybe more importantly, what words could convey.

Up until then, sex had been a penis resting still in a vagina. I didn’t understand there was a motion to it. I knew nothing. The stories in the book expressed a kind of sadness about sex. They were filled with regret and pain. Some were happy and ecstatic. One story was about a very old man seducing a very young girl. I remember a description of tears sliding down chests and over nipples. I’ve thought of this happening to me when crying, in a vague, disconnected way.

I was fascinated. I re-stashed the book and found myself sneaking back to it every possible moment. I started to write stories about sex or really, about bodies moving together in uncomfortable/comfortable ways. I hid the stories in single folds between sheets of old coloring books and never re-read them. That summer I think I wrote maybe thirty ‘sex’ stories and became convinced that this was the ultimate form of fiction/expression. I think now, reflecting on this, that book has been an influence on me being a writer.

One day I went into the drawer with the book and it was gone. I’d always been careful to replace it exactly, but I was caught. Maybe. Maybe my parents had just tossed it out during a cleaning. I’d read every story 3-4 times and felt a solid ‘adult’ grasp of the metaphors and language used. My sex stories are still somewhere in a box, in a basement, in between poorly colored sheets. I haven’t thought about any of this in a clear and organized way for a long long time." — Frank Hinton, author of I Don't Respect Female Expression and editor of Metazen

Friday, May 13, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #8: Tao Lin on Charles R. Johnson

"Two stories I like that I haven't discussed before on the internet (except here, where I also list other stories I like) are Charles R. Johnson's "China" (from his 1986 collection The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Tales and Conjurations) and "Kwoon" (from his 2005 collection Dr. King's Refrigerator: And Other Bedtime Stories).

"China," based on my memory, is about a man and his wife. In the beginning the wife is worried about her husband's failing health. She thinks things about what she'll do when he dies. Then the husband becomes involved in martial arts and becomes increasingly healthier and more "Zen," to a degree that the wife, somewhat confused about why she feels this way, becomes disapproving of the husband's behavior and, in her view, seeming self-righteousness. The story ends with the wife watching the husband doing a jump-kick and crying upon realizing that she is going to die before her husband dies.

"Kwoon," based on my memory, is about a person who is teaching martial arts. He is alone, seems to have no friends or family, and lives in the same location where he teaches. He seems older, maybe in his 30s or 40s, and to have a resigned view of life. One day a new student challenges the person and beats him badly in front of his students, embarrassing him. Most of the students begin training with the new student. The story ends with the person and the new student both implying, or accepting, that they have things to learn from the other, I think.

Based on my memory both stories are in 3rd-person. I was reminded of Lorrie Moore when I first read "China." Both stories are ~20 pages. I think I first discovered Charles R. Johnson when I was trying to find writers who had an interest in Buddhism." — Tao Lin, author of Richard Yates

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #7: Kevin Sampsell on "What I Did" by Rebecca Brown

"Rebecca Brown is a fantastic writer of risky, dark fiction as well as some nakedly heartfelt nonfiction and works in other mediums. She lives in Seattle, Washington but her work is underappreciated in America (though apparently she is big in Japan), with the exception of gay readers and authors, who see her as a lasting influence. 

In 1992, City Lights released her story collection, The Terrible Girls. This was right when I moved to Portland, Oregon. I bought this collection without knowing anything about the author. I simply loved the title and that cool cover design. I was still fairly new to book-reading and my early, impressionable interests were stories and novels that challenged censorship and had been banned—works by William Burroughs, Terry Southern, Karen Finley, Henry Miller, and folks like that.

Rebecca Brown fit perfectly into this misfit canon. One story in particular, 'What I Did,' shows up 2nd to last in this book and it's the one that felt transformative to me. It's a detailed story about a woman carrying some sort of duffel bag through a dark, desolate land. It's so dark that the woman can't even see the bag. She can't tell what it's made of and she feels no seams or weaves in its construction. She does not say what's in the bag (you learn that in the next story, 'The Ruined City'). She is only trying to get a place where she can bury it. It's a 10-page sensory sensation. There is nothing in the story except the woman and the bag and the action between them and the reader feels everything, in the dark, with her fingers and her sore, thirsty body.

I remember being so impressed with the story that I tried to write something similar (I vaguely recall something dangerously plagiaristic, like about a man carrying a box through a tunnel or something like that), but my story failed. I had nowhere near the talent of Rebecca Brown.

Rebecca Brown, author of "What I Did"
Two years later (1994), I had my first published story in an anthology called Good To Go: Short Stories West Coast Style (published by a small press called Zero Hour). Rebecca Brown was also in it. I went up to Seattle for the book release party and nervously eyed Miss Brown from across the room. I was pretty young and self-conscious and had a weird feeling that lesbian writers disliked me.

While I waited for a chance to say hello to RB, I met Stacey Levine, whose book, My Horse and Other Stories, remains one of my all-time favorite collections. Finally, I worked up the nerve to talk to Rebecca, and wouldn't you know it: she was super nice. Not like a "Terrible Girl" at all. Meeting her was one of my first lessons in the fact that authors, even if they write creepy, mentally tormenting tales, can be completely warm and normal and approachable. Rebecca and I became fast friends. She's been totally encouraging to me and my writing (and publishing) ever since. 

Her own work has continued to be awesome (though I feel that it's still not as talked-about as it should be), from Dogs: A Bestiary to her recent essay collection, American Romances. For short story fans who haven't read her work, I say start out with The Terrible Girls or her 2006 collection, The Last Time I Saw You." — Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography and publisher of Future Tense Books

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"It is totally appropriate to have alien sex in public, even on their planet." — Alicia LaRosa on Lizzy Acker's Monster Party

Monster Party, by Lizzy Acker, is a genius collection of short stories that tie together the reality of interpersonal relationships, human and not.
Each story, in and of itself, is beautifully crafted. Moving from different ages, children to adults, Acker pushes the boundaries of what is proper and what actually exists in reality. And then, just when you get comfortable with what you’re reading, feeling as if you could snuggle up with these people and their problems—the aliens visit. They don’t just visit, however. They show you how you simply love wrong, have sex the wrong way, and that you wouldn’t even know that they’re having sex right in front of you. But “it is totally appropriate to have alien sex in public, even on their planet.”
When you think you’re comfortable with those perfect, sexual aliens, different creatures show up that are even more bizarre in a wonderful, spectacular way. “I love you baby. Good luck with planet Earth.”
Personally, my favorite thing about this collection of stories is how one element, no matter how small—like an image or a feeling—finds its way into another story, another set. At first I thought I was imagining things—which isn’t a hard thing to do—but when the aliens and their lovemaking found their way into another story, in another set, I knew it was more deliberate than not. The bottle rockets, the basement: everything has its purpose. Nothing is left out. The hints and pieces of the puzzle are intricately laced into the full collection.
Lizzy Acker, author of Monster Party
These stories are full of such raw emotion, so much that it is impossible to put the book down until finished. The title story, “Monster Party,” is one of the most emotional stories of all, as repressed as it is. “I suddenly don’t want to tell him, but here I am. I have to. I put all the parts of the machine together all by myself and all that’s left now is to turn on the electricity.” As the reader, I wanted the narrator to scream, cry, punch, and kick her way into the heart of the man she cared about. “I try to think tougher, like a boy would, or like a terrorist or a serial killer. I open the party mix and my skateboard rolls around over my head.”

Soon, I will also take her initiative and put my name in multiple stories of my own collection. “This hasn’t occurred to me before and it seems like a brilliant solution, a dream solution.” Ballsy move, but one that emphasizes the emphasizable.
Each story is worth reading, down to the last word. Whether you can relate to the stories, pick them up and chew on them to reveal their taste, or simply stare at the words until they come together and slap you in the face with meaning—this book is worth the time.

NOÖ Knows Stories #6: Mark Baumer on the future of storytelling

"I once read a short story called, "I don't believe in the short story anymore." I forget who wrote it. I think I remember there being a man in a canoe. The man in the canoe was tired of his canoe. He burned his canoe and decided to just float in the water for a while. After an hour of floating in the water he began to wonder if he could swim. He became worried. He could see the remains of his canoe in the distance. He began to float towards these remains, but as he got closer he realized it was a barge of burning tires. The barge reeked. The man decided to stop moving towards the barge. He was not sure what to do. A few years passed. The man ate gullweed and salmon. The outer layer of his skin turned into a natural gortex. The man could float as easily as he could breathe. He still was not sure what he wanted to do with his life. One day a magazine floated by. He picked it up. The magazine was full of jetskis. The man became very excited. He ordered a jetski. He felt very happy when it arrived. He never thought about his old canoe or the burning barge of tires again." — Mark Baumer, who once walked across America and at another time ate pizza every day.

NOÖ Belly Flops Into the Wigleaf Top Short Fictions of 2010

Congratulations to everybody on the list of Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Online Fictions of 2010! Including our Associate Editor Ryan Call and his sister Christy Call, NOÖ [12] illustrator, for their story "Snowstorm as Nostalgic Accumulation."

NOÖ had a strong showing in the long list, with 6 stories placing. Here they are in alphabetical order by author last name:

"Running the Drain" by Brian Allen Carr in NOÖ [12]

"Nine Reasons Not to Kill Yourself East of St. Marks" by Kyle Hemmings in NOÖ Weekly (Sep 20th edition guest edited by Thomas O'Connell)

Everyone the Same, But Not at Once" by Cami Park in NOÖ [11]

"The News" by Julianna Spallholz in NOÖ Weekly (Sep 20th edition guest edited by Thomas O'Connell, double dunk, nice work Thomas!)

"A Staging" by Michael Trocchia in NOÖ [12]

Case History #3: Catie" by Carolyn Zaikowski in NOÖ [11]

Congratulations to everybody, and thanks to Lily Hoang, Ravi Mangla, and Scott Garson of Wigleaf! Thanks to all the contributors, guest editors, and readers of NOÖ Weekly, and stay tuned for NOÖ [13], coming this summer!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Exclusive Interview with Ofelia Hunt

OFELIA HUNT might not be 100% real, but she writes 100% real books. Her first novel, Today & Tomorrow, is forthcoming from Magic Helicopter Press in a mere 10 days. To get the mills milling, our brave intern Alicia LaRosa ventured into a correspondence with the mysterious Hunt "herself." As we get closer to the release date, we might give you more details about who Hunt "really" is, or we might just link to pictures of Will Smith and tell you that's a clue to Ofelia's "real" name. Or we might just tell you to look on the copyright page of the book itself. The important thing to remember is that OFELIA HUNT IS BACK and MAY 15TH: THE TODAY TOMORROW COMES.

AL: In Today & Tomorrow, did you deliberately place "Tomorrow" smack in the middle of the book? (When it opens, "Tomorrow" is directly in the middle of the spine). Was it a precise, diabolical plan or was it an unconscious decision?

OH: I have many diabolical plans, but sadly, this was not one. I began with the restriction of two parts in two days and arbitrarily named them 'Today' and 'Tomorrow' in my Word document. Initially each 'day' was to have twenty-four chapters—which may have lead to the center placement of 'Tomorrow'. I abandoned the twenty-four chapter structure because it looked annoying in Word, and because Ofelia Hunt did/does not like paragraph breaks (and so every place where there was a paragraph break became a chapter).

AL: Do you take on a specific persona as Ofelia Hunt? Do you dig deep within yourself to find this person, detach yourself from reality this way by projecting this personality, or do you simply act au naturale?

OH: I'd like to say I put on a special bathrobe and eye makeup and kitten slippers. But I'm far more boring. I decided Ofelia liked a number of specific things and typed them out: 11 point Garamond, hyphens, repetition, trickery, 'math rock', parking lots… I made a list of writers Ofelia admires: Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Stacey Levine, Franz Kafka, Lydia Davis, Kenneth Koch, Kurt Vonnegut, Lisa Jarnot, Diane Williams, Joy Williams, etc... Ofelia Hunt does not like or understand plot. Her favorite move is Suicide Club (a Japanese movie sometimes called Suicide Circle). I woke every day for about two years at four a.m. to write and revise for sixty to ninety minutes before work. This may have detached me from reality. I remember feeling tired a lot, and listening to a lot of hiphop. Ofelia often writes about the kinds of things I muse about throughout a day, the things I find funny or strange. I think of Ofelia as both the "I" in the novel and the writer of the novel, so the novel may be a memoir.

AL: Are any of the characters in the novel based off of people you know personally? Related to?

OH: No, or not really. At most, certain moments, memories, instances, are based on reality. I grew up near Highland Ice Arena, and throughout middle school the Friday night skate was the place to be. I'd like to say that every character is a composite of every person I've ever met if that composite had been born me. The grandfather character is probably the parent I wish I had, and to some degree, has a sense of humor very much like my mother's.

AL: If you had to pick one day of your life to live over and over again, just like Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day, which day would it be?

OH: Probably the day I moved to Portland with my partner. That day was full of possibility and exhaustion and carrot cake.

AL: Who is the man in the corner?

OH: I don't actually know. When I was very small, and sometimes even now, in darkness, as I pass near parked cars, the image of a very long arm reaching to grab my ankles appears in my mind. It is possible that this arm is the man in the corner.

Read excerpts of Today & Tomorrow in NOÖ Journal and Alice Blue Review. Stay tuned for more info about the novel and exclusive Ofelia Hunt secrets!