Wednesday, April 28, 2010

David Ackley at Fictionaut--Fictionaut Faves Series

Writer and Editor Marcelle Heath of Luna Park Review invited me to contribute a two-paragraph (I turned it into three here) response to one of my favorite Fictionaut stories (and favorite Fictionaut writers). The review appears just below. Take a look at David Ackley's work, the link to which also appears below. It is a revealing and carefully structured first-person narrative:

For its authentic voice and sharp characterization, David Ackley’s story, “Confessions of an I.R.A. Terrorist”, remains one of my Fictionaut Faves. Not only is Ackley’s choice of the first-person vantage point a joy to read (since it so perfectly captures the monologue of a callused but well-meaning London cab driver), the story also astutely scrutinizes the illogical nature of prejudice and the way in which, over a decade, such intolerance and fear have so rapidly changed target.

Through lines like the following one, Ackley reveals the witty resignation of his narrator to the circumstances of his world. Here, the narrator Paddy O'Donovan is referring to a loudspeaker request to move an unattended suitcase from an Underground station: “That's the Brit all over; polite to the last, please and pardon and thank you very much, even as they're about to detonate your undies.” Or a line like this: “When we drive off I raise my middle finger over the roof in salute to my chums and from three cab windows in a line come a brown, black and tan middle finger sending it back to me.”

This is so vividly real, so in character that I can’t imagine this man doesn’t actually exist somewhere in London, maybe drinking a pint and eating crisps from a packet inside his flat in Battersea. It’s a powerful piece of fiction that reveals a great many uncomfortable truths about human nature, both through the narrator's actions and through all those surrounding him.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Artists Resources for the Tri-State April Arts Showcase

On Sunday, April 25th, I had the opportunity to read from American Soma at the Artists Resources for the Tri-State's quarterly Arts Showcase, which features original work by musicians, writers, and performing artists from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.
The pictures here were snapped by my husband Michael and include Jay Flippin, who did a fantastic impromtu scoring of my story "North American Twilight" (the part in which Edward Boone first meets the Angel of Death). It was a wonderful addition to the story.

During the program, Jay also got together with Arts Showcase co-founder Michael Harbour, who played bass for the Jay Flippin Jazz Trio. And later, singer Jay Oaks (right in photo), who appears with fellow guitarist and friend Pete Calico presented some of his original folk songs.
Rounding out the presentation was painter and guitarist Jan Haddox, whose song "West Virginia Morning" has been adopted by the West Virginia Lottery and is now used in their commercials. It's a great song that celebrates the beauty of the mountain state. Jan's second song "Ain't No Mothman Blues" borrows from the legend of his hometown of Point Pleasant, WV, which is occasionally haunted by the prophetic creature that appears before major disasters. (They made a movie back in 2002 with Richard Gere and Debra Messing, but it was not filmed on location).

After the performances, we were invited to stay for dinner, which included a great white turkey chili, cornbread, slaw, and a fantastic bread pudding. We got to spend more time with everyone, and discussed the practical matters of gardening, canning our harvests, curing iron skillets (Michael and I prefer iron skillets over Teflon pans), and fruit cake traditions (along with fruit cake disasters). We had a great time in Huntington and are very grateful for 733Arts' program and their wonderful hospitality.

To read more about the event, check out the article that appeared in Monday's Herald-Dispatch.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Matt Bell's Wolf Parts

Yesterday, Matt Bell’s Wolf Parts arrived in my mailbox, and I immediately tucked into it. At fifty pages, it’s a short, but intense read that almost demands multiple readings because it is filled with vivid imagery and uncommon approaches to language and conventional symbolism.

Here are 47 tiny but masterful approaches to a well-worn tale, many of them just a paragraph long, yet pregnant with meaning. (Pardon the pun….after all, Granny and Red do spend some time inside the wolf’s belly, but happily, never making it to his lower intestinal tract).

Having had a night’s sleep to allow the stories to percolate, I think of them this morning as a series of porcelain miniatures: Bell paints Red’s alternate histories with precise brushstrokes that map viscera and chart the rocky (and sometimes paradoxically abstract) landscape of a victim’s psychology. The aptly named Red (sure, it’s the traditional moniker, but it also makes me think of Rosa Luxemburg, nicknamed ‘Red Rosa’ and killed by the similarly predatory German Freikorps in 1919. And maybe the red hood is actually the new Blue Stocking?) is alternately innocent girlish victim, initially unaware of but forced to acknowledge her sexuality, and then heroine, who prepares reprisals following the unwanted lessons that have sharpened her edges to points as fine as the knife concealed in her goodie basket. Other times, as in the opening story, she attempts to empower herself by stopping the destructive cycle she is trapped in. She uses the knife her mother gives her to free everything amazing inside her comparatively lowly human form.

The stories themselves are both intimate and elliptical, giving just enough information for readers to vicariously experience and also extrapolate beyond the boundaries of what’s told. And I wonder, too, if Bell was a fan of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Narratives. (Remember those? Turn to page 63 if you think Jack should run through the glowing tunnel, or turn to page 362 if you think he should head back to his space ship.) While there is no overt direction given to reader, allowing them the illusion of control over the course of the narrative, the book's stories are not always linear, suggesting the possibility of as many alternate endings as there are stories themselves.

But really, it’s lines like these that just…well, really, there’s no better way to say it…kick ass with their imagery and metaphors:

“The Wolf and Red had always shared the twin paths through the forest, but it wasn’t until the girl started to bleed—not a wound her mother said, but a secret blood nonetheless—that he began to follow her, began to sniff at the hem of her skirts and cape" (p. 12).

How like the route of every boy and girl into a hormone-determined and hormone-driven adulthood. Matt Bell’s book gets to the heart of it all. Here are survivors and victims populating tiny fables as flawless as they are evocative.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Michelle Reale and Chris Bowen at TNY Presents

Last night, on the occasion of the April edition of TNY Presents, we had the opportunity to meet Chris Bowen, who runs Burning River Press, just outside Cleveland, and Michelle Reale, whose chapbook Natural Habitat (I just ordered a copy, and you should, too!) was released this month by Burning River.

Michelle's work is, as I mentioned at the mic last night, so visual and poignant. Often her stories are told from the vantage point of someone vulnerable: a child subject to the wrath or untoward advances of an adult male, an abandoned wife, a physically weakened elderly woman. Michelle paints the immensity of their emotional burdens and, in some cases, their reciprocol sadism through a series of deft strokes. Previously in a post here, I mentioned that her works were grotesques, and of course, I mean this as a reference to hyper-reality--the kind not found in soft light or abstractions, but the reality revealed by the unforgiving magnifying mirror, which exposes the pores and dermal imprefections with uncomfortable crispness. Moreover, we often recognize in her characters coincidental portraits of people we know. What Michelle's characters are capable of are also probable actions of the people whom they resemble. Still, this is not to say they are 'typed', although sometimes 'types' are inevitable. They are just very real.

Chris Bowen's work is also powerful, and full of real life anxiety and its relation to long-standing archetypes: his stories are worlds in which power relationships play repeatedly throughout history, sometimes in unexpected ways. His story, "I Speak from the Tops of Pyramids," was stunning and rich with deep symbolism. He relates his experience on a construction site, where he is called "dog" in Spanish by the switch blade-carrying Hispanic workers, who make him their slave and follow him into the building's foundation while flicking their knives open and closed. They think he does not understand their language, but he knows enough to comprehend all their intentions. Another amazing line in one of his stories was (and I'm not doing the line justice through my paraphrase here) a narrator who aknowledged how fruit can become rotten to the core after striking the ground. The narrator explained that he knew this from experience. Wow. It's a profound line, and truthful on more than one level: an example, if you're reading, students of Comp II, of symbolism with profounder meanings.

At the designated New Yinzer bar, Brillobox (Dearest Brillobox, you are the Cedar Tavern of Pittsburgh's writers and poets, and we all love you) Michelle talked about all the writers we knew and even Library Journal (LJ) folks (we both wrote for the excellent former LJ Reference Review Editor Mirela Roncevic, and we both know West Fargo Public Librarian Carrie Scarr, with whom I got to work on the E-Reference Ratings in 2008). Over drinks and later at Modern Formations, we also got to chatter about all my favorite writing acquaintances: Roxane Gay, whose writing we both gushed about; Claudia Smith; Aaron Burch; Lee Klein; Elizabeth Ellen...and many more I can't remember right this second.

It was a great, energizing night meeting Michelle and Chris and hearing their work. It's evenings like these that keep my own writing and my perspective on contemporary lit feeling energized. I truly hope they get back to Pittsburgh soon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wednesday Night in Pittsburgh...

So! TNY Presents... is 2 years old this month. Sure, we're in our third season, but our story started on April 18, 2008. Here's to many happy returns!

We're celebrating with a fantastic selection of writers and a great local band. This month, we're excited to welcome Cleveland's own Burning River Press! The details:

Where: ModernFormations 4919 Penn Ave.
When: Wednesday, April 21st @ 8pm
Cover: $5 or a contribution to our potluck dinner
Cake: But of course. What would a birthday party be without it?
Also, join us for drinks at Brillobox before the show. You'll find us warming a booth and having a beer (or, usually, a Manhattan) by 6:30 p.m. on show nights.

Michelle Reale (Reader): Michelle Reale's fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, elimae, Eyeshot, JMWW, Pank, Foundling Review, Rumble, Underground Voices, Emprise Review, Matchbook, Pear Noir, The Stray Branch, Blue Print Review and a host of others. Her fiction chapbook , Natural Habitat will be published by Burning River in April, 2010 and available this Wednesday. She's been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is currently working on a novel of linked stories.

Chris Bowen (Reader): Chris Bowen is an author, editor, and life-long learner. His fiction has appeared in multiple small press and college journals. Among others: Hobart, Muse & Stone, Penumbra and forthcoming, A Trunk of Delirium, Fast Forward Press and Leaf Garden. He is the creator of the Cleveland based website and small press Burning River. He enjoys the culinary arts at Cleveland’s Tri-C Metro campus and swimming in lakes during summer.

M. Callen (Reader): In the morning, the first thing M. Callen does is push-ups. M. Callen has always carried a knife. She maintains a promise never to eat Wonderbread again, to never buy ValuTime anything. If once you saw her drinking from the whiskey tree, she apologizes for your gnarled face and busted lip. Sometimes she has a hard time knowing when enough is enough.

M. Callen is full of bad ideas, but not the kind you think. Her memory is, at best, circumspect; full of the ghosts she once slow danced with, or wanted to slow dance with. The trellis and string quartet. M. Callen has always wanted to use the word ‘pirouette’ in a poem; but like many other things, the timing has never been right.

Everyone who has ever come to call M. Callen “home” probably regrets it, because she would not leave and she would not stay. She comes from the silence that folds the night into morning, is descendent of both the albatross and the 8-track. She is less interested in apologizing than she is in asking forgiveness.

Don Wentworth (Reader): Don Wentworth is a small press poet whose work has been or will be published in Bear Creek Haiku, Bottle Rockets, Modern Haiku, The New Yinzer and Rolling Stone, among others. He has published two chapbooks - Tenpenny Stamens (Random Weirdness) and The Nostalgia Papers (Mockersatz Zrox) - and has a forthcoming book, Past All Traps (Sixth Gallery), due sometime this year.

Martin Dodd (Reader): Martin Dodd joined a writers group at age 67 in 2002. Since then, he has been published in The Barmaid, The Bean Counter, and The Bungee Jumper; Chicken Soup For The Recovering Soul; Homestead Review; Hobart (Web Issues Dec '06. Jun '07); Cadillac Cicatrix; and Writers Weekly. Dodd has also won awards, or been a finalist, in contests of NorthernPros; St. Louis Short Story Contest; Central Coast Writers (California); Writer's Digest; Inkwell; and Glimmer Train.

House of Assassins (music)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Right now, I'm enjoying Roxane Gay's writing. I have a total lit crush.

Check out this excerpt from Roxane's "There are Things You Need to Know" in the March edition of The Foundling Review:

"I no longer talk to my best friend because of you, because you flirted and then went further and the next time I saw her I knew. I could see the damage you do all over her face but she is not like me. You didn’t look good on her. You went there when you knew you shouldn’t, because you knew you could. Sometimes you ask after her and when you do, you smile. You don’t want me to forget who you are. You are the real problem but I love you more."

And Roxane's amazing story "Gravity at the End of the World" in Knee Jerk Magazine:

"On the day Craig was released, I stood outside the work camp gates with a couple other wives and girlfriends also waiting for their convicts. My hair was done up, and I wore tight jeans and high heels. I jumped around nervously waiting, worrying. After the gates opened, Craig came running out, his hair long and messy in his face. When he reached me, he stilled and stared at me and smiled and my heart beat so fast it made me dizzy. He held my face between his hands and kissed me so long and hard with his perfect lips, I could feel it in the pulp of my teeth. When he pulled away, he said, “Goddamn, I missed you babe.” Then he turned around and gave the work camp the finger. As we drove home, he held me against him so tight, I ached in the best way. I forgot all the things I was going to say to him about making better choices and resisting his brother’s pull."

Wow. Amazing stuff. I'm in awe.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Interview Reprise: cult author David Ohle on Billy Burroughs

This interview, with cult author David Ohle on the subject of William Burroughs, Jr., originally appeared at Hobart in September 2006.

Hobart Interview: "Motorman Meets the Son of Naked Lunch"

David Ohle, author of the epic science fiction dystopia Motorman, will release a posthumous memoir of William S. Burroughs, Jr. through Soft Skull Press in September [2006]. Like his original cult-classic, published by Knopf in 1972 and reprinted by 3rd Bed in 2004, and its eagerly anticipated follow-up, The Age of Sinatra (Soft Skull, 2004), Billy Burroughs’ memoir is itself a record of exceptional Beckett-like adversity. Still, it is not a subject one might expect to fit into Ohle’s decidedly more futuristic and politically despondent oeuvre. In the interview which follows, Ohle explains how he became involved in the production of Billy’s memoir and what he found once he opened the three file boxes that contained the last physical remnants of Billy’s life.

A pure Beat distillation, Billy’s voice seems an unspoiled synthesis of his father’s stygian humor and Kerouac’s seemingly offhand literary anarchism. His prose fairly clacks and rattles with Kerouacian rhythm as he catalogs the results of his ignominious conduct. Also, in his most lucid and formal prose—that intended for the novel itself—there is a robust beauty to his imagery. It is in his description of the Rio Grande alfalfa farm on which he was born, the droning of its locusts, the analogous contours of tree roots and scorpions, and the family’s horizontal white farm house.

Still, the book is replete with a candid kind of horror: the quarts of blood that spew from Billy’s nose and mouth when his liver fails, the inability of his doctors to pinpoint the source of his ailments, the erroneous diagnoses of hysteria and outrageous prescription for the liver-weakening drug Haldol, the time spent in the mental hospital. There is a panic telegraphed by his word choice and--in the particularly difficult periods of detox and convalescence--mental leaps and disjunctions that are stunning. In letters to his father, he skips across the surface of his condition with a self-effacing, expressively Chaplainesque wittiness. There are moments of incisive humor, like his description of a doctor and nurse who, in their thorough examination of him, end up seeing each other from both his ends: “I say, doctor. Is that you down there?” While he accuses himself of griping and bleating, Billy is actually very matter-of-fact. He acknowledges his baffling inability to rise above that which emotionally hobbles him. In his own commentary, Billy’s father identifies him as simply unhappy and without knowledge of what makes him that way. And it is this, which leads to repeated tumbles from the wagon, persistent attempts at reform, and chronic personal failure.

Ohle’s work on Billy’s memoir offers readers historical perspective and cultural documentation. It is a record of the tail end of the Beat generation, a depiction of the greasy, downhearted bohemianism left in the movement’s rowdy, avant-gardist wake. It also offers an additional angle to Burroughs’ scholarship: a retrospective, sideways (albeit, somewhat idiosyncratically Billy-filtered) view of William, Sr. and the direct impact made by his incendiary literature and personal actions.

Billy Burroughs is the genuine Million Little Pieces article, but one who never does recover. He seems the definitive cautionary tale and an argument for the inextricable link between creativity and psychosis. Ohle has provided a invaluable window onto the life and interior world of the self-described “Son of Naked Lunch,” the progeny of William Burroughs and bennie-addled Joan Vollmer Adams, whom Burroughs, Sr. accidentally shot dead while playing a William Tell-like game of marksmanship. The following interview was conducted via emails sent from Lawrence, Kansas, where David Ohle writes and holds a lectureship at KU.

Savannah Guz: What prompted Bill, Sr. to ask that you compile Billy’s papers and last novel? Was it Motorman that sparked his interest and alerted him to your abilities?

David Ohle: I knew William Sr. for the last ten years of his life here in Lawrence [Kansas]. Saw him at least once a week, was a pall bearer at his funeral. I also know his assistant, James Grauerholz. Burroughs Sr. and James both knew I was a dependable researcher, editor and writer. I had done preliminary editing and transcriptions of three of Bill Sr.’s own works Queer, Western Lands, and The Cat Inside. Two other people had tried and given up on doing Billy’s “book.” So Burroughs hired me for a fee to “edit” Billy’s last novel, Prakriti Junction. But when I got to Ohio State, where the filed boxes were stored, there was no novel to speak of, so I conceived the idea of doing a memoir, a compilation of his writings, his letters and testimonials about him. This is all explained in the Introduction to Cursed from Birth.

SG: How many years have you been working on putting Billy, Jr.’s prose and letters in order? I know that these began as a series of file boxes.

DO: James [James Grauerholz, Bill Sr.’s assistant] probably has a better answer to this, but to me, it seems like we started on the Billy project about 10 years ago.

SG: How did you first meet Bill, Sr.? Had he read Motorman when he asked that you edit and transcribe his own novels?

DO: I met Bill in the late 70s when I was teaching at the U. of Texas in Austin. He was invited there for a reading and I hosted him a few days, along with his assistant, James Grauerholz. It was actually Grauerholz who asked me to transcribe certain Burroughs manuscripts into electronic form for further editing. Grauerholz had read Motorman. I don’t know whether Bill had or not.

SG: Do you feel that Bill, Sr. wanted to ensure that his son’s last novel would not die along with him? That is, do you feel that the memoir is a sort of memorial to Billy by his father?

DO: I do think Bill Sr. wanted some sort of literary memorial to Billy and, as I understand it, contracted with Grove/Atlantic to produce one, namely Billy’s last (unfinished) novel, Prakriti Junction, which I later found to be woefully inadequate for publication.

SG: In your own view, how does Prakriti Junction, in its original, unedited form, relate to Speed and Kentucky Ham? Bill, Sr. mentions in a letter-reply to Billy that autobiographical work eventually runs dry and fictional work inevitably begins. Yet, in Prakriti Junction, Billy seems to begin his personal story all over from birth. From your vantage point, was Prakriti Junction undertaken as something else but ultimately became a mode of catharsis while working through the swansong of his various addictions and the gory prelude to and aftermath of his liver transplant?

DO: It related to Speed and KH [Kentucky Ham] in that it was autobiographical, this time dealing with events that took place after KH – his marriage and divorce, his liver transplant, his plunge into hopeless alcoholism and addiction. I guess Billy thought some background was necessary to provide context for readers who were not familiar with his entire life. I thought the same thing when I was compiling Cursed From Birth, and so used background material from Speed at the beginning to provide context. I think Billy began Prakriti Junction before his liver transplant, which changed everything and made it impossible for him to continue in any organized, coherent way. He continued writing, but not regularly, and always obsessively about his physical degradation, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness. I suppose his post-transplant writings were a form of catharsis. Perhaps writing about suicide prevented him from doing it (directly).

I think Billy began Prakriti Junction before his liver transplant, which changed everything and made it impossible for him to continue in any organized, coherent way. He continued writing, but not regularly, and always obsessively about his physical degradation, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness.

SG: As you worked on Billy’s manuscript, interleaving letters and commentary between chapters of his unfinished novel Prakriti Junction, did you find any affinities between Billy’s life and your character Moldenke of Motorman and The Age of Sinatra? There seems to be a distinct Beckett-like adversity and an explicit body-centrism to both stories (the arrhythmia of Moldenke’s four sheep hearts, the birds with tongues that retract around their brains; and for Burroughs, the failing liver, subsequent post-surgical sepsis, the pavement-stone-wide surgical scars and multitude of blown veins).

DO: I did see some affinities between Billy and Moldenke, although Moldenke was a more patient sufferer. I think one of the reasons WSB Sr. and I got along well was that we shared an interest in things clinical and scientific (and Beckett). While Bill Sr. seldom talked about Billy himself, he was always glad to discuss the medical aspects of Billy’s transplant, the level of his morphine dosage, the odor of the wound, the length of the surgery, etc.

SG: Did your work on this memoir have any impact on your own fictional characters or plot constructions? Did you find that there were cross-fertilizations during the research or editing process?

DO: That’s hard to answer. Sifting through all Billy’s sad jottings probably did have some sort of influence. In the The Age of Sinatra, voluntary deformation was a fad. For Billy it was involuntary and awful. Although I had begun that novel long before confronting Billy’s predicament, it may have driven me into using even more clinical images in my final revisions.

SG: You mentioned in your introduction that you’d found photographs and audio tapes in Billy’s archival boxes. What did these contain?

DO: There were only three or four insignificant photographs, of him in his apartment kitchen, etc. The tapes were interviews with Ginsberg, Waldman, Burroughs Sr., done by Richard Elovich. Those tapes had been transcribed and I used the transcriptions in compiling the book. One other audio tape was Billy riding in a car and talking to Jim Jarmusch – but the sound quality was poor and I used very little of it.

SG: None of Billy’s letters are dated. How were you able to determine their sequence?

DO: In some cases I was able to match the events described in the letters to real, datable events. His father always dated his letters, for example, so if his father responded to one of Billy’s letters, I had a pretty good idea when that letter was written. Or if Billy wrote that he had spent a week in detox – those dates were in his medical records. And so on. It involved a bit of guesswork, but I think they’re pretty close to the date actually written.

SG: You end each chapter with commentary on Billy, provided by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldeman, James Grauerholz, et al. This addition truly gives a three-dimensional force and substance to Billy’s character. The reader is not forced to rely on his words alone, but receive the perceptions of others that fill him out and project onto his narrative spirit a distinctive psychological meatiness. How did you get this commentary…was it based on transcribed interviews specifically conducted for the book or were their observations pre-existing?

DO: The observations were pre-existing, left by others who had worked on the “Billy Book” before me – they are acknowledged in the book.

SG: The book was originally slated for release with Grove/Atlantic in 2001. What occurred that allowed Soft Skull to take over its release?

DO: When Grove/Atlantic passed on the project for legal reasons (Billy says some actionable things about still-living people), the book sat idle for a couple of years. No other publisher made an offer. Soft Skull had published my novel, and I knew them to be risk takers. Richard Nash was not frightened by the potential for litigation, so I asked if he’d be interested and he was.

SG: The memoir adds another valence to Burroughs scholarship. It could be construed as another angle by which to approach Bill Sr.’s oeuvre—from Billy’s retrospective view. (I can see the graduate theses now!) Have you conducted classes on Burroughs’ literature because of either your work with Bill, Sr. or Billy’s memoir?

DO: I have had no classes on Burroughs or Billy. I teach only Fiction writing and screenwriting. Besides, James Grauerholz, who knows more about Burroughs than anyone, has taught classes about him here.

SG: Do you anticipate (or hope) that this memoir will awaken interest in Billy’s literature or that, based on the tenor of his language, his literary output, and live-fast die-young trajectory Billy is destined to become a cult icon like his father?

DO: There never was a tremendous lot of interest in Billy’s books, but I think this will certainly spark a renewed interest in them - they may be out of print now – I’m not sure. I can’t imagine Billy becoming the cult figure his father was, but those who read Cursed will have a new insight into his father’s character that perhaps few people knew.

SG: Now, about you: what prompted your own writing career and when did you first begin writing stories?

DO: I always wrote stories, even as a kid. I had a little yellow roll-top desk and sat there often, writing stories about bears and monsters in a tablet that I wish I still had.

SG: What prompted the development of the character Moldenke [the main character of Motorman] and what specifically about him (and/or his shifting moral potential) continues to place him at the forefront of your fiction?

DO: There was a graduate student in the Biology department here at KU named Andrew Moldenke. I never met him, but a friend of mine knew him. The name fascinated me. Just the sound of it. I simply constructed the character around the name. His role in my fiction is generally as an observer, or a focus. It’s the odd world he inhabits that’s the real protagonist. Moldenke is simply swept along by the tide of events. He has no real character of his own. He’s just a name.

SG: I’ve read that you are working on a new book, The Pisstown Chaos. Will it pick up where The Age of Sinatra ended? Could you provide a sneak-preview of the coming attractions?

DO: Moldenke is a minor character in The Pisstown Chaos. This time the story follows the Balls family: Ophelia, her brother Roe, and her grandmother Mildred and grandfather Jacob. It explores things like stinkers that were treated in Sinatra, but not in depth. The ultimate political power this time is the Reverend Herman Hooker, who seems to be in charge of things, though no one knows why or how.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Contemporary Cuban Voices at Mattress Factory in October

Contemporary Cuban voices come to the Mattress Factory this October. The show, titled Queloides/Keloids: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art, is curated by Alejandro de la Fuente and Elio Rodriguez and features thirteen artists, who work in a variety of media. The exhibits continue a curatorial dialogue Fuente and Rodriguez began in 1997 and continued in 1999, with Keloids I, Keloids II, and Neither Musicians nor Athletes.

Mattress Factory Co-Directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk, along with PR Director Jeffery Inscho, Development Associate Claudia Giannini, and Exhibition Coordinator Owen Smith will be traveling to Cuba to visit with the artists and curators. I'll occasionally be checking in with Jeffery's travel blog.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Karen Lillis reads "No Man's Land" from her novel in progress

For the pleasure of those of us who can't get to AWP, Meg Pokrass and Karen Lillis have set up a virtual event that allows us to share work.

By clicking on the following link to Vimeo, listen to Lillis' "No Man's Land" in her own voice. It's a wonderful, live reading.

In "No Man's Land", which is part of a novel in progress, water, both dirty and clean, defines geographical and social boundaries. It likewise mimicks blood tide and the flow of strong emotions. Karen gives us some beautiful, sharp descriptions of fear and desire.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Picturesque and a lovely grotesque--stories by Michelle Reale

At the next edition of TNY Presents, we'll be welcoming, among many other excellent writers, Michelle Reale, whose chapbook, Natural Habitat, will be published by Cleveland-based Burning River Press.

Last night, before my 6-9 class, I checked out the Monkeybicycle site, and saw that Michelle had a story, titled Picturesque, posted there. At first, I was captivated by the detailed description of the bride, whose assymmetical face, discomfited behavior, and bird-like legs spark some uncharitable speculation about what it was that actually attracted the thrice-married groom. However, the real treat came in the paragraph that followed. I'll quote Reale here:

"On the day of the wedding, my mother slipped on the lime green gown and a turban headpiece, with a big diamond-like jewel in the center that I wanted to dig out with my fingernail and suck on. My father called her 'Houdini.' My mother stretched her lips over her equine teeth and said 'Har, har, har.' My father held his stomach and laughed."

There's a little of Flannery O'Connor's delightful grotesque here, but it's not the grotesque so often associated with horror or the unreal. Instead, anyone who's been to a family wedding recognizes that Reale is offering a hyperreal portrait of humanity, with careful attention to its imperfections and its many awkward natural embellishments. Of course, none of Reale's characters are beautiful in any conventional sense, but they are so engaging, so charmingly flawed, so apparently genuine, they seem to reach a level of beauty that is equated with picturesqueness, which is perhaps in part where she gets the ironic title. Here is the verbal equivalent of a genre scene by 17th century Flemish painters, like Pieter Breughel the Elder, who captured wedding scenes, completed with dancing, gossiping, cavorting, and overall intemperance.

Reale offers an undercurrent of disquiet, too, in the uncle's attentions towards his neice. Told from the niece's point of view, she interprets his attention as displaced fatherly affection, since he had no children. But when the uncle ignores his bride to dance with his niece, brushes his lips against her forehead, and finally pulls her in tigher, we know all is not right.

Reale's attention to the psychological is equally arresting. In "A First Time for Everything," which appeared at Word Riot, she opens with the stunner, "My mother puts on her Pennsylvania Polka record which means game is on." Maybe it's because I married a Polish boy, danced the polka with his Aunt Julie at our wedding, or even that I grew up in Pennsylvania: still, this first line lit me up like an incandescent bulb. I absolutely couldn't stop reading with this kind of invitation.

We're excited to have Reale and her publisher Chris Bowden coming in from Cleveland for the April reading. I'm looking forward to the stories they'll tell.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Terry Hawkins, author of Rage of Achilles, reviews American Soma!

"Imagine that the original Twilight Zone had been an HBO mini series.

That’s right: the same deep irony, the same wild imagination, the same mordant wit. Maybe even the same Rod Serling with his fatal Lucky. But unburdened by censorship, free to prod the deepest abscesses of social and personal decay, unafraid of dark sexual ambiguities.

That’s American Soma.

The comparison to the Zone comes easily. Soma is 22 short stories spread over just 160 pages, so each is told with an economy of style without sacrifice of impact worthy the half hour original. And like the original it defies easy categorization. Is it science fiction, magical realism, or political satire? Or all three?

Take a look at a story from the middle of the book, “Fountain.” A guy drops his cellphone into a bar men’s room toilet. On fishing it out----as I said, HBO----he discovers that a digit missing since age 22 has miraculously regrown. Obviously there’s something special about that crapper. He tells the owner, who immediately realizes he’s onto something. A former wife want a piece of the action; a media circus ensues. The story ends with its protagonist bathing his dying mother in water from the fountain of youth. The son hides his face as his mother regresses to a hottie “any husband would be proud of”; he stares when the clock is turned back further still and “her chest was now flat. . . her nipples nearly flesh toned.” The protagonist, newly parentified, puts his hand on the child-mother’s head and promises her pancakes if she’ll pack in a hurry.
On the one hand, you can easily imagine Serling murmuring through smoke, “Larry thinks it’s just another day in a blue collar bar. . .” On the other, you can’t see the transgression of sexual boundaries making it past the censors.

Other stories dance on the third rail as well. In “Evolution” Schroll Guz wonders whether biochemical pollution will produce a new human species of hermaphrodites. Apocalyptic environmental degradation similarly emerges in “Postmodern Colonialism” and “North American Twilight.” And a fascination with death---or more accurately the transition between life and afterlife----appears in “December 15, 2012” and “An August Night in Paris”, the latter of which describes Princess Diana’s death and transfiguration.

As a writer of dystopian speculative fiction or magical realism, Schroll Guz serves a powerful imagination and commands an impressive knowledge of hard science. Her prose is evocative but still disciplined. Read this.

Rod would have loved it." -- Terry Hawkins, author of Rage of Achilles

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jen Michalski Reviews American Soma

The wonderful Jen Michalski, author Close Encounters (2007) and a forthcoming novella from Dzanc Books in 2013, reviews American Soma in this month's edition of Gently Read Literature.

An excerpt from the review:
“Soma” is ethnologically known as a ritual drink of impotence in Indo-Iranian culture, but its more popular reference may come from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, wherein it’s literally an opiate of the masses. Big shoes for Savannah Schroll Guz to fill here in her second collection of stories, American Soma, but she does her major influences, Huxley and George Orwell, proud. Which is why I don’t understand why American Soma is not huge, like in bookstores and on all major indie reading lists. It’s not that Guz’s stories are timely and foreboding, which of course they are, it’s that her writing is damn good."

Read Jen Michalski's whole review in the April issue of Gently Read.