Saturday, December 14, 2013

Revenge of the Scammed Anthology

Don't like being scammed? Edward J. Rathke doesn't! And why should he? It sucks. People who scam suck. The man, "James Xavier Reed," who scammed Rathke sucks. That is certain. So, action is being taken. Entirely positive action, though. Revenge of the Scammed Anthology. That's action, folks. That's action you can believe in.

And if you're interested in getting in on said action, there is an effort afoot to raise money for publication of this anthology and other things (such as money for Rathke to repay a debt owed because of being scammed). Take a look at this listing on indiegogo to see exactly what went down and how you can help / benefit (however gauche the latter may be).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest Editing at SmokeLong Quarterly 11/11 to 11/17

Hey, yeah, been floating around, working on various projects. Untoward remains a thing in progress, as does something else I've been working on and alluding to.

But most important of all is that I'm currently guest editing at SmokeLong Quarterly, a wonderful publisher and proponent of flash fiction.

You can get a sense of what I'm looking for on their blog, which is HERE.

Come one, come all.

UPDATE: I happily accepted a short story entitled "Sparks" by the wonderful Bezalel Stern. Thanks to all who submitted.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Books That I Keep Coming Back To For My Reasons

I reread. I don't reread a lot by the standard of some friends of mine, but I reread. There are certain books whose shear force is too much not to return to over and over again. Certain stories within certain books that I cannot forget about and have to keep reading and thinking about. So with that in mind, I thought, for once I'd like to compile them here, on the old blog, in all their glory. I have some things to say about each one, naturally. Take a gander, if you so choose. (Do take a gander at these books for yourselves, regardless of whether you care to read what I have to say about them.)

For as much as Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 and Mark Twain and dozens of others of the recent or more distant past have had on my perspective about what fiction can do, George Saunders has in so many ways eclipsed them. Perhaps it's because I've had several wonderful encounters with Saunders over the years (not that we're friends by any means, though I can dream, can't I?), but there is such an earnestness to his work and his humor that adds to its potency. The man, himself, in my limited experience, seems to exude these characteristics as well. Though I'm only remarking on two of Saunders' books here, I could just easily include everything he's ever published. It's all very worthy of your time and attention. Rather, I'll let you investigate the entirety of his work yourself. I'll say a few things about the works of his that have resonated most powerfully, and which I return to most frequently. 

Allow me to begin with the one I consider more formative of the two: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Riverhead Trade, 2005). A marvel, truly. Few books have captured the attention of summer school students I've taught like this one has. Humorous, certainly, in all the bombastic and wondrously whimsical ways Saunders tends to be. Students identify with the plight of the Inner-Hornerites, their subjugation at the hands of the Outer-Hornerites and specifically a tyrannical, megalomaniacal jackass named Phil, whose cruelty and justification for his cruelty likewise are salient through the eyes of those he oppresses, and those sympathetic to the oppressed. We learn more about Phil than that, though. He's not merely a villain, to be sure. Phil's sad early life is given its due, is taken into consideration. It's not impossible to imagine that Hitler, too, could evoke our sympathy were we to more closely scrutinize his early life, his abusive father, his intense struggle with failure creatively. But like Hitler and the great many other despots who've come and gone in time, Phil is judged ultimately and quite reasonably by his most significant actions -- which is, indeed, a lesson for us all.  

Of all of my favorite Saunders short stories, and there are many, I think more than half are contained within the pages of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (Vintage, 1997). In fact, the only ones not included in this collection that I can definitely say I'd immediately miss are, "Sea Oak," "Escape from Spiderhead," and "The Tenth of December." The titular story in CivilWarLand, meanwhile, is really spectacular. I can't lie, I find myself constantly overly influenced by CivilWarLand and "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," in particular. A lot of things I've written in the past five years got their start merely from wondering WHY can't I write a short story as good as "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline"? I've tried. I'm not George Saunders. Can't be him. Happy with who I am, at last, as a writer. BUT I am thankful there is a George Saunders out there who continues to write disjointed tales in his beautifully idiosyncratic way. The melange of atrophic capitalistic dreams and nightmares fills his pages. Stories rife with the human toll society often takes, as we search hopefully to succeed at the kind of gain this country, at least, suggests is our one monomaniacal purpose on earth. Saunders looks at those who fall between the cracks, live on the margins, don't always get to see the light of day. We care about them because Saunders cares about them, teaches us that they are people, too. And there are more like them. And there's more to them, so much more, than we could possibly have expected at a superficial glance.

Don't Kiss Me (FSG, 2013) is a new classic, which I admit is a strange thing to call it seeing as it was only just released this past July. Lindsay Hunter is a writer you should expect to hear more and more from in the coming years. I was a fan of her work before I ever had the privilege of meeting her, and I was pleased that she's every bit as wonderful and kind and generous as I could hope she'd be. Her stories are amazing. I've heard people compare certain classic writers to her works and writing style, many of the southern tradition, and I would not disagree. Not exactly. BUT, where all that's concerned, I see Lindsay Hunter as a fascinating fusion of Southern and Midwestern traditions. It's no coincidence, I think, that Don't Kiss Me was dedicated to Chicago. She understands certain notions that cross the complexly different and similar sociological patterns of the two cultures. Much as Middle America can look and maybe even feel the same to the outsider, to the East and West Coasters, it really couldn't be more philosophically disparate. And in her fiction, Lindsay Hunter often creates emotional collages of these often contradictory elements. Stories like "After" bring this notion immediately into focus. Certainly, with the ostensible rural dialect of her first-person narrator, you could attribute this story to anyplace outside the urban and suburban sprawl in the post-apocalyptic United States. Anywhere troubles abound, which Lindsay Hunter recognizes seems to be everywhere. It's fun. It's the most fun you'll have in a society of ruin. Lots of gross descriptions loaded with black comedy. Bodies that are literally falling apart. Lindsay Hunter's work tends to walk the tightrope between what could happen and what is surreal. It's a delicate balancing act, but she has a way of making the improbable seem possible and the everyday seem spectacular. It's enviable and I hate her for it. But I get to read her stories, so in the end, I'd say I probably don't actually hate her for it / am happy she's out there, writing. She has a novel in the works. I consider that a very good thing.

As much as I'm thrilled Amelia Gray moved right into prime time with the release of THREATS (FSG, 2012), I'm certain to remain a devotee of Museum of the Weird (Fc2, 2010). With a title like that, how could it not be my favorite of her books? I ask you! And it's truly a museum of the weird. Stories like "Dinner" -- which I've taught to my high school students, and they typically enjoy puzzling over its disgusting dilemma: a woman must decide whether or not to eat a plate of hair. It's perfect for that age, too, because it asks them to reflect upon the possibility of pressure from a peer or more specifically a possible romantic interest and decide how far they'd be willing to go to prove their devotion. (I've yet to meet a student who would eat the hair in that situation, although they have said they'd do it for a lot of money.) There's also the killer who calls himself "God" and removes two ribs from men's rib-cages. 

Amelia Gray has such a gentle style of prose, casual and really pleasant to ease into reading. It is always fun to watch how it reveals her often disturbing or at least irreverent narrative turns. It creates a fantastic amount of tension, too. I suppose I'd liken it to the greats of the past. She brings to mind the matter-of-factness despite its twilight zone subject matter of writers like Shirley Jackson, Roald Dahl and, yes, George Saunders. She's great at picking out minutiae to have her characters obsess over, too, like a bag of frozen tilapia, a human tongue for possible ingestion or the hostage negotiating skills of javelina. Prepare yourself and enjoy. 

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin Books, 2011). I've reread this book a couple times now. It's really a wonder of spare prose and fabulism. Loory is so subtle, so precise with his strangeness. I heard him explain to Brad Listi on the Other People Podcast that he has certain, if I'm not totally bungling this, mathematical methods for determining some of the plot turns and whatnot. That just sounds cool to me. And it works, if that's actually what he does. It works well. His stories are mazes of ambiguity, reminding me of Kafka in some respects but really are something entirely new. Fiction that's all his own. And the darkness that floats through his work is so appealing. Even in stories with "happy endings" we get this sense as readers that the other shoe is soon to drop. Things can be very grim, especially in the world of fiction. It's why we keep reading. We want to see things. Loory wants to tell you things. His characters are meant to experience things. Certainly he develops a sense of who they are, these characters, at their core. But he's more interested in how the nameless will respond in any given situation, at least that's been my takeaway. It's why almost no character in any of the stories, certainly no main character, is referred to as anything other than "the man" or "the woman." You don't need to know. Judge them by their actions, or their paltry little circumstances, as Nietzsche might refer to them.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Adam Levin's Hot Pink, Mathias Svalina's I Am a Very Productive Entrepreneur, and Patrick Somerville's The Universe in Miniature in Miniature.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why Do People Love Walter White?

I'm on a "Breaking Bad" kick. Over the past two weeks, thanks in no small part to Netflix, I've seen all of the first three seasons, and Ashley and I have just begun the fourth. Intense, dramatic, suspenseful, all that stuff. It keeps you guessing, keeps you interested in the characters and their always present humanity, and it does so in a way that doesn't condescend to the audience. (So please, if you do decide to leave a comment NO SPOILERS, I beg of you.)

Here are thoughts so far...

But I realized something recently. Why had Walter White, the mercurial lead character of the show, seem to resonate so well in the times we're living in, finding an easy niche in the zeitgeist? Sure, we love our anti-heroes. That's been true since forever. I know there's something satisfying about the underdog taking the bull by the horns and changing his/her circumstances. It's an idea most of us have little trouble relating to. So that Walter White manufactures the purest crystal meth the world has ever known, a drug notorious for its power to ravage its users / abusers so completely that they are often unrecognizable (something the show hardly ignores, e.g. Wendy the meth-head prostitute), is something we're readily willing to forgive. I would say there's more to it than that, though.

What makes "Breaking Bad" and its anti-hero unique is the way in which this storyline seems so closely tied to undermining the American mythos, namely "The American Dream." Walter White embodies the extremes we're now required to go to achieve the so-called success of a more than comfortable life. Think about it, as the story begins, Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher. He pulls in somewhere around 43,000 dollars a year, so paltry he needs a second job working at a car wash to support his family. In what time in place has that been true? That a man with a job that should comfortably place him in the middle class cannot afford his very average lifestyle. Mortgage payments are too steep. And what's worth, while his wife is pregnant with his second child, he is diagnosed with lung cancer, "inoperable," they tell him. His employer provided insurance is so insignificant that it won't scratch the surface of the cost for his treatment. So he decides he must operate outside the law. It's the only way he can provide for his family in the way they deserve, as he sees it. It's the only way he can leave them not only debt free but in a situation that could allow them to flourish -- college tuition entirely paid for, as one thing he finds himself calculating (adjusted for inflation, or perhaps a little bit above the rate of inflation as is the current trend).

Many people identify with Walter White because he exposes the American Dream, the speciousness of the idea in a modern context. Look at how hard I work, and look at what I'm forced to do, the evil wicked things I'm forced to do, if I truly want the financial success so inextricably tied to the notion of "making it" in America. What a bleak but terribly true television program. And so we want Walter White to succeed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Death and Trial of Trayvon Martin: My Thoughts

Yes, this post will be a bleak one. I just can't ignore the story, though. I can't ignore the media's interest. I can't ignore what I perceive are dangerous laws that encourage vigilantism more than anything else. I can't ignore that to me Trayvon Martin, even in death (warning: graphic), looked like just another high school student. As a teacher of high school students that hits too close to home. Trayvon could have been a student in my class. By all accounts, he was exactly that: a normal seventeen-year-old kid. Trayvon Martin will serve from here on forward, in my classrooms at least, as a deplorable indictment of the superficiality of our society and so necessarily a warning to many of my students who dress and act in a way out of lockstep with the predominant culture in America. That's because the Trayvon Martin case was strange. It both was and wasn't about race. It was not about race in the sense that Emmett Till's death was about race, i.e. a young black boy from the north in the south who possibly misunderstood the social cues of a highly race-charged society and ultimately paid for it with his life, or not and was simply lynched because his being black met an opportunity taken by two racists. The point is, had Till any other skin color -- and in particular if he were white skinned -- he would not have been brutally murdered. The horrible but interesting difference between Till and Martin is that the color of his skin was only a part of why he was ostensibly identified by Zimmerman as a potential threat. Now I'm hardly the first person to see parallels between Till and Martin (here's an interesting piece from the New Yorker, for instance), but I haven't yet been able to determine if too many others have seen it through my own lens, an admittedly opinion-based and not rigorously sociologically-vetted perspective. Still, I think it bears mentioning. The modern iteration of racism comes in the form of distrust of those, as I mention before, who march out of lockstep with what society says ought to be the way they present themselves. Certainly, Trayvon Martin, because he was black and because race remains the locus of the issue, could have aroused suspicion were he dressed like some Jehovah's Witness passing out copies of the The Watchtower. But I am willing to bet it was that hoodie, the one Geraldo Rivera maligned, that played a significant role in his being accosted. His dress was a little too urban. His behavior, according to Zimmerman,  was "suspicious" -- Martin looked like he was "up to no good." In that way, Zimmerman, who is half-Peruvian and some have said that this absolves him of any potential for racism, or at least ought to remove race from the discussion -- as Zimmerman's father essentially wrote in to the Orlando Sentinel (likewise invoking the tired and odious argument of his having lots of black friends!).  The truth is, a poor white kid wearing a hoodie, pants slung low so that his underwear was revealed, might just as easily have aroused Zimmerman's suspicions, and so to me, perfectly illustrates how this new brand of racism has come to pass. It is about the clothes you wear, the anti-establishment attitudes you ape, as much as it is the color of your skin. It's why people of "mixed race" can be the foot soldiers of the new institutionalized racism, as Zimmerman, a so-called upstanding member of the community (notice that in most of his photos he is wearing a suit and tie) apparently was. So perhaps this antipathy toward a certain kind of culture owes its roots to the mercurial lyrics and attitudes and, yes, clothing style of rappers like the late '80s & early '90s gangsta rap group N.W.A. and songs of theirs like "Fuck tha Police." All of this fitting perfectly into the narrative these days of the danger of the underclass. You must fit a certain style of behavior and dress in order to avoid being deemed a threat. And because so many urban blacks fit the designation of "underclass" and do so many things that could be classified as "counter-cultural" and in that way subversive, they, along with anyone who earnestly identifies with them (so much so that they too adopt the same dress and mannerisms), is likewise deemed a threat. And I am aware that many gang members truly are a threat, are terrible people not to be admired or put up on a Robin Hood-esque pedestal. I'd be totally blinded by my own views to ignore the criminality of some of the urban poor. But I'm simply not as convinced as so many others that they make up the lion's share. I believe people always surprise you in good ways more than the opposite is true, and what's more, at the end of the day, we're all just trying to make it in a more or less challenging world. As I say, if I didn't know so many kids who could be reacted to just the same as Trayvon Martin but who are simply kids the same as anyone else, I might see logic in this madness. Instead, a man with a gun decided to take the law into his own hands, was found not guilty of any crime and we're left to try to make sense of its aftermath.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Just When I Thought I Was Hateful: WHY GOD WHY

Why God Why came into tactility. It has arrived. I have a number of copies.

Here I am with a number of copies:

Mia seems to like it too:

If you're looking for a copy lemme know. I can probably hook you up with a signed copy vis-a-vis my paypal account. It'd be approx 12 bucks including shipping. Or you can get it from Love Symbol Press's website, here:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Post Designed To Make Me Feel Less Hateful Today And Beyond

Feeling hateful. Feeling angry. It's those successive events that seem to spiral and make you angrier and angrier as time goes on. I won't list them. They'll seem petty and childish to anyone but me. I'd rather save myself the embarrassment of being a complete and utter baby. An Udder Baby, a baby crying for udders as a calf probably does.

WHY do I have to feel hateful? I want to feel creative and carefree and more like the humanitarian and less like the misanthrope. I LOVE YOU PEOPLE OUT THERE! Even though at times I'm too hung up on my own feelings of insularity and introversion and general discomfort at being out there among you.

I've been reading the short works of Kafka! He rules! I love his short works, especially. I love how weird they are, like crystals of ice that will never melt but retain that sense of their own fragility somehow. Humanity can never know they won't melt, but they won't. They're out there in the ether insisting you never forget and always remember whatever you can.

Oh, another thing that is a favorite thing right now? Unstuck #1. I am really enjoying it. Practically every story so far has been really imaginative and fun. Blends genres, kicks ass. I encourage you to check them out. They're mostly out of print, but you can get both of the previous issues on e-reader.

I miss Ashley but she'll be back at 5:30 or so and maybe, just maybe, we will go see a movie tonight! THAT'D BE GREAT!

I am feeling a lot better now. Thanks for listening and all.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Missed This When It First Appeared. Thanks, YouTUBE!

Take a listen. It's only 44 minutes of life, and I think it does a great job of encapsulating some of the things about Wallace that paradoxically defy encapsulation. Really. No irony! The documentary touches on the ironic, too. Wallace's view of its pernicious effect, and how TV over the last forty years has played a significant role in its diminished effectiveness. But that's not all.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Still challenged by poetry: Discomfort City

I wrote this poem as a poemed response to myself about tacos. I hope you enjoy. And I hope you live and laugh and love.

Discomfort City

I also wanted to mention that I was heading to Discomfort City recently because, and you won't believe this, I put too much spicy salsa on a taco. Here's the good news, the second taco? I didn't put that much spicy salsa on it. And you know what? I was ok. Imagine! Just like that. One taco sends me to Discomfort City but the second is Joy in a Taco Shell. And that's why I love tacos.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

wigleaf longlist and H_NGM_N

Hey, World!

A (very) short story of mine, "The O.K. Grocery Store Corral" from Knee-Jerk Magazine, made the wigleaf top 50 (very) short fiction longlist this year. I think this might be my first ever award of any kind in fiction? That's a really cool thing and I'm happy about it. I wanted to share the fact with all of you.

Also, some poems I wrote were published by poet/editor extraordinaire, Nate Pritts, and the great H_NGM_N this week. Take a gander at those, too, if you like. The issue is jammed full of other poets and all that I admire. You can (and really should) read them there, too.

Why God Why is now on Goodreads, for your information.

I'm reading several books right now but Lindsay Hunter's "Don't Kiss Me" (forthcoming from FSG) and James Tate's "Worshipful Company of Fletchers" are the most rocking of those books rocking my world right now. This is a thing I really want you to know.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

George Saunders Now and Forever

So, I don't remember the last time I wrote about George Saunders for any reason in particular. I seem to FIND reasons, generally speaking, even when he's not exactly the central subject matter. I find his story writing so fascinating, though. There's so much to learn from him just by his opening sentences, for example. I'm a firm believer in the first sentence. You gotta write a good one. You gotta write a good story, but a good story can very much start on the wrong foot if the first sentence is bungled. And for my money, nobody writing today does them better than George Saunders.

I'm also interested in the, I think, Hunter S. Thompson system of writing the writing of good writers for yourself, just to get a taste of how it feels to write it. I've handwritten in my weird journal the first sentences of all the stories in Civilwarland in Bad Decline. I'm now going to type them out here. Take a look. See if you see what I mean. Feel free to disagree. Plenty of people do, and often!

"Whenever a potential big investor comes for the tour the first thing I do is take him out to the transplanted Erie Canal Lock."

"The first great act of love I ever witnessed was  Split Lip bathing his handicapped daughter."

"Halfway up the mountain it's the Center for Wayward Nuns, full of sisters and other religious personnel who've become doubtful."

"At noon another load of raccoons comes in and Claude takes them out back of the office and executes them."

"Elizabeth always thought the fake stream running through our complex was tacky."

"My first and favorite task of the day is slaving over the Iliana Evermore Fairy Castle."

"Tonight at last the nation votes."

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Things and Other Things


Great times at the Poetry Made of Diamonds Reading, and many thanks to Russ Woods for having me read! That was Sunday night.

Then on Friday, Corium's winter issue was published. I had a short piece entitled "Spare Change" featured in it. Congrats to Lauren Becker for a job well done and on her story collection forthcoming from Curbside Splendor.

Before that, Thursday, I had some poems go up on Alice Blue Review, along with other great peoples. I love Alice Blue Review. AWESOME!

And on Wednesday, I had a bunch of stories that'll be in Why God Why -- my collection soon to exist because of Love Symbol Press -- in the very last and very awesome issue of Red Lightbulbs. See it here.

Oh! And Requited came out today, to top everything off! Requited 8! And I have two short pieces in it. And one of them I made an illustration for. And that illustration is this; it's from "The Pushing." It's a tale of pushing and other things. 

Oh, and I have a story on the recommended page on Fictionaut. You can check that out here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Russ Woods, this is an infernal game of tag you've tagged me in, requiring a person to tag it perpetually forward and the like. But I am a good sport, and I will play. I've got something, a recent project, I'd like to say somethings about anyway. (That's how this works for the uninitiated: it's a meme floating around presently wherein you talk about something you've been writing or have recently written.) Here's mine:


Paltry Little Circumstances


Lots of things, Nietzsche for one (got the title from an aphorism of his in Human, All Too Human). Likewise, experiences I was having with my own mental health and other coming-of-age type stuff of my early twenties. Also, a good bit of it deals with my frustration at working as a temp for a major Chicago area bank, MB Financial. Not that I consider MB particularly bad by itself, only inasmuch as it's a microcosm of the wider system of  corporate culture. And really, kind of like David Foster Wallace hits on in a number of different ways in  The Pale King, I was more struck by the tedium of the work I did, and the monotony of the corporate day-to-day. You had to find ways to escape boredom or analyze your boredom intensely. I found myself doing both at various intervals.


I'm trying to do something humorous with this story. I'm comfortable with the idea that it would be considered a humor novel with serious elements / themes, or not.


EEErgh. I dunno. Daniel Day-Lewis as every character, maybe?


The story of a man, his guardian angel, and the man's cat.


A little over a year.


As I alluded earlier, it came about sort of organically. Weird developments in my life and my mental health made me want to ruminate a little less and maybe project some of what I was feeling on the outside world. A dysfunctional guardian angel, friends and family who mean well, a cat that could somehow solve everything, and the forces that be, that be pretty constantly.


There are a lot of fight scenes? I really wanted to have a superhero/action star quality to the action and the protagonist, Herman Wellesby.


I like to think someone will find it interesting enough to pick it up for publication, but I'm very amenable to the idea of self-publishing. Why the heck not, eh?


Thomas Simmons
Mason Johnson
Josh Denslow
Faith Gardner
Alexander J. Allison
Matthew Burnside

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Red Lightbulbs 9.5 -- Secret Santa Issue

Well, the 9 and a half issue of Red Lightbulbs is out (The Secret Santa issue). The penultimate issue. I'll be sad to see Red Lightbulbs go the way of the dinosaur and the Zima, although more notably as the former than the latter. It's a sad thing! But I know Russ is moving on to bigger and better things. I know the same is true of Meghan. I know that this is how these things go.

Issue 10 is shaping up to be amazing. This makes me glad.

Credit Theron Jacobs for the cover art:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Artifice 5! Artifice 5! Artifice 5!

Artifice 5 is coming folks. I wanted to trumpet its doing so here. You can snag a copy in advance of its March 2013 release date (or more accurately, you can secure the issue before its March 2013 release date, receiving it via mail or what have you in March(ish)). This is what I'm thinking. Great contributors! Thrilled to be a part of this, working with a phenomenal writer and editor in James Tadd Adcox. Check it here.