My short story, “A Heliograph to Kin Kletso,” appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Weber: The Contemporary West. That issue is now available online here. The story is on page 109. There’s lots of excellent writing and interesting interviews in there, too.
I have been a bit negligent in updating this site over the summer, but I have been writing and reviewing books.
David Tromblay’s memoir, As You Were, recounts the author’s abusive childhood and military experiences. The memoir pulls zero punches, describing physical abuse at the hands of Tromblay’s father and grandmother in fairly graphic ways, but somehow the author’s dark sense of humor manages to take some of the edge off. The book also addresses the cultural erasure that occurred at boarding schools for Native American children, like the one Tromblay’s grandmother attended.
E.C. Osondu’s Alien Stories uses extraterrestrials as metaphors for immigrants in US culture. That sounds like a simple premise, but Osondu gets great mileage out of it, describing immigrant experiences in accessible and empathetic ways. The stories are often quite funny and always clever. Osondu is from Nigeria but now teaches in Providence, Rhode Island. I’m hoping he attends the Tucson Festival of Books because I’d really like to hear him speak or read from his work.
In other news, my review of Anna Zett’s Artificial Gut Feeling is featured in the Full Stop Reviews supplement, which is available for Full Stop’s Patreon supporters. The supplement includes several feature essays and many reviews. Definitely worth checking out.
I’d also like to congratulate Full Stop on their recent Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. It’s a real accomplishment and well deserved. I’m proud to be a contributor to their important work!
Fugitives and Futurists were kind enough to share my story, “Misoprostol.” The pic above is the image the editors of the site chose to accompany the story. It’s a very short piece of near-future science fiction that imagines how prohibition of reproductive rights will manifest similarly to drug prohibition. As someone who grew up around religion-based opposition to reproductive rights, particularly women’s reproductive rights, I see religion-appeasing prohibition as irrational policy and an ideological poison in our society.
About 10 years ago, I went hiking alone and met an intriguing hiking partner with an interesting past as an activist protesting an observatory on Mt Graham in Arizona. At the time, some of what the man said sounded far-fetched. Though he seemed nice enough, he had a gun. The gun, combined with frightening, paranoid-seeming stories he told, freaked me out.
For a while, my encounter was a story I told. Then, I wrote down what happened. Over time, I ended up looking up many of the things the man said and found that much (though not all) of what seemed far-fetched actually checked out. I grafted my research to my original story.
The final product is “Space Mountain.” I’m very thankful to Terrain.org for publishing the piece, and for the effort it took to present my system of notes. If you’re not familiar with Terrain.org, I’m sure my essay will be a gateway to much future reading!
Read “Space Mountain” here on Terrain.org –
My story, “If the Odds Don’t Change” is in the Winter/Spring 2021 issue of Euphony. The story follows Simon and Mickey, two high school teacher colleagues, on a frustrating ride home from a bar.
“If the Odds Don’t Change” was inspired by conversations I had many years ago with my friend, Bill Sweeney. Bill was the librarian for the Worcester Public Library in Worcester, Massachusetts and the librarian at Uxbridge High School when I was a student there in the 1990s. He was still the librarian at UHS when I taught there from 2003-2007. Bill and I both lived in Worcester and commuted back and forth to Uxbridge. When one of our vehicles was in the shop, we’d carpool.
Bill tended to keep to himself quite a bit at the school, which I understand. From his private nature arose rumors – some true, some not true. On our commutes together, I got to know Bill quite a bit better and quickly learned he was brilliant, a terrific storyteller, an astute reader, hilarious, and, above all, kind. Bill tolerated people that others often struggled to tolerate. In fact, he more than tolerated them – he treated them with kindness. Whether the person was a psychologically challenged student or a homeless person living on the streets of Worcester, Bill always saw the individual and quietly, without seeking attention, he nurtured them with support and respect. Never loud, never flashy, always helpful. Always brilliant. He’d taken many college classes as a non-degree seeking student because he loved learning. I learned from Bill every time we spoke, and from observing him with students.
I’d been in Arizona for nearly a decade when Bill was in the accident that took his life. I hadn’t spoken to Bill since I moved west, but my friends who still worked with him let me know he’d been seriously injured right away. They knew he meant a lot to me. I wonder if he knew, too.
If you’re from UHS and you read this story, you will recognize Bill as Simon. You may also recognize Mickey. Please know that Mickey was constructed from my experiences with and feelings about the person he’s modeled after, not Bill’s. Bill was kind and accepting of everyone. I’m still struggling to get there.
I will update this post when Euphony puts the Winter/Spring 2021 issue online. If you’re a present or past UHS teacher or alum, send me a message and I’ll send you a .pdf of the story.
So, this story is in memory of Bill Sweeney. 1945-2016.
John Paetsch’s experimental poetry collection, Ctasy, of shapes off shore, (Hiding Press, 2020) reminded me a lot of the Museum of Jurassic Technology on Venice Blvd in Los Angeles. By blending antiquated scientific language and concepts with optical and personal imagery, the poet, like the quirky museum, challenges the ways we make meaning. The book is beautifully made and formatted. There’s even a confusing map to help you get started on your journey off shore. You can read my review here at Full Stop.
As a final aside, I really liked the simple yet subtly creative job Hiding Press did printing this collection. Great form for the content.
My review for Tex Gresham’s Heck, Texas is on Heavy Feather Review. You can read this book in a couple hours and it will leave you with years worth of far-out quotes. If you’re a fan of Harmony Korine’s film “Gummo” then this book is for you. Gresham is a keen observer, especially for people communicate in rural communities. Writing on walls, gossip, overheard snippets, Craigslist missed connections, and more a collaged into a hilarious, dirty too-real-yet-surreal portrait of a rural Texas. I highly recommend it.
I’m very excited that my novella, “Please Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed,” is featured in Running Wild Novella Anthology Vol. IV, Book 1. I started writing this story while I was writing my dissertation and the amount of bureaucratic nonsense I had to deal with was derailing my efforts to finish. The constant deadlines, interruptions, requirements, and plain-old nonsense was driving me crazy and I vented my frustration on a poor guy living in a future version of Woonsocket, Rhode Island name Carlos. Carlos’s life is controlled by “legal” requirements that perpetually disadvantage him.
To write the story, I looked at current trends – education costs, job availability, debt – and the ways our loose concepts of consumer and citizen protections create so many opportunities to be victimized for profit. I’ll touch on an example. While it horrifies me that, in the United States, we rely on for-profit, employer-provided healthcare as a form of blackmail. Work, or suffer physically. Work, or die. However, there are so many pro-insurance, pro-hospital loopholes, that even people who work and obtain “good” insurance must be repeated victimized in the process of gaining the benefits they pay for. The idea that we have “choices” that countries with “socialized” medicine don’t have is true – we can choose to eat or buy medicine, we can choose to pay medical bills or for our children’s educations, we can choose to go to the hospital or doctor our insurance tells us we can go to instead of someone we trust. When usury and debt control a population, choice is a cruel joke.
In my story, none of this has changed. The US is even more usury based than it is currently. It hurt me to imagine that, but it’s possible. In fact, we continue to become more obscenely usurious all the time.
The point is that if we allow ourselves to be interpolated as consumers and producers our whole lives – rather than citizens and human beings – nothing will change. In fact, the longer we wait to acknowledge and address that the United States society is fully defined by usury, the more deeply entrenched the usury becomes. The less likely we are to survive it. The more complicit we all become in the suffering it causes to those who can’t fight back and those who do fight, and pay for it.
I hope you will read “Please Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed” and reflect on the ways we give up freedom to become consumers. When do we begin exploring option to deal with usury, both legal and through economic civil disobedience?
You can purchase the novella here – https://www.amazon.com/Running-Wild-Novella-Anthology-Book-ebook/dp/B08R7XJ7C1
Thanks to Frankie Rollins, Sandra Shattuck, and, of course, Erin Aldrich, for this help with this story!
My review of Friend: A Novel from North Korea is up on Full Stop.
This novel was written in 1988 by Paek Nam-nyong, a writer living in North Korea and a member of April 15 Literary Production Unit, a regime-sanctioned group of writers tasked with chronicling the saga of the Kim dynasty. The novel has attracted attention outside of the DPRK for years, even spawning a play in South Korea. The novel was made into a television series in North Korea. It is, perhaps, the most well-known modern work of fiction from that country.
My review of the novel for Full Stop explores how something can be at once a work of art and a piece of propaganda. I also ask what contrasting Friend with western media depictions of North Korea can tell us about propaganda, both in DPRK and the USA.
I’m very excited that my story, “A Heliograph to Kin Kletso,” is in the newest issue of Weber: The Contemporary West.
My birthday falls mid-December and so several years ago, Erin arranged for us to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico to observe the winter solstice. Chaco Canyon features several large, brick structures built by pre-Colombian, ancestral Puebloan people. If you’ve never been to Chaco or Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, you may persist in believing that pre-Colombian people in the continental United States never developed complex, multi-story, permanent architecture. One visit to either place will disabuse you of that misconception. Chaco’s kiva’s and houses were every bit as brick as a New England mill.
Native people from the area, like Pueblo and Diné people, recognize Chaco as an ancestral site. Academics consider the residents of Chaco a mysterious lost culture. The National Parks Service hosts a solstice event that allows early-risers to observe the sunrise from the ruins and see firsthand how the structures align with the sun. Of course, it was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19, but hopefully we can watch it again in the near future.
I wrote “A Heliograph to Kin Kletso” after visiting the solstice sunrise. The way time and light converge at Chaco fascinates me. I know Weber eventually posts their issues online, so I will share the link to the story when it’s available. For now, you can get a physical copy here. There are some great poems in this issue and the other short story was terrific, too.
I hate to end this post this way, but, of course, Chaco Canyon and the area surrounding it are threatened by mining and fracking. High Country News has been following the story. Unfortunately, efforts to protect Chaco have been terribly complicated by the pandemic. Actually, the federal government is using the pandemic as an opportunity to push through drilling plans in Chaco while Diné and other native people are fighting Covid. The Navajo Nation has, at times, had the highest Covid rate in the country. The pandemic has totally devastated native people. While community leaders are trying to save lives, federal authorities are scheduling hearings on drilling and mining. It reminds me of how early Europeans used small pox to take land from Algonquin and other peoples.
I wrote a story set at Chaco Canyon, but the story of Chaco Canyon and culture is not mine. It’s ongoing, and it’s not going well. You can give to the official Navajo Covid-19 Relief Fund here.