You Like Me, You Really Like Me!

While I’m not about to quit my day job, I’ve been able to crank out a few pieces that editors have been able to stomach.

So far, I’ve had a few short stories printed in Gonzo Today, a (fantastic) online publication promoting new journalism (AKA gonzo journalism). I’ve also been a contributor to ‘The Absurd JUST Coloring Book for Adults: Feral Fairy Tales,’ and had a smattering of writings published elsewhere.

So in the name of shameless self-promotion:

Crawdads (First Place Prose Winner: Gonzofest Literary Contest 2015):

“We met up just after dark at Mudbugs, a backwoods crawfish joint in Leesville, Louisiana, itself a half-dead cluster of pawn shops and dollar stores that owes its existence to nearby Fort Polk. I pulled in early and hung outside, chain-smoking and listening to some reptile or another croak in the woods past the gravel parking lot.” … Read More

The Pickup (Gonzo Today, May 2015)

“The redhead sat at the darkened end of the bar nursing a rum and Coke. Young men and women filled the room behind her, shooting darts and playing pool, mixing, mingling and pairing off. A constant cloud of sawdust hung in the air. From the jukebox, Garth Brooks sang about friends in low places.” … Read more

God Bless Margaret Sanger (Gonzo Today, October 2015)

“It was a beautiful day in Salinas, California. The air was cool but not cold. Red and gold leaves, at the peak of their color, still clung  to their branches, and he could smell the freshly harvested vegetables as he passed the market. The school principal started the day in an appropriately cheerful mood. Entering his office, he hung his hat, cracked the window and turned on the radio, whistling along with Glenn Miller as he planned the day ahead.” … Read more

The Short, Bitter Tale of Brother Roscoe (Gonzo Today, May 2016)

“The boat sat anchored, barely visible from shore. On its deck a minister stood unsteadily and studied his surroundings – rain drizzled from above while agitated waves slapped the hull. Fins sliced through the swells nearby.” …  Read more

Journal of I.B. Spider (‘The Absurd JUST Coloring Book for Adults: Feral Fairy Tales)

5:30 a.m. – Finished packing, making final checks on equipment and supplies. The sherpas are waiting. My wife is crying; she doesn’t believe I’ll make it back alive. She keeps asking why I have to climb that damned water spout. Why? Simple. Because it’s there.” … Order Book

 

 

 

 

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It was a dark and stormy night…

It was a dark and stormy night. I sat in the den, in an overstuffed recliner, another bourbon in hand.

 

It’d been a week since Eleanor died, suddenly. She said she didn’t feel well and went upstairs to rest. By sundown she was gone.

 

Behind me, branches smacked against siding. I drank, and counted. Seven days gone. Eleven months since our wedding. Three weeks until an anniversary trip, to the beach. One hundred, the number of times she brushed her hair before bed. Four, the number of children she wanted. Two boys, two girls. We were going to start trying after the trip.

 

I made my way to the bedroom, taking off my robe and sliding under the covers. I scooted to the figure on the other side, kissing Eleanor softly on the forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” I said, drifting to sleep to the sound of rain against the window.

 

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“Are you a writer?”

Last weekend I found myself at Louisville’s Writer’s Block Festival, a daylong series of workshops, panels and public readings. Several professional writers, representing both popular fiction and the academic creative writing world, shared their insights. Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson was scheduled to present the keynote address late in the day.

 

I grabbed a coffee – lots of cream, lots or sugar – and strolled down a long row of booths occupied by literary journals, indie publishers and schools pimping their MFA programs. At every booth, I was ambushed with the question “Are you a writer?” Each time I struggled for an answer – the panels and readings and workshops were filled with professionals who had stacks of books for sale, writing degrees and resumes that read longer than their works. What do I have? I have five or six pieces of flash fiction published (for no pay), a Hunter Thompson T-shirt won in a writing contest this past spring, and a $5 coffee coupon won in a weekly competition (thanks, Anisa!).

 

So I kept answering ‘sorta,’ ‘kinda,’ and ‘not really,’ almost apologizing for my paltry output. I left pissed at myself. Not because I’m not a writer, but because I couldn’t find the cajones to admit I am.

 

Of course I’m a writer. I might not be Hemmingway, but who gets to define what a writer is? Everybody has their own definition. Are real writers only those who make a full-time living at it? Only the ones who receive critical acclaim? Those who write ‘real’ poetry and books, as opposed to humor, limericks and children’s stories? Do you have to get paid? Do you have to be published, and if so, are there parameters as to what counts and what doesn’t count?

 

Are there levels of writer-dom? (“Him? He’s a writer, but not a real writer.”)

 

I got home, grabbed a beer and pondered the question. Am I writer? Eventually I asked myself another question. Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve got a t-shirt, some magazines and a couple of websites that say I am. I’ve contributed stories to a coloring book coming out next month that, assuming it makes money (a pretty safe assumption) proves I’m not just a writer, but a professional writer. My ego is growing by leaps and bounds.

 

So the next time anyone asks me if I’m a writer, my answer is ‘F*** yeah, I’m a writer!’

 

I’ll put the question out for everyone else– What’s your definition of a writer, and do you qualify?

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Why I Don’t Write Poetry

Ode to the Banjo – A Sonnet

Wafting o’er Appalachian hills so low,
The sound of angels fills my life with joy;
I hear the twang of a five-string banjo,
And all my angst and sorrows are destroyed;

Gabriel breaks down the foggy mountains,
Whilst Michael sits alone on Rocky Top;
Cherubs join in chorus so clear and plain,
Voices smoother than pure maple syrup;

The twang itself IS heaven brought to earth,
Bringing me more joy than my wife’s implants;
The good Lord himself becomes full of mirth,
Musical duels are my deliverance;

So rejoice in the noise which I hold so dear,
And remember – Y’all come back now, you hear!

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The Wasp

Edgar lay paralyzed on the rainforest floor; the wasp’s poison worked quickly.

He had separated from his group not half an hour before. University researchers, they entered the jungle searching for new species. Frustrated with the group’s slow pace, he split off in a different direction, agreeing to meet everyone else at a prearranged point. Arrogance, he thought. It was a trait that served him well at the school, but would likely prove to be his death here.

His back still throbbed from the sting. The wasp, which Edgar guessed was about as long as his hand, landed low on his back and drove its stinger through his clothes and into deep into the flesh, just above the beltline.

Flat on his back, his eyes staring unfocused at the canopy above, Edgar took stock of his situation. The rainforest floor was damp, and he could feel the wetness soaking through his clothes. The end of a broken stick jabbed into his right leg. A fern of some type brushed against his cheek. Demanding Edgar’s immediate attention, though, was the weight of the wasp crawling on top of him – He guessed that she was preparing to deposit her eggs in his abdomen. There would be about a hundred of them, and within two, maybe three days they would hatch and release voraciously hungry larvae.

Two or three days, if he lived that long. Depending on the weather, he could die of exposure. Any number of carnivorous predators lurked in the rainforest. The wasp’s poison could shut down his lungs or heart. If he was lucky enough to survive, the larvae would eat him alive from the inside.

Of course, his team could find him, but the odds against that would be almost immeasurable. He didn’t entertain that thought.

He concentrated and in turn he tried moving his extremities – first his right arm, then his left, then the legs. Nothing. Then his hands and feet. Again, nothing. Fingers, toes… Nada.

He became aware that the crawling on his stomach stopped. He could hear the tearing of his shirt before he felt the pressure, then the ripping of his skin. He tried to force a scream, but was unable. He could only feel the wasp’s backside push down into his body, then start pumping its eggs inside him.

So this is what it’s like to be raped.

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Tina

Tina filled two glasses with Sangria. She handed one to her guest, then leaned back against the refrigerator as she gulped the other.

“So I’m walking down the sidewalk last summer and this drunk staggers up, grabs my shoulder and tells me he loves me. Of course I kicked his ass – broke his arm, left him lying in some bushes.” She fished a chunk of apple from her glass and sucked on it. “The next weekend I’m out bar-hopping with some friends when this guy walks up to me; he’s sober this time, but he’s got a black eye, a cast on his arm and a bunch of scratches all over his arms. And he offers to buy me a drink if I promise not to beat him up again. I mean, he had to have some massive balls to come up to me and ask like that, so of course I let him. He turned out to be pretty cool; even let me sign his cast. I think I knew, even then.” Tina glanced over into the living room, where Tommy sat playing video games. She smiled and unconsciously played with her engagement ring. “It’s been rough at times, but at least it’s not boring.”

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The One About Kitty

Kitty woke up alone and washed down the day’s first Prozac with a supple ’59 Bordeaux. She carried the bottle with her out to the veranda, where she sat for hours and stared out into the garden. At about noon, the cell phone in the pocket of her silk robe rang; she answered.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” the caller said. “How are you doing?”

“I’m miserable.”

“Come again?”

“You heard me, I’m goddamn miserable. You’re on a pretend business trip to the Caymans, scuba diving and screwing your secretary, and I’m supposed be the good Stepford Wife, planning your big welcome back party.”

“Good Lord, Kitty, don’t start that again.”

“Twenty million dollars in the bank and I need a psychiatrist on call just to keep myself from playing in traffic.” She poured herself another glass of wine.

“Fine. You don’t like it, go. Just don’t let the pre-nup hit you in the ass on the way out.”

“Fuck you and your secretary. Can she even type?” She threw the phone into the shrubs.

Kitty took a drink and studied her surroundings – the lush gardens, the Olympic-sized pool – before walking back inside. She paused to grab her purse and keys, along with another bottle of Bordeaux, before making her way to the garage. Minutes later she emerged, still in the robe, behind the wheel of a cherry-red Corvette. She studied her rearview until she saw smoke trickle house, then she aimed the Vette south towards Tijuana, and hit the gas.

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Lester and the Coyote

The coyote – its fur matted, drool trickling from its mouth – crept forward out of the gully’s tall grass toward the unattended toddler in the sandbox. Lester leaned back in his new lawn chair, sipped his beer and watched the scene unfold.

He glanced disdainfully at the child – she was named Katie or Kaitlyn or something like that – as she used a green plastic shovel to throw sand and dirt randomly from the box, which sat in the unfenced backyard. Lester saw her mother grab a cell phone and enter the house some minutes before, leaving the girl alone. Her hair was long and matted, and she wore only a diaper.

The coyote skulked closer, camouflaging himself in the shade of an old maple that stood at the back of the yard. Lester yawned and scratched his stomach through a white sleeveless t-shirt. He looked towards the neighbor’s backdoor. No movement.

He turned his attention back to the coyote, which had made his way to within twenty feet of the child, and was crouched, preparing to lunge. Lester took another look at the neighbor’s back door – still no movement – and sighed. He stood and walked towards the animal, waving his arm and yelling.

“Back off! Git!” The beast stopped and looked up in time to dodge the beer bottle thrown at him. “Git outta here!” As Lester approached nearer, the coyote turned and slowly trotted away.

The mother came out to investigate the noise, cell phone at her ear. She made it onto her porch just in time to see the coyote disappear into the gully. The phone dropped to the ground; her hands covering her mouth as she gasped.

Lester turned away from the coyote and caught the woman’s eye. “It’s about time you got out here. Start watching your goddam kid!” She stared quietly, mouth still open as he stomped back towards his own yard. He opened his screen door, and before going in, turned back towards the woman, who had finally ran over and picked up her child.

“You owe me a freakin’ beer!” He walked inside, slamming the door behind him.

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Interview

The railroad manager studied the boy who barged in asking for a job. He needed a brakeman, but the coupling and uncoupling of railroad cars was dangerous work, and the kid looked too young, too green, for the job. As the manager prepared to send the boy away, the kid stepped forward. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. Name’s Lester,” he said, offering his hand. The manager stood and shook the boy’s hand, and which felt uncomfortably small. He looked down and counted three fingers on Lester’s right hand; he saw four on the left. Lester left the office with the name of the head brakeman; he started work the next day.

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Verbarostracoidea

Constable Pickwick poked his head into the laboratory. “Any answers yet?”

Professor Englebert Willoughby looked up from his microscope. “Well, the shell lodged in the deceased’s ear canal is a bivalve from the order Verbarostracoidea. They’re common worldwide. But you said you exhumated the body in Richmond Park?”

“Correct. Why?”

“The coral pulled from his throat is unique. It’s a Verbarmillepora, a genus of Hydrocorallia found only on reefs in the Indian Ocean. Somebody traveled a long way to bury your deceased in mid-London.” The professor inhaled a pinch of snuff. “You’ve got quite a mystery on your hands, Constable.”

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