Tuesday, October 25, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Stevan Allred

When I started into the submissions process for City of Weird, I have to admit, I was pretty worried. I was kind of hoping for masterpieces right out of the gate, but what I was getting at first were stories that didn't delight me, that didn't contain the otherworldly elements I was seeking, that didn't have anything to do with Portland. I also wasn't getting the numbers of stories I had hoped. And I knew that this submissions process would be a slow burn. I knew that the writers interested in submitting couldn't just open their computers, pull out a favorite unpublished piece and send it my way - they were most often writing a story for the collection, which meant fewer submissions right off the bat. I mean, it takes real guts to write directly for an anthology that might not take your piece. I knew all this. But it still scared me to be counting down the days and not logging happy lists of possibilities.

Then I got a submission entitled "Notes from the Underground City" and I knew I'd be alright.

Stevan Allred is the co-facilitator, along with Joanna Rose, of the well-known Pinewood Table critique group in Portland, Oregon, and author of the short story collection A Simplified Map of the Real World. In an interview for the Los Angeles Review, Liz Prato asked Stevan to talk about what his book of linked stories, all taking place in a fictional town called Renata, Oregon, was really about:

Loss – because I believe that that is really the only story we have to tell, and how we survive it, or fail to survive it – so that’s almost a given. In fact, my challenge to writers out there is go, try to write a story without loss on it. Love was a big thing. There’s romantic love in a number of the stories. Familial love, fathers, sons, daughters. The seamier side of love with one story that has a sex worker in it. And because you want conflict in your stories, there turns out to be a lot of divorce. I was married at the time, and thought I would always be married to my wife, and after I finished writing this body of stories, my marriage fell apart. Now, when I look back on it [writing about divorce], it feels like I was dress rehearsing for something I didn’t know was going to happen.

The full interview is here.

When I first read A Simplified Map, it struck me as an epic. It's a collection of stories of real life in small town America, no wars or gods or successions of kings, but there's an epic-ness to it nevertheless. When I first read Stevan's story "Notes from the Underground City," I thought the same thing: epic. Just in short story form. It's written in three parts, from three different points of view. Matthew Korfhage of Willamette Week called it, ...a literal miniature ripped straight from Borges, in which an old man named Melquiades creates his own tiny version of Portland in the Shanghai tunnels for his own amusement—snatching Portlanders from the Salt & Straw lines to live in his little city, where the little citizens beg for craft beer and Stumptown coffee, and for Cheryl Strayed to join them. 

Here's a taste, from the opening of the story: part one, the Melquiades Document.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Melquiades, and I am, in that misleadingly innocuous phrase from your police procedures, the “person of interest” wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of some twenty thousand of your city’s residents. Before we take up the matter of those missing citizens, nearly all of whom are quite safe, I assure you, you must first understand with whom you are dealing.

I was born in 1429, and I am now in my 587th year. My father was Melchior, a clockmaker, in Padua, and I learned his trade from the time I was a child. My mother was Osania, a healer, and an adept in certain arcane arts. My early years were divided between my father’s workshop and the kitchen table where my mother prepared her unguents and poultices. I was very small, but my fingers were nimble, my mind quick, and my mother foresaw that I was capable of greatness. Her knowledge was ancient, and included secret incantations that have been passed down through her family for a thousand years or more.

By the time you read this I will be gone from this world, though still very much alive. You will not be able to follow me, for my mode of travel takes me through folds in the fabric of the cosmos beyond your reach, but the truth of what I am about to tell you is irrefutable. You will be able to see it, and touch it. You will have the chance to speak to the missing citizens, as I am leaving them in your care. And you, of this execrable age of skepticism, intent on denying the existence of magic or anything like it, will understand that I command powers far greater than any you possess.

Stevan's work has appeared in (big breath) Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, Clackamas Literary Review, Bewildering Stories, Real, Windfall, Second Writes, Soundings, Perceptions, The Text, Inkwell, Mississippi Review, Ilya’s Honey, The Iconoclast, Rosebud, I Wanna Be Sedated: Thirty Writers on Parenting Teenagers, Pindledyboz, Beloit Fiction Journal, The Organ, The Cereal Box Review, whatevermom, The Gobshite Quarterly, The Paumanok Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Contemporary Haibun Online, Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper, The Portland Mercury, Syzygy, Writers Northwest, Northwest Writers Handbook 1995, Stepfamily Advocate, Fireweed, and Portland Review.

Also in my own collection, I have this zine that Stevan edited:

All about pencils! And including such writers as Joanna Rose, Yuvi Zalkow, Christi Krug, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Harold Johnson, Steve Denniston, and more - also Stevan, himself. It's a sweet, sweet little book and contains all sorts of art as well as writing.

Stevan will be reading at Broadway Books for the City of Weird event today, Tuesday, October 25.

Monday, October 24, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Jeff Johnson

I've been a fan of Jeff Johnson's writing since his memoir Tattoo Machine back in 2009. His mind is
like a psychedelic poem kaleidoscope left spinning on a beer-stained bar stool all night. I don't know what I'm talking about either, but I like the stuff that comes out of his brain. I'm forever glad we're friends on facebook for random status updates like this:

6:00 AM, Lightning Hopkins on the miniature jukebox. So much of the blues is essentially happy stuff if you listen closely. Pneumonia Blues for instance, this song. Hopkins feels vaguely bad for the bug that tried to live in the whiskey temple of his body. He has the Fritos pie powered immune system of a junkyard dog and he's a tad too busy with troublesome women to be bothered. Sort of the opposite of Morrisey, whose name I doubt I spelled correctly. Monday! Whatevah, like this is a thing.

When his book Everything Under the Moon came out in September, he had this to say on that same social media outlet, accompanied by a photo of the Bagdad Theater:

Neon, always at its most beautiful at sunrise. It's book release day for Everything Under The Moon. So it might be at a bookstore near you. Satisfying. I love so many things in this world. Food, for instance, the daily art. If you learn to cook, then you can understand more clearly the mastery of great chefs. I once wrote that while we all love Robert Johnson, it's possible that Hendrix could tell when Johnson had his eyes closed. Art is the same. At a certain point in its practical exploration, at least in your imagination, you can fleetingly feel the arthritis in a sculptor's hands, or see more than you might have of what lies beyond the edges of the frame. Books are like this. Writing them makes me love reading even more than I already did. Oscar Wilde said in one way or another that the greatest work of art was life itself, to be viewed by one at its conclusion. The Art of Life. Neon at sunrise. This coffee tastes particularly good. Just like it did yesterday.

If you told me about all the books that came or are coming out by Jeff Johnson in moments close to this very one, I wouldn't believe you, but it's true. There is the aforementioned Everything Under the Moon, published in September by Soft Skull Press. Werewolf thriller, you guys! And what a lovely cover.

And then there's Knottspeed, due out in February of 2017. The
publisher has this to say about it: Enigmatic, charming, and brutally resourceful, Knottspeed is a man on a mission. He also happens to be dead, but the rumors of his demise have been slightly exaggerated ― by the man himself as the key to his plan.

Another great book cover.

And if two books in the space of five months isn't enough, there's Lucky Supreme, published by Sky Horse, coming out only three months later, in April of 2017, and this one is part one of a trilogy. Jeez, how does this guy have time to write all of these? Get a load of the publisher comments for this one. Tattoo parlor noir!

The night world of Old Town, Portland, has gone mad in the grip of gentrification, and at the center of it all is Lucky Supreme, a seedy tattoo parlor, whose proprietor is a street-bred artist with a unique approach to problem solving. Darby Holland has enough on his radar, but when some “flash” (tattoo artwork) stolen from him resurfaces in California he can't help himself. His efforts to reclaim it set him on a dangerous path, dragging along his delightfully eccentric colleagues, including the brains behind his brawn—Delia, a twiggy vinyl-clad punk genius secretly from the other side of the tracks. No one knows why the art signed “Roland Norton, Panama, 1955” is worth anything or how it came to hang on the walls of a tattoo shop in Portland, Oregon. Only the deranged former owner can say--and he's not talking. Before the wrecking balls swing through Old Town in the name of “progress,” Darby must settle old scores and face new demons to save his reputation, his shop, and his sanity.

Here's a bit of full disclosure for you. Somewhere in the midst of the editing period for City of Weird, Jeff and Sky Horse hired me to design Lucky Supreme's book cover. I'd never done anything gritty like that before, so it was a lot of fun.

Around all his book writing and negotiating with TV and movie studios about upcoming projects, I was completely blown away when we took the blind down from the Forest Avenue Press submissions page and I found that one of the stories I had in my yes pile was a Jeff Johnson original. It's definitely one of the weirdest stories in the anthology. Here's a little taste.

A trumpet rang in the distance, a long, braying note that rose into a staccato burst of nonsense. Martin rose and pointed upward. Dr. Weisman followed him out of the basement and up the uneven stairs to the second story of the brick building. Together they peeked out through a broken window. 

A chopped-down car with huge rear fins rumbled into view below them. It was midnight blue, with tiny halogen headlights partially shielded with chrome to make them look like half-closed eyelids. A little boy in a white suit and patent leather shoes stood on the hood. He raised the trumpet and blew a sharp blast just as the car rounded the corner and disappeared. 

“What the hell do you make of that?” Dr. Weisman whispered. 

Martin shook his head. “Twin carbs on bad news.”

Jeff will be reading at Broadway Books as part of the City of Weird event on Tuesday, October 25.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer's was the last submission to come through Forest Avenue Press' Submittable page for the City of Weird anthology at something like a minute before midnight. Maybe he thought that would be a fitting time to submit for a collection of fantasy and horror tales, or perhaps he's like me and always wants the freedom to keep tinkering up until the last moment. I knew as soon as I checked it out that I was going to take the story. It was everything I was looking for. It took a trope from the genre of "weird fiction" and turned it on its ear, making a story about one thing into a story about something else. It was equal parts creepy and hilarious. It was super fun and it was suuuuper weird. And as a bonus, he'd taken an existing piece of Portland lore and essentially written a sequel. Which is like using a Portland landmark but even better.

That urban legend is Polybius, a video game that was supposed to have surfaced in 1981, wreaked havoc on game players, and then disappeared without a trace a month later.

Those who say Polybius was only an urban legend need only look here for proof of its existence.

Kevin Meyer has been a co-facilitator for the Dangerous Writing fiction workshop and his work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Frozen Moment: Contemporary Writers on the Choices that Change Our Lives, Share PDX, Nailed Magazine, Noisehole Magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, and The Untold Gaze.

He's also an accomplished musician who performs under the name of Astro Warrior. I've watched him work, and it's fascinating and mesmerizing. I think what he does is called "noise music," and it's done by plugging cords and flipping switches and turning dials on synths that look like they come right out of the 1950s-era futuristic stories that partly inspired City of Weird. But it's not all space-age smoke and mirrors - it's skillfully created, kick-ass music. I shouldn't be allowed to use phrases like that, but there it is. You should totally keep an ear out for Astro Warrior gigs.

You can check his music out here.

Here's an upcoming show: November 3rd at Atlantis Lounge in Portland. More info is here!

It's also his birthday today.

The story "Out of Order" has one of my favorite last lines in City of Weird. But I'm going to give you a taste from the opening section. To hear more, come on down to Broadway Books this coming Tuesday (October 25) for our second City of Weird reading. There will be Voodoo doughnuts and we're hoping folks come in costume. The facebook event is here.

But now, in lieu of asking the entire internet to sing him Happy Birthday, here is a little taste of Kevin's writing.

I keep going back to that arcade-bar in Old Town, Ground Kontrol, to play Polybius. I’d never heard of Polybius until I saw the worn, eighties retro cabinet in the back corner of the lower floor of Ground Kontrol, lit up in the dark. 

Polybius isn’t even that fun, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t stop myself. I keep going back to play, even though I’m pretty sure Polybius is what started this whole thing. 

The thing is, I can’t remember. 

Every time I black out, I wake up and the dog’s licking my nosebleed. She’s a little dog, a Sheltie, couldn’t weigh more than twenty pounds, but she feels like a ten-ton hangover on my chest. Her sloppy, wet tongue and dog-breath stink on my face. 

I’m dead certain I’m going to wake up the way that French woman did a few years back. The one who got the world’s first face transplant after she passed out on painkillers and woke up with half her face missing. It wasn’t like her face vanished while she was passed out. Her goddamned dog chewed her face off.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Leslie What

I'd never met Leslie What before the City of Weird book launch at Powell's on October 12th. Last year, when publisher Laura Stanfill took the blind down from our submissions page, and I could finally see the names and profiles of the writers whose pieces I'd chosen for the book, I was excited to look her up and find out that not only had Leslie won the Nebula Award for her short story "The Cost of Doing Business," which was published in Amazing Stories (one of those fabulous weird fiction magazines that so inspired this anthology), but her collection Crazy Love was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

I found her name very intriguing - Leslie What! And her sense of style as well! Here's a pic of her with the fab octopus jewelry she designed for the occasion.

That's Leslie on the right and publisher Laura Stanfill on the left sporting her own octopus jewelry on the evening after the Powell's launch event. And below, though without the fabulous glasses, is a better pic of Leslie's cephalopod ensemble.

It's made out of legos!

It was fun to discover that Leslie and I shared a college, California State University at Fullerton. She also earned a certificate in Vocational Nursing from Santa Ana College and an MFA in Writing from Pacific University, whereas I just quit college and joined the circus.

Leslie writes fantasy and literary fiction and nonfiction, and has published a staggering 80-plus short stories and essays in loads of places including Parabola, Bending the Landscape, Interfictions, Utne Reader, Los Angeles Review, Asimov’s, Lilith, Calyx, Fugue, Unstuck Journal, hold on, I have to breathe, Best New Horror, MacGuffin, and other anthologies and magazines. Along with Crazy Love, she also wrote the short story collection The Sweet and Sour Tongue and the novel Olympic Games: Zeus, Hera, and the Archetypal Battle of theSexes.

Here's a wonderful story, recently reprinted in See the Elephant Magazine.

I loved her City of Weird piece, "Trainwreck," from the very first line:

Last night, my housemate Peachy and I smoked so much weed he forgot we live in a houseboat.

How Portland is that?

Leslie's story does that wonderful thing where you laugh, but you're kind of uncomfortable about it, but you laugh, but you're kind of uncomfortable about it. Bert, her irresponsible stoner caregiver narrator, has misplaced his housemate/client Peachy after a night of getting baked and kind of forgetting he has someone to look after. "Trainwreck" is breezy and funny but it runs so much deeper, exploring shallowness, neglect, and the lies we tell ourselves in order to believe we're doing the right thing when we're just doing what we want.

Here's a favorite passage from the story, in which Bert sits down and makes a list of the things he needs to do in the wake of Peachy's disappearance. Note that Bert has not yet called the police but he has taken a trip to the local medical marijuana dispensary for "supplies."

I counted out the last of Peachy’s Vicodins (there were fifteen left), took a few tokes of Blueberry Kush, and popped a beer. I’d need to find another roommate to help with finances before May or it would be tight. I turned on my computer and waited another geologic era for it to boot up. I wanted to go on Craigslist and search for a new housemate. While I waited for the happy face screen to pop up, it occurred to me it might look suspicious if I advertised before filing a missing person report. Good thing I thought of that in time. I shut it all down and made myself a cup of instant coffee and sat at the kitchen table to force my brain to focus and come up with a workable plan: 

1) Call bank and triple-check on available funds. 

2) Look through Peachy’s things for an address for his parents. Write them a nice note about what a great guy their son was. 

3) Call Marine Patrol and police to file reports. 

4) Craigslist. 

5) Ask about refilling Peachy’s prescriptions. 

6) Clean up blood so nobody can CSI me with the date. 

7) Reorder this list and remember to call Marine Patrol and file missing person report before writing note to Peachy’s folks telling them he’s gone. 

8) Destroy this list and tidy up pot and Vicodin before cops arrive. 

9) Spray houseboat with deodorant spray. 

10) Get deodorant spray from Fred Meyer. 

And then, because I was hungry and because I thought lists should not have even numbers, I added, 

11) Eat lunch. 

I fixed a PB&J on Dave’s Killer Bread but it tasted all wrong and I only managed a few bites before choking up. “Peachy,” I said. “Old buddy.”

Hee! After all that, he eats the sandwich first! Do you see why I love this woman?! She will be reading at our event at Broadway Books this coming Tuesday. If you're interested, the facebook event page is here,

Thursday, October 20, 2016

just before the explosion

This is so not the most important point to make about the explosion that happened in Portland yesterday, but it reminds me of how easy it is to forget to notice the beauty (even just visually) in our everyday lives. Every winter, I look back on fall and think to myself, did I look at the autumn trees enough? This year, because something wondrous is happening in my life with City of Weird, I keep consciously staring around me at the colors and the flutter of falling leaves. Trying to memorize the feeling of looking at the beauty of this particular fall.

On my way to work, I always drive down Glisan, past 23rd, to 24th, to jog over to my favorite street, 25th, in Northwest Portland, with the little roundabouts and lovely trees, but I also love to drive down 23rd, especially in winter when it's all lit up with twinkle lights. Winter is when my drive route usually changes from 25th to 23rd, but yesterday, when I got to the corner of Glisan and 23rd about twenty minutes before the gas leak was discovered that led to the amazingly efficient evacuation of the block before the explosion happened, I turned and looked down 23rd at the stretch of beautiful old buildings under orange leaves and blue sky. 

For a split second, I thought, drive down 23rd today. For a split second, because I didn't have my blinker on, I thought, eh, I'll do it tomorrow, no Friday, because I don't work tomorrow, yeah, I'll do it Friday. For a split second, I thought, but the sky is blue today. 

So I drove down 23rd and consciously noticed the beauty all the way down. Odd that some of that beauty is suddenly gone and the street will be blocked off, maybe for as long as the fall leaves are in the trees. And then again, next year when the leaves are back, yes, the street will be healed and pretty again.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Remnants Surprise

One of the things I love about designing book covers is getting to be a mostly anonymous part of the life of that book. Sometimes I'll go to a book launch or a reading and the author will get up at the podium and open the book and start reading, and I'll think to myself, that image on the front of that book: no one here knows I made that.

I love this.

At the same time, it's always a thrill and an honor when my work is thanked at those book launches, and sometimes an author will surprise me with a hug or flowers. At the recent Powell's opening for Robert Hill's The Remnants, I was surprised with a gift.

I kept the bag at my seat as Robert read and took questions but when people started lining up to get their books signed, I couldn't help but open it up and start rifling around in there.

The first thing I pulled out was a single package of saltines. Me being me, I started pulling out other stuff wrapped in tissue paper, thinking to myself, OK, where's the cheese. But then I got it. And it was such a perfect gift that I just had to share.

Two lovely tea cups, two saucers, a handful of teas and a package of saltines. It's an homage to the annual tea shared by the two main characters in the book. As Robert writes, "On every tenth of September since the molten lava cooled, True Bliss served tea and saltines to Kennesaw Belvedere in the parlor of her home on the occasion of his birth."

I love that. Thank you, Robert.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

a moment in the day: the big moment

There's applause in the event space at Powell's City of Books. Laura Stanfill, the publisher of the anthology I edited, has just announced my name, and I'm hugging her probably longer than I should, and now I'm stepping up to the podium and looking out over a completely packed house full of friends and family and contributors and writers and people I don't know who are just interested in this book I helped make. This is one of those moments. One of the absolute biggest moments of my life.

I lean into the mic for my first words.

"I just had to give my husband my half-sucked cough drop."