Monday, December 5, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Nicole Rosevear

One of the things I did during the editing of Nicole Rosevear's story for City of Weird was suggest that she change the title. Come to think of it, I did this for a few of the pieces in the book. In Nicole's case the reason was that I was afraid the original title would give away some of the ending or where the story was headed. Because to mention the original title here would do just that, I won't, but Nicole has so many beautiful turns of phrase in her piece that it was easy for her to go through and choose something else.

"This Many Lost Things" is a story about loss in its many, many forms. Here's from the opening:

If Janie had a superpower, it would be losing things. Socks, jewelry, her cell phone. Four dogs, her father, six jobs, a fiancé, a fetus. Queen of the lost.

And a little farther along:

On weekends, Janie climbs. She drives to the center of the state and scrambles her way to the tops of scree slopes, every careful step releasing miniature rockslides in her wake; drives into the Gorge and views waterfalls from above, from the source, from before they can possibly know what they will become in another mile of wet and rocky tumbling. She climbs Tabor and Rocky Butte, but the West Hills loom taller in the not-so-far distance. From Council Crest, Hood taunts her with its crisp, bright angles. She has never touched glacier.

Nicole explores the theme of climbing as deeply and as metaphorically as she does the theme of loss in "This Many Lost Things." Janie climbs hills and mountains, furniture in her apartment. She goes to the tops of buildings to survey the world and try to find her lost things. Reality blurs, but not in the way it does when you're reading a ghost story or a monster tale. "This Many Lost Things" is really a story that falls a bit outside the theme of City of Weird, because the "otherworldly" element isn't so much something fanstastical or science-fictiony as something surreal and poetical (is that a real word? I'm going with it.). But I fell in love with the beauty and the quiet heartbreak in the piece, so I had to have it.

Sometimes Janie finds her own lost things on her climbs, although never ones she’s looked for. She turns a corner and finds the third argument she had with her fiancé, before they had moved in together, before either of them had considered that one day he might be her fiancé, climbs a flight of uneven stone stairs and rediscovers, word for word, a conversation with her father when she was twelve and they were on a vacation in Arizona. She finds her mother’s “You can grow up to be whatever you want to be, Janiebird” and the meth-riddled smile of a long-gone ex.

Her most recent ex, the fiancé, the almost-father to her almost-mother, used to come with her on her climbs. She understood that her silence on the climbs, her intensity of ascent, disturbed him. Janie is not a meanderer through nature, doesn’t hold hands on bridges and revel in the waterfall spray misting her face, doesn’t pack picnics. She did not talk about the child they would have had, never unpacked the box of heirloom clothes her fiancé’s mother sent not long before it became clear there was no longer going to be anyone to wear them.

Sometimes she can still feel the ghosts of the little butterfly flutters in her belly, the somersaults and loop-de-loops of another living thing sharing her body. Little fish swimming along, heartbeat under her heartbeat, until it wasn’t anymore. Just another lost thing.

One of the things that is really intriguing to me in this story is the deft way Nicole juxtaposes this world of surreal poetry with the harshness of reality. No matter how far Janie climbs, no matter how deeply we're nestled into the lull of Nicole's language, she's ready to pull us back with a dose of something deeply real.

Nicole teaches composition and creative writing at Clackamas Community College and is a member of the Clackamas Literary Review’s editorial team. She's a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and has had work published in North American Review, Bennington Review, and VoiceCatcher.

To check out more of Nicole's work, read her story "One Small Thing Right" in the lovely journal Voicecatcher here.

She'll be reading "This Many Lost Things" at our winter- and Christmas-themed City of Weird event for the Plonk reading series, at Corkscrew Wine Bar on Wednesday, December 7.

Thanks to Morguefile member Schick for the Mount Hood photograph.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Jonah Barrett

The note that accompanied Jonah Barrett's submission for City of Weird (which I didn't read until I'd decided to accept the piece, since I was reading submissions blind) contained some really interesting insight into the origins of his story.

While mostly being inspired by all the times I’ve visited Portland with my friends, the story is also based off the Lowline project that’s taking place in New York – an initiative to convert an old abandoned trolley system into a lush underground park using solar technology. The Lowline project was originally called “Delancy Underground.”

"Alder Underground" reads like a transcription of posts taken from a Tumblr blog. I noticed that lot of the old weird fiction tales are written as "found journals," and I thought that a modern day version of that might be akin to something like live-blogging.

Here's some info on the Lowline project. It sounds really cool! Although after you read Jonah's story, you might want to reconsider ever going there...

What really intrigued me, though, was what he said about live-blogging somewhat mirroring the "found journal" aspect of the genre of "weird fiction: (defined as a sub-genre of speculative fiction popular during the late 19th and early 20th century blending supernatural, mythic, and scientific tropes). One of the reasons I fell in love with "Alder Underground" was the voice of that live-blogger, It's a fresh, youthful voice, equal parts sardonic and sweet, and it's the perfect early-Twenty-first century answer to the first person accounts of alien invasions and spirits and monsters popularized by the lovely, pulpy stories in weird fiction.

8:15 a.m. 
We are taking a train down to the City of Roses, or whatever they call it these days. I told Aisha that I’d pay her back for my ticket but I think she knows I’m full of shit. Will buy her a coffee or something as payback. 
#PortlandDaycation #Free triiip #Gonna buy all the bird books

The live-blogging thing was a really fun device, and along with the immediacy that the time stamps brought to the tension, I thought the constant Tumblr commentary by the narrator who is sucked down a water tube into an underground biosphere filled with poisonous newt creatures said a lot about our society today, how we are so obsessed with social media, how we really don't feel like we're living our lives unless we're broadcasting them.

3:41 p.m. 
We have transcended the Weird element and’ve passed on through to the realm of the unreal. I am having a hard time swallowing what just happened—what’s still happening.

Also I’m very surprised that my phone still works.

Here's a totally cool thing: a sketch Jonah made when he was world-building, which he shared with me. It shows the layout of his biosphere and a simple rendering of how it works. I love getting a window into writers' processes, and this was a really neat window into his.

Along with being a writer and filmmaker, Jonah is the editor of The Evergreen State College's literary and arts magazine, Vanishing Point. He also edited the anthology Menagerie, due out next year. It's described as, "a collaboration from over 25 artists and authors presenting 30 illustrated stories and poems about monsters. Subjects include ghost secretaries, lake beasts, anxiety demons, garden mermaids, time travelers, drunk princesses, savage harpies, alien babies, middle school witches, angel hookups, simulated lovers, extinct beasts, and mothers from another dimension."

Jonah says he began work on Menagerie just a month before I put out the call for submissions for City of Weird. Feels kind of like these books are cousins! Keep an eye out in the coming months. Jonah gave me a sneak peek, and I can tell you, it's going to be a really fun book.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

a moment in the day: stain

The back room of Crush Bar is packed for tonight's event of the Burnt Tongue quarterly reading series. Stephen and I sit at a little round table at the back of the small room, he with a burger and a cocktail, I with a shameless plate of nachos and a glass of red, and ahead, through the crowd dappled with flecks from the overhead disco ball, Kelly Jeske stands on stage at the microphone, reading her essay - stories of betrayal, of death, of burial, of rage, of rising up, of life in this new world.

A lot of tonight's essays have been about life in this new world. One particularly favorite piece was entitled "The Morning after the Tangerine Apocalypse." We're preaching to the choir, yes, but it feels good to be here in the midst of all these good people, all feeling the same horror. The evening started with a shout, a communal primal scream that host Daniel Elder led all of us in bellowing up to the rafters or to high heaven or to the abyss, one very satisfying word: fuck.

With all of this, I'm only slightly distracted by the fact that I seem to have dripped wine on my top. One small spot of darker purple on the lighter purple fabric. I thought I'd done so earlier in the evening, only to look down later and see it gone. Then even later, damned if I didn't do it again, and it must be for real this time, because - wait - look down and... what the hell! It's gone again!

Both times this magic happens, I only let it lightly brush across my consciousness because the reading pulls me back in and holds me hard, Kelly Jeske, reading about burial, she and her young daughter burying a dead mouse in the yard. Not as a funeral per se but, "to see deconstruction and transformation that happens deep below the surface."

"The morning after the election," Kelly reads, "she surfaces out of sleep, uncovers her warm brown body, eyes shining. She says she fell asleep before Hilary became president."

A huge tear, one of many tonight, jumps from my eye. It seems to have so much force that it misses my face entirely. It lands, yes, on my shirt. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Brian Reid

A few of the stories I chose for City of Weird I chose for their pure, unadulterated fun, and Brian Reid's "How I Got this Job" was one of them. The story is also very weird and very Portland:

It's SantaCon day, and Phil is a cop on the beat, charged with keeping the peace at the corner of Burnside and 23rd. What's SantaCon, you say? Well, maybe you don't say, but in case you do, let's let our narrator, Phil, explain:

What it’s supposed to be is a protest against corporations, false icons, and mind control of the masses—it’s a Portland thing. 

What it is, is three hundred or more drunks dressed in filthy Santa Claus costumes, invading strip clubs, running out on bar tabs, and riding bicycles into cars, through pedestrians, and off bridges—it’s a Portland thing.

As you can tell, Phil isn't too fond of SantaCon. And he seems to have a bit of a hard-boiled attitude about Portland as well. But in the course of this particular day of festivities, who does Phil happen upon, trailed by a crowd of revelers in Santa suits, but the one true Santa!

OK, not quite like that ^. On SantaCon day in Portland, St. Nick is a little different. Here are Phil's words again, and what you need to know about the scene is that Phil and his partner Chauncey are sitting in their patrol car with the lights flashing as the crew of Santas ascends:

Maybe it’s just that all the other Saint Nicks are so dirty, but this Santa is so clean, it’s like he’s glowing. The little sack he’s got slung over his shoulder doesn’t have a wrinkle in it, like it’s been pressed. Even his black belt is shiny. The guy’s so clean, you’d think, ‘Hey, maybe it’s his first SantaCon; maybe he’s new to the game,’ but all the other Saint Nicks are clapping him on the back and jostling each other to get closer to him—this guy’s the head Santa. 

Well, shiny Santa sees our flashing blue lights and holds out his arms to keep the rest of the Santas back. He looks right at us and, swear to God, he’s got a twinkle in his eye.

“Hey, boys,” he says to his Santa minions. “On Christmas day I give toys to all the good girls and boys. What do I do the other three hundred and sixty-four days a year?”

“Raise hell, Santa,” they all start shouting. “Raise hell.”

Santa smiles benignly, motions the common Kris Kringles back behind him, and reaches into his little sack.

Chauncey and I reach for the door handles.

Santa, looking right at us, calls out, “Here’s a present just for you!” He pulls a can of beer out of his sack, hefts it, winds up, and hurls it. We’re out of the car in time to see the beer can in the air. His aim is off, it’s too high, but it stops in mid-air, then shoots straight for the car, and damn if the thing doesn’t accelerate as it goes. It smashes into the windshield so hard, it sets off the airbags.

A beer-toting renegade Santa Claus with super-human strength? Reading submissions blind, I didn't know until the stories were chosen who wrote what, but when the blind was removed, I wasn't surprised to find that "How I Got this Job" was written by Brian Reid. I knew him from my Dangerous Writing fiction group, and he can be very, very funny. Though I hadn't recognized his voice while reading submissions, I was very pleased to find that he was the writer of this very weird and funny story of holiday mayhem with a film-noir-esque narration.

He'll be reading from "How I Got this Job" at the Corkscrew Wine Bar for the Plonk Reading Series' Christmas/winter-themed City of Weird event. That's coming up on December 7th. 

Here's an octopus in a Santa hat.

And Brian's very interesting bio below. Look for more weird and funny stuff from him in the future.

BRIAN REID was weaned on the acerbic dry humor and innate storytelling of the Scottish Highlands. His childhood in Australia colored his writing with a love of the ridiculous and a dedication to irreverence. As a teenager he moved to Chicago, where he learned how to take a punch. He worked at the Federal Reserve Bank for almost twenty years, which taught him perception is more important than reality. Brian escaped the Fed and moved to Oregon to pursue his life-long dream of writing fiction. He plans on writing many novels.

Friday, November 18, 2016

a moment in the day: in line

In line at the store, I hear this conversation, between two men behind me, about the state of the world and their actions within it, Portland style.

Guy 1: I'm going to the protest tonight.

Guy 2: What are you protesting?

Guy 1: Trump's a jackass.

Guy 2: You can't protest that Trump's a jackass.

Guy 1: Sure I can.

Guy 2: You have to protest something that can be changed.

Guy 1: Ah, fair enough.

Guy 2: I forgot to shave this morning.

Guy 1: Mmm.

Guy 2: You going to do No Shave November?

Guy 1: I'm going to do No Shave Trump. I'm not going to shave until he's gone.

Monday, November 14, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Suzy Vitello

Suzy Vitello's story in City of Weird is one of the weirdest weird stories of all. I have a hard time describing it. There's this sort of corporate ghost that lives on a bridge and appears in the form of a flower and it steals...

OK, I don't even think I can try to explain it without giving away too much, but suffice it to say that narrator Emmy, about to turn 16, is also about to be given a very odd and inappropriate birthday present by her father. She doesn't know what to expect, except that he has promised "fireworks."

Dad handed me the keys to the Leaf and told me to head to the Willamette. “The Hawthorne Bridge,” he said. “We have to get there before midnight.” 

From the passenger seat, Dad kept staring at me the way someone who hasn’t seen a beloved family member in five years would. Finally, I cranked my head and said, “What?” 

“It happens so quickly. One day, you’re holding a bundle of love, and then, just like that, you’re letting them drive the car.” 

I rolled my eyes. Dad was really good at making everything about him. 

At 11:56 we reached the Hawthorne Bridge. Dad said, “Take the inside lane of the deck. We have to park under the penthouse.” 

There were orange cones blocking the middle lanes. “But . . .” I said. 

First thing you should know about being a successful grownup is barriers were made for others.” 

I navigated the Leaf in between the cones, and rumbled along the metal grate. 

Dad said, “Okay, stop.” 

Was this where the fireworks would be? Dad had money, but not that much money. 

I stopped the car in the middle of the bridge, underneath the little house, and Dad said, “Turn off the engine. Stay in the car until you’re instructed otherwise.” 

“By who?” I said. “Instructed otherwise by who?” 

Dad said, “What’s about to happen is for your own good. Remember. I love you.”

I've been a fangirl for Suzy Vitello for a long time. I particularly love the way she writes young characters. She is somehow able to put a teenager on the page without making her feel fake. She gets the angst and the sweetness and the matter-of-factness, all of it rolled up into an authentic voice.

One of the things that Suzy manages to do in her City of Weird story "The Deflowering" is write that teenage voice into a very adult story, one that contains a lot of humor and weirdness but still explores some really heavy subjects like women and girls' ownership of their bodies and the dangers of corporate America.

I'm a big fan of her young adult Empress Chronicles series, which began with the novel of the same name in 2014, followed by The Keepsake last year. The series is written from two different points of view - Liz, a modern-day Portland teen and Elisabeth of Bavaria, a princess from one hundred and fifty years ago. The stories of these two girls are interwoven, and magic and danger abounds. More info is on Suzy's website here.

Suzy also wrote the novel The Moment Before and the short story collection Unkiss Me. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, various anthologies, and literary journals. She has been a prize winner in The Atlantic Monthly Student Fiction Contest, and was a recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts grant. She holds an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She'll be reading from "The Deflowering" tonight at Annie Bloom's Books.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Doug Chase

When I announced open submissions for City of Weird over a year and a half ago, a lot of friends from my writer's group (Portland's well-known Dangerous Writers, led by the inimitable Tom Spanbauer) were eager to submit pieces. Because I knew friends would submit and I needed to be objective, I vowed to read all submissions blind, and I barred myself from being in the basement (our sacred Dangerous Writing workshop space) when any of the stories were being read and discussed.

This was kind of easy because group began at four, and I always came late because of my work schedule. I'd arrive and head down the back steps, past the banana plant, to the basement door, open it up and peek in. Across the room: a huge table ringed with writers with stacks of pages, a flurry of voices: "Nope! Sorry! Out!" And I'd be back up the stairs to sit on the porch and wait for discussion of the secret story to end.

Here's one really weird thing about the blind that I imposed upon myself. Never once did I recognize a writer's story when I was reading submissions. Even when I knew his or her voice, style, pet themes. Never once. Take Doug Chase for example. I'd been reading and workshopping his novel, had been listening to his very particular voice for years and I had no idea. I remember when my decisions had been cast and publisher Laura Stanfill turned off the blind, and I scrolled through the names and titles of the stories. When I came to the name next to the story "Squatty and Weasel Boy," I think I said, "Wow" right out loud.

Accepting Doug felt slightly problematic as not only were we in a writing group together, but we both work probably ten feet apart from each other at Powell's. It felt a little like accepting my brother. Would it seem like I was playing favorites? But the story was just too perfect for the book. It was creepy and funny and scary and sad and just the right amount of gory, and it did just what I was looking for: it used one story to tell another.

I liked asking myself two linked questions when reviewing stories. 1. What is the story about? 2. What is the story really about? Separating the piece into layers of meaning and depth.

1. What is "Squatty and Weasel Boy" about: a misfit loner who inadvertently kills a homeless man  asleep in the giant industrial trash compactor behind the Burger King where he works, and then, for the next twenty years, is haunted by his ghost.

No one could see Squatty except me. He was always there in my Burger King. He hopped around the seating area, up on tables, stared right in the faces of the customers.

They never knew, except they would complain. It got real cold, and it got real smelly. Bags of garbage smell. Dirty unwashed man smell. Smashed up broken bone bloody smell.

While the customers were distracted by the cold and the stink, Squatty would eat a couple of their fries.

2. What is "Squatty and Weasel Boy" really about: how we are haunted by the connections we fail to make with each other.

I look back at my time at the Burger King and it doesn’t seem real. More like a week than twenty-five years. Like it was me that haunted the place and not just Squatty. I don’t know how it all worked. The rules of ghostology. Because even before I killed him, Squatty was all about me. He haunted me.

Half a ghost. You look at all the homeless people, some of them so far gone. A lot of half ghosts out there that haunt the places where they used to live. Not dead, but not allowed into the real world.

You know what I mean by real world. The world of going to a movie or the mall, sitting in a restaurant with your friends. Not worried about what they think. The world where everything fits, your clothes, your family, everything.

I was half a ghost, too. My whole life half a ghost and I never understood until the end of it.

Another reason I was drawn to "Squatty and Weasel Boy" is that it's based on an actual piece of Portland urban legend. The Burger King where our narrator Weasel Boy works is the one that used to stand on Northwest Broadway and Burnside, and legend has it that it was haunted "by an unknown entity." There was also a story that a homeless man had been crushed to death in the hydraulic trash compactor sometime in the 1980s. Doug took both these stories and mixed them together and ran with it. Here's a picture of that Burger King in its heyday (ghost not shown).

Photo courtesy

I looked on the internet to find a site that talked about the ghost story, but I didn't find anything much other than what I've already said, but I did find this story about Burger King selling Whopper-scented cologne.

You can find stories and essays by Doug Chase online at Nailed Magazine, The Gravity of the Thing, and The Tusk. He will be reading at the City of Weird event at Annie Bloom's on Monday, November 14.