Wednesday, October 12, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Dan DeWeese

I've been writing up short pieces on each of the wonderful writers who contributed stories to City of Weird. Because of the book launch event coming up today at Powell's City of Books, I am starting with those authors who will be reading tonight. The final of those four is Dan DeWeese.


Some of the writers in City of Weird were known to me before I chose the stories for the book, some were not. Many actually were, because this is a collection about Portland, and you can't be a writer in Portland and not know lots of its writing community. With Dan DeWeese, the "small world" aspect of this project gets even more particular. Once, a long time ago, he was my teacher.

When I first moved to Portland more than ten years ago, I took a super fiction writing course at Portland State University, and Dan was the instructor. We studied Ursula Le Guin's fantastic writing book Steering the Craft, as well as some great short stories, including one of his own.

Years later, I got my first publication of a short story, in the anthology Portland Noir, and lo and behold, one of the stories was by Dan DeWeese. His piece, "The Sleeper," was one my favorites in the collection, less noir in the classic sense than many of the others, but imbued with such mood. Years later, still, (a couple, anyway) his novel You Don't Love This Man came out, and I fell in love with it. It's a fascinating character study of a very particular man on one very particular day of his life. It's his daughter's wedding day and she's gone missing, and it just so happens that the bank he manages just got robbed. The tension of the book ramps up and up as this day goes on, but the thing that really struck me and stuck with me was how beautifully drawn this very real, very complicated man is.

I love Dan's writing and am so excited to have a piece of it in City of Weird. And not only did he give me his carefully-honed voice, he gave me slime molds from outer space. "The Transformation" is, at its base, a commentary on man's impulse to conquer and his ability to talk himself into believing that what he wants to do is right, whether it really is or not. The story is funny and chilling, but I'm going to share a favorite passage that is more about beauty. Beauty of words and imagery and of imagination. To set you up, Pod is a life form that, like a spaceship, has traveled through the solar system, transporting slime molds to the Earth. She is made up of "innumerable chambers," all of which once housed the aforementioned slime molds - until she landed on Earth and let them out, to start in on their mission of taking over the planet. What happened next knocked my socks off.

The next day, Pod’s outer petals fell off. Uh-oh, she thought. That night, her inner petals fell, too, exposing many of her chambers. The chambers were empty now, of course, but it was still concerning. Then the architecture of the chambers themselves began to break down. Pod’s spongy walls dried and fell in, her limpid floors cracked and gave way. She lay amid her fallen petals, reduced to her barest self: a spine of interlaced fibers that had once been her core. She was afraid. 

Then, something amazing happened. A light breeze picked up, and one of Pod’s fibers detached and floated off on the breeze—and she was the fiber. And then another of the fibers floated away, and she was that fiber, too. Over the course of the next day, her core fibers disentangled, and each floated gently into the breeze. Pod was each fiber, simultaneously sensitive to innumerable locations and innumerable environments. Life was truly a wondrous mystery.

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