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,

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