Wednesday, May 17, 2017

City of Weird contributor: Andrew Stark

I hadn't known Andrew Stark before accepting his story "A Code for Everything" for City of Weird. My reaction to his submission was one of those instant love affair things. I probably fairly knew I'd accept it from paragraph one. The story does all the things that make my brain happy. It's a wonderful mix of nerdiness and heart. It plays with science (yum) and and philosophy (yum) and language (yum), and is told through the lovely deadpan voice of a robot dog named Barney.

It's a story that took a little extra care for publisher Laura Stanfill to typeset as it contains phrases like:




Another example of the delicious nerdiness in the piece: Barney the robot dog and his companion (also named Barney) live in various homes throughout their life together, and Barney the dog describes each of these homes down to the exact latitude and longitude. As an example of just how nerdy I also am, when I was editing City of Weird, I created a Google map and plotted out every landmark and plot point I could think of in every story. It helped me to root out some errors in a couple of the stories and it allowed me to track how much of Portland I was covering, but mostly it was just me nerding out on this book I was gathering together. Along with finding and plotting out such City of Weird landmarks as Kelly's Olympian, the clock tower at the Amtrak station, Powell's City of Books, the Poppy Lounge, the unnamed haberdasher in Jonah Barrett's "Alder Underground," and the site of the former haunted Burger King on Burnside and Broadway (along with LOTS of other landmarks - I really nerded out), I was able to paste in such spots as:

45.522202° N, -122.618054° W in Laurelhurst


45.496224° N, -123.121649° W outside Forest Grove

and find out where Barney and Barney lived. And of course, these places were exactly where they were supposed to be.

"A Code for Everything" is the only story in City of Weird that unquestionably takes place in the future, and it is one of a handful of tales in the collection that would consistently make me cry.

Andrew was raised on the Ojibwa Indian Reservation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He has lived and worked in Chicago, Montana, Los Angeles, and Portland. I met him briefly when he lived in Portland during the creation period of the book, but by the time it was published, he'd moved out of state again.

His work has appeared in various publications, and he is co-founder of LOST WKND, the international literary arts and culture publication based in Minneapolis. You can check out LOST WKND here.

Recently Andrew's story "A Code for Everything" was one of four City of Weird pieces to be adapted into radioplays by Cynthia J. McGean, and produced and directed by Sam A. Mowry of Willamette Radio Workshop. The first live performance of these plays was on stage at the Kiggins Theater in Vancouver, Washington, and the pieces were beautifully adapted and performed. Sam A. Mowry, also a radio actor for WRW, gave an expert performance as Barney the robot dog, voicing him exactly as I have heard him in my head, and pacing the piece beautifully, getting lots of laughs from the audience and bringing the story to a heartfelt close.

The second and final live performance will be this Saturday, May 20, at 3 o'clock at the UFO Fest in McMinnville.

I didn't even know we had a UFO Fest! I'm excited.

In the meantime, here's a taste of Andrew Stark's lovely work:

The child, Barney, names me after himself. He seems timid at first, when his parents bring me back to their 2,350-square-foot Cape Cod at 45.522202° N, -122.618054° W in Laurelhurst. They walk me in and set me down. My olfactometer picks up 1,622 different odors, including jojoba in the woman’s perfume, and alarm pheromones emitting from the child. He peeks from around the corner; I wag my tail and yip. Although I understand fifty languages, my communication is limited to barks, howls, and mammalian semiosis. Eventually, he approaches and strokes my head. The tactile sensors lining my skull allow me to respond, and I close my eyes. Likewise, a number of sensory corpuscles near the surface of Barney’s hand send discriminative sensations traveling up the posterior columns in his spine and into the medial lemniscus of his brainstem, causing the electrical membrane potential of certain cells to rise and fall, opening channels and allowing for an inward flow of sodium ions. Once the sensations reach his medulla oblongata, a number of axons synapse with a number of neurons in his gracile and cuneate nuclei. He smiles.

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