Friday, December 9, 2016

a moment in the day: rear-ended

Driving home from work, I've got the classical station on so I can think through what I might say for the radio taping tonight. I'm going to be appearing on KBOO's "Bread and Roses" program, the country's longest-running feminist radio show, and I'm very excited to be appearing alongside three badass woman writers, discussing feminism, womanhood, and our respective parts in the anthology I edited, City of Weird.

I'm feeling quite badass, myself, with all my badass woman musings - until the car behind me rams into my bumper. I'm thrown forward, a quick fishtail as I slam on the breaks, and all of my woman-power feelings fly right out the window, along with the decidedly girly squeak that just jumped from my mouth on impact.

Now I'm pulled over on the side of Burnside Bridge yanking stuff out of my glove compartment, looking for the insurance card, looking for that little pad of paper, looking for a pen. Finding ice scraper. Hot pink flashlight. Envelope full of miscellaneous papers that aren't the one I need.

And my brain has gone where my brain tends to go in uncertain situations, to that place where I feel like a loser, and maybe it's all the feminism musings, but all I can think about is how I'm a woman.

Does the guy in the other car think it's my fault because I'm a woman driver?

My hands are shaking - am I weak, scared, wimpy because I'm a woman?

Where the hell is the insurance card and do I call the police or do I not call the police and what information do I need to get from the guy and am I a scatterbrain because I'm a woman?

Am I going to burst into tears because I'm a woman?

Why do I sometimes think this way, stop thinking this way, it's wrong, it's untrue, and it's stupid, stupid, stupid! Am I being stupid, stupid, stupid because I'm a woman? 

The cars are going by so steadily on my left that I can't open the car door sitting here pulled off into the bike lane of the bridge, and I finally climb like an idiot over the parking brake, over the shopping bag and girly purse on the passenger seat, climb clumsy out the door into the cold dark.

The other driver is a woman. Early twenties with a pretty face and short brown hair, big eyes at me: "Oh my god, are you OK? I'm so, so sorry! Are you OK?"

I'm saying I'm OK and she's asking again and I'm saying it more emphatically, still climbing out of the car. Somehow this strikes me as just as feminist as all of my feminist musings from before: all I want to do is reassure her and make her feel better, and all she wants is for me to be OK.

I straighten up out of the car, and I don't know why I do it, and it's weird when I do it, but I do it anyway, the first thing I do after getting rear-ended, I throw my arms around this woman I don't know and give her a hug.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Susan DeFreitas

While reading submissions for City of Weird, I started to see themes emerge. There were a lot of aquatic monster stories. There were a lot of stories that had a strong focus on dogs. One of the groupings I was surprised by was stories centered around otherworldly books. In fact, I wrote about how interesting this was, and how conflicted I was about it (being a bookseller, myself) for the Powell's blog here.

One of these otherworldly book stories was Susan DeFreitas' "The Mind-Body Problem." Late at the library at Reed College, binge-researching a last minute term paper on the correlation between the mind and the body for her philosophy class—while unsure about the relationship between these two parts of herself—Shana discovers a book that doesn't exist. The book gives her exactly what she's looking for, for her paper, but it's also an omen of death and misfortune.

The book-as-omen-of-death thing is super cool, but "The Mind-Body Problem" is so much more. One of the main themes is star-crossed love, but the one-sided kind of star cross where character A is in love with character B, but character B is focused elsewhere. Here's a favorite passage of mine. Narrator Shana is having tea in a homemade shelter in Reed Canyon with the young man she's been secretly in love with for a long time, and he's just shown her the scroll of Chinese calligraphy he has made for the girl he's in love with.

We sat sipping from our tiny teacups, and he told me about a party that night at the old dorm block; our boy Alex would be there—I should come. I nodded, thinking about the bridge across the canyon from which those rumored students had jumped. Had they been driven to it by heartache, the weight of it? As Cam spoke, I could feel myself sinking into the stone upon which I sat, which was itself sinking slowly into the bog.

I wondered, how would it feel to climb up onto the railing of that bridge at night, to look down into the darkness? How would it feel for that one brief instant to be released from any contact with the earth?

Above is a photo of Blue Bridge over Reed Canyon, courtesy "Another Believer," via Wikipedia Commons.

Susan has been getting loads of praise for her debut novel Hot Season, which was just published by
Harvard Square Press. An outlaw activist on the run. A pipeline set to destroy a river. And three young women who must decide who to love, who to trust, and what to sacrifice for the greater good. Wow, what could be a more perfect time for this book to come out! Hot Season is a beautifully written story that combines the personal themes of coming-of-age with the wider themes of climate change and eco-terrorism.

Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl and The Folly of Loving Life, calls it, "a beautiful book that asks the crucial question, is it worse to destroy a dam or to destroy a river? Which is to say, how do we live our conscience on a crowded, corrupted planet?"

Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave, calls it, "a beguiling college novel in the tradition of The Secret History."

Here's a great review of the book on the EcoLit Books blog.

More info on Susan and Hot Season is here.

Somewhere during the process of editing City of Weird, I was contacted by Susan and honored with the chance to design the book cover for Hot Season, using the beautiful photography of Lucy Wu.

On Friday, Susan will be appearing alongside two other contributors to City of Weird, B. Frayn Masters and Leigh Anne Kranz, as well as myself, to talk about the themes of womanhood and feminism in City of Weird on KBOO Radio's Bread and Roses, the longest-running feminist radio show in the country!

But first! Today is the day of the official book launch event for Hot Season. Susan will be reading at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland at 7:30. If you're in town, come on down and celebrate with us. The Facebook event page is here.  CORRECTION: this event has been postponed because of inclement weather. I'll post an update when it's rescheduled.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin at Portland Center Stage

Stephen and I are huge fans of Irving Berlin. So much so that on Friday night, after we watched the sweeping biopic one-man-show Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin at Portland Center Stage, happy in that afterglow of a good night of theater, we had to go home and watch Carefree, one of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films featuring Irving Berlin's music. I'd been up since five and had worked all day and I knew I'd fall asleep within probably the first half hour, but I didn't care. I had to have more.

And I did. Both. I had more and I fell asleep. Contrary to what the movie poster advises, I did not stay awake to see them do "The Yam." But it didn't matter because earlier in the evening I'd been treated to Irving Berlin's entire life as encapsulated and dramatized and sung and played on piano by Hershey Felder, the playwright/performer who has brought to life such figures as George Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, and Shirley Temple. OK, he never did Shirley Temple, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could pull her off. He did some pretty nifty impersonations during Irving Berlin, including a pretty spot-on Ethel Merman, and I figure from there it's just a short hop, skip and a jump to the Good Ship Lollipop.

The show opens with Felder as a young Irving Berlin in conversation with his older self as personified by a wheelchair that sits stage left throughout the performance - and then he proceeds to take us through his whole life, starting with his childhood. It's a lot to encapsulate: one hundred and one years, in fact! It's a fascinating life, from the triumphs of his career to the heartbreaks of his lost loves, and through it all is music. To name a few of the songs Irving Berlin wrote: Cheek to Cheek, Alexander's Ragtime Band, I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket, There's No Business like Show Business, Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better, Easter Parade, Always, I Used to be Colorblind, God Bless America, The [aforementioned] Yam, Blue Skies, What'll I Do, I'll See You in C-U-B-A [popularized by the character of Ricky Ricardo], Puttin' on the Ritz, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, and White Christmas.

Felder doesn't just tell the story of Irving Berlin's life. He sings it and plays it - sometimes accompanying his own singing, sometimes accompanying clips of famous film flashed on the huge decorative mirror center stage - and, heads up: at one point, he makes you sing it too. I usually hate singalongs. After the show, my husband said to me, sort of incredulous, "You sang along!" I don't know what made me go for it this time. Maybe it was Hershey Felder's very personal performance that made me feel comfortable. Maybe it was that I felt proud that I knew all the words and didn't need his calling them out to help jog my memory. (Even if my knowledge of some of the songs was a little less classic Irving Berlin. Here's my favorite rendition of one, Always, performed by the powerhouse Damita Jo with Steve Gibson's Red Caps.)

In his performance as Irving Berlin, Hershey Felder has lovely timing. He takes us to very deep places, bringing us just to the brink of melodrama in a manner that is befitting a figure who pens such lines as Soon we'll be without the moon / humming a different tune and then / There may be teardrops to shed / So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance / Let's face the music and dance. And from that brink, he does a quick about-face and drops into a joke, or simply directs his energy forward as if Berlin is saying to us with that dry wit of his, eh, life moves on.

These days I can't see a show, watch a movie, read a book without pulling in some extra layer of context based on the current political climate and the changes that have come and are going to continue to come into our world. During a lot of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, I found myself musing on, and occasionally suddenly choked up about, the idea of Berlin's patriotism, his devotion to this country. Here was a man who was born in Russia, lived in poverty, immigrated to America with his family in search of a better life. Here was a Jew who, ironically, gave us Easter Parade and White Christmas, who had changed his name from Israel Isadore Baline in response to anti-Semitism. Here was a man who, with all of his fame, was still "other" within the culture, still felt (at least from what I learned from Felder's performance) like an outsider, yet held onto a deep love of this country and gave us one of the most patriotic songs of the American canon, God Bless America. Called America his "home sweet home."

As this country moves more and more toward marginalizing and rejecting its immigrants and its so-called "outsiders," Hershey Felder's Irving Berlin has what we need: a determined love of home, a soupçon of old fashioned schmaltz (no, I mean that in a good way), and a reminder that, no matter what happens, there will still be music.

It's running through December 30th at the Armory. More info is at Portland Center Stage here.

Thank you to Eighty Eight Entertainment for the pictures and Wikipedia Commons for the Carefree poster.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Bradley K. Rosen

While reading submissions for City of Weird, with a blind on so that I didn't know the authors of the stories I was considering, I had one author in mind who I was pretty sure... was awfully sure... who I knew for damn sure I would recognize the moment his words crossed my reading screen. Bradley K. Rosen.

Even as time went on and I was reading submission after submission and not recognizing any voices, even though I was sure writers I knew were submitting, even when I realized maybe this blind thing had a magic to it, that made you blind to the voices you know so well, I was certain that if Brad submitted a piece, I'd know.

Came the last day of submissions and no Brad, I was certain.

I read submissions, made my decisions on the stories I wanted, and finally the blind came down - and, yep. Nope. No Brad.

So I just came right out and asked him. He said he'd worked on a story but had decided not to submit because he knew I'd recognize his voice and that would be kind of against the rules. I instantly demanded that he tell me about the story, and when he told me it was about an old man who lives in a tent in Forest Park and believes it's his duty to save the children of Portland from the Krampus (this was way before the movie, by the way) and that his weapon of choice is this weird drum on a stick called a waldteufel...

...well, I demanded that he send me the story.

Here's a taste. And you tell me if there's any way you wouldn't recognize this voice if you knew it, even reading blind:

She woke me up out of that whiskey slumber with her whining, that high pitch of a dog’s way of talking that gets to your attentions and grabs quick at your nerves so much that you’ll do most anything she wants to get her to shut the hell up. She was standing there with her nose to the zipper of our tent. Our tent that sleeps six. Said so right there on the box it came in. That it sleeps six. Our green tent, green to blend in with the forest. A camouflage. The forest we live in that is half a forest and half a park. Not like they are half and half separate, more like they is half and half together. Like a good marriage. Like me and my dog. That is why they call it the Forest Park. Biggest city kind of park that is a forest in all of the United States of America. The city being Portland, Oregon, with all its odd clients and good-looking bridges. The city I have come to love almost as much as I love that dog. 

The Yay-yay’s sad Christian eyes. Them eyes of a patron martyr. She whined some more. 

“What is it now, asshole?” I said. “You got to pee again already?” 

The zipper that was the door of our tent was on the other side from where I was laying warm and cozy in my sleeping bag and other odd array of blankets that padded under and over me. It was cold. Part of me wanted to stretch out and grab ahold of Yay-yay’s collar and pull her back into the comforts of our bed. 

Go back to sleep. 

But I didn’t, I knew that whine she was making. I knew that look in her eye. 

The Krampus. It was coming.

I had to have it. I took the story outright, no submission, no blind, no anything.

Here's a fun fact about Brad's story "Yay." His was the very last edit made in the book. We'd gone though the process of my own edits, then three, count 'em, three separate rounds of copy edits to get all the stories pristine down to the last hyphen, and I was sitting in a Thai restaurant waiting for a to-go order. I had a copy of the book which publisher Laura Stanfill had had made through the Espresso Book Machine at Powell's, a hard copy to use for any last minute catches that had slipped by during our endless read-throughs via computer. Tonight, I was tired of scrutinizing and feeling confident that we had all our Ps and Qs crossed and dotted, and I was just reading for pleasure as I waited.

I chose Brad's story. In it, there's a flashback to when the old man is a boy, in a five and ten cent store, and, being poor on Christmas Eve, steals a cross on a chain to give to his mother as a Christmas present. After slipping the necklace into his pocket, he buys a Coca-cola. One of those older style Cokes in a glass bottle curved sexy like a woman.

Suddenly, I realized that a poor boy who steals an inexpensive necklace from a five and ten cent store would not pull out a ten dollar bill to pay for his nickel Coke.

That was Tuesday, August 9th. The next day, I spoke to Brad about it and he decided to turn the ten dollar bill into a more time-appropriate one-dollar bill. On Monday, August 15th, the book went to press.

I've loved-loved-loved Brad's writing for a long time. We were both long-time members of the Dangerous Writing fiction workshop, in which I witnessed the progress of a novel and a half of his work, along with a couple short stories. The novel he wrote in full is called The Bunkie's Spills (don't try to fathom out that title - just go with it) and it will be published next year by Small Doggies Press. I'm head over heels for that book and can't wait for it to come out.

A sample. In it, our hero Bunkie is musing on the girl of his dreams, Evelyn:

Evelyn one of them girls you always catch your friends looking at. A Michelangelic. With a thin bone of nose separating her eyes, and the hints of a cleavage that run smack dab right down through the middle of her chin.

One of them peoples that looks good wearing a sweater.

Evelyn’s Evelyn. Evelyn.

A year younger than me. Same age as Angelina. They was best friends ‘til death do us parts. Where Big Pete was smart Evelyn might have been smarter. Always getting the straight A’s and knowing about all them things I didn’t have much of a clue to think about. Things like them French Resolutions and them Reforestations of the Catholic Church.

Keep your eyes out in the coming year for The Bunkie's Spills. It's sweet and funny and profound and it will surprise you at every turn.

In the meantime, you can hear Bradley read from his story "Yay" and maybe even demonstrate the playing of the waldteufel, at City of Weird's winter event at Corkscrew Wine Bar as part of the Plonk Reading Series - Wednesday, December 7 at 7 PM.

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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Justin Hocking

I think I first met Justin Hocking when we read together at the old Blue Monk bar for one of the launch events for the book Portland Noir back in 2009.

Yes, I just jumped onto an old journal (that was back when I had time to write extensive stuff down about my life) and looks like though he and I both attended the initial launch event at Powell's a few weeks earlier, I only saw him across the room and met him later at the Blue Monk reading. Not that any of this is all that interesting, but I'm glad I peeked, because in looking at the entry for the event he and I shared, I came across a little bit of gushing I'd done to myself about Justin's Portland Noir story, "Burnside Forever":

Photo by Leann O'Rourk
Just opened the book up to see where he read to and got sucked into the story. It’s so beautiful. There’s so much to it, such voice and such twisted reality and the stories are brief and they ribbon around each other and they emerge and they ribbon again. It’s so full of longing.

Notwithstanding the fact that I got a little purple with that description, I really did count that story among my favorites in the book. Here's the first line:

1) Fuck Hawaii.

See what I mean about longing?

I was so excited when Justin's book The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld won the Oregon Book Award. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and dip into this beautiful memoir about ambition, loneliness, uncertainty, the joy of surfing, and his obsession with Herman Melville.

Here's a great review about it from the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld was also selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program, and named as one of “Ten Brilliant Books that Grab You From Page One” by the Huffington Post.

Justin is a co-founder and lead instructor of the Certificate Program in creative writing at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and also teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Oregon University. He has won a Humanitarian Award from the Willamette Writers for his work in writing, publishing, and community building.

I recently had the honor of being asked to read his entire City of Weird story "Vampire" on the air for OPB's Think Out Loud. It's a beautifully understated, funny, poignant tale of an aging vampire. Matthew Korfhage of Willamette Week said, "In one of the collection's best pieces—"Vampire," a deadpan commentary on hipster aging by Justin Hocking—the 'vampire seriously regrets not buying a house in Portland when real estate was affordable, back in 1896.'"

Here's a taste:

Recently the vampire has been struggling with heart palpitations.

When the vampire meets someone new, especially a taller, handsome, more accomplished vampire, he feels a hot sting in his guts, a hammering in his chest. The vampire worries he might come apart, or have a heart attack.

His doctor prescribes him beta blockers. They help with public speaking and social situations, but they give him a piercing headache.

By the way, Justin will be reading from his story for the City of Weird event at Annie Bloom's on Monday, November 14.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

a moment in the day: getting dressed

I'm pawing through the bright colors and stripes and prints in my dresser, looking for a black shirt. Pull out a folded-up black lump, but that's the camisole-like thing Stephen calls a ballet top: too pretty. Pull out another folded-up black lump and get halfway across the room before I unfold and see the Powell's logo on it - too cheery - and turn around again. Finally, at the very bottom of the drawer is the t-shirt I never wear because it's too short and my stomach peeks out if I'm not careful. I grab that and then the ballet top too - two layers means the stomach won't show, but also, I can't have too much black this morning.

Silly drama queen gesture, but I don't know how else to be in the country today.

I know people who depend on the Affordable Care Act.

I know people Trump consistently maligns: people of color, people who came here illegally to escape terrible lives, people with disabilities, women.

It's weird to be a woman and wake up to a Trump presidency. I've always had/fought this worry that I actually am lesser because I'm a woman. I'm smart enough to know this feeling is wrong, but it lives in me anyway, nestled among all the tiny bits of phrase like the aforementioned "drama queen" that help teach and reteach us that we are lesser. I feel this even more so this morning, slightly embarrassed by the prints and occasional ruffles of my girl clothes. I know that my response to that very wrong-headed embarrassment should be to stand tall and flaunt those prints and ruffles and skirts, but this morning, I just want to throw on a black shirt and sweater, my black rain jacket, take the dog out and disappear in the dark.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill was one of the very few contributors I invited outright to give me a piece for City of Weird. This is, mind you, after I had done a lot of hinting (a lot) and a lot of hoping and, when the submissions period closed, discovered that he hadn't submitted anything.


Just kidding.

I wanted two specific things when I hinted (shamefully) at Jonathan Hill. First, I wanted a graphic story. Not graphic as in too much sex or violence, but as in graphic novel, you know, a comic story. Not comic as in humorous but as in... sigh, what do you call these things? But I wanted one. An anthology isn't Portland without one.

Second, I wanted a Jonathan Hill story. I've followed his career and have loved his stylized imagery and his quirky imagination for a long time.

Google him and you discover out that Jonathan Hill, also known as Baron Hill of Oareford, is a British Conservative politician and former European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, and... um...

But the real Jonathan Hill is a cartoonist and illustrator who teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. He graduated as valedictorian of the Savannah College of Art & Design in 2003 with a degree in Sequential Art, and I have no idea what that is, but I'm sure it's something amazing. Since then, he's been freelancing for all sorts of clients including Hollywood Entertainment, the Viet Nam Literature Project, the Willamette Week, Fantagraphics Books, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics,, Roar Comics, and Sagacity.

In 2011 his first graphic novel Americus was published by First Second Books. The writing was done by M. K. Reed and the art by Jonathan. OK, get ready because I'm about to throw down a bunch of awards and nominations for this book. It was chosen as an ABC New Voices 2011 title, a Fall 2011 Junior Library Guild Premier Selection, and was winner of the NAIBA's Carla Cohen Free Speech award, becoming the first graphic novel to win the award. It was also nominated by the YALSA as a 2012 Best Graphic Novel for Teens, The first chapter of Americus was published in the Papercutter comics anthology and was nominated for an Ignatz Award.

Jonathan has illustrated for lots of great projects, but here's a favorite of mine: the sweet, tiny picture book My Brother the Dragon, published by Tugboat Press and featuring art by Jonathan and writing by Galen Longstreth.

I like to give a little excerpt from each author's story to give a tiny taste of the voice and imagination that I fell in love with, but that's hard to do with a very short comic tale. But suffice it to say that Jonathan Hill knows about spacemen, and in his beautifully-stylistic classic-with-a-twist  tale in City of Weird, when these guys come..

Portland may start out like this...

But it ends up a little more like this.

Jonathan will be showing off his work at the City of Weird Wordstock pop-up reading on Saturday, November 5, at one o'clock, in the Stevens Room.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Kevin Sampsell

Having a story by Kevin Sampsell in City of Weird has a funny sort of deja-vu to it for me. A very sweet deja-vu, because seven years ago, we were in a similar situation with the roles reversed when he accepted my story for the collection he was editing, Portland Noir. I very much had Portland Noir in mind when mulling the theme for City of Weird - both play with popular, often-deemed-campy genres, both are centered around Portland.

Though he and I worked for the same giant city-block-sized bookstore, I really didn't know Kevin when he accepted my story back then, but in the years since we've become friends and I've been a great admirer of his work, including his memoir A Common Pornography, and his novel This is Between UsBoth books are made up of lovely, quirkily-written bite-sized pieces that offer a glimpse of insight and then end, leaving you hungry for the next and the next - making both books so hard to put down even if it's late and your eyes are tired - and these fleeting, hungry glimpses finally coalesce to give you a detailed, profound and surprising picture by the end of each book. His City of Weird story "In Transit" does the same thing.

Along with these books, there are so many others that Kevin has his hands in, including the short story collections Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets, the collection he edited called The Insomniac Reader, and A Common Pornography, the 2003 chapbook of the same name as his 2010 memoir and said to be a "memory experiment," recording details from his childhood.

But that's not all. His fiction and essays have been published in numerous places including Quick Fiction, LIT, Hobart, Opium Magazine, McSweeney's, Nerve, Failbetter,[3] Pindeldyboz, Night Train, Poets & Writers Magazine, Relix, Portland Monthly, The Rumpus, Best Sex Writing 2010, Best American Essays 2013, and the Associated Press.

But that's not all. He's also the publisher of Future Tense Books, one of the oldest micropresses in the country, publishing terrific stuff like Monica Drake's The Folly of Loving Life, Chloe Caldwell's Legs Get Led Astray, and Wendy Ortiz' Excavation. His next book, I Sing the Song by Meredith Alling is out this month.

But that's not all. Kevin is also an accomplished collage artist. You can check out his work on his website here.

He's got a show up right now at Rudy's Barbershop on SE Division. You can check it out through the month, and there will be an event on the 17th. The Beauty of Passing Through.

But that's not all. OK, that's all. OK, no, it's for sure not all, but jeez, it's a lot!

I find it so interesting that Kevin is doing collage now, because that's exactly what his writing seems to do - take small pieces that feel disparate and set them down next to each other, arrange them in a way that creates this odd, quirky, fascinating whole.

Last year, City of Weird was included in the curriculum of professor Thea Prieto's Introduction to Horror Fiction class at PSU, One of the students wrote a short piece on Kevin's story "In Transit" for the school's Chiron Journal. That piece is here - and note, there are spoilers.

Here's a little taste of the story.

I never look anyone in the eyes on the MAX train. The last time I did, a man talked at me for the next thirty minutes about his lost cat. He kept stressing the fact that the cat had yellow paws, as if that was a rare thing. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m not going to Google it or anything. 

Another time, a guy with long hair, a denim jacket, and a big crystal on a necklace said he didn’t like the way I was looking at him. I was only looking at his necklace, so I tried to be nice and said I liked his crystal. He took his crystal off and put it in his pocket, as if punishing me. I couldn’t look at his pretty crystal anymore. “I’m a window,” he said. “Look at me like I’m a window.” 

I looked at the window.

Kevin will be reading at our City of Weird event for Wordstock's Lit Crawl® on Friday. November 4, at 7 pm at the Oregon Ballet School.

Friday, October 28, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Leni Zumas

Before I put out the call for submissions for City of Weird, I think I had only met Leni Zumas once, at a lit event, but I certainly knew her work. Leni is the author of the gorgeous novel The Listeners. Check out what Publishers Weekly wrote about it and tell me you don't want to read this book.

Zumas's debut novel comes at the reader in over a hundred self-contained, lucid pieces: a visit to

doctor in which Quinn, the teenage narrator, is ominously evasive about her weight loss; siblings bantering around the dinner table in a free fall of time; a dream of octopi, creatures that become a motif, much like John Irving's bear. Even happy memories have a melancholy undertone because Quinn is grieving the death of her sister, who is also revealed in fragments ('She became a woman three months before she died'). Of siblings Fod, Mert, and Riley, Riley is the most three-dimensional and the closest to Quinn. Zumas's tone is crisply naturalistic, slightly off center, and downright surreal, sometimes all at once, though often starting as one and drifting into another. The novel's tantalizing form approximates Quinn's mental and emotional state; she isn't in the traditional fog of grief, she's hyper-observant and arch: 'The pong of cheap meat and fry oil hung on the air,' and 'From the subway I climbed to a street ateem with suited normals and walking-homers....' For all this, plot threads are mostly explicable, creating a compelling build-it-yourself tapestry of cherished memories and open wounds.

The Listeners was published by Tin House in 2012. It was featured in volume 33 of Powell's Books' Indiespensable subscription club, and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Also: pretty octopus cover!

The melancholy undertone the reviewer mentions was something I certainly felt in Leni's City of Weird story "Tunnels," When the story is funny, when the story is creepy, whatever the story is, there's a lost-ness and a longing that pervades it.

But The Listeners is far from all that Leni has done. She wrote the short story collection Farewell Navigator, published by Grove Press in 2008. She has had numerous short pieces published in places like Matchbook, Kitty Snacks, Keyhole 10, Columbia, a Journal of Literature and Art, and Two Serious Ladies, as well as anthologies. Her writing along with art by Luca Dipierro was made into the fabulous A Wooden Leg, a novel in 64 cards (!) and she teamed up with Luca again (before? I'm not sure on timing) to create Until I Find It, a graphic novelette.

Leni teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Portland State University.

I'm a huge fan and so honored to have a story she penned in City of Weird. The story is quirky and creepy and sad and gorgeous. Here's a taste from the opening:

Ann lives above an anti-inflammatory cafe in the fifth quadrant. The absence of dairy, wheat, and sugar means fewer cockroaches are liable to gather in the cafe, and fewer, if any, will climb into her apartment. She likes the apartment, though the neighborhood itself, with its thousand porches, bothers her. Porches have hippies. Hippies have smells. Smells have water. Water has bugs. Bugs have eyes. Eyes have caps of flesh. 

From the church down the block she hears ecstatic singing, amplified guitars, the stomping of feet. She only listens, doesn’t dream of going in. The parishioners are so young and good-looking Ann thinks it might be a casting site for sportswear models, not a church at all. On Sundays, leash in hand, Lumby straining against the collar, she watches the handsome red building and its handsome, mostly white flock. She feels like an old mole who swims under cemeteries, clammy nose stroking the corpses.

Last year, City of Weird was included in the curriculum of professor Thea Prieto's Introduction to Horror Fiction class at PSU, and I was honored to sit in on a class and talk about the book along with publisher Laura Stanfill and contributor Doug Chase. One of the students wrote this brief essay about Leni's story (along with the fabulous classic "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson) for the school's Chiron Journal. Warning: there's a spoiler in here.

Leni will be reading from "Tunnels" for Wordstock's Lit Crawl at the Oregon Ballet School, 7 pm on November 4.

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.