Category Archives: Literary fiction

Deorum et Viri: Of Gods and Men, Chapter 1

So I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on this sort of epic-literary-sci-fi-fantasy thing, and I finally finished the first draft of the first chapter.

And . . . since this site is as much about the process of writing as it is actual writing, I’m sharing said draft with you guys, today! (Hopefully you don’t hate it!)

Chapter 1:
The Pale Wastes

Colossal dust devils carved their way through the ravaged North Pangæan badlands, whipping microscopic particulates of obsidian and various corroded metals through the air like tiny, invisible daggers. Only the hardiest vegetation grew near the borders of Valamyr to the west and Anukhan to the east. Boastful adventurers claimed the further they trekked into The Pale Wastes, the more the terrain shifted from ordinary desert to desolate, inhospitable moonscape. As they approached the invisible delineation bisecting the continental rift, the less the land became capable of supporting anything. Indeed, all but the most hardened turn back well before ever crossing the rubicon.

Despite the savage elements raging through such a hostile environment, a lone figure trudged through nearly knee-deep sand, a dark balaclava barely visible underneath a thick fur-lined hood pulled close to his face.

Kneeling to shield his water skin from the swirling dust and ubiquitous sand, the lone trekker—a man of grizzled countenance—took a small sip of water, just enough to moisten the cracks in his parched tongue and cheeks. He knew resupplying during the latter stages of this expedition would be out of the question, so he’d packed and carried everything he might conceivably need. Shielding his eyes and scanning the skyline, the man confirmed the soil surrounding him has been utterly depleted—it was truly, in every sense of the word: dead. Even the sand had lost its color. Giant, swollen dunes of pale grey and ecru stretched endlessly toward the horizon in all four cardinal directions. The pair of dowsing rods the man had packed, just in case the rumors of small veins of underground water was true, rested splayed and inert in his clenched fists.

The man unwillingly began to recall tales of the badlands more frightening than any camp fire ghost stories. Travelers recounted a feeling utter disorientation as soon as they enter The Pale Wastes, of feeling mercurial and uncannily . . . adrift. The man remembered being told repeatedly that North could only be determined by orienting himself within the plane of an imaginary meridian while trying to face the rising sun—a strategy predicated, he thought, upon him surviving the night to actually see the rising sun. . . .

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My Pet Serial Killer: Authors Abducted!


Local authors are missing; many more are now seeking placement in WitSec.

Another mysterious message, the second after yesterday’s nebulous ransom note, was discovered at 3:14 a.m. Central Standard Time at the Cat13 offices that read simply: “PLEASE HELP!”

However, the new handwriting sample differs from that appearing on the back of yesterday’s ransom note. This time, the frantic word’s were hastily painted directly on the brick facade of the Cat13 HQ, downtown.

Omaha Police are working together with Federal agents, but few leads reportedly exist. Two expert graphologist teams are stumped.

Legendary profiler and criminologist, Michael J. Seidlinger, arrived moments ago to create a composite description of the suspect:

Alias/Known As: “The Main Plot Marauder”

Real name: Joseph Michael Owens

Number of victims: 37


~Wrote short stories published in local newspapers and journals.
~Targeted interested parties responding to published fiction; proceeded to write addendums to effective fiction, often with interested parties enticed into becoming secondary characters in his fiction.
~Continued communication with interested parties for up to 6 months prior to first incursion; promised immortality in the form of his characters.
~Targeted up to 5 victims at any given time; met with victims at least twice a month, often with minor lacerations and damage to victim’s body, all in line with fiction originally written.
~Progressed over 6-12 month duration until victim was rendered weak and incapacitated based on death of fictional character(s) of source material found in local newspapers and journals.
~Completed fiction/target victim by rendering victim weak and vulnerable, lured victim to a secluded location for subsequent dispatch.
~Victims’ bodies never found; only fingers and eyes found in killer’s ice-locker.

Be Mine

“So no matter what, the media’s going to make the victim as innocent as can be, no matter what the victim might have done, there’ll be this disconnection from reality and fiction when it comes to serial murder so it doesn’t really mean that much to answer why, and I’m really trying not to answer the question why because no matter how hard I try I’m not going to be saying what you want me to say because I don’t really know what you want. I don’t know the answer.”

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Read This: xTx’s ‘Billie the Bull’

billie-the-bullLooking for something killer to read? Do you like your books short and punchy? Do you have a pulse? If you answered yes to any of these, odds are you will like Billie the Bull by xTx, now available from MudLuscious Press imprint, Nephew.

I reviewed the book over at Sundog Lit:

Rarely does a book capture what it means to be perfect—or as close to perfect as possible—simply because there are so many variables at play. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not the book is long or short, whether it is an epic or a chapbook. Length is all but arbitrary in this context because it takes an incredible amount of skill to hold it all together, to give the reader the impression the book might actually burst at the spine, or that the words might careen off the pages like a train derailed. It’s this sense of imminent catastrophe that ignites a glowing ember to raging inferno, which then stokes the fires in the boiler that propels the work forward…

Hit the jump above to read more. Needless to say, I loved it!

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Goodreads Shenanigans! Giveaway Winners

I just wanted to take a quick minute to say congrats to the winners of the 2013 Goodreads Shenanigans! giveaway (which ended March 4th):

Smily H.
Athina S.
Aaron L.
Carl G.
Eliza B.
Rhonda F.
Chris P.

The press review copies all went out in the mail this morning (one is even headed to Canada).

I know it was a giveaway and just about everyone likes stuff, but I still can’t help being incredibly humbled that 589 people entered the giveaway!

In the end, I hope you all enjoy this short collection!

Shenanigans Goodreads cover

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Reading: “We Always Trust Each Other . . . ”

Me reading my short story “We Always Trust Each Other, Except for When We Don’t,” at The Loft Literary Center around this time last year. The event was put on by Grey Sparrow Press and it was an absolute blast! (Thanks to David S. Atkinson & Shannon Mooney for recording it!!)

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2012’s Most Anticipated Books: The Big Presses | 01.03.12

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus: No venom seems more befitting an author than words, words, words. In Ben Marcus’s Flame Alphabet, language is the poison that youth inflict on adult ears. Utterances ushered from children’s mouths have toxic effects on adults, while the underage remain immune to the assault. The effects are so harmful that The Flame Alphabet’s narrator, Sam, and his wife must separate themselves from their daughter to preserve their health. Sam sets off to the lab to examine language and its properties in an attempt to discover an antidote and reunite his family. Marcus’s uncharacteristically conventional narrative makes way for him to explore the uncanny eccentricities of language and life.

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq: Michel Houellebecq, the dyspeptic bad boy of French letters, has been accused of every imaginable sin against political correctness. His new novel, The Map and the Territory, is a send-up of the art world that tones down the sex and booze and violence but compensates by introducing a “sickly old tortoise” named Michel Houellebecq who gets gruesomely murdered. The book has drawn charges of plagiarism because passages were lifted virtually verbatim from Wikipedia. “If people really think that (is plagiarism),” Houellebecq sniffed, “then they haven’t the first notion what literature is.” Apparently, he does. The Map and the Territory was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize.

Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer: Geoff Dyer shows no signs of slowing down after seeing two stunning books of essays published in the U.S. in 2011, Otherwise Known As the Human Condition and The Missing of the Somme. This English writer, blessed with limitless range and a ravishing ability to bend and blend genres, is coming out with a peculiar little book about a 30-year obsession. It’s a close analysis of the Russian director Andre Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie Stalker, and Dyer calls it “an account of watchings, rememberings, misrememberings and forgettings; it is not the record of a dissection.” Even so, Dyer brings some sharp instruments to the job, and the result is an entertaining and enlightening joy.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson: The exalted author of Gilead and Home claims that the hardest work of her life has been convincing New Englanders that growing up in Idaho was not “intellectually crippling.” There, during her childhood, she read about Cromwell, Constantinople, and Carthage, and her new collection of essays celebrates the enduring value of reading, as well as the role of faith in modern life, the problem with pragmatism, and her confident, now familiar, view of human nature.

Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret: Etgar Keret’s choice of position while writing–facing a bathroom, his back to a window–reveals much about his fiction. He stories are absurd, funny, and unearth the unexpected in seemingly everyday situations. Many stories from his forthcoming collection are set on planes, “a reality show that nobody bothers to shoot,” and deal in wishes and desires. In “Guava,” a plane crashes, a passenger is granted a last wish and is then reincarnated as a guava. Another story involves a wish-granting goldfish, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and a Russian expatriate who seeks to avoid having strangers knock on his door. Keret’s stories are brief inundations of imagination, an experience that holds true for Keret as much as it does for his reader. Keret says he becomes so immersed while writing that he’s unaware of his surroundings, regardless of his view.

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver: After a run of bestsellers, including the Columbine-inspired We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was recently made into a movie with Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, Shriver is digging into her bottom drawer to publish an old novel rejected by publishers when she wrote it in 1998. The New Republic, written when Shriver still lived in strife-torn Northern Ireland, is set on a non-existent peninsula of Portugal and focuses on terrorism and cults of personality.

Hot Pink by Adam Levin: Adam Levin works on his short game with this follow-up to his 1,030-page debut novel The Instructions. Hot Pink is a collection of short stories, many of which have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly and Tin House. From his own descriptions of the stories, Levin seems to be mining the same non-realist seam he excavated with his debut. There are stories about legless lesbians in love, puking dolls, violent mime artists, and comedians suffering from dementia. Fans of The Instructions’ wilder flights of invention (and devotees of the legless lesbian romance genre) will find much to anticipate here.

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Stan Manley is not a good driver | 12.23.11

I was having a bit of trouble getting productive earlier today. It’s been one of those days; what can I say? But @alananoel and @mensahdemary challenged me, over Twitter, to just write 750 words in about an hour. I thought it’d be tough given the amount of trouble I’d been having sticking with anything resembling work today, but I’m happy to report that I finished with 796 words and potentially another (start of a) chapter of my novel. All’s well that ends well!

Stan Manley is not a good driver. No one who knows Stan well would contradict this statement. Even Stan’s mother—a woman who believes Stan can basically do no wrong, ever—refuses to ride with Stan unless all other transportation options have been exhausted. Stan’s chief problem, at least where the operation of motor vehicles is concerned, is that he unfailingly tries to do what he thinks his passengers want him to do, which he does in the interest of pursuing the path of least resistance and maximum driving harmony for all passengers. However, someone as highly anxious as Stan tries to be, for lack of a better term, vehicularly utilitarian, he panics, and the situation quickly deteriorates into utter chaos.

Passengers experience abrupt, somewhat violent lane changes precipitated merely by a passenger’s wayward glance, i.e. if he or she turns his/her head too quickly—a sure sign, Stan thinks, that he’s managed to miss his exit. Jerky stop-and-go acceleration and braking ensues signaling Stan’s attempt to gauge his passenger’s desired speed—a circumstance greatly worsened when Stan finds himself operating a car with a manual transmission, whereby a clutch pedal is added to the whole driving dynamic. Friends also joke that traces of Stan’s childhood dyslexia rear its head when he puts on his left blinker for a right-hand turn.

As a consequence, most times when Stan is with a group of friends or coworkers who need transportation, he simply opts for riding along, as a passenger. Stan, however, is, himself, a model passenger, never uttering a word of criticism despite the inordinate amount of shit he personally gets for his own driving abilities (or lack thereof). However, in a city with a public transportation system that leaves as much to be desired as Omaha’s, it’s nearly impossible to get around efficiently without driving “there” yourself, or catching a ride with a friend. Unfortunately, even when Stan is navigating the grid-patterned streets solo, it’s a no less harrowing experience.

Arguably, Stan’s biggest problem with respect to driving is overthinking. Many people are horrible drivers because of overestimating their abilities where multitasking is concerned. This is not applicable to Stan. Stan does not text while driving, nor does he talk on his smartphone. The mere thought of rear-ending another vehicle at forty-some-miles-per-hour because he was looking down to correct the autocorrected version of whatever he might have been trying to type causes Stan symptoms that suggest imminent hyperventilation.

Stan does not have to worry about being distracted by manipulating the dials on his stereo either. He drives in complete silence. There’s always a chance someone will call him while he’s driving and a too-loud stereo would prevent him from hearing his smartphone’s ringer. In the event he does receive a call, Stan immediately pulls over to the side of the road to answer it. Stan is also worried that he’ll be unable to hear the approach of an emergency vehicle over his music and thus, be unable to react in an appropriate and defensive-type way he was taught in high school driver’s ed. classes—classes Stan personally found tremendously helpful and of which he could never understand the nearly universal scorn of his fellow classmates.

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‘Winsome Mshindi’

The cold and the ice’ve really stoked a fire in those old bones of his.  He runs with the gait of a racer, front legs straight out—each extension producing a crack like Jack London spitting into the cold—rear legs tucked with nails clawing into the earth to propel him forward.  He looks magnificent.  Stride—crack—stride—crack... Who knows how long his old shoulder will hold out.  But for now, it’s holding out long enough.

Winter is nearly here and we both know it, Winsome Mshindi and I.  His name beholden to a double entendre of irony. A greyhound that never raced; his shoulder injured in training when he was a pup which makes Win-some more like Win-none, or Never-did.  Winsome is not really at all what you’d call winsome, by which I mean, handsome—but he is endearing as all get out.  His ears are too big, twin radar dishes atop his head, as are his feet.  His tail, too long and bushy.  But he’s got two eyes that suggest an orneriness not found in older dogs and Mish—a name he’s really grown into—Mish is thirteen.

Stride—crack—stride—crack... slushy grass and mud fly from his feet, his legs still in possession of a fair amount of power that, even with a bum shoulder and old age working against him, makes Mish faster than most other dogs, young or old, in an all out sprint.  But Mish can’t help his instincts. After all, greyhounds are bred to hunt rabbits.  He rounds the corner of the yard, taking a path around a burning bush in the corner, sees something, and tries to make a cut like a halfback spotting a hole to open field.  Mish—bless his 91 dog-year old heart, makes the cut on that bum shoulder and chestplants into the ground at roughly 25 miles per hour.  Tough as hell, even in excruciating situations, he only yelps when he first hits the ground, probably out of surprise.  When he slides to a stop after skittering across the frosty grass, he’s panting, hard.  He looks up at me with a look like, WhoaDidja see that?  I did see it and the thud he made hitting the ground made my stomach lurch.

Mish isn’t getting up.  It’s like he’s telling me he just needs a minute to collect himself—he’s really just tough as hell.  When I get near him, he pops his head up and kind of hoots a little, a sound like an owl makes, refusing in his toughness to whimper or whine.  However, the hooting sound, I know, he only makes when he’s really hurting.

I feel pretty terrible because I know how he gets jazzed up like this when it’s just me and him, especially with a chill in the air.  Like he’s showing me that he can still do it, that he can still pull his weight alongside his four brothers, and that he’s not so worthless as to require going back to the metal box at the humane society where his previous owner’d left him three winters ago, left him when he was 10 years old and 10 pounds underweight. When I took him in, I made him a promise that only one of us could understand the way men understand things, but I’d promised—in a verbal contract I intended to uphold—that he’d never go back to a metal box again.

The hooting is getting more and more intense and I think he’s telling me we might be at an impasse out here in the cold and the sleet.  Because, as I can clearly see, he isn’t getting up on his own.  The sleet starts coming down harder and it makes everything that’s going on feel that much worse. I realize I have to carry him inside.

When I scoop him up—one arm under his chest, the other under his belly—my right arm immediately goes hot and I can feel that my sleeve is soaked clear through to the skin.  He finally concedes to the pain and whimpers a little, the look he gives me is almost apologetic.  I tell him don’t even think twice about it; kids and old people pee all the time and he’s like a crazy, old mixture of both.

I’m joking aloud with myself because it’s the only thing that stoppers up my tears.

The sleet comes down harder and harder but I think Mish needs a trip to the vet.  I resolve then and there to carry him everywhere he needs to go for the rest of his life if I have to because he’s owed that at least.  You get owed certain things when you are dropped off in a cold metal box in January, neglected and underweight.  The universe owes you comfort and love and a warm place to sleep in your twilight years.

It’s the first sleet of the year so it isn’t sticking to the pavement very well.  I decide I’m going to wait it out and then drive Mish to the vet, so I carry the old man back to my bedroom and lay him on my own bed, mostly because it’ll be easier than picking him up all the way off the floor later.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Mish hates being put on the bed but tonight he’s completely quiet about it.  He even wags his bushy tail a couple times to confirm his approval.

The news says the sleet should let up within the hour which is literal good news.  Mish and I are going to wait it out on the king size bed like it’s a slumber party for two and watch TV until then.  I realize I don’t care what it’ll cost to fix him up or how much pain meds will cost for him because I feel compelled to honor my promise to him, a promise I intend to keep.


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Something new, right out of my sketchbook

Since I often proselytize about the importance of sharing the process of writing, here is some brand new, dystopian fiction right out of my Moleskine.

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Flying, with a good chance of irritability


I used to think the world was fucked. I did. I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me to unfuck it. That’s what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that. It’s not a particularly flattering characteristic I have.

Like this fucken guy, here. I’m in the food court at the airport and there’s this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathing gizmo, right? And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet. Seriously hovering, lurking. I mean, it’s iced-fucken-tea!

I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before, but here was someone, right here in front on me on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. He and I are about to cross paths, too. I paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself and the iced tea carafe is contiguous to soda fountain.

In any event, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed directly at me by the twitchy, iced tea guy. I depress the Coke’s soda trigger and take a foamy sip. It’s just totally irresponsible — regardless of ounceage — to fill up the whole cup if the soda-water-to-syrup-ratio is all snafu’d, but this airport’s Coke’s as refreshing as Coke gets.

I top my cup off and pop an opaque plastic lid on because, even though I’m going to enjoy my Coke and hot dog — got me a polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention — right here in the lounge while I wait for my flight, and the lid preserves maximum fizziness in between free refills which is all just really the bees knees.

My hot dog is OK but sort of dry with wrinkly skin like an old dude, the dog itself does.  A sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with.  A stale bun is snafu.  A dry on the outside dog still has the potential to’ve maintained some of its juiciness at its dog-core, but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe — no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever. Feed ‘em to the pigeons.

Flash forward and we’re boarding now and the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full.  People rush to pack the plane, but I’m like, what’s the point?  I dawdle a little and board dead last.  I knew people were going to snap up the cherriest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but no one ever willingly takes the rearmost seats, which I never really understood, especially on a thinly-booked flight.

The back of the plane is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom.  Less random-asses-to-toilet-seat ratio, plus I won’t have to sweat the three refills I got before boarding. So that’s why I dawdle.  No rush in bringing up the rear of the boarding line.

The scent of Barbasol wafts down the gangway, which really proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning.

The girl in front of me has been clicking away on her BlackBerry — and snapping her chewing gum, some mango-mint bullshit which, speaking of lather, gets me all in one — since I first noticed her.  I’m pretty sure that, before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday, but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which is par for the course for me, really.

I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend — an observation I kind of want to tell her about — but the fact that the line is moving forward without her, and the gangway is too narrow to get around whoever’s in front of you, makes me think I should tell her to pay the fuck attention.  But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the unfucking of the world, so I just clear my throat instead.

Once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the bathroom because, even though I didn’t have to worry about taking a piss being at the uncrowded back, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to piss.  However and this is something I just couldn’t really believe — the lavatory was already occupied, which meant someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the keep-seatbelts-fastened sign, a happenstance that also really pisses me off.  But when the door finally opens, I had to piss so bad that my eyes were probably turning yellow, so I didn’t say anything.  I’m kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes.

While I was waiting, one of the flight attendants asked if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really didn’t since I’m terribly allergic and will puff up like the Michelin Man if I eat just one.  I asked her for pretzels instead, which — similar to iced tea guy in the airport’s lounge — actually almost gave this person conniptions — because now she’d have to notify yet another flight attendant, one who distributes pretzels instead of peanuts, that she herself was unable to satisfy my dietary needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally unproductive things to her sense of internal sense of competency, but all of this was precipitated by circumstances that were completely out of my control.

After evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that had been left on my seat.  As I munched on the salty, half-stale victuals, I pondered a scenario that would likely be best pondered with one’s two feet planted firmly on the ground: What if the plane lost all power and began plummeting to earth, but one of the more proactive passengers says to himself, fuck this, and chews up then swallows a whole bottle of Xanax and a whole bottle of sleeping pills, downing them with a couple of those overpriced mini bottles of Jack Daniels they serve on airplanes.  But then instead of crashing, the power comes back online and the pilot rights the whole shebang after a few minutes of freefall with only seconds to spare like in various action movies everyone has seen.  But only now, the previously proactive passenger is full of potent narcotics and is well in excess of the legal intoxication limit, and the kicker is that, on a sparsely-peopled flight such as this one, there isn’t a single medical professional on the flight.  So, like, what does this guy do?  To what degree is this passenger’s complete and utter fuckedness quantifiable?  Fingers down the throat?  I mean, I probably wouldn’t touch him. Personally.  But that’s just me.

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