Thursday, April 17, 2014

Author's Notes: "Saint Max"

What do I do with these silly stories I write?

Try to have them published, somewhere, so readers can see them. Why would I write silly stories and then sell them for the price of a beer (as I did with "Saint Max" to Phantasmacore)? Because, dear readers, the process of submission makes us all better. I could post this stuff on the blog, but no story will be it's best if it doesn't pass at least some publication muster.

Maybe that's what "Saint Max" is about. Becoming better. As always, there will be spoilers. Please read "Saint Max" if you'd like--it won't even cost you a beer--and head back for the story behind the story.

Ready?

Ready.

"Saint Max" started with a man digging holes in his backyard. He didn't know why. I didn't either when I started the story. He just dug. He did what he felt he needed to do. His son, Max, watches him. It's a strange thing which only grows stranger as every morning the yard looks normal.

Max grows in the story. He has to confront a bully named Caleb, and does so with violence. But nothing is solved for Max. His parents are dead when he goes home after confronting his bully. Why? You, dear reader, must decide. Maybe it was domestic violence (they do fight a lot). Maybe they just died. That's how death works. It simply happens.

And that's the hard part of this story. That's what might keep some readers at bay: sometimes life doesn't offer easy solutions. Sometimes bad stuff happens with no explanation. We want that explanation; we want to "know"--especially in fiction. But the real horror is not knowing. The real horror is the unknown, just like good ol' H.P. Lovecraft said. If a monster killed Max's parents, then the monster is the enemy. Max certainly believes in the monster, but it isn't a real thing. It isn't tangible.

I love this story and Max (both the fictional Max and my son), but it won't be accessible to everyone. Some people like the thrill of chase and death and everything else. But this is about Max surviving after his parents have died. This is about Max trying to figure out what to do with death. And... "A horror story cannot simply be about death."

Read "Saint Max" if you would--and if you do, please let me know what you think. Thanks to editor Jason Block for the future beer and giving my story a home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sandcastles

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Aimee's suicide.

Two years needs some perspective. For me, two years represents about 5% of my life.

For Elliot, age 2 years 3 1/2 months, it is the majority of his life.

For Max, almost 8 years, it is nearly 25% of his life.

Even for Owen, 10 1/2, those 2 years mark around 18% of his life.

I talk to the boys about Aimee from time to time, usually when they approach the subject. I am honest and direct when I do. Owen and I have had some challenging discussions about how she died and the nature of her illness. I know a day will come when Elliot needs to understand things I will not be able to make understandable. For now, he is a sometimes blissful, sometimes cranky toddler with personality and lust for life (i.e., desire to run up and down the sidewalk at full toddler speed).

I remember April 2, 2012 well. It was a Monday. Two sheriff's deputies banged on the door and woke me. The day swam quickly with trips to the junkyard, the funeral home, and the church to plan the funeral... I remember feeling like my dreams were over. My life was irrevocably changed.

True. True.

But here's what I know now. dreams are never meant to survive untouched. Dreams evolve. Dreams undergo constant and steady remodeling. Life's meaning isn't gifted to us when young, so we fight, childlike, against the tide which would wash away our dreams. Life's meaning is something forged through work, heartache, and a lifetime of living.

A number of fans have been upset about the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I am not one of them. Ted Mosby--while a fictional character--has made meaning of his life through the telling of his story. His romantic ideals have survived and evolved. In the end, he knows meaning comes in the making of it--just as he loved the mother so well while she was alive. It wasn't that they were "fated" to be together or "the one," but they made it work. The blue French horn in the end is not the same (metaphorically) he lifts at the beginning of the series; it is Ted's meaning, an all-in romantic ideal which he will chase all his life, even as life forces that ideal to take different shapes. And that, folks, is a beautiful note on which to end if an end must happen. It's the kind of end which doesn't really end.

Life, unfortunately must end--but in that inevitability, we find its greatest gift:

Life is for living now, loving now, forging meaning, now.




Monday, March 3, 2014

Author's Notes: "Silas"

When I was a senior in high school, I dropped Physics at semester to take Forensics. No, not forensic science, but forensics: the art and study of argumentation and debate. This is also known as speech and drama competition, a place where kids recite poetry and prose, preform monologues, or deliver original speeches in front of a judge.

One of the requirements of the class involved attending at least two meets. My coach/teacher provided me with Robert Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man" to read in the oral interpretation of poetry division. I performed one time and tied for fourth (I lost the coin flip and received a fifth place medal--wah wah). It was my only performance of that poem and the only medal I received in forensics. I went on to coach for 12 years as a teacher.

Okay, what does this have to do with "Silas"? Well, the story is available in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of The Rampallian, and it is one of those odd, hard-to-place pieces. It is, in part, inspired by "The Death of the Hired Man" and features an old hired-hand named Silas, just like the poem. While horrrific in subject matter, it isn't "horror" in the commercial sense.

This is your spoiler alert. So please read "Silas" or continue with the spoilers. I'm afraid it is one of those tales you'll need to shell out a few bucks to buy the issue, but 50% of the issue's proceeds go to benefit Reading is Fundamental.


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My story implies Silas has molested young Rose, the protagonist. I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle such challenging subject matter, but after reading Peter Straub's masterful "The Juniper Tree" I understood the power of challenging subject matter. (I almost put Straub's story down before finishing it--but it's so damn good in the end.) While "Silas" does not touch the hem of Straub's coat, it is born of "The Juniper Tree" and "The Death of the Hired Man" with a good deal of Aaron Polson imagery tossed in the mix. The original title: "The Hired Man is Made of Worms"--I'll let that conjure an image or two without explanation.

Rose is a brave girl in the face of a horrible, harsh reality. In the story, you'll find Silas is the least of her problems. Thanks to The Rampallian and editor Rebecca McKeown, I have the chance to tell her story.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Author's Notes: "The Thing About Ray's Smile"

I often find myself writing a story without any idea where it will land.

(I really wanted to type "end up" but the dangling preposition really burns my eyes.)

"The Thing About Ray's Smile," recently published at Black Heart Magazine, is one of those stories. I had the idea for an image, a really cheeky teenager, and one of my favorite stories, T. Coraghessan Boyle's "Greasy Lake," blended together to tell the very short story of--

Okay, spoiler alert. Read "The Thing About Ray's Smile" first, please.

Ready?

--a teenager who makes  a really dumb decision and it costs him his life. The bad decision? To throw an empty beer bottle at a boat full of what he thinks at the time are kids from the local junior college. That image--the bottle arcing through the air in slow motion--comes from a moment in high school when a buddy of mine tossed an empty glass bottle (only root beer in our case) against the side of a building as we cruised past a police car. I feared we'd be pulled over, but weren't. In Ray's case, the result was worse.

"The Thing About Ray's Smile" is unclassifiable. Yes, the end is horrific, but it isn't horror. It's not a crime story, either, even though a crime happens. Literary? Okay. Maybe. It's definitely dark and I enjoy the word play. It's the kind of story I enjoyed writing even without a clear landing in mind.

Thanks to Laura Roberts and Black Heart Magazine for given "Ray" life...

Irony?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Wins

Sometimes, a guy needs to stand up and be counted.

I love my state; I do not love nor do I agree with the bigots in charge.

I fully support the right of anyone to marry and enjoy the same legal protection afforded anyone else. More than that, I believe love is love and gay men and women deserve the same shot at the uphill battle of lifelong commitment and fidelity as any straight man or woman.

You may not agree with me, but your view on gay marriage does not matter to me.

You may not agree and say your faith informs you. Okay. Fine. As long as you're using Biblical support, have fun with your multiple wives, slaves, and stop eating ham, okay? And really, stay away from cotton and wool together (yes, that's banned, too). Thanks, Leviticus. You're full of fun. And there's that part about women being silent. (Timothy 2:11) And the stuff about wounded penises and testicles. (Yes, that's in there, too--Deuteronomy 23:1--but it evidently doesn't have anything to do with a botched circumcision... or does it?)  But I'm not the guy who's going to use all this Biblical mumbo-jumbo to pretend I'm going to sway your opinion about gay marriage or civil rights in general. You've already made up your mind. This is not a debate.

Let me repeat: your view on gay marriage does not matter to me. And I don't suspect that my view matters much to you. 

What does matter is right and wrong--civil rights and civil wrongs.

My state, Kansas, just did a big whopping wrong. Let me revise: the leaders of my state (at least the House of Representatives) did a big whopping wrong in passing House Bill 2453 (which explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.) For more, CNN has a pretty good break-down of the law. Those crying "liberal media" can check out this Fox affiliate's take and realize it's the same press release from CNN.  Keep crying.

And our Governor, Mr. Hypocrite himself, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, "Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity."

Every human life? How about gays. They're human. Hell, any gay individual I know is pretty much more human than the legislators who voted "yes" to this piece of garbage.

I'm proud to be a member of an open and affirming congregation in Lawrence, KS.  (Love you, Plymouth Congregational Church.) I'm proud to know plenty of wonderful Kansans who think our legislators are morons.

I'm proud to call several gay men some of my closest friends--not because they happen to be gay, but because they are some of the most amazing people I know. Folks who have been there for me in tough times and good times. Family.

Don't mess with family. 

It doesn't take much to imagine a world in which I couldn't marry someone I loved. Kim and I are in our second marriage--and our union would not have found favor with Biblical law at one point in history. Hell, we'd probably be stoned to death or something asinine like that. It sounds ridiculous now, but the slope is steep and quite slippery when a modern political entity in a democratic nation can start to write bills promising discrimination and promoting bigotry. 

I've tried to keep this as positive as I can. It is Valentine's Day and love wins. Love always wins in the end. Your view on gay marriage does not matter to me, but in promoting a law like House Bill 2453, Kansas made this a civil rights issue. Kansas is poised to make history--on the wrong side of history.