Friday, December 17, 2010

24. The script (a fragment). } A Black Masque

A few posts back I wrote about a script handed to me by an actress who’d been bloodied at an audition (?). After I finally read it (as I obliquely implied I had in post 21), I found myself troubled by it. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so had it not been for my encounter with it. That is to say, if I’d come across it in a book, it might have seemed weird and no more, but the deliberate (?) way it was given me, and where and when… it has haunted me. Regrettably, I haven’t the time to transcribe it all for you, and I’m pretty sure such a transcription is an infringement on the author’s copyright—who is the author? Can anyone tell me from reading the following? Anyway, what follows is a bit of the beginning. See what you make of it and if anyone knows who wrote it, please post a comment or email me and let me know.

Of MASQUES for ARISTOCRATS & the like. The first is
To be Personated during the Twelfth Night.

The persons of the play.

Uncle HOFFMANN, both himself and otherwise
POLO, Hoffmann’s nephew
BIRD, Hoffmann’s niece
OLIROOMIM, a demon

“First, for the scene, was drawn a Landscape”: a blank landscape, a blue screen. In front of the screen stands HOFFMANN who holds a box.

HOFF: …sends a package paid for with peculiar
postage. Needless to say it’s from away.
“My dear loves Polo and Bird forgive me
too much time has passed. Enclosed, the Black Mask.
Hang the angled mask, nail and copper wire,
hanged on your feature, face screwed in to it.

POLO is alone when he opens the package. He stares into it. Awkward and silent minutes pass, POLO crouched on the stage, staring into an open cardboard box. Gradually—so gradually as to be barely perceivable—a light within the box grows. Correspondent to the light in the box is an image projected onto the pale blue screen, at first blurry, then more clear, and more clear: it is a mask carved from obsidian.

At last, POLO moves. As he leans forward to reach into the box, BIRD enters stage right. (POLO and BIRD are dressed in the same black tights and black, form-fitting shirts, but there is nothing androgynous about either.) POLO mimes the removal of a mask, mimes putting it on his face. BIRD, lit up gaudy, is delighted and aroused.

There is no mask. The “mask” is an outline made by lights carefully projected onto POLO’s face. He leaps to his feet, the image of the mask projected on the blue screen disappears and a curtain, painted to look like the inside of a well-appointed city apartment drops behind POLO and BIRD.

BIRD: Oh Polo what a weird wonder our uncle
sent! Ha! So often is Hoffmann off, man!
It fits just right for tonight’s revelry!
POLO turns, faces BIRD.
POLO: (to audience) When do guests arrive for our holiday
masque? Are decorations hung? Light strands strung?

Lights woven into the curtain illuminate. A doorbell rings. PARTYGOERS enter stage right and left, all elaborately dressed and with masks—cheap plastic “Lone Ranger” masks, but in many colors and gold and silver. A soundtrack of glasses and wine corks and laughter, mixed with the susurus of the PARTYGOERS clothes. All dance waltzes around POLO and BIRD, though there is no music, only drums that keep the 3/4 time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

25. Readings } Two more.

During the open mic last night—there was a big turnout at Real Art Ways that included lots of new faces—a member of the audience caught my eye. She looked exactly like a student of mine who was killed shortly after her graduation last year. I know I’ve mentioned this student several times before, and I realize I also wrote about a woman who looked like my former student before—I wondered, in fact, if she might not be the same look-a-like I saw on the train. No reason why she couldn’t be. I hoped she’d read so I’d then have a reason to speak with her. She didn’t read. And when the open was over, she was gone.

Not only was she gone, but her seat was occupied by someone completely different, a young man who read a poem about “Her castle,” punctuating each line by clearing his throat.

Aside from this mildly off-putting visit, last night was terrific. I was honored by good people. The food was extravagant—baked brie! caviar! dried sausage! cheese! wine!—and I was pleased to celebrate both Color Plates and the two year anniversary of Inescapable Rhythms. A few of us gathered by the fire at Andrea’s, talked about publishing, listened to records (real records, including Paul McCartney’s excellent Ram “…but I leave my pajamas to Billy Budapest / and I don’t get the gist of your letter”).

When I was younger, I thought it would be so wonderful to join the gatherings of the great writers and artists; turns out it is pretty wonderful.

Saturday morning I’ll head to Norwich, where I’ll read with the venerable John Cotter as part of the Otis Library Holiday Book Fair, which may mean any gains I make selling Color Plates will be spent buying books. I feel I haven’t enough Penguin Classics (Dear Steve Reads, I disagree with you on Oh! so many things but greatly enjoy your “Penguins on Parade” series. I’m currently reading Bernal Diaz’ The Conquest of New Spain—a wonderful book. What’s your take?).

Sunday, John and I will share a podium at Bank Square Books. The reading begins at noon. I hear tell that this is the book store where Julia Roberts once made the staff extremely nervous by enjoying a rapidly melting snow cone over their recently received and autographed hardback copies of  The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

24. Readings } Real Art Ways

Above, a photo from an Inescapable Rhythms reading held during the summer before it was moved to Real Art Ways. In the photo, I’m having a conversation with poet (and sometimes poet-collaborator) Kristin Kostick. After a brief humanitarian stint in Baltimore, she’s supposedly returned to Hartford, coincidentally in time for my featured reading on Wednesday.

Hosted by Andrea Henchey, Inescapable Rhythms (the series’ name in honor of hometown hero Wallace Stevens) is a once-monthly poetry reading, usually including both a guest reader and an open mic. Guests have included Jennifer Karmin, Deborah Poe, Matthew Klane, and Ken Cormier, to name but a very few, and not to exclude C.S. Carrier, a reluctant local poet whose book and blog y’all should check out. The readings happen on the second Wednesday of every month, and seem to happen no matter what: we’ve read by candlelight when the power was out (a most silent and beautiful experience), we’ve read when only three or four of us have shown up, and we’ve even read when Andrea has had to telekinetically lead us from the west coast.

As is customary, the reading will begin close to 7pm. We tend to gather a little bit beforehand, to buy each other drinks and to catch each other up and sometimes, just occasionally, to finish a poem to be read that night. Kostick, Henchey, and Carrier will all read, for sure, and they’re excellent readers. I’ll read poetry and some little stories from Color Plates. There’s a narrative to my reading, too—a thread to trail through the maze.

Come. Not just for me, indeed, not for me, but because it’s better than online, it’s better than TV, it’s never dull, the poets are mostly kind, and we listen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

23. Shadows & Tall Trees } + Wormwood no. 15

Issue first of Michael Kelly’s new journal “devoted to weird and strange fiction” is published. Of the six fine fictions, and not including my own contribution, my favorites are Geordie Flantz’s “The Ghost Days of Melody Brown” and Nicholas Royle’s “The Blue Notebooks.” I'd already read the Flantz story: it was originally sent to me as a New Genre submission. My intern Ashley Spears singled it out as worth my reading and she was so right. Immediately, the language catches the attention; here’s the first line: “That night the weather broke, and the land was born anew beneath a black baptismal rain.” It’s a long story, and I knew it wouldn’t fit the mood of the upcoming issue of New Genre, so I hailed Michael in the hopes he could pick it up for S&TT #1 and I’m very glad he did. Really, it elevates the whole issue. (By the way, Flantz sent me something else that is exactly right for New Genre, and will appear in the next issue—more on that later.)

My first exposure to Royle was his “Very Low-Flying Aircraft” in Exotic Gothic II (edited by Danel Olson). I didn’t think much of it. (Note that Ellen Datlow liked it very much, praising it frequently and including it in her Best Horror of the Year Vol. 1, and obviously Olson liked it; purchase EG II or Datlow’s best of and decide for yourself.) Royle’s “The Blue Notebooks,” however, I liked. It appeals to me for the way it brings so much together and so vividly: eyesight and degenerative illness, abandoned structures, libraries, birds, and suicide. Royle obviously loves abandoned and locked-off spaces (as I do) and is fascinated by the difference between what we see and what is. I’d love to see this story made into a novella, or as part of a triptych.

The other contributions are good too: Simon Strantzas’ story compliments my own (or vice-versa, if you’re from Canada), Sandra Kasturi’s is a very physical ghost story, and Joel Lane’s tale of a man back in his rotten hometown during a winter holiday is utterly Lane-esque, i.e. nasty and despairing. Promising, too, is Kelly’s inclusion of reviews. I look forward to the maturation of this non-fiction section. Within the genre(s), there is very little worthwhile criticism; S&TT, paired with the efforts of Supernatural Tales might fill the void left by All Hallows.

And Wormwood, edited by Mark Valentine. It is the only journal entirely devoted to the criticism of supernatural/ weird/ horror fiction I consider worth reading. I wish its scope were broader—not that I find its focus a flaw; I’d simply like to see the Wormwood standard applied to contemporary and mainstream genre fiction.

I have yet to finish this latest Wormwood, but am currently enjoying Jonathan Woods’ essay on the poet Wilfred Rowland Mary Childe. Adam Daly’s essay on Gerard de Nerval is excellent (it’s hard to tell who is a poser and who is honestly weird and who is just plain crazy—Nerval was all, poor bastard) and so is Robert Eldridge’s short piece on the weird fiction of Arthur Johnson. I’m very pleased—for reasons I’ve stated above—to see Reggie Oliver’s new column “Under Review.” He discussed recent books by Quentin S. Crisp, Adam Nevill, and Mark Samuels.

My own contribution is unusual for Wormwood, as it’s a hybrid piece of criticism and fiction. “Threshold in the First Half of the Tenth chapter of Lucius Shepard’s Viator” uses that small portion of Shepard’s book as a jumping-off point for numerous considerations of threshold, while also criticizing both versions of Shepard’s book. Thanks to Nick Gevers at PS Publishing for the Viator Plus ARC—he probably wondered if I would every get around to writing my review.

By the way, I’m sending postcards to anyone who orders a copy of S&TT #1. On each card is a line from a fiction in progress, or from one of my notebooks. If you come across that line when reading one of my stories, and let me know that you have, I’ll send you some additional treat. The decaying leg of a camel, or a book, or jewelry made from the bones of my enemies.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

22. Upcoming Reading } Black Squirrel, Washington DC.

Last time I was in DC it snowed. DC is no stranger to snow—last winter friends living in the city sent pictures of picnic tables set with five feet of snow while plows made mazes on the boulevards along the Mall. But the last time I was in DC was in May, so to see snow fall was… beautiful—but ominous. Someone in that city made a deal with the devil.

Maybe on Thursday I’ll find out who.

This Thursday—November 11th—I’ll take the train and join stalwart pal John Cotter, fellow Rose Metal Press author Sherrie Flick, and the poet Maureen Thorson at the Black Squirrel where we’ll read as guests of the Barrelhouse Presents Reading Series. We start at 7pm. More info here, at Sandra Beasley’s Chicks Love Poetry blog (thank you, Sandra), and here, at Maureen's Applies to Oranges blog.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

21. Doctor Faustus } from the script.

RAFE: Why, Robin, what book is that?
ROBIN: What book? Why the most intolerable book for conjuring that e’er was invented by any brimstone devil.
RAFE: Canst thou conjure with it?
ROBIN: I can do all these things easily with it: first, I can make thee drunk with hippocras at any tavern in Europe for nothing. That’s one of my conjuring works.
RAFE: Our Master Parson says that’s nothing.
ROBIN: True, Rafe, and more, Rafe, if thou hast any mind to Nan Spit, our kitchen maid, then turn her and wind her to thy own use as often as thou wilt, and at midnight.
RAFE: O brave Robin! Shall I have Nan Spit, and to mine own use? On that condition I’ll feed thy devil with horse-bread as long as he lives, free of cost.
ROBIN: No more, sweet Rafe. Let’s go and make clean our boots, which lie foul upon our hands, and then to our conjuring, in the devil’s name.

—from The Tragicall Historie of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Saturday, October 30, 2010

20. Readings } the KGB Script

Last week, Wednesday, I drove to Manhattan for my reading in the Fantastic Fiction series. All along the Saw Mill Parkway were deer, their coats shaggy and dark. Once in the city, I lingered outside the KGB Bar (pictured above) as long as I could, stayed outside to watch the sky, as much sky as could be seen from the alleyways that make up the grid of that city.

KGB Bar is on the second floor of a three-story walkup; the bottom floor is a theater, upstairs I don’t know what. A rehearsal space? I’m pretty sure people were auditioning for a show. There was a woman on the second floor landing, a glistening gash above her eye, she was weeping, a script rolled tightly in her hand. She was called—I stepped aside and she rushed past me, up the narrow stairs. At the top of the stairs stood a man waiting for her, a sack in his left hand. Everything’s always weird in Manhattan.

The bar was red. High-ceilinged. Decorated with Agitprop and bears. Since I was reading, I was treated by Matthew Kressel and Ellen Datlow to a Baltika porter I very much enjoyed. Jenna Lawrence was there, a comfort—I wanted to ask, Are they auditioning for Grand Guignol?—but the opportunity never presented itself. I was introduced to the main act, Paul Witcover and friend Cynthia Babak. The audience gathered and soon enough it was time for me to read.

After Paul read, I stepped out of the bar to make a call. Before I could dial, the woman with the head wound stumbled down the stairs. I asked, What’s going on up there? She stopped in front of me, stared at me, then forced that rolled-up script into my hand. I gestured, like, I don’t want this, but she just shook her head and took off down the stairs. Jenna appeared at my side and told me we were going, Matthew and Ellen were taking me and Paul out for dinner. Very nice, I shoved the script into my bag and forgot about it, Rick Bowes distracted me and Jenna with stories about NYC architectural peculiarities.

Once home, exhausted from a dark drive, I dumped the bag in a closet and forgot about it.

Until tonight. Of course I have other things to do. I’ve got to read a few essays concerning Kit Marlowe, “poor deceased Kit Marlowe,” and knock out a few pages of a story I’m writing for editor Danel Olson. I don’t have the time to read the script tonight. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

19. Readings } John Cotter & Adam Golaski

Taken at Freebird Books, Brooklyn, October 24, 2010, by Jenna Lawrence. John and Adam alternating between readings from Color Plates and Under the Small Lights.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

18. Readings } A leg. & bones.

At a party in Iowa City hosted by Erika Jo Brown, I tripped over a pair of glittery red and gold trimmed cowgirl boots. I crouched down to right them but ended up staring at ‘em for more than a few minutes—till Joshua Unikel took me aside to talk poetics.

I didn’t think about the boots again till I lay down for a three hour nap before John and I needed to leave for Northfield. Those boots shone above me in the dark hotel room, a pair of Mars lights.

Many to thank for Iowa City. Especially poets Rob Schlegel, Keisha Lewellyn Schlegel, Joshua Unikel, and Matthew Klane. A good crowd attended the reading at Prairie Lights. I was thrilled to meet Cole Swenson, whose books I’ve been reading since I came upon Park at Talking Leaves in Buffalo, about a decade ago.

The next morning John and I read and spoke at St. Olaf College, a visit arranged by Kaethe Schwehn, who then brought several of her colleagues to our Magers & Quinn reading in Minneapolis. There, we read with Alan DeNiro, who whispered to me a very odd anecdote just before I got up to read, something he’d read in the paper, about a girl whose bones were crystallizing. I said, “Don’t you mean her organs?” He looked at me funny and I wondered if he’d said anything to me at all.

We enjoyed Milwaukee for its local kindness: “Stef” the roller derby announcer, Avital from Brazil, and Jo at Buckley’s on Cass. We read there too. At Boswell’s. Not only a bookstore, but a museum of tin Band-Aid boxes and abandoned card catalogs. I flipped through and found the card for The Nets of Space by Emil Petaja. I didn’t dream that book!

Last Wednesday I returned to UConn to give a reading at the Co-op. Thanks to Kim for her reportage and to Ms. Staubach for hosting me. Eliza Smith, beloved New Genre intern and Shakespearean scholar attended, as did Katelyn W., to whom I gave a copy of Werewolves and Shapeshifters, and Emily W.—she and I talked Spenser and though Ben Johnson wrote that “Spenser has no writ,” we’re inclined to agree with Coleridge who admired the “indescribable sweetness and fluent projection of his verse….”

Sunday found me in Providence, R.I., where I happily spent a couple hours on Wickenden Street, in a waterfront park, and on a block of cement in a parking lot. The sun set, just behind a factory (three smoke stacks); behind me, when the clouds—gray, pink (purple, white)—broke, the moon. Not full. I’d’ve stared longer at the sky, watched the whole of its transition from day to night, but I was due at Abe’s Bar for the Cousins Reading Series, hosted by William Walsh and Darcie Dennigan.

Darcie, who just happened to be Kim’s teacher (at UConn) introduced me lovely with a few kind words. I read with John, who entertained us all with the lighting and an excellent reading, and with Matt Bell and Carol Novak. Better than the incredible sky was the company of two old friends, Jeremy Withers, who gave me a copy of his solo album (more on that later) and Elizabeth Dooher, now a sculptor in New Bedford. Both have saved my life many times; their presence, revitalizing.

As I drove home on very dark and narrow roads, I caught the glimmer of a deer’s eye in my headlights and slowed to a stop. The deer crossed the road—paused to gaze at the car—and then into the forest.

Tonight, I’ll sink Manhattan.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

17. Virgil dreams & } smoke.

Kelly Spitzer selected story from Color Plates and interviewed me for Issue 29 of SmokeLong. The interview took time: I answered the first question on the west coast and the last on the east. Fair enough. I like the questions. For instance, she asked what my weirdest childhood memory was and after some hemming and hawing, I replied:

“In early November, which is by far the eeriest time of the year—at least in New England—I was in the woods near my house—a strictly forbidden locale. I was, uh, seven? I was pretty deep in the woods and I took a path I hadn't taken before. It was probably about three in the afternoon—the sun already a little low in the sky. From somewhere off the path I heard a grunt. This scared the living daylights out of me, I was sure it was a wild boar—not likely, but, you know, I was seven. I didn't want to run away. I knew from experience that dogs tended to chase me when I ran, so I kind of backed up for a while, took every step painfully slow. Somehow, I managed to walk a loop, and ended up off the path at the mouth of a huge pit. I kid you not. I peered over the edge. The low light lit just a crescent of the bottom of the pit. It was, I thought (remember I was seven, so who knows), about fifteen feet deep. And I heard another grunt. Oh God it was so loud, Kelly! I saw a big animal, uh, kind of bumble through that crescent of light and I ran. I crashed through brush and branches, until I found my way to the path and finally to my little neighborhood. By the time I got home I was wheezing pretty hard and it took my worried mother a little while to get the story from me. She was mad, of course, that I'd been in the woods, but not madder than she was a) glad I was home and b) troubled that there was a large animal in a pit in the woods behind her house.

I hope this isn't a let down but there really isn't much else to the story. I guess Mom called the police or animal control or something. I eventually found the path again—foolish curiosity. It was full-on winter by then and the ground was covered with snow. A little distance off the path I found a frozen pool. I poked a branch through the ice. It wasn't deep, a few inches, all that remained of a vernal pond, probably. I don't know if that was the spot. I told my buddy Brian about it and we believed fervently that there was a beast tunneling in the woods behind my house and then we got to junior high and didn't believe anymore (and didn't hang out anymore, either).”

Truthfully, I’m not sure that’s the weirdest story from my childhood. I mean, childhood is weird, man.

Tomorrow, John Cotter and I head west to Iowa City, where we’ll read at Prairie Lights; from there we travel to Northfield, Minnesota, to Minneapolis, and finally Milwaukee. Here, John provides a few more details.

To Virgil: Toward the end of The Aeneid is a simile that caught my eye: “Just as in dreams when the night-swoon of sleep/ Weighs on our eyes, it seems we try in vein/ To keep running, try with all our might,/But in the midst of effort faint and fail;/ Our tongue is powerless, familiar strength/ Will not hold up the body, not a sound/ Or word will come: just so with Turnus now….” (Fitzgerald trans.)

We’ve all had this dream. Running from a threat, we’re mired in dream-tar. Virgil wrote about that dream 2,030 years ago (give or take), and that dream was common enough then for Virgil to use it to explain the way Turnus’ moved while fighting Aeneas! When our sleeping selves calls up that imagery, we’re tapping into something ancient. Perhaps what chases us in the dream has changed. Maybe not. We wake from the dream and a spear pins us to the ground.

Friday, October 1, 2010

16. Werewolves & } Small Press Saturday

John Skipp’s latest anthology, Werewolves and Shapeshifters, is published. I’ve not read much of it yet—my author’s copy arrived two days ago and most of my reading time is owned by Virgil’s The Aeneid and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (and assorted secondary materials). I read Steve Duffy’s “Side-Effects May Include.” I realized after the first line that I’d read it before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it again. I must have first read it in Exotic Gothic 2 (ed. by Danel Olson).

Duffy first came to my attention with his first collection, a set of M.R. James pastiches. Then “The Penny Drops” (written in collaboration with Ian Rodwell). I also published "Glass Stoppered Bottles" in issue #3 of New Genre. Soon after, I started to see weirder stuff, altering my first impression that Duffy’s scope was limited to (excellent) quiet ghost stories. Specifically, two stories in early issues of the journal Supernatural Tales that riffed off of urban legends and 1960s history hinted at a post-modern ripple, and let me see that his style could be very contemporary. I’ve not read his newest collection, Tragic Life Stories. I will, I will!

Werewolves and Shapeshifters will, like its zombie counterpart, reach a massive audience, much larger Duffy (or I) typically reach. Some of the people who buy it for the big, comfortable names will make some exciting discoveries.

(My contribution to Skipp’s anthology is “The Animal Aspect of Her Movement.”)

BY THE WAY, join me Saturday, Oct. 2nd in Newton, MA for Small Press Saturday, “as [Newtonville Books] celebrates independent publishing with the editors and contributors to these fine presses”: Rose Metal Press, Ampersand Books, Dzanc Books, Madras Press, and Small Anchor Press. The event starts at 2pm. I’ve been told that following the event, there will be a wild boar hunt. Venus has warned me not join in, told me the portents are all bad, has begged me to stay with her, but what the hay, how often do I get to hunt wild boar?

Monday, September 27, 2010

15. Readings } Portland, ME & Chicago, IL

John just finished reading Ciaran Carson’s translation of Inferno, so we talked about Brunetto Latini, Dante’s former teacher, mysteriously damned (by Dante) to the ring of the sodomites: “To me he seemed like one /who, in the fields around Verona, runs /for that prize, a length of green festoon. /He seemed to be the one that wins, not loses.” The conversation turned to Daniel Mendelsohn’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books about Edmund White’s latest book City Boy; Mendelsohn criticizes White’s “intellectually grotesque” reading of Inferno, specifically regarding Latini: “This reflexive tendency to reduce everything to the dimensions of [White’s] erotic interests and predilections can become wearying….” Then I brought up a short essay by White himself, and a line that had caught my eye regarding The Beats: “Early on, when they were just inventing themselves and their original brand of writing, Ginsberg and Kerouac decided to turn all their friends into myths.”

Though lightly attended, the reading in Portland was a great pleasure. Chris Bowe (the owner of Longfellow Books) gave excellent introductions, excellent because they were not merely recitations of bios John and I wrote, but a response to our work. People came because they read and were intrigued by descriptions of our books. Cupcakes were served that were frosted to be Color Plates. After John and I read we answered thoughtful audience questions for an hour.

After the reading, fog fell. John and I sat outside and ate burgers at Shay’s (seated near us, a group attempting to consume a fishbowl filled with an absinthe-blue cocktail). We walked for a while, drove a while, ended the night in a locked courtyard surrounded by sprinklers with a stoned couple who’d been asleep or screwing when the gates were closed, and couldn’t figure out how to get out. We showed them the way. As a gift, they handed us two marbles, one with the face of Mao, the other, an eye.

I read twice in Chicago, Friday (the 18th) with Jennifer Karmin at Myopic Books, and then as part of the Orange Alert series at The Whistler Saturday night. Matthew Klane and Amy Nowak drove from Iowa city to see me and Jennifer; Jennifer packed the room and I was just as pleased to see Aaaaaaaaaaalice sold as I was to sell a couple copies of Color Plates. This was the first time I’d seen my book, and it’s an odd moment: books by other people are real, books by you own self are objects imported from an alternate reality.

After the reading at The Whistler, I ate a brilliant meal in Logan Square with Rose Metal Press co-publisher Kathleen Rooney, her husband Martin, fellow reader Davis Schneiderman, Jennifer Karmin, and the poet Snezana Zabic. I’m terrible about self-promotion. Snezana emailed to ask if I was reading in Chicago days before I left, then told me she would be at my reading. I, of course, should have invited her. I was delighted she was there.

Lastly, an odd moment in Portland. Very early in the morning—was it four? was it five?—I woke to a noise—a “huff, huff.” I swore it was made by something at the end of my bed. I sat up—waited for my eyes to adjust—they didn’t, quite, heard the sound again, got up, walked to the door—I was now sure the noise came from the hall. I peered through the peephole—nothing—opened the door, and stepped into the hall. At the end of the hall—where the hall met a bay of elevators, stood an enormous white horse. It huffed. It turned its head and the dim light caught something—something crystal that sprouted from the horse’s forehead. I panicked, slammed the door shut, stood behind it a moment, breathing hard, calmed myself and thought: I did not see a white horse in the hallway of the Holiday Inn. I opened the door, looked out, and I was right, of course, there was no horse. Not only that, but the hall was configured differently. It did not end at a bay of elevators, the elevators were down a side corridor. I went back to bed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

14. Links } They are boring.

Not all of them are boring.

"Neglectorinos no more!" [blog post by Don Share re. my essay "This is Not Sad; This is Not Funny"]

Fall Books Preview ["Golaski is a champion of experimental and genre-bending fiction"; a reading at Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine, 7pm, Sept. 24th]

"...and August's rare delight may be April's fool." [blog post by Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne, re. "Green"]

Small Press Spotlight ["Adam Golaski is embarking on an ambitious and adventuresome multi-city book tour..."]

"Someday on Planar Surface" [another story by Matthew Pendleton; read his lovely fiction in print by purchasing New Genre #6]

"Checking in with Rose Metal Press" ["I've been through magic and through life's reality / I've lived a thousand years and it never bothered me... don't try to reach me cause I'd tear up your mind / I've seen the future and I've left it behind / fictionaut! fictionaut!"]

"Sekrit Project Reveals" [LiveJournal post by Althea Kontis re. Werewolves and Shapeshifters, an anthology edited by John Skipp]

Color Plates [Goodreads marked it as to-read]

Raw Dog Screaming Press Retrospective [Gorelets post by Michael A. Arnzen re. Worse Than Myself, Sheep and Wolves, and 100 Jolts]

Cinnabar's Gnosis [a weird review of an anthology in honor of the writings of Gustav Meyrink I contributed to. "Proustian selves by cassette tape. Proustian selves as flies."]

"Open Letters Montly: August, 2010" [Like Fire blog post re. "Green" and the August issue of OLM]

Worse Than Myself [a review posted by the Speculative Fiction Junkie. He points out that "many of the horrors in close proximity to comforts." So true!]

"The Open Letters Monthly Anthology" [an announcement by stevereads: "here is the brooding, authoritative essay-voice of Adam Golaski still at the dawn of his career"]

"Adam Golaski's book of little stories..." [blog post by Rose Metal Press, with a link to the Little Stories blog]

Friday, September 10, 2010

13. Color Plates } “the subtle intersections between appreciation and invention”

My publisher sent me a link to the short review of Color Plates that appeared in Publisher’s Weekly. It’s a positive review, for which I am grateful.

Built into the review is an assumption that the reviewer made about the book: that because the paintings that are the book’s inspiration are 19th century paintings, the stories must be set in the 19th century. They’re not.

Neither are they explicitly now, though. The reviewer has picked up on something that the stories couldn’t escape: even though they’re all set in the present (or a time like the present), something essentially 19th century was brought into them. Or, maybe what the reviewer has picked up isn’t that specific. Maybe the stories don’t feel like they’re set in the 21st century because they’re set so much in their own world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

12. Color Plates } I came across this note:

“The first Color Plates reading I ever gave (three from Toulouse-Lautrec) was at the 2003 World Horror Convention in Kansas City. I read to an audience of three: Alice Henderson, Kimberly Zagoren and Phil Locasio. That same night I read a fourth plate, ‘The Toilette,’ to a much larger crowd for the Morbid Curiosity-sponsored flash fiction contest. Alice won third place.”

All Hallows #32, published two months before Mr. Locasio and I met at the convention, featured fiction by both of us: his “Sundown in Yellow Scar” and my “Back Home” (collected in Worse Than Myself). My path hasn’t crossed with Ms. Zagoren’s since that weekend; she’s the author of two books (that I know of). Ms. Henderson and I attended several conventions together. We’ll be together again when Werewolves and Shapeshifters, edited by John Skipp, is published this October.

Two weeks from now, Rose Metal Press and I will debut Color Plates in Chicago.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

11. Reading } Brookline Booksmith

With a simple, short-range radio device attached to my throat, I controlled the machine pictured above by reading “Holy Ghost.” It’s a burden lugging the machine with me—it weighs as much as a “portable” 1920 Singer sewing machine—but the effect it has on audiences is dramatic, and by all accounts my reading was very much enjoyed. Joy Crelin reported seeing "a weird kind of light map" (pictured below); Liz T. told me she heard—an undercurrent running beneath my story—the low-frequency sounds of blue whales (usually not audible at all!). In the end I’m glad I brought the machine, but I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to.

John read from Under the Small Lights the chapter “The Straw Bed” (“Tell me a story. Tell me about Maybe.”) and from the chapter “Birdlike.” Both very funny but charged with the drama and pain insecurity so easily makes. Before he read—and you won’t believe me, I’m sure—John poured wine for the audience.

After we read, after John and I signed books, John caught up with some old friends who came and I began to browse the used books. While looking at the spines of medieval romances a gentleman handed me a poem, written on a page torn from a Simon & Schuster hardcover (their logo to the left of the handwritten poem—I never saw the title of the book). It was a found poem made of lines from my story. My favorite line is, “toss holy ghost; crisp theory proposed”—in the story, it’s Chris’s theory—I don’t know if “crisp” is a deliberate change or if he just heard me wrong. My thanks to the anonymous poet.

We went for a meal, then, about nine of us. Melissa Goodrum led a toast to our success and to the success of our books. Thank you.

On my way back to my car—a slow walk with that heavy machine—I thought about the conversation I overheard at the college bookstore about that student of mine who was killed—I thought about the strange condition of “some of her organs” and I worried (needlessly, foolishly) about the condition of my own. A Green Line trolley rattled past me then, the lights off in all the cars. The wind that followed the trolley cooled me. I reminded myself: this was a good night.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

10. Reading } Brookline Booksmith

First, an anecdote: overheard at the college bookstore, two students talking, one of whom I realized was related to that former student of mine who was killed when a motorcycle lost control and careened into her. The relative said, “…what was weird was some of her organs were found partially crystallized. The doctors said she might have been dead before the accident. One of the doctors said, ‘dead on her feet.’ My mom couldn’t take it, she freaked out, she was so angry, I thought she was going to sue them or something.” The other student asked the question I would have asked—at this point I stood hidden behind a bookshelf, listening intently: “What do you mean, crystallized?” The relative said, “Like, encrusted with crystallized blood? I don’t know. I couldn’t ask. My mom was freaking out.”

I debated whether or not I could introduce myself to the relative; by the time I decided I would the two students had gone. I went outside to see if I could spot them, but the parking lot was crowded with freshman (it’s orientation week). I checked on a book order (Richard Rolle’s Fire of Love), and left.


Tonight I’ll join Andrea Henchey, C.S. Carrier, and other Hartford-area poets for our monthly Inescapable Rhythms reading at Real Art Ways. The featured poet is Lisa Olstein. That the reading begins at 7pm is a lie.

Tomorrow I’ll be in Brookline (MA) reading with John Cotter. That reading does start at 7pm, and since I consider myself to be John’s opening act, I’d appreciate it if you were there on time. John will read from Under the Small Lights, his new book (steadily gathering praise). He’s an excellent reader, and he’s been reading all summer so he’s in shape.

This is the last reading I’ll do before Color Plates is published (look for it in mid-September). My publishers have arranged a pre-order setup (which somehow includes autographs), and I’ll have copies of my old (though recently re-promoted) book Worse Than Myself on hand. But tomorrow night I’ll read something with the desperate scent of unpublished all over it.

John says he’ll buy you drinks if you go.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight } A single line.

line 424:

Þat þe scharp of þe schalk schyndered þe bones [Middle English]

scharp = sharp blade, schalk = man, and schyndered = cleave or burst asunder

So that the sharp blade sheared through, shattering the bones [Brian Stone]

That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones [Marie Boroff]

So that the man’s sharp blade cut through the bones [R.A. Waldron, in a footnote]

So that the sharp blade shattered the man’s bones [A.C. Cawley, in a footnote]

Cut through bones and skin and fair [Burton Raffel]

So that the sharp edge sundered the man’s bones [W.S. Merwin]

The cleanness of the strike cleaved the spinal chord [Simon Armitage]

That man’s sharp stroke shattered the bones [Adam Golaski]

Note the location of the word “man.” Cawley and Merwin apply “man” to the Green Knight. Waldron applies “man” to “sharp blade”—which could be read as the sharp blade of the Green Knight, though at this point in the poem that sharp blade—the axe the Green Knight carried into Arthur’s hall—is in Gawain’s possession, and is Gawain's (won by accepting the Green Knight's challenge), so Waldron might be applying “man” to Gawain.

Gawain is a man. The Green Knight is not. That’s why I chose to apply “man” to Gawain.

I wrote “that man” instead of “the man” for the repeated “a” sound.

In my translation, it isn’t the blade that’s sharp, but Gawain’s stroke. Sharp is precise, but sharp is also smart—it at least seems smart to chop of the Green Knight’s head. Too bad about about the irrational supernatural.

Like Stone, I chose to shatter the bones. Shatter maintains my alliteration and is a more violent verb than sunder, sheared, shivered, cut, or cleave. My “shattered” is more aggressive than Stone’s “shattering.”

Raffel took words from surrounding lines, which is why his line is so different. Armitage’s solution was to alliterate with “c” as well as “s”—a big departure from the Gawain poet’s original line. I like Armitage’s line.

My translation of the first fitt of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is featured in this month’s Open Letter’s Monthly. My thanks to editors John Cotter and Steve Donoghue for their hard work in the service of “Green.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

7. Reading } St. Mark’s Series, NYC

Above, the reading space at Bar 82. Host Greg Purcell (pictured below) announced that this was his final night hosting the St. Mark’s Reading Series; in a week, he runs out of furniture in New York City.

I read an unpublished story (“Holy Ghost”). Kira Henehan followed with an excerpt from Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles; there’s music in that prose.

Julia Holmes allowed her Mr. Meeks full control of the microphone. We listened to Mr. Meeks, rapt.

The audience was excellent—a modest turnout that filled up the room nicely, including the appearance of good friend Jenna Lawrence. Later, there were noodles. Even later I returned to my hotel room. No dreams there, by the way. An odd moment on the way home, though:

I left Manhattan by train. I read Chambers’ “Yellow Sign.” An hour out of the city I noticed, seated across the aisle and two seats ahead of me, a young woman who looked exactly like a student of mine who was killed shortly after her graduation (she was struck by a motorcycle).

The air on the train was too cold—the young woman stood to get a hoodie to wear over her dress. Embroidered in white on the front of her black dress was a familiar pattern—why familiar I couldn’t say until all at once what at first appeared to be only a symmetrical design coalesced into the face of a horse. We entered a tunnel, and the red light from an exit sign made a long line from the horse’s forehead to the young woman’s throat.

We left the tunnel, the young woman pulled on her hoodie, and sat down. For the rest of the trip I stared out the window.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

6. Reading } St. Mark's Series, NYC

My last visit to Manhattan was made strange by a dream. At the door to my hotel room I hesitated; I unlocked and opened the door. Something very large stood in the tiny room. Before I could reach into the room for the wall-switch, my eyes adjusted: a horse. It took a single step toward me. Light from the hall lit its massive white face and:

From between its nostrils was erupted a crystal tooth, grown haywire from the horse’s lower jaw, a horn as long as the horse’s head. The horse took another step. A sharp intake of breath. Mine. The yellow-clear crystal horn filled swirling with blood and the horse’s white face became pale blue.

The next morning I woke, fully dressed, on the bed. I’d left the door partially ajar. I had nothing worth stealing, but I looked around on instinct; Watson’s The Double Helix remained on the side table, my papers and pencils on the desk, my bag on the valet, my wallet in my back pocket. My keys were beneath my leg--likely slipped from my pocket during the night. I’d slept through my alarm and missed breakfast.

At home, as I unpacked, I noticed a small tear in the shirt I had slept in, a tear no longer than a paper clip, located just beneath the pocket. Slowly, I touched my chest. I’d ignored a soreness there all afternoon, but then it broadcast in hot ripples.

I won’t make too much of this. I slept on my keys, after all. I booked the same room in the same hotel for this Thursday. I was in Manhattan last month to see John Cotter read from his new novel; I’m returning to Manhattan to read in the St. Mark’s Reading Series. I read with Kira Henehan, author of Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles, and Julia Holmes, author of Meeks. The reading takes place at Bar 82, on 136 2nd Avenue, between 9th Street and St. Mark's. The reading begins at 7:30pm “sharp.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

5. Worse Than Myself } The Man from the Peak

This is old news.

“The Man from the Peak,” a story original to the Montana half of Worse Than Myself, was singled out by Ellen Datlow for reprint in her Best Horror of the Year (vol. 1). Often stories that appear in best-of anthologies appeared first in hard-to-find, little-known journals or in similarly obscure small press anthologies and collections (as did mine); a best-of can grant these stories a second life in front of a larger readership. That’s why they’re important. They’re better, too, than end-of-the-year lists or industry awards, because there you have it, the thing itself, the story: now you may read it and decide for yourself whether or not to look up an author, a magazine, a press, etc.

(For a brief while it looked as if horror would have an unprecedented wealth of best-ofs, but most never appeared and a couple vanished after only a volume or two; for example, and of interest to me, Horror: The Best of the Year from Prime Books. Volumes for 2007 and 2008 were edited but never appeared. I know about the 2008 edition because Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, its editor, selected “What Water Reveals” (also from Worse Than Myself) to be included.)

Best Horror of the Year (vol. 1) received a good amount of attention because it’s the first in a series more likely than most to last and because it’s pretty good. Reviewers liked it. In as many reviews as not, my story wasn’t mentioned, but in two reviews, my story was singled out. Orrin Grey, for The Innsmouth Free Press, wrote that “‘The Man from the Peak’ might be my favourite story in the book” and Michael Lambe, on his blog, wrote: “…my favorite in the collection is Adam Golaski’s ‘The Man from the Peak’…. It lulls you in, then gradually, dreamily and subtly, creeps you out, and finally brings you face-to-face with pure, unadulterated, bloody HORROR…. That one story alone is worth buying the collection for.”

Perversely, the review of the anthology I enjoy the most is a negative customer review by Vicky Stow. She found it disappointing. She did like one story (“Beach Head” by Daniel LeMoal), and she admits to giving up without reading the last two stories—which are, by the way, “The Man from the Peak” and “The Narrows” (by Simon Bestwick). I ache for Ms. Stow to weigh in on my tale!

(Bestwick’s story is among the finest in the book. LeMoal’s is excellent and unique. “Loup-garou,” by R.B. Russell, does something so fine it must be the best of the bunch. I would be proud to have written any of the three; Russell’s I don’t think I could have.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

4. Some Notes } Two Panels at Readercon 2010

On a hill by a rock surrounded by parking lots and with a cup of coffee carried from the hotel, I wrote an introduction for the panel I was to moderate Saturday afternoon called “Down There in the Gutter: The Fiction of the Unpleasant.” I wrote: Here we are on Burlington Mall Road, which is pretty awful. Its designers—presumably humans, presumably not sadists—designed a strip devoid of much pleasantness. Even if all you like to do is shop and suck down Frappachinos, there are much nicer places to do so. Places where you’re not blinded by concrete. If this were the setting for a “literary novel,” it would be called bleak—as it would be called in a horror novel.

I spoke then about Peter Straub’s essay “What About Genre, What About Horror”—the inspiration for the panel. I said that Straub’s essay argues that so-called literary fiction is a) a genre and b) like horror, as it’s “about” low-rent feelings and experiences: adultery, alcoholism, the indignities of ageing, poverty, anxiety, abuse, fear, etc., etc. That this is also the subject of literary fiction is not acknowledged, whereas horror fiction announces that this is exactly its subject —often via intermediaries such as book jackets.

The point of Straub’s essay? Maybe that both genres are potentially the same (especially since so much literary fiction contains elements of fantasy), or at the very least, not so unlike that both genres can’t be taken seriously (or not taken seriously).

The point is also that Straub has ceased to care much about the difference.

The panel sputtered a bit, but Straub contributed some fine thoughts, as did Kathryn Cramer, and Kit Reed and Mike Allen who brought their background in crime journalism to the discussion. Allen, as he notes on his own blog, tended to play devil’s advocate, which helped a little with the sputtering. Barry N. Malzberg seemed wholly uninterested. I have a sneaking suspicion many in the room felt the same way. Still, we had a big turnout, and two brilliant comments from the audience.

Feeling (correctly) wholly unprepared, I moderated a second panel on Sunday called “The 9,191,935,961 Names of God: Metaphysical Hard SF.” Again, I wrote an introduction to focus my thoughts (and, ideally, to guide the panel): If science fiction can examine any subject of concern to us, it must be able to examine concerns not obviously scientific, but philosophical and—as the panel description puts it—spiritual. The title of this panel, though a reference to Olaf Stapledon’s Starmaker, brought to mind that Arthur Clarke story, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” in which a programmer is hired by monks to make a computer that will end the world by writing all the names of God. Clarke’s story—in spite of the computer—is in no way hard SF. Generally, philosophical and spiritual concerns typically lead to soft sf. Forgive the long build up. My first questions are 1) can you [the panelists] speculate on potential hard sf approaches to the “soft sciences” and 2) can you cite extant examples?

I never needed to ask another question. The panelists took off, with great energy, especially Benjamin Rosenbaum and Ron Drummond. Paul Di Fillippo, Ed Meskys, and I contributed when we could and when we did I’d say we did so well. Certainly with pleasure. The audience picked up on our energy, and jumped in with numerous excellent points.

The image above, from NASA, is of star cluster NGC 3603.

Friday, July 2, 2010

3. Readercon } Through which the fearful lovers are to whisper

Readercon has long been important to New Genre. Editor David Hartwell made space for issue #1 on his table in the Readercon bookshop in 2000; most years since, we’ve had our own table. New Genre has never kept a publication schedule (opting instead to wait for not just good but brilliant fiction, drawn exclusively from so-called slush), but when a new issue does manifest, Readercon is where the journal has its debut.

This year, the New Genre table will present two new titles: Jennifer Karmin’s Aaaaaaaaaaalice and the Open Letters Monthly anthology. Of course, issues of New Genre will be available, including #6, where the Stephen Graham Jones story “Lonegan’s Luck” first appeared.

On Friday, between noon and 3, I’ll be a participant in a recitation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Roles have yet to be determined, but I’m angling for the part of the wall that stands between Pyramus and Thisbe, as then I’ll be smooch’d on two sides. At 5, I’ll read the Theodore Sturgeon story “The Other Celia,” part of a two-day celebration of Sturgeon’s short fiction.

Saturday afternoon, I’ll question the wisdom of publishing an essay on The Millions, as moderator of a panel called “The Fiction of the Unpleasant,” inspired by an article Peter Straub wrote. Straub will join me, along with Kit Reed, Kathryn Cramer, Mike Allen and Barry N. Malzberg. No, none very esteemed, but nonetheless. At 6:30, during the dinner break, I’ll offer a reading. What I read depends on how antagonistic I feel.

I’ll spend Sunday investigating the apartment directly beneath my own, where I’m certain there’s living a young woman whose skin is paper.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2. Some Notes for an Essay } Nina's Dance

Above, Nina Joly, a former student of mine and a dancer/choreographer.

Notes in response to “Twins,” a dance choreographed by Nina to Calvin Harris’ song “I’m Not Alone.” Harris seems like a fool, but the song is strong; it’s not his anymore anyway. Nina dances w/ Lyz Hazelton.

I’ve no dance vocabulary. Nina reassures: “…most of that stuff doesn't have names anyway.”

[0:15 – 0:22] Early on, when Nina and Lyz turn their backs to us, they put their hands to their thighs/rears (the “rear grab,” as Nina permits me to call it), then move side-to-side for a few steps. They're lifting themselves up, while also doing something that might be crass.

[1:33 – 1: 47] Nina and Lyz here mostly move with their arms, but their hips move too—they keep their feet planted—the movements that aren’t made by their arms appear directly linked to their arms. (This is a moment when I “stood up” and thot, “Oh yeah, that's excellent.”) (Original note: “Yeah! It's the first chorus. That arm stuff! Yeah. Oh, I see. It's NOT just arm movement. You two are moving your whole bodies. That's what makes the arm motions so vivid.”)

[2:30 – 2:50] The strength of small gestures/movements, contrasted with a single bigger gesture (an upsweep of the arm). Often in the choruses.

Embracing, pulling apart. Steps taken together/mirrored, separate motions (“mirrored body movements—that are especially good to watch. two bodies/light waving” [1:50]. ) Nina is the leader but Lyz catches up, creates her own space with movement, and is the aggressor (in the end, she drags Nina from the stage).

The costumes are brilliant. Simple color contrast, dark and light but not black and white (so not obviously binary). The prim tops (pleated and buttoned up to the chin) and skirts (pleated, hem below the knees) allow certain moves to happen without becoming crass (the aforementioned "rear grab") or racy (both Nina [1:59] and Lyz [2:43] shake their shoulders vigorously; in the wrong costume, the only thing I'd see are breasts moving, but because of the costumes, I can see everything that's happening. By covering up, I see more than the dancers). (Nina re. my costume comments, “I’m also really pleased you like the costumes. I had always planned on doing something old-fashioned-ish, but I'm sure you understand how after you think about your own ideas for months and months, you can no longer gauge how things will be perceived. I'm so glad it was a successful choice.” I know what is meant by “old-fashioned-ish”—the costumes are not really old-fashioned at all.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


“I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the ‘Herculean’ labors, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. After the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them—thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am almost ashamed to confess the truth, but I must say there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than they did themselves. Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners and soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason I was superior to the politicians.”

from "Apology" by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett.