June 2016 is the fourth anniversary of Disturbed Digest, a quarterly of strange, twisted and horrific fiction, and I am proud to say that the issue contains my ghost story, “A Face at Every Window.” Copies of Disturbed may be ordered on the Alban Lake website: http://www.albanlake.com. While you’re there be sure to look around at all the strange and terrifying literature on offer.
RANDOM NOTES WALKING WATER STREET COMMONS
(Wandering over Water Street, a big chunk of vacant land along the river, just over the bridge from downtown Ypsilanti. Once the site of flour mills, sawmills, chair factories, auto parts manufacturing, later covered by auto dealerships. Now a weed-grown rubblefield, surrounded by chain link and bufferzone trees. Long controversy over use of this land, now owned by the city. The usual strife: private development vs. public use. Public users, reclaiming the commons, have moved ahead and built a sculpture garden at the heart of the vacancy, creating beauty and strangeness.)
Art energy expressed as sudden outgrowth of connected ruin.
Archaeology of the present moment.
Materials generated by the site.
The site ground by time to small fragments.
The Department of Missing Perceptions.
Structures of memory and dream.
Grown from seeds of stone and rust.
The absence, the hole in the continuity, sinkholes of intention, lost parts found and repurposed, rust as patina as memory suggestive of use, invention, dreams of rust and decay, overgrown lot with a crop of weeds hides outgrowth of creative energies that deny decay, reinvent the local and useful as something to be remembered in subtle pieces, reassembled in the minds of as many as will. As they said in the old dance manuals. This is the oldest dance, the archaic manifesting as the most thoroughly contemporary resistance to being changed out of existence. We still have a use for these things.
Everyone adds his or her stone to the pile, cairn of community, sign that human beings passed this way once and left this here for others to find. Ur sculpture, first art. Before cities: the cairn.
Water Street Commons is a cairn, each artwork a stone brought to the pile until a cairn is achieved. The cairn is instantly achieved in the intention to make one.
Yes, Merzbau, yes, Schwitters, his spirit and example. Yes, many others who have left their car on the tracks, poured sugar in the tank, grit in the gears. But cultural sabotage is harder to effect in the present moment. No, not an instantly consumable commodifiable good carefully positioned in a burgeoning market. Not a proffer, and aware of not being for sale. Don’t say who would buy it anyway, because any manifestation even in outright opposition and harshest most devastating critique can be subsumed in the art narrative, cooked and eaten by elite diners at the ongoing banquet where every human product is reduced to a dollar value.
Not so much critique as a rebeginning to grow, a new way to make something where you are not supposed to be able to make anything. So: a permission, self-granted.
And joy. And pleasure. Pure pleasure of putting just that thing there, next to others similarly placed, constructing an intention after the fact.
Breathing the atmosphere of the commons your way of seeing the world is changed. As art can effect. The two boards, laid in the mud: deliberate? Yes, whether art or accident, because everything here is deliberate. There is no accident. The death of chance. All intention all the time.
This is one way of connecting the world.
That changes, and is replaced.
Because everything changes and is replaced.
Deliberation the same as accident.
Intention the same as chance.
Wandering a cold field in winter.
Warm fire of human intention.
A made thing at hand.
Rocks and gravel, stones.
Tree and river.
Factory ghosts, human plans erased by time.
Archaeology of collapse.
Fragments of use.
Rusted and broken.
Pieces of meaning
Paperback, I mean. A day late and a dollar short as usual, let me nevertheless announce the appearance on June 30 of the Killer Year gang in mass market paperback. (In addition to many short fiction masterpieces by my Killer Year colleagues, it contains the only Johnny LoDuco short story in existence.)
From the blog of the estimable JT Ellison:
Such great new from our friends at St. Martin’s Press — KILLER YEAR, the ultimate anthology of debut authors from the crime fiction class of 2007, has been reissued today in mass market, with a snazzy new cover and some updates inside. And for the first time ever, there is an audio edition! It is so cool to see this little project back in print and better than ever. Grab yours today!
A collection of killer stories from some of today’s hottest crime fiction writers, edited by grandmaster and #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child. Killer Year is a group of thirteen authors whose first novels were published in the year 2007. Now, each member of this widely-praised organization has written a story with his or her own unique twist on the world of crime. Each entry in this one-of-a-kind collection is introduced by the author’s Killer Year mentor, including bestselling authors James Rollins, Tess Gerritsen, and Jeffery Deaver. Other contributors—of original stories, essays, and commentary—include acclaimed veterans Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan, Duane Swierczynski, Laura Lippman, and M.J. Rose. This is an book/audiobook that no fan of the genre can do without.
This one-of-a-kind anthology features stories from members of Killer Year, who were all fresh-faced debut authors in 2007:
And words from some seasoned vets:
The reviews are super, too:
“The disturbingly good new talent showcased in this volume bodes well for the future of the genre.” — Publishers Weekly
“The mentors’ introductions to these stories, plus brief biographies at the end, should entice readers to longer works by these promising new authors. Even amid a recent rash of anthologies in the genre, this one is well worth a look.” — Library Journal
Gems come from the 13 Killer Year members…. Remarkably for a collection this ample, there’s no sign of a clinker.” — Kirkus Reviews
Killer Year is a group of 13 debut crime/mystery/suspense authors whose books were first published in 2007. The graduating class included such rising stars as Robert Gregory Browne, Toni McGee Causey, Marcus Sakey, Derek Nikitas, Marc Lecard, JT Ellison, Brett Battles, Jason Pinter, Bill Cameron, Sean Chercover, Patry Francis, Gregg Olsen, and David White. Each of the short stories displaying their talents are introduced by their Killer Year mentors, some of which include bestselling authors Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Jeffrey Deaver, with additional stories by Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan and Duane Swierczynski. Bestselling authors Laura Lippman and MJ Rose contribute insightful essays. Inside you’ll read about a small-time crook in over his head, a story told backwards with a heroine not to be messed with, a tale of boys and the trouble they will get into over a girl, and many more stories of the highest caliber in murder, mayhem, and sheer entertainment. This amazing anthology, edited by the grandmaster Lee Child, is sure to garner lots of attention and keep readers coming back for more.
The onion parts where the knife greets it,
Falling away in rings that pile
On the board and sting your eyes. Then
Take up the greens in a bundle,
Hold them ready for the cut,
Keeping them all together so that
They may be sliced at once
With no falling away, no defections.
Cut them fine, so that everywhere
There will be a trace of their presence.
Garlic next, the thinnest lengthwise slice
To make available the subtle tang and savor
That trumps all other flavors and makes them sing.
Then the hot peppers, their fire banked
When the seeds that contain it are removed,
Are cut in strips.
Last take the flayed papaya, undressed, revealed
In its bare flesh, running with juice
Begging to be bitten, cut into, eaten
But now merely made ready in small sections
To better absorb the flavor of its companions
Swimming in the liquor then added
Alive and changing everything to itself
Teaching the merely perishable how to last,
To become more than it might have been,
I’m aware of the long and tortuous path to making a movie, heard all the horror stories of production hell, how few projects make it to film, etc., etc. But I’m excited to think of Johnny and Vinnie walking around on a silver screen somewhere, and am glad the book is in good hands. I can’t wait to see what they make of it.
Lately I’ve been giving in to the urge to acquire old children’s books. I’ve always loved books for children, love to read them, and have randomly acquired a few over the years. But now that I’ve been writing stories with kids in mind, these books take on a new salience. Or so I tell myself. (At least, it’s another excuse to buy more books.)
George MacDonald was an incredibly prolific writer of novels and children’s stories, and is, along with William Morris, one of the most important ancestors of modern fantasy. His novels Phantastes and Lilith are inflection points in the history of fantasy.
His children’s books are true wonders. The title alone of At the Back of the North Wind is worth a stack of most modern paperback fantasy.
The Brit paperback of The Princess and the Curdie I found last week in an Ann Arbor thrift shop is not really “collectable,” but nevertheless a great pleasure to me. It’s in good shape, with color covers front and back by illustrator Helen Stratton .
Here’s a sample of MacDonald, from the first page of the book:
“A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old time, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them—and what people hate they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me they are beautiful terrors.
I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight—that is what it is.”
Books, libraries, printed matter of all descriptions: newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, clippings. I accumulate print, in any and all forms. I live in print, in old yellowed newspapers saved for articles I can barely remember reading, but am pleased and engaged to rediscover.
You learn something about yourself from having to pack and then unpack a lifetime’s accumulation of books. I don’t mean you learn about your own reading preferences; there were no surprises there. But you learn truths, things about yourself that you never knew, or never admitted.
Poets, beloved poets. My books vote by their presence, and wornness. I have every book of poems Denise Levertov published except her very first, have many of her essays and critical pieces as well. And I have read the covers off some. I return to her often. When I find myself needing the jolt into a new thinking that poetry provides, yet can’t settle on one particular poet, it’s often her I default to. And though I’ve read and re read her countless times, I can still find that jolt, that surprising movement, that instant clarification of thought, in her poems.
I also have nearly everything Charles Olson published. But apparently I have only read them once. Bindings are still tight; I don’t remember most of the poems ( I read and re read the ones in Allen’s anthology, tho). I tend to read the same ones over and over: The Kingfisher. I Maximus of Dogtown. I’m busy making up for this neglect, digging back into the poems. And it’s rewarding and stimulating, since it’s like, and in many cases is, reading them for the first time.
Who do I go back to? In instant need: Doc Williams above all. Also Creeley. Max Jacob. Gerard de Nerval. Hayden Carruth. Levertov, as above. Often Philip Lamantia, his first book. Gael
Turnbull. These are the first responders to my poetic emergencies.
Like many readers, I make piles of books-being-read, or intended to be read. And these accidental anthologies can be revealing. Looking over a book-henge by my reading chair once, I found poems by Pam Rehm, Fanny Howe, Peter O’Leary, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and, at the very bottom, The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. Uh-oh, I thought, is there a late life conversion waiting in the wings? Unconscious mind, I said, we need to have a talk. After close and careful self interrogation, tho, the many things that have always kept me from Catholicism—its pervasive authoritarianism, an obsession with the psychodrama of the Passion, etc.—are still there and still salient. And at base I can’t believe in absurdities. (Rexroth said the same thing, somewhere). Yet in these writers I find a spiritual insight, struggle and questing not to be found anywhere else (in English, anyway).
The books come out of the boxes, and the order I once had them in, which had its own meaning, is torn apart and atomized, further ripped apart by taking books out in yet a different order. Yet this stripping away of former nets of relation allows each book to be seen by itself, freshly. As I take them out and put them on the floor, forming accidental new orders there in unsteady towers, I plan new arrangements, new orderings, new relations, perhaps never to be realized. I could spend all my time arrangeing and re arranging my library, and never read an individual book again. but I know them all so well, each individual book is like a word in a vocabulary of reading stretching back to my very first books.
And I still have those, or some of them, anyway. A sturdy red binding on a book of farm animal stories, never my most favorite, but loved, and seemingly undamaged by time. My first book of fairy tales, missing its picture of the witch from Hansel and Gretel, which I made my mother tear out. That picture terrified me. She would read these stories to me, and as we got closer and closer to Hansel and Gretel I could feel my anxiety mounting. I wouldn’t let her turn that page. And finally it had to be removed so that we could read the rest of the book.
Whatever happened to the Littles? Doll-sized beings, I think perhaps the denizens of someone’s doll house, who came alive when unobserved. They had a strange, rubbery, insistent presence for me, somehow disturbing, ultimately sexual but I can’t think why. Tiny sex toys? Incarnation of suppressed desires? At that age I cannot have had many (tho sexuality starts younger than most people like to admit).
Some books of course have vanished in time, blown away like dandelion heads (does anyone actually throw a book into the garbage? Shouldn’t they at least be burned or buried or given some means of dignified disposal?)