Clay Byars is the guest. His memoir Will & I is available from FSG Originals.

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For Anthony Madrid

 

When my footsteps dream me down a street night to the art gallery,
I am wreathes of conjecture among all my salty, caustic alphabets.

In the bright, warm gallery, plastic is the new black is the new gold.
My act is strict. But if anyone asks, it was I who let in the birds.

I’d rather have dogs, but here, birds give my gestures meaning.
They are my only mirror, while I play at godliness in the sun going.

When I am full-bright, in my gate, art goes and goes.
Its path my path parallel. We touch our hands and weep.

 

This is a comic.

Not really. But okay.

Comics aren’t Media Mail.

What?

Go across the street, right there. To the comics store. They’ll tell you. They do all their comics parcel post.

But these don’t have advertisements.

It doesn’t matter.

So a book of pictures isn’t Media Mail but a book of words is? Is that it?

Yes.

But these have pictures and words.

[pause] Hmm. Hey, Diane, would you look at this?

[Postal worker #2 approaches the counter.] This isn’t a comic, Fran, it’s more like a graphic novel.

What? What’s the difference?

This has a story, and the pictures compliment the story. As opposed to the story and the pictures going together, and it being mostly pictures.

[Customer] This is really becoming a larger discussion about literary genre.

[Postal workers stare blankly.]

Never mind.

[Postal worker #2 walks away.]

[Postal worker #1] Okay, listen. I’m going to have to talk to someone about this. I mean, not now. But over the next few days. Media Mail… It’s meant to be educational, is the thing. It’s a special rate for educational materials. Is this educational?

Yes.

Really. What’s the education here?

That everything is going to be okay. Shit gets fucked up sometimes, but it’s going to be okay.

That’s the message?

Yes.

[pause] That’s a nice message.

Thank you. So can we send it Media? I mean, it’s a box of books.

See, like a CD. A music CD. That’s Media. But a DVD with a video game… that’s not. It gets confusing.

It’s a box of books. It’s addressed to—

Just because they’re going to a bookstore doesn’t mean they’re books. Because, okay. Say you have a book about playing a card game, and the book comes with a deck of cards. That’s not Media anymore. That’s something else. I have to explain this to people all the time.

But—I’ve been mailing books Media Mail for 20 years. They’re… words. On a page. Printed. Bound. These are books. With words. I don’t—

Just because you’ve been doing something a long time doesn’t mean it’s right.

[Customer purses lips in frustration.]

See, we just don’t know. People these days are taking photos and making those photo books—what are they called, where they put the photos and bind them into a book? You know what I’m talking about?

[pause] I’m not really interested in—

Photos?

Right.

Anyway, they put these photos into a book and have them bound, and then they want to ship them Media Mail. But it’s not Media Mail. Do you see what I’m saying? It gets confusing. I’ve been working here ten years, and I still don’t—I mean, you wouldn’t believe the stuff people come up with. So I’ll have to check on this. I’ll have to check on it and get back to you.

[Customer exhales.] Okay. Fine. I just don’t—

We might be able to, I don’t know. We could mail them Media, just this once. But then I’ll have to check on it. For the future. But you have to understand—

Okay. That would be great.

you have to understand, it’s complicated.

It sounds very complicated.

People don’t get it. They come in here, and they want to ship Media Mail, and… But you understand? What I’m saying?

Yes. I understand.

Okay. As long as you—we can do it this once. Because I’m not sure. You’ve been very patient. People aren’t always so patient. It gets so confusing, and they just—I don’t know. They just don’t understand.

Lauren Haldeman is the guest. Her new poetry collection, Instead of Dying, is available now from The Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University. It is the winner of the Colorado Prize for Poetry.

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“Blue the Dog, stay.”

The girl was trying to vomit again, retching, and Blue the Dog was worried, whining with that little huffing noise, his nostrils flaring, his big tail smacking against the leg of the table. The girl had been puking on and off for about an hour, and now, worse, she lay suffering on my porch sofa. I held a cup of spring water to her lips so she could sip, but she wasn’t keeping down even a dribble—her body was being hateful, and making not to stop. She couldn’t calm her singleness: the toxins must be deep in her cells.

 

1.  Choose a horrific moment in history you know little about, in a country, Argentina, you know little about, but which seems to have troubling similarities to the here and now. Research for years. Images from the Dirty War sear into your mind.

 

2.  Learn that Hemingway wrote novels at the pace of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence if need be. You’re no Hemingway, but it seems pretty reasonable. Buy a marble composition notebook. Stare at the blank page. Treat yourself to a cheap book of Dover Art stickers. Stick a Chagall painting on a blank page. Stare. The painting makes a nice dent in the white space. A box to write around.

 

3.  Repeat this process every day for the next few years. Chagall, Modigliani, and Kandinsky speak to your project more than other painters, fueling your three main characters. You don’t know why, but whatever works, right?

 

4.  Worry the 300-word chunks aren’t quite stitching together. Someone in your writing group calls your protagonist a cipher. You’re afraid to ask if that is good or bad.

 

How?

I got my heart broken and tried to fix it by sitting down in front of an empty Word Document.  It didn’t work.

How do you feel?

Tired.

How do you feel now that Inside/Out is out?

Now playing on the Otherppl podcast, a conversation with Daniel A. Hoyt, author of the novel This Book Is Not For You, available from Dzanc Books. It is the winner of the inaugural Dzanc Fiction Prize and the official December pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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On May 4, 2006, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency published a list essay by Dan Wiencek called “Thirteen Writing Prompts.” Prompt #1: “Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.”

Set go.

***

[We are off, off, off, off, off Broadway.  We are actually in New Jersey.]

Overture: “Frankie and Johnnie,” by Sam Cooke  (YouTube video version.) [Audience hopefully sees  Program Note* on the flier provided by Trenton’s Tremendous Pork Roll.]

Act 1, Scene 1, Curtain opens as audience glimpses—through kitchen window—a view of shadowy shapes darting, dishes crashing, unintelligible shouts.

Off Stage Narrator Voice 1 speaks one of the six optional opening line(s), selected nightly per Director’s whim and written In the style of [and with profuse apologies to]:

1. [Ernest Hemingway, “Fifty Grand”] “Brutal, just brutal, like sittin’ ringside watchin’ yer last fifty bucks take a dive with a busted-up loser.”

2. [Carl Sandburg, “Fog”] “Anger comes on feral feet … never moving on.”

3. [Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man] “The problem with putting one and one together is that sometimes you get two and sometimes you get three … and sometimes you get one.”

4. [Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Number 43”] “Who hasn’t loved thee? Let us count the broads.”

5. [Anne Rice, Interview with The Vampire] “Lust is one of those emotions that can stir your blood or suck it. The same can be said of a vampire.”

6. [Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat] “‘It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.’ Anger looms in the shape of the I’ve-Caught-You-Now.”

Off Stage Narrator Voice 2 bellows, menacingly, following above-selected option: “Shut the fuck up!”

Shadowy shapes mute immediately, simultaneous with Scurrying Exit, Stage Left, as lights go down.

 


*Backstage Tech. usually clicks Skip Ad before You Tube sound comes up. Note to audience: If our Tech is a little slow, and a commercial plays, we thank you for suspending your disbelief. Some nights she’s working on homework right up to curtain time.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Patty Schemel and Erin Hosier. Patty was the drummer for the rock band Hole from 1992-98. Her new memoir, Hit So Hard, is available from Da Capo Press.  Erin is her literary agent at Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner; she helped shepherd the book to publication.

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The stories in World Gone Missing all explore a central theme: that people don’t become fully visible until they disappear. What brought that theme about?

The truth is I didn’t pick that theme as much as it picked me. Before I even had a thought of a book in my brain, my brother-in-law went missing. Decades later, sadly, he still hasn’t reappeared. Though the opening story in World Gone Missing“Bigger Than Life”—has a similar through-line, I completely fictionalized the characters and specific plot points. What remains true to life is the feeling you get when a loved one seems to vanish into thin air. The best way I can describe it is a sinking, helpless sensation. As the years wore on, I began to see my brother-in-law in new ways. I appreciated his subtle kindnesses and sharp wit, along with his sometimes brash and irrational nature. Thought I’m not sure this would have changed anything, I wish I could have been more compassionate.

From the short story “Here I Am”

I’m the last thing people imagine when they think of a funeral director. For this late night house call, I’m wearing a purple dress and heels to match; my nails are painted lavender. I’m hardly the dowdy thing in black the family expected.

The son hesitates, but shows me in. First, I verify that their grandmother is in fact dead: breath and pulse, no, and doll’s eye test, negative. The old woman’s eyes roll right along with her head. Though the hospice doctor’s been here and gone, you can’t be too careful in this business. Last week, some guy in Mississippi woke up in a body bag on the embalming table. It was all over the news.

“Violence and the vote“ are huge issues for modern America. But how does The Last Sheriff In Texasthis story of a sheriff’s election in Beeville, Texas, in 1952, provide a metaphor — an explanation — for Trump’s America?

In both instances, voters baffled expectations by putting a highly controversial figure into office, splitting their communities into angry factions, neither able to understand the other. Trump made no secret of his divisive intentions, but he was elected. Sheriff Vail Ennis, despite the fact that he killed seven men, was voted into office time after time.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Bud Smith. His new memoir, Work, is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

This is Bud’s second time on the program. He first appeared in Episode 373, on July 29, 2015.

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Ghosts have always been real. I knew that from my dreams, but I never talked about it because no one else did, so I thought I wasn’t supposed to either. They came to see me in my dreams and sometimes stayed as lingering shadows on the wall when I was awake. The really brave ones got close to me, sitting on my chest and covering my mouth so I felt like I couldn’t scream. Those were the mean ones, the ones that wanted something, but I had nothing but my chicken legs under the blanket. The mean ones scared me, but the regular ones were okay. I tried to think that maybe the regular ones had a good reason to be around, maybe they had lived here too and never wanted to leave. The older I got, the more I was starting to think wasn’t just heaven and hell. Maybe life and death both had in-betweens. I don’t know how that fit in the Bible and being the good Christian boy my momma wanted me to be, but I knew these ghosts had been here. I knew they knew things I didn’t know. They just held their place, waiting.

And the other thing was, I only really saw them at night, before sleep or waking up. Never during the day. Except when I saw Theo’s ghost.

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