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JuliaFierrophotoYou just launched your debut novel, Cutting Teeth, you run The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and you have two children. How do you do it all?

My lifelong insomnia has been a blessing in disguise. I pretty much sleep four hours a night, and am doing my best to ignore conspiracy theories like this, that simultaneously attempt to cut my productivity in half and promise my inevitable doom.

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you abandon all household chores that aren’t absolutely essential. Sure, we’re living in chaos, but mom’s making great progress on her next novel and the number of Sackett Street writers attending classes has doubled in the last three years. It turns out that women can “have it all”—they might be miserably tired, suffer from high blood pressure, and not have enough time to eat well, exercise or have meaningful relationships, but you can do anything when you don’t give yourself a reason not to.

Author, academic, and analyst Mikita Brottman never set out to write bestsellers. She didn’t even set out to write books. However, she has never shied away from exploring her interests, and as a result, has authored 10 books on various subjects ranging from cannibalism to our obsession with celebrity car crashes, with a lot of serious academic theory sprinkled in between. Her latest, 13 Girls (Nine Banded Books, 2012), is a unique look at victims of serial killers. In 13 chapters, each focused on one victim, Brottman creates fictionalized but largely faithful accounts of the murders but with a surprising twist. Instead of the usual “true crime” angle, Brottman presents these crimes through different prisms and perspectives—police transcripts and interviews with coworkers of the victims—bringing the crimes alive and showing how they ripple with various levels of intensity and frequency through the communities they disrupt.

My mother was the one who sent me Donald Ray Pollock’s first book, KNOCKEMSTIFF.  She had heard him on NPR, called me that day and told me about the interview.  Then she read the book and it was all over for her, true love.  It’s sort of like my daughter with Justin Bieber.  KNOCKEMSTIFF is a captivating, extraordinary book that will knock you over but, amazingly, Donald Ray Pollock’s second book, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, is even better.  It was a pleasure to talk to Donald Ray Pollock about his new book.  He is modest, kind, and one of those people whose success makes you happier than it does jealous.

The Education of the Damned

The most successful serial killers are always the boys next door—gentle children of summer, flashing smiles like soft breezes through a park, sharpened knives wrapped in grass-stained Levis. I was akin to these monsters. I was camouflaged and deadly, a viper smiling in the dark.

To be a truly great demon you’ve got to be attractive—no one sensible gets taken in by a goon. I was born with summer-blond hair, a soft evening smile, and the sweetly dark taste of defiance slashed across my lips—a scrawny, scuffed up teddy bear with a voice that could string words like lights across a carnival midway. Believable, that’s what I was: a perfect distraction for the careless mark.

They never saw me coming.

Some of the evil fucks I later ran with were way too ugly to be of any real use. The cops read them like a beacon flashing on a street corner. But not me—the code of the demon, my code, was to fit in, to move from the inside out, to slide into their world, to lodge myself against their love, and then to attack from beneath the skin.

When people refer to demons, they invariably claim we come from the underworld. God, I hate that cliché. It makes us sound like we’re all hanging around in a bondage cavern, trying on leather gear and waiting for tricks. And while I do love the smell of leather and I thoroughly enjoy caves, I tortured people for fun, not profit. The concept of a demon coming from underground is pure shit.

If you want to know where demons truly come from, I’ll tell you: we’re from right here. We exist in a shadow that lies over your world—a kind of transparency of evil that some demented teacher laid out on an overhead projector. We move around you, through you, in you. We are your fathers, your sisters, your lovers. We are your next-door neighbors. We come and go as we please—although it’s a bit harder to leave when we’ve taken residency in a body. The old Hebrews used to call their angels “Those who stand still,” and the name they gave themselves was “Those that walk.” If a demon was ever called anything, it was usually prefaced with a very terrified “Oh my God!”

 

I I I

I think, before we go any further, I should take a moment to clear things up. This is a memoir, not a biography. If you want facts, I suggest you call the local authorities—they’re loaded with trivial information on my human form. If you’re looking for a discography, or yet another failed rocker’s tale, then grab your laptop and pop my name into your search bar—I’ve left a trail of electronic dust from here to Mars. I’m not going to give you those things or comfort you with what you think is the truth. This story isn’t for you—the voyeur feeding on the destruction of a man. This is a story for those that find themselves too far from home, a traveler’s tale of monsters and bad ends. It’s a story for those that think there’s something golden at the end of the road—when there isn’t.

 

I I I

I stepped onto your world in the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1961, but I didn’t stay there long. I was quickly shuttled down to Long Beach—a working-class town chock-full of blue-collared laborers, retired navy men, hustlers, homosexuals, and squares.

My human father was in the military so they’d moved often. He was a junior officer with, at the time, three other children—two boys and a girl. Biologically speaking, I was the sport: a spiritual mutation that crawled out of hell into humanity.

 

 

From the book An American Demon: A Memoir by Jack Grisham

Copyright © Jack Grisham, 2011. Published by ECW Press.

 

The Dark Undone

By D. R. Haney

Memoir

Macbeth

The thought came to me when I was fifteen and trying to sleep on New Year’s Eve. Nothing I recall had happened to incite it. I’d spent the night babysitting my younger siblings while my mother attended a party, and she returned home around one in the morning and everyone went to bed. (My parents had divorced, though they continued to quarrel as if married.) My brother was sleeping in the bunk below mine, and as I stared at the ceiling and listened to the house settle, I thought: Why don’t you go into the kitchen and get a knife and stab your family to death?

Driving across the country always feels like freedom. Music blasting, singing at the top of your lungs to songs you would never begin to admit you have on your iPod, and single-handedly keeping Starbucks in business as the plains of Eastern Oregon and Idaho blur together out the car window at 105 MPH. A good road trip is never hard to find. Every time I take to the open road, I realize I don’t do it enough. It’s the idea of the unknown, new beginnings, adventure, and of course, my unfounded fear of serial killers that keep my foot firmly planted on that gas pedal.

Stories and media tell us that the Pacific Northwest is the favored stomping ground of serial killers. So, were I a logical human being, it would be clear that the apex of my terror, for this road trip, should be in Oregon. The sense of impending doom lay waiting in the thick, lush ground cover and moss. The humidity aiding nature and speeding up decomposition, leading to my untimely outcome. But, no. Not me. Utah is the state that makes my skin crawl. I’ll admit it, I have an irrational fear of Utah. Moreover, I have an irrational fear of serial killers in Utah.

On my latest adventure, I had made it not only through Idaho (which smelled like a port-o-potty vulgarly punctuated by neon beer pong ads), but had also covered a solid portion of the Grand Master Flash anthology, pocket dogs resting soundly in the backseat, night falling around me… A success story in the making. So, you can imagine my horror when I see the sign, flashing its distasteful orange message at me with a sneer: I-80 closed.

This means I have to reroute myself. I can’t drive through Wyoming and continue on into Colorado. I have to drive through the state of Utah.  This wouldn’t be so incredibly bad, but I have no GPS; I also have no sense of direction. Under normal circumstances, my inability to discern my right from left is comical, something that gives everyone a good chuckle, myself included. This time however, I’m alone, in Utah; I’ve gotten off on one of those no-man’s land exits in search of a gas station with wireless internet (or a map, do they still make those paper things?).

For the record, I also have a bizarre fear of Wyoming–it has less to do with having my arms chewed off by some glass-eyed polygamists and more to do with being abducted by rodeo clowns. The latter, for some reason, feels like a much healthier, safer option; I see the result as something that would end up in the pages of Penthouse Forum as opposed to an A&E or History Channel Special titled “The Girl Used as Mulch for Community Garden to Feed Underprivileged Developmentally Disabled Inner City Youth in Mormon Sustainability Project.”

After eighteen hours on the road, I realize there is no way in hell I’m going to get out of the state of Utah before I have to sleep. It’s 1 a.m. I’m exhausted. My eyes are dry and feel like they’re bulging out of my head. My body vibrates from the road, or the coffee, I’m not sure which. I pull into a motel, check in, get the pocket dogs situated in the room and fall into bed. There, I lay awake, waiting to be hacked into tiny bits by some toothless yokel in Green River and served as scrapple to unsuspecting travelers for breakfast. I know this line of thought is getting me nowhere and instead decide to think about what I’m sure every person thinks about while trying to fall asleep under these conditions.

Midget Porn.

I’m enthralled by Midgets, I have always wanted one to live with me, in the small space underneath my stairs. I’d make him, or her, a cute little nest akin to Jeannie’s bottle with a fancy, albeit small, chandelier and furniture from the children’s section. I’m even more intrigued by Midget Porn, which is odd because, as I lay there thinking about it, I realize I have never seen any. It is, however, something that I manage to work into conversations, and I think, is always a fun dinner party topic. As I wait for the serial killers to bust down my door and slice me to death with Post-It’s, I grab my laptop and start surfing. I can see the headline now: “Woman Abducted from Green River Hotel While Surfing Midget Porn.” My mom will be so proud.

Even my sister has seen little people porn. She and her boyfriend were having a date night, the kids had been dispersed to friends houses for the evening. Apparently, some of the neighbors got wind of this, and as a gag, left a bag full of Midget Porn, or Dwarf Porn as she refers to it, on her doorstep. Rang the doorbell and just ran off. As she tells me this I laugh, never revealing my secret desire to ask her what she did with said porn.

As Doug Stanhope says, “Midget porn is the comic relief porn you look at after you’ve just jacked off to something really uncomfortable.” You have to understand: I’ve never really thought about Midget Porn as particularly arousing (and yes, I do read Playboy for the articles, thank you very much… Doesn’t everyone?), but as more of a curiosity, like Supercross or The Polyphonic Spree. I like to think of myself as worldly, in my own special way, a countercultural anthropologist, if you will.

I finally get some of what I imagine to be quality midget porn on the laptop, or as quality as you can get without relinquishing your credit card information. Much like all things in life you think you love or desire so much that it hurts, until you get them in your possession: deep fried Twinkies, a pet pony, Jake Ryan. You realize, sadly, you should have left well enough alone. That the romantic mythology is so much better.

With tired eyes I watch a man enter a hotel room, wheeling his suitcase behind him. He opens his luggage and out pops an abbreviated woman with hair the size of her person and yellow as Big Bird, rigged out in cheap lingerie. I laugh audibly at the squished little lady and worry a bit since the majority of him is of regular stature. I have to cover my eyes as he places her on the bed. Those truncated little legs in garters are way more than my highway addled mind can bear. I can’t take it. Those puffy little fuckers creep me out. There I sit, in my underwear and wife-beater, on a scratchy bedspread in a cheap motel room in Bum-fuck Utah. With my eyes pressed closed, covered by my hands, I have to wonder: did I watch The Wizard of Oz and Under the Rainbow too many times as a child? Maybe spending all those Thanksgiving Holidays watching the movie Freaks is to blame.

I snap my laptop shut, lay down under the cardboard cleverly disguising itself as sheets, and as I close my eyes I see my suitcase glaring at me from across the room. I try to drift off to sleep before a scantily clad, pint sized serial killer pops out of my suitcase of doom and takes me away.

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An open letter to Julie, the girl who dumped me right after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded:


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Dear Julie,

We dated briefly in the fifth grade, and on January 28, 1986, you broke up with me. We were sitting in the Presentation Area, adjacent the library, and we had just finished watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. It ascended from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and seventy-three seconds later, the whole thing went up in a massive fireball, killing everyone aboard. The room was silent, and our teachers started crying. And then your friend Marianne walked over to me and handed me a note that said, “Hey … You’re dumped.”

I’m not the type to hold a grudge or anything, but I always felt like that was really insensitive timing.

Cordially,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to Jeffrey Dahmer:


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Dear Jeffrey,

You worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the early 1980s. I read about it somewhere not too long after you were bludgeoned to death in prison. My second-grade class went on a field trip to the Ambrosia factory in 1982. I often wonder if you were there at the time of my visit. I wonder if we saw each other in the hallway or something. And naturally, I wonder if you looked at me and decided that you wanted to eat me and keep my skull as a souvenir.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to John Walker Lindh:


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Dear John,

You were born in 1981. Whenever I hear of adults who were born in the 1980s, it makes me feel old. You’re twenty-six now. And you’re in prison. I can’t think of anything worse than being twenty-six and in prison. I hope you’re not going insane.

I just reread your personal history online, and I have to admit, I find it pretty stunning. It’s hard to believe you started off in Marin County and wound up fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a massive statistical unlikelihood—which I suppose is part of the reason why you did it. For a teenager raised in Mill Valley, moving to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban has got to be the ultimate in youthful rebellion.

You must have been really pissed off at your parents.

At the time of your arrest, you were twenty years old.

When I was twenty, I was taking bong hits in a Boulder basement, listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

People, generally speaking, are pretty stupid at the age of twenty. I know I certainly was. And I imagine that you were, too.

To be honest, I think you might have set some kind of record for misguided youthful indiscretion. If there were some sort of measuring device that could calculate this kind of thing, I’m almost certain that you’d rank right up near the top.

A lot of my friends lost their shit in college, but nobody grew a beard and moved to Afghanistan.

Kindest regards,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Forty is the new twenty.