Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Dialogue on Drunkenness

Randy: What would you do if someone whacked Ninx?

Vineguard: Pardon?

Randy: Hypothetically. And she wasn’t around for you to glom on anymore.

Vineguard: It wouldn’t happen.

Randy: Hypothetically, it happened.

Vineguard: Hypothetically, I stopped it. I beat the assassin about the head and shoulders.

Randy: But let’s say there’s five assassins. You’re knocking around the first four, but then the fifth whacks her.

Vineguard: That’s preposterous. She’d strike him in the neck, or crush him between boulders.

Randy: Nine assassins. And you knock around the first four, and she knocks around the other four. But the ninth slips past you both and shanks her. One poke, one kill, quick as anything.

Vineguard: Neither of us saw him?

Randy: He was very good. She was very dead.

Vineguard: She’ll love knowing you think about these things.

Randy: So what would you do?

Vineguard: Where we you for this?

Randy: Oh, drunk. Very drunk. Slept through it like a coma.

Vineguard: That does seem plausible.

Randy: So? What would you do if the ninth guy whacked her?
Vineguard: I’d imagine I’d kill him on the spot. Cut him into… five even pieces? Hypothetically.

Randy: I mean with your life, you sissy.

Vineguard: I’d mourn her. Collect her remains, observe her family’s funeral rituals. Visit her mother and sisters, make peace.

Randy: A little late to win them over.

Vineguard: Gather any remaining plans she had for heists. Carry them off, perhaps mark her resting place with the prizes, except those too garish.

Randy: You’d spend the rest of your life decorating her?

Vineguard: I imagine I’d live longer than that. With all her remaining heists carried out, I presume enough time would elapse to find the genealogies of the nine assassins who attacked us on the hypothetical day. They themselves would be long-rotten, but they would have families. Parents, spouses, siblings, spawn, assorted aunts, uncles and grandparents.

Randy: …What?

Vineguard: Surely they weren’t immaculately conceived. With the genealogies mapped, it would only be a matter of finding their localities. I would start with those most dearly and closely related, in that priority, and execute everyone in their localities.

Randy: Hold on. Hold on. “Everyone?”

Vineguard: Unless they lived solitary lives, I presume there would be other folk around.

Randy: Innocent people?

Vineguard: True love does not short-sell.

Randy: And you’re not afraid a militia’s going to stop you?

Vineguard: No, because it’s not going to happen.

Randy: You would go after militias that never did anything to you just because someone stabbed her?

Vineguard: They’d have to go first, being practical. Strike a few hours after midnight when the watch is flagging and the sleepers are not yet rested. After that, fairly certain I would have the skill. If they took my life, then so be it. Otherwise, old age would have it.

Randy: You don’t know how to make hypothethicals fun, do you?

Vineguard: Of course I do. Don’t get drunk, Randy. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Only Thing Worse is the Cure, Finale

This is the conclusion of a weekly serial. You can begin at Part 1 here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, step onto this platform and experience the last miracle of the Modern Age! I tell you that I was born with one lung and a withered leg, yet today I stand as tall before you and with as deep a voice as any among us. You must be asking yourselves: why is he so firm for an invalid?

I answer you: it is the dust I have for sale in these here jars. Take a pinch of it in your tea. Wrap it with your tobacco, or rub it into your gums. It works in all mysterious ways, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I have made it affordable because miracles ought to be affordable. You can taste the quality.

Who would sample these wares? The first miracle is free. Yes, yes, the Young Madame has the intrepid spirit, and may I say, that is a distinguished parasol. Here you are. Yes, into the gums, or past them, whatever is your fancy.

There we are. And how does the Young Madame feel?

What’s that?


Do the ashes not possess a certain savoriness? Yes? Maybe? You say…?

A yearning! Yes, I like that. The Young Madame is right – these invigorating ashes do possess a certain yearning! That is the very verb that stirred my being when I first crossed them, and you all must be asking yourselves: from whence did this Gentleman retrieve his miracle ashes?

I was traveling along the coast for mercantile industry when I spied a thousand ribbons of smoke rising to the heavens, and followed them unto a peculiar beach, upon which there lay the wreckage of a flock of ships. A veritable flock, I tell you. Not one, nor two – fifteen if there were five, all mashed up together among the shoals. What a storm must have squalled those men, what holy war at sea, I dare not imagine, and naught to help them save an island with a few shanties offshore, and it with no lighthouse. You’d think such a colony would want to help sailors in such need.

Now these ribbons of smoke had not emanated from the ruined ships. So afeared of another war in these plagued times, I hesitated upon the beach and trampled a fine suit of clothes. Then another. Another, and another – perhaps several hundred pairs of shirts and pantaloons, and guns as any nation would envy, all splayed out as though an army had mounted there, and decided to call off its war, instead stripping its uniforms in favor of a swim. This militia of fashion formed a crescent around the beach, leaving a single bald patch, where there lay a simple sack cloth, as a monk might wear. It was pierced at least thrice with shot, though worry not, for there was no blood. In its place?

For within the sack cloth, I took a handful of ash, and lo, I had never breathed so painlessly in my life as when I held it. The two juniors I had with me also claimed to have lost acute tooth pain an amorous predilections, and they have taken more jars of these ashes for sale in the north, and perhaps to Jerusalem. Smelling char about the sack cloth and the sailor uniforms, we set about examining them, and found indeed all those ribbons of smoke had risen from this spot, and that such miracle ash was deposited within the collar of every uniform on the beach.

Ladies and gentlemen, my news may disturb, yet it is indisputable: the Rapture had come upon us, and few were called. Those few gave unto us one sweet parting gift, a gift which grants health that you have witnessed both in myself, and in this Young Madame who, as you can see and she can attest, has improved in constitution during the brevity of my tale. They possess, as she called it, that certain yearning. That we were not summoned does not mean we are forsaken, for these ashes can be the path to a better life. And I am selling them by the tenth-pound. Now what do you offer?


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Neuropathy, a Stroke, and While I'll Be Gone for a While

Wednesday was not the day I bargained for. The neurologist has no theory on why my legs are losing feeling or motion. Her best advice was to stop crossing my legs since that might be damaging circulation - even though the tests she held her in hands said there was no such damage. Even as I went in for the consultation, I joked that this wasn't so bad. There are, in fact, many worse things in the world than losing use of a limb or two.

God didn't think I was sincere enough.

I came home to discover my grandmother had collapsed, gone to emergency and was in hospice care. Was it a stroke or heart attack? Complications from influenza? My sister didn't know, but had heard she was so disoriented that they suspected acute dementia. At 95, anything is serious.

Old friends of mine know that I hate Easter because my grandfather died on it, just a few months before I was born. I'm named for him, which always feels like a crumby legacy this time of year. Now my grandmother might go out on the same holiday.

I'll be gone for a few days. My #fridayflash is already cued, the finale for The Only Thing Worse is the Cure. I had the first three A-to-Z Challenge entries set, too, so daily posting will go on without me, though I may miss the beginning of the blog hop. The composition end is all I can hold up right now. I've got to be there for my family.

May you all have splendid weekends. Remember that it matters less what you haven't done, and matters more what you do for those who remain.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Guilty, Not Guilty

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I don’t see how you can find Nidia guilty. The smallest crime the Prosecution allows will put her in prison for ten years. That is ten years of abuse by guards, cruelty and politics with inmates, an infectious drug culture, and deprivation from the outside world. Inmates are astronomically more likely to commit crimes once they leave jail. Prisons are devastating environments where innocence is shredded. You can’t fix them from the jury box, but you can decide who belongs there.

What is she supposed to learn in jail? That leaving an infant unattended can be fatal? You’ve seen her and heard from her psychiatrist. She needed to spend the first two weeks of this trial under restraints. She learned what was wrong before she turned herself in. There’s nothing to reform about her. There’s nothing about our prison system that is going to make her less likely to harm a child again. She can’t even look at one without going into hysterics.

The Prosecution will not cut a deal. I’m not legally allowed to speculate on the quotas for convictions that is causing him to refuse a plea bargain, but Nidia needs psychiatric care and compassion. Some of you may not want to feel for this woman, and want to punish her for the death she’s caused. She broke one of the most sacred trusts in life: that of a mother to her child. That she’s already suffering doesn’t allay your outrage, and I understand that. But if you convict this broken woman, you are creating a criminal. If you don’t, you’re giving her a chance to one day be able to look at a child without sobbing.

That’s the choice you’ve got today.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bathoom Monologue: Slasher Parody

Has there ever been a Slasher parody where teens realize the virgins in their town are being sacrificed, and so they all throw a party to lose their virginity and become safe? Over and over again, hooded cultists would sneak up on their young victims, only to find them copulating and thus off bounds, forced to slink back into the shadows in depression. Could even climax by whacking the survivor girl, thus summoning Satan, who throws an infernal kegger at which all the surviving horny teens are welcome.

Alternate ending where it turns out they’re all pregnant with Satan. Whoops!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A-to-Z Challenge?

So I'm considering joining to the A-to-Z Challenge this year. Every April this group of bloggers attempts to post every day, corresponding with a letter of the alphabet, and hop around to see each others' progress. While I've been posting daily for years, I've never done an entire month on one theme.

Themes are arbitrary to the challenge, beyond the obvious one of the alphabet. My friend Beverly Fox is going to try blogging about photographs. I've heard someone is going to do dinosaurs, which will at least garner my daily traffic. I want that challenge for the same reason I tried to serialize The Only Thing Worse is the Cure: I don't know how, and I'd like to learn.

The only theme I'm craving, though, is worldbuilding, and particularly exploring the world of my novels. I'm waiting for betas to get back to me and haven't undertaken another huge task yet. So I figure I'll ask you, generous readers: would an April about the A,B,C's of The House That Nobody Built and Last House in the Sky interest you? Getting to know the history of its disasters, its populations of hungry robots and sauropods? Visit not only civilization, but the wilds of The Frontier and The Uncanny Valley? Maintaining that, whatever letters fell on Fridays, would simply force me to write flash fiction for those bits of my world.

I already know that 'A' is for "Apocalypses."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Interview with Chandler Klang Smith

Chandler and I met in the Lit classes of Bennington College. She's been furiously pursuing fiction ever since, and her debut novel has just come out with Chizine Publications. It's unusual take on circuses called Goldenland Past Dark. I'll let her tell you what it's about.

John: For newcomers, what is the plot of Goldenland Past Dark? 
Chandler: Goldenland Past Dark starts out as a coming-of-age story of sorts, about a sixteen-year-old hunchbacked clown named Webern Bell who runs away to join a ramshackle circus lead by his friend and mentor, the ringmaster Dr. Show. Despite his successful escape from home, though, Webern is still haunted by memories of his dark family history, which become creative fuel for the surreal clown acts that come to him in dreams. But when heartbreak, grief, and the reappearance of his sinister sisters send his life into a downward spiral, the already thin line between fantasy and reality blurs, and the world of his imagination threatens to consume him completely.

John: What attracted you to a traveling circus for this novel? Did it start with them, or with a character idea who wound up fitting in one, or something else entirely? 

Chandler: It was a bit of a combination.  Originally, I started out writing stories about Webern Bell's childhood (some of which you can read on my website here), but I always knew I eventually wanted him to become a clown; I just didn't know that part of his life would become the subject of an entire book.

Circuses appeal to me as the subject for fiction because they're families of misfits -- people held together more because of their shared status as outsiders than because of any real commonality with each other. Writing about one gave me a great license to create a variety of characters, and to put them in conflict. I also wanted to explore the practice of a dying art form -- in the 1960's, when the novel is set, the circus was no longer as important to a culture increasingly gravitating toward television and the movies for entertainment.  As a writer, I suppose there's something I identify with about that.

John: There’s a deal of fiction about circuses. Are there any tropes or traditional representations you wanted to explore or subvert? 

Chandler: The big thing I wanted to get away from was the cliche of the creepy clown. John Wayne Gacy and It by Stephen King have created an indeliable impression in people's minds, and that's understandable, but clowning/mime is a form of artistic expression that dates back to the earliest forms of live entertainment, and when you look at performances by greats like Emmett Kelly, Marcel Marceau, and Charlie Chaplin (just to name a few who are easy to find on YouTube), you see that they're able to convey a whole world of expressive emotion within its time-honored constraints.  It strikes me as so dismissive and wrong to look at all that and just say, flatly, "Clowns scare me."

What I do think is spooky about clowning is the same thing that's spooky about any imaginative endeavor: the way it offers escape into an alternative persona and an unreal realm that may seem seductively more appealing than the artist's real life.

What is your favorite thing about the book? 

Chandler: I like Webern's clowning dream sequences; I feel like some of my strongest prose is in there.  I also like his romance with Nepenthe the Lizard Girl, and where it ends up going, but I'll stop there for fear of spoilers.

John: That's fair! So how did you come to work with ChiZine? They’re fantastic. 

Chandler: They are fantastic!  I actually discovered them on the Poets & Writers small press database, and as soon as I started looking at their website, I realized that their aesthetic was right up my alley.  It was a real eureka moment.  For folks reading this at home, I highly recommend checking out any of their other titles, especially Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall, The Inner City by Karen Heuler, Chasing the Dragon by Nick Kaufmann, and Sarah Court by Craig Davidson, just to name a few of my favorites.

John: How is ChiZine helping you promote the novel?

Chandler: I've been doing a bit of a blog tour, and they've been great about getting advance copies to reviewers.  So far I've been reviewed in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, so I'm pleased about that.

John: Were there any key influences on you in writing Goldenland Past Dark?

Chandler: The most important was easily Steven Millhauser; I'm consistently blown away by his ability to translate visual images into luminous, breathtaking prose.  And not just static images either; he can show you a magic trick, a knife-throwing act, a Saturday morning cartoon, all with a grace and eloquence that feels just effortless. 

I was also definitely influenced by Angela Carter, particularly her stupendous novels The Magic Toyshop and Nights at the Circus.  And I owe a debt to The Tin Drum, with its similarly stunted protagonist.

This is your debut novel. I'd love to wrap up asking: do you know what’s next for you?

Chandler: Another novel, about an alternative reality version of New York City under constant attack by dragons.  You can read a short excerpt from it here.

In addition to bringing an excerpt of her next novel, Chandler is also running a giveaway for Goldenland Past Dark. You can enter for free right here.
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