My Daily Rituals

I perform a fair amount of magick on a regular basis and this post, the first of several, is about the weird woo-woo I do on a daily. My inspiration comes from a teacher of mine, Andrieh Vitimus, who sponsors these 30 day magical challenges to encourage folks to actually “do the goddam magick,” as he frequently exhorts, every dammed day for a whole month. The results of diligent practice are staggering. I have benefitted from several of these month-long challenges. Though I am not officially participating in this month, flipping the calendar is a good opportunity to catalogue my crazy.

Some of the daily magick I perform is knit into everyday activities. By investing those tasks with a little extra intention, I underline a meaning I am willing into the world. For instance, when I take a crap, I consciously recite: “I release that which no longer serves.” When I take a shower, I consciously cleanse away all stray energy from the past day or that might have attached to me during my dream travels. I use an organic peppermint soap with gives a bit of a tingle, a “magical” delight. Some folks say a brief blessing before their meals, imbuing their food with a quality that they then consciously ingest and thus “invoke.” I try to do something similar at work, usually a for bit of peace, since I find it too easy to grab a bite while typing messages.

Other bits of my daily practice are more out there. I do a three-card tarot reading to prepare me for the kinds of energy I’ll need for the day. I record the results in a journal, which I think is ESSENTIAL. Without plans and records, magick becomes wishful thinking and dangerous self-delusion. If I sense that a certain card has been popping up regularly, I can consult my record and determine if the data agrees. Then I journal for a few moments about what the spread or pattern might mean. I eventually want to put this data in a spreadsheet to see if any larger patterns emerge. (I am so very sure I’ll have the extra time to do this Any Day Now /sarcasm.) Since I’m sure someone will ask, I use a Rider-Waite-Smith deck for the “light” side of the year since I find that imagery clear and direct and I use a Valenza “Deviant Moon” deck for the “dark side” since I find that imagery more dreamy.

Since the 2016 election, I also draw a card for the nation. I use a very experimental deck for this draw, the Hexen 2.0 deck. It is as much a conceptual art project as it is an oracle since the deck references political, technological and cultural figures. This particular deck was a demo, which means that it was handled by many different hands, picking up tray bits of many people’s energy. This communal power is important for the political readings I’m doing with the deck. I must confess I am having a hard time warming to this oracle. I am unfamiliar with many of the figures on the cards — which is shocking since I consider myself rather hip to alternative thought. This daily practice is building “mojo” for a larger-scale political working, likely to occur on July 4th.

Most days, I also perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. I took a workshop about this ritual at Convocation 2016 and found it so powerful, I took a refresher course in summer of 2016. I have performed it most days since July with only a handful of exceptions. This daily repetition has created a great sense of comfort and lent an intensity to the visualizations and in response, I have personalized the ritual more than a bit. My reflections on the LBRP are many and deserve their own post. Your Mileage Will Most Assuredly Vary.

Though I perform other bits of intentional energy work several times a week, so frequently they are *almost* daily, these are the core of my essential everyday practice. The particular items on this list change over time. For instance, I used to track the phases of the moon by moving a crystal ball across my dresser top altar. When I started hosting a monthly Fire Ceremony on each full moon, this daily task seemed a little redundant. Though I may stop a specific practice, I am ALWAYS doing SOMETHING MAGICK every day. And I encourage you to do the same. Try some magick every day for a month. If you need support in this work, check out Andrieh Vitimus’ Magical30. And if you’re up for a real challenge, take his Shapeshifting 365 class for some truly staggering transformations in your life.

#domagick

Self-critique: Little Piggie(s)

Early piglet (comparison)

These two paintings were done about a month apart, both from the same reference photo. The comparison between them is instructive in that reminds me of how far I’ve come in just a few weeks.

When I completed the blue pig, I felt a sense of triumph. I had captured the likeness of the source photo and I’d worked through a couple rough spots where I really didn’t know what I was doing. In particular, the shadow was too light and gave the sense that it was floating over the background. I darkened it and the piglet settled onto the background a bit but not entirely. The composition isn’t horrible either though I think it is a bit low. I was proud of that piece.

Until I painted the yellow one, shown here on top. The brush strokes are far more confident. The composition, I think, is better, more dynamic since the legs and their shadow lightly challenge the bottom of the frame. The skull has a clearer sculptural sense, and the form of the skeleton is less generic than in the first attempt. But my favorite part of the yellow piglet is the rib cage. Where I had carefully — and rather inaccurately — tried to depict each individual rib in the first painting, in the yellow painting, the ribs are more a mass, as they are in the source but with better use of light. The shadows are wrong but less wrong than in the first attempt. The rear legs actually do lift off the surface and I think I achieve that sense, though I made a mistake with scumbling white to get the effect. I think I even prefer the under developed background of the yellow piece to the fussy blue “wall paper” of the blue piece. The mottled blue is almost more interesting than the piglet in the earlier attempt.

To be clear: I am not claiming that either piece is “good.” Both are just sketches, completed in a little over an hour. Part of learning a skill is learning the ability to observe one’s own performance in order to advance. I intend to get as good at painting in 2016 as I got at making omlettes in 2015.

Scary Movie from Childhood

Andrea Johnson over at SFSignal asked me about a children’s movie that scared the bejesus out of me and I replied thusly. Check it out at the SFSignal site.

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2015/10/mind-meld-more-childrens-movies-that-scared-the-bejesus-out-of-us/

The Wizard of Oz scared me, then later thrilled me and has become my favorite movie of all time, able to repay the dozens of times I’ve watched it. I first saw it on our family’s black and white TV, and made sure to see it again every year when it was shown again. I recall it being around Easter. I remember the first time I was able to watch it all the way through, without leaving the room or covering my eyes at certain parts.

The Wicked Witch of the West, of course, is terrifying. Unlike the adults in my own childhood, who were vaguely benign, largely inert, immense beings who stifled my will for no particular reason, that green-faced sorceress was a worthy adversary, one who set her magics clearly and precisely against Dorothy. But I found her army of flying monkeys to be the real terror in Oz. Unswervingly obedient, entirely beyond the ability to dissuade through reason, these creatures were pure horror, particularly in that scene where they blacken the skies. “Fly my pretties,” indeed.

The Wizard of Oz produces other delights in me now — hope, wonder, befuddlement at why the heck Dorothy would want to go back to Kansas — but those airborne simians first taught me the joy of being afraid while watching a movie.

Yet Another Cheesy Author Interview

I was tagged by Stephanie Wytovich — poet, professor, editor and someone just too sweet and creepy to refuse — to answer these questions. Fair warning: I am feverish and slightly hallucinating from a nasty chest cold so these responses might be a bit more “truth-y” than is prudent.

Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
I’m not a writer; I just write. In fact, I seriously try to stop writing every couple years. I quit in disgust and desperation, in anger and disappointment. Some days I wish that writing would just leave me the fuck alone. I hate how I have to work a full time job like everyone else but when everyone else is coming home to watch television, or play with their pets or masturbate, I have to write.
But that’s the point: I have to write. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember. Words wrap themselves around the curls inside my brain, sticking there like papier mache, making it hard to think clearly about anything else. And to get a little peace, I have to scrape them out and write them down. Then invariably, I’m drawn into those words, into those narrative shapes. I push them around, tinker with them, arranging them, breaking them, fixing them. If I am diligent and honest and work hard enough, eventually those scraps will get up and walk away on their own and I can have a little peace for a little while.

What genre do you write?
This is a difficult question. Genre seems more about readerly expectation, possibly about marketing, than about “writing,” though I admit those horizons invariably fuse… — Can’t you just shut up with the theory and answer the nice lady’s question? —

“The New Weird” is what I’d prefer, I think. “Horror,” I suppose. “Literary” maybe. I really like the phrase “Magical Realism” but it sounds a bit 1980’s. “Urban Fantasy” but that too often just means stories where the brutal thugs who solve everything with force are female. Possibly “Bizarro.” Yeah, that probably fits best. Bizarro because so few people really know what the hell that means.

Whatever genre that fits Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter, Flannery O’Connor, William Burroughs, Salman Rushdie, Franz Kafka maybe Clive Barker and Caitlyn Kiernan.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
My current work in progress is “Anatomical Models, Astral Bodies,” a collection of supernatural body-horror poetry set at dream carnival. I started writing them a couple years ago when I… OK, so this sounds even crazier than I like to admit… but when I started to dream about this “place.” A darkly innocent urban circus kept popping up in my dreams and meditations, populated by rather heart-wrenching characters. As I continued to “visit” this dream world, I found that I’d joined the show, though not exactly as one of the performers. I seriously thought I’d finished the collection about two months ago and nearly submitted it to a publisher… but those freaks just won’t leave me alone. Evidently, there’s still more to tell.

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
I was in early grade school, so young I couldn’t actually “write.” My mother transcribed a story I told about a lonely little boy who lived on the moon. He lived inside his toys.

What’s the best part about writing?
That point when the world goes away and it’s just the Work and it’s a dance and project and an obsession. It’s surgery and delirium and lockpicking. Time ceases to mean anything. It is the Being that is Becoming. A close second is the sense of relief when the pressure releases, when that tension finally snaps shut and the piece is able to live and breathe on its own.

What’s the worst part about writing?
The sense I’ve betrayed that first inspiration, that I’ll never be able to write well enough to do justice to that initial kick in the gut, that I’ve lapsed into sentimentalism or cliche or some easy way out. The sense that I’ve been invited into a gleaming crystal palace and all I’ve done is track mud onto the white carpet.

What’s the name of your favorite character and why?
Suzanne (protagonist of “Twice Folded Worlds”) She’s more clearly broken than I am but she’s too stupid to give up. She keeps going, keeps kicking at her darkness. Her wounds are the source of her power. I barely feel that I deserve to tell her story.

How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
Morning, long before light, especially in the months between November and March. I am well-rested, my brain freshly stocked with insanity from my overly-vivid dreams. I can just type and type and pray that the sun never rises, that the work day never calls me away. I can usually get an hour or two in. I am constantly amazed at how little I get written during the weekends.

Did you go to college for writing? Or if you haven’t been to college yet, do you plan to?
I went to college because I was born with more questions than the folks around me. I took classes that seemed to respond to these needs and, yes, there were more than a couple writing classes in there. My favorite, possibly, was a playwriting seminar I had with William Hoffman. I ended up with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan concentrating in both English Literature and Philosophy. I later did Master’s and Doctoral work in Philosophical Aesthetics, focusing on German theatre.
But seriously, you never stop learning how to write.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?
Fuck ALL of those “errors.” The worst errors are failure of will, laziness, the cowardice of not following a piece of writing to its honest conclusion. And that doesn’t necessarily mean to a dark place. There is a coy and shallow sarcasm that is boring and lazy, nearly indistinguishable from the yammering of internet trolls. Why do so few writers have the nerve to imagine anything positive?

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
Just do it.

What advice would you give to another writer?
Don’t do it. Run. Run screaming. If you seriously have a choice, do ANYTHING else. Perhaps start a collection of Beanie Babies or a VLOG about high-end footwear.

What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Caitlyn Kiernan’s Livejournal. She is relentlessly, brutally honest about the drudgery and horror of being a full time writer. It would be very easy for me to romanticize that life, to imagine a carefree existence of words and dreams, if I didn’t have to work for The Man.

On the entire other end of the spectrum, Tobias Buckell who is a SF writer and a futurist. He’s unsentimental about the job of writing and often pokes into the actual data of creativity.

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I take things apart and put them back together in cooler, weirder ways. I make masks. I enjoy solving problems, technical, physical, narrative ones. Wood working with hand tools. Gardening. Tai Chi. Meditation. Fighting with Janice.

What is the best book you’ve read this year?
Violet LeVoit’s “I’d Fuck Anything and Stephen Hawking” nearly blew my head off when I read it on the plane coming back from World Horror this year. It was the best thing I’d read in years, that is, until I read her other collection “I am Genghis Cum.”

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
I saw a new print of “Haxan” screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival this year with a live soundtrack provided by Demdike Stare. That movie is still so fresh, so WTF.

What is your favorite book or series of all time?
I think I’ve read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller more times than any other novel. Midnight’s Children by Rushdie also has particularly fond memories as well. Maybe “The Country Between Us” by Caroline Forché. I’m pretty shitty at answering these questions, aren’t I?

Who is your favorite author?
Today at least, it’s Charles Baudelaire. Not just his facility with language and image but the ability to imagine a whole new kind of beauty, to crack open cultural expectations.

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
The “year” is nearly done but before January, I need to have edits done on “Til Death: The Horrors and Happy Afters of a Long Relationship,” which is a collection of marriage poems I’ve written with my long-time companion, Janice Leach. This volume will be coming out on Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2016.

I’ve also been trying to screw up the courage to finish a novel, “Twice Folded Worlds.” I’d intended it as a fun romp, about grindhouse sorcery in the days of the Satanic Panic, but it’s stirred up some seriously disturbing personal shit. I’m planning to short-circuit all that gothic bullshit and go NaNoWriMo on its ass.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll hammer some more on the sex-drug exploitation novella “SEMPx” I originally conceived as a screenplay.

Where else can we find you online?
Well, you’re likely reading this at my blog, http://jamesfrederickleach.com
Instagram: GrimGnome13
I’m contributing editor and Cheif Fear-Monger at http://DailyNightmare.com which celebrates Midwest Snob Horror
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jim.leach

The Writers are in the Bar

I’m still glowing from Back to the Confusion (2015), So many great people, so many explosively creative ideas. I just started going to conventions in 2012 and that year’s Epic Confusion was my first real con experience. (MoCon IV back in 2009 was technically my first “convention” but that jewel-like gathering is something so very special and wonderful that it doesn’t seem proper to call it a convention.) Though I adore Confusion, this is the first one I feel I really did “right” and part of that was due to actually listening to something I’d heard said for years: “The writers are in the bar.”

Last year, I remember wishing I could bump into some of the other authors in a casual situation like at a room party and I felt vaguely disappointed that I must have kept missing authors on the room party circuit. I humorously conjectured a super-secret party where the writers hung out. Yeah, “the writers are in the bar.” I’d heard variants of this statement for years but found clever ways to misunderstand. I always figured the classic formulation merely repeated that eye-roll-worthy cliché that “all writers are drunks.” When I heard, for instance, “Look for <Famous Author> in the bar” I took it to be a sour-grapes-y comment about this author’s non-participation in fandom. At the last Context, Jennifer Brozek even mentioned a word to describe this phenomenon, namely “bar con,” or “the practice of connecting with other writers in the bar.” For crying out loud, Maurice Broaddus said he hasn’t paid for a particular convention in years which I initially took to mean he was so famous he was comped. “No,” he corrected me explicitly, “I just hang out in the bar.”

Still, I didn’t grok it.

I am a fan of consciousness, of the mysterious processes surrounding awareness and learning and enlightenment so it’s amusing to me how I “knew” all these things only on the level that I had heard those words, parsed that grammar… and interpreted it all completely wrong.

Until Friday night.

After all the panels had closed but before the room parties cranked up, I took one last stroll around the hotel and found one area crowded with folks. Folks I recognized. Other writers. Until that very instant, I might have argued that the hotel didn’t even have a bar. Come to find out, it had one and that really was where all the writers were.

I stumbled in like Alice into Wonderland, entirely unprepared for what I found. I saw folks who I knew were teetotalers, just hanging around chatting with others. I got it, sort of, namely, they’re not drinking; they’re just “in the bar.” I stammered out a couple embarrassing sentences or two to a few folks. I got to show off my Krampus mask to Mary Robinette Kowal, which was a win. But after one drink, I scurried back to my room.

It was long after my usual bedtime but I must confess, I’m not a “let’s just hang out kind of guy.” The idea of, say, lying on a beach fills me with dread and anxiety. I would far rather be making something, fiddling with something, breaking something. Parties terrify me. Part of this neurosis, one that drew me to writing in the first place, is the sense that I’m only wearing a human-suit, that I don’t even understand how humans interact and that someday, they’ll notice I’m not really like them and they’ll mount up with pitchforks and torches to drive me into an abandoned windmill or something. Nothing feels quite so artificial to me as acting natural.

But on Saturday night, I rolled sixes with my ability to chill. Confusion, like a great dungeon master, assisted in this achievement. At 8:00 PM, I was on a delightful panel about Books and Beer. Steve Drew had done great homework and assembled a nice variety of questions as well as a nice selection of fantasy-themed beer. (Like what? I recall a Smaug Stout  http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/684/134742/?ba=LiquidAmber)

Fellow panelist Michael J. DeLuca brought examples of his homebrew (including a stellar hot pepper and chocolate nib stout). We sipped and pondered topics like Dwarven Ale (what the hell did they have to ferment in those dark tunnels?) and why the Ale-wyfe isn’t a standard character class in more spec fic. The conversation persisted after the panel ended and drifted, oddly enough, bar-ward. Without really noticing what I was doing, I kept chatting about beer and beer-brewing, a topic I feel comfortable with and before I knew it, I was one of those writers in the bar.

Hours rolled by. I chatted with other writers about deadlines, both ones that whiz by and ones that glare down when stacked one after the other. We bantered about sympatico agents and the soul-killing ennuie of searching for that first one. I heard candid commentary on the Clarion and Odyssey writing workshops. We shared our different strategies about how to get those damned words on those blasted pages, including Kameron Hurley’s utterly fascinating idea of hammering out 10,000 words on Saturdays. Gotta try it. Interspersed was more idle speculation about, say, what Mary Robinette Kowal had in her flask (Laphroig, I believe the answer was,) duck feather pillows and whether Desperate Housewives has/should have a fandom.

In other words, I successfully passed for human. Achievement unlocked.

As I re-read this post, I blush at how name-drop-y it sounds. I started to edit out specific identities but darnitall, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Hanging out seems to be about individual persons speaking to other individual persons, whomever they might be, hearing each other, listening and at least sometimes understanding. One enduring value of fan-run conventions, whether it be a moderately large one like ConFusion or a tiny miracle like MoCon, is that meeting folks face to face is fundamentally different from chatting on a computer. I learned more this weekend than in a hundred AMAs or dozens of blog posts.

The writers are in the bar and next Con, I’ll be there too.

“Hard Truth” my 100-word story at HellNotes

“Hard Truth,” my 100-word “quiet horror” tale just went live at HellNotes. No zombies; no guts–just the screaming terror of contemporary life. If you don’t know the site, HellNotes is a great resource for fans of literary horror featuring profiles, interviews and reviews. Recently, though, HellNotes has started a series of “Horror in a Hundred” posts that highlight works of sudden horror.

Meet P0L – my Puppet (Head)

After I played with Kathe Koja’s Nerve puppets (read all about it here) I realized I needed a mechanical boy of my own. These are photos of the process so far. I bought a huge box of a balsa wood many years ago at a warehouse sale but if you don’t have such an embarrassment of riches, you could use the slats from a clementine box. The plan is to cut out cross sections then glue them together into a blank. This process will avoid most actual carving.

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I sketched the shape of the head on 3×5 cards both front and side views. I am not showing all the erasures. I traced it on to the top piece then used a scroll saw to cut it out. I clamped the pieces together with a bull clamp paper clip. The pieces jiggled a bit so the cuts weren’t exact but I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. Here’s a shot of the test assembly.

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I drilled holes just large enough for marbles for the eyes. Then I drilled a smaller bore hole into the face so the eyes could peek out but not fall out. The balas proved too brittle and the upper brows chipped out on both sides. I hope to remedy this problem with eyebrows.

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I started laminating the layers together with white glue. I’d glue up one set and let it cure over night, then I glued up the next layers and let them dry while I was at work. After work tonight I cranked out the random orbital hand sander and smoothed down the jagged edges. Once I had the form roughed in, I switched to a foam abrasive pad.

IMG_4219I’ve got something really clever planned for the neck movement which I’ll explain when I get to making the body.

During the intimate time spent sanding tonight, I learned that this puppet is named P0L, which I think has to do with the huge gaudy orange Paul Klee poster I had in my dorm room as a freshman, though I suspect he’s got a political agenda to act out. Those damned puppets. You pull their strings and still they do whatever they please.

Variably Abled is my Super Power

I describe myself as “variably abled” because my abilities change from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. I continue to be impressed by both the range of these traits as well as how quickly they shift. Sometimes I am gifted with great insights, quick wit, remarkable stamina, nearly a god. Other days, I feel heavier than a paperweight, frequently one that curses its own immobility. Worse, on more than one occasion, I have actively made preparations to kill myself. But rather than focusing on how my conditions have “disabled” me, I remain curious about the special advantages afforded by my “illness.”

I am not typical but I am not convinced entirely that I am “ill.” I might be tempted to embrace the notion of “illness” if my condition could be “cured.” Experts assure me my condition is chronic, life-long.

I embrace my diagnosis of bi-polar depression and though I recognize the power of such medical short-hand to convey information and expectations quickly, it is a seductive power. Just as a map is different from the terrain it describes, a diagnosis can take on a life of its own. I am more interested in living my own life than living out that script. I remember when my therapist applied this diagnosis. I asked her what did it mean to walk down that medicine path. I recall that my question amused her. She was offering a protective garment for me to wear, body armor that would shield me from certain elements, but I was concerned that it was not also a disguise.

Over the centuries, other nouns, equally powerful both proscriptive and descriptive, have been applied to folks with similar conditions. “Possessed,” for instance, captures the sense of powerlessness I’ve felt in the face of my own rage and self-hatred, a ragdoll clamped in the teeth of a beast. But if I am possessed by a demon, it is one with a short attention span. I feel just as frequently empty even of myself.

An appellation I find more productive is “shape shifter.” (A wonderful editorial appeared in the Vandermeer era of Weird Tales that made this same comparison.) I take different forms during my different states. I swear I’m taller on my better days, and I know my memory is sharper. I am able to remember times when I’ve performed well and I’m able to imagine a future with similar successes. On my darker days, I lose several traits typically prized by humans, for instance, language use. One marker I’ve discovered for the onset of depression is when I can no longer read German since I find myself unable to take the little risks necessary to “know” the vocabulary. Depression is as much a crisis of epistemology, of knowledge and knowing what one knows, as it is a crisis of identity.

The lycanthrope metaphor breaks down. It would be a true blessing, however, if I could predict the shape I’d be in by something as regular and externally visible as the cycles of the moon. My metamorphoses occur at nearly any time, frequently with little warning. The medical short hand is “rapid cycling” and occasional “mixed state.”

I also balk a bit at the word “werewolf” for poetic reasons because my alter form spiritually and physically more resembles a bear. Yes, I have an idea of exactly how psychotic that sounds but an odd similarity links visions that are psychotic, prophetic and poetic. (See Kay Redfield Jameson’s Touched with Fire for traits well suited to lyric poets and crazy folk.) Other cultures have roles for folks like me, names like “shamans” or “wizards” alternately revering us or stoning us to death. Names for conditions like mine are valuable not just as self-appellations but also in providing cues as to how we can be most productive in society. We behave differently in the presence of a shaman than we do in the presence of a crazy man, more reverently at least. In this dis-enchanted world, we have lost this sense of reverence even as we’ve gained our skepticism for snake oil.

Though we lack shamans and wizards, American society has a character type for people as variably abled as myself. We call them super heroes. I am not overly a fan of these costumed vigilantes — give me Harvey Pekar or Allison Bechdel for my graphic literature, thank you. But I can relate to the pathos of “mutants” coping with gifts that resemble curses, with attention that quickly turns to condemnation. Who’s to say that our “neurological atypicality” in fact aren’t super powers, perhaps even ones uniquely suited to addressing uniquely contemporary challenges? Perhaps the intent, dispassionate focus of persons on the autism spectrum is a super power to cope with Big Data and the threats it presents to our notion of human autonomy?

One way my condition preps me for a comic book role is like Lucius Fox or James Bond’s “Q” I am a tinker for dark times. I tend to build mechanisms — patterns and habits — that can withstand the worst of my darker days. I joke that I am “strategically lazy” since I build systems that I can operate when I have little steam. To call them labor-saving misses the point; these designs often require far more labor to construct than is ever “saved.” They are post-apocalyptic survival tools because I’ve walked through many a blasted landscape, if only in my mind. Though I have a somewhat twisted ingenuity and delight in ludic rationality, I’m not really The Joker. Isn’t there a better place for me than Arkham Asylum?

But don’t have super powers nor do I live in a comic book. I’m not a wizard or a shaman, not really. I’m not a werewolf/werebear, but I’m also not bi-polar. People aren’t characters any more that we are our diagnoses.

Confessions of the Man Who Knew (FREE .pdf)

IMG_2107I came across this ‘zine I made back 1988 (!) and figured the best way to celebrate my birthday would be to give it away as a free download. Remember, kids, you get what you pay for. (https://gumroad.com/l/sSEo)

A buddy asked me recently if I sold many of these zines back in the day and honestly, I don’t believe I even sold ANY. But that wasn’t the point. If you had made a ‘zine, you had something to trade with others. I had quite a stash as one point of these self-published, paper-based blogs.

I’m not exactly “proud” of this little work, but I still get a kick of how I combined mimeograph and xerox for a two-toned effect. I remember building a lightbox of sorts in order to get the different colors aligned. I was clearly over-impressed with computer graphics, which is a choice I lament. I wish I had hand-drawn or at least hand-lettered this little wonder. I was also delighted to remember that I briefly operated a bumpersticker company called “Threats Midwest.” I had to block out their long outdated P.O.Box info on the last page. It felt good to remember that I’ve been a publisher of fringe-y materials for half my life.

But the most interesting thing is how the sentiments expressed are scary in their prescience. I continue to be a snob, and I still struggle to overcome that snobbery and to recapture my naivete on a daily basis. “Neo-naive,” indeed. But most chilling is that in the quarter of a century since I wrote this zine, I’ve had three close brushes with suicide–all of which involved a noose. I got quite a shock when I saw that sketchy representation on the penultimate page.

If you download this, pay it forward and call your Dad, OK? If that’s not possible, pet a dog, go for a walk or just generally be good to yourself somehow.

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I am almost perfectly one whole week late in answering these questions, which probably says more about me than anything that follows. I was asked to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour by Michael Cieslak of the Dragon’s Roost. If you get nothing else out of this post, at least check out the benefit anthology he’s just edited “Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails”. He and the other folks of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers have given me great support over the past couple years as I’ve transitioned from calling myself a writer of “Literary Fiction” to “Dark Fantasy/Northern Gothic/New Weird /Speculative Fiction.” More aptly put, I now consider myself more a “horror” writer though I continue to write pretty much the same strange stuff I have always written. Meet the new genre; same as the old genre.

But I honestly can’t imagine that anyone would be really all THAT interested in how I write, even those people who like what I write. This isn’t modesty; it’s just a curiosity to me. We don’t assume that folks who like to eat eggs must necessarily like to look up the tail feathers of a chicken to see how they’re made. Evidently some folks must have that predilection, so here goes a look at my “Arse Poetica:”

1) What am I working on?
I have just completed a rousing good draft of a novella, titled “Rent-Beast.” It’s a heart-warming tale of a werewolf sex-worker with high ideals who strays into neo-pagan rituals, demonic possession and the corrosive effects of crappy jobs. And it IS quite heart-warming, because “Rent-Beast” is at its core a love story. Sort of.

I say this in full cognizance of the closing lines of the movie “Ed Wood” but this is the one. This is the one I’ll be remembered for. I realize I’m at that stage of composition where delusions of grandeur often occur, but I sincerely believe this is the work I was meant to write, my great work. It’s about aesthetic theory, identity and the place of art in society. I am also quite deeply horrified by this book. I have told my grown children I will never, ever let them read it, and I am rather happy both my parents are dead, for that matter. Writing “Rent-Beast” has taken more courage than just about anything else I’ve ever written. I sincerely thank David C. Hayes and in particular his deeply twisted little book “Pegged” for this achievement. You’ll scratch your head bald if you look for textual similarities. What David’s work gave me was a sense of permission, permission to follow the tale I had to tell to the darkest, weirdest, hardest places that it lead. You see, David C Hayes appeared to me in a dream, floating over my bed on wings made from the pages of his crazy, repulsive, obsessional stories. I’d fallen to sleep reading “Pegged” his story of a foot-fetishist who goes cold-turkey in the most extreme manner. I don’t recall that this levitating vision said anything, though he gave me a pursed-lip fart-face expression that communicated very clearly. This look asked: Do you want to write “pretty” or do you want to write “real?” For me, at least for “Rent-Beast,” that was a true revelation.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Since I am a relative new comer to dark fantasy/new weird, I’m afraid I track in a lot of the mud and guck of “literary” fiction since it’s stuck to my boots. To be clearest, I *think* I’m writing in whatever genre includes Flannery O’Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlyn Kiernan, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, David Foster Wallace, Alan Moore, Carolyn Forche, Angela Carter, Thomas Pynchon and maybe that guy who wrote House of Leaves, which is the single most scary thing I’ve ever read. Naw, don’t include him; swap in Salman Rushdie. And William Burroughs. Can’t forget the late Burroughs (Cities of the Red Night, Place of the Dead Roads, The Western Lands.)

I also think I am particularly sensitive to location, to the “poetics of place” as I’ve heard it called. I suspect the weirdest, wildest worlds I imagine are all within driving distance of the Great Lakes, even if you might have to hop aboard an interstellar transport or soul-depth pathworking to get there. I am also fascinated by how “horror” reveals facets of the human condition, how these silly “escapist” tales might unexpectedly also provide the antidote for living our lives together through the day to day shit we encounter. And I am fully post-post-modern in that I despise irony, satire, camp… heck even comedy is a hard sell for me. You’ve got to step up to the line, unzipper your chest and put something vital, bloody and beating on the table, IMHO. Life’s too short for quaint, self-knowing winks to the audience.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I live a bi-polar existence, one torn between heart-wrenching beauty and nauseating atrocity. My brain chemistry allows me to notice how we humans are remarkably horrible to each other most of the time yet are also capable of moments of delicacy and grace.

4) How does your writing process work?
5:00 AM, every damned day, me, keyboard and words. Often coffee.

Though that probably doesn’t say enough. It starts with that first sentence, and I don’t mean that facetiously. I carry dozens of story ideas around with me at any given times like pockets of an old suit. Sometimes I’ll over hear a scrap of dialogue and I’ll tuck that away, knowing it’ll appear in the second act of some story or another. Or maybe I’ll squirrel away a particular sensation or some cool “what if” trick of world-building. In a sense, I’m always pickpocketing my life for these treasures. But it doesn’t matter how full my own pockets get, I don’t start writing, I mean REALLY writing until I have the first sentence. At that point, I can turn out my pockets and empty out all the cool trinkets I’ve gathered because I’ve got something to hang them on. There are a couple things I look for in that magical lightning bolt of a sentence too: main character, already beset with a problem, likely the core problem of the story and already making a mess of it. Maybe. Usually that sentence has to be rather pretty with words or intriguing with situation. And, though it only sounds obvious, that first sentence has to occur relatively near the beginning of the actual story. Most things I’ve written–I venture to say, most unpublished things that most people have ever written, don’t start close enough to the beginning of their actual story. Like making a bead necklace, I slip my trinkets on that sentence one after another after another until my magical snake comes to life and bites me.

Then I’ll set it aside at the back of a jewelry box maybe for a few weeks, a couple months and take the thing out, rap its head against the table to see if it’s still alive. If it is, I’ll get out the knives and start revising it. If it’s lucky, it’ll live long enough for me to submit it somewhere.

But that’s just how I write NOW. I went through a whole decade where all I wrote was drama and those suckers were meticulously plotted out in advance. I like to believe I have internalized that sense of structure but then again, I haven’t written for the stage in…

Sweet Merciful Thor, if I digress again, it’ll be ANOTHER week before I get this post up. There. You’ve probably learned more about my writing process than you want to know.