Wednesday, November 19, 2014

14. PLUCK

‘Pluck’ is a story that first appeared in Beecher’s 2, but you can also find it in my forthcoming fiction collection, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales. Brooklyn Arts Press is letting you pre-order it for only $15.95—just click HERE!

The story grew out of my desire to explore the narrative behind some illustrations I made for the 2009 male sex workers art show curated by Kirk ReadFormerly Known As. I later added color to the drawings—see them below—and installed them as part of the 2012 San Francisco queer art festival, Best Revenge.





Friday, November 14, 2014

13. WARMTH


Above is a collage inspired by my short story, ‘Warmth’, which first appeared (where else?) in The Collagist. Here’s another one:


‘Warmth’ is tonally indebted to Depeche Mode's song, ‘Pipeline’, something I talk about more over at Coldfront.


The story appears in my fiction collection forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press. ‘Warmth’ is a Christmas-themed, fabulist, homosexual tragedy with a villain loosely based on Sarah Palin—which means it will make a great holiday gift. The collection is titled The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, and is due out December 1. Meanwhile, pre-order it HERE!

And below are some excerpts from an interview I did with Melissa Goodrich for The Collagist’s blog:
The characters and atmosphere you have created are phenomenally vivid—the wheezing in and out of the snow lizard, the queen and her twelve-deer dress, the mime clawing at the ground for his life, Bear plunging his hands into ermine, Grinn’s heart caving in in the cold, the cider-stain of piss in the snow, the rumbling of heat just under the surface of the pipe. Where does a story like this come from? How on earth did you re-conceive so totally the story of Christmas? 
It was around Christmas 2010 that I started working on ‘Warmth’, and there are these chimes in ‘Pipeline’ that reminded me of a more sinister take on Christmas carols. It’s become something of a joke now, but ‘Carol of the Bells’, when stripped from the products it’s been used to advertise, is actually a scary, intense song. And Christmas has this richly occult underbelly—it was, after all, a pagan celebration of the darkest time of year before it was co-opted by Christianity. There is the Krampus in Bavaria, this hideous monster who is associated with Christmas, and a whole host of Scandinavian demons who come out around winter solstice. And then there’s Dickens. I like that his tale of a cynical old man being visited by three ghosts mirrors the original story of Christmas: a sinless infant who is visited by three kings. So I didn’t really re-conceive Christmas so much as tap into some of these other interpretations. 
A lot of the story’s content also comes from Depeche Mode’s lyrics. ‘Pipeline’ is in the tradition of the work song, so I knew the characters must be laboring. I misunderstood the lines, ‘Get out the crane / construction time again,’ as ‘Tell the queen / construction time again,’ so that’s where the queen came from. ‘Let the beads of sweat flow / until the ends have met’ inspired the image of the pipeline’s construction starting at either coast and meeting at the palace in the middle.
What is your favorite fable, fairy tale, myth? 
The Night of the Hunter
Near the end of the tale, our narrator breaks that fourth wall of fiction and dives into the meta, arguing ‘the moral being that love is more cogent in the cold. This moral we’ve piled on our sled with the others: the reactionary thud of mockery, the need for moderation, the stealth, selfish motives behind mandatory gifts.’ Do you believe that stories have morals, or do we dress them in lessons, and does this story have one? More than one? 
I wanted to engage frankly with the reader from the outset. I hoped that the story’s fantastic setting would bump up right next to the mundane room in which the reader sits. Thus, the asides about ramekins of butter and baseboard heaters. I wanted these familiar reminders to create a tiny shock, and build a kind of reverse lull that parallels the story’s tension between warmth and cold. 
But I also wanted to be bossy. As a reader, sometimes I like to be told what to do, as long as it’s done with a sense of humor. I don’t have to agree with everything a writer is saying, but sometimes it’s just nice to know where somebody stands. And even though I’m pretty passive in person, when I’m writing I, too, enjoy taking on an authoritative voice. I have all these deeply felt morals I’m reluctant to assert in conversation, but that come bubbling up when I’m writing. That being said, I don’t set out writing a story with the intention of conveying morals. Rather, I often see them coalesce along the way, and in this case, that authoritative voice demanded I point them out. I like writing critically about literature and I couldn’t resist the urge here to do so with my own. 
Also, the song that inspired ‘Warmth’ contains references to class war, so I knew from the beginning I’d be approaching propaganda territory. Rather than use that authoritative voice to engage with those class issues, though, I hoped to complicate the allegory a bit and point out some of the more subtle morals I came across. These morals, I hope, even though I explicitly list them, are stated a bit ambiguously, and still require some interpretation on the part of the reader. I wanted them to be more like discussion questions, like seeds.
One of your blog posts, Blue Santa, speaks closely to this story: you prefer to spend your Christmases alone, and when you don’t, you find it’s about presents. It snowballs ‘until Christmas becomes about seeing how many shiny things we can hold in our hands. And once we have too many to keep track of, we panic.’ I can’t help reading this as a side-conversation to “Warmth,” a fleshing out of what that Christmas moral might be. What do you consider the relationship between blogging and writing fiction, and is it cooperative?
It’s funny, I didn’t intend that post to be a side conversation, although it’s astute of you to point it out. ‘Blue Santa’ was written during Christmas 2011, about one year after I wrote ‘Warmth’. Maybe it was an unconscious attempt at returning to some of those questions that first emerged in ‘Warmth’, exploring them nonfictionally after a year’s worth of reflection. 
For the record, I don’t really have anything against presents. I think it’s important to let our loved ones know they’re loved, and that often takes the form of material objects, and that’s fine. I guess the panic I’m talking about is something that comes from burying ourselves beneath material attachments. It’s a panic I feel tangibly, but it doesn’t seem to consciously register with a lot of people. Maybe we’re kind of in denial about it, and maybe it’s self-perpetuating. Maybe that underlying panic is what spurs this sort of packrat mentality (I also, incidentally, was watching a lot of Hoarders this last Christmas), where we’re never quite satisfied, always wanting more. 
Is it something that comes from a primal need to stock up for winter? Is it the same urge that makes the rich hoard their wealth? This, of course, is one of the things that ‘Warmth’ explores: the idea of too much of a good thing. Although, warmth, in our world, as a commodity, is much lower on Maslow’s pyramid than much of what we give each other for Christmas. Or than what money represents once you have the luxury of stockpiling it. That’s why the monetary system is so overwhelmingly absurd to me. Money has a completely different value to someone who’s living paycheck to paycheck than it does to someone who’s mulling over which private jet to buy. In the world of this story, at least, where warmth represents a kind of a currency, it’s of more immediate use to everyone, hence less abstract than money—a paradox, as it isn’t something you can put in your wallet.

Friday, November 7, 2014

12. THE ONION’S TALE

‘An onion rolls into a natural foods store …’

Thus begins ‘The Onion's Tale’, a flash fiction piece included in The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, a book you can pre-order HERE.

‘The onion is really cute,’ the story goes, ‘I mean really cute, its face smushed together, one of its eyes squeezed shut in a wink. It even has the most darling little hands, just beginning to nub out from between its skins.’ An ongoing crowd favorite, ‘The Onion’s Tale’ was inspired by a panicky experience inside the smug and predatory lifestyle behemoth, Whole Foods. I also adapted the story to a broadside, which you can read more about here. And GUESS WHAT? The first fifty people to pre-order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales from the Brooklyn Arts Press website will get a FREE limited-edition broadside from a story in the collection—yours could be 'The Onion's Tale'!

Monday, November 3, 2014

11. A FABLE IN SERVICE OF HASTENING THE END OF ALL BORDERS

Told in the second person, ‘A Fable in Service of Hastening the End of All Borders’ asks the reader imagine working as a teenage grocery bagger at a dreamlike Canadian borderland supermarket. The strip mall that houses the supermarket suffers a constant onslaught of drastic transformations: the manager begins building a transparent dome that straddles the border; the subsized housing where the protagonist grew up is demolished; a studly co-worker opens a male brothel; the frozen yogurt shop revamps itself as a smoothie bar; a barbecue champion and an entrepreneur toting a portable rock wall both set up shop in the parking lot. All the while, the bagger struggles with bulimia and grows increasingly obsessed with miniatures.

A finalist for the Calvino Prize, ‘A Fable in Service of Hastening the End of All Borders’ is featured in my forthcoming fiction collection, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales. Click HERE to pre-order it for only $15.95!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

10. I AM SO ALONE


In 2009, Lindsay Lohan granted an interview to Us Weekly where she aired her emotional vulnerability in a way that felt shocking. You can read the full text of the interview—and it really is worth reading—here.

In the interview, Lohan brags about collaborating with J. C. Penney's, admits to getting into it with TV C-Lister Drea de Matteo, and acknowledges being devastated by her breakup with Samantha Ronson. Her career was more freshly in the toilet at the time: it felt like a terrible step to open up to a publication that had thrived on pointing out her every misdeed since she started out as a stage-mom–dominated child star. 

This was the point where I first acknowledged that Lindsay is delusional. I sat down to write a story that encompasses her desperation, and titled it after the Us Weekly cover: ‘I Am So Alone’. Here’s the broadside I adapted from what I wrote:


What sort of world had been built for Lindsay, I wondered, and then I used Millions of Milkshakes as a launchpoint. The planet of ‘I Am So Alone’ consists of a surface made of helium balloons suspended from a central cherry-pit core. The strings that connect the balloons to the pit form the planet’s mantle. By the story’s end, a disoriented narrator (Lindsay) performs a sexualized parlor trick Dina probably taught her at a young age.


Pre-order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Talesthe collection that features 'I Am So Alone'HERE! The first fifty people to order the book from the Brooklyn Arts Press website will receive a free limited-edition broadside adaptation of a story from the collection—and yours could be 'I Am So Alone'!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

9. LITTLE TILES OF WEALTH

‘Little Tiles of Wealth’ is a story that focuses on a single mom who works as an ER nurse and worries as her pre-pubescent son’s interests diverge from her own. It’s just one of the 22 fiction pieces included in The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Stories, a collection Brooklyn Arts Press is publishing in December. If you don’t want to wait, though, you can pre-order the book HERE.


The story’s protagonist hears cryptic advice emanating from the philanthropic plaques she passes as she walks to work and makes her way through the hospital. ‘A walk down a hospital corridor reveals the outrageous inequality of contemporary health care …’ says writer Carol Guess about the story. Some of the more absurdist scenes from the ER in ‘Little Tiles of Wealth’ are courtesy of my friend who works the nightshift in a busy hospital. 

Another of the story’s themes was first suggested to me by my boyfriend: the campy potential of sports. One of the protagonist’s biggest fears is that her son is forsaking science for the pleasure of watching athletes onscreen. D. A. Miller writes about how athletes are seen as active rather than performative—although they are being watched, their movements are not scripted, but rather made in ways that deny the fact they’re on display. They’re part of a team that works together to dominate. Men on stage, however, have difficulty reading as masculine. They are not doing, but rather performing. According to John Berger, ‘men act and women appear.’

‘It is no accident ...’ writes David M. Halperin, ‘that sports matches—with one or two rare exceptions—are never reenacted, restaged, or reperformed exactly as they originally transpired. They must be seen to occur only once, because their very definition demands that they appear to be unscripted: in order to qualify as an “event," they must consist in a single, spontaneous action that concludes once and for all when it is over and that cannot be repeated.’



As athletes allow themselves to be more flamboyant, though, and—like David Beckham—sexualized, I wonder if spectator sports are changing. Maybe I’m just too gay for ESPN, but when I see its commentators debating, their humor feels frigid in a way that's weirdly outdated. The protagonist from ‘Little Tiles of Wealth’ feels this each morning as she walks past a sporting goods store and sees its employees clowning around, roleplaying as star athletes behind Xeroxed-face-on-popsicle-stick masks.

Visit Brooklyn Arts Press’s website to pre-order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales.


Friday, October 17, 2014

8. TOY STORY

‘Toy Story’ relates an interaction between two classic toys in their break room. I adapted it into a broadside, which you can learn more about here.



'Toy Story' is also included in my forthcoming Brooklyn Arts Press collection, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, which is now available for pre-order. The first 50 people who order from BAP's website will receive a free broadside adaptation of 'Toy Story' or another piece!

Monchichi, based on the early 1980s anthropomorphic monkey-doll phenomenon (spelled Monchhichi), has recently had her heart broken, and melodramatically pokes at her chef salad as she attempts to recover. Here she is in happier times:



Meanwhile, her stickler co-worker, Madball, regales her with libertarian propaganda. His political philosophy is a natural extension of his upbringing as a popular toy that tried to be as gross as possible:



Pre-order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales HERE.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

7. THE STORY OF HOW ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales is due out December 1! Meanwhile, though, you can pre-order it HERE

The book's Orwell-inspired title story appeared earlier this year in Grist 7. A depressed narrator engages in a power struggle with a strong-willed fashion design student who he platonically shares a bed with. The narrator watches Lena try on different animal identities as she sews clothes inspired by farm animals, adopts and discards—then rediscovers—a Pomeranian, and incongruously dresses as Jessica Rabbit for Halloween. At night, they re-equalize:
We slept in a Murphy bed that never went up. There were hooks mounted on the wall above it, with hats piled thick enough to keep the bed from lifting. The mattress was too short—if we extended our legs, our feet made contact with an icy iron bar at the foot of the bed. I imagined us as batteries recharging, the cold shock pushing exhaustion up through our bodies and sparking dreams. 
Sometimes Lena made animal sounds in her sleep. I would break the iron current then, and cuddle. We’d be warm together, my knees locked into the back of hers. Of course this place is haunted, she’d say, with all those hats falling on the bed all the time. She’d say it like it was my fault, but most of the hats were hers.
Things become tense as the narrator grows jealous of Lena’s other relationships. He finds himself mirroring her tyrannical personality, the thing that drew him to her in the first place:
Lena was eight days older than me, and shared her birthday with Hitler. I shared mine with Saddam Hussein. We had a joint birthday party where we spent the day in bed. We read to each other, played cards, and gossiped. We took turns going to the store for more champagne. When it got dark, we took a nap, then got up and went out dancing. She brought home an NPR reporter who said he couldn’t take her home because his house was being painted.  
That means he has a girlfriend, I told her. 
Whatever, she said. It’s my birthday. 
 It’s my birthday, too, I said, and refused to yield the bed. 
As the narrator’s depression deepens, the rainy season sets in, and Lena obsessively listens to Prince’s ’17 Days’, a song that tonally syncs with the story’s up-tempo sadness. Because the Artist is such a freak about copyright issues, I can’t post the video here, but hopefully this link will stay up for awhile: http://www.wat.tv/video/prince-17-days-3oo43_3mbzf_.html
One time Lena said, Prince is such a man. 
Prince wears mascara, I said. 
I don’t mean a man like macho. I mean a man like human. Listen: there’s nothing animal in Prince’s world. It’s all artifice and emotion. 
I moved a beret from the bed to the hat rack.  
All you ever listen to is this one song, I said, and it’s the b-side to ‘When Doves Cry’. That’s maybe the most animal song ever. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

6. THE HARE

I never noticed how much Angelina Jolie's acting relies on posing until watching The Tourist on an airplane. I was too cheap to buy earphones, and the postures were probably heightened by the lack of sound: the silence made me conscious of how much the actor's striking appearance must limit her range. I haven't seen Salt, which came out around the same time, but it seems to be essentially the same role. Turn down the sound and see:


It’s a face that wants to be static—when she has to move and talk, it feels a little like someone made a puppet out of a Vogue cover. Thus, she becomes the default Woman of Mystery, someone remote enough to never emote. So is Angie Jo an extremely well paid character actress? 

Intrigue is essential to everything she does (at least, in recent years). And when I sat down to write ‘The Hare, I tried to harness—and satirize—the emotions that filmmakers set out to evoke when they do intrigue: the frisson of realizing things aren’t what they seem, the heart-sink that comes with betrayal, the childish thrill of being chased.


‘The Hare’ first appeared in BOMB, along with the above collage. The story is just one of 22 featured in my forthcoming collection, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales. Click HERE to pre-order it.