Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Goals

Every year I do a list of goals, usually writing goals, and then pretty much ignore it all year. This past year was much better -- I accomplished most of them, actually. This coming year, I have quite a few, not all writing, for once. The thing is, these are all goals for the next 6 months or so, because after that, my life will change. So here we go:

Lifestyle Changes
1. I need a new job. I've been working on this for a couple months already. It will happen, oh yes. I haven't really gone into much detail about this, but the bottom line is I'm underpaid, overworked, and come January, essentially won't have insurance because of our $5000 deductible and no copays (which means we pay full price for everything up front).

2. Health. It's not so much that I need to lose weight, which I do, but I need to find some sort of physical activity that will bring me out of my mind a bit. I've lived most of my life kind of like Robin Williams' character in Gilliam's film  Baron Munchausen -- as a head floating separate from its body. I've been doing a lot of work ever since Jillian first became pregnant with Ellie to remedy some of my hangups, baggage, what have you. This is the big obstacle remaining. This is actually huge and pretty much involves just about everything else on this list.

3. Be Here Now. See #2.

4. We need to pay off our car. This will happen this year.

5. Move into the city (hopefully Baltimore)/Enroll Ellie in a Montessori school (she's already on the waiting list, and it looks like it will happen). See #1 above.

1. Finish Jubal's Daughter. This is the novel I'm currently working on. It's the oldest idea I have but haven't written.

2. Write a zombie town sequel. Update: Finished in mid-February.

3. Write History of the Standard Oil Company on the Moon. This is a working title for a YA/sci fi/dystopian novel. Update: in progress. Started in mid-February.

4. Write a Necro-Files sequel.

5. Place a short story collection.

6. Place a poetry collection.

7. Try to do at least 2 readings a month... Update: I've scaled this back to 1 reading a month, which I've managed to mostly do.

That's it. It's a lot. I plan to do it all, though.
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I've had a crazy productive year, I have to say.

It started in January/February when I wrote a novel I've been dabbling with for years -- it's actually quite an old idea, dating back to a first draft attempt as a college sophomore. It has changed drastically over the years, so much so that I could probably write a whole new novel out of a couple of the earlier, abandoned, plotlines. Tentatively titled The Vanilla Life until I think of something good to call it. I'd had a few false starts over the years and just started from scratch with it. It's a supernatural roadtrip story. No takers for it, yet.

Then, in February, I finished up a book I started in the summer of 2011. It's a sort of sequel to my forthcoming novel The Saviors (about my days in a punk band). This one is called Odysseus Among the Swine. I had to abandon it for some reason and was thinking it needed a total do-over but realized it just needed a good revision and an ending, so that's what I did. Haven't even considered sending this out yet.

In March, I finished my zombie novel Last Stand in Zombie Town. This one was quite difficult because it was so far outside of my comfort zone. Good stuff, though. Just came out.

In April, I wrote a bunch of poems. Most have been picked up by journals. Haven't put together a collection, yet.

In May, I pushed forward with this novel in stories (about a race war) I started in late 2011. Tentatively titled Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down. I switched back and forth between that one and another story series called Nobody's Darlings, about drugs and poverty in Arkansas. I finished both in June or July. Some of the Darlings stories have appeared at Rusty Barnes' Fried Chicken and Coffee.

Also in June, I took another stab at Man of Clay, a novel I'd attempted a couple times before. I had about 50 pages, give or take, of useable material and pushed through to the end. It was picked up by Main Street Rag Press. Pretty happy about that one. Best thing I've had accepted for publication.

In July, I wrote a horror/comedy book called Sorting the Dead, about a witch, an alternate dimension, a curse, etc. Fun stuff. Hasn't been picked up yet.

In August I wrote a middle-grade long story called Honus Wagner and the Wittsburg Treasure. This is a story I'd wanted to do for a long time. I was asked to contribute to an anthology, which gave me the excuse to write this. It was a very fun experience. There's a kickstarter for this anthology, here, if you're so inclined to help out...

In September/October I wrote a post-apocalyptic story about a cruise ship, sentient amoeba, super-intelligent birds, etc. etc. Not sure about a title yet. One of my stranger ones. Probably needs a revision.

In November/December, I wrote another middle-grade story -- novella length this time. An anthropomorphic cautionary tale about birds that wear vests. Another one I've wanted to do for a long time but hadn't gotten to. Also probably needs a revision.

In early December I went back and wrote a couple weird horror/comedy stories I'd been sitting on for a while and wrote a ton of reviews I'd been meaning to get to. I've averaged about 2 reviews a week this year. Crazy, huh? I needed a break from novels for a little while. I tried writing a poem a day -- I've got two sort of techniques I've been using. One is taking a line from a poem (usually in a book I'm reviewing) and using that as a title or at least inspiration. The other is a series of odes. Anyway, I failed miserably at the poem-a-day thing, gave up about halfway through the month, and started another novel. This one is a mashup of several earlier ideas -- one of them dating back to high school, another back to my undergrad years. It's actually the most straight-forward novel I've written in a long time. I started it without much of a plan. I usually have an outline, but all I had was maybe a quarter of a page of notes. As I write this, I'm thirty+ pages in and starting to figure out what this thing is about. I find that each novel chooses its own approach and structure. This one I might actually try sending out to agents.

One of the reasons I keep going back to these old ideas is that I had them before I knew how to write a novel. And they're good ideas. I interviewed a writer a while back who said he ignores ideas that come to him while he's working on a project so he doesn't lose focus. I don't. Most of the novels I've written have been from older ideas (maybe just a few months old, maybe 20 years old). I write them down, outline them, write a scene or two, whatever comes to me.

Along with all that, I had 5 books picked up this year (I didn't mention a poetry collection and another supernatural/comedy book I've got coming out) was nominated for a bunch of awards I didn't win (3 Pushcarts in 1 week, 1 Best of the Web, and 1 story selected as a Notable Story of the year for Story South's Million Readers award), started a couple columns for Monkey Bicycle, started a column for Prick of the Spindle, did some readings, etc.

Busy year. Already planning on making next year even busier.

* * *

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interview with HobGob Press' Stroud

Following up on my reviews of Stroud's chapbooks, I was so intrigued with his work I interviewed him about it, and the press:

Me: What inspired you to start HobGob Press?

Stroud: HobGob Press was inspired by other small, local, independent presses as well as the research I had done on the origins of the chap-book, the pocket sized booklets from the 19th century. How interesting this disposable booklet included so many kinds of printed material such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children's literature and almanacs. What range! Chapbooks can be anything – and that’s indicative of me and my artistic philosophy. The mission for my press specifically is to publish modern and experimental works of art, including Poetry, Music, Scores, Visual, Essays, Blogs, Photography, etc.

Me: Tell me about Soundpaths: what was the impetus for it? How long did it take to develop it?

Stroud: Soundpaths are an artistic form bridging between language arts and musical composition used as a tool for performance and education. Think of a Soundpath as a maze for your finger to follow – from a beginning point to an end point. Each Soundpath has several different designed lines and symbols – each one representing a different sound for you to make – a key is included.

The creation of Soundpaths were very forced and unnatural in their development, at first, in that they are a product of relentless thinking, squeezing for ideas, and experimentation of form. I came up with the concept while working on the assembly-line floor at a factory about a year ago. Everything was so grey there, so monotonous; each hour, each day, I gasped for stimulation. My boredom gave rise to me escaping the confines of my physical situation and freeing my mind to fly high above those factory walls.

I flew so high and scratched the clouds above so hard that eventually the concept of sound poetry landed down into my lap, right there where I was working. Tickled by the chance procedures and sound-work of poet Jackson Mac Low that same year, diagrams and charts of over one-hundred machine parts around me, my subconscious mind had, within enough time, pieced together the first Soundpath – Wab Notka – a maze that prompted you to speak words at specific times.

Eventually, the words inside a Soundpath became gibberish words (in order to free sounds from meaning), the paths became more elaborate, symbols were added, and the concept of sound itself becoming the focus of this poetic form took place. Later on, and through more research, I realized I was working in much the same ways as the Dadaists before me, specifically like Tristan Tzara. I was discouraged at first, thinking I was merely copying the principles of artists before my time, but quickly realized how Soundpaths were different, and that it was important to carry on this type of work, like a torch being passed down to me, I vouched to dig deeper into the idea of sound (enter John Cage).

Me: Have you performed/used Soundpaths for/with children? If so, what were their reactions?

Stroud: Indeed. I first introduced Soundpaths at the Hessler Street Fair in Cleveland, Ohio in the summer of 2012. A poet named Chandra and her daughter Ursula approached me, telling me of their love for my work. Chandra told me that my sound poems, Featherweight and Wab Notka, opened her daughters eyes to the wonder of poetry, of what it could be, and that I was single handedly responsible for, in only a matter of minutes, getting Ursula to “fall in love with poetry.” Well, this opened MY eyes to what Soundpaths could be, and who they could be for.

Since then, I have introduced Soundpaths to numerous children, including some at a latchkey program I had worked at – the responses have all been positive. All of the children (grades third through fifth) found them intriguing (they enjoyed being detectives decoding the paths and their keys), wildly fun (they enjoyed making loud noises), and above all humorous (they enjoyed making funny faces to produce sounds and making their friends laugh at their interpretation).

After a year of experimenting with Soundpaths and their many applications I found something deep within them. A friend of mine, a brilliant poet and educator, Michael Salinger, suggested I search for the educational aspects of these sound poems, to find what educational standards the phonetic aspects of my work meets. Low and behold, I found that Soundpaths meet over twenty legitimate English Language Arts Standards for Reading / Foundational Skills for Kindergarten and First Grade.

Me: Have you considered including a DVD or links to videos of you demonstrating Soundpaths? Or would that distract from your intent?

Stroud: Yes, I’ve considered, but I feel my directions are clear enough to not have videos included. However, there are a few ways you can view me performing Soundpaths:

The Official Soundpath Facebook page -

Me Headlining at Literary Café in Tremont, Ohio:

Me Performing my 1ST prize winning Soundpath, Featherweight, at the Hessler Street Fair in Cleveland, Ohio -

Me: Who are your models, as poets; who do you read?

Stroud: I read less actual poetry than I do biographies, manifestos, theories, and blogs about art of all mediums, as well as heavy, modern scientific texts. I’m moved by concepts. I’m a receptor of information and stimuli. I take all of the inspiration, impulses and knowledge I receive and allow them to incubate in my mind until the right moment. Then, slowly, all of these ingredients tend to swirl around in a stew revealing themselves to me at a later point in time as original thoughts.

My main influences are: Jackson Mac Low, John Cage, Walt Disney, Antonin Artaud, Peter Brooks, e. e. Cummings, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, Keri Smith, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking.

Me: Why is experimental art important?

Stroud: I experiment because its fun to do; there needn’t be anything deeper to it than that. I derive great pleasure from exercising my skills as a creative entity, a creator, a conscious observer of the world. Other factors fueling my work include my ADD and how bored I become with “old toys,” mixed with my wide range of interests in things other than art. I’m a cross-pollinator, for sure. However, as an artist, I recognize the implications of my experiments’ results; soon, I develop real concepts behind my inventions and innovations.

I begin my experiments with an impulse, something as small as a sensation of a color, sound, or smell, etc. Again, I do this because its fun – I try staying playful like a child as long as possible. The process makes me feel alive. Very few times do I begin with a concept, a seed – I start pre-seed – I collect data like a scientist would. I research things that interest me; I gather music, paintings and articles that relate to feelings that stick with me that I cannot shake. I don’t need to know why, I trust my intuition.

Experimental art isn’t all novelty, it’s the actual process used to invent and innovate anything! That should make its importance clear enough. Art, when pushed hard enough, can “add to the stock of available reality.” (R. P. Blackburn).

It’s important to search of new modes of expression. In nature, as well as in our culture, we experience change – rapidly. I make art at a speed and manner in which feels natural with this change. I find insanity in recycling the old text-based plays we’ve seen one-hundred times, being stuck listening to the same music from my childhood on the radio, and carrying out holiday traditions that have no meaning to me. Though I enjoy the occasional nostalgia, I know the importance of being awake to the now, hearing what modern artists, who are in tune with what is truly happening around us, who have the words and the ways to express themselves in a manner we can resonate with, have to say.

Experimental art is mysterious, intriguing, fresh, original, growing, achieving more, and it makes us think and ask questions like: what is art? Work should be curious. I don’t want to shut my brain off, hear what I’ve heard before and be entertained. Do not entertain me. Bring me back to life, give me the type of wonder I once had discovering a flower for the first time, or hearing my first thunderstorm, swimming in my first lake, capturing my first bug, throwing my first snowball, blowing my first dandelion.

Experimental Art is happening NOW, it’s living, as live experiments are.

Me: Do you find that Northern Ohio is receptive to your work?

Stroud: Yes, overall. Though, I find most people find humor in my work opposed to the deeper aspects, because of its peculiarity, and because I don’t have the stage time to explain it properly. Ironically, I’m trying to make accessible art that a general, unassuming crowd doesn’t need an artistic background to appreciate. However, I find it is the artists themselves who most appreciate and respect what I’m trying to do – but that will change.

One of my missions as an artist is to change the parochial view of art today. A child believes a poem must rhyme, and on a more complex level an artist believes a play must have words or a painting must use paint.

I’ve been told my work has youthfulness to it – that makes me smile. Art should be fun to make, fun to look at, and fun to be a part of. I never want to isolate someone from experiencing my work; in fact, all of my work is intended to allow you, the audience, make half of the piece. I often provide the vehicle for you to become an artist – I think that’s a message pretty easy to receive.

Me: Can you tell me a little about some of your performance art? What are your objectives with performances?

Stroud: My performances are typically interdisciplinary, interactive, and visceral. My performances are loosely scripted and orchestrated, though I allow for a lot of ‘chance’ to occur. I perform anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time.

The focus of my work lately is to conduct primitive, highly visual spectacles that unleash unconscious responses in audiences that are normally inaccessible.

I try to provoke conditions that will force the release of primitive instincts hidden beneath the civilized social layer masking all human behaviour. There is a certain energy and impact of this shocking way of performing that should be employed in order to increase a sense of danger, violence and disorientation in the audience. The key word is VISCERAL in all that I do.

Two examples of my performance art include:

Mysterious Stranger, an on-site performance inspired by Mark Twain’s depiction of the devil. I staged it under the stage in a crawlspace. It played to several sold out shows, though only eight to ten people were allowed in at a time. The gallery of pictures can be found here:

White Shadow, an on-site performance inspired by breath and death. I performed at the Akron Civic Theatre. One key part was when I was tied half-nude in a plastic body bag, suffocating for two minutes, then finally emerging the womb through a hole punctured near my mouth. The gallery of pictures can be found here:

Me: Who are you reading now?

Stroud: Right now I’m reading a lot of material on ‘Absurdism.’ I’m also reading Austin Kleon’s best-selling book of art and poetry, ‘Newspaper Blackout,’ where the reader creates a poem by redacting newspaper articles with a permanent marker.

Me: What’s next for Stroud?

Stroud: I’m working on a book currently called Haptic Poetry, a subjective poetic art form that creates objects to be touched and manipulated. In Haptic Poetry, the sense of touch is more important than the sense of sight. The goal is to create aesthetic effect (the psychological responses to artistic experiences) in the minds of the intended audience. Think of it as telling a story, conveying a concept, or expressing an emotion through texture instead of through the written word.

In addition, I am gearing up to perform in Israël Horovitz’s surrealist play, RATS, some various performance pieces at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, a devised children’s theatre piece I’m developing called ‘x-ray,’ and most importantly a huge fundraising event called ‘Art for Autism and Other Complex Disabilities’ at the high school I work at.

As for what’s truly next in my life, my far-reaching future, I hope to one day own my own art gallery / studio / black box theatre where I will run classes, host local artists and their work (as well as mine).

* * *

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review of Stroud's Alphabet Soup & Soundpaths

Stroud is a poet, director, actor, teacher, and performance artist in Northern Ohio. He’s also the publisher of HobGob Press, a micro-press devoted to experimental writing. Lots of presses claim to be experimental, but Stroud truly lives up to this claim. The two collections I’ve read of his are very disparate, but very unique. I read a lot of poetry, but Stroud’s work truly stands out as something different.

* * *
Alphabet Soup, by Stroud. Ohio, HobGob Press, 2012.

I can’t exactly call this a poetry collection, but rather perhaps it’s one long poem. What Stroud has done, here, is collect words and phrases in seemingly random order, broken with spaces, line breaks, and tabs. But amongst the chaos, patterns and meaning appear. Stroud urges the reader to use these words and phrases “when you need them. May you find meaning in chaos.” Stroud’s placement does imply order, at times, though. “Time tells/a/binary/such a passion behind it/it is a job/everyday/Pull me//This is permanent/you know?” he says near the beginning. It’s easy to connect these ideas as a commentary on difficulties in life.

Stroud’s “disharmony of words” offers vivid images that not only could be read to imply all sorts of meaning, but the fact of his arrangement is a commentary on poetry, and reading poetry, itself. How often do two different people discover totally disparate readings of a poem? More often than we care to admit, trained as we are to seek out and settle on the “one” meaning of a poem. Stroud has cut out the middle man so that the reader can simply apply his or her own meaning, without narrative getting in the way. This works, of course, because our minds impose narrative. Stroud has created a Rorschach of words. And so many of them stand out as meaningful that, even though I know it’s purely my own self I’m projecting onto the page, I connect these images and lines because there are some lovely turns of phrase: “Trees scraping at the sky.” “88 percent of all giraffes.” “Hunting for thing.” “watermelon Sunday.” “ever been a won’t?” He includes literary references, the odd quote, and words, words.

* * *
Soundpaths, by Stroud. Ohio, HobGob Press, 2012.

Stroud explains that “Soundpaths are an artistic form bridging between language arts and musical composition, in which the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded instead of more conventional semantic and syntactic values. Soundpaths are educational tools intended primarily for performance and creating memorable aesthetic experiences.” Basically, the idea is to focus on sound to arrive at meaning, rather than words. Stroud uses pitch, volume, etc. represented by “shapes and designed lines that represent sounds.” The concept reminds me of the idea of the “charge” of a word, used when teaching vocabulary (does it “sound” positive or negative, etc.?). “Think of a Soundpath as a maze for your finger to follow” he explains. Check out some of thess Soundpaths at the HobGob Press site.

Stroud goes on to demonstrate various educational uses of this technique, which, frankly, look really fun. He includes lessons for teaching vowel and consonant sounds and various words. It’s a little challenging to fully grasp Stroud’s intent on the page; I imagine that seeing him perform these Soundpaths live must be very entertaining and informative. I would love to see him include a DVD or video links with the book. But what really stands out, here, is the power of an innovative use of language and sound for real, hands-on purposes. Stroud has taken an approach to abstract or experimental (or whatever you’d like to call it) poetry and turned it into a fun educational tool. It’s an impressive feat.

-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review of J. Boyett's Brothel

Brothel, a novel by J. Boyett. Fiction Advocate, 2012.

What do you do when you’re stuck in a dead-end central Arkansas town smack in the Bible Belt, see yourself as surrounded by hypocrites and holier-than-thou’s and folks whose biggest ambitions are beer and TV? A place where a large portion of people choose willful ignorance over reason because it’s familiar and easier than grappling with the uncertainties of anything other than born and bred faith? Say, you’ve got money, so you don’t have to struggle, but that just means you have even less direction. Say, you’re going to college but not really seeing much of interest after that’s done because this place has such a depressed economy that the best future you can have is to leave.

In Boyett’s debut novel, the answer is you start a brothel, nothing special, just change the sheets (regularly) on the guest bed in your already pretty crappy apartment and you go to town. Especially if, like damaged Joyce, your best friend is Ken, who doesn’t mind going after a room full of frat boys with a broken chair leg just to let them know that no matter how much they beat him, he’ll still laugh at them. And let us not forget that the whole thing starts as a lark intended to piss off Joyce’s parents.

The characters in Boyett’s novel all have their own reasons for the brothel: Ken is bored. Joyce is bored and wants to lash out. The other girls consider it easy money and an interesting experience. Of course, rich-kid Ken is too much of a trouble-maker to rest easy being a pimp for his best friend and her two friends (even though it means he gets to recite his Pimp Speech and maybe even use his bat with nails sticking out of it to sort out any trouble). He likes to stir shit up too much. And Joyce can’t resist a dare, even to become a prostitute. But where will it lead her? And exactly how will Ken explode this situation?

Boyett’s novel follows the not-so-innocent Joyce as her desire to live up to Ken’s expectations leads her down a darker and darker path. Boyett’s writing style is easy and readable. His characters flow naturally, though they’re quite complicated at times. These are damaged people, obviously, in a damaged culture. The storyline is pretty straight-forward: Ken and the girls open a brothel, johns appear (thanks to Ken), and it’s a question of when things will blow up. There are twists and turns as a few johns try to take things too far (both physically and emotionally).

Boyett has crafted a solid Arkansas novel, rollicking and funny in the vein of a young John Fergus Ryan. He’s tapped into the zeitgeist of the state with his outcast characters seeking their bliss. Boyett is an accomplished playwright, and his dialogue shows it. Honestly, the novel could easily be staged. It’s a quick, fun read, and I look forward to seeing more of Boyett’s work.

-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Review of Caryl Pagel's poetry collection: Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death

Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death, poems by Caryl Pagel. Hadley, MA: Factory Hollow Press. 2012. $15.

Pagel explores death and what comes afterwards, or doesn’t. Her poems mimic thought-patterns in composition, moving from idea to idea, linked by similar themes. In “Table Talking, Pagel describes the metaphysical scene of the late 1800s, beginning with formative details of William James, one of the earliest proponents of psychological study in America:

It is the influence of the loss of father’s leg
that biographers credit William James’
early & lasting interest
in finding a form
for spiritual inquisition beyond

religion beyond his field of study—science—beyond
psychology      The red hopping-hot hot-air
balloon bobbed over the barren
field before it dropped
to the floor of a barn      It was probably

not the leg directly although his father did believe
his own childhood tragedy represented
the constant undeniable
force of evil in
this world…

In the first stanza break, Pagel implies multiple meanings, but it is her use of caesura throughout that is truly interesting. She avoids classic punctuation in favor of a more controlled, meaningful spacing in order to set off ideas. The italicized image breaks from her biographical sketch, much in the way the supposed appearance of a spirit would surprise the participants at one of the séances Pagel describes later in the poem.

“Those That Require Warning” is a prose poem selection ostensibly from The Botched Bestiary. There are several selections from this throughout the collection. This ‘Bestiary’ seems to be some sort of field guide to unusual beings. This one seems to be a warning against consorting with bodies: “Recall the bloated gray bodies pulled off [of] the bodies.” it begins (the brackets are Pagel’s). “Bodies can have a wide variety of effects, with varying levels of inconvenience.” she continues, later in the poem. In another section, “Those That Operate From Deep Space,” Pagel continues this focus on the body, this time focusing on the bodies’ movements through water and the effects one has on the other. “Most bodies that live in water make light,” she tells us. Here, Pagel seems to be getting at the old battle between head and body, spirituality and sensuality. There are pros and cons to each; the bodies are dangerous and unsavory, but after more consideration there is also something positive to them: they make light when they live in water. Water is often seen as a purifying element, and the creation of light could be interpreted as a divine action, so perhaps there’s something worthwhile in the body which shouldn’t be ignored.

The book is very attractive, in terms of layout and organization. It’s broken into three sections, Visions, Crisis Apparitions, and Other Exceptional Experiences. Each section begins with a quote that clarifies the theme of that section. Pagel’s poems are interesting, thematically, and well-written. They are graceful upon the page and a pleasure to read. I’ve been excited about a couple recent publications from Factory Hollow Press. I’m interested to see what they do next.

-CL Bledsoe