Intoning Malone:  My Tribute to Jim Powell

As I intend to record my sentiments with a genuine sense of heart-sick accuracy, the following thoughts will likely resonate with haste and, in a damning turn, I’m uncertain I’ll manage to edit these paragraphs in the way they deserve.  Though, to honor my mentor, Jim, I’ll do my best to apply requisite revisions. I’ll do my best to make the time.

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Jim Powell died on Monday January 27, 2020.  He was sixty-nine years old.  (You should read more here.)

One of the most formative discussions I had with Jim took place around 2011, not too long after the birth of my daughter.  I was explaining a clumsy strategy for “making time” time to write, and that some of my tactics had downright devolved into schemes.  Not necessarily lies for the obtainment of creative seclusion, but close enough. Whether political or artistic, Jim had a lot to say about liars and the varying shades of their taxonomic ranking.

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I wrote about Jim Powell last year, just after the release of Only Witness, his collection of short stories which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Indiana Writers Center— an organization Powell founded in 1979.  That said, I’m not aiming for redundancy. Rather, I’m focusing on celebrating the lessons he’s left me with. Because make no mistake: He’s still teaching.

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I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a “daydream” (probably more of a delusion at this point in my career), but harbor an optimistic reverie related to a scene in Brian De Palma’s 1987 film, The Untouchables.  (For the record, I’m not particularly enamored with the film.  I’d chalk it up to an overall tonal strangeness—a mishmash dissonance between gangster severity and David Mamet’s commentary on camp.)  

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Despite a few memorable moments, my favorite scene finds Costner’s Eliot Ness in the midst of collecting his crew; he and warhorse Jim Malone (Sean Connery) pursue a “rotten apple” crack-shot at the police academy.  They discover George Stone, the unassuming alias of Giuseppe Petri (Andy Garcia). After Malone intentionally provokes Stone into admitting his identity—“Oh please don’t waste my time with that bullshit,” says Malone—the veteran shoves a clipboard into the rookie’s chest.  Weapons are drawn in an impulsive face-off, and with the silver barrel of a revolver touching his throat, Malone reveals a wry grin.  “Oh I like him.” Jim Malone extends a hand to George Stone. “You just joined the treasury department, son.”

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Jim Powell was the Jim Malone that saved my literary life.  And although I sense that there will never be a grizzled, old-pro to extract me from my vocational low points—that help, essentially, is never coming—the daydream elicits a momentary mental smirk on bad days.  And like many dreams it does, in many ways, sustain me.

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Annual NUVO Arts Guide (2006)

As my understanding of what Jim Powell actually did on IUPUI’s campus (and across the state and insulative Midwest, for that matter) matured as did my sobriety for what the device of writing was actually meant.

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Annual NUVO Arts Guide (2006)

To be clear, I was no crack-shot, and in those early days of trying to understand what it meant to be a student worth his time and attention, Jim adhered to not only a high standard of production, but demonstrated a high standard of reciprocity:  If you worked hard, he’d work just as hard for you—but, damn it, you had to put in the earnest energy.  Don’t waste my time with that bullshit.  As I began to demonstrate more discipline (not just academically and creatively, but personally — the three were, for a short time, parallels), Jim rewarded these bouts of growth with providing not necessarily flimsy encouragements, but something more valuable:  A sense of identity. For me, in those nascent days, Jim Powell’s presence was akin to Jim Malone’s, though with a slight variation: You just joined the English department, son.

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I won’t invest too many lines dwelling on grief (these things often have an unpredictable lag time).  Besides, I can picture Jim bristling at any undue baroqueness, wincing, shaking his head, parted bangs wagging at his temples.  I mean, we’ve been talking about this part of life, in one way or another, for years, no?

During the individualized guided-writing course (a class which occupied over twelve months under the sole guidance of Jim), 

Though a separate essay could be born of memories orbiting the stories Jim assigned for deep reading over the years, one of my fondest is an examination of Kevin Moffett’s “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events.”  Originally appearing in McSweeney’s (2010), the story stages a narrator assessing not only his shortsightedness as both a writer and a son, but how the two might be simultaneously reconciled.  In an orchestrated flex of desperation, the narrator—under the guise of a casual visit—pays his former English professor a visit with the hopes of validating his unproductive state as a writer, using the office as a confessional, of sorts; but the professor isn’t falling for it.  “So what are you pretending to be today?” he says, nonchalantly dissecting the self-serving scheme. “I’m paid to teach students like you how to spoil paper,” the professor says; and when the narrator—unaware of his smug, intellectual preciousness—admits his writing’s hit a dead end, the elder says, “Well, I guess that’s how it goes.  Talent realizes its limitations and gives up while incompetence keeps plugging away until it has a book. I’d take incompetence over talent in a street fight any day of the week.”

I’ve been guilty of this sort of simpering perfection and the desire for artistic verification, but Jim had seen too much, heard too many excuses, dismissed too many half-hearted confessions.  Jim simply wouldn’t allow real writers to take the easy way out.  

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Release party, genesis, 2011

As Jim did with most all aspiring writers under his charge, he helped us break habits that would—both in the moment and, if they committed to the journey—result as artistic hindrances.  Though we are, as fictioneers, liars by creative trade, he would also alert us to untenable bullshit: What was acceptable as art, what was lazy and insolent. 

In 1977, Jim and a band of literary comrades opened a bookstore in Santa Monica, California, called Intellectuals and Liars.  Jim is quoted as saying that they’re “two people you can’t trust”—an apropos description of both writers and poets.

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Photo Courtesy of Karen Kovacik

Chekov comes to mind—more specifically, an excerpt from his story, “The Lady With the Pet Dog”:

He had two lives:  an open one, seen and known by all who needed to know it, full of conventional truth and conventional falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life that on in secret.  And through some strange, perhaps accidental, combination of circumstances, everything that was of interest and importance to him, everything that was essential to him, everything about which he felt sincerely and did not deceive himself, everything that constituted the core of his life was going on concealed from others; while all that was false, the shell in which he hid to cover the truth … went on in the open.  Judging others by himself, he did not believe what he saw, and always fancied that every man led his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy as under cover of night.

As writers, we reveal ourselves in layers—yes, to our often limited audience, but this is also a mayday of sorts to the larger world.  “The greatest benefit we owe the artist,” George Eliot suggested, “whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies … Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”  When we receive a response to theses cryptic signals, the world’s toothy machinations dull by a few degrees … contract a touch to become, if only for a time, more manageable.  “The secret cannot be kept,” writes poet Jorie Graham, “It wants to cross over, it wants to be a lie.”

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Tintern Abbey, Photo Courtesy of Karen Kovacik

And while the lies we tell ourselves are insidious, the lies we tell each other possess the potential for salvation.  

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“Anything worth saying is unsayable,” says the curmudgeonly mentor in Moffett’s story.  “That’s why we tell stories.” In the beginning, I simply wanted to (graceless as it may have been) elbow my way for a place at Jim’s workshop table.  In the middle, I wanted to be a good, literary soldier. And in the end, I somehow arrived at the undeserving luxury of calling him my friend.

Owing to its erratic architecture, the field of artistic creativity is one in which actual mentors are difficult to maintain.  Some of this has to do with the nature of perpetual (and sometimes divergent) growth, which makes kindred alignment difficult to maintain.  Some artists are just selfish assholes who are resistant to investing time to another person’s craft. But I think it’s the notion of emulation (particularly in the formative phases) which is both necessary and deceptive.  

We all require scaffolding to initial mimicry, but we’re often impersonating an aesthetic from a distant proximity.  This becomes, ultimately, limiting. 

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Indians game, 2013

After completing my degree, Jim and I stayed in touch; and while I could cite a number of humorous missives, Jim was less interested in discussing craft than he was in assessing life.  In 2013, shortly before he and his wife, Karen Kovacik (who I’m indebted for introducing me to Isaac Babel thirteen years) trekked to Saugatuck, Michigan for their fifth anniversary. We’d just attended an Indians baseball game with my stepson, Jack.  “And it was great to just hang out with you, and not worry about ‘schooling’ … And I am delighted to think your personal life is quite on track—the most important thing.  I’m sure we’ll come up with some future activities.”

The last message I received from Jim was on January 24, and it was, of course, a note of guidance, directing my attention to Catherine Lucille (C.L.) Moore, a science fiction writer who attended Indiana University in 1929 (she went on to sell her first story to Weird Tales in 1933). 

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Ahead of making plans for his return to Indy, which would have been in close proximity to his birthday on February 19, I asked for Jim’s address down in Fort Myers.  (He’d annually spent the winter months in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and was even working on a novel set in PV around 1916. “And, hey,” he wrote a few years ago, “it’s fine to drink margaritas en la manana here.”)  He’d planned on being back in town around February 28.  “Can’t receive mail here except through rental agent,” he wrote, “and that’s too difficult, so it will have to wait.”

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“Big chill heading down from the north…”

Don’t second guess getting together for that Scotch with an old friend or snag a burger with a buddy.  Resist the urge to assemble an excuse—because you’re too busy—to avoid playing an inane game with a child.  Though the two are braided they are often exclusive, so while there exists the scattered workbench of art, there remains the craft of life.  “I’m happy to think I’ve become my ‘best person’ in the last few years,” Jim said a few months ago. “I take great joy in seeing your happy family.”

No more excuses.  You have to make the time.

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The world, in macro sense, is replete with bad men.  On a smaller, day-to-day scale, our world is filled with feckless men.  Being a writer helps you calibrate your judge of character.  

On my part, I’ll never be able to write like Jim, never be able to imitate his intellectual perception or his knack for subtext; but more importantly, there are other traits I’ll never be able to emulate.  His patience, for instance. His compassion.

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Only Witness Release Party, 2019

Great men die twice, wrote Paul Valéry—once as men and once as great.  And even though he repeatedly warned against the solitary vagaries inevitable to a life dedicated to this craft, Jim—Jim’s guidance—made this existence as a writer, and made the world itself, a little less lonely.

 

A Celebration of the Unsettling: Gordon B. White’s Debut Collection: AS SUMMER’S MASK SLIPS AND OTHER DISRUPTIONS

 

I have it on dependable authority that Gordon B. White maintains a daily regimen of long-hand writing exercises (you might glimpse a mention of this practice by way of some of his social-media posts). It’s a presumption, but I can’t help but consider that this pen-to-paper practice (diurnal journaling not being a unique task for many writers, though possibly an exhaustive disciplinary tactic to civilian sensibilities) has been a galvanizing ingredient in the syllable-by-syllable precision of White’s fiction.
“Writing exercises are maps, not the destination,” writes novelist Bret Anthony Johnston. “They are the keys to the castle, not the castle itself.” As such, Gordon B. White reveals himself as both cartographer and locksmith in his debut collection, As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions.
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A coiling of quality and control, White’s collection houses a reverence for language and style, and showcases a devotion to the expansive spectrum of influence — a fictive continuum ranging from an intellectual, arthouse aesthetic to Creepshow escapism. White flexes enough of a scribbler’s muscle to make the collection, in its aggregate, subtlety instructive — pay attention to not only how he’s crafted the tales, but how (and perhaps his editorial collaborators) have elected to structure the collection.

The first half of the collection is threaded with themes of psychological precariousness and the necrotic logic of religious delusions; we abrade here too glimpses of deteriorative mental states and the gloomy aspects of domestic relationships.

The collection’s opener, “Hair Shirt Drag,” is a brief examination of social-sexual norms and a meditation on ritualized expectation — certainly, for our protagonist, but also for us as participants. A tale riddled with telegraphic pinpricks which act as an accretion for a final incantation: the story’s hue also functions as a reflection for White’s collection itself. “Words don’t mean nothing,” says the tale’s narrator. “It’s only intention that makes things happen.” White, however, is all too aware of the potency of words.

White’s initial acts also bear a sequence of shorter, flash-fiction pieces which successfully play like tonal interludes between stories (“But you were right. The Beast is coming”); likewise, further on readers will find “The Hollow,” a brief piece which works more like a well-defined sketch — a fermenting barm with all the characteristics of a fully-formed story eagerly waiting to be fed.

But by the second half, White quietly gives readers over to a series of more sober stories with an analysis of duality and the significance of altruistic paternality (which I’ll get back to in a few seconds).

Of note is “Open Fight Night at the Dirtbag Casino,” a poignant contemplation on the oxidizing qualities of revenge in the face of forfeited salvation. As short story collections are a useful tool for showcasing an array of creative capabilities, White demonstrates a variety of devices — on display here, a penchant for voice (“believe me, babies”) is shrewdly executed.

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I can’t help but subjectively project the possibility that this tale was borne out of White’s laborious ethos when it comes to his craft. “I don’t have a way to keep track of how many times we’ve done this,” admits the narrator, and it’s interesting, in a macro sense, to wonder at White’s back-to-the-drawing-board awareness — which all writers resignedly confront — as he repeatedly slips on the skin of would-be short-story protagonists. “You’re never the same train hitting the same wall, the same straw on the camel’s back … [y]ou just gotta keep spinning, again and again, to see where it lands.” White’s violent piece concludes with a tenebrous and potent punch.

Opening, on the other hand, with a flurry of fistacuffs, is “Eight Affirmations For the Revolting Body, Confiscated From the Prisoners of Bunk 17.” Bound to a prison camp during an Us-versus-Them global war, the story hits satisfying dystopian notes while narratively balancing on razor-wire between horror and science-fiction. It’s scary and bleak, but closes on a bittersweet “note.”
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But it’s “The Buchanan Boys Ride Again” that breaks the thematic fever of the first half of the book. A sort of salute to 80s horror and stitched with action-comedy quips, my main nit is a lack of clarity in the “creature” component’s explanation, the story, in commendable capacity, suffers from the same symptom as “The Hollow”: the skeletal system clearly urges expansion.
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“The Buchanan Boys” is infused with enjoyable humor, but the underpinning preoccupation is clear and quite touching: the (ostensibly mundane) magnitude of fathers.

And while readers will glean as much in the closing sequences of stories, the collection’s dedication page is succinctly poignant. “For my father James — a teller of tales and gone too soon.” Gone, yes, but White has ensured that the man’s presence, and influential legacy, reverently resonates on our page.
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Aided by a sluicing first-person execution, and imbued with themes of duality, loss, responsibility, the reflective “Birds of Passage” stands as the collection’s closer.  “As I myself grow older, I often think back to that night on the river. About how there’s a world around us, but beyond us, too. A world that takes things, changes them, but sometimes gives them back. All of it — all of it is ripples.”

The catchy cadences of Gordon B. White’s prose serve as stepping stones for readers crossing the pleasantly deceptive arteries of his disquieting narratives. As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions is an impressive exercise in precision, and a celebration of the unsettling.

Now Available: WHEN IT’S TIME FOR DEAD THINGS TO DIE

Book-release day has arrived: available now in both paperback and Kindle / e-reader formats: When It’s Time For Dead Things To Die (Unnerving, 2019).

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This novella-length story is, in part, a product of both my time in Chicago as well as a formative stint in the adjacent “Region”; and my encounters with that erratic cast of characters (some more “human” than others) informs much of the narrative action. I’d like to extend a warm note of gratitude to Unnerving’s Eddie Generous, who’s provided the opportunity and support to expand this story with the potential of reaching fresh eyes.

Here’s the back-cover synopsis for When It’s Time For Dead Things To Die:

Things are in decline…for Joseph Lowe, a rootless young man who falls for the wrong girl; for Gregory Bath, an aristocratic magnate who spares Lowe an almost certain death for his “transgression,” imposing upon him a kind of parasitic servitude. Now working as a line cook at Bath’s legendary Tudor Quoin, as well as catering to the growing needs of a man far older than he seems, Lowe desperately seeks release from a trap which has ensnared him for the past nine months. But who could possibly escape a family as powerful, as influential, or as far-reaching as the Baths? In the end, choices must be made, sides must be drawn, and for Lowe this means discovering an unlikely salvation between himself and his captor, as well as learning the true meaning of “family.”

From the mind of Clint Smith, author of Ghouljaw and Other Stories, comes a haunting, poetic novella, equal parts Dracula and Eastern Promises, set in modern-day Indiana but stretching its talons far back into history.

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Ambrosius Huber (1499), published pamphlet reading: Here begins a very cruel frightening story about a wild bloodthirsty man

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Clint Smith is the author of the collection, Ghouljaw and Other Stories (Hippocampus Press, 2014). Of late, his tales have appeared in Weird Fiction Review #9 (Centipede Press) and Twice-Told: An Anthology of Doubles (Chthonic Press). His sophomore collection, The Skeleton Melodies, is slated for 2019 release with Hippocampus Press. Clint lives in the Midwest, along with his wife and two children, on the fringes of Deacon’s Creek.

Jim Powell’s ONLY WITNESS: The Intellectual and Liar That Reconstructed My Literary Life

This past Friday evening at the Indiana Writers Center marked the official launch of Jim Powell’s inaugural collection of short stories, Only Witness, an event which functioned as both a highly-anticipated release party and pilgrimage for the local literati.

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In attendance, it was easy to spot Dan Wakefield, long-time Indianapolis Star columnist, Dan Carpenter—Barb Shoup (novelist and Executive Director of the IWC); I was able to briefly catch up with Terry Kirts (senior creative writing lecturer at IUPUI), and gave a nod to Robert Rebein (novelist and interim Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI).  Susan Neville was also mentioned to be in the crowd; and of course present was Jim’s wife, former Indiana Poet Laureate, Karen Kovacik—his companion and ally, his “muse.”

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But there were many in attendance, from a spectrum of creative crafts, who packed the space to applaud not only Jim’s creative accomplishment in the form of Only Witness, but his influential vision as founder of the Indiana Writers Center in 1979.

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Only Witness release party:  March 8, 2019

To give Jim an errant, social-media “shoutout” would be an exercise in indolence; yet, on the other hand, I feel as though I could write in meandering, marathon-fashion about the man—about how he sobered my from my own indolent tendencies (read: lazy writing habits) as an apprentice, and provided guidance in how to develop into the thing that compels the more important thing into existence:  the writer producing the writing.  (There is, of course, a separate discussion here about whether or not writing—or any artistic discipline—can be taught:  about whether or not someone can teach another human being how to become a creative entity.  My answer is complicated, but I believe we have inherent traits which, if honed, can be calibrated to align with the frequencies of specific creative mediums.)

More than scribbling stories, Jim inadvertently guided me into how to become a more dependable husband and father.  Jim was my mentor during a particularly formative phase when I was desperately trying to grow up.  Those themes came out in my fiction, and Jim identified certain “pings,” suggesting how to negotiate and renegotiate (often through relentless revisions) the terrain of what I was trying to say—what I was trying to be.

Going back to the late-90s, my time on the campus of IUPUI (and along the landscapes of academes) was erratic.  But as the turbulence began to wane and my life began to gain some semblance of dimension (this was after I returned from my stint in both Chicago and “The Region” of northwest Indiana), so too did my devotion to the discipline of writing.  At some point, I began pursuing a degree in English.

I happened to be acquainted with (though various creative clicks) a number of local poets and writers, many of whom provided wisdom on how to navigate this venture—This is who you want for poetry…This is who you want for creative fiction…If you can, try to get David Schanker for his “Novel” class…This is who you don’t want for editing…

Jim Powell (who at that time was still acting as lecturer and advisor in the English Department) had somewhat a legendary reputation, mostly for his prowess in the literary arena, but he was also purported to be somewhat of a hardass.

Indeed, I would pass Professor Powell crossing campus, snatching covert, sideling glances at the man:  An ostensibly preoccupied individual, walking with an intent gait, toting a use-worn leather briefcase, surely filled with doomed manuscripts which had been mauled and executed with Powell’s red pen.  Poor, hapless bastards.  (Side note:  Jim used blue ink, not red; and that leather briefcase:  it’s a Coach from 1982, and has only once, in these thirty-seven years, required repair at a shoe shop.)  Thus, in pursuit of an English degree, it was statistically certain that the initiate’s meandering path would eventually intersect with that of one James E. Powell.

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What I would come to understand is that most of these misguided savants making caricaturist claims about Jim were rather flimsy when it came to being challenged by both their peers and instructors—yes, I refer to the micro-Coloseum of close readings and roundtable story analysis, but I’m also citing something more intrinsic:  they didn’t want to commit to the menial, solitary, and (sometimes painfully) private work of becoming a writer.

This didn’t appeal to their sensibilities, and so the calculus was that Jim was tough.  He is.  And he produces a durable product.

(My confession:  In my spring, 2009 semester portfolio submission, I attempted to give a wide berth to a pivotal revision within one of my stories.  Jim quickly noted that it was unacceptable, and that I would receive a grade of “Incomplete” until I made good on making the necessary narrative alterations; otherwise, I would fail the semester.  Inherently, I absorbed these demanding correspondences with a petulant validation for a suspicion I’d harbored all along:  that I had no business on a college campus—check that:  that my writing had no business on a college campus.  I made several attempts to change the dynamic between my characters and their circumstances, but nothing was working; and I would be nifty to simply say that all I would have needed to do was tinker with a few elements to mollify my instructor, but that’s not how it works, is it?  Although the art often requires agile embellishment, there really is no lying in earnest fiction.  Jim knows that, and he wouldn’t let me get away with it.  He never has.)

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2011 genesis release party

But one the most pivotal periods of my life was between 2010 and 2011.  At this time, my modest house had evolved into a home which contained my recently-married wife, a six-year-old, a toddler, and a Golden Retriever approximately the size of Fenrir.  I was not only attempting to finish my English degree with the intent of becoming on English teacher (the former occurred in 2012, while the latter never happened), but I was also still trying to gain some footing with my fiction.

As I closed in on my final classes, viable options—essentially due to the day-long duration of my weekly occupation, and the fact that I had, during my prolonged stay on campus, exhausted all other available classes—were discouragingly sparse.  (It’s entailment, but the other element here was money, or in my case, lack thereof.)

Nearly optionless, I reached out to my coach.  Jim, after some light interrogation (“I will ask the questions!”) about my commitment to the craft, suggested a guided writing class, which was effectively a one-on-one workshop keenly constructed to propel a candidate through the rigors of a specific creative medium.  (In my case:  short fiction.)  His caveat:  The workload would be substantial:  enormous amounts of reading and responding, writing and revision, all of which necessitated sit-down discussions at certain intervals over the course of a both the spring semesters and three, summer months following that.  (Here’s some more entailment:  as opposed to roundtable story analyses, these sit-down discussions would offer no insulation—it was no secret that Jim has, like Hemingway, a built-in shockproof bullshit detector, and he would offer no quarter to a student who wouldn’t take the class seriously.)

The course was, in itself, course correction.  And while I was allowed to calibrate my own compass, Jim was manipulating the ambient magnetic fields.

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While Jim Powell has dozens of publication-ready stories in that proverbial, soft-side leather briefcase, nineteen polished pieces appear in Only Witness.  These tales therein have been refined over the past nine years or so, when Jim devoted less focus on what he could teach young minds as opposed to what he could teach himself.  There are a number of stories I had the honor of glimpsing their “bones” in their nascent days (“Shelter”); and there are more that resonate with peculiar significance (one of the stories contains a character bearing my daughter’s first name—coincidence?).  Still, more profoundly, there are echoes I can identify along my Midwest landscape.  Subtle sensibilities.  Sneaky, static-lashed frequencies.

What’s more, his collection’s title is quietly loaded as a directive:  it operates as, yes, a fitting, adjective-noun union, but it’s also quiet guidance:  that a writer, like a competent anthropologist, should only absorb and record the worldly interactions which they observe.

From Susan Neville:

Jim Powell has long served Indiana literature—both in his support of emerging writers and his knowledge and insight into the historical canon, which he has helped define.  and now in this new collection of short fiction, he adds his own unique voice to the list of writers who bear witness to this particular place.

Pardon the cliché, but it works in a summative sense:  Jim is a writer’s writer, and just as he’s generated his own stories, he has, likewise (though in mitotic fashion) helped to fashion the scaffolding for the lives of other writers.

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In 1977 (the year Star Wars premiered and the year I was born—I’ll let you rate the significance between the two), Jim and some literary comrades opened a bookstore in Santa Monica, California, called Intellectuals and Liars.  Jim is quoted as saying that they’re “two people you can’t trust,” and that, in his estimation, was an apropos description of both writers and poets.
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There are times when I’ve read Jim’s stories and wanted to ask a question—something to clarify, or something that, possessing an unshakable suspicion, I thought might be telling about his “real life.”  Jim is, of course, an intellectual, and, yes, a story-teller; but he is also aware of his audience which, for decades, were young writers.  “The artist acknowledges both the existence and importance of others,” writes Richard Russo in his introduction to 2010’s The Best American Short Stories.  “He starts out making the thing for himself, perhaps, but at some point realizes he wants to share it, which is why he spends long hours reshaping the thing, lovingly honing its details in the hopes it will please us, that it will be a gift worth the giving and receiving.”  Many years in the making, Only Witness is a gift which, if read closely, is not only entertaining, but—to the reverent reader—lovingly instructive.

 

 

 

 

TWICE-TOLD: A Collection of Doubles

 

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With the recent release of C.M. Muller‘s Twice-Told:  A Collection of Doubles the estimable Des Lewis is conducting another venerable “real time” review dedicated to the anthology.  Here’s a portion of what he has to say about my contribution, “Details That Would Otherwise Be Lost to Shadow”:

[B]oundaries here in a residential area explicitly akin to sovereignty of identity and today’s nationalism. Whatever I go on to say, this remains a totally compelling first-person narration by a woman, self-seeking as well as self-conscious, ruthless in her ambition and optimisation of her nuclear family, husband and daughter. […] Finds herself in the house opposite where she had not yet met whomsoever lived there – a house described by her in a wondrously hypnotic mannered way, a sort of House of Leaves blended with something completely unique, with fleeting shadows and angles […] She foolhardily leaves her signature as it were, some written boundary of statically unique self-identity, on ‘stationary’ as stationery inside this house, a house aptly named Motley House […] another Clint Smith work to cherish. If I tell you more, I would spoil it.

Snag a copy (Kindle, paperback) here:

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WEIRD FICTION REVIEW #9 Now Available

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Weird Fiction Review #9 (Centipede Press, 2018), Cover Art by Colin Nitta

With last year’s passing of the illustrating titan Stan Lee, it’s suitable to celebrate his voice and verve (along with the great Jack Kirby) with the cover art of Centipede Press‘s latest installment of Weird Fiction Review, which offers a wry wink to the inaugural, 1961 issue of the Fantastic Four (released fifty-seven years ago this past November).  The odd quad featured on the cover are, of course, notables from the Weird field, with Caitlin Kiernan standing in for Sue Storm, Victor Lavalle repping the Human Torch, Stephen Graham Jones taking on Mister Fantastic, and Laird Barron depicted as (suitably, noting his affinity for the Carpenter film) The Thing.  The list price is $35, but Centipede Press’s site currently has it for $22.

Weird-Fan side by side

Weird Fiction Review #9 (Centipede Press, 2018) / The Fantastic Four, Vol. 1, Issue #1 (1961)

“The Weird Fiction Review,” goes the site’s synopsis, “is an annual periodical devoted to the study of weird and supernatural fiction. It is edited by S.T. Joshi. This ninth issue contains fiction, poetry, and reviews from leading writers and promising newcomers. This issue features fiction by Caitl’n R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, Victor LaValle, Stephen Graham Jones, Scott Bradfield and others, and articles by Stefan Dziemianowicz (an illustrated history of Gnome Press), Adam Groves (on surrealist horror novels), John C. Tibbetts (on Marjorie Bowen), as well as verse and other essays and fiction. The feature of the issue is Chad Hensley’s outstanding article on H.R. Giger-inspired Alien toys.”

Giger

Brown University, Dec., 2018

Adam Golaski and Clint Smith, Brown University, December, 2018

In addition to a lengthy interview with author David Mitchell, Weird Fiction Review #9 also contains an exchange between Adam Golaski and me — an interview, of sorts, conducted by the Brown University English lecturer back in the fall of 2017.  The several weeks of correspondence was really an ideal way to get to know this writer who, perhaps, thrives in his obscurity.  We were able to spend a brief amount of time attempting to catch up back in December, 2018, on the Brown campus (shortly before our reading at the Arcade Asylum Author Series, Krampusnacht edition, at Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council).

My story, “The Pecking Order” (a tale which begins with a young woman attending a former student’s funeral, but transforms into something appalling) can also be found in Weird Fiction Review #9.

 

WFR9

 

DEAD THINGS: Kindle / eBook Pre-Order Now Available

Friends and literary allies: A tad ahead of the March 18, 2019 paperback and electronic release, Unnerving has made available the Kindle / eBook pre-order of my novella, When It’s Time For Dead Things To Die, at Amazon for a very reasonable $2.99.

deadthingsfull

Eddie Generous has also updated the Goodreads page to reflect the new cover art for this expanded and updated edition:

Amazon Kindle / eBook Pre-Order: Here

Updated Goodreads Book Page: Here