An Eloquent Undulation: C.M. Muller’s NIGHTSCRIPT, Vol. 4

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Now in its fourth permutation, C.M. Muller’s Nightscript anthology continues to house — within its slate-scrubbed clapboard, concealed behind murky panes — a series of stories which, due to their strangeness and peculiarity, may have never otherwise discovered a proper home.
A shrewd student of a number of creative mediums, Muller is neither clumsy nor casual in his execution of these annual projects; and it really is a demonstrative exercise in voice and vision — his conjuring, capturing, and making incarnate (from font, to paper, in artwork, in tonality) a singular aesthetic.

Nightscript, IV expectedly contains a number of top-notch stories penned by (as Muller is wont to do) many “unknown” scribblers — this is one of the fantastic aspects of the series, as Muller places emerging names in close proximity with established writers, as is the case in N.IV with appearances by V.H. Leslie (“Sugar Daddy”) and Steve Rasnic Tem (“By the Sea”). I was personally taken with L.S. Johnson’s “A Harvest Fit For Monsters” (a grim and ambiguous tale of war-torn grief); Farah Rose Smith’s “Of Marble and Mud” (a crisply written narrative focusing on the frightening and fragile bond between two sisters); and Mike Weitz’s “Rainheads” (bearing bleak shades of apocalyptic horror).  Joanna Parypinski’s “The Thing In the Trees” is a personal highlight for me—one of the most haunting and deftly-handled tales I’ve encountered for quite some time.

Nightscript alumnus Charles Wilkison (“The Dandelion Disorder”) makes a welcome appearance, as well as Christi Nogle (“Cinnamon to Taste”) and Daniel Braum (“The Monkey Coat”). Resonating, still, for me are the stories “There Has Never Been Anyone Here” by J.T. Glover; “By The Sea” by the aforementioned Mr. Rasnic Tem; and Kirsty Logan’s “My House Is Out Where the Lights End,” which serves as the publication’s breathtaking, closing punctuation.

Another part of Muller’s magic is his sapient strategy in weaving an ambiguous melody in the sequencing of the tales, yielding a unique resonance and eloquent undulation to each installment.
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Nightscript is, of course, an annual celebration of the pleasant melancholies of autumn; but its contents are suitable for any timeframe in which a reader can carve out some solitudinal space, as the well-crafted tales call for your attention and close-reading consideration. More than this, Nightscript is — in Muller’s mental landscape — a vital venue for voices often lost beneath the wind-swept blanket of brittle, burnt-orange leaves — an otherwise unnoticed sibilance existing in the shadowed, foreboding fringes of a rickety-limbed forest.

Recently, Muller announced the forthcoming release of his first collection of tales, Hidden Folk. And if you’d like to get to know a bit more about this writer, editor, and self-described scrivener, check out an interview with Muller conducted by Scott Dwyer over the The Plutonian.

An Errant Conduit: Exchanges with Adam Golaski

WTMIn upcoming months, a conversation will be available between Adam Golaski and I—an exercise (which has been structured as an interview) that began in the autumn of 2017, one in which I was reluctant to conclude late last winter (the publication venue will be announced in due time).

About a year ago, Scott Dwyer (steadfast champion of the horror genre and editorial superintendent of the “nightmarish and…nebulous” site The Plutonian) had achieved breathing perverse life into his publicational labor of love, Phantasm/Chimera:  An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, for which he had a specific vision, fulfilling a specific vision for creating a project with a singular roster of writers.

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In addition to writers, Dwyer’s “cast” included writers who I’d previously established contact via reader-writer interactions on social media, namely Jon Padgett, John Claude Smith, Matt Bartlett, and Chris Slatsky.  Still, there were others whose paths I’d not crossed but who’d inked impressive reputations in the weird-fiction, dark fantasy, and horror communities—among them, Thana Niveau (From Hell to Eternity); Brian Evenson (A Collapse of Horses); Mike Allen (Unseaming); Jason Wyckoff (Black Horse and Other Strange Stories); Livia Llewellyn (Furnace); and Adam Golaski (Worse Than Myself).

In the following weeks, I’d read some commentary Golaski had made about Dwyer’s P/C project on his Little Stories blog, and I initiated what would be a rather humorous and insightful correspondence.

One of the things I admire most about Golaski’s work is his practice of utilizing what might be judged as discarded (or neglected) “ingredients” or premises which lend themselves to story-arc fecundity.  Golaski has the knack of taking a segment of all of our ostensibly mundane situations, and augmenting them into something brilliantly discordant.  I am reminded, in that way, of some of the Dadaist aesthetics, and in others in the specimens of surrealists, with how he executes his craft.

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One compelling parallel when describing Golaski’s inventive, non-conformist verve is from his story “The Animal Aspect of Her Movement” (Worse Than Myself, 2008).  In its opening sequence, the behind-the-wheel narrator—mentally magnetized to vehicle whose occupant is the source of a tepid obsession—alters his course to pursue a little red car; but Golaski deftly weaves his reader into a different lane all together.  With a seamless, anachronistic shift into the past, the narrator watches the girl (the object of perceptive fixation), after briefly exiting the vehicle and surveying a roadside overlook:

[she] returned to her car, shut the door, turned on the ignition, drove through the guard rail, and over the edge of the cliff. / I followed.  With deliberation, I backed up and drove my car through the gap she’d made in the guardrail, across a few yards of crumbling dirt, over, down.  I caught a glimpse of the picnickers, a delightfully absurd sight, as my stomach laughed its way up my throat to my brain.  My car hit the dirt, nose-first.  The river loud, a short distance from my shattered windshield.

And then, following the jarring crash, an understatement of normality:  “I was later coming home than expected.”

We, his audience, are repeatedly—sometimes subtly coaxed, sometimes viciously hauled—drawn across boundaries and reeled over cliffs of convention.  Often unorthodox, Golaski perpetuates his avant-garde undertakings while maintaining a resonate accessibility and an admirably dark weirdness (I defy you to read the final, uneasy paragraphs of “A String of Lights” without some sort of vertiginous, dread-induced shudder.)

In the wake of those occasional, conversational salvos, I’ve been, in this past year, reminded about the importance of this discipline—something which, in my mind, resembles a rickety, Temple-of-Doom rope-bridge conduit between writer and reader, and how an errant, conversational salvo can lead to genuine discovery.  It just reinforces one of the more rewarding aspects of this exercise:  that—though at times daunting and fraught with what might appear to be self-defeating futility—this thing works.

There’s recognition, resonance (think of Werner Herzog’s “ecstatic truth”—the trinity of fabrication, imagination, and stylization); and though it’s never necessary to reach out to other writers to converse about their work, our age (sometimes) makes it more feasible.  Conversely, the same platforms present myriad mirrors which can threaten to poison our private progress.  (Years ago, it seems, Golaksi was smart enough to preserve some distance between himself and social media, and he’s been fidelis about sustaining that phantomic fingerprint—yet another aspect about his ethos I’ll praise here.)

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If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Adam Golaski’s brilliant stories, essays, and poetry, remedy the misstep quickly.  If you’re fortunate enough to find them, snag a copy or two of the Golaski-edited nɘw gɘnrɘ, which feature haunting, oppressively well-crafted short stories (stories by Stephen Graham Jones, Jennifer Claus, Eric Schaller, and John Robins are found in previous installments of nɘw gɘnrɘ—in particular, a clever tale by Jaime Corbacho, “Honeymoon,” makes me want to be a better writer); and keep an eye peeled for some difficult-to-find stories in the back issues of David Longhorn’s Supernatural Tales.

Finally, it was welcome news last year (not once, but twice) to have discovered that my stories would share the table-of-contents for a pair of publications with Golaski; you can read his unsettling story, “The Wind, The Dust,” in the (aforementioned) Phantasm/Chimera:  An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams.  2017 also afforded a Golaski story in the pages of C.M. Muller’s superb, annual undertaking Nightscript, the third volume containing the pleasantly distressing story, “The Beasts Are Sleep.”  Most recently, Golaski has an essay featured in the Bennington Review (update:  read his essay, “On David Lynch’s Revenge of the Jedi,” here).  Beyond that, here are some other projects to add to your homework:

Worse Than Myself (2008)

Color Plates (2010)

Oh One Arrow (2007)

A Sing Economy (2008)

Personally, one of the compartments of innate validation comes in the form of candidly sharing tales of toil:  against the clock, against failure, in finding time to suture-together “things” in the face of daily obligations—the Artful-Dodger methods we, as writers, exploit in order to “make” time.  The cynosure of being published is, of course, a criterion of progress and a benchmark for industry acclimation, but our courses require channels of calibration, criticism, and conversation.  Accolades roll in ebbs and neaps, but the integrity of our intrinsic endeavors endure.  “Some kind of supernatural thing,” Golaski writes in one of his stories, “that thing that occasionally [makes] lonely moments profound.”

Lux’s Liminal Illumination

lux shotIn February, 2017, the poet Thomas Lux died of lung cancer at his home in Atlanta, Georgia.  I was unaware of his passing until months later when I snagged on his name in an “In Memoriam” section of a magazine.  The sneaky-swift riptides of shock and shame curled in under my midsection—shock:  the confrontation of another’s non-existence; and shame:  possessing an innate ignorance despite claiming an acquired awareness.  At the conclusion of 2017, now finally typing in its successor, it is that intersection of simple sadness and horizon-scanning curiosity that I’m assessing.

It’s certainly not hero-worship, though I would count Lux as one of my fundamental mentors.  And it eclipses belly-bitching melancholy.  There exists a group of influential individuals who’ve not cleaved to the social-media precincts which have seduced so many (indicting myself here, too) over the past decade and some change, and I find myself scrambling to keep pace with the creative rhythms which provided so much (wince, if you must) galvanic inspiration.lux cradle

My corporeal clock ticked-over to forty this past year, and in exercises which aim to strike a balance between conducive reflection and solipsistic introspection, I ruminate on the late poet Lux and what his work did for me.  “A poet may not be a hero,” wrote Stephen Dobyns, “but I can think of many who have been heroic, since certainly it is heroic to put the ego in jeopardy.”

My first encounter with Lux—one of his poems, rather—came during a rather unforgiving winter in 2004.  After returning from Chicago, I’d taken to the notion of completing a bachelor’s degree (which had been simmering on departmental and bursar back-burners for a number of years), hewing toward the disciplines of my newfound preoccupation with creative writing.  I’d been privately penning some rather painful free-verse; and it wasn’t until I’d tapped-in to the frequencies of Thomas Lux (and for that matter, the works of Adrienne Rich, Charles Simic, Tomas Tranströmer, Kumin) that my amateur endeavors began to gain some modulation.


“Snake Lake,” Thomas Lux

My friends, I hope you will not swim here:
this lake isn’t named for what it lacks.
This is not just another vacant scare.
They’re in there—knotted, cruel, and thick

with poison, some of them. Others bite
you just for fun—they love that curve
along the white soft side of your foot,
or your lower calf, or to pierce the nerves

with their needles behind your knees.
Just born, the babies bite you all the same.
They don’t care how big you are—please
do not swim here. There is no shame

in avoiding what will kill you: cool pleasure
of this water. Do not even dip your toes
in, because they’ll hurt you, or worse,
carry you away on their backs­—no,

not in homage, but to bite you as you sink.
Do not, my friends, swim here: I like you
living: this is what I believe, what I think.
Do not swim here—lest the many turn to few.

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street clocksIn the summer of 2004, a number of coincidences which were punctuated by an unlikely tag-along invitation to accompany an MFA-student-acquaintance to Warren Wilson College outside Asheville, North Carolina (where they were finalizing said degree).  As it happened, Thomas Lux was an instructor at the time.  To recount my happenstance meeting and its ensuing discussion with him would dilute the point:  that, in my neophyte enterprises, I’d been appraising the triangulation of symbolic abstraction, manifest fulfillment, and the ossified insulation of the real—a contextual balance of emotion, intellectuality, physicality.


“A Little Tooth,” Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.

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Like Lux’s poems, there were companionable comforts which sustained me in 2017.  Not the least of which being the actual friendships I’ve gained and maintained over the past few years—friendships which are less the result of ephemeral popularity, but the actual twofold transmission of ink and image.  Along with some ancillary notes on the progression of publication, here are some mediums which provided more than a little contentment.


Aural Accompaniment:

I had some ferocious companions this past year; and though some of the albums are a few years old, they provided an infusion of vibrant acidic-electricity, making the mundane vagaries of our typical day-to-day more tolerable.  Here’s what I’ve got:

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  • Power Trip: Nightmare Logic (2017)
  • River Black: River Black (2017)
  • Scour: Scour (2017)
  • Vektor: Terminal Redux (2016)
  • Iron Reagan: Crossover Ministry (2017)
  • Crimeny: Peat (1994)
  • Bolt Thrower: Mercenary (1998)
  • Magna Carta Cartel: The Demon King (2017)
  • Night Demon:  Darkness Remains (2017)
  • I: Between Two Worlds (2006)
  • Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (1976)
  • Immortal: Damned in Black (2000)
  • Immolation:  Atonement (2017)

Judge Read:

Just like some of my writing exercises, I find myself with a similar confession about reading:  I don’t do it as much as I used to or need to.  Still:  here’s a portion of what I was able to get under my belt:

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  • His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Bodies of Water, V.H. Leslie
  • From A People of Strange Language, Christopher Slatsky
  • Palladium at Night, Christopher Slatsky
  • The Secret of Ventriloquism, by Jon Padgett
  • Worse Than Myself, Adam Golaski
  • With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer, by J.R. Hamantaschen
  • The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  • Stoner, John Williams
  • Phantasm/Chimera, edited by Scott Dwyer (which included my story, “Fiending Apophenia”)
  • Sweet land Stories, E.L. Docotrow
  • Nightscript, Vol. III, edited by CM Muller (which included my story, “The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein”)
  • The Bottoms, Joe Landsdale
  • Mrs. God, Peter Straub

Ocular Edification:

Because free time is spare and a rare commodity during the week, I’m tallying serial vehicles as well.

  • They Look Like People (2015)sdt
  • Super Dark Times (2017)
  • Absentia (2011)
  • A Dark Song (2016)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
  • The Invitation (2015)
  • Hush (2016)
  • Stranger Things 2 (2017)
  • It (2017)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

 

 

 

Dwellings—disparate, digressive—of 2015

2015 teeth

Naturally, situated here in this winter window between the consumer chaos of Christmas and the transitive threshold of New Year’s, many annual lists emerge over the transom, making it difficult to avoid accumulating some ruminative (albeit self-serving) notes of my own.

The challenge, of course, is compartmentalization, along with the exercise of striving to fit all the influential pieces into vivid unity.  (And while I still maintain an old-fashioned, long-hand journal, I will, inevitably, neglect to mention several events, though hope to polish these memories in the wake of this blog-based entry.)  More than anything, though—and in a feeble attempt to mellow the associated myopia—this sort of subjective exercise should be intrinsically instructive for the sake of appreciation.  A complicated, “Thank You,” in other words.

So, submitted for your (and simultaneously no one’s) approval, a modest exercise in reflection—this year, 2015:

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Personally…

…I’m loath to voluntarily (read:  carelessly) share too much of my private, family life (often failing due to the errant posting of photos) within the dodgy landscape of social media; but a doubtless highlight for my family was (after unpredictable upheaval) finally settling into our home, which seems tailored specifically for the unique rhythm of my humble clan.

The Movies…

…I’ve watched this past year are so minimal that it’s barely worth devoting space.  Still, I enjoyed several that linger:  It Follows, The Babadook, Silent House (late to that one, along with Room 237, Oculus, and Chef).  John Wick was a formulaically-fulfilling revenge flick.  One of those Star Wars movies was released in December (you might be able to find the trailer on the internet).  Saw it.  Pretty fun.

Music…

…was, as usual, a fluid entity.  Gorged myself on Ghost B.C.’s album, Meliora.  Uncle Acid was a fun find this fall, and have been consuming as much Baroness as I can of late.  And this year ends on a sad note with the passing of Lemmy on December 28.

Writing…

…is really what I come here to examine.  This year, I was fortunate to have crossed paths with Jordan Krall, publisher of Dynatox Ministries.  My novella, When It’s Time For Dead Things To Die, was released in early 2015 by Dunhams Manor Press (and imprint of Dynatox).  (Note:  thanks to David Bridges for placing the novella on his own year-end list.)  A few months later, DMP released Xnoybis, #1, a quarterly journal of weird fiction, which included my story, “The Rive.”  Over the summer, I was contacted by Stephen Jones who passed along word that “Dirt On Vicky” would be included in his annual Best New Horror anthology.  BNH #26 was published by PS Publishing this past autumn.  Also, fall saw the release of C.M. Muller’s eagerly anticipated anthology, Nightscript, Vol. I (which exceeded expectations—Muller continues to garner much-deserved accolades, including winning the Dark Muse Award for Best Multi-Author Collection via Anthony Watson’s Dark Musings).  “Animalhouse” found a home in Nightscript’s impressive TOC.

Now, nearing the annual end, the Mythic Indy anthology (after suffering a minor setback in its winter, 2015 publication) is scheduled for an early 2016 release.  You can find my short story, “The Fall of Tomlinson Hall; or The Ballad of the Butcher’s Cart,” in this inaugural project.  And just a few days after Thanksgiving, I received word that my tale, “By Goats Be Groomed,” found inclusion in the GNU Journal, which should gain readable life in the first months of 2016.

And the intimate orbit of my writing community…

…in which I’ve made some genuinely meaningful connections with in 2015.  The following folks have sustained with me, in a variety of ways, an ongoing, communicative comradery for which I’m galactically grateful.  A sober and sincere thanks to these guys in particular, along with so many more that this bonehead will forget:  C.M. Muller (for guidance, for the occasional epistolary exercise and, let’s not forget, razor-sharp and shadowed fiction); Jordan Krall (for giving my long story a shot); Scott Nicolay (for the kind words and for providing the far-reaching platform of The Outer Dark for a lesser-known “voice” like mine); Joe Zanetti (for the reviews, virtual head-butts and slaps on the shoulder); Matt Bartlett (maintaining a sort of inspirative edge in his fiction); Lou Perry (for providing unexpected—though infinitely appreciated—praise for Ghouljaw); Frank Montesonti (for his collaborative efforts with last spring’s F.C. Literati reading at Bookmama’s in Irvington); and, finally, to Jon Padgett, Daniel Mills, Christopher Slatsky (coolest initials in the biz), and John Claude Smith (coolest surname in the biz) for their endorsive support.  Thank you all for being both advocates and, in one way or another–on some level or another–friends.

 

“A Care For Dark Cookery” Interview with The Outer Dark (Episode 21)

I was recently afforded the opportunity to appear on Scott Nicolay’s podcast, The Outer Dark (Project iRadio).

The Outer Dark

L’esprit de l’escalier has been particularly pronounced in the wake of the interview and subsequent social-media (ephemeral as it may be) conversations.  Still, we managed to discuss the eerier writings of Henry James and Hawthorne, as well as the relationship with my writing and the structure (houses included) of societal rituals.

For over a decade, Thanksgiving Day (owning to the typical, day-off-work traditions) has been, for me, a day to absorb more of what I’m reading (sneak in an extra story or two), and reflect on the writing exercise I’ve accumulated during autumn.  (Standing out in my mind with Kodachrome clarity is Thanksgiving, 2000, when I completed Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night.  Ignorant of the craft (as I still, in great part, am), that novel was a revelation to me, and I had that quiet period during the holiday, and extended winter holiday, to wonder what it would be like to write something — anything.

Scott Nicolay has been enormously supportive of the Ghouljaw endeavor.  So, on this Thanksgiving Day, 2015, I’d like to record my gratitude for his writerly camaraderie, and for his high-octane celebration of little-known scribblers dog-paddling in weird waters.

Heads Up. Sun’s Down. NIGHTSCRIPT, Vol. I, Table of Contents Announced

Nightscript

In his introduction to Daniel Mills’ haunting debut collection, The Lord Came at Twilight, Simon Stranzas noted, “In some way, the last great revolution in horror was its rediscovery of its past.”

Make no mistake, just because certain camps of weird- and horror-related writers keep those strange homefires burning doesn’t mean the medium grows stale.  In fact, think of this past-present relationship as a Mobius strip, ribbons of prescient visions braided with thematic cords from our predecessors.  Echoes, if harnessed properly, have the capability of providing new momentum—new dimension.

As the editorial helmer of the annually-planned Nightscript, C.M. Muller is guiding us into steady—though nightshaded—waters.  And owing to his well-read awareness, we should accompany with confidence.

There are no tricks here, folks.  Muller is a mensch who knows his stuff.  If he hasn’t read it, he’s heard of it.  If he doesn’t own an obscure copy of a critical text, it’s probably because he’s kindly sent it along (gratis) to an acquaintance with kindred tastes.

Sure, I’m beyond honored to hold court with my fellow Nightscripters; but I’m also eager to see where—over the next few burnt-orange, smoke-scented Octobers—Muller has in mind to take us.  You’d do well to follow…

Nightscript, Vol. I—TOC:

“Everything That’s Underneath” — Kristi DeMeester
“Strays” — Gregory L. Norris
“In His Grandmother’s Coat” — Charles Wilkinson
“The Cuckoo Girls” — Patricia Lillie
“The Sound That the World Makes” — David Surface
“Below the Falls” — Daniel Mills
“The Keep” — Kirsty Logan
“She Rose From the Water” — Kyle Yadlosky
“Animalhouse” — Clint Smith
“Tooth, Tongue, and Claw” — Damien Angelica Walters
“Momma” — Eric J. Guignard
“The Trees Are Tall Here” — Marc E. Fitch
“A Quiet Axe” — Michael Kelly
“The Death of Yatagarasu” — Bethany W. Pope
“The Cooing” — John Claude Smith
“A Knife in My Drawer” — Zdravka Evtimova
“On Balance” — Jason A. Wyckoff
“Learning Not to Smile” — Ralph Robert Moore
“Fisher and Lure” — Christopher Burke
“The Death of Socrates” — Michael Wehunt

Location, Location, Vocation

These first few months of 2015 are marked by several pieces of writerly news — notably, the acceptance of a pair of stories in two, inceptive publications, each helmed by estimable editors possessing inventive visions.

“Nøkken,” Theodor Kittelsen, entitled (1904) XNOYBIS, No. 1

My story “Animalhouse” found placement in CM Muller’s inaugural Nightscript,  “N. is a venue for ‘strange tales’,” writes Muller, “fictions supernatural, uncanny, [and] weird.”  The content will no doubt possess “subtle and darksome literary horror.”  Look for fictions in the vein of Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson, Dennis Etchison, Flannery O’Connor, Terry Lamsley, Lisa Tuttle, Thomas Owen, Mary Shelley, and Arthur Machen,

The second odd abode in which my tale “The Rive” has found a “home” is in Jordan Krall’s venture, Xnoybis, a journal of weird fiction, the first issue of which will feature a “never-before-published interview with Thomas Ligotti from 1999 which has been approved by Tom himself,” according to Krall.  (The interview was conducted by David Edwards.)