Issue 17

Cover Art by Fabrice Poussin. Nonfiction by Trevy Thomas. Poetry by Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad. Fiction by Melinda Giordano and William Cass. Comics with Kevin Joseph. New Publications: Darren C. Demaree, Mark DeCarteret, and Chris Campanioni.

A Queen’s View, by Fabrice Poussin

INTERVIEW(S)

NONFICTION

POETRY

FICTION

NEW PUBLICATIONS

  • Darren C. Demaree: Bombing the Thinker (Backlash Press, 2018)
  • Mark DeCarteret: For Lack of a Calling(Nixes Mate Books, 2018)
  • Chris Campanioni: Drift

 

Cape Cod, by William Cass

I was already lying awake and waiting in the dark when my father came into the room that my little brother and I shared at the cottage.  My grandparents had been renting the same place since my father was young and they began coming over from their home in central Connecticut to Cape Cod for two weeks each summer; our family had been making the drive from ours in Ohio to spend one of those weeks with them for as long as I could remember.  I sat up on the edge of my twin bed and nodded when he put his index finger across his lips to keep us from waking my mother, baby sister, and grandmother.  I heard Greg groan when my father shook his shoulder in the bed next to me.  A three-quarters moon hovered above the pond outside the window, and I could hear the quiet tumble of waves up the road at the south end of Kingsbury Beach.  Down the hall, I saw my grandfather at the kitchen stove and knew he was making fried egg sandwiches on hard rolls that we’d eat for breakfast in the car.

Forty-five minutes later, my brother and I were hunched together in orange life vests at the bow of an old wooden skiff we’d rented at Rock Harbor while my father worked the outboard in the stern.  He was motoring us out into the bay while my grandfather baited drop lines at the bench seat in the middle.  The sun was just a muffled pink line low in the thick marine layer behind us, and the cool lick of night was beginning to fade.  Seagulls called and chased the skiff.

My father stopped a half-mile or so out and a little north at a spot he calculated by markers on the shore that the marina’s owner had recommended to us.  My grandfather helped my brother and I unspool our lines from where we sat, Greg’s on one side of the skiff and mine on the other.  It was 1964, and our gear was nothing more than coils of thick fishing line spooled around a hunk of wood shaped like an “H”.  My father poured coffee from a thermos into two freckled metal mugs and watched my grandfather demonstrate patiently to us again how to slowly jerk the lines when they’d reached the bottom to entice the flounder we were seeking.  Afterwards, he took a steaming mug from my father and they sat looking off over the water.  I was struck by how they mirrored each other in the quiet way they sat with their forearms draped across their thighs; their hooded eyes and thin, straight mouths were the same.  I didn’t really care if we caught any fish or not; it just felt wonderful and special to be together in that boat in the gray, early morning mist with the smell of salt everywhere.

After a while, they set their mugs on their seats and got their own lines in the water.  The seagulls had scattered and flown off.  When one of us moved, the boat rocked a little, but otherwise it was still until my brother began to hum softly next to me: a song my mother sang to us each night after she’d turned out the light and tucked us in.  I’d turned nine that summer and he was seven.

Perhaps an hour passed before I felt Greg startle next to me.  He jerked his line straight up over his head and shouted, “I think I got a bite!”

My grandfather handed his gear to my father and scooted back to us.  “That’s it,” he told Greg.  “Just bring in a little line at a time.  Don’t rush it.”

I watched my brother grimace and grunt as he worked his quivering line, his eyes wide.

“Good,” my grandfather told him after several silent moments passed.  “You’re doing great.  Almost there.”

The slant in Greg’s line had grown closer to the skiff.  My grandfather lifted a long-handled net and stretched it over the side where the white belly of a fish flickered near the surface.  The leader appeared, then the pinched mouth of the fish, and my grandfather leaned out, netted it, and lifted it onto the bottom of the boat.

“Boy, oh, boy,” Greg said.  “Look at that!”

The flounder was flopping about gray side up showing its strange two eyes.  My grandfather unhooked it and handed it to Greg by a gill.  It couldn’t have been more than eight inches, but he struggled against the weight and movement of it.  We were all grinning and watching him stare at the fish with his mouth agape.

My father applauded from the stern.  “Well done, son.  First fish means you buy the first beer.”

My grandfather chuckled and opened the cooler between us that he’d filled with crushed ice at the marina.  “Drop it in,” he said, “and let’s get some more.”

Greg laid the fish down on top of the ice.  My grandfather closed the lid, ruffled his hair, and began re-baiting his hook.  Off to the east, the sky had begun to brighten as the marine layer started lifting.  I could just make out a trawler motoring to deeper water through it in the distance.

By eleven, we’d all caught fish, six altogether, and the sun was almost straight overhead.  It hung bright and hot in the wide blue sky.  We’d been sweating for most of the morning, so the breeze on our faces felt good as my father opened the outboard’s throttle bringing us back to the marina.  After we docked, we bought hot dogs and sodas at the snack shack there and ate at a picnic table in the shade of its awning.  Boats knocked quietly against the dock as we ate, and clusters of exposed barnacles clung to its creosote-soaked pilings.

My father looked at his watch when we’d finished and said, “What say we get a few clams before we go back?  Tide’s almost low.  Forks and baskets are in the trunk.  We leave tomorrow, so last chance.”

“Sounds good to me,” my grandfather said.  “Boys?”

Greg and I exchanged grins and nodded.

My grandfather took a couple of quarters out of his pocket and set them on the table in front of us.  “Think you might need an ice cream bar for the drive?”

I grabbed the coins before Greg could get to them.  He was at my heels as I scampered over to the snack shack’s open window.

We went to a secluded spot that Mr. Snow, who owned our cottage, had told my grandparents about years before.  It was along a marsh not far from the cottage, and like always, we were the only ones there.  We were already in shorts and our old sneakers, so we just waded out to a little below our knees and started feeling around with our feet, disturbing sandy clouds in the water as we did and staying near one another.  My grandfather and father had the baskets strung to their waists, so Greg and I only had to manage our rakes.  When he or I raked up a clam, we just tossed it in whichever basket was closest, then shook off the seaweed left on the tongs.  My father and grandfather found twice as many as we did, but after a couple of hours we’d filled the baskets with quahogs and a few steamers.

On the way back to shore, my brother stopped suddenly, wriggling both feet around.  He frowned, and said, “Hey, wait.  I think I have a big one.”

We watched him reach down into the water with his rake, but what he lifted out wasn’t a clam.  It was a horseshoe crab waving its long, spiky tail – small, but big enough to elicit a shriek from him as he threw it as far as he could.  My father, grandfather, and I bent over laughing.

It was almost three when we got back to the cottage.   We found my mother in the front room sitting on the couch my parents pulled out to sleep on.  She’d just finished feeding my sister a bottle and was settling her into her playpen next to it.  My mother gave a little joyful when we showed her the fish and clams we’d gotten and gave Greg and I kisses on our cheeks.

She said, “Seafood feast tonight!”

My brother joined my father and grandfather at the narrow table on the side of the cottage to help clean the fish.  I wandered down to the edge of the pond where my grandmother stood painting at her easel.  She was dressed in jeans, one of my grandfather’s old plaid shirts, and a tattered cap.  In one hand, she held a piece of cardboard with smears of oil paint on it, and in the other, a pallet knife.

She smiled as I approached and said, “Sounds like you had luck.”

I grinned and nodded.  I watched her turn back to the easel, study the shoreline of the pond, and flick the pallet knife to add brown shading to a cattail she was painting.  She’d been working on the same canvas for several days, and I admired the progress she’d made.  It was a pastime she enjoyed along with my grandfather, and they’d done a lot of it since his retirement.  She favored the pallet knife technique and bold colors, while his style was more precise and traditional, reflecting his years working as a draftsman.  I watched her until I heard the screen door on the back porch yawn open and closed, then followed my father, grandfather, and Greg back inside.

My father put the tray of cleaned fillets in the refrigerator.  My mother was already at the kitchen sink opening quahogs, a big pot steaming on the stove next to her.  She turned, looked at Greg and me, and knitted her eyebrows.  “Look at you two with your eyes half-mast.  Go lie down.  You were up before dawn, see if you can nap.  Otherwise, you’ll fall asleep during dinner.”

My brother and I protested, but my father ushered us to our bedroom and waited until we were in our underwear and laying on top of the faded chenille bedspreads.  Then, he closed the door quietly, and I heard his footsteps retreat and soft music begin from the radio in the kitchen.  Greg’s small snores started soon afterwards, and in a few minutes, I was asleep, too.

When my brother and I came into the kitchen several hours later, the long slants of light on the floorboards had already lengthened towards evening.  Just outside the front door, I could see my grandmother taking down laundry from the line.  My grandfather sat at the kitchen table in a sleeveless T-shirt holding a can of beer and reading a newspaper over the top of his spectacles.  In her bassinet next to him on the linoleum, my sister kicked her feet like a swimming frog.  It was still hot.  Good smells came from the stove where flounder baked in the oven and my mother stood in her apron stirring clam chowder.  My father was behind her with his arms around her waist.  They were moving slowly together to the music on the radio.  I watched him bury his face in the hair at the base of her neck and her shoulders shiver.  I didn’t know then that it would be the last time we’d all be together there.  I had no way of knowing that my grandparents would pass away in a car accident a few months later or that my father’s work would transfer us out to California the following spring where I’d live for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know either that he would discover my mother’s affair soon after that move because he didn’t tell me about it until much later, just after she died and not long before he did himself.  It explained a lot about the distance that grew between them over the years; by the time my sister went away to college, they seemed little more than roommates sharing a house.  And, I had no idea that forty-five years would go by before I’d set foot on the Cape again.

I hadn’t been long as the principal at a new elementary school near San Diego when that next visit occurred.  It was Spring Break, and I’d flown to Boston with my daughter, Jordan, to visit colleges where she’d been accepted before she had to make her final decision about which one to attend.  She’d been set on going east for school for a long time; she wanted something new, to experience the change of seasons, and probably some distance between her mother and me.

We spent the first part of the week travelling through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut from school to school.  We had that last Saturday free, so I’d booked a room for us at a bed-and-breakfast in Eastham, just a few miles away from Mr. Snow’s cottage.  We spent the night before in Providence, Rhode Island, had breakfast at the last college on her list where we’d toured the afternoon before, bought a couple souvenirs from their bookstore, then started our drive east.  We crossed the canal at Sandwich onto the southern tip of the Cape about ten-thirty and took our time heading up Route 6 on the Mid-Cape Highway.  I pointed things out to Jordan as I recalled them, but memories didn’t really start to crystalize until we pulled into Orleans and drove down Rock Harbor Road to the bay.  The place where my grandfather and father had rented skiffs and its snack shack were gone, replaced by a large charter fishing service.  But, we had lobster rolls for lunch in a restaurant perched over the harbor where we could see some of the original dock, and I told Jordan about our early morning fishing trips while we ate.  Afterwards, I looked out silently over the wide expanse of bay until Jordan shook my shoulder and asked if I was all right.

We checked into the B&B about two, then drove over to Kingsbury Beach.  It was a cold, gray, windy afternoon, and we walked where the ocean’s wash met the sand with our hands buried in our coat pockets and collars turned up around our ears.  We were the only people on the beach.  Afterwards, we drove over to the old clamming spot, but didn’t get out of the car.  The tide was low like the day Greg had thrown the horseshoe crab.  I told Jordan about that, and we both laughed.  My brother and sister had long ago settled in separate parts of the country, and I hadn’t seen either of them for several years, although the three of us chatted by group text pretty regularly and always spoke on the phone at Christmas.

It took me a while to find the cottage, but finally stumbled upon it.  I parked the car in the same turnaround as all those years ago, and we got out.  The smells hit me first – the mud along the pond’s shore, the marshland off through the trees, the tang of salt from the ocean – and a kind of flush spread over me.  The clothesline bobbed empty on the breeze.  We walked up to the front door and peered through the glass: the kitchen linoleum and stove seemed the same, and so did the couch and slider that led to the back porch.  We walked around the side where the narrow table still stood stained with fish blood, then down to the edge of the pond where my grandmother had set up her easel.  As I had hundreds of times as a boy, I picked up a flat stone and skipped it across the still water.  Concentric circles widened towards one another after it sank.

“Did grandpa teach you how to do that?” Jordan asked.

I shrugged.  “Him or my grandfather, I guess.”

I looked back at the cottage and thought of that last evening we’d all been together.  Sitting there around the table after dinner laughing with the yellow ceiling light over us in the gathering darkness, crickets calling outside.  I remembered looking out towards the pond that night and seeing fireflies blinking, suspended over the water.

Jordan said, “Show me how.”

I looked at her and smiled.  She resembled her mother so much that it ached.  It had been fifteen years since I’d found out about her mother’s infidelity, nearly that long since we’d been divorced, and it still ached.  Standing there, I wondered about patterns crossing generations and how those might touch Jordan.  I thought about recognizing my grandfather’s and father’s eyes and mouth when I’d stared into the mirror that morning.  A frog, fresh from hibernation, croaked in the reeds near where we stood, and I thought about my grandfather in the skiff showing Greg and me how to use drop lines.  I picked up two flat stones and handed one to Jordan.

“Here,” I told her.  I said it gently.  “You hold it like this.”

***

William Cass has had over 150 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such december, Briar Cliff Review, and The Boiler.  His children’s book, Sam, is scheduled for release by Upper Hand Press in April, 2020.  Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal.  He lives in San Diego, California.

With Her Own Blood, by Melinda Giordano

“By them there sat the loving pelican, Whose young ones, poison’d by the serpent’s sting, With her own blood to life again doth bring.”
– Michael Drayton

Hundreds of years ago, on a beach that perhaps no longer exists, a pelican was seen preening itself.  Watching the unwieldy beak pierce the feathered breast, this witness – with a typically medieval combination of romance and ignorance – believed that the creature was purposefully wounding itself, to feed its young with its own blood.

The ferocity of parenthood – its mindless, intuitive courage, found a symbol on that forgotten, salty day.  Thereafter, in the coiling margins of sacred manuscripts the pelican would nest:  fledglings at her feet, sprayed with the blood dripping from their mother’s breast.  Devout and sacrificial, she faced inwards, towards a page of biblical and gothic story-telling.

The pelican became known as a symbol of the Passion of Jesus, its purity and feathers drifting throughout St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adoro te devote (“Pelican of mercy, Jesus, Lord and God…”), trapped in frozen carvings above the hair-shirted choirs.  During this ancient time the world was teeming with mystery, and its creatures lived forever in green myths and legends.  Their songs echoed in empty courtyards.

It lived in bestiaries, where creatures of the earth and of the imagination would lie together in a zoological parable – an ark that floated through literature for centuries.

It was sewn into a knight’s pennon, flying into the jousting air; it was a sculpture on his helmet:  golden and clumsy.  The pelican mixed into the alchemy of heraldry:  taking its place with lions, leopards, unicorns and oak trees – supporting the shields of nobility.

It glittered within jewelry – in baubles heavy with allegory, pearls and rubies.

Elizabeth I wore such a metaphor: a brooch all but lost in a maze of velvet, diamonds and seed pearls.  Thin, pale, pressed inside a corset of wood, she wore the emblem of love and voluntary pain.

Nature, in a fit of whimsy, had given the pelican a foolish profile – elongated and unbalanced.  But, as if to make up for her mischief, she gave pelicans the gift of dramatic flight.  Flying across the blue ceiling, they carve black chevrons in the sky or plunge directly into the water, as if Neptune himself had thrown a noose around their heads and was drawing them into the fishing depths.  They will fly a hand’s span above the waves, riding the currents that held them in a pelagic grasp.

The earliest remains of the pelican are 30,000,000 old.  Ribs and pinions lay flat beneath slabs of shale and amber, the neck curled and broken – the body twisted into a prehistoric coil.  Motionless within the sediment and crumbs of centuries, it held within its bones an ancient story which was told inside books of veiled myth, which flew above fermenting oceans, and which perched on the spavined chest of a Virgin Queen.

***

Melinda Giordano is a native of Los Angeles, California.  Her written pieces have appeared in the Lake Effect Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest, Whisperings, Circa Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and The Rabbit Hole, among others. She was also a regular poetry contributor to CalamitiesPress.com with her own column, ‘I Wandered and Listened’ and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She writes flash fiction and poetry that speculates on the possibility of remarkable things – the secret lives of the natural world.

 

Corneas: A Lord Sort, by Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad

We do not say okay in Farsi, or fine or yes
to the request of a loved one; we say chashm,
so when Maman says, can you pick up parsley
and cilantro for the stew, I say chashm;
when my aunt says try these pastries,
please, they are for you, I don’t like pistachios
but I reach for the tray, chashm; dress warmly
and crack the cardamom and do well in school,
chashm; call me when you leave and when you arrive
and when you stay and call me for no reason, chashm;
and even when my unspoken response is no,
not now, later, my affections for the inquirer
press my tongue into this one syllable, this one word,
a polite confirmation, this one word that is yes,
I will oblige without challenge, this one word
that sounds like the Farsi word for eye, cheshm;
this one time while visiting Isfahan, I asked
my grandmother for sour cherries, the dried ones
rolled in salt and she said nothing, but she raised
her right hand and cupped her eye before
she brought a bowl full of them to me;
so back on Fourteenth Street, it is this sentiment
I search for when he asks if we can walk down
to the spot near the park, but what do I say to him,
he who speaks no Farsi, how do I say okay, fine, or yes,
and fill just one of these words with the adoration
I hold for the heart that utters this simple request,
how do I say one word and mean to tell him,
of course, yes, we can walk down to the spot near the park,
whatever you ask for, I pledge, I value above all else,
more than the millions of nerve cells converting light
into impulses, more than the optic nerve transmitting
them to produce the images; would it make any sense,
and here I speak directly to you—if I raised a gloved palm
to my face in reply, would you know that I cherish your desires
more than anything, more than the sight made by this eye

***

Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad is the daughter of Irooni immigrants, a worshipper of space and hyacinths, and an Oscar the Grouch apologist. Her poetry has appeared in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Waxwing, among others. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Qtrly, and is a Best of the Net, Pushchart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She lives in New York where she practices matrimonial law.

Thomas Logan Interviews Kevin Joseph

Kevin Joseph grew up in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He was the light haired kid the teacher was always waking up from a daydream, who eventually realized those daydreams could be shared if he just wrote them down.

He’s the Indie comic writer of Tart & UnderWars.

Kevin was interviewed by Thomas Logan for <em>Sliver of Stone Magazine.</em>

*

<strong>What sparked your interest in writing comic books?</strong>

I had been working on screenplays for a few years when I learned that, living in Fort Lauderdale, I was never going to get any of them read. Whether they were as great as I thought they were, or as terrible as they probably were, I wasn’t going to find out.

And I didn’t have tens of thousands (and more likely hundreds of thousands) of dollars to produce them myself.

But a comic I could get made. I could scrape together art fees and printing fees for a one issue and get my work in front of people.

I have been an on and off comic reader since I was 12, but the freedom to take an idea in my head and get it in front of an audience is what drove me to the medium.

<strong>What or who inspired you to start writing and why?</strong>

I think it was really Judy Blume. I read <em>Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing</em> and fell in love with the story (proud Dad moment, I just convinced my daughter to read it and she did too!). When I finished it, someone told me there were more stories with Fudge and Peter.

I noticed that the same name was on each book. That was the first time I realized that if you liked a book by a writer, you’d probably like another book written by the same author. I’ve gone through Stephen King phases, and Douglas Adams phases and many more, but that joy of following my first author has stayed with me throughout my life.

<strong>What was the first comic you wrote? What is the latest comic you have written?</strong>

The first comic I ever wrote was an audition script for Ludovic Sallè. I’d been introduced to him over email by a mutual friend who knew he was stuck in his Time Traveling, demon-hunting adventure series <em>Hell Strawberry</em>.

He had a very distinct voice for that comic that I couldn’t replicate, but I did come up with an idea that I thought was reminiscent. Ludo liked it enough, and that script was eventually turned into <em>Tart 1</em>. We have just finished <em>Tart 7</em>, so that’s a perfect bookend to your question.

<strong>Are you collaborating with any artists on your stories? If so, who?</strong>

Always. Each comic I create is co-created from the ground up by the artist on the book. That’s Ludovic Sallè on “Tart.” C.M Brennan on the goofball comedy “Underwars,” Jessi Sheron on my kids comic “The Poodles of Potter’s Peak.” Shawn Langley on our Western “Hole in the Sky.” And D.A. Bishop on our silent one-shot “Morte.”

My greatest skill as a writer is convincing these artists to work on the books. Because each one took ideas I thought were good and turned them into great comics.

<strong>Since you are a publisher too, tell us the story of what made you decide to start publishing your own books.</strong>

The great thing about today’s indie comic market is that there are no gatekeepers. Nobody can stop you from making your comic. The tradeoff to that is nobody is going to be able to help you make your book either.

Until you’ve proven you have an audience big enough for a bigger publisher to take you on, you have to do it yourself.

<strong>Do you have any big plans in the works in either writing or publishing? If so, can you tell us about them?</strong>

I am enjoying the ride so much that my big plans are really just to keep on trucking. Continue with the stories we’re already working on and make sure they are the best we can possibly make.

If we do that, there will be a foundation for any ideas we have in the future to flourish.

<strong>Are you looking to write anything new or take on any new works to publish outside of your own?</strong>

I get really wary about the thought of publishing someone else’s comic. I still have too much to learn, and make too many mistakes to entrust myself with someone else’s dream.

***

<img class=”aligncenter size-large wp-image-369194″ src=”https://sliverofstonemagazinedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/40086210_522673041479393_8530530431177588736_o-e1540850233196.jpg?w=610&#8243; alt=”” width=”610″ height=”544″ />

Kevin can be contacted on twitter @kevinjosephcmx of by email kevin@kechalcomics.com

Join his email list! Kechalcomics.com/freecomics

 

The Day Before, by Trevy Thomas

As soon as my husband left, I opened the basement door and made myself enter the dark, sometimes moldy hole in the bottom of our home. I’ve lived in five houses with basements and avoided every one of them. This basement had become a storage place for the things we seldom used. I’d prefer that it remain empty so there would never be a reason to visit it, but my husband believes in storage. Now I had a reason of my own to need it.

Most of the stuff that was piled around the edges of the small concrete cave would be useless: Christmas lights, a spare cabinet, collections of things that once belonged to people now dead—the ones who lived and left their lives just in the nick of time. Theirs was an era of bomb shelters that proved unnecessary. I was no longer sure that would be true for me.

As the U.S. and North Korea batted nuclear threats to each other like a ping-pong ball, my anxiety grew until I too was puppeteered to action. Determined to educate myself on wartime preparations, I knew it was best to act in secret. My husband didn’t believe there would be a nuclear war, or, if there were, that we’d die immediately. He thought preparations were foolish, and I worried he might dispose of mine, particularly the lame bag of paper plates and can of green beans I’d managed to stash so far.

My talk about preparing seemed to upset him. At first, I thought it was because it made him worry he’d married a woman with potentially questionable intellect. But I noticed him pay attention as national discussions continued, and the CDC issued statements suggesting such preparations. Then I began to suspect that what was really underlying his denial of the situation was fear—a motivator we shared. Our responses to it were just different. Maybe taking precautions made the unthinkable too real a possibility for him, in the same way not being prepared made the potential horror worse for me.

I used a big chunk of the morning studying Google search results about various preparation tactics: sheltering in place versus moving, understanding different types of radiation particles, what to pack in an emergency kit—which we should definitely have, according to government officials. We were absurdly unprepared. I started a list on an orange sticky note, which quickly filled. Then I opened a Word document and created a bulleted list. As a writer, this is the kind of preparation that felt most comfortable. I was beginning to wish my husband believed in the possibility of surviving disaster, so he would take over readying the creepy basement and leave me to my checklists.

There were so many things I’d have to assemble. Flashlights, lanterns, batteries, canned food, water, medicine, newspapers for dog (and human?) elimination, trash bags, a hand-crank radio, spare cell phone battery, change of clothes in case either of us entered the basement from a radiated outdoors, wipes for washing contaminated skin. I pushed back from my laptop, feeling overwhelmed, and began to understand why my husband didn’t want to face this. My quiet day grew silent, ominous, creepy. I had visions of eating canned green beans with a plastic fork in the dark, moldy, poo-filled basement.

But I’d learned a few things. For example, there’s a very good possibility of immediate survival after a nuclear bomb, given adequate shelter, but any exposure to fallout could cause the development of cancer at a later time. So, while my preparations might spare us short-term disaster, they could still result in a tradeoff for slow painful death, the kind any one of us might get at any time without the aid of a bomb.

My gloom grew into a lonely depression. I wished he’d return from the gym, so I’d have good reason to shut the door on my thoughts. I’d always imagined that having a spouse would lighten my dread of life’s most frightening circumstances. We could talk about our fears, make plans together, maybe put a blowup bed downstairs, and laugh about the romantic possibilities inherent in our makeshift shelter. Instead, I had to prepare by myself, in secret, shamefully.

A few days later, I went for a facial and broached the subject from the comfort of a spa table. Through the warm steam, my aesthetician suggested that my experience reflected a common gender difference. “Women are caretakers. It makes sense that we’d be the providers of comfort in a disaster.” Her husband—an atheist like mine—had also shunned her wartime preparations, and she responded by packing and hiding a survival bag for them both. “I tossed in a bottle of face moisturizer just in case.” It felt good to laugh about it. But I was surprised by this coincidence in our husbands’ refusal to believe in survival. Maybe there was a connection between not believing in a spiritual being and certainty of death in a nuclear strike. Was it my belief in the possibility of something—unknown, mysterious, unnamed, but still something—that led me to prepare for our certain safety? I already knew that my spa friend had a very devout faith in an organized religion that promised a secure afterlife. Her bag was packed and stashed.

Back home, my list had become overwhelming and I hadn’t even finished the suggested reading. I skipped over some details, like designing a meetup plan, making note of local authorities, and downloading apps that could provide further instruction. I hoped there was enough time before the bomb went off to at least place an Amazon order for the necessary purchases. Then I’d have to figure out how to get them organized and to the basement before my husband noticed.

As I imagined our shelter, I realized there was nothing I’d read about bedding. The blankets I saw downstairs would be useful, but two days (the suggested hideout time) on a cold, hard concrete floor would kill my back. My mind went to the blowup bed we keep upstairs, and I thought I could cleverly store it in the basement, ready if we needed it. But it inflated via electricity, and I couldn’t be sure we’d have any. If my husband were in on this, we could just set it up ahead of time. I was ill equipped for this job. I remembered that once when I was trying to persuade him about a basement survival tactic, he pointed out that, since there are no windows down there, it would be pitch dark. Somehow, this hadn’t occurred to me until he said it. I was thinking flashlight, not hanging lanterns. His input could be so useful.

A winter storm blew up the East Coast and our power went out. Living with a well and septic system meant no more running water or flushing toilets, so I brought up the gallons of old water bottles I kept in the basement for such a situation. Preparing for a power outage is a more approachable task. A day later when the power returned, I poured fresh water into the containers and my husband took them back to the basement, joking that it was our “Jong-un” water supply. Maybe we were making progress.

Days went by and I forgot about the list. My Amazon purchases returned to more pleasant items like lavender nail polish and spicy tea. Oblivion felt good. To not permit the dark possibility, to live life normally as though only some kind of regular death was ahead of me, not a slow, frightening poison, was blissful. Then I read about yet another North Korean missile test. A slight clenching of my jaw. Our president responded with barroom threats, taunting the foreign leader into a dangerous game of dare. I made a note in my bullet journal to find the list and place an order.

On Saturday, we drove to a monthly rotating dinner party. Since we live in the Washington, D.C. area and many of these people work in government, the topic of politics arose. We stepped gently through the landmines of disagreement, but I was surprised when the very thing that caused my tension at home was brought up. Between dinner and dessert, after beer and wine glasses were mostly emptied, E mentions the nuclear threat we’re facing. His job affords him some insider knowledge of the aftereffects of a bomb. Now that I’m not the one to suggest it, I was anxious to hear about any of his preparations. My husband pays attention too.

“We’re pretty set at our house,” E said. I’ve seen their basement. It’s finished and there’s a lot of storage. They keep a stocked pantry with lots of backup food and water. Having been in the military, he mentioned the inclusion of masks and other gear that hadn’t occurred to me. I take a mental note to add masks to my Amazon list.

“We tell everyone to shelter in place. People think it’s the blast that gets you, but it’s the fallout afterward, those little particles that travel through the air to the ground. You just need to seal yourself inside with plastic and tape around any openings.” Plastic and tape are duly noted.

Another friend from a different agency says there would be mass chaos for months after, even if we did all survive. There would be no food at grocery stores, the power would be out for an unknown time, there would be violence. The picture of survival gets darker. I’m assured, though, to hear that others near us also see the need to take precautions, and I hope their concern might encourage my husband to jump onboard. Then E says something that deflates my hope. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m no doomsday prepper.”

This is just what I think my husband wants to avoid: behaving in the cult-like manner he’s come to associate with those who prepare. Although this is technically what I’m proposing—preparing for doom—I know what he means. I don’t want to devote my life to the threat of disaster, complete with underground encampment, years’ worth of food, armor, and water supply, but I’d like to do a little better than paper plates and green beans. My intention is to take whatever steps are necessary to survive the forty-eight hours we’d need to stay in the basement until the fallout has settled enough to return upstairs. Just forty-eight hours. Once that level of readiness is in place, I could return to living my life as though nothing bad would happen, the way my husband was living his with absolutely no preparation.

Both of us were surely foolish. I’d avoided thinking beyond the forty-eight hours but doubts and fears about that period poked at me from the perimeters of my mind. Wouldn’t the house be full of fallout too? When were we going to apply plastic and tape if we only had thirty minutes to shelter? Was I supposed to just vacuum up the mess when the power returned and get back to work, laundry, and meal planning? Doubtful. But that was too vast an unknown period to comprehend, so I kept with the arbitrary forty-eight-hour segment some supposed expert had prescribed. We were all guessing.

I came to realize that this was the difference between my idea of readying and that of doomsday preppers. They were willing to imagine doom for a much longer time. That was the big unknown for all of us: How long before life returned to normal? Could it ever? I’m not sure I wanted to live long-term in the basement, or upstairs with a gas mask on my face and a weapon in my hand. Maybe I’d have to turn the weapon around in that circumstance. And this is probably why I avoided imagining long-term prep. I was beginning to understand my husband’s reluctance.

After finishing a large mug of Cuban coffee that was meant to be drunk from a little cup, we returned out to the cold night. The blast of caffeine and thoughts of future disaster stirred my alertness and I sat up in bed by the light of my phone while my husband slept. These fears and feelings of ineptness had been mine alone as I read frightening news stories, but now I saw they were shared by others, too, in their solitary moments. We seldom discussed it together. Maybe giving this news our mutual attention, acknowledging that the absurd was, in fact, possible, would make it too real. Is that why no one talked beyond the politics of it? We don’t like to be without control. People are doers. At the very least, we want to know we’ve done everything we could. But what can we, as individuals, do to prevent a fatal chemical war?

In the eighties, I lived in Florida, working in a small architectural office. One week, we were all abuzz about a made-for-television movie about to air called The Day After. It was a film about nuclear war, and as close a portrayal as anyone could imagine then of what life would be like the day after a bomb. So many years ago, we worried about the same scenario. The film was horribly depressing, gray, hopeless, impossible. It portrayed a life I wouldn’t want to live. I don’t recall the ending or any possible resolution, but memories of the movie stayed with me for years, and now it’s fresh in my mind again. It’s like being stuck in time, with no advances other than the calendar. We seem no better prepared or knowledgeable. Everyone—but the preppers—is turning a blind eye to it. It reminds me of the way most of us think of death: Live today, and when it’s over, it’s over.

The 2018 Winter Olympics begin. This winter they’re held in South Korea, and a few North Korean athletes are permitted to compete. I watch as a young North Korean couple skates beautifully around the ice, looking painfully thin. I worry about them. I’d read that if Chairman Un is going to strike, it’s unlikely he’d do so until after the Olympics, so I celebrate with the athletes every evening as they skate, ski, and curl to victory. It’s like a vacation from fear. Last night, the closing ceremonies were televised. This part is not as fun to watch because doubt and concern start prodding me back to worry. Un is a man who has extreme power over the people of North Korea, held in check by their fear of his whims. But now he’s getting a taste of a larger power, reaching across borders to instill fear in the U.S. and other potential targets where he was previously dismissed. Powerful places. Surely, that is a seduction too great to resist, maybe reason enough to strike unprovoked, despite grave consequences.

I turn off the television. By the time sleep is approaching, my thoughts have drifted to other, more manageable fears: Am I giving my dog the right dose of insulin to treat her diabetes, am I writing enough to hone my skills, do I have any skills? The larger fear of bombs triggered by emotionally unstable world rulers is too far from my control. The fear that accompanies that thought is limitless, grows regardless of action because no amount of canned food, comfortable pillows, radios, and flashlights is going to calm it. I bat back and forth between lame preparations and denial. I return to my world and continue to live, just like the thin skaters who had to glide home and carry on despite a much greater proximity to fear and death. There is nothing I can do but live with this fear. There’s no preparing for the unknown, just as there’s no preparing for death. Acknowledging that has made me feel a little less vulnerable. I understand my husband’s reluctance now in the same way I see his approach to death in general: “I want to live as best I can until it’s over.”

So do I.

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Trevy Thomas is an author whose work has appeared in The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, The Coachella Review, Drunk Monkeys, Sliver of Stone, Forge, Woodwork Magazine and the 2017 River Tides Anthology. She lives in Virginia with her husband and four dogs, and can be found virtually at https://trevythomas.com.

New Publications

We are very excited to announce that Sliver of Stone contributor Geraldine Connolly‘s new book of poetry, Aileron, is now available from Terrapin Books.  You can order a copy from Amazon (including a Kindle version).

Geraldine Connolly’s Aileron sensuously evokes the plenty of lifethe “spiky chestnut grenade” of the buckeye tree, the “buttery sweetness” of the Seckel Pearwhile moving through various landscapes, each precisely tuned to “this one small thing that lives along the road of my mind.” Yet, amid these riches, a perspective of loss is ever present in “a landscape/ whose immanence turns / to ashes beneath my gaze.” In poems marked by vivid language of the natural world and mindful of ecological loss, the poet invites the reader “to turn and tilt, to stay aloft.”
Rebecca Seiferle

In Geraldine Connolly’s Aileron an inheritance proves to be a “raft of broken bread,” yet memories of piercing beauty linger. So much of the sensuous world settles into these poems: lizards, starlings, quail, a chestnut “polished as a mahogany piano.” Brilliant images are backlit with emotions that resemble acute homesickness. What’s most loved may vanishbut not without first coming to vivid life in these remarkable, fully realized poems.
Lee Upton

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Sliver of Stone previously published a poem by Chris Abbate titled “Hartford, 1947.” This poem is now included in Chris’s first book of poetry, Talk About God (Main Street Rag, 2017)

“God is the glue for connection and mystery in Chris Abbate’s Talk About God, a masterful debut collection. These poems are about his Catholic childhood, the yearning to break away from convention and the unyielding need for patterns to manage the unforgiving nature of life. Yet, most of all, these poems speak of the connections between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and friends and neighbors. Abbate explores the chaos of adolescence and many years later, reflects on the breakup of his parents’ over fifty-year marriage through the exacting lens of ritual and geometry with carefully nuanced images that earn every bit of their screen time. Every poem in Talk About God reminds you to feel gratitude for the beauty of the present moment and not to forget how you can create a joyous and meaningful life.”
~ Alice Osborn, author of Heroes without Capes

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Last year, our friend Campbell McGrath selected Darren Demaree‘s manuscript Two Towns Over as the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and this year at AWP Trio House will be launching the book.

“It’s really been an incredible experience, and I wanted to share it with you,” Darren wrote to Sliver of Stone.

“Darren is a dangerous dreamer, concocting love poems to his home state, and pastorals to his true love. But there’s always something more beneath the surface: sex and violence, villainy, mutilation, uneasy redemption and troubled ecstasy. These poems are pins pressed deep in the disfigured heart of America. They work a dark magic on the reader — they’re unsettling in necessary ways.”
Christopher Michel

The Extraordinary Ordinary: A Review of Mothers of Sparta and Interview with Dawn Davies

Elizabeth Strout, in a recent interview said, “Every life, if one could see into it enough, will prove to be extraordinary.”  Dawn Davies, in her debut essay collection Mothers of Sparta, A Memoir in Pieces, shows us this is true. Davies slices her life open and invites the reader in. In some ways it’s an ordinary life; a moved-around-too-much misfit child, a somewhat lost young adult, a mother in all its forms—single mom, soccer mom, mom of a child with profound challenges. But when she renders this life on the page, with her visceral prose, hilarious details, and courageous honesty, she leaves the reader with an extraordinary gift.

 Mothers of Sparta is composed of sixteen essays, flashpoints in a life in progress. They probe subjects such as faith and death, parenthood, identity, and survival. Some are traditional first-person accounts, others vary in style and point of view. “FM D&R—1-10.06,” for example, is written as a field manual for divorce and remarriage. “Four Animals,” an essay that addresses an autoimmune disease, blends personal history, informational reporting, and lyric surrealism.

The first essay, “Night Swim,” a time-bending meditation on the lives of her daughters, told as they swim in their backyard pool, gives the reader a taste of the kind of writing to come.

It is a moonless night, dark and rare, and the heat is oppressive, the kind of heat where a
deep breath leaves you unsatisfied, suspicious that there was nothing life-giving at all in
what you’ve inhaled, and you are left hungry, wet at the pits, forehead greasy with sweat,
wishing for the night to be over, for your daughters to exhaust their energy, to cool their
dense, hot centers enough to sleep for one more night in this summer that seems to stretch
into your future like a planetary ring full of debris, circling forever around something it
can’t escape. It is thickly hot and you hate it.

The essay fractures time, flashes back to her children’s babyhood, and forward to their adulthood as Davies realizes every moment in our children’s lives is too slippery to grasp.

Davies can make you laugh and break your heart on the same page, sometimes in the same paragraph. In her essay, “Games I Play,” Davies, very pregnant and already in a precarious marriage, shares the mind tricks she plays to get through a tedious dinner party with another couple. On the drive from Boston to Rhode Island, she imagines “ejecting my husbands Smiths tape from the cassette player and flinging it out the passenger window to be snatched up by a hawk that will unravel it and thread it into a stick nest in the skies.”  Before the reader recovers from that image she imagines having the baby on her own, “because I suspect we do not have the skills to make a marriage work.”  She pictures giving birth on her hosts’ Ethan Allen coffee table, describes her feet as feeling like “mangey seal pups,” and realizes how little she knows her husband. “We are, I realize for the first time, living a lie and I do not know how to be truthful about who I really am because I am afraid he will not like the real me.”

But she is truthful about who she really is with us. She is not afraid to reveal her neuroses, her insecurities, her restlessness, her mistakes, her divorce, and her complicated feelings about parenthood on the page. In “Soccer Mom,” she struggles with what she has possibly given up to parent her three children full time, the loss of her own identity in order to assimilate with the other moms on the soccer field. While she parses it out, we get to go along for the ride.

Why do you suck so badly?  If you are like me, its because you either didn’t read the job description of what parenting would be like before you signed up, or you were not willing to extrapolate “years of extreme sleep depravation and constant chaos” from everything everyone has said since the beginning of time about parenting. It’s as if you got drunk and joined the Marines on a lark and now want out, only there’s no way out without going to prison.

Humor threads its way through all the pieces in this collection, but one essay I found especially hilarious was, “Men I Would Have Slept With,” an essay that lists who Davies would have sex with if she weren’t so happily married, and why. You’re going to have to buy the book (and you most definitely should buy the book) to see who made the cut but I will tell you this:  her choices may surprise you, and having tuberculosis is not a deal breaker.

Perhaps most powerful is the title essay, “Mothers of Sparta,” an essay that braids together the experience of raising a son with autism and conduct disorder, with the ancient parenting practices of the Spartan warrior culture. It’s brilliant and unflinchingly honest. It raises and tries to answer the big questions: what are we as a society to do with children who are atypical, dangerous even, who are not going to grow up to make us proud? The piece explores both Davies pain and fierce love for her son. Davies asks, “What is this child’s purpose? How do I direct him toward a purpose when he has no desire for anything other than feeding his desires?”

You do not have to be a mom to enjoy the essays in Mothers of Sparta. You only need to be a person who enjoys smart writing, who realizes life is messy and hard and funny and frustrating. You will see pieces of yourself floating in and out of the magical essays in this collection, and they will leave you with hope. There is nothing ordinary about that.

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Dawn Davies

Betty Jo Buro:  At AWP I went to a panel on the linked essay collection. They talked about the importance of ordering your essays so that even if your essay could stand alone, it becomes more powerful because of the essays that surround it. What consideration did you give to the order of the essays in Mothers of Sparta?

Dawn Davies:  Yes! Ordering essays is important. I believe essays in a collection become more powerful and behave symbiotically next to certain essays and not others in a collection. I pay a lot of attention to that. It’s like hanging art in a gallery, I think. A piece’s neighbors matter. My editor, Amy Einhorn, and I considered a few broad, logical ideas when arranging Mothers of Sparta, such as not putting two dog essays next to each other, or not placing two terribly depressing essays next to each other. We also did not want to arrange every essay chronologically, though there is a sense of chronology in the collection overall, and the first half of the book is in chronological order. My editor was hands-on, but she trusted me to come up with the final arrangement.

When it came down to it, after considering the topics and themes and tones of each individual essay, and about thinking about not arranging similarly-structured essays together, my final decision had to do with feel. I printed each essay out, stapled it, and shuffled them like a deck of cards. Then I started arranging them on the floor. I tried things on for size by feel, for I knew very well how they felt to me: how they felt while reading them, how they felt when I wrote them. I tried to remember the feelings I had while writing them when I ordered them. I wanted some of those feelings to carry through the essays to the readers.

BJB:  Often your prose sounds like stream-of-consciousness, long sentences that take a thought and spin it out to all possible conclusions. I’m guessing this is how you think, but is this how you write?  Do your thoughts just flow onto the page or is it more tortured than that?

DD:  I think it is probably “more tortured” to know that the stream-of-consciousness voice in Mothers of Sparta is pretty much what it is like to be inside my head most of my waking hours. I am a walking “monkey mind.” It is how I think and how I write. I have so many fleeting images that go with thoughts, and both ideas and images come to me so quickly that when I write, I hope to write fast enough to get the “thought image” onto paper in a way that feels like what I am trying to convey. It only feels tortured when I have something that is there for a moment, and I get excited about it, but it disappears before I have time to get it down on the page.

BJB:  Who are your literary heroes and who do you read to get inspired?

DD:  I love this question. My literary heroes are so heroic to me that I feel like if I could make someone read everything that I have read, that person will truly “get” me. I tried to get my kids to read my favorite writers and so far, I have had no takers, and this feels tragic to me. When I look back at my development as a thinker and a reader, I can remember who I was when I was reading certain writers, so these writers remain important to me. When I was a kid I would copy the style of writers that I liked. I turned in papers written in “The Style of Vonnegut” or “The Style of Irving Stone.” Here are a few of them:

High school: Douglas Adams, Paul Fussell, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, James Herriot, Lewis Thomas, Maya Angelou, Poe, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow, and many medical textbooks and journals. I also found a few books in my grandmother’s closet that I read a dozen times each: Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though when I re-read that book now, I have problems with the plot structure and pacing), Benedict and Nancy Friedman (Mrs. Mike), Kathleen Winsor (Forever Amber). I read many books, but these are the authors I re-read most often.

College: Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Evelyn Waugh, Irving Stone, Alice Walker, Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear), Kingsley Amis, and everything Tolstoy, including a few biographies. I went off to college with Anna Karenina and wept my way through severe homesickness by reading that book for ten hours per day until I was finished with both it and the homesickness.

The nineties: Carol Shields, Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, V.S. Naipaul. Plus, anything else in the public library.

Two thousands: many, many biographies. And Tim O’Brien.

When I need inspiration, I will read something that is not in the genre in which I am currently writing. When I am wrestling with an essay, I’ll read big, sweeping epic stories that take me away, like a biography, or a classic novel. I like detective series books, and I like romance novels. Reading books with boilerplate patterns and plot structures are fun. When I am writing fiction, I will usually pull out some old Fussell, or some of the Davids (David Foster Wallace, David Shields, David Anton, David Sedaris, David Rakoff). Sometimes Claudia Rankine or Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. That memoir will fix what ails ya.

BJB:  There is so much humor in your writing—does this come naturally?  Is it hard to render humor on the page?

DD:  I grew up trying to be funny, because my family was funny. My dad has a real gift for telling a funny story, and my maternal grandfather had such a good sense of deadpan humor, with a twist of trickster, that I inspired to be like them. My mom and her sister also played off each other well and were quite funny to be around. I had a lot of early failures, but I actually remember working on material that I would try out on my family. Not a lot of it went over well, so I tried with my friends. By high school, I had figured out that my insight was what was funny to others, and once I figured out timing, I was on to something.

I also read humorists. Paul Fussell is very funny, and even with his serious war essays, there is a wryness in there that is delightful, and sometimes alarming, and I was always on the lookout for it. James Herrriot’s ability to surprise readers with one hilarious line at the end of a paragraph or scene was genius.

Couple all that with the comedy records albums I grew up listening to (Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor), and the comedy specials I watched as a kid, I suppose I was steeped in comedy, though I didn’t consider it a special interest at the time.

I have taught humor writing and gone to humor writing conferences, and although I won’t say it is impossible to learn, I think it is harder to learn if you weren’t deeply exposed to it as a child. It’s like learning another language. It’s harder to do as an adult. When I write funny, I don’t try especially hard to write funny. It just comes out that way at this point, though I am aware of timing, word choice, comedic tricks, and what we as a culture find funny. I suspect this is because I had years of practice (even when I wasn’t aware I was “practicing”).

BJB:  It must have taken a great deal of courage to write the essay, “Mothers of Sparta.”  How difficult was that to write and what do you hope the sharing of your story will elicit in readers?

DD:  I first wrote “Mothers of Sparta” the essay as a personal project. It acted like a valve which relieved pressure when I was about to blow when struggling with some of our family issues. Then, during a nonfiction class in graduate school, I wrote a fleshed-out version of it, trusting that the few other students in the class would help keep my dirty little family secret—the fact that I was an imperfect parent with a struggling child whose needs were not being met by any educational, medical, or social entity. After I finished it, I did not want to send it out. I was too afraid to “out my son,” since the essay dealt with sensitive issues that made most people recoil in horror.

I finally sent it out to a few places. I remember choosing Joyland, a journal I loved, largely because it had a big fiction audience and very small nonfiction component, and I thought if they published it, no one would read it. The editor of Joyland got back to me and said something like, “Um, yeah. I’d love to publish this, but I would be doing it a disservice, because we don’t do much nonfiction, and no one will read it. Go bigger.”  So, I entered the Arts & Letters nonfiction contest and won. Still, I almost pulled it after I won, out of fear of repercussions of people reading it.

When Flatiron Books accepted the memoir, I almost tore up the contract and backed out. The only reason I didn’t was the hope that perhaps other people would be helped by reading our story, and it turns out they were. I still receive emails every day about “Mothers of Sparta,” and it turns out we aren’t the only ones going through what we went through as a family. It has helped people, which is a comfort to me. Still, I worry that it will seal my son’s fate in some way. Publishing sensitive memoir material is a two-edged sword anyway but writing about sensitive family matters is stringing that two-edge sword over a canyon and walking across barefoot with sticks of fire in each hand. Pretty scary.

BJB:  What is your next project/what are you working on now?

DD:  My agent is about to start shopping my first novel, which is exciting. I am also working on a second collection of essays, and a three-book detective genre series about a single mother who ends up being a private investigator.

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Dawn Davies is the author of Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces. Mothers of Sparta has been an Indies Introduces Title, and was an Indies Next List in February, 2018. Her essays and stories have been Pushcart Special Mentions, and finalists for The Best American Essays. Her work can be found in The Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere, as well as various anthologies. She also appeared on Megyn Kelly Today. You can find out more about her at dawndaviesbooks.com.

Betty Jo Buro recently graduated from Florida International University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction.  Her writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Cherry Tree, The Lindenwood Review, The Manifest-Station, Sliver of Stone, Compose Journal, and Hunger Mountain. She lives in Stuart, Florida with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a collection of essays.

Issue 16

Visual Art by Sandy Commer and Ashley Parker Owens. Nonfiction by Dawn Davies, John Lane, and Monica Restrepo. Poetry by Louisa Howerow, Tricia Knoll, Jen Rouse, John Schneider, Joanna M. Weston, Kimberly White, Martin Willitts, and Marilyn Windau. Fiction by Ben Leib, Denton Loving, and Norman Waksler. Comics with Wes Locher. Interviews with Dawn Davies, John Lane, and Wes Locher. New Publications: Chris Abbate, Geraldine Connolly, and Darren Demaree.

VISUAL ART

INTERVIEWS

NONFICTION

POETRY

FICTION

NEW PUBLICATIONS

Wes Locher: Wacky, Irreverent, and Offbeat Sensibilities

Wes Locher (pronounced “Low-Curr” by non-telemarketers) has written comic books and videogames for myriad publishers and developers across the world. His past clients include Alterna Comics, Titan Comics, Markosia Enterprises, Arcana Studios, FableLabs, Pocket Gems Games, Based on the Play, PulseTense Games, and Nanobit Software. He’ll sleep eventually.

Wes was interviewed by editor Thomas Logan for Sliver of Stone.

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Thomas Logan: You’ve written several fan comic shorts, from TMNT, to Bucky O’Hare, to Battletoads. Why this affinity for the short form?

Wes Locher: In addition to the original comic book miniseries and graphic novels I’ve released with various publishers, I’ve found that short comics are a great way to get your work in front of an audience for free. In a perfect world, readers will check out a free comic, enjoy it, and seek out your other work. For established readers, I think these free comics are a nice way of saying “thank you” for the support.

When releasing fan comics, I tend to zero in on properties that influenced me in some way to be a storyteller. A property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is well-known and beloved to many people, so the comic, drawn by Ed Jimenez, provided me a way to play with those characters in my own voice—characters I may never get the chance to write in an official capacity. Bucky O’Hare, while sort of obscure, let me put my spin on a television series I really enjoyed when I was younger with the help of artist Loch Ness, and the Battletoads short allowed me a window to vent some frustrations I had with the 1991 Nintendo videogame of the same name.

Short comics are a great way to get in and get out of a story while still leaving the reader wanting more. In a perfect world, they’d be intrigued by how I might approach the characters if I had a full issue or miniseries to work with. It’s a good teaser.

TL: Tell us about the comic books that inspired you as a child. What made you want to become a writer?

WL: As the son of an English teacher mother and a journalist father, writing wasn’t something I could escape. Growing up, the house was full of Shakespeare plays and my father was regularly writing nonfiction books on local history. I gravitated toward comics because the visual element was just as interesting to me as what the characters were saying. After 20-plus years of reading a specific medium, I naturally started to take it apart in my head and understand how the rhythm and pacing worked, and five years ago when I went to try my hand at scripting my own comic, it came naturally.

As far as the comics that inspired me, it was a heavy diet of Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil that pulled me in, but the owners of the comic shop I frequented growing up also turned me onto lots of obscure, black and white indie comics like Ben Edlund’s The Tick, and Rob Shraab’s Scud: The Disposable Assassin.

When I look at my current body of work, I see less of the Marvel/DC flavor and more of that independent spirit coming through the comics I published. I don’t want to just regurgitate what I’ve seen other comics writers do, but instead, I make it a point to write something only I could produce. The readers who can respond to those wacky, irreverent, and offbeat sensibilities are the ones I want in my corner.

TL: Is there a particular comic franchise you would love to write for? Have you submitted anything to Marvel or DC comics?

WL: Honestly, I’d love to take a swing at The Tick, especially now that new writers and voices have been brought into that universe over the past few years. I think that’s a character that fits right into my zany wheelhouse. That might sound like I’m setting the bar low for myself, but here’s how I see it: even though I adore Peter Parker and Spider-Man as a character, I don’t have a Spider-Man story I’m itching to tell. It’s possible I just enjoy being a reader. If someone let me write the character, I’d probably just mess him up and get lots of hate mail. It sounds like a lot of pressure to me.

Since Marvel and DC don’t accept unsolicited submissions, I haven’t sent anything to them. The path to get recognized by those editors is to put out consistent, quality work, and by building enough buzz, they find you. Maybe they’ll find me one day. Maybe not. It doesn’t keep me up at night.

TL: You’ve published a novel and several comics, but you’ve also written for mobile games. What was the first video game you worked on? How did you come to follow this path? Was it all you thought it would be? What game series would you like to write for and why?

WL: When I was embarking on my writing career, I was laser-focused on writing comics and maybe the occasional novel. I sort of had blinders on when it came to anything else. But then, two things happened… I was successful in forming relationships with a few editors at bigger publishing houses, but they were never able to offer me any paying work. While they were kind enough to take time out of their day to read the comics I was sending them, and occasionally offer feedback, I could just never get my foot in the door.

The second thing that happened, just in the past five years or so, is that video games have evolved to become more cinematic and story-focused. I started to see writing jobs pop up online with game developers seeking writers who had a background in episodic content such as comic books or television. I sent in my stuff and was quickly hired for several freelance gigs.

So on one hand, I had all these comic book editors telling me “No,” on a bi-weekly basis, but then I had these game companies who were saying, “Come over here and party with us! We’d love to have you!” Okay, those weren’t their exact words, but you get the gist. If people are passionate about working with you, why in the world would you say no?

The first game I worked on was called “Future: Uncertain,” which was an interactive “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style game for San Francisco developer Pocket Gems Games. The game, released on the company’s iOS/Android app, called “Episode,” featured basic animated graphics and allowed players to make choices that would ultimately affect the outcome of the entire story. I wrote 25 chapters, each serialized weekly, so it was a bit like writing a TV show. It was read more than 700,000 times by users and from there I was given additional projects, each a bit bigger in scope. I ended up working with Pocket Gems for three years before venturing out to write games for similar upstart apps as well as games for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

If I had to pick a videogame series to write, it’d probably be Gearbox’s Borderlands series. Like the comics I find myself drawn to, the Borderlands series is humorous, over-the-top, and completely irreverent. Perfect.

TL: When writing a comic book and a mobile game, what are some surprising differences and/or similarities between the two processes?

WL: The unifying characteristic between the mediums of comics and games is that they both share a strong visual element. If you’ve done your job as a writer, the visuals should be able to convey a large chunk of the story without needing a single line of dialogue.

When I first started working in the games industry, I naively thought the words that appeared on the screen were what made me the “writer.” Now, several years later, my approach is to have as little dialogue as possible, letting the tone of the game, its setting, and look of the characters say as much as possible.

Where comics and games have a stark difference is that games are, more often than not, full motion, whereas comics are static images strung together sequentially. Comic readers fill in the gaps between panels with their imagination, creating their own moving pictures in their minds, whereas in games, you’re showing almost everything to the player and leaving less to the imagination.

TL: What is your dream project? Are there any plans you have in the works that you would like to let us know about?

WL: So far in my career, I’ve been fortunate to accomplish most of my dream projects. If there’s a comic I want to write, I write it and if there’s a story idea I have for a game, I pitch it to the company that may want to produce it, and if the story idea isn’t suited for comics or games, I can write it as a novel.

I don’t wait for someone to give me “permission” to work on a story. If an idea keeps me up at night putting the pieces into the puzzle, and breaking the story, I know I have the tools to bring it life one way or another. Now, there are a lot of comic artists I’d love to work with—some of them completely out of my league, while others are my peers—so sometimes I look at the art they post on social media and try to come up with an idea that really plays to their strengths that I believe only they could draw. Perhaps that’s the long-term goal right now.

I have a ton of cool stuff on the horizon right now… my sci-fi/comedy graphic novel Unit 44—about inept Area 51 employees who forget to pay the rent of the facility’s off-site storage unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold at public auction—is still available for sale at comic shops and online. It was published at the end of 2017 by Alterna Comics and drawn by the amazing Ed Jimenez. People should totally buy it and laugh until their faces hurt.

The action/RPG video game, Re*Sequenced, which I wrote for developer Based on the Play, will hit the PC, PS4, and Xbox in a few months, and I have two comic book miniseries poised to hit shelves in late 2018/early 2019. The first is called Bug Slugger, with artist Loch Ness, and the second is titled Awry, drawn by Graeham Jarvis. They’re both ridiculous and guaranteed to be a ton of fun.

For the latest and greatest on those projects, visit www.weslocher.com.

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Thomas Logan is an Irish-American hardcore gamer and professional artist who lives in Miami. His artwork has been widely displayed in South Florida. His hobbies include watching WWE and TNA wrestling, playing Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, and getting new tattoos. He’s a comic book collector with a degree in Computer Art and Animation. He was the co-founder and creative director of the now defunct PaperVoxels.com, a gaming website and podcast. “We were big in Russia,” he says.