Monday, June 11, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Jen Conley

Q. I know you’ve been dedicated to crime writing for some time now. And Down and Out Books published your story collection CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS two years ago in May. But when and where was your first story published? And how did that impact your writing life going forward?

A. My first story was published back in 1988 at college. I won first place in the campus fiction contest. I remember calling my mom and saying, “They gave me fifty bucks too!” It was a good day.
I think that win gave me confidence. It made me want to keep writing. I didn’t write much in my 20s but each time I messed up in life—and I did that a lot—I always reminded myself that I could write. So I can’t find a teaching job. So I can’t interview well. So I can’t lose 10 pounds … but I can write! It took me four years of subbing and temporary teaching jobs to find something permanent. I was pretty down on myself in my 20s and one of the things that kept me above water was thinking about how when I got my life settled, I could go back to writing. Which is exactly what I did.

Q. If I understand correctly, you're working on a novel these days. But at one point in your writing life you questioned your abilities to write one. I've pondered this conundrum as well. So how's this endeavor working out for you? And what have you learned about yourself and this particular writing process?

A. Sometimes I think I have a short attention span or something, which is why I struggle with the long form.

Actually, I think some of my difficulties in writing a novel stem from the fact that A: I love short stories and I’ve always wanted to be a short story writer, and B: I trained myself to be a short story writer.

I have a Young Adult novel coming out with Down and Out next year. So I can write a novel. I just find a novel tough to pace. I’m used to summing up a bunch of stuff in a character’s life in two sentences. In a novel, you need to stretch that stuff out without boring people to death. Right now I’m working on a novel and I think I’ve got the hang of it. It’s a mystery so I’m actually having a harder time planting clues and so forth. But I did decide that my next novel will have more of a short story format. Each chapter will read like a short story—that way I can kill two birds (or people) with one stone.

We’ll see how that all works out. My YA novel called, “SEVEN WAYS TO GET RID OF HARRY,” is about a thirteen-year-old boy who comes up with seven ways to get rid of his mom’s dickhead boyfriend. Each chapter is devoted to a “way” and I found keeping it in that structure made it easier for me to write.

Q. Like most of the authors in this Ink-Quisition series to date, you're one of the contributing writers in the Anthony Award-nominated Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. How did you pick your title, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”—and did you write this story before or after choosing this particular Cash song?

A. I googled all the Cash songs and the title, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” caught my eye. I read the lyrics, listened to the song which is actually an old folk song, and thought I could do something with it. It’s a dark song and it called for a really dark story.

Q. This story also chances to be the first I read by you. What immediately caught my attention was your decision to tell this tale using a first person male narrator. In my reading experiences, a lot of writers lack the ability to convincingly capture the voice of a character who is opposite in gender from their own. And what strengthens your narrative is that all the central living characters are male.
So how did you go about "channeling" the various male mindsets you needed to successfully spin this tale?

A. I actually prefer to write third person male characters. That’s my favorite thing to do. It comes very easily to me and I have no idea why. Maybe it forces me far away from my own self.
I had originally written this story in third person but it didn’t have the punch I wanted it to have so I tried it in first person and thought it worked better. I struggled with the opening—making sure the reader knows it’s a guy and not a female. If I were a male writer, then it wouldn’t be such a reach, like when I write first person female characters.

Back in the day, I bartended for about eight years and the place I spent most of that time in was one of those beer and shot bars with a strong customer base of blue collar men. It wasn’t the easiest time of my life but I definitely toughened up working there. There were some scary ass guys who used to come in, guys I would never talk to had it not been for my job. Their way of thinking, the things they said, used to shock me but after a while, I just go used to it. I think when I wrote this story, I was probably channeling those years. Actually, I often channel those years into my writing.

Q. After I read “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” I stumbled across an interview Steve W. Lauden did with you about this story. I felt both intrigued and saddened that the dark nature of this piece had left you feeling off-kilter for some time afterwards. One of your Pine Barren stories that involves the rape of a young woman is the only other considerably dark tale I've read by you.

So does writing dark tales tend to take a toll on you emotionally—or were your experiences after writing “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” unique? And if crafting dark tales demands a high price from you ... what compels you to write them nevertheless?

A. It’s not unique for me. Some stories hit me harder than others. This one definitely left me unsettled. I get emotionally involved in my characters and when I put them in such desperate situations, it can depress me. I’m more of a gut writer than a head writer. In order to write more with your gut, you have to go into your memories or more so, the feelings you had when something terrible happened in your life. Digging that up can leave you unnerved for a few days.

I think I do it because I like authenticity. I don’t like mimicking other writers or other books. I like to be inspired by other writers—and there’s a difference and I think that difference is authenticity. The best way to be authentic is to pull from your gut and your own sensibilities, even if it hurts sometimes.

One of my favorite things I’ve always loved in life, going back to when I was a little kid, is listening to really good music. Especially live music, although time and money has made it more difficult these days. Sometimes I pull up those old Janis Joplin videos on YouTube and it actually hurts to listen to her—she’s just that fantastic. It’s like she’s ripping out her insides when she sings. I think that’s the way to write. Break people’s hearts. Break your own heart too.

Q. Besides being part of the editorial gauntlet at Shotgun Honey, you're extremely active with Noir at the Bar in both New Jersey and New York. One recent event was on a Sunday night. And since you teach New Jersey kids at the middle school level, I couldn't help wondering what your Monday morning was like. For folks who aren't familiar with Noir at the Bar, can you give us an overview—and share some of your experiences with these events?

A. I love Noir at the Bar. Basically they’re readings where about 6-12 writers get-together at a bar and read their work. I think it’s a little different than other readings because most are held in more formal situations, like a small theater, and usually the writers are more established and they read longer. Noir at the Bar is also more genre-focused—crime, mystery, and so on. They’re also informal which I think takes the pressure off. And they give you a chance to hang out with other writers. I think most non-writers tend to think writers are eccentric, Stephen King wanna-bees, or just plain bizarre so it’s nice to find people who get what you’re into. Writing is solitary so Noir at the Bar is sort of like attending a mini Comic Con without the costumes.

The first time I’d ever heard about this type of event is through Facebook—writers Todd Robinson and Glenn Gray set up one at Shade Bar, which is just a block south of Washington Square Park. At the time I was in a writing group held in the West Village and afterwards I just walked over to Shade and introduced myself in person. I’d already known some of the people through Facebook so it wasn’t like I came off the street from nowhere. And Todd had published my story “Home Invasion” in his magazine, Thuglit. Everyone was super welcoming—such a nice relief because sometimes that’s not always the case in general in life—and they even let me read, too, but I read too long and I was a nervous wreck. I realized that in the future I had to practice reading at home and read something way shorter. It’s best to read something around the 5-8 minute mark because there are so many readers and the audience just zones out after some time.

Most of the events are done in a sort of pop-up basis. Someone decides to hold an event. From there they find the bar, or maybe a café or bookstore. They set that up and find the writers. The event spans about three hours, with two or three breaks built in. Remember, part of the fun is talking with everyone and the audience needs a quick break anyhow. Nowadays Noir at the Bar events are held in different parts of the country—Boston, DC, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Queens, Seattle (I’m missing some) and different parts of the UK, too. Finding them is a problem sometimes. If you type in “Noir at the Bar” in the Google search bar you’ll find information but Facebook is probably a better place to look. Again, just put in “Noir at the Bar” and you’ll find something pop up. People can follow “Noir at the Bar NYC” on Facebook—and when we’re having one in NYC, I will post. Unfortunately nobody has taken the lead in setting up a Noir at the Bar event page that would highlight every reading. It’s been suggested but it’s work, and a lot of us are already swamped with our day jobs and our own writing.

These events also vary with audience attendance. Sometimes you get a great crowd and sometimes you don’t. But in the end, even if your audience is just the other writers and maybe their friends, it’s okay. It’s fun and again, you get to hang out with people like you, and network. However I’m not a big fan of approaching every writing event as a time to do hard-core networking—using a “what can you do for me?” type of philosophy. You’re better off showing up in a professional manner—meaning you practiced your reading and you’re not a time hog, if you be yourself, if you’re not an asshole—then maybe eventually someone might help open a door for you because they like you and your work enough to reach out to their agent. Or maybe not. I guess I’m a fan of organically networking: write well, work hard, don’t be a jerk, show up prepared. Actually in real truth, I’m just a fan of hanging out and shooting the breeze with other writers. Whether we’re talking about the business or a new book or a movie we like. Or dislike. Or whatever.

As for the drive to New York, it’s not too bad. If I do a reading in the city, I can zip home in a little over an hour. I’m not a teacher who goes to bed at 8:30—I should because I get up at 6am for work—but it’s not in my nature. I’m more of a nocturnal person. As for school, usually I plan a lighter lesson on those Mondays.

Q. When any mention of the name Jen Conley arises, the two words I most frequently hear are "sweet" and "nice." So imagine my surprise when I visited your Facebook Page one night and discovered you'd apparently answered a Food Questionnaire. And when answering this questionnaire you referred to about five different foods made anywhere other than the state of New Jersey—including pizza—as "shit."

WTF?

But I quickly intuited that if Angel Luis Colón can't hammer some sense into you that New York-style pizza is the best then I ain't even gonna try. But seein' as how I might be on the Jersey Shore in September—where are your top three best places to allegedly taste the best pizza in the World?

A. Ha! It’s true. Pizza from out of state is terrible, or in the best circumstances, just okay. 

As for my neck of the woods, any true local will lead you to the Sawmill in Seaside Heights. It’s on the boardwalk, at the south end. Big giant pizza slices and you can sit and watch everyone walk by.
Pete and Elda’s is another local favorite. That’s in Neptune City.

But as for the little places, Rondos in Brick. Great pizza, in my opinion. My son loves La Fontana, which is across the street from Rondos. That’s a great place too.

The Brick Oven, in Brick, is a terrific BYOB Italian restaurant. It’s mobbed in the summer but worth it. Food is terrific and the coal-fire oven pizza is not something I usually like, but I like theirs. It’s usually crowded with older people originally from north Jersey or Brooklyn and Staten Island. You always know an Italian restaurant is great when the former New Yorkers are eating there.

But honestly, most of our pizza joints are great—at any exit.

Thanks, Jen. Interested readers can buy JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—which includes Jen's story “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Watch-Gutter-Books-Anthologies-ebook/dp/B075KKGT7H/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

You can also read Jen’s story “Hatpin” for free at Shotgun Honey:
https://www.shotgunhoney.com/fiction/hatpin-by-jen-conley/

Obstinate souls who want to argue pizza with Jen can find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jen.conley

More rationally-minded folks can learn more about her writing and related activities like Noir at the Bar by visiting her web site at: https://www.jenconley.net/

Meanwhile, anyone interested in the History of Noir at the Bar can read Jen's article in the Los Angeles Review of Books here: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-roomful-of-half-bagged-semi-literate-knuckle-draggers/
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Monday, June 4, 2018

Lucita's Salacious Secret by Jesse Rawlins



Lucita's Salacious Secret

Mescal peered at the fifteen women assembled on the mesa—

They sure got that boy aroused. Not because they sprawled half-dressed ….

But because they lay there dead.

Me? I grabbed the Canon hanging round my neck—and rabidly fired pictures. I knew from prior visits we had no phone reception here.

The sun sat high in a July sky. And sweat raced down my cleavage. But tempering my adrenalin, I cranked the camera’s ISO and exposure down as well. We didn’t get much crime out here in Pinjon County. But once this shit-storm hit the press, life wouldn’t be so balmy. As the elected sheriff in these parts, best I got things right.

This un-named mesa squats serenely over Crooked Canyon—just outside the northern tip of New Mexico’s Brokeoff Mountains. While thirty miles due east, the famous Carlsbad Caverns smugly hug the local landscape.

The Crooked also intersects with the sweeping Chihuahuan Dessert.

Pronounced by some as chay-hojaun, our continent’s second largest desert scrapes southeast Arizona … envelopes neighboring West Texas—then languishes further south … and exhausts itself in Mexico.

People call this place a wasteland ….

But twenty years I’ve called it Home.

I motioned to Mescal …. The cat had certainly taken that poor boy’s bewildered tongue.

Yet I respected his somber silence, as we trudged to my Silverado—

Then spiraled down into Lucita … not far from Devil’s Den.

***

I called the FBI field office over in Los Cruces. And asked for Billy Evans. The man was ten times tougher than a two-dollar steak. And a hundred times more prickly than any of the Chihuahuan’s two-hundred cactus species. Besides being short on empathy, he also lacked imagination.

I had to settle for VM ….

Evans had a penchant for wanting to shoot the messenger—

So I kept my message short not sweet.

***

Instead of calling me back, Evans turned-up on my doorstep.

“I wanna talk to your wit—the one who found the bodies.”

“Sure,” was all I said.

“Let’s go then: time’s a wastin’—where does Mescal live?”

“Lives right here with me.”

Evans glared: “Well? You gonna fetch ’em?”

I waved him inside the house; he let my aging screen door slam.

“No need to fetch Mescal—boy’s sleeping on that sofa.”

“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me. Mescal’s a Golden Retriever?”

 ***

I poured a coffee black for Evans and slid a folder off the counter. The agent didn’t speak … just squinted at the pics ….

At the risk of sounding pompous … those photos came out sweet.

“We need a copter,” I said to Evans.

“Why we need a copter?”

I’ll show you once we’re up there.”

Evans locked his jaw—like he was set to argue. But okay was all he said.

I didn’t say a word to Evans ….

But the one who’d killed these women—lived right here in little Lucita.

And I knew how to deal with her.

***

The copter banked a U-turn over the yawning canyon—then hovered like a bee … above the honeyed mesa. Though embarrassing to admit, I found this aerial view so stunning—I actually creamed my undies.

The pilot deciphered the scene … before agent Evans did: “Well I’ll be a fly on an armadillo’s ass—

“Those bodies form a pentagram ….”

I photographed the mesa with a hunger I’d never known. That pentagram-shape meant diddley.

***

Evans ended his call.

“Thanks for dragging me into your crazy circle jerk.

“The anthropologist has confirmed what we already knew: ain’t no way in hell this is a tribal burial plot—

“But she does think some of these vics were interred a decade earlier.”

“If they’ve been here all this time,” said the pilot, “then why’d the killer dig ’em up—and decide to display ’em now?”

“Cuz someone’s finally showing off,” I said.

***

Back on terra firma life seemed so mundane ….

Sweating like a bottle of ice-cold Dr. Pepper, Evans swiped his dirt-streaked brow: “You still retiring in a month?”

“Yes, indeed, I am. Moving out to Utah: to explore the canyons there.”

“Lucky you, Lucita ….”

Lucky me, for sure. Unfettered from this job—

I otta be able to seduce—at least two women a year.

I’ll certainly miss my trophies … but I’ve got scores of gorgeous pics.

-End-

Bio Despite its scantily-clad acclaim, Jesse’s first published story (When the Pheromones Dance) wasn’t well-received by her orthodox Catholic mother.

The author wisely fled to Washington—and securing White House Press Credentials—covered Science Policy during the Clinton Administration. But infected by Lewinsky Lewdness—Jesse suddenly spiraled into a life of prostitution: and spent six orgiastic-years pretzling for Corporate America.

Belittled and beleaguered, Jesse finally thought it wise to seek professional help¬—and kidnapped a shrink.

Now holed-away in Parts Unknown, she’s trying her hand at fiction. Flashzines Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter's Flash Fiction Offensive have graciously published her smut. Avant-garde Red Fez has featured her work as well. You can learn more here: https://www.facebook.com/Jesse-Rawlins-Fiction-Writer-472903656414539/

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Salmon Run by Hector Duarte Jr.



Salmon Run

They’re pointing guns at me. They think I’m strapped.

“Keep your clothes on, Trey. We’re just taking you in to get better. You know the drill.”

Samantha’s talking to the new guy. I don’t know him. They’re whispering, too far away. I can’t hear what they’re saying.

I don’t know why the new guy drew his gun. I haven’t had a gun pointed at me in I don’t know how long. 

I can’t go back to the ALF. Everyone there speaks Spanish. They look at me like I’m from Asia or some shit. I’m speaking English, motherfuckers. The only good thing about that place is how easy it is to get out of there. Just take my meds with a smile, tell them it’s working, and I’m out the door. If I want to go back home, I just jump in front of a car and fuck up an ankle. Soon enough, it’s bandaged up with a phone call to mom, who comes to scoop me up because I’m her son after all. Everyone knows blood is thicker than mental illness.

Mike takes a couple steps closer after the new guy’s done talking with Sam.

She’s only ten but, God bless her, can she read through the bull shit. That’s why they’re here. I just wanted to get out of the house, take a little walk. That Miami sun is such a beautiful thing to see some days, and it makes me want to walk, walk, and walk.

Jesus did that: walked and walked, picking up people who followed him, curing diseases, turning water into wine. I just want to walk like that and get in adventures.

Mom was screaming at me to take my pill before I left. I take that thing, in thirty minutes I won’t want to walk anymore and, fuck me, it’s too pretty a day not to walk under that bulbous sun. Just look at that thing.

“Trey, just get in the car and you’ll be back soon.”

Mike’s a good guy. Always has been, but today he seems angrier. I think he’s trying to set an example for the new guy.

The way the new guy points that gun at me with his hand shaking, I know it’s not true. This time, they’re taking me in for good. I see it in the way tears run down Mom’s cheeks and Sam hangs on to the side of her leg.

I just wanted to leave. Right out the door and into that bright day. Walk the shit out of Miami. Sam was trying to help Mom out when she got in front of the door. I get it, but I just had to leave.

Sam’s so small and light, it wasn’t hard getting her out of the way. Soon as I did, though, she started crying like crazy. Mom’s screams filled the house. I knew I’d done something wrong by the way Sam cried, so I waited for the cops. I took off all my clothes, so they’d see I wasn’t strapped, and sat on the lawn. Mike looked worried when he saw me. I said I just wanted to walk. 

Everyone’s really pissed off this time. It’s because I pushed Sam. I’ve never messed with her before. It’s usually a big screaming match with mom, maybe a light shove.

The new guy won’t put the gun down and I can’t stay here. The sun is so bright, I have to get walking. Imagine being at the beach right now. I have to go. When I come back, it’ll be better.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy yells when I bend over to pick up my clothes.
Why does he have to curse around my little sister?

“Don’t yell at my sister, sir,” I say, loud enough so he can hear me over the traffic on 117th.

The new guy doesn’t like that. He doesn’t hear an older brother protecting his little sister. He hears a naked black dude sitting on the front lawn of a residential neighborhood. You know, wanting to be respected now that he’s finally in uniform.

Maybe he’s scared, so I put my hands up and walk closer to him to try and shake his hand. I don’t like that he yelled at Sam, but if we talk it out maybe he can be like Mike. I might actually get through to him and he can get to know the drill, how things work around this house. How I’m a regular call on their squawk box. Everyone on the block knows me as the guy with problems, cops are an extended family in this house.

There’s this thing salmon do when they want to spawn. It’s called magnetoception. No matter how long they’ve been away, no matter how far out they’ve ventured in the ocean, they use Earth’s magnetic field to find their way back to the river they were born. Sometimes, they migrate back to the very spot. All to swim up to shore and die. Scooped up by birds and bears so the next generation of fish can make it. No matter what, I always hone in on Sam and mom.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy shouts. 

Sweat pocks Mike’s forehead as he tells me and the new guy to calm down.

The new guy shakes like Muhammad Ali.

He’s not cut out for this. But I’m not the guy to tell him, so I walk to the car and put my hands on the roof. I’ve done this so many times before. I turn around.

Mom’s still crying. Sam’s gone inside, but I see her staring through the window at my naked self leaning against the cop car. My little sister rubs her eyes hard.

“I’ll be back, Mom. Don’t worry. Go inside and wait. Just a couple of days.”

The new guy approaches with the gun still on me. I can’t leave things like this. It isn’t right. I run back to the front door to give Sam a hug and let her know I’m sorry. 

Mom’s eyes go wide the closer I get to the door. I know she’s happy I’m trying to make things better with my little sister. Mike is screaming at me, but I need Sam to know everything will be okay.

The new guy tells me to stop running. His voice is shaky but it’s louder than the traffic.

Mike yells at him to drop the gun.

Mom closes her eyes.

Sam might not like me right now but the one thing we have in common is home. Take me as far north as possible. Lock me deep inside the scariest mental health place you’ve got, with the biggest walls possible. Like a salmon to Earth’s magnetic pull, I’ll always find my way back home.

-End-

Bio Hector Duarte, Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida and current co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. His work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, HorrorSleazeTrash, Pulp Metal Magazine, and The Rumpus. He teaches English-Language Arts to high school students and listens to, (as some friends might argue), too much Phish.

He has lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. He has also moderated panels at Miami Book Fair and the AWP Conference in Los Angeles.

He loves his cat, Felina, very much

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Music Review: Providence Canyon by Brent Cobb



At some point or another, we’ve all heard a song that we sing non-stop but have no idea who the artist is, this was the case for Brent Cobb and myself. People kept telling me to check him out and for whatever reason or another I didn’t. One day I was looking up the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Whiskey Myers, Mud, and the author of that particular song happened to be Brent Cobb. He’s also related to one of our favorite producers here at Story & Grit, Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Whiskey Myers, Chris Shiflett, Amanda Shires, etc). After realizing what a great lyricist he is I decided to dive into his own body of work and start exploring. It was a nice coincidence that he just so happened to be coming out with a new album which meant an opportunity for me to review Providence Canyon.

Starting with the title track, we’re treated to a mellow country rock jam. It kind of reminds me of Sweet Desert Childhood by the Flying Burrito Brothers. The pedal steel is easy on the ears and Brent expresses his sentimentalities of having a good old southern time at a really nice state park in Stewart County, Georgia. Get your friends together and have a couple of brews while this song plays in the background. You’ll get a feel for how we like to get together down south. King Of Alabama follows up the title track with some serious laid back groove. Mornin’s Gonna Come brings the rock. The backup singers in the chorus bring a soul dynamic to this already steady rocker. Come Home Soon is one of the real heavy hitters of the album. I found it personally relatable because leaving the south was a challenging thing for me to do and Brent Cobb describes the dilemma very well in this tune.

Sucker For A Good Time brings back the groove. There’s a really good jam about two and a half minutes in with guitar work the hearkens back to Gary Rossington’s work with Lynyrd Skynyrd. If I Don’t See Ya is another seriously awesome rocker this album has to offer! This song is proof that the south has a sound all its own. You can hear hints of every great southern rock band in this song but I wouldn’t call Brent Cobb’s music southern rock or say he’s trying to copy anyone. Seriously, his band kills it during this one! Lorene was one of my personal favorites on the album. It’s a nice ballad of a tune with some great guitar and pedal steel work. We hear Brent tugging on the logic of someone unsure of whether or not to chase their dream. This is a great song to listen to if you need encouragement.

Whenever I review albums I try to imagine scenarios in which that particular record would be useful. In this case, I recommend finding a back road which leads to nowhere and riding around with your friends until you all find something you’ve never seen before. You could also play this one while you’re drinking beer with your friends by the lake. However you choose to listen to Brent Cobb’s music, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. I have a feeling he’ll be around for a while turning out songs that will stand the test of time. Give it a listen and let me know what you think at storyandgritreviews@gmail.com!

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Review: Love Notes by Caitlin Jemma


Back in October, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I traveled back home to Georgia to attend my Nanny’s funeral. When I got back to California I was devastated because her death took us all by surprise. On the heels of that little episode, my buddy Joey Goforth asked me to be a guest on his Self Service podcast. I was delighted at the opportunity and decided to listen to the older episodes to get an idea of what the experience was going to be like. I discovered two of my new current favorite songwriters this way, Caitlin Jemma and Margo Cilker. At the end of the Caitlin Jemma episode, it played a song called, Ain’t That Something. It was a LONG wait from October to May when I finally got to hear the new Caitlin Jemma album in its entirety but it was worth every minute!

It starts out with the song I mentioned before, Ain’t That Something. We’re introduced to this album with an acoustic guitar before giving way to a horns section. You won’t be able to turn back the dial after the intro. I promise! The next irresistible thing Caitlin Jemma has to offer is her voice. I always think it’s unjust to compare artists but remember how awesome it sounded coming through the speakers the first time you heard Hank Williams yodel Long Gone Lonesome Blues? That’s how revelatory Caitlin Jemma’s crooning vocals are in this song (Is crooning even the right word? Hopefully if she reads this she won’t take it as an insult). There aren’t enough exclamation points to describe how much I enjoy the opening track to this album!

Next comes Xxoo. This song rocks (for lack of a better word)! It’s a great follow up track to the opener because it shows how versatile Caitlin’s music can be and how many different ways her band can boogie, her voice at the centerfold once again. The outro builds into an awesome train whistle-esque chant. Lean On My Love slows the train to a steady roll. There’s a lot of good vocal and trumpet interaction with the melody to this one and the lyrics are pretty awesome. Still Dreamin’ keeps the groove locked down tight. If I could ask Ms. Jemma any question in the world it would be where she comes up with the arrangements for her songs because the fact that music like this isn’t debuting at the top of the billboards is a travesty. This song seriously has it all.

The next song, Evangeline, was my personal favorite on the entire album. It’s super stripped down, the lyrics are gold, and the vocal harmonies add a texture to the song which makes it heavenly. How It Is was another compelling track because it has a wild R&B flare that’ll make it hard for you to sit still. All Night was another stand out with some risqué lyrics. Ladies, hide your man for this one because it’s hot! I’m going to leave the rest of the album for the listener’s interpretation because I don’t want a song by song analysis to ruin anyone’s expectations of what a stellar record this one is.

It’s hard for me to find albums that I can listen to from start to finish these days. I work a full-time job, I’m a gigging musician/songwriter, a Story & Grit journalist, a husband, and a father to two boys. New artists must manage to drown out the traffic in my life as well as the melodies I hear in my own head to make it into my collection (yes, I still buy music). Caitlin Jemma’s music brought me a lot of joy during a difficult time in my life and this record will stay in my collection for a long time to come. As of this review, Caitlin Jemma is touring the Pacific Northwest to support the release of Love Notes. I’ve listed her tour dates below so if you see your city go to a show, buy lots of merch, and tell all your friends in every city across the country to make this girl famous. Good music ain’t gone, it’s just underground where it shouldn’t be!

05/03 Portland, Oregon
05/04 Eugene, Oregon
05/05 Olympia, Washington
05/06 Astoria, Oregon
05/08 Port Angeles, Washington
05/09 Port Townsend, Washington
05/10 Conway, Washington
05/11 Belingham, Washington
05/12 Seattle, Washington
05/13 Willamina, Oregon
05/16 Redding, California
05/17 San Francisco, California
05/18 Folsom, California
05/19 Sebastopol, California
05/20-21 Modesto, California
05/22 San Louis Obispo, California
05/24-27 Bradley, California
05/29 Knight’s Ferry, California
05/30 Carson City, Nevada
05/31 Carnelian Bay, California
06/01 Chico, California
06/02 Talent, Oregon
06/15 Moscow, Idaho
06/16 Bozeman, Montana
06/17 Livingston, Montana
06/19 Helena, Montana
06/20 Spokane, Washington
06/22 Missoula, Montana
06/23 Sandpoint, Idaho
06/25 Enterprise, Oregon
06/26 Hood River, Oregon

Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Paul Beckman

Q. You oversee numerous New York readings at a place called the Red Room. I’m guessing it’s a bit different than the Red Room in FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY. So what can you tell us about your special playground?

A. Located on the third floor of KGB in New York City, the Red Room was once Al Capone’s speakeasy. It’s a beautifully refurbished room with an excellent sound system, comfortable seats, its own bar—a terrific Manager Lori, and always of great wait staff.

The Red Room is eclectic. It hosts the New York Writer’s Workshop, The East Coast Salon, Mistress Velvitina’s Variety Show, and NeuroNetic Institute of Poetry Monthly. My Fbomb and NY Flash Fiction readings take place the first Friday of every month. For the FBomb flash fiction series there is no cover but a two-drink minimum. We usually have between five and seven readers of either flash fiction or prose poetry.

Q. When you’re not playing around at the Red Room you write a helluva lot of flash fiction. When did you first start writing—and what attracted you to flash—besides the imaginary sex appeal I associate with this form?

A. I’ve been writing flash for well over thirty years and before I knew there was a name for it. I’ve always written short—under 2,000 words—and as I got to read more of the genre I found myself drawn to the under 1,000 word flash mark and also to the under 300 word micro mark. It’s a challenge that doesn’t allow me to go wondering with back-stories, multi-layered descriptions, and more characters than are needed for a flash or micro story. I’m basically a no BS kind of guy and so my personality and my writing are simpatico.

Q. It’s well known in certain circles you used to hang with a dubious crowd. And seein’ as how you’re talkin’ to me, some might say that you still do. But was there an event or series of events that led you to walk a different line? And assuming you aren’t currently in a witness protection program, are there any memories from your old life you might feel inclined to share?

A. Growing up on the opposite side of the tracks I hung with guys whose moors were different than mine when I first moved to the projects. Stealing a car was big time but running numbers (as I did in high school) and filching (God I love that word) apples, bread, spuds, Devil Dogs from small local groceries seemed to be okay. Also, being in a supermarket where ladies leave their pocket books open in the baby seat was akin to taking a number at the deli counter. So much was the challenge rather than the end result. Delivery trucks didn’t lock their doors to make a delivery, people didn’t lock their car doors, and I was most likely the only one of my “dubious” crowd who filched (that word again) library books or books of any kind. All that and I loved Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls and the pulps.

Q. Your stories have appeared in places like Yellow Mama and Spelk Fiction alongside many members of the Crime Writing community. Yet while you’ve written Noir and crime, your overall body of work remains diverse. What are some of the reasons you’ve shied away from a single so-called genre? 

A. I don’t think I’ve shied away from a specific genre—I write what comes into my head at any given moment. Sometimes it’ll be a few crime stories in a row and more often it’ll be dysfunctional families, which are fertile fields for me to plow. I always say I’ll stop writing about dysfunctional families when I meet a functional family. I believe I’m safe. Every family has secrets and most secrets are juicy and even juicer when I create them. Being a writer is like having a God complex or an orchestra maestro—good spots that let you control. Maybe that’s also why I could move a lot of planes when I was an Air Traffic Controller. As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king.”

Q. In terms of sheer numbers, you chance to be one of the “busiest” writers I’ve encountered. Your sixth flash collection KISS KISS was released in April by Truth Serum Press—and you show no signs of easing up. What compels you to write so often?

A. Fear. I always have the fear that were I to stop I couldn’t start again. Plus, I like to write and since I rarely know what my story’s going to be about until I finish it, I look forward to seeing what’s going on in my own head.

Q. Your story “All for the Love of a Good Burger”—which found a home at Yellow Mama, remains one of my favorites. So in the greater New York area, what are your top three places to grab a burger?

A. This is the toughest question. I’ll give you two: PJ Clark’s Cadillac Burger on Third Ave and The Luger Burger from Pete Luger’s steak house in Brooklyn. (Big enough to share.)

Readers hungry for flash can find Paul’s KISS KISS assortment here:

http://bit.ly/pbKiss  paperback

http://bit.ly/KisseP  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website (which contains Links to his published stories that readers can sample for free).

https://www.facebook.com/paulbeckmanwriter/

http://paulbeckmanstories.com/

Going to be in NYC? You can find the schedule for KGB and the Red Room here:

http://kgbbar.com/calendar/

Interested in learning more about the Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series which was created by Denver writer Nancy Stohlman in 2013? Then here’s a good article from Smokelong Quarterly in which Paul was interviewed alongside Nancy:

http://www.smokelong.com/cool-stuff-writers-do-fbomb-flash-fiction-reading-series/

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bad Ass Book Reviews: Kiss Kiss by Paul Beckman



Reading KISS KISS is like delving a box of chocolates without a cover as your guide. And Paul Beckman's latest Flash Fiction collection contains 78 crafted confections that ought to curl your toes. Sure you'll discover stories with soft, sweet centers. But some are just as jagged as biting into an almond—hidden inside white nougat—and drizzled with red icing.

Or is that icing actually blood?

So expect to pucker up—but not always for a blissful kiss. A strip poker-playing granny? Tough to banish that gal from your mind. And while the doting couple in "Honey and Darling" remain devoted to each other? Well, they sure ain't your average love birds.

One common ingredient in all of Beckman's stories is suspense. He consistently cooks up ways to keep us off balance ... coaxing us to wonder if and when he'll suddenly tug the paper rug from under our jittery noses. Like when a stranger in "Father Panik Villages" gives a homeless girl a ride and buys her empty stomach lunch. Is he a savior or a creep? Until this tale at last unravels we simply can't decide.

If humor's a flavor you savor, you'll find your share of that as well.

Sure I could say more. But I never kiss and tell. Far better to grab KISS KISS—and let Beckman's characters do the smooching.

Best be careful though. Some may try to jump your bones. Or lure you with the Kiss-of-Death.

Anyone with an urge for these Zero-calorie snacks can find Beckman's KISS KISS assortment here:

http://bit.ly/pbKiss  paperback

http://bit.ly/KisseP  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website.

http://paulbeckmanstories.com/

https://www.facebook.com/paulbeckmanwriter/

Kiss-Kiss!

Jesse Rawlins

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