Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Music Review: Crushed Coins by Caleb Caudle



When the work of an artist I'm unfamiliar with comes across my desk my first stop is usually Wikipedia so I can learn a little about who I'm listening to. When that doesn't suffice I usually seek out their social media presence (if any). In the case of this review, I had to seek out Caleb Caudle through social media. Crushed Coins isn't his first album but it's the first one I've heard. If you've been looking for someone to say, "I used to listen to them back when…." this is your guy because, with only 6,025 likes on Facebook (as of this review), I don't anticipate he'll stay at this level for very long. 

Usually, I start a new album by looking over the track listing and listening to the first title that catches my attention. I started this one on the first track though. This album plays wonderfully in chronological order so I really suggest listening from start to finish! In my case, about the only time I get to listen to music is while driving so I was fortunate to be able to dive into this one while no one else was in the car. While heading north on a coastal California Highway I started getting really into the atmospheric intro of the first song, Lost Without You. You can imagine how great a drive it was when the first lyric says, "I was born with too many miles...." The song builds slowly but the tempo never quite takes off until it segues into the next song, N.Y.C. In The Rain, which is another reason I recommend listening from start to finish because that's a constant throughout the record.

N.Y.C. In The Rain is a spectacular song and is exactly what I imagined the backdrop of a rainy day in the Big Apple sounding like. Empty Arms stands out with the way the instruments are layered and has a very catchy chorus. The pedal steel and electric guitars almost harken back to the glory days of country rock in my opinion. In fact, the pedal steel offers a pristine melody in the intro to the next song, Love That's Wild. I believe this track shows that despite the overall laid-back quality of Caleb Caudle's music he has a serious ability to lock into a groove with his band. It's nice to discover someone who can move beyond the simple means of making the band slightly accentuate the song and add a little more rhythm to the music. 

Stack of Tomorrows was my personal favorite of the album. Again, architecture and balance shows what a crafty songwriter and musician these guys are. Just when you start getting into the song, Madelyn comes in with a totally different beat but you get caught in a jam so quick you forgot you started listening to another song. It's probably because the fiddle is so captivating but then he asks, "Madelyn, can you believe it snowed?" And you wanna hear the rest of the story. The end of this song introduces the quiet ambiance of a keyboard effect that lingers through the next two tracks. It's actually really cool how it ties the rest of the album together. Six Feet From The Flowers is almost like a whisper of a song. It's a grief-stricken narrative by a bereaved widower with full but faint accompaniment. Until It's Over is our final stop. Although it starts with a keyboard, it eventually dies down to just a voice and a guitar to tell the testimony of an honest love. The band wraps things up by leading us out with a jam. 

I apologize if I spent so much time exploring the band's capabilities as a whole and not so much the songwriting. You'll have to let me know if this makes the review hard to read for casual music listeners. The problem is the vocal harmonies sit so well on top of the music that it's hard not to listen to the big picture with each song. I wasn't able to dissect his music as easily as perhaps some of my other reviews. If that statement alone doesn't make you stop and just go listen to the album I don't know what will. Go check out Crushed Coins and visit calebcaudle.com to find out where he's playing. As always, support the live music of the artists we review and let me know what you're listening to 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, February 26, 2018

A Hanging by Patrick Cooper



A Hanging

“The fires of Hell burn hotter than any feeling of betrayal you’re experiencing right now. My son, please, before you step off that stool, think twice.”

The noose fibers creaked as Lomez’s wiry frame wobbled on top of the wooden stool. Sweat trailed down his narrow face and his toes ached. He couldn’t keep standing on them much longer.

“Betrayal?” he said. “What do you know about betrayal, Father?!”

“Jesus tells us-”

“And no Bible stories neither! Go on and forget your collar for once and tell me all about betrayal.”

Father Howard bowed his head and dabbed sweat off his face with a handkerchief and said nothing.

“That’s what I thought. Now get with the benediction or last rights or whatever it’s called and I’ll get on with this hanging.”

The door creaked open and a tall man with unwashed blonde hair poked his head in. He smiled. “This where the hanging is?”

“Fuck are you doing here, Ike?”

“Skinny Dale out front went and got me. Said you was tying a noose. Thought I see.”

“Well this is a private hanging. Just me and my priest. So fuck off.”

Behind Ike, the Friday night ruckus of the pool hall swelled. Q-balls cracked and drunk men laughed. Ike shut the door and stepped up to the old oak desk that split the small office in half. The stool sat on top of the desk and Lomez stood on top of that - the head of the suicide totem pole. The rope was tied around a heating pipe. A nudie calendar hung on the wall behind him.

Ike said hello to Father Howard then looked up at Lomez. “Is this about Maddie?”

“Of course it’s about Maddie, goddammit! Everything is! My life-”

“Just a girl, man.”

“Just a-”

“Girl.”

Father Howard put a sweaty hand on Ike’s shoulder. “It’s best we don’t mention the girl.”

“There’s other kitties out there, man,” Ike said. “‘Sides, you die, who’s gonna manage this dump? Skinny Dale?”

Lomez shrugged.

“He couldn’t manage a petting zoo, for God’s sake.” He turned to the priest. “Sorry, Father.”

“Fine, my son. I was telling Mr. Lomez about the fires of Hell and how while this feeling of betrayal will not last, the fires are eternal.”

“You hear that, Lomez? Eternal.”

Lomez moaned. “Think I can walk this earth while Maddie gives birth to a boy ain’t even my kin? Screwing behind my back, Christ! I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go on!”

The door opened and the large round head of Skinny Dale poked into the room. “Hey, uh, sorry fellas. Say Ike, how you want that burger cooked?”

“Medium. I thought I told you.”

Dale paused and nodded awkwardly up at Lomez and dipped back out to the pool hall.

“You ordered food?” Lomez said. “You knew I was back here, possibly already swinging by my neck, and you stopped to order yourself a burger?”

“The kitchen closes in 15 minutes. I had to act fast. So what?”

“Nobody cares!” Lomez started sobbing now.

“My son, the Lord always cares. He is on-”

“Would revenge help?” Ike said.

“What?” Lomez said.

Father Howard put his hands out in protest. “Revenge is never the answer, my sons. The Lord-”

“We find the piece a shit that knocked up Maddie and…” Ike made a gun with his fingers and mimed shooting himself in the head.

“It’s impossible! Maddie won’t tell me who the guy is and I don’t...I don’t who it is! That’s swell a you to say, Ike. But, Christ, the hell with this.”

Lomez lifted one foot off the stool. Ike and Father Howard raised their hands as if to catch him. Before Lomez could take the full step off, the priest said, “Stop! It was me!”

Lomez recovered his balance and stared down at Father Howard. “Fuck did you say?”

Sweat poured off Father Howard now. He wept into his hands. “It was me! Dear God, forgive me! I gave you my life for 30 years! The temptation of the flesh! She came to me, the girl! For confession and, and I tried to help her! 30 years of celibacy! Please, turn a blind eye this one time, dear God!”

“Yeah God.” Ike pulled his pistol out of the back of his waistband and raised it to the priest’s head. “How’s about you look away for a tick.” He fired and Father Howard crumbled to the ground. Ike put the gun away and looked up at Lomez. “All better?”

Lomez surveyed the scene beneath him, unsure.

“Get your ass down from there, man. That necktie doesn’t suit you.”

“But it doesn’t...it doesn’t change a fucking thing!”

“Sure it does! This snake here, the one who screwed your girl, got her pregnant, is dead. Problem solved! Now c’mon” Ike checked his watch. “Let’s tell Skinny to throw another cow on the grill before the kitchen closes.”

“But I still feel the same. I don’t...this thing inside me still feels broken.”

“Quit being a turkey. Let’s eat.”

There was a pregnant pause, then Lomez said, “I’ll catch up with you. Just...just give me a sec.”

Ike went to leave the room. Halfway through the door he turned and said, “How you want yours?”

“My what?”

“Your burger.”

Lomez thought of Hell’s eternal flames. “Well done.”

Ike smiled and closed the door behind him. Lomez pictured Maddie in his head and the bump in her belly and stepped off the stool.

-End-

Bio Patrick Cooper is a writer living in Trappe, Pennsylvania. His fiction has appeared in numerous outlets, including Thuglit, Spinetingler, Dark Corners, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and Ghost Parachute, as well as some print anthologies. Check out the goods at: https://patrickgcooper.com/

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Sarah M. Chen

Hi Sarah. Welcome to Ink-Quisitions. You're the first writer we're lashing to S&G's wooden rack—so I hope your wrists and ankles feel fit.

My first question is a softball: All set to spill some Ink?

A. Are you kidding? I’m thrilled—for both of us! Congrats on the new gig, Jesse, and I’m honored to be the writer to launch Ink-Quisitions. Thanks for having me!

Q. Like most of us Indie writers, you work for an employer. But yours—LA Adjusters & Investigators—sounds mysterious. Should I start with the waterboarding? Or are you willing to give us a glimpse into your workdays?
   
A. It’s nothing as cool as it sounds, especially now. My boss, an insurance adjuster/private investigator, is practically retired. It’s a small outfit with just me and him and our specialty (at least when I first started) was tractor-trailer claims—like stolen cargo, tractor-trailer thefts, and vehicle accidents. Occasionally, we’d do investigative work for lawyers and that’s where the fun stuff happened: like stakeouts, serving subpoenas, and searching for witnesses. And by fun, I mean making people angry. Although people seem less suspicious of a woman snooping around than my boss.

I got the job by answering an ad in the local paper in 2002 for an “assistant to a private investigator.” How could I pass that up? And yes, looking for jobs in the classifieds used to be a thing. Initially, I wrote reports and did bookkeeping. But eventually I handled my own claims.

I have to say that I owe a great deal of my writing career to this job, at least getting it started. There are many crazy claims I worked that inspired short stories and it helps to write about crooks when you work with them on a regular basis. My boss also loves mystery novels so he’s the one who got me hooked on the likes of Tony Hillerman and Patricia Highsmith.

Q. Maybe because I write fiction myself, I tend to think of authors as people first and writers second. So I'm curious. What has your social life been like as a writer? Did you find your way into an actual or online writing community early on—or did you spend a lot of time in isolation first?

A. I didn’t start taking writing seriously until 2006. I’ve always wanted to write and dabbled in it here and there. My background is in the entertainment industry, mostly as a studio script reader. I eventually wrote a screenplay, thinking that’s what I wanted to do. But after reading hundreds of scripts over the years and seeing what producers were greenlighting, I left the industry.

Then in 2006, I got divorced. I re-evaluated everything in my life and it was a weird time for me. I felt lost yet totally grounded at the same time. I decided if I didn’t start writing then, I’d never do it. I went to the Los Angeles Festival of Books for the first time that year and met Darrell James at the Sisters in Crime booth. He invited me to a meeting and I went. It was the best decision I ever made. I met my current writer group, Travis Richardson and Stephen Buehler, through Sisters in Crime. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

Q. I'm excited about your novella "Cleaning up Finn." As well as your 2017 appearance in the Gutter Books Johnny Cash tribute anthology "Just to Watch Them Die." And heartfelt thanks to Editor Joe Clifford for culling this kickass collection. But I'd like to look backwards first. When and where was your first story published? And what were your submission experiences like prior to this Happy Day?

A. My first published story, “Dough Boy,” is about a private investigator who wanted to be a baker. It’s more light-hearted than what I write now. Darrell James helped me revise it. The story was published in 2007 by Loretta Scott Miller / Shannon Road Press in an anthology called LITTLE SISTERS. I was so excited and it was an amazing experience since there were five other local authors in the collection. We did a mini book tour together. It was awesome because for many of us, it was our first published story. I haven’t had anything like that experience since.

Prior to that, I didn’t submit much at all. I took a creative writing elective in grad school and that’s when I first realized I may not suck at writing short stories. My professor, who wasn’t exactly effusive with his praise, begrudgingly admitted my story could be publishable somewhere. I tucked it away, and when I found it years later, it became “The High Road” which was published by Plan B in 2013.

Q. Time to toss in some grit. "Missouri Waltz," your story contribution to the Cash anthology, struck me as darker than the Man-in-Black himself. But for the sake of prospective readers, let's avoid plot. How did you channel enough anger to create Violet, Lorraine, and Darius—then chain these furies to the page?

A. I often channel what’s inside me into my characters. I know I harbor a lot of anger and that’s why writing helps me. It’s therapeutic which sounds clichéd but it’s true. I was raised to keep my emotions in check, especially anger. Even though I eventually learned that it’s unhealthy to bottle everything up and have been working on changing this, it’s hard to break longtime habits. So when I write these characters who are hurt, resentful, or enraged, it comes mostly from within.

Q. I chanced to read an interview Steve W. Lauden conducted with your fellow contributor Jen Conley shortly after this anthology's release. Jen indicated that writing a dark story like "God's Gonna Cut You Down" impacted her emotionally for some time. Have you experienced anything similar in regards to any of your characters? And does this particular Cash song bear any personal significance to you?
   
A. Each character takes a little piece of me. At least the main characters. So when I write something that draws from my own pain or anger, then yes, it’s absolutely hard not to be affected.
   
I have to admit I didn’t know much about Johnny Cash when I was asked to contribute a story. Joe Clifford said it didn’t matter, that it’s about whatever song title speaks to you, which was a relief. I didn’t grow up on his music or have much exposure to his songs so the only things I knew were from the movie and the “Hurt” cover song. I know, I know! So when I went through the long list of songs, I was kind of overwhelmed and freaking out until I saw “Missouri Waltz.” I knew that was my song title. I had just gotten back from a trip to St. Louis to visit my ex-husband for his birthday (yeah, it’s weird, but go with it). We hung out in this cool blues club and the woman singing, Kim Massie, had a voice and a presence that blew me away. She was the inspiration behind Lorraine and the story’s setting.
   
I interpreted “Missouri Waltz” as a dance between the main character and her father. A waltz is a dance that’s all about precision and timing. So for Lorraine and her father, the timing for them to connect meaningfully over the years is always off. Although there is definitely a strong emotional thread of rage throughout, it’s essentially a sad story of regret and missed opportunities between father and daughter. At least that’s what I envisioned when I wrote it.

Q. When your short story “The Benevolent Man” was published by Spelk Fiction in December 2015, your bio announced that All Due Respect Books (ADR) would release your first Noir novella in May 2016—proving you could write something over 6,000 words. Congratulations on making that leap. What's the grand finale tally in your novella?

A. It’s 27,770 words exactly!

Q. I love all those "sevens." And how you wound up on an "even number." But in less than 6,000 words: Who is Finn? Why does he need cleaning up? And how did this rapscallion get you nominated for an Anthony Award a mere 12 months after his debut release? I'm hoping you can talk about Finn's "psychological make-up"—rather than discussing plot.

A. Let’s deal with the easy question first: I think FINN was nominated for an Anthony because I lucked out on the “wild card” category. Last year that was the Novella category. I think primarily because the novella has surged in popularity in recent years. Since there were a limited number of novella releases, I think that’s how FINN got in.

As far as who is Finn? He’s that Peter Pan character who never grows up—the eternal playboy. We’ve all known a guy like Finn. And yes, there tends to be more Finns in certain circles, like the restaurant industry, which I worked in for years.

I wanted to explore the reasons behind his womanizing. He treats women as objects and something to conquer. But I wanted to show that his behavior is driven by an inability to establish intimacy, rather than a desire to dominate and control. Finn is a patchwork of various people I’ve worked with and known over the years. As well as a little of myself. I’ve gone through my own struggles with what it means to be emotionally available to someone.

Finn puts on this bravado. But underneath, he’s a lonely man who craves validation. He doesn’t love himself. And that’s his main problem. Until he chooses to clean up his life on his terms rather than everyone else’s, he’ll be forever trapped in this Peter Pan limbo—because it’s all he knows and understands.

Q. After you attempted to clean up Finn on paper, what route did the two of you take to find him a home with a publisher?

A. Initially, I was contracted with a fledging publisher who was launching an imprint of e-book novellas. I expanded FINN from a short story I had written years earlier. It took me over a year to do this and by the time I was done, the publisher went under. I then took it to Mike Monson and Chris Rhatigan over at All Due Respect Books. I couldn’t see FINN anywhere else—and luckily, they agreed.

Q. Based on Facebook posts I've read, you appear to have a fine relationship with esteemed crime editor (and writer) Rob Pierce. But Rob was not the editor for your novella. Who is the editor for your book—and how did you go about choosing an editor? Was the choice difficult? And what factors influenced your decision?

A. ADR handled the editing process for me. Chris Rhatigan and Chris Black (from Number Thirteen Press who is now heading the new imprint, Fahrenheit 13) did a fantastic job cutting all the extraneous bullshit and pointing out all my crutch words. I’m seriously indebted to them.

Q. Since Ink-Quisitions conjure images of pain—what is the highest number of “Declinations” you have received from any particular publication?

A. I submitted three times to the Al Blanchard Award Contest that the Crime Bake Conference puts on. And got rejected every time. Although one year, I received a lovely note of encouragement. I’ve tried for the Bouchercon anthologies a couple times. But so far, I’m zero for two. But the important thing is, after tweaking the story, I resubmitted elsewhere and landed homes for all of them. Pain is a good thing, you know?

Q. This next question is crucial: If you have first-time house guests who will only be in town for 18 hours—where do you take them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

A. For food I'm talking local South Bay ... no battling L.A. traffic for me. I'm not much of a breakfast person but I do love a good Bloody Mary. So that means Hennessey's Tavern. Lunch is a messy burger with bacon and avocado at Simmzy's in Manhattan Beach. Dinner is ramen at Hakata in Gardena.

Best of luck to you, Sarah. Thanks for helping us initiate S&G's rack. Meanwhile, anyone with an interest can purchase her novella "Cleaning Up Finn" on Amazon.

Additionally, Sarah recently teamed with writer E.A. Aymar. And this dynamic duo coedited "The Night Of The Flood"—a novel stitched together from fourteen short stories. Set in the fictional town of Everton, PA, life gets wet-n-wild when a band of irate women decide to destroy a local dam. (So I suspect that this anthology will sweep its readers away.) While this damned-dam collection will release March 5th, eager beavers can pre-order here

You can learn more about Sarah and the above collection by visiting her website.

Folks who've never read Ms. Chen's work—or fans that can't get enough of her, can also read her story "The Benevolent Man" for free at Spelk Fiction.

Meanwhile, you can easily visit Sarah at the various Links below.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=sarah%20m.%20chen%20author

https://www.facebook.com/sarah.m.chen.9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahmchen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahmchen

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Jumbo Liar by John H. Dromey



Jumbo Liar

Following the sudden, unexplained disappearance of a popular young woman and the subsequent discovery of a bloodstained piece of lumber near an alligator-infested bayou, the wheels of justice were put in motion and suspicion naturally fell on the missing woman’s two most-recent beaus. Neither man had a credible alibi.

One of her suitors, Jacques Lefevbre, was reluctant to talk to the authorities, but reportedly had plenty of bad things to say about his rival in private conversations. The second man, Alphonse Maurier, having been severely injured by a hit-and-run driver was hospitalized and temporarily unable to speak or give written responses to investigators’ questions because his jaw was wired shut and his limbs were immobilized.
   
Law enforcement officers did the best they could, but they had very little to go on. The only fingerprints found were smudged beyond recognition and the blood—although definitely that of a human female—could not be linked to the supposed victim since she had no kinfolk in the area for DNA comparison. Despite an abundance of circumstantial evidence, no criminal charges were filed.
   
Later on, that legal lacuna did not prevent one of the contenders for the young woman’s affection, Alphonse Maurier, from bringing a civil suit against the other, Jacques Lefevbre, charging him with assault and also with defamation of character for making false accusations.
   
The high-powered attorney representing Jacques requested and was granted a change of venue.
   
During the first part of the trial, medical evidence documenting the extent of the claimant’s injuries was admitted, but much of the testimony concerning derogatory statements was struck from the record as hearsay. Though by that time Alphonse was again able to speak, he did not testify.
   
When it was his turn to present evidence for the defense, Jacques’ advocate—in a move he would later regret—sought to establish an underlying reason for any ill will that might exist between the two men by putting his client on the stand.
   
“Would you please tell the court where you were and what you observed on the evening of the twenty-third of July last?” the defense attorney inquired.
   
“I took ma jolie blonde to the fin-fond, the boondocks, to pass a good time,” Jacques said. He pointed to the evidence table. “You see dat bâton rouge? Dat red stick?”
   
“For the record, Your Honor,” his lawyer clarified. “My client is referring to Exhibit A.”
   
“I saw one angry man lay dat two-by-twice up ’longside the head of ma chèrie maybe five or four times,” Jacques said. “After dat, poor little Evangeline was no longer jolie—not so pretty—and more of a redhead than a blonde. And den he tossed her limp body into the bayou. Dat big kerplunk was followed close behind by beaucoup splashin’ and thrashin’ ’round. I t’ink the ’gators had envie and got ’er real quick.”
   
“Who was the perpetrator? To whom are you referring?”
   
The defendant leaned forward in the witness box and pointed to a young man in a body cast propped up beside the prosecutor’s table with one arm locked into an elevated right-angled brace. “Dat salaud over yonder. Alphonse.”
   
“And what did you do, Mr. Lefebvre, after you saw that rascal strike your girlfriend with a two-by-four?”
   
“I let les Bon Temps rouler.”
   
“You let the good times roll. That bears repeating. You let les Bon Temps rouler. Thank you, Mr. Lefebvre, for your testimony. Your Honor, I think this is an appropriate time to ask that all charges against my client be dismissed.”
   
“Objection,” said the complainant’s attorney as he rose from his chair.
   
“On what grounds?” the judge asked. “Despite Mr. Lefebvre’s having given us graphic details of an event that could easily account for his having a hostile attitude toward the complainant, how do you explain away the defendant’s description of his carefree attitude following the alleged incident?”
   
“He got that first part the wrong way round. My client Mr. Maurier was the one who saw Mr. Lefebvre attack Miss Evangeline and dispose of her body, and what the witness said about the good times? Not what you think, I guarantee, and anybody from my neck of the woods would agree with me. I tell you for true, Judge, Mr. Lefebvre ran over my client with his vehicle, thereby causing him great bodily harm and severe emotional damage.”
   
“Beyond the word of your client, do you have any hard evidence to support that claim?” the magistrate asked.
   
“We do, Your Honor. We have tire-tread evidence with expert witnesses to back it up, and as a lagniappe, an unexpected gift from the defense, we have the words out of Mr. Lefebvre’s own mouth. Bon Temps. That’s the name of his pick-me-up truck. He was behind the steering wheel when he ‘let it roll’ over my client.”

-End-

Bio John H. Dromey was born in northeast Missouri. He enjoys reading—mysteries especially—and writing in a variety of genres. He’s had short fiction published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Betty Fedora, Crimson Streets, Gumshoe Review, Stupefying Stories Showcase, and elsewhere.
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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Bad Ass Book Reviews: Just to Watch Them Die Anthology from Gutter Books

Welcome to Bad Ass Book Reviews with Jesse Rawlins!

Jesse has become one of my favorite writers I've met online. I accepted one of her stories back in October and have built a friendship with her since. She's smart, witty, and a damn fine writer. Yall will love the story she has coming. Until then, yall can enjoy a couple of new features she'll be bringing to the site.

She'll be doing regular book reviews for Story and Grit and an interview series called Ink-Quisitions. She's got a great schedule lined up. Over the next couple of months you can expect Sarah M. Chen (later this month), Steve W. Lauden, Hector D. Ramirez, Jen Conley, and Mike Creeden.

Yall give her a warm welcome and show her some love in the comments.

Now, her book review . . .

The Road Goes on Forever


Think dark. Think black. Think Johnny Cash. 

Then crudely toss two dozen Crime tales into a cheap pine box—like Editor Joe Clifford at Gutter Books did in late 2017. And what do you get? A kickass tribute Cash collection called "Just To Watch Them Die." And it's sure as hell worth readin'—with or without your boots on.

While you won't find memorabilia in this collection, you will find memorable stories. Stories that bleed. Characters that mislead. Folks who deserve killin'. And those that's willin' to kill 'em. 

Or gladly die trying. 

While I ain't about to put words in his mouth ... I think The-Man-in-Black would approve 'em. Cuz the stories in this anthology ring—with Johnny's kind of fire.

But the folks who wrote these stories ain't whistlin' past the grave yard. Some of them y'all may know. And some them y'all may not. But I reckon half a dozen will soon be talkin' smack with us right here at Story and Grit. And I gotta tell ya folks: that pleases me to death.

Heartfelt thanks to Mark Westmoreland for giving me this place to tango. Heartfelt thanks to all the writers who've agreed to come and play. 

Meanwhile all of us are grateful to all you Readers. And at least for the moment folks, that's all I got to say!

Jesse Rawlins


Jesse Rawlins Fiction Writer
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Music Review: Man of the Woods by Justin Timberlake



There’s an elephant in the room that needs to be taken care of! Next time I wait four or five months to write a review you guys should blow up my email, storyandgritreviews@gmail.com, so this doesn’t happen again. Now that’s out of the way let’s talk about Justin Timberlake. A few of my friends were shocked to find out I have an affinity for pop music that isn’t a guilty pleasure but it’s true. I’m a fan of all of it. It’s particularly enjoyable when it’s done right. That’s how Justin Timberlake starts his new album, Man of the Woods. The first track, Filthy, has an epic intro before falling prey to a funky groove. Midnight Summer Jam keeps the groove continuity going with a disco feel. It has the greatest declaration of my homeland I’ve ever heard, “Act like the south ain’t the shit!” I mean seriously, you can’t! 

We change gears quickly with Sauce. I’m still trying to figure out if I like this song or not. It has a very Country feel and a chicken picking guitar intro that is cool and kind of unusual but it also has a very funk beat underneath. It’s such an odd combo that I haven’t decided whether or not he made it work. I welcome anyone’s input on the discussion of this song. Man of the Woods, Higher Higher, and Waves take the tempo down a notch. It’s a welcome balance to the sensations of the album. Morning Light and Say Something welcome special guests Alicia Keys and Chris Stapleton. Both tracks are soulful and fit nicely beside each other in the flow of the album. Hers introduces a key influence Timberland said made a major impact on the album, his wife, and son. It’s a short interlude of Jessica Biel’s voice that leads up to Flannel. Here we’re treated to what sounds deceptively folky in the beginning but after a quick pause becomes a tasteful R&B tune. I found this song very creative!

Don’t be fooled by the title of the next song, Montana, it’s not country or folk. It’s another straight-up R&B tune with a nice laid-back groove. I read ahead of the release Mr. Timberlake also said the outdoors were also a big influence on the direction of this album, hence the next title, Breeze Off the Pond. This song also has a nice beat and a captivating chorus. Livin’ Off the Land’s title also suggests the outdoors influence. This song is actually an inspirational tune for blue collared folks, an enjoyable moment for me totally. The Hard Stuff’s opening line suggests a drinking song except it’s an innuendo for a pickup song. Timberlake really knows the art of deception and he uses it well throughout the album, lyrically and musically. The final track, Young Man, starts with Justin getting his son to say, “dada.” The ensuing song is a letter to his son about the road ahead and how he’ll always be there for him. 

Justin Timberlake did a great job at depicting the south in his own way. It’s a simple place with simple values. Family is important, work is what makes you a man, and life is lived best on the front porch or together as a family in the yard. This is probably Justin Timberlake’s most personal moment to date. It’s always nice when an album is more like a journal because you connect with someone you may never meet in a way only music can provide. I think there’s something for everyone no matter where you’re at in life on this album. Give it a listen and let us know what you think! 

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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Friday, February 2, 2018

Wonder Twin Powers, Activate by Beau Johnson

Today we have a treat. Story and Grit's good friend Beau Johnson has given us a story from his collection A BETTER KIND OF HATE. This story hasn't appeared anywhere else online or in print. Get your first taste of Beau's writing here and then go buy his book. You can get it at Amazon or at Down & Out Books

So . . . what are you waiting on? 

Order the book and then read this story. Not the other way around. 



Wonder Twins Powers, Activate

The one in the Hulk mask says, “The way this works is we give you a head start.  Makes it more equal than it’d be otherwise.”  I look at him through the bars of the cage, through the strings of dark hair that hang before my eyes.  Of the three he was the bigger one, dressed in khakis and Nikes which looked impossibly small on a man so tall.  His shoes were not what interested me though.  What did is what he’d just explained.  That things were about to begin.  Allowed me to breathe deep for the first time in hours.  For the first time in days, really.  Done, I continued my part.  Added a little quiver to my voice just to be sure.  “Does that mean I get some clothes now?”
    
I don’t receive a response, just a tilt of the Hulk’s head.
    
Yeah, pretty sure I’d do him last.

***

Long story short is my sister’d gone missing.  Before she does she’s able to text me this: In trouble.  Happened at the bar.  Maddy’s.  Two guys I think.  Maybe three!  Done this before for sure!  I’m sorry Cass.  Should have known.
    
Shannon was not as stupid as she let on.  A little too trusting perhaps, but that was just our mother making herself known.  With me it was a different story: all Dad, all business, all the time.  Made my life a bit more difficult than I wanted it at times but boo-fucking-hoo, we all have baggage.  That right there makes me seem tougher than I actually am.  Coping mechanism, maybe?  In response to a life devoid of as many hugs as it should have had?  I’ll take who gives a fuck for two hundred, Alex.  Maybe throw in a chaser of lick my clit for good measure.
    
Leads me to do what any type of person like me would.  I don’t call the cops, don’t pass go and collect two hundred dollars.  Instead I haul ass to the little shitburb Shannon ended up, Brantford, and set up shop in a Motel 6 the other side of what they call the Lorne Bridge.  Hunk a junk is more like.  Covered to the tits in graffiti done by someone wearing what I can only assume was a helmet.  Next I’m at the bar, Maddy’s, but I’m going about things slow, asking no questions, just observing.  It’s dark, a dive, and full of drowning lives from eleven a.m. until about nine.  After that the younger crowd from the university slides in, and here is where I get my first nibble.
    
“I’ve seen you here before.  Last week, right?”  I do my best at being something I’m not.
    
“That’s not going to get you very far if you’re trying.”
    
“Who said I was?”  It did as intended, eliciting a smile I’m sure quite a few women had already seen.  From the end of the bar I notice another man, shaggier than white teeth here, and suddenly it’s on, as I feel I’m in their crosshairs.  Which was fine, exactly what I wanted, and so I let white teeth go and purchase the remainder of the night’s drinks.  His bud, “Roger”, comes over when we’re on our fourth.  I say hi to mustache-man, pat his mounded chest, and play the part Shannon has always played so well. 
    
I should probably back up here and let you know Shannon had a problem.  Many, if I’m to be honest.  Meth was her bad boy though, the woman for years living on the chip.  Some would say it was because our father was a cop and our mother a whore.  I say Shannon just liked the easy things in life.  I suggest it’s why we’re such opposites, and why Dad seemed to like me best.  When I say things like this, I know it doesn’t help the situation, not really, but it is what it is, and me being here now is perhaps my way of atoning.  Who knows though, right?  I mean, I am on my period.
    
Back to it, then.
    
Whatever they slip into my drink does the trick and the next thing I know I’m on my stomach, naked, and in a cage with one third of the Avengers staring me down.

“Hello, beautiful,” They say, each of them in singsong unison. “Time to play.”
    
Fuck they were going to burn.

***

I learned a lot of things in Afghanistan.  Some I have implemented, some I have yet to.  I’m about to explain the things I’d yet to.  It involves cracks and crevices and devices small enough to slip within such places undetected.  I inserted a cherry colored butt-plug as well, just in case the decision to rape me in the ass came into question once they had me where they wanted me.  Couldn’t see them going to the extra trouble if I already had something blocking an entrance.  Figured they go for the easiest route possible.
    
I needn’t have worried.
    
I was naked, sure, but I had yet to be breached.
    
“Your dicks must be pretty damn small.”  I say and pull myself to my knees.  I wanted to stand but the dimensions I’d awakened to would not allow me this wish.  The middle one, Spidey, laughed hard at this.  I mean really hard.  Meant one of two things.  I’m sure you can figure out which.
    
“We got a live one here, boys!”  Iron Man says, and I throw it back just as fast as I can.  They don’t appreciate my candor, none of them, but only the Hulk steps forward in an attempt to kick what fingers I had wrapped around the bars.

“Hulk smash!”  I say, and I’m not the only one who laughs.  

The Hulk turns to Iron Man, “What the fuck, man?”
    
“What?   It was funny.”  The Hulk doesn’t move in response to this; just stands and stares at his buddy who is just about as tall as Robert Downey Jr., but you know, minus the lifts.  “Let’s just do this then.  Wouldn’t want anyone to make you angry.”  This gets Spidey going, and suddenly it’s just a laugh riot between the two of them, each of them doubled over.  It let me know the Hulk was not the Alpha male of the group.  It also meant things were looking up.
    
“You think we can do this?”  Petulant.  Hollow.  Yep, third in line for sure.
    
“Go ahead,” Iron Man says.  And the Hulk does.  I was to die, I’m told, but I would at least be given a fighting chance.  Sporting of them, I said, but was instructed to shut the fuck up for my trouble.  They had done this many times before, the Hulk goes on, with no one escaping ever.  He repeats ever and I couldn’t help but think how easy this was going to be once they let me out.
    
“And you can run as far and fast as you can.  We don’t care.  We will find you.  We will have you.  Then we will kill you.”
    
“This is your regular spiel?”  I couldn’t help myself.  I tried.  I really did.  And if there is anything I would change about myself it would be this: sometimes I am just as arrogant as fuck.
    
It’s more or less why I didn’t see the cattle prod and then why I only saw dark.

***

And then we are back to where we began, and the Hulk turns from me, the quiver just gone from my voice.  He turns back with my bra and the jeans one of them had gone and cut into short-shorts.  He throws them at me, my nipples in awe.  Cold, really, as the basement was as far from warm as it was from furnished.  Drafty, the air came tinged with not only the smell of me but perhaps Shannon as well.  Maybe at the start, sure, but I doubt as the days wore on.
    
Dressed, the Hulk does what the Hulk does best, and once again I’m “smashed”.  When I awake this time I am alone and the cage is open, the game a foot.  Not a game, not really, but it might as well have been.  Outside the cage I stand and hear my bones applaud.  Done, I reach around and remove the butt plug.  Deeper in and to the left is where I have stored a different kind of three inches.  Extended it turns into nine, and the heft that comes is good.  
    
I clean it off in the corner, in an old washtub.  I relieve myself and drink greedily from the faucet as well.  The lights flicker.  Flicker again.  The caged fluorescents in front of the washtub going out completely as the ones above me finish their dance.  A familiar chuckle comes next, followed by all four as they come out from behind the stairs.  Shannon leads the way.  She is weaponless.  The others are not.  The Hulk carries his prod but Iron Man and Spidey now hold steel.
    
“I knew you’d come.”  Shannon says.  Yes, she is high.  She still looks good though, her color better than I imagined.  “You’ve brought a knife to a gun fight though.  You remember what daddy use to say about that?”  Have I mentioned my sister hates me?  That she always has?  I should probably explain the rest of it then, now that we’ve come to the end.
    
“You can’t really believe I didn’t know, can you?  Shannon, you punctuated every sentence in the text you used to get me here.   You think the fear you were trying to project, you think any rational person would afford themselves the time?  It reinforces you as the stupid one.”  I get Iron Man with this one, a full blown pig snort from beneath his mask.  As Spidey and the Hulk turn towards him it gives way to the type of opportunity that usually presents itself.  Sometimes you have to nudge things along, sure, but most of the time it’s just pieces falling into place.

To her credit, Shannon sees it coming, but her reflexes are nowhere near what a person needs them to be.  Her eyes, however, are the opposite of this.  Each of them becoming big white O’s just about as fast as they can.  She takes it under the chin, the blade up and through the soft palette of her mouth, the one which had probably been filled with something other than food as she went and sold me out.  I can get her here, I hear her say, someone better for you to hunt.  She was in the war, I hear her plead, but then I’m back and I remove the knife and Shannon just falls to the concrete floor with a thud.
    
We stand there, this new Fantastic Four, and all we do is breathe and regard each other for what feels like minutes. I decide to take it upon myself: “You guys want to do this proper then?  Maybe side with a woman who can get shit done?”  They continue to look at me and then at each other.  It’s Iron Man who laughs first, a sardonic little thing.  Spidey joins and then so does the Hulk.  I take it as a sign.  I have landed on my feet once again.
    
“You do realize how fucked this is?”  Spidey this time, as the man goes and lifts up his mask.  He is neither “Roger” nor white teeth, but I relieve him of his weapon all the same; before either of them can re-raise theirs.  I unload fast, a bullet for each, the Hulk quite nicely proving his own adage wrong.  He was not in fact the strongest one there was.
    
No, that’d be me.

-End-

Bio Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town.  Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, and HST.  Come August 2017, a collection of Beau's shorts titled A Better Kind of Hate will be released by Down And Out Books.  Once that happens, perhaps he'll take the hint and stop with the dancing.  If yer so inclined you can connect with him at the usual hangouts, Facebook and Instagram.  He is also new to twitter @beaujohnson44 where he fails at tweeting spectacularly.

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