September 17, 2014 – Excerpt

“I grew up eating greasy spoons. They were my mother’s specialty. When she was tired, she brought me to the diner for a tuna melt. When she was happy, she brought me to the diner for a dish of chicken pot pie. When she was miserable, she brought me to the diner for the Sunday Night Meatloaf Special. I always ordered everything with extra ketchup. I always finished my ketchup. I always licked the ketchup from my hands, then wriggled my fingers around until the air dried upon them, turning the skin stiff and breakable.”

September 15, 2014 – Excerpt

“I found the farmland and it was rotten. The ground was brown with putrefaction. What should have been the smell of moist dirt and fertilizer was more of a meat stench. I picked my way through the grass but it was more of a muck. The grass liquefied beneath my feet. I slipped in the putrid mud, then fell under. I clawed my way out but even lying on dryer grounds still left me moist. I leaned to one side and a stream of thin bile dripped from my mouth. I watched the bile pour onto the ground and the fluid was an unhealthy yellow, the sort of yellow heavy with fat and arterial deposits. This was not the apple orchards of my dreams. This was the kind of rotten liquid I had nightmares of. I felt my bowels loosen the longer I stared into the tree-filled horizon.”

September 12, 2014 – Excerpt

“The fever threatened to eat me. I walked slowly for a time, shuffling down the side of the street, my head looking down instead of ahead. The sunlight burned holes in my shoulders. I smelled smoking flesh. I knew I smelled myself. My pores barely sweated. There wasn’t enough fluid inside my body to spare. I barely remembered the last time I sipped water. What was liquid anymore? I paused from time to time to pick up a small rock and place it in my mouth.”

September 11, 2014 – Excerpt

“Whatever rabid packs of bodies ran up and down the sidewalks never left the concrete. It was easy to duck into the remains of an excavated basement or huddle in the back of a clogged attic. Relentless footsteps sounded in the backyards, the front yards, in the middle of the streets. The streets were no longer paths to other places. They were drop zones. They were ways to be targeted. I stayed low on the ground. I never went where there was nothing. I walked fast, then rolled away. Skeletal shrubs were safe zones. Vision eroded with the sunlight’s constant bursting. Too many retinas seared and became useless.”

September 10, 2014 – Excerpt

“The animals went radioactive. They were covered in boils and thick plaques knives couldn’t slice through. The hunting wasn’t one of our great concerns. Instead, we worried that the radioactivity might be contagious. If the animals became irradiated just by strolling past a copper pond in the early afternoon, what would happen if we drank the red water? We couldn’t know. It seemed that the houses were radiated, the sidewalks and chimney stacks. The trees released puffs of decaying ions into the air. If we breathed enough times, those isotopes would degrade further in our lungs, their chemical collapse causing a cataclysmic chain reaction of anatomic proportions.”

September 8, 2014 – Excerpt

“We wanted soap and water but both were gone. The water evaporated. In our desperate hunger, we took to greedily putting soap in our mouths. We chewed the soap up, spit the suds out, and swallowed whatever hard pieces were left behind. Our eyes rolled. We tilted our heads back and screamed until our vocal cords seemed fragmented. The sounds came from three directions. We weren’t throwing our voices; our voices were throwing us.”

September 7, 2014 – Excerpt

“Mother was gone. Father was gone. I was all alone. I walked and saw a man with an engorged head. He sat up. He sat down. He cried, Your name, your name! I watched his forehead turn bright orange, then yellow-red. The yellow-red was different from orange. The colors were partitioned, layered atop one another so that in thinner parts of the top layer, the under-layer was visible. I wanted to pick the color from his face [...]“

September 6, 2014 – Excerpt

“I drank a spoiled glass of milk and caught the infection quickly. Within a few sips, my throat was already lined with sores. I tasted them each time I swallowed. There was a sickly sourness packed in my mouth. It didn’t matter what I chased the milk with. Orange juice was sour. Meaty broth tasted too much like death. Water was like charcoal. I drank what I could, then vomited it on the floor. I spewed unnameable green things. I wasn’t the first to be stricken.”

September 5, 2014 – Excerpt

“Diseases ran down the ceilings in streams of thick black ooze. We looked outside and saw several men standing on the periphery of the front yard. They were lanky gentlemen with terribly long limbs and no faces. They were the slender men of plague. A single touch of their hands caused scarlet fever. We pulled the torn window shades down and hunkered on the floor. We knocked our heads against the walls. If we could sleep through the next few days, the slender gentlemen would give up and walk away. From behind the glass, we saw the snot dripping down their faces. They were such dirty men. They were nasty with infection. Several of us went outside armed with pots and pans.”

September 4, 2014 – Excerpt

“It was a game. Approaching the smoke was something to be done on a dare in the middle of the night with ghost stories repeating in our heads. Once upon a time, there was a man with a hook who killed lovers in the dark. Once upon a time, there was a woman whose neck painted the walls. Once upon a time, there was a room that was locked shut and a child who was told to never find the key. We lived for those stories until we went prowling through the smoke. Then we turned the corner, saw an inky black that moved but also did not, and immediately ran back.”

September 3, 2014 – Excerpt

“We found the cadaver in the midst of our stony void. The cadaver was face down on the ground. The cadaver whimpered continuously. The cadaver was fearful of brutal things. We brought knives against the cadaver’s face and sliced off thick pieces of cheek. The cadaver looked more and more like steak. We were so hungry. We stuck rocks in our mouths and chewed. We heard our teeth break before we felt it.”

September 2, 2014 – Excerpt

“Everything went wrong after the oil slick. Choppy black waves washed onto the shores, bringing with them clotted sediment and bloated dolphin carcasses. Half-drowned bodies vomited up petrol. Ducks were wrung out directly into car engines. Someone brought soap and bleach to the beaches but was only able to clean a square foot. Many of us tried cleaning the spill by dipping paper towels into the darkness. The paper absorbed a few tablespoons of oil, then dripped it back into the water. When we drank water, we drank the black. At first, our lips tingled from ingesting so much oil. Our smiles were gray. Our tongues were even darker. Over time, we began preferring the oily water to the clean water of our past. At least there was flavor. And clean mouths were overrated.”

September 1, 2014 – Excerpt

“There was nothing lean to eat. We ate fat with our hands. We doused old vegetables in lard and homemade butter. Our mouths were perpetually slicked with grease. We swallowed what we could and even brick chunks slid down the tubes easily. Our stomachs ached and when we shitted on the floor, it was with an explosion of brownness. We couldn’t identify anything in the messes. We saw what might have been styrofoam popcorn, the angled flaps of cardboard boxes.”

August 29, 2014 – Excerpt

The writing is now a weird, dystopian nightmare sequence thing. I’m not even done with my other project but I keep working on this one. I spent the week binge-watching Twin Peaks with the husband and I guess I was especially inspired. It’s always nice when the writing process is so compelling.

“All there was to eat was lobster. All the other animals were gone. Only the ones in shells remained. Those of us with shell allergies died quickly. It was not from malnutrition but from our hunger. We ate the lobsters and immediately suffered adverse reactions. Our throats swelled to three times the normal width although our passages constricted. We sucked air in but none made it past the tongue. We stabbed at the inflation with forks but the tines bounced off the leathery meat. It was a series of quick bounces, one-two-three, and then the throats sealed shut permanently. Our bodies fell onto the floor and whined through our nasal passages. Those of us without allergies watched the ones who suffered and felt badly, but not for long. The less of us there were, the more lobster we had to eat. We ate the claws. We ate the tails. We didn’t bother cracking the shells with our hands. We put pulled off pieces of body into our mouths and ate. The shells cracked against our tongues. The shell fragments caught between our teeth and tore up our gums. We spit up blood. We dribbled the redness into the drawn butter which was just the little bits of lard we were able to smuggle out of the cosmetic surgery dumpster.”

August 28, 2014 – Excerpt

“Sometimes we took turns sitting on the cadaver’s lap. It was desperate for human contact and we were happy to oblige. We loved the musky smell that came from its shoulders. Sometimes in our hunger, we would stick our tongues out and push them into the cadaver’s ears, lapping around the whorls until a chunk of waxy meat came free. We ate that chunk quickly, then reached in for more. More often than that we curled up on the cadaver and whispered our darkest secrets into its mouth. We told the cadaver that we wanted to put the baby into the dryer. We told the cadaver that when nervous we couldn’t help but stick handfuls of hair into our mouths. The hair could either be from our heads or taken from numerous floors, both strange and familiar. We told the cadaver that for a month straight, we ate all the green meat we could find, then suffered a debilitating stomach ache.”

August 27, 2014 – Excerpt

Out of nowhere, I started writing something new. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know how it will continue. I don’t know if it’s going to end up with a clear plot or end up being this weird, meandering, post-modern narrative. But I do know one thing. I like it. I like it very, very much.

 

“After the mouths went one way, entire bodies went to church. They filled wooden pews. Their backs ached from sitting so straight but it seemed right to demonstrate such proper posture. I sat near the back, remaining out of the way. Bodies packed in around me. We were anchovies in a religious can. We were sardines tucked tight into a pious net. We sat like so: |_ |_ |_. We were so good, so quiet, so sweet. We were everything the religious men would ever want. We kept the hymnals folded on our laps. We opened our mouths in prayers, then clapped our hands over our lips to keep from saying more. We muttered only what we were told. We recited, we repeated, we fell silent. Above our head, rotten leather shells swung from the flying buttresses and wooden crossbeams. Whenever the church doors swung open, a warm breeze came in as well, pushing the old shoes on their lines. The shoes were the last body parts belonging to the old, dead priests. The shoe tongues were so far gone that they vomited saw dust onto our heads. The priest beckoned us to walk to the front of the church and when we did, he laid his hands upon us, first one head, then another. He brushed his fingers through our hair. He shook our hair until the powder came off like dandruff.”

TRUE STORY NOTE: The shoes referenced in the piece actually exist. Or, they did exist, years ago, when I went to Spain. In one of the cathedrals, our group’s tour guide explained that the shoes of deceased priests were strung up from the rafters in remembrance of their dedication to the church. Old leather shoes hung in the air above our heads, moving slightly, then not at all. It was something I’ve never forgotten.

August 20, 2014 – Excerpt

“One day, I will be drowned where I stand.

One day, I will eat the bitter pith of someone’s abandoned orange.

One day, I will forget how you and I met.

One day, I will take all the sand in this place and swallow it. This will be done without water. It will barely be done with air.

One day, I will carve a second face from my first face, then ask everyone I meet to vote on which face they like best.”

August 19, 2014 – Excerpt

“I looked up and the sky was orange. The orange seemed unnatural and so I was weary. It seemed that the orange might grow a mouth at any moment, a mouth so large it would gobble me whole. My ears were clogged with static. I heard tin foil crumpling in my brain. I could not feel my hands but knew that my fingers opened and closed. I waited for the sun to set and darkness to come but the orange refused to diminish. The sun wasn’t visible in the sky. It remained hidden behind the orange sheen. I felt faint in its power. I thought I might die. The sands shifted around me, grainy waves rising and falling, revealing cow skulls and petrified leather hides. The flow crossed the horizon and extended on, everything—even the ground—bright orange. The sky seemed to yawn, then swallow.”

August 15, 2014 – Excerpt

“My arteries are beautiful. That is what you tell me. I want to listen to the celestial symphony. I should have known you would follow me here. You wandered the length of three deserts in order to find me. You were there in the silent room all that time ago. Instead of hearing me, you heard yourself. Your throat was so loud in your head. Your eardrums popped each time you swallowed. In addition to beautiful arteries, I have lovely thumbs and pretty knees. My ankles are inspiration. My shoulder blades are the bones that might launch a thousand ships, or at least three fleets of luxury automobile.”

August 7, 2014 – Excerpt

“[Is there something more I could be doing,] I ask the doctor. [You should get a hobby. My, these beds feel comfy,] he says. [But I own this motel,] I say. [Do you get any guests,] the doctors ask. [Business is slow,] I say. [I could be one of your guests,] the doctor says. [I don't know if you'd really fit in with the motel's clientele,] I say. [We could share a bed,] the doctor says. [Medication isn't worth that price,] I say. [How have your tonsils been feeling,] the doctor asks. [Fine. Sometimes swollen,] I say. [Are you able to swallow,] the doctor asks. [Most of the time,] I say. [I could say something dirty right now,] the doctor says. [I'd rather that you not,] I say. [How are your kidney functions? Do you urinate normally,] the doctor asks. [I go to the bathroom every four hours,] I say. [It's just like taking a painkiller,] the doctor says. [It hurts more though,] I say. [The urination,] the doctor asks. [Just the walking and the washing up,] I say. [That's your anxiety talking,] the doctor says. [And the mouth is unhinged and the throughway is unbuttoned,] I say. [That is your phobias speaking,] the doctor says. [What if I were to tell you that I don't have any fears,] I say. [I wouldn't believe you and would wonder why you insist on so much medication,] the doctor says. [The quiet makes more sense at night,] I say. [The medication doesn't work that way,] the doctor says. [Why are you so worried about my internal organs,] I ask. [Because too much medication can cause catastrophic changes,] the doctor says. [Such as,] I ask. [The constriction of your parkway,] the doctor says. We go on and on like this for some time until laryngitis consumes my voice.”

July 29, 2014 – Excerpt

“A sonic boom shakes the motel. The foundation sways deep in the sand. I run to the window. A plastic doll body is roasting in the oven. It doesn’t matter what I touch. Solidity shatters beneath my fingers. I am missing three-quarters of my fingertips. I miss them. I miss rubbing them over lightly moistened glass rims until a soft chime sound came back, a high-pitched HUMMMMMMMMM sound that traveled into my ears and went ricocheting down the canals. I crawl out from beneath the bed. In the event of a nuclear attack, hiding will save me from nothing. I will only be cremated against the box springs. I’ll be trapped beneath the mattress until some unsavory survivors locate my corpse by means of the resulting stench. What they do after will be inconclusive. They might bite the bits of intact flesh. They might drag me into the sand and leave me for predatory animals to eat.”

 

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Every so often, I have a million writing-related things I’m doing at once. This week, I’m trying to balance writing my new project with finishing the edits for my short story collection with reading more of Crystal Eaters with doing submissions (especially since I haven’t worked on submissions in about a month and a half because I was so distracted by going into damage control mode with the last project). There’s a lot of jumping around which is stressful but at the same time, I enjoy being busy. I like having a multitude of things to do because I feel like I’m accomplishing things. And in the midst of all this editing and submitting and reading and writing, I’m still getting new ideas for future stories. On Sunday, I had an idea for a sort of bizarro story that (at least in my head) seemed brilliant. I told my husband my idea and he seemed a little frightened. Often, people don’t know how to deal with really out there ideas. So now I’m really excited for the new project. Plus, with my new formatting, I could finally relax with my more literary project, a pseudo-biography/my-interpretation-of-events based on the story of my family moving to America in the 1960s. I’ve mentioned that story once before. That’s the project where I gave the first few pages to my husband to read over and when he got to the end of what I had written, he kept desperately clicking the page because he wanted to read more. Recently, I had been reconsidering the approach to that story but with the new formatting change (and as I said the other day, I know that it’s not a ground-breaking way to present my work but it’s something I haven’t really used, at least not in years), I feel like I can really get back into it and do the story justice. A lot of the writing was being inspired by paintings and so I put FocusWriter on my laptop for some creative inspiration. All I do is load one of the inspiration pictures as the background for the document and start typing while staring at the image. It helps me stay focused when I’m not feeling as inspired as I would like. Another program that’s similar to FocusWriter but that works for Windows is ZenWriter. I used that program on my last computer and it was very helpful. There’s something to be said for having a program that gives you a new perspective on your writing. There are other programs but the two I mentioned are the ones that I’ve actually used. But do some research and see which program would work best for you. Until tomorrow, friends.

July 24, 2014 – Hello again

I know I haven’t really been around during the last couple of weeks but I have a good reason. I was technically on vacation. Well, it was more of a staycation really but does that matter? There were adventures. There was relaxation. There was a lot of fresh air and clarity. We walked 200+ feet above the Hudson Valley. We went to the beach and the aquarium. We walked through a lovely garden at twilight. I found a bunch of books I thought I had lost. Even better, I found a never-been-used-except-for-a-few-doodles-my-mom-did Moleskine notebook in the basement of my mom’s house. It’s now my new planning notebook, because it’s not so large that it’s unwieldy but not so small that I can’t write comfortably. Long story short, I barely did any writing since I wasn’t really home. And when I was home or in the midst of a car ride, I was either reading or daydreaming while looking out the window. So I didn’t have very much to report in the meantime. And the writing only began in earnest on Monday.

I was having some issues with the new novel the other night. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in. I wanted the book to sort of be a portrait of loneliness but also not. Since I find art to be so evocative when I’m writing, I made a file of inspirational pictures. It consists of photographs concerning the subject matter (more of the physical subject than the emotional) as well as paintings I thought I could work off of. Then I took out my planning notebook and started mapping out what I wanted to happen. Right now, I have about 18 plot points, which seems like a good amount to start with. Last night, I came up with a new section and wrote it down, then as soon as I put my notebook away, I came up with a better way to incorporate the idea and had to write that down. The whole purpose of being on vacation and not really worrying about writing was to just relax and let the novel’s purpose come flooding. I’ve also been really inspired by the idea of “singing sand” as well as music made from the frequencies emitted by the planets and sun. The sounds are eerie but meditative and I’ve been doing a fair bit of my writing while listening to that otherworldly music. I like the effect all these bits of inspiration are having on my writing.

Since I’ve been terrible at posting, here’s a piece for the novel that I started the other day. The piece is inspired by a trip I took to Montana in 2006. My cousin and I were exploring a ghost town partially-open to tourists. At one of the stores that was boarded up, I peeked through the smudged glass and saw a porcelain doll staring back at me. Only the doll’s face had been painted white, including its eyes, so that what I encountered was a face entirely blank except for the slightest hint of features. There’s also a little inspiration drawn from La isla de las muñecas, which is the super creepy doll island in Mexico. If you haven’t seen the pictures, look them up. The entire island is covered in dolls. Dolls hang from trees. They’re arranged everywhere. Why are they there? Their purpose is to appease the ghost of a little girl who drowned and has been haunting the island ever since. I’ve been wanting to incorporate those stories into something for years and I think this is the best way I can. It’s about dolls but not about dolls. The end result is a 2,700 word block paragraph with dolls present but not taking over anything they shouldn’t.

“Beneath one of the motel room beds, I find a porcelain doll with its eyes painted shut. Really, the eyes are painted white, smeared with what looks like whiteout to keep there from being retinas or pupils. If I tilt the doll just the right way, the eyelids close together in mockery of a blink. Out in the clown cemetery, there is a cactus overgrown with abandoned doll bodies. I didn’t put them there. They were nailed on long before I came trudging through the dunes. I keep a white sheet draped over the dolls so that when I look outside, I don’t have to see their gnarled faces. Their cheeks are cavernous, broken around the mouths so that their lips look too large for their faces. The doll beneath the motel room bed has suffered the debilitating loss of its rubber cheeks weakening. The infrastructure has fallen inward, creating a sunken quality to the face. I hold the doll by its right ankle and carry it through the hallways until I reach the kitchen. I go directly to the oven and throw the dolls into the back of the metal cavity. I turn the oven up to 475ºF and walk away, leaving the doll to melt into a coagulated mass on the oven floor.”

July 19, 2014 – Excerpt

“(5) I stumbled upon a landscape cut directly in half—one half, the top half, was a brushed on steel gray, and the other half, was a black so black there was no bottom I could see or feel; (6) the equivalent of three full city blocks was made entirely of thick red meat slabs and no matter how I tiptoed or shifted my weight, the meat squeaked whenever any part of my body fell upon it; I met a man who was stripped of all his skin and when he saw me, he demanded that I say, [What big eyes you have, what big teeth.]; (7) I wore a red hood thinking it might protect me from the carnivorous clouds but even with my hair tucked into the fabric, the nebulous forms still found it easy to nip at my nose; (8) Because I was hungry and the only items available to me were windows or curtain rods, I took my chances eating glass, which cut up my tongue but the damage was nothing a needle and thread couldn’t mend in the future; [...]“

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