The Tobacco-Stained Sky

tobaccoantho3dA couple of years ago, I read Andrez Bergen’s excellent post-apocalyptic sci-noir novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and began a correspondence with the author, interviewing him for The Velvet and keeping in touch all friendly-like, as we do. A few books later, he re-approached Goat‘s publisher, Another Sky Press, about releasing an anthology of stories by other authors that he compiled (along with co-editor Guy Salvidge), all set within the well-developed universe of that first novel. I immediately jumped on board as a contributor, taking it as a challenge to write my very first story in that genre.

The Tobacco-Stained Sky: An Anthology of Post-Apocalyptic Noir
234 pp, available Sep 26 for <$10 inc. shipping

Here’s what you need to know. Melbourne is near-future Earth’s last city standing, where the ominous, ubiquitous Hylax (plastics) Corporation and its CEO Wolram E. Deaps are behind the push to apprehend, incarcerate, and even terminate Deviants for their behavior, enlisting Seeker Branch to police such matters. Affluent residents live in the Dome: an enclosed, city-center shopping/entertainment community that shields them from Melbourne’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Outside, under the ubiquitous toxic rainwater, Melbourne is inhabited by hardboiled dames, grifters, and gumshoes trying to get by. It’s Blade Runner meets The Third Man.

Short story contributors include:

Andrez Bergen – “In-Dreamed,” “Waiting for Sod All,” “We Are Not Afraid, We Serve”
Paul D. Brazill – “Murphy’s Bright Spark”
Julie Morrigan – “Sanctity”
Nigel Bird – “A Kick in the Googlies”
Gordon Highland – “Plan E”
Liam José – “The Holy Church of the Scalpel”
Kristopher Young – “Tomorrow Will Be a Better World”
Chad Eagleton – “Blood on the Milky Way”
Guy Salvidge – “The Dying Rain”
Gerard Brennan – “Frilly”
Josh Stallings – “Dream Juice”
Chris Rhatigan – “Wake Up, Time to Die”
Tony Pacitti – “Venus from Mars”
Chad Rohrbacher – “Picture This”
Devin Wine – “La Bomba”
Harvey Finch – “Identity Parade”
Jay Slayton-Joslin – “The Great Milko of the People”

Also featured are several collaborations, with stories by Andrez and artwork by Drezz Rodriguez, Andrew Chiu, Michael Grills, and Marcos Vergara.

In my story, “Plan E,” the Dome’s elite are known for their physical “enhancements,” so I thought a back-alley surgeon would provide a cool counterpoint-of-view to the crime focus of the original Goat. It’s also a vehicle for social commentary, while being a well-worn noir trope I could play against. I had a lot of fun devising technology and laws and playing within its existing geography, while working to keep such things in the periphery as if this were all routine. Being one who can’t resist a good twist, its framing device hit me over the head once I was nearly done, which hopefully earns a second read from a new perspective.

Get Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat as a free e-book or $5 paperback.
Buy Andrez Bergen’s other books from Amazon.

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UPDATED: Books and Booze Live

UPDATE: Here’s a video of my reading, with two stories. Yes, I was fairly inebriated by this point.

That’s right, having just celebrated their first anniversary as a podcast, the Books and Booze crew is throwing down with a shindig on June 22. Readings, dinner, drinks, debauchery, and inevitable hijinks. Cicero’s is a great location, right in the University City Loop area of St. Louis, MO, near Washington University. Joining me in providing literary entertainment will be authors:

David James Keaton (Fish Bites Cop)ciceros_flyer
Brandon Tietz (Out of Touch)
Fred Venturini (The Samaritan)
J David Osborne (Low Down Death Right Easy)
Salvatore Pane (Last Call in the City of Bridges)

Please use the Facebook event page to RSVP, so they can get an accurate head count, because we’ve got our own area in the bar. The event itself is free, but not whatever comestibles you shove or pour down your gullet. It makes me proud to see people are driving and flying in from all over the country, as it’s not just about the authors, but a gathering of the literati and attendant book nerds. Sexy, sexy nerds.

I’ll be around the Loop from Friday night until Sunday sometime, if you’re looking to hang or say hey. See ya there! Oh, and here’s my interview episode from last summer.

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Books and Booze – Ep6: Gordon Highland” dl=”0″]
Talking Flashover, e-publishing, and musical experiences

Books and Booze LIVE in St. Louis!
Saturday, June 22, 2013
6:30 pm

6691 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130

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The Booked. Anthology

bookedantho3dFirst of all, if you’ve never listened to Booked. Podcast before, I’ll wait while you get clicky and download some eps. Or stream it—whatever—just get it in you by any means. Odds are good they’ve reviewed something you’re thinking about reading, or talked to your favorite authors, and dropped some knowledge and smack and hilarity. They do so weekly, with nearly 160 archived episodes to keep you busy. As a guest, friend of the show, and fan, I was of course stoked to pen a new short story for them when word came down that hosts Robb Olson and Livius Nedin were assembling The Booked. Anthology, now available from Amazon or B&N in paperback or Kindle.

Look at this lineup! It’s intimidating to be included in a roster of such explosive talent and handsomeness, but this is my privilege. You’ll notice there’s a lot of overlap with the contributors to the successful Warmed and Bound anthology. That’s because Booked undertook a special marathon interview series about W&B, and TBA is comprised of stories—each brand new—by former show guests. That’s just the law of averages in action. Once Robb and Livius curated the stories, they enlisted editor Pela Via to work with each of the authors in squeezing maximum awesomesauce out of them.

I’ve met and caroused with 17 of these folks (if you count the editorial staff), and have an online rapport with all but a few. What they may lack in virtue or decorum is more than made up with wicked prose chops. They’ll kick your ass, break your heart, and have you thanking them for it. Table of Contents:

Fred Venturini – “Pound of Flesh”
Craig Clevenger – “The Confession of Adelai Shade”
Cameron Pierce – “California Oregon”
Paul Tremblay – “Scenes From the City of Garbage and the City of Clay”
Caleb J Ross – “The Removal Kind”
Seth Harwood – “To The Bone”
Craig Wallwork – “Think Tank”
Mark Rapacz – “Manger Dog”
Todd W Brown – “Faces on the Milk Carton”
Joshua Alan Doetsch – “The Mulligan”
Axel Taiari – “Your Savior”
Nikki Guerlain – “Children of the Wetlands”
Matthew C Funk – “Real, Live Ghosts”
Nik Korpon – “Straight Down the Line”
Richard Thomas – “Surrender”
Amanda Gowin – “Short Tendon”
Bob Pastorella – “Take My Breath Away”
Kevin Lynn Helmick – “Noir’s City”
Gordon Highland – “Bokeh”
Sean P Ferguson – “Two Dollar Beer Nights”
David James Keaton – “Dragon By the Dumpster”
Christopher J. Dwyer – “Coralee”
Anthony David Jacques – “Tropicalia”
Chris Deal – “Where the Water Met the Sky”
Michael Paul Gonzalez – “One Shot (Only God Knows)”
Robb Olson – “Edgewater Red Eye” (Kindle only)
Pela Via – “The Donna Motels” (Kindle only)

As for “Bokeh,” my idea was to craft a love letter to reading: something involving a bookstore and the tactoid pleasures of the printed page. After widening my scope to include the creative process as a whole, I reframed it through a photographic lens instead of a literary one, whose challenges and insecurities are the same. I asked myself why I devote so much of my own life to chasing the imaginary, deciding that, as for many creators, it fills some social or familial void. The title is a Japanese photographic term referring to the qualities of the unfocused areas in a picture (determined by its choice of lens), having both literal and metaphorical meaning for this character and his obsession with periphery. “Bokeh” is my most personal story to date, and not merely because its first half is absolutely true. The photo in question remains tucked away in some forgotten book on my shelf, its subject unknown.

Listen to my Booked. interview, Episode #33 from 7/31/11.
Listen to my reading from Noir at the Bar, Episode #68 from 3/13/12.
Listen to the Booked. review of Flashover, Episode #89 from 5/26/12.

As always, you’ll find links to all my published short stories here.

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“Ephemeralia” at Black Heart Magazine


Got a new (flash fiction) short story for you, called “Ephemeralia,” which Black Heart Magazine deemed fit for publication. Stick around and read some other tales of literary rebellion while you’re there. [Note: the site is assuredly not porn, though it may get filtered as NSFW.]

I used to get ethereal and ephemeral mixed up. Both are transitory descriptions: things that don’t last. The title came first, meant to be a play on memorabilia (or maybe paraphernalia), which conjured an image of a public figure selling off bits of his life in the classifieds. But nothing tangible, nothing buyers could resell or even prove, only experiences. That same day, I happened to find myself buried hours-deep in a web site called Bill Murray Stories, wherein fans submit tales of bizarre encounters with the actor. Combine an assholic actor with the quote below, motivate him with terminal illness, and one’s legacy becomes invaluable.

“For what is a man profit, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Or what shall a man give in exchange for his own soul?” ~Matthew 16:25

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Gas Up the Stair Car

I was gonna do this whole post about evolving media distribution, and how I dig the new Netflix model because it allows me to shotgun series the way I prefer. But I already pretty much covered that with my House of Cards write-up over at ManArchy. And really, I’m such an Arrested Development fanboy that this needs no introduction. Pure excitement.

Tobias Fünke clip courtesy of Insert Me Anywhere.

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AWP 2013 — Boston

Usually, this is where I would regale you with tales of torporific panels led by respected authors, new writerly techniques learned, rockstar-studded reading events, and sweaty hands shook. This recap will contain none of those. Okay, very few of those.

AWP is a yearly conference for writers, publishers, and writing programs. I’ve written about it before. Ten thousand literati descend upon some unsuspecting city, touting their wares and knit caps (my inbound flight featured a redolence of patchouli and a dearth of cosmetics), hungry to discover forbidden knowledge that’ll land them an agent or faculty position. Difference being, this year, I—and most of my peers—forewent the conference proper. We were there just for the hang, having burned ourselves out on its formalities in years past. Lodging next to the conference, we benefited from a contact buzz, and planned for many off-site hybrid events. Instead, we mostly kept our own company, while inviting along a few of our favorite, more-dedicated attendees.

When I say “we,” I refer to the ManArchy magazine staff. We come from various factions and intersecting circles, but ManArchy’s the one that unites most of us these days. That group includes folks from Booked. podcast, Perfect Edge Books, and LitReactor, among many. We enjoy one another’s company in more than just a professional capacity; we’re those people you find at the party congregated out on the patio deciding the fates of nations. AWP’s social opportunities were more appealing to us than its academic or creative ones. At least this year.

One official event did manage to transpire on our watch, which was a joint reading by authors from Perfect Edge and Lazy Fascist presses, held at an upscale poster gallery wary of such a hedonistic presence. I was enlisted as a last-minute emcee, and Caleb J Ross live-streamed its video to shut-ins worldwide. Booked’s audio recordings will be shared during their next few episodes. UPDATE: Part One | Part Two

The only other official haps was the free-to-the-public bookfair, whose entirety I walked while stopping only at a handful of tables to buy from and commiserate with such authors as Rob Roberge, Matt Bell, and Cameron Pierce. After all that indoor lone-wolf hiking (my peeps bailed early), I got lost for an extra two miles of downtown wandering.

I always joke that I’m excited to try chain restaurants in other time zones, and the area near the Prudential Center provided plenty such opportunities, whether it was The Cheesecake Factory, Coldstone Creamery, Five Napkin Burger, or Pinkberry. It felt like home. (Where’s that damned sarcasm font?) Our first night in town, we proceeded to get wicked shit-hammered in a tavern called Bukowski’s, but much of the off hours were spent lazing and blazing (okay, maybe hazing) in a hotel suite we rented to serve as the group’s social hub, often punctuated by the shushings that failed to repel the noise police before their multiple interventions. Also, the two feet of snow I thought I’d left at home in Kansas City followed me to Boston, making for some nasty excursions, limited as they were.

Highlight of the trip? The collected tweets of so many of our random utterances. I also got to meet people from as far away as The Netherlands, for better or worse.

Some quality photos below, courtesy of Lindielu, and you can also see some cellphone snaps in my Facebook gallery.

with Pela Viawith Joshua Alan Doetsch, Roger Sarao, Livius Nedin, Sean Fergusonwith Kassten Alonso and Monica Drakeberobed with Roger Sarao and Livius NedinThe ladies of ManArchy: Chelsea Kyle, Pela Via, Misty Bennett Phil Jourdan gets 'Bookedended' by Robb Olson and Livius Nedin of Booked podcastCameron Pierce and Kirsten Alene (Pierce)Misty Bennett and Edward J RathkeEdward J Rathke, Mlaz Corbier, Michael Paul GonzalezMichael J Seidlinger, Garrett Cook, Kirsten Alene, Ben Loory, and othersCaleb J Ross gets a passive lapdance from Edward j RathkePhil Jourdan and Michael J SeidlingerPela Via, Misty Bennett, Robb Olson, Chelsea KyleMichael Paul Gonzalez readswith Linda Feltner (thanks for the pics!), Roger Sarao, Sean FergusonGuy Intoci and Morris CollinsJoshua Alan DoetschMisty BennettRobb Olson and Misty Bennett express their true feelings for Caleb J RossCaleb J RossSean Ferguson and Livius NedinLivius Nedin and Mlaz CorbierMichael J Seidlinger

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“Speed Ramp” story at Word Riot

The February 2013 issue of Word Riot features my flash-fiction* story “Speed Ramp,” about a homeless Indian boy with a flanging disorder, wherein his perception of time speeds and slows. It was partly inspired by the music video for “Guttersnipe” by Bhi Bhiman (below), which you may as well peep first—don’t worry, no spoilers there. Also, because it’s how they roll at Word Riot, you can listen to me read the story to you as well, for a multi-sensory experience.

Coincidentally, the last piece I had published online also contained Indian themes and was flash-length. Hmm …

In other news, The Booked. Anthology has announced their complete lineup (including me). Some heavy hitters in there, for sure. More on that nearer its publication date. And as always, you can find all my published short stories (and some exclusives) linked here.

* Flash fictions are also known as short-shorts, are under 1000 words, and often eschew traditional story structure, being more of a scene or vignette as opposed a complete story arc. They’re great for reading on the john.

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“The Sacred and Profane”

I wouldn’t usually devote an entire post to one measly little song, but I’m inordinately proud of this one. “The Sacred and Profane” dates back 10 years, when I originally one-man-banded it in a metallic style. Always dug it, but having by-necessity performed its vocal as well, that left something to be desired, tainting the whole thing. When Shannon and I started Winebox a few years back, it remained a contender for our repertoire, but needed a more organic treatment. We recorded a new version, but it leaned too far the opposite direction, too thin.

Recently, I re-vamped this beast with a gnarly, Zeppelin-esque guitar tone, layered in some organ for color, beefed up the mix, and now share the definitive version with you. It’s my first song where I feel like all the elements really gelled equally, from the lyrics and melody to the performance and production.

If that track does it for you, please check out other Winebox jams (originals and covers) via BandPage, ReverbNation, or SoundCloud, share them, and be sure to Like us on Facebook for updates.

Also visit my Music page right here on this site to listen and learn more about my other projects, or even take a studio tour.

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Leah Rhyne interview

Leah Rhyne, author of the Undead America series, lowered her Louisville Slugger and caught her breath long enough to ask me some writerly questions over at her site (apologies if you were expecting reversed roles; I never know how to word these things). We gnawed on such fleshy topics as sadistic plotting, choosing your own adventures, and nonautobiography, among others. Get clicky and sate your appetite for brains. Then be sure to check out her latest e-book, Zombie Days, Campfire Nights. Of course, if you haven’t read my Flashover yet, stop whatever you’re doing and remedy that, for Christ’s sake.

I first crossed paths with Leah in the LitReactor community, where we’re both competing in a bracketed short-fiction contest over the course of several months. Should we happen to meet in the final match, we’ll suspend our friendly façade and the gloves will come off for the duration. It will end in tears—though whose, I cannot yet say.

Author Interview: Gordon Highland

Other recent interviews:
Carbon-Based Lifeform Blues
Curiouser and Curiouser
Books and Booze

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“Shivaree” story at ManArchy

Just in time for Halloween, ManArchy staff authors contributed a week’s worth of quick scary/spooky stories to set the mood and prickle your nape hairs in this witching season. Mine’s called “Shivaree” and warns about getting nosy with some noisy neighbors.

Look for other flash-length frights from Richard Thomas, Chris Deal, Bob Pastorella, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Caleb J Ross, Craig Wallwork, and Put Pujolas.

This web zine should top your bookmarks list, with several new weekly articles sure to entertain men and women alike, so please share/Like the ones you dig to help us spread the word. And while you’re there, peep my ongoing Telecine film/TV column.

As always, you can find all my published short stories (and some exclusives) linked here.

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