Tag Archives: Powell’s

What Even is Now?

It’s mid-2020 and the world is simultaneously burning down and rising up. The weirdest year possibly ever. The “president” sucks. The coronavirus is a menace. The police are dicks. The wrong people are dying. Karens are abusing their cell phones. Sports are put on pause!

But. But! Some social justice work is finally happening, at least in the ways that people can instigate. Sometimes by resistance and force. Sometimes by discussion and amplified voices. A rebuilding and a rethinking. The thing more people are learning: Just because something is part of history (or perceived as history) doesn’t mean we should glorify it with statues, flags, monuments, and misguided team names. This is why Germany doesn’t have statues of Hitler or fly Nazi flags–because they are symbols of shame and embarrassment.

So while we count down the days to when Trump gets dumped and shit settles down a bit, and since it’s been a long while since I updated folks about my creative adventures, I thought I’d give a quick update…

I started the year by taking some time off of my job at Powell’s to finish work on a novel I’d been working on for about seven years. The timeline on this book and how it was build was a good lesson in perseverance. Up until last summer (August 10th to be exact), I had written just 22,400 words on it. With a renewed focus and commitment, I was able to strap myself in and finish the rest of it in about six months (final word count around 62k). I’m super happy with it and currently querying agents for representation. In a lot of ways, it felt like it was the first time I’d written a novel, maybe because it’s more linear than my past books. I don’t want to tell you too much about it yet, besides the fact that it’s narrated is two years old at the beginning of the book and five at the end.

Then I got a kitten. Her name is Susan. She is perfect.

Then I went back to work. Only to get punked by COVID-19, which shut down nearly everything everywhere. Since mid-March I’ve been out of work and on unemployment (hoping to return to work later this year), giving me some extra solitary time to work on various projects. One of them is an upcoming book of some of my collages that Clash Books is putting out at the end of the year. It’s called I Made an Accident and it will also include some of my poems. I should have more info and a cover reveal for you soon. Here’s a recent collage…

I put Future Tense Books on hold for a bit while I worked on this stuff, but I have our next release set for early 2021 (which will also be announced soon as well) and more to be announced later this year. Recently, we had a Black Lives Matter fundraiser which was a great success (over $800!).

I had a poem in the Winter/Spring issue of Poetry Northwest.

I wrote an essay about cleaning out my desk at work for Book and Film Globe.

I have an essay about living during COVID-19 coming soon in this anthology.

I am very proud of this longer short story published in Southwest Review.

A short essay and three collages were just published by the friendly folks at Old Pal.

Another essay from early this year, about trying to grow a beard! In Split Lip Magazine.

Thank you for reading and for all the things that you do to make this a better world. xo

Rookie Season

I never thought I’d give up writing for anything, but as 2014 winds down, I look back on all the stuff I did in the name of collage and I get the same excitable newcomer rush that I did when I started writing and publishing over twenty years ago. Like my first (often naive) forays into the world of making books, I have jumped head-first into this passionate exploration of a new form.

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So, when I put up my first solo collage show at the Basil Hallward Gallery at Powell’s on New Year’s Day, it will be to celebrate the past twelve months of making over 100 collages, getting a few of them published, slowly putting together a Society 6 page, taking an on-line collage class, discovering (and befriending) as many collage artists as possible, launching a new collage column for The Rumpus, and co-hosting the lively new “Open Collage Nights” at the IPRC in Portland (every 2nd Wednesday of the month).

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The show will be up for the whole month of January and it’s called “Rookie Season.” I have about forty pieces framed and ready to go on the walls. I’ve picked out pieces that will hopefully show some of the growth and changes I made through the year. It’s funny to look at collages I made last January and February and think, “Oh, those are my early works.”

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First Thursday lands on January 1st this year, so come out and see my collages in person (I think they look much cooler that way as opposed to a flat jpeg). I may even have a surprise or two for you. Plus, you know–probably some snacks and cheese and stuff. I’ll be hanging out from 6:30pm til about 8:00. Hope to see you!

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A Postcard From David Rakoff

Recently, I was cleaning up around my desk at Powell’s, where I have now worked for over sixteen years. As you can imagine, it can get pretty messy, especially the leaning towers of review copies, the piles of zine and chapbook submissions, and the various press releases from publishers. Sometimes I find some really cool artifacts though, like thank you notes from authors. Here’s one from the wonderful writer and sweet human, David Rakoff. Just over twelve years ago, I had hosted his reading at Powell’s and then–later the same night–had the pleasure of reading with him and a few others at a tiki bar by Portland State University. It was in support of a Chicago literary journal, Bridge Magazine that was run by Michael Workman and Greg Purcell (who also did a great website called No Slander). His reading that night was wryly funny yet warm and understated. He was the star of the night. 

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The postcard is also addressed to Dave Weich, who did numerous interviews and amazing things for Powell’s web site for many years.

I love having this postcard as a reminder of my very brief time with David and how kind he was. David was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, lost his left arm during treatment soon after, and then passed away on August 9th, 2012. He wrote about his arm in the final essay of his collection, Half Empty, and talked about it to NPR’s Terry Gross. He left us with many insightful, hilarious, and daring works of nonfiction. His swan song, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, was a poignant novel-in-verse that came out last summer. He would have been fifty this year.

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Shelf Talker Shelf Talker Shelf Talker…

What the heck is a Shelf Talker you ask?

It’s one of those pieces of cardstock paper you see on a bookstore’s shelf that tells you when an employee really loves a book and wants to draw attention to it. I think the best bookstores are the ones full of passionate readers always willing to share their literary discoveries while also cultivating a sense of community. You can learn a lot about a bookstore’s collective personality by scanning what they choose to give shelf talkers to. I have been to a couple of bookstores where there are NO shelf talkers at all and it always jars me a little, like the store is saying: “You’re on your own here. We are not excited about anything and we have no opinions.”

Oof. What a downer.

Bookstores: Show us your shelf talkers!!

Last year, at work, we introduced a whole line of new shelf talker designs to freshen up the look of the store. That’s cool and everything, but (like a bibliophile hoarder) I am a little sad about throwing away some of my old stand-bys. I love making shelf talkers for my small press section. I think it has really helped a lot of readers discover new talent through the past fourteen years I’ve been in charge of it.

So before I tossed them in the recycling, I took photos of some of my favorites and decided I’d post them here (about 140 more are not pictured). That way, they live FOREVER! Enjoy this journey–and read these books!

(click on the pic to make it bigger)

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For Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City (Dark Sky Press)

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The first shelf talker I wrote for Gary Lutz, when 3rd Bed republished Stories In the Worst Way.

The first shelf talker I wrote for Gary Lutz, when 3rd Bed republished Stories In the Worst Way.

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Another book that we've sold a ton of at Powell's.

Another book that we’ve sold a ton of at Powell’s.

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Zachary Lipez, Stacey Wakefield, and Nick Zinner did a great reading for this book at Powell’s back in 2010.

I was so excited to introduce Chelsea Martin's magic to the world.

I was so excited to introduce Chelsea Martin’s magic to the world.

I think this was for Greg's first book, I Have Touched You.

I think this was for Greg’s first book, I Have Touched You.

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For CA Conrad

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I love Spork Books!

I love Spork Books!

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Proof of my early love of all things Iredell.

Proof of my early love of all things Iredell.

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My favorite literary journal.

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We've sold so many copies of Ghost Machine. One of my all-time faves.

We’ve sold so many copies of Ghost Machine. One of my all-time faves.

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Still pretty obscure, SJB was one of my first writing influences.

Still pretty obscure, SJB was one of my first writing influences.

I still think this is kind of a minimalist classic.

I still think this is kind of a minimalist classic. By Paul Fattarusso.

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Like how I burned the edges?

Like how I burned the edges?

The first shelf talker for Chloe's classic.

The first shelf talker for Chloe’s classic.

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This and This and This Is Between Us

Psssst. My new book snuck* into stores a few days ago and peoples be talking about it! Here are some of the fun places to read up about it…

*A cool interview with Los Angeles arts blog, Yay! LA. This was a phone interview and I spoke with Daniel for about an hour while doing while walking around the SE Hawthorne neighborhoods of Portland. I felt self-conscious whenever people walked by and I was saying something like, “I want all 234 pages to feel like they’re stuck to your skin.”

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*A really thoughtful review on Bustle. I like how the reviewer focuses on the aspect of loneliness and imperfection in the book.

*HTMLGIANT’s 25 Points takes on TIBU, written by the fantastic Nicolle Elizabeth, who says the book is “upsetting” once and “comforting” twice. So I think “comforting” wins!!

My mom and me at Powell's this past week.

My mom and me at Powell’s this past week.

*I talked about sex writing and sexy words with the sexy PDXX Collective. (“I used to have a friend who had sex with a lot of her friends because she said it made her feel less guarded with them, closer and intimate. In a weird hippie-ish free love kind of way, I can see where she’s coming from. Sex is an ice-breaker in real life and in books.”)

*A really cool review of the book that breaks it down by each of the five year sections. The reviewer says “You will feel grateful for the brutal honesty and lovely secrets that you were allowed to know.”

*The Portland Mercury ran some excerpts (with a very nice intro) of the book. The illustrations are super cool and kind of hot (they move!!).

My name is on the cover, with naked butts!!

My name is on the cover, with naked butts!!

One of the other exciting things for me is seeing people taking photos with the book covers. Every day there seems to be a new one on Facebook or Instagram. I love seeing those lips on other people!

And I sure hope to see everyone next Friday for the Portland reading of the book, at Powell’s at 7:30pm (after-party at Bunk Bar on SE Water Avenue!).

Dena Rash Guzman and the TIBU lips

Dena Rash Guzman and the TIBU lips

Holly from Tin House and the TIBU lips, out in nature!

Holly from Tin House and the TIBU lips, out in nature!

*when I say “snuck” I mean that the official release date is 11/12/13, a very numerically pleasing date. I’m probably still going to celebrate that day, maybe with a trip to Fire On the Mountain for some drinks and a barbecue chicken sandwich.

The Story of a Dirty Picture

I’ve talked about Davy Rothbart before. He’s a great guy and we met several years ago as he was starting up his now-huge Found empire. Right now, I’m halfway through his new essay collection, My Heart Is an Idiot (the title of which is also the name of an awesome Davy documentary by David Meiklejohn). It’s another gritty, beautiful creation by one of the most endearing dudes I know. I’m so excited to introduce Davy at Powell’s on Monday night.

Davy the dreamboat

A couple of years ago I was excited to have a short story in the Found-inspired anthology, Requiem For a Paper Bag (Simon & Schuster). It was a different sort of Found book–instead of photos of actual found artifacts, the book includes stories and essays about found stuff. It included a ton of cool writers and celebrities including Susan Orlean, Jim Carroll, Seth Rogan, Miranda July, Aimee Bender, Sarah Vowell, Andy Samberg, and a bunch of others. My story is one of the strangest things I’ve ever written and I was honored that Davy included it. I thought I’d use this occasion to post it on my blog. So, here it is–now on your Internets for the first time!!

I Was Torn From a Book

A young boy found me between cars in the church parking lot. He held me with both hands and carefully blew the dirt off me. He folded me twice and stuck me in his pocket. He walked somewhere that was silent and full of trees. He took me out and unfolded me. He stared for a long time, his eyes darting off to the side and blinking. The upper right corner was burned from a fire, the mark just a flicker away from my face. He folded me up again, but this time added another fold. I was tight in his pocket for several days it seemed. I didn’t know where I was.

I used to be complete, snug in a book. Warm. Surrounded, I’m sure, by other images of beautiful woman.

I remember being at the photographer’s house, in her studio, posing, primping, drinking wine for five hours. Only one shot from the session was used for her book. I’m on my hands and knees, looking just above the camera’s lens. Biting my bottom lip. Wearing a pair of black panties that fit too tight and a Cleopatra wig. She told me to bend my arms like I was doing a pushup. More, she said. A little more.

My breasts touched the floor just barely and the flash went off.

That’s me. Page 65.

I wonder what happened to the other shots that day. I never saw them. My whole day is captured in a moment when I felt the least in control. But here I am.

This book, this retrospective of an early career, was kept in the library of that photographer. Her students looked at me often and sometimes took me home with them. I noticed the different ways they looked at me. The men would nod at me in some vague way and paw me with their flat, dry fingers. The women were different. Sometimes they would point at me and laugh. A few of them would linger and stare.

The boy took me out of his pocket and moved me to his pillow. There was a tear in its seam and he put me inside. It was better there. I imagined I was a cloud and when his fingers would brush me, I wanted real skin and a shape. There’s nothing more I wanted than to have hands. To put my fingers through my boy’s fingers and to go under his covers with him.

Yes, I started to think of him as My Boy. His eyes dreaming all sorts of things when he looked at me. I didn’t care that he was so young. He was the only one who looked at me in real awe.

We both wanted me to be real.

A man once looked at me with loud, pounding music everywhere. He would look at another page sometimes too. But he’d always turn back to me and bite his lip.

It would start off calm. And then his eyes would switch from a casual search to a look to a look of business. His shirt would come off. The page would turn. I heard the click of his belt buckle, the sound of leather sliding through belt loops.

The boy showed me to his sister and her eyes danced all around me. “Do you think she would like me?” the boy asked her.

“You shouldn’t be thinking of this stuff yet,” she said.

“Do you think mom would kill me if she found this?” the boy said.

“Maybe,” she said. She scowled at me and then looked at the boy. “Give it to me and I’ll make sure she doesn’t find out.”

The boy folded me back up and told her to go away. I felt myself become a cloud again. I felt a wave of pride like something fought over. Then a nothingness, then sadness.

I remember being ripped out. The man seemed so studious as he folded me back and forth in a careful straight line. His hand pulled me slowly out of the book. Meat coming off a bone. He held me up to the light. I felt suddenly limp in the air. He put tape on me and stuck me to a metal wall. There were pages from other books or magazines that had been torn and stuck around me. It felt dirty and cold all around me, with a pungent smell of rubber and gasoline. The man wore glasses and overalls. He spent most of his time underneath a car, his legs stiff and sticking out, as if he was sleeping. The radio played voices, not music. Sometimes I heard laughing and I didn’t know where it was coming from. Once in a while, the man would look at me like he was looking into a mirror. He’d take off his glasses and rub his eyes and smile. I must have reminded him of something good.

The boy’s mother saw him looking at me. It was late in the day, almost dark outside. The boy looked sick and half-asleep. He had stayed home from school. I was smoothed out on the pillow with shaky fingers. He took something out of his pocket. It was a school photograph of a girl. Her hair was a long swooping blonde wave that ended neatly just above the white border of the photo. Her mouth looked too full and experienced for her age. Her eyes were open wide, as if she had been startled. He placed this face gently on top of mine, positioned it so we might somehow merge in his mind. I felt ashamed in that moment. Like those uncomfortable moments when the photographer kept saying More, more, a little more. But then his bedroom door opened and I was swiped away with his frantic hand. The two elements of his fantasy fell separately to the floor. His mother stood there in the doorway, her eyes alarmed and recoiling. Her whole face grimacing. She turned and walked away quickly, as if she were being chased.

I try not to think of the fire because fire means death. I just remember his legs under that car and the heat suddenly everywhere. His legs did not move. I thought he would shoot out from under there like I had seen him do before. There were loud popping sounds and flames splashing like waves against the walls. The smell of burning flesh and metal. The man’s work boots were flickering torches on the end of his stick legs. One wall collapsed and a burst of smoke rushed to the sky. It was raining. Thank God for the rain. I blew up in the air for a moment, fluttering with a small lip of fire trying to eat me from one corner. When I settled on a patch of concrete, someone stepped on me and the flame near my head stopped.

Smoke and water filled the air for a long time. I realized that it probably wasn’t raining after all. It was merely a couple of firemen wrestling their thick thrashing fire hoses. It eventually became dark after the flames died. Someone turned on a floodlight and people began to pick up some of the debris. Some of them were crying and some of them talked softly and discreetly, even laughing quietly. I was thrown into a cardboard box which was tossed into the back of a pickup. I was smothered by a fireplace kind of smell. Burnt wood, paper turned to ash, the sick stench of melted plastic and Styrofoam. Not long after the truck drove away, a bunch of papers got loose and escaped out the back. I was glad to find myself slipping out too. But then the truck stopped and parked in front of church with a big glowing cross. Church of the Nazarene it said. A man and a woman stepped out of the truck and started grabbing some of the lost trash. But some had already rolled and tumbled away from their view. Screw it, the man said. They adjusted a few boxes in the back and continued on their way. I skidded across the parking lot all of that night, not sure if I was in heaven or hell.

The boy and his father had a talk about me. It was the first time I had heard his voice and it was unfamiliar, too loud for the house. I suspected that the father did not even live in this house. There was an uncomfortable tone to their talk. It sounded scripted, as if they feared the mother was listening on the other side of the door. The boy, my boy, told of how he found me but stopped short of saying why he kept me.

What does it make you think of, the boy’s father asked.

I don’t know, the boy answered without thought.

Let me see it, said the father.

My boy reached into his pillow and set me on the bed between them.

Is there any more in there? the father asked.

My boy shook his head and looked at his doorway. His mother was nowhere to be seen. The father took his glasses out of his shirt pocket and scooted closer to me.

Does this picture make you feel excited?

My boy looked at his father sideways, unsure of the question. The father’s eyes stayed locked on me a little too long. It’s not so bad, he finally said. He took off his glasses, slowly folded them into his pocket. Then he picked me up, folded me just as gently, hands shaking a little.

I thought I heard my boy starting to cry.

I was slipped back into the pillow.

The father’s voice got softer then. It’s okay, he whispered. Hush now. It’s okay.

I heard the father’s heavy steps walk over to the door and close it.

I’ll throw it away, my boy said.

No, no, no, said his father. There was a pause. Just hide it somewhere else, he finally said. Don’t let your mother find it. I’ll say that I took it.

Really? I heard the boy wipe his tears, his drippy nose.

They talked a while longer until the mother knocked on the door. Okay, said the father, I’ll see you later. He left his son’s room and talked to the mother in another room.

My boy took me out of the pillow. He unfolded me and gave me a look that was more guilty than I’d seen from him. He walked me to a wall and quickly took down one of the smaller posters. With a piece of tape he stuck me to the back of the poster and returned it to the wall. It felt good to be unfolded and safe. He stood there a moment and inspected the poster to make sure I wasn’t visible. I heard him sigh loudly and then his bedroom light went dark. I knew it might be a long time before I was seen again.

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Suicide and Salon

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(Me on the Burnside Bridge. Photo by Chloe Caldwell.)

Dear friends,

I’m excited to announce that I have a new essay up on Salon.com. This is a very personal story and one that was not easy to write. I finished it earlier this year and it was rejected by four other publications before Salon snatched it up nine hours after I sent it to them. What a wonderful experience.

I hope you’ll take some time to read it. Thank you so much.

 

 

The Girl With the Cake: Thirty Years Later

At work this morning, a customer asked me if we had a copy of Richard Brautigan’s story collection, Revenge of the Lawn (1971, Simon & Schuster). It’s a book that can be hard to find, but luckily we had a copy. It just hadn’t made it out to the shelf yet. While we waited for another employee to bring it out (I was stuck at the cash registers for the opening hour), I told the customer that I was a big fan of Brautigan and she told me that she was the woman on the cover.

She said, “I have to get the book and show my nieces and nephews that their aunt Sherry was on a book cover once.”

I’ve always thought the Brautigan covers were pretty great in their simplicity. Especially the cute hippie girl motif. Here’s another cover, this time for my 2nd favorite Brautigan, The Abortion.

My favorite Brautigan book is this overlooked gem:

Sadly, no cute girl on this cover.

Anyway…so this lady tells me the she was not only the cover girl with the cake but she was also his “lover.” This was probably the closest I would ever get to the legendary author, so I instantly turned into super fanboy. I guess I felt kind of like a Star Wars fan meeting the guy who played Boba Fett or something. My lit-geek adrenaline was kicking in hard. I always loved Brautigan’s 60s-style perverse humor, minimalist poetry, and open-ended sentiment. He was one of my first loves as a book reader.

My co-worker, Christopher, walked up with the book just then and also started geeking out. He began asking her questions about the cake and she said she made it herself. Of course, all I wanted to know was “What was he really like?”

“When we first got together, I looked in his closet and saw all these ties, and he never wore anything but blue jeans and casual shirts, so I asked him, What are all these ties for? And he said, For tying up my girlfriends.”

I had to step aside a few times to ring up customers buying books, but I listened to Christopher talking with her and heard some other bits and pieces of her story. She had been a school teacher somewhere in California and a lot of the parents of her students were famous people. “Richard would come and hang out at my school just so he could try to meet Francis Ford Coppola,” she said.

She talked about staying in Montana with him where their friends included Thomas McGuane, Jimmy Buffet, and “the Fondas.”

I could tell that she was full of stories and I eagerly said, “I’d like to interview you. Have you ever been interviewed?” And she kind of brushed me off and said, “I’ve been interviewed a bunch of times.”

I asked her if she lived in Portland and I think she misheard me, because she started talking about his death. “I helped him find that house in California where he shot himself,” she said. Then I think I asked her something dumb, like: Was he depressed about something? And she said something strange that I hadn’t heard before. She thinks he may have had AIDS and was also in pain with scoliosis. She said he had a lot of women, many of these Japanese. I sort of wondered if she was implying that Japanese women were higher risks for disease. (Just now–I googled around about Brautigan’s death and found this very interesting article in, of all places, People Magazine.)

I asked her if maybe his waning popularity in the 80s was a factor in his emotional state (he shot himself in September, 1984) and she simply said, “He didn’t care about that stuff.”*

After she left the store, I couldn’t stop talking about this strange and wonderful encounter. I realized that although I had read a bunch of his books, I didn’t really know much about his life. A quick Internet search revealed this woman to be Sherry Vetter. I never found out if she lived in Portland or if she was just passing through. I sort of wish I had gotten a quick photo taken with her, or as Christopher said later, “We should have went down to Whole Foods and bought her a cake to pose with.”

Richard Brautigan would be 76 if he were still alive. I bet he would have put out a few more awesome books. It’s a shame he didn’t.

Richard and his signature hat, mustache, and typewriter.

*I didn’t disagree with her on this point, but I do think it may have been a bummer for him to go from selling 2 million copies of Trout Fishing In America to lackluster sales and bad reviews of his later work.

Another interesting story about a woman in Brautigan’s life (his first wife!) was published a couple of years ago by Arthur (introduced by my good friend, Mike Daily).

Noir, One Year Later

On May 1st of last year, the Portland Noir anthology came out from Akashic Books. It took a couple of weeks for people to notice it at local bookstores, but when it did, it really took off. Portland Noir has been one of the top 20 best-selling fiction titles at Powell’s every month for a year now–a fact that kind of shocks me. I knew people liked noir and I knew the locals like to read about themselves and their fair city, but the number of books we’ve sold at Powell’s is far more than anything else I’ve been involved with.

There were a lot of highlights in this book’s life, especially during some of the events we had around town. One of the fun ideas I had around this time was to write fictional noir-style introductions to each person at these events. I’d read them in a pseudo-gumshoe kind of voice while Miles Davis’s Round Midnight played behind me. Just for fun, I thought I’d post all the intros here. I suggest playing the Miles while you read them.

Thanks to all the writers. I’m so glad that this book has had such a great run in Portland.

A promo poster made for the book by Gigi Little.

From the Powell’s Book Release Reading:

Chris A. Bolton. This is the kind of guy that makes you suspicious. Why does he have a middle initial and what does it stand for? Adolf? Anarchy? Abraham? The mind races with possibilities. Like many shady characters in Portland, he works in comics, and if that’s not bad enough, he makes his living as a blogger. Who ever heard of such a thing? For a long time I thought he was just another bald guy with a smirk, trying to pull a fast one on anyone he could. But then he sent me this story, The Red Room. It’s a story that takes place at Powell’s City of Books. It involves blackmail and cops—the dumb kind of cop. But this story ain’t dumb. I read it and I said to him, “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. You really hit me in the stomach on that one. Now here’s your 200 bucks. Get lost before I get really sappy.”

Luciana Lopez. Now here’s a lady on the run. I’m not exactly sure what she’s done, but it turns out she’s leaving the country in just a few short hours. I thought she had a cushy job at the daily paper, writing about pop stars and local bands. I know this kind of chick, I thought. She writes about hip hop but knows her way around a 12-string guitar too. She uses those mysterious dark eyes to get backstage and finds out the inside scoop before anyone else. She’s the kind of woman who plays the players. But now apparently, she’s gone too far. Her story in this book is called Julia Now and it uncovers the motive behind a St. Johns murder in the 50s. That alone could get her in trouble but then she makes it worse by dissing the Shins. But at least she was considerate enough to spare the Decemberists.

Jonathan Selwood. He’s what you’d call a big box of trouble. Some people say he’s a novelist, but to me he looks like a bouncer at the Boom-Boom Room, the kind of guy who’ll make you scream until his favorite stripper smiles at him just right. His fuse is so short that it looks more like a piece of lint. He’ll blow up in your face like a cheap firecracker. His story, The Wrong House, is about a ruthless crook with a crowbar and an arm with so many holes it looks like a cheese grader. It’s the kind of story with language so off-color that you could only read it out loud to a deaf person. With details so vivid though, I suspect that it’s all gruesomely true, and for that, I have to give the thug some respect.

From the Portland Noir reading and party at the Blue Monk:

Karen Karbo. It’s hard to mention her name without someone getting all bent out of shape. Apparently, she’s quite the grifter. And not the kind that walks around with an empty gas can asking for spare change. This dame brings down people and businesses that were thought to be untouchable. Her chosen method: blackmail. Who knows if she does it with a flip of her hair, a batting of her eyelashes, or a slip of her little black slip. But somehow she gets the job done and she gets the photos to go with it. Close-ups, profiles, still lifes. Secret little photos worthy of framing. Yeah—a good framejob is one thing you’d call it. Apparently, she tries to lead a straight life too, as a writer. She’s darn good at that as well. Her story, The Clown and Bard, is a rope-a-dope full of lies, deception, and mail order brides. She writes from a man’s perspective and it’s a convincing trick, but then again, that’s her bag—she’s convincing.

Justin Hocking. Some see him as a cultural emissary, the head honcho at someplace called the IPRC. They make it look like some kind of commie printing place, where hippies and hipsters go to make their flimsy propaganda, but I know better than that. Go there during the off hours and you’ll run into all sorts of scum. From tweaked out gangsters to old strippers with pupils bigger than their pasties. I got it on good authority that IPRC actually stands for International Pharmaceutical Redistribution Center. Mr. Hocking, the guy behind this shady organization has written a story that takes place partly under the Burnside Bridge. A place where skaters get out their aggressions on the curved concrete and any new kid that slips into their scene. Burnside Forever is a cautionary tale and I caution all of you not to forget it.

Justin Hocking and me at the Blue Monk reading. I wore a tie to every event. Pic by B. Frayn Masters.

Monica Drake. I’ve got enough dirt on this woman to bury her three times. 1985: As a teenage follower of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, she poisoned a salad bar in The Dalles, causing an outbreak of Salmonella. 1992: After the Portland Trailblazers lose the NBA championship to the Chicago Bulls, Drake wins a huge bet through her Las Vegas bookie and the following week gives half the money to Clyde Drexler. 2003: a Dear John letter is found in the L.A. home of dead rock star Elliott Smith revealingly signed “Monica D.” Calling this lady a murderer, cheat, and heartbreaker is only the first layer of this onion. The more you dig in, the more it burns your eyes.

In her story, Baby, I’m Here, she follows a sad sack bunch of burnouts as they take a little field trip to visit a friend at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the shape that these people are in, they may as well reserve a bed for themselves.

Gigi Little. The story goes that she’s a former clown who just happens to be good with some rope. She was also an author of children’s books. That is, until she became disgruntled and left those days behind her. She also left behind three dead editors and their appreciation for happy endings. The weapon that they never found—six feet of nylon rope. When her face started popping up on federal posters, she went underground and changed her name. She thought Gigi Little sounded pretty harmless. She cut up her credit cards and moved down into a secret corner of the Shanghai Tunnels until it all blew over. In an odd way, her story, Shanghaied, is a homecoming of sorts. But in her story, she makes herself out to be the one you feel sorry for. Of course, we can usually figure out when someone is playing us for a fool. Usually, anyway.

Tahoe Jackson. (Tahoe was our musical guest of the evening and she not only turned the event into a party but she also turned the room into a soul inferno) I thought this lady would be the only touch of class on this stage tonight, but then I got the scoop. It turns out that she was hatching a master plan to throw Beau Breedlove off the Sellwood Bridge before he went off and blabbed all over the KGW news. Why would she do that, you might wonder. Well, I’ll tell you why. This babe is on the record as a full-fledged Sam Adams stalker. That’s right. It doesn’t matter to her that he butters the other side of the bread, she still has chocolate and champagne sent to his home every other week since 2006. In 2008, she went as far as to send him a life-size blow-up doll of her likeness. When Beau started causing a fuss she put a target on his pretty little behind and had him silenced before he said too much. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and poor old Sam still wasn’t falling for Tahoe. That is until she started camping in his front yard and serenading up to his bedroom window. Now I’ve heard that Sam and Tahoe have been spotted together having happy hour nibbles at the Slow Bar. It just goes to show you what a good woman and a good song can do when there’s a lot of passion to throw around.

Tahoe Jackson serenades me at the Blue Monk. Pic by Leann O'Rourke.

From the reading at Looking Glass Bookstore:

Ariel Gore. Even her name has the kind of bizarre twist that’ll make your stomach turn. Ariel: sounds pretty and soft, like a mermaid and it actually means “the angel of healing”…but then her last name is Gore. As in “blood and gore.” Makes me think of a dame with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. And although she’s written several books, I think this is the first time she’s actually written about murder, and in her story, Water Under the Bridge, she writes about it with such pizzazz that it’s like she’s been waiting all her life to get the rage out. If you see her sometime at Dot’s, just make sure you don’t talk to her about your art.

Floyd Skloot. What can you say about the guy? He’s been playing the game for a long time and just when you think he’s knocked out, he’ll throw down a vicious hand stacked with kings and queens and take all your money. Sometimes he plays the sap, breaks out his cane, regales you with stories of his baseball dreams…but I don’t trust the guy as far as I can throw him. And he’s a small guy so I could probably throw him pretty far. His story, Alzheimer’s Noir, could make you cry if you were a big softie but it’s also full of uncertainty, false memory, and double talk. A sticky web of mystery that’ll make you hallucinate like you smoked a funny cigarette while hiking through Oaks Bottom for the first time. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy.

Megan Kruse. Now here’s a lady who will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. You might think she’s just a lonely soul with mommy and daddy issues, but she’s a master of the slow seduction. Once she’s gottcha, you’ll be stuck to her like glue, afraid to stray too far because her charms—and her whiskey—will make you feel like you’re addicted. Not just to her smile but also to her tears. That’s right, buddy. You’ll be in deep. Lost in a dark well without a ladder. In her story, Lila, she tries to play her romance games with a stranger at the Tik-Tok. But it turns out she has some competition, and it’s the kind of competition that makes you do things you don’t want to do.

From the reading at Murder By the Book:

Bill Cameron. Here’s a character if I ever saw one, and believe me, I’ve seen plenty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bill without his trademark fishing jacket. It’s almost like he sleeps with it on, going through all the pockets in his sleep like a nervous twitch. I think I have a good idea what’s in those pockets. He’s not foolish enough to carry bullets in there, but he’s got cyanide capsules disguised as aspirin in one pocket; A dart-blower that looks like a Sharpee in another. Hair spray that’s really pepper spray, one of those Kung Fu throwing stars, a mini cheese grater, some brass knuckles, and perhaps his secret weapon, razor-sharp fish hooks. But you know what—he rarely has to use any of this stuff. Cuz this guy’s sly. In his story, Coffee, Black, he writes himself as a retired cop, staking out a new Starbucks store that’s been the target of regular vandalism. His caffeinated investigation takes him on a wild goose chase that turns as chilling as a hazelnut frappuccino. I don’t know what’s more frightening in this story—the anarchists or the insurance agencies.

Kimberly Warner-Cohen. She may look small but she’s someone you don’t want to mess with. I saw her take down a sumo wrestler once with a good flying chop to the throat. Before she moved to Portland, she lived in New York where her street name was K-rock Man-Slayer. She published a novel a couple of years ago called Sex, Blood, and Rock and Roll. When I read it I thought it was non-fiction. I was scared for my life. In her story, People Are Strange, takes your emotions and tosses them around like a rag doll. One moment you’re experiencing phantom twin syndrome, longing for the sibling you never knew you had; the next minute you’re surrounded by naked ladies and beer stench in the darkness of a strip club-shaped like a jug of moonshine. But in that darkness, you make a discovery, one that fills you with joy for a moment, until it’s snatched away with brutal coldness and disregard. It’s the kind of moment where decisions are made and sometimes you have to live…or die…with the results.

From the Wordstock Portland Noir P:ear benefit reading:

Jess Walter. To tell you the truth, I’ve always been a little suspicious of the guy. Who else do you know spends most of their time in Spokane, Washington, cranking out award-winning novels while pretending to be a normal family guy? What’s he’s hiding from out there? Once I was on a greyhound bus and I heard some tweekers telling stories about the potent crystal meth that comes out of that town. They kept talking about some meth-chef called “J-Dub” and I deciphered their ghetto pig-Latin to mean Jess Walter. Especially when one of them pulled a beat-up copy of Citizen Vince out of their backpack. For his story in Portland Noir, good ol’ J-Dub slips into the persona of an Oregonian editor, slyly manipulating the daily horoscopes to harass an ex-girlfriend. It’s a tale that asks us the timeless question: What love isn’t crazy?

Zoe Trope. Here’s a case of the hunted becoming the hunter. When Miss Trope published her high school memoir, Please Don’t Kill the Freshman, a lot of her teachers were none too happy with the skewering they got in her book. They tried to blackball her and they gave her mountains of extra homework. They toilet-papered her house and crank called her cell phone. They hung chicken feet from her locker.

And then a funny thing happened. These teachers mysteriously started showing up to school with black eyes and broken bones. Some of them disappeared for days on end. One of them was found tied up in the back of a swinger’s club with a vibrator throbbing on the floor nearby—the poor trigonometry teacher was in tears. People started pointing fingers at the teenage Trope but she was long gone by then. Moved to Ohio to get a “higher” education. And no teachers messed with her there.

Back in Portland now, Trope’s been playing nice, innocently studying to be a librarian and writing stories like the one in this book. It’s about girlfriends, orgasms, creepy guys on the Max train, and of course, revenge.

Dan DeWeese. Back in the 90s, he was known as “Danny Boy the Weasel”—the most unassuming but dangerous bookie in the Portland gambling scene. He’d take your over/under, your knockout predictions, your trifectas, your college basketball brackets, baseball bets, what-have-you, and he’d turn them either into big happy cash for you or a night sleeping on the couch with a take-out pizza box for a pillow and an angry wife.

There were others that tried to move in on his turf, tried to pass out their calling cards at the Rialto or buy you a drink at the Portland Meadows, but they quickly disappeared. “The Weasel got ‘em,” you’d hear people say with a shake of their head. “Bit his nose clean off his face,” they’d laugh. And those stories aren’t just myth. 1994 was the busiest year for nose surgeons in Portland history.

But now Danny Boy is flying straight. Ten years clean from Gamblers Anonymous, he’s now focused on writing and recently even sold his first novel to HarperCollins. His story in Portland Noir, The Sleeper, is a haunting tale about a newspaper delivery guy trying to come to terms with the shambles that his life has become. Set in the early morning quiet and gloom of Highway 30, the narrator’s thoughts are sure to take over your head and in the end, you won’t know whether you’re winning or losing.

Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones contributed a comic for the anthology so they never read at any of the events. But if I did, I would have pointed out that Jamie is a convicted dog stealer and arsonist (he once burned down a whole Safeway) and that Joelle is a world-class pool shark with a Swiss bank account and a collection of severed fingers in the glove box of her car. It doesn’t get more noir than that.

About Last Night

Last night was one of those nights that seemed too good to be true. I had my first reading from ACP in front of around 200 people at Powell’s. My dear friend, Frances Miller, started it off with a killer intro that left me teary-eyed and barely able to begin. But I turned down the lights and read eight short parts of the book while doing a slide show. I choked up again while reading a chapter about my brother. Then after the Q&A, I invited Barb to come up and stand next to me while I tried to hold it together for the grand finale. Of course, it was futile. The tears came as I got on my knee and asked her to marry me. I was pretty much lost in that moment right then but I heard later (from reliable sources) that Barb and I weren’t the only ones crying.

After the reading there was a great after-party at Blitz (getting engaged means free drinks I found out) and I was able to visit with more friends while Barb showed off her fake-bling ring. We’ll be shopping for the real thing soon.

Thanks again to everyone who came out for this special night.

xoxo

Kevin

(photos by Jonathan Selwood)

And look–now there’s video (Thanks, MD)