Gaiman was the reason I always had purple baggy-eyes in elementary and middle school. The simplicity of his writings, the interweaving of mythology, monsters, and modernity, and the cruel world behind-the-magic offered my child-self something gripping, something utterly fantastic and appalling to explore late in the night. His writing still does—today—in my late twenties. Personally, my favorite work by Neil Gaiman is The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and not only because Fiction Beer Company has a citrus wheat beer inspired by the novel). I have a theory about literature (I’m allowed a few theories, being an English teacher) that great works must inspire the moral imagination, even if the wisdoms aren’t the sort we want to hear. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the title clues us in—Harper Lee wants us to understand that it’s a “sin to kill a mockingbird” for they “don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” The book indicts an American culture which regularly commits this sacrilege against its disadvantaged and minorities. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, behind an incredible narrative about magic and outsiders, there is an abundance of dark truths about adulthood—its deceptive ontology of control, its routine mindlessness. Gaiman reminds us “Adults follow paths. Children explore;” “Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside;” and—in the most incredible line I’ve read in literature, something that explains the opus of Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft better than they did themselves—that what marks adulthood is not some maturity or inner growth, but the awareness of how fragile the surface of our lives are, the recognition that reality is “a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”
Fresh-baked, toasted wheat with a cream cheese shmear.
This isn’t my achievement, but my wife’s. Coffin Bell has published J. Motoki’s “Directions After Death” digitally and physically in their first print issue. If anyone’s interested, the anthology, Coffin Bell: ONE, is available for preorder ($15). Per usual, I’m both horrified and impressed by my wife’s dark literature. Where I’m satirical and speculative, she’s weird and wonderful and clearly, clearly, the better writer.
Forgot to mention this when it came out. Life gets busy sometimes. One of my poems published at the end of August.
Rue Scribe is a magazine devoted to “Small Literature”—to “micro fiction, flash fiction, tiny fiction,” and to, eh, what the hell, “short shorts.” This cigarette drag of story is about the “small but powerful,” about the smoke that lingers. That’s why I’m honored RS chose to publish “Cuidado,” a poem condemning global violence on women through a life-changing encounter that lasts no more than five seconds.
I’m not just a braggart. Swing by my Rejections page to see my letters of reject from 2018.
My wife and I went to see a medicolegal death investigator from the Douglas County Coroner’s Office discuss her profession—a presentation that was surprisingly lively. I thought I’d share a few interesting bits from the morbid monologue.
Naturally, the coroner was late a few minutes. Her Excuse? “Sorry, everyone, somebody died. No, really.”
According to her, a physician determines cause of death. But her job is to determine the manner of death. Both examine the body, but she also goes through the corpse’s effects, to the scene, to their homes and work places. Unlike the police, she doesn’t need a warrant.
The cause of death is something like this: stab wound to the heart. the initiation of the chain. The mechanism is what actually does the killing. So, stab wound? Mechanism: Exsanguination, i.e. blood-loss.
Cause: Pneumonia. Mechanism: Hypoxia, or lack of air, leading to organ failure.
As for manner? That’s the context of the killing.
She gave us the list of manners: homicide, suicide, natural, accident, undetermined. While the examiners will provide comprehensive data about the death, the manner ends up fitting into one of these five simple categories.
One of the coroner’s examples was an x-ray of a man with a nail in his skull. The point was near his ear, the dull hammerable bit in the center of his brain. Cause of death? A nail through the brain. But what was the manner?
After examining the wound, it’s entry, the equipment nearby, we determined the manner involved a nail gun. Judging by the angle, it was likely a suicide. He took a nail gun to his temple and blasted away.
We took cases (from out-of-state and with names removed) and had to determine manners of deaths. Mine was a guy who tried to prove a gun wasn’t loaded by putting it to his forehead and pulling the trigger. She called it a stupidicide but it was officially an accident.
We also looked at photos of grisly ends and did the same. There was a man who was struck by deer antlers. You could tell from the prong-pattern across his chest, the lacerations on his sides. There was someone who fell from a chair while fixing a lightbulb. Well, there was the chair, there was the lightbulb. We also looked at scenes without bodies and determined the cause of death. An alcoholic’s bed (the bottles, the trash basket, the sheets). A suicide by driving into a near-stationary bus (no skid marks).
One of my favorite anecdotes was about a skull she found. The examiner being a generalist, she passed on the item to an anthropologist, who determined the age and time period of the skull. She sent isotopes (water) to a lab and DNA to another lab. A femur was discovered with bite marks; this led her to find bone fragments in old bear scat. Within two weeks, they knew everything about this teenage girl, including how she was murdered.
The entire presentation was highly disturbing. I was appalled. My wife was enthralled. I hope she doesn’t get any ideas.
Half-a-year ago, I was contacted by Z Publishing about contributing to their “Emerging Writers” series. Having launched a successful run of “Emerging Poets,” the publishing house was seeking to publish new writers from every state in what they called a “sampler platter.”
I was ecstatic. I penned a flurry of fiction and plagued critique groups for several months. There were no specifications on genre, so my pieces were strange and speculative. One was about monks hunting a bear in an underworld library and another was about a man buying terraforming equipment.
Z selected “House Divided” from my slush of submissions. The story is about a recent divorcee ruminating on her home, which, instead of being given to her or her ex-husband, has been split interdimensionally between them. In essence, her husband has become her ghost, a reminder of a life lost to the vibrations and footsteps emitting from her walls.
So here we are—with my plug. There are two anthologies from Texas. Mine’s the tree behind bluebonnet, a hazy sun on the horizon, pink-gray clouds smearing the sky. I’d be honored if you purchased a copy.