Follow Me – published by The Manifest-Station

My short story ‘Follow Me’ was just published by The Manifest-Station. I really had fun playing with surreal elements while writing this story, which focuses on a young couple who are haunted by increasingly bizarre episodes of sleepwalking each night.

Click here to read the full story now! Here’s a brief excerpt:

The hot, wet tears falling down her face released the immense pressure that had been building inside her head. She calmed down, pulling herself off the floor to sit on the bed. She stared down at his leg still sticking out and felt a sudden urge to kick him, hard. That small flicker of rage disappeared before it could grow into something dangerous. I love you, she whispered, no matter what you decide. 

Follow this link to read the full story. And let me know what you think in the comments below. Enjoy!

Winking and Blinking – published by Stoneboat Literary Journal

My short story “Winking and Blinking” was just published by Stoneboat Literary Journal (Issue 10.2, Summer 2020). It’s a beautiful journal with lots of great prose, poetry, and visual art. Check out their website for a full list of contributors and information on ordering your copy today! Below is a short excerpt from my story:

The woman I lived next door to as a child just shot herself in the head. The news is passed along like the latest bit of juicy small-town gossip. I imagine my mother telling her friends at the beauty parlor, exaggerating her connection to the tragedy. When I hear the woman’s name, I drop the phone, barely managing to catch it before it hits the floor. I pull it back to my ear, to the sound of my mother rambling on. Typical of these Sunday night calls to check in, she’s already moved on to something else, hitting each bullet point of our mostly one-sided conversation. She likes keeping me updated, but not a lot happens back home, especially in the span of just one week. She keeps talking, but I can’t hear anything after that first piece of information. Something finally happened ..

To read the full story, order your copy today! Please enjoy, and let me know what you think of “Winking and Blinking” in the comments below.

Quarantine and Read: My Review of Samanta Schweblin’s novel ‘Little Eyes’

Samanta Schweblin’s novel Little Eyes might be the perfect book for our new Quarantine Times. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, the story feels eerily prescient in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It takes place in a not-so-distant future where people connect virtually through a deceptively simple toy-like device known as a kentuki. Many of the users feel isolated in some way, looking to use this new virtual reality as a means of escape from their actual surroundings. If, like me, you’ve been cooped up for months in light of COVID-19, you might find yourself wishing they were real, if for nothing else but a fun distraction.

But, as the novel progresses and the underlying horrors play out, you’ll  be glad this is a work of fiction.

Kentukis are basically stuffed animals that have wheels, allowing them to move around freely; there are various types you can get, like a cute rabbit, a crow, a mole, or a dragon. Inside, there’s a “dweller” who controls the kentuki and sees everything through the animal’s little eyes. If you own a kentuki, you’re known as a “keeper” and typically treat the device as a high-tech pet. Each device has only one life, much like a real pet. It must be charged regularly or the connection is lost. Also, a dweller can disconnect at any time, which leaves the kentuki lifeless, meaning you can’t reboot and try again. Likewise, a keeper can’t disconnect the device and try again if they’re not happy with the dweller for some reason.

Schweblin presents the story through a series of vignettes, each involving different characters from across the globe. Some are dwellers, some are keepers. There are a few characters we return to again and again while others are relegated to only one chapter. The format makes the book highly readable once you get into its flow.

As a dweller, you get to watch someone go about their daily life, often on the opposite side of the world. There are different reasons why some choose to be a dweller as opposed to a keeper, but most jump into the kentuki relationship without thinking about potential consequences – just who is the person behind the little eyes? And how much does the keeper want to know the answer? As with other virtual connections, we often don’t really know what’s on the other end, which adds to the underlying tension through Schweblin’s book.

Some of the kentuki adventures are light and rather harmless – a young boy in Antigua mourning the loss of his mother secretly resides as a dweller inside a dragon much further north; he becomes obsessed with using his dragon to touch snow. An older woman in Peru who misses her son dwells in a cute rabbit kentuki in Germany; she quickly becomes attached to her keeper, but the relationship takes strange turns when the keeper’s lover intrudes.

Perhaps the most interesting keeper/dweller relationship concerns Alina who’s spending time at an artists’ residence in Mexico. Her artist boyfriend is preparing for a show, leaving her alone much of the time. Bored and on a whim, she buys a crow kentuki but remains intent on keeping the relationship as anonymous as possible. She fantasizes about who might be controlling the little crow, but she wants to treat the device as nothing more than a pet. Her behavior towards the kentuki gets stranger and stranger as she feels more and more isolated in the real world. Her story arc carries the novel forward and ends with a disturbing twist.

Little Eyes is perhaps not as creepy as Schweblin’s excellent first novel (to be translated into English) Fever Dream, but it’s just as compelling. I had a hard time putting it down and even had a dream about kentukis one night. I woke up disappointed that they’re not real – but, after shaking off the grogginess, I felt relieved that these strange little creatures don’t exist.

Not yet, anyway.

Help Democrats take the Senate: Adopt an Election

The upcoming November election might be one of the most consequential in history. It’s not enough to defeat Donald Trump – we must also defeat Republicans at large. Over the past four years, the GOP has done nothing to hold Trump accountable for all the deranged, damaging things he’s done while in power – so in November, we must hold the GOP accountable.

Below is a list of key Senate races across the country. If you’re like me and live in a “safely blue” district but still want to help, please consider “adopting” one of the candidates below (or more!). We took back the House in 2018 and are in a good position to do the same with the Senate in November 2020! Any contribution will help these Democrats win their race! And make sure to follow them on Twitter and other social media platforms to help amplify their visibility.

Jaime Harrison vs Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
The race between Jaime Harrison (D) and Lindsey Graham (R) is one of the most exciting in the country! I’m all in for #TeamJaime and just contributed to his campaign. In the latest poll (as of writing this), the two candidates are tied (42-42). Jaime Harrison has a real shot at defeating long-term Republican Lindsey Graham. As a Southerner, I’m all too familiar with Lindsey Graham – he’s the very definition of spineless Trump Republican. Overnight, he transformed from a #NeverTrumper into Trump’s biggest cheerleader in the Senate. And Trump recently endorsed him.

Now, I don’t know if Trump and/or Russia has information about Lindsey Graham’s private life that they’re using to blackmail him, but it’s awfully peculiar that he turned into such a Trump fanboy.  There have long been rumors that Lindsey Graham is a closeted gay man (he’s denied it several times); recently, rumors have been circulating that numerous male escorts are about to come forward claiming Graham hired them for sex over the years (and they referred to him as “Lady G” in DC). I have no problem with Lindsey Graham being gay, but I have a big problem with his history of supporting an agenda that’s been damaging to the LGBTQ community.

Rumors aside, Lindsey Graham’s cowardice in the face of Trump is enough to vote him out. And Democrat Jaime Harrison is an exciting candidate who will help diversify the US Senate. Check him out on Twitter and consider donating to his campaign now!

Cal Cunningham vs Thom Tillis (North Carolina)
Democrat Cal Cunningham is looking to unseat Republican Thom Tillis in my home state of North Carolina. This is a tight race that’s definitely on the table for Democrats. Cunningham is a strong candidate who has recently polled 2 points ahead of Tillis. By contributing to Cunningham, you can help Democrats pick up a seat in my beloved state of North Caroina. Give Cunningham a follow on Twitter too!

Amy McGrath vs Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
Amy McGrath (D) is looking to unseat #MoscowMitchMcConnell (aka Mitch McConnell) in Kentucky. Despite the fact that McConnell is Senate majority leader, he consistently ranks as one of the nation’s least popular senators – and for good reason. Instead of working to pass legislation to help everyday Americans during the COVID-19 crisis, he’s been spending his time stacking the courts with Trump judges. A recent poll has McGrath ahead of McConnell by 1 point! While I believe this will be a difficult one for Democrats, McGrath is a strong candidate who can defeat McConnell with your help. Please donate to her campaign now so we can send McConnell packing at last! Make sure to follow her on Twitter and other social media platforms!

Sara Gideon vs Susan Collins (Maine)
Sara Gideon (D) can defeat Susan Collins (R) in Maine. Like Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins is one of the least popular senators in the country with dismal approval ratings. Many have looked at her to be a voice of reason within the Republican party – only to be disappointed time and time again as she falls in line with Trump and the Republican establishment. A recent poll has Gideon ahead of Collins by almost 10 points! Help Gideon defeat Collins by contributing to her campaign now!

John Hickenlooper vs Cory Gardner (Colorado)
Former Governor John Hickenlooper is the Democratic nominee looking to unseat Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper is very popular, and most pollsters rate this one as a close race leaning blue. Gardner is yet another Republican who’s refused to stand up against the worst president in US history – help Hickenlooper win this race!

Mark Kelly vs Martha McSally (Arizona)
Former astronaut (and husband to Gabrielle Giffords) Mark Kelly is the Democrat running against Martha McSally in Arizona. McSally was appointed to the seat left open when John McCain passed away in 2018 – she’s yet another Republican who’s tied herself to Trump, so let’s make sure Mark Kelly is victorious!

There are other Senate races to keep an eye on. Doug Jones is the Democrat who won the 2017 special election in Alabama; he’s considered an underdog, so consider supporting him. In a deeply red state, he’s done the right thing with important votes and needs your help to keep his seat.

Races in Iowa, Michigan, and Georgia could also end up going blue – and will with your help! Please consider adopting one (or more) of these races now! Contribute to the Democratic candidates so we can take control of the Senate. So many things are on the line, and Republicans have proven time and time again that they can’t manage to find a spine when it really counts.

City Filled with Expectant Mothers – published by In Parentheses Magazine

My short story “City Filled with Expectant Mothers” was published in the “Crowds” edition of In Parentheses Magazine (v. 5, issue 4, Spring 2020). You can purchase the magazine here (digital download, print copy, or both). Below is an excerpt from my story:

They’re everywhere, they’re all I see, and no matter how far I run I know I’ll never escape. What started on the train continued in the grocery store and followed me on my run along Riverside Drive. This city, suddenly filled with expectant mothers. They’ve sprung up like weeds, their stomachs so swollen I wonder how they keep from falling over.

Purchase the latest issue of In Parentheses here to read the full story. It’s a great magazine filled with poetry, prose, and photography!

Make sure to check out In Parentheses, based here in New York.

Top 10 Madonna Songs for the Apocalypse

It’s Day 28 of the COVID19 Lock-Down, so I decided to have fun by sharing my Top 10 Madonna Songs of All Time! She’s the Queen of Pop who’s provided the soundtrack to my life, after all … here we go:

10. This Used to Be My Playground
This Used to be My Playground is the theme song for Madonna’s hit movie A League of Their Own. This emotional, nostalgic ballad topped the charts back in 1992 and makes me wish Madonna would do more soundtrack songs.

 Key lyric: Don’t hold on to the past, well that’s too much to ask

9. Justify My Love
Sexy sex sex! Justify My Love is hands-down one of the sexiest songs ever recorded. The video was so hot it got banned by MTV. That didn’t stop the song from topping the charts – in fact, I’m sure it helped.

Key lyric: I want to run naked in a rainstorm, make love in a train, cross-country

8. Deeper and Deeper
Deeper and Deeper is the second single from Madonna’s controversial Erotica album, released in late 1992. It’s a groovy dance tune that some argue is about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality. Towards the end, it has a small throwback to her mega-hit Vogue. The live performances of this song never disappoint – case in point: the slowed-down ballad version performed during the Re-Invention Tour.

Key lyric: But my love is alive and I’m never going to hide it again

7. Easy Ride
Though it was never released as a single, Easy Ride remains one of my favorite Madonna songs. It’s the closing track from her criminally underrated American Life album. The classic strings in this song are amazing. Everything about the song leaves me wanting more.

Key lyric: I want to let go of all disappointment that’s waiting for me

6. Bad Girl
Released as the third single from her controversial Erotica album in 1993, Bad Girl is a complicated – though sophisticated – track that deals with a woman coming to terms with her reckless behavior after the end of a relationship. The video for this song is probably Madonna’s best – it’s certainly her most cinematic. Did you know David Fincher directed the clip and that Christopher Walken appears as the angel? Madonna performed this powerful ballad only once, on Saturday Night Live in 1993. I’m still waiting for her to include it on the setlist for one of her live shows.

Key lyric: I fall apart every time you hand your heart out to me

5. Like a Prayer
Like a Prayer is Madonna at her creative best – the blend of sex and religion was pure ecstasy and unlike anything other big pop stars were exploring at the time. Remember the video with the burning crosses? It was super controversial, even as the song topped charts around the world. It remains a favorite in her live shows.

Key lyric: Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone

4. Into the Groove
What more can be said about this pulsing dance hit from Madonna’s first big movie, Desperately Seeking Susan? Into the Groove has stood the test of time – no one can resist Madonna’s call to the dance floor. If this had been released as an official single, there’s no doubt it would have been a no.1 smash, but it came packaged as the b-side to Angel from her Like a Virgin album instead.

Key lyric: Music can be such a revelation

3. Live to Tell
Playing double duty as the lead single from her smash True Blue record and At Close Range soundtrack standout, Live to Tell introduced the world to a more mature, introspective Madonna – and topped the charts! Years later during her Confessions Tour, Madonna performed Live to Tell while hanging from a cross with a crown of thorns upon her head .. she’ll never lose her talent for pushing all the right buttons!

Key lyric: The truth is never far behind

2. Secret
In a major departure in sound for Madonna, Secret gives us a perfect blend of Pop and R&B. Upon its release as the lead single from her understated Bedtime Stories album, Secret sounded like no other song in her vast catalogue. Once again, the Queen of Pop managed to reinvent both herself and her sound with this smooth, groovy hit.

Key lyric: Happiness lies in your own hand

1. Frozen
This is the song that introduced a whole new sound for Madonna back in 1998, serving as the lead single from her Ray of Light album, an electronic masterpiece.  The mid-tempo ballad is dramatic and breathtaking – those drums! that cinematic buildup!  It peaked at no.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and lives on as a classic Madonna track. The performance of Frozen in her most recent Madame X Tour is the highlight of the show. It’s pure perfection – watching Madonna sing the song while her daughter Lola is dancing on the giant screen around her is so simple, yet so effective.

Key lyric: You’re frozen, when your heart’s not open

Honorable mentions: Borderline, Open Your Heart, Express Yourself, Music, Don’t Tell Me, Hung Up, Vogue

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.
What are your top 10 favorite Madonna songs of all time?

Entertainment for the Apocalypse

I live in the East Village, New York, and, like most of the country, we’re currently on lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sharing some entertainment recommendations for everyone who’s stuck inside like me. Let me know what you think and feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below – and please stay safe and healthy!

Television
Tiger King – I can’t enthusiastically recommend this Netflix Quarantine-and-Chill docuseries hit, mostly because it’s more trash TV than thoughtful documentary. If you’re a fan of that genre (think The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of whatever city, or that Kardashian nonsense), then there’s plenty to like about Tiger King. You have a group of larger than life characters – namely, Joe Exotic – doing awful, no-good, terrible things. There’s murder-for-hire, polygamy-a-plenty, toothless husbands who do interviews shirtless for some reason, a zoo worker missing a hand after a run-in with one of the animals, and another staffer who lost his legs but not because of the animals! Tiger King has it all!

Since pretty much everyone has already binged this series, I don’t need to explain much about the plot. I will say that no one featured comes out looking good. No one.

The main storyline centers around Joe Exotic’s ongoing war with Carol Baskin. He runs a sketchy roadside zoo filled with tigers and other exotic animals; she owns a Big Cat sanctuary trying to shut down folks like Joe Exotic. Some might argue that Baskin is unfairly villainized by the series, which I don’t necessarily disagree with; that being said, the woman seems kooky, based on her own words and actions. I mean, that whole story about how she met her second husband while wandering the streets and only got into his truck once he offered to let her hold a gun on him – that’s just whacky. The mysterious disappearance of that same husband is explored in one episode. I have no idea if she had anything to do with it, but Joe Exotic gleefully accuses her of killing her husband and feeding him to the tigers. He even “sings” a song about it and films a video with a Baskin lookalike.

Some takeaways: I wish the animal abuse didn’t feel like such an afterthought. It would have been nice if the filmmakers did more to explain the laws that allow people like Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe, and Doc Antle to run sketchy-as-Hell zoos in the first place. Also, am I the only one who never really caught on to what Carol Baskin’s missing husband did for a living? He was a millionaire, but they never really explain how he became one – was it real estate investments? That’s a problem that plagues the series throughout – the filmmakers spend so much time on crazy shenanigans when they could have been offering more thoughtful context.

Anyway, if you come away thinking Joe Exotic is a hero, think again. He’s clearly not.

Other shows to binge (also available on Netflix):
Dark – In this dark sci-fi thriller from Germany, kids start disappearing, but that’s just the start of the strange events in the small town of Winden. There’s time travel, multiple timelines that show characters at different ages, and so many twists and turns it’s hard to keep everything straight. I’m still not sure I totally get what’s going on, but it’s a fun ride.

Billy on the Street – I love watching this because there’s something nostalgic and comforting about watching Billy Eichner yell at strangers in New York before the age of social distancing.

Reading
With the Beatles by Haruki Murakami.
If you’re like me and can’t wait for the next Murakami book, check out this short story recently published in the New Yorker (February 2020).  It’s a nostalgic, bittersweet tale with all the typical Murakami magic: mysterious things happen in the midst of the mundane, and things are never as they seem.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Originally published in 1962, this novel holds up well and is especially fitting for these crazy Quarantine times. It’s a dark, claustrophobic story about two sisters: Merricat, the mysterious narrator, and Constance, the elder of the two who hasn’t left their large estate in years. They live in a grand house set apart from the nearby village. About six years earlier, the rest of the family – excluding their Uncle Julian – died after being poisoned by arsenic.  Since Constance prepared the meal, the townspeople blame her for the poisoning and think she got away with murder. As a result, they shun what’s left of the family.

Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian lead a quiet, quaint life together, largely cut off from the rest of the world. When cousin Charles enters the scene, everything quickly changes. A fire in the house leads to a dramatic confrontation with the villagers. Much of the house is destroyed, but the sisters remain.

What’s most memorable about the novel is the voice of young Merricat, the narrator. She’s a complicated character you won’t soon forget. This book is Shirley Jackson at her magical best.

More Books for the Apocalypse:
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami Actually, anything by Murakami is a safe bet. How about a big giant book like 1Q84? It’s fantastic too! You have the time, so why not tackle it now!

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
Get lost in another culture during your downtime. This collection lead me to so many other Japanese writers to explore.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
This very short book left me breathless. It’s one of the few times I’ve had a hard time setting a novel aside, which worked out fine since it’s such a quick read. I hear it’s getting adapted into a movie by Netflix, so make sure to read the book first.

Music
I don’t listen to a lot of “new” music, though I love Tyler, the Creator’s Igor album, which came out last year. Key tracks: New Magic Wand, A Boy is a Gun, and Earfquake. I loved Igor so much I’ve really dived into the rest of his catalogue.  Check out his performance at the 2020 Grammys below:

Movies
I haven’t been watching many movies during the NYC Lock Down. I saw Little Joe, a weird film about a scientist breeding a new species of plant that makes its owner happy, sort of like an antidepressant .. but is the plant dangerously infecting those who come into contact with its pollen? In ways, this was like a more subdued version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Here are some other movies coming up in my queue: Carnival of Souls, The Ice Storm (I haven’t seen this in years and look forward to re-watching it), Jojo Rabbit, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. What are you watching next?

Can I Take My Pants Off? – published by Ghost City Review

My short story “Can I Take My Pants Off?” was just published in the August 2019 issue of Ghost City Review. Go here to read it now. Below is a brief excerpt:

As I got the news, a wave crashed into the room, filling it with water. I fell under, looking everywhere for the surface but failing to find it. A pair of lips continued moving across from me, but the words floated away. I left like that, still submerged and stunned, my hand gripping papers with more words I couldn’t understand. This drowning would be long and slow. I had to get used to life underwater.

To read the full story, go here.

Ghost City Review is published by Ghost City Press. Check them out! And let me know what you think about my story!

The Haunting – published by Dark Ink Magazine

Dark Ink Magazine published my short story, ‘The Haunting,’ in their Summer 2019 issue. Visit their website for information on ordering the issue now. Here’s a brief excerpt from my story:

An explosion of sound like a gunshot rang out late one night, startling me awake. Unable to tell if the noise had come from the apartment next door or the nightmares in my head, I bolted upright, struggling to catch my breath. In the dream, I’d been watching my father stomp back and forth through our red house, gripping the small gun he always carried in the inside pocket of his faded denim jacket. He still plays games in these dreams, pointing the gun at us without revealing it. We know it’s there, and he knows our fear.

To continue reading, head over to Dark Ink Magazine to purchase the issue now! The magazine is published by Dark Ink Press.

The Waiting Fire – published by Slippery Elm Literary Journal

My short story ‘The Waiting Fire’ has been published in Slippery Elm‘s 2019 edition.  Visit their website to buy a copy of the journal now!  Here’s a brief excerpt from my story:

This can’t be happening. I feel the colors draining from my body, leaving nothing behind but the outline of what might have been. I can’t feel my heart, I can’t find my next breath. I’m lost in a world burning bright. All I can see are the flames eating my house.

Visit Slippery Elm‘s website to buy a copy of the journal now. Let me know what you think!