New Poem / New Flash Fiction in Kleft Jaw #11

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Kleft Jaw #11 just blew a hole in the internet with their 11th issue, and I'm grateful to have two pieces within, a poem titled "Lo Cool, 69 Degrees" and a flash fiction story called "$10,000" which used to be a poem I originally wrote in Colorado but I fleshed it out to an actual story because it needed more room to detail the weird encounter I had with a man in a coffee shop out in Ft. Collins a few years back. You can read these pieces in the online magazine, and please check out the other work and art in the issue. It's a wild collective over there and I'm always pumped to be included in some Kleft Jaw chaos.  

My Top Books of 2017

As with every annual list, I only include books I've read for the first time, but they can be from any year. It wasn't a bad year for reading but I feel like I read less and less every year since leaving NYC. I guess all that time reading on the subway actually made a bigger dent in my To Read list than I gave it credit for. But like I said, 2017 wasn't so bad. Here are some of my favorites. What were yours?

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2017: The Year of Finishing Something...Anything!

My 2017 writing life started by trying to revise a novel I had worked on for almost a decade, before deciding around March that it just wasn’t working. Plot holes kept shifting, twists I added to make the story unique only made other part of the story implausible, and I kept blending too many genres to the point where I didn’t know if the story was taking place in the past, present, or future, if it was a dystopian story or a noir or both or neither. I admit, I was making it too hard on myself, too complex, but I had lost the clear vision needed to simplify that story. I was in too deep and it just wasn’t working out. I love the characters so damn much, but I decided to stop for good (or...for now?) and pursue other projects I wanted to work on.

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Thank You, Unknown Press

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I don’t remember exactly when Bud Smith and I began following each other online, but I loved his work and I thought his blog was chock full of hilarious and whip-smart posts. Even better, when I began crossing paths with him In New York City at various readings, I found out that not only is he a talented guy, but he’s a really GOOD guy, generous, helpful, and he wants to see the writers around him succeed and be happy almost more than he wants that for himself, it seems. So when we talked about doing a book together, which turned into We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, I knew I wasn’t just in good hands, I was in the best hands.

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Unknown Press, as far as my book is concerned, consisted of Bud and his friend and editor Devin Kelly, who also happens to be another astoundingly talented writer Bud has published, and both of them offered helpful suggestions and insight about how to reshape and improve my poems. I loved some advice and took it, and I wasn’t sure about some and passed on it every so often, which Bud was absolutely happy to allow me to do. There was give and take, communication, lots of passes and questions and updates and trial and error, a real collaborative open effort. All heart. All joy. Did we miss some little things? Maybe. We’re human. Would I have done it any differently? Not on your life. Unknown Press was the way to go with this book, and they gave 100% of the profits directly to the author. No fees, no cut, no charge for layout, editing, anything. It’s all about the work, making it awesome, putting it out into the world, high five, grab a beer, and life keeps moving.

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I am deeply appreciative of Bud’s work on my book, and Devin’s too, and I hope you’ll seek out their own books. I’m reading Bud’s Dust Bunny City right now, a book of poetry and fiction he collaborated on with his talented and always delightful wife Rae Buleri. I highly recommend it, as well as his novels F-250 and Tollbooth. I’ve read both, and loved both. I'm also dying to read his new memoir, Work. And Devin’s book Blood on Blood is on my “Must Read in 2018” list, and I hope it’s on yours too. Please check them out and support their work. They’re writers who work hard to make other writers better, and I think that’s a great example of how we should all be in this community of ours.    

Ranked: Every Spoon Album

Now that I’m on the cusp of crossing Spoon off my “Bands To See Before I Die” list, I thought it would be fun to rank their albums (no EPs or extras, of which there are many) based on my subjective thoughts on the quality of each and the album’s impact on my listening habits. And I should note I don’t dislike any of these albums, but there are certainly some that are stronger than others, and some remain in my heavy listening rotation long after their release for damn good reasons. Okay, let’s get to it!     

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Solitude's Spectrum: The New Issue of Cahoodaloodaling

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Earlier this year, the editors over at Cahoodaloodaling asked if I would join them as a guest editor for one of their issues, and I jumped at the chance. They also allowed me to suggest a theme. It was a huge honor being asked, and right away I knew I wanted to edit an issue based on the idea of solitude. Solitude is a major theme in my life, both as a comforting thing and as the sometimes lonely side effect of being a writer in need of quiet time in order to work. It can be good and bad, and for others, it can be a relief or a tragedy, something to embrace or to fear. It means so much to so many, and in this issue we capture a lot of that, covering an array of feelings about solitude and what it means, in an issue we titled Solitude's Spectrum.

Though we read blind submissions, there are a lot of writers I know and respect in this issue, including Megan Merchant (who wrote our spotlight piece "of use," Rebecca Schumejda, Bridget Clawson, Shanti Weiland, and many more, as well as an interview with another favorite poet/editor, April Michelle Bratten. My deepest thanks goes out to Raquel, Rachel, Hannah, and all the other editors and readers at Cahoodaloodaling for letting me join the team, if only for a little while. And thank you as well for taking a look at the issue, my interview within with Rachel Nix, and at everything else Cahoodaloodaling offers at their site. Enjoy!   

New Poetry Featured in Free Lit Magazine

My poem "September in the Attic" now appears (on page 31) in the new issue of Free Lit Magazine, which has a unique "Magic" theme, and climbing into one's attic in early fall can certainly become a magical adventure full of nostalgia and daydreaming, something I explore in this poem. You can read the issue online or download a PDF, and I hope you'll consider sending them your own work. My thanks to the editors for including me, and my thanks to you for reading. 

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New Poem Featured in Picaroon Poetry #11

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My poem "The Mice Have Abandoned The Woodpile" is now featured in the new issue of Picaroon Poetry (it's on page 7), edited by the talented poet-pirate and sea-witch extraordinaire Kate Garrett. The collection features a slew of excellent poets, including Jessica Mehta, Ali Jones, Emma Lee, Spangle McQueen, Russell Jones, and many others. The poem is perfect for this early winter season, as it was written in November one year ago and speaks to themes of oncoming winter, loneliness, and what happens as you attempt to move on from a failed relationship. You can read the issue online, so I hope you take a look, enjoy, and send Picaroon your own bounty of poetry. Thanks! 

Tom Petty Poetry Tribute at Hobo Camp Review

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Our upcoming winter issue of Hobo Camp Review is open to submissions that span all topics and themes, but we also plan on having a tribute section to the late Tom Petty, one of our favorites here at the Camp, and we'd like to include poetry, flash fiction, art, and other artistic offerings that are inspired by Petty and his lyrics, song titles, albums, etc. To be clear, we are NOT looking for work specifically *about* Tom Petty, his passing, or what Tom meant to you. Instead, we want to see his influence in your own work, either as subtle references, riffs off his lyrics, poetry exploring themes and characters in his work, stuff like that. Keep his artistic vision alive in your own work! We have a tentative deadline of 12/15/2017, but we may keep it open longer if great work keeps rolling in. Please take a look at the Hobo Camp guidelines and consider sending something our way! Thanks, and I'll see you down the road... 

My Top 5 H.P. Lovecraft Stories

If one were to build a Mount Rushmore of Horror Writers, you could easily suggest the faces of Poe, Shelley, and Stoker as starters, and some may propose Matheson, Blackwood, Jackson, and of course King, among many others, but for me, one name is a must—H.P. Lovecraft. Like Poe, Lovecraft’s work stands out from his contemporaries as so uniquely strange with such a singular aura that there hasn’t really been anyone like him before or since. Many were inspired by him, but few were as wholly odd in aesthetic, style, and life. 

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"The Green Carpet" Now Appears at Words Dance Publishing

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My poem "The Green Carpet," which also appears in my new book from Unknown Press, We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, is now featured over at Words Dance Publishing, a fantastic site that posts all kinds of great literary content. The poem looks back on my fond childhood memories of my elementary school library and how formative that place became, and all the feelings that can overcome you later in life when you realize those warm, wonderful places feel so far behind you that you'll never be able to reach them again. It's a good example of the kind of work you'll find in my book, which is available at Amazon or by contacting me at jhdwriting@hotmail.com. My deepest thanks to Amanda Oaks for accepting the piece over at Words Dance. Definitely check out their site! And thank you for reading.   

Three New Poems In Three Of My Favorite Lit Magazines

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Things have been rolling this week. On top of my new book dropping Halloween night, I have three new poems appearing in three different magazines around the net. 

My poem "Hunger" joins a slew of others in a special edition of Drunk Monkeys: The Year of Trump, a collection of poems, prose, interviews, and art about life in this "new normal" that shouldn't be normal at all. The writers here are no fan of 45, and my pieces laments over how to deal with loved ones who have gone lockstep in a strange and frightening direction. The issue is full of wonderful writers, like Rachel Nix (Hobo Camp Review's new associate editor!), Ally Malinenko, John Grochalski, Cat Conway, and others.  

Another "Trump" poem of mine, "Last Cigarette," appears over at Winedrunk Sidewalk. This site publishes a new poem every day about life under 45. Keep checking in for all kinds of voices speaking up and out.    

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Finally, Lonesome October Lit (one of my favorite new online journals) has included my poem "The Incident at Choke Cherry Farm" in their big Halloween extravaganza yesterday, and I'm so happy to be part of it. Anyone who knows me knows I adore Halloween, so this is super cool. My deepest thanks goes to poet and editor Kate Garrett, who also selected my poem "Prayers from Dunwich" earlier this October.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all down the road...  

NOW AVAILABLE: We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine

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My new collection of poetry, We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, is now available from Unknown Press! This has been a long process (over two years!) to get this from the page to the reader, but it's finally ready to share with you all. This collection explores the childhood memories and nostalgic daydreams of a grade-school bookworm now grown up to face cancer, chemo, debt, solitude, and the fear that all the joys and hopes of a bygone youth are slipping out of reach. I couldn't be happier to have worked with writer/publisher Bud Smith on this project, and I included a poem below as a sample of what you'll find inside.

The book is available at Amazon, by special order through your local bookstore, and by writing me at jhdwriting@hotmail.com for signed paperbacks. (Yes, yes, good old ancient Hotmail.) Blurbs and recommendations are available at the book's page on my website. Free PDF copies are available for reviewers, and I'll have free physical copies for reviewers soon too. If you'd like one, please contact me. Thank you all!!

 THE GREEN CARPET

It is a waiting room of chipped plastic tables full of
wrinkled copies of Highlights magazine and cardboard
flip-books about bears flying in hot air balloons, the
scent of rubbing alcohol and Lysol. These children here
are bald or soon will be and I run my hand through my
own hair, find bloody fingertips, red robins in flight
through my very flesh, flying away and away and away.
Opening my eyes and counting my inhale/exhale, I see
that the carpet here is lime green, shag, just like the
green carpet where the small children of Green Meadow
Elementary sat in the library, 1985, ‘86, ‘87…we read
books about dinosaurs and planets and gigantic men who
chopped trees in days gone by alongside blue oxen. There
were books of women who flew planes and disappeared,
and of ghosts who haunted castles, books of egghead
professors with childish brain games, and books of
children who had troubles just like the troubles we had
at home or in our classrooms, on the bus, with bullies,
siblings, nightmares, parents who disappeared, feelings of
isolation, feelings. None of them had the troubles we had
when we grew up though, or the troubles the bald
children here have discovered. Publishers and sales reps
probably don’t like tallying such figures. Back then,
Letter People lined the walls and a TV with Ramona
played on rainy days. There were book club sales, book
reports, and wooden chairs lined up along the wall,
straight and small. All of us sitting on the green carpet. I
believe the rain still falls on the windows there, while
kids here grow old, fall down, their eyes drifting against
the wash of a television glow in hospital rooms and daybeds,
their blood and marrow melting, betraying,
hounding them, the pages of their stories thinning out
and fading blank. And then someone calls my name so I
rise and walk across that green carpet to see how many
pages my own story has left.

Young James and The Spooky Old Tree

As a very young child, one of my favorite things to do was to curl up with a picture book and lose myself in the immersive illustrations. Even when I graduated into chapter books, something about really well-done picture books captivated the imagination. The one that dominated my youngest years was The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree. This tale of three little bears adventuring into the night to explore not just a tree but underground tunnels and alligator infested waters and haunted old halls full of watchful paintings and suits of armor, and a whole lot more. It was indeed spooky, but also thrilling and comforting at the same time. It became a bit like my security blanket.

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My "Talk With Me" Interview with Marcia Epstein

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Today I had an incredibly fun interview with Marcia Epstein on her hour-long "Talk With Me" podcast, where she speaks with poets, writers, and artists about their work, their lives, and how the two intertwine in happy, frightful, productive, and connective ways. We spoke about Hobo Camp Review and how it all began, my upcoming collection of poetry We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine (which will be ready to release VERY soon!), and about my experiences going through cancer and trying to maintain some sort of "normalcy" in both writing and social aspects of my life, and also about trying to decide when, why, and how I wanted to share these experiences with those around me. It's the first time I spoke about all this in such a public way, and many of the poems I read on the show are about this time in my life as well. I hope you enjoy listening. You can also download the show at iTunes, I believe. A big thank you goes to Wolfgang Carstens for connecting me with Marcia. Wolfgang is a kickass poet, the editor of Epic Rites Press, and a Hobo Camp alum, so please look for his work! As far as my book, Bud Smith and I are in the final proof stages and it's almost ready to launch. I'll be giving away free extras with the first wave of books going out the door - more details about that soon. Thanks very much!        

If You Like Lore, These Will Give You Chills Too...

At least once a year there's a podcast that strikes a chord and seems to take pop culture by storm. In 2014 it was Serial, and there have been others since, but the current podcast I hear everyone talking about is Lore, which is also now a "TV" show on Amazon Prime. As many of you already know, Lore explores different frightening myths and legends throughout history...except each one is based on true stories, real places, and horrifying moments in our past that still affect us today in ways both subtle and supreme.

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Can you Hear Those "Prayers from Dunwich"?

I'm a big fan of anything Lovecraftian -- all those tales of ghoulish, cosmic creatures and devilish cultists who aid them in their dark New England dens and subterranean hideouts, with stories full of grimoires and ghosts and slimy undead things that crawl through the night. I also love anything related to October or Halloween, so being able to combine all this has been a fantastic bit of fun. A great new webzine called Lonesome October Lit publishes eerie, macabre poetry and short fiction and they just released my new piece called "Prayers from Dunwich," and any fan of Lovecraft might understand the spirit of the piece. I hope you enjoy this creepy poem, and please consider ending Lonesome October Lit some of your own work!   

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On the Air with 105.3 FM & The Sanctuary for Independent Media

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I hit the airwaves last week at WOOC 105.3 FM alongside my Troy Poetry Mission co-host R.M. Engelhardt to talk to Meghan Marohn and Bryce Miller about our monthly reading series in Troy, NY, the recent StoryHarvest event at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, and how poetry and readings can help build community bonds. We even read some poems on the air. You can find our segment at the station's SoundCloud archives, along with a bunch of other insightful, informative interviews. I was caught a little off guard as I forgot to bring some poems with me (what's a poet without a poem!?!?) but I ended up finding and reading my new piece "Last Appointment of the Day," which will appear in my upcoming book, We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine (Unknown Press, 2017). As I mention in the interview, the book will be out around Halloween. More details on that soon. Until then, listen in to 105.3 FM whenever you can! Thanks for listening, and thanks to Bryce Miller, Meghan Marohn, Steve Pierce and everyone at the Sanctuary for having us on the radio!      

"The Reservoir" Nominated for the Best of the Net 2017

The editors over at Vox Poetica just sent news that my poem "The Reservoir" is one of their six nominees for the 2017 edition of The Best of the Net. I'm happy to share this honor with Moriah LaChapell, Nancy Scott McBride, John J. McKenna, Mel Paisley, and Simon Perchik. Good luck to all, and thank you again to the editorial team at Vox Poetica! 

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There Are Some Highways We'll Always Drive

I have this strange, displaced memory of driving up from the Texas coastline to San Antonio with my father in his old white Mercury Cougar in the mid-1990s. It’s typically a three hour drive across long stretches of remote and desolate flatlands, crossed by dried-up creek beds and small ranching towns, with occasional gas stations flung far and few apart. Closer to Corpus Christi there are cotton fields and twisted mazes of refineries, the flaming spires of which would light up the night if we left the coastal city after sundown.

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But this time, in this ethereal memory, it’s a stormy-looking afternoon turning to dusk, and the storms might explain our early departure from the beach. The air conditioning feels cool and makes the salty sea air feel like a sticky paste clinging to my flesh as the AC dries it away. But what stands out most in this memory—aside from the fact that my father and I are alone; my sister is usually with us—is that we’re listening to a live broadcast of a Van Halen concert from some outlying Texas city, Houston or Dallas or somewhere.

I never really got into Van Halen. They felt kind of uncool by the time I got into music in the early 90s (I was too busy with REM, Nirvana, Beck, Weezer, etc.). My father was a casual fan and my aunt was a huge Sammy Hagar fan, but for some reason on this darkening trek north to escape incoming storm clouds, we’re excited to make this musical discovery and my father turns it up. I recognize most songs, to my surprise, and I recall thinking even then that it was weird how much I enjoyed the experience, sipping on my soda leftover from a Whataburger dinner.

I recall specifically looking at him as he drove, how I could see the setting sun fighting through layers of purple-black clouds blanketing the prairie treeline beyond his profile, the music playing, the miles ticking by. And then, just like that, it was night, and stray lights from small towns and lonely ranches dotted the horizon as Van Halen kept going, and going. I can't remember the year or anything else about that trip, but I remember feeling like my father and I would make that trip a million more times in my lifetime, but knowing even then that it would never feel quite the same as that one trip. 

And while we've been there since, a number of times, each time we go I worry it might be the last. We're both getting older, dodging medical mishaps and maladies as best we can. When the day comes though (and I hope it doesn't for a long long time) I truly fear the prospect of ever having to drive to Corpus Christi and the beach without my father behind the wheel. It wouldn't feel right stepping onto the sandy beach without him, eating at Snoopy's Pier without him, filling up the gas tank and heading north as night falls over the refinery lights without him. That random Van Halen concert stamped something permanent in my mind, the feeling that this has to go with that, that one thing can't exist without the other. Sometimes I dream of my father and I on that road at night, happy and tired and listening to music, and I want it to go on forever. It won't, but it will, at least until neither of us is here to remember that one drive home beneath the stormy night skies of Texas.