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First Month in Japan

I refuse to believe it’s already been a month, even though Spain seems like a lifetime ago now. I’ll never get over how travel messes with our perception of time.

I’m writing from my little apartment in the south of Osaka, a low down neighborhood with plenty of personality. I’ve learned so much already, my preconceptions of Japan simultaneously obliterated, reinforced, and nuanced. There are places and circumstances in which every stereotype you’ve ever heard about this country feels like the truth of the universe, but more often something reaches out to subvert and upend you.
During the past few weeks I’ve taken reams of notes. I’m finally starting to feel my way toward fleshing out the scenes I’ve been anxiously waiting to write for more than a year. Inspiration got off her leash and she’s running circles around me. So many characters and stories have been building up, waiting for the key of the land to guide them onto the page. I’m walking the streets, drinking at the bars, meeting the people, learning the things, and finding the secrets…a few of them anyway.

Last month I took a road trip to Ise shrine, where important elements from the 19th century segment of The Changing Things finally fell into place. The shrine grounds, the pilgrimage entertainment districts, and the ever-flowing river… but I also needed a mountain. Luckily, my Montana powers helped me sniff one out. There may have been thousands of people at the shrine, but not a soul could be found on the long lonely path which led me to the top of Tsuzumigatake Yama, a place so desolate I wondered whether I was on haunted ground, particularly when I discovered an old makeshift shrine (tori gates above) guarded by a pair of screaming ravens and the nearby shuffling sounds of wild boar. From the mountain peak I could see across the entire prefecture to the bay and the ocean beyond.

Earlier I’d stood in line to pray at the altar of the Kami Amaterasu. I always ask for the same thing at these shrines: the wisdom and inspiration to write my books with integrity, to honor the history and people of the places I visit. As I finished my prayer the white curtain separating the altar from the inner grounds slowly billowed and levitated up to my eye line, granting me a glimpse of what lie beyond and a sense of spiritual connection.

Later, as I told this story to a friend, the second I said the words: “I really felt as if my prayer had been heard,” a bird shit on my face.

And as the Buddhists say, I instantly achieved enlightenment. It’s a hilarious world out there, my friends, a profound fusion of intricate meaning and vacant absurdity.

This month my Patrons will get to read an early draft of what may or may not end up as the main book’s chapter one. It’s still too soon to tell. In any case it’ll be the chapter which kicks things off for Nicodemus, our wayward hero, and his journey into the world of The Changing Things. To learn how to join this illustrious group of black horse gamblers, you can always click the thing.

In tooth and claw,

Josh

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Introducing the Changing Things

Support us on Patreon to get involved!
For the past two years I’ve been developing a new series of books called The Changing ThingsThis is the story of 47 ancient monsters who gave up immortality to become human and die in peace. Now, in the twenty-first century, many of their old memories have started to resurface. The 47 are drawn back into community and forced to face their true nature.
 
To make this book a reality I left home last year to live in Europe. My next move to Japan in March will be the biggest, most daunting step I’ve taken, and today I want to invite you to be involved. 
 
I’ve launched a Patreon campaign for anyone who wants to support the project. Members get an inside view of my development process, early releases, and priority access to the goods. By participating in this campaign you will be making it possible for me to achieve the realism, continuity, and professional assistance necessary to reach the story’s full potential.
Patreon can be kind of a confusing system so feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. As always, thank you for reading and supporting my obsession with writing the weird stuff! 

Covers

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Avet: phantom caravan

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Only a few hours after meeting in person for the first time, painter Maja Ruznic and I started to collaborate. At the time we didn’t really know what the project would look like, and even now the parameters aren’t fully defined. But it would involve small paintings and even smaller stories. The narrative would emerge out of the image. It would be called Avet: phantom caravan, though we only discovered this detail a week ago.

Spending time with Maja’s work is like peering into a phantom universe through the wrong end of a spyglass. The deeper you dig in, the further out you go. Each painting is made up of overlapping and sometimes contradictory dimensions coyly seducing their voyeurs into sorting out the affairs of their existence. Discover our secrets, they say. They hide within drenching atmospheres of alien color, and also within each other. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one phantom ends and another begins. Listen to the chatter between the brush strokes. They are determined to communicate.

Maja and I met through her partner and my good friend Josh Hagler, another brilliant artist who recently allowed me to use his painting When Knight Turns Dancer: A Western Romance as the cover of my new short story collection, Nothing in Mind.

Avet will release a new story/painting pair every week. The first 5  are already up on the website. My intention with these vignettes is to write the way Maja paints, by creating scenes that suggest an expanse of unexplored stories hiding between the lines. Stories that wriggle with potential for readers to imagine new worlds on their own and for themselves.

 

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Nothing in Mind

Today I’m excited to announce the publication of my first collection of short stories and poetry. Nothing in Mind, published by Asymmetrical Press, contains some of my earliest published stories as well as my latest experiments with fiction, poetry, and photography.

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“Light as air and deadly serious.” -Molly Laich, The Independent 

  • A secret mythology of American pioneers.
  • The tale of a suicidal dragon who makes a remarkable self-discovery.
  • A play about a man digging up the bones of his old partner.
  • The quest of a fake Jehovah’s Witness who goes door to door to find a friend
  • A fable about a moon full of water.
  • The saga of a simple man who decides he no longer needs to breathe.

…Along with essays on inspiration and courageous living, short fiction that is surreal, whimsical, and sometimes horrific, poems of nature, passion, justice, and more…

Purchase and Review

If you enjoy Nothing In Mind, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. Those reviews help authors grow and get our writing in front of more people.

Ebook: Kindle | NookKobo | iBooks | Google Play
Print: Amazon

Nothing in Mind

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My favorite job during last spring’s Asymmetrical Press WordTasting Tour was interrupting Skye Steele’s violin with shouts of, “You have to talk louder!” from the back of the room. It’s a guilty pleasure introducing a little chaos into a space and soaking up the brief awkward moments of concern and confusion. Fears that I might be a heckler or intruder would start to subside as the next words took up their familiar poetic rhythm, “–or your voice will not cary over the next fifty years…”

This poem, called Voice, is intensely personal to me. I wrote it in a frenzy, almost as a magical ritual or an attack against the emotional barriers that had been crippling me over the previous several years. This was me daring myself to push through a phase of paralytic silence in my relationships, useless anxieties about writing, and even a 10+ year long fear of flying. Voice was probably the first time I ever wrote myself into dramatic and lasting life changes.

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On December 1st Voice will finally be available in print from Asymmetrical Press. The book, Nothing in Mind, is a collection of short fiction, poetry, photography, theatre, and essays (including I Need to Take this Thing that I Love and get Rid of it Immediately, which also featured at several WordTasting events). It contains work ranging as far back as one of my earliest published stories and as recent as a photo of an old film projector I took last week. It is a Smörgåsbord not only of format, but of genre and style: from the romantic to the whimsical, from the horrific to the cerebral. There’s a little of everything, which perhaps amounts to nothing. When choosing what to include I let the four classical elements be my guide. Each piece (sometimes brazenly) correlates to either earth, air, water, or fire… or else to the void, that heart of nothingness around which the elements anchor and materialize.

Photography introduces an extra dimension to the language. Sometimes the images and the writing connect in obvious ways, other times more subtly. They all come from the last four years of long walks in settings as varied as Montana, New York City, Barcelona, and Morocco. The most recent photo, mentioned earlier, was taken just a few days ago and slipped into the book at the last minute. Setting it on the facing page to a short poem calledFlicker gave the words a completely unintended and yet perfectly comprehensible new layer of meaning that I’d never considered before. Art just keeps on evolving, with or without our permission.

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I’ve collaborated with some brilliant visual artists over years, and this book is no exception. The hypnotic cover art, originally a part of Joshua Hagler’s retina-smashing 2014 exhibition, Romancing the West, harmonizes in all the right ways with my obsession over elemental patchwork that concocted this collection.

Two small and exquisite paintings by “mother of phantoms” Maja Ruznic also appear in the book, along with the short vignettes they inspired.

Nothing in Mind will be available to order in print and e-formats on December 1st, but can be pre-ordered for kindle at this very moment.

Mystery Mark, the Movie

I don’t remember doing much of anything last summer that wasn’t connected in some way with Mystery Mark. I ate a lot of meals in Scott’s backyard where our tireless crew of volunteers constructed masks, puppets, and sets out of little more than paper mâché. The community effort was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and it resulted in an illustrated novella, a short animation based on the Midlife Dragon scene, and a live theatrical installation that we made free to the public.

A few weeks after the show closed Skye Grace Bennet from Montana Mafia Productions told us that she and cinematographer Kier Atherton wanted to turn Mystery Mark into a short film. We dragged the whole set out into the woods and shot it in one day. Local actor and patron of the arts Cathy Capps was kind enough to lend us her land for location.

One year later editing and color are done. Travis Yost did a bang up job recording the live score by Cash for Junkers.

And now here it is at last, in HD, just for you: the surreal and strange and unapologetic 15 minute short film: Mystery Mark.

 

Shapes Teaser

The short teaser for the novel, “Shapes the Sunlight Takes,” is finally finished.

Shot and directed by Sarah Meismer
Edited by Josh Wagner
Music by John Sporman
Starring Alexsa Prince, Dirk Lee, Austin Valley, and Lucy Heutmaker
Voiceover by Maiah Wynne

Learn more about the book here or order it on Amazon