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.
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.
“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…
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Wannabe Press, the online comics distributor responsible for the wonderfully insane Ichabod Jones, has taken up the task of presenting the entire Fiction Clemens graphic novel free to the public for the first time.
“There’s so much joy, such love of life and energy in this book, it positively made my heart dance.” –Comics Bulletin
Fiction Clemens was originally published in 2008 by Ape Entertainment, but the character and concept go back to the last millennium.
And I must confess, I did not invent my hero’s name…
It was around 1998 when my good friend and musical collaborator Christian Olson came running up to me, breathless, and insisted that I write a story about a character named Fiction Clemens. “The name’s yours,” he said. “Make me proud.” So I went straight home and kicked out some very weird fiction, which later essentially translated to the opening scene of issue one in which Fic walks into a bar in on a desert alien planet. Folks start talking to him in bizarre colloquialisms and all he can say in reply is, “Yup” or “Nope.” This four-page story made very little sense to anyone who read it, but Christian loved it and a few homeless artists camped out at the river even called it “the new poetry,” so I decided this Fiction guy must be destined for a thing or two.
A year later I put Fiction Clemens in my first novel, “The Adventures of the Imagination of Periphery Stowe,” as a side character, where he and his partner Dune Trixie are universe-hopping space adventurers. They’re sort of like Han Solo and Chewie to the book’s young hero, Riggs Bombay, providing him safe passage into the world of the Mind.
When I decided to tell Fiction’s origin story I originally wrote it as a screenplay. Some friends and I put together a fake trailer for the film, and started looking for storyboard artists. I found “the one” on Digital Webbing.
Joiton is a ridiculously talented artist from Argentina, who, despite knowing very little english at the time, was somehow able to translate my script perfectly into exactly the sort of visual layout I wanted. In 2004 his early pages ended up in the hands of the lovely and talented comics editor Lauren Perry (then with Silent Devil), who vowed to find Fic a home.
After putting out a call for colorists we ended up with three I couldn’t choose between, so I gave them each an issue. Alejandro (Alek) Marmontel got book 1, Veronica Gandini got book 2, and Nico Pena took book 3. Veronica has since gone on to color for Mice Templar and a variety of Marvel titles. The other guys are still out there creating some of the most brilliantly outrageous illustrations in the business. They wrapped production in about a year and Ape Entertainment published the book shortly thereafter.
To pay my artists I sold character likenesses. If you helped fund us, you got to pick a character whose looks would then be based on your very own mug. I raised half of the production money that way. Most of the characters you see in these pages have human counterparts out there in the “real” world.
Wannabe launched Fiction Clemens online today, posting the first 20 pages from the book. Another 20 go up next Monday. From then on it will be a page a week until the story’s chaotic conclusion.
Fiction Clemens has often been squeezed into the genre world as a “psychedelic sci-fi western.” It’s the story of an old west-type world resistant to progress and technology, and a cosmic conspiracy to drag the world onward regardless. It’s also a story of friendship, a messed-up karmic love triangle, and a man of few words.
If Fic sounds like your cup of tea, start reading it for free here. With each panel you can think to yourself, “I’m paying nothing, I’m stealing nothing. I must be living in the dawn of a new egalitarian age of openness and trust, of confidence and community. The future is my geoduck!”
PRAISE FOR FICTION CLEMENS
“A futuristic western meets Alice in Wonderland or perhaps OZ, and that really doesn’t do the overall insanity of the book justice…There’s nothing quite like Fiction Clemens on the market.” –Newsarama
“The comedy is laugh out loud and the characters fascinating. The story itself kicks off with a bang and hardly ever relents.” –Broken Frontier
“[Fiction Clemens] is something fresh, hilarious and entertaining, exactly the kind of quirky project the non-major comic publishers should be offering us, and the kind of story that makes reading comics worthwhile.” –CHUD.com