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WV Writers Podcast Episode 76: Remembering Lee Maynard

(Note: I am the host of a sporadically-released podcast called West Virginia Writers Podcast, the official podcast of West Virginia Writers, Inc. )

The writer Lee Maynard passed away on June 16, 2017, in New Mexico.  He was an notorious son of the Appalachian literary scene due to his less than flattering depiction of growing up in West Virginia in his novel Cruminfamously banned from sale at Tamarack.  For all of the sex, violence, and combustion of outhouses Crum depicts, however, it remains a beautiful novel and a love letter to West Virginia.  It speaks volumes about the power of place, family, and friendship in our lives—strange and bewildering and infuriating as those things may sometimes be.

For the past 15 years, Lee has been a regular presenter at the WV Writers Summer Conference, often accompanied by his friend and collaborator Pops Walker.

In this episode of the WV Writers Podcast, we talk to Pops himself about Lee and his work.  Also included are Lee’s previous podcast appearances, including a recording of one of Lee’s readings with Pops Walker, a resonant interview he did with Cat Pleska in 2009, and other recorded material.

If you’ve not read Lee Maynard’s work, I highly recommend starting with Crum as well as his memoir in fiction The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and Hallucinations in an Imagined Life.

TO DOWNLOAD: Right mouse click on the link below and choose Save Link Target As to save the file to your computer. Listen to it at your convenience using Windows Media Player (or whatever product Mac offers for media).

West Virginia Writers Podcast: Episode 76

LINKS TO TOPICS FEATURED IN THE PODCAST

BOOKS BY LEE MAYNARD

EPISODE 06: “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk” REDUX

The Mexican Gray wolf is among the rarest of North American wolf species.  Few humans have seen them, fewer still have heard them growl, and far fewer have heard the pangs of hunger from the stomach of one.

One old man, seated on the cliff of an Arizona mesa, could possibly lay claim to all three of these feats if only he could be bothered to pay attention.  He is a puzzle that most of the local wolves have given up on–save for one.  The strange, silent, unmoving, and seemingly invulnerable old man makes for the ultimate unattainable prey, as the wolf’s own teeth (chipped from previous attempts) are a constant reminder.

When more men arrive at the mesa, the wolf’s frustration and hunger give way to hope–if only he can survive against these two-legged predators, intent on harming one of their own.

This podcast adapts the short story “Wolves Among Stones At Dusk” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters, available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 06: “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk”

 (Album art for this episode is called “Anakin #100” and is copyright Felipe Zamora, used under creative commons license 2.0)

 

LINKS

EPISODE 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play (live from the Pocahontas County Opera House)

"...to a Flame" the stage playThe Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but with glowing red eyes. There have been a few plays written about this creature. This is one of them.

Presenting the stage adaptation of Eric Fritzius’s short story “…to a Flame” as recorded during its performance during the Opera House PlayFest, at the Pocahontas County Opera House, in Marlinton, W.Va., in 2016.

The adaptation stars John C. Davis as Jeff, Dwayne Kennison as Virgil Hawks, and the author himself as Rik Winston.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play

ASSOCIATED BLOG ENTRIES

ASSOCIATED LINKS

What I should have said…

WHAT I *SHOULD* HAVE SAID TO THE TELEPHONE CENSUS WORKER WHO’S BEEN TELEPHONICALLY HOUNDING OUR HOUSEHOLD FOR THE LAST SEVERAL DAYS WHEN HE FINALLY CAUGHT ME AT HOME YESTERDAY: “I’m sorry, but I’m currently in the throes of some as-yet-undiagnosed anger management issues and am therefore incapable of conducting this call in anything approaching a non-sarcastic tone, at best, and which will in all likelihood grow into naked belligerence and assholitry as the call progresses. And let me be clear that the reason for my anger is due entirely to the realization of how the next half hour of my life is going to be spent–which is to say, talkin’ ta you. Now, I realize it is our civic and legal duty to conduct census interviews, even the inconvenient and time-consuming ones such as your American Community Survey– a census survey, I might add, which asks more pressing and detailed questions about our personal financial data than are even required by the IRS. And given that civic and legal duty, I would normally like to be of assistance, especially since you have now assured me that this is to be our penultimate interview in the seven, count `em, SEVEN, semi-consecutive monthly interviews for this survey. (To your credit, you did take eight months off after the first four.) However, my suspicion that, as in the previous six interviews, the same questions will be repeated on multiple occasions during this interview session (beyond just asking the same questions about me and additionally about my wife, meaning multiples of two) will cause me to become further enraged at having to participate, as will the fact that our answers have essentially remained unchanged throughout our aforementioned six previous monthly interviews. Add to this the fact that the very specific financial information you seek to gather from us is of the sort that can be quite difficult to determine off the top of one’s head if you’re a freelancer as I am (such as the fact that I don’t always know how many hours I spent working on a freelance job if I am not being paid by the hour for it; and even if I was working by the hour, I don’t have that information on my person at all times). I fear therefore that this interview will only further fuel my ire at having to conduct it in the first place. This being the case, it’s probably best for all of us that you call back on another day, preferably one when my wife is home. I’m not saying she won’t be as irritated by your interview as I am, but she is at least able to mask it more skillfully than I am currently able. Thanks so much. Buh bye.”

WHAT I *ACTUALLY* SAID WAS: “How long will this call take?”

And this is the point at which the census worker tipped the scales of assholity for me by blatantly lying in his reply of, “A couple of minutes.” For he then proceeded to put questions to me at the speed, though not the level of annunciation, of the Micro Machines guy for the next 25 minutes. This speedy delivery required me to keep interrupting him, every third question, to ask for him to repeat said question. And despite his own timetable of “a couple of minutes” he somehow seemed annoyed with me when I interrupted at seven minute intervals to point out that my stopwatch was proving his “couple of minutes” woefully more inaccurate as the seconds ticked by. I eventually suggested that he should get around to looking up the definition of the word “couple” before tossing it about so freely, as some of us actually know that definition (“two people or things of the same sort considered together”), and even by the standards of its loosest and most idiomatic meaning (“more than two but still very few”) fourteen minutes does not fall within that range. At my next stopdown, 21 minutes in, he suggested that if I hadn’t kept interrupting him so much then the interview really would have been over in a couple of minutes. He actually said that. And this was the point at which I was compelled to suggest further that he may not know how words or time work.

Should have gone with option #1.

EPISODE 04: “Old Country” a Live Radio Adaptation REDUX

Old Country

Episode 04 of the REDUX version of the Consternation of Monsters Podcast features a recording of a live radio adaptation of the short story “Old Country” as found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.

On a day in 1983, Martin Riscili receives the most important phone call of his life.  His late father’s mobster “associate,” Jimmy Jambalaya, has just phoned to alert Martin to his imminent death by Jimmy’s own hand.  His house is watched.  His phone line is dead.  Jimmy’s on his way.  And the only thing Martin can think of that might yet save his life is his grandmothers’ quilt.

If only he could remember where he put it.

A story of crime and punishment and contractual terms with forces beyond our understanding.

This is a live radio-style adaptation was recorded live on October 12, 2015, at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, W Va.   It stars Sarah Elkins as Melissa, Shane Miller as Martin, the author himself as Tino and The Warrior, and a special appearance by Dr. AC as Jimmy Jambalaya.

DOWNLOAD: Episode 04: “Old Country” a live radio adaptation REDUX

SHOW LINKS

Limited Editions Opened

My most recent Consternation of Monsters podcast features an excerpt from my short story “Limited Edition.”  And by excerpt, I mean about half of it.

Though it is the longest story to be found in A Consternation of Monsters, it is also probably one that was one of the quickest for me to develop because the core idea for it arrived in my head close to fully formed.  Though I hinted at this recently in my interview with J.D. Byrne, there’s a little more to tell about the story.

For a while in the early oughts, I was a part of an email writing and critique group consisting of several writer friends of mine from college.  And because it began in the year 2000, and we all loved David Fincher movies, we were obliged to call ourselves Write Club. (And subsequently make the joke “First rule about Write Club is… well, you know,” let’s say 480 times.)  For a handful of years there, we took turns issuing monthly writing challenges to one another, with solid, umovable deadlines that often became less solid as they approached.  But eventually the deadline would fall and fall solidly and we were honor bound to turn something in for the others to critique.  Early drafts of a few of the stories in Consternation were spawned by this method, including “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” and, of course, “Limited Edition.”  In fact, I give credit to the very Write Club member who dreamed up the prompt that brought “Limited Edition” into being as part of the dedication to Consternation.  “…to Joe Evans, my ideal reader, who also gave me the line about the fork.”

The “line about the fork” was a simple one.  It was Joe’s turn to issue a writing prompt to the rest of us and his was this:  we were to write a story that must include the phrase “Something told him that in all the world, there was no other fork quite like this one.”  

As a writer, I’ve had a handful of what I call Blues Brothers moments in which I–much like Jake Blues in the church at the beginning of The Blues Brothers–receive, seemingly from on high, a direct transmission of knowledge propelling me on a mission from God and/or from my subconscious.  These are magical moments in which a mosaic of images and information seem to fall into place in my head and my visualization and imagination centers go into overdrive as they struggle to process the info dump they’ve just received.  In the moment, I feel almost pinned in place by the celestial beam from above.

An instant after I read Joe’s line about the fork, one of those Blues Brothers moments happened to me.  I was pinned in place in my office chair and suddenly knew exactly what the fork in his sentence meant, the implied-yet-still-loose-enough-to-maneuver-in backstory of not only it but similar and related objects, how this fork would come into the story, who would possess it, who would want it, and a the most logical and fun setting in which such a story would occur.  I also knew which pre-existing character of mine would also be appearing in it, due to the fact that her known occupation–as seen in “The Wise Ones”–synced up nicely with the subject-matter.  I even knew why she would be there.  Those were the basic beats that fell into my head and those beats never changed throughout the writing process.  (I take such gifts from my subconscious quite seriously and try not to deviate from their structures, lest I do damage to plot points put into motion of which I may not yet be entirely aware.  I’m a firm believer that my brain is smarter than I am and that it’s often watching out for me when I’m not paying attention.)

Now, it’s one thing to say that a story fell into your head and another thing to write it.  There are all sorts of details about the story that I was not given in my Blues Brother’s Moment download, which I would have to either imagine or, as turned out to be the case, heavily research.  My setting for the story, granted to me by my noggin, was a tour stop for the American version of the Antiques Roadshow–the public television show in which antiques appraisers offer commentary and assign value to items brought in by the general public.  It was a show I liked, though not one I was in the habit of regularly watching at the time being as how I didn’t get PBS.  However, I adored the BBC America broadcasts of the original UK version, so I was familiar with the basic format.  Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of information about the show and its mechanics to be found online.  Quite a bit.   I was able to learn how it was shot, how the tour worked, who the appraisers were, who the hosts have been, who the executive producers are, how the antiques that made it onto camera were chosen, how many items actually made it to camera in a given stop, how the antiques were categorized for review, and, most amusingly, which practically worthless antiques repeatedly turn up in the mitts of folks who hope and fervently believe they are about to become fabulously wealthy.  (At the time of my research, it seemed to be the one that turns up in the opening paragraphs of the story.)  In fact, there was so much information about the show that I decided I didn’t really need all that much, beyond a few key pieces to help establish the tone of the setting, and the sort of locations the show is usually filmed within.

I also had to research my basic subject: the fork.  We take forks for granted because in the U.S. we’ve never experienced a time when they were not in our lives on a daily basis.  And it was the ubiquitous nature of the fork that suggested further plot avenues to take, given the nature of the fork in question.  (Which, I’m a little embarrassed to say, does not actually make an appearance in the podcast excerpt.  You’ll have to buy the book to learn what’s up with it.)  I had to know how and when the fork actually came into common use as an eating utensil–because it struck me as logical that human beings basically just used their hands to feed themselves for most of our existence.  Still, the fork is such a universally useful tool that it also had to be a very very old one.  And it is.  So much so that I could find no origin point for it, though the historical record gave me a date range in which they came into more common use at the dinner table–which was around the same time that the dinner table also came into popular use.  The research also yielded some fun little factoids, such as the amount of suspicion heaped upon the table fork for many years after its introduction, due to its very existence being an afront to God himself by daring to improve upon the hands he had already given us.

My main character of the story, antiques appraiser C. Phillips Hovelan, walked into it mostly formed.  He wasn’t a direct part of the Blues Brothers Moment, but his presence was suggested and his personality felt right.  He isn’t based on anyone in particular, though he does remind me of a particularly acerbic college professor I once had.  I’ve certainly never seen any appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who were such outright assholes as Phil in the story.  He just seemed like the sort of character archetype who would fit the situation, and one who would be a nice foil to the other main character, my old friend Miss Zeddie.

Until I wrote “Limited Edition,” Miss Zeddie was exclusively known as either Madam Z or Omega–names revealed in other stories found in Consternation and elsewhere.  The trouble is, my fellow Write Clubbers were all also co-creators in a collective fictional universe we developed over a period of years during college to serve as the setting for various role-playing game adventures.  A core of three of us, Joe Evans, Sujay Shaunak, and Marcus Hammack, actually ran the RPG adventures as game-masters and each of them were in charge of their own corner of the universe.  I was not a game-master, but I love to world-build and set about creating extensive databases and timelines for the characters and concepts we encountered during our games.  Eventually, Sujay and I spun things off into prose stories to help fill in some gaps in our storytelling that weren’t so easy to accomplish in the games themselves.

Madam Z had first appears as a non-player character in a couple of our games.  She was a wise and mysterious old woman who served to guide us during an adventure or two.  And she’d been created (as I detail in my recent interview) by Marcus Hammack–who I also thank in the dedication.  I was enchanted with her from the start, thinking Marcus had these grand plans for her, and imagining what her backstory might be.  Only later did I learn that he had basically come up with her on the spot, had no grand plans for her at all, nor any notion of what her backstory might be.  As disappointing as this was, it was to my gain, because after Marcus graduated and left town I kind of inherited her for use in my prose stories.

Because my fellow Write Clubbers would recognize her immediately, though, if I called her Madam Z, I decided she needed a secret identity for the story–one which would definitely hint at her true identity for them, but maybe not on first appearance.  I called her Miss Zeddie.  They could figure out it was her, of course, but maybe not at first, just as readers of Consternation might not know at first that she’s the same old woman from another story.

Z’s true backstory will be revealed at another time and in another story.  (I only gave Joe Evans a glimpse at her earliest origins this past summer when I slipped him a 100 word short story the very title of which is a spoiler.  It had been a secret I’ve held for over two decades now.  I figured I owed him.)  Knowing Z’s backstory, knowing her major goals in her apparently very long life, I knew exactly what she would do if placed into this new story, given the other factors.  In fact, I saw her having a much deeper role in the mechanics of the story itself.  And, given the personality quirks of my main character, Hovelan, I knew how poorly the two of them would get on, which suggested other side stories to the main one, most of which is what the podcast excerpt covers.

As I researched and began writing, I found I had two stories that intertwined–the story of Hovelan and Zeddie, their bitter rivalry, their seeming ultimate showdown, and then the rematch over much higher stakes than either is entirely aware of; and the story of the fork.

And while there are three other important characters who appear in the story, two of which appear in the podcast excerpt, one of whom also makes an appearance elsewhere in Consternation.  But I will leave the matter there for now.  Everything you need to know is in the story itself and to write about any of them will run into spoiler territory.  Just know that there are other stories featuring most of these characters, some of which have actually been written.

As for Write Club, that was something that just kind of stopped.  I think we may have all collectively missed a deadline and were too embarrassed to acknowledge it.  And, after all, there’s that whole first rule of Writer Club thing.  (#481)  We’ve actually talked about re-starting it over the years and occasionally one of us will tell another that it’s their turn to give a prompt.  I expect we will sooner or later.  It’s not a bad idea.  I managed to get a handful of stories I’m proud of from the process, not to mention the sage advice on ways to improve them.  With my upcoming collections in various stages of completion, perhaps it’s time to head back down into the warehouse basement with the boys and chalk up our hands for more bare-knuckle writing.  (Maybe we’ll pick a better name next time.)

Interview

Author J.D. Byrne was kind enough to invite me to conduct an email interview with me for his blog.

We cover many subjects, including audiobooks, mechanics of genre stories versus non-genre (or mundane) stories, and the as yet unchronicled subject of the origin of the story in this week’s podcast, “Limited Edition,” as hinted at in the dedication of A Consternation of Monsters.

You can find it at his website, JDByrne.net and at the link below.

https://jdbyrne.net/2017/04/25/author-interview-eric-fritzius/

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