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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)

 

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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

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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

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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/

EPISODE 03: “Limited Edition”

The Consternation of Monsters Podcast returns with a story of bitter rivalries, stolen opportunities, forgery, and the angel of death, set in the cut throat world of public television antiques appraisal–a world in which one of the most powerful objects is a fork.

This podcast is an excerpt of the audiobook adaptation of the short story “Limited Edition” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 03: “Limited Edition”

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The Prue Saga

A pup named Prue

While in the bedroom dressing one day a couple weeks ago, I happened to look out the window and spotted a dog run past, into the back yard.  This would not be abnormal, as we do have three dogs.  However, it was not one of ours.  The dog I saw was very hound-dogish, probably around 50 pounds, black, white, and brown.  It sniffed around, had a squat, and trotted off into the brush at the edge of the yard.

“Huh,” I said, figuring it was a dog from the neighborhood–one I’d not seen before.

Our actual dogs, who had been lazing on their dog pillows the whole time, suddenly came alive at my “huh,” somehow sensing the intruder or that I’d seen something of interest, and began barking the sort of vicious, ferocious barks that only come from the throats of dogs separated from their enemies by a pane or two of glass.  The other dog suitably cowed (or at least now absent from sight), they settled down again, secure in the knowledge that they’d demonstrated enough ferocity that their jobs as defenders of the realm were safe.

The next day, I saw the dog again, this time lurking in the front yard.  Our dogs didn’t notice and soon it wandered off and down the trail at the edge of our yard.  I didn’t think too much about it.  I wondered briefly if it was an escapee from the humane society, which is down the hill and across a couple of fields from us.  But I didn’t wonder this too long.

Over the next couple of days, I saw the dog a few more times.  Sometimes our dogs saw it as well.  Sometimes not.  My general policy, on the rare occasions we have such visitors, is not to feed them lest they stay and become dog #4.  Soon, though, the wife began to notice it too and she has no such policy.  It was getting cold out, she said, and it would need food to keep warm in the night.  Fine.  We put out a bowl and it was empty within an hour or two.

Last Sunday, the wife called me over to look at something on her phone.  It was a picture of the dog we’d been seeing, as posted on one of the local Facebook yard sale sites.  The author of the post was a lady named Amy who works for the nearby humane society.  We contacted her and it turns out the dog was indeed, as I’d wondered, an escapee from the HS.  This dog, whose name is Prue, was a young female pup that had been adopted by a family elsewhere and had been scheduled for delivery before her untimely escape from one of the volunteers who help walk the dogs.  They’d apparently chased her all around the woods near our house until they’d reached the trail behind our house, which led them to our house where they found themselves staring down the barrel of our dogs.  Our dogs have shock collars and stay in the yard, but the pursuers of Prue did not know that, so they said, “Today, my jurisdiction ends here,” and went back to the barn.  (I learned this from them a couple days later.)  Amy said that Prue was part of a litter of puppies of the treeing walker breed of coon hounds.  The other pups had acclimated to humans.  Prue ran from them on sight.  She apparently did pretty well with other dogs, but was super timid when it came to people.

We let Amy know that Prue was a regular around our house.  The following day, she had a great big live trap delivered and set up just off of the trail.  They put some breakfast biscuits and canned food in it and we hoped for the best.

In late afternoon, we saw Prue creeping through the brush behind the house.  I decided I was going to try and make friends with her, and went down to sit on the back steps of the house, armed with an open can of stinky wet food and a spoon.  She saw me and fled like the devil was chasing her.  What I later learned was that the wife could see Prue’s escape from inside the house.  The dog ran around to the front yard and made for the trail.  But she paused, near the fence behind which was the live trap, and sniffed at the air before trying to find a way through the fence to get at what she was smelling.  Then, naturally, our dogs got wind that something was up and began barking their fool heads off, startling Prue and sending her skittering into the trees, not to be seen again.

It got cold that night.  We hated the thought of the poor dog outside, let alone possibly stuck in the live trap where the winds could just whip through her.  We checked the trap at bedtime and then the wife set an alarm for 2 am to go check again.  The only thing in the trap at that hour, though, was a cat.  It wasn’t one of our cats, but it was apparently just as pissy as the wife let it out.  She then had difficulty setting the trap again in only the light from her phone, so she propped the door open with a stick and hoped the dog would somehow trip it going in.  It did not.

The next morning, I reset the trap and put some new canned food within it to replace what the cat had eaten.  In the afternoon, Amy texted to suggest we move the trap closer to the house.  I was all for this, and suggested the boardwalk on the far side of the garage, out of eyesight of the dogs, but not from the laundry room window.  We could check the trap without leaving the house.

There was a minor blizzard Tuesday night.  We had a few inches of snow and lots of wind.  Temps were in the teens.  There was no sign of Prue.  The wife made a concoction of ham and microwaved wet dog food and put it on top of the cage, hoping the smell would bring Prue in.  We saw no sign of her, though, and soon the bowl was frozen solid.

“She’s found herself a place to hole up,” I suggested.  There are, after all, any number of places to do that in this neighborhood–the crawlspace beneath one of our outbuildings the most logical to us.  We still hated the thought of the dog shivering outside in the weather.

I was relieved the next morning to spot Prue in the yard–nowhere near the trap.  And she stayed away from it, even after I’d rewarmed the dogfood/ham concoction and even climbed inside the cage to put it at the back, behind the trip mechanism.  It occurred to me while I was in there that if I tripped it I’d be trapped in the cage, in the cold and might not be able to get turned around to let myself out.  This did not happen.

Days passed and different treats were left in the cage to entice the stubbornly absent, though still living dog.  We’d see her around, but if she saw one of us she was gone in a flash.  The only dog to be caught in the cage was our dog, Sadie, who couldn’t resist going in for a weenie.

“Well, at least we know the trap works,” I texted to Amy the next day.

On Thursday, at Amy’s suggestion, I moved the cage down to the far back corner of our yard.  Clearly, we reasoned, it wasn’t doing any good near the house, and we couldn’t let our dogs free in the yard without watching them every minute to keep them from getting trapped and eating all the bait.  We had to put it somewhere outside of their collar range.  (Or at least the collar range of Maya and Moose, as Sadie doesn’t usually wear her collar, since she knows her boundaries and stays within them.  Usually.)  I thought that maybe if I put the trap just out of the yard, in the brush I’d seen Prue lurking in a few times, she might care to investigate it.

Prue did not care to.  A possum, however, did.  He did not think the trap was awesome, and hissed at us, refusing to stop climbing the bars and escape when the door was left open for him.  He also ate all the wieners.

On Saturday, Amy came by herself, armed with a bag of WalMart chicken tenders.  She said she thought that this was the day we’d finally catch Prue.  And, late in the afternoon, it seemed we were about to.

A Prue sighting from within the house

I’d let our dogs out to potty in the front yard and had strolled around to see if Prue might be in the trap.  She was not, but Maya picked up the scent of the chicken and went over to sniff the air at the border of her collar.  Then, her face darted to the side and she bolted around the back of the house.  The other two dogs were still around front, so I knew she must have seen Prue.  I dashed back around front and herded Sadiemoose into the house.  Sure enough, I could see Prue in the back yard through the windows.  And Maya was there too.  And they appeared to be… playing.  Prue was still skittish, but she actually seemed to be having fun.  She would creep up to Maya (who, being a St. Bernard, was twice her size) and lean close to sniff at her.  Then Maya would lunge playfully and Prue would bolt a few feet away before starting it all again.  I ran to get the wife and we came and watched them–trying to find new vantage points along the back side of the house as the dogs romped and played closer and closer to the location of the trap.

Then we saw Prue stop and sniff the air, then move away, following the scent, moving down to the trap itself, leaving Maya to jump around at the edge of her boundary.  Prue sniffed at the chicken through the back side of the cage.  Then moved along its length and closer to the open door.  Then, just when we thought she was going to step inside…  she bolted away and back toward the front yard and was gone again.

“Noooooo!” I screamed as quietly as I could.

We moved all around the inside of the house, trying to get a view on where Prue had fled, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist going back.  We had to lock Sadie and Moose in the bedroom and close the curtains on them, because they woudln’t shut up.

Soon enough, Prue did return to the hill above the trap and then was back at the trap itself, and to its door.  As we watched, we saw her step into the trap itself and take another couple of tentative creeps forward.  And then she bolted and was gone again, this time running fully across the front yard and disappearing down the trail on the complete opposite side of the house from the cage.

The wife began smiling.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing.”

“No.  What?”

“Well, you know… if she likes Maya so much, and is already hanging around the house… maybe it’s a sign that she’s really our 4th dog?”

“Uh uhhh!” I said.  “This dog is strictly visiting.  And as soon as she’s caught she’s getting shipped out to her new home, very far away.”

I wrote Amy a text, telling her that we almost had Prue, but that the dog was too smart for us.  We did note that she at least had fun playing with Maya.  Amy said it sounded cute and that she was still optimistic.

Prue goes home

Eight minutes later, Amy texted me a picture of Prue with the note: “Look who came home!!!!”  I don’t know if it was playing with Maya or what, but Prue apparently decided that being on her own was for the birds and it was time to go back to her pack.  She had turned up outside of the humane society and followed one of the dogs there right into the building.

I told Maya what a good dog she was.  Maybe she had nothing to do with Prue’s return to home base, but I like to think that playing with Maya made Prue miss her buddies back at the Humane Society and that she decided being out on her own was for the birds.  The fact that she ran immediately back would seem to maybe support this.

We never went down to spring the trap.  It was still baited, so we half expected to find another possum in there.  I joked that if we caught a skunk then I was leaving that to the humane society to release.

Instead, we caught Sadie again.

Yep, the siren call of day old chicken tenders was too much for her, and she was found trapped in the cage Sunday morning, after we let her out to potty.  We left her in there for 20 minutes or so, since the weather was nice.  She lay down and chilled out, but was super happy when her “pa” came to rescue her.

 

Release the Saidaukar!

 

 

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