Looking forward with Renewed Authority

24 Sept 2017 should be remembered as a special day. The day a struggling country regained the moral authority to claim its true identity.

I forget which writer said [paraphrasing] that “An American man is too often a failed boy.”  That has never been truer than since we collectively chose (apparently with hostile foreign assistance) as our “leader,” a man who is a child’s version of an adult, the sort of man-child Robert Louis Stevenson was apparently thinking of when he wrote “Looking Forward”:

When I am grown to man’s estate

I shall be very proud and great,

And tell the other girls and boys

Not to meddle with my toys.

The boy’s concept of a man is toxic–the simple ability to boss others around, without understanding the imperative to control oneself, let alone share. But that is our smoke and mirrors leader, our C-list television star playing a role as he has aped through a series of roles his whole life: the child’s idea of an adult, the weak-willed man’s idea of resolution, the follower’s idea of a leader, the poor man’s idea of a rich guy (golden toilets, seriously?), the artless man’s concept of taste, the dumb person’s impersonation of a smart one, the friendless man’s idea of a buddy…the list goes on.

One consequence of following a hollow man has been the hollowing out of the nation he leads, the perversion and parody of our principles, and the abandonment of aspirations to do good and be better–defining ideals even when we could not pretend they were our strongest characteristics.

But 24 September 2017 was a turning point, the point when a group of men playing a child’s game showed the child playing president what leadership looks like. After the president’s unhinged speech in Alabama denigrating athletes (African-Americans in particular) who use their spot in the public eye to raise awareness of civil rights issues, countless NFL players, coaches, and even owners came out in support of the First Amendment rights of their teammates. #TakeTheKnee or #TakeAKnee became the trending topic, a fitting symbol that shows not just a way of peacefully demonstrating but a way of expressing our shared humility, “It’s not about me; it’s about US.”

The president who once failed to undermine the NFL with his own counter-league, has instead seen his fraying moral authority completely shredded by the silent act of men kneeling, linking arms, or standing side-by-side with those who do, in defense of principles the self-absorbed ranter-in-chief–the child playing with toy versions of adult possessions and concepts–is incapable of understanding.

Sensing his defeat, the president this morning tried to pivot to bring in support from another source, NASCAR, but was quickly shot down as one of its top drivers issued a quick rebuke on Twitter letting the president know he was on his own.

A bully or a dictator or an abusive spouse or domineering boss wins by isolating their victim, little by little, first with promises then with threats then with disdainful reminders of how compromised they have already become…”Who would want you now that I’ve had my way with you?” America has been the one in that role since November, mocked abroad and self-loathing at home; but on Sunday we saw the total, universal humiliation of fat man in the wife-beater tee, and he saw it, too, and so did his remaining supporters.

Welcome home, America. You’re beautiful, and you deserve a leader who knows it.

That leader is you.

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Derek Walcott Has Died, His Voice Never Will

St. Lucian poet and citizen of the world Derek Walcott has passed. If you have never experienced the joy and magnitude of the Caribbean-born poet, one word that describes him is audacious; how else to describe someone who dared what others could not even imagine? His 1990 novel-in-verse, Omeros, seamlessly combines the countless cultures, tongues, myths, and peoples of his native island and of the lands of all the forbearers into the proverbial whole that exceeds the sum of its parts, and seems to pick up not so much where Homer left off, but in harmony with The First Poet. Yes, Walcott really was that good.

Reading him, he was someone I had always hoped to meet in the flesh, if only to thank him for so many wonderful hours wandering the towers of his castles of pure language. His poetry is so deeply personal that anyone reading it would miss its writer like an old friend, but, of course, never feel without him.

-Z.

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New tale of NH living: Cumbre Vieja

Had a flash fiction piece called Cumbre Vieja published on Shotgun Honey this morning. At 700 words, it’s a quick read with no filler. Think New England noir meets disaster flic.

The title, “Cumbre Vieja,” is after a real place, an island in the Canaries that gives some geologists the tremors…

Enjoy!

-Z.

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Drawer Novels

Just got back from a weekend writers’ conference–the New England Crime Bake. This is an intentionally small conference held with the purpose of community building, not to mention making the established authors who attend accessible to us would-be authors. It was a fanboy’s dream walking the halls for two days among the extremely generous people whose faces peer out from my bookshelf, let alone getting to speak with them. I am hooked on NECB. Reciting my great-great-grandfather’s bawdy railroad-worker poems to a laughing William Kent Krueger was not at all what I’d expected to occur, but definitely made it time well spent! See you all next year.

One thing evident from the weekend is that very few authors break into print with their first novel. Or their second. Or more. Let alone innumerable rewrites. As one panelist put it, “After twenty years in the trenches, I was an overnight success!” Indeed. So, many authors have what are called “drawer novels,” efforts they worked on for years before reaching the end of their conversation with those characters and events, which were finally abandoned like valued friendships or love affairs you just couldn’t make work.

Is there no hope for a reunion with these old friends and lovers? Perhaps there is.

A writer I talked with over the weekend (I didn’t ask permission to name her, so I won’t without asking) suggested a “drawer novel swap”: two writers exchanging their drawer novels with each other. The hope would be that a fresh set of eyes would spot the structural or character defects and deficiencies that are invisible to the creator. The two writers could “fix” each others drawer novels, and, if the fix really works, share joint authorship on both efforts. This is essentially like getting a developmental editor or script doctor, but one who would actually do the work, not just give you a summary on how to do it. In exchange, you’d do it for them. I found it an intriguing idea, and perhaps a way for John Pacheco, Kurt Rhymes, Gayle Motley, and a few other “old friends” with whom I’ve lost touch to someday engage the wider world.

 

 

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Smoky Quartz story

Having decided that social media, the sound-bite type anyway, really isn’t for me, I’m going to invest the efforts previously poured down the sinkhole of time into renewing this blog (though not enough to drive followers away…hopefully…no promises…)

I was fortunate in making connections with several editors and magazines last year, including publication of additional stories: “Evie’s Song,” in Yellow Mama (scroll down below my “Williston” North Dakota story), that exposes the truth behind an urban legend about gang-bangers, and a Sherlock Holmes/Annie Oakley “team-up” called “The Adventure of the Copper Breechloads” in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #18. As a special bonus on that one, I got to be in the same issue as The Great Kim Newman, who writes the funniest Holmes pastiches I’ve seen (told from the perspective of Colonel Moran.)

But one story that was particularly fun to write & to help me establish myself (at least in my own head) as a New England writer was “The Caretaker,” published in Smoky Quartz ezine from the Monadnock Writers’ Group (MWG). It’s a short, bloodless mystery that’s mainly a character study in which New Hampshire plays the central role. It’s little-known, but Robert Frost was actually born in California, so there may be some quiet hope for us other newcomers to eventually understand this place.

Best.

-Z.

 

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Zak Johnson THE TROPHY HUNTER

Every beast has its predator…

DM du Jour

Chris Scarborough

The Trophy Hunter

Zakariah Johnson

On the steep hillsides of the upland country, mountain aspen and ash trees fluttered yellow and red among the dark, evergreen larch and pine, reflecting like signal flares in the tannin-blackened mountain creek. The hunter, a solid-colored figure totally cast in reflective orange garb like a cheap plastic toy, slid silently down the slope over the slick mat of pine needles, gun in hand. The creek flowed hidden through the narrow gorge. Larry was a long time reaching bottom, breathing hard. He took off the orange cap and wiped his brow. Brown hair, brown eyes. He crouched back on his heels, the warm rifle barrel upright before him in his hands.

“Well, well, well…what have we here?” The soft ground in the draw was filled with the prints of deer and elk that walked silently, a step at a time, a stop between…

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Zakariah Johnson THROUGH THE WORMHOLE

The web lives forever! Found an old story of mine still wriggling on Danse Macabre.

DM du Jour

The Conqueror Worm-Noel

THROUGH THE WORMHOLE

Zakariah Johnson

We were pioneers. I suppose we are still, though not so alone as before. Our earth is connected now, and on their long way through the empty quarters visitors pass here regularly, sojourning, taking lovers among us, feeding, some staying until their touch and scent is expected, even anticipated, as any other member of the colony.
There are other kinds of touches to recall. Burning, for one, burning like the day of new beginning. On that day I had been vaguely aware, as we ever are, of following my simple path, the one of clearest reward and least resistance through the same corridors as before and before that. When at once the universe parted, burning, rending me from all I had known or had thought ever to know. I remember the pain, and a terrible tearing, as a part of myself, the part remaining, was…

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