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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Stories Told in 2014

Sometimes (OK, most of the time) sending out query letters for short stories seems like shooting arrows into the dark–where will they land? will anyone even see them? Every now and then though, I get lucky and a shout comes back from the dark: “Hey, waddaya think yer doin’??? Ouch!” But if I get really lucky, the voice says, “Nice shot. Fire another!”

This year I had four of my short stories–four of the arrows fired into the night–accepted and published. (A few more stories are pending in various states from “accepted” to “under consideration,” but I don’t want to count my chickens early.) In my weaker moments I think I might be starting to figure this writing thing out, but in my stronger moments I remind myself (1) not to get cocky and (2) to get back to work.

If you’re looking for some entertainment, here are links to the stories published in 2014. All but the first are crime fiction leaning (shoving?) in the direction of noir:

  • The Mizpah Heart. I won 2nd place in the Provenance Prize contest held by Old As Adam with this super-short story. The challenge was to create the fictitious history, a “provenance,” of a 1920s-era German medical model of a human heart. (My fellow Portsmouth Writers Salon member Tammi Truax won first place, also available on the link.)
  • The Kashgar Rat. The first of two short stories I had published in SHOTGUN HONEY, the masters of flash fiction noir. “The Kashgar Rat” follows the immigration proceedings of a serious badass on the run from the PRC. Folks tended to like the sentence, “I sucked my jeans dry after pissing myself, but I’m still thirsty…”
  • Between the Rocks and the Hard Stuff. This is the second noirish tale SHOTGUN HONEY published for me. It’s about Moira, a woman determined to live free at any cost. If you like caving, you might dig this one.
  • Williston. Cindy Rosmus at YELLOW MAMA picked up this guns & trailers tale about the modern-day, busting-at-the-seams boom towns of North Dakota, where fracking technology has attracted more job seekers than there’s housing for and more criminals than the local law enforcement is sized to deal with. BIG thanks to Lee Kuruganti and Noelle Richardson for the jarring illustrations that help set the mood on this (check ’em out!), probably the darkest thing I’ve written to date.

That’s it for now. I’ll post more as promises of publication become reality.

Best.

-Zakariah

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