Writer. Idiot. Et cetera.
First the band tromping behind a ticker-taped pickup. Then children, stoic in their painted faces. Then men and women with saintly icons held tight and lovingly in their arms. All marching in a haphazard body. Now and then, wandering among them, an old man lights off a firecracker.
My personal essay, “Windows Open in the Southern Cross Hotel,” on the late songwriter Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., The Amalgamated Sons of Rest) is now available in Volume IX of Radio Silence, a San Fransisco-based journal dedicated to the crossroads of literature and rock & roll.
The story begins:
All indications were of a sinner testifying—not necessarily repenting but certainly under oath—before some silent power above. One that could save or damn him with the same disinterested stroke. Beyond the spotlight’s edge, the theater disappeared. There was no opening act and the room was mostly empty as Jason Molina played alone in a bright wash of white light.
The accompanying art is by Dan MacAdam, who not only designed many tour posters for Molina but in fact played on his seminal Magnolia Electric Co. record. Honor compounded upon honor.
Joel sidled up to the bar and flashed his horrible teeth at the biker chick working the taps. I can remember when she used to be cute. I bet if you cut her leathery skin open now, all that’d pour out is cigarette butts and crumpled IOUs dusted in colorless ash. Joel ordered us each a shot and a beer, and somehow I knew right then that I was going to get stuck with the bill. Sometimes life doesn’t care what you want. In fact, it never does. The shots came and we touched glasses, and just as the cheap well vodka touched my lips, Joel toasted to the good old days, and all at once I felt like throwing up.
Written last summer at the Hewnoaks Artists Colony and told in the now-adult voice of Coleman (the teenage narrator of Brand New Moon), “Poptimistic” can now be read in its entirety, for free, through New Haven’s own Stoneslide Corrective, whose editors describe it as “a story of sin and suffering in a life in which redemption may or may not be possible.”
“Poptimistic” is part of an ongoing series of stories, mostly written as missives to an unnamed ex-wife, charting Coleman’s life from the rural scrape of his destitute upbringing to an adulthood punctuated by drug-use, transience, pan-continental hitchhiking, and an eventual attempt to make himself clean.
Ritualized basketball mishaps, complicated sex-acts, and improvised means of getting high define the lives of the young men in Douglas W. Milliken’s Brand New Moon. Set in the remote farmlands of northern Maine and told through the boisterously comic voice of Coleman, these three stories—much in the spirit of Jerry Moriarty’s Jack Survives—document the hooligans’ headlong drift through tragedy without a self-preserving flinch or wince, gleefully oblivious and giddy in the face of personal loss, maybe only fleetingly suspecting how deep their abounding trouble might run.
Available September, 2014 from Pilot Editions / PS Hudson.
And from now until October 31st, every online purchase of To Sleep as Animals comes with a free copy of Brand New Moon.
Born from a challenge to write a story about an unlikely team holding up a liquor store, “James Taylor vs. the King” was written as part of a fellowship with the Hewnoaks Artists Colony in Lovell, Maine. Set in the anonymous strip-mall-scape of urban Connecticut, the story features (in varying degrees of prominence) a can of sardines, a bowling ball in a bowling bag, and the sweaty thrust of Elvis Presley.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
Her smallness and her beauty were always weapons used against her. Most men simply thought she was theirs. Finders keepers. Defending herself so often against people’s wrong thoughts eventually built a callus around her. She had to remain hard to remain her own. This, too, she attributed to Ohio. Acting out against something outside herself that wanted her to be something else. On the night she met Jonas, when she smashed in the creep’s face with a beer glass, she was not thinking: Fuck this guy. She was thinking: Fuck Ohio. No matter where she went, Ohio always followed her there. Then she met Jonas, and Ohio was gone. She couldn’t explain how or why. But she knew that it was true. Jonas was her first new land.
Written during a four-week residency at the I-Park Foundation in East Haddam, Connecticut, “Arena” charts the first moments of meeting between two men in an island prison, neither quite knowing his past connection to the other.
Here is a short excerpt from the story:
High above the concrete box of the prison, seagulls turn lazily in the sky, wings outstretched and gliding. Only their gun-turret heads are at work, looking here and then looking here, seeking any scrap to eat for which they will not have to work. The light of the sun paints the whole sky white and in some places, the water shines pure and white as well. As if ocean and sky have become the same thing. An island afloat in flawless white. These are things the boy saw before being led into prison. They’re things the old man has forgotten.
Praise for TO SLEEP AS ANIMALS
"A disturbance of a very specific flavor...Milliken's writing is urgent yet finely considered--a literate pleasure."
~Carl Skoggard, author of Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood circa 1900.
"A distinctive and often vertiginously frightening psychological landscape... bracingly disturbing."
~Megan Grumbling, author of Persephone in the Late Anthropocene.
Praise for WHITE HORSES
“Douglas W. Milliken takes his time unveiling the savoring of the moment in a narrative of extremely gracious intimacy. The dignified personal. Expert surreal grounded prose. Pragmatic poetics that serve the whole. This man is a master of simile. And it never gets old because the associations are always complex and unexpected. Worked accuracy but seamlessly so. Wow throughout the heartbreaking sensuality. Its core a felled forest of need. The title story, ‘White Horses,’ cannot be improved, which is another way of saying it is perfect.”
~Melody Sumner Carnahan, co-founder of Burning Books.