As the summer declines through August’s swampy downswing, things have gotten hectic. I won’t bother listing the minutia, as most of this furious whirlwind of activity is of no general interest, but amid these past weeks of rampant change, two happenings of note have passed.
Firstly, my story “Blue of the World”—which last May took first-place in Glimmer Train’s “Family Matters” contest—has at long last been published in the new autumn issue of that very same journal. This beautiful edition (their 94th issue) also features work by the masterful Stephen Dixon, as well as a picture of me at five-days old. So there are multiple incentives to checking out this issue, which can be ordered here.
Secondly, the Chart—Maine’s newest online journal for art and art criticism—featured in its inaugural issue a brief rundown of The Royal Open, “a contemporary mash-up of salons, drifts, and Sunday promenades” that I co-curated with the performance artist Genevieve Johnson. To learn a little more about The Royal Open and see documentation, please read this article by Chart co-founder Jenna Crowder.
I’ll keep this one brief. It’s been a fun season of video-making. This final piece, a narrative video for my story “Pillars” (originally published in Slice then later reprinted by Matter Press), is a subtle exercise in patience. It feels like a fitting end to a process. Thank you for watching, and of course, if you’re moved to, please share.
It’s been a fun season of putting together these short narrative videos, revisiting old stories and allowing myself the opportunity to see and experience them again in new light. This week’s video iteration of the story “How To“—which originally appeared in Issue 3 of Nat. Brut—will very likely be the penultimate installment in this series. The text is a compliment to the story “Florida,” which originally appeared in the Southern Indiana Review, a story for which, at the journal’s request, I also created a video. With any luck, the visual narratives will compliment one another in ways similar to the original texts.
As always, please watch, try to enjoy, and maybe share with your friends. Or your enemies. Or your brother, if only to explain to him why he can’t get inside his car anymore.
I’ve been holding onto this one for a while. Waiting for the moment when something ridiculous was necessary. Hot on the heels of the Brand New Moon trailer, I can’t think of a better time.
“Interrobang” originally appeared in the Australian journal Bide this past March. While print copies of the issue have sold out, the digital edition is still infinitely available. All of the authors are great, and each story is like a slap in the face, quick and bracing.
Sometimes, in preface, it’s better to say less than more. Brand New Moon is a slim collection of stories about teenaged boys and boredom and basketball. It is also a book about sexual predation. There are moments of absolutely ridiculous comedy, and there are moments that reveal the depths of power some adults will seek over children. This video book trailer touches on some of these themes.
And if it doesn’t make your skin crawl, well, you might want to ask yourself why.
While “like” or “enjoy” might not be the most apropos of terms: if you enjoy the video, feel free to share with your friends and colleagues (though maybe not at work?), and if you really like it, consider buying a copy of Brand New Moon directly from the faithful arbiters at Pilot Editions. Thanks!
It’s possible that I’m aiming to establish a pattern, following a playful video with something surreal before returning again to the deeply unnerving. It’s also possible that a story written in a foreign country, its language perpetually beyond my grasp of comprehension, can only be honestly presented in the guise of a hyperreal dream. Either way, “Firecracker”—the fifth installment in this summer’s series of narrative videos and originally published by Matter Press—is, in this iteration, nothing if not a half-remembered dream from a mid-summer catnap, ghosting along the wooded edge of your memory as you sink deeper into the embrace of your couch, the sound of someone moving softly in the kitchen, sunlight through the window trickling like rain over your most tender near-waking eyes.
If you were to read the stories I was writing 12 years ago, they would invariably have been essays about the place where I grew up, the austere landscape that shaped me and the virtual strangers with whom I lived. It was through these early essays that I learned some of the most important lessons in storytelling, not the least of which being (as posited by Jen Andrews, my writing instructor at the Salt Institute) that even the most unlikeable characters must be treated with compassion and grace. There was also, of course, an obvious element of therapy to writing about home. And since people—readers and editors both—seemed to like the stories, I was able to earn my first real dose of confidence as a writer.
Circumstance, however, always demands change. For a host of reasons, some of them logistical and some of them desperately necessary, I made the intentional choice in 2007 to set my pursuits as an essayist aside and focus instead on writing fiction. Right or wrong, it’s a decision I’ve stuck by since. Almost a decade later, I find I can barely write non-fiction at all (and if you don’t believe me, read this little bit of “advice” I put together for Glimmer Train last year). What once came as second-nature is now nearly impossible.
Which makes this week’s exercise in multimedia storytelling such an anomaly. Originally published in Portland Monthly, “Skidder & Draw” is not only a recent essay about home, it is a story about my stepfather, a man I’ve never been inclined to speak much about, kindly or otherwise. This story, in fact, is in essence the highlight of our relationship. You can infer from that what you please.
As always, thank you for watching/reading/listening, and of course, feel free to share this with anyone you suspect might enjoy.
Praise for TO SLEEP AS ANIMALS
"[...] it is impossible not to be the weird kid in Milliken's Reno. To Sleep as Animals is a mystery about characters succumbing to their spaces, how such a rugged landscape sustains so many strange and dangerous lives."
"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 BRAND NEW MOON
"[T]hese stories...glow with some sort of holy light, as if every moment were magic, like footage of your family picnic on super 8."
~The Portland Phoenix
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.