A young boy internalizes the burden of responsibility for his best friend’s unstoppable death. A sister molds herself into a living memorial to her brother, becoming both mystic and pragmatist, ascetic and sensualist. A mother, through rituals both musical and spiritual, counterpoints herself between feeling too at home in her grief and wishing her son’s ghost will finally leave her alone. And at the center: Joshua Sams, alive and then dead in the fall of 1982, linchpinning together the lives of those who loved him most as they struggle through the visceral permutations of regret, denial, and resignation, the desperate reach toward spiritual rebirth and the failure to be reborn.
I had to learn a lot about Jewish holidays in order to write the third chapter, “Awake, O You Sleepers.”
While the theme of sleep is clearly further explored, I’m pretty sure there are no horses in this book (though I might very well be wrong).
The title comes from the misreading a book found in shop in Saluzzo, Italy (also in the company of Patrick Kiley, mere days after beginning the first draft).
Despite being purely a work of fiction, this might be the most personal work I have yet to release.
foolhardiness of attempting to compete with winter holidays, a major public
launch party will be postponed until sometime in early 2020. In the meantime,
if you have an itch to hear me read from this in your community—be it at your
library, alternative-arts center, or cozy little living room—please feel free
to reach out with an invitation. I would, in fact, be delighted to hear from
thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for being the bobbing
piece of fuselage keeping me afloat dead-center of a storm-swept sea.
In May of 2018, I began sketching out the rough concept for a new Old Fat God album. This would be the first true full-length OFG record since 2008’s nihilistic death-trip The Minotaur, utilizing the existing pallet of extended tones and collaged samples to make a soundscape harkening to an imagined peyote nightmare in the most atomic Nevada wastes (in retrospect, I think I just wanted to combine Califone’s Deceleration 1 and Jonathan Bepler’s soundtrack to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 2). It didn’t take long, though, for my efforts to veer dizzyingly off-course. All the new compositions were much too structural, too formal, too much like actual songs. Obviously, all my years of geeking over John Zorn and JG Thirlwell had impacted how riffs came together in my head and in my hands. Also: I am no good at playing slide acoustic, so that basically killed any western vibe.
So what was I to do with these skeletons of songs that didn’t fit my concept and, in all honesty, were beyond my abilities to perform?
Well, while recording Scott Sell’s debut album In the Mines that previous January, I was introduced to some “friends” of his from the New Haven area, a group of skeazy, malnourished rejects who work the New England crust-punk jazz scene as The b.l.a.c.k. Lodge Brass Band. Each one of these scumbags played at least three different types of instrument, from oboe to cello to penny whistle to trombone. Each one made my cat very skittish. Each one smelled kinda like meat. In the day or two they session’d with us, I don’t think they altogether said more than five words. But their arrangements for Scott’s songs were instantaneous and spot-on (and, perhaps best of all from my point-of-view as producer, they knew how to mic their instruments, nearly none of which I’d ever tried to record before). Even if they were a bunch of creeps, I was in love.
By September, having recognized the failure of my immediate goal while simultaneously fostering a musicological crush on some horn-blowing fugs, I reached out to the band’s defacto leader, Dead Charlie, and soon after began emailing him scans of my “scores.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting in response. But a series of beautifully recorded renditions of the songs was certainly not it.
After hearing the first set of five or six tracks, I began communicating more earnestly with Dead Charlie (because of a unique throat injury sustained during his death metal days in the mid-90s, one doesn’t really “talk” to Dead Charlie) about the arrangements while also composing new material. Over the course of the following winter and spring, we put together a complete set of fifteen new songs. I was not present for a single recording session. Aside from a few additional electronic flourishes and constant feckless nitpickery with the mixes, I had nothing to do with creating the sounds on this album.
In certain abstract ways, these songs continue (and possibly complete) the haphazard narrative connecting each Old Fat God record to the others. The doomed lovers. The faithless Father. The merciless self-flagellation. The honeyed light over the Park of Shoals. The unnamed heroine undestroyed by death. I have no idea if there’s anything more to add to this abstract story I’ve been kinda sorta not really telling for nearly twenty years. But if this is the end, I feel pretty okay with where this story at last has come.
releases September 7, 2019
Composed by Douglas W. Milliken. Arranged by Douglas W. Milliken and Dead Charlie. Performed by The b.l.a.c.k. Lodge Brass Band and Old Fat God.
What follows is a list of recent happenings, presented in no specific order.
Over this past winter, I had the opportunity to speak at length with the author Meghan Lamb (Silk Flowers, All Your Most Private Places) about the various processes involved in the composition of my collect Blue of the World. It was probably one of the most stimulating conversations I’ve ever had regarding the art and craft of writing, and it makes me proud to no end that that conversation is now available on Slice Literary‘s online column “A Word About Writing.”
Also available as a free read: my story “Wapiti Nocturne,” about the (pseudo?) mystical phenomena of grief, thanks to the ever-gracious editorial eyes at the Lascaux Review.
Not free but nevertheless worth tracking down: Word Portland has published their second anthology, Ungatherable Things, including work by Martin Steingesser, Suzanne Langlois, and Stowell P. Watters (among esteemed others), and includes my story “Hyacinth & Waxwing,” about quantum physics and the luxury of crapping in private. Below is an image of me—sleep deprived, delirious on cold medication—assailing the audience during the launch party at Portland’s LFK.
While it has been a few years since I last was able to take a purely-creative outing, I spent this first week of August in residence at the Hewnoaks Artists Colony (where I have, over the course of four residencies in six years, written some of my favorite stories, including the title piece to my most recent collection), during which time I—among other things—swam at least once but often twice each day in a fantastically warm lake, edited the latest 20 pages of my latest novel project, attended an impromptu bat party (in my cabin’s bedroom, no less) just before dawn, composed four new stories as well as thirteen pages of script for a collaborative theater project with Bare Portland, and surprised myself by actively engaging with the other (amazing, fascinating) artists in residence. With any luck, some of the above work will manifest itself in some interesting, public way.
And finally: at the end of May, Scott Sell, Genevieve Johnson, Mariah Bergeron, Jason Lesaldo, and I staged a multi-disciplinary performance event for Blue of the World at SPACE in Portland, Maine. Afterward, I was able to pair the audio of our performance with an expanded edit of the video footage being projected multiply and continuously throughout the night. That video is now free to stream below.
And here’s a little enigmatic photographic evidence of the event:
As always, thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for reminding me of the difference between a correspondent and corespondent.
Today is chilly but I’m wearing shorts and keeping my windows open because I have faith in the progression of time. Everything smells like lilacs and convolaria. My cat’s right ear mysteriously has a bald spot. In two days, Blue of the World will be publicly celebrated. Apollo Brown’s version of 12 Reason to Die might be better than Adrian Younge’s. These are the last days of May.
While I tick down the minutes until the event unfolds, I’m reminded that there’s a world outside that of my book, a world in which I take part and which takes part in me. For example: my short story “A Means of Forgetting” recently took second place in Glimmer Train‘s final Fiction Open. For example: Glimmer Train also, simultaneous to the announcement of the Fiction Open winners, published my essay “This Twisted Labyrinth of Self” in their monthly bulletin, wherein I express my gratitude and contrition to a dead hero. For example: the Lascaux Review published the title story to Blue of the World in their newest anthology, The Lascaux Prize Vol. 5. For example: I will be giving a reading at the Springvale Public Library on July 19th (1 pm) then later taking part in the 15th annual Books in Boothbay festival on July 27th with hopefully more events happening between now and then. Plus all the other aspects of writing that have nothing to do with the public: reading the same sentence for the 10,000th time and still finding room for improvement, driving down Route 9 while meditating absently about a story that has remained unwritten for three years and suddenly realizing a way inside the narrative, digging holes and planting artemisia shoots and cuttings of buddleia and dense rootballs of fothergilla and magnolia because sometimes writing means losing yourself in the dirt, cooking chicken marinated in vinegar and soy over an open fire so my partner can have some dinner, vacuuming the floor, touching foreheads with the dog.
Anyway. For those in southern Maine, I will be overjoyed to see you at the event this Thursday at SPACE (7 pm, doors at 6:30). For those beyond the sphere of realistic travel, consider ordering the book through Indiebound (which is a way to also support your local bookstore), Amazon (where you can leave kind words that apparently effect the likelihood of future sales), or Barnes & Noble (which is Barnes & Noble).
There are coastal mountains plunging headlong into the sea. There are towering trees and hills teeming with life. Birds in the sky and fish in the rivers. Everywhere all at once. Yet there’s also this: an dead expanse of nothing at the center of the world. Every inch identical to the inch before and after… Where is there any evidence to prove that God did not simply give up?
In Pushcart Prize-winner Douglas W. Milliken’s latest collection of eerie and unsettling short stories from Tailwinds Press, ordinary people alternately seek and flee grace as they run against the unfathomable mysteries of sexuality and loss: a dementia-ridden mother expounds on quantum physics to someone she is unconvinced is her son, a young man repeatedly tries and fails to end his own life, and the owner of a horse farm communes with the ghost of the woman he loves “because memory is a debt with its own black interest, proving all distances are finite yet impossible to span.” Yet Blue of the World is also a devastating portrait of humanity’s complex relationship with a brutally beautiful landscape—a world where apple trees grow in salted sand, people seek oblivion “by smashing a hole through a river’s ice and climbing under the crystalline sheet,” and arboreal death by chainsaw seemingly lurks behind any workday misstep.
“Blue of the World reminds me of some wild, enormous mineral towers I saw once above a riverbed. Just when you thought you’d figured out the contours, another plane appeared, and then another, then a broken edge, a polished step, a rippled bowl. These stories are like that—brilliant surfaces, hidden depths, unsettled corners. Weeks since I finished the book, still I dip into it like dreaming, the perfect paragraphs new in my hands.” – Bill Roorbach, author of Life Among Giants and The Remedy for Love
“There’s such a satisfying alchemy to Milliken’s sentences—rhythms, textures, and resonances that magic our day-to-day idiocies into almost hilarious beauty. And by beauty, I don’t mean some transcendent feeling or deliverance from our isolation, but something much deeper and stranger: the extraction of an inner warmth we always hoped was there.” – Meghan Lamb, author of Silk Flowers
“Beneath the lucid, serene surface of Milliken’s prose lie disturbing realities. His immersive fiction takes us to places where we may be afraid to look and invites us to celebrate the beauty of unsettling mystery.” – Nat Baldwin, author of The Red Barn
“Milliken is a master of leveling the field of experience and revealing the things we all carry with us—awe, insecurity, nostalgia—whether we’re looking up at the stars or about to be swept out to sea.” – Celia Johnson, Creative Director, SLICE Literary
This morning I went out onto the porch with my coffee […] but as soon as I stepped out, I saw on the deck boards a little grey lump. A big black beetle was rolling the lump around. Sometimes burying its head into a softness. And as it moved the lump around, I realized what I was seeing was a very small, very dead bird. I do not know what bird it was. It hadn’t any feathers to speak of, just the moldy fuzz of a hatchling. The beetle unfolded the bird’s bunched-up neck and articulated its clenched legs. I know the beetle was just feeding, but it seemed it was trying to reanimate the bird. As if by exercising its limbs, it could bring it back to life. I crouched there on the porch watching the beetle work to resuscitate this little rotten thing.
It’s hard to know sometimes when a project actually begins. The oldest story in Blue of the Worldwas drafted in the October of 2009 for a contest I did not win. The most recent was composed in July of 2016 for the simple excuse of I wanted to. Somewhere in between, seventeen more were written, though I know many of the ideas go way back to the unrecallable crags of the early- to mid-00s or possibly even further (who can say). Regardless, on April 15th, Blue of the World will officially be a tangible book in the world as part of Tailwind Press‘s 2019 catalog.
In a celebratory display of welcome, a multi-disciplinary performance event will be held on May 30th at SPACE in Portland to mark the collection’s Maine release. Co-presented by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, the event will feature readings and live music, as well as interactive pieces and other dark slips of the unusual. More details to come.
Across the distance, I saw the kitchen light was on. You were sitting at the table when I walked in, playing solitaire and drinking a glass of ginger ale in your hospital gown. It’s the last thing I’d seen you wearing. Two moths fluttered about the yellow light above your head. There were eyes of wet on your glass.
Before diving into the goofy details of the past two month’s cavalcade of performances, I find that it’s necessary to play a little catch-up vis-à-vis recent publications. Since last July’s printing of “Small Shiny Fish” in Canada’s Broken Pencil, I have published my first poem in over ten years (“Jack Pine in Breeze” in Gibson Fay-Leblanc’s Deep Water column), my second (prose-) poem in ten years (“Thomas” in Winter Tangerine, which is not only stunning in its totality but also includes a festively-creepy reading of the piece), and a short piece continuing the anti-pastoral upbringing of Regan (“Chestnut v. Buckeye” in the new online ‘zine Muskeg). And on another order of magnitude, my full-length collection Blue of the World is all but finalized and ready for printing—due entirely to the ceaseless effort, faith, and vision at Tailwinds Press—in anticipation of a Spring 2019 release, while my novel Our Shadows’ Voice progresses along a similar path with the diligent souls at Fomite, who are aiming for a Summer 2019 release. So all in all, it’s proved to be a busy season in my grey, asbestos tower.
After a respite of days following our Rockland performance in a desanctified church, Scott, Genevieve, and I reconvened our act for a performance at Biddeford’s Engine, where in our matching Dickie’s coveralls we explored the permutations of longing and fuckupery to a room of pie-eaters and confused children. It was exciting to feel the songs begin to tighten and shift in ways both organic and unexpected, and in addition to the two songs on the record on which she sings (“Cold Coffee” and “Brier Island Blues”), Genevieve also joined us on a rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s interpretation of “If I Needed You.” Meanwhile, the world’s worst classic rock cover band did their loud and sleazy thing in the street right outside the venue. Like the man says, “You can’t always need what you get.”
The following week, I got to take a solo part in the annual Waking Windows Festival in Portland, where I took the opportunity to read a selection from The Opposite of Prayer, which has gone regrettably neglected since its release this spring. In a fortuitous turn of events, I actually got to perform right before this guy read his manifesto, proving to be an even greater than anticipated one-two punch of fan-boy dream-come-true and utter amazement at the raw talent exercising itself in real-time. Then I watched Ivy Sole take down the house. A very good day for sensual weirdos.
The beginning of October brought the three of us back together at BCA’s Cyclorama for the Boston Art Books Fair, where Pilot Editions—publisher of In the Mines as well as several of my other books—was in resplendent attendance. Because of certain logistical circumstances, we had to rearrange some of the songs for a more stripped-down performance, swapping out my multi-sectional electric setup for a new standard-size acoustic bass. Which was totally dope! Further rearrangement also included Genevieve’s vocal contributions on every song, thus solidifying her as a permanent member of the band (and also solidifying the reality of this actually being a band, albeit one without a name yet). Throughout the years, I have had my reasons for having reservations about doing anything in Boston, but the Cyclorama show proved all my angst baseless. It was a great turnout that yielded enough book/album sales to more than cover our gas. Also: excellent post-show pizza.
All of which leads to the present and this past weekend’s show at FOG in Rockland, where our expanding set of songs and stories were accompanied by our man Jason Goodman on drums and the unflappable Nina Noah on cello, and while Genevieve’s violin debut on “Howard Says” was foiled by a last minute broken string, it did pave the way for her mandolin debut (made possible by kismet and the identical tunings of small stringed instruments). It was thrilling to hear how new people’s acts and ideas could bring these songs into new and surprising sonic territory, a point made especially clear on our first-ever performance of “Lauren,” transported from an aching chamber piece into a sensual trance locked down with a surprisingly apropos hip-hop beat. The love evident in Rockland was kinetic, and hospitality of the FOG staff was unparalleled, as were their cocktails and post-show vittles. If every performance could begin with a baller Old Fashioned and end with a chicken pot pie, I’d be a fat and happy man.
Since we have no further events scheduled (yet) in support of In the Mines, I guess this marks the end of this leg of the “tour.” But hopes are for more New England shows in the coming months, as well as an actual multi-date tour in New York (and maybe Pennsylvania, too). I am more than open to suggestions and invitations, so don’t be shy in contacting me about scheduling an event in your hamlet or burgh.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing and for your daily incentive to continue working in spite of the In-House Critic’s constant suggestion to stay in bed and sleep each entire day away. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping me flush with prescription meds and cheap whiskey. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to tantalize me with chemical reward by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.
You are the surprise twenty-ounce pour when I’m only expecting a pint.