The Excruciating Backward Press: Bare Portland presents [STORAGE]

Early in the spring of 2019, I was invited by members of the Bare Portland theater collective to take part in a collaborative project that, if everything worked out as planned, would begin with the investigation of an abandoned storage unit and result in an original theatrical performance. In the months since—and in the company of some of the most compassionate, dedicated artists I’ve had the honor to work with—I have rolled around in the filth of an urban parking lot, cataloged the contents of dozens of vitamin bottles (none of which contained any vitamins), relearned the integers one through twelve both forward and back, memorized and promptly forgot the Greek alphabet, and in an intense few summer weeks, co-authored a 70-minute play.

As described on Bare Portland’s website:

Company member Tarra Bouchard conceived of the project, inspired by the congruences in her experience of housing insecurity growing up in Central Maine and anxieties about displacement and gentrification in her current home of Portland. Bare Portland company members scoured the city for a storage unit auction, looking to bid on a unit to serve as the impetus for our performance and installation. […] [Storage] is the culmination of our experiment. This March, our performance and installation will explore both The Unit and our voyeuristic impulses, ethical quandaries, and sociological questions that haunted us as we unpacked. It will also tell an entirely new story inspired by the stuff, composed by local writers and performed by a team of local performers. The final performance is directed by James Patefield, with an immersive installation by Dana Hopkins.

Photo credit: Sokvonny Chhouk

Being a part of such a massive cumulative effort has been by turns mystifying and exhilarating, inspiring and terrifying, and above all, humbling. No one person makes a production like this coalesce and succeed. It’s an accretion of effort that somehow is eminent from yet independent of all involved. I’m honored to be a part of what [STORAGE] has become.

Performances begin March 5th and run through March 21st, with tickets available for pre-order here. Because the audience is limited to 30 people per show, purchasing tickets in advance is strongly recommended.

In addition to all the people who helped unpack the storage unit and move/store its contents, who gave feedback and response throughout the process, who hosted various public aspects of the generative process (SPACE, the Apohadion Theater, and Sacred + Profane, among others), and the Kindling Fund for financial support, [STORAGE] could not exist without the following people: Kerry Anderson (Movement Choreographer), Sokvonny Chhouk (Project Documentarian & Videographer), Dana Hopkins (Production & Installation Designer), James Patefield (Director), and Meg Lynch, Mackenzie O’Connor, Mario Reyes-Roberge, and Maya Williams (Performers); Christina Richardson and Marissa Sophia Schneiderman (co-authors); Catherine Buxton (Production Manager), Katie Hunter (Stage Manager), and Zoe Levine-Sporer (Installation Assistant), with additional production support from JJ Peeler, Julianne Shea, Ella Mock, and Mnemosyne Heileman.

Photo credit: Sokvonny Chhouk

At the Fringe of Mystery: *Our Shadows’ Voice* is officially released.

Friends! Comrades! Kin and kindred in blood and virtue!

If it seems like it was just months ago that I last wrote to tell you about a new book being published, that’s because it was just months ago that I last wrote to tell you about a new book being published. I don’t know why I should feel embarrassed by this fact, yet here I am, squirming in my seat like a little kid grossly unprepared for class. Which is especially foolish given how enormously proud I am to announce that today marks the official publication of my new novel, Our Shadows’ Voice, with Fomite Press.

Following close on the heels of April’s release of the full-length collection Blue of the World through Tailwinds PressOur Shadows’ Voice charts the experiences of three people bound together by a common loss:

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.

Portland, Maine’s inaugural Poet Laureate, Martin Steingesser, has these shockingly-kind words to say about the book:

Words and images rise in Douglas W. Milliken like water from a spring, and he attends them with a watchful heart. Light-handed, far-seeing, a painter in words, Milliken carries us back and forth between the sensuous pleasure of place and the inner life of his characters, each essential to the story as a star to its respective constellation. Douglas W. Milliken, himself a fresh star I believe will find a place among constellations of revered writers, highlights how we live daily at the fringe of mystery.

After nearly ten years of drafting and redrafting and editing and reseeing, I am giddy to the point of near hysterics that Our Shadows’ Voice is finally released into the public world. It a story I’ve held very close to my heart for a long time. I’m proud its found a home with Fomite and, in turn, so many people’s shelves already.

With all of this in mind, I would like to ask a few favors of you, my friends, my colleagues, my audience:

  1. Buy and read the book. If you’ve already done one or both of these things, I thank you from the bottom of my exhausted heart. Locally, copies are available at Print in Portland and will soon be carried by various Sherman’s Books locations throughout Maine. Upon request, most bookstores will order copies through their distributors (ordering through Indiebound is another way of supporting your local bookstore from the convenience of your personal device). You can also order the book through Amazon and Barnes & Noble who, in addition to physical copies, sell ebook editions as well (they also distribute internationally, for those of you in, for example, France or Austria). And of course, if you want me to somehow leave my dirty mark upon your copy, you can order directly from me by replying to this email.
  2. Leave a good review. It seems like such a 90s thing to do, but rating and reviewing the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, et cetera, actually does impact future sales (even if you don’t buy the book through an online retailer, you can still give a rating and/or review). If you wanted to do the same for Blue of the World, that’d be ultra dope as well.
  3. Spread the word. Tell your aunt. Take a picture of your copy—on your pillow, beneath a cat, leaping in front of the ghost of Whitney Houston to protect her from a bullet—and post to your preferred social media. Simply sharing the Amazon link on Facebook helps (though it’s better if you add a few laudatory words, too). Every little gesture has an impact. And if nothing else, I will personally feel the relief of knowing that there’s at least one other person sharing in the work of promoting this project that I really, truly love.

In conclusion: you guys are the best. Thank you for reading my stories and then reading more stories later on. Without you, I’d just be a manic diarist lost in his own mushroom-cavern imagination. Because you read, I have a purpose in my life.

Once the holidays are over, reading events for Our Shadows’ Voice will commence, about which I’m sure you’ll soon hear more. Until then, I remain most gratefully yours,

—Douglas W. Milliken

Visceral Permutations of Regret: *Our Shadows’ Voice* available for pre-order.

After nearly ten years of work, my second novel, Our Shadows’ Voice, is now available for pre-order in advance of Fomite Press’s publication on November 25th.

From the publisher’s site:

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.

Other details of note:

  • The first pages of the first draft were written during a food-safety course (taught in Italian) at the Agenform School in Moretta, Italy while in the company of Patrick Kiley (who would later go on to found Pilot Editions and publish To Sleep as Animals, Brand New Moon, and In the Mines).
  • Certain elements of the novel tie into existing works of fiction—including To Sleep as Animals and One Thousand Owls Behind Your Chest—as well as the extended narrative of my musical alter-ego Old Fat God.
  • 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.

Given the 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 you.

As always, 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.

New Music: The Plaster Cramp

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.

The Alphabets Align to Form the Words

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.

Photo credit: Genevieve Johnson

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.

Lost in the dirt.

screenshot_2019-05-05-douglas-w-milliken-douglaswmilliken-e280a2-instagram-photos-and-videos1-e1559058073897.pngToday 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).

And now: a video of me softly predicting rain.

*Blue of the World* is live!

Blue of the WorldBlue of the World

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.

Available April 15th through Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes & Noble.

Read the excerpted story “Hyacinth & Waxwing” through the Stoneslide Corrective.
Read an interview of the author with Danilo Thomas of Baobab Press.
Watch a narrative video of the excerpted stories “Skidder & Draw” and “Pillars.”

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