Three Short Parables

by
Daulton Dickey.

I.

For a brief moment, no longer than ten years, which wasn’t much, all things considered, the city seemed on the verge of greatness. Nestled at the mouth of Lake Michigan, it had served as a portal for steel manufacturers to transport their goods to and from Gary and Chicago, both voracious consumers of raw and processed steel. Houses bloomed in fields until no fields remained. Streets and sidewalks, buildings and stores and factories filled the city. The leaders of industry diversified, and soon a Pullman boxcar manufacturer popped up. By the lake, a cough lozenge manufacturer erected a simple, box-shaped building. The city boomed, as people would say. Incomes increased, and along with it the accoutrements concomitant to disposable income: pools and swings and cars, some excessively luxurious, and general stores packed with disposable goods, all of which people devoured, people looking to fill their lives with evidence of their squandered time. Then voodoo economics and global trade deals crushed the steel industry, and the port withered and died. Chasing jobs, people fled. Poverty replaced prosperity. Drugs and alcoholism, crime and violence, anxiety and depression and suicide scarred the faces and fattened the bodies of everyone left to rot in the city. Paint on buildings and signs and fences chipped and faded, and concrete cracked and broke. Gray replaced color. The world seemed to dim. Every once in a while, sometimes twice a month, the sky over the city cracked: blood and sulfuric effluvia drenched the city. The poor bastards buried in the bottom-most levels of the social strata, left to rot when the wealth of the middle class fled, watched as the faces of their friends and loved ones drooped. No one understood the affliction. Doctors hypothesized neurological disorders possibly caused by an ecosystem poisoned by decades of industry, but they nixed the neurological argument when faces melted and slid off and merged with the flesh on chests or necks or stomachs or arms. Something else was clearly at work. That no one seemed to notice or care, that doctors only treated it with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication didn’t evoke questions from anyone passing through the city. Most people, those with money who passed through town, dismissed the affliction as a problem relegated to the impoverished. In some way, people argued, it was probably their fault–maybe not directly; perhaps it was the product of poor upbringing, or genetics. At any rate, people said, there wasn’t much use in worrying. ‘My life’s good,’ one traveler said, ‘my face’s intact; why should I worry?’ The old woman, who lived in the abandoned post office, known to everyone in town as a ‘crazy witch,’ laughed when she overheard the traveler’s apathy. ‘The way things are going,’ she said, ‘the sky over every city will crack, and every face will soon droop and melt.’ The traveler ignored her. Everyone ignored her. And when the sky over cities around the country–around the world, even–cracked and bled, and faces drooped and melted, entire populations ignored the problem, pretended it 20160601-230511.jpgdidn’t exist, by focusing on alcohol, drugs, sports, and pop culture. ‘I mean, really, there’s nothing to worry about,’ a local community organizer said. He was a prominent billionaire, face intact, who lived in a neighborhood enclosed in a dome and often acted as the voice of the people. ‘This is something that happens,’ he said. ‘It’s important now, it’s absolutely critical, that we carry on with our lives. We as citizens must continue shopping, go on vacation, go to college, accumulate as much debt as is needed to help our struggling economy. Faces change. Yes, some even melt. But it must not prevent us from living our lives, from raising our children, from playing our part in maintaining the economy.’ Footage of his speech played on repeat on news broadcasts around the country. Few people expressed alarm when his cheek twitched and his eyelid sagged mid-way through the speech. Sometime later, he retired from public view. Continue reading

Unpublished Novelist Daulton Dickey Interviews Failed Novelist Daulton Dickey

transcribed by
Julius M. Henry.

Daulton Dickey is a nobody. No one’s interested in him. Yet he runs around the Internet begging for attention and whinging about how no one will publish his artsy-fartsy novels. In a blatant and unapologetic act of theft, I’ve decided to ripoff Kurt Vonnegut’s interview from the Paris Review and track down Daulton—spoiler: he wasn’t hard to find—to ask him questions about life, writing, philosophy, and whatever else popped into my head. Knowing Daulton, I expect pretentious answers. And bullshit—spoiler: he’s an asshole.

Daulton Dickey [DD]: So. Here we are.

Daulton Dickey [Dd]: Indeed.

DD: I wanted to start by filling the audience in on a few things.20160601-230511.jpg

Dd: What audience?

DD: The audience reading this.

Dd: Are you high? No one reads this.

DD: This blog has had over 18,000 views.

Dd: Maybe so, but no one’s going to read this twaddle.

DD: Let’s agree to disagree. [Pause.] Now why don’t we start by telling the audience a little something about you?

Continue reading

On Art (A Brief Thought)

by
Daulton Dickey.

Art is an activity—by that I mean the activity of creation. The artist is a person engaged in the activity—in the moment of creation. We can only qualify the object itself—whether it’s a story or a poem, a sculpture or a painting or a film, etc.—as art while i20160601-230511.jpgt is in the process of being created.

Before it is created, an object of art is mere fantasy; the artist, a thinker; the activity, an abstraction. After it is created, an object is a commodity; the artist, a bullshitter; the activity, a memory.

To those who are passive in the arts—i.e., the viewers or readers, etc.—the activity is the intention; the object, an ambiguity, something open to interpretation; the artist, a craftsman.

The act of creation—active—and the act of interpretation—passive—are distinct acts. Any theory of art that doesn’t take the distinction between the active and the passive into account is an incomplete theory.

Notes on Failing as a Self-Published Writer

by
Daulton Dickey.

Selling books is a Sisyphean task. Without a budget, without a name anyone knows or cares about, or cares to know, you’re certain to fail. Bereft of a marketing department at a major publisher, bereft of a publisher altogether, in fact, puts you in an interesting position. How do you get your book out there? People won’t read it if they don’t know it exists, and people won’t read it if they don’t feel compelled, in some way, to read it. So this is the question you must ask yourself as a self-published writer: how do you create awareness for your book? And—this is a two-parter—how do you inspire people to want to read it?

Imagine you’re a writer in Indiana trying to get noticed. You’ve written and published several books. Few people have read them. You ask yourself why. Why haven’t they read them? Have they browsed them online without finding anything to pique their interest or do they not know your books exist?

The former remains aloof, always a possibility. Bracketing it for a moment, you try to gauge awareness of your books. How many people know they exist? It’s an alarming question, alarming because you don’t know any metrics by which to answer the question.

In your limited experience, you’ve discovered one thing, a dirty little piece of trivia: a self-published writer is full-time marketer, and those who don’t practice and perfect the art of marketing will not succeed as a writer. It’s a sad state of affairs when a writer must set aside his or her craft in favor of creating an image and a brand, but such is the pat20160601-230511.jpgh you chose.

To create awareness of oneself is to open the possibility of inviting readers into your world, to coaxing them, to luring them, to seducing them. —But how do you create awareness, you might ask? —How do you introduce yourself to the world? How do you persuade them to try what you’re offering?

As a self-published author, I have failed in my endeavors. For several reasons. I don’t have a brand, I don’t have a consistent online persona, I don’t have money—and I don’t have loyal followers and readers. I have failed to penetrate the online world in a meaningful way. Continue reading

Book Review: Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

by
Daulton Dickey.

Setting aside debates about whether or not we as a species are hardwired with a predilection toward violence, we can at least agree that our species displays a knack for it. Point to any period in human history and you’ll highlight an age rife with violence. From the Sumerians to the Romans, from Christendom to America, our stories and cultures reflect, and even glorify, violence. As foundation myths—Romulus murdering Remus; Washington crossing the Delaware to slaughter sleeping enemies—entire cultures are predicated on romanticized violence. Yet violence is never romantic. Or noble. Imagine it not as an abstraction, as something others engage in, and imagine it as a thing-in-itself, as an action or activity injuring or ending the lives of living, breathing human beings, as a carnal act committed against sentient meat, and you’ll find nothing amusing or romantic about it.

Popular entertainment treats violence in a variety of ways, from the absurdity of cartoons such as Looney Tunes or B-movies to the unflinching realism of Cormac McCarthy novels, and our society seems to view it in its many varieties, not always as acts of brutality. As such, we Americans tend to treat violence with a sort of flippancy, occasionally calling for appalling acts against people or countries as politics by other means.

Bracketing causal speculation, somezerosaints people live and dwell in violence—directly or indirectly, intentionally or inadvertently. Human civilization is a series of Möbius strips, sets within sets within sets. Some subcultures navigate broader social rules and norms while playing by different sets of rules altogether. These subcultures tend to epitomize violence as means to ends. The violence perpetrated by drug cartels is a prime example of this Möbius strip strip within a Möbius strip, where shadow laws and governments, of sorts, operate within broader society. These cartels reap violence on such massive scales that it’s hard to wrap our heads around. So many tens of thousands of people have been slaughtered that we’ve abstracted the violence—and we view these deaths as nothing more than numbers and statistics.

And we’re rarely afforded opportunities to humanize those caught in these traps. But by creating situations with seemingly-living characters, fiction can and does serve a purpose: it transforms statistics into shared experiences, allowing empathy to replace apathy or antipathy.

Zero Saints (Broken River Books), Gabino Iglesias’s unflinching portrayal of violence, revenge, and redemption is the kind of fiction that can illuminate the toll violence takes in the real world.

Fernando is a small-time drug dealer in Texas. Having fled the chaos of the Mexican cartel wars, and entered the states illegally, limiting his opportunities, he’s taken a job as a pusher for a dealer who’s carved out a decent territory in Austin. And he’s about to have a bad week. Continue reading

Book Review: Berzerkoids by M.P. Johnson

by
Daulton Dickey.

Berzerkoids are here! And this book is here to stay. If you love weird, intelligent, and entertaining short fiction, than this book should feature prominently on your bookshelf.

Loosely centered around the antics of toys–as a sort of anti-Toy Story–this collection also features several stories only tangentially connected to its titular themes. It’s thematic in the way Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is conceptual: some stories follow the 51ypuzfhl-_sy344_bo1204203200_overall theme and some could fit into any collection. But one thing is certain: every story in this collection is entertaining.

Say what you want about MP Johnson–and why the hell would you say anything negative, you prick?–but he has a wicked, pop-culture-infused, and, at times, minimalist imagination and sense of humor. His approach to the short form reminded me–as improbable as some readers might find this–of the best short works of Hemingway, as well as Joyce’s stories in Dubliners. Some are only a couple pages long; some build slowly, then hit you like a freight train; but none overstay their welcome, which is, to my mind, the strength of this collection.

The stories hit hard and fast. Realized worlds are developed within the matter of a few pages, characters are presented and developed well, situations go from weird to weirder, and the stories end, often without resolution, often without explanation–a sign of a confident writer.

Johnson doesn’t waste paragraphs or pages justifying the worlds he’s creating; instead, he drops you into them, creates weird or funny or intense situations, and leaves you wanting more. But there’s little confusion. You’re never dropped into a world in which you are confused or lost. You’re always viewing the worlds through the eyes of characters you care about, or through characters or high concepts so weird or funny or clever that you assent to take the trip, and oftentimes you can’t anticipate where you’re headed.

This is a great collection of stories by a strong and confident writer.

Book Review: The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh

by
Daulton Dickey.
When you’re trapped in the cycle of addiction, where drugs transcend a good time and dominate your life, your existence, where every action you takes is predicated on scoring the next bag, the next hit, the next taste, everything in your life–indeed your life itself transforms, in a sense, into your periphery, there’s nothing you won’t do to score. In chasing his drug of choice, the fictional atlys, Perry Samson does the unthinkable: he sells chunks of his flesh. It’s a desperate move, one frowned on by even the lowliest of drug addicts. In the world of The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh, those who sell their meat–to an upscale restaurant of all places–are viewed as the lowliest of lows, even by those in the grip of atlys addiction. Set in the waning years of the 21st century, The Green Kangaroos starts as a classic drug novel. But it quickly descends into a Philip K. Dicksian landscape of questionable or ambiguous reality.

On reading the opening chapter, one thing strikes you: the voice. This is a narrator so fully realized that you, at times, forget it’s a work of fiction. His attitude, his drive, his personal lexicon, his overwhelming desire to court, and succumb to, his addiction, feels plucked from the pages of a memoir. Nothing is off limits here; no taboos are too sacred to avoid. Drugs and violence, sex and desire–all consume the Perry, who alternates between these desires and his drive to score the next hit. It’s an unflinching look at the depths and depravities concomitant to drug addiction. 22043543

But this isn’t simply a Fear & Loathing-esque tale of excess; instead, it’s a morality play, an existential dirge, and, most importantly, a family drama. Perry’s relationship to his ex-wife and, crucially, his sister, grounds the novel in a pathos missing from some drug novels.

Then there are the dicksian elements. Without giving too much away, or spoiling several big reveals, I’ll just say that this is, in part a science fiction novel dealing with questions of reality and the ethics of advanced medical and scientific technology.

Equal parts drug novel, dystopian fiction, science fiction, and meditations on family and reality, The Green Kangaroos is a novel that grabs you from the opening paragraph and doesn’t let go until it races toward the climax. It’s a masterful novel that isn’t without it’s flaws: for me, the denouement was a little too protracted, and the epilogue inspired mixed feelings. On reading it, I felt misgivings, as if it was tacked on simply for the sake of creating a twist ending; but the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it was a commentary on the nature of drug addiction and the personality types susceptible to slipping into that spiral.

Jessica McHugh is one of the more exciting writers working today. Her confidence, her voice, her ability to create compelling characters and worlds, and her embrace of the offensive, grotesque, and obscene makes her a rare writer these days, one willing to tackle any subject as honestly as possible.

Overall, it’s a fantastic novel.

This Eternal Moment

by
Daulton Dickey

 

A premonition woke Tiberius—or a noise, he couldn’t discern which: thumps followed a feeling similar to fear, then a crack as the front door blasted inward. He flung open his eyes and leapt out of bed. Four squadguards, carrying blunt rifles, filled the bedroom before Tiberius finished pulling on his shirt. Shouting, the guard at the vanguard shoved the barrel of a gun into Tiberius’s face and ordered him down, onto his stomach. Tiberius dropped to his knees. The speed of the assault reified his fear as trembling hands.

All four guards shouted. Words overlapped, syllables merged—it took several seconds for Tiberius to unpack the orders: lay down; don’t move; zap him.

One of the guards pressed a bolt into Tiberius’s neck. A cone of light flashed from two filaments at the end of the bolt, jolting him. Pain tore through his neck, and darkness fell on him.

Images penetrated a sea of black: cadavers on tables, examined by a robot. It rolled on a wheel, moved from table to table. The corpses melted; their flesh pooled on the tiles below. Metal armature had replaced bones, and mechanical skeletons writhed on the tables.

Then … darkness.

Silence.

Light emerged as the Dictator’s face swirled and congealed. He pursed his lips, froze, then shouted, “They will replace us. They will facilitate our extinction.”

Darkness, again: Tiberius swam in a void.

Hypnogogic specks sprang into existence. They multiplied and merged, and light gnawed on, and devoured, the darkness.

Silence.

Then … Continue reading