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.
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?
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 it 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.
In 2003, my cousin died in a car accident. I received the news while loafing around in New Mexico. I had traveled there earlier in the year, and, after a brief stint in Las Vegas, felt lost. But I had left Indiana—hopefully—for good, and I was determined to start a new life somewhere else. Jobless and low on money, I resisted giving in. I resisted going home.
Then news of his death arrived, and it hit me hard. I felt isolated. My determination to stay transformed into a desire to leave, to go back home, to spend time with my friends and family. To fill the hole my cousin had left.
Although he was a year younger than me, we grew up together—and we were close: we made the same mistakes together, tried alcohol and pot together, developed a similar sense of humor, and developed similar tastes in movies and music, in pop culture in general.
Rage filled me when he died, and I felt the urge to write about it. I tried and failed several times before I hit on the opening chapter of Bastard Virtues. My desire to honor my cousin gave way to my anger and rage, which consumed me whenever I thought about his death. Early on, I realized the novel wasn’t about him as much as it was about my anger, my rage, my sadness—emotions transformed into themes which dominated the novel.
On embracing the anger and rage, I decided to pick influences for the novel which reflected my relationship with my cousin. Some of the influences are mine alone, and reflect nothing more than my preoccupations at the time. Other influences, however, represent shared interests between my cousin and me.
Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson’s influence is apparent early on in the novel, the opening section of which was inspired by The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Although Thompson’s story meant nothing to my cousin, it was a starting off point for me. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas connected my cousin and me to Thompson, which is what inspired the setting early in the novel. Thompson’s cynicism and vitriol hit a nerve with us when we were teenagers; it was the language we had already used, and in Thompson we’d found a sort of spiritual guide. Continue reading
A thorn bush bloomed in my skull.
Vines sprouted inside my brain.
They spread throughout my body—their thorns, razor-sharp, tore into my muscles and threatened to deglove me—as fragments of light sparkled and devoured me.
Bugs, or, worse, creatures whose existence had eluded us, crawled across my skin and burrowed into my temples. They danced and stretched a rope from temple to temple, and tried to pull them inward, tried to collapse my skull.
I wanted to scream, couldn’t.
I wanted to dig my fingernails into my skull and remove them one by one.
The ropes pulled inward, inward.
I tapped my temple in search of a hole.
Gummo, inspect my head.
Why hadn’t the words come out?
Why hadn’t I made a sound?
Had my motors skills atrophied?
Where are we?
What the hell is this place?
Why the fuck are we doing this?
Although certain I’d transformed my thoughts into coherent chatter, the expressions from strangers and dealers told me otherwise. Wide or squinted eyes, open mouths or frowns—everyone broadcast a response.
Faces muted confusion or fear. Continue reading
Jeff O’Brien writes fantasy and horror, weird and absurd novels and stories. For more about his books … actually, skip reading about them and just read them. You can find them here.
1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A utopia with myself, my wife, my dogs, beautiful green women, and the small band of people who grasp our concept of perfect happiness. In my backyard there would be a transport to the magical land of Xanth, and I could go and hang out with the gorgons, nymphs, zombies, ogres and puns. I love a good pun.
2.What is your greatest fear?
The possible repercussions of sharing my greatest fear with the general public. Nice try, Dickey!
3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Probably vanity, as I can’t think of one.
4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of conversation etiquette. I have no use for someone who talks over others.
5.Which living person do you most admire?
Piers Anthony. I mean, I don’t know much about what kind of guy he is, but his virtually endless bibliography has pretty much been the greatest thing I’ve ever discovered.
6.What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. I live rather frugally, but can’t seem to restrain myself in the purchasing of books. I have more than I can possibly ever read, but I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Continue reading
[This is an excerpt from the titular story in the new short story collection, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things & Other Stories, which is out now.]
Humming fills the air, but it’s the humming of a brain filling gaps exposed by silence. The lights are out. Colors flicker in space—sometimes near the ceiling, sometimes near the floor.
The brain does the math, and this is another case of the brain creating something where something should be.
But listen: the silence. It’s unnerving somehow. Unnatural.
The ceiling throbs. Cracks spiderweb the walls. From these, insects emerge. They’re miniature heads, human heads, crawling on six scrotums. Sperm oozes in their wake. Sadie throws a shoe at the wall and the insects scream and scatter.
She climbs out of bed and peeks outside: a planet-sized eyeball drifts toward a planet-sized eyelid. Twilight. She throws on her robe and taps her skin. It’s still skin. Thank Cruelty. She hasn’t transformed, not like the others.
She opens her front door.
The hallway is empty.
She tiptoes across the hall and puts her ear below “3F” on Martin’s door. Silence. But that doesn’t mean anything. Those creatures are probably in there. Right now. Fucking each other with those tentacles—or whatever the hell you call them.
Is it a lightbulb, or is it her brain doing the math, plugging holes?
She ties her robe and rubs her stomach and tiptoes down the hall, listening in on apartments 3D, 3C, 3B.
She puts her teeth together and hisses, just to make sure she hasn’t gone deaf.
She hasn’t gone deaf.
Door 3B flings open. A human-sized caterpillar pops its head into the hallway. Snot and cum drips from its mouth.
—Everything okay? it says.
—Why you in your robe? Locked out?
—Stop talking to me. Monster. Continue reading
“It’s not a question of reality; it’s a question of our perceptions of these convergences we call ‘reality.’”
If you encountered the man who calls himself Buddha Jones on the street, you’d find little reason to acknowledge him. He’s one of those people who seem to blend in, nondescript in every way, almost generic in appearance.
He’s sitting on a bench in a park a few feet from Lake Michigan, gazing at seagulls. They hop in a sort of chaotic line dance. If they’re following a pattern, it’s indiscernible—at least to someone who doesn’t specialize in ornithology.
“They might be following a pattern,” Buddha says, “at least as far as they’re concerned. [Psychologist B.F.] Skinner found that pigeons will detect patterns even when none exist.” He hisses as he inhales smoke, then sighs as he pushes it out through his nose and mouth. “Those findings extend to people, by the way,” he says. “We’re pattern seekers, and we’ll sometimes find patterns that aren’t there.”
Buddha Jones is one of those people you might know for decades without pegging who he is, without pigeonholing him, without finding patterns, if you will, to enable you to discern cohesion in an otherwise aloof personality. His stories often contradict one another—his father died when he, Buddha, was in his thirties, for example, or he never knew his father; each story he tells, each facet of the life he chooses to share eventually emerges as either a creation or an exaggeration—or a combination of the two.
“People sometimes call writers professional liars,” he says. “That’s bullshit. Writers, and I’m talking about fiction writers here, make shit up, but there’s a difference between a lie and making something up.”
What’s the difference?
“Writing is algorithmic,” he says. “You follow a pattern, replace variables with values you’ve appointed. The point is to entertain or enlighten. Or trick.” He grins. “Or to shock or offend or whatever. To lie is to either avoid consequences, real world consequences, or to illegitimately obtain something, or someone, you want.”
But are the two behaviors mutually exclusive?
“Of course not,” he says. “But a writer sets out to tell a story, for whatever reason, or maybe to play with the notion of storytelling. Look, at the end of the day, a writer’s job is to emulate this hallucination we call ‘reality.’” He curls his fingers in air-quotes whenever he utters the word “reality,” something he never fails to do.
Why does he do that?
“I hate the word,” he says. “‘Reality.’ It misleads people.”
In what way?
“In my experience, people tend to assume ‘reality’ is this objective thing that exists independently of people, that we’re somehow passive participants in this thing we call ‘reality.’”
So then what is it?
“It’s a product of billions of neurons modeling an incomprehensible amount of information every second of every day. Each of us experience ‘reality’ differently because it’s ultimately a product of our brains.”
At this point I make a face without realizing I’d made it.
“You don’t believe me?” he says. “Drop some acid. Or drink some whiskey. These chemicals will literally alter how you experience ‘reality.’ If chemicals affecting your brain alter your experience of ‘reality,’ then isn’t it evidence that ‘reality’ itself is a product of experience?” After a long pause. “Which is itself a product of cognitive processes, of our brains?”
He had picked up a stick while we talked, and now he’s drawing the Mona Lisa in a patch of sand surrounded by grass. The picture would impress you: by utilizing nearby dirt, he shades the woman’s face, creating an almost three-dimensional picture, or a sepia etching.
On finishing the picture, which took only minutes, he tosses the stick aside and slides his boot—khaki work boots—over the picture, leaving tracers of a worn sole where a depiction of a woman’s face once lay. Continue reading
Fresh off the kinda sorta success of my short story collection, A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms, I’ve released a new novella, Elegiac Machination, available in paperback or as a Kindle ebook. Please not: All proceeds generated throughout the month of June will be donated to inner city arts programs.
Reality is a product of perception. To alter reality, we must alter our perception. But how? Our unnamed narrator explores this question and attempts to unravel the mystery in this experimental novella, a non-linear, surreal trip through consciousness—and beyond.
Embracing the street art mythos, the narrator plasters an unnamed city with symbols meant to open up awareness—awareness of consciousness, of reality; reality as it is, not how people perceive it. But he lives in a world in which corporations, government, and technology have transformed people into mindless automatons. People move without thinking, follow without thinking, work and live and dream without thinking—and they don’t realize they’re shackled in a continent-sized prison.
To change people, our narrator has to wake them up; he has to make them aware of their shackles. Can he use stencils and spray paint to wake them? Can art still thrive in a culture populated by drones?
Part philosophical meditation, part surrealism and literary cubism, Elegiac Machinations is unlike anything you’ve read. It’s a haunting exploration of what it means to be alive, a meditation on the nature of reality and art, and on paying attention in a world dominated by routine and distractions.
About the author
Daulton Dickey was born into a family of circus freaks. Without any noticeable defects or talent, he hitchhiked across the Atlantic Ocean and kicked the corpse of William S. Burroughs. He currently lives with his wife and sons in a city on a planet in the Milky Way Galaxy.
He has written for several websites, including popmatters and filmthreat, and he was, briefly, an editor for the journal, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens.
The sun is out but hides in a cave of gray clouds and raindrops. Birds squeal and scream, and engines roar as they push and pull and tug cars along, down the road, past the sidewalks and the people cluttered. Here, there, everywhere—people move and sway. Cattle in calls fall in line and march to work. It’s the American Dream. Hallucination. A nightmare. People work to spend to work to live in debt and desirous of the next new thing. Everything is holy if it is obtainable. Every action is noble if it helps them obtain the latest gadget, the latest orgasm, a kind of intellectual intercourse milking juice from advertisements and pop-psychological propositions. They move like robots. Their actions are mechanical. They move and play with phones or gaze off and dream. Sky cracks open, clouds part, and the sun breaks through, the great and beautiful, the mystical and holy sight of light particles funneling through gaps in the clouds and drenching the crowds, and the people shield their eyes or tilt their phones or lower their heads and furrow their eyebrows. Everyone ignoring the sun’s breakthrough, the routing of the clouds, everyone annoyed by the burst of light, everyone moving and swaying and marching with downcast eyes and eyebrows, as if the sun is an enemy or a distraction. But the sun is indifferent to all of them. The sun gives them what they need whether they want it or not. The sun casts its spell and sheds its lights, blankets the earth and warms the cockles of the people too distracted to want or to notice it.
Gum is stuck to the sidewalk. Feet slap it or the concrete beside it.
A bird lands and skips over the gum and jumps onto a windowsill and leaps to the roof and slips into a hole in the soffit and disappears. And no one notices it. No one watches the bird, examines its movements. No one stops to applaud or to appreciate the poetry of its movements, the beauty of the ballet of its procession.
Across the street, a man has stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. He’s kneeling, looks like he’s praying. People pass him, diverge and converge in great swelling movements. He stands and twists and falls into line, and the line proceeds; it glides to the end of the sidewalk and across the street and onto another sidewalk, and the man is lost in the crosshatch of meat and clothes, of sunglasses and smart phones.
Smoke puffs from the roof of a building not far from where the crowd devoured the man, and it catches a ride on the wind and drifts over the crowd and across the street, slamming into—and passing over—me. Then smells of scorched meat waft and merge with the crispness of the vanishing storm. And the sun wants to come out, tries to break through. It penetrates the clouds but the clouds fight back and break off, seal their wounds and amputate the light spilling onto the earth.
Then shapes like faces bleed from windows and slips into the light and travel across the street. They bleed and breed into more windows, and the street is now a corridor lined with death masks staring out from the windows on the buildings lining the sidewalks. And yet no one seems to notice. People walk by locked in their worlds, lost in those impulses firing through their brains, feeding on chemicals and electrical transmissions and neglecting the face-like shapes gazing out from every window.
And the faces seem almost communicable, like they can latch onto the wind itself and float—shadows growing in fog, transplanted from window to window, xeroxed and carried along and deposited in every reflective surface, even in the sunglasses and eyes of strangers as they pass without wisdom or acknowledgement or comment.
The air is cold and crisp and it fills my chest and seems to freeze the hairs inside my nostrils. The face-like shapes dissolve in my lungs and seep into my pulmonary tissue and take a joyride through my circulatory system, and I see faces surf along the breath that escapes my lungs, and the faces stretch and break apart and dissolve overhead.
Her hair is brown and from a distance looks brittle, not dirty or greasy or even frayed but it looks delicate somehow, as if touching it would shatter it somehow. It sways in front of her chest and curls and lays on her shoulders as she leans forward and slips a spoon into her mouth. She drags the spoon away from her lips and her nose and cheeks relax, and her eyes, once slit, now spread and blossom—flowers unfurling at the onset of day.
Elbows on the table—who needs etiquette?—she flips through a tattered paperback book as she slips another spoonful of soup beyond her lips and into her mouth. She pauses midway between flipping a page and gazes outward, in thought maybe, and settles her eyes on me.
I break my gaze, glance out the window behind her, squint as though I’m studying something more interest or enticing or appealing than her.
Face-like shapes linger in windows across the street. But they’re fading now. They fade. And when I sense the woman has turned away, I glance at her again: the remnants of a smile drift from her lips. She slurps a gulp of soup and flips the pages. Her eyes bounce from left to right, crawl down, and bounce from left to right.
The muscles in her shoulders and jaw ripples and she rubs her right shoulder as she reads. Then she sits back and cracks her back and stretches her arms—below the table her shirt rises like curtains opening on a stage, and her belly is white and seems firm yet somehow soft, though it’s probably my imagination. The cramp or spasm or whatever vanishes, and she releases her shoulder, goes back to her book.
She slips the spoon into her mouth again, slurps again, flips the page and massages her shoulder again, and the rhythm of her motion, the beauty of her movements, spill into the open air and crashes and screams and sings. No one else seems to notice. The waiters and waitresses, the men and women stuffing their faces, the strangers crisscrossing the sidewalk out front—no one notices or acknowledges her beauty and sensitivity, the poetry of her motion.
Up out of my chair, I glide across the room and stop at the table, knock once to snag her attention. She moves fluidly: shifts her gaze from the book to my face and rolls her shoulder blades in a semi-circle. Uninterested and unconcerned, eyes full yet empty—unaware or uninvolved.
—Must be good, I say, gesturing to the book.
—I’ve read better.
—What is it?
—Nabakov could churn out prose.
—But the book itself is overrated, she says. —Reams of repetition. Someone better could say this in twenty-thousand words.
—But no one else could have said it the way he did, which is why we read good fiction.
—This isn’t good.
—Good fiction evokes a response.
—Harlequin novels probably evoke a response.
—Then I’d say it’s good fiction, too, I say. —What you want to or should avoid are the books that don’t elicit anything. Those are the dangerous ones.
She closes the book, shifts her neck and tilts her head.
—If you’re hitting on me, she says, —I’ll give you points for your technique.
—I’m not hitting on you.
—No? Then what would you call it?
We lock eyes.
—To what? she says.
—A walking tour of the city.
—I’m familiar with the city, thanks.
—Not the city I can show you.
I extend my hand, palm ceilingward.
—It’s too nice to sit indoors reading, I say. —And I’m willing to wager that you, too, can show me a new sight or two. So come on. What do you have to lose?
A lower case ‘i’ is an arabic ‘1’ with a dot over it. The eIe is a lower case ‘i’ with an eyeball in place of the dot. You can see the eIe on buildings and street signs, on overpasses and stoops and sidewalks across the city. From north to south, from east to west, the eIe stares at you, follows you, seems to track you and every move you make.
I point to one on back of a billboard. It’s as tall as a person, seems to gaze into the street below. The woman, Anne, considers the vandal, wonders how he or she managed to put the eIe up there.
—That’s part of the magic, I say. —You can see this thing, and you can ask how or why. And either way you’re doing the vandal a favor. You’re caught in the trap he, or she, devised.
—But what’s the point? she says. —I see these things everywhere and I don’t know what they mean. Are they even supposed to mean something?
—It’s kind of like subterranean propaganda, the agit prop of the underground.
—I still don’t see the point.
—Emblazon the image in your skull. That’s the point, I say. —Subconsciously you’ll begin to associate this image with something.
Around the corner, and another eIe is the first thing we see. This one is smaller, about the size of a fist, painted below a corporate logo.
—So this is what you wanted to show me, she says. —Graffiti?
—Street art. It’s street art.
—It’s not new, whatever you want to call it. I see it every day.
—But how often do you acknowledge it? do you think about it?
She looks forward, shakes her head.
We’re sitting on a bench on a sidewalk overlooking a rundown building. Cracks and potholes scar the street. The sidewalks—in front of us and in front of the building—are broken and shattered. Weeds grow from the cracks, tower over the uncut grass. Stencils and murals and tags cover the front of the building, an open-aired museum free for any- and everyone who passes the lot and turns their heads and sets their eyes on the fruits of the labor of countless men and women. And so people cross the street and amble down and up the sidewalk, cross in front of the building, walk alongside the walls and gaze ahead or stare at phones or tablets or shield their eyes from the sun’s fugitive rays. But no one glances at the walls. No one stops to consider or to appreciate the subject or the force of the images splayed and sprayed and preying on the facade of the building.
—Look at them, I say, —huddled over there, oblivious.
The people passing the building huddle around a bus stop on the corner. The bus stop is an aluminum skeleton with a corrugated roof. A wall bifurcates a bench inside the skeleton. Ads are plastered on the wall. People are sitting on the benches—men and women, young and old—and they gaze at the street or at Anne and me. Two teenagers are cackling. One, a boy, points his phone at an advert, what from here looks like a movie poster.
—So is this how you endear women to you? Anne says. —Take them on a tour of the worst part of town?
—You’re a rare breed, willing to take a walk with a stranger.
—Has it ever worked?
—I wouldn’t know.
—So this is a first for you?
—There’s a first for everything.
A dozen eIes peer out from the base of a building, each devouring the periphery, the view, each painted in bright neon colors, each calling attention to itself. If only the world knew, if only people stopped and stared and thought and considered the point of the eye above the ‘i,’ of the eIe as a whole, then their worthless trips down commuters lane, their mechanical processions to and from work, might crack and dissolve. The illusion, the subjective world of lies, the lives of drone like activity, of corporate controlled sanctuary, might fizzle and sizzle and fade away.
But then no one stops to gaze. No one stops to consider the eIes. Everyone drifts and ambles, everyone moves—to curbs and cabs, to buses and intersections. The eIes are there for all to see yet no eyes gaze at the eIes on the wall.
—The vandal must have no life, Anne says. —These things are everywhere.
She’s clutching her arms at her chest. Her hair curls around her shoulders and bounces as she leans forward to study an eIe. Her eyes fold inward and her lips curl. She seems innocent somehow, lost and delicate somehow.
—Would you be opposed to a proper date? I say.
—If this is your opening volley, I’m kind of afraid to see what you’d have in mind.
—Cliche, I say: —Dinner, maybe a movie. Something simple and traditional, something unoriginal.
—And if I say no?
—You’ll never see me again. No hard feelings.
—But if I say yes?
—Then you’ll see me tomorrow night.
She peels her eyes from the eIe and straightens her spine, allows her arms to drip and droop at her sides.
Universes are born and collapse, civilizations rise and fall, lives blink into and out of existence in the seconds she burns considering my proposition.