The literary and humor writer Paul Beckman runs a monthly reading series the first Friday of every month in the Red Room (3rd floor) at KGB Bar in New York City. On July 6th, I'll take part in "F Bomb NY: Flash Fiction Reading Series" in the Red Room. I will join five very accomplished writers: Rachel Veroff, Dawn Raffel, MC Neruda, Austin Alexis and Michael Mungiello. There will also be an open mic time, so if you're looking to take the stage, this is your chance!
Stop by to hear some amazing flash fiction and have a drink or two. KGB Bar is located at 85 E 4th Street, and the event will take place from 7-9pm. Hope to see you there!
If you're looking for something to do this weekend that combines a beautiful location, beautiful weather, beautiful art and beautiful words, look no farther than the The Poets, Writers & Storytellers Stage at the Norwalk Art Festival, located at Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Mathews Park, 295 West Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut 06850. This is the second year that the talented (and very organized) poet Jerry T. Johnson has put together this event, and it promises to be a wonderful weekend. For those poets and writers out there who would like to take the stage, there will also be an open mic time.
So stop in, enjoy art and the spoken word, and stay afterwards to say hi to all the writers! Below is the schedule of the very local authors who will be participating (including me - I'll be reading on Saturday). Hope to see you there!
It's here! It's here!
The release of Aftermath: Explorations of Loss & Grief is tomorrow. Radix Media is hosting a book release party with contributors Joaquin Fernandez, Stacya Shepard Silverman, María José Giménez and myself at the Greenlight Bookstore at 686 Fulton Street in Brooklyn at 7:30pm.
Hope to see you there!
I first met Paul Beckman in 2017 through Doug Mathewson, editor of the pocket-sized journal Blink-Ink. Paul had arranged a reading of local flash fiction writers at Best Video in Hamden, Connecticut, and invited Doug and me to be a part of the reading. I was completely thrilled to join in - it was my first, official time reading any of my fiction in public, and it was with a wide variety of amazing and talented writers. Flash fiction might possibly be my favorite form to write, and it's certainly one of my favorites to read. It was fantastic to meet such a master of the short form as Paul.
Afterwards, Paul was generous enough to agree to have a chat with me about his writing and inspirations, his latest book to be released, and a host of other happenings he's involved with. To let you know a little bit about Paul from his official bio:
Paul Beckman is the author of the collections - “Peek” & “Come! Meet My Family and other stories", a novella, “Lovers and Other Mean People”, and a flash chap book, “Maybe I Ought to go Sit Quietly in a Dark Room for a While”. His story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 Best of the Small Fictions. Over 400 of Paul’s stories are widely published in print, via audio, and online in the following magazines among others: Connecticut Review, Literary Orphans, Blue Fifth, Litro, Playboy, Jellyfish Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Red Fez, Necessary Fiction, Fictive Dream, Molotov Cocktail, and Thrice Fiction, Spelk Fiction among others. His blog is www.pincusb.com. Paul hosts the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York and had a story picked for the 2018 Norton Anthology of Micro Fiction. He has a new collection of Flash and Micro Fiction, KISS KISS due out in late March.
Paul, thank you so much for doing the interview with me! I really enjoy humor and flash fiction, and I generally prefer the two of them together. You write really memorable short stories that span the literary genre, from the aforementioned humor - to slice of life - to surreal. What drew you to the short form of fiction?
Hi Alison. Big thanks for doing this interview.
I morphed unknowing ling into the short form we call Flash Fiction. I was writing Flash before I knew it had a name. My short stories were most often in the 1500 -2000 words and I did write a few up to 4000, but my sweet spot was the 1500 - 2000 range. I had a New York agent for a while and she placed a 1200 word story, "Two Ships" with Playboy.
I do remember the first flash I read. It was by Leonard Michaels and was called "Something Evil". Years later I was reading one of his collections and "Something Evil" was just a part of a longer story, but it held up well on its own.
The collection, Sudden Fiction, came out in 1983 edited by Robert Shepard and James Thomas and it was a shout out to me, as were the quarterly collections of The Quarterly edited by Gordon Lish. Not all of Lish's stories were Flash but all were short and many were what we would call Flash today.
In 1995 my first story collection came out, "Come! Meet My Family and other stories" and looking over it a couple of years ago I realized I had quite a number of Flashes in it.
I've enjoyed reading two of your recent short story collections, Peek (2015) and Kiss Kiss (2018) (reviews of these two works are to come out/have come out in Bewildering Stories.) There are some reoccurring dark themes in your stories, including living in the projects, alcoholism, poverty, physical and mental abuse, hunger, sexual problems, infidelity, marital and relationship difficulties, dysfunctional families and neglected children. Very serious problems are at the heart of almost every story, and you're skillfully able to turn these situations on their head and open the eyes of the reader to the absurdity in each one. What about the pathos of these situations screams "humor" to you?
This is one intense question, Alison. Looking back at my younger years I used humor to offset the pains of poverty, of being bullied, of being debased, and punished both physically and mentally. Jealousy of students in high school who had cars, money, and lived in houses with lawns not pavement. This was a constant in my life so I hung out with the kids who took what they wanted, talked back, snooped, ranked, fought, stole, and worked. I always worked and was always angry that I had to give the bulk of my pay to my mother. No doubt she needed it but I saw it as injustice and grew up fighting perceived injustices.
I see my writing as my therapy, as my chance to play God, my chance to become, to experience, to have, to play pranks, and to be. My shots at getting back at authority figures: teachers, relatives, rabbis, sergeants, bosses, police, zoning officers and, and, and. And in all of this writing I see the absurd--always the absurd and the humor in situations that most of my characters, friends, and relatives would not find humorous even though they often find my writing humorous and off the wall.
I don't write memoir. I write fiction which very often is precipitated by a real life occurrence--sometimes mine and oftentimes behaviors observed and expanded. And, I still have a hard time with injustice.
Thank you for your honest answer, Paul. A quote that has always inspired me is by Octavia Butler: "Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself." And as writers, I feel that we take a part of ourselves, be it large or small, and find a way to expand it so that others can see what we see and hopefully take something important from it. That brings me to my next question - do you write stories as they come to you, or do you pen your work with an intended audience? If conscious of your audience, what do you hope readers will take away from your work?
For the most part I write stories that come to me and I would give the same answer if I were writing to most prompts. I do not know the ending of a story until I get to it--the same with the second paragraph. Alice Mattison, a long time mentor, friend and terrific writer used to talk about her characters giving her direction and I thought that it would never happen to me. Now, all these years later, it happens frequently.
The occasional prompt that I write to that's so specific that I find myself writing to an audience I would like my readers to finish the story and believe in it.
You seem to tackle a lot of subjects that are perhaps completely UN-prompted - subjects that other writers might find taboo. For example, in your latest collection, you have stories containing ideas such as a penis that falls off but is still useful to its owner, peeping toms, facial ass hair, grandma's sexual escapades, a woman with an arachnid fetish, incest, role reversals, a deadly ball of dental floss, and urine as a medical cure. Are there any lines that you feel shouldn't be crossed in literature, or is everything fair game?
When you write that list it doesn't seem as if I have any taboos so I guess I don't if the subject matter is handled right and I think I do. I know that a great many magazines list topics they're not interested in publishing and that's fine but I manage to temper sensitive subjects with the bizarre or humorous and that comes natural to me.
It certainly does come naturally! You can make the bizarre seem normal and the ordinary seem strange, many times using twenty words to tell a story that takes other authors a whole novel to reveal. You're a master at the short form. I'm curious, though - do you think you'd ever write a longer work? For example, Mirsky and Elaine are reoccurring characters who appear in a number of stories. Would you ever write a book about them?
I wrote my first Mirsky story over thirty years ago with no intention of making him (he was a 12 year old boy) a recurring character. I think it was the only time I used his first name, but he didn't have a last name. When I decided to write another story I also decided I only wanted to use his last name and I only wanted two syllables so I drove to a Jewish cemetery in Bridgeport and walked around until I found a name I liked and it was Mirsky. Others have asked the same question about a longer piece with Mirsky and Elaine but unlike a short story I'd have to be struck with a concept first.
This is great. I think I'll make it my epitaph. You can make the bizarre seem normal and the ordinary seem strange. And of course I'd credit you on the stone.
Ha ha, I've never gotten stone cold credit before. Or would it be cold stone credit? Speaking of crediting, you mentioned the first flash you read was by Leonard Michaels. What other authors/creatives would you say have been influences on your writing?
Lydia Davis, Isaac Babel, Frederick Barthelme, Sholem Aleichem, Joy Williams, Etgar Keret, Mark Helprin, Diane Williams, Pamela Painter, Robert Scotellaro, Kathy Fish, Len Kuntz, Nancy Stohlman, Steve Almond, Tillie Olsen, Melissa Goodrich, and so many more.
What are you writing right now? Any new collections/stories in the works?
I'm compiling a chapbook of hardboiled/noir Flash stories for a chap book. I've got about two dozen so far and at least half have been published.
I've also been asked by a publisher to add stories from "the projects" to make a collection.
Additionally, I continue to write Flash and submit stories on a regular basis.
Now the final questions - where can readers find out more about you and your writing? Will you be doing any readings or appearances soon?
I'm working on that with a publicist now but my Launch reading will be at R.J. Julia Bookstore in Madison CT April 11th at 7pm.
I will also be reading at KGB and the Cornelia Café--dates to be announced.
And I'll be reading in Denver in Aug at their FBomb series.
More to come.
I've really enjoyed chatting with you, Paul. Thank you so much!
Radix Media is soon to release their inaugural anthology, entitled Aftermath: Explorations of Loss & Grief. Among the 33 contributors from around the world are the very talented writers Kristina V. Ramos, Andy Connor, Joy Kennedy-O'Neill, Joaquin Fernandez, Stacya Shepard Silverman and María José Giménez. You can find interviews with these writers and excerpts from the anthology on Radix Media's blog here.
I am thrilled to say a poem of mine will also be included in the anthology, and a short interview about my poem was released on Radix Media's blog today. You can read my interview here.
If you'd like to hear the poem in person and say hi to several of the local contributors, including Joaquin Fernandez, Stacya Shepard Silverman, María José Giménez and myself, stop by the book release party at the Greenlight Bookstore at 686 Fulton Street in Brooklyn on April 26th at 7:30pm.
Hope to see you there!
For those of you caught in the Nor'easter in New England, my three girls wish everyone a happy snow day!
I grew up reading classic comic books, and I must admit that I'm a big fan of the upsurge in popularity of comic-based TV shows and movies over the past couple decades or so. Comics are about heroes who are regular guys, too, and while they might sometimes paint good and evil as stark contrasts to each other, they are a beautiful combination of amazing art and kick-ass writing. I'm glad that the creative form has gained the recognition that it deserves.
I recently had the great pleasure of delving into the world of comics with a very informative chat with Omar Spahi. CEO and founder of OSSM Comics, Omar Spahi, has also written Xenoglyphs, Thaniel, and the recently released Separators. A comic creator with retail and business experience, running a successful real estate agency and working with management at HI DE HO Comics in Santa Monica, Omar has proven that he’s driven, talented, and passionate.
His goal is to find other creative people like himself and bring original ideas to the proverbial table. It’s hard to be innovative these days, but Omar knows there are many untapped talents in the world, making it his mission to find them and bring, through them, the best in indie comic books.
Omar has produced numerous web series, including the upcoming Sons of the Devil with New York Times Best Selling Author, Brian Buccellato (Flash, Detective Comics). With successful comics and now a sure-to-be hit series under his belt, Omar continues his conquests into other media in hopes to keep OSSM growing.
Thanks for joining me, Omar! Superheroes always have their origin stories, so let's start with the origin story of Omar Spahi. How did you get started? Did you always want to write comics?
Thanks for having me, Alison! Super pumped to be here with you. I didn't know writing comics was even a thing until I was out at dinner one night and I was talking to me about comics and told me about different creative teams on comics. From that moment on, I decided I was making my own comics.
OSSM Comics has released many popular titles and series since its inception in 2012 and seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. What's the story behind the decision to found your own independent comic company?
OSSM Comics was made in large part, because no one would put out my books. I never knew it would take on a life of its own when I founded it. I've been fortunate to know some of the best minds in comics and have them partner with me to create over 10 amazing projects through OSSM Comics.
How many individual issues have you written or have you lost count at this point? How has your writing process changed from your first issue to now, with so many publications under your belt?
At this point for Xenoglyphs, I've written 18 issues. But for all the other titles combined, I've lost count. My process has changed a ton and not at all. I still outline all my scripts before writing them and do breakdown, but I've evolved when it comes to characters emotions and plot points.
Xenoglyphs is the project that first launched OSSM Comics, and it's a project that you've returned to today. You're currently running a Kickstarter to complete the series for its many fans. What is Xenoglyphs about and what were the inspirations and influences behind its creation?
Wow. So many inspirations, I grew up a huge fan of Dragonball, the comic and animated series, Captain Planet, Batman the Animated Series and comics like the Flash were all huge inspirations for me.
Xenoglyphs is about these 2 best friends that travel the world to stop these nine different elemental stones from fall into the wrong hands. Steven and Dom are on a mission to solve the mysterious disappearance of what happened to Steven’s parents. It takes place around the world and follows different mysteries and uncovers conspiracies.
Xenoglyphs not only spans the world, but it contains a varied cast of characters. Especially today, this is a topic that has become highly publicized. Was diversity/globality one of the goals you had in mind when you first conceptualized the comic?
The goal was just to show people around the world as they are, it was never meant to be differences for difference's sake, it was just a real honest reflection of humanity.
I especially love the artwork on the action sequences, which is phenomenal. PJ Catacutan's artwork seems like the perfect fit for the storyline. How did you come to team up with him?
We met on Deviantart, it's sort of Facebook for artists. I loved his art style and he has grown and evolved so much as an artist. It still blows my mind. I couldn't be luckier to have such an awesome partner for Xenoglyphs.
According to ICv2 and Comichron, both print and digital comic sales are booming, even though sales growth has slowed within the past couple years. One thing you're planning on doing after the Kickstarter for Xenoglyphs is successful is to transition the series from hard copy to online. What prompted you to make this change? Is this what you see as the future of comics?
Honestly, I'm a huge fan of printed comics, but they're very hard to sell in stores with printing costs so high. I think transitioning to online is much easier and can give easier access to the fans. And it's all about the fans and making sure we tell the best story we can. The future of comics I believe is a mix between both, I love collecting comics and I love the digital read anywhere model as well. I think we live in a world where options for both are perfect.
I completely agree - I think it's great how many options there are for fans nowadays to enjoy their favorite characters, who have also been brought to life in popular films, TV shows and video games. You were recently involved with Code 8, a sci-fi film scheduled to be released this year. After your experience as executive producer, do you see yourself being interested in translating Xenoglyphs to a new medium, such as film or TV?
Absolutely, the main reason I got involved in Code 8 was to take my comics to the next level. Code 8 was such an amazing experience and I learned so much from the process. Xenoglyphs is my baby, and I won't rest until I find a way to take it into another form. It's always been a dream of mine.
Once Xenoglyphs is done, what's next on the horizon for you and OSSM Comics?
The plan is always to take what we have and nurture them and grow them into the next medium. The plan to grow what we've created and really do something special.
What advice would you have for aspiring comic book writers?
That's an awesome questions. I always ask this as the final question on my show. Here's the truth.
It takes time and work to break in, make as many comics as you can, learn how to master your craft. Find any way at all to work with people who have already been published at DC/Marvel or Image because once you become an associated act people begin to know your name. Keep pushing even when you feel like giving up. There's not a lot of money in comics, so if you're doing it for that, you're going to be disappointed, but if you love comics, you'll love your life.
Omar, thank you so much for chatting with me!
The pleasure is all mine.
If you like what you've seen of Xenoglyphs, the Kickstarter for Xenoglyphs ends on March 1st, and they are within spitting distance of their goal.
If you'd like to see the finished series, there are some fantastic rewards for backers, including both print and digital copies of Xenoglyphs, custom artwork by PJ Catacutan, getting drawn into the comics as a background character, comic writing lessons with Omar, and even the opportunity to be directly involved in creating the next series released by OSSM Comics.
You can check out the Kickstarter and all the backer prizes here.
I hope you enjoy reading Xenoglyphs as much as I did!
I am a freelance writer and poet with over seventy short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. When not writing, I review books for the ezine Bewildering Stories. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Connecticut, where I live with my husband and three children. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on!
© Alison McBain. All rights reserved