Poetry, Previously Published

The Ghost of Sigma Chi

My latest poem is up in issue 82 of The Pedestal Magazine. It’s a supernatural horror poem, with its roots in my college years. I was never a member of a fraternity, but I was friends with many who were and spent quite a bit of time in Greek houses. I even worked in a sorority house kitchen my sophomore year.

Every university has its share of urban legends and ghost stories, they’re frightening, but also comforting in their familiarity. By the time you graduate you’ve heard them all in every variation. I tried to capture the truth and horror of those kinds of stories with this poem.

The Ghost of Sigma Chi 
by Mack W. Mani
[The Pedestal Magazine – Issue 82]

 

Thanks for taking a look and be sure to check out the rest of the issue while you’re there!

 

Photo by  Oleksandr Pidvalnyi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poetry

T O P I A R Y

Statues line the promenade,
sun bleached and wind worn
tucked between the palms
one or two lay crumbling,
beheaded, missing limbs,
impromptu Venus

On summer nights like these,
the ocean spray blows in
to cover the city like mist
gently drowning our ambition
in seasaltbreeze

Cyan & amethyst
LED streetlights,
empty quads and alleys
where someone is playing
a Haydn Quartet
mixed by way of Moroder,
windows spilling neon
and complacent violin
-the neighborhood a mash
of old brick and new glass
looking for all the world like
something out of
la quartier mécanique

And right here’s my favorite
24hr. detox and Japanese takeout place
the soda fountains all serve
GHB and TAB Clear
(think Crystal Pepsi w/caffeine),
Arizona Ice Tea,
and water that tastes like zinc

From the corner booth
you can just make out
across the street,
through the gently
shifting fronds
a dozen TV-VCR combos
stacked in an immaculate
storefront window all playing
the Twin Peaks pilot on endless loop

While beyond,
the sea stacks sway
and glisten in
the dead summer haze
and together we melt
into A E S T H E T I C

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Poetry

The Grave Robber’s Confession by Mack W. Mani

I’ve seen Will ‘o Wisps
and St. Elmo’s Fire,
mostly them in the Southlands
graveyards near bayous or swamps.

I once saw an entombed woman 
come back to life 
three days after her death,
I had just slipped the ring 
off her finger pale and bony,
when she gasped and rose with a cry.

One summer I lived 
in the catacombs beneath Paris
and for nigh on a month
never once saw the light of the sun,
only pale torchlight 
cast across fields of bones,
wooden chests rotted to their hinges.

I have walked the hall of ashes
and seen the rotting face 
of John the Baptist.

Once in Afghanistan, 
I even spied a ghoul
prowling the trenches near dawn 
picking the corpses 
of both sides equally.

These are my qualifications,
such as they are;
few know as much about death
and the places of the dead 
as grave robber, 
so believe me when I tell you,
there is nothing beyond the grave,
but me.

No voices 
or tunnel of light
just darkness, dust, 
and these two dirty hands,
trying to make a living.

Art:

[Wooden Grave by Marker Majel G. Claflin c. 1937]
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Poetry

Posthumous

I kept your book
in the garden
where you’d left it
and watched day by day,
as the elements took it over,
sun bleaching the cover
rain swelling its pages.

From the right angle,
I could just make out
your hand drawn notes,
splayed across a corner of text,
the dog-eared page where
you had stopped reading
that sunny afternoon.

In time,
it settled into the loam
and there beneath the roses
framed and shaded in
hemlock and holly,
the book began to take root.

Before long
it stood as tall
as a sunflower,
sentences folded
into leaves,
spine extending
as a stalk.

And at the peak,
new pages began to form
as petals, stamen, pistol
gently folded origami
words not written when
you read the book.

Abstract and wondrous
prose and poems
from beyond the grave,
death having evolved your speech.

Fragments of memoir,
experience and tragedy
the travelogue of a dream
a journey into the surreal.

…such gifts they make of life here…
…blinding sun fractals bent at odd angles…
…Galore and Gore and Grammar…
…the pretense of time, alive and unending…
…my love my love my love…
…do not seek me here, for I am in the earth…

The thing lasted
almost a year
before succumbing,
despite my best efforts,
to the eternal,
withering, bent, and grey
I found it dead
on New Year’s Day.

Still,
I have the transcripts
those I could discern,
interred under glass
in a brightly lit corner
where sometimes
I simply sit and watch
and pretend that I can still
hear you out the window
in the garden below,
living, breathing,
and turning the pages.

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Poetry

What Walks Here, Walks Alone (Audio)

This is a quick reading I did of a previously unpublished poem, set to silent film footage.

 

Written, performed, and produced by Mack W. Mani

Video: Alice in Wonderland (1903) courtesy of Archive.org

The title is taken from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The phrase “black chests and high back chairs” was lifted from the poem The Prophet’s Paradise by Robert W. Chambers

Special Thanks:

Jordan Seider & Elizabeth Laws

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Essay

8 Tips For New/Unpublished Writers

1. Learn to write stories of different lengths/mediums.

Don’t be tied down to every idea as a novel or a screenplay. Some ideas simply work better as flash fiction or as a poem. If you’re not diversifying your output, then you are limiting the impact of your stories.

2. Submit to the right magazines (at the right time).

Take the time to compile a list of magazines and what types of stories they publish. Read what they publish. You are wasting your time and the time of the editor if you are unfamiliar with what the magazine wants.

Make note of their submission periods so you can stay on top who is accepting what types of stories.

Always check to see when the latest issue or post went online, there are lots of defunct magazines that still say they are “open for submissions”.

3. Submit regularly.

Give yourself regular deadlines to have work completed and submitted for either publication or contests. In the end, if you aren’t satisfied with what you’ve done, you don’t have to send it in, but it gives you a goal and a date to complete your project by.

(Don’t pay to enter or for consideration unless you are extremely confident in your work)

4. Do your cover letter right.

Use the editor’s name, if you can find it.

Don’t use a form letter for submissions, even if the magazine uses one for rejections.

Keep your cover letter brief, don’t describe your work, just who you are and that you thought it would be a good fit for their magazine.

Keep your bio professional, it’s okay to express yourself, but don’t try to make a lot of jokes or seem quirky, it comes off as desperate.

Don’t list 1,000 credits, just your most recent/prestigious publications. If you have no credits, keep it simple: Lucy Gordon is a French-Canadian Poet. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thomas and their cat Judy. 

5. Don’t talk about writing, write.

It has been scientifically proven that talking about projects before they are completed gives one just enough satisfaction to feel like they do not need to complete the task. It’s better to share a finished product than an initial idea. Outside input too early in the creative process can muddle your vision and inhibit you from making something that’s truly your own.

6. Don’t be afraid to branch out.

Pursue your ridiculous ideas! 

In Wonderbook Jeff Vandermeer talks a lot about how important the imagination is in the writing process and emphasizes the importance of “creative play” or simply letting your mind go where it will. Indulge your fantasies and daydreams (and nightdreams for that matter) you never know what seemingly absurd idea will lead you to an amazing, original story.

7. Write everything down.

Make list of your ideas, interesting names you hear, locations, moods, scenes, if something in your daily life strikes you, then make a note of it because you will forget. 

Be organized, know where everything is. Don’t delete what you cut, set it aside for later use. Many times I’ve been inspired by seeing the scraps of two poems next to each other in my “cut document”.

8. Know the rules, so you can break them.

You’re going to do what you want anyway, but it helps to know what you’re pissing on and what you’re praising. Even if you want to write free form, non-rhyming poetry, it’s still helpful to learn about meter. If you never learn proper grammar, all your characters will sound casual and uniform.

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Review

REVIEW: The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

With the release of his new novel, Mark Frost brings the mystery, oddity, and myth of the cult TV series to the printed page.

“I’ll see you in 25 years.”

And we shall. Next year, Twin Peaks returns to television. In anticipation of this new season, co-creator Mark Frost has put together a book that’s every bit as strange and mysterious as the television series.

The book is told in an epistolary format, each loose “chapter” made up of various “found” documents collected by a mysterious character known only as The Archivist. Much of the book is this person’s summary and interpretations of the various documents including newspaper clippings, excepts from Dr. Lawrence Jacoby’s book, a short story by Deputy Hawk, transcripts of “classified” government audio recordings, and even pieces of Lewis & Clarke’s lost journals.

Adding another layer to the mystery, these collected documents have been recently “found” at a murder scene, and the FBI’s Gordon Cole (David Lynch in the series) has tasked an agent known only as “TP” with decoding the book and discovering the identity of The Archivist. This agent’s footnotes comprise the final layer of meta-awareness in the book as we join them in trying to riddle out the truth among the deceptions and discern the identity of the book’s author.

The novel mainly details the history of the town prior to the events of the show, as well as significant portions dedicated to various covert government operations involving residents of Twin Peaks and the surrounding woods. These chapters take the reader into the sordid worlds of UFO sightings, rocket science, coverups, and black magic. The brief looks at the town between the end of the series and the upcoming season are few and far between, serving only to whet the appetite. But what is meant to enlighten and what is meant to distract?

The book was initially met with a significant amount of backlash from long time fans of the show, as many small details from the series were seemingly ignored, retconned, or simply thrown out the window entirely. But as clever readers soon discovered there is more to these seeming errors than meets the eye.

More than once in the book it is indicated that the documents presented as “authentic and original” have either been altered or fabricated by parties unknown. The who and why are a matter of debate among fans who are still trying to suss out all of the clues and omissions. One example: throughout the book it is shown that The Archivist’s typewriter has no “1” key, instead they use the capital “I” making the number fifteen look like “I5”. This small quirk carries over into several documents that are supposed to come from different sources, indicating that these have been fabricated.

What is most surprising about the novel however, is how much real life history Frost has weaved into his fiction, from Lewis & Clarke to Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard, he uses real figures from American history and the details surrounding their lives (and deaths) as a background to construct his Secret History of Twin Peaks. Research as you read and you’ll be surprised at how much of the book is based on actual incidents and people.

The only real issue I have with the book is the agent “reading” it. TP’s notes are often unnecessary, they point out things that should be clear to anyone who was paying attention. And while mostly relevant, several chapters seemed overlong and indulged too heavily in the realm of “conspiracy theories” including a lot of information on aliens and the Illuminati. Though exactly how pertinent these sections will be to the mythology of the show remains to be seen, and Mark Frost is keeping those details close to his chest.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Frost at a book signing earlier this month, he was very friendly with all of the fans and gave thoughtful and satisfying answers to their questions. He played selections from the audiobook that (whenever possible) used the voices of actors from the show both old and new. He took ample time to speak with everyone in line for the signing and seemed genuinely gracious at the gifts he was given. When asked about the possibility of a sequel novel, he divulged that there is one in the works whose release will depend on the 2017 series.

As far as the physical book goes, the binding is excellent and the cover is beautiful. It looks great on the shelf, though it seems much longer than it is, much like Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar series, the word count speaks more to the length of the book than the page count. The novel seems sizable, but reads quickly. The pages have full color, including some very cool red/blue photographs of owls, aliens, and BOB.

In the end, the book raises many more questions than it answers, but it wouldn’t be part of Twin Peaks if it didn’t. Fans will likely be reading between the lines and scouring the pages for clues for a very long time. This is an absolute must read for big fans of the show, however casual readers might be thrown off by the large amount of seemingly irrelevant material.

The new season of Twin Peaks premiers on Showtime sometime in the first half of next year.

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Short Fiction

The House is Alive

You follow me up the servant’s stair, onto the darkness of the landing. The only light here comes from our headlamps, so dim now, we squint to see, their yellow light ever dimming. We squat in the hallway, beneath a dusty tapestry and you light one of the cigarettes provided by Central, 75% tobacco and 25% Adderall (to sharpen our senses, even as they are dulled). In this way, we are able to navigate the halls and stairs and endless rooms with minds un-compromised.

Protocol dictates that once every hour, we stop and assess our progress, which means checking to see if either of us have lost our minds. The unasked question between us now, what happened to the previous investigation? Were they overwhelmed by this house? Had all their training and meditation left them still unequipped for what resides here? Were there bodies to be found, or had they simply dissolved into the architecture of this place? Of only one thing we are certain.

The house is alive.

That we stick together is of the utmost importance, never leaving each other’s sight. Lest one of us wander down a corridor that a moment later, doesn’t exist or experience some specific phenomena that cannot be corroborated. You ask if I’ve seen anything unusual and I admit that the house seems to be moving slightly, the walls and floors expanding and contracting, as though we were exploring the arteries of some massive creature. To this you only nod, because we both know it could be worse. Much worse.

You try the radio again, in a half-hearted attempt to reach basecamp, a mile away, tucked in the hills behind the estate. But you know we’ve been cutoff from the outside world ever since we mounted the stairs to the second floor, modern technology having no affect in the upper stories.

There are rumors about this place, stories passed down from the natives to the French missionaries, legends of a squat stone building, the color of bone, that existed in this place before time memorial. Myths, like dreams, are easy to laugh at, but hard to ignore in the way they crawl inside you and set up camp.

As we mount up, I have you help me with my pack. I tell you it’s because of the bulk, (enough supplies to last us a week) but my hands have begun to feel numb ever since we stopped. We keep our eyes open for another staircase or ladder, but there’s nothing, just rooms and anterooms, places for music and bathing, for powder, business, pleasure, rooms for children, suites for guests, quarters for neighbors and servants, pantries and shelves of dusty cans, wine cellars stocked with mildew and grime. No sign of any outside thing, just us, in this house and I can’t help but feel intruder here, a child playing in a mausoleum.

We round a corner and I see two figures, standing at the end of the hall, turned from us. They wear heavy packs, strapped to their bodies. All through my face, I feel the familiar crackle of recognition, and I know, they are us. As we step forward, so do they, and I am afraid that if I turn back, I will see myself turning and beyond that, another and another.
You put your hand on mine, What is it? What do you see?

And the music begins.

A great sweeping orchestra, somewhere in the house, brass and woodwind, the percussion alone could deafen. I turn to see your reaction and by the look on your face, I know you cannot hear it. I open my mouth to explain, when several dust particles settle onto an antique chaise in the parlor, cast off from the ceiling by our vibrations one floor above. The beauty of this connection brings tears to my eyes.

Your grip on my arm tightens and mouth agape, I realize that I’m incapable of explaining to you, in any words, how I can feel so thoroughly throughout the house; a single drip of condensation sliding down a wall of white-yellow stone far down beneath the basements.
You are shaking me, shouting the words you hope will trigger something in my mind, Alabaster, Castaigne, Penrose, Keystone, and I try to tell you that it’s fine, that I’ve reached some kind of understanding with this place.

The research! I say, Think of what we are discovering!

But you just speak the words over and over, following instructions. I become aware of a minute fluctuation in temperature, a half degree or less.

And you are gone.

There is silence, the band has stopped playing, the walls have stopped breathing. I can feel my hands and my face and the weight of my pack. I am inside of a house. It is dark. My headlamp has gone out. I have a thirst beyond reckoning and I know that time has passed, but not how much. I try to take a step, my mind vaguely tracing a route back to the first floor, but discover that I have to sit down, suddenly exhausted.

Cross-legged on the hardwood, I try to remember what happened, where you went. I try to go back to that place, that state of mind. If only I could get back there, then I could simply feel where you were in the house, if you are still here. I am. Sitting on the fourth floor, unable to summon the energy to rise. Here between a broken statue and the library, groping in the dark, silent and agonized, feeling much like a ghost.

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