The Boys Are Back & They’re Lookin’ For Trouble…

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This is a thing I’ve been working on!

The complete collection of everything featuring my PI character Ben Miles is now available as an e-book, Running The Train…And All The Stories: The Ultimate Ben Miles Mystery Collection!

He’s not the best fighter or the smartest investigator, but private eye and sometimes-bail bondsman Ben Miles is lucky enough to have some decent instincts, smarter friends, and the good (or bad?) luck to sometimes be in the right place in the right time. This volume has it all, from the Midwestern Mafia in Cleveland to the sex trade in Queens, New York and every punch and clue in between.

Some of what’s in here is available in other places, but some of it isn’t though, and it’s been re-edited with some corrections and now in one big single collection, pretty much the arc of me writing fiction between 2012 (when the original version of this came out) and a month ago when I finally finished putting this fucking thing together.

I’ve been working on this for a while, doing passes on the whole file as well as finally finishing the last Ben Miles story I ever started, which is finally showing up here. I hope people buy it, like it, share the link around, spread the word, and more. I’m actually sorta proud of this.

You can buy the book through Smashwords here!

~

Please let me know if you’d like a review copy.

Notes On “Alla the Hunter” @ NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS Wrapping Up

Wow, feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been here.

The last entry in “Alla the Hunter”, the latest serialized fantasy story at my casual fantasy fiction hub NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS is now up, bringing that story to an end.

It’s weird, I started this one completely-differently than how I did the original “No Grave…” story, which took a lot of work and preparation, which definitely created something more in line with how I sometimes tend to write short fiction, which is off-the-cuff. I didn’t really intend to this time, because I really liked how the prose worked in “No Grave,” (even though in hindsight there’s so much pre-production that went into that short story) but hey, that’s how things work.

I’d fully-planned to do the same thing, with a ton of notes and sketches for self-reference for “Allah the Hunter” and I think some of them are around, but besides one I don’t think I ended up using any of them, worried too much about overthinking things and forcing a particular type of writing mindset to match what I’d done previously.

However, I knew that I wanted to write about someone trying to find their way, but not a typical fantasy-style “journey” or “quest,” instead someone just figuring out in a more real or immediately-tangential sense, of wanting to go somewhere, but missing where you were from, still knowing you needed more, but then struggling to express what that more is. If that makes sense.

Alla was supposed to be a side character from something else, but the idea of a hunter, someone who isn’t a warrior or almost “typical” fantasy and RPG-style character (who seem to be plaguing fantasy a lot, at least it seems that way to me), but someone in that position of fighting and using a bow to just live. It was also important to me she wasn’t using a sword, because swords are for soldiers with the money to afford them or the experience to salvage them from someone dead on a battlefield, but a bow and axe? I’d been reading about the 100 Years’ War and the concept of the yeoman archer, and I think form there is where this came from, of someone who owed a level of their prosperity to war but not as a professional soldier or knight or a “mercenary,” or had a tie to that. It’s fascinating in that reading about yeomen and citizen archers in English armies in the 14th through 16th century essentially becoming a (very) small-landowning “middle class”  of farmers and property managers who could be called upon, and who would respond because it let you have a crack at making some quick cash (stripping and looting bodies).

At least that’ what I think about when I think about fantasy settings and fantasy fiction.

Anyway, there’ll be more at some point at NO GRAVE, maybe something serialized, maybe something more one-off, we’ll see. No promises, I’m actually sorta busy. Who knew?

Chapter 1 is here.

You can read the entirety of it here.

Stay safe and sane out there, everyone.

Enjoy the short story “Old Dogs”

One of the projects I’m working on is a re-edit and cleanup of every Ben Miles story. He was the first character I ever created who felt fleshed-out and complete, someone who so naturally flowed from my brain to my hands to the keyboard, and I feel myself always going back to him. Here’s one of them, one of the first ones I ever did, “Old Dogs.” It’s super-reflective of where I was living at the time, what I was reading and thinking about and enjoying, but I think it also stands as one of the first complete pieces of fiction I ddi IMG_2184that felt “done,” not just “finished” if that makes sense.

Anyway, enjoy it, and keep an eye out for even more short fiction here as I’ve been doing and for something Ben Miles-related coming soon.

~

“Old Dogs” by Costa Koutsoutis

“Look, just ask him.”

“I am not going to ask him anything.”

“Come on, ask him! It’ll take you ten minutes, and then you can leave and not have to deal with me…”

“For another six months until you need something again, and refuse to stop leaving me messages demanding that I help you out of some hole you’ve gotten yourself into!”

“So, you’ll ask him?”

“Ben, I am telling you that you’re wrong, it’s not him!”

Ben stared at her as they sat in the tiny, dimly-lit café. Outside the trains rattled overhead on the elevated tracks, and the foot traffic and cars was a constant din. Despite the loud hum of the industrial air conditioner and the large-scale Venetian blinds lowered over the front windows and glass door, the hot hair and bright sun was fighting to filter into the small tile-lined front room. Faded and peeling old maps of Greece and photos of men in moustaches lined the walls, some in frames of stained old silver, some in battered cheap wood. Fake Greco-Romanesque columns were in the corners, with fake ivy twined around them. Mismatched chairs sat around metal tables scattered around the café, which was empty save for one grouping around the table furthest back from the door and front windows.

Three old men, consumed in their card game and keeping score on a battered old legal pad, were yelling at each other periodically in Greek, peppered occasionally with heavily-accented English that was probably just their own takes on English slurs. They seemed to be ignoring Ben and Kalli, who were at the table next to them. No one else seemed to be in the coffee shop in the middle of Astoria.

Ben Miles, a PI and sometimes-bondsman, rubbed his face with his hands, elbows on the cheap peeling linoleum of the table. Mid-twenties, scruffy, and looking every bit the constant mess. “Look, I’m telling you, he’s the guy.”

“How do you know?” Kalli, mid-thirties, put together, a more successful PI and bondswoman, the kind with a real office and employees, looked at him suspiciously, drinking from her glass of water that a reluctant waiter had brought them when the two had walked in and sat down. They hadn’t seen him since. “I know you think you’re this great ‘finder’ or whatever, but I am telling you that you’re wrong. That’s Grigories Kafilas, the owner of the DVD Emporium. Every Greek kid in the borough knows who he is, we always went to him for movies, even back when it was all VHS. He’s the bootleg movie king of Queens.”

Ben pulled a battered and much-folded piece of paper, a computer printout of a photo, from his pants pocket, smoothing the crinkled image out on the table. “Look,” he said in a stage whisper, “He’s got the scar on the back of his hand, where the tattoo would have been. He’s the same age, the same height, same eye color…”

Kalli put her hand on his arm. “Ben, do you know how many old Greek men are in this neighborhood? With dark brown eyes and scarred hands? This guy?” She frowned, reading the scrawled marker writing on the paper, “Frank Kroger? He’s not even Greek!”

Ben leaned back in his chair, frowning. “I know I’m right,” he said, re-folding the picture and putting it back in his pocket. “Fred Kroger’s a German-Italian kid from Ohio who works as a clean-up guy for what ends up becoming the Cleveland Mafia in the seventies. He disappears with his boss’s ledgers one day, mails the ledgers to the FBI in Washington, DC, from what the Feds eventually discover was a post office in Iowa.

“Then, Kafilas shows up in New York the same time Kroger disappears, looks the same, has a scarred hand where a tattoo’s been? The same place that Kroger was known to have a tattoo? Ends up owning a video rental store and then a DVD place? Everyone I’ve talked to has told me Kroger was obsessed with movies, always wanted to own a theater or something, spent every spare minute he had going to the movies.

“I’ve been following this guy around Astoria for almost a week, and he’s slipped up almost a few times, when he thinks that no one is watching, in the way he carries himself, the way he walks. Kalli, it’s him. I can feel it, it’s a gut thing.”

“That’s your proof?” Kalli shook her head, clearly confused. “That’s the silliest story I’ve ever heard from you. Look, I’ve always been willing to help you, you know that. And I’ve almost always believed you when you came to these ridiculous conclusions because they usually turn out to be true, but this is too much. This is my old neighborhood, these are my people. I’m pretty sure I’ve even been in this place before with my dad!” Kalli pulled an iPhone out of her inner coat pocket, thumbing through the screen. “Look, you can’t just ask me to go around, talking to these old men like that. I have connections here I need to maintain, unlike you.”

Ben stood up from the table. “Okay, fine. You don’t believe me, you don’t wanna do me this one little favor. Then I’ll ask him.” He moved around the small table to walk over to the group of old men, and paused.

The group of three were gone, their game apparently long-over. The old man Kalli had called Kafilas was standing there, leaning slightly on one of the chairs, watching the two argue. Ben could see the remains of the sheet of paper and pencil used to keep score tucked into his shirt pocket, next to what looked like a pair of folded glasses, big old-man glasses.

“You should take more risks and listen to him, young miss,” he said, with no trace of any Greek, his Midwestern accent barely noticeable, “Whose are you?”

“Y-Yianni…Yianni Kiliaris’ granddaughter,” Kalli said, in shock. “I’m his daughter’s daughter.”

“Good family,” the old man said. “So,” he moved to sit at their table, with Kalli scrambling to pull a chair back for him almost deferentially as Ben grinned ear-to-ear, stood there. The old man sat down and reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a pair of thick-lensed glasses, perching them on his face before looking back up. “You are, young man?”

“Your brother’s grandsons hired me to find you, Mr. Kroger,” Ben said, “they’d heard about you and the story of how you crossed the Novelli family back in Ohio. Wanted to know what happened to you, so they called someone who called someone who called me. I, ah…I find stuff.”

“Stuff?” Kroger said, looking at him over his glasses.

“Well, people too,” Ben said, shuffling through his pockets. “I swear, it’s a real job, I’m not a weirdo.”

“Ben is a private investigator,” Kalli said, “and despite the stupid look on his face, not a bad one.”

“An investigator, really?” Kroger said, “What, like a PI? A gumshoe, a detective?” He turned to look at Kalli, “and you? Are you his girl Friday?” He laughed to himself. “Well, at least you don’t work for the Novelli family. Wouldn’t be the first to get close, but I haven’t seen any of them in a long time. One time, one of them came here, asking about me, asking if any old Italian men lived in the neighborhood. I near about pissed my pants, sitting right over there.” He pointed to the corner table he’d been at earlier, playing cards. “I know that not everyone has been fooled in the neighborhood, and a few know something about me is off…”

“The Novelli family’s long-gone, Mr. Kroger,” Ben said, before the old man cut him off. “Please, call me Grigories. I’ve answered to that name longer than Frank Kroger.”

“Mr. Kafilas, sorry. The Novelli family’s long gone, the FBI took them apart like a fat kid eating a chicken wing years ago. Salvadore Novelli died in prison, I talked to Frankie Rolo’s son, Ronnie? He ended up in the ATF funny enough, but he said that his dad’s friends all died off before anyone could really pass on anything about you to the newer generation of guys, so you’ve pretty much been forgotten as far as they’re concerned. At least, that’s what it looks like to me.”

The old man didn’t say anything, his hands on the tabletop. Ben could see the tops of his hands, gnarled and worn, the scar on the back of his left hand still obvious. “I took a strip of sandpaper to it when I got on the train to New York. Took me an hour and I bled all over, I had to rip up a shirt to cover it up. I was so stupid, I probably could have just waited and it’d have faded away. I ended up working at the docks, was in the sun all day, messed up my hands a bunch of times, would’ve hid it.

“Everyone you talked to is right, you know. I loved the movies, always took girls there, even went alone. There is something about being in the dark and seeing another world and a story that is not your own, it felt freeing. I guess I should have opened up a restaurant, maybe then you would’ve never found me. But I have always loved the movies. Maybe if I’d been born now, and was young like you, I’d have made my own movies, become famous, made other people feel the way that I felt when I watched them. But back then?”

He sighed. “I was never going to get made by the family, because my father was a German. What else could I do? It was impossible to do anything for a son of an Italian widow in Cleveland to do except work for the Novelli family, you know. But in the end, it was too much, seeing what they did and what I did. So I did what I did. You would be surprised at how easily I got the books, back then security was something none of us thought about. Even now, my stores, just locking the doors and putting the alarm on, no one thought of that. Who would dare cross the Novellis?”

The old ex-gangster-turned-DVD-mogul stood up suddenly, ambling over to the counter of the empty café, his hands in his pockets. “My brother had already left for the army and was in Europe at the time, on his way to becoming an officer. He died in a training accident a few months later. My mother was dead, lung cancer from working in the factories all those years. I didn’t have anything holding me back.

“I stopped and changed trains at one point on my way to New York, and mailed the books to the F.B.I from an address I found in the yellow pages. Did you know that? The Federal Bureau of Investigation used to be listed in the phone book!” He laughed. “I thought I was so clever, pretending to be a Greek. It wasn’t easy, but I knew enough of the language, we’d had a few work for us in Cleveland. The Italians, they treated them like shit…” he trailed off suddenly, and turned around. “So, what now? You and me, we road trip like a movie back to Ohio? Are we happily reunited?”

Kalli stood up from the table, and walked towards the door, pausing before she stepped out into the busy and bright-hot street. Ben walked over to the table the old men had been playing cards at, ripping a piece of paper from the legal pad and grabbing the pencil. He sat back down with the old former gangster, and scrawled something down. “This is my number. You call me if you need anything at all.”

“Alright,” Kafilas said. “And this other number?”

Ben stood up. “His name is Michael, he’s your oldest grand-nephew. He and his wife would love to meet you. They live in Cincinnati. He married a Greek woman, actually.”

He walked towards the door, following after Kalli. “Give him a call sometime, he’s a nice guy. They really would like to meet you.” He opened the door to the café, the sounds of the crowds and the street spilling in along with a burst of hot air, and slipped out.

Monsters, Myth, & More Free Fiction

In the continuing spirit of free fiction to keep everyone sane and whet appetites, this is an excerpt from something i’ve been working for a while and close to the vest, but I honestly love it so much that a segment of it appeared also as a monthly fiction piece on my Patreon (at the $5 and up levels).

I like it so much though and I like all of you that I’m sharing it here, and hoping to have more to show and share from it coming soon.

Enjoy this little bit from a file labeled “ITVCD”;

~

Undelivered letter, discovered by USPS officials in a wrecked delivery truck in 1995, address handwriting rendered unreadable. Truck found in Croton Landing Park, New York, with substantial water damage inside.

(Address & date illegible)

My Dearest,

I’m so sorry. Before I say anything else to you, I am so, so sorry, for everything that has happened between us. But we know that we can’t stay quiet and mad at each other for so long. It’s dangerous, too dangerous now.

The new American breed of monsters are actually old, but not. They’re ancient, really, the same blood- and flesh-craving creatures of the woods and the shadows, the same nightmare parasites of our minds, the same fear-smelling demons bartering and peddling. What makes them “new” per se is age, in a way yes, because as they rose and took their places in the New World they were children compared to their Old World ancestors. However, that they managed to change and become rooted in this new landscape as men and women and children committed to literally building a new world with nothing but their hands, they became uniquely American, and not just the cast-offs of their ancient elders.

Titans from the Old World are eternal, unchanging, and remain creatures of the old world because they have never moved, never had to do anything different. The new continent though, they all have a little trickster in them, a little ever-evolving and ever-learning brain, some shapeshifter in their black-blood veins.

America is a land of change and when the woods changed into houses, when the roads cut through the mountain and valley, when the old rituals the first generations brought over are forgotten or stream-lined, American monsters change. They adapt, they learn.

What happens when one day, they learn more than us, when they find the loopholes in the boundaries and the wards and the curses we no longer maintain and believe in? The uniqueness of America has been how at the root, it allows for re-invention. The pilgrims and settlers who came here and tried to recreate the Old World didn’t last, not like the ones who hustled and rolled with the punches, changing and adapting. Who says that monsters can’t do the same thing, hmm? Who says they can’t see a new land, or a change in the face of their old land, and rather than sink into the shadows and depths, change with it?

The beasts of the forest already know that the alleys between buildings are the same paths as the ones between trees, so why couldn’t ancient terrors of the woods change like coyotes and birds and raccoons, live in ancient buildings instead of tree boles? Oceans full of giant ships across the surfaces dumping who knows what in it as the water gets hotter every year, so maybe the denizens of the deep get smaller but quicker, weaker but smarter…and closer to the surface, still clinging maybe to the old promises that people who lived by shores forgot were made so long ago?

It’s those adapting and evolving American monsters who we have to fear, the ones who learn, because we’re forgetting, we’re so close to have forgotten. We as a species forgot how to ward, how to bide, how to sacrifice and fight back, how to properly pay tribute to black-blooded bodies and lidless eyes.

I am so sorry we’ve been apart for so long, that our childish fights and pettiness has turned into decades now, decades apart while the threads we desperately needed have worn away to almost nothing. So much has been lost since our relatives came to America, and so much more since then when we began to (ILLEGIBLE) 

American monsters might just be more American than the rest of us, in the end.  I only pray that you understand that before it’s too late.

With Love –

JA

Enjoy my short story “Wildlife”

(This originally appeared in a little print-on-demand chapbook I did, “Bricked,” which I published through MagCloud. I just wanted to share it again because I was thinking about it and liked it, and why not share some short stories for free?)

~

“Wildlife”

It crossed the alley behind my apartment building last night.

IMG_2193The buildings on the block all have a big joined alley behind them, a space where the kids play during summer days, basketball and handball, loud music and laughter. There’s no streetlights or anything though, and most of the windows that look out onto the space are tightly-shuttered by whoever lives in those apartments, making it dark, isolated, odd in the nighttime, a space of quiet and darkness in a bright and constantly-moving city. There’s people out at all times most of the year in this neighborhood, to and from the subways, to and from the clubs and bars and restaurants and grocery stores, but the back space? Once the sun goes down, it’s a no-man’s land, a dark little space, an emptiness of quiet. If you take your garbage out at night and have to walk past the yard to get to the trash cans on the sides and in the backs of the buildings, you walk fast, turn around, walk fast back. Don’t look in there, an instinct that somehow always comes back to you, and more and more, I don’t see anyone taking their trash out at night.

I was working, alone in the apartment, my girlfriend gone for the weekend with some family, when I heard it. The cat woke up from the chair she slept in suddenly, alert, and hissed, hopping across the room to the window, from chair to couch to my lap to glass. I got up and looked out the window, scratching her between alert ears, feeling her tremble.

“What’s wrong, kitty, a pigeon fart and you hear it…”

I stared.

It paused and looked up, not at me, just…up, like it was listening to a wind that no one else heard or felt in the still evening air, eyes like the moon, flat but too bright to be anything but blank and glowing white, a moment too long to be random, a deliberate motion to hear what someone else has to say. It shook its head and lowered it again, almost morose now, shambling across the yard back to the shadows, the candle-tip bits of light in the halo of its antlers slowly fading. Whatever bodily glow it had was gone, like a visible breath in the cold fading away in a there/not there moment, and the shadows made it almost impossible to see it there, walking the edge of the yard, a long slow loop, harder and harder to see with every step, the stocky body and thick neck no longer there, the clop-clop of hooves that I knew I couldn’t hear but felt, soft and steady, quieter, quieter, darker, darker.

And then, it was gone.

I blinked, somehow in the space between the seconds, in the dark of the edges around the backyard space, it just…vanished, gone, the hum of the fan in the other window going softly the only sound audible besides my heart in my ears.

Then, I don’t know why, but…I went outside.

In a moment I stuffed my keys in my pocket and shoved my feet into shoes, out the front door and down to the noise of the street. It was late but in the warmth of the summer heat radiating from the concrete, kids were still out, older teens wandering and laughing, hanging out on stoops, even near my building’s front area, drinking paper bag drinks and smoking stolen cigarettes. Down the block, around the corner, to the open alley, a lot that once housed a building but was just a blank space, not even a wound on the block, just…there, a big thing of “not there.”

Kids cut across this to the rip in the fence at the far end to get into the back space of the apartment buildings, and I managed to fit through the tear and get into the back space. I could have gone from the entrance through my building, but for some reason, my brain told me to take a back route, like somehow, I could catch it?

Like somehow, I could get the drop on whatever it was, candlelit points of light in antlers and white eyes and heavy clopping steps.

There was nothing there, nothing in the alley. I walked around, looking for something, anything. I knelt down, stared has hard as I could at the black ground, fumbling for my phone to shine it at my feet. No prints, as if I could even tell, no bits of hair, just the dirt and trash and wet cold blacktop. I stood up, and looked up at my window. I’d left the light on.

Candlelit points of light in antlers and white like the moon eyes looked back at me.

State of the Workstation, March 2020

 

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VISIBLE – 

Robert Caro’s book (borrowed from my bookworm father) Working, mostly-done cup of coffee, my Sharpie-scrawled to-do list for this week, ye olde-time laptop (the monster MacBook that so much of my work gets done on), stapler (for stapling papers I collect, an older metal one because I like the physical feel of it and the sound it makes), lesson planner (a calendar actually that I use like a planner, a way of working that I picked up teaching high school), a few pens, my daily notebook, gradebook (a binder with hand-made charts to input grades so I’m not reliant on just my digital grade book), drafts of papers I’m reading, and some rosters (names blacked out).

NOT VISIBLE BUT THERE, TRUST ME – 

Two coffee cups’ worth of pens, pencils, markers, and scissors, faint dirty paw-prints from the cat climbing across it randomly, essays and a column and a short story serialized for my Patreon (what I recently calculated is about 2500 words a month), notes for a presentation for an educational expo, the notes and manuscript for “Alla the Hunter” for NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS, my work for an online class I teach, two longer manuscripts, misc. notes, revising an older work, and two essays for The Means At Hand about _________’s ______________ and the _______ __________,* both of which are some of my favorites.

OK, back to the mines, see ya around.

*) I couldn’t help myself, had to be coy.

Irony Is For Suckers

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(This was originally just a train of thoughts on Twitter put into a slightly-more coherent form as I try to work more and more in longform.)

I was recently on a kick one morning going to work, listening to Lifetime, the seminal New Jersey band that was around from 1990 to 1997. From that band came seminal late-90’s/early-2000’s hardcore bands like Kid Dynamite and later on, Paint It Black, as well as a plethora of other bands and projects, which at one point I had pretty much most of all that web of musical output. Yes, even the weird electronic stuff that I didn’t really get, but I wanted, in my collector’s brain, to make suer I had to complete this micro-catalog of this collective’s output, a capsule of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York-adjacent hardcore punk and emo.

They got back together in 2005 (which is when I finally got to see them live) and released a new record (which was really great) as well as a re-release of their very first one with a ton of other old stuff in there, which was very exciting for grad-school Costa at the time (again, collector brain). Listening to them you see the threads of inspiration that led to a TON of “modern emo” bands that were all the rage in the 2000’s touting hometown pride for being from areas considered not cool, all of it going back to a band from New Jersey who sang songs about heartbreak, bad friends, lonely nights, and weird times.

I think a lot about what I grew up listening to these days, especially framed within the essay “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” by writer Jessica Hopper (the essay’s probably almost 20 years old at this point?) that highlights how much of punk, emo, and hardcore is rooted in young (mostly-straight) male anxiety and frustration and how it fuels a sort of lashing-out in the feral-ness of it, and it makes you think also too about what could be seen as a very legitimate criticism of a lot of indie/punk/underground rock music of the 80’s and 90’s into the 21st-century…it’s really white. And it’s really male. And it is, overall, what could be simplified as “whiny white boy music,” a thing I’ve heard (not unkindly) used to describe some of the bands that I grew up listening to.

And I mean a lot of it all makes sense, punk can be very suburban at times, very male-centric, and at the same time it can not only all sorta sound the same but also sound self-centered, turning girls into grievances abstract concepts rather than actual people. You know, “whiny white boy music.”

But I mean, look at me;

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Me in 2007 at the Petrified National Forest in Arizona on a road trip…PS, don’t drive barefoot or in flip-flops kids, it’s illegal in some states!

What can I say?

I was a sensitive, nerdy, earnest teenager and 20-something who saw rage and frustration and not a small amount of machismo and bruteness in punk at the time when I was struggling with who I was going to become, so of course a band that instead sang about those sorts of things, about the moments in life you strive to remember in hindsight, about romance and the awkward pains and glories of it was something that I was going to be attracted to.

When Grant Hart of the immensely-impactful Husker Du passed away, I remember Andrew Weiss mentioning (and I’m pretty sure I’m butchering this paraphrasing) about how Black Flag was the band you were supposed to love, but Husker Du was the band that he knew he really should love because of how they spoke to him. How that band, melodic and honest and personal, felt more real and important than anything rage-filled or overtly-political that was held up as an echelon of punk rock at the time. To me, that was Lifetime. They (and bands like that of that time, of before, and after) were too earnest, and I think that sensitivity and honesty, not really masked necessarily in anger or political rage or playing at being tough, is what put people off and made people like me feel a little wimpy or not hard enough to honestly enjoy it.

Which is bullshit, ebcause in theory so much of what I loved about punk rock was the deliberate thumbing your nose at social constructs, and being macho is one of them, but I guess toxic masculinity is a hell of a fucking drug to shake.

All I know is that Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers were sloppy and raw and I felt it in my gut every moment I listened to them, more than any other band considered relevant at that time in my life. I guess I was “emo” as the kids would say these days, listening to the singer of Lifetime sing, ironically enough, a cover of “It’s Not Funny Anymore” by Husker Du (from their second record, Hello Bastards) as I’d ride the subway home at night, thinking I was in those songs about those kinds of nights baring yourself to someone, even if it was just a record.

Introducing “Alla The Hunter” At NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS

So the site for NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS, the serialized fantasy story I was writing and publishing weekly, is now going to be a hub for similar writing from me, either also a weekly serialized story, or one-offs. The newest story is something I’ve been working on for a while, called “Alla The Hunter,” and I hope you enjoy it. I’m enjoying working on it and flexing writing muscles doing fantasy, so please, let me know what you think!

The first chapter is up now.

Also, there was honestly no need, she thought. Crops had been good this year gods bless, and the forests were teeming. She couldn’t see them as she waited, but Alla knew that the other hunters like herself were stretched out around here in the woods descending on the clearing, their dark brown and green clothing, the smoke of the fires, and the dirt and scraps one found in the woods rubbed into their clothing, they were invisible to the herd. The one big stag was on edge, she could tell, slowly pulling back, and reminding herself not to knock over the backup arrow stuck in the dirt next to her foot just in case. It was risky on a hunt like this to fire a backup arrow quickly, because you might hit someone else, but she was confident in her second shot to take the risk. And if enough first shots got enough deer, she wouldn’t need it, she reasoned. The fletching of the arrow was to her cheek, and a loud “Now!” was barked, and she let fly.

The second arrow was on the notch and she took two quick steps forward further towards the clearing, as the big stag and two older does fell. Alla swivelled left, where she knew only one other hunter would have been, seeing him duck as she sighted the other buck taking off, and tracked him looping through the woods behind them, suddenly bolting back towards them in the panic of a cornered beast. She let loose and it brayed and wheezed while she jogged back fast as it fell to the ground, the arrow in its neck, the big antlers tangled into the grass, the buck wheezing. Alla and someone else, Milo she thought, were on it in a second though, her weight on its thick neck while Milo’s knife cut the main vein, and the buck wheezed one more time, not suffering anymore.

For Grandmothers

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Getting older is where you start to think about a lot of things, especially if you’re the child and-slash-or grandchild of immigrants, from anything vaguely-ethnic, because it’s that point in life where you finally start to find footing and parameters (I really like this word, I realized recently) about what you like and what you don’t like about the world those who came before you came from.

In that footing, you start to sometimes struggle, and I think the reason that when we recently watched Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell, which I’ve wanted to see but also struggled to bring myself to see (it came out last year and I’m mad I didn’t see this in theaters then because it would have definitely been one of my top films of last year), it so deeply resonated with me. I’ve also struggled with growing up Greek-American, with not wanting it, with trying to accept and embrace it, with the history of it and the current social and political aspects of it, of wanting to care but honestly feeling bad that I also don’t, if that makes sense. And so much of that seeps through this film, with Billi grappling to fit in and go along even though she knows that she can’t, occupying another space of the generation that are coming back, struggle with not being a part of their family’s cultures both on purpose and in defiance…AND YET still expected to go along with so much of it anyway when needed. It can feel like you’re being obligated to participate in elements of a world that only stands in the way of your own forward progress.

But barring toxic relationships, how can you ever say no to your grandmother?

I’m also close to my remaining grandparents, my mom’s dad and my dad’s mom. My paternal grandmother who now calls me “Costa” instead of the diminutive nickname version because “Costa” is what she used to call my grandfather, who I’m named after. But he’s dead now, so I’m the only “Costa” around, and I find myself doing a lot of the things he’s done, like eating corned beef and pig’s knuckles, drinking coffee, carrying things in my shirt breast pocket, watching old movies, that sort of stuff I know he did.

His mortality, the way that after that last round of chemo he decided that the last six months or so they’d give him weren’t for more medical stuff, and how he lived for almost three more years after that “six months” diagnosis, made me think about this film and how drastically different the two narratives of my family and this film’s “fictional” family (do a quick google search if you don’t know the story behind it), but at the same time they’re about how people take the news and responsibility of living after knowing that the end is within sight of someone in a seemingly-cruel and awful way.

My maternal grandmother left the US to go die in Greece when I was a kid, and I remember her leaving and my mother telling us later on vividly. My paternal grandfather died when I was at work one day, and my mother called me right before I had a class to teach. I distinctly remember the day (it was my birthday, and I feel like I’ve always ended up working on my birthday) and I remember bolting home after that last class instead of holding my office hours. Both times I had a sense of something important happening, of a generational loss (Akwafina’s character breaking down at how so much had changed in a land that she was culturally expected to still maintain some level of connection to despite the way that it was leaving her behind, or maybe she’s left behind and feeling stupid and raw at noticing it and being hurt by it was an excellent moment of volume in an otherwise tonally quiet but heavy film) that I was only more consciously-aware of when I was older and it happened with my grandfather, though all my grandparents had undergone amazingly-hard lives to come to the US and create better places for the families that they had and wanted, creating communities in a strange land, even though I think in their hearts they always knew they were of two worlds.

How would I react if she was where Billi’s grandmother was? How would my family react, and would we make the same decision? The film makes the very valid point that the cultural practice of denying someone news like that about their health is illegal, and that divide is something that I think the film touches on as a part of the larger issue of how the family is collectively struggling, considering the overall idea of individualism versus collectivism.

Billi in The Farewell is learning about those clear lines and the grey in the spaces separated by those lines, and the way that the film frames interactions and experiences as part of this larger narrative not of the wedding, not of the lie, and not even of her own personal demons necessarily, but instead of recognizing not only the way that all the other family members orbit her grandmother, Nai Nai, but at the same time the ebb and flow of her own personal sphere. T

hat’s something that I think about a lot with my own remaining grandparents, their won spheres, their own lives both in relation to mine, but the life they had before and they life they have when we’re not there. Nai Nai’s life is hinted at, but her love for Billi and the rest of the family is absolutely something that blooms no matter what, and watching that bloom reminds me so much of my own grandmother.

Coins Tossed/Swords Crossed

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I’ve been craving fun in my media recently, in particular in the media that I consume in my downtime for no real reason. You know, entertainment.

We recently watched THE MANDALORIAN, the Star Wars live-action show (I loved it, so did Chontel, and I’ve got something about it coming to Patreon soon), but watching that also made me think about watching THE WITCHER, the Netflix adaptation of the Polish fantasy novels and sorta partially the video game series.

Now, the creators of the games treat elements of the games as sequels to the novels, but both the novels and the video games are, confusingly but also not, considered separate entities by the author of the novels, who has spoken out about his enjoyment of the Netflix show, which isn’t the first TV or film adaptation of his novels as well, adding interesting layers on top of the ways in which we can view adaptations and sequels of or to other works overall in a multilayered sort of sense, a wafer of various works within a larger framework of the idea…but anyway.

While a lot of  talk was made about this show appearing in the wake of the end of the long-running TV show GAME OF THRONES (the adaptation of George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song Of Ice and Fire), I was confused because THE WITCHER so obviously NOT that, but rather reaching further back towards more classic fantasy epics, the kind of fiction I loved as a kid and still have an intense appreciation for. I half-jokingly referred to it as “hella anime,” mostly because it reminds me on a surface level of the Vampire Hunter D franchise (a mutated lone monster hunter with a weird attachment to his horse, silver sword, white hair, hated by people yet needed…need I go on?), but at the same time I’m serious in that it’s a swashbuckling action story with humor, brief overlays of worldbuilding to hint at more to come, and a primary focus on creating a cast of characters that reflect different approaches to action (brute force power, mental/magic and guile, and feral cleverness).

I think though what drew me to THE WITCHER a lot here was the fact that it’s action-forward and fairly straightforward overall as an action story, whereas the lesson that many took about genre from Game Of Thrones was that active and conscious deconstruction of r2luphazy1831fantasy was necessary to make it palatable, but also it had to function in direct opposition to what it was about the genre that drew some people to it (even without whatever problematic aspects that people find about or find in fantasy fiction, many of which can be actual legitimate ones that reflect actual bias and issues but that’s another talk for another day).

I want action, I want swords flailing as a hero battles and hacks their way through a battlefield or whatever. I’m not interested and able to, at least mentally these days, nonstop immerse myself in what sometimes feel like hackneyed and heavy-handed attempts at complex and nuanced reflections of modern-day problems through the lenses of genre fiction or just dramatic fiction in general. While that isn’t necessarily a bad approach or way to create fiction-slash-media, it’s just annoying that I can’t find or have immersive and “fun” action-adventure as much in the genres I enjoy without them having to be eye-winkingly self-critical in the worst possible way, which to me, strips the immersiveness out of them.

It’s something I struggle with in film in particular (since we’re initially talking about a fantasy TV show here) where straightforward action that isn’t immediately framing itself as intensely serious just feels…lacking. But THE WITCHER, despite being presented as this “grim” and serious work of fiction in a setting full of monsters and prejudice and suffering, has moments that simply revel in the action and the visible shows of how, in that moment, that power in the hands of a heroics character can make you feel good. It might feel temporary, it might feel fleeting, but it’s a moment to hold onto and grasp. Geralt is a good character in this series because more and more it almost feels like he slips into the role of the straight-man rather than the antihero character framework, because he contrasts with so many other elements in this world that make me laugh. The “fuck” joke (that it’s one of two things he mostly says) as a response to what would in other contexts could lead to dramatic responses or silence is such a great example of that, an everyman response to any kind of inconvenience, large and deadly, or small and annoying.

“Fuck.”

Also, I love the looks and feel of various things in this show, of buildings and clothing and the roads and layouts of rooms and castles. The depth of small things like that (I I guess we’d call it world-building, though I’d think of it more as populating) ads a lot to me in terms of immersion into a story.

Plus…and this is totally a shallow thing that feels incredibly gendered as well as person-specific, I’m a sucker for cool-looking medieval weapons and honestly, this is sorta my jam. It appeals to the little kid in me who read fantasy novels alone in his room or on trips, engrossed in stories about heroes and villains. It put power into concrete totemic things and I feel like that was important for a kid who struggled to find his own voice and find any power that they could have.

I’m excited for more seasons, and I might even go back and throw this first one on again just for kicks. We’ll see.