During the coronavirus pandemic, the everyday becomes the absurd.
I was born and raised in Southern California, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2008. Last year—after a tough breakup—I moved to New York City (a long-held dream) in late March, 2019. A writer (stories, novels) from a writing family—my mom is an author, and my uncle a novelist—I came like so many relatively “young” writers from the West (I’m thirty-seven) to The Holy Land, the universe of major publishing, literary agents, and connections.
Once here I stayed in two different Air BnBs for about five months before snagging a small two-bedroom apartment in a third-floor walkup in Harlem. The price was right. I use one bedroom for my writing/editing office—I make a living as a book editor—and the other for my bed. I moved into the apartment in early August.
I have conflicted feelings about Harlem, and about New York City as a whole. It seems common to feel this way about The Big Apple. On one hand there are so many things to do: Opera; theatre; film; literary readings; museums; art galleries; etc. You can walk around Central Park or any of the other parks all over the city. If you get bored of Manhattan—hard to do—you can just swing over to Brooklyn or Queens on the subway. There is always something.
On the flipside, and this is something I noticed immediately: People here rarely smile. I quickly learned—especially in Harlem—to lower my gaze when I walked past. Most seem to be constantly irritated and in a rush to get from A to B. There appears to be severe Tunnel Vision. I understand it to be a logical survival mechanism living in a frenzied, anarchic city. (CLICK FOR FULL PIECE)
My story ‘Tightrope’ is included in this Short Story Collection of writers from around the world, THIS LAND IS MY LAND. You can buy the individual story here for 66 cents or purchase it at Amazon.com.
“Going to Mexico was a bad idea, and deep down both of us knew it. But the great thing about my roommate was that every time I came up with a bad idea, I could count on him to be on board. My brain was always concocting thrilling plans in which the only person I could include was Hilly.”
FROM 'MARILYN MONROE. FAT GIRLS. DEATH. FREEDOM':
It was the summer of 2009. I'd been hitchhiking for about three months. I'd met Matt in New York City, at the cheap hostel on West 125th Street, Spanish Harlem. He'd come from Austria, had traveled around Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and then flown to San Francisco, first time in the USA, bought an old used motorcycle, buzzed it across the country to New York. I'd dropped out of college again—San Francisco State—and had driven with a friend across the nation to her father's farm in Rhode Island. After a week I'd thumbed out to Boston and then finally to New York. Matt and I met that first night, when he'd walked out to the porch of the hostel and, with his nasally Austrian accent, arms wide in a V-shape, announced, "I'm going drinking: Who's coming with me?" (READ MORE...)
My autobiographical story about messing with the Hell’s Angels, "Red Cove," which was a semi-finalist in the Able Muse Writing Contest, was published in Gothic City Press in ‘(Con)viction #2′ in 2013. Buy the collection at Gothic City Press or at Amazon.com.
“I see why they call this bar a cove: Dim red light glows; it closes in and permeates the walls—it's inside of me and Jason. Bikers, aging muscle-men with ponytails and leather jackets, slump on their bar stools, or on their women. Jason muffles a cough, burps. I wink at him, swerving my head and smiling. I still can’t believe he fucked Gloria last week—she’s the only girl I’ve ever been loyal to.”
I stepped onto the bus in Seattle, downtown, my heavy pack finally off my shoulders for the first time all day, and I nodded to the driver, gray beard, blue marble eyes, the look of exhaustion, and I walked down the narrow corridor towards the end of the bus. I found a seat at the very end, sat, leaned my back against the old cloth, closed my eyes. I heard others scrambling onto the bus, taking Greyhound who knows where. I heard voices, low, murmured, people handing their tickets over to the driver, free of their luggage which now sat in the massive compartment beneath the seats of the bus, and I pictured the external metal of the bus, the blue straight lines, the running greyhound dog.
When I opened my eyes I saw the doors closing. The bus was about half full. I liked this. The reek of stale piss, fermented beer, ancient sweat and cigarettes clung to the walls, hovered in the stifling air. The engine of the bus was loud and rumbling, constant. The bus driver, way, way up there, adjusted the giant rearview mirror, scratched his beard, mumbled something I could not catch, and then he swiveled a series of large gears and at last the pitch of the engine changed and the gigantic vehicle cleared its throat and we reversed, backing out of the downtown parking lot behind the Greyhound station on Royal Broughham Way. The bus lurched sluggishly along surface streets, hitting lights and waiting, going slow, allowing cars and trucks to pass. I gazed out the streaked, double-pane window and watched the people outside, walking, driving, meandering, living their real lives, in real distress, honking at each other, afraid, angry, confused.
I had been traveling for two months, hitchhiking, driving, taking busses, staying here and there. I left San Francisco—my old apartment—back in early May and I didn’t even know where I was going or, really, why. I had this need for travel. Twenty-six years old and I’d been restless for years, since I’d been a teenager growing up in Southern California, since I’d been kicked out of Catholic high school. I could never keep a job more than six months, could never hold on to an apartment. Money was sporadic and inconsistent. Women? I wanted a real partner, a girlfriend, but I treated them all like objects, like whores, like filth. The worst part: I managed to find the ones who liked that. Or, at least they tolerated it, sickly enjoyed it, because the broken part of them inside was needy for it. It was what they knew. And the drinking. There was that. (To read more click here.)
Two of my stories, ‘The Hand,’ and ‘Yardo’ (which received a nice handwritten rejection earlier in the year from the notorious The Sun Magazine), were published by The MacGuffin in 2012.
“They called him Yardo because he fought in yards—schoolyards, backyards, any kind of yard. Hispanic with slick greasy hair, he possessed energy: his eyes reflected damage. Yardo walked like an adult, a mean, tough adult. It was in the way he moved, straight, almost authoritarian. Some of the teachers even got nervous when he slid their way.”
JULY 2017: CLICK HERE TO READ MY STORY (FEATURED WRITER)
BETHLEHEM WRITERS' ROUNDTABLE
FROM 'THE NEW TOY':
I walk outside. I’m at my house on Laurel Street, in Ventura, California, an hour north of Los Angeles. The year is 1986. I’m eight years old.
Up the street, at the bottom of the Sampson’s driveway—where my best friend Craig lives—I stop, stare up at their big craftsman home, the towering brick chimney, the concrete path leading to the blood-red door. Craig and I had grown up together: building forts, skateboarding, watching Top Gun.
Craig’s father is a cardiologist. He’s a hunter. The man loves guns. Sometimes he flies to Alaska to kill feral animals. The walls of their living room are filled with hollowed-out wild boar heads, marble eyes staring vacantly at you.
I reach the back door.
The knob is cold to the touch.
I twist the knob all the way to the right, push the door open, enter the house. I’m in the kitchen. I see the back of Craig’s head, his curly dark hair. Hearing the noise, he flips around. A sinister smile is plastered on his face.
His blue eyes you can nearly see through, his favorite yellow sweater, he says, “Want to see my new toy?” (READ MORE...)
FROM 'THE BEND':
My body ripped up at a ninety-degree angle, my eyes popping open, hearing what sounded like a freight train. Brian was asleep, his rucksack propping his head up like some 1930s Depression-era freight train hopper. If Dorthea Lange were here, she’d have gotten a good photograph.
The train whistle throbbed, that loud, wheedling wail. How could Brian sleep through this? Because he was used to it. He’d been doing this for fifteen years. I’d been “on the road” for three months, tired and dirty and in some deep existential quagmire.
I’d met Brian in New York—Buffalo—drunk, stumbling up the lonely streets trying to find the abandoned park at four A.M. where I’d stowed my pack, when I’d nearly knocked the guy off the sidewalk. An exchange of words, some drunk yammering, bitter feelings, and then blam: I’d woken up the next morning in his garage, early sunlight piercing the darkness like a baby beginning to exit the womb, seeing the world for the first time. (READ MORE...)
FROM 'UNDERSTANDING LITERARY REJECTION':
It is easy to mistake literary rejection for bad writing. Don’t. The truth is, we all go through rejection. Everyone from David Sedaris to J.K. Rowling to Gillian Flynn to John Green has at one time experienced, usually for long periods of time, the brutal, condescending, harsh crush of that word, “unfortunately.”
Externally, these rejections, these emotionally perceived I’m-not-good-enoughs, arrive in the impolite shape of form letters. “Dear sir, thank you so much for your submission. Unfortunately…” These letters injure writers for several obvious reasons but for one less obvious one: ego. All serious writers carry a great big bag of ego around with them. We have to. In order for you to believe you have “something to say” to the world, you must hold that ego bag constantly over your shoulder. Writing a novel or short story or memoir is like a fat heroin shot of ego to the arm.
At one time, I used to let these form letters get me down. When I’d see them, whether hard copy in the mail or on my computer, I’d sit back in my chair, sigh deeply, twiddle my pen in my fingers, and take a walk, thinking deeply about what I’d done wrong, why I wasn’t a good writer, why I’d ultimately failed (again), why I was doomed. (READ MORE...)
WRITERS' DIGEST BLOG
FROM THE PIECE:
Interning for Kimberley Cameron & Associates has been truly amazing. What an experience. And specifically working with Elizabeth Kracht, the “madwoman” whom I refer to frequently as “E.”
I met E at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February 2013. We connected instantly, and she asked me to pitch my debut novel to her at a round table in Peacock Court, right before Anne Perry was about to teach us How the Hell To Write. Perry has written eighty-something books, mostly historical murder mysteries and detective fiction. (To read my nonfiction piece about the SFWC 2013 and meeting Elizabeth for the first time, visit my blog: Michaelmohrwriter.com, and under the tab “nonfiction,” read “Are you a Writer or an Author?”) (READ MORE...)
It happened in the blink of an eye. While Joe Parker was brushing his prematurely graying hair, looking at himself demurely in the bathroom mirror, feeling rather smug and satisfied with his life, the phone rang; the landline, not his cell. He still kept a landline for the sake of saying he had a landline. It was the traditional man inside of him. It was his way of saying “no” to the new-age, technological, infantile “Me Generation” he was a part of. Irritated, thinking of meeting up with Beth, he smirked and walked out into the living room, snatching the landline off its plastic cradle. “Yes?” “Mr. Joe Parker?” a scratchy male voice pronounced. “Depends who’s asking.” “Are you the Joe Parker who wrote ‘Fantasy Land’?” He moved the phone to his other ear. “Yes. I am.” (READ MORE...)