A. E. Weisgerber Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Welcome to Connotation Press, Anne Weisgerber! We’re thrilled to feature your work in this month’s issue.
We love Chuck, and we love the globetrotting narrative woven into these three tales! “Mametchi,” “Scattershot,” and “Waste Management” are taken from a longer sequence. Pray tell us more about it!
I'm so glad you like Chuck! I'm rooting for him, too. These are three central micros in a collection of eleven titled "Invisible Scripts." That term has various meanings. It's a pop psychology term for things that get drilled into our head as societal norms, like 'hold open the door for a woman' (which perhaps bucks up against queer theory). It also means a sense of preordained speech or inevitable action, like what Ted Chiang suggests in "Story of Your Life." Invisible type is an old trick, whereby to get more traffic to a website, coders embed words, like sex, in type the same color as its background, so bot crawlers detect a popular search term that is otherwise invisible to consumers. I think with these stories, I'm interested in what's happening behind the curtains of coding. A friend at work, Brian Weinfeld, saved me a ton of research time by answering a lot of questions I had about coding, and how coders might leave messages for each other. He was very patient and generous. One of my favorite game developer stories is Genevieve Valentine's "Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home," which explores the ethical complications of players inhabiting game worlds. At a novel length, I was floored by William Gibson's "The Peripheral." Or what about that absolute freaking madman, Don DeLillo, with his trancelike "Zero K" sci-fi? His voice hovers at a distance over the story. These are stories I love. "Invisible Scripts" was originally a short story. I workshopped it twice, at Barrelhouse and an Advanced Creative Writing Workshop, yet couldn't quite bend it so multiple timelines jived with readers, and readers are always right, so I broke it into individual stories of Chuck's growth and formation as a character. Readers loved Chuck, were willing to suspend disbelief to see what he's up to, but the original narrative was too circular. I participated in a beta "novella in flash" workshop with Meg Pokrass, which provided a deadline for breaking down the larger work into standalone parts. Plus, I live in a house filled with people playing COD and Fortnite. I was flipping through my Rolodex the other day and found a password stash for Club Penguin and Runescape. I worked at Bell Labs when Leisure Suit Larry circulated on a 5-1/4 floppy! Games are integral to our lives, but mostly as consumers. Chuck is a creator. He's slightly on the spectrum, at times awkward, but his ability to wend his way through various languages can be monetized, making him very attractive to people who enjoy the good life. I have "Invisible Scripts" out in submissions now, and I hope it finds a home. I can see Chuck. I can see his world.
In “Waste Management,” Chuck’s “rumpled socks [have] a repeating pattern of pot leaves eating tacos.”
What are the craaaaziest socks you’ve ever worn/seen? If you were a sock designer, what line of socks would you bring out?
I do happen to know a sock designer in Brooklyn. How odd is that? I like designs with 8-bit characters on them, arcane Atari or Go Spiders! Go! As cool as those may be to look at, I personally choose men's cashmere dress socks. Boring!
I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Brian Evenson’s collection, ‘Reports…’ (The Cupboard, 2018) There are many excellent linked flash collections or novellas-in-flash out there. Any recommendations?
Oh, that Evenson collection is fun and good. And The Cupboard Pamphlet produces beautiful objects. Recommendations are a matter of subjective taste, and there's no way to know about everything wonderful in the world, but I feel as though the best series that comes out every year has to be via New Michigan Press. I most recently read Claire Wahmanholm's "Night Vision," and what unites that collection (for me) is its sustained, Marksonesque voice. I really love Markson. That guy didn't give a flying handshake about doing the same-old same-old. I've always meant to write a review of Casey Hannon's "The Three Woes," a hybrid novel from Spork, but I didn't know how to explain my enjoyment of it in a way that does it justice. It's prose with very pleasing poetic fixity. (There! that's my review!) I think flash writers should be good readers of poetry, short stories, novels, and hybrid works. I mean, can anyone top Olio by Tyehimba Jess? Hybrid poetry for the Pulitzer Prize. Prose writers should read it. I think anyone writing flash should stop and study the Wigleaf Top 50 annually. Not because I read for it (which means I am a small happy member of a dedicated team) but because there is so much one can learn from it. I also happily and regularly workshop with Paul Beckman, Gay Degani, and Hillary Leftwich, all of whom have recent or forthcoming collections, and all deserving wide readership. On my to-be-read pile is Other Household Toxins by the marvelous Christopher Allen.
As a writer of flash, you’ve published your work in so many awesome venues (DIAGRAM, matchbook lit, Gravel Magazine, … to name a few) We’d love to know more about your flash practice! Please give us 5 do’s and 5 don’t’s for writing flash.
I'm not a negative Nancy, so I'll give you one don't and nine dos.
Don't dwell on politics. Concentrate on your artistry. Nobody knew what Bach's politics were.
Do say yes when invited to read your work at an event.
Do take pro workshops for the love of learning.
Do be yourself and cultivate a singular view.
Do join Twitter to follow your favorite authors.
Do buy and/or review small press publications.
Do praise sincerely, criticize surgically.
Do try the varied forms of flash and respect those constraints.
Do cultivate a circle of trusted writers who can count on you, too
Do remember to eat right and exercise, because writing can be kind of a lard-ass lifestyle!
You’re turning these stories into a film. Who’s directing? Who’s playing Chuck? Who’s making a guest appearance attempting to dredge their career back up from the mud of too many Rom-Coms or Viagra commercials or something?
Hmmm. Fade in.... Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring as Chuck: Fionn Whitehead. Rima: Saoirse Ronan. Uncle: since this is a fantasy? Harvey Keitel. I would like one day to collaborate with producer Mark Pritchard and artist Jonathan Zawada. ...fade out.
We love reading your stories! What’s upcoming?
Thank you for featuring my work in Connotation Press. I'm happy to join you. I want to put out a collection. I currently have four on offer. In addition to "Invisible Scripts," I have a cowboy set called "Lone Stars," a structured set of varying forms and styles called "Dale Burdock's Decapitation," and an illustrated hybrid collection, formatted as a prayer book, called "Lives of the Saints." They've all had some interest, but, interventions always welcome. I'm putting together a hybrid essay and story collection. I'm restless. This summer, I'm a Chesapeake Bay Writer and will study CNF and lyric essay with Angela Pelster. I'll be in Colorado come August for retreat writing and readings with Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. Next year, I'm working with Richard Thomas, who will help me organize and edit my novel. Richard is a fantastic line-editor, open-minded coach, and great writer. Thanks to him, I've happily discovered the literary side of genre writing, which I must say is damn handy and a relief. I'm also going to be better about reviewing, to make sure the things I read and love find wider readership.
Thank you so much again, Anne!
Her demands were dangerous. I crimp my shoulders like wings, make myself a needle-thin shadow.
Chuck, come forward.
I like drawing skyscrapers. The sun a giant silverfish, blasting leg rays. The sun tastes like mildew. There is a plane in the sky, a French seven javelins across.
The teacher takes it. Her name is Miss Cortese. She teases, mean. She is the skinniest teacher. She takes my picture and I don't see it again until it shows up with the rest at home. Mama says Miss Cortese is a great art aficionado. Mama cries. Papa pins my drawings on the wall above his desk. He says they are a wonder. He wonders how I make such complicated drawings. He counts how many floors are on my Chrysler building, sixty-eight, whistles.
This is the end. If I ask Miss Cortese for help, I'll be mocked. She's the prettiest. I go up. I am seven years and one month, but my classmates all turned eight this year. Miss Cortese takes my paper. All my maths are good. She tells the class I cannot be a baby any more. I have to spell my name. I am stood in the corner. Everyone but me has little electronic eggs. When the bell rings for recess I am stored alone. I'm glad.
Sitting in my chair again, beside Nancy with a water-fountain of hair, and pale Chris with his red-rimmed eyes, I ask to use the boy's room. Miss Cortese says no. When three o'clock comes and we file out, aisle-by-aisle, I want to go last. She says no. I cry. I hide my face in shame. The whispering begins. It blooms into chatter, foot-stomping, uproarious laughter. Miss Cortese says Chuck, stop being a baby.
The sun is very yellow above the gray November horizon cresting Prospect Street. The mildew taste returns, like the smell of last week's clothing at the bottom of the hamper. Little professor, mama calls me. Little scientist. Little priest. My name is Charles. It's a name that tastes good in my ear. My pants are cold as metal playground handles.
The last time I walked home with a friend from school was 913 days ago. He told me to stop waiting for him on his doorstep or his parents would call the police. I had my face pushed in a snowbank 52 days ago, one hour and 16 minutes. I was stoned on Chapel Street by some of my classmates 17 days ago, 23 hours and 2 minutes.
Mama gave me a Tamagotchi pet 16 days ago. She replaced it 15 days ago. I took the first one apart with papa's eyeglass kit. The battery didn't survive reassembly. Tomorrow will be a good day. Anyone who is friends with me will own monsters who are smarter, happier, and live longer. My pet's hunger meter sometimes skulls, but I understand. My toy will be linked by infrared signal to my classmates'. Mama kisses me when I try.
Uncle demands the trip, names you Chinese Cowboy. Off-brand Provigil helps your mind throw lassoes. China, fourteen months: you fantasize about Rima, you miss her. You make code porn, rather popular, dedicate it to her curves. One tutor pesters you until you make him an ASCII pangolin wearing garters. You go to massage parlors after-hours, earn a standard tall American nickname: Abraham Lincoln.
In China, beside government-grade servers and systems access, Uncle expects you to haul ass through arcane coding certifications: Java, Fortran, FRACtran, Pikachu, Shakespeare. You are a natural. Your short attention span compresses. You act and breathe coding, guzzle your 10,000 hours as only can be done in China: distraction-free. Within weeks, you discern non-standard subcodes, non-conforming traps in the lines swelling past. You love baffles. You start creating hybrids that make sense, that cause barely a ripple. Uncle keeps tabs, and when he gets the dailies from HQ, he smiles and puts a bump in your bank account.
Bumps. You imagine turning from your screens and rolling toward Rima. That's a bit on the nose, considering your aching hard-on.
It's the night before your return, your last night in China, you don't change, you sleep in your work clothes. Something breaks downstairs in your apartment. You become conscious of it in its wake. You wake up in silence, hackles raised. Danger registers.
You move your hand slowly, tap your temporal implants to night mode, and slide under the covers. You launch the security feed in your right lens. No alarms were tripped outside, yet indoor feeds are active. The kitchen door is open, allowing a wedge of gray light. Calmly, you flick on outside feeds to your right eye, and fuckers are crawling all over. By the gate, in the drive, under windows. Gang shit. You reach your hand behind the mattress, unholster the 9mm Uncle had supremely supplied. You thumb the safety, and set it on your pillow just long enough to slip out of bed and open a window, two-handedly, then chamber a round. You fire one shot straight into the dirt.
The kitchen door bangs, some desperate whooping and hissing trails the shadows over the wall and off the property. Your problem isn't exactly solved. Behind a storage shed, a gang member—who happens to be a fifteen-year-old girl—bleeds slowly out. Fucking gang shit. You hear a whimper. You're toast.
Greenpeace was a sham storefront, a lumpy thrift store. Uncle demanded Chuck keep credible pamphlet racks on display.
Being on the down low is how Chuck described his post-HK life: living in the copper-and-fiber rural wasteland of landlines. No programmable machine did what Chuck could: intuit, wait, suffer. Chuck was paid to be mercilessly underutilized while Hong Kong blew over. Officially off-grid, Chuck was learning to like coffee.
He felt for the hall light switch. After a satisfying recreation session in the bathroom, he shambled to the office’s serviceable kitchenette, poured some milk then Honeybee Crunch into a mug, hit the brew button on the coffee maker. He grabbed an oily spoon from the sink, and returned to his workstation. It was dark.
The router sizzle-screamed through connections. The ancient coffeemaker added to the symphony as it hustled through its own program.
Today he’d proxy in through a noodle factory in Phnom Penh.
'Rima Rima Rima,' he yawned aloud to the world. 'Hot as Fukushima. Always be my prima. 912 maritima.' He raked up a tired smile.
Mindlessly munching cereal, Chuck meditated as code lines bricked up his screen, he heard the router stabilize and the coffeemaker hoofed to a stop.
He padded to the kitchenette, poured a cup and took a sip. It was full of grinds. He forgot a filter, again. He wiped mouth with shirtsleeve.
He sang 'Chuck is out of luck, his life has run amok, he shot the Peking duck...' and on and on to the kitchen. He rinsed out both pot and machine and made a new batch. He waited for its grumpy restart before returning to the desk.
He felt for his glasses in the dustup of snack wrappers and crack-spined books tangled left and right. His shins, smooth and hairless, were exposed by rolled-up sweats, and his rumpled socks had a repeating pattern of pot leaves eating tacos. He wore a fresh Greenpeace hoodie from a busted cardboard box of storage-room surplus.
Chuck reasoned his was a better disappearing act than the trap sprung on another coder. That guy? Died of thyroid cancer, drove a tanker with an open spigot from coast to coast, over and over until there was nothing left to drip onto the nation’s crackling highways.
The coffee pot grunted and hissed in the back of Chuck's mind. He forgot to put water in the reservoir. He padded back to the kitchen, added a pitcherful, watched a scalding puff of steam burst forth like gypsy dust.
Chuck calculated his odds. Rima required more money than he could offer. He developed a way to chisel BitMint; Chuck exploited a flaw that was so poetic, Uncle felt it was beyond the parameters of artificial intelligence. Uncle wanted a small cut.
Chuck sat down with his coffee, poured it into his mug of sugar milk. It was perfect. Don’t judge a man by the pattern of his socks.