Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kevin Lynn Helmick's Driving Alone - a great noir novel

Kevin Lynn Helmick is the author of works such as Heartland Gothic, Sebastian Cross, Clovis Point, and The Lost Creek Journal. His latest work, Driving Alone, is due out in November through Blank Slate Press. Like Heartland Gothic, Driving Alone is essentially a story of redemption - or at least one's attempt to find a way to redeem the past and one's self. Helmick has an excellent style in the tradition of some of the best noir writers like James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich and draws a reader completely into the world of the story. He's definitely a writer worth exploring and, no doubt, if you enjoy noir fiction, you'll love Helmick.

The following excerpt is from Driving Alone:

And then there was the heat. That’s the least that can be said about that. The most was said in secret whispers with a wink of an eye that the devil himself stayed clear of the Deep South in those desperate dog days of summer. The poor souls down there had already been tortured past their use anyway, so he did his hunting north of the Mason Dixon. It wasn’t true of course, but that’s what they said.
Another saying goes, he was seen in the park, near the local cemetery sitting under shade trees and wiping his brow and praying for a little rain, or at least a cool breeze. That one might have been true, either way it was the better of the two tales and the one Billy liked the most growing up. Anybody he’d see in the park or on the street during that time of year, wiping their brow or sitting under a shade tree for a little relief, Billy knew was him. Hot, tired and beaten by the south, and Billy was safe, at least until the summer was gone.
I’ll be fine, just fine, Billy thought. Fuck it … don’t really matter now, anyhow.
He walked fast and tripped twice down the sidewalk like a drunken, stumbling clown as he dinged the silver tip of his dirty Mexican boot against the broken slabs of heaved up sidewalk. Something he could have avoided by changing his pace just a little, but he didn’t. The weight of the late morning heat and the hangover got in the way of such a simple decision. He didn’t look back either, that wasn’t his style he liked to think; even though it was. The rag top Cadillac waited at the curb and almost seemed to fidget with anticipation, for Detroit steel was built for just short of flying. The car, the Caddy, was a hand me down burden, so to speak, from the dead daddy inheritance program. A dirty white and rust colored 65 two door lovingly referred to by what few friends he had left as, “the welfare wagon.” That car and one acre of swamp land with a two bedroom tin roof shack down along the Suwanee River, which he had no intentions of ever living in or even claiming. And that was all.
The old man’s four-pack-a-day Lucky Strike addiction caught up with him awhile back. The big C. Or maybe it was the whisky, the women, the Navy, or the fighting, or any number of similar combinations of habits used to measure the strength of a man—when they’re young, anyway. But once past a certain age if a man hasn’t conquered his vices or slain his demons, they sure as shit and the rivers gonna rise will conquer him.
Billy threw an arm full of jeans and t-shirt rags in the back seat. The whole collection made up a vagabond’s bed. Sliding over the passenger’s door and climbing behind the wheel, he checked his cheap sunglasses in the mirror and the scratches on his face. “Bitch,” he said and turned the key, dropped the lever down to drive and pulled away, leaving a cloud of fuel and exhaust in his wake. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” he said turning the first corner. “Don’t matter none.”
The Caddy floated down the boulevard like the lead car in a fool’s parade, but he couldn’t float past the worry. “Shiiit,” he finally yelled out, slapped the wheel and shoved a cassette in the dash and pushed on the gas. Grayson Capps wailed and moaned from the speakers. The empty buildings and sidewalks swept by until they gave way to a few tattered and paint-chipped dwellings that tried hard but with little success to make up a town. An old black man with a cane and a straw hat watched him speed by from the shade of a porch, and then the community surrendered all at once to a winding two lane black top through the lush backwoods and ancient swamp trees that smothered most of the sky.

The Blank Slate Press page is here:

Kevin Lynn Helmick's blog page, The Write Room, is here:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Artifice of Eternity and How Life is Change

The pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, is best known for his phrase `Panta Rei', Life is Flux. Life is constant change. You say `no' to change and you're saying `no' to life, to the very fabric of what life is. Even so, we all resist change. Most of us will say `no' to anything new and change scares us. There's really nothing to do about the situation, though, except embrace it. We're carried along through life, by life, prisoners of time, and resisting change gives us nothing except pain. To paraphrase Epictetus, we're like dogs tied to a cart going down a lane. We can trot willingly alongside the cart or we can be dragged screaming but, either way, we're going down that lane. My short flash fiction piece, `The Artifice of Eternity', was intended to illustrate this idea. It was published in Diddle Dog Online Journal last year and I've heard from a number of people on the `truth' of the piece and how it really doesn't pay to get involved with people when one is only going to lose them. I certainly understand how one comes to that conclusion and I understand perfectly how one finds support for that in my story but that's not the point I was trying to make. We're never safe in our journey here and everything we have we already know we're going to lose. Even so, there is no reason for not engaging in life, even knowing, completely, that it can't possibly end well. The narrator of the piece is not intended as a paragon of enlightenment as he sits drinking and trying to reverse time by turning the hour glass over and over again. In saying `no' to change he says `no' to the essence of life and so remains caught forever in the cycle of the past with no forward motion. Life provides us with many, many beautiful moments which we should not reject simply because they will not last. Nothing lasts. That is the nature of existence. It is that very transitory quality which makes what we have so precious. We should appreciate and be grateful for every day we have here instead of lamenting what we have lost. Gratitude, not regret, is the better choice as we head down the lane. Trot willingly or be dragged screaming - the choice is always our own.

The story may be found here:

And, if the link doesn't work, here it is below:

The Artifice of Eternity

Joshua J. Mark

It's not wise to become friends with someone you know, from the start, is going to leave you.
But that's anybody.
I hold a glass of Dewar's neat in my right hand and, with my left, turn the little red thingy on the kitchen counter top over again. She called it a 'modern day hourglass'; I call it a cheap piece of shit she layed out thirteen bucks for one morning at one of those shops in the mall where they sell useless crap everybody has to have 'cause someone they know has one,' 'cause someone else saw it in a catalog'—and the salesman at the place gently intoned, "It's multi-purpose, you know."
Now there's a job I'd like.
Anyway, it's this little four-inch high plastic thing with red liquid inside and angled plastic ramps and small chutes zig-zagging away in there and you turn it upside down and watch the blood-red liquid dribble-drop-drop down until it's filled up the bottom of the thing—then you turn it over again and the whole show repeats itself.
What's the single purpose? What's the purpose at all?
Like watching some strange and ultimately meaningless transfusion; everything, in the end, winds up right where it started. Gravity takes everything down. Planes fall from the sky and humans are so much softer than the earth. Entropy siphons the energy from every system until there's no energy left. Until there's nothing left.
Ah, but this meaningless piece of plastic will outlast us all. The artifice of eternity.
She said it took exactly a minute for the red stuff to completely make the trip down to the bottom.

If that's so then I've just spent seventy-five minutes watching the little red thingy do its thing.
Well, and drink, of course. One must do something, after all. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, and all that. This isn't my first glass of Dewar's. Doubt it'll be my last.
It's just not wise to become friends with someone when you know, right from day one, that they're going to leave you.
But that's everybody.
That's all of us.