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Demons in the Spring

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New paperback edition; twenty artists illustrate twenty stories from the best-selling author of Hairstyles of the Damned.

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Demons in the Spring Literary-Blog Review Project

Akashic asked 20 literary blogs to each review one of 20 short stories from the paperback edition of DEMONS IN SPRING.
Their responses are compiled below, with exclusive new commentary from Joe Meno followed by the story’s first line.

* STORY #1: FRANCES THE GHOST *
REVIEW: Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I wrote this one in early 2003, right at the start of the Iraq War. So much of that time seemed to be about navigating fear on a grand scale, but what I wanted to do was write a story about these small acts of bravery people are forced to perform every day. I also wanted to write a story about a mother and a daughter, which wasn’t a relationship I had ever written about before. For me, the image of the girl dressed as a ghost is what came first.”

FIRST LINE: Frances the ghost is going to school: She is dressed in a white sheet with two holes for her eyes and that makes the people who see her riding in the passenger seat of her mother’s station wagon smirk.

*STORY #2: STOCKHOLM 1973 *
REVIEW: Michael Paul Mason, Galleycat

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “On tour with the great fiction writer and hip hop scholar, Mickey Hess, we began talking about adapting various hip hop structures and employing them in fiction; namely, the use of the sample. So I had this idea of “borrowing” a structure from another source, in this case, the real-life events of the robbery that led to the psychological term “Stockholm Syndrome.” I then filled in the blanks with fictional material. The thing I most like about the story, the real one, is that Olsson demanded his friend Clark Olofsson be brought to the scene. I love the idea that in the middle of the worst moment of your life you would think to ask to have your friend brought to you, and strangely enough, he comes and decides to join in on the bank robbery.”

FIRST LINE: Out on parole, Jan Olsson walks into the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, located within the central banking district of Stockholm, Sweden; he has a small pistol in the pocket of his jacket.

*STORY #3: AN APPLE COULD MAKE YOU LAUGH *
REVIEW: B.C. Edwards, BOMB blog

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I wrote this one as a response to Donald Barthleme’s significantly superior story, ‘You Are as Brave as Vincent Van Gogh,’ which has the same sense of direct address. I guess what was most interesting to me about the story was the shape it took; a number of small, freestanding sections, which seems to be a lot closer to poetry.”

FIRST LINE: Apples are kissing other apples.

*STORY #4: IT IS ROMANCE *
REVIEW: Coming soon from The Nervous Breakdown

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I wrote this one as a kind of response to American marketing and pop culture and its unhealthy, almost predatory fascination with youth. From soda pop ads to film to music and even in literature, this trend seems to have developed in the last few years, though Mr. Albee is one of my favorite characters, because I can relate to that feeling of being inspired by a group of particularly talented students.”

FIRST LINE: It is romance whenever the Model United Nations of Flossmoor High School begins to argue.

*STORY #5: CLARA *
REVIEW: Coming soon from Identity Theory

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “This is the oldest story in the collection, probably written around 1999. As a boy, I spent all my summers in Indiana, running around the woods with a small knife and compass. One time, I came across a dead bird, and suddenly it dawned on me that everything, everyone I knew, at one point, would die. This story is a kind of response to that sudden realization, a foreknowledge everyone possesses deep down, which might take a small incident like this one to understand.”

FIRST LINE: Our woods were the place where things went to die.

*STORY #6: ANIMALS IN THE ZOO *
REVIEW: Rod Lott, Bookgasm

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “The title of this story was taken from a line in Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day.’ A lot of the stories in this collection deal pretty openly with catastrophe, this one on a much larger scale. It seems in the first part of this decade, around 2003 or 2004, when this story must have been written, a lot of what I was responding to was the intractable sense of catastrophe that had settled on the nation, and the world. The thing I most like is the brevity of this story and the phrase ‘bush baby.'”

FIRST LINE: The zookeeper’s heart is broke.

*STORY #7: PEOPLE ARE BECOMING CLOUDS *
REVIEW: Rohan Maitzen, Open Letters Monthly

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “In some ways, this story helped me write a number of others in the collections. What I wanted to do was build stories that were more abstract, the way the abstract expressionists were painting in the late fifties, though still grounded in character and their relationships to one another. I started experimenting with stories that seemed to resonate on a more angular, subconscious level, the way most modern art seems to.”

FIRST LINE: People are becoming clouds nowadays.

*STORY #8: GHOST PLANE *
REVIEW: Lisa Peet, Open Letters Monthly

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I wrote this as a response to a certain kind of girl that seemed to become popular in the early part of the 2000’s: one who is beautiful and a little bored and sexually permissive, the kind featured in various reality shows, Paris Hilton, etc. You could see a number of these young women taking on that particular role, and even though there might be a real intelligence or charm there, the role they had chosen for themselves was preventing them from being anything other than a dull sexual item. There is something incredibly attractive and tragic about that person and I wanted to explore that.”

FIRST LINE: The airport was eerie — it was almost entirely empty.

*STORY #9: WHAT A SCHOOLGIRL YOU ARE *
REVIEW: Coming soon from 3:AM MAGAZINE

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I was asked to participate in the Dollar Store reading series here in Chicago, curated by Jonathan Messinger; Jonathan would buy something at a dollar store and give it to various writers and performers and ask them to make a story or song about it. Jonathan gave me a paperback book, one of a series, following the exploits of a group of high school cheerleaders. I had no idea what to do. But there was something about the book itself, the cover maybe, that reminded me of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels from the eighties, and I decided using that format might be the most interesting way to write about…cheerleaders.”

FIRST LINE: What a schoolgirl you are; you read Choose Your Own Adventure books and novels about teen romance with cheerleaders on the cover.

*STORY #10: MINIATURE ELEPHANTS ARE POPULAR *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “At the time that I wrote this story, my wife was reading a book on elephants; apparently elephants, when passing an elephant graveyard— the spot where elephants when they are near death will migrate to-these elephants will lower their head in a kind of act of mourning. There was something about this act that seemed so human and important and ultimately became the heart of the story. I also wanted the story to feel like a Jacques Tati film, who is a kind of modern French Charlie Chaplin.”

FIRST LINE: Miniature elephants are very popular: There are ads for these tiny pets on the raio and on television and in the pages of up-to-the-minute magazines.

*STORY #11: THE BOY WHO WAS A CHIRPING ORIOLE *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “Again, following a discussion with Mickey Hess, fiction-writer and hip hop scholar, regarding the use of hip hop techniques within fiction, I wrote this story, “borrowing” text from an actual fireworks catalog. The text was then re-written and re-made into a narrative story. I think Archer Prewitt’s art work for the piece is astounding. It’s actually kind of shocking, it’s both this beautiful and alarming image, and adds a lot more depth to the story.”

FIRST LINE: The Boy Who Was a Chirping Oriole Firework was my son first.

*STORY #12: I WANT THE QUIET MOMENTS OF A PARTY GIRL *
REVIEW: Coming soon from Headphone Infatuation

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I don’t know why I decided to write about one of the worst things that ever happened to me, other than, sometimes it helps you get some distance from it, or maybe it’s a way to assemble some meaning from the various unrelated events that happen to us. I guess this the basic function of storytelling maybe, not just for the writer, but the reader, too. We are story-creatures; we use stories to help us go on marching.”.

FIRST LINE: About then we are going to the movies once a week just to be outraged.

*STORY #13: THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE MOON *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I got really into Jose Saramago after reading Blindness. There was something about his writing that reminded me of Marc Chagall, or maybe I had already been thinking about Marc Chagall. Either way, this story, about letting go of a loved one, is an interpretation of both of their work.”

FIRST LINE: By Monday the moon has stopped glowing.

*STORY #14: THE UNABOMBER AND MY BROTHER *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “The Unabomber is actually from the neighborhood where I grew up. One of the tragedies of his story is how his brother had to decide to turn him in; I wanted to write a story where that sense of betrayal and jealousy drove the action, set in the exact same neighborhood. It’s almost biblical, and no matter what might change, there is always a tension among siblings. What I most like is the admission that the narrator actually likes his brother now that he is mentally ill, that the illness has made him softer, weaker, more human.”

FIRST LINE: The Unabomber and my brother both grew up in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

*STORY #15: ART SCHOOL IS BORING SO *
REVIEW: John Williams, The Second Pass

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “This one is one of my favorites in the collection because of its odd, little single paragraph structure and also because Audrey seems to be a very real person on the page. I felt excited that no one else had written about that kind of person before, or at least, not in that way. This story has given me plenty of ideas for my next novel.”

FIRST LINE: Art school is boring so Audrey wears a space helmet around: It is kind of pretentious but so what.

*STORY #16: OCEANLAND *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I wrote this some time in 2002, two years after the 2000 Presidential election. I started to think about Al Gore and how he might be experiencing recent American history; how would he have done things differently if the Supreme Court had ruled in his favor. I can’t imagine the frustration he must have felt, watching the country he had served for eight years totter into the toilet. It’s something I think I struggle with, having a hard time understanding why the rest of the world does not think or behave like I do.”

FIRST LINE: Oceanland is in bad shape.

*STORY #17: GET WELL, SEYMOUR *
REVIEW: Coming soon from HTML GIANT

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “J.D. Salinger is one my favorite writers, and this one is a pretty blatant homage. He has a few stories set on ships, or by the ocean, and so I wanted to write one set on an ocean liner. Also, around the time I wrote this one, maybe 2003, I began playing tennis for fun. There is something about a young woman playing tennis, something that is so striking and unapproachable and filled with all sorts of questions about class and wealth and privilege, I guess I wanted to explore that wish that many people have to try and be something they are not.”

FIRST LINE: The girl playing badminton is the one.

*STORY #18: ICELAND TODAY *
REVIEW: Jason Pettus, The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “Another experiment with ‘recomposing’ text, this one written as an encyclopedia or Wikipedia entry. The idea here is that the West, and specifically America, is so self-absorbed, that our knowledge of other cultures can sometimes be pretty ridiculous. The recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland the media coverage of it were more absurd than anything in this story.”

FIRST LINE: Iceland is located just south of the Arctic Circle, in the North Atlantic Ocean.

*STORY #19: AIRPORTS OF LIGHT *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “I don’t know what to say about this one: an acquaintance of mine was engaged and a few months before the wedding, his fiancee was diagnosed with lymphoma. She went pretty quickly. We went to the memorial services and I don’t think I’d ever been so touched, I mean, as an adult, I had never experienced anything like that before. Even in death, you could see how much their love had meant. It got me thinking that, if my wife were ever to get sick, she would end up having to be the one to comfort me.”

FIRST LINE: One sad story: Paul and his girlfriend Elizabeth are in their compact car arguing when it first happens.

*STORY #20: CHILDREN ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO BLUSH *
REVIEW: Coming soon.

JOE MENO COMMENTARY: “This story is the newest in the collection. I had the chance to do a reading with the amazing Dorothy Allison at AWP in 2009 and I wrote this story specifically for it, knowing that whatever I read, I would still be blown off the stage. Hannah Tinti from One Story was nice enough to publish it, and later, I was really happy to find out it won a Pushcart Prize. The title, of course, is stolen from ‘Sweet Jane’ by the Velvet Underground. It’s been one of those lines that remains completely alive in my imagination, some twenty years after hearing it for the first time. The problem in the story is a simple one: the unending conflict between imagination and intellect, the wisdom of art versus the wisdom of intelligence. Camus has this great quote: ‘Art does not tolerate Reason’ and I think about that line all the time, too.”

FIRST LINE: Art school is where I’d meet my sister each Wednesday, and then the two of us would travel, by cab, to couples counseling.



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