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Author Topic: Pseudopod 407: Train Tracks  (Read 5867 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: October 12, 2014, 11:52:26 PM »

Pseudopod 407: Train Tracks

by W.P. Johnson.

“Train Tracks” was first published in Weird Noir by Fox Spirit Books and edited by Katy Laity. It’s a wonderful anthology of crime noir stories with elements of weird fiction, and is still available through Amazon as a kindle download or print version.

W.P. JOHNSON is a writer of horror and weird fiction. He lives and works in Philadelphia where he is currently writing his first novel, a dark fantasy entitled A Song For John, and researching his second novel, an untitled horror story about comedians. You can follow him via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram. He is also featured in American Nightmare by Kraken Press (“The King”) and “Cut In Half” is available from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.

Your reader this week is Sam Ferree who read “Stone Born for Podcastle! Sam lives in the Twin Cities where he writes grants for a small nonprofit by day and stories and plays by night. He co-produces Story Club Minneapolis and encourages performance story tellers to come check out the show and share. To learn more about Sam, visit is website, samferree.com[/b]]samferree.com, or follow him on Twitter, @samferree.



“The thing that I always ask guys is if they can get me glow. Scribbled in my father’s notebook:
glow, aka, snot, rubber, soul, bright light. Knock offs include deadlights and slag (ecstasy cut with meth emulsified with gelatin and made into a hard jelly).”




Interested in an internship with Escape Pod? Email the editor!

The Eloquent Page: http://www.theeloquentpage.co.uk/

The Journey Into kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/763571195/edgar-allan-poe-meets-ken-scholes-a-journey-into-e/posts

http://pseudopod.org/wp-content/plugins/podpress/images/audio_mp3_button.png[/img]
Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2014, 12:10:33 AM »

Holy shit... don't do drugs, kids.
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adrianh
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« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2014, 05:36:20 AM »

I liked this. Suitably creepy. Kept me interested despite seeing the is-it-revenge-or-is-it-drugs line coming a mile off. The analogy of revenge as addiction was nicely done I think.

Thinking back on it though I wonder if the dad-is-DEA bit was really necessary. I kept expecting that, and the notebooks, to be more significant than they ended up being. But perhaps I'm missing something.

Very nicely read too — kudos.
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zoanon
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« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2014, 02:07:42 PM »

I'll have to listen again, even if I don't want to because *shudder* yea all this stuff is too close to home for me.
but I don't understand the specifics of the connections between his friends death and the drug.
was he just killed? or used to make it? what did the caved in head in all the murdered kids have to do with it if the bug thing was just eating them?
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adrianh
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2014, 02:12:03 PM »

I'll have to listen again, even if I don't want to because *shudder* yea all this stuff is too close to home for me.
but I don't understand the specifics of the connections between his friends death and the drug.
was he just killed? or used to make it? what did the caved in head in all the murdered kids have to do with it if the bug thing was just eating them?

He was killed to make the drug. The caved in head is the result of the bug thing eating the head — but the narrator didn't know that at the time so described it as best he could. At least that was my reading.
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lowky
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2014, 07:59:42 AM »

Really liked this one, and for some reason I kept picturing the narrator as Macaulay Culkin from Party Monster. 
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Moritz
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2014, 03:41:05 AM »

I didn't quite like the end (too much "revenge fantasy" in there), but I thought the rest of the story was very well written/ read.
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americantypo
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« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2014, 05:25:57 PM »

Hello, I am the author of the work if anyone has any questions. Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoyed the story.
-W P Johnson (Bill)
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2014, 08:55:39 AM »

I didn't care for this one.  I did like the love interest character--and I liked their interaction that grew from just being buddies to something more. 

I found the time-skipping made it harder to get into the story, not really a fan of alternating between "then" and "now" scenes, even though it tends to be pretty popular style.

Ugh, what a horrific way of making drugs, more fitting metaphorically for the way a drug can tear your life apart.

The whole revenge fantasy thing, though, I really have trouble relating to.  Especially since his revenge was extremely limited in scope--killing one drug dealer and one worm but then destroying the evidence that might be used to try to take down the trade in general.  Congratulations, another dealer's going to move in tomorrow and you've at best set back production at a single production facility by a short period of time while simultaneously destroying evidence that might actually produce some larger scale cahnges.

It drove me absolutely nuts that he then sat down at the end and used a bit of the drug apparently without self-examination, considering that his demand is the reason why the supply is maintained, that supply which ends up killing people like the love interest as part of its production. 
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adrianh
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2014, 09:08:15 AM »

It drove me absolutely nuts that he then sat down at the end and used a bit of the drug apparently without self-examination, considering that his demand is the reason why the supply is maintained, that supply which ends up killing people like the love interest as part of its production. 

I thought that was one of the nicer parts. Without that it would read as a straight revenge story to me. With it we don't know whether the protagonist did what he did out of revenge, or out of a desperate need for the "best" instance of the drug. Or some combination of the two.

Is he revenging his friend's death, or does he not give a f**k and is doing whatever it takes to get his next fix. Having him use the drug at the end makes it a far more interesting story for me. With that in place I'm free to reinterpret all his previous actions with a completely different motivation from the revenge story setup.
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2014, 09:16:14 AM »

I thought that was one of the nicer parts. Without that it would read as a straight revenge story to me. With it we don't know whether the protagonist did what he did out of revenge, or out of a desperate need for the "best" instance of the drug. Or some combination of the two.

Is he revenging his friend's death, or does he not give a f**k and is doing whatever it takes to get his next fix. Having him use the drug at the end makes it a far more interesting story for me. With that in place I'm free to reinterpret all his previous actions with a completely different motivation from the revenge story setup.

I guess I don't see the ambiguity.  It seemed like he was definitely out to get revenge, he just sucked at it and was deep enough into addiction that his next hit was a matter of habit and a foregone conclusion rather than a topic of introspection.
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americantypo
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« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2014, 10:02:22 AM »

I think the criticisms are interesting as they were some of the things I struggled with writing the story, namely the time shifts and the motives of the narrator. I've always hated stories that start at the end and then work backwards, whereas this goes back and forth quite a bit. However overtime I found it was a better structure to tell the story than a linear one, especially in regards to pacing. It would've been way too slow otherwise.

As a revenge story, I think it's pretty clear that drug addiction has muddled this narrator's thought process and the value of his actions. Does he want to take down the whole drug trade? No. I think more than anything he just wants to somehow let go of the trauma of losing his first love interest and somehow thinks if he can find and kill the men that did this, things will somehow get better and he won't feel so troubled. Of course, they don't get better, not until he gets high again. There's a lot of flaws and weakness in this person and his good intentions are devalued by the fact that despite everything, despite where he gets the drugs from, he doesn't care because of how they make him feel. Specifically it's a reliving of his first sexual experience with Derrick, who he lost due to these very drug dealers. It's escapism at it's worst and I think it is, as one put it, a very clear metaphor for how drugs can "eat a person". Corny, maybe, but I enjoyed playing around with the horror elements in that sense.

So, in a way, being frustrated I think is a very understandable reaction. Of course it's terrible that he does the drugs that killed his friend at the end of the story, and when you think of the imagery of the worm eating the boy in the warehouse, it's even more disturbing that he's able to push these thoughts aside all so he can feel something he doesn't really deserve to have anymore.

As far as the crime noir elements with the father figure, it was more of a practical choice, otherwise I didn't think his chances of ever finding these men were very good. There are, of course, all sorts of holes one could find, ones I conveniently "wrote around" to maintain a suspension of disbelief (as much as that's possible in a story where worms shit drugs). Lazy writing? Maybe, but sometimes you just have to choose your battles in a story and focus on the things that are working. The horror of it worked well I think. The crime noir elements could've have been tighter and I think if it had been less of a genre story I would've focused more on those elements. Specifically it still bothers me that the license plates were known by the police but never found, as if it would be so easy to travel around Philadelphia like that. But maybe it was just in the narrator's father's notes and not on record with the police department, or maybe the dealers paid people off. There are plenty of ways to explain it, but I never thought it was very important to focus on the more procedural elements of the story as it's more of a weird fiction story, not so much a crime noir story.

Most of this came from walking the train tracks near my house back home and some of the people I knew in a small town. I used to wonder all the time if they went all the way to Philadelphia or not. I still don't to be honest, but I'd like to think they do, that somehow if you walked the tracks you could pass through every city in America. There's something haunting about that to me.

As far as the worms, it was one of those ideas that changed quite a bit until I settled on something that disturbed me the most. They're frightening in that they aren't fast and predatory, but something you'd have to assist in order for it to feast on another person, which is quite depraved. They're big slow dumb worms. The mindlessness of it is especially uncomfortable for me. It was very much a nod to Perdido Street Station and their "slake moths", which ate consciousness and shit dreams over the city at night, however unlike the slake moths, these worms are not dangerous on their own and they literally feast on the brains of their prey.

It's strange to read the story now, and to listen to it. I wrote it about a year ago and it was like hearing it for the first time. The table with the boy left me very cold and all I could think was, "ugh, who would write this!". Horror writing is tricky in that way. For every beast I put on the page, I'm also sort of exorcising them from myself, so they're all the more shocking when I read them again.
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americantypo
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« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2014, 10:15:47 AM »

You can also read my blog entry on the story's inception, if it is of interest.

http://americantypo.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/a-coming-of-age-tale/
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2014, 09:15:50 AM »

As far as the worms, it was one of those ideas that changed quite a bit until I settled on something that disturbed me the most. They're frightening in that they aren't fast and predatory, but something you'd have to assist in order for it to feast on another person, which is quite depraved. They're big slow dumb worms. The mindlessness of it is especially uncomfortable for me. It was very much a nod to Perdido Street Station and their "slake moths", which ate consciousness and shit dreams over the city at night, however unlike the slake moths, these worms are not dangerous on their own and they literally feast on the brains of their prey.

I wondered as I listened what the worms ate in the wild.  Did you have something in mind for that?
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jackanapes
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« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2014, 07:42:20 PM »

As a W. S. Burroughs and P. K. Dick fan, drugs in fiction get my attention for a number of reasons. There are so many ways to tell such a story, but stories about drugs and the people who make them, traffic them, take them, overdose, die, etc. are often (and unfortunately) told in a few set ways, showing the 'horrors of the drug world', traumatic reasons for addiction, and other simple ways of saying 'drugs are bad, m-kay'.

I love Burroughs and Dick because they don't force a moral on the reader or listener; they reveal multiple complex inner, social, medical, and legal realities of users and addiction. Both Dick and Burroughs show the exact opposite of drug exoticism (which is so often a part of 'drug moral horror'). I like Burroughs especially for his ongoing critique of the incredible uselessness of the 'war on drugs' and its dependence on public ignorance, arrogant criminalizing, and a horrific history of moralistic medical institutionalization.  Burroughs especially gives a supernaturally bizarre critique of drug exoticism and moral horror. This story has similar imagery, but it's used in a very different way. Burrough's and Dick's are not stories about drugs, but stories about people in which drugs are one aspect of their lives that shapes their relationships, contexts, and perceived realities. I did like the changes in the protagonist's relationships, but it could have been more nuanced and less wholly tied to 'glow'.

I mention these examples because they depend on personal experience and/or a ton of research. This story started to fall apart for me was when the two young boys smoke weed leaves. Cannabis leaves do not make you high, or only barely so. The intoxication element comes from the bud of the plant, not the leaves, stems, or seeds - hence its other nick name 'bud.' Being 'tea leaved', ie. substituting catnip, or only selling sticks, stems, and leaves of cannabis is the most common con played on the obvious first-timer. People who actually bother to grow weed know what part of the plant will make them high, because getting a hold of seeds can be difficult and expensive, depending on where in the world you are. Spending all that time and energy growing a plant and then smoking the leaves seems ridiculous to me.

There was a lot of potential in this fictional world surrounding 'glow'. It immediately reminded me of the wildly reality altering fictional drug in A Scanner Darkly, although the drugs' effects and cultures are very different; the similarities between the first description of how 'glow' is made and Burrough's drug called "the black meat"; and the final description of the human cost of glow's creation process and China Mieville's "dream-shit" in Perdido Street Station. Despite wonderfully horrific fantastical imagery at the end, this story's missing basic facts of the most common and (usually) illegal 'soft' drug, outdated slang, and some stereotypical imagery of the "drug world" cemented the story as moral horror for me. Fictional narcotics give the writer a lot more room to mould specific worlds, but also can be a way of avoiding necessary experience and/or research.

I was kind of disappointed by this story but would like to hear more of the author's writing.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2014, 07:53:03 PM by jackanapes » Logged
adrianh
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« Reply #15 on: October 22, 2014, 03:09:51 AM »

I guess I don't see the ambiguity.  It seemed like he was definitely out to get revenge, he just sucked at it and was deep enough into addiction that his next hit was a matter of habit and a foregone conclusion rather than a topic of introspection.

That's fair enough. But, for me, his focus on the drug during the revenge/rescue put the earlier observations on the sub-par glow he was getting elsewhere into a new light.
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #16 on: October 22, 2014, 07:38:06 AM »

I agree - I don't see a conflict. He hates the people who killed his friend. Also, he is addicted. I did wonder if he planned to OD with the massive amount of the stuff he took.
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americantypo
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« Reply #17 on: October 22, 2014, 07:51:28 AM »

To Unblinking: I'd imagine the worms ate carrion. A short story is a bit limited in its world building as there's a economy of words here. We can only spend so much time with the worms. Sometimes the reader's imagination is far more inventive and creative to fill in these holes than a short sentence or two on what they eat. It is mentioned that they typically eat smaller animals and that this produces a less effective drug, and that larger animals produces a more concentrated form of "glow". I'd imagine this slug wandering the jungle and coming upon whatever carcass is left behind after a kill, presumably eating the left over brains seeing as how most predators aren't about to crack open the skulls to get at them (though I'm sure there are probably some and this isn't a heavily researched aspect of the book).

To Jackanapes: I LOVED P. K. Dick growing up, though only read a little Burroughs but still respect him as a figure in surrealism and stream of consciousness writing (my only brush with him is reading half of Naked Lunch). When this story was accepted the editors said they very much enjoyed the "Burroughs surrealism" of it and I blushed a little, never having heard those words ascribed to my writing, but fully understanding what the compliment meant.

To your concerns regarding my reliability as a drug user/writer, well, all I can say is it was all based on my life in what I would call a "white trash" town in the middle of Pennsylvania. There was a kid in school who sold very shitty weed and grew it near the train tracks, though one day it was all stolen from him. There was also another boy who occasionally stepped on his pot with catnip (a term reserved to cocaine, but one I'd heard for all drugs that were watered down or cut with something). As to myself, I once bought what I thought was ecstasy only to empty my pockets of a baggy filled with peanuts. So you see, there aren't exactly what I would call street smarts in a small town like this and with young teens there an even less savvy perspective on it all. Some drugs you couldn't even get unless they were "around" because we were far from everything. I remember acid being seasonal because we had only one reliable drug dealer in town that us teenagers knew of, and he only got it twice a year, sometimes more. Shrooms were even rarer (they're still hard to come by if I have to be honest).

You are very much correct in that you cannot get high off of leaves but get high off the buds. You are also correct in that it's very uncommon to get high on your first time. To the first detail, I chalk it up to basic oversight on my part in failing to word it to leaves as opposed to buds, to the second detail I'd say that while this is true, I also have very little time to write out multiple scenes of this person trying pot for the first time before finally getting high with his friend. Also, I got high my first time smoking pot. Not as high as my SECOND time, but still, I felt alot of the odd sensations of time shifting and those uncontrollable bursts of laughter.

The "outdated slang" I very much disagree with. You'd be surprised how many people still refer to drugs by the oldest terms. Ride the rails, go skiing, buy some trees. In person it's just coke, pot, etc, but via text it's still all the old terms in Philly. Maybe elsewhere its very much different, I don't know.  If it had taken place in New York or abroad in London, I'd be pretty fixated on at least attempting to get the slang right, but in Philly I was already pretty familiar with drug culture as far as functioning drug users were concerned.

If you are interested in reading more of my work, I do have a amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/W.P.-Johnson/e/B008N21TJ8/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1413982118&sr=1-2-ent

American Nightmare and Cut In Half (which is a single) would be my two recommendations. One Buck Horror is also a great one, or Pulp Modern. The others, of course, I am proud of, but those would be the ones I'd point you towards for another taste of my work. In a few weeks I'll also have a novellete out entitled "The God Of Dead Dreamers" to be published by Shroud. I'm also currently working on my first novel (about a hundred pages from the finish line!), tentatively titled A Song For John.

Hope the discussion continues and I look forward to answering any questions or chiming in. Thanks again everyone for listening to the podcast and enjoying my work.
-W P Johnson (Bill)
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americantypo
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« Reply #18 on: October 22, 2014, 07:53:46 AM »

To bounceswoosh: I think you're right, he either wants to overdose or doesn't care that he will overdose. A short ride along Kensington Ave in North Philly and you can see how easily people let go of themselves and live only long enough to get that high that will fix them or be enough. But of course, it's never enough.
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« Reply #19 on: October 22, 2014, 08:46:25 AM »

To Unblinking: I'd imagine the worms ate carrion. A short story is a bit limited in its world building as there's a economy of words here. We can only spend so much time with the worms. Sometimes the reader's imagination is far more inventive and creative to fill in these holes than a short sentence or two on what they eat. It is mentioned that they typically eat smaller animals and that this produces a less effective drug, and that larger animals produces a more concentrated form of "glow". I'd imagine this slug wandering the jungle and coming upon whatever carcass is left behind after a kill, presumably eating the left over brains seeing as how most predators aren't about to crack open the skulls to get at them (though I'm sure there are probably some and this isn't a heavily researched aspect of the book).

Oh, I completely understand why that detail wasn't in the story--it wasn't particularly relevant.  But since you were hanging around here, I thought I'd ask if you had anything in mind. 

Also makes me wonder if its dreamshit has been incorporated into local flora and fauna's life cycles.  Like a species of wolf that will only go into heat if its high on the dreamshit.  Or some kind of super-bacteria that needs that environment to thrive.

And whether anything eats the worms, since they're big and slow and dumb.  Maybe they just taste horrible though, or have toxic meat.

Obviously this has nothing to do with the story. But I do like a good tangent.  And speculating a fantastical creature in the wild makes me wonder how it would shape the ecosystem around it. 
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