Where Awesome Journeys Begin: Mini-Retirement

Not many people get to say they’re retired at age 34. I’m counting myself extremely lucky.

Jeff Pfaller - Mini-Retired

Well, not retired. Mini-retired. Taking a break from the daily 9 to 5 to attempt an awesome journey. Leaving all work behind to explore the country with my family and solo.

I’d debated what to say when people ask me that classic ice-breaker, “So what do you do?” for the past few weeks.

My answer for the past decade definitely didn’t fit. Can I really say I work in advertising, am a content strategist, or do digital marketing anymore?

My answer for the past nine months – also not the best. I’m not a marketing or content strategy consultant. Not in a way that currently defines me, at least.

I needed something short, accurate, and badass sounding.

I settled on mini-retired.

It sounds strange, yet a little familiar. And far more interesting than 99% of the stock answers to “So what do you do?” I’m still working on being able to call myself an astronaut or child-saving philanthropist, so this’ll do for now.

Over the next four months, I’ll be road tripping around the country to places like Zion National Park, Glacier National Park, Las Vegas, the Colorado Plateau, many, many other places I’ve got planned, plus plenty I haven’t decided whether or not I want to visit.

I’m with my family during this first leg to the Grand Staircase in Utah and Arizona, and a treehouse in Western Colorado. I want to show my children things they’ve never seen and help them fall in love with the country’s park system.

Then I’m heading back out by myself, wherever my wheels take me. The only thing I know so far is that I’m headed to Glacier National Park with my best friend and a couple other amigos.

And after that, I’ll probably unretire and work towards another mini-retirement. Or maybe something completely different.

That’s sort of the whole point, to give myself the space to take a journey.

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 18 Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 18 (Summer 2015)

Another summer, another issue of Midwestern Gothic! It’s amazing that no matter how long we do this, there’s always wrenches and new wrinkles that get thrown into the process. This issue will always stand out to me (I hope, if it happens again I’ll probably get committed to an asylum) as the one we lost. In the midst of copyediting, my hard drive fried and my multiple layers of redundancy backups failed, sending most of the work spent laying out the galley and making copyediting changes into the ether. I gave myself a half hour to feel bad for myself and ate some fast food that made me feel even worse, and then got right back at it.

The positive that came out of that experience was that I was able to get reacquainted with the stories and poems inside. There’s something about laying out a galley and designing how the words appear on the page that’s very tactile, almost like you can feel the work taking shape. And it reinforced why I enjoyed one of my favorite pieces in the issue, “Gen-Mods,” by Brian Pals. When I tell people about Midwestern Gothic, one of my usual lines is that we’re more than corn and cows. Well, this story is all about corn. Specifically, a group of men rogueing corn for Monsanto. That’s probably why I liked it so much, that it took the stereotypes about the Midwest and corn and showed how tradition has evolved into modern reality.

Even though big farming has evolved into numbers and chemicals, there are still men walking the fields, tending to the crops in very different ways than years ago. And the dynamics of this manual labor, overseer and worker, take on a different tone. It’s a nuanced piece takes place in the midst of a prominent debate (GMOs, Bee Extinction, etc.) without an agenda. In other words, it reflects life in the Midwest, good, bad, and ugly. Which is exactly what we’re looking for. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s possible, walking corn, to sweat yourself dirty and all the way back around to clean again. Everything flushes out, and by the end of a hundred-degree day in the field, that wet wash sliding out of your hatband doesn’t even have the taste of salt to it anymore. Pure water.

You could maybe go a day without showering, but what Honzo never seemed to get was you had to change clothes. One season he wore the same T-shirt¬, 1998 Stanley Cup, Detroit Red Wings, for a solid week of work. I doubt he really smelled much worse after than he did before, though. Honzo was just naturally ripe. Maybe he had more in his system to sweat out than the rest of us.

Whatever Honzo’s aroma was, his phone call meant money. Not easy money, or even especially big money for what you had to do to get it, but roguing cornfields for a couple, three weeks of a summer could help pay down a lot of debt. For me, it was legal fees.

Honzo would contract acres from one of the seed companies—Pioneer, Monsanto,
AgriGold—and call the crew together. Me and Dennis, maybe another guy or two. We’d walk the fields, miles back and forth, with spades sharpened up to chop rogues or volunteers, types of corn that deviated. It’s primitive work of the hand and foot, a job that usually gets started around mid-July, the hottest slice of summer. The last time I worked with Honzo, though, it got hot in May, even hotter over a rainless June, and the call came a good two weeks early.

“Ready to rogue corn, Shcotty?” Missing teeth up front, Honzo had to kind of side-lisp any word with a hissing sound in it. He had a growl in his voice, too, like a dopey cartoon dog who cursed a lot. “Monsanto’s got acres, and they need that shit walked like now. $16 corn, some of it.”

The pay was by the acre, scaled to how hard the work was. A $16-per-acre field meant tough walking and a big-enough check, if you could work long hours with a small crew.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic: Summer 2015 – Issue 18 for the rest of the story, and many others inspired by the Midwest.

Exigencies: A Neo Noir Anthology from Dark House Press

Exigencies: A Neo Noir Anthology

If The New Black, Dark House Press’s first title, was the best of what was already out in the dark wild of the neo noir landscape, then their latest anthology, Exigencies, thrusts new progeny into the abyss with new twists on the genre.

Richard Thomas, the editor-in-chief is attempting to stake out a nuanced space in the oft over simplified horror genre. Most casual readers and non-fans may not think there are sub-genres to horror, likely associating their stereotypes about the genre to the limited experiences they may have with authors (Poe, Lovecraft, etc.) or even film. But they’d do themselves a favor by sampling this anthology, which applies a tone and aesthetic across straight horror, sci-fi, contemporary lit, and even fantasy. The space Thomas carves out is in feel, the “I’ll know it when I see it,” aesthetic, making this the perfect entry point into the new black for casual fans. Find something you like, then dig deeper.

Some of my favorite stories were “Cat Calls” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, which practically oozed sex from the page, but carried a latent undercurrent of threat and malice. The dread running under Letita Trent’s story, “Wilderness” was masterful and made me wish she’d extended the short into a full length work. (Maybe she has, be right back to go check.) The visceral violence of “Monster Season” by Joshua Blair actually made me put the book down for a moment and go grab a palate cleanser of something happy. And “Single Lens Reflection” had a certain poignancy to it that takes the expectation you’ve been given in the stories before and spins the genre on its head again.

Thomas says, “…in that pulsing abyss, that endless yawning void, there is a tiny light shining.” In some stories, it’s a glimmer of hope. In others, it’s the siren call, a trick to get you to break upon the rocks. In all the stories in Exigencies, it brings you in closer, calling out to the darkest things inside you.

Buy Exigencies Now