For those of you who don't know, I am a columnist and contributing editor at Whistling Shade, a homespun pen & ink literary journal published in my home town St. Paul, Minnesota by my friend and fellow literature enthusiast Baron Joel Van Valin.
Every issue of the Shade contains poetry, essay, literary criticism, book reviews and short fiction with a regional focus with mostly local authors, but also quite a few from farther flung places. Since 2008, I've played the role of court jester, supplying the Shade with a dose of bizarre humor in my column Fun Patrol, which the Baron helped supply the name for.
I first made the Baron's acquaintance back in 2001, after he published my first piece for the Shade; it was a story about my misspent youth working as a campus security guard on the graveyard shift at Mankato State University. We sat at an Irish pub quaffing pints and I turned to him and said, "Your last name's Van Valin, huh? I think 'Baron' would sound good in front of it." And that was that. From then on he was the Baron.
While most people know the Baron (or "Joel") is an all-round jolly chap and enthusiastic literature booster, they seldom realize how brilliant he is (a published sci-fi and fantasy writer in addition to his acclaimed poetry as well as a publisher) or the lengths he goes to honor the unsung bards of the past and present alike. Not only does he have a nearly photographic memory for verse, you can throw any two lines of English at him and he'll tell you exactly what type of meter and rhyme scheme they fit. He's also embarrassed me by remembering more details about my own work at times than I do.
In this issue you'll find a poignant short editorial from the Baron acknowledging how the pandemic as affected us as well as his best literary analysis yet, a retrospective of the Grandsire of American Literature: Washington Irving--so good you might lose your head. In this issue is a magical realist daydream by bizarro writer Tony Rauch. Under my Fun Patrol column you'll at least find fun-gi (can I at least get a sad trombone please?), my first published poem in twenty years, Fruiting Bodies.
It was also my great honor to pen Riding in Cars With Rabbits, a book review of Master of Deception: A Son Searches For His Father in the House of Illusion by John-Ivan Palmer (Rare Bird Books). Imagine growing up on the road living out of a suit case. Now imagine that your "uncles and aunts" are knife throwers, burlesque dancers and a foul-mouthed drunk with a bullwhip who snaps quarters off of the foreheads of bald men in the audience. Your little sister is a bunny rabbit and the rabbit is about as talkative as your dad. Dad's job, by the way, is to saw your mom in half in front of dozens of people night after night. If you're still interested you should check out the rest of my review or better yet, read the book! Palmer has been one of the most regular and fascinating contributing writers at Whistling Shade for years, lending his distinct style and perspective as a stage magician and hypnotist to pieces that explore the intersection of science, quackery and mysticism such as The Origins of Mesmeric Death and Dining with the Breatharians.
To see stories in past issues of Whistling Shade you can search the archives or click the links above to check out the works by John-Ivan (among many, many others) that I highly recommend. Go to the subscriptions page to access the current issue. It's a buck to download a PDF or $4/print issue. In this age of blogs and zines it's rare to find a publication that's even existed as long as the Shade has (since 2000) and rarer yet for it to have remained in print and online. To put it in perspective, the office of Whistling Shade is a basement in St. Paul with a washer and dryer, numerous toddler toys, a naughty ginger cat, a laminated wood bar with blinking lights, boxes of books and comfortable orange-ish furniture (not quite the same color as the Naughty Cat though he is quite well camouflaged) from the 1960's with a floral pattern. There is also a cozy fireplace in front of which I have singed an arm hair or two after forgetting how to open the flue. Nothing serious, mind you. I have sipped many a warm brandy with the Baron there on a snowy winter's day; we've talked about plans for the upcoming issue on and off for the better part of twenty years. It's one of life's great joys.