Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance

This is the last story in Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed, and the last story note.

A few years ago, John Klima, editor of Electric Velocipede and publisher of this collection, asked me to send him a story for EV. I wanted to send John a new story that I hadn’t submitted anywhere else. I started working on something that began as a combination of three short-shorts dating from various periods. I was too involved with writing my novel The Painting and the City to spend much time on it, so I set it aside, and sent him an older story, “Travels Along An Unfurling Circular Path,” which appeared in Electric Velocipede #10.

Then, we decided to do the chapbook, and it needed a new story. I went back to work on the short-short idea.

“Sidewalk Factory” is set in a fictional island city-state, with the approximate dimensions of Manhattan. The story alternates between Lord Mayor’s Proclamation and Municipal Dispatches and a first-person narrative by an unnamed municipal worker.

Continue reading “Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance”


Nick Gevers

Nick Gevers is an editor for PS Publishing and various anthologies, and a former reviewer of short fiction for Locus Magazine. I’m passing along an announcement of his new venture, which I’m looking forward to reading:

Locus Online has just launched my new interview series, focusing on short fiction and titled “SF Quintessential”. In this slot, I’ll be talking regularly with influential figures in the field–authors and editors–tying in with the publication of new collections and anthologies, and looking at the state of the magazines. First up is Jonathan Strahan, discussing his superb anthology Eclipse Two. Soon: Lou Anders, on the dynamic Fast Forward 2.

“I intend that the series will help promote valuable short fiction publications and provide a forum for discussion of trends in the short form: creative movements and the rather troubled state of the market. There’s a huge amount to talk about; I hope “SF Quintessential” can supplement and augment existing debate, at a vital time in the history of genre literature.”

Realms of Fantasy review

From Paul Witcover’s review of Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed in Realms of Fantasy.

Wexler “builds his stories around flesh-and-blood people, human beings who, amid their bizarre surroundings and off-kilter circumstances, engage our feelings as well as our intellects….These are not stories of grand awakenings but of small epiphanies.  They are as much about disenchantment as they are about enchantment.  And they are funnier than you might think, especially “Tales of the Golden Legend,” which features such sage advice as “We can’t always do what bread says.”  How true!”


I was reading Harlan Ellison’s collection, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, and, when I reached the beginning of “Lonely Ache” and read the first sentence: “The Form of the Habit she had become still drove him to one side of the bed.” the idea of “Indifference” flowed into my head. I put the book down, went to my desk, and started writing.

“Indifference” references an unpleasant period of my life that had occurred a few months earlier. A relationship had ended (badly, of course); and assorted feelings combined with physical displacement (a move from Manhattan to Western Massachusetts) manifested into the story. The character Brown’s helplessness echoed what I had felt. Brown’s puzzlement over the coriander came from my own experience. But the head…like the solidified clouds in “Valley of the Falling Clouds,” the head appeared to me fully-formed, from whatever neighborhood of the subconscious holds such things.

I moved from Austin, Texas to New York City in January 1995; that winter was relatively mild, but the next year there was a major snowstorm that shut down the city for a day. I didn’t have to go to work, and went out walking. I needed to mail a package (probably a short story submission), and walked nine blocks to the post office on Canal Street, which turned out to be closed. It was eerie seeing the city so calm and white and still. In a nod to another of my stories, when Brown goes out into the snow-drenched streets, he witnesses the scene at the end of “Suspension.”

The story was published in the debut issue of a ’zine called Full Unit Hookup.

Food Memory

tex-mexI’ve been read-skimming The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh, an excellent compendium of recipes, history, anecdotes about one of my favorite things: food. And Tex-Mex food in particular, something I grew up with in Houston, TX and wish southwest Ohio had more of.

I was reading the section on the Armadillo World Headquarters. The Armadillo, as it was called, was a music hall that closed New Year’s Day 1980, which was just after the first semester of my sophomore year at the University of Texas. I went to the Armadillo only three or four times.  Concerts I remember were Shake Russell/Dana Cooper, Saint Elmo’s Fire, and Head East. The Wikipedia entry has a list of some of the acts that played there,

Apparently it was also known for the food. Walsh relates an anecdote about how Van Morrison played three nights there and then went on, but after Jerry Garcia told him he shouldn’t have missed the shrimp enchiladas, his agent called to schedule another performance on a night that they were served. But what matters to me is this bit: “Big Rikki was known for her nachos, which were actually whole tostadas spread with refried beans, piled high with jalapenos, and loaded with melted cheese; they were three for a dollar.”

When I read that, I remembered them.  Remembered discovering them one of the times I was there, and ordering them each time I returned, sharing the pile with whoever I was with. I want them now, but I think my kitchen is too clean to reproduce the correct flavor.

The club closed after the landlord sold it so it could be torn down and replaced with an office building. A situation that formed another part of my education aside from college.

The Green Wall

I don’t remember where I got the image of a rain forest projected on wall. Or a portal to a rain forest appearing on a wall. Whichever it is depends on how you read tales of the fantastic. Part of what inspired “The Green Wall” was the short fiction of J.G. Ballard. I wanted to evoke some of his obsessional mystery, and his fiction is full of mirages and phantom images.

The wall was the wall outside my apartment window in New York (perhaps I was stuck for something to write, looked out the window, and said: what’s out there?—oh, a wall, maybe it has a rain forest on it). The Feast of San Gennaro takes place every autumn in Manhattan’s Little Italy and is little more than an excuse for fairground attractions, beer, and sausages. It isn’t much fun to experience as a resident of the neighborhood.

The art gallery in the story is based on a real place which no longer exists and shall remain unidentified, but I think anyone familiar with the New York art world knows a Hannah Rezinsky. Publishers are kittens compared to gallery owners. I’m glad I never worked for her nor was one of her artists, but I liked her just fine.

I hadn’t planned this when I wrote the story, but when I began working on my new novel, The Painting and the City, my idea for the sculptures of the main character, Jacob Lerner, matched the sculptures I described in “The Green Wall.” Because “The Green Wall” had not yet been published, I added something about Jacob Lerner to it, and incorporated the gallery owner into the novel (which takes place some years after Lerner has moved on to much more stable representation).

This story first appeared in Polyphony 5.

The New Offbeat

Here’s a snippet of a brief review by Rich Horton from the February Locus of Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed.

“Other delvings into the small press turn up such treasures as Robert Freeman Wexler’s brief collection…half a dozen offbeat stories, notably the book’s one original, “The Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance.”

Horton’s column also included the latest Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which he says is “as ever, packed with original and offbeat stories.  My story, “Suspension,” appeared in a past issue of Lady Churchill‘s, and is in the collection, making it no doubt doubly offbeat.

My handy electronic dictionary defines offbeat as:

offbeat |ˈôfˌbēt; ˈäf-|


1 Music not coinciding with the beat.

2 unconventional; unusual : she’s a little offbeat but she’s a wonderful actress.noun Musicany of the normally unaccented beats in a bar.

There are a lot of labels and movements out there: magical realism, slipstream, interstitial, new weird, steampunk, etc., but  I don’t know if I’m part of any of them. My stories have not appeared in their definitive anthologies. So I must be something else. I’m relieved to see a new one that I can claim.  But am I Offbeat?  Or New Offbeat?  Has there been an Offbeat?  Or an Onbeat? There were Beats, of course.

The next step is an Offbeat Manifesto, and a roster of fellow Offbeats, along with Proto-Offbeats (without which any movement is derailed before it starts).

Valley of the Falling Clouds

Continuing with story note posts, here’s one for “Valley of the Falling Clouds.”

campducttapeIn June, 1996, I went to the Kerrville Folk Festival, a yearly music event held on a ranch outside Kerrville, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country, a land of cedar, prickly-pear cactus, and heat.  The festival has been going on since 1972. It lasts three weeks, with crowded outdoor concerts on weekends and smaller concerts during the week. Some people go just for the weekend concerts, some stay a few days, and others camp out for the entire festival. There’s a tradition of elaborate campsites that groups set up in the same place each year.

Someone has a page devoted to it here.

A lot of musicians who aren’t official performers go to play their songs in the campgrounds and hang out with friends. It’s like a science fiction convention but without the boring panels and pontification; also without a bar, but there’s no lack of drink.

I was sitting outside my tent, under a tarp, temperature at least 96 degrees, and I had an image of solidified clouds rolling down a hill and crushing someone’s house.

A story unfolded about Rex, his longing for Apple Jane the herbalist’s daughter, and his departure to the wilds beyond the town of Moonsocket, where he built a shack. A shack he hoped to share with Apple Jane.

For a long time I tried to have the story start with the cloud boulders rolling down the hill and crushing Rex’s shack, and then jump back and forth in time. Jumbled mess. It was one of the stories I submitted to Clarion West. The fifth week, tired, not getting anywhere with a new story, I revised it, re-arranging it in chronological order. Based on feedback, I took out assorted things. A few years later, unable to find a publisher and more confident about what belongs in a story I write (what makes a story my story and not someone else’s), I put everything back.

Maybe because of its origins at a music festival the story has various song references woven into it, “wind’s dominion” from a Butch Hancock song, the name Rex and “blue wind” from Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues”.

Another inspiration for “Clouds” was wanting to write something like Jack Cady’s story, “The Bride,” which I read in Century, a magazine that gave me hope that my style of fantasy could be published and appreciated by a genre audience. An older inspiration, which I didn’t connect until re-reading it last year, was Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, which I first read in my early twenties; its subtle tone and matter-of-fact description of the fantastic helped shape my writing style.

In Nick Gevers’ Locus Magazine review of Polyphony 3, where “Valley of the Falling Clouds” first appeared, he described the story as “pastoral surrealism,” which I liked quite a bit.

It used to end differently, but life changes made that ending impossible.