Recently, I was asked to read a story on July 6th at a Nashville literary event called “Sex, Pugs, and Rock & Roll”—a cross-country book tour that my new favorite person and writer, Cassie Sneider, embarked upon with her pug dog in tow. Only I didn’t know a real live pug would be there.

The timing was fateful. Five days before, one of my pugs—a crotchety old man named Henry—took a rocket ship to outer space. Or at least that’s his story.

This dog could write fiction like nobody’s business.

See, one night in 2006, Henry got drunk and lost the keys to the spaceship he was flying. He’s been looking for it ever since, and last week he found it after years of telling us how much cooler space was than our house. Space, it turns out, has plenty of babes and Wild Turkey, vibrating beds and ganja. I never knew.

I encountered Henry at the local pug rescue, not knowing then that he was a dirty old man who would constantly request the company of dog-prostitutes, even though he was neutered and otherwise incapacitated. He had a stroke a month after I got him, and for a full year his head was cocked completely sideways. I mean, entirely to the side. Add to the list these ailments—a congenital heart condition, fully luxated patellas, scoliosis, an eye that popped out (this happens with pugs, for real) and was put back in its socket as a useless spaceholder, dementia, rotting teeth, and skin allergies—and you’ll understand that helping him find his spaceship was the compassionate thing to do.

And you’ll also see why, when I applied to adopt him, the nice lady said, “No adoption fee. You can just…have him.” Someone had found him wandering the countryside of East Tennessee. And that’s why Henry’s spaceship story was so plausible: he was in the middle of nowhere, an alien-looking thing. That’s the thing about great fiction writers: you get lost in the story.

Back to “Sex, Pugs, and Rock & Roll.” The kismet was undeniable, so I read my only story with a character named Henry and asked everyone to give him a shout out. “Yo, Henry!” rang throughout two floors of the coffee shop. Henry, I’m guessing, rattled off some cantankerous comment about all that damn racket.

So space-bound creatures are on my mind this week. Which made it a perfect time to run a story called “Rosie’s Funeral.” How is it that I’ve never read anything by Aaron Jacobs before? He has a gentle style I don’t see often, where the sentences roll steadily, so that the reader is in synch with the main character’s generally ordinary day. It’s a quiet story, not at all ostentatious. There is no real jolt, and this feels genuine. Jacobs confidently writes the story in forthright language, and the dialogue between two neighbor-strangers is natural. The point-of-view shift from the first to the second paragraph is seamless; it just feels right. This is something that not all writers can pull off, but the first paragraph is so good that Jacobs earns my trust immediately, and I know in my gut that he wouldn’t misguide me.

Sarah Malone is so terse and economical in “Where the Dust Went” that she manages to assemble and disassemble a life—a couple, children, a home, travel, a job—in little more than two pages. Her technique is captivating: don’t blink; follow the clues, and you’ll know where you are in space, time, and sentiment. Every word, every line, is heavy with meaning, especially the final ones. Read the first paragraph—carefully—after you finish the story, and you’ll see how brilliant Malone is. This is one of those stories I wish I’d written.

A month ago, we ran a Kirk Pinho poem, but it was difficult to decide between the two he submitted. We (selfish, selfish we) wanted both. And Pinho generously allowed us to be greedy. I’m so glad. “Last Minute (Drowning, 1943)” expands and memorializes the deaths in the two fiction pieces in this issue, spinning into motion a countdown—an intense, reflective countdown—to stillness.

Wait a minute: stillness? Hell naw, says Henry. His spaceship ain’t gonna stop for nothin’ this time.


Photo Source: Wallpaper77