Contributor Update: Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller’s “Operation Skunk,” excerpted below, first appeared in Issue 70 (2008) of the minnesota review. Since its publication, Miller has also released Horror After 9/11 (2011), a critical anthology co-edited with Aviva Briefel, along with pieces in The Rumpus, Slice Magazine, Arts and Letters, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede. Miller also has work forthcoming in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Shimmer. You can read more about Miller and his work here. To read the rest of “Operation Skunk,” please visit our online archive, available through Duke University Press.

 

Operation Skunk

Pastor handpicked us, three of his best girls for the man from CBS to speak to. Earlene, who’s seventy-five; me, who’s forty; and Shelley, who’s seventeen. Pastor called me up and told me to orchestrate the whole thing, our outfits and posture and perfume, and how to coach the girls beforehand, and said I had to host it because Shelley’s mom’s trailer smelled like burned plastic and Earlene’s house was too big and fancy. I got rid of all my Glade Plug-Ins because Pastor said city folks think they’re tacky, and bought a tube of cookie dough and timed the baking so the whole house smelled nice when the CBS man came.

Pastor had called me after midnight the night before.

“Remember, this is our chance to show America what good work we’re doing,” he said. “You three are our ambassadors. Be
friendly and humble. Don’t answer his questions—respond with our message. He’s going to try to paint us a certain kind of way, and you cannot fall into his trap. So if he asks you What do you think of the War in Iraq or something along those lines, you answer All I know is, the government wasn’t doing its job out here on the highways of Kentucky, and good Christians stepped up and did it. Okay? Like we said. He’s not your audience—you’re talking to America tomorrow. You know things need to be perfect for the next phase of Operation Skunk.”

“I know it.” I was as close to exasperated as I could ever get with Pastor. My ear hurt from holding the phone against it with my
shoulder. My hands, slick with mayonnaise, drummed at the kitchen table. I’d been mixing up a batch of tuna for sandwiches and the wooden spoon wasn’t getting it done fast enough so I started using my hands. When I’m stressed out I need to seize hold of something. It’s a reflex, left over from a million nights where loneliness hit me so hard I snatched up a bottle or some man’s forearm.

“You’ll call me when it’s over?” he asked. He could sound so small sometimes. Up in front of five hundred people, his voice was wide and rich as Gabriel’s must be. Other times he’d call me up just inches short of crying. “The man said it would take about an hour, but you know how these people are. So call me when they leave and I’ll come over and we’ll talk about how it went.”

“Sure thing, Pastor,” I said. “Now I got to get back to fixing the spread for tomorrow.”

“God bless you, Sister Schram,” he said. “Helen.”

February wind made a baby-crying sound outside. I’d been out back til ten p.m., picking up the yard so it looked less trailer
trash. Where had they come from, those ruptured garbage bags and waterlogged cardboard boxes and faded plush and plastic Easter bunnies? I picked this little house for its loneliness, for how far it was from the squalid backyards I’d grown up in, but they’d followed me.

The tuna fish sandwiches would go on the sunflower tray; the peanut butter and jelly on the cow tray. I focused on what they’d
look like: crusts snipped off, cut into quarters, the tiny white bread triangles and the pitcher of milk and the cookies and the bowl of apples. The room full of bright lights and camera equipment and men munching on my food while the famous man from television interviewed us. Shelley, sitting on my couch, bracketed by me and Earlene, her chubby arm calm and dry against mine. In AA they tell us to focus on today, and not to worry about the ugly days behind you or the long dry days in front of you. Pastor, on the other hand, says think about Jesus, and think about the future. Think about your mission. Everyone has a mission, Pastor says, although most souls spend a lifetime just wondering what it is. My need was so great I got two of them. Shelley was my little mission; Operation Skunk was my big mission.

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 – Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

– See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpufH

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 – Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

– See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpuf

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 – Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

– See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpuf

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