Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Things That Scream in the Woods

When the screaming started, my wife and I were lying in bed. We looked up from our books in unison. We held our breath and waited.

It’s amazing the things you hear in the nighttime. It never ends up being what you think it is. The murderer jimmying the deadbolt is just the house settling. The pipe bursting, gushing, and flooding is just the dog slurping from his water bowl. The vanload of prison escapees pulling into the driveway is the furnace turning on. 

But this. This was definitely screaming. We heard it again. I thought of the kids. A nightmare. Something worse. An injury. Bleeding.

By the third scream, we had our wits about us. It was coming from the woods behind our house. I kicked the comforter off. Why would the kids be in the woods behind our house? The fourth scream, fortunately, was the scream that put us both at ease. It wasn’t the kids. In fact, it wasn’t even human.

There was a time in our lives when we never would have known who or what was screaming. It would have remained a mystery, haunting us. But, because it’s 2016, we get to know everything, and we get to know it immediately. I reached for my iPhone on the nightstand.

“Siri, search for things that scream in the woods.”

There was a fifth scream. A sixth. I scrolled through some links. I tapped the first one that seemed legit. It took me to a list of the top ten most common fox calls, complete with audio files. What we’d heard, loud and ominous in the night, were mating calls. We heard a seventh scream. A fox was looking for a girlfriend.

Good luck, buddy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Let's Get Damaged

Well, it’s finally happened. 2016 has arrived, and that means the year of my second novel, WE’RE ALL DAMAGED, is finally upon us.

(I’ll pause here for a moment so you can finish freaking out.)

As the world collectively awaits the publication day in June, I’ve informed my imaginary staff of idiot interns here at The Norman Nation that I plan to be a lot more active.

What does that mean?  

For starters, it means I’m going to actually write and post things to this blog more often than once or twice a year. That’s right people. Prepare yourselves for more Matthew Norman than you ever imagined.

What will I write about? Good question. Here’s what.

My children. My wife. My dog. Traffic. Random TV shows that I’m watching. Books that I’m reading. The weather. The two raccoons that repeatedly toss garbage all over my driveway like sneaky little assholes. All of it. Whatever crosses my mind.  

But, wait…there’s more.

I’m going to post about the new book, too. I’ll reveal the cover. I’ll give away advanced reader copies. I’ll answer questions from readers—and from time to time I’ll even answer those questions truthfully. I’ll tell you about readings and signings and embarrassing things that happen at those readings and signings. I’ll comment on whatever enormous literary prizes the book eventually wins. Again, everything.  Long story short: think of The Norman Nation as your official WE’RE ALL DAMAGED headquarters.

And look, I’ve already started. Move your eyes slightly to the right. See that picture? There’s about a ninety percent chance that will be my new author photo. I look very serious, don’t I? Well…you should see the black and white version.

Happy New Year, everyone. See you soon! And feel free to drop me a line. Allow me to apologize in advance if my reply to you makes no sense. My interns handle most of my correspondence, and, as I mentioned above…they’re idiots. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

And Sometimes You Just Feel Helpless and Wish Someone Was There to Tell You What to Do

I was dead asleep when she woke me up.  She flipped on every light in the bedroom, and this is what she said. “Matt, you need to help me. There’s shit all over the house.”

I looked at my alarm clock.  It was 5:55 in the morning. For a moment, I said nothing.  You could interpret a sentence like that in a lot of different ways: There’s shit all over the house.  Maybe our children had gotten up in the middle of the night and left their Legos all over the place, and, for some reason, Kate had decided to explain the situation with some casual swearing.  Or, better yet, maybe she’d had a dream and there was actually nothing all over our house, shit or otherwise. 

“You mean, like, literally shit?” I said.

“Yes. Barkley.”

That was all she had to say.  Barkley is my in-law’s English Setter. He lives with us each winter while Kate’s parents are in Florida.  He’s very old and very deaf, and, lately, his bowels have become unpredictable. Still, I assumed she was exaggerating; my wife does that when she’s tired.  But when I sat up I saw our dog Grady.  He was sitting rigid on his dog bed on the floor giving me this look that said, “Seriously…I promise…it wasn’t me.”  And that’s when I knew that it must be bad.  

It started on the floor at the foot of our bed—the white, carpeted floor—and it went from there, a trail of dried dog diarrhea. It was in the kitchen, the living room under the piano, and then, somehow, back to our bedroom.  It was brown, of course, unmistakably so, but, for some reason, I imagined it was blood.  I imagined that while we slept a strange man had been shot in our bedroom and then wandered our house for a while before politely leaving.

I decided that the best course of action was to brush my teeth.  I did this more slowly than usual, focusing on each individual tooth in the hopes that this problem would somehow resolve itself without me.  When I came back out into the bedroom, I found my wife standing barefoot in the silly little shorts she wears to bed.  She was holding a roll of paper towels in one hand and a tiny bottle of carpet spray in the other.  She was so profoundly ill-prepared for the task at hand that I actually laughed despite…well, despite all the shit.

“I don’t even know what to do,” she said.

And neither did I. 

I so rarely do.    


Friday, April 3, 2015

"Mad Men" Eulogies: The Jaguar E-Type

Last week, some of my friends at THE WEEKLINGS and I were asked to write eulogies for Mad Men characters in honor of the show's final season, which returns on Easter Sunday here in the U.S.

I suppose I could have written about anyone on the show. They'd all make good subjects. But, for some reason, I couldn't stop thinking about Lane Pryce's beautiful, doomed Jaguar E-Type. I kept asking myself, what would have happened to it? Would Lane's wife have sold it?  Would she have kept it?  Ultimately, I decided to figure it out for myself.   

The result is THIS. It's part eulogy, part fan fiction, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't end up making me more than a little sad to write. I'm sentimental about cars, particularly old ones, and of all the twists and turns Mad Men has taken over the years, the end of Lane's storyline has stuck with me the most.

If you don't watch Mad Men or if you're way behind, you'll have no idea what this is about. If that's the case, my apologies for the spoilers. But, if you're a fan and you're all caught up, I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Flash Fiction: Like Regular Fiction, But Shorter

A few weeks ago, my friends at the flash fiction journal SmokeLong Weekly asked me to be their guest editor for a week.  I've never been an editor before, so I said yes immediately. I figured it would be easy.  I'd read some stories, pick my favorite, and then I'd have a stiff drink. Because that's what editors do, I imagined.

Over the course of seven days, I read about 60 stories. And, unfortunately for me, a lot of them were very, very good. Some were funny. Some were weird (in good ways).  Some were borderline offensive (also in good ways).  At the end of my allotted period, though, of all the quality work I had the opportunity to read, one stuck with me the most: "Here, Hereafter," by Michael Patrick Brady.

The first time I read it, I was pretty sure I loved it. The second time I read it, I somehow liked it even  more. The third time I read it, I wanted to wake my wife up and have her read it, too.  In just 300-and-something words, Michael Patrick Brady has accomplished something great. I hope you enjoy it, too...and I can't wait to see what this guy comes up with next.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Plus or Minus: A Brief Study in Fatherhood

Over the holidays, I got a chance to spend an unbelievable amount of time with my children. Like most working parents, non-stop family time is a rarity. While it was obviously something I enjoyed, I'd be lying if I said there weren't a few rough patches. I documented one of those rough patches here, self-loathing and all, in this short essay for my friends at The Weeklings.  

Hope everyone is having a nice 2014 so far.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hurls of Love

My friends at The Good Men Project recently asked me to contribute to their cool series, 100 Words On Love.  I said yes, of course, because how hard could 100 words be to write...right?

Well, harder than you'd think.  At a bloated, meandering 426 words, my first draft went on and on like Moby Dick.  There was dialogue, a flashback, and even a paragraph break in there, if you can believe that.  My second draft was somewhere in the three-hundreds, I think.  I'd lost the flashback, but was still stupidly clinging to the dialogue.

For the next two evenings, I trimmed and cut and killed things, and this is the result. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it's the most blatantly sentimental 100 words I've ever written.  Sorry about that. But, if you're a guy and you have a daughter, you'll understand.