Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Michelle Embree in a Time Like This

Over the years, I've been lucky to have an ongoing conversation with novelist/playwright/performer/Tarot genius Michelle Embree. We picked up this conversation again recently when she interviewed me about The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales. Read the interview HERE, where we talk about beginnings, realism, sneaky absurdism, Paul Auster, Jane Bowles, Pamela Colman Smith, and space/time!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Heavy Feather Review

There is a great, thoughtful review of The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales by Mike Jacoby over at Heavy Feather. 'The images,' Jacoby writes, 'in addition to the sentences, are crystalline, pretty, and border on bizarre. On the sentence level, readers will be driven forward by language that feels like one of Runkle’s texturized collages.' And this:
The impact of isolation continuously evolves in Runkle’s collection, culminating in a devastating yet satisfying final tale. Hang out with Runkle’s stories long enough to become oriented in them, and you lean in little by little until you’re absorbed. 
You can buy the book from Small Press Distribution, where it's now on their 'SPD Recommends' list!

Monday, December 22, 2014


‘Veterans Day’ is a story that alternates viewpoints between two characters—both prone to flights of fantasy. One of them, Clar, 'wakes to the chirp of orphans, the reassuring surf, the smoke of pork and pineapple.’ He is a Vietnam vet and former POW who has since found a patron in Mel Gibson and opened an orphanage in Hawaii.

The other character is Sheri, a teenager who ‘lives in a wasteland, in one of the many places where the wasteland puckers—a clot of trailers across the country road from school.' She volunteers at a soup kitchen in the city, where she first meets Clar.

Also, this story is set smack-dab in the early 1990s, and when Clar tells Sheri—an avid watcher of MTV—his tales of bravery, she listens and imagines, and what she pictures is fueled by all the gems coming down the pop-culture tube:
She’s intrigued by Janet Jackson’s supple severity.
 She loves to crank the recently resurrected ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
And Anthony Kiedis is hot.

Meanwhile, Sheri’s history teacher makes a pathetic attempt at reaching his students by incorporating Billy Joel into the curriculum.

Sheri uses her teacher's disconnect to shame him into letting Clar come to the school to give a Veterans Day speech. The ensuing high-school assembly forces Shari’s and Clar’s fantasies to battle head to head.

‘Veterans Day’ is included in The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, now out from Brooklyn Arts Press. BAP and I are collaborating to offer a giveaway tie-in for the first 50 people who order the book from the publisher's website: a broadside I designed and letterpress printed. Each one is an adaptation of a story from the collection—get yours free by ordering the book HERE!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Anna Joy Springer blurbed my newly released fiction collection by comparing it to comics:
The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales looks nothing like a regular book of comics. It makes no use of frames, gutters, bubbles, or even actual pictures. Deceptively designed to look like a book of short stories, Runkle’s collection is secretly comics—delightful, textured, twisted little graphic beasts unlike anything I’ve read/seen before. 
Springer teaches graphic texts at UC San Diego, so it was an honor to hear she finds the book’s stories so visual. My writing often takes explicitly visual forms: comics, broadsides, artist’s books, and other fusions of text + image. So when I choose to stick to pure prose, I try to do everything I can to make things seen. It really is a compliment that my efforts became ‘twisted little graphic beasts’ in Springer’s eyes.

When I wrote ‘Columbus Was Named for the Dove’, I had a palette in mind: I thought of the pastels that happen in paint-by-numbers, the formulaic, impressionistic—almost parasitic—little outlines the artist fills in with powder blue and carnation pink, the dip of the brush into one of those little connected acrylic-filled cups. Such an environment longs for tension: rather than be imprisoned by it, though, embittered public school teacher Mrs. Trent created it, years ago on a wall in the faculty lounge. In the anaesthetized wake of a school shooting, she wonders to what extent her creations ripened the building for violence.

At least that’s how I pictured it. In What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund asks, ‘What is the author’s role in hemming in the boundaries of our imaginations?’ Should we include those little acrylic-filled cups or not? Is creating an authorly color scheme a launchpad for the reader’s imagination or is it tyrranical to tell them what to paint in which shape?

Similarly, Mrs. Trent wonders, 'What, after all, is a teacher’s duty? To prevent violence? Or simply to present it as it is?'

‘Columbus Was Named for the Dove’ first appeared over at MonkeybicycleYou can also read the story in The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Stories. Brooklyn Arts Press is offering a special giveaway tie-in for the first 50 people who order the book from their website: a free limited-edition broadside that I designed and printed. Each broadside is an adaptation of a story from the collection—get one by ordering the book HERE!

Monday, December 15, 2014

20. FACE

If you order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales now, you may be one of the first 50 to get a free broadside of a story featured in the collection. Click HERE to order now!

One of the collection’s 22 stories is titled ‘face’. It’s an attempt to concretize the slippery but all-consuming phenomenon of Facebook, and it does so by starting with the following Stéphane Mallarmé quote:
All earthly existence must ultimately be contained in a book.
The story unfolds around a triangle modeled after the one that is central in the Jean Rhys story, ‘The Lotus’. The triangle consists of
… [A] retired stewardess and a young straight couple who suffer a bit from a case of the hipsters. The couple consists of Poney Marie, a Portlander fresh out of public policy school, and Remy, a young man from a wealthy background who helped develop the book. The retired stewardess, Myrne, is singled out as a political candidate for Poney Marie to mentor and possibly install as a puppet dictator in the newly opened district of the book.
The book refers to that materialized version of Facebook I mentioned. The above excerpt is from a series of blog posts I wrote about ‘face’ when I was deep in the midst of writing it. Not only did I bring in Jean Rhys, I also managed to reference Danielle Steel, Roberto Calasso, and Caitlin Horrocks. To learn more about how ‘The Lotus’ influenced my writing process, you can read those posts here.

And click HERE to order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, where you can read the full text of ‘face’!

Friday, December 12, 2014


‘Socialites’ is a story that first appeared in matchbook, and which I adapted into a broadside for the Queer Communities in Print Portfolio organized by Corinne Teed and Jaime C. Knight for the 2014 SGCI Conference. The portfolio, which includes contributors such as Thea Gahr, Miriam Klein Stahl, Patrick Reed, Edie Fake, Dutes Miller & Stan Shellabarger, and many others, has since gone on to be featured on Printeresting and exhibited at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery in San Francisco and Airspace Gallery in Philadelphia.

When I wrote the story, I was imagining a Paris Hilton-type narrator. Remember her? She’s desperate for you to not forget:

In ‘Socialites’, this narrator takes an anachronistic trip to the Vatican, where she displays a humanoid sort of disconnect, as well as a naïve debauchery characteristic of the rich. 

I thought the Vatican would be an ideally vague sort of setting: an architectural posture of eternity, a symbol of dogma with seediness seeping from beneath, a historical tourist destination stripped of its bloodiest historical contexts. What sort of knowledge did the narrator find there that made her finally feel human, and that caused the laws of the physical world to behave in such startlingly different ways?

If you order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales from the Brooklyn Arts Press website, not only will you get to read ‘Socialites’, if you’re one of the first 50 who order, you’ll get a free letterpress broadside of one of the book's stories. Get it HERE!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

UICB Open House

The University of Iowa Center for the Book is hosting their annual Open House tomorrow night from 4 - 6 pm. As part of my Graduate Assistantship, I letterpress printed a flyer advertising the event. The whole thing is printed from handset metal type.

There will be printing, binding, and papermaking demos tomorrow—stop by the ground level of North Hall to see them, eat some homemade snacks, and look at student work on display.

Monday, December 8, 2014


The inspiration for ‘The Stoic Trucker with a Heart of Gold’ came from an experience I had when I was hitchhiking. I was riding with a trucker, who was both mellow and entertaining—the stories he told me really strained towards another dimension. What he related on that ride really formed this story's protagonist’s hyperbolically scripted backstory:
Some time in the near future, the world is suffering from an increased rate of seismic disasters. Volcanoes and earthquakes are ripping apart continents and making them pretty much uninhabitable. This is really hard for Chuck, an antiheroic trucker, constantly having to swerve to miss pools of lava. Half his runs are stopped short by missing chunks of freeway. One day he decides to do a little research, spends a couple nights in the icy light of the Internet, and comes to a startling conclusion. 
The world’s seeming illness is in reaction to an over-extraction of oil. The world leaders know this, and through an ominous concoction of motives, are bent on destroying the planet. The presidents of every nation and the heads of every megacorporation are building a luxury pod just outside the earth’s orbit, where they plan to escape, leaving the general populace to be crushed between the restless tectonic plates. Heavy shit, but Chuck doesn’t waste a second wringing his hands. He has a vision, a plan to end America’s dependence on oil by constructing a new method of cross-country transport: a network of canals that rely on nothing but water and gravity to float goods long distances. Against all odds.
The trucker told me he was heir to thousands of acres of Nebraskan farmland, and that he was getting ready to settle there to plan the network’s nexus. I included these details in the story, but gave it all a twist: because the trucker’s tale veered slightly toward a Hollywood narrative (albeit with a more left-wing slant), I decided to make the whole situation unfold on a sound stage. The protagonist trucker would be a career character actor who is miraculously granted a lead role. The supporting cast of this venture all has similar histories, and from reading the script, Chuck the stoic trucker knows this:
A tech-savvy starlet, he remembered (he anticipated, actually). A good-natured black man whom the script disclosed dies halfway through the journey. A handsome doctor who turns out to be working for the builders of the pod. A prophetic homeless woman …
I’m pretty enamored with character actors, who tend to be the most likable presences on screen (Angie Jo excepted). I’ve even daydreamed about trying to break into the business myself, once I'm old enough where weirdness starts counting more than looks. The documentary, That Guy .. Who Was In That Thing, understandswatch it here

And go to Brooklyn Arts Press to order my new book, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales. It includes ‘The Stoic Trucker with a Heart of Gold’, and if you’re one of the first 50 who order it, you’ll get a free broadside adaptation of a story from the collection. Order it HERE!

Friday, December 5, 2014

17. HEIR

Champagne, please! Tonight is the release party for my short fiction collection, The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales, out now from Brooklyn Arts Press! Click HERE to order it.

Included is a piece of flash fiction called ‘Heir’, which I adapted into a broadside printed on a manila envelope. The story’s young narrator stalks her uncle at a Salvation Army thrift store and pores over a collection of increasingly haunted objects until she encounters an old woman who may or may not be her grandmother’s ghost.

If you live in Iowa City, drop by the Paper Nest tonight between 5-7 pm, where the 'Heir' broadside will be on display. OR be one of the  first 50 people to order The Story of How All Animals Are Equal & Other Tales from the Brooklyn Arts Press website, and receive a free letterpress broadside of one of stories featured in the collection. ORDER NOW to get yours!