Scott's note: As Stanton McCaffery, New Jersey-based writer Roger Nokes has written one novel. Published in 2017, it's called Into the Ocean, a tale that takes place in a suburban New Jersey town with its share of poverty, corruption, drug degradations, and violence. I know Roger, and despite his proclivity for painting bleak pictures, he happens to be quite a nice guy, with a sense of humor. He also happens to be industrious and willing to take a risk with his time and energy. Over the last several months, Roger has been involved with a project he will tell you about here - a project that sounds well-worth supporting.
Here's Roger to tell you.
A Space for Darkness: Rock and a Hard Place Magazine
By Roger Nokes
“I don’t get it,” my wife says to me, “you have a clinical depression and yet you like the darkest and most depressing shit.”
We’ve been together for roughly twenty years and she’s posed that to me as a question multiple times each of those years. At first, I didn’t know. I would shrug and go and listen to Alice in Chains or read Edgar Allan Poe. Now, I think I have something close to an answer. It’s comforting.
This is going to sound cliché, I know, but it helps to know that I’m not the only person that feels the way I do. If I read something or listen to something that’s rosy, I try not to sneer like an insufferable curmudgeon, but I do often wonder if I live in an alternate reality from the person that created it.
And that’s why noir feels so right to me; it’s devoid of hope that so often feels forced and artificial. Working people suffering just like you and I suffer, making mistakes and doing the wrong thing - there’s something so validating about that. And I think there can be validation and comfort without there being a happy ending. After all, looking around, I see very few happy endings and I want the fiction I consume to somehow reflect or say something about the world that I live in, something genuine.
Ruminating on all of this, I thought late last year that it would be nice to create a place that lifted some genre restrictions on noir but kept some others - or maybe didn’t lift them as much as just blurred the lines a little. To me, a crime doesn’t always have to occur in a story to demonstrate someone in a miserable situation. It often does and I love those stories and recognize the importance of looking at characters forced to live outside of society’s rules, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like to lift that restriction a little.
Then I thought, well, I like horror too and I like weird fiction, so, what would it look like to create something that allowed for these things but asked that they all focus on people at the bottom? To me, that would feel real. Even if the stories were made up, they would be true.
I talked to some people, explained my idea. Most thought launching a fiction magazine was perhaps not the best idea. I’d upset people by not accepting their work or accepting it and then editing it. I wouldn’t make any money. I would increase my already high blood pressure.
Yeah, they’re totally right, but this felt like an itch I just needed to scratch. I needed to see if this idea could have legs. And plus, this would not be the first time in my life I ignored perfectly sound advice.
I talked to more people and eventually found a few good dudes willing to also take the risk with me. Each of us, I’m sure, has slightly different likes and motivations, but I think it’s safe to say that we each want to do this because we want to create something. Something that feels real.
What we came up with: Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.
We launched our website, https://www.rockandahardplacemag.com/, in March and then opened for submissions. “Rock and a Hard Place Magazine,” says the site, “is a cross-genre magazine publishing works of fiction that focus on the plight of marginalized, poor, depressed, and desperate people.” In a month and a half, we received over 160 submissions.
We’re still going through the pile and we haven’t finalized which pieces we will include in the first issue – due out in July – but I can tell you this: These stories are going to kick you in the gut. They’re going to make you feel.
Honestly, starting this project has reaffirmed my faith in the power of fiction. Just like it’s supposed to do, fiction about people in desperate situations makes me more empathetic in a way that non-fiction and biographies for some reason just don’t. It takes me out of my own head.
My gamble is that these stories and this idea do the same thing for other people, that perhaps by sharing stories of hurt and desperation and despair, we can help people feel like they aren’t alone. It’s a bit counterintuitive, I know, but I think a way to find light in the world is to look right at the darkness and to understand it.
Does something about this idea speak to you? Maybe you just like a good story. That’s cool too. Either way, we want your work and we need your help. We’re going to re-open for submissions in the summer. In the meantime, we want to pay the writers and artists we publish because we’d rather their lives not look like those of the characters in their stories.
If you want to help out, check out our Go Fund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/rock-and-a-hard-place-issue-1?sharetype=teams&member=2009944&rcid=r01-15568907238-0c0445f2564447f8&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w.
Any donation of $50 or more gets a copy of issue one signed by the editors. Any donation of $100 or more gets a special shout-out at our launch event this summer. Of course, what’s most important is that you’ll help us bring this project to life.