Belize

          I’m not a travel writer, but I’m a writer who just traveled so I should probably let logic take the tiller and write about my travels… I just swam with fucking sharks in Belize. For real. Our boat stopped out in the reef and we moored to a cemented anchor. I’d like to say that the ocean smelled fresh just to paint the perfect picture, but it didn’t. It never does; it depends on which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes the breeze is a clean thing, telling your nose about new life and a refreshing swim. Sometimes the breeze is dirty and pungent, and it talks about the death and decay down below. The ocean is half life, half death. Our reef was huge—the world’s second largest—and we were surrounded by the sea; two fathoms of water that stretched on and on. Greens and blues you only see in the tropics. Life swam beneath our boat. Sharks and rays and barracudas and all kinds of creepy shit that bites and stings. The man said to jump in, so I jumped in. I landed somewhere in the middle of the food chain.

          I’m a decent snorkeler, but irrational fear controlled my lungs. In out in out, quick and quicker. The man noticed and suggested a lifejacket when I got back to the boat. I could just lie on it if I needed and relax. It’d put Styrofoam between me and the teeth. Hell yes. I swam back out floating on top of my orange security blanket. I calmed down. There was a small nursery shark that just moments before was doing an awesome impression of Jaws. There was a peaceful ray flapping her wings in the sand (I assume she did it to look majestic). There were two barracudas lurking in my peripheral, holding still and playing the cat in cat-and-mouse; I showed them my lifejacket. The man swam down before my eyes and coaxed an eel out of his den; he breathed with his huge gills and proffered translucent teeth. Holy shit it was wonderful; it was like snorkeling in the movies. The man was our docent through house-sized outcroppings of coral. Explorers in an underwater canyon, we swam left and right through schools of curious fish and other tourists, pale on bottom and burnt red on top. My fish of a daughter would swim under me and then away, a fearless eight-years-old beast on a mission, and then she’d swim back all the while trying to tell me something through her snorkel. I’d just nod, smile, wave.

          Our reef was a barrier reef, one that protects all of Belize from the predatory ocean, but the barrier had a channel in it: a submerged portcullis in the reef wall. We swam across it and I felt the tug of the ocean pulling me out like the ensnaring song of a deadly mermaid, but we made it across easily. Life and wonderment lived everywhere and we swam through it for close to an hour. We got back to the boat and the man said it was time to go to “shark ray alley.” That’s where they all are he said: the big ones. It was a short boat ride and as soon as we moored off, they came slithering in. Dark shadows, wraiths of the seas, swam everywhere. The white noise of the engine pulled them close. Guides who don’t follow the rules bait the sharks with handfuls of fish food and the beasts know that one way or another, when they hear an engine’s purr, food is getting in the water.

          Look. I know that my fear of sharks is ridiculous, but I don’t care. They grow teeth like I grow hair, they’re cold and stoic like serial killers, they’re hungry and carnivorous, and they do that creepy sideways swimming thing. Sharks are bullshit. Saying you’ll face your fear is a shit-ton easier than actually doing it, so I’d been trying to get out of our snorkeling trip for days: “Terra, you’re allergic to shrimp, so maybe you’re allergic to the ocean. Terra, I promise that I’ll freak out and ruin everybody’s day. Terra, this is dumb, so let’s just stay in our rented condo and lock the doors.” Granted, these were nursery sharks, but a ten-foot nursery shark doesn’t look anything like an animal that belongs in a nursery. And the man said that he’d seen the occasional reef shark. Um, that’s the type of shark that attacked James Bond in Thunderball. Fuck that. But when the man said jump in, I jumped in… There was a big asshole right underneath our boat, growing teeth and swimming side to side right at me. I tried to show him my lifejacket but then I realized I jumped in without it. Shit. On he came. Luckily, he turned away when he was about ten inches* away from my face (yards*). I was scared shitless, but that youngest daughter of mine wasn’t. She kept complaining about how the man had told her not to let go of the life ring that was tethered to the boat. Who the hell complains about that? Who the hell thinks that holding onto a “life” ring while floating above a murderous school of monsters is a bad thing? My daughter. She wanted to swim off on her own so she could name and tame the sharks; she’d cuddle them into submission.

          I was nervous. Everyone was nervous. Even the man didn’t like this part of the trip. He stood safely out of the water and kept yelling “stay by the boat, stay by the boat!” But about halfway through the experience, my fear vanished. I don’t know if something broke in my brain or if confronting my fear diluted it down into extinction, but either way, I simply wasn’t afraid of the sharks around me. We eventually got back in, all extremities accounted for, and I started making small talk with the man. So, has anyone ever been bitten? He laughed, and then he told me the “after the tourists get back in the boat story.” He pointed down to his leg to show off his puckered foot-long scar. He’d taken out a group of Polish tourists a few months prior. They brought with them a translator. They were snorkeling along shark ray alley when the nursery sharks rose from the depths en-masse and formed a feeding frenzy, stoked by the man’s outboard motor and its diner chime. The translator, ever the center of attention, dove down below the frenzy and then swam back up right in the middle of it. That Pollock would’ve made my daughter proud. Can you imagine what it’d look like to do such a thing? I can. I see this roiling bait ball of death centered perfectly in the salty openness. When you dive down, you see the ocean darkening beneath you in gradients of blue. The sandy white floor shimmers below like a mirage. As you swim back up, you watch the swirling ball of beasts get bigger and bigger as you pick up speed, pulled towards death by your buoyancy. Then you come up in the middle, surrounded by rasping grey skin and bloodied teeth. Terrifying.

          In a feeding frenzy, sharks lid their eyes to protect their vision—they just bite blind and randomly in the churned confusion. The translator in the middle was taking hits, bleeding in the water. And that’s when the man jumped in (and incidentally, that’s why I call him “the man”). He grabbed the translator and pulled him out of the melee. He kicked the sharks away (in my mind, I picture Chuck Norris kicks just destroying shark faces), but one shark was a bit to wily. He bit the man right in the calf. The man knew that if he tried to pull his leg free, the shark would thrash and he’d lose a chunk of muscle, so he just waited patiently for the shark to let go. That’s the part that blows my mind: the man was swimming away from a shark feeding frenzy, he was pulling with him a bleeding Pollock, and when a shark tried to eat his leg, he just waited patiently until the ancient predator decided to let go. He got the translator back to the boat and then took everyone to shore. He got some stitches and then he healed and then he went right back into the water. There’s an aphorism in there somewhere.

          The man finished his story just as my once-dead fear of sharks started to breathe again. He took us back to shore and I tipped him with the colorful money that seems to be everywhere else in the world except our country, and we went back to our condo. The rest of our trip followed suit. We drank bottomless mimosas by a saltwater crocodile lagoon; we gorged ourselves on soursop ice cream and conch ceviche; we parasailed over a flock of manta rays. I’m sure the proper group noun for manta rays is something like “school” or “pod” or some other nautical nonsense, but it shouldn’t be; things that fly do so in flocks, and we could see those creatures flapping their wings underwater even though we were soaring high above with a parachute. And when we landed, a sting ray, the manta ray’s nimbler kin, jumped out of the water and flapped his wet, leathery wings until he splashed back down. Our guide that day was a bona fide Rastafarian and he looked exactly like he looks in your mind right now. He yelled out “Ay man! You saw that ray mon? Ya mon!” His dreads bounced around his head like pasta as he did his Rasta dance. As he was unhooking my harness, he leaned in close and made a joke about why the sting rays jump out of the water: “because they be getting excited mon.” “The be getting BJs from the other fish mon.” “Ya mon!”

          We finished the parasailing day by eating at a truck-stop that’d be hard to stop at with a truck. It was out of town a bit: twenty minutes in our sputtering golf cart along a muddy single-track. The food was fresh and local. Five converted shipping containers encircled a few park benches and tables. We ordered spicy noodles and chicken wings and then sat below an umbrella until the rain pushed us to the bar. It was a sign. We drank beers and plotted our retirement. Now, before I continue, I’d like to type out a little disclaimer: I don’t eavesdrop intentionally, but I do it nonetheless and I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I was born without the brain part that lets most humans filter out background noise. It’s a handicap. Chewing noises, too-loud laughs, obnoxious conversations happening anywhere around me: I hear them all. I’m forced to listen to every conversation I hear like some unwilling voyeur. My mind categorizes all the conversations and then files them away for moments like this one: There were two other couples sitting at the bar. Couple number one said “we just moved here” and then couple number two said “why?” and then couple number one said “Trump.” Holy shit! Here they were. Here were two Americans who’d said that they’d move if he won—he won, they moved. Two disenfranchised Americans, two patriots without a nation. My wife cheered. And she cheered rightfully because couple number one had the collective balls to move out of middle ‘merica and into Central America just to honor their convictions. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. Objectively speaking, couple number one won. They stayed true to their word and they got paradise while the rest of us liberals are stuck here at home with nothing more than the “I-told-you-sos” that we’re about to dish out.

          Our last day came and we flew back to Texas to sleep for a night before making the connection to Durango. I had mosquito bites and a new cold. I won’t lie: I thought about malaria and the Zika virus more than once. I imagined being “patient zero” and about how horrible it would be in Durango once my exotic disease decimated the town’s population. But that hasn’t happened yet and I promise to keep covering my mouth when I cough. Our lives have gone back to normal, but the first three days back in my home felt special. True, they were hard—we were stressed after so much time so close to one another, and we came back to a Colorado winter—but those days reminded me how ridiculously good we have it here in the States. The conch ceviche in Colorado is outrageously expensive, but we have doctors and teachers and infrastructure (all three have debatable efficacy, but that’s irrelevant). We have freedom (sort of), we have rights (most of us), and we have opportunity (if we’re lucky). It’s not perfect here at home but it’s a lot better than it is in Belize. So, even though I too have an urge to pack it all up and head for foreign latitudes, maybe I (and all of us) should just suck it up. And that’s good advice no matter which side you’re on because the present day winners will be someday losers and it’ll just go back and forth forever. We Americans are fond of fighting back and forth on a constrained field, a ceaseless game of inches (just think about our favorite sports). So maybe we should just jump into our nightmarish political cesspool, into our regressing culture, and face it straight on like a sideways-swimming shark. Or maybe moderation is where it’s at: leave sometimes, travel, get prospective. But come back. Come back to fix what’s broken instead of moving someplace like Belize where there’s lots of sand to stick your head in. Running away to paradise is still running away. And that’s where I’m at right now. I want to fly away on a special airplane equipped with windows you can roll down just so I can stick out my hand and flip off everything behind me, all the uncertainty, but I’m just going to write instead. I’m just going to be a travel writer when I travel and a writer-writer when I’m stuck here in this small office and I’m going to face life and fear with my craft, because unlike my lifejacket, writing isn’t something I can leave behind when I jump in.

belize

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Respite

There’s a place in Key West that uses ice cubes made out of coffee in their iced coffee; my caffeine has never been so undiluted. A couple cups will give you that chemical aftertaste that lets you know you’re awake. It’s like unalloyed crack. Down the street, there’s this slightly obese guy who dresses up like Darth Vader and plays the banjo after the sun sets. He’s throwing distance from a skinny man who dresses up like Spider-Man and plays the sitar, but I don’t think that they’re friends. They’d be mortal enemies if their two fictional worlds existed together in some other dimension, and tourists only have so many dollars to dole out for a picture, so competition would dictate that they’re advisories at best here in this dimension. By day, the streets ruled nightly by busking superheroes are given over to wild chickens. I know that they’re wild because they shun my attempts to pet them and they speak some odd form of chicken dialect that differs from that of the domesticated hens that I have cooped up in Colorado.

The Gays and Russians also deserve mention. Each group seems to rule Key West alongside the strutting roosters. Rainbow flags outnumber those with stars and stripes. There are drag queens everywhere, and they’re just as delightful as you’d expect. One even called me “sweetie” as I walked past her haunt with my wife. It felt natural and unforced (I’m obviously a sweetie) so I said hello and kept walking. The local paper told me that Russian mafia owns most of the local T-shirt shops which is strange because Hollywood paints them a bit more nefariously. The Russians are a bit cold though, cold and ubiquitous. There’s so many of them that the “all sales are final” sign in the Salvation Army thrift store is translated into Russian. I walked by plenty of Russians and not a single one of them called me sweetie, but in their defense, I was a bit reticent to offer up my own terms of endearment. But I nodded my head to a guy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face. There was something written in Russian underneath the picture, but I couldn’t read it (the only thing I can read in Russian is “all sales are final”). Who knows, maybe those odd backwards letters said something satirical and maybe I missed out on having my first Russian friend. I’d like to think that his name would’ve been Vladimir.

I’m a bit sad as I type this. My iPad is glowing lambently beneath my fingers and I’m on the plane headed home. It’s a home lying dormant under a pall of snow and my foray into the tropics was too short lived. The wife and I went to celebrate belatedly our thirteenth wedding anniversary. We went to escape the cold and tedium of home. We needed a break. If not for the children we miss and the fiduciary responsibilities to which we’re enslaved, we wouldn’t be on this plane. Key West is perfect and I don’t doubt that we’ll live there sooner rather than later. We rode our rented bikes all the way around that island as we fell in love with the idea of calling it home. We walked with the butterflies and greeted the sunset with tourists who spoke in countless tongues. We ate out, we dined in. I prepared exotic fish and couscous in our vacation rental which we ate after appetizers of charcuterie; aged cheeses and expensive smoked meats paired with dry crackers and capers. But the meals prepared for us bested mine.  We ate shaved filet, served raw with aged Parmesan. We ate soba noodles with pickled vegetables, Philly cheesesteaks, fish tacos, and tart Key Lime Pie. We checked every box on the quintessential tourist check list. We went to the southernmost point in our country, cooked our bodies on the sand until we looked like parboiled crustaceans, and we went to Earnest Hemingway’s house by way of pilgrimage. There’s a fountain outside his front door and I dipped into it the tips of my ten fingers knowing that he had probably done the same at some point. There’s a Catholic Church just down the street boasting a font of holy water, but I know that I wetted my soul with the real stuff.

To me, our trip, and the piece you’re reading now, represents a necessary respite. Time spent in warmer weather away from where you were is nothing less than a panacea. I finished a semester of higher education not long before we left, and I start another one the day after this plane lands; I’m in a liminal state of peace that’s about to end. And it’s far too soon because I swear the classes I’m taking are guilty of language abuse. They force me to use all of these flowery words as tools of analysis. I write and write and dedicate my words to political science or anthropology or argumentation and the papers I turn in cause to shrivel up and die any creativity that might be put to prose. It’s almost like if one were to look closely enough at my college papers, numbers could be found hidden amongst the letters, numerals betwixt the consonants. I’m drawing lines with my diction when I should be painting pictures. But I’m not doing that now. I’m writing just for the joy of writing, and during this brief period, I’m doing things just for the joy of doing.

In these last few weeks of nothingness, this wonderful winter break which foisted itself up like an island in my life, I’ve done all sorts of odd and rebellious things. For one, I grew a beard. And I mean a real beard. As all that coarse hair took root in my face, atavistic, primal urges took over. I felt the need to fell trees and wear plaid shirts. My wife said that I looked a bit Amish though. Whatever. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t also feel the need to churn some butter or drive before me a team of horses pulling a carriage. Before I finally shaved it, a liquor store attendant even tried to give me a high five after yelling out “hell yeah Chuck Norris!” And when I finally did trim it back, I took my time and used my clippers to make myself look as ridiculous as possible. I cut here and there to create an old west look, and then there and here to look like Hulk Hogan. I had a Magnum P.I. mustache long enough for a laugh and then shaved it off before anyone was the wiser. It was by far one of my better bathroom experiences.

The pilot just turned on the fasten seatbelt sign for our final decent. I can see that sea of compressed sodium, of burning argon, in the countless bulbs below which remind me of our species’ industrious nature. There’s no end to it in sight. I know this’ll be my last chance to write something non-scholastic before summer dawns, so I’m going to end this piece with utter disregard for a cogent conclusion. I’m going to write about kombucha:

Kombucha, if you don’t know, is a nonalcoholic fermented tea that can be found in any organic grocery store. It has that perfect blend of pretension and deliciousness; snobby asses such as myself can’t get enough of it. I even went so far as to start making it myself for a few months. I’d brew a huge batch of exotic tea on the stove like some hippy witch over her cauldron. I’d mix in the sugar and let it cool. It has to be cool because the next step is to add the “scooby.” If the tea is too hot, the scooby will die; it’s this slimy, snot-like jellyfish thingie which floats on top of the sugared tea. It’s comprised of a bazillion bacteria cells which I’m sure share some sort of collective conscious (my auto correct just tried to change “bazillion” into “bagel lion”). You just let it sit there and do its thing for a few weeks. It metabolizes the sugar and carbonates the tea, filling it with billions of probiotic little creatures which you then drink like some death crazed giant with no regard for the life forms you’re quenching just to quench your thirst. You can then remove the scooby and put it in another batch. It’ll grow and grow until it’s a gelatinous beast that’s capable of carbonating any amount of tea. At the height of my production, I had four BPA free containers of the stuff fermenting in my pantry. My scoobies were like little malodorous pets with which I shared a symbiotic, albeit high maintenance, relationship. But I eventually gave it up because my scoobies died while I was away in Alaska. They ran out of sugar. I let fall my end of the symbiosis. It’s better to buy the stuff one bottle at a time anyway. It lets you flaunt your esoteric tastes in front of all the strangers at your local organic grocery store.

As a side note, I just realized that my iPad isn’t in airplane mode. I’m just going to leave it as is because I’m straight up gangster. Anyway, how odd is it that we humans use cultures and bacteria in our food? We do it with yogurt and cheese although I have no idea how it works with either (I’m pretty sure sorcery is involved), and I’ve done it myself with kombucha. I bottled up another life form, fed it, let it fill my tea with gas, and then consumed the end product. That’d be like aliens scooping us up, caging us, feeding us, and then eating our farts. Shit… We’re landing. Tomorrow, I’m going to start my classes and catch up on work. You won’t hear from me for a while, but I’m glad you took the time to hear from me today. We’ll talk again the next time I take a breath after swimming down deep in the things from which respites are needed.

Key West

No Pets Allowed

I have a knack for finding dead or dying things by my mailbox. If you’ve been following my blog, or if you’ve read my books, you’ve read of Kismet. If not, she’s an ugly bitch of a kitten I found mauled and close to death on the ground by said mailbox a few Halloweens ago. I have this latent flaw deep in my emotional foundation which causes me to anthropomorphize pathetic creatures. I don’t yet fully understand it, but when I see something weak mewling at my feet, I see myself. I see redemption lying there, covered in blood and desperation, and maybe if I can save it, I can save myself. The urge is a palpable constriction in my chest. That kitten brought tears to my eyes and milked hundreds of dollars out of my wallet. I spared her, and to this day, she hates me. She’s since spawned her own brood, and now a whole new progeny of my flaw is running feral through the desert as a testament to that which dwells in my head.

 

A few weeks back, as I walked up to my mailbox, a hummingbird tried to attack me. At least that’s what it felt like. The little bastard flew at my face with his lance of a beak and nearly skewered my eyeball. I shooed him away with a manly scream and a flick of my hand. He left. I turned and got my mail, but as I walked back to my truck, I saw him on the ground, teetering on a precipice of consciousness, in nearly the exact same place I found Kismet. So of course, my chest got tight. There’s nothing frailer than a hummingbird. And this one, mostly black wearing a band of shimmering purple feathers like a breast plate, pierced something far more vulnerable than my eyeball with his lance.

 

I picked him up. He was lighter than I expected a living thing could be, almost as if I held feather covered nothingness. I could see the thing in my hand, but it felt as if he didn’t exist. He looked at me with his black orb eyes. I crumbled. I ran quickly to my truck and got a water bottle. I took off the green lid and filled it with a bit of water. Upon my hand I set it. I inched it closer and closer to his head until finally, he stuck in his beak and took a few drinks. His dart like tongue flickered in and out just below the water’s surface. Little plumes of blood blossomed in the water as he drank. His beak was such a fragile thing. How had I considered it to be a lance? This was no weapon he wielded. This little thing couldn’t hurt me. What could be the harm in holding it?

 

He tried to fly and made it aloft into the air for a few moments before crashing back down. I picked him back up. I offered more water. He looked at me. His little lids narrowed into a distrusting squint. Son of a bitch; that little humming bird hated me just as much as Kismet did. Damn it, I was only trying to help. I had no idea how to fix hummingbirds. For fuck’s sake, I didn’t even know how to fix myself. Why couldn’t he just drink and then be free? I could’ve gone home where I belonged. He could’ve flown off and spawned a whole squadron of lance wielding asshole hummingbirds. But I kept trying anyway. Every time I picked him up and offered water, he’d fly a little farther. On the fourth time, I took him into a shady copse of trees which was much further away from my truck than I should’ve walked. He fluttered around in the air with humming wings for about ten seconds before landing on a bush. He was a remote control helicopter with dead batteries. And still, as he perched on what would soon be tumbleweed, he looked at me with those tiny baneful eyes. I knew he was going to die, all I did was try to help, and this is what I got. You know what? I hate that hummingbird too. I hate my inside, I hate the part which makes me want to help, I hate that which makes me need it. I walked away. After it was all over, all I had to show for it was a few pictures and an ample quota of sadness.

 

I got back into my truck and tried to head home. I’m still driving. I’ve learned that you can’t make a loving pet out of Kismet. I’ve learned that some things are best left where they lie. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t externalize that flaw because it can’t be filled by veterinary bills or misplaced sentiment; I’m learning to fix myself. And now, I’ve adopted a policy held to fast by the hotel in which I’m typing this: No Pets Allowed.

Hummingbird

Writing: Part 5

Playwrights

That actor on stage is nothing more than a middleman. The gesticulations are his, and the emotions, but those words, those lines, are borrowed from someone else. These thespians whom we’ve elevated to idols, on the stage or on screen, dedicate their lives to memorizing someone else’s ideas. This “someone” is a writer who lives on the leeward side of the gossamer curtains that separate fame from obscurity. I know exactly who Brad Pitt is (he’s that guy who’s buying foreign children like the rest of us buy candy bars) but I can’t name any of the people who’ve written the words upon which his fame has been founded. It’s a shame. Ergo, I’ve decided to dedicate my final look into burgeoning authors to playwrights.

As a personal point of contention, the honorific of “playwright” has always annoyed me. I understand that the “wright” is added because of the profession; a wheelwright makes wheels, a playwright makes plays. But it’d make more sense if we spelled it “playwrite” because 1.) silent g’s shouldn’t exist, and 2.) plays are written, not forged like wheels. Whatever. I know it’s a rather trivial complaint, but I still think it’s valid.

I’ve never attempted to write a play, but I grew up going to them. Granted, the productions that made it to Alaska were about as far “off-Broadway” as they can get, but they were better than nothing. We’d bundle up and drive down to the performing art center in downtown Anchorage and mingle with the other fur-clad denizens of our arctic paradise. All the grownups would sip champagne and do their best to pretend that they were surrounded by culture as opposed to living in an Alaskan exile. All the kids would pretend to be grownups. We’d file in, ushered by the ushers, and find our velvet upholstered seats. We’d thumb through the program. The lights would dim, the curtains would part, and the show would begin. Afterward, we’d always stand and clap for more no matter what. The ovation was a product of our far-north isolation; it had nothing to do with the quality of the play. “Please, you fine thespians from a place with four seasons, please give us more. Don’t leave us here with naught but the cold.”

We’d always linger long after the play had concluded. Everybody seemed to speak a bit louder, laugh a bit longer. Maybe they were trying to imitate the actors whom they had paid dearly to see. Maybe they too were trying to project their voices to an impromptu audience of their fellow play lovers. Either way, I remember the plays from my youth fondly. But again, I only remember the actors on stage. I’m sure the playwright was given due credit in the program through which I thumbed, but in retrospect, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

***

The first author in this last segment is Alicia Wozniak, who was born and raised in Cleveland. “Woz” now lives in Tampa, with the rest of Ohio. This 40 year old can be found teaching Zumba, all over Facebook, figuring out Twitterblogging, and working her full time gig in a marketing division of a textbook publisher. She wonders how many jobs she really needs. If she isn’t moving, she’s unconscious. Life, which includes a Weez, is good and as long as the beer is cold and it isn’t snowing, she’ll keep moving forward—Xanax close at hand.

You can find more of her work at: http://putthecatdown.wordpress.com/

Alicia Wozniak

Harry’s Melon

Once upon a time in a faraway land… Oh who am I kidding? (take an enormous bite of a sammich and talk with your mouth full while speaking) There’s dis guy who lives in Cleveland. His name is Harry, but he ain’t got any on his head. You’d think dis guy would like, ya know, wear that stuff, what’s it called, sunscreen? (finally swallow) Yeah, or maybe even a hat to protect his dome from the sun. I mean, that giant ball in the sky Clevelanders hardly ever see has powerfully wicked stuff coming outta dere that can cause like cancer and shit. (take a long drag on a cig)

(another bite of sammich…wipe mayo from chin after wife hands you a napkin) Well, Harry, he never listened to his mutha. (swallow and pick food out of teeth while still talking and laugh) So, dis guys been walkin’ around Cleveland for like 60, maybe 70 years with the sun’s rays bouncin’ off his melon like a friggen disco ball, right? Right, Pauly! (Pauly, covered in marinara sauce, nods)

(sit back in chair and loosen button on pants, remove napkin from tank top) Yeah, so his doc says, “Hey, Harry. You gotta bump up here and I gotta take it off, OK?” So, now Harry looks like a friggen bowling ball, right Pauly!? (Pauly raises a greasy two thumbs up) Dis guy, he’s funny. He’s making up stories and stuff about Obama-care policy of withdrawing active brain cells from the accomplished for implantation into the heads of less skilled members of a certain political party or some shit like that. I ain’t got no idea what the Hell he’s talkin’ about. I’m thinkin’ Harry hits the Jack maybe a little too hard, but what do I know, right? To each his own. Hey, Maria! Where the Hell is my dessert?! (obscene words and breaking dishes heard from off stage)

(take a giant gulp of iced tea from a ridiculously large plastic cup from random theme park) So, yeah, Harry’s got holes in his head now and he’s gotta be good and wear hats. I mean had he just listened to his mutha… (drag on cig) I’m sure she bought him some nice hats over da years and his kids too. I bet they bought him hats too from where ever the Hell they go cuz you know they don’t come home as often as they should, right, Maria? Friggen ungrateful little bastards. I tell ya, me and Maria we ain’t got nuttin’ nice because we spend all our money on our kids and you’d think they could come home once in a while and show some respect. (look around in disgust and admire plastic covered couch, get lost in on coming food coma)

But I digress. (put out cig)  Harry, he’s a good man and da holes they are gonna heal. Let’s all say a prayer that the doc got da crap outta his head. (obscene words and breaking dishes heard from off stage finally stops, Pauly stops eating and our narrator starts snoring)

 

***

The second author, and the writer with which I’ll be concluding this five part look into burgeoning authors, is Randy Carr. Futher information on this last writer can be found after his piece. The following is an excerpt from his play which has been chosen to kick off the 2013 South West Festival of the Written Word in Silver City.

Randy Carr obtained his BA in Acting and Directing from Eastern Washington University and his Masters in Human Relations from Pacific Lutheran University.

A retired investigator, now settled in the history rich southwestern corner of New Mexico, he quickly immersed himself in the history of the area.  The result is “TUCK,” © an original play designed to entertain and educate audiences about the real old west and one of its true-life unsung heros.  He can be reached at deputydantucker@gmail.com.

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TUCK

ACT II, Scene 1

Thet there wern’t the first lynchin’ bee in town.  One feller got his self hung three times.

(Refills coffee.)

See, theys two perfessions thet wuz highly regarded in yer frontier town.  One wuz a good blacksmith, t’other wuz a good bartender.  ‘Cordin’ to many, Arkansas Bob Black wuz the best bartender Shakespeare ever seed.

Now fer this story to make any sense at all you haf ta unnerstand thet the first civilizin’ influence on any frontier town wuz the arrival of the wives.  The presence of them wimmenfolk jus’ had a calmin’ effect on the men.  They demanded, ‘n got, the kind of comforts ‘n genteel social atmosphere thet might be found in yer better locales.  As you might figger, the menfolk, ‘specially husbands, would do near anythin’ to keep the wives happy.

(Chuckles to himself.)

S’pose some things never change (Pause.)  Anyways thet is why old Arkansas Bob got his self hung.

He wuz a handsome scoundrel, alus wore his hair greased back, sported a big waxed handlebar mustache ‘n a ready smile.  He had quite an eye fer the ladies, too.  But they wern’t no single ladies in Shakespeare jus’ then, so Bob Black took up with this married gal.  ‘N fer whatever reason, her husband didn’t object.

When he started sparkin’ thet married gal, the other wives in town got some (Pause.) o-ffended, I reckon you could say.  This jus’ could not be allowed ‘n they demanded their husbands do sumthin’ ‘bout it.  So, one night a bunch a husbands come up to Arkansas Bob, explained the sitchyation ‘n po-litely suggested it would be good fer him to leave town fer a spell.  They done this with some pause cuz they liked Bob.  Imagine their surprise when ol’ Bob tol’ em’ to go stick it in their hats.  When the husbands reported back to the wives thet Bob wouldn’t leave, the wives, bein’ the great civilizin’ influence thet they wuz, sez “Well, hang ‘im then!”

(Crosses and picks up lariat.)

Soooo, the men got ‘em a coil a rope ‘n went huntin’ fer Bob.  They give him ‘nother chance to leave, but he weren’t movin’.  So they took ‘im over to the Blacksmith shop, tied his hands, roped his neck ‘n hung ‘im from the main beam.

(Imitates hauling down on rope.)

Course, they lowered ‘im right back down ‘n ast if he’d leave now.  He sputtered ‘n tol’ em in no uncertain terms thet he weren’t goin’ nowhere, so they hauled ‘im up again.

(Again imitates hauling down on rope.)

They kept him a danglin’ ‘til he turned this pretty shade of blue then lowered him down ‘n ast’ him again if’n he’d leave.  His answer wuz nearly as blue as his face.  The gist bein’ he wern’t leavin’.

So, up he went a third time.

(Once again imitates hauling down on rope.)

This time they kep’ him swingin’ ‘til he passed out.  Then they brung him down, threw water in his face to revive him ‘n ast’ him again.  He gasped ‘n wheezed ‘n panted ‘n when he fin’ly got his breath back, he tol’ his strangler’s thet if’n they’d untie ‘im (A beat.) he’d beat ever last one of ‘em into the ground, but he wern’t leavin’.

Now, this left the would-be lynch mob a scratchin’ they heads.  They didn’t want to hang ‘im to death, they liked ol’ Bob.  Fin’ly one feller suggested thet if they couldn’t git Bob to leave mebbe they could git his galfriend to go instead.  So, the group trooped over to thet lady’s adobe, ‘n wakes her ‘n her husband up.  They dangled thet rope in her face

(Dangles loop end of lariat.)

‘n tol’ em in no uncertain terms thet if she didn’t leave town she’d be found at the end of thet rope, come mornin’.  Sure enuf, before daybreak, thet lady ‘n her husband packed a wagon ‘n headed out.

The miners proudly announced to their wives thet they had fixed the problem. (Pause.)  Would they a really hung her?  Don’t you ever misjudge the power of a pack a angry wives.  ‘N Arkansas Bob?  He went back to tendin’ his bar, but thet’s ‘nuther story.

***

Dan Tucker is an undiscovered real life hero of the old west.  He was the Chief Deputy Sheriff in Grant County in the New Mexico Territory from 1877 to 1888.  Later becoming the first Town Marshal of Silver City, Special Agent for both Wells Fargo Stagecoach Company and the Santa Fe Railroad and finally Deputy United States Marshal.  He became one of the most feared, fearless and deadly lawmen of the era, credited with besting at least 12 men in shootouts.  He was the one man even Wyatt Earp and his posse gave a wide berth.  Tucker’s exploits were not publicized by the dime-novelists of the the day and were not written about until recently.   “TUCK” © is his story, the story of the Southwest in the wildest days of the 1870’s and 80’s seen through his eyes.

After the premier of “TUCK” © in Silver City in August of 2012, reviewers wrote the following:

Randy Carr brings “Dangerous” Dan Tucker to life on the stage, in a one-man show that transports the audience back to the heyday of the Wild West. The script deftly mixes history and personality, with just enough bits of both humor and gunplay. Carr makes an ideal Old West lawman, looking back on his “dangerous” career on the occasion of New Mexico’s statehood—think Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain, if he were packing heat.

David Fryxell – Editor – The Desert Exposure

Those who delight in both local history and good drama will wish to experience Randy Carr’s “Tuck” ©.    Accurately dramatizing an earlier Silver City through the dramatic monologue of Deputy Sheriff Dan Tucker, Randy, as author and actor, brings to life a segment of our precious past.  Highly commendable as both history and drama, “Tuck”©  will significantly enrich our 2012 celebration of New Mexico’s centennial.

Larry Godfrey – author of Dancing with Gods.

“Randy Carr assumes the persona of Sheriff Dan Tucker like it was his second skin. In the deliciously florid yet rough and wry victorian voice of the Old West, Carr/Tucker enthralls us with true and often outrageous stories of hardship, violence, tom foolery, adventure, and wit in old Territorial New Mexico.”

Starr Belsky – Co-Chair, Silver City Arts and Cultural District.

To view the youtube promotional video for the Statehood anniversary presentation of “TUCK,” ©  click here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRk0Zn1fpGM&feature=youtu.be

***

If you’ve made it through all five of these segments, I thank you. I’ve written over ten-thousand words throughout these five pieces, and introduced ten different writers who cover the gamut of success and skill. In truth, I didn’t plan on going any further than that first installment, but it’s been fun; I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Writing: Part 4

Short Speculative Fiction

I opened a rejection letter yesterday; they don’t come as often as they once did, but they still sting. I’ve become abnormally good at almost getting published, so I usually get the “we loved it and you’re on the short list” letters, which I like to refer to as “eventual rejections,” and I get a flat out “yes we’ll take it, here’s your ten bucks” once or twice a year. But the main reason I receive fewer rejection letters is the fact that I’ve chosen to self-publish and post most of my work on this blog… See how I made it sound like a choice? That was me trying to make you think that I could go the traditional route if I wanted to because publishers are constantly kissing my ass. Spoiler alert, they’re not.

Anywho, most of the publications from which I’ve received rejection letters have fewer subscribers than this blog. The truth is that I get more exposure this way; I only make the occasional submission to a third party because I crave the validation. Yes, it hurts like a bitch when some magazine with thirty regular readers says “thanks, but no thanks,” but it’s nearly orgasmic when they say yes.

It’s gotten to the point when even if I receive a rejection letter, the editor always sends a nicely written note with a few critiques and a reason for the rejection. This last one said that “the story felt rushed” but that they loved my style, and that I should submit again ASAP if I had something written in a slower pace. Actually, it was a damn good critique. I reread my piece and came to the same conclusion. But here’s the bitch: this particular publication has a five-hundred word limit for submissions. Holy shit.

“They” say that the hardest part in writing a good short story is keeping it short, and “they” are damn right. How the hell is one supposed to tell a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, complete with believable character development, in five-hundred fucking words? Of course it’s going to come across as rushed.

The trick, I’ve been told, is to boil it down until all you have left is unalloyed story. There’s no room for maudlin prose or overly descriptive bullshit. One must rely on simple fiction and pure plot to be a successful short story writer, and according to my most recent rejection letter, I don’t always pull it off.

Another thing that “they” have been saying is that “the short story is dead.” I can see where they’re coming from, but I’d like to think that short fiction is simply resting in a lull of sorts because the full length novel is just so damn trendy. I might be full of shit, but whatever. Honestly, I enjoy short fiction, and I absolutely love collections of short fiction. I might be a bit solivagant in this love, but so be it. Short stories are like perfect little vignettes of make-believe into which a reader can delve briefly without commitment. And collections are even better because if you start into a story that doesn’t feel right, you can always move onto the next piece. I don’t want you to think that I’m promoting a short attention span, it’s just that every once in a while, a trip to the buffet is better than a single entre meal. Get it? That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate the fourth segment of this look into burgeoning authors to writers of short, speculative fiction.

***

The first author I’ve chosen to feature is Rob Walker.

Robert Walker

He’s a writer and filmmaker living in Colorado. Rob is perhaps best known for “Victorian Cut-out Theatre”, an animated comedy series featuring monsters, deranged billionaires and time travel which is distributed through Cinevore.com. He also writes for the pop culture website Nerd Reactor. You can read his blog at www.robwalkerfilms.com

WEBSITE: www.robwalkerfilms.com

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/robwalkerfilms

YOUTUBE: youtube.com/robwalkerfilms

TWITTER: @timidwerewolf

The House on Maple Street

In a normal state, in an average town, on Maple Street, there was a house. The house was guarded over by two long dead trees. These trees, being long dead, had no leaves. In place of greenery, however, there were several crows. So many crows, in fact, that if you were to view the house on Maple Street from a distance, you would swear that these strange trees were in full bloom. But you’d be wrong.

If anyone had ever taken the time to measure the inside of the house on Maple Street, they would have found that it was a foot bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. That sounds impossible, but it’s true. And contained within the house were twelve rooms, one for every month of the year. Thirteen including the cellar, but no one ever did.

The house on Maple Street had been designed by Edward Clemmins in 1928, for George and Emily Bryant. Clemmins was considered a genius by many of his contemporaries and was responsible for designing the bakery in New York that looks like an elephant… you know the one.

Shortly after finishing his plans for the house on Maple Street, Clemmins shot himself in the head. They say that he knew that this house was cursed from the beginning and couldn’t live with the knowledge that he would be responsible for such a place. I think maybe he was just sad.

George and Emily Bryant moved in upon the completion of the house, and set to creating a family. After a year in the house they bore no children, and soon Emily disappeared. Many thought that Emily left George in the middle of the night to avoid the shame of a public divorce. Neighborhood children thought that George had murdered his wife and hid her body in the cellar. Nothing was ever proven. Before hanging himself in their bedroom, George wrote a note with one word on it: “Whispers”.

George might have been referring to the stories told behind his back after his wife’s disappearance. However, his friends say that before his demise, he complained about hearing Emily’s voice echoing throughout the house, like she was close, but he could never find her.

The house sat empty and had no visitors until 1930, when famous spiritualist Madame Devoe paid the house a visit, to cleanse it of what she called “disquieted spirits”. This visit lasted fifteen minutes before Madame Devoe was stricken blind. She retired from spiritualism shortly after. Though blind, she led a relatively happy life with her daughter in Florida until her death in 1975.

As so often happens with buildings of similar reputation as the house on Maple Street, local children would often dare each other to go inside, or at the very least knock on the door. One such event happened in 1963 when ten year old Jimmy Boyd entered the house on a dare. By many accounts, he was the bravest of the children. Five minutes later he emerged claiming that a beautiful woman that lived in the house offered him cookies if he would stay with her for a bit. After three weeks, Jimmy’s raven colored hair had turned white. This extreme and early change in hair color earned him the nickname “snow-top”. If you find him, ask him about the woman. He’ll be more willing to talk if you bring him a plate of macaroons.

Over the years, the people in town thought of tearing down the house on Maple Street. Everyone agreed that it was unpleasant to look at, and no one could ever sell it given the history. Town officials never did tear it down, though. So it still sits on its yard, all twelve rooms, well unless you count the cellar. Guarded by two long dead trees and several flocks of crows. A group of crows is called a murder by the way, I wasn’t sure if you knew that, but it’s true.

***

The second author I’m featuring is KendallJaye Collard:

Kendall Jaye Collard

“I live in Springfield, IL with my husband and daughter. I am in an unhealthy relationship with a 1967 4-door Chevy Impala hardtop. Cancer survivor, wine drinker, and protected by rock salt.

I can be reached at kendalljaye.collard@gmail.com and can be found lurking around Twitter @KJCollard.”

Failure No. 12

I’m all groggy. Something smells like industry. Something metallic. Like iron.

I realize it’s blood.

I sit up and try to open my eyes. It’s blindingly white. Like a million watt light bulb pointed directly into my eyes. My head should hurt but it doesn’t. What the fuck happened to me?

I squint and try to open my eyes again. It’s still so very white, but it’s okay. The white isn’t from a light at all. The white just is. I’m so confused.

Then I realize I don’t just smell blood. I taste it.

I rake the back of my hand across my mouth. I look down to where my hand should be. There is nothing there but white.

Then ever so slowly, outlines happen. Nearly paper thin lines of black simply appear and grow. The outline of my hand. The outline of where blood is smeared across the back of my wrist. There’s not even a hint of color. It’s like a blank page with a few calligraphy pen marks. The lines of the liquid blood far thinner than the lines defining my hand. How strange.

CLICK Hello there. Do you know your name? CLICK

A voice. Where is it coming from? I look around, and white things start to come into focus. Black outlines defining a ceiling corner. The walls. The chaise I’m lying on. But there is no shading. No colors.

“Hello?”

CLICK Hello. Can you hear me? CLICK

“Yes, I……”

CLICK Do you know your name? CLICK

“Yes. But… who…”

CLICK Just answer the questions for now ma’am. Everything will be answered in due time. What is your name, ma’am? CLICK

“My name is Cawks. Where am I?”

CLICK You’re very safe. Glad to meet you Cawks. My name is Beeks. Do you know where you are from? CLICK

My head should hurt. I’m bleeding. Why doesn’t it hurt? “Um… No. I can’t… recall.” More lines materialize breaking the monotony of white. This is an interrogation room. A pane of glass on the far wall. I sit up on the chaise and hang my feet over the edge. The velvety touch of the fabric tickles my fingertips. But it just looks white. I look across the room and notice a table being drawn before my eyes.

CLICK Where are you from Cawks? CLICK

“I said I don’t know. What’s going on here?” I stand up and trust that a textureless floor will support my weight. But why wouldn’t it? The chaise did. And the floor responds in kind. It’s cold on the pads of my feet. My bare feet.

I look down at myself for the first time and see more than just my blood smeared hand. I see the outline of feet, legs, arms. All the normal human body parts. I realize I am naked. The outline of the tiny vent in the corner breathes a sigh and the rush of chilled air goes across my skin. I feel panic rising.

“Beeks, where are my clothes?”

CLICK Cawks, I need you to go over to the table for me. CLICK

I look back again at the table. I walk across the floor. My feet go one in front of the other. The table inches closer, and the chaise moves farther away. All still white. I see the outline of the speaker come into view. Beeks.

On the table is an assortment of weapons. Their outlines are familiar to me. But I’ve never held a weapon. Why can’t I remember where I’m from?

CLICK Cawks, I need you to pick up the one you like best. CLICK

My eyes roam the table. So many to choose. “Which one?”

CLICK The one that suits you. CLICK

I let my eyes roam over their forms. Pistols. Rifles. Slingshots. Knives. My eyes stop at the longbow. I cock my head to the right. Suddenly I smell the wood and the oils used in it. “The Bow, Beeks. I like the bow. Can I hold it?”

CLICK Of course Cawks. It’s yours, after all. CLICK

I gingerly lift the strange white bow. It is firm in my hand. It feels like it should. Even though there is no wood grain to identify it, it feels familiar. Comforting. The outline of the bowstring somewhat thinner than the hard outline of the bow itself. There are no arrows here, but I snuggle the grip deep into my left hand. I hold it as if to take aim. I pull the nocking point back across my cheek. It feels like home.

“Beeks, why are there no colors?”

CLICK What do you mean? CLICK

“It’s like a blank sheet of paper. Like someone is using a pen or charcoal to draw lines. There are no shades or colors. I can only feel the textures.” I release the bowstring as I exhale.

A sudden crushing. My chest. I can’t breathe. “Beeks?” I drop my best friend on the ground. I grab at my chest. “BEEKS!”

No response.

“BEEEEEKS! I CAN’T BREATHE!”

Nothing.

My eyes fall on the chaise. I stumble my way there and fall heavily upon it.

Just a nap. That’s what I need. Just close my eyes. Just a little sleep.

Then darkness.

***

Somewhere in the United States three scientists continued their conversation.

“Cracking job on the tits, Reeve.”

“Thanks, Jude. I’m kind of an expert,” she replied as she crassly grabbed her own. “Sorry about the optics being off. Bummer man.”

“It’s okay. I’m really close. There’s a blood leak on start up, too. And Beeks hasn’t quite mastered the memory implants anyhow.”

Beeks shook his head. “Can’t stop until She’s perfect. Then we’ll make a million more of Her. Hated putting Her down though. You’d think it would get easier.”

Reeve slapped him on the back. “C’mon. Let’s go get lunch. We can clean up the mess when we get back.”

The three scientists laughed heartily and headed out the door.

Writing: Part 2

Narrative Nonfiction

Thirty percent of all readers instantly contract narcolepsy when they hear the term “narrative nonfiction.” Seriously. Boredom erupts within their souls and they immediately pass out due to an overdose of dry non-excitement. The term has always made me think of Abraham Lincoln for some reason. I hear “narrative nonfiction” and my mind conjures scenes of antiquity which play out through a sepia tone filter wherein everybody is old and insipid and boring as fuck. But if you do it right, if you paint with humor and refuse to pull punches, narrative nonfiction can be an art. It can be something that draws out emotion and holds it up in a painful or loving light. It can be something better than fiction even though pretend worlds come complete with space ships and ray guns, because this life, this narrative nonfiction that’s ugly, perfect, and always around us, is more captivating than any amount of made-up bullshit. You just have to know how to write it, to make it stick to your paper, and how to make it captivating enough to keep the spread of narcolepsy under control.

I want to write fiction. I want to spawn characters with which you can identify. And then I want a rich old Jew to buy the rights and make a movie or three and I want ten percent; that comes out to roughly forty-five million dollars. But lately, my fans (and yes, that was plural) have been telling me that my narrative nonfiction is far better than my fiction. I say thank you, but I flip them off as soon as they turn around. Do you have any idea how much money one can make writing stories about what actually happens? Neither do I, but I’m pretty sure it’s not forty-five million dollars. Whatever. But I do love it. There’s something liberating underneath all of it. I’ve written about dark times in my life, and when the strangers impart their compliments, it’s like they’re saying “Hey, thanks for experiencing that for us. Everything’s okay now.” It feels awesome. Ergo, I’ve decided to dedicate “part 2” to narrative nonfiction writers… wake up.

In my first segment, I said that I was going to focus on writers that’d never published anything so I could give them that proverbial kick in the ass to get up, get out, and get something (Outkast is the best rap group of all time) but I’m not going that route in this segment. I wasn’t able to find any latent nonfiction writers who hadn’t posted anything, and frankly, both of the writers in this segment are ridiculously good so I’m changing shit up. I don’t think these two have sold anything and they’re not “famous” (mostly because people demand sparkly vampires these days) so there’s that; my restrictions for “burgeoning writer” have been met. And I’m excited as hell to feature these two on my blog; both of these writers will eventually find some degree of success because they’ve got crazy talent. Each of them has that ability to observe the quotidian, and then transform what they see into insightful prose. This is another one of those “I found them first” moments.

***

The first writer in is Audrey Farnsworth; she has this crazy ability to boil down an experience into pure comedy. Most writers use “funny” as a condiment, but Farnsworth makes it the entree.

Audrey Farnsworth

Bio: “Audrey Farnsworth is a comedian and writer currently in the midst of moving from her hometown of Tempe, Arizona to Los Angeles, which is terrifying to her. She’s been a director and member of several sketch comedy groups. She does stand up. She writes about things wearing hats that probably wouldn’t, normally. She hopes to succeed in her comedic endeavors. Time will tell.”

Website: http://audipenny.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @audipenny

Doctor Visit

Going to the doctor can be very nerve-wrecking. You’ve got a problem, you know you have a problem, but once you’re sitting in that little room all by yourself, you start to get into your own head, perhaps forget your own name, and by the time the doctor actually enters the room, you forget completely why you’re there in the first place, as well as any and every question you wanted to ask.

That’s why it is important to make a list of questions beforehand. Don’t be embarrassed – a lot of people do this, and the doctors are used to it because they get it all the time. How are you supposed to remember a bunch of questions and also your name and how to walk and breathe? That’s absurd.

Even if it’s only a yearly checkup, it’s important to ask questions. What are good questions to ask anyways, you may be wondering? Listed below are some more important examples.

– At what age should I begin regularly exercising?
– What time should one stop eating at night, as not to gain weight?
– What does a beak feel like?
– Am I a healthy weight for my height?
– Is there such a thing as a goat, really?
– What is “3?”
– How many times is too many times for someone to accidentally pee on your own stove?
– If it’s over 6 feet, is it still considered a candle, or is that a torch?
– How do you know if you’re Bret Micheals?
– What attracts ghosts? Tomatoes?
– Sometimes I think my hands are tambourines?
– If you see a wolf, and are not filled with fear, are you a wolf now?
– Are these really called “hands,” or is there a better name for them?
– If my boss asks me to tuck in my shirt, and I don’t want to, so I cut off both of my legs, will my insurance cover it?
– Is there an actual function for glasses, or are they just necklaces for your eyes?
– What do you do if you can’t find your house? Go to someone else’s?
– How do you know if there is an eel living in your brain? Will he tell you, or do you have to guess?
– Are my parents actual pigeons, or did I dream that?
– Is there a Soft Rock Cafe?
– When is it O.K. to vacuum a stranger?
– Can you be allergic to the word “hatch?”
– Are pine cones Easter eggs that have “gone rogue?”
– Is hair loss genetic?
– Is having a stomach that is inside genetic?
– Are tubas actually just recordings of sad whales?
– Can someone actually be born wearing a hat?
– Are cars with blue tinted headlights only driven by angels?
– What is the average age of a healthy human being?
– What do you do if someone reacts negatively to the collage you made of their dad?
– What to do if you ask someone “How are you?” but they ask you at the same time? Move in together?
– Has anyone invented ham cake yet? Can I invent it? Can you?
– Is a chaplain just another name for a magician, but a funny one?
– Can you teach a falcon how to drive a car, and if not, can you please explain how I got here today?
– Does “CD” stand for “Burger Police?”
– How do I join the Burger Police? They accept humans, or just burgers?
– If I kill myself, could I choose to be reincarnated as a burger?
– Does a platypus know how fucking stupid as shit it looks?
– Heads… what are they, really?
– If you throw up a whole microwave, can you return it to a store, without a receipt?
– What is a receipt?
– What is a microwave?
– How many moms are loitering outside of any given Red Robin, right now, or ever?
– Can pants be shirts?
– The hell’s a “vest?” A car? Is it like a Jeep?
– Jeeps aren’t actually real, are they?
– So, who’s all a ghost here, in this office? The ones with clipboards?
– Do you like your mouth? I’m not sure if I like mine much?
– Will you tattoo an actual taco to my mouth, right now?
– What are the signs of diabetes?
– I’m 85% positive that one of my arms is a flute? Can you try playing it?
– Can my bathroom be my boyfriend?
– If I plug my ears long enough, will they just get off my head, already????
– Can I open up a Mervyn’s, inside of my heart?
– Is climbing inside of the pants you are currently wearing an appropriate response to someone asking you on a date?
– Where can I hire models for my clothing brand who are actual buildings? Here?
– How many falcons do you know with masters degrees? All of them, or?
– Did you go to high school?
– What can guys who wear their sunglasses on the backs of their heads NOT do perfectly???
– *clicking sounds with questions marks at the end*

Obviously, this is just a template. Everyone is different. To your health, friends.

***

I chose to end this piece with this second writer, Ashley Byrd, because her writing left me with an odd feeling that lingers; I’d like it to stick with you when you go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before you started reading this. She shares her trials, and as a reader, it makes you feel a bit voyeuristic; we’re currently suffering through a paucity of writers who have the balls needed to pull that off.

Ashley Byrd

Bio: “I spent my teens and early twenties making mistakes. I spent my mid-twenties and late-twenties making up for those mistakes. Now, here I am, thirty and still a mess.

After two degrees and nearly eight years in the corporate world, I’m ready to start over. I’m ready to be free.

I’m ready to write.”

Website: http://byrdstheword.com/

Twitter: @Byrdfacekilla

 

so now i’m a serial killer

I was sitting on my porch the other night when my neighbors came home.  Now, we share a driveway so when they pulled up it was just three feet away from my face.  I couldn’t very well run inside because that would be rude, right? Running into your house when your next door neighbors have clearly spotted you is just plain impolite, right?  When they got out of the car we exchange some awkward “hello, yeah, it’s real dark out tonight, oh yeah because it’s nighttime” chit chat.  It probably wasn’t awkward for them as they are most likely normal human beings unlike myself.  I am a huge, awkward, babbling dork in any social situation with humans I’m not familiar with.

Example:

Standing around with new strangers I meet one night…

“HA! HA!.. yeah, like you probably have a big vagina. HA! HA! You know, because you have kids! HA! Ha!”

Others: “HA..ha…..ha.”

–in my head—oh God that wasn’t funny, be funny, be funny—

Cue I circle a big vagina in the air, step in say “Hi!” and step out.  You know, because I’m a huge talking vagina.

Me: “HA! Ha! Ha…ha. I’m totally kidding you know, I’ll bet you had a good episiotomy.  For sure your vagina is probably much nicer than mine.”

Others: –one by one slowly start to make conversion with other people around us and push me out of the circle where I stand going on, talking to myself.—

Because I can’t stop myself, because I’m a big, fucking unfiltered awkward shell of a once human being.

Hours later I see my newly-made friends and am like, “hey, yea, remember me, made the vagina joke earlier. Ha! Oh, you’re going over there? Oh yeah, yeah, I’m going to yeah, go just over here, yup.”It was a black tie wedding.

Anyway, as my neighbors walk towards their door I can hear the girlfriend say, “Did you get the water back on?” and her boyfriend reply, “No.”  I hear some moans of disappointment and/or disapproval from the female neighbor.  At this time, I’m a little buzzed, not intoxicated but a bit tipsy. So I decided it would be a GREAT idea to let them know “HEY! You can use my water! I have water here neighbor! If you want to use it or something, not with me of course but, yup. Water, over here, my place.”

I don’t say that of course, but I write them a note that goes a little something like this…

“HEY! It’s your neighbor! The girl next door. Listen, this may sound crazy, but I think you guys said something about not having water? Well, you are more than welcome to use mine.” Then I write my name and number, but before that I decide it would be a really smart idea to write at the very top of the note in capital letters, “I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER.”  Because I’m smart AND funny.  Surely, my neighbors whom I’ve met twice get my sense of humor. So I waddle over and tape the note to their door.

Let’s be clear, I can hear a roach from a mile away, but people are another story.  I really am a bit hard of hearing and unless you speak loudly and pronunciate, you can usually hear me say loudly to people “USE YOUR WORDS.”  I awake the next morning and realize this, I also realize that I was kind of intoxicated as well and MUST GET TO THAT FUCKING LETTER A-SAP.

It’s 7:00am, their car has not been touched, maybe haven’t left the house yet.  I run to the kitchen, peer out the window and the letter is fucking gone. It’s gone. I start playing a scenario in my head as to what is going through their head, “She’s so sweet. What a good neighbor. Was that bitch coming on to you? What a freak!” Stuff like that.  Then I also start to think that maybe they never even got the letter.  They usually leave work after me; they couldn’t have gotten the letter? It did rain a little last night, did it blow away? Then I decided to just let it be; after consulting with some friends, they assured me it was a sweet gesture and my neighbors will probably call and thank me.  I have come home several evenings expecting a handwritten thank you card.

It’s been two weeks.  I still have no idea if they intercepted my serial killer letter.

Writing

Part One: Two Poets

I once wrote for myself. My prose was quiet and closeted at best. In honesty, my writing was arrogant and cumbersome. I took my thoughts and forced them into words; my first drafts were belabored pieces of shit, but I liked them. It felt good. And at the time, that was all that mattered. I called myself a writer, but only because I wrote when nobody was looking. The thought of sharing my work petrified my soul. I would’ve rather posed as one of those full-frontal nudes for a beginner’s portrait class than to share my nonsensical ramblings.

But then I got over it. I realized that my proclivity towards reclusive writing was worse than useless. My fear was bullshit. I tried, and then tried harder to come up with something that a stranger might enjoy. I started writing short stories, leaning heavily on crutches made from artifice, and then I shared my work. Friends and family read it first, and then I went so far as to contact agents and publishers. I wasn’t taken seriously. The amount of praise that came from my friends could be graphed as a direct function of their sobriety. My family said that they loved everything, but these were the same people that put my finger paintings on the refrigerator. The agents and publishers ignored me via blanket rejection letters. So I tried harder, and I hired an editor.

Her name was Catherine, and I’m still writing because of her help. Actually, “help” isn’t really the word for it; maybe “tutelage” or “mentorship” or “patient ability to mold my idiocy into something legible” would be more fitting. Either way, I started to grow. The blanket rejection letters turned into personalized critiques from some of the best publications out there, and then finally, I got my first acceptance letter. It came from Tales of the Talisman a few years back, and I still have it locked in my safe. Hell, sometimes I take it out and cling to it as if it’s a lifesaver that’s keeping me afloat amongst the flotsam of all my failures.

I remember the day that my “contributor’s copy” of Tales of the Talisman arrived. I opened it, breathing in that pulpy smell of a new magazine, and then thumbed through it looking for my story. “Holy shit,” I thought as I found it, “they even commissioned a piece of artwork to go along with my writing!” It was a crude drawing, but I was honored. I received a ten dollar check with my first copy, but I felt like a gazillionaire because somebody paid me to write.

Since then, I’ve been published in other magazines and newspapers. I’ve put out a couple books. I’ve been paid for my work. I’ve been asked for critiques by authors who get paid real money to write. I’ve been on the back of books that one can buy in actual book stores. I might not be a “serious writer” yet, but I’m taken seriously by people who are, and it feels incredible. I love this art and I want it to be the foundation upon which I base my professional identity. Realistically, I’d say that I’m five years away from being a professional writer, and none of this would’ve happened without that first realization that my fear was bullshit. I took something that I wrote, I clicked “print,” and I handed it to a stranger. It was difficult, but it bore fruit.

I took my work to social media, because it seemed like the obvious step. I started a blog, and I logged on to Twitter even though I once said that I’d never do either; I’m now addicted to both. The “narrative nonfiction” I post on my blog is earning more accolades than any of my fiction. I have over four hundred diehard followers across the globe that religiously read everything I post, and I literally love them all.

However, Twitter was the impetus behind the post you’re reading right now. I’m not exactly sure how I did it, but I have close to fifty-thousand followers, and it’s taken me less than two years to get there. I always have my wife proof read these blogs before I post them, and I know for a fact that she’s slowly shaking her head as she’s reading this. It’s altogether possible that I’m addicted to Twitter, and she thinks I’m a bit childish about the whole thing (but only because I stare at my smart phone for hours at a time like an idiot). Anyway, a huge portion of my followers are fledgling writers, many of which have only been writing for themselves as I once did, so I decided to do something about it. I sent out a tweet asking newbie writers who’ve never been published to contact me. I offered my blog as that first place where they could share their work.

The response has been deafening. I had at least fifty writers try to take me up on my offer in the first hour after my tweet; I’m going to do my best to give a few of them the chance to put their work out there so they too can label their fear as bullshit. And I felt that fear in most of them; they’d preface their work with qualms like “this isn’t that good” or “I’ll send you something else if this sucks” but I’m not choosing what makes the cut. I’m going to pick ten authors at random, so long as I get an even mix of male and female, young and old, and then I’m going to publish the first work they submit. Most of these authors don’t have websites or blogs or any publication credits to their name, but that’s what I want. I want to foster their resolve; I want push them off the diving board.

These first two writers are poets. The first, Jordan, loves to write, and most often, she writes about love. Writing is important to her. Her first piece helped her through a time when her mother had breast cancer, which is something I went through as well, and her second piece is about love and pain, which we’ve all been through. The second writer, Michael, has a free flowing style that’s almost “stream of conscious;” he might be a beatnik. If you’re on Twitter, please follow both of these poets. And if you’d like to contact either writer directly, their emails are posted below.

Jordan N. Sullivan

Jordan N. Sullivan

Email: jordan.n.sullivan411@gmail.com

Twitter: @jordannburch

STRONG

Got my back against the wind,
as I walk I break and mend.
Learning the biggest lesson-without a miracle,
it would certainly end.
“Never give up,”
that’s what momma said, teary eyed fighting in a hospital bed.
At times she was weaker,
blankets covering her bare head.
So I made a deal
to keep her with me.
I prayed really hard
and let live or let be.
Somehow my prayer,
out of all that there are,
was heard from afar.
She taught me a lesson
not many can teach.
Handled my soul and places I couldn’t reach.
Her body was broken, but spirit un-breached.

HEART, LEARN.

A single tear softly fell.
Down the glowing cheek
And she felt broken.
have I ever seen her so alive,
Stripped down to her raw core.
He had broken the shell she used

As a protective wall crumbled,
Leaving her
Vulnerable
Open
She will find love again.
And this time she knows more.
This is where
her story actually began.

***

Michael Staruch

Michael Staruch

Email: promise.made.of.tin@gmail.com

Twitter: @_dibbuk_

Lust

I’m a casualty to lust, inflicted with this flesh, the burning embers I’m feeling will fade out like the rest. And another prince will arrive gallantly at the moat, wishing he thought more wisely, instead of a white horse, had brought a boat.

The Bar

Smoke filled space lacking grace, and voices rise to give orders to another trace. Alcohol hollowed races in my veins to displace another thought. This is my howl to the night life; this is my ode to the faded and jaded left fight, thirty-something’s sipping poison knowing their right. Searching for ambition and position in another lack luster sex spree, some men give it away for free, but me? But me? I want the divine everlasting sweetest spirit, slow dancing in the pivotal inspiration twenty-four karat soul. Crushing on shirtless bartenders won’t get you tender unless you spend your life savings on an induced fender bender. Silver is the tongue, golden in his smile while the tips last awhile, he forgets your name. The song plays cycle in circles this tired malaise, bearing witness to the sexual revolution out of ATM ashes seeking a resolution.

The Odds

My daughter makes hypocrisy cute; hers is an innocent type of dichotomy that hasn’t yet been corrupted by ill intentions and the evil bullshit that comes with age. To her, death is an anathema. She’ll go out of her way to save the lowliest little bug that scurries dangerously close to my feet. She’ll cry at the thought of an injured animal. She’ll sit contently in the cabin of a fishing charter for which I paid handsomely and refuse to catch a fish; she’ll even refuse to eat the fish I caught because the horror is still fresh in her mind even though the rock-hard fish in the freezer isn’t. But when it comes to steak, you better watch the fuck out. She’ll dive across the dinner table to steal bloody scraps from your plate when you look away. Isn’t that cute?

We recently took her to a crawfish boil at a friend’s house, and at first, she refused to get out of the car. The thought of boiling alive thousands of little baby lobsters brought on some sort of tree-hugging paralysis. The wife and I tried to hold up her hypocrisy so she might see it:

“Catelynn, stop being ridiculous; you loooooooove eating steak and steak comes from cows.”

“Yes dad, I know. But cows are all clumpy and ugly and I don’t know who killed them and I don’t have to see it happen.”

“What about sushi Catelynn? The majestic blue fin is cute and you’ll eat the crap out of a rainbow roll. And a crawfish is just another type of fish, right?”

“I. Don’t. Care. I’m not going to a party where they kill crawfish and I’m not eating them.”

She eventually got out of the car. Her eyes were wide and her ears were perked. When she finally found the large stainless pot that was bubbling and reeking of Cajun seasoning, she frowned. I guess the carnage wasn’t quite what she expected. I introduced her to the host (who’s hand she shook with a scowl) and he asked if she’d like to see the live ones. She said yes.

We walked past all the drunken revelry and over to a huge cooler; he threw back the lid. My daughter sucked in a breath that spoke volumes. He picked one up, gingerly to avoid the pincers, and handed it to me before closing the lid and walking back to the bubbling pot. I looked down at my daughter, with budding tears in her emerald eyes, and sighed in the presence of such innocent beauty.

I asked her to follow me in that long suffering tone fathers develop after a few years, and we walked back to the car. I looked around inside until I found an empty Starbucks cup. It was huge and transparent so it’d make a perfect temporary home (as a side note, venti was big enough; trenta is just ludicrous). I filled it up to the green mermaid with tap water and dropped the lucky-as-shit crawfish into safety. My daughter spent the rest of the time at the barbeque, all three hours, staring into the cup and falling in love with “Starbuck the Crawfish”; we all smiled as we watched on and gorged on Starbuck’s cousins.

Starbuck

Sixty dollars later, Starbuck now has a luxurious life in a bubbling tank on my daughter’s bookcase that’s filled with glass rocks and spinach. He has two meals a day and a rock under which to hide. He has multi colored LED lights overhead and the love of my daughter. I’m sure to him, she looks like a monster. She’ll press her face up against the glass and smile; he’ll raise his claws and puff up in warning like a rooster or a peacock… or a frat-boy. It’s a wonderful relationship.

But what were the odds for Starbuck? Probably one in a bajillion. He came from a crawfish farm slash rice patty in Louisiana and he was born to be eaten. That farm ships out thousands of pounds per day, all over the US, but Starbuck came to Colorado in a sack with thousands of his brethren. He survived the flight when many didn’t. He clawed his way to the top of the cooler, but not too soon; our host had been cooking for five hours before we got there. He was picked up and handed to the only person there that would’ve saved him. He survived the ride home to New Mexico in a cup and he lived. A piece of food day before yesterday; a beloved pet today.

And what are the odds for my daughter? We recently went to a painfully long induction ceremony; our daughter made it into the junior national honor society. She sat amongst one hundred other kids that made the grade and we were all treated to a protracted speech from an old lady that touched on all the clichés. “I see a bunch of brilliant kids with dreams that’ll one day go on to be great blah blah blah.” Sure; some of those kids are going to make it, but the truth is that quite a few of them aren’t. For every future doctor on that stage, there’s also a future felon; for every success, a failure. It’s cynical but it’s also simple statistics.

Will my daughter make it? Will she claw her way to the top of the bucket at the right moment? Holy fuck I hope so; I’d die to ensure it. There are days when I have my doubts. Not because I lack faith in my daughter, but because I’m all too aware of how pernicious this life can be and I simply don’t want her to face it. But when I think about her staring into that cup and falling in love with a crustacean, when I think about her walking past all those drunken men at the boil to save a single life, I realize that she’s going to be just fine.

CJ and Starbuck

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

One Way Ticket to Mars, the Green Monster, and a Better Condom for Bill Gates

I usually try to keep my writing timeless because I’m a bit allergic to topical rants, but this has been an especially odd week so I can’t resist. So I’ve decided to veer left, to do that which I usually don’t, and talk about what’s going on outside my window. The three mini segments below are nothing more than little snippets of thought that came to as I sampled the odd slice of pop-culture pie that was the third week of April, 2013. As a point of reference, I was eating Cadbury Crème Eggs and listening to Bryan Adams when I started writing this. Yes, I know the former is for Easter and the latter is for fourteen year old girls in the early 90’s, but whatever; this is my office/bedroom and I’ll do as I please. Here it is:

***

I loved being an Alaskan, I despise being a New Mexican, and lately, I’ve been contemplating what life would be like as a Martian. Mars One is a company based out of Helsinki, Finland, and if you send them a short video and a small fee, they’ll think about giving you a one way ticket to Mars in 2023. Jesus. Right now, if I didn’t have a wife and two daughters, I’d be rehearsing in front of my webcam instead of typing this nonsense.

Can you imagine how ridiculously cool that’d be? My wife, the pragmatic, has pointed out the obvious: the mission probably won’t happen, and if it does, everybody is going to die. They’ll probably have to deal with wayward asteroids and weird little extremophiles and insanity induced extraterrestrial cannibalism (fingers crossed) but that’s half-empty thinking. Hell, the incalculable amount of street cred that’d come from my first Martian Tweet would almost make the entire trip worth it. A short video, a small fee, and boom: I’d be the first red planet rock star. I’d wake up every morning dressed like an extra from Barbarella (look it up kids) and do a few anti-gravity aided back flips. Sure, it’d get old, but that first moment of pure gravitas, when my boot imprints upon some other world, would be worth it.

But it’s not going to happen. I have a wife and kids and credit card debt so my place is here. But what about you? Maybe I can inspire you to throw away your terrestrial existence and go to Mars in ten years. Then maybe you can write my name on the endless red dunes and give me a bit of that vicarious fame. I’ll tweet about it, comfortable on my blue planet, and consider my mission accomplished. You can sign up here: http://mars-one.com/en/about-mars-one/contact/21-faq-selection/251-do-i-qualify-to-apply

***

If ever there was an allegorical creature that’d represent the United States, it’d be the Hulk. It’s a shame that these jihading terrorists aren’t fans of Marvel Comics because it’d save everybody a shit ton of grief if they were. I guess I just don’t understand why they, the terrorists, can’t learn from history. It’s as if they’re doomed to repeat the same failure over and over like that damn proverbial fly that constantly runs into a window in an attempt to define insanity. They bomb and hijack and kill and then die but it really doesn’t do a damn thing besides strengthen the hatred between our two cultures. Yes, I realize that’s their aim, in part, but they’ve got to realize that they’re losing.

And Boston? Seriously? That place is literally a town full of Irish bad-asses that’ve dedicated their lives to worshiping a lost cause: the Red Socks. Those two brothers kicked the Hulk in the shin. He’s going to grow and turn green and yell something about smashing, and next year, the Boston Marathon will be twice the size it was this year. They’ll run the same route past a soon to come memorial with pride in their eyes and middle fingers in the air, and if anything, Boston will be stronger. Hell, even that damn wall in the outfield of Fenway Park is called the “Green Monster”, but I guess jihading half-tards aren’t fans of baseball either.

***

I have no clue what I’d do with sixty billion dollars. It’s a hard figure for me to fathom. Seriously; that’s the same thing as sixty thousand million dollars, which sounds like a number my four-year-old would make up, but it’s not. It’s the balance that you’d find at the bottom of an ATM receipt in Bill Gates’ pocket.

It’s probably better that he has it and I don’t, because while he’s the type that forms foundations and cures diseases, I’m the type that’d pit a polar bear against a velociraptor to finally put an end to the argument. And yes, with sixty-billion dollars, you could totally go all Jurassic Park and resurrect the velociraptor, so shut up. My point is this: while I’d wake up and use my fortune to do a double back flip in a Lamborghini (which I’d land perfectly in a pool full of pineapple jello), Bill gates is the type that wakes up and decides to create a better condom.

The dude’s a superhero. With one fell stroke and a bit of latex, the intrepid billionaire plans to take on STD’s and over population. Or rather, he’s going to pay you to take on STD’s. Well, you know, that doesn’t sound exactly right but whatever. Bill Gates is offering up one hundred thousand dollars (which I imagine he found in one of his couches or something) to the first person to design a condom that people will actually use. Here’s the link if you think you’ve got a worthwhile idea: http://www.grandchallenges.org/Explorations/Topics/Pages/NextGenerationCondomRound11.aspx

It’s perfectly logical when you think about it. Either he invents the perfect condom today, or Apple beats him to it tomorrow. They’d probably call it the iDom and it’d be white and sleek and freakishly expensive. We’d all flock to the gas stations to keep up with the trends as soon as the iDomS and iDom2 came out. Actually, you know what’s really weird? The spell checker on this PC has no problem with “iDom2” so maybe I’m on to something. Shit. Okay, for the record, the iDom was totally my idea first and I hereby claim all inherent rights associated with the name and demand my one hundred thousand dollars.

***

Anyway, both of the books I’ve published will be free for the next five days. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Flash Fiction

“The man prattled on about his prized fighting rooster while his wife fried chicken and smiled.”

-Unknown

I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I came across the above posted piece of flash fiction; I read it and continued scrolling. When it sank in, when I realized how awesome it was, it was too late. I scrolled back through the insipid string of tweets with a frantic thumb upon my iPhone, but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t figure out who wrote it and my desire to give some random author a virtual pat on the back was left unsated. I’ve posted a couple tweets since asking “which one of you wrote the flash fiction about the fighting rooster” but nobody has responded. Sure, a few quasi poets awarded my tweets with stars because they probably thought I was trying to be funny, but I wasn’t. Twitter is like an enormous room full of strangers who are all talking to themselves, or at best, at each other, and my repeated attempts to find the author of this rooster related flash fiction were nothing more than the quiet shouts of yet another avatar. Oh well. I hate quoting someone else’s work without giving proper credit, but in this case, I must; the little piece is just too cool.

On the surface, the story is nothing more than a banal slice of bucolic life, but underneath, it’s dark and wonderful. You start thinking: holy shit, wait a minute, is she frying his prized fighting rooster? Is she about to feed it to him? I pictured a neglected wife living amongst flowing wheat somewhere in the bible-belt. She’d married a man that’d rather spend his time with a bottle of bourbon and his friends while they pitted rooster against rooster. He came home late one night with a caged rooster and a handful of small bills before passing out on the couch. The wife couldn’t take it anymore. She took the rooster out back to the slaughter house and wrestled it from its cage. She held it down against a smooth butcher’s block with one hand as it crowed for release. She screamed as the cleaver fell and arterial blood, red and foaming, sprayed across the walls and her “kiss the cook” apron. The next morning, breaded the meat before dropping it into the hot oil with a smile; her husband sat at the table nursing a hangover while he waited for his breakfast. He placed his hands on the red and white checked table cloth and tried to strike up a conversation with his estranged wife. He talked about that which mattered most; his prized fighting rooster. She smiled. He deserved the breakfast that was coming.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe she too loved the rooster but he lost his last fight. They could’ve been frying it up as some sort of morbid send off. Or maybe it was an entirely different chicken and the wife was just smiling because she loved to hear her husband talk, and I’m a demented ass for taking it to the darkest place possible. Or maybe there’s a darker place yet, to which you took it, but that’s exactly my point. That little story was awesome, and it’s part of the reason that I’ve decided to dedicate this third and final segment on emerging writing styles to “Flash Fiction”.

 

Part 3: Flash Fiction, and Emmie Mears

 Emmie

Photograph taken by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography

My go-go-gadget Wikipedia search on flash fiction tells me that James Thomas coined the term back in ’92, so out of the three styles I’ve touched on, this one is by far the youngest. You could argue that flash fiction is nothing more that super short fiction, which has been around ever since Aesop and his aphoristic little tales, and you’d be right, but this is my blog so there’s no point in arguing with me. To define it, flash fiction is a short medium no longer than one thousand words.

From what I’ve seen, flash fiction seems to be a “writer’s writing” (just like Magnum P.I. was a “man’s man”). Authors love it. They write it and post it and submit it to all sorts of little contests but most casual readers seem to prefer something a bit longer. But that’s just my take on things. In my opinion, the great flash fiction is something that leaves you guessing; wondering exactly what was going on. Like the story that I started this piece with, I’d say that masterful flash fiction leaves things unresolved, yet it also leaves the reader satisfied. That’s a hard feat to pull off, but Emmie Mears is a literary samurai and pulls it off as if it were nothing. I stumbled upon her website, and a piece of flash fiction she wrote thanks to Twitter, and after reading it, I started taking super-short form writing seriously.

Emmie would tell you that she’s not technically a short form writer, and that she has four completed novel-length works of urban fantasy, but whatever. It’s my contention that all you have to do to be considered a “flash fiction writer” is write flash fiction. Seriously; can you name an eminent flash fiction author? Well neither can I, so this is the piece I went with:

“I didn’t expect it to be so wet.

Oh, I knew it rained in Scotland. How else would everything be such a virulent shade of green? Somehow when I pictured majestic mountains shrouded with twilit silver mist, that mist lacked the power to turn my hair into a fro.

Right now the expanding mass of curls atop my head didn’t make number one on my list of problems, but it also didn’t help my visibility as I squinted into the engine of my rental.

Steam rose from the metal, along with the acrid tang of seared rubber. One end of the betraying belt flopped against the oil dipstick.

I’d come here looking for magic. I’d found wet feet and a fro. Two hours to wait for AA – that’s what I got for picking a nameless glen in Sutherland over a pub in Fort William. My brain taunted me with the memory of malt vinegar over chips and Glen Ord scotch.

The forest to the west looked drier and less cramped than the tiny car. I squished into the underbrush and picked my way to an oak tree, sitting on the cushion of moss to wait for my rescuers.

The air smelled of peat and crystal water, clean. A deep breath afforded a small comfort against the damp seeping through the seat of my pants.

Bright in the gloaming, eyes met mine through the trees…”

That was an excerpt from “Rustle” by Emmie Mears. For the rest of the piece, you’ll need to visit Emmie’s site here: http://emmiemears.com/2012/02/20/rustle/

This is usually where I’d summarize the piece of writing I chose to blog about, but it’s unnecessary; my summary would be longer than the piece itself. But please follow the above posted link and read the rest of the piece because Mears did exactly that which I spoke of earlier; she left me guessing but satisfied. It takes Mears a mere three hundred words to lay down depth and substance, setting and suspense, and I think “Rustle” is a perfect example of what “flash fiction” should be. Furthermore, Mears is a true wordsmith and an author to watch. The short fiction that can be found on her website is well worth the perusal, but you’ll have to wait if you want more because that’s all there is. However, Mears is a badass author with a real life agent, so you probably won’t have to wait long. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please visit her site and blog here: http://emmiemears.com/