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 3

Book Hoarder

Escapist Literature

I walked into the Southwest Book Trader and was nearly knocked on my ass by the smell of one hundred thousand used books; they were stacked everywhere. That many books seem to sweat when they’re all in one place. They create a musk of their own that wraps around you like a musty trench coat. The Southwest Book Trader is an old house in downtown Durango, Colorado that’s been converted into a used bookstore, but it’s a bit more than that. I walked through the rooms looking for an old book by David Eddings, and it took almost a half hour to find it. But the fact that they had an old first edition, with yellowed and dog eared pages, is a testament to the depth of selection through which I swam. I’m not a big man, and I barely fit between the overflowing bookcases and pyramids of print. I laughed at one point, after I realized I was in what used to be the kitchen, because I could see the kitchen sink faucet protruding out from a stack of books on politics. I checked the price on my first edition, two whole dollars, and then walked up front to find the owner.

I found him up front wearing a fly fishing vest and a hat that would’ve made Indiana Jones jealous. He was in his late fifties and sitting at the cash register. I could only see his head and part of his torso because books were stacked all around him; it was like he had built a fort out of paperbacks. He didn’t look up so I spoke first. Our conversation went a bit like this:

Me: “Damn. This is one hell of a cool collection.”

Him: “No it’s not. I have a warehouse that’s filled to the ceiling. I have over one million books and it’s a sickness. Don’t compliment something you don’t understand.”

Me: “…”

Him: “Did you find what you were looking for?”

I reached over the moat of his book fort and handed him my Eddings first edition. We started talking. The conversation ended up lasting for an hour. I told him that I was a published author and shared a few of my more malcontented opinions vis-à-vis fifty shades of bullshit and sparkly vampires, and we became friends. This man who hoards books and doesn’t make eye contact is one of my new favorite people.

My only caveat with the whole experience is that when he looked at the book I was buying, he smirked and said something under his breath about “escapist literature.” He said that he had read everything in the realm of SciFi and Fantasy until his late teens, and then he had turned his back on the genre. He gave up on escapist literature and has only read nonfiction since.

In case you’re wondering, “escapist literature” is a style of writing, usually centered on alternate realities chock-full of swords and sorcery, into which a reader can submerge themselves thereby escaping from reality. Frankly, I’ve never read any fiction that didn’t offer a bit of escapism, but whatever; that’s an argument for a different time.

Have you ever wondered why nerds delve so deeply into their interests? Have you ever wondered why there are scores of fans who bounce from convention to convention in a never ending nerdgasm? I’ve met a few that escape so entirely from reality via fandom that they’re fluent in Klingon. Seriously; they actually speak the shit. And I get it. They’ve found this different universe that accepts them as loyal fans. They can read book after book that glorify outcast protagonists who can defeat the bullies of the world with wizardry. In these books of escapist literature, it doesn’t matter if you’re portly or pallid or a pariah walking amongst the pretty people; if they fuck with you, you could always conjure a ball of fire or set your ray gun to stun and deal with the bastards.

I like to tell myself that I like escapist literature for a different reason. You know, it’s because I have an acute imagination. It’s because I read these books and fully create these universes in my mind and simply enjoy them as an observer. Yeah, that’s it. It has nothing to do with the fact that they help me separate myself from a nearly debilitating anxiety that dogs my steps like a shadow. I swear. And who knows, maybe my new favorite person who hoards books and doesn’t make eye contact came to grips with his need for escapist literature at a young age. Maybe he was ashamed of that need, and then threw himself into nonfiction and warehouses filled to the rafters with other people’s writing. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction. It’s usually depressing and ugly, and it usually brings me right back to that place from which I was originally trying to escape: reality.

***

The first author I’ve chosen to feature in this third segment is Brian Sanner. He’s a badass scientist who’s currently working on his PhD so he can someday build a bionic suit that’ll allow him to shoot lightning out of his hands. Honestly.

Brian Sanner

Showdown

When the wind shivered through the trees, their limbs rattled like the bones of the watchmen huddled against the gatehouse wall. Winter is a miserable time to wear armor. The metal inhales the cold and breathes it back more intense than before. Layers of leather and fur help at first exposure, but the cold is insidious and constant and without end. It twists and tickles its way through the layers and sets there, solidly, like a press.

On a night like this, when breath steamed and frosted in beards, it was no wonder the guards stayed close to their torches, spears propped against the palisade while they hid their hands beneath crude cloaks of stitched animal hide.

The wind sighed again, sliding layers of dry snow crystals over the hard, icy roadway beneath.  This road led west,
along the windswept hills that, in the warmer seasons, would be populated by scraggly tufts of grass and jagged rock, home to the small creatures that burrowed in such, and the larger that preyed upon them. Men were few and scattered in those hills. The land was too poor for those with honest intentions to bother. The hills were home to jackals and highwaymen, and there was little to tell the two apart.

The building was nothing more than a trading post. A pit stop along the road. Far enough out that most would stop here. Miserable enough that they would soon move on. There was not much to be had here, but here was a place that anything was worth having. Close enough to nowhere that even a ramshackle roof was better than none, and a stout wall between a man and the darkness was a welcome relief.

This night was too cold for highwaymen or peddlers either one. So why have two guards on the gate of a six-foot palisade that a half-dozen determined men could overcome in an hour?

***

The second author I’ve chosen to feature is Mary A. Fox. She lives in England, with her husband and her four children. She is an avid reader who started writing her own stories when she was twelve years old, inspired by a middle school teacher who ran writing workshops. Most of Mary’s stories are set on the wild Atlantic North coast of the picturesque county, Cornwall, in the South-West of the UK. Mary is the author of five novels in the Porth Kerensa series and a handful of flash fiction stories. Her work can be found on www.wattpad.com/mezmerised

Mary A Fox

The Running Girl

Back home they called me the running girl. Some of them called me Forrest, but mostly I was known as the running girl. When I ran past them every evening some cheered me and some jeered me. None of them asked me my name and no one cared why I ran, which suited me fine. After a while they didn’t even notice me anymore. I became part of the background. I was invisible to them.

One day I disappeared altogether.

I often wondered, on my frequent attempts to get back, if any of them ever noticed my disappearance. If eventually, somebody said, “What do you think happened to the running girl? Where do you think she went?”

They won’t believe me if I make it home and tell people what happened to me. They will look at me as if I am crazy and probably lock me up in a padded cell.

Anyway it’s a moot point because I can’t find my way back. Lord knows, I’ve tried.

I was running and I stumbled. My toe caught in a pothole as I jogged up the coast road and I fell. But it wasn’t a simple fall. It was as if something reached through a rip in time and space and pulled me from my reality into theirs. The air around me shimmered, crackled and sizzled. The oxygen seemed to be dragged from my lungs and the brightest light I’ve ever seen dazzled me as I sprawled headlong into the unrelenting darkness behind the light.

And I screamed.

I could try and document the months after my fall, but I’m not a wordsmith and I don’t have the vocabulary to tell you how confused and lost I felt for a long time afterwards. It took me months to truly believe I was irreversibly trapped out of my own time and reality. I spent every day looking for my way back, but I couldn’t find it. It was as if whatever had ripped a wound in the fabric of the world healed instantly behind me, leaving me stranded.

I am a visitor from the future, living before my lifetime.

David doesn’t like it when I call myself a visitor. He says I have been here for two years and I should accept that it’s my home now. We don’t talk much about where I came from and we’ve never told anyone else that I literally fell out of thin air into his arms. He told the villagers he found me on the beach, unconscious and washed up from a shipwreck, and he rescued me. Sometimes I wonder if he pretends to himself that’s what really happened, simply to retain some sanity. Has he convinced himself that I truly am flotsam?

He told me once that he used to walk the coast road every night in the hope he would see me, the shimmering ghostly woman who haunted the road he lived on, running with the wind streaming through my long brown hair. He said I shone when I ran; that I was translucent like a beautiful wild running spirit and he couldn’t get me out of his mind. He said I captivated him and every night, when he watched me, he wished that I was real, until one day I was. I told him he sounded mad.

He said, “You’re convinced you’re from 2006, and I watched a ghost appear solid and real out of thin air. We’re both mad.”

Then he made love to me again.

I ran every evening for the first two years, desperately trying to find the way back to my own time. I retraced my steps until I thought it really would drive me mad as I  hopelessly searched for the time chasm I had fallen through. I wept when I ran and David stood, in our small garden, watching me jog and cry. He stood with tears in his own eyes, waiting for me to come back and when I was too tired to run anymore he would wrap his mother’s shawl around my shoulders and lead me gently indoors.

He soothed me and he cared for me. He adored me and one day I realised I had fallen again.

David is kind and gentle. He loves me and he keeps me safe and calm in a world I still don’t feel a part of, despite the passing of the years. He’s even asked me to marry him. Maybe he thinks it will be enough to give me some ties here. Perhaps he hopes it will stop me trying to run away from here. I lost myself in

1849 and I found the love of my life.

But will it be enough?

I suppose one day soon I’ll marry him. Especially when I tell him I’m going to have our baby. I should tell him, but I still haven’t got my own head around it. I’m going to have a child over one hundred years before I’ve even been born. Perhaps I will name our child Paradox.

It’s unlikely now that I’ll ever go back, even if I found a way. David found the only way to stop me running.

But until he knows, I’ll carry on with my lonely jogging up the coast road still looking for my way home; running forever, like a DVD left on repeat.

The villagers call me the running girl. They don’t know why I run and they don’t care. David cares though. David cares too much; he always has. Sometimes I look at him and I believe his obsession with the shimmering, running spirit girl he watched every night is what pulled me here in the first place. He calls it Fate…something that was meant to be because it transcended time. I think his yearning for the ghostly girl grew so strong that he managed to drag me across time and space into his own reality.

I think he believes it too.

I still run sometimes. When David is working out in the fields and our daughter, Anne sleeps. I don’t run for very long though, and I tell myself I’m only keeping fit.

This is my home now.

Kim shook her head at Regan’s suggestion they walk home. “The coast road is haunted. There’s no way I’m walking up there at this time of night.”

“What are you talking about?” Regan scoffed, laughing. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Ever since that girl disappeared into thin air, people have seen her running along the road she went missing on,” Kim replied seriously. “Don’t you remember it? About seven years ago a jogger vanished. They say she haunts that stretch of road between Padstow and Porth Kerensa and now she’s doomed to jog down the lonely coast road forever more.”

Emmy smiled at Kim. “You know there hasn’t been a sighting for a couple of years now.” She sighed. “Poor girl, no one ever found out what happened to her. It was as if she simply vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen again.”

“Except for her ghost,” Kim replied, shivering.

“What was her name?” Regan was sombre now, feeling guilty that she had mocked Kim.

“I can’t remember her name,” Kim replied, sadly. “But the press called her The Running Girl.”

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.

Wicked Hunger

Teenage boys are dumb. Most of them are far too busy playing with fire or staring at bright lights to read. That’s why I’ve been saying for quite some time that “YA Fiction” should be rebranded as “YW Fiction” you know, for “young women.” Some boys read, sure, but if you’re going to write “YA Fiction,” you need to know your audience: brooding, introverted, artistic, intelligent girls. They’re the ones that sit in class comfortable in their zip-up hoodies. They love their music and their thoughts and they’re a step above the other teens that mill around them drowning in their preoccupation with fashion or the “he said she said” of teenage life. These are the girls you’ll be writing for if you delve into YA; they are your audience. And nobody knows their audience like DelSheree Gladden. She proves it in “Wicked Hunger.”

 

I’m not quite sure how she does it. The story is written in present tense, which is modern and keeps you in the moment. That part I get. The protagonist, an angsts ridden teenage girl named Vanessa, would be easy to identify with if you’re in the same boat. That part I get as well. But Gladden is able to convey a brooding mood and sense of tension through her prose and, I wasn’t quite able to pinpoint how it was done. The best part is that it felt organic; Gladden didn’t overly rely on artifice. Most of the story comes from Vanessa’s point of view, so her troubles and needs and fears aren’t filtered through narration. I really liked it.

 

Lastly, I’d like to commend Gladden for the darker hue with which she writes in her latest series. Most “YA” authors tone it down. I suppose they’re afraid of writing something too dark for someone too young, but giving in to that fear is tantamount to dishonesty. Young adults deserve literature that doesn’t pull punches at the expense of the story, and “Wicked Hunger” delivers perfectly. I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of “YW Fiction.” You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615832989/

Wicked Hunger

Vanessa and Zander Roth are good at lying. They have to be when they are hiding a deadly secret. Day after day, they struggle to rein in their uncontrollable hunger for pain and suffering in order to live normal lives. Things only get worse when Ivy Guerra appears with her pink-striped hair and secrets. The vicious hunger Ivy inspires is frightening, not to mention suspicious. Vanessa’s instincts are rarely wrong, so when they tell her that Ivy’s appearance is a sign of bad things to come, she listens. She becomes determined to expose Ivy’s secrets. Vanessa tries to warn her brother, but Zander is too enamored with Ivy to pay attention to her conspiracy theories. One of them is right about Ivy… But if they lose control of their hunger, it won’t matter who is right and who is wrong. One little slip and they’ll all be dead.

Dead Animals by C.S. DeWildt

Hear them shriek.
See them live.
Watch them love / die.

Pay your
fee.
Come one / come all.
They’re on parade today.

I might’ve been crying wolf in a few of my other reviews. It’s just that I can’t bring myself to give fewer than five stars in an Amazon review because we self-published or indie authors just try so damn hard. But it might’ve tarnished my credibility. So when a book like Dead Animals comes along, and I start shouting about how freakishly awesome it is, I guess a few people might say “whatever, that’s what you said about that last book which was just okay.” That sucks ass. So if ever you take one of my reviews seriously, please let it be this one: Dead Animals by C.S. DeWildt is the best indie-published collection of noir short-stories ever written.

 

I bet it’s frustrating to live inside DeWildt’s skull. You see, his writing is perfect, but it’s dark. It’s the antithesis of mainstream because he doesn’t pull punches when he writes. If his thoughts are profane, they go on the paper; if the story is dark, he writes it instead of going a route more readers might follow. His writing is simply honesty in art.

DeWildt has had countless stories published here and there. His novella (which I wrote about here: https://thevelveteenmaraca.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/candy-and-cigarettes/) was a success with the critics. His most recent book, Dead Animals, also seems to be doing well. But he has to know that he could rule it all if he wrote something flowery that’s full of bullshit and artifice. He could go the sparkly vampire route while keeping his prose as is, and then boom: we’d all be lining up to see some watered-down PG-13 version of his writing.

That has to suck. Personally, I’d sell out for about seventeen dollars and a half-ass publicized book signing at The Salvation Army. But then again, maybe DeWildt’s writing would lose whatever it is that makes it so rad if he toned it down. I don’t know. But I do know that he is an instant cult-classic author, and that I’m a die-hard fan.

Lastly, DeWildt asked me to write a short review for the back of Dead Animals and of course I said yes. I just received my signed copy in the mail and it felt incredible to see my name on the back; it’s an honor to be taken that seriously.  I’m in his debt, and I hope you’ll take my advice and buy Dead Animals here: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Animals-ebook/dp/B00EG8GHFY/

Dead Animals

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/

Sihpromatum

Savannah’s book is still carrying a five star average after forty-two reviews and I’m pretty sure that’s a record. Even if it isn’t, this is still a pretty impressive book. I know I’ve blogged about her work before, and to a lot of you, what comes next will seem familiar; I’m reposting my first blog about Savannah (or at least a portion of it) because her book is now only 99 cents. It’s seriously worth it. If you buy it now, one of these days you’ll be able to say you read it before she was famous. Get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

SW

I’ve typically been annoyed by the fact that people think that an incredible event automatically translates into an incredible book. Kanye West’s mother went through the incredible journey of raising a superstar so of course she should write a book about it, right? I picked up her book, tritely entitled “Raising Kanye”, while I was in Hastings a while back, thumbed through it, and then dropped it back on the shelf as quickly as possible lest it steal some of my intelligence. I’ve read that 90% of all Americans believe they have a story to tell that’s worthy of a book deal (I guess I lied when I said there’d be no more statistics). Here it is: it doesn’t mean that you’re fated to be an author just because you’ve been through something extraordinary.

However, sometimes the yen and yang fit together perfectly and someone with such a story really does create a noteworthy book, and that’s what happened in “Sihpromatum” by Savannah Grace. The sub-text for her title is “I Grew my Boobs in China” and the word “boobs” may or may not have been why I originally gave this title a chance but I’m glad I did. Everything about this book just feels professional. It’s a nonfiction story that I suppose should be classified as a memoir, but it reads like a novel which is absolutely awesome. Sevannah’s style is polished and well beyond her years and she has some serious talent. I kept hunting through website for a publisher’s accreditation because it was hard to believe that such a work was self published. Sihpromatum is the type of book you’d expect Oprah to be throwing at her guests in one of her “favorite things” episodes (which I’ve never seen because I’m a manly man); it’s seriously that good (I mean, you know… if you’re in to that sort of thing). All joking aside, I don’t want to do Savannah’s work a disservice by pigeon-holing into the “chick-lit” category because to get something meaningful out of this book, the only prerequisite is to be human.

Sihpromatum

“SIHPROMATUM (Sip-row-may-tum): A blessing that initially appears to be a curse.

Sihpromatum is a memoir series of one family’s four-year backpacking adventure around the world. The first installment, “I Grew My Boobs in China” is the beginning of an intensely fascinating, sobering, and emotional memoir of Savannah’s introspective and innovative family adventure.

In 2005, 14-year-old Savannah Grace’s world is shattered when her mother unexpectedly announces that she and her family (mother 45, brother 25 and sister 17) would soon embark on an incredible, open-ended journey. When everything from her pets to the house she lived in either sold, given away or put in storage, this naïve teenage girl runs headlong into the reality and hardships of a life on the road.

Built around a startling backdrop of over eighty countries (I Grew my Boobs in China relates the family’s adventures in China and Mongolia), this is a tale of feminine maturation – of Savannah’s metamorphosis from ingénue to woman-of-the-world. Nibbling roasted duck tongues in China and being stranded in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert are just two experiences that contribute to Savannah’s exploration of new cultures and to the process of adapting to the world around her.”

I have two young daughters and while I can see immense strength in both of them, I can also feel that innate fragility in their youth that I’m so desperately trying to protect. That’s why Savannah’s story is so captivating. Even as a grown man I’m not sure I could handle the hand that was dealt to Savannah. Her story is incredible, and when you pair that with a natural prose and a love for storytelling, you get an absolutely viable book that belongs in the company of anything pumped out by the large publishing houses. I’m sure this book would’ve made it to the proverbial shelves even if self publishing wasn’t possible, but maybe not. Maybe the suits I mentioned in my first segment would’ve passed Sihpromatum by and chosen instead to publish the memoirs of a combat Marine thanks to gender. Who knows; all that matters now is that this book exists and it deserves attention, as does Savannah Grace.

On a personal level, Savannah comes across as fearless and genuine. It’s as if all her doubts have been melted away thanks to her struggle; I’d compare it to the way an athlete looses fat during their training.

Her story is a startling one about a young girl that looses everything before regaining something better by experiencing the world first hand with a brother, a sister, and a mother. Savannah writes a tale that stresses the importance of following a dream and staying positive despite the mirage in front of us. It’s a tale of that “trial by fire” that we all look for in our literature and I hope you’ll give it a chance. In any case, I’ve just written close to four thousand words in three segments about female authors and I need to get back to my own work before I too grow boobs.

Sihpromatum can be purchased through Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

You can find further reviews, blogs, and information on how to purchase this book through Smashwords or Kobo via

Savannah’s site here: http://www.sihpromatum.com/

If you’d like to email the author directly you can do so here: sihpromatum@gmail.com

And everyone’s a fan of Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Sihpromatum-I-Grew-my-Boobs-in-China/367565703312088

Urban Fantasy

Fantasy is usually segregated; compartmentalized into some far away world with weird places and otherworldly people. It’s almost as if the classic authors thought their fantasies were too bold to fit in the real world, so they spun realms more suitable. The old books, the ones wrought with mechanical typewriters and ink ribbons, are all the same. There’s usually a hand drawn map on the first page with randomly placed mountains and a compass rose. Then comes the narrative or the action or the dialogue but there’s always one constant: the story is somewhere else.

 

That’s why I’m reading more and more urban fantasy. I just sobered up from a Jim Butcher bender, every second of which I loved, and I’ve been looking for other authors that can offer the same type of fix. I guess I like my wizards with a side of Burger King; my werewolves on Main Street. There’s nothing wrong with juxtaposing fantasy against the mundane of the here and now.

 

I understand that some of us prefer a complete departure, a mental escape into Mordor, but why not Chicago? I think reality blends seamlessly with fantasy, and if you find an author that does it well, I’d argue that it’s more enjoyable. Urban fantasy isn’t as new as Steampunk (the genre from last week) or as flash fiction (next week), but it’s still a burgeoning style that deserves attention. And I’ve found an absolute ninja of an author to highlight as an example.

 

Part 2: Urban Fantasy, and Patrick O’Duffy

Patrick O'Duffy

 

It takes balls to write exclusively in the narrative. Paragraphs uninterrupted by the artifice of dialogue, with block after block of black words, scare the shit out of most of us. You’ve got to have serious chops to pull it off, and O’Duffy does. He’s like the dark offspring of Ian McEwan and Justin Cronin (but with more parentheses). When I first downloaded his book and started clicking through it on my Kindle, I got a bit worried because there weren’t any quotes in sight, but his intelligent style more than made up for it. His descriptions are only bested by his imagination, and the dude does vocabularic plyometrics without coming across as pompous. The result is a novella full of decadent prose that I read in two sittings.

 

O’Duffy is prolific (fifteen different titles are available via his Amazon author page) and I can’t speak for all of his work, but Hotel Flamingo is a simply awesome book. I had one of those “ah shit; why didn’t I think of that?” moments when I started reading it because the premise is truly original and it stands out. Compared to the other self published authors I’ve found, O’Duffy is doing jumping jacks in a field of authors doing sit-ups. The setting of Hotel Flamingo is obviously a hotel, but the work itself is a grouping of small but connected vignettes that are separated by room: 22 characters, 22 rooms. Man that’s cool.

 

When I asked Patrick about the book, he said he wrote it as an online serial piece. He came up with the idea for a new character in a new room each week, and then he’d write it and post it. He said it was “an attempt to kind of write around a story, rather than straight at it, making a mosaic out of character studies and vignettes that added up to more than the sum of its parts.” That’s a bit hard to believe after reading the piece because it’s all just so fluid.

 

I’ll finish by saying that Patrick O’Duffy knows what art is; he even comes right out and says it in the middle of his work: “Art achieves its purpose without audience. It’s meaningful even if unacknowledged.” “Art” is one of those terms thrown around far too often, but to Hotel Flamingo, it applies. O’Duffy’s work is meaningful, and it deserves the acknowledgment. Please buy it, please read it.

 

You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Hotel-Flamingo-ebook/dp/B004XQVOZ2/

 

Patrick’s other works can be found via his author page here: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-ODuffy/e/B0034NKLV8

 

For more, please visit his site here: http://patrickoduffy.com/

Hotel Flamingo

The cleaning lady eats time. The manager mourns his multi-gendered parent. A pirate radio DJ listens for God. An accountant prepares to kill again. And that’s only in four rooms of the Hotel Flamingo, where the room service is terrible and reality flakes and crumbles around the edges.

 

There’s a part of town where the dealers meet, where the forgotten people hide, where reality cracks and peels like cheap wallpaper. Where normal is a dirty word. If you’re in this part of town, maybe you might stay at the Hotel Flamingo – a refuge for resentful angels, feral symbols, disgraced magicians, broken-hearted foundlings, bad dreams, and many others.
22 rooms. 22 characters. One mosaic novella following a tangle of destinies through a hotel packed with weirdness, coincidence, and impossibility.