Thursday, July 24, 2014

a moment in the day: picking up nicholas


Finally home from our trip to Seattle, we sit on the hard, wooden benches in the little waiting area at the vet's, staring at the open door just past the reception counter. We've paid the bill for Nicholas' boarding and now it's been five whole minutes, and they haven't brought us our dog yet. And that couple. The guy in the brown slacks and the girl in the jeans and sandals and qué será, será tattooed on the side of her foot. They're standing in my way. Between me and the door where, any second now, one of the ladies is going to appear with my precious doggy.

Tattoo foot lady is completely blocking my view.

I should say what will be will be, but goddamn it, I've been waiting for this moment.

I lean over and whisper in Stephen's ear, "She's blocking my view!"

I shift on the bench and try to look around her, but even though I can see through the door when I'm slanty (see through to where the ladies in back are milling around and decidedly not rushing to bring me my dog), it's ticking me off that I also have to have madame qué será, será right there in the almost middle of my vision. In a moment, I get up and move down to the next bench, where I have a clean shot again. Fuck you, qué será, será. 

Stephen laughs, hesitates, finally joins me on the second bench. We sit and stare at the open door.

We sit and stare at the open door.

Under his breath, in a very quiet sort of low growl, Stephen says, "Give me my dog."

Qué será, será takes a couple meandering steps and suddenly - yes, of freaking course - she's standing right between me and door AGAIN.

I lean over and whisper in Stephen's ear, "Oh my god, oh my god."

Under his breath, "Give me my dog."

Now one of the ladies appears in the angelic light of the open door. For one tiny moment, I'm filled with joy.

Then I see that it's not a beautiful caramel-colored perfect-miniature-deer-like Chihuahua but some scruffy, bedraggled runt of a fluffball being returned to Qué será even though we got here first.

"There, now," the vet lady tells Qué será and Mr será as she lifts over the dog into the woman's arms, "keep a good eye on this tube. It's to drain the fluid. But he should be just fine."

"Oh, what a good boy," Qué será coos at him, "what a brave boy."

OK, I am a jerk.

The couple step toward the exit, and once they're gone, I've forgotten them and whatever their plight may have been and I'm back to staring at the open door.

Low, under Stephen's breath: "Give me my dog."

I mean after all, we've been away from Nicholas for one whole day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

a moment in the day: heatwave


It's sweltering in the back room of our third floor apartment, my writing room, the farthest spot from our small window unit air conditioner. I've been eating ice pops and trying to concentrate on my work, but the thick heat pushes all inspiration and motivation from my brain and makes my wrists itchy and chafey against the edge of my laptop.

Stephen peeks through the open doorway. He says, "You don't even have the fan on." 

I look at the fan sitting on the floor three feet from my chair. "Oh yeah."

As I go to turn the thing on, Stephen says, "What would you do without me?" 

"I'd die," I say. "I'd die an embarrassing, embarrassing death."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part four


Here's the last in my little series of the authors' own favorite passages from their stories in the Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. Today's edition: Alisha Churbe, Ellen Davidson Levine and Trevor Dodge.

ALISHA CHURBE
From "All is Not Lost"


My story is non-traditional in form. I didn't get to start my story with a first line that had any kind of impact. The form was restrictive and didn't follow many of the guidelines that are laid for short stories. I didn't get to think about that as the story couldn't start anywhere other than with "Dear Gary." I did try other forms for the story, but Marlene really demanded to be center of attention. In looking for the line for your project, I was able to choose something that would really draw a reader into the story.

---

Two for ELLEN DAVIDSON LEVINE
From "The Dog War"

I like the way the words sound together and what they say about the narrator of "The Dog War." He's a high school teacher at the end of the school year, a philosopher, and a romantic who can savor both the smell of lilacs and the scent of passing animals. Here, I try to create a moment of quiet before conflict erupts. I like this quote also because the only time of year I awaken willingly at dawn is in summer.



I remember when I wrote this, I wanted to show how Jim Shuster, the narrator, observes life through the lens of history. I also wanted to reflect the part of him that's connected to nature and rural life. Here too, I like the way the words fit together.


---

TREVOR DODGE
From "Real World Reject"



I've been a letter writer and pen pal of some kind my entire life, and I’m always intrigued at how our personal correspondences with others can both buoy and drown us. In “Real World Reject," the narrator sees the opening and reading of the mail as a simple form of validation. I mean, there are few things more depressing than going to the mailbox and finding it empty; in a way, we’re all like Charlie Brown when we go there, waiting for a letter from The Little Red-Haired Girl that is never going to come.

---

If you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here..

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part three


More of the authors' own favorite passages from their stories in the Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. Today's edition: Domi J. Shoemaker, Christi Krug and Steve Denniston.

DOMI J. SHOEMAKER
from "Left Right Wrong"
I chose this quote because it captures that moment in a child's life where they really start to differentiate from the parent or primary caregiver. That moment they start to see the parent as something other than just an extension of themselves. In this case, the moment is terrifying to the little girl. She sees her mom as someone else. Someone beautiful, yet distant. It gets further complicated in a split second in the mom using the little girl to soothe herself, ostensibly reversing the bond, so it is the mom who sees the child as an extension of herself and the child gets stripped of her own identity before she really has the chance to form one. 

---

CHRISTI KRUG
from "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil"
I love the idea of a narrator coming face to face with her own lies, and I love the possibilities of looking at “sin,” a word which is so weighted in our culture. And, a list of sins is totally provocative.

---

STEVE DENNISTON
from "It's No Good Telling Me That"

There seemed to be two different kinds of choices, quotes that worked well out of context, and quotes that meant something to the story. I tried to find two quotes that did both things, would work well for someone who hasn’t read the story, and if someone has read it, the quote would resonate.

This quote was an easy one to choose. It’s quirky enough to be eye catching, intriguing by talking about the mom having left more than once, and the odd way the father has of dealing with it.

I’m also drawn to this quote because it’s where the story begins to open up and reveal why this particular moment is a story, why it’s important to the narrator, John. A few lines later we find out John has never heard his dad talk about this before. A shift takes place as the son and father begin to talk about a taboo subject, the mother abandoning them multiple times, yet at the same time they still aren’t quite able to talk to each other about it. 




This quote comes from the son early in the story. It’s his first line of dialog that stands alone by itself and gives a sense of his attitude, which made it an easy choice to be one of the quotes.

What I really like about the quote as part of the story is that even though it’s an outrageous thing for the son to say, the father doesn’t react at all. They’ve been having two different conversations while talking to each other, and even that comment about dynamite doesn’t pull the father in. What I really hope happens here is that the title, “It’s No Good Telling Me That,” has begun to resonate early in the story.


---

More to come. In the meantime, if you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part two


I've been putting together little graphics to help promote the new Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. My idea was to have the authors send me their favorite line from their own story, one that I could make into a sharable image - but as the contributors started sending me their quotes, I started getting really curious. What was it about those particular lines that made them favorites for the writers who'd penned them? Was it about content, theme, language? I decided to ask. And here's what they said.

Originally, I strung these all together, but I ended up with so many great and varied responses, I thought I'd break it up a little. Today's edition: Dylan Lee, Tammy Lynn Stoner, Lois Rosen and Jackie Shannon Hollis.

DYLAN LEE
From "Hunk"

This is actually the opening sentence of my story. I like that it doesn't really make sense and sets the tone, getting you ready for a weird ride—not that reading a story is really a ride, so more like a weird sit.

---

TAMMY LYNN STONER
From "The Last Time"


Why did I choose that line?...

I suppose I wanted to go with something that embodied the turning point of the story. Instead of pulling out a line about how gorgeous the whale is (to make my story into a whale), I wanted to pull a line about the moment that it changed its line of sight
which, since a whale's eyes are fixed, can only be done by moving its entire body. Plus it sounded kinda catchy.

---

LOIS ROSEN gave me four quotes to choose from, from her short story "Splinters." I made a graphic for all four. Here I'll include two:



I chose the lines for their rhythm and images.

JACKIE SHANNON HOLLIS gave me two from "The Pink on her Toenails." For context, I should mention that her narrator is a man.




I like the contrast of each of these two sections in the story. One comes early in the story and one later, so there is the progression of the story, and something big has happened in between.

The lines about the girls dancing create an image that I really like and it is something the reader has very likely seen but maybe not named, so they will recognize themselves or a memory in this image. It's also the narrator's observation about girls, so it tells us something about him. There is this sense that they are just dancing but there is something more going on. Which is also the case with this story, so much is not said, but things happen.

In the lines about the punch, this is a big moment for the narrator. Up until now, he has been more passive, a witness to things that cause him pain. This is a moment when he ACTS, when he responds to all that is going on for him. And because it is his friend, there is such potential risk in this.


---

More to come. In the meantime, if you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river: authors' favorite lines - part one


I've been putting together little graphics to help promote the new Forest Avenue Press short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River. My idea was to have the authors send me their favorite line from their own story, one that I could make into a sharable image - but as the contributors started sending me their quotes, I started getting really curious. What was it about those particular lines that made them favorites for the writers who'd penned them? Was it about content, theme, language? I decided to ask. And here's what they said.

Originally, I strung these all together, but I ended up with so many great and varied responses, I thought I'd break it up a little. Today's edition:  Gail Bartley, Matthew Robinson and Gregg Kleiner.

GAIL BARTLEY
From "More of What You Already Are"




I picked this quote because it’s so visual, and shows us Marlene (Aubrey’s mother) through his eyes. The wall between them softens her some, but they’re still worlds apart. I worked for five years in a juvenile justice center, and saw the dynamic between Marlene and Aubrey play out a hundred times with parents of kids who were constantly in trouble. Mothers in particular (many of them single mothers) were really thrown by the whole experience of having a child who commits crimes. They’d bounce radically between tough love and over-indulgence, trying anything in hopes that their kid would snap out of it, only to end up angry and heartsick when, too often, things just went from bad to worse. I think I was successful in translating some of that reality into the fiction of my story. 

---

MATTHEW ROBINSON
From "Tidal"



I chose these lines because of all the lines in this short, short story, they do the most work. The whole story is in them. Everything else is the story figuring out that they're true, and that it's okay.

---

GREGG KLEINER
From "The Blue Jackpot"

I chose this line because of the little girl's innocent perspective about her mother's condition. Her worry about the swimming pool water running into her mother's eyes is what's present for her, more than the greater condition the reader can infer. I wanted a line that would resonate with the reader, paint a quick little scene and be interesting and intriguing and colorful enough to make a person want to read more. So this quote has two characters, a yellow scarf, and something amiss and odd… a lack of eyebrows. I had my eyebrows (along with my head) shaved when I entered a Buddhist monastery for a month at age 17 when I was an exchange student living in Thailand for a year. It took forever for them to grow back. Now when I see chemo patients, I often think of that.

---

More to come. In the meantime, if you want to check out the book, more info is here.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is edited by Liz Prato and is available through all the usual places, but my favorite is here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

blog hop!


There's a fun exercise hopping around lit blogs and I've been tagged to participate. It's called a blog hop and the idea is to answer seven particular questions about your novel and then tag two writers to do the same thing a week down the line. 

My tagger was the lovely literary-force-to-be-reckoned-with, Laura Stanfill. I can't say enough about Laura. I've been privy to the pages of her novel in progress, which she writes about in her blog hop post, and it's lush, nuanced, quirky, funny, gorgeous writing. She is also the publisher of Forest Avenue Press - with remarkable editing and design chops, great taste, and amazing energy and drive. I seriously don't know how she does it and am overjoyed to have been able to attach myself to her coattails and enjoy the ride as I design book covers for her lovely books.

Here's Laura's post about her novel The Serinette.

And here are my answers to the same questions, about my novel in progress.

What is the name of your character? Is s/he fictional or a historic person?

The name of my narrator (a totally fictional character but, of course, with a lot of me in her) is Emmie Matzo. She's named after my favorite film noir movie star, Lizabeth Scott, whose real name was Emma Matzo.



Actually, all of the characters in the book are named after Lizabeth Scott in some way - many of them from the film Too Late for Tears. For instance, Emmie's best friend's name is Lizabeth. Her two guy friends (much of the story revolves around the odd and dysfunctional relationship of four former high school buddies) are Danny and Fuller, named after the film's male lead Danny Fuller (played by Dan Duryea, my other favorite film noir movie star). That's him there on the poster, smacking her around.

My book has nothing to do with anything remotely film noir. It was just a thing I decided to do, to stick something I love into the book in a kind of weird, roundabout way. It's actually very convenient. Whenever I need a name I jump on IMDB and scan the cast list for Too Late for Tears or one of her other movies, find a name that works, and then I can keep writing.

When and where is the story set?

Most of the story takes place in Portland, Oregon, in present day, and there's a small chunk that happens in Los Angeles. There's also a short interlude set in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Which, OK, is where Lizabeth Scott was born. I'm a little obsessed.

What should we know about him/her?

Lizabeth Scott? Well, she was this fabulous... Oh, you mean my narrator.

Emmie is a liar. We all are, of course, and that fact is part of what my book is about, but Emmie is a big time liar.* She'll tell you this is because of her mother, who was / is a flighty narcissist who rarely paid any attention to her until Emmie got used to saying anything she could in order to get Mom's attention. And then again, she'll tell you this is because of her father, who was a liar himself, and good at it. And then again, she'll tell you this is because lying is part of a person's right to privacy. And then again, she'll tell you this is because she likes people to be happy, and isn't it better to go through life thinking that vegan pumpkin cheesecake you baked for the party was delicious?

But the real reason Emmie lies is that she's desperate for human connection. And desperate to find one person, in all the crazy people she knows, who will like her for something other than what they can get out of her.

She somehow hasn't figured out yet that lying and telling people exactly what they want to hear all the time is not the way to attract the kind of friend who's going to like you for something other than what they can get out of you.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Conflict comes when Emmie decides to try to grow up and get honest. Being honest when you've lied all your life is very difficult. Trying to remember not to reflexively lie. Trying not to hurt people with the truth. Trying to navigate between the lies you decide to tell and the lies you hope to bury. But things can get dangerous when one of those people you've lied to for years in order to gain friendship, someone who has always wanted more out of you than you wanted to give, holds a grudge - and knows all the secrets you're not ready to tell.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Of course, I got ahead of myself and already answered this one, but let's see. Other personal goals. To get a job so she can move out of crazy Lizabeth's crazy house, which she moved into when she returned to Portland after that bad thing she doesn't like to talk about. To reconcile with her dad. To master the fight scene (including being dragged off stage kicking and screaming) that she somehow has to be able to perform since she let Fuller talk her into being a super (which is to say, an extra) for the opera.

What is the title of this novel, and can we read more about it?

I have no title yet, and there's no place to read more about it. It's a novel in progress, so I don't know much more than what's going to happen next.

When can we expect the book to be published? [Or: When was the book published?]

I'd say I knew, but I'd be lying.

*

Now to tag two writers who will pick up the blog hop where I left off. In one week, they will answer these same questions on their own blogs.

Estela Bernal's debut novel for middle readers has just been published by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press, which is the oldest publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by Hispanic American authors, and part of the University of Houston. I recently designed the cover for Can You See Me Now. Kirkus had this to say about it: "Bernal has succeeded in crafting a story that acknowledges tragedy without wallowing in it, placing her emphasis on resilience and personal growth. The quick pace and distinctive characters make for a smooth, well-crafted read. Middle-grade readers should respond to this tender story of learning to connect with others through open eyes and an open heart."

I wrote about the process of designing that cover here. You can learn more about Estela here.

Holly Goodman has written more different kinds of things than anyone I know. She's been a reporter and a blogger, has written fiction and personal essays. Even a number of fantastic how-to books, including a book on home plumbing that is not only informative but also quite fascinating. I mean it. Her amazing, recently-gone-viral essay on poverty, struggle and beauty is up on Nailed Magazine here. She's also writing a beautiful novel and I asked her to write about it for blog hop.

Holly's blog is here.

OK, I lied. I have three people to tag. But my third, Adam Strong, jumped in ahead of me and did his blog hop yesterday. Adam is a school teacher and father of two young daughters. I have no idea now he finds the time to work on his great novel-in-progress Bella Vista. Adam and I study together in Portland's Dangerous Writers fiction workshop. We have a phrase in Dangerous Writing: to burn the language or burnt tongue. This is when you mess with language to come up with something particular, a voice that will set your writing, and your narrator, apart. It has been said about Adam that his tongue is so burnt, it's ashes.

Adam's blog - and his blog hop post about Bella Vista, is here.


*Even though Emmie is, I'm sure Lizabeth Scott is not a liar.