Sunday, August 3, 2014

true love scars


Recently, I was given a sneak preview of a book that's out this month by music writer Michael Goldberg (who was a senior writer at Rolling Stone among other things). It's Goldberg's first novel, and I've been excited to check it out. Years ago, he spent time in Tom Spanbauer's basement, workshopping this very book, and I've missed his runaway freight train of a voice and the story I got to know so well, but which I never got to hear the end of, since Michael moved out of state and out of the Dangerous Writers workshop before finishing the book.



As it turns out, I still have yet to get to the end of the story, because that breakneck freight train has turned into a trilogy. True Love Scars is book one in the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy, a story about Michael Stein, a 19 year old "freakster bro" at the brink of the seventies, doing drugs, obsessing over music and pining for his "Visions of Johanna Chick" - Visions of Johanna after the Dylan song. Dylan is God to Michael Stein, a god almost as important as the narrator's quest for what he calls the "authentic real" - or his quest for the perfect woman:

Ahab got the whale, which is a huge symbol for some unreachable mammoth goal we yearn for, and Columbus gotta prove the world ain’t flat, which is mammoth too, and he runs right into America, and if that ain’t mammoth, nothing is. And Gatsby got Daisy, who’s pretty much the same deal as the whale and America. No disrespect to Daisy, but she’s a symbol too. Well daunting as any of those three might be are my trials regards my Visions of Johanna. I needed a chick bad that fall day. And I’m not talking about getting laid. This was way deeper. I was searching for the key to the rest of my life. If only I could find my Visions of Johanna chick, she’d do for me what Sweet Sarah once did, mirror back to me who I am, and once again I would stand tall. Once again I would be the last freakster bro standing, guns a-blaze.

This is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, folks, which normally you probably wouldn't think would be my thing, but Goldberg's book is full of a voice that is so breathless and particular and, what attracts me the most, innocent. There is such a sweetness in the narrator, such youthful naive charm under all the F-bombs. (There are lots of F-bombs. Sometimes when he read pages in the Dangerous Writing basement, we'd count the F-bombs.) Michael Stein knows everything there is to know about music and the music scene. He's a walking encyclopedia of rock 'n' roll. But there's so much that he doesn't know. And it's in what Michael Stein doesn't know that the story finds its heartbreaking charm - and, of course, its danger.

I didn't know the hellfuck of what the next years would bring. You can’t know. If you did it would be too much to bear. There’s this Chet Baker album called Let’s Get Lost. Well that year, the year that began that day I met Lord Jim, we were all looking for a way out. Me and Lord Jim, and the others. You’ll meet them. None of us ready to feel. The drugs and booze and cigarettes and coffee and music and sex—all the ways we didn't feel. Well there were times when the future leaked out. When we had to feel something. Mostly it was let’s get lost. We tried so hard. To feel nothing.

True Love Scars is a crazy ride. And a thoroughly dead-on look at what it was like to be young and yearning and out of control and freakster hip in the late sixties and early seventies. You can check it out here.

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.

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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.


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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.


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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.