Tag Archives: Flash

Glow Flash Today: Ron Currie Jr.

The Captain by Ron Currie Jr. is an odd one, both large and small, compressed and expanding, as is the way with some flash.

The Captain, dressed in starched khaki shirt and pants, descends the stairs for his breakfast at 7:31 AM.

…it begins, and, for me, this set a light tone. I thought the text was going for farcical, almost Captain as Quixotic…I had this ridiculous vision of a man dressing up specifically for this ritual of breakfast.

(not so unlike some writers who work from home, yet still don a suit in the morning before sitting at their desks)

But then the tone shifts.

And the idea of ritual takes on a new meaning.

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Maria, his housekeeper, sets a plate of scrambled eggs and extra-crispy bacon at the head of the table. She pours his coffee. She says, Good morning, Captain. He nods, wishes her good morning. She wants to call him Admiral—that was, after all, the rank he was given upon his retirement—but she knows this would anger him. The Captain considers himself a Captain still.

The Captain is, as he sits eating his eggs, the only man in the United States Navy to ever have been court-martialed for losing his ship during wartime. His back is straight, shoulders squared. He is seventy years old.

Here, two things happen:

First, this isn’t a farce, unless we’re going assume cruelty by author, and we are not.  (To quote Currie Jr: With ‘The Captain’ I was aware, too, that I was dealing with real people, and I think that made me approach the thing more carefully.”) This is clearly based on an actual person now, Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III, the only commanding officer of a warship in the history of the U.S. Navy given a court-martial for negligence during wartime. Captain McVay–for those who care, and really you should care if you care about literature, or life–was, in my opinion (and many others), wrongly blamed after the sinking of his ship, the USS Indianapolis CA-35 (of the crew of 1,196 men, 879 men died–the worst disaster at sea during the entire war for the US Navy). But the ship was on a secret mission, so no rescue came until too late, no destroyers escorted it, McVay wasn’t given critical information, etc., etc and so on.

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I could go on, but let’s make one thing clear: as a persona to base a flash on, this one has power and potential. Captain McVay is a cursed, almost mythological character.

I myself write a lot of Persona flash. It’s important who you pick–not every persona brings weight. This one does. Some writers sabotage their own persona flash immediately when they choose the historical figure (though I’d also argue ANY persona COULD be effective, with right technique).

Other writers never take the persona seriously. Currie does. He knows he’s dealing with something larger here, as in history. Even better, it’s a complicated and controversial history.

I guess I’m saying I read a great deal of persona poetry and flash. I think it definitely works best when the persona is conflicted. Really, a persona is not about the exterior events of whomever; it is about the internal reaction to the events. That’s really what is interesting, again, the literary aspects.

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Second, in the excerpt above, the techniques that will drive the flash are established. A distant, yet informative narrator, who gets in/gets out with information and then allows the flash to unspool.

Maria and The Captain drive the structure of the flash and contain it. They are two satellites that spin about each other, in orbit and in their rotations, energy pushing off one another. They are in a dance (I’ll mix metaphors if I like; it’s my blog), yet it’s a trance-like dance, again, a routine, but each person is a step away from breaking the practiced steps, you can feel it, with Maria’s constant tension, The Captain’s daily awareness of his burden. Both characters busy themselves–Maria scrubbing pots, the Captain planting shrubs–while their interiors roil. They make small, ordinary movements, and then the narrator gooses the accelerator by dropping in brief, precise exposition:

The Captain’s home is two hundred miles from the nearest ocean.

Years ago, before it was sunk, the Captain’s ship delivered the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima.

(Now you know why the mission was secret.)

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It builds. It weaves–Maria, Captain, narrator–and builds. Rising action. This weaving is done well by the author, a light touch, no info-dump or front-loading or characters over-talking or any other clumsy technique. Here, it’s quick and effective. Unobtrusive.

I can’t tell you how many writers struggle with weaving in information into flash. It’s one glaring fail I see repeatedly in the genre. So I commend this author for showing how it’s done.

And the narrator stays out of the way. It provides what you need, but little more, no indulgence, no tricks (as Carver might put it). We are given the objectivity to watch it all unfold, and also this removed tone heightens tension. Counter-intuitively, in fiction a removal of narrator often works best with the most dramatic material (see Hemingway’s early war writings, etc.)

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And then the ending turns, as we conclude on the man who sank the Captain’s ship, a food scene to structurally circle the opening, but then sleep not pacing, his doppelganger yet antithesis, tranquility to his anxiety, two men the same and very clearly a world apart…

It’s a technically compact flash and it carries theme. It’s not clinical in its tight form–it is actually human, and what appeared as farce turned on us, and becomes something more.

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The final technique I’d like to note is ambiguity. Near the ending, the narrative eye finds The Captain upstairs in his room with his service revolver. Downstairs, Maria cuts her self with a paring knife and screams!

There’s a moment.

Why did she scream?

So, we are downstairs with Maria when it happens. We are not even present in the scene. It’s pretty brilliant that way. We are over here, while the crux of everything is over there. We don’t even get the sound of the act–we get the scream…

Yet we know exactly

what happened.

Interview Jamie Iredell Prose. Poems. A Novel.


1.) Many of these texts seem to explore nostalgia, a time-before, an Idyll in a way, but with a voice from the present, gazing back…Can you discuss the importance of the past in your work?

Nostalgia’s probably the emotion I associate with closest when it comes to narrative. Also, it’s no secret that this book is autobiographical. I changed a lot of details, put things together that in reality were very disparate, and made up stories entirely, so I think it’s still “fiction”. But the narrator here (let’s use a cliché and say he’s not “me,” but someone I know very well) is certainly retrospective, looking back, and kind of killing this old him that used to be. Even in other stories I’ve written that aren’t in any way autobiographical I have a fascination with the ways people change over time and how they look back on the people they used to be. There’s something both exalting and sad about it. The struggle is keeping it from being sentimental.

2.) I have a friend named Dan. He saw your book on my kitchen table and said he knew you, said one time you bumped a rail of cocaine at a bowling alley, out in the open, like atop those shelves where you pick out your bowling ball. He said that was a few years ago out west.

Is this true?

I used to know this guy that we called Dan-the-Man. I can’t remember his real last name, but this guy could hook up all kinds of drugs. His apartment was like an illegal pharmacy. In all ways it was like any person’s apartment, except that Dan-the-Man’s apartment came with a coffee table adorned with coke-encrusted mirrors. Once me, Fredo, and Dan-the-Man all jammed a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms down our throats at Dan-the-Man’s apartment. All night, Fredo kept calling the mushrooms “munchies”, and he wouldn’t stop eating them, until he curled in the bathtub laughing at the ceiling and calling down the hall for us to bring him more “munchies.” It was that kind of place. I might’ve snorted some lines with Dan-the-Man—or someone else named Dan—at the Starlight, which was where we sometimes went bowling. I don’t bowl. I suck at it, so for me it’s not much fun. But there’s beer involved at least, and the bar at the Starlight has a ceiling that looks like an enormous purple Ruffles potato chip. Once I snorted lines off the top of the bar at the Highlander in plain view of anyone who gave a damn. Eventually, Dan-the-Man got his girlfriend pregnant. Last I heard he was driving a truck, his belly flopping over his belt, as he helped his father erect townhomes in Fernley, Nevada. Dan-the-Man’s girlfriend stayed at home with the kid, and sometimes she and Dan-the-Man would fight. Also, sometimes they wouldn’t fight. They are exactly like everyone else.

And, follow up, is bowling a sport?

If bowling’s a sport, then so is snorting cocaine. Bowling requires dexterity, like crushing up a tough rock on a CD case without shooting chunks off into the carpet of your pick-up’s floorboards. It also asks precision of the bowler, and care. If you don’t want to go to jail, you have to know how to get your coke and how to do it. Especially when you’re out at bars, and snorting in a truck in an alleyway, or in the parking lot of Wal-mart. Once, my buddy Bob bought a ball of coke and did the entire thing by himself, locked up in this dank apartment that smelled like sweaty underwear, and that had an antelope head posted up on a wall, an antelope Bob had gunned down and that I named “Merle”. Bob still says, “If you didn’t kill it, then you can’t name it.” I saw Bob for a minute that night, and his eyes looked like tiny bowling balls about to rocket out of their sockets. A professional bowler has amazingly long tournaments. Bob looks just like these professionals, except maybe fifty pounds heavier. At my wedding, Bob’s T-shirt read, “I make my own gas.”

3.) I am sick of people who intimate that flash fiction is blooming now “because we all have short attention spans,” blah, blah. How would you answer those who claim this?

Flash fiction asks much more of a reader’s attention than, say, War and Peace. Everything’s so tightly controlled in flash that, as a reader, if you miss the tiniest detail, the whole story could be lost. In War and Peace, for example, you might forget about the scene—early in the novel—where Pierre is drunk and ties a bear to a sentry and somehow wrangles them into the Neva River. Forgetting that scene over the next thousand pages isn’t going to completely destroy your experience of the novel. There’s an obvious problem in my comparison, in that flash fiction is not a novel, but to say that lack of attention span is the reason there’s more flash today is naïve. For one, I’m not sure there’s more flash than in previous eras. Folk tales don’t bog the listener down with character or narrative development in the same ways that long-length fiction can; Jesus’ parables had a punch-and-run effect; some of Ovid works like very short fiction; and Aesop’s Fables are certainly precursors to modern flash; some of the tales of The Decameron, it goes on and on. If anything, flash fiction is closer to poetry than fiction, and so it’s language condensed, broken down to what really matters.

I suppose some people might like to say that flash occurs in online literary magazines because the medium more aptly appropriates the form, or that flash is derivative of the fragmented world we live in, or some other postmodern evaluation of Earth—or Western culture. But I don’t necessarily see that this hasn’t always been with us, while at the same time epics were recited, and novels and lyric poems were written. Maybe to some readers flash is like a music video, a short film, or a commercial, but these forms are explicit unto themselves as video art in the first two examples, and kitsch in the latter. Flash deals with language as its subject matter (also, sometimes narrative) and because of that it’s literary art, not schlock.

4.) Here I go teaching a lesson or two on titles to my students, and then you go NO TITLES. Explain.

When I wrote these things—the initial drafts—they came out mostly title-less. But, when I published them in magazines I gave them titles, and had fun thinking of good ones. With many of the individual pieces I used titles that were part of the first clause of the story. The pieces from which the titles of the sections came start with “When I moved to Nevada,” or “When I moved to Atlanta,” etc. The title seemed apt, in that it highlighted the action of the story, and ran right along as part of the first clause. I also had titles that were a glimpse into the story, like “Praying in the Snow,” which you mention in a question below. My students also go forgetting titles on stories and essays, and I teach the importance of them, but when I collected all these little stories into the overall story that makes up this book, I realized that from story to story, as they move along, they’re telling one story about this guy who’s a fuck-up who fucks up until he stops fucking up. The individual titles broke up the continuity. So the titles had to go.

5.) The beverage Zima appears in your writing. Zima is generally known as the lamest drink on the planet. Can you explain the importance and/or role of Zima in your writing? More seriously, the role of alcohol? Device, or something else?


Zima is indeed the world’s worst drink. Ever. Zima shows up in a story when the narrator is a teenager. Teenagers don’t know what the fuck they’re doing when they drink. They’ll drink shit like Zima, Boone’s Farm wine, Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Anyway, Zima, in that particular story, shows that this guy’s an idiot, the same kind of idiot we all were when we were sixteen.

As I said, this book is autobiographical, and my friends in Reno and I were like that Alice in Chains song, “Junkhead.” Our drug of choice was whatever you had. Alcohol was more readily available and cheap in a place like Reno, Nevada than any other drug (casinos, twenty-four hour gambling and drinking). But, to say it’s in these stories because that’s the way it really was isn’t an explanation. It contributes to character and story development. Also, lots of flash seems to deal with the absurd and surreal, and alcohol and drugs certainly fuel that—at least in this book.

6.) Can you discuss PLACE? You seem to continually juxtapose the natural world with us humans (part of the natural world, but so not). Can you discuss this?

Like nostalgia, place is prominent in my writing probably because when I started loving literature it was because I read Of Mice and Men. I’m from the Monterey Bay Area, and when I was a kid and read Steinbeck’s novella, it was the first time I could relate directly to a writer. Before that they all lived in England and wrote about Narnia. I knew the Salinas River—practically the exact spot Steinbeck describes in the opening to Of Mice and Men. Since then I’ve been interested place—especially the natural (nonhuman) world—and how humans interact with it. Maybe this is symptomatic of growing up on the west coast. There’s a lot of “place” out there. When you stand at the top of Castle Peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you can see. That’s harder to achieve on the east coast. There are too many trees, the “mountains” are actually hills, and suburbs filled with assholes waiting to give you high fives wind through the landscape. But, the top of Castle Peak is desolate and dangerous. The first snow in the Sierra Nevadas usually falls sometime around Halloween. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next it’s dumping powder, and fast. It’s easy to get snowed in, like the Donner Party did. My grandfather used to tell me stories about the Donner Party, so that’s also an example of the tie between place and human that’s not as pretty as a river winding through a valley.

7.) Will you trace the path to publication (as a collection) for these works?


I first started by sending the individual pieces from this book to many of the traditional print literary magazines. From many I received form rejections, and some editors sent back notes, saying that they liked what they read, but it wasn’t quite right for them. I figured beforehand that that might be the case (because of the flash form), but why not try. I thought places that might be more receptive to the form would be online literary journals, and print journals that weren’t associated with colleges and universities, or at least seemed to feature more innovative writing, or that specifically looked for flash fiction/prose poetry. The first acceptance of these pieces was at NANO Fiction. Then other places started taking pieces, too: 3:AM, elimae, Hotel St. George, Mud Luscious, Wigleaf, Keyhole, Oranges and Sardines, PANK, etc. When Carl Annarummo, editor of The Corduroy Mtn. and Greying Ghost Press, accepted some pieces he asked if I had enough to put together a chapbook. I told him that I did, and then scrambled and put a chapbook together. I did have enough of the short pieces, but hadn’t really organized them in any way. So I worked on the chap that became When I Moved to Nevada for a while before I sent it to Carl. A while later he accepted it.

I put the short pieces of WIMTN as a section into a book along with lined poems, this thing that at the time I called “The Donner Party Picnic Area.” Some writer friends who read that book all said that the section stuck out by itself, and—while it felt linked to the other poems thematically—it was distinct in form and content and deserved its own book. I knew I could go on telling stories like the little ones that appeared in that book, so I continued writing them. Altogether, I probably wrote 150 pages of these short stories/flash fictions/prose poems. Then I started culling them, pulling the best out, and forming them—along with WIMTN—into this book. I continued sending the individual pieces out, and also divided the other sections into chapbooks.

I sent the book as a whole off to Barry Graham at Paper Hero Press, around the time that he was finishing up with Sam Pink’s book. Barry offered to publish the last section as the chapbook Atlanta. At that point, I figured why not publish each section as chapbooks before publishing the book as a whole. So I sent the first section to Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius. I’m really grateful to those editors (Carl, Barry, and Adam) for publishing the chaps. They all knew I had a book as a whole, and that I published the other sections, but they all said that they loved the writing, and that it deserved to be published. They made me feel really good about what I was doing.

While all of that was going on, I was revising, restructuring, toning up the book as a whole, and I sent it out everywhere I possibly could. I wanted to send it to Hotel St. George Press, but this was right when the economy took a shit, and they didn’t have any money. I asked Adam Robinson if Publishing Genius would be interested in the book-length manuscript and he said it was possible, but it probably wouldn’t be until 2010 or 11, as he only published so many books per year and already had his plate full. Call me impatient, then. I also sent the book to Starcherone Books, Spuyten Duyvil, Etruscan Press, Blue Road Press, Pecan Grove Press, Keyhole, and there’s probably a few places I’m missing. Meantime, Jason Behrends at Orange Alert Press had reviewed Atlanta and also mentioned some of the individual pieces on his blog, so I emailed him, asking if he’d be interested in seeing the full-length manuscript. After I sent it to him, he got back to me in about two months, which was the quickest anyone had yet. He accepted the book. I held off, though, because I wanted to see how it would do with the other presses. I told everyone that I had an interested press, but that I hadn’t yet signed a contract. Everyone was really great about that. I just wanted to go with the best thing I could possibly get, and there were a number of factors I wanted to consider. Orange Alert offered to have the book published by the following autumn, which was fast, and attractive. Also, since I design books for C&R Press, I knew how I wanted this book to look. And if I could design the book myself, I knew I would be happy. Orange Alert also said they could accommodate me there. So, that’s who I ended up with, and the editors of the other presses were understanding and generous with my wants in this regard. They didn’t make me feel like a dick, in other words. Almost all of these editors said something to the effect of, “we know it’s a tough business out there, so if you’ve got a press that already knows they want to publish it, go for it. No hard feelings.” It wasn’t like they all wanted to publish it or something—most of them were still considering it, and hadn’t made a decision—I just didn’t want to waste their time, with their readers reading it, and all.

All that said, while the chapbooks came and so too the book, it wasn’t like I didn’t get rejected, or that it wasn’t hard. I did a lot of footwork to see who I thought would receive the book best, and I think that cut out a lot of unnecessary postage. What I mean by footwork is that I looked up presses’ website, ordered their books, read those books, and evaluated. In the end, when it comes to the initial drafting and final publication of the book, in total it was about two years’ time.

8.) The first time your writing snarled off the page for me was one Tuesday I was leafing through an issue of NANO Fiction. You had this flash (on page 72 of this book) and it opens with a reference to Halloween. So the reader has a tone and mood and subject anticipation. Then the flash ends up having an absolutely different tone than expected. It’s homage (again nostalgic) to the almost kissed, the what-could-have-been, the stirring smoke of regret, etc. It’s a touching, beautiful work, and a reversal, is my point.

That’s a long way of asking, Are turns and reversals a thing you look for/enjoy in your writing, or maybe they surprise you?

Thank you. The guy who suggested the title for the book (Mike Dockins, a poet) really loves that one, too, and I think it’s his favorite. It means a lot to me when you and him—two people with writing and critical approaches to literature that I admire—say that about something I wrote. When drafting the parts of this book, I didn’t think about things like reversals, and probably few people do. I did a lot of writing without thinking, a technique that’s working more and more for me. I talked to Dean Young about this a lot when he came to Atlanta once. It’s not automatic writing like Kerouac wrote about. I write without thinking to see what comes out, but in revision and rewriting the actual story or whatever shapes itself. When I wrote this book, I would start off with whatever character/situation/place, etc., came to me without really thinking about it, then I shot the details out. Since I was dealing with nostalgia, narrative came along with the territory. I was thinking about what things were like then from the perspective of the here and now (which is now then). So there’s automatically a sense of time-passed. When I would get to the end of the shorts, I wanted to get some turn of phrase—or image, detail—something that made the prose click closed, like a box, a la Yeats’ idea of how a poem works. I suppose that reversals are built into us, as products of western civilization? Some would likely disagree with that, that Aristotle has wound his way into our collective consciousness so indelibly. Perhaps in revision I saw things that I could turn for surprise. I do love irony. Not all reversals are ironic, though. I don’t fucking know.

9.) The title of this book seems to want make cake and eat it too. Can you expound on the title?

The title’s a bit of a joke, or a challenge. One of the pieces in the book is about rattlesnakes, with the word/image “rattlesnake” repeating throughout it. That thing was titled “Rattlesnakes: An Essay: On Rattlesnakes” when it was published in a magazine. The book’s title, like this rattlesnake title, makes fun of genre, and titling conventions. I had about four or five different titles for this book, including “They Called Me Larry,” “Feel the Inside of the Back of My Skull with Your Fist,” “Looking Back, it’s Only Now that I See What Kind of Idiot I’ve Become.” When none of these satisfied, I said, I’m just going to call it “Prose.” A friend—Mike Dockins, the same guy who suggested the rattlesnake title—said, “yes, ‘Prose,’ colon, ‘Poems.’” I laughed, and he went on, “colon, ‘a Novel.’” We were drinking. You can see what kind of dorks we are. I didn’t consider the title seriously for some time. After a while though, it worked on me. It’s a dork’s-tongue-in-his dork’s-cheek done in a dorky way. It is just like making the cake and eating it. The title is about what the fuck it is that you’re reading, which is a book of poems, written in prose, that, when collected, make up something that is at least novel-like.

10.) Does a writer write best when deeply in love?

Yes. Not necessarily romantic love. Maybe just in love with life, or the world. That’s sentimental. Maybe it is more like romantic love. Sometimes you really hate your lover, or you want to do something to hurt your lover, because you love them so much. It helps to feel this way about writing. Really love it, but also hate doing it, want to hurt it, hate it.

Harvey Pekar VIPS on Very Short Fiction, all Dat.

Laura Ellen Scott asked me if I would write something about flash fiction for her VIPS on Very Short Fiction blog. I really dig this site, and the authors she has throwing down about my favorite genre. Flash is coming up now, rising up now, a big-ass CEO of women in bikinis. Etc. Don’t miss this genre. Don’t miss it. Flash fiction is like oxygen bars–people thought it was flaky, but look now!

I said yes to Laura; I said I would write a brief essay. Then I ate dinner with Harvey Pekar. Then I blended the experience into a fiction/nonfiction thing about flash fiction. That’s how I work lately. Take fragments like a FOUND artist and cobble them, hang something all oyster, create anew.

Here is how it begins:

Last night I ate dinner with Harvey Pekar, the famous curmudgeon, underground comic author, the movie star.

I was a little nervous. I don’t know celebrities. My stomach did the runover snake, the chips of flint sparking or maybe Pringles (the crumblets). On the way over I drove my Subaru and drank a tall, cold can of Budweiser. It was about an hour after sundown. The moon was a Canadian quarter. I thought, “This Budweiser will make me talk OK with Harvey Pekar.”

You can read all of the thingy here.

Here is the actual note Harvey wrote for me.

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I’ll tell you one thing, this guy is smart and great to talk with. Obviously, he is also kind. He didn’t have to write me a note and come find me and deliver it to my office. Cool guy. I don’t even know that much about his comics (the movie kicked ass), but I’m going to pick up a few and give it a try. Great dude in my book.

S


wigleaf Spencer Dew all Elvis all Billy Mays all Time to Submit Words

I just ran 15.5 miles. I actually feel pretty good but have a case of the yawns. I sweated like a knife tucked into a bra.

The long run is so essential to the marathon, physically and physiologically. Your body’s glycogen (fuel from your muscles, obtained from food) stores can actually be increased by gradually elevating mileage. Then your body starts learning how to burn fat. Next, your heart’s stroke volume increases; your heart muscle gets stronger. This is important. The heart is a pump delivering good stuff to the muscles in the blood, then shuttling away bad stuff as the muscles undergo stress.

My resting pulse is around 40, basically bradycardia, not unusual for a distance runner. (This is why every time I go to the doctor, they take my vital signs, pause and think a moment, and then go, “Are you a runner?” And I say, yep. And they answer, “OK. Good.”

The heart doesn’t work harder or faster; it works better. (Now if I would care for the rest of my body a bit more…)

Not to mention the long run is mental. I said mental. Mental. Mental I said. Did I say something? Mental. What was that?

run

*

Was Billy Mays actually Elvis? Valium, hyrocodone, oxycodone, Xanax, tramadol, and just a smidgen of cocaine…OK. Many of these were prescribed, but, as your friendly RN, can I say that taking them all together with a G & T (he also had alcohol in his system) might be a little problem. It is interesting that the cocaine made the headlines, as opposed to the others. I guess cocaine is one of the last drugs that has any chance of freaking people out. It seems a rich topic for writing, American’s JUST SAY NO vs the amazing proclivity for “legal” drugs taken daily, to, uh, make it through the day (for example, I am on caffeine right now and it’s 8 in the morning).

Here is an Elvis flash for you. I write Elvis flashes, as many of you may know (right):

It was snowing the night they say I lost my mind, and I never shot no damn TV. It was too much Budweiser on top of codeine on top of Valium on top of methaqualone and an argument with Sonny West about him cheating in racquetball that afternoon. Really it was just about me losing to a man so grossly out of shape, about self-image. I just looked in the mirror and something snapped. I tore the mirror from the wall and jumped on the bed until the bottom fell out and opened my big window and hurled all of this and one hell of a hi-fi set into the frozen swimming pool below (we never did get the cover on that year). Then I tossed a big blue lamp—some kind of glass sculpture thing—followed by a silver serving tray and a chair made to look like a leopard standing on its hind legs (given to me by Zambia’s Tourism Minister, Frederick Mwanawasa). It was all fine until I found my revolver. They’d removed the bullets (wrapped them in duct tape and hidden them in the downstairs freezer I found out later). I ranted and raved—“Where’s my ammo!” They held me down, until I passed out. The next afternoon, after I woke up on my bedroom carpet, I gave them all hell, my voice thick as cough syrup.

“Where’d my life go?” I demanded.

“In the swimming pool,” Sonny said, the rest of them nodding along.

“Oh.” I thought a moment. “Well, go get it.”

—-

back

Subaru trunk, April 2009

*

Almost submissions season, people (autumn). Get your stuff tight and your envelopes Lolly and your email all 72.3 degrees. I suggest you revise THEN send, not the other way.

A few contests you might wanna slay soon. I am biased to Flash Fiction so will show that bias here:

Second Annual Donald Barthelme Prize for Short Prose.

Newport Review Fourth Annual Flash Fiction Contest.

The Wilda Hearne Flash Fiction Contest.

*

Moving on.

Like many of us, I remember Sept 11 2001 clearly, and not. I was awoken by a phone call, this right after the second jet, etc. I called my dad (a federal employee, to ensure he wasn’t going into work. He was not.). I did go into work, at a local organic/health food store. I had two bosses, a couple formerly married who now still ran the business together. There was a grainy TV set in the office with all the horror and misinformation and general dread of the day.

Boss One (up in my face, very intense): “See? See? This is what happens when all these people get on the internet!!”

(This was an odd thing to say, but this was a very, very odd and anxious day. Though I didn’t agree with this general idea, I certainly understood the urge to just yell out things.)

Boss Two was concerned about the tiny American flags we had stuck into the flower pots outside. We were the only location in the entire city for anyone Middle Eastern (or any other foreigners in this Alabama locale) to purchase anything near to the food items necessary for an authentic meal. Would the flags somehow keep them from shopping? Would they be hesitant to enter the store? Again, an odd argument (the flags stayed; and the customers arrived as usual), but not so unusual on a day like that one.

I remember three other things, one ugly, one just weird, the other sad.

Ugly: A woman shopping in the store that afternoon approached the cashiers. She was clearly angry. She pointed at my nose and shouted out, “Is that terrorist music?!”

Like many organic food stores, we also sold “New Age” books and art and items from many countries and so on and we had literally thousands of CD’s from across the world we played on the speakers. These were popular with customers, from Zydeco to Moroccan flute, etc. These were not “terrorists music” as far as we knew, whatever that is.  The music the woman was yelling about was from Japan. The lamest part is that our boss switched out the CD.

Weird: You could look at our floor-to-ceiling windows and see the gas station across the street. Cars snaked out of the lot and down the street. Honking, engines roaring. People stood outside their cars with jugs and gas cans. This frightened me, the visual. I remember my heart kicking up; I remember saying, “Why are people buying gas? Why is that the response?”

Sad: The clearest thought I recollect is this; “We are now going to enter into perpetual war.” That thought settling on me in a low, cold cloud. That’s all I could think. And, well, here we are.

We should read Spencer Dew’s “Some Themes of the Second Bush Administration.”

It is in wigleaf’s Top 50, first pubbed in Pindeldyboz, and is an example of fiction bringing truth. I found it captivating. I found it made me think of the long day I describe above. So then I had to revisit some of my feelings. I found myself reading Dew’s piece more than once.

I haven’t seen so too many solid short fictions from that time. (There are several book-length works, DeLillo to Updike to JS Froer. And M. Amis did write the one controversial short story from the POV of an actual hijacker [a hell of a story, period]). From that day and all its residue (still with us). I like Dew’s approach. As a writer, he dives in from a slant. He turns the stone in the light. He tosses the stone in the air (it falls back and strikes us in the head). He hops about, close to, afar from the sting–he juxtaposes while mourning. He shows us something,while the something is sliding into, sliding away…Obviously, his milieu here is memory, its kin, trauma.

I said I can remember 9/11/2001, and can not. What? But pieces are missing from that day. My mind did something, maybe shut down? I couldn’t tell you one fact past noon, several hours after the actual event. It’s like a lost echo. A dream where you wake and grasp at curling wisps in the air, crackles…

My thoughts on Spencer Dew’s fine fiction went like this:

I first saw this title and thought, “Oh boy, here we go.” Heavy-handed. Didactic. I was, as is often, wrong. The title is one of three disruptions of our expectations, all colliding in the opening:

1.) Essay-like title [with an expectation of some persuasive argument against easy target Mr. Bush].

2.) A brief anecdote about a news item concerning a Cleveland man wedging his car into the side of a mosque, the man found sobbing and babbling into a phone. (actual news story here)

3.) A note on how the narrator’s girlfriend, Kathryn, “at the time” was translating Sanskrit, specifically the tale of a demon masquerading itself to kill a god by placing sharp teeth around its vagina and seducing the god into having sex. (actual myth here)

A lot of information here, in different forms, data, symbol, thought; mythology with journalistic accounts, rhetoric with character (Kathryn will act as thread to hold this fiction together, and spin it apart). It is an effective and fair beginning to this text. This is that day, that time, the one you dis-remember even now. Can’t quite grasp. Can’t understand, not really. But–in one way or another, you were present.

How did you/I/we respond? Not respond (a response itself)?

The characters seek oblivion: “What I wanted was to drive my car into something solid, a hate crime against myself. I wanted to feel that final smash and puncture, then a clammy blackness, an end. What my girlfriend wanted – she said as much, after she read the thing aloud, her translated passage, straddling me, freshly shaven – was for me to do her that way. If I could make her blackout, that was a plus, she said, just no marks that people could see when she was wearing clothes.”

Then…”October came…”

We move on, don’t we? Uh, no. Nothing moves on, ever. Remember how “Everything is going to change.” Uh, no. Remember how we were told we would no longer hold celebrity and commerce as our own seductive gods, how suddenly the new religion of “reality shows” would fade, shows about reality shows would fade, shows about shows about reality shows would…oh man (of course, we ended up gorging ourselves on more of them, and still do). We were going to be serious America now. Right?

So, October came.

Let me give you the following text as a poem, jump-cuts. Let things accumulate. Let things join and split apart.

chap stick, apple festival, flags

excess of hugging

home gyms, kitchen gadgets, so drunk or stoned

dining

clubbing

coffee drinks, centipedes

On and on. Dew captures it, doesn’t he? He’s grabbing those little wisps of smoke in the air and he’s tying them in knots (for an instant) and they are strumming and licking and he’s weaving them and he’s got his fingers all caught up together and he’s tangled and who-has-who now? And he’s trying for the impossible: memory. Memory. What does it mean?

“Kathryn and I had centipedes at the place we were living, which was her family’s place, massive and nice enough, with views of things that we thought might get blown up next, depending. We had antique furniture, Egyptian cotton sheets, seven shower heads, and centipedes scuttling across the walls or crouched up along the tuck-pointing. We’d see their shadows scurry across the floor. Twice I found them on our bed, running across a pillow, dashing under the sheets.”

Sometimes I write too much of metaphor. I am not going to write too much of metaphor here. I want you to sit with the above passage. I want you to get out a blank sheet of paper and make a note of ever centipede you felt and have felt and will feel about that day.

Time is a lost thing in these words, a skittering gasp.

Before the attacks…

We never visited campus anymore…

She called last week…

There is so much here. I don’t want to discuss it all; I want you to read it all. I think a good fiction is equal to, or maybe more, than a good essay (and maybe the title is coy here, in a smart way). A good fiction, in an infinite variety of methods, styles, ways, brings a feeling, yes, but then an argument and inquiry to the page, an in-depth look at something not fully known. It shakes me, this text, because it makes me think. I still don’t know the answers of that day, but I know more answers. And I don’t mean facts. Oh, facts. I mean fiction, as in human, as in it did happen; as in true.

S




Self Improvement Week, Day Two: EXERCISE

Wake up, people! We will burn calories like pitchforks and pigeons today!

Off to the park. More details later.

*

I woke up and ran to the geographical center of my county. Once I got there I didn’t know how to feel. What are you supposed to feel at the geographic center of a county.

I ran down this long perfectly paved trail. It is called a Greenway. This used to be a railroad track. If I were running right here just a few years ago I would have been flattened by a train about right now. I can feel people and chickens and giant blocks of ice like ghosts through my body.

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It has very impressive mile/half mile markers carved into stone. Here is mile 105.5. I keep thinking about the day some rock company was approached by our local government and asked if they could supply several hundred boulders at super high government prices.

Government dude, arms outstretched: “We need some boulders about ye big.”

Boulder Salesman guy: “How many?”

“Several hundred boulders. There is no need to haggle. This is on the tax payer’s dime. Any boulders left over I will take home and put in front of my mailbox for landscaping effect and curb appeal, like that. If you do cut me a deal, though, I will back a truck up to your house full of extra mailboxes we have leftover from the Kirby Project and they are your, shhhhh, tell no one. Do you deer hunt? I do. Deer are awesome.”

Boulder Salesman: (Inside his head: FUCK!): “Um, OK. Let’s go inside and have you not sign somethun.”

You know someone yelped with glee that day. You know the rock company went out for beers that night. I bet some woman named Sheila-who-works-over-in-gravel drank too many Miller Lites and went home with married Stan from Pebble Research Division that evening and the photos from the cellphone are still sitting there on the cellphone like an un-shot arrow.

marker 2

I arrived at the geographical center of the county. I stood for a while hoping to feel like an interesting person, or a puzzled critic. My spleen did the spleen thing. I did see a rabbit but it didn’t see me seeing it so did it really happen? I don’t know. Don’t try to eat the corn off the side of the trail. It is corn for gasoline and doesn’t even taste like corn.

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Somebody left their long sleeve button down on a rail fence. People do the damndest things, but listen: You can not predict the human being.

shirt

It looked like a J C Penny shirt to me. Like maybe one you would tuck in and wear to a BBQ behind the church, or maybe to a store to buy a big-ass bag of dog food. I don’t know. I wanted to meet whomever left this shirt here and maybe fall in love and move to Kansas.

I waited and nothing happened because nothing ever happens. So.

I got into my Subaru and drove off to the park to find the Life Trail machines. After all, it is exercise day, people.

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The park was full of kids practicing football. Their coaches were screaming and clapping hands and very inspirational. One of them yelled out, EVERY SINGLE DAY, EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE GIVE YOUR BEST FREAKING EFFORT, YOUR VERY BEST, DO YOU HEAR ME, DO YOU HEAR ME, EVERY SINGLE SECOND LIVE LIKE IT IS YOUR LAST SECOND ON THIS GOD GIVEN EARTH AND DON’T COME WHINING ASS TO ME WHEN YOU AREN’T PLAYING WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PLAYING AHEAD OF YOU BECAUSE DID YOU GIVE YOUR VERY BEST EVERY SECOND, DID YOU GIVE EVERY BIT OF YOUR BLOOD AND BONE AND GRISTLE THAT CONNECTS THE BONES TO THE BLOOD AND ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE ME EVERY SINGLE EFFORT IN YOUR HEARTS TODAY AND EVERYDAY LIVING THIS LIFE LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE AND DIE AND DIE AND DIE AND DIE AND DIE!!!!!!!!!!!

The kids yelled out, “Yes sir!” They were about six or seven years old.

I did one of every Life Trail machine. They were incredibly lame and the bicycle seats gave me a wet ass because it was raining last night. So then I just ran around the park and along the river. I saw a stork eating a banana peel and then a frog, Mountain Dew can, blue COLTS Nerf football caught in a huge tangle of fishing line. The frog was dead. The water gurgled by like water.

I wanted to get a photo of me doing the machines but the guy I asked caught me in a lie so wouldn’t take the photo.

Guy walks by with a really stupid looking dalmatian on a leash.

I said, “Hey, will you take my picture. I lost a bet and now I have to exercise all day. I have to prove I was doing these machines.”

(Note: I’m not sure why I made up a lie but I felt creepy just asking some guy to take my photo, so I made up this bet idea. I’m sorry. It’s just what I did.)

The guy goes, “What bet?”

“What?”

“What-did-you-bet?”

(I hadn’t thought this far. I say, “Football.”)

He says, “There isn’t any football right now.” He gives me this look like maybe I dropped a bag of flaming groceries into his swimming pool. Then he just walks off.

It rains like you wouldn’t believe. White sheets of rain. Cows of rain. I ran to my car.

More updates later. I am going to the treadmill.

*

Just did some YASSO 800s. Whew. It went like this:

3 min at 6:00 mile pace.                     3 min at 6:00 mile pace.

3 min at 6:00 mile pace.                     3 min at 6:00 mile pace.

3 min at 5:56 mile pace.                     3 min at 5:56 mile pace.

My treadmill room is a sauna.

I sweat like hoses, rakes, and nails.

*

I just did 200 crunches, regular and oblique. I am getting tired now. I am about to make nachos.

S

Bambi Tenderloin or Maybe Read New Dogzplot Now.

You get the venison tenderloin and you butterfly the tenderloin and you broil like golden warbles 2 minutes, flip, and you add the thin as fingerprints layer of pesto sauce and broil two minutes and add the fat big firm tomato and add the slice of electricity hollow provolone and there you go, there you go, 100% organic steroid free no hormones never caged since I know I arrowed it with a bow at 10 yards quartering away (most ethical angle for arrow penetration/lethality/double lung/heart) and I kill what I eat and maybe less abstract not like an aluminum ball passed through a drive-thru window or cellophane and the blood is on my hands like maybe eons ago and that’s how I am trying/caring to and also vegetarian is good if I shoot no deer I go vegetarian and tonight it tasted like big as God pale raspberries on a 14,000 private party cobbler of rhinestone hats all creamy.

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*

The new Dogzplot is here and it is chunky loaded! This is exactly why I love online lit mags, an eclectic mix, arriving in my computer box of groove.

–There is an interview of Adam Robinson I find rather good. It is a mix of useful info and then the usual Dogzplot humorous questions/answers/riff, so a lively read. I prefer this format to the earlier Dogzplot way, which can sometimes ONLY be quirky question and answer, without writing/publishing/process content by the writer (example Mary Miller). I prefer the style/pop/glow of Adam’s interview, but that’s just me.

–There is story by Amy Holloran I liked because I love persona fiction, ones where writer inhabits persona or even just visits with persona and maybe relates to, or changes with, or persona as big ol’ objective correlative, like here, where narrator is, “I am alienated. Want to leave my situation. Want to fly. Help me, Amelia Earhart.”

Another example, from Smokelong Q, the excellent flash, “Raymond Carver.” This kicks ass: Dan Chaon actually writes a Carver type story with Carver in the story, as character, and in the way the story as homage and satire and all meta-crazy form=function. My point is persona fiction can be many things.

[I actually wrote a letter story once to the same flying and lost woman, Amelia Earhart]

–I love bar stories and Paulette Livers brings it with this one. Why? Language lined liked rows of beer. Author brings the words in big-ass foamy sentences of glass.

shambles over and slumps into the booth katty-corner

The bicycle folds into the churning water like walnuts in chocolate cake batter…

etc. etc. etc.

People break up so easy in the movies. Like Jenifer’s A’s character will go, “Look Stan, I realized something today while throwing a football in Central Park with a black lab montage: you’re just not the man for me. The marriage is off.” And Stan will shrug and go, “Uh, OK” and walk off. Anyway I was just thinking this after reading Donora Hillard’s “Devolution,” a break-up poem thing I do love. Seems real here, not spangly.

fleetwoodmacbw2

You think relationships are easy? Well, fuck you in the note of C!!!

I also love Shriparna Sarkar’s “Ebb.”

I didn’t enjoy the line “ocean of stars” because it seemed ordinary, but the others did not seem ordinary and anyone who can grill venom, who can write, “when their venom is grilled/folded up” is OK, better than OK with me, so I just said I love this poem.

The others poems in this issue I just like.

Great issue of Dogzplot. I am thankful. Made me read and think and read and then, uh, think. So. I hope everyone knows to read online lit mags exclusively for 3 months then go back to print if you want but be sure to read both because why catch a comet-bus line way that is already gone or something. Twitter sucks.

*

I got my Hayden’s Ferry contract today and they pay. Wow. They pay money. Wow. OK, beer money for me. I once wrote a story and was paid a sweet one thousand dollars. That will never happen again. The Denver Post used to pay me to write about crayfish. That won’t happen either. Not sure where I am going with this. Pay me or not, I will write something once in a while either way.

BTW, I used to think HFR was the slowest lit mag in the mega-verse as far as contacting a writer for an accept/reject/whatever, but I guess they have changed a few things. Their correspondence has been crisp. So heads up. Send them something.

*

I need to run 10 miles this morning. My hamstring feels like fuck. My left foot throbs like the story she told herself at the kitchen table. Painful. Oh well. Shut up Sean stupid-ass waaa-waaa ( me no like complainers) of and go run.

DECKER1

DECKER2

S