The Constellation

The Jerusalem street was a residential and commercial mix, stores at ground level with apartments on each of the three floors above. Lighting for the street came from within the stores as well as sconces above their entrances, as well as an inventive array of circular lights of many different sizes suspended by wires strung between the second floors on both sides of the street. Resembling Hula Hoops, or perhaps large halos to the religiously inclined, the array hovered above the street like an artificial constellation, and gave this section of the ancient city a distinctly modern atmosphere.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction/photo prompt contest. I decided to use my 100 words (these italicized comments don’t count!) this time on a narrative description, a passage that could appear in a non-illustrated story or novel.

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Awakening from the Gaslight

The always insightful Tony Single has a series of poems about religion’s often toxic effect on society. Read his latest poem here, and be sure to follow its embedded links.

An Engaging Series

On her blog, Andra Watkins is posting a dark tale about a reluctant mother. The central character is equally fascinating and appalling, and I appreciate any writer who can pull off that trick. Andra is releasing the story as a serial, and today is latest installment, with the next promised for this coming Monday. I’m suddenly inspired to start my own series… we’ll see what comes of that notion.

The Plot Against America

Plot against usa.jpgA national celebrity with no political experience wins the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Running against a Democrat with strong connections throughout Washington, the celebrity Republican’s candidacy is considered a long-shot at first. However, the Republication runs a populist “America First” campaign that taps into America’s distrust of career politicians, and eventually wins a decisive Electoral College victory. After taking office, the new president meets with tyrannical leaders of nations once hostile to the United States. Years later, information showing the president received assistance from one of those foreign dictatorships comes to light.

Perhaps the only time fiction is stranger than truth, is when a work of the imagination predicts the actual future.

In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate history of America in the World War II era, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, and then signs agreements with Germany and Japan that keep the United States out of of the global conflict. I downloaded the audiobook (which features an outstanding performance by the late Ron Silver) because I have a fascination with this period of history, and enjoy fictive tales of how history could have turned out differently. I had no idea the book’s plot so eerily paralleled the rise to power of The Fraud, but the similarities cannot be ignored. (I should note that after the 2016 election and shortly before his death, the author denied making any attempt to comment on modern American politics.)

While Lindbergh’s election and subsequent actions are the primary events in the novel, most of the action centers around a fictionalized version of Roth’s family and other Jewish households in Newark, New Jersey. After taking office, Lindbergh establishes the Office of American Absorption, which temporarily relocates Jewish youth into Christian communities. It’s a thinly-veiled attempt to eliminate Judaism through cultural assimilation, and by showing how the campaign affects a single family, the devastating impact of the alternative history becomes very real.

The novel is riveting until it reaches its epilogue, which provides an implausible explanation which excuses Lindbergh’s behavior. This ending is a major disappointment, and its portrayal of Lindbergh is so inconsistent with the earlier part of the novel that I wonder if the author was pressured to write the epilogue. It’s hard to imagine a writer of Roth’s reputation would succumb to that pressure, but the epilogue definitely reads like a capitulation.

But in spite of this disappointment, the novel is a major success, and especially insightful for anyone seeking to understand how authoritarianism could come to power in the United States.

Bizarre Bazaar

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

If there had ever been a business plan for the store, nobody knew where it existed now.

The only items for sale were black-and-white or sepia photographs from the previous century, gathered from yard sales and attics soon to be cleared out after an octogenarian death. None were considered worthy of a curator or collector’s attention.

After a few months of lackluster sales, a local independent newspaper gave the store a favorable review. This inspired a curiosity, one inspired by a digital-age longing for tangible assets. For images that can be held, rather than downloaded.

Sales have since been brisk.

If you like to write and/or read flash fiction, I highly recommend Friday Fictioneers.

Ten Stories

For some reason I forgot to post my story to the Friday Fictioneer’s contest page. Here’s ten people who weren’t so absent-minded:

  1. Tannille takes us to the Twilight Zone in The Vanishing Tale
  2. In The Signpost, Keith Hillman takes his characters beyond the playground
  3. A tense situation becomes deadly in Trent McDonald’s The Park
  4. Speedway Randy’s Peculiar features some wonderful metaphors
  5. Love is found and then lost in Mid-court by Maria-Christina Doulami
  6. I had no idea what those things were in the background of the photo, but Na’ama Yehuda came up with a creative interpretation in The Memo
  7. The Ministry of Shrawley Walks has some fun with the prompt in Dial-a-Troll
  8. Frightened by Nova evokes the ominous air of the photo
  9. There are no people in the photo, and in Shots Fired Girl in Niagara explains why
  10. This contest doesn’t often inspire historical fiction, but Magarisa pulls it off in If Need Be

 

Encroachment

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Disgraceful.” Arms folded across his chest, Crenshaw tucked his chin down and shook his head. “Went to these courts all the time in my teens. Not a decade later, gangs have started marking their territory here.”

“Those don’t like gang symbols,” Ursula replied, pointing at the pavement. “It’s text. Probably neighborhood kids leaving messages to each other.”

“They should send texts, instead of defacing public property.”

“Public? You’re treating these courts like a personal playground, a memorial to your youth. Things change, Cren, and it’d serve you better to demolish the fence you’ve built around your fear of aging.”

Been a while since I’ve participated in Friday Fictioneers. Feels good to be writing 100-word stories again.

Submitting to the Process

Now that I’ve recovered from my little meltdown, I’m back to focusing on my 2019 short fiction goal.

I reached a significant milestone along that path two weeks ago, by submitting the last of my eight stories to one of my writers’ groups. Once that story is reviewed a week from this Saturday, I’ll have professional, informed, and valuable feedback (without any self-important unimaginative snark) on each story. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point, and I’m glad I’ve put in the effort.

I do need to get back on track with my submissions, though. After reaching 13 submissions in early July, I haven’t sent out my work anywhere. And yeah, while I’ve been doing a lot of writing, I’ve also been avoiding what I find to be a tiresome and deflating process. Formatting documents to conform with guidelines, uploading files to Submittable or some other online submission tool, paying the reading fees (at $3, each individual fee is negligible, but submitting each of my eight stories to ten journals… I’ll let you do the math, because it depresses me), all the while knowing that a 1% acceptance rate for my submissions would be doing pretty well — there’s a reason for my avoidance.

Yet this is the path I’ve chosen, so it’s time to hit the road again. With four more stories ready to be submitted in the next few months, I still have a shot at reaching 100 submissions by the end of the year. It will take a lot of work, much of it not enjoyable, to reach that next milestone, but I know reaching it will transform how I perceive myself.

Maybe? Not

Some posts on this blog have made me look foolish, and dozens of others could have used a few more minutes of editing before I hit Publish. And while I don’t regret anything I’ve posted here, last week’s angsty diatribe wasn’t one of my prouder moments.

For better or worse, this is how I operate. When my pride is wounded, I have to feel the pain fully. That means allowing myself to think some pretty dark thoughts, and getting those ideas out. Once I have that release, when the illness is no longer festering in silence, can I look past it and move on.

I expected to be over my little snit in about a week, and sure enough, I’m back in the saddle. I’m not going to let an over-educated, self-important punk with an absurd theory about fiction (“I don’t like stories, I like writers”) gaslight me out of this profession. I’m following through on my 2019 short fiction goal of beginning the submission process for each of the eight stories I feel have potential. I’m curious to see what type of person I become on reaching that milestone.

I do think it’s time, though, to take a break from fiction workshops. The three I’ve attended the past few months have enabled me to make significant updates on my stories, but the work (not only on my only writing, but commenting on the submissions of other workshop participants) has been exhausting, and working on my own schedule the rest of the year will do well for me. I’ve already submitted to my monthly writer’s group meeting in October, but when that review happens, it’s all on me for the rest of 2019.

As for the ass-clown who saw no worth to my fiction (and who, during evaluation of his own work, compared himself to an Old Testament prophet)… he needs to be satirized through one of my fictional character someday.

Time, Maybe

After some good experiences with fiction workshops in the spring and summer, I decided to take another at the beginning of this month. Got a lot out of the sessions — updated a story I’d drafted, received constructive feedback from the instructor and most of the participants, and provided my own comments to other writers who appreciated my insights.

And then… there was this one reviewer. Who had nothing positive to say about my writing. Who was very creative in his sarcasm. Who underlined one sentence and wrote “Ridiculous” in the margin.

He reminded me of students I knew in graduate school. The ones who were brighter and more well-read than me, and went out of their way to remind me how ill-informed, illogical, and just plain laughable were my opinions. Didn’t matter the subject — literature, philosophy, religion, politics, relationships, sports, which restaurants to eat at, which route to take home.

I didn’t have a term for my experience at the time, but if I could have looked forward to today’s terminology I would say they did a very effective job of gaslighting me. They made an overwhelmingly convincing case that I didn’t know what I was talking about, so I might as well shut up.

The experience convinced me that I had no career in academia. After getting my degree, I knew it was time to move on. The abuse had become too much.

And judging by what’s happened to me in the quarter century since I left, I say I made the right decision. I’ve become more successful than I ever imagined myself being back in my graduate school days. I’m married to a creative and beautiful woman. My children are healthy and are on the cusp of starting their own careers. It’s been great.

And then, I decided to trust imagination, and start doing the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. A job which included writing my own fiction. Finish the novels I’d been working on, and revise the short stories I’d drafted. And until this latest workshop, I felt I was gathering momentum.

But now my writing is ridiculous.

My mind tells me to dismiss the comment, and focus on the positive responses. But that’s not how I feel.

I’ve been living a fantasy the past year and a half, reacting to a mid-life crisis. I’m thinking it’s time to face reality: this isn’t going to work out.

Tonight was the last session of the workshop, so I’m probably going to feel better in the morning. Give me a week, I’ll probably be back on schedule.

But before I make that turn, I wanted to get how I felt out of me. I might find these words absurd in the near future, but right now, I’m thinking it’s time to put this writing ambition of mine to rest.

Maybe.