An Unproductive Show

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Anyone look familiar?”

The witness leaned forward, squinting. “I’m… not sure. He was running away; I never really saw his face.”

Lieutenant Kelly pressed the intercom. “Turn right.” As the six men behind the glass shuffled in compliance, Kelly wondered again at the futility of this procedure. Picking a suspect out of a lineup made for good television, but the twenty-year veteran had never seen it produce a conviction. It’s just a show, he thought, imaging the men before him were on a stage, costumed and ready to bow.

The witness bit her lip. “Can they turn the other way?”

Always feels good to end the week with Friday Fictioneers.

Zorba the Greek

At the start of my book and audiobook reviews, I typically explain what motivated my choice. For Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1946 novel, inspiration came from a boyhood enjoyment of instrumental music. I liked all kinds of popular music back in the day, but songs with a lively beat and no singing were a particular joy. Without the interpretation implied by lyrics, I was free to relate to the music however I pleased. This lead to a fondness for Sousa marches, and for contemporary artists like Herb Alpert. I loved Alpert’s trumpet, and his version of the theme song from the 1964 film based on Kazantzakis’ novel was a particular pleasure, so much so that I knew I’d have to read the book someday. Nearly half a century later, I finally purchsed the audiobook. I prefer to be more impressed by the enduring power of youthful passions than dismayed at the amount of time I spent watching ball games or bad movies instead. Fortunately, lengthy anticipation did not this time lead to disappointment. The relationship between the novel’s first-person narrator and titular character could easily have descended into any number of binary cliches — man of mind/man of body, curiosity/appetite, urban/rural — both characters come alive as distinctive personalities, and their bond takes them to some genuinely unexpected places and inspires philosophical insights from both of them. George Guidall’s performance on the audiobook was solid enough to make two weeks of car trips enjoyable. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t entirely satisfying. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a work that needed to be studied, yet by their nature audiobooks don’t lend themselves well to analysis, unless you hit rewind frequently and use a voice recorder for taking notes. There was little opportunity to investigate some of the historical and cultural references, or analyze challenging passages. One scene in which a female character perishes in a horrific fashion left me very uneasy, but there was no opportunity to investigate that moment. As much as I enjoyed the audiobook, I know I didn’t catch all the novel’s complexities; the kid who enjoyed Herb Alpert’s rapid-fire notes feels a little cheated, so maybe next time I’m on vacation I’ll get the full experience of reading the darn thing.

Typehouse Literary Magazine

One thing I haven’t explained yet in my ongoing series of literary journal reviews (more on that can be found here) is that I’m focusing solely on the short fiction available in these publications. Many of these journals also publish flash fiction, as well as poetry and non-fiction. If I broaden my literary ambitions someday, I may need to re-read all these journals again, which wouldn’t be such a bad fate.

Typehouse Literary Magazine is published three times a year by a group of writers and artists from Portland, Oregon. Unlike many literary journals, Typehouse is not affiliated with any academic or creative writing program.

What they say about themselves: “While our content is primarily for adults, we welcome submissions from creators ranging from highschool age to one hundred plus. Our purpose is to showcase previously unpublished material of all genres, that seeks to offer a fresh, unique perspective of the human experience, with a focus on underrepresented voices of all kinds.”

Issue reviewed: Issue 17 (volume 6, number 2), published sometime around the middle of 2019

Genre: You name it. The issue I read contained literary realism, science fiction, and fantasy.

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget:The Me Paradox,” by Gina Hanson. A woman travels back in time to prevent her younger self from entering a relationship that will eventually devastate her/them. It can be a bit trite to say that experiences shape who we become, but conveying that message in a clever and entertaining tale makes that lesson seem real.

Clapperboard Rating: Three KLAKs. While there wasn’t a lot of action or tension in the stories, the writing was consistently imaginative and engaging. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Profanometer: Dammit. It’s refreshing to read authors who don’t feel they have to use rough language to convey the immediacy of their thoughts.

Invitation

PHOTO PROMPT © Dawn Miller

On a Tuesday afternoon in August, as I labored with pick and ax to remove a tree that had fallen the previous winter, my good neighbor Josiah Keen visited me in my field.

“Do you believe this fall’s harvest shall be bountiful?” Josiah asked, expressing the opinion common among the farmers of Danby.

I lay my ax down. “Josiah, what is the true nature of your visit today?”

Josiah smiled. “The Friends asked me to request you meet with them.”

I spread my arms. “What prevents them from coming to my field?”

“Wednesday evening, Wing,” Josiah replied. “At the church.”

This week’s prompt for Friday Fictioneers inspired me to submit a portion of a story I began developing earlier this month. The setting is colonial Vermont, around the year 1772.

Back Burner Simmering

In the not so distant past, I was enjoying an extended period of shoe-less living. But from the moment I came back to my shod world, I’ve been busy. As in, paid work. A lot of paid work.

It’s been good for paying the bills, but not so good for my fiction writing. I ended December with three stories that I felt were nearly ready to submit, and set a goal of submitting each of them in the first quarter of this year. That plan was made before knowing I’d be juggling my part-time tutoring work with two technical writing projects, requiring close to 50 hours of work each week through mid-March. I’m dedicated to quality in my fiction writing, and I knew my work schedule wouldn’t allow me the time to devote the attention those three stories needed. So they’re on the back burner now, out of the way but not forgotten, keeping warm until I clear the front of the stove and finish them properly.

Freelancing, the career I started nearly two years ago, is going to be like this. There will be long stretches of little to no work, such as the last half of 2019. I can write a lot of fiction during those times. And sometimes the projects will come in a deluge, and there won’t be time for much creative work. But there’s still flash fiction, my writer’s group meetings, and the occasional story workshop. It’s not a predictable career, but I’ve seen what it’s like to know that tomorrow will be just like today, and I don’t care to visit that world again.

I’m anxious to get back to those stories. Yet I’m also fully confident they’ll be finished at some point before I head back to the land of bountiful sunshine and little need for footwear.

Colorado Review

One of my goals for this year is to write a review of a literary journal each week. Doing pretty well so far. I explain exactly why I’m doing this here.

Founded in 1956, Colorado Review is published three times a year by the Center for Literary Publishing, affiliated with Colorado State University.

What they say about themselves:Colorado Review is a national literary journal featuring contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews. Each issue is approximately 200 pages… Colorado Review is committed to the publication of contemporary creative writing. We are equally interested in work by both new and established writers. CR does not publish genre fiction, nor do we subscribe to a particular literary philosophy or school of poetry or fiction.

Issue reviewed: Summer 2019 (volume 46, issue 2)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: “Are You Happy?” by Lori Ostlund. In order to visit his dying mother, a gay man returns to his family home after a long and awkward absence. It’s a storyline that’s been done many times, and what I admire is how the author makes Phil’s responses seem genuine and moving rather than trite and cliched.

Clapperboard Rating: Two KLAKs. The focus is on interior thoughts and feelings rather than external action.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. I definitely need to change my criteria for this category.

Winter’s Calculus

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

His hand on the doorknob of his apartment door, Darrin paused on seeing the rain splatter and freeze against the window. The winter storm was two hours ahead of schedule.

Darrin had a northern boy’s respect for the fearsome power of winter, and knew his tires weren’t suited for road ice. His pragmatic voice told him to forget about going to the grocery store.

But living another day without milk wasn’t the issue. Darrin knew he needed to do something to defeat the depression he’d been battling.

He hummed, weighing the calculus in his mind, before pushing the door open.

I stayed at the word-count level for this week’s Friday Fictioneers without using any compound words or contractions. Just sayin’.

Sequestrum

The latest in my series of reviews of literary journals. More information about these reviews can be found here.

From its origin in 2014 as a collaboration between graduates of the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, Sequestrum is an online-only literary journal that’s published quarterly (more or less).

What they say about themselves:We publish concise, evocative writing that couldn’t exist in any other form, yet reminds us of the breadth and scope of longer works. Brew us in the morning to swirl with your coffee grounds, or let our bones rattle and sing their skeleton song on your daily subway ride. In the whir of modern life, we spread our splintered dreams under your feet; tread softly, for you tread on our dreams—be them home to many a toothy edge.

Issue reviewed: Issue 21, 4th Quarter 2019

Genre: Literary realism, but with a strong predilection for unorthodox characters and unusual situations.

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: I’m tempted to nominate Andreas Trolf’s “Sean Will Eat (or Drink) Anything (Except Straight-Up Poison) for $35” because, you know, the title. However, “After the Monkey” by Susan Robison is really the story that caught my interest. Tom and Annie, a young couple devastated after Annie’s second miscarriage, decide to train an infant capuchin monkey for a year.

Clapperboard Rating: Three KLAKs. The stories don’t feature much action, but the storylines are unique and engaging, leaving me anxious to find out what happens next.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. I think it’s time to revise my ratings in this category, as it’s getting hard to find stories in literary journals that don’t toss in a few f-bombs. I wonder what the late George Carlin would have to say about that.

In the Eyes of the Beholder

“Paladar?” Jane said with disgust. “Don’t tell me you actually enjoy eating there.”

“Certainly,” replied Candace. “I think it’s perfect. Like dining in paradise. Positively Elysian!”

“Elysian? You do know that word comes from the same word as illusion.”

“You sure about that?”

“All right, I made that up. But it should be. And Paladar sucks.”

Trying a new flash fiction contest this week, Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Challenge, which offers a single-word prompt and an exact word count target. This week’s goal was 56 words, which I reached immediately before I started using italics.