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.

Arts & Letters

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

Arts & Letters has been published twice a year since 1999 by the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Georgia College.

What they say about themselves: “Our editors seek work that doesn’t try too hard to grab our attention, but rather guides it toward the human voice and its perpetual struggle into language. We’re open to both formal and experimental fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; we’re also open to work that defies classification. Above all, we look for work in which we can feel writers surprising themselves.”

Issue reviewed: Spring 2019 (Issue 38)

Genre: Literary realism.

One Story I’ll Remember to not Forget: “When We Were Liars” by Brian Crawford. The story’s narrator remembers his cousin, whose behavior as a teen caused the narrator and his brother a great deal of grief. But as he ages and his relationship with his brother sours, the narrator sees how his cousin’s past troubles inspire him to help others. 

Clapperboard Rating: One KLAK. The stories definitely value insight more than action. 

Profanometer: Shitfuck. While not gratuitous, the language is certainly rough.

Fatherland

I’ve been fascinated lately with novels that explore alternative histories of the 1930s and 40s. I’ve read about America being overtaken by populist tyrant , electing a Nazi sympathizer, and losing the Second World War and being occupied by the German Reich. Robert Harris’ 1992 novel is the first I’ve read where America hasn’t been the focus, and it provides the most realistic vision of what could have happened in this turbulent era of world history.

For reasons that aren’t altogether clear, Germany is able to capture both Moscow and London in this world. This gives the Nazis control of most of Europe, which is where they stop their expansion. There is no change in the Pacific war, as America defeats Japan with atomic weapons. By 1964, the year in which the novel takes place, Germany and the United States have been in an extended Cold War, similar to what actually occurred between the USA and USSR in our reality.

While the scenario leaves a lot of obvious questions unanswered (how did the Nazis discover the British had deciphered their encoded messages? why did the Russian forces collapse?), this parallel world does seem authentic. Hitler’s ambitions were Euro-centric, and launching an attack across the Atlantic would have left him vulnerable at home. Had Britain fallen, America would have no base to launch an invasion of Europe, and would have focused attention to the war in the Pacific. An extended Nazi regime makes Europe a much different world in this era, while America remains relatively unchanged; not an ideal situation by any standard, but one that seems altogether plausible.

But Fatherland isn’t an alternative history text. It’s a detective story focused on two principal characters, a German police officer with no great love for National Socialism and an American diplomat. They team up to investigate the murder of a Nazi official, and as they dig deeper they discover that the unconfirmed rumors about the fate of Germany’s Jews turn out to be very much true. The pace is steady, the characters engaging, and its conclusion leaves you satisfied yet curious to know what happens next — a rare and pleasing feat.

Of all the alternative histories I’ve read so far, this has been the most satisfying. The audiobook performance by Michael Jayston wasn’t memorable, but didn’t detract from the writing, which is really all you want from a reading.

Inconvenient Beauty

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“Why don’t you go home early,” Conrad’s boss had said. She knew Conrad was upset at not getting the promotion he’d been seeking.

Daylight still lurked over the late afternoon horizon as he drove into his subdivision. Passing the community park, absent in the sub-freezing air, he felt a sudden urge to stop. He looked at the neatly plowed sidewalk surrounding the playground, at how last night’s snowfall covered the grass like icing on a cake.

Conrad hated the inconvenience of winter, but staring at the postcard beauty of this moment gave him peace for the first time that day.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest. One picture, 100 words.