website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘fiction’

POETIC AESTHETIC

flash fiction by RF Brown

Poetry reading in a gallery—refined? I didn’t prepare anything, but I dressed well and caught a bus downtown.

In a converted shopfront, tiny canvases barely occupied stark white walls. There was a table on which someone had placed bottle of wine (one) and no corkscrew. A busy woman arranged cookies from a box. Plotting an indirect scheme at the unopened wine, I asked first about the canvases. She pushed her glasses up. “Another group. We’re poetry,” was her tiny prosody.

I loitered in the margins with strangers, all of us shy. When it seemed pertinent, I situated in one of the chairs which were arched in rows facing the front door. A gray-bearded man two chairs parenthetical inclined in my direction. “I’ve never come to one of these thingies,” he said, “but now I’m a poet.”

The woman from the cookies, also the evening’s symposiarch, introduced a young woman from a list. The young woman stood before us. She wore considerable makeup and read free verse from a smartphone she held in front of her face like a mirror. Her poem was about emotional abuse from a despicable man. I was sympathetic to her unhappiness, annoyed she finished each line intoning a question mark. The front door opened behind her, bringing in street noise, cigarette smell, and a man dressed all in denim. He apologized to the room for being a distraction and I missed what befell the scoundrel in the poem.

 Next the bearded man went to the front. From type-written pages he recited a rhyming fable about a wife who forbade guns until the day her house was invaded by immigrants. Many among the audience were incensed. Returning to his chair, he leaned near me again. “That’s the last time I read poetry to a room full of lezzies.”

The symposiarch next asked the be-denimed man to present. He held up a weathered paper pad. In his epic, an order of Buddhists took LSD and fell united into a chasm. Metaphors continued page after scribbled page, but the falling pilgrims never reached the bottom.

I looked to the symposiarch, who looked to her watch, which inspired me look at mine. There would be a bus at the end of the block in minutes. While people continued to fall down a scribbled page, I gravitated to the door. I opened it and felt free. Although behind me l sensed the eyes of every poet analyzing the symbolism of my departure.

ATTABOYCHIK (A Tennis Parable) – by RF Brown

[short story first published in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, XXXII:1, Fall 2014/Winter 2015]

In my estimation, Oz Feldman, may he rot in Hell, is a tall asshole and an over-ranked yutz. Can I beat him in this match? In my judgment, yes, should I be blessed to survive all three sets. The Lord, may he guard my end of the court, knows I’ve beaten every other boy at Chazak Tennis Camp. So, today it’s Oz versus Benji, the last survivors of the sweaty summer’s end tournament. Also the last day of Chazak for me or Oz, ever. The old men don’t allow you back after summer of 11th grade. Why? I don’t know.

People are watching from benches outside the fence, my father and the other camp coaches, all the camp boys. Even Mama, may God protect her, got the afternoon and is standing along the opposite fence in her TJ Maxx uniform. Under her headcovering she’s smiling at me. I can’t remember the last time I saw her doing that. She’s as far away in the park as she can be from Father, may a tree fall on him.

Oz looms over my opposite baseline, the destroying angel with a black kippah and colorless eyes. He has a one hundred-ten foot arm span and a one hundred-ten mile an hour serve. It’s true, because Father measured. As Oz and I warm up the ball the humidity makes wet mittens of my hands around the racket. I’m remembering what Father, may he choke on his tongue, instructs me on how to play Oz. The ugly giant’s all serve. Don’t allow this dull nephilim Oz to drag me at his advantage into set tiebreakers. Prove to Father I’m not afraid of a big-serving bully.

Some camp boy’s gray-bearded grandfather just climbed up into the seat of the chair-umpire.

“Maysters ready? Play!”

May God murder my enemy.

 

I didn’t wake up this morning with a plan to rely on God to win. I heard it raining and I waited awake with my eyes closed willing the rain to stop. Guess what? It worked. Then I listened for an alarm of rap music from my computer tablet. I had a plan to beat Oz. I repeated the plan in my head.

Estimate the course of his serve at first racket contact. Position myself far behind the baseline. Bounce on my sneakers a little. Shift my weight to the incoming ball side. Don’t try too much on his firsts, just block the ball back. Judge the weight of his over-ranked serve. Attempt a short slice to his backhand, low. Imagine hitting it to the serpents Oz has for shoelaces.

I toggled snooze on my tablet when rap came on and listened for my older sister turning off the shower. I told myself to stop plotting the match because too much would make me meshugah in the head. Instead I thought about Jazmine, the girl on the bus and her big pair of black-girl kishkas. I started to jerk off. For a moment, I thought of how Rabbi back in B’nei Mitzvah class used to say, “Zis iz a zin!” I stopped touching myself when I heard my sister, may she broil from rug burn, close her bedroom door. After I got up from bed I made sure the hallway was clear between my bedroom door and our bathroom for getting there only in my underwear. I skipped shaving because Oz Feldman has a narrow line of a beard that outlines his donkey face. It’s a line that makes him look like he’s passing for twenty. When I went back to my bedroom I put on tallit kattan, which is Hebrew for a Gentile undershirt with tzittzit tassels hanging off the corners. I picked a t-shirt to wear over with a design of Drake. Who is Drake? He’s the black-Jewish rapper and someone I hoped black girls on the bus would think under-ranked. I tied on the coolest sneakers there are from TJ Maxx and I sprayed on Midnight Rooster men’s body spray, which Mama agreed to get me for Hanukkah if I promised don’t wear it on Shabbat.

When I went to the kitchen I discovered that Mama left a skillet of blintzes stuffed with quark. What is quark? It’s kosher type cheese in which we Jews leave out any flavor. In my judgment, Mama should have been in the kitchen on the day of my championship match to make me something better, like she used to. I left all the cold blintzes on a plate for my sister, in case she’s just wicked enough to love the taste of dreck. Only then did I find Mama’s Post-it note left on our kitchen doorpost – May G_d help my boychik hit the yellow ball with all his heart today. Attaboy-chik! Upon review, I ruled I’d been a mean judge toward Mama. Long live Mama! She’s under-ranked.

I knocked on my sister’s bedroom and asked through the door if she could give me money. She said, “Fuck no, Benji,” and I said, “May God be as sweet to you, Bitch!” Back in my bedroom I put a kippah on my head, one with a Red Sox ‘B’ in back, and clipped it to a clump of my curls. In the mirror I judged how much the day’s humidity was making my bristly hair platz out around the kippah. I considered Oz Feldman, may he shake hands with a vise, and how he could probably wrap his long fingers all the way around my skinny neck. Then I wondered if girls think boys who play tennis are sexy, followed by realizing I couldn’t name any famous Jewish tennis stars.

Yesterday, driving me home from tennis camp, Father, may he steer off a cliff, said at seventeen he was horny for Steffi Graf and Chrisy Evert-Lloyd. Being seventeen myself I named Father several girls in pro-tennis I’ve seen on tv who are beautiful. But the girls I named happen to be black girls and Father ignored me like I didn’t say any names at all. I judged right there in the car that Father has chutzpah. In my estimation, only a man with chutzpah would go to the honor of nicknaming himself Great Jewish Philosopher of Tennis, especially if all he knows about tennis is instructing high school boys to play. Said the Great Jewish Philosopher of Tennis, may a yellow ball get lodged in his throat, that when two good tennis players are fairly paired, not strength wins, but reflexive instinct. Father said at Benji versus Oz in the Chazak camp championship I should play like a fox versus a bear in a cage. Do you know what he meant? I didn’t. Then he asked me if I thought my instinct for the subtleties of tennis were strong enough. He asked if I thought I had practiced the right things. But he didn’t wait for me to answer either of those questions. Instead Father kept talking. Said the Great Jewish Philosopher of Tennis, may a bee sting him on the tonsils, that a true tennis champion is master of reflexes, learning to repeat the correct techniques correctly time after time. I wondered if it’s honest for me to love the advice and hate the advisor. Then Father said what works in tennis is the same as in life with our religious rituals, that repetition itself defeats distractions.

This morning I looked on my dresser at the blue, velvet bag containing my tefillin – tiny handwritten pieces of Torah in two small, black boxes. I’m expected to tie the boxes to my arm and forehead every day. Tefillah were a gift from my parents, both of them, on my Bar Mitzvah. Guess what? I skipped strapping on black boxes and reciting Shema this morning, just like most mornings this summer. I didn’t do tefillin, which is bullshit, just to make parents happy, like I did when Father still lived at home. Instead I ruled that repeating an over-ranked blessing doesn’t do bubkes. God, like a chair-umpire in tennis, takes no side between me and my enemies. I decided instead to keep calling my own shots. When my sister went back into the bathroom, I went into her bedroom. On her bureau was a pink charity box she made when she was little in Hebrew school. I stole change for McDonald’s breakfast and left our apartment.

 

I shoved an empty sausage McGriddle box in my tennis bag. Yes, every Jew already knows that McGriddle is forbidden treyf, but this morning I called it good. I then used the tennis bag to block the aisle side of my bus bench. I pulled out my tablet on which I had an email that the new issue of Black-lete Sports Magazine was up for me to read during the bus ride.

Everyday this summer my bus to Chazak stopped at West Boston Boulevard where a facacta lady named Cynthia got on. All of us on the bus had to wait the rest of our lives while Cynthia paid her bus fare in small change.

“Hello, Benny!” Cynthia said, excited like she hadn’t seen me for ten years instead of a day. Her crazy hand wiggled like her plastic rain bonnet in the wind. Have I made it clear that I had previously ruled there would be no more rain today? I waved back barely in Cynthia’s direction making it clear to her I was concentrating on a post in Black-lete. Cynthia sat her fat tochis in an empty bench across from me and pulled out her leather-bound Bible. “I like that you’ve been riding my bus every day, Benny.” A couple weeks earlier she introduced herself, without me ever asking. That day I felt sorry for her and surrendered Benji, but she heard it wrong. No point in ever trying to fix her. She took off her rain bonnet and wrapped gray hair pigtails around her craggy neck. “A boy at the T-stop stole my bus pass, Benny. He looked Chinese.” As I’ve mentioned, I judged Cynthia to have been facacta and weird. She smelled moldy, like the boiler room of my apartment building. She had a thin nose like a butter knife and she wore big, lepish glasses that made it look like I was seeing her eyes through a microscope. “My daddy gave me a roll of nickels to pay the bus driver, Benny. Last night I prayed to Jesus to forgive the Chinese boy.”

“So, good for you.” Why did I say anything at all? I don’t know.

“You’re a sweet-pea, Benny. In my prayers I told God you stare at big-booby black girls on your computer. My daddy says white boys should only date white girls. I like that smell of perfume you wear everyday, Benny.”

I happened to be studying a picture of black women volleyball athletes in sexy sports-bras. “My parents instruct me only date Jewish girls,” I said.

“Jesus was Jewish,” Cynthia said.

“So, good for Jesus.”

The bus stopped in front of the pawnshop on Washington Avenue. Beautiful Jazmine and her two girlfriends stepped on, all of them black, and making a head-turning racket down the middle of the bus. The three of them wore matching, red, collared-shirt uniforms everyday, some office supply store logo on their left tits. I had never overheard names of the other two, just Jazmine. I judged the girls to be loud, mean and fucking gorgeous. Two of them bounced down in the bench behind Cynthia. In the bench behind me, Jazmine put her sneakers up and lounged against the window. Her red shirt collar stood up to her gold hoop earrings and she held her phone so close to her face she swabbed the surface with her long eyelashes.

“Hey, Skinny Jewish Boy,” one of twosome called out. She could only have been asking me, “Don’t your mother feed you? You look like my toothbrush is wearing a yamaha.”

“What do you know about wearing Drake on your shirt, Boy?” the other girl teased. “Hasn’t nobody told Jewish people yet that Drake is gay? You must be gay!” Her benchmate almost toyted-over it was so hilarious.

“Don’t be mean, girl,” the second one laughed. “Maybe Jewish Boy’s not gay. I mean, everyday he sits in the seat across from his retarded girlfriend.” Cynthia just sat smiling and pressing her gigantic eyeglasses against the words of her Bible.

“Hey, Old White Lady, have you and your Jewish boyfriend done the nasty yet?”

“Girl, I bet these two want to have a threesome with Drake in between!”

Maybe Cynthia was happy being an oblivious, Bible memorizing idiot, but the two sexy anti-Semitic girls pissed me off. I turned around in my bench at them and shouted back, “May you both fall in the ocean and float away on your big, black tits!” This riled those two girls up, but not Jazmine.

Never looking up from her phone, Jazmine said her first indirect words to me, ever. “You three all just shut up, please. Let’s not have a race riot here on the freaking city bus.” Jazmine’s friends followed her orders and made less loud gossip of people. Then Jazmine said to me, “If it matters, I doubt Drake is gay, McGriddle.” She estimated me confused and pointed over the back of my bench at the empty breakfast box, which was poking out of my tennis bag. “Just ignore those two hookers, but be careful what you say about a black girl’s boobs. We take them seriously.”

I judged Jazmine’s advice to be good, but couldn’t think of what to say back. Was it a miracle of God that she kept talking to me?

“I’ve seen you before on the bus with your tennis racket. You play every day?”

“Everyday in summer,” I answered. “Camp Chazak.”

“Oh, boy, I could never learn to play tennis there because I could never learn to pronounce it.”

I laughed a little. “You could never play tennis at Chazak because they only allow boys.”

“Excuse me on your religion, but that’s old fashioned and fucked up.”

May God bless Jazmine. She’s so pretty. “You’re judgment is accurate on that,” I said.

“You any good at tennis?” she asked me, also texting on her phone.

“Playing the summer championship today. I’m best at it.”

“Okay, Boy,” she said, “don’t be too all that, now.”

Don’t misjudge me. I meant to tell Jazmine that tennis is the best thing I can do. It’s the one thing I judge myself to be opposite a klutz. I’m told that back in the good old days my father was a teenage tennis champion as well as the top student in his class at Greater Boston Modern Orthodox Day School. Who did I hear that from? My father, of course, and he doesn’t let people forget. In the worse new days, at the exact same school, I’m not on the top of anything. But, at tennis camp? Almost no one can beat me, and I’m not letting you forget either. Tennis is the thing about which I give a shit that certain people such as my father are impressed.

Jazmine stared out the bus window and I stared at her soft looking neck, perfect as the pumpernickel my Mama used to make.

“So, where do go in your life to meet Jewish girls, McGriddle?”

“Oh, they allow girls in Post B’nei Mitzvah Club. We meet on Kosher Taco Tuesdays.”

“That’s the girls you date?” Jazmine’s huge brown eyes stared straight at me. “Which ever ones show up on Taco Tuesday?”

Was Jazmine making fun of me in a more professional way?

“Come on now, McGriddle.” Her fingers summoned me. “This bus is moving slower than my grandma walks. I need some boring conversation. Talk to me.”

“So far I haven’t been on many dates.” Don’t ask me why I volunteered such an embarrassing fact to Jazmine because I don’t know. Upon review, I suppose she made me feel okay telling her anything, instead of feeling like an asshole. “I’ve never been on a date with an African-American girl.”

“You don’t like black girls?”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” I said. “I don’t judge. Like when my Father was backhand drilling me yesterday, he’s also one of our tennis camp coaches, a couple of really pretty African-American girls were walking through the park along the court. My father noticed me noticing them instead of paying attention to his drills. He said his son should forget coming to like svartza girls.”

“Svartsa? That word sounds like I don’t want to hear what it means.”

“My Father said he thinks it’s okay to friends with you, but he’ll never give blessing to marry one.”

“Excuse me. If you want to marry a black girl, how are your parents going to stop you?”

“It’s just not done. Which I rule ridiculous, because my Father’s the most over-ranked role model of halahkah.”

“Okay, beg your pardon?”

“Halahkah means, like, religious way of life,” I explained. “In addition to being all knowing about tennis, my father talks like he’s a professional on the practice of all religious rituals. Meanwhile, last year he moved to a different house and he has his own blonde lady now, who he says is half-Jewish.”

“You got a mom?”

“I got one. She used to stay home. Do you know a guy named TJ Maxx? Now she takes care of him all day. Mama says my father met his blonde half-shiksa when he was still living with us. My father tells me and my sister, no, he didn’t meet her until after he moved out. He says he tried to get my Mama to stay on her medicine and stop being negative all the time. He says sure, a man honors his wife by keeping her happy, but not so much that he has to always be depressed. And, under halahkah, the wife’s not divorced until the husband is nice enough to give her a piece of paper that says You are hereby free of me. Father says he already gives Mama all his his money and she just wants to take away his children, to punish him for wanting to end their marriage in which she refused to be happy. In my judgment, Mama is sadder now. She says my father’s being a bully. She’s taking him to religious court, but in my estimation the odds are against whatever she wants, Jewish law seems like an even bigger bully. I say mazel tov to my father’s new happiness and his over-ranked half-shiksa. May they be buried alive together.

Jazmine nodded her head. “If we’re keeping it real, McGriddle, I’d say the same thing to my mom. Mine used to beat up on me every time she was drinking. Then, when I got big enough to kick her ass back, she started beating up on my little brother. Finally, I was just like, bye, we’re leaving. I took my brother and we went to my grandma’s house for good. The other day my mom text me, ‘You have to come back, Jazmine, because I say.’ I told her, ‘Hell no.’ She can’t make me do anything. You know, last Sunday in my grandma’s church, the pastor was talking about David and Goliath. I heard that story about a million times growing up, but I realized Sunday they’ve been telling it wrong.”

“What’s to get wrong? The kid kills the giant with one smooth rock served out of his sling. Then David cuts Goliath’s head off, and all the Jews learn God will always protect them from their enemies.”

“That’s like what they always taught me in Sunday School too, McGriddle, but I started thinking David and Goliath means something else.”

“The Bible says it right here in First Samuel,” Cynthia chimed in across the aisle. She was already on the exact page. Maybe I was wrong and Cynthia was hearing everything people were saying. She followed the scripture with her pointy witch nose and read it loud enough for the whole busful to hear. “The Lord, who delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine, Goliath.”

“I guess your girlfriend knows her Bible,” Jazmine said.

“Then you should guess again,” I argued, “because she’s not my girlfriend,”

“Come on, McGriddle, I’m just joking with you.” Jazmine’s smile was so sweet, but I untrusted her a little. “Besides, we’re friends now.”

“What do you mean David and Goliath means something else?” This was me defending Jewish tradition. Imagine.

“I’m just saying, when you think about it, why was David so gung-ho to step up and take on Goliath?”

Cynthia read aloud, “I will go and fight with this uncircumcised Philistine, who hath taunted and defied the armies of the living God. Then, Benny, To the man who kills this giant, the king will give his daughter in marriage and make his house free of taxes in Israel. That’s what the white Bible says.”

Jazmine rolled her priceless eyes. “There aint no white Bible and black Bible, Lady.” Then she turned back to me. “Goliath was talking trash about the Israelite’s army, right? He’s all – Come try it David, I’ll tear you up and feed you to chickens. But then it turns out Goliath’s really just slow and stupid. I mean, he stands there while David kills him with one rock. Sitting there, bored, in church I started thinking maybe David was the only one who saw something about Goliath that wasn’t so scary. Same as I saw with my mom. She drinks and beats up my brother, but beating on her children doesn’t make her strong. It’s her weakness. I’m not going to let her hit us anymore. Once you take away her beating people up, she’s got no powers left.”

“I think I know what you mean,” I said, my faith in Jazmine returning, “but say it again, maybe.”

“What I’m saying is maybe David was so freaking brave because he figured out the giant wasn’t really all that. Maybe he figured out Goliath was all talk and David was going to get the girl and the money. Maybe Goliaths are only Goliath because people keep thinking they are.” Then Jazmine’s nose wrinkled up. “Boy, somebody on this bus smells like a lot of rachet perfume.”

Our bus crossed over the three girl’s last intersection with me. On repetitive reflex Jazmine reached up and pulled the overhead cord for the bell. “This is our stop, hookers. See you tomorrow, McGriddle.”

The three girls stood up and tussled off the bus. I wanted to ask Jazmine exactly how she planned to see me tomorrow. There wasn’t time left to tell her I don’t usually ride the bus on Saturdays, on Shabbat. Also, today was last day of tennis camp. Yes, I’d like her to see me again, but couldn’t think so fast of where or when. See her again? I’d like to will that to happen. Maybe then I’d tell her she’s sexy. I also would tell her how I underestimated how many brilliant things she has to say. Long live Jazmine!

Cynthia’s nose ran across her Bible page and she read out loud, “Do not be slothful in zeal, Benny.”

Maybe Cynthia’s was under-ranked too. Jazmine was already gone.

Do you know Brookline Park? That’s where I got off the bus, where Chazak is. Sure, the sun was hot as Hell but the tennis courts were still wet from overnight rain. Father and another coach got there early with battery-powered puddle blowers. We camp boys followed after them with long squeegees. Soon the gray-bearded amateur umpire proclaimed our green, hard surfaces looked dry enough for play. A bunch of bearded father and grandfather types took positions as shot judges on the court lines. Then the gray umpire clambered up behind the stirrups of the tall chair.

 

Oz Feldman, may he be struck by lightning, and I are now hitting the little yellow ball back and forth, the mandatory ten-minute warm up. More people are here today watching me play than ever before. What’s more nervous making than possibly losing is going down the drain while all the world watches, coaches, other boys, parents, my parents. I’d still like to beat this white-eyed creep Oz, but the watchers make me feel suddenly less sure. By all sense Oz is a better tennis player. I can’t hit the ball over him, he’s too tall. I can’t hit the ball past him, he only needs one or two steps to cover the whole court. His giant serve helps him win a lot of free points. Plus he has a better angle and can fire the ball flat over the net, direct past me.

I hate to pray to God for help, and, as much as I hate listening to my father, his damn advice is the best. Don’t be intimidated, Oz is over-ranked. Serve into his body to jam him up. Remember Oz is better at overwhelming opponents with speed on the ball than he is at placing the ball. He lacks precision for the lines. I must use topspin to make the ball dip down to his feet. Wrong-foot him. He’s slower than sour cream. Trap him into changing direction, against momentum. Move him up the court with drop shots. Slice him. Reduce him to what he really is, a big yutz clomping after my sexy, short angles. Sure, I’m not as tall, but I have my own moves.

And, said the Great Jewish Philosopher of Tennis, don’t lose to the watchers. Father’s accurate about that. I estimate fifty percent of these people are praying I flop. Ignore such distractions. Ignore strangers walking dogs through the park, a noisy lawnmower, a helicopter, bugs, little kids roller skating on empty courts, the sun, humidity, shvits dripping into my eyes, hunger, thirst, white lines still slippery after the rain. Still, what Father never taught me is how to turn off the biggest distraction, the voice of a man inside my head always judging, always asking, What if you can’t get to Oz’s serves? What if you choke on every one of your own serves and keep double faulting? Have you ever tried to not think about something? Part of me has to think about what not to think of in order to remember what not to think about. Maybe a true tennis champion knows how, under pressure, to not think at all.

Off the old chair-umpire’s coin toss, Oz gets first service privilege. Of course his first serve is a mortar, and not where anyone else would put it, to my forehand! Plus there’s a crazy inside slice. Probably over a hundred miles per hour. My feet don’t think that fast. I jump left while planting my right sneaker at the same time, and my foot slides on the wet, white line. Then my right knee cocks in and twists as I go down. Where did I land? On the green asphalt, where else, with the inside of my knee.

I roll onto my back and grab my God damn knee. Lying there I cry for the worst pain in the history suffering. For a moment I want to ask God for mercy, but remember how I didn’t tefellin this morning? That’s right, I didn’t say Shema because tefellin is supposed be bullshit. This twisting of my knee is God’s kareth, his penalty for thinking I can do it myself when it was made clear I should reflexively repeat. Today I have underestimated the conditions of God and slippery white lines. When I close my eyes I see nothing but pain. I Shema outloud, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and might! These words I command you today shall be upon your heart!”

Praying with my eyes shut, I sense a shadow between me and the sun, a shadow dark as the ninth plague of Egypt. When I open my eyes I see the shadow is cast by a leaning skyscraper who has a forehead broad as the Wailing Wall, and a gargoyle face with the thin beard of young rabbi. His dangling shirt tzittzits point towards me on ground. Oz Feldman has rushed to my side from the other end of court, his white, devil eyes full of me. He got over here before the alterkocker umpire, may his dry-court proclaiming bones crumble, and before Father or even Mama.

I can’t stand up on my twisted knee, but Oz bends over like a drawbridge, stretching one giant arm under my neck, the other under my knees, and holds them safe together. Then he lifts my whole body in his arms and carries me like the smooth stone in David’s sling. Yes, Oz Feldman, may no shame come to him, carries me from the green asphalt to outside the fence. There he lies me down across the sideline bench, out of harm’s way. Long live Oz! Today it’s God who is my enemy. Oz Feldman is such a big asshole, he’s been easy to underestimate.

MEET ME UNDER THE WHALE, commentary on Brian Selznick’s novel “Wonderstruck”

konigsburg

Wonderstruck is a six-hundred plus page juvenile fiction novel that might only take kids an hour an a half to read. That is because much of it is told in picture book form (Although, I found myself revisiting the artwork again and again.). Wonderstruck is two stories. Ben, a ten year old deaf boy runs away to New York City, following a trail of clues to find his abandoner father. Ben’s story is set contemporarily and told via traditional paragraphs. In the companion story, Rose is a ten-year-old deaf girl in 1927, who runs away to New York City to find her distant mother. However, Rose’s adventure is told entirely through the author’s mimetic pencil illustrations. The two journeys lead both characters to explore and hideout in The American Museum of Natural History. Eventually their timelines cross. Ben and old age Rose are united through their mutual interests in the same animal habitat diorama – a means of storytelling weaving art and science, life and imagination. Likewise in the last section of Wonderstruck, words and pictures, become interwoven.

Maurice Sendak once said, ““I don’t write for children. I write–and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Wonderstruck is a fun, intertextual odyssey for the mind and the eye. There are also difficult circumstances of disappointment and death that the characters confront together. It is life illustrated for child and adult.

 

 

REBLOG: SUCKER LIT MAGAZINE: Rookie Guide to Good Self-Editing

Sucker Literary Magazine Issue #1

A Rookie’s Guide to Good Self-Editing by Allie B. 

Editing is important. It goes hand in hand with writing and publishing. You can’t publish a story without editing it, and you can’t edit a story without writing it…

But what is an editor?

Believe it or not, they are regular people, with regular interests and regular lives.

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/guest-post-from-allie-b-on-self-editing/

Editors don’t live in ivory towers, they aren’t out to destroy your career, and they aren’t heartless monsters. They are business professionals, and they are interested in a quality story.

Having a good story, a complete story, is the most important part of getting published. The second most important is telling that story with great writing.

So how do we make sure we accomplish these things before we send our work to an editor?

We edit it.

Yes, you read that right. We must edit our work BEFORE we send it to an editor.

Editors and writers are busy people so sending an editor a mess of a story with plot holes, inconsistent characters, and no understanding of grammar is a waste of time for BOTH of you.

You don’t learn anything as a writer by getting an automatic rejection based on the first or second sentence of your story.

The goal of sending a story to an editor is to have them read it—the whole thing. We do this by self-editing.

On my own blog, Allie B Books, I take you through a rigorous and sometimes painful step-by-step description of my own process, but today we get the cheat notes on the importance of self-editing.

TEN STEPS TO A GOOD SELF-EDIT

1.     Keep a fresh mind.

Once you rip through your first draft, it is important to rest. Separate yourself from the work by taking a break, working on something else, or focus on your “real” life. Do whatever you need to do to get your head straight and make sure that you have taken enough time so that when you come back to the story, you are seeing it with new eyes.

2.     Read it like you didn’t write it.

When you read over your story for the first time, do so as if someone else wrote it.

Keep this question in mind and ask it frequently as you self-edit: ‘What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?’

3.     Perfect the concept

I was told that if you can’t describe your entire story in one sentence, then it is too complicated, or you have not figured out the focus yet.

My first reaction to that was “Whatever, that’s just what agents tell you so you don’t ramble for hours.”.  But now that I have decided to set my first novel aside due to self-diagnosed plot complications I retract all former snark and doubt. It’s true. I had no focus because I didn’t take the time to really think about my concept and perfect the base of my story, and it showed.

Write a one-sentence summary for your story; write it a hundred times in a hundred different ways if you have to. This is your concept and the stronger and more compelling the sentence is, the stronger your story is. If you cannot, for the life of you, come up with something, then there is something wrong with your story or your focus.

4.     Write a review

To find out what is lacking in your story, refer back to the question “What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?” Write a review of your story, and not one of the goofy reviews found on Goodreads with the gif’s of dancing cats. I mean rate your piece seriously and write a real review. It is here where you will find out if there was too much/not enough romance, if the characters were too flat, if the tension needs to be boosted etc.  Remember: What would you expect from the story if you hadn’t written it?

5.     The five R’s

Once you’ve focused your concept and decided the story’s strengths and weaknesses, you can go through the story scene by scene and make changes based on the five R’s.

  • Review what you’ve written and make notes about what you could do to make it better.
  • Refer to your one-sentence summary.
  • Revise the scene based on your review notes.
  • Rewrite it if there are too many problems with it.
  • Refresh your mind by stretching, taking a break, napping, checking your email or whatever activity time permits.

6.     Don’t be scared to CUT CUT CUT

Here are two of the most important questions to ask yourself for every scene, paragraph, sentence and word:

a) Does this advance the plot?

b)  Does this develop the characters?

If the answer is “no” to both of those questions, CUT IT! Never hold onto something because you think it’s clever or funny or smart because chances are it’s not. As they say in the biz, “Kill your darlings!”

I wrote a newspaper article with a finishing line that I thought was the best line of the whole feature, and you know what? The editor cut it… it was the ONLY line that was cut from the piece. If it doesn’t help tell your story or bring your characters to life, get rid of it.

It’s easier said than done but divorce yourself from the work and remind yourself it’s not about you: it’s about the story.

7.     Tighten up

Now that the story is complete, focused, and clear, it’s time to get into the POWER of the writing. Time to focus on the pacing, tension, emotion, and language of your story. Go through every scene, paragraph and sentence and ask yourself:

a)    “What am I trying to convey here?”

b)   “Am I achieving the desired effect?”

c)     “Is there a better way to convey what I want?”

If the scene you are reading is a fight scene and you have massive paragraphs and sentences, loads of description and babbling characters telling backstory, chances are it’s a boring fight scene.

Fight scenes are fast. High tension. Clanging swords. Thundering hearts ringing out over short breaths. Fear. Short sentences. That’s how to speed it up.

Did you do that?

Can you do it better?

Try.

I dare you.

8.     Be consistent

There is nothing worse than reading a story with inconsistencies in it. Nothing. I can deal with the odd spelling mistake but POV head-hopping, character inconsistencies, setting flubs, and an all over the place voice is THE most annoying thing about poorly edited stories.

Some questions to consider as you read through:

a) Is my character clear and believable in their actions and dialogue? (Keep your character sketches handy for reference).

b) Do I head-hop or is the scene from one POV? If I’m head-hopping, is it intentional? Is it clear and obvious who’s POV it is? Are the transitions from one POV to another clear and smooth?

c) Are my descriptions engaging? Are they consistent with other descriptions I’ve made about similar places? Are they vivid and clear?

d) Is the setting obvious and well-developed? Or do I just have talking heads with no clear idea of where they are, what they are surrounded by and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the environment? Is my setting alive or do I have characters in a bubble?

e) Is the voice consistent? Am I staying true to the character’s voice (if first person)? Is the distinction between different character’s POV voices and narrator clear and effective?

9.     Proof of quality is in the proofread

For the proofread I suggest three things. First, read this post on revisions by Sucker Literary Magazine and familiarize yourself with the common errors writers make.

Second, read your story out loud as if you were reading it to a hall of people. Project your voice and point to each word as you read it. If the sentence is not grammatically correct and/or well written, you will stumble over the words. Well-written sentences will flow off your tongue beautifully. The reason I say to point to the words as you read them is because as writers, we spend a lot of time with our stories and after a while we start to see what we THINK is there not what is actually there. Pointing to the words forces you to read what is written.

Last, check for clichés and over used words. I have a secret love for the word slightly. I use it ALL the time. It’s a toxic relationship, and I’m almost over it… almost. Slightly. I do searches of random words to see how many times I’ve used them in the story. For example: I’ve used the word ‘story’ 35 times in this post. I should find other words to use…

10.   Be honest

The final step may well be the most important in the self-editing process and that is being honest with yourself.

I know you are excited and you want to send that story out and you want editors to love it and you want to get that letter that says you’ve been accepted for publication, but if the story is not ready, it is not ready.

If you don’t think the story is ready than go back to step one and refresh. Work on something else for a while then come back, take another look and decide if this story is worth fixing or if you are better off breaking up and moving on to stories that make you happier!

END NOTE: You are going to miss things. In every step you will miss something but that is OKAY! This is the self-edit! You CANNOT edit your own work to perfection, but the better you self-edit the more your editor will love you… and the better your writing will be, because the less time your editor spends rolling her eyes at your all-over-the-place character descriptions and your non-existent knowledge of comma splices, the better s/he can help you improve your story and your writing.

Happy Editing from Allie B!

I am not an editor. I am a writer that hates editing but knows how truly vital it is on the journey to publication. I developed a self-editing method that works for me and share it in hopes that it may help someone else. I value the hair on my head and my sanity and suggest if you also value these things that you take the time to do things right. It may take a bit more time and seems more painful, but in the end it will save you worlds of hassle.

That I promise you.

Allie B, an emerging Young Adult writer fascinated by the joys and tragedies that come with growing up. She grew up loving all things fantasy and all her work reflects that love. She currently lives and works as a Graphic Designer in Yukon Territory, Canada. When she is not writing or hibernating, she spends most of her time outside being inspired by the majestic northern landscape.  Follow Allie B on Twitter at  @alliebbooks and check out her blog  alliebbooks.wordpress.com and visit her on Goodreads at  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6963769-allie-b

Allie B’s Urban Fantasy short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sucker Literary Magazine, so stay tuned!

SEA SWALLOW ME and OTHER STORIES by Craig Laurance Gidney

my notes on Sea Swallow Me (2008), RF Brown

A young Japanese monk, yielded to a life of prayer and ministering to the poor is marked for love by a mischievous yosei, a shimmering male fairy with a fetish to tempt mortal chastity and piety. This chassis supports many of Craig Laurance Gidney’s stories: a young character in the ordinary toils of  earthly existence, crosses paths with a metaphysical experience. As in the case of the monk, “He who was studious and practical had caught the eye of something supernatural.” More often Gidney’s protagonists are young black and/or gay men in modern settings. A bored club kid unwittingly keeps psychokinetically murdering his sex partners. A lonely, island tourist pulled in by over-curiosity is dragged to the floor of the ocean and given physical wholeness from a benevolent, giant serpent. A nebbishy, underachieving artist chases off the cloying  ghost of his racist mother by deliberately having sex with a black man on her antique bed [respectively: “Etiolate”, “Sea Swallow Me”, and “Her Spirit Hovering”].

Gidney’s visionary universe exists in a literary dimension somewhere between James Baldwin and The Twilight Zone. The author’s imagination is alternately funny, melancholy, and fantastic and there is the consistent thread in this collection of his expressive narrative voice. He has dazzling skill at painting amorphous scenes with tangibility-  colors are carnal and smells are emotional. It’s never explicit whether the bizarre experiences of these characters are something truly supernatural, or if these phenomena are the delusive manifestations of their broken black and gay souls. Are they cursed or crazy? The character lives are humdrum, but not normal. Whose life is?

I have a couple of quibbles with the actual publication of Sea Swallow Me. First, the book was put out by an indy press and there are frequent typos. I know some readers for whom mistakes are maddening and others who would regard it as bohemian charm. I seek the noble path on the presence of typos because ideally it should be easier for a great writer like Gidney to find a big-six publishing deal that pays for unlimited editorial resources. But readers dropping $13 bucks on this book should be aware there are errors. Writers who are constantly encouraged to go indy or self-publish can take a sip of reality here: even a brilliant writer can get sandbagged with a sloppy book. Second, two of Gidney’s stories, “The Safety of Thorns”, about a young American slave who finds out the Devil is an apathetic drunk, and “Strange Alphabets”, a transcendental roman à clef about French poet Arthur Rimbaud in Jail, are pleasant guests here but otherwise foreign to the rest of the collection. In my editorial opinion they would be at home someplace else. It’s feels weird to launch this criticism given that these two stories in particular are each excellent standing alone, perhaps my two favorite in the book. If there is a collection of historical fiction somewhere in Gidney’s future canon he certainly has the background, discipline, and command of voice to put one together. Those two problems aside, Sea Swallow Me is a magnificent and mysterious body of work.

REBLOG: CLAYTON DIGGS’ DISTINCTIVE RAY BRADBURY OBIT

“The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.”

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91, Martians, and Sci-fi Man-juice

by claytondiggs

link: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/ray-bradbury-dead-at-91-martians-and-sci-fi-man-juice/

You ever just sit around and think about Ray Bradbury? I did, yesterday when I heard that that great American writer had made his final journey to the Martian landscape that lies beyond the great beyond. No, that’s,not quite it… He got cornered by imaginary lions in a virtual reality who tore him into worm food…No, still not right…He morphed into a heap of books, heated toFahrenheit 451, turned to ash, and blew into little bits of cosmic dust to then descend on some Red Planet at the edge of the Universe. Yeah, that’s a little more like it. Hot damn! I’m sorry. I’m not. I really am!

I am sorry that we’ll no longer share airspace with a guy who, to my mind, was one of the most original and gorgeous voices in our American literary canon.

Old Ray was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920. He grew up during that tonic for the restless imagination, the Great Depression, a time when the future seemed not only bleak and depressing as shit but, well – unimaginable. But imagine it Ray did, and with a visionary zeal that always took our collective breath away. The boy was good! Was he actually a Martian? We’ll never know.

But we do know that his stories sprang from the deep and potent well of his childhood fears. In an interview on Fresh Air he once said: “As soon as I looked up, there it was, and it was horrible,” Bradbury remembers. “And I would scream and fall back down the stairs, and my mother and father would get up and sigh and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go again.’ “

Childhood was indeed an important time for the budding author. Ray read and read and read everything he could get his grubby little alien hands on. He dug on Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and dreamed of outdoing them, and so, between frenzied bouts of cranking out adolescent sci-fi man-juice (to pics of big-boobied Martian chicks no doubt), he also managed to crank out a short story a week. Lesson: the only way to (re)produce is through consistency!

Great American sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury dead at 91

When the Bradbury fam up and moved to SoCal, little Ray took to hiding out in the dank, scary basement of the UCLA library, where, for 10 cents a half-hour, he could rent a typewriter. Said Ray years later: “I thought, my gosh, this is terrific! I can be here for a couple hours a day. It’ll cost me 30, 40 cents, and I can get my work done. Also, it’s awesome to spew sci-fi man-juice in a public venue. Much more exciting than at home.”

Ray hit it big with his 1950 collection, The Martian Chronicles. Then, while that fat old cow masturbatorJoe McCarthy, was looking to anally violate anyone evenly remotely aligned with anything Red, planet or otherwise, Ray did a right ballsy thing — he shot a FUCK YOU ray-gun at censorship in general with his best known work, Fahrenheit 451, and did so in a FUCK YOU kind of way, having the story that would become his signature novel first printed in Playboy.

Have you read that fine, fine book? If not, put down whatever you’re doing, go out and get a copy, and sit the hell down. It’s about a future society in which McCarthy-like fat old cow masturbators have firefighters burn books for the purpose of keeping folks dull and ignorant. There’s never been a revolution without there first being a revolution of ideas, goes the theory. In practice, the only trouble comes when the firefighters become curious about what exactly it is they’re being made to burn. Then all hell breaks loose! Shit fire! Hot damn! Great book.

People the world over and even those in outer space loved old Ray. The crew of Apollo 15 so totally dug Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine that they named a lunar crater after the it. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second guy on the moon, and the man forever-and-a-day frustrated by the fact that he scores way less poon than Neil Armstrong, had this say: “Ray Bradbury is one who is contributing to the understanding of the imagination and the curiosity of the human race.” Hey, it would have been better if pussy-champ Neil Armstrong had said it, but novelists can’t be choosers, right?

Amazingly, despite his visions of the future, Ray never got into using computers. He even once told The New York Times that the Internet was pointless. Well, buddy, on that point at least, we’ve gotta say: FAIL!

It’s okay – nobody’s perfect!

Old Ray finally settled down to family life right here on Earth in 1947, when he married a gal named Maggie, and the happy couple had four little Martian girls. Ray suffered a stroke at age 80 and, sadly, couldn’t write anymore. He did, however, keep having his strange visions of things to come. He felt sure we’d be landing on Mars right soon and asked that his ashes be buried on that vast and vacant red planet.

We’ll sure miss you, old buddy, old Ray, venerable imaginer of humanity’s many possible destinies. We’ll sure miss you. I raise my cup of Dandelion Wineto you, Sir. I truly do.

GET RAY’S ASHES TO MARS: A FUND

  • If you’d like to help Ray complete his dying wish, shoot me an email: me (at) claytondiggs (dot) com.
  • It’s gonna take a lot of dollar bills to make it happen, but if Ray taught us anything, it’s that every dream has got to start somewhere.

“I’m so fucking cool. How big will penises be in the future? THIIIIS BIIIIG!”

REBLOG: SUCKER LITERARY MAG: Which Sucks Worse? My Story or Your Feedback?

On Giving Feedback

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/on-giving-feedback/

We writers are very sensitive about…well, everything : ) But mostly, we are sensitive about our work.  And that’s why when we give one another feedback, we need to choose the kindest approach.

I prefer a certain approach when giving feedback. This approach was further reinforced by Meg Kearney to me when I was a student at Solstice: When faced with having to criticize another writer’s work, choose kindness over harsh criticism. What this really boils down to is tone, use a kind tone when responding to a writer’s work.

I  think that sometimes when we read a piece and are asked for feedback, our own mood is really the determining factor in our tone and approach. My advice is this: if you find yourself irritated with the writer’s work, take a breath and walk away before you compose your feedback; you might choose harshness as oppose to kindness.

Helpful Versus Hurtful

Recently I read a feedback sheet from one of the Sucker Staff Readers (don’t worry, I’m not naming names). Anyway, this feedback sheet was very useful, and I agreed with all of the commentary, including that, ultimately, we have to reject the piece. What I made me pause while reading was the tone of some of the criticism.

For me, there is a helpful way to tell someone their piece isn’t very good, and then there’s a way that will just result in a writer getting defensive, which means they won’t “hear” the feedback.

It’s About The Delivery

While I think it’s helpful to tell a writer that their piece, well, bored me, I don’t think it’s helpful to add insult to injury in the form of an added metaphor or hyperbole: “Your story bored me out of my mind…The story was so long winded, I prayed for the end to come soon.” Or, “this story is SO pointless” and “the characters were SO poorly developed, that I actually hated them”.  Other cringe-worthy comments I’ve seen are: “The writing in this story is VERY corny and VERY lazy.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above criticism…except the tone is kind of mean. The very’s and so’s in all caps could be interpreted as yelling, so this writer might feel reprimanded rather than constructively criticized. The use of the phrases “your story bored me out of my mind” and “I prayed for the end to come soon” are borderline cruel. : ( A better way to say the same thing is: “I didn’t find myself turning the pages quickly while reading. Some of the paragraphs of description seemed too long, and I wanted to get to the action faster.”

Doesn’t that sound nicer? Isn’t that more helpful?

Antidote: BE SPECIFIC (and, yes, I’m yelling : )

Being specific in your feedback actually can change the tone from harsh to helpful because you are providing the writer with concrete evidence to support your opinion. If you just say that the piece was “filled with corny language and lazy writing”, the writer will probably take that to mean the whole thing plain sucks.  If you tell the writer what parts were corny or even just provide an example of the corny writing, than they might just feel empowered to fix the problem:  “The dialogue was corny because it used words like “golly” and “gee whiz”. Likewise, if you say the writing is lazy, point out exactly what parts were lazy, and, furthermore, explain what lazy means: Do you mean there’s an over use of certain words? That the writer chooses to “tell” rather than “show”? Does the writing have too much clichéd language or need more careful and exact word choice?

Bottom line, when you give feedback, be specific and point to the writing to support your comments, that way your commentary comes across as based on evidence in the writing and not a more subjective place…like your mood.

Encourage Rather Than Discourage

Ultimately when you read someone’s work and provide criticism, you want to encourage rather than discourage. Tone is what really makes the difference with this; constructive tone rather than destructive tone is crucial.

Our staff of readers are doing the very best they can to be kind and encouraging to our submitters, but sometimes I think we all forget or don’t notice our tone…Tone is subtle but super important in any form of communication and especially in writing. We don’t have inflection of voice or facial expressions to assist us in conveying our intended tone, so you have to choose your words very, VERY carefully.  : )