Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow, Writing, and Other Good Things

Today was yet another snow day in New York, so I took advantage of being trapped in my home by working on my own writing. I may have mentioned this to you all before, but sometimes I find it's hard to "get going" when I sit down to write. I don't mean that I have writer's block. To me, writer's block is the absence of an idea, as opposed to the absence of words.

Anyway, my lack of coherent thoughts can sometimes lead me to write rather sporadically. If a scene enters my head, or even just one line of dialogue, I write it down and I find the process of building around it is much, much easier. This, of course, leads to having pages and pages of disconnected scenes.

This got me wondering what your individual writing styles are. Do you also dip from scene to scene, hoping that everything will organically work itself out? Do you have an ending in mind first and then write to get there? Or, are you a traditionalist and start at the beginning? 

There really is no "right" answer because there can be no right or wrong way to create something you're proud of. There are probably writing styles that people have that I hadn't even thought of.... writing upside down with an astronaut pen? using a quill and pretending you're Shakespeare? dictating your novel to a subordinate?

Enjoy your snowy weekend, everyone! It's the perfect stay-in-and-write weather. But if you're one of those lucky few who live in NON-snowy places, there's no better place to write, in my opinion, than at your favorite bookstore or cafe :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Silly Me

Today's story was inspired by Charles Bukowski's Bring Me Your Love and is about facing the heartbreaking reality that the person you love is incapable of loving you back. The author, Robert Dean, is a freelance writer and poet from New Orleans. He's worked for NBC, ABC, The Michiana Entertainer, and is currently a contributor for Offbeat and Quarter Rat, two New Orleans-based magazines. Robert recently finished a novel, In the Arms of Nightmares, and is finishing a collection of short stories called The Snakes in the Garden. Here is his tale of young, unrequited love, Silly Me.

Silly Me
By Robert Dean
 
Shuffling past the annoying woman at the front desk, Billy fixed his plastic name badge to his shirt. He was visitor # 36 today. Every time he came she always seemed to find a reason to give him a hard time, always. She must have had it in for him. Last time it was his shirt. It had skulls on it and she felt offended that some of the more delicate minds couldn’t handle the dark imagery in an already grim situation. In polite words, he told her to go fuck herself. This time it was over the cupcakes. “Patients are usually on strict diets. You shouldn’t be meddling with the foods their specialists are providing.”

With polite internal rage, he spoke directly and with no lack of confidence. “Well, as far as I’ve been told there was no specific guidelines as to what I could bring inside. If anything, the doctor told me I could bring anything that might seem like a good feeling or show someone misses them. I think these will do the trick and I plan on bringing them inside with me. Thanks.” She peered at him behind her big, dated bug eyed glasses with obvious contempt. She was just a fat assed bitch who sat at a desk answering phones and complaining about rules she had no part in creating.

“Very well. Enjoy your visit.” She offered with a sugarcoated smile wrapped in hot dog shit.

“I fucking hate this place,” he muttered under his breath in the scientifically sterile atmosphere of the mental health ward. As his sneakers squeaked along the shiny white patterned tiles he looked around and into rooms, seeing the faces but knowing the minds inside were long lost memories. He always hated the way these kinds of places smelled, too clean, too pure. Disinfected. Cleansed to kill all humanity. The screams also bothered him. The wild howls off in corridors he couldn’t see, the places he wasn’t allowed to go. Whatever path he was allowed to walk on, was the “safe” path. He could only imagine what the more unruly guests had going on in the places he wasn’t allowed.

Finally, he made it to the courtyard. A big, open area with trees and tables toward the back where people could sit and talk, all under the watchful eyes of the help, of course. It was abnormally sunny outside, so at least that was working in his favor. Hide behind the sunglasses, can’t show the sadness in the eyes. Making it past the guards standing around like castoffs from the Wizard of Oz or Return of the Jedi he walked through the gigantic open doors and into the actual seating area.

There she sat. She looked great. A natural ten. Even after all the pain, the ugliness of their relationship, she was still beautiful. Everything between them had decayed to a point of crippled emotions and sad ideas of what love actually is. He didn’t care. He knew how much she made his heart pound. Even with no makeup on and looking like she hadn’t slept without medication in weeks she was still his reason for living. He was born to love her. She noticed him. No smile.

She chain smoked cigarettes with that familiar look of contempt usually reserved for the most hated of foes. Her messy blonde hair shined in the sunlight, he could see the dark roots glaring through. He knew he’d have to convince a nurse it was ok to let her dye her hair, as long he was there to watch and make sure she didn’t drink the bleach. A lot of red tape in situations like these.

Walking over to her, he offered a smile, a genuine moment of happiness. Taking a seat across from her, she hardly seemed to care his body was there.

“Wow, you’re late. I sat around all fucking day waiting for you. Thanks.”

“Um, baby, visiting hours just started a half an hour ago and I just spent the last ten minutes arguing with the whale at the front desk over bringing you cupcakes. I hope you like them. I basically had to systematically disable that fat bitch from trying to destroy them in front of me,” he said, putting down the pink and red confections in front of her.  He waited, hoping for a smile, a meek flicker behind her eyes…nothing.

“Thanks. I’ll eat them later. I don’t like the food here. I know I always tell you that but I hate it. I haven’t been eating lately. I’ve been drinking Listerine before I go to sleep. Trying to catch a slight buzz. So, why are you here again? I don’t know why you always fucking come here.”

“You know why I’m here every week, I love you. I’ve never not loved you. You’re my favorite girl in the whole world. You know that. You’ve always known that. If I didn’t come to see you, I’d be miserable. I hate not being able to see you every day.”

“And I tell you every single time, I can’t be with you, I can’t be with anyone. I’m too fucked up in my own head. I live in a fucking mental hospital and you still come every week on bended knee thinking I’m going to feel something for you. I don’t. I don’t have answers Billy, I just don’t.”

He was used to this. One week she loved him and would call from her room at all hours of the night crying about how much she missed his voice and the next, she hated that she loved him and made every reason up why he was wrong for her. Why they couldn’t be together and why after it all, she waited for him.

While others would have taken a long walk forever ago, he couldn’t. It wasn’t in his heart. There was too much feeling. When he was allowed to take her out on dates, he felt like king of the world. For a night, his girl was back. The princess, the thing in the world he loved the most. It was like it once was. Even in the back of his mind knowing that all the while after the sex and dinner was over, it would be the same twisted and sad situation.

“If you don’t care, why do you wait for me every week? You know I’m coming and you wait. Sometimes you even get pretty for me. That sounds like a girl who cares to me.” This is how their chess game always started. First a declaration of feelings and then a rousing game of questions followed by pouring out emotions, on his end.

“ I sit here because I do care about you. Who else is going to come and talk to me? I get fucking lonely in here being surrounded by all these crazy people. You at least are stupid enough to keep coming around and keep me company.”

“I do it, because I love you.”

“I don’t know what to fucking tell you Billy. I am never going to love you. I’m dead inside. I’m empty. Whatever someone once had, there’s nothing left for you.” She said this with complete sincerity while a grey plume of smoke crept out of her mouth.

“You told me you loved me last week and then took it back because you felt guilty about your feelings. I know you love me. You prove it on a daily basis, it hurts me so much when I give you so much and get nothing in return. You’re my whole world and I don’t have a mailbox on your block.” He hated these conversations. They always hurt him even though he’d had them a million times.

He looked around at all the other people talking. Some were older couples sitting on benches holding hands remembering when life was easier. The times before the husband started taking a shit on the floor and screamed about the milkman’s bottles or before the wife punched the kids in the face. Lives that might have been great at one point while the life he’s known never took shape of anything resembling a human heart. Billy’s heart sank. Reaching out, he slid his fingers along the top of her hands. She didn’t slide the hand away, a decent sign.

He looked deep into her eyes and the lifeless gaze was back. Some days, there was a fire inside that burned behind the color and the passion she held was staggering. Impossible to understand how much rawness boiled beneath the surface. That fire is what he fell in love with. That was what hooked him so long ago. But when the fire was out there wasn’t even smoke. There was nothing. When the haze in her eyes set in there was nowhere to go, there were no hidden details, whatever was inside was lost. Forgotten within it’s own mechanics. To try and throw a wrench inside the gears would be almost suicide. Billy learned that a long time ago. There were two versions of his angel, the one where when she was happy and functioning, brought him to his knees and the other, the one who when she was mentally checked out broke his heart with every word that slipped off the tongue.

“Billy, I’m not real. Nothing is real. I died a long time ago. It was a car crash, an overdose, or alcohol poisoning, but I’m living on a different plane than you are. I’m in Hell and you’re somewhere else. If you gave me a gun right now, I could place it next to my head and pull the trigger and I’d be here laughing just the same. I’m already dead. Nothing can kill me. I see ghosts and in my dreams, I can fly. I tell you I can’t love you because I can’t. There is no emotion left inside of me at all, there has to be something there to give someone, something and I have nothing to give. I’m sorry.”

Sadness and disappointment. Always having the feeling his skin would fall off and he’d slither out of his life. Why couldn’t he just walk away and love someone normal? Why couldn’t he find a girl who loves the mall and loves shopping and wanted to settle down and live a regular life?

As he sat there and felt like someone was digging the spike deeper into his ocular cavity, she continued on. Only this time he wasn’t listening. It was more of the same. He remembered all of the nights he spent alone drinking bottle after bottle, trying to sort out what was inside, what he felt. The dull pain of alcohol always made the internal battle easier, somehow. He moved to be as close as possible to be near her, he kept his phone near at all times, waiting to hear from her. The phone rang in the middle of the night, sometimes. As painful as those calls were, he loved knowing she was calling him.

“Anabelle, You’re not dead. You’re very much alive and in front of me. Aren’t you feeling any better from taking the medicines and talking with the doctors? I mean you should be feeling some kind of something, by now. I don’t mean about me, but I mean about everything, life. You’re not a horrible person you know. If you were, I wouldn’t be here.” Her eyes raked over him like hot coals in the slow burning fires of a summer grill.

“This is all bullshit. I don’t feel any better at all! I don’t FEEL anything. They say I’m making progress but I know it’s a load of fucking shit. I’m here because they’re making me be here. You’re allowed to be out there and living while I’m stuck inside this fucking place. You’re crazier than I am and you can walk out right now. I fucking hate you. You’re the one who got me here.”

Biting his lips, he knew it was true. Without him in her life, she would have continued on down the paths of places Alice in wonderland would be too scared to venture. He was the one who hid behind phone calls and concerned talks behind closed doors, but all on her behalf and it was he, ultimately who put her on the path to wellness but ruin all at the same time. While he was slowly killing himself one bottle at a time, she was “getting help”. He, like she knew outside of the drugs it was all a load of shit but felt somehow, that it helped in some kind of way. Love hurts and in places like these, you can walk out feeling like you’ve been crucified.

“Come on baby, let’s talk about happy stuff. I read a really cool book about Salvador Dali the other day and I thought of you. I wanted to bring it to you but I always bring you books and you never read them.”

“Everything you buy me is stupid. You always try too hard. You try to do too much. I told you, I don’t fucking care. It’s over, you’re never getting me back.”

“I’m not trying to get you back, I’m trying to be here while you’re struggling.”

“Do you know how much I’ve hated you lately? I can’t stand you.”

“That really fucking hurts to hear you say you hate me. I’ve never done anything wrong to you ever. All I ever did was treat you like a Queen. I can’t name one nice thing you’ve ever done for me.”

“Because you’re not worth it.”

She had crossed the line. There was nothing left to do or say to try and change the situation. A love unreturned is like tasting death, one cold breath at a time.

There it was, the limit. The point of where he’d reached as far as he could go. Looking at her and pulling his glasses down so she could see how affected he was, he wiped away the final tears and took a deep breath. He knew this would be his last visit. Even true love has its limits. When someone tries so hard and the other body at the end of the line won’t listen. The conversation is over. All the flowers that went in the trash, the late night text message battles, the promises to make it work this next time. It was all over. No more orange juice when she was sick, thoughtful notes or messages to outline a love so deep it was oceanic. Everything went black.

“Bye Anabelle. I wish, just once I could come and visit and you have something nice to say to me, just once. But, I know I’ll never get it and I know that I’m a glutton for pain and I shouldn’t have ever came. Now or then. But I do because I’m a fucking moron. I hope you find something inside, soon. I can’t be the whipping boy anymore. I’m tired and beat down. I’m done. You’ve taken everything I had and used me. I’m a crushed pop can on the side of the road. You’ll never find someone to love you like I did. You won’t. Goodbye, for real. I hope you get some sleep. I loved you more than anything I’ve ever loved before. Anything. Just know that tonight when you’re rolled up in your blankets. I’ll be home alone, crying because of how much you broke my heart. Again.”

She looked up at him as he shuffled his feet past her. The nothingness still behind the eyes. The lack of all human emotion. She knew. Hoping for an answer, he gave a pause on his heels. There was nothing. No sorry, nothing. The body was cold and the relationship was officially over. After all this time, all the heartache, the sadness, the lies and the nights crying into pillows. He would be gone from her life, forever. His eyes welled up with sadness, the misery felt like a hot poker into the stomach.

He’d have to figure out a new life. Maybe meet a nurse or a nice teacher, whatever the case, there would be no more wounded sparrows to love. As he walked outward, the world around grew silent and shaded. Every step away from a dead love was a step into a brighter world he’d someday see and touch.

His heart sank to the ground floor level. Trying so much to remain calm and collected, it was hard to shuffle past the bodies sitting at the tables and through the courtyard and past the fat bitch at her desk and finally into his car.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Simple Joys, or Why I Go to The Strand So Much


The Guardian's book blog has once again given me reason to pause and reflect. Last week they made me consider the most unreliable narrators in literary history (seriously, how was Tristram Shandey not on that list!?), but today they've caused me to marvel at the joy I get in life when I browse my favorite bookstore. I'm not ashamed to admit that I went to The Strand, one of my Top 5 NYC bookshops, three days in a row last week, and I managed to buy a book, either off their $1 rack or elsewhere, on all three days.

Part of the reason I love The Strand so much is because it's incredibly convenient to get to in terms of both my home and my job. I also love that for an independent bookstore, it's always crazy and hectic and all of the employees are unnecessarily surly. New York charm, I guess. 

But other reasons why I spend so much time in bookstores boil down to simply: it is an escape (not unlike my coffeehouse escape). Much like reading a book itself, browsing an old-fashioned, tangible bookshop is nothing short of therapeutic. (OK, so last week, during a particularly stressful momentary freak-out, I bought a cute little dress at the Gap - on sale! - and called it "therapy," but usually my impulse buys, stress buys, and happy buys are books!)

The Guardian article discusses another joy of browsing a store: judging a book by its cover. I don't usually do this; I'm more of a title person myself, which is a prejudice that has yet to fail me so far. It's how I discovered David Sedaris back in the day after spotting Me Talk Pretty One Day at a Barnes & Noble, and it's how, more recently, I bought, without hesitation, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya at another favorite NYC local shop, The Corner Bookstore. But on one of my recent Strand outings, I did pick up The Secret Life of Words based on the cover alone. (I mean, look at it! It's so fun and about WORDS!)

The joys that come from entering a bookstore are endless, really. Being literally surrounded by books, the reassurance that stores that sell physical books are still needed, seeing others around you get excited over certain titles... and so on and so on.

So, I've shared some of my favorite local shops and favorite reasons for going to said shops... what (and where!) are yours?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Missing Out


Friends, I have a few confessions to make, and I hope you all can still respect me afterward. (Deep breath...)

I have never read anything by a Bronte. 
I have not read Grapes of Wrath or Brave New World
I have not read The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit
I have yet to read The Hunger Games, Eat, Pray, Love, or anything by Zadie Smith. 
I probably won't read many other popular titles that came out in the past ten years. 
I definitely won't read an even larger number of classics.

OK. I feel better now. But only slightly.

I've read a LOT of books, but there will always be those certain titles that the collective "they" insist you have to read. I'm part of "they" when people tell me they've never read The Catcher in the Rye or 1984. I mean, how could you not have read those??? Right?

With so many works of literature out there, past and present, it would be impossible to attempt to read all of the good ones, let alone great. Which titles are you guilty of not reading? Or are you not guilty about it at all?

Leave your comments and then enjoy these two completely unrelated items to start your weekend off right:

1) The best PSA I've ever seen in my entire life - it teaches valuable life lessons, the most important being Read a Book! Disclaimer for those who might watch at work or in front of the kids: Contains Adult Language!

2) Corgis + a peaceful night's sleep = the best things in life, so I leave you with this combination of the two (!!!) And now your lives are complete :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Picture This

Picture this: It's Wednesday and you're preparing to have your mind blown by the Glass Cases story of the week. But first, you want to know more. Who is this Lisa Rusczyk? Why should you read her short story that is told in dueling points of view?

Well, here's your answer. Lisa is a writer and musician living in North Alabama with her four cats. She is the author of the novels The Blue Pen, Sam the Night Person, and Full Moon in December. Her fourth novel A Dream of the Past is coming out next month.

As always, enjoy!

Picture This
By Lisa Rusczyk

Picture this: An old man in the park with a long, red balloon. He twists it and twists, a squeaking noise makes it seem like the balloon’s about to pop, then he stops. He holds a red parrot now. He hands it to you. It’s yours.


“Jeff, you’re too slow. I tell you one more time, we’re going to have to talk, seriously.”

“Sorry, sir.”

Jeff goes back to his work. Blood doesn’t bother him anymore, but at first working with the chickens was terrible. He didn’t have to kill them, thank god, praise be. But there’s always blood, even with only plucking. He tries to pick up pace, feeling blisters under his gloves swelling.

Picture this: A piece of land covered with wildflowers. Butterflies are everywhere. There aren’t no bees, not one. A kite flies high in the sky, purple and full of ribbons. There’s a breeze so warm it fills your lungs and flows all the way into your fingertips.


“Jeff, come on, now, son. You okay? You got to pay attention.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll pay attention.”

Boss Man smiles without lifting his lips. “Let’s smoke.”

They go outside and Jeff lights Boss Man’s cigarette. Boss Man leans on a brick wall and looks out at the almost-dark night sky. “You know, I started here when I was your age. You just got to work. You are lucky you have the opportunity. You got arms, legs. I like you, but you got to realize you ain’t one of them chickens…”

Picture this: A black and white kitten sitting in front of a fireplace. It just finished drinking a bowl of milk and now it’s warming up. It purrs and licks its tiny whiskers. It looks so wise for such a bitty little thing.

“…so all you need is a little push, you know, and you can focus a little more, then it’s fine. If you don’t get there, then I can’t help you no more. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He tosses his butt. “Now go on in there and do your darndest.”

Jeff goes back inside. Smith, next to him, chuckles and shakes his head. “Damn, he likes to ride your ass. Ten other folks twelve times slower than you. Sorry, man. What he think? You’re his student in the art of chicken guts?”

Jeff doesn’t meet Smith’s eyes. He goes back to work and says, “Well, I got a smoke.”

Smith laughs and says it wouldn’t be worth it to him.

Picture this: Snow drifting from a gray, morning sky when nobody in the whole world is awake. The only ones to watch with you are the angels, and although you think you can’t see them, they are there in front of your eyes. They are riding those fat flakes and if you listen really hard, you’ll hear the slightest sound of their laughter as their bits of snow tap the ground on landing.

Jeff leaves at eight and drives his Honda home. He knows he smells horrible, but he can’t actually tell for himself anymore. He walks up two flights to his small apartment and opens the door to the smell of spaghetti and the sounds of Willie Nelson. Kelli comes from the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at his clothes. “Blow kiss.” He does. She blows one back. “Dinner’s almost up. How’s work?”

“Fine. You?”

“It was my last day before leave, remember. It’ll be so nice to keep my feet up for awhile.”

He showers, changes into flannel and shorts. He goes back to the kitchen. “Kel, lie down for me?”

“But dinner…”

“Please?”

She sighs. Shakes her head. “You smell nice.”

“Please?”

“Oh, okay.” She walks into the den and lies on the small brown couch. Jeff kneels at her side on the floor and lifts up her shirt. He traces his hand down the side of the enormous ball that is the belly of his wife, and says, “Got some things to tell you about. Picture this: An old man in the park with a red balloon…”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Selling Yourself Short

On Wednesday, I read a post on Rachelle Gardner's blog about separating one's writing life from his or her financial life. In it, she argues that when writers put their pens to paper with only dollar signs in their eyes, their work suffers. I have to say I agree with this. Thought of being the next James Patterson or Stephen King are often delusional, and chances are you won't write the next Twilight either. Those types of trends are often completely random, so if you trap yourself in the mindset that whatever you're about to write will be "the next big thing," you'll end up driving yourself crazy. Or worse - into a writer's block.

Now, I don't mean to sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but as I thought more about the relationship between writing and money, I couldn't help but wonder - do writing goals and financial goals need to be mutually exclusive? If you're a writer, your number one goal should be producing work that you love and are proud of. Writing is personal and therapeutic and people do it because they need to. Like any art, the best writing comes from the passion behind it.

But writers also shouldn't be ashamed to expect adequate compensation for the many hours they put into their work. It's not selling out and it doesn't make you shallow. If you're at the point of querying agents, chances are you are trying to turn "what you love" into a viable career option. And really, isn't that what everyone wants?

I'm not going to sugar-coat the state of the industry. Unless you already are James Patterson or Stephen King, you will most likely not become a millionaire with your first six book deals, let alone your first one. Even when we're not in/recovering from a recession, that probably wont happen. Sorry.

That doesn't mean setting financial goals for your writing career is unrealistic. Once the scary querying stage is over, knowing you're being artistically recognized and monetarily compensated can be a great motivator. Don't be afraid to know your worth. Selling yourself short puts you at risk of working for way less than you deserve, and then nobody wins.

I am in no way suggesting you scream at your agents every time they come back to you with an offer. (Let me repeat: PLEASE DO NOT YELL AT YOUR AGENTS!) I am simply saying that you should choose an agent who you know will fight for you, agents you can trust to get the most they can for the work you've produced.

The sayings "don't quit your day job" and "starving artists" apply, especially, to writers and they exist for a reason. It's hard to turn your passions into your job when the competition is already high and the chances of slipping a measly query letter through a slush pile are exceptionally low. That doesn't mean it's impossible. All it takes is for someone to believe in your work the way you believe in it.

And so I leave you for this LOVE-ly weekend (get it?) with one more affirmation, because if anyone knows what it means to get what they deserve, it's these awesome ladies! (Warning: this song will stay in your head until President's Day, but it is so worth it.) 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter's Beach

Home with a snow day! New York finally got all that snow the weather overlords said we were going to get, and it's pretty exciting. Not only does winter actually look like winter, but it means I get to enjoy some home-brewed coffee, a real breakfast, and Buffy in syndication (!). Then, OK, I'll actually do some reading and writing. 

In case you were wondering, the title of today's post is not a reference to "snowmageddon," "snowocalypse," "snow-my-god," or any other cute name the media is using to call "winter." Rather, it is the title of today's story, which is an excerpt of a short story by Dylan Angell. 

Dylan is a Brooklyn writer and musician who is also working with the documentary film company, The Ripple Project. He is currently working on a documentary about youth who choose travel over easier routes in life. After reading his amazing short story, you should go check out The Ripple Project and his band, Dark Meat.

Winter's Beach
By Dylan Angell

Richard Bram awoke on the beach. The sun sat upon him and the winter's beach rhythmically reached for his dampened shoes . He rolled over onto his stomach and pressed his face into the sand. The cold covered him in spite of the sun and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into the earth. A great cough filled his throat and forced him to roll over and sit up. He looked out towards the ocean, sand still crusted into the side of his face and white beard, as if the earth had tried to decompose him not knowing his body still breathed. "Bram..b..b..bram..." he said, practicing his speech. This was a consistent practice for him, repeating his name so he could hear it. It was a reminder that he was a part of this world, that he was present amongst the people scenes that he saw. His head pounded as if a church bell was inside hitting the walls as it swung side to side.

He needed a cup of coffee. The sky broke.

He walked down La Rambla stumbling, stinking in the spring rain. His body had developed a coat of nature's elements and whatever other fluids had dripped or leaked from his body . He found a covered cafe and sat down. His smell followed him, a smell he detested. It was his smell and it sat upon him like a virus. It made him hate himself, as if he was his own uninvited guest. He could not separate from himself. It was a shadow that hovered over his every move.

A group of waiters whispered to one another in the corner looking at Richard til one finally sheepishly and relunctantly made his way across the room.


"Buenos dias."

"English?"

"No."

"Espresso, double."

"Si."

Slowly the damp molecules of H2o that where embedded into his skin and clothes evaporated into the air. The coffee warmed him and the corpse had been resurrected. The workers of his head began their day, and the machines went into effect. From his seat he watched unfortunate homeless men walk to and from nowhere . Doing their daily dance. He hated them, they called him brother, look at what they had done by doing so. They are pathetic. They beg before they even speak, they may be his mirror image but inside he was wealthy, he was on an adventure, and they wanted nothing more than to steal the fruit from his tree.

It had been six years since the old man "retired." Once a successful lawyer in Texas, he had accumulated a small fortune and with a small amount of fame, a general disgust for his surroundings, a family he did not know and an unfulfilled secret life as a homosexual, he decided to disappear. One day, six years or so ago, he walked into an airport, closed his eyes, spun in a circle and walked toward the closest line. The plane was headed toward Barcelona.

The beard sat upon him as a proud ornament, his yellow teeth a blinding shield to those who knew him. He refused to learn Spanish or Catalan. He wanted to be alone and become mute, deaf, and dumb. Just view the world as it truly is. Language became the enemy, along with the weight of material things. He wanted to wake up a child everyday and erase himself every evening. One thing kept him from this: he believed his son was looking for him. He also knew his mind was cracking and could not be trusted. He could not remember his sons face and therefore did not know when it may be peering upon him.

He walked towards the train station. As always, the policer officers study him with their eyes, waiting for him to slip up. He cursed them silently in his head - they were puppets working for another mans ideals, he thought. He kept a locker here where he kept clothes and notes about his old self, pictures of his family, his kids and his parents. He kept a stash of nicer unworn clothes just incase a situation should call for them. He grabbed a white button up shirt and some slacks that now smelled of moth balls. He made his way to the train station's wash room, packed almost wall to wall with tourists. He carried some scissors, a razor, a bar of soap and a change of clothes. He spent about an hour dragging the rusty razor across his face. His hair was spotted as he cut out small chunks till it left a look that was manageable. Then he undressed and bathed himself in the sink. Standing in his soiled briefs he kept his gaze forward, ignoring the tourists as they came and went. He put on his new clothes. He was handsome, still young and exposed, he thought. He packed up his things and walked out into the station. He walked toward the security guards.

"Hola," he said. "Hola, English?"

"Little," said the fat one.

"Have you seen my son?"

"I do not know... How would I know?"

"He looks like me, but his teeth are not yellow."

"I do not understand. Do you need help?"

"Not from you."

The old man stomped off triumphantly. He had passed the test. He was unrecognizable to his present enemy but now exposed to the old.

He rented a hotel room. He sat in front of the mirror, perplexed by the face he had left hidden. Memories flooded at the sight of this face, a face he counterattacked with expensive whisky. He stood naked - he had just taken a bath. His stomach strangely swollen, his penis stained with dirt. The dirt that had clung tight to him, his new friend. His uninvited guest. A penis he wanted to clean for the expected company. He took 5 naps in the next 12 hours and 3 showers, drinking whisky in between each. He modeled in front of the mirror his nice clothes. He got the the hotel barber to finish off his haircut and give him a clean shave. He ordered room service and ate a steak that hurt his teeth while sitting in bed without his shoes on watching an American game show in Spanish.

He awoke at 2 a.m. His alarm going off this time. He got dressed and began to walk. He walked down La Rambla. Drunk tourists stood like bowling pins that would not fall. Watching the streets performers and listening to the heckling of every language's tongue. He felt no longer exposed, his smell no longer calling attention to him. The prostitutes emerged as the bars let out. A beautiful African woman reached for his hand, but he stared forward. He found the bar he wanted,and spoke to an older African man about his own age. Within 10 minutes, he was back in his hotel room. Lying on his back smoking a cigarette. He thought nothing, he felt nothing, and if he was nervous it did not show. The phone rang. "Gracias, send him up." He sat cross legged and bare foot on the bed. He reached for his cracked glasses and put them on. He lit another cigarette, staring forward. There was a knock on the door. It opened. There was a teenage african boy, wearing bright street wear and bright make up,with his ears pierced holding tiny little diamonds.

"Sit down," he motioned to the boy. The boy did so. "You speak English, yes?"

"Yes," the shy boy whispered, not sure if he should look at the man.

"How old are you?"

"Um... seven and ten."

"Oh, seventeen."

"Yes, seventeen."

The man felt strange and could no longer look toward the boy. "You are from Africa?"

"Yes."

"How long have you been here?"

"Two years."

"Ok, how did you get here?"

"On a boat."

"Did it take a long time?"

"Yes ."

"Is your mother beautiful like you?"

"Yes."

"Does she carry buckets of water on her head like the woman in magazines?" The old man let out an awkward laugh.

"No sir."

"If I give you three hundred dollars will you kiss me?"

"It is fifty. You paid my father already, yes?"

"I know, I just want a kiss."

The boy leaned forward and kissed Richard Bram. He closed his eyes and then opened them. He got up and reached into a drawer and pulled out an envelope. He counted some bills and came and handed them to the boy.

"I have one question."

"Yes."

"Have you seen my son?"

"I do not know? Is he in the streets?"

"He looks like me but his teeth are not yellow."

"No, I do not know."

"Ok thank you, you may leave."

The boy did so. The man took a bath and began to cry. He could not make love to the boy because he was ashamed of his dirty penis.

He awoke early determined to find his son. He wanted to go home and he wanted his son to take him. He dressed himself up, pacing between bathroom and bedroom. There were mirrors in both rooms but the angles and the difference of portraits they left discouraged him. In one he looked like a father, in the other he didn't. Their was no doubt that his face had changed. It had rearranged itself beneath the beard. His teeth yellow, face thinned, and the power he once held now stripped of him. He looked like a man. Like an average man and he liked this, but he was afraid his son would not recognize him. He put on his cracked glasses and lit a cigarette and looked himself up and down. He pounded his chest. "You're still alive, boy!" He shouted. He closed his eyes and opened them to make sure his words were true.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Superbowl Ups Their Game

While the best word to describe what I see when I look at a football game is "static," I, like many, sat down to watch the Superbowl last night. (Go Saints!) Granted, I only watch the Superbowl every year for the commercials and (sometimes) the half-time show. The hype surrounding the ads this year was already high due to the allowance of an anti-choice ad and the denial of an ad for a gay dating site. So, more intrigued than usual about the content of the commercials, I was prepared for some mild irritation (Tim Tebow), some laughs (Betty White!), and a whole lotta unnecessary sexuality (Danica Patrick and that other token hot girl from GoDaddy). 

The objectification of women is practically standard in commercials, so much so that it's now often exaggerated for comedic effect. But last night featured far fewer babes in bikinis than in previous years. (Where there any at all?) Perhaps the folks at CBS thought the hot-chicks-and-beer images weren't for the post-wardrobe malfunction eyes of the FCC. Instead, the ads took their anti-woman agenda to a whole different level. 

Is it too much for me to call it an "agenda?" Maybe. But when I think back to the Dodge Charger commercial titled "Man's Last Stand," I think... maybe not. In the ad, the inner voice of "Average Man" goes over everything he does not want to do during the course of his day, which includes doing his job, coming home from said job, and spending time with (presumably) his wife. Because he behaves the way a human adult should, he totally deserves a car that looks like a huge penis.

Two more ads - I forget what they were for, but then, does it matter? - were especially tactless. One featured Jim Nance announcing that any man who agrees to shop with his girlfriend has "had his spine removed" and obviously needs to get it back by buying something damn manly! The other ad simply listed what "real men" should do during their lifetimes, which include falling in love with woman (subtext: and only a woman!) and then proceed to do much of what the man in the Dodge commercial complained about.

What's interesting here is that, yes, these ads are obviously offensive to women, but they've managed to now include a whole other group of people to offend: men! If I were a man, I would be rightfully horrified at these ads' portrayal of the such a blatant stereotype of the male psyche. However, if I were a guy, I'd probably think they were speaking directly to me because I, too, would feel trapped and burdened by the annals of life. Guys, if you need a car or other product to assert your manhood, I have news for you - you're not a real man yet, and buying that car won't change that. This is a new brand of misogyny. Just because it offends everybody doesn't mean it counts for equality.

So, to sum up, I've learned that yes, I am one of those stereotypical women who are confused by football, but I also learned that women, football fans or otherwise, only exist to look pretty and emasculate men. Likewise, all men secretly hate their lives and resent their girlfriends, wives, children, and even jobs for making them forget their true nature... which is apparently "being fifteen."

Sort of makes one miss the days of "Open a Bud Light, Have a Stripper Land in Your Lap," doesn't it?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Inspiration & Motivation

To my fellow writers... 

Yes, I say "fellow" because I am in the process of reclaiming my roots in creative writing. I've been so busy thinking my MFA was useless and not worth the debt, that I haven't thought about actually using it. While my go-to style is personal essay, I've been trying my hand at (gulp!) fiction. It's pretty terrifying. Right now my idea is heavily based on a friendship I had in high school, and, as expected, the sections that come more naturally to me are scenes involving those two characters. I find I'm less motivated to write the straight-fiction parts, which will account for 75% of the novel. 

The easy solution is to make this a memoir, but then I'd be stuck with having to make it truthful, and frankly, this story would be very boring if I start and end it where it did in real life. I want to take it further and explore areas in that time period without having to worry about things like facts. The only problem is - I just can't make myself sit down and write it.

I'm curious about what happens after the inspiration. It's hard enough finding a muse and putting an idea down on paper. But, once you finally map out where you want to go, what makes you get in your car and drive there? I apologize for the weak metaphor, but you see what I mean. Any advice out there for me or to the other writers out there?

One last word on MFAs - despite my gripes, I don't regret getting one. I know being in the program made me a better writer and I definitely learned more in those two years than I did in the four years I studied creative writing before that. However, they are expensive!!! I do not suggest going for the MFA right after college unless you are 100% certain that the only career for you is "author." Even then, they're not super necessary, but you do meet some great professors (many of whom have connections) and form a decent writing circle that will be super necessary later in your writing life.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Paragon: Chapter 2

It always makes me happy when we get repeat offenders here on Glass Cases. Back in September '09, Bob Young shared with us the first chapter of his novel, The Paragon of Animals, in which his main character, Somerset realized he needed to "take a giant leap forward" in his life after meeting the heroic Hadrian. Enjoy this continuation of Somerset's story!

The Paragon of Animals
By Bob Young

Chapter Two
Hadrian Falconer got out of the cab on a busy Manhattan avenue. Buying a newspaper before he entered the office building, he was approached by several excited people. Despite his fierce reputation, Hadrian always gave off the vibe that he was approachable. People liked him. He didn’t mind strangers coming up to him. On the contrary, regardless of his privileged upbringing, he fancied himself a man of the people.

Entering the building where his office was located, he bantered with the doormen and talked to some people in the lobby while he waited for the elevator. He was glad people weren’t too intimidated by him to start conversations. Even though he could kill someone in six seconds with one hand in the dark, he was still a magnet for people. And he had a sharp—albeit often merciless—sense of humor. He didn’t know anyone in the US who disliked him. No one except people he’d captured, like that nut who tried to shoot Eddie the environmentalist. Certainly those people weren’t thrilled with him, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Arriving at his office, which said ‘HADRIAN FALCONER: PROFESSIONAL ADVENTURER’ on the door, he greeted his only two employees. One was Anne the receptionist and the other was Benny, a teenager who ran errands. Anne was sixty years old and saw Hadrian as a frivolous rich kid with too much time on his hands. (This was somewhat accurate.) Sometimes her impatience with him showed. Young Benny, on the other hand, was a big fan.

“Please keep your seats, you crazy kids!” Hadrian said in his usual jovial voice. “Anything exciting hereabouts?”

“No sir,” Anne said officiously. “We just work in the office. You do all the exciting stuff.”

“Did I forget your birthday, Annie?” He asked jokingly. He always enjoyed Anne’s little fits of pique. None of his servants at home would ever have spoken to him like she does. It was refreshing.

Annie held out a handful of ‘While You Were Out’ slips. “You have twelve messages and a bunch more on voice mail.”

“Och, you’re glad to see me,” Hadrian said, taking the slips. “Messages! I love getting messages!”

“You’re a very strange young man,” she answered.

“You’re only just catching on to that, are you?” He said, and sat at his desk, reading his messages.

Ben rushed over with some coffee. “Morning Hadrian. Heard you had some excitement yesterday.”

“That?” Hadrian asked, “You call that excitement, do you? Tackling one sad, incompetent berk? Hardly exciting. As thrilling as eating cereal without milk.”

He read his messages and was disappointed. None of them promised any adventure. Just tedious stuff, like yesterday’s bodyguard job. No man-hunting, no invitations to a fight club. Nothing to test the prodigious talents of someone who was trained by the mysterious and legendary Candymen.

‘Dull, dull, dull,’ he lamented.

The most interesting one came from a movie studio. They needed his combat tutorial expertise, for the sake of realism. True it was a waste of his formidable talents, but it was something to do. He liked the chaotic atmosphere at a movie studio. It wasn’t particularly challenging but it was fun. He dialed the number, and the secretary at the other end of the line transferred him to Morgan Hogarth, production head.

“Your Grace, thanks for getting back to me so quickly,” Morgan said.

“Call me Hadrian,” the Scotsman said. “I’m only ‘Your Grace’ back home. Here, I’m just your average handsome hero. At any roads, I’m considering the offer. I quite enjoy cinema work. No biz like show biz.”

“Excellent,” Morgan said. “You’ll love this one. It’s right up your street. We’re doing a film version of Hamlet.”

“Another one? What happens when you get to 100? Is there a trophy?”

“It’s timeless!” Morgan said. “Why so surprised? Aren’t you from the land of Shakespeare?”

“England is the land of Shakespeare, brainiac,” Hadrian said. “I’m a Scot.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Not to you, apparently.”

“If I’ve given offense…” Morgan began.

“Och no, it’s an annoyingly common mistake,” Hadrian interrupted. “I tolerate it, much as I tolerate yourself. So, you’ll be wanting me to coach your actors in some dueling and fencing?”

“That’s the ticket,” Morgan said. “And maybe help us with some fight choreography. You excel at that.”

“Stop your stroking,” he said. “My ego’s nay my weak point. Boredom is. When do I start?”

“Next Thursday, if possible. Name your price.”

Often, Hadrian didn’t charge a fee. He didn’t need to. If the client were not wealthy, or seemed in legitimate danger, or if the cause was a good one, Hadrian would waive his fee completely. Also, if the mission promised to be an adventure, Hadrian would eagerly take the job without asking a cent. But in a case like this, when a big movie studio was asking him to do something tedious like teaching actors how to fence, he charged a very high fee. He knew he was worth it. Not that he needed the money, but they don’t respect you if you give it away for free. And Hadrian would have respect!


Colorado
The old car made noises that no human being had ever heard before but Somerset didn’t care. Just so long as it managed to make the entire trip home before it broke down, it could make whatever noises it liked. As Somerset drove along the hilly and increasingly familiar road in Colorado, the smell in the air started to ignite his often-inaccurate memory. Inaccurate, because he tended to remember things as being much worse then they really were. For example, the clown that had performed at his 7th birthday party didn’t really have fangs and try to swallow him whole. Somerset tended to exaggerate, even to himself. He had remembered this area as being sort of gray and smelling like chalk. But now he had to amend that memory. It was green and fragrant. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, butterflies were fluttering by, and everything was just as nice as a person could possibly ask for. It wasn’t the way he remembered.

Then he saw the sign. The sign that, as a boy, had been like a marker for the edge of the world. Much like the ships in pre-Columbus days feared to sail past a certain point because they’d fall off the edge of the earth, so too, a young Somerset had never passed this sign because he feared what he would find after he left the only world he knew.

The sign read: You Are Now Entering the Town of Woeful. Population 300.

The population was still 300. Some things never change. Nothing ever changed in Woeful. That was why Somerset had wanted to leave. And possibly why he now needed to come back. He needed the comfort of the unchanging town of his birth. ‘The town that time forgot’, as he used to call it. It was like a museum, preserved perfectly.

It was dull. Maybe that was why he remembered it as being gray. It was as exciting as a gray room. Living there was like watching a banana speckle. But at the moment, Somerset needed that lack of excitement and danger. There was no danger in Woeful. The town motto was ‘Don’t expect the unexpected.’

The town came into view. The little, Norman Rockwell-ish hamlet that made Mayberry seem like Las Vegas. The same little houses. The same little stores. The same little…everything! It was all the same.

“If you lived here, you’d be bored by now,” Somerset paraphrased.

The car rolled into the town of Woeful, obeying the 10-mph speed rule. There weren’t too many people on the streets this morning. There never was, except for Sunday morning, when they got up to head for the church. The few people who were out walking looked curiously into the car to see who was driving. When they recognized the prodigal Somerset, they smiled and waved. Somerset waved back. They were good people. He liked them all. They were just boring.

Somerset drove along the main road, waving to people who waved to him. He was glad to see these faces that he had grown up with. Familiarity may often breed contempt, but in this case, it bred comfort. All the comforts of home. He needed that now.

Somerset pulled over and parked in front of the general store. He got out, stretched his legs and looked around. “Feels like I never left,” he said.

Somerset walked into the three-isle store. This was where Somerset had gotten his very first job. There were no customers. That was no surprise. No business in this town was ever swamped with patrons. What struck Somerset as being unusual, and unique to small town living, was that the proprietor was not here. Only in a town like this would someone walk away and leave their store unattended.

Everything was exactly where he remembered it to be. Canned tomatoes, isle three. Paper towels, isle one. Nothing had changed. It was like a time capsule. As he perused the unaltered aisles, the owner returned.

“Well, well, it’s Somerset, back in town,” Mr. Moss, the storekeeper said. “Welcome home, son.”

Somerset thanked the friendly old man and got into a brief discussion which reminded him that he was in the boredom capital of the universe. He excused himself and quickly exited the store.

He decided to leave the car where it was and walk across town. He headed for home, slowly, taking in the sights like a tourist. He knew every inch and was comforted by that fact. The bowling alley. The TV repair shop. The hotel, where no one ever stayed except traveling salesmen and people just ‘passing through’. Woeful was like a still-life painting in his mind, forever unchanging.

“Nothing changes,” he mumbled to himself. “Not even me.”

Somerset almost passed his house. But that all-too-familiar peach-colored mailbox, with the name ‘Ross’ in white letters, caught his eye. He looked over the house he had grown up in. It seemed smaller than he remembered. But otherwise, it was totally unchanged. Even the little garden in the front lawn seemed to have the same flowers. Somerset walked down the cobblestone path to the front door. No key. Should he ring the bell? Nah, this is Woeful. He tried the door handle. It was unlocked. Of course it was.

He walked inside and observed, with no surprise at all, that not a thing had been moved. The same “Brady Bunch”-like furniture. The pictures of himself and his sister as children still adorned the wall.

“Mom?” He called out. “I’m home.”

He heard footsteps moving quickly upstairs. He saw a shadow coming around the bend at the top of the stairs. The person who had cast the shadow appeared. But it wasn’t his mother. It was someone that he was more anxious to see. It was his sister Heather.

Heather was two years younger than Somerset. She had just started college. Heather was a pretty, petite girl with an infectious smile. Like Somerset, she had green eyes and brown hair. Hers was shoulder length. Heather and Somerset had always been very close. She was the only one who Somerset had really missed.

“Somerset!” She yelled, as she leaped from the bottom step and bounded into Somerset’s arms. They hugged affectionately.

“Hi sis.”

Heather kissed him on the cheek. “It is so good to see you again,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”

“Yeah, I’ve missed you too. How are you?”

“I’m doing OK,” she said. “Everything’s quiet on the western front. And you?”

“Doing great,” he said, trying to hard to be cheerful. “Where’s mom?”

“She’s at work,” Heather answered. “She tried to get out early, but she had some sort of teachers meeting after class today. She’ll be here soon.”

“How is she?”

“She’s fine. But I can tell something’s bothering you,” Heather said. “I know you too well.”

“I’ll be all right. I just need a little downtime. A little rest,” he said convincingly.

“Well, your old room is still yours,” Heather said, gesturing grandly toward the stairs. “Feel free to rest your weary bones, and I’ll call you when mom gets home.”

“Thanks Heather. We’ll catch up later.”

“Absolutely,” she said. “I want to hear all about everything you’ve done while you’ve been away.”

“Sure, sis,” Somerset started to walk up the stairs. He stopped and looked back at Heather. “It really is good to see you again.”

“You too, sweetie.”

Somerset climbed the stairs and went into his old room. There is no need to point out that nothing had been changed. Somerset didn’t even bother to look around. He just collapsed onto the bed. He had left his luggage in the car. But that didn’t matter. This was Woeful. No one broke into cars. There were no robberies. There were no surprises.

He found one of his old books. ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare.’ He loved Shakespeare. He always had. This was the kind of hobby that used to get him beaten up in high school. But he always found solace in literature. He didn’t care if no one else he knew shared this love. He never fit in with the crowd anyway.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Analysis of a Query

When a truly horrible query letter comes in (written in crayon, vampire erotica for toddlers, etc.), publishing assistants usually just mock it until it cries. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. But what about a poorly written query letter that still shows a hint of potential? This is treated with more care, meaning the "mocking" is then called "judging" and instead of making it cry, we, instead, force it to question its decisions with equal parts shame and understanding.

(It should be noted that when I say "it," I really am talking about the inanimate query letter, and am in no way suggesting that we come up with horrifying rejections for its author. Breathe easy, writers!)

Today, a query letter arrived in a sister-assistant's inbox and, from it, a request for a partial was born. But, she severely questioned this decision and enlisted the help of the other sister-assistants to figure out why she had instantly regretted her request. While keeping the identity and dignity of the author safe, here is what we came up with (so that you do not fall victim to these potentially fatal mistakes):

Get a real email address. Generally, .edu or @aol.com are red flags that a query probably will be less than stellar. Also, avoid things like FlrtyGrrl69 or MetsRule86 (unless you are a sportswriter). By all means express your personality, but do it tastefully and in the right context.

Be controversial without being out of touch. If you're writing YA, it's common to put your main characters in adult situations. Just make sure your characters handle these situations the way teenagers would. Making them act too old, or too young, puts you at risk of seeming clueless to the teenage experience, and your target audience will see right through you.

Delete irrelevant personal details. Really young writers and more, shall we say, seasoned writers tend to put their ages in their query letters. To the twelve-year-olds and ninety-three-year-olds: if you can write, you can write. If you can't, you can't. Knowing how old you are is rarely, if ever, put into consideration.

Avoid vague plot summary. Call it the "yada, yada, yada" of synopses. When key elements to the plot (and therefore, our level of interest in that plot) are glossed over, it makes it seem as if they are not good enough to be mentioned. We want specifics! We want to be dazzled! We do not want "after various events take place, Character A and Character B realize their destiny and fall in love."

DO NOT compare yourself to Twilight. I repeat: Do. Not. Do. This. EVER. See also: The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, anything by John Grisham, or using the phrase "Oprah-appeal." Confidence in your work is good. Calling yourself the next major trend in literature, pop culture, and the world... kind of a turn-off. Also, it's up to your agent and/or publisher to decide where you fall on this spectrum of popularity, not you.

So, you may be asking yourself why I'm telling you to avoid all of these things when the person who did do them still got a request. It's because as a writer you never, ever, ever (ever!) want to give an agent or publisher more of an incentive to reject you. It's a harsh reality to face, but the odds are already against you. What works for some will most likely not work for you. Don't let your brilliant manuscript see the inside of your SASE just because you insisted on using the words "great for film."