Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To the Hot Guy at 5:30 Mass

Hello, friends! It's the final Story Time of 2010 and I'm happy to bring you a little non-fiction and a little religion as we all break for the holidays. OK, so the "religion" part is an exaggeration. But, this essay by repeat offender, Molly Strzelecki, does take place at Mass. You may remember Molly's last appearance on Glass Cases, back when temperatures were higher and she gave us some pretty great fiction. For more of Molly, go visit her blog, McPolish.

An Open Letter to the Hot Guy at 5:30 Mass
By Molly Strzelecki
Dear Samson,
I know your name is not Samson. At least, I am guessing that there is a very slim chance that your name is Samson. But my girlfriends and I call you Samson because of the following text exchange I once had with my friend Julie:
Me: omg! The hot guy at mass cut his hair! It’s so much shorter now!
Julie: omg no way! Is he like Samson? Did he lose his sexy power?
Me: no, he’s still got his sexy power. Heh. Samson.
So we call you Samson. I hope that’s okay. It’s just so much easier than Hot Guy at 5:30 Mass. Not that “Hot Guy” wouldn’t be a good name for you, as you are both hot and a guy, but this is all beside the point. The point is maybe I should start over.
Hello! I’m Molly, and I often sit in the pew in front of you at the 5:30 pm Sunday mass at Blessed Sacrament. How are you? I am fine. I just wanted to drop you a note to say that I find you very attractive – hot, even – and if you’d be up for it, I’d very much like to marry you and have several babies with you. I have come to the conclusion that you, Samson, may very well be the man of my dreams. Hard to say, though, as I’ve only ever seen you at mass. I don’t know what you are like outside of church, but inside church you are tall and handsome and sometimes you go to mass with your friends, too, which right there we obviously have something in common. But as soon as the recessional hymn ends you slip out the door and into the evening mist never to be seen until the following Sunday, which puts a thought in my head that maybe you are not the man of my dreams, but are instead the Holy Ghost?
Well, either would be fine with me, really. I would like to get married someday, I think, but then again, after 31 years of being Catholic I have still not quite grasped who, or what, exactly, the Holy Ghost is, other than one third of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Ghost just simply isn’t as tangible as Jesus or God, there are no parables to describe Him/It, and this has left a big chunk of my diagramed spiritual life missing. Were you to draw it out on a large piece of poster board, it would look something like this:
                                        (line here)                    (no line here)

                                Jesus    (line? Squiggly line? No line?)            Eh?

            So, Samson, if you are the Holy Ghost, that’s totally cool with me, because then at least I would be able to put a face with a name.
            But if, in fact, you are not the Holy Ghost, and are the man of my dreams instead, then terrific! This is very exciting.
            Except that, as previously mentioned, I do not even know your name. I do not know where you live. Did you grow up in the area? Do you really reject Satan and all his ploys, or is this church thing just a cover for your true self, and really you are quite evil? What are your thoughts on premarital sex? Oh, Samson, there are so many questions I have for you, and I’m just not sure where to begin. Or how to begin, for that matter.  How, exactly, does one approach a handsome young man in church? Sure, there is the “Please take a Minute to Stand and Greet Your Neighbor” moment right before mass begins, and I’ve attempted to glean a shred, any shred, of information that way. Maybe you remember? Maybe you don’t. It went like this:
            Me: Nice to meet you. I’m Molly.
            You: Hi.
            You speak English! This bodes well for us. The next week, I tried to glean more information.
            Me: Hi, I’m Molly
            You: Nice to see you again.
            You remembered me! This is progress, Samson. I hope that one of these days, when we meet-and-greet, you will share your name too. I think that day could be magical.
            But beyond that, Samson, I’m not sure how to approach you. My psychic said that it is a very strong possibility that the man of my dreams will start out being a friend of mine, so maybe I should ask you to do something friendish? Except that usually my friends just come over and drink wine and do crossword puzzles and our nails while watching Lifetime Originals. You know, so soon in our relationship, and me not knowing your name or anything, that might be a tad bit awkward.
            If I go the other route, leaving all traces of friendship out of it, any advances I might conjure would seem, at best, sleazy. And not in the good way. In a bar, asking someone if you can buy them a drink is normal. Asking someone if you can pass them the communion wine is fucking weird. What am I supposed to say to you? “How’s about you and me pull up a confessional and chat a bit?” or “People have told me I look like Mary Magdalene”?
             No, Samson, no. Even I can’t be that sleazy. Not in church.
            (Not that I’m sleazy! I’m not, I swear! I’m a relatively nice, somewhat practicing Catholic girl! I like puppies and making macaroni crafts in the shape of the three wise men’s heads! So sometimes I have impure thoughts, okay? How else are we supposed to know what to do when creating our army of Catholic children?)
            Sadly, Samson, I’m just not sure how to go about this, how to get your attention, how to get you to notice me so that we can see what kind of future we’d have together. Approaching a good looking, young guy who willingly goes to mass is an approach that I fear does not exist in my arsenal. If only I would see you in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, or while buying panty liners at CVS. Either of those situations I would know better how to handle and approach you than in church. Because approaching you in church, the best I have is an extensive and intricate plan involving a fake mustache, making a single, special copy of the Sunday bulletin with a condensed version of this letter, and my friend Heather posing as a bulletin distributor after mass.
            So I guess, for now, I’ll have to settle for simply sitting in front of you at mass whenever I can, trying to play it cool at the sign of peace, and praying that I catch a glimpse of you in the real world, somewhere, anywhere. Unless, of course, I can bribe Father Ben to work my pleas and hopes not only into the ears of the Lord above, but also into next week’s homily. Because that wouldn’t be irrelevant to the church community at large.
            Until then, Samson. Peace be with you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking Forward, Looking Back

This will be my last post of 2010 (not counting Wednesday's Story Time), and last year at this time, I spoke a bit about New Year's resolutions. Namely, that I don't make them. Instead, I like looking back on the year and seeing if I had left anything unaccomplished that I would have preferred to do before the start of another year.

2010 was a pretty transformative year for me, in both my professional life and personal life. I sort of loved this year. I added the word Agent to my professional title, took on some outstanding authors, and even made some serious headway on my own novel, which I finally started. For obvious reasons, I keep my personal life out of this blog, but I will just say that independence, self-discovery, and confidence had a lot to do with making 2010 loads better than 2009. Plus, I started watching Community. I mean, that alone made this year awesome.

I'm looking forward to 2011 and excited to see where I'll end up by the end of that year too. Maybe it's the fact that since I was about eleven years old, I've wanted to be a grown-up, but realizing I actually am one has been making every year better and better. Don't worry, I expect this to taper off around age thirty-three, and if you check in with me again in ten years, I'm sure I'll be way less Pollyanna about the whole aging thing.

My goals of 2011 are to work as hard as humanly possible for my clients, keep publishing wonderful stories on Glass Cases, and maybe (gasp!) finish my own novel. If you follow me on Twitter, you also know that I've resolved to "live outside of my comfort zone." I expect that to last about a month, tops.

Tell me, writer-friends, what is your #1 goal for 2011 and what were you proud of accomplishing in 2010?

Happy Holidays, everyone! 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Knocking on Carver's Door

There's an old story about short story master Raymond Carver that he'd write his real life distractions into his stories. Most notably of these is the "knock at the door." Supposedly, while Carver was writing, a porter knocked on his door, and by the time Carver got rid of him and returned to his work, he couldn't remember his train of thought. So, instead, the porter's interruption became part of the story. I really want that to be true, so I will present it here as fact.

Last night, I had a dream in which a friend of mine from childhood was telling me a very long story about... well, something. I can't remember the actual story, but thinking of it now, it makes sense that the story itself was beside the point. What I remember about the dream is that our location kept changing and her story kept getting interrupted by pretty banal things. In one scene, we were at my apartment, but she decided she was hungry, so we ended up in a pub. Then a bartender took our drink orders. Just when she started the story for a third time, we suddenly took a trip to the bathroom (the way girls do). It was bizarre and, frankly, would have been very boring had I not been so aware of what was happening.

I woke up with a number of questions; namely, why would I dream about someone who I've known since birth, but was never really close friends with? More than that, I wanted to know why my subconscious kept interrupting her narrative.

This got me thinking about life's little distractions and how they influence the way we tell stories. How often have we sat down to write, only to remember that we need to take out the trash or make a phone call or, for those of you with kids, tend to a crying baby? If we, like Carver, can't avoid real life, as unexciting as it could be sometimes, do we have no choice but to let "the small things" infiltrate our work?

You tell me: Have any of you been inspired by seemingly insignificant real life events while working on a project? As a side note, have any of you ever changed a story midway through writing as a result of something more significant?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Becoming Human

Story Time returns! Thank you for indulging me in my John Lennon love last week. But this Wednesday we've returned to what makes this blog awesome - your fantastic writing. 

I'm very excited to bring you some science fiction by a young author, Sophie Taylor. She's sharing with us an excerpt from her novel, Becoming Human, which is about a girl who is abducted by an inquisitive alien race called The Annalien.

But first, a bit about the author. Sophie is a writer from the U.K. and Becoming Human is her first novel. As I mentioned above, she's a young writer. I'm not exaggerating, friends. Our featured writer today is a highly impressive fourteen years old. Enjoy! 

Becoming Human
By Sophie Taylor

1. The Annalien

We are watching you.

You do not know it. If our plans continue, you never will. Every minute, every second, we are watching you, there in the dark, in the spark when you turn out the light, the split second you’re fading into dreams and the real world around you is blinking. We are learning, researching, improving you. One day, you will understand. One day, you will thank us.

We are selfless. Everything we do, we do for you. You are simply too primitive to understand this. But, one day, you will.

The way we watched Felicity is the same way we watch you. We kept her safe, protected her from the horrors of your world, the ones we continue to work day and night to eradicate. The clone was an unfortunate mistake.

But we will not tolerate mistakes. Mistakes must be eliminated. And they will be.

Until then, just remember: we are watching you. We are watching you, and we will never stop.

2. Ashes Paradise: Phill

Phill lived in a dream world.

He glanced around, at the stars hanging cautiously, humming, shimmering. They looked lonely, he thought, roses flung through a graveyard, a celestial lottery. They swirled in straight lines, as the trees glistened. Phill looked up at the sky, and he was so small.

He was in a storybook. The wrong one. He should be back in the gingerbread house, not nestled here against the witch. He should be with Gemma, with her princess eyes and her hair that flowed like a fairytale. He thought about her face, her hand in his so small and dainty like a flower petal; his heart hiccupped, and he snapped to himself. He lowered his head.

‘You look beautiful, tonight, Felicity,’ he said.

‘I know.’

In the silvery silhouette, he squinted. He could only half-see her fragile face, her sickly skin, spotted with fuming freckles like a melon over-ripe with seeds, her hair spouting from her head in tree roots. Her wide eyes, still gleaming, intense and irresponsible in their violent, clawing indigo. She looked like a madwoman.

Felicity snatched her hand back.

‘What’s your point?’

‘The point is, Felicity. . .’ Felicity glared. ‘No one is good enough for you, here, but I’m the best this world can offer you.’

‘The best!’ She scoffed. ‘I don’t want you..’

Why would I want you? Why would anyone want you?

‘Yes, I know, Felicity. I am sorry.’

She glanced at him, and he saw her nose turn up.

‘It’s not your fault. You’re just not good enough. They all love me, too.’

They all love you, the way I love you.

‘Yes, Felicity.’

They’re watching you, Felicity. Don’t forget that.

‘We should go back to the party,’ she said, spinning around, marching away coldly. Phill would have to try harder.

Phill flew through the cotton-candy firth trees, and did not stop at the soft whizzing he knew Felicity would excuse: the sound of clicking cameras zooming in, as electricity crackled and snapped, pulsating through wires as blood through veins. They had worked so hard for the cameras to be untraceable. And Phill supposed it had worked, for most people – it was easier, to forget.

But it was hard to forget when hell was imprinted on you like a fingerprint. It’s hard to forget your black, bitter heart when you know that every beat bites you like a bullet. It’s hard to forget when your world haunts you like a ghost and snarls when you sleep.

It’s hard when you can’t change anything.

* * * * * *

When Phill finally reached the fire-fly glow of home, he swung around.

He heard them.

Sometimes, I wake up, and I am all alone.

I look up and I see the sky and I know things, I know that love is an obsession and that it will kill me, I know that hate is the sweetest promise and I know that I am so small, so worthless and that I cannot change a thing. I know these things, and I wish I did not. I know these things and I will reach up and I will see his face, and I will try to change them.

But I can’t.

I wish you could understand the way I do. I wish you knew the thoughts that race through your head when you glance up and you know that you are surrounded and you are all alone, I wish you knew what it feels like to look up and see parallel planets and spaceships shooting across the sky and still know you are doomed. I wish you knew that love can suffocate-

He snapped back.

He didn’t know what world they flew from, the tentacles of thought that snuck in when their own world was dim. The whisperers of the world, the little words they didn’t hear, the ones that filtered through into the forgotten world. The ones that, against everything, did not let go.

The words Phill might have spoken, if things had been different.

Phill plunged on. He saw his own world: the children huddling together, their eyes darting like rats on the underground, their hearts hungry. When they realized Felicity was gone, they relaxed, and died, ever so slightly: their plastic smiles fading, their placid eyes dimming, their hands letting go. They were all waiting for a hero.

Phill didn’t need a hero. He had a game plan. He would stay on the side-lines, always read to run. He would keep a concise head, see any threat before it saw him, stay out of the way.

He hurried along to his little space of sanity: his cupboard. He smirked to himself. He crept inside.

They were there, of course: Louise, a puddle on the floor; Gemma, conservatively watching the world. When she saw Phill, saw his eyes light up, she smiled quietly. Gemma did not see why she should be happy, if the rest of the world was not.

‘Hey,’ Phill greeted them. He smiled as he saw Gemma, her strawberry skin, her peachy lips, her sweet softness. He should call her beautiful, because that was what she deserved – and she probably had been, once, but now the fairy dust had faded. But that didn’t matter to Phill. She was still the most gorgeous thing Phill had ever seen.

‘Poke!’ Louise cackled, and poked him.


‘Wasn’t me,’ she said, smiling, her baby teeth glimmering.

‘Did you hear them?’ Gemma asked.


‘What did they say?’


‘Of course,’ she sighed. ‘Their whole world is nonsense. But they were weird, yesterday.’


‘They were talking to me.’ She shivered. ‘Like they knew I was listening. They said that we had to hold on. That we need to hold on, and it’ll get better.’

Phill laughed. He looked at Gemma again, her eyes like a choir and her gleaming skin, and thought that she shout not have to hold on. And it made him angry, when he realized that it could be another sixteen years before she could let go.

Monday, December 13, 2010

E-Book Paranoia Is So 2009

Last year, I wrote a blog post about one of the many "books are dying" panels that went on in 2009. For the record, I also love the smell and feel of books and stand by my post. Real, physical books are not going anywhere! Anywhere, I tell you!

Now, some perspective.

If Nathan Bransford's annual e-book poll is any indication, it looks like even more people are embracing this newfangled e-book "trend" than ever before. That's right. Apparently e-books were not just some phase publishing went through in college. Something tells me that by 2012, that percentages in Nathan's yearly question will reach more than half. And even when that happens, I will still stand by my 2009 blog post. Here's why:

We all knew an e-book majority was coming. It's what we've been preparing for. So when I saw this article this morning by Leah McLaren, I had to rub my eyes and remind myself what year this was. Are we really still anti-e-reader? Are we seriously, in 2010, lamenting over the still-hasn't-happened-yet loss of physical books? This line, particularly stood out to me: "...the act of giving books as gifts – once the simplest of holiday rituals – has been perverted beyond recognition as a result of technology."

Has it?

Among McLaren's other "most alarming" concerns about e-books is that:
1) "It has robbed us of the ability to share, discuss and passive-aggressively communicate through our mutual gift-book choices."
2) "Once e-books completely take over, it will become impossible to know who actually reads and who doesn’t"

These quotes make me think she's winking at her own foolishness, but this article was still written and published, so it's getting talked about. With 2010 now ending, it makes me wonder why this article was published in the first place. Was it written in 2008 and shelved? Has the author been out of the publishing loop for some reason?

No matter the reason, the point is that the whole e-book "debate" is still, in fact, a debate. Books still make the best gifts. They always will. Unlike CDs, tangible books are still the dominant format, so gift-give away!

Speaking of the music industry, which is the best and easiest comparison, we're used to updating our music collection with the advent of new technology. 45s, 78s, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs were all viable ways to listen to music. So, the dawn of mp3s weren't really that big of a deal. They were just one more evolutionary notch. When I get an iTunes gift card, I don't think it's impersonal or tacky. I just think "sweet, now I can buy stuff I like in the format that I usually listen to it."

But books have been in the same bound-pieces-of-paper format since, well... since books were invented. So naturally, we're freaking out that someone is trying to change them. I find it sad that people like Leah McLaren are still writing articles that fear technology, rather than embrace it. It's also upsetting that people with that viewpoint need to be reminded that CDs are still around. People even still buy them regularly! Even the majority of people who now get their music digitally are buying them. They just use them differently now, which, ironically, are more for gift-giving purposes. Owning a special edition or boxed set of your favorite band's work just isn't the same when you can see the work put into the packaging and liner notes.

The only difference between books and music is that we have a romanticized notion of what a book means. Or, more specifically, that it has meaning at all. I count myself among those who have this view, by the way. But, for the sake of my job and for the sake of the future of literature, I must put my personal feelings aside. 

Books will eventually become novelties too, reserved only for the retro, the collector, or the die-hard. And yes, to me this is sad. There are those of us (let's face, if you're reading this blog, you are included in this group) who will always buy books the way music purists still buy CDs (and even records). But we live in a small world, us literary folk. Eventually the "rest" will win. How they buy books will determine how they are sold. As the minority, we'll do what we can and adapt to the change, and hopefully through it all, we remember that the words inside the pretty covers are what ultimately matter anyway.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Method Writing

Last night I read a manuscript - not even a client's, mind you - that made me cry. Well OK, technically I just teared up a little, but still! It was so true to life that I ended up empathizing with the character as if she were a real life friend. Or, more accurately, a real life "me." It actually inspired me to return to my nonfiction roots and expand an old personal essay.

This made me wonder if the author had experienced her character's ordeal as well. How many of you fiction writers become your characters by infusing real life emotions in your work? Are you a Marlon Brando and Daniel Day Lewis when you write? Or are you Cary Grant and Tom Hanks?

Personally, I think I'm a Cary Grant, or a "non-method" writer. (Note: I am in love with Cary Grant, but this is not why I chose him as my writing-equivalent.) Cary and Tom are both great actors (or, were, in Cary's case); they say their lines, become a character when they need to get the job done, and go home at the end of the day as if they spent it in a cubicle. (Presumably.. obviously I have no idea how they'd go home at the end of the day after a shoot.) This is my approach to writing - to writing fiction, at least. It's something I'm enjoying at the moment, but personal essays are, at least I'd like to think, what define me as a writer.

Method actors put their entire beings into a character, and in turn, the character fuses into them. There's obviously great value in this type of writing too. Some might argue there's more value. Both approaches work in acting, usually with the same results depending on how good you are (I mean, look at Tom Hanks). So, I wonder... is the same true for writing?

What are your approaches to writing fictional emotions? Do you think it matters whether an author experienced them in real life?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What John Lennon Teaches Us About Writing

No story this Wednesday because, instead, I want to pay a bit of tribute to one of, if not my absolute favorite, artist, John Lennon. Thirty years ago today, a man hid a gun underneath a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and murdered the man who brought us The Beatles, and some of the best written songs of all time.

I can remember listening to The Beatles since I was able to form memories. My parents played them so often in the house that it was like growing up in the '60s. Then, I discovered John's solo career. As someone who was influenced and inspired by a man who was dead before I was born, I know that John's lessons are as relevant today as they were in the '60s and '70s.

From the words of a writer, here are some of my favorite, relevant quotes from John that will make you better writers as well:

"I'm singing about me and my life. If it's relevant to anyone else's lives, then that's all right."
- John said this to a fan who couldn't believe, and was actually hurt, that he personally wasn't in John's mind when he and Paul wrote Abbey Road. Matter-of-factly, John told him all he thinks about when he writes is himself, and maybe Yoko "if it's a love song." Lesson learned: you're the only person who matters when it comes to your own work. Forget the trends, what you think audiences want, and what emotions you hope to evoke in others. If it doesn't come from you, it won't work anyway.

"When I was a Beatle, I thought we were the fucking best group in the goddamn world. And believing that is what made us what we were. It was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on." - If you don't believe that what you're doing is worth sharing, then no one else will. Next time you're in doubt, just tell yourself that you are the fucking best writer in the goddamn world! And if audiences still don't catch on, at least you'll have produced something you're proud of.

"My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all."- This is one of the best lessons you can hold onto as a writer. I'm sure I've said this before, but good writing transcends agenda, always. If your writing is honest and is a reflection of the world you are trying to convey, then a message will happen naturally. You do not need to preach to anyone. They will see through you and reject your message out of spite.

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination." - Not unlike the message above, remember to be honest in your writing. Whether you're writing contemporary fiction or world-building fantasy, human emotion connects readers to your work. People are complex, and if your characters are just as dynamic, readers will find different ways to connect with them, leaving their own take from your story up for interpretation.

"There's nothing you can know that isn't known."  - Taken out of the context of John's time, think of this quote as a "there's nothing new under the sun" colloquialism. There will always be someone with your idea and there will always be those writing in your genre. It doesn't matter that there are eight million novels out there about a rugged, just shy of retirement, detective who needs to solve this one last case. Or that there seems to be a never-ending supply of spies kicking the asses of terrorists. All that matters is how you write it, and that will make others want to rediscover "what is known."

And finally...

"You're all beautiful and you're all geniuses. "

Thanks, John.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Fantastical Question

A question to ponder on this blustery Monday...

As you know, I'm a big fan of fairytales, so I wonder - what fairytale would you most want to be placed in? I think I would choose Alice in Wonderland. Super trippy and full of quick-wittedness and wordplay. Plus, Alice becomes pretty outstanding as she spends more time in Wonderland. I'd want to be her friend.

What say you?

Before you answer, here are some unrelated, but still worth checking out, links that I found over the weekend:
- I'm very happy to announce that my fabulous client, K.M. Walton, is now a member of The Apocalypsies! This is a fantastic group of debut YA novelists, whose first books will be appearing the year the world ends, 2012!
- This site's been around for a while, but in case you haven't seen it, or have yet to participate in it, please check out Dear Teen Me. You can write letters to your former selves and check out fun pictures of authors and publishing folk from when they were teens.
- A new writing community site that looks pretty cool:
- And finally, our Google overlords have completed their e-book store - behold its glory and implications of what's to come.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

New Rule

Why is it that "Anonymous" comments are always the ones who completely miss the point of blog posts? I like to think of Glass Cases as a friendly place. I know my post yesterday was more political than usual, and I thought everyone's comments were smart and clever and stayed on point. If you disagree with me, that's fine as long as you stay respectful about it.

But then there's always someone who has to ruin the fun, which brings me to my New Rule. Please do not use my - or anyone else's - blog as a means to air your own grievances. If your "comment" becomes the length of a post itself, you will get deleted because clearly it is no longer a comment. Please get your own blog and keep your manifestos there. And please stop being "Anonymous!" There is no point to that other than acting as a warning (9 times out of 10) that your comment will be one I'll need to remove.

Keep this is a happy place. 99.9% of you are amazing and wonderful, and I truly appreciate everyone who supports this blog, leaves comments, and starts conversations in a respectful, intelligent manner. You're the best!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Here We Are Now; Entertain Us

I've been noticing something for the past couple of weeks. I was trying to ignore it, but now other events, that are just as strange, have made that impossible. Friends, on the streets of New York, I've been seeing... scrunchies. I'm not talking about the occasional sighting in tourist-ridden Times Square or on the ironically nostalgic streets of Brooklyn. No, these scrunchies are appearing on subways, in Greenwich Village, and in my very own neighborhood. In other words, they've hit the mainstream. I mean, what would Carrie Bradshaw say!?

I was willing to let this go. But then, last week on Twitter I saw that #why90srocked was trending, and Monday night on Conan, CAKE performed. Throw in the way-too-soon-and-downright-evil reboot of Buffy and the fact that teenagers all over the country think that being trendy means dressing like me in 3rd grade, and we have one viable conclusion - the '90s are back.

This is sad to me for two reasons. The main reason is that, since fashion and trends are cyclical, this means that my generation is now the previous generation. This is depressing on an obvious level, not that we all didn't see this coming. The other reason the '90s being back is worrisome is because pretty soon we're all going to have to re-learn, the hard way, that snap bracelets hurt!

As a '90s enthusiast, however, I'm excited about the return to what I consider the most interesting decade in modern history (pipe down, '60s fans, I got your back too). I won't pretend I fully understood the cultural impact the '90s had on the country at the time; I'm only now, in my late twenties, beginning to process what I had missed while I was busy growing up.

But, to me, the '90s symbolized hope. Civil rights, including those of women and LGBT (an acronym, by the way, that started in the '90s), were by no means where they needed to be, but it felt as if equality was finally on the way. Clinton started DADT, and while that was a bad decision (my blog = my opinion), it still managed to spark a national debate, one that is still very present in the news almost twenty years later. Yet, twenty years before that, I doubt anyone would have even noticed yet another government mandated form of intolerance. We probably wouldn't have been told it was going on.

More than that, the '90s, in retrospect only, represent the "before." Better days, if you will, whatever that means. In the way that "post-war" became attached to literature, film, and even architectural structures after World War II, the phrase "post-9/11" infiltrated our culture in what we read, watch, and how we act. With that one morning, the economically positive, civil rights-defending, overall hopefulness of the '90s came to a screeching halt. (I'm not, by the way, suggesting that 9/11 is the source of our current financial crisis. It is NOT. Just want to make that clear.) In the early '00s, we managed to reinstate socially acceptable racism, only this time with a different face. We had a president who not only encouraged this, but he gave the racism a catchy name ("Axis of Evil"). Suddenly having a cowboy in the White House seemed more logical; I guess so he could play his role in the disaster film we were currently living.

The post-9/11, post-'90s world also created a wave of conservatism that, in addition to racial minorities, gays and women were back to being targets - with fewer voices willing to dissent this time around. The idea of two men or  two women getting married is an actual debate. This should say everything there is to say about the way we (America) feel is acceptable behavior toward minorities. Likewise, a qualified, intelligent, and, yes, ambitious woman was thisclose to being president, and yet she is still, to this day, being denigrated for her choice in clothing, rather than being challenged on her policies. Likewise, I doubt that middle school graduates Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell would receive even a fraction of "credibility" were it not for their darn physical attractiveness.

We live in a time of The Tea Party, a hate group that has not gained such national attention and support since the early days of the KKK. If the '90s are coming back, I say bring it on. I'll suffer through a Vanilla Ice comeback tour if it means returning to a time not dictated by fear and hate.

I don't usually get so political here, so I'd like to state again that my blog represents my opinion only. Please respect it, especially in the comments section, and I'll do the same for you.

Now, that said - what does all of this have to do with you as writers? Well, everything. Writers are the ones who get to dictate what's remembered. We're both a reflection of, and a cause of, what is happening around us.  The bestselling fiction authors of the 1990s do not differ too much from what we see today. It seems there will always be a Grisham, King, or Koontz novel on that list somewhere. Only now our terrorists and monsters represent different things than before. Will we see a return to Anne Rice vampires? Bridges over Madison, or other, counties? What about books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, that represented a decade so perfectly, the way Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis represented the '80s? Books written "about the time" in the '00s were automatically labeled post-9/11. It practically became its own genre. Lorrie Moore's The Gate at the Stairs comes to mind, but there are others.

Did you know that the New York Times didn't even have a Children's Best Seller List until 2000? Apparently they wanted Harry Potter to get off the "real" list, so they gave it its own place. Writers, this speaks volumes of the power you have now. We're lucky enough to have finally returned to generation that doesn't need to be pre- or post- anything. And when the previous generation returns, it means one thing - a new one has just begun. Contribute to its discourse, write its history, and, most importantly, entertain us.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Summer Over the Death of My Youth

Happy Wednesday, Story Time fans! Miss us last week?

Today's story comes from friend-o'-blog, Melissa Mendelson, whose work has appeared on Glass Cases twice before (here and here). She's sent both fiction and nonfiction, and now she returns with another outstanding short story.

I have to say, I am so happy that so many formerly published Glass Cases writers are sending new material. I encourage everyone else to do the same AND tell you friends who have yet to submit that I am always looking for new stories to publish.

Hope you all enjoy Melissa's story!

Summer Over The Death of My Youth
By Melissa R. Mendelson

“I know you are expecting to read the story about the boy found dead in Arole Woods.  I was given that story to write.  I was there when the police carried him out to the waiting ambulance.  They were hoping for a chance that he would survive, but he was already gone.  As I stood there, watching them, I remembered a moment of my life, a moment that I had succeeded in blocking out until this day.  Why did I suddenly remember?  Why was my focus on me and not the sixteen-year-old, who would never know his future, and why should my past be more important than his life?  And this is where my story begins…”

The office always reeked of cigarette smoke.  Clouds puffed out of the editor’s room.  His raspy voice bit into a telephone conversation, and his hands moved into the air like a magician ready to do his thing.  His sharp eyes caught the passing glances of his news reporters, but they dared not enter when he was on the phone.  But he snapped his fingers loudly at one in particular, and she froze in mid-step.  His eyes shifted from her to the empty chair before his large, oak desk, and he quickly wrapped up his call with a “I’ll call you later because something just came up.”

The phone thundered back into its cradle.  Its chord twisted with suspense.  Numbers lit up to waiting anticipation.  A sharp ring broke the silence, but it was ignored.  Instead, fingers tapped beside the smooth, black porcelain as if waiting for an important call, and eyes narrowed in thought.  A thin smile pulled at his lips as he said, “Are you avoiding me?”

“No.  Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re dodging the stories I’m giving you.  Jade, everyone starts on the police blotter, and then they move their way up.”

“Jeff, I’ve been here for almost two-years.  The elections are coming up.  Let me do a piece on that.  If not, there’s still debate in the community on what to do with North Road, and the residents are adamant about not expanding over there because of the traffic conditions.”  Jeff shook his head.  “How long am I going to be stuck doing the police blotter?” 

The phone rang.  It gave him the chance not to answer.  He held up his pointer finger, signaling her to wait where she was.  He pressed the warm plastic to his ear and listened intently.  He rubbed his chin, giving the impression that the call was important, but he remained silent.  His eyes shifted from the lit numbers to Jade, and his fingers curled around the chord.  And he ended his call with, “I’ll send her right down.”

“Another police blotter story?”  Jeff dropped the phone back into its cradle.  “What will I be writing about?”

“The police just found a dead kid in Arole Woods.”  Jeff leaned back in his chair and lit another cigarette.  “O.D.”  He shook his head and took a long drag.  “Damn shame.  He was only sixteen.”  He blew smoke away from Jade and out his door.  “You have to do the story.”  He leaned forward, fixing her with a hard stare, and his cigarette dangled from his lips.  “I have an idea.”  He took another long drag and then exhaled a cloud of smoke.  “Run the story as you want to, and if it’s good, I’ll let you move up.”  Jade’s eyes lit up in excitement.  “Just don’t get melodramatic.  I hate that.”  She nodded.  “Now, get out.  I have a business to run.”

“Thank you.”  She never knew when he was joking, so she remained serious.  “Thank you.”  She rose from her chair but tried not to seem so eager.  “I’ll head straight down.”  She paused by the door.  “Should I take the digital?”

“Yeah, but no pictures of the kid.  Give the family a little dignity.”  He watched her step out of his office.  “Jade, don’t make me regret this.”  He didn’t return her nod but resumed smoking his cigarette.

The ride down from the office on Main Street to Arole Woods took less than twenty minutes.  The police had cornered off the street around the area.  She had to show her press badge to be allowed access, but she could tell that they were not happy to see her.  They always wondered how the press got wind of breaking news, or did they realize that their boss played golf with her boss?  It didn’t matter.  She was there, and she was ready to break the story.  But how would she do it?  This was a tragic event, one familiar to this town, and there was not much to go on.  The kid died of a drug overdose in woods used by other kids, who sought escape from their daily lives.  No, there was not much to go on, but she would be damned if she didn’t try.

“Damn shame,” he muttered between bites of his buttered roll.  “Damn shame.”

Jade was not surprised to see her newspaper’s competition already on scene.  They must have an ear to the police too, and they sent one of their best reporters.  He was nothing short of a sleaze bag, but he got the job done.  She hated sharing the same space with him as he looked her up and down, licking his lips, but she had to remain cordial.  “Mark.” 

“Jade.”  He finished his roll.  “Warm weather still.”  He slapped his hands together, shaking off the crumbs.  “Maybe winter will hold off until January.”

“Let’s hope so.”  She ignored his penetrating stare.  “Did they bring him out yet?”

“No.  They’re bringing him out now.”  He saw an officer step away from the crime scene.  “Excuse me.  Work to do.”

“Uh-huh.”  She shook her head.  “What a piece of work himself,” she muttered.

Jade surveyed the scene.  There were a few onlookers.  It shouldn’t have come as a surprise because the town residents knew what took place in these woods.  A handful of police officers stood between their squad cars and ambulance.  Medics waited impatiently but then caught sight of movement coming their way.  And Jade readied her digital, snapping pictures, but when the body came into view, she lowered her camera.  Mark however snapped away.  “So much for dignity,” she thought, but she wasn’t surprised.

“Help me!”  Jade nearly dropped her digital.  “Someone, help me!”

A young girl ran toward her.  Tears streaked her face.  Her hair was wild.  Her arms were wrapped around her chest as if to shield herself from some unseen attacker.  Her feet thundered against concrete, and her body melted through Jade.  And as she spun around, the girl disappeared into thin air.

“You okay?”  Mark now stood behind her.  “You look like you just saw a ghost.”

“Did you…  Did you just see that girl?”

“What girl?”  He laughed harshly. “I think you’re inhaling too much of your editor’s smoke, and he knows better than to smoke inside the office.”  He tucked a notepad into his pants pocket.  “If you’re going to get quotes, I do it now.  They’re packing up.”  He moved away from her.

“Why are you being nice?”

“You caught me on a good day.”  He hardly turned her way but continued toward his parked car.  “Won’t be a habit.  Trust me.”

“I believe that,” she muttered.  “What the hell just happened?”

The crime scene was quickly dismantled.  The ambulance screeched down the road.  Police officers slid into their driver-seat, and the squad cars disappeared from sight.  Yellow tape warning not to cross flapped around a tree, forgotten.  The few onlookers that did stop now went about their business like another day.  Only Jade remained behind, waiting beside her car.

“Okay.”  She tried to calm her nerves.  “Why did I see that girl?”  The digital dangled on her shoulder, bumping into her small pocketbook.  “What was she trying to tell me?”

Jade hardly believed in ghosts.  There were stories about them roaming these woods.  She never imagined on meeting any of them, but one found her.  She wanted to know why.  If there was a reason, then maybe that could be her story, and she would link her discovery to this kid’s tragic death.  But if she came up empty-handed, then it would just be another regular police blotter story.

The sun was high in the air.  Noon.  Her stomach growled, but her curiosity was hungrier.  The thirst to know why pushed her further into the woods, silencing her fear, and her footsteps cracked over now broken twigs.  A bird’s song used to be a welcomed sound, but it instead sent a shiver down her spine.  Go back, the bird said.  Go back now, but she continued forward.

Old Man’s Bridge.  She remembered.  The summer after tenth grade, she and her boyfriend used to accompany a bunch of kids over here.  They would crank out the music, crack open the beer, and get high.  Well, all of them except her.  She was the party kill, and they were no friends of hers.  But her boyfriend was, and where he went, she followed.  And they would stay here late into the night and sometimes until dawn.

“You want a beer?”  She would always say no.  “How about some pot?”  Again, she refused.  “You’re no fun, Jade.  Party kill.”

Apparently, things haven’t changed much.  There were still empty beer cans scattered around the bridge.  Cigarette butts decorated the soft earth.  Sneaker treads raced back and forth.  Whoever the kid was with panicked, and they left him behind.  They could’ve saved him.  They could’ve called the cops, but they were more concerned with not getting busted.  So, they sacrificed one life for theirs, and maybe later on, they would regret that.

“Help me!”

Someone ran through the woods.  Jade jumped to her feet.  Her eyes darted back and forth, trying to capture the ghost.  She could feel them watching her every move.  Why couldn’t they just tell her?  Why did they have to play games?

“You’re making a mistake,” she warned her.  “You have no idea what kind of guy you are dating.  Be careful.”

It was the last night that she would spend at Old Man’s Bridge.  Her boyfriend’s ex had shown up out of nowhere.  Someone else brought her, and tension was as thick as her editor’s cigarette smoke.  Anger flashed across his face, and he gripped Jade’s arm a little too tightly.  They hardly spent ten minutes there, and then he dragged her out of the woods.  But she was trying to warn Jade, and she did not listen.

“I don’t like him,” her grandmother said.  “There’s something dark there.”

Jade stared at the bridge, remembering her grandmother’s words.  She missed her.  She was always trying to protect Jade, but back then, she thought her grandmother was being too overprotective.  And she didn’t listen.  What did her grandmother know?  She was just having fun.  They both were, but her grandmother watched him like a hawk.  She knew.  She knew what kind of man he really was.

“How about we go camping?” 

She snuck him up into her bedroom one night.  He was holding her, and she remembered how tight his grip was.  The skin on her arm complained from memory, and she quickly rubbed at it, trying to ease its suffering.  But she still remembered, and she remembered the intent stare that he gave her, waiting for an answer.  And she said, “Yes.”

A cold wind whipped around her.  The sun was gone.  Darkness crept over the woods.  The bird’s song faded into silence, and her footsteps were hollow along the ground.  Her mind tumbled between past and now, and she begged herself to stop remembering.  Whatever this memory was, she did not want it.  She did not want to remember, but her pleas were ignored.

“Over here.”  She followed the voice.  “There’s a short trail that we can follow.”  She walked in that direction.  “Take my hand.”

“No,” she whispered.  “No!”

She could see her.  A faint ghost of herself appeared.  She took the dark stranger’s hand and followed him deeper into the woods.  She was nervous and kept looking behind her, and then her gaze met Jade’s.  But she still followed him.

“Let go.  Let go of his hand,” Jade begged her.  “Don’t follow him.  Please!”  Tears stung her eyes.  “I don’t want to remember!”

As if an invisible hand held hers, she was pulled forward.  She retraced that short trail.  It felt like yesterday, but it’s been ten years.  She knew where they were going, but she fought her mind every step of the way.  She lost and walked into the clearing.

“You weren’t kidding about camping,” her younger self laughed.  “When did you put up the tent?”


“When earlier?  It’s ten a.m. now.”  She checked her watch.  “Isn’t it a little early to be camping?”

“Now is perfect.”  He pulled her closer to him.  “We won’t be disturbed.” 

“Run,” Jade whispered to her.  “Run.”

“Tom, I said I wanted to wait.”

“I’m tired of waiting, Jade.”  He pushed her toward the tent.  “Go inside, and take off your clothes.”

“No.”  He struck her across her face.  “No,” she cried.

“Do it, or I’ll rip off your clothes.”  He grabbed her by both arms now, tightly and drawing blood.  “Maybe I’ll do it anyway.  It might be more fun that way.”

“Help me!”  He struck her again across the face.  “Help me!”

“Keep screaming, and I’ll gag you.”  She fell silent.  “Well?  I don’t have all day.”

“Okay.  I’ll go inside and take off my clothes.”  Her body shook.  “Please, don’t hurt me.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll thank me afterward.”  He pushed her into the tent.

“You sonofabitch!”  Jade struck at him, but her fist flew through him.  “I hope you are dead!  Do you hear me?  Dead!”  She watched him enter the tent.  “Don’t you touch her.  Don’t you dare touch me!”

To her horror, she found her younger self nude.  She was trembling like a leaf.  Tears stained her face.  Her lip was bloody.  She was like a deer caught in headlights, and he came toward her, laying her flat against her back.  He just didn’t notice the large rock that her hand fell against.

He wasted no time.  He quickly pulled off his pants and boxers.  He kicked his sneakers to the side.  A hungry look crossed his face, and he stood over her, ready.  He touched her lips and licked her blood off his finger.  He descended slowly.  He wanted her to remember every single moment until the deed was done, and she was his.  As he got closer to his destination, she slammed the rock into the side of his head, knocking him over.

“Run,” Jade screamed.  “Run!”

Her younger self flew up to her feet.  She grabbed her clothes and shoes.  She moved toward the entrance of the tent, but he grabbed her by the ankle, nearly twisting it.  She almost fell forward but spun around instead, and she kicked him right in his face.  She could hear him howl in pain, but she broke free and ran.  She ran until she got to Old Man’s Bridge, and she quickly threw her clothes back on.  And then she bolted toward the road, screaming for help, and Jade followed her.

The road was empty.  The only car was his.  She was his, if she stayed, so she ran.  She ran all the way home.  Her family was out at a carnival, but she had her keys.  She would get inside her house and lock all the doors, but would she tell them what took place?  Could she look at her grandmother and tell her that she was right?  But she never told anyone, and that day remained between him and her.  Until today.

“I know you are expecting to read the story about the boy found dead in Arole Woods.  I was going to write that story.  I was there when the police carried him out to the waiting ambulance.  They were hoping for a chance that he would survive, but he was already gone.  As I stood there, watching them, I remembered a moment of my life, a moment that I never wanted to remember.  It was the summer, where I was sixteen, and this was where I lost my youth.  This poor kid and I were just trying to escape our lives.  We were trying to find ourselves, but we made the wrong choice.  We trusted the wrong people, and we both paid dearly for it.  Now one life is gone, and another struggles to recover.  But we were young.  What did we know, and will he ever know the life that he could’ve lived?  How do you undo the past and take back those mistakes that brought you into now?  You can’t.  You can’t go back.  You can’t forget.  You can only survive and remember those lost and left behind.  This is the tragic tale of my life, interweaved with his, and this is where our story begins…”