Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts

Monday, October 8, 2018

5 Reading Slump Killers ("with" Cynthia Bailey)

Every reader goes through this mess: you’ve finished a book (outstanding or awful) and can’t decide what to read next.  Or if you even want to follow up your reading so shortly.  So you ponder over what's your mood looking like–in concerns to your next choice in a book.  And sometimes that pondering goes on a little too long.  Sometimes... your decision gets clouded.  

After finishing a book, I usually take a day or two off from reading.  Sometimes that day or two sticks around a little longer.  And three days is always too long.  Then it begins to sting when I have four bookshelves riddled with unread titles glaring at me wondering what the hell I‘m doing sitting around without a book in hand.  One shelf wants to be chosen.  One book desperately wants to be elected.  And I just sit there like a chump biting my lip and as indecisive as ever.  Something has blocked me from reading.  My mood?  Energy?  Maybe solicitude from my last book?  All I know is days are ticking by and I can't seem to find a dang thing I want to read and it's pissing me off.

It's a reading slump indeed. 

So I, like many book bloggers, decided to create another remedy post for readers who need to get through a reading slump.  And if one method listed doesn't work, another one always will.  So let's go!


Hell, I’ve learned long ago how throwing away and getting rid of old junk kills some spectrum of my anxiety.  There’s this sort of alleviating transference I get from donating old clothes; alongside tossing pay stubs, art supplies, and old birthday cards into trash bags.  Seriously, when miscellany leaves happiness circulates within the soul.  

So one method that often helps me pull out of a reading slump is getting my shelves organized.  By “getting organized” I mean going to a shelf to pull unread titles off to compile what I haven‘t read and how long its been hanging around–and deciding what should hang around.  Something about pulling unread books off, piling them up, and actually looking at them helps get me centered.  It’s revisiting titles long acquired that at one point I was excited.  That is until time and other books caused my enthusiasm to slip by, before deciding what's next for said title.  And, naturally, the benefit is I find myself donating piles of unread and clutter-clogging books after a change in interests.

This method allows me to focus on the now.  Not the then and not the later.  We hate to admit it, but there is a level of anxiety and agitation we get from being book lovers who simply can't read and take every book with us throughout life.  Heck, I would even equate books to friendships: they have their seasons, chile.  And only the most trustworthy, loyal and respectful can stay.  Oh, and enriching.  Never keep something around that doesn't enrich your life.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Short Night Crawl

Picture a lone truck-stop diner during an ugly storm.  You have a cook, waitress, and police officer huddled inside for shelter and to attend stranded diners.  Somewhere down the road–according to the relaying radio frequenting updates on the storm–a local motel recently found itself caught in a shooting spree.  Innocents are gunned down, and the killer is still on the loose.  Meanwhile, back at the diner, a ragged and dusty man stumbles through as the storm reaches its peak.  Suspicions arrive from those already inside.  Could he be the hotel killer?  Still, they maintain a cool head.  Asking for a cup of coffee, the diner employees serve the strange and twitchy guest.  As for the police officer , he watches the patron with a long gaze. 

All this appears strange, mysterious, and lightly-suspenseful.  But then a platoon of dead, zombified war veterans comes swimming out of the storm to attack the diner.  And out went bits of my grasp on the story.  To be fair, Night Crawlers deserve another, slower re-read within its 33 pages.  But from my initial read, I really just thought it was okay.  I would be interested in reading something lengthier from McCammon, though.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Barker's Short and Creepy

Forget about short and sweet.  How about short and terrifyingly creepy!?
How about Clive Barker’s short story, "The Forbidden"?  The story that inspired the Candyman movie.  (Which, besides Eugenio Martín's Horror Express, is probably the only horror movie that got me as a child.)
Nevertheless, color me excited to have read "The Forbidden", without searching for the Books of Blood Volume 5 anthology it originated?  I say that because of my simple interest in reading where the Candyman movie's adaptation came from, and having only a mild interest in expanding on Barker.  Well, after reading "The Forbidden", I have to go back and correct that mishap by finding the anthology for more page-turning shorts.  Clive Barker sold me with this short and, creepily sweet, introduction into his work.  A work tangled with some nicely disturbing prose that sucked me into immobility for a good forty-five minutes.
The similarities between "The Forbidden" and the Candyman movie are almost-but-not-even-closely the same.  One difference is Barker’s story takes place in England, whereas the movie surrounds Chicago ghettos.  Another is the legacy and conception of movie-Candyman comes packaged, whereas the short is up for some deep and complex self-interpretation.  However, the main protagonist and storyline set-up is much the same.  Helen is a university graduate student doing her thesis on graffiti art.  What better place to gather information for her thesis than visiting the ghettos?  A place she clearly doesn't belong.  What she finds is graffiti art referring to some unknown entity titled Candyman.  An intrigued Helen begins to inquire the shifty locals about Candyman.  And she learns how this entity appears associated with a few  murders in the area.  Eventually, her snooping bites off more than she can chew.  Before long, her searching, prying, and poking leads Candyman right to her.  And as if to become a part of his legend, he offers her death as his latest victim.
"The Forbidden" is short, but worth some examination after you’ve had your hands on it.  Underneath the horror, I got bits and pieces of reflection on what manifests (speaking mostly as a mindset) inside economically disadvantaged communities mostly forgotten by governments.  The use of community stories to created threats of danger are like the tools the impoverish use to reject unwanted outsiders. They’re a community that no longer asks for outer assistance.  And yet, they're trapped into silence by an unbeatable mindset that they aren't meant to leave (hence Candyman).
Of course there’s more and plenty other ways to see "The Forbidden."  Still, if anything, just let the story creep you the hell out as Barker's prose drags you under.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

~6. Back 2 High School - Towel Style ~

Back... in action....  Sadly, I think I'm almost done.  Nonetheless, here we are with the 6th collection of my high school manga.  More and more Naoko Takeuchi influences, including character sketches ripped straight out of Sailor Moon.  I couldn't help myself back then.

We're still wrapped in the B-story surrounding our two heroines and their adventure through this portal that leads them to another world.  In said world, they attempt to save the life of this strange child.

Towel is apparently in a trance of some sort.  She's being led toward her destiny...

Finally, Towel confronts the new girl, Minno.  Looks like all that hypnotizing Minno did to her classmates came with a purpose.  One being that she's an alien or monster of some sort.  This, of course, leads Towel to change.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The burnt scene come straight out of Sailor Moon R.  Research it.

Internal monologues are probably unusual, but here, Towel delivers.  Finally, the confrontation we've all be waiting on.  See what happens next time...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Simple Understanding of Short Fiction

I was talking to a relative during lunch about Kindle singles, flash fiction, and novellas. She shared how she loved following these itty-bitty stories provided by Amazon for .99. She loved them so much that she wanted to try her hand at creating a series of short pieces of fiction dished out in the same bite-size manner. My idea was to encourage her to write one, seeing that she had a story inside of her that she obviously felt needed telling. I urged her to give herself a chance, and starting small was a good move. Just write something, hire a decent editor, if at all possible, and just throw it out there and see what happens. But she still chewed her lip in concerns to how long her story should be. So our discussion turned into the differences between novellas and such. It was interesting trying to decipher the differences.  Eventually, we settled with the fact that we needed to do a little more research. And that’s what I'm bringing here to this post.

So let’s start with the shortest form then work our way up. I learned that the differences in all these short forms of fiction appears mostly in their word count (though that seems apparent, I prefer focusing on page count). Following that notion comes brevity of style, as you probably don't want to get so caught up in prose and details within a limited amount of space.

Flash fiction are stories under 1,000-2,000 words. I guess this would be difficult for someone like me, as I love every scenic detail and morsel of character development available in fiction. Nonetheless, with flash fiction it’s obvious that you have to get to the point of your narrative. These are the kind of stories that provide little to no build up, as the reader is instantly thrown into what may be considered a narrative conflict. I think of it as throwing readers at the emotional peck, or climax, of a story and let their imagination fill in whatever holes lay available. Or something to that extent. Nevertheless, all overtures are tossed aside. It’s sort of like the proverbial knife gone right into the gut. How do you respond? Flash fiction may show you how.

Length wise, short stories are probably a step up from flash fiction. They're somewhere in the realm of 1,000 and 6,000 words. (But seriously, who keeps up with that mess?)  I think short stories differ than flash fiction because it gives you the tiniest of room to present the majors: character, setting, narrative, and conflict. Each wrapped in a handy theme.  I kind of get the feeling that short stories take on a far more thematic approach than flash fiction. Actually, I would guess that short stories line its bases in a theme of some sort. Immediate to mind I think about the Chinese superstition that you shouldn't sweep your floor on New Year’s Day because you may sweep away bad luck. You can take that uncomplicated concept, decorate it with the "majors," and give a nice consequential conclusion as to why you have to honor that superstition. All in a simple, quick story.

The novelette just boggles me. describes a novelette as “a brief novel or long short story.” I never even considered such a thing; I probably would've touted a novelette as a short story. Nevertheless, it’s really a middle child in all of this. The Jan Brady in the mix. A novelette gives itself probably a stretch or two more narrative room unavailable in a short story; however, it doesn't jump completely into the involvedness that makes up a novel or novella. So I would assume a novelette’s word count (should it matter) would arrive somewhere between 8,000 and 20,000 words. Just guessing of course. So in essences, it’s a touch longer than a short story while not considering it a short story. I guess…. And I say “I guess” because I’ve probably heard of a novelette in passing, but never gave it a thought until I actually looked up the subject of fiction short forms. It’s a cute word, if anything else.

Last–but not last–we have the novella. This is the one everyone is familiar with. It’s a novel that’s not a novel... exactly. It’s a short form fiction far more intricate than its common comparison, the short story. It’s a short novel, or it has just about everything that makes a novel except for a lower word count. Even that sounds unrehearsed and superficial. But I digress. Everyone knows what a novella is.

And that’s basically my understanding, guys.  A touch self-deprecating, but most certainly told in my own words. Nonetheless, a less than thorough understanding of the different forms of fiction. Don't quote me on any of this! Just pray that I take the time to produce some kind of work out of either of them–along with that relative I spoke of.

Add any ideas or thoughts about these fiction short forms in the comments below.  Expand our understanding.  And share whether you have a healthy appreciation for any one form.

Carry on.

Monday, September 8, 2014

(2) Octavia Butler Shorts

The remaining two stories in Octavia Butler’s short-story collection, Bloodchild, are “Amnesty” and “The Book of Martha." These two stories were published as recently as 2003, and are just near novella size. Wait, what’s the word count used to define a novella?

In any regard, “Amnesty” is a story that reflects closely to its title’s definition. Amnesty is a means of official pardon, usually surrounding some kind of political affront of some sort; and that’s what takes place in the story as an alien species invades Earth before peacefully asking humans to co-exist with them as a source of "food." Not “food” in the carnivorous sense, but something much more abstruse and cerebral. You see, these aliens are called Communities, and they are made up of thousands of small aliens clustered together in a shape that resembles a large floating bush. Eerie, much! I think I was sick most of the time thinking about these aliens, considering I have a slight case of trypophobia. Nonetheless, that’s just another layer to Butler’s tale. The thing is that the Community came to Earth on a one-way trip, and while they have the means of taking over the planet, they try to co-exist peacefully. As a human woman who has survived both an abduction and harsh military interrogation, Noah Cannon’s job in “Amnesty” is to orient a handful of men and women looking to work alongside The Community for payment. Once more, distress sat in throughout reading this story. The good kind of distress I should say. To me “Amnesty” boils down to the snatching of human discretion. Put man over a barrel and let it be–so to speak. The aliens land, they offer mankind a choice. Should mankind decide not to respond nicely, it wouldn't matter one bit because the aliens will have their way regardless. Nonetheless, like most governing systems across the globe, citizens have no choice but to work with what is given to them.

“The Book of Martha” appeared to be one of those contemplative-grabbing, philosophical stories written by Butler outside of sci-fi. Really, it’s about a woman who finds herself standing before God. Summoned, actually. It seems God needs a human to construct a Utopia for mankind. What would work best? How would it work? And how would God’s chosen, Martha, conceive such a place? When you find out Martha’s idea, I wonder if you’ll agree with her. Or is a Utopia for mankind even possible? I enjoyed this story, but it wasn't one of my favorites.  That's mainly because I couldn't wrap my head around the importance of Martha and God's conversation.  Not that I didn't get it, I just wasn't sure there was an answer.  And the answer given wasn't all that convincing to me.  I should also add the slippery-slope fallacy encouraged by Martha's ideas and God's rebuttal of them. Really, I think it deserves a second read.  Or I should just stick to Neale Donald Walsh's take on a conversation with God.

The recently released collection of short stories by Butler are featured in the book Unexpected Stories. There are only two here, both noted as her early works according to Walter Mosley’s foreword and Butler’s once agent, Merrilee Heifetz (noted in the afterword). And early they seem; one story I completely abandoned and another I managed to sweep through nicely, seeing that it was like a prototype story to Butler’s grandness Patternist series. So yeah, let’s start with the story I abandoned first...

“A Necessary Being” is exclusively alien in its totality. Yep. That’s the way I’ll put it. An alien world. An alien cast. An alien story. Humanoid, if you will, in both their language and behavior. One of the main exceptions is that their skin changes color in accordance with their emotions. Nonetheless, from what I gathered (before I jumped the ship) Tahneh is an alien woman with a status similar to a Native American princess or priestess of some flavor (work with me here as I peel this story apart from my own imagery). She’s given this role because she comes from a race of aliens called Hao. Hao are kidnapped and held by another, similar alien species that uses Hao to govern over their race. Since her father’s passing, Tahneh has been alone, ruling and governing over her community of kidnappers. The story opens up with another Hao crossing through her territory. And she must decide whether to kidnap him and put him in a position such as hers, which subsequently provides her companionship. Or her other choice: let the young Hao pass freely and on into freedom. And that’s pretty much where I kind of bailed on the story. The truth is that I kept envisioning the creatures in the Avatar movie. Couple that with a general lack of interest, and I just decided to move on. I plan to come back to the story at a later date, seeing that Butler kind of started cutting her teeth on this story.

Nevertheless, I did finish and enjoyed the second story, "Childfinder."  Butler wrote and sold this one to her mentor, Harlan Ellison, back in the 70s. In “Childfinder” a telepathic (interchangeable with the term “psionic”) woman uses her gifts to locate, mentor, and mold telepathic and gifted children. These children are the future, and must be groomed in preparation for the possibilities it has in store for them. (You could say an alien invasion is one.) Nonetheless, this lone woman isn't the only one involved, as another, larger organization reaches out to do the same.  The different is the larger organization has a couple of “tougher” methods to get special children to cooperate. The story reminded me of the old 70s and early 90s version of The Tomorrow People (we won't speak on the 2013 remake). The Tomorrow People were about kids with special abilities, who were often dubbed as "the next stage in human evolution." They could teleport. They were telepathic. Some could even see the future. Meanwhile, the government and other smaller organizations were dead centered on capturing these kids for a host of not-so-comfortable levels of research.  In the meantime, the Tomorrow People thwarted alien wars and even an evil, resurrected Egyptian pharaoh. I also found “Childfinder” to be a preview of the eventual novels Butler would write in her Patternist series–particularly the second book in that series, Mind of my Mind. Though it was short and not totally expansive in its telling, I would say that I enjoyed “Childfinder” much more than the previous story. Butler makes it perfectly clear and evident that the future would be grim and mankind must arm its children's psionic evolution for the things to come if they want to stand a chance.

And that’s all there is. If you haven't read Bloodchild or Unexpected Stories, I urge you to do so now. Butler fan or not, these two books are the perfect introduction to her as well as the perfect expansions on her catalog of stories.  In either case, you shouldn't miss them!


Sunday, September 7, 2014

(1) Octavia Butler Shorts

So scratch everything I said about re-trying Mercedes Lackey’s high fantasy novel, By the Sword, for the sake of getting out of this dilly-dally summer reading slump. That didn't work out. I got about 20 pages into that book and was still impossibly disinterested seventeen years later. Part of that disinterest comes–in fact–from my recent mention of balancing exposition in fantasy novels. Nonetheless, sure, I’ll try By the Sword again some time in the future. Until then, I decided to try the short story method of getting myself back into the groove of reading regularly and with a pace. And seeing that I can only seem to read short stories via the Kindle, I dug through the available books and found my digital copy of Octavia Butler’s short-story collection, Bloodchild. I suppose saving it for a rainy day worked; I quickly hammered through this award-winning collection of stories with easy and deep, familiar curiosity.

It’s been a minute since I visited one of Octavia Butler’s worlds. The last book I read by her was the final book in her Patternist series (which I highly, highly recommend). Nevertheless, I never forgot how many of her conceptualizations made me feel claustrophobic, terror and uncertainty.  She writes sci-fi–or speculative fiction–after all.  So all of those feelings her writing gives me probably isn't that much of a surprise, considering her genre of choice.  Still, altogether she is different. And maybe her advantage is that she’s a woman of color who features the same leads in her stories.  Leads that look, in part, like myself.  I also love how Butler often rearranges or reconstructs the sort of energy and presence of mankind in her post-apocalyptic stories.  Usually her stories are of mankind damn near pushed to extinction.  Subsequently, mankind has to evolve and rely on taxing alien beings to keep themselves extant.  And there is always, always a price. To me her writing is a blend of terrorizing and complicated choices that reflects American society (or the future thereof) to some degree.

While the majority of Bloodchild consists of short stories, each of those stories comes with an insightful afterword by Butler herself. In the afterwords she explains what she meant to achieve in each respective story as well as the thought behind their conception. A little over halfway through the book, we also get two essays written by Butler.  Following that are two novella length stories published within the last decade and before her death in 2006. Combined, all of this material was previously published in various magazines and literary publications throughout her 30+ year career. And if that wasn't enough, as recently as June of 2014, two of her early short stories were published in another collection titled, Unexpected Stories.

So what are the stories featured in Bloodchild? I'd better tell you a little about them and hope that you'll pick the collection up also.

The title story, “Bloodchild” is about how mankind is taken from Earth and onto another planet where an alien species–that resemble large centipedes as far as I can tell–develop relationships with human men before using them to nurture their offspring (eggs in this case). While that may sound not so disturbing, the truth is that this nurturing process comes in the form of impregnating human men. And with that said... I thought this was the perfect story to glide back into Butler’s work with *cue chuckle*. After over a year and half of having not read her, I immediately got that familiar claustrophobic feel back! “Bloodchild” brought me back to the entanglements present in Butler’s first book in her Xenogenesis series, Dawn. The only difference (besides length) is that "Bloodchild" seems slightly more distressing.  Not because this is Butler's sort of “pregnant man” speculative fiction story, but because of the imagery used to tell it.  Maybe it's because I have a problem with bugs and parasites.  I think that may be the better explanation.  Either way it was an outstanding read.

“The Evening, The Morning and The Night” tells the story of a nameless young woman who reminds me a lot of Lauren Olamina from Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I say this because they both seem to be philosophical in their thinking; filled with thought-provoking questions, and deeply interested in mankind's available resources.  Well, maybe Lauren had all those things going much more than said nameless young woman.  So maybe their similarities are within their narrative tone. In any regard, the nameless woman is born with a fictional disease called Duryea-Gode. The symptoms of this disease cause sufferers to go insane, enough so that they attempt to claw their way out of their own flesh. Those afflicted are treated through a number of humane and inhumane experimental treatments.  These treatments has taken place throughout decades as scientists research for a cure. And while that research is being conducted, those afflicted are seen as threats to society because of the late, and threatening, symptoms of the disease.  Therefore, society turns their backs on them in fear. However, there’s an institution (or facility) where the unnamed narrator visits with her boyfriend.  His mother is afflicted with Duryea-Gode, and she's in the "insane" stages of the disease. The facility the two visits kind of made me think of Waverly Hills Sanitarium, a place where tuberculosis sufferers were isolated during the early 20th century. Nevertheless, it turns out that the director of the facility manages the maniacal behavior of her patients through a pheromone she was born with. This pheromone calms or pacifies the patients. During the visit, our unnamed narrator discovers she also secretes this pheromone. Now what will she choose to do with that knowledge of herself?

The next short story, “Near of Kin” isn't speculative or sci-fi. However, it is thought-provoking as a modern story that follows a conversation between a young woman and her uncle. The two come together to sort through the young woman’s mother’s estate. The young woman's relationship with her mother was not good, as her mother was mostly withdrawn from her daughter. As the two sort through the dead woman’s estate, they also sort through to the bottom of her estrangement from the family. You may or may not see the truth before it’s announced. Me, I managed to catch what took place a good few pages before it was proclaimed between the two. I'll leave it at that. I ended this story feeling just as uncertain as the characters within it. “Near of Kin” left with that “where do we go from here?” kind of atmosphere.

“Speech Sounds” is probably one of my favorites. Once more, Butler uses disease to paint the complexity behind her story. This disease isn’t named, but what it does is take away speech and language as the basic means of communication.  The protagonist of “Speech Sounds” is a woman named Valerie Rye.  While a large percentage of the world is afflicted with the speech-less disease, Rye hides how she still retains her ability to speak. To share this truth puts her in danger with the world. During a routine bus ride, Rye witnesses a mute argument taking place between two men. Before it gets explosive, she jumps off the bus. This is where she meets a man who was once an LAPD police officer. Through a tumbling ASL exchange, Rye discovers his name is Obsidian. In this near dystopian world, Obsidian hasn't given up on law and order.  He uses tear gas to halt the bus fight. Afterwards, Rye and Obsidian slowly attach themselves to one another. Unable to speak, they ride around the city in Obsidian’s truck until they find themselves in another deadly conflict involving children. Silently, the two proceed to put a stop to this crime. One doesn’t make it out alive. It took me a moment to realize that “Speech Sounds” is absent of dialogue. It wasn't until much later when the speech-killing disease was revealed that I noticed. And like that one episode of Buffy called Hush, Butler pulled the lack of dialogue out cleverly. And like always, while the story is always wonderful, it once again shows the sort of lack of trust Butler has in the relationships between people.  Meaning how there always has to be something incomplete, threatening, or just on the cusp of misanthropic.

The last story before we move into Butler’s essay portion is a story called "Crossover." And you know what? This was my favorite of all the stories. It isn't sci-fi, but it hit home with me like none of the others.  “Crossover” is about a woman working a factory job. There’s no future here. No way out. Just a lump sum of absolutely nothing to look forward to. And not only is she crippled physically, but also mentally. She has a complex, formed by low self-esteem and other mental propaganda.  She even suffers from hallucinations. Her trips to the liquor store doesn't help her headaches.  But she keeps going.  This all clicked with me. I understood her story. However, I can see why some may see "Crossover" as their least favorite in this collection; I have to repeat that it’s my favorite.  I got how this unnamed woman, who works this horrible job, walks around with a headache, drinks liquor, and hallucinates about ghost, is not the woman Butler wanted to become in the early stages of her writing career. And latterly, how writing saved her. I got it. I understood it. I’ve lived some of it. And in my heart, I, too, am still living a life where I am afraid of becoming such a character. When I tell people that keeping a blog and having the ability to write and share my thoughts are saving me, they usually chuckle. Not a lot of people get it. But I was glad to see that one of my favorite writers did.

This is what Butler had to say in the afterword regarding "Crossover." I highlighted it and read it repeatedly:

“I didn't wind up hallucinating or turning to alcohol as the character in “Crossover” does, but I keep noticing the company oddities [coworkers] everywhere I worked, and they went right on scaring me back to the typewriter whenever I strayed.”

The last two stores in Bloodchild will continue into the next post where I also talk a little about the two stories in the Unexpected Stories collection.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Big Book Phobia Tag Video

Another tag video/discussion.  I was tagged by another booktuber, MsJROD1980.  Nevertheless, all of that information (including the originator of the tag) takes place in the video's ABOUT section.  I rather share the video and dedicate a post pertaining to the books I mention, and why I have a "phobia" of reading them.  I use scare quotes over phobia because I actually like large, fat books.  See, there's always a sense of triumphant after finishing them because you've conquered a book that many may have abandoned because of its intimidating size.

Anyway, the books I mention in the video.  First...

1.  The Wild Rose by Doris Mortman

Doris Mortman… what compelled me to pick up my first book by her [First Born] two summers ago?  I really can't say, only that I was browsing through my local public library when I saw her author photo.  Upon a quick gaze, it screamed 80s; and rightfully so considering the book was written/published later in that decade.  Nevertheless, I think that was enough for me, and without another thought, I grabbed the book.  But seriously I was settling down after reading Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives and must’ve craved more 80s glam and Dynasty-style drama.  Needless to say, Mortman’s First Born delivered that.  Additionally, while some complain that she’s long-winded on the details, Mortman remains a better wordsmith than Collins.  With that said, I loved her mix of prose and drama.  I enjoyed that massive book [First Born] with its slow-burning saga detailing the lives of four wealthy women.  Oh, and the sprinkled family secrets, hot affairs, and overall bitchiness aflare melodrama.  

So when I went thrifting last spring with a few friends, I was super excited to run across The Wild Rose.  I think I screamed.  Here was another Mortman book, and now that I was familiar with her and her literary theatrics, I gladly put my dollar down on the title.  The only problem is that I haven't read it yet.  I started to open it up a couple of months ago and just never got far into it.  As I mentioned in the video, something about the characters’ names and accent marks distracted me.  Or maybe I was looking more for that American glam magnetism of First Born, whereas The Wild Rose introduce the legacy and paths of a Hungarian family drama.  Or maybe I haven't sunk into the book yet because it didn't open up with as much boil over as my previous Mortman excursion.  Whatever the case, I refuse to give up, and have since held on tightly to the book.

Is anyone else familiar with Doris Mortman or The Wild Rose?  Or tell me I'm not the only one who fell in love with First Born.  

2.  A Good Fall by Ha Jin

I was first introduced to Ha Jin during a lazy stroll through Barnes & Nobles.  As always, I was sniffing for a new Asian writer.  Thankfully I found his works.  Ha Jin grew up in 1960s China during the Cultural Revolution.  Ensuing, he partook in the Chinese army for five years before working as a telegraph operator.  As an operator he began to learn English.  Eventually he arrived in the West as a student, and immigrated permanently after the Tiananmen Square event where the Chinese government attempted to clean-up on student demonstrators in Beijing.  Having all this life experience tucked underneath him, Ha Jin began to share many of his life responses (or at least how I see most of it) through poetry and fiction.  His focus and themes surrounds his experience in the Chinese army [War Trash] as well as his eye-opening view of the immigrant experience [A Free Life].  Also worth mentioning his is fictionalize reflection on the Raping of Nanjing in his book Nanjing Requiem (I should actually finish that book soon).  Nevertheless, I’ve learned that he’s a lot more expansive than that, sometimes finding myself feeling the same confinement that his characters express.  Nonetheless, I got to taste his writing through the introducing ease of A Good Fall.  A Good Fall consist of collections of Ha Jin’s short stories, including my personal favors, “The Bridegroom” and “Children as Enemies”.  Each story peels back the day-to-day struggle that lie in Chinese immigrant communities with all of Ha Jin’s sensible planting of language and intonations.

3.  Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom fell into my hands on Black Friday.  My mother wanted a TV, and as a reward for helping her through the crowded experience, I asked and received a book.  There’s no explanation as to why I still haven’t read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.  I could maybe try to explain why I want to--or need to.  Trying would pull forth a complex string of inspired thought, though.  Nonetheless, I intended to dedicate the month of April to reading many of the 500+ books I haven’t gotten to yet.  This was one.  Now… I won’t say anything more until it’s finally read and finished.  Then I can indulge this blog with all of my thoughts.  Sorry to keep it brief, but that's where I stand right now.  

4.  Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

I can across Sherman Alexie for the first time in an ethnic American literature class, with Reservation Blues as the shining introduction.  Needless to say, I ended the book won by his magical use of words, dialogue, and symbols.  Pile that on top of the charm of his characters and their needs and wants expressed through desperate voices; and I knew Alexie was an author worth keeping.  On the surface, the plot of Reservation Blues appears simple.  Its opens on the Spokane Indian Reservation where we meet a famed blues player named Robert Johnson.  With his guitar in hand, Johnson’s presence on the reservation is in search of a medicine woman named Big Mom.  He seeks Big Mom’s traditional practices (leaning toward spiritual) to save his soul.  Why?  Because he insist that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play phenomenally at the guitar.  

The first Native American upon the reservation to encounter Johnson is Thomas Builds-the-Fire.  Thomas opens up his van to Johnson's destination.  In turn, Johnson purposely leaves his seemingly cursed guitar in Thomas’s van, propelling the story of Thomas Builds-the-Fire and his reservation friends striking up a band.  All that aside, what really churned out the magic of this book came from the outlook of modern Native American lives on reservations.  There’s a dark humor within Alexie’s characters after generations of lost land, dealings with federal officials, and the Americanizing practices pressured into them.  Many of those aspects formed depression and alcoholism, both present and expressed within the book.  And from another stance, the prejudice they faced and survival off government food rations furthered illustrated how edifying this book shines to the observant reader.  A strange combo, but one that works here in an "ah ha" sense.

Do you have a 400 or 500+ page book just sitting on your shelf unread?  Why haven't you read it?  What are you afraid of?  Share your Big Book Phobias in the comment below.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Along the Way

Having grown up in Florida, Blias felt better outfitted to navigate the death trap of I-95 during tourist season, not winding Connecticut highways during a loose snow storm.  All she wanted to do was go back home to Jacksonville.  This singular wish ruled her thoughts as she squinted through the out pour of white powder smothering the windshield of Mick’s truck; the wiper blades cracked like concentrated lightning in an attempt to clear her view.

Home was where the heart was--as well as suntans, thatch palms, and sandy beaches.  And besides the ugliness of this thing called snow, Connecticut contained her in-laws.  In many respects, this undoubtedly traumatizing drive back to her husband’s parents’ house wasn’t as terrifying as her destination.  Should she be lucky, Mick’s truck would spin out of control and flip into a hill of snow to spare her the unpleasant scenario of sipping wine across the table from two pre-geriatric control freaks with a less than tampered need to remind her that she was not of a wealthy assort.  Those recriminations delivered over fine china, of course.

“At least the heat is working okay.”  Blias told herself with a fading sneer at the thought of her in-laws.  There was no turning back at this point.  She was on the road with Mick and they were coming back to her in-laws house after a night out.  She fought the urge to yawn from the coziness of warm air blowing in her face instead, deciding then to adjust the air vents away from her just a little.  “Maybe a little too hot, though.”

The snow kept coming, as if God stood ripping apart reneged contracts before chucking the shreds down in fury.  And if the snow was truly God’s doing, then Blias was certain that it was his way of broadcasting displeasure at her husband’s drunken state.  Dancing in those thoughts, she spared yet another dark glance toward the passenger seat as an inner burn tugged at a muscle in her right arm.  

Releasing the steering wheel with the risk of drifting off the road, Blias rocketed a hot--yet sloppy--backhand across Mick’s dozing, pale face.  Blias quickly pulled the truck to a gentle left, nearly sending them into the neighboring lane.  She regained control of the truck with a satisfying grin on her lips as Mick scrambled alive with a terrifying cry and a choke.  His eyes widen as one hand lost the lifting of his glasses and the other braced into the door handle.  And although the truck had yet to roll outside of his muddled awakening, he anticipated the first tilt with a glisten of slob lining his o-shaped mouth.

Heart hammering, Mick waited.  He closed his eyes, tight.  Caught his breathe.  Winced at the burn in his nostrils.  And waited again.  Nothing.  No crash.  So what had hit him hard enough to sting his sinuses bringing tears into his eyes?

The truck rattled over an island of powder, and Mick hurled his hands and fingers around the JC handle with a whine.

“Jesus ain’t coming to save you yet, Mick,“ Blias said.  “But I’ll slap you again if you don’t wake your ass up and help me keep him from coming to collect us both.  Well, me anyway.  I don‘t see why Jesus would come and try to save some old slumped fool like yourself.”  Her grip curved over the steering wheel and she lowered her chin to screen her focus as a veiled bend in the road came about.  Her footing loosened on the gas, she applied easy pressure to the brakes.  Focused.  

The truck continued to rattle and bounce, eating up patches of powder as it went pass exits where the barest snow-globed vision of hotels, gas stations, and diner lights could be seen.  Blias drove forward, reminding herself that she was grateful for the heater working and grateful that she remembered the exit number.  Or hoped she did.  And if she wasn’t close enough by now, God forbid they would have to swoop into an exit and get a motel room.  She didn’t like Mick’s parents, but her luggage was at their house.  With her luggage, came a cab, and with a cab came a trip back to the airport so she could get back to Jacksonville.  Preferably tonight.

“That Jesus stuff again, huh?” Mick’s voice croaked as he relaxed, still gathering his surrounds.  He blinked a few times, patted a hand against his stinging nose then pulled it away.  As if blood was on his palm, he frowned.  “I’m starting to think you slapped me, but I know better, B.”

They each cut their eyes at one another, but saw neither expression.

“Had to,” Blias said.  “And I’ll hit you again if you don’t help me figure out how to get back to your devilish parents’ house.”

“You ‘had to,’” Mick’s voice mocked with disbelief.  “Whatever happened to just shaking my shoulder?  Or hollering my name?  Matter-of-fact, aren‘t you not suppose to hit people?  Did Christ every hit anyone?”  He leaned back to wait for his wife’s answer.

Blias reached to turn the heat down.  She needed to be awake.  To be slightly chilled.  To give herself time to think of something to change the subject.  There came nothing, so she let her chin remain high.  At least Mick was up and running like usual, challenging her at whichever turn he could.

Eyes pinching from a sneaky wave of nausea, Mick rubbed the back of his head as the liquor started to bubble back across his senses and memories became muddled with thick questions.  He was seconds behind realizing that his wife called his parents devilish, and fighting off a passing upchuck to respond at the moment. 

Blias swallowed within her focus, chin still high.  

For the pass hour since Blias hauled Mick into the truck and away from his hometown drinking buddies (who kept giving her looks for what she perceived was because she was black and married to Mick), she let him doze, hoping it would taper down on his beer intake.  With him awake now, she couldn’t judge whether the doze worked.  However, the guilt inside her was there.  While she tried to get to know some of Mick’s friends’ wives, she should’ve been regulating Mick reliving his college days at the bar, chugging and taking shots.  Just the thought that she should’ve been watching him, instead of worrying about what his friends thought of her, upset her more than him being drunk.  Blias was upset that she let Mick’s friends intimidate her from stomping across the bar and taking her husband by the collar.

Guess there was nothing she could do now.

Rising himself up just enough to give his diaphragm air, Mick looked out over the road and broke the silence asking, “Are we in the I-95 corridor, because I can‘t really tell?”

Blias shrugged.  “I guess, Mick.  Does it look like I’m from Connecticut?  Do you think I can tell with all this snow falling?  Maybe if you would’ve-”

“Alright, I got it.  You‘re pissed at me,” Mick cut her off.  He raised a traffic hand to pause her mouth, then turned to use it to smooth down the crown of his head before taking a large breathe to soften his tone and nausea.  “But seriously, how fast are you going, B?  There could be black ice forming over the roads.”

Giving her seat belt a ginger tug, Blias didn’t answer.

Mick sighed.  “All right.  Get us killed then.”  He slammed his back into his seat after catching a peek of the speedometer.  Blias was doing nicely, as he knew.  He just couldn’t stand the hush.

Silence spread between them, except for the scratching snow and the roar of tires breaking through street powder with a clank in the undercarriage.

Mick shuffled in his flannel hunter’s jacket, watching the road carefully for signs.  “Mind me asking do you even know the exit?”

“You’re asking me this now, Mick?” Blias turned to look at him with a  jerk of her head.  Her dreads slapped back into her face and she threw them away with a huff.  “Matter-of-fact, are you too drunk to drive?  Do you want me to pull over so you can get us out of this?”

He looked at her without a shift in focus before crying, “I just asked a question.  You want us to get to the goddamn house don’t you?  You miss the exit and we’re gonna have more problems up the road in this snow, smartass.”

“Oh, I’m the smartass?  You’re the bastard that should’ve thought about what you were doing throwing up beers like you’ve got no sense.”  Blias had the mind to swerve into a bank of snowy mounts on the edge of the road, but managed to contain that rip of desire.  Instead, her jaw tensed, then unlocked to say something far more deadly.  “I watched you sit there like a fool, getting drunk with those scary, prejudice freak-buddies you call friends looking back at me while you were glass-eyed and twisted.  Were you even thinking about your wife when you were up there getting laughed at, thinking you were laughing with them?  Do you even remember what you were laughing at when they kept sliding that devil juice in your face?  Huh, Mick?  Tell me what you remember since you were having a good time being the punch line to a joke, or four?”  Satisfied, Blias kept her chin up and breezed pass Exit 54 in Branford.  

Mick’s eyes narrowed, searching left to right as if trying to pull in and compute what his wife had said.  At first he thought maybe the beer distorted his hearing.  But when it clicked, “What the hell are you talking about my friends for, B?  Prejudice?  Really?  My friends?  I haven’t seen them since I moved to that backward ass city in Florida where your home girls,” Mick emphasized this with widen, exaggerated eyes, “tried to get rid of me so that they could hook you up with a brother instead.  Do you ever see me bitch about them, or tell you what you should do about them?”

Blias’s eyes flinched.

“No,” Mick spat.  “I don‘t, nor have.  Even though I know they’re always talking about me to you and anyone else that‘ll listen.  So you talk about my friends, who were cool with you the whole time, even their wives but-”

“You were drunk, Mick,” Blias shouted, blinking as if to keep herself clear and reasonable.  “You didn’t see how your friends kept looking back at me while I had to listen to their stiff wives talk about orangutan sanctuaries and early bird prices.”  A hot breath went into Blias’s lungs straight from the heater‘s burning scent.  “You were just up there, slapping the bar and chugging them down while your buddies looked back at me smiling over your back.”

Mick’s face screwed up in confusion, fingers spreading aside his head as if he could pull out the answer before gasping a resounding: “HUH!?  Because they looked at you!?”

“Yep,” Blias was unrelenting.  “They looked at me.  I know that kind of look.”

Mick settled back, scaling his wife with wide eyes, as if she were someone else.  

That’s when the truck’s shocks absorbed something large and thick in the road.  Whatever it was caused both Mick and Blias to gasp out, their heads barely scrapping the roof of the truck as it bounced.  In her fury, Blias hadn’t seen what she ran over, and it all happened to quickly to calculate.  Whatever she hit was eaten by the front wheels of the truck, rattling underneath like wooden spoons on pots, before throwing the rear of the truck up then down.  Blias cried out as both her feet slammed on the brakes while her hands struggled to tug the wheel in place as she feared they were about to plummet over and sideways.  The brakes didn’t seem to stop the truck, however.  Blias’s nightmares were coming alive as the truck skidded through the snow like an Iberian bull prepping for a fight, tossing powder onto the windshield.  At some point the truck had stopped, but it felt like whatever she hit was inside the car and they still weren’t safe.  Blias’s eyes were pinched and she recoiled when she felt Mick’s warmth reach for her, whispering that he had her.  That they were okay.  A voice that seemed distance over the clicking of the engine.

“What the hell was that?” Blias finally hissed.  Another fear rose up in her mind.  What if she ran over a dead, frozen body?  

To afraid to look back, she left that up to Mick as the shift of his head grazed her face when he turned to look back at the road.

“I don’t know,” Mick said, his voice slow with fear and wonder.  “Probably some kind of… animal.”

Blias’s lips pursed.

“I’ll go see,” Mick said, moving his warmth from her.  He wasn’t surprised when Blias suddenly grabbed for him, and it set her a little at ease to hear his chuckle.  “You watch too many scary movies, B.”

“And the black person always die first,” she retorted.  

Mick peeled from her, taking her face in his hands, waiting on her to open her eyes.  And when she did, he kissed her forehead.  “Chill,” he said into her face.

The smell of beer took to Blias’s nose and she held back a cringe before nodding.  “I’ll come with you.”

When Mick looked ready to protest, he knew better seeing the glare in Blias’s eyes.  So he nodded, reached to shift the truck into PARK, and took his wife’s hand.

The cold ate them the minute they stepped out of the truck only to find nothing in the road behind them, but the sound of a baby wailing over the wind.


Another writer's workshop drafting piece used to bring a little productivity to the blog.  Eh.  It is what it is.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

She's Who Detects

The thing is that I love detective fiction, cozies and mysteries. However, I always found it hard (at one point) to find African-American mystery writers who wrote African-American protagonists.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I die for Kinsey Millhone and Kay Scarpetta.  Not to mention Eve Dallas, who I have recently decided to give up on (that‘s another story). Anyway, like most people who attempt to write, I wrote what I wanted to read. So I wanted to write about a young, black detective before she reaches professional status. She’s a secretary/assistant on her way to becoming a protégé, to be clear.  Maybe somewhere in the future she will take ownership of the agency she works for, much like P.D. James’s Cordelia Gray did when her boss committed suicide leaving her ownership of his agency.

So I wrote this sort of sketch piece for a Gotham Writer's Workshop class...

"Although it is Night"


At the time before Zadie Jones's entrance I knew nothing about the murder of Dorrie Jean Suggs, or either woman. I didn’t know Dorrie Jean was a Bishop’s wife. I also didn’t know she had a background so ugly and dark that one can only wonder where she got the resolve to ask God for mercy. And I certainly didn’t know she was murdered not even a mile outside of my neighbor. I didn’t care whether her spirit was disturbed because I was too caught up in my own personal disturbances, like many of us roaming this earth with blinders on as we attempt to find our way.

Nonetheless, at the time of Zadie's entrance I was sitting at my secretarial--or administrative assistant--desk struggling to put together a 1,400 word paper on determinism versus free will.  It was for my Theories of Personality course. Dividing my attention between typing up clients’ final reports for my boss, Jiremi, and rearranging my thesis statement for the umpteenth time, I finally decided my eyes had enough of swirling over separate documents.

These days my life remained divided between school assignments and my job as the assistant of Hemlocke Investigations. In more than one aspect, I was always juggling my attention between the two. One night I’m chewing my pen’s cap while writing course papers in long hand (good for the creative flow); next I’m typing up FD 302 reports without a hiccup in the exchange. Then there are those occasions where I’m caught sneaking out of a class after receiving a text concerning the whereabouts of transcripts I’ve typed. Sometimes I’m out with my friends getting reprimanded for checking my phone, in case I’ve missed a message from my boss. I don’t argue with the divide in my responsibilities much, if anything I take pride in being enough of a damn good typist to handle the split. So whether it is course papers or client reports, my material is always tidy and presented timely. I find it difficult to walk away from responsibilities that are within my means to handle, and most certainly control. Once something is on my hands, I’ll see it scrubbed clean off. Incidentally, Zadie’s case would test my subscription to that form of thought.

With all that I had going on, an impulsive break seemed required to manage my pace. I gave the vacant, blinking cursor one last sucking of my teeth before swiveling around in my chair to grab my purse off the filing cabinet. I kept drinks in the kitchenette’s refrigerator, located across from the sitting area. I would grab one on my way out, check the coffee carafe (despite business being slow), and pursue my burst of inspiration to stroll to the second-hand bookstore across the street. I checked the bookstore weekly for illustrations, and fashion design books; my current inspiration being anything Katharine Asher-ish. This sounded much more appealing than beating my brains against my laptop for words to pop up.

My boss, and owner of the agency, Jiremi, remained shut up in his office for the past hour. I could hear him speaking to someone on the phone, making now the perfect time to dip out the office for a spell. It was early April, after all. How could I resist not giving God his due for creating such a beautiful day by not engaging in the sunlight and shadows of maple trees?

I became moved by the glint of sunlight waving through the windows. My chair banged against the small bookshelf as I stood up, unplugging my cell from its charger with one jerk of the cord. I glided my stocking feet into the pair of agonizing, black Nine West that my grandma bought me. She wanted me to look well-garbed for my first secretarial job, which translated to a decent and approachable black woman of twenty-seven. According to my family, my success as a socially functional human being was riding off my new position, after having failed at my previous job as a customer service cashier and representative because of my “attitude problem.” Evidently, my family didn't understand that any semblance of an attitude problem derived from them, particularly my mother’s side.

My father and his family lives two states away in Louisiana (too far to judge my behavior), and it was his side of the family that hooked me up with a position at Hemlocke Investigations. See, my mom rang my dad up once she found out I was fired from my previous job, as she takes absolute delight in sharing my business the second I display my knack for reckless conduct. Exhausted by my mother’s worn histrionics, my dad backed me up as dads will often do their grown daughters. My dad had the connection that I needed. He went to high school with Jiremi’s father, who later passed the business to his son. Turned out it all happened right on time, considering Jiremi’s last assistant walked out on him because of what he quoted her stating were “religious discrepancies.” Whatever the hell that meant because the checks I earned from Jiremi hardly make me give a damn about any discrepancies.

Bending to scribble a note just in case Jiremi stepped out of the office to find me missing; I heard the outer door open when the hum of traffic and singing robins slipped over the bellow of the office’s air conditioner unit.

Pen poised in my hand, my voice got caught somewhere in the slack of my jaw at the sight of Zadie Jones’s fraught arrival.

She stood in the open doorway looking as if she’d just stepped out of an Alice Walker novel, dressed in a dated, lime-colored church ensemble of suit (with nice envelop folds and banded tier), hat and clutch purse. She glared at me with a face beat with foundation, counterbalancing the natural coloring of her neck and hands. Her haircut curled with touches of gray, falling out of her swollen hat to dust her shoulders. She had to be about 60-ish, that much I could tell over her botched makeup attempt. And while it took me a second to absorb the brightness of her ensemble, what truly arrested my sensibilities was the flaring of her breath as she gripped the door handle with a slight arch in her back. Her nostrils were wide enough to swallow quarters, and I could imagine myself doing so at arm’s length. If that’s what it took to remedy what looked like a woman hanging around Death’s door in the gripes of a heart attack, I would do so with the spare change in my pocket.

Lord, please don’t let this woman fall down dead in front of me, was all I thought. Evidently, I was useless in emergency situations, as all I felt my body capable of achieving was an anxious stare. I was frozen in place, watching her stained, yellow cigarette eyes crease up at me. All I felt I could do was wait on her dirty eyes to roll back into her head as she crumbled to the floor. Only then would I felt capable of running to her side. Only then would I know for sure whether this was an emergency situation or something else completely.

Like many, I had a funny way of mentally checking out during emergency situations.

Nevertheless, my visitor did not fall over dead, nor did a pursing madman come trailing behind her. Yet, I felt little relief in my hush.

“Well, what’cha looking at, gal? Ain’t you ‘posed to offer me a seat or something?” Drawn between hard breaths, her questions came out of a pair of glossed lips that sneered at my uselessness.

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