Your Georgia Writers Resource
Painting by Dan Smith
Exit Editor-in-Chief Val M. Mathews Managing Editor Rachel E. Frank Visiting Editor Valerie Smith Assistant Editor Kathyrn Metzger Proofreader Dr. Margaret Walters Contributors John Greaves III Ann Hite Rachel E. Frank Val M. Mathews Kathyrn Metzger Valerie Smith Melanie Sumner Creative Writers Judy Benowitz Kinley Stalker Bryan Emery L. Campbell Vickie Carroll Rick Carson Robert Covel Lisa Ezzard Sandra Hood Georgia Knapp David "Sam" Owen Sybil Rosen Yong Takahashi Ann J. Temkin Nagueyalti Warren
271 Design Val M. Mathews Exit271.com
Photo Courtesy Artists and Writers Font Credits Adobe Typekit, Font Squirrel, and Astigmatic One Eye Typographic Institute Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource is both a writer's resource magazine and a literary journal. Two times a year, we bring you a motivational kick to get you writing more, publishing more, and living the writerâ€™s lifeâ€”Georgia style. Plus, with every issue, we showcase short story authors, poets, and artists who call Georgia home. Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource digital magazine is made possible by the Georgia Writers Association (GWA). GWA is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization supported in part by the Georgia Council for the Arts and Kennesaw State University. The editors of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource are largely volunteers who work as freelance editors in The Exit 271 Studio.
The Exit 271 Studio 575 Venita Drive, Athens, GA 30606 www.exit271.com
Cover Art Dan Smith Inside Art Jessica Burke Susan Pelham John Spence Townsend
440 Bartow Avenue, Kennesaw, GA 30144 http://www.georgiawriters.org
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2 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
From the Editors
Val M. Mathews
Rachel E. Frank
he theme for the Summer 2016 issue of Exit 271 is book promotion and marketing. Our focus, however, rests squarely with your readers. Your readers are your best promotional and marketing "relationship," a long-term relationship that needs to be nurtured for a writer to succeed at this crazy, little thing called the writer's life. Author Joanna Penn puts it best in Successful Self-Publishing: How to Self-publish and Market your Book in Ebook and Print when she states, "Writing is about you. Publishing is about the book. Marketing is about the reader." With those smart words in mind, we bring you authors Ann Hite, Melanie Sumner, Ciara Knight, and John Greaves III to talk about their promotional and marketing relationships with their readers. Of course, the first step in any marketing strategy is to write a good book.
As always, we discuss the writing craft in The Editor's Pub, and we look at why poets (and all writers) workshop (or should workshop). Furthermore, we talk about how to get your writer hustle on and get paid. For your daily dose of creative works by Georgia writers, our Summer 2016 issue wraps up with the Exit 271 Flash Fiction Contest winners. Plus, two short story authors, six poets, and four visual artists. Warm thanks and big hugs to all our contributors and creative writers. It has been a pleasure speaking and working with you. Keep writing! May this year be your most productive and lucrative yet.
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4 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Nine months out of the year, the Georgia Writers Association hosts 2-hour writer workshops where established authors and professionals focus on some aspect of the writerâ€™s life: craft, marketing, publishing, finding an agent. Most workshops are held at the Kennesaw State University Center (KSU Center). Plus, the Georgia Writers Association hosts annual events, including the Georgia Author of the Year Awards (GAYA) and the Red Clay Writers Conference. For more information, go to www.georgiawriters.org
Georgia Writers Association 08/13
Deborah Malone Mystery Writing 101
Nicki Salcedo 5 Bones: How to Skeleton Outline Your Story
Andrew Plattner Fiction Writing Workshop
Christopher Ward: Digital Marketing
Open Mic Readings
The Theme for the Summer 2016 Issue
Promotion Promotion CONTENT
09 A Shy Southern Writerâ€™s Tale:
How I Learned to Pimp My Family Stories Ann Hite
15 You Want Me To Do What? A Few Thoughts on Publicity Melanie Sumner
Interviews 20 Love Your Readers:
A Coffee Shop Chat with Romance Author Ciara Knight Kathryn Metzger
COLUMNS 26 The Editor's Pub
No Info Dumping, Please! Val M. Mathews
34 The Writer's Path Kicking in Windows John Greaves III 6 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
From the Field 28
How to Get Your Writer's Hustle On and Get Paid
Why Do Poets Workshop?
Departments 03 From the Editors 04 The Exit 271 Studio 05 Events & Workshops 13 Books
Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writers Guide to Marketing & Publicity by Rob Eagar
18 Writing Spaces Rachel E. Frank
Rachel E. Frank Val M. Mathews Valerie Smith
Nooks, Cars, and the Zen of Water
25 Good Quotes 33 Contests
Winter 2017 Flash Fiction
Writers 42 Flash Fiction 2016 WINNER Nagueyalti Warren 2016 RUNNERS-UP Judy Benowitz Kinley Stalker Bryan Sandra Hood Yong Takahashi Ann J. Temkin
50 Short Fiction Georgia Knapp "What to Bring to a Funeral" Vickie Carroll "Indigo Deep"
70 Poetry Sybil Rosen "How Is It to Watch Something You Love Die?" "Facts"
Artists 08 Susan Pelham Blue Suede Shoes
Robert Covel "Intimations of Mortality" "Singularity"
14 Susan Pelham Take Five
Rick Carson "Ballad of the Fulton County Sheriff's Inmate Transport Bus"
28 John Spence Townsend Rehearsal
Emery L. Campbell "New Vile Veg Cuisine"
40 Dan Smith Random Quadrants of Spontaneous Monsterfication!
Lisa Ezzard "Imprints" "What If There Were No Enemy"
61 Jessica Burke Gross Domestic Product
David "Sam" Owen "The Breadbasket Hotel" "Let Us Confabulate" Poet Bios
61 Jessica Burke I'm Late But Dinner Won't Be
Cover Art by Dan Smith GeorgiaWriters.org | 7
Pelham, Susan. Blue Suede Shoes, 2015. Mixed Media: 163/8"x121/8". 8 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
A Shy Southern Writer’s Tale How I Learned to Pimp My Family Stories by Ann Hite
was born a severe introvert. I sound intriguing on paper—witty, talkative, full of humor—but the truth is when I'm in front of a stranger (much less a crowd), I am struck with disabling fear. My hands sweat. My stomach clenches into knots. My brain freezes … Wait a minute. What’s the name of that book I wrote? … and I lose all ability to form a coherent thought. When readers come to see me, most of the time they don't have a clue how hard it is for me to stand in front of a crowd and speak about my books. Stepping into the public eye in the name of promotion is an art this shy Southern author had to learn. It required breaking every rule instilled in me as a child—and it radically changed my understanding of my work and the meaning of book promotion. My Southern grandmother raised me from the age of ten. At least once a month, we took off for the foothills of Appalachia, where I sat at the knees of my great-aunts. Each aunt was unique in her own special way. One swore that bad events were revealed to her before they happened. Another talked of conversing with her husband, dead for several years. The youngest read tea grounds left in the bottom of the cup. Granny was a member of this strange tribe, a sister to these odd women. At home in Atlanta, she spoke proper English,
dressed the part of a Junior League member, and worked at Rich’s Department Store as a manager. But when that woman took me to the tar-papered house that belonged to Aunt Stella (Stellar), Granny became a snuff-dipping hillbilly. We had an understanding: What happened in Appalachia, stayed in Appalachia. I would have rather died than breathed a word to anyone about this side of Granny. At the time, I didn’t know I would write books set in the beloved mountains where she roamed as a child. Shoot, I didn’t even try until both Granny and Mother had died. When I began writing these stories, I spent a good part of the time attempting to still Granny’s scolding voice inside my head. Becoming a writer, a female writer at that, broke all the rules—rules presented to me when I was thirteen to memorize.
Rule #1 A good Southern woman blends into the background. She doesn’t strive to have someone notice her accomplishments. Her job is to highlight those around her with her soft glow. This doesn’t mean she’s not strong, quite the contrary. These “blenders” are some of the strongest-willed women a girl can know. And they always win in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. (The next time,
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dear reader, you are home and get that feeling your mama or granny won a battle without ever addressing the subject, you will understand.)
Rule #2 A good—or bad, for that matter—Southern woman never, never airs the family laundry. She would rather cut her tongue out than tell a person her daddy divorced her mama after thirty years for a woman younger than his daughter. No, she would only shake her head when asked about his whereabouts, wearing a look as if she were sucking on persimmons while explaining that his work transferred him to Europe. Her mama could not tolerate being away from the South. She’d just die. And if her sister had a baby six months after getting married? Well, it was premature labor! (Storytelling begins very early within the Southern Women Culture.)
Rule #3 Southern women do not talk about money. Now, this one is the hardest. It’s just not permitted. Of course, if she happens to be wearing that brandnew diamond bracelet her husband bought her with his yearly bonus and her friends just happen to notice it on her wrist as she serves them cake, then she is obligated to tell the truth. But she would never explain that they have a second mortgage on the house to cover the expense of their upcoming vacation to the Virgin Islands.
ranny lived by those rules and expected I would follow in her footsteps. She would have been horrified at the bad grammar my characters use. But I pushed forward with my writing. In March 2010, my first novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, received a book deal. I signed my contract, collected my advance check, and went on to relax and enjoy the success. Ha! And if you believe that … In today’s publishing world, authors are faced with more self-promotion than in years past. I
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scored a multiple-book deal with one of the big publishers in New York. They do all the marketing for their authors, right? That’s the biggest palace lie told. One of the many expectations placed on me was platform. What is platform? Just a fancy way of saying you have to sell yourself. Geez! That meant I had to break every one of Granny’s rules. And breaking her rules for an introvert like myself looked darn near impossible. Here’s how this soft-spoken Southern woman, who cringed at attention, figured it out and learned to wave her book-flag high. My books concentrate on characters with strong stories set in Appalachia. The folklore, ghosts (haints), and tall tales are part of the culture, my family’s culture, set in Black Mountain, North Carolina. But ghosts don’t always make a ghost story. No, paranormal wasn’t my platform. My platform needed to be set in my true love of historical and family events. I discovered this vital truth at the launch of my first book, and it changed my whole approach to promoting myself. When I first began to dabble in promotion, I had no clue where to start. Thank goodness several local authors took me under their wings. They told me I needed to let the book clubs in Atlanta know Ghost on Black Mountain was due to release September 11, 2011, and I was advised to contact local newspapers and tell them I was available for interviews. Also, I had to plan a book launch. You know, a party celebrating and announcing that my book had been born. I broke out in a cold sweat. A party? How? I hated parties. Then, I thought of what Granny would do if she needed to throw a party, an event. I emailed (email is so great for us introverts) a friend of a friend who had connections to the Swan House, one of the most recognized historical houses in Atlanta. Granny would have been proud. If I had to break the blending rule, the Swan House was the place to do it. Before I knew what was happening, my book launch had been arranged as a lunch where attendees would pay to hear me speak. Wait! Speak? What had I done to myself? Two weeks before the book party, I received an email telling me two hundred people had bought tickets. I was told to prepare to speak for thirty minutes. I would speak twice because one of the
Book promotion is just a conversation. dining rooms was full, and I would have to repeat myself in another for the overflow crowd. What would I talk about? The book? Maybe I would just read? But the thought of reading for thirty minutes made me physically ill. Okay. I had to talk. The night before the book launch, I still didn’t know what I would say. Maybe I’d talk about how I came to write the book? Who I was? The dreaded day came. I stood in the bathroom outside of the dining room, shaking. What would make these people read my book? An idea went through my head: Just talk to them like you would a friend. Tell them stories, family stories. OMG, could I? Just so they would buy books? I told them about the moonshine, about my great-aunts seeing ghosts, about Granny leaving Appalachia. How she became a Rosie the Riveter. Thirty minutes flew by. While my publisher wanted to classify my book as paranormal, I had redefined my platform. I was a writer who wrote historical fiction about Appalachia with a ghost thrown in here and there. This redefined platform allowed me to see promotion as just a conversation. Just sharing my love of my family and culture. And so I began my journey into book promotion, working with my strengths. So, if you’re an introverted Southern writer like me, here are three ways to promote your platform by having conversations with your readers.
Blogging This is a great way for writers to reach readers and for shy people, like myself, to discuss what matters in the world of books. I chose not to begin a blog of my own for fear it would take up a lot of
time I didn’t have. Instead, my publicist and I canvassed some popular blogs and offered to write guest posts. I wrote a piece about Granny’s rural life in Appalachia—yes, I was airing the family laundry—for a historical fiction website. I even provided photos and documents. I was also invited to write an article for Psychology Today about my mother being bipolar in the 60’s. Yikes! Blogging allows readers to learn more about you and the writing process. It builds conversations and makes some people want to read your books.
Festivals & Panels I learned to blow away all of Granny’s rules the first time I spoke on a panel at the South Carolina Book Festival. The roomful of readers sat up straighter and tuned into what I was saying when I mentioned Granny and told the story of how her life influenced my work. I imagined I was one of my great-aunts telling stories. After the panel was over, a small crowd gathered around me. They wanted to tell their ghost story or their tale of a grandparent. They didn’t feel like strangers at all, and I was enjoying myself. I was relaxed, and I sold twenty books after that panel. I knew I was on to something. I couldn’t blend into the crowd or hide the family secrets; I had to tell them, to share the stories like these readers were sharing theirs. Many of the readers I met after this panel still keep in touch with me. With each panel I sit on, I find this first experience mirrored. The readers I’ve met have become my community, built on telling stories about my family. The introvert in me still feels nervous; but once I dive in and answer a question, I’m hooked.
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Social Media Social media is a big tool for promoting my books without hitting readers over the head with pleas to buy. If you truly love the subject matter, this love translates into conversations, even for introverts like me. In fact, engaging my readers on Facebook and Twitter is fun. I’m in my element because I am writing. I ask for character names and the readers’ ghost stories. I share playlists that I am listening to while working on a new book. Often I post old photos I’ve used to imagine my characters. The photos often have their own stories. I post on social media to keep a dialogue going between the readers and me, not to sell them books. Most of the time, they’ve already bought them. I want to know what they like about my work. What they think is coming next. I have a good time, and I give my readers what I’m looking for in books. These efforts have won me a decent following.
* * * * *
ranny is probably turning over in her grave. Not only is her granddaughter airing the family laundry, she’s also getting paid for it. Yes, I’ve pimped my family stories. Her granddaughter is no longer a blender, the wallflower sitting at the knees of her elders. I broke all the rules so I could feed my addiction for writing and storytelling. One of the payoffs has been a contract to write Granny’s memoir. If there is such a thing as ghosts, she will surely come and haunt me. But this pimping of mine has taught me that I can step into the world, and out on a limb, even if I can’t shed my introvert skin. I still get nervous when meeting readers in person— sweaty palms, nervous stomach—but I’ve learned to handle it better. I’ve learned that if I jump into the big, scary ocean of promoting, I can paddle hard enough to keep from sinking. I am an introverted Southern writer with a hankering to be read on a regular basis. Are you? Then start pimping.
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Ann Hite is a wife, mom, grandmother, and book junkie. At age 51, she became a published novelist. Her debut novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, won Georgia Author of the Year and was a Townsend Prize finalist in 2012. She has published four novels and a novella that are set in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Being a city girl most of her life, she now writes each day in her home office that looks out on a decent cluster of trees. Touch base with Ann on Facebook and at annhite.wordpress.com.
Sell Your Book Like Wildfire The Writer's Guide to Marketing & Publicity by Rob Eagar 2012
Edited by Scott Francis Designed by Rachael Smith Writer's Digest Books
ell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer's Guide to Marketing & Publicity by Rob Eagar is another useful tool for the professional author who not only wants to get published but also wants to get read. Whether you write nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, Eagar takes us on a romp through the marketing and publicity landscape. He states, "This book is for the author who is dedicated to reaching a larger audience and changing thousands of lives through literature." Isn't that why we write? Eagar explains that people buy your book because of what's in it for them. It's not about you; it's not even about the bookâ€”it's all about them, your potential readers. So, when you inevitably get the question, "What's your book about?," consider
what they are really asking: "What's in it for me if I buy your book?" Sell Your Book Like Wildfire will help you answer this question and position your marketing campaign to explain how reading your book can improve a reader's life. It doesn't matter whether you're writing a how-to-plant-a-garden book or a psychological action thriller, Eagar's years of experience and wisdom will help you create raving fans and sell more books. Rob Eagar is the founder of Wildfire Marketing, a consulting practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He has worked with over 400 authors, including New York Times bestselling authors. But you don't have to have a bestseller to gain from Eagar's experience. Sell Your Book Like Wildfire can help you take your book campaign to the next level.
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Pelham, Susan. Take Five, 2015. Mixed Media: 131/4"x141/4"
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You Want Me To Do What? A Few Thoughts on Publicity by Melanie Sumner
will make you a star, wrote my first publisher, Seymour Lawrence. I was twenty-eight years old, living in the quintessential writer’s garret and reeling from the felicity of two short stories recently published in The New Yorker. Seymour “Sam” Lawrence, the last of the oldschool literati, had seen my stories and contacted me with the offer to publish a collection. When he found out that I had already received an offer, he doubled his price. Magically, I was ushered into a stable of writers that included Kurt Vonnegut, Katherine Anne Porter, and Pablo Neruda. Stardom had arrived. In this nirvana, ugly words like publicity didn’t exist. If I had thought about publicity at all, which I didn’t, I would have assumed that Mr. Lawrence might drop my pretty new book at bookstores where people were lined up to buy it. Perhaps he had something called a publicist, who would send a limo (crossing a few state lines) to pick me up for a signing. I’d need to buy a new dress—a red one, with sequins. Then, tragically, Seymour Lawrence died. He died while my manuscript was still in process, and
for reasons never made clear, my first book, Polite Society, was printed without the coveted Seymour Lawrence label. Although my editor was brilliant and wonderful, my publicist was lackadaisical. Without the charismatic Sam backing the book, Houghton Mifflin dropped it into the low-budget publicity bin. Despite excellent reviews, Polite Society quickly went out of print. At the time, I thought publicity, or the lack of it, was fate. Now, after publishing three more books with two different houses, I have a better understanding of how publicity works. I can’t say that I like hawking my literary wares. The work is down there on the list with taking my dog to the vet for anal gland expression. But, it’s part of the writing life, and the more I practice, the easier it becomes. If you are a new author, rather than pining for a magnet publisher in the star-making business, consider my top three publicity suggestions:
Learn the Business Familiarize yourself with the business of publishGeorgiaWriters.org | 15
ing. It is a business, which means somebody is making money. To get started, read Betsy Lerner’s warm and frank The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. This insider’s view of the publishing house is entertaining as well as useful. For strategy, I recommend Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer. In practical language with a how-to bent, VanderMeer offers detailed instructions on creating a platform, a marketing plan, and a PR presence. He suggests tracking the online trail of your literary doppelganger, an author you admire and emulate, to develop a tactical plan for your publicity campaign. When I told one publicist about this book, she said she wished all writers would read it. I think she was hinting at some of the hair-brained publicity schemes I had laid on her before I did my research: WRITER Let’s send the book to groups who will be offended by it, get it banned, and then everyone will want to read it! PUBLICIST Interesting idea. We’ll come back to that one later. Before assaulting your publicist with your imaginative marketing ideas, take VanderMeer’s practical advice for developing a tactical literary campaign via social media. Hint: Don’t waste money on a fancy website.
Make Connections Hang out with pros in the business: published writers, editors, agents, reviewers. The fees you pay for literary conferences and writer’s colonies are an investment in the contacts you make while sipping chilled white wine out of plastic cups. You’ll like a lot of these people and hear some great stories. Will you meet a literary sugar daddy/momma who vows to make you a star? Maybe. More likely, you’ll meet people from different facets of the publishing industry, people who know other peo16 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
ple in this line of work. This literary network will become a valuable resource when you are ready to publish your book. Here’s the fun part of the game: Your agent is talking the book up to a publisher at a little bistro on Broadway. At the next table, a guy in a trench coat dips a fedora lower over one eye and sends a text … a literary spy has discovered your book! Bistro deals and literary spies are real. Word gets out in ways you never imagined. My take-away? A writer should know people who know people—or at least try to sit next to a literary spy at a bistro.
Get Blurbs! To make sales, you need to have an endorsement by a well-known author on the back of the book—a blurb. So, here’s the not-fun part of the game: Before you are even assigned a publicist, your editor will ask you to make a very important list of writers you know who might be willing to write a blurb. Your editor will send them a request, gentle but firm and filled with wild hope. It’s a shelf life-anddeath matter for your book. What’s really going on here? ENDORSEMENT. Remember how the unpopular girl in fifth grade made friends with the popular girl and then everybody wanted to be her friend? It’s the same game. You will experience all the angst of a fifthgrade wallflower as you hunch over your computer and peck out something like this: Hello, ______. I don’t know if you remember me, but I met you at the Lumberjack Creative Writing Conference in Fargo, North Dakota last February? At the pizza party? I’m the one who dropped a meat-lover’s supreme in your lap—I am so sorry! Anyway, I loved all twelve of your novels (none of the movies are as good except the one you directed), and I was just wondering, you know, if you had time to maybe read my book that’s really not very long and say if you thought it was any good …
Your editor will have her own list for potential blurbs. She’s an old hand at sending out pithy pitches with perfect timing. She lets you know when she sends out “nudges.” Some writers will respond. Most won’t. Don’t take it personally. Just get a babysitter and max out your credit card to go to more conferences, parties, and colonies. Circulate. Have fun. Try not to remember that the publisher bases your publicity budget on your blurb collection.
s it turns out, publicity is hard work, especially for writers who tend to be introverted, unrealistic, and oblivious about numbers. We are better suited to hanging in the sky, bright and unreachable, illuminating things. So why bother? Well, as it turns out, selling one book paves the way to writing and selling the next one—the one that’s really going to shine.
Submit Your Work http://www.exit271.com/submit/
For the Winter 2017 issue of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource, we are looking for the following: • Feature articles on writing for Georgia's booming film industry (10001500 words). Pays $50. • The Writer's Path column (750-850 words). Pays $25. • Flash Fiction Contest (300 words or fewer). Pays $75. • Short fiction (under 4000 words) • Poetry (any length) • Artwork images Writers of feature articles must first send an email query to firstname.lastname@example.org. All writers and artists must currently live in Georgia.
Melanie Sumner is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and the Whiting Award. She is the author of the novels How to Write a Novel, The Ghost of Milagro Creek (New Mexico Book Awards 2010), The School of Beauty and Charm, and Polite Society, a collection of West African short stories. Currently, she lives in Rome, Georgia, and teaches at Kennesaw State University. www.melanie-sumner.com
All work should be previously unpublished. Artwork should be no more than three to four years old. Please see full guidelines before submitting. GeorgiaWriters.org | 17
Nooks, Cars, & the Zen of Water “Whatever happens,
I hope it inspires you.” —Meraaqi
KINLEY BRYAN YONG TAKAHASHI Most of my drafts start in the car or at a coffee shop although I wrote most of my short story collection during my lunch hour in the lobby of the King building. Editing usually happens at the dining room table or at the library. And of course, caffeine and sugar are involved in every step.
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My writing space is a nook in the bedroom with windows on two sides. It's sunny and cheerful most days.
"You honor your writing space by entering it with this mantra: ‘I am ready to work.’ You enter, grow quiet, and vanish into your writing.” —Eric Maisel
ROBERT COVEL I live on a lake, my personal version of Walden Pond, and like Thoreau, I feel its living presence. Whether I am in my chair or at my computer, the Zen serenity of its water (and the creatures that live in and around it) fills me and my writing. The flow of life and of the seasons are my constant inspiration.
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Love Your Readers
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A Coffee Shop Chat with Romance Author Ciara Knight
by Kathryn Metzger
rsula K. Le Guin stated, "The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." In other words, we aren’t just writing for ourselves—somebody’s got to read it! To get people to read our work, we need to promote it. Promotion can be easily overlooked by fledgling writers (and even some veterans), especially in the world of fiction writing. So, how do fiction writers market and promote their books? On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I meet with Ciara Knight, a local romance author, to find out. Knight and I sit down at The Daily Grind, a comfy coffee shop where the works of local artists hang on the shabby-chic walls. We quickly become immersed in our conversation …
We sip our melting iced coffee, our eyes perusing her promotional flyers and postcards scattered across the little table. KATHRYN METZGER: When did you start writing? CIARA KNIGHT: Ha, oh wow, well that is a loaded question. Of course, everyone always says that they started when they were really young. But because I had my language disorder, I could not read or write when I was in grammar school. It wasn’t until my third child was born that my husband basically handed me a laptop and said, “Get over it and write the damn book.” It took me about a year to write my first book and submit it. It was picked up by a small press in 2010. KATHRYN METZGER: Wow! So, do you feel that those struggles propelled you forward because you had something to prove? CIARA KNIGHT: Absolutely. But even one step further than that, I believe it takes so much hard work to be successful—as someone who had to work so hard at everything, when I got to that point it wasn’t a shocker. I’ve heard a lot of authors say, “It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. I didn’t know it was gonna be this tough.” It comes down to how much you want it and how much you’re willing to work at it. KATHRYN METZGER: So, what habits do you suggest to help writers promote themselves? CIARA KNIGHT: That is a huge, huge question. So, if they’re just starting out, obviously the first thing to do is write the best book they can, and I’m sure every author will tell you the same thing. Also, I cannot stress enough the need to hire a professional editor who is not a relative or a
friend. Have a professional cover artist, also. This is obviously advice for self-publishing. The next thing to do to promote your book is to write the next book. Right now, series are everything, and if there’s any way to have a series available right after you publish the next book then you can publish them back to back to back. That is how a lot of authors are gaining momentum when they’re new. KATHRYN METZGER: And how should a new author market themselves? CIARA KNIGHT: My thing about marketing for new authors is that there’s no wrong marketing, there is only trial and error. You need to really know your target audience. Let’s say you write sweet romance, and your crowd is maybe older ladies. In my experience, you’re not going to find them on SnapChat—but you are going to find them on Facebook. So in that instance, you’ll target all your marketing towards Facebook. Also, when you are promoting yourself, do it sometimes outside of writing. You might want to write something for Woman's Day, something about knitting if you knit—basically, don’t be fake. Find things that you love, and share that alongside of your writing. KATHRYN METZGER: On author Delilah Dawson’s website, there is a hilarious article that tells writers to shut up about self-promotion. She says that in our world bombarded by posts and hashtags, authors on social media have become too pushy. CIARA KNIGHT: I think readers are definitely
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tired of authors always being in their faces. You do not want to constantly pitch your books; it’s the fastest way to get people to unfriend you or unfollow your feed. KATHRYN METZGER: Do you think good old-fashioned advertising that pulls readers in and hooks them is the solution to this overly crowded and pushy world of self-promotion? Or do you think there is a place for social media if done correctly? If so, what would that look like? CIARA KNIGHT: You want to be the leader of the pack and not a follower because if the reader has already seen others do it ten times and then they see you do it, they’re going to be sick of it. You need to come up with the next creative and interesting thing. So, for instance, my friend and author Lindi Peterson and I are hosting the Love Our Readers Luncheon where we are not directly promoting our books but offering a service and saying thanks. We might sell books or we might not, but that’s okay. People will still see us in the media. I also go to conferences. I might even go to a knitting club and talk to people. They will ask, “Oh, so what do you do?” Of course I say, “I’m an author,” and that immediately gets people’s attention. The only thing is don’t get caught with your pants down, and what I mean by that is have a paper promo product with you. I don’t care if it’s in your wallet, back pocket, whatever. That is a direct sale. Because when you hand that over, they are going to go home and look you up and tell others that they met you. KATHRYN METZGER: You basically have to always be prepared to represent yourself? CIARA KNIGHT: Exactly, and that goes back to writing the best book you can the first time because a potential reader is a lost reader if that book is not high quality. I just wanted to re-emphasize that you have to have a good editor, cover artist, etc. Also make sure you have a link to everything. If you have a QR code on the back, or even a very basic URL for somebody technology-challenged, people will scan or click it to con-
22 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
tinue their adventure—to read a sequel of other titles you authored. KATHRYN METZGER: What about branding? Is it a part of your marketing and promotional plan? CIARA KNIGHT: About a year ago, I changed my branding because my tagline had been “Defy the Dark.” I used that branding because everything I wrote could get dark, yet there would always be a light at the end—sort of. But when I started writing in more genres, I found that my readers didn’t get it. It was more of a paranormal YA slogan. So, now my branding tagline is “A Little Edge with a Lot of Heart.” I had designs made of hearts to go on each of my books that clearly show what genre readers are picking up. On my website everything follows that branding. The different color hearts coincide with a different kind of genre. I think it’s extremely important when you are marketing and branding yourself that you clearly note the differences between your works in order to avoid confusion for readers or deter them. My tagline makes it so I can tie them all together while still having those distinctions very apparent. KATHRYN METZGER: In your opinion, what’s the best way for writers to push themselves out of their comfort zones and put themselves out there—beyond word of mouth or paper promo products? CIARA KNIGHT: It boils down to what you have to offer. Everyone has unique gifts. Because of my language disorder, I did things like Learn to Learn, visiting schools and bringing my YA novels with me and talking about having a language issue and coping with that while being a writer. When you start out you have to think about what you have to offer and use that to reach your readers. KATHRYN METZGER: So, it’s not about finding that perfect formula but finding out who you are and spreading that into your work. CIARA KNIGHT: I personally believe that, and it’s worked well for me so far. You know, growing
We plunge deeper into our conversation. Our iced coffees sit abandoned; the sounds of grinding coffee and chattering customers disappear as I lean in closer. up you kind of want to keep it to yourself if you have a language disorder. But once I put my bio on my website explaining who I was and what I’d gone through, I had more and more people sending me fan mail. I think one of my favorite fan mails I ever received was from a woman who was about fifty-two, and she said my book was the first she’d ever finished reading. She read my bio and felt safe reading my book because of it. KATHRYN METZGER: It’s all about touching your readers—like you said before, being authentic. They will love you for it. CIARA KNIGHT: Yes! There are some in-person things you can do, too. For instance, if you write inspirational romance, you might try to hook up with churches. I also suggest the go-all-out option where you offer your first book in a series for free for a limited time. You’ll make all your money back on the second and third book in the series. It’s a marketing strategy to, hopefully, snag readers. If readers like what they read, they’ll buy the next book. I broke out this way with my first sweet romance. KATHRYN METZGER: Sometimes you do have to give away some of your work to get a return. CIARA KNIGHT: I think so. Another thing people have tried is prequel novellas. Also, I’ve taken part in box series sets with other authors, which is a great way to get out there.
When I broke out, I not only offered the first in the series for free but also used BookBub to advertise. I thought I was crazy paying someone to advertise for me just to sell my books; but let me tell you, it was the best thing I ever did in my career. It really took it to the next level. KATHRYN METZGER: Well, how far in advance do you think you should start advertising a book? CIARA KNIGHT: This really depends on how you’re publishing, whether you’re self-publishing, hybrid, small press, or in one of the big-six publishing houses. What I do is … I actually have a running series that releases every ninety days. I write a novel about every ninety days. I get them out no matter what. That’s my moneymaker, my series that people pre-order. KATHRYN METZGER: Interesting! CIARA KNIGHT: Really, the number one way to sell books that I would say has an eighty percent chance of success is to put a hyperlink in the back of your ebook that says, “Click here to continue this journey.” If you already have your next book up for pre-order then that’s the time to start advertising your first book. You don’t have to advertise your second book, just the first book and then in the back of the first book they click that hyperlink and pre-order. Before you know it, you’ll have a thousand pre-orders in thirty days … or you could have ten. Either way, it’s okay. That’s still ten people promising to read your next
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book. If you don’t do that, there’s the possibility of losing your readers because they may not remember to come back and read your sequel. KATHRYN METZGER: I admit to being one of those people who drop an entire series if the author took too long to get the sequel out. A link to pre-order the next book in the series is a great idea. I’d click it!
* * * * *
ith our conversation coming to a close, both Knight and I relax into our leather chairs and soak up the atmosphere of the coffee shop. Our mellow mood remains, even as customers chat and coffee grinds away in the background. “What you and I are doing right now is promotion,” she says with a smile. “It’s that simple.” Knight’s wise observation proves her final point: Networking is one the best promotional tools, especially networking with authors further up the success ladder than you. Successful authors can offer guidance and camaraderie, alert you to opportunities, and even write endorsements for your book’s back-cover copy. However, she advises writers not to assume that they’ll get an endorsement from any author they haven’t equally supported in some fashion and that they should “never expect anything in return.” Knight explains that “the market is so unpredictable” right now and counsels writers to just “roll with the punches.” And of course, give a whole lotta lovin’ and big thanks to your readers. Your readers are your biggest promotional tool. 24 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Kathryn Metzger is an assistant editor with Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kennesaw State University. She works as a freelance writer and artist and spends most of her free time drawing and painting. Her goals are to be a professional comic book artist and a part-time cat lady. greeneyedbrunette.deviantart.com www.instagram.com/kathrynannmetzger twitter.com/kathrynmetzgrrr
Ciara Knight is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author who writes romance novels with “A Little Edge and A Lot of Heart” that span the heat scales. Her popular sweet romance series, Sweetwater County and Riverbend, are small town romances full of family trials, friendly competition, and community love. www.facebook.com/ Ciaraknightwrites twitter.com/ciaratknight ciaraknight.com
Good Quotes “Writing is about you. Publishing is about the book. Marketing is about the reader.”
“The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.” —Mickey Spillane, mystery writer
—Joanna Penn, Successful Self-Publishing: How to Self-publish and Market Your Book in Ebook and Print
Quotes "Too many could-be authors shun the idea of self-promotion, saying they just want to write. Which is fine—if you're not hoping to make any money off your books."
"For fiction, I've seen a good author platform transform a respectable deal into an impressive deal." —Bernadette Baker-Baughman, Victoria Sanders & Associates
—Alexis Grant, social media and platform coach
"Never answer the question, 'What's your book about?' Remember that no one cares. Instead, they want to know, 'What's in it for me?'" —Rob Eagar, Sell Your Book like Wildfire: The Writer's Guide to Marketing & Publicity; Wildfire Marketing, Atlanta, Georgia
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The Editor’s Pub "What a bitch of a thing prose is!"—Gustave Flaubert
No Info Dumping, Please! From the Editor-in-Chief
hat happens when publishers sit down with a manuscript? Well, it's like being on a first date. Ohhh! Butterflies and sweaty palms! Such a handsome title, they think as they turn to the first page. Fingers run along the first line. Eyes sparkle with hope. Maybe this is the ONE. But it's not. It's clear from the first page—this one is another toad. And so it goes. The writer receives another rejection slip. Didn’t pique my interest. Didn’t strike a chord. Isn’t resonating with me. Isn’t something I’d like to pursue. So the writer puts on "Beast of Burden" by the Rolling Stones—plays it on a continuous loop: "There's one thing baby/ That I don't understand/ You keep
26 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
on telling me/ I ain't your kind of man." Ultimately, writers may never know why their manuscript ain't a publisher's kind of story. It's a competitive dating scene out there, folks. However, writers can learn how to improve their chances by making a good first impression. "No Info Dumping, Please!" is the first in a five-part series called "How Writers Can Impress Publishers and Get Their Manuscripts Read."
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cquisitions editors often witness a common phenomenon in manuscripts: heaps of backstory piled up on the opening pages. As a writer, creating the backstory is often fun. But to editors, too much background
information is a bore. We call it an “information dump.” And if it's on the first few pages, your story may never get read. Many writers think their readers need to know everything. But we don't. Besides, readers like a little mystery. We like the thrill of discovering characters’ nuances over time—their motives, their fears and phobias, what makes them tick. It’s the same for a date. Do you like first dates who only talk about themselves—or worse, give you a blow-by-blow account of their gallbladder operations? Too much information, people. But here's the rub: Backstory is also crucial. It creates interesting problems for your characters. It causes them to make bad choices, get into sticky situations, fall in love
with the wrong people. Backstory is the great stuff of fiction—the stuff your protagonist has to overcome in fewer than 400 pages. In 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing, Rachel Starr Thomson says, "Backstory is absolutely necessary for any rich, meaningful story. But it needs to behave as a seamless part of the story, not as something parachuting in from outside." So, how can we make it behave? Here are a few quick strategies to make a good impression and get your story read:
Reveal Just the Tip of the Iceberg
The truth is readers are on a needto-know basis. Show us only about ten percent and leave the rest of the backstory bobbing below the surface.
Use the Rule of 3
For short stories, it’s best to limit backstory to no more than three sentences at a time in the opening scenes. For novels, limit backstory to three paragraphs tops. In 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing, editor Linda Clare advises, “For every detail but the most crucial, save the backstory for after readers are committed to your character.” Keep it short, folks!
Pick a Fight!
In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell says, "Often, the best way to let information come out is within a scene of intense conflict. Using the characters' thoughts or words, you
can have crucial information ripped out and thrown in front of the reader." In other words, pick a fight and toss in the kitchen sink.
Get Your Characters Moving!
When you put your characters in motion—propelled by their past and doing something interesting in the present—your readers will clamber after them like pups after their momma.
Trust Your Readers
Readers are smart. We can make connections and see subtle nuances. We don't need a writer spelling everything out for us.
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o, as readers (and editors), we want characters to reveal themselves gradually. We feel the same way about new relationships. On the first page of a manuscript or on a first date, it is best to give us just enough to seduce us. And then when we care, when we long for more—sock it to us! To receive the rest of the fivepart series, "How Writers Can Impress Publishers and Get Their Manuscripts Read," sign up in The Exit 271 Studio.
Val M. Mathews is the editor-in-chief of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource. She's also the founder of The Exit 271 Studio, an editing service for writers who need love, support, and a kick in the pants. Stay on track—write that book! Go to www.exit271.com
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Townsend, John Spence. Rehearsal, 2015. Oil on panel: 48"x40"
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From the Field
How to Get Your Writer's Hustle On and Get Paid by Rachel E. Frank
n a chilly morning in early February, I nabbed a late breakfast from Martin’s—a greasy chicken biscuit the size of my hand and a steaming-hot cup of coffee—and hurried to the Kennesaw State University’s Center (KSU Center) for a writing workshop hosted by the Georgia Writers Association (GWA). Scrawled on a whiteboard in front of the room was the question: “What kind of writing are you trying to earn a living with?” My idealistic response (most of us have one) was on the tip of my tongue: Creative writing, of course. Novels and short stories and maybe some nonfiction. But my gut was screaming, Any kind! Please, hire me to write for you! Like my fellow word-peddlers, I have my dream writing projects—a graphic novel, a speculative fiction novel à la Margaret Atwood, a book of quirky short stories about being a Midwesterner in the South. But I also have bills to pay. I’m always looking for ways to get paid for my writing, so I was pretty stoked to attend a workshop called
“Freelancing, Funding, and Affording to Write.” GWA’s speaker for the workshop, C. Hope Clark, did not disappoint. She got down to business, throwing out idea after idea on ways to snag funding as a writer. I scribbled notes—hand flying, chicken sandwich lying cold and forlorn. A bundle of energy, Clark is the brains behind FundsforWriters.com, an impressive collection of money-making opportunities for writers. She offers biweekly newsletters (paid and free versions) that reach 40,000 (and counting) readers. She's also an author in her own right, with a new novel, Echoes of Edisto, book three in the Edisto Island Mystery Series, due to release on August 5, 2016. I had already been pondering grant-writing opportunities for creative writers for this article, but Clark’s talk made me re-evaluate that focus. I discovered that when it comes to making a living as a writer, you need to have a multipronged strategy. I’m going to touch on three of the more intriguing funding strategies she shared: grants, contests, and crowdfunding.
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Grants—Don’t Take Them for Granted Although Clark pointed out that grants aren’t crazy-lucrative like they used to be, there are still funds ripe for the taking. “Anything helps” is her motto. Clark regularly lists grant offerings in her newsletter and on FundsforWriters.com. Grants come in a variety of flavors. There are fellowships and awards that you can use for specific projects. Like that screenplay you’ve been working on, perhaps? Residencies and retreats let you get away to write, sometimes in cool places like Alaska or Mexico. You can attend a conference with a professional development grant. You can apply for grants that support social causes (disadvantaged youth) or special interest groups (Latinos, older adults). Basically, there are grants for all kinds of writers, whether amateur or published. Of course, the funding amount for grants varies greatly, from a few hundred dollars for a conference to thousands of dollars. Big-ticket items, like the Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a whopping $25,000 grant, are always more competitive. The moral of the story? The tenacious writer gets the grant—or stands a better chance of getting it. During her talk, Clark shared some insider tips for finding and securing grants. Here are three: 1. FOLLOW NEWSLETTERS FOR ARTS COMMISSIONS Every state has an arts commission or council (locally, it’s the Georgia Council for the Arts). You can learn more about local grant programs and funding by signing up for their newsletters. You should contact them, Clark suggests, and “Ask all the stupid questions you have.” Plus, you’re entitled to see the applications of previous grant winners. So, don’t be afraid to ask. 2. SERVE ON GRANT PANELS 30 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Another pro tip from Clark: offer to sit on a grant panel. To write a winning grant, according to Clark, you must “make a judge want to be you.” And the best way to learn how to do that is to become a judge yourself. Not published yet, don’t fret! Unpublished authors may be judges, too. In fact, grant-givers look for diversity on their panels. 3. POKE AROUND Clark says you can find grants in unexpected places. Conferences will sometimes offer unadvertised financial aid—call and ask about it. Some museums and big libraries offer fellowships and grants. There are even playwriting contests (more on those in a minute) funded by grants, which isn’t broadly advertised.
Contests, Contests, Contests! Writing contests are another of Clark’s funding strategies—something all writers can do. Contests are good for writers of all levels but particularly emerging writers, who can build up their portfolios and their writing “cred.” Contests can yield all sorts of excellent results, from publication of your work to contacts with agents, editors, and mentors. Clark is “known as a guru for writing contests.” She advises researching the sponsors and the legitimacy of contests carefully to make sure they can pay what they promise. She suggests contests that pay a decent prize (her own bar is a minimum $200 first prize) and charge entry fees (these often help cover contest expenses). Besides, she thinks writers tend to put more effort into a submission when they are paying for it. She offers a list of reputable contests at FundsforWriters.com. Other respectable online sources have curated lists of non-scam contests, such as The Write Life. In her article, “29 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions with Cash Prizes,” Kelly Gurnett offers slightly different advice from Clark, suggesting that free contests are the way to go because an entry fee can also signal a scam. Either way, it’s a good idea to research a contest’s general credibility before submitting. There are all kinds of writing contests out
there, offered by groups as varied as General Mills, state arts councils, magazines, blogs, and festivals. Check out the following local contests:
funding to Raise $12,775 in 30 Days" on The Write Life, Kristen Pope reports that author Jon Yongfook raised $12,775 in 30 days! Pope says that writers who focus on pre-orders can test the waters for a book with less risk than the normal publishing route. Sounds like a good move! New South Writing Contest However, here’s an important point to keep in mind: Like all marketing BookLogix Young Writers Contest and promotion, crowdfunding campaigns take work. The Loraine Williams Poetry Prize (The Georgia Review) The successful crowdfunding writer in Pope’s article, Jon YongCreative Loafing Fiction Contest fook, says that having an established author platform was essential to his Exit 271 and the Georgia Writers Association Flash success. He also had to do lots of Fiction Contest marketing and promotion, describing his campaign as a “day-to-day Atlanta Writers Club Writing Contest hustle” that “needed constant maintenance to keep the momentum Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition going.” In other words, you need to promote, promote, promote. Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which Clark highlighted, are two of the most popular platforms in the crowdfunding game. Here’s how they work in a Kickstart Your Writing with nutshell: You pitch a project (a sci-fi novel, say) and the amount you need to fund it. Then, you Crowdfunding ask people to pledge money towards its creation. With Kickstarter, you only get funded if you meet Crowdfunding is exactly what it sounds like: a your goal—it’s an “all-or-nothing” deal. Indiegocrowd of people who want to fund your work. go offers both flexible funding (you get to keep Clark said she likes crowdfunding better than whatever you raise) and fixed funding like Kickgrants because it allows you more control and a starter. That’s why, Clark says, people will often chance to build your platform as an author. try Kickstarter first and then switch to Indiegogo Crowdfunding as a revenue-raising strategy is if they don’t get fully funded. an old concept, but the modern version takes adProject creators typically offer incentives vantage of social media technologies. The earliest (“rewards") to people to pledge their projects, site was ArtistShare in 2001, followed by Sellaeither the finished product itself or a special item band, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, among others. of some kind. As Clark says, “people love stuff.” Initially, crowdfunding platforms supported the Promising to name a character in your book after work of filmmakers, musicians, and other creative someone who’s pledged money to your campaign, artists. But, in a nifty nod to the 18th-century she adds, might also be a good incentive (as long practice of praenumeration—where publishers as you don’t name them after a villain!). pre-sold subscriptions of books they wanted to There are literally hundreds of crowdfunding publish—some modern authors are now crowdwebsites. See the following page for a short list of funding their books. crowdfunding options to get you started. In the article "How One Writer Used Crowd-
GeorgiaWriters.org | 31
• Patreon.com: a modern twist on the ancient concept of patronage, where wealthy individuals sponsor artists’ projects • Authr.com: lets you test out a book concept, drum up early sales, etc. • Publishizer.com: Jon Yongfook used this one. It's crowdfunding with a twist, matching authors with publishers during pre-orders campaigns • PubLaunch.com: combines crowdfunding with a collaborative environment that connects writers with trusted industry professionals • CrowdRise.com: the world's #1 fundraising site for charitable and personal causes • Rockethub.com: has unique and simple crowdfunding tools and training • Kickstarter.com: an enormous global community—over 10 million people have backed a Kickstarter project • Indiegogo.com: combines crowdfunding with support to help you bring new ideas to market
y the end of GWA’s workshop, my notebook was overflowing with Clark’s ideas, my fingers were locked in a claw shape, and I’d somehow inhaled that chicken sandwich without noticing. One thing was very clear to me: If you want to make a living as a writer, you have to hustle. So, put yourself out there. Promote yourself and your work. Pursue every opportunity you can, whether that’s a grant, a crowdfunding campaign, a writing contest, or all three. To quote C. Hope Clark, “Don’t just write novels, don’t just write for magazines, don’t just blog. Don’t just enter contests or apply for grants … blend them all.”
32 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Rachel E. Frank
A Midwestern gal by birth, Rachel has been enjoying Georgia's mild winters since 2006. A former editor, writer, and podcaster for Howstuffworks.com, she's now the managing editor for Exit 271, a graduate research assistant for the Georgia Writers Association, and a freelance writer and editor for The Exit 271 Studio. She loves meddling with words, reading "all the books," traveling, and trying out new restaurants with her husband, Ravishing.
C. Hope Clark
C. Hope Clark is editor of FundsforWriters. com, reaching 40,000 readers each week in its newsletters (paid and free versions). However, she is also an award-winning author of six novels and one nonfiction book. Her latest release is Echoes of Edisto, book three in The Edisto Island Mystery Series. The book release is August 5, with a celebration at Edisto Bookstore on Edisto Island in South Carolina from 4 to 6 PM. www.chopeclark.com
s ' 1
t i 7 x E 2
T S E T N 017 O C 2 N R IO FO T IC
F H S
TELL IT IN 300 WORDS! • All entries must be previously unpublished and 300 words or fewer.
"I consider whoever my words land on to be my target, that’s why I like flash fiction, it’s a lot like using a shotgun.” —Neil Leckman
• Only Georgia writers are eligible. • While there will be only one winner, all submissions will be considered for publication.
• $5.99 entry fee. • Sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association
Submit Your Flash
GeorgiaWriters.org | 33
The Writer’s Path “When you can’t enter through the front door, kick in a window.”— Liz Fichera
Kicking in Window s by John Greaves III
ike most writers, I started my writing career by knocking on the industry’s front door. You know, the bow-and-scrape-your-knuckles-on-the-ground kind of route to getting published. I believed that my novella, A Different Kind of Giant, would get young boys reading because it showcased a new kind of hero—an authentic but unlikely hero—one that young boys could relate to. I was sure that publishers would bang on my door around the clock, vying to be the first to get the rights. I even thought I’d need to hire security. I was on my way! Well, not quite. It never happened. Not deterred, I continued to mail queries to literary magazines and publishing houses. I sent email after email to literary agents. But,
34 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
if my phone was ringing nonstop with offers, I couldn’t hear it. All I heard was the chatter on my negative-self-talk radio station. No one was opening a door for me. What’s a writer to do? Well, as Liz Fichera says, “When you can’t enter through the front door, kick in a window.” So, I got this weird idea: Why don’t I research the publishing industry to learn how it works and find a window to kick in? I found out that writers who already had a social following were a lot more successful at getting publishing deals and selling more books. Write that one down. Good news: I already had Instagram, Facebook, and a YouTube channel. Bad news: It had never occurred to me to use social me-
dia to further my career. In fact, none of my social media followers knew that I was a writer. Even my close friends from my college days, who knew that I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, had no idea. Seriously! No one knew I was a writer. It was staggering—and humbling. I hadn’t been completely idle as a writer since college. I wrote for the local paper, did some freelance work for a couple of Internet platforms, and occasionally toyed with blogging. My name was out there, sort of. I just never stayed the course long enough to take advantage of any of it. The truth is, writers are supposed to have readers. But I didn’t. I realized that banging on a
publisher’s front door didn’t make me a writer. Readers made me a writer. I needed to build a following and get out there as a professional writer. In other words, I needed to build a brand around my name. So, I set out to do just that. How? Two ways:
I got serious about freelance writing. In the past year, I’ve written freelance articles for various blogs and fitness sites. I have done exclusive interviews with respected icons in strength sports. My articles have been published in print and digitally for an international strengthsports publication. I send out about four pitches a month to different magazines, especially ones that cover topics like exercise and dog rescue because they mesh with my fiction. Once a month, my name is seen in at least one magazine or online publication. Progress toward brand recognition!
they subscribe. That’s huge. You see, whenever my readers choose to subscribe, they give me their email addresses. Did you get that? I’m building a list of potential readers. I use an Atlanta-based email marketing service called MailChimp. Other popular options are AWeber, Constant Contact, and ActiveCampaign. This type of email list service helps you keep in contact with your readers. My subscriber list is flourishing!
* * * * *
he takeaway is this: When you can’t enter through the front door of the publishing industry, kick in a window. My windows are blogging and freelancing. You need to find your window. After all, there are plenty of rooms in the house for everyone.
I committed to blogging. I blog about training in my garage-gym. Because my office is right next to it, I can jot down ideas when they occur to me in the middle of a training session. The blog is well received, and I’m steadily growing my audience. Now, here’s an important point: Once a week, my blog posts are seen on social media, and I get readers this way. Sometimes these readers enjoy my blog so much,
John Greaves III writes for various outlets, including Power Magazine, StrengthAdvocate.com, and Powerlifting Watch. His novella, A Different Kind Of Giant, and the short story follow-up, "A Little Lesson In Manners,” is out on Kindle. garagegymlife.net
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From the Field
Why Do Poets Workshop? Breaking News! Muse Spotted at a Local Poetry Workshop by Rachel E. Frank, Val M. Mathews, and Valerie Smith
ust imagine: It’s a beautiful spring day. You’re sitting in a secluded area of a local park, enjoying the light breeze ruffling the delicate pink blossoms of the crape myrtles above your head. The heady perfume of honeysuckle fills your nostrils. The drone of bees envelops you like a soothing lullaby. You sit there, pen in hand, waiting for the muse to come inspire you. She appears, in all her creative glory, and showers you with passion, motivation, and inspiration. Soon, you have written a beautiful, well-crafted verse. You take your darling home and lovingly present her to The New Yorker, which promptly replies, “We want to publish your amazing poem.” In your dreams, right? Literally. Back in reality, the alarm goes off and you wake up snorting—you know this scenario never happens in the real world. Now, let’s re-imagine that park scenario: A bunch of poets sit in the shade of white-blossomed Dogwood trees, passing around steaming cups of coffee and sugary doughnuts, engaged in a lively discussion. It’s their weekly poetry workshop. Their animated chatter piques the interest of you, the solitary poet on the bench nearby. You smile at them, and they
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smile back and wave you over. You stand up, draft of a poem in your hand—ready to be inspired by a different kind of muse: the poetry workshop. But let’s back up a minute. What exactly is a poetry workshop? And what makes the workshop experience so important? At heart, a creative writing workshop is a gathering of writers—in person or online. It can be casual, professional, or academic. Whatever structure a workshop takes, they all serve the same purpose: to provide a forum for writers to read each other’s work and help polish it for publication. Sounds good, doesn’t it? This practice of encouraging group members to read each other’s poetry has some pretty cool historical roots, too. Harkening back to the oral traditions of ancient rhetoricians, the original purpose of poetry was to be read aloud. From a critical standpoint, reading poems out loud allows both the writer and the readers to hear patterns of rhythm, rhyme, and line breaks more clearly. That’s why reading your work to an active audience in a workshop setting is an invaluable experience. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and it can be su-
per helpful to get your work ready for an editor or publisher. Members of a creative writing workshop discuss everything from tone and audience to emotional impact. Does the poem start strong and fizzle, or is the beginning vague and incomprehensible? Sure, you open yourself up to vulnerability, but you soon realize it’s worth it. Workshops point out things our brains allow us to overlook when reading our own pieces. And here’s the best part about the workshop process: You get the chance to return the favor by helping other writers work through their issues, too. Workshops are often a safe place to be authentic and transparent. Writers aren’t as likely to be offended by the honest feedback of other writers who also want to get published. After all, that’s why everyone is there. While we may be content with some pieces staying in the notebook as mementos, the goal for most of our creative work is publication; we want other people to enjoy it, too. It’s nice to hang out with people who have that same goal. It’s also nice to know that some of those people have already been published. Besides, where else can a writer go to share drafts of their creative writing projects with other published writers? So, now that we know why poetry workshops are super useful, let’s break down how they actually work. First, writers must submit their own creative work to all the other group members. Normally writers provide printed copies of their work, but some workshops are done entirely online and you may print out a copy from your home. Generally, writers submit their work in advance to a closed Facebook group, a shared Google Drive folder, or an email list; however, sometimes members aren’t allowed to see each other’s work until the day of the actual workshop. Having a piece read for the first time during a workshop may give the writer a more accurate picture of members’ reactions.
Workshops are often safe places to be authentic and transparent.
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For writers, the scary part about workshops isn’t sending in their pieces—it’s waiting for a response. What are they going to say about my poem? The term for this integral part of the workshop? Feedback. Writers need feedback. And those who tell writers that they don’t need feedback should be hosed down with Super Soakers. Just joking—sort of! But seriously, writers who ignore feedback do so at their own peril. When writers receive a form rejection letter, they first ask themselves, "Why was my piece rejected?" Unfortunately, most journal and book editors are busy, busy people who don’t have time to respond to thousands of worldwide entries with helpful comments. (The Exit 271 magazine editors will respond if we see potential in a piece of writing, ones we call “diamonds in the rough.” However, as magazine editors, we are probably the exception to the rule.) Workshop members, however, pride themselves on helping one another root out weaknesses and clarity issues. Many editors, including us, will say that the writing workshop is a crucial part of the revision process and should be done before entrusting your story with an experienced editor. Again, looking back to the rhetorical roots of poetry, critical review was all part of the process of making a piece stronger. In this respect, almost all feedback is good. We say almost because there are rare cases where members can be vague or cruel in their responses. Group members can nip this type of rude workshop behavior in the bud by coming to a consensus on workshop etiquette and protocols. For example, they can discuss tips for effective workshop management, what to look for in certain genres, and how to relay critiques in a helpful manner. For more information on how to facilitate workshop feedback, see The Exit 271 Studio's blog post, "Become a Better Poet: 6 Tips for Starting and Running a Poetry Critique Group," by Karen Paul Holmes, the founder of The Side Door Poets. Another factor to keep in mind regarding feedback: Some workshops don’t allow the writer to respond in a workshop critique. Workshop groups sometimes adopt this strategy so the writers do not try to defend their work, which can be disruptive. In a typical workshop, each mem38 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
ber takes his or her turn discussing a poem before moving on to the next. At the end of the session, group members return each copy of the poem to its writer, often with critique notes and comments for the writer to read and consider later.
ike all types of writing, poetry benefits from the eyeballs of other readers. In other words, people who can be more objective about your writing than you can. While writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, the process of revising is strongest when it’s a collaborative effort. Workshops are a great way to reap the benefits of collaboration, improve your writing, and maybe even make some fun new writer pals. So, let’s circle back to that idyllic park again and your newly found poetry workshop. Twice a month, you and eleven other poets meet to critique each other’s work—sometimes at the park, sometimes at the local coffee shop (surrounded by the steady tap-tap-tap of laptop keys and the pungent aroma of roasting java). The results speak for themselves: Two of your poems have been published since you joined the workshop six months ago. You’ve become a better writer and a better reader. You’ve made new, like-minded friends who share your love of writing poetry and your desire to be published. You’re also picking up some handy skills from the workshop’s shared experiences: how to self-edit, how to promote your work, how to handle rejection as well as praise. Neat, huh? And perhaps someday The New Yorker will promptly reply, “We want to publish your poem.” Rachel E. Frank has worked as an editor, writer, and podcaster for Howstuffworks.com. She's now the managing editor for Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource, a graduate research assistant for the Georgia Writers Association, and a freelance editor for The Exit 271 Studio. Val M. Mathews is the editor-in-chief of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource. She's also the founder of The Exit 271 Studio, an editing service for writers who need love, support, and a kick in the pants. Stay on track—write that book! Go to The Exit 271 Studio Valerie Smith is a teaching assistant in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in BlazeVOX15 and Exit 271.
FREE Poetry Workshops Community Poetry Workshops at Georgia Tech
Brick Road Poetry Posse Meets at 7:00 pm every third Thursday at 513 Broadway, Columbus, GA. Dessert and coffee are provided. The workshop is led by published poets. Sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Society. Beforing coming to the workshop, please contact Ron Self at 706-221-4370 or email@example.com.
Contact Travis Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and check their website for a list of upcoming workshops: poetry.gatech.edu. The Writers' Forum Meets once a month in the the library on the Clarkston Campus of Georgia Perimeter College. All genres welcome. Open to the public. Check the online calendar for exact dates at http://depts.gpc.edu/~clahuman/ forum/
Centerville Writersâ€™ Group Meets at the Centerville Community Center on Bethany Church Road in Gwinnett County, Georgia, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm on the first and third Thursday of the month. Critique is free; meeting is $1. Contact either Homer Overstreet at h_overstreet@ bellsouth.net or Lucile Cason email@example.com
Johns Creek Poetry Group Meets for a poetry critique and open mic at the Northeast Regional Library (9560 Spruill Rd., Johns Creek, GA 30022) from 10:15 am to 12:30 pm on the third Saturday of the month unless the Georgia Poetry Society has a meeting that month. Meetings are followed by a Dutch treat lunch at a nearby restaurant. Contact Ron Boggs at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Poetpourri Meets twice a month on varying Fridays from 1:30 to 3:30 pm at the Oconee County Library, Watkinsville, GA. For more information contact Elizabeth Howells at email@example.com or Richard Gottlieb at gott41mail@gmail. com or 770-466-9695.
Pinckneyville Writersâ€™ Group Meets from 1:30 to 3:30 pm every Monday at the Pinckneyville Arts Center, 4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross, GA. For more information, contact Emery Campbell at elcampbell08@comcast. net.
The Side Door Poets Although the Side Door Poets is not accepting new members at this time, you may contact Karen Paul Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Or even better yet, start your own poetry critique group. Check out Karen's guest blog post, "Become a Better Poet: 6 Tips for Starting and Running a Poetry Critique Group," at www.exit271.com/become-a-better-poet/. GeorgiaWriters.org | 39
Smith, Dan. Random Quadrants of Spontaneous Monsterfication!, 2013. Acrylic on canvas: 17" x 23" 40 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
ARTIST TALK Promote Like an Artist
promote my work by not turning down opportunities to show and sell my artwork. If I don't have an opportunity, I will seek one out. I have found that if I am feeling an “artist’s block,” I will find an opportunity that has a deadline to get me activated by the element of time. Some of my best work evolves quickly because I do not waste time overthinking the details. While social media is a great tool for promotion, it doesn’t take the place of building a strong network—a community of artists and patrons that can share ideas, support your creative endeavors, and, most importantly, help promote your work through finding opportunities to show and sell.
Dan's Artist Statement & Bio
andom Quadrants of Spontaneous Monsterfication! was painted on top of two previous paintings. This layering of paintings adds a historical element to the work. And like much of Dan's art, this work is an act of repetition. The Three-Eyed Wolf, Green Ghost, Flamehead, Distraught Angel, One-Eared Bear, and Angry Cloud are repeated characters that continue to develop across his paintings. This painting marks the first appearance of Trunk Face. Smith, a.k.a. See Dan Paint, is known for a cartoonish, Pop Art style of painting that is heavily influenced by the Saturday morning cartoons of his childhood, punk rock culture, and the art of skateboards. Dan is a professional artist, an elementary school art teacher, and a PhD student who resides in Athens, Georgia, with his wife and two daughters. Contact Dan Smith at www.SeeDanPaint.com or on facebook. com/seedanpaint
If I don't have an opportunity, I will seek one out. GeorgiaWriters.org | 41
Fiction Contest FEWER THAN 300 WORDS
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Flash Fiction Contest
WINNER Nagueyalti Warren
RUNNERS-UP Judy Benowitz Kinley Stalker Bryan Sandra Hood Yong Takahashi Ann J. Temkin
Judged by the editors for Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource and the Georgia Writers Association.
Submit To the 2017 Flash Fiction Contest http://www.exit271.com/contests/
GeorgiaWriters.org | 43
2016 FLASH FICTION CONTEST WINNER
NAME Nagueyalti Warren
alking about that baby meant saying a mouthful. All those words, those names. In diapers it was “Look at James Tobias Chaka Raman Jones pull himself up—look at him walk or listen to him talk.” “What’s your name, little boy?” “James Tobias Chaka Raman Jones.” “My, what a name,” people would exclaim. He was not a boy, not with a name like that. Fully grown he stood but five foot two and one half inches; but carrying his name, he felt and looked gigantic. Schools made an effort to shorten his moniker, saying, “Too many names! No space. We only accommodate first, middle initial, and surname.” James Tobias Chaka Raman Jones began writing his name as Jamestobiaschakaraman Jones. “No one has 21 characters in his name,” his teacher said. “We will call you James. You cannot expect us to say all that,” she exclaimed. He did. The long, historic battle commenced with each new teacher in every new school. In job interviews potential employers announced, “We will call you James Jones.” Jamestobiaschakaraman Jones would leave without accepting the job. On the day the police pulled him over for traveling too slowly on the freeway, he was going the speed limit. When they asked for his license and laughed at his 21-character first name, great-granddad James rose up in anger, followed by Uncle Tobias, then Chaka, his mother's
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dead brother, and Raman, the ancestor from Africa—all ready for war. “This boy looks mad,” the officers said. Jamestobiaschakaraman Jones’s eyes were glaring. “Looks like he might attack us,” the officers said. The bullet-riddled car holding Jamestobiaschakaraman Jones was towed away, body still inside. Later a news caption read: “James Jones shot and killed while threatening police officers.” Another said, “Jones shot while resisting arrest.” Another, “James Jones shot while fleeing.”
Nagueyalti Warren is a Professor of Pedagogy in the Department of African American Studies at Emory University. Her recent publications include an edited poetry anthology, Temba Tupu! (Walking Naked) Africana Women’s Poetic Self-Portrait (2008); “Margaret,” a persona poem, winner of the 2008 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award; “Braided Memory,” winner of the 2010 Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry; Grandfather of Black Studies: W.E.B. Du Bois (2011); and Critical Insights: Alice Walker (2012). twitter.com/nagueyalti facebook.com/nagueyalti.warren
Cattle Rustlers Judy Benowitz
he sun hung low in the Georgia sky. Gigi, the Redtick Coonhound, licked herself and bayed. Shadow, the brindle-colored Plott Hound, echoed in a low howl then folded into a heap beside the barn. “Who left the gate open? My cows are gone.” John stomped through the house with his work boots on. He sat down hard on the ladder-back chair at the kitchen table. He took off his cap and brushed his fingers through his gray hair. “I checked to see if they was any holes in the fence line where they could’a got out, but they wasn’t any.” “I didn’t leave no gate open. It was latched when we left.” Emma jerked back the curtain above the sink and peered out the window. In the pasture, four goats grazed on the hill. “They gone.” “That’s right. Who could’a took ‘em? We was only gone one night. Two Black Angus steers, a cow, and a calf. That’s a lot of money.” Emma banged open the screen door to the porch. The wet grass slowed her steps as she headed to the fence and the gate—still latched. Tire tracks pressed in the mud went out past the house to a dirt road on the other side of the ditch. Emma guessed the truth. Somebody’s startin’ a farm on our backs. Prob’ly from Alabama.
A shot rang out. Emma hit the ground, and she stayed down. She heard a truck’s engine roar as it approached her house. She rolled in the grass away from the road and looked up. A red-faced man hung out of the window as the truck skidded on the muddy road. “We comin’ back for the dogs.”
Judy Benowitz received her Bachelor of Arts in Drama from the University of California, Irvine and is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Her flash fiction “Cattle Rustlers” was inspired by a newspaper article and written in a Ron Rash style describing the country setting, and like Rash, Benowitz writes in a Southern dialect. www.facebook.com/Judy-Benowitz.
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The Millworker Kinley Stalker Bryan
reckon I could stand but haven’t the will. The wagons, the train, the hospital, now this. It’s too much for an old woman. I hold on as best my aching hands allow and let them Yankees lift me onto the steamboat, rocker and all. They set me facing the far bank. After a time, we leave shore, and the trees drift left. Sixty years old and I’m going up the Ohio River. Imagine that. Danny crossed this river, I was told, but only once. “Miss Ady? You okay?” Sarah, the weaver I trained ages ago, kneels beside me. “I’m fine, child. You needn’t bother with me.” “I heard a soldier say they’re taking us to Madison. You reckon they got a mill there? You can live with me, Miss Ady. I’ll take care of you.” I pat her hand and Sarah goes on. “When the war’s over, will they take us back to Georgia? To the mill?” Sweet girl, thinking they’d ever bother to bring us home. “Secesh,” that general spat at us before signaling his men to load us on the train. They called him Uncle Billy—I knew it was that devil Sherman. Sitting tall on his horse, he was calm as a summer morning; but I saw in his eyes, he’d leave nothin’ to come home to. “I reckon,” I say to Sarah. “Now let me rest.” She turns and leaves me. Two mallards float past, and I remember the
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ducks on Vickery Creek. How I’d envied them, every summer escaping the heat and choking fibers. A cool breeze moves my skirt. I think of Danny resting in the cold Northern soil and hope the Roswell Gray we wove keeps my grandson warm. I close my eyes and reckon I, too, will cross this river only once.
A native Ohioan, Kinley Stalker Bryan graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kent State University and earned a master’s degree in communications from John Carroll University. Her professional background is in corporate writing and editing, primarily at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. A one-time inhabitant of an old cottage on Lake Erie, she now lives in the South and is happy to be an aspiring author with one novel tucked in a drawer and another for which she is seeking representation. kinleybryan.com
Rebellion Sandra Hood
should tell her she’s right, but that’s not an option. I’m a rebel. Piercings are vulgar. Two-inch gauges. No company will hire you with a tattoo. Ad exec for Google. Six figures. Cats? With your allergies? I adore all six and delight in the inky feline that slinks along my spine, one elaborate paw stretching over my shoulder. I am thinking about the cats as I weave my way through Google’s parking deck, zigzagging between cars, popping Zyrtec and imagining my babies eating from the beautiful porcelain mugs I ordered from Anthropologie. Twelve bucks each. Walmart has nice mugs so much cheaper. Put your money in savings. The package is waiting on my doorstep; I tracked it. As I cut between the front of the blue Volvo and the rear of the white Lexus, I hear her words harmonize with the whisper-snap of the Volvo’s brakes releasing. It happens so fast, completely without warning—my pelvis is crushed between two cars. The guy with the thinning blond hair from the seventh floor stares at me. His jaw hangs unhinged, and I can’t decide if the high wail in my ears is coming from him or from me. Never walk between the cars, always around. Something about the car being in drive instead of
reverse. I hadn’t truly listened, but it must have registered in my log of things to rebel against because here I am, numb, fading, blissfully pain free, yet afraid of what will happen if—Travis! That’s his name!—puts his car in reverse. I worry whether she’ll adopt my cats. Love them. I worry. I think I understand her now.
Sandra Hood is the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Finalist in Science Fiction/Paranormal for her debut novel, Blood Exchange. Her short stories have appeared in O, Georgia! A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers and Literary Brushstrokes. You can learn more about Sandra at www.sshoodfiction.com, where she occasionally blogs and shares short stories, or follow her on facebook at www.facebook.com/ SandraHoodAuthor.
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Piggy Yong Takahashi
he first time Daddy called me Piggy was on a hot summer day in 1978. Mid-month, we ran out of food stamps, and my parents had to swallow their pride and go to Calvary Baptist’s food pantry. Mama sweet-talked Daddy into driving her there. “I’m not taking handouts,” yelled Daddy. After a long time behind closed doors, Daddy emerged, buckling his pants. “I’ll wait in the car.” Mama sauntered out of the bedroom, tucking her hair back into her bun. It seemed as though they had all their discussions between screaming and grunting. After they returned from Calvary, Mama unloaded the contents of the box on the kitchen counter—bread, potatoes, soup cans, and hot dogs. She poured four cans into a pot. She said she’d save the rest for the next few days. We still had a half brick of government cheese in the icebox, and she’d make a casserole. I shadowed Mama until she ordered me to back off. “Child, you’re making me sweat. It’s hot enough in here. Stand over there until the soup’s ready.” My sister cried in her high chair. “Shut up!” yelled Daddy from his chair in the living room. I eyed the hot dogs and sliced them open with the knife I was forbidden to touch. I slipped one hot dog to the baby and began to cram one link
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after another into my mouth. “Pig.” Startled, I spun around to face Daddy, salty meat juice dripping from my chin. “Child, why?” Mama asked. “Pig. Piggy. Here, Piggy.” Daddy snorted endlessly while Mama cried.
As I sit in this four-star restaurant forty years later, Chef Nagoya’s pork belly tingles on my tongue. But nothing will ever taste as good as those donated hot dogs as they filled up the emptiness inside me.
Yong Takahashi won the Chattahoochee Valley Writers National Short Story Contest and the Writer's Digest's Write It Your Way Contest. She also was a finalist in The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing and runner-up in the Gemini Magazine Short Story Contest. Her works have appeared in Cactus Heart, Crab Fat Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gemini Magazine, Hamilton Stone Review, Meat For Tea, River & South Review, Rusty Nail Magazine, Spilt Infinitive, and Twisted Vines. To read more of Yong’s stories, please visit www.yctwriter.com and www.facebook.com/yctwriter
The Choice Ann J. Temkin
arl pushed his shopping cart, stopping every ten steps to catch his breath. He was much older than most men living on the streets. He wore his wool army coat despite the heat; sweat ran down his face. Pausing under a large oak tree, he thought he heard something. Is that in my head or is something there? There was nothing nearby but a dirty, old blanket. Fell off a car, he thought. Can’t have too many blankets. Walking over to pick it up, Carl saw it move. Might be a rat or a skunk. He reached for a stick to poke it. The sound came again and then a tiny hand poked out. A baby? Carl blinked, not trusting his eyes. He slipped the dirty blanket off the baby, his touch light and careful. “A boy,” he whispered. Knowing how it feels to be naked and afraid, he wrapped the baby in his cleanest blanket and laid him in the cart. The baby’s breath came with a little wheeze and sometimes a gurgle. He’s sick, Carl thought. Hospital round here— but bad place, hospital. His voices were loud, insistent. Don’t go. Bad people—poison you. Lock you up. Carl lifted the corner of the blanket. For a second, another baby flashed through his mind, one born when Carl was a young man.
He walked until they reached the sign: EMERGENCY. Bad place. Lock you up. He took a deep breath—then stepped through the hospital doors. Inside, squeezing his eyes against the harsh light, gripping the shopping cart, he just stood there. Someone will come. This time. Baby will live.
Ann J. Temkin is the author of Sight in the Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine, a braiding together of memoir and stories about the Jewish Jesus in the real world of first-century Palestine. She has another book in the making with the working title My Name is Jacob Too: Struggles with God and Religion. Ann lives in Decatur with her husband and has four grandchildren. Many know her as “the woman who is half Jewish, an ex-nun, and a Protestant minister.” www.anntemkin.com
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Short Fiction BY GEORGIA WRITERS
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Georgia Knapp "What to Bring to a Funeral"
Vickie Carroll "Indigo Deep"
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What to Bring to a Funeral Georgia Knapp
Pecan Pie Dolores Johnson was known for her pecan pie. She used fresh pecans from Farmer Stan’s grove (Harry shucked them), brown sugar (dark, not light), and half a cup of bourbon. She added an extra ounce of bourbon for funeral pies since the food was meant to comfort the mourners. She laid the pie out on the table, carefully unrolling the tin foil so as not to flake the crust. She hoped no one would guess that the dough was store bought. It was one of those ready-made frozen shells from Winn Dixie. Joe Ellis’s death was unexpected and the funeral planned so quickly, Dolores hadn’t had time to make her own crust. Why Allison Ellis wanted Joe buried so fast was beyond Dolores. In this town, people took at least three days between when someone died and when they had the funeral, one day for the news of the death to get around town and then two to get ready. People had to adjust their schedules, hire babysitters, get their suits dry-cleaned. It’s just plain courtesy to wait three days, Dolores thought. Must be the way they do it in New York or New Jersey. Or wherever they’re from. Bud Thompson of The Smokin’ Pig didn’t even have enough time to make his traditional Grief Searin’ Brisket. Dolores always looked forward to that at funerals. Harry pulled a stray pecan off the pie. Dolores slapped his hand. The pecan fell into one of Jenna Bunting’s deviled eggs. “Harry,” she snapped, “that is for the grieving.” 52 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
“We’re here, ain’t we?” he asked. “Ain’t we grieving?” “We barely knew the man,” she said, folding her tin foil. She glanced around the buffet table before sticking it in her purse. To the side of the dining room, in the parlor, Allison sat in a grand wingback chair receiving the condolence line. As the line moved, the widow’s eyes rested upon Dolores’s purse. Dolores turned away. She clasped the purse shut with a satisfying snap! Times were hard lately. Dolores didn’t want anyone noticing her reusing the tin foil when they took the pie plate home. Before the Ellises arrived, Dolores and Harry had the only boutique dress shop in all of Beaumont and the five surrounding counties. Wedding dresses, pageant dresses, prom dresses—you name it, and The Best Dressed carried it. Unfortunately, Allison and Joe moved to Beaumont last February and set up their RentA-Runway store just in time for the Miss Vidalia Onion Beauty Pageant. Their shop lured a younger crowd. There was a café inside the storefront window and the option to rent dresses instead of paying Dolores’s expensive fees. Allison’s dresses came all the way from New York City and Los Angeles. Sally Skipfield said her granddaughter’s cotillion dress had a tag that read “Made in Toronto.” Allison even utilized Twitter and Facebook to attract girls from Atlanta, Charleston, even Jacksonville. Without Joe, Dolores was sure Rent-A-Runway
would soon go under. She’d witnessed Allison helping all of the women and girls look at and try on dresses, but at night it was Joe who stayed late balancing the books. Allison didn’t know anything about finances, or what it took to run a store. The Best Dressed had been around long before Twitter, and it would survive after Twitter was replaced by something else. Now that Joe was gone, all Dolores had to do was wait. “We ain’t grieving,” Dolores whispered to Harry. She straightened his bow tie. “We’re celebrating.”
Deviled Eggs Jenna Bunting waited until Dolores and Harry Johnson excused themselves to the living room. She removed the rogue pecan from her deviled eggs. A smidgen of whipped yellow filling and a dot of smoked paprika stuck to the bottom of the pecan. Jenna shoved the pecan deep into Dolores’s pie. Dolores always put so much booze in her pies that Jenna was sure no one would notice a hint of mayonnaise and mustard. Jenna hated funerals. Death didn’t bother her; it was the fake niceties by all those in attendance that annoyed her. The entire town turned out to give their condolences. What the mourners really wanted, however, was to judge the inside of the deceased’s household and to eat food. Deviled eggs were always a hit. They were simple, yet comforting; salty, but with a sour bite;
fattening, yet packed with protein. The perfect crowd-pleaser. No one else dared to bring deviled eggs because they knew it was Jenna’s dish. That new girl, Tamara Flint, had brought deviled eggs to Miss June’s funeral last month. Jenna shut it down real quick. She got Cindy Argrove, her officemate, liquored up on June’s leftover gin and made sure Cindy had a hefty glass as she turned toward the buffet table. One little slip and gin and tonic was poured all over Tamara’s deviled eggs. It even saturated Barbara Knopp’s cinnamon raisin bread. Tamara had yet to show up to Joe Ellis’s funeral, but Jenna was confident that she wouldn’t bring deviled eggs. Jenna licked pecan pie goo from her finger. Her thumb smelled like bourbon. Allison Ellis sat on a chair near the fireplace. Her dress shimmered slightly. In the right light, Jenna wondered if the dress was actually purple rather than black. Yankees, she thought, no respect for funeral etiquette. Like everyone else, she had been skeptical when the Ellises moved to town last winter. Normally, people in Beaumont were either born here or had family nearby. People chose Beaumont over neighboring towns because of the large lake north of the main drag. Jenna’s real estate office overlooked this lake. She daydreamed about owning a small boat to take out on the water. Of course, she needed a man to do the boating for her while she lounged on the bow or stern or GeorgiaWriters.org | 53
whatever it's called. She hoped that seaworthy man would be Chuck Marshall, who ran the paddleboard shop. When Danny Field lost the Beaumont mayoral race, Jenna dumped him and set her sights on Chuck. He was handsome, came from a good Beaumont family, and owned one of the most prosperous businesses in town. Jenna had tried all of her tricks on him: drinks at the Drunk Duck, home-cooked meals, sitting next to him at the annual 4th of July Jamboree. Jenna had even signed up for paddleboard lessons. It had taken over a month of weekly sessions of Jenna falling off her board, and then yesterday—the day after Joe died—they finally had sex in Chuck’s office. He’d undressed her with such fervor that they barely had time to kick the door shut. Jenna smiled at the memory of the paperwork and receipts crinkling beneath her back. The sudden sound of a gasp brought her out of the memory. Jenna looked into the parlor. Sally Skipfield, standing in the condolence line with Barbara, gasped again. They leaned into each other, and Sally fingered a gold cross around her neck as Barbara spoke in hushed tones. Jenna was sure they were exchanging the latest gossip rather than remembering Joe. Allison stood and excused herself from the condolence line. She walked to the china cabinet at the head of the buffet table. The glass doors were open, and everything had been arranged to create a drink station. Allison bypassed the stacked plastic cups. She reached for a glass chalice instead. “Can I get you anything to eat?” Jenna asked, stepping to the side of the widow. Allison twisted the cap of a Chardonnay. “I just need a drink.” “Honey, yes. You should drink as much as you want.” She touched the rim of the bottle. “Let me pour that for you.” She tipped the golden liquid until it was half an inch from the brim then reached for another glass. “May I?” Allison nodded. They turned their backs to the china cabinet and sipped the wine. The silence made Jenna un54 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
easy. She fidgeted, fixing and refixing her clothes. “So, what are you going to do?” she asked. Allison’s gaze remained fixed. “Do?” “About Beaumont. Stay? Go? Sell your place? Turn it into an Airbnb?” “I’m not sure.” Allison took another sip of her drink. “I’m flying to New Jersey in a few days.” Jenna nodded. “It’s good to be with family during a time like this.” She watched Cindy’s twins chasing each other on the front lawn. Cindy ran into the fray and corralled them back to the porch. “If you do decide to sell, I’d be happy to help out.” Allison turned toward her. “Are you trying to do business at my husband’s funeral?” “Of course not!” Jenna almost dropped her drink. “I just wanted you to know that you have help if you need it.” “I don’t need help.” Allison’s tone was sharp and biting. “Of course you don’t.” Allison faced the room again. Jenna took a large gulp from her glass. She’d never warmed to Allison. When they saw each other on the street, Allison walked by without a wave or nod. Sally and Dolores said it was a city thing, but Jenna suspected the young wife felt everyone in town was beneath her. Jenna was sure that even after living in Beaumont for over a year, the Yankee socialite assumed everyone in town plowed fields and slaughtered chickens like cliché country hicks. “I saw you at Chuck’s shop last week,” Allison said. “Do you paddle?” “Only when Chuck mounts the board with me.” She winked at Allison. Allison didn’t react. “I’ve been taking paddleboard lessons. Trying to find something new to do in this town.” Or someone new, Jenna thought, sipping the Chardonnay and grinning. Allison’s eyes followed the movement of Jenna’s glass. “You should think about taking lessons,” Jenna said. Allison finished her wine. “I do.” She set her chalice on a shelf and returned to the living room, resuming her seat by the fireplace. The knot in Jenna’s shoulders tightened. Did
"I do" mean Allison was taking lessons or that she was thinking about it? Jenna poured another glass of Chardonnay. It had been too soon to talk about selling the Ellises’s home or business; she knew that. Allison’s face was stoic as the condolence line began to move again. Jenna would be glad to see the ice queen leave.
The Dead Allison Ellis sat rigid in the antique wingback chair. She received each person as they gave their condolences. Barbara Knopp and Sally Skipfield— old bats who fancied themselves the matriarchs of the town, like a group of tribal elders—stood in front of her. They commented on the swiftness of the funeral arrangements. “It must be that New York blood,” Sally said. “Y’all just move so fast up there. Even when it comes to burying your dead.” “And it’s so crowded,” Barbara added knowingly. “How do y’all reserve plots for entire families? I couldn’t bear the thought of not being next to my Steven and Steven, Jr., or the grandbabies.” She fanned her sweating neck. It was true. Joe was already six-feet underground and he’d only been dead for thirty-six hours. Actually, it was more like thirty-seven hours if people wanted to be specific, but Beaumont was so gossipy that Allison didn’t want to give her neighbors another story to pass around. She had received her first grief-stricken neighbor thirteen minutes after her 911 call. Allison wasn’t surprised. Most of her neighbors had police scanners so they could learn about every speeding ticket and DWI that was issued. The unexpected death of a thirty-four-year-old? Allison was surprised it had taken a whole thirteen minutes before someone was at her door, asking what had happened. Nearly two years ago, when Joe had first suggested they move to Beaumont, Allison threw two plates against the wall. A born and bred Jersey girl, she had been to the South once to go to Disney World. She remembered it as hot, sticky, and smelling of vomit. Joe, however, had been ada-
mant. “Think of the opportunity,” he’d said, “they don’t have many shops like ours in the South. Especially not in Beaumont! We’ll be the most sought-out place on the eastern side of the state. We can attract people from neighboring states, too!” Allison fought the idea for months. Then, some of her New York customers began noticing slight differences between the dresses they rented and the ones worn by the celebrities that Allison swore they came from. So I’m not a flawless seamstress. Is that such a crime? She agreed to the move before the cops were called. The South enamored Joe. The heat, the culture, the people—he romanticized everything. Allison didn’t understand it. All she saw were hicks, cockroaches bigger than New York Subway rats, and oppressive humidity that did nothing for her hair. What the South did have, however, was attractive men. Allison had never been into the Rhett Butler type before, but a Kenny Chesney? That was right up her alley. Allison and Chuck Marshall hit it off right away. He was tanned, rugged, and had a sweet little accent that she found she enjoyed. She was restless living in Beaumont. All Joe wanted to do was hang out with his college friend, Ben Flint. Whenever the shop wasn’t open, Joe and Ben would go camping, fishing, or hunting—activities that didn’t interest Allison. She took up paddleboarding because she heard it was good for core strength; without her SoulCycle class, she needed something active. During her second lesson, while Chuck showed her how to glide the paddle, they kissed. During her third lesson they had quick, sweaty sex between the reeds, like students at a house party. She felt guilty and swore it was a one-time slip. Then Joe started returning home late at night smelling like flowers. It was lilacs or lilies—something floral. Allison suspected Joe wasn’t meeting Ben at all. She followed him one night after he closed their shop. He walked down the street, across the park, and into the local school building. Allison waited for two hours. He finally emerged with Ben’s cousin, Tamara Flint, the new English GeorgiaWriters.org | 55
teacher. Over the next several weeks, Allison followed Joe from their shop to the school until she was certain it wasn’t just a tryst like her and Chuck, but a full-blown affair. “He was fit, wasn’t he?” Barbara asked Allison. “I thought I saw him run through town a couple of times. Did he eat well?” Barbara and Sally still stood at the forefront of the condolence line. Is there a time limit to how long they can be here? Allison wondered. “Yes, he was very healthy.” “I had an uncle who ran marathons,” Sally said, “and was a vegetarian and everything. Skinny as a beanpole. He dropped dead at the age of forty! Right in the middle of a run.” “No!” Barbara gasped. “Yes! And then you have my daddy—big, sturdy man. He ate steak and bacon all his life and didn’t go a day without a Jack and Coke in his hand. He lived to be ninety-two!” Barbara clicked her tongue. “There is something to be said for genes.” “Or just livin’ life to the fullest.” The pair laughed. Allison turned her face to the ground and grinned. She remembered Joe’s last meal. Making the poison had been easy. With so many palmetto bugs, buying a gallon of toxic spray didn’t seem unusual. Allison blended the bug spray with sleeping pills and put the mixture in the slow cooker, where it marinated with ketchup, barbecue sauce, and ribs. The scent of boiling meat wafted through the house. The air was tangy, with a hint of salt; it reminded Allison of hot dog stands on the Atlantic Beach boardwalk. Steam covered the windows. Standing directly over the pot, she let the antiseptic-smelling vapors of the simmering bug spray sting her nasal cavities. She added more ketchup. Small corners of the ribs poked out of the sauce, and the edges hissed as they crisped to a dark brown. She wasn’t a good cook. Joe often ignored his taste buds as he forked her homemade meals into his mouth, so when she served the ribs, he didn’t think twice about the bitter taste of the meat. 56 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Thick Carmine's Marinara Sauce dribbled down his chin. He sucked his fingers clean. Within an hour, he was unconscious. Froth seeped from his mouth. Allison threw the leftovers down the garbage disposal and loaded the plates into the dishwasher. She used a pillow over Joe’s face to finish the job, all the while muttering Tamara’s name over and over to herself. She wouldn’t be shown up by a mere English teacher, no matter how young and kind-of-pretty she was. Allison knew that she herself was a babe—a New York Ten is what all the men in New Jersey called her. Tamara, she thought, is a South Carolina Four. As soon as all evidence of foul play had been erased, she called 911. When the first neighbor showed up, Allison put on a show of despair and devastation. She sobbed hysterically at the morgue, pulling her hair and clawing her face. Joe had to be buried immediately; she was too bereaved to wait. Besides, she was a Yankee. Everyone already believe she did things too quick? Barbara’s doughy fingers pulled Allison out of her memory. She and Sally were still prattling on about Joe, death, and vegetarians. The old woman clasped Allison’s hand like she was praying. “Oh, darling,” she said, rubbing the backs of Allison’s hands, “you’re freezing. Feel them, Sally.” Sally placed a hand on Allison’s knuckles. Allison nodded. “Thank you both for coming.” “I left some raisin bread for you on the counter,” Barbara said. “Thank you.” Sally squeezed Allison’s shoulder. “And I put an extra stick of butter in the fridge.” “How thoughtful.” “You call us if you need anything.” Barbara continued to rub Allison’s cold fingers. “This must be so hard for you,” she said. “To be a widow so young.” Allison groaned inwardly. “It was a shock.” Her eyes searched the room. “When I lost my Steven,” Barbara continued, smiling at Sally, “I found solace in my girlfriends.” Allison hated these old women and their jabbering. Just say your words and go, she thought. I want to get through this line so everyone will leave.
“Now, I know you haven’t been here long, but what about that new girl?” Barbara squeezed Allison’s hands. “What’s her name … Tara?” “Tasha?” Sally cocked her head. “Tammy?” Barbara waved a hand in the air. “Whatever it is. The new English teacher—Ben’s cousin. Maybe you two could get together sometime? She’s going to be on her own now, too. I hear Ben will be leaving us soon.” “Will he?” Sally gasped. “I hadn’t heard that.” “Yes. Moving out West, I think.” “Oh. Well, isn’t that a big change.” Allison’s smile faded. She opened her mouth to respond but then noticed a petite figure with auburn hair walk through the front door. Tamara. What is she doing here? Allison's back stiffened. How stupid can you be to enter the house of a grieving widow whose husband you were screwing? Barbara yelped. Allison didn’t realize that she had dug her nails into the old woman’s palms. “Thank you for coming, Barbara,” Allison said quickly, tearing her eyes away from Tamara. “I really must keep the line moving.” Barbara stroked her sore hand and nodded. Sally squeezed Allison’s shoulder again. The old birds shuffled away, making room for the next people in line. Allison flexed her fingers. Her eyes darted to the dining room, where Tamara stood observing the table of food. Perhaps Barbara had a point, Allison thought. Maybe I will invite Tamara to dinner.
Corn Soufflé Tamara Flint slid Dolores Johnson’s pie over a few inches to make room for her soufflé. She’d microwaved the dish before coming over and hid its plastic tray inside a decorative bowl. No one brought corn soufflé to the last funeral. She eyed the surrounding dishes. She didn’t want another deviled egg incident. Tamara had moved to Beaumont a few months after Joe and Allison Ellis. Porn was found on the previous English teacher’s work computer, and the school needed someone to start mid-year. Tamara was fresh out of graduate school in Indiana and
was looking for a teaching job. Any teaching job, she didn’t care where. Her cousin, Ben Flint, owned the local bookstore, The Book Drop, and was able to pull a few strings. “Soufflé?” Dolores poked finger-sized indents into the dish’s spongy, yellow surface. “From Stouffer’s,” Tamara said. Dolores smeared the yellow fluff on the tablecloth. “Bless your heart.” “Have you seen Allison?” Dolores pointed through the open doorframe into the living room. Barbara Knopp and Sally Skipfield shuffled past. Allison sat poised and calm by the fireplace. Allison’s head didn’t move, but her eyes met Tamara’s. Tamara smiled and gave a small wave. The widow looked away. Tamara walked to the end of the condolence line and stood behind Cindy Argrove and her twins. She’d planned to wait until Ben got there but figured if she was going to do this, she’d better do it now. Joe and Tamara had met at The Book Drop. They bonded over a shared love of classic American literature. Her graduate thesis had been on Mark Twain, and she’d never met someone else as well-versed in Twain until she met Joe. They bragged about the obscure Twain books and letters they had read and traded scholarly articles on the Mississippi River boatman. When Joe confided in Tamara that he was thinking of going back to school to get his PhD, she offered to help. For several months, they had been meeting regularly to work on his applications. Tamara had admired Joe’s tenacity and ambition. He left his application materials in her classroom for safe-keeping, saying that he didn’t want to tell Allison unless he got in somewhere. Now that he was gone, though, Tamara thought she should give the materials to Allison. She and Joe had mailed the applications last week, but Tamara felt it was only right that his wife—his widow—know what he had been working on in the months before he passed away. She wondered how Allison would react. Would she be angry that Joe kept a secret from her? Or would she understand his motives? GeorgiaWriters.org | 57
Cindy and the twins said their words of condolence and moved along. Tamara clutched the thick manila folder inside her crossbody bag. She reached her free hand out to Allison. “I am so sorry for your loss,” she said. Allison didn’t move. Her gaze rested on the carpet. Tamara removed the folder from her purse. “This is for you.” She held the packet level with her stomach. Allison observed the folder without moving. “These … um … these belonged to Joe.” “What is it?” “Application materials.” Tamara fidgeted with the heavy folder. She had thought Allison would just take the packet and thank her. She hadn’t prepared an explanation. “Joe was applying for PhD programs.” Allison’s blue eyes finally met Tamara’s. “He what?” “He wanted to get his doctorate in Literature Studies.” Tamara spoke quickly. She shifted her weight to one foot. “He didn’t know if he’d get in anywhere. He was waiting until he heard back before telling you.” “Why would he need a PhD?” “He wanted to be a professor.” Allison’s brow pinched. “I’ve been helping him apply.” Tamara thrust the packet closer to Allison’s nose. Allison sat motionless for a moment before accepting the folder with both hands. She moved slowly, opening the cream flap. Copies of four applications filled the folder: University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, UC Irvine, and UC Berkeley. Tamara watched Allison flip through the pages. “He wanted it to be a surprise,” she said. Allison looked up. A blush tint crept across her cheekbones. “It is.”
Vegetable Platter Ben Flint didn’t bother removing the Saran Wrap from his vegetable platter. He dropped the tray on the dining room table and bounded up the stairs that led to the second floor. The half bath by the master bedroom was open. Ben locked the door 58 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
and sat on the rim of the claw-foot tub. A sob shook his whole body. Twenty minutes—that was the longest Ben had gone without crying since he learned of Joe Ellis’s passing. Sally Skipfield had one of those 911 scanners; as soon as she heard Allison’s phone call, she ran across the street and banged on the door that led to Ben’s studio apartment above The Book Drop. Ben was sure Sally had misheard the call. He biked over to Joe’s, arriving just in time to see the paramedics loading the body bag into an ambulance. Allison Ellis stood on the porch, a steaming mug in her hand. The yard was littered with inquisitive neighbors. The Book Drop hadn’t opened since that night. Ben didn’t have the energy—he had loved Joe and was devastated by his loss. Ben and Joe had become friends at Camden College. Both were literature majors and had at least one course together every semester. They grew close and even intimate, spending a few drunken nights in bed together. After graduation, Joe stayed in New Jersey, and Ben moved back home to take over his family’s hardware store, turning it into The Book Drop after his father passed. They kept in touch over the years. Then the night of Ben’s father’s funeral, Joe and Ben slept together again and started a romantic relationship. But the sex and romance stopped when Joe started dating, and eventually married, Allison. Joe came from a devout Catholic family. “Knowing about us,” he’d said to Ben, “would kill my mother.” Ben dried his face and put drops in his eyes. He blinked until the redness subsided. Keep it together, he told himself, you still have a business to sell. Ben headed down the stairs to the dining room, where Tamara Flint was pulling the foil top off the platter’s ranch dip. “I see you went the store-bought route, too,” she jested. He dipped a carrot stick into the ranch and popped it in his mouth. “I am not going to cook for these judgmental harpies.” “No one’s eaten my soufflé.” Tamara gestured to her dish. “But plenty of people have poked it. It’s like they think I rigged it to explode.”
“I wish you had.” Ben laughed. He stopped before it turned into a sob. Tamara put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you two were good friends.” “Yes, very close.” Ben grabbed another carrot stick. “I’m going to give my condolences to Allison and go.” He waited in line behind Dolores and Harry Johnson, watching as everyone hugged the bereaved widow or clasped her hands. Ben wanted to strangle her. He had met Allison on her wedding day. She had embraced him, and he felt his mouth curl into a sneer. This wedding is a sham, he thought, wanting to tell her. I know it and Joe knows it. How can you not know it? He had friends who married just to prove to society that they were the acceptable heterosexual norm. It upset Ben to see Joe in one of those marriages. Whether she had known it or not, he had felt Allison had been just as culpable. “Did you tell her about us?” Ben had asked Joe the night of the wedding. They leaned against the bar, watching the wedding crowd dance. Joe swirled his drink. “No.” “Are you going to?” “What’s the point?” Ben shifted his ice cubes with a small straw. “Afraid of how she’ll react?” On the dance floor a tipsy bridesmaid fell, taking the bride down with her. Several family members helped right the women. Allison grabbed the girl’s shoulder and yanked her close. Even from a distance, Ben could see Allison’s sharp, manicured nails digging into the bridesmaid’s bare skin. “She won’t be thrilled,” Joe said, watching his bride. “Allison has a bit of a temper on her.” Allison released the bridesmaid. The young woman rubbed her shoulder, and Ben thought he saw a small trace of blood. Joe lifted his glass. “I’ll tell her one day,” he said and took a swig. “If it comes up.” Ben didn’t see Joe after the wedding. But three years later, they were both in Atlanta on business. Joe was shopping for designer dresses at a Wedding Expo, and Ben was attending the annual Southeastern Booksellers Association Conference.
Ben didn’t know when he would see Joe again, so he decided to finally tell him how he felt: He loved Joe, and he knew Joe loved him, too. Two martinis into their get-together, Joe told Ben that he had made a mistake marrying Allison. Married life was miserable. He planned to leave Allison, but his mother was terminally ill and he wanted to wait until she passed. They both confessed their love for each other and spent the night together. The next morning, they came up with the idea for Joe and Allison to move their business to Beaumont. Ben was sure they would find a thriving market there, what with all the debutantes, pageants, and teenage weddings (which always ended in divorce, which led to new weddings). For the past year, everything had been perfect. Ben and Joe spent as much time together as possible, and no one seemed to notice. Tamara may have had her suspicions, but she’d always been the cousin Ben could trust. Ben was so deliriously happy that he didn’t care if the whole town found out. Joe cared, though. He wanted to keep everything quiet until he heard back from the PhD programs. As soon as he got accepted, he and Ben would leave town and never look back. Allison was still young and pretty; Joe was sure she would find someone else. Ben had even put The Book Drop on the market with Jenna Bunting’s agency but had asked her to keep it hush-hush until they found a buyer. A shoulder pressed lightly into Ben’s back, a polite Southern way of telling him the line was moving. Dolores gave Allison one last hug and then it was Ben’s turn. “Allison,” he said. “I’m truly sorry for your loss.” “Thank you.” “He really was a great guy.” “Yes, he was.” He used a pocket square to soak up his tears. Allison’s wide, piercing eyes stared up at him, her hands splayed against the thick manila folder on her lap. She sat erect and rigid, like the ladies who wore corsets during reenactment days. Ben bent down to embrace her. Her stiff arms barely closed around his neck. “What is that GeorgiaWriters.org | 59
smell?” she asked, her lips barely moving. The air in the room shifted. It was cold and dusty, and it looked like all the lights had been dimmed. The mood became tense. “Dolce and Gabbana,” Ben responded. “Lily Fields.” He watched Allison’s fingers curl, ripping the folder’s rounded corners.
Bourbon Hours after the funeral had ended, Chuck Marshall arrived at the Ellis household to find the door ajar. He’d expected it to be locked. Allison and Joe Ellis were the only people in Beaumont who locked their front door. Chuck pushed the door open with a brown-bagged bottle of Wild Turkey. The smell of boiling meat filled the house. “Allison?” “In here.” Chuck weaved through the series of rooms. Allison stood by the stove, arms crossed, staring into a pot. The sharp scent of the spices—grated ginger root and cinnamon sticks—struck his nose. He pulled the Wild Turkey from the bag. “I thought you could use this,” he said. Allison smiled. She grabbed two tumblers as he pulled the stopper from the neck of the bottle. Chucked breathed in its aroma deeply. He poured a hefty glass for Allison. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the funeral,” he said. “I had to fix the roof at the shop.” Allison sipped the copper-colored liquid. Her eyes locked on his. Chuck was sure she knew he was lying. It just didn’t feel right to him, coming to the funeral of a man whose wife he screwed regularly and all. "Whatcha cooking?” he asked. “Southern fare.” She turned and assessed the pot. Goddamn she’s gorgeous, Chuck thought. He took a long swig from his glass and fought an urge to throw the whole thing back. Chuck couldn’t continue to see Allison now that Joe was gone. He knew it didn’t make sense to sleep with another man’s wife without qualms while he was alive and then suddenly feel guilty about it after he died; nevertheless, something about doing her now gave him the creeps. 60 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
Chuck didn’t believe in an afterlife, but since Joe’s death, he got a cold shiver in his spine anytime he thought about Allison. He’d slept with Jenna Bunting the day after Joe’s death just to keep himself from stewing over it. Boiling bubbles rolled in the pots like swarms of fish jumping to eat gnats and mosquitoes. There were yellow potatoes and collard greens, and the aroma of hot meat wafted from a crockpot on the opposite counter. Chuck lifted the lid and took a peek. Nearly twenty ribs poked out of the thick, mahogany-colored sauce. His mouth watered at the sizzling sound of crisping edges. The scent was salty and tangy, like the Georgia wetlands he used to kayak. A tart scent stung his nostrils as he replaced the lid. Must be too much vinegar. “I thought you hated cooking,” he said. “I do.” Allison pulled a chair out from the kitchen table and sat down. “I thought I’d make some food to take to Ben Flint. He was such a dear friend to Joe, you know. If there’s some left, I’ll take it around town, too. As a thank you to everyone for all that they’ve done.” Chuck added more bourbon to his glass. “Well, I hope you’ll bring some of that food to the lake.” “We’ll see.” They sat across from each other as steam from the pots condensed on the windows. Allison leaned over. She slid her hand up Chuck’s thigh beneath the table. The icy feeling shot up Chuck’s spine, making him splash his drink. “Allison.” He moved her hand. “Joe’s barely cold in the ground.” “So?” She stood and walked over to him. She straddled his lap, crossing her feet behind his back. “That just means we can stop hiding in your office or in those damn reeds.” She bent to kiss him, but Chuck pulled away. “It just feels disrespectful, ya know? That man died thinking you were being faithful.” Allison sat up. “What the fuck would Joe know about being faithful?” A burner hissed as water lapped over the sides of a pot. Allison pressed forcefully into Chuck’s chest as she rose. She walked back over to the
Burke, Jessica. Gross Domestic Product, 2014. Prismacolor on Canson: 16"x20" Burke, Jessica. I'm Late But Dinner Won't Be, 2014. Prismacolor on Canson: 8"x10"
boiling pot to give it a stir with a wooden spoon and reduce the burner’s heat. Chuck swirled his drink. “Look, darlin’, I just think we should cool it for a while.” Allison turned off both burners. She carried the pot of potatoes to the sink and poured the excess water down the drain. “It wouldn’t look right, you and me hanging out so soon after Joe’s death,” Chuck continued. Allison opened a drawer. She sifted through the cutlery until she produced a potato masher. “You should take some time to mourn your husband. Properly.” The room felt damp. A water droplet rolled down Chuck’s face, and he didn’t know if it was from the steam or if the bourbon was making him sweat. He listened to the thwump! thwump! of the masher as it sank into each potato. He finished his drink and walked to the stove. “What do you say, Al?” He leaned on the counter, keeping a few feet between them so she wouldn’t get the wrong impression. Allison mashed steadily. “I think I’ll come in tomorrow and buy a paddle board.” Chuck’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. He cleared his throat. “Why would you do that?” “I thought I should invest in the hobby. It’s good for upper-body strength.” “That’s true.” He watched as she ran her finger along the underside of the masher. She brought the blond mush to her lips and licked. Repeating the motion, she offered her finger to Chuck. He shook his head. “Did you hear what I said before, Al?” Chuck couldn’t read her blue eyes. He never could. She wiped her hand on his shirt. “I did.” “And?” “And we can talk about it after you eat.” She reached above her head, pulled a plate from the shelf, and handed it to Chuck. “The ribs are ready. Help yourself.”
Georgia Knapp is an avid traveler and storyteller. She recently left the Chicago theatre scene and moved to the land of Flannery O’Connor, where she lives with a cat named after an El stop. Her works can be found in The Huffington Post, Wraparound South, The 3288 Review, Heavy Feather Review, and The Purple Fig. You can find her at twitter.com/georgia_travels and www. georgiaknapp.org.
GeorgiaWriters.org | 61
Indigo Deep Vickie Carroll
sit here and drink my coffee on an ordinary Saturday morning, and though I am long removed by time and distance from that day, the memories still find me. Five years later, I still wonder if there was some sign, a cosmic warning, a whisper on the wind … something that I missed. The ringing phone intrudes on my thoughts. “Hi, Rach, is everything all set on your end?” “Yes. I’m ready for something new. How about you?” As if Karen was reading my mind from a distance, she pauses before she asks. “Do you still think about it sometimes, Rachel?” “Of course. After all those years of watching, I still missed the clues.” “Yeah, we both did.” “The pain’s gone now, but the memories—”
* * * * *
ave put the last box in the car and closed the trunk. I watched him from the bedroom window. This is what I always did—watched him. If you asked me why back then, I’m not sure I could’ve given you a reason. I just knew that something had changed. He was like some puzzle that I hadn’t been able to solve. So, I watched. He tied his shoes and put on his sunglasses. He ran his fingers through his hair, a lifelong habit, a stress signal, I think. I used to joke that he would go bald because of that habit. But I was wrong. He had turned forty-eight that day, and it was still full and
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dark brown, with just a hint of gray. He put both hands on the car, legs apart, and bent his tall, lean runner’s body forward, as if posing for Sports Illustrated. A ripple of jealousy rushed through me. He made time for the gym but not for me. Never me. Dave turned and looked up at the bedroom window. I jumped backward like a guilty child. Did he catch me watching him? I wondered. The front door opened with a swoosh. “Rachel, come on! We’ll have to hustle if we’re going to beat the traffic.” “Be right down.” I closed my laptop computer and grabbed my hiking boots and camera. I stopped in front of the mirror. A sad, khaki-clad, brown wren of a woman looked back at me. She was an old, unkempt, beaten-down-looking woman. Could she be me? I thought. “No wonder Dave hasn’t touched you in months,” I said out loud and frowned at the woman in the mirror. I forced a smile onto my face and ran down the stairs. On the landing, I paused to brush the tears away with my sleeve before opening the door. We were off to spend a week with some of our friends at our cabin in the mountains. It was late August, that part of summer when you start to wish it would end. Even nature looked beaten down—the rebirth of color still weeks away. The still air, heavy and humid, made it difficult to take a deep breath. Stifling weather! I stumbled into the car, juggling my camera equipment and boots, and we were rolling before my door even closed.
“Let me at least get in the car, Dave.” “We’re already an hour behind schedule.” I could almost hear his teeth grinding together. “Sorry, but I had to finish my column. I have a job, too, Dave.” I tried to keep my tone light. “You should have finished it last night instead of watching that movie. We would’ve been halfway there by now.” “The lake will still be there, Dave.” I turned to look out the window, my mood shifting to dark. After a few tries, I gave up the effort to have a normal conversation. Six pages into reading my new camera manual, I looked at my watch. “Are we stopping at Beck’s to get groceries?” “Well, if they aren’t closed,” he snapped. “You’ve made your point, Dave. I’ve made you late.” I clenched my jaw, my molars grinding. He glanced at the GPS to see how many miles were left. “Do the other wives drink red or white wine mostly? Everyone keeps changing their preferences.” “The other wives, like you don’t know their names—and I doubt you know what I drink.” “Back it down now, Rachel, or this will be a bad week. It’s my birthday, remember?” I did my best I’m-annoyed-with-you sigh. “The wives drink both. It’s the husbands who are picky, like Mark with his special beer and Rick with his rum fetish. Do you have the list?” He dug the list from his pocket and waved it near my face. “Really? Is that necessary?” I took a breath and
then tore into him. “Who were you on the phone with so late last night? I woke up and you weren’t in bed again.” “I was calling my office voice mail to leave some notes for when I get back.” His wedding ring did a tap-tap-tap on the steering wheel. “I feel like we live separate lives. Don’t you sleep anymore? Or … or you don’t want to be in our bed with me? Is that it?” I turned in my seat to watch for his reaction. “Don’t pick a fight, Rachel.” “It’s a pretty easy question, Dave. What’s going on with you?” “I’m just working more these days. Trying to keep you in the style you’re accustomed to, as they say. If you took more interest in my work, maybe you wouldn’t feel so left out.” “Maybe if you actually talked to me sometimes, I would know more about your work. Besides, it’s the ‘Dave’ lifestyle you’re really supporting with your custom-made suits, not mine.” “What? Look! I have a certain image for my job. I meet a lot of wealthy and stylish people. I have to look the part. You’re just not interested in my work, Rachel—or in anything else, for that matter.” His glance slid over my casual attire and my hair escaping from its ponytail. I tucked the loose strands of hair behind my ears and pulled my shoulders back. I hated when he looked at me in that disapproving way. “Well, why are you dressed like a GQ cover for a trip to the lake? That’s the better question.” GeorgiaWriters.org | 63
He didn’t respond, of course. I turned away, crossing my arms, as the urge to slap him grew. There was a bit of truth in what he said. I had lost interest in most everything and didn’t know why. I knew Dave was turned off by my makeup-less face and casual, even unkept look, yet I had not made an effort to change it. “Damn, look at all the cars.” He pointed to Beck’s grocery parking lot just coming into view. “It is still summer, Dave. People are going to be here.” “They’ve overdeveloped this place. Used to be able to walk for two miles and not see a house, and now you have to line up to get your boat off the main dock. Aren’t you glad we have our own dock?” I stared out the window, not answering. Wish I could push you off your precious dock. I tried a change of topic. “I hope we have time to get through the unpacking before Mark and Karen get there. Every year it’s like they race us to get there even though I tell them what time to arrive.” “What’s the difference, Rachel? Mark is just eager to get out on the lake.” “Still … ” “Since Laura and Rick won’t be arriving until tomorrow, Mark and I want to take the boat out for a run this evening to make sure it’s in shape before the fishing trip tomorrow.” “Great, leave me with giggling Karen.” “Come on, Rachel. Karen is great.” “Her deepest thought is about the best face cream to use, Dave.” “You are determined to spoil this trip, aren’t you? Then again, you always do.” “How could I possibly do that? I’m barely on this trip, after all.” He shot me an annoyed glance as we pulled into Beck’s parking lot. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he waited for an elderly man to get into his car and back out. As always, I watched his every move, trying to solve the puzzle of Dave. “Come on, take a breath, Dave. We’re here.” We loaded the car with groceries without talking, and Dave retreated into silence for the 64 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
remaining few miles. He seemed to forget I was in the car. I stared out at the trees whizzing by. An hour later, we drove onto the property. He slowed the car to an unbearable crawl, a king-returning-to-his-castle type of thing. Looking up at the lake house, with its aging log exterior, wraparound porch, and wide windows on both floors, I had to admit it was beautiful. Dave had designed it with help from Mark, and he had spent five years getting it just like he wanted it. It was ideal for family gatherings, but we had substituted friends. The house had four bedrooms downstairs and a huge master suite upstairs. Last year, Dave and Mark had put in a gourmet kitchen, complete with a special wine cabinet. It was Dave’s castle in every sense of the word, and he had worked hard for it. When we got out of the car, Dave stood looking around as he always did, surveying his kingdom. He smiled. He’s so happy here, I thought. He never once looked at me as we unpacked the car. I watched him and wondered what he was thinking. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for giggling Karen. As I predicted, before I had put away the groceries, I heard Karen’s little-girl giggle and Mark’s booming laugh as they came in the front door. “There you are, Rachel, at work already.” “No, just putting the groceries away.” I turned around with my practiced smile to greet her. “Karen, you look great!” “Oh, I forgot, you haven’t seen me in three months. Thanks. It’s a little diet, lots of exercise, and a little nip and tuck here.” She pointed to her eyes. “I wouldn’t have suspected.” “I was feeling a bit insecure, I guess. Mark’s looking younger and better, and I’m, well … not so much.” “If you feel insecure about your looks then I may as well jump off the roof.” “Oh, Rachel, you look fine.” “Hum. You’ll have to tell me all about the niptuck thing. What did Mark think?” “You know him, whatever I want. He started going to the gym last year, but the last six months, he’s there more than he is home.”
“He must be the one who got Dave so interested in the gym. He’s always there, too. I wonder if Dave would notice if I changed my appearance or got something done?” Karen smiled as her eyes wandered over me. “I’m sure Dave would be happy about whatever you decide. I must warn you, though—sometimes, no matter what you do, it doesn’t seem to matter … But anyway, what would you change?” “I could use some toning up. I hate the gym, but I could swim more. And I might try running again. I could use that eye lift thing, and then there’s my neck … well, geez, I have a list, don’t I?” “You’re always too hard on yourself, Rachel.” “I’m a realist, Karen. Unlike you, I’m the poster-child for the average woman. My skin’s aging, my hair is brown and fading, I have no real style. And then there’s the extra weight around my middle. I’m just a middle-aged woman—nothing worth noticing. I saw myself in the mirror today and thought of a little brown wren.” “You are not a little brown wren.” “Oh sure, says Karen the lovely red cardinal. Anyway … how did I get on the pity-me train? Let’s finish this and have a glass of wine and catch up.” As we walked into the living area, I could hear Dave and Mark talking as they brought the last load from the car. Their fishing supplies made a loud kathunk as they dropped them onto the porch. Dave strolled into the room, his face gleaming with sweat. “We’re taking the boat out for that test run. We’ll be back in about two hours. Mark’s putting ice in the cooler out back so we’re ready to go.” Karen laughed. “Oh, so you’ll be back just in time for dinner, right?” “Yep. We’re pretty smart guys, in case you haven’t noticed.” Karen did the little-girl giggle. Dave put his arm around Karen’s shoulder. “You look great. Mark said you joined a gym and got a personal trainer. How’s that going?” “I’m working hard. I just want to stay healthy as long as I can but looking younger and better doesn’t hurt.” “Well, mission accomplished.” “Thanks, Dave.”
I watched Dave look at Karen with lingering eyes. I felt my stomach twist a little. Karen was striking, and it was hard to avoid looking at her. She was one of those leggy girls with natural blond hair and big, blue eyes. She had a new short, edgy haircut and was poured into red leggings that hugged her now well-toned body. Her white shirt was tied at the waist and unbuttoned down to her bra. She looked closer to thirty-five than the forty-five she actually was. The sun was going down by the time the guys returned. The dinner conversation was light, and everyone was in a good mood, even Dave, who was smiling and relaxed. After the dinner cleanup and our traditional hour of poker, I excused myself, took a long shower, and climbed into bed with a book. Dave came in a bit later with a glass of water and my reading glasses, which I had left downstairs. “I knew you’d be wanting to read for a bit.” “Thanks.” We didn’t make eye contact. Dave turned to leave. “Wait! Aren’t you coming to bed?” “No, I’m not tired. Think I’ll go for some fresh air and then work for an hour.” “Work? But it’s your birthday.” He looked like he wanted to say something. I crossed my arms. He spun around, and I watched him walk away. Sadness came over me. It was as if I was watching a stranger. I tried to put it out of my mind and went back to my book. I fell asleep reading again but woke at 2:44 in the morning. Dave was not in bed. I resisted the urge to get up and look for him. I fell back to sleep, wondering why my husband was always somewhere else. Anywhere else but with me. The next morning, I found Karen and Dave in the kitchen cooking breakfast. No sign of Mark. “Wow, you two are up early. Or am I just late?” “You’re not all that late. Want scrambled eggs?” Karen waved the spatula at me. “Thanks.” She was always so nice, but I couldn’t help but feel like a guest in my own home. I sat and watched like a third wheel while everyone else seemed to take over. Dave handed me a glass of orange juice. “You feeling okay, Rach?” GeorgiaWriters.org | 65
“Yes, I’m fine.” Dave and I barely made eye contact. “Want any bacon, Rachel?” “No thanks, Karen, but toast if you don't mind.” I walked to the window and looked out at the lake. A woman in a canoe paddled upstream. Tears came without warning; I kept my back to the others as I wiped them away. I envied that woman, making her own way, alone but in command. I wanted to stop watching and start doing. I wanted to be strong and brave enough to paddle upstream like her. But I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what stoppped me, what paralyzed me. I took my coffee to the table. “Mark still asleep?” Karen shrugged, “I think he went for a run. Oh, there he is.” She waved the spatula toward the window. Mark had on tan shorts and a white pullover shirt that hugged his chest. Karen was right; he had been in the gym a lot. His dark hair, still damp, glistened in the morning sun. He strode up to the kitchen door with a basket in his hands, looking like a Greek god bearing gifts. “Where have you been?” Karen opened the screen door for him. “I was picking berries. Look!” He tilted the basket. Dave turned to Mark, a small smile playing around his lips. “What kind of berries?” “Blackberry, maybe enough for a pie.” I laughed as Karen took the berries from Mark. “And who is going to make this pie? “I can do it,” Karen said. Of course she could. Karen wore white shorts and a blue tank top. Her short hair was combed back into a sleek, sophisicated look. Karen was every woman’s worst nightmare. Together, she and Mark made a striking couple, and I often referred to them as Barbie and Ken. Dave was never amused. I watched them all. They seemed so comfortable in their own skins. Why can’t I be comfortable in mine? I left them sitting at the table, talking about pie. I grabbed my camera and let the front door slam behind me. No one called out or followed me. I felt invisible. Not worth watching. 66 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
I stomped through the woods, awash in my confusion. When did I start obsessing over aging and my looks? I slowed my pace and listened for bird calls, trying to stay in the moment. I put my worries out of my head, picked up the camera, and watched the birds. At noon, I returned to find Karen and Laura sitting on the porch, sipping iced tea. “Rachel, we were beginning to worry about you.” Laura got up to hug me. “Bird hunting.” I held up my camera. “Oh, bird watching. Karen was telling me you had turned your hobby into something serious. Good for you.” “Thanks. I even have a new website for non-professional photographers where we can share our work.” As if bored, Karen stood and stretched, putting her super-toned abs on display. “We were thinking of lunch. Are you up for it?” “Yes, I just need to wash up and change. What time did you and Rick get here, Laura?” “Oh, Rick didn’t come. His boss was in a car accident—has a couple of broken ribs—and Rick had to fly out to New York this morning to a meeting on his behalf.” “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m sure the guys will miss his fishing expertise in particular. Are they gone already?” “Oh yes, they took off as soon as I got here, and they were carrying enough gear to sink any boat,” Laura said. Karen shook her head. “I just don’t see the thrill of sitting in a damp boat on a wood slab for hours on end, all so you can put a hook in some poor creature’s mouth.” I set my dirty boots beside the door. “Just let me get cleaned up, and I’ll meet you in the kitchen. Please make yourselves at home, pick anything you want for lunch. Let’s just keep it simple.” By the time I got to the kitchen, they had set the table and put out everything for the sandwiches. Still in a mood I couldn’t shake, I ate in silence as the two of them talked about Karen’s new decorating business and Laura’s new massage therapy venture. I felt I had little to contribute and lapsed back into my own thoughts. What’s causing me so
much anxiety? It was more than being angry with Dave. There was something I was missing. “Rachel?” “What? Oh, I’m sorry, Karen, I … I was thinking about my writing deadline.” Karen studied me with her baby-blues. “I was saying that we can prepare the pizza dough and toppings and salad things ahead of time and avoid being stuck in the kitchen all night.” I tried to focus, to care about pizza. “Oh, yes, good idea.” The sun was on its way down by the time Dave and Mark returned. Wet and grimy, they stripped off their shoes and clothes on the porch and then headed for the showers. Laura put the pizzas in the oven. Karen poured the wine. “It occurs to me that we’re always waiting on the men. Why does everything revolve around them?” Laura took a long drink of wine. “Years of conditioning. They expect it, and we deliver.” “They take longer showers than women,” Karen said and laughed. After dinner, the talk turned to work, as always. Somewhere around the third bottle of wine, Dave asked Karen if she would redecorate his office suite. I’m not sure who was more surprised. Mark’s head jerked around to look at Dave, but he said nothing. Karen, thrilled, regaled us with her ideas for the next hour. I watched Mark, who kept his eyes on Dave. Karen and Dave put their heads together as Dave drew a sketch of his space. Did Mark suspect something between Karen and Dave? Did I? I didn’t try to cover my yawn. “Dave, I’m going to bed, are you coming?” I gave him my sweetest wifely smile. He never even looked up. “No, you go on, Rach.” “Actually, Dave, there’s something we need to discuss. If you can spare a minute.” I hadn’t intended on being sarcastic, but I just couldn’t help it. I had so much anger and confusion twisting me up inside. Dave shrugged but followed me to the bedroom. “What’s so important, Rachel?”
“Where were you in the middle of the night?” “What are you talking about?” “I woke up in the wee hours and you weren’t in bed. Where were you?” “I don’t know, Rachel, the bathroom, getting water at some point, I think. Didn’t know I had to check in with you?" I shrugged and tamped down my temper. “Dave, listen, whatever’s going on with you, just tell me. We’ve been at each other’s throats for months, and I’m tired of it.” “Time and place, Rachel. This is neither.” He left, closing the door behind him. I went to bed feeling a bit sorry for myself and tried to escape into the fictional world of Stephen King’s 11/22/63. The book hitting the floor woke me. The clock read 2:13 in the morning, and Dave was missing from our bed once again. I slammed my palms on his empty side of the bed. I checked the bathroom. Not there. I crept out into the hallway and down the stairs, heard nothing but the hum of the air conditioner. Where is he? Where could he have gone at this hour? I stomped back up the stairs to bed, not caring who might hear me. When I woke the next morning, Dave was still not in our bed. He wouldn’t meet my eyes at the breakfast table and excused himself to go gather our hiking gear the minute I sat down. I followed him upstairs to the storage room. “Dave, what is going on with you?” “What do you mean?” “You disappear from our bedroom in the middle of the night, you hardly talk to me anymore, avoid me when you can, and I want to know what’s wrong.” “Rachel, it’s not always about you. I’ve got a lot on my mind.” “Then you need to share some of it. We’re supposed to be partners, you know.” “It’s just … well, you’re always so occupied with your writing, or taking pictures, watching birds. You’re always watching but never really here.” “Oh, give me a break, Dave. I’m only filling the extra hours with things because you are never home. You’re at work, at the gym, on the golf course, always somewhere else. Don’t you dare GeorgiaWriters.org | 67
put this on me. Don't you dare!” “You're getting hysterical and a bit loud, Rachel.” “Oh, you’re afraid our friends will find out that you’re not perfect, your life isn’t perfect, and your wife is far from perfect?” “Rachel, please, let’s not do this now.” “Okay, Dave, I’ll just go on pretending this weekend, just for you. But we are having this conversation soon—very soon.” I stomped down the stairs and out the back door. I couldn’t stand to be in the cabin one more minute. I struggled to regain my composure, determined to get through the rest of the week with some dignity. I heard everyone gathering on the front porch for our hike, so I forced myself to smile, grabbed my camera, and joined them. We always hiked to Wild Acre Farms, three miles from our house, to load up on whatever fresh fruits and veggies they had. As always, Dave and Mark were in front; and as always, I was at the end of the line. I stopped often to take pictures along the way and was forever running to catch up. I tried to make eye contact with Dave, but he wouldn’t look at me—not directly. I could tell he noticed me looking at him, though. The week finally came to an end, and we parted with hugs and plans for our next get-together. I sat in the car and watched Dave lock the cabin. Anger and resentment bubbled up. I tried to push it down. Dave got in and adjusted the rearview mirror. “Nice trip, considering, huh?” “Same as always, considering. I need a real vacation, Dave. Just you and I. Someplace romantic.” Dave gripped the steering wheel and rotated his palms. “Rach … I …” “A vacation somewhere else … without the group … just you and I, Dave.” “Don’t be such a drag, Rachel. You tend to be a bit antisocial, are you aware of that?” “Maybe they’re just not the people I want to be social with all the time, Dave. We’ve been doing this for five years, and I would like a change. To spend time alone with you. That’s all I’m saying, and I don’t think it’s a lot to ask.” 68 | Exit 271 | Summer 2016
He slammed his palms on the steering wheel. “We spent all that money to build the house here so we would have a place to go and be comfortable and relax, and now you want to waste money traveling around and staying in hotels?” “Yes, crazy Rachel wants to waste money staying in hotels in other towns, cities, and countries. I must be insane.” His jaw clenched, and he started the car. “We’ll talk about it later.” “No, let’s talk now! Where were you at 2 a.m.?” “I couldn’t sleep.” “Where were you?” “Walking.” “Walking? In the woods? Alone? At that hour?” “Yes. Can you let it go, Rachel?” “Oh, that would be easy for you then, wouldn’t it? Just let it go so you don’t have to deal with it. Like I let it all go … your lack of communication, your mood swings and short temper, the fact that you haven’t touched me in months, Dave?” “Rachel, not now.” “Were you with Karen?” “What? No!” “Then where were you?” “Rachel, not now. Just stop!” “When then, Dave, when?” “It’s just … your insecurities are a real turnoff, Rachel. You’ve let yourself turn into this dowdy, depressed woman.” “That’s hurtful. Well, now I know, you think I’m hideous. Now what? Do I get a makeover, plastic surgery like Karen, some antidepressants, what? What do you want from me, Dave?” “That’s not … Look, I just can’t deal with this right now. I’m working out … some things, Rachel. We’ll talk about it when I can talk about it. So please just back off. Please. I’m begging you.” It was a quiet trip home. Dave’s “later” had turned into two weeks, and we were barely talking at all except to argue about everything. I resented his withdrawal, but I was afraid to push it because I was terrified of what he would say to me, frightened by what he had to “work out.” In desperation, I called my friend Gail, a family therapist, and invited her to lunch,
hoping to get free advice. She told me to meet him halfway. Since watching him try to figure it out on his own had not helped, I decided to try her suggestion. So, on a Friday night, I planned to surprise Dave with a special dinner. I had rehearsed problem-solving conversation all week. I even went to the salon to get my hair done. When I got home from the groccery store, with a couple bottles of his favorite wine, I found a note pinned to the corkboard: Gone to the lake for the weekend and will return sometime Monday. I promise we’ll talk then. I tried to keep busy, but by Saturday afternoon I knew I had to resolve this thing between us. I threw a few things into an overnight bag and stopped at the bakery for a coconut pecan cake, his favorite, as a peace offering. Meet him halfway became my mantra as I drove. It crowded out my own true voice, which was screaming, You are miserable. The sun set as I turned into our driveway at the lake. A car was parked behind Dave’s. I pulled in behind it and sat there, breathing deeply. Clenching and unclenching my fists. Fighting panic as my mind ran through the possibilities. Who could it be? Then I remembered that Karen had emailed me about the new Lexus they splurged on. It’s a pretty, deep-blue color, Indigo-deep, like Mark’s eyes, she had written. And there it was, that Indigo-deep Lexus, sitting in front of me. OMG! I should have known. It all made sense to me then. Of course. Dave and Karen had spent days and nights working together redecorating his office, and they were together now. It started to rain. I stood beside the car and watched the fat drops hit the ground. I kept standing there as the water ran down my face and into my shoes before finally forcing myself to move. I walked through the unlocked doors and into the kitchen. The house was quiet. I pushed one foot in front of the other up the stairs to the master suite. My muddy shoes left ugly tracks on the expensive floor. I heard soft music, but no one was in the bedroom. Then I heard Dave laugh, his sexy-throaty laugh, the one I hadn’t heard in a long time. They
were in the bathroom. I heard the water from the shower. The steam rose, blocking my view as I walked into the room. But I didn’t have to see. I could hear what was happening in the shower. I listened for Karen’s voice, her little-girl giggle, but no, it wasn’t Karen. It was Mark’s voice. Mark’s booming laugh.
* * * * *
push the speaker button on my phone to talk as I pack. “Karen, are you sure I don’t owe you any more money for the luggage?” “No, and I’ll even throw in the makeup case for free. Rach, can you believe this time next month we’ll be in London?” “At last, something worthwhile for my camera to see!” “Rach, do you ever want to just call them and say, look at me now?” “In the past, Karen, all in the past. They got their new life, and we got lives of our own. And I got a great new job in London, if I get it.” “If you get it? You already got it! Like they said, the interview is just a formality.” “I know! Can you believe it? Things are going so well. And you just sold your house for a small fortune. The world is ours!” I smile as I hang up the phone. I lace up my running shoes and call my dog, Toby. The birds sing and sail across the low-hanging branches in my yard. Toby and I watch them for just a few seconds then start our daily run. “Those brown wrens are pretty darn cute, Toby. I just never noticed before.”
Vickie Carroll lives in the Atlanta area and has written and published many articles and short stories. She is hard at work on her fiction book, The Ghost of Kathleen Murphy. Connect with Vickie on twitter.com/vcarroll68 or on her new blog page, just up and a work in progress, vickiecarroll.wordpress.com.
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Poetry BY GEORGIA WRITERS
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Sybil Rosen "How Is It to Watch Something You Love Die?" "Facts"
Robert Covel "Intimations of Mortality" "Singularity"
Rick Carson "Ballad of the Fulton County Sheriff 's Inmate Transport Bus"
Emery L. Campbell "New Vile Veg Cuisine"
Lisa Ezzard "Imprints" "What If There Were No Enemy"
David "Sam" Owen "The Breadbasket Hotel" "Let Us Confabulate"
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How Is It to Watch Something You Love Die? To see how the material of the body collapses in on itself like a pumpkin in a compost heap; how the tissue discharges without restraint; how the eyes turn to vapor, and the presence of rot becomes as ordinary as breath. To see how tomato vines in the garden blacken and droop, the last fruits split open, seared by an early frost; how the dog of eleven years never falters, never complains, but moves softly, imperceptibly, into mystery; how a hard rain on an April night overtakes your dreams, and you awaken soaked.
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In the moment of waking, before light and form arrive, the mind presumes solidity, presumes, assumes you, the way a river assumes water: warm body pressed to mine, insistent as a child, dream paws pedaling, belly soft, offering refuge, senses cast in a tensile netâ€” all perceived as if you were here beside me. Like wind pushing clouds, memory drives images: you running out to greet the vet, that metronome of joy, your tail, still beating in the last full measures of your life; you circling once, twice, to get it just right for the bright liquid, pink as health, to enter your vein; you dying in my arms, no heavier than a moth seeking sleep below the porch lightâ€” and then I wake up to the shock of your absence, and I remember itâ€™s still true.
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Intimations of Mortality Spinal procedure, laminectomy, fusion—L4 and L5, one pain replaces another. The hurt of healing becomes the new ab/normal. At night to sleep, perchance disturbed. Stretched and attached to a rack, hooked to oxygen and monitors, poked, prodded, and stuck, impaled by needles, IV drip, while a clipboard-bearing pilgrim attends to the mystery of numbers, life-supporting functions reduced to BP, temp and oxygen. Coiled in the recliner, sleep-deprived, in tortured fetal pose, I watch the retinue appear, depart. Our new confines, Spartan comfort, one flower print the sole décor, the furnishings: one bed, one reclining chair. Our space, our lives upturned, shrunk to this little measure, diurnal monotony. Sound track, voices from on high, intercom above the medical routine tinkling lullaby from the maternity, pleasant interlude announces birth, and then “Code Blue, Room 203,” darker note in minor key. Death and entrances, swirl of mortality cycled and recycled through mundane moments. Nurses, doctors, caretakers— helping, healing, but helpless in the struggle against the icy touch, cold visitor not quite kept at bay
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Robert C. Covel
Her pupils dilate in dim light; she gazes, wide-eyed and lost. His unfamiliar face hovers, floats above. He searches for the memories, the girl she once had been before plaques and synapses snarled into Gordian confusions. Their passions, like twin stars, streamed plasma arcs, fueled by fusion, across spaceâ€”chaos and loneliness. Joined, conjoined in cosmic dance, shared desires fueled their cores. But now her mind implodes, swallowed in the singularity of despair. Memories, the past, drift like dust caught by the gravity of disease. Thoughts and feelings wonder, wander behind those eyes that peer past his. She frowns, or smiles, captive in an abyss of self. He hovers, helpless, at the edge of the edge, an event horizonâ€” her pupilsâ€™ stark darkness, a profound eternal Night.
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Ballad of the Fulton County Sheriff's Inmate Transport Bus I stood on the corner when the bus swept by and saw the men’s eyes writhe in the window mesh; I heard a primal clamor of shoes and fists on steel, heard hard mouths yowling to women on the streets, who howled back at them and hurled bottles and curses, whatever might shatter on the bow of the bus to christen its despair. I knew the prisoners’ shackled blood remembered The Good Ship Jesus in 1562 nudging the pilings in a New World harbor, where their muscles were pinched their teeth were probed their privates were inspected and the gavel rapped them on to centuries of cotton as white as their fingers were black
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until they risked escape, thrashing through dog-hobble just ahead of the hounds, their necks fleeing the nooses on patrollers’ saddle horns. I tried to step away from the Bible’s imprecations, that the sins of my fathers would careen like the bus out of control and land on my generation. I thought I had served time enough for my Scottish name, but no time was enough to pay off the homeplace bent-double slaves had built, its wrought-iron fence entwined with honeysuckle around graves of ancestors who fought across the South, and my knees buckled when the sheriff cut his eyes to me. The bus lurched to a stop, and the door swung open.
New Vile Veg Cuisine
Emery L. Campbell
You hear about cuisine that is très haute, but seldom of exotic, offbeat fare, still less of chefs who actively promote such dishes, which they fashion with a flair. For starters, some prefer potage of oat or pressed paté of pickled prickly pear. Read on for novel Cordon Blur cuisine to tempt the most fastidious bouche fine. A taste bud tempter may entail a bite of thinly sliced smoked string bean stems on toast, or, as keen connoisseurs are prone to cite, selected bits of blackened tofu roast. Most experts, though, feel fungus fingers blight a spread that otherwise appeals to most. These all are questions that each chef must weigh and then at last convey his yea or nay. One might begin a meal with high-risk bisque, then carry on with rose hip fricassee, or else perhaps mild curried eggplant disk with, on the side, fresh colored greens, fat-free. Bold diners often hanker for the brisk spiced taste of drum beets à la bourgeoisie. Dessert to match such entrees could be hot sludge sundaes with a fresh-brewed caffeine shot. Of course there are great chefs who practice Blur in quite another mode from those above. For instance, many stress a plat du jour of kudzu cutlets, which the gourmets love. A rich potato-eye puree makes sure that taste and sight appeal go hand in glove, while steamed e-coliflower tops the list of veggies you’ll regret for having missed. To close this gastronomic overview let’s take one last look at just desserts: bombe Arafat and sour grapes are two. Though humble pie is fine, it never hurts to tout the petit fives as well, and you can savor civil tortes from which jam spurts. Yes, in our country’s heartland beckon foods that you won’t find in white-bread neighborhoods.
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Imprints Walking the path of strangers, deer, off-the-gridders through the Appalachian greens and rains and thickets into the not-long-ago, a month's worth of misty smoke rising into the sun, I feel the illusion of the untouched, the pristine, the no-one-has-ever-been-here before me, though our hoop houses break the illusion with their human curves and coverings as the Blue Morpho with its black ribbons, still paralyzed by night, dawns its wings into shared light— The butterfly at rest on my shoulder rides me through my morning labor as I gather heads of lettuce and kale, and with my knife I cut throats, the many green heads of life taken from the fleeting grid of time— She rides my shoulders at work and feels my arms swing and lift, carry, wash, dry, bag, and crate while the whistling of morning birds sings us into day. What day is it? A million years ago arrives as the fluttering of wings, fanning their way toward the future, gathering light to tattoo my memory until morning harvest is complete and the Morpho finally takes flight— I feel her imprint on my shoulder, like soldiers feel their ghost limbs like mothers still feel for their pregnant bellies like the wedding ring no longer on my finger— What path was it— that I took through my garden today? It is already overgrown, the Earth before me again, a wild virgin
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What If There Were No Enemy
in a circle of women in a dark and shrouded place, not in hiding but in hope— singing and sweating and letting down our guards? We configured the world while all the kings' men rode with the winds, unified in home and in spirit liberating the poor and bringing them bread, while toy soldiers marched across the battleground in a child's sandbox, and the bully on the block huffed and puffed and sat down unmasked while the honey bees made their gold, causing riches to stick to the hands of paupers while the snakes made their homes in pillow cases, causing danger to bed with danger until there was none and strangers shared their broken homes until nothing was theirs and nothing was ours and the sharing of air and of weather overcame us, opening banks and burkas to what is precious— we tilled the soil and rose with the sun to eat what we sowed and sow what we reaped with the steady primal roll of the Earth and the Drum, which began to move all things like a turbulent sea— mountains to sand, icebergs to rivers, ISIS, the Taliban, the Pentagon to peace— unlocking the women, dismantling the missions, and letting all beings unravel themselves in books and song, sweat and wine. We let down our guard, and no one raised their sword when the fences were broken— for that's when the dancing began. GeorgiaWriters.org | 79
The Breadbasket Hotel
David "Sam" Owen
Bleary-eyed and silent, we stare at the ceiling— blurry in dawn's blue light— our naked bodies sore, spent our change on the vibrating bed. She sits on the edge, her wasted frame slumped over her knees. She fingers loose her ponytail, takes a swig of the whiskey on the windowsill, and peers across the parking lot, past the red Mustang collecting dust and chaff from the wheat field nearby, at the pasture just beyond the road: Two colts canter around a gray mare, distended and heaving. She gives a labored whine and crumples to the ground.
Let Us Confabulate Do you remember when we walked along the beach, plucked broken shells from the sand and hurled them back, leaving small craters in their wake? The pocks upon the concrete-colored shore must have faded in the briny foam. But what’s that you say? You thought it was a river we strolled beside, down a winding walkway that traced the shallow coast, littered with empty cans and tangled fishing line. You talked of how a river becomes itself by what it leaves behind. Oh, I remember now—how we slogged through puddles in the park, down a fissured pavement path swallowed up by rising marsh. We didn’t heed the forecast, ignored the swollen clouds, and as the rain raised such a din, I saw you form the words in the cavern of your mouth.
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Emery L. Campbellâ€™s work has won awards from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, the Georgia Writers Association, the Georgia Poetry Society, and numerous other individual state poetry organizations. This Gardenerâ€™s Impossible Dream: A Not So Green Thumb (or Why I Took Up Poetry Instead) was nominated for the 2006 Georgia Author of the Year Award, and a poem chosen from it received a nomination for a Pushcart Prize. His second book, Selected Fables and Poems in Translation, was published in late December 2010. Emery and his wife, Hettie, live in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Rick Carson works as a high school teacher at Pace Academy in Atlanta and is a member of The Side Door Poets. His poems have appeared in a large number of publications, including The South Carolina Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Kansas Quarterly, Zone 3, and the recent Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems. He has published over 75 poems and has received two Pushcart Nominations. Robert Covel is a retired English teacher, having taught in Fayette County for thirty-four years. He completed his PhD. in English at Georgia State University in 1991. His books of poetry, String Theory and Wind Song, were nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Awards. He is the president of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club and lives in West Georgia with his wife Deloris and and their cat James Dickey. twitter.com/ drcovel, facebook.com/drcovel Lisa Ezzard is a poet and writer, a teacher, and a vintner at Tiger Mountain Vineyards. Her most recent poetry book, Vintage, published by Native Press, follows the seasons in a year of growing wine grapes on Tiger Mountain, where she is the 6th generation on her family farm. She is published in the Squaw Valley Review, Appalachian Heritage, In the Arms of Words: Poems for Tsunami Relief, From the Web: A Global Anthology of Women's Political Poetry, and The Appalachian Adventure: From Georgia to Maine - A Spectacular Journey on the Great American Trail. David "Sam" Owen is a graduate teaching assistant in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. Most recently his work has been published in Old Red Kimono and has placed in a few collegiate writing contests. Sybil Rosen is an international, award-winning playwright and fiction writer living in Whitesburg, Georgia. Riding the Dog, a collection of short stories that all take place on a Greyhound bus, won the Gold Medal for Fiction/Short Story in The Readers' Favorite International Book Award Contest in conjunction with The Miami Book Fair. Her young adult novel, Speed of Light, won the 1999 Sydney Taylor Award for Older Readers, was nominated for the 2000 Mark Twain Award, and was published in German by Verlag Urachhaus in 2001. These works are her first published poems. GeorgiaWriters.org | 81
1 t i 7 x E 2 The Exit 271 Studio 575 Venita Drive Athens, GA 30606 www.exit271.com
440 Bartow Avenue Kennesaw, GA 30144 www.georgiawriters.org
Published on Aug 8, 2016
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