Biannual Magazine of Literature & the Arts
Solid Gold Dust
Issue 17 - June 2010
When I finally got around to doing a spot of spring-cleaning on the Gold Dust website this week, something struck me right away – the sheer number of literary magazine links that are now defunct. After ten years The Danforth Review and Anything Goes have folded, Quality Women’s Fiction has been sold (its former Editor now runs The Yellow Room), while the formidable writing magazine Byline has suspended business. On the plus side, it’s exciting to see some small press magazines simply exploding in numbers, such as One Story, which doubled in size last year and the UK’s Carillon, going strong since 2001. This issue we take a closer look at small press publishing with The Slush Pile (p22) covering the literary magazine market, while Gold Dust’s own poetry and prose editors let us in on the secrets of how they select submissions (p12 & 16). So where do we fit into all of this? You can rest assured that Gold Dust is here to stay, with a committed team that has had a lot of fun producing the magazine in one form or another for the past six years. But Gold Dust is about much more than great writing. Our live events, with highlights on the Gold Dust YouTube channel have become an established part of the performance poetry & prose scene. Our high quality calendars, uniting wonderful poetry with sublime photographs, are released in time for Christmas gifts. Last year we published our first prose anthology (Solid Gold, Merilang Press, 2009) and, this year, our first poetry anthology, aptly titled Liquid Gold, is to follow. Our latest project is our brand new Writers’ Website Awards (see Award above) for the very best creative fiction websites (p4). Omma Velada (GD magazine founder)
Gold Dust magazine www.golddustmagazine.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org Prose Editor & Cover Designer David Gardiner Poetry Editor Claire Tyne Webmaster, DTP & Founder Omma Velada Proofing Jo Fraser Illustration Owen Pomery
Mailing list: www.golddustmagazine.co.uk/MailingList.htm Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/golddust MySpace: www.myspace.com/golddustmagazine
Cover photograph Stained glass window in the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Mucuchies, Venezuela Cover design David Gardiner
Online (www.issuu.com/golddust): ca. 3,000 PDF (www.lulu.com/golddustmagazine): ca. 500
Contents Short stories
Believe by Adam Hofbauer BEST PROSE £20 PRIZEWINNER Drama
Gil woz ere 9T7 by Jason Vandaele Drama
Beached by Mel Fawcett Drama
Please feel free to smile by Vicky Thompson Drama
A Little Magic by Harmoni McGlothlin Drama
Mama’s Always Right by Ilan Herman Supernatural drama
Sad Tale by Gareth Storey Drama
Best Fiction Sites The best writing sites on the web by Omma Velada Thank you for your interest... Our prose subs selection process by David Gardiner
Poetical Promise Our poetry subs selection process by Claire Tyne
Lost In The Slush Pile All you need to know about literary mags by Omma Velada
Gil woz ere 9T7 by Jason Vandaele (p18)
Imagined You John Stocks
For Her, My Soul Lisa Cronkhite
Resipiscence (beyond M) Paul Jeffcutt
Gingerbread Lady Michael Lee Johnson
Disenthralling BEST POEM £20 PRIZEWINNER Peter Magliocco
Found Dave Malone
big boys play Peter Branson
A Tale of Two Bridges Daffni Percival
Beached by Mel Fawcett (p30)
Editorial by GD founder Omma Velada
Contributors Our writers’ bios in all their glory
Faces in the Smoke: The Story of Josef Perl by Arthur Christopher Benjamin Reviewed by Vicky Thompson
The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis Reviewed by David Gardiner
The Heroes and Other Stories by Kat Hausler Reviewed by David Gardiner
Best Fiction Websites
Gold Dust Awards 2010
Fiction writing covers a huge range of writing genres and styles, but there are some things we all have in common and a bit of motivation or tips on how to improve our work is often exactly what we need to give us a push to finish that novel, or start it! Here are our picks for the best fiction-writing websites of 2010 in each of the following categories:
Motivation When you’re stuck for ideas, or hit writers’ block, this is where to go Genre Sometimes only a fellow genre writer will understand Format If you’ve always wanted to tackle a screenplay, or learn how to write a sonnet Competitions Good for inspiration, recognition and maybe even a little cold hard cash Communities Chat with other writers & find out if your work really is one of staggering genius Publishing If you’re ready to take the leap, here’s where to find agents, PODs and more Promotion Published or not, get your work on view Resources The definitive writers’ toolbox, from dictionaries to character names 6
Best Websites Gold Dust Awards 2010
● Post A Secret (http://postsecret.blogspot.com) Every secret is a story waiting for your pen... Joining fee: FREE ● Ideas4Writers (www.ideas4writers.co.uk) Over 5,000 ideas to get you writing Joining fee: from £7.95 ● Creative Writing Prompts (www.creativewritingprompts.com) Over 300 writing prompts Joining fee: FREE ● National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) November is the magic month Joining fee: FREE (optional donation) ● Book in a Week (www.book-in-a-week.com) For those too ambitious for NaNoWriMo Joining fee: from $3.00 ● 3-Day Novel (www.3daynovel.com) The pressure’s on, but first prize is publication Joining fee: $50 ● Fifteen Minutes of Fiction (www.fifteenminutesoffiction.com) For your briefer creative bursts Joining fee: FREE ● WriteInvite (www.write-invite.com/index.php) Competitions and live events Joining fee: FREE And for a change of scene when writers’ block strikes... ● Literary Rejections On Display (http://tiny.cc/5g983) Hilarious round-up of rejection letters ● Absolute Write (http://absolutewrite.com) Insightful blog on all things writing ● Writers FM (www.writersfm.com/writersfm) The only radio station by writers, for writers
● Romance All Romance Writers (http://allromancewriters.com) ● Science Fiction Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (www.sfwa.org) ● Fantasy Elfwood (www.elfwood.com) ● Horror Horror Writers Association (http://horror.org) ● Western Western Writers of America (www.westernwriters.org) ● Crime The Crime Writers Association (www.thecwa.co.uk) ● Thriller International Thriller Writers (www.thrillerwriters.org) ● Historical Historical Fiction Network (www.histfiction.net)
● Novels Novelists Inc (www.ninc.com) ● Short stories Short stories (www.short-stories.co.uk) ● Poetry Moontown Cafe (www.moontowncafe.com) ● Screenwriting The Lonely Keyboard (http://lonelykeyboard.com) ● Memoirs Write My Memoirs (www.writemymemoirs.com) ● Children Write4Kids (www.write4kids.com) ● Young Adult Writing for Children & Teens (www.writingforchildrenandteens.com) Issue 17
June 2010 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
Best Websites Gold Dust Awards 2010
● Firstwriter (www.firstwriter.com/competitions) Free database of current writing competitions ● Story (www.theshortstory.org.uk/prizes) Comprehensive listings of major short story contests ● PoetryKit (www.poetrykit.org/comps.htm) Poetry contests listed by closing date
US-based ● Published (www.published.com) Create an online genre-specific profile for your book Fee: FREE ● Writerlance (www.writerlance.com) Like eBay for writers, bid on the writing projects you fancy Fee: No listing fees. Commission is 3% of your bid (min $3.00) ● Constant Content (www.constant-content.com) Post your writing efforts for sale Fee: FREE to buyers, author receives 65% of article sale price ● The Short Review (www.theshortreview.com) Just for short story anthologies Fee: FREE ● Author Marketing Experts, Inc (www.amarketingexpert.com) Internet focused Fee: Contact for quote ● Book Promotion 101 (www.bookpromotion101.com) Workshops & Consulting Fee: $150 p/hr phone consultation, contact for workshop fees UK-based ● Books 4 Publishing (www.books4publishing.com) A showcase site for unpublished books Fee: Registration £10, plus £5 for each publisher/agent you select for m/s notification
Around 7,000 new small publishers form each year; these listings sites try to keep pace
Print-on-Demand (POD) ● Lulu (www.lulu.com) The rapidly growing instant-publishing site, already published 1m authors Publishing fee: FREE (premium options available) ● Books and Tales (http://booksandtales.com/pod/index.php) POD listings with pricing guide
Small Press Publishers ● Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com) Lists mainly US publishers with advice and info ● The New York Center for Independent Publishing (www.nycip.org) Categorised listings Small Press Magazines ● Galactic Central (www.philsp.com) Over 7,000 magazines listed ● Duotrope (http://duotrope.com) Free database of almost 3,000 fiction publications ● Dust Books (www.dustbooks.com) Various print lists of small press operations ● CLMP (www.clmp.org/index.html) Council of Literary Magazines and Publishers
Best Websites Gold Dust Awards 2010
UK-based ● Great Writing (www.greatwriting.co.uk) One of the most stylish sites; solid content too Joining fee: FREE ● ABC Tales (www.abctales.com) Over 60,000 stories online - add yours! Joining fee: FREE ● UK Authors (www.ukauthors.co.uk) Friendly community of writers with active forums Joining fee: £10 p/yr (optional donation) ● WriteWords (www.writewords.org.uk/news) Extensive, clearly laid-out listings Joining fee: from £20 p/yr US-based ● Poets & Writers (www.pw.org) America’s largest non-profit organization for creative writers Joining fee: FREE ● Writing.com (www.writing.com) Over 700,000 members, free memberships available Joining fee: FREE (premium memberships available) ● FanStory (www.fanstory.com) Since 2000, with a six-star feedback system Joining fee: FREE (premium memberships available) ● Novice Writers (http://missa73e.proboards.com/index.cgi) Forums for new writers Joining fee: FREE ● BBS Writers (www.writers-bbs.com) The most active writers’ forums on the Web Joining Fee: FREE (premium memberships available) ● EditRed (http://editred.com) Over 7,000 members, aims to help promote your writing Joining fee: FREE ● Fiction Press (www.fictionpress.com) Over 1million members, this one’s vast, don’t get lost! Joining fee: FREE
● Dictionary (http://dictionary.reference.com) Dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopaedia and more ● Bartleby (www.bartleby.com) Free access to encyclopaedias and other reference books ● The Fiction Factor (www.fictionfactor.com) Writing tips direct to your inbox in a monthly email ● Acronym Finder (www.acronymfinder.com) Find what any acronym stands for ● Your Dictionary (www.yourdictionary.com/library/misspelled.html) Most misspelled words ● Ref Desk (www.refdesk.com) Impressive collection of tools and links for research ● Baby Names (www.babynames.com) Find your next character’s name here ● Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page) 30,000 free ebooks ● Internet Public Libarary (www.ipl.org) Resources, newspapers & magazines ● Publishing Law (http://publaw.com) Articles and links on the legal side of getting into print ● English Grammar Online (www.ego4u.com) Need to swot up? Start right here ● Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau (www.jbwb.co.uk) Extensive listings of various useful sites Issue 17
BEST PROSE £20 PRIZEWINNER
by Adam Hofbauer
“There is a great truth out there. It’s the most important truth that has ever been...”
eedback from the microphone in the Houston Hilton, Conference Room A. The projector clicks on and the audience stir in their seats. I clear my throat. I speak with certainty. “It is my belief that the most significant developments in our history have not only already occurred, but have been obscured from us, intentionally, and under the funding of our own tax dollars.” Click the laptop and begin. The NASA logo glows behind me. Folding aluminum chairs lined up in rows in hotel conference rooms. The Blue Room. The Chester A. Arthur Ball Room. Tables with arrangements of coffee-makers, cups, sugars, red plastic stirring-straws, bagels, plastic knives. At night, the sound of vacuum cleaners being pushed down long stretches of carpet. In the daytime, sandal-claps of family feet on their way from the pool back to their room. “There is a great truth out
there. It’s the most important truth that has ever been, and there are elites, groups of men with too much power, who will tell you that it is in your best interest not to know about it.” Click the laptop and go on. The Masonic flag flicks into view. The crowd lets out a knowing murmur. Life in projectors. Life in programmes. Life in the three pm slot. Catch dinner in a timecrunch, eating one-handed on the highway from out of your lap, pollution-pink hot-dogs still dripping with stale convenience-store water. I gain five pounds a month, fifteen in a summer. If I did this all year I’d weigh three hundred pounds. Stay fit. Pushups on the hotel room floor between the bed and the wall. Situps in the bathroom before my conference slot. Stay clean shaven, collected, tie knotted and trousers pressed, shoes matching my belt. Come well-rested, no bags under the eyes, no pain killers, no uppers, no downers, no alcohol before dark, some
caffeine but just enough, clear head. Facts, no opinions. Show no signs of being unhinged. Make no unnecessary associations. Don’t sign up to e-mail lists. Political affiliation, independent. I hear my name from far down the hallway of the Knoxville Holiday Inn. “Don? Hey, Don!” A man rides long spidery legs towards me. “Its Randy,” he says. “Randy Sullivan from Springfield Tech.” His face pops into my memory. “Randy,” I say, shaking his hand as an old friend. “Of course, I’m sorry. Yeah, I guess it’s been a while.” “I figured someone like you would be around more often,” he says. “I’ve seen your name on programmes here and there, but only in the summer.” “I teach high school science most of the year,” I admit. “Oh, Don, you got to get on this all year round.” “Gotta pay the bills, can’t do it all on book sales.” “Bills?” Randy scoffs.
“After all the cover-ups your tax dollars have paid for you’re going to stand there and tell me about bills? We’re a family, Don. We take care of each other when the times get bad.” During the school year, stick to their curriculum. Biology, astronomy, geology. Give the people what they want. Commit a million little truth suicides. Tell them Mars has always been a planet. Swallow the evidence that it was once a moon. Swallow the evidence of long-ago exploded planet V. Long for the real year. The lunar year and the real lesson plan. “Stick to the book,” Principal King said the day I was
hired. “We hired you for your astronomy background. None of that other stuff.” Hands raise in the back of the room. “Mr. Marsh,” asks a girl in dark makeup, too much makeup, big wide child eyes, “What do you do during the summer?” “Yeah,” comes another voice, a boy, peach-fuzzed, skinny-armed, “I heard you drive all over the place and give talks to people.” Another hand, another face, a boy asks, “I heard we never actually went to the moon.” “Oh,” I say. “We went there. We went there all right.” Spring break comes and
Believe by Adam Hofbauer
I’m all motor. Six dates and six hotels in a week. I’ll be blearyeyed and coffee-addled by morning. Then the road again, and things to remember. Click the laptop. Images of the pyramids of Giza. Somewhere in Alabama, hands raise in the Dixie Ballroom. A man in coke-bottle glasses, a liver spot on his cheek, a wad of Redman in his lips, asks, “But isn’t there evidence to suggest that this broadcast was a test? Put together on purpose to see how we would react?” Respond without a pause to think. “Of course. And it seems that we failed that test.” A plane comes in above The Baltimore Regency. These hotels are always by the airports. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Conference Center is stocked with plastic-looking muffins, red-eyed pastries, strawberries on black plastic plates. But all that matters is the coffee. Click the laptop and continue. Frame LO-III-84M. The shard. Frame RM-IIX-19R. The castle. The temple. The Face on Mars. The Sphinx. In the reception area, men stand in huddles of two and three, checking their programs. A line of tables cover the long wall of the room. Larry Gibbs is here, selling his new book claiming to have unearthed photographs of a tunnel system in the ice of the northern
Believe by Adam Hofbauer
Martian pole. He‘s not drawing many visitors at the moment, so he‘s leaned over to the booth next to his, and is talking to Bob and Jean Tripplehorn who operate the Lunar Mission website. At the center, drawing the biggest crowd, is a table marked ‘Truth Teller Party’. Under this, in smaller letters, the words, ‘Gabe Davidson for regional representative.’ All around are handfuls of men in out-of-style glasses, neck-beards, unstoppable guts. They drag wives, they drag infant sons, camper trucks, all these heavy lives. They drag it all with them all year round.
I look around. I see the same faces everywhere. The same aging geologists. The same old married couples, selfpublishing their books. Preaching to the choir. Static through the loudspeakers in Fort Benjamin High School. Students stare slack-eyed and miserable. Lay out the black folders on their desks, one by one. “There’s been a little change in the lesson plan,” I announce. I turn towards the overhead projector. The students start poking through the folders before I‘ve even said what they are. They pull out the printed copies I’ve
made for them, the black-andwhite Xeroxes of the Face, the tower, the castle, the sphinx. “What’s this Mr. Marsh?” asks one of the front row, a straight-A honour-roll girl. I smile big – too big. “I told you at the beginning of the year that we’d be spending a lot of time on astronomy. Now that’s still true, but you aren’t going to be needing your textbooks on this one.” “What’s Cydonia?” asks one of the back row hooligans, his hair spiked, his lip pierced. Someone chuckles as he points to one of the pictures and says, “It looks like a face.” I clear my throat. I’ve already placed the first slide on the overhead projector. “Patrick,” I say, “cut the lights.” The projector switches on. The crystal towers of the moon come into view behind me. “That textbook of yours is pretty in-depth,” I say. “But there’s a few gaps. What do you all think this is?” In my head I hear the words the principal spoke to me the day I was hired. “I’m serious Mr. Marsh,” he said. “Stick to the textbook. Just the facts.” But that’s the thing about facts when it comes to science, isn’t it? They just keep changing. More than anything, I want them to know. I want them to realize we aren’t an accident.
Believe by Adam Hofbauer
We aren’t alone. Great minds have come before. They watched us in our infancy. They brought us the pyramids. And one day they fell. But we can learn from their mistakes. Take my hand, for I am reaching out to you. We have been living in a box. I offer you the box cutter. Hands raise outside of Washington D.C. The crowds will soon be growing. I can feel it. “We can see clearly that this image has been doctored. Issue 17
And yet there is still no denying the artificiality of the structures.” Hands raise in my second period astronomy class. “Mr. Marsh,” says one girl. “I heard in the hall you’re going to tell us about aliens.” Ignore the nay-sayers. Touch the overhead projector and continue. The Martian surface glows red behind my back. “Could someone get the lights?” Feedback from the loud-
speaker. “Mr. Marsh,” comes the voice of the secretary. “Principal King would like a moment with you in his office after your class, if you don’t mind.” I can feel it. Today is the day they start to change their minds. “Of course,” I say. For some reason, the kids giggle. A note is passed at the back. “Can you feel that?” I ask the class, my hand trembling. “Something good is happening.”
Thank You for Your Interest...
How we select the 5% of prose submissions we receive for Gold Dust magazine he least enjoyable aspect of being Gold Dust’s prose editor is the need to send out large numbers of rejection letters every issue. I hope this article may help to reduce the number of submissions that result in such a letter. When I send one of these letters, which happens about 95% of the time, I always try to give the author some kind of explanation as to why the story wasn’t accepted. I try to be encouraging and helpful – X and Y are the problem areas, fix those and all will be well. But it might save everybody’s time if I could explain in advance, in general terms, what kind of stories are likely to be accepted by Gold Dust and what aren’t. I can only speak for Gold Dust, other publications may have quite different criteria and tastes, but I think what I say will apply to many outlets publishing what is called ‘literary fiction’. I should add that we also publish comic fiction, and occasional pieces of genre fiction, but the more literary pieces represent our mainstay. I have seen literary fiction
defined as ‘whatever doesn’t fit in any other category’, but I don’t agree with that definition, it isn’t a catch-all for the difficultto-classify. And there is an even worse misconception, namely that literary fiction needs to be ‘arty’, full of flowery language, demonstrations of cleverness, obscure references and pretentious imagery. That category is properly referred to as ‘bad writing’. My understanding of what characterises literary fiction is that it focuses on the affective or emotional side of the story being told. I don’t know whether other people would go along with that definition or not, I can only give you my understanding of the term. In a crime story what matters is working out who committed the crime; in science fiction what matters is the new idea being explored, the ‘what if’ side of things; in an adventure story what matters is excitement and suspense, and so on. But in literary fiction what matters, in my view, is the emotional response of the reader to the material presented. Quite a lot follows from this simple definition. Firstly and
most obviously, if there is no emotional response, the story has failed. It’s not relevant that it teaches me quite a lot about fish-farming in the Irish Sea or that the ending comes as a total surprise – if it leaves me cold emotionally the story hasn’t worked. Secondly, contained in the definition are many clues as to how the story should be written and the areas in which it needs to succeed. If it is going to affect me emotionally that means that I will need to care about (at least one of) the characters in the story. If they are all equally repellent or uninteresting or implausible I am simply not going to care very much what happens to them, fine sympathetic person though I am. So you must give me somebody I can feel drawn to and identify with to at least some degree. If I am going to respond emotionally then something emotionally significant needs to happen to the character(s) with whom I feel this identification. Purely accidental or random events will be a lot less interesting and less likely to make me feel involved than deliberate ac-
and vivid images and just the right amount of description to enable me to ‘see’ the scene. I don’t want sentences that are so long or descriptions that are so odd I have to stop and pay attention to the manner of telling rather than the story that is unfolding before me. The way this is usually stated is that the author shouldn’t intrude. There are exceptions, of course, in which the author is the most important character in the book, the one whose personality dominates through his/her wit or comic outrageousness. PG Wodehouse and Douglas Adams are examples of this kind of writer, but I don’t think that kind of writing has much place in what I have called literary fiction. How you begin your tale is vitally important. Human nature
being what it is, unless the involvement I have spoken of is accomplished fairly quickly I’m likely either to ‘switch off’ mentally and lose interest, and/or simply stop reading and move on to something else. The first paragraph is your shop window, in it you must give me some kind of taster of what you have to offer. Those first few sentences must intrigue me. A story that starts with a passage of description, however brilliant that description might be, is unlikely to hook the reader. Weather reports are acknowledged to be even worse (‘It was a dark and stormy night…’). Your opening needs to be inventive, seductive and compelling. There are a lot of other technical considerations that will apply to writing of any kind,
tions arising from motives that I can understand. I want a human story, not one about lightning strikes or lottery wins. Something else that will make me feel less involved is if the story is told in the direct manner of a business report or a piece of evidence being read out from a policeman’s notebook. I don’t want to be told things or have them explained to me, I want to see events unfolding in my imagination. The story should resemble a film projected before my eyes, so that I can make my own judgements and interpretations, engage with the material and become involved. This is the ‘show versus tell’ distinction, which is subtle but whose understanding is absolutely crucial for anyone wishing to write well. I think there’s a strong cinematic influence here – we became aware of the distinction when ‘talking’ cinema and TV got us accustomed to following a narrative by paying attention to what was being said and done, without the need for the elaborate captions of silent cinema. Fundamentally, an author who tries to do my thinking for me, to interpret and explain on my behalf, is treating me disrespectfully. That’s my job, not the author’s. While I’m engaged in this journey of the imagination, guided by the author, I don’t want my guide to get in the way of the experience. I want fresh
Thank You for Your Interest by David Gardiner
Thank You for Your Interest by David Gardiner whether ‘literary’ within my definition or not. I don’t want to be distracted by anything that jars. Mixed tenses, where ‘I got out of bed’ is followed by ‘I go to the bathroom’, or sudden inexplicable changes in point of view, plain grammatical errors or misspellings, failure to break the piece into paragraphs, wronglyused quotation marks – all the things that should have been fixed in the proof-reading stage – will irritate and interfere with my involvement. I have occasionally been asked whether such shortcomings will lead to the immediate rejection of a story, as many editors claim. Received wisdom is that many submissions to editors and publishers are rejected after reading the first sentence. The truth, at least in my own case, is that I try to be a little more patient and charitable than that. I will read to the end of something that is full of technical mistakes if there are other aspects in which it excels. That is rarely the case, I have to say, but I don’t want Gold Dust to miss out on something superb because the writer is dyslexic or never learned the basics of English grammar. Those things can be put right by any jobbing editor like myself, but if there is no magic in the piece it’s beyond an editor’s powers to put it there. Be aware though, by leaving those errors in place, failing to prepare your manu16
script for presentation, you are undoubtedly diminishing its chances of acceptance in a big way. I may not be clever enough to detect the magic amongst the dross. The short story, of whatever kind, shares some characteristics with the poem. It’s a very small window into another world and only some things are going to be visible. Much of the landscape will be merely suggested and will have to be filledin in the reader’s imagination. To change the metaphor, this is a sketch, not a huge painting in oils. The creative process in both the poem and the short story is a cooperative one, it involves the reader as well as the writer. Poetry and short stories are essentially incomplete until interpreted in someone’s imagination. They make more demands of their readers than do novellas or novels, which is why perhaps, even in this era of short attention spans, the novel still exceeds these other forms in popularity. Here are a few points that you may dismiss as mere prejudices on my part, but if you are sending a story to Gold Dust it is to your advantage to know that I have them. I think there should be a feeling of completeness and unity about a short story. It should be possible to say what the story is about, what its theme is. It should have some kind of point.
I don’t think it’s enough just to present a few characters in a certain setting, a snapshot perhaps of somebody’s life, if you have nothing much to say about the people or the situation. I don’t want to be left with the question: Why am I bothering to read this? I also want to feel that the story has been told in the most economical and vivid way possible. Every word should count, no padding or waffle or wandering off the point. Part of the delight of a good short story is marvelling at how much is conveyed in such a small space. I don’t think the actual word count is important, whether it’s five hundred or five thousand, what matters is how the words are used, whether the style is economic and tight or plodding and overblown. In practical terms, however, Gold Dust can only accept stories of up to about 3,000 words. I am a lover of subtext. This is the story that isn’t told at all, but merely implied, beneath the surface of the one that appears on the page. It represents the most extreme case of ‘show’ over ‘tell’. The most famous example, also allegedly the shortest short story in the world, and variously attributed to Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver and O Henry, is this: For sale: newborn baby clothes. Unused. It’s all subtext. The story is cre-
ated inside the reader’s head. Did the woman miscarry? Was it a phantom pregnancy? Can she have no more babies? Why do the clothes need to be sold? Is the couple desperately poor? Can the woman not bear the sight of the clothes after what has happened? Does it make her feel slightly better to think that some other newborn baby somewhere will have the good of them? Each of us writes the story for ourselves. Each of us is moved in our own particular way. If you want another nearperfect example of the use of subtext listen to the words of the Janis Ian song In the Winter. There are all kinds of ‘experimental’ movements in short
Thank You for Your Interest by David Gardiner
story writing which set out to subvert our expectations and depart from accepted wisdom. What I would say about these is that I am not specially looking for that kind of story, but if one arrives and I feel that the ‘experiment’ has been a success I will certainly recommend its acceptance. Aliya Whiteley’s story Sieve in Solid Gold is an example of a story in an unconventional format that actually works, in my view spectacularly. But examples are rare, and the opportunities for pretension abound. The question is, does this story get to me, does it give me a lump in my throat, has it got something to say? How it does this is secondary. I’m not really interested in novelty of
format per se. I have mentioned Solid Gold (Merilang Press, 2009), the recently published anthology of the best short stories from the magazine over the last five years. This is the best place to look for examples of what the Gold Dust team has considered the cream of the short stories submitted, and reading it would be an ideal way to get a feel for the kind of writing we are looking for in this particular magazine. Good luck when you submit your stories – I’m looking forward to reading them. Oh, and thank you for your interest…
To submit to Gold Dust magazine
Our (short) submission guidelines can be found at: www.golddustmagazine.co.uk/Writers Issue 16 of Gold Dust magazine
Solid Gold (Merilang Press, 2009)
An insight into the work of Gold Dust’s Poetry Editor little over two and a half years ago a close friend of mine introduced me to Gold Dust, whereupon I learned that the editorial staff were looking for a poetry editor to join the team. Having been interested in reading and writing poetry from an early age I was very keen to get involved. I had also been the poetry editor for a small independently run publication for literature and the arts during my university days, so this was not my first foray in editing. Having been impressed by the general look of the magazine and the quality of the work featured, I contacted the editorial staff to put myself forward for the job. I was subsequently appointed poetry editor of Gold Dust and began working on the first selection of poems for the Autumn 2007 edition of the magazine. Gold Dust is a magazine that likes to showcase new writers. We are a publication that encourages people to submit their work, regardless of previous exposure or publication. The poetry that is selected is based on the strength of the
poem alone and not how much success the poet has had in getting published. The editorial staff work hard to ensure that all submissions are treated equally, and great care is taken in considering the work that is featured in Gold Dust. Selecting poems for publication in any magazine can be highly subjective and in so being can turn into a bit of a risky business. As an editor I have to continually ask myself a set of basic questions whilst choosing poems for publication. For example, the magazine tends to set a general ‘theme’ per issue; do these poems ‘fit’? Does this particular poem retain the interest of the reader? Is this poem too narrative? What do the readers of Gold Dust expect to see from the poetry that is featured in the magazine? The amount of submissions I get for each issue of the magazine fluctuates greatly. It is when the Gold Dust poetry inbox is overflowing that I find myself being very ruthless and am constantly bearing these questions in mind. Unfortunately many poems end up on the ‘did not
make it’ pile. Regrettably I am unable to enter into conversation with every poet that submits their work to Gold Dust. However, if I find a poem that has great promise but is not quite fit for publication and could do with a few editorial tweaks, I endeavour to contact the poet to offer editorial advice. It is at this point that an editor enters into the unknown. How is the poet going to react to my criticisms and suggestions? Do poets want their work published in its original (unedited) form? How much of the poem’s integrity will be lost through the editorial process? I am of the opinion that a deserving piece of work should, where possible, be published in its purist form, as the author intended. This also includes the original formatting of the piece. I have had both positive and negative comments from poets whom I have (dared) to critique. I think it is the job of a good and confident editor to be able to approach a piece of work, however subjectively, and provide feedback that will not only help the poem as a fin-
ished product but will also encourage the poet to perhaps think more laterally about their work. Trust is also a central issue here. An editor should be able to recognise whether a poem should be left in its purist form, as the author intended, or whether the poem, or certain elements of the poem, need developing or curtailing. Trusting an editor to ensure the poem is showcased in its best form for the printed work is an integral part of submitting poems to publications like Gold Dust. What I am looking for is publishable work. Poems that invite the reader into a kind of discourse. Poems that ask questions, yet do not necessarily provide answers. Poems that provoke thought. I am not looking to dramatically overhaul the poems that are submitted to Gold Dust in order
that they make the final cut. This is where the relationship between editor and poet is based on a mutual understanding of the direction in which both want to see the piece head; to feature a poem in Gold Dust in its best possible form. It is extremely reassuring when the work of an editor is appreciated by the poet. Highlighting the fundamental ‘message’ of the poem is also difficult to quantify. Some could argue that this is easily done with so called ‘clever editing’ or formatting. If as an editor I am reading these poems subjectively, does it not also follow that the person reading the current edition of Gold Dust is going to look upon its featured work with the same outlook; do readers think about the internalised poetic of the
Poetical Promise by Claire Tyne
work that is showcased in Gold Dust? One could argue that it will only ever be the poet that can truly unravel the meaning behind the lines. One of the beauties of reading poetry and discovering new works is the personal journey and very subjective nature of reading itself. Gold Dust endeavours to bring poems of the highest calibre to its readers, and critiquing the poems that are printed in the magazine is a large part of the editorial process. My job is to best represent the poetical content of the magazine without hindering the integrity of the individual poems. And in doing so this (hopefully) ensures that our featured poems are realising their greatest potential.
Gil woz ere 9T7
I pull the receiver away from my smiling mouth and just before I put it down, I hear her say, “Whatever, loser.” here it is. Four panes of scratched glass held in place by some grey metal. It looks perfect. But I actually don’t care what it looks like. Just hope it works. I can’t believe I’ve been driving all this time and this is the first phone box I’ve seen. Anyway, I guess the extra miles gave me extra time to compose what I want to say. I pull in, park the car, handbrake up and when I open the door I disappear into the chalky grey smoke that now surrounds me. I walk through the smoke and to the phone box. I’ve got my opening line down, the middle more or less and a good idea for the final sentence, the way I want to end it. There are no other cars around, no other people, just nothing and I can’t understand why the phone box has somebody in it. I look around, the smoke has cleared and now I’m certain there is nothing else here except me and my surprise. I’ve just thought of a new middle section that will lead off really well from my beginning and really well into my ending. I don’t
want to look at him in case he puts me off and makes me forget my script. I kick dirt while I wait, turning my blue Chuck Taylors grey like the clouds above the phone box, which is still occupied. I look at the reason it’s not free. A man of about midtwenties is leaning, stretching the elbow of his denim jacket, on the little silver box and holding the receiver loosely to his right ear. He uses his left hand to scratch his head. He’s got dirty blonde hair to about his cleft chin and likes to play with it while he talks. The rest of his character is made up of blue denim jeans, two big clumpy brown workman type boots and an annoying dollop of selfishness. I take his raised hand to be an apology for taking so long and raise mine to accept it, but I don’t say anything because he’s still talking and I’m still chewing and thinking. His conversation looks exciting and well rehearsed, and although the dialogue is sort of muffled by the glass, I think I know what he’s saying. Something about jeans or shoes or
something because he keeps looking at my legs but I could be wrong, it’s hard to tell because he’s got a low voice, much lower than mine. There’s a pause, the vibrations stop and I freeze, thinking he’s going to come out. As I stare at his legs through the glass I refocus my eyes on something closer to me. Apparently Gil woz ere 9T7. I take that as fact, as it’s been freshly car key scratched into the glass. I’m unsure of the intended typeface and I think about Gil and what he could look like while I continue to wait. My thinking that Gil could actually be a girl and what she could look like is interrupted by the door opening and the man saying, “All yours.” “Cheers,” I say looking at my grey Chuck Taylors and I walk into the phone box and struggle to close the door. I pick up the black receiver, turn it around a few times to untangle the metal cord and place it back. I wait three seconds, burp twice and gulp once. I pick up the receiver, enter my fifty pence into the coin slot and wait
for it to fall and make that metal on metal sound and then start to dial the digits, pressing down hard on the silver plastic number buttons to make sure that each one of the numbers to this sequence that I have memorised registers properly. Before I press the last one, I turn around to face the door and lift my shoe up to adjust the tongue which always falls to the right. The other one always falls to the left.
With both feet planted on the dusty ground again, I turn around and watch the tiny colourless screen change and add an eight to the end of the other numbers already there when I press the last digit. I hear it ringing. I look up and out through the glass above the phone. It’s on its second full ring when I realise there’s nothing to actually see outside. I look at the tiny ceiling decorated with
Gil woz ere 917 by Jason Vandaele
pink and whitish chewing gum and I wonder if Gil is perhaps an indie girl with brown hair, green eyes and a cool concert ticket collection with stubs from at least two Pavement gigs, with a wardrobe made up of t-shirts with band names on them, jeans that hang tightly below the waist and an assortment of Chuck Taylors. I bet Gil was responsible for the big piece of chewing gum that’s been stretched over the coin return slot and hardened, preventing me from putting the phone down and getting my money back. I look back at the screen and hear what must be the fourth ring. I notice something written on the glass below the phone. I kneel down to read it. If you notice this notice, you will notice this notice is not worth noticing. Do you notice? Loser. The phone continues to ring and I smile at the thought of Gil writing this message in blue Sharpie ink. When I stand up, the phone stops mid-ring and a voice replaces the monotonous drone. “Hello,” she says half heartedly, after repeating exactly the number I’ve just dialled. “Hey, hey, it’s me,” I say, surprised by my own voice. “Oh, what do you want?” she asks, but before I can say my pre-prepared lines she says, “Look, if it’s about the other day I’m not in the mood 21
Gil woz ere 9T7 by Jason Vandaele right now. I said all there is to say about it then.” This throws me a little and my well-rehearsed dialogue becomes a distant memory of something I wish I would’ve said. I am now stuck for something to fill the silence. “Umm.” I continue to be stuck, unable to remember any of the beginning or middle sections. “Look, is there any reason why you called?” she asks me. I turn and look at the nothingness through the dirty scratched glass of the door. There’s nothing new, but there is something. The man. I’m able to see the man through Source: stock.xchng
the glass. Now, I’m looking at his legs. He’s sitting on a log, his knees about level with his shoulders, drawing circles with his finger in the dirt. “Look,” she says. The voice reminds me that I’m still holding the phone to my ear. I lean against the little silver box and rub a faint grey line down the glass in front of me with my left Chuck Taylor. I listen to the girl. I watch the man. “This is the last time I’m going to say it. Got bored, met someone else, liked him better, got rid of you. That’s it. End of. Nothing else to say.” I agree and keep quiet. “What else do you wanna
know?” She continues, “He drinks semi-skimmed milk, bleaches his hair, likes walking, is called, umm, Albert, what? What do you want to know?” The pitch of her question hurts my ear and I have to pull the receiver away from me, but I can still hear her asking the same question. “Nothing.” I say into the mouthpiece, but keep the ear part away from me, “I don’t want to know anything. I don’t care. I just want you to know that that was the best conversation we ever had.” I’m paraphrasing, I think, my planned lines, it’s not exact, but at least I’m sort of remem-
bering them. “I’ve not been this happy for a long time, probably since before I met you. You can keep my stuff ‘cause I’m not coming back. Consider them a reminder of your stupidity and consider this the last fifty pence I will ever waste on you.” I pull the receiver away from my smiling mouth and just before I put it down, I hear her say, “Whatever, loser.” The phone ‘clinks’ as the plastic makes contact with the little metal holder and the cord winds itself effortlessly into a long and thin figure of eight. I adjust my tongue, straighten my back, pocket my key ring, yawn without concealing it and then attract the attention of the man on the log as I struggle to re-open the collapsible door. Not really out of breath but in full view of the man, I walk out of the phone box and kick the dirt as I scuff my walk back to the car. My hands in both pockets and my elbows straight and showing no sign of bend, I finger my keys in my right pocket and a half-empty packet of chewing gum in my left. I like the sound of stones colliding with one another. I kick one a little too hard and it bounces up and hits my bumper, but that sounds cool as well. I turn to see if the man saw this. He’s still sitting doubled over and apparently uninterested in the nothingness Issue 17
that surrounds him. Me too and I get back in the car, turn the key in the ignition and then drive around the phone box, creating my own little second dust cloud as I drive towards the entrance to the road. I drive by the log, still occupied by the man. Once again the sound of something I do causes him to look up and I stop. Leave the engine running and knock it into neutral. He looks at the car, then at me. I look at the log, then at the dirt. I don’t think he’s much of an artist, a few squiggly lines joining two crosses and some other things I can’t really tell upside down. His brown shoes are sort of grey too. I look at him through glass, but wind down my window because I can and because I want to hear clearly anything he has to say. “Hey.” I say. “Hey.” He says. “You lost?” I ask, looking surprised and then puzzled at the puzzle of dirt in front of him. He smiles then as it fades and smoothes over the puzzle with his boots. He looks at the nothingness and I can tell he wants to say ‘No’, but he says, “Yeah, kinda.” “Okay, well, I can give you a ride if you want.” I tell him. He brings his left hand to play with his lips and says, “Yeah, okay, sure.” He stands up, revealing a lot of denim, “I’m Al by the way.”
Gil woz ere 917 by Jason Vandaele
“Oh right, well, umm, just jump right in, Al, and I’ll drop you off somewhere.” He walks around the front of the car, kicking dirt with his boots and tucking his bleach blonde hair behind his ears. I shift it into first gear and take my foot off the brake. It edges forward, then stops. He opens the door and fits comfortably in the passenger seat. He looks at me. “Chuck Taylors, eh? They comfortable, ‘cause someone told me they’re not very good for walking.” I look at him and smile when I see no calcium deficiency lines on his nails, “Who told you that?” He looks at my Sharpie key ring and laughs after saying, “Just somebody I used to know, a girl, said only losers wear them.” “A girl once said that to me as well, but they feel just fine now and I’ve done a lot of walking; besides, let’s just forget what a girl has to say ‘cause you won’t need walking boots anytime soon, right?” I push the Pavement mixtape in, it ‘clinks’ and fades into ‘Heaven is a Truck’. I smile. “So, what’s ya name?” He asks, reaching for a seatbelt. I think of ‘Gil’, but, pressing down on the accelerator pedal, I say “Clem”.
Lost in the Slush Pile with interview extracts from Glimmer Train Stories, One Story & FuseLit From struggling start-ups to thriving old-timers: how editors make a literary magazine work, what entices readers to buy any particular publication, and why writers have everything to gain from the small press slush pile Literary magazines, affectionately known as litmags, are as many and varied as the stories they contain. Some focus on poetry, others on prose. Some include reviews, features and nonfiction pieces, such as memoir, while others prefer a particular style, flash fiction, for example. There are genre mags, specialising in scifi, romance, fantasy, horror and any other speciality you can think of. But all are looking for one thing – the magical harmony that comes from a combination of wonderful writing and plentiful readers.
The majority of litmags pander to editors, writers and readers, often in that order (explaining perhaps the many abortive start-ups). Editors sit at the very top of the small press food chain, the crazy fools that have a dream and give up all their free time (and sometimes cold hard cash) to make it happen. And, unlike the large commercial magazines that can take on a life of their own, these editors control almost every aspect of their periodical, from layout to content. However, those that get too big for their litmag-sized boots and overly focus on their own vision without thinking hard enough about their intended readership will soon find themselves with no subscriptions and little purpose. And there are other, deeper, pitfalls for the new editor to sidestep. The credit crunch has had its impact and the luxury of a magazine subscription is often one of the first cost-cutting 24
measures. With increased competition (and easier ‘one-click’ access) from online magazines, hikes in printing and postage costs, alongside fewer people willing or able to work on a volunteer basis, it’s a tough time to be in the business. As Susan Burmeister-Brown of the popular Glimmer Train Stories (circulation ca. 15,000) notes, ‘We certainly aren't a profitable enterprise. After 20 years, we are now approaching breakeven’. Even successful litmags only sell a few thousand copies, in stark contrast to the more commercial magazines, which can achieve a paid-for circulation of around half a million copies and the best-selling (TV listings) managing over 1million sales. While submissions to litmags are never a problem (hence the title of this piece), subscriptions are always hard to come by. Competition for the small available market is fierce, with literally [pun intended] thousands of litmags both online and in print. And then there’s ‘The Slush Pile’ – the term given to the vast number of unsolicited submissions that form the litmag editor’s never-ending to-read list. While litmags clearly need those subs, it can be trying to wade through what is, all too often, simply slush. However, none of this seems to deter a passionate and impressive number of enthusiasts from establishing start-up litmags, with new titles appearing at a dizzying pace.
So what is it that drives all these hardy souls to create a magazine from scratch and keep trudging through that slush pile week after week? Tanya Rey, the editor of OneStory (circulation ca. 3,000) comments, ‘Hannah and Maribeth [the original editors] saw that more and more venues for short fiction were closing up, and wanted to revive the short story as a literary art form by showcasing it on its own’. Kirsten Irving of FuseLit says that ‘We started the magazine primarily to push through writer's block by asking for new work based on a spurword’ while her fellow editor, Jon Stone, adds, ‘I wanted in on it because I'm a sucker for interesting creative proj-
Clockwise from top left (with circulation): Ambit (2,000) Glimmer Train Stories (15,000) The Paris Review (20,000) Granta (50,000)
Lost in the Slush Pile
ects’. It seems clear that few start a litmag to make their first million. This kind of magazine is about something altogether different, an irrepressible passion – for reading, writing, publishing, literature and anything else to do with ink and paper. If commercial success comes, it is likely to be on a small scale and, while often very welcome, is far from the main concern of most litmag editors.
As writers, it can be tough to deal with the small press. When you submit your short story or poem, it could be weeks before you hear anything back, if ever. And then comes the eventual response, usually an email these days, in the form of a standard rejection note, perhaps just a couple of curt sentences to reject your prized work of genius. It doesn’t feel great, but back to the editors for a moment. The more popular ones receive well over 100 submissions every single week, which is a lot of reading for a magazine often staffed by just one or two people, working for peanuts or on a voluntary basis. Susan Burmeister-Brown of Glimmer Train Stories explains, ‘We give ourselves realistic response time deadlines, and we read all of the time in order to meet those deadlines. Due to the sheer number of submissions and our desire to not have story screeners, we aren't able to give feedback very often’. On the other hand, Kirsty of FuseLit sees feedback as an important part of the process: ‘I try and get back to people within one month, give or take a few days, and even if I'm not accepting a piece, I like to comment on it, however briefly’. To add insult to editorial injury, barely anyone seems to read the submission guidelines, use the spell checker, or know the kind of work your magazine actually publishes. Fewer still can write well and an even tinier number will send in a story that is: (a) a good fit for your current issue; (b) original or exciting in some way; and (c) in a nutshell, worth the time, trouble and effort to ac-
Lost in the Slush Pile
tually publish. On the plus side, if you submit good work often, you have a pretty high chance of standing out from the slush and seeing your name in print. But is it even worth it? Are litmags good news for writers, or a waste of precious writing time that could be better spent plotting a bestseller? Who is going to read or notice your work in a small press magazine anyway? And is that even the point? Most litmags can offer only a token payment, if any. Many pay writers with contributor copies instead. So, great for impressing mum, but how about the rest of the world? It’s worth remembering that litmags have a
Another worthwhile point to consider is that magazine publication is not necessarily the end for your short story or poem, which, once accepted, could end up in a spin-off anthology, or entered for a prestigious prize, such as the worldwide Pushcart Prize or, for stories previously published in US or Canadian magazines, The Best American Short Stories and the O Henry Prize, or it might simply help your work get noticed by one of the big publishing houses, if such is your wont. Litmag circulations, while modest in comparison with their commercial counterparts, are far more targeted, often reaching editors, publishers and industry insiders at speed. And, of course, some magazines do pay quite well. Glimmer Train Stories prides itself on
OneStory: a litmag success story
long and established tradition, going back to the 1800s when the first fiction journals appeared. Litmag publication is still very much about prestige for emerging writers and giving something back for established ones (although publication in one of the better known titles brings a level of prestige that even well-known writers aspire to, much as big screen actors like to perform on Broadway and the West End). Many, many of our most celebrated authors were first published in litmags. 26
its track record: ‘We have always paid our writers. We started back in 1990 paying $500 upon acceptance, and we now pay between $700$2,000 depending on the category of submission, and still upon acceptance. It's a decision we made from the very beginning, and we're glad we did’. Meanwhile OneStory says it’s ‘very important [to pay our writers]. We wish we could pay more, but right now each author is paid $100 per issue’. However, none of these carrots - payment,
prestige, prizes - are really at the heart of a good litmag. Writers with submissions should look to those with an editorial team in love with the whole world of writing and simply wanting to share that with as many readers as possible. These are the ones that consistently publish wonderful writing in a gorgeous format. So much for writers, but what can litmags offer readers? Aren’t they really for writers? Subversive or genre prose has an obvious market, albeit a small one – there will always be those who devour anything sci-fi or romancerelated. But what of the broader genre litmags? While vast competition waters down individual circulations, the combined litmag market is not to be sneezed at and shows there are many readers who love to receive a regular taste of quality, current, writing. These readers know there’s no better or more enjoyable way to tap into the zeitgeist than by reading people’s stories about what they are feeling, thinking and experiencing right now. Thanks to the digital age, it’s now possible for subscribers to both pay and receive every issue of their favourite magazine direct to their inbox. It’s no longer even necessary to spend tedious moments downloading PDFs, as online magazine viewers, such as Issuu, used by Gold Dust, make possible instant and appealing reading. And, perhaps most telling of all, litmags offer stories and poetry that someone somewhere felt passionate enough about to give up their own spare time, probably for little recompense, to wade through the slush pile for, so once you find a magazine that coincides with your own reading tastes, you can rest assured that it’ll be worth every penny of its subscriber fee.
The secrets of success
What, then, qualifies as a successful litmag? If we first define a litmag, the Encyclopaedia BriIssue 17
Lost in the Slush Pile
tannica has this to say of little magazines: ‘any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial’. The key point of ‘non-commercial’ is vital – as we have seen, there is little profit in the field and so money is rarely a driving force. But ‘avantgarde’ is also significant, as so many litmags have the option of publishing work that would struggle to see the light of day elsewhere, due to its experimental or uncommercial nature.
The Pushcart Prize Small press magazines worldwide can submit their best stories for this prestigious prize, to be published in an anthology.
Harder to define is a ‘successful’ litmag. First we need to pin down the criteria, because if we’re dealing with ‘non-commercial’ magazines, then sales and subscriptions are not the obvious benchmark. Litmag critiques often look instead at the number of writers published in the magazine that have gone on to greater things, or the number of short stories published that have won noted prizes (the Perpetual Folly blog even publishes a ratings list based on the number of Pushcart prize-winning stories a magazine has published). The number of
Lost in the Slush Pile The stunning FuseLit, every issue unique (and based on a unique word). This issue’s cover has been artistically burnt to resemble bullet holes and then wrapped up like a birthday present. It is an artwork all by itself, before you even get started on the content. Every issue comes with a CD containing such goodies as performance poetry and music, and often also a ‘bonus booklet’ with extra poetry or event details. As you turn the gorgeously illustrated, cleverly laid out pages, you can feel the heat of creativity seeping from every issue of this very special litmag, which is clearly a labour of love. More than justifies its modest cover price, currently just £4.
submissions, solicited or otherwise, can also be a significant clue as to a magazine’s reputation and whether writers are clamouring for the prestige of being published within its hallowed pages. Niche or genre litmags, with their even smaller share of the market, may be judged on how experimental or avant-garde their stories are. Another possible measurement is longevity – how sustainable is the magazine, how commited the team behind it, how long will its readers and writers continue to support it? Some have impressive histories, dating back to the beginnings of litmag history (such as Granta, started in 1889), although naturally they will have changed hands and outlooks many times in the interim, the present form little resembling the original publication. Irrespective of all of these rather random criteria, however, a truly successful litmag will always be one that comes with a love of all things literary, a quality that shines through all its content for likeminded readers to wallow in. Given then, that most litmags have this precious quality in spades, what separates those 28
that endure from the ones that fold after just a few issues? Why do some achieve large circulation figures, attracting an avalanche of submissions, while others simply peter out? While the short story represents little commercial competition to the novel, there is clearly a market for those who enjoy reading short creative fiction and will pay to do so, as the success of litmag giants such as Granta (circulation ca. 50,000) and The Paris Review (circulation ca. 20,000) show. Why, then, do most litmags struggle to achieve even 5,000 sales? Nearly all litmags, which are by definition small press or ‘little magazines’, run into financial hardship at times. Even the big names, such as The Kenyon Review, in its own words, “perhaps the best known and most influential literary magazine in the English-speaking world during the 1940s and '50s”, had to close for ten years before its revival in 1979. Granta also ran into trouble around this time, but was revived the same year and has gone on to be one of the most popular litmags of all time. First of all, as we’ve seen, there is a lot of
Lost in the Slush Pile
competition, so sloppiness just won’t cut it. Some litmags are overly focused on their fiction at the expense of a clear, attractive and readable layout or, even worse, the opposite! Other new magazines fold because they are one-person bands, and with all the aforementioned pitfalls, they simply run out of steam. Magazine publishing tends to work best with a team in charge, as there are so many different jobs – handling submissions, organising the layout, liaising with printers and distributors (or uploading the magazine online), maintaining the website, and marketing it all when published. Not to mention organising funding: selling advertising; obtaining grants and patrons; arranging competitions. All far too time-consuming for most individuals, but great fun as a team.
Litmags - what next?
For the litmags that can struggle through the credit crunch tunnel with their big ideas intact, there should be lots of readers waiting for them at the other end. As OneStory‘s Tanya Rey com-
ments, ‘We always have grander plans. We would always like to grow, but we are in the midst of a growth spurt right now – we've almost doubled in size in the past year – so we're feeling pretty grateful for that at the moment’. Susan Burmeister-Brown of Glimmer Train Stories agrees: ‘Of course it would always be nice to have more subscribers, but we are pretty happy with where things stand’. And at the other end of the litmag ideology, some editors are keen not to grow. Kirsty of FuseLit says (of its circulation): ‘It's going up all the time, though hopefully it won't go too high, as it takes so long to produce each copy’. Editor Jon adds, ‘Yeah, we kind of keep it artificially low because the time it takes to print and build each copy makes us reluctant to publicise it too heavily’. It seems that, in the world of litmags, so long as you have caught the literary bug, and have a team around you with the same affliction, just about anything goes.
Great litmags to sample
(Circulations can vary widely from issue to issue; these are best estimates)
UK-based Granta (www.granta.com) Themed issues, Granta has published many established authors. Circulation: 50,000 Since 1889 Quarterly FuseLit (www.fuselit.co.uk/index.html) Each issue is based on a different spur word Circulation: 100 Since 2005 Varies Ambit (www.ambitmagazine.co.uk) Known for its edgy and often controversial content Circulation: 2,000 Since 1959 Quarterly
US-based Glimmer Train Stories (www.glimmertrain.com/index.html) Run by two fiction-loving sisters. Circulation: 15,000 Since 1990 Quarterly The Paris Review (www.theparisreview.org/index.php) Circulation: 20,000 Since 1953 Quarterly One Story (www.one-story.com) Around 20 pages, this is a single story magazine Circulation: 3,000 Since 2001 Every 3 weeks
Faces in the Smoke: The Story of Josef Perl by Arthur Christopher Benjamin (Sylvia Perl, 2001) £8.00 Reviewed by Vicky Thompson At 13, Vicky is the youngest person ever to have had a submission accepted by Gold Dust. This piece is based on a talk at her school.
Faces in the Smoke is an incredible story presenting the thoughts, dreams and terrors faced by a 10-year-old Jewish boy during the Holocaust of the Second World War. The book is dedicated to all the people brutally murdered in the gas chambers of Adolf Hitler's 'Final Solution'. Josef Perl was born on 27 April 1930. On the day of his birth no-one gave a thought to how much Josef’s life and presence in this world would change others’ outlooks on their own lives. Josef lived with his family in the small town of Veliky Bochkov in Czechoslovakia, where many different religions co-existed. He was born into an orthodox Jewish family; Josef says they were not ‘frantically religious’, but they took their religion seriously. The Perl children would study Jewish scripture, as well as attending an academic school. Josef was part of a family of nine, of which he was the eighth child and only son. His father would often bring businessmen home for maths lessons and would let his son join in. Josef says he ‘admired and respected’ his father, who ran a sawmill and dealt in wood. The Perl family’s large house, adjacent to the syna30
gogue, was a smallholding with many animals. Josef also talks of great family memories, such as collecting fruit from the orchard and arguing with his sisters. He talks about what his sisters grew up to do. Josef said he would study medicine like his sister Sara, who became a nurse. He speaks highly of his mother, saying: ‘Even when she was angry with me, my mother still carried out a kind deed’. The Perl family seemed to be quite well-off; Josef’s father had a stable job and they were well respected. Of course, his childhood was soon to change as when he was just nine years old the world descended into WWII. Josef and his family were deported to a makeshift concentration camp in 1940 and then transferred from one camp to another, with practically all of Josef’s family losing their lives along the way, until his liberation from Buchenwald in 1945. He witnessed the murder of his mother, four of his eight sisters and their five children. I started reading Faces in the Smoke after listening to another Holocaust survivor give a talk at my secondary school. ‘Difference Day’ was one secondary school’s way of teaching about the Holocaust, using something other than traditional textbook and ‘chalk and talk‘ teaching. This idea has been taken up in many other secondary schools across the country. Josef himself is not always able to come to deliver the talk in person, but a number of Holocaust survivors and drama groups visit schools to talk to the children and answer their questions. The book begins by explaining the settingup of Difference Day, and the thinking behind it. It
Review: Faces in the Smoke: The Story of Josef Perl by Arthur Christopher Benjamin
goes on to say that Josef himself nearly wasn’t able to go to the school to give the first talk. A few days before, his wife Sylvia had to phone the school and explain that Josef had been unwell and would need an operation that would take place around the same time as the Difference Day event. Josef's story silences the room full of children. Listening to his story, it's almost as if you are inside it yourself; he is talking directly to you, it seems, his story is one that will stick with you for many years to come. The talk at our school was pretty harrowing, but Josef’s book just takes you somewhere else. Both the talk and the book showed me how lucky I really am. Faces in the Smoke took me aback, it is such an exciting, sad, beautiful, dramatic, amazing story about a situation I can't even begin to contemplate being in. But the book takes you to that situation, to where Josef was, and you see the world through his eyes. When reading the book I could almost forget that I was reading. Just learning the history of the Holocaust does not compare with reading the book and getting inside the mind of one of its victims. Josef’s story for me was a revelation. I knew
the situation was terrible, but I didn’t know how terrible. Faces in the Smoke gave me a huge insight into what really happened, and how Josef experienced it, not just how we learn it as another lesson at school. The book evokes lots of different emotions. I was angry at the Nazis, then scared and worried for Josef and everyone else. Although I expected these kinds of feelings, their strength was a total surprise. The book gave me a different outlook on the world, on stereotypes and how I look at people who are different to me. Stereotypes are stereotypes and you have to learn to ignore them and see people who are different to you as they really are, which is usually not that different after all. I would encourage each and every one of you to rush out and buy a copy of this book and to read it perhaps more than once. Then and only then will you begin to appreciate the horrific and harrowing story of Josef Perl and his experiences during the Holocaust of WWII. This story is without doubt one of the most thought-provoking stories I have read in my short life so far.
Josef & Sylvia Perl
June 2010 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
I couldn’t see his face because the knife was sticking into my Adam’s apple... went to a short-story reading yesterday. I don’t usually go to such events, but I’d read that one of the writers was an ex-pat living near Portbou on the north-east coast of Spain and I wondered if he was the same guy I’d met there back in ‘95. I was sleeping on the beach there for a whole summer back then, hiding. Uni hadn’t gone well; it had been coming up to my finals and I didn’t need a crystal ball to know what was going to happen. I’d only enrolled in Economics and Business Studies to please my father (he thought it best for me to keep my artistic aspirations to myself and prepare to join the family business). I knew I was letting my parents down by running away, but I needed time and space to sort myself out and, as I’d done a few years of Spanish at school, Spain seemed the obvious place to go. To begin with I spent all day every day lying in the sun, wondering what the hell I was going to do. It took me a few weeks to stop worrying. After that time I still didn’t know what
I was going to do, but I was fairly sure I’d be able to cope with whatever it was. I’d been there for about two months when, overnight, I began to feel uneasy. I became convinced I was being spied on. I thought my parents must’ve tracked me down and were having me watched. Why they would want to do that wasn’t clear – I’d written to them to say I’d be in touch when I’d sorted myself out – but who else could it be? Wherever I went, I could feel someone watching me. I’d pretend to be absorbed in a newspaper in the hope of catching whoever it was, but they were obviously better at the game than I was. This went on for nearly two weeks. It got so bad that I considered moving on, but I was reluctant to do that because I still wasn’t ready to leave. So I waited. But I waited too long. One night I was woken by someone restraining me with a rope or a belt. They were looping it over my head and wrapping whatever it was around my sleeping bag, so I couldn’t get my arms out. I was panicking as I strug-
gled to get free. I could see a shadowy figure, but nothing more. I didn’t know whether it was sex, or money, or what that they were after. I only stopped struggling when I felt the point of a knife at my throat. ‘That’s better,’ he said. I couldn’t see his face because the knife was sticking into the side of my Adam’s apple, preventing me from turning my head. ‘There’s no point struggling, you’re not going anywhere.’
He had a strange voice. It was difficult to understand what he was saying. He was speaking English, but with apparent difficulty, almost painfully, as though his mouth was deformed or something. ‘You’re lucky,’ he said. ‘I once saw a movie in which Jack Nicholson woke Marlon Brando up by cutting his throat.’ ‘What...what d’you want?’ I asked, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth and the point of the knife pricking me. ‘What do I want? It’d be fucking light by the time I told you all the things I want. And what would be the point of telling you, anyway? You’re not my fairy fucking godmother, are you? Because if you are, let me tell you, I’d like my life
back. I’d like to be the same as everyone else, normal, without a fucking plate in my skull. Normal people don’t have that, do they? Is that enough to be getting on with, fairy fucking godmother?’ I didn’t say anything. I felt sick with fear and my mouth was too dry to form words. Besides, what could I say? He was rambling on about himself. I couldn’t understand half of it, but I gathered he had been in the army. He said he’d been shot in the head. The information did nothing to ease my anxiety. ‘Some people say you have to expect things like that. They say there’s something honourable about getting wounded when you’re fighting. They told us that in Ireland. So why couldn’t it have happened then, eh? Why couldn’t some bastard Mick have shot me? No, that would’ve been too easy. You want to know something funny? We weren’t even on a tour of duty. I was in the barracks back home, shot by some twat who didn’t know how to hold a rifle. And people ask why I talk funny. They’d talk fucking funny if half their head had been blown away by some stupid twat with a rifle.’ His mood kept changing. One minute he would be shouting and the next he’d sound quite reasonable. Then he’d be silent for a time, or would lean forward and start whispering. I
Beached by Mel Fawcett
was thinking more about the knife than about what he was saying. I was worried that he might lean forward and push it into my throat by mistake. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, during one of his silences, ‘but I still don’t know what you want – of me, I mean.’ ‘I want you to shut the fuck up while I talk, that’s what I want. Is that too much to ask? Or would you rather I pushed this blade a bit further and got you to shut the fuck up permanently?’ I tried to retreat further into the sand, but the pressure of the knife remained the same. ‘You want to know what I want?’ he resumed after a moment. ‘I want to have someone listen to what I have to say.’ And the weird thing was, that really was all he wanted. He told me that because of his speech impediment no-one ever listened to him. They thought he was drunk and they shunned him. He said he’d come to Spain because he thought his defective speech would go unnoticed, but because of his poor Spanish he felt more self-conscious than ever. So he searched out English tourists and waited until they were alone. I must have reacted somehow when he mentioned that, because he suddenly put his face very close to mine: ‘Has my fairy fucking godmother got a problem with 33
Beached by Mel Fawcett
that?’ His breath stank of beer. ‘No. I was... I was just wondering... why me?’ He laughed, but not in a friendly or humourous way. ‘That’s what I used to say. Why me? Why the fuck did it happen to me? Why couldn’t it have been the twat who shot
me? Why couldn’t he have shot himself? There wouldve been some justice in that.’ He said he had no gripe with the army or the authorities; he said they gave him a good pension that allowed him to live without working. ‘Just as well, isn’t it? Who’d employ someone like
me? I couldn’t hold down a job even if they gave me one. You know what the worst thing is? There’s nothing to look forward to. That’s the worst thing: there’s nothing to look forward to. ‘My girlfriend went off with someone else. Who can blame her? Where’s the future with someone like me? My parents are the only ones who care and who wants a doting mother and father at my age?’ He seemed to have calmed down again and I was desperate to get the knife away from my throat. Even though it was no longer pressing into me – he’d moved it so the blade was flat against my skin – the threat was still there. ‘I don’t pretend to know what it’s like for you,’ I said. ‘No-one can blame you for being angry, but you can’t go through life getting people to listen by threatening them with a knife.’ ‘Can’t I? You’re listening, aren’t you? You’re not going anywhere.’ ‘But...for your own sake...’ ‘What the fuck do you care about my sake? You’re shitting yourself because you’ve got a knife at your throat, that’s all you care about.’ ‘Yes, but also maybe there’s an answer.’ ‘What, put the knife to my own throat, is that what you’re
gonna say?’ ‘No, but I know what I’d do if I were you.’ ‘Oh yeah, everyone’s good at giving advice. I’ve been to more shrinks than you’d believe, every one of them with such good advice. Come on then, smart arse, what would you do if you had a steel plate in your head and if your whole life had been fucked by a twat with a rifle?’ ‘You’ve done things noone else has done and things have happened to you that haven’t happened to many people, you’ve got things to say.’ ‘What the fuck are you on about?’ I told him to write it all down, to write his memoirs or a novel or short stories, anything; it didn’t matter, as long as he wrote about what had happened to him. I didn’t know if he even knew how to write and I didn’t give a damn whether he became a writer or not – he could have become a bloody trapeze artist for all I cared – just as long as he took his knife away from my throat. He was angry at the suggestion at first and I thought I’d made a mistake. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘No-one’s going to turn away from a magazine or book because the author has a speech impediment, are they? They won’t know what you speak like because Issue 17
they’ll be reading your words, not listening to them.’ ‘Perhaps you’ve got something,’ he said after a while. ‘I could tell people what it’s like, couldn’t I? I could tell people what it’s like to have a bullet blow half your fucking head away. Not many people know that.’ ‘That’s right.’ He finally took the knife away from my throat. I think I must’ve closed my eyes in relief – I might even have lost consciousness for a moment – because the next thing I was aware of was that I was alone. He had disappeared into the darkness. It was only then that I realised I’d wet myself. It took me forever to wriggle free of the rope, but I didn’t mind; he’d gone, that’s all I cared about. I didn’t see him again. I don’t know what happened to him. Maybe he went away and started writing. I didn‘t wait around to find out. I returned to the UK the following day. I wouldn’t have been able to relax on the beach after that. Besides, I didn’t want to. I’d wasted enough time. I wanted to get on with my life. I went back and faced my parents, told them I didn’t want to do Business Studies any more. They weren’t as upset as I’d expected. As it happens, I didn’t become the famous artist I’d
Beached by Mel Fawcett
hoped to be. I went to art school and stuck at it for a few years afterwards, but I eventually realised I was never going to make it. So what did I do? I joined the family business. Although it’s not what I’d hoped for in life, it could be worse. But I was telling you about the short-story reading. When I first heard about it I was in two minds whether or not to go. I thought that maybe he wouldn’t take kindly to being reminded of what he’d been like and how he used to tie people up and threaten them. It could’ve been embarrassing. But I also started thinking I might get credit for having put him on the right path. Well, if it hadn’t been for me, who could say what would’ve happened to him? He might even have met his match and had someone stick the knife in him. I might have saved him from a lot of pain. That’s what I was thinking, anyway. So you can imagine how I felt when I saw that the writer from Portbou wasn’t him after all. This guy was much older and very articulate, nothing like the angry guy with the metal plate in his skull. Still, I stayed and listened to him read his story. It was all right. It was about a young man living on the beach in Portbou because he’d had some kind of breakdown at university.
The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis (Holland Park Press, 2010) ISBN: 978-1-907320-08-8 £8.99
live in a fenced-off religious kibbutz in British Mandate Palestine; as Tonia says, ‘not even a country’, surrounded by illegal Israeli Army training camps and hostile Arabs who stone Tonia’s school bus as she commutes each day to Jerusalem for her education. We watch the entire pageant of the birth of the Jewish homeland, followed by the slow fading of the shining dream in the face of the unending violence generated by the competing visions and rival territorial claims of Jew and Arab. Arab/Israeli politics are far from simple, and there is probably no such thing as an here are clearly two agendas in Yale unbiased account of the birth agonies of IsPolitis’ debut novel The Lonely Tree: rael, or indeed of any other nation. I can one is the violent birth of the modern judge neither the authenticity of the account state of Israel in the aftermath of the presented of the daily life of this Jewish famHolocaust, the other a young girl’s quest for ily in this particular place and time, nor the roots, a loving relationship and a secure accuracy of the portraits painted of the various parties in the struggle. All I can say, as place in the world. Fifteen-year-old Tonia is one of three someone who was a student in Belfast durchildren of devoted and idealistic Zionist ing Northern Ireland’s last eruption into vioJosef Schulman, who counts it a privilege to lent struggle, is that everything rings true; harness the future of his family to the for- this is the way people behave in the grip of tunes of the emerging Jewish homeland, a nationalistic dream. All credit to Politis for and his more down-to-earth but essentially her refusal to demonise or propagandise. I believe that she has made an heroic effort to submissive and traditional wife Leah. In a long flashback we are told of how paint as accurate a picture of her story’s setJosef moved his family out of Poland in the ting as anybody can. And what a fascinatsecond year of Hitler’s chancellorship of ing and dramatic setting it is. This is one of those books that spans Germany; by doing so, undoubtedly saving all of them from extermination. They now decades of someone’s life, beginning with
her arrival in the embryonic Jewish homeland, falling in love, then fleeing Arab occupation to America, taking in the creation of a business, an ill-fated marriage and then a bitter-sweet reconciliation with her teenage sweetheart followed by a return to Israel and a way of life for which, tainted by American materialist values, she is no longer prepared. And to crown it all she and her new husband have arrived just in time for another war. Although well over 400 pages, this book seems short and fast-paced. Politis’ style is restrained, economical and mostly understated. She is a remarkably unobtrusive author. I believe that you will find not a single dull paragraph in this entire work. It is a grip-
Review: The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis
ping insight into the psyche of several different kinds of person, a vivid account of the forces that drive both human idealism and human destructiveness. Despite the grim nature of much of its subject matter, the book is inhabited by an indomitable faith in human goodness and dignity. The intensely moving letter with which it ends sums up much that has gone before: I am a stateless Jew, welcome in no land. The country of my birth is buried in the ashes of my family and my people. My new home is in flames and surrounded by those who wish only for our destruction. But before I die, I declare myself a free man, inheritor of nationhood.
Find out more
Yael Politis, author http://yaelpolitis.wordpress.com Look inside this book at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/y3qms69 Yael Politis grew up in Dearborn, Michigan as Janet Lewis and graduated from Edsel Ford High School. She attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for two years, then transferred and graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1973 she came to Israel and has been there ever since. Her first months in Israel were spent in Kibbutz Regavim, in the beautiful Menashe area. Many call it the Tuscany of Israel. Then she spent a short time in Jerusalem before going to Kibbutz Ein Tsurim, today near Ashkelon, but originally one of the Gush Etzion settlements. Her ‘adopted family’ from Ein Tsurim remain an important part of her life. Her ‘father’ was the Sandak for both her son and recently for her youngest grandson. She spent 14 years in Gush Katif, where she raised her children. She left years before the Disengagement, so was spared that grief, but what happened there still broke her heart. Gush Katif was the one place she was part of a community and felt at home. After leaving Gush Katif she lived in Jerusalem and then Ashdod, but eventually decided that she is not a city girl and moved back to the Menashe area. She recently bought a home in Pardes Hanna, not far from Kibbutz Regavim where she started out.
June 2010 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
Please feel free to smile At 13, Vicky is the youngest person ever to have had a submission accepted by Gold Dust. The need to come to terms with a death in her family was the starting point of this piece of writing
Let me tell you a story. Her story, and her story alone... f someone told you today that your life was going to end before the year was through, what would you do? I’m sure you wouldn’t smile, shake their hand and thank them for the information. Would you be able to take it on the chin, accepting your fate? What is your gut feeling? Would you scream and cry? Would you believe it? There is no right or wrong reaction, only your reaction, or my reaction. Would you even be able to summon up a sentence? Most people would probably think about their families and what the future would hold for them, but all would surely be wondering: Why? Why me? Why am I being so cruelly taken from the world? I did nothing wrong! So why me? So many questions, so many without answers. Things that go unsaid because of the pain of the words. Or the pain of other’s reactions. But until it happens to you, you can’t imagine what you would do, and many can’t even face thinking about death. Can you? Could you face leaving
loved ones behind? Could you face not knowing what might lie ahead for them? You may not know what you are doing with your life yet, but for some of us our future is already set in stone. And it’s not hearts, rainbows and smiley faces either. The reality is death, I am sorry to sound blunt. And whether you like it or not, that is it. We all live and we all die. Life is hard, after all it kills you. It’s a short and amazing and wonderful and terrible thing, but for some the end comes sooner than for others. Let me tell you a story. Her story, and her story alone. But for now, you must go. Go until I can write you her story. Write it in a way you will understand. So, go, until I have figured this out. Shut the door on your way out, and please feel free to smile, because you never know, it could be your last chance. The Story “Can Mummy play?” my sevenyear-old son asks bashfully, waving a small plastic doll in his mother’s face.
“Not right now, sweetie, Mummy is sleeping.” I steal a glance towards my small wife. “Can she play later?” he asks, his big brown eyes staring up at me hopefully. “Maybe,” I smile, watching him clamber up on to the small hospital bed and patting the duvets down around his mum. He gently touches her hand. “Can Mummy feel that?” he whispers, his eyes glazing over. “I hope so, darling,” I manage to whisper, quickly wiping my eyes before Anton sees my tears. “Is Mummy going to be okay?” Anton’s stare is becoming more intense by the second. “I…I don’t know,” I stutter. “Why not?” he asks, sliding down from the bed. His black shoes make a small thud as he falls to the floor. “I can’t say,” I whisper, and lean forward to try to sweep him up into my arms. But he steps backwards, his face becoming red. Tears glisten in his eyes, and he begins to stamp his foot. “Mummy,” he demands, “Wake up, Mummy! Muuuuuu-
uummy!” Tears fall fast down his little red puffy cheeks. “Hey, don’t cry, darling,” I smile, trying to walk towards him again. “I want Mummy,” he whispers. Drying his eyes with his clenched fist he manages to scramble back up on to the hospital bed, curling into a tight ball and nuzzling his head into his mother’s hip. “Wake up, Mummy,” he begs.
That night. It was that night. That night I regret. That night that was Thursday, the sixteenth of July 2009. That night when my wife slowly meandered out of our small wooden front door. I guess this all seems pretty normal to you, so far? Well no, even this was strange behaviour for Katrina. After 11 years of married life and 7 years of parental life I guess I had grown to know a lot about Katrina, and to me this wasn’t normal behaviour. Normally she would rush through the door and take our seven-year-old straight into her arms, asking if he’d had a good day, whether he had any homework, what he wanted for his tea, what they would watch on the telly that evening. Then she
would make her way towards me, smiling gently, her arms open wide, her body slotting perfectly into my arms, her kiss lingering on my lips and her scent all around me and filling the air. But that night it didn’t happen. That night, something was different. Katrina stood in the doorway, attempting to take off her small light brown Ugg boots. Her short blonde hair was clipped into a ponytail, her clothes a mess. Her legs were shaking slightly as she clung to the doorframe, like a monkey to a tree, trying to steady herself. Anton smiled as he walked up to her. He smiled his coy sweet smile and opened his small arms wide, mirroring what his mother would usually do. “Mummy?” he whispered. But instead of running to hug
I didn’t really understand that the whole scenario was having such an effect on Anton. He was normally just a quiet bashful child that did whatever he was told and took most things for granted. He was adorable and was pretty much loved by everyone. I was always extremely proud that he was mine. His big eyes and delicate features resembled those of his mother. It’s not that I didn’t expect this to have an impact on my son. I knew he was going to be devastated when he found out, but I didn’t quite expect it to have this sort of effect from such an early stage. I’d never properly understood my wife and now it seemed that I didn’t understand my son either. It can only go up from here? Right? Apparently not. The situation I am in probably needs explaining. Well… It all began on that night. That warm summer’s evening out in Sydney…
Please feel free to smile by Vicky Thompson
Please feel free to smile by Vicky Thompson him tightly, to smell his hair or kiss him gently, she made no response. Katrina stayed glued to the same spot, clinging still on to the varnished doorframe. “Katrina,” I caled. Her head snapped around as she looked first towards Anton and then at me. Her voice was unsteady as she whispered Anton’s name. She tried to release her grip from the doorframe and bent down, I assumed to hug Anton, but instead had to grab the small pine table on her left. Her eyes seemed to be rolling in her head. “Kat!” I rushed to her side, slipping my hand into hers. “Who are you? Get off!” she screamed, snatching her hand out of mine. A look of disgust. A shiver down her spine. That was all I meant to my Kat that night. Kat coached ice skating at one of the Sydney ice rinks. My first thought was that she might have had an accident. “Kat, did you fall over at the rink today?” My hand sat ever so gently on her small rounded shoulder. She shook her head and shook my hand off her. She started babbling absentmindedly, words that made no sense. I guided her into the living room, our small son watching our every move, his gaze not shifting from his mother’s eyes. “Andrew, what are you doing? I need to make Anton 40
some tea before bed.” Katrina pulled herself out of the chair and walked casually into the kitchen, swinging the door open wide. Exchanging her coat for a jumper and her bag for a spatula she called Anton into the room. He trotted in obediently, a crayon in his small grasp. Katrina took the crayon and set it on the windowsill for no apparent reason, before quizzing him on possible dinner choices for that evening – like every other night. I shook my head and tried to take in the evening’s events. What just happened, I asked myself, walking upstairs to change out of my business clothes. I kept running the events over in my mind, searching for some sort of meaning, a reason of some kind. The night got progressively worse. Katrina kept forgetting, losing her balance, and this is when I made my first mistake. I should have taken her to the hospital. Brushing each event off, I put everything down to a fall at coaching today. It happens, I have coached ice skating as well. Minor concussions are common. Mostly it doesn’t mean a thing. I should have listened that night when she told me she felt unwell. I shouldn’t have shrugged it off. I should have listened and got her checked
out there and then. My final clue came when Katrina couldn’t even perform her favourite task of the evening, reading Anton a bedtime story. The words confused her. She said them wrongly and spoke in Russian. She messed up the sentences and had to stop. Katrina had been concussed before. I would say too many times, but this was just ridiculous. I kept telling myself we would get her checked out tomorrow. Day after day, I told myself the same thing. Tomorrow. Tomorrow... But as things got worse I put it off even longer. This was my second mistake. It was indeed procrastination – putting something off for as long as you can, because really you don’t want to do it. Maybe If I had reacted quicker, she wouldn’t be… But no, this is stupid. She was always going to… Excuse me, please. I quickly draw your attention back to the present day, where I am still sitting. Sitting beside her, her sleeping body sprawled across the small hospital bed, our son playing quietly by her feet. Wiping a stray tear from my eye, I take her hand in mine. She stirs, but does not wake. Please feel free to smile – you never know. It could be your last chance.
Imagined You Sunday morning, and you dawn After too much Chianti you wake up late To a crush of vibrant birdsong And the violent light of city daybreak. The languid bourgeoisie are still loafing Smugly over orange juice and Daily Mails Your eyes sting, face smeared with mascara The face in the mirror blotched and pale. A flood of images; Saturday night Your thoughts drop like pebbles into water Each with a splash of avowed escape The ravenous dreams of an only daughter. Your iPod opens a drowsy subtext Of other lives and Sunday stirrings The bathos of the loved and lost You doss around for hours, long past caring. If I could show your future now I would The claustrophobic web of vague deceits And the little spurts of assertiveness Before your sullen, brooding late retreats. I would find a city to fit your soul Then pack your bags and check the times I would book your wing and say a prayer And find you space to say your last goodbyes. Platform 8 for Camden or Bloomsbury? With your books, your secret looks and violin All packed and ready for a long sojourn To save your dreams; but how could I begin? John Stocks
Illustration: Owen Pomery
A Little Magic
I hear my mom saying to I-don’t-know-who that the doctors say Grandma Tina won’t make it another year... pring before last, my six-year-old daughter Blayse and I are hanging around the back yard together. It is a nice warm day and she is bored, looking for something to do. I am stressed and wishing she could find something to do that didn’t involve following me around, talking a million-milesa-minute. I look down at the ground, overgrown with bright green clover, thinking how I need to get a weed-whacker. Suddenly, in a rare flash, I’m six years old again. I’m staying the weekend with my Grandma Tina in her one-room apartment, like I do nearly every weekend. Tina has cancer. They removed her nose last year and now she wears a white triangular bandage where her nose used to be. Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes, at night, she takes the bandage off and I can see straight into her face, these weird fleshy tubes go up to Idon’t-know-where, doing Idon’t-know-what. I know that I am the only person in the whole wide world, except maybe for the doctors, who
has seen Grandma Tina without the bandage on. Swollen with the specialness of this secret, I am determined not to stare when the bandage is off. Secrets like these seem very grown up and I know that grown-ups would never stare at a thing like that, so I swear to myself that I won’t. Only, I can’t stop myself. I stare. But Grandma Tina never seems to notice. She just goes right on cooking or cleaning or talking to me as if everything is the way it should be; as if she’s got a nose on her face and the world is right. But this day, she is wearing the bandage. I’m talking a million-miles-a-minute about Idon’t-know-what. Tina smiles and nods, but her eyes are tired and far away. She says I ought to go outside and play. I say there’s nothing to do outside. Can I squish flies when they land on the screen door instead? Grandma Tina goes to the screen, surveying the warmth of the day beyond. “You should look for a four-leaf clover,” she says, pointing to a green patch just outside the door.
“Huh?” I ask, uninterested, eyeballing a fly making its way up the screen. “You don’t know about the four-leaf clover?” Grandma Tina leans down to look me in the eye. “Some people say they’re magic, you know.” She’s got me hooked now and it’s not just the word ‘magic’ that captures my attention. Firing in her eyes is a hint of mischief, a dash of pleasure, and maybe a little magic of her own. “If you can find a clover with four leaves instead of three, it’s supposed to be good luck. Lucky for the rest of your life, that’s what I heard.” With this little piece of enchantment in my heart, I set out to find the charmed greenery. I search. I hunt. I become frustrated when my eyes play tricks and I think I’ve found it, only to discover that I’m wrong. Eventually I become discouraged and truck back inside, sullen and silent. I try again the following day and the day after. Then the following weekend, I discover patches of clover in the schoolyard and I spend my recess breaks there, plucking them
shaped leaves. “Now,” I whisper, “If you can find one with a fourth heart, it’s very special. It brings good luck. It might even be a little bit magic.” “Magic?!” My freckle-faced chatterbox eagerly plops down in the grass and starts plucking the clover one at a time, looking at each one carefully before tossing it aside and taking another. “Did you ever find one, Mom?” “No. I never did,” I reply quietly, although she’s stopped listening anyway. Twenty years my Grandma Tina has been gone and it’s stunning to discover in that moment that my heart is still heavy with love for her. I say a little prayer to her then, sending out a wordless ‘I love you’ across time and space. Blayse spends maybe half an hour hunting for the elusive four-leaf clover. After a few false alarms, she sulks up to
her bedroom to watch a movie. A few days pass. Blayse and her dad are playing video games upstairs. I am doing I’m-not-sure-what, but I step out back to take a break from it, whatever it was. Thinking a dozen random thoughts, looking at nothing in particular, my gaze gradually settles on the patch of clover. My heart trips over a beat. Then, I laugh at myself. The old tricky eyes are still up to no good, just like when I was six, I think. I lean over and pluck this awkward clover with its stem easily two inches taller than the rest of the patch. I count. One. Two. Three hearts. Four. Tears spring to my eyes. My heart swells with the specialness of it and I take the stairs two-at-a-time in my excitement to show my daughter this little bit of magic I’ve found.
one by one. I want this magic. I need it. It becomes a minor obsession. Then a major one. Anywhere I go, if there’s any clover, I stop to look at it. It’s not for me that I want the luck so bad. It’s for Grandma Tina. She needs the luck, I think. Maybe it would bring her nose back. If not, maybe just her smile, because that seems to be fading away too. Maybe, just maybe, if she had the magic clover she wouldn’t have to die. I hear my mom saying to I-don’t-know-who that the doctors say Grandma Tina won’t make it another year. When she says this, mom laughs and says, “Guess they don’t know that old lady’s too mean to die.” It’s not true, though. Tina isn’t mean. She’s warm and sweet and loving. So then I think, ‘Maybe she can die. Maybe she’s really not mean enough.’ She needs the good luck and I am going to get it for her. But I never find it. Remembering all this in a fraction of a breath, I hear myself say to my own little girl, “You should look for a four-leaf clover.” The magic is still there, has been sleeping for so many years, but is suddenly alive and sweeping me up again. I can feel my eyes twinkling with mischief, as I see the grin spread across Blayse’s face. We examine the clover together and I show her how each is made up of three heart-
A Little Magic by Harmoni McGlothlin
For Her, My Soul There’s too much space in my soul – the black spots that trickle down after glancing at the sun too long, remind me of how much is there. The cool breeze between the blades of the ceiling fan swirls my thoughts around the room, whispers of a presence,
stronger than myself. I am moved by the way the wind shuffles the blinds and taps against the window like wind-chimes – a childhood melody of ice cream dreams and pastel chalks littered on sidewalks. Of how the rainbow-colored dust rises and carries me to a place
where I’ve met my soul once or twice before. She reminds me of the space between our breath and is waiting for us to become whole again. Lisa Cronkhite
Resipiscence (beyond M) Around the desert of your heart poisonous flowers brightly bloom, heavy scent drawing insects sweetly, towards putrefaction.
In the wasteland of your care ruthless reptiles, beautifully scaled, slither and scuttle cannily, sinking fangs in mesmerised prey. Through the interior of your hours barren ridges and shifting sands, cracked strata anxiously stretched across a devouring crevasse. Seven years, an isle of neglect â&#x20AC;&#x201C; stranded beside you.
Illustration: Owen Pomery
Mama’s Always Right Ilan Herman The reporter explained that man’s desire for calories stemmed from survival instincts developed during a time when we all lived in caves...
n December 22, Tony celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday. It hadn’t been a festive occasion for him. He found himself in much the same unhappy predicament as he had the year before, and the one before that, and the one before that. At six-feet-five, Tony was tall enough to play professional basketball, were it not for the fact he weighed four-hundred pounds. In high school, he’d initially earned the center position on football squads, but the coaches felt that he lacked “the killer instinct”, and gave up on him. Tony was overweight even as a toddler. “Oh, it’s only baby fat”, his mama said. As a teenager, he became obese, but his mama shrugged and said, “He’s just a little chubby. He’ll grow out of it”. Over the years, carrying two hundred extra pounds had become extremely uncomfortable for Tony and affected every facet of his life – from lying in bed to straddling a toi46
let, from entering a car to squeezing into an airline seat designed for anorexic supermodels. Tony complained that manufacturers ignored fat people, that they chose – for the sake of streamlining production – to pretend that worthy, weight-challenged, tax-paying citizens did not exist. His mama didn’t mind, though. “There’s just mo’ of you to love”, she’d say and muss up his hair. Contributing to his already low self-esteem was the fact that Tony, an American of African heritage, lived in a predominantly white society. He tried to find good in all people regardless of their pigmentation, but he also knew that many people, including members of his own race, couldn’t see beyond a human being’s skin color. “Even if you’re not responsible for being knocked down, you are responsible for getting up”, was an observation mentioned by the Reverend Al Sharpton that Tony tried to keep in mind.
At an age where most had flown the nest, Tony still dwelled with his mother in his childhood apartment – a onebedroom where he slept on the couch in the living room. The thought of leaving his mother felt wrong – she would remain alone, as he had no siblings, and the rest of their family lived in Mississippi, two thousand miles away from Los Angeles. Tony worked as a meter maid. Because of his excessive weight, the car – similar in design to a golf cart, if a bit wider and longer – tilted on its side when he sat in it. In order to balance the car, he had to sit in its middle and steer while extending his right arm. The sight of Tony driving the tiny car became the butt of many jokes told by his co-workers. Tony took the ridicule in his stride, though he sometimes panicked when contemplating that, unless he slimmed down, the jokes could go on indefinitely. As a meter maid, Tony absorbed much anger from the public. It was his fault they couldn’t tell time and let the
meter expire, it was his fault they didn’t have the right change in quarters, and it was his fault they ignored the sign: ‘30-Minute Parking Only’. Tony wished he didn’t have to give out any citations at all, but he also knew that if people paid more attention, he wouldn’t have a job – his employment status being in direct proportion to the citizen’s poor time management. Another most pressing issue lying heavily on Tony’s heart regarded his barren romantic interaction with the fairer sex. He remained extremely lenient about his potential mate’s physical attributes, yet no woman gravitated toward the idea of keeping his company. Still, he kept alive the fantasy that one autumn evening, a cool drizzle dampening the parched earth, he would see her standing at a road crossing, a pink umbrella sheltering her from the rain. And she, too, would see him. Realizing their mutual destiny, they would rush toward each other to meet at the center of the intersection and lock in a passionate embrace that would last for eternity.
ing junk food. When it came to her son’s diet, Mama didn’t know any better: a Burger King stood on every corner and, for three dollars, she could buy him a burger, fries, and a coke. The meal filled little Tony’s stomach, and he enjoyed the food. Mama also carried the results of the nutritional choices she’d made; though, unlike her son,
she didn’t mind being overweight. Shortly before his birthday, Tony and Mama discussed their diet after watching a show about people who’d lost a lot of weight and who seemed proud and eager to share their experiences. The reporter explained that man’s desire for calories stemmed from survival instincts developed during a time when
Thus, celebrating his twentyeighth birthday with only himself and Mama constituted a sad occasion for Tony. He realized he’d squandered much of his time watching TV and eatIssue 17
Mama’s Always Right by Ilan Herman
Mama’s Always Right by Ilan Herman
A terrifying memory haunting Tony while he blew out the candles on his birthday cake involved an incident that took place the week earlier, while he was writing a citation for a blue pick-up truck parked at an expired meter. Two Latino youths stepped out of the shadows. “Was he doin’?” the tall one asked. “He’s givin’ you da ticket, homey,” the short one replied. He pulled out a gun and stuck it in Tony’s ample gut. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” Tony displayed extensive knowledge and agility when it came to gangs. In his youth he’d joined one, but the gang leaders gave up on him; they 48
said he lacked a “killer instinct”. He could, however, grovel well. “I apologize to you, sir. I apologize,” he said in a deep,
Stuffing himself with chocolate fudge birthday cake, Tony sadly reflected upon his future as an obese man. In his desperation,
we all lived in caves and never knew where our next meal would come from. Mama huffed, “I don’t come from no cave. Don’t them people read the Bible? I ain’t no monkey!”. Tony, who considered himself an astute observer of man’s fallacy and greed, could have argued that the theory of evolution had soundly proven we all used to be monkeys once upon a time. He knew, however, that such an argument wouldn’t sway his stubborn mother, who thought she was always right. Thus, he kept his opinion to himself. He was also jealous of the fat people who’d lost a lot of weight.
earnest voice while ripping up the citation. “I meant no disrespect to you and your friend. In the future, I promise to recognize your vehicle in timely fashion and make sure you never receive a citation again.” He spoke calmly while backing away from the gun in his gut. He sat in the car and grinned at his aggressors who stood confused by his rhetoric. Sweating profusely and wishing meter maid cars were Corvettes, Tony chugged away.
he decided to investigate what the vitamin store on Lincoln Boulevard may have to offer. Supplements were advertised everywhere. Eating the wrong foods? Take a supplement. On a diet? Take a supplement. Want to be a vegetarian or even a vegan? Here’s a pill to help you do so. The tiny store anchored the western corner of a small mall, and a bell – like the one occasionally found dangling from a
cat’s collar – jingled pleasantly when he opened the wooden door. The store clerk, a middleaged woman, was assisting other customers, and Tony stood fidgeting and waiting until the store emptied. The woman approached him. She smiled radiantly, her teeth perfectly aligned and sparkling white, her blue eyes twinkled with the delight reserved for children before they enter an amusement park, her silver hair vibrant and thick, she wore a light blue cotton dress held by thin straps – her shoulders exposed to reveal smooth skin fit for a woman half her age. Her forehead was free of wrinkles, and her fingers were long and thin, like those of a concert violinist. Unsure what to ask for, or how to ask for it, Tony stood silently when the woman gently placed her finger to his lips. No one had ever touched his lips that way. It calmed him down. “What’s your name, young man?” she asked. “Tony,” he replied, feeling like a first-grader addressing his kind teacher. “Hello, Tony. I’m Naomi. I know what brings you here, and I’ll help you succeed.” Her voice sounded sing-songy, like bells on a sleigh, or a nursery rhyme from a wind-up box. Naomi held Tony’s hand and guided him to the back of the store where two chairs and Issue 17
Mama’s Always Right by Ilan Herman
a table set with a woven basket filled with fruit awaited them. She offered him an apple – red, with shades of pink and green. Tony rarely ate any fruit, and was pleasantly surprised when he bit into the apple and found it to be juicy and sweet. “Is it to your liking?” Naomi asked. Tony nodded. “Good,” she said and offered him a chair. Naomi sat with Tony for over an hour, going over food groups and outlining an eating schedule – he needed to eat small portions five or six times a day. Unprepared for the detailed dietary information, Tony nonetheless found himself easily concentrating and retaining her instructions. Naomi insisted he must remember at all times that when his body desires fat and carbohydrates, it is doing so out of habit, a bad habit. “Tony,” she said softly, “You need to learn how to ignore the cravings, and replace them with positive affirmations of the skinnier, happier Tony now in the making.” Naomi also promoted daily exercise, though she warned him about overdoing it. She said that exercise will help build a reservoir of endorphins within him. Endorphins was a new word to Tony, and he liked the ring of it – a mysterious, authoritative power, like a benev-
olent extraterrestrial race seen on Star Trek – a show he unabashedly watched, over and over and over. Naomi smiled and patted Tony’s shoulder. He felt empowered and happy. They walked to the entrance where, standing on her tippy-toes, Naomi kissed his forehead and wished him good luck on his new road to slimness. Though he left without vitamins, Tony did leave with a supplement – an educational and spiritual one. He couldn’t wait to tell Mama about the enchanting woman he met at the vitamin store and all the wonderful things she had taught him. He spoke in his booming voice, his giant arms animated. When he was finished, Mama smiled, raised her eyebrows and said, “Naomi is an angel sent from heaven to help you”. Tony, who seriously doubted the existence of angels, sighed, but let Mama, who thought she was always right, think her thoughts. Mama claimed that Tony was the most stubborn man on the planet. Sometimes, he wouldn’t listen to anyone, especially not his dear old mother. She liked telling the story of when eight-year-old Tony decided to build a house of cards using two decks. He took days to study the different angles until, one evening, he tiptoed
Mama’s Always Right by Ilan Herman into her room and whispered, “Mama, come see my house of cards. But you have to walk careful so the house don’t fall”. The first floor was constructed with fifty-eight cards, the second with thirty-two, and the third with twenty. The tip was two cards leaning against each other. Little Tony smiled proudly, and Mama exclaimed, “You’re such a smart little boy.” That same stubbornness proved useful the next morning, when the alarm clock rang at five o’clock. Tony laced up his new pair of walking shoes, and stepped into the quiet streets. He almost fainted after walking ten minutes, but that only strengthened his resolve. Hoping for motivation to come via exercising with his fellow men and women, Tony joined a gym. But after the first visit, embarrassed by his body and the disparaging glances he received from attractive women, Tony decided to exercise in a park, which accommodated a small pond with ducks, goldfish, and water lilies, and where he found joy in watching squirrels rush up and down trees and hearing birds cry out their morning calls. On one occasion, Mama braved the early morning hours and joined him. She sat on a bench and tossed bread to the ducks while her son rumbled along. Watching his determination, Mama smiled and thanked 50
Naomi, the angel sent by the Lord to guide her son. Hungry all the time, Tony carried with him a large bag of carrot and celery sticks, and ate ten apples a day. He tossed salads layered with lean chicken, simmered pots filled with vegetable stews consisting of pumpkins, zucchinis, eggplant, and cabbage, and diligently eliminated all starches, processed sugars, and breads from his diet. Six months later, after losing seventy pounds and weighing in at a svelte three hundred and thirty, Tony observed his reflection in the mirror and smiled with well-deserved vanity. He wanted to thank the gracious woman who’d consulted him, but when he visited the vitamin store, Naomi wasn’t there. The clerk said he was new on the job and hadn’t yet met her. Another six months passed. Tony could now jog three miles and had lost another sixty pounds. He’d quit his job as a meter maid and now worked for a landscaping company that managed the estates of wealthy people. One of his jobs took him to Shaquille O’Neal’s mansion, and the ‘Big Fellow’ granted him two tickets to a Lakers game. His date to the game was Maria, a sweet and voluptuous woman he’d recently met at a
Star Trek convention. She adored Tony and promised to lose weight, unless she got pregnant, which Mama incessantly endorsed and encouraged. His willpower teetered on the brink many times. When it did, Tony fondly remembered Naomi’s finger upon his lips, and her kiss on his forehead. He visited the store again. The clerk said that Naomi probably didn’t work there anymore, and advised that Tony consult the owner who came in every morning at nine. Tony did so. The owner said she didn’t know anyone named Naomi, and when Tony described the enchanting woman, the owner shook her head and said Tony was probably thinking about a different store. “Are you sure?” he asked. The owner smiled. “I am, though I wish I had someone like Naomi working here. She sounds like a fascinating woman.” Tony walked away bewildered. But when he told Mama about the strange outcome, she shrugged with maternal authority. “You never listen to your Mama. I told you she was an angel sent from heaven. Naomi is long gone, back with the Lord. It’s time you grow up and understand that your Mama’s always right”.
Gingerbread Lady Gingerbread lady, no sugar or cinnamon spice; years ago arthritis and senility took their toll. Crippled mind moves in then out, like an old sexual adventure blurred in an imagination of fingertip thoughts. Who remembers the characters? There was George, her lover, near the bridge at the Chicago River: she missed his funeral; her friends were there. She always made feather-light of people dwelling on death, but black and white she remembers well. The past is the present; the present is forgotten. Who remembers Gingerbread Lady? Sometimes lazy-time tea with a twist of lime, sometimes drunken-time screwdriver twist with clarity. She walks in scandals. Her live-in maid smirked as Gingerbread Lady gummed her food, false teeth forgotten in a custom-imprinted cup with water, vinegar, and ginger. Years ago, arthritis and senility took their toll.
Michael Lee Johnson
Illustration: Owen Pomery
The Heroes and Other Stories by Kat Hausler (All Things That Matter Press, 2009) £11.28 ISBN: 978-0984098446 Reviewed by David Gardiner
at Hausler’s debut collection of seven short stories, slim though it is, triumphs in almost every department. Her particular skill is in getting inside the soul of her characters, who are the young and insecure, laying bare not just their hopes and fears but also their lack of self-esteem and all the anxieties and unworthy thoughts and motivations that, like everyone else, they try to conceal or deny. Her principal territory is the gap between the person we really are and the person we try to present to the world. We see the bruises on the ego as well as the ego itself. The intimacy of her writing is merciless and at times positively embarrassing – nothing is held back, we feel that we know these characters better than they know themselves. I can remember
times in my own life when I would not have been able to finish this book. The writing is unadorned, unsentimental and sensitive, perfectly suited to its purpose; the author unobtrusive and assured. She has a considerable gift for succinct description, a few words create the scene perfectly in the reader’s mind; for example: “They had met abroad on business, and had many good old American adventures across Europe, treating the region much as one large playground with an open bar”, “Crooning to her beneficiary, making eyes at everything from the front door to the rack of bicycles in the back, and inventing an epic with herself as heroine, Susan was truly in her element”. The first story, What Makes Us Happy, concerns a girl on her own, longing for a close relationship but radiating a neediness that drives potential partners away. She has fallen into the role of being single and can find no escape. I know this girl, Janis Ian sang about her in At Seventeen. Her story is both uniquely her own and completely universal, crossing barriers of age, gender, circumstance and sexuality. This is one of the most touching and memorable versions of the story that I have read. In Colour tells of a young photographer, Alex, who seems to live only through the lens of his camera, an obsession that we suspect might be a substitute for close human relationships. The story is a character study of someone for whom image and life have become hopelessly confused. Alex always chooses the representation over the reality. Peripeteia , although it deals with premonitions of one’s own death, doesn’t reach quite the
depth of many of the stories here. It’s concerned mostly with the jaunty relationship between two hedonistic young office girls, building up to what we know is going to be a dramatic ending. Over is a profound tragedy, in which a young couple, preoccupied with their dying relationship, discover the literal fragility of human life. It’s another one that you won’t easily forget. La Fée Noire is an unsettling tale that makes us confront our prejudices about beauty and ugliness, and their role in human attraction. The least successful of the stories in my view is Hausler’s one attempt at light relief, The Victory of the Flanges. This is a slapstick account of two young women’s disastrous attempt to install an air-conditioning unit in the window of an apartment. Had it been written by a man I think it would have been condemned for genderstereotyping, but its real problem is that Hausler is outside of her comfort zone when writing comedy. She takes the psychology of her two protagonists and the complexities of their encounter too seriously, and we end up with something resembling a Laurel and Hardy sketch written by Sigmund Freud. The title story, the longest and most layered, has as its setting a shared flat, in which Jason, the only male of the three student occupants, has been joined by live-in girlfriend Susan, the erstwhile friend of Lisa, one of the two females. Clare, the fourth resident, is a recovering addict with mental health issues, selfabsorbed and almost housebound, while the others get on with their student lives. Lisa, her devoted friend, cheerful and dependable (at least to the outside observer), the glue that up to now has held everything together, mourns the loss of her budding relationship with Jason, abandoned now that Susan has moved in. Susan, a manipulative and self-centred cuckooin-the-nest, has taken away what Lisa sees as her one shot at happiness. And looming large in the background, almost a fifth character in the Issue 17
Review: The Heroes and Other Stories by Kat Hausler
June 2010 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
drama, is Clare’s illness. Like all of Hausler’s characters the flatmates are at transitional stages in their lives, confused and unclear about who they are and what they really want, and as the story closes we can glimpse the shadows of long unhappy years to come in the lives of each of the four. Writing with this kind of honesty and insight is unusual. We have grown accustomed to a climate in which women in particular want to present themselves as strong, capable, oppressed by ‘the system’ perhaps, but more than able to cope with it all and emerge triumphant. It is no longer fashionable to explore the vulnerabilities, jealousies and hurts that limit both women and men in the actual control that they can exercise over their lives. This is precisely the niche that Hausler has chosen for her writing. Most, if not all, of her characters are imprisoned by aspects of their personalities, hostages to their own psyches, but engaged in determined efforts to break free. Who, then, are the ‘heroes’ of the title? All of Hauser’s characters, I think: floundering in their attempts to find their way through life, slowly growing in self-knowledge, often getting it wrong, but going on nevertheless and making the best of the situation in which they find themselves. O Henry, who also set his stories in New York, had the same view of the common people as leading lives far more noble and significant than they realised, heroes unacknowledged, especially by themselves. If you want stories that neither glamorise nor denigrate the human condition but unrelentingly tell it like it is, this collection is for you.
Gold Dust 53
Louise Marci, my last girlfriend, she got pissed off with me wearing the hat while we were fucking and tried to burn it with matches.
year ago today, after an ongoing auction on that money sucking fuckhole eBay, I bought a hat. Apart from bathing, swimming, surfing, and dinner with my girlfriend and her dad – the hat stays on. We eat at Spago and Dakota, places with dress code restrictions and European waiters. It doesn’t bother me; not wearing a hat is an easy sacrifice for Sonoma Lamb and Mascarpone Agnolotti or Black Cod with Miso, good food I don’t pay for. Stuff like that tastes better when your wallet stays in your back pocket. You wanna know why this hat has such a special place in my heart? Well, it didn’t belong to my grandfather or my dad; it used to belong to god: Marlon Brando. The greatest actor the world has known. And don’t tell me you haven’t seen any of his films, or worse – you don’t know who he is. If you were born in the 1900s you must have seen The Godfather? Or Apocalypse Now? Or Superman? Right? And if you have any taste you’ll have seen On 54
The Waterfront, The Men, A Streetcar Named Desire, Last Tango In Paris, The Wild One, Burn! and One Eyed Jacks. Just to test the water, if you’re a real fan you’d have seen Julius Caesar, Sayonara, The Young Lions, Reflections in a Golden Eye and Viva Zapata! Brando’s performances make all other actors look useless. In tribute, my dog is named after him. Helen Muni, the lady who sold it to me, sounded sexy. While on the phone to know how she got to own this special white Panama I asked her to send me a picture through Hotmail, but when the link opened my first thought was: “I’d rather fuck wet sand”. Plump, curly hair, way over thirty. Stanley, my cat, had just died and buying something was all I could do to make myself feel better. She told me the story as I played with my one eye. Helen was on a flight from New York to LA to spend a little time with her disabled sister who had lost her arms or something. She sat down in
her aisle seat, took her shoes off, leaned back and started reading a book she’d bought at the airport. Half-way down the first page a fat man wants to get past her to sit by the window, she gets up to let him through, he looks at her and says thanks. She said he was wearing a white suit, yellow shirt, brown shoes and the white Panama. I asked what shoes he was wearing, but she didn’t know. When he sits down, face red, heavy breathing, she’s looking at him, thinking: I know who this is, but she keeps her mouth closed and doesn’t say a thing. When the plane takes off and they’re cruising she offers him some Jujubes; he takes some, thanks her and starts a conversation about the donuts and magazines he’d experienced at the airport while flicking the colourful sweets in his mouth. Helen says this started something, 'cause after the Jujubes were finished he pulled out packs of Marshmallow Cars, Peanut Butter Logs, Cinnamon Bears and French Burnt Peanuts from his shoulder bag
and started munching and crunching. He carried on talking and chewing until he passed out. Helen went back to reading her book, but couldn’t help being distracted by the fact that she was sitting next to the star of The Godfather (the only film she had seen of his). As she watched him snore and drool, his head lolled forward and the Panama fell off his head. Helen reached down and picked it up, placing it on his lap. She went back to reading and became engrossed in the airport edition page-turner she’d bought. Before landing in LA he woke up, wiped his mouth with his hand and coughed. He rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand and asked her for the time. She told him and his eyes dropped to his lap, where the hat sat. Helen told him that it had fallen off while he slept and she picked it up for him. He smiled and ran his left hand through his white balding hair and handed the hat to her. Marlon was charmed that she hadn’t asked for an autograph. She smiled, put the hat on and thanked him. When he died, last July, she put it straight on eBay along with a bunch of other shit. My name is Rio and when I’m not with a girl or watching Brando films I’m on eBay. My job and where I live doesn’t define me but I work as a janitor Issue 17
at Beverly Hills High School and live on Towne Ave, which is downtown. You can’t see it through the smog. An ambition of mine is to work at UCLA; the janitors there get free lunch and work less hours. Plus it’s an easier drive, so hours of my life wouldn’t be spent on the freeway listening to people swear and the perpetual cacophony of car horns. Anyway, Stanley had died and eBay was doing a good job of distracting me. The hat screamed out ‘buy me’, so after bidding and bidding, Marlon’s Panama was mine. It cost a month’s wages, but knowing who it belonged to was like buying one of god’s toenails. I swear to you now, till death, I’ll love Marlon. Since that expensive purchase, people have wanted me
Sad Tale by Gareth Storey
to take it off, but I won’t. You could call me a stubborn shit stain. I wear it while fucking, eating, pissing, lifting weights, masturbating, cooking and watching films. It might sound odd to say this now, as you don’t know me, but I’m more emotional after watching a good film than after sex. The feeling of my balls being empty is great, but I can talk after it; when I’ve seen a good film my brain goes somewhere else. A counselling session for me is a half bottle of J&B with the lights off and On The Waterfront at full volume. Louise Marci, my last girlfriend, she got pissed off with me wearing the hat while we were fucking and tried to burn it with matches. I had to manhandle her, tie her hands with her Gucci scarf, her feet with
Sad Tale by Gareth Storey
some rope and leave her in my bathtub until her dad David came and collected the freak. David understood my behaviour; he said he knew how much the hat meant to me. My friend James (who works at UCLA) says I’m lucky my head didn’t get punched in. But my self-control is pathetic. Louise is by far the most hermosa and richest girl to be with me and if I’d have stayed on her good side maybe we would’ve got married. And David would’ve paid for it all. If you could see her you’d hit me for fucking my chance up – her ass is something out of an American Apparel ad, her skin is blemish free and smooth, and she smells of almond milk. Louise’s dad David is loaded; in fact, most of my girlfriend’s families have been full of money ’cause I meet them at the high school. Being a janitor isn’t too bad when rich girls find you attractive. Some have said I look like Richard Gere, but the fact that I’m five years older than most of them makes me cooler than the boys in their classes who still like being dicks, getting stoned and playing computer games. Plus my ride is a 1974 Buick Apollo, which my dad left to me when he died. If only these girls knew that on my days off I get dressed in my best clothes (second-hand Prada shoes, 56
tonal stripe denim pants by Marc and a white Versace shirt) and walk around Century City and Rodeo Drive looking at the price tags on the Cassidy Print shirts, lambs’ wool sweaters and ‘Cotton Club’ jackets. It tears me up. Whenever someone from a store asks ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ I say no. Sometimes I’ll buy a pair of boxer shorts or socks just to make it look like I can afford to buy stuff. Those rich fucks that drift around from West LA and Bel Air that can walk into a shop and blow $2,000 on a coat drive me mad with envy, they must love life. If only I was rich. When Louise was having her once a week girly night with her slutty friends me and her dad would watch films. But before we move on, do you know about these parties they have? They all get drunk in their sexy underwear and talk about men and sex. They tell each other cock sizes, you know, that’s a little disturbing. My friends and colleagues don’t know anything about her pussy (tight) or the way she sucks dick (awesome). That info stays in my mind; some girls are just shy of manners. She can talk it up, but its awkward meeting her friends when they all know my stick has been in her ass. These fucking parties they have, why do they have to eat and drink so much? Why do
they come home feeling ill? They have no self-control. Have you seen a room full of girls, cheesecakes, chocolate brownies, vodka and bottles of champagne? It’s crazy. So while Louise was stuffing herself stupid with stuff she’d regret and drinking enough to kill a mountain goat, David and me would drink beers, smoke Cuban cigars and watch DVDs in the mini cinema he had built in the back garden. We’d arrange a schedule by flipping coins to find out who got to pick the first film. Between one or two in the morning we’d get a call from her asking to be picked up and one of us (me) would go and bring her back, then she’d pass out and I’d either sleep on the couch or watch movies all night. Her dad didn’t like it when we slept in her room.
That’s why it was better when she came to my place, where I could feel her up as she slept but that only happened once in a while ‘cause my place smelt of my dog, Brando. She kept telling me to wash him and I did, just not every week. I liked his smell. But none of that happens anymore, Louise hates me and I’m not allowed to go to her house. She let me off the first time I tied her up but last time she said was too far. Maybe I tried to brand her with an iron or poison her, but it’s hard to remember specifics. I told everyone she’s a liar and she just doesn’t like me anymore and everyone sides with me ’cause of the bumpy ride my life’s been. I’d still like to go over to the house to hang out with David, but I’d probably
meet her new boyfriend and have to tell him the truth about how much of a slut she is. Someone told me she’s dating an actor, but I’ve never heard of him. Well, he makes my job look pointless, in fact he makes my life pointless because he’s rich and gets paid to act and that’s what I want to do. Fuck him. What would Marlon do? The shit and ironic thing is that my little hairy Brando now lives with Louise and her dad, because I couldn’t keep him. BHHS fired me for stealing toilet paper, so I’ve moved into a shared apartment with James to save money and have started working at a new school, where the hours are even longer. David meets me in the park and we walk Brando while talking about our lives. We go out drinking sometimes to the Polo Lounge and Cameo, where he pays the tabs. My job is to coax ladies to come over to our table. He is so munificent that he pays for the meals at restaurants as well, which is cool because my unbalanced diet consists of Kraft cheese on Wonder bread and salted Lays. When I’m down, I’ll treat myself to a hotdog at Clifton’s Cafeteria or fish tacos from La Lua del Dia because the prices are for people like me. Although the free food is cool, each time David pays a restaurant bill I wish he was
Sad Tale by Gareth Storey
walking me around Century City or the Beverly Center buying me black leather Prada shoes, Versace shirts and the Marc Jacobs pale grey ‘Cotton Club’ Jacket I’d sell my virgin ass for. These clothes are way more important than food. Proteins and carbs mean nothing next to style and grace. I asked David why he still hangs out with me and does it bother Louise, and he told me he thinks of me as a son and Louise doesn’t give a shit. They both know I’m alone a lot because my parents are dead, they feel sorry for me. David says I’m hard working and honest, something he wishes Louise would be. At the back of my brain I think he meets me ’cause my life’s a bad joke. I’m one step up from the bums that hang around Alamada and Main St. He probably doesn’t want me to kill myself. But maybe it would be better when you die…maybe it would be a shopping centre where the clothes are free and you’re famous and they give you money and you live in a big house and have servants and you can do anything you want and never be punished. Maybe that’s where God lives. I’m sorry, I’ve gone on too long, you’ve heard enough of this sad tale; do you feel bad for me? Or are you jealous ’cause I’m wearing Marlon Brando’s hat?
Disenthralling BEST POEM ÂŁ20 PRIZEWINNER A fake nocturne springs itself into that well thirst waits to pray apart from us. Your open diary's a smoking gun left for the innocent to be corrupted by. And those everyday saints of the city maintain a working diagram of daily salvation they & their families live by. Reading your poetry I can't believe you're gone, too young the suicide queen who battled her inner harlot to a standstill. Don't chasten me with windy words flattening against this pane of blind existence, the flies have no problem splattering there, as birds fly into an invisible glass wall so do we, losing ourselves in air. So, no insect's moratorium disguised as your human spirit? I mourn for that plane separating all from the highest common denominator the laws of physics disenthrall us from. Peter Magliocco
Illustration: Owen Pomery
Found I understand what this is Though I had forgotten. The sailor hoisting the masts To steal wind from the night. You and I beneath ripe fig moon Summer fog surging over us Sea spray slipping past shipâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Edge. Your jade eyes Lush as magnolia leaves Pulse to punish lighthouses. In this ocean of green, I am lost.
I understand what this is Though I had forgotten. The sailor swept across the deck, Sea force centrifugal masters him Against rope, wind, ocean foam. You and I safe in captainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s quarters, Moonlight adrift at the window, Where I am found. Dave Malone
iIlustration: Owen Pomery
big boys play Enthralled by sideways-glancing slightof-mouth spun off the swimming tongue, too young to fight, conspire, bound not to tell what older brothers pass on to their mates. As lightning melts an angry August sky, adults are sheltered, tea’d, indifferent to Chinese whispers in reverse. Surreal: black-leather-jacketed and jeaned young men crowd the film set. Jukeboxes thunder it’s too late; some slight that can’t be taken back. The needle grooved, instinct plugged in, like stags, they can’t lose face, so size each other up. Flick knife, cut throat or chain with some poor sod’s name on peeps into view. Such danger strong blood craves: imprint, inbreed, too young for National Service, eyes ablaze? Limelight: mirrors, news reel, smoke snakes, false gods we trust; tanks rock ‘n’ roll, guns rattle, bombs shake streets to dust. Peter Branson
A Tale of Two Bridges
Illustration: Owen Pomery
Beautiful I never was, but I was built because of need, when men walked the tracks between the river’s rocks and reeds from farm to neighbour’s farm. Of concrete and of iron I was built to stand against the weather when the river rose and overspilt its banks to flood the fields or snow drifts hid me quite from view. But now men go by road on wheels and in my place a fancy bridge and new gives passage to young folk with rucksacks on their backs and plastic covered maps and shorts and nylon macs. Lost in the rain or sun, or in the gathering dusk they pause and turn the map around to look for north or south and find their camping ground. Could I but speak, I’d tell them not only every turn of every track, but all the stories of a hundred years of tears and triumphs. I look back and see so much -- lovers trysts beside the river, feuds and friendships, births and deaths, quarrels settled by discussion or by fists. I was here when they were not yet born. The poet leaned upon my iron rails composing lines he’d leave behind, dying far from home in Flanders fields. I, too, have met my armageddon. The great storm filled the river till it roared and tore and twisted in its course and boiled with rocks and lashed me with more force than even concrete could resist. My iron buckled and I broke. And now, a shattered wreck, I stand unnoticed, and hold my secrets in my mossy cloak. Daffni Percival Issue 17
Contributors This issue, we received around 200 submissions, from which we selected our favourite 5% that you can read here. Our contributors sent in their work from the US and the UK
Vicky Thompson Vicky Thompson is 13 years old. She lives in Dorset and has been writing for the past three years. She spends her spare time writing fan fiction and dancing (she is a Bronze Ballroom and Latin competitive and medallist dancer). She aspires to a career in writing or primary school teaching. Mel Fawcett Mel Fawcett, biker, father, writer, lives in London. His stories have most recently appeared in The Delinquent, Skive and the Solid Gold anthology and are forthcoming in Smokebox and Zygote in my Coffee. Harmoni McGlothlin Harmoni McGlothlin is an award winning screenwriter, a sometimes fiction author, essayist, and occasional poet, who often prefers delusions to reality. However, she prefers wine to both delusions and reality. Harmoni's work was the recipient of a 2007 Silver Telly award, has placed in numerous high-end competitions, and is the author of the book Venus Laughs, a sexy collection of poetic works. Visit shop.notesandgracenotes.com to find out more about her published works. Jason Vandaele Jason Vandaele was born in Belgium. In the twenty-five years since, he has lived in unequal lengths and for different purposes in England, Japan and America. Ilan Herman Ilan Herman is a NYC born and raised 44-year-old writer and music producer (www.emily-music.com) who now lives with his daughter in the Sierra foothills of California. His favorite time is when he sits at his desk by a wide window overlooking oak trees and observes squirrels scamper up and down the branches. It's at these moments when Ilan is sucked into an alternate universe, or what he's coined 'The Vortex of Tales' and proceeds to communicate with protagonists and plots insisting on being told. Adam Hofbauer Adam Hofbauer lives in San Francisco, where he is attending the masters program in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. His work has previously appeared in the Emerson Review, 63 Channels, and the
Gareth Storey Gareth Storey was born years ago in Dublin, but now lives in London. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Creative Writing and had two stories published in the university press. His short story Grainne was published in the collection Born in the 1980s (Route, 2009). Gareth currently works as a chef and at given moments works on his short fiction and poetry. His interests include prolonged sessions of reading, sipping pints and the odd burst of exercise.
Peter Branson Peter Branson lives in Rode Heath, a village in South Cheshire. A former teacher and lecturer, he now organises writing workshops. Until recently he was Writer-inresidence for “All Write” run by Stoke-on-Trent Libraries. Over the last three years he has had work published, or accepted for publication, by many mainstream poetry journals. In the past two years he has had success in several competitions including a first prize in The Envoi International, a second place in The Writing Magazine Open and highly-commendeds in The Petra Kenney and The Speakeasy. His first collection, The Accidental Tourist, was published locally by The Potteries Writers’ Workshop in May 2008. Lisa M. Cronkhite Lisa M. Cronkhite has published work in numerous journals. She is currently taking a writers’ course for children based in Connecticut. Lisa currently resides in the US with her husband and two children. She suffers from Bipolar disorder and writes as a coping skill in the hopes for better understanding. Paul Jeffcutt Paul Jeffcutt was born in a hamlet near the border between England and Wales; after travelling widely he’s settled in Northern Ireland beside the Mountains of Mourne. Paul’s poems have appeared in poetry journals across Europe, Australia and the US; his work has also regularly featured in anthologies from established poetry presses. He is a longstanding member of the Writer’s Group at the
Contributors Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Belfast. Paulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first collection of poetry will be published by Lagan Press later this year. Michael Lee Johnson Michael Lee Johnson is a poet and freelance writer from Itasca, Illinois. His new poetry chapbook with pictures, From Which Place the Morning Rises, and his new photo version of The Lost American: from Exile to Freedom are available at: http://stores.lulu.com/promomanusa. His two previous chapbooks are available at: http://stores.lulu.com/poetryboy. Michael has been published in over 22 countries. He is also editor/publisher of four poetry sites, all open for submission, which can be found at: http://poetryman.mysite.com. Peter Magliocco Peter Magliocco writes from Las Vegas, Nevada, where he's edited the lit-zine ART:MAG for over 20 years. He has a new poetry chapbook, The Nude Poetry Garage Sale, forthcoming from Virgogray Press. Dave Malone Dave Maloneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poems have appeared in Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozark Studies, New Millennium Writings, Red Rock Review, and decomP, and several are forthcoming in the next issue of Kansas English. He teaches composition and film at Missouri State University-West Plains. Jon Stocks Jon Stocks has had work published in magazines worldwide and is widely anthologised. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart prize and the English National Poetry Library at The Royal Festival Hall have recently asked for copyright for some of his work. Recent poetry has appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in a wide variety of magazines . He is also featured in The Cinnamon Press anthology, Shape Shifting. Other work appears in The Hudson View Poetry digest, published in the USA and South Africa and held by most American universities. He is currently working on a first novel and also writing short stories; winning the Carillon magazine, short story competition, and working with a senior detective from The Greater Manchester Police force on a crime novel.
English, she has translated poems from both Russian and Welsh. Has always read and written poetry but only started to submit and publish since moving to Wales. Her adoptive country has become her muse. She shares her home with three border collies, three pet sheep and about a dozen ducks. Partially retired, she still teaches Russian, French and Welsh crash courses from time to time in her ancient stone farmhouse.
Reviews & Features
David Gardiner Ageing hippy, former teacher, now part-time psychiatric care worker, living in London with partner Jean and Charlotte the chameleon. Adopted daughter Cherelle lives nearby. Three published works, SIRAT (a science fiction novel), The Rainbow Man and Other Stories (short story collection) and The Other End of the Rainbow (short story collection). Interested in science, philosophy, psychology, scuba diving, alternative lifestyles and communal living, travel, wildlife, cooking and IT. Large, rambling homepage at: www.davidgardiner.net. Omma Velada Omma Velada read languages at London University, followed by an MA in translation at Westminster University. Her short stories and poems have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. In 2004 she founded Gold Dust magazine. She is a member of the writing group Storyshed and her first novel, The Mackerby Scandal (UKA Press, 2004), received critical acclaim. She has also published a short-story anthology, The Republic of Joy (Lulu Press, 2006).
Daffni Percival Daffni Percival is a writer, translator and poet. Born in 1932, trained as a nurse and worked in childcare till invalided out. Took an honours degree in Russian as a mature student, and then spent 15 years running an International Centre in Exeter and simultaneously teaching English as a foreign language to make ends meet. Moved to North Wales in 1985. As well as writing poetry in
Gold Dust news Issue 18 theme: Children’s literature
We are focusing our next issue on children’s literature - writing that is by, for or about children or young people. If you have written a piece you think children would enjoy, or know a talented child/young person who might like to contribute, please submit in the usual way to: Prose email@example.com Poetry firstname.lastname@example.org
Solid Gold available for sale on Amazon
Solid Gold (Merilang Press, 2009), the very first prose anthology from Gold Dust, is made up of our best ever published stories, the cream of our most recent submissions, as well as brand new stories from the Gold Dust team members. The book's price on Lulu has been reduced to make it more affordable to European purchasers, and profits from sales are being used to fund the two £20 prizes in each issue. Readings from our launch event are available to view on the Gold Dust YouTube channel. This collection is flying off the shelves, so order your copy now, before stock runs out! Available from Amazon and other online bookstores.
GD Calendar 2010 - submissions
We are now seeking submissions for our 2010 Gold Dust calendar. If you would like to submit poetry, please email to: email@example.com and let us know if you have a particular month in mind! For photos, please email your high resolution images to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We have some great prizes lined up for issue 18! • Best short story wins £20 • Best poem wins £20 Gold Dust is a non-profit organisation and the prize fund is maintained by sales of magazines, books and calendars. For submission details, see our website, at www.golddustmagazine.co.uk