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ARTS | CULTURE | EVENTS

Spring 2015 | Vol 3 No 3

Odyssey The Photography of Dave Burns Evan Boggess: Crashing Into Abstraction “You Don’t Even Realize How Much You’ve Learned”: An Interview With Homer Hickam Eyes, Ears & Soul Danny Tait Poetry Anne Higgins Ed:Cetera What Did You Do in the War, Dad? Fiction Kyle Ellingson Coda Urban Streams

“Leopard Hanging from Branch” by Dave Burns


CONTENTS Odyssey The Photography of Dave Burns

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Spring 2015

Evan Boggess: Crashing Into Abstraction

“You Don’t Even Realize How Much You’ve Learned”: An Interview With Homer Hickam


Letter From the Editor Full Circle

Ears, Eyes & Soul Danny Tait

Poetry Anne Higgins

Ed:Cetera What Did You Do in the War, Dad?

Fiction: Names & Cigarettes Kyle Ellingson

Coda Urban Streams

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER

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C O N T R I B U T O R S Todd Coyle is a journeyman musician who has performed in and around the Eastern Panhandle of WV and around the country for over 30 years. He has worked in folk, blues, pop, jazz and country bands as a guitarist, bassist, singer, producer and sound man. Zach Davis is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications in print and online, such as Carve, The First Line, Bartleby Snopes, Drunk Monkeys and numerous volumes of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers. He is the Fiction Editor of Fluent Magazine.

O N

Sheila Vertino is returning to her roots as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-in-chief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd.

MAGAZINE

Spring 2015 | Vol 3 No 3 Nancy McKeithen editor & publisher Sheila Kelly Vertino associate editor Kathryn Burns visual arts editor

Ed Zahniser’s poems have appeared in 5 books, 5 chapbooks, 10 anthologies, and over 150 magazines and other venues. He is co-editor of In Good Company, an anthology of area poets celebrating Shepherdstown’s 250th anniversary. His recent poetry book is Thomas Shepherd Loves Danske Dandridge and The Shepherdstown Sonnets.

T H E

C O V E R

“Leopard Hanging from Branch” by Dave Burns. Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, Dave currently resides in Boston. His ties to the Shepherdstown, WV region are through his father, John, who moved to the area after he retired.

Ginny Fite Poetry Editor Todd Coyle Music Editor Sarah Soltow Proofreader Contributing Writers Amy Mathews Amos, Paula Pennell, Ed Zahniser Contributing Photographers Curt Mason, Mark Muse, Keron Psillas, Carl Schultz, Sterling “Rip” Smith, Hali Taylor Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website: www.fluent-magazine.com/submissions.

F LU E N T W E B S I T E See the FLUENT website for more content: Calls for Artists lists opportunities. Classes lists arts classes for children and adults. Back Issues is the magazine archive.

A D V E R T I Z E R S Hobday Custom Homes, LLC 9 Mark Muse Photographs The Old Opera House 11 Panhandle Earth Day Celebration The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery 53

Zachary Davis Fiction Editor

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Please submit events and arts news to events@fluent-magazine.com. Fluent Magazine is published quarterly and distributed via email. It is available online at www.fluent-magazine.com. To subscribe www.fluent-magazine.com/subscribe All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2015 Fluent Magazine Jefferson County, WV is a Certified Arts Community.

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Full Circle I remember January 28, 2012 like the proverbial yesterday. That was the day Fluent, still a concept, became real. A line-in-the-sand kind of day where there’s no going back. Like telling friends and family what you’re doing—think quitting smoking or writing a book or changing careers—to validate your plans and program your commitment. I did that, unknowingly at the time, by attending an exhibit opening of Dave Burns’ work at The Bridge Gallery. Mesmerized by his photographs, I stayed almost until the close of the opening, when the crowd around him had thinned so I could meet him. I shared my concept of this as yet unnamed magazine and asked him if he would be willing to be interviewed for it. Yes, he would. Thirteen issues later, I met with Dave upstairs in the Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown for the interview. The result begins on page 12. Thank you, Dave, for having validated the idea of Fluent. During the interview, I asked him what makes his work uniquely his own. “I wonder if that’s something I should be answering,” he said. What Burns would prefer is to have a gallery show and ask people on their way out what they think is unique about his work.

On January 28, 2012, The Bridge Gallery opened an exhibit of Dave Burns’ photography with work taken in Italy, France, Scotland, the Galapagos Islands and the U.S. This issue, we feature his work in FLUENT.

Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

PHOTO The Bridge Gallery

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EARS, EYES & SOUL

Danny Tait: A Drummer on the Rise BY TODD COYLE There are a lot of drummer jokes amongst musicians. Danny Tait doesn’t live up to any of them. Some drummers keep the beat, Danny keeps the time. His versatility, intelligence and precision make him stand out. fluent Were you one of those drummers who banged

on pots and pans and drove your parents crazy? How and where did it all start? danny tait I actually had some great countertops to play congas on, but I started on saxophone. When I got to high school, I was playing baritone sax. When it came time for marching band, they had a slot at bass drum open and that seemed a lot easier to carry than a big ol’ bari sax hanging from my neck. I took pretty naturally to it and started messing around with a drum set that was in the music department. I would jump on the kit every chance I got and it just kind of made sense to me, so I asked for a drum set. My mom gave me a neighbor’s old electric guitar first to try and distract me, but it didn’t work. A year later, I finally had a cheap used kit and began driving the entire neighborhood crazy with 90s grunge songs coming from our small townhouse basement. fluent Your education is in music from Shepherd

University. Tell us about it and the importance of education for musicians. DT I entered Shepherd playing sax and marching bass drum with some basic drumset and percussion experience. I wasn’t sure which instrument I was going to major in. I was in the lower jazz band back on bari, and they were missing the drumset music for a tune that happened to be one of the few jazz charts I played on drums in high school. I couldn’t read drum music yet so when the teacher asked if anyone knew the tune on drums without the music, I raised my hand. When the tune was over I went to give the sticks back to the 6 | fluent

other drummer and the teacher told me to stay on the kit, so that’s when I figured out my major. Drumset was the easy part after that. Music theory, mallet instruments, tympani, multi-percussion, music history and the other core music classes, in combination with the many ensembles I took part in became quite the handful. With the addition of general studies it was an extremely hectic schedule. After homework for classes, it was time to practice for ensembles and private lessons or vice versa. The days never seemed to end. All of that gave me a very well rounded education. Musically, I was learning just about every style under the sun and being exposed to new challenges every day. Playing in so many different settings with so many different musicians—from students to teachers— was amazing. I would have had a very difficult time recreating those settings without going to school. The experiences taught me how to adapt, how to be versatile, and how to listen and respect the players around me. I think that background is very important to protect the quality of music and provide the abilities necessary to survive in a professional setting. fluent Your favorite drummers through history and

why? DT This is a really tough question. Buddy Rich, of course, for his precision and speed. Jack Dejonette for his feel and fluidity. Questlove of the Roots for his simplicity and deep pocket. Stanton Moore for his style and funky New Orleans sound. I have to just name the rest because to describe each aspect of each player


would take all day; they are all amazing drummers. Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Bill Stewart, Philly Joe Jones, Jeff Hamilton, Kenwood Denard, Terry Bozzio. fluent I know you play in several bands. Tell us about them and any other projects you might be working on. DT My busiest band is called Moondog Medicine Show and we are a blues band based out of Hagerstown. We are basically a power trio that backs an incredible female vocalist. We play everything from old blues traditionals to funky originals. I also have a group called Tabasco Bustelo, an original bluegrass Americana group, which is in the process of finishing our first album. Then I have a jazz trio with guitar and upright bass, as well as a little big band with five horns and a rhythm section. Those are full-time, and occasionally I will work with other groups throughout the year. fluent You played on a cruise ship. What did you learn? What was it like? Where did you go? Any interesting stories?

DT A couple months after graduating college I got a job on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. I worked a six-month contract playing in what they called the “orchestra� band. We were on the main stage that backed all of the guest artists and production shows. It was a seven-piece band made up of piano, bass, drums, guitar, sax, trombone and trumpet. The musicians were from around the world as well as the staff of the entire ship. It was a real-world training ground for sight-reading and versatility. I learned how to play with a click track, and for the first time had serious consequences for mistakes. Being in front of 2,000 audience members for two shows a night, reading music, staying with a click track, as well as listening and reacting to the music was a great learning experience for performing under pressure. It was an unforgiving real-world introduction to being a professional musician. We had a three- and four-day itinerary that went to Nassau, Bahamas and a private island from Port Canaveral, Florida. We had a couple deviations from u

Tait during the first recording session for the Moondog Medicine Show CD.

PHOTO Keith Sylvester

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that schedule, one of which was when the entire ship was refurbished. I had the option to leave and start a new contract when it was over, but I decided to stay and finish out my current contract, which meant I could go home a month after it was complete. We were in Port Lucaya, Bahamas for three-anda-half weeks, which was beautiful. Living on the ship at that time was interesting because some days there wouldn’t be water or electricity, and I had to take a couple of different jobs since there was no music to be played. For the first two weeks, I was a part of security and was stationed at openings on the ship armed with a walkie-talkie and a couple books, making sure that nothing strange or dangerous occurred. The next week-and-a-half I was to patrol three floors checking that everything being welded had an individual on fire watch armed with a water bottle. I had to report to the bridge and record that “all was well” and at what time. I had to report six times in eight hours. All in all, it was a glimpse into a world rarely seen by the average person and a very interesting experience. The Discovery channel actually did a series on it and was filming the entire event. I almost talked them into doing a little segment on me being the only musician to stay on and change hats. fluent You live in Shepherdstown, but you’re not

from there. Where are your roots? DT I was born and raised just under an hour away in Germantown, Maryland. My family has been in the Washington D.C. area for three generations. fluent Any advice for young drummers? DT Make music as fun as possible and play to what you like to listen to. Any practice at all is a good thing as long as it is consistent. Even five minutes a day is progress. Don’t repeat bad techniques, as they get increasingly hard to fix in the future. The key to fast is slow first, because we all know that drummers want to play fast. Beyond that, you can come see me and Jesse Shultzaberger at Ellsworth Music and we will lead you in the right direction. fluent Tell us about your kits. Do you use different

ones for different purposes? How do you mic them for recording versus playing live? 8 | fluent

DT I have two functional kits. The first is a green Yamaha stage custom six-piece kit with a 22" bass drum which I keep in a band practice/recording studio. My other kit is a white pearl Gretch Catalina Elite four piece with an 18" bass drum and is what I use on all of my gigs. Most of the time I only mic the bass drum in live situations unless it is a bigger stage or a festival with sound equipment provided. In the studio, I usually mic each drum individually and use two overhead mics for the cymbals. That setup provides control over each sound source for mixing and editing purposes. fluent What does Danny Tait do when he’s not

drumming? Hobbies? Other passions? DT I attempt to play golf, do some biking and, when the weather permits, tubing down Antietam Creek, a great way to pass the time. fluent If you could pick any musicians from the

beginning of time until now, who would be in your dream band? DT That’s tough, as my dream band would consist of about a hundred people, but if I could be a drummer in any band of all time it would probably be The Gordon Goodwin Big Band or The Mingus Big Band. The Duke Ellington band, Basie orchestra and the Sinatra band would all have been amazing drum chairs to be in, too. fluent

MORE Moondog Medicine Show website Tabasco Bustelo website UPCOMING Tabasco Bustelo Mar 25, Panhandle Earth Day Celebration May 1, The Opera House Jul 11, All Good Music Festival Moondog Medicine Show May 8, Wine Down Friday Jazz Trio: monthly at The Mecklenburg Inn and two Sundays a month at Domestic in Shepherdstown, WV.


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by Nancy McKeithen

ODYSSEY The Photography of Dave Burns

For Dave Burns, vocation and avocation are the

same thing: photography. Burns found his passion during college — “that one thing in life that doesn’t take energy from you because you get into a zone and you love it,” he says. A computer science major, he took photography courses for fun and to fill electives. “I could go into the darkroom in the morning when it was dark outside and come out when it was dark outside. I spent all day in there.” He says it energized him. And while film photography and darkroom processing have been eclipsed by digital photography and a printer, the new equivalent still energizes him. Burns was the kid with the Instamatic and the flashcubes. “Remember those?” he asks. “You had four shots because it would turn, and the quality wasn’t very good.” Today, his camera equipment is all grown up. And his work is primarily photography, with occasional jobs in the software business, where he spent twenty years before diving into what he describes as “the deep end of the pool” — photography full-time. He knows the risk: Very few people can make even a reasonable living at it, he says. “Ansel Adams — everyone knows him for his landscape photography, but he paid the bills doing commercial work…mundane, I-need-a-picture-of-this-building work.” Burns believes diversification is key. “There’s print sales, there’s commission work,” he says. “Every successful photographer I know doesn’t do only one type of photographic thing.” 12 | fluent

Serendipity to Safari Burns was looking for a way to make photography work for him when a conversation in Mongolia with a friend he had met in Africa led to their working together. That was 2008. Now, Burns runs photo tours to Africa, and he’s looking for other locations as well. “The travel and the photography feed off each other,” says Burns. People who look at his work often ask him how he gets a particular shot — of a polar bear or a zebra or…. “On the one hand, I think, well, the years of practice and skill, and to be immodest, some creativity. And then the other half of me thinks, ‘I bought a plane ticket.’” Half the job, says Burns, is to get to where the good pictures are, and you just doubled your odds. “There’s this saying in photography; I think it was Robert Capa’s: ‘f / 8 and be there.’ ” Uncharacteristically, he doesn’t shoot a lot in the place where he lives: Boston, which he calls a very photogenic city. “I don’t go downtown and say, ‘I’m gonna photograph today.’ It’s integral to travel to me, it’s just not integral to being home.”

The Where of Things Like form and function, the location where he’s shooting influences the equipment he uses. On safari, it’s a Canon — “the big plastic SLR bodies, the lens kit, all the different lenses.” He explains that it’s the mature system he needs there, not for image quality but for other technical things like autofocus performance. u

All photos provided by Dave Burns.


Lioness Drinking Serengeti NP, Tanzania


Flamingo Cluster Serengeti NP, Tanzania


“When wildlife is moving, you need that to work.” One of his Canons has been converted to infrared, and he does a lot of shooting with that. But for street photography, he uses a growing Fuji kit that represents what’s changing in the industry and for him as well. “It’s time for cameras to get smaller and to simplify,” he says. The Fuji, which is mirrorless, “looks more like a 1950s camera. It’s lighter and smaller, and just more fun.” He speculates that’s because “it’s a little bit more retro in the controls, a little more visceral.” Burns’ enthusiasm for it is palpable. On his last trip to Italy, the difference in weight between the Fuji kit and the Canon meant that he carried about 8 pounds of equipment around versus 35 pounds in Africa. It also lets him be more discreet, less intrusive. “When you have one of those big plastic monstrosities and you lift it to your face and you’re pointing it at someone, you can’t help but alter the scene. People see that, and they alter their behavior.” One of the hardest things to overcome is getting shy when photographing people, says Burns.

Two Different Mindsets “I love being out in the field, I love shooting and I love being in that zone,” says Burns. “There’s another zone, where I’m sitting in front of my computer — editing and processing images — and I tune out everything else. I enjoy that, too.” He describes them as different mindsets. “They both scratch a different itch to me. “On the shooting side, I probably overthink things,” he says. “I do my best when I do just an intuitive flow.” Proof of that is an image he shot while on safari in Namibia. “I was racing down the road to get out of the park by a certain time to avoid a fine and the sun was setting on the tallest dunes in the

world. It was gorgeous and all of a sudden I saw the shot I wanted. So I just hit the brakes, rolled down the window, quick as it could be I framed it up and clicked. Boom. It was the landscape shot of the trip for me.” About post-processing, Burns says it’s okay to overthink it, to sit and stare at an image and experiment, because you can simply back up if you go too far. “The trick is, when in doubt, go subtle.” Looking back at his images after post-processing, Burns notices common elements between them: The subject matter varies widely — landscape, wildlife, street scenes — “and there’s a strong sense of geometry.” Someone (he doesn’t say who) said the trick to photography is taking a 3-D scene and printing it into a 2-D rectangle. “I’m not one of those people who walks around doing that hand thing like the cliché Hollywood director,” he says, “but I am doing that in my brain.” He thinks most photographers do.

Mixing Passions From both perspectives — travel and photography —  there are very few places Burns doesn’t want to go. His photography has taken him to more than twenty-five countries. But if you ask where he wants to photograph more? “I would love to do Antarctica; the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, both for the wildlife; Vietnam; the Japanese countryside.” When he made the decision to turn his passion into his business, he wondered would it also turn something he loves into a chore. “Now, about 5 percent of the time I thought I was going to spend on photography is actually photography; 95 percent is the work of running any business. So the question is not so much do I enjoy the photography less, it’s do I regret taking that time away from the photography so I could say I do photography.” So far, his answer is “no.” u fluent | 15


“On safari in Africa, there’s almost no tripod. There are some occasions where you can get out of the vehicle, but you’re almost always in it, for safety. So for stability, you have a beanbag — essentially a big pillow full of beans — that you can shape however you rest your big lens on it. It’s the most stable way to go.”


Leopard on a Dead Tree Tarangire NP, Tanzania u


“Photographing in Africa, I may have the elephant here, or the wildebeest here, but you can see sometimes backgrounds are stacked, stripes. Here’s the grass in the foreground that’s one tone, here’s a stripe of water the animal is standing in, then here’s another stripe of trees that are all the same tone. If you skip the detail and just look at the abstract level you can see things are simple. I like pictures that have tons going on, very noisy in terms of details, but on an abstract level they’re very simple.”


Stand of Sausage Trees in the Crater Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania u


“To me, Paris is all about B&W photography, that classic look. When I’m walking around the city, I’m seeing in B&W. Italy to me is all about color. I think it’s the location that determines B&W or color. But there’s always exceptions.”


A Pair of 4-Legged Creatures on Rue St. Honore in Paris u


“I still flip through the pages of my street photography books and linger on a photo and think, ‘What was going through their mind when they pressed the shutter?’ I hate ‘artspeak,’ so I don’t want to get too artspeak about it—but I wonder what was their creative spark,” says Burns. He names as favorite street photographers, CartierBresson, Kertész, Atget and a “more modern incarnation”— Peter Turnley. For landscape or wildlife, Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting and “someone I always learn something from online”—Gary Crabbe.


Crossword in the Cafe u


Alone by the Seine Paris, France u


“The duomo in Florence...it’s a very noisy building. It’s ornate to the nth degree. I photographed it and made a very high contrast image out of it and so it seems like there’s a ton going on. You could spend a lot of time looking over the image but if you step back it actually is pretty simple. There’s sort of a crenelated roof line in a bit of zigzag and there’s all the other detail, but if you look at it abstractly, you could imagine it’s basically just one tone. I’ve noticed in a lot of my recent stuff that things boil down to that.” 

Duomo & Baptistry in Florence, Italy

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daveburnsphoto.com info@daveburnsphoto.com 877-768-0055 Facebook


Orange House with Green Shutters in Riomaggiore Italy


Evan Boggess: Crashing Into Abstraction

A

By Sheila Kelly Vertino

long one wall of Evan Boggess’s dining room, his current muses perch

on small shelves — craggy mineral specimens stopping your gaze as you

walk by. An established master of figure painting, Boggess describes his current work as “crashing into abstraction,” and credits graduate studies

at the Hoffberger School of Painting at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore for this new direction and career re-boot.

“Graduate school has a way of figuring out what you’re good at and then telling you to do the exact opposite,” Boggess laughs. With the more abstract experimentations, Boggess’s paintings push the properties of perception. “Even with the figures, I’m trying to break up spatial logic. Things that we recognize as occupying the same space in an intelligible, readable way — I like to flip that on its head, and lead you to a false sense of security with the space.” Minerals as Muse “As I was working with the abstractions, the deconstructed areas began to get more important, even more than the representational part of it,” Boggess recalls. “But I didn’t know where they were going until my u

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photo by Judy Olsen | Judy Olsen Photography

Evan Boggess painting a portrait of his wife. “At this point in the process, I was revealing some of the first layers of the painting by scraping away surface paint,” says Boggess. “That allows the viewer to see how the portrait was constructed. It also created a deconstructed, heavily abstracted version of the traditional portrait.”

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“MAGLEV”

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“One thing that I do a lot — after I’ve made the shape of the canvas, and I’ve designed where all the hard-edge stuff is going — I’ll start the painting with a gesture. I load up a rag full of acrylic paint or something, and try to do the basic movement that I want out of the composition. Then I preserve that first surface gesture of the painting. I tape it off and actually sand it down. I’ll gesso over it and over it, so I can’t even see where the taped-off section was. And I forget about it. Then the very last thing that I do is take off the tape that preserved that gesture. The effect is that the first move of the painting becomes the last. It’s sort of the alpha and omega of the painting.”


parents [Lynn and Jennifer Boggess, both teaching artists at Fairmont State University] gave me a mineral specimen for Christmas. They had seen that I had been painting these things for years.” “So instead of just giving up realism (which is essentially what I was doing), I was able to find a subject matter that had all of those abstract qualities in it, balled up into one nice, tiny, little precious package!” Boggess’s paintings go far beyond just the beautiful colors and intriguing shapes of his mineral muses. “Conceptually, that just doesn’t cut it for me. There needs to be a little bit of gravitas to it. A little bit of risk, and seriousness to it, beyond just aesthetic considerations.” He researches the uses and mining methods of various minerals and then interprets related imagery into his paintings. For example, the unstable nature of powdered pyrite in flintlock muskets might show up in a Boggess painting as “something that has an explosive element to it.” From Clarity to Chaos Boggess’s artistic process begins with meticulous planning, and evolves into spontaneous expression at the end of the painting. He first designs the shape of the canvas, “Getting the projection worked out, figuring out how this is going to splay forward and interrupt our space with illusion.” Next he sketches the realistic elements of the mineral, so he knows exactly where to place it. “Tedium is a problem for me, so I’m very careful about where that goes. I don’t want to have to

put myself through three weeks of labor, just to find out that I don’t like the placement of [the mineral].” “The more chaotic stuff, the stuff that is smearing around and the gloppy things — those of course are spontaneous, intuitive. I think of them as reactions to what’s already there. Rather than begin from a place of chaos and pull clarity out of it, Boggess prefers “things to be disrupted right before they’re finished. That, to me, is exciting. It’s full of risk, and it’s not playing it safe, because there’s a very high probability that I’ll ruin something that I really liked, and I’ll have to deal with that!” Except on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he teaches painting and drawing at Shepherd University, a typical day finds Boggess painting from early morning to late at night. “If I don’t feel like painting anything, I figure out why, and I paint that….If my work is boring me…if I am intimidated by what’s going on, I figure out exactly why, and I go after that thing. Waiting for inspiration, waiting for something to pop or catch my eye, could be years,” explains Boggess as he returns to his minerals and his paints, and crashing into abstraction. u

“Grotto” — “With the more experimental stuff, I haven’t seen a combination of the things that I am doing. I have seen isolated instances of all of them: elements here and there…isometric illusionism, even the subject matter — painting rocks, minerals and gems. And then the really built-up, corporal quality of the oil paint — I’ve seen that a lot. In the post-post-post-postpost modern era that we’re in right now, I think everything has pretty well been claimed by somebody along the line. It’s the combinations that are where the unique quality of things are.” fluent | 31


“Redundant Recumbent”

Full Force Into Paint Evan Boggess has an unlimited passion for paint. “I’m full force into paint! I love the properties of paint and sometimes that leads me away from illustration and narrative and all those things.” Boggess works most often in acrylic, oil and professional-grade spray paint. “They each do certain things really well and very quickly and efficiently. “Spray paint gets really nice gradients, really nice transitions from one thing to the next. We recognize it as spray paint too. To go in and do that [speckling, spattering] with oil paint would be unnecessarily belabored. To achieve a really graphic, clean-edged effect and sheen, Boggess turns to acrylic paint. He prefers acrylic for “things 32 | fluent


that are supposed to look structural, synthetic, fake or inorganic….I don’t try to fight it. I just accept that acrylic does that.” For organic elements in a painting or something that refers to the body, Boggess uses oil paint. He quotes Willem de Kooning who famously said that “Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented.” Currently, Boggess has been painting most of the realism parts of his compositions in oil. He loves to push the qualities of each paint, to achieve a previously unseen look. For example in one painting, Boggess added a matte silver spray paint which “operates as a shadow or if you move a little farther, a highlight, depending on where you are standing. It pulls the viewer into that isometric range.”

“Right now I’m working on a way to get the entire process to include more of those experimental underlayers, the acrylic and the spray paint. And the drawing even, so they kind of congeal and become a little more free and open.” Boggess is “really careful to make sure [that the paint is] all archival and that it goes down on the surface in the right sequence….You can’t put acrylic onto oil paint. Same thing with certain kinds of spray paint. I only use professionalgrade spray paint. The stuff is actually pretty close to what they use to mark the roads with. It’s permanent. And it doesn’t mess with the quality of the acrylics or the other paints that go on top of it.” u

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“Illinois Dynamic”

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“I’ve always been doing figures, with a sort of deconstructed counterpart to it. I would take the process of painting a figure and break it down. Not the figure itself, but the process of painting the figure….I would keep either a physical or mental record of moves or lines or colors or sections of figure painting that I thought really transformed that painting….On the deconstructed area, I would throw all of that out of whack. Retain all those things, but I would randomize their occurrence. So they wouldn’t happen in the order in which they originally happened. It would still on some primal level, refer back to the painted portrait. You could see spots in it that connected, but it was completely warped.” fluent


Evan Boggess is represented by The Bridge Gallery, Shepherdstown, WV, where his solo exhibit opens June 13 and runs through July 5. The opening reception is Saturday, June 13, from 6 to 8 pm. For more about the artist, please see his website: evanboggessart.com.

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“You Don’t Even Realize How Much You’ve Learned”: an Interview With Homer Hickam By Zach Davis This interview was conducted by phone in October 2014. It will be readily apparent to the reader that Mr. Homer Hickam is passionate about his craft and is highly knowledgeable of a variety of topics. Distilling more than two hour’s worth of conversation is no small task, and there are—by necessity—some edits required for space. To read the rest of the interview (which is highly recommended for fans of Homer Hickam as well as anyone interested in the writing process), please visit the fluent website.

FLUENT The goal here, really, is to get a little more

idea of who you are as a writer and what you think of the writing life. As much as possible, I’d like to avoid those questions you probably get asked the most. Some of those are going to be a little hard to avoid because they are questions that I personally find interesting and like to ask other writers. HOMER HICKAM Well, feel free to ask anything you like. FLUENT One of the most important, if not the most

important, questions is when did you realize you wanted to be—or when did you realize you were—a storyteller? HH Actually, the third grade. All of us were asked by our teacher to write a short story, and when I wrote mine, the teacher thought it was so good that she 36 | fluent

mimeographed it and had it sent all around the school. So, when I was in the third grade I already had a fan base in junior high, which is pretty cool. It was historical fiction. I remember it very well—it was the story of Horatio at the bridge during the Roman Empire. So, obviously my teachers had picked up very early that I was a good writer and storyteller, so I continued to write the whole time I was in Coalwood and later wrote for the college newspaper down at Virginia Tech. FLUENT When you were first starting out, did you

have a specific audience in mind, or were you more writing to entertain yourself ? HH After writing a number of short stories, I came out with a little newspaper in Coalwood. We had to handprint it, and I think we had about a dozen issues. I was definitely writing for my teachers, and for the people of Coalwood, for my parents, and for just anybody who would read my stuff. FLUENT Is that who you write for today, anyone

who wants to read your work, do you have a specific audience? HH (laughs) Well, of course it’s gotten a little more complicated now. I write for what I hope will be general audiences, typically. But now I also write for the publishing houses and the editors who bring me on to write particular books, so there’s, first, those


Ledt: Homer Hickam on the set of “October Sky,” based on his book rocket boys, April 1998.

folks you want to please so that they’ll publish your book, and then of course you want to attract general audiences as much as you can. FLUENT Do you have a preferred writing time during

the day? HH Yeah. I usually do my new writing—my fresh writing—in the morning. I’ll usually put in 4 or 5 hours in the morning. In the afternoon, I don’t typically trust myself to write new stuff, so what I like to do then is go back and revise. So morning is for fresh writing, afternoon is for revision. FLUENT Do you write for a set number of hours, or a

specific word count, or is it more “That’s enough for now?” HH Well, sometimes I do work to a word count or page count. I would love to do the Hemmingway thing of five pages a day, but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’ll go as much as ten pages a day. But it really kinda depends on the book I’m writing, or if I’m writing an editorial, or blog, or whatever it happens to be that I’m involved in. If I have a blog to write, I’ll typically get that done in a couple of hours. If I’m working on a book, I like to get at least two or three pages done every day. FLUENT Do you have a designated writing space,

someplace you prefer to be in when you’re composing? HH Here at home, I have a loft with my computer, desk, printer and scanner, and various research materials. I’ll typically retreat to the loft, which is a bit private. I can write just about anywhere, though. We have a house down in St. John, the Virgin Islands, and down there I carry a laptop. I’m usually working on the dining room table down there. Or, if I’m travelling I can work in a hotel room, if I have to.

FLUENT I believe I know the answer to this already,

but do you have a first reader, someone to whom you show something you’ve been working on once you’re ready for someone besides you to read it? HH Typically, I’ll run it past Linda, my wife. She’s a pretty good editor, and she often catches the mistakes. Sometimes it’s just she’s catching punctuation problems and that kind of thing. But quite often she’ll tell me, “I think you’ve gone off in the weeds, here. You’re going in the wrong direction.” Or “I don’t know why you’ve gone this way” or “I don’t like your character” or whatever it happens to be. She generally gives very good feedback. I don’t always take it, except for punctuation, because she’s usually right about that. What we like to do is have as clean a manuscript as possible before I push the button and send it off to an editor or publisher. It’s better for an author to do that and not depend on an editor in New York to find errors in your manuscript. FLUENT I would think, especially writing as you do—

writing things that are more personal—you would like to have as much control over that as possible and not leave it up to someone who hadn’t gone through it to sort of shape how it’s presented. HH Well, I’m up to about nineteen books now, and of those, I think six are what might fall into the personal memoir category. I wrote a very successful historical fiction series, the Josh Thurlow series, so it’s not always personal. My main concern is that I want to give an editor a story that when they read it, they’re thinking “I can’t wait to see what happens next” and they keep turning the pages even though they’re swamped with manuscripts. I want that editor to look at my work first. So a lot of attention goes to that and not only making sure that the manuscript is as clean as possible, but also that there is as little editorial work on the publisher’s side as possible. u fluent | 37


The three books that comprise Hickam’s Josh Thurlow series.

FLUENT How important to you are first lines? You

HH Well, you’ll change, sometimes. Sometimes

mentioned wanting to have something that’s a page turner, that’ll keep people interested. Do you write until you feel that “This is the ultimate grabber” or is it more having a great first paragraph or first page, or first chapter? How would you say you like to propel your stories? HH First lines are very important. That’s why I go back almost constantly while I’m writing a book and work on the first chapter. I think it’s very important to hook the reader from the first chapter, but I don’t think I’m the best at it. I’m a good closer, and I have to work really hard to be a good opener.

radically, and then you’ll aim toward that. I’ll realize halfway through the book that I’ve got a better ending than I thought. The main thing is you don’t want to telegraph the ending. Literally, sometimes the way to keep from telegraphing the ending is to be surprised yourself at what the ending turns out to be. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction, but I believe that I need an ending in mind when I start, or I’m liable to ramble all around. But as I get to know the story better, or know the characters better, I’ll see a better way to end it, or perhaps a more surprising way to end it.

FLUENT When you’re writing, do you typically have

developing during the course of a story. How long do you typically let a story gestate—characters, plot, general outline—before you actually start writing it? HH That kind of varies. Usually, I’ll make a proposal to my editor for a book just on a kind of general idea, and then once the general idea or concept for a book is accepted, I’ll really start to think about the story in depth, the characters and plot. Now, if it’s for a series, like the Josh Thurlow series, then I’ve already got the characters in mind, but my proposal might be what I’m going to do with them or what’s going to happen. That can vary or change once I start thinking about it. Generally, what I’ll do is write a couple of

that closing in mind? Do you have an end goal that you’re shooting toward? HH I do. I wait to write it. It’s sort of my treat. As I get toward the end, it seems like my writing goes a lot faster, a lot snappier. But, I hold out on that last chapter or that last scene because it’s what I’ve been aiming for the whole book. FLUENT Do you find that when you write with that

goal in mind, what you thought might be the ending changes, or do you really try to keep that specific goal in mind?

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FLUENT You mentioned having the characters


spec chapters and know whether I’m on to something or not. It takes a while, sometimes, to get the gears turning. Sometimes it’ll catch right on, away I’ll go, but usually I’ll do a few chapters and modify them, play with them, tweak them, throw ’em away, start all over again over several months. FLUENT I’m really interested in your series. As you

mentioned, you have a couple of different series. When you’re writing a story for a series, are you thinking “This is a story I want to tell with these characters” or is it more “It’s time to tell another story with these characters?” HH Well, the first time through, you don’t necessarily know it’s going to be a series. At least, I don’t. So, you’re writing the story, you’ve inhabited it with certain characters, it’s interested readers and publishers, so then it’s a matter of “what happens next?” Now, in the next book you’re able to leave hooks because you know it’s going to be a series, and you don’t have to finish, you don’t have to conclude storylines because you know you’ve got another book to finish up that storyline. So, series are interesting. What I like to do, is that if you read the third book in the series, you’ll understand it as well as if you’ve read the first two. That gets a bit tricky because you don’t want too much backstory, but you do want enough so that the reader understands what’s going on. FLUENT That got me thinking of John D. MacDonald

and his Travis McGee series, where you could pick one up and you get a sense of who this character is, and you get a bit of the recurring characters, but you could pick one up in any order, and it’s not essential to have read any of the others to understand what’s going on. HH Yeah, it’s interesting with the Josh Thurlow series that people who pick up the third book, The Far Reaches, first, they like it as an adventure, historical fiction WWII-type of novel. If people have followed the series from the beginning and have followed from The Keeper’s Son to The Ambassador’s Son to The Far Reaches, I’ve had many, many readers tell me that they don’t like Josh as the series has progressed, and I don’t hear that from people who’ve read the books out of sequence. The reason for that is that Josh, in the first book, is pretty likeable, and as we go along and he goes further into the war and into some horrific situations,

I couldn’t let him stay the same character. He had to change, and he’s actually gradually going insane. That was tricky for me as a writer. I couldn’t imagine that what he goes through in the series would allow him to remain as easygoing and as likeable as he is in the first book. So it’s good feedback from readers. You know, they wish he was the old Josh, but those with post-traumatic stress, I’m sure they’d all rather be the same as they were before being in combat. FLUENT That’s a really interesting critique, in that it

seems some readers want the character to stay the same way throughout and not have any sort of growth or evolution—or devolution, depending on what the character is going through—but something I think is very important to have happen, even in a series, is that this is a real character and the events have impact and meaning, that this isn’t a serialized TV show, let’s say, where the status quo is reestablished at the end of each episode. HH Yeah. You know, with the Coalwood series, which is Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way and Sky of Stone, I’m writing about me, and you’re learning about me and expect growth because I’m getting older. With the Josh Thurlow series, he’s of interest to me, and I’m learning about him, and even I’m surprised sometimes at how he evolves. But, looking back on it, I think he became a whole person in the telling of his story through these three books. The Crater Trueblood series is a Young Adult series, so growth there was a little bit stunted because it all takes place over a couple of years when the characters are still very young, and since of course it is a Young Adult series, I didn’t want him to get too sophisticated, too adult. So that was a little more difficult, writing within the Young Adult genre, but it was a nice challenge. I enjoyed it. But it did mean that I had to hold the series to certain standards that are expected of Young Adult novels. FLUENT What attracted you to the Young Adult genre?

You mentioned liking the challenge: Was that part of it, to sort of see if you could do it? HH Yeah, that was part of it. I like to write in different genres. If the publishers had their way, all I’d do is write Rocket Boys over and over and over again. That’s all they really wanted. I just wasn’t interested in that. So, I took a gamble with my career and went off to write in different genres—totally different genres.u

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I mean, historical military fiction is totally alien to anything like Rocket Boys, and The Dinosaur Hunter— which is a sort of paleontological mystery, which not too many people have done—that is totally different from the historical fiction. So, I’m grateful to my publishers for letting me do that. Now, on the Young Adult novel, this was for Thomas Nelson, which is a Christian publisher, and I had a four-book deal with them. The first book, Red Helmet, was a sort of romance story set in today’s West Virginia coal fields. I enjoyed that a lot, and a couple of years passed before I got around to writing the next book, and by then the Young Adult genre had become really hot. The editors at Thomas Nelson asked, “Would you be interested in doing it?” and I was a little bit reluctant. A lot of people think that Rocket Boys and the whole Coalwood series is Young Adult. It’s not. It was not written for young adults, really, although I’m certainly glad they’ve classed it that way and enjoy it. So, I did not think I had much experience writing Young Adult. I didn’t read the genre and wasn’t sure I totally understood it. I went back and read some Young Adult novels, and frankly I didn’t care much for them, so I was in a quandary on what to do. I hadn’t written any science fiction novels—a lot of people think I have, but I haven’t—even though I like the genre, so I decided, “Ok, I know the science fiction genre, so maybe I can combine Young Adult with science fiction.” And I took that to Thomas Nelson, and they liked the idea.

FLUENT You mentioned that you have a lot of research

materials in your writing space. Can you talk a bit about research? Do you feel the need to be thoroughly accurate in your writing, especially in your historical fiction, or even the science fiction, where you want to get those technical details correct? Or is it more supplying enough detail to get you into the story? HH Well, definitely the latter. When you’re writing historical fiction, you really do want to get the details correct. With the Josh Thurlow series, the first book takes place on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during WWII, so I was my own research there because I had done my first book, Torpedo Junction, which is a military history of the Outer Banks during WWII. But, I also did a lot of research about the Outer Banks themselves and the people who live there and the colloquialisms they have, the dialect they have. So that’s a case in point. I became thoroughly familiar with that Outer Banks type of accent, but you can’t use it all the time. If you do, you wear out your reader, so you have to be sparing with it. It’s not totally accurate with always using the dialect, but there’s enough to give you a taste. But, in the second book when I moved Josh Thurlow out to the South Pacific, that was a challenge in research. I had not been to the South Pacific, I had not researched it before, so I read numerous books about the South Pacific during the early part of WWII, and I ended up with a young Jack Kennedy as a character, and also a young Richard Nixon as a character in it, so

The Coalwood Trilogy: The three books that rocketed Hickam to international fame.


FLUENT (laughter)

HH And they’ll let you know when you’ve made a

mistake. So, rather than say the model number of a particular Japanese rifle, I’ll just say “Japanese rifle” because I know I’m asking for trouble [if I don’t]. Even if I’ve researched it and I’m fairly certain it’s right, someone will say that at that particular time and date on that particular island, the rifle I wrote about wasn’t in use. You kind of have to get a bit generic. If it doesn’t help the story to do the Tom Clancy thing and call it the Mark 8 torpedo, then it just doesn’t make sense to leave that all in there. FLUENT When you’re reading something that has that

intensive level of detail, do you find that wearying or exhausting? Does it ever seem like an author is trying to show you just how much they know about a given topic? HH Yeah, and I think that comes into play when you’re writing. You don’t want to tell people; you want to show them. If the characters are using a particular piece of equipment in a submarine or what have you, you want to get those details right for accuracy’s sake. It helps you in your writing, too. Even though you may not use it, you know it, and you can write with confidence about related topics. If you have your characters sitting inside a German U-boat and you have no idea how the periscope works, or how many torpedo tubes they have, or anything about that U-boat, it’s gonna come off fake, there’s no question about it. But, yeah, authors who use that level of detail for everything wear me out, and I don’t enjoy reading it. You need to use just enough to let the reader understand you know what you’re talking about. FLUENT Have you ever approached a work and then

backed off because you knew the level of research was going to be too intense? Or, when you have an idea do you think, “This is the level of detail I need, and I’m going to get it?” HH The latter. I like to research. Researching is fun. Sometimes you research so much that you end up

doing way more than you need for your book. I get that way. I need to know when to cut it off. In the book that’s coming out next year, my parents—long before I was born—and their pet alligator end up in Florida during the 1935 hurricane down there. I started doing research on this hurricane, which didn’t have a name—I don’t think they started naming hurricanes until the late 1940s or 50s—but I started researching this hurricane, and before I knew it I had read four or five books on this hurricane. I had enough detail I needed on the first one, but there I was fascinated by the details of this thing. So you’ve got to watch out for that, especially if you’re on deadline. Photo Homer Hickam Facebook

I had to do in-depth research on those two when they were in the South Pacific during WWII. The problem with WWII novels is that you immediately come upon people who know far more than you are ever going to know about WWII. We call ’em “rivet counters.”

FLUENT How important would you say social media

is these days for a writer? Being on Twitter and Facebook, and being connected, let’s say? HH Well, I’ve got mixed emotions about it. It’s something we feel like we need to do these days as writers, and if you look at my Facebook and Twitter pages, you’ll see I do quite a bit of it. I would say, so far, the results are kind of mixed. You don’t really know who’s reading, or if they’re readers or are just interested in your life or what you have to say. So you can’t really tell if you’ve got a bunch of new readers or if it’s the same group of readers we already have who only want Rocket Boys and aren’t interested in all the other things that I do. But, we do it. I think especially for a new writer it’s important to get out there and build interest in your book so you can get the wheels turning and help it along. But it’s a question that not only writers like you and I worry about but publishers and editors, too, about whether or not social media is doing the job. To read the rest of the interview (which is highly recommended for fans of Homer Hickam as well as anyone interested in the writing process), please visit the fluent website. fluent | 41


POETRY

Watching the Plants Come Up

Four Thousand Suppers

In early March, the slow concentrated watching. In the earliest morning light, hesitating to start the trip to work, I walk the rock garden, staring at the short stalks of daffodils two inches out of the ground, a tentative green, a diffident green, pushing out from under the last crumbled autumn leaves.

At the kitchen table at six o’clock. Dark winter evenings with my father in his winter underwear, quilted like an astronaut. Blue summer evenings after my mother called my name on the lilting breeze which reached me at far corners of the neighborhood, her voice known among all the others.

Embryonic leaves of chrysanthemums, green rosettes of sedum clustered around last summer’s brown stalks. More quickly than the crocus, the bean seeds rise. In the summer, I watch them come up — just their first strong tiny green arms, elbowing their way out of the earth, clot of earth still clinging. The next morning, a little leaf. It is hard to open the car door, and climb into its cold gassy arms, and go off to work when each morning a revelation waits at home.

42 | fluent

We ate four thousand suppers in that small room together. What did we discuss? Linoleum and carpet, casement windows, the wild McElroys, the loud Mrs. Supportas, scenes from the fifth grade, my problems with bushels and pecks. Four thousand suppers — oceans of tea. The man and woman at the table grow grey. I grow up — feet finally reach the floor.

At the Year’s Elbow September smells in the air like school, like the first awareness of freedom’s limits, of the inevitable snow. Still green leaves elegant with lacy bug eaten holes, rustle in the still warm sun. A bug runs up your arm and changes directions at September, at your elbow, the year’s elbow. A slight body language of wind, a gesture of paling light says Yes, you are here at the year’s elbow. In the morning, the children will go back to school. In the evening, the light will move away with satchels of flowers.


Georgia O’Keeffe Looks Over Her Shoulder Just when she thinks she’s painted all her fear, When bleached skulls turn to poppies red as lust, The sound of something wild attracts her ear.

Anne Higgins, a member of the Daughters of Charity, teaches English at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg Maryland. She has had about 100 poems published, in Commonweal, Spirituality and Health, The Melic Review, The Umbrella Journal, The Centrifugal Eye and a variety of small magazines. Garrison Keillor read her poems “Open-Hearted” and “Cherry Tomatoes” on “The Writer’sAlmanac.” Five full-length books and two chapbooks of her poetry have been published, most recently, Reconnaissance, in 2014.

My Father, at 92 At two o’clock today he declared “Well, it’s time to go.” Where?” I asked Where?” my blind and deaf mother asked. “Home.” ”But you are home,” we said. “You’ve been living here eight years,” I said, “since you were eighty-four.” My father, now unsteady on your feet, you don’t remember your location, your wallet, your keys, but you do remember when I ran out in front of oncoming traffic one day, after kindergarten. You were on the other side of the street. You said it was because I was already nearsighted and no one knew it yet. I recall it was because I didn’t notice the oncoming traffic — All I saw was you, YOU, I saw clearly, and still do, standing on the other side of the street, waiting for me.

Black jacket, white soft collar curving near the place where desert sunset turns to rust awakens in that neck a prickling fear. The haunches of dead lovers gleam as clear in skulls as in the orchid’s velvet crust. Dry rattling of bone curls back her ear. Her upswept silken hair declares the year in shades of gray and tortoise brown as dust just when she thought she’d painted all her fear. Her thin pink pearl of seashell curves to hear the desert’s voice, more fierce, more dry than just as three fine wrinkles flow down from her ear. Such gaunt grace turns her, luscious and severe, containing bones and orchids, fruit and crust! Just when she thinks she’s painted all her fear, the sound of something wild attracts her ear. Jigsaw Begin the puzzle; there is no escape. Restore the upturned ruins of the night; They do not match by color but by shape. The pieces grow in number, shrink in size. The shadows pull us closer to the light. Begin the puzzle. There is no escape. The broken sky compels us to awake; the scattered shreds of mountains dim our sight; They do not match by color but by shape. Remark the texture of the curves and planes. Stand back and focus mystery’s delight; Begin the puzzle; there is no escape. The New Year dawns upon the ritual; We put the sky together, fitted tight; It does not match by color, but by shape. We feel and test; we fail and find. We rise. Return the picture to component shards: Begin the puzzle. There is no escape. It does not match by color, but by shape.

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ED:CETERA

What Did You Do in the War, Dad? BY ED ZAHNISER

Write and edit newspapers in the United States and the Republic of Korea, a.k.a. South Korea—which latter place locates this bit of reportage on a journalistic trip to outlying batteries, i.e., units, of the 38th Artillery Brigade, Air Defense, meaning missiles, mostly Hawks with “conventional warheads” but some Hercs—Hercules missiles, which must’ve carried “unconventional warheads” because everyone who worked on them had special, red-flagged personnel files. Most of these outlying batteries were set atop small mountains where, in winter and early spring, two and a half-ton military trucks episodically slid off the mountains on the steep, unstable soils while parked. From some of these mountain tops we could look across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea. The newspaper of the 38th Arty was called The Gauntlet. Don J. Harris of Lompoc, CA was assistant editor. Sgt. Baek Sung Ho—a graduate student in electrical engineering now doing his mandatory military service— wrote and edited the two-page Korean-language insert that served the Korean soldiers attached to our brigade. This was late 1969. The Viet Nam “police conflict” was still raging— which tempered our complaining about our situation in Korea. I had hoped that Asst. Editor Don J. Harris, driver without peer on our recent journeys throughout this “Land of the Mourning Calm” would write up this account so you’d get a fresh point of view on things, but Don got caught by the military inspection games and had to put in time at the motor pool, etc. etc., so he never got beyond a second paragraph. 44 | fluent

Because our Orderly Room (administrative office not always that orderly) was out of DA Form 647s (the sheet you have to officially sign out on to leave the battery area or to leave on TDY—temporary duty, as we were trying to—(OR WHEN YOU GET OUT OF THE MAN’S ARMY!), we had to wait around and didn’t get off on time. Finally, we went up to the Brigade office ourselves and fetched our orderly room a new supply of the Form 647s. We drove south on the MSR (Military something Route) and dropped off our commanding officer 1st Lt. J.G. Ballard at AADCP (you don’t want to know), where I am now writing this in their orderly room)— then we drove south toward Reno Hill, the isolated battalion headquarters of 6 Bn 44th Arty (missile). We stopped a couple times to rest our innards from the beating administered by the Korean answer to ox cart trails and Indian paths. We also bought a little cantaloupe-like melon and feasted on its fruity freshness and simultaneously prayed we wouldn’t get the royal hepatitis from it, or spinal men-gi-tus (as our Drill Instructors in basic training used to call it). I wish I could put Don’s W.C. Fields inflection on these things in print. Don imitates Fields to perfection. The rice paddies were a beautiful, indescribably deep yellow-green with the low rays of the down-daying sunlight bleeding through them, and the little kids smiled and waved at us all our way along. We had to make many turns on roads which we didn’t know, so whenever we got to a crossroads we’d whip out the note that Sgt. Baek Sung-ho had written for us in Han-gul (Korean) and lay it on the most knowledgeable looking bystander. Like everything


Sergeant Baek produced, it was a good note and got us where we were going. At one point we picked up a drunk Korean Augmentee to the US Army (Katusa) sergeant and gave him a lift. His friend, a Korean soldier, also inebriated, jumped out of our jeep at the first sighting of a girl along the road. We arrived at Reno Hill and found our information specialist contact there under a two and a half-ton truck changing one of the tires in preparation for an inspection. We wanted SOMETHING TO EAT, but they were very polite and took us to a movie instead— a western I can’t even remember the name of—before we finally went to the club and got a grilled cheese sandwich. Their isolated situation made Don and me glad to be living with the Air Force, despite our being Army draftees. The Reno Hill “club” was like a dingy bar. They have a hole-in-the-wall Post Exchange (PX) store, and nil recreational facilities except a running course in karate, which for some people wouldn’t come close to recreation. Mainly they have movies and beer, and they partake heavily of both. Some of them even get tired to tears of life in the adjacent village, the local nest of usurers and loose women, so they do fight a lot of boredom, which is not the usual situation for a battalion headquarters. (But at least we didn’t get sent to Viet Nam, right?) We did newspaper and hometown news interviews with several people and took a look around. One soldier had been with the Peace Corps in Nepal two years—and now this! But he is mature and will figure his head out of all this. From their tactical site atop an adjoining mountain we could see the ocean (this is the west coast of Korea—so we couldn’t strain our eyes homeward across the Great Little Brother of Waters). Beautiful sights: island, rivers, cove and inlets, but so hazy that no photograph would show much. Then we got in the jeep again—the third day now—and took off for Seoul, the capital city, with a hole in the jeep’s radiator and stopped here and there to fill the radiator with God knows what kinds of infested waters. Water chu-say-oh, water oop-so! we’d say to curious bystanders and hope they’d know that our wild gesticulating toward the radiator would clue them in that we needed water. Thence to Seoul and a shower and at the United Services Organization (USO)

Ed Zahniser defends US interests in South Korea, 1969.

and walk around Seoul some. Then listen to the Cream album “Fresh Cream”—for the song “I’m So Glad”— on their huge German stereo in the tiny sound-proof room for a while and crash early. In the morning we checked all our stuff at the USO and went to the Myung Dong region of Seoul and took photos for a story about it. Sergeant Baek couldn’t come up to translate and describe for us, so we’ll have to do the story later. It’s a fascinating area. Young people hang out there, and there are lots of European-style shops and meeting places. Then we went out to the Lutheran Servicemen’s Center and stayed two nights. A Yale student of archeology who’d been digging in Egypt and Crete u fluent | 45


and traveling through Afghanistan, Thailand, Hong Kong, etc. was also staying there. It was great talking with him and realizing once again that freedom is out there somewhere. He had a beard and was up on things. We talked about Oriental art, architecture, yin yang, Egypt, etc. He was appalled by my dogtags and the fact that I was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow now doing THIS. I agreed with him. He was ready for Canada. Putting the newspaper to bed at the Moon Wha Printing Company in downtown Seoul was a super hassle. The machines broke down three times and I had to work until 3 pm Saturday. And then we headed the jeep back south to our domicile at Osan Air Force Base with our can full of water to spice up our leaking radiator. A beautiful day with clouds and blue sky and sun through rice paddies. We went down the Korean version of the Authobahn—it was built to double as a landing strip—which was relaxing after so much travel on lousy roads. And that ended the trip. Pretty soon they’ll start charging me for this typewriter ribbon and the roll of Teletype paper on which I’m eating up the ribbon. fluent

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46 | fluent


fluent | 47


FICTION

Names and Cigarettes BY KYLE ELLINGSON

It’s nicely blindsiding when someone whom you didn’t expect to remembers your name. It’s as if he or she is saying, We are equals. Now and then someone memorizes your name just to flatter you. Maybe he requires something in return. Maybe he wants to look like he knows you. Maybe he just intends for passersby to think he has various friends, and that you’re one of them. You remember his name, too, this guy, but only as the name of someone worth avoiding, and telling loved ones to avoid. You never let on that you know his name. You are tidy about withholding encouragements. If you’re a smoker, you know how perfect it is to meet someone who shares his cigarettes. Seeing him again, you’re happy to return the favor. The give and take, the rendezvous, becomes a pastime. Certain strangers let you bum a cigarette in hopes you’ll smoke it in their company. Plainly indebted, you stick around and let them search you, so to speak, for things to talk about — for better and better impressions they might make. These semi-strangers — not close enough to be friends and too socially repellent to be acquaintances —  are tricky to avoid in life. Ely was a combination of both kinds of semi-stranger. On campus Ely knew a lot of names. He walked down crowded campus pathways, and his brain popped with the names (often nicknames) of strangers walking past. These names punctuated his private thoughts. Campus was small; still, there were over two thousand student names to be learned. Ely would learn yours, whoever you were, and not necessarily from you. I first encountered him in the lunch line early freshmen year. 48 | fluent

“Hey, Connor,” he said. I looked him over. He seemed genuinely at ease, as if in the company of an acquaintance — but I knew I’d never met him, had never given him my name. “It’s alright if you don’t remember me,” he said. “I’m Ely.” He told me we’d met last weekend, or the one before, at this or that off-campus party. I hadn’t yet been to any parties. To skip any weirdly intimate bickering, I didn’t correct him. He moved right ahead and told me that his plan for Lent was to give up hang gliding. Not that he’d ever done it — he was only giving up the possibility of it. Was this comedy or small talk? He was leaving it up to me, I think. But I’d gone quiet, focused on assembling my salad. I was ashamed of his bizarre topic: Lent was at least five months away. Ely, by some formidable social methodology, functioned perfectly well against silence. Inspired by the salad fixings I was spooning up, he made a point about bacon bits: they were, he said, just flavored plastic. Then he dropped our one-sided exchange: A girl was in line behind him. He started telling her about the bacon bits. Then — I could hardly believe it — his Lenten plans. In Fall of sophomore year, I was invited to drink a few beers at the dorm room of a classmate who had, for a month or so, regularly agreed with and expanded upon points of mine in class. Most days he strolled after class with me at an unhurried, conversational pace, out along pristine level brick paths under shady maples in the ear-aching breeze,


as we exercised our mutual agreeability on all the conflicts and opinions of our personal lives. His duplex-style dormitory had a private entry: a tiny cement stoop crowded by a single plastic deck chair and a charcoal grill. That afternoon, we sat alone in his ground-floor living room long enough to drink two beers when we heard a small group of his roommates walk onto the stoop. When they stayed huddled out in the cold, I interrupted our conversation to ask my friend why. I worried they’d forgotten a key, and I was eager to show courtesy by helping them in. “There must be cigarettes,” he said, peering out between the window blinds. My friend and I put on our coats, and as he opened the interior door, he bade his four roommates to take a step down the stairwell, making room on the stoop for the screen door to open. We two-stepped single file into the wind. I shut the interior door and the screen door behind me, and the four roommates replaced themselves on the miniature stoop. I huddled in, deliberately un-shy, helping to enclose their circle of warmth and smoke. Ely stood across from me in the circle. Instinctually, I almost stepped back out of it. This was the first time I’d come within social range of him since our meeting in the lunch line a year ago. My friend was introducing me — I, knowing no one, presented a firmly jovial front. “Connor, this is Ely,” my friend said. “I know Connor,” said Ely. He thumbed open a pack of cigarettes, and my friend picked out the last three, handed one to me, put one to his lips and tucked the other in the brim of his beanie. Ely was ready with

a lighter, and I experienced some animal discomfort lowering my face so intimately close to his hand. Ely randomly asked the group if anyone had ever eaten squid brains. When no one made a sign of having heard him, he proceeded to describe a plate of squid brains he had eaten at a bizarre wedding over summer break. It seemed he was waiting for us to congratulate him on having a palate so extraordinary as to find pleasure in a plate of brains, but I, reminded of his Lent story and his bacon bits, was unwilling to. “Are you a roommate?” I asked Ely with a helpless flatness and harshness. I was sunk moodily in the evidence that my friend was involved in some Christlike sympathy of Ely, voluntarily rooming with him, and that our sapling relationship would be tested all too early by a division of loyalties. Thankfully, my friend turned a private face of haggardness at me, in answer to my question. “No, Ely’s next door,” my friend said, seeming to shiver and nod in gratitude of the fact. The shiver seemed to pass through the other guys in the huddle, and I felt at home among them. To Ely’s credit, he seemed to feel this shiver too — he hung his head until it passed. “I don’t live here,” Ely said in a hard luck tone. “But it’d be awesome to. These guys are my best friends this year.” “Ely comes over to give us cigarettes,” one of the roommates said to me, like I was about to hear listed the amusing quirks of a caged pet. I noticed then that Ely wasn’t smoking. “You don’t smoke?” I asked. This topic obviously piqued Ely, because his usual suctioning gaze had fallen out of the circle and was clinging to the twig u fluent | 49


and leaf debris in the seat of the unoccupied plastic chair. A moment passed, and I almost hoped he was ignoring my question — it was a wish of mine to see him conform to some respectable mode of retaliation against the silence we’d shown him. But, no. “I’m the only person I ever heard of who buys cigarettes but doesn’t smoke,” he said. We all sensed another edge to his words, a ploy for pity. It was a very dull edge among the guys I was with, and between us happy smokers there passed no impulse to question or reject Ely’s generosity. We disliked him, and so the stakes seemed fair enough. But in the end, after that first day on the stoop, I was unwilling to make a habit of seeking Ely’s cigarettes, and conducted most visits with my new friend well away from his stoop. My relationship with tobacco was not intense enough to numb me to Ely’s contrived topics and mopey self-narratives, the persistence and futility of which depressed and exasperated me. One night Senior year my future wife and I were walking out of the Science Building after viewing a free, public film reel of people in flying squirrel suits and sky-diving mountain parachute skiers. We lingered after the viewing to schmooze with a favorite 50 | fluent

professor, and the crowded viewership was long gone as we exited the building. Ahead of us the dreamy yellow tungsten street lamps stood evenly networked across the rolling campus, and behind us rose the tall cement structure of the amphitheater. From behind we heard a voice call after us, and we turned. The speaker was above, high up — a face peered down from the high roof. I squinted, and against the night stars perceived it was Ely, his face whitened in the flood lamps aimed up the face of the building. He was too far up for me to read his expression, but in his voice I heard boredom deeply suppressed. “You guys ever climb up here?” he said. “How ’bout it? Come around back — it’s easy. Walk around and I’ll show you.” He stared down at us, unwilling even to gesture until he’d received confirmation of our intent to climb — very little energy seemed to idle in him. My future wife was a sophomore and had never met nor heard of Ely. “Do you know him?” she whispered to me, her tone graciously withholding judgment. “I know of him,” I said. “You guys doing anything fun tonight?” Ely said. There was a hollowness in his voice, and I worried again that we had stumbled upon some desperate


business of his. If I alerted my future wife, I knew she would try to climb up and comfort Ely and that I would follow her, and that Ely — flattered that two people had climbed a building to spend time with him — might go overboard and think he was in the running to become a future godparent to our children. Once he’d thought something like that, he would keep on thinking it. It would probably become how he introduced himself to new people when in my presence. The other possibility was that my future wife would get extreme and ask Ely if he needed medical help, which I worried would invoke one of his downer narratives. I had, though, paused too long in deliberation. My future wife waved goodnight sweetly to Ely, and I guided her down the path toward my private room. The next morning, a mounting part of me waited to hear that a body had dropped from the roof of the Science Building, but in the breakfast line I spotted Ely — alive and operative — to my temporary relief. I wished the best of luck to whoever wound up with him. fluent

the new f word arts | culture | events

Kyle Ellingson lives in St. Paul, MN. “Names and Cigarettes” is his first published piece.

The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery

Spring exhibit, “Drawings & Prints,” through April 26. Upcoming exhibits include Rebecca Grace Jones, May 9–June 7, and Evan Boggess, June 13–July 5.

8566 Shepherdstown Pike, Shepherdstown WV 25443 • 304.876.2300 Fine Art, Ceramics, Photography & Custom Framing fluent | 51


CODA

Urban Streams

September 26, 1954. New York, NY. ŠVivian Maier/Maloof Collection

Finding Vivian Maier, April 24, 7 pm, Reynolds Hall, Shepherdstown, WV. Post-film discussion led by photographer Benita Keller.

Spring 2015 Fluent  
Spring 2015 Fluent  
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