Painting of Paprika by Fossfor see inside for a review and interview with the author
Cover image: Diego Cupolo Artwork: Fossfor The Magazine on-line: http://viewfromheremagazine.com EDITOR: Mike French Managing Editor: Sydney Nash The Crew: Kathleen Maher, Paul Burman, Stella Carter, Naomi Gill, Jen Persson, Jane Turley, BT Cassidy Cassidy, Diego Cupolo, Kerrie Anne & Fossfor. Copyright: The View From Here magazine gazine 2009 2009-07-03 Published by BLAM Productions based in the UK email: email@example.com Painting of microphone used throughout: Fossfor Fiction articles in this magazine: All people, places and events depicted therein are fictional and not meant to resemble any actual people, places, or events unless otherwise specified.
Some literary journals can be a bit worthy and self-regarding. regarding. The View From Here is not like that at all. It packs in a lot of interesting stuff, with some heavyweight interviews in and comment pieces, not to mention original fiction. But it also pulls off the rare trick of being highly entertaining.
Roger Morris A Vengeful Longing
Katie Fforde lives in Gloucestershire, England, with her husband and some of her three children. Recently her old hobbies of ironing and housework have given way to singing, flamenco dancing and husky racing. She claims clai this keeps her fit. She is the author of fourteen previous bestsellers. Katie's books have been translated into Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish at the latest count. Letâ€™s start by letting me ask you, yo how do you pronounce your last name? Fforde sounds the same as Ford. It's just a fancy way of spelling it. Your Twitter bio states you are a Romantic novelist and bad Flamenco dancer. Which came first? I was a romantic novelist long, long before I was a flamenco dancer which is only quite recent. Sad really, if I'd discovered it earlier I'd be a much better flamenco dancer! I believe you are shortly to be the next Chair of the â€˜Romantic Novelists'? What is that organization about?
interview by Jen
The Romantic Novelists' Association is a professional organisation for writers of books which are mainly read by women. We support each other, have a scheme for helping unpublished writers and have really good parties and conferences. Alcohol is sometimes involved. What’s the current status of the Katie Fforde Bursary, and the RNA New Writers’ scheme? The Katie Fforde Bursary is entirely in my gift. It's for the aspiring writer who has been bubbling under for a while but who hasn't quite made it to publication yet. You win a year's subscription as a new writer (which includes a reading fee) and a place at the conference. The New Writers' scheme is run by the organisation. Members of the scheme submit a novel or part novel which is then sent to a published author for a criticism. It is very good value as if you went to a book doctor, you would pay up to three times the amount you pay through the RNA. The readers are paid but it probably works out at about 50 pence an hour. They do it for the good of the organisation. They are stars! In Wedding Season (paperback March 2009), your character Sarah Stratford “is a wedding planner hiding a rather inconvenient truth - she doesn't believe in love.” As a romantic novelist, do you? As a romantic novelist and as a person I absolutely believe in love. It really does conquer all. It is hard thinking up a new romantic angle for every book, but characters (like people) are all different, so they all give their different slant on each situation. What do you think fits into the “Romance” genre vs Chick-Lit? It's very difficult to categorise 'romance' and 'chick-lit.' Romance usually means a shorter novel, often published by Harlequin Mills and Boon or Little Black Dress. Chick lit is published by almost anyone, including HMB. I think of chick-lit as usually having an urban setting rather than a rural one, but I think that's just my take on it. Would you recommend getting an agent to other aspiring authors and why? Getting an agent is almost as hard as getting a publisher (unless you join the RNA and get to meet them at our parties) but once you've got one, it's wonderful having someone who'll find a publisher, negotiate more money, read the small print in your contract and generally bat for you. They'll often handle your foreign rights, too. I’ve read that you started trying to write for Mills and Boon. How did that start you out on your writing career? Trying to write for Mills and Boon taught me so much about writing. You have to keep the pages turning and
not let yourself run down blind alleys. I still irks me that I never managed to bring it off. How long did it take you to actually write and complete and sell your first novel, once you started? It's hard to say how long it took me to write and sell my first novel. I met my agent and then started writing, sending bits to her as I wrote them. I know she had found a publisher before I'd finished the book but I can't remember how long it was. It didn't seem awfully long, I know that. Did you use and benefit from any writing or editing services for new authors? I was a member of the Romantic Novelists Association but I only sent them my Mills and Boons to read. They were incredibly supportive though, which is why I started the KFB. (The Katie Fforde Bursary.) What did you do with your first royalties cheque? Can't remember exactly what I did with my first royalty cheque although I did buy my husband a special chair. I don't know if I used my advance or the royalties. How do you select your titles? Titles are always a problem for me. My publishers and my agents help out. There are times when I think we won't actually end up with a title but my publishers promise me this never happens. Your books have wonderful stylistic watercolour drawings on the covers. Do you like them and get involved in any way in the designs? I love my new covers. I think they're fresh and funny and romantic. I don't get involved in the designs but I am asked for my approval and I sometimes make small suggestions, like a dogs ears, or something.
Your latest book was published on June 4th 2009 Love Letters - Can you tell us something about writing this novel? Love Letters was in some ways easy to write because I didn't need to do too much research. It's about a girl setting up a literary festival and as I've been to lots, I knew where I was there. It is also partly set in Ireland and I spent my honeymoon there, so it was easy to feel romantic about it. “With the bookshop where she works about to close, Laura Horsley, in a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness, finds herself agreeing to help organize a literary festival deep in the heart of the English countryside.” Do you have your own moments of uncharacteristic recklessness? I certainly have moments of recklessness. I buy clothes on impulse and sometimes find myself having my make up put on in department stores which is always quite embarrassing. It often seems publishers want more of the same after an author is initially successful, but authors and readers may need something new. How do you manage this? I am aware that my publishers and my readers want to know what they're going to get from one of my novels. I keep it fresh by having different settings, different professions, and quirky characteristics for my characters. I haven't run out of ideas yet! How do you document your research - post-it notes, wall charts, stacks of notebooks? I never document my research quite well enough. I do use post it notes a lot and I have a very tiny notebook in my handbag. I often write myself notes on the first pages of the chapters. I’ve read that all your characters are based on your own experiences in various jobs. Is that correct, do you take on new things to use them in your writing? What’s been your favourite so far?
I used to base all my books on jobs I'd had, but I've written too many books for that now so I have to do research. If I'm going to write about a subject I like to experience it at first hand. I worked with an auction house for Flora's Lot and worked at the Chelsea Flower Show for Wild Designs. Not sure where I'll be working for my next book - I haven't worked that out yet! My favourite was definitely the auction house. How do you know when your research is complete and when to start writing? What’s your writing process? Do you write in order, or in parts? I usually do a bit of research before I start but I'm always quite impatient to get going. Then I research more as I go along, as and when. Where is your writing space?
I like my messy study with the good views from the windows, but I also like going away to write, because there isn't the 'stuff' which takes up so much time when you're at home. Do you recommend editing as you go along, or after a complete first draft? I edit as I go along and then again when I've finished. Then my editors have their say. They are brilliant and always make me feel why didn't I think of that? You have a page on Facebook and you “Twitter”. How important do you think online connections are for writers? I think on line connections are important for writers because it's where everyone goes first when they want to find out anything. I'm bad at Facebook but I love Twittering! It only takes a few minutes and it keeps my website fresh. I also love my Twitter mates and followers. Your books are available through leading UK supermarkets, such as Tesco with 20% - 45% discount on the RRP. Do you think these discounts
have big impacts on authors and publishing in general? I think the fact that people can buy books so cheaply has to be good as busy mums particularly often don't have time to go to lots of shops and it can be really convenient to pick up a book while you do your weekly shop. But I do worry about independent bookshops because of course they can’t give the same discounts but they do offer a much broader range of books and I always support them when I can. Do you read other writers’ work for pleasure, for study of the competition or to improve your own writing? I can't be bothered to study the competition but that said, I read my friends' books and they probably are the competition! I'm currently reading a brilliant book by a girl I met at a writing course years ago. It was my first time as a tutor and I said she'd do it and she has! It's called 'Carry me Home' by Terri Wiltshire (MacMillan New Writers.) Assuming you were on Desert Island Discs, which book and which luxury object would you like to take with you and why? My Desert Island book would be a massive anthology of poetry. I love reading it and there would be enough stories in there to keep me happy. Can't quite decide on my luxury item would be. I know some people have chosen Radio 4. If this is cheating, can I have a lifetime's supply of Astral? My mother used it and my daughter uses it. I really hate having dry skin. What is planned for the launch of Love Letters? I’ve got a pretty big tour lined up for Love Letters, with a mixture of signings, bookshop and library events and festivals too. All the info is on my website. I really enjoy getting out and about to meet my readers and each year the publishers pick a different part of the country to visit and we whizz round nipping into bookshops signing their stock along the way, it’s great fun!
Shall I Be a Writer? by Mike Murphy
At the age of 19 I wrote a poem that started "Shall I be a writer? If so what shall I write?" Nearly fifty years later I am still asking the same questions, but the point is I'm still writing. A few years after I wrote the poem I had several short stories published in men's magazines and thought I had it made. So I began on my great novel. That's when I learned it takes a lot longer, and a lot more determination and self-confidence to write a novel than a short story. Over the next 20 years I started several novels in different genres, tried a screen play, had some more short stories published, until one day a counsellor lost
patience with me and said "For God's sake, stop talking about it and write a damn novel." So I did. It took me two years. Twenty years on I had written five, and none have been published. Eventually I threw away the drawer full of rejection slips (117 was the record for one novel) and swore I would never write again, or bash my head against any other brick walls that happened to be around. Then I met successful author Michael Robotham. He hadn't had my experience of rejection, but he understood why I had always had to write, and said if it was him he would just go on writing; there was no other way. Oddly enough my wife had always said the same thing, but I didn't listen to her. Is the drive just to write or do you have to be published to prove you could do it? For me, the dream is still there but it doesn’t ache so badly. I write and there are times when it feels good and flows and times when I wonder why on earth I am torturing myself. I have stopped making myself write for a set period every day, whether I feel like it or not. I write until I don’t feel like doing it any more and then a make some notes for what I am going to write next and leave it there for the moment. I may come back to it half an hour or half a day later. By not forcing myself to write when I don’t feel like it I am staving off that feeling of pointlessness that has seen me give up on many novels in the past. I have more than a dozen half or even three quarters finished. Another thing I don’t do is look at other’s people’s writing, seeking the secrets they discovered that got them published. I just write what comes out of my head and edit it the way I think makes it read better, not to make it read like somebody else. Maybe it’s the same as when you forget a word or name and then it pops back into your head when you are not thinking about it. Maybe if I’m not trying so hard, thinking only about the writing and not about getting published, I will get published. God, I hope so, That 19 year old kid will be happy at last. Mike Murphy lives in Walpole, Western Australia and is currently working on a series of crime novels featuring "The Grey Nomad Detective Agency" a group of elderly people spending their retirement travelling around the country in caravans and solving crimes along the way. Photo credit of wall: star 5112
The Storm by George Polley
This is Eric Lindahl's story, and I'll let him tell it like he told it to me a few days before he left for Des Moines, Iowa. I didn't experience the storm, because Lisa and I were in Cuernevaca visiting her family, but I heard about it in the news, and read about it in Excelsior, el Universal and The Herald, so I knew a lot about it before we returned to Mexico City about two weeks after it hit. The storm was unexpected, and did tremendous damage in a wide swath across the city. It even surprised the weather forecasters,
who didn't see it coming. Some people said it was the old Aztec god Tlaloc, and that he was cranky about something. Just what it could have been is anyone's guess, and I haven't seen my old friend Gerardo Pulido to ask him. I'm not sure he was in Mexico City anyway, as Lisa was sure she'd seen him in Cuernevaca down by the Cortez Palace, but didn't get a good look at him, because when he saw her looking toward him, he ducked behind a tree. Eric told me this version of what happened when we got together for
coffee at Sanborn's on the Paseo, which was badly damaged, but was cleaned up pretty well by the time Lisa and I returned from Cuernevaca. What follows is just as Eric told it because I recorded it with his permission, of course. It happened the day I got fired from my job teaching English at the Instituto Idioma y Cultura de Durango, the day Iglesia Rosario, aka â€œPopeâ€? Rosario, walked into my class and caught me reading from The Herald instead of following her sacred approved system, which she
views as scripture. She stood there in the doorway, arms folded sternly over her breasts, and asked me what I thought I was doing. “Teaching English,” I replied as innocently as I could manage, knowing that I had been caught with my pants down, metaphorically speaking. “Come to my office!” she ordered, which I meekly did. She fired me on the spot, aiming a long finger at the door and handing me my day's pay in its little brown envelope, the same one she gives the guy from the Department of Education his “mordida” in. She didn't utter a word; just glared at me like I was a cockroach, followed me to the front door to make sure I left and didn't try to sneak back in to say goodbye to my students, then shut the door behind me and made sure
some devious plot against the sanctity of Pope Rosario's Holy Fortress of Learning. What a crew! When I got to the park, I stopped for a moment near the giant ancient ahuehuete tree, the one that I call “the-tree-that-looks-like-a-mountain” because it reminds me of a mountain in an old Chinese painting. It is ancient and gnarled, has a gigantic trunk that dwarfs people sitting around it, and huge lumbering main branches and hundreds of small and middle-sized branches that go up vertically like trees. It goes back before Moctezuma's time, maybe a thousand years. I gave its trunk a friendly tap as I walked by, then crossed the street and walked slowly up the hill toward Maximilian's castle, having decided to take a small detour through its history
the first black thunderheads spilled over the hill and the castle. it was tightly closed and stood there until I was out of sight. I decided to walk over to Chapultepec Park and spend the day at the Museum of Anthropology and History, a welcome relief from señora Rosario's prison. I got some small comfort from knowing that I was the fourth teacher in the past two months to be fired, “excommunicated” is the way one of them put it, a fifth had to be hauled away to a psychiatric ward, driven mad by those three students of mine, whom I'd won over through bribes, reading English language publications like The Herald and tossing Pope Rosario's sacred text into the ashcan where it belonged. A long walk through history, I told myself as I headed for Reforma, is just what I need. I can reconnoiter and come up with another plan later; jobs teaching English can't be that hard to find. The one thing I'll miss are those three goof-ball students of mine, sent by their employer, Kimberly-Clark S.A., to bedevil Sra. Rosario's fabulous institution. Gonzalo Rivera, Manuel Juárez and Eustacio Moctezuma. what a trio! The Three Musketeers! Always thinking of something, hatching
before visiting the Museum of Anthropology and History. The hill gave off an odor of dry grass and smog. The park was filling up with people arriving for their midday siesta and picnics on the grass. On the small lake, lovers were already launching out in rowboats, rowing slowly. The big grey pelican, a fixture in the park, was busy pestering people for handouts as he waddled from one to another, clattering his beak. As I went up the hill past the Museum of History, a place full of horrific scenes of killing from Mexico's violent past, a place that sends chills chasing all over my body whenever I walk past it, a car bearing Guatemalan plates passed me going up, and a jeep load of soldiers passed me going down, rifles at their sides, swirls of dust curling up from the wheels. Getting to the top, I went over to the brow of the hill, leaned against the balustrade, and looked out across the smog-blanketed city, trying to pick out Sra. Rosario's citadel down on Durango, but I couldn't pick it out, the air was just too thick with smog. Looking across the valley toward the mountains I noticed, totally out of character for
this time of the year, a swelling, boiling mass of angry black clouds beginning to gather and swell. Then I was aware of the total absence of bird sounds and a general stilling of the air, as if the world was holding its breath, had sucked it up and held it in, expectantly, like an animal will do when it senses danger. Then from way off, the bank of clouds began moving rapidly toward the city, casting a black shadow beneath it as it sped across the valley, spitting lightning and rattling and rumbling as it flew, a swelling, malignant mass that gained momentum, a runaway train, a devil of a thing, charging right at us. One of the young museum guards stepped out of the nearby guard box, stared off into the distance and motioned to his companions to come have a look. The four of them shook their heads and muttered, telling each other that things like this do not happen at this time of the year in the Valle de México, but, amigo, then how do you explain those clouds that are marching madly toward us, rattling and billowing like all Hell? The five of us decided there were better places to be than standing on the crown of Grasshopper Hill waiting for the storm to swoop down on us. They headed for the castle door, while I, for reasons which I still don't understand, hightailed it down the road to the body of the park, hoping, I guess, to take shelter in the Museum of Anthropology and History before the storm hit, cursing myself for not having followed the example of those guys and run into the castle and slammed the door behind me. From the other side of the hill came the loud rumbling of thunder, and then the first black thunderheads spilled over the hill and the castle, and a monstrous black avalanche of clouds that belched fire and torrents of rain and pushed a cyclone of wind ahead of and beneath it, swooshed down the hill and sent leaves and branches flying. It sounded like the end of the world! I turned on my heel and ran for the nearest substantial cover I could think of, whipped by gusts of wind and sheets of water and pelted by debris, pell-mell toward the
Paseo. I got only as far as the colossus of Tlaloc when the storm hit full-force, threw me over the edge of the reflecting pool at the deity's feet, face down in the wet and the mire. I dragged myself to my feet and took shelter between the god's massive legs, thinking that it was as safe a place as any. The rain was so dense that it blurred everything, like a river descending from the sky. Trees bent double until they broke, snapping with loud cracks! Branches and hats and people flew about like birds, flotsam carried by the wind; cars skidded into one another, floated down the Paseo like boats, three VW Beetle minicabs went by with their windows tight shut and steamed over. And overhead, well, overhead Tlaloc himself — that god of the storms, fury, and impatience — looked down, growled, and hurled another thunderbolt. I clung to one of the colossus's massive legs and prayed. Never, never in my life, I swear it, have I prayed so long or so fervently: “Lord, get me out of here, and I'll do whatever You want!” It's amazing what a man will say at times like that. And Tlaloc, hearing, swung a long arm of wind around, spun it around the Museum of Anthropology, the dirty sneak, so he could hurl it at the rear of his likeness and hit me square in the back with a curtain of wind and water that sent me sprawling on my face again in the pool. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the storm disappeared over the Museum and vanished, trailing black tatters and rumbling murderously in the
I lifted one foot out of the water, looked at it and shook my head: another pair of shoes for the trashcan! Steam began to rise from the ground, and out of the steam people dragged themselves, groping about, bewildered, looking for friends, relatives and pets, finding some lying dead under some snapped-in-two tree, others lying dazed but alive in puddles of water which were everywhere, like minor lakes; others wandered about like people raised from the dead, lost and in a daze. It was like every blade of grass and every particle in the roadway had become a steam vent, the steam quavering, drifting, hanging about, surreal, like a hallucination. I sat down on the edge of the pool and dangled my feet over the edge and just stared. Wreckage was everywhere. In the distance, I could hear the rising and falling wail of sirens as they converged on the park. I stood up, looked up into the colossus' great stone face, which seemed to be smiling maliciously over everything. I began walking home, amidst swirling clouds of steam. Evidence of the storm's passing was everywhere between the park and my apartment on Ejercicio Nacional: there were broken trees, shattered windows, smashed cars, cars washed up onto sidewalks, wrenched and ripped awnings, junk. And everywhere, that shimmering, moving bed of steam. Oddly enough, monuments like the statue of Diana and of el Angel stood unscathed, except that Tlaloc, in his passing, had taken an awning from
Hell had come, shrieking down the street and
leaping over buildings roaring like a harpy from hades distance. When I picked myself up out of the pool and looked around, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Water ran in rivulets down the colossus' massive legs, ran in rivulets down me, poured over the edge of the pool onto the grass, and ran in a broad river down the Paseo.
somewhere and draped it over Diana's nakedness, giving her a garish kind of modesty in green and white striped canvas. Turning up Tiber, I began to wonder what kind of horrors might have happened in the apartment I shared with two acquaintances who were both sticklers for cleanliness and
neatness and had some very nice things. I wondered if María Antonia's shack had washed off the roof. María Antonia was their longsuffering maid, who lived with her son Eusebio, her teenage daughter Anita, and their dog Perro. I never knew why they didn't give him a more dignified name, but never asked. Maybe it was because he wasn't a very dignified sort of dog, but only a small, tan-colored nondescript little mutt who barked at everything and seemed scared of his own shadow. María Antonia was a jewel. It was a wonder to me how she managed to keep everything and everyone in balance. Getting to Ejercicio Nacional and seeing the flotsam and jetsam scattered about, the crowds of people dragging their soaked belongings into the sun to dry, sweeping this way and that with long brooms, some simply sitting on the curb staring disconsolately at their feet, I knew I'd better shake a leg and find out what had happened back home. Passing the bakery, I saw the baker wandering around inside among mounds of soggy bread and pastry; further down the street was the lonely figure of Gustavo Heinz, our orange juice vendor, emptying glass after glass of water into the gutter, doing it very carefully, as if he didn't want to get any of it on the sidewalk. Like everything else, he was giving off clouds of steam. “At least you didn't get washed away,” I told him, trying to put the best face on things. “As far as that goes, I might as well have,” he replied, pouring another glass of water carefully into the street. “The damned storm washed all my oranges and all my money down the sewer! The old woman will never believe me!” He gave a shudder, catching a glimpse of his wife, the estimable señora Heinz, the shrew, shaking her broom at him and shrieking: “How dare you come back home without any money, you worm! I know what you did with it, bum, cockroach! You spent it on booze in that cantina where you like to hang out, don't tell me about any storm, liar!” He shook his head. “I've never heard of such a thing happening at this time of the
year señor Eric, never! And this is twice this winter we've had a storm like this. Only this one was worse, it didn't just flush some bad cop down the sewer, it tore the Hell out of everything!” His face wrinkled up as if he were going to cry. “Maybe it'll be the last one, Gustavo,” I said, trying my best to cheer him up. “Por diós, I hope so! Another day like this one, and I'm finished!” The man went on to describe what had happened, he, going on about his daily duties, standing there squeezing juice for a customer when all of a sudden, WHAM! the storm hit like Hell had come, shrieking down the street and leaping over buildings roaring like a harpy from hades. The wind took every window of the supermarket out and left the inside of the store a wreckage of smashed and sodden debris. “I hid in the doorway,” he said, “and watched the wind take my oranges and dump them in the street and wash them away! I'm damned, señor, but it was just like someone was standing there dumping those things in the street, like a living being, if I believed in such things. And then the money, which like an idiot, I left in a box under the counter, the wind went in and took it all, opened the box and spilled all my cash right down the sewer after the oranges! Holy shit, señor Eric, it might as well have dumped me down there after it, the old woman will never believe a word of it, so help me God!” And he burst into tears, bawling like a baby. I couldn't think of a single helpful thing to say, so I said nothing, kept my mouth shut, and listened. When he finished, I patted him on the shoulder and crossed the street to the apartment. As I was letting myself in, Gustavo called out: “And the damned thing didn't break a single glass! Not one of them! How do you figure that out, señor, I ask you? I mean, whoever heard of such a thing? Who? That's why my wife will never believe me!” And he went on crying and pouring glass after glass of water into the street. The apartment was a disaster. The storm had dumped gallons of water
on the flat roof, and it all cascaded down the stairs and flooded everything, ruining the new oriental rug that my roommate had bought just the week before, the one he paid so much for because it's Persian, soaking it with sodden ashes from the fireplace. María Antonia was pushing water around with a broom and shaking her head. When she looked up and saw me, she wiped her forehead with the back of a hand and said: “Por diós, señor Eric, but the sky has fallen! Señor Justo will be beside himself! The rug is ruined! Everything is ruined! I don't know what to do!” “I'll help you,” I told her. I looked down at the carpet, which did look like a total loss. “You're right about the carpet; there's probably nothing that can be done for it. But we can at least hang it on the line. By the way, is your room still up there?” “Sí, señor, it is; but poor Perro shit everywhere from fright, and everything, like here, is a terrible mess!” She leaned on her broom and shook her head. “I don't know where to begin.” It was true. Looking around, it was hard to decide what to do first, but I said “we might as well begin with the carpet.” So that's what we did. The oddest thing was that my room had been totally spared, as if Tlaloc, in a fit of compassion or a sense of irony had decided that one
bailing water out of the rooms, pushing it down the stairs into the patio and tossing buckets full out the windows. It took us over two hours. Then we went back upstairs and began cleaning up the roof and María Antonia's two-room shack, which was a sopping, shit-covered mess with gaping holes in the roof where that howling wind had torn pieces off and sent them sailing throughout the neighborhood. We went to work with scrub brushes, soap, hammer and nails. I managed to find a few pieces of her roof in the street below, where Gustavo Heinz was still gazing disconsolately at the sewer opening, and I nailed them back into place. We could still hear the sound of sirens wailing as rescue trucks, fire engines and police cars criss-crossed the city. From up there on top of her shack, the wreckage on the tops of nearby buildings was clear to see: blowndown TV antennae, chunks of roofing, and other dogs like Perro, pooping in pools of water. And everywhere, people wandered about like lost souls. From down below, María Antonia leaned out of Justo's bedroom widow and waved to a neighbor woman across the street who was holding onto a long broom and staring off into space as if she half expected Tlaloc to come raging back again, appearing first as a small black speck in the sky, then
she wiped her forehead with the back of a hand: Por diós, señor Eric,
but the sky has fallen! thorough dousing was enough. I mean, it was completely dry! I closed the door right away so María Antonia wouldn't see it, and we rolled Justo's Persian carpet up and carried it, corpse-like, up the stairs to the roof, where we slung it over the clothes line to dry. As for Anita and Eusebio, she didn't know where they were, which started her crying. Perro, having strewn shit everywhere, was huddled next to María Antonia's shack, whimpering and quaking with fright. I went over and patted his poor head, and then we went back downstairs and began
swelling and billowing and filling the sky with howling wind, shattering bolts of lightning, and oceans of water. “Soledad!” María Antonia shrieked; “Hey! Amiga! Comadre! Are you alright? Hey!” “God has punished us for our sins!” Soledad replied, looking around and shrugging. “You should have been over here. My God, what a mess!” “Ay, por diós! What could we have done to deserve such terrible punishment, comadre? You should see the mess over here!”
“Ay, diós mío, María Antonia; everything is covered with water. The señor will be furious!” “Ay, Soledad, and so will señor Justo! You should see his carpet!” pointing with a finger and shouting in a dead-raising voice. “It is probably ruined, and he paid a fortune for it!” “And señor Inocencio's library was washed down the stairs!” Soledad replied, leaning on her broom and shaking her head. “It came too fast, whoosh! down the stairs like a river into his library and through it. Everything is destroyed! One minute peace; the next,” snapping her fingers, “disaster!” “Maybe it was Satan!” María Antonia shouted back. “Yes, it's probably true, what with all the sin going on in this place,” Soledad replied; “But why would God punish us?” clearly meaning herself and her good comadre from across the street. “For our sins, ninny,” María Antonia retorted at the top of her voice; “It could have been either one of them.” Since her meaning was ambiguous, the conclusion was left hanging in the air. “The results are all the same, comadre, whichever it was,” Soledad responded, resolving the theological problem. “It won't make any difference to my wife,” Gustavo Heinz shouted up from the street. “Ay, pobrecito!” Soledad called down; “What are we going to do?” “Clean everything up, comadre; it's all we can do.” “And pray to God it doesn't happen again.” “Yes, and pray to God it doesn't happen again!” And far off in the mountains, lurking in a deep valley amidst a drenched pine forest, Tlaloc muttered to himself: “It wasn't either God or the Devil, you dummies; it was me!” When I finished nailing María Antonia's roof back in place, and she finished cleaning up the mess inside her shack, we left Perro whining and shaking and peering anxiously up at the sky and went back downstairs. As she walked by the line where Justo's Persian carpet hung, its colors probably indelibly imbedded with fireplace ash
and dogshit, María Antonia crossed herself and shook her head. Justo's anger would be boundless. All that money, down the drain! She couldn't help giggling, and by the time we were downstairs, the apartment smelling of mildew, she was laughing outright, wheezing and dancing this way and that in a fit of hysterics that left her rocking back and forth and holding her sides. When we went into the kitchen and found a salamander in the sink, she laughed so hard she had to sit down. Tlaloc, the old trickster, had left his final calling card. I scooped up the salamander and tossed it out the window into the patio. The storm entered the city between Colonia Presidentes de México and Colonia Lomas San Lorenzo and swept north, leaving a corridor of destruction before vanishing into the mountains. The rest of the city was left unscathed. At least a dozen people drowned, three were blown off rooftops, two were squashed by falling trees, and one was washed down a storm drain. Scores of shops were flooded, causing no end of consternation (a baker was seen chasing a pan of pastries down Ayuntamiento, galloping like a horse and giving out hoarse shouts) hundreds of trees were toppled, some of them very old; a small fleet of yellow VW Beetle taxicabs sailed away down the Paseo like boats putting out to sea; and one food vendor in Chapultepec Park ended up in the central courtyard of the
President, and left them in a pile of twisted steel and splintered wood, over which the body of a soldier was draped. The pictures in the papers the next day, not to mention the rumors that flew about, were unbelievable. The damages climbed into the tens of millions of dollars, plus uncounted costs in personal tragedy and loss. Whole colonias laid low, whole families, innocents, dogs and cats, merchants destroyed, washed away just because (to hear our neighbor Gilberta Madrazo talk) someone ticked the gods off, not knowing just how accurate she was, or which god had done the dirty deed. María Antonia and I had opened all the windows in the apartment to air it out, and were sitting in a couple of dining room chairs resting and having a cup of coffee, when we heard the front door open and footsteps climb the stairs. I looked at my watch: it was six o'clock in the evening. We had been hard at work for six hours. In a moment, Justo's head appeared at the top of the stairs and looked around. That evening, after Justo had looked around and surveyed all the damage, including his Persian carpet, which, having dried in the sun, looked more salvageable than it had when María Antonia and I dragged it up to the roof and hung it over the clothesline, I went out for cakes from a bakery down the street that had somehow escaped unscathed. María Antonia fixed a pot of coffee, and the three of us sat
Tlaloc, the old trickster, had left his final calling card. I scooped up the salamander and tossed it out the window into the patio. Museum of Anthropology and History, stall and all, and was found wandering around in a catatonic trance, muttering in Nahuatl about Hiutzilopochtli. And downtown, in the Zócalo, from whose ashes Mexico City had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of Tenochtitlán, the storm took the speaker's stand and all the bleachers, set up for an Independence Day speech by the
around the kitchen table by candlelight and talked about the events of the day. Justo's office was in an area of the city the storm had missed, so seeing the reality in his neighborhood was quite a shock. The next day, he sent the carpet out to be cleaned. I finally took my flashlight and went to bed at around eleven and dreamed about poor trembling
Perro, salamanders and angry Aztec gods. It had been an eventful day, filled with shocks and surprises. The first thing the next morning, I got dressed and went out before anyone else was up and went down Tiber toward the Paseo, where I ran into my three students from Pope Rosario's language institute at Sanborn's on the Paseo. They were surprised to see me looking so good, and asked me what had happened to me the day before when the storm hit. It was pretty unbelievable to them, as they live in a part of the city that escaped the storm. They told me they quit Pope Rosario's school and found a new school on Masaryk; I think it's called "Madeleine O'Hara's Instituto Masaryk", but I'm not sure. They said she had an opening for a teacher, and they recommended me, but I told them I wasn't interested because I'd decided to go back to Des Moines. Seeing them was a good start to a doubtful day. Things around the neighborhood began to look normal with the
supermarket repaired and roofs getting patched up, and even Gustavo Heinz was back making orange juice looking none the worse for wear. That big ahuehuete tree in Chapultepec Park? Lost a few branches, that's all. Tough old tree. Perro? Oh, he's still scared shitless, which is literally true. Clear your throat and he drops a load wherever he happens to be. We hope he'll get over it eventually, but knowing Perro, I'm not making any bets. And Anita and her brother? They showed up a few hours later. Seems they missed the storm altogether, and most of the work cleaning things up. I'm leaving for Des Moines in a couple days or so. I've contacted the Psychology Department at Iowa State University, in Ames, about finishing my Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I have a few things I still have to do and people to see here. I'll give you a call as soon as I have my tickets in hand. Then we can say our goodbyes. That was the last I saw of him until he dropped by my apartment the
day he left for Des Moines. From what I've heard from mutual friends, he's completing work on his degree and plans to start a private practice in Cedar Rapids.
about the author Mr. Polley has been publishing short stories and poetry since the 1970s. A poetry collection, Seeing: Collected Poems, 1973-1999 was published by Tortoise & Hare (Seattle) in 2000. A short story collection, Fernandez' Tale and Other Stories was published by Tortoise & Hare in 1999. Earlier works were published in the South Dakota Review, Crow's Nest, North Country Anvil, Wine Rings, North American Mentor Magazine and Community Mental Health Journal. His blog "Tostada Speaks" can be visited at: www.tostadaspeaks.blogspot.com
Photo Credit: rawheadrex on Flickr
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Twilight series Stephenie Meyer Publisher: Little Brown Review: Kerrie-Anne One thing which I enjoy doing is reading, an occupational hazard I revile in. Enjoying most books which I read, however from time to time there are stand outs. A character, a story or even just a place somewhere behind the covers which I can identify with.
Something hidden away which hich resonates within each of us and ultimately takes us on a journey regardless of the genre. Earlier this year this happened with a series of books which grabbed me by surprise. Not since the Harry Potter series have I enjoyed reading a series of novels so much. I guess by now, unless you've been under a rock, you would have heard of Twilight, either the book series or at the very least the movie. Those of you who haven't read the novels may be wondering what all the fuss is about, these are just novels aimed imed at young adults aren't they? Well I must confess from the outset I am a huge fan, it's not just "I have read all the books and seen the movie", ", no sorry nothing as mediocre as that. I must be an addict, yes I have all the books, including the Directors s Cut, yes I am bursting at the seams to see New Moon the second movie, read the books so many times I have lost count and seen the first movie Twilight moving into the high double figures and I am not anywhere close to the Young Adult they are marketed too. So what is the attraction? ttraction? Its popularity has not been seen since the long awaited Harry Potter books and movies. Stephanie Meyers seems to have touched touch fans on many levels as she wove this tale. From the clumsy, self sacrificing heroine, who falls for the handsome and broody vampire hero, to the love triangle and mortal dangers which face her throughout the four books. Twilight is becoming a global phenomenon pheno which has the potential to challenge Harry Potter. "I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this." Isabella Swan is a 17-year-old old girl who moves from a thriving city in the sun living with her mother and step father to a damp small country town to live with her father. The story documents all the teenage angst of a girl in her late teens, throughout showing a maturity and depth of character. It’s wrong. It’s not safe. I’m dangerous, Bella — please, grasp that.
By huge contrast our hero is handsome, oozing old world charm inherent in those hailing from a good family in Edwardian times. Edward is confident, intelligent, brooding. He is full of a loneliness only evident in those consumed with self loathing for who they have become. Processing a skill which allows him to read the minds of those around him, he has seen the very best and the most horrendous things possible in our world and his. Surprisingly his most valuable character trait is compassion which he learnt from his vampire family. He is highly moraled, deeply conflicted with a strong sense of duty and what is right. We’re usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you. Throughout the series an undercurrent of sexual tension is intense, Edwards being the one who saying no, brings about a set of ethics and morals I found refreshing. And so the lion fell in love with the lamb, Twilight the first book is a true love story. Two miss match people fall in love, you could be forgiven for thinking it a modern Romeo and Juliet story and in some ways it is. However as you read it is not the battles of family bias which Bella and Edward must fight. The battles which our love struck couple must endure are Edwards loathing of what he is, his need to be loved and acceptance of it and Bella’s need to prove herself in becoming an independent strong young woman grappling with everything life throws at her whilst being the holder of secrets and balancing her overwhelming love for a man who could at any moment kill her. There is of course the blood thirsty vampires intent on killing her, however I found this aspect ,although gripping, secondary to the evolving love story. The depth of her love for him and his for her is evident in the lengths they will go to in order to protect, save and spare the other. These are emphasised as we read on to book 2 New Moon. It will be as if I’d never existed. New Moon has far darker and tragic beginnings and although I am not giving away the plot here (you will have to read it) it is evident from the onset that there are dangers faced by both parties and to those around them. Within its pages are written Bella's darkest moments, depression, love, trust, faith, ethics, tolerance and understanding, suicide and repercussions, effect and consequence. New Moon brings with it a love triangle which through Edwards actions and Bellas' need to protect those she loves has lasting effects throughout the rest of the series. Edward’s desire to do what is right and what is best to keep Bella safe, both in her world and in his, leads them both on a journey which is heart breaking and thrilling. Like our world, the world of the Vampire has laws too and its own way of dealing with those who challenge them. "Even more, I had never meant to love him. One thing I truly knew - knew it in the pit of my stomach, in the center of my bones, knew it from the crown of
my head to the soles of my feet, knew it deep in my empty chest - was how love gave someone the power to break you. I'd been broken beyond repair." Although the story's main characters are enemies Human, Vampire and from New Moon Werewolf, it gives us some hope that if these 3 mortal enemies can work together for the common good then perhaps there is hope for us yet. A young person reading these books would see them for what they are, a great read, an intense love story between two people who couldn't be more different if from different planets. But the entanglement of emotions woven through the story, the moral and ethical moments faced by both our main characters and the effect on those they care about, serves to lift these books from the realm of vampire love story to something far more deserving of our attention. My heart hasn’t beat in almost ninety years, but this was different. It was like my heart was gone— like I was hollow. Like I’d left everything that was inside me here with you. If you love romance novels with a bit of the supernatural, then you will enjoy Twilight and crave the rest of the series.
Love Letters by Katie Fforde Publisher: Century 2009 Review: Jane
When do you stop believing in fairy tales? I don’t suppose that many of us actually do. We all dream at times of winning the lottery, a mystery lover or becoming a secret agent. Isn’t that why fiction is so popular? In it we find our escapism, our freedom to be whoever we choose. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who metamorphoses in to one or more of the protagonists as I read. In fact, I regularly imagine myself as James Bond which maybe why my car spends a lot time with the mechanic. It also may explain why my kids eat their vegs; when you’re looking down the barrel of a Walther PPK you don’t actually have a lot of choice in the matter. But my point is; if a book fails to entice me into its world then I know for sure that it hasn’t really succeeded. Love Letters is a tale that has been repeated many times. Laura Horsley, the heroine, is a university educated, naive 26 year old virgin who works in a book store. Her wardrobe consists of black skirts and trousers, white blouses and flat shoes. She falls in love with a handsome hero and after a few fashion tips, a new career and some routine misunderstandings she captures his heart and well... you can guess the rest. Now don’t be shocked Readers; I know I’m sweet, demure and a typical English Rose but even I couldn’t imagine myself as Laura. This is because not even in my wildest, most outrageous and yes even in my most boring fantasies would I want to be a 26 year old virgin with a life as dull as dishwater where the only fun is reading books. It’s not that I don’t like romances but I just have a fundamental problem with why so many of these romantic heroines are as about feisty as a wet dishcloth. And will someone please explain why these women never, ever have a decent wardrobe? I don’t want to be a bore but when a woman fancies the pants of a guy she usually makes a little bit more effort on the appearance front. Yep, when I had the hots for my hubby I remember making a huge effort (and that didn’t even include the “special” underwear.) Now Ms Fforde doesn’t describe Laura’s underwear but I guarantee,
upon pain of losing my chocolate rations, Laura’s the sort of girl who wears Marks and Spencer’s wholesome white knickers with a cotton gusset. I also imagine that after they’ve worn out she uses them for dusting her books. So Laura is definitely no Elizabeth Bennett and, irritatingly, like so many heroines of this genre she only becomes fulfilled as a person as a direct or indirect consequence of meeting Mr Right. Frankly, these insipid women bore me senseless. It’s the 21st century; I want to read about women who have confidence in themselves, who are not afraid to be who they are and who don’t need a man to make them complete. Isn’t the relationship between two fully fledged human beings more interesting? I think so. Love Letters did hold some interest for me though and here’s where it gets intriguing. The plot revolves around our heroine being recruited by a literary agent to organize a literary festival and the hero, Dermot Flynn, is the potential star attraction who she must bring on board to make it a success. It’s fascinating as the novel progresses how Ms Fforde portrays the literary and non literary authors. The successful authors, in fiscal terms, are jolly smiley types writing marketable women’s fiction and the literary types are impoverished slightly sour ones. The only exclusion to this is the hero who is a rare bestselling literary author. However, he has been crippled with writer’s block for 15 years. Yes, 15 years! By God, that’ll teach him to write a literary bestseller! Forced to live with years of mental torture being unable to string two words together whilst simultaneously observing chick lit authors rocket to the top of the bestseller charts! No wonder the poor man took to drink and women. Crikey, even I would take to drink and women in those circumstances - and that’s saying something. Bizarrely, as I was reading Love Letters it crossed my mind that maybe in a subconscious way Ms Fforde was almost justifying to herself writing a book which is basically fluff, albeit marketable fluff. Which leads to the question; how do you measure success? Is it in monetary terms or literary longevity? 200 years on, I wonder what Jane Austen would give as her answer? But the bottom line is Love Letters will sell. Partially because of Katie Fforde’s track record and partially because this a formula that many women enjoy. It’s not my preferred reading but many women don’t need an intellectual read and there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that Mills and Boon is so widely read is testimony to the universal popularity of a simple love story and even though I’m a cynic I’m also a great believer that reading anything, so long as it’s useful or enjoyable, is good for the mind and soul. And as far as the author is concerned, I think that whatever you write, literary or non literary, so long as you’re happy with the result that is the true measure of success. The trouble is, I have a sneaking suspicion that Katie knows she hasn’t done herself real justice with Love Letters. But who am I to say? Only Katie knows the truth.
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui Publisher: Alma Books Review: Charlie I came to Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika with a great sense of expectation. With themes of psychology, psychiatry, detective thriller and science fiction many of my buttons were pushed. Not only that, the cover boasted a quote from no less a publication than The Guardian that drew a comparison with th J.G. Ballard. Much to my disappointment I came away from this book with my hopes shattered and a rather nasty taste in my mouth. But more of that later. The story itself is set in contemporary Japan and postulates that machines can be manufactured tha that allow a person to both view and interact with another’s dreams. These devices are used by therapists to treat ‘mental illness’ but someone is also using them to drive people insane. It is left to the central protagonist Atsuko Chiba, a brilliant young researcher searcher and therapist, to
uncover what is going on – both in the waking world and in the dreams of her clients. As a story idea this has much potential but it failed for me on two fundamental levels. The first was language, or perhaps translation. It has often struck me that translated texts can tend to a style, particularly in dialogue, that feels somehow ‘formal’ – as if one was reading subtitles. Of course it may be that this is a cultural difference in the use of language itself but for whatever reason the immersive experience one should get when reading was fatally damaged by both prose and style. That being said, whether an author’s voice rings true is always subjective and for someone else the issue may not arise here. For that matter, on more than one ne occasion I’ve taken a deal of pleasure from (to me) clumsily written work that told me a good tale. But sadly I felt the book failed on that count as well. As a worker in mental health I could hardly not take a ‘professional’ interest in the ideas postulated postu but it rapidly became apparent that if Tsutsui is seriously putting forward a set of ‘what if’ possibilities, he has very little grasp of psychology, psychiatry and ‘mental illness’ in the modern era. Rather his hypotheses seemed based on Kant, Freud and Jung – all great thinkers and pioneers but with ideas on connections between dreaming and psychosis that no longer hold water. Again this may not be an issue for readers without an interest in the area but for me it was too big a hurdle to overcome. Alternatively lternatively Tsutsui might be wearing another hat here, that of the satirist of contemporary views on medicine, morality and the soul? I freely concede that this may have been his intent and I wondered as I approached the latter stages of the book if a sub-text sub would be revealed? Alas it wasn’t to be and I was, as I said, left disappointed and disturbed. I had wondered if one point Tsutsui was attempting to convey was societal attitudes to women. Certainly he places great emphasis on the reactions by colleagues’ gues’ and the media to Atsuko’s physical beauty. Indeed many characters seem to be suffering from some form of Atsuko induced mental priapism. One character takes this further and attempts to rape Atsuko. All this could have been to some point that I’m missing sing but I really don’t think so. Instead Tsutsui reveals something about himself rather than society when Atsuko herself becomes aroused during the attempted rape and beating. There is no doubt that sexual assault is a complex issue for both protagonist and nd victim but this was not evident here, all I found was a lazy stereotyping ‘they all want it really’ attitude that bore no relevance to her character or motivation. Perhaps I’m making a cultural judgement or guilty of misunderstanding but I really don’t think so. At the end of the day there are some things for which moral relativism just won’t cut it for me. This was just a nasty pointless scene. As for The Guardian, the quote asks us to imagine a manic Ballard and that encapsulates the problem here. Ballard ard was controversial, challenging and walked the fine line between alienation and revelation. On what is presented here, Tsutsui hasn’t inherited his mantle; rather he’s wearing the Emperor’s new clothes.
Yasutaka Tsutsui interview by Kerrie-Anne
Excitement and anticipation would best describe my mood when Paprika was opened. After all Yasutaka Tsutsui is one, if not the, most respected author in Japan. Critically acclaimed with an air of mystery for his somewhat eccentric ways, a multitude of literary awards follow him, he is a man whose literary genius had been touted far and wide. I must say what I found was somewhat different. Now to be fair I may have missed something within the cultural differences we are all challenged with, Japanese and Australian Cultures are poles apart, however I find a certain amount of respect never goes astray regardless of the culture, having friends from every corner of the globe, respect is universal. Perhaps understanding the man himself would shed some light on the novel. Help me understand the nature of his writing, his perspective and the cultural bounds to which he was writing, alas this was not to be. Putting my disappointment in the novel aside, I approached the man himself hoping to gain an insight into the mind of Yasutaka. Initially I considered this interview to be a failure, the strange, quick and short responses, not to mention the apparent lack of consideration of the
questions. However upon reflection I have done a complete 180% turn around, for the same reasons I considered this a failure, I now think it tells us an awful lot about the man who is Yasutaka Tsutsui. This is how it went. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Who has been your inspiration in life? Comic actors. The Marx Brothers, in particular. What would you consider to be the most important innovation you have seen in your 74 years? Momofuku Ando’s instant noodles. You have been honored with several literally awards including:
Can you tell us a few things about yourself? I think I’ll leave that to you. What was it, which drew you to writing? Reading. And the fascination of novels.
The Izumi Kyoka award, 1981 (for Kyojin-Tachi [Fictional Characters]) The Tanizaki Jun'ichiro award, 1987 (for Yumenokizaka-Bunkiten [The Yumenokizaka Intersection]) The Kawabata Yasunari award, 1989 (for "Yoppa-dani eno Koka" [A Descent into the Yoppa Valley] The Japan SF award, 1992 (for Asa no Gasuparu [Gaspard of the Morning]). What do you consider your greatest achievement? The Pasolini Award (1997) You have been described as the ‘Guru of Metafiction’. How do you
find this description of your writing style and yourself?
So many wonderful characters abound in Paprika. Who was your favourite character?
What?! I’ve never heard that one. You’ve got it all wrong. I am not the Guru of Metafiction.
I liked them all equally. I could happily act any one of them.
Whilst growing up in Osaka life was a very different place to today. What is your fondest memory of growing up, and how do you think this affected your writing?
On your website it is stated ‘Unfortunately, the recent champions of PC consensus became so nervous about Tsutsui's literary experiments that the writer finally gave up writing -- at least publishing works in print media -- in the summer of 1993. However, he has since been getting more active in cyber-media, helping set up in the summer of 1996 the first literary server in Japan "JALInet," which allows us to read his new story based upon Shichifuku-jin (the Seven Deities of Good Fortune).’ Given the rise of the internet do you think published media is coming to an end, to be replaced with Cyber space or will there always be a place for the printed word and will you reenter it?
I was born and raised in Osaka. Life then was indeed a very different place. But that aside, my fondest memory as I was growing up was seeing a lot of films. The socalled “programme pictures” taught me the importance of plot. What do you consider your greatest achievement so far? That will be decided by you all when I’m dead. When writing Paprika what was the inspiration behind the story line? Dreams, inevitably. Do you think the technology seen in Paprika such as the Gorgon, Dream Capture Equipment and ultimately a Dream Detective/manipulator will one day be part of everyday life? There is absolutely no chance of that happening. If it did, all my effort in stretching the bounds of fantasy would have been wasted. The complexity of the characters in Paprika has been something I found as enjoyable and interesting as the story itself. How do you develop your characters personalities? Do you build from the story or do they take on a life of their own separate to writing of the story? For “Paprika”, I remember the idea coming from an episode where two candidates for the Nobel Prize were fighting over a lunchbox. Some aspect of Paprika, felt in some ways like a study into society. The treatment of Dr Atsuko Chiba by the media, Kosaka Tokita his weight issues, attitudes into mental health the stigmatism which is associated with them. Was it your intention to bring these issues into the public arena and raise awareness of the issues? These are all merely details that drive the story. But it is these details that are so important for a novel. That doesn’t only apply to novels; god dwells in the detail.
When that happens, I will already have entered another world. In fact, I think the human race will be extinct before the printed word ceases to exist.
What advice would you give to those attempting to become published authors? Read the classics. Most classics can now be read as entertainment. They are also packed full of ideas. Having accomplished so much over the years, what has been the most valuable lesson you have learnt? Never to follow any teaching, mottos or life maxims, but to be free. How do you see society and life in general over the next century? I think the devil will be laughing.
Right: Original painting for the magazine by Fossfor based on Paprika
I am a Writer by Sophia Bennett
The conversation goes something like this: (Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’ Me. Thinks: ‘I’m a writer, I’m a writer, I’m a writer.’ Out loud: ‘Oh, management consultancy’. ‘Er U are there any more of those crisps?’ It’s a killer, every time. I understand Stella Rimington used to say she worked in HR, rather than as chief spy-catcher for MI5. It had the same effect. Occasionally, out of boredom or desperation, I would try a different tack. (Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’ Me: ‘I’m trying to be a writer.’ ‘Oh. So what have you published? Have I seen it somewhere?’ Me: ‘No. Nothing yet. I’m working on something. It’s a story about a girl who U’ The eyes glaze over. The gaze strays towards the place where the crisps might be. Either way, I’m done for. This lasted for ten years. But the feeling of being a writer on the inside and something else entirely, and guilty about it, on the outside, has persisted for thirty, since before I was in my teens.
I’ve written. I’ve written professionally, even. If you can count interviews and reports and meeting write-ups, which I do. I’ve written a thesis. I’ve written three detective novels, countless short stories and a screenplay. I’ve filled shelves full of notebooks with ideas and first chapters. I’ve written a LOT. But not for publication, apart from a 500 word piece for a Times travel competition, which is still in my parents’ loo. Nothing that might hit a shelf in a bookshop. Nothing that I might spot a stranger reading in a bus or on a train. Nothing to justify my inner existence. Until a few months ago. What changed? All I can think of is that I started acting like a writer. No, I don’t mean drinking, hanging around louche clubs in Soho and practising extramarital sex (although I have a feeling typical writers don’t do this sort of thing so much any more). I mean going to the library at 9.30 every morning, turning my laptop on and writing till 5.30. Of course, not exactly that. I mean, going to the library, reading the papers, finding a café with wifi, checking emails and googling for a couple of hours, then writing till 5.30.
I started a blog. My fourth, actually, but the first that didn’t have a strong ring of management consultancy to it. This one had more of a ring of fashion to it – my favourite obsession after writing and children. I use it like stretching exercises. If the book won’t come straight away, and it normally won’t, I can jot down 1,000 words about something frivolous but important to me and gradually get the words working. I also heard about Elmore Leonard’s writing approach on Radio 4. (Question: Where do you get your ideas from? Answer: tube posters and Radio 4.) According to the programme, he writes every day on a pad of yellow paper and scrumples up the pages that don’t work and throws them in the bin. By the end of the day, the bin is full to overflowing and he has some pages he can use. And I thought – well, if Elmore Leonard can write stuff he doesn’t think is up to scratch, I sure as hell can. So I started throwing more away. Just because it was funny, it didn’t make the cut if it dragged the story off at an unnecessary tangent. Just because it perfectly matched my chapter plan, it didn’t make the cut if it wasn’t funny enough. Just because it was funny and on-plan, it didn’t make the cut if I’d suddenly made my narrator bitchy, which she isn’t by nature. And I didn’t simply amend the bitchy lines. If a scene had a bitchy feel to it, it went. And the next one was better. As a result of which, I have 34 drafts’ worth of story and one manuscript that will go public. So I’ve got enough backstory to last a lifetime. Certainly to keep me going through two sequels. I think that’s the key. I’m not a writer, any more than I ever was. I’m a re-writer. Something else. Years ago, I did a screenwriting course. I couldn’t bear to study novel writing. After nine years of studying literary criticism at school and university, the idea of going to classes about how to write the stuff was too painful. But screenwriting was far enough removed to be OK. I chose a course run by Elliot Grove of the London Raindance
Photo credit: Sarah Whitaker
Festival. The lessons seeped through to my book. It was like being taught gymnastics and then asked to complete an obstacle course. Not exactly the same thing, but there were some tricks I could apply. My characters would be in a scene, talking about something, and I could hear Elliot saying ‘show, SHOW’ – so they’d stop talking and go back and do it. A character wouldn’t be quite right and Elliot would be whispering ‘make her a guy, make her old, make her an angel’. Elliot believed in taking a story, shaking it up, intensifying the colours. Nothing was sacred. If the action can take place in three days, why not three minutes? How do the characters get from A to B? Who cares? Go to B. As long as you know how they got there, it will make sense. I realise this is obvious to lots of people who study writing properly, but it was news to me. It helped a lot, though. It helped so much that the last ten drafts flew by. So I’m not so much a re-writer as a re-screenwriter. Perhaps not a typical voyage of self-discovery, but it works for me. It works so well, in fact, that it’s created a new problem. In September, my book will be on real bookshelves in real bookshops, with my name on. And unless we experience a Farenheight 451, they’ll always be there. Remaindered, possibly. Ancient, eventually. But always there. It makes me so profoundly content that I hardly dare talk about it. As Elliot said: ‘Happiness writes white’. What is there left to say? So the conversation now goes like this: (Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’ Me. Thinks: ‘I wrote a book. It’s being published. If I tell you, I will self-combust from sheer joy.’ Out loud: ‘Er, I used to be a management consultant. Fancy a crisp?’ Sophia Bennett lives and writes in London. She is working on a sequel to Threads , when not playing with her children, visiting the V&A, drinking cappuccino, or reading Vogue and Grazia. She has also written for the Guardian. sophiabennett.wordpress.com
Something Must be Burning by Suvi Mahonen
Earlier this morning I’d agreed that we didn’t need to leave. Now that a second helicopter has arrived I have changed my mind. ‘Brendan, we can’t stay,’ I say. ‘We need to pack the car.’ We are standing outside on the second-level balcony with the doors closed behind us to stop the smoke from going inside. My nose blocks with the acrid odour of ash and
burning gum leaves. We have come out here to try and see how close the fire has gotten. But all we can see is a thick haze of murk drifting between the trees. The air pulses with the constant beating of the helicopter blades advancing and receding as they fill up at the dam. It’s not even eleven o’clock and the temperature has already reached thirty-eight degrees.
The wind that blows brings discomfort not relief. I have wet my T-shirt but it doesn’t help. ‘We’ll be okay,’ Brendan says. ‘We don’t need to evacuate.’ He is scanning the forest beyond our neighbours’ house across the road. He leans forward and actually seems to be enjoying the scare. I can’t believe he is being so blasé.
‘We do,’ I say, though I hope he’s right. ‘We need to stay and guard the house,’ he says. ‘There are floating embers. They can set the house on fire if we’re not here to put them out.’ ‘What’s the use of guarding the house if we die?’ I say. ‘This isn’t a game. You’re not trained to fight fires.’ My husband is a doer who thinks he can handle any problem. Like that time he’d tried to relocate a set of pipes for our new washing machine. Nine hours later he was still ankledeep in water and would not leave the laundry, even when I called the plumber against his protestations. But I cannot call anyone if I’m on fire. He doesn’t seem to realise that it’s okay to be afraid. I can hear a fresh siren wailing up the mountain road. They have played a steady mournful melody throughout the morning as reinforcements are being sent in from all over. It has become the lead item on the hourly radio news now that the bushfire has dissolved seven homes. But instead of listening to the updates we should be getting out of here. ‘What’s more important,’ I say. ‘Our baby or the house?’ I can still see the mountain on the other side of the valley glowing orange across the dark horizon. Fragments of soot floated in the air and the house smelled of a winter’s day when my father tried to burn green wood in the coonara. The conduit of forest linking the towns east of Melbourne was ablaze. It was 1983 and they couldn’t stop the spread of Ash Wednesday. The roof-rack of the Commodore was piled high and there was just enough space left in the back seat for me and my brother to squeeze in, the dog would have to sit on my lap. I was only allowed to bring what would fit in my school bag: my diary, my favourite watercolour kit, and a stuffed teddy named Bo. My parents were out on the front porch, I could hear my mother coughing. My brother and I were meant to be sleeping on the fold-out couch in the lounge but we kept getting up to look. It was like a volcano had appeared on the hillside
opposite with a great flow of lava creeping its way across to us. My brother kept telling me what happened to people when they burned alive, how they screamed as their skin blistered and their eyeballs boiled. I said I’d tell Mum. She shook us awake before I had a chance. It was still dark outside except for that glow. The fire was getting closer and we had to get in the car. We couldn’t find the dog at first. Dad threatened to leave without him but we found him under the house. We drove away from the front along a windy unsealed road that traversed the side of Mount Donna Buang. The dog was asleep on my lap and I began to drift off too until the car skidded to a dusty halt and my father began to swear. A fallen tree was blocking our way. He got out of the car to see if he could shift it but it was too big to move. I began to cry. I knew that we were trapped and we would all be burned alive.
portable barricade in the opposite lane. ‘They’re closing the road,’ Brendan says. ‘We won’t be allowed to go back home until the fire’s under control.’ He nods to the man as we drive past. ‘The poor bloke,’ I say. ‘He must be so hot in those coveralls.’ I pull at my undies which have migrated into the crack of my bum and redirect the air-conditioning vent so it blows on my legs. ‘Are you sure we should go to your parents?’ I say. ‘I’d rather stay at a hotel.’ ‘It’s only for one night,’ Brendan says. ‘Hopefully.’ I consider arguing about the issue but I can’t be bothered. We pass the Norway nursery on the left, the plants looking limp behind the fence. I think of our house burning. Everything we’d lose. Last September snow was falling when we drove past here. The sky was a dull brooding grey and Brendan had the headlights on
Fragments of soot floated in the air and the house smelled of a winter’s day. ‘What will we do if our house burns?’ I say, scratching my wrist. ‘I couldn’t stand it. Where would we live?’ ‘That’s why we should have stayed,’ Brendan says. ‘Everything is so dry. I could have put out any burning embers that landed in our yard.’ He is disgruntled I made us leave. I turn to look behind but the view is blocked by our bags. Two fire-trucks, their strobe lights flashing, drive past us in the opposite direction, the sound of their sirens lingering after they are gone. We have joined a line of cars that is coiling its way down the mountain, a train of refugees. In front of us is a yellow station wagon with two collies in the back, tails wagging merrily as they frequently switch sides. Its brake lights come on. As we slow we see an SES truck parked in a widening on the gravel shoulder, and a man setting up a
in the middle of the afternoon. We’d gone to Ellen’s Organics in Ferny Creek to buy ginger tea for my nausea. Brendan said morning sickness shouldn’t be coming on this early, but he also said I wasn’t supposed to get PMS on the pill. I redirected the heating vent so it blew on my legs and burrowed my hands into the opposite sleeves of my red fleece. Brendan kept adjusting the windscreen wipers to clear the splotches of snow. Even going thirty the tyres would still have brief spasms of slushy spin. ‘So much for global warming,’ he said. ‘Global warming means the weather is more extreme,’ I said. ‘Not necessarily hotter.’ I looked out the misting window at the ghost gums, at their white covered limbs, at the ground’s new layer hiding its ugly patches of mud. We passed an A-frame house with its lights on, smoke rising from the
chimney. I thought of our future winters, how cosy it would be at home, Brendan, the baby and me. ‘Brendan,’ I said. ‘What?’ I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I rested my hand on his knee. Brendan’s mother opens the front screen door and waves as we pull into the driveway. She comes over and gives Brendan a hug when he gets out of the car. Then it’s my turn. I always feel a bit awkward whenever I get one from her. We’re
standing haphazardly in the bookshelf and his maps bluetacked to the walls. His ratty green blanket still lies on the bed. Dusty atlas on the desk. How little this room has changed, even though it’s been over ten years since he lived here. After a long afternoon we sit in front of the television watching the six o’clock news while we eat our tea—cold roast chicken with potato salad and bread. The fire is the lead item. The police suspect arson. Eight more houses have been burnt. I feel homesick as we sit here, chewing through our food.
Pillars of eucalypts stand sparse on the barren floor, their cracked, charred limbs bald of foliage and bark. not what you’d call close. I think it’s because she’s never quite got me, though now that I am carrying her grandchild we finally have something to share. Brendan opens the boot and pulls out a suitcase. I go to help, but all I can do is stand here mulling over what to bring in. The fear for our home has left me fatigued. Brendan’s mother also takes a case. It is hard to remain in a stupor when everyone around you is functioning so I pull out the bag in which I think I have packed our toiletries. Unzip. Check. Yep. Closing the boot I follow Brendan and his mother up the front steps into the cool house. Brendan’s father is lying on the couch with the cricket on. He looks up between the overs and asks me if I need a hand. He is a pharmacist who runs his own small franchise—a Chemmart down the road. I think he works hard at it. But at home it’s a different matter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him pick up a tea towel, let alone wash a dish. I tell him I’ll be all right. Brendan is in the kitchen with his mother so I go past them down the hall into his old bedroom, where I know we’ll be sleeping. I start to hang a few things up. Looking around I see the cheap paperbacks
It’s after eleven pm and I can’t get to sleep. The still air is too hot but that’s not why. I think of our un-cleared gutters. It hasn’t rained for weeks and even the weeds growing in them have died. Our cedar-shingled roof would make an excellent fuel if an ember came to rest. I can already see it, the pile of blackened ruins where our house used to be. Reflux simmers in my chest and I feel the beginnings of needing to pee. I turn onto my left side and look at the silhouette of my husband. He is lying on the air mattress on the floor with only his underpants on. I can tell from his arrhythmic breathing that he is in the middle of a dream. I don’t have anything in my throat but I clear it anyway. He remains asleep. I try again. Then give up. ‘Are you sure it’s safe to go home?’ I say. It is ten-thirty in the morning and we are driving back to the hills. ‘I know they issued an all clear. But still.’ ‘It’s under control,’ Brendan says. ‘But look at all that smoke. Something must be burning. What if it’s our house? What will we do? I don’t want to have to live with your parents.’ ‘We won’t have to live with my parents,’ he says. ‘I’m sure our house is okay.’
‘But they said nine houses were burnt in Olinda! Why wouldn’t one of them be ours?’ ‘Look Joni,’ he says. ‘Don’t work yourself up. We’ll see soon enough.’ We come to the roundabout at the base of the hills and turn left, driving up past the bottle shop and the Montrose butchery. Ahead two policemen are stopping cars. They ask to see Brendan’s licence when he winds the window down. They are only letting residents through to reduce the risk of looting and to stop people from going up just to gawk at the damage. They wish us good luck as we leave. We curve up the hillside where the trees begin to thicken. Smoke lurks between the trunks in clouds of grotty blue and conceals the floor of the valley below. The air smells of drizzle and damp ash. Overnight a cool change has come bringing scattered showers that have slowed the fire. The tall gums we pass at first are undamaged, but as we ascend the road along a running slope of forest we enter patches where the flames have been and gone. Darkened pillars of eucalypts stand sparse on the barren floor, their cracked, charred limbs bald of foliage and bark. Between them soggy ash greys the blackened, shrivelled ferns and the wasted, stony ground. Small wisps of white rise in places where the coals are still alive. I think of all the birds, and the wombats that have lost their homes. I look at Brendan. ‘Maybe we should turn around and go back. Let’s wait until it’s totally safe until we check. I’m sure your parents wouldn’t mind if we stayed another night.’ Brendan drives on. We pass a house that’s burnt. It’s the A-frame I love. A portion of blackened wall remains upright with its doorframe gaping open. The roof is gone; its exposed beams sticking out like the charcoaled remnants from a campfire. Sheets of corrugated iron lie curled against piles of rubble. Amongst the gutted ruins two people are standing in a room that is just a floor, sifting through their wreckage, trying to salvage whatever they can. I pray we’re not like them.
The road passes through a stretch that is still green. Then another burnt pocket. Beyond its damaged margins we drive until we get to the intersection and swing right, slowing for the potholes. ‘Here goes,’ Brendan says. We turn onto our dirt road. I look through my dust-streaked window at the front yards of our neighbours. Their driveways are vacant, houses’ curtains closed. We seem to be the first to return. Even the goat usually chained outside number twelve is gone. Things at this end seem okay, but maybe it is giving me false hope. Our street is long and goes over a hill. What if on the other side everything is destroyed? I grasp Brendan’s arm. His eyes flick to mine. We reach the road’s crest then descend. Something must be burning.
about the author Suvi Mahonen is studying for her MA (Writing and Literature) at Deakin University in Australia. Her fiction has been published in various literary magazines and online in Australia, the UK (including on East of the Web), and the United States, and she has worked as a journalist both in Australia and Canada. She lives with her best friend and husband Luke Waldrip in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne where they spend time together writing and gardening.
Photo Credit: CruachanX at Flickr
I grasp Brendan’s arm.
His eyes flick to mine. We reach the road’s crest then descend.
The Problem with Places by Paolo Giordano (translated) It is no longer in fashion – fortunately -, nevertheless a couple of friends, particularly around September, still insist in proposing evenings at home to project on a white wall the photos of their own holidays. Punctually, in such occasions, my father’s similar initiatives come back to my mind, when I was still living with him: sleepy after-dinners spent in dimlight during which, voice out of sync with the picture, described with meticulousness slides of places that we had already seen, whilst my sister repeated the exasperating litany: “how many more?”. I get annoyed when others tell me about the places they have visited. Therefore, in turn, I tend to avoid it. Returning from a journey, at the recurring question: “So, how was it?”, I always respond with a laconic and interchangeable: “Beautiful”. Maybe it’s my fault – a concentration span too short, an intolerance due to the abuse of slides at a young age, a congenital aversion to still life -, but I find the majority of people (and myself above all), incapable to narrate a place – and above all a city -, without inserting a sequence of “there was a church that, there was a beach where, there were some very tall trees with”. Still images, often not very original, flattened like the slides of my unshakable friends. But is it really possible to narrate a city? Is it possible to restore that elusive mood – I couldn’t define it otherwise – that makes you declare “I’m madly in love with Berlin”, rather than “I can’t stand Florence”? Is it possible to describe Paris without the Eiffel Tower, London avoiding the Big Ben, and New York without the sun lazily setting behind the skyline? I was sure I didn’t know how to do it, not even my own city, Turin, which I know like I knew the playground near my native home, inch by inch in all its surface, situated between the hill and the
bypass. So, when I wrote my first novel, “the solitude of prime numbers”, I chose not to mention Turin not even once, to render each place, that in my head had a precise position, reachable by car in less than ten minutes from my district, a place generic and absolute: the park, the school, the river and so on. In the months following the publication (by now too late), I discovered that each choice made throughout the writing, sooner or later, it needs justifying in front of someone: a reader capable of seeing in your intentions further than you pushed yourself. “Why does he never mention the town?”, I was asked numerous times (the torinesi, in particular, brought it up with a measure of vexation in their voice, as if I had betrayed one of our own). I, according to the occasion, chose various answers: “I wanted the story to be universal, that anyone could reconstruct it in their own place, in their own park, in their own school, near their own river”, or: “I believe it depends on Turin. I love my city, but I don’t find it powerful enough, incisive. It’s an excellent setting, but it’s not a protagonist. You see, if I was living in Venice, I could not manage without mentioning it, because it is eccentric and unique, with all that pomp tottering on the water. If I was born in Sicily, the same. I would have certainly recounted that place, because there nature is powerful, it overwhelms you. Not Turin”. Or, again: “Turin was notable for being the city of Fiat, industrial, austere. In the seventies the streets became empty at sunset and at nine o’clock the lights were all switched off, because in the morning the shifts at the factory started early. In the last few years it’s going through a rebirth, it has become an artistic and cultural breeding ground. But I don’t feel comfortable recounting that blossoming, my
fingers stop dead on the laptop keys. I need the decadence and tiredness of an anonymous suburb”. Sincere answers, all of them. But biased. Because, in my heart, I nursed an embarrassing unsatisfaction, the same one drawn on the faces fac of my friends when, returning from a journey, I settled their curiosity with my reticent “beautiful”. Then, some time ago, I found myself having to recount the life of Evariste Galois, a mathematician who lived in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, ury, whose story is inextricably tied to the history of the French capital. All my worries of failed narrator about places suddenly materialised: if I was not able to describe my city, how could I not reduce to a shoddy sketch the metropolis of world literature liter more talked about? So I gathered information, with maps, with photographs, with books, I racked my memories about visits to France going back to when I was a child and I tried to reconstruct a Paris that was more or less credible. Some weeks after having ha delivered the story, by a strange coincidence, I journeyed to Paris and I discovered, without surprise, that in spite of the commitment I did not succeed in my intent. Leaning over the parapet of Pont Neuf, where a crucial part of the event took place, place I thought: “Here the river is wider. The horizon seems further away. Everything is more impressive than how I described it”. The bridge of my story resembled more the one that is found at a stone’s throw from my house, built less than two hundred years ago, go, the Seine became narrow and brown like the Po (the river that cuts Turin sideways, isolating a segment): in short, in my Paris there was more of Turin than I would have ever imagined I could tell about it. All in all, a failure. And, at the same time, a more important victory.
I can choose not to mention my city – I thought -, to call a park simply The Park or, even, to cross the national borders and the ocean and to set a story in a quiet American district, but the place that I am really talking about will always be found in the radius of a kilometre from my house. Apparently, there is more to discover digging in my own yard [literal translation is: digging under the weeds in the yard in front of my block of flats], than there is going far and wide through Europe. That’s why the projection of my friends’ slides make me yawn so much. Maybe, I would be more attentive if those clicks immortalized the bedrooms where they retired to every evening, the landing where, many years before, we played pretending to be archeologists, the bench with the peeling paint where they intertwined their fingers for the first time. Every bench photographed around the world will nevertheless be that one. I became aware of it through writing and every day I am convinced more and more: writing is also this, to send postcards from a place that is always the same. From a city, from a district, from a room. Since publication in Italy in 2008, The Solitude of Prime Numbers has sold over 1 million copies, sold in 34 countries and won five literary awards, including Italy’s premier literary award, the Premio Strega. At 26 years old, Giordano is the youngest author to have received this literary recognition. His achievement is all the more remarkable when you realise he wrote the entire novel during the evenings of his PhD in Particle Physics. The book was published in the UK on the 4th June in hardback under the Doubleday imprint from Random House.
Apocalypse Cow by Todd Heldt
Everything seemed possible that summer Jeff and I stole the cow. We were living in a tiny rental house near the outskirts of Denton, and because it was summer, we had both had our hours drastically cut at the opinion research place where we acted as telemarketers. I had been placed on probation because I kept introducing myself to the female head of household age 28-37 as
"The Telemarketer Formerly Known as Prince." It usually got a laugh, but it was apparently not professional enough. Jeff was not a discipline case, but there was less demand for our services, no matter how professional, in the summer. We had trouble making rent, affording groceries, and keeping the lawn trimmed to the landlord’s specification. One evening Jeff was
driving us to the Drink and Dunk Free-Throw Basketball Bar when we saw the cow contentedly munching the grass at the edge of the field close to highway 380. Though I am not sure which one of us spoke first, it had to have dawned on us at the same time. A voice—either his or mine—said, "We’re gonna have to take that cow."
Cows are immutable by nature, so it was no easy feat coaxing her into the back of the truck. It is hard to persuade a cow, but left to their own ingenuity, two college juniors will eventually figure something out. Riding in the back of a truck was always something I thought was sort of fun, but riding in the back of a truck with a stolen cow was even more fun because of the added danger. I had been looking forward to drinking beer, missing the backboard entirely, blaming it all on the booze, and trying once again to flirt with Molly the barkeep. But all my life I had been prone to let the world lead me where it may, and that summer was especially so. This cow was the most exciting thing to happen in a while. I decided to name her Apocalypse. We led her into the backyard and shut the gate. One of the advantages of the house was the tall, wooden privacy fence. Our cow would be safe from the target practice of passing rednecks, and we would be safe from discovery. No one would ever suspect that we had stolen a cow. Absent visual suspicion, how would it ever even come up in conversation? As long as we could hide her from the landlord, we’d only have to mow the front yard, we would get free milk and butter, and we could sell the leftovers to the neighbors. "We could even call it organic," drawled Jeff. "We ain’t got no chemicals back here." The next day we wondered what to do with all the cow shit. I shoveled two still-moist pies into a Piggly Wiggly shopping bag and hurled it into the trash in the alley across the street. The bottom of the bag ripped out as I swung it around, and cow manure sprayed the front of the dumpster. This was going to require much more delicacy than I had anticipated. I was always kind of a loser when it came to ladies. Mostly I wanted the ones I couldn’t have, and the ones who wanted me I hadn’t enough sense to recognize. Molly at the Drink and Drunk seemed to go for the boys who were better at basketball than I was, but I thought the cow might give me an opening. I approached her and ordered a Shiner Bock, and as I waited for her
to draw it, I asked, "Did you ever play basketball on a team, Molly?" "I did," she said, looking up from the tap. "I was a Lady Eagle until I tore my knee up." "Sorry to hear that," I said. "That’ okay. I don’t miss it too much." She handed me my beer and I took a drink, a thought welling up slowly in my mind. "Say, Molly, why do you suppose they always call the women’s basketball team the Lady Mascots? Why weren’t you just an Eagle?" "I guess it’s so people don’t get confused." "I could never confuse you for a man," I offered. She smiled. I tried to think of a sports name that was inherently male and would actually need a feminine designation. "The Lady He-Men!" I said after a moment. "The Lady Macbeths," she countered."The Lady Lions." "The Lady Firemen." We were bored by the game. I said, "Molly, I have a cow named Apocalypse. Do you like organic milk?" It turned out that she did, and our first date was to meet the cow. Apocalypse seemed sad. I stroked her back and patted her head. "Something's wrong with the cow," I said to Jeff. Jeff's knowledge had always been bent more toward common sense than book learning. He didn't wonder about how the cow felt about her new home. He simply said, "I bet she's thirsty." "Damn, I'm dumb", I said. I set a bowl of water down in front of her.
costs in no time. A cow is a fine commodity. We had gotten pretty good at milking her, disposing of poop, and once we had practiced with the churn a few times, making butter. When Molly came by to meet Apocalypse, we had fresh milk, cream, and unsalted butter. Molly was much obliged, and she even gave me a peck on the lips. Things were looking up, but I could tell something was troubling her. "What’s wrong?" I asked. "Shouldn’t a cow be a little freer to roam?" she asked. "Apocalypse seems awfully confined back here." I had to admit I hadn’t thought of it before. As soon as Molly left, I approached Jeff in the kitchen. "Does this taste good?" He shoved a spoonful of something fatty and oversweetened into my mouth. "No, "I said. "It is too sweet." "Damn," he said. "What is it?" I asked. "Organic ice cream," he said with a huff, recognizing that his experiment had failed. "Maybe next time," I consoled. "Say, Molly says that Apocalypse needs more exercise. Should we start taking her for walks?" "What if she gets off the leash and bites someone?" "Hmmm," I considered the possibility aloud. "We’ll have to walk her late at night." "That's cool," said Jeff. "Oh, and Molly is a vegetarian. Under no circumstances can we ever eat this cow."
we wondered what to do with all the cow shit.
I shoveled two still-moist pies into a Piggly Wiggly shopping bag She sniffed and licked at it. Her bovine tongue was far too clumsy a tool for the job. The water spilled into the grass. "We need a bigger bowl," opined Jeff. We found a suitable kiddie pool at the 7th resale shop we went to. It was blue and had pictures of smiling squids and starfish. At a buck twenty-five, we could recoup our
"We could always say she ran away or got run over." "No." It was decided that between the hours of midnight and two AM one of us would walk Apocalypse around the block each night. I took the belt out of an old bathrobe and tied it around her neck with gentle precision. I found that she allowed
herself to be led quite easily. I said to the cow, "I think Molly likes me, and I owe it all to you." The cow said nothing, so we walked in silence. Half-way around the block, she had a body function, and I shoveled it into a storm drain. Life seemed like it could go on forever. The next day we hid Apocalypse in Jeff’s bedroom while
get greedy it will ruin everything." After a few minutes of quiet rumination Jeff agreed. "Maybe we can steal another cow," he said. "What if we had two cows?" "We don’t have room for another cow. Besides, when classes start up in the fall, we’ll have less time. Apocalypse is enough." Molly and I were in full-swing by
"This is perfect," I said to her one night, though I was pretty sure she was asleep. She didn't answer
me, and I sneaked out to walk the cow. the landlord surveyed our lawn. "The backyard ain’t even," he said. "Well, sir, no one can see it with the privacy fence, so I guess I was sort of haphazard about cutting it," I said. "You need to do a better job," he said. "I don’t want the neighbors to think I rent to trash." "No sir," said Jeff. "Would you like some ice cream?" "Don’t give him that stuff," I said. "No, it’s a new recipe. I got everything figured out," Jeff said. The old man passed on the ice cream, and we let Apocalypse out of the house. I led her over to a patch of tall grass and tried to persuade her to eat. She looked at me mutely with sad, liquid eyes. I gave her a hug. She began to pee. "Did you house train her?" asked Jeff. The ice cream was much better, and when we went to the farmers’ market with our weekly load of milk, whipping cream, and butter, we brought along a carton of it to spoon out for samples. "I like it best with fresh, organic peaches," I would say to people, who invariably wanted to know when we would be selling it. When we got home, Jeff kicked it into high gear. He milked and milked until finally Apocalypse mooed plaintively every time he touched an udder. "Dude," I said. "Lay off the milking." "Think of the money we could be making," he said. "It isn’t about the money. It’s about the cow. We got everything we wanted out of Apocalypse, and if we
then, and she made sure I was thoroughly acquainted with all her favorite parts. Often we would hole up in my bedroom and make love again and again. She had a long, lean body that could only be compared to a tire-swing. I could climb all over her, up or down, back or forth. I could swing us to new heights and spin us dizzily around or we could suspend ourselves together almost motionless, in a slow, lackadaisical twirl. "This is perfect," I said to her one night, though I was pretty sure she was asleep. She didn't answer me, and I sneaked out to walk the cow. Molly was beautiful, and I was pretty sure I loved her. I didn't even mind that she didn't shave her underarms. Milk, butter, and ice cream production were giving us extra money, we had a foolproof system for hiding Apocalypse when the landlord came by to get rent and check on the grounds, and Apocalypse was getting plenty of sleep, food, water and exercise. You have never seen a more radiant cow. Some moments I would look up and see the sunlight laced through the trees and think that the world could drift peacefully from day to day for all eternity. Still, I knew it couldn’t last. The approach of September caused a dull ache in the back of my mind. We would be working more and taking classes again. The influx of students would give Molly more choices, and she would eventually leave me. That was the way of the world, and it seemed like I was helpless to stop it.
Jeff and I played baseball on his Nintendo. He struck me out, and my players took the field. "The more I try to hold onto the world, the more it seems to escape me," I said. He nodded solemnly. "The more I have, the more I am afraid of losing it," he said. He pop-flied an out. "What if I quit school and become a farmer," he said. "Is that what you want?" "I always thought I wanted to go into criminal justice, but I don’t know. Everything turns into work." "I can’t picture you as a farmer." "What do you think is going to happen with you and Molly?" My players were up to bat. We were way too good at pitching on this game. The game was always decided by one run in extra innings. "She is too pretty for me," I said. "You want someone ugly?" "No, I want someone pretty, but I am not sure I deserve someone pretty. I’m just kind of me, and I think once people start coming back into town, it will look funny for the two of us to be together. Everyone will wonder, ‘Why is she with that guy?’ She’ll break up with me by October." My third batter was up, and Jeff tried to sneak a low curve ball past me. The very end of my bat caught the ball, and I launched it high into leftcenter field. "It’s outta there," said Jeff. But then it fell short, and his center fielder caught it at the wall. My players headed to the field. "So it goes," I said. "It was a good run. Molly is very pretty," opined Jeff. "Crunchy," he added for clarification. "I was lucky to have her as long as I did." "She hasn’t left you yet." "I know, but sometimes the world seems too good. We should take Apocalypse back to her rightful owner and get back to our lives." Jeff knocked the first pitch over the wall. "That’ll do it." "That’ll do it," I said. In August we came home from the farmer’s market with enough ice cream money to equal our summertime telemarketer checks. Jeff was trying convince me to start a vegetable garden when we turned the corner and saw the landlord parked in front of the house. Not only
had he found Apocalypse, he had stepped in a cow pie. He gave us an ultimatum: Apocalypse or us. We had two days to get rid of her. I retired to my room to ponder my next move when Molly called me over for a talk. I already knew what it was going to be about, so I told her to have the talk without me. We hung up, and I gave Apocalypse one last hug. I said, "Well, cow, I think the summer of love has come to an end." I swatted her backside and she mooed without comprehension. She stared at me with her big, black eyes, and I led her through the gate. She followed me without a leash, and I walked her down the farm road, toward town. I stopped at an old farmhouse and knocked, wondering what I would say. I heard old feet shuffling behind the door, and I cleared my throat. The door opened and I felt my eyes start to water. The old man stared me hard in the face. I said, "Did you ever lose a cow?"
about the author Todd Heldt has published poetry and prose in dozens of journals, including Birmingham Poetry Review, Borderlands, Chattahoochee Review, Sycamore Review, and Laurel Review. In recent years, he won 2nd place in the 8th Annual Poetry Superhighway Poetry Contest, was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist in the Cleveland State University first book competition. His first novel, "Before You Were a Prophet," was serialized at The Hiss Quarterly and is now available through Lulu, Inc. It’s a humorous tale about death, guilt, god, rednecks, kleptomania, and William Carlos Williams scholars. In October of 2009, Ghost Road Press will publish Todd's full-length collection of poetry, "Card Tricks for the Starving." When he's not feeding alligators at the Lincoln Park Zoo he's probably hanging out with his wife, Kelly, and flying kites. Artwork: Lori Andrews for The Front View
A Creative Exercise by Stella
For your consideration (and amusement), a creative exercise. You can do it in your head or try that oldfashioned pen and paper thing. Think of a simple sentence, like “The moon rose over the hill,” or “Joan went out to buy some cherries.” I’m going to go with Joan. Now we replace the word “cherries” with something slightly unusual: Joan went out to buy some hockey sticks. We increase the weirdness factor: Joan went out to buy some hockey sticks for her dinner party. Voilà. A potential story to tell. Why does Joan need hockey sticks for a dinner party? I have no idea. Maybe she needs them to serve the hors d’oeuvres. This is a little too selfconsciously quirky, isn’t it? Hold on, I’ll bring back the cherries. Joan went out to buy some cherries for her dinner party. Don’t worry. We can still mix it up plenty. We will simply replace Joan, much as we all love her.
Evan went out to buy some cherries for his dinner party. part So, while the next obvious question is why is Evan throwing a dinner party, you could sidestep that by changing “his” to “her,” naturally provoking the question, why would you name a girl “Evan”? That’s a prospective story in itself. Perhaps we need to talk about Evan’s parents a bit before we get to the dinner party. Or say we change the action’s physical direction – Evan goes in some place instead of going out. And you get the idea. That’s one sentence. It can go another way each time you replace a word, no matter what its grammatical function is, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. If you’re in the wrong mood, this can be completely paralyzing. Imagine Ima having to navigate an endless maze of identical rooms. You’d never move from the squaresquare foot of ground beneath your feet. But if you’re in the right mood, the rooms don’t seem identical at all. They have different shapes and sizes. You trip over the furniture urniture in this room. You find someone you know two rooms to the left. The room on the right has no floor – you have to swing across on a rope. Whatever. It’s up to you. And here endeth the lesson (and the extended metaphor). Now let’s see, what’s next?
Words Can Not Say by Kathleen
It makes no sense. I didn’t even say the worst part. But Larry read my mind. He was carrying a deli platter for the office party and my mind flew smack into something so appalling I couldn’t squelch it in time. I saw Larry’s face above the deli platter and he saw my sick, unspoken thought. I gasped and Larry gasped. And then thank God, he laughed. We were both laughing hysterically—it was either laugh or cry. We’ve worked together in accounting for ten years. Larry was always irritable, even overwrought, except when talking about his son. Joel was a brilliant boy who was too good to be true. Larry said so when Joel graduated first in his class from medical school. And he was saying it again after Joel died on New Year’s Day. A chief intern at City Hospital, engaged to marry his longtime sweetheart, Joel died suddenly, the first tragedy of the New Year. No need to ask the details. We all have the same
theory, but nobody will say it out loud. Instead, we say, “It makes no sense.” No need to say what words can not say. Everyone seems to understand that nobody can understand. Larry says that Joel would never say if something was wrong. Even as a little boy, he never complained. Even as a child, Joel worked like crazy and excelled like crazy and to throw it all away makes no sense. Management told Larry to take all the time he needed. But Larry said time off wasn’t going to bring Joel back. So he and his wife sat Shivah for seven days, following Jewish tradition. We visited, sat with them, and said prayers—surrounded by deli platters. So many deli platters that people attempted feeble jokes about them. You know, the way people do. Larry and I work at a bank and all through January and February, on Friday afternoons the company laid people off. Not me and not Larry, but hundreds of others. Now in March the company has announced no more lay-offs. And this Friday afternoon it hosted a moraleboosting party with deli platters and soft drinks. The baby kept me up all night. I’m still nursing him but that’s no excuse. I stepped out of my office. And Larry was coming straight at me with this huge deli platter. “Don’t tell me that’s from—” I stopped there. Larry and I gaped at each other. Until finally he laughed and I laughed, thank God. Foregoing the party, though, I drew the blinds and lay my head on my desk. Larry’s knocking on the doorframe. “Don’t worry about it, Joanna. It’s nothing.” “I know.” But suddenly I’m crying. “Give that little son of yours a kiss from me.” Larry’s crying, too. “Make sure he always knows how much you love him.” Then Larry slaps my doorframe and walks away, choking back sobs.
Interview with Marina Lewycka
Interview with Jenn Ashworth
Next monthâ€™s issue out: 10th August