Exciting News!

I’ve been published in an anthology.

It’s titled After the Fall, and is a collection of a post-apocalyptic short stories.

I’ve known about this for quite a while, but it’s now been released on Amazon, and it looks lovely! So far, the anthology, published by Almond Press is only available as an e-book, but it will eventually be available as a paperback as well. If you’re interested in seeing it or purchasing it, click here.

 

Look forward to some more fiction posts during the coming days as well, as I’m queuing some up right now!

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Tin House – Master Plotto Student Edition – Second Publication

*Click here to read the story!*

I meant to share this with you guys quite a while ago, but I was in the middle of my second-to-last week of my first (very intense) term at Oxford. So, slightly belatedly, here it is. In November, I got emailed two very specific, quite weird prompts, of which I was to choose one. I had to write a thousand word short story within a week and submit it. The four winners of Tin House’s weekly Plotto competition competed against one another and… you guessed it, I won! The link at the top of this post will lead you right to the page with my story.

My First Second

   I typed these words: “…vivid enough to be sure of.” I stared at my computer screen. The undersized keyboard on my too-small laptop sat beneath my fingers, silent. People tell me that I type extremely loudly, banging each key violently, even when I’m perfectly calm. I’ve tried blaming my computer – but then they hand over their own laptops or keyboards and I try typing and the banging sound resumes. Clearly, it’s me. I hammer out words with a fervor that doesn’t often suit my mood and that isn’t healthy for the machines I use or for my wallet. A wallet which, if I continue to pursue the path of my chosen profession, will probably not fatten with big bills or numerous credit cards. I should really give my poor keyboards a break.
   I digress. Those words, that are vivid enough in my mind to be quite certain of now, were the final words of the last sentence of Chapter Fifty. I didn’t plan it that way, but I ended on a nice, round number like that. Fifty. It’s satisfying, that number. It feels very complete.
   **
   I wrote the first draft starting at the end of January, 2011, and finished it almost exactly a year ago, at the end of August, 2011. I tried reading it about a week after I had written the last page, unsatisfied and knowing that there was so much more that needed to be changed, inserted, taken out and neatened. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read it. It reeked of my own foul stench, as if I’d secreted my body odor into it.
   Worse than that, though – it was boring. I tried reading that draft more than once during the months that followed. Every time I picked the thing up, I was astonished at how basely dull it was. There was no there there. There was no essence, no feeling, no emotion – it was a string of words with periods and commas more or less where they should be, dashes and semicolons peppered in for variety. Sure, the sentences were well formed enough. They were understandable. No one would be confused as to the meaning of “Amanda felt” so and so or of “Dan said” thus to some other person.
   But beneath the disgust, beneath the boredom, there was a gut feeling that told me that I would be back. There was a knowledge that these characters and their story were too important to me, as small as their lives are, because ultimately I believe in the importance of small lives. I cannot contain the vastness of humanity – I often talk with disdain about how “all politicians” are like this, or how “people are so stupid” sometimes. But I know that these words are ways for me to deal with the everyday – ways for me to be able to live and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Because if I gave in to one of my biggest wishes – to try and empathize with everybody, all the time – I would lose myself and I would go mad. Nobody can contain so much of the world. As George Eliot wisely wrote in Middlemarch:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

**
   I was right. At the end of the best school year I have ever had, having finished my sophomore year and said goodbye to my friends at my college in the US in preparation for spending the year abroad at Oxford University in England, I was finally ready. I read the first draft of the nameless novel, one of the four I have written, and dedicated my summer to writing my first second draft.
   And now, after two months and nine days, I have finished. I’ve eliminated a lot of expository information that I needed by a potential reader wouldn’t. I’ve gotten rid of my bad habit of overusing adverbs – although I also don’t believe that they’re anathema and allow them to remain here and there, when they’re useful and don’t sound glaringly obnoxious. I’ve changed the race of one character and the sexual orientation of another because they both told me to. I’ve changed the names of minor characters because there were too many similar names with the letter “M” in them.
   It may take another few months before I’m able to read the second draft. But meanwhile, hopefully, some of my friends and loved ones will be willing to read this draft – which is, I am positive, superior by far to the first – and will be able to give me some notes to guide me in my next draft.
   And meanwhile I will also be able to hang around this place again, sweep out the dust and cobwebs, and hopefully get some good, fun, flash fiction and experimental practice writing going.

Stories from the News – Episode 1

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become an NPR junkie. I listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered almost every single day. I also recently discovered On the Media and listen to every week’s episode on iTunes, as well as NPR’s TED Talk podcast.

Beyond getting my daily dose of “what’s going on in the world” that way, I also get to hear interviews with authors who I never would have heard of otherwise, musicians whose music I don’t like but whose words inspire me, and series on topics that I wouldn’t be exposed to in my regular day-to-day life. Often, the stories I hear inspire me and give me ideas and things to think about. But what I don’t do often enough is write those ideas down.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Today I heard a piece that just sparked my mind and made me want to cry and laugh all at once. Whether or not a good piece of flash fiction will emerge from it is yet to be seen – but the important thing is, I’ll have recorded both the story that created a rush of feeling in me and I’ll have tried to write down some of what it made me think of. Here we go. The link below will bring you to the page with the NPR news story that I listened to. Below it is the piece of flash fiction that arose from it.

“The ‘Other Audubon’: A Family’s Passion”

______

“It’s been days. I’m worried about her.”

“At least she’s taking exercise today. That’s something.”

“Yes, but she insisted on putting on her purple dress. The one she always said that he liked.”

“And so we mustn’t say anything about it. No, not another word. If we don’t talk about him, she’ll forget about him in time as well. The important thing is that she’s out of bed again. Hush now, dearest. I think I hear her coming downstairs.”

She’d been downstairs for a while already, listening at the door, clutching at the handle of her parasol. She bit the inside of her cheek and felt the blood pool in her mouth almost at once as the old wound opened again. Every night it closed up, and every day she found a way to worry it  open again. She wouldn’t complain about it to Mama, though, because then the doctor would come, and she was sick and tired of his patronizing eyes and the way he looked at her in her shift, nothing but her shift, whenever he was there.

“Are you ready, love?”

“Yes, Mama.”

They left the house by the back door. She wanted to go out into the fields, but Mama wouldn’t let her yet. She was too pale yet, she said, and too frail. Maybe when she got stronger, in a few days. Perhaps then. She regretted, now, the fuss she’d made, putting on the purple dress and staying in bed for days. She didn’t love him all that much, really, it wasn’t about him, it was about Mama and Papa trying to protect her all the time. She knew she was frail, she knew she was sickly and small and weak, and she hated it. She could never be passionately swept up by a man like the women in novels were, and she wanted so much to be a heroine at times. The closest she ever got to being a heroine was her fits of hysterical tears and the chokes she got afterwards, when she couldn’t breathe and they fetched the damned doctor.

A whistle sounded just as Mama tried to usher her inside and she looked back. It wasn’t him, which she knew was what Mama had feared. No, it was a bird, one of the beautiful Phoebes, and she could swear that it was winking at her, promising something. In a moment she would know what it was, if only Mama waited one more second – but no, she was ushered inside and whisked back into bed to have a bowl of broth so that she could get strong again.

A Story Excerpt

I was inspired today to start writing something else in addition to my main project. It was one of those things, like Robin of a few days ago, that just started writing itself in my head before I was ready for it. Luckily, I was able to turn immediately to my computer and write. This is only about half of what I’ve written so far, and I don’t know how much potential it has, but I’m going to keep working on it, because, well, I feel like it!

**

The sirens began to wail all over the city, and we made ourselves ready. We all knew what the sound meant. In our shelter, Ben and I gathered up the weapons we had at our disposal – he a staff, and I my twin daggers. He’d learned how to use a staff at his mother’s knee, and he wielded it as if it were part of his body. I envied his skill, especially when he’d shown me that the extras he’d added to his weapon. When twisted in the center, sharp steel blades shot out of either end of the heavy wooden staff, heavier still with the lead infused in it. I could hardly lift the thing, although I’d tried often enough. Ben had the muscles of an infomercial bodybuilder – he’d added two pounds of lead to the staff every year since he hit his teens.

My skills were harder won, for I wasn’t a child of violence. I had never meant to join the revolutionaries, never meant to get tangled up in any of this. My parents were simple folk, and I grew up in a small town near the coast. I learned fishing and cooking while Ben learned the fighting arts from his mother. While he sweated in the gym, I paddled happily in the vast salt lake’s waters. While he took his oath and swore his dedication to the rebellion and revolution, I was picked as beauty queen of the seventh grade. While he debated and studied philosophy and the way of life in which we lived, I was blissfully unaware of anything outside my small community. I didn’t even know how downtrodden we were.

We were allowed television, although no Internet access. I knew vaguely about the Net because of visitors that came to the coast to enjoy some free time. They often complained about the isolation – the radios only caught music stations, and our televisions had no news channels. In our town, the war might well have been a myth. It was a myth to me until I reached adulthood at seventeen and was allowed the knowledge that had been barred from me during my childhood: the world was at war.

Flight From Hell

I am now officially back in the Holy Land, and hopefully in the next few days I will be resuming my normal updating pattern. I will also update those interested parties in which school I will end up going to in the fall and also I hope to go over my travel journal and write about the various amusing things that happened during my insane trip. Right now, though, I feel a great urge to explain just what sort of horror was vested upon my mother and I on our Delta flight home. You might actually have heard or will hear about this as a small item on the news today.

Our flight left NY late. Ok. Happens. Whatevs. I can deal.

An hour in, there is a slight commotion up front. Flight attendants are dashing up and down the aisles. Plane starts to descend and what looks like liquid is streaming out of the engines on the wings. None of the crew is telling the passengers anything besides to stay in our seats with our seat-belts fastened.

We’re finally told, after some major panic going on inside my rather too broad imagination, that we’re landing in about five minutes due to a “situation” with a passenger. A few minutes later, as an afterthought, we’re told that nothing is wrong with the plane and we can stay calm. Thanks. NOW you’re telling us.

We land. Somewhere. No one’s said what city we’re in. We all believe that a passenger is ill, has had a heart attack, a major allergic reaction, something life threatening. I stop a passing flight attendant and discover that this is not the case. It is some sort of security concern. Some sort of dangerous and destructive behavior. The flight attendant, who seems almost more panicked than the passengers, goes on to say that it is a very big deal.

Once again, fear becomes rampant – terrorist attack! Hijackers! Criminal group! Maybe there are accomplices on the plane! The FBI are involved! Rumors run rampant.

Eventually, and this is about an hour after landing, the co-pilot comes out and we get some real information: a passenger had gotten up from the back of the plane, had walked to the front and to the cockpit door and had begun banging on it, trying to guess the code to get in and punching at the number pad. He was wrestled to the ground by five passengers and was tied up and calmed down. The regulations in this sort of situation dictate that the plane make an emergency landing, which it did. The passenger was taken off in handcuffs, his luggage and handbags were removed, and the local and federal police became involved.

After another two hours or more, it is determined that the man was simply unhinged and having an anxiety attack. He is not connected to any criminal or terrorist groups. All is well, all is safe. A new flight plan is made, the plane is refueled, and we finally are able to head out once more. I must stress, though, that for a while there we were warned that we might all need to get off the plane and there was some indication that there would be an investigation. Apparently the FBI actually was involved, and thus was able to check in their databases that this disruptive passenger was acting alone as they say.

You’d think that once the whole thing was sorted out and we were able to be on our way again, all would be fine and dandy. Ah, if only. It seemed, however, that the fates were determined that my mother and I have the absolute worst travel experience of our lives to date.

During the first part of the flight, and the wait on the ground as well, there was a woman and a man behind us who had been talking non-stop. They were strangers and were having a nice airplane chat. That’s fine. What is NOT fine is that they were doing so in extremely loud voices. Once the flight had resumed, the man was exchanged for some reason with a different one, and again the woman chatted him up. She seemed determined to have as many partners in her bed that night as possible. Or something.

Basically, for the rest of the flight – ten hours and forty-five minutes, in case you were wondering – these two conversed in extremely loud, obnoxious, piercing voices, not even attempting at keeping their conversation private. Thus, I know that She has an Austrian boyfriend. I know He has problems with his girlfriends. I know which movies He and She like. I know that He and She were hitting on each other for half the duration of their in-flight-conversation. I know that She has four really good friends and I know that He wants to travel to South America. I know more about He and She than I know about half my friends. Oh yes, She was also kicking my seat for most of the flight.

So if you hear about an incident on a Delta flight, then know that I was there. And know also that the only thing preventing a second “incident” [namely, me murdering the He and She behind me] was that I really didn’t want the plane to be diverted yet again.