Category Archives: editor

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: And Then I Ran

by Lori Sambol Brody
1
When I was preparing to write this, I searched for some old stories I wrote as a teenager.  Not long after we moved into our house, fourteen years ago, I threaded stories into an old UCLA binder.  I recall punching holes through the yellow graph paper my father took from work, sliding into the prongs, college-ruled paper scrawled on with erasable pen; tucking a story into the binder’s pocket, a booklet of flower fairy stories I wrote with a friend in elementary school, its cover a drawing of the fumitory fairy from the Cecily M. Barker flower fairy books.  I couldn’t find the notebook. 
I thought I’d be sad.  That scene in Little Women – we all felt Jo’s loss when Amy burned her papers.  But I actually feel relieved.  Let them go.
I remember some of those stories.  At the time, I wrote mysteries and science fiction.  My first novella was about Chaia Tavruc, the lavender-haired, violet-eyed space ship captain/smuggler (I wrote the first draft after Star Wars came out; I had a crush on Han Solo), framed for a crime she didn’t commit.    
I could probably reconstruct that story, should I want to, I rewrote it so many times. 
I’m not going to.
2
When my sister and I cleaned out my mother’s house after she died, we found a box on the top shelf of the closet in her spare bedroom.  Inside, my stories from elementary school.  In third grade, we turned in a story a week as booklets with elaborate covers: a bejeweled cover (for a story about a gem robbery), chapbooks of “scary” stories.  My youngest daughter laughed because all of the scary stories contain the words, “And then I ran” when the narrator confronts the ghost, the haunted house, the witch, the talking pumpkins.
I avoided the main conflict.  “And then I ran.” 
3
My grandfather told me stories about talking flowers on walks around the neighborhood.  My grandmother told me about the “olden days,” her young brother dying of appendicitis in the back seat of the taxi speeding to the hospital, her grandmother keeping a carp in the bathtub to make gefilte fish.  The local library:  I swear I read every book in the kids’ section.  My mother’s shelves full of books.  My shelves filling with books from the used bookstore:  Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys. 
I read Stephen King and noticed how he shortened scenes and cut from character to character close to the climax when he wanted to create tension.  I realized Madeleine L’Engle’s books were linked through recurring characters.  I read André Norton and Ursula LeGuin who created amazing worlds.  My grandmother hooked me on old movies:  I watched Hitchcock, hardboiled detective, any mystery movie.  From Charade I learned that everything had meaning, the passed-over object could unlock the mystery.
I wrote.  No one read these stories.  Mostly.  I showed my mother one story, about a computer program slowly deleting letters from human consciousness – of course those letters were not used in the story.  I waited for her reaction.  She looked up at me, uncomprehending.
One story I still have:  “Dead Men Don’t Eat Sundaes.”  (At this time, I was reading Raymond Chandler, watching Chinatown and The Big Sleep.  The name is an obvious rip-off of the Steve Martin film Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.)  As you can see from the picture, some famous writers agreed to give me blurbs.  You’ll also see, in the synopsis, that I’m stealing a major plot point from Charade.

4
I was scared:  I said I wanted to be a writer.  I always said that.  I thought I had no talent.  I took the easy way out.  I went to law school.
And then I ran.
5
After I graduated from law school, I took workshops, both through UCLA Extension and private workshops lead by a teacher from UCLA Extension, Tom Filer.  He’s the little voice in my head inhibiting me and correcting my sentences as I write.  I wrote self-indulgent stories about lonely young women, because I was a lonely young woman.  I published two of those stories in the late 90s.  They were in print, and I am happy they can’t be read now.
I gave my mother my contributor’s copies.  When I packed up her house, the journals were in the basket beside the loveseat in the den.  The spines are uncracked.
I had two daughters, I took a break from writing, but didn’t really take a break, because I was still writing, still meeting with my writing group, still taking workshops, with another teacher from UCLA Extension, Rachel Resnick.  I was just not submitting.  I attended workshops even when I was supposed to be on bed rest, missing only the last class because I gave birth.  At a writing retreat six years ago, Rachel said, looking up from my story about a teenage girl on a tour through Uzbekistan who has the hots for her tour guide:  Everyone has a voice.  You should work on the teenage voice.  You have a knack for that. 
Rachel is the tough-love voice in my head, telling me when things don’t work, but inspiring me to make it better. 
6
For a long time, I wrote about the trips I’d taken.  Moroccan deserts, a Turkish fish farm, Baja whale watching, Russian train trips.  I still write about travelling, but now I also write closer to home, about mother-daughter relationships, being a teen, the canyon I live in.  
  
7
What I’m avoiding, what I’m writing around:  I only start submitting again after my mother died, August 1, 2012.  All my publications – but for three – are in the last five years.  I know there’s a reason, because I hadn’t stopped writing.  Is it because her death was freeing?  That she wouldn’t see herself in every mother I write about, me in every teenager?  Or is it that she wouldn’t co-opt the story, take my success as her own?
And then I ran.

Baby in the Slingbacks
When unpacking her suitcase from their trip to the other continent, the woman finds the toy baby slipped into her new crocodile skin slingbacks.  In a pointed toe, pale pink glows against the gold leather insole.  She peers closer.  A small plastic toy baby, as small as her thumb, like the ones frozen in ice cubes for baby shower games.  As she pulls the shoe from her bag, the toy gleams brighter until she spills it radiant into her hand.  When she closes her eyes, she sees an afterimage, luminous and red.
The brightness fades.  The toy’s mouth opens, as naked and raw as the mouth of a kitten.  She almost drops it in her surprise.  The baby lies warm and trembling in her palm.  It has no navel.  Its penis is an exotic tiny mushroom.
She moves through the house, looking for the man.  Her breasts are heavy, sensitive against the gauze of her shirt.  The man reads the newspaper in the yard, sitting in the garden chair he always prefers.  He’s finished watering the plants and the ground is wet around the beds of overblown peonies.  While they were out of the country, the tomato plants grew wild, tendrils escaping from the wire cages, branches heavy with dark red fruit and plump horned worms.  She’ll have to can the tomatoes before they rot on the vines. 
The woman balances on the edge of the other chair, the baby cupped in her palm.  The baby has grown: he’s now the length of her hand and as heavy as the thick gold coins used as currency on the other continent.  The legs and arms stir.
She holds out the baby.  “What’s this?”
He folds the newspaper and prods the baby with a damp finger.  The baby turns his head to the man, eyes still shut.  “Looks like a very small baby.  What kind of joke is this?”
She has to hold the baby now with both hands, he grows so fast.  His mouth is bright red, his cheeks rouged. 
“Did you put this in my bag?” she says.
“Why would I do that?”
“You didn’t want me to stop treatment.”  The woman cradles the baby against her shoulder.  She is careful to support his neck, as her friends instructed her when she held their newborns.
“Maybe all we had to do was to go on vacation to get a baby,” he says.  “What everyone told us.”
The woman looks away.  The garden walls are thick with vines, the morning glories tight cylinders like the hand-rolled cigars sold in the country they visited.  Beyond the walls of their garden, the hills are undeveloped; in the summer heat, the wild grasses have browned, the plants already flowered, and the birds fledged.
The baby has grown to the length of her arm and bobs at her shoulder like a bird pecking.  His fingernails are flexible and almost translucent.  She traces the arch of his foot; his skin peels between the toes and in the folds of his legs.  “When I found him, he was plastic,” she says.
“Are you sure?”  The man strokes the baby’s hair.  His fingers graze her arm. 
“Of course I’m sure.”  She holds the baby tighter.  He mews in protest against her blouse.  “What if he changes back to plastic?” 
“Let’s worry about that if it happens,” he says.  “With kids, there’s enough worry.”
At her feet, nasturtiums bloom the color of a Buddhist monk’s robe.  The flowers will taste bitter in their salad tonight.  She thinks: in birth, there is always the promise of death.  She closes her eyes and feels herself floating, as if interlocked arms carefully bear her up the slope of the hill to the wildness outside the walls.  But when she opens her eyes, she has not moved, and the baby has stopped growing.  He roots into her neck, her chest.
She unbuttons her shirt, moves the cup of her bra aside, and puts the baby to her.  He takes her nipple in his mouth and a sting as vigorous as an electric shock singes her breast.  And the entire world focuses on that pain.
(Originally published on Tin House Open Bar)

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Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California with her family.  Her short fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Synaesthesia Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Little Fiction, Third Point Press, and Sundog Lit, among others.  Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.  Her twitter handle is @lorisambolbrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com/

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Stops and Starts

 by Iris N. Schwartz



In grade school I began writing my first novel, about a fearless girl, her collie, and two loving parents. The Cohen Family, Crayola-illustrated, was, alas, never to be finished…or found.

That set the pattern for my writing. I always burned to write. In my preteens, I wrote fiction, longhand ─ mostly in the basement, away from family tumult and, especially, my mother.

In my teens I switched to electronic typewriter, later, grudgingly, to a computer. I continued to write several times a week, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. There were, however, times I didn’t write for weeks, months, or chillingly ─ years!

The Cohen Familywas definitely and defiantly a novel. Unlike my protagonist, I was burdened with fear and anxiety; I had a sister, but no collie or pet of any furry or feathery kind, and my parents were not demonstrative but distant, and, most likely, mildly to deeply depressed.

Why stops and starts? My mother, no doubt parroting her own mother or father, labeled me noisy, lazy, and selfish. She told me to shut up, questioned how I “dared” talk back to her. Eventually, I knew how she felt about any topic before I understood my own mind or heart. I apologized to chairs for accidentally kicking them. Did not trust my instincts. Thought if I could do it, it couldn’t worth much. That, of course, applied to my writing (and, later, my editing skills).

The first person to say I wrote well was an English Literature professor at Brooklyn College. I don’t recall her name or what she said; it was complimentary and therefore, scared me so much I forgot every word she uttered!

After graduating from college at the age of twenty I noticed an ad for an arts reviewer in my local Brooklyn newspaper, The Canarsie Courier. My first bylines ─ for theatre, book, and restaurant reviews ─ appeared. My first checks for writing awaited me at the newspaper office. I also penned humor and travel pieces. I felt giddy, which, to me, felt alien.

I made the mistake of showing a published review to my mother.

“So who says it’s bad?” she said.

Not long after, I stopped writing. But the voice within me possessed chutzpah and stubbornness. In subsequent years I enrolled in fiction and nonfiction writing courses at New York University and The New School.

I wrote short stories, two of which I revised extensively and published, at least a decade later. I started and stopped and started again an ambitious coming-of-age novel set in the South. My teachers were encouraging.

In the nineteen-nineties I divided my time between writing, performing, publishing poetry, and writing fiction.

Through a disastrous marriage, years of compulsive overeating, unfulfilling jobs and relationships, two different psychiatric diagnoses, several surgeries, and, finally, disability ─ through all this, I intermittently wrote fiction.

In 2010, I had to leave my editing job at a major accounting firm and go on disability. This was demoralizing and financially terrifying. With the aid of psychotherapy, corrected medications, inherent feistiness, beloved friends and family, and, finally, the right man, I made it through the worst times I could imagine.

It was no longer acceptable to me to be overmedicated, depressed, and scared to write. With physical and occupational therapy, as well as stationary bike riding at home, I am now getting around with a walker.

I realized in January 2017 that I’d been writing and submitting flash fiction consistently since January 2015. In 2014, I discovered this form, began reading expert practitioners, and freed myself to write what I needed and wanted to. I also started another novel that I will get back to.

I submit fiction, nonfiction, or poetry to literary journals on average three times per week. I’ve received a slew of rejections, but a fair number of acceptances, too.

I’ve started editing again on a freelance basis. It brings a little money but, more importantly, higher self-esteem and a sharper mind.

My best news? My fiction collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth And Other Stories, will be published by Poets Wear Prada in autumn, 2017!




Upstate

When I was fourteen, I tagged along with my friend Sheila Giddins and her parents to Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club in the Catskill Mountains. No one called my friend Giddy Giddins, but I always wanted to, primarily because she was pretty somber. She was also prettier, thinner, and blonder.

I wasn’t blonde at all. I was a brunette, chubby, but better-looking now that I wore contact lenses instead of thick glasses.
Sheila’s parents probably felt bad for me because my father had died the winter before. I didn’t mind their pity if it meant I’d be able to get away from my mother in Brooklyn. Three days’ escape from fluttering yahrzeitcandles* and death dates circled in red on the wall calendar beat no escape at all.

My first morning at Kutsher’s I stuffed myself with a dinner-plate-sized apple pancake. (I can still summon it—fluffy, cinnamon-aromatic, diabetes-sweet—if I shut my eyes and breathe deeply.)

On the second day, I awakened early and decided to walk the grounds. The sky was clear and sunnier than in Brooklyn. I felt light and, for a change, hopeful.

I met the blond boy that day. He was tall and Gentile, and so I went row boating with him. On the boat he told me he had just returned from a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. He saw fellow soldiers blown up. He said they were friends. I pictured bullets piercing uniforms and flesh, blood spurting, bodies bursting apart. I forced myself to listen because he needed to talk and there was nothing else I could do for him. I thought of apple pancakes afterwards.

The blond boy needed a receptacle for his sadness. I could take it. I had seen death, too: my fifty-year-old father, body stiff as the board under my parents’ mattress. Eyes staring up at a void. No blood.

* Yahrzeit candles: Jewish memorial candles.



“Upstate” was first published by Writing Raw


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Iris N. Schwartzis a fiction and nonfiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Her work has appeared in such journals as 101 Words, Algebra of Owls, Bindweed Magazine, Connotation Press, Flash Fiction Friday, The Flash Fiction Press, Gyroscope Review, Jellyfish Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Tribe Journal, and, most recently,Anthology Askew: Love Gone Askew. Her first fiction collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth And Other Stories, will be published by Poets Wear Prada in autumn 2017.







Find more stories by Iris at these links:

Here’s the link to my flash fiction “Floundering,” which appeared in Gravel Magazine

Here’s the link to “Dream Date,” which appeared in Quail Bell Magazine


MY JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: A Way Towards Me

by Christopher Allen


When I was 10, my piano instructor—a dour stickperson named Eva Jo Alpress, who told me I was going to be a concert pianist one day—quit. She “discharged” me in a long, painstakingly written letter that outlined my mother’s shortcomings and mine. I wish I still had the letter. What a gem. While almost all of it is lost, one phrase does resonate down through the decades: “Your son is an arrogant opinionated juvenile.” We had a good laugh at that. Eva Jo certainly had a knack for unwittingly hitting nails on heads. She thought she was telling me what a little dickhead I was, but she was actually telling me that I was a person with something to say. 

The reason Eva Jo discharged me: I wanted to trade études for ABBA. I wanted to play keyboards in a band. It was 1974. I wanted to shake my groove thang. I can still see my teacher’s eyes when I pulled out the sheet music to “Take a Chance on Me.” Horror? Disdain? That moment when you’re not sure if you need to sneeze or vomit? We got the letter the next day. There would be no Good Will Hunting end to the story.

I have to give Eva Jo credit, though, for spotting the truth in this situation. The keyboard part of “Take a Chance on Me” is really easy, especially for a ten-year-old apparently destined for Carnegie Hall. Without the band and a few Swedes “Take a Chance on Me” was boring.

I’m telling you this not only because it’s a fun story, but also because it’s one of a hundred formative experiences that have led me to where I am today: sitting in my office in Munich, writing about writing, wondering who I am. Who knows what moments are more important than others? I was going to be a musician when I was ten. That’s important. I was a little dickhead. That’s also important. In many ways I’m still that little dickhead.

But before all that, I was going to be an oceanographer. I was fascinated by the thought of living on the ocean floor in a never-ending labyrinthine sprawl of modular, pressurized compartments. I expanded my underwater city every day in my third-grade class. I’m sure the drawings were absolute crap. I can’t draw, not even a stickman. Point is, I was obsessed by the idea of slipping myself into a little world—or maybe I just needed to escape to where it was quiet, maybe it was a Jungian thing. I don’t know. I hate the water now, haven’t been swimming in decades. We also drew the flags of the world, which I was much better at.

At university I studied music until the end of my sophomore year when, in the hospital with mononucleosis, I missed my juries and all my finals. I also missed several weeks of my first professional singing gig in a gospel quartet—a ridiculous summer. When I got back on my feet I didn’t want to study music anymore, so I changed majors to music business. All the cool kids were there I guess or maybe just all the kids who understood the worthlessness of a music degree. Maybe both. And, yes, you’ve just noticed that I skipped my entire adolescence. I knew I wouldn’t get away with it. I was hoping you’d ignore the leap, maybe accept the gap, like the lost years of Christ. I find it hard to talk or write about that time. How about we leave it at this: from 1976 to 1982 I spent most of my time hating myself for being gay, praying to be delivered from being gay, and ending up being abused by the minister of music at my church—book forthcoming.

But did those years of depression, suicidal feelings, and fear that someone could figure out who I really was lead me to write? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’ve tried to write that novel several times, and it’s just not happening yet. Sometimes I think all this writing is just practice, that I’m groping around in the dark for the voice that will finally tell my story the right way, that all these stories aren’t me but maybe a way towards me.

At the beginning of the nineties, a very close friend of mine was killed in a plane crash. His death changed my life and my priorities. I moved to Los Angeles to get away from Nashville and the music industry. He’d been a keyboard player for an A-list country singer, and I was a studio singer. Everyone I knew was in the music industry, and it was just too sad. When I later returned to Nashville, I’d decided to become a writer; and because I wasn’t sure what that meant I enrolled in a master’s program to learn everything I didn’t know about literature—because by then I’d figured out that having an opinion about everything was a sure sign that I knew almost nothing. Realizing how little I knew was a giant leap towards understanding myself.

In graduate school, while I was reading everything Henry James wrote, I wrote a screenplay partly about my friend’s death, a poignant road-trip movie in the vein of This-Will-Never-Be-Publishable. Also while in graduate school, I published my first short story, “Air-Conditioned Souls,” which one of my professors said “made no sense.” I also published my first two (and last two) poems: “The End All” and “last night I dreamed we dreamed a poem.”

Then I moved to Germany and spent the following ten years trying to write and rewrite that screenplay. Then I wrote and rewrote a novel manuscript: “The Sure-Shot Rabbit Association.” And then I wrote another one: “What You Don’t Know.” And another: “Three-Handed Bridge.” And another: “Conversations with S. Teri O’Type.” And another: “The Lambent Light,” finally trying to tackle my own story. And a screenplay manuscript: “Almost Ophelia.” Except for Conversations with S. Teri O’Type, an experimental and episodic work of linked flash fiction that I self-published in 2012, I’ve pretty much walked away from all of these manuscripts. They terrify me because they are not perfect. They are all massive derelict buildings.

At some point in the middle of all these construction sites I joined an online writing workshop called Urbis. What an intense time of learning that was. I remember getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to read and write reviews. That workshop forced me to think about my writing objectively. It taught me to write economically, to write competitively (in a good way), and not to settle for a boring phrase. Lots of stories that I workshopped in Urbis ended up published. Urbis gave me the push I needed towards becoming a writer.

In 2009 I started editing at the daily litzine Metazen and became the managing editor there. Sadly, Metazen came to an end in 2014. In the same year I joined the team at SmokeLong Quarterly. The journal is a big part of my life. When I love a thing, I love it big.

I feel all grown up now, but I still need to disappear into my little worlds. I still feed on sarcasm. I still need music. And I still feel incomplete. So I suppose my Planet Write is some amorphous gas planet or maybe some inchoate hunk of volcanic chaos—very much a work in progress. And that’s fine. I just love being at the party.


Here’s a link to one of Christopher Allen’s award-winning stories:
Semi-finalist for The Best Small Fictions 2017

First published by The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts


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Christopher Allen is a freelance editor, translator and writer living somewhere in Europe. His work has appeared in more than a hundred journals and anthologies both online and in print including Indiana Review, Juked, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and others. He’s been a finalist at Glimmer Train, a finalist and semi-finalist for The Best Small Fictions 2017, and he’s won some awards too. Allen is the managing editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, the author of the episodic satire Conversations with S. Teri O’Type, and the curator of the travel blog I Must Be Off!which sponsors an annual travel writing competition.


JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Music and Words Have Always Been a Part of My Life

by Gloria Mindock

At age nine. I was writing music and lyrics. I loved to sing and was constantly writing small songs. When I was twelve, I performed in a school play and was hooked on theatre and acting and continued until age forty, when I retired from the stage.

While growing up, there were so many books in the house. My mother painted and art books were a big part of my life. She recited the poetry of Robert Burns and Robert Frost which drove me crazy. Only years later did I appreciate their poetry. My dad was a school teacher so between them, I learned to appreciate the arts. My sister Kellis plays the piano, my brother-in-law plays the clarinet and other instruments and my nephew plays the violin. I have a very inspiring and artistic family.

In high school, I discovered Keats and Shelley and feel this was a turning point in my life. In college, I would go to the library and read poetry for hours. One of my favorite poems during that time was “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. For years, I had been performing, acting, and singing in cafes, bars, and at a few universities my original music and lyrics. I also sang the music of other musicians whose songs were so poetic, Joni Mitchell being one of them. I loved singing so much! In 1982, I lived in Iowa City for two years. I met so many wonderful writers at the Iowa Writers Workshop. At this time, I was writing experimental plays and performing performance art. 

Iowa City is where I co-founded a theatre with my ex-husband. When making the move to Somerville in 1984, our theatre got a name. Theatre S & S. Press. We became a non-profit theatre and a magazine was founded which I edited called the Boston Literary Review/BluR. The theatre and magazine ceased in 1994. 

Around this time, I discovered Eastern European poetry, literature, and translations. I started writing poetry and was influenced by this writing. I felt like I was home. Still today, that is the writing that makes me tick, want to write, and makes me feel alive when I read it. I can’t get enough of it. All my singing, acting, writing text for the theatre led me to poetry and to writing.

In 2005, I realized how much I missed publishing so founded Červená Barva Press. I have published writers from all over the world and met so many wonderful poets and fiction writers. I get excited when I publish writing that I love. All this motivates me to write. Reading many translations, which are easier to find now, stimulates me. There is nothing like a good book. 

Bill, my partner, is an amazing artist and he listens to my new work all the time. It helps to read it out loud and hear it. I know by the sound and rhythm of it if it needs to be edited or not.

A few years ago, I started to write flash fiction. I wrote some very strange things which was fun. I am currently working on three more manuscripts called, “I Wish Francisco Franco Would Love Me (poetry),” “Screaming for Paul (a memoir of my teeny bopper years and all the bands I met),” and one that is untitled. I guess you could say the writing bug hit me at an early age.




IN A DARK WORLD
             For N.


You told me I was a light in
a dark world.
Hanging onto these words,
I continue.
Everyday, there is slaughter, murder,
horrific things, done to a body…
things that make me sick.

Day after day, death happens…
despite the sun coming out to
show the blue of the sky.
Beauty and ugliness in battle—
Light and dark in battle—
Each day, a tug of war and each day,
each side wins somewhere in the world.

You told me I was light in a dark world.
Why did you do this?
Do you know something I don’t?
Am I an angel alone weeping 
with words coming out of my mouth 
that no one listens to?

From Whiteness of Bone

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Gloria Mindock is the founding editor of Cervena Barva Press and one of the USA editors for Levure Litteraire (France). She is the author of  Whiteness of Bone, (Glass Lyre Press, Publisher), LaPortile Raiului (translated into the Romanian by Flavia Cosma), Nothing Divine Here, and Blood Soaked Dresses.
Widely published in the USA and abroad, her poetry has been translated and published into the Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Bosnian, Spanish, Estonian, and French.

Facebook page for Whiteness of Bone 

Buy at Amazon: Whiteness of Bone


















Journey to Planet Write: Lost and Found

by Lynn Mundell


Bed Is for Reading

Squashed between warm bodies, I listened to my parents read to me in their bed. Soon, I read to myself. In public school, we all pored over the Scholastic Book catalogs and filled in order forms. I would order 10, 20 books. School was very dull. Then the delivery came, and a high stack of books bound together with a jumbo rubber band landed on my desk, and I was saved by Amelia Bedelia, that fantastic blockhead.

When I was 9 my teacher announced a writing contest sponsored by the American Legion. We all wrote about what it meant to be an American. I was a so-so American, so got third prize, a small bronze medal hanging from a heavy red, white, and blue ribbon. I wore it constantly until my older sister asked me to please stop.  If you were a writer, you were pretty much a dignitary. Practically royalty. Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?

Youth Was for Writing

I wrote poetry and newspaper stories in high school and college, while working a series of weirdo jobs — toy store clerk, men’s clothing saleswoman, failed florist (I was fired after sending the funeral arrangement to the baby shower, and vice versa), trailer cleaner, preschool flunky. A boyfriend asked me what I planned to write about. I told him I wasn’t sure, and he scoffed, fueling my doubt.

Chico Senior High newspaper staff. 
Lynn is second from the left, seated.

In the midst of being in big trouble at my newspaper internship for accidentally deleting the entire issue of the weekly during production, I was accepted to graduate school. At 20, I moved East to earn my MFA. More jobs. Hat shop worker. Postcard saleslady. Frank Conroy shredded my prose, then once gave me a friendly ride to class in his old station wagon. I wrote at odd hours and went alone into dark places in my head and wandered out again a little bit stranger and worse for wear each time. I worked at papers, and one sent me to St. Louis to interview U.S. Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, simply because I was the closest thing to a poetry editor they had. I won a prize at the university. It felt almost as good as the one from fifth grade.


Throwing in the Towel

In my 20s I tried valiantly to be what I thought constituted a writer. I taught at a college, and whether due to circumstances (grammar night class) or myself (uncertain), it wasn’t for me. I chased literary magazines. The fat, healthy envelope would go off in the mail with a poem and an SASE, and a thin, pale one would return, sometimes months later. I stopped writing creatively. I thought my professors’ belief in me must have been misplaced. I threw myself into work life, married, moved home to California. On a whim, I took a creative non-fiction class from columnist Adair Lara, a wonderful teacher. An essay was published in The Sun, then another in The San Jose Mercury News.  The morning I went to a Merc box on Market Street and bought 10 copies of the issue with my essay, I broke down and cried. Somewhere in my now 32-year-old body, the writer lived.

Awakening

Also growing in that body was a baby. Then another. Nothing had prepared me for just how hard it is to be a working mother. Years passed in a blur of commuter trains and playgrounds. I read aloud to my sons in bed. I volunteered at the schools. (My favorite gig was  … the Scholastic Book Fair!) While I wrote for a lot of people and places, I never wrote for myself. I had given up.

One day my old friend Grant Faulkner invited me for a drink and asked if I would like to start an online literary journal with him. I didn’t understand the term “flash fiction” that he kept using, but I said yes. If I wasn’t a writer anymore, I could be a publisher. That invitation to start 100 Word Story five years ago was pivotal. Early on, we didn’t have enough stories for an issue. I sat down, wrote a trio of Halloween-themed “scairytales” in the proverbial flash, and was hooked. I interviewed masters of flash, who sometimes became treasured friends and teachers, and read thousands of story submissions over the years — seeing what worked and didn’t. Eclectica accepted a largely autobiographical story. Then Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine took another. I got word over my iPhone en route to a family vacation. Instead of tears this time, I gave a whoop of joy.

Stay with the Page

With time, I developed an actual writing life. Before going to sleep or when I awake, I write longhand in journals. (Bed. Again.) Stories are anywhere from 50 to 1,000 words and may take up to 30 drafts. After one is about 95 percent done, I type it up and keep it in my purse or pocket for a while, pulling it out at odd times to reread it and change it until I feel it is finished. I keep a long list of journals, alphabetized from A (The Adroit Journal) to Z (Zyzzyva) and spend a lot of time trying to find the right place for each piece. (I much prefer the age of online submissions, although I recently mailed a story in an old school envelope. Still waiting…) I’m grateful for every publication, heartened by the dedicated, generous writers, editors, and publishers in today’s literary community. I still have so much to learn, but I’m not giving up. At 51, I have a lot to say, fewer years now to say it, and I know what a very long time it can take to awaken the writer sleeping within.

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Lynn Mundell’s flash fiction has appeared in Tin House “Flash Fidelity,” Superstition ReviewLiterary OrphansJellyfish ReviewThrice Fictionand elsewhere, with more forthcoming this year in Mulberry Fork Review, A3 Review, and Five Points. Lynn is co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story.

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Nipples and Cocaine

by Catfish McDaris

The writing bug bit me while I was in the army in Germany. I’d write family and friends about all my experiences: castles with paintings where the eyes seemed to follow you around the room, shooting cannons, the pretty frauleins, and rough toilet paper on the trains. Everyone looked forward to my letters.

I’d been reading westerns and war books because they fit in my pocket. I learned about the classics from different authors of all nationalities. I decided I could write, so my first attempt was a western set in my home state of New Mexico. It never got published. I finished my three-year hitch, then headed “back to the world.” I explored Mexico where I fished for sharks, lived in a car through a winter in Denver, built adobe buildings, worked in a zinc smelter. I kept a few notebooks from then, but never sent anything out. Later I moved to Milwaukee, got a job in the Post Office, and married a beautiful Mexican lady.
I discovered small presses and Bukowski. I started sending poems (which to me were always stories) and short fiction to magazines in 1992. After lots of rejects, I began to get published. I was able to write at work in small notebooks or on scraps of paper, then rewrite on my typewriter. I figured Buk did it this way. In 1994 I went to De Paul University to read at the First Underground Press Conference and met many publishers and writers. I organized several charity music and poetry events in Milwaukee called Wordstock. In 1997 I was published in a three-way chapbook called Prying with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. By then I’d done five or six solo chapbooks. In 1998 I went to Cherry Valley, NY to Ginsberg’s farm and read with all the Beatniks left alive. (Burroughs and Ginsberg were dead) This was a three-day event that got real wild.
In 2007 I took my wife, Aida to Paris for our 25th wedding anniversary. I read at Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore. I also read on 42nd in NYC with a Jimi Hendrix impersonator. All of my readings were practiced and rehearsed in Milwaukee at various venues.
I was leery of the small press on the web. I was so used to the envelope, snail mail, SASE method. I didn’t trust or like computers. I had what I called my Hammer. It was a Smith Corona word processing typewriter. It held ten pages of memory, then you had to erase it. I’d written 20 chapbooks on it. Finally my wife gave me a computer and a few lessons. I was amazed at the ease.
I’ve met people from all over the world because of the web. I’ve been translated into many different languages. I quit counting Pushcart nominations after 15 and Best of Net. I’ve won a few things over the last 25 years. I was a contributing editor to Latino Stuff Review for over ten years and Shrimp over five years. I earned lots of money for Hope House here in Milwaukee for abused women and children. The sheer joy of writing has opened my eyes and heart to many things.
A few years ago Marquette University Special Archives bought my collection of books, magazines, and broadsides. They also collect anything electronic about me or from me in their archives. Now I can read over the phone on radio shows. Technology is amazing. I hope writing is never replaced by computers. Now I’m going to take a walk down to Lake Michigan, good day.

The Mirage

Spaniard screamed in the rain and drank from the sky trying to figure where he went wrong and lost his way. He met a beautiful maiden, they ate rabbit and quail and soon she led him up a steep trail.

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Catfish McDaris has been active in the small press world for 25 years. He shot howitzers three years in the army and used to fish and hunt as a boy in New Mexico. Sometimes he goes down to Lake Michigan and feeds seagulls and dreams of mountain horses. He’s working in a wig shop in a high crime area of Milwaukee. He’s been translated into Spanish, French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Yoruba, Tagalog, and Esperanto.
His book, Sleeping With the Fish, contains poetry and prose and is 265 pages for under $10 from Pski’s Porch

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Of Produce & Poetry

by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

I was a 14-year-old male. Which is to say: I was an asshole.

I was also working my first job as clean up boy of the Produce Place, a small grocer in my hometown of Nashville, TN. And I was doing a lousy job.

My mopped floors were dirtier than those unmopped. I could clean a clean window dirty in seconds. Flies were multiplying like flies.

What can I say? I was making $3.15 an hour, I was more interested in Amanda Hardaway’s hair than cleaning floors, and I was a 14-year-old male, which is to say…

So the boss, this dude named Steve who lived at the top of the hill south of my house and who’d tried to date my older sister a few times and whose kid brother, Chris, hadn’t yet died in a tragic accident—Steve approaches me and is like:

Hey. Andy. Can we talk a minute.

Hey. Steve. Uh. Sure.

Uh. OK… So, Andy, you’re doing a shitty job, and you suck overall. Jusy sayin’.

That was the gist of it anyway.

The Produce Place was set in an early 20thCentury bungalow on Murphy Road just off I-40 a ten-minute bike ride from my house. At the time, the entire sales floor consisted of produce bins: four rows of jonagold apples and kiwis and exotic lettuces. All types of beans in the summer. Tomatoes. Tomatoes. Tomatoes. Did I mention tomatoes? And kale. And six different varietals of onion. And cherries. And Rainier cherries. And rainbow chard. And and and.

The Produce Place helped turn around the neighborhood.

Built on a landfill after the Second World War, Nashville’s Sylvan Park of the 80s and early 90s was a ghetto. A neighborhood where men beat their wives and their kids, and their kids went out into the neighborhood to beat each other and to become men. White kids called black kids niggers and black kids called white kids all sorts of shit. Kids smoking dope and kids having kids. That was the law and word of the place.

But the Produce Place was different. The Produce Place was a place where kids could get jobs, where boys becoming men could be rewarded for their bodies rather than punished.

And as the Produce Place went, went the neighborhood.

The Produce Place thrived and so did Sylvan Park. Today, I couldn’t afford my parent’s house, let alone the land it sits on. Today, there are all sorts of jobs available to the kids in the neighborhood. Bars. Restaurants. Lawn care. Baby sitting. Etc. Etc.

Here’s the thing. There are no kids in Sylvan Park. Families with children can’t afford to live there. And if they can, their kids don’t work.

So the Produce Place was the only gig in town. Luckily, I had an in. My sister was one of their first employees. It was only natural I work there when I came of age. But it was also only natural that they demand I do my job. There were plenty of kids who didn’t have sister-ins ready to take my spot. If I couldn’t cut it, why keep me around?

One particularly important item on the list of ways I could do a “less shitty job and keep my job” was to “actually sweep up under the goddamn bins” under which rogue fruits and vegetables fell and quickly set up and quickly started attracting “all the fucking flies” that were buzzing around our heads.

So there I was, sweeping under the bins. When I got to the corn bins, out wobbled this old, rotted ear of corn. And as I was looking down at it, mid-sweep, out of nowhere, the line came: “What if I were this piece of corn?” And when that line came to me, I felt compelled to stop my labors and write it down. Thus I pulled out my Sharpie and grabbed the nearest corn crate and upon its surface scribed my line. And the brilliance? The brilliance continued from there.

At the end of it, I had a poem. I had no idea what it was or why I had written it down but there it was in all its awful glory. After that, I was writing poetry. Day in and day out. And I’ve never stopped. 

What I wrote was wonderfully awful then, and what I write is wonderfully awful now. But, for some reason, I keep at it, and it becomes less awful. I’ve tried to quit a few times to no avail. Poetry makes life present. When I’m writing poems, I’m at my best. The rest of the time? I’m alright.

We don’t know why or what we are doing here.

That is why we are here.


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Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum is an award-winning freelance editorwriter, and lecturer at the University of Colorado. He is also acquisitions editor for Upper Rubber Boot Books, founder and editor of PoemoftheWeek.orgfounder of the Colorado Writers’ Workshop, founder and editor of The Floodgate Poetry Series, and editor of two anthologies. His first book of poems, Ghost Gear, was a finalist for the Miller Williams Prize, the Colorado Book Award, and the INDIEFABHis second book, Marysarias, is a Finalist for the National Poetry Series, 2016. Read and learn more at AndrewMK.com.