Category Archives: Len Kuntz

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Back to Age 9

Available at Amazon

by Len Kuntz

When I was a boy, there was always a lot of turmoil in our house, things I didn’t understand. I was painfully shy and had no friends, so I didn’t know how normal families lived, yet I knew ours was different.

The only place I felt safe was the basement bathroom where no one ever went. Sometimes late in the evening I would wedge myself between the sink and toilet, sitting over the heat vent because warmth, too, signified a kind of safety, as our house was always quite cold, because heat cost money and that was another thing we lacked.

I was around nine when this habit started. I’d stay up for hours, holed away in the bathroom, reading Gulliver’s Travelsor any other book I’d gotten from the library. Reading was escapism, something that felt like wonder, something I desperately needed.

School was another safe place and one semester in fourth grade, we focused on creative writing. The teacher assigned us four different writing prompts each day and we were to pick one to write about. I’d always choose all four because it seemed a shame to waste a good story idea, even if it wasn’t mine.

At the end of the year, my teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should think about being a writer when you grow up.” I thought she was joking at first, but the more I thought about it, the more the idea became a kind of dream that I carried around with me, tucked away safely in my shirt pocket, right beside my heart.

That summer our garage burned down and we were laying the foundation for a new one. All of us boys were helping out. (Len is on the far right at the end of the wagon) My brothers were very good with their hands, as well as my father, who was a mechanic. Me, I wore puka shells, had long, David Cassidy hair, and read poetry. My assisting simply meant handing over tools.


At one point we broke for lunch and as my brothers left, I was alone with my Dad, something kind of rare, but for whatever reason I felt brave enough to say, “Hey, Dad, I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.” To wit, he asked, “Yeah, what’s that?” He was staring at me then, but I still told him, “I want to be a writer.” Without hesitating, as if he knew what I was going to say all along, he said, “Quit your fucking dreaming. How’re you going to eat on that?”


Though it was a knife to the heart, I don’t think he meant it that way. We were poor. The way you made a living was with your hands and hard labor. He just couldn’t fathom being able to feed yourself, let alone a family, by writing words.

But what he’d said quashed my dream and so as I got older, I took a more pragmatic path and ended up having a corporate career.

More than thirty years later, I retired early and started writing full-time. This was around 2009. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know there were online journals and had never even heard of the term “Flash Fiction.” But once I discovered them, I became a student.

It was easy to assess who the top writers were at that time, so I picked a handful—Roxane Gay, Kim Chinquee, Kathy Fish, xTx, Meg Pokrass—and I read everything they wrote, read it forward and backward. Then I started submitting to the same places I’d seen them published, not realizing that for a novice like me, some of those places are extremely hard to get into. But that bit of naivety helped as my first few pieces landed in some of the top sites—Juked, Elimae, Storyglossia and others.

Along the way, I kept trying to be a student of the craft.  Additionally, I watched people like Matt Bell, who really worked hard at immersing himself in the writing community, and I tried, in my own way, to emulate what he had accomplished. What I never expected is how easy it would be, how welcoming and supportive other writers are. And it didn’t occur to me until later that, as writers, we’re all boats in the same ocean, just using different oars.

It’s a joy and a gift to be able to create and engage with other writers. It’s like finding your soul mate and realizing how lucky you are, never taking it for granted.

It’s been a long, sometimes crooked, road since I was that nine year old boy, but when I’m reading something that really sings, or when I’m totally engrossed while I’m writing, I think I’m still him. I’m warm and I’m safe. I’m quite happy.


                                                        Beautiful Violence 


Here’s what happens:

She thinks this is forever.  You love her.  You say so regularly.  Most of the time, you’re kind.  Occasionally, you’re a bastard because you have fists and impulses that are difficult to quell.
           
Still you’re her best thing ever.  She tells you that often, especially during sex–those seldom, soft-churning, almost-like-lovers, sex times.

And so a home movie or two is fine.  She’ll do whatever.  

Really, whatever.   Film all you want.  It’ll be ours to watch alone, titillating. 

Yes, she actually says that.

And then, out of the blue, the impulses and fists become overactive, finding flesh and bone, making hamburger over and over until she finally leaves you.

Stupid Bitch, why’d it take so long? 

But you still have the movie.  It’s just sitting there inside your phone, so you download it to a site where everyone can see what a ruler you are of women, how you dominate them, how they do whatever you command, and the video gets so many hits that you somehow start to make an income from it, plus your face is pixeled out, but not hers, because it’s important for her agony to be choreographed.

History—those tortured, yet intimate moments—is recorded from mere memories.  Easy peasy.  Yay!

And so you strut in front of a mirror naked, fists raised toward the ceiling, noticing how large your gut’s gotten, everything bigger now—ego, bravado—though not your understanding of love, sex, or how violence can possibly be a thing of beauty.

 _______________________________









Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You out now from Unknown Press. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com


Journey to Planet Write: Mickey Mouse to Jellyfish

by Christopher James

Part One
I always wanted to be a writer. Or, more accurately, I wanted to be an “author.” I feel a little silly saying “author” because it reminds me of the child I was back then. I was odd at five. Smart, yes, but too shy to raise my hand in class when I needed to pee, so I had more than one disaster. Good at sports, probably from running to reach the loo before it was too late! I remember having many friends, but also spending time alone, chasing butterflies and trying to walk with shoes on the wrong feet. Odd, right? And I must’ve read constantly.
I got a Mickey Mouse annual, full of comic-strips, letters to Donald and EuroDisneyland adverts. It had a do-it-yourself frontispiece – a space to draw your favourite character and some questions. What’s your name? How old are you? What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t recall my favorite character (I feel like saying Goofy, but suspect it was Pluto. We later had a dog called Pluto). But I remember my answer to that last question. “Author,” written in a handwriting that’s barely improved in the thirty years since.
I found the annual some time later, when I was moving into teenagehood and starting to think more seriously about my future, and I saw that answer, “author,” and I thought YES! That’s exactly what I want to be. Nailed it aged five! And it’s been with me from then till now.
Part Two
Of course, wanting to be a writer and wanting to write are not one and the same. I didn’t write a lot. Zadie Smith once described being told that Ian McEwan wrote only fifteen words a day. That seems impossible to reconcile with his fairly prodigious output, and I don’t think it’s true, but for years I wrote even less than that. Fifteen words a day? Ha! Who had time for that hard labour? Nevertheless, whenever people asked what I wanted to be, I still said the same thing. A writer.
There were exceptions to my fourteen-or-less-words-a-day days. I spent a year in Central America and wrote constantly, a terrible spewing of handwritten nonsense, tiny cramped-up letters that wouldn’t fill my already-heavy backpack with any more notebooks. I finished a novel, since disappeared, about a hopeful plot to destroy manufactured pop, and started another, also disappeared, about god-knows-what. I wrote without reflecting back on what I’d written, and learned nothing. I was writing, but I still wasn’t a writer – I was a notebook-filler.
Back in London, I got a real job and the notebooks disappeared, and I waited for the day I’d wake up, look in the mirror, and magically be perfect at all this. About then, the Times (the newspaper) ran a competition for a love story in 300 words. I’d never written anything so short, but I gave it a go with a story about a man who spray-painted a love message to the woman leaving him, on a bridge where she’d see it every day. The same night, another man jumped from the bridge, and the world thought the message came from him. I called the story “Amore Eterno,” and it won third place. I was ecstatic!
They published it (the fools!) in the paper, meaning people all over the country could read it. Someone then told me about this website called Zoetrope, where writers workshopped stories, and this thing called Flash Fiction, stories in under 1000 words, and, buoyed by my national success, I thought that this was something I could do. Something that could really teach me how to write.
Part Three
So began an apprenticeship. I ‘met’ writers like Randall Brown and Kuzhali Manickavel! I slowly improved. Slowly got published. Now I was writing every day, or almost every day, and learning what worked and what didn’t.
Sometimes it was hard. I learnt to care less about rejection slips! Sometimes it was rewarding. I had pieces picked up by Smokelong, by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, by Matter Press. I won a few prizes, with Camera Obscura, with Tin House. I discovered some amazing writers, and a new way of reading.
At the same time I moved to Indonesia. I stopped drinking so much, stopped taking drugs on the weekend, met a nice girl. I made more time to write, finally acknowledging that this writing dream wasn’t Just Going To Happen. I had to make it happen. I dedicated myself to it. And it was working. I was becoming a writer.
Then one day – I think it was Idul Fitri – I started an online magazine. I’d half-heartedly thought about doing this before, but on this particular day I did it. There were personal reasons – it would help take my writing to the next level. But there were other reasons too. It was a time when many magazines I loved were starting to charge for submissions, and when it felt harder for writers to take risks on what they sent out. I wanted a venue that encouraged risks.
I opened a WordPress thingy. I started a Facebook wadjamacallit, and invited thousands of people (sorry!). I announced a call for submissions. In honour of my favourite animal, beautiful and dangerous, I called the magazine Jellyfish Review. It would only publish flash.
Part Four
Jellyfish Review is now blossoming into a bit of a minor success. We’ve published stories by incredible writers, including Elaine Chiew, Beverly Jackson, Sara Lippmann, Len Kuntz and Gay Degani. We have stories by even more incredible writers lined up. We’re developing our own style, unique and unpredictable.
I spend hours every day working on it. Reading submissions, formatting stories, choosing artwork, promoting the magazine, keeping everything ticking. It’s hard work, but wonderful.
For the first time ever, I think I’ve found something I want to do even more than being a writer. And I love it. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.
_______________________________________






Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, McSweeney’s, Smokelong, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.