Writers of the Month: August 2018

Poet of the Month, August 2018

Lana Bella

A four-time Pushcart Prize, five-time Best of the Net, & Bettering American Poetry nominee, Lana Bella is an author of three chapbooks, Under My Dark (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2016), Adagio (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and Dear Suki: Letters (Platypus 2412 Mini Chapbook Series, 2016), has work featured in over 500 journals, Barzakh, EVENT, The Fortnightly Review, Ilanot Review, Midwest Quarterly, New Reader, Notre Dame Review, Sundress Publications, & Whiskey Island, among others, and Aeolian Harp Anthology, Volume 3. Lana resides in the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a mom of two far-too-clever-frolicsome imps.

https://www.facebook.com/Lana-Bella-789916711141831/

Idiopathic

Spine-hunched; sleep forces your eyes
open, wearing dense brushstrokes
across the landscape. In this city of gold,
you give limbs to shadows, only to
writhe around autumn and black flies,
braiding through wounds then long loves.
By the scent of your wrist, night’s lattice
work leads to the vein with its flat side,
born into shivers some dimly silver curves
about your wet-wool weight. This idea
of first coming over the soil, of storing up
life dissolving in the seeds and mud,
you are a woman on her flexure, fingers
full of posies, set among some rocks
nearer the sea that rushes at you
with plaintiff coos across the barley fields.

 


Prose Author of the Month, August 2018

Kris Faatz

Kris Faatz (rhymes with skates) is a Baltimore-area writer and musician. Her first novel, To Love A Stranger, was a finalist for the 2016 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award, and was published in May 2017 by Blue Moon Publishers (Toronto). Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Kenyon Review Online, Potomac Review, Reed, and Digging Through the Fat, and has been recognized in contests run by Woven Tale PressGlimmer Train, and NYC Midnight. Many of her published stories appear online at krisfaatz.com.

Kris came to writing via a roundabout path that included an undergrad degree in engineering and graduate studies in piano performance. She’s a professional music teacher and performer, but her working life is shifting more toward writing (with as much nudging as she can give it). Writing craft makes her happy and she would talk about it all day with anyone willing to listen.

As a writer, Kris loves to explore what makes interesting characters tick. “Fruits of Them that Sleep” began as a study about a character Kris wanted to know more about, a woman with experiences and perspectives very different from her own. She has always been a literary writer, but in her newest work (a second book), Kris is looking for the perfect intersection between the character-driven fiction she creates and the speculative fiction, especially fantasy, she loves to read. One of these days she imagines she will find it and settle into her long-term writing voice.

Kris thinks of storytelling as an ideal way to build bridges between people. That’s the single thing she most wants to do as a writer, and along with the pure joy of word-hunting, it always brings her back to the page.

Fruits of Them that Sleep

On the morning when her daughter Abby was put under the ground, Reverend Robin Cahill stayed in her kitchen and chopped strawberries for pies. She didn’t care much for that dessert herself. Fruit pies, especially uncooked ones, seemed too wet and sloppy. Or at least they used to, back when she cared to notice such things. She preferred pumpkin, sweet potato, and pecan. You could contain those pies and slice them into perfect segments. But the graham-cracker crusts, heaped up with fresh sliced berries and topped with clouds of Cool-Whip, had been Abby’s favorite.

A handful of miles away from Robin’s house, the congregation at the Church of Christ’s Everlasting Kingdom listened to Reverend Harris, the Church’s assistant pastor, speak long strings of words over a new hole in the ground. Robin knew the grave would have a carpet of green plastic grass over it. She had led funeral services herself often enough to know exactly how fake that plastic would look, and how raw the hole would be underneath.

She should have been there today with the others. Reverend Cahill should have said the words herself and laid her own daughter to rest, but no one would wonder that she didn’t. Even her husband Mike hadn’t wondered that morning, when he climbed into his black suit as if it had been armor that would hold him up. He hadn’t said a word about her choosing to stay at home. He hadn’t said a word to challenge her since she could remember. After all, for as long as he had known her, she had held the flame of God in her hands.

Not now. Now she held only berries, cold and wet. In the kitchen, with the house as empty around her as an unused shoebox shoved into the back of a closet, Robin stood over the wooden cutting board and drove the knife again and again into the red fruit. She planted the blade hard each time and thunked it solidly against the wood, as if the berries had been Reverend Harris’s words, or her own. The words she had given her congregation, the ones she had believed in herself for so long. The words that had meant she let Abby die.

Thunk. Thunk. Robin gripped the berries between thumb and forefinger and drove the knife in, as if she could have chopped all those syllables into tiny pieces and scraped them into the trash. The righteous word of God that said that vaccines were unnatural. The Lord would heal His children.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Soon, Reverend Harris and the rest of Robin’s flock would come back here from the cemetery. They would swarm into this kitchen to snatch paper plates and cups and plastic forks and spoons, and then like a plague of locusts they would stream out into the back yard and devour the luncheon down to the last crumb. Of course there would be hugs too, and tears, and sympathetic mouthings from the mouths that weren’t stuffed too full. Robin would hear, again and again, how her baby had gone home to Jesus, how Abby was blessed now with eternal joy and freed from this sinful world forevermore.

Robin had said the same kinds of words herself. When she did, they had always had the fire of belief in them. Now she set herself to finish chopping the berries. The juice stained her hands redder with each slice of the knife. When they were finished, she sugared them and let them sit in their own juice while she carried the rest of the lunch outside.

Trays of cold cuts, rolls, macaroni, salad fixings: Robin had put them together herself, last night, with no help from anyone. She couldn’t stand even to let Mike into the kitchen beside her as she busied her hands over the arrays of food. Now she carried the trays outside one at a time. Each trip through the yard, to the picnic table under the old willow tree, took her past Abby’s swingset. The bright white-painted metal bars still looked brand new. Robin and Mike had only bought the swingset three months earlier, in March, for Abby’s fifth birthday.

Robin made herself look straight at it as she lugged two plastic gallon jugs of lemonade over to the table. She remembered Abby gripping the swing’s chains and aiming her toes for the sky, her long hair falling down her back and her laughter spiraling up into the trees. Look, Mama! I can fly!

Robin adjusted the placement of the floral centerpiece, an arrangement of white lilies, on the picnic table. The table had a white plastic cover. White on white, like the cheesecloth sheets and blanket Abby tried to sleep under in the hospital, while the rash crawled over her skin and the fever burned away at her insides.

Back in the kitchen, Robin piled the cut strawberries into graham cracker crusts and mounded Cool-Whip on top. She eased the heavy glass pie pans into the refrigerator. By the time Mike came home, she had changed into her long black skirt and long-sleeved black blouse and run a damp dishtowel over the kitchen counter one last time, to pick up any stray splashes of juice.

Mike didn’t say anything to her when he came in, but she followed him down the hall to their bedroom. At the very end of the hall, the door to Abby’s bedroom was closed, the way it had been since the last night she had slept in it. Robin couldn’t believe that had only been a week ago.

In the master bedroom, Mike took off his tie in front of the long mirror. He saw Robin coming in the glass and nodded. The back of his head, with its small round bald patch, bobbed briefly. Robin didn’t look at his eyes in the mirror.

She went to her dressing table. She had already brushed her hair out so that it hung straight and smooth down her back – don’t cut my hair, Mama, Abby had said when she was three, I want it to look just like yours – but she passed the brush through it again now and asked, “How was the service?” In her own ears, her voice sounded light and distant.

“Good,” Mike said. “You would have liked Reverend Harris’s homily.” He said that without accusation, without any inflection at all. Robin heard the two light clinks as he dropped his cufflinks onto the top of his dresser. “Everybody’ll be here soon,” he added.

“Lunch is all ready,” she said. She heard him move to his closet, hanging up his suit jacket. She didn’t look at her own face in her dressing table mirror, any more than she looked at his. She only saw the long dark ribbon of hair that lifted up, extended, and softly fell again as the brush bristles passed through it. “The pies are in the fridge for now,” she said. “I thought the cream might go bad in this heat.”

“Okay. We’ll get them out later.”

“Yes.”

Mike went to the bedroom door. He would step out into the hall, Robin thought. The two of them would each be alone again, wrapped in separate packages of silence, just like they had been ever since that last night in the hospital, a handful of days or a hundred years ago. Instead she heard him say, “Robbie.”

Her nickname, the one that said I love you but also I need. Robin made herself look at him. Standing there in the doorway, with his shirt sleeves rolled up as if he was going to weed the vegetable patch or help Abby fill her plastic wading pool, he looked so young. Like the boy Robin had known seven years ago, who pulled a tiny velvet box out of his pocket, opened it up to reveal the hidden star inside, and held it out to her, with the words he was too scared to ask aloud written on his face.

He said now, “It’s going to be all right. She’s with God.”

Except that his voice went up on the last words and made them a question. Robin knew he needed her to say yes. She, who always knew what was right, who had a direct line to the Divine’s will and love –she had always thought so too, God knew she had – only she could make sense out of this pain.

Measles are natural. A simple childhood virus. God will see her through.

Robin couldn’t answer. She didn’t nod or shake her head or say a word. Instead she turned back to the mirror and ran the brush through her hair again, the soft dark sheaf just like Abby’s. After a while, she heard Mike walk away.

**

Everyone came for the lunch. Robin stood in front of the swingset, under the too-bright sun, and watched her congregation empty the food trays. She was at the center of a constantly shifting circle of faces, of sympathetic eyes and chewing mouths, of perfume and hairspray smells and somber suits and dresses. Words circled around her like the steady drone of bees. Your baby is at peace. Jesus will take care of her. You’ll see her again on the other side.

They sounded so certain. Of course they did. Robin had taught her flock to believe those things.

Robin didn’t feel the heat seeping into her black skirt and blouse. No sweat pricked at her cheeks or trickled down her back, and she didn’t seem to feel the arms wrapping around her either, one pair of them after the other. But she did feel it when, after how much time she didn’t know, Mike put his hand on her shoulder.

“Robbie. Do you want me to get the dessert out?”

When Robin turned to answer him, her hand brushed the side bar of the swingset. Abby staring out the window on her birthday morning, amazed at the magic of the swings suddenly appearing in the yard. (Mike had worked that magic the night before, wrangling the clanking pieces of the set as quietly as he could, with Robin standing by holding a flashlight.) Standing here now, Robin remembered her little girl sprinting outside to run her hands over the gleaming new metal, her eyes huge with delight.

Now Robin looked up at her husband. He had always been taller than her, but now he towered over her, his face far away. For the first time, she didn’t have the holy fire inside her to lift her up. She knew he saw how small she was.

She said, “It’s all right. I’ll get the pies.”

The circle parted to let her through. Alone in the house, with the back door shut against the hum of the crowd outside, she opened the fridge.

Abby’s favorite. Robin carefully maneuvered the cold Pyrex plates out of the fridge, one at a time. When Abby ate strawberry pie, she used to scoop the Cool Whip off her slice one spoonful at a time, savoring each taste of it before she started in on the sweet juicy berries. Robin and Mike teased her about eating her dessert one part at a time, leaving the crust for last. You’re supposed to eat them all together, ladybug. That’s how they work. Abby had only grinned back. I can taste it better this way.

Robin would have to take the plates outside one at a time. They were too heavy to carry both at once. First she went and propped the back door open so she would have both hands free.

She hadn’t made strawberry pie as often as she might have. Abby had always wanted it, but you could only get good strawberries for a few weeks every year, and anyway the pies were messy and Robin had never liked them much. She could have done things differently.

Measles are natural. A simple childhood virus.

Robin had never gotten measles herself. She’d gotten a shot instead, like all the kids she grew up with.

She lifted the first plate carefully, balancing the base on one hand and holding the edge with the other. Her fingertips dipped into the cool whipped cream.

God will see her through. That last night in the hospital, after Abby stopped asking when she would be able to leave. After her grip on Robin’s hand relaxed and her eyes stayed closed. God will see her through. The fire in the little girl’s body had been much too real, but the one in Robin’s soul had gone out.

Robin carried the plate from the kitchen through the den. When she stepped out into the yard, the sunlight pushed back against her like a solid wall.

Jesus will take care of her. You’ll see her on the other side.

There was the old willow tree, and there was the picnic table and the crowd of people around it. There was the swingset with its gleaming bars. All of them somehow far away, on the other side of the wall of light that Robin couldn’t pass through.

You’ll see her.

Holding the cold heavy plate in her hands, Robin felt the summer heat seeping into her dark clothes. She felt sweat beading under the curtain of her hair.

You’ll see her…but Robin saw her now. The child on the swing, holding the chains tight in her small hands. Her toes pointed to the sky. Her hair flying behind her and her face lit up with laughter.

Look, Mama! I can fly!

On the other side of the wall of sunlight, Robin saw Mike too. He was looking straight at her, and he looked worried, Robin saw, but she didn’t know why, because she was only standing here. But now the heat was filling her up, rising out of the ground or raining down from the sky, or both at once. And the plate in her hands felt much too heavy, and the wall, the one that stood between her and the husband she loved and the daughter she had lost, was too high and hard.

Look, Mama!

Robin gripped the plate in both hands, her fingers tight around the edges, digging into the cream and juice.

If I can do this one thing. It wasn’t a prayer. She didn’t say the words out loud or even think them clearly, but they were there, cool and solid in her mind. God, if you can hear me, let me do this one thing.

She should have made the pies more often. She should have done things differently. Now her body turned on its own, her hands moving through the air, her shoulders pulling back against the weight of the plate. And then the plate left her hands and skimmed high and far, over the wall she couldn’t get through, and red juice and white cream trailed behind it like a banner, and her hands were empty, and her body was as light as a breeze.

I can fly!

Robin felt herself collapse forward, felt her knees hit the hard warm earth. From somewhere else, she heard voices shouting. People were running toward her, Mike in front, his arms reaching out to her.

Robin’s eyes burned. Tears mixed with the sweat that stung her cheeks, but maybe, maybe it was going to be all right. Maybe she had made her offering fly high enough.

All the way to heaven, on the other side.

Writers of the Month: July 2018

Poet of the Month, July 2018

Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American writer who, according to Wikipedia, currently resides in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. A blessing and a curse! I am also Julia Alvarez, and (after careful consideration) I suppose there are only so many things Julia Alvarezes can do. I am currently in my final semester at Washington & Jefferson College where I study English. I am consumed by singularity, consistently finding a solitary moment rolling around in my mouth for far too long. My writing process is a sink into the self-indulgent sludge, a ridiculous obsession with my own history – all that blood blistering nostalgia and the melodramatic mucus. So be it! If poetry requires absurdity, then kiss the sane goodbye, and crank up the heat. (I’d rather we all melt anyway.)

“The Pantheon in which You Reside” begins with the wilding – an audible, tactile, and scented maelstrom of memory from days spent on the cusp of innocence lost. We move, suddenly, into the present, where things remain, but on the verge of going stale. Silence invades the space between driver and passenger seats. And, for the record, I am addicted to the image of adults devouring candy. The end of the poem attempts to work as a return to the radical, a reminder of the cosmic power at play in acute fixation – the weight held in shared, adolescent experience.

 

The Pantheon in which You Reside

You were born in a champagne bottle,

let loose with a butcher knife.

Plywood smells and citrus blistered fingertips,

secret something kissing in the basement office.

My hands on your legs felt a lot like a thing I believed in.

It all started with your neck in my mouth.

How it ended up here, and how you were

wearing green, I’m not quite sure.

 

Now we roll out of the market

and trade malt balls for hard-tac.

In the dark of your parked car,

we’re in the shadows, eating chocolate.

Washing the windows with milky spit

and unspoken forget-me-nots,

we mirror the dull buzz of the radiator.

 

I am always leaving parts of myself in parking lots,

and some nights the weather is far too temperate,

too mild to taste. But it tastes.

And so, nightfall’s metallic bolts paint your tongue –

Some new and glorious rendezvous held just past your lips.

 

Your mouth is a cave I crawl into.


Prose of the Month, July 2018

Shawn Mihalik is a novelist, essayist, and the managing editor of Paleo Magazine. Born in San Diego, Shawn initially studied journalism at Youngstown State University, but he dropped out after one year, deciding his talents were better directed at fiction. Since then, Shawn’s short fiction and nonfiction have been featured in various places, both on and off the Internet, and he’s released five books, all published by Asymmetrical Press. His most recent novel, The Dissection of Vertebrates, was published in 2018 and is a deeply personal tale of YouTube, sex magick (with a “k”), and open relationships.

Find out more at ShawnMihalik.com

A Note from the Author on “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post”

I used to be a pretty cynical guy. I’m still a pretty cynical guy, but I used to be, too, back when I wrote “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post.” I went through a brief period where I was convinced I was going to be a successful blogger. I dropped out of college, moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, while waiting tables, started a blog. Eventually, I quit waiting tables and spent all my time working on my blog. 

Blogs are great; they really are. Everyone should have a blog. Twitter or Tumblr don’t count—in fact, my number one advice to writers: get off social media, buy your own domain name, and start publishing your writing on a platform that you own . . . but please oh please don’t do so with the goal of making money. 

Six months later I was dead broke and spending a depressive weekend lying on my mattress (which itself was lying on the floor), ignoring the vociferous pounding of my landlord on my front door by reading the entirety of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series and pretending I couldn’t hear anything.

But “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post” is not about me. It’s not even really about blogs. Like I said: blogs are great. What we need right now is more blogs—I’m sure of it.

 

The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post

So you want to start a blog, I hear. And why wouldn’t you since you know it worked so well for me? I want you to understand that I think this is a wonderful thing. But if you’re going to start writing blog posts and posting them on the internet for all of internet-accessing humanity to see, and if you want this blogging to lead to the freedom and wealth and internet fame that I and countless lucky others have enjoyed and for your blog posts to be read by a large enough group of internet-accessing humanity, you’re going to need to follow certain rules with respect to the steps of writing blog posts and coming up with a catchy blog title and post titles and effectively—what’s the word?—insinuating SEO (search engine opportunization, I think it stands for).

These certain rules are as follows:

One: Write your posts like lists because people [italics]love[italics] lists as much as they love sugary deserts like cake and ice cream and certain kinds of pies (pumpkin, cherry, apple, chicken pot). There are a great many kinds of list posts you can write. List posts like Five Ways to Write an Awesome Blog, Five Ways to Make Money from Writing on the Internet, Ten Steps to Growing Your Audience by a Very Large Percentage in Just Only 30 Days, Ten Things I’ve Learned About Life Through Writing This Blog, Five Ways to Kick Ass with Blog Posts, Ten Places Where to Get Free Pictures For Your Blog Posts, Five Reasons to Not Include Pictures in Your Blog Posts (it’s simpler, it looks less cluttered, it looks better, it allows for more white space, your readers can focus on the words).

Make your posts controversial. And flakey. Like the above mentioned picture/no picture conundrum. If the majority of the web is doing one thing, you write about doing the opposite. One important thing to remember is that if you want your blog to stick out, when writing list-type posts, don’t use your normal old-fashioned numbers like 5 or 10 because those are the numbers all the other bloggers use and so they’re over-used and the internet is kind of saturated with them; instead use the less-used numbers like 7 and 9 and 16.

Two: Move out of your parents’ house as quickly as possible because they just don’t understand what blogging is, and while you know you’re going to make it as a blogger, your parents will do nothing but discourage you and your dreams.

The conversation you have with your parents might go something like this:

You say, “I don’t need this college crap, [italics]Mom[italics]. It’s just slowing me down and preventing me from living the life I know will make me happiest.”

“Just what are you trying to tell us,” your mother says as you and her and your father sit in a dark restaurant, you on one side of the booth’s table and them on the other, them sipping wine but you drinking water because you won’t be 21 for a few more months.

“I’m trying to tell you that I’m quitting school, is what I’m trying to tell you,” you say, the exasperation you knew you were going to have to feel during this conversation already setting itself dreadfully upon you. You can just tell your parents aren’t about to like what you’re trying to tell them.

Your parents get this incredulous look and your father says, “What!”

Your father is this balding, fit man, who has worked a difficult manual job his entire life at the shipping center just one town over, every day lifting boxes onto trucks, one after the other, lifting, lifting, bending at the knees and putting the boxes on the trucks over and over again all day, until only just recently when he put in for a promotion because Hey, what the hell? he deserved it after all these years, and so now he still works at the shipping center but in administration. And he’s worked so hard because he wanted to see you taken care of. He’s pretty much paid for your tuition. He’s wearing his only suit tonight at dinner, a dark-blue wide-lapel jacket, pleated pants. His white shirt’s top button is unbuttoned, his collar open, his striped tie a little loose.

“It’s okay,” you tell them reassuringly, moving both your hands in front of you up and down, palms down, as if to say [quote]calm down[quote]. “I’m going to become a blogger and make money on the internet.”

“Oh hell you’re not!” your father says, erupting, just as you anticipated he would. And why wouldn’t he? They couldn’t understand. They don’t get how the world works anymore. It’s not the one they grew up in. We have cell phones now and laptop computers and tablets and Bluetooth devices in cars.

Your mother tries to calm him down because others in the restaurant are staring. “Honey, dear,” she says, “calm down. Others are staring at us.”

“And they should stare at us!” your father says. The silverware and glasses and appetizer plates clank as he slaps a hand down on the tabletop. “They should look over here and see what a lazy daughter I have. They should see what I’ve thrown all my money away for, paying for her education and this is the thanks I receive!”

It’s okay, though, because [italics]you[italics] know things are going to be fine. It’s been fine for every blogger you read regularly, and some of them even travel the world and have adventures.

Three: Find your niche. “Niche” looks like it should be pronounced like “Nietzsche,” so don’t get confused here. I’ll explain what a niche is:

A niche is a thing where you write about a topic and only that particular topic. Except that when I say “only that particular topic,” I don’t necessarily mean that you only have to write about that particular topic—you can write about whatever you want, as long you write about your niche most of the time.

Example of niches:

  • Fashion
  • Minimalism
  • Cooking and recipes
  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Finances
  • Meditation
  • Buddhism
  • Travel
  • Productivity and productivity systems
  • Technology
  • Vintage Moleskine notebooks
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Cell phones
  • Apple Computers

(Regarding exercise and diet: if you choose either one of these as your niches, you had better make sure beforehand that you are in pretty amazing shape yourself because nobody likes to take that kind of advice from people who don’t look like they should be giving it. If you aren’t in shape, that’s okay too, but just frame your posts as if you’re on this amazing life-altering journey the ultimate goal of which is perfect physicality and you want your readers to follow this journey with you.

Also, regarding diet: Paleo and Vegan seem to be the only diets worth writing about on the internet these days.)

Four: So you’ve quit school and your parents have disowned you (is what you tell everyone even though they—your parents—still call you daily and ask if you need any money and are you eating and can we help and we’re worried about you), but that’s okay because now you live in Portland or Boston or Seattle. Now technically you’ve spent all your money getting there and on a brand new MacBook Air and Merino wool pants, but you’ve been writing all about this, and people actually find it somewhat interesting, and so you’ve got like almost 50 whole subscribers at this point, which isn’t so bad. By the end of the month you’ll have even more and will even be making an income from your blog.

Five: Two months in, you’re couch-surfing in Portland and spending most of your day in coffee shops, writing a lot. You’re writing something around 2,000 words a day, and you end up publishing anywhere between 500-1,000 of those words around noon just after you drink your day’s second green smoothie. You’ve received some initial criticism of your blog’s first several dozen post’s spelling and grammar and use of HTML, but you’re definitely getting better. You write every morning in the coffee shop, and then in the afternoon you read other blogs, the blogs of the bloggers who first inspired you to blog, and you watch important web videos like catchy new dance songs and TED talks. Someday maybe you’ll give a TED talk. Or at least a TEDx talk.

Six: Step six is one of the most important steps in writing a killer list post, and step six is: Practice Yoga. Every evening here in Portland or Seattle you go to this little yoga studio on the corner of one of the hippest streets in town. The place is small with wooden floors and pink or blue yoga mats spread out at regular intervals, but the instructor is calm and kind and wise and certified and has been a yogi for almost three years. The practice is donation-based, which is great because your income is small and trickling in slowly because, like a digital version of the box with a slit in the top that sits by the door to the yoga studio, you’ve placed a donation button on the sidebar of your website and at the bottom of your posts, which occasionally people click on and give you a couple bucks, which you can access in a few days after the bucks have been transferred to your bank account. You can afford yoga and smoothies and vegetarian food and to save a little so you can get an apartment in this city or buy a plane ticket to the next city you’re thinking about maybe moving to, because this city is sort of used up, blogging-wise, is the blogoshpere’s consensus. Sometimes you practice yoga on your own in the park. You wear special yoga pants. You have sex with the yoga studio’s yogi three or four times.

Seven: Now you can afford your own domain name, which admittedly you should have purchased from the very beginning, so you purchase one. Your blog’s url no longer ends in .wordpress.com but in .net, which is just far more professional. You’ve also purchased domains ending in .biz., .co, and .es. You pay for hosting now, too, because your RSS and email subscribers when counted together total over 1,200. It’s still not the best, but it’s a following. You tell your parents how happy you are. They say they still don’t understand what you’re up to, what this blogging thing is, exactly, and how you’re able to earn a living, and they don’t actually even subscribe to your blog, you suspect, but they’re happy you’re happy, just be careful, they say.

Eight: Write an ebook.

Nine: Well now things are tricky. Your ebook initially sold very well, like surprisingly, insanely well, surpassing the highest sales you could have possibly expected, a relatively unknown blogger like you. It started when you sent a review copy of your ebook (in ePub, mobi, and PDF formats) to this one popular guy in your niche who’s been blogging for years and whose readers number over a million, and he actually read it, and for some reason he liked it and wrote a post about it praising its simplistic but refreshingly clairvoyant approach to a tired topic (you’ve managed to stretch a paltry 8,000 words into 114 digital pages with a clever use of whitespace and creative layout which you claim you did to make each thought more poignant and reflect-uponable), and some of his readers bought it and some of the other popular bloggers who were initially inspired by this guy also bought it and wrote about it and their readers bought it, and so in the first week something like 15,000 people bought and read your ebook, which you priced at $2.99 and sold on your own website using various plug-ins so that there would be no middle-man, and so you made almost $45,000 in seven days, and your sales comparatively died after that and you sold maybe 50-100 copies a week after that, but you had at that point enough money to relocate and so for the hell of it you moved to Japan because not many people blog from Japan, you noticed. By the time you’d purchased your ticket to Tokyo and arrived there and converted a portion of your funds to the local currency and found an apartment (which was no small feat; it was expensive and you had to pay cash upfront for several months), you had spent about half your money (because you had also invested in a new computer and a tablet and a fancy backpack to carry your belongings and two pairs of barefoot-style shoes and expensive tea and a Vitamix once you moved into your apartment and you eat almost all of your meals out because not purchasing cooking equipment cuts down on your “overhead”), so you needed some surefire way to bring in more money. Another ebook. And with the sales of your first ebook came new subscribers to your website, so you were confident your next book’s sales would be plenty high. You wrote the next book (6,500 words in 80 pages, with pictures this time, which pictures were taken with a new camera you bought upon arrival in Japan and were edited with the latest version of Adobe’s Creative Suite) in three days, rehashing much of the material in your first book, and edited it hastily. Feeling bold, and knowing that information only you could provide should be priced appropriately, you sold the book for USD $30 (because the majority of your readers were still American despite your location change). The book sold dismally and so you lowered the price, but by now the reviews had come out and the reviewers almost unanimously seemed appalled (because they just didn’t [italics] get it [italics], you argue) and you only made a few thousand dollars and within months the whole operation collapsed around you and you were unable to support the quality of life you’d set up for yourself and your permanent address was still listed as your parents house and suddenly now you have to pay a large amount of taxes on the income you made and then spent and you don’t even have enough money for food, which is why now things are tricky.

Ten: You wander the streets of Tokyo. This is it, you tell yourself—you’ve [quote] made it [quote]. You’re the talk of the blogging community. Other bloggers write about you, asking question’s like Where has she gone? and Whatever happened to her? Every few days, someone buys one of your ebooks. You can’t afford vegetarian food anymore, so you start eating cheap meat. You’re suddenly now eating worse than you did before you started blogging, because back then—was that really only months ago?—you still didn’t eat fast food, even though you were a student and most students ate fast food, because your parents always made sure you ate better than that, but now you’re eating fast food. Fast food is cheap in Tokyo. It’s only so many yen.

You still have your laptop. You’ve tried to sell your fancy tablet, but nobody cares for that particular brand in Japan, so would it really even be worth it, you ask each time someone offers you a small amount. You should sell it anyway, though, because of food.

You sit in this coffee shop connected to wifi—which you have to pay for here, a few bucks an hour, and so you don’t connect often—and you open up your email. There’s a message from that yogi you slept with, a link to the yogi’s latest blog post, the title of which has the word “Tantric” in it. There’re several emails from your parents, who it turns out did subscribe to your blog and read each and every post and are concerned now because they haven’t seen you post in a while. Are you okay? Where are you now? Are you still in Japan? Please, call us? Do you need to come home? Do you need money? You’ve got a bunch of mail waiting here for you. We can pay for your ticket home, honey, just call us. We love you. We hope all is well. Your grandma was asking about you just the other day. Why don’t you give her a call sometime? Here’s her number in case you no longer have it. Stay safe. Email us. Where are you? What’s new? Where are you? We love you. We love you. We love you. Where are you, honey? Please, at least let us know you’re safe.

Writers of the Month: December 2017

Poet of the Month

 

Shahe Mankerian

The first time I saw my parents cry was at a theatrical performance of an Armenian play in Beirut. I concluded that words have the acidic power of onions; they make stoic individuals, like my parents, move to tears. So, at the age of 7, I played with Armenian words because that’s the language Mother planted at home. At school, Arabic letters slithered across pages and into my heart like snakes. And Grandmother cursed in Turkish because she believed the perpetrators of the first genocide spewed venom rather than language. With this cosmic concoction, I couldn’t escape being a writer.

“Backwoods with Queen Valentina” started out as a challenge to write a love poem without the pitfalls of clichés. Like all great unrequited lovers, it has seen many rejections and revisions. The only lines that linger from the original are “We paddled upstream” and “A cricket committed suicide.” Everything else morphed over time.

Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the co-director of the L.A. Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. His manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Antioch University’s literary publication, Lunch Ticket, nominated Mankerian’s poem “Inner City with Father” for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. Recently, Shahé received the 2017 Editors’ Prize from MARY: A Journal of New Writing. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

 

Backwoods with Queen Valentina

We paddled upstream.
She rehearsed lines
from a Slavic play:
“The married cosmonaut

died near Chernobyl.”
I swallowed a fly.
“Caviar will cure
your cough,” she adlibbed

and lit a cigar
like a Cuban surgeon.
“Sturgeon roe reminds
me of lost pupils,”

I mumbled. She curtailed
a current and exclaimed,
“Akhmatova!” We tied
our kayaks to a branch

like cowboy horses.
We used War and Peace
as a pillow. The tent’s
plastic windows uncovered

the stars. One fell
wayward and disappeared
behind a pine. A satellite
traveled across

the saturnine sky. Valentina
whispered, “A cricket
committed suicide,”
and waited for the applause.

 


Prose Author of the Month

William Baker

I am William Baker author of The Yard Sale Bandit.  I have had short stories published mostly under my middle name, Donald Baker.  My stories have been published seven times previously since 2013, mainly in online magazines.  Sometimes the inspiration for a story is a phrase I overheard or a person I saw in a public place.  Oft times I have no idea what inspires or prompts me, I get an idea in my head and go with it.  I have heard about writers block but have never experienced it myself.  I have the opposite problem.  I have too many stories and not enough time to put them all down.  I often think about and plan out a story in my head long before I have a chance to sit down at the computer.  The Yard Sale Bandit was actually done this way and the whole process was less than a week, including any revisions.

My biggest downfall as a writer, apart from not writing enough, is procrastination for my finished products.  I currently have three short fiction pieces completed, two flash fictions pieces, one novel which has been finished for some time, and one 90 minute stage play also long completed.  I am guilty of not putting in the necessary time to market these works for publication.  I plan on changing that for 2018, as soon as I finish my current stage play in process.

Apart from writing, I work for a hospital full time, am married, run around after seven Grandchildren, have an embarrassing amount of college degrees, and occasionally act in community theater.

Check out William’s other works at https://sylbun.com/!

 

The Yard Sale Bandit

Blaine Washington cleaned the remainder of the makeup from under his eyes with a baby wipe before sitting down in front of the television in the small theatre dressing room.  He tossed the plastic grocery bag of cash on the worn out sofa next to him, the costumes and props already put away.  His presence here would never allow suspicion, he was the stage manager after all and it was not unusual for him to be in and out of the theatre several times a week.  More so now that he was unemployed.  There was no danger of interruption this time of year as there were no upcoming performances in the works.  He could sit here and count his haul in peace and see if the news was covering him yet.  He figured that his score today was a good one, maybe a thousand.

The news anchor went on about a number of issues.  At the start of the next hour the news started over again and Blaine was pleased to see that he was top billing.  He smiled as the reporters gave him an excellent review.

“Our top story tonight, four more unbelievable robberies at small town Indiana yard sales.  State and local Police seem stumped at this summer’s rash of yard sale hold ups in the state.  All of whom seem to be committed by different men.  Rhonda Lytle is in the field in Jefferson Indiana, 30 miles south of Indianapolis.  Rhonda?”

Rhonda detailed the four hold ups in south central Indiana and gave descriptions of the four robbers.  Then brought on the State Police spokesman who talked a moment before Rhonda asked a question.  “All of these robberies, is this the work of a gang?”

“It would be an awful big gang.”  The spokesman explained.  “A dozen hold ups by a dozen different men.  There is not enough money in this for an organized crime effort.  This is individuals.”

“So, it is coincidence then that these crimes are taking place in a different area of the state almost every weekend.  Always towns close together, and by different men.”  Rhonda pushed.

“All of that is under investigation and I can’t comment. But we are telling people to please be aware and take precautions.  These men are always armed and dangerous.  They will be caught.”  The spokesman insisted to end the interview.

Blaine smiled, turned off the television and started counting the money.

It started with him flat out of money and ideas.  He was depressed and more than a little desperate with his unemployment coming to an end.  Fast food, retail, and warehouse work seemed to be the only jobs available and none of them paid enough to live.  He was bumming around a monster yard sale on the south side of Indy.  Looking for anything the theatre might be able to use.  Maybe he could get the producers to spring for something he couldn’t pass up.

This was one of those massive multi-family sales that filled the front and back yard of the residence.  Blaine found nothing for the theatre but did locate a Shakespeare coffee mug for a quarter that he couldn’t pass up for himself.  He heard the two ratty dressed forty something women talking at the cash box while he browsed with mug in hand.

One of the women with stringy black hair and a large gap in her front teeth was talking.  “Donnie done took six hundred to the bank.  He’s gonna have to make another trip soon as they get back.  I’ve taken in at least that much since he left.”

“Course you sold the riding mower since then.  That’s most of it.”  The other woman added.  Her hair was much more kept and her teeth lacked gaps but she was dressed in clothes that needed thrown away.  Blaine couldn’t help thinking that she needed to shop her own garage sale.  He paid for the mug and went home.

At home he thought about the yard sale and the $1200 in cash.  He found himself thinking of it often as he applied for jobs online at the library or used his food stamp/EBT card at the WalMart or as he sorted through the props and costumes at the theatre.  The thinking turned into what if.  And the what if turned into planning.  And the planning turned into a walk through.  And the walk through turned into a full costume trial run.  For him it was like Tech week in a production.  He wore sideburns, a brown wavy hair piece, and a small scar on his cheek and a deformed ear on the same side.  He dressed in a sport coat used in the last production of Arsenic and Old Lace.  None of the clothes were his own and he looked much older than his thirty-two years.  He parked on the next street then walked to the sale.  He browsed and kept his eyes and ears open.  No one seemed to think him the least bit strange or unnatural.  He saw the cash box opened one time and judged it has a few hundred in it.  He saw a half dozen opportunities to make his move with the prop gun in his pocket.  Then he went home satisfied that his thinking was right.

Blaine planned more and with one week left on his unemployment he made the move.  This time he was in the town of Monrovia and wore a blond wig pulled back in a pony tail, sun glasses, and orange to green reversible jacket, and an LA Dodgers ball cap.  His makeup was light but he sported a new nose.  He figured that the orange jacket and ball cap would be remembered and that was what he was going for.  His take was over $250 and he reversed the jacket, stuck the cap, sunglasses, prop gun and wig in the plastic grocery bag with the cash.  Then combed his hair straight back all while walking through the adjoining yards to the next street and his car.  He heard no commotion so he figured that the woman gave him the five minutes as he instructed.  She had considered others and he was encouraged by her thoughtfulness.  Blaine told her when he started to leave that he might shoot an innocent person, maybe a child if she didn’t give him five minutes before sounding an alarm.

Two hundred fifty dollars tax free was good but it wasn’t enough.  Blaine did his due diligence and scouted local online newspapers for yard sale ads.  Two weeks following the first time, he went in the middle of the afternoon to Tipton, then Atlanta, Arcadia and at last Cicero.  The news remarked that the robberies were in a straight line and was no doubt the work of a gang.  It went perfectly as he removed the distinctive parts of his disguise, stopped after each job and switched costumes in the car then drove to the next target.  That night after returning all of the costuming and props to the theatre he counted out $1167 in cash.  He paid the landlord and filled the car with gas and stopped at Starbucks, then started planning for the following Saturday.

The next time it was two sales in the far north of the state with a haul of over $1200 and he didn’t hit the other two targets as he didn’t want to push his luck.  Two weeks later it was far west, around the Terre Haute area.  Four stops and a big load of over $2000 cash.  Then the jobs in the central part of the state.  All five news stations in Indianapolis were buzzing and The Yard Sale Bandits were a hot topic.  He laid low for four weeks, even taking on a part time job.  But his research remained constant as planned.  He went to Jefferson, Whiteland and Greenwood, Indiana and came home with a disappointing $900.  He knew that he needed to roll the dice and go out again soon.

He planned the hits for the east central part of the state.  It was farm country and small towns but there were sales advertised, big sales.  Knightstown was to be first but Blaine made the decision to back out of the job once he looked around.  Too many redneck men hanging around and one of them had given him the eye.  He purchased a table lamp then left.  He decided to go to the next place near Rushville, and then jog over to Connersville, then up to the Cambridge City site before jumping on the interstate and back to Indy.  He saw the  Big Yard Sale Ahead sign at the side of US 40 and he slowed down.  He saw another sign pointing down a side road.  It was unplanned but he missed out on Knightstown and wanted to make up for it.

It was a big sale and he drove past then turned around on the next street and circled behind.  It was a good setup:  few houses, not far to walk and he could cut through a home construction site to the next street.  He checked his disguise, it was flawless, and he looked like an orange haired character from the Revenge of the Nerds movie.  His costuming was complete right down to the pocket protector and tape on the glasses.  The prop gun was inside his jacket.

The sale looked picked through and he was the only customer.  There were two women in their sixties sitting in lawn chairs in the garage watching a television.  He browsed close to them and feigned interest in an electronic dart board.  It was worse for wear and looked like junk to Blaine.

“I’ll go ten on that.”  One of the women called over to him.  “Still works, only has two darts to it.”  Blaine nodded to her and saw the cash box on the garage floor between them.  The other woman said something to her and they started a conversation during the commercial break for Family Feud.

Blaine decided to go for it.  It was a big sale that was picked over so there must be some cash.  He sidled closer while looking at the men’s shoes lined up in the garage, then stepped up to them and pulled the prop pistol, obscured with the sleeve of the jacket.

“Give me the box.”  He said.  The women looked at him.

The woman on the left sported bluing hair and terrible false teeth.  She snorted in amusement.  “You’re one of them Yard Sale thieves, huh?”  Blaine stared in reply and pushed the prop pistol out further.  Neither woman reached for the box between them.

The brassy haired woman on the right grabbed her purse off the table and put it in her lap.  “You don’t want my pocketbook too, do you?”  She asked.

“No, the box. Put it on the table now.”  He insisted in a low voice.

“I don’t think he would use that thing.”  The blue haired one said.

Blaine looked at her in disbelief, no one ever argued with him before, and then he turned back to the other woman.  The brassy haired one now held the smallest pistol Blaine had ever seen pointed at his head.

The look of disbelief was still on his face as he lay arms spread wide on the concrete driveway.  The glasses, flown off and somewhere behind him.  The prop gun slipped from his fingers and he stared at the summer sky.  The small hole in the center of his forehead trickled a thin line of crimson onto the orange wig.