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.

Writers of the Month: October 2017

Poet of the Month, October 2017

Ali Jacobs

I am – first and foremost – a writer. I mean that in if I had to pick “one word to describe who I am” as an icebreaker, it would and could only be writer. Writing is and has only ever been the single constant in my life. When I don’t write, I feel sore and sad and out of place in this weird little world.

So to solve that never ending existential crisis, I currently have a rough manuscript of poems completed, tentatively titled Postmortem. In this book and in all my writing, I try to speak from a place of honesty, and I explore the mundane and darkness of life. I am inspired by beautiful cinematography, snapshots of life caught as an observer and the commonality of all humans. I enjoy juxtaposing life to death and trying to make sense of death and what comes after.

I look to writers like David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein, Oscar Wilde for ways to write about the ugly with humor. I look to directors like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton for creating physical worlds that can enrich my storytelling. Musicians like Lana Del Rey, Van Morrison and Cher have informed my writing with their creative genius. I could not write fully-realized poetry without meshing all art forms into a messy, but purposeful, jumble.

I am inspired by what’s not said in line at the grocery store, political climates, acceptance speeches, sadness in the eyes of middle-aged waitresses and deaths I haven’t experienced yet. I like to keep one foot in reality with the other dangling in fantasy and a dark humor, and I never take the good fortune of my writing ability for granted. I write like every word will be my last and I always worry it will be so.

 

WW3

My feet
tie me to the earth,
like weathered reins.

The only worldly possessions
I may keep.

Prose Author of the Month, October 2017

Brent Herman

As long as I can remember, I have been told by friends, colleagues, and teachers that I am a “good writer”. I have always been willing enough to accept the praise, but I have always wondered what exactly it means to be a good writer. Whenever I write, I just write. I don’t have any special technique that I practice. I don’t fret over my word choice or my organization. I just take words from my head and put them on a paper.

However, I believe now that I am beginning to comprehend what good writing is. Good writing is subjective, to be sure, but I have noticed a common thread that I simply cannot ignore. I believe good writers write every second of every day without a pen in their hand. I am constantly making little notes in my mind. The shadow cast by a building as the sun is going down, the sound of a lazily moving creek, the smell of decaying leaves in the autumn woods. These are the simple, yet beautiful things that we are exposed to regularly, but so many people ignore these details. A good writer simply cannot. So, when it comes to writing, for me, it is not so much an exercise in creation as it is an exercise of memory. I have already written reams of material in my head, it is just about rearranging these notes in a palatable manner.

It makes me feel good to express these experiences the way I want to. I can make the rules and break them. But, what I truly want is to share my happiness with those around me, and to transfer my experience to whoever may take the time to read my rearranged thoughts.

 

With Great Power

I round the street corner walking as quickly as I dare, through the fog of a particularly damp Midwestern spring morning.  I glance at the outdated, gold trimmed pocket watch my father gave to me.  8:16. I am about thirty seconds early, as I had planned.  I unsling the leather bag from my shoulder and skillfully assemble the tool of my trade.  I look through the sight and focus on my target.  I press record.  

“What are you doing?” says a genuinely curious female voice behind me.  I do not respond verbally.  I do not even look away from my target.  Instead, I put a finger to my lips, then point at the railroad crossing across the street.  A train is approaching, but the crossing arms are not coming down.  A low rumble approaches the train tracks.  Still looking through my camera, the yellow school bus full of talkative juveniles with the rust spot on the rear fender appears in frame.  I know it is too late.  I keep my camera steady and close my eyes.  This is always the hardest part.  I hear the crash and the screams and the sound of the woman running into the corner coffee shop, presumably to call 911.  I move in on the scene and get all the angles I can get within the two and a half minutes before the corpulent police officer arrives and starts asking questions.

I am packing my bag when I first lay eyes on the owner of the curious voice.  She is short and slender with brown hair and piercing blue eyes peering out of black horn-rimmed glasses.  I pick up my bag and begin to walk away.

“You knew that was going to happen!  Why didn’t you try to stop it?”  I think about ignoring her, like I usually do when somebody is suspicious, but there was something about this young woman that made me feel obliged to respond.  

“Even if I did know what was going to happen, what was I supposed to do?  Run out in front of the bus, or the train?”  My response does not appease her.  

“I don’t know what you could do, but you should have done something!”

I sigh and look at the twisted, burning metal then back at her.

“I did.  I got it all on camera and now at least their story will be told, and I will be able to eat for another week.”  This satisfies her even less.

“How do you eat at all!?”

I smirk, turn my back to her, and head home for some R and R.  After I call the networks and start the bidding war, I won’t have to follow another Hunch for a couple weeks at least.  Seeing into the future can be quite a lucrative business.  I hear, “Coward!” called out from behind me.

I return to my downtown studio apartment.  A few phone calls and a few thousand dollars later, I allow myself to unwind.  I pour myself three fingers of Wild Turkey rye whiskey with no ice and sit down in my favorite recliner.  There is never any competition for this seat.  I do not have a cat or a dog, let alone a wife and kids.  The dreams make me a difficult roommate, as a young man found out during my first and final semester at college.  When I finally manage to fall asleep, I often wake up screaming or sobbing.  It has been this way since I was five years old, and yet it is nothing I can get used to.  It’s something different every night and it is never good.  I dream of future burglaries, homicides, suicides, the occasional rape, and pretty much every turmoil faced by humanity.  I do not have to have good dreams.  At this point I would be ecstatic to never dream again.

I look down at my pocket watch.  It reads 1:22 pm.  I am disappointed to see that my glass is nearly empty.  I take the last gulp of it with a slight grimace.  It is a warm afternoon and my insomnia and alcoholism have caught up to me simultaneously.  I am asleep before I have the chance to fear.  

I smell the familiarly bitter aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.  I hear the sound of a broom whisking dryly against a tile floor.  I soon hear another sound.  The unmistakable click-clack of a bullet being chambered in a handgun.  I have heard this sound countless times in nightmares past, and it never bodes well.  This whirl of sensation becomes focused into a scene that is too clear for my comfort.  The woman in the horned rimmed glasses drops her broom and throws her hands in the air.  A masked man is waving the handgun around and gesturing for the woman to open the register.  While the register is being emptied, I begin to hear the woman sobbing and begging the man to spare her.  He remains silent.  The woman puts the last of the bills into a plastic bag and slides it across the counter to the masked man.  He grabs it and turns around.  The store is empty and it is dark outside.  He gets halfway to the door before turning again.  There is a flash of fire, a solitary bang, followed by an unceremonious thud.  The man unlocks the door and quickly walks out to the street.  Blood runs along the pattern of the tile until it reaches the drain in the floor.  The clock reads 10:56, presumably right before closing time.  The last thing I see before the jackhammer in my chest overcomes my exhaustion is the black pair of horn-rimmed glasses with one shattered lens that has been spattered with warm blood.

My eyelids open and to my horror it is dark outside of my window.  I desperately grasp for my pocket watch and whip it open.  10:31. I have less than 30 minutes to get across town and no time to hail a cab.  I dash down the 3 flights of stairs in my building and nearly fall on the final and steepest flight.  I fly out of the door and begin down the street.  I stop when I get to the bike rack at the library at the end of the block.  There is a lone Schwinn left at this late hour and to my surprise it is not tethered to the rack by a lock or by anything else by that matter.  I normally would not condone theft, but I did not hesitate to debate the finer points of moral philosophy with myself, of all people.  I hop on and begin pedaling as hard as I can.

As I pedal the cool night air blurs my vision.  Instead of the sidewalk in front of me, I see the faces of all the people I have been too afraid to help.  The lonely man who hung himself who was not missed badly enough to be discovered until his rent became due nearly a month later, the woman and child on their way to church who got hit by a drunk driver right in front of my apartment, the children on the bus earlier today who were so unsuspecting, and finally the two that I see every night, my mother and father.  

They were stabbed in the street by a mugger after going out to dinner, as they allowed themselves to do the first Friday of every month.  It was my first week of college and my folks were so very happy that I was accepted.  They refused to believe my affliction and were scared that I would never be a “normal boy”, but when that letter came in the mail, my father told me he was proud of me the first time in my life.  He reached into his jacket pocket and gave me his prized possession, the pocket watch that had belonged to his father.  He told me that now I had no excuse to be late.  I dreamed about their death a couple weeks before their date night, but I could not bear to call them and bother them with my “nonsense.”  The fateful night came and I worked up the courage to call my parents.  My father answered and I could not find my voice.  I decided that there was nothing for me to do.  They have never believed me before, and they may as well die being proud parents of a college student rather than an incompetent freak.  I murmured, “I love you” and hung up the receiver.  That is the night I acquired an unquenchable thirst for alcohol.

My vision returns to me and I am more physically exhausted then I have ever been in my life, but I see the dim glow from the corner coffee shop at the end of the block.  It is the light house guiding my fogged mind and aching muscles.  I ditch the bike and check the pocket watch.  10:55! Without giving myself the luxury of catching my breath I run up to the locked door.  I see the masked man walking away from the counter, pausing then turning around.  I wrap the chain of my father’s treasure around my knuckles and thrust my fist through the plate glass door.  This startles the gunman and he turns his attention and his weapon to me and pulls the trigger.  The woman in the horn-rimmed glasses swiftly picks up her broom and swings ferociously, cracking her would-be murderer in the back of the head, sending him sprawling unconscious before he hits the floor.  She was no coward.  I become aware that the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins is now coursing out of my chest and through my sweatshirt.  I collapse onto my back on the sidewalk in front of the corner coffee shop.  The last thing I see before drifting out of consciousness is the shattered face of my watch. 10:55. I had no excuse to be late.