Monday, December 13, 2010

Short Stories are Swell: 'Up North' by Charles D'Ambrosio

Full disclosure from the UW, the author of the next 'Short Stories are Swell' selection was on her thesis committee. And is an amazing writer. And the UW really should not have read his short story collection while working on her thesis because she suffered wild fits of inadequacy knowing such a gifted writer was going to be reading (and judging) her work. Which of course led to much snacking and sadness-induced-napping.

But since you, gentle reader, are not submitting your literary oeuvre to him, you should for sure read his work. Because this short story is swell! And free on the internets. And upsetting and well crafted and suspenseful and has a TURKEY in it (spoiler alert). Read it. Go on. You know you want to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dear Fiction Editor:

Dear Fiction Editor of Vegetarian Times*:

I am a recent graduate of an MFA Creative Writing program and would love to share with you some of my work, in hopes of being published in your esteemed magazine. I think you will find my nutritious and delicious tale of corny love just can't be beet - and will go with your publication like peas and carrots.
Attached is my submission, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

The Undisciplined Writer

* Just kidding. Vegetarian Times doesn't have a fiction section because everyone knows vegetables only like hard hitting news and glossy photos.

Excerpt from Of Corn and Carrots

It was dark. But it was always dark. Earnie swayed slightly in the wind, trying to pull his husk tighter around him for warmth. He was a corner corn, always had been, always would be, and this was the only life he had known.

Being a corner corn was far from easy. Pesticide addicts, lots of green, and a bevy of fast and loose tomatoes always hanging around, looking for a way out themselves. Here in the patch they were a long way from ‘making it’. He had heard of other gardens, places where the grass was greener, the sky bluer, and the sun warmer. Places where you could really grow to your fullest potential. But that wasn't here. When their time came they didn’t land at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. The crowd he ran with weren’t organic, hell most of them were rotted halfway already. They were rough, tough, and damaged. They were gas station fruit, from cradle to grave.

Earnie had heard stories from the older ears about the glory days. When they got the good light and lots of rain. People in suits paraded through to check them out, see what they could do for the patch. But it had been years since anyone cared what happened to them. They were a few short summers from being an abandoned lot, and Earnie didn’t see the point in pretendin’ otherwise.

Earnie looked out over the dry, cracked ground around him. Beets were running a craps game near the middle of the patch, tomatoes swinging seductively from their vines for anyone who would give them a glance, and the potatoes were digging around in the soil, trying to get what hits they could off the pesticide residue. They were mean streets, row after perfectly aligned row of broken dreams and misspent youth. Looking at the green baby peas provocatively shimmying inside their shells for the old withered carrots’ benefit, Earnie just knew he had to make a different life. He didn’t know how and he didn’t know when, but he wouldn’t rot away on a 7-11 counter and he certainly couldn’t stay here. He hugged his husk tighter, cast his gaze to the star spotted sky, and prayed for a way out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fiction is Fun!

Fiction is fun, isn't? Man, The UW sure hopes you agree. The UW think it's fun. The UW also enjoy Todd Solodnz films so she may not be the best judge.

This snazzy weekly installment will be an excerpt from ye olde thesis. The thesis was a collection of 10 short stories, so the UW will grab snapshots from each of them and hopefully in the process of posting them she will spot any more revisions she needs to make to those passages. She won't bore you by always only sharing the opening of each story (bor-ing.) but will spice it up with random sections, mostly to keep you on your toes. If you like a story and want to read the whole ding, dang thing - let the UW know and she will gladly send it you if it's polished up and spit shined enough (after the thesis defense she decided some of the stories needed a smidge more prettying up).

Surgeon General's warning: While fiction is fun (hooray!), the UW's stories generally are not. Sorry. They tend to land on the "downer" end of the spectrum. Confusing, as the UW considers herself a happy person. But clearly there is a sad soul in need of zoloft living somewhere amongst the keys of the UW's laptop, weeping softly to Elliot Smith music.

(note: the formatting options are limited in blogger, sorry for the lack of indents)

Without further ado...

Excerpt from The Heist

It was the first weekend in August, the heat radiating out from the concrete of nearby Boston, when Monty appeared in Boomer’s backyard, his thin limbs flailing in the specks of sun streaming in through the screen door.

“Boomah. Get ya ass out here, Boomah. I got news for ya,” Monty screeched into the house.

“I’m coming Monty, keep ya pants on,” Boomer hollered back, lumbering from the recliner towards the back door. His white undershirt clung to his chest, drenched from the hours he had sat there watching the Red Sox game, dozing in and out of consciousness to the hum of the box fan.

Monty was sweating as well, his Revere High School Varsity football tee shirt damp beneath his arms and spreading from his collar like a bib. His flip flops stuck to the linoleum as he crossed the kitchen and threw open the refrigerator door, grabbing two cans of beer and popping the tabs before Boomer had the back door shut. Boomer cleared off a section of the kitchen table from the stacks of coupons Martha had clipped, and Monty slid the beers into the open space. They sat and drew a long sip of beer, savoring the cold in the sweltering midday heat, before Monty spoke.

“Boomah. How long I known you?”

Boomer started to add up the years since grade school in his head.

“Forever, Boom. I known you forever. Since we was kids. And how long we been talkin' about hittin’ it big. Cashin’ in.”

“A really long time,” Boomer answered.

“Since fuckin’ high school. Jackin’ those cahs from the bank pahking lot when we was seventeen, liftin’ all them lotto tickets from Cumby Fahms. We wanted to be loaded since I can ‘memba,” Monty declared, his eyes flashing and his skinny frame twitching with excitement. “Well, I had to come ovah here and tell ya. I got it. I finally figured it out,”

“Figured what out?” Boomer answered.

“How we gonna get rich.”

Boomer sucked at the mouth of his can, his hand sliding against the condensation as he listened.

“I’m talkin' big money. Get the fuck outta town money. Boomah, do ya wanna be in Revere forevah? We been here since we was born. Dontcha wanna see what else is out there? All we know is here. Our families, the kids from school, that’s all we know. Dontcha think Martha would love to travel. You twos been together since fuckin’ eight grade, and ya never taken her nowhere. Maybe go down to Floridah, get some sun. Do ya wanna stay at the plant ‘til ya old and broke down like your old man? We gotta change. Boomah. I been here 40 years, I gotta see what is out there.”

Boomer pinned the beer tab back with his thumb, processing what Monty said. His words came out heavy and slow, weighed down by the heat.

“What if I like it here, Monty? Did ya ever think of that?”

“There is a big world out there. How ya gonna know whatcha like until ya been somewhere. I mean if ya wanna be a dick about it, be my guest.”

“I’m not bein’ a dick…”

“No, that’s fine I can take my plan to Ernie, see if he wanna get rich,” Monty swiveled his hips towards the door.

“Monty, I wanna hear your plan.”

“Are ya sure? I can take my plan to Ernie. He don’t have a wife neither so he and me could move to Floridah and nevah come back. Maybe that’s a betta plan. Ya got Martha and the cats, maybe this is too big a plan for ya.”

Monty pounded back his beer as he shuffled to the screen door. When he grabbed the handle, Boomer stood up.

“I wanna hear ya plan, alright?” Boomer demanded, raising his voice.

Monty paused, appearing slightly startled by the force of Boomer's voice, and let go of the door handle as he crossed back to the table, his flip-flops clapping with ever step.

“Alright, Boomah. Alright, now. I just had to be sure. I’m still workin’ out the details of how we gonna do it. But we gonna be rich. I know that much.”
Monty sat down at the table again.

“And ya know ya don’t hafta leave, Boomah. Ya can stay here and be rich. Buy Martha all new clothes and a fancy cah.”

Boomer’s gaze fell to a picture of Martha from their wedding, pinned to the refrigerator door with a dunkin donuts magnet. Her blonde hair falling in waves around her mouth, her green eyes staring at something over the photographer’s shoulder. Her chubby face filling the frame, except for a glimpse in the bottom right hand corner of the salmon pink scarf Boomer had bought her. It was expensive and the tag said it was handmade in Italy. She had never looked so happy as the day she unwrapped that scarf. She paraded around the house for a week, throwing it over her shoulder like a fading movie star. It would be nice to buy her something beautiful again.

“So what’s the plan?”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Short Stories are Swell

The UW loves short stories. Always has. From early introductions to Edgar Allan Poe, she was hooked. You will never catch the UW writing the great American novel- largely because a project of that scope can't be completed in 45 minutes from her couch with the tv on. She is a short story writer, fo shizzle. But she fears, aside from subscribers to the New Yorker, the general public does not read/buy enough short fiction to make her dream of diving into piles of $100 bills Scrooge McDuck-style viable. So here is the section where she annoyingly forces some of her favorite short stories upon you so you will love them too, thus increasing the genre's popularity and the chances the UW will be able to afford her own butler someday.

The UW's first offering of swell short stories is Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried." Not only is this an amazing story, which it is, it is also FREE TO READ ON THE INTERWEB! So do it! Read it!

Be warned: it's a sad one (in case the cemetery part didn't tip you off). The UW cried at her desk when she read it, but she also tends to be a heap of emotions and cracker crumbs on any given day so don't let that stop you. Read it. Now. Go!

The UW will spare you any literary analysis because this is a blog and not English Lit 101 (snore), but Amy Hempel rules the school and is a literary hero of the UW. Fun fact: this was also the very first story Hempel ever wrote, which makes the UW want to punch her in the face with unbridled jealousy while simultaneously hugging the crap out of her with respect and awestruck admiration.

And all the credit for bringing this fantastic story to the UW's attention goes to her amazing (and well read) sister anne. Yes, the UW is too lazy to even find her own reading. L-a-z-to-the-Y, people.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Type Trigger (my new writing treadmill)

So the UW has a new favorite website:

It's a snazzy site that gives you a new writing prompt every 6 hours, and you can write whatever you are inspired to write by that prompt, only catch is it can't be more than 300 words. The prompt is basically a phrase or word to get you thinking to start writing (think middle/highschool english classes). This is GENIUS for lazy writers such as the UW because a- the word limit keeps it from seeming daunting and b- the prompt changes every 6 hours and once it changes you have to write to the new prompt. So if you have a great idea to write off of a prompt, you have to get your sloth-like self in motion fast enough or you lose you chance to share your 300 words worth of brilliance on that specific topic with the world.

(right now the site is in a beta test mode, so if you check it out and want to join, let me know and i have 4 invites to the beta version. otherwise it goes public in january)

The UW is going to TRY to write about at least 7 prompts a week. Generating that many nuggets of stories and characters seems to statistically suggest that at least one or two of them each week could be stretched to short story length and would in general serve as a great source of daily literary cardio. But let's be honest, the only thing the UW manages to do everyday with unwavering consistency is shower and eat. But still, lets pretend she will stick with it, shall we?

So far this week, 2 prompts down:

Prompt: Last Chance

"Last chance, scaredy cat," he shouted up from shore.

Her toes curled around the cliff's edge, the rough ridges poking into the arches of her foot. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and jumped, letting go into the sensation of falling- waiting for something to catch her. Her body was weightless, pulled back to the earth in a gentle slow motion embrace. She thought of almost nothing, not the laundry piles in the hallway or the electric bill or the fighting neighbors or the car inspection or the hole she found that morning in the armpit of her favorite black turtleneck sweater. Almost nothing.

She did see the creased blue paper of the hospital gown a split second before she felt the smooth sandy lake bed. Until her feet touched the ground she had forgot there would be water. He met her at the surface, his swim trunks ballooning with pockets of air. His arms around her felt like a wool winter jacket.

Prompt: Put another way

"To put it another way," she paused, gnashing the limp sandwich between her molars, "I don't want to have your kids."

He felt his insides run, sprinting as fast they could from where they sat, crashing and colliding into one another like blindfolded hostages thrust into a broom closet.

She picked up the remaining half of her sandwich, her long red fingernails leaving soft indents in the bread.

She hesistated before cramming the last bite between her lips that had cracked into dry ridges of uneven lipstick throughout the meal.

"I hope you understand."

He stared at the salad in front of him leaking caesar dressing onto the pale porcelain of the plate, the leafy canopy hiding the oily puddles beneath.

"I understand."

He left his salad untouched as he waited for the check. His hand, always conscious of the nubbish vacancy between the middle and pinkie fingers that had formed a breezeway since birth, nudged the delicate ring deeper into his pocket.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The UW's book club

The UW is (surprise!) a book club drop out. Of several book clubs. Because laziness does not lead to meeting deadlines in timely fashions. And you can only show up and drink wine, eat your weight in cheese, and fake opinions for so long.

So now the UW is in an online book club with YOU! The gentle reader! Which means she will read a book, tell you she is reading the book, and when she is done (at her own pace, damn it!) she will throw up a post with a few ideas about the book and if you have read it as well feel free to chime in with comments. If you haven't read it, feel free to swill some wine and make shit up too - that's also welcome.

So the UW's inaugural pick is:

You know, the book all the cool kids have been talking about this fall, including the country's literary leader: Oprah.

So read it you want to. It's 576 pages, so the UW will be back with her thoughts on "Freedom" in approximately early 2013. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dear Fiction Editor:

Dear Fiction editor of Cat Fancy*:

I am a recent graduate of an MFA Creative Writing program and would love to share with you some of my work, in hopes of being published in your esteemed magazine. I think you will find my feline fiction to be the cat's meow and hopefully a purrrrrfect fit for your publication.
Attached is my submission, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

The Undisciplined Writer

Excerpt from A Farewell to Yarns

He gazed at her, drinking her in, studying the long, languid curve of her whiskers and the soft sea of white fur hovering around her delicate face. The pink blush of her nose quivered, her sage green eyes flooding with sadness.

“Miriam,” he purred, his calico paw matting down the hair around her face. “I won’t be gone forever, my love. I promise I will return.”

Miriam looked away, her gaze shifting to the front lawn of the house. Her tears were quickly absorbing into the thick strands of her fur. Attached to the pink bow around her neck was a tiny bell that faintly clinked as she trembled.

“What if you don’t make it back, Renaldo. Whatever shall become of me.” Miriam placed the back of her paw to her forehead, as if she might faint.

Renaldo knew what she meant, without Miriam even having to utter the words. The darkest fears that she clutched inside the deep recesses of her heart. Miriam didn’t grow up in this world – the land of Fancy Feast feasts and satin throw pillows. She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. The south side where she was lost in a litter of 15 from birth, always struggling to survive. When Miriam and Renaldo lounged late at night on the forbidden furniture, swatting pointlessly at the ceiling fan swirling 8 feet above them, she would tell him she could never go back. She couldn’t face a life of hunting mice and birds, and sleeping under broken down porches. He would rub her back and promise she would never be alone again.

But today, today he had to go. The careless humans had tossed in the trash the ratty ball of yarn he had been given by his father the day he passed away, and he could not let this sentimental souvenir of his childhood rot away with the spoiled hamburger meat and used papertowels. It was a matter of honor.

“Renaldo, I can barely even see the curb from here,” she begged, her paw gesturing out beyond the front lawn.

“Miriam," he clutched her to his chest. "it has to be out there somewhere." They both swung their heads in unison to gaze out the window. "They always talk of taking the trash to the curb. I will find that curb, Miriam.” His voice quieted to a forceful whisper. "I will find that curb."

He stared into her deep, greenish eyes. “I shall return, my darling. Wait for me.” He kissed the top of her head, and touched their slightly clammy noses together.

Miriam smiled bravely, but as Renaldo's tail dragged out of the room he heard her begin to weep.

Renaldo moved quickly through the house to the front door. As carpet became hard wood floors and eventually a welcome mat, all he could picture was Miriam’s face framed against the windowpane with her silver bell clanging, pressing her one paw against the glass as her voice cried out again and again.


He shook the image from his mind, steeling himself against the dog door he had never ventured beyond, and headed forth into the feral jungle of the front lawn.

* Just kidding, Cat Fancy doesn't have a fiction section. But it should.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Meet the Undsciplined Writer

A few weeks ago, the Undisciplined Writer (from here on referred to as UW) was having a delicious gingerbread latte with her thesis advisor at a Starbucks near campus. The UW had just defended said thesis (a 155 page short story collection), which was the final step in her scholarly pursuit of becoming a 'master of fine art.'

A short while into the conversation, the subject turned to how to get published. The UW had been pondering the next step to putting her new fangled degree to use, and wanted any guidance she could get. She smoothed out her notepaper, gripped her pen between her fingers, and waited with baited breath to hear the magic formula that would propel her and her 155 page thesis to literary fame, outselling Jonathan Franzen and Jodi Picoult combined.

The advisor paused, sipped her coffee, and in all her wisdom and experience of being a well published and remarkably talented writer, said quite simply the two keys to getting published are discipline to write often and perseverance to continually submit your work. The UW rested her pen on her college ruled notepad, dropped her forehead to the tabletop, and sighed.

This, gentle reader, was terrible news. The UW does not excel at either. In fact she downright fails. If the key to getting published was eating snacks and taking naps, the UW would be Stephen King. But lack of discipline and perseverance is why she is still on the same diet she started freshman year of high school. The possibility of being on Oprah's book club list began to fade before the UW's bespectacled eyes.

But our lazy heroine does not give up so quickly. She had just devoted 3 years training in the craft of 'fine art' and really didn't want so many school nights spent away from her much beloved husband and their overly comfortable couch to have been for nothing. So she left the coffee shop, mulled some ideas about in her noggin, and (fully recognizing this is the least original idea since circa 1999) took to the internets to start up a blog. To force herself into literary calisthenics and to be accountable for the writing she needs to discipline herself to do. And maybe find some support for the perseverance part as she sends the pieces of her thesis out to the cold, cruel place known as a fiction editor's assistant's assistant's mail cubby. The aim of the blog will be to write about writing, share some writing, and try to figure out why the great (already published) writers of our time didn't succumb to snacks & naps.

So please tune back in soon for the next installment of 'writer seeks easiest possible path to fame & fortune'.

Future features to entice you follow the UW's adventures:

Short stories that are swell
UW's book club
Writing I did this week
Story idea pitch session
Fiction is fun!: excerpts from work in progress
Name that character contest