There's a lot of death in September's stories. Symbolic of the arrival of fall and all the dead leaves we can look forward to raking? Perhaps. Or maybe it just worked out that way.
Peter Wood authored Castaways, September's first story. I'm envious. He's been published by magazines that have only given me rejections.
The death theme starts with this story. Krebs and Hale come from a future that suffered a pandemic that wiped out most of humanity.
I can't criticize the writing no matter how much I want to. The only issue I have with the story arises from my knowledge of the television series Gilligan's Island. But first I'll hand out compliments for the same reason. Wood has been clever with the names and characteristics of his characters. Jonas Hale is sort of the second fiddle in this time travel mission. Alan Hale was the actor that played The Skipper—Gilligan's captain, but the second fiddle in the comedy team. The skipper served mostly as a straight man for Gilligan's antics. He even adds to this little match-up by having Ginger Ale address him by asking, "What's your name, sailor?" A bit later he gets even more specific. "Hale patted his sizable gut." Alan Hale was stocky.
Yes, Ginger Ale. In the series the glamorous woman wearing slinky dresses was Ginger Grant. Ginger introduces herself as "Tina." Tina Louise is the actress that played Ginger Grant. And to continue the cross-referencing, when Tina and Hale return to the bar after Paley has left, Tina tells Hale, "you left your little buddy alone to talk to Paley." The Skipper frequently called Gilligan "Little Buddy." And to top off the nostalgic laughs, she makes it clear that in the other time lines Hale screwed up the approach to Haley in various ways—just like Gilligan would have done.
And of course the man that runs their underground bunker in the future is called the Professor, who was one of the characters on the series.
When I began writing this I was going to remark that any actor that played Gilligan could never get elected Senator. Gilligan was a submissive, polite, well-meaning screw-up, and not too bright. The character would be too attached to the actor to allow that actor to get elected to major office.
However...if the series went twelve years and became serious, like a science fiction soap opera, the character had plenty of time to gradually change and acquire a stronger image. So, darn it, I can't even fix on that for a criticism.
Wood is good.
Unusually, an author has two stories in the same month. Sarah Etgen-Baker contributes The Butterfly Whisperer on the eleventh and Intangible Ingredients on the twenty-fifth.
The first story is short and sweet and has little room for review, although it is worth pointing out that when a person suffers from a stroke, millions of brain cells die, in keeping with September's theme. But there was this one thing: "the air—light and fresh—gently blew the long, crisp, white curtains to and fro." I really hate "to and fro." The last time I encountered that phrase was in elementary school. This would have been so much better if she had drawn an oblique reference to the butterflies, or to grace, in the description of the curtains' movements. "The long white curtains fluttered in the fresh breeze like delicate wings." Or "The light and fresh air blew gently through the open French doors, inspiring a graceful waving of the white curtains." Almost anything but "to and fro."
Intangible Ingredients is very similar in tone but much more detailed. And there's nothing resembling "to and fro." The longer story gets the shorter review. There's nothing wrong with it. It feels like a memoir, but it is listed as a story so I can take issue with something I felt did not quite fit. Her brothers apparently tossed the recipe box because they could see little value in the dog-eared yellowed recipes. But there were more than recipes in there. There were photos and mementos. And hadn't they ever seen their sister cooking or baking with their mother and using those recipe cards? It seemed to me unlikely that they would have junked it without at least a phone call to see if she wanted it.
Perhaps that didn't happen. Maybe the disappearance was due to some other mishap. It disappeared "just like my mother's memories did." What an excellently subtle way to suggest that her mother had suffered from dementia or maybe even Alzheimer's without allowing that issue more relevancy than is warranted in this story.
Tell Them I'm Not Dead! by Cherie W. Brackett puzzles me. Is this fiction, or memoir? The author uses her own name for one of the characters. That this appeared in The Reading Lamp rather than as a story reinforces the possibility that it is memoir. If so, I have nothing to criticize. In that case it is not fiction. The writing is fairly succinct, it shows the two settings very well and does well also with the characters' emotions. And I have no trouble believing the psychic connection to be factual.
If it is fiction, though, it is disappointing. The psychic connection of Grady to his sister has no real significance. It does not save his life. Possibly his prayer was answered with a "Yes," by God, but all it did was worry Cherie and cause her to lose sleep and gain frustration trying to reach someone in the military.
It would have been a better story if the connection had allowed his sister to get a message to someone and prevent Grady's premature assignment to the ranks of the dead. His buddies did die, though, so death is still the theme.
If It's to Heal by Brandann Hill-Mann continues the September theme of death...and life. I didn't like the way the story was put together at the beginning. It starts with Scott, which gives him some importance. I expected the story to be about Scott, since he got top billing.
It would have been truer to the story if it had started with "Nicole woke up on Saturday, alone, groggy, sore.
"The silence she'd expected. The beeping of the monitors were a given. The dull ache of her surgical site was annoying through the medication." Add something like "She was not surprised Scott was not there." Then continue with the first four paragraphs and pick it up from there. That would reduce Scott to a footnote, which he was. A small piece of her story, not the headline.
I would suppose most readers knew immediately that Hee-Jin was the survivor of the person that had donated the kidney. Why else would she be there? I found myself wondering why Nicole didn't understand that almost at once. But I've never been under heavy sedation or pain killers for major surgery. Maybe those things do dull the mental faculties along with the physical ones.
I Married a Freegan by Joe Guderian is the best story of September. It doesn't have any death; it's why the title for this review included a mention of life.
Although I'm not a fan of romance fiction, I'm not opposed to it either. This is actually a very formulaic story. Boy meets girl, boy marries girl, both families not thrilled, boy and girl persevere, a baby on the way. Romance publishers and editors insist on the Happy Ever After or at least the Happy For Now ending. This meets that criteria.
But that is only a part of what makes this story good. Guderian's use of metaphor and similes is really good. Some of them are outstanding. "My heart melted like a Dali clock." What a great image! Later, we get "like having to appear at a command performance without knowing the words to the song." And then right after, " a beaded top cut so low it looked like she was skipping rope."
There are more, but not too many. Some authors that have a talent (or skill?) for this will overdue it to the point that the story becomes almost unreadable. Not here. A few well-chosen word pictures go a long way and are appreciated more for their sparsity, and they infuse a real life into a story that might otherwise die on the vine.
Maybe I should have titled this with "life" coming before "death." In all the stories, people still live and triumph, whether the spectacular time-travel paradox of preventing a pandemic to the small personal triumph of baking without needing the recipe card.
Life may overcome death in these September stories, but we're still going to have to rake leaves in October. I wonder what that month's stories will bring.
From a very early age, children are asked to aspire to a profession. What do you want to be when you grow up? Their answers are predictable--fireman, policeman, teacher or veterinarian--the professionals that touch children’s lives and earn their respect. I have yet to hear a child say he aspires to become a plumber, an architect or for that matter, a writer.
Children discover some professions through familiarity--a family business, a favourite relative’s passion--but unless parents have a relationship with the arts, most kids mature into adults with limited exposure to literature, galleries or museums. Culture seems to be missing from school curriculums.
A few catch the writing bug during English classes, and those students lucky enough to have art and music programs in their schools, may be infected, want to dance, paint or dream about playing in an orchestra. But the singular, common language of our youth is music. The God-awful rap that blares from the radio is pure poetry. And while I have heard poets complain that editors are reluctant to accept rhyming verse, for this generation, poetry is like mother’s milk.
Young rappers (don’t call them poets—too old fashioned) have a dream--become a super-star and earn millions while looking cool. Whether they make it or not, kids are writing more poetry today than ever before.
But what about the dreamer, the prose writer, who clandestinely writes entries in her journal each day. Who does she look to as a role model? There aren’t many obvious examples, and certainly none that get a gig on late-night talk shows. The glossy covers of best-selling novels seem too distant, and in reality, the young writer is correct. She may never make it to the top publishing house. But will the iconic publishers survive new technology and the intimacy created by social media? Time will tell, but in the meantime, there are more opportunities than ever before for her to see her name in print—and be paid for it.
Page & Spine is an e-zine, dedicated to promoting emerging writers, and pays for their work, but there are many others. Because of these sites, short story writing has accelerated to professional status with sites that specialize in many genres. Some writers may recall when Reader’s Digest, Chicken Soup for the Soul and a handful of magazines were the only places to send a short story. The pickings were slim for a writer with a dream that didn’t fit into a mould. Opportunities now abound.
Novelists--the good, the bad and the downright ugly--can all see their novesl make it to electronic or hard-copy print. The world of self-publishing is exploding in popularity and threatens the future of traditional publishers. There are charlatans in this new industry that will cater to a novelist’s dream, exploit and use people’s egos as the weak link. Alternatively,there are affordable do-it-yourself kits that will teach writers how to get a book into the market. Being published is now within the reach of all writers.
Let’s not forget that Fifty Shades of Grey was a self-published internet book, and JK Rowling was stone-cold broke, and wrote her first novel on napkins. Real-life Cinderella stories abound, but the writer must take an active role in the business of writing.
Artists use many mediums, oil, acrylics, and water colours. Some sculpt in marble or blow glass into exotic shapes. Writing, as a profession, is both a noble and an achievable goal. In itself, writing can be highly satisfying; a form of expression that allows for time to congeal and focus thoughts, but it can also be attached to a pay cheque. Beyond the obvious--novels, journalism and copy writing--an entire new industry needs writers. Writing for the internet, partnering with web designers, is a lucrative ambition.
The next time a young child presents his masterpiece, scribbles on a page, smile sweetly and acknowledge the gift, saying: “So, you want to be a writer."
Planes fly into buildings, a Pennsylvania farmer’s field. Images choke the world’s airwaves as surely as asbestos-laden concrete dust clogs the lungs of survivors racing for their lives. The 24-hour news cycle demands a narrative to caption those pictures now. Vignettes emerge, stories of heroism and horror. A narrative takes shape, but it’s one filled with speculation and inaccuracies.
Perhaps one can forgive raw reports in a breaking story of such magnitude as the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, but what about news stories of a less imperative nature? Would the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement exist if reporters had delayed disseminating that supposed quote from shooting victim Michael Brown of Fergueson, Missouri in March of this year? The report was based on the claim of one witness (who later recanted) with no independent corroboration.
Perhaps a worse sin than misreporting in television journalism is that of misreporting in print. Seymour Hersh (1970 Pulitzer for exposing the My Lai Massacre) certainly should not have published his 10,000 word article on The Killing of Osama bin Laden in the London Review of Books. He extensively quotes two sources, one of whom remains unnamed. That was enough of a flag for his editors at The New Yorker (where he is a staff writer) to refuse to have anything to do with it.
Those of us with a little seasoning remember Janet Cooke being stripped of the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her invented Washington Post expose Jimmy’s World about a 8 year old heroin addict. More recently, The New York Times has been similarly embarrassed by serial plagiarist Jayson Blair in their staff-writing ranks.
In all cases, a basic tenant of journalism has been violated—every fact must be corroborated by two unimpeachable sources before it is reported to the public. The result is, and should be, the public’s mistrust of any sensational story upon first hearing/reading.
Remember, today’s news is tomorrow’s history. When we're its recorders, it’s our job to get the facts straight.
They say sixty is the new forty. Who are they? I mumble as I hoist gravity-prone mammary glands into a utility holster. They say that orange is the new black. Who are they? I ask as I pull latex stretch pants over my ample thighs.
‘THEY’ is the collective voice of a population that is heavily weighted down by baby boomers. Never has there been a time before when so many people are stepping over the threshold into retirement. This group is now market focus for manufacturers and retailers, a fact that may explain the number of commercials for Viagara and Depends.
Being fit, healthy and invested in life is a relatively new concept for the sixty plus generation. Until this post-war crowd began to age, it was widely accepted that time ran out when a person hit retirement age. At best, it was time to repent for a lifetime of over-indulgence and suffer the consequences with monthly admonishments from the family physician—who, by the way, is younger than my grandchild.
Of course, the alternative is to curl up and die. And that, in fact, is what previous generations did; take on a role based on an image in the mirror. Somewhere in our genetic make-up, this directive to make room for youth was cranked up to ear-splitting volume. Find your own space, kids. I’m not done yet!
The advantage of old age is that after a lifetime of doing what we thought we were supposed to do, we now have a chance to decide what we want. But we must always remember; no decision is also a decision. In the land of clichés, we reap what we sow.
Regrets don’t partner well with second chances. I’ll never be a ballerina—a given fact. But as for being a centre-fold in Playboy, that option may still exist, given changing tastes. The wait-and-see choice doesn’t have a lot of appeal, given the time option. Passive longings belong in a medicine chest, not on my daily agenda.
Betty White has become an icon, entirely in her old age. Had she decided that Hollywood belonged to nubile starlets, she might be what’s-her-name from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. But she’s not a poster girl for the geriatric crowd, she’s an envied woman who did what she loved all her life, and it shows.
Most of us were not so lucky. We fell into professions, married the safe guy instead of the right one, and settled, counting our blessings, and occasionally pacifying that niggling feeling of reproach from our conscience by telling ourselves it could have been worse. And now we are left with this expanse of time, a blank canvas, and a zillion choices beyond the life we are currently living.
I choose to write. What are you doing with your time?
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.