Notes on Writing

What we call the need to write can cause depression, and all kinds of other adverse reactions.

If one does not enjoy the act of writing without objectives, mission statement, goals, needs, then one should not write. Writing for that writer will be work.

The best writing comes from play.

There is no need to write. The feeling some may have of that need is an illusion, or a mask that is disguising some other need, which can only be satisfied by not writing.

Writing is not important, but that is not to say it is without consequence.

“Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?” Zhuangzi.

from Artaud: “The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially today. All those who have points of reference in their minds, I mean on a certain side of their heads, in well-localized areas of their brains, all those who are masters of their language, all those for whom words have meanings, all those for whom there exists higher levels of the soul and currents of thought, those who represent the spirit of the times, and who have named these currents of thought, I am thinking of their meticulous industry and of that mechanical creaking which their minds give off in all directions—are pigs.

Those for whom certain words have meaning, and certain modes of being, those who are so precise, those for whom emotions can be classified and who quibble over some point of their hilarious classifications, those who still believe in “terms,” those who discuss the ranking ideologies of the age, those whom women discuss so intelligently and the women themselves who speak so well and who discuss the currents of the age, those who still believe in an orientation of the mind, those who follow paths, who drop names, who recommend books—these are the worst pigs of all.

You are quite unnecessary, young man!”

“All writing is garbage.” But it’s garbage that’s interesting. And what, after all, is the purpose of garbage? When readers are like mushrooms?

To write well, one must learn to become someone else, the one who does not care.

Writing is learned while writing, and in no other way, yet a good writer is a good reader.

Writing comes not from words, but from smells and odors and tastes, sounds, itches and bites, still lifes. From kitchens and bathrooms (not libraries), from bedrooms, from basements and garages and attics, from alleys and vacant lots and abandoned dwellings.

Writing is like an unmade bed.

Bells, part 3, Relax

We should probably be wary of statements beginning with the pronouncement, “Never before, in the history of the world….”

Nevertheless, given our current world predicament, we might find ourselves in need of some relaxation – seemingly, like never before.

In his little book titled “How to Relax,” the monk Thich Nhat Hanh begins:

“You don’t need to set aside special time for resting and relaxing. You don’t need a special pillow or any fancy equipment. You don’t need a whole hour. In fact, now is a very good time to relax” (page 6, “How to Relax,” Parallax Press, 2015).

The same might be said for writing. You don’t need a fancy machine, a special desk or pen, or even a purpose. What you need – is a bell.

“There is tranquility, peace, and joy within us, but we have to call them forth so they can manifest. Inviting a bell to sound is one way to call forth the joy and tranquility within” (page 100).

Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a poem to remind us of the bell we want to listen for, to hear, to send out to others:

“Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow” (page 100).

And we don’t need a fancy blog template or website to write. Again, nevertheless, here at The Coming of the Toads, I’ve experimented with a few of the WordPress templates over time. But what did I want, if not simply to write? This isn’t the only place, the only way, I write. I keep a pocket notebook in the left rear pocket of my pants (detail for readers in need), unlined because I like to doodle and wander. I keep a spiral notebook in a desk drawer. I started The Coming of the Toads, after a few hesitant starts, in December of 2007, and have posted something at least monthly since. Why then, lately, have I been having thoughts of ending it?

I wasn’t “inviting the bell.” Not Poe’s “the tintinabulation of the bells,” nor his “anger of the bells,” nor his “moaning and the groaning of the bells.” But the bell of the muse. I like this etymological note from Oxford: “Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.” Writing involves a good amount of self-muzzle, or should. First, we might want to relax. Invite the bell. Then take up the pen and notebook, or open the blog.

This is the third piece in a series on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

Third Notes: berfrois in the Pacific Northwest

Writing grants access. To what? First, to one’s own thoughts, to one’s own experience. I wrote this; therefore, it happened to me, at least the writing of it did. So I have access to that, to the writing, another experience of the experience, another way to experience the experience. Are you experienced? Narrative becomes mirror, but like mirrors in a carnival funhouse. Writing is a ticket into that funhouse.

Can anyone write? Does anyone want to? In what has by now become a classic article that appeared in the May 26, 2008 New Yorker, Ian Frazier reflects on the years he spent volunteering at a soup kitchen, offering a writing workshop:

“Almost everybody who talked to me said they had some amazing stories to tell if they could only write them down. Many said that if their lives were made into books the books would be best-sellers. Some few had written books about their lives already, and they produced the manuscripts from among their belongings to show me. If you take any twelve hundred New Yorkers, naturally you’ll find a certain number of good musicians, skilled carpenters, gifted athletes, and so on; you’ll also come up with a small percentage who can really write. Lots of people I talked to said they were interested in the workshop; a much smaller number actually showed up. Some attended only one session, some came back year after year. In all, over fourteen years, maybe four hundred soup-kitchen guests have participated.”

We could all of course at least tell of our teeth. Stephen did, wandering wondering what he did:

“He  took the hilt of his ashplant, lunging with it softly, dallying still. Yes, evening will find itself in me, without me. All days make their end. By the way next when is it Tuesday will be the longest day. Of all the glad new year, mother, the rum tum tiddledy tum. Lawn Tennyson, gentleman poet. GIA. For the old hag with the yellow teeth. And Monsieur Drumont, gentleman journalist. GIA. My teeth are very bad. Why, I wonder. Feel. That one is going too. Shells. Ought I go to a dentist, I wonder, with that money? That one. This. Toothless Kinch, the superman. Why is that, I wonder, or does it mean something perhaps?”

Today is Tuesday, and AWP19 setup begins tomorrow. We’ve to move the “heavy” boxes of “Berfrois the Book” and “Queen Mob’s Teahouse, teh Book” from distribution depot closer to the Oregon Convention Center to coordinate the retail flow that will surely follow Thursday with setup complete and the Bookfair opens. The rain has let up today. The sun is out, the sky blue. Good weather for moving books. Don’t have that problem on line. Move books anywhere, anytime, instantly. Nice to have something physical to do though, lay the hands on. Honest labor. Meanwhile the travels and travails of today’s Portlanders continues, as one generation slows down and another honks its horn, stuck in traffic.

What is Portland famous for? A question I was asked yesterday. Vanport. Jazz. Homelessness. The Attic Institute: A Haven for Writers. Street Potholes. Neighborhoods, sitting out, libraries. Coffee houses, pubs. Powell’s Books. Dentists? Not so much. Marijuana dispensaries:

“The chemist turned back page after page. Sandy shrivelled smell he seems to have. Shrunken skull. And old. Quest for the philosopher’s stone. The alchemists. Drugs age you after mental excitement. Lethargy then. Why? Reaction. A lifetime in a night. Gradually changes your character. Living all the day among herbs, ointments, disinfectants. All his alabaster lilypots. Mortar and pestle. Aq. Dist. Fol. Laur. Te Virid. Smell almost cure you like the dentist’s doorbell. Doctor Whack. He ought to physic himself a bit. Electuary or emulsion. The first fellow that picked an herb to cure himself had a bit of pluck. Simples. Want to be careful. Enough stuff here to chloroform you. Test: turns blue litmus paper red. Chloroform. Overdose of laudanum. Sleeping draughts. Lovephiltres. Paragoric poppysyrup bad for cough. Clogs the pores or the phlegm. Poisons the only cures. Remedy where you least expect it. Clever of nature.”

Writes in his head, does Bloom. Blooming thoughts. Should have been a writer. Too cryptic. Where does the intellectual meet the body? In the mouth:

STEPHEN: See? Moves to one great goal. I am twentytwo. Sixteen years ago he was twentytwo too. Sixteen years ago I twentytwo tumbled. Twentytwo years ago he sixteen fell off his hobbyhorse. (HE WINCES) Hurt my hand somewhere. Must see a dentist. Money?

This post is the third in a series with notes on AWP19 and the concurrent publication of the Berfrois and QM’sT books. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on. Sumana Roy had a nice write up in the Mumbai Diary following news of Berfrois books. She gives great Kudos to Berfrois editor Daniel Bosch. Now there’s a writing workshop!

Second Notes on “Berfrois the Book,” “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book,” and AWP19: Lonely, the Book

One day, almost ten years ago, down at the Bipartisan Café, in Montavilla, reading on my laptop, I was gobsmacked to find someone had published on their site a piece I’d recently written for my blog, The Coming of the Toads. At the time, I’d not yet heard of Berfrois or its editor Russell Bennetts. Now, with book publications “Befrois the Book” and “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book” (Dostoyevsky Wannabe Original, 2019), Berfrois opens a new wing in its reach for readers and writers.

This week, the annual Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference is being held here in Portland. Berfrois will have a table in the book fair, the new books available for perusal, purchase, on display.

Ten years is already a long life for an enterprise devoted to and sustaining a “literary-intellectual online magazine” – that updates daily, no less. And Berfrois has managed to remain ad free while adding writers and readers, expanding its original format and content, publishing in addition to poetry, fiction, essays, photography, and notes and comment from around the Web, books in Ebook format: “’Relentless’ by Jeff Bezos,’” and “Poets for Corbyn,” for example.

Yet those same ten years have seen the continued growth of “the reading crisis,” and the “death of blogs,” debate over online versus paper reading, argument over possible decline in reading abilities and skills, and the perceived watering down of the value of a Humanities degree. Higher education is, in the opinion of many, in turmoil as increasingly news appears of schools turning to business models, cutting traditional programs, and even turning to sketchy recruiting schemes as revealed in the recent college admission crisis story, and all the while tuitions and fees rising while the whole edifice relying more and more on an adjunct workforce unable to sustain itself on local economies. What’s a writer to do?

You might move to New York, or get an MFA. That’s a choice? Or do both? Elizabeth Bishop did, sort of. She moved to New York and began teaching in a program, the “U.S.A. School of Writing.” It was a correspondence course, the kind that used to advertise on the back of a book of matches. Having just graduated college, Bishop was in New York during the Great Depression:

“Perhaps there seemed to be something virtuous in working for much less a year than our educations had been costing our families….” [but] “It was here, in this noisome place, in spite of all I had read and been taught and thought I knew about it [writing] before, that the mysterious, awful power of writing first dawned on me. Or, since ‘writing’ means so many different things, the power of the printed word, or even that capitalized Word whose significance had previously escaped me and then made itself suddenly, if sporadically, plain….”

What Bishop is talking about is “Loneliness.”

“In the case of my students, their need was not to ward off society but to get into it…Without exception, the letters I received were from people suffering from terrible loneliness in all its better-known forms, and in some I had never even dreamed of.”

(The New Yorker, July 18, 1983, retrieved 25Mar19 via TNY on-line archive available to subscribers).

With a few small changes, Bishop’s article might have been written by an adjunct instructor in today’s education marketplace. It seems unlikely though that the attendees I’ll see around AWP19 will all be lonely. But how’s a mere reader to know?

…to be continued.

This post is the second in a series. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on.

Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”

Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” contains everything Hemingway left out of “The Sun Also Rises,” which had left Ernest with the tincture of  a refined sentiment. That is one difference between the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. Turned out, we didn’t always have Paris; most of us never had it. From page 1 of Miller: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

I don’t remember when I first read “Tropic of Cancer,” probably ’68 or ’69. From my notes written on the back of the last page and inside the back book cover:

art sing 1
Liby 36
whore – Germaine 40-43
Popini 58
artist 60
America 86
change 87-90
room dream 114-116
woman want 117 (45, 26)
pimp & whore 143-144
Matisse 146-149
Russia America 154
working with boss 158
mona 160-166 (smile)
Paris 162-188
book 163
moon 167
paragraph (style) 167, 202, 216
converse 171
army 200
Whitman 216
gold standard 219
writer 224
what’s in the hole 225
earth 225, 226
idols 228
task of artist 228
inhuman 230
art 229-280
human 231-259 (view on goodreads)

“Tropic of Cancer” was first published in France, 1934, Obelisk Press.
My edition is First Black Cat Edition 1961 Fifteenth Printing B-10, $1.25.
Introduction c 1959 by Karl Shapiro first appeared in “Two Cities” Paris, France.
Preface by Anais Nin, 1934.
No ISBN appears in the book, but the number “394-17760-6” appears on the bottom right of back cover.

Yes, trying to do something with Goodreads for the new year. I’ll be putting up short reviews like the one above from some of my old reads.

The Amateur Spirit in Writing – Revisited

As The Coming of the Toads nears its 10th anniversary (our first post was Dec 27, 2007), we reflect on why and wonder what now.

The new book, “Alma Lolloon,” is out (“look inside” here). “Out” may seem hyperbolic – it’s now available. Others trying to write and publish will get the difference.

Most writers, excepting the besttellers, have to self-promote; yes, even when published traditionally by a standard house in the traditional manner.

It is, then, in the interest of shaking the bushes and the amateur spirit of writing, I invite readers of The Toads to subscribe to my TinyLetter notes.

Meantime, the amateur spirit in writing lives on at The Toads:

The amateur spirit in writing

on

We do not have the New Yorker DVD library (though we do have in the basement a stack of paper copies we regularly prune for mold), but we do have E. B. White’s “Writings from the New Yorker, 1927-1976,” edited by Rebecca M. Dale (HarperPerennial paperback edition published 1991).

The “Talk of the Town” pieces these days only occasionally reach White’s wit or brevity. He often captures a moment of his own time while gazing into some distance, foretelling. A case in point, his May 11, 1929 piece, where he writes: “’Writing is not an occupation,’ writes Sherwood Anderson. ‘When it becomes an occupation a certain amateur spirit is gone out of it. Who wants to lose that?’ Nobody does, replies this semi-pro, sitting here straining at his typewriter.”

Yet today, as the reading crisis spreads its tangential wings to include newspapers pruning peripheral departments, some semi-pro and pro writers are forced back into an amateur spirit.

Where will they go? Continued White: “Nobody does, yet few writers have the courage to buy a country newspaper, or even to quit a city writing job for anything at all. What Mr. Anderson says is pretty true. Some of the best writings of writers, it seems to us, were done before they actually thought of themselves as engaged in producing literature.”

Or before, in other words, they thought of themselves as real writers at all. One blogs in the hopes the amateur spirit will prevail, painfully aware that blogging also makes it easier, as White later said, “for persons who are not artists and writers to continue the happy pretence” (May 21, 1938).

But it’s not only to gain even amateur status that we might entertain the doubtful purposes of writing – for self or for others; it’s because even though we know full well we’ll never play right field for the Dodgers, we still enjoy shagging balls in the back-yard; we will still ride a skateboard down the hill, though of course we are no Tony Hawk, as our spouse reminds us, shouting she’s not taking us to emergency when we fall; and though we could never follow “Da Bull” into the big waves, when we’re back in El Porto, we’ll always paddle out for a small one.

Whatever happens to the pros, this amateur writing spirit hopefully encouraged and evidenced in the best blogging, whether pretence or preface, may enable those who agree that writing is learned while writing, and in no other way, to find a subject, knowing that subjects often reveal themselves only once we’ve made the commitment marked by a few hundred words.

Notes on Jessica Sequeira’s “Rhombus and Oval”

Notes on Jessica Sequeira’s “Rhombus and Oval” (117 pages), 2017, What Books Press, The Glass Table Collective, Los Angeles:

Rhombus and oval” is the title of the lead piece in this collection of stories by Jessica Sequeira, a translator of Spanish and French and a writer. The text of twenty-one stories runs 112 pages, each story from 3 to 9 pages long. They are fictional short stories.

What is a fictional short story, and why write or read one? “I used to work at a translation agency,” we learn from the narrator of “A journey that leaves no trace.” We should not confuse the author of a work with the narrator of a work, but toward the end of this second story in the collection, we hear, “I was tired of being a medium, of having words pass through me. Now I wanted to create.”

Fifteen of the twenty-one stories were previously published in small magazines. “In the rose garden” appears in Hawansuyo under the title “In the Rose Garden: A Tale of Researching Ribeyro,” and the story concludes with an interview conducted by Jessica Sequeira with the Peruvian writer Jorge Coaguila, a specialist of Ribeyro. The piece was published in the book Sounds and Colours Peru. The story provides a clear glimpse of Sequeira’s style, where genre expectations might be mixed together to form new perspectives. Other stories in Sequeira’s collection appeared in Berfrois, Glasgow Review of Books, Queen Mobs Teahouse, and Entropy.

For a long time, The New Yorker magazine opened, after “The Talk of the Town” section, with a fictional short story or two. I used to read them. I remember looking forward to seeing a new Donald Barthelme story. The May 24, 1969 issue featured his “At the Tolstoy Museum” (including odd pics, drawings, and diagrams). Barthelme’s story was the lead piece, immediately following “Notes and Comment.” Following the Barthelme story was “The Corner,” a short story by John Updike. But the reader was not told these were fictional short stories. The writer was identified only at the bottom of the piece (and in the table of contents). Today’s New Yorker subscribers can access all its past issues in the magazine’s online archive. Of particular interest in older issues are the ads, which often look today like fiction, though at the time, readers may have considered them real. Today’s New Yorker short fiction piece has been moved farther back into the magazine, usually just ahead of the critics.

I’m not arguing cause and effect here, but now I spend most of my New Yorker time reading the non-fiction. I make exceptions; if I see a Roddy Doyle story I’ll read it right away. We might have learned by definition non-fiction is true and fiction imaginative, or not true, though fiction may contain truths, while non-fiction may, through errors of omission or commission, be mistaken or otherwise fallacious. Neither fiction nor non-fiction should be confused with “the news.” The New Yorker, a weekly, is not a news magazine, though some articles may comment on or analyze what’s been going on lately. A fictional short story is by definition imaginary, and any resemblance to the real disclaimed as purely coincidental, but it’s possible an unsuspecting reader might take a fictional short story as non-fiction, and a non-fiction piece as imaginary. Crossing that threshold back and forth is maybe one characteristic of how fiction works. At the time it was first broadcast, many listeners believed Orson Welles’ radio play “The War of the Worlds,” about a Martian invasion of Earth, was really happening, was real news. That the broadcast was in fact fiction made no difference to those listeners who at the time believed aliens had landed and were on the move. Today’s audiences often seem as easily duped.

Deliberate fake news is a form of fiction. Fiction, like non-fiction, is an attempt to persuade – to persuade, if nothing else, that what you are reading is in some way real and true. The more we read both fiction and non-fiction, the larger and stronger our antennae for discerning the real from the unreal. Actual news (to the degree there is such a thing) is neither fiction nor non-fiction. The news in no way should attempt to persuade. To persuade is to argue. There should be no argument in the news. Statements of fact may be used in persuasive arguments, but standing alone, these statements are not claims of viewpoint. To the degree that the news is factual, there can be no argument, no reason for any kind of persuasive means: pathos, ethos, or logos. Fiction may be considered anti-news. No promises are made, no guarantee, no warranties. Ratings are of no consequence. There are no sponsors, no ads. But why then are some books banned, others censored or abridged? Dust jackets are covered with persuasive means. Read me! Why?

We might consider reading fictional short stories part of our daily experience. We don’t need to ask what anything means. It’s enough to observe, pay attention, and go about our day. What is the experience of reading one of Jessica Sequeira’s short stories? We might find a hint of this experience when the protagonist of “Conversation outside El Pastizal” decides to satisfy an obsession by trying to get a closer view of a building complex: “…I began to make my way down the path. As I continued it seemed to grow increasingly narrow, the air increasingly thin. At some point I even found it difficult to walk. But at last I reached the end.” But instead of satisfying his curiosity, he experiences “Something you can’t fathom…a flickering presence, inexplicable, beyond the known.”

One of the characteristics of Sequeira’s stories includes densely packed paragraphs that both detail and enlarge setting and plot. In a few pages, the story expands like a bubble made of soap blown through the small hole of a wand. The bubble has a short life drifting with the breeze, soon popping into spray. Most of the stories are told in the first person, and characters appear from nowhere, around a corner, as if by random, the narrator working, on break, taking a coffee, walking, thinking, observing. An exception, “The Hypersound,” begins, “Under normal circumstances Leo never would have visited the sauna.” Something is apparently out of place, a character introduced, and a setting suggested, and we’re on our way into the story, just like that. In the story “Bouvier,” on the other hand, we hear, “I was still studying then, and in those years, the great debate carried out in journals of anthropology and at congresses concerned the value of direct experience against secondhand analysis. Bouvier, my supervisor, was firmly in the camp of those defending experience. He considered it important to be out in the field, writing as elegantly and clearly as possible, openly incorporating oneself as a first person in the description.” Sequeira strikes an interesting balance between experiential description and analysis of that experience. Almost always in the background lurks a mystery shrouded in surreal overtones. But as in the best surrealism, the details shine with clarity and control. The writing is concise and not rambling, yet each turn may surprise: “Perceptual experience is what matters, I know; with big data you still only key in searches for things you expect, predetermined coordinates. But what if perceptual experience turns up something really ‘unbelievable’, which doesn’t sync with consensus reality?” Then you might have the occasion of a fictional short story.

In “On the island,” we get another view into Sequeira’s predicament and solution: “I knew he was interested in the interaction between subject and object, the form in which a literary or artistic work can comment on itself or call attention to its conditions of production or industry.” The stories in “Rhombus and Oval” do contain dialog, but not in any sense, for example, like Henry Green’s fiction. The paragraphs are thick blocks, though aligned left and not justified, and the reading is a bit slower than the slim volume might seem to promise. The tone sounds formal, without being academic, polite, creating distance, in spite of the close first person so prevalent. The writing style is consistent throughout: clear and concise, effective and efficient, the vocabulary accessible, the sentence structure mixed, always purposeful. “What convincing words can I use?” the narrator of Bouvier asks. At the end of “Inflamed eye,” we get another glimpse into the world of the fictional short story, why it’s written and read: “Just like the mouth with red lipstick, however, it returned to him from time to time when least expected – a vision that was unsettling, out of place – a reminder that other worlds exist.” And we are reminded of the collection’s epigram: “What would it matter, what would it change if these pages were written in Buenos Aires?” In the story “Limbo,” we get this: “There must be an infinity of older felines in this world as if it were a warehouse, disappearing progressively, one by one. Right now there may also exist a Jessica in the ‘real world’ younger than me. (If not now, someday there will be.) When she reaches my age, I will disappear.”

The stories in “Rhombus and Oval” are about as short as they can be, averaging just under five pages. This might be in deference, in part, to Internet reader habits, where distractions are rife and attention spans short. In fact, these stories are probably all too long to qualify as what’s been called “flash fiction.” The length of the collection’s stories might also be a requisite to a convention, or a habit, of writing that combines notes, reflections, diary entries, conversations, things seen or read or experienced or thought on the go. “Any variation could be folded into a narrative (110).” Having read some of the stories previously online, I’m interested in how different the experience of reading them was for me in hard copy form. The experience is sort of like the difference between watching a movie on TV and seeing it in a big screen theatre. Or watching a baseball game on TV and watching it out at the ballpark. But read either way, the stories are inventive, sophisticated without being pretentious or portentous, entertaining, and interesting examples each of the form of the fictional short story, particularly its continuing popularity and possibilities.

Alma Lolloon – Work in Progress

Continuing from last Saturday’s installment, from chapter one of my work in progress titled “Alma Lolloon,” the first chapter titled “Casting On.” The book is finished, but I’m still proofing and editing. I hope to have it out in December. Meantime, I plan to continue putting up excerpts here on Saturdays:

from chapter one of the novel “Alma Lolloon”:

My first marriage was annulled within a couple of months. I never saw Mary or Gabriel again. We all signed complex legal documents sealing the moment. My second marriage was to a draftee. Joe wasn’t so much love or even a decision or a choice. But he adored Freddy and was a fun guy who made Freddy and me laugh and when we were together my bad thoughts vanished. Joe was a high school dropout, but he had a car, a 1953 Chevy, two toned, cream over turquoise blue. Joe walked off to boot camp, marched home and we married, and off he flew to Vietnam where he was fried up in napalm, his squad a straw basket of squids. Leaving me pregnant with Sally and a fragment of a family. My third husband drowned in a fishing accident, the sun that hot August day scalding, not a single blade of shade, the sand boiling, not a breath of breeze, and the rocks seething with seaweed and foam, Murphy’s body trapped in the eddies below the cliff, finally coming to rest atop a barnacled rock perch, the waves running on and on the tide coming in they couldn’t reach him and the water lifted him up and floated his body flotsam out to sea. My fourth husband took his own life. How could so many neurotic demons occupy one man’s mind? His head was an ant farm, ants like tiny cars digging tunnels through the clay. Wags was possessed by his corporate gig and rig and regalia and risk. He stuck a hose in the tail pipe in the garage, the other end through a wind wing, the car windows and doors all shut up, and Wags turned fifty shades of bluefish-purple. My fifth husband was shot and killed by a private eye, who mistook him for a wise guy at a poker game, shot him coming out of an outhouse between hands. Well, Jack was a bit of a joker, but not the kind the dick was thinking. Jack was a wild card.

Yes, and I told the knitting ladies I am writing a book, and they laughed. Rufa called to ask why I missed Saturday knitting group three weeks in a row and did I need a noise session. I told her I was writing a book. I went down to Lards Coffee to sit with them again, and they asked what I was up to, and I told them I was writing a book, and they all laughed. Why did they laugh? I’m not sure. Maybe they think I don’t have a story or a voice to tell it with. Or maybe they think no one reads books anymore, at least not one written by an old woman who has never traveled much, never finished college, never finished a marriage, a career part time waitress. But I’ve read a few books over the years, some over and over, the ones I really like.

But just because you can climb into a dress and maybe even look good in it, doesn’t mean you have any idea how to cut and sew a pattern together, Hattie said.

Hattie’s in a book club, Rufa said, so she reads books, presumably. I don’t recall her ever talking much in knitting group about the books her club reads. Do you think the rest of us can’t read, then, Hattie?

Who’s to say who should talk and who should keep quiet? Who should try their hand at a book or grow flowers, swing a bat, or go after the dogs and beer? Curly said.

Why are you writing this book? Hattie said. Do you not realize how difficult it is to publish anything these days? There’s a reading crisis in this country, newspapers disappearing, book shops closing up, kids born with a cell phone stitched into their palm, though there’s still a chance of some success with a children’s book, they say. So what are you writing, Alma, your memoir with all these husbands of yours? But I still don’t understand why. What do you get out of writing? Isn’t writing rather boring, actually, sitting, sitting, sitting? Oh, shit, I dropped a stitch. I never imagined you one with the imagination for it, anyway. So what is it? Memoir? Or some science fiction horror fantasy about these five husbands you’ve been through? And at that they all had another good laugh.

But why don’t you read it to us, Rufa said, on the installment plan? Saturday mornings with Alma.

Hattie laughed barkedly at that. Annie and Curly didn’t seem to get it.

Penina’s Letters, a Novel by Joe Linker

Ocean Surfing Love Letters War Epistolary Bildungsroman Santa Monica Bay Beach Cities School Work Family Friendship Self-deception Literary Fiction Folk Song Narrative…

“Penina’s Letters” takes place in the beach cities along Santa Monica Bay, with a fictionalized beach town named Refugio squeezed in between El Porto and Grand Avenue. The town of Refugio takes the place of the iconic towers and power plant between the water and the dunes of El Segundo.

The style includes epistolary writing, bildungsroman, and satire and irony. The time of the setting is not explicitly stated, nor is the war involved given a specific name, but readers may argue the story takes place in the 1960s and the early 1970s – in any case, it’s not a history book.

The main characters include Salvador (Sal or Salty) Persequi, the first person narrator, just returned from the war; his girlfriend, Penina Seablouse; and their two friends Puck Malone and Henry Killknot – all of whom have known one another since high school, and in the present time of the story are in their twenties.

“Penina’s Letters” is intended to be literary fiction, however off it might fall for some readers of that target.

The paperback version of “Penina’s Letters” is 290 pages (around 70,000 words) in length. It was designed for publication using the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform – that means I self-published it.

Draft segments of “Penina’s Letters” appeared in The Boulevard (Summer 2012), a publication of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters. Parts of the “How to Surf” chapter appeared in different form on Berfrois on September 29, 2015.

“Penina’s Letters” is now available in e-copy or paperback.

Errata: The proofreading eye often sees only what it expects to see. I tried reading the whole thing backwards, to avoid that phenom, but soon got pretty dizzy, so it didn’t seem to help much. Of course, some changes will simply never suggest themselves until you hit the send button. It’s like some mistakes hide back, waiting in the shadows, and as soon as you hit the send button, they jump out and scare you, yelling, “Ha, ha! You missed me! You missed me!” If one scares you, or anything seems amiss, please let me know! Meantime, I hope you enjoy “Penina’s Letters.”

My beautiful picture
At typewriter at Susan’s place, mid 70s.