February 5, 2015
Cleaver Magazine has been ramping up its review section, and today there’s an excellent review of a book I love, We’ll Go to Coney Island, a novel in stories by Barbara Scheiber (Sowilo Press, 2014). The reviewer, Ashlee Paxton-Turner, is given plenty of space (more than 1,500 words) to discuss the work in detail, and she’s quite perceptive.
Early on, Paxton-Turner tells the remarkable story of the Walker Evans photo used on the cover. The book’s linked stories are loosely based on the author’s own family history, especially her mother, her charismatic and philandering father, and her stepmother. While she was writing the stories, she happened to see the Evans Coney Island photo in an article about an upcoming exhibition. Though the man in the picture has his back turned to the camera, Scheiber instantly recognized him: her father! with his mistress (later her stepmother)!
That’s a great background tale. The stories in the book itself are just as good, and the arrangement adds to their power. Chapters set in 1915–1916, when the main character Minna is a young girl, interweave with chapters from much later years, in which Minna becomes a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Here is Paxton-Turner’s take on the technique:
Scheiber uses the form to tell two parallel narratives—past and present—that taken separately are rather linear. Once she puts them together, the linearity is distorted. This creates emotional resonance: the past and its formative memories does not yield or relinquish its hold on the present; it continues to resurface, even when Minna, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is left in the barren room of a nursing home.
Right. The past informs the present and vice versa, as much as in any time-travel sci-fi novel.
One other note of interest: The author, a first-time novelist, is in her nineties. I take that to mean that for all of us who have been dull and unimaginative for decades, there is still hope.
The book cover above links to the Amazon page for the book. Here is the link to the Cleaver review.
January 5, 2015
The novel features a brain-damaged alcoholic who calls herself Allison Wonderland, along with her eccentric, half-blind lover Leigh Berry, who speaks in his own semi-invented language. A “normal” friend of theirs, Connie Bowers, tries to guide them through their misadventures, while assorted other colorful and wacky types, including a giant imaginary ape, play supporting roles. (Note the ape peeking out at the bottom of the cover.)
The book is kind of about “disabilities,” in all senses of the word; kind of about spirituality; and kind of just crazy. I hope some readers enjoy it and none accuse me of exploiting innocent apes for commercial gain.
December 31, 2014
On New Year’s Eve, here’s an early summons by the year 2015:
It’s a very brief story of mine called “An Early Call” in Flash Fiction Magazine.
The first comment, before I even saw the story myself, was from Miles White, who I gather from his blog is a journalist, flash-fiction writer, and ethnomusicologist. He wrote, “Interesting. I think I got it but I’m not sure.”
Miles, I totally agree. If you figure out who’s calling, let me know, but I don’t think we should answer.
December 23, 2014
At the risk of breaking my record for number of posts in a season and thereby alienating all those who count on me for blissful silence, I have to plug my latest publication, which appeared (to my belated surprise) a day after I got the acceptance email.
Called “The Upper Mahoney at Dawn,” the story is a sympathetic account of a man who becomes a Peeping Tom, more or less. His name is Devin, so let’s call him, avoiding stereotypes, the Peeping Devin. Does he really deserve sympathy? That’s for readers to say. Use the comment feature on this blog to let me know what you think.
The story can be found here at Turk’s Head Review, a cool publication that bills itself as “Blog meets literary magazine.” Many thanks to the editors for choosing the story.
November 4, 2014
One advantage of publishing in the distinguished Valparaiso Fiction Review, as I did earlier this year, is that Valparaiso University’s system sends you periodic updates about the readership. Here’s the latest message:
Just a minute, though. A “download” isn’t necessarily a reading. I sometimes download stuff myself, glance at it, say “What the hell do I want this for?” and discard it. How many people are trashing my work in that way? How dare they!
And 181 total downloads, that’s not much, is it? Hardly a bestseller.
Possibly this is a sad indication of the limited readership of literary magazines.
However, it’s also possible that other stories in the same issue are being downloaded much more often. That would be heartening. Wait, no it wouldn’t–who’s getting downloaded more than me, and why? Are some authors in the 200s, even 300s? Whatta they got that I don’t?
Maybe the counter isn’t right. Do I trust this technology? No way!
Now I’m all anxious.
Well, look, being listed in Valpo “Scholar,” that’s an honor, right? In there with all them university perfessers. For someone who hasn’t been a scholar in many years, that’s pretty, like, awesome.
OK, I’m at peace now.
But hurry up, number 182–put down the stupid comics and read my story!
November 1, 2014
I’m hastening to do a new post to bump down the appalling “catterel” of my last one. It wouldn’t do for newcomers to this site to peg me as a terrible poet. Okay, that happens to be true, but I commit poetry so seldom that I would hate to think it defines me. (I suppose murderers could say the same thing.)
Luckily, I have something to say today: an excellent review of my friend Mark Lyons’s Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The reviewer is Kevin Grauke, himself an accomplished writer of short stories, and he goes into more detail than I did in my post of October 16. As Grauke says, “While the image of the descanso may tie the stories together thematically, what truly unifies the collection is Lyons’ impressive ability to capture the voices of a wide range of characters. He’s so good that readers may find themselves wishing all 12 stories, rather than nine of 12, had been written in first person.”
I do hope this book gets the attention it deserves. Click the image to go to the review; click here to see the page on Amazon; and click here for a video clip of Mark reading from the book and talking about its background.
October 27, 2014
A story of mine appears in the fall issue of Red Savina Review:
Many thanks to the editors for publishing the piece despite the fact that it’s guaranteed to depress all readers. In fact, I’d like to nominate it for Most Depressing Story of the Year Not Involving Ebola or Terrorists, but I don’t know who gives such an award.
For more fiction in the same issue—not nearly so depressing—go here to the list of authors and then click on a particular author’s name.