If You Were a Book . . . ?

arcimboldo-the librarian

“The Librarian,” by 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

If I were a book . . . Hmm.

I’m not talking about some macabre flesh-bound book, or the “art” of anthropodermic bibliopegy, but rather what works of literature have molded your world and mind.

A local bookstore got me thinking about this topic, by way of a novel called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and a National Public Radio (NPR) piece on Gabrielle Zevin’s aforementioned book.

If a book were my “spittin’ image,” what would that book be? And, moreover, if I could stretch it out to three books, what books would make the list? Back in March 2014, NPR even called for a tweet-out on the three books that summarize or define you, with the hashtag #my3books.

I would love to hear your answers on #my3books. Like Zevin mentions in the interview, you have to resist the impulse to present a facade as yourself. Perhaps everyone wants to think that the perfect novel or even the “Great American novel” — whatever you perceive that fits into either category — epitomizes him/herself. So I tried my best to take off the mask. And keep it off.

Here’s my list. What’s on yours? (Yes, I’m trying to not do the Samuel L. Jackson “Capital One” impression here.)

  1. “The Scarlet Ibis,” a tragic short story about brothers and grit and regret, by North Carolina writer James Hurst. (There are some typos in this link, but it’s the best online copy I could find for you at this point.)
  2. I’m cheating here, but the next influential book is actually a nexus of horror books that sparked in me the desire to become a writer: Watchers by Dean R. Koontz, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by Stephen King, and Book of the Dead (edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector).
  3. Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot.

Also relevant to my fellow writers is the introspection-invoking discussion at Ionia Martin’s Readful Things Blog, in the article “A question for the authors out there.” Do you read in your genre, outside of it only, both, or none? Please share your insights in the comments, here or there or anywhere (as Dr. Seuss might write)!

And remember: to read is to travel through time (thank you, astrophysicist Carl Sagan).

Euphoric/Dysphoric Haiku

 

Strands of IMacbeth candle

When I am wholly

at peace, bifurcated (k)not:

tallow’s tail — docked, snuffed.

 

Untitled, rhyming 1

This patchwork world frays

arrayed lives, brocaded days.

Best dress to egress.

 

Untitled, rhyming 2

Content comes with age

they say; calm is the loose cloak

saved for darker days.

 

Function Sans Form

Meanings labyrinthine,

when content is king and coils

reason ’round the thing.

 

 Blood Lines

Where mem’ries gather,

if I could just let them clot,

would hell or heme bloom?


The Haiku Horizons word of the week is “content,” which can be used adjectivally or nominally, as I’ve done here; be sure to peruse the other contributors to this week’s HH. After you’re done there, enjoy some other haiku or related forms by writers Robert Okaji, who here gives us a haibun, and Sarah Potter, who delivers a Monday morning haiku weekly.

 

Happy Birthday, Ernest “Papa” Hemingway

Papa writing

Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, circa 1939. His works include A Moveable Feast (a memoir) and The Old Man and the Sea.

Happy July 21st, readers. (That happy and Hemingway go in the same sentence can only be an oxymoron.) Today marks the 115th birthday of American journalist, short story writer and novelist, Nobel laureate, outdoorsman, master alchemist, and best damn ambulance driver in world history: Ernest Miller Hemingway. He was born 21 July 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois.

In homage to the birthday of one the major writers in the English language, I will be brief. I also dedicate this brevity to FWR, who, sadly, has also gone to the great quail covey in the sky. Thank you, Fred, for teaching me everything I know about “Papa” Hemingway (among other literature).

For an overview of the writer’s life and his process, read Papa’s speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he could not give in person in Sweden in 1954, having been in a bushfire and recovering from not one, but two, airplane crashes in Africa that left him debilitated for the rest of his life. You can also listen to most of it, wherein he changes but one word from the paper speech.

In any case, without further ado, here is my poor Papa parody (the wrong way to Hemingway, to be sure, in contrast to, say, The Sun Also Rises!), written in 2011 and refreshed recently, in 2014. The names and certain details about the celebri-types have been changed to protect the infamous.


“Papa”-razzi Perspectives: If Hemingway Wrote for a Gossip Magazine

by Leigh Ward-Smith, ©2014

for FWR

Rex Diamondfield was once, and still is, a television actor in Hollywood. Do not think that I am much impressed by his job, but it means a lot to Diamondfield. And evidently to his new Compagne, Helen Troy-Taylor.

Two separate witnesses saw Diamondfield, 44, and 42-year-old actress Troy-Taylor at Disneyland, also in California, on Monday. One person said the pair “were having a great time” as they moved from ride to ride in the amusement park.

I rather liked Troy-Taylor, who reportedly showed Diamondfield quite the time on Monday. I first met Troy-Taylor at a cafe in Strasbourg or somewhere or other in Alsace, in 2001. She carried a dachshund in a pricey green handbag. Poochi in a Gucci, I thought at the time.

But neither witness recognized the bella dama this week. Diamondfield, however, was identified by fans, who described him as thin and gaunt, with deep wrinkles at the nape of his neck, though he had neatly combed dark hair. The eyewitnesses’ reports made me think he was the best form of lucky to be on a date with Troy-Taylor. I don’t have to tell you she makes men’s teeth sweat.

The couple walked around the park with a tour guide. He paused to pull out some teeth-whitening gum from an inner coat pocket near one of the most popular attractions at the park. He balled its silver wrapper into a wad and threw it toward a small bush. Outside Splash Mountain, one onlooker asked Troy-Taylor to take a picture of the group with Diamondfield. The rugged actor also wore a white shirt with two buttons undone, chinos and a black Bronx Bombers cap that the bystanders said was signed on the bill in gold ink by slugger Derek Jeter. After signing a final fan’s T-shirt, the couple made for the entrance. Diamondfield’s right arm casually drifted to the small of Troy-Taylor’s back, and he patted her derriere twice before they entered the ride itself with their guide.

An acquaintance of mine once remarked that “the rich are different from you and me.” Sure they are. They have Doozy-loads more money. But there are also other benefits. I’d go so far as to say Diamondfield scored a couple celebrity points just this week at Disneyland.

 

Fantasy-Fix Friday

Happy flash fiction Fireday, or Friday, if you prefer, fantasy f(r)iends! This post is brought to you by the Internet: the once- and future dream of Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. But seriously, following is the introduction to a fantasy flash fiction piece that I threw into the ol’ summoning circle at Ksenia Anske’s blog, for her recent “Mad Tutu” writing competition. (For some reason, I’m unable to post a comment on Ksenia’s blog.) It was a blast and an honor to be included among such excellent and admirable hobbits. Erm, I mean writers. It’s not often I get to pepper-pot my prose with magic metaphors, so I was delighted to take part in Ksenia’s cavalcade of aspiring writers.


Mistranslated Magic

by Leigh W. Smith

“Devils of light . . . mend the moon,” Ryu repeated aloud, one long, black nail trailing words, a fleshly sentence-ninja of sorts. The edges of some of the book’s pages crunched like a chip, where others disintegrated or sent up a geyser of dust that made Josie think of dead people’s skin. Cellular confetti.

Josie, Ryu’s friend since first grade, had her doubts. “Are you sure that’s what it says?”

“Positive. Remember, I useta live in Canada.”

“Yeah, but only for a couple years. When you were a little kid.”

He tapped a finger at his left temple and drawled steel trap, whose action reminded them both of a shared bonding experience: dredging up a spliced copy of the “Terminator 2” movie scene where the T-1000 shape-shifts its arm into a steel blade to casually spear the man’s skull.

Both teens erupted, with Josie just managing to croak out “Aluminum, maybe” amid snickers.

“Seriously, Ry, what does that mean? I don’t think it’s French.”

“It’s a magic book, I’m certain of it. Anyway, let’s take it for a spin, shall we?” A black eyebrow quirked. . . .

  • If you’re interested, check out the rest of my story, which is approximately 997 words all told (thanks again, Ksenia!). Two fun-starved teens, some beer lollipops, and darker, ravening things await you.
  • Here’s writer Philip Wardlow’s triumphant story, “The Summoning.” A snarky demon, some wily witches, and one very interesting brick lie therein.
  • Do peruse the other stories submitted. A slew of characters beckon you, from a sloshed granny to a naked Frenchman to an albino Goth-girl born in a basement.
  • Finally, be sure to visit Ksenia’s blog for a hip-pocketful of helpful insights on the writing life; for instance, on successful self-publishing or one of Ksenia’s own books, like Blue Sparrow: Tweets on Writing, Reading, and Other Creative Nonsense.

    Lecter mask-pic

    I’m champing at the bit to read the rest of Leigh’s story. Aren’t you?

Speculative Poetry: The Mirror-Ship

Janus 1: The Mirror-Ship

GENRE: Speculative Poetry

556px-Janus.xcf

A fascinating image from Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, which is in the public domain. Janus (Latin: Ianus) stands as the Roman god-figure of changes and beginnings, and thus of doorways, passages, gates, and endings; that is why he is represented as looking both back in time and forward.

 

Twinkling from stem to stern, the slim ship

parted the black tide of space, a drip

into the washbasin of infinity.

The jeweled hull reflects not divinity

but instead a cascade of faceted realities.

Unconcerned with its own folded dualities,

the mirror mother-craft plaits, tucks, turns

with, in, and through time forced-flat.

It meanders emotionless and does not yearn

as years yawn into centuries, ion one with eon.

Light welded to night, as collar with frill.

And all that was within your own orbit pulsars still.


I hope that your week so far has been productive and peaceful. In line-of-sight with the speculative poetry theme of today’s post (for which I always gratefully receive input), I’d like to offer up a few markets and resources for you to explore. Best wishes, writers!

  • Strange Horizons is a paying market—imagine that! Thirty-per-poem is offered by this editorial triumvirate, who seek “modern, exciting poems that explore the possible and impossible: stories about human and nonhuman experiences, dreams and reality, past and future, the here-and-now and otherwhere-and-elsewhen. We want poems from imaginative and unconventional writers; we want voices from diverse perspectives and backgrounds.” If you’ve got some stellar horror, science fiction, fantasy, or slipstream poetry, do consider SH, but be sure, at a minimum, to read their definitions and manifesto article first.
  • The annual speculative poetry contest from the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) is ready for takeoff! With an Aug. 15 deadline and a $1-or $2-per-poem submission fee, now might be the time to dust off that speculative poetry for one or more of their three categories: dwarf, short, and long. Among other perks, there’s a $100 first-place prize in each category and “publication on Poetry Planet (StarShipSofa.com) podcast magazine and on the SFPA website for first through third places.” SFPA is also a great overall resource if you write speculative poetry; do consider membership therein.
  • Not speculative fiction, but perhaps of interest to those of you who enjoy memoir and/or essays, personal or otherwise. If you’ve ever experienced a “eureka!” moment—it need not have been while in the bathtub—and can pen a compelling “Life Lessons” essay of no more than 1,500 words, Real Simple magazine just might want to publish your writing and pay you for it (the best combination, I might add). As always, be sure to read all the rules, especially regarding rights protection of your story, and make your submission, if you so choose, by Sept. 18 (e-mail or snail-mail). Good luck!

Two Become One (Fiction)

WARNING!! Possible triggers: child loss, genetic/fetal illness, miscarriage, spousal loss.

dancing shiva

This 11th-century statue is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is called Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), and melds in one image Shiva’s role as “creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time.”

Sometime before the anesthetic began to swaddle her in silence, Reena Estling let her eyes travel up the wall to what should have been a benign painting of the sun skimming across still water. Instead, she saw flaming arrows. A mortal struggle of two elements—light and liquid, each comfortable in its skin of confirmed and utter puissance.

I am become death radiated from her core, impaling the air and the hospital bed equally and shooting shafts through the room. As she felt herself being lifted, she wondered how the thought did not maim her halcyon attendants. The thought became a chant, reminded her of Daddy’s horse cantering amid the snow at Christmastime. Quarterhorse snorts and bells bit through layers of memory, and she felt herself nickering.

An unbroken line of lights and currents from opened doors caressed her mind, and the rock-a-byeing sent her deeper into herself.

To where David still was. He wouldn’t mind the gown hanging gauntly on her frame. “My lovely girl” he’d called her well until the AARP offers began to pile up under the roll-top of the secretary desk they shared.

And then she relived the settling in. It was a plush sofa of a married life.

Has it been that long, my love? he beckoned. She couldn’t remember for her life when she first began to notice him changing. First it was innocuous: the keys with the Cardinals bat, his brown leather gardener’s gloves that were worn through, from use, at the fingertips. It evolved to eclipse memories of their honeymoon 51 years earlier on Key West.

Come with me. She heard David’s urgings mingling with sea sounds as if both were imprisoned in a conch shell. Walk with me, my lovely girl.

He was barefoot, but the beach bore no prints.

I can’t. She hoped he understood. She had to put this right.

Reena didn’t even have time to let her neighbor and best friend, Maryanna, know that Dr. Roberts had prepared her for an emergency procedure.

How can you truly explain such an extraordinarity? A stone baby. Reena made Dr. Roberts repeat it five times. He’d used the medical term, lithopedion, to name her little mystery. “You have a calcified fetus in your abdomen, and we’ve got to excise, uhm, it to give you some pain relief.”

O, god! My immune system has mummified my own child!

David should have been with her for this. She needed him there, for he had wanted a child so fiercely.

She wasn’t sure if the memories were balkanizing, each clawing to come to the top of her mind, or if the medication was making hashish of her mind. Now David’s fingers were ash, laced tightly around her right wrist. He was almost pleading, pulling her toward the noise. The next moment, the nurse was doing her best to fix a mask of calm across her own hovering face.

David, we have a child. He needs me. I cannot leave with you today.

Reena wondered if she’d feel it when their son was taken. She’d known David was gone before Sandy, the Memory Care nurse, had called her. That morning she’d woken to a chill nestled in her chest, some forlorn egg. Such sorrow had not surfaced since they’d miscarried a child 46 years ago.

Son, my body has been a shrine to the promise of you, praying for you. And now I learn I am a mausoleum. Please forgive me for letting you go. She flung the thought out like shaking a bib free of cracker crumbs, hoping it would catch some cloud, some thing in the process of going-away-forever.


This is a fiction piece, or flash fiction if you prefer, that I wrote for a particular prompt, but it didn’t catch fire (so to speak). I hope you took something beneficial away from reading this story and will consider sharing or reading this blog again sometime; I typically post new fiction (or occasionally poetry) at least once a week. And I always welcome your feedback to improve my writing; I hope I can offer you likewise if you’re a writer. My best regards to you.

Busy Monsters, Long-Form: Flash Fiction

scribescavepictureprompt-pic-number29

One of the two images offered up by The Scribe’s Cave this week. If this doesn’t get your spec-fic juices a’effervescin’, I don’t know what will. Image from Scribe’s Cave via boredpanda.com

Hello, everyone. I’d like to depart from what is possibly standard blog-operating procedure and post a long-form version (530-something words compared with 298) of my earlier flash, “Busy Monsters,” which was posted in response to the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. (By the way, A.R. has a new prompt, a two-fer, up now. A sampling springs to life, up above in the image.)

I don’t know what you all think, but I have grown less fond of this version over the last few days. I can’t remember where I read this now, although it was recent, but it’s the idea that backstory can kind of unnecessarily bog down the “present” plot. In any case, your thoughts are always appreciated.


Busy Monsters (Long-Form)

Clouds that had earlier skulked now stalked the sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner by leaps, even with the pokers* she wore.

abandonedplaygroundpic

Image creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave (prompt #28)

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate. Fears arose, and not only of the hyperevolved, pesticide-resistant feasters that used to be deemed mere mosquitoes. About every kilometer so far, Avie had been strafed by one of the fist-sized flyers.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old, clogged as it was with boxy televisions topped by rabbit ears, radios, carriages and cars, and even books made of paper.

Keep the hammer down! Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was that important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Every so often, she’d come across a discarded Dex tablet, called “talkies” by her friends and family, that alternately leered and proselytized grandly at anyone within earshot. The Dex had sworn that such glitches would never, ever arise in their perfect world. They’d even sunk their hooks into a phrase whose former meaning was lost in the bowels of their dusty memories, changing it to “Profit macht frei.” Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. Namely, the Dex represented a transmogrification of flesh into metal or other nonflesh, a silicon synthesis as polymer procreated with protein chain and cells cavorted with chips nested in nodes. They were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives. Her people were first named the Luddites or Luds, then the Neo-Luds or the Sentients, and were now pejoratively tagged by the Dex as Anti-Progressives or “Apes.” When they had to pigeonhole themselves, they usually went by the tag of Sents.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding, comfortable wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, but in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked.

The Fire Season data obtained by spies in the northwestern camp would have to be put off a little longer.

Sage would be waiting, and she’d need to alert everyone. The Sents were easy prey and the Dex had the hate machine cranked up to complete annihilation.

THE END

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy poked through.


As a “reward” for slogging through these stories (thank you!), I’d like to share a few (mostly WordPress) sites I’ve seen that have challenges or contests running currently. Of course I would like to list them all, but space. And all that.

  •  Fantasy author Ksenia Anske’s “Mad Tutu Writing Competition,” due 11 July. May the magic be with you!
  • Week 20 of Haiku Horizons. It’s party time! Due Sunday, 13 July.
  • Former Trifectans are stoking the fires of the “Light and Shade” weekly challenge. Cruise over to the 7 July prompt, which features an image or a quote to spark the imagination. Keep it short, at 500 words or fewer.
  • Yeah Write hosts an array of weekly challenge grids, from poetry to personal essay to fiction. Get started here.

Busy Monsters: Flash Fiction

abandonedplaygroundpic

Creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave. Check it out!

Clouds stalked the bright sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner, even with the pokers* she wore.

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old.

Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. The Dex were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked, and the Dex would soon be coming for them.

####

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy pokes through.

THE END


This short fiction piece, or flash fiction, if you will, was written especially for the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. I encourage you to seek out these WordPress challenges, such as this one, and to have fun and learn all you can from your fellow writers and passionate readers. If you guys and gals would like it, I can post the “long-form” version of this story, about 532 words, that I whittled down to this 298-word flash fiction. Fire away your feedback cannons, folks — and thank you!

Friday Fictioneers: Meditatin’ on a Museum Wall

GENRE: Fiction with a historical angle, highly dialectical (Southern United States)

WORD COUNT: Too many for FF! (191 words)


Photograph "Old Wallpaper" copyright Mary Shipman.

Photograph “Old Wallpaper” copyright Mary Shipman.

Ever’body just stares and stares at the wall. Sump’un about people dat dey luuuuuuv a stony myst’ry, love them some bustin thu splinters an all.

From de time people, dey first built huts or stacked sticks and hung hides, dere been dat need tuh be boxed-out. Or is it tuh wall sump’un in?

All I know is, I come to my desk at dis museum, 8-sharp, 6 days a week. I make coffee so good, ever’body jaws ’bout it.

Mostly tourists come thu, but dey suhprise me now’n’agin.

“Why they bother to hide free-slave papers there?” a wheat-haired kid ’bout 8 crooked a thumbs-up at the two exposed vaults just yest’day.

“Cause de men chasin’ dem on this here railroad didn’t care nutin’ for freedom noway. They hearts was rotted out like parts of dis wall.”

Well, I made it my job to open de curtains wide each an ever’day at the Crossroads Underground Railroad Museum, so as nobody try’n’hide from de past no more. Uglified or not.

I ain ’bout to let no dadgum barrier be throwed up crosst any people’s necks evah agin. We all de same race. Human.


For Friday Fictioneers, 20 June 2014 “Summer Re-Run,” by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Any feedback welcomed as always, especially to help nail down the dialect.

 

 

Haiku: Examined Lives

We Night Birds

We hollow-boned preen

by day, ’til Night feathers nests

and opens pent souls.

Open and Read, If You Dare

Here lie life’s pages

not flitt’ry on the gurney

but splint’ring the eye.

Image from the "As Eye See It" photography blog by Herb Paynter

Image from the “The Way Eye Sees It” photography blog by Herb Paynter.

 

Mama Maelstrom

Dreams pelt swift these days,

open holes in mind-windows,

gouge out doughy hopes.

 

 

Life’s Sentences

I once knew a man

so open-minded, the book

submerged, and tabloid rose.

 With Nothing But Writing to Guide Me

Carry me across

divided worlds, burned bridges

minds, eyes, hearts — o, pen.


Haiku crafted especially for Week 17 of Haiku Horizons, with the prompt this time being “open.”