photo by claire fuller

You aren’t supposed to blame the parents, but you do anyway.

Parents are expected to stick by their children no matter what.

Maybe it’s worse than outliving them, sitting there in the courtroom while witnesses describe the horrors in excruciating detail, first to the prosecutor and then to the defense.

How familiar the situation must be to them, this cross-examination.

Do they sit there, searching their own flawed memories for a single moment when they might have changed everything with a word?

They only made it through the first two days.

Maybe they watched the rest from home on television.


Friday Fictioneers

William Faulkner and the Nobel Prize for Literature


The poet James Galvin once told me this story about when Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel for literature:
There was a cub reporter in Oxford, Mississippi who was nuts about Faulkner, so his editor sent him to tell the great author that he had won the Nobel. The kid, delighted and nervous to meet his hero, drove out to Faulkner’s Rowan Oak house.
He stepped up on the porch and knocked at the screen. Faulkner’s man, immaculate in white jacket and bow tie, answered the door.
“Excuse me,” said the kid. “Is Mr. Faulkner home?”
“Mr Faulkner,”  said the man, “ain’t in just now.”
“Do you know where I can find him?” the kid asked.
“He out there in the field someplace,” said the man, gesturing at a row of distant trees.
The kid set out across the grass and into the woods. As he approached, he heard the sound of thrashing punctuated by occasional curses. He soon came across William Faulkner, pantless, but incongruously wearing a shirt and tie and sock garters. He held a shotgun by the barrel and was swinging it at the weeds. In the other hand he had a half-full quart bottle of beer.
“Mr. Faulkner, sir?” said the kid.
Faulkner stopped his hacking and looked at him.
“Uh..” said the kid. “I’m from the Oxford Eagle.”
“Is that so?” said Faulkner. He pulled at his beer and wiped his mouth with his hand. “Well, what do you want?”
“I came to tell you that you have been awarded the Nobel Prize,” said the kid.
Faulkner continued to stare at him.
“For literature,” said the kid, feeling awkward. This was not going the way he expected.
“That prize,” said Faulkner. “It comes with a cash award too, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yes sir. I believe it’s two hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
Faulkner raised his eyebrows, looked at the bottle in his hand and pitched it over his shoulder. “Then what the hell am I drinking beer for?”

Lack of Power


Photo by Rochelle

The power went out with a silence so vast it was a sound in itself.

We were so accustomed to the constant noise everywhere we went, the continual accompaniment of music playing somewhere, the low drone of the refrigerator’s compressor, the whir of a wall clock.

And outside, the rush of distant traffic punctuated by the sounds of trucks and racing motorcycles, the hum of transformers high on their power poles, the scorch of distant jets.

All stopped at once.

Cars on the road.

Planes in the sky.

It was as if the fundamental principles of electricity had never existed.


Friday Fictioneers

Return to Japantown, 1945



Photo By C. E.  Ayr

Father cautioned that it would not be the same. We were lucky, he said, to have kept the place at all. Mother said nothing, but we all knew that her family had owned that particular block since well before the turn of the century. The only reason we still had it was that the deed was in my great uncle’s name. An Anglo name.

I was so young when we were forced to leave that I had only vague recollections of the place. My childhood memories were all of the internment camp, of barbed wire and cold and incessant boredom.


Friday Fictioneers


how-to-spot-a-japanese-person      wdc-japanese-internment-announcement-300x220

Executive Order 9066 was a United States presidential executive order signed and issued during World War II by the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans and Italian-Americans to internment camps.

Balzac, Coffee, Novels, Stories



Balzac was reputed to have drunk fifty cups of coffee a day. He worked continually, though not quickly, since he was obsessed with revision. He was known to rework particular passages many times as one would a poem, perpetually tinkering with individual words and phrases until he felt he could do no better. I’m sure the coffee helped. “Coffee is a great power in my life; I have observed its effects on an epic scale. Coffee roasts your insides. Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.”

The result of this attention is now obvious. Balzac changed literature by writing with absolute fealty to the real world. His people did not speak in sweeping romantic terms, nor did his heroes win (if there were any heroes to be found at all). He strove to depict life at it was: the small struggles, the petty jealousies, the empty triumph of victory. The first work of his I read was The Wild Ass’s Skin, a slim volume I picked up from a sidewalk book cart for a dollar. In it he wrote of the spring-swollen Seine bearing the corpses of suicides, the bodies sweeping in the fast current beneath the bridges only to be fished out when they came to rest downstream. The narrator pondered if suicide too had a season. It was bleak and unbearably sad, but this observation and the question it provoked in the character told me more about him than a dozen pages of exposition. The power of revision at work. All that was necessary was to show me the character in action.



Balzac getting down with the café in his nightshirt. Click to see the video.

The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing. One actually becomes that fickle character, The Poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid. A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public. I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the first rank, and we found the problem soon enough: coffee wanted its victim.

I am in the early stages of a complicated novel that entwines the storylines of three very different characters, though not immediately. It is set in the early seventeenth century, so it it crucial to me that I avoid imprinting any modern sensibilities onto these people. After all, in 1600 it was still common for public torture to be viewed as entertainment, so much so that a pardoned criminal might have his contract bought by a merchant or guild so that the torture and execution could still take place and thus not deprive the public of its show. But reading contemporary accounts as well as novels of the period (particularly Robinson Crusoe) I have found that, certain details aside, these people are not so different from their modern counterparts. They still feel confusion and elation, ambition and resentment.

That said, it is necessary to really crawl inside them. My method is usually to imagine the scenario and then write the character reacting to it. After all, the world is random enough in the way things unfold. In this way I hammer out a draft. This time is much harder than in my previous three novels, because I am utilizing the points of view of three very different people with three entirely unlike backgrounds and experiences.  It’s sort of a mess, this first draft, but now I have the confidence that the process of revision will shape it into the sort of story I am trying to tell.

The problem with noveling is that I get so deeply inside the characters and their language that I may neglect to tell an actual story. One way I have been coping with this is to make sure I write two or three flash fiction pieces a week. You’ll notice them here, mostly, though I have more at another site as well as for other small publications like 101 Words.  By doing this, I get to practice revision on a small scale and still spend some time focusing on the primary aspects of a story.  I find that constraints like these can be really helpful.

NaNoWriMo is coming up, too, and that’s a thirty-day stretch that’s all about word count. I have had great success with that in the past, and I hope this year is no exception.

Shaped By Its Obscentiy



Photo by Al Forbes

The old man wanted cigarettes. I gave him my pack. “Keep it,” I said.  The translator told him, but the old man offered no thanks.

“Ask him about his rifle,” I said to the translator. “It looks old.”

They exchanged a few words, the old man’s eyes not leaving my face as he smoked. Dark eyes, deeply set in a terrain of creased skin.

“He says it was his father’s before him, from the Great War.”

“World War Two?” I asked.

“No, the one before that.”

The old man spoke again, this time at length. He gestured through the blasted windows of the bombed-out building where we crouched, toward the mountains of rubble that had once been a town. Even now, the thud of distant artillery could be heard over the horizon. And I knew, as the old man probably did, that high above us could be a half dozen predator drones poised to launch guided bombs. Even the night offered no concealment. The old man spoke for perhaps twenty minutes, his harsh croaking punctuated by hand gestures. Abruptly, he stopped.

The translator nodded, turned to me. “I will tell you what he said precisely, though I think you will not like to hear it. You see, this man and all his ancestors, they have always been at war.  Always. Generation upon generation shaped by war’s obscenity as sands are shaped by the wind. It has carved their language and even their humanity in its horrific image. What he says will shock you. It cannot be otherwise.”

I swallowed, prepared myself as best I could to hear it.


Sunday Photo Fiction


Avenged Sevenfold



Troy loved his headphones. He wore them all the time. Noise canceling, with incredible dynamic range. He bragged that they cost a month’s rent and were worth every penny.

That’s why he just sat there when it happened, staring at his screen,  typing lines of code and drinking his Mountain Dew. He didn’t hear the alarm, nor the screaming, nor all the shooting. He didn’t notice his cube-mates fleeing into the basement tunnels to lock themselves in.

He just sat there in his cubicle, clicking away and listening to Avenged Sevenfold at top volume right up until he was killed.


Friday Fictioneers

Lord How We Will Miss Him Now


The old man is a charmer
loving his barbershop
or anyplace where he can stand
a story up and make it holler

every day there is a little extra
he sees but nobody else notices
a small thing flashes by like a bug
or a day of the week

he'll dine out for hours on a crust
you would throw away

yeah that old man was really something
especially when he got the devil in him
or maybe it was him got ahold of the devil's tail instead
picked him up, swung him into bad health

all around his head. Lord
we used to laugh

Awful quiet with him gone and all
the way we stand around like we are waiting
for what we never know without him
there to point it out




They are waiting
just over the horizon,
swords in hands, capable

of anything.
So we scurry
to our secret rooms

strip the larders
for fear

that all
will soon
be lost

My Utmost Wish



My father told me he spoke to ghosts as easily as people. Coming from him, this did not seem crazy. He mentioned  a conversation he’d had that morning with his grandfather, retold the joke he had heard. The fact that his grandfather dropped dead on the golf course on an April day in 1927 was of no consequence. The joke was a good one. Timeless, like its teller.

Now he too is gone, my father, gone to join the ghosts to which he spoke so easily.

I did not inherit his full facility with ghosts, only a touch of it. I can feel my father and know he is there, but he is mute. It is as though we swim together in the sea, masks and snorkels and fins. I can neither speak nor hear as I float through this world, its currents wafting hot and cold, up and down, the only sound my own stertorous breathing and the rush of blood in my ears.

I see him there, my father, floating in eddies of his own. Behind the plate glass of his mask I can see his lips moving.

To hear his voice is my utmost wish.


For my father, who would have turned eighty today.





Sunday Photo Fiction