The List in Self’s “The Secret Room” (CAFE IRREAL, Issue # 50)

Self has long pondered the difference between science fiction, speculative fiction, fairy tales, myths, horror stories and the “irreal.”  The other day, she decided to go through the Café Irreal essay, “What is irrealism?”

She’d first read it several years ago, when she began writing lots of speculative fiction.  It was nice to re-discover it.

The essay reminds us that, in “pre-modern” times, the people telling and listening to folk tales and legends assumed them to be “true.” These people, if they had heard Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” read aloud to them, “would most likely assume that the transformation” of the protagonist into a bug was likely the result of “a spell” (And why not? In “pre-modern” times, spells were considered practical ways to deal with malevolence; in other words, spells were not “magic.” They were solutions to a problem) For them, “the irreality of the story — which flows from an irresolvable clash between the real and the unreal — would be lost.”

There’s more, much more to ponder in the essay.  Self recommends that readers go over to Café Irreal to read it in its entirety.

Self’s story, “The Secret Room,” is in the current issue.

At yesterday’s writers group meeting, self’s esteemed friend (and soon-to-be-famous published novelist) Lillian Howan mentioned that her son liked the list in the story.

Which, self confided to Lillian, was the trickiest part of the piece.  Self had to keep working at it and working at it, constantly changing the items in the list because she was never completely satisfied with the “mix.”

Here’s the list in its final, published version:

  • A map of an island with no name.  There was no way to tell whether this island was near or far, whether it lay within the bounds of the Narrow Sea or beyond, in some yet undiscovered realm.
  • A piece of yellowing parchment, on which had been written, in her husband’s careful hand, the letters KMCVQH
  • An iron knitting needle
  • A stone the size of her fist, on whose rough surface glittered a sparkly metal that might have been silver
  • A drawing of a unicorn
  • A broken silver chain
  • A dozen gold coins stamped with the profile of Aurelia, the Queen of the Undersea
  • A small painting, about the width of a hand, of a man with no eyes

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Last Workshop, 2014 Squaw Valley Writers Conference

The Squaw Valley Writers Conference ends tomorrow morning —  WAAAAH!!!

Self had the greatest time.

Here’s a picture self took at the end of the last workshop today:

Members of Workshop # 6:  Roxanne Barish (kneeling), Jean Bertelsen, Cathee St. Clair, Nicky Loomis, Today's Moderator Michael Jaime-Becerra, Vish Gaitonde, Wei Wei Yeo, Catie Disabato

Members of Workshop # 6: Roxanne Barish (kneeling), Jean Bertelsen, Cathee St. Clair, Nicky Loomis, Today’s Moderator Michael Jaime-Becerra, Vish Gaitonde, Wei Wei Yeo, Catie Disabato

The week simply flew by!

Self bought a copy of Michael Jaime-Becerra’s story collection, Every Night is Ladies’ Night:

Michael Jaime-Becerra moderated her workshop today.  He's a fantastic teacher.

Michael Jaime-Becerra moderated her workshop today. He’s a fantastic teacher.

Here’s an excerpt from “Lopez Trucking Incorporated,” one of the stories in the collection:

Evelyn’s going nuts in the passenger seat because Mario still isn’t done with her wedding dress.  My sister’s too nervous to drive, and since I’m the only one home, I’m taking her for her fitting.  Evelyn’s wedding is in four days, on Saturday, and she’s the kind of person who plans everything in her life, from buying wrapping paper for next year the day after Christmas to ordering all her keys by color and size.  She gets her craziness from our mom, and while I’ve had sixteen years to get used to it, Lupe’s only had two.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

On Secrets/ On Witchcraft

A few weeks ago, self announced that Café Irreal would be publishing her story “The Secret Room” on Aug. 1.

But when she wandered over to Café Irreal today, she saw that in fact, her story was already live, and had been live since May.

Here’s the link, dear blog readers.  Read, review.  Self adores feedback.

*     *    *     *

Here’s something else she encountered today.

While browsing through the British Museum blog, she stumbled upon an article on Witchcraft.

And here self found an answer to a question which has often nagged at her:  Why are witches usually women?

The piece makes clear that accusations of witchcraft were always personal, as evidenced by the fact that people most often brought up charges of accusation against people they knew well — i.e., their neighbors.  And the fact that many of the accused were old women, or widows, or orphaned women, or stepdaughters, makes very clear that the targets were “the most dependent members of the community.” The ones, in other words, who were least likely to fight back or defend themselves.

These female dependents (the preferred pool for witches) were the ones “whose names figure most frequently on the lists of people in receipt of poor relief, and they were the ones most likely to be caught up in the situation of begging for help and not getting it.”

Being perceived as powerless and being perceived as a threat — such a curious contradiction.  In both instances, these two have more in common with perception and have precious little to do with reality.

Which is what led self to write a very curious short story called “Toad.”  Which she will begin sending out shortly.

She finished it while sitting at a coffee shop on Lower Mount Street in Dublin.  Quite close, in fact, to Ballsbridge, where her B & B was.

OMG.  Witches.  Toads.  Lower Mounts.  Ballsbridge.  Self’s brain was filled with medieval imagery, almost the whole time she was in Ireland.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Sweetness/ Fan Fiction/ Café Irreal

Self is reading something based on a fairy tale.  It’s really sweet, Hunger Games AU, based on the tale “East of the Sun & West of the Moon.”

Peeta whisks Katniss away from her house in District 12, in a broad heavy sleigh, and they arrive in a house at the edge of a lake.  It’s enchanted, like all good houses should be.

It’s really clever, how elements of the fairy tale are woven in, such as in this description:

“. . .   it isn’t the ancient palace from my dream, with its high stone walls and dusty rooms, filled with silence and nameless fears.  I didn’t ride here on the back of a white bear . . . “

The two are tended by Avoxes, which is another thing that fits in with the sense of unreality.

*     *     *     *

On August 1, a fable of self’s is going live on Café Irreal.  It’ll be her second story in the magazine.  Her first, which appeared a few years ago, was a flash fiction called “Appetites.”

Here’s an excerpt from the story soon to be posted, called “The Secret Room”:

One day, during a fox hunt, her husband fell from his horse and broke a leg.  His squires carried him into the castle.  A monk came with healing herbs and made a poultice.  A surgeon set the bone.  But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, the King continued to scream with pain.  For days everyone in the castle was frozen by the sound of his shrieks.

There you go.  Even when writing fables, self always heads straight for “dark.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Gogol and Jhumpa

For some reason, self’s reading pace in 2014 has been positively glacial.

She brought three books with her when she left California, and she’s only managed to finish one:  the Jhumpa Lahiri collection Unaccustomed Earth.

What happened was, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, she wrote like she was on fire.  She was only able to read a few pages at a time of UE. By the last week of her stay in Annaghmakerrig, she’d calmed down and began re-reading the last three stories of UE.  And only then was she truly able to appreciate the stories’ many-layered richness.

Then, she left the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and began an odyssey that included:  Dublin, Cambridge, Oxford, and Cork.

She’s still in Cork, by the way.  If anyone’s trying to keep tabs.

Here she is, on p. 14 of Jhumpa’s novel The Namesake, which she began reading two weeks ago (Self wasn’t kidding when she described her reading pace as glacial).  It begins, with all things, with a character being moved — no, haunted — by Gogol’s story “The Overcoat.”

Self will quote a little excerpt, and then she has to make herself go outside because the day really is too beautiful.

Ashoke was always devastated when Akaky was robbed “in a square that looked to him like a dreadful desert,” leaving him cold and vulnerable, and Akaky’s death, some pages later, never failed to bring tears to his eyes.  In some ways the story made less sense each time he read it, the scenes he pictured so vividly, and absorbed so fully, growing more elusive and profound.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gratuitous Annaghmakerrig Selfie (Because What Else Is There To Do When One’s Written for Four Hours Straight)

Hello, dear blog readers!

This is for all the people in California who might be missing self right now!  While she cools her heels in this most amazing, green, rainy, fascinating corner of Ireland — Newbliss in County Monaghan!  Where there are absolutely NO ghosts or banshees, but where there are a most intriguing flock of wild swans.

Regarding said swans: five are a unit; one is a definite black sheep, because it is always off by its lonesome. And this one “lone wolf” swan is definitely a creature after self’s own heart, because it is always bottoms-up in the lake, or has been, the last four times self has seen it.  There must be very delicious food in the lake — or at least, an ample supply of pondweed and tadpoles.

Her short story “Spores” is shaping up quite nicely.  She’ll be getting it ready to send out, soon.

Two days ago, she began writing another one called “Residents of the Deep.”

It is raining again, boo boo boo.  Ireland’s such a bog.  But self loves it and its boggy, temperamental ways. And why not? In what other place could self receive lessons in how to “artistically” curse?  Curses sound 10x better in an Irish accent than in an American accent, self swears.

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

And here the chef’s name is Lavina, which reminds self of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and also of that Avox in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Oh, this is such a bloody, cursed land, beset by dreams.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

In Case You Were Wondering

This is the kind of stuff she’s been writing here at the Tyrone Guthrie Center:

POLYPHORES

The boss was born Earthstar.  He’d never look at her.  His spores were meant to go somewhere else:  to a Silverleaf.  Or a Shag.  Not K that smelled like wet rot.  She belonged with other Common.

Varnish and varnish:  I’d say this for K:  She was tenacious in her delusions.

“My mum’s a thick,” she said once.  “A focking thick.”

“Hmmm,” was all I managed to say in response.

Want to know what happens?  Tune in next week.

End of Life (Tuesday, 22 April 2014)

Regular readers of this blog know that self has been sending out her stories like crazy: at one point she had no less than 38 stories in circulation.  Right after she announced that figure on Twitter, however, rejections began coming thick and fast.  Now she only has about 21 stories wending their lonely way across editors’ desks, all across America.

Of all things, a few days ago she had one story picked up by two publications.  OK, egg on her face.  She absolutely lives for these two words: SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS.  It’s just never happened to her before:  two magazines wanting the same story.  She must be in some kind of zone.

Then there was a new message yesterday, from Café Irreal.  They’ve published her once before: that story was “Appetites.”

The one they will publish this August is “The Secret Room,” an odd little story which she wrote last year, It begins with these lines:

For years the Queen had tried to learn what was behind the locked door in the east tower of her husband’s castle.

The locks were intricate couplings of brass and silver.

Self loves writing fables.

And, in a last-ditch effort to storm through her Pile of Stuff, she picks out yet another New Yorker. Appropriately enough (given the subject matter of “The Secret Room”), it is an article on Death Certificates, written by Kathryn Schulz, from the April 7, 2014 issue.  Apparently, the Death Certificate had its start in “in early sixteenth-century England, in a form known as the Billy of Mortality.  The antecedent of the Bill of Mortality does not exist.  No earlier civilization we know of kept systemic track of its dead: not ancient Egyptians, for all their elaborate funerary customs; not the Greeks; not the Romans, those otherwise assiduous centralized bookkeepers.”

One would have thought the early Christian church would have stepped in here, but no:  “the church was interested in the fate of the soul, not the body.  If the goal of life is to gain access to heaven, and death is in God’s hands, there’s no point, and no grace, in dwelling on the particulars of how we die.”

Alas, self can blog no further.  7:46 a.m. and she’s still got to prepare a manuscript to send out today, to yet another literary contest.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

3rd Friday of April (2014): Still a Humongous Pile of Stuff (Sigh)

And here we are, another week gone, and yet another issue of The New Yorker pulled from the humongous Pile of Stuff, but this one’s from 2012.

What the — ???

She remembers the story, one by Said Sayrafiezadeh (and no, don’t ever expect her to remember how to spell that name).  That is, she remembers beginning it.  And googling the author.  In the two years between 2012 and now, he’s achieved some measure of success. Having a story published in The New Yorker can do that to you.

The story in this particular issue (January 16, 2012) is called “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy.”

A man volunteers for the army and gets shipped overseas (Country isn’t named. This might be science fiction, for all she knows).  The story begins with his platoon, marching towards a distant hill.  But the man’s mind keeps wandering (as self’s mind would keep wandering, too, if she was ever forced to take a protracted hike.  It wanders when she’s in yoga class, even.  Which is supposed to be pleasurable, with the cool wood floors and the dim lighting and the mood music and the fabulously toned teacher whispering encouragement in dulcet tones.  Where were we? Better get cracking, self, as you have to return a whole pile of books to the library, books you checked out months ago, which you never got around to reading, and probably never will because next week you are going to Ireland)

Anyhoo, if anyone is planning to read this story, then read no further because THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

As the narrator muddles on, he realizes

that I’d come here for all the wrong reasons.  Vanity and pride topped the list.  Girls, too — if I was being completely honest.  In other words, ideals were very low.  Staring at a hilltop that was getting closer and closer, I would have traded all of it never to have to see what was on the other side.

But the inevitable, ineffably boring future arrives:  they take the hill.  And, nothing.  No enemy soldiers, no fortifications.

After we’d discovered nothing is when the boredom set in.  Excruciating boredom.  We’d eat, we’d shower, we’d clean, we’d train.  In that order.  Then we stopped training, because there was no point.  That was about the fifth month.

This story is so good, it’s like Joseph Heller and Kafka, all mixed together.  There is not one instance of bonding between the narrator and his fellow platoon members, so no, this is not the second coming of Tim O’Brien.  But self likes it.  Maybe it’s a little bit like Kobo Abe.  The Woman in the Dunes?  That kind of perplexing (and hopefully never explained) mystery.

A Letter to a Member of Our Armed Forces (80% Redacted)

A Letter to a Member of Our Armed Forces (80% Redacted): In the Story “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy,” by Said Sayrafiezadeh, The New Yorker, January 16, 2012

This is probably the only New Yorker story she’s ever encountered that has an accompanying visual: a letter to our bored soldier, everything redacted except for the salutation and the “xoxo.”  Ha, good one!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

1st Saturday of April (2014) Reading

First, there is The New Yorker of January 16, 202 (Don’t ask.  Self just can’t explain), a short story by Said Sayrafiezadeh called “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy.”  This story is the first post-“Things They Carried” war short story self has ever read.  And since she first read Tim O’Brien ages and ages ago, she thinks it’s high time!

Here’s the narrator describing a mission:

To get to the hill you have to first take the path . . .  I was loaded down with fifty pounds of equipment that clanged and banged with every step.  I might as well have been carrying a refrigerator on my back.  But after the first month the fear dissipated and the path started to become fascinating, even charming.  I was able to appreciate the “beauty of the surroundings” . . .  even the trees that I was constantly bumping against.

Oh, that is fabulous writing, simply fabulous. Hilarious. She wonders (since she hasn’t yet finished reading the story) if it ends in tragedy.

The other thing self is reading is of course Hunger Games fan fiction.  She landed on this story just yesterday.  It’s no use hiding the fact from dear blog readers:  in the past few months (probably since last December), self has completely surrendered to the charms of Alternate Universe Narratives.  She reads one every night before she goes to bed.  Her filters are “Angst” and “Peeta.”

In the one she is currently reading, charming Miss Katniss Everdeen has been summoned home to America, a country she had not seen since the age of eight (Self is all too cognizant of the fact that the tone of the particular piece of fan fiction she is reading — it’s set in 1832 — is beginning to bleed into her blog post, but anyhoo), not since she was enrolled by her parents in a very ritzy London private school called Panem’s Better School for Girls.

The ship she books passage on is called the Mockingjay.  Her chaperone is a ditzy woman named Miss Effie Trinket.  Just as she boards, however, Katniss discovers that Ms. Trinket has to go, and there is no other female presence on this dastardly ship.  Worse, the captain’s name is CORIOLANUS SNOW. The first mate, a man with mutton chops and “dark, glittering eyes” is called SENECA CRANE.  Before you can say BOO, our heroine encounters yet another unsavory sort, a sailor named ROMULUS THREAD.  Sailor after sailor attempt to warn her that she would be best getting off the ship and embarking on another — say, The Virginian.  But our Miss Katniss is an extremely stubborn soul.  It appears she is more terrified of appearing weak than of actually experiencing any sort of physical (or moral, or emotional) harm.  The last doleful warning comes from a rheumy sort who begins addressing her as “Sweetheart.”  Still our plucky Miss Katniss refuses to budge.

Self’s heart was pounding a mile a minute — that is, until Miss K happens to make the acquaintance of the cook.  This man — or boy — happens to have eyes of cerulean blue and the longest eyelashes she has ever seen.  At which point, self felt like standing up and screaming:  KATNISS, STAY ON THAT SHIP!  YOU DON’T WANT ANYONE TAKING YOU OFF THAT SHIP!  BELIEVE ME!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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