I have a new story online called “Little Brother.” It’s about childhood and darkness and togetherness and escape. It’s one of my favorite short pieces.
It’s had a long life. Though I should say “lives.” It has existed for many years in one form or another. Its longest life was as a chapter of my first novel, which itself had an adventure (agent, submissions, interest, but not enough). I didn’t give up on the chapter. I adapted it to stand alone in these 1,300 words, which encapsulate a lot of overlapping ideas and theories and worlds that tumble around together in my memory of childhood with my sisters. In the story, they’re both older than me. In real life, I’m the oldest. But age is funny. We’re all older and somewhat wiser now, with spouses and children and good and bad jobs. Age doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. I’m so lucky to be close to them now. This story is for them, for us, honoring a piece of the vast, sacred weirdness we went through together.
I have a system. The one I was given. The one that was taken away. I live in between the two, developing others, which in turn develop systems within me.
So pieces develop. I find them here and there in the notebooks people have given to me over time. Years later the notebooks have things in them that I think I wrote. I definitely wrote them. But the people who gave them to me may have taken them back while I wasn’t looking. Because some of the things I find in them seem very unfamiliar.
As a writer, I take matters of style and technique as seriously as I think I should. I listen. I read. I review. I consider and reconsider.
But I am skeptical of all the capitalism deep inside the writing industry. So I sometimes don’t listen. Or read. I ignore. I dismiss and re-dismiss when I see writing advice re-tweeted.
But I did read a craft book by Douglas Glover and it helped. It’s called (ahem), “The Erotics of Restraint.” Subtitle: “Essays on Literary Form.” When I say it helped I mean one specific part of it helped. The very long but very good essay, “Anatomy of the Short Story.”
Bored at night I go upstairs to the window that leads to the back roof. Parting the curtains turning the latches pushing up the glass and the screen to bend down to less than half my height with my chin almost touching my knee I side-step over the sill onto the flat rowhouse roof.
My foot is immediately assailed with the waning warmth of the July sun stored in the roof’s surface. I feel the eyes of the birds and squirrels on me, a pale giraffe joining them suddenly thirty feet above the ground to peer at each other between the maple leaves. They stay quiet until I look away.Continue reading →
They saw us holding hands and made one sort of face or another. This man and a boy. A child without its mother. A father and a son walking around at midday downtown on a Wednesday. A man who wasn’t working regular business hours. Maybe tourists.
The heat as we walked across the sidewalk clamped into the air, fixing the humidity with a vaporous rigidity, giving each breath in and out a clammy form that seemed to widen the nostrils on its way into the body.
His palm was sweaty in mine and usually at the first touch of sweat he’d let go but he didn’t.Continue reading →
Early drafts of my story-reviews often start out very personal. A moment or two related to grief and family, which I first bend around a review of the book, then work to find a balance.
I’ve been writing these sorts of reviews since 2014 and as time goes on I like to check back to see how I handled finding this balance. I recently looked at my review and marginalia for Bae Suah’s novel, “Recitation,” translated by Deborah Smith. Continue reading →
In photo albums at the lake in Michigan, your parents in the 1970’s haven’t hit 30 yet. They look like happy teenagers in swimsuits and long hair without a thread of gray. You are one of the pudgy faces among a dozen pudgy siblings and cousins, on people’s laps, propped up on a hip, in the shallow water learning what a toy sand shovel is. Your grandparents smile at the scene from the lawn holding drinks. The air smells like fresh cut grass, boat engine oil, pipe tobacco, coconut oil, dead perch, the burnt metal of lit sparklers. Continue reading →