I have a new essay in 3:AM Magazine called “The President’s Bucket.” It’s a hybrid piece that includes a dark fable. I wrote it at the invitation of Andrew Gallix for the journal’s ongoing “3:AM in Lockdown” series.
My contribution was the forty-fifth in the series, among artworks, writing, videos and more by a fantastic group that includes Joanna Walsh, Joseph Schreiber, Rachael de Moravia, Anna Vaught, and Steven J. Fowler. I’m finding it to be essential reading for two main reasons. First is that it shows of course the current state of the world during the coronavirus shutdown. But it also reveals how creative people are getting by, while taking care of themselves and their loved ones, while somehow generating new work.
The next morning my Dad is back at his camp to start his great hunt again. The heat keeps him awake. He rarely sleeps. Cicadas buzz like little machines in the trees. He has no bullets, but he wields his knife. He eats cicadas when he gets hungry, or kills a lizard. Sometimes I ride my kangaroo to bring him pork chops and apple sauce. The part of the woods that Ronald Reagan burned down are all grown back.
My grandfather is at the top of the mountain looking for my grandmother. She’s been missing for years and each summer she’s been gone her earthquakes destroy more of the town. Soon, everyone has left. My grandfather stays and promises to find his wife and learn why she’s done this for so long.
Me and my mom and my sisters move back to the house. My father stays in the woods. He keeps hunting Jesus. He walks with a knife and studies the blood from when he shot Jesus once and gave him five wounds. He follows the trail of big red drops through the woods and into the corn field where the Berlin Wall has reappeared. He cannot cross. He has not seen Jesus for years. The weather gets hot. The heat makes my Mom fight with my sisters who skip school to fish all day and night in the canal. They dive in with sharp sticks and spear fish. One night my Mom sneaks over and locks them in their room. When she finally unlocks their door she says, “No more fish!” and breaks their wooden spears. My sisters walk past me and yell, “Don’t you follow us!”
My father is in the woods far from our house. He is hunting Jesus. Jesus stalks the woods in his antlers. He is chasing Ronald Reagan. That’s when my Dad shoots Jesus. Jesus runs off, bleeding in five places from one bullet. Nice shot! My Dad waits. He lets Jesus go away to see if he’ll bleed out. When my Dad gets down from his tree he follows the blood. He follows it into the corn field and stops. He cannot go any further. There is a Berlin Wall. The blood trail goes over the Wall. My Dad will not. He can smell the blood and the scent of burnt matches on the other side.
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.
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.”