Cassandra on the Island: Her Gardening

To begin with:
Cassandra had four separate plots of land
where she wanted to plant flowers.
She called them “A, B, C, and D.”
In each plot, she placed two different flowers.

Plot A

She had a talent, her mother would say, for shining brilliant in situations. It was not like walking into a room and capturing the eye of everyone there; It was not like smiling and making everyone smile right along (even though they had no idea what they were smiling about). It went far beyond the dictionary definition of “Charisma.” Cassandra’s mother called it a gift of “radiance” and, when on, it could remind people what a wonder it is to be alive.

Her mother first noticed the talent when taking her daughter to swim at Lake Michigan. It was at the lake that she hated her disability the most. She never knew fear until the first moment she watched her eight-year old run across the beach as she could only sit back in her wheelchair and watch.

But while her mother hated the separation on those moments, Cassandra sought it. It became a reward for her. The kind given after keeping her room clean for five days straight or for helping her mother back in her chair after a fall. Her mother cursed how those incidences seemed to humble her (at least in her mind). The moments when she had to rely on her daughter, her little, tiny daughter, to save her.

If the car accident that crippled the mother taught the two anything, it was the ability to adapt; and adapt is exactly what both of them did. They adapted to losing Cassandra’s father. (Her mother never had the courage to tell her daughter her husband used to beat her. She decided to let her have the delusion of gold around his memory.) They adapted to Cassandra’s mother’s handicap. And Cassandra’s mother adapted to trying to hold her daughter as close as she possibly could, as Cassandra adapted to enjoying the escape from her mother’s suffocating love.

So going to the beach became that for Cassandra, an escape from her mother and the life back home and what she faced every day. (Even though, young Cassandra would have never admitted it, she was quietly embarrassed by her mother’s handicap and would rarely invite her friends over.) The lake was a ritual as rich as entering a church. Like placing holy water on her head, every step for this child was important.

Step 1- Getting mama out of the car.

This step took the longest.

Well, it felt that way for Cassandra. The beach was right there staring at her! How could she not feel the pressure to move faster, faster?

            Step 2- Leaving mama prepared.

Her mother had a full collection of supplies that had to be double-checked. Batteries in her megaphone? Check. First Aid Kit? Check. Binoculars? Check.

Step 3- Make sure mama’s chair is in a good position.

This was very crucial; if her mother couldn’t see her, Cassandra’s time in the water was done. So it was very important to her that she had the best view of every aspect of the beach.

Step 4- The slow walk.

Cassandra’s mother always yelled at Cassandra when she ran. Looking back at her youth, Cassandra believed this was all related to her mother’s inability to run herself. But running on the beach could spell disaster for the day. A simple sprint could call for an end to her cleansing in the waves.

…And yet, Cassandra didn’t mind torturing her mother when she met the water.

Step 5- Going under.

Cassandra always went completely under water first. And she would hold herself under… and under… and under…

She loved the silence. She loved the isolation… She loved the quiet and she hated coming up for that first breath. Her mother hated this game of Cassandra’s. There was many a day that she called her daughter back to the car because of that disappearance. To Cassandra, this was as close to the feeling of immortality she had ever felt. Continue reading

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I Want to Tell You a Story … Cassandra on the Island

I want to tell you a story.

Let’s begin like this- I wrote a novel for my thesis when I was working for my Master’s at the University of Southern California and I made the head of the department cry.

I had few interactions with this professor. I like to think he liked me, he personally asked me to take a few advanced courses and met with me now and then to discuss agents and my writing, but we were of different worlds. How else do you explain the meeting of a poet and a novelist? We use the same words, but for a novelist it is about the meaning, where for the poet it is about the music beneath it.

To graduate, I needed people to sign off on my thesis. I had one from a fiction professor (I can’t remember his name now) and the head of the department promised to be the second… and he delayed… and he delayed.

I was working on campus, which was fine for me since I didn’t have to drive anywhere and there was a Carl’s Jr on campus and I was a little addicted to their crispy chicken sandwich (I don’t need to say more about that here). But on this day, instead of waiting in the outrageously long line of students and eating that awesome sandwich, I decided to bother the delaying professor. He was in his office and knew why I was there when I walked in. He didn’t make eye contact with me and promised to start the book that afternoon, shrugging me off.

I had to accept that answer and leave.

That night I received a call after 9 PM. It was him and he was crying. He kept saying the word “beautiful.” He talked to me about the book for over an excited hour, asking about why I did certain things, what they meant. He was figuring out different tricks I did in the writing in between his emotional outbursts.

It is not often a writer gets to speak to a moved reader the second after they finish their book, but I was having that experience here, and it was with someone that surrounds himself with books and writers! This is legit, right?

He wasn’t planning to read the book straight through, he said. He was planning to finish, maybe skim bits. He skims, he said. He skims most books from students, he said… but here he didn’t. And once he started he couldn’t stop.

He told me what he loved, what made him laugh and what made him cry.

He asked if he could share the book with others, and I said that was fine. He said I didn’t have to worry about my thesis, and he couldn’t wait to buy the book in print… and then he was off the line.

Now… let me be clear… I’m not telling you this story about a crying professor to brag. I’m telling you this because it was the first time I truly felt like a novelist. Continue reading

The Ghosts of Writing, Halloween 2017

I’m going through a weird phase right now with my writing  It is affecting my old books, it is affecting my future works, and it is affecting this site. I still get a kick out of reading (from time to time), but there’s a certain sense of pointlessness around the entire endeavor that seems to be growing for me.

Do I write another post trying to inspire you to take on the author mantle? Create a book and get it published? Or do I write another one about the bleak possibilities/reality of the publishing world? Another doom-and-gloom piece about how the publishing world is only about the almighty dollar and self-publishing is no home for literary fiction?

One thing that has been capturing my attention (and I recommend if you have the patience for it) is Alan Moore’s epic novel Jerusalem. It breaks every rule I have known about publishing and literature. It is incredible in its audacity and I am in awe of it and him as an author. It is is long (over 1200 pages in small font long) and it is dense (it assumes that you know what he’s talking about). He does not dumb down anything! I am loving the experience of reading it and strangely it makes me think that it would be fun it to just spent 10 years working on a super crazy long book of my own.

I promise I will do more writing on the site in the future (don’t abandon me yet!), until then I need this break. I need to figure out what I am doing with my current novel and I need to find a way to care more… about everything with writing.

Right now though let’s celebrate some of the work that I think are suitable for Halloween. Here are some great books for a spooky night. These reviews were either done here or on WKAR.

Happy Halloween!

The Quiet Scream in the Library: A Cynical Rant About Literature

I don’t always like fiction.

This may seem weird to say since I am a writer, I have an MFA in the field, and I used to do book reviews on NPR (actually I did those reviews for over three years, you can find them here), but it is true. Painfully, painfully true. I just don’t always enjoy reading fiction.  And it is rare on a relaxing Sunday afternoon that I feel like turning to a piece of fiction to pass the time.

I know… I know… blasphemy!

The problem is I believe that I have studied and analyzed literature to such a point that I have practically (and academically) taken the pleasure out of it.

It’s the great college conundrum! A question every college student has to ask him or herself- Do you go into a field around the subject that you love? Yes, you will enjoy the classes more than you would, say, in a different field but it also may impact how you view it for the rest of your life.

In other words, once Dorothy sees the wizard behind the curtain you can’t put the wizard back. English majors like me are Dorothys. And no matter how much we wish it, we can’t bring the “magic” back.

Continue reading

My Writing Resolutions 2017

luke-handIt is really easy to complain about 2016, but with 2017 here now, I can’t help but be more concerned.

If 2016 is the Star Wars of bad years, this could be the sequel. And the sequel was more intense, right? Han got stuck in carbon freeze. Luke lost a hand…

There! Right there, is my image of what 2016 was.

Luke without a hand. The problem is we all have more limbs left to get chopped.

Get your lightsabers out, people! Here comes 2017!

Here are some of my writing resolutions for the next year.

  1. My big hope is to find a path to getting my most recent novel in readers’ hands. I’m really proud of this book and have spoken to agents and smaller publishers about it. Hopefully, something will happen. It’s hard not to write more about it here. I would love to talk about the plot and the characters, but I have to keep it under wraps until a plan is in place. All I can say is that it will be a very unique literary treat and I look forward to sharing more about it.
  1. Last year I began a writing project on my site. Uses of This World is my retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet but set in 1920s Europe. (You can read the completed chapters that make up Act I here.) I’m really proud of it and I plan to work on Act II over this year. One act a year feels about right and keeps it from distracting me too much from other writing and projects. If you haven’t checked it out, you should. If anything it is very different.
  1. I haven’t been on WKAR’s Current State in quite some time. I did like doing the book reviews on the radio show and it was a good 3.5 years. (You can read and listen to my book reviews here.) I also think it was inspiring for me as writer to be reading so many books a year (and sometimes a bad book could be more creatively energizing for me than a good book, if you can believe it). I hope to do the occasional book review on this site until I know what is going to happen with my more professional book reviewing in the future. Does anyone know how to reach Fresh Air with Terry Gross? LOL.
  1. I need to decide what I want to do with this site. Sometimes it is hard to find the inspiration to say something unique here. I blame the last year, life stuff, and the election for drawing this writing “depression” out. And when I was inspired to write, it felt more important to work on my current book and the efforts to get it out there. I need focus and so does this site.

Overall, it’s an odd feeling for me looking forward to this year. Usually, I have a good plan for what I want to do in the next year and where the world is going, and I can’t say for certain about any of that right now. I will say that I have become a monthly contributor to the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are one organization putting up the good fight to protect our planet, for climate change is real. You can sign up here, and I recommend you do too. Or find a different cause you care about and help. There are a lot of great options from Planned Parenthood to Everytown for Gun Safety.

The fight for 2017 and our country’s future is only beginning.

Boy, that was dramatic of me. Hmmmm…. I need something more positive to say to end this post…. Oh, I am seeing Hamilton this year! That is cool. (Sorry, you can’t come.)

Good luck to all of us this year!

A Christmas Short Story… and a surprise coming on December 24!

Linus and the treeHello persons of quality!

Let’s enjoy this time of the year, for God only knows where the world will be next year at this time.  Right now I consider myself an amateur cocktail maker, but my guess is by next year I will be a pro. You notice how everyone has dark senses of humor right now? There is a reason for that. We are all chuckling with a tear.

Happy Holidays!

Anyway, this is the last holiday post I will be sharing (you can scroll below on the main page for my other nuggets of holiday joy; like why Neil Diamond has the worst holiday song and “The Littlest Angel” shouldn’t be in heaven). This is my short story called “Kris and Me.” I really like it a lot. Soon to be a Hallmark movie!

(That last bit isn’t true, but you gotta think sooner or later they will call. They have been trying to get the last bit of Christmas peanut butter from that jar for a long time now. Sooner or later they have to pick up the phone.)

I hope you will check out my story. The link is below.

Kris and Me: A Christmas Story in 3 Parts

And one last thing! Come back to this site on December 24 in the morning. There will be a surprise for my readers! Can I give a hint? No, you have to wait. It’s wrapped and under the tree. Well, a virtual tree, but it’s right there in gold wrapping.

See you on December 24.

 

Uses of This World: Chapter 8

hamlet-and-ghostDenmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.

Previous Chapters

Chapter 8: Son

For the first time in Prince Hamlet’s life he felt lost. Truly lost. This was not the garden maze of his youth. The well-worn turns and dead ends were now covered with dark leaves and thorns.

Unearthly. Unholy.

These thorns dripped black blood and stank of time and neglect.

Hamlet remembered chasing after the vision of his father, racing down the stairs of the parapet walls, and into the royal garden maze. Then everything changed. Not just in the environment but in his mind. The fog was everywhere, more than covering the ground, sticking to the very air around him, entering him, becoming part of him.

What time was it? How long had he been in the maze?

“Mark me,” a dead voice echoed around him in the air; like a wind, passing by and then racing away.

Hamlet stopped, he felt out of breath. Was he out of breath or was the air so dead that there was little for the living? “I will.”

A path opened up in the maze in front of him; the thorns turning aside, granting passage, with breaks and splinters in the wood and vine. The leaves on this new path were a dark green but eerie bright. The green reminded the prince of the glow of the kingly specter. A nightmare was in front of Hamlet, welcoming him, and he entered. Continue reading

Uses of This World: Chapter 7

GhostDenmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.

Previous Chapters

Chapter 7: Father

The night air was stale and cold. It lingered not on the skin, but on the tongue, on the breath and in the lungs.

“The air bites shrewdly. It is very cold,” Hamlet said, a little louder than a whisper. Yet, his voice traveled easily among the group waiting on the parapet walls that dark night.

Horatio replied before the two soldiers. “It is a nipping and an eager air.”

Was that sarcasm? Even here? Hamlet couldn’t help but be impressed by his American friend. Yet, the more he studied Horatio in the shadows of the torches, he was not like his old self. The smiles were forced, the face more pale and wrinkled; like the blood was dripping from him, but to where?

The previous nights of the specter were marked by a fog, an eeriness, as if the world enjoyed taking part in some foreboding. Now, there was nothing. Just nothing. Like the dry air in a tomb.

“What hour now?” Hamlet asked.

“I think it lacks of twelve.”

Hamlet shook his head. “No, it’s struck.”

“Indeed? I heard it not.” Continue reading

Lingering Questions About the Drunk One-Legged Man

LegIt was after 9 o’clock on a weekday when a drunk one-legged man knocked on my door.

Let me begin by saying that my house is not in a particularly busy neighborhood. This is not any major city; it is a middle-class suburb. The kind of neighborhood, where you see the same old couple walking their dog at the same time every single night. Like clockwork. Everyone living near us is so familiar that my wife and I have given them nicknames. Nicknames I dare not mention here.

On the night of the one-legged man, my wife was out, and my son and I were watching Lord of the Rings (his recent obsession, which shows how much we are kin), my young daughter already fast asleep upstairs.

Typically, a door like ours does not get knocked on very often. I remember once during our first few weeks in the house when the knock came from some Seventh-Day Adventists. I told them that I was somewhere between atheist and agnostic. You would have thought they had won the lottery. They were so excited to meet me. Finally, I had to tell them I wasn’t interested and shut the door.

So this, in this neighborhood and at this time, was odd. The knock was loud and quick and both my son and I jumped. Even our dog, who is usually so aware of everything seemed surprised. I told my son, to go back to watching the movie, held my dog back and opened the door.

There was a white truck running in my driveway and the one-legged man was standing on my porch, hunched over like he was having trouble with his balance. There was no cane. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were filthy. His shirt was an old t-shirt, that was probably white once, but now yellow. I was never able to make out the image on it, and I did spend a few minutes squinting at it. He was wearing sweat shorts, so it was easy to see his artificial and metallic right leg going down to his tennis shoes. The man was so drunk I was not certain he could even see me.

“Is Julie in?” He asked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know a Julie.”

He looked confused. “Julie lives here.”

Now my wife (not named Julie) and I have been in our house for almost ten years, and we did not buy it from someone named Julie. She was Cindi or Cynthia or some other kind of peepy C name. So this man was somewhere out of the distant past… Assuming, of course, a Julie even lived at my house at one time. Continue reading

Uses of this World: Chapter 6

OpheliaDenmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.

Previous Chapters

Chapter 6: Watchman to My Heart

Ophelia was always running, because Ophelia was always late.

Through the hall, into the kitchen, past the guards outside the queen’s chambers (no time for a wave, but she did hear the soldiers call after her), a sprint down two hallways, down a flight of stairs, through another kitchen, and she was in the quarters that her family and the other families of the advisors called home.

He didn’t come to the library today. She was not surprised, considering the state he was in at the morning assembly, but she was still hopeful. Forever the optimist. Now she was late. That is where hope got her.

Her shoes were in her hands as she ran barefoot. The shoes were not made for running and the dress wasn’t either. Usually, she would be adorned in something more casual, more comfortable (but still presentable), but her father expected her to wear her best dress because they would be presented before the king and the entire court. He thought with this look she appeared more nobly. She just thought it made her look childish.

When would her dad see her as an adult? Of course, he would have to first see her.

Around a corner and down some stairs, if she was in a different dress she would have been sliding on the banister. This part was home to her. She past two maids, she heard them snicker as she past. She must have looked like in such a state.

Her governess (who should have retired two years prior) put her hair up in the style of a decade ago. It would have been the height of fashion then, now it was just frustrating and kept flopping in front of her face with each step.

Ophelia was unhappy with her entire look. She dreamed of a short haircut like the bobs the Americans were wearing in her magazines and silent movies, but her father would never have approved of that. She was so certain of that, she never bothered to ask.

An entire childhood of “no’s.” Ophelia had no reason to believe that another word was possible from his lips.

Another corner and…

There was her handsome older brother, ready with suitcase in hand, leaving his room. The look he gave her made her blush. He knew why she almost missed his departure.

He knew she was waiting for him. Continue reading