The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology: Outstanding Stories from the Web 2009/2010 is now available. This ebook, which contains stories by Steve Almond and Ron MacLean first published in Drunken Boat can be found (for free!) at www.chamberfour.com/anthology.
Last week my brilliant artist friend bemoaned the drudgery of the work to me, the unpleasant realization (that one realizes over and over again) that being an artist, or doing art — be it visual (in the case of my friend) or with words or with a genre defying mix of all and then some — is often decidedly tedious, mundane, and downright dull. This runs counter to the popular archetype of the artist as somehow above it all, unconcerned with the quotidian, sitting astride some glowing unicorn of creativity and flying through the sky, birthing great art, solitary golden horn ablaze and lighting up the stars. More often, I think it is less like a magical ride and birth and more like a series of lonely constipated visits to the toilet.
- (image from valdosta.edu)
A writer friend recently shared with me that in a fit of despair she called a psychic to the stars (Angelina and Brad are allegedly among this psychic’s clients). She has been steadily toiling on her novel for over a decade; working on it through an intense day job and the arrival of her son; and she is currently chasing the ever-elusive right ending. Her novel is based on a famous historical character and so she asked this psychic if she could communicate with said character, and perhaps find out just how she should end her novel. I am not sure she got her answer (or maybe a channel was opened and the next time she sits down at her desk, the unfinished novel before her, she will hear a whisper in her ear from the great beyond from her character) but I was struck by how much this service could be useful for writers.
I thought of Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends’ Networks, whose infomercial I watched endlessly in the middle of the night to procrastinate writing papers in college (this was the dark primitive era I call B.I., Before Internets, also known as BFB — do I really have to spell that one out for you?) I remember that I was aghast and amused at the story of the poor woman stalked and abused by her ex boyfriend who depended upon her psychic friend of the Network to “stay one step ahead” of her abuser. What an exhausting and terrifying way to live! But now I am thinking of how this might serve writers. Who doesn’t want to stay “one step ahead” of writer’s block or “one step ahead” of the next chapter and plot twist, or even “one step ahead” of a character’s deepest motivation? Surely there must be a way for a psychic out there to hone his or her powers and tap into the collective unconscious for desperate writers: that place where perhaps imagined and historical characters roam about, some half formed, others fully fleshed, trying out lines and outfits, reviewing childhood traumas that inform their current psyche and questionable romantic choices; a place where storylines are mapped out on a gigantic mystical chalkboard; and les bons mots float about on clouds.
But since no such Network exists, and I have not even heard from Miss Cleo lately, I suppose I need to settle for the advice of the ordinary mortal fellow writer. Take a look at this webpage from Poets and Writers which someone in my writing group told me about it. Writers Recommend is not so mystical but full of some good inspiring ideas nonetheless for those slow torturous constipated days when you are straining and counting the cold tiles around your feet.
What is Best in Life?
I have never prayed to you before.
But you’re locked up in here with me,
where no one ever wins a fight,
where it smells like victory.
Do I feel lucky?
Though I give you a war;
you won’t believe.
My little friend, you are the disease,
I am the cure. Say hello,
I have no tongue for it,
no time to bleed.
My word, like pain, doesn’t hurt.
My balls, I don’t break them for anybody.
Are you going to do something?
Make my day? An offer
I can’t refuse?
Or just stand there and bleed.
Tonight, we dine in hell, tomorrow
a trip to the bank, the blood bank.
Made from the dialogue in some of my favorite films: Hard to Kill, Cobra, Sudden Impact, Scarface, Conan the Barbarian, 300, Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver, Watchmen, Predator, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Rambo, Road House, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Tombstone.
I don’t know what action movies have given me morally or intellectually, what of their fantasy guides me. I’ve seen so many at an age when my brain was furiously cementing synapses together. I do know they’re a part of me, for better or worse. I love them, goddammit.
“It is clear from this collection, and from reviews of her other collections that I will definitely read in the near future (White Elephants, winner of the 1995 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, and World Hotel winner of the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf book award) that Vazirani was more than capable of escaping the marketing box of ‘Indian-American poet’. Despite the entrancing voices, the touches of personal classicism just strong enough to ignite my curiosity about Hindu mythology, what impressed me most about Radha Says was the formal experimentation. Doing away with punctuation and inviting the reader right into the centre of the poem, brandishing caesura in a confident and new way and exploring the problematic prose-poem in the Ghalib sequence, Vazirani never lets her formal play overtake the content. Those who insist on reading Radha Says as some kind of explanation of a mad-woman should take a second to look at her deftly handled and controlled forms before declaring these poems as evidence.
I think that is the beauty of this collection: the occasional flashes of a feeling of coherence, of understanding, in an otherwise terrifyingly spasmodic and uncertain female landscape.”
Read the entire review here.
“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” That’s what H.P. Lovecraft wrote in “The Call of Cthulhu.” I always thought R’lyeh must have been a metaphor for my brain, because that Elder-God-Octopus seemed to be interred there, staring at me during his undeath.
At the store, buying – jars of octopus tentacles in pungent green liquid? No – Pickles.
In the news: The Octopus Is Smarter Than We Thought – they’re using tools now. Coconut shells cracked in half, carried in their tightly wound tentacles like rudimentary bucklers.
I’ll hope that it was only my imagination telling me they now predict sports games; same as I’ll hope that they’ve all swum far from the Gulf Coast toward the Caroline Islands or eternity.
Have these octopi followed me into Drunken Boat? I think I see one, stinking of salt as it clings to the starboard side – yet when I look again – only the raw sea, endlessly churning, each wave a word I can’t translate.
As I navigate the spectral memories of Kristen Nelson’s “Ghosty,” there is a vague cephalopod-feeling in my gut as I attempt to grasp the restrained anger and bitter lament that this person’s shadow had cast on the narrator’s life. Noah Saterstrom’s black and white drawings create the aura that even the living world is phantasmagoric.
The perception stays with me as I steer through Mikael de Lara Co’s parable “Man Finds Crow.” It rings of unanswered Friend Requests or misunderstood text messages that have been present in human interactions since the origin of society. The crow feels so human, but I feel like he has a lot in common with my squishy, eight-legged interloper.
I can identify with Liz’s desire for caffeine as she pulls an all-nighter working at a sleep lab in “Intersomnolence” by Wendy Wimmer. She adeptly weaves the mores, jargon, and visceral tastes of our contemporary coffee culture into synesthetic metaphors to further the reader’s empathy with these sleep deprived lab workers. It’s unnerving when morning arrives and one of the patients, draped with wires and electrodes, looks like a squid, but I weakly convince myself that it’s only a metaphorical squid, even though I know that these cepholopods are masters of transmogrification and could out-chameleon a chameleon. I’m easily lost in the narrative once more as Liz adds another entry in the lists of her life.
It’s tough to believe that the bright creatures in “Bugs” crawling through the sandpit are computer-generated. The people are able to interact with them quite naturally as they dig them new paths and pick them up. The part that alarms me the most isn’t when the people accidentally squish them, it’s when I realize that the group who created the project is named Squidsoup.
Human connections abound in “The Conversation” by Karin Rathert, yet why is there a hollow feeling to them all? I’d speculate that Marji’s character feels eerily similar to most readers when she’s on the cusp of rejecting her consumerist life in favor of art and divinity. The ending of her story could be the life we’re all living now – the only witness, our own personal octopi.
I’m reflecting on my own life when I fall into Margaret’s: the main character in Karin Gottshall’s “Care and Feeding.” A single mother trying to make the best of her life as she supports her newborn son Matthew with her job at K-Mart. I feel the vibrations of her heartstrings as she tries to patch things up with the deadbeat father and when she experiences the joy of watching her son play with Legos for the first time. Yet for all this human emotion, there’s something that my brain is trying desperately to wrap its thought-tentacles around. There’s an octopus staring at me – and I want to give him an answer – but I just stare at him blankly while my thoughts continue to churn.
– Joseph Pascale, editorial assistant Drunken Boat