The "Brit a Day" series

What does a months-long parade of attractive British men have to do with fiction, you might well ask? These gentlemen have inspired some lovely scenes, part of the life I live in my head. Over time, some of these scenes reach out to one another and begin to form a story. For the present, each one of these pictures provides a writing prompt for me, a way to keep me writing with a sense of passion and narrative, even when the stories are not yet fully formed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Man Who Makes Her Say Things, part 2

There was a copy of Atlantic in the first class compartment of the plane, so just for the hell of it, Evelyn flipped to her poem. She was slightly embasrrased, but she had to laugh at the thought of Ricky Ford Alton reading it on location on the high seas, unable or unwilling to call her and learn its real meaning, this high school poem of hers about faithlessness and infidelity. He must have been mortified when the crew got hold of it. She was surprised that Atlantic had wanted to use it, but they called her agent asking for something, and she didn’t have anything else to offer them. She sent it in almost as a joke.


Is it all right for me to doubt his faithfulness?
How long can the man of my dreams go on without me?
I wonder, what did Penelope think?
No, my Ulysses is not at sea (a sea of people maybe,
Yes, I know what I’m talking about, the women who wait beside the stage,
The ones who wait behind the amplifiers? I’ll tell you a secret:
They have no ears.
In my dreams, I whisper in their faces
“It’s okay: he’s not saying anything anyway.”)
--So why don’t I meet you, babe, in a hotel room,
I’ll fly there, fly you once around the room, and then I’ll fly home.
I’ll be both your wife and the girl with the band,
(which makes the wife part really unnecessary, doesn’t it?)
But I’ll still have my ears,
So remember my name.

To her, the poem had “adolescent girl” written all over every line, and she wondered why her agent and the editors hadn’t seen right through it. Evelyn closed the magazine and stuffed it deep into the seat-back pocket in front of her. She had lost interest in reading what other people had to say since her own voice had become so fragile and intangible. Her present state of mind afforded her little more than sentence fragments. She could easily blame it all on her mother’s dying, but her uneasiness had been around much longer than these three weeks. For almost a year, she’d begun each day with a vague sense of anxiety, unfocused and irrational, as her therapist would say, that attached itself to nothing and no one. At first, she had used it as the seed of her writing. She had pumped out a couple of screenplays, an unfinished novel, and some short stories she would really rather never saw the light of day, but not a single poem. Then one day the vagueness became solid paralysis, like a steel door slamming down between her and the computer screen. She cramped up so she couldn’t make another keystroke. It wasn’t until two weeks later, three thousand miles away, that her mother suddenly dropped dead.So no, Evelyn’s problem had nothing to do with her grief. It had a lot to do, however with this man, not Ricky Ford but the one whose voice she heard in her head off and on. Lately, she hadn’t been hearing him at all. It was obvious—and this was the real reason why she didn’t go back to her therapist after returning from her mother’s funeral, because the therapist might come to the conclusion that she was insane—that the man with the voice had control over her, because she needed to hear him, to talk back to him, or she could not write.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

For Donna

I posted this short story about a year ago on my blog at MySpace. It isn't there anymore. Recently, I've been reading fiction written by my friend that derives its rich characterizations from her brilliant dialogues. One of her stories in particular inspired me to bring this one back out of the "done" pile--I'd like for her to read it. So, here you go.


Part 1

The only thing she’d written in the last five weeks, Evelyn observed, was this obituary next to her mother’s printed face. Sixteen days ago, she wrote it using a ballpoint pen on a legal pad offered to her by the matron of the Funeral Notices desk. Two weeks ago, they printed it, and today a copy of the hometown paper arrived in the mail.
The phone rang, and she dropped the newspaper on the kitchen counter. There was a long silence after she answered, but his voice finally pushed through the static, “Hey, Ev, so what does this mean?” She recognized the familiar lag from the satellite that was connecting them.
“What does what mean?” She stared out the kitchen window across the Pacific Ocean as though it were just a fence between their backyards.
“This scary poem by Evelyn Johnson in this month’s Atlantic. Is there something you want to tell me?” Sometimes his voice could be too sharp, too rich, too obviously that of an actor. “The whole crew has been on pins and needles since we found it.”
“Oh, that. Pins and needles, eh? You’ve all got too much beach sand up your asses. I wrote that poem when I was eighteen. I thought it was okay, this once, to cheat a little…”
“A little poem from the early years, huh?”
“Shut up a minute. I was about to say… you realize, of course, we’re not telling anyone I wrote it when I was eighteen,” she said. “No one needs to know that I’m that desperate for material.” She knew he was laughing under his breath now, because he loved it so much when she sounded a little jaded.
“Really, though, how are you?” he asked, dropping the cheesy actor voice. He had complete control over it, and he only used it to amuse her on occasion, to bring on her pissy writer voice.
“I’m okay,” she said without commitment. “It’s been five weeks. Thirty-three days.”
“I know,” he said. “How was it going back for the funeral? I should have called. I’ve been on this damn aircraft carrier, and there just hasn’t been a good time to place a call.”
“No,” she said, “no, I don’t mean since my mom. I mean since I wrote anything decent.”
I know what you mean, Ev. I’m just sorry that I haven’t been able to call. I wish I could have been there with you. Ev, between you and me, this thing is going to suck in a big way. I may not have a career left after people see it.” He cleared his throat.
“I’m sure you were great, whatever the rest of it looks like.”
“I just want to forget about it until it comes out. Maybe they’ll burn it in the editing room after they see how screwed up it is. Accidentally on purpose and get some insurance money. We’d all get our percentages, and hey—none of us would be ruined. But listen, I’m going to stay here on Maui for a week or so. I lose the apartment the producers rented tomorrow, but why don’t you come out, and I’ll try to get us a house so we don’t have to stay in a hotel?” there was nothing he hated more than staying in a hotel. He would always stay as far as he could from the resorts, the tourist traps, from the gangs of ogling fans.
“Okay,” she said and looked at the folded newspaper under her hand. “Sure, why not?”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

(national) Mood: bitter, enlightened

Growing up in America, we learned to expect something like this:

But in the past few weeks, it has dawned on us that we are really getting this:

Middle-aged middle-class Americans are getting a severe history lesson, a first hand encounter with the kind of class rage that caused 18th century France to erupt in a purging violence that necessitated the invention of the guillotine.

I was once challenged by a friend, if I did not believe in a personal god, heaven, hell or the authority of the Bible, then what was the ultimate source of moral balance—for example, who punishes evil, greedy, self-centered people with no respect for the rights or needs of any of the rest of us? Good question, especially when the consequences of their actions, intended or otherwise, create havoc beyond our control. Where can I file an appeal?

In my religion, which has no name and has one, maybe two devout members, those evil, greedy people will create their own hell right here in the midst of our everyday lives. Something, perhaps insignificant to the rest of us, will destroy them. It will be something particularly petty—say, the painters don’t get the shade of green just right and ruin the exterior of their 12,000 square foot home—that will break their pitiless spirit and create their pain. I have to believe that.

Take out vs. eat in

I got lunch at a Chinese fast food place—I ate in. I saved room for the fortune cookie after the entrĂ©e. When I burst open the cellophane the cookie fell to the floor, broke into pieces. This is the fortune from that fortune cookie:

I wish I had a fortune cookie I could still eat, I thought. I trashed the flotsam and jetsam of my lunch and went to the loo. When I came out, I saw that the counter nearest the front window was unoccupied and perfectly clean save one intact cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie. I took it, opened it and ate it on the way to my car. The fortune in the second, edible cookie was this: