Tag Archives: Short Story Month

SSM: “All That Water” by Andrew Scott

31 May

For the last day of Short Story Month, I’ll leave you with Andrew Scott’s “All That Water” over at Night Train. I remember first hearing Andrew read this story at Ball State. I was still a fledgling writer then just finishing my first fiction workshop, which Andrew had taught.

I still remember a couple of the writing assignments I turned in for this class: an exercise in tension/conflict where I wrote a scene of a son squaring off with his drunk step-father (ring any bells?), and my final workshop story about a guy on tour with his band in Nebraska, wondering what it all means after his brother attempted suicide.

I remember as a young writer how dramatic all my conflicts were, usually involving guns or suicide or something equally as drastic. And I remember hearing Andrew read this story of his at the class’s request on the last day, and how quiet the turn was in the story, how simple and elegant and yet how completely devastating–a father and son, the father has his news to share, the son his own.

I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll just send you to the story at Night Train. Maybe I’ll treat you to a teaser.

“How are you, Dad?” Pete said. “Everything okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look so good.”

Walter eyed Gayle and said, “Remember when we couldn’t wait for our baby to talk?”

“What does that mean?” Pete said.

“It’s just a joke. So I don’t look good?”

“You seem a little smaller.”

“It’s so like you to bring gifts,” Gayle said. Her voice, lighter than it had been in months, rose on certain words.

Julie lumbered back down the hallway as if hiking uphill. “It was her idea,” Pete said. “I’m not this thoughtful.”

“Nothing to it,” Julie said.

Gayle and Walter each opened a package. A blown glass dolphin for Gayle; for Walter, a ceramic bird figurine with a long narrow beak.

“Do you like it?” Julie asked, more to Gayle than the both of them.

“I do,” she said. “Thank you, thank you.”

Pete said, “What about you, Dad?”

Walter looked at Julie, who offered only a weak smile. She was trying; her mouth and nose seemed less beak-like than before. “It seems well-made,” he said.

This story is also included in his short story collection, Naked Summer, releasing tomorrow if you haven’t heard!

SSM: “For the First Time, Again” by Meghan Austin

30 May

The platitude is that college is for self-discovery. How terrifying! Anything about self-discovery scares the bejeesus out of me. Why would you want to discover something? And around other fellow discoverers! Leave it as it is. Woody Allen said: “Change is death.” Discovery entails contracting disease, risking hostile natives, and losing one’s way. Columbus raped and pillaged. Magellan died half a world away from home. And Ponce de Leon the same trying to find some Vitamin Water–but, like, really awesome Vitamin Water.

If we’re all traversing this social rite of higher education, and one of us realizes the skipper is a madman with a pegleg bent on self-destruction, who’s responsible? Us, for signing on? Or Them, for leading us on? In the end, I think, danger is inherent within discovery. And danger can be a comfortable thought, way, or ideology crushed for the strange, the better.

There were two (or more) opinions on how to proceed: we could teach ourselves, something we had no intention of doing, this being college. We could be absorbed by the multi-cultural women’s literature class across the hall, and talk about African knitting and menstruation, or whatever happened over there. Nothing “multi” is ever appealing. Multi-grain, multi-vitamin. Our parents were paying good money for us to study something that everyone had agreed was good. Whether we read any of it or not.

 

Read the entire story at Failbetter.

 

SSM: “Pool Party” by Kim Chinquee

30 May

I was just having some tacos the other day with Booth editors Bryan Furuness and Robert Stapleton, and Bryan was talking about this story, talking about how he fought for it, how much he enjoyed the editorial process of it, pushing Chinquee to invest deeper and deeper, and how in the end, it came to be this story that pangs.

It’s awful in its early mundanity, a simple pool party, simple everyday girls going about a simple everyday summer. I knew girls like this. I knew boys like this. That sort of relating builds and twists along with an underlying pit in the stomach that nibbles and nibbles until it grows fins, and dumps the story into something awful and as much as I’d like to say unexpected, it’s not. You see this coming from miles away, a tension beneath the skin, crawling up you like goose pimples.

Gretchen and Amy and I pedal our bikes down the side street single file, our hair flying as we speed through the green light, coasting down a small hill that will take us past the railroad tracks where we’ll take a left to the house of a guy named Bunker.

Bunker is tall and almost sixteen, with brown hair, green monster eyes and a smile that is electric. His bright teeth are almost as shiny as his eyes. He’s been dating Amy since meeting her last weekend.

Some nights, Amy and Gretchen and I go to Visions—a dry dance place for teens—where we wear lots of make-up and low tops, hoping to find nice boys to dance with, in hopes of being their girlfriends. Sometimes before we go there, we drink berry wine coolers at Amy’s older sister’s.

The other night Bunker asked Amy to dance, and later they left for a walk. She told me they went to the woods and sat on a log, mosquitoes nipping their ankles, and she let his hand slip under her skirt—she said it was the first time any boy had moved his fingers inside her like that. He’d asked her to go steady, so she let him do what he wanted. He left two hickeys on the back of her neck. After that, he walked her to the curb.

Read the full story at Booth.

SSM: “Invisible Girlfriend” by Chad Redden

29 May

It seems I’m enamored with these stories of relationships maintained through the use of notes, of relationships in different dimensions, of relationships. For awhile, Britt and I left post-it notes around the house for each other, reminding each other why we like the other. I keep a few of hers above my desk where I don’t really write anymore. I don’t really write at my desk anymore. Our office is cluttered space. I can’t concentrate.

This morning, Britt made the best chocolate chip pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. I ate them. I swallowed them down. I put on shorts and gloves and shoes and went outside. I pulled weeds for hours. I mowed the lawn. I sprayed weed killer on weeds growing up through cracks in our driveway. It’s amazing how resilient weeds can be. It’s amazing how resilient we can be.

She’s turned invisible and leaves a trail of post it notes telling me that she is in the room with me. OVER HERE. Maybe she is not invisible. Maybe she is five minutes ahead of me.PICK UP MORE CAT FOOD. Or maybe I am five minutes behind her. She wrote a note in kitchen above the sink. It read HERE I AM. I spread out my hands and tried to find her, but the air was empty.

Read the full story at DOGZPLOT.

SSM: “The Hamburger Story” by Lauren Becker

28 May

Came across Jason over at Bark, the blog entity for Willow Springs, talking about this story from Lauren Becker, especially in the sense of how fun it is to read.

A couple months ago, I read at a really great reading in Chicago put on by PANK. So many good friends there: Roxane Gay, Sarah Rose Etter, Tadd Adcox, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Jessica Dyer, to name a few. I got saucy. People kept buying me drinks. I got loud on bourbon. I started getting a couple dirty looks. I started loudly declaring, “Poetry is serious business!” to all those around me. I wrote it on my hand. I said it to Sarah a dozen times at least. I wrote it on her hand. I made an ass of myself.

To those who were reading while I was in this state, I apologize. It was disrespectful, I know.

But, I do have to say, even while in this state, there were those readers who stopped me dead in my throat, who read words that were obviously meant to be read in a way that showed they recognized the venue they were in. Their voices and words carried in a way that captured me, even through my whiskey belligerence. They cut straight through the noise of me, of those around me, begged and demanded silence, attention.

I’ve seen Lauren read a couple times now, and she understands this. She is a good, fun writer. She is a good, fun reader. She is a good, fun person.

I bought your book. Used. But, still. I bought it. It was mean. I dropped it hard on the floor when I finished. You didn’t have to keep the ending. I took a picture of my foot stepping on your face. You liked my feet. You would like this picture.

Read the full story at wigleaf.

SSM: “Briefly Concerning Flash Fiction” by Sean Lovelace

27 May

met·a·fic·tion   
[met-uh-fik-shuhn]
–noun
fiction that discusses, describes, or analyzes a work of fiction or the conventions of fiction.

*

Ever to confess you are tired means you have no inner resources. I am heavy tired.

I feel bad for the rest of the month. I feel bad for this story for how good it is, yet how tired I feel to write a good and worthwhile response to it. I will let Sean’s words do their own thing. It is a small, good thing.

The sky that day resembled the cotton from an asthma inhaler, and the winds sewed, weaved, and knitted the sand into one enormous Jupiter-ass sirocco, but most of this irrelevant, unless you just like weather. These days it seems everyone is into the weather. Probably something to do with control, mortality, or the absolute unpredictability of a tornado, of illness, a relationship, you know, like maybe your girlfriend an hour late, another hour (no phone call, no text), another, then gone.

And:

Oh, but I remember the Tuesday she told me, “You know what? The energy of this relationship is all wrong. It’s like your standard incandescent light bulb.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked her.

And:

And I’d like to say, right here and now, there’s not a damn thing wrong with a standard incandescent light bulb, or its energy distribution (90% heat, 10% light). We glow how we can, Sara.

Read the full story at Flash Fiction.

SSM: “The Receiving Tower” by Matt Bell

26 May

I don’t remember how this story came to me. It was before I really knew Matt, or even before I really knew who he was. It was probably from HTMLGiant or some other blog that mentioned it. I just remember the feeling of reading it, the disorienting excitement and sense of heavy dread, the way Matt made the slow harshness of the situation so real to the bones of me.

This story will stretch who you are, who you want to be. I’m always careful about how I relate stories here. As a writer, I tend to read as a writer–to look into the text, try to understand the choices the author made in their writing, read the work as a way to stretch myself as a writer–but I’ve always wanted Vouched to exist first and foremost for readers, whether they are writers themselves or not.

Running Vouched, I’ve found a lot of readers who crave writing that stretches them as a reader, and often times I forget about that aspect–that reading itself is a skill to be developed, that succeeding as a reader takes just as much creativity as succeeding as a writer, that readers even if they don’t write want work that bends them, that stretches that creativity.

You can find that here, in “The Receiving Tower,” and let’s face it, in all of Matt’s writing. I highly suggest, if you are looking to find in yourself something more than you knew before, to read this story, to get a copy of Matt’s book, How They Were Found.

It has been months since the larger dish picked up anything but static, maybe longer. Some of the men talk openly now about leaving the tower, about trying to make our way to the coast, where we might be rescued from this place by the supply transport that supposedly awaits us there. These men say the war is over, that—after all these years—we can finally go home.

The captain lets the men speak, and then, calmly, asks each of the dissenters where they are from, knowing these men will not be able to remember their hometowns, that they haven’t been able to for years.

The captain, he always knows just how to quiet us.

Read the full story from Willow Springs.(Opens in PDF.)

SSM: “Withdraw” by Mesha Maren

25 May

I don’t have much time tonight. I have to be quick. Work today was nuts, little time to think or post. So here you go. The other day, Matt Bell posted an interesting snippet from an interview of Chris Bachelder regarding formal constraints in fiction: “I would still be happy to be formally inventive, but I’d just want to define invention so that it is broader than merely infusing narrative content into some non-narrative archaic form or pop-culture form. Formal invention can be more interesting and vital than merely formal borrowing.”

This story borrows a form from a dictionary definition, but I appreciate that it goes beyond the form to tell a good story, to find a good tone–goes beyond the merely clever. Sorry I can’t write more. Perhaps I can come back later tonight and put some more thoughts down, but for now, I’ll leave you with this:

with-draw \with-‘dro\ vb- withdrew; withdrawn; withdrawing- a: to remove from a place of deposit { I check the pockets of my husband’s blue jeans before placing them in the washer and withdraw a condom wrapper: a small crinkling cellophane square. The discovery settles heavy in my stomach. I smooth the packet out between my fingers. The corners of my mouth lift up as if to laugh. } b: to remove oneself from participation { Gary and I haven’t had sex for two years. Ever since my pregnancy he doesn’t seem interested, is always so tired. Each time I advance Gary withdraws. }

Read the full story at Hobart.

SSM: “The Pig” by Ben Loory

25 May

One can worship anything, I suppose. Money, sex, silence. Often I’ve wondered if humans were made to worship, not the other way around. Recently, a lot of hub-bub was made of Göbekli Tepe, one of oldest–if not the oldest–discovered places of worship. It’s said that possibly civilization was brought to life by the need for religion. A thought worth repeating: possibly civilization was brought to life by religion.

Whether you follow or not, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And if you do, you’re blind already. Ben Loory is, to me, the sine qua non of the short-short form. I visualize the opening scene in my head as taking place in a suburban home in spring, during a downpour and the last scene as during autumn, in the evening, when the light is like weak tea.

Honey? says the man’s wife. Are you in there?
Yes, says the man, but please, leave me alone. I’m in here with the pig.
The man’s wife hesitates.
But we miss you, she says. And also the pig.

Read the story here.

SSM: “Burglary” by Mary Jones

24 May

Last January, I came home from work to a burgled home. They’d taken my laptop, a jar of coins, our television, and some other odds and ends. Along with the violation, there’s a strange pompousness that comes to being burgled, an assumption that I owned what another wanted.

I found myself wanting to talk to the burglars, to say that ever lifting phrase, “If you just would have asked…” which is bullshit of course, a way of making me feel better about my station. When people come to my door, I’m immediately suspicious, I keep the storm door between us, I look beyond them. I rarely give a solicitor at my door a fiver, let alone a TV or my laptop.

I’d be interested in how people read this story by Jones over at PANK. Do you read it as envy? As an affair? Is an affair a sort of burglary? Is burglary out of envy or necessity or both: like how rape is so often thought of as a crime of passion, but it’s more a crime of power? Are there any psychologists in the house?

Carol decided to burglarize her neighbor’s house. She was a friend of the family, but there were things she wanted that the family had. She was tired of seeing the things, leaving them for the family. She wore a ski mask and used a flashlight. She went in late at night, when no one was home, except the husband. The wife and the kids were out of town visiting with relatives. They would not be back for days, and Carol knew it, so she could take her time getting the things she wanted. Sometimes when the family went away, they left her in charge of the dog, so she had a set of keys that the woman had made for her years ago.

The dog greeted her when she opened the door, its tail wagging. It was a big dog with a dopey disposition—the kind of animal that always seemed to be smiling at his own thoughts. Carol fed it treats from her pocket as she made her way through the house. First she went down the hall to where the children slept. In their room two walls were painted pink, for the little girl, and the other two walls were painted blue, for the little boy. Carol had a gigantic garbage bag. It was the kind of bag you use for things that break through lesser bags. She went to the beds and put all the things that kept the children warm at night into her bag. She took their pillows and their blankets. She took all of the stuffed animals that had been tucked underneath the covers. She took the nightlight, too.

Read the full story at PANK.

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