Thoughts from George Rosen

george rosen the immanence cover

The seed of “A Good White Hunter” was seeing, forty years ago on a side street of a small Kenyan town, a man—an obviously unhappy man, wearing that grim look people wear when they’re doing work they don’t like, for a person they don’t like, for money they need to have. He was loading or unloading something from a Land Rover; you couldn’t tell which because he was in a moment of stasis, just staring at some shapeless sacks.

He was unshaven, dressed in a sleeveless undershirt and khaki pants, stained like all cloth in that part of the country, with the red laterite dust of the roads. The remarkable thing about him, what made him much later (I’m not the world’s fastest fiction writer) turn into a story, was that he was an mzungu, a “European” as they say, with cultural accuracy, in East African English: a white man. I spent two years teaching high school in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer, and he was the only European—an Englishman, I guessed, I imagined, not hearing him speak—I ever saw doing menial labor for somebody else, in his case an Indian store-owner next to whose storage godown he was standing.

This certainly was not what the British colonial regime had intended. Nor was it anything typical of the then newly independent Kenya, where in a few parts of the country—particularly in the richly soiled, fertile areas of the “White Highlands” that had been kept off limits to native Kenyans by the colonial rulers—there were still several thousand British farmers, prosperous men and women you could sometime see walking down a small-town street with a servant staying cautiously a few steps behind.

So I wondered how it had happened, how it had come to pass for this one guy contemplating those sacks of, who knows, those sacks of something. There was, of course, a “real” story, one I didn’t know. If I’d been braver or more obliviously curious, I might have just walked up and asked him. But I didn’t, and it’s inside such fortuitous, sometimes intentional, ignorance that a storyteller’s imagination often starts to work. What I saw then, and it took me twenty years to figure out, was the Atherton of “A Good White Hunter,” a traveler who maybe was, or maybe not, going to make it home.

George Rosen is the author of the novel Black Money (Scarborough  House, 1990) and the story collection The Immanence of God in the Tropics (Leapfrog Press, 2012), which includes “A Good White Hunter” and other tales of East Africa.

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Joan Connor on small presses

joan connor how to stop loving someone cover

 

I have been thinking recently how grateful I am for small presses and university presses for keeping the short story alive.  Most commercial presses will not touch story collections unless by an already established author, usually an established novelist.  Similarly agents generally refuse to represent story collections.  The rationale seems to be that there is no market for them; they are not commercially viable.  I find this perplexing.  My students love stories and read them voraciously, as do my colleagues and writer friends.  I am currently teaching a course in the novella, and the novella also is tough to place in the market.  Nonetheless, my students are loving the form, and we are writing a collaborative novella in the class.  They enjoy writing a novella as much as they enjoy reading the novella.  All of this makes me think that there is a market for these shorter forms.  Cynically, I suspect that it comes back to greed.  The market dictates that there is no market because it fears there is no money to be made.  Likely wrongly.

So thank you small presses and university presses for preserving these forms.

Joan Connor is the author of five collections: How to Stop Loving Someone (Leapfrog Press, 2011), History Lessons, The World Before Mirrors (nonfiction), We Who Live Apart, and Here on Old Route 7. She is a professor of creative writing at Ohio University.

Excerpts from Vol. 1, No. 2

After a Sermon at the Church of Infinite Confusion (poem)

John Smelcer

***

Hear It

David Armstrong

He has the blunt, hard knuckles of a streetfighter. Hairy in multiple ways, he wears a brown serviceman’s shirt with the name Cal embroidered across a patch on the left breast. He raises his fist at me.

“I’m gonna knock your teeth in, bud.”

Summer heat like hellfire swoons across the oil-soaked concrete of the service station, and relentless blasts of it roll over us in waves as we stand in front of the little clerk’s counter. It’s a backroad, backcountry, and Plummer’s Sup and Pump crouches in the shade of a fleshy green hill. I haven’t had water for hours. My mouth tastes like that grime-caked nickel Jason Crabtree found on the floor of the bus and dared me to lick when we were in fifth grade. Twenty years ago? Why can’t I remember how old I am?

***

Crazy Dan

Sara Netto

No one had much of a problem with Crazy Dan. He kept mainly to himself. He lived in a tiny 80-year-old house next to an even smaller shack on a lot surrounded by walnut trees. No one knew exactly where he came from, who his parents were, or if he had always been crazy. He collected disability checks twice a month from the government—but physically he was fine. He looked as though he’d always been in his thirties; his hair and face he kept trimmed enough to not attract attention; he always wore a bright red windbreaker, no matter the weather. He drove a 2-stroke 50cc Honda motor scooter, even though no one else did anymore. Everyone talked about him and loved him as they would love the town drunk, but no one really knew much about him. The only other thing they really knew was that he filmed everything he could with a handheld camcorder— anything and everything, the most mundane things. No one could understand it—that’s why he was Crazy Dan.

***

Woodchuck Tries a Family

Ted Pelton

Woodchuck awoke.
He was in bed with his woman but he was awakened by something else some creature between him and his lover.
He could tell without opening his eyes that it was still dark but dawn was near.
He heard his woman snoring and he kept his eyes closed and rolled over to get back to sleep.
The creature rolled up against Woodchuck and threw out an only slightly muffled elbow.
Woodchuck winced and looked next to him but saw nothing only his woman’s stomach protruding.
His gaze seemed to wake her.
She turned toward him.
That’s right she said.

***

Columbine

Ted Pelton

Woodchuck stood up in a field in the sun on a spring day.
By a tree at the end of a stone wall sat a human boy with his gun who might or might not have been a good shot.
Woodchuck remained still.
It would take some skill to hit the brown animal at such distance and the boy knew hunting safety knew not to risk a bad shot knew not to trust the safety switch on his gun that remained switched on to prevent accidental release.
The boy it was plain to see was bored.
He raised and aimed his gun and put it down again.
He looked up at clouds.
They always said of him at home that he walked around with his head in the sky.

***

The Border

Marge Piercy

She drove, not too fast, never over the speed limit but not too slowly either—the important thing was not to attract attention. She had the car radio on to the new album the Beatles had just put out, Revolver. The DJ was playing it all the way
through with interruptions for acne medication, shampoo and beer commercials. She would have liked to turn it up to help her stay awake, but if she did, he might wake up. In the backseat, the man was still sleeping, occasionally moaning or
cursing or grunting. It was better when he was asleep. Awake, he made her nervous.

***

La cantina

Michael McGuire

No one ever knew why José Antonio came to La Cantina.

La Cantina was not its official name, it was just what the place was known for, the only cantina as far as a man could drive in one day.

José Antonio himself knew why he had come here. His work in the city had not been undistinguished or unrewarded, he had just tired of unnecessary words.

Yes, that was it. He was tired of the Tower of Babel. It had been time to rest his ears, his tongue, and so he had moved to a place where words were few and far between.

José Antonio had traveled as far as you could without leaving Mexico and arrived at a spot the frequent fliers on Aeromexico seldom saw: the US/Mexico border, a spot where what little crossing there was was usually done under cover of night.

***

The Baby

Nicole Louise Reid

She appeared one morning from nothing. We looked at our boy, eating oatmeal in his chair. Tall for the booster’s four inches. Day was in his hair like glow, like fluff of weeds to blow. Our boy.

He looked at her, too. So we knew we were not drunk or stoned or made loopy with dreaming.

We said, “Hello” and moved nearer.

She was a baby. The light of morning showed just how bald she was. Nothing like our son. She wore a pink dress. The kind babies wore when one of us was a girl and had dolls and called them babies, bought them real Pampers and Gerber bottles to suck. It was soft pink with smocking across her chest. An appliquéd squirrel and tree, small at the hemline splayed out across her fat ankles.

***

The Trench Angel

Michael Gutierrez

The men lined up for their pictures before they died. It was an orderly, single-file queue snaking through the trench, no pushing or shoving, none of that childhood hokum, because, after all, they were Englishman. Each held a letter addressed to
his mum or sweetheart, brother or father, mostly commenting on the poorness of the weather or the morale of the men or even razzing the queer ways of the French, but they didn’t have any words for what was really going on. How could you remember all of this and put it down on paper? When their turn arrived, they handed the letter to me, the Yank, and I raised my camera, the indestructible Miss Constance, then fired. The pose never changed—head tilted a smidge left, eyes wide—the same picture over and over again like a broken projector. You went through that death line enough times it became rote. Still, if I could go back, if I could somehow re-enter the mind of my younger self, I’d have kept those photos,
every last one of them, and I’d have put them all together in a book without a title because no pithy phrase, no publisher’s cliché could sum up those stares.

Excerpts from Vol. 1, Issue No. 1

 

Aaron’s Auto Salvage and Restoration, Mackey’s Corners, Arkansas

Mark Lyons

What’s a preacher doing tending a junkyard? First, there was my own crisis of faith. Our Lord was telling me to take up the serpents to demonstrate my infinite trust in Him: Behold, I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions…and nothing by any means shall hurt you. But the snakes did hurt me: fourteen bites in all, three in that last year alone. Thirteen times I resisted the temptation to go to the hospital, screaming in pain something awful, my flock holding me down while I suffered the shakes and fevers. I lost a finger to the venom, it just rotted and fell off. Can’t feel anything in my right hand, I walk with a limp, all in the name of faith. Finally, came the last bite–a timber rattler at a revival, while we all sang “Temptations are great, but God’s love is greater.” I kept going in and out of the darkness, pain like black lightening, but I knew I was not ready for my appointment with God. Take me to the hospital I cried out in my delirium, and right then and there the parishioners of the Divine Reflection Holiness Church lost faith in me. It’s a sign from God, they said, that I resorted to the anti-venom: Preacher Aaron has lost the anointing.

***

1932: Distance

Vickie Weaver

Enda Wheeler stands alone, smoking a cigarette. Her back burns from hoeing tobacco since God woke her up, and now it is suppertime. She accepts hard work as her lot in life, although every now and again she can’t help but dwell on it. She has been low-down tired ever since her pa gave her over to a husband who is a two-fisted drinker and a one-fisted worker. Scanning the woods-hemmed horizon for Big Man, she rubs the hard knot over her pelvis to calm the baby who is fretting inside her. Enda coughs, and her bladder leaks onto already damp panties. Seems she spends half her day looking for her husband, the other half in the tobacco fields, and another half trying to cook and keep house. Today the pondering has brought out her temper, as it is wont to do. A rock, the size of the head of the fetus, rests in her apron pocket. Enda caresses the rock through the nearly transparent calico. It won’t hurt Big Man much, just get his attention. Do not kill, she knows, is one of the Lord’s laws. Not ever being of a mind to break His law, still Enda daily prays to outlive the sumbitch and pickle his dick in a Mason jar, preserve it in his own moonshine. When there is nothing left of the cigarette, she presses it into the ground with the blade of the hoe.

Enda wants him in the worst way, and the worst way is the only way she has ever wanted him, if you don’t count not wanting him at all.

***

To Honor the Fallen

George Rosen

My orthodontist committed suicide when I was ten years old. He was found slumped over the wet bar in his boxer shorts, reaching for the telephone, the empty pill bottle and a glass of ginger ale beside him. His immediate neighbors were shocked, but in the community we lived in shocks dissipated quickly. Tragedy in one cul-de-sac was often mere gossip in an older section of town. To my parents, though, Zeke Adler’s death was a fresh hurt. They and the Adlers had belonged to the same left-wing student group before the war and were two of perhaps seven couples who had reunited at the war’s end and stayed close ever since. The group of friends worked together for the causes they believed in, played together, and — amidst the McCarthy era’s bad weather — rued the future together. They shared most of their hopes and fears and the failure of any one of them was a failure of them all.

***

Missing Person

Helen Phillips

At times, we wake happy, or at least as happy as one could ever hope to be in this world. Spring has come to the darkest city. Even the streets, which glimmered icily at us all winter, have taken on a hot moist smell. Girls stalk sidewalks in slutty dresses. Teenagers get desirous on stoops. Purple clusters of flowers emerge like warts from the bark of trees. We could float a hundred miles on these vibrant sidewalks!

***

Trompe L’Oeil

Liza Kleinman

After the kid’s mother left us, I tried to cheer him up.“Let me paint your room,” I offered. “We’ll make it look really cool. You like the Wild West? Or outer space? What?”“I don’t care,” the kid said, so I made the initial decisions myself. I moved ahead with a Martian landscape, which I thought a nine-year-old would like. I wasn’t working from a sketch; I wanted to keep it loose, see what developed. First I painted a wisp of Martian vegetation, tall and reedy, and then I started to add a green Martian peering over the top. Together, the partial Martian and the reed looked a lot like a palm tree. I painted a large terra cotta tub for it to grow out of, and I added palm leaves. One thing led to another. Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of the café.

The kid was a little hesitant. “What happened to the Martians?” he asked.

***

Libby and Sandy

Michael Mirolla

Two sisters, Elizabeth and Sandra, either suntanned or naturally Indian sub-continent olive, are standing on a tiny square of the patchy, previously grub-chewed front lawn of a nondescript building on a nondescript street. “Previously” because the grubs are all nice and snug in their winter cocoons now, curled up with their six tiny legs tucked in under their maws. Their oversized maws. It is the sort of two-storey, semi-detached house that multiplies itself in various shades of brick and siding along the slightly seedy but about to be gentrified residential spaces of the inner city. You know the type? For decades, they served as the sanctuaries of multi-generational immigrant families raising children they could barely understand and then watching those same children fly off to sub-division monster homes and greener pastures (in some cases literally) in the distant suburbs. Then being purchased by absentee landlords to be split into odd-shaped rental units (boarding houses as the worst scenario) before the children decided that suburban pastures were often inconvenient and the commute was an expensive killer and wouldn’t it be lovely to have a house only a block or two from the subway line and open-air fruit stands, cappuccino bars, antique shops and homemade pizza parlours? Which is what is happening here (the question of the hour) with the model family about to whack away at the walls and divisions so they can restore the house to its pristine pre-tenant state, complete with central stairway with oak railings now buried and barely visible beneath a plaster wall.

Does that explain Libby and Sandy, as they are known to their friends, standing, holding each other tight, in the middle of their belongings and surrounded by the yellowing leaves of the now-naked maple?