A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Jellyfish at Aurora, Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Read it online here:

The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Suhaila toed the mass of jellyfish and thought, At least they don’t sting. The tide had deposited thousands of their bodies up and down the beach in thick clumps, clusters of sand-spackled flesh so glossy it might be mistaken for cellophane from far away. The domes of their bells lay scattered everywhere: tangled in kelp, indented by purple-bellied slipper shells, pierced by the black horns of mermaid’s purses.

—-Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, The Peaceable Night

I remember once taking the ferry across from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula the water was full of jellyfish. I don’t mean a lot of jellyfish… I mean full – millions upon millions of huge, bluish bellshaped coelenterates – it seemed that they had displaced the ocean – there was more jellyfish than water. I don’t know what quirk of weather, currents, or tides produced this bounty, but it was beautiful and frightening at the same time.

Of course, I remember a less pleasant encounter. At the beach on South Padre Island a wave washed a Portuguese man o’ war (yeah, I know – they aren’t really jellyfish… so sue me) over me, the long tentacles draped across my arms. The pain was amazing. It hurt as much as any pain I’ve ever felt. It was more like an electric shock than a sting. I spent several days in bed, sick – my arms had needle tracks like a champion junky where the nematocysts punctured my skin in long lines twisting around my body.

Today’s story features a recent widow with a young daughter. They have recently purchased a beach house and are struggling to pull each other through the day. It is a story of jellyfish and beach cleaners and trying to save a little bit of something. It is a story of war and immigration and trying to get your life back.

It’s a good thing those jellyfish don’t sting. It’s a shame that almost everything else does.

Interview with Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar:

You started out as a scientific researcher. What made you leave that path to pursue writing?

To be honest, I was a writer long before I was a scientist. I wrote my first story in third grade—a spiral-bound, illustrated little story called “If I Were a Kitten for a Day”—and wrote novellas and a few just-for-fun fantasy novels in middle school and high school. I’m a writer for the same reason I was a scientist—I’m fascinated by how the world works. So I continued to write throughout high school, college, and grad school, which resulted in a much better knowledge of and appreciation for the craft of writing. Along the way, I also studied science, because there were questions about the world that I wanted answers to. I’ve always been a curious person.

Writing has always been a necessary part of who I am. For me, writing is like a reflex; it’s how I process my experiences and the world around me. It keeps me sane. So while I eventually realized that academic science was not the right career path for me in the long term, my passion for writing only grew stronger.

—-From Creative Quibble

Red Jellyfish, from the Aurora Preview

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A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 16 – War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

Klyde Warren Park,
Dallas, Texas

 

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 16 – War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

Read it online here:
War of the Clowns by Mia Couto

The following morning, the two remained, obnoxious and outdoing
each other. It seemed as though, between them, even yucca soured. In the
street, meanwhile, those present were exhilarated with the masquerade.
The buffoons began worsening their insults with fine-edged and finetuned
barbs. Believing it to be a show, the passersby left coins along the
roadside.

—-Mia Couto, War of the Clowns

Today, we have a brief bit of flash fiction by Mia Couto, an excellent writer from Mozambique.

At first, the parable seems like a bit of literary fluff. But it also feels terribly familiar. It feels like watching the evening news.

Are you afraid of clowns?

The biggest movie right now is It – from the Steven King novel. Like today’s flash fiction, It plays on our fear of clowns. The clowns in today’s parable are even more frightening, in the end, than the horrific Pennywise. They are the end of the world.

Interview with Mi Couto:

We know we are made of memories, but we don’t know the extent to which we are made up of forgetfulness. We think of oblivion as an absence, an empty space, a lack. But in most cases, with the exception of neurological disease, forgetting is an activity—it’s a choice that demands the same effort as remembrance. This is equally valid for individuals and communities. If you visit Mozambique, you’ll see that people have decided to forget the war years. It is not an omission. It’s a tacit decision to forget what were cruel times, because people fear that this cruelty is not a thing of the past but can again become our present. And moreover, in rural parts of Mozambique the notion of nonlinear time is still dominant. For them, the past has not passed.

—-from Paris Review

Laissez les bons temps rouler

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Read it online here:
Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space – it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors – van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here – none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long – there’s about as much a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start the shops never stay for long – something opens, fills a short-term need, then closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.

—-Tim Maughan, Limited Edition

I am an old man, old enough to know a time when athletic shoes were called sneakers, or maybe tennis shoes – and were made of a single, simple layer of canvas with a simple rubber sole. The only “brand” I remember were PF Flyers (PF stood for Posture Foundation – bet you didn’t know that) and there were ads for them on television. I do remember a bit of the thrill and envy when I saw a pair – always on somebody else.

Now, of course, the innocent and silly tropes of my ancient youth have been distorted and blown up by technology and the shallowness of modern life until they have become reality. Sneakers have been replaced by Kicks, and Johnny Quest replaced by millionaire athletes.

Throw these ingredients into the soup of social media and powerful portable devices and you have the world of today’s story, Limited Edition.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Interview with Tim Maughan:

Odo: Current technologies such as virtual reality, social networks and online games are prominently featured in your stories. How would you say that the use of these technologies is changing our way of thinking, our way of interacting with other people?

TM: That’s a good question. That’s a big question! I’m not sure we know yet, I think we’re still feeling our way. That’s why I’m writing about them, I think, to try and understand myself. I think everything is so double edged now – online communities for example, they can be both embracing and alienating, both to degrees we couldn’t possibly imagine a couple of decades ago. The same goes for the anonymity and distance that ‘net culture grants us – it can be liberating, allowing people to express themselves in ways they would be too scared to in real life – but of course the flip of that is it lets people get away with saying or doing terrible things with no consequence. I was reading a forum recently where someone used a homophobic slur, and when they were confronted about it they said nobody should be offended as it was ‘only pixels’. That struck me as simultaneously both horrifying and logical – it’s a defence that must make some sense if you’ve grown up spending a large percentage of your communicating life online. It’s the complete stripping of meaning, postmodernism made real, I guess. How do you argue against that? In fact, with meaning gone in that way, how do you argue about anything?

Odo: Trust (and distrust) is an important theme in your stories, where characters are often deceived by their friends. Do you think that trusting other people is more dangerous today than, say, twenty years ago?

TM: No, I don’t think so – the media would love us to all believe that, it feeds on fear, and is constantly looking to spread the illusion of distrust so that consumers turn to it for a kind of fake truth. I hear a lot of media talk here about the ‘blitz spirit’, about how British society was more unified during the war in the ’40s. I largely suspect that’s bullshit, and some terrible things happened when the lights were out, there was looting, people cheated on departed lovers and so on. When I’m writing about distrust I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, or a futuristic thing – to be honest it’s sometimes just a plot device! – but more that it’s there, and our media and culture likes to amplify it, to separate and alienate us, to make us better, competing consumers. Consumerism doesn’t work well if everyone trusts each other, it only works if we feel the need to compete with our neighbours, friends, even families.

—-from Sense of Wonder

On the way home from the store with a bag of Miller High Life.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 14 – Dog by Joe R Lansdale

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas
Cathey MIller, Cathedonia
(click to enlarge)

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 14 – Dog by Joe R Lansdale

Read it online here:

Dog by Joe R Lansdale

The money had made him worthless, and he missed writing the column, wished now he hadn’t quit the job when the money came in. Should have stayed at it, he thought. He considered possibly getting his old job back, or maybe trying to write a humor book. Right now, however, it was all just a daydream from the seat of a bicycle.

—-Joe R Lansdale, Dog

I have become quite a fan of Joe R Lansdale. First of all, he’s a Texan, which is always a good thing.

The first story of his I read was God of the Razor – a scary little tale of ultra-horror. That’s not usually my thing but the story was so stark and well-written – it hooked me. I have been reading his stuff every since.

Now, today’s story, Dog, is not for animal lovers… not at all. It is about a guy on a bicycle, which is usually a good thing.

But in this story… not so much. It is a story of a nightmare fight to the death between pretty good and absolute evil. Shame about poor Cuddles.

Interview with Joe R Lansdale

You recently talked on Facebook about writers who complain about loneliness and other aspects of the craft, and you noted, “If you want to be miserable writing, that’s your choice.” Why do you think some writers describe it as some painful, soul-sapping drudge?

I’m sure there are some people out there who are just miserable . . .

They’d be miserable if they were plumbers.

Right. But I think also it’s a pose for a lot of people, because they think they’re doing something that doesn’t require that they dig a ditch or fix a car. I think because it’s intangible. When you take a job, you get paid when you first start out whether you know what you’re doing or not, but in writing you’re not necessarily getting paid when you’re starting out, so are you a writer or are you not a writer? So I think a lot of it too is insecurity, that feeling that it’s like, “Look, I’m really working, this really is important and it’s really hard.” And it’s not that it isn’t hard sometimes—it is. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work; I beat my head against the wall sometimes thinking, I just can’t get that right. But that’s not the same thing as saying I’m miserable doing it. It may be a hard thing to do, but I enjoy doing it. And I feel lucky, because I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s not the same for everybody, but I feel like I just got the best break in the world.

One recent tip you offered was, “Actually start out with Once upon a time and continue.” Have you done that?

Yeah, I’ve done it. I even have one story that begins, “Once upon a time.” I’ve done it several times. I just type “Once upon a time,” and then I’m into it

—-from Nightmare Magazine

Bark Park Central
Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 3 – The Ambush, by Donna Tartt

M41 Walker Bulldog
Liberty Park
Plano, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 3 – The Ambush, by Donna Tartt

Read it online here:

The Ambush, by Donna Tartt

“Oh my God!” he said. “Stay with me, Hank! You can’t die, you son of a bitch!”

I grimaced and tossed my head from side to side in agony as Tim – in a desperate effort to revive me – pounded on my chest. I was impressed by his profanity, but even more impressed that he had taken the Lord’s name in vain on my behalf.

Far away, from the back porch, Tim’s grandmother called out to us in a thin, irritating voice: “Do you all want lemonade?”

—-Donna Tartt, The Ambush

A while back I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and liked it more than I anticipated. The Goldfinch is on my list of books to read – a long list that is, unfortunately, growing rather than shrinking.

Maybe before I die.

Today’s story, The Ambush, is a spectacularly well written tale of childhood and war. The descriptions are all too precise and knowing for a child of eight (the narrator) and you know it is being told from a point far in the future. That the memories are so strong and accurate shows how important the events are to the character, the author, and the reader.

It is a story of the time, a time gone, but of a time I remember. It’s a story of the death of a friend’s father and of the death of a certain kind of life we used to live.

This is something that the novel does better than any other art form: reproducing the inner life and the inner experience of another person, particularly extreme forms of consciousness like grief, dreams, drunkenness, spiritual revelations, even insanity. Unlike movies, where we’re always onlookers, in novels we have the experience of being someone else: knowing another person’s soul from the inside. No other art form does that. And I like dealing with particularly intense inner experiences because I think that in many ways, this is what the novel does best.
—-Donna Tartt

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty – Odour of Chrysanthemums

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty – Odour of Chrysanthemums, by D.H. Lawrence

Read it online here:

Odour of Chrysanthemums

Odour of Chrysanthemums is a famous story – with a well-established position in the pantheon of great and famous short literature. But, somehow, I had never read it – or at least I didn’t remember reading it. And a story of this skill and emotional impact – I would have remembered it.

The first thing that struck me about this story is the language. The paragraphs are chock-a-block with unusual (at least for modern eyes), esoteric, and completely appropriate (even perfect) word choices.

gorse, footplate, coppice, spinney, whimsey, colliery, imperious mien, trundle, metals, winding-engine, steel fender, hob, crozzled… and so on.

I plowed through the first time (reading the story on my tablet in a coffee shop a short bicycle-ride from my house, drinking an iced Thai Milk Tea with boba) and only later, worked my way through with a dictionary website, learning the exact meaning of the words.

The second thing that fascinated me with the story is the description and sense of place. An English coal-mining town in all its filthy glory. What a difficult life. The wife with two children (and another on the way) waiting for her husband to come home from the mine – assuming he had bypassed dinner to go out drinking.

I assumed I was reading a piece of social commentary on the unfairness of life around the coal mines – and I suppose the story is. There is nothing in the text to dilute the clarity or sadness of the woman’s life and the impossible future her family faces.

One aspect of the story that I haven’t read about is the point that her husband suffocated. It was a slow death. If his wife hadn’t assumed he was out drinking and had alerted the other miners about his absence sooner, the end result might have been very different.

But, for all that, at the end, the story reveals its true heart, and its something else entirely. The title gives the first hint. Then there at the end, the wife is faced with her husband’s beautiful body and she realizes she never even knew him.

That is where the story really comes alive and where it has its strongest, unforgettable impact.

And there lies genius.