Short Story Of the Day, Just After the Wave by Sandrine Collett


But now this is driving him crazy, this ocean creeping closer, especially at night when no one can see it, at dawn the sea surprises them with its silent waves, ever higher, and the hens squawk because there is hardly anything left to peck at on the last bit of land that is holding out—for a few days the children fed them potato peels, but now there’s nothing left.

—-Just After the Wave, An excerpt of the novel by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson


Trinity River
Dallas, Texas

Read it here:

Just After the Wave, An excerpt of the novel by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson

from Guernica


Short Story of the Day – A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo

A cannon that breaks its moorings suddenly becomes some strange, supernatural beast. It is a machine transformed into a monster. That short mass on wheels moves like a billiard-ball, rolls with the rolling of the ship, plunges with the pitching goes, comes, stops, seems to meditate, starts on its course again, shoots like an arrow from one end of the vessel to the other, whirls around, slips away, dodges, rears, bangs, crashes, kills, exterminates. It is a battering ram capriciously assaulting a wall. Add to this the fact that the ram is of metal, the wall of wood.

—-Victor Hugo, A Fight With a Cannon

Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas, Dallas, Texas


All my life I have heard the phrase “A loose cannon” used to describe a person that, in some way or another, is dangerously out of control. Have heard it, as have you, thousands of times. I have never really thought about what it means.

Today’s short story A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo explains what a loose cannon is and what it means in intricate, desperate, and horrific detail. Imagine a huge cylinder of metal, heavy and hard, on a carriage of wheels set loose unrestrained on a deck of a sailing ship on the high seas. It is a battering ram – full of random destructive motion. This is what a loose cannon is.

But what to do about it? And what to do after that? And after that? The story has the surprising solutions(s). Some people are not what they seem.  There is truly more than one kind of loose cannon.

Some helpful definitions:

Carronade – an obsolete naval gun of short barrel and large bore

Assignat – one of the notes issued as paper currency from 1789 to 1796 by the revolutionary government on the security of confiscated lands.

Chevalier – French History. the lowest title of rank in the old nobility.

Cascabel – a knoblike projection at the rear of the breech of a muzzleloading cannon.

Cross of Saint-Louis – The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was founded in 1693. The king would award the Cross of Saint-Louis to reward outstanding service to France. The recipient then became a “knight of Saint Louis”.

Ambuscade – an ambush.

Hammock-shroud – A poetical expression which derives its force from the fact that the bodies of sailors or other persons dying at sea are sewed up in hammocks and committed to the deep.

Everything That Was Not Death

“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild

A tree fell in a bad spot, downtown Dallas, Texas

I saw this waiting for the streetcar to Bishop Arts district. What really sucks is that tree didn’t fall by accident, it looked like it was cut down (though it was dead and probably going to fall anyway). I guess once it fell on the meter, they were scared to move it. Somebody is not very happy.

Nanowrimo Day Four

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 6,667 words

Words written today – 1,722
Words written so far – 7,100 words
Words to goal – +433

Oak Point Nature Preserve

From this picture you would think I was out in the country somewhere, cruising the Great Plains, rather than in the heart of the urban, tony suburb of Plano, Texas.


“I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
― Woody Guthrie

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

This was a tough writing day. Since I was off work, I wanted to really spend some time and maybe double my word count in case I needed a day off this week (which looks awfully busy). But shit happens and a good bit of it did. I managed to write a couple hundred words at lunch and didn’t think I’d be able to get a lot done at night, but I managed to sit down and hammer out my quota.

I’m not to happy with what I wrote, but it is what it is. I wrote the backstory of a new character – I originally intended him to be killed early, but now that I’ve spent so long on his backstory I might keep him around for a while – maybe make him an antagonist. He is a nasty piece of work with an odd name – Prime Meridian.

I started out with the story of how his grandfather, Isaac Meridian, established the start of the family fortune by foreclosing on the misery of the  people of the plains during the great depression and the dust bowl. Too much exposition – but this is Nanowrimo, so I keep typing.

Snippet of what I wrote:

Each little town had its own movie theater, city hall, and carefully tended town square. Every weekend there would be picture shows, dances, and even traveling entertainment – tiny circuses, barnstormers, or small concert orchestras – moving from town to town earning what they could – which was usually enough. People would travel from town to town enjoying the times, making friends.

Nobody ever thought the good times would end. Until they did.

It all happened with horrific speed. The rains stopped. Nobody had understood that the rainy time was the rare exception, not the rule. The land quickly reverted back to what it had always been – a wind-blasted near desert. The crops died and then the soil began to blow. Vast dust clouds began to form as millions of tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried for hundreds of miles.

Walls of dust, moving mountains of dust, shot across the plains, devouring everything in sight. To be hit by this was like walking through a storm of razors. People caught in their own yards would be forced to grope for the doorstep. Cars were forced to a standstill, and no light in the world could penetrate that swirling murk. They lived with the dust, ate it, slept with it, and watched it strip everyone of possessions and the hope of possessions

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 6 – And of Clay Are We Created, by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

Statue on top of a crypt, Saint Louis Cemetery Number One, New Orleans

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 6 – And of Clay Are We Created, by by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

Read it online here:

And of Clay Are We Created by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

First a subterranean sob rocked the cotton fields, curling them like waves of foam. Geologists had set up their seismographs weeks before and knew that the mountain had awakened again. For some time they had predicted that the heat of the eruption could detach the eternal ice from the slopes of the volcano, but no one heeded their warnings; they sounded like the tales of frightened old women. The towns in the valley went about their daily life, deaf to the moaning of the earth, until that fateful Wednesday night in November when a prolonged roar announced the end of the world, and walls of snow broke loose, rolling in an avalanche of clay, stones, and water that descended on the villages and buried them beneath unfathomable meters of telluric vomit.

—-Isabel Allende, And of Clay Are We Created

There isn’t much I can add to today’s story. Any comment would seem trivial and trite. This one is the real deal. Just read it.

Interview with Isabel Allende:

Q. Can you elaborate on the idea of writing fiction—of telling a truth, of telling lies, of uncovering some kind of reality? Can you also talk about how these ideas might work together or against one another?

A. The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life: chronological order, or whatever order the author chooses. As a writer, you select some part of a whole. You decide that those things are important and the rest is not. And you write about those things from your perspective. Life is not that way. Everything happens simultaneously, in a chaotic way, and you don’t make choices. You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free. You can do anything. Then you start walking in circles. The larger the circle, the more truth you can get. The wider the horizon—the more you walk, the more you linger over everything—the better chance you have of finding particles of truth.

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. I am a good listener and a story hunter. Everybody has a story and all stories are interesting if they are told in the right tone. I read newspapers, and small stories buried deep within the paper can inspire a novel.

Q. How does inspiration work?

A. I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not God; I’m just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I’m not conscious of what I’m writing. It’s a strange process—as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.

—-Isabel Allende, from her website

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

Sunday Snippet – Historical Fiction

Today’s bit is from a confused collection of text that I have been working on for a long time. It was intended to be a piece of historical fiction – a form I love to read but have never really had luck writing.

I think I’m going to give up the historical aspects of this story and move it into the present day. That means I can remove everything from the past and tell it as a complete lie. Trying to do proper research and insure historically accurate details and language was more time than I wanted to waste and more energy than I wanted to expend.

The following is the end of what I used to mess with and it will have to go. But I thought I’d let you take a read before I send it up to that great delete key in the sky.

“Up, Up!” For the second time in the last day, someone was shaking me and shouting into my face. “We must go now!” It was my father. He was in such an agitated state I almost didn’t recognize him.

It took me a minute to get my bearings, to remember and start to understand why I was in bed yet still dressed. The clock showed it to be late afternoon. My face ached terribly and I gingerly touched my mouth and cheek, feeling the dried blood, which stained my shirt with an irregular dark streak. Father ignored my awful appearance, threw an old overcoat around my shoulders and dragged me out the front door.

The Beauregards and the Carrolltons were waiting there, on horseback. Carson held the reins of two more steeds, one for me, one for my father. Before we could mount, my father grabbed me roughly by the shoulders and shoved his face inches from mine. His usually deep and reserved eyes were swollen and bulged out, his cheeks red as beets, his hair, once carefully groomed, now dirty and wild. With a disturbed cracking and rising voice that I wouldn’t have believed could have come from that cultivated and meticulous man he screamed into my face.

“Listen! Listen to me. No matter what happens, no matter what they say or what questions they ask… remember, nothing could have been done! It was God’s will… an act of God alone!” “Do you understand.”

He said the last three words not like a question but as a statement of fact. With that I was grabbed roughly and pulled onto a horse and immediately the group rode off along the road. The rain had let up; only a light misting remained of the violent storm. Everyone was silent as we moved along behind the row of cottages. I couldn’t look out at the lake, it was screened from view by the buildings and landscaping, plus I had to pay attention as the horse worked his way through the deeply rutted road, maneuvering around the many small ponds of standing water. Before long we emerged before the bridge over the spillway but instead of crossing it to the dam the others were turning onto the rough path that led away into the woods. I followed.

They all halted and turned, staring out over the lake. I halted my horse and turned also. I’ll never forget the chill that struck all the way to my very core — the horrible sight that my eyes saw from that road.

The lake was gone. The view was so shocking and unexpected it took several seconds for my mind to comprehend what I was looking at.

Above the old waterline, everything was as it always was; the cottages lined up, the big lodge house, smoke still curling up against the light rain from its cluster of chimneys. The boardwalks still ran along the edge, extending out to the fishing and boat docks, which still stood in place. The hills still ran up and away, covered with the green growth of spring, the blue mountain mists still licked down the hollows to the old waterline.

Below this line, however, everything was horribly, horribly wrong. The lake was replaced with an enormous black wound in the earth. To look down, down into the gaping maw of mud, to see small rivulets of filthy water still running down the impossibly steep sides was to stare into the very depths of hell. I couldn’t stand it. I turned my head away and looked over at the dam itself and saw that it too, had simply ceased to exist. The huge earthen wall was represented now by two small, steep hillocks at each end of an immense chasm. The dam had been neatly sliced away entire by the unimaginable force of the water confined behind it.

Instinctively, I looked back at our own cottage. The dock still stood, except now it was perched high in the air, on stilted legs above an obscene slick, barren hillside. My sailboat hung from its mooring line at the bow, dangling in mid air, swinging in the breeze. Something else moved down there, and I had to look closely to make out the Italian workmen, wading down into the mud. They were grabbing the stranded fish, the bass flopping around helpless, and stuffing them into canvas bags.

For one second I felt sorry for myself. Our wonderful cottage, my beautiful boat, the summers all ruined. That instant of self-pity was drowned by a clear voice that welled up from somewhere deep within me, a voice of awful clarity in the confusion. That voice simply asked, “Where did the water go?”

The lake had been several miles long and up to seventy feet deep. Millions and millions of tons of water had rushed out in what must have been little more than minutes, carrying with it the untold tons more of earth and rock that made up the dam itself. I shuddered when I thought of the power of that giant wave, of how it would grow in deadly fury as it rushed down the mountainside, picking up trees, rocks, roadway… any thing that stood in its inexorable path.

I thought of the narrow canyon that carried the stream down off the mountain, the very valley that I had fought my way up the day before. There was nothing along that way to halt or even slow down the wave; it would actually focus the power, help it to build up upon itself.

Finally, I thought of the city of Johnstown far below. It was already flooded, waterlogged, completely at the mercy of the disaster that fell from the mountains above. The remains of the lake would descend upon the town like a falling mountain, a moving mountain of water and debris, a flying, boiling unstoppable wave of violent death.

Finally, I thought of Maggie in her little shack, perched right there on the bank by the water. Right where the Conemaugh River opened up into the doomed helpless hopeless city.

I let out a cry, a shriek like that of a pitiful useless animal and began to shake uncontrollably. An icy coldness held me in a merciless grip. I couldn’t move. My father saw my state and, still muttering “Act of God, nobody’s fault, Act of God” grabbed the reins of my horse and led us all away into the woods along the rough path.

Why I Love to Slaughter my Characters

Man is born crying. When he cries enough, he dies.

As I’ve said before, I can outline too many of my short stories with three cards-

1. Introduce Compelling Character – interesting and fully rounded human that, despite some quirky faults and failings, the reader likes and can identify with.

2. Something bad happens – the protagonist is presented with something that does not go as planned and puts them in some distress – a problem to solve.

3. Protagonist dies. Nothing works, doom descends and the main character dies an ignominious, painful death.

They aren’t all like this, but this is what I like to shoot for. It’s just that sometimes my characters refuse to do what I tell them to and, despite my best efforts, they get lucky, scrape by with the skin of their teeth, and survive.

Everyone tells me I’m a terrible person because I take so much joy in butchering my heroes and heroines, especially since they are sometimes such nice people. Some ask me why I do that. I do it because I like it. I do it because I can. I do it because it doesn’t hurt anybody.

These are fictional characters. They are not real. Everything is a lie. Writing this stuff is a lot of hard work, time that I should be spending in useful money-making activities – so I want a payoff. Since I can do anything, doesn’t it make sense to do what I can’t ever do in real life? Death! Off with their heads!

The idea is to kick it up a notch, isn’t it? What possible reason is there not to kick it up as far as it will go. Turn those amplifier knobs to eleven.



It’s the same thing if you are reading. It takes time to turn those pages; time you should be using to interact with real human beings. So if you are choosing to hang out with an imaginary shade instead of a flesh-and-blood person you are going to want to make the best of the situation. So what is the one advantage of befriending fiction, a pack of ghostly lies, over some warm living example of God’s creatures?

You can kill them and nobody gives a shit. Plenty more where they came from. Close those book covers or shut off that e-reader and the pain and mourning is all gone. You can wipe a tear and go make a sandwich-nobody knows any better.

So let’s raise a glass to fictional death. Give a big hearty laugh at the disaster yarn. Let the blood spill and the darkness descend, as long as it is behind the protective screen of those twenty-six letters with the added armor of a few punctuation marks.

There’s too much out here, so lets keep it in there. As much as we can.