Monthly Archives: March 2014

Angel’s Wings

I joined a writers’ club in Shawano in January. We meet once a month to workshop stories. Since we read the stories aloud, I’ve found something like 1,000 words works best. I wrote this little story (1,400 words) last week for them bouncing off two inspirations: (1) discovery I had an ancestor named Riley Riley Vickers, who fought in the revolutionary war. Names were scarce back then, I suppose, and they had to reuse when they could. (2) Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s marvelous story  A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. Let me know what you think…

Angel’s Wings

Riley Martin discovered he could fly in a dream. It was one of those curious dreams where you know you’re asleep. You know you’re warm, under the blanket in your bed, yet here you walk along, chilled slightly as the sun slips behind a fluffy cloud, on a grassy hilltop, feet on a narrow path, dandelions showing golden faces here and there in grass lush from the showers of early spring. Riley turned to face the breeze, sniffed the fresh scent of the dewy grass, and knew he could do it. He knew he could fly. He pinched his shirtsleeve cuffs between his fingers and palms, threw his shoulders back, lifted his arms into the breeze, and simply let himself rise. At first he barely lifted, only a few inches, and quickly slipped downwind off the path. He landed awkwardly, but found his balance before he fell and, all-in-all, felt a boost of confidence. He stepped back onto the path, stretched to his full height, and lifted his arms again. This time when his feet came away from the ground, he brought his arms down to his sides sharply, a move that propelled him straight up, like a Fourth-of-July rocket, but only a few feet before he stalled. The change in momentum at the top of this surge, the sinking, falling feeling, terrified him, but he bent his knees, as he’d learned to do skiing with his father before his father went away, and he landed alright, this time forward of the path, awkward again, but not so awkward as the first time. He braced himself, licked his lips, stepped back onto the path, and before fear could take his resolve, thrust his arms down. Again he leapt into the air; again he stalled and began to fall, but this time he raised his arms quickly and repeated the downward thrust, propelling himself higher. Before he began to stall again, he repeated the stroke of his arms (or shall we call them wings now?) and flew over the grass, bobbing like a robin with each wing thrust. He laughed out loud.

This, of course, was a dream. He flew about the hilly meadow for a time, learned to turn, dive, and soar. As he began to wonder how high he could climb and what he might see from there, he drifted out of the dream, out of his sleep, and found himself facedown in his pillow with the hollow clop of his mother’s footsteps on the stairs. “Riley!” she called. “Time to get up! You’ll be late for work!” As always, hearing his mother say his name brought an acrid taste to the back of his tongue. It was she, his own mother, who should have looked out for his interests above all else, especially when he was a baby, especially when he was a day old. But no, she disputed with his father about his name, pigheadedly insisted it should be her maiden name since Mr. Martin refused to hyphenate the last name, and so Riley was, not just Riley Martin, but, when his father left the hospital in a dramatic tantrum and his mother had no adult supervision whatsoever, Riley Riley Martin. He escaped this name in his early childhood, but it found him again in first grade. “Riley Riley, Really?” Mrs. Smith asked during role call the first day. Thereafter at school he was Riley Riley Really, a label he was convinced put him on the road to an unhappy, unfulfilled life. But, that was before the flying.

All day at work he thought of nothing except the dream. In fact, his supervisor, Mrs. Amos chastised him for his inattentiveness when he forgot to bring the morning mail from the post office. “How can you forget the mail,” she demanded, her voice shrill as police sirens. “It’s practically the only responsibility you have.” Normally such a rebuke would have thrown him into a pit of anger and self-recrimination, but not today, not with the dream so fresh in his mind. He knew the dream was more than a dream. He knew it was a revelation he could fly if only he’d take the chance. And he knew flying would make up for the miserable days in school, the other children tittering when his name was called, the mother who thought winning an argument more important than the name her only child would carry forever, the father who taught him nothing except to fall gracefully and then fell out of his life completely, the three years it took to find a job and then coming home with one requiring only a high school diploma though he had a BA. “Did you tell them about your college?” his mother demanded. “Perhaps I should call them right now and put this straight! Assistant mail clerk, indeed!” Flying might even wipe away the most recent humiliation: Emerald Austin, the only woman who seemed interested in him, cancelled their Friday pizza-and-movie date to go out with Arnold Sweet, a pimply-faced, high-school graduate who walked with a limp and smelled vaguely of urine. And to go where? Pizza and a movie! Perhaps the same movie. Riley didn’t know; He didn’t want to know.

“I don’t feel well,” he told Mrs. Amos in the middle of the afternoon. “I should go home.” “You know the rule,” Mrs. Amos barked, not bothering to turn around. “Bring me an excuse signed by a doctor, or it’s a vacation day.”

He rode his usual bus but, when it came to his stop, lowered his eyes, slunk in his seat, and avoided the bus driver’s stare in the mirror. He rode on. Presently the old neighborhoods near the meat packing plant changed to newer suburbs, with ranch houses and two-car garages. Before long these too thinned out. When most of the remaining passengers stood as the bus squealed to a stop, Riley stood too, lest he be left the only rider remaining, with questions from the driver to answer. He slipped into a clump of passengers and out the back door. The bus pulled away in a cloud of diesel smoke and he turned to survey his situation.

On the side of the road where he stood were several houses and a strip mall. The other bus passengers walked in that direction. But, across the road, across a fence, was a meadow not so different from the one in his dream. He took off his raincoat so he could slip between the wires, and put it on again on the other side. The raincoat worried him at first, but the loose-fitting sleeves seemed helpful for flying, if anything. He stepped gingerly across a shallow depression, muddy in the bottom, soon gained the hill and worked his way to the top. In a few minutes he stood on the crest, breeze blowing in his face, coat flapping at his calves. “Flying doesn’t require strength,” he said confidently. In fact, strength, and the bulk that goes with it, would be nothing but a detriment. Flying is for the insubstantial, the delicate, the ephemeral, weightless and carefree. With this thought in his head he grasped his sleeve cuffs, and lifted his arms.

Police confirmed with the driver and several passengers Riley Martin had ridden the L bus to the last stop. Questioning those living nearby turned up no additional information, and their search found only Riley’s shoes, together on a path at the top of a hill, the laces still tied. Riley’s disappearance troubled local news broadcasts for a week; they explored scenarios of abduction and in one case speculated in the late-night segment about aliens from space and possible witchcraft. The police feinted interest for another several weeks, at least to the extent of retaining his name on their list of open cases. Riley’s mother kept him in her thoughts longer. On the first anniversary of his disappearance, she fashioned a small grotto in the stones that closed the side of her flower garden. In this space she put his shoes and a picture taken on his fifth birthday, the latest she had of him. The bright afternoon sun shone brightly on this monument. “Poor Riley,” she whispered. “If only you’d taken some stock in yourself; you might have done God knows what.” She crossed herself, though she was not Catholic and only vaguely Christian, and stood looking down at her work.

Suddenly the space around the shoes and photo darkened. The sunbeam that lit it disappeared. Surprised, she looked up to see, high above her, a giant bird, a care-free, self-confident bird flying across the face of the sun.



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Witless Video Trailer

Affairs of the heart, murder, suicide, riot, gossip, politics, heroism, cowardice–Witless bubbles over with the passionate extremes of life. Two peoples settle in Britts Mill, a small town in Southern Wisconsin, in the middle of the nineteenth century. The first are fun loving, free-spirited people who build the town’s dance hall and saloon. They love, they dance, they play cards, they pull off pranks, they build their dreams. The second are the congregation of the Church of the Bridge. They pursue austerity in this world and hope for paradise in the next. Hubert Dartmouth, founder of the Church, is struck by lightning, survives, and commits his life to censuring worldly pleasure. His son and grandson each take the leadership of the Church, when their times come, and pursue the same end. The conflict between these cultures begins as inconsequential friction but grows over a half a century to erupt into an explosive conclusion.

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March 23, 2014 · 6:49 pm

Bluehart Video Trailer

The life story of a blues musician, A. J. Bluehart, as told by his daughter, Seven. Her purpose in uncovering her father’s story isn’t family history; it’s to discover the source of his happiness. Bluehart’s life is a parade of unlucky surprises, yet at the end he finds contentment; Seven’s story, the novel’s frame for presenting her father’s memories, is an echo thirty years delayed. Can she find her own happiness as her father did?

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March 23, 2014 · 6:46 pm

The Second Virtue Video Trailer

Three people; three predicaments; one solution. Telli Trujillo survives a horrifying bank robbery but is haunted by the experience. What does he need to prevail over his fears? Joy Juneau is a plucky thirty-year-old boss’s concubine trapped in a rut of cynicism. What does she need to reconnect with the hopeful young woman she once was? Donald Duffy is a high school senior stripped of self-confidence by his overbearing mother. What does he need to mature into a self-assured adult? The answer is courage – the second virtue. Searching for the daring to become themselves weaves these characters into a braid of uplifting, funny exploits, including the Sherlock-Holmesian unraveling of a stubborn crime puzzle, a boy propelling himself to freedom by stealing his mother’s car to take a girl she despises to the prom, and the best sex scene ever involving a woman with casts on both legs. The Second Virtue explores the dimensions of the search for inner resolve and rediscovers in a fresh, perceptive voice the universal truth Charlie Chaplin once observed: “Life can be wonderful if you’re not afraid of it.”

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March 23, 2014 · 6:43 pm

Adam’s Apple Video Trailer

Narrated by his press secretary Mooney Trompeur, Congressman Adam Ibsen’s story carries him from conception to election into the House of Representatives, original to mortal sin. He savors incest, patricide, lust, avarice – all the top ten – gorging immorality like a gastronome on all-you-can-eat Sunday at Les Gourmet Cafétéria. Fickle, impulsive, and uninhibited, Adam taste-tests the h’orderves on both sides of the culture war, juggles reality and illusion, engages meaningful and absurd, savors the left, relishes the right, sips liberality, nibbles conservatism, gobbles the gamut of political penchant. In the end, his life reveals no moral; however, it does come to a surprising point.
Adam’s Apple includes 24 yummy recipes for forbidden fruit.

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March 23, 2014 · 6:39 pm

Passing Through Paradise Video Trailer

“Collage: an assemblage of diverse elements in unexpected juxtaposition.” Passing through Paradise is a collage of narrative elements, some forming linear narratives, others embellishing these narratives with odd images and facts. Characters appear and vanish. Plots take shape and develop. Settings adjust sporadically. Themes emerge. Mysterious satyr-like character pops up in Colorado and walks to Chicago, gathering an entourage along the way, to put on Sophocles’ satyr play, Ichneutae. Naive author of newspaper articles falls into ill-starred infatuation. Derelict Jazz-age theater, subject of intense political wrangling, is razed to make space for characterless condominiums. Elements from these and other narrative fountains splash onto the pages to create a playful literary kaleidoscope.

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March 23, 2014 · 6:33 pm

Between the Shadow and the Soul video trailer

Between the Shadow and the Soul, published 2013. Expelled writing student, Devin Post, is flabbergasted to see his life fracture into two tracks. In one, unprincipled employer, Leach Pharmaceuticals, sends him into Mexico on an impossible quest. In the other, he is office sex toy for a lineup of lusty women. Which life is real and which fantasy? Between the Shadow and the Soul follows Devin through these escapades with humor and literary panache, exploring inter-dependencies between reality and imagination and discovering surprising connections between the two.

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March 23, 2014 · 5:42 pm

Double Exposures Video Trailer

Double Exposures, a collection of 12 short fiction works, illustrated, becomes available around the end of March. Watch for further information.

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March 23, 2014 · 5:36 pm

The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (short story) by Gabriel García Márquez

Yesterday I read The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (short story) by Gabriel García Márquez and today I can’t stop thinking about it. It was written in 1955 and included in Leaf Storm (La Hojarasca), Márquez’s collection of short stories and a novella (also La Hojarasca) published in the same year. There’s no kindle edition of La Hojarasca, so I’ll have to wait a few days to continue that feast.

While I’m waiting, here are some thoughts on The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The plot is rife with Márquez’s masterful twists and turns, as he sets the surreal (a battered old man with enormous wings shows up on the beach) alongside the mundane (Pelayo and Elisenda’s child is ill, they think because of the stench of dead crabs–three-days of rain has brought on an army of them.) Characters are quirky; often with an all-too-human complexion (e.g. Elisenda tires of visitors marching through her chicken coop to see the old man and begins charging a nickel for the experience, a decision that nets her a fortune). Marquez pokes fun at institutions (Father Gonzaga can’t determine on his own if the old man is an angel, and so appeals to Rome. The Vatican swamps him with requests for further information can he speak Latin?) and at human failings (towns people abandon this freak show and rush to another when a woman who disobeyed her parents as a child turns into a tarantula.

Márquez’s colorful, masterful, prose, which seems to translate beautifully (Gregory Rabassa translated the version I read), plays in my head with marvelous imagery and tantalizing teasing. There’s a joyful exuberance in Márquez’s world, and it bursts into the worlds of his stories. Visiting these worlds is one of my most cherished literary joys.

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Inventing the Enemy by Umberto Eco

Inventing the Enemy

Like many readers, I discovered Umberto Eco through his novel The Name of the Rose. In that book I greatly enjoyed the snippets of history — obscure nuggets of information that pique the reader’s interest. This book of essays has the same quality and I greatly enjoyed it as well. Eco seems to have an endless supply of tidbits from obscure sources, many of them hundreds of years old, sources I’ll never read as originals because they’re written in languages I don’t read.

One reviewer praises Eco’s ‘profound erudition.’ I have no quibble with that characterization but add that his store of knowledge is shaped around his wry perspective on a wide variety of topics. Michael Ceasar, in his biography of Eco, notes that Eco believes every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication — the underlying tenet of Semiotics. The many connections Eco finds between cultural elements (especially historic cultural elements) and language confirm this tenet and make for interesting reading. This held true in The Name of the Rose, where the connections appear stitched into a fictional narrative, and in this book, where they are stitched into essays.

I spent several months reading this book. Because it is a collection of independent essays, I could select topics as they interested me, and digest the work an essay at a time, thus filling in odd, brief reading opportunities. Finally, when I had a larger block of time, I read through the unread remainder, and ‘finished’ the book, though I’m certain I’ll go back and reread some of the essays.

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