Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Third Apéritif from Double Exposures

From Hot Cross Buns:

1101A restaurant in the basement wasn’t Pastor Ben’s first idea when he contemplated the giant blue tarp covering the church roof. Buster Nesbit brought the tarp the morning after the thunderstorm and hung bricks on bailing twine from the side grommets to hold it on the building. Charity United looked like a bread loaf rising under a blue kitchen towel, the slightest breeze made the bricks knock on the sides of the building, and the eaves exuded the sweet fragrance of fermenting cornstalks, but at least it was dry inside. When the lightning bolt struck the cupola it sprayed down the shingles to the gutters (vintage copper salvaged from the first Charity United Church, also a casualty of lightning), from there down the drain troughs.


Could have been worse, Ben considered. Wet tarpaper under the leaky shingles channeled the electricity. Except for a few spots charred through, damage was confined to the tarpaper and shingles, which curled up like corn chips in hot oil. Pouring rain soon extinguished the flames so the firefighters found nothing to do except place buckets around the sanctuary and question the theology of a church twice lightning-struck in five years.


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Another Aperitif from Double Exposures

Here is another clip from one of the short stories in Double Exposures, available from Amazon in paper and kindle.

From How Maria Caridad Found Passion:

“My father married the lustiest woman in the village,” Sister Maria Caridad confided to Father Jiménez through the confessional lattice. She ran her fingers back through her hair, which had grown back thick, black, and shining long before. She kept it cut short, since long hair invites conceit. She sat up straight, as she always did, her breasts pushed up and forward.

Father Jiménez was quite old, twenty years past any sexual desire and blind as a potato. At seventy-seven, his only vice was the chocolate cookies the women of the parish baked for him. “I remember your father,” he answered.


“It was the same with my father’s father, and his father, always the lustiest girl for his bride, no one else would do.”

“I remember,” Father said.

“While my mother married the kindest, saintliest man she could find,” she continued. “And my mother’s mother, and her mother, and so on as far as anyone remembers, always the kindest, saintliest man in the village.”

“What is your point,” Father asked, thinking about the cookies waiting in the rectory.

“Do you remember how Armando Ortega took seeds from the hottest habaneros and inbred them fearlessly until his pepper plants glowed like red fireflies in the night? Each year his chilies grew hotter?”

“I remember.”

“While his wife, Luciana Ortega, took sweet chilies for seed, and pollinated with even sweeter chilies and did this until her’s were the sweetest chilies in the valley.”

“Your point?” Father repeated.

“Armando succeeded because he walked in one direction. Luciana the same – one direction.

“Yes, success of a sort.”

“My parents crossed their purposes. My father took my mother as wife because her character was what he wanted, and she took him for husband for the same reason, yet the characters they pursued are directly opposite – mules hitched to the front and back of one wagon, one pulling north, one south.”

“Did they get along?”

“Each loved the other; of course they got along.”

“So that worked out well for them, no?”

“A chili can’t be sweet and hot.”

The old priest smiled. “People are not chilies.”

“But how…?”

“You will never find peace so long as you deny your nature. I know we priests talk that way, advising our flocks to avoid intense pleasure except the pleasure of communion with God, but we only do that to get attention. None of it is true.”

“What do you mean?”

“Temptation can be God’s tool as well as Satan’s.” He paused and looked up at the ceiling of the confessional as if he could see it.

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Aperitif from Double Exposures

Here is a clip from one of the short stories in Double Exposures, available from Amazon in paper and kindle.

From How Carmen Maria Became Two Women:

From her birth, Carmen showed righteousness not seen before in the village. She learned Bible lessons so well her teachers feared questioning her lest she turn the table and take up the questioning. Brother Pedro, who taught Sunday school for five years, once proclaimed Jesus’ observation about rich men having as much chance to get into heaven as through the eye of a needle was about greed, not wealth, the former being a sin, the latter not. “Do you suppose Jesus didn’t know the difference?” she asked Brother Pedro. “Do you think with his disciples standing by recording every word he had a little slip of the tongue?”

“One day she will be a saint,” some predicted, but puberty swept over her like late summer storms and drove churning, muddy waters into the ravines down her west slope. When her fiesta de quinceañera came, already her dark eyes burned like hot coals when she fixed them on a young man.

The old women who managed affairs in the village watched with apprehension as Carmen grew up, wondering if her fire would consume her, or a man would come to feed her beast, or God would have mercy and intervene. One day, under the Ceiba tree by the market, Senora Gutierrez remembered, “Armando Ortega fed his donkey hot chilies and worked the animal’s manure into the soil in his garden, all in a proud attempt to grow the hottest chiles in the village. It’s unnatural, chiles so hot. Soon his garden could be seen from miles away. His habaneros glowed in the dark.”

“Still he didn’t stop,” Senora Motejo added, “not until a kitchen fire destroyed his house.”

“A bowl of his chiles burst into flame in his kitchen and set fire to the house,” Senora Gutierrez completed the story. The other women nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same with Carmen Maria,” Senora Gutierrez continued. “If she doesn’t find release one day her body will burst into flames like Ortega’s chiles and her kitchen will catch fire.”

“Consuming her and whoever is fool enough to awaken her beast,” Senora Motejo added. “Someone might die eating that chili pepper, ridden to death like a borrowed donkey.”

“Perhaps she should wear a sign,” Senora Gutierrez suggested.

“A bell around her neck,” Senora Motejo said.

The men and boys of the village took the old women’s warnings seriously. They might taste Ortega’s chilies, when drunk or on a dare, but they kept their hands off the budding she-pepper Carmen Maria.


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Sustainable Capitalism

I’m working on a character in a novel (working title for the novel is Lost Shadows), a Native American activist who is skeptical that sustainable resource utilization will ever be achieved in a free-market society. Some quotes: “Capitalism is a treadmill where you run until your heart breaks. Capitalism is the boat that leaks faster than you can bail, that keeps you bailing until your strength gives out, that drowns you like a dog nobody wants. Capitalism is the menu with thirty entrees, but all you can order is bean soup, no crackers.” I don’t intend this to be a political novel, but the differences between communal and individual focus is a major theme. Writing this feels like writing my first (published) novel, Witless, which threw two cultural perspectives into one place and observed the result (chaos and ultimately destruction). It’s early in this process–Lost Shadows will likely be a Fall release–and I’m interested in early reactions to a character who thinks like (talks like) that.

Incidentally, the title is from a marvelous quote from Blackfoot warrior, Crowfoot: “What is life?  The flash of a firefly in the night; the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime; the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

File:Chief Crowfoot.jpg


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Double Exposures here!

And, now, the second shoe drops! The paperback is available through Amazon:

I’m delighted to report my short story collection, Double Exposures, is now available in the Kindle format. The link is

The paperback format should follow in about a week. The cover includes an image Becca Vickers took from a video she shot while riding around Bangkok on the back of one of those motorcycle taxi’s the guys in the orange jackets drive (ride?). It’s a beautiful image with startling colors. The cover also has cuts from two reviews — one from Tracy St. Claire (Editor, Changing Minds Weekly) and Ryan Winn (Tribal College Journal Columnist and Media Reviewer). These cuts now open the video trailer. The reviews themselves are inside the book cover.

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April 10, 2014 · 12:20 am

Fiction or Non-fiction? Fantasy or Reality?

The following is an excerpt from Between the Shadow and the Soul

…I progressed with my coursework, an unexceptional student, except my ongoing interest in fantasy and reality sometimes led to perverse questions. Near the middle of the semester in Advanced Creative Writing Workshop with Professor Harlan Engels, for example, I asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction?” This was at the very end of a Friday afternoon class, and I was responding to the professor’s invitation to ask me anything, anything at all. Celia, the young woman sitting behind me, sighed dramatically, like an aging hooker settling into yet another blowjob, chain-restaurant chef making up his thousandth order of Chicken Kiev, airline passenger informed there would be a delay while the airline finds a gate. My bothersome question was what stood between her and early release from Engel’s bromidic babbling.

“Fiction is shelved alphabetically by author, non-fiction by subject under Melvil Dewey’s classification scheme,” Engels responded gleefully. Striking his most professorial pose, he bore a remarkable resemblance to T.S. Eliot, something he advanced by wearing round, dark-rimmed glasses and three-piece suits.

I clenched my hands with exasperation. “I know that, but what’s the difference in the writing?”

“Do you mean to ask what characteristics distinguish fiction from non-fiction?”

I nodded.

“You must learn to word your questions carefully. Careless word choice betrays thoughts unclear.” This adage was Engels favorite, repeated routinely in class. “But, to answer your malformed inquiry, fiction must make sense; non-fiction rarely does.”

I scratched my head. The class grew restless.

“Perhaps you thought I’d say non-fiction is about what’s outside your head and fiction about what’s inside?”

I nodded, wary.

“Dimwit! It’s all inside your head!” Engels strutted across the front of the classroom, heading towards the door to make a dramatic exit. Some students began to get out of their chairs, but Engels surprised them, stopped in his tracks, returned to his center-stage position. “The idea there is an outside your head and an inside your head, the idea you have a head – it’s all in your head!” He waited for the import of this to sink into my head.

I wrote down EVERYTHING and drew a head around it.

“So, the real answer is fiction must exhibit direction and purpose; the real world has neither.”

I wrote down DIRECTION and PURPOSE and drew a tiny globe next to them, with a thick bar separating.

“That theatre, your mind, stages some dramas based on interpreted information coming from out there, we presume,” – Engels waved his arms to point to out there – “and some dramas drawn from whatever self-inflicted electrical/chemical nonsense happens to be churning in there.” He strode fervently from the front of the class to my desk and pointed into my ear. “A ham struts out from stage right and announces, I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, and another clown from stage left shouts, The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas. Who is Prufrock? I ask you. Who is J. Alfred? Indeed there’s no way to know.” Engels drew his open hand across his chest as he spoke, head tilted back, bald spot gleaming under the fluorescent light like a searchlight, Iowa moon, silver plate. “Reality or Fantasy? Fiction or non-fiction? It’s a farce either way.” Here he held his arm out, finger pointed up, the way no one does since Clarence Darrow. “The distinction is of interest mainly to persons employed re-shelving library books.”

Left to my own devices, I decided the question was open. Fantasy on stage might claim to be real fantastically, or might claim to be fantasy realistically, and if it did, would that be the truth, truthfully told, really? There was a difference, no doubt. There was a fictional account of the difference, and a nonfictional one, and I couldn’t tell which was which. Accordingly, I determined to commit the question to my journal, where it languished, sometimes considered, but never resolved.

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When Rosa Came Home by Karen Wyld

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story. One after one, exotic characters, each with a miraculous tale to tell, come to visit comatose Rosa and her troubled family. Many of these visitors are circus performers or former circus performers. Some are human; some not.  The Ambrosia family home is a remote vineyard and becomes yet another magical character — reacting to and affecting the actions set there. It trees and gardens fall into shadows when trouble prevails, and burst with light and life when joy arrives.


When Rosa Came Home

 In the framework tale Angelita is a little girl when the events in these stories occur, but grows up and her knowledge and perspective designate her to be the story teller. She sees the world through a child’s eyes, and everything is possible.

 Fairy tale? Fantasy? Magical Realism? When Rosa Came Home draws from several traditions to build a narrative that carries the reader back to when the world was a magical place and everything was possible.

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