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Monday, October 3, 2011


Any time you get stuck at a party or family dinner, meeting people for the first time, and the subject of what you do comes up, if you say you are a writer, I promise, you're going to get this question: "Where do you get your ideas?"

I suppose it's partly my fault, since this is how I choose to identify myself.  I could just as easily say "copy-editor," which is what my paying job is, or the broader "artist," although that comes with its own set of questions, even more annoying.  I could say I am father, a lover, a dreamer.  When I was younger I had this rant where I tried to answer simply, I am.  Which was obnoxious, and stupid, though I thought it independent and clever.

We are defined by what we do, and for me writer sums it up best.  It's not exactly how I make my money, but it is what I work at the hardest.

A new short story of mine is up at Darkest before the Dawn.

The site is run by this guy Aldo, who also has a flash fiction site, Powder Flash Burn, both gritty and top-notch, strictly lowlife.  Ex-classmates of mine, well at least some, have moved up to the ranks of the more respectable print publications.  And it's not like I didn't try to get invited to that party.  Of course, I haven't tried employing my revolutionary, cutting-edge strategy of first reading before submitting to these journals.  It may very well be a case of sour grapes.  I just know that every time I am stuck in my psychiatrist's office, left with piles of back issues of the New Yorker, and I make the mistake of trying to read the fiction in there, I am always left disappointed, angry, and slightly confused.  These stories are almost exclusively written by somebody named "Yi" or "Aeric," set in a foreign city (with language barriers), and feature children of divorce really wanting jelly beans or something.  I never get past the first page.  I'm not saying the New Yorker doesn't have good fiction.  Alice Munro and George Saunders are in there a lot, and they terrific writers.  They just don't speak to me.

Which is why I am almost exclusively hanging out with these sites these days.

Is is best for my career?  I don't know.  My social life?  Probably not.  But sitting around trying to get into a party I don't want to be at anyway seems like a waste of time.

The above link is for my latest short story, "Go."  (I'll give it to you again in case you are too lazy to scroll up.)

I really like this one.  It's a little different from my usual fare.  I got the idea for this story when my then girlfriend (now lovely wife) Justine told me to head to the store and pick up a pregnancy test.  It was really early in the morning.  I think it was a Sunday.  And though my son Holden would turn out to be, hands down, the greatest decision ever made in my life, at the time I think it's safe to say I wasn't quite so gung-ho.  I was scared shitless.  I was closing in on 40, with a busted hip, no money, desperately trying to forge a writer career with a clue how to do so.  I'd gone through the whole "pee on a stick and wait" routine many, many times in the past.  And it is always the same.

There was actually another clip I was looking for.  But I couldn't find it.  In the commercials for these tests,  they always show two happy, eagerly prospective parents, hand in hand, awaiting the blessed news to come via a pink stripe.  Not quite.  In reality, you're both shitting bricks, and all you're thinking about are the parts that won't work.  No money.  No job.  No house.  That you'll be as lousy a parent as your own father, and someday your kid will be stunk reading back issue of the New Yorker.

Anyway, I bought this test, I think it was at Safeway, the place empty it's so early, and I'm buying a box of Tums for the heartburn that is now burning a hole in my gut along with the pregnancy test.  And I remember the clerk asked me how I was doing, and I'm thinking there is no way you can see what's in my hand and seriously be asking that question.

Since my lovely (now) wife Justine reads this blog, I feel it necessary to clearly draw the line between reality and fiction.  These characters are not us.  It's only the surreal feeling that morning that served as impetus.  That was it for the story.  I loosely composed the first paragraph in my head on the drive home.  Shortly after Holden was born I wrote that paragraph out.  Then I left it alone, forgot about it.  I have two dozen of starts like these ("a woman gets on a bus...").  Most never come to anything.  But from that one little exchange with a clueless Safeway cashier, when I revisited it, I started to see the story of man, lost, drifting, underachieving, a different version of myself had different choices been made, opportunities to grow not taken, a man who is out of touch with what others want...

Oh, really, who gives a fuck?  I sound like I'm trying to write for the New Yorker. It's a noir story about a guy who may smokes too much pot, drinks too much beer, and has coasted his whole life on one big fight in high school. He overestimates his own capabilities and some bad things happen.  It's a little lighter than what I usually do, at least in terms of tone, it's got some funny lines (I hope), and there is a little twist. And readers from Berlin will certainly recognize the town, if with a few artistic liberties taken.

And so I share it with you here to show you how I get my ideas, in the hopes that should we ever meet at a dinner party I won't have to explain this again.

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