FICTION


One True Thing

By Ashley Martin

computer-screen-light-black-and-white-woman-photography-752775-pxhere.com (2).jpg

10 p.m., Friday night.

              I’m lying in bed, binge watching Stranger Things and cheating on my diet, that I swear I will be faithful to tomorrow. Probably.

              I have settled into my independent-single-lady life in what feels like the lamest way possible. In the early days of the divorce, when I was high on heartache and repressed emotions, I somehow saw this happening differently. I think I was expecting it to feel a little more Beyonce, and a little less Liz Lemon. But it’s not glamorous or sexy, it’s just… quiet.

              I scroll through Facebook for the forty-seventh time and try to post something witty. A line cast into a crowded attention pool. No bites.

              It’s not that I’m friendless, it’s just one of those nights when everyone is busy with everyone else. I tell myself this is good. It gives me alone time; time for self-care, and self-love, and self-discovery, and selfies.

              Still, I’m considering chalking up the evening as a loss, but then my phone does something highly unusual — it rings. Not a text or Facebook notification – an actual ring. I answer to the voice of my sister, back stateside after completing an international book tour. She wasn’t supposed to be in until next week, but plans changed and she’s here now, and she wants to know if I want to go out to the bar. I jump at the chance. It’s been a year since I’ve seen her, and honestly I am dying for an escape from my own company - you know what they say about too much of a good thing.

              I throw on a push-up bra and some eyeliner, and catch myself in the mirror on the way out the door. If Single-Mom-Living-On-Tacos-and-Tequila has a look, I am nailing it. But no one ever looks at me when I’m out with her, anyway. She, the blonde, chic, jet-setter, with her blue eyes, and her size 2 apple-bottom jeans, and boots with the fur. I’m kidding about that last part - she wears Louboutin’s.

              I’m slipping on my sexiest pair of Old Navy flip-flops when my phone rings again. Expecting it to be her, my breath catches in my chest when a different but dearly familiar number flashes across the screen. I feel like someone emptied a packet of pop-rocks into my stomach; the sensation is still new and delightful.

              It wasn’t until recently that I’d realized how much I had missed, even forgotten, the kind of joy that comes from these small, surprising moments in life. Not like when your husband of 15 years shows up with his pregnant girlfriend one night and tells you he’s leaving you. I mean the kind of unexpected gift that fills you with a sense of peace and euphoria all at once; like the sunset that catches you off guard, or the spontaneous kindness of a stranger. Or when someone makes you feel worthy of love again, long after you had laid that hope to rest.

                I answer eagerly and the voice on the other end spills over the way it always does, like the smoothest Whiskey. Rich and warm. Intoxicating. A vice I have no desire to walk away from.

              You see, I am a big feeler of all the things. I don’t just wear my heart on my sleeve, I cloak myself in it. I crave sincere vulnerability, both in the giving and the taking. I find the greatest sense of fulfillment in breaking myself open wide, and pouring out unabashedly into the rare few who find their way into that inner sanctum.

              So, when I find people that I bond with on a soulular level, who too prefer to swim in the deep end of life, I dive in. Subtle is not part of my vocabulary. I will love too hard, I will connect too deeply, and I cling too tightly. But not with many. Not with most.

              In fact, I need less than one hand to count the number of people this has happened with, and so when I find them, I fight to hold on until they are severed from me by a force beyond my control. Of those I have loved this way, only my sister and this shot of Whiskey remained.

              I fear even that is on borrowed time.

              Each time we hang up the phone, it ends with a resigned admittance that this probably shouldn’t happen again. There is context and technicality to consider. We need to cool it before it gets out of hand, and someone gets burned. I know that that someone will be me.

              And yet.

              I have begun to accept the beauty and power of these moments. This walking blindly into the fire just to feel the heat again. Because they mean I am alive. They mean I have not been excommunicated from love. They show me what my life, now stripped of everything I thought it was, has become: a messy, breathtakingly beautiful experience of being an authentic human who is.

              I know it may not last, but in this moment, it is real, and it’s true.

              It’s just one true thing.

              And right now, at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, I find that’s all I need


Ashley Martin is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

NONFICTION


Learning to Handstand

By Ashley Bales

yoga-balance-nature-handstand-roof-pose-1445977-pxhere.com.jpg

To begin you throw your face at the ground and hope your arms catch you. Learning to handstand is a plunge. It’s a pivot downwards, a swing of the legs, a jump, and you’re upside down. At the beginning you’re pitiful and intimately familiar with your own graceless hops. At every step you know where your body is: your legs frog out, your toes reach back, you grip your quads like a lifeline. But attached to what? You look forward, feet in the air, and your hands are impossibly far from your eyes. Your feet land back on the ground, having completed a failed leapfrog, minus the partner. But you overcome the embarrassment because anything worth learning begins with flailing, searching through familiar but inappropriate tools for one that may at least get you started. You have to begin with flailing frog hops, because that’s what you’ve got, and so you do. You jump your feet again into the air, you swear your toes reach further back, but your ass, with a newfound gravity, pulls you back down.

       These early trials will last longer than you like, but one day your hands come down, your legs swing up and they stay there. You’ve found space and your body disappears into it. You lose yourself. Your weight is sucked out of you and you can’t feel your body. Like Peter Pan, you can fly.

       But today we have the benefit of technology to steal all magic from the world, so you record your accomplishment and see that your minutes of flight are unrecordable milliseconds and your legs retain the kinks of an airborne amphibian. The bliss of losing your body is a step, but not an endpoint. It is the adrenaline, endorphin rush of risk, of lost control. But like any tantrum throwing toddler, being out of control may feel powerful, but won’t get you anywhere. This is when you are able to begin. You’ve learned enough to throw yourself into a precarious balance, now you have to learn the trick of control, build the necessary supports, master the tools.

       I’m not there. My supports aren’t entirely built in yet. I need a wall, a steadying hand at the ankle. But when I’m upside down, struggling to concrete myself to the vertical—only the practicality of my bones to fight against—I begin to be able to find my body: pelvis neutral. Abs in. Ribs together. Ribs down. Elbows forward. Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders over fingers. Look at the ground. See the ground. I am solid, physically placed. My body is learning a vocabulary of awareness and balance. Space holds different possibilities and I begin to have the ability to exist in the world inverted.

It’s brutally hard.


Ashley Bales is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

FICTION


Sweaty Palms

By Morgan Green

zack-marshall-408710-unsplash (2).jpg

On the walk home from the bar, the two of you forced your sweaty palms together like pieces from separate puzzles. You found yourselves looking towards the barely lit street rather than each other, making small talk about things you pretended not to know from the past four years. He’s from Maine but loves the Steelers because his Grandpa lived in Pittsburgh and took him to games before he passed. You tell a well-practiced anecdote about how you and your brother used to fight over whether to watch Pocahontas or Power Rangers on television until, finally, your Great-Aunt just bought another set. He breaks the hold to wipe the sweat off his hand but doesn’t reach for yours after that.

       Do you promise to sleep over? you ask, because you long to have the familiarity of something other than doubt to hold onto tonight.

       Yea, sure. Whatever.

       After that, there’s a bit of a lull in the conversation, so you try to remember if you’d even made your bed before you left. The ground is still damp from when it rained that morning, but you’d changed out of your boots and into black sandals for the bar. You avoided wearing lipstick in case you had someone to kiss, so you made up for it with your maroon top that makes your boobs look great. The taste of tobacco from the Marlboro you guys shared lingers bitterly on your tongue, so you apply some chapstick in hopes that the smell of the mint will distract you. It doesn’t. He gets the wrong idea and grins before kissing you.

       Did you want to smoke another cigarette before we left?

       Why? You want one?

       Nah, just wondering.

       You hooked up once two years ago at a party his fraternity threw and prided yourself because he was the first guy you felt comfortable enough to give a firm no to. He fit your type—dark hair, pale, and some sort of amalgam of scrawny and muscular. You liked them big enough to pick you up but not enough to throw you down. He’d started with the story of his grandfather when you asked why he had a poster of Artie Burns on his wall rather than girls in bikinis. You kept the lights off even though you didn’t plan on making eye contact anyway. Unlike the others, he held you afterwards rather than slamming the door on the way to flush the condom. Back then, the silence felt comforting before you drifted off, but now it left an open space for questions that didn’t need to be answered.  


Morgan Green is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Kelly Stone Gamble


peter-pryharski-663241-unsplash.jpg

Since graduating from the Mountainview MFA program in 2012, Kelly Stone Gamble has gone on to publish two novels as well as award-winning short fiction. Recently, she agreed to an interview where we discussed writing, publishing and her success as an author.  

So, Kelly, your latest novel, Call Me Daddy, is the second in a series featuring your protagonist, Cass Adams. Can you give us a little info on what the story is about? Also, how did the idea come to you?
In Call Me Daddy, Cass finds out she’s pregnant and isn’t quite sure how to deal with it, while Clay—the stable one in the relationship—finds himself struggling with “daddy” issues. I actually got the idea sitting in church one day while watching a new father proudly introducing his baby girl. And you could just see how terrified he was.

You write that the town of Deacon, Kansas, the setting for the Cass Adams series, is loosely based on your real-life hometown of Baxter Springs, Kansas. Is the character of Cass also loosely based on you? 
Ha! Not at all. I think there are bits of me in all of my characters, but I’m not about to tell anyone which bits that might be.

I am curious about your path to publication. What was the process like? And what lessons have you learned?
That’s a big question! I actually do an hour-long presentation on the publishing process I went through titled “Writing is the Easy Part.” Condensing that, I would say everyone has a different path. I had an agent, then I didn’t have an agent. I had a larger press interested in my book, but they wanted me to rewrite it from one POV (that wouldn’t have been my book). I finally found Red Adept Publishing, and I couldn’t be happier with them. There are many paths to publishing. Everyone needs to find what’s right for them and go for it!

Fill us in on your writing process. Do you have a set time that you like to write? Duration?
Not really. I write when I feel I have something to say. I’ll think of a good line, or a good scene for one of my projects, and I write it. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than that one inspiration, other times, I’ll start and continue writing for hours. I don’t work well when I say, “between 8 and 9, I’m going to write.” Because when 8 rolls around, I usually have nothing to say.

How long did it take you to write that first book?
17 days. I knew the story I wanted to write. It took me over a year to edit it, though. I actually got the idea for They Call Me Crazy sitting in the bar at the Mountain View Grand, watching an infomercial on koi ponds. I said to the bartender, Troy, “they look like graves,” and his response was, “it’s your story,” and from that moment, it was. Incidentally, Troy and I became good friends and he was a valuable resource, or you might say a muse, for me while writing the first two books. He’s in the acknowledgements of all three books in the Cass Adams series.

Do you find working off an outline helpful? 
No. I need to know where I’m starting and where I’m going, and then I write whatever comes to mind. I can edit it later, but getting the story down, and several great scenes is enough to keep me moving. It’s kind of like taking a long walk, half the fun is not knowing what you are going to see on the way.

Do you ever get writers block? If so, what did you do to combat it? 
I’m always writing something. It may not be on one project, in fact, I hit walls all the time. But when I do, I just put that aside and move on to something else. I have four novels in progress right now, and who knows which one I’ll finish first. Sometimes I’ll write a short story, or a poem, or an essay just to give my mind a rest from a larger project, and when I’m ready, I go back to one of the novels. So how do I combat it? I keep writing. 

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received? 
Author Scott Phillips has given me several bits of advice, many I won’t repeat, but probably the one that sticks with me is “Write what you want. If the writing is good, it will find readers.” I think there are too many writers trying to focus on a particular genre, or trying to write “literary fiction,” when the reality is good writing finds readers. The tagline for the SNHU MFA program used to be “Go write your book”—not what someone else wants you to write or what you think will sell, but your book. It’s great advice.

The first book in the series, They Call Me Crazy, climbed up the USA Today bestseller list. That has got to be exciting. Have you given any thought to your books becoming movies or a TV series, as Hollywood seems to be constantly on the lookout for best-selling properties? If so, do you have a dream cast in mind? Any thoughts on who you would like to play Cass? 
I am talking with someone currently about movie rights but can’t say much more about it than that at this time. I can think of several who would be a great Cass—Winona Ryder would probably be my favorite. But definitely Larry the Cable Guy for Daze Harper!

Do you have more books planned for Cass Adams? 
The third and final book in the trilogy, Call Me Cass, comes out in 2019. It’s currently in the editing line at my publishing house, Red Adept Publishing. I have a Cass Adams short story, “A Crazy Christmas,” coming out in the anthology Tangled Lights and Silent Nights this Christmas. Additionally, I am publishing another short story, “Daze before the Storm,” which will be out prior to the release of Call Me Cass.

Kelly-Stone-Gamble.jpg

What do you miss most about your time at Mountainview? 
What I miss are hugs from Merle and Rick and just listening to Craig talk. I miss Katie doing the Rock Lobster on dance night. I miss being part of a group of adults donning pirate hats and fake tattoos and rowboating to Smuttynose Island. I made friends in those two years that I’ll keep for a lifetime, and since then, have become friends with many students that graduated before and after me. I never could write much during residencies, I was there for experiences that would inspire me to write later. Being around others that had the same goal, to write a book, was a wonderful experience. A few years ago, one of the alums organized a retreat and it was wonderful to be a part of that community again. I’d love to see that happen at least every few years—maybe in the desert next time?


W. Leander is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

BOOKS


Still A Work In Progress by Jo Knowles

Review by Daniel Charles Ross 

28814842.jpg

One of the hit film releases of late summer so far has been "Eighth Grade," a look back at what tumult kids experience in middle school on the foggy horizon of adulthood. This motivated me to look back at our own Jo Knowles' most-recent novel "Still A Work In Progress" which, natch, occurs in middle school.

     I was privileged to read an Advance Reader Copy of this book in July 2016, and I'm acquainted with Jo Knowles from the Mountainview MFA program. Frankly, none of this disclosure holds any special meaning at all, because "Still A Work In Progress" was an extraordinary glimpse into the minds, the lives, and the very existence of middle schoolers whether I liked it or not.

     Jo Knowles knows kids. She knows their likes, their loves, their terrors, and even their simple irritations. She knows how parents are sometimes left dumbfounded by family events that overtake them, and that all families matter but all families are not, in fact, created equal.

     In her book, main character Noah tries to navigate 8th grade in much the same way a space alien would navigate Times Square, sometimes lost, sometimes befuddled. Middle school is confusing in all respects except when he's in art class, where he excels. Girls are weird but strangely compelling, and schoolmates are sometimes nuttier'n a junkyard dog. Well meaning, of course, but made crazy by–what else?–girls.

     Without spoiling anything, it's safe to say Noah's older sister, Emma, is hobbled by a recurrent problem that embroils the entire family. It's during this time that Noah realizes how important his sister is to him, and how unimportant are the other distractions in his world.

     What is perhaps most engaging about this story is the compassion Jo exhibits through her characters. The strengths are paradoxical: Noah is strong, his father is weak (as a dad myownself, I was frankly dismayed by Noah's dad's behavior. Don't @ me), and mom is somewhere in the middle. Noah is a success, generally, but his sister is a failure at controlling her debilitating, self-imposed problem. Some of Noah's classmates are mature in relationships; some of his teachers in the small school are friends; and there is a hairless cat mascot roaming around as if it owns the place, because, evidently, it does.

     Middle-school gold.

     There is laugh-out-loud humor and watery-eyed pathos. There are kids we all went to middle school with and some we wish we had. The story is less a novel than a time machine, and one size fits all.

     I have high confidence that middle schoolers will read this evergreen story with recognition (and a little dismay)–as adults will, too. If "Still A Work In Progress" fairly represents the state of middle school today, it hasn't changed much since I was in 8th grade. That makes for a compelling, page-turning story of extraordinary and universal meaning for everyone. 
 

Five stars: One for anyone facing the blank page. One for characters we recognize and embrace as ourselves. One for a descriptive and sensitive deep dive into rarely seen family dynamics and the effect they have on our children. One for the hairless cat as the quirky  kind of character you just don't see every day. And one for a Jo Knowles canon that has six other works just as good.

Strongly, unequivocally recommended.


Daniel Charles Ross—DCR—was a Mountainview MFA student in 2015. The thriller that was to be his thesis, Force No One, comes out in the fall.

FICTION


No Longer Authorized

By James Seals 

pexels-photo-568025.jpeg

Tell me how you feel about me, Jane said. She and Will were in bed. He was lying supine, legs apart, arms splayed. Her right arm and leg rested across his body, her head nestled against his shoulder.

       Tell me how you feel, Jane again whispered. She sounded like she was falling asleep.

       Will stared at the whirling ceiling fan and wished for the Good Old Days. But he couldn’t say that phrase aloud. Nor was it permitted to say When Times Were Easier or Back Then. When the Expressive Language Association, the ELA, was instituted by the government four years ago, the ELA’s priority was to end Language Inaccuracies, or, more correctly, to enforce Language Accuracy, which had been determined to lead to Emotion Intelligence. Those phrases and many others had been labeled General Terms, then they were banned.

       Will thought about his feelings for Jane. He wanted back the liberties from the days when they first met…

       You’re So Wonderful, Will had said to Jane.

       Jane smiled. You Make So Me Happy, she replied.

       Now Will smiled.

       Or they each used similar words or phrases that satiated each other’s feelings. Will, though, wanted to say that he Loved Jane, but that word had been forbade.


“When emotions calmed, the ELA, with haste, enacted Word and Term Changes to books and songs and such for fear of new uprisings.”


During the first year of the ELA’s establishment, Free Speech Advocates protested against Language Accuracy. The ELA felt flabbergasted by these objections. They had believed that the Expression Ignorant Society needed much help. So the ELA created sentence starters: How Do You Feel About . . . What Did You Think of . . . I feel that . . .  I thought that.

       They plastered these phrases onto billboards and acted them out in commercials. After a few years Free Speech Advocates lost members as they were exiled for Word or Term Over Usage, chanting one too many times: Let Us Speak and using wordsmiths – Milton, Donne, and Shakespeare (all banned) – for posters and flags.

       When emotions calmed, the ELA, with haste, enacted Word and Term Changes to books and songs and such for fear of new uprisings. Microphones were installed throughout the country. A green light shone, displaying a warning, after someone spoke a word or phrase that had been Listed for Possible Removal (Beautiful, Like, How You Doing, Outside The Box) and an ear-piercing buzz sounded, leading to exile, when someone misspoke, using a banned word or phrase.

       The ELA had banned Love with immediacy. The ELA’s labelings happened during the time of Careless Speech. Will and Jane during that time had attended verbose parties and effusive dinners. People had chattered nonstop and without regard. Will remembered entering music-filled rooms, crowded with stylish dress and primped hair and bright lights.

       How Are You Doing? Will often said as he shuffled by friends, acquaintances, strangers.

       Cool, someone replied.

       Then Will said to a group, It Is What It Is.

       Everything Happens For A Reason, A friend replied, laughing.

       At The End Of The Day, Will later said to an acquaintance.

       Believe You Me, some stranger offered in return at the end of the night.

       Phrases all now outlawed.

       Also, during the time of Careless Speech, words similar to Get and Literally and nonwords such as Irregardless and Conversate were spouted without thought. So the ELA met, ending those Generalities and Nonwords. They too purged society of words used wrong: Terrific and Ultimately, and gross sounding words: Squirt, Chunk, and Discharge. They freed society of confusing words: effect and affect; and their, they’re, there. All exclusions were meant to help create a Clarified Society.

       Will really wanted to say the word Love because he does have strong emotions for Jane. The ELA had explained, Citizens without restraint used Love to describe feelings for someone, for movies, for songs, for activities and even for bananas. Then the ELA had asked, How could someone Love all these things? Will remained quiet, knowing that if he used a banished word or phrase the government would exile him.

       Will continued to watch the fan rotate. He distracted his mind or avoided answering Jane’s question by trying to follow the revolution of one blade. He felt it impossible to track, as he felt it impossible to consider accurate words. Will though was no different than many persons within this new time period.

       Within four years of the institution of Language Accuracy, the ELA identified a change from a Careless Society to a Downfall of Social Interaction. The ELA felt angry, hurt, frustrated. They watched and listened as fewer people met for parties or dinners. When people did gather minutes ticked in silence, or those individuals who refused to learn new words or to concentrate on emotions or who feared the green light and piercing buzz – in fact there were fewer citizens in this new world of exactitude – sat muted, listening to those with a precise vocabulary and identified sentiments speak unabated.

       Soon people stopped asking about feelings. Then friendships ended: no one had anything to say. Then couples separated because one of them was unable to explain his or her feelings. Then married folk divorced as one or both of them told the truth.

       I am bored with your company, a husband said.

       You gained too much weight, a wife replied.

       Jane again said, Tell me how you feel about me. Will believed she had fallen asleep. He had hoped she had fallen asleep. He laid as still as possible. He had taken shallower breaths. Will thought of words and phrases to say: adorable, fabulous, Girl Of My Dreams, Everything I Have Always Wanted. He laid struggling to identify his feelings toward her, just as he had struggled to identify his feelings toward events and bananas.

       Then he said, There are no words to explain how I feel.

       Jane shot upright. Will though closed his eyes then sighed at the sound of the piercing buzz. 

NONFICTION


On Podcasts, Glitches and Endings

By Shawna-Lee I. Perrin

hand-music-girl-woman-hair-technology-722639-pxhere.com (2).jpg

I’ve taken to listening to podcasts while I clean one thing or another or drive solo somewhere. When I find one I love, my kitchen sparkles and I run lots of useful errands. My favorites are fiction. Whether they hook me or not, each one teaches me something about telling a story, building a world, developing characters and their voices. When I get through a series, they teach me a lot about endings; what’s effective, and, just as educational, what isn’t. Respectively, I’m thinking of two podcasts in particular: Wolf 359 and The Black Tapes. Some spoilers ahead, but I urge you to listen to them (whether you read the rest of this piece or not) and decide for yourself.

       I don’t know anyone in real life who listens to the same podcasts I do, so Reddit has become my proverbial water cooler for such things. Last year, I discovered The Black Tapes while it was on a brief hiatus and shortly before it was due to end. Many on Reddit had listened since the show started a couple years earlier, so their wait between episodes and seasons was considerable, especially compared to my latecomer’s instant gratification up to that point. It was so good – scary, haunting, and smart. The longtime listeners had a lot of time and energy invested, which likely had an effect on their reactions to the short third and final season in general, and the final episode specifically. It didn’t really resolve – well, anything, but that was how the writers chose to end it. When the final episode finally came out, I paused my steel-wooling of dried-on beans from a pot, looked at my little speaker, and said, “Huh. Well. OK.”

       When I checked in at Reddit a day or two later, I quickly realized that fans were, to put it mildly, not pleased. People swore they would never give money to this group of storytellers or any of their other podcasts again. They said they would try to pretend that there hadn’t ever been a third season, and if anyone ever asked them about it, they would say just listen to seasons one and two, and just stop there. They said the finale’s writing was lazy, slap-dashed and half-assed. Amateurish and insulting and negated everything that they had previously loved about it. And goddamn it, we trusted them, and they do this.

       A typical episode was anywhere between 33 and 47 minutes; the final episode was only 27 minutes, 18 seconds. And that included three rather long advertisements plopped in the middle in two different spots. In retrospect, they did leave us hanging. There was a near-constant threat of world annihilation in the world of The Black Tapes, but they didn’t ever actually tell us the outcome. I’d bet that a certain sock company’s revenue decreased after that one.


"I tend to trust the storyteller. Whether or not I like the ending of something is irrelevant; once a thing is out there, how it ends is how it ends."

Conversely, Wolf 359’s finale clocks in at just over two hours (and they never ran ads – just did the Patreon thing). Not everything wrapped up as nice and comfortably as we listeners would have preferred, yet people almost universally adored the ending. The writers clearly took their time. They resolved important threads while unraveling another, and they did tell us what happened regarding the threat of world annihilation. We have no idea where these people will end up, but their story began, middled, and ended in a specific context; that context is really all they needed to resolve. I may have cried, but just a little.

       All of this got me thinking about what readers and/or listeners feel are owed to them in an ending. In these days of instant feedback and the possibility for interaction with people writing or voice-acting on something like this, we listeners can sometimes feel like we’re part of it. The reality is, we are not.

       I know what it’s like to see or hear or experience something arty and instantly feel a pull, a connection. Be it a book, music, a stand-up comedian’s set, or an exhibition at an art gallery, it’s like, “This is a something that I never even knew I wanted or needed, but now I do, and it’s in me, and I’m in it.” It’s powerful.

       I tend to trust the storyteller. Whether or not I like the ending of something is irrelevant; once a thing is out there, how it ends is how it ends. I see people calling bullshit on different endings (Twin Peaks, Lost, even the original Dallas – which, well, ok, actually, yeah.), and they always have reasons for their opinions, usually very well thought-out ones. But I always find myself thinking, “But how do you know that? How do you know better than this thing’s creator(s)?” And I really do want to know how they know that. Because I’m at a loss.

       There’s a significant character in Wolf 359 that’s an AI (Artificial Intelligence) autopilot for the space ship (trust me, they make it make sense). Her name is Hera, and when her computer voice speaks, it glitches sometimes; it sounds sort of like a stutter. And here’s where you should really skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want a spoiler from episode 41, “Memoria.” In this especially poignant episode, we find out that Hera’s programmer – the one who created her to not only know vast amounts of information, but also to kind of think for herself – hardwired the following two phrases to play in a loop in Hera’s brain/code: “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough.” Hera’s creator did this as a way to “clip her wings” if she started thinking for herself too much. Turns out, it caused the vocal glitch. It also caused Hera to not pull things off that she was actually perfectly capable of.

       What an insight into human nature! What a thing to identify completely with as we try to write, as we try to get better, as we try to get other people to believe in us and help us get our work out into the world. To get people to trust us, the storytellers.

       In my own writing, I know that what I need to do is trust my training, my reading, my knowledge of my characters, my connection with creativity and inspiration as much as – actually, more than – I trust other story tellers. But it’s so hard.

       At 47, I’ve completed writing and [for now] revising my first novel. I’m proud of it, and I’m trying to get it out into the world. Yet there’s this annoying glitch in my brain... Even if I wrote a scene that touches someone, or maybe even a couple or a few, if the ending isn’t what they would have done, will they feel let down? Will it negate everything that came before? The parts they liked or even maybe loved? I hate letting people down. But I gave it everything I had, I followed the characters into sometimes uncomfortable-to-me places, and I did my best to be true to them. And that’s all I can do.

       Podcasts are not just an escape, just as stories aren’t just an escape: they have the power to make us recognize things in ourselves, in humanity, and even the universe. They have the power to disappoint as much as enlighten and satisfy. What a wonderful and terrifying pursuit this is! And, like Hera, all we can do is recognize that glitch that makes us undermine ourselves, move the hell past it, and keep writing. Keep getting better. And if a few people are disappointed, so be it; let them try it.  

FICTION


A Moment to Breathe

By Jessica Nicole Knop

amaury-salas-324504-unsplash (2).jpg

I excuse myself to the bathroom before anyone else can hug me.

           It’s not that I mind the hugs, I just hate all the useless condolences that come with them. Thanks, but I don’t need you to tell me you’re sorry for my loss, or that he was a good man. I’m aware of both. I know everyone is just trying to comfort me, but here’s a newsflash: I don’t feel comforted. I feel angry and frustrated, and I swear to God if one more fucking person tells me that my husband loved me, I will scream. I’m aware that he loved me, you idiot. You’re not being helpful.

           I look around our bathroom, with its fresh coat of mint green paint, and I laugh. You fought me for three months about this goddamn color, but in the end, we compromised. I got the mint green bathroom, you got a beer tap in the new basement.

           I rest back against the vanity, taking in the scope of the renovations: new paint, new shower, new vanity. New renovations for a new life together.

           A tear rolls down my face, its gravity dragging me to the tile floor. Another tear. Then another. Through blurry eyes, I stare at where the floor meets the wall, and I realize something for the very first time:

           You were a shitty painter.


Jessica Nicole Knop is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

NONFICTION


That Which is Never Spoken

By Michael Helsher

philip-brown-542189-unsplash (2).jpg

I’ve taken walks in the forest for most of my life, but I have never once seen an owl when I’ve heard hooting in the woods. Over the years, I came to think of them as the invisible guardians of nature, wise beyond words, exceptionally good, especially at keeping the vermin population in check.

     Once in a while, I’d get spooked by an owl’s hoot echoing through a forest. My senses would go on full alert, absorbing the natural surroundings, until the unnatural sense of myself was gone. Then, if I was lucky enough to hear another hoot, it would make me giggle, just a little, because it reminded me of my favorite line in Walden: “Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men.”

     Ten years ago, I usually carried with me a beat-up copy of Thoreau’s Walden wherever I went. I suppose it was a replacement for the Catholic Youth Bible I once burnt, buried, and planted a seed over up on top of my favorite hill in the forest. Walden was a stand-in for what the Bible might have meant to me back then, that is if there had been someone with the wisdom to cause my young mind to want giggle about some of the wise passages in it.

     But the Bible, sadly, was shown to me to be about nothing other than the serious business of instilled existential guilt, coupled with a list of rules I had to follow to avoid having my soul roasted for eternity. In my 20s, 30s, and half of my 40s, I was pissed about that. I railed against the Catholic church and felt myself to be a victim of the poison of religion. I even went so far as to pretend I was an atheist, even though my heart said otherwise.

     I’m not sure why my resentment faded, but I know now, down deep—somewhere close to where the invisible hooting owl cuts into my giggle reflex—that “goodness is the only investment that never fails.” I know the spirit of what Thoreau was trying to say with those clunky words.

     Goodness isn’t nice, and rarely is it spoken. It’s being spooked by an owl hoot. It’s all the clumsy first times. The last times. The long-gone good times and even some of the bad times. It’s the monster outside my bedroom door when was a kid. It’s the pain I felt when I held my dog while she took her last breath.


"The memory still burns bright in me. It reminds me of a question Thoreau asked himself in his journal. What is religion? he wrote, to which he answered, That which is never spoken."

We were discussing Henry David Thoreau in an Early American Lit. class, when I saw across the room a young lady who was bouncing in her chair, her arm stretched up like she was wanting to touch the ceiling. Two people got picked before her, but she didn’t flinch. She kept bouncing with her hand held high. When she finally got her chance to speak, she grabbed some papers off her desk and began to stutter. “I… I mean. I mean it’s just, it’s like…” She dropped her papers back down on the desk, inhaled deeply, let out a long heavy sigh and said, “I love Thoreau.”

     Laugher erupted all around the room.

     The memory still burns bright in me. It reminds me of a question Thoreau asked himself in his journal. What is religion? he wrote, to which he answered, That which is never spoken. So with that in mind, the young lady in my early American Literature class had a religious experience, because she couldn’t speak, and made us all laugh, and caused the moment to be branded into the ever-tangled web of experience I call my memory. Save for the three words she uttered in frustration, nothing else about that moment was spoken.. 

     The memory is one of those investments that “never fails.” And the moment was a religious experience for me as well. Religious in the spirit of the Latin word Religio, which Joseph Campbell translated as “to reconnect, linking back.” Linking back, connection, devotion, resonance, these are a few of the many words that can be used to describe the one, the big one, in English. The one that everyone wants. “The word” that links us all the way back to the beginning. Ancient Sanskrit has 96 words for it, none of which I know how to speak.

     But truth can be spoken to some degree. And at 56 years old, I’m still learning how to speak it. The best way to learn how to speak the truth, I’ve found, is to stop lying. That was and still is, brutal—because everything I thought I knew about myself turned out to be a lie.

      Hearing an owl hoot in the woods is a good sign. One that always makes me giggle. Just a little. They are wise beyond words, exceptionally good, especially at keeping the vermin population in check.


Michael Helsher is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: Justin Taylor

spotlight-802634_1920.jpg

Recently, Morgan Green interviewed Mountainview MFA faculty member and author of Flings, The Gospel of Anarchy, and Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, Justin Taylor, about his latest project, as well as his new role as the Teppola Distinguished Visiting Professor.

What is your current book about?
My last book was a story collection called Flings. It came out in 2014. The stories weren’t connected, though a few characters popped up in multiple pieces. Right now, I’m working on a memoir, which still feels bizarre to me to say. I don’t want to get into too many details, because it isn’t finished yet, but it’s a book about my relationship with my father, who was an amazing but also difficult man. It’s also about my relationship to Judaism, which turns out to be equally complicated.

 Credit: David Benhaim 

Credit: David Benhaim 

What’s your writing routine?
I don’t have one. I’m bad with schedules. But when I’m trying to really dig in on a project, I do find it’s good to write every day, or to write one day and edit the next, make sure the fire in the hearth doesn’t burn out, you know? I like to write in the mornings when I can, preferably before I’ve seen email or my phone or the internet, because my head is still clear. The best is when I’ve got like half a day to myself, say between three and six hours, and I can turn all the devices off, relax and read some poetry or something, let the urge to write build up a bit instead of having to scramble, and then I start when I’m ready and go until I wear myself out. That’s a best-case scenario, obviously, not the norm.

What authors do you admire most?
Denis Johnson, Joy Williams, and Don DeLillo are three big ones for me. Virginia Woolf, especially The Waves and To the Lighthouse. Saul Bellow. There are other authors who I have admired very much but no longer return to very often. Though I still remember what it felt like to read them and be blown away. I think it’s possible to love a particular writer, or a particular book, but then to hit the limit of what you can take from them and so you move on. Like a relationship that doesn’t end badly, it just—ends. So that’s one answer. Also, In the past couple of years, I’ve written critically on Percival Everett, Thomas McGuane, and Mary Robison, which meant I got to know their work extremely well. I spent between six months and a year with each body of work, and developed all kinds of ideas about how each writer works and what their strengths are. I’m a huge advocate now for Robison’s Subtraction, for McGaune’s novel Ninety-two in the Shade, and for Everett’s Erasure, Watershed, and God’s Country, just to name a few since he has written so many. I could go on but I probably shouldn’t.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten out of a writing class or workshop as a student? The worst?
The best was probably learning to line edit. I had one professor whose aesthetic was severely minimalist, and who had also been a magazine editor for most of his career. He had no patience for redundancy, cliche, or self-indulgence. Every sentence had to earn its place, and it turned out that most of them hadn’t. There was a set of values and aesthetic biases behind what he was doing that are not necessarily universally shared, but they were worth understanding, and the practical skills he taught me, in terms of editing and self-editing and also in terms of not settling for the quick fix, have been invaluable ever since. Conversely, the worst workshop experience I think I ever had was with a different professor at that same school. Nice guy, smart guy, but he was lazy, so he smothered us in easy praise to mask the fact he wasn’t reading us closely or challenging us to be better. So you wound up with a genial workshop, and all these stories you thought were ready for the big leagues, and then you had to find out the hard way later that they weren’t even close. It was a lot of wasted time.

What is the lesson or piece of writing advice you return to most as an instructor?
I’m not sure who told me these things, or what was told to me and what I figured out for myself, but here’s my handy three-step process for revision:
    1) Write the first draft by hand
    2) After you type up that draft, print it out and do the next edit in hard copy again. Shifting between the physical and digital space helps keep your critical eye fresh, plus it forces you to type up every set of notes into the document, which effectively becomes another round of editing. (It also helps to read your work out loud.) Repeat this process as many times as necessary. 
    2a) Invest in a laser printer. It’ll save you money in the long run. 
    3) Never type up your edits the same day you make them. Leave a night’s sleep between marking up your printed manuscript and inputting those mark-ups into the computer file. This is how you avoid accidentally butchering your work because you were in a bad mood or the coffee was too strong.

So you’re a visiting professor at Williamette University, how did that come about?
I was nominated for a position that they have there, the Teppola Distinguished Visiting Professor, which is a one-year appointment that rotates among the various departments at the school. So the English department made a case to bring me in, and I guess we beat out the other departments and whoever they had nominated. This is a slightly more academic title than I usually end up with, but the work is about the same. Last school year I was the Artist-in-residence at the University of Southern Mississippi Ph.D. program (home, by the way, of the wonderful Mississippi Review) and before that I was the Writer-in-residence at the Butler University M.F.A. program in Indianapolis. So in one sense it’s pretty familiar territory, but it’s very exciting for me because I get to live at home in Portland instead of some random city, and because Willamette is a very special school. It’s the oldest school in Oregon, I believe, and it sits in the heart of downtown Salem, across the street from the State Capitol. It’s a gorgeous campus, and I’m optimistic about the upcoming school year.

You’re teaching a multi-genre introduction to creative writing, and a 19th century lit seminar on monsters. Tell us more about that. Also, what’s your favorite book from the reading list you assigned?
Yes, two classes I don’t usually teach, so it’ll be a real treat to workshop poetry and nonfiction as well. We’re reading eight or nine books in that class, including Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever, Asali Solomon’s Get Down, and Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, but I might be most excited about Terrence Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. It just came out and I think it will yield a lot of strong opinions and good discussions. The Monsters class was challenging to put together, and I’m a little worried I’m trying to pack too much in, but we’ll see how it goes. We’re doing a lot of Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Gothic Tales. I found this great anthology that Italo Calvino edited called Fantastic Tales—it’s got Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Le Fanu, and much more. Oh and we’re reading this wild little Swiss novel called The Black Spider, recently translated by Susan Bernofsky for NYRB Classics. I might name that as the favorite only because I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen when I teach it.

How do you balance teaching with writing? Do you feel as though teaching slows down the process at all?
I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, sure, spending time doing anything other than writing is lost writing time. And sure, after a full day of teaching (or line-editing student fiction) you’re not going to be able to give your best energy to your own work. So on a day when a lot of teaching-work has to get done, it’s pretty likely that not much writing-work is going to get done. On the other hand, I find that working with students is intellectually stimulating and a lot of fun. You get to meet people at the moment when they’re finally getting the chance to focus on their life-long passion, and you get to help them on their way. It’s awesome to see students have breakthroughs, figure out how to finish a story, get published for the first time. So I guess the answer to your question is: Short term, yes, teaching can slow you down, but long term, it gives a lot more than it takes. And I haven’t even mentioned money. We’ve all got to earn a living somehow, and if I wasn’t doing this I would be something else, probably with longer hours and worse colleagues.

What’s more valuable in a workshop, praise or criticism?
Neither is all that valuable. Praise is always nice to hear, and it can be very useful for an aspiring writer to hear what is working. And of course we all need to learn how to take (and how to give) criticism. The piece wouldn’t be in the workshop if it was already perfect. But I think that “praise and criticism” is too often code for “good and bad,” which is just such an impoverished language for talking about stories. This isn’t like scanning Yelp reviews deciding where to go for pizza—oh it says the breadsticks were soggy, but the drink refills are free… Forget all that. More than anything else, what I want a workshop to do is tell the writer of the piece what we see in her piece—not what we feel about what we see, but literally: What is on the page? You can get a great argument going about a story just by asking the workshop, What did you think this was about? Or even, What happened in this story? You will get 10 different answers. When people summarize, paraphrase, or describe, they immediately reveal what they as readers thought was important. They reveal what they as readers forgot about or didn’t understand. So the writer comes away with a lot of hard data on the way she is actually being read, which tells her something about the distance between what she was trying to do and what she actually did. How she uses this information is up to her, but it’s a lot more useful than “I really liked the part with the ferris wheel but I was sad when the dog died.” Or worst, worst, worst of all: “I really related to this because it reminded me of myself.”

What are the top myths people have about the publishing industry?
I don’t know, maybe that it’s a strict meritocracy, which it isn’t? Or that there’s any kind of consensus on what constitutes “merit,” which there also isn’t? Every time you ask yourself the question, “How did [Bad Book X or Bad Story Y] get published?” the answer is really simple: Someone was able to convince someone else that it was actually good, and/or that a lot of people would want to buy it. Most editors do want to publish smart, challenging plotless novels and beautiful heartbreaking books of poetry that will sell 300 copies, but that desire is not the only thing, or even the main thing, on their minds. They can’t afford for it to be. And with magazines it can be even more complicated, because the editor there is probably also thinking about things like the news cycle, or how this piece fits in with the 12 other pieces in the issue, or what the other magazines in their competitive tier are also working on. None of this, by the way, is good news or bad news (though it is of course very annoying that Bad Book X got published, or that your story got rejected), it’s just true. So the best thing for a new writer to do is to try and understand this whole ecosystem, and imagine what that same world looks like from the POV of some of its other players: the agent, the editor, the assistant editor, the marketing team, and so on. Then you have to go and repress all that shit or you'll be too depressed to write anything—which is its own kind of challenge—but sooner or later the day will come when you’ll want to have access to all the information. It won’t make the process seem more fair, necessarily, but it will make it seem less random and insane.

Should students write with publication in mind? Why or why not?
No. It is one hundred percent, without exception, a waste of time and energy for this simple reason: you’re trying to imagine something that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as “publication,” there are only publications—magazines, journals, websites, publishing houses—each with its own sense of identity, its own sense of what is important, or what kind of work it would like to be publishing. You might submit your story or your book to twenty places before it lands somewhere, and it’s impossible to write something that’s equally “for” all of them. At that point you’re writing the TV Guide. You don’t know who those editors are, or what they’re looking for, or how your piece might or might not fit into the particular issue of the magazine they’re putting together right now, or how your book might fit in with the two dozen other books currently on their publishing schedule. The only thing to do is do the best work that you possibly can, put it out there, and see who wants to give it a home.


Morgan Green is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

POETRY


Human Origami

By Kirah Lynn Brouillette

people-2.jpg

Two minutes in the morning—
before consciousness shapes
your dream-softened face—
I bend my knees, 
tip my chin up,
(we are cheek to cheek)
and fold myself
around you.

I want to surround you.

I want the first pass
of nose and lips
against your hot, sleep-cleansed skin.
I want to tug your bed-tousled hair
and lick a snail's wet path
from collarbone to ear;
to that dark nestling place
where earlobe meets your strong, curved jaw.
I want to trace finger-loops
over your breathing belly,
until instinctively you swing your hips
squaring them to mine;
bearing them to mine.
I want to loop my arms around you
and press my hands
against the taut plane
of your chest,
lifting your knees
up and in,
tucking my face
into the crook of your neck (the sweetest place)
wrapping
you in me

Human origami.

NONFICTION


Bedtime Stories

By John Will

alexandra-gorn-471463-unsplash (2).jpg

One of the greatest challenges I’ve found as a writer is simply keeping up with all the demands a family can place on the imagination.

              Take now for example: It’s bedtime for my kids, and I just finished a chapter of our make-believe story about Beatles and Bottle the T-Rexes, who are both trying to escape a volcanic eruption. Telling my boys this tale has made me examine the process of how I tell stories. As I sit at the keyboard and think, I can hear the boys upstairs casting spells at each other.

              Tim: “Abra-ca-zee, abra-ca-za, I turn you into a mega zoo-rah.”

              Isaac: “And I turn you into a zebra.”

              I’m supposed to be writing about what it’s like to be a writing dad. Thankfully, the boys just gave me an idea, so you’ll have to thank them that this piece has a focus.

              At my final residency for my masters’ last January, a colleague came to me and said that they found my writing to be quite disturbing. I accepted this information with the few graces I have, then the conversation lagged. My colleague was about to depart but turned back to me and said, “Where do you come up with this stuff?”

              By this stuff, I think she was referring to the workshop piece I just had critiqued by my peer review group. As a quick aside, that story was published in Assignment online.

              Anyway, the story is one wherein nothing bad actually occurs, but with every fiber of your being you know the protagonist is twisted and has done something unspeakable. Without ruining the plot, the story is about a guy who owns a party company with bouncy houses for rent. The only other detail you need to know is that half of the story takes place at a birthday party.

              My colleague found my work to be disquieting, and her question was really meant to ask, “How can you think about stuff like this?” My answer at the time was something like, “I just have lots of bad dreams.” But that answer wasn’t really the truth. I didn’t know the truth until just a few days ago. So let me use the previous story to explain how I come up with content.


"Then, last week, I was writing a chapter for my new WIP (work-in-progress). The chapter came about because I was envisioning a canoe trip with my sons, and how we would survive if disaster struck."

              First, if you don’t yet know from reading my Lines of Literature via Twitter (or the repostings I do on Facebook), I tend toward horror. We can quibble over genre if you’d like, but underneath it all, I write horror.

              I was a few weeks away from a deadline at school and had no idea what I was going to write as a critique piece. None. Instead of sitting at my computer worrying about it, however, I was playing with my kids. We just bought a small bouncy for my son for his third birthday. We had it inflated, and the boys were jumping happily inside. My mind, as it so often does, went into preparation mode–always be ready for the worst to happen. And with a bouncy house that could be bad indeed. But as I watched them jump, I realized that they would be fine and never know the danger implicit in any fun activity.

              Boys safe, I let my mind wander the halls of its prison. It knocked on a door labelled, “Bad Things." It turned the handle and went inside.

              The story, dark as it is, emerged from that door. My mind fled back down the corridors to its cell and slammed the door. But at least I had a story to write.

              An earlier story came about because I was sitting in church, remembering what services had been like for me as child, before the advent of children’s church. I was thankful my boys did not have to endure the same thing but instead could enjoy the company of their peers while learning their Bible lesson.

              In the story that emerged from that journey to “Bad Things," a man blows up his life hoping to find a better life. While that may not sound like horror, watching a man’s descent into insanity is terrifying.

              Then, last week, I was writing a chapter for my new WIP (work-in-progress). The chapter came about because I was envisioning a canoe trip with my sons, and how we would survive if disaster struck. This story emerges in small doses from ever-more-frequent visits to “Bad Ideas," and it is as dark as anything I’ve ever written

              It occurred to me when I finished my writing for that day that all of the inspiration for my stories, despite being found in “Bad Ideas," have their genesis in one inescapable fact: I love my children dearly and am utterly terrified of anything truly bad happening to them (boo-boo’s and owies don’t count, and neither does a “B” on a report card). My subconscious processes this terror and stores it in “Bad Ideas," where, if I am brave enough, I can bring the ideas into the light of day and face them more comfortably there. And by taking my worst fears for my children and turning them into stories, I am able to come to grips with my fears, and show them how small they really are once they leave my mind.

              So, that’s the dirty little secret: I write horror because I love my kids. Please, dear friends, don’t tell anyone. An author has to keep up appearances, after all.


John Will is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. You can follow him at https: The Writing Dad, a blog dedicated to the adventure of being a dad and an author at the same time.  

RESIDENCY RECOLLECTIONS


IMG_5851.jpg

There are no days more full than those we go back to. ― Colum McCann

Jemiscoe Chambers-Black—For many of us, the week-long residency at the Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, NH is something that we cherish. It’s a magical place, a retreat, where like-minds enjoy being away from the pressures of adulting, and rather, focus on nothing but their stories. Because we feel so strongly about our time together, we here at Assignment decided to ask some of the current MFA Candidates, the alumni and faculty what they missed, learned and loved about past residencies.

After attending three residencies, I can say with certainty that what I’ll miss most after my fourth residency week in January are the people. I’ll miss leaving the rest of the world behind to spend a week in the company of writers, people who intrinsically understand the challenges and rewards of practicing the craft of writing. I’ll miss the opportunity to dig deep into short stories in morning workshops. I’ll miss the chance to learn together from visiting agents and editors. I’ll miss the student and faculty readings. I’ll miss it all, but the community fostered by the staff and faculty—and my fellow learners—rests at the heart of what I love most about residency. ~ Margaret McNelis

My favorite moment of every residency is the Friday night slideshow. I’m always touched by the photos of students learning, writing, sharing, and enjoying each other’s company. The thoughtfulness and joy on everyone’s faces reflect the magic of residency. You can see the shift in photos taken early on in the week, to those taken toward the end. Friendships have been made. Confidences have grown. Dreams have been born. And cohort bonds have all become stronger. Plus, there’s always at least one cute alpaca pic. ~ Jo Knowles, Faculty

My family called my first week of residency, worried I’d careened off a mountain on my drive up after they didn’t hear from me for days. I told them I’d found my people. I couldn’t remember going to any other gathering where everyone else was just as passionate about the same thing as me. It just felt right. ~ Eric Beebe

The Mountain View is dead quiet at 4am. We walk the silent halls, my coffee cup is stained purple with red wine and his smells of cinnamon whiskey. We pause in front of a painting of hunting dogs.
       “It’s weird how every floor has the same pictures,” I say. 
       “They’re not exactly the same,” he says. “The painting on the second floor has twelve dogs. This one has eleven.”
       We rush down the stairs.
       “See," I say, not sure if I'm victorious or disappointed. "Eleven." ~ Sarah Foil

When I think about the four residencies I attended, the thing that sticks out most vividly is the mornings: 28 in total. Leaning over to the personal-size coffee maker (that I brought to every Residency) on the nightstand, flicking it on, and slowly coming to and watching the light slink across the walls and ceiling while my favorite coffee from home-brewed, making my room smell like morning. Then, sipping the dark roast with a billow of half and half, gazing out the windows at the sunshine-yellow clapboards of the Mountain View Grand, and around the room, which I set up just how I like it, reviewing the day’s schedule. Each morning, the cusp of bringing new learning into my mind and spirit. Each morning, looking forward to strengthening friendships with other writers. Each morning, giving myself permission to take my writing as seriously as everyone else already did. ~ Shawna-Lee I. Perrin

My favorite memories from Residency all center on how we, as colleagues, pushed one another to continuously perfect our writing and to hone our work into stories that deserved to be read. One semester, after having my piece workshopped, a colleague approached me for a personal discussion of the work.
       “How do you come up with such creepy material?” she asked.
       “I have no idea,” I said. “But I’m glad it made you feel creeped out. It was supposed to.”
       “I was creeped out,” she said, “but it was the wrong kind of creeped out. It was the I-don’t-want-to-read-this-anymore creeped out, not the wow-this-is-wrong-that-I-enjoy-this-stuff kind of creeped out. If you want to hold your readers’ attention, work on making your material more subtle and more complex.”
       Every word I’ve written in the almost two years since have been filtered through this piece of advice. ~ John Will

One special pleasure was the peer workshop group I shared with Lydia Peele. It was a mix of nice personalities and uniformly strong manuscripts. All such workshops provide to their leaders a mix of don't-do-that and yes-do-this in the storytelling, and it was great fun, over and over again, to find so many beguiling examples of yes-do-this. ~ Richard Adam Carey, Faculty

I call the top moments in my life: "Patronus moments." It's lame and nerdy as hell, but I think of them whenever I'm really sad and I need the extra boost of remembering a better time. Expecto Patronum is actually Latin for "bring out my protector," so it felt appropriate both for me and the other characters in the Harry Potter universe. These moments include bid day in my sorority, when I got my littles, my time in Budapest, the Twenty One Pilots concert, Leadershape, and now: residency.
      I'd cried for an hour when I first got the letter from Lisa telling me that I'd been accepted into the program. I don't have the words to explain the amount of shock and gratitude I felt, but I knew it was one of those rare moments where I'd get a taste of what it means to finish first. Residency exceeded any possible expectations I could've dreamed of and more. I'm surrounded by a group of wonderful, inspiring, dynamic people who all share a love of what matters most to me: writing. It's such a wonderful program, and I couldn't possibly praise it enough. At least I'll have the next two years to try. ~ Morgan Green

Every time I return home from a residency, I miss that insular feeling of being holed up 24/7 with other writers and lovers of books. I relish forgetting about the rest of the world, even as we think and write about our concerns for its fate. I love the deep immersion, the thinking and talking only about our craft. What a gift that is. And really, now that I've experienced it first as a student, then as faculty, I can say it is a necessity. ~ Amy Irvine, Faculty

Strangely, what I liked most and what I liked least about Residency are the same thing: Peer Review. It was painful. Being the newest of the bunch, I was scheduled at the end of the week, so I could get acclimated before entering “the box.” I’d come to the program because I needed help with my writing; I was stuck, but couldn’t figure out why. As I participated in my classmate’s peer reviews, something in my mind began to gel until I realized what I was stuck on. I write a great nonfiction landscape, but it’s just that—a landscape. It’s sterile and devoid of emotion because even though I’m in the story, I’m absent. I write around me rather than in me. When my turn in “the box” came, my mentors and peers were wonderful, and the overall theme was that my story was missing in my writing. I realized that either I needed to open up and expose myself and my family, or I needed to switch to fiction. I was overwhelmed with the fear of being vulnerable. When I came out of “the box,” I didn’t think anyone was more surprised than me when I started crying and couldn’t stop. It was a painful experience, but it was also a week of growth and insight. And as scary as it is, I’m sticking with nonfiction. ~ Debi St. Jeor

NONFICTION


I’m Melting: Thoughts on Reading Your Work in Public

By Jillian Avalon

audio-2941753_1920 (2).jpg

           I am not a nervous speaker. I believe it was Seinfeld who said that most funeral guests would prefer to be in the casket rather than give the eulogy. However, I never experienced the paralyzing fear of public speaking so many people suffer, as anyone who knows me will testify.

           I was a performative child, as most children begin and many children outgrow. I danced, sang, acted, and spoke without fear of my audience, no matter the size, age, or setting, and I could not identify with professional performers who admitted to vomiting before every show. What was there to fear?

           It took me twenty-six years to experience stage fright. I signed up for a Friday reading slot at my MFA residency. I selected a reading I felt good about, and I practiced it meticulously. Muscle memory is essential to a good performance, no matter how good or bad the material, and I was determined to have this piece ingrained. Friday, I resolved, would be nothing.

           The symptoms began before breakfast: muscle tightness, stomach flipping, occasional trembling whenever I thought about the reading. I started second-guessing my selection. Was it the right tone? Had I picked a section that was a poor representation of the voice of my character? Was it well-written at all? I waded through my work for the day, increasingly worried that I had made a mistake, either in my selection or in signing up to read at all. I imagined that horrible smattering of polite applause, which sounds suspiciously like normal applause, but with a measured, muted quality that signaled no one actually liked the performance.


"Three minutes of my life did not feel like three minutes. I was still shaking when I sat. I took deep breaths, rubbed the sweat from my hands on my lap, listened and applauded the other readers. My stomach wouldn’t settle."

The half hour before I was to read, I was well past anxious. I felt carsick. My hands were shaking. My too-empty stomach flipped and squirmed. I could see where the sweat from my hands smudged the pages I was to read.

           My friend told me it would be fine, and I knew she was right.

           “It would be fine,” I told myself. I would go into auto-pilot, read my piece as I’d practiced. I would not die if I got polite applause. But it felt suspiciously like death.

           My hands still shook when I took the podium. I worried my voice would sound as queasy as I felt. In the winter, the teacher who had worked on my piece wasn’t present, but he was in the summer. And worse than simply being present, he is one of those listeners whose body language telegraphs listening and draws the eye. I looked up the first time at the audience, as trained, and I saw him leaning forward, and I felt dizzy.

           Three minutes of my life did not feel like three minutes. I was still shaking when I sat. I took deep breaths, rubbed the sweat from my hands on my lap, listened and applauded the other readers. My stomach wouldn’t settle. I told myself it would pass by the end of dinner. A bit of a boost to the blood sugar, some time for the adrenaline drop to level out. It would be fine. Some people would say they liked it and I would feel better.

           The food did not settle my stomach. The trembling didn’t stop. I did get compliments, but it mysteriously made things worse. Each compliment from a professor made the nerves spike on the scale again, and I admitted to one that I still felt a mess when I left dinner early and hurried back to our meeting place for the next event.

           She assured me this was normal. She said reading is her least favorite part of the program. Coming in the previous summer, I would not have understood her, but walking beside her with my stomach doing incomprehensible acrobatics and my fingers vibrating like a plucked guitar string, I knew exactly what she meant. I paced alone for half an hour, and even then my nerves only settled to the levels from breakfast.

           It wasn’t all bad, though. I got good feedback on the section, and I slept better that night than any other during the week. And I was left with an important question to mull over. Why was reading my words so different from every other performance I’d done in my life?

           At first, I thought it was something about the stage. In dance and theatre, I usually had bright lights blocking the audience from view. But this wasn’t always true, and almost no musical performance I’d done had this benefit. I certainly had never had a public speaking engagement where I couldn’t see faces.

           Then I thought about content. With dancing, acting, singing, playing, I am taking content created by someone else and sharing it with the world. I am a vessel for someone else’s expression. If it doesn’t go well, I perform something else and move on.

           But my writing is mine. It is what matters most. If ithe reading doesn’t go well, if people don’t like it, it isn’t a matter of performing something else tomorrow. Those words are a bit of my soul, which I’ve spent years forming and crafting and imagining.

           I'm still not a nervous speaker. I'd still rather give the eulogy than lay in the casket. And I'd still describe myself as performative. I wouldn't stop forcing myself to read, because I think it is good for me. But I have resigned myself to a life of hours of before-and-after agony on a reading day, and I do not imagine it will go away. In fact, I am fairly certain this is one of those things that only gets worse with practice.


Jillian Avalon is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

A STORY IN PARTS


Love’s Last Breath - Part I

By C. A. Cooke

charles-forerunner-1727-unsplash (2).jpg

How can I consider love again?

The carnation in Robert’s hand shook as he waited for the train to stop. His mind buzzed - fear and excitement warring over his attention. After Candice, he had sworn never to put himself on a string again. He spent eleven years being yanked on one, and even after the divorce, he came running whenever Candice beckoned. Promises of reconciliation eventually turned to ash in his ears, and Candice cut him loose.

           Robert thought he was done with women, done with dating, and done with love. But then, Lizzy. She popped into his life like a firework, showing up as a random challenger online in the Scrabble boards and chatting idly with him as she laid down triple word scores. There was something about her, something different. He sought her out whenever he was online, feeling lost when he couldn’t find her name.

           After months of chatting on the Scrabble boards he had built up the courage to ask her to dinner. Nothing fancy. Lord knew he couldn’t afford fancy after the divorce. But the diner on Grand had great food for cheap, and who doesn’t like pie?

           Lizzy’s initial hesitancy worried him. He was no Brad Pitt after all, unless Brad was beefing up for a role as the Cookie Monster: Robert wasn’t fat so much as padded and covered in the fine fur bestowed unto him by his Mediterranean ancestry. Lizzy acquiesced, however, and set a date. She insisted they meet today on the train and wouldn’t answer when Robert queried as to why. The only thing she would tell him was that she had a “prior engagement”.

           They hadn’t exchanged pictures, either. Lizzy was old school, and Robert was too shy to send anything more than a vague description of himself. Candace had ever been so aware of his faults, and eleven years of listening to itemized lists of them made it difficult to see anything else. Lizzy laughed when he told her this, typing, “Nobody’s perfect, Roberto.”

           Roberto. Lizzy’s pet name for him. He loved it. It made him swell with the Italian pride so characteristic of his father’s side of the family. Papa died before Candace left him, but Robert had a feeling he would have liked Lizzy. She was funny and wise. She was always ready with a quip and good advice whenever Robert was down.


"Robert checked the hands of every woman that came in. The flash of red of the matching carnation should be easy to spot, regardless of the frenzy."

The train slowed, inertia rocking everyone in the car forward. Robert adjusted his weight like the city pro he was. He hadn’t needed to grab a hand rail in twenty years. Like many metro travelers, his calves were his best feature. The train slid into the station, the tinny automated voice announcing the street. Robert’s pulse quickened, and he rubbed his sweaty palms on his slacks.

           The surge of end-of-day commuters crashed against one another like opposing armies on a battlefield. Those egressing the train pushed forward with all the grit and determination of Patton’s Third Army pushing into Bastogne. The group on the platform washed around them, elbowing and shoving them aside to gain entrance to the carriages. The exchange had all the order and grace of an explosion.

           Robert checked the hands of every woman that came in. The flash of red of the matching carnation should be easy to spot, regardless of the frenzy. Once his eye caught a crimson splotch, and his heart leapt. Its owner, a petite blonde in a navy business suit, stopped and scanned the seats. She moved away moments later, and Robert saw she held not a flower, but a small, gaily wrapped package. He continued to scan the crowd, his panic rising with this heartbeat. He wondered if he had gotten the wrong day or the wrong train. He didn’t want to consider that Lizzy might stand him up. They were soul-mates.

           The crowd settled down and the doors slid closed. The familiar weight of acceleration accompanied the familiar weight of disappointment. She hadn’t come. She’d reconsidered or, perhaps, just forgot.

           “That’s me,” he muttered. “Mr. Forgettable.”

           “Excuse me, young man,” a voice said from beside him. He looked up.

           Gliding around the other riders was a woman in her seventies. She wore black slacks and a tie-died tank-top, over which she had draped a sheer floral-patterned wide scarf, which flowed around her like water as she walked. Her gray-white hair was styled in a textured bob which made her look as though she had just wandered in from a day at the beach.

           “Excuse me,” she said again. “Are you Robert?”

           Robert blinked and nodded.

           “I am,” he said. “But who are—”

           His eyes caught the flash of red in her hands and his mouth went dry.

           “Roberto!” Lizzy said, and threw herself at him, arms open.


C. A. Cooke is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. Visit his website at http://cacooke.com

POETRY


Hush

By Krista Graham

rain-958992_1920 (2).jpg

If I don’t say it out loud it’s not real
So I won’t speak it
Just fold it like a quilt and hide it
In a chest
My chest
I close the lid

Be Still

I open and let in the light
Retrieve the quilt
Unfold it tenderly lay it on my shoulders and
Feel its weight
My weight
I sit under it awhile

Weep

I let the warmth of it melt what is frozen
And in the thawing I feel
More than nothing then something then everything
And there are tears
My tears
I let myself rain


Krista Graham is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. Visit her website at www.peninmyhand.com.

BOOKS


Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Review by Justin Taylor, Mountainview Faculty

This past school year, I used an anthology in a few of my writing classes that I had never used before. It was The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, and to be honest with you, I was not persuaded of its efficacy as a teaching tool. The selections are refreshingly offbeat, and the sheer range of the thing (1700s-2000s) is something, but the book contains a lot of typos, formatting mistakes, and errors of fact (particularly in the biographical notes for the included writers) that left me constantly second-guessing my primary course text, which is the one thing a teacher doesn’t want to have to worry about. Oates/Oxford should have hired a proofreader and a fact-checker, or, if they did, they should have fired them. Oh well.

     Still, there were some stories that I encountered for the first time in The Oxford Book that not only yielded fruitful classroom discussions and creative responses, but stuck with me after the school year ended. One such story is “Fleur” by Louise Erdrich, about a woman reputed to be a witch, and the supernatural revenge she may (or may not) have taken on a group of men who violated her. The story, which is less than ten pages long, is masterful in the way it handles point of view, as well as in the way it balances candor and subtlety. It left me eager to read more Erdrich, so I picked up Love Medicine, her debut novel, first published in 1984 (then revised and expanded in 1993, and again in 2009).

     Love Medicine takes place over roughly half a century on (and off) an Ojibwe Reservation in North Dakota. A family tree included in the front matter lays out five generations of Kashpaws, Morrisseys, Nanapushs, and Lamartines, many of whom will get to narrate one or more chapters at some point in the sprawling saga. On the family tree, a legend explains that different symbols are used to distinguish “traditional Ojibwe marriage,” “sexual affair or liaison,” and “Catholic marriage,” as well as “children born from any of the above unions” from “adopted children.” Such scale might overwhelm some readers before they’ve even begun, but don’t be scared off! The novel, for all its technical daring (leaps forward and backward in time, characters phasing in and out of primary-protagonist status) is remarkably lucid and emotionally potent. It’ll have you hooked within five pages, and in full-on binge-mode within fifty.

     I loved it so much I forced myself to slow down around the three-quarters mark, because I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet. Happily, it turned out that this was a needless precaution, because Erdrich has written several more novels set in the same community, including the Pulitzer finalist The Plague of Doves, the National Book Award-winning The Round House, and a novel called Four Souls that, as far as I know, hasn’t won anything but which caught my eye because its protagonist is Fleur Pillager, i.e. the title character of the story that first introduced me to Erdrich’s work, so I’m going to read it as soon as I find a copy. (Fleur appears in Love Medicine too, but only briefly.) 

     Philip Roth called Love Medicine “a masterpiece, written with spellbinding authenticity” and Toni Morrison rightly noted that its "beauty...saves us from being completely devastated by its power.” To these accolades I only wish to add a brief teacherly note. Love Medicine is recommended for one and all, but it will prove especially useful for students exploring that gray and intimidating borderland between the novel, the “linked collection” and the “novel-in-stories.” I’ve seen Love Medicine described as all three of these things, but Erdrich herself seems to regard it as a novel, while at the same time regarding its component parts as stories rather than as chapters. (The title story of The Red Convertible, her Collected Stories, is a chapter from this novel.) This makes sense if you think about it, given how many books she’s written about these people and this place: are not the novels themselves mere chapters in some larger book? In any case, if you’re looking for a model, Love Medicine is among the best you’ll find, because it will give you permission not to follow anyone else’s, but rather to build your own.


Justin Taylor is a Mountainview MFA faculty member, as well as the author of Flings, The Gospel of Anarchy, and Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever.

NONFICTION


Me and Morgan Freeman

by W. Leander

guitar-1016402_1920 (2).jpg

             I was eight years old when my grandfather, a kindly, sports-loving, retired police officer, died—in the same manner he had lived his entire life. Quietly. He died from lung cancer. He died at night.

              It was summer, and I was staying with them, he and Grandma, out there in their little house at the tail-end of a dead-end street in lifeless Independence, Missouri, where I spent my summer vacations during those early years.

              I know I was there when he passed away. Because I am told I was. Just as I am told that on the night he died, when the paramedics arrived—with their stretchers and squawking radios and forbidding flashing lights—I cried as I stood under the shadow of the hallway, in my Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear and dirty tube socks, whispering to any adults who passed near me: Where is Grandpa going and when is he coming back?

              I can’t, however, remember anything from that night. Not the paramedics. Not the stretcher. Not the tears. No, my memory of that time is as hazy and tenuous as summer itself. No day stands out.

              This is what I remember: tubes. Thin, clear tubes attached to bags; bags filled with liquid—buttermilk-looking liquid that replaced his food, bright pink liquid you needed gloves to handle, clear liquid that smelled like aspirin. The tubes snaked down from these bags, first into blinking, burping machines—the various serious-looking apparatuses that kept him alive once he came home from the hospital that last time—and then into Grandpa, who stayed confined in bed, not the bed he shared with Grandma for thirty-plus years, but the new hospital bed, which took up space in the dining room, positioned in such a way that he could still see the TV comfortably.  

              I remember that hospital bed, with its heavy rubber wheels and thin blue mattress. It had chrome bars that could be raised on either side and locked into place with an ominous click, along with a hand crank used to elevate both ends. I remember the gauze; the oxygen tank; the large plastic cup, always nearby and always filled with ice water because he was so constantly thirsty; and how no one could ever make noise during the day, because he was either sleeping or trying to sleep—the pain not always kept at bay by medication. Plus, I can recall the sharp smell of urine, which hung in the heavy, stale air that entire final summer, at first from the commode, placed as it was in the living room, right next to the TV, then later due to the urine bag that hung and drooped off one side of his bed. 

              What I can’t remember, no matter how I try, is his face. Grandpa’s face. What it looked like. Its creases. Its blemishes. Its moles. Instead, in my head is a runny image of a face. Nothing is in focus. Just a brown blur with a crop of grey hair and the same nondescript, haunted, hollowed-out eyes that could be found on the face of any elderly black man who had spent the majority of his life in the South.


"I don’t have the beginning to this scene, no idea why we are sitting across from each other, so delighted as we are, rocking out with imaginary instruments."

And that’s it. That’s all I can remember about my grandfather, not his love of catfish and Royals baseball, not his fondness for toy models of classic cars. Nor can I recall any time spent with him before the cancer robbed him of so much.  I can’t remember any fishing trips or any trips to the park. Can’t remember a time when he chased me in the yard with false teeth rattling in his hand. These moments, if they ever existed, are gone.  Erased from my memory. All except for one.

              It is one simple scene, years before. The two of us. Alone. Grandma out running errands, no one else in the house, and Grandpa is babysitting. However, in my faulty memory, Grandpa is played by Morgan Freeman.

              We are in the living room. I am on Grandma’s plastic covered sofa; Grandpa is seated across from me in the easy chair. Between us on the coffee table are three discarded Jell-O Pudding Pop wrappers. I’ve eaten all three and am thinking about asking for a fourth, the benefit of Grandma being gone. We are both rocking, side-to-side, grinning at each other while playing air-guitar.  We are mirror images, the two of us.  I am either copying him or he is copying me. I don’t have the beginning to this scene, no idea why we are sitting across from each other, so delighted as we are, rocking out with imaginary instruments. There is no audio. I can’t hear my grandfather’s voice.

              I see me—him—sitting there in my striped tee-shirt and missing front teeth, grinning goofily at my grandfather; so nakedly happy and uninhibited and trusting that I am sure I have never smiled like that since.

              I look at my younger self and wonder what is going through his head. How much does he know about the world around him and his place in it?  I don’t know. Will never know. I can’t remember, can’t fit myself inside such a small frame. He is a mystery to me.  Just as I am to him. Forty years, for him, is an eternity, an inscrutable span of time.

              And he is right.

              We are strangers, he and I—separated by an impenetrable wall of years and experience. Our cells aren’t even the same now. His body, still coated with baby fat under tulip-soft skin, is free from the scars long since faded on my scraped and rusted self. We hardly look related. Still, I feel paternal and protective of my little me. I shudder for him. I want to reach out and shield him from the years ahead. From what comes next.

              Remember this, I want to tell him. Remember this moment. This man. Your first father figure. You will have so few. Remember his loving, healthy face. His aged patchwork of wrinkled, brown skin. His scratchy cheeks.  His sorrowful, smiling eyes.

              Remember him for me.

              But I am too distant. And it is much too late. They are ghosts now. The both of them.

              So, I must content myself to watching these two strangers from afar, watch as they beam at one another. Laughing and strumming to music only they can hear.


W. Leander is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

FICTION


The Mic

by Morgan Green

israel-palacio-459693-unsplash.jpg

It’s 1979, and I’m eight years old. My legs dangle off the edge of a beat-up leather barstool like braids. I swing them back and forth with a shy smile, picking at the edge of the seat with one hand, holding a glass of water with the other. I’m pretending I’m drinking whatever the adults are, so that I feel like I belong.

*

Mama’s always been a natural with the mic. You could tell she was into a song when she took her time. Eyes closed, she'd tip her head to the side, ever so slightly, and caress the mic. She had that same look when she hummed while washing my hair. Her favorite song to sing, as her fingers weaved their way through my curls, was Moody’s Mood for Love by King Pleasure. “My granddaddy would always come in singing that song,” she once told me. Then she started singing, dragging out the lyrics while she ran the wide-tooth comb through my hair, from tip to root.  

               “It’s okay, baby'" she said, after I flinched.  "Come on sing the next part with me.” I joined in. I had no idea what the hell I was singing back then, but we sang it so much that, finally, I knew the words to the song like I did my own name.

              “Good, Nettie.” She kissed my forehead before singing the next verse. I flinched again as the comb yanked at another part of my hair. “These tangles of yours don’t seem to behave either,” she joked. “Gimme the high note.” I smiled up at her through clinched teeth, and she wiped a tear from under my left eye. I added a little vibrato to each drawn out word. 

              “Yes, baby girl!” She grabbed a finger full of curling custard and began to spread it through my hair in sections. “Doesn’t singing make you feel better? It’s like for a moment you forget you’re in pain. With a voice like yours, everyone around you might just forget, too.”

              My favorite part of each day was when she’d do my hair, not only because it was the guaranteed thirty minutes of alone time with her, but also because sometimes she’d get sentimental enough while singing to tell me her stories.


"She isn’t looking at me anymore. She’s holding her mic in the air and swaying her hips to the music playing."

Tonight, like most nights, I must share Mama with other people. They’re snapping and humming along as she sings about police, thieves, drugs, and love. I just watch Mama. Sometimes she drifts off while singing. The crowd doesn’t notice, but I recognize the look in her eyes—it’s the one she gets after hitting the needle. She stares up at the ceiling like she can see stars. Whenever she does this, I look up at the ceiling, too. Try to see what she sees.

              “I have a special surprise for y’all tonight,” Mama says to the crowd. She winks at me from all the way up there on that stage and smiles. “Annette, baby, come up here with Mama”

              The ripped leather tears a seam in my stocking before I run up the steps. She isn’t looking at me anymore. She’s holding her mic in the air and swaying her hips to the music playing. Once I get to the stage, she smiles and hands me my own mic. Then she turns her head to the side and sniffs.

              “Ladies, fellas of Smooth’s," she says to the room, "Y’all think I can sing? Wait until you hear my baby girl. She can’t just sing. She can sang. She’s gonna be a real star one day. Come on now, clap for her.” And they do. And for the first time, I think I feel what she felt all those nights, and I understand why she never would—no, never could—do anything else but take that stage.

              This is the first night my hands ever hold a real mic, not a makeshift one made out of brushes or combs or empty beer bottles. I cry as I sing because when I look up, I finally see the stars. Women in the audience call me baby and sweet pea. Men gently direct me to take my time. And I do. Mama and I smile at each other, finally knowing one another, or at least the part that matters. Our voices blend beautifully. She sings notes that are low like her nights on the street, when we’d sit outside with an open guitar case and sing in front of fountains.

*

She’d found the guitar in a dumpster, somewhere on South Street, and pawned it. She didn’t get much for it, but it was plenty to pay for enough studio time to record one song. She didn’t, though. She used the money for heroin. She said it kept her creative juices flowing. She kept the case, however. She took a red marker and wrote “Corrine and Annette’s Album Fund,” on the inside.

              That was 1977, before Mama found Smooth’s, when men would invite her over so that they could have her, and she’d let ‘em, if it meant it gave her baby a place to sleep for the night.

              “My mama always told me the only thing I’d ever be good for was layin’ on my back," she said to me one night as she washed my hair in this guy’s tub. She yanked hard so she could get the braids right. “She was right,” she said, “but it got me you,” She kissed my forehead. “It got me you, and that’s all I need, baby.” I smiled because I was too young to understand fully what she meant or how to respond.

*

In 1980 I’m nine. I walk into my mother’s dressing room one night and watch as she flicks the lighter and takes a drag from a pipe. I can tell it isn’t her first drag of the night because she takes a deep breath and smiles up at the ceiling, leg twitching until she hears me.

              “Mama?”

              She jumps and the pipe slips out of her hand onto the ground. She flinches as it bounces but I’m at a loss for words. She stares at me, her shock mirrored in my eyes.

              “What are you doing?”

              She doesn’t know how to answer. Instead, she looks down, ashamed, then starts to cry. I walk over and hug her. “Don’t cry, Mama,” I hush her, “I love you.” I kiss her forehead, pretend not to notice her stare longingly at the crack pipe still resting on the floor.


Morgan Green is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. 

POETRY


Spin

By Shawna-Lee I. Perrin

StockSnap_O1ISP9UOQE (1).jpg

The summer sun inches toward high,
and I, schoolless, thumb through cassettes
recorded off top 40 radio shows;
fully synthed, effeminate British men
weeping words for lost, exotic loves.

Lurking in my sister's closet,
I push aside school clothes
and crane my neck to the back...
There I find my day in Sage green;
the spinny skirt without which no day
on the hill is complete.
Each tier, wider than the last, cinched
to my eleven year old, hipless body.

Out on the steep hill behind our house,
spinning relentlessly on baby-fat legs.
Guess which tree I'll see when I open my eyes, still.
Blind, deaf and dumb to cars whizzing by just past
two maples - one short, fat, one tall, slender.

Spin
Spin
Spin

'Til the sun drops.
'Til roast beef and rice.
'Til my feet are a deep, dirty green.


Shawna-Lee I. Perrin is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.