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pushcartprize1

Literary accolades from a farmer’s market always taste fresher than store-bought.

decomP magazinE, which published my story, Punchline Number Nine, published back in February, has nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. I’ve heard writers “joke” that everyone has a Pushcart, implying that they’re meaningless, which would make a nomination eve more meaningless—a tiny pocket void filled with lint sort of off to the side in the armpit of the regular void, I guess.

A) Say that to the Pushcart people.
B) This was my first publication.
C) I’m twenty-three lightyears away from thinking of myself as a successful writer.
Therefore:
D) I’m ecstatic as all heck.

This is the appropriate facial expression of subdued excitement, correct?

This is the appropriate facial expression of subdued excitement, correct?

However, I have no idea how to behave about these things. I’m bad at accepting regular, everyday compliments. How to properly demur, show the appropriate level of both humility and excitement—that fence-balance between of-course and I-can’t-believe.

I know the chances of actually winning are pretty low, but I am proud of my little nomination. And come to think of it, the writers that joked everyone has a Pushcart didn’t have Pushcarts. Interesting.

The cycle of submission and rejection continues. Which I’ve acclimated to, for the most part. The rejection never gets easier, but some rejections are easier than others.

For instance, I got a really nice and encouraging rejection from ZYZZYVA which absolutely made my day. Cloud 9. (A phrase which incidentally comes from the 1895 International Cloud-Atlas in which, of the ten cloud types, cloud No. 9, cumulonimbus, was the biggest, puffiest, most comfortable-looking.)

On the other hand, there are other rejections which make me want to blow raspberries of confetti from my mouth and throw up my hands in mock-surrender.

I had a story rejected from a journal for being eighteen words over their guidelines which, sure, I understand, even if that seems incredibly anal. But they also have a one submission every six months rule, which meant I couldn’t even resubmit it eighteen words shorter.

Another rejection came 196 days after submission where they said they’d recently made the decision to limit all prose submissions to 1000 words. That decision was made over three months ago. So for the first 100 days there was a chance, but for the almost next 100, was basically eh, no hurry.

And I get it. New writers must seem like zombie hordes to lit journals. Hundreds to thousands of drooling, groaning, gross corpses slobbering at your door and all you want is to let in the few remaining, good, living humans into your fortified compound.

On the bright side, with a single publication, my acceptance rate is “higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets.” Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 11.05.43 AMWhich means that either I’m doing better or am just luckier than most of these writers or the people getting published in these markets don’t use Duotrope to track their submissions. My bet is on the latter.

So ends my dispatch from the trenches. I’ve got twenty submissions out, seven stories in contests, and a nice clean suit and a confident strut so no one can mistake me for a zombie craving the brains of slush pile readers and fiction editors.

My first story, “Punchline Number Nine” is now up in the latest issue of decomP magazinE. Read it. Or listen to an oddly, extra-bassy me read it to you. It takes eighteen minutes. It took hours and hours to write and revise. Think of the time compression. Think of how dense an experience it is that you’re digesting. Reading a story is, by this analogy, one of the richest experiences. Like the difference between a thousand calories of kale versus a thousand calories of cake. Same calories, but cake is the dense story of the two. Have some cake. You deserve it.

For Throwback Thursday, I’m posting an in-class assignment from my sophomore year of high school creative writing class. It’s about the last box of candy canes left on the shelf after Christmas, narrated by a broken candy cane.

Sitting here, strapped into a cardboard cell, I suffer. I sit alone, waiting for my destiny. My pride and self are broken, similarly with my cellmates. My captors hold me for ransom just to make a buck, constantly marking me down, as iftumblr_n85dcx1caB1qhyj0po1_1280 my life is worthless the more I suffer.

I lie here, unable to communicate, longing for an escape back to freedom. Many other cells of my companions have been rescued in what appeared to be a raid. I sit and wonder why my friends haven’t come back for me. I wonder of their fate, and pray that mine is a long-lived one.

Weeks, I sit and wait. Many times, people have the chance to rescue me, but they don’t. I wonder what harsh evilness is hidden in their heart that would make them turn away in disgust, and not help and injured being and his friends.

Finally my cell is moved one day. We are placed in a dark pit. Many hours pass. I wonder if I am being rescued or if this is an execution. The pit closes. The air runs low. I pray that this is not my destiny, to suffocate in a large bag. I wonder if this was the fate of the many other cells of my companions who were “rescued.”

But as I take my last final breath, I realize I will never know.

In my continuing series, here’s the beginning of a short piece from 2011 that never went anywhere…

§

Jack French was a London tourist and he was running.  And he kept running.  He wasn’t wearing the appropriate gear for running.  One might think someone running like that would be wearing athletic shoes and perhaps shorts because the weather was so unseasonably warm.  One would be wrong.  Jack was wearing a Valentino three-piece and a pair of Crocket & Jones oxfords.  It is not recommended to run in oxfords.  Oxfords have no traction.  Jack French knew this of course but there are times when such conventions are impractical.  For instance, when one is being chased through the streets by gibbering madness, one is permitted to run anywhere, at any time, at any speed, and in any shoe one desires.  One may even forgo shoes entirely.

§

It is almost Oxforth of Ordmount.  The fourth moon still lingers above the cherry-hued mountaintops that ensnare this valley.  The other three moons have set and yet my wife still sleeps.  Her cranberry velvet legs twitch, a jerk, a twinge, a lumbering hare chasing prey in the Other.  Her time is near.  Soon she will birth us a son.  The fetus is ripe and the last stage of gestation is procurement of a soul from the Other.  It is a delicate maneuver.

§

She put the finishing touches on her painting though she did not sign it, no not yet.  She dabbed a gangrenous shadow across the mountain, the shadow of a cloud, a harpy of a cloud.  The slow, dense, black crepuscular mass that frightened children with its immensity, sent them scurrying into the house with its burbling momentum, an infection rumbling across the pristine sky, devouring robin blue like a cancer with a hideous laugh of thunder deep in its bowels threatening to shit freezing hail and lightning onto the cars of housewives and homemakers.  She wanted the mountains to fear the cloud.  She imagined the mountains retreating in panic from this cloud.  Plate tectonics did create mountains.  Mountains fleeing this mass of condensed water, dirt, and dust sent the plates rushing in fear for far shores.  She stepped back from the canvas and felt something close to Shangri-La shudder from her sacrum to her crown, a serpent of flame unfurling from a long nap, a yawning yearning to incinerate every cell, to realize the potential in every atom, a reactor in every cell division, a furnace in every molecule.

§

Jack skid to a halt at the end of a dark alley.  He never understood why people being chased always ran into dark alleys.  He’d cursed them as bloody fools in films, but when in the same situation, he’d done the same bloody thing, past dark dumpsters and bins, slipping on God-knows-what in £800 shoes.  He listened, waiting for the gate-crashing thunder of his cardiovascular system to retreat from his ears.  The opening of the alley was clear, the streetlights shining on the cobblestones.  Whatever was pursuing him was gone.  The sounds of the night came back like skittish rabbits returning to a lawn after the bark of a dog.  An ear here, a twitch of a nose there, a pair of round black eyes like traffic the next street over, like a telly three flats up blasting the news out an open window.  Jack’s own belabored breath.  One might have heard his adrenaline recede, his autonomic nervous system go offline and refuel.  His testicles dropped and sensations like thirst, hunger, and sex returned accordingly.  He inched back out of the alley still leaping at every aural oddity, his awareness amped and alive.  He was a dead man ten minutes before when the madness came at him with slavering jaws.  As he reached the light-bathed street, his pupils constricted and he realized that in all of his forty-six years, he’d never been alive.

§

“Where have you been?”  Jack couldn’t quite place her mood.  Somewhere half between boredom and annoyance.  There should be a word for that.  Boreyance.  Annoydom.  Neologisms danced before his eyes, obscuring the woman he’d been dating for eleven weeks.  Her name was Penelope and she was an artist and completely out of his league.  Though his friends said it was quite the opposite, that she was the lucky one who’d wrangled a fabulously wll-to-do banker to support her quote-unquote art.  Jack didn’t support her art, at least not financially.  She’d never asked for a pence to be quite honest.  She’d clocked him straight away.

It was Penelope’s first major show at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.  The owners of the gallery had recently expanded due to a loan he’d been able to arrange and they’d invited him to the grand reopening.  As soon as he saw Penelope, he’d fallen madly, hopelessly in love, which, Jack would agree, was always a very bad sign.

“I’m not a manic fairy dream girl,” she said in a distinct Welsh accent.  Jack had only said hello.  She wasn’t following the correct social cues at all.

“What?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t quite hear me.  I’m quite sure you did, but you mean what as in you don’t quite understand what I’ve said.  To be absolutely transparent, I’m not a manic fairy dream girl.  It’s quite obvious that you’ve seen me and fallen head-over-oxfords in lust with me, which you, in your upper-middle class upbringing has confused with love.  I am absolutely not your type, you’ve never felt this way about anyone before, et cetera.  And I will tell you right now so we are absolutely clear: I am absolutely not going to be the free-spirited artsy-fartsy tart that’s going to break you out of your stick-in-the-mud, uptight bullshit.”

“You’re awfully full of yourself, aren’t you?”  He handed her a martini.  “It’s not drugged, I swear.  I’m quite capable of seducing you without narcotics.”

“Are you now?”  She finished the martini in a single swallow and handed the glass back.  Penelope spun on her heels, a simple one-eighty, and inject herself into another conversation.

§

“Apologies, Penelope, the service was late arriving with a car.”  It was a good excuse, better at least than the truth.

“Cars are so pedestrian.”  She affected an accent.  Queen’s English.

“How droll.”  Jack took a seat and ordered a drink.

“I finished the painting today.  I think I broke myself.  I put on the finishing stroke this afternoon and I’ve been wonky ever since.  I’m not even sure you’re here.  It’s entirely possible that you’re not and I’m having a boring nap at the loft.  Perhaps I’ve had a stroke and you’ll find my corpse on the floor when you finally get out of the office.”  She yawned into the back of her hand.

“It must be your luck day,” he said, taking in the rest of the restaurant.  “I can quite assure you that I am indeed out of the office. I am very much here.”

“How can you be sure?  I haven’t been sure of anything all afternoon.”

“I’ll tell you what.  Let’s get out of here.  We’ll go back to the loft and you can introduce me to this masterpiece of yours.  If you’ve had a stroke and you’re in a heap on the floor, we’ll find you and get you to a hospital or a morgue or something.”

“That is a fantastic idea.  You, sir, are a genius.  Call the Nobel committee.”  She handed him her coat.  Jack held it while she spun and slipped into it, a single remarkable movement, a fluid grace despite her fluid intake.  Jack motioned to the waiter for the check when the madness stepped out from behind the bar.  His heart broke from his chest, throttled Penelope’s empty glass which shattered against the tabletop.  Amorphous and thundering it slunk across the restaurant.  it moved through instead of around diners who shivered unaware.  They instinctively looked toward the door expecting a cold breeze and returned to their lobsters confused, unable to process why they were cold on such a warm day.

“Jack,” Penelope prompted.  “Jack.  Are you alright?”  She followed his eyes across the distance.  The madness vanished, swirling away like fog exposed to sunlight.  “Darling, you’re absolutely soaked.  Come.”  Penelope thrust her arm through his and ushered him from the restaurant.

“Did you see it?  You saw it, didn’t you.”  His voice was a whisper, sand shuffling over glass.

“If you’re referring to the cloud of fearsome madness that was causing all that ruckus in the restaurant, I saw no such thing.”  Penelope thought about her painting and that horrible crepuscular mass.

§

The fourth moon wanes.  My wife wakes.  I watch her starred pupils dilate, adjusting to the crimson twilight.  I can feel her disappointment in my heart.  She is close.

“I have anchored into the Other.  The net has been set.  He will be ours and our son will be ensouled before the next moon of Oxforth of Ordmount.”

I wrote this back in 2005 for a 250-word comedy story challenge.

__

To my dearest DeeDee,

I know when you arrived home this evening, you were surprised I wasn’t here, huddled under an afghan, watching my soaps. If you haven’t already discovered it, you’ll be still more surprised to discover that your clothes are gone. Yes, your clothes. I can’t think of an easy way to put this, so I’ll just say it. I’m leaving you.

Remember when I went in for that tonsillectomy? And remember how upset I was when they accidentally switched charts and gave me breast implants instead? And now it’s been months, but my lawyers haven’t gotten anything done and I haven’t planned to have them removed? Yeah, um, because it was no accident. I got them on purpose.

This is years in the planning. I’ve been skimming off the top of my Social Security check since before I met you. The circus pays twice what I’m getting from the government! And I’ll feel fulfilled. Since I was a boy, whenever I saw a bearded man, I pictured him in a dress. Like a fuzzy Laura Ingalls.

I know this is hard to understand, and I don’t expect you too. I also don’t expect you to try and find me, knowing who I really am. See, I’ve had this dream, since as long as I can remember… to be in the circus, as the bearded-lady. I’m sorry I lied.

You must be asking yourself, WHY? I can’t answer that. Call it fate, destiny, call Jerry Springer.

Love,
Sammy

I wrote this back in 2006 or so.  It was originally published in Clavicle Magazine.

~

Dick Cheney shuffled into his office like an aging prize-fighter.  Three fire-bellied toads sat on his desk.  More specifically, they were Lichuan Bell Toads of the genus Bombina lichuanensis.  Dick took this odd event in stride.  One must be able to deal with these sorts of eventualities if you’re to run the world.  So, to the frogs, I mean toads, the Vice President said, “I’m Dick Cheney, who the hell are you?”

“We are the Frogs of Firebelly Three!” they squawked in response, “We come to ask you a question; a riddle it be!”

“Well shoot it up, fire away!” shouted Cheney from the side of his mouth.

Just then, like in a spooky book, the lamps flickered and a chilling breeze shook the curtains, though it was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit with humidity hanging around eighty-eight percent.  Did I mention it was mid-August?

Anyway, those atmospheric effects set the mood for those creepy Lichuan Bell Toads and their infernal bloody riddle.  After all that pomp and circumstance, they croaked ceremoniously, “If you eat it, you will die.  The poor have it and the rich don’t need it.  It is greater than God yet more evil than the Devil.  What is it?”

Dick Cheney sat with furrowed brow and slouching spine, staring his best one-eyed pirate stare at the Frogs of Firebelly Three.  Seriously, why do they call themselves the Frogs of Firebelly Three when they are really Toads?  Weird.

Eventually Dick smirked and said, “It’s oil, you fool!  If you eat it you’ll die.  The poor have it because they’re buying it!  The rich don’t need it because we control it all!  It gives you power greater then God and… and, uh…”

“Yes?” said the triune amphibians with an air of infinite patience.

“Who said, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’?”

“It was Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” answered the middle Lichuan Bell Toad.  The other two flanking Toads looked at the center Toad with a sort of sly and amused shock.

“I saw it on A&E last night,” explained the informative middle frog.

“Oh,” said everyone else.

So Dick continued, “So, it isn’t oil, is it?”

“No, Dick, it’s not,” confirmed the Toads in unison, “It’s nothing.”

“What do you mean?!” exclaimed Mr. Cheney, “Oh, wait, I get it.  If you eat nothing, you die.  Ha-ha, the poor have it, the rich don’t need it.  But then you’re presupposing that ‘nothing’ is greater than God and ‘nothing’ is more evil than the Devil.”

“Quite so, Mr. Cheney.  God and the Devil are symbolic representations of energetic polarities, archetypes of the mind.  God is a symbol of the greatest of the great and the Devil is a symbol of the evilest of evil.”

Dick scratched the side of his liver-spotted head with his right index finger and said in a haltingly jarring voice, “I, uh, you kind of lost me in all the metaphysical mumbo jumbo.  If you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with the President of Halliburton.  They have a check for me.”  Dick then rose from his chair, strutting like an aging pimp and exited the office.

The Lichuan Toads who call themselves the Frogs of Firebelly Three said, “Well shit, we lost another one,” and vanished with a theatrical poof of genie smoke.