In Defense of Fiction

BY JOHN S. OSLER III

It’s been bugging me for a long time that whenever I want to compare something I’ve written to another story, it’s almost invariably a movie or TV show. Ever since I read Stephen King’s On Writing and made a lot of oathes of dedication to the craft of fiction (which were, ironically, pretty poorly worded) I’ve been careful to spend more time reading than watching. But still, even when I’m conceiving a scene for something I’m writing, it’s usually in the language of film, working out the lightning, color palette, scenery layout, and audio. It’s usually a struggle to incorporate senses like smell, touch, or taste, senses you can’t see on the screen. And I can’t help but ask myself why.

Of course, there are plenty of innocuous explanations. You can watch seven or eight movies in the time it takes you to read a book, so of course more characters on film come to mind than those in print. And then there’s the fact that people talk more about movies and TV than about books, so they get reinforced mentally. But I think it’s important to know about your format when you’re telling a story or making art; knowing what it can do well, what it can’t do well, and what it simply can’t do. For too long I thought that I would be a writer because of a series of negatives and only one positive: I can’t draw, I can’t find a decent camera or boss people around to much effect, I can’t tell stressed from unstressed syllables upon pain of failing an English assignment, I want to tell stories, so that really only leaves one option open. There needs to be more to it than that, I know there does, and in this piece I’m going to try and find out what.

My knee jerk response to the prose-versus-film debate is that they’re just two different forms of communication: words and images. That sounds like a pleasant, if evasive, answer, but it doesn’t really work even on a superficial level. Because isn’t poetry more a format of words than prose? Poetry is meant to be read aloud, the sounds of the words matter more than they do in prose. The words themselves became the smallest unit of communication, rather than the sentences. There’s the argument that prose is more efficient for constructing a narrative, but narrative poetry is an ancient and ongoing tradition. From this perspective, prose is something of a neutral husk in a spectrum with the immersive images of film on one end and the musical language of poetry on the other. People turn still frames of movies into posters (I have quite a few hanging in my dorm), and even in our increasingly illiterate society people quote poetry. Cinematic book covers or quoting prose with the rhythm of poetry always makes it seem like it’s trying to fit it into a format that it’s not, to say that it would have been better off incarnated some other way.

I’m simplifying things. Movies have scripts, of course, and poetry is much more complicated than I’m making it out to be. The spectrum of art isn’t two dimensional, it has more axes than the human mind can comprehend. Still, I can’t help but ask, what does fiction prose have to offer?

I have a few answers. One is imagination. In both of the formats I described, what you see is essentially what you get. There is no imaginative work to watching a movie, what happens in each frame is an indisputable fact of the story (unless there’s some artsy twist) and there’s nothing past the edges of the frame but a studio lot. And even if a line from poetry brings to mind an evocative image, that image is inextricably linked to the words that spawned it. But written fiction is different. There are too many words to memorize or even remember fully when you move on to the next paragraph. The words work as a sort of outline, then, a framework from which you build a scene in your mind. Imaginary scenes aren’t as memorable as cinematic ones, but they have their advantages. One is that the reader gets a sort of ownership of them, and often that interpretation lets the text be a window into the reader as much as the writer. In the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, the reader is inevitably posed the question of whether Kevin or his mother is responsible for his violence, a question that each reader has to answer alone (and many disagree on). This question is still there in the movie, but it’s not as strong or as poignant.

Another strength is that it can be more immersive. I haven’t actually seen any first person movies, but from what I’ve read they’re invariably disorienting and ineffective. Voice over monologues can achieve a similar effect, but that’s essentially a tactic from fiction appropriated by another genre. Poems from perspectives are common, but let’s be honest, no one talks in rhyme or meter or line breaks. No one thinks like that either, and that’s one of the real triumph of fiction: not just to put you in someone else’s position, but to insert you into their very brain. More than any other art form, fiction is about empathy, and its power is to force you to realize the humanity in anyone dreamt up by some scribbler.

Which kind of blends into my final point. Say your parents are picking you up from college. You haven’t seen them for months and don’t know how to start to explain everything that happened in that time. What do you do? You don’t show them a video record of your life, you don’t spend hours laboring over the syllabic construction of every word. You don’t sing, you don’t dance, you don’t paint, you don’t do whatever verb goes with a multi-media experimental abstract expression campaign about the feelings of disillusion that come with growing up. You don’t write either, I guess, but you do tell a story. Maybe it’s character study searching for the impetus of your roommate’s violent radical political views, maybe it’s a tragic four-hour epic about your crippling anxiety, maybe it’s nothing more than a dirty joke you heard in the dining hall that you realize is probably out of bounds for family talk when the rest of the car ride home passes in silence. No matter what, it’s essentially prose. It’s the oldest type of storytelling, it’s the most basic to our nature and, damnit, I’ll come right out and say it: it’s the best.


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JOHN S. OSLER III is a sophomore at Grinnell College. He has written over two hundred satirical articles for his underground newspaper The Southern View, and a few for his high school’s legitimate newspaper, Zephyrus, on the side. He has published short stories in the Grinnell Underground Magazine, Sprout Magazine, The Phosphene Journal, Moledro Magazine, and Random Sample Review.

826 LA

Inklette’s blog shall be featuring organisations, groups and individuals from all across the world that work to promote creativity among children and underrepresented communities. 

We would like to thank 826LA for being a part of this initiative. Special thanks to Art and Photography Editor, William Higgins. 


 

From the Crazy World Down Here                      

Deisy Garcia

 

Dear grandma,

 

I miss you a lot and I wish we could be together right now. People from el rancho would tell my family, “Oh! She looks just like her grandma!” And I only saw you when I was eleven months old, basically a baby. I don’t have many memories of you.

I have a short, faint memory of you, grandpa, and your son—my dad—when I was running around in the summer where there were crops and dirt. You were all running around, you were giggling and laughing, and so was I. But I still love you a lot. Cancer dragged you out of this world and God knows why. And a couple of months later my dearly loved grandpa took flight and went to the wonderful paradise with you. I just miss you a lot, and I hope to see you one day and be with you forever and ever, and laugh and play with you and grandpa.

I wish that we were together, with grandpa too, and never ever be separated.

 

From the crazy world down here,                                   

Deisy ❤


Just One Day

Samuel Luis

 

All I know is that I used to be a nice kid that would do his work and was focused on his future. With time, that vision I had about myself faded away. Now it seems like I don’t care, but really, inside me I feel bad about myself. When I try to refocus and try to get back on track, it seems like it runs away from me and I go back to not caring. The teachers’ words come through one ear and come out from the other. My mom tries to talk to me but sometimes I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know what it is. I want to get back on that track of success. I argue with my mom a lot now and I feel bad for my mom because she has to deal with me. I feel sad and worried about my mom’s health, she works hard to support us since my dad left to Mexico, not caring about us. That’s why I just wish  I could go back in time and try to change stuff I did. Change something. Change what I did wrong. At least just change one little small thing that would change my future, my present, my past, change something in time. Then I think about it, maybe this is how my life is supposed to be. Maybe God decided to make my life take this path. On times when I’m sad I tend to believe maybe God doesn’t exist, maybe he is just fake. I have asked myself that question and can’t come to the conclusion of whether he exists or not. Why does my life have to be like this? Did I choose for my life to be like this? Maybe I’m looking at my life from the wrong perspective, maybe I need to think deeper. Just maybe I need to think better about my life. All I know is that I will one day change and will get back on that track of success that I seek, and will become that kid that I once was. Not the same but similar. Just one day I will seek what I’m seeking: peace between my thoughts and my feelings. Just one day all the arguing with my mom will stop and there will be peace. Just one day I will have peace. Just one day.


Blue Nail Polish

Nadia Villegas

 

Blue nail polish has a big meaning for me

To others it is just a color

To others it is just nail polish

Blue is my favorite color

After all, blue is the most popular color in the world

Yet that is not why I like blue nail polish

I believe that blue nail polish transcends gender and sexuality

I am surrounded by people wearing blue nail polish, whether they are a boy or girl

 

This is amazing because blue nail polish allows you to express yourself

No matter who you are

 

Yet there are ignorant people that think it’s not right for men to wear blue nail polish

How can such a small little jar of the color blue bring such discrimination?

There is no law or rule anywhere that says men can’t wear blue nail polish

Yet people find it a problem

Why do stupid people start opening their big mouths by calling them gay?

Blue nail polish is freedom

Blue nail polish is expression

Blue nail polish is defiance

Blue nail polish is ignoring what other people think and staying true to yourself


Who Is “Pretty”?

Michael Rodriguez

 

To be “Pretty” takes responsibility,

Cute is Ugly’s best friend,

But Is Ugly really a thing?

You can not call another “Ugly” if you

Can not look at yourself as “Pretty”

Pretty is Perfection,

The real you, it is the best version of you.

Pretty is Reflection,

Reflection on any major events that make you unique.

Pretty is Effort,

The more effort you put to think you are “pretty.”

 

Pretty is Thoughtful,

Thinking of others can affect you more than another.

Pretty is Time,

It takes time to call yourself reliable.

Pretty is Youthful,

Unite with any generation showing purity and youth.


It Has No Meaning

Daniela Martinez

 

Have you ever had someone tell you, “You’re ugly!’’ or, “You are NOT pretty!’’?

Lies, LIES!!!

 

I mean no one, NO ONE, was born good looking or perfect.

“Pretty,” that word can make you feel better or sometimes worse. To me, the word “Pretty” really doesn’t mean a lot.

All the time, ALL THE TIME, I used to get bullied, and all because of that word.

People tell me that I am ugly, that no one will ever go out with me. I mean, some girls say, “Who needs guys anyways?!’’ I totally agree. Dating can wait.

But times change and people change. Time changes when you don’t expect it and people change when they hurt you verbally or physically.

 

I was too scared to go to school because I knew that once I stepped into class, I was going to get bullied. I always heard that they called me names behind my back. When I was at school the only thing I could think about was getting home. By the time I got home, I cried like a baby. And ‘til this day I feel that I am dead on the inside. Thanks to those people, I am shy around people, I am not social, and I am quiet. People that know me don’t know that. Now they know. I am just dead on the inside.

 

I can love my family and friends, but the people that hurt me—NOT EVEN ONE BIT!!! Every time I see them I feel like I want to torture them for every moment they made me suffer. I don’t want anyone suffering like I did. I just heard that my friend got beaten up by a tenth grader. I heard how they called him names. People that go through that: SPEAK UP!!! Don’t stay quiet the same way that I did. It is NEVER too late to say, “STOP!!!”


Who has the rough face now?

Lily Rodriguez

 

I was bullied when I was little for a lot of reasons. I hit puberty at a young age, especially acne. I never had the ability to control how my body was working. I never wanted all the other kids at school to make fun of me because my face was not as smooth as theirs. All the other kids would tell me, “You need some Proactive.”  I did in fact use Proactive, but it only made my face breakout even more. I tried all the acne products, like Proactive, Neutrogena, and even used a lemon. My mother told me to stop touching my face continuously. My mother eventually ran out of money to buy all these products and gave up for a while. It seemed like everywhere I would go I was never safe from these judgments. I began to think that it was not natural for a second grader to be taller than other children in the class, and to have a face that was rougher than all of the other children’s smooth faces. I even began to take birth control pills in the fourth grade! I had to follow so many rules, like not eating certain things at certain times. For example, not eating two hours before taking the pill and waiting thirty minutes after I took the pill to eat. I hated my skin. It was not natural. As I got older, my acne started to fade away; however, the scars still make an appearance.


Barbie

Ciro Benitez

 

I remember a time when I truly missed someone. It’s usually not a good feeling when your pet dies. There are times when you have bad days and all that cheers you up is your pet. My family had a guinea pig, our second one. We adopted her from Petco, four months after our first guinea pig died.

 

She was really cute. I loved her so much that at times it was torture for her. It felt amazing every time I held her, fed her, and overall being with her. When she was dying I felt as if my heart was torn out of my body and thrown into a chest, never to be opened ever again. I felt sad but my eyes didn’t even water. She was struggling to walk in her cage, she couldn’t keep her balance and her whole body would tilt over when she tried. I attempted to feed her but she couldn’t chew. My mom was by my side and maybe that’s why I didn’t shed at least one tear. I don’t like crying in front of others, not even my family. At some point, Barbie––that was her name––just stayed in one spot. She was still breathing but I knew she wouldn’t be moving from that spot. My mom put a big towel over the cage and I went to sleep that night in the same room where my guinea pig was. I will forever remember Barbie and of course every other pet companion I have had or will ever have.


My Thoughts on Prison

Nasim Zarenejad

 

Prison is a place with a lot of personalities. At first you only see delinquents and rebels roaming around the hallways trying to act tough and brave. But if you took a second glance and understood each and every person carefully, you can see that most of them don’t have a simple life but a complicated one. Each and every person has their own story, which brought them to that bad place known as prison. They all had a reason to come to that nightmare and they need help. They committed a crime because of a mistake they wish they had never done, or because of an urge for a pleasure because they couldn’t control themselves.  Regardless of whether they regret what they did or not, they all need help emotionally and mentally. I believe that prison should not be a punishment for their crimes or mistakes but a somewhat “school” where they all could learn to understand and fix their problems.


 

Top places I want to go to

Milanka Patterson

 

The top places I want to go to are Paris, Hawaii, New York, Florida, London, and Guatemala. There are probably many other places, but I want to go to those for now.

 

Paris:

 

Paris is such an amazing place and I want to got here because of all their amazing food and of course, to see the Eiffel Tower. I also know there’s lots of things about modeling in Paris, so that’s another reason to go!

 

Florida:

 

I want to go to to Florida because it’s very beachy and summery like Hawaii. I mostly want to go there because of Disney World and to go to Miami and see an alligator in somebody’s pool.

 

Guatemala:

 

I want to to go Guatemala because there are lot of volcanoes there and I really want to see a volcano! Plus, I have family there and I heard they have beaches with black sand––I want to see that! It also seems very adventurous and I love adventures!

 

Hawaii:

 

I want to go there SOOO BADLY! I will one day. It’s super beautiful––all the animals, the beaches, and all of the different activities. I can’t even explain how many things I would do, all the pictures I would take.

 

New York:

 

I also want to go to New York because all the headquarters for acting and modeling are there. Plus, all the lights! The fashion shows! Everything!!!

 

London:

 

I don’t really know why I want to go to London, but I do and I guess it’s because of the queens and kings. I think that’s cool.

 

How would I get there?

 

Whenever I travel, I go with my family. But as I get older maybe my family won’t want to be traveling all the time. So instead, I would want to go with my best friends! Imagine going on plane rides, staying in hotels, going on adventures in a city you’ve never explored before with the people you love! That is my ideal life and how I would want to spend it!


Mexico

Luz R.

 

Mexico is important to me and my family because Mexico is the place where my mom, dad, uncles, aunts, and cousins were born. My mom and dad were born in San Sebastian Tutla. They left when they got married, and haven’t seen their moms and dads in a long time. Whenever I go there they take the trip seriously because instead of them going to Mexico, they send us to visit the family. Whenever we go to Mexico they get sad because they would like to see their families.


The Lake

By Xavyer Fletes

 

There is a myth that people tell of the forest in Pikoro Village. They say in the heart of the forest is a big lake that is full of life, animals, and plants. The lake is said to have a magical essence of a celestial spirit who was once a king. He was the king of the Fiore region. He was the greatest king ever, he made sure the citizens were never in poverty. He made sure everyone was healthy. The kingdom was at the highest point of its renaissance, but the prince was jealous that everyone loved the king and had never paid attention to the prince. The prince took the king’s life, poisoning him with a box of vipers. He put it in the king’s bed and in the morning the king was dead. When the king died the spirits had given him a second chance, but in another form; he would be a lake and control what happens around it. The king wanted the people who drink from it to have some kind of power, so they can carry on his legacy and capture the people who are ill-hearted. To get there is a treacherous journey. Only people who pass are pure of heart, but the people who are tainted are usually not able to come back in one piece, mentally or physically. The king is able to tell who is pure of heart by making a series of challenges they have to pass. He can sense the essence of good-hearted and tainted-hearted people. The king makes sure if they are good-hearted by the test he lays out. The ones who do get through in one piece (which are tainted) would run at the chance of power and destroy everything at sight. The lake has one more defense of action. The sirens would drag the tainted-hearted to the deepest part of the lake and never let them go. The good-hearted people who drink from the lake are granted any power their heart desires.


Venice Beach, California

Ashla Chavez Razzano

 

The salty sea air of Venice Beach, California drifts through the beach town’s streets and past my window. The sun is covered in gloomy marine-layer this morning, like every morning, until the warmth of the afternoon burns through the grey. I spend my time on my roof, balancing above the incline. Balancing above the longtime-locals that roam the streets, artists and surfer and skaters alike. On my roof, I gaze at the streets’ movement and distant buildings, trees, and mountains. At different times of day, the scene changes, reflecting the change in mood of the community. My favorite time to be here is dawn, when the fresh scent of day is soft and cold, and the dim blue sky is slightly illuminated by the oncoming sun (5:35 AM). Soon the morning becomes noon and the warmth of the day reaches its peak. Summer, and weekends, the crowds of locals and currents of tourists run through the neighborhood, holding skateboards and backpacks full of towels with sand stuck to their flip flops. This is when chatter fills the air, with my neighbor’s “oldies-radio” playing loud from their front yard. The day is anything but still (3:17 PM).

 

By the evening, my neighbor’s radio has been turned off, and behind my home I see other locals chain smoking on outside tables, holding conversation as the sky darkens and their windows’ lights create shadows under their tapping feet. With the dozen or so restaurants and bars and cafes on my street, there’s still a distant chatter. It’s calm and soft, but surrounded by movement (6:53 PM).


 

Did you know…

Estefania Flores

 

You grab

the ball, you dribble

and you shoot. You throw

the ball after you aim, and

eagerly watch the round sphere, hoping

it will go through the net. You can’t

travel or kick the ball. You

cannot even dribble with

two hands. Yes, I play basketball.    

I don’t look like the kind of

girl that plays a sport. But… I’m #14

on the court, don’t judge.


MISSION STATEMENT:  826LA is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. With this in mind, we provide after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each student’s power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice.

City Strolls

She walks in the dusk, collecting images through windows. The late fall air nips at her cheeks as she steps in and out of the light that tumbles from houses and blankets the sidewalk in yellow. She mourned the stars when she first moved to the city but now she sees they were never lost, merely fallen to the ground. They pepper the jagged panorama, clustering around downtown and freckling the eastern hills. She worships the silent movements of families settling into the day’s end. There’s clinking silverware and lazy conversation muted by windowpanes. She remembers the warmth of those crowded tables, prefers the memories—the looking in, the seeing and not being seen.

These walks are meant as an escape, a way to be a part of something and separate from it. There’s an intimacy to passing a person in twilight. It’s different than touch, but no less electrifying. She smiles at them, one shadow to another. And how lovely they seem now, wandering like her.

In daylight she has a job, prepares meals, gets irritated at careless drivers. The daylight is frenzied, unforgiving. It’s there, under unfiltered light, that the faces she passes have flickers of familiarity—a nose with a similar curvature to hers, eyes the same blue as her mother’s. In those moments of imagined recognition, she brings her hand to her own face, which is too exposed, and she thinks of the one she left behind. The one whose face she never had time to learn.

In the night, details are difficult to make out and time is slower, easier to control. In the night it’s those families, safe behind the glass, that seem so vivid. Children bound from sofa cushion to the floor in footed pajamas, hair wet. Televisions blaze. Grateful for closed doors, she shakes away the smell of fruity-scented bubble baths and the calm of socked feet tangled together atop a coffee table. How easy it seems looking in.

It isn’t. It wasn’t.

Up a hill, her muscles flex and she’s reminded of the horses she drew in grade school. She’d never ridden one, still hasn’t. She loved them for their gallop, how their muscles rippled through their bodies. Their strength was visible, undeniable. The boy who sat next to her in homeroom—the one with the mole on his neck—used to make fun of her drawings. He said horses were for old hags, cat ladies. He thought those were threats and wanted her to hide her horses in shame. Instead, she swallowed her anger and tucked her best drawing behind the transparent film of her binder.

Now, looking back, it seems that at eleven she was her most self-assured. She used to stay awake at night, the glow from her nightlight fanning against her wall and the laugh track from her parents’ television show spilling under the crack in her bedroom door. She preferred the cricket chirps outside, the inky expanse of night. It was the unknown of the moon-stained darkness that drew her to her window’s edge, her back to canned laughter and neatly wrapped endings.

But as she got older—exposed to the underbelly of the unknown, the threats that came from exposing her desire—that those neat, happy endings became more alluring. She stopped staring down those who told her how to be. First she just ignored, pretended she didn’t hear what other people said. But in a way, silence was a form of acquiescence and her resolve softened.

Then she fell in love. She gave herself fully to the hope of another and her muscles atrophied.

It wasn’t until she found herself in that certain kind of life that she remembered it was something she’d never wanted. In those months spent in unwashed sheets, her husband at work, she looked out their double pane windows at the still, tree-lined streets and began to remember. With her colicky infant in arms, the vacant feeling of small pink lips latched to aching nipple, she pieced together the truth, which was that some people weren’t meant to be stuck behind glass. This kind of life would lead to her decay and only by leaving could she work her way back to the quiet confidence of her eleven-year-old self.

Now her muscles take her up this steep city hill. Her heartbeat quickens and she feels her vitality as small pricks against the surface of her skin. With deep breathes she lets in the fog, which crawls through her and curls into her lungs. The smell of damp leaves, sound of forgotten conversations. She swallows the dim yellow streetlights, the cool wind, and the darkness of carless roads.

These curtain-less windows give her a view into a life she was meant to want. The life she turned her back on. Standing on the dark side of the pane, amongst the scent of night jasmine, she pushes down those stabs of guilt until they return to that familiar, persistent ache. She waves away the memory of that small face, full of need. Her absence was a gift—the only form of love she knew how to give. Because someone so hell-bent on freedom could never love without condition.

Before descending, returning to her quiet apartment, she looks up, taking in the steep facades of the houses, which are pushed together like a line of toy soldiers. The house above her gives off a dim light. An empty room, she thinks at first, but as she turns there’s a glint. Light reflects off of a pair of glasses and she sees an old woman sitting next to a table lamp. Her cushioned chair faces the view and her hand rests on top of a cane. Out she looks, the interior of her room still, her eyes on the younger woman standing on the street below. Neither moves or smiles. They merely regard each other until one of them—though it’s hard to tell which one first—looks away, back toward their dark, winking city.


ELENA MURPHY was a finalist for The Best Small Fictions 2017 anthology and won first place in Writer Advice’s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in Calamus Journal and an anthology by 2Leaf Press. She lives in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Sleep On, Sleep Off

Good Morning II.jpg

Photography by Brad Garber

The mattress is hard against my back, as if I am strapped in and held against it. A train crashes by, rattling the glass on my nightstand, the clear liquid sluicing with the aftershocks. I hope no one is on the tracks. I bring the brim to my lips and spit a mist of vodka.

My brother used to say that you shouldn’t drink water at bedtime. Before he was taken away.

The pharmacy sign blinks from the windows. Somewhere across the canyons of neon, he’s harnessed into a hospital bed, shouting and lashing in a Seroquel slumber. Tomorrow he’ll wake up, eyes roving around the room for a rope or a razor. Always the worst in the morning. He may try to rip his restraints—teeth slicing into zip ties. The nurse for the understaffed, under-cleaned, underfunded psych ward will put an end to his escape attempt. I hope she won’t have to put him under.

My stomach throbs. I stand, stagger to the bathroom, and kneel over the bowl. I vomit. One of his toothbrushes dangles above my head, the bristles taunting me. Jittery and drunk as ever, I return to bed.

I will sleep on it, or sleep it off. Either way, I cannot stay awake much longer. Tomorrow I have work to do, groceries to buy, laundry to fold, and a brother to visit. I need the sleep.

Over the past few nights, I’ve tried everything. Reading, leaving the lights on, slow breathing, counting sheep, now alcohol. Nothing works. A birdcall splits the silence; the magpies are already up.


HENRY HIETALA is a recent graduate of Macalester College with a degree in Creative Writing. His work has been published in Medusa’s Laugh Press, Chanter, and The Spark. He was a finalist for the Nick Adams Short Story Contest.

BRAD GARBER has shown his drawings, photographs, mixed media and paintings since 1997, in the Portland and Lake Oswego, Oregon area. His art and photographs have made it onto the front covers of Vine Leaves 2014 Anthology and N Magazine, and in Gravel Magazine, Cargo Literary, Jokes Literary, The Tishman Review, Shuf Poetry, Meat for Tea, Mud Season Review, Third Wednesday, Foliate Oak and many other literary publications.

White for Mourning

His eyes only ever looked that color when he was lying or when she was on speed. He told her that she was sober when it last happened, he swears. Lie.

He’d rub her knuckles when the earth scorched and cracked into dust — whisper something into her ear that made the corners of her mouth lift until her stomach ached. When the moon no longer glowed in technicolor and their pupils contracted, he felt her palms and told her that nothing about this routine screamed “destructive.” The corners of her mouth would lift again and she’d throw her hair onto his shoulder. Lie.

Her mother couldn’t know enough about her if she ever had to identify her daughter on the table at the morgue. She never had to. A shock. Her daughter’s features were always shifting, broadening, elongating. It was a shame that she came out looking more like her father because how was she supposed to recognize a face that she forgot so often to remember.

When he finally broke it off with her, he promised that he, too, would never cross paths with her mother’s habits and forget her. His eyes glassed over. The drugs.

When her pottu¹ was nothing more than a smear, all the women of the temple shaved their heads and lit an incense to mourn the loss of her innocence. White robes are for death, for the rebirth and renaissance of a wilted soul². White skin is a prize, a reimbursement free of the tallies of sin and covet.

 Her dinner was simple: peas, rice, a dialect, lentils. Ragi roti. Potatoes. White is for innocence, white robes are for death.

Her dinner was pink chicken, juice, cheese. Crunchy rice. Black is for death. Black is for funeral. They asked her, “What did you even see in that boy?” with oiled tongues. They should have asked, “Was it worth all this?” because that would have given the same answer.

They opened his casket, his face sallow and sunken until the hollows of his cheeks were plastic. She covered her mauve lips with her brown hand and was hit in her brown stomach with a blue sleeve and a white arm when she tried to leap across the burgundy rope into the black casket and hug the boy in the navy suit with purple veins and gray skin. Maybe if he had some color in his cheeks he would breathe again.

They prayed for her “death” just like his. It was only fair, as the balance tipped in greater favor of her tragedy over his. Her mother used up all seven of the prayers she had prided herself in memorizing into asking for her daughter’s forgiveness, but all her daughter wanted was for her to pray that she could forgive him.

She pandered to his parents by baking more White sweets and entering their White house without a dot between her feathery eyebrows and saying her own name with two syllables instead of three. And his mother sobbed and dabbed her eyes and yet could only ask her about things she found exotic. Some leopard or iguana dated her deceased son and was sitting in her living room, thick hair messy for her own rebellion. How did it know so much? Did it have time to read something of weight and matter in its garden that it called a house, or did it only learn how to cook with clove and ginger? How did it speak so well? Was it allowed to speak so much? Did it really want to speak so little? How much dirt did it remove from its clothes before slipping under its sticky covers at night? Did it really breathe? What was it doing dating her son? Did it give her a thrill?

Her mother was a botanist. She lectured yuppie young adults about fauna and its properties and came home to adorn her daughter’s hair with leaves. There. Don’t cry. She bawled louder. Did crying mark the end of adolescence into adulthood? Fuck his mother. What did she know. She sprinted up the stairs, plowing through the barricade her small mother tried to make with her arms, stumbling over the last crooked step, locking herself into the bathroom, and reaching for the sharp end of the scissors in the cup with such a speed that it left a scar on her palm. But it didn’t hurt at all. Not as much as seeing petals and strands of black hair drop around her in a ring. There. She stared at a her jagged creation in the mirror for less than a minute before dropping to the floor on a pile of hair and wet stems.

She was never serious throughout the drama, when he stopped their relationship with more of his fallacies nor when he stopped his heart with drugs. She had stretched her lips into a smile so thin that they were White and had forgotten how to pronounce “regret” in her mother language. She had drank the bitter and drank milk in reconciliation in the face of worship. She had cracked her lips and curdled her stomach and bleached her skin and dried her eyes until she had no more left to she give.

Fuck him. Fuck his mother. Fuck what he’d made her do. Fuck what he’d done to her.

She pulled on molten rattlesnake skin. She opened her mouth and watched her tongue fork like a lizard. Her skin grew mahogany; her skin grew fur and her eyes spun until they were slanted like a goats and under her scalp she could feel with her scarred palm the base of her horns. Smooth, smooth over. She could measure her menses in gallons and her heart would no longer murmur when she was screaming. She drew further from the questions and their beholders because her ancestry drew answers, and she fed from them, she clung to them so. And after she lost eight of her nine lives she promised herself that she was still human, that the bumps under her hair weren’t the sign of the devil and that she would live to see the next morning and the next morning and the next mourning.


¹Pottu – a word in South Indian languages to mean a forehead dot/bindi

²In many South Asian cultures and even religious practices, women wear white instead of black after a death.


VRIDDHI VINAY is a writer and social activist born in 2000 and living in Pennsylvania. A South Indian femme, they write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry surrounding topics of feminism, LGBTQIP, mental illness, leftism, and the Asian-American identity. They are also a staff writer for Affinity Magazine and has been featured in publications like Rookie Magazine. More of their work can be found at vriddhivinay.wordpress.com for published writing, and feel free to follow any of their social media accounts: Twitter (@scaryammu), Instagram (@scaryammu), and personal Tumblr (@criesincurry.tumblr.com). https://medium.com/@Vriddhi.Vinay. Want Vriddhi to write for you? Contact them via their email: vriddhi.vinay@gmail.com!

Let’s Talk About Fan Fiction

BY MICHELLE WOSINSKI

Let’s talk about fan fiction:

It’s an uncomfortable topic when it comes to literature— because it’s not really considered as such. When anyone can publish anything online, using pre-existing characters for what most likely will be a short cliche romance story, it isn’t considered very impressive. Why should it be when most of it is eleven year old girls’ One Direction unedited slash fiction anyway?

But, consider this— it has existed as long as fiction has existed. Here’s some background for today’s fan fiction as we know it!

The term ‘fan fiction’ was coined in 1939, though the practice existed long before this. In 1967, Spockanalia the first Star Trek fanzine ever featured fan written works, and these were written by and for adults and sold at various science fiction conventions. It is also important to add that 80-90% of Star Trek’s fanbase was made up of women— because the series was aired during the day, when housewives would be home and thus expanded from there— contradicting the common stigma that sci-fi is made for and enjoyed by men. Fan fiction has always been a female-dominated community and there is a lot to be taken away from this fact, especially since Star Trek arguably was the first large fandom to exist that made fan fiction a more mainstream phenomenon.

Skip ahead to the internet, which transformed how people shared and consumed their fan works. Previously, small groups of people would mail each other their stories and pieces of art via post, never before fully open for the public. This changed everything!

Teenage girls are well known to be stereotyped as obsessive or fanatic when it comes to media— an obvious example being boy bands. This passion, especially if for tv-shows, books, or movies, can easily be put into creating fan works. If you really love the characters of a TV show and want to see more, why not create more yourself? You have complete control and can conjure scenes that you probably won’t see on screen because perhaps it doesn’t fit the genre or the significant plot being followed. Now with access to an online community of like-minded fans you can share your passion and works easily!

This can actually be a very helpful exercise for young writers, because they have the freedom to explore worlds without having to worry about building character first and get right to the plot or development or whatever they choose to focus on. However, this stereotype of young girls also presents them as irrational and very naive— they are belittled for enjoying things and thus the things they enjoy are considered ‘silly’ and immaterial, or not intellectual. Fan fiction is a good example of this.

This can be partially attributed to its reputation of being badly written sickly sweet slash fiction and not worth any real attention— to read it is even considered embarrassing, much less to write it!

Don’t get me wrong, some fan fiction is badly written. Some fics are 900 words of self-indulgent bad dialogue, and some are 120,000 words of messy and confusing plot lines. However, that is not the point. I could go on and on about how some works are genuinely well written and explore interesting themes and have amazing  character interaction and so much more, but I’m not going to. Because, more importantly, it should not matter if the content is good or not. Many of these writers are young— their creativity should be encouraged and they should be allowed to develop as writers.

Fan works are not like books, in that literally anyone can publish anything online. However, like books their quality also ranges. There is the notion that because something is published as a book it is inherently better compared to, for example, a fan fiction. “It has original characters and plot and was taken up by a publishing house!” I’ve read too many awful books to even consider this a reality anymore.

Also, think about this: 50 Shades of Grey was a Twilight fan fiction. Now after changing the names to Anastasia and Christian, it has multiple sequels and movies, and you know what? I don’t want to show too much bias here, but it’s a trash, terrible, horribly written book. What do I take away from this? Nothing means anything when it comes to fan fiction vs published books. Fan fiction can be bad, books can be bad, and bad fan fiction can become best-selling books/blockbuster movies.

Most of all, everything is up to reader’s interpretation and their taste.

You know what fan fiction has that books and other media don’t have, though? LGBT+ representation, and an abundance of it.

I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of female fetishization of gay male pairings, that’s a discussion for another day. I’m going to focus on the the actual positive representation of gay relationships written by and for queer people— fan fiction is not only dominated by women, but queer women especially.

Growing up gay is a hard gig, I can tell you that. Even worse, though, is growing up being a gay bookworm. Media has little to nothing to offer outside of the few sad™ coming out books which get tiring very quickly. Fan fiction fills a hole that popular media refuses to. None of these books or TV shows you like have openly gay characters? Make. Them. Gay. You have the power to do that. Many people before you have, trust me. If you don’t want to write it, that’s fine, google it and you will find there probably is already lot of content out there, whatever you’re looking for.

You know what, I’ll admit it, I actually like sickly sweet slash fiction. I hate romantic comedy movies, always have, but it took me a long time to realize it wasn’t because I hate romance. It’s because I’m sick of seeing relationships I can’t and don’t relate to! I’m sick of seeing the same A-List straight actors fall in love. Fan fiction is the gay rom com I’ll never get to see and I love it. I like being able to get on AO3 and find the exact kind of domestic fluff I need at 1am on a Tuesday night, it’s not even a guilty pleasure. You shouldn’t have to be ashamed of the things you like!

I don’t want to give the impression that all fan fiction is soft romance, though. Just like books, there are different genres and you can pick and choose what you want to read— whether it’s mystery, horror, sci-fi, romance, angst, or literally anything else you can think of.

This is really just the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to this topic, there is so much to discuss, but the thing I think I would most like you to take away from all of this is: fan fiction is fun! Don’t take it too seriously, but don’t dismiss it either. Write what makes you happy, read what makes you happy, and don’t worry about the rest.


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MICHELLE WOSINSKI is an alumnus of the University of Virginia Young Writer’s Workshop. She was a member of the program’s fist class of Graphic Fiction and Nonfiction, which was also the first workshop of its kind in the country. In the fall, she will begin her further education at Loughborough University, for a foundation in Art and Design.

 

Letter from Art

BY SUDHANSHU CHOPRA

In Midnight in Paris, when Gil Pender, a present-day, successful but creatively unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter, travels back to the 1920’s for the first time to a party for Jean Cocteau, I’m amused by the presence of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald: my dear authors speaking as if they are writing: Zelda, “missing the bathtub gin,” is high on adjectives, and Scott, well he never misses out on a chance to say “old sport.”In the background, Cole Porter sings a Cole Porter song. Everyone looks neat and shiny; cigarette puffs punctuate sophisticated sips of wine. The person I’m looking for is not there.

Another scene, another bar, though plain and quieter, Gil meets Hemingway: unkempt hair and fairly under-dressed as compared to the people in the situation earlier described. I get hopeful. But later in the movie he, too, is shown getting drunk at what seems to be an invite-only party. He is also associated with a woman—a stunning fashion model conveniently out of an ordinary man’s reach (unless the man is an anti-hero, whose lack of sweeping ability only makes him all the more attractive, and who, of course, is not fictional.) With these steps, Hemingway bluntly walks out of the shadow I had initially thought he might be sitting comfortably in. He, too, turns out to be part of yet another literary circle: the circles capable of only producing revolution, and failing to open up to freedom and diversity (whichthey apparently advocate), mostly because of their closeness, their circularity.

I wonder if all this was being watched from a dark corner by someone like the anonymous master who wrote the very fine Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.Also, a ballad singer comes to mind, one having no idea of the privilege he could have achieved by asserting his ownership over the invaluable lyrics he so nonchalantly scattered at curbs going around towns. Maybe if by wearing a certain sort of trinket he had shone like radium, people would have thought of him as a finer man. He would have inspired awe—in place of homeliness—amongst his ragged listeners who would have spotted him from a distance, thus in a way bringing him closer to them than his words ever could.

I, Art, have always been the field of the elite. The part of me that has not been so is unknown, mainly because it could not fit the social construct of popularity.And I do not speak just of kings and nobles, but of every era that has been doing the same: a handful of erudite gathering in groups, leaving out millions whose stake in me is no lesser. A bird’s eye view would show separate, distant dots—formless on the body of time—rather than a uniform veneer that covers all nakedness.

Since my inception, perhaps even before—when my idea was being conceived in black holes—I was meant to be imbibed, not made. I had smooth, flexible ends, not the stiffness of unwritten rules and tacit protocols which were forced upon me by every movement no matter how much liberal and anti-establishment it called itself to be. And these limitations have not been so much in the works than in the interaction of people producing those works, because wherever humans are involved there is always preference and dislike, clash of thought, and intervention of ego.On these factors is decided what and who deserves tobe in the group—who is capable of being an artist. Therefore, every age has had its artists, and the commonplace folks—the ones who can’t comprehend me.

At this point, I’m inclined to wonder if I’ve always been just another societal norm, away from the universality I stand for. Sometimes they try to adapt, the non-artists— they spend evenings watching intense theatre, or standing in front of confusing brush strokes on canvas, and after getting home, try to convince themselves of the beauty of what they just witnessed.They are ready to change, rather than contribute with their originality. Would I ever be able to purge myself of promoting this pretence?

How would I know? I’m too old and fraught now to pine for a perfect past. I can only ask you to write prose poetry or poetry prose, or any third form that you can conjure, maybe even go directly to a fifth, or simply come back to the classic iambic pentameter couplet if that is your dark corner where you can sit secluded from ideology and relationship to the external, offering your blank mind to my once free, independent and all-pervading body.

It is then that I hope to find you, my elusive person. And I hope to find you before Liam Neeson does.

Best,
Art


149738016536773SUDHANSHU CHOPRA hails from India. He draws inspiration to write from observation, memories, subconscious, books he reads, movies he watches, and music he listens to. Sometimes a phrase or simply a word is enough. Some of his poetry has been published in In Between Hangovers, Anti Heroin Chic, Calamus Journal, Wordweavers, FIVE:2:ONE, and Right Hand Pointing. Some more of his poems/thoughts could be found on his blog, The Bard.