What Would Dolly Parton Do?

Hello fellow Word Processor Mavericks!

When I first was asked to write about voice I thought I had drawn the short end of the stick. What, exactly, are we talking about when we talk about voice?

Photo: http://blackgoldhockey.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Confused-Baby.jpg

Photo: http://blackgoldhockey.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Confused-Baby.jpg

What does it mean to have an “original voice?” And how do I get one of those?

Let me lay some knowledge on you:

In her essay, What is Voice in Creative Writing, Paulette Bates Alden quotes Eudora Welty:

In One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty talks about how from an early age, she always heard the sentences on the page in a voice “…saying it silently to me.  It isn’t my mother’s voice or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly I listen to it.  It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself…  I have supposed, but never found out, that this is the case with all readers – to read as listeners – and with all writers, to write as listeners… My own words, when I am at work on a story, I hear too as they go, in the same voice that I hear when I read in books.  When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make my changes.  I have always trusted this voice.”

 

 

Photo: http://images2.fanpop.com/image/photos/13800000/Bert-reading-Twilight-harry-potter-vs-twilight-13896899-193-135.gif

Photo: http://images2.fanpop.com/image/photos/13800000/Bert-reading-Twilight-harry-potter-vs-twilight-13896899-193-135.gif

What does she mean?

That quote is jam packed with little bits of goodness:

“It is human, but inward, and it’s inwardly that I listen to it.”

“To read as listeners.”

“Write as listeners”

I have always trusted this voice.”

Photo: http://www.autostraddle.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/the-muppets.jpg

Photo: http://www.autostraddle.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/the-muppets.jpg

But, I still didn’t get it.

What does this little voice have to do with a distinct voice?

And then this happened:

Photo: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lzuykuHSYI1r1c3jbo1_500.gif

Photo: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lzuykuHSYI1r1c3jbo1_500.gif

The hair! The makeup! And we are not even talking about Dolly Parton, (though Dolly’s hair in this gif is especially epic). It all dazzled me for a moment and then I remembered something that Dolly had said:

“Figure out who you are; and then do it on purpose.”

Dolly is right. If you know who you are then it makes it a lot easier to have a voice. I think that Dolly is more succinct than Eudora, but they are saying the same thing; if you are true to yourself, then it makes listening to that little voice a lot easier because there is not a lot in the way. This is why Dolly is able to be so amazing: she knows who she is, and she sticks to it. She wrote “9 to 5” on her Lee Press On nails and was nominated for an Oscar for it.

Photo: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lsrtjxOJcj1qftpcmo1_500.gif

Photo: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lsrtjxOJcj1qftpcmo1_500.gif

She wrote “I Will Always Love You”

Photo: http://media.tumblr.com/fb4f97967f55126af5140da698787388/tumblr_inline_mmn4mu7opu1qz4rgp.gif

Photo: http://media.tumblr.com/fb4f97967f55126af5140da698787388/tumblr_inline_mmn4mu7opu1qz4rgp.gif

Here was a woman with a voice. (All the puns intended.) She is a country girl and she does not stray far from this idea. She listens to the little voice in her head and she doesn’t let anyone get in the way of that. She could have been another lady country singer with big “assets,” but she is more than that because she doesn’t let anything get in the way. Dolly hasn’t changed down through the ages.

From the 1970s

Young Dolly

To today:

Older Dolly

Dolly and Kenny

On a not-so-funny aside when I lived in Asia I had to sing “Islands in the Stream” with my boss at a kereokebong. This was the most awkward moment of my life.

Photo: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lre1x0Zezz1qfd46o.gif

Photo: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lre1x0Zezz1qfd46o.gif

 The real trick to voice will lie in how each of us goes about retelling this tale. We should all do as Dolly Parton does and chose a way of telling that keeps the retelling true to who you are as a writer. We are looking to become aware of our “authorial voice”. If you’re a poet, what does Snow White look like as a poem? For all the CNFers, what would Snow White look like as a personal essay? Do you feel like you always write about the country, or do you write about the city? Are you more interested in zombies and aliens?

Photo: http://fc08.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2012/174/2/7/the_zombie_snow_white_princess_by_clocktowerman-d54le07.jpg

Photo: http://fc08.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2012/174/2/7/the_zombie_snow_white_princess_by_clocktowerman-d54le07.jpg

These things that preoccupy us, the zombies, the country, sex, and the city; these are the things Dolly was talking about when she said “figure out who you are; and then do it on purpose.” When we know our preoccupations, we know why we write about them and we become more of an authority on the subject. This authority colors our writing and, I think, makes it better.

For brevity’s sake, if you’re doing something wild and crazy like a poem or a personal essay, you could just do the first paragraph or a first draft of the poem. What we’re after is not quality but an awareness of how and why we choose the words we do, the way we tell our story, and the parts of the story that we deem important.

If you would like to see what a different interpretation of Snow White looks like, here is Donald Barthelme’s twist on the old classic:  Snow White

Please leave your responses as replies to this message. I think it would be interesting if  we can all see each other’s responses.

Please leave your responses as replies to this message. I think it would be interesting if  we can all see each other’s responses.

 

AWP: A Field Guide To and For the Dangerously Reclusive

It’s that time of year again, fellow scribes!

For anyone who loves books.

For anyone who loves writers.

It is time to heed the call…

Photo: https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTclXdvr2XuasdohEKtXmWyP7FPDE3JMKy51ORXcXVfFU5xx3ZS2A

Have no fear!

There is a party for everyone, and writers and book lovers are no exceptions.

It’s AWP, my zebras!!!!!!!!!!!

Dancing Zebra

They say it’s not a party. The party line is that it is a “conference” that brings together All Writers and Writing Programs (why it’s not called AWWP, I don’t know). I would say that AWP is a writers’ party with a conference problem.

Everyone comes to this.

Writers:

Big,

Photo: http://cdn.mhpbooks.com/uploads/2011/11/jk-rowling-pottermore-website.jpg

Photo: http://cdn.mhpbooks.com/uploads/2011/11/jk-rowling-pottermore-website.jpg

(J.K Rowling hasn’t, that I know of, been to AWP, I just like her expression in this photo)

And, small (but, not for long),

Jamie Moore (headshot)

(This is Jamie Moore and she has a book, Our Small Faces, out with ELJ publications. You should buy it, just saying.)

Publishers:

Big,

Penguin-group-logo

Mostly, thank the heavens, it’s a lot of small presses,

blog-boob_cover-hughes

[Hey Rhonda!!!!!]

Like Hawthorne Books

or

SoftSkullPressLOGO

or

AStrangeObject

In a later post, we will talk about the pros and cons of the small press, but for now they represent the most flourishing part of the book publishing industry. These presses vary wildly in what they publish, who they publish, and when they publish. There are presses that have been around for a while and ones that are just starting out. And they will all, for the most part, be at AWP. This represents your best chance, as a writer, to talk to people who are in the business of publishing.

They represent the real American wild west attitude. They publish what they want, they do it themselves, and they don’t have a major conglomerate overlord to answer to. If the writing is good, they will work themselves to the bone to publish it.

Photo: http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/graphics/cowboys.jpg

Photo: http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/graphics/cowboys.jpg

AWP doesn’t just have a book convention. It also has panel discussions, and it has big names who come to give talks and be involved in discussions. Admittedly, the panels can be hit or miss. Some are run really well, and you walk away from them with some insight.

Photo: http://modcloth.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/awp-panel-recap.jpg?w=530&h=464

Photo: http://modcloth.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/awp-panel-recap.jpg?w=530&h=464

Other panels are not so good, and you find yourself more interested in the hairstyles of the people sitting in front of you than you are in the disembodied speaker who doesn’t go up to the podium because he is either too shy or too nervous which makes his voice warble like a wee song bird and causes you to check Facebook on your phone. One. More. Time.

Photo: http://blairpub.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/in-a-panel-at-awp.jpg?w=440&h=440

Photo: http://blairpub.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/in-a-panel-at-awp.jpg?w=440&h=440

AWP also has a lot of guest speakers, as well. These people tend to be the “big names” of writing. I guess you’re a big name if you sell over 100,000 copies of your book, or you win an award everyone has heard of, or they make a really awesome movie that wins an award that everyone has heard of.

Photo: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/images/306228_3539152391885_1064661654_32603092_2039821807_n-330.jpg

Photo: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/images/306228_3539152391885_1064661654_32603092_2039821807_n-330.jpg

I didn’t go to Cheryl Strayed’s last year because I wanted to go to see Jeanette Winterson. I waited in line. I got a pretty close seat. I talked to other fans of Winterson who love her work as much as I do. Winterson was supposed to share the hour with another author who got snowed in at another airport, so she couldn’t make it, but you would never have known it from the way Winterson handled it. She lectured on what made her a writer for an hour, and it was mostly off the cuff, and it was all awesome.

JeanetteWinterson(Jeanette barely cleared the podium)

AWP is also an excuse to go somewhere new. I am a West Coast person, from birth to death, but I wanted to go see Boston, where AWP was last year. I thought I was going to get out more, but it was snowing pretty heavily, and it made sightseeing seem like more trouble than it was worth.

Boston

Google maps told us that the place we were staying was “a short walk” to the convention hall. So, if urban hiking in the snow does not sound like your idea of a good time, stay at a hotel that is super close to the convention center, otherwise vaya con Dios.

I did get out a bit:

Cheers!

Cheers!

Photo: http://barsbyal.com/user/cimage/c-norm-03.jpg

My friend and I yelled “Norm!!!!!” when we walked into the bar. The hostess did not bat an eye, and no one looked up from their conversations. We thought we were pretty funny. We had a beer and talked to a local bar tender who told us where to go if we wanted to have a good time in Boston, but we told him we really only had time for the beer before we had toPhoto: http://barsbyal.com/user/cimage/c-norm-03.jpg

So, we have all these people who don’t get out much together in one place, and what do they do? AWP kindly offers a dance that starts at 10.

DanceAWP

This was either the best or the worst part, but they had an open bar with beer and wine until 12 AM. They had one bartender who could care less, and let me double fist it as fast as I could. And then this happened:

DanceAWP2

And then they started playing some 80’s music so this happened:

DanceAWP3

And, finally, this:

DanceAWP4

(Your guess is as good as mine.)

The moral to that story is that you should always be responsible with beer and wine, even when it is free. Anyway, the funny part to the whole thing is that at exactly 12 AM they turned the lights on and told everyone to go home, probably so people wouldn’t get too crazy. #whatweretheythinking.

Anyway,

I digress.

AWP is a quickie camp for writers. Come meet and mingle with your tribe. These are the people who love words as hard as you do, they are toiling with their own words and everyone there understands this struggle. You won’t have to explain yourself to anyone because we will all understand why you are here.

So, this year, the year of the horse, 2014,

come to Seattle,

be with your people.

 Venus

Come see me and my people at the Antioch University LA booth. Not to brag, but we are pretty awesome. We work hard, and we are passionate about our program and will gladly talk your ear off about it. I’ll be manning the booth on Friday, I think. We are all going to have matching T-shirts, like a sports team, or Starbucks.

AWPBernadette

[Thanks Burnadette, you look good!]

You have the opportunity to make many new connections if you visit all the booths. Those connections, thanks to Facebook, can last a long time. If anything, it is three days to hang out with your people and enjoy their company.

AWPOthers

[Thanks Marcia]

All joking aside, the best part of AWP is when you get to meet an idol. This is me and Jeanette Winterson. She hung around after her epic lecture to sign books and take photos with us little people. I got to ask Winterson a question: “What is the best part of writing?”

She answered: “Wrestling with myself and the world, and sometimes winning.”

OMGGGGG!

OMGGGGGGG!!!

 How about youdear readers? What is the best and worst part of AWP for you?

Comments? Concerns? Jokes?

Leave them in the discussion section!

When You Choose Thor: The Dark World Over 12 Years a Slave

Tap into your Southern blood and blame Obama: A black president. A black nerd president. Anything is possible. These days, alien-space-Vikings seem as unreal as the Middle Passage.

Be the black man the radio hosts swear you are, take it out on your girlfriend. You can’t deal with her spending Friday night guilty about her freedom, starting every other sentence with “I know I can’t relate to them, but…”. Apologize for not having a girl who’s “down” when you tell the story to your friends back home. Forget that it takes a “down” girl to sit through two hours of Loki one-liners and thirteen minutes of closing credits so that you can spend the rest of the night giddy over a 30-second after-credits scene that won’t matter until 2017.

Look straight ahead as every other black face turns left while you walk down one more door. Tell yourself it’s no different than getting a classics degree or cheering for the Buffalo Bills. Ready your rebuttals. You paid money to see Pootie Tang. You share articles from The Root. Sometimes, you wake up early enough to watch the last segment of Melissa Harris-Perry.

Forgive the premise of a blond god protecting the earth from eternal blackness. Feel good when Idris Elba shows up in the movie. Everyone loves Idris Elba. Think of who wouldn’t want to support Idris Elba and start to feel more comfortable in your seat. Watch Idris Elba kill dark-alien-space-elves and remember Paul Mooney’s line in Hollywood Shuffle about how black actors won’t be Rambo until they stop playing Sambo. Idris Elba isn’t Rambo, but he’s Thor’s best black friend. Even the dark-alien-space-elf leader has a black best friend. The black dark elf is just evil; be proud he’s not wearing gold chains and dealing dark elf drugs in the space-Viking inner cities. Call that progress.

Think about black dark elves. Are they redundant? Are they extra evil? Do white dark elves let black dark elves play in the elvish basketball league, but start locking their doors when two black dark elves move into the neighborhood?

Remember that racial lines disappear in the Batman vs. Superman debate. Remind yourself that Blade saved this genre. Consider the $10 ticket an offering to Wesley Snipes.

Lie. Say you wanted a surprise. 12 Years a Slave won’t throw you a curveball and end up being 17 Years a Slave. You know that story. You know the story when your co-workers mistake you for a customer. You keep your credentials close. You make sure everyone knows you belong. You heard the stories of grandfather being called a boy for half his life. You deserve to be here, in this seat, wondering what’s so great about Natalie Portman, wondering how many white faces are in the theater next door.

Tell yourself you thought about going, just like your friends thought about giving blood or joining the service. Tell yourself you’ll go next weekend. Blame America when you go to the movies next weekend and find out they stopped showing 12 Years a Slave to make room for The Hunger Games. Make a Lenny Kravitz joke and go home.

Jason McCallJason McCall is the author of Dear Hero, (winner of the 2012 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize), Silver (Main Street Rag), I Can Explain (Finishing Line Press), and Mother, Less Child (winner of the 2013 Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Prize). He is from the great state of Alabama, where he currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He holds an MFA from the University of Miami, and his work has been featured in Cimarron Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Letters, The Rumpus, and other journals.

The Best Idea For A Novel Ever!

Hello fellow pen slingers!

To kick off the inaugural blog post here on Free Lunch I want to talk about the one question that bothers writers the most:

Where do you get ideas from?

I surveyed my writing friends quite scientifically (think Facebook) and asked them what question they get the most. “Where do you get your ideas from?” was the front-runner followed closely by “How do I get published?” I thought I would try to answer the one question I can help you, dear reader, with.

Photo: http://staff.xu.edu/polt/typewriters/vanburen.jpg

Photo: http://staff.xu.edu/polt/typewriters/vanburen.jpg

In all honesty this is a perfectly valid question and I think that we, as writers, feel the need to answer as dramatically as we can so that we can be real writers. Writers with a capital W.  

Photo: http://staff.xu.edu/polt/typewriters/vanburen.jpg

Photo: http://staff.xu.edu/polt/typewriters/vanburen.jpg

But, really, what do you say? Here is a list of places I’ve said my inspiration has come from:

 

I got this one fortune cookie that told me to do it:

 

Photo: http://www.oddee.com/_media/imgs/articles/a210_c1.jpg

Photo: http://www.oddee.com/_media/imgs/articles/a210_c1.jpg

I was messing around on Google search:

Photo: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-tgHqDXFxL70/UVxqXUSbelI/AAAAAAAAFGs/IDz8Vl7fOu4/s640/fist-pump-baby.jpeg

Photo: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-tgHqDXFxL70/UVxqXUSbelI/AAAAAAAAFGs/IDz8Vl7fOu4/s640/fist-pump-baby.jpeg

 

Drugs and/or alcohol were messing around with me:

 

Photo: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/5d/fa/pary,girl,glitter,party,poison-5dfaaff15450fc1923516479ba250532_h.jpg

Photo: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/5d/fa/pary,girl,glitter,party,poison-5dfaaff15450fc1923516479ba250532_h.jpg

 

God whispered the plot in my ear:

http://ionetheurbandaily.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/morgan-freeman-god.jpg

Photo: http://ionetheurbandaily.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/morgan-freeman-god.jpg

The truth for all writers is that inspiration is much more complicated than divine intervention. Good ideas, the kind that lead to novels, movies, or dance routines come from a nebulous place that can be hard to put your finger on.

Stephen King says that he came up with the plot for Misery in a dream on an airplane. It was so vivid he had to sit down at the airport and write the first fifty pages.

Photo: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-Nhv2aLZK3cM/URaeGfRpreI/AAAAAAAAUQk/CBbDJvALpjY/misery.jpg

Photo: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-Nhv2aLZK3cM/URaeGfRpreI/AAAAAAAAUQk/CBbDJvALpjY/misery.jpg

Some dream.

King says , “I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back (Epel, 24).

Photo: http://cocktailswithmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/face2.jpg

Photo: http://cocktailswithmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/face2.jpg

How do the rest of us go about looking at the back of our heads? What can we do to have the same trust in our dreams? How do we know the difference between a sit-down-and-immediately-write-fifty-pages-about-it dream and a nonsense I-ate-way-too-much-chili-last-night dream?

Photo: tanks funny-potato!

Photo: tanks funny-potato!

Maybe what Mr. King was getting at is the need to listen to your brain when it is in a more relaxed state; when, theoretically, your creativity flows more freely. I know something else the flows very easily. I’ll give you a hint:

Photo: Retuers; drugol.livejournal.com

Photo: Retuers; drugol.livejournal.com

Ernest Hemingway is famous for saying “write drunk, edit sober.”

 

Photo: http://rachelwritesabook.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/hemingway.jpg

Photo: http://rachelwritesabook.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/hemingway.jpg

Of course the rest of us mere mortals don’t look quite so heroic when we try to write drunk.

 

Photo: http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m19dmo4JUQ1r6wmteo1_500.png

Photo: http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m19dmo4JUQ1r6wmteo1_500.png

I think there must be a better way of accessing that altered state without the dire consequences of “going too far.”

Photo: http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lvw6ma3ViJ1r7gq2to1_400.gif

Photo: http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lvw6ma3ViJ1r7gq2to1_400.gif

Speaking of going too far; Hunter S. Thompson once said “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol and violence for anyone, but they have always worked for me.”

They were all after the same thing: Hemingway with his drinking, King with his dreams, and Thompson with his …anything he could get his hands on… These men are perhaps best known for their honesty about their (sometimes absurd) attempts to hear their muse.

They were all after that spark of creativity. We have all felt the need to go to ridiculous lengths in an effort to “listen to our muse.”

 

Photo: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FEZc22SfAy4/TCWX58vyfWI/AAAAAAAABgk/wzM67kx4omM/s320/absinthe.jpg

Photo: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FEZc22SfAy4/TCWX58vyfWI/AAAAAAAABgk/wzM67kx4omM/s320/absinthe.jpg


While we make fun of Thompson’s epic consumption of mind-altering substances, Hemmingway’s prodigious drinking, and King vast inhalations of Coke in the 80s,  I think it is more important to recognize that all three men were dedicated to their craft. All this drug and alcohol use was just smoke and mirrors, cloaking what was really important about these guys. It isn’t about how these men searched for their muse, rather, it is that they showed faithfully up to listen for her.

They wrote…

 

Photo: http://media.npr.org/assets/artslife/books/2010/07/stephen-king-on-writing/stephen-king-on-writing-d1d225f2c6e25fcd45dce87de1f77d4d6e695e5f-s6-c30.jpg

Photo: http://media.npr.org/assets/artslife/books/2010/07/stephen-king-on-writing/stephen-king-on-writing-d1d225f2c6e25fcd45dce87de1f77d4d6e695e5f-s6-c30.jpg

and wrote…

Photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Ernest_Hemingway_Writing_at_Campsite_in_Kenya_-_NARA_-_192655.jpg

Photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Ernest_Hemingway_Writing_at_Campsite_in_Kenya_-_NARA_-_192655.jpg

and wrote some more…

Photo: http://www.scenario-buzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Hunter-s-Thompson_California_1972_by_Annie-Leibovitz.jpg

Photo: http://www.scenario-buzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Hunter-s-Thompson_California_1972_by_Annie-Leibovitz.jpg

Until they were sick of it…

Photo: http://www.toptenz.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Hunter-S-Thompson-pointing-gun-at-typewriter.jpg

Photo: http://www.toptenz.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Hunter-S-Thompson-pointing-gun-at-typewriter.jpg

But, they still wrote. And they kept writing.

No. Matter. What.

Photo: http://images.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/05/HunterSThompson_1000.jpg

Photo: http://images.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/05/HunterSThompson_1000.jpg

 

So, how do you get your ideas?

How do you look at the back of your head? What works for you?

 

A Pair of Red Shoes

This is a story about a pair of red ankle-strap shoes. High heels, of course, high heels that give the longest legs to even the shortest of girls—in this case, an Italian girl who stood just a little short of five feet tall, in the Jersey City of 1942. She was a scandal in her shoes. She was probably a scandal even without her shoes, and I can’t even begin to imagine—nor am I entirely sure I want to imagine—what kind of scandal she was when she got it in her mind to remove those shoes. But in this story, she is most definitely wearing those shoes.

Red. High. Ankle-strapped. The kind of shoes no self-respecting, Italian-Catholic girl would ever wear, but always wanted. Red shoes are not for good girls. Red shoes are for harlots. Puttanas. An ankle strap? What kind of good girl wears an ankle strap? The strap calls the eye, draws the eye to the shapely ankle and up the slender calf, to the peek of a white slip, the hint of lace beneath the dress. And where the eye is drawn, the mind will wander, and wonder at that lace beneath the dress and, well, plain old beneath the dress. Ankle straps! Puttana.

But this isn’t about lipstick. This is about red, ankle-strap shoes. Every woman needs a pair. There is something about a red shoe; even Dorothy knew it.

Philomina Lanna had red, high-heeled ankle strap shoes, and she was the scandal of her neighborhood. She wore those shoes everywhere. She wore them to work, at the Dixon Ticonderoga Pencil Factory, and called them her “Rosie Rivet heels” when they clacked across the concrete floor. I am told she even wore them to church. She wasn’t much impressed by church. She was all right with God and his son, and she was enamored of Mary. Mary, the mother; Mary, with her crown of stars. Mary who paid special attention to the prayers of women and children, and perhaps especially women without children, like Min, though she probably didn’t know it then, when she walked to work in her red shoes.

She probably didn’t walk, not like she was supposed to walk. She never walked like she was supposed to—in my life, I never once saw her walk with her eyes down or her face hidden. She walked, and her sister (who would be my grandmother one day) walked, and eventually my sister and I would walk with heads held high. She stared the world down and every man in it in the face, daring them to say a word about her shoes. She wore red lipstick, too: the red of Italian blood oranges in the height of summer, as lush as the flesh of those fruits, her lips shining and juicy.

But this isn’t about lipstick. This is about red, ankle-strap shoes. Every woman needs a pair. There is something about a red shoe, even Dorothy knew it. A red shoe can’t be ignored and a woman wearing a red shoe knows it. A woman wearing a red shoe has no interest in being ignored—that’s why the puttanas wear them, because people will notice. Men will notice. They may not remember your name, but they’ll remember those red shoes and the sexy legs in them. Red shoes make your legs sexier. It’s inevitable.

She was in her twenties and unmarried. Divorced, in fact, another scandal for a young Italian woman from the neighborhood, and another one she didn’t give two fucks about. She got permission for her divorce from the monsignor himself, when she walked down to the rectory and tore her blouse open to show the bruises and said: “There. You look at those and you tell me Jesus wants me to be married to the man who gives them to me.” She got her divorce, and took communion the following week.

But that one particular night, the most famous night of the shoes, was the night of a USO dance in Jersey City, by the Hudson where the Navy ships would dock so the boys could come ashore to dance. Min’s father took his daughter aside before she could walk out the door to the dance and he told her, “You dance with any boy who asks you.” Min was notoriously picky, you see—all four foot eight of her liked the tallest boys, with the brownest hair and the darkest eyes. But her father was having none of it. “You dance with any boy who asks you, and I don’t care what he looks like, or where he’s from, or who his father is, or if he has brown eyes or no eyes. You dance with him. Because those boys will leave tomorrow and some of them will never come back. They deserve a dance with a pretty girl. So any boy who asks you to dance, you dance. If they have to have a last memory, let it be you.”

So she danced with every boy, every man who asked her—tall, short, fat, skinny. She laughed when she danced with the red-headed Irish boys from Brooklyn and told them they clashed with her lipstick. She teased the Latin boys by flirting in Italian that was just close enough to Spanish, but not quite. She winked at Jewish boys and asked about their matzoh balls. She danced with them all, and the next morning, the boys left. Their boat never came back. They were torpedoed somewhere in the Atlantic. The boat sank to the bottom of the ocean, somewhere far from dance hall lights that glinted off ripe red lips and ruby heels to match, and it took too many of those dancing boys down with it.

I have six pairs of red shoes and lipstick to match. I learned from Min and her stories, about the power of a scarlet pair that makes a memory. And though I may stand a little taller than four foot eight, I hold my head high when I walk, and I always say yes to a dance.

dawnferchak_headhostDawn Ferchak has been writing since she could hold a crayon in her fat baby hand. While she has moved on from Crayola poems about her pet cat, she remains content with living inside her own head, which is densely populated and has bits that are always on fire. She reviews books at BookshelfBombshells.com and promises to get around to updating her blog, www.wordsbydawn.com.

Fragments of a Shoreline Adolescence; Heroes Tunnel: Confessions of a Working Class Slob.; and Charlene Comes Home From College, May 2012

Fragments of a Shoreline Adolescence

Frankie and I protect our town,
on the scoreboard and at the town fair,
still wearing our jerseys, proud of our colors,

behind the movies against Johnny Ferrara
and the Hamden frats, and when the owner
calls the cops, at the BJ’s wholesale club
across the street.

All these places look different in the day,
when we’re not so helpless to ardent dawn,
so hopeful the street lights along Route 5 flicker
long enough to guide us home for curfew.

And all these places look so different, now,
and anything vanilla still smells like canned tobacco.
Frankie still loves to fight, and I still love to egg him on,
but more often than not we turn the other cheek.

 

Heroes Tunnel:
Confessions of a Working Class Slob.

Its winter and work has run dry like radiator heat.
Black Ice spreads like ivy between paver decks
and bleeds through the retaining walls I poured all year,
finds pockets of air in the mix and expands.

Its cold and the county is stark and we are broke,
but Frankie smiles, This is too easy.
Like we’ve cased these houses all summer.

We forage for metal through Greenwich mansions
where we’ve worked, the kind no one lives in
but the pool runs ‘till November and grass still gets cut each week.

I remember every front gate code,
which had guest homes with unlocked doors,
but Frankie does the legwork, drives and mans the Sawzall.

On the way home he never even toes the break.
He rides hard, head on a swivel for pigs,
while I swaddle the copper in the back of the van.

On the parkway he hits 80 and never lets off the whip,
pushing that lame horse down the last turn.
In Autumn, its two-lanes are swallowed by postcard foliage,

like driving into a flushing commode
when the sun’s shining behind the trees,
but winter is cruel for letting the flowers die.

We spill out into nothing but concrete and glass in Stratford.
Factory whistles sound beneath the bridge.
Men with sleep-tired eyes pass men with smokestack eyes
under a first shift hour that’s not quite day,

as the blackness of night fails and the sun still stretches its rays,
shades drawn, dressing in the dark
by the dim glow of pawn shop signs.

After the bridge we can see the tunnel,
aptly named for the weight it bears,
two eyes shining orange in the pale morning,
staring out at northbound traffic.

We hit its light like a wave and Frankie drives faster.

 

Charlene Comes Home From College, May 2012

Charlene is the eternal homecoming queen,
so I know she’ll be back eventually.

She can’t help it, sees high school cafeterias
in her dreams, the lights, the dollar store streamers,

all those other girls, their green eyes averted,
gnawing the strands of fallen up-dos.

Yes, Charlene will surely come home,
because she’s not as smart as she thinks she is

but there’ll be no reception.
She’ll have to announce herself

with uploads from the back seat of the family minivan,
every south of the border sign until they hit Virginia,

screenshots from her iTunes, whatever Indie
shit she found at school and selfies.
Ten or fifteen tasteful selfies.

I won’t check Twitter or open any of her Snapchats.
I won’t have to. I’ll have known for days. I’ll have felt it,

the weight in the air that’s just so hard to breathe,
and whether it’s the lack of oxygen to my brain,

or my general hopeless romanticism, I’ll ask her to dinner,
convinced that this time…

Christopher GrilloChristopher Eugene Grillo is an educational professional and second year MFA candidate at Southern Connecticut State University. He has previously been published in Noctua, The Elm City Review, Up the River, Referential, Drunk Monkeys, and Extracts. Christopher moonlights as a high school football coach at his alma mater North Haven High School.