March Publications

Hello, all! I hope you are well. I thought I might share this month’s publications, for anyone interested in reading them.

Ghost City Review published “Unstrung Pearls” at the beginning of March. Find it here.

Soft Cartel offers a fantastic assortment of short stories, poetry, and artwork. “Atún” is a prose piece about a cat, childhood, loss, and communal complacency. Read it here.

Maudlin House features another short story, “Unchanged Melodies.” I wrote this piece a few years ago. It is somewhat autobiographical, and is based on my childhood experiences living overseas on a military base. Much of the story is drawn from my memories of a classmate with autism who was often ridiculed, feared, and generally misunderstood by those around him. Check it out here.

Thank you so much for your readership and support. Gradually, I’ll be concentrating on more short fiction, with a focus on color and emotional acuity.

Have a good day,

Kristine

Swiftly Paced Intricacy – Oak and Mist by Helen Jones

Available on Amazon via Kindle or paperback.

Available on Amazon via Kindle and paperback.

Admittedly, I’m not what you’d call extremely well-read. That being said, aside from the first installment of The Lord of the Rings series, and the Harry Potter books that I’ve rarely ever re-read, I have hardly read any fantasy. Perhaps it’s all too intimidating, with its multiple worlds, factions, alliances, alter-egos, and allusions to mythology and other things I find elaborately rich. While I’ve intended to, I’ve never really given attention to the YA genre. It takes a skilled and enthusiastic writer to draw me into such works, and with Oak and Mist, Helen Jones does the job.

We see predestination’s lingering hold as Alma faces a tall order. Ambeth, a world outside the familiar, is threatened by an imbalance between Light and Dark. One does not choose the faction he is born into, and ultimately, one is not granted volition to shift, even in the unlikely presence of a desire to do so. Caleb, Alma’s friend, makes this clear as he dissuades her emotions for a boy from the wrong end of the spectrum.

Jones presents a world that I found highly believable, intricate though uncomplicated. Ambeth is lush with pleasantries, elegant party wear, a hierarchy and party scenes that warmly remind me of the Royal Diaries series. Alma, quiet though brave and resolute, reminded me so much of my younger self, overly impressed with the outwardly beautiful and concerned of other’s perceptions. She’s like a snow globe; you can sense when something unsettles her, whether it regards the dangerous, the lustful, or simply, the possibility that she has wounded a friend, however lacking the intention to. Her friendship with Caleb is something most of us have had, along with exasperating conversations about whether That Guy is worth dating.

While I found descriptions of Alma’s infatuation to be gratuitous and sweetly tedious to read, I was impressed with Jones’s integration of the conventional human world with that of contentious Ambeth. The idea of hybrid individuals and half-siblings isn’t new, though I appreciated the dialogue regarding acceptance of one’s blood, and awareness of one world over another. At several points throughout the novel, what appear to be gaps are eventually sealed. The story itself is considerably fast-paced to where one may not acknowledge that something is amiss. However, upon this realization, readers can appreciate that few things mentioned in Oak and Mist could be dismissed as trivial.

Oak and Mist details what I’d expect in the YA genre: formative relationships, both romantic and platonic, familial bonds, and reconciliation between how one would like things to be and how things actually are. Events and relationships are presented so cohesively to where the book could well stand on its own, though the detail in thoughts, interactions, and transferrals between Ambeth and the world in which we readers live leaves much to be predicted and returned to. Delightfully, Oak and Mist is just the first book of the Ambeth Chronicles, as Ms. Jones has just finished its followup, No Quarter. I anticipate the second book to be just as enjoyable.

With all being said, I should really give some genres more of a solid read.

boredom, unamused

the cardboard torn says “Antiques.”
describes you perfectly as you stare.
and as you aren’t a lamp from IKEA,
I look to the side, and walk away.
you know, like when you were younger,
and your elders told you to ignore mean things.
I know you aren’t mean, exactly.
but greetings from strangers
mumble like the very mosquito
nestling into your ankle.
I’m wondering if I should nestle
in the dust of the earth,
in the vase that gapes
by a van emptied of ice cream,
upholstered with patchwork fur.

*Cat No. 27 of the 500 Cats Project

smugly

your worries amuse,
as I lay here, quiet.

a fence deterring
an awkward climb.

fall to the ground,
and questions

from Mom.
angry, and disturbed

as she clambered to bed,
reaching for the covers.

naps at a time
ideal for fried eggs

are the new paradigm.
but I pretend, conformity flat.

you walk a little closer,
and I open one eye.

another step forward
wouldn’t be smart.

*(Hardly Visible) Cat No. 25 of the 500 Cats Project

She’s staring.

collateral,
co-cat-purr-all.

is this a partnership,
or contest performed
before dangling pompoms
and technicolor fish bait?

in any case,
most mornings
we do a pretty good job
sleeping without
passersby and their goldfish.

yesterday, got hit by goldfish.
really, the audacity
of pedestrian boys
and voyeuristic girls.

IMG_1764

she’ll leave in just a second,
when the tea we’ve sipped
from heiresses’ wine glasses
calls for our worship, again.

*Cats No. 22 and 23 of the 500 Cats Project

Small Town Friendships and Unconscionable Doings – Pete Deakon’s Buried Within

Pete Deakon’s second novel, Buried Within, is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Not everything is alright in America’s humble Midwest.

I’ve only been to Missouri for three days, at most. One day in Springfield, two in St. Louis. While I remember the weather being muckier than desired, walking from the botanical garden in an inadequate poncho, the people continued to grin.

In Buried Within, Pete Deakon illustrates just how the fond, playful winsome conflicts with the dreary, the two eventually coalescing as the horrific transpires.

“I’m here for you if you need it,” a friend offers in tragedy’s chill. But of course, the person facing loss may brood, in his own special way. Some understand, others are spooked. Maybe he’s not sad enough. Maybe he’s too angry. Perhaps, a bit obsessed. Crazed. They’ll still continue to talk about him, meaning well, though not immune to plasticized gossip and sentimental recollections of some romantic movie.

Mark, he’s a romantic. An awkward one who Deakon endows with calculative flair. Like The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor, Buried Within holds tight to the logical, each character’s thoughts, mannerisms, and relationships presented with the accessibility of a well-written instruction manual. But the steps you follow to assemble the cabinet, they’re written with heart and integrity.

Here is just an example of dry humor by which I was charmed:

“Like most men, Adam and John were not attorneys and they certainly made decisions that proved them to be hypocrites to their own lofty notions of morality, but still they held these notions.”

Of course, attorneys aren’t perfect people, and everyone, in a series however prolonged or brief, repeats the same mistakes. This is a human flaw, and while imperfection can embarrass and disappoint, Deakon describes everyday follies with a bluntness and dialogue that not only has one chuckling, but reassures readers that maybe, even through the appallingly unpredictable, things will be okay.

The thrill of courtship, the drabs of marriage, the challenge of keeping the flame at a flicker. Couples and partnership are key players in Buried Within, helping to establish the backdrop of a quiet town and steady friendships. Mark and Rebecca are great for each other. The girl, young and lively, shivers in her modesty, though comfort is found in the sheer stability of quiet, awkward Mark. Again, no one is perfect, but upon finding out, most would “tsk” and pry. So Mark and Rebecca keep to themselves for much of their married lives.

Before, things were better. Wholesome memories of a budding love that makes me think of that movie with a young Reese Witherspoon. Man in the Moon.

In time, Mark unravels. We see the petals of a vibrant rose gradually fall. Insecurity, infertility, the bureaucracy of adoption. Work. Because love doesn’t pay the bills, though you’d think it makes hardships easier to bear.

Mark gets struck with a hardship. Brought on by a different kind of awkward.

Deakon writes about the interpersonal in very personal ways. Again, I’ll emphasize that he’s quite technical, something I can’t deduce too often in the span of a short novel. The chapters read like vignettes, Norman Rockwell paintings that hang on the same wall, but don’t necessarily depict the same thing, like dogs or the ocean, hotdogs and cottages. We begin at the present, roll in the past, proceed to the present again. The woods, a car, a bowling alley. A garage. The trunk of a car. Deakon doesn’t concentrate too much on building a bridge from scene to scene, but they all fit tightly. More so, we appreciate detail in thoughts and dialogue.

But one thing I wish the author could have done more is drill more detail in those more unpleasant scenes.

In general, we tend to be more comfortable reading about atrocity than seeing it. Given the freedom of imagination, it makes a lot of sense. While Deakon did well with his fine brushstrokes the first half of the novel, I felt things grew curt towards the end. Know that the writing is always straightforward. But with actions we associate with high coverage trials, I was hoping for more exploration. The content itself is unsettling, though I wanted something more graphic.

However, this may be the point of it all. Contrasts are everywhere. The conventional versus the old-fashioned, the young and the old, the masculine and the effeminate. Pay attention to what Rebecca says about Mark’s dad, the perks Rebecca hopes for at work when she hits her thirties, the way Mark’s friends laugh at him because he uses the word “tendrils.”

By the way, I’ve never actually heard a man use the word “tendrils” in person.

So while I initially felt I was walking through some lush forest beneath some starry, lovelorn sky (and I do like to feel this way every once in a while), it seemed like I suddenly found myself in a pale tundra, with poison ivy here and there. Jarring and out of place.

But then again, maybe this was the goal Deakon aimed for.

The quirky and the creepy. The grieving and the vengeful. These, among a handful of other attributes, harbor similarities but diverge at a certain point. A fork in the road, or a fine line. The demarcation isn’t as harsh as the water of romance and the oil of postmarital boredom, but it’s there to be noticed. A point for reflection.

Despite its occasional brusqueness, Buried Within left me with thoughts whole and absorbed in our own flaws. The things we hold most dear, and things that really, anyone is capable of accomplishing when we lose our grasp on what we loved.

Chalk dust?

“Is that cocaine five feet away?”
“It can’t be better than painkillers, Thomas.”
“But Peter, this is Suburbia!
…not some scene from a Mark Twain novel.”
“Thomas, you do know
sometimes
in winter
on certain occasions,
you’re just a pain in the ass.”

“Peter, it’s a leap away.”
“Thomas, it’s time for a nap.”

*Cats No. 15 and 16 of the 500 Cats Project

Chianti, beaches, beautiful women, and paradise in Rumors of Cortez

“Henri asked the angel what happened if you  had nothing to possess, his face pressed to the glass, trying to see the empty fields below.

The angel said, then the light will descend upon you and you will be clothed in it.”

Jeffrey Levine, man of assorted talents, not only writes poetry but maintains a blog at http://jeffreyelevine.com/, walking aspiring authors through the writing and traditional publishing processes. Here I came across Rumors of Cortez, a 2005 collection of poetry assembled in five parts. Often massaging a worry stone as I think of which of my many thoughts to say or write down, I thought I’d buy a copy, and take some time to listen. I tell you, these 83 pages of linguistic melody will be read, re-read, and kept as inspiration, both stylistically and conceptually.

Levine incorporates the extended line, while few poems in Rumors are presented with considerable white space. The writing I would call demonstrative of stream-of-consciousness or continual flow has the potential to overwhelm, bog the reader down and perhaps frustrate her to the point that she does away with the work. Rumors doesn’t do this. Each piece guides you on a journey, walking on a Downtown sidewalk where a beautiful woman waits, to admiring the majesty of the sun-kissed Galapagos. Of course, Part IV’s sojourn into Rome with Orpheus and Eurydice may emerge most memorable to readers. It can definitely hold its own among accompanying pieces, though verses of the Adam and Eve we can all relate to serve well as a sensual prelude. Where love drops by, longing lingers. “There’s a Hole in the Screen” reminds us,

“Bach was right. Joy is all in the desiring.”

Wanting, possessing, remembering. Levine’s implementation of these potentially heart-wrenching topics works to carve an image you can take anywhere, a fantastic conversation starter. Something relatable to much of what you see everyday. Those who appear in Rumors – Nana, Henri, Caruso, and others – possess a longing for love, adventure, passion. Chopin, Eurydice, Orpheus, and other prominent figures aren’t so intimidating when we see that they too, are blushingly imperfect. Remember a time you were so preoccupied with a gadget, a hobby, a video game? Orpheus develops a fixation with his camera, while Eurydice ventures through the catacombs, alone. I found this scene most striking in that it reminded me of relationships where one felt guilt, persisting in a disconnect while the beloved other was so close by. Think the man on his computer, surfing the Web, while his wife is asleep in the other room, wishing they could spend just a little more time together.

Levine couples the classic and contemporary to where the two become one. In essence, Rumors is “stopless.” I read these poems at a moderate pace, absorbing the richness of each long line, breathing in the fragrance of beaches, oceans, seagrass, the grand Pacific. The vitality of red, photographs of paradise, and descriptions of birds with personality recur throughout Rumors. While readers may leave this work thinking about that Ferrari, its preceding trinkets lend the collection a touch so richly organic.

Often, in the world of the average, everyday reader, life gets overwhelming. Simply, it’s “stopless.” Rumors serves as a constrained, yet intricate alternate universe, albeit so realistic. For the traveler, these poems may bring back fond, spectacular memories, despite the problem of characters forgetting from time to time. And even for one who hasn’t wandered out of her nest for quite a while, Rumors can comfort. Inspire. Inform. Pick up a book on French. Get introduced to Descartes. Learn basic Italian, and grow familiar with regional recipes. Plan that trip to Rome. Easter Island, Puerto Ayora. As the poem “Comprimario” states:

“When one is ready to leave, even a single wooden spoon is enough to stir the world.”

Rumor of Cortez is a worthy guide to worlds within a globe that keeps on spinning. Levine writes, “In our country the only currency, my best girl, is longing.” In multiple aspects, these poems suggest that maybe, we are all from that country.