Pre-Order Connie Undone!

Would you like me to write you a poem based on a topic of your choice? I’ve received a handful of some pretty interesting requests, and I’d love to see more of what you have to suggest!

While CONNIE UNDONE’s official release date is March 1st, you can pre-order a copy from me directly, for $12. Not only do you get a signed copy of my first novel, but you also get a poem.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering, send me an email at crumpledpapercranes1981@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

– Kristine

January 2016

I could not provide an answer,
nor could I gesticulate
as my veins curled similarly
to roundworms in cats’ rejection.

murmured the name of the medical scribe
but I stared at the doctor, pale
as the white coat I already sullied
with my lower middle class and ignorance.

flickering, the ceiling insulted the charity bed
that funds the frostbitten—frequent fliers
I could hear miles away,
for the morphine disappointed like decaf.

I wouldn’t return to work,
and that is what I wanted
but only in those hours
when I felt I did no good.

there was no pillow to clutch
and I had worn down all my brushes
used to glue together a quiet collage
of words in Helvetica you never meant.

I do not wish to taste
wet saltines of an awkward love
but I managed to sleep on thumbtacks
for a boy who had no time.

Pre-order Connie Undone on Amazon. Or, buy a signed copy from me directly for $12. 

hungry equality

consensus declares
that a lick from a dog
is worth far less
than a cat’s slow wink.

before the dog’s eyes,
you sit, blemishes
airbrushed through grain
and accepted, like undone ribbons
of VHS cassettes, their tops
glistening like cured resin on tile
one finds on tables yielding meat
that any girl may offer for trust.

eventually, you will admit
that this dog is just one
of the five that kissed your hand
and the few warming up to your meal.

it will tell you
in rhythmic nudges
that people are not interesting,
though that one Saturday
introductions played their tricks
as the dog continued to ask
how you could just walk
so ignorant of your depth.

you committed no wrong
as the dog moved quickly,
perhaps in a two-hour span
to yet another slice cooked medium rare.

Pre-order Connie Undone on Amazon. Or, buy a signed copy from me directly for $12. 

Insecure Dusk

“Hey! Do you work at Happy’s?”

My knees bounced, chin persistently pressed against my chest barely heaving. The purple visor concealed my blush, but the black cardigan was too iconic.

***

“You’re a natural beauty,” he said, as I snuck him the cup from McDonald’s that I filled with Dr. Pepper. He and his friend. James and Austin. This was two weeks prior. They spoke to me as my father would have drunk from a dirty glass, cursing a shortage of real alcohol. I’ve had few problems attracting men, though snaring genuine intrigue’s long been hard.

“My boss doesn’t think so,” I looked to my gravy-stained apron, placing my hands in pockets, handling cash though I was told this was “gross for a waitress to do.” The police officer had a word with the manager, who told him I was new to food service. “‘Stay in school’ is what you tell her, my friend. She won’t stand a chance anywhere else. There will always be a need for college professors.”

I retold the exchange to Julie and Lane, both of them shaking their heads, giving me a hug, announcing “I’d never marry someone if he did that on a date.” And many a ring we saw declined. Always after six in the early dusk. Eleven hours more. I walked, cleaned, squirted whipped cream, ladled ranch dressing, and told dirty jokes until five in the morning. Usually.

James and Austin strangely didn’t ask for chicken fried steak. Though James caressed my contaminated palms, asked me to sit down, and smiled as I made small talk about friends I knew who paid off their debts by pole dancing. The couple I served five feet away promptly rose, leaving me nothing.

“Say, the Smithson Motel just down the street’s open twenty-four hours. We’re staying there tonight. A business trip.” Austin was the one who never spoke.

“I’m here until five.” I remembered the teacher who waited for her salad at the bar. “What would we do anyway?”

“Eh, we were just gonna kick it with some chicks. Would be nice if you’d join us. Got some Malibu rum in a cooler. Let me write you the room on this receipt.”

“Sir, I’m afraid I can’t.” Howard slid a bowl of drenched lettuce down the aisle from the kitchen. I hurried to make my delivery. Then I returned to a Sharpie scrawl, dark as the sky I could see through the bullet hole lodged above the two young men in their loafing.

“Your number, here.” An arrow beneath, a line etched an ant’s worth from the bottom of the receipt. Reading men was always hard.

I blinked, trying to make up a number as I already fabricated a good twelve. I gave them a code, and James brought his phone to make the call. Just to make sure I knew how to reach him.

“I, please. Guys, I really can’t—”

“No worries! We’ll pick you up at five. The motel’s down the street.”

“I, look. Are you like this with every waitress?”

Jason crossed his arms, spread his legs to reveal his inner thighs stained with what I wanted to think was soy sauce or maple syrup. I didn’t inquire.

“Sweetie, you’re a special girl. An intelligent one. Not many girls just take a seat and talk to the patrons the way you do. It’s not that they’re snooty or anything. It’s just, they lack the capacity.”

“Excuse me?”

“Honey, what I mean to say is when we hook up with girls, we prefer them to be intelligent. Look, we didn’t buy dinner. But we’ll tip you well. I promise.”

“Give me a minute.”

I rarely blushed, and this time, blanched. My face with its dry patches, resembling a waxing moon, its craters void of life. My shortcomings often revolved around crafting a polite declination. It’s something I still can’t do.

I spoke to the manager who told me of the police offer’s dissatisfaction with my skills.

“Consuela, all men are dogs.”

“Of course,” I picked at a hangnail.

Josue looked on as the boss walked over to where James sipped from his not-from-Happy’s cup. Josue was aware of the jaunty exchange but washed our dishes to the mantra of equal opportunity. “Women, they’re not infants,” he’d say, pointing at me to reiterate that really, I should know better.

Austin glared without a word. Jason tipped his hat my way. “Don’t be so presumptuous,” he greasily cooed.

“Ah, no shame.” Josue patted my shoulder. “But look, they left you a tip!”

At their emptied booth laid the smeared request. And a dollar. His phone number crassly added, whining like a dog confined for retaliatory defecation.

“Don’t be insecure,” Josue pointed his lips. “Don’t be giving it away, just because a guy says you’re pretty.”

“I don’t.”

“But so many do, Consuela. Just the other night, some girl got raped by a man she ran into on the bus.” The waitstaff only called me Consuela as I resembled a character in some eighties movie. A mousy girl with academic promise, working in her father’s restaurant all through dusk, forsaking homework that was due the morning after.

“I’ve learned not to talk to men on the bus.”

“And so you used David as your reference to work here.” David, I met at a bus stop. His tip book convinced me to try waiting tables. Wipe away vomit, lie about life, pretend to be the girlfriend of a rich old man. Albeit in a fashion laughable.

Barely concealed by the purple hat, I glanced at James to see blackened scabs. An altercation, or crystal meth. I continued with my presumptions. He skimmed through the Classifieds, looking for work.

***

“No, I can’t say I work there.”

“Oh, okay. Just, you look familiar.” He looked out the window, into the fog of one a.m., when no cars passed. The bus driver called for me to get off, as I lugged my bag of newspapers. My second job when Happy’s gave me a break from long evenings.

I ran with all I had, from imaginary predators.

Connie Undone, my first novel, officially comes out on March 1st. But you can pre-order it on Amazon for $18.99. If you’d like a pre-ordered, signed copy, Venmo me at KristineBrown1918, and for a limited time, I’ll send you a paperback for $12, if you’re a U.S. resident. If you’re outside of the United States and would like a copy, let me know, and we’ll work something out. I’ve decided to challenge myself by writing a poem for the first 250 purchasers of Connie Undone. I’ll write the poem on the subject of your choice. Include the subject along with your mailing information if you are buying a copy from me. If you prefer to buy books on Amazon, just send me a screenshot as proof of purchase, and I’ll get started on your poem!

Connie Undone is Now Available for Pre-ordering!

Hello, all! I hope you are well. I’ve been rather busy the last several months, but I would like to announce that my first novel, Connie Undone, is available for pre-ordering starting today! Officially, the paperback comes out on March 1st, but in the meantime, you can snag a copy on Amazon for $18.99.

If you’d still like to pre-order Connie Undone, but would rather buy a copy from me directly, let me know! I am selling signed copies to U.S. residents for $12, via Paypal or Venmo (@KristineBrown1918). If you live outside the United States, let me know, and we can negotiate on price. And, if you buy one of the first 250 copies, I’ll write you a poem on a subject of your choice! I can either email or mail you the poem, depending on your preference. Those who pre-order in the next few weeks should receive their copies of Connie Undone sometime in late February. 

And for those who like to exclusively purchase books via Amazon, just send me a screenshot showing that you’ve made a purchase, and I’ll still write you a poem!

Here’s a brief teaser for Connie Undone:

“Where do you find these people?”

This question was all too common concerning the events of Connie’s summer right out of college. Some people asked this sympathetically, while others shook their heads in pointed disapproval. For Connie, things weren’t going as planned. But in several months, she would learn to accept that detours, in all their uncertainty, laid a necessary foundation for a budding plan unseen.

For more than a decade, Connie often felt that she lived in a dull city, but was scared to venture out. We could attribute her self-sheltering to social anxiety and several years of codependency. Connie Undone seeks to dwell not on the negatives of what happened after a first serious breakup, but rather, documents the beginning of life after college, and one’s path towards self-reliance and acceptance.

***

Thank you for your kind readership. Writing is always wonderful.

– Kristine

to be like this

write me an essay—
untimed, please.

divulge all the details
of last night’s crash.

our friend is sobbing
on the balcony again
because he finally found
a Kleenex to throw her way.

milk splashes, over
a paper cup’s edge.

you press on the timer,
look to your left.

they have occupied the corner,
wondering whether to call
the cops if she already
gave one bold statement.

it’s been so long
since you called back.

I never thought that
I would see you, frayed.

Cat No. 130 of the 500 Cats Project

I am pleased to announce the release of my first novel, sometime in the next few months. I will keep you updated. To celebrate, I’ve decided to challenge myself to write a poem for each of the first 250 people who purchase my book. The poem would be based on a subject of your choosing, handwritten and mailed to you. I’m very excited, as the project has been very dear to me. In the meantime, I will continue to work on short stories. The 500 Cats Project shall proceed.

Simply Extraordinary – Misfortune and Strife in Steven Baird’s Ordinary Handsome

ordinaryhandsomeiiI first read Ordinary Handsome a little more than a year ago. Admittedly, I felt quite overwhelmed upon finishing the book, giving it a second, third, and fourth read. Not only did the book leave me breathing deeply, scouting for the aroma of old black tea, the imprisoning honesty of spilled liquor, salty dried blood staining dusty fabric, and the freshness of limes that serve disturbingly more than just a culinary purpose. Steven Baird’s novel demanded my full attention, and even though I was absolutely absorbed each time I read it in around five hours, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. His writing is exquisite, the subject matter is temporally relevant, and there are characters to both pity and loathe. Ordinary Handsome, in its grit and precision, tells of extraordinary misfortune and strife.

Baird illustrates the backdrop poetically. As we walk through the streets of Handsome, Oklahoma, it’s accepted that this is a town from someone’s childhood, or a town only heard of through family storytelling. The gravel scrapes beneath our feet, sweat rolls down our foreheads as we watch farmers toil to barely last the year, and we catch ourselves gagging, perhaps flinching, as we pass the bar owned by Henry Wasson, a simple man with a precocious son and memories that both comfort and haunt. In narrating the hardships of the townspeople, Wasson’s dilemmas, and the impact of his deeds on those around him, Baird clearly deliberates, word by word. While he abandons quotation marks, it is simple to discern who says what, and what was committed by whom. Perhaps Baird does this to further accentuate the bareness of an impoverished, dying town. Perhaps Baird does this to call for our attention, to read and re-read. The story, though structurally fragmented, comes together. But one has to watch for every reed to weave that compact basket.

Most impressive are the contrasts presented throughout the story. A bar packed with regulars and full glasses that actually faces financial collapse. The hint of a bra spotted on a young girl during a date years ago, a young man eventually choosing a bra that the girl will wear in her coffin. A boy who toys with grapes “like a kitten,” though his actions and father are far from innocent. The undeniable presence of families, however incomplete. While women make brief appearances throughout the story, there lacks a maternal element. Ultimately, we witness the struggles, codependency, and eventual severance of ties between fathers and their lone sons. Especially striking is the presence of a mathematics museum in a town that seems to forsake intellectuality. We have a father who manages a bar, who can’t comprehend the meaning of integers, and a son who seeks comfort in numbers and their certainty. While Handsome, Oklahoma appears dry, rusted, and cyclically unambitious, horrific crimes transpire. The darkness of such deeds is inarguable, though the consequences that follow are so numerous that the thought of what only could happen drives a man to madness.

Ordinary Handsome is more than an account of poverty, alcoholism, and damage rooted in human imperfection. It is a psychological thriller, a coming-of-age story, a dramatic read that one could adapt to an accessible play or film. Read it in the rain, twilight, or heat. Read it several times if the story perplexes you. Steven Baird has crafted more than a lush narrative, but moreover, a warning of the harm we all could inflict under desperation’s duress.

Ordinary Handsome is available on Amazon, via Kindle.

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.

The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor – A Book Review

“You know me, man. I love my wife…”

I’ve heard this enough from many a man. Not to say I doubt each expression of this sentiment. Some men do undoubtedly love their wives. No marriage is protected by a void of conflict, not every pregnancy is received with glee, and not every marriage that necessarily ends dissolves in the friendly quiet. For Simon and Kerri Pastor, this especially holds true.

Simon is that goodnatured fellow we remember at college parties who never touched a drop and blushed at proposals to be his wingman. At the outset, we groaned. Ridiculed him. Speculated on his sanity. But on a serious note, we respected his virtues, admitting we could never be as principled. But is he really?

The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor is a story we’ve all encountered, with varying attitudes, perspectives, and capacities to relate. I am twenty-four years old, have only had two serious boyfriends, and I’m not quite eager to get married. I don’t know what that’s like, and frankly, I’ve enclosed myself while friends plan families, budget with duty, and purchase modest lots in a growing Suburbia. Truthfully, I was somewhat turned off to the plot of Simon Pastor, but thought of books I enjoyed that heavily featured couples in conflict. Anna Karenina, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Great Gatsby, and others. Reading another work with drama in relationships couldn’t be as nauseating as it is everyday. In this case, it scraped at my heart.

Pete Deakon, blogger of The Captain’s Log, has a writing style I’ve yet to get accustomed to. He writes well, though at times robotically. The first several chapters were a bit difficult to get through. I found the sentences too attentive to grammar and structure, and hoped to gather a stronger sense of the story’s tone. Accounts of Simon’s college days, the early enchantment of Kerri, and the birth of baby Emily struck me as stoic. But when I got to page 53, interest was sparked, and emotions swelled. I was caught in the eye of a livid typhoon, but didn’t mind so much. It was thrilling.

Now, page 53 contains a quote that I’m sure reminds a handful of people about a certain someone. Your friend, ex-boyfriend, boss, father. A figure of trust and piety who engages in the deplorable. Deakon writes,

“Simon liked putting on airs that he was a good husband. As any secure person knows, however, a braggart is that way because of insecurity and doubt. The truth was that Simon wanted to stay [at work] more than anyone. But he knew that in staying the beans would be spilled. He couldn’t hardly have a conversation with a friend without complaining about his marriage. Kerri this, Kerri that. Among close friends, a little venting now and again was acceptable, he thought. But the happy hour scene would prove fatal to his carefully crafted image of being happily married, so he raced home.”

The land mines planted by Simon and Kerri are only iconic of the toxins experts say kill fifty percent of American marriages. Infidelity, financial issues, sexual dysfunction, and discord in parenting are nothing new, or shocking. But Deakon demonstrates that it’s not about what you say, but how you say it. Skilled in written dialogue, the author lays out the rest of the story in a way that not only lets us know Simon and adopt him as our own, but look closer at the processes behind a relationship’s end.

It is indisputably evident that Simon is unfulfilled in his marriage. But in compliance with social norms, the perceptions of those he performs for, and the teachings of Jesus from a childhood that wasn’t so clean of hypocritical modeling (Simon’s father ran off to have babies with another woman. Simon cheated on a pregnant Kerri with a stripper), Simon is determined to stay. But as we may have seen before, in someone we know or know of, the persistent often unravel, descending into monstrosities they never wanted to be. And the reality is that most of us won’t intervene. We’ll watch, gape, give the guy advice that’s either ambivalently meaningless or something simplistic. “That’s not right,” is all Simon’s friend can say as he vents about Kerri’s tactics in passive aggression.

Counseling, compromises, and a collaborative end. The couple takes these measures to miserably fail. Indeed, it was as if Simon was planning to fail. I can see someone commenting on the relative one-sidedness of the story, that it’s told from a man’s perspective, brash, unfeeling, a beer mug brimming with misogyny. I admit, I was angered, unsympathetic to Simon’s difficulties as he talked about the things women do to disrespect men, although they may not be aware of this. Well, thanks, Simon. It’s helpful to know that in my failed relationships, I could not have known any better. But this is where I felt challenged as a reader. This is a story about an imperfect man, with a pristine facade that has trailed him since youth. Aren’t we all imperfect? I was harsh on Simon at times, and though we never see him lay a hand on Kerri, I definitely wanted to slap him something fierce.

But I remember the concept of trauma. How it strikes without warning, how the aftereffects vary, but damn nonetheless. It isn’t something you plan for, and personally, I cannot say you recover with grace. There’s a concoction of shock, disappointment, rage, vengeance. And of course, a bitterness that scalds most with the patience to put up with you for more than an hour. In The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor, we’re reminded of this, the ugliness of trauma, its ability to trap and ensnare resolutely. In trauma, Simon trips, falters, and stagnates to a degree that makes for intriguing study, but sad witnessing. Ultimately, you feel bad, whether mournful, insulted, dejected, and more. Deakon makes you feel. Prompts a response that lingers. In doing this with Simon Pastor, he has penned a success.