STANDARD in classic fiction of the past, especially from short story writers, was a sense of style or adventure– or both. Jack London and O. Henry emphasized adventure— albeit very different types of adventure: wilderness and oceans on the one hand, stray unpredictable adventures which could assault a person in cities like New York on the other. Writers Edith Wharton, Henry James, and F. Scott Fitzgerald placed more emphasis on the kinds of styles exhibited by their characters, and from the sophisticated settings in which they moved. This was back when the short story was the popular American art form.
Today we present a story which captures that much-needed sense of mystery, adventure, and style, “The Names Divine” by C. A. Shoultz. Our first feature of 2021, with more to follow.
In due course they arrived atop the stairs. Simon walked beyond the masked man and beheld a table covered in black velvet. A sign above it, written in gold script, said: “Choose your mask. Choose your name.” Sure enough, upon the table were a small number of masks just like his escort was wearing. They were widely and irregularly spaced apart, a sign that many others had come here before him and done what he was about to do.
(Art: Above: “At the Masked Ball” by Jean-Louis Forain. Below: A section of a poster for a movie by Gaumont Films.)
AN EXAMPLE OF SHORT STORY ARTISTRY
Our new fiction feature is about a church in the woods. A simple story which shows what can be done with the short story by keeping it simple. What matters most with this particular writing genre– the short story– is not how many well-wrought sentences and long paragraphs you can string together as an example of talent– but the form of a particular story. Its construction. Design. Momentum. Flow.
NOT MUCH MORE can be said about this particular tale, “The Narrow Path,” by Zach Smith, without giving away the key to its plot. Suffice it to say it’s in the tradition of classic short stories from when the short story was THE popular American art form. When the form of the story was all. When story endings were the point of the works, as exhibited by masters of the art such as O. Henry, Jack London, or Frank Stockton.
There’s a clue somewhere within the last part of the previous paragraph– about the story’s plot– if you can find it!
(Note: It’s also a Christmas story.)
The church is two stories, taller than it is wide, without a second floor. A taut wire, an inch in diameter stretches from wall to wall, ten feet above the pews, with a second shorter wire intersecting it above the altar.
The door opens for Sunday service, and the congregation files in. The church is open to everyone, but few people come, less and less every year.
(Art: “Deer in Forest” by Franz Marc; “Indian Church” by Emily Carr.)
FINDING A BETTER MODEL
WHICH elements will be required to create “hit” short stories that can grab the attention of large swaths of the public?
Some of them are present in our latest short story by Nick Gallup, “Just Another Silly Love Song.” Such as: two dynamic lead characters with strikingly different personalities; tangible details used to emphasize those personalities (a red Corvette; a black cocktail dress); a well-structured and unified plot with built-in conflict, nothing extraneous, which maintains focus throughout– and much else.
Add to these elements a sense of depth: the two lead characters displaying, well, character– the ability to move beyond themselves in helping others– and you have for the reader a perfect mix. Oh, did I also mention the element of love? That ultimate ingredient in crafting compelling art?
But the best way to know what we’re talking about is to read the story.
Roxy looked a mess. She took note of my looking and correctly interpreted my conclusions. “Sorry I don’t look party-perfect, Ty,” she said sarcastically, with heavy emphasis on Ty, as if it were an affectation. “An unexpected problem came up. I had to don a cap and gown and wash all my make-up off to avoid infection.” She held up slender hands. “Want to know where these have been for the past two hours?”
(Art: “Return of a Night Bombing Flight of Voisin Aircraft” by Francois Flemeng.)
HAVE WE ALL LOST OUR MINDS?
ELECTRONIC MEDIA has graced us with bombardments of information coming at us from all directions, all sides, stimulating our curiosity at the same time making us believe we’re missing something if we don’t remain plugged in– and we’re all plugged in. The digital world, brilliantly described in Oliver Bennett‘s new short fiction piece, “On the Origin of An Event,” our newest feature. A descent into– ? You know the analogy.
—he would wake up early, quickly dip into the news as he waited for the kettle to boil, then try to stay up to date on everything throughout the day, immersing himself in international relations on the toilet, taking a deep dive into the history of every major world power on the tube to work, and even the smaller countries in a brief lull between meetings, and he would wade through an article on finance while waiting for the office microwave to ping– credit swaps, interest rates, collateral debt obligations, inflation, deflation, stagflation…
We haven’t run many features this year, but they’ve all been terrific.
Of course, the pandemic with its lockdowns and Zoom sessions has only accelerated the retreat from the actual.
IS there escape from the madness? A question we’ve begun exploring as we consider the future of this project and try to plot out what 2021 for us, and for everybody, will look like.
Enjoy the story!
(Art: “The Unfortunate Land of Tyrol” by Franz Marc; “Stormtroopers” by Otto Dix.)
WHO LOVES A BALLOON?
“Everybody Loves a Balloon” is the title of our newest feature story by Mather Schneider, about a balloon ride. Who doesn’t want to go on a balloon ride? What could possibly go wrong?
The basket was six feet wide by six feet long by four feet deep. The four of them loaded in. It was as intimate as an elevator. The fire from the burner hissed upwards.
ALSO check out the new review– “Is the Best Good Enough” — up at our NEWS blog, of a new novel by award-winning author Darin Strauss. In this instance, more than a simple book review.
(Art: “Large Balloons” and “Balloon Painting” by Eugene Godard.)
FEATURING A ZEENITH WRITER
Today we break with a hammer one of our set-in-stone rules. (In the past we preferred not to reprint previous published work. In this case it’s for a good cause– to promote our new literary print zeen: ZEENITH.)
ONE of our featured writers in ZEENITH is Chrissi Sepe— who gave us for it an exotic excerpt from her upcoming novel, Taming Jaguars. (The mentioned jaguars are exotic creatures indeed.) To showcase Chrissi’s talent, we now present at this our online site centerpiece of our project an exotic Sepe short story, “We Love to Watch Zee Cockroaches,” which illustrates the same sharp powers of observation and wry humor exhibited in the excerpt.
(WHILE the story has not appeared online, it was included in an excellent collection of poetry and fiction, Howls from the Underground, produced by Tony and Nicole Nesca, the multi-talented duo at Screamin’ Skull Press. A collection we reviewed here.)
AS A BONUS, Sepe’s story is illustrated by vispo arts innovator Laura Kerr— who incidentally was herself featured in the Screamin’ Skull collection. An array of talented connections.
(c/o Laura Kerr.)
THE BOTTOM LINE is we welcome informal collaborations if they involve the promotion of ART, literary, visual, and otherwise, which is what we’re about. Or that we’ll do what it takes to promote THIS project, and to announce the talented writers in ZEENITH! (Who we’ll have more to say about in days to come.)
Read the story!
He and Karina sat together on their black leather couch across from the black leather couch Denny and I sat on. “We bore so easily,” Tomas continued. “New York City is sometimes boring. That’s why we just booked a flight. We’ll be in Paris by this time tomorrow.”
Then see more photos of ZEENITH at our POP SHOP!
AS our last feature in April we present writing from rising young literary star Aaron H. Aceves which opens with a poem in the narrator’s head– then tells the story behind the poem. The story involves a woman, but is also about the setting. A club, in downtown Los Angeles, and the people occupying it– and the feeling evoked, within the narrator and inside us.
A story? A poem? A painting? Read “The Look” and judge for yourself.
I watched her watching them for a while. I could have watched her all night long.
Long, shiny hair. Flawless skin. Winged eyeliner. A boyfriend.
I have a thing for unavailable women.
(Art: “L’Equipe de Cardiff” by Robert Delaunay; “The Soldier Drinks” by Marc Chagall.)
ON CORONAS AND CONTAGIOUS MUSIC
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s an unusual St. Paddy’s Day because of the fear the hysteria the caution protection prevention over a bug, so the parades are fewer, the parties calmer, celebration muted. This year. Unless there’s a final wild-and-masque’d Edgar Poe blowout someplace.
APPROPRIATE then that we have as our new feature a short story, “Townies” by Philip Charter, about six friends traveling to Majorca to party. And party they do.
But what awaits them?
A contagion, yes, but a contagion of a different sort. Not a virus, but having something to do with music and sex.
READ IT! drink it inhale it as you quarantine yourself against the onslaughts of panic and madness.
Within one minute of Gavin fading in the music, the dance floor was covered. It was as if the beat was ripping girls out of their seats, me included. The boys of course followed.
(Painting: “Party” by Emil Nolde.)
A MARDI GRAS STORY
Great 19th century novelists such as Victor Hugo, Charlotte Bronte, and Alexandre Dumas would often put a big scene of a carnival parade into their books. The feeling of uninhibited revelry, chaos, even madness was a way of heightening emotion and consolidating plot threads– as if the true hidden nature of their characters came out– came alive– amid the colors, music, drinking and shouting.
WE HAVE today in time for Mardi Gras 2020 a short story centered around carnival time in New Orleans, and it’s a good one: “Cracks” by Wilson Koewing. The story of course is about more than a parade. It’s about a relationship– more, it’s about life, about love, about being human and filled with the kind of chaotic mad emotions we flawed creatures are prone to. Put on your Mardi Gras mask and plunge in.
As we close in on St. Charles, the din of the crowd materializes. Carnival food smells ride on the breeze. You sense the impending madness. It rushes slowly, not towards you. You enter. It surrounds you. And you’re inside. There is a wall, and when it envelops you, there is no escape.
(ART: “The Peacock” by Natalia Goncharova.)
“Q & A” by Alan Swyer, our new feature, is an intriguing short story– it appears to be about one thing but is actually about something else, which adds a rounded quality to the work. A sense of dimension or depth.
Ostensibly the story is about a filmmaker agreeing to answer questions in a hostile environment. What happens when he steps on the stage to face that audience?
We hope you enjoy it.
Nor had a lengthy call with the festival’s program director put Donner’s mind at ease. “I like work that’s edgy and biting,” Todd Gallagher explained, which for Donner confirmed that his film was chosen with the hope that it would provoke. That belief was heightened when Gallagher added, “There’s nothing I love as much as a violent collision of cultures.”
(While you’re at it, please check out our two most recent blog posts: “Love Story Examined: A Writing Template” and “Miserable Love Stories by Alex Bernstein.”)
(Art: “Odysseus in the Land of the Dead” by N.C. Wyeth.)