New Fiction & Video Interview at Connotation Press

Prior to the Twisted Reading in Santa Fe in January, Meg Tuite suggested that while I was there we should do a video interview. My first response to this was there was no way in hell I would do such a thing. I hate even getting my photo taken. But! I recalled that saying and I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt? Who said, every day do one thing that scares you. I figured a video interview would cover me for a year. My writer friend, Sally Reno and I arrived in Santa Fe that Friday afternoon with just enough time to check into our hotel room, very quickly freshen up, and meet Meg and the others at La Fonda. After hugs all around and having a huge glass of wine placed in my hand, I was whisked upstairs to Robert Vaughan & Len Kuntz’s suite (because it was swanky and had nice, soft lighting), to tape the interview. Meg’s lovely husband, Paulo, worked the camera. I tell you, I could not have felt more instantly and completely at ease talking to Meg. She’s SO wonderful and I had so much fun talking to her. You really have to meet this woman to appreciate how amazingly warm and generous she is. I could go on and on! Anyway, below is the link to our conversation as well as an excerpt from my work in progress, “Love Train.” So many thanks to Meg & Paulo & Connotation Press! Hope you enjoy!
Interview & Excerpt

A Pirate or a Cowboy

old-dog-300x205-2umtajhw4zljqtd6bls362I find him sleeping in front of a fan, his shirt unbuttoned, a highball glass of Alka-Seltzer in his hand. The fan’s blowing the little hairs on his chest over the scar that runs like a ladder from the button of his Bermuda shorts to his breastbone. The TV’s on, playing Silverado, a movie he watches continuously. Ike, his dog, struggles to his feet and comes and licks my hand.

“Dad,” I say.

He snorts awake, drops the glass on the carpet. The Alka-Seltzer fizzes anew. He sees the six-pack in my hand, the bag from The Wishbone in the other, says, “Oh hell yes.”

We sit on the garden swing out back, drinking our beers and eating our tenderloins. His cheeks are greasy. I hand him a napkin. He’s got a tattoo of a lightning bolt on his bicep and a gold tooth that shows when he smiles. He’d make a great pirate I think, even now, even as an old guy with a bad heart. A pirate or a cowboy.

We bend and straighten our legs, rocking the swing slow, watching a squirrel eat the ear of corn my dad’s nailed to the tree. For some reason I imagine my dad’s heart nailed there too. Given a supply of oxygen the human heart can run on its own source of electricity and will continue to beat outside the body. But not, I suppose, with a nail driven through it.heart in hand

“Kind of gruesome,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Doesn’t matter. Everything’s gruesome. Even the word gruesome.”

We sip our beers. I give the rest of my sandwich to Ike and crumple up the wrappers and stuff them into the Wishbone bag. Having cleaned the cob of kernels, the squirrel skitters up into the tree, leaping, leaping, leaping from branch to branch.

“Do you remember when you used to play the oboe?” Dad says.

“Of course I do.” I have never played the oboe. I’m not even exactly sure what an oboe is.

He’s fallen asleep again. His skin looks gray in the dusky light. I tap his leg and he opens his eyes.

“Dad I gotta go.”

Ike shuffles ahead of us. It takes a long time to get from the swing to the door. We hear the surging music from Silverado playing inside the house. It sounds like victory, like triumph.

*Originally published in January, 2013 in Connotation Press.

Neal Figgens

drosophila IIA tall, skinny boy enters the pediatrician’s office wearing a Poison t-shirt, jeans, and a fisherman’s cap, pulled low over his eyes. He drops into a seat and the back of it bangs against the wall, startling a little girl.

She says, “You should probably sit over there,” pointing to the portion of the waiting room reserved for the unwell. There’s a picture on the wall there of a droopy eyed child with a thermometer in his mouth.

The boy says, “hmm” and begins rifling through a copy of “Modern Parent”. He’s thinking about a boy named Phil. Over and over in his mind the boy is whispering Phil. Phil. Phil.

The girl walks over and stands in front of him. She’s rubbing a satin pillow against her cheek. Her left eye is covered with a yellow patch with a smiley face on it. The boy hears a humming sound and doesn’t realize at first it’s coming from her.

He closes the magazine. “What I have isn’t catching. Besides, I’m just picking up my mom.”

“Very well,” the girl says and returns to her seat. Her mother, sitting next to her, has not looked up from her book.

The girl sits swinging her legs for a bit, then jumps up and looks out the window. “Is that your truck?” It’s an old 4 by 4, green, with “Midnight Dream Lover” stenciled on the side and an accordianed right fender.

“That would be my truck, yes. That’s very distracting by the way,” he says, pointing to his eye.

The girl touches her patch. “It’s meant to be.”

The receptionist hangs up the phone. “Neal, your mom has a couple more patients. I let her know you were here.”

The girl, whose eye is drawn to the front desk, shifts her gaze back and forth from a poster on the wall behind the receptionist and the boy.

“That’s you,” she says.

Finally the girl’s mother looks up from her book, to the poster, to him. He rubs the frayed edges of his fisherman’s cap between his thumb and forefinger. The mother regards his toenails, poking out of his sandals. They are magenta colored and in need of trimming.

The poster shows a senior picture of the boy. He’s sitting under a tree holding a guitar, managing to look both earnest and irritated. The particular name of his disease is written in block letters, as is his name: NEAL FIGGENS. The fundraiser was the receptionist’s idea. She made the poster with markers and glue and glitter pens.

The boy says, “The deal is you can purchase a chocolate bar or you can purchase a bracelet that says ‘hope’ on it. Most people get the chocolate but it tastes like tofu.”

The girl jumps off her seat again. “Do you get all the money?” Her other eye, the one without a patch, darts around as if seeking its mate.

“The money goes toward my medical bills,” the boy says. He watches the mother’s eyes flick away from her book for a moment, to somewhere over her kneecap.

“How does it feel?” the girl asks.

“Beth.”

Upon hearing her mother’s voice the girl starts humming again.

drosophilaIn Biotech the teacher teamed him with Phil for the drosophila project. Three times a week they stand side by side in the lab, breeding fruit flies in jars. Phil’s lower lip is much fuller than his upper lip. The boy would like to bite it. He closes his eyes and feels himself sinking through the floor. As if to the bottom of a snowy ocean. It’s happened before and it’s not terrible but he never gets used to it. Alarmed, he opens his eyes again. Phil!

“This helps,” the girl says. She hands him her pillow. The boy presses it to his cheek.

“It smells good. It smells like lavender if lavender were very lonely.”

His mother is a phlebotomist. She works drawing blood all day long. It is just the two of them. Soon she’ll emerge with her lab coat slung over one arm and she’ll touch his cheeks with small, careful hands and he’ll ask her about the veins. If it’s been a good day she’ll smile and say the veins were great, as fat as earthworms.

“Do you fish?” the girl says.

“What?”

A woman walks in with a baby on her hip. She swings her hip back and forth as she signs in and the baby swings with her, its eyes growing wide. The baby looks substantive and wise like a future emperor. Neal Figgens thinks he would like to hold this baby for maybe a minute. He watches the baby suck on its pacifier. The motion reminds him of a small, beating heart.

*This story was originally published in January in Connotation Press. Many thanks to Meg Tuite.

Interview + Two New Flashes @Connotation Press

Many thanks to the lovely Meg Tuite for interviewing me and featuring two of my flashes at Connotation Press.

“I just read “Wild Life,” again and am mesmerized by the movement of your characters, dialogue, stories. They have their own pulse. I find something buried deeper with each reading. I’ve been sharing “Petunias” with my flash fiction classes. You have many admirers in Santa Fe as well as everywhere else on the map. I’m a huge fan. I am looking forward to your new collection coming out through The Lit Pub.

Your two exceptional stories, “Neil Figgens,” and “A Pirate or a Cowboy,” are both intimate moments in very different ways between two characters.

“Neil Figgens” had a touch of Flannery O’Connor in it. I’m remembering her story, “Revelation,” set in a doctor’s office. But more than just the setting, it’s the intriguing exchange between the two main characters, Neil and Beth. He’s the older of the two, but she is direct and keeps at him even when he goes inside himself from time to time.”

Read the rest of the interview and the stories here

Some good things to start 2012….

There’s a terrific interview with Molly Gaudry at Used Furniture Review. She says, among other smart, insightful things, “I think there’s only one single thing that can help get a person ahead — genuine sincerity. All one has to do is truly love what this little pocket of the publishing world has to offer, and express that love by taking advantage of all available possibilities. And the best thing about it is anyone, absolutely anyone, can do so at any time. That is the strength of the “indie lit” scene.”

Sara Lippmann has a great story you should read at Connotation Press called Body Scan.

This essay by Pico Iyer at the New York Times Sunday Review: The Joy of Quiet. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to pursue more quiet in my life. To shut down and go inward, more. So, amen, to everything in this article.

Just learned that the Stripped anthology (edited by Nicole Monaghan) is out and it includes a story of mine. The anthology has an interesting premise: “Stripped is a collection with a twist. Yes, the fiction contained herein includes works from some of the best-known names in flash fiction as well as the work of emerging writers, but the bylines have been removed so you can’t tell who wrote what. What’s more, the stories hinge largely on gender roles – but with the authors’ identities stripped from their stories, editor Nicole Monaghan has created a bit of a guessing game. Did a woman, for example, write that piece about ambivalence toward motherhood? Or was it a man? More to the point, does it really matter? Or is there something bigger going on when men and women stretch their minds and imagine what it might be like to be the other?” There are numerous wonderful writers included. The book can be ordered from Amazon

Today I received my first acceptance for the year, a reprint for an anthology: Midwest Gothic Stories, edited by Jodee Stanley and Brian Kornell. There will be stories in there from Don Chaon, Mike Czyzniejewski and Cathy Day (who will also be doing a panel, along with the anthology editors, on Midwest Gothic Fiction at the upcoming AWP). The best description I’ve seen of what “Midwest Gothic” is can found on their blog here: What is Midwest Gothic?

Another resolution for this year is to pursue health. Well, I feel as though I’m always pursuing health in some form or another, but 2011 sucked health-wise and I felt as if I needed to do something a little drastic. So I’ve embarked on a 21 day “vegan cleanse” which involves: no coffee, no alcohol, no sugar, no wheat products, no (of course) animal products, no meat, no dairy. Ha, what’s left? Actually there’s a lot left. So I’m starting every day with green tea instead of coffee, which may turn out to be the hardest change of all. We’ll see how this goes. Right now, I have a headache.