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Alien Translation Exercise

Alien Exercise Matt BriggsThis is an exercise that poet David Romtvedt gave to my class at the Centrum high school writing workshop in 1989. The result of that exercise became my first published story, “Does I Owning?” in a zine in 1992. The story appears in my collection Misplaced Alice. I’ve used this exercise from time to time over the years. I used it this last friday at the Puget Sound Community School. I’ll include the my result from the exercise below, and then the exercise I’ll call “Alien Translation Exercise.”

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What the Merry-Go-Round Goes Round (2)

I just posted a draft of Chapter 2, “Morningfloaters” from my attempt at a Young Adult novel called, What the Merry-Go-Round Goes Round at Fictionaut.com. You can read and or leave feedback if you are so inclined. Thanks.

 

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What the Merry-Go-Round Goes Round (1)

I just posted a draft of Chapter 1, “Girl in the Thicket” from my attempt at a Young Adult novel called, What the Merry-Go-Round Goes Round at Fictionaut.com. You can read and or leave feedback if you are so inclined. Thanks.

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My Name’s Roy at Necessary Fiction

Part one of the eleven stories in The Remains of River Names, a novel in linked stories. The book will appear this month on Necessary Fiction.

Before I shake my older brother Milton awake, I eat all the food—a hard dinner roll and a teaspoon of peanut butter scraped from the bottom of the Adams jar. I set the empty jar quietly in the trash so I won’t wake Milton. He grunts in his sleep and I stop my loud chewing. If he knows that I’m eating the last of the food, he’ll seriously beat my butt.
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Reading tonight from Birkensnake II in South Lake Union

Birkensnake abroad.

Birkensnake abroad.

I’m reading tonight with contributors to Birkensnake II. The reading is in Seattle at the Inner Chapters Bookstore in South Lake Union at 7:30 free of charge to the reading public, and presumably free to everyone else. The magazine is curiously to me heavy on the speculative side of speculative fiction. I’m kind of new to this genre and don’t’ really understand what it is, although it is clumped in with Science Fiction and Fantasy. But then writers as different as David Ohle (Motorman) or Alasdair Gray can be clumped into this genre.

I’m reading with Tina Connolly, Evelyn Hampton, and Caren Gussoff:

Tina Connolly wrote this as the first two sentences in Birkensnake I, the first issue: “This is the first stereoscope in the park. Seventy-two percent of unattended humans stop to view pictures in this stereoscope first.” You can read her entire story here.

magazine book blocks

text blocks printed via copy machine and finagling, time honored traditions of printers everywhere

Evelyn Hampton wrote this sentence among a collection she recently published, Not That Far: “It is good for the theater when you do not know you are in the theater. Same goes for the city. It is good for the city when you believe you are in a theater having a dream.” This seems sensible to me, and good advice. You can purchase your own copy of her book and read all of more of her sentences here.

Caren Gussoff wrote crazy, odd lit fiction in the time before Kelly Link was writing crazy, odd lit fiction. Maybe Kelly Link was already writing this stuff then, but I didn’t know it. But in Seattle in the mid-1990s there was sometimes Rebecca Brown, always Stacey Levine, and Caren Gussoff writing these types of stories. They said one thing and meant another thing and I could never figure, and I still can’t, figure out how these things were written. Caren Gussoff is reading tonight. She has a story a story about garbage collectors in the future when they are not allowed to the touch the trash. You can read her story here.
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Improved Sight Lines

Back to school.

Back to school.

When the sun rose on those mornings, I couldn’t see it. I knew it rose in the east, and I know the silhouettes of the mountains were in the east. I shuffled into line and could make out the other figures in the line of the bus on those mornings. We couldn’t see the stars and in that dim, ultraviolet light I still had coffee on my teeth and wish I’d brought it with me. The ground was the color of coffee with cream. Stray slips of paper flitted across the concrete. The streetlights hung orange in the light and around them the vibrating early morning light made me feel empty and kind of sad just to be in it. Even the jay, caught perfectly between two trees on the power line didn’t cheer me. Normally, I slept at this time of the day but those days were gone now or least until better times returned. Everyone lacked confidence in everything else. People used to smile when I was at the bus stop before. Maybe it was because it was summer. Now they didn’t look at one another. I didn’t sleep as I used to on the bus either. Instead, I gazed out the window at the shadows, the long asphalt roads empty of cars; there were too many people on the bus and stories had gone around about people falling asleep and waking to find their electronics had been lifted. I still had a handful of gadgets from the good times – my cell phone, an ebook reader, a functioning ipod. A lot of people could afford these things still or made ways to afford them, but a lot of us couldn’t either. It was if a film had been pulled over the world, and we could barely see through it. By the time I got off the bus, the sun had come up and filtered through the scrim of clouds, casting sharp shadows. The blue gravel was now white and black in the shadows each piece of rock cast off. I stopped under the cedar tree. I was always about fifteen minutes late. No one gave me flack about it though because being late was how everyone was anymore. If I were fired, I would find another job like this – they had to hire native born for this work. My manager was from Brazil. He wore a t-shirt and jeans. We wore uniforms so that they could easily see us coming down the hallways.

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Ghost Mall

Where is the Black River?

Where is the Black River?

I took the bus into the city on Saturdays in the autumn of my sophomore year in high school. I didn’t want to be home when the kids I played Dungeons and Dragons came around to ask if I could play. The thing about dungeon master was that I had to pay careful attention for hours a time and I ended up the basement where I paid careful attention. I paid attention until the dice smelled blue and the soda tasted furry. In the bus, no one talked to me. I listened to the velvet murmur like a glove on my face. I dozed and looked Lake Washington out of Interstate 405s window. The water was flat like a record playing the same note over and over again, a droning groove. The bus provided a kind of drum line as it wobbled on the pavement pitted from weekday traffic. This is how my mother came home from Everett where they moved her recently, and now she was gone all of the time, and I spent most of my time in the basement of neighborhood boys tending to the fantasy life.

At the University District, I got off the bus and walked into the University Bookstore that smelled like coffee. I checked their fantasy section for any new books. It was coming up to the end the summer and their kids section was festooned with autumn leaves and spiders, and sounded like a boiled egg taken from the fridge felt in our hand after you’ve peeled the skin off. The whiteness of the walls was so white that you thought you could see through the paint to the cinderblock underneath. I checked out the hardbound copy of the Hobbit. I didn’t own the book. I had read the hobbit in sixth grade after reading the Lord of the Rings, and I liked The Hobbit more than the obsessive, trudge of Lord of the Rings. I liked the maps better and the overall adventure. It seemed contained in a way and liked the grey overtones that were in the other books.

I wish I could walk around without shoes on like a Hobbit. I hate shoes. I cut my foot one summer when I wouldn’t wear any shoes. I cut my foot wandering in the fountain in the Renton Mall. The mall is not there, and I think it is probably not a large loss. I am the only one I know who laments the disappearance of that mall.

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Forecast: Chapter 13 (Shya Scanlon)

Forecast (Shy Scanlon)

Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast.

Chapter 13

Joan’s car sped along the interstate while Helen napped.  Troubled, lower case z’s.  She tossed and turned, waking Rocket by uttering abrupt, garbled, dream-state complaints, and would have woken herself had her stomach not been so verbal as well, but the internal noise coalesced with the external, and together they created an auditory equilibrium insulating her from potential sleep disruption.  This insulation was not shared, however.  The dog up front was disturbed, mistaking the gut-rumbles for early signs of an earthquake and growing skittish, whining.  Rocket, understanding the source, empathized, but was nonetheless disgruntled and showed it, issuing short snarls loud enough to cause the driver, unfamiliar with Rocket’s voice, to grow nervous, giving his own mutt sideways glances – a delegation of responsibility should there be an outburst.

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The Film I Saw

A blockbuster.

A blockbuster.

Early in the film, just as the plot begins to set, the young man back from the war leans in to kiss his brother’s wife. The young man back from the war is very young. He has a long beard with split ends, but his skin is ruddy and his lips are red and his teeth are thick and strong. His brother and wife are even younger and in the parlance of Hollywood, you wonder how young they can be? Are they still teenagers. We don’t know the actors in this film. The young man kisses his brother’s wife while his brother is having a tantrum in the forest. The car broke down and rather than fix it and get back to civilization they continue into the forest as planned. The clean-shaven younger brother is beset by responsibility and yells at his wife and yells at his brother. “You don’t care about the what is real out here. We have a broken car and I have to get back to the grill in a week.” They laugh at him. A week! Who knows what will be in a weeks a time. He stamps into the forest. As they watch him go they are still laughing and the laughter is in the dark trees, in the moss. The older brother kisses the wife and she draws back and shakes her head. “Too late, my friend. You snooze you lose.” She wears a white dress and hiking boots, and so the white fabric is nearly glowing in the dark shadows of the spruce and maple trees. She stands in the grey leafy darkness, a glowing shape, and then walks rapidly after her husband who is still hollering in the distance. It is difficult to hear what he is saying – but the sound is harsh. For some time a xylophone has been playing a single note and the note grows a bit louder and then we watch them in three minutes of quick cuts cross flowing rivers of water silver and black, pass through dark green, black, and grey stands of trees, sit on a blanket in a crowded thicket of brilliant white birch trees with black scabs and long spirals of peeling bark and then at long last they arrive at a cabin on top of a mountain overlooking a wild valley with a massive mountain and white, glittering glaciers. Wild flowers crowd the meadow in front of the cabin, tiny fluttering red moths dance in the sunlight. “Maybe we never need to go back,” the young man says. In the bright light the three of them stand together regarding each other. That night the young man has noisy sex with his wife. The older, bearded brother goes outside to smoke a cigarette and listens to them still, and the sound of the river.

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Board Game of Obsession for My Woman

Checkers, chess, Battleship, and love.

Checkers, chess, Battleship, and love.

I am a timid person I suppose in a way that makes it difficult to feel passion for me. There isn’t a great deal of passion that anyone feels about me, and I suppose this is okay. I am suitable for a life without a great deal of passion one-way or the other. I am a technical writer. Technical writers are (to generalize) completely dispassionate. Writers I believe are almost all angry people, but anger is hardly passion, at least in the way you would think about it. I don’t mean to imply that writers are the type who would load an AK47 and visit the local mall, but I suspect most of the people who do such things aspire to be writers one day. The only thing that defines me is my passion for my woman. I love her more than anyone has loved another person in the history of the world. It sounds grand and silly to say this — because how does a person measure something like “love”? There isn’t really any sensible way to calibrate love, really, although I’ve measured my love for my woman and it is off the charts. Love can be measured by the resting heart rate and how quickly it picks up if you think that your woman is in danger. Love can be measured by creating a baseline of how much weight you can lift while thinking of something that you don’t really feel one way the other about — a night’s sleep, a glass of water, an apple, and then thinking about your woman and lifting weight. The difference was fifteen pounds. I could lift fifteen ponds MORE weight when thinking about my woman then before, and this was a three percent increase. My heart rate increased from 60 beats a minute to 98 beats a minute while thinking about my woman. I cannot draw her because my hand shakes so much. I am sure you think that whomever you love or whomever you think you love or have loved if you are not currently “in” love with someone that the emotion that you felt was probably the same emotion that I feel. You would be sadly wrong. I like things, too. I like a good hamburger and salty fries and a cool drink of soda. I like to draw the soda out of the cup through the straw and stare at the ceiling until the fluid snaps and gurgles in the straw and all I have in the paper cup is ice and a film of soda bits. My stomach feels satisfied with that motion. I am no longer hungry at that point. I am no longer thirsty at that point. And for you that is probably love. Your gut telling you that you have what you need and you have no more needs. You might wrap it around some kind emotional term, such as love, but when I am talking about love, I am talking about falling asleep at night dreaming about what I can do to give her a moment of pleasure. I thought about making her a board game, for instance, of our life together. It I would get the board printed at the Professional Copy and Print and the pieces molded from plastic from someone who knows how to do that kind of work. I would even but a bar code on it, so she wouldn’t get freaked out by my having made it. I would say, Look what I found, and then only later that I had made this board game for her so she could understand my obsession, how deeply I loved her. I’m sure it would be a very special thing for her.

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