My story, “Skull of a Sheep,” originally published by The New Orleans Review, is included in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International. I’m listed under “Ireland,” I believe. Hard to believe a piece of my work is in one of the Norton Anthologies. I’ve still got my old ones from my time at UCD, back in the eighties. Available for pre-order: HERE.
e-mail. I don’t have any of that shit.” Sam Shepard
Inspired by this interview in today’s Guardian newspaper to re-read some Shepard. Dipping in to Cruising Paradise, returning to stories of America and Americans. Maybe time I left writing of Ireland alone for a bit.
He wanted opulent solitude. His dark vision burned on kingdoms under the sea, on windy castle crags, and on the deep elf kingdoms at the earth’s core.
Blazing sunset as in the opposite direction the moon perched attentively in the sky. These are the dog days of summer, the tourists departed to the four corners, the mornings almost cool, a thick dew falling rain-like. To think of creativity, of book reviews to write, of novels to polish to a fine gloss, all too much. There are emails to send, student plans to print out and accommodate, coffee beans to grind to fine powder, and sore necks to salve. Bills from dentists and student loan institutions rattle sabers on my desk. A crooked tree branch sits beside a fallen seed pod. Sea shells and lead statues of India’s serene deity knock elbows with isolated lighthouses and grinning leprechaun heads. The child rages against the dying of the light, napless in the afternoon mugginess. Dated newspapers and punched drink cards are spread confetti-like on the glass top. My desk reflects my mind—a bric-a-brac place of restlessness. Wolfe is on my mind.
Dusk was beginning. The sun had gone, the western ranges faded in chill purple mist, but the western sky still burned with ragged bands of orange.
There’s no stopping the clock, no turning the hands back and revisiting history to change outcomes. What’s done is done. Today, in my English classes, I read “Viking Burial,” the opening story in Jeanne Leiby’s collection, Downriver. We were studying plot, setting, and so forth. Five times, I read, more recited from memory the lines. “This isn’t yours,’ the mother says to the son in the story.
The start of the school year has gone well (knock on wood). Bright, wonderful students, all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of stuff bubbling under the surface. I’ve been reminded why I teach, several times, by listening to students share their lives; reminded how fortunate I’ve been in my own life.
Jeanne Leiby would have been fifty today. She’s been dead three years now. I spoke of her with kindness in my classes this morning, remembering how she hated my poorly-constructed metaphors and similes. Back then, I was trying too hard, forcing the issue, making my writing conform to some ideal shape that would garner agents and editors by the bagful. After Jeanne’s death things changed for me as a writer, and I pointedly gave up on writing “formulaically” or towards some version of what a story should be according to the gatekeepers. Jeanne urged me to find the truth in my writing and move towards that as a narrative goal. She didn’t mean find the “non-fiction truth,” rather, she meant find the voice you’re meant to have.
The time since Jeanne’s death has been fairly difficult; moving back to California, finding work, teaching again, having a new child in the house, navigating the sadness of my mother’s health issues. But, in this time, I’ve let go of the past in some ways; missing New Orleans, but embracing my world here in California. I haven’t got an agent, or an editor, but I’ve at least found my voice and stuck to my guns regarding what I write. For that, I owe a debt to several people, and Jeanne Leiby is one of them. I raise my glass to her memory tonight.
I have a short essay on rereading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, over at my friend, Emilie Staat’s site. You can read it HERE.
Originally published here at Blue Fifth Review::