Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Short-short thrift

The way some bloggers come on these days, it would seem that it is still l952, Collier's Magazine was still going strong and the short story is still in vogue.
This had sadly changed. There is no market for short stories anymore, unless you're a name author like John Updike, who, because of his awesome talent, can do pretty well what he pleases... Or a documentary maker, your own life story or theme in the videotape.

The rest of us putz around with blogs, putting our stories out on other people's blogs, a prize here, a mention here, a placement in an anthology of blogging writers.

But the religion of the Fifties persists, even if Collier's is dead, even if Redbook is functionally dead, even if there is no market at all for short stores. Short story writing is a religion. The cult continues to have its acolytes.

And I am one.

There used to be a convention in the old slick magazines"the short-short," the short story in about 500 words or even less.

It is out of nostalgia for Colliers, I suppose, that I produce the following:

Magnificen Failure

Boris Lazar had failed.


He had quit his high profile job with the Star Weekly, out of Toronto to write a beautiful novel about Toronto, but the novel would not come. Three hundred pages and the novel would not come. "You picked a hard thing to be," his lovely redheaded wife had empathized. "You hadn't put in the time, hadn't learned to 'draw hands', structure a book, dramatize."

Bills had been piling up. The mortgage. And children underfoot while Boris stumbled from bathroom to study on many a full moon, chasing his own shadow.

Waiting for the snap.

The snap never came. He had failed. How beneficial was it to have the children see their father in an alcoholic reverie, in the middle of the night, stumbling upon their rooms by mistake as he had sought the bedroom where he had finally hoped he would sleep, Loren half awake wondering what he was doing.

Mental calisthenics in the dark. Looking out into the backyard with its garden and white tool shed, looking for Dostoevsky among stars of summer, but it was winter, and he couldn't find the constellations, Daneb, and Altair, and Vega, and the Seven Sisters who seemed, in their miniature way, to ape the Big Dipper. He had once held himself to be a fair astronomer, at least without a telescope. He had had perfect vision. Now there was only Milky Way, all around. Boris turned up the FM radio, whose antenna he had finally fixed to pick up CHUM FM "We are star-bright, we are golden," from the stellar Joni Mitchell.

Not so star-bright, not so golden.

"You fucked up, baby," from the wife, but it was not an admonition.
."Don't vorry, Boris." She had added it in mock Ukrainian.

"Sitting here in your own Ukrainian shit," Laura's millionaire father bullet-headed and smart, had said.
"But you're a good fellow. You have produced two wonderful children.. .Your class will reachdown to protect you."
Boris didn't know how to handle the slap-kiss.
The failure of the book project had marked him down in his own estimation.

Now it was back to the monolithic towers, young man taking on the city all over again, processing other people's copy, underling copyeditor, and even at this he had felt himself failing.
FM station late at night, Jefferson Airplane.
Come with me, my friend. I'll show you another country.

He was not in their league. He was not an authentic artist. He had failed.
And yet, for some reason, Laura kept saying, "Don't vorry Boris."

Don't vorry Boris because he was soon in Nassau, on Paradise Island, rolling the dice down the long green with the hundred dollars his father-in-law had given him, and after that there would be more, much more.

Magnificent failure. Old Elliot Jones' entry in his business log: "Hired in l974 a person who was mentally ill or physically infirm." There were benefits to this, for both Elliott and Boris. The taxman would not sting so hard. There were tax benefits for both employee and employer.

Shaky Boris had become a remittance man.


Donsie said...

I like short stories... especially if they come to a point quick.
This piece is very well written, but I had to read it twice to figure out what you want to tell me. Call me stupid...
I don't like the way this guy’s life turns out!! This piece leaves me with a mix feeling of mmm disappointment and discuss.

islandgrovepress said...

Oh dear.
I am sorry you are disappointed.
Uh, do you mean discuss?

Very probably disgust, and that's all the worse if I brings that feeling out in a reader.
I probably should have thought the story through better.


Donsie said...

NOOOOO please don't take offend!!!! Thats just how I feel... I believe that you have choices and your character could have been a better person.
The sad thing is there are people like that and that is what disgust me not your writting!!! Please you did a VERY good job!!!!!!!

islandgrovepress said...

Okay. I got it.

Thanks, Donsie.


Donsie said...

Plesure!!! Please post some more.... you really have talent!!

islandgrovepress said...


Short stories don't come very often. Every few months, a feeling comes upon you and the story just seems to rain down all of one deluge. You can't just apply your will and hope for a short story to come. It seems to come all by itself.

Here is what I posted a year ago. I know my fellow "quarks have already read it.

But I'll reproduce it here:


In an old prairie dugout, there lived a goat.

Goats seem eternally peeved, that peeved expression, but Andreas the Goat was not really peeved; quite happy, really. Did he not have what he wanted, the supply of scraps at the nearby junkyard, the good feeling he got from the Jimson weed and chicory, the late middle age age which had now cooled his passion? True, the young she-goats still showed interest, though this more for his old daddy goat appeal than anything else. He was a handsome old goat.

One day, another goat passed his way. A young-old nanny .. She still had a prance to her gambol, as if very young, but a little gray in her dapple showed she was almost as old as Andreas. The old goat regarded the new arrival with some interest. "Meeehh!" There was the Mee-ing response."

"Hello,come closer. What's your name, little she-goat,what's your name? Come closer."

"Yasmine." she bleated.

She clacked along the gravel to his hideout and came closer. He could now see her face. The cutest little snout, though he could could see by the reddened blacks of her comma eyes that she had been into something.. Funny weed? Perhaps a bit of fermented barley down by the sump pump. She had certainly was on something. Oh not again, the old goat thought. These kids, always grazing on those devil weeds. And the adults just as bad. She was now right up to him and went to almost pass him, though rubbing a little along his rough hide.

It had struck Andreas that it had been so long, so long since there had been a horn-to-horn. Or even close contact with a female.
But just as soon as she had come up, she suddenly turned on a cloven hoof and seemed about to run away..
But he followed and trotted beside her.
"What's your last name," he asked.
"Yes. Yasmine Springbok."
"Icelandic?"he asked.
"No, South African originally.

And with that, she seemed to just spring away from him, as she had done just before,soon to disappear through silver-and-green Russian olive bushes.

These spacey drug freak nannies, they're all the same, the old goat thought. So much into power plays, games, control. Use you as a sounding board. Tease you and run off.
But her scent, the recent nearness of a female, had awakened something in Andreas.

For some time, the old goat had noticed his thoughts were more in the past than the present; manger scenes, back in the days wheh he'd had a family, kids, barns, chickens. All gone now. All grown up. Or maybe worse. He winced at the thought.
Always the new she-goat. that's how it had always been up until he grew old. Never mind, Yasmine Bleat, or whatever your name is, I will tend to my grazing, see my reflection in the old glass windshields around the garbage dump. What a fine old goat I am. I don't need anything or anybody.

But Yasmine kept coming around.
At first she seemed to ignore him as she gambolled past, but he had to admit she was raising old goat passions in him, not only the hint of an erection he was starting to feel along his scrabbly belly, but also some sort of promise that Yasmine seemed to hold.

One day she came right up to the old goat and said,"I will give you whattever you want. Anything at all. Whatever you want, real or imagined. "Nutcase," he decided. Off-the-wall she-goat probably Iberian. Gypsy.goat. Best keep to myself."
But on the third day she came back with an old soup can can in her mouth, which suddenly, inexplicably, turned into a flower.
The old goat pawed at the ground, but here, suddenly was a bunch of carrots. "How you doo dat?" the old goat asked, trying to show casualness, not the sudden, strange supernatural fear.

I am she-goat, mistress of goathood. I can make you horny. I can make you magic. I know you better than you know yourself."

Never met a goat like her before.

They took to running around together, past the trees, past the birds, past the clucky stampeding chickens, through the yard and into a grove of Russian olives, spiky and hard to get near, let alone eat.
"Got something to show you, said Yasmine. Come."
Andreas followed, followed her down a glade to the hollowed-out stump of an old oak tree, ancient, thick, though the inside was rotted out, leaving a circular ruin all around. One end was open, and inside, there was spacefor two or three goats, as if in a pen. There, inside the old oak stump was a nest of spiders, just babies really, scrambling for cover. Yasmine suddenly went to stomp them, and in fact, trampled a couple. The others got away. Andreas was surprised at this sudden show of atavism. Who, what was she really?
Andreas had a sudden feeling of unreality. the hollowed oak stump seemed suddenly alive, all ashimmer. " Do not be afraid, said Yasmine. This is only a show of my power. I can give you anything you want. Anything at all."
And then she knelt on her front legs and produced the vision of a past manger scene, the old goat's former mate, the kids, the chickens. All he had to do was walk into it and there he would be .But Andreas just stood there tranfixed, wondering at the unreality of it all. And just as soon as the scene dissipated, she scrambled for a wall and was suddely gone.

It took a long time for the old goat to return to the dugout.
He was much changed old goat.
Seven years of rooting around the old dugout that he had lived in.
And for the first time, he'd learned something. But what was it?

He yearned to see the young-old she-goat again.

One morning, he saw two goats up on the rise, a fine billy and along with him, Yasmine.
Son of a wanton goa! he thought. I should have known.

But the following day she was back, alone, her mysterious companion not there.
"I want you to love me," she said, rather matter-of-factly. I want you to love me. Spiritually, like a goat-knight.
"I will give you anything you want." And suddenly, between them, there sprung a clump of olives. Andreas had a taste. Not at all like stale Campbell's soup. Something in those olives though. He could feel, sense the remaining baby spiders in the stump's walls. Could see them spinning their little gossamer webs, and the mother now nearby.
He made to tell Yasmine how he was feeling, but she was not there now.. She was gone again..

She came back that evening, and, after some rubbing against him, unexpectedly, presented herself to him. Andreas was in goat heaven. He took her from behind, as is the way of goats. And afterwards, without much ado, she went to run off again. "Stay," said
Andreas. But she gave him a quick nuzzle and she was again gone.
Seven days went by. No Yasmine.
He saw the mysterious he-goat again, alone this time, up high on the knoll. Soon another goat joined the handsome stranger, the Sean Connery goat. It was Yasmine. Andreas could see by the familiarity displayed between them that they were, it seemed, still in love. "And me, what about me?"

She showed up alone the following evening. Andreas was half-mad with jealousy and woe.
"You can't get everyhing from just one goat," she asserted. I am with him, but I love you."
And she was gone again.

Nights were now spent in fits of jealousy and discontent. He would do this, he would do that. He would butt heads with the mysterious lover.
And one day he did. He saw the two of them up on the rise again and ran right up. "You got a problem? said handsome Sean Connery goat. "Yeah, I've got a problem. You." And with that, he gave the handsome stranger a pretty good grazing. The stranger did not ffght back.
"Leave him alone," Yasmine bleated. "Leave my husband alone."
Oohh. So that was it.

Andreas walked back down the hill, to his shed. He had a sense of clairvoyance. He thought, as he had mosied away that he heard Yasmine say, "There is a reason for everything. I had come to you for a reason."

He sulked in his "apartment." So that was it. They are married. Well,he had his pen, he had his food and he had his certainties. It was an episode, a learning experience, old as he was.
Yasmine did not come around again.

One morning,something compelled him to leave his pen, and leave fast. There was the sound of heavy machinery just above. He was out just before a massive bulldozer razed his home.

And high up on the knoll, again, he saw Yasmine. Alone and about to leave for home. He had no idea why, or what he would do, and could he do it. But he followed.


Josie said...

Ivan, I love reading your short stories. You're one of the best writers, if not the best, in the blogosphere. And to think of all the insipid blogs that win that (ahem) award, it boggles the mind.

Your characters have an air of defeat(?) and I think that may be what Donsie is referring to.


islandgrovepress said...

Thank you for the kind words, Josie.

Defeat,yes. It's a theme.

"Life is rejection, failure, pain," says a defeated poet.

Mailer wrote a whole book about it, "Advertisements for Myself".

But how Mailer prevailed!
It was probably the most read autobiography in the last seventy years.

Thanks again, Johanna.


Donnetta Lee said...

Of course, I like short stories. I like writing short stories. I like reading short stories. As I have said before, I have no attention span. I want to get into it and then get out of it. I enjoyed the story. I get Donsie's point, but the character is who he is. Such is life. As always, great writing.

islandgrovepress said...

Thank you, Donnetta,

So sorry to hear the old medical graph is down a bit off level today.
I guess the docs gave you plenty of antibiotics.

I hate antibiotics; they slow me right down, uh, being an imbiber and all.

I am only an aspiring doctor of writing, but I'd steal some Amoxyl.
That stuff knock anything

But then I'm just a rattle-shaker and not an MD...Graduate of the best witch doctors in Haiti.


EA Monroe said...

I wish I could write short stories. I haven't written many short pieces; they all turn into never-ending novels. There have been times when I make myself sit down and write a short story for practice. Or maybe I'm just writing a different kind of short story?

This is nice, Ivan. I always enjoy your posts and your stories.

islandgrovepress said...

Thanks, Liz.

Just floated over to your blog to read about Rukia Centauri, as you have named her, the Siamese Terror Cat.

"Now old Doc Williams had troubles of his own
"Had an old yeller cat who'd never leave home..."

Hope it doesn't come to that.

Rukia sounds baaad.

But your blog is an animal blog.
Everybody loves to read about animals, even irascible ones.

My god how the comments'll roll in!

I'd wondered why you'd kept so quiet of late.

You were writing your cat column and it's a goodie.


Donsie said...

THE OLD GOAT is a stunning piece of work!
I am not a writer. I can't write. I just write how I feel but I know I don't have the talent. But I LOVE reading more that anything in this world!
The Old Goat let me think of situations in real life. Woman can be bastards!!! Sorry but its true.
I understand that short stories don't fall out of the sky. But please don't stop writing. VERY enjoyable.
Any story that touch emotion. Any emotion really is excelent, because you are recreating something that is real... Feelings are real :-)

islandgrovepress said...


I think you really understood the story and I was so glad to have reached another reader.

People do leave marks on each other, don't they?

Emotional battering. Like maybe in Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations."
...But I could never finish a novel of Dickens'.

Thanks for the appreciation.


eamonroe said...

Hey, Ivan. I've been swamped at work lately. No time to goof off and play! We saw a little doggie sweater that had "bad ass" on it. We thought about getting that for Rootin' Tootin' HT!

islandgrovepress said...

Your Siamese cat, the Holy Terror, is already in a Canadian cartoon feature film.
Here too was a mischievous cat, and the National Film Board, in all its originality, titled the movie, "The Cat Came Back."

They should have hired you to write the script. Your piece on your newly acquired Siamese cat and her shenanigans is the best piece of "kitchen-sink" realistic writing I have seen for some time.

You're up to your usual standard of good writing.


Josie said...

Ivan, JR is quitting his blog. We have to talk him out of it.


islandgrovepress said...

Yes, Josie,

The guy was really trying.
And one of the few people on the we who actually took advice.
I gave him a nudge in his blog today--or was it a kick in the pants?


Josie said...

No, not a kick in the pants. I guess he's got spring fever. I hope he'll be back.

islandgroveress said...

Some of his recollections have sort to jogged my own memories--that of being a Rock performer, for example.
I got to do it for a living, but, as in the case of JR's blogging--it got to be a job, just a job.

I guess I yearned for rejection and pain as a writer.

How does that old song go?

Ever since my masochistic baby left me
I got nothing to beat but the wall.


EA Monroe said...

JR is quitting? He's been talking about it lately. I've been thinking about slowing down, too! Mainly so I can finish the rewrites on Book 4 and get busy writing something new.

Another friend and Okie writer from Mostly Fluff quit her blog, too, so that she could put the creativity back into her novel.

I think it's the spring weather and spending more time outdoors! Well, I'm off to watch a movie.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think if I landed a big book contract, I would just disappear, no announcement, no swan song.
But then I've had small book contracts, and I'm still doing this.
And we Quarks and Antiquarks are already promised script spots! Heh.

Liz going to movie.

Ivan watching American Idol, which just went on.
Guess you could call me an idol


JR's Thumbprints said...

I don't consider it quitting; I consider it honoring my one year blogging commitment. Now I'm going to concentrate my efforts on the short story form -- Maybe take up drinking gin & tonic like John Cheever.

islandgrovepress said...

John Cheever wrote some terrific prison stories...Made another inmate his girlfriend as well, to the astonishment of his wife and daughter.
Gotta hand it to the New Yorker for playing all those themes in the dangerous Fiftie and early Sixties.
Tremendous stylist and novelist.

Short stories, good ones, are very hard to do.

I get through on rhetoric and semantic noise, but you're really supposed to make every word count, nothing out of place.
Wish you luck with the form.


islandgrovepress said...

P.S. to JR,

Josie is a great fan of vintage New Yorker stories, the old New Yorker probably the most famous home of world-class short story writers.
That's where Salinger cut his teeth, and Cheever, and Updike.
The New Yorker was also home for
possibly the greatest short story writer of modern times, Jorge Luis Borges, my hero.


Josie said...

I guess JR is really leaving. He's such a livewire, he will be missed.

I'm so bored at work today. Yawn.


Anonymous said...

Well, there sure was someting like an outcry over the possibility of JR leaving.

You'e half Scottish, Josie.

Work is holy! :)