Tag Archives: literary

Writing with Style 5: Writing Discomfort

While its easy enough to simply say a character feels uncomfortable, I find that showing the discomfort goes  a long way in making that discomfort feel real. First, it’s important to identify a “symptom” of the characters discomfort. This could be anything as long as its repeated throughout the event you are writing. It could be a look, sweat pouring from the character’s forehead, cottonmouth, or anything else your imagination can contrive. despair-513529__180The trick is repetition. In the excerpt below, you’ll see my approach to showing discomfort in a new coming of age novel I’m working on. Like everyone else who writes bildungsroman, I’m trying to write the next Catcher in the Rye. I’ve bolded the repeated “symptom” so you can easily see what I’m talking about. Check it out:


from Untitled

“Jordan!” she said with a gasp and her hand over her chest. “I double checked my calendar twice. I was so worried. I—I thought you must’ve been in an accident or—I didn’t know what to think—I—”

“It’s fine, Grandma,” I said as I hugged her. She smelled like old-lady perfume and incontinence. “There was a bad traffic jam and I was sitting in it for over an hour. Must’ve been a ten car pile-up. I saw two ambulances coming back the other way before it all cleared up. Looked pretty bad.”

She gasped again. “That’s horrible.”

I felt a little bad because she didn’t think to question me, but what was I going to say? “Hey grandma, I’m late because I slept off a hangover, got in a fight, popped some painkillers, did a line of coke, had some sex with a girl I’m not dating, and then hung out by myself at the skatepark as I came down from the drugs.” Obviously, I couldn’t say that and if I did, it would break her tiny old lady heart. It’s the same with mom. You have to lie to them for their own good. They don’t want the truth. They just want to hear that you’re doing well and you’re happy and they don’t need to worry about you. That’s all they want.

After that my visit with grandma was uneventful. We watched the TV and drank tea and played cards at her little kitchen table. We didn’t talk at all while we played gin rummy and I couldn’t help but focus on her tiny ashen hands, so white I could see the green and blue of her veins. A fine mist from a humidifier sprayed into the air behind her and the room was so hot I stripped down to my white undershirt.

I still felt the hangover from the night before, and the smell of old person caused sweat to bead-up on my forehead. After the final hand grandma looked up at me and leaned back in her chair.

“You’re mother says you’re doing well in school. All A’s?”

“Yea,” I said and I wasn’t lying. I had straight A’s since freshman year.

“And you’re applying to colleges this summer?”

My palms were sweating now and I was glad we were finished with the cards. “Yea. We made visits last year. And mom wants me to apply to five schools.”

Grandma nodded her head and smiled. She was pleased. “No one from our family ever went to college. I wanted to go but there wasn’t enough money. Your mother is so lucky to have met your father. Without him, you would have grown up like everyone else in the family. You’re a lucky boy.”

I felt like I’d puke right there and my eyes started doing this thing where the bright light made them twitch. Sweat stung my eyes, and I couldn’t look at her anymore. Every time I looked at her the light in the room pulsated around her head.

“We’re all so proud of you,” she said.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Well,” I said. “I have to get going. I’m meeting up with a friend tonight. We’re studying for a test in physics.”

“Ok,” she said. “Is it with that friend I met last summer? What was her name? Hm. Miranda?”

“Yea,” I said quickly. Grandma must’ve forgot I go to an all-boys school.

“She was such a nice girl. So polite. And pretty. That’s the type of girl you hold on to and never let go.”

“I better not be late then,” I said. And as I stood up and grabbed my shirt from the back of the chair, I started to feel good again. I hugged grandma in spite of the old-lady perfume and incontinence. “I’ll see you next month.”

It Leans

Hi folks,

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted. I’ve been flooded with writing jobs lately, I’m revising one of my own books, and I’ve been sending out short fiction to journals, magazines, contests etc. etc. etc. So what I’m trying to say is this: sorry I’ve been silent here on the old blog.

Tonight I break my silence. The inspiration for the following fictional piece comes from a scrap of particle board I saw leaning against a road sign in my neighborhood. I picked the board up and snuck it into my trash a few weeks ago. For some reason, I’m not sure  what, I started thinking about that board as I was driving home yesterday. So as an exercise in creating symbolism, I wrote this:


It Leans

The board sits there leaning on the sign at the corner of Turkey Trot Lane and Red Fox Drive. A month or two ago it had appeared in that spot. The top of the board is jagged. There’s a screw sticking out of the bottom corner. thQ738M5EN

A month ago it looked old. “From a dresser?” a friend asked as I took the corner driving up Turkey Trot Lane. “Or a table,” I said.

It still looks old. But now it’s weathered and grey too. Maybe it’s been longer than a month or two. But I can’t remember when I first saw it.

Other cars pass the board. I watched a car pass it a day ago when I was walking up the hill. And cars driving in front of me—they pass it too.

Maybe the driver was thinking, the one driving in front of me yesterday, hey, someone should pick that up. Why doesn’t anyone pick that up? That never would’ve happened years ago. People leaving trash out on the road. No respect.

But he didn’t slow down. He didn’t stop.

Or maybe he didn’t see it at all. That’s more likely. He didn’t see it. Maybe he saw it a month or two ago when the board first showed up. But he doesn’t see it now. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t see it most days either. Today it caught my eye, but most days—

Anyway, I know I should pick it up. Some days, when I see it, I think to myself, just stop and pick it up. Put it in the dumpster. It’ll take a second—that’s it. It’ll only take a second. But then I take the turn up Turkey Trot and the board is gone. It’ll be there tomorrow, I think. Someone’ll get it.

So here I am today about to take the turn on Turkey Trot Lane. The board is there leaning against the sign. It leans there and I can’t help but make comparisons. It leans there like the dentist appointment I need to make. It leans there like some sad kid whose dad won’t come to see his baseball game. th10V2VGTBIt leans there like global warming or carbon emissions. Maybe it leans it there like that extra ten or twenty pounds we all wear on our gut. Or maybe—I could go on and on but I think that’s enough.

As I approach the turn I slow down. I notice the board leaning against the sign. I take the turn. It’ll be there tomorrow. Someone’ll get it.


Fictionalize it!: Part 2

Welcome back to my three-part series on fictionalizing every day experiences. Last week I wrote a short memoir-like story from an event that actually happened to me (more or less). If you haven’t read it, click this link: LINK. This week, I’ve taken that story and transformed it into a completely different genre with characters, a slightly different conflict, but the same basic theme. I also maintained a few of the objects and images. I chose to write this as a contemporary romance–the type where a thirty-something lady finds a new man but is still troubled by the death of her late husband. I always get a kick out of writing romance because its so easy, andth0H9BO0OV so painfully overwritten.  Check out the transformation:


The Keychain

“What the—”

Bella’s lips quivered as she stepped out into the moonlight to find his gaunt figure casting shadows—moon-shadows across the marble terrace.

“William…” She mumbled the words, and the words tumbled and tumbled across the terrace falling flat without ever reaching his deaf ears.

Emanations of pulsing pain reverberated out into the moonlight and she traced the origin of each pulsation to the core of his damaged being. “Will…” She began again as she looked down at her weathered white dress, but couldn’t say the rest of his name.

She took another step towards him. “I loved him too much,” she repeated. That was what she had said inside. That’s why he came out here.

“Just go inside,” he said. And after he spoke, after she heard his voice she couldn’t stay away. Not now. She ran to him and her hand found the pocket of his suit.

“That hand is not a hand,” he said as he routed it out of his suit pocket. “It’s rot. A growth. And if I let it stay, the disease of your hand will infect my thigh, and then—”

She reached in the pocket again and found his keys. That was what she had searched for the first time.

“Remember this?” she asked hysterical with tears forming in both eyes. “Remember?”

She held the keychain-picture of his partner in her hand. “Remember?”

The partner died, shot in chest years ago.

“I loved him too much,” she repeated. “That’s why.”

And there were tears in his eyes too. She wanted to touch his eyes. She wanted to know that the tears were real.

“Let’s put it back to how it was,” she said. “He’s gone. But we can put it back to how it was.”

She felt his heart beat against her hand, his hands still limp at his sides. “He’s a memory now. A memory.” And memories can’t be cared for—not with hands.


Fictionalize It!: Part 1

Howdy folks and folkettes,

This week I’m starting a three part series on fictionalizing every day experiences. Why? Well, because that’s what writers do and I think ya’ll might benefit from seeing how I take a real event or story and transform it into fiction. Let’s face it: fiction writers take their own experiences or experiences from others and turn them into stories. These things don’t come out of thin air.

So, to start it off, I’ve written a literary version of one of my own experiences, sticking to the actual event and experience as truthfully as possible. Next week, I’ll look back at the “real” version of the story and rewrite it by changing the setting, characters, narrator, plot structure, and genre. And then finally, I’ll invite you folks to submit your own fictionalized version of the story. So, here it is, the “real” version of the story.



“What the—”

I looked past the railing of the back deck to the little rock oak in the woods. On the ground beside the tree, I saw the weathered white of the birdfeeder. Dropping my kindle on the table next to the chair I got up, passed through the gate at the top of the stairs, walked through burned-up grass past the ugly hill of dirt and weeds and rock still there from when the yard was graded.20150809_190542_resized

“Too much damn seed,” I said out loud. Yea that’s right. I talk to myself when I’m alone. Who doesn’t?

I picked up the birdfeeder and thought of that time a year ago when the face board of the front porch rotted out because the bird seed fell in the crack between—well, the crack between the face board and the board behind it. I don’t know what that one’s called. Who cares.

“We’ll need to find a new place for it,” I had said to my wife. I swore and talked to myself as I routed out the rotten wood and filled it with epoxy.

“It’ll be better out there in the woods,” I had said when I came in from patching the hole. “I’ll attach one of those—what do you call ‘em, little arm things right to that tree.” I pointed through bathroom window.

“We won’t be able to see it then,” she had said.

I shook my head. “You’ll see it fine from the back deck. Unobstructed view. I’ll screw it right to the tree.”

And that’s what I did.

A year later I squatted beside the feeder next to the tree. I took off the top and dumped some seed on the ground. I hung it back up on the arm-thingy attached to the tree and walked back up to the back deck to my chair and my book.

An hour or so passed. My wife walked out and my daughter was napping. “Hey,” she said. “Hey. Look at him!”

She pointed towards the feeder. It was some yellow and black bird. I don’t know the name. But I wasn’t thinking of the name either. I thought of the screw in the tree and how some folks say it’s harmful. I thought of the wood rotting out on the front porch. I thought of all the destruction we cause in caring for things that don’t notice us. I looked up towards my smiling wife noticing the bird on the feeder. I looked back over at the bird.

It isn’t the bird, after all, that I’m caring for.


And that’s my story. Check me out next week for the rewrite.

Now What?

I wrote “Now What?” earlier this week. I’m working on a voice for the narrator of my next novel and these short flashes of fiction are a way for me to experiment with narration. I’d recommend this strategy to anyone thinking about writing a novel with a first-person narrator. It’s nice to have the voice down from the start. Check it out and let me know what you think:


Now What?

We were packing up the old town house. We’d lived there for a year but what’s a year. I don’t mean that as a question. It isn’t one.

Like I said, we were packing up but I was already done. I packed the night before, so my Civic wasn’t out back behind the house. It was parked down the road next to a pick-up truck or a van.

But this isn’t about my car. It wasn’t even a Civic. It was something like that though.

Anyway, one my housemates, the big one, had his whole family there and he had too much to take back.

“Does anyone want this shit?” he asked. It was stuff from the kitchen.

I took another sip of something. I don’t know. Mimosa maybe. Or Bloody Mary. I think I liked those then. Or maybe I looked out towards the river. But I don’t remember thinking much about the river. It was part of me then, always there past the field and the road from town.

“I got room for it,” I said. Well, that’s not exactly what I said. I said something like it.

And I did have room for it. My parents weren’t there yet, but they were bringing a van to carry my big stuff. My brother wasn’t there yet, either.

“Alright, dude.” That’s exactly what he said. I remember it.

Minutes passed and I hadn’t moved from my lawn chair out in front of the townhouse. I felt the grass between my toes, well, most likely. I was barefoot then—usually at least.

Someone’s parents broke into laughter. It was a woman, but I don’t remember which one. Probably the big one’s mom. Everyone else drank quietly and focused on the packing.

And then one of the other guys was sitting beside me. He might’ve been there for a while, but that’s when I noticed him.

He shook his head at the big one and the big one’s family. But he was drunk too, and I was drunk. The whole damn campus felt drunk. It always did. Well, it felt that way at least.

And then I saw my parents walking across the lawn. And then I don’t remember much. The rest of the afternoon blurred into one or nothing depending on how you look at it, and then I was in the car and my brother was driving. He was probably driving fast, but I don’t remember. I was singing. Loudly.

And then I was home or the place I called home. Summer. But not summer break. And I wouldn’t be going back. I wouldn’t ever be going back. And I was on my parents’ back deck, the same place I spent every summer, a place where I surrounded myself with friends or buddies or alcohol or all or both depending on how you look at it. I looked up and saw blue and green and the leaves on the trees were full for the first time since fall. The first week of May, and for the first time, the leaves were fully there.

“Now what?” I asked it out loud. “Now what?”

And today, years later, I ask the same question. I’m married and have a career. I’ve made something of myself, I guess. But when the leaves come out, fully out, I ask out loud sitting on my own deck, the back deck of my own house, looking up at the swaying trees with the blue sky behind, “Now what?”


Hope you liked it. Thanks for reading!


Writing as Art: A,B&E

thNCEN8Z70Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.


For this week, we have an excerpt from the opening of  Mark Nash’s novel  A,B & E. Let me know what you think of it.

from A,B&E

Oh, don’t mind if I do! Thank you very much. Isn’t that just a sight for sore eyes? A Black Russian in the a.m. Vitreously fleshy. Caffeine intake at its smoothest. For nudging you back into the daylight. A tender kiss of life, to expel the deathly, dried spume from the small hours dousing. Nyx you utter tart, I salute you! For guiding me home once again and delivering me safe and sound into the arms of dowdy old Eos! A toast to…Priapus. God of the vineyard and the other thing of course. Double bubble. All my hobbies rolled into one figurehead. My ideal consort of an evening. A Greek God to top all Greek Gods. Top of the morning after the night before to ya! Na zdorovia! Eis igian! As we say here in Greece.

(I like how we jump right into this conversation. It’s exceptionally one-sided of course, somewhat like talking to a stereotypical mother-in-law or an old rich lady who’s been around the block a view times. She’s handed a drink and off she goes. She’s not completely typical, however. The several allusions, many of which I couldn’t place, could be used to show how disconnected she is from the majority of humanity. This will continue in the following paragraphs. She also has fun with word play. Specifically, she uses epanalepsis. This is the repetition of the first word/phrase from the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence: “A Greek God to top all Greek Gods.” She’s smart but full of herself)

Present company excepted of course, but I find revenge is a dish best served flush across the bloke’s cranium. Well, the Greeks are all for cracking the crockery. So when in Rome and all that. Besides, they were the first ones to craft an art form from vengeance. No wait a tick, it was my second husband Damon, who really elevated it to Olympian heights. The final word in retribution. Where they look in his unblinking, guillotine eyes and heed there’s no coming back at him. Nipping any escalation in the bud. A la thalidomide.

(More fun with words here. Some alliteration and assonance with “cracking the crockery” and I like how Nash transforms the idiom revenge is a dish best served cold. This narrator takes ownership over language through this transformation. This is reflected in her claim that her second husband “really elevated” revenge to “Olympian heights.” A pretty hefty claim. It appears that she owns stock in language and revenge)

An avenger therefore, ought to be up close and personal. Doesn’t merit the soubriquet, if the recipient is ignorant as to who’s responsible. Nor on what grounds. Eyeball to eyeball, Damon’s was a pinpoint perlustration. The polygraph of his blue ice chip eyes, needling whether a man was with Damon or against him. His laser red sight, locking on to the cornea’s yellow spot. Myself, I was granted more biddable access, always with a lascivious wink.

(The big words do three things here: they further disconnect her from the rest of humanity which doesn’t know the definition of “perlustration”, they make her seem all the more full of herself, and they further show that language is her tool of choice. What do I mean by that? Allow me an analogy: Saw is to carpenter as language is to this narrator)

untitled (4)Yet even cherished in lodestone adoration, I never located the bottom of those frozen pools. And when I reversed my polarity through betrayal, I bailed out of my own ducking stool ordeal and skipped the concrete verdict.

So you see I had a good mentor. Since when immersed in an alien culture, you can’t help but have some of the local custom rub off. But I suppose I must also have borne a propensity for it. Damon always said I fucked like a woman but fought (and thought) like a man. A heady cocktail. Diamond cut diamond. That’s what made me attractive to him. How I could gain privileged entry into his fierce Brotherhood. Honorary member without member.

(Another epanalepsis “Diamond cut diamond” and a bunch of big words. Although I can’t say that I like this narrator, not as person, she’s incredibly intriguing. As a narrator, she’s both an original creation, and oddly reminiscent to some of the narrators in Poe’s short stories. She assures us that we can trust her, but she’s oddly unreliable)


And that’s all folks. Honestly, that one impressed me and I think I might need to read the rest. If you’d like to pick up a copy, here’s the link: A,B&E . And if you want to check out other books by Mark Nash, here’s a link to his Amazon author page. Thanks for reading!

Send me your firstborn! I’ll feature your excerpt

Hi folks,

Next week I’ll be writing a post on the common writing errors we all made when we first started–well, writing. thE6RXNWOLPersonally, I know I’ve come along way since my first novel and I still cringe when I look back at my first attempts at describing a setting, a character, or even a feeling. Back then, I used too many adverbs, I over-explained, and I made choices with spelling that could be described as either unconventional or flat out wrong depending on who you ask. If you have an example of your early writing that you wouldn’t mind sharing, please send me an excerpt. I can’t do this without you, and I’d like to feature as many authors as I can. Here’s how you submit:

  • Send an e-mail to Ejamesolson1@gmail.com with the following:
  • Your name
  • Your  excerpt (200 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • (OPTIONAL) A short explanation of why it was bad or what was wrong with it or what you learned from it
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission Bad Writing” followed by your name. Like this: “Submission Bad Writing Charles Dickens”

thM9HIJKJFI respond to all submissions and will let you know if your excerpt has been selected. All genres are welcome, but remember that the focus is on making bad writing better. If I decide to feature your excerpt, I’ll include a link to your blog, Goodreads page, or Amazon page,  a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility. Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you!

How to Write an Ugly Character

Good evening folks. As you’re  aware I’ve been sharing a lot of other people’s writing lately. But tonight I figured I’d show off some of my own fiction. The excerpt below is from an unpublished novel I wrote. I chose this as an example of how to create an ugly character. “Big” Jim, the character described below, was my attempt at creating the ugliest character possible. He’s intolerant, racist, sexist, abusive, and uses terribly offensive language. th6SFZ10U9But before you read it, I’d like to mention three important things to keep in mind. First, even though I created him, I don’t condone anything he says or does. Second, in my life I have met people very similar to him. People like “Big” Jim exist in the real world and I’m going for realism here. Third,  you’ll likely notice that his strange speech patterns and mispronounced words seem grating. Although this is set in the Eastern Panhandle, he still speaks a little strange.  This is done purposefully to put the reader on edge. You might also notice a preponderance of hard syllables. This gives the passage a cacophonous and unsettling sound. Hope this gives you ideas for the next time you sit down to write an ugly character.



from From A to B

“Big” Jim is 6’2” and three-hundred pounds. His head is round and balding gray. He shaves it to keep it “lookin’ neat”. His face is red and bloated; he looks at your chest and then down in front of him and then your chest when he’s talking to you. His eyes are always shifting, and he always has something dangerously attractive to say.


Well, let me tell you about it.

That son-in-law-uh mine, Gene, that is, he pulled up just ‘round five or six. It was Friday night and I could already feel my hand shakin’ if you know what I mean.

So, I went right ahead and just popped one open. Figured-uh beer would do the trick just fine. Didn’t need to start mixin’ the liquor drinks just yet. It’d be a late night I figured, and I didn’t want to get all crazed up too damn early.

Teresa, my old lady, she wasn’t set to get back from the vet clinic for another hour and Gene was just unloadin’ his shit, so I figured I’d just set right there on my own sippin’ my beer till the family was ‘bout ready to join me. I’ve found that when I’m throwin’ a party, it’s always best to start drinkin’ ‘fore the crowd gets settled. That way, when they see you there drinkin’, they’re liable to want to do some drinkin’ too. And then when other folks get there, they’ll see that everybody’s drinkin’, and that’ll get them thinkin’ “Hell, I could go for a drink myself.” One thing goes ahead and leads to another, and ‘fore you know, everyone’s there drinkin’ and carryin’ on and actin’ like it’s the god damn fourth of the god damn July. Know what I mean?

Course you do. Anyway, I’ll tell you how it was. Well, first of all, it’s wasn’t the Fourth of July. I said LIKE the Fourth of July. It was actually Memorial Day. Well, not the actual day. But the weekend that goes with the day. And I was excited. I got to admit that. You see, I knew Gene’s dick would be all hard because there hadn’t been any snow days earlier in the year, meaning that he only had a week left of work and then he’d be free for summer. Last time it happened that way, Gene drank so damn hard I almost died keepin’ up with him. Uh night to remember.

Well, like I was sayin’, I was just settin’ there on the porch sippin’ from my beer can. It was right out the cooler and goin’ down like water. Then Gene and that damn daughter uh-mine and that little boy uh-their’s came round the side of the house. Somethin’ was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somethin’ just wasn’t right. Gene’s mustache. He shaved it off. Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I’m some kinda fag for noticin’. But I didn’t really notice it, or its significance just then. Just then, all I noticed was that somethin’ was off.

He was holdin’ my daughter’s hand like a queer and that boy of theirs, he was standin’ there behind him.

“Gene, my boy, come on up here. I got a cold one right here in the cooler. It’s for you buddy boy.”

I went ahead and reached in the cooler for him. I was just so damn excited if you know what I mean. Well, I pulled out uh-beer for the boy and when I looked up he was still holdin’ the hand uh-my daughter like some type-uh fudge packin’ dick-lickin’ faggot. Just standin’ there while the beer I pulled out for him was burnin’ my damn hand with cold.

“Got your beer for you boy!” That’s what I said and he just kind-uh looked at me with this funny faggoty grin.

Well, that’s when that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine opened up her big damn mouth and started sayin’ somethin’ about Gene bein’ off the stuff, sayin’ that he ain’t drinkin’ no mo’.

“What kind-uh dick-lickin’…” I started to say but cut myself off when I saw that little shit of-uh boy-uh their’s lookin’ at me fawn-like.

“What the hell got into you woman?” I said to that no good daughter-uh mine. “What the hell! What did you do? What did you do to the boy? Gene, my boy, what the hell’d she do to you, boy?”

I could see right then that I had an effect on him. He wasn’t gonna budge right then. He couldn’t. But he looked at me. Then he looked at that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine. He looked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and shit. And I knew it right then. Right then I knew his new attitude wasn’t at all set. Just a little coaxin’. That’s all it’d take. Just a little coaxin’.


That’s it. Let me know what you thought. And if you have an ugly character of your own, feel free to send me an excerpt for next week’s Writing as Art:


Thanks and have a good day

Writing as Art: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality


Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Henry Martin’s novel Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it.


from: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality

The food sits comfortably in my stomach, washed down with a few glasses of Riesling wine. Strange bar, strange city—but for all its strangeness, no advancement has been achieved today. The wine, the food, and the atmosphere were making me sleepy, drowsy, and indifferent—in a nonchalant way. Nice, the land of art, beaches, riches and fame—the land where one should be fortunate to be. Do I feel that way? No. Across the sea, across the border, across a zillion stories lies the place I want to be. Where? I do not know, but I am certain that it is not here. Perhaps my quest will never come to an end; perhaps I am never to feel peace and harmony. The stillness and lethargy of the Pyrenee annoyed me, yet, the indifference and apathy of the Cote d’Azur is not proving to be a better medicine. Only a few hours ago, I thought Nice was nostalgic, colorful, friendly, and refreshing. Now, under the veil of darkness, it shows its true face. Or, it is that my eyes have opened? Am I finally seeing things for what they are? Will I ever find a place that will not reverse my perception after only a few hours?


(Martin blends form with content intelligently in this opening paragraph. Let’s start with content. The narrator, unnamed in the paragraph, first appears in a liminal state, a purgatory, stuck in a “strange city” miles from where he “want[s] to be.” Yet, he’s seems to be at the cusp of a realization. Perhaps it isn’t the city that irritates him. He acknowledges that Place doesn’t matter. Regardless of where he goes, his “perception” spoils “after only a few hours.” To express this, Martin chooses both his words and setting carefully. This takes place in Nice, a beautiful city on the French Riviera. But at the same time, the word “Nice” in it’s common form has a separate meaning of it’s own. Nice could also mean nice. It could also be interpreted as it’s philosophical form “Niceness.”   th89L7RA6PWhile the narrator believed that the “Pyrenee” and “Cote d’Azure” would be “friendly and refreshing,” he only found “stillness” and “apathy.” While these places promised to be “Nice,” he realizes that it looks different “under the veil of darkness.” He uses diction and juxtaposition to create this ironic effect. The philosophical form “Nice” as well as the city of Nice transform into darkness as the sun sets. Friendliness is stillness. Refreshing is apathy. The positive becomes the negative as he asks “Am I finally seeing things for what they are?” And the questions are important too. The questions further reflect the narrator’s liminal state even after his “eyes have opened.” Another part of this paragraph that interested me was the ambiguity of the second sentence: “no advancement has been achieved today.” For who? I’m not sure, but I think the ambiguity puts the reader in a similar state of mind as narrator. The line “across a zillion stories” had a similar effect. What stories?)


Leaving the bar behind me, I stroll back towards the harbor. This time my eyes are open, as if the short experience in the bar had corrected my vision. Nice at night is not the same as Nice during the day. The air remains warm, only now it seems to be charged with perfumes, scents, and electricity. While I was inside, enjoying my late meal, someone had turned the street upside down, replacing all the well–dressed couples and families with hookers, pimps, dealers, and lonely men driving around, aimlessly looking for an exciting fuck. Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street; some have the decency to hide their profession in shadowed entryways. On the hood of a Renault sits a woman old enough to be my mother. Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips. Her hair, dried out and bleached, is tied in a ponytail; her eyes and face are covered in so much make–up that it almost overpowers the presence of the man penetrating her with swift moves—her legs thrown over his shoulders. Pandemonium, circus, humanity. Amidst the trash, the cigarette butts, the luxurious yachts, and the cars and buildings lies a street where human genitals are pre–positioned, dancing with each other, dangling in the air, ultimately swallowing one another like the mating dance of a praying mantis—Ballare, Ballare, a formal dance in this informal setting. Yet the justification to dance is a righteous one, as long as they are touched and held.


(Martin further develops the ironic reversal of Nice by describing the ugliness of the streets at night. Again, this is done mostly through word choice and negative connotation. Check out this line: “Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street.” Ugly right? Prostitutes don’t have to be ugly, but when they are “eating the flesh of their clients,” they’re definitely ugly. Check this one out: “Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips.” Pretty ugly. And yet, I found the final line perplexing. He seems to excuse the ugliness for the basic needs of human nature)


These streets may as well be the streets of Constantinople. These prostitutes are but Roman whores, sitting on the steps of the ancient basilicas, and these lonely men, searching for the cheapest and the most exotic of meats almost mirror the anxious warriors of the Empire, returning from some bloody war—eyes and hair shining through the night, diluted and dyed in phosphorus—smiles so innocent and evil at the same time, resembling a poisoned strawberry, glowing with a lustrous sheen. Lust, lust, lust—like an unexpected avalanche the covetousness and cupidity knows no feelings, no boundaries. Sex to kill the boredom, sex to feel better about the self—does that really work? The worm made out of the two counterparts in this trade keeps swirling and swishing, growing wider and larger with each new arriving client. Concubines and business suits take over the harbor and the surrounding streets, while the bums jerk off in the alleys. Not befitting to this unorganized orgiastic swirling, I leave the harbor behind, marching away like the soldier of God, left, right, left, right…until the scent of sweating bodies can no longer be found in the air, until the trees and bushes provide me with a comfortable hideout. The street lamps glow far below, their light reflecting off the water like a burning inferno, but up here, I am alone, a cigarette in my mouth, watching the true life show before I settle for the night.


In the morning, I awake to the sounds of sea horns, traffic, and birds. Like a mad shivaree for civilization rather than newlyweds, it bounces off the green leafage, vibrates through the leafhoppers, and comes out of their tiny buttocks in the form of a sound, spreading everywhere like cosmic dust. I brush away the few leaves dropped on me as I slept, stand up, light a cigarette, and inhale. Exhaling a puff of smoke into the brisk morning air, I take a look at the harbor. Nothing left resembles last’s night imagery—the calm sea gently rocks the docked ships; the street is deserted. I descend back onto the main road, my body rested like royalty. It is no wonder that I feel like royalty; the castle in the background, standing proud on top of the hill, is certainly suitable for royalty of any kind, including me. I smile.


(I felt a certain sense of closure with the final sentence. “I smile.” Short sentences tend to have that effect. Now that the narrator sees the civilized world for what it is, “unorganized orgiastic swirling,” he’s happy to find his Place amongst the “green leafage” and “trees and bushes” describing the natural world as a “castle in the background…suitable for royalty.” I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the novel to see if the natural world also “shows it’s true face.”)


51BtuEKMatL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.


Henry Martin was born in 1977. 6583769Aside from his regular job at a preschool, he spends his nights writing fiction and poetry, which predominately deals with the often-overlooked aspects of humanity. He is the author of three novels: Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, and Eluding Reality; a short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts; and a poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. He is currently working on a joint project with an Australian photographer, Karl Strand, combining one of a kind images with short stories. He lives with his family in the Northeast. Check him out on Goodreads: Henry Martin


Writing as Art: Approaching Twi-Night

thNCEN8Z70Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from M. Thomas Apple’s debut novel, Approaching Twi-Night. Enjoy!


from Approaching Twi-Night

She arrived at an overcast Friday noontime, the last day of the homestand, in a tiny red car packed with clothing covering the back windows. Through the balcony sliding doors he watched her pull into the back lot, but he waited until she had come around front and rung the buzzer. He greeted her with a forced friendliness, an awkwardness which attempted to conceal two feelings, one of nostalgic longing, one of unforgiving regret. She smiled and said she felt as if she’d been on the road for days.

(Although it seems simple, there is a lot to say about this opening paragraph. To start off, Apple sets the scene without boring us to tears with explanation. The word “homestand” lets us know that the protagonist plays baseball. No other sport has “homestands”. We also know that he lives in an apartment because she parked in the “back lot” as he looked at her through the “balcony sliding doors.” Apple establishes the mood by describing the weather as “overcast”. Typical, right? Wrong. He’s a baseball player so an overcast sky could mean no game tonight. This establishes a parallel between his baseball career and his relationship with the woman in “the tiny red car,” through a simple juxtaposition. He reveals his mixed feelings for her as, “nostalgic longing” and “unforgiving regret,” which is further shown through his use of parallel structure/anaphora in that same sentence “one of…one of…”. There’s a lot I could say about characterization here, but this annotation has already grown exceedingly verbose. I’ll leave those comments to the masses. One last thing then I’ll move on. I liked the use of alliteration with “forced friendliness.” It makes it feel forced. Great effect)

He made her some coffee. John, Vi said, with some hesitation, is there anything I could eat? A bagel? A sandwich? She’d been living on pbj, she said, picking the mold out of her last grape jelly jar. He acquiesced.

She ate as they talked, carefully treading with conscious discomfort.

John mentioned to her that he had been writing again. But, he muttered, it stunk. It would never be good enough. It was crap. He was crap.

If you don’t think you can write, she asked, why do you bother doing it? She put down her cup and pulled out a cigarette. Do you mind? she asked. Well, I don’t have any ashtrays, he replied. I quit smoking.

(I always think Cormac McCarthy when I see dialogue without quotation marks. It’s hard to do because it can be confusing for some readers, but Apple does it masterfully. It isn’t that each character has a very unique voice, not yet at least. It’s clear who’s talking because Vi is limited to asking questions and John only makes statements. The sparse dialogue also contributes to the bleak atmosphere of the apartment and the bleak prospects of both character’s lives. We don’t know what Vi does as a profession but we do know she’s “living on pbj.” John is a failed writer and I’m starting to think he’s a minor-leaguer meaning that he’s poor and his life isn’t likely to go anywhere)

I didn’t know you ever did, Vi laughed, lighting up. He wandered over to the couch, picked up a random empty bottle from in front of the TV and thought: Two and a half years. We were seeing each other for two and a half years, and you don’t remember that I smoked. He set the bottle in front of her, watching her tip the ashes past the lip, casually. She coughed briefly and lowered her head.

(The use of imagery in this paragraph, “a random bottle from in front of the TV,” adds another layer to the already bleak atmosphere. I’m picturing a beer bottle and I’m questioning why it isn’t in the trash can. Reminds me of college, which was cool back then, but John’s not in college)

I don’t have anything to say, he stammered, gripping the coffee mug with both hands. He took a sip and swallowed. Nothing new. Everything I want to write has been done before. Everything I could say has been done before, everything I think has been thought before. What else could I say? What could I write that would make any difference?

Why do you still play ball? she asked, standing up. He opened his mouth to respond to the non sequitur as she took a couple of steps toward the kitchen. Do you mind if I make myself another sandwich? she asked, cutting into his train of thought.

No. No, go ahead, he said, waving a hand. I don’t know if there’s anything left besides bread, though. I mean anything good. Things might have gone bad after our first road trip.

That’s okay, Vi said over her shoulder. She had opened the fridge door, extracted the jam. She continued, I mean, you told me once you didn’t think you were good enough to stay in the majors. So, that means all you can do is play and make numbers in the minors. You know, all those statistics, all those numbers, they’ve all been done before. You’re not going to make it into the Hall of Fame or whatever. All you can do is make more numbers, right?

(Very intelligent use of dialogue. Did you see what he did here? He just asked “What’s the meaning of life” without sounding annoyingly philosophical. Apple tempers the question in two ways. First, it’s Vi who asks the question. Clearly, her voice comes off as informal and innocent. Second, because she’s making a sandwich, Vi seems a bit absent minded)

Stats. Vi had been a psych major, John remembered. Three years younger than him, when he first met her through a mutual friend in Amherst, an opposing pitcher. After an away game during a rainout makeup doubleheader, the second game a fairly good outing for himself, he was introduced to Vi at a party of some sort. John wasn’t good at parties, never was. He just liked to drink and to watch the goings-on. She liked to watch, too, she said in a private conversation. The body is the physical manifestation of the inner person, she confided. You could tell what someone was like through careful examination of material context: gestures, gesticulations, mannerisms, intimate corporeal details of the anatomy.

He had believed her, then.

John brought himself back to his present, surreptitious peeks at Vi, standing at his kitchen counter, cig in mouth, purple-covered knife in hand. What had she told him, at the time? Fifty. She’d been with fifty. I don’t want to be just another number, he’d told her that last time. She looked pleadingly. I can’t help how I feel. I can’t…

(This part brings it all together, his baseball career, his struggles as a writer, and his failed relationship with Vi. If the stats he accumulates in baseball don’t matter and the words he writes don’t matter, then why does the number of men Vi’s slept with matter? The logical development of this parallelism adds to the cynical beauty of the piece)

Fifty-one. How many numbers were there now? John wondered. He supposed she was right. There are no new numbers.




And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Approaching Twi-Night which happens to be free to download tonight. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.








Originally from Troy, New York, M. Thomas Apple spent part of his childhood in a tiny hamlet in the Helderbergs and his teenage years in a slightly larger village in the Adirondacks.13500352

He studied languages and literature as an undergraduate student at Bard College and later creative writing at the University of Notre Dame du Lac, where he wrote a controversial, award-winning opinion column for the student-run daily newspaper, The Observer, while composing the initial draft of what would become Approaching Twi-Night.

After further studies at Temple University, he now teaches global issues and English as a second language at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

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