Friday, August 5, 2011

Letting your child go

Soul's Road: A Fiction Collection has sailed. Watching it progress on Amazon is both terrifying and magnificent. As the editor I spent hours pouring over every page, every sentence, every indentation and period. I was warned by older editors, those wizened creatures with hard eyes and gray streaks. They told me that there will always be flaws. Always be misspellings you didn't catch, missing bits of punctuation or ghosts of former revisions clinging to the end of a word or sentence. I disagreed, politely at first, staunchly later on. I would be different, I would release something that shone, where no word was left unpolished. The old timers elbowed each other and said, "Izzat sooo?"

It wasn't so. When Soul's Road was ready to submit to Amazon, I hovered over that final button, sweat slicking my forehead, and I waited. Perhaps I was waiting for something divine, a light shining or a beautiful chorus or perhaps it was just fear that kept my finger from hitting that last key. My wife sat beside me and after a moment she turned, studying her husband. We waited.

When I finally hit the button, I remember feeling ill. What if I just let this magnificent collection of stories go out into the wild, disheveled, unprepared, punctuation wild with disregard? I immediately imagined myself pushing an orphan into the mouth of an alleyway, watching it stumble, fall.

The truth is a bit different. The old timers were right. There are flaws, always will be. I have already given myself a headache cataloging all the little things I wish I could change. But there is something more. Something I think the old timers saved out, wanted to let me find for myself. Sure there are things I would change but looking at Soul's Road in its final state, I see something other than the dirty orphan I imagined. I see a beautiful collection of stories that have taken me down one hell of a road. I am more than proud to be the editor for Soul's Road, more than proud to have watched this book grow from an idea into a brilliant demonstration of these writers' talents.

So I will hold my breath every time I see a foible but I know more now. I may not be an old timer, may not have edited enough to know better, but I do know that this collection of stories is something special, something profound. I am glad to have been a part of it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sneak Peak - World in a Sentence Stories

I like to keep several projects going at once, and one that has been on the back burner for a year or so is a collection of short stories, inspired by David Foster Wallace, all of which are composed of a single sentence. This is the first in the collection. I hope you enjoy it.

The Lamentable Kismet of D’arcy Montag

The Collins College of Advanced Physics and Quantum Mechanics (Redmond, Washington, not far from where Microsoft had erected their first campus during the personal computing boom of the early nineties, and only five kilometers north-northwest of where the Novell Robotics Corporation had begun construction of the Prometheus Orbital Elevator in the summer of 2016,) machine shop was "burning the midnight oils," as the phrase went, as a veritable parade of screaming echoes, warped colors and cacophonous voices as a string of maudlin cats, gilded dogs, unruly letters, punkish numbers, ersatz kanji (both Japanese and Chinese,) and three highly articulate pizzas all vied for viewing space in the eyes of one D'arcy Montag, student of the College of Advanced Physics and Quantum Mechanics (though due to a peculiar genetic condition, she was not so much a student as a teacher disguised as a student, and if one were to dig further, her knowledge of mathematics, science, quantum physics, mechanics, robotics, cybernetics, viral engineering and coffee brewing went far beyond what any ordinary professor might have to offer a class, even at the most prestigious of universities,) who was referred to by her classmates as "Skitz," as in "schizophrenic," (but misspelled due to the increase in usage of social networking tools which encouraged poor grammar as they connected people, and an increasingly wider gap between the grammatically correct haves and have-nots,) in order to gain the favor of her conscious mind, if only for a moment, so that they might take the opportunity to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, such as the answers to multiple-choice exams yet taken, the possible merits of immolating various political figures, offers of sexual coupling and endless quantum formulae which would make a mockery of the strongest intellects in the field, and had already, upon discussion with D'arcy, forced two such experts (a Mr. Richard Bloomquist of Collins College and a Miss Rachel Truberitz of nearby Bellevue University) to commit ritual suicide in a manner befitting disgraced theoretical physics professors (Bloomquist was reported by a local newspaper to have hung himself from an eye-washing station in a chemical laboratory, while Doctor Truberitz, for those in the know, was rumored to have hired a male prostitute and engaged in sexual intercourse, during which she began to cut herself with a shaving razor, and severed her femoral artery in a fit of bloody ecstasy, unfortunately bleeding out before she achieved climax,) tried her best, insomuch as was possible, considering the noise of it all, to busy herself with the tasks required to effect a repair of her particle accelerator, which had been damaged earlier in the week when D'arcy, in a self-described "blackout time" or indeterminate length and composition (as no one else was around to witness the episode in question,) caused her to initiate her experiment in particle acceleration, atomic recombination and molecular engineering without supervision, assistants or indeed any safety precautions of any kind, the result of which was both a) an experiment that, performed on a cubic centimeter of neodinium with a mass of approximately .72 kilograms, was successfully recombined, its component parts realigned and added to, creating a new element of approximately the same size (with roughly .018 cubic centimeters lost to impurities in the neodinium) which sported a new mass of nearly 720,000 kilograms, and upon attaining this fantastic new mass, promptly crashed through the holding apparatus, ten centimeters of cement flooring, two sub-basements, one boiler, one janitor's plastic mop bucket and the accompanying six cubic liters of dirty water, and eventually landed in the remains of a World War 2-era bunker that had remained hidden and secret under the college grounds ever since the Herakles Viral Research Program was cancelled by President Truman in late 1945, deemed unethical and unnecessary in light of the victory in Europe and the deployment of the atomic bomb in the Pacific theatre, (the facility was mothballed, ostensibly for a reopening of the Herakles Program at a later date, but lack of funding, increasing pressure from human rights elements in the government's black operations branch and an increasing body of research collected from British and French experiments during the war pointed to the cost-prohibitive nature of the program, and it was eventually terminated, the bunkers containing the research buried under a landfill and eventually under the machine shop of Collins College of Advanced Physics and Quantum Mechanics, leaving the research undisturbed for the better part of eighty years until it was damaged in D'arcy's unauthorized excursion into uncharted scientific waters, further results of which included roughly two hundred thousand dollars in damages, plus incidental losses of various tools, raw materials and one lab cat that was to be used for hearing loss experiments by the adjacent Collins College of Auditory Wellness, and had for many months been affectionately referred to as "Oscar the Audible Stimulus-Comprehending Cat," but would thereafter be referred to, with mixed feelings of anger, regret and unadulterated rage, as "Oscar the Unlucky," insomuch as the Auditory Wellness students cared to remember the untimely death of Oscar, rather than his life which, up until its end, had been rather fruitful, and had included: two kittens, seventeen couplings with other cats, one successful fight for a particularly vivacious house tabby and, most recently and finally, one near-death experience with a Firestone tire, size B-16, mounted on the front driver's side of a white Ford F-150, which happened to belong to the dean of the College of Auditory Wellness, hence Oscar's rescue from "stray" status to "Laboratory Subject" and "Mascot" status in the summer of 2012, where after Oscar took part in no less than sixty experiments involving hearing loss and possible genetic, cybernetic and intelli-viral methods of curing chronic auditory dysfunction (commonly referred to as "hearing loss") in adults of all ages, most of which had reached satisfactory conclusions, granting Oscar a decidedly austere reputation among Auditory Wellness students, who took his positive responses as a good omen, of course, until the day of the explosion, after which, the reputation of D'arcy Montag and indeed the entire College of Advanced Physics and Quantum Mechanics was lowered considerably, both by students of the Auditory Wellness program and by fellow students of the CAPQM, who had lost a small fortune's worth of investments in personal projects, including, but not limited to: one mechanical arm, slated to become a replacement for static prosthetics, one hydraulic-powered exoskeleton, ready to receive armor mountings, weapon hard points and perform a demonstration for a pre-greased panel of military officials and defense contractors, and one bag of Northern California Sensamea, with a street value of approximately two thousand dollars.

Blogger and I are like BFFs

I've had the pleasure of having a Blogger blog since the days people were still scratching their heads wondering what a blog was. I remember the original layouts, how it was its own language.

Over the years, I have learned to master that language. So when I was asked to help out with the Soul's Road blog, I felt I was up to the challenge.

Sprucing up this blog was like my final exam.

Why final exam? Well, I'm in the final semester of my Goddard experience, have a full time job, and on any given day I have little pieces of life-drama stacked up on my plate as high as Mount Rainier. That means this bad boy had to come together in the free minutes over a weekend. So quick execution was essential.

So here it is. The final exam. The quick weekend execution. I've tried to arrange our Internet home with some style, some grace, and some pretty pictures.

This isn't the complete end. I have some more thoughts I want to execute. But, this is it for now. Hope you enjoy it! And if there is anything we've missed, leave us a comment on this post and we will fix it.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Changes, they are coming.

Hello everyone!

As we inch closer to the release of Soul's Road, we'll be tweaking the site over the next couple of days. It may seem like a big mess for a bit but there is a method to the madness. (Isn't there always?)

All this to beg our faithful readers for their patience. We promise, it will be worth the wait.

Thanks in advance! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Readings from Soul's Road

With the redesign moving at glacier pace, I thought I would release a treat today. Please glance to your right and find a lovely reading from Ann Keeling's Singing of the Sun. I will be adding additional readings in the coming weeks. Next up is a sample from Peter McMinn's, Sanctum.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Golden Egg: A Symbol of Faith

I will tell you the truth as I remember it.

Ellen was returning from the north beach one morning at dawn as I approached Point Wilson Lighthouse. In the year and a half I’d known her, we’d met many times near here—she a dedicated runner and me seeking in the waves a few moments of quiet during the Goddard residencies. Most mornings she smiled but we didn’t talk so as not to break my reverie or her stride. I was always glad to see her out there—a kindred spirit.

That morning—were we on the large rocks where the Sound becomes the Strait or on the curved stretch where Whidbey blends with the rest of the San Juans?—she stopped and placed something cool and smooth against my palm. She said to me, “This is your novel—a golden egg.” I opened my fingers to see an ovoid golden stone. It must have been her last residency or graduation. I would have been a G3 or G4—full of a book that hadn’t yet found its form.

I thanked her and slipped the stone into my purse. During the remaining days of the residency, my fingers brushed against that stone and one day I even sat atop the bunkers cupping it and feeling the faith it took to call my novel a golden egg.

Throughout the semester I carried that stone in my purse as I gestated my novel and in the days, after I graduated it sat on my desk while I revised. Once the book was hatched, the stone’s presence on my desk reminded me that someone else believed in my work.

I don’t know whether Ellen had ever been given a similar stone or how many others she had given, but I continued her tradition. I have many friends who are writers and I believe in each of their work in an individual way, but I have only given two golden eggs. I meant to give another this weekend, but it slipped my mind in all the graduation excitement. I will never know what became of the rocks themselves, but I hope the gift of faith that accompanied them lives on.

The golden egg is a simple stone, but it reminds me of how simple the most meaningful gifts we can give each other are. Take a moment today to pass on a golden egg, even if it’s virtual, to someone you believe in. You have no idea how long it could sustain someone.

These days I carry in my purse a piece of pink quartz I picked out for myself for a new project, but my heart is filled with the faith of my friends.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I have been trying for a while now to understand why the feeling I got seeing the cover and table of contents for SOUL’S ROAD was so familiar. And then I recalled: In a former life I was part of a home-grown musical that miraculously landed on Broadway.  Our first performance was to be a midnight “gypsy run-through” for all the other Broadway casts.  I arrived at the theater that morning and found a pile of new Playbills.  My photograph was on the cover, and it literally took my breath away.  I had to walk around the block once to stop the tears and then a second time to try to understand why I was so moved, having come to music for a variety of reasons that at no time included a quest for fame.  I’d already had a long career in New York.  This was not my first time appearing on Broadway, or even my first time in a show I’d helped create.  But this was a show I’d worked on with good friends, colleagues whose work I admired and whose outsider journeys to this moment resonated with my own.  We’d connected with producers who believed in us and dug in to help turn dream into reality.  And there we were, with our photos on the cover of Playbill. 

SOUL’S ROAD is certainly a collaboration with writers whose work I greatly admire.  Those I know from the wondrous Goddard College residencies I consider friends.  And Cody Luff, our editor and the inspiration for launching this project, has certainly done back-flips to make this real.  So when I saw the galleys for the book I was thrilled by the physical proof that we were in fact going to be published and, more importantly, so greatly moved by the fact of being published in the company of this particular group of writers.  Whatever the outcome, the journey has been miraculous and for me at least the journey is everything.  So this is a maybe too-public thanks to one and all involved in this effort. 

Back on that day in 1982 (!!) I returned from my walk and at 10AM we did our first full run-through of the show.  Our producers had given us creative control of the production, and at noon we fired their director and put them through twelve hours of hell while we completely re-staged (and therefore re-lit) the entire show.  At 11:30 that night we opened the house to everyone then working on Broadway.  We literally had people sitting on top of one another in the aisles – the fire department would have closed us down if they’d come inspecting.  But they didn’t, and at midnight we got the cue to start the very first run-through of this new version of the show.  Our producers were the very picture of controlled hysteria, because Broadway was a land where they lived but we were only visiting .  It would be sad and humiliating for us if we fell on our faces in front of this crowd; for them it would be fatal.  But when we hit the final note the audience roared to its feet and we knew we’d pulled it off.  I tell this story, probably again too publically, as a reminder to Cody who is going through his own version of last-minute hell to make certain everything is just right.  Last minute madness seems to be an inevitable part of endeavors like this.  Calm would be a sign that everything had gone horribly wrong.  The chaos is the good news.  Embrace the chaos.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Readings from Soul's Road

The blog has been a little slow lately, we are contemplating a new design, new features and more stories to add. In a day or two we should have a few sample readings from Soul's Road writers here for you to listen to. Writers reading their own work in a nifty, audio cast. Since this beast so lovingly referred to as the Internet is such a complex animal, the file might take several forms before it chooses its final shape. Keep checking back, these readings are definitely worth listening to.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dream Walking the Road

It came to me years ago, pronounced in a dream like second language vocabulary. It turned over and over in mind, syllables tumbling slowly into place. The setting I cannot recollect, but the locale was foreign. Maybe I sat crossed-legged in a smoky, gold-laced den, rāga' tableau pulsing the air alongside the beckoning drone of a sitar. Maybe not. I do know I got to my feet to receive it: a dream-word hovering opaque, intangible; and a rich voiceyour path, it said. Vengarahala.

Did you mean: vinegar hilal? asks Google? Venkatachala? offers Wikipedia. I've not fully investigated the permutations, but of our esteemed body of knowledge I have deduced that damn little supports my unique understanding of the word. I was either bestowed this word or in some way I chose it. Whatever the origin, the passive/active nature of vengarahala finds me pondering its significance today, nearly two decades later.

Life is different, now. And now. In June of 2010 I stopped consuming alcohol, and a month later I graduated with my Goddard MFA: two consecutive steps away from a passive condition into an active one. Since then, the energy I'd been channeling into a manuscript far too small for its weight has found new direction in short stories such as "Sanctum," graciously included in Soul's Road. Stories arising or informed by dreams. And as they come forward, so the road unrolls.* My late father, ragged boy-man, appears on the shoulder of one recent dream road. Scrawled on his board in what must have drained the cartridge of a ballpoint (his last?): any-freakin-place.

So, toward being a better writer, dreaming is a big part of my walk. If I haven't at some point experienced in a dream the emotional current of a story or poem, it won't often have the sea-legs or guts for revision. My characters are my subjects and, as Bob Dylan said of his own, all versions of myself on their own paths, doomed or otherwise.

Something else I've been carrying around a few years: El camino se hace al andar.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

While we reorganize: Yet another story--Cody T Luff

We are in the process of organizing the blog, or rather reorganizing the blog. Look for changes next week, more stories, more entries, a few surprises. To tide you over and to keep the blog's pulse flickering, I am posting another story. This is from a collection of stories about Montana, please do not reproduce, distribute or copy in any way. Feel free to link. Hope you enjoy and we'll see you soon:

I didn't know what a buckle bunny was. Tom did. He was eleven, that made him God. We were at the rodeo, done up in cowboy boots, neckerchiefs and hats that were too big. Tom would get to ride a sheep, further proof he was divine.
            "Buckle bunnies hump cowboys." Tom told me. We'd discussed what humping was the night before. He'd showed me a few pictures he'd torn from one of his brother's magazines. It looked painful.
            “Cowboys do a good ride and the buckle bunnies come right over.” Tom had pushed his hat all the way down, eyes barely showing beneath the rim. He said it made him look tough. I wondered how he could see anything.
            “Darrel got one the other night. Mom had to cook them both breakfast and Dad was all proud.” Darrel was the oldest of Tom’s brothers. He practiced roping by having Tom run around the front yard and snagging him with a lariat around the ankles. Sometimes he’d hog tie Tom and leave him out there until Tom’s mother found him.
            “She said she was seventeen. Real blonde, not the drugstore kind. Darrel said he checked.” We were leaning against the sheep pen. I had my thumbs in my belt loops just like Tom. “Mom got all mad. She was going to throw them both out, Darrel and the buckle bunny but Dad told her to just shut the hell up and make some eggs.”
            We stood awhile, Tom watched sheep, “I bet I get the buckle today, I bet I get it good.” Tom a buckle already. A little pig iron thing that somebody had hammered together in their garage. He’d won it last year, beat out a kid who broke his collar bone after falling head first off his sheep. “Come on.”
            Tom led me to the concession stand, corn dog sticks and beer cans punctuated the mud. We stopped by the propane tank that fed the grill. He pointed, “There she is.”
            She turned out to be an Indian girl. About twelve, long black braids and a beaded vest. She was selling fry bread with an old lady that was quick with a flyswatter.
            “Who is she?” I asked.
            “My buckle bunny.”
            “Is she really?”
            “Is she really a buckle bunny?”
            “All the girls here are.” Tom said.
            “ My sisters aren’t.” I said.
            “How do you know?”
            “Dad wouldn’t let them go home with nobody. Last week he chased Kari’s boyfriend around the house with his warclub.”
            “Warclub? Your dad aint no Indian.”
            “Sometimes.” I said.
            “Maybe they just sneak out.”
            “Nah uh. Mom would hear.”
            “Okay. Maybe they aren’t buckle bunnies. Yet.” He wasn’t paying much attention. He watched the Indian girl’s hands for a long time.
            “It’ll be a good buckle.” Tom said and I didn’t know what he meant.
Right before Tom was scheduled to ride, Darrel showed up. He was tall, slim, Marlboro quality. He offered me a pinch of his chew. He always did, every time he saw me. I only took it once, puked for enough hours to convince me once was enough. He still laughed over it.
            “When you gonna ride, Andy?” Darrel asked.
            “Mom won’t let me.” I said, handing Tom his gloves.
            “Shit. Never let no woman tell you what to do.” Darrel said.
            “Dad won’t either.” I said and Darrel just nodded. Darrel and Dad had a run in over me being hog tied. Darrel had been practicing and Tom and I had run around until we got roped. Darrel tied us and left us. I came home a few hours later with a sun burn that turned my whole face purple. Dad had walked over to Tom’s place and talked to Darrel. It wasn’t a nice talk. I didn’t get tied up any more and Darrel started calling my Dad Mr. Hines instead of just Barry.
            Darrel walked Tom and me over to the chute, where they tied the riders on. Darrel got a big kick out of watching Tom get settled on his sheep.
            “You hold on now, don’t let that bugger drag you nowhere.” Darrel laughed, chew in his teeth.
A cowboy asked Tom is he was ready and Tom nodded, his face bright red, brighter than his neckerchief. A voice over a loud speaker blared away, giving Tom’s win record and making a joke about a future bull rider. The cowboy popped the gate and Darrel kicked the sheep hard. Somebody cussed at him and things started happening all at once. The sheep took off crooked, coming out of the chute at an angle, the crowd in the arena started making that ocean sound crowds make and Tom’s free arm caught the gate post.
            I watched that arm turn all the way back, bent straight out, sideways, ending up all the way behind Tom as his sheep veered hard. Tom was tied in tight but the force was just too much and he was pulled off because of his hung up arm. I’d never seen an arm bend like that. I’d done something similar to one of my GI Joes, bending a soldier’s plastic arm back until the joint exploded into fine bits. Tom howled.
            Suddenly there were cowboys everywhere, guys jumping over the corral wall, men running in through the gate. I got my hat knocked off as they converged on Tom.
            The announcers voice, feedback rotten, blew through the arena. A man in a white hat bent over Tom’s limp arm. Tom was bawling, something I’d never seen before, even when Darrel knocked out Tom’s front tooth the day after New Years.
            “Don’t worry folks, the Doc is there and Tom Hammond is being looked after. We’ll continue with the sheep riding in a few minutes, why don’t you take the time to visit with the gals at the concession stands? There’s a two for one deal on Tater-Bacon sticks…” The loudspeaker kept on and the Doc put his knee in Tom’s back and pulled real hard. I heard the pop over the announcer’s voice. Tom made a gagging noise.
            I didn’t notice Darrel standing next to me. Neither of us had gone over to Tom after his fall.
            “He won’t get that buckle now,” I said. “She won’t be his buckle bunny without no buckle.”
            “What?” Darrel asked, snapping awake liked he’d been somewhere else.
            “His buckle bunny. The Indian girl at the fry bread place.”
            “Indian girl?” Darrel said, looking down at me.
            The Doc carried Tom over, Tom’s arm tied up against his chest. One boot was off and it was in the hands of a guy with a huge mustache, he looked like he was carrying something fragile.
            “You the brother?” Doc asked. Darrel nodded. “Alright then. Pulled ‘er right out of the socket. Sprained him up pretty good. I don’t know but one of his ribs might be busted. You should take him in for an x-ray.” Doc passed Tom to Darrel and it was like they were handing off a puppet dressed in a brush popper shirt. Darrel didn’t say anything and the Doc didn’t stick around long enough to notice. The guy with the mustache handed me Tom’s boot and patted me on the shoulder.
            “Your buddy’s pretty tough. He done good.” The guy said, he nodded to Darrel and followed the Doc.
            Tom was looking at me from his brother’s arms and I held out his boot.
            “Sorry.” I said. Tom took his boot with his uninjured hand and I could see tears through all the mud. “Maybe she’ll be your bunny anyway.” I said.
            Tom looked at his brother real fast and back at me, “You told him?”
            “He did,” Darrel said. “A god damned Indian.” Darrel started walking, carrying Tom like firewood.
            “No, that’s not…” Tom tried but Darrel interrupted.
            “We’ll talk about it with the old man.” Darrel called his father that. The old man.
            “No, I’m sorry.” Tom said.
            “You will be.” Darrel said.
            My dad found me outside Tom’s father’s horse trailer. Tom, Darrel and his dad were inside and they were shouting. Dad didn’t say anything but we listened for a long time before he took my hand and we walked toward the concession stands.
            “Wanna Tatter-Bacon stick?” He asked.
            “No.” I said. I was scared for Tom. Dad stopped walking and he kneeled down in front of me. His beard was still black and brown then.
            “You worried?”
            “Why are they so mad at him. He didn’t mean to get hurt.”
            “That’s not why they’re mad.”
            Dad looked at me for a while before he scooped me up and pitched me under one arm. He talked as he carried me.
            “Some folks are small. Not short like you, “he jiggle me until I giggled, “they’re small in the head, in the heart. Tom’s dad and his brothers are all like that. Small.” Dad plopped me on my feet and we were in front of the fry bread stand. “Some folks don’t know a good thing from their heels of their boots.” The Indian girl was still there and the old woman too. They looked at Dad and smiled. Dad said something in Crow, and the old lady waved her flyswatter at him, smiling. He turned to me, “This is Katy Long Hair and her Grandma, Mary. She’s Robert’s niece.”
            Robert was Dad’s friend from when he lived on Crow Agency, back before he married my Mom. Robert would go riding with Dad sometimes and he’d made me a bow out of willow that I could take along when I walked by the river with my folks
            “Hi.” Katy said, and handed me a piece of fry bread in a little cardboard boat.
            “Hi,” I said and I was glad that Tom didn’t win the buckle. “Do you like cowboys?” I said.
            “Are you a cowboy?” She asked.
            “Sometimes.” I said
            “Then I like ‘em sometimes.” She said and smiled.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What is your Soul's Road?

The writers of Soul's Road explored their own Muse. What is yours? What inspires you or has inspired you? Tell us in the comments section, make it a story, a memory, an anecdote or just a sentence or two. The path to the Muse is one we either struggle to find or one that overtakes us. Let us know!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Story----Cody T Luff

I thought I would post a story tonight, something to put a reader in the mood to check out Soul's Road when she (yes, the book is a she) makes it out into this world. The following is a sample from a larger work, please do not reproduce, distribute, copy or annotate. If you would like to link, that is fine by me. The story has a few names, from Hard Country to Hanna's Girls, for tonight, it's just Hanna.

                                                                  Cody T Luff

 She hung on to pretty until the end. Long hair pulling down her back. Braids sometimes, curls breaking ranks, pushing through. Thin fingers, wrists, even past fifty her hands spoke music. I remember her under the good quilt, throat naked of flesh, cancer cutting curves to angles. I held her hand. Her thumb against my knuckles. She looked at me a long time before she said, “We didn’t do this much, did we.” I remember saying no, we didn’t. I remember getting up, making coffee. I remember wishing her to sleep.
            Funeral is not for the dead. My daughters taught me that. They wanted their mother laid to rest in the best way. I told them what Hanna wanted and they nodded and touched my hands. Hanna didn’t want to be planted, grow a stone with her name, didn’t want grand kids chuffed up in black walking by a “here I was and now I’m not” headstone. She wanted the fire. We both did. That’s what we started with and that’s how we wanted to end.

They got her a coffin, all three girls agreed. Brass, mahogany. Big enough to crush our bed. She’d be lost in there, inside that padding. In the dark.

When she was young she could sing in German. Her mother knew enough to pass it down. I’d stand outside the bathroom and listen to her. She couldn’t sing in front of anybody. Just in the bathroom, water running in the tub. She’d sing and I would hold my breath to hear every word, dizzy enough by the time the spigot stopped and I imagined her legs slipping into that deep heat. I never told her and she pretended not to know. She’d come out, towel around her hair, bathrobe hand-me-down striped in the way everything was striped back then. Have a good bath? She’d nod, take the towel off and her hair would come down like chocolate thread.

The girls wanted a preacher man. They knew my feelings on that. No man can earn his bread by telling another man what to do. But they found God anyway, one through her husband and the others through their sister. Their father might be a lost cause but their mother needed a guarantee. I tried to tell them if Hanna didn’t make it to heaven, who would? Preacher cost three hundred. The girls wanted to pay but they don’t understand, she was my Hanna.

She wasn’t easy. Me neither. I won’t say like drew like because the old folks know that isn’t true. You find your opposite, at least in some way. Sometimes you’re the key sometimes the hole. There were things she wanted that I didn’t have. Things I gave that she didn’t take. We fought. Wouldn’t have lasted if we didn’t. I’m not saying there weren’t mistakes. You get scars as you go but it’s the big scars that show how tough you are.

They didn’t want to sell anything. Rented a storage unit. Fed it everything that was Hanna’s. The old rocking chair, the broken sewing machine, the tether ball set that spent one day up before I backed into it with the old Jeep. Her books too. Took everyone of them. They took Hanna’s Bible too. I wonder which one got to it? For the pictures, the letters. All those things that Hanna slipped inside were talismans. Memories. I thought about it some. Took a walk, down the way Hanna would go when she was mad at me and needed trees. I walked and I tried to find if there was anything in there that I might want back. If there was a way I could ask for it back. The girls loved their mother and I am sure they love their father too but the providence of memories is feminine. Something I had no handles to hold to. When I got back, Hanna’s trees still thick on my skin, I sat in my chair and looked at the space she left in the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Winning Goodreads

Part of the assignment for Soul’s Road is for all of us writers to find a way to let the world know about this collection. We have a self-appointed marketing department of three who are feeding ideas to the group. One thing I had never thought of was joining Goodreads. Icess Fernandez got Soul’s Road set up there (find us and rate us here). The next step was for each of us to set up an author profile.

I spend an embarrassing amount of time each week on social media. I tell myself it’s my job because I am a communications coordinator, but really, I brought social media to my job because it was something I was doing anyway. I did not think I needed another site to visit (just as I never thought I would blog, but here is my third post in two weeks). So I was a little hesitant to sign up for Goodreads, but as one of the self-appointed marketing experts, I thought I should set a good example. I had no idea what I was in for.

Goodreads (in case you don’t know) is a site built entirely for readers where you can rate, share, and recommend books to other readers. Talking about books is one of my very favorite things in life, as anyone who’s been pinned down in a fireside chat with me can attest. But I read so much and socialize so little, that I haven’t been filling this need. Sure I send a friend an email about a book or post about it on facebook, but somewhere between posts about my hangnail and my lunch, the important conversations about books get lost. Which means I was hooked on Goodreads the moment I signed in.

The first day I was a member I filled in, rated, and reviewed all the books I had read over the last week. I was at work and didn’t have access to my bookshelves, but you better believe I was excited to get home. I think I ended the day with nine books on my “shelf” and a few friends Goodreads helped me find from my email account. Things didn’t get really crazy until the next morning.

I am an early riser and often fitful first thing. I go on the internet or putter around the house—sometimes I even walk the dog—anything to put my mind in a more restful place where I can read and write. Day two of Goodreads gave me the perfect task. I sat down in my office and started inputting books I have in my shelves. My bookshelves are a special place—crowded and double-stacked with more books piled on top—but every book in those shelves is one I have read and liked (or am keeping for future study).

So there I was at some ungodly hour of the morning typing all of my books into the internet. But the goal of Goodreads isn’t just to type your books in, you get to rate them too. As a fast reader, I am not always the best at remembering the books I’ve read, so having them in front of me was a great advantage and knowing that I had read them (they had, after all, made the shelf) helped too.

It started out rather easily. I input the books stacked horizontally on top of other books—those were the ones I had read most recently and it was easy to rate them. Then I noticed my ratings were skewing high, but I told myself it was okay because I was pulling from a stack of books I had kept. No one was going to judge me on my ratings, right? Things started getting more difficult when I reached the vertical books—some of which I haven’t read in years. If it sat in the shelf, I gave it at least a three unless I knew I kept it for another reason. The exercise even gave me a chance to look at some books and wonder why they were still there (I try to purge often) if I couldn’t remember them. Things got really difficult when I started rating books by friends. Honesty is the best policy, but I also tend to be harsher on people I know and love in some perverse attempt to help them better themselves. But these ratings are important, right? Soul’s Road is rated five stars at this writing because, well, our friends have been rating it. But who else is going to rate a bunch of unknowns. Who else has access to the manuscript in advance of the release…

Throughout the day I gave my partner updates on my progress. At 391, it was cute, I had surpassed one of my friends who seemed to commit to the endeavor. At 460, as I had taken the laptop to the living room so I could rate while I was talking with him, I felt a twinge of chagrin at misplaced priorities. In the evening as I furiously typed in my 700th rating, he teased me about trying to “win” Goodreads. He was right. I had taken a social site where people casually input their favorite books, and I had input everything I ever remembered reading. There were rules, of course, I only put in my very favorite childhood books and who could even remember the titles (let alone rate) the armloads of horror novels I used to collect during the summer, but I may have taken things a bit far.

This morning I am trying to channel my competitive nature elsewhere. I’m using Goodreads to compare reading compatibility with my friends (which is also a chance to see books I may have missed adding to my shelf). I’m writing this blog. I’m wondering where in the 706 books I’ve rated and the 3,458 movies we’ve rated on Netflix I even have time to get teased by my partner. I may even take the dog for a walk. But if you think you can beat my tally or you want to see how compatible we are as reading buddies, find me and friend me here. I’ll be adding books as I remember them and as I read new ones. I will even write reviews and fill in my bio and interests. And maybe, just maybe, I will find that life off of the internet.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Phil Paddock on a Soul's Road

Ah Summer. Having declined to teach summer school, I looked forward to nothing but relaxation. Not! Do you recall Gatsby’s little diary that listed his “self-improvement” schedule? He probably had chin ups, and elocution on there. Well that’s the kind of the thing I do all the time. Old school with the pen and paper. The handwriting has to look decent too. There’s a certain feel I have to have in my hand and fingers as the ink marks the page. Otherwise I crumple it and start over making my calendars, my lists of long term and short term gotta do’s. I’m telling you, that’s what I do. It’s hard to admit. Released into the great open space of a teacher’s vacation and I start making up lists of what I have to accomplish. It’s a little strange, because I don’t remember where or when I picked up the habit. Looking for an answer, I glanced back over my shoulder, down the road my soul has travelled. I saw my 20 year old self. Nope, definitely wasn’t making those lists at age 20. Oh to be 20. So here’s the thing; as summer began I could hardly sleep with so many plans that needed to be written down in perfect form with a pen upon a piece of paper. One of the items on the list was to improve my cardiovascular condition, primarily by running. You know, establish a routine. Yes, yes, so many plans. Within days, my wife and I traveled to New York, my first visit ever to the Empire State. In New York, the running was hit or miss. But when we got out to the far shores of Long Island, the running part of the plan became more promising. It was our good fortune to stay near a seemingly endless stretch of sand between Montauk and South Hampton. While staying there I researched my family’s genealogical history. My father’s side traces back not to the Port of New York, where so many entered from Europe, but to the Plymouth settlement in the 1600’s. From there, many of them worked the sea along Cape Cod. On our final morning before flying home to California, my wife and I took a final walk along the shore. We talked and stooped down to examine mermaid’s purses, scallop shells and horseshoe crab casks. All of a sudden I noticed how much time had passed. If I didn’t take off running back to our rendezvous point, we’d cause our gracious hostess to wait for us and possibly complicate our journey home. So I took off and soon, propelled by a fear of missing the driver and the opportunity to accomplish my Gatsby task, I entered into a runner’s trance. I, renowned among my peers for an excellent sense of time and place, ran right past the intended beach access. And then some. Unknowingly a half mile past, I sought directions and received bad information that took me even farther East. Running on, I couldn’t believe that I should continue in that direction. I turned back, then doubted myself and reversed again. Sand and dunes and seemingly the same houses. What the hell. I’d been running for over an hour in soft sand. My hamstring had begun to cramp. The sun was high, hot and as relentless as the wristwatch on my arm that ticked away the minutes. On the verge of panic, I stopped to let something wash over me. Something of the Atlantic, something of my ancestral past conspiring to keep me there along the far Eastern shore on the very first time I’d stepped upon it, like an old fisherman’s net tangling my legs. Those old whaler souls sounding off in every shore break, laughing that they’d fixed me such a puzzle. I chuckled too as I took my last look over the sea, then turned and found someone with a cell phone to make a call. Holding it to my cheek, it was as though I no longer spoke the same language.