Fiction

Screenplay: Out With Italians [Excerpt] by Tony Bianco

OUT WITH ITALIANS

FADE IN:

EXT. SANTA REY – DAY – ESTABLISHING

A small fishing town in the San Francisco Bay Area. December 7, 1941.

INT. LINO’S APARTMENT – PARLOR – NIGHT

A small, simple apartment. LINO NOCCI, 35, wiry, handsome, a scar along the left half of his jawline, stands staring at his radio. An Italian-speaking announcer is talking about the Pearl Harbor bombing.

ANNOUNCER (V .O.)
Il bombardamento di Pearl Harbor denudera il gran buffone d’Italia, Benito Mussolini. La debolezza di Mussolini sara esposto per il mondo. Il nemico di tutt’italiani, il pazzo detestato stara disfatto. Mussolini …

The announcer is cut off in mid-sentence. There’s KNOCKING at the front door.

Lino turns the radio’s knob but gets only static. The KNOCKING gets LOUDER.

LINO
(heavy Italian accent)
Why you no break down?

FBI AGENT #1 (O.S.)
Lino Nocci. FBI . Open up or we will.

LINO
Who you are?

FBI AGENT #1 (O.S.)
Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lino hurries away from the door. (more…)

Forum Online– Fall, 2016

We are pleased to announce the winners of the first annual writing contest!

Poetry: Gloria Keeley for her poem, “Billie”

Fiction: Chandler Vannasdall for his story “End of the Line”

Click for more poems, stories, and photos from our fantastic Fall, 2016 authors to the right–under Who We Are!

And the amazing photo above, “Fall,” is by Suzanne Notario.  More photos by her appear in the genre sections!   Suzanne’s  first photography course was in Fall 2013 at City College of San Francisco. She discovered a whole new world of creativity, and has been taking photography classes here ever since.

 

 

 

 The winning poem chosen by Cullen Bailey Burns

Billie

By Gloria Keeley

Thelonious played Black Crow

low and slow

strange fruit still echoes

blackened in the cold hard sun

night fell on

the slip knot of moon

color lines drawn on

the maps of trees

roots unaware

magnolias budded white

sway with the gentle breeze

music of washboards and harps

far from plantation mansions

in the backwater’s dark strut with

the taps of shoes

before the wolves hunt,

the black locusts buzz

gospel singers tune

their collective voices

the fruit gathered neatly

beneath the darkening shade

headed toward heaven

the horns blow Dixie

And the winning story chosen by Jackie Davis-Martin!

End of the Line

By Chandler Vannasdall

Rambert sits cross-legged near the back of a crowded city bus. He dreads the long commute home, because after this bus reaches its final destination, he still must catch two more crowded busses before he can rest. He takes tiny sips from his flask, hidden in his sleeve, in order to ease the stress of his workday. Rambert looks up from the newspaper he just struggled several minutes to fold in the perfect shape for reading the article he saved to read last.

While carefully observing the long dark smudges of ink on his left hand, he notices just beyond his focus sits an elderly lady. She is sitting with her arms crossed over her chest under a faded pink shawl, her mouth tightly pursed in a scowl, and her hair curled up like that of a dainty but dedicated 1940’s housewife.

Rambert stares at her and begins to imagine all the horrible discomfort and displeasure that this old woman must feel, cramped into the same mechanic cage as he is. He begins to imagine how she must be so disgusted by the harsh reality of the four young school boys, giggling, huddled around looking at nude photos of the same celebrities in the same teenaged TV shows they will undoubtedly watch with their siblings when they get home. He imagines how her soft ears are getting bombarded with brutal words. People forming phrases so profane, and so near her head that she is forced to imagine the kind of violence these young people speak about to one another as if commonplace. Rambert wishes he could kick everyone of these people off the bus for the way they are behaving in her elegant presence.

The bus clears out some, and Rambert now lowers his newspaper without reading the article he had saved previously, uncrosses his legs, and with a sharp exhale begins to carefully walk towards the front of the bus. He glances a little longer than normal at each disappointing group of millennials as he passes them, believing that if he could position himself nearer to the old woman and match her disapproving scowl he will be able to save her from the struggle of her commute.

He finds an empty seat and carefully slumps back down into the hard plastic seats as he takes another sip from his flask, and crosses his other leg. Rambert is now so dialed in on defending the honor of the lady now just a few seats away; he notices a very young couple standing a block away on the bus route. The couple is smoking the end of a joint and caressing one another with glazed over eyes, smoke stained fingers gliding through one another’s hair. Rambert now sees that the young man is covered in piercings and tattoos and the girl is not covered in very much at all, and he now wonders what the sweet old woman must be enduring. Her feeble arms suddenly unfold and he shares his disapproval of the couple’s demeanor, because Rambert knows that the elderly lady stuck on this circus of a bus would never have tolerated this kind of public behavior and never stood for this grotesque display of mutual disrespect if only she could even still stand on a moving bus.

The same young girl, although at this point in the ride there are many empty seats, sits on her boyfriends lap. Rambert stares coldly and starts to even feel embarrassed for the old woman and her honor, as the young man sticks his tongue down the throat of his girlfriends and slowly slides his hand up her shirt. The old woman’s pursed lips now fall agape, in the uncertain shock and disbelief that Rambert feels he fully shares with this woman by now, and uncrosses his legs to match her physical response.

The bus is now approaching the last leg of the long route out of town, and the last of the rotten and unforgivable proprietors of these so-deemed public atrocities exits the bus. Only Rambert, the old woman, and the insistently unbiased driver of the bus now share the silver space. With the departure of the deviants and the last sip of his flask, Rambert is now able to relax. He uncrosses his legs, stretches his arms, picks up the treasured article from his perfectly folded paper and his eyes slide across the gray page in the total silence of the once chaos-filled chrome coffin the two quietly endured for over an hour.

Rambert begins to pack up his briefcase and buttons his brown jacket, noticing the bus slowing to approach the first station in his travel. He stands and walks past the woman. As he is passing he leans his head down, smiles sincerely at his stranger-friend and nods his head. Rambert steps carefully onto the dark wet cement, lights a cigarette and begins to walk to his next bus stop six blocks south.

The old woman is still sat on the bus Rambert had left moments ago, and is not moving even one of her meek, little muscles despite the once silent bus driver now shouting “Everyone off!” for the third time to an otherwise empty bus. The driver, now in her full state of frustration, walks back to the woman and begins to nudge her right shoulder, still speaking loudly at her “Excuse me!“ the old woman now slumps over onto the linoleum floor as cold as her flesh, eyes wide, and mouth still stretched open, and the bus driver’s mouth finally opens as wide as the woman’s and screams.

The ambulance arrives in a storm of red steaming mist, matching the brake lights against the fog on the back of the bus. A young man in all white is sprinting up the steps of the bus, skipping half of them and leans down immediately to remove the woman’s pink shawl and examine her. With water in his eyes the young man glances up at the bus driver and now softly speaks through his teeth, “Dead…for three or four hours”. And Rambert removes his hat and steps carefully onto his second bus, crossing his legs in the dotted reflection of the next ride’s rear window.

Short Story by Kendra Lindemann

Okay

By Kendra Lindemann

Grass smells different in the morning than in the afternoon.  Alexandra lay with her back to the sun and her feet flipped up, the slight flare to her jeans catching on the wind.  Before her was a necklace and the warm, vaguely damp grass.  She played the necklace over in her hands and closed her eyes.

She hadn’t wanted to, but she’d said okay.  She’d said okay and she’d kept saying that everything was okay.  She closed her eyes and felt the familiar edge of silver under her fingertips.  This was real.  This was something she could grasp and hold and that could bite if she so directed.  This moment, this moment was safe.

Safe.  A large dog trundled over to investigate her as she lay mostly still, a well-chewed green frisbee dangling from its mouth and moving as it adjusted its grip excitedly.  Reaching up, Alexandra scratched the dog under its jowls and smiled at the waving tail as it marked the contented departure of the dog through the overgrown green grass.  The field needed to be mowed, though it was not so bad.  Four inches long or six made very little difference.  Seven inches, though, that was too much.

Too much.  He’d been so gentle.  Alexandra plucked a blade of grass from the wet turf and looked at it.  The light caught the green in interesting ways, refracting into an almost pink rainbow.  Fascinating, she mused, how a thing who could look so different up close.  Fresh grass was supposed to be green, not so close to irridescent that it couldn’t possibly be real.

When she’d cried, he’d stopped and asked if she was okay.  She’d said yes, as she’d been saying, but he hadn’t continued.  He’d stayed close for awhile, just holding her in place and making soft shushing sounds.  When she’d calmed a little, the tears rolling down her cheeks silently such that he couldn’t see, he’d kissed the top of her head and left her there.  A yellow light in the kitchen had come on and she’d heard popping and shuffling.  A few minutes later, there had been pizza rolls and popcorn and her shirt was smoothed back in place.

Above her, a bumble bee hummed as it moved from one clump of clover to another, drifting to the left as it chased the firmly planted but gently waving flowers.  She smiled and looked up.  Across the way, a soccer ball danced across the field, several girls in bright pink and white chasing it while a matching set of french braids and ponytails dressed in sky blue charged from the other direction.  They would meet in the middle and send the ball toward one goal or another, depending on which foot made first and strongest contact.

Her stomach hurt a little.  Well, not her stomach.  Lower.   She’d tried eating macaroni and sourdough toast for breakfast.  The ache didn’t go away.  It was like when she put in pads but different, both worse and not nearly so bad.  The phone, discarded a few feet away where she’d abandoned it to think, chimed once.  He’d informed her that he had tickets to the game.  She didn’t do sports, not usually, and wasn’t certain what teams were playing.  No one she knew, she was sure.  But he’d invited her; he already had the tickets.  There was nothing else to do tonight and people would talk if she didn’t go.

Picking up the phone and dragging it across the turf as she propped herself up on an elbow, she gazed at the screen for a long, long time.  “Still there?”

He never used acronyms.  They’d only started texting a week ago and she had waited in the cafeteria earlier today for all the guys to leer and make their stupid comments and for all the girls to look jealous.  She could have hated him, then.  Instead… instead all was well.  Katy had asked if she’d had fun yesterday but there had been nothing suggestive about the way she’d asked, even if Alexandra knew she’d been a bit defensive.  She gazed at the phone and considered writing yep, followed by the send key.  Her fingers didn’t move and she looked up at a distant clicking sound as a bit of dust caught in her eyes and nose.

A large mini-van opened up, revealing an ice-chest of juice drinks and pre-packaged cheese.  Probably a few apples.  The sorts of innocuous things that meant a mom was dedicated to her daughter and to the team by extension.  The kind of attention that was great now and would be stifling later.  Alexandra wondered what it would be like to feel so stifled.  She’d be just as unable to talk about last night if she was, she mused, though for entirely different reasons.  Oh the humanity.

Humanity.  She’d seen humans on TV.  She’d talked about the alphabetical faces and what they meant.  He had stopped well before.  He had… and now he wanted to watch the game with her.  And he hadn’t told a soul.  And he had an extra ticket if she wanted to bring a friend.  A third wheel.  And it hadn’t felt as good as the movies said.  And the popcorn had gotten stuck in her teeth and the blankets had been wet after and he’d said there was shampoo and conditioner in the shower.  His hair was short; how had he known to have conditioner?  How had he known…

The phone chimed again and Alexandra realized she’d been staring at the bee for a long time now.  Her skin might even be a little bit burned.  It felt nice, and maybe, when it peeled, she’d be clean again.  “Are we good?”  Another chime.  “Say something.  I’m getting worried.”

She rolled over and tossed the phone in the air.  It came down to the side and she extended her hand to catch it.  Another toss.  Another catch.  Another toss.  This time she caught it with her left hand.  The tosses were growing wild.  She tossed it more gently and it landed between her shoulder and her head, a little away from her neck.  Fishing for it awkwardly, she sat up and watched the large golden-yellow dog lope toward where the frisbee had hit the grass and scratch at it, trying to get an edge so it would flip up and he could lift it.

Again, the phone chimed.  “We okay?”

That word again.  She hated it.  She hated that she’d said it.  She hated that she’d kept saying it.  She hated that he’d stopped and she hated that he cared so much it hurt to look at him.  She hated it and she hated him.  Except that  “Look, I didn’t know.  There are things I would have done.  We don’t have to do that again.  Ever, if that’s what you want.  I like and respect you enough to want to be your friend, anyway.”

A long text, this time.  She could picture him with his finger-length hair and his dark blue eyes and his chestnut skin and his high cheeks and beautiful, kissable lips.  His smell had lingered on her shirt.  She hadn’t washed that, yet.  Maybe that was the problem.  He’d looked so concerned, so worried that it had seemed his pain and not a reflection of her own when his gaze had reached her eyes.  Too much.  She watched one of the pale blue shirts shoulder-check one of the pink and white shirts.  The other girl went flying.  It was obvious she wasn’t hurt, though she played up a skinned knee as the ref blew the whistle and a friend from the sidelines helped to walk her from the field.

How he must be panicking, now.  She was one of the pretty and smart girls.  Not the queen bee and not one of the wasps that defended her, but popular enough to be an oscar winning victim.  She’d not meant to say everything was fine.  She’d not meant to do a lot of things, least of all follow the kid back to his house with the busted front lock and the thousands of carpet-stains.  Once it was happening, she’d not meant to cry.  Once she’d stopped crying, she’d not meant to feel worthless.  Once he’d wrapped his arms around her, she’d not meant to feel like she’d hurt him.

Another chime.  She held her phone up and squinted against the brightness of the sun.  “Do you respect me enough to be honest?”

Ugh.  Why wasn’t he just leaving her alone?  She texted back the word “Busy” and tossed the phone a little ways off in the grass, laying back down again.  Her skin felt tight, like maybe it really was burned a little.  Didn’t matter.  The heat was nice.

She closed her eyes.

Off in the field, the girls were high-fiving each other in the lineup, saying they respected their opponents.  There would be pizza and soda tonight and juice boxes in the here and now.  Even the losers had grins on their faces.  Everyone was a winner.  The dog’s excited footfall as it trotted after its frisbee again mixed with the music of another lazy bee and the phone made a ding sound followed by another chime.  She rolled over and picked up the device, noting her mom’s identifying picture in the corner.  “Working late.  Leftovers in fridge.”  “Gave the tickets away.  See you tomorrow in class?”

Well, there was that word again.  She hated herself for saying it then; she hated herself for saying it now.  There was no other phrase to use, though.  There was, however, a social constraint that begged compliance.  She would heat up leftover sloppy joe mix in the microwave and put it on fresh buns from the toaster onto a plate.  She could, if she wanted, make something fresh and original before slaving over the dishes.  She might even have enough petty cash to go out, or even call in sick and take some time away.  These were things she theoretically could do, though she knew she would not.  Instead, she gave the only answer that was acceptable.  She gave the only answer she could.  She looked at her mom’s line of text and flipped to the other.  On both, she wrote the same word.  On both, they meant the same.

Okay

 

 

Litquake 2015!

Two of CCSF’s Creative Writing faculty, Xochiquetzal Candelaria and Jen Sullivan Brych, will be reading at Litquake events this week!

Xochiquetzal Candelaria

Look Again, Faces on the Wall; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

When: Oct. 16 @ 7:00PM

Where: Mission Cultural Center; 2868 Mission St.

Description: Artists widen the scope of time capturing and releasing a moment. Hear this group talk about creating art that persists and emboldens in this era of displacement. Includes screening of Anatomy of a Mural, Rick Goldsmith’s 15-minute film about the creation of the Mission Cultural Center’s mural. Donations accepted at the door.

Jen Sullivan Brych

Anthology SF

When: Oct. 17th @ 8:30PM

Where: Adobe Books; 3130 24th St.

Description: anthology presents a collection of inspiring, compelling, humorous, and beautifully crafted poetry and fiction for those hungry for striking language and captivating voices.

An Interview and Novel Excerpt by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist and Author Jonathan Freedman

Jonathan Freedman is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, author, and writing mentor.  His novel, THE LAST BRAZIL of BENJAMIN EAST is being published by Bright Lights Press of Palo Alto.  He graduated from Columbia University, traveled overland from America to Bolivia, and lived in Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland.  He is married to a physician who conducts experimental cancer therapies.  He has four children and two grandchildren.

Meet Mr. Freedman at his weekly student writing workshop, “Real World Writing and Ideas,” at the English Lab at CCSF.  It’s open to all students and meets Wednesdays from 11 am to 1 pm in Rosenberg 205.  Find your voice. Change the world.

 

Interview with Jonathan Freedman

10/17/14

Traves Warren: Hello, this is Traves Warren, President of City College of San Francisco’s Forum Literary Magazine Club, interviewing Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jonathan Freedman.

Jonathan Freedman: Hi, this is Jonathan Freedman and I’m really pleased to be here.

TW: So, Mr. Freedman, I’d like to begin by asking you what lead up to your writing that won you the Pulitzer Prize, and why you wrote it?

JF: I was thirty years old, unemployed, freelancing in Haight Ashbury. I went down to San Diego for a job interview at The Tribune. The editor took me to the cafeteria. “Jonathan, on my way to work, I saw these poor migrant workers hiding in the bushes in the rain. I’ve worked for this newspaper for thirty years. Every day we report murders and terrible things on the border. But we’ve never gone into depth on the issues underlying illegal immigration. If we did that, we could win a Pulitzer Prize.” I needed a job. The idea of a Pulitzer Prize was beyond my imagination. I got hired and trained as an editorial writer. Six months later, I said, “Mr. Bennett, do you remember what you said about the border?” “Yeah, but we have no time,” he said. “Write me a proposal.” So I wrote, “The border between Mexico and the United States is where water flowing from the Colorado River stops, and a river of humanity flows northward from Mexico to United States.”

“Bull! You don’t know anything about the border. Tomorrow, you’re going to the border.”

So, the next day, I went to the border outpost at the extreme southwest corner of the United States and Mexico. I saw a hole in the chain link fence. It was the size of a crouching man. Then I interviewed the border patrol agents. They told me how they’d get alerted when someone trips a wire. They’d chase them; they’d arrest them; they’d deport them. And the next day, they’d be back. I saw a holding tank for people who had been caught trying to cross the border. It was dark and dingy and someone had written on the wall mojado power, “wetback power.”

So I came back and I wrote an editorial. There’s a hole in the fence between Mexico and the United States. Each year, thousands of people cross the border illegally. Their first act is to violate law. They’re hunted like animals. That began a series of editorials exploring illegal immigration from different points of view. Every week, I would go to a new place. I would go into Mexico, follow the people across the border, go to the strawberry fields. I asked the same questions: “What can we do to protect our borders? What can we do to help the people living here illegally? They’re providing food, harvesting crops, doing all kinds of jobs. But they have no rights. I wrote a series of editorials that began in 1981 and continued for six years. Our purpose was to convince Congress to pass a just and compassionate law. My editorials from the border were read in the halls of Congress. They were instrumental in the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The law granted legalization to over two million people. I was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Distinguished Editorial Writing in 1987. But the law did not solve all the problems of immigration.

TW: So, in the beginning, was this done out of your personal compassion?

JF: When I was the age of City College students, I wanted to be a writer. I went to Columbia University in New York. I won a writing prize. When I was 23, I traveled overland from Mexico, through Central America, over the Andes Mountains, into the Amazon jungle, across the desert of Peru, all the way to Bolivia. I got a job as a reporter with the Associated Press in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. So, to answer your question, my compassion came from traveling and seeing the lives of people in Latin America. I saw the conditions they were living in. I felt great respect and love for the people. Later, when I came to San Diego I saw how illegal immigrants were being treated in America.

TW: So, you got this law passed in 1986 by speaking to actual people along the border. Would you say that your reason for writing is to try to get to the root of problems and find solutions?

JF: Yes, I’m a very solution-oriented journalist. It wasn’t my goal to humiliate leaders and make people look bad. I wanted to listen to the voices of people who are downtrodden and suffering, to learn from them. What do they have to say? I interviewed people like you are doing now. I wanted their voices to be heard. That was theme of my career. That’s why I’m leading a writing workshop in the English Lab at City College. I believe that every human being has an important voice, something valuable to say. I want to help students find their own voice. When you speak truly, your words will reverberate with other people. To tell your story, and to be heard: that is a life-changing experience. It gives you power. It can help you live a better life.

TW: So, would you say that the emphasis of your writing is placed on giving a voice to people who otherwise would not have it?

JF: Yes, that’s true. I think that in the immigration series, what I did was to go and interview people. It’s a very complicated issue and everyone has a justifiable point of view on it. Some people are afraid of illegal immigration, other people are profiting from it, but everyone has a point of view. I wanted get learn from the people on the scene, whether it was a farmer who’s hiring, or someone who is working in the sun; whether it was children playing in the pesticides by the ditches. Whoever the person is, I wanted to give voice to bring the reader into those places, to experience it in real life. I trusted in the human heart, that readers’ compassion would compel them to do the right thing.

TW: What part of that do you believe was integral to you helping to get the amnesty to pass in 1986?

JF: I think that people had been discussing the issue of illegal immigration as us versus them: us being Americans, and them being foreigners. People take political positions on that. I wanted to add the human stories. So readers would not just think all illegal aliens are the same. The words “illegal aliens” turn people into objects. Aliens could come from outer space. Illegal means you broke the law. Well, who are these people? What are their stories? Is their desire to have a better life not unlike ours? How do they threaten us; how do we threaten them? I wanted those voices heard in Congress. Not just talking heads spitting out ideology.

The same issues are happening today. We have an even larger population of the undocumented in America. Yet the political argument is still us-versus-them. There are undocumented students at City College. They did nothing wrong. They were brought here by their parents. Now they want to have a college education. But some people say no. They don’t have a right to the student loan, because they don’t have papers. I want to work with them, with all City College students. To help them develop their own voices, to speak up, to be heard. At this stage of my life, this gives me great satisfaction.

T W: So, coming from your experiences in Latin America, getting the law passed, and winning the Pulitzer Prize to now, what is significant in your life as a writer?

JF: When I was a young man, I wanted adventure. I grew up in Colorado, and had a privileged life. But it seemed if I was missing something. I heard the music of Brazil. I saw a movie about carnival. It seemed there is so much more life down there. So I seized the chance to go to Latin America. It took almost nine months of hard travel. When I got to Brazil a whole new way of life opened up. Brazilians seemed to put music, laughter, dancing, food, and love ahead of money. There was tremendous poverty in Brazil. But lives of the people seemed rich. There was violence and political torture and all kinds of bad things happening. Yet I thought that the Brazilian Spirit gave them a joyous quality of life. I wanted to bring that spirit back. I wanted to write a novel that captured that life, that spirit in Brazil. So in my late 20’s, I started writing a novel. It began with what-if questions:

What if I was an old American who had lived for many years in Brazil? What if I’d lost my wife, lost my money, lost my fortune, and I came back to America? What if I put that character, whose name is Benjamin East, on a Greyhound bus? What if a young woman named Amy ran into that bus station? She was fleeing her husband, who’d raped her What if she collided with this old man, and pleaded, “Take me to New York!” What would happen to them?

I wrote a novel about this odd couple crossing America on a Greyhound bus. It took me two years to finish, but I couldn’t get it published. I put it in a drawer in 1983. Then my career as a journalist took off. Flash forward thirty years. The newspaper business is dying. I’ve had my own successes and failures. I’m nearing the age of Benjamin East. I find this old box containing a manuscript. I begin reading. The spirit of Benjamin East lifts my spirits. But the book has flaws. I vowed not to destroy it. So the older and younger Jonathans collaborated to bring the book to fruition. It took two years to edit and revise. The Last Brazil Benjamin East is being published by Bright Lights Press of Palo Alto this year.

The main story takes place in 1980 on a bus ride across America. But the back story takes place in the 1950s, when Benjamin and his wife traveled up the Rio Negro. I’m honored that an excerpt from this river trip is being published in FORUM.

TW: Do you feel your book’s demographic is aimed not just at Americans, but at Brazilians as well? Do you think they would like to read your book?

JF: I hope Benjamin’s journey inspires young people to travel, to find their own path, to explore possibilities.

I’d also like to say what City College means to me. The students who attend my workshop come not only from San Francisco, but also Mexico, China, Ethiopia, Vietnam… Some are young, others in the middle age or late in life. They have hopes, dreams, and incredible stories. The mission of City College is to provide education to students of all ages and walks of life. The professors are extraordinarily committed to their students. Yet CCSF’s accreditation is being threatened. This institution is vital for San Francisco’s future. City College needs to survive, grow and thrive. The very fact that you are interviewing me here shows the connections between generations that City College makes possible.

TW: At this point in your life, could you sum up why you feel you write today and also put in something for aspiring writer? Why they should write today?

JF: My advice for aspiring writers is try this: go to a quiet place, take a notebook with you, set an alarm clock for one hour, and start writing the first thing that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a sentence, even just some words like “my ear itches” or “why am I doing this?” And then write the next thing that comes to your mind, and the next. When I was sixteen, my teacher gave me this assignment. I was a lonely boy in a boarding school, far away from home. I began writing aimlessly and then the words began to carry me on a river of memory. I saw grandmother and my parents and my friends. Writing carried me home. After that experience, I decided to become a writer. I want to help students find their voices, to stand up for themselves, to seize their futures. The power of writing is for everyone.

The Last Brazil Of Benjamin East Book Cover_Visual Arts

Excerpt of novel to be published by Bright Lights Press of Palo Alto, CA

THE LAST BRAZIL of BENJAMIN EAST

By Jonathan Freedman

Amazon Rainforest, 1958

The Rio Negro branched into a river without name, the river of hope. Benjamin, the American fortune seeker, sat in the bow of the dugout. Gisela, his Brazilian bride, balanced in the middle. Ceara, the cross-eyed boatman, paddled from the stern.

The rainy season had come. The journey from Manaus, the Amazonian capital, had taken six weeks, and still they hadn’t reached a deposit of precious minerals—emerald, uranium, gold—that he was seeking. The boat had overturned in a storm, swamping their gear. They had wasted many days huddling in a lean-to by the swollen river, swatting at clouds of mosquitos, watching trees and islands of earth sweeping down the churning waters. Then, as quickly as they had come, the rains stopped. Benjamin wanted to continue. But his Gisela, heavy with child, refused to go any farther. Ceara agreed to stay with her a few days while Benjamin went up river alone.

Benjamin clutched the crudely carved paddle, dug into the water, thrust backward, pulled it out of the swirling eddy, switched hands, dug into the water, thrust backward, paddling up the gloomy river in the predatory jungle. He didn’t think, just paddled, his hands blistering and then popping, and the skin rubbing off to raw flesh. It was the second day of non-stop paddling and he was feverish. The swelling on his arm from mosquito bites had gone down, but his tongue and insides swelled instead. Malaria swept into his body, microbes spawning in his blood and sending chills down his spine. In his fever, he thought he saw a young girl, her hair black as the Rio Negro, beckoning from the bank of the river then running away as he approached. He hated himself for leaving Gisela behind. But he was obsessed. He could not return to Rio de Janeiro without finding something in the jungle. He kept paddling. Beyond this bend, or the next, or the next, there might be an outcropping of emeralds, a radioactive deposit, a seepage of oil… anything, he told himself.

The canoe made its way up the river to a tangled maze of undergrowth where it narrowed and a path began. Benjamin tied up the boat, climbed on the slippery bark of a fallen tree and teetered to the end, where another fallen tree connected, and then another, a chain of trees leading into the jungle. In his fever, it looked like an Amazon highway.

An aquamarine, or was it the reflection of the sun flickered in the water? Parrots took off, chattering, and the jungle echoed with mocking laughter. He crept, then walked, then ran from tree to tree, following the reflection skimming in the water.

He broke into a clearing and halted. Was he hallucinating?

An immense aquamarine lay in the creepers. The odor of the shell necklace rose from the earth, a fragrance of crushed flowers and steamy humus. He knelt down in the moss to pick it up. A snake darted from the undergrowth. He felt a stabbing pain then the cool stone, like ice in his hands.
He awoke with a sharp burning sensation on his legs. He opened his eyes and saw a snake slither away through the grass. The stone was gone. His body felt like it was on fire. He lifted his head and found he was lying on a mound of earth, his knees buried in an anthill. Inch-long ants streamed from the mound and swarmed up his legs, their red bodies flaming. He tried to scream but ants leaped on his tongue, sinking pincers into the tender flesh. He rolled over, crushing dozens under his body, and climbed to his feet. Afire, he crashed through vines to the edge of the river and dove into the water, trying to extinguish the pain. But the water only made the bites blister. He crawled out and rolled on the bank, covering himself with mud.

He came to at dawn, his body swollen nearly twice its size.

His legs throbbed and his heart beat like a drum in his ears. He hallucinated that he was being hunted. The drumbeat approached and he crept into the leaves and started to run on all fours. He was a jaguar and a hunter and the dart from a blowgun entering his flesh.

The drumbeat subsided and a steady low clicking awakened him the second time. He was still burning but the fever had died down and he could stand on his feet. He followed the sound through the jungle, past the anthill to the river, where his canoe bobbed on its rope tether. He realized, with a shock, he had gone in a circle no more than 1,000 yards in diameter. The Geiger counter was making the clicking sound, loud and steady. Either there was a radioactive deposit in the vicinity, or the device had also been stricken with fever. He no longer cared, for the Amazon had reduced him to a savage struggling for life. He switched it off and the clicking continued, mocking him. It was cicadas.

It was easier to paddle downstream. The river carried him swiftly and surely, carving piles of driftwood, which vanished in the backwash. A strange peace fell over the jungle. The trees glowed under the setting sun, toucans skimmed the water, their reflections panning over the mirror-smooth surface. He leaned over the side and washed himself. His face, shimmering against the blue reflection of the sky, was gaunt and contrite and almost human. He dreamed of Rio, settling down in a bungalow on the beach in Ipanema, sitting on the front porch with Gisela, rocking the cradle.

She lay in a hammock, her face flickering like a mask in the firelight. He ran up the embankment and buried his face in her belly, and she winced and pulled his head up, running her fingers through his hair, tugging his beard.

He cupped her belly to his cheek and kissed the life growing inside. She winced again and pushed him away.

“Nao, meu amor. E tarde.” It’s too late.

“What do you mean?”

She pressed his head against her belly, flat as a deflated balloon.

“Perdi o anjinho.” I lost the little angel.

The return journey was silent — no motor, no words. Weakened by the miscarriage, Gisela lay in the bow of the boat; Benjamin paddled in the midsection, Ceara steered in the stern.

They passed the Indian village. The dock was empty, the huts abandoned; a famished dog howled at the water’s edge.

“What happened?” Benjamin asked the boatman.

“Nao sei. Talvez foi a praga do branco.” I don’t know. Maybe the white man’s plague.

The sun rose before them now, and black water flowed beneath the dugout as they were swept downstream by rains, or stilled by the noonday sun. The trees looked somber, the flowers grotesque; even the birds’ calls were despairing.

After a fortnight, they reached Manaus. The dome of the opera house glinted in the sun. But they found it rotting on its rubber pavement, surrounded by beggars and brothels. He paid the boatman and thanked him for taking care of his wife. Ceara smiled though his eyes held sadness. Gisela held out her hand and squeezed his and his eyes seemed to uncross. But it was the angle of the light reflecting off the river.

Benjamin put his arm gently around Gisela, guiding her to the hotel, but she stormed ahead into the bar and ordered a bottle of whiskey, the most expensive in the house. She guzzled it like water.

“Come on now. You’ve had enough.”

She looked up with dagger-point eyes, hiccoughed, and started to cry. Picking her up, he carried her to the room, laid her on the bed, and kneeled beside her. He pressed his head to her belly and shivered in the heat as cicadas screamed.

“We’re young,” he whispered, stroking her hair. “We can have another baby.”

 

A Blind Coffee Date

A Blind Coffee Date

By David Chang

“Who is this?”

My hyper energetic eight year old grandson kept constantly repeating the question while waving a photo in front of my face.

“Calm down Billy,” I responded.  “I can’t answer unless you allow me to see the photo.”

Billy handed me the photo.  I took the photo and looked at it.  In the photo, a woman is leaning against a railing, face turned to the left, and smiling.  As I gazed at the picture, I smiled; a smile created from both memories of happiness and sadness.

“This is a surprise,” I said.  “Where did you get this picture?”

“Dad, mom and I were going through some of the old stuff in the attic and we found some old photo album that you apparently made.”  Billy replied while playing with the carpet floor.  “I was flipping through the album when I found the photo.  I asked mom and dad about it, but they said that some things are better left not knowing.”

“You’re parent’s are right,” I chuckled.  “A lot of adults have secrets they are not ready or even willing to share to others.”

Billy frowned at me; he really wanted to found out about that mysterious person.  “However,” I continued.  “Since you’re curious, I will tell you.”

Billy instantly stared at me with full attention as I began my tale.

“Her name is Elisa.  She and I went to the same high school together and were in the same graduating year, but she didn’t arrive until senior year.  She was popular among a lot of my classmates; although she did have her own personal group of friends, you could always see her with various people around her.  She was also very beautiful.”

“Did you ever talk to her?”  Billy asked.

I laughed, “I had cold feet.  I could not seem to introduce myself or talk to her.  I didn’t have confidence.  I could only admire her from a few feet away because our lockers were close.  Even so, I always wished to talk to her.  That wish was granted in the Spring Semester of high school.  She joined the Track and Field team for the school; a team I had been a part of for three years.”

“Did you two finally talk after that?”

I smiled, “no, because she was a short distance runner while I was a long distance runner so we were separated during practices.  At the same time, I still was a bit shy.  However, a friend that we both knew on the team got us together to talk.  Because of that, I finally got to talk to Elisa and a new friendship began.”

“That’s nice to hear,” Billy said while squirming—no surprise seeing as how I’m telling a long story and he’s eight.  “But that doesn’t explain the photograph.”

“I’m getting there.  I’m getting there.  You have to be patient.  Even though we developed a deep friendship, the school year was ending and we would be graduating.  We would all go our separate ways.  One day after practice, the senior team members, Elisa and I all gathered along a railing outside of the school.  The area had a good view of a bay that was near the town and the sun that shined.  We stood there admiring the scenery while talking about our future.  We talked about the schools we were going, the majors we would take, and the careers we wanted; overall our hopes, goals, and dreams.  We all talked until the sunset, then we all just watched…watched the sun touch the bay, watched the sun go halfway, until gone was the day, and the moon and stars arrive for their stay.”

“When the sun was halfway under the bay, I took out my camera, asked Elisa to turn, and snapped the photo.  Usually girls are shy either cover their face or move away, she just smiled.  That is the photo I took of her all those years ago.”

“So that’s what happened?”  Billy asked.

“Yep,” I answered.

“Do you two still talk to each other?”

I was silent for a moment before responding.  “No, we don’t anymore.”

“Why not?” he questioned.  “With a story like that you two should’ve been close, right?”

Again, there was a moment of silence before I responded.  “It got complicated after high school.  We kept in contact during the early days of college by exchanging numbers, being friends on a social media website I had back in the day called Facebook.  But ultimately, we just went on our own separate paths.  Even so, I never forgot about her and on the day I decided to reconnect I was devastated to find out she unfriended me on Facebook.  Later on, her account disappeared, most likely it was deleted.  The number I received from her also changed.  I still have it, but I always get ‘this number available’ from the other line.”

Billy and I sat in silence.  We both shifted uncomfortably in our seats.  Finally Billy spoke.

“So that’s it?”

“Yep,” I said.  “However, that isn’t the complete end of the story.  Before we completely lost contact, I did call her and she answered.  We chatted for a short time, but it meant the world to me.  Before we ended the call, we both decided to catch up on coffee when we weren’t busy.  I tried to make arrangements when we were on break, but somehow she was always busy, and then we fully lost contact.  My life still went on.  Sure, it was disappointing, but everyone goes through life with ups and downs.  If things went differently, maybe we would still be friends, maybe possibly even more.  Don’t worry Billy, I’m happy with the life I’ve lived and I’m happy to have you as my grandson.  At this point, I just want to catch up with her, how her life has been throughout the years.”

“Will you ever have that coffee conversation with her?” asked Billy.

“It’s something I hope for,” I replied.  “Well that’s the end of the story for this picture.”

“I didn’t know there was so much behind that picture.”

“Well that’s because I went into full detail about it,” I said.  “Besides, one day you will be telling these stories at my age.”

Billy left that evening.  With him gone, I continued my daily evening ritual: dinner, reading, and then bed.  As I got into bed, I picked up the picture and stared at it.  As I looked at it, I smiled; Elisa truly shined in the photo.  Her face shined radiantly as the golden-orange light shined subtly on her fair skin, and black hair while her teeth glistened white as she smiled.

I sighed, my dry wrinkling hand slowly feeling the glossy photo and touching the image of Elisa’s cheek.  Putting the picture by my night stand, I turned off the lamp and lied in bed.  Before going to sleep, I whispered, “one day…”  And I took my last breath.

*                      *                      *

I awoke to a bright shining light.  As my vision adjusted to the surroundings, I couldn’t see anything.  There was no shape, figure, or objects around me, just solid opaque white.  I looked at myself.  I was wearing some kind of golden-white robe with sandals.  As I looked back up after I was checking myself out, a porcelain basin on top of a pedestal appeared.  I walked toward the pedestal and looked inside to find it filled to the rim in water.  I placed the fingers from my left hand inside the water; it felt soothing.  After submerging my entire left hand, I submerged my other hand.  Clasping them together, I splashed some of the water onto my face.  After cleansing my face, I opened my eyes, surprised at the reflection I saw before me.  I saw myself…but younger.  In the water’s reflection, I saw a young man, just barely twenty, without wrinkles, without grey or white hairs, a man who has not aged.  I looked at my hands again but more closely.  They too did not display wrinkles but smooth complexion.

After examining my hands, the basin disappeared and a table appeared with two chairs.  Sitting on the chair, I looked at the contents on the table.  To my right was a medium sized saucer with two kouign amann pastries on top of it.  The crown shaped pastries’ skin shined golden brown as if they were just taken out of the oven.  In the middle was two cups with saucers below them.  Both cups were filled to the rim with a light brown liquid mixed together with a white liquid creating the imagery of a leaf.

Coffee?  The realization of the drink only fueled my confusion of everything around me.

Even so, I continued to scan the table.  Finally, my left side had the photo of Elisa.  The picture looked exactly like the one I received from Billy.  I picked it up; it felt the same as before I went to sleep.  I stared at it for some time until I heard the chair in front of me move and somebody sitting down—I apparently have company.

I put the photo down and to my shock, in front of me was Elisa.  She looked the same as the photograph I had.  I was surprised beyond belief.  It was hard to speak much less formula any words.  Was it really her?

“Elisa?” I finally uttered.

She just smiled and nodded before whispering, “It’s been a while.”

“More than we can both imagine.” I laughed.

She laughed a little and then handed me a picture.  Taking it, I saw it was also an old picture of me during the time at the railing; Elisa also took a picture of me after I did the same to her.  I grinned knowing that she still had it all this time.

“It seems we finally do have a chance have coffee together.” Elisa said.

“It seems so,” I responded while placing the two pictures back on top of the table.

“There’s such much to tell you and to ask you, I don’t know where to start?”

I took a sip of my coffee while agreeing with her statement.  The taste was initially very strong and bitter, but slowly turned sweet.

“Well,” I finally answered.  “How about we start from the beginning?”

 

The Ambivalent Protaganist

by Casey Baker

Recently, Huffington Post published an article (link:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-fallon/great-male-protagonists-w_b_4044741.html) naming a few male protagonists from famous novels that no one would really wish to befriend if they existed in the real world. While the piece is an interesting, rather pro-feminist examination of generally brutish male characters, it leaves out an entire gender and examination therein.

Which led me to consider, of all of the characters I’ve met in the great Imagi-sphere that is the act of reading, which ones have I encountered who were both entirely compelling and also incredibly off-putting? Here are my top five.

1. Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar – While Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is a strong examination of the stilted social mores of women during a specific time in history and the effects of those mores that still holds great weight today, Esther is someone I would never want to simply ‘hang out’ with. This isn’t to say she is an uninteresting protagonist, rather the opposite – as the old adage goes, “Misery loves company” and Esther’s way of thinking is so relatable to anyone who has lived under the oppressive, patriarchal hetero-normative society that still informs our culture today. A day with Esther would involve venting together, crying to let it all go, and then feeling miserable for the rest of the day. The novel is enough catharsis.

2. Tyler, Shampoo Planet (Douglas Coupland) – Tyler is what Coupland labels a “Global Teen” and part of Generation Y, a generation that I unfortunately belong to simply by a matter of years. Tyler embodies everything I dislike about my generation, including a mindless adherence to consumerism that even reaches into a desire to be a corporate CEO simply because corporations control so much of the consumer media, a misplaced admiration in Reaganomics, flightiness in both life and love, and a copious amount of hair products to keep up a facade of stability and self-assuredness. By the end of the novel, Tyler finally realizes that his interests are transient and not based on anything real or sincere, but by then he has already ruined things for himself in many ways. I suppose a part of what I dislike about Tyler is that he does remind me of some elements of myself at a much younger, more naive age.

3. Clay (Bateman?), Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – Clay is a spoiled, rich Southern California jerk. His friends are detestable, his life is by and large meaningless, and he is generally an amoral bit of driftwood, floating along a tide of drugs, sex and unhappiness. While Clay is fascinating because his life does well to satirize much of the LA culture and its excesses in a very dark series of parties and meaningless relationships, he is also someone who would casually sit across a dinner table with you, coked up and barely paying attention. A real sleezeball. It doesn’t help that his brother is possibly the one and only American Psycho, Patrick Bateman.

4.  Shannon McFarland/Daisy St. Patience/Bubba Joan/Whatever, the narrator of Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk) – After getting her face shot off, the narrator of Invisible Monsters meets the queen of train-wrecks, Brandy Alexander, and the two go on a pill-stealing, soap-operatic crime spree of epic proportions. While the narrator and her story are hilarious and continuously compelling throughout the several ridiculous plot turns of the story, she’s also incredibly psychotic and someone you wouldn’t even trust with your dying houseplant. Steer clear of this brand of crazy, despite how fabulous she seems.

5. Ms. Valerie Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus – While the idea of shrinking into microscopic sizes and exploring the cells of the body or diving deep into the dark, black ocean with a bus submersible seem incredibly fun for any kid, the reality of the situation is that this woman is more than a little deranged, willing to put her students right into the jaws of danger just to teach them a lesson about plant chlorophyll or the inner workings of stomach acid. Ms. Frizzle is a dangerous woman with dangerous ideas.

What are your type five fiction frenemies?

Fire by Sarah Hoenicke

We line up and we know what they think of us. We know they see us as freaks; we know they do not see us. It took a long time for me to see that life is more than what you see, and I think some folk do not, they do not ever see that. They go on, to them we are our shirts, pants, legs, arms–each of us a bone, all of one corpse, we go to the fire. But what makes me, that is more than the me you see. It is the thought, the choice, the laugh; it is the thing that I do with my eyes when I smile or frown, the ways my skin folds–these make me. Mom, she’s in front of me. She has short hair, too short. It looks bad and makes her feel like a small thing when she is a big thing, at least to me. She has bad clothes too, clothes that the camps didn’t want. They take all from us, but don’t want what she has. It is too poor for the poor; the work dust on it will be food for the fires. My dad, his son, they are sent to a camp far from us, over the fence, the cold fence. We do not hear from them, but I hear that the men, they have it worse than us. They are told: work, work, work, work, then die. We are just told: die. One girl, she has a baby. They pass the babies through the hole in the fence. Those that are not like us, some of them take the ones that are small enough to fit through. I think of what will happen to them, those small babes born in the midst of this death place, those ones that get set free. And I think I should have had such luck, to be one of them, and not me. They break us up now, and make us form two rows. They scream. We scream. I can’t reach her hand. She can’t get to me. They have clubs and guns. I don’t know why they take us apart just to push us back together. Maybe for fear. There we were as one, one more time, all our big Jew bones in one room. That’s what they say: your big Jew bones, you brown girl–but I’m not brown. The room is closed. There is no light. They line us up. No one fights. There are dead with us, and small ones too small to do much but cry. We are one, and that’s how they burn us.

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Holding Up the Circle by Jordy Lynch

Here is a preview of Jordy Lynch’s Holding Up the Circle, which will be published in our Spring 2013 issue. Jordy read the piece at the release party for Forum‘s Fall 2012 issue, video from which can be viewed below.

 

I looked up.

Clouds spread out across the sky, covering any blue the atmosphere usually reflected, resulting in a range of dark and light grey.  The mottled sky peaked through treetops and around rooftops.

I was walking to the lake, the usual sounds of gunfire absent today. The gun range across the lake was only open on Wednesdays and Sundays. I think it was a Tuesday. I always wondered why the lake in the city would have a gun range attached to it, but the lake absorbed any missed rounds. Plus the water acted as an excellent surface for the gunshot reports to travel on, and I enjoyed the periodic noise of the firing range.

Without the noise of pistols and shotguns, the lake was silent. Silent and unmoving. It reminded me of a postcard. The boulevard that ran alongside me provided enough noise to shatter the picturesque quality of the lake. I made my way to a bridge near the south end of the lake.

Runners moved by me on the bridge. Several dog owners ambled across the overpass.  I saw who I was looking for.
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