Section 13

Hello from the Dogpatch! Since 2000, our group has been reading and commenting on each other’s work. Those of you in writing groups well know the rewards of watching your friends’ work flourish over time. A few years ago we started posting parts of our critiques on this blog and have appreciated everyone who joins our ongoing conversation about writing and revising. Many thanks for reading!

Today we bring you “Section 13,” a chapter from Wes Pierce’s novel in progress. In this chapter, the book’s protag, Amnesty, is searching for her missing brother, Tracy, a suspected felon. En route Amnesty visits the home of a childhood friend, Lynette, who’s still living in the 1980s and in alcoholic squalor. She unknowingly helps Amnesty begin to unravel the mystery surrounding her missing brother. Here’s a short excerpt with our comments following. We don’t post the entire piece since these are often submitted later, but you can read another excerpt and more discussion about Wes’s novel here. Feel free to jump into the fray! Your comments are always welcome and much appreciated!

 

[from “Section 13”]

The room was quite dark with the door closed. Amnesty stood squinting for a moment in the cave-like gloom, waiting for her eyes to adjust, making out shapes by the scant light the television provided. She could see now they were showing an old Disney movie.

‘Give me the secret, mancub. Clue me what to do,’ sang King Louie. ‘Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you.’

‘So how are your folks holding up?’ Lynette said.

‘My dad’s locked himself in his room and won’t come out.’

‘I wanna talk like you. Walk like you, too,’ Louis Prima, a.k.a. King Louie, sang. ‘You’ll see it’s true. Someone like me can learn to be like someone like you.’

Lynette walked over and turned down the sound on the television.

‘Jesus, what a mess,’ she said. ‘But what’re you gonna do?’

For one wild, disorienting moment Amnesty thought her friend was talking about the state of her own house, but then she realized Lynette was talking about Tracy.

‘Do? I want to help my brother, of course,’ Amnesty said. ‘I mean, he’s on the run. He must be frightened and feeling all alone. But I don’t even know where to start.’

‘Aiding a suspected felon can get you in a shitload of trouble, you know.’

‘You sound like you’re talking from experience.’ Her friend said nothing. Then Amnesty said, ‘Well, I’ll worry about that later. Right now all I want is to get my brother to turn himself in before he gets himself gunned down in the street like some kind of mad-dog criminal.’

‘Well, you’re not going to be able to help your brother right this minute,’ Lynette said. ‘So why don’t you sit down and take a load off?’ Continue reading

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The Maypole Effect

Image from watercolourflorals.blogspot.com

 

Now and then an awesome-o writer shares one of their projects with us, and this time it was the amazing Wendy Scheir, who introduced us to her stellar historical fiction. We invited Wendy to tell our readers about her experience working with an editing strategy dubbed the “Maypole Effect.” Here’s what she had to say:

 

Long story short, in 2012 I decided to write something fictional based on a real situation that took place during the winter of 1939-40, documented in materials I’d come across while working as an archivist on the records of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair.

For two and a half years, I wrote five characters’ stories. They didn’t have a lot to do with one another, present-action-wise, but each occurred over that winter at the end of the Depression and on the cusp of World War II, and each circled around the same endeavor. I had a vague plan to weave them together, at some point. That would be easy. First, though, I needed to figure each character out independently of the others.

By mid-2015, it was time to weave. I broke each character’s story up into logical sections, interspersed them, and read it beginning to end. The result was a hot mess. The thing as a whole was utterly incomprehensible. There was no thing as a whole. The parts didn’t even add up to their sum. There was no book.

Thank goodness for computers. After a period of wallowing, I cut and pasted my fractured people back together again and placed the stories back to back. The interweaving disaster had exposed internal issues within each story, so I put the Big Structural Question out of mind and went back to work on those for awhile. But this wasn’t the book I’d envisioned. It wasn’t finished.

Trouble was, I had no idea what to do next.

My Squaw Valley pal Jilanne Hoffmann to the rescue! Jil led me to Laurel Leigh, a skilled editor who, Jil said, had a brilliant eye for Big Structural Questions. I dropped the manuscript onto Laurel’s e-doorstep and took a blessed break from writing.

November 2015. Just after Thanksgiving, Laurel came back with an idea. Actually she came with a ton, but I want to tell you about just one of them. She called it the Maypole. Continue reading

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Win a Major Award! (Maybe!)

That inimitable Writer Fellow is at it again!

We at the Dogpatch are huge fans of that Writer Fellow, Mike Allegra. Well, he has a writing contest in the works on his wildly popular blog, HEYLOOKAWRITERFELLOW! Polish up your pens and head on over to Writer Fellow’s blog to put in your two cents worth about this contest.

Source: Win a Major Award! (Maybe!)

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The Mission

terri-shoeless

Terri McAllister posing “shoeless” in 1987, many years before the collection was thought about.

Hello from the Dogpatch! Today we’re talking about “The Mission,” a story from Laurel Leigh’s ongoing Shoeless collection. In this story, two sisters both define and defy their daily struggles to survive when they head to San Francisco’s Mission District, hoping to get days-old Roma tomatoes at a grocery giveaway so they can cook a special 4th of July meal. This story was inspired by Laurel’s experience volunteering at a food bank. You can find the full story in Volume 12 of Clover, A Literary Rag. Feel free to jump into the fray! Your comments are always welcome and much appreciated!

clover-12

Clover, A Literary Rag, Volume 12

If you’re in Whatcom County, Washington, on February 12, Laurel Leigh will be reading from “The Mission” as part of the biannual Clover reading event at Village Books. You can submit to Clover here.

[from”The Mission”]

Thursday morning, Celeste put on her good dress, her one pair of heels, and did up her hair. It was her day off and an outing, even if it was just going back to the Mission District, where she worked most days anyway, but on Thursdays it was for the grocery giveaway that only some people knew about – although more had been showing up each week – and sometimes the actual grocery store (not today though, on account of Mrs. J). She and Cel had talked about whether there would be enough gas for both the giveaway and Mrs. J’s house and decided not to risk it. It was sixteen miles round trip to get to the market where the owner gave away the didn’t-sell foods each week before his trucks came to restock the shelves. Adding on Mrs. J’s would mean two more miles each way – it wasn’t so much the distance but all the time in city traffic that burned up gas – and knowing Mrs. J, she’d find another reason not to pay until next week.They had set out two cans of green beans and one cream corn to bring along and trade with old Miss Florence, who didn’t eat fruit, so they would most likely have extra apples or soft bananas, which could usually be counted on, but it was tomatoes they wanted today – Roma tomatoes. Tomorrow was the Fourth of July, and Celeste planned to make baked lasagna with ricotta cheese and Roma tomatoes layered over. It had been their grandmother’s specialty, every year on the Fourth and once for Celeste’s eighth birthday. Celeste had saved up the rest of the ingredients, including some McCormick’s Italian seasoning; all that was needed was the tomatoes. Canned could be used for the topping, but there was nothing like plum Roma tomatoes. Most would use a Roma for canning or a sauce, but Grandma had known the secret of bathing them in garlic and layering them over lasagna. Of course, it was a gamble that there would be any tomatoes today, even week-old Heirlooms, but Celeste couldn’t help but hope. The market sold Romas out the front door so they were always a possibility for giveaways. Only two were needed; if there were four, they could go in a salad. They planned to make the lasagna in the morning, then Celeste had two houses to clean but would be back by six,  in plenty of time to pack up the rest of the picnic and get down to the pier to watch the fireworks light up the bay.

 

Jilanne: The Writer's Shadow

Jilanne: The Writer’s Shadow

Sooooo, Laurel, dahling. This story is going to be a great addition to the Shoeless collection. It contains such quiet despair, despair that grips so many who struggle from paycheck to paycheck. I LOVE the quote: “Cel looked stricken, like she’d cry but didn’t want to spare the moisture…” Wow. These two women have nothing left. They can’t even waste their tears. The same with the imagery  of the juice from the tomatoes, bleeding through the fabric of Celeste’s skirt and onto the pavement. They are being bled dry. Watching these two women try to put together enough money to get across town for free food handouts, only to find their efforts thwarted at every turn, is so painful. Painful in a good way. Because it feels real. The scenes with the ice cream and the boyfriend who’s a GG bridge painter add so much to show their desperation. You have done your job well. For the opening paragraph, you may want to take a look at Alice Munro’s stellar work in the way she deals with brief flashback intrusions. She’s the master of giving the reader just enough background detail without losing our footing in the present. The vast majority of my comments are about location details. San Francisco’s size is contained to a few square miles, so I think you need to get a map from 1969 and decide exactly where these two women live and where they have to go to work and get food. Now, the SF of that time period was one dependent on buses since BART was just being constructed. So specific details such as bus schedules, daytime temps, etc. will finish out what is already a fine story. Oh, and I’m not sure that people would want their houses cleaned on the 4th of July. Wouldn’t they be busy having BBQs with lots of people hanging out? But that may just be me. Keep on keepin’ on! Well done!

 

mug shotWes sez:

‘The Mission’ is the story of two sisters struggling to make ends meet in 1960s San Francisco. Celeste, the older sister, wants to make lasagna for 4th of July, her grandmother’s recipe, but can only manage to assemble all the ingredients for the recipe by going to a weekly, charitable give-away at a grocery store on the other side of town in the Mission District.

I once heard it said that all it takes to make a good story is to chase your hero up a tree and throw rocks at her. You throw an awful lot of rocks at Celeste.

And while the stakes in the story might seem small — a few, fresh Roma tomatoes are all that Celeste desires — you do such an expert job raising the stakes, and the tension, that by the end this reader was so fully invested in whether these two sisters were ever going to manage to get their groceries home, I thought my head was going to explode.

You do a fine job laying out Celeste’s plans for getting to and from the market where they hold the food give-away. Her plans are sensible, no-nonsense, and highly detailed, which makes the world of the story feel lived-in and true. I can think of no higher compliment for a work of fiction.

But I would like to talk a little about the time and place in which you set your story. Near the end of the piece you tell us it’s 1969. I don’t need to tell you this was a time of incredible political instability and foment. None of this comes through in the story. Neither did I ever figure out, until you told me, that the two sisters in the story were African-American. Given that the piece is set in the Mission, I assumed they were Hispanic.

Two African-American sisters living in late-1960s San Francisco would have been awash in social instability and revolutionary sentiment. The two sisters seem a little too mature for that sort of thing, but it was everywhere in the air. I think they might drop at least a few asides about what it going on in the streets around them, since it would have been impossible to avoid.

As for your setting, San Francisco in July — I don’t think I need to quote you that apocryphal bit about how cold it is in S.F. in the summer, the one that’s usually attributed to Mark Twain. The heat of the day actually plays a small role in your story; you might need to rethink this.

And as a final note, having two sisters with names like Celeste and Celia seems almost cruel. The names sound much alike — not to mention their nicknames, Cel and C — that my head was all a-muddle by the end.

Otherwise, a terrific story. Simple and elegant and true. Good job!

 

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Rabble Rousers & Hooligans – Win a Doodle!!

Last year, the Dogpatch *forced* Mike Allegra to draw the cutest salamander, named Sully, for Laurel’s poetry gig. What can we squeeze outta him this year? Hmmm? Go ahead, enter the competition. You know you want to….Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.43.21 PM

Win A Doodle! Woo!

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Upside Down

Hello from the Dogpatch! It’s dogfight time again, and this time we’re duking it out over an essay by Laurel Leigh, slated for a collection called Home Is a Handstand.

Snapshot 1 (2-19-2016 1-04 PM) - Copy

His familiar voice on the phone takes me backward in time, and I want his speech to be the language of Coach, those reassuring tones that let me know I can jump and fly oh so high, only now he’s just this regular guy, sounding baffled and hurt at being snubbed by a gal, and as yet unused to the garb of the newly divorced. And looking to me as someone who’s been there (twice) and seems to have it all figured out, and asking me for advice on ways to cope. Advice I can and do give, from that adult part of myself, the older, wiser me whom the other versions grew into. — from Home Is a Handstand.

Wes PierceWes sez: Let me say, first off, I found this essay deeply moving. The manner in which you expose yourself and lay bare your deepest feelings for two of the most important men in your life — your father and your former gymnastics coach — is both brave and, in its way, awe-inspiring. I might even have cried while reading this piece; but, being a man, I cannot possibly admit to that. So I’m going to punt on this one and say I ‘might’ have cried.

The essay starts off with a terrific opening line about deciding to get fit again at the (comically specific) age of fifty-one and three quarters. This opening line establishes the tone of the piece from the outset: funny and self-deprecating and cutting-to-the-bone in its honesty. The notion of losing weight and getting fit again also serves as a nice framing device for the piece; but the real heart of your essay — for me — is about learning, through time and experience and pain-staking trial-and-error, to heal one’s self.

The narrator (or protagonist) of the essay has reached a point in her life where she yearns for the company of another person, specifically a man. More specifically, the old male friend with whom she shares long phone conversations about his recent divorce and his lurching attempts to get back into the dating game.

There is a nice informality to the tone of the essay, which serves to undercut (in a good way) the anguish and loneliness that permeates the entire piece. If the piece didn’t have this informal, self-deprecating tone it would be almost too painful to read. But as it is now, the essay is both funny and entertaining. The reader is not entertained at the expense of the narrator’s unhappiness; the reader is instead drawn in by the brave and funny voice of the narrator, and in this way the reader can both sympathize and empathize with her. We have all been there, longing for someone who can’t see our longing, even though it’s written all over our face.

There is also an overarching feeling of loss running throughout the essay; the sense of time passing, and the feeling that there’s nothing we can do to slow or stem the flow. We can only sit back, stunned, and marvel at how quickly the years have slipped by. But to leaven this sense of loss, in your essay there is also a buoyant sense of not giving up, of continuing the fight. There is the funny, uplifting sense of not going gentle into that good night, of raging — hilariously — against the dying of the light. Continue reading

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It’s Simply Ramen Time

Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Monday: Teriyaki Beef-Wrapped Asparagus Ramen • Tuesday: Kabocha Ramen made with nutty winter squash and topped with mushrooms and arugula for a flavorful veges dish • Wednesday:  a trip to the sea with Southern Crawfish Ramen • Thursday: time to turn up the heat with spicy Chorizo Miso Ramen • Friday: Cheese Ramen, because cheese!

I consider cookbooks to be some of the most artistic books produced that also have a practical purpose. It’s terrific fun for me when I’m asked to review a cookbook. This week I’ve been having delicious fun with recipes from Amy Kimoto-Kahn’s debut cookbook SIMPLY RAMEN (Race Point Publishing 2016).

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

A cookbook that expertly focuses on one type of food—in this case, ramen—takes the home cook on a unique culinary journey. I often like such cookbooks because rather than being told to buy a bunch of ingredients to make one dish that I might cook once in a blue moon, I can learn how to prepare a type of food I like in lots of different ways. Being already acquainted with the originality and flair that Amy brings to a Japanese-American style of cooking, I was excited to learn that she was writing a ramen-centric cookbook.

I unabashedly confess to enjoying those ten-for-a-buck, salt-loaded packs of ramen I regularly bought as a college kid on a budget. Imagine my delight when I opened Amy’s beautifully written book and encountered the real deal: accessible ramen recipes, using healthful ingredients, that make it a pleasure to cook at home and feel better about what I’m eating or serving to family and friends. As a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-American), Amy merges contemporary and traditional foods and home cooking techniques and shows you how to make tasty ramen dishes prepared dozens of ways—from chicken to seafood, to spicy, to vegetable, to cold, to traditional recipes she learned in Japan.

She includes easy-to-learn recipes for soup bases and noodles that can be made ahead, dozens of flavorful toppings, and a bonus chapter of yummy sides, including tofu, rice, and even a Japanese rice cracker snack. Plus a ramen-yas tour of Tokyo at the end of the book offers a glimpse into the atmosphere and menu specialties of Japanese ramen shops. I’d tell you more, but it’s time to eat, and you can bet what’s for dinner. Here’s food for every night of the week and twice on Saturday! Simply Ramen is simply irresistible.

Amy Kimoto-Kahn is the creator of the website easypeasyjapanesey.com, which offers recipes, cooking tips, and stories. I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next!

XO Laurel Leigh

 

 

 

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