Category Archives: Fiction

Wisdom, Vol. IV: The theft of Ambrose Bierce-isms walks among us


PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary.

This was my main writing exercise last night, when I had a block of time to do a few of them. I like this exercise a lot. It makes me think about what words mean, what they mean in different contexts, and what they don’t mean.

The cynicism of these aside, there’s also generally a pattern to what Bierce did and what I try to do when I write these. Not quite a formula. Anyway.

Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. Nobody’s taken me up on that, but perhaps offering what nobody wants is the sort of against the grain thinking Bierce might have liked.

achievement  A statement of adequacy most notable for prolonging the use of paper.

annexation  A means of keeping one’s rivals close.

attraction  In the fields of entertainment and matrimony, the power that ultimately results in butts in seats.

bard  A singer of  the traditional art, compliance.

base  The center of man, largely comprised of the digestive organs and resultant substances.

beggar  A friend, indeed.

borrower  A generous soul who invest in others.

commentator  An ass trained to emit the usual sounds at a greater volume.

confidence man  A mathematician who teaches other men their value.

essay  A thesis in so many words.

graft  A most dependable oiler deployed as a support to the flotilla of commerce.

grift  The most common transaction in a bull market.

hiccup  An echo of swallowed resolve.

homily  The dust that comes off when old words are shaken.

innocence  In the American justice system, one maintains this until they are proven.

mustache  An ingenious device that can be grown by its wearer to catch mucus when the skull becomes full.

proponent  The principal heir to a disputed outcome.

reverence  A silent demonstration that allows one’s dream to displace another’s sense.

salute  A sign of respect shown to the superior officer and an acknowledgement that another is wearing his hat.

sentence  At best, a means of doing justice to men and words.

suspicion  The most potent spell cast by reason.

theft  The highest form of flattery.

versatility  The ability to have a hand in multiple pockets.

vote  In America, by a certain age, each man or woman is entrusted with multiples of one; sadly, this was not always the case.

wallet  Where scruples of varying denominations are corralled.

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Books: The 3800 block of San Diego’s 5th Avenue in Hillcrest


Bookseller Jan Tonnesen thumbs through a first edition Dr. Suess book at 5th Avenue Books in San Diego, Calif., earlier this month. Fifth Avenue Books is one of two terrific bookstores on the 3800 block of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area. The other is Bluestocking books, almost directly across the street. Photo by John Doucette.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Folks here said the number of bookstores in the city has dwindled in recent years, but I had time during a recent work trip to visit two terrific shops on opposite sides of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area – 5th Avenue Books, which sells used, and Bluestocking Books, which sells a mix of new and used.

The former Borders location in Gaslamp notably lay empty, which is not unlike an awful lot of towns, but a big recent loss for rare and used book hunters fond independent sellers was the ultimate shuttering of Wahrenbrock’s Book House, following the 2008 death of its owner. But a few shops are still going, including in and around Hillcrest, and I keep hoping people will rediscover the joy of going to a cool bookstore and finding either something wanted or something you didn’t know you needed.

With 5th Avenue and Bluestocking so close, I urge them to mate and make some beautiful new bookstores. I’m not 100 percent certain of the science behind my proposal. Regardless, the Hillcrest Town Council should petition the City Council to fund the purchase of a huge scented candle, as well as the rental of a Commodores cover band to play an autumn evening set in the middle of the avenue. Just see where it goes, San Diego. Let’s see them try to resist the silky allure of 1978’s “Say Yeah.”

Anyway. I visited Bluestocking first, where owner Kris Nelson said the store’s name roughly means “oddball,” and also refers to an intellectual woman. There’s also a brief history of the term at the store site. The number is (619) 296-1424, and they have a Facebook fan site at this link. I browsed fiction, mostly, then compulsively bought a Tim Seibles poetry collection, which you can look forward to among the prizes for next year’s Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Say, did you hear about the National Book Award nominations yet? Still cool.

Nelson said the store has a fairly simple philosophy:

Come as you are. Dress how you want. Why can’t we all just be equal?

She’s had the store for 13 years, though there’s been a bookstore here since the 1960s.

I love our neighborhood. It’s still a great walking neighborhood with trees. It’s a very tolerant neighborhood.

She even met her husband here in the store, when he showed up for a poetry reading and then bought a book. The store is doing well, she noted, in part due to the shuttering of Borders — similar to what I heard at an independent store in Rhode Island last year.

We’ve seen a bump. We’ve also seen a bump because some of the used stores have been closing, which is sad.

Bluestocking bookseller Dawn Marie said:

A lot of the bookstores we used to have closed, but so has Borders. There’s one Barnes & Noble, and they’ve really cut back.

In addition to new books, Bluestocking has taken on services such as handling magazine subscriptions. Said Marie:

It boils down to where can [customers] get the services they need? And that’s what lets us grow. There’s still growth happening, but its stores that are really service-oriented.

Bluestocking Books exterior.

Kris Nelson, owner of Bluestocking Books in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, Calif.

Bluestocking Books.

Bluestocking Books interior.

I didn’t have time to venture out to other recommended shops — Adams Avenue Book Store in Normal Heights and D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla [the latter has a Loeb Classical Library and Western Philosophy wall and, man, check out their YouTube channel] — but I loved San Diego like stupid loves low expectations. I aim to be back, and also aim to check these spots out.

That said, I found so much great stuff at Bluestocking Books and 5th Avenue Books, I ended up with a challenging carry-on situation for the flight back to Virginia. There are worse problems to have.

Across the street from Bluestocking, I spoke with Jan Tonnesen, a bookseller at 5th Avenue Books. He worked for three decades at Wahrenbrock’s before it closed.

Fifth Avenue Books holds down a big, open space at 3838 5th Ave., with some back rooms, too. The number is (619) 291-4660 and they have a Facebook fan page at this link. I ended up choosing some Modern Library volumes, including the first San Diego-bought book I started reading on the ride home — a very nice copy of The Decameron.

Tonnesen, back when he worked at Wahrenbrock’s, witnessed the late pop star Michael Jackson on a shopping spree there. His bill topped $1,700. This was by far the coolest story I heard in San Diego. Said Tonnesen:

I spent about 20 minutes alone with him in the rare books room. He wore a red silk shirt and a red surgical mask to match.

I suggested Tonnesen had a pretty good title for a memoir: I Spent 20 Minutes Alone with Michael Jackson in the Rare Books Room: A Survivor’s Story. Kind of sells itself.

I like it. Thanks.

When was that?

Oh, God. I don’t know. It was at least 15 years ago.

Before he died.

I hope so.

5th Avenue Books exterior.

5th Avenue Books interior.

A lion watches over a bookshelf at 5th Avenue Books in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, Calif.

Some nifty sketches at 5th Avenue Books included this one of Papa.

A brief epilogue:

The photos with this post are with my iPhone, so the indoor ones are a little grainy and blurry; sorry. But I want to make it up to you. I’m lighting a candle for you, bookstores.

And now it smells all like cinnamon, with just a hint of possibility.

Say, what’s that I hear from the middle of 5th Avenue?

Oh my:

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Wisdom, Vol. III: The theft of Ambrose Bierce-isms returns


PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary. Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. I try to come up with a couple of these before I start my writing or homework. Sometimes they get the juices flowing. Other times are other times.

bank  The arena in which money conspires against its owner, pending withdrawal.

buttock  A special paddock where unsolicited advice grazes and runs among its kind.

capital  1. Where the best ideas of a republic are heaped until the ones on the bottom and in the middle can no longer move. 2. The blood of the republic, regarded for its ability to clot only in select locations.

darkness  A vast blanket that warms all ambition.

foot soldier  In any army, a tankless job.

heel  1. The weakest part of an ancient warrior. 2. The most electable part of a modern society.

invasion  A great quest announced by one great trumpet and concluded in many little pockets.

mortgage  A means of buying today what will be lost tomorrow.

politician  A practitioner of situational idealism, the best of whom give displeased constituents directions to their neighbors’ houses.

politics  1. A chief means of monetizing duty. 2. An arena in which both contestants wear the same uniform. 3. An elaborate employment program providing for the second cousin of greatness.

privacy  The chamber into which a man withdraws from his friends for the purpose of devising their undoing.

robe  What a judge wears to hide his or her intentions.

rope  A tether fitted at birth, length to be determined.

scuffle  A conversation expressed by hand.

veil  An item worn once per marriage.

werewolf  A foolish myth with no basis in reality; rather, men grow more devilish at the new moon, when it is slightly harder to be seen.*

 

* Bierce’s definition: WEREWOLF, n. A wolf that was once, or is sometimes, a man. All werewolves are of evil disposition, having assumed a bestial form to gratify a beastial appetite, but some, transformed by sorcery, are as humane and is consistent with an acquired taste for human flesh. Some Bavarian peasants having caught a wolf one evening, tied it to a post by the tail and went to bed. The next morning nothing was there! Greatly perplexed, they consulted the local priest, who told them that their captive was undoubtedly a werewolf and had resumed its human for during the night. “The next time that you take a wolf,” the good man said, “see that you chain it by the leg, and in the morning you will find a Lutheran.”

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UPDATED: Allan Gurganus, Sheri Reynolds, Tim Seibles in lineup of the 35th annual ODU litfest


John McManus and Tim Seibles, co-directors of this year’s Old Dominion University Literary Festival.

NORFOLK, Va. – The 35th Annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival kicks off today with a reception for two visual arts exhibits. Readings start Monday with author, poet and translator Yunte Huang, and the week goes full speed until Friday night, when Allan Gurganus, author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, will write an entire novel while using only adjectives supplied by audience members.

That’s right, Hampton Roads — if you ever wanted to help a best-selling author modify his nouns and pronouns, this is your year.

So.

For legal reasons, I must now explain that Gurganus will not write a novel with your help, but he will be here in Norfolk. Probably to read something and talk about literature. His call, really.

Sorry that lede got away from me there, but LitFest! It is great. There are a host of talented artists who will read and talk and so forth.

The full schedule is at the bottom of the post, and please do click on this link to visit the festival site.

Novelist and short fiction writer John McManus and poet Tim Seibles are co-directing the festival this year. Both have been featured here at the blog, and, by way of full disclosure, they are my professors at ODU. Seibles, who recently published the collection Fast Animal, is reading on Friday, and one of my other profs, Sheri Reynolds, who has a new novel out called The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb, reads on Tuesday. Times and places are lower in the post.

I traded emails with Seibles and McManus about the festival this past week. Through the miraculous cut-paste function of modern personal computing, it seems as though I interviewed them together, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from this year’s festival?

Seibles: The main thing I want people to take away from this litfest is a clear sense that language is alive and that poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc., do, IN FACT, have something to say to and about their lives.

McManus: I hope writers in the audience will go away eager to write in response to the festival guests or in argument with them, and I hope everyone will leave wanting to read these writers’ books and read more in general. That’s what happens to me during and after a good reading: I fill up with a sense of urgency at the sheer number of worthwhile books that I haven’t read yet, and a sense of urgency to sit down at my desk and write.

Q: Are there any specific artists you are looking forward to hearing or seeing?

McManus: I will admit to being particularly thrilled about M.T. Anderson, whose novel Feed I’ve read five times. He won the National Book Award for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the first volume in a trilogy whose second book is partly set in Hampton Roads during the Revolutionary War. Two of my colleagues, Sheri Reynolds and Tim Seibles, are reading during the festival; it will be a delight to hear them both. I love both Dorianne Laux and Allan Gurganus. And I’m very excited about Alice Randall.

Seibles: I think all of the guests will be a good rush for the soul, but I am especially excited about Sean Thomas Dougherty, Jamal Mohamed, Robin Becker, and Yona Harvey.

Q: What was I too dumb to ask but should have asked? And will you please answer that question?

Seibles: The answer is ‘we swim in language – we drown or we stay alive in the language we think and speak.’

McManus: You’re a professional journalist and there’s nothing you’re too dumb to ask, but if you’d asked whom we’re bringing in 2013, I’d have answered that I intend to send invitations to famous recluses like Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon and Charles Portis so that I can frame copies of my invitation letters to them and also because why not, and if you’d asked where I find all the smart, modish clothes I wear to the festival, I’d have answered that Dillard’s has an amazing 75-percent-off sale every year in the last weekend of September, which is why the festival happens at the beginning of October.

A schedule follows. Please double check the litfest site. Garage parking is free for on-campus events. Events are free, except for the staged reading of 8, as noted below. Most events are in Norfolk, though one talk is in Virginia Beach. A campus map is at this link.

  • Woman, Image and Art & Photographs With Teeth: Visual arts reception. 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some paid street parking nearby. (Further details on both exhibits below.)
  • Dustin Lance Black’s 8: Staged reading. 8 p.m., Oct., 3-5; 12:30 p.m., Oct. 3-4 @ Old Dominion University Theatre, 4600 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. General admission $20; students $15. Proceeds benefit ODU Out & The American Foundation for Equal Rights.
  • Author, poet and translator Yunte Huange. 2:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk. Near W. 49th St.
  • Poet Yona Harvey. 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Robin Becker. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Batten Arts & Letters Building, 43rd Street & Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk.
  • Author Sheri Reynolds. 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ Batten Arts & Letters.
  • Poet Patrick Rosal. 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ Learning Commons, 1st Floor, Perry Library, 4427 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. Near W. 45th St.
  • Screenwriter and playwright Dustin Lance Black. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ North Cafeteria, Webb Center, 49th Street & Bluestone Avenue, Norfolk, Va.
  • Photographer Karolina Karlic, 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Gordon Art Galleries
  • Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty. 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Dorianne Laux. 4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct.3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Author M.T. Anderson. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Jan Freeman. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, 1881 University Dr., Virginia Beach. Surface parking nearby.
  • Percussionist Jamal Mohamed. 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet and playwright Merle Feld. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Tim Seibles. 2:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Alice Randall. 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Author Allan Gurganus. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.

And these longer-term events:

  • Woman, Image and Art: Visual Arts. Runs through Feb. 10 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some street parking nearby. FMI click this link.
  • Photographs With Teeth: Photography by Yunghi Kim, Cori Pepelnjak, Karolina Karlic & Greta Pratt. Runs through Oct. 14 @ Gordon Art Galleries. FMI click this link.

Please keep your adjectives to yourself – unless they are superlative.

Look, that was just a half-hearted grammar joke. Please do not shout out adjectives at Allan Gurganus.

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Writing Craft, Vol. XI: Jean-Henri Fabre, entomologist with a knack for narrative


PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Sometimes soft dung can become a nourishing pill. I learned this from Jean Henri Fabre.

It’s not just the name I love; nor is it the science.

Fabre, a French entomologist, was a remarkable man of letters because he had a way of putting them in the right order. I picked up two volumes of his work last year at Old Professor’s Bookshop in Maine, and have since returned to them repeatedly for the descriptions of Fabre’s observations of nature.

As a bonus, his work often speaks to the nature of writing, particularly the ever-elusive narrative central to both the sciences and the humanities alike. And he writes things consistent with my own philosophies of discovering stories both in fiction and journalism. For what it’s worth.

The following quotes are from The Life and Love of the Insect, an early 20th Century English compilation of some essays. I am misappropriating some lines that deal not with narrative but nature. Hopefully for pure purposes. As Fabre wrote:

And now let us unfold the authentic story, calling to witness none save facts actually observed and reobserved.

On clarity:

I am convinced one can say excellent things without employing a barbarous vocabulary. Clearness is the supreme politeness of whoso wields a pen. I do my best to observe it.

On planning or editing:

It now becomes a question of shaping it.

On respecting the canon, if only to a point:

We take the genesis of the species in the act; the present teaches us how the future is prepared. (90)

On reaching that point, and continuing to achieve craft:

The creative power throws aside the old moulds and replaces them by others, fashioned with fresh care, after plans of an inexhaustible variety. Its laboratory is not a peddling rag-fair, where the living assume the cast clothes of the dead: it is a medallist’s studio, where each effigy receives the stamp of a special die. Its treasure-house of forms, of unbounded wealth, excludes any niggardly patching of the old to make the new. It breaks up every mould once used; it does away with it, without resulting to shabby after-touches.

On finding areas of study in one’s own backyard:

The gathering of ideas does not necessarily imply distant expeditions. …

Certainly, I have plenty. I have too much to do with my near neighbors, without going and wandering in distant regions.

On digging deep:

But what is the use of this history, what the use of all this minute research? I well know that it will not produce a fall in the price of pepper, a rise in that of crates of rotten cabbages, or other serious events of this kind, which cause fleets to be manned and set people face to face intent upon one another’s extermination. The insect does not aim at so much glory. It confines itself to showing us life in the inexhaustible variety of its manifestations; it helps us to decipher in some small measure the obscurest book of all, the book of ourselves.

On finding what matters within all the words:

She collect the remnants pouring down around her, subdivides them yet further, refines them and makes her selection: this, the tenderer part, for the central crumb; that, tougher, for the crust of the loaf. Turning this way and that, she pats the material with the battledore of her flattened arms; she arranges it in layers, which presently she compresses by stamping on them where they lie, much after the manner of a vine-grower treading his vintage. Rendered firm and compact, the mass will keep better and longer.

On clarity of form:

The poplar-leaf, with its simple form and its moderate size, gives a neat scroll; the vine-leaf, with its cumbersome girth and its complicated outline, produces a shapeless cigar, an untidy parcel.

For those interested in great bookstores, here’s a link to a post I wrote last year on Old Professor’s Bookshop. And here’s a video that originally ran with that post.

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2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest winners revealed; recount aboard Funk Mothership demanded


UPDATED; July 18 – Today the contest winners and many of the fine runners up go on display at Elliot’s Fair Grounds in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Va.

Fair Grounds is on the second floor of 806 Baldwin Ave., at the corner of Colley and Baldwin avenues. If you’re at the Starbucks, you are incorrect. Please cross Colley Avenue to Fair Grounds as briskly as the traffic allows.

Do not look back. If you make eye contact with Starbucks, you will taste like smoldering wood.

Thanks again to all at Fair Grounds, as well as the other sponsors listed below, including Naro Expanded Video and Local Heroes. And a big thanks to Jay Walker, a great Rhode Islander, for sharing gift certificates and movie rentals with the second and third place winners. They live in Hampton Roads and will be able to use them.

As far as I know, Walker and I are the only folks who can rock our Local Heroes tees while slugging a Del’s from our Fair Grounds mugs and simultaneously appreciating the New England Pest Control (now Big Blue Bug Solutions) bug as we hurtle along I-95 South.

If only for now.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — I am not a political person, at least not since my six vote loss in 1977 to Bootsy Collins in a bitterly interfunkular election to become recording secretary of P-Funk.

My memory is not what it used to be, and I was four at the time, and this may just be some Funkadelic fan fiction I’m remembering, or simply a thing that is not true because a lie is merely the purposeful application of what accuracy is not, but I seem to remember George Clinton’s support for Bootsy over me came down to delivery of enough Parliamentary votes to pass the Rent Act, which led to protected tenancy in England and Wales.

Though I certainly respect the rights of protected tenants of U.K. dwelling houses, this was not what I had in mind when I boarded the Mothership, thank you very much.

So was I outmaneuvered in my pretend youth by a fabulous bassist? All of us are, always, even still. Do I write self-indulgent, off-topic ledes? Ahem. Am I political? No, no, no.

Which is why I need to get some business out of the way before announcing this year’s Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest winners, while preemptively directing my Republican friends to the comments section below. It was writer Connie Sage, not I, who delivered these fortunes, which work together, but did not win:

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Had Sage won the competition, and should the election (Novemberish, I hear) go otherwise, the mountain of predictive credibility that is this blog would crumble. Additionally, she might have picked her own book as a prize, which would have meant that many months ago she effectively signed a first-edition copy of her book for herself, and so the universe would have little choice but to fold into itself, obliterating life on earth and possibly some other planets we don’t care about as much as certain works by Stephen Spielberg might lead you to believe.

I submit to you, gentle reader, that we have averted disaster and, frankly, saved this world and countless others.

Still, we have only the here and now, and the knowledge that prizes include a gift certificate and mug from Fair Grounds Coffee on Colley Avenue in Norfolk and a gift certificate and extra-large tee – plan your diet or weight gain accordingly – from Local Heroes on Colonial Avenue in Norfolk, as well as movie rentals from Naro Expanded Video on Colley Avenue and these autographed books:

And which election does Sage mean? The upcoming U.S. presidential election? Perhaps, but are we sure? When we make such assumptions, as certain musicians may have done, let’s say, when choosing as their recording secretary a bassist who was actually a contributing member of their collective over a four-year-old New England boy who was not really there at all because the opening anecdote is not a true thing, who really wins? And how can I properly thank this year’s judges – my sister Cate Doucette, my wife Cortney Doucette, and writer Tom Robotham, who voted for the finalists without knowing the names of the writers/artists? And how do I get out of this intro, already?

Say, dig these speculative meeting minutes from Clinton’s 1981-1982 Computer Games sessions:

Chairman Clinton called the meeting to order aboard the Funk Mothership. The roll was taken. Sub Woofer and Clip Pain were absent. Quorum confirmed.

Under old business, Capt. Draw moved that “Man’s Best Friend” and “Loopzilla” should be merged into a monumental track topping twelve minutes and ultimately released as a 12-inch single. Maruga Booker seconded.

Clerk Sir Nose D’voidafunk called the funk before the funk called him. The motion passed, 44-0-2. P-Nut Johnson abstained. Dennis Chambers was too busy making the goddess of time herself reset her celestial watch to care. Drumroll …

FIRST PLACE

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

 SECOND PLACE

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

THIRD PLACE

Rich Neefe; educator; Portsmouth, Va.

A brief note about the prizes: Since the first place winner hails from the Ocean state, I may have to adjust the first place prize package a bit. When Mr. Walker and I hammer it out, I’ll update the post.

For those keeping track, a Virginian has yet to win this contest. Boy.

Here are some other great entries, including honorable mentions that were also on judges’ scorecards.

 HONORABLE MENTIONS

Arianna Akers; Norfolk, Va.

Merritt Allen; owner & executive director of Vox Optima LLC; Tijeras, N.M.

Sean Collins; eater of pizza, drinker of beer; Portsmouth, Va.

Rick Hite; retired professor; Norfolk, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima; Chesapeake; Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima; Chesapeake, Va.

Angelina Maureen; visual artist; Norfolk, Va.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Oliver Mackson; investigator; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

RUNNERS UP

Merritt Allen; owner & executive director of Vox Optima LLC; Tijeras, N.M.

Anonymous; Norfolk, Va.

Anonymous; Norfolk, Va.

Sam Cupper; Norfolk, Va.

Jeremie Guy; trainer at Planet Fitness; Reston, Va.

Bill Hart; shipyard worker; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

Judy Le; editor; Norfolk, Va.

Judy Le; editor; Norfolk, Va.

Tom McDermott; whereabouts unknown

Sharina Mendoza; MDMFA student at Full Sail University; Norfolk, Va.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Meghan E. Murphy; education reporter at Newsday; Highland, N.Y.

Jim Noble; Virginia

Rachel O’Sullivan; director West Coast operations at Vox Optima; Greater San Diego, Calif.

Michael Perez; senior communications analyst; Rio Rancho, N.M.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Terry Schommer; self-employed; Monroe, N.Y.

Terry Schommer; self-employed; Monroe, N.Y.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Suzanne Tate; Bristol, Tenn.

Suzanne Tate; Bristol, Tenn.

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

Thank you. I think we’ll do this again next year.

And if anybody wants to buy me the Bootsy Collins shower curtain, I am into that idea a lot.

Playing us out is some prime Eddie Hazel on a song the writer Greg Tate called Funkadelic’s “A Love Supreme” (FYI, language) …

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Fortune cookie fortune writing contest prize books announced, entries due June 15


PORTSMOUTH, Va. – There are less than two weeks left until the entry period ends for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest, so if you haven’t sent your submission(s) via email to jhdouc@verizon.net yet you’re missing out on a chance to win copies of some terrific books.

This year’s prizes include the following books. Most of them by authors featured at the blog. Each book is autographed by the author.

  • Norton Girault’s short story collection Out Among the Rooster Men
  • Dana Heller’s Hairspray, a study of the film by John Waters
  • Connie Sage’s biography Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel 
  • Two copies of Tim Seibles’ new poetry volume Fast Animal
  • Wells Tower’s short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

The first place winner picks three books. Second place picks two of the remainder. Third place gets what’s left.

I’m hoping to add a few additional prizes. I hope you’ll enter as often as you like. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries so far.

Again, the official rules can be found at this link. For a taste of last year’s winners, click on this link.

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UPDATED: Announcing the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest


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April 3

I’m now taking entries for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Deadline is June 15.

Additionally, I’m pleased to say Fair Grounds Coffee on the upstairs of 806 Baldwin Ave., on the corner of Baldwin and Colley avenues in Norfolk, will display winners and runners up in July.

Details on the national tour to come when people start returning my calls anywhere.

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Imaginary Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that the second annual Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest submission and reading period begins next month.

I’m taking submissions from April 2 until June 15, with winners to be announced here at the blog on Monday, July 2. As with last year’s contest, I’ll pick the finalists and judges-to-be-named-later will vote “blind” for their favorites.

I hope get more visual art entries this year, but getting any entries at all brings its own special joy. The winners and runners up will be displayed at a Norfolk-area business. I’m still working out the details there, but hope to have more information soon.

Should nobody enter, we will pretend this did not happen. Just like my junior prom at Cranston High School East. Go Bolts.

Don’t want to enter? Suit yourself, cupcake. But before you go, do consider this persuasive and entirely solicited testimonial from last year’s winner, the Marylander di tutti Marylander who is called Gary Potterfield by all who are introduced to him as such. Get ready for gravitas:

A warning to anyone contemplating entry into the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing contest. Run. Just put down the chop sticks and run. For if you should win your life will never be the same.

Ever since I won last year’s contest, hardly a day goes by that I’m reminded of my victory. In fact, entire seasons go by and I’m not reminded of it. Immediately after the announcement, I began to receive more than 100 emails per day, none of which had anything to do with fortune cookies or cookies of any kind.

I can count at least 2,372 people who have not asked for my autograph, and that’s a low estimate. 

I think my victory has even affected the time-space continuum. The February immediately following the contest explicably had 29 days. 

Clearly, we need to bring the title back to the Virginia. May God bless the Commonwealth that is not Kentucky, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Yes, as the kids say, the preceding sentence was a parochialist U.S. state designation burn.

Click here to see the full official rules, such as they are. (Please bookmark this link for updates.)

Click here to see last year’s winners, and the runners up, too.

Here are the basic guidelines, from the official rules:

In this test of skill and conciseness, readers contribute (hopefully) clever or artistic fortune or fortunes of their own creation to me via email to jhdouc@verizon.net – not in the comments, please.

Funny fortunes. Clever fortunes. Poetic fortunes. Artistic fortunes. Silly fortunes. Sad fortunes. Angry fortunes. Your hopes and dreams, your fears and foibles. Whatever way you want to approach it. It just has to fit on or to the form of a fortune slip, so please keep it to about 30 words or less. Cartoons, (original) comic strips, photos, and artwork all are encouraged, not just the written word – it just has to fit into a fortune cookie fortune sized space, such as this:

There will be modest prizes of my choosing, including signed books by authors previously featured on this blog. Last year’s prizes included Ted Danson and Mike D’Orso‘s Oceana and Earl Swift‘s The Big Roads. There also may be prizes from local businesses in the Hampton Roads area. Or maybe not. Details to come when the reading period nears.

Please enter early and often, and maybe tell your friends.

This message is pretend approved for immediate release by the Imaginary Board of Trustees.

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Tunnel Traffic is back; New Jersey is ‘nice’


The Tunnel Traffic reading series shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, a Johnny Cash reference in which "shot" means "gathered writers to read a poem or whatnot" and "just to watch him die" stands for "just so people listening have this realization, basically, a kind of epiphany about the world." See? This cutline is totally not libelous, right Travis A. Everett, founder of the series? Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Tunnel Traffic reading series returned last month, and it will continue this week at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University.

The reading prompt, recently announced by series founder Travis Everett, a poet and and ODU student in the MFA Creative Writing Program, is say something “nice” about New Jersey. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m also a student in the program.

The next Tunnel Traffic is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at Borjo, located at Monarch Way and W. 45th St. in Norfolk. There is nearby metered street parking and some garage parking. Plenty of drinks and eats.

Here’s a video from the last one, and a brief Q&A follows.

Here’s the Q&A with Everett:

Q: The topic/prompt is “say something ‘nice’ about New Jersey”? Why is “nice”  in quotes?

We’re just following an old typographic “convention” for providing additional emphasis, John.

Q: New Jersey, as in the state, yes?

The Wikipedia disambiguation page for ‘New Jersey’ informs me that there’s a Bon Jovi album, and two battleships by the same name. Our fault, for introducing the ambiguity. If you have something ‘nice’ to say about Bon Jovi’s New Jersey or either iteration of the USS New Jersey, please do.

Q: We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Anything to add?

I have a lot of “nice” things to say about glam metal.

And that’s the whole interview. As a wise man, his guitarist, and Desmond Child once wrote:

You get a little but it’s never enough.

Show up Wednesday. Maybe Tico Torres will show up to sign autographs, though I am legally obligated to tell you he will not. Anyway, if you want to rock the mike by reading the lyrics to “Bad Medicine,” don’t do it all ironic. Rock the mike with sincerity, baby.

Playing us out is, well, you know:

P.S. Everett was the subject of a Belligerent Q&A last year, available at this link.

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John McManus’ “Mr. Gas” is on AltDaily, which is more awesome than John McManus is letting on


NORFOLK, Va. — Geez, I step away from my computer for a few days and miss something cool. That’ll learn me. It’s you and me from now on, computer.

You see, Norfolk writer John McManus, featured here in a very funny Belligerent Q&A and a Craft Talk earlier in the year, published his fine story “Mr Gas” this past Friday at AltDaily in place of his normal edition of If Your Read the Paper, which I have praised on the pages of the Interweb.

Additionally, it just happens that “Mr. Gas” is the very story I choose to ask him about when we did our craft talk, because I love it, though McManus opens the AltDaily post with a humble “editor’s note” he actually wrote himself:

Because John is en route to South Africa today, he can’t write If You Read the Paper. He left yesterday and lands in Cape Town tonight, where he’ll spend ten days visiting a friend and researching a novel. During his layover in Amsterdam he sent us one of his old short stories instead, as we urged him to consider doing. It’s called “Mr. Gas,” from his 2003 collection Born on a Train. He wrote “Mr. Gas” when he was twenty-two and knew virtually nothing, so he prefers that you not read beyond the end of this editorial note, which he also wrote. He doesn’t usually talk about himself in the third person. He is probably jetlagged and confused.

This is called underselling, you see. There’s a lot in it for writers and readers to discover. Please visit AltDaily and enjoy.

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