OCTOBER 2010 (FALL)

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In July 2009 on June 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Letter from the Editor

Welcome to the first online issue of the Algonquin Area Writer’s Group Literary eZine! This space is a venue and showcase for a group of people from various backgrounds, ages and personalities who have two things in common: their draw to the written word and their tendency to congregate at the Algonquin Area Public Library on the last Thursday of every month.

In this issue, we explore hereditary traits we’d rather escape and extramarital relationships. We try in vain to extinguish the words of former flames. We cross country and culture to play with children in a vibrant Indian garden. We also get to know Ayelet Waldman, author of the recent book Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace and decide if we’d like to give Kim Harrison’s latest book, Once Dead, Twice Shy, a try.

A Gradual Erosion

by Liz Hum

Claire hated her mother.

As the two women sat opposite each other across the kitchen table, sipping their respective cups of coffee, Claire focused especially on hating the wrinkle running from the right side of her mother’s lips-down to her jaw. It was more of a canyon, really, carved by decades of repetitive smug expressions. Since the wrinkle was most pronounced when Claire’s mother pursed her lips in condescension, Claire assumed her mother had been a bitch for decades, if not her whole life.

Three minutes ago, her mother had said something that made the canyon sink down so far, it had practically touched the woman’s skull. And now, three minutes later, Claire was still smoldering, staring at it. Fixating upon it. Projecting all the fire she was unable to breathe into the hateful crease and hoping her mother could feel it burn.  Her mother glanced up over her newspaper and noticed Claire still poised for a fight.

“You’re just going to have to grow up, Claire, and realize there are other opinions out there besides your own,” she chastised with a patronizing brow. The wrinkle, snugly perched upon her mother’s face, winked at her. Claire, as always, couldn’t resist the double dare.

Unfortunately, “Whatever!” was all she could come up with, as her vocabulary had been consumed by angst. That was how the wrinkle got her every time. It would absorb all of Claire’s anger, swallow it between its two folds of skin, then spit it back out into Claire’s face, causing her to squint, stumble and ultimately say something stupid. This pleased both her mother and the wrinkle. Claire suspected that once she’d fled the room, they would laugh at her together, having been in cahoots the whole time. They were a gang. Two against one. Together, they intimidated Claire and it wasn’t fair because she wasn’t allowed to speak to her mother in the same way her mother was allowed to speak to her. And it wasn’t fair at all that the wrinkle was entitled to the same privileges of berating her, just because it was attached to her mother’s face. Claire was old enough to speak up to her mother, but not independent enough to stand up to her. Every time she tried, she had inevitably slipped and fell into the ravine of humiliation on the right side of those sneering lips.

Those sneering lips had infuriated Claire this morning. So much, in fact, that she, now five minutes later,  leapt from her seat in a dramatic fit of protest and pushed her chair back in hard. The backrest slammed into the table, sending her mother’s coffee cup rattling off of its lacquered surface and onto her lap.

“Damn it, Claire! That’s scalding hot!” Her mother screeched and, almost immediately, the wrinkle retreated. It vanished, just like that. Claire was set to lose another battle of wills, and here she had won. It was her turn to watch her mother scramble and stutter as she frantically tried to sop up all the spilled coffee with a dishrag.

And where was her pugnacious little wrinkle? It had spread out and hid in the safety of her mother’s cheek. It wasn’t so tough now. As a matter of fact, Claire almost felt sorry for the woman, having been betrayed by the snide thing. She watched as her mother furrowed her brow and let her guard down, temporarily exposing all of her other wrinkles, as she mopped away. One day her mother’s face was going to be full of wrinkles that can’t hide. She will have so many lines on her face that will always be there for her; the wrinkle will be lost in them. Claire just looked down at her pitiful mother with an unconscious, but familiar, purse on her own lips, unaware of the small dimple forming on the right side of them, straining toward her jaw.

Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Reviewed by Lisa Damian Kidder

Once Dead Twice ShyKim Harrison’s new young adult supernatural fantasy, Once Dead, Twice Shy, will be released at the end of the this month. Harrison is the author of the New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series featuring witch and private detective, Rachel Morgan. Once Dead, Twice Shy marks her first full-length novel geraed toward the young adult audience, though the prequel to the book can be found in the short story collection Prom Nights From Hell.

In addition to its target audience age-range, the other distinguishing feature that sets this novel apart from Harrison’s Hollows series is that the characters are all new. Rather than witches, vampires, and pixies as main characters, Once Dead, Twice Shy revolves around angels, reapers, and timekeepers. The characters serve as a cutting edge variant in the paranormal fiction genre, a refreshing introduction to mystical beings far different from the vampires and witches we’ve come to consider commonplace in fantasy novels these days.

As an interesting twist, the story opens with main character, Madison Avery, already dead. In addition to being the new kid in her high school, she had the unfortunate luck of getting scythed by a reaper at her junior prom. Though being dead might slow down most girls, Avery still manages to snag the loyalty of a new friend and potential romantic interest while battling some of the most powerful forces in the universe and still remaining true to who she is as an individual. As far as heroines in young adult novels go, Madison Avery is much more like-able and inspiring than most with her punk rock style and strong sense of self. She is also able to navigate some rather grey areas in the battle between good and evil.

Harrison masterfully creates imagery and symbolism that enhances both the story and the character development. Some examples of this can be found in the layers of angel hierarchy, the guardian angels with their affection for bells, and the deathly blackwings being perceived as crows to the average human eye. As always, Harrison manages to build tension and suspense amidst the action and fast-paced plot.

“My illusionary pulse quickened. The more anxious I became, the more my mind relied on memories of being alive. Something was about to happen, and I didn’t know what to do. What if that beautiful girl at the wheel was the reaper?”

There were moments, however brief, where I wondered if I had met some of these characters before. The light and dark angels brandishing their colorful swords made me flashback to a scene from the book and TV miniseries, The Fallen. The guardian angel character, Grace, with her sassy limerick humor and small yet forbidding persona reminded me slightly of Jenks from Harrison’s Hollows series.

Despite these momentary distractions, Harrison remained true to her proven ability, crafting a world in which it is believable that these characters would really walk amongst us. Furthermore, she convincingly developed the main character, Madison Avery, who faces many of the same real-life issues that any teenage girl would face, while learning that the fate of the world literally lies with her.

For true bibliophiles, the hard cover version with its lilac angel wing engraving hidden under the dust sleeve is a must have.

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In July 2009 on June 30, 2009 at 8:27 pm

reflection

Photo by Lisa Guidarini

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman

Interviewed by Lisa Guidarini

Ayelet Waldman created a firestorm a few years back with her essay “Modern Love” in which she claimed to love her husband more than her children. In her new book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, she delves into the contemporary attitude of putting your kids above all else and society’s obsession with judging women in accordance with unrealistic images of what “Good Mothers” are supposed to be.  Here, Ayelet Waldman graciously agreed to an email interview:


LG: Any regrets about how much you revealed about yourself and/or your family in Bad Mom? Anything you wish you hadn’t said? On the other hand, anything you’re sorry you left out?

AW: God, did I leave anything out? I doubt it.  There is a line in the book that I have removed in future printings. I’d rather not draw your attention to it, but it’s something I deeply regret saying. Have fun leafing through the pages to find it!

LG: If you’d never had the major situation involving your comments re: your children and your husband, do you think you’d have written an autobiography/memoir so early in your life?

AW: Definitely not. The brouhaha was definitely the inspiration. I’m by nature a somewhat contrary person, but I’m also thin-skinned. The book stemmed from a simultaneous urge to explain myself and to say, “Oh you thought I was a bad mother back then, did you? Well, look at me now!”

LG: With two authors in the house, how do you work out writing schedules? Do you have separate offices or separate hours?

AW: We both work at home, in a little studio we share in the back of our house. We work back-to-back — our desks face opposite walls. We try to work at the same time, when possible, and then Michael goes back to work for a few hours every evening. He has a hard time getting rolling when the sun is out. We’re much happier working together than apart.

LG: When you married Michael you said you wouldn’t become a writer. Had you ever had writing ambitions earlier in your life, any latent thoughts of writing one day?

AW: I found a journal I kept in 7th grade that talked about wanting to be a writer, but if the poetry in the journal is anything to go by, it’s a blessing I waited as long as I did.

LG: Are you still getting backlash from the marriage/family comments/issues? Any hate mail, snide comments, etc.?

AW: I get the odd nasty email, but the vast vast majority of the feedback I get is positive. Almost every day I get heartbreaking emails thanking me for expressing something the author of the email felt but could not bring herself to say.

LG: With all you’re juggling, how do you decompress? What do you do to relax?

AW: I belly dance. Seriously. I go to this awesome belly dancing class called “Shimmy Pop” and rock out to Beyonce and Shakira and a whole host of Lebanese singers. With all the gyrating I do, you’d think I’d be thin by now.

LG: Can you list a few authors you admire, living or dead, and have any of them influenced your own writing?

AW: Lorrie Moore — I try to read a Lorrie Moore short story every day before I start writing. She reminds me what good writing is. Jane Austen — because I’m not remotely original (and I adore her books. I reread them constantly) David Foster Wallace — but only the nonfiction. I don’t get his fiction. Salman Rushdie — even his bad novels are magnificent.

LG: Many authors find they can’t read while they’re writing their current work in progress or they’ll risk being influenced by other authors. Is this true for you?

AW: That’s just lame. They’re so brilliant they can’t bear to be influenced by Jane Austen?  I’ve heard that a lot, and it’s usually from a writer with a designer’s name in the title of her book. Or a pair of shoes on the cover. Good writers write because they love to read. Good writers are always writing, and thus if they were precious about not polluting their luminous prose, they’d never read. Writing is a craft, you learn it by imitating people better than you are. I’m lucky. The literary landscape is strewn with people with more talent than I. There’s never a dearth of books to read.

LG: What’s your next writing project? Anything in the works right now?

AW: Red Hook Road, a novel, will be published in May 2010.

LG: Any advice to aspiring writers re: how to hang in there even when things look hopeless? It’s a tough publishing world out there …

AW: If you a writing because you want to be a writer, you’re doomed. It’s bleak out here, even for writers with track records. If you’re writing because you love to, or because you have to, then you’ll be okay. My best advice is that writing is a physical discipline. You have to sick your butt down in the chair every day (or every workday). There’s another word for ‘waiting for the muse to strike.’ We call it procrastination.

Smitten

by Amy Gail Hansen


Friday night. Quaint, corner table.

My husband bends over spaghetti;

I revisit our last encounter.

.

I came to you ravenous, needs unmet,

dreams under-realized, thoughts scrambled.

I asked only to speak and be heard.

.

You hung on my words, unspoken.

Guarded my fears, championed my ideas.

I giggled at such chivalry.

.

At first innocent, slow and smooth,

but soon I allowed the pleasure

to ripple to my fingertips.

.

And after, I trembled. Wept. Laughed

at your revealing a woman I’d forgotten,

thought had forgotten me.

.

My husband knows, never asks. I hope

He fears your power and charm,

but know he deems you a whim.

.

Silent dinner, sober drive home.

He retires, but I linger, wonder if

I need to see you, feel you so soon.

.

Yes. I tiptoe below, tuck away

to our secret place, flip a switch,

and beckon another rendezvous.

.

That first touch, my hands quiver,

but soon fall in rhythm, fall in love

again with you, my novel,

.

going on chapter two.

In July 2009 on June 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

What You Said

by Jessica Bozarth

Sound shadows
Spoken when last you lay here.
I was afraid and cast them away.
They fell behind the bed and waited.

Tonight, crawling from underneath, they escaped.
Absent without leave; found their way back to my head.
The whispered words skitter through my brain,
trailing tracks of dust behind them.
They wrestled my fears to the ground.

You were so clever to leave them uncollected
Knowing they were an incantation.

Where The Bee Hives Stood Sentinel While the Young Ones Played

by Shakuntala Rajagopal

A courtyard where two beehives stood attention between a fig tree and a breezeway that led from a kitchen work area to a bathroom with window that opened to a well, was the center of my existence at the time.

I was five years old, I remember, because it was the year my mother presented me with one more sister and it was also the year that I started kindergarten.

On the far end, this gardened area was bounded by a brick wall, maybe five feet tall, which separated the hustle and bustle of a road that went from the center of Trivandrum town to the Chalai market and on to the main highway which took you all the way to the southern tip of India, Kanya Kumari, also known as Cape Coumarin.

The opposite end of this garden was defined by the above mentioned breezeway.  Parapet walls on both sides of the breezeway provided welcome seating to my three year old sister Shanthi and me as we watched my amma and her sister, my ammachi, tend to the flowers that touted a variety of colors from the sparkling white jasmines to the pale lavender cosmos and the smooth petals of the pink roses that contrasted with the prickly thorns which effectively kept them safe from two busy little girls who could not keep their hands off of any blooming thing.  The pleasant bouquet of jasmines and roses blended with the strong scents of chrysanthemums.  The pink oleanders were not planted in this area because their pungent odor was not welcome here.  Instead, they were in the front yard where their huge bushes rubbed shoulders with the mighty hibiscus plants.

To the left of us, as we perched on the low parapet walls, were two long steps leading to a door of my Doctor ammoomma’s bedroom, and beside her bed and dresser was a table where her stethoscope rested when she was home.  This was also where Shanthi and I slept, on mattresses that unfolded at bedtime, but were rolled and put away during the day.  Also on the floor, our Adukkala ammoomma, Kitchen grandmother, slept beside us.  Although I was aware she oversaw the kitchen ladies at their tasks, (hence the name kitchen grandmother), and the errand boy who went to the market for fish every day, I felt that she was my own guardian angel who looked after me.  She made sure I ate the last ball of rice and curds on my plate that my amma made for me, and urged me to finish my daily alphabet-writing practice before I got into trouble with my ammachi when she returned from the University where she worked.

The bathroom wall formed the fourth boundary for this delightful corner of my world at five.  Entering the bathroom from the breezeway, the window in the wall to the right opened to a well, complete with a bucket on a rope and pulley, used to draw water on to a huge clay pot set atop a wood-burning stove to heat the water for bathing.  When this window was closed for privacy, the rope and bucket were swung out to the outer half of the water-well, where the amenities included separate areas for washing clothes, for washing kitchen pots and utensils and for cleaning the fresh fish from the market, sometimes twice in one day.

I was fascinated by the way the wood-burning stove was set half inside and half outside the bathroom wall and how the wood was fed from outside the bathroom.  A chimney setup above this stove funneled the smoke out.  Looking back, the ingenuity and the engineering were marvels that I appreciated, but was too young to fully comprehend.

Every three months or so, the theineechakaran, honey-man, came to our beehives.  He wore a pant-suit and boots that covered his entire body.  He placed a large rimmed hat on his head, and pulled down the protective netting around his face and neck.  Long gloves completed his work habit.  We were allowed to watch from Doctor ammoomma’s bedroom window while he expertly smoked the bees into a box he carried.  Once the queen bee was in his trap, he waved to us.  We were then allowed to go out and see how he gingerly picked up honey combs, placed them in his barrel with a handle on the outside that he cranked, (a manual centrifuge of sorts), and extracted the honey into dripping pans through cotton-lined sieves.  When one hive was done, he would give us pieces of the honeycomb to suck out drops of honey from the crannies.  Then he chased us back in, and proceeded to retrieve the honey from the second one.  Once we had some honey to savor, we lost interest in the proceedings.  But, to finish our lesson, ammachi called us back to see the honey-man place the queen bee back into the bee hive, and showed us how the remaining bees swarmed back in without further ado.  Even though our tummies were fed, ammachi did not waste any occasion to feed our brain. The fig tree only gave fruit occasionally, probably once or twice a year.  Each time it did, the anticipation on ammachi’s face as she awaited their ripening was a family joke.  When the fruit was of a certain size, she wrapped them with gauze to protect them from the crows.  Each ripe fruit was tenderly sliced and she ruefully shared them with us.  I still remember my amma declining her share, so that ammachi, her sister could have more.  They were close, then.

My Gardens in this part of the continent, with its harsh winters, could not sustain tropical blooms or a fig tree. They thrive in my heart and mind, always.

At times, in the deep freeze of January, when grey skies cloud over me and all of Chicago-land is blanketed by miles and miles of white snow, when even the green tops of tall evergreens have turned snow-white, the chill seeps into my heart and drags me down.  I close my eyes and see the patch of sunlight upon the beehives, and hear my ammachi calling, “Pāāpa, thein veno?” (Pāāpa, do you want some honey?), and my whole being warms up with the love from that sunny corner of the earth decades ago.

stem

Photo by Liz Hum