The Longhorn Saloon (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane walks past the bar, its door open to the summer evening. How wonderful to step inside, clink a frosty mug with those of others, join the ritual of shaking off the workweek.

But it could never be like it was back home. Clack of balls on a pool table, shrieking laughter of women with too-big hair and too-tight jeans, jukebox blaring country music she only likes with draft beer and too many cigarettes.

The Longhorn Saloon. How she’d loved that dive. Of course, last she heard it changed hands and was Bob’s Place or something.

Jane walks on.

werner22brigitte
werner22brigitte/Pixabay

Every week, Charli Mills hosts the Congress of Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt was “longhorn.” Come read fun flashes from other writers!

Dear Gluten, and Other Letters

Dear Gluten,

Look, I’m not one of the very relatively few who really really do have celiac disease, nor am I one of those bandwagoners who jumps on every food fad there is, no matter how terrible it tastes. But I still don’t understand why you find it necessary to promote your absence (“a gluten-free food!”) on the package of figs I just bought. Anybody with any sense knows figs are fruit, not a cereal grain.  But I am given to understand you only do this in America. Why? Do you think Americans are stupid or something?

Respectfully yours,

A Concerned Consumer

 

Dear Concerned Consumer,

Of course I think Americans are stupid. Look who you just elected as your president.

Sincerely,

Gluten

 

Dear Annoying Bus Passenger,

Why do you jump to the front of the line to get on the bus first, when you don’t know if the bus even goes where you want, and you don’t know how much the fare is and you have no idea where your small bills and your change are, leaving the rest of us shivering and dripping in the rain and wind while you figure out north from south with the driver and search all your pockets and bags for your money and still don’t have the right fare?

Sincerely,

A Prepared Commuter Who Knows Where She’s Going and Must Be On Time

 

Dear APCWKWSGAMBOT,

Reread your own letter. You answered your own question. I’m here in one place where I don’t know where I am, trying to get to another place where I still won’t know where I am. I’m anxious. I’m afraid.  What if it costs too much?  What if I’m at the completely wrong stop on the wrong street at the wrong end of town?  What if the driver treats me like an idiot and is mean to me? What if I completely screw it up and end up in Spokane? This is an ordeal, and I can’t wait. I’m dying here. I need to just get it over with. Why are you making it worse for me? Look, these buses don’t make change, so I’ll give you this twenty if you’ll pay my $3.25 fare with your special little bus card, and you can have Starbucks on me. I’m sorry.

Sincerely,

Shirley from Toledo

 

Dear Computer Industry,

What is up with toner.

We live in a society where we can send a bonkjillion bits of information completely around the world in seconds, land a spacecraft on a rock in the middle of outer space, and print working cars, for crying out loud. Why can you not come up with a toner cartridge that doesn’t get black shit all over everything?

I first asked this question more than 30 years ago, when you and some Xerox toner ruined my fabulous new white pencil skirt that made me look like Marilyn Monroe from the back if you squinted your eyes right.  I have neither forgotten nor forgiven the loss of that skirt.

I’m still waiting for an answer.

Yours in frustration.

 

Dear Frustrated,

Yeah, we don’t get it either. That and the common cold.

-Matt in I.T.

Marilyn

 

 

 

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

The Winds of War (The Henry Family, #1)The Winds of War by Herman Wouk

What a lame post title. Totally original. But it’s true.

I haven’t forgotten you, dear readers. On one hand, I find myself in a frightful pit of writer’s block. On the other hand, I’m well into a reread of Herman Wouk’s WWII epic, The Winds of War.

I feel a little guilty. I feel like my bookish unworthiness has been exposed. I can read this ~900-page doorstop twice in my life, but I can’t do more than three chapters of the 1,397-page War and Peace? Do the math. How dare I call myself a lover of literature? I’m a slacker.

I feel a little sore. Lugging this thing around in my bag is straining my shoulder. I could designate it as my at-home read, to stay on my nightstand while I commute with lighter fare on my Kindle, but then I’d never finish it. I’ve already been reading for a week and I’m not quite halfway in. Fluff will have to wait.

But on a side note – as I wrote “dear readers” like I’m some snooty and devastatingly rich author, I wondered how many faithful followers have been waiting with baited breath for my next post, and I saw there are 58 of you. Fifty-eight followers! I am so impressed with myself. I am so freaking happy to know you are all here! Seriously! Welcome! I’d post a clip of that Liza Minnelli acceptance speech where she says, “You love me! You really, really love me!”, except that free WordPress platforms don’t allow me to post video, and I won’t pay for being able to post video, partly because I’m too poor thrifty , and partly because I’m too cynical to expect that things will actually work when I pay for them, so I just keep using the free platform and I don’t expect much from free and I’m generally not disappointed that way. And also except I hopped over to YouTube to see Liza Minnelli’s speech, and it wasn’t Liza Minnelli, it was Sally Field, and what she actually said was, “You like me. Right now, you like me!” And how anybody could ever mix up Liza Minnelli and Sally Field is beyond me, but I managed it.

I’m going to shut up and go read my book. I promise to get back with the flash fiction and various rants very soon. Next week soon. That includes a review of another book that I absolutely loved, but haven’t reviewed yet because my writer’s block isn’t letting me write a review so it makes sense.

Meanwhile, I do recommend The Winds of War. It’s like a soap opera with submarines and Stukas. Exactly like that.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy (Book Review)

He, She and ItHe, She and It by Marge Piercy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, I was all set to really, really love this book. Cyberpunk, dystopia, feminist sci-fi…what’s not to love?

Bookshelves: cyberpunk, dnf, my-dystopia-utopia, mysticism, sci-fi, feminism, futuristic, abandoned

Really, I should have known better, after seeing comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, which I first read as my book club’s pick when my son was a newborn. What little sleep the mother of a newborn does get, I sacrificed on the altar of The Handmaid’s Tale, and it remains one of my all-time favorite reads, one I’ve returned to several times. That built me up to expect too much from He, She and It. You’d think I’d learn.

It’s not that He, She and It is bad. It’s not. The premise is excellent, the creation of an illegal golem (or cyborg, whatever) in the “free” town of Tikva – “free” meaning it is independent of the dozen or so corporations that now rule our ravaged planet, and doesn’t that sound ominous, given the current political and economic world scheme. The dystopia is well-drawn. The internal monologues are thoughtful and finely written, with the primary theme being humanity – what is or is not considered human, alive, in possession of a soul, free will, the right to choose. The focus on Jewish culture, Kabbalism, and the intervals with the 16th-century Golem of Prague add the right touch of mysticism.

Even with all that going for it the story remained uncompelling, and I blame the pacing, which is positively glacial. The story just plods along, interspersed with lots of exposition, and in spite of love triangles and jealousy and cyborg sex, corporate manipulation and cyber assassinations and espionage, there is not much tension. If I’d been, say, on an 18-hour flight with only this book then I’d have not minded finishing it, but I was comfortably at home with a score of other books vying for my attention. I peeked ahead to see how it all works out, and unfortunately I don’t feel I missed anything by not knowing what happened between where I left off and the ending.

Marge Piercy’s writing style is similar to Margaret Atwood’s, and I love Margaret Atwood. Perhaps I’ll try another of Piercy’s works, but this one didn’t do it for me.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

Whatever Works (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“You look like you’ve had a tough day, “ the librarian says kindly. “Go home and have some comfort food. “

Oh, yes. Her mother’s macaroni casserole, or pot roast…how long since they’ve even spoken? No, anything from Mom is not possible. There’s scrambled eggs and toast, or a hot turkey sandwich with gravy, or a pot of soup simmering. Make the house smell good. But those take money she can’t spare, or a kitchen she doesn’t have, or both.

The 7-11 is right next door. “One Hostess cupcake, one Pepsi,” the clerk says cheerfully. “Anything else?”

One makes do.

skeeze pixabay
skeeze/Pixabay

Each week at the ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about comfort food. Fun flashes from other writers are at the  link.

It’s All in the Marketing (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“I’d like the smothered burrito, but can I get it with chicken instead?”

“Sure. Two dollars more.”

“Two dollars?”

Of course, nowadays chicken is the “healthy choice.* Jane remembers when chicken was poor man’s meat.

bethrosengard-pixabay
bethrosengard/Pixabay

I take this opportunity to repeat my standing rant that healthy is the incorrect adjective, as when people say “eat healthy food.” To be healthy is to be in a state of good health, free of illness or injury. Of course I want to eat healthy food; I wouldn’t eat diseased food, would I? The correct form is healthful; something healthful is something that is nutritious or promotes good health. I realize this misuse has become so deeply ingrained in our vocabulary it will probably never be corrected, and I also realize that “eat healthful” sounds clunky, but “eat healthy” still irritates me. Perhaps we can find a different term altogether.

 
Done ranting. Now head on over to the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop hosted by Ivy at Uncharted each week. This week’s cue was “chicken.” Fun Sixes from other writers are here.

Black Gold Indeed (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

1280px-Line_at_a_gas_station,_June_15,_1979 Warren K Leffler PD
Line at a Maryland gas station, June 15, 1979. Warren K. Leffler, Public Domain

Jane flips from one screen to another, trying to find what it would be worth.

She still remembers the “gas shortage,” finally her turn to fill her VW Bug’s tiny tank, outraged at paying a dollar a gallon and waiting in line for over an hour for the privilege. There was no “Come back later;” stations closed at dusk. 1979, that was.

Dammit, this should be readily available information. Well, suffice it to say, if she’d bought oil shares instead of beer back then, she probably wouldn’t be homeless right now. Of course, she’d also be a hypocrite.

stock market geralt pixabay
Geralt/Pixabay

Each week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. Follow the link for great flashes from other writers.

Jonesing for a Good Fantasy (Twofer Book Review)

All I want is a good fantasy read. Is that so much to ask?

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Le Guin has long been a favorite of fantasy devotees, so it was time I tried her out.

I found myself constantly putting this book down in favor of doing almost anything else, including cleaning off my writing table. When I choose to clean instead of reading my book, things are not going well.

The worldbuilding is spectacular and the writing is competent, but the style is distant. There is much telling, little showing, and I feel no connection with the characters or what is happening to them. This may be a sign of the times; the book was first published in 1968, after all, and it may be that I would have enjoyed it if I’d read it back in the day. But since nobody ever gives me a prize for finishing a book no matter what, I dnf’d at 32%. I feel a little guilty, too.

Bookshelves: dnf, fantasy, magic

Then I remembered The Sword of Shannara, that I read when I was 18 or 19 maybe, and loved. And if there’s anything better than the instant gratification afforded by downloadable books, it’s the free instant gratification afforded by downloadable books from my library.

The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy, #1)The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

 

Oh my. You’d think I would have seen it when I read it the first time, what a nearly complete ripoff it is of Lord of the Rings, which was single-handedly responsible for my demerits and poor grades in junior high and high school math, because I would hide the LOTR volumes inside my math text and plan my wedding to Aragorn instead of paying attention to hypotenuses (hypotenusi?). I was only slightly older, 18 or so, when I first read SOS. Even then I was still writing stupid poetry about knights in shining armor, with Aragorn firmly in mind. I admit it.

So. The Sword of Shannara.

The mysterious wizard druid Gandalf Allanon approaches our hero, Frodo Baggins Shea Ohmsford (a simple and honest hobbit elf-halfbreed from a simple and honest town with simple and honest values), because he is the only one who can use the one ring sword of power to save Middle Earth the world. The ring sword was forged by a rogue wizard druid, the Dark Lord Sauron Warlock Lord Brona, who is returning from a long vacation to stir things shit up again, and the ring sword is the only thing that can destroy him. Accompanied only by his faithful gardener adoptive brother Sam Flick and a bag of apples and cheese,* Frodo Shea flees The Shire Shady Vale, seconds ahead of the once-human minions of evil known as Ringwraiths Skull Bearers. They reach the town of Bree Leah and the ranger local lord Aragorn Menion Leah, who guides them on their way. At Weathertop the Mist Marsh the company is attacked by a Ringwraith Mist Wraith, and rescued by the elf faerie Arwen Evenstar King of the Silver River. They R&R at the idyllic elven dwarvish stronghold of Rivendell Culhaven, where a Very Important Council is held. After it is settled that Frodo Shea is their only hope, each race volunteers a member to have his back, and the fellowship company swells to include the dwarf Gimli Hendel, the elf Legolas elven brothers Durin and Drayel, and the human prince Boramir of Gondor Balinor of Callahorn…

Derivative doesn’t begin to describe it.

And I know that tropes are tropes are tropes. Since George MacDonald and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, very little is new in fantasy literature. The dark lord, the intricate worldbuilding, the quest, the simple farmboy hero, the magic thingamajig,** the prophecy, the elves and dwarves and gnomes and trolls and dragons and wise old wizard/mage/druid/sorcerer, and so on. Tropes are tropes because they work. All genres have them. It’s easy for me to sneer at romance tropes because I sneer at romance generally***, but detective novels have tropes too, and I know it, and I don’t care because I like detective novels. But with SOS, I find the “of course the author was heavily influenced by Tolkien, everybody is” defense to be a wee bit disingenuous. It reminds me of when I was ten or so, and I showed my mother the book I’d started writing, and she said, “Isn’t that almost exactly, but not completely and totally, like mushing Heidi  and The Secret Garden together?” Yeah, but I was ten.

I could even deal with it, if not for the actual writing. Terry Brooks loves adverbs and adjectives. “He raced swiftly” is redundant. “He trailed off abruptly” is contradictory. Everybody is always doing things suddenly, abruptly, hastily, hurriedly, and so on, but the favorite is “quickly,” sometimes twice in three sentences. My brain is now doing that thing where it compulsively interjects “quickly” into long passages of things that already have the living shit described out of them: “The bright moonlight (quickly) glowed eerily off the rough bark and deep green patches of ragged moss on the hulking, massive trees, (quickly) creating deep black shadows in the thick carpet of prickly needles on the damp, spongy, forest floor and sinuously (quickly) blending into the sticky, grasping mist…” (That is not an actual sentence from the book, but it could be.) So when I’m not mentally hearing “quickly” even where it isn’t, I’m skimming passages of clunky, repetitive description, and when I start skimming, it’s time to accept that this Prince Charming of a book is not doing it for me.

Other folks may like it just fine, and judging by the ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, plenty do.

I already knew my 18-year-old self did not have terribly discerning taste, as evidenced by my dating habits (bad boys who drove muscle cars and always had weed) and my drinking habits (anything), but I’d really really hoped this book would be as good as I remembered it. Alas. Dnf-ing at 19%.

Bookshelves: dnf, fantasy, magic, ugh, was-the-editor-drunk, wannabe

(I am happy to report, though, that I no longer write stupid poetry about knights in shining armor, I have refined my taste in booze, and I now know what a hypotenuse is.****)

Which leaves me still just really wanting a good fantasy read. I became intrigued by Brandon Sanderson when he finished writing the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death (as Jordan wished, having left drafts and detailed notes for that purpose). I liked Sanderson’s writing style better than Jordan’s – less formal, less wordy – but he was working with Jordan’s world, Jordan’s characters, Jordan’s story, so I’m finally getting around to seeing what he can do on his own. I got a free download of the first parts of both The Way of Kings and Mistborn.

Wish me luck.

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* I made up the apples and cheese. It might have been bread and sausages.

** Or a doohickey. Could be a doohickey.

***I sneer at romance not because I’m a prude, but because (1) it is so often badly written and (2) it is so often thinly disguised erotica/mommy porn, and I think if you want to read porn, you should just own it and go ahead and read proper porn and not pussy (heh) foot around about it.

**** But I never did marry Aragorn. Arwen Evenstar, that bitch.