B-6 on an Atomic Jukebox
A man presses “B-6” and the Cheez–It® crackers
stick in the goddamned machine.
Just stuck there to a 12 gauge SST spiral
waiting to fall, always, waiting to plunge down.
Waiting to be consumed.
A child shouts “B-6” and another shouts,
“You sunk my battleship!” and the first replies,
“My dad was on a battleship when the Clemente Island
“I’m sorry.” The boys say a six second prayer.
The first calls another shot.
Just hours after tasting his wife’s lips for the last time,
the Chief of National Defense receives the directive
from the Commander-in-Chief to send fifty megatonnage
to the glowing green B-6 grid on a modest screen,
and nickel plated keys are simultaneously turned.
Twenty-five megatons had previously
been agreed upon, but humanity played second violin
in the key of B, accompanying a choir
of crickets, silencing. Scores of people
never return home.
Some refuse to.
Little Sketches of Nautilus Beasts on Atlas Maps
A sea monster does not hold certain its own existence
nor does the soul of one so callused know of a God
but when he weekly enters into a temple
and a man garbed in black pleas for money
the uneasiness of the attender is left to question why
a God so perfect
would need so much
and so he returns home
not knowing if the sea exists
nor the deepest and most callused monster
As to not disqualify myself from npr’s three minute fiction contest, I took down the story “Shrink-n-Fit” immediately after posting. I shouldn’t have put it here in the first place, but I posted, then submitted and read the rules, only then (minutes after posting) learning I wasn’t to do that. It’s a good thing nobody reads the blog anyway. While I don’t suspect I’ll be in a position to win by any means, I couldn’t take the risk.
The Crown Top Cap
“C’mere, Daisy. C’mere,” Ray reached into a pocket on his wheelchair and pulled out a tissue. “Here.”
Daisy’s tears streamed down her rosy cheeks as the hiccup cries of the five year-old continued, and she sat on the paint-worn wicker love seat beside him.
“Mom said we don’t have enough money for tap shoes so I can’t take dance after class, and it starts tomorrow!” Her face welled, and she burst out blubbering.
“Hold on, sweetie. There’s a solution for everything.” Ray shuffled through the hallways of his mind, trying to figure where the maze might lead and what answer he would find at the end. He ran his fingers through the knots of his gray beard down to his bulbous belly.
“Hold on, sweetie.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“I guess.” Her crying quieted. Tears continued to trickle.
“This is partly my fault.”
“After the war,” he rubbed her back and stared at the mock-mosaic floor lamp as he spoke, “I wasn’t able to work and, well, haven’t been able to. My sister -your ma- was kind enough to let me move in with her, and my government money hasn’t been enough to cover the cost of having me here. I’ve been livin’ with your ma long before you were born. She’s been taking care of me, like she does you. If I wasn’t here, she could be somewhere better than this trailer park. Somewhere less miserable than Tucson. It’s really all my fault, and I’m sorry.”
Daisy didn’t say a word and ran into her room, slamming the door behind her. Ray could hear her bawling through the paper-thin walls. He rolled around in circles listening to Daisy’s cries diminuendo into silence, figuring at that point she fell asleep. After a few moments, he rolled in, wheels catching on the door frame, making a terrible ruckus. She slept through it. Finally, he found his way to her closet and pulled out a threadbare pair of hand-me-down faded-red Nikes that she only wore if her ma had the other pair of shoes in the wash.
Daisy woke to the commotion Ray made when trying to leave her room.
“What are you doing, Unka?”
“I’m going to make you tap shoes,” he smiled.
She jumped out of bed, ran the four steps it took to reach him, and clumsily wrapped her arms around him.
“C’mere, I’ll show you.”
She pretended to push him while he controlled the wheelchair and rolled into his bedroom. He pulled out a navy denim bag about the size of a watermelon.
“I’m sure you noticed I leave every night for a bit.”
“Yeah, Unka, why?”
“I collect bottle caps. I roll around in the dirt, as far as I can go without my arms goin’ weak. Me and my metal detector, and we find bottle caps. See my arms? They’re just long enough to reach the ground.” He strained his voice when showing her.
He pulled a hammer out of an old rusty cheery red tool box and dumped contents of the denim bag on his bed. The glimmer of metallic crown top bottle caps clinked into a mountain of reflective light breaking through the dirt and mud, as he never cleaned the things.
“They’re not worth anything, I just do it to have something. Anything. I need something. It’s too hot during the day, so I go just before the sun starts to set. I’d go crazy if I didn’t.”
He grabbed a Dad’s Root Beer cap and hammered it into the front her left shoe’s sole. Then a Diet Coke into the back of the sole. He noticed one with a horse on it that he thought she’d like because it was pretty and hammered that into the back of her other shoe’s sole. The last was hardest to hammer. It said “Holiday Heinies” on the cap, but the underlay was filled with cork, and this made the cap require an extra tap to feel firmly affixed to her shoe.
“Here,” he said handing the pair to her. “Go try ‘em out the stairway out front.”
She ran outside. He heard clicking, clacking, then the patter of feet on the carpet, and he found her embracing him again.
“Thanks so much Unka!” She had tears in her eyes, but this time with a blooming chapped lip smile. “I’m going to sleep so I don’t have to wait so long for tomorrow,” she said, running into her room and slamming the door shut.
Ray slept most the day. September heat made him weary and his legs sore. He despised sweating, and even in bed he was drenched. He was awakened by clicking, clacking, and the quiet thumps of hustling feet on the carpet, and a knock at his door. He could smell his sister’s stew, but he hated stew when it was this hot out.
“Come in.” He didn’t have to raise his voice to penetrate the thin walls.
“It’s magic, Unka!”
“What happened?” He looked down at a new pair of bright white tap shoes, radiating through the shadows of his dimly lit room. He hadn’t seen anything that clean in a long time. “What happened to your sneakers?”
“Oh, I threw them away.”
“You did?” Ray grimaced. “I thought you loved them.”
“I did but Mr. Smit, our dance teacher, said I can’t use them. Then he looked at them and saw the things you put on them. And he liked one so much, he gave me new shoes for it. He said if I give him that, he’ll give me shoes and I can dance. So I did! And he’s dumb, because he left the horsey one and took the one with the wood on the bottom. And that’s dumb because that was the hardest to put on a shoe to make a tap shoe.”
Ray started to cry, “I’m happy for you, sweetie. I am.”
“Then why are you crying?” asked Daisy.
“Just sometimes you feel like crying.”
Art of the Fanbase Compilation, a novel by Joseph Blair
In 1999, I began at California State University, Fullerton as a student who cared very little about education. My parents were paying for my schooling, and so long as I skated by with passing grades (which I didn’t even succeed at on occasion), I was doing what was wanted of me. I didn’t care. I didn’t try. I simply showed up. I was the student teachers dreaded having. I carried with me the high school mindset of I have to be here, not I’m here to learn and better myself, and I did not prosper. However, during this time the classes that did grab me were all creative writing courses. Still, as a young, snotty kid, I was skeptical about the ways my professors ran their classes. And while I loved writing, I didn’t love the classes and was a poor student, but this was the time my interest in poetry and fiction truly deepened. In fact, before dropping out, I submitted a story to Dr. Cornel Bonca as an undergrad, attempting to be enrolled in the graduate fiction class. I was accepted, and I attended the class for several weeks (and this was the first creative writing class I really loved), but then I dropped out to sow a few wild oats. During my break, my life turned around and I learned to care about things again. After several years and a newly revived life, I returned to school and became that student teachers loved. I read, wrote, took notes, never missed a class, and put my all into my education. The experience was enlightening and liberating.
Unexpectedly, as graduation grew near, I felt a desire to continue my education and grow as a writer, as well as expand my general knowledge in literature. Naturally, near the end of my undergraduate education at Cal State Fullerton, I decided to stop by the graduate advisor’s office about possibly applying for the graduate program. He looked at my record and told me I most likely wouldn’t get in, and that I should take some post-bacc classes to raise my GPA. As a man with a growing family and a full-time job, this didn’t sit well with me, so I proceeded to take a year off, during which I collected letters of recommendation, a list of universities to apply to, and so on. When the time came, I applied to five different programs, and to my surprise, I was accepted into CSUF’s Master’s program.
I was delighted. This was my chance. And the first class I enrolled in was Dr. Bonca’s graduate level creative writing course. I had a complete “do-over.” Since then, I have been an active member of the Creative Writing Club (year one member, year two vice-president, year three president), and have taken every creative writing course available to me. During these years I learned to develop confidence in my writing and began submitting to journals and publications. The first of these was DASH Literary Journal. One of my poems was accepted and published. This led me to submit elsewhere, and since then, I have had works published in several magazines and journals. A handful of my poems have been published in Dodo, issue one and two. In the local free publication, Santanero, I’ve had a poem published, and furthermore in another issue, I was interviewed as a Santa Ana resident/emerging writer/grad student who has had an impact on the society. I am currently working with Smalldoggies Magazine and Press on another piece of fiction they plan to include in their online journal. Yet the greatest of these accomplishments came when I was offered the opportunity to be one of the “featured writers” in Ishaan Literary Review, an online literary journal that published my bio, a short story, and two poems. I have continued to write short fiction and have submitted to various journals and plan to continue doing so.
As a writer, my goal, ultimately, is to make a living through the medium of the written word, and while I understand that making a profession out of writing is not quite entirely plausible 98% of the time, I am putting forth an honest effort. I have a vested interest in teaching writing, or quite frankly any level of English, and I plan to apply to community colleges and universities for positions as an either full-time or adjunct professor of English. Still, I chose to venture into the creative route for my Master’s project because my goal and dream has been to write professionally, and this is the most focused way to develop my craft.
With that said, what I am proposing here is a work of fiction. More specifically, for my final project, I plan to submit a short novel. Based partly on some of my time spent with a punk rock band touring across the United States, Art of the Fanbase Compilation (AFC) is a novel broken up into chapters which read more like interrelated vignettes. Each chapter is defined by a city (i.e., Tucson, AZ, San Pedro, CA, Soddy-Daisy, TN, Brooklyn, NY, and so on). Therefore, every chapter has a new setting and a new goal, and ergo, a different feel. The stories are strung together by the protagonist, Harold, through whose perspective the entire story is seen (in the 3rd person limited point of view).
I must clarify at this point that while the tour is a considerable part of the story, AFC is a work of literary fiction, more concerned with human relationships. I seek to gently and sympathetically explore the idiosyncrasies of human foibles through each and every character in the story. The characters are to come alive, be relatable, and possess attributes that the reader can often love, cling to, laugh at, and even sometimes dismiss. As Harold grows as a person through his time on the road, the aftermath of how he has matured is seen as well. The story continues after tour, focusing on his relationship with his girlfriend, Cynthia. There will be direct parallels and considerable cross-references which will tie the overall story arc together.
As of right now, five (5) chapters have already been written (approximately 60 pages). The characters feel strong enough and alive enough, and the voice is developed and consistent, and the content is vast enough, that I propose a 12 chapter novel, that will fall somewhere between the range of 160-180 double-spaced pages. The final length should be somewhere between 45,000-50,000 words, therefore siting at the cusp of a novella and a novel.
The unfolding of the story will not be entirely linear. AFC begins in the middle of the timeline with the first meeting of Harold and Cynthia at the end of the tour. Then, two stories begin to unfold simultaneously. The reader starts at the beginning of tour and travels through select cities from Southern California to New York and back, chronologically. Likewise, the reader also begins at the start of Cynthia’s and Harold’s true relationship and moves through it sequentially following the first chapter. Approximately every other chapter will skip between the development of the characters in the band on tour and how Harold and Cynthia grow together as a couple after tour. The chapters will parallel each other in that Harold might have developed as a person in some certain way on tour, and that may be directly reflected in how he is dealing with his relationship in the following chapter. All of the characters change throughout, and largely the novel is about growth as individuals and patience with others. Near the end of the novel, both the tour will be coming to a close, and Cynthia will have an opportunity to attend a program at a university she had only dreamed of being admitted to. Naturally, Harold has to choose between his band which is on the cusp of a major record deal and success, and continuing to develop his relationship with Cynthia, for both Cynthia and the band will be traveling to different locations which make it impossible for Harold to choose both.
To develop this technique of storytelling, I have drawn inspiration from several of my favorite authors. First and foremost, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s influence can be seen in several aspects of the story. It is he who taught me that revealing the ending of the story at the beginning, if done carefully, can greatly enhance the reading experience and offer more insight to the reader. This is why I reveal the end of tour first, and the reader can see how we arrived at that moment through the following chapters about the band. Further, I try to instill the wry, witty, spiritual foundation that Vonnegut so aptly does throughout his entire works.
Next, I have drawn much from the characterization styles of J.D. Salinger. Through a certain attention to self-realization, and real-life dialogue, I aim to bring my characters to life, and feel as relatable as any given Salinger character, and therefore, unduly empathetic.
Further, I have taken much inspiration from both Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace. DeLillo because he seems to realize it’s the subtle epiphanies and strange things happening around us that form us as people. These are the things that make us function in an otherwise unwelcoming world, and DeLillo seems to successfully exploit them, which is something I seek to do in my writing as well. Wallace, on the other hand, has a true heart for people and characters. I believe he loves each one in some way or another, and I feel that way about my characters. His entire approach and aesthetic to fiction is something I thrive to emulate – I desire to break the wall of cynicism and return to a place where characters can just be real. People deserve the opportunity to simply be themselves in both real life and in fiction as well. Like Wallace, I pull from life experience in my writing, and in doing so, I become so much more closely connected to the fictional events and characters. A true sentiment is to finally be printed in a form of connectiveness and cohesiveness with heart and humor.
All these things together will make what I believe to be the best and longest work of fiction I have ever crafted, and regardless of how ambitious this work may be, I believe, in the end, Art of the Fanbase Compilation, will be a work of literature I will be proud of for the rest of my life. And not only will I have gained the experience of professional-style novel writing, I will emerge from the graduate program with a piece of literature I can then submit to small publishers and possibly end up with a physical book to call my own in the future.
Tidings to the Miasma
Saline fog cleanses the eager
souls of men once privy to prayer circle
prayer requests, submitted by
single mothers who know a god
would understand, but maybe not the men
who fish alone in the morning fog
and need release from their unpaid job
of divvying out requests to prayerless circles.
Scrawled on a Bathroom Stall (Underneath a Q.)
Learning the purpose of life one assessment at a time;
it might be an infinite task, or completely inconclusive.
Each individual heart has a job and a purpose; however, all must consider:
the purpose of the heart implies purpose must be inherent in life.
It might be an infinite task, or completely inconclusive.
Perhaps a life will silence; and a soul may soon discover why
the purpose of the heart implies purpose must be inherent in life.
Then again, in the end, any knowledge gained may just vanish, dreamily.
Perhaps a life will silence; and a soul may soon discover why
man is given an innate need to find some meaning in life;
then again, in the end, any knowledge gained may just vanish, dreamily.
One cannot be sure if anything’s true, and if so, what in hell is?
Man is given an innate need to find some meaning in life,
and whether or not a person can give up inhibitions and believe,
one cannot be sure if anything’s true. And if so, what in hell is
the question (with no answer) that should not be ignored?
And whether or not a person can give up inhibitions and believe
each individual heart has a job and a purpose, still, all must consider
the question (with no answer) that should not be ignored,
learning the purpose of life one assessment at a time.
Unfortunate Ways To Say “I Love You”
I am utterly enraged
and terrified it’s terminal.
If ever I break
your spirit, take mine.
I’ve done ghastly acts
to secure your fervor.
I’ve seen the future;
we will die together.
Your soul isn’t mine
forever; your body is.
You’re all I need.
Take my mother’s place.
You just have to
ask, and I’ll kill.
Young tender voice: pacify
the savage ones within.
An open letter to Rob Delaney (@robdelaney):
As a fan of your comedy since I joined Twitter in September of 2009, I have watched you grow as a comedian and writer throughout the last three years. Your career has been an open book for those of us who have followed you for any substantial amount of time, we have collectively felt the joy and delight of your success. And you deserve it. You’re the nice guy with the occasional raunchy joke, and whatever angle you choose to approach at any given time, you’re goddam funny. Your Tumblr account was one of the only things that kept me a member of Tumblr as long as I was, for I’d enjoy reading your longer pieces even more than your ‘140 character or less’ jokes. The posts, articles, and political commentaries have always been spot on, sharp, witty, and very well-written. All that said, I’ve come to appreciate you more as a writer over the years. You’ve really refined your craft and developed a powerful, unique voice.
Recently, I stumbled across the fact that you signed a book deal with Random House. This grabbed my interest, because A) I am a writer, B) I am the president of the California State University, Fullerton Creative Writing Club which has events and such, just an hour south of your Los Angeles residence, and additionally I am the Editor-in-Chief of a DASH Literary Journal, a growing publication that bragged inclusions of artists and writers such as Tara McPherson, Ben Loory, and Brendan Constantine in our last publication. To that point, I should mention I am in the unique position to invite you to be a part of our Spring publication as a featured writer… we’d include an interview along with whatever writing you choose to submit… even a chapter from your pending book would be amazing, if you wanted to be a part of it but would prefer not to write anything new for this. This would come to fruition in the early months of 2013 if you would so choose to contribute (and I am offering this to you now).
Next, and more immediately, we have an annual event on campus that will be taking place November 2, in which we invite industry professionals (writers, publishers, agents, presses, etc.) to come and present whatever they so choose. Dinner is provided, and there is a Q&A session at the end of the night. The event is free, incredibly fun, light-hearted, and enlightening. Normally, I wouldn’t do something like this (I never have before), especially with such a now well-known celebrity… but as a comedy writer venturing into the world of book-writing, it seems astounding and like you’d have a lot to share. Also, we’d pay you… not a ton of money, but what our council is willing to give us, which I think is a fair amount for a Friday night.
We have never had a comedy writer contribute to our event or DASH Literary Journal, so it would be breaking new ground (and long overdue).
I must say there are selfish reasons to invite you as well… the attendance of the event would surely fill capacity if a name like yours was to come to campus, and the more people there, the more journals, chapbooks, shirts, etc. we would sell. This would increase our club revenue, and benefit us greatly. It may be a little ridiculous asking someone of your stature to join our humble event, but really when it comes down to it, I had to figure… I have direct access to you through Twitter, so why the hell not? You’re probably busy, but I felt I had nothing to lose here.
I hope this letter finds you and you find interest in any of what I say. But whatever works, like I said, this is a ‘why the hell not?’ move, and if nothing comes of it, nothing comes of it and we all go on living our lives, just minutes older.
All the best to you,
(Pres, CSUF Creative Writing Club / EIC, DASH Lit Journal)
p.s. Here’s a picture of feet shoes: