Wednesday, June 12, 2019

FFB-LANDSCAPE WITH FRAGMENTED FIGURES, Jeff Vande Zande



Landscape with Fragmented Figures, Jeff Vande Zande (Bottom Dog Press, 2008)

It is hard to imagine this book taking place in a locale other than Michigan. If soldiers returning from war can be said to suffering post-traumatic stress disorders, many people in Michigan suffer similarly. Too many years of economic downturn takes a toll. An urban scholar doing a study of cities that have badly floundered, failed to find anyone with much optimism about the future of Detroit. (But now this has changed). This book captures that pessimism and angst.

Ray Casper is an artist, teaching at a small college in Bay City, Michigan. He's done some good work, is known as an inspirational teacher, has a nice relationship with his girlfriend, Diane. Suddenly, things begin to go awry. Diane, also an artist, leaves him. He loses his will to paint and desire to teach. He is unable to find solace with colleagues or friends. He is adrift even before his father dies, leaving many unresolved issues. His brother, a ne-er do well, Ray has never come to terms with, comes to live with him. Things continue their downward spiral as Ray comes to resemble his brother, Sammy, more and more.

This was a difficult book to read and yet I never put it down. Michigan is no longer hospitable to a diverse group of people: the blue-collar, Sammy; the artist, Ray; the student, Billy, who finds little support for finding a way to make a living or getting an education. The writing is fluid, the story poignant, but the book's most important strength is its clear-sighted and unabashed presentation of truth. That truth also examines the nature of art and the artist.

There are no heroes in this book. Just real people trying to find some joy in life, trying to find a reason to go on.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Sandra Seamans Day

And so it began:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Well, I'm Here

Okay, so I've finally surrendered to the world of blogs. Welcome to my little corner of the world, pull up a chair, get comfortable, and let's see if we can find something to talk about. 

And Sandra Seamans indeed found a lot of things to talk about. I doubt there was ever a blog that celebrated short story writing as well and a fully as MY LITTLE CORNER. Nor one that served a community as thoroughly and as selflessly as hers. She found her niche surprisingly quickly and although she claimed she mostly started a blog so she could participate in flash fiction challenges (remember those) it required hours of work for Sandra to pull up the information she did so willingly.
And it was also clear that she read many blogs herself and there were a lot of them back in 2008. 

If you go through the ten plus years of entries, you will see names come and go, zines come and go, contests come and go. And nobody was a bigger champion of other people's success than Sandra. Her "little Snoopy Dance" was always joyous. If someone wanted to a history of the online crime short story community over the last twenty years, her blog would be the place to start. A place to collect every contest, every call for submissions, the writers, the ups and downs of the business, and on and on.

In 2015, in the course of a week, Sandra lost her husband and mother and a lot of the joy went out of her. Although she came back to blogging, it was not about writing short stories so much as continuing her service to her fellow short story writers. How brave.

I only ever knew Sandra online but somehow it seemed like I knew her pretty well. She was candid on her blog. And we shared a year of reading short stories. Brian Lindenmuth suggested the challenge and initially there were quite a few participants, but by the end it was mostly Sandra, Brian and me.
Reading a short story every day doesn't seem like an onerous task but the mere chore of finding 365 stories you are willing to read was harder than we thought. Anyway, through her blog and through flash fiction challenges and through this assignment, I felt like I knew Sandra well.

Here are a few words from short story great, Art Taylor.

"In my writing courses at George Mason University and in any workshop I led elsewhere, I regularly devoted a section of my PowerPoint to resources for writers trying to market their short fiction. At the top of the first slide was My Little Corner, and I felt like I could never say enough about Sandra’s expertise on short story markets, her dedication to staying on top of market news, and her advocacy always on behalf of the authors, finding opportunities for us and warning us about venues to avoid. I never met Sandra in person, sadly, but she and I chatted sometimes, mostly in the comments section of My Little Corner. When she included something about me in her posts, she called me a “friend of the blog,” but in our own way in this age of online interactions, I felt like she and I were actual friends. I’m sorry I missed the chance to let her know how very much I appreciated her and her work." 

An interview from 2012 on DO SOME DAMAGE.
Some words from Paul Brazill 
Sandra on PULP CURRY 
Here are some words from Kate Laity
And from Sandra Ruttan 

Sandra's collection of stories COLD RIFTS is out of print, but it won't take much effort to find many of her stories online. A particular favorite of mine was one she wrote for a flash fiction challenge I ran a long time ago. The challenge was to write a story that uses the song  "SWEET DREAMS." Hers was clever and beautifully rendered. Google "Repeat Offenders" if you care to sample it. It's just a thousand words after all. Just a short story. But for Sandra and a few others, a good short story is the gold standard of writing.

Goodbye, Sandra. We will miss you.

Friday, June 07, 2019

FFB-CITY OF BONES, Michael Connelly

Is there anyone whose words on the page capture police life better than Connelly? He is as patient a writer as Bosch is a cop. CITY OF BONES opens with a dog finding bones of a child who probably died about 1980. The kid's death was the last of a long line of abuses he suffered.
Bosch patiently follows leads and false leads to a good conclusion. Lots of memorable scenes and characters but Bosch is the one our eyes follow. Highly recommend.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

First Wednesday Book Reviews






Jonathan Santlofer' THE WIDOWER'S NOTEBOOK tells the true story of the unexpected and somewhat mysterious death of his wife, Joy, after minor knee surgery. The day after her procedure, Jonathan is in the next room at home when he hears her cry out. He calls EMS immediately, but they are unable to save her. The book tells the story of their very happy marriage, and the months and then years following her death.

This book was very pertinent to me, of course. My situation shared some characteristics of his (long happy marriage) but was different in other aspects (suddenness v. long illness).  It was beautifully written and illustrated by Mr. Santlofer, who is a writer and an artist. He was able to capture his wife with words and a pen equally well. I found this book a particular comfort, but I think his journey is one many people would find worth reading about.

For other book reviews, check out Barrie Summy's blog.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Forgotten Movies: ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN'T





Agnes Varda directed this film in 1977 and it's  the most comprehensive look at being a young woman in that era I've seen. It confronts both the problems of unwanted pregnancy and the problems of wanted ones. Two young women meet in 1962, both wrestling with their womanhood. This was such a specific look at the Roe v Wade era-but in France, with short trips to Amsterdam and Iran. It was very good in most respects although long interludes of singing nearly derailed it for me. Men are given pretty short shrift in this film-a real ground-breaker in that regard. At its heart, it's about female friendship, a rare thing in a film that was not a comedy.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I am determined to find some things that are making me happy. And one is the lovely hydrangea, George Kelly's gift allowed me to put in my garden.There are actually two of them because they were having a sale. This was Phil's favorite shrub and we always had a bunch of them around before this house. Thanks, George.
The HULU show, CATCH 22, is making me happy. And rewatching DEADWOOD before I see the movie. Also the second season of FLEABAG. It starts strong and just keeps building. Liked the documentary THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM at the theater.

As I am knee-deep still in financial stuff and shredding my past, I am going to leave it at this.

What about you?

P.S. We are going to celebrate Sandra Seamans online next Monday. If you knew her or have anything to say about her, let me know.