Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Impressionists #2 - The Replica



Here's the second excerpt from my soon to be released (perhaps as soon as tomorrow) short story collection, The Impressionists. This is from The Replica and concerns spousal abuse. A number of years ago I received an email from a woman in the UK asking if I could send her a copy of my short play Degraded to read. Degraded was one of several plays I wrote at the time in response to the invasion of Iraq. I used the analogy of a former abused wife in a halfway home who receives a visit from the Department of Social Services, who then proceeds to abuse and rape her, all the while telling her that he's come to help her and that it's all for her betterment.

The woman who had written to me was a former abused wife and had read the sample of Degraded and was interested in reading the complete play. I sent it to her, of course, but I also l took a big risk and sent her a copy of The Replica also. This was not an analogy of anything - simply a character study of an abused wife. I was extremely nervous as to what her reaction might be. After all, I had never been an abused spouse, I was a man, and the piece ends in a certain sort of gray area that I thought might open me up to criticism. But, to my great relief, she absolutely loved it and identified with it no end. She was confused how I could have written such a piece from an outsider's POV. But I have to say, The Replica and all of the stories in this collection were very heavily researched - the most, I think, I've done on any project bar one.

Anyway, here's a brief synopsis followed by the excerpt:

The Replica

An abused wife reflects on her past and deconstructs the emergence of the replica that now haunts her present.

When I got up this morning the first thing I did was use the bathroom, just as always. Afterwards, as I washed my hands in a liquid soap scented with chamomile, I happened to glance up…and there it was, ever so sheepishly looking back at me. I wasn’t shocked or surprised. It’s there every morning. Sometimes I look at it, sometimes I don’t. But it’s always there…there in the mirror…the replica.

I’m not exactly sure when I first started seeing it. It wasn’t as if it appeared overnight. It took shape gradually, over time. But I couldn’t tell you when it began. When I see it now it almost feels as though it’s always been there. But it hasn’t. That’s what makes it hard to look at.

I think the earliest I can recall it beginning to take shape was about four years after I’d married Karl. Nothing too pronounced at first; nothing to set off any alarm bells. Just a slight stiffening around the mouth, the eyes ever so slightly less…curious. It’s strange how these things creep up on you without you noticing. Until it’s too late, of course.

I married Karl in a fit of existential panic, and, like most decisions made in a state of panic, it wasn’t a particularly wise one. He was older and colder, and quite successful. He ran his heart, mind, and business with ruthless efficiency. Not to be outdone by anyone, his rivalrous nature sought supremacy in all things – all but a popularity contest, that is, shrewd enough as he was to know that that was one battle he had no hope of winning. The very fact that he didn’t give a damn what those around him thought of him made him doubly despicable to those who were unfortunate enough to have the pleasure – including most of my family. Unburdened by the need to please, he was free to treat people in whatever way would best achieve his goals, however callous the method.

Why, then, would I have married such an autocratic bully, I hear you ask. Ah, but that’s a trick question, you see – because I didn’t. Not the person you see now. Not the one I can barely stand to look at anymore. No…it was a very different person that married Karl, as she wandered through the woods with her little basket on her way to granny’s house.

She was…well, she was many things, but most of all she was lonely. Lonely and unloved. Yes, I know, I can almost hear the strains of a violin in the background myself, adding its cloying accompaniment to those hackneyed words. How pathetic it sounds now – especially now. And how ironic that the emptiness I felt then took me firmly by the hand and led me to this hollow place I now dwell in.

Back then, she was the middle child of middle-class parents with middling expectations of her. They loved her, I suppose, as best they could. But in truth, they were both so busy resenting each other there was very little emotion left to go around. Rather than their child, she sometimes felt they regarded her as an all too real and unwelcome reminder of a time when they were once intimate.

Nevertheless, despite their indifference, she’d decided she was destined for greatness and before long would be celebrated and adored the world over – as a novelist. First a bachelors in English at a prestigious university, followed by her masters, then on to a hectic life of publisher's deadlines, endless book tours, interviews, children, more deadlines, more interviews, more children, holidays in far-flung corners of the earth in order to reclaim her sanity, then back to more of the same, and so on.

When she met Karl she fell for him in an instant. Not because of anything he said or did – though he could be very charming when he wanted. No, it was his face that sealed her fate. It wasn’t particularly attractive or handsome – not by accepted standards. But it almost broke her heart to look at it. It was so pitiful and forlorn – despairing, even. He had the sort of features that gave one the impression he was perpetually on the verge of tears. How could she resist? She wanted to make it all better.

Ah, the treachery of images.

She wasn’t accepted into any of the colleges and universities she’d applied to, but higher education or no, she was determined that she would be a writer. Six months later, she’d completed her first novel and felt a level of pride and self-fulfilment that she’d never imagined possible. After a flurry of rejection slips from all the publishers and agents she’d sent it out to, she felt decidedly less so. Still, unbowed, she continued to write, pouring her thoughts and feelings into her little worlds of love and longing.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in great pain as Karl enters me from behind using a mouthful of spit and a great deal of force. Sometimes I have to bite the pillow to stop myself from crying out as he thrusts into me with increasing fury, muttering insults and abuse under his breath as he does so. It’s not directed at me, I don’t believe. It’s directed at whoever he’s imagining me to be at the time. I often wonder if it’s always the same person or if it’s someone new each time. Once, just as he was coming, I distinctly heard him say, “Fuck you, Cohen, fuck you!” I wondered if it was the same Cohen I thought it was.



Friday, June 24, 2011

The Impressionists - Big Girl



As I've mentioned before, I'm currently working on putting together a new collection of first person short stories, entitled "The Impressionists." Each story juxtaposes an individual's public face with their private turmoil. I thought it might be nice to preview each of the six stories here on my blog as I'm preparing it for publication, so I'm beginning today with a sample from "Big Girl." It's the thoughts of an overweight young woman, named Peggy, appraising her recently purchased self-help book, “The Bigger the Better.” This is a relatively long sample; others may be shorter.

Please excuse the line breaks. Since tabs aren't an option here (that I know of) it seemed the best alternative.

I hope you'll enjoy it.

PEGGY

I weigh 276 pounds and I love every single God-given one of them!

I don’t, actually. Not if I were being honest. But that’s what you’re supposed to repeat, according to the instructions in the book.

It’s called, “The Bigger the Better.” Written by…oh…isn’t that odd. I can’t recall her name. Ordinarily, I could quote you from here to eternity on just about anyone, but at this precise moment I’m drawing a complete blank on the author. An American, I think. Oh well…

It’s meant to empower you, apparently – repeating this mantra. They suggest standing completely naked in front of a full-length mirror under overhead lighting and repeating at least twenty times before going to bed, “I weigh 276 pounds and I love every single God-given one of them.” Not that it says “276” of course. It just leaves a blank space for you to plop in whatever it is you’re lugging around. Then you’re supposed to wake up the next morning feeling completely at peace with your physical being and the world in which it moves…or lumbers…or words to that effect. Whatever the case, it’s not working. I’m not sure if it’s because I hate my body or because I don’t believe in God…though I suspect the latter. At any rate, I’ve a feeling I was had.

As Nietzsche so adroitly put it, “Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?”

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But I did buy the book.

Maybe I’ll write a book someday. I’d title it: “How to Hate Your Bloated Carcass, Yet Still Continue to Enjoy a Relatively Happy, Healthy and Productive Life…Barring One or Two Exceptions…Especially When Sitting Alone on a Saturday Night with a Bottle of Vodka and a Bellyful of Bile.” Or something like that.

I think I’d need an editor.

I’ve always been big. I was born big. I was a big baby. Still am in some respects. In fact, one of the earliest memories I have is of my Aunt Nester staring down at me, her thin lips contorted into a forced expression of adoration, saying to my mother, “My word, you’ve got a big girl there, haven’t you, Georgie.”

She’s dead now. Not my mother – my Aunt Nester. A severe stroke whilst pruning her beloved roses in her front garden. She fell into them face first, the thorns of her pride and joy gashing open her wizened face in her moment of need. They did a good job, though – at the mortuary, that is. She looked quite regal, all dished up and served before us, there in her casket. I stared hard at her face but I couldn’t see even the trace of a scar. Mum fell apart. Sadly, all I felt was a slight twinge of guilt as I contorted my not-so-thin lips into a forced expression of loss.

And so it goes.

I think self-hatred is vastly underrated, don’t you? I mean, everyone seems to have such a negative view of it. But if you really think about it, it makes life so much easier in so many ways. For a start, you don’t have to bother giving yourself all those tiresome confidence-building pep talks inside your head every time you look in the mirror or step outside the front door. You can simply hate what you see before you, shrug your shoulders and get on with your business. And if someone insults you or shoots you a disdainful glare, it doesn’t sting or chip away at your delicately crafted shell of self-confidence – it just lands harmlessly in that boggy pit of everything you already despise and fizzles out with barely a flicker. You don’t wrestle with it, you just absorb it. It can save an awful lot of time in this fast-paced world of ours. Think about it.

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” That’s according to Henry David Thoreau, and he’d have been quite surprised at what people see had he been me. When you’re the size I am you become an object, a thing – not a person. People who might, in any other circumstances, be perfectly polite and well-mannered, somehow feel entirely comfortable staring at me in the most blatant, obvious way. They don’t see me, of course, they see a mass – a misshapen mass; never imagining for a moment that there might be someone living inside it…looking back. I become an object of curiosity. They look away self-consciously when a person in a wheelchair approaches, but with me it’s open season. Some simply gawp, slack jawed. Others eye me more studiously, as if taking mental notes on the nature of this strange, deformed specimen they’ve just stumbled upon. Others, as I said before, spit looks of disdain or disgust, as if I were the living embodiment of the sins of overindulgence, and should, at my earliest opportunity, carve off large chunks of my flesh and mail them to malnourished children in developing countries.

Wonder what I’d taste like? Sweet and sour is my guess. Probably go down a treat with some white rice and a Tsingtao. I could be big in China without even going there. Well, bits of me would be there, I suppose. And as Confucius so discouragingly pointed out, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

The One-Eyed Guru - Live!



My mystery novelette The One-Eyed Guru is now live and on sale in Amazon's Kindle store in both the US and the UK (and Germany, should you happen to reside there), as well as Barnes & Noble's Nook Books.

I'm hoping it does well and that people will enjoy reading it. It's around 30 printed pages (were it made from dead trees) so I think it could be a great quick summer read for the beach or relaxing in the garden. I'm doing a giveaway for it on LibraryThing, which is a great way to get a book out there, as well as test reader interest in what you're offering. My only concern is that the cover doesn't scare people off - I've been told it looks kind of creepy - which I guess it is. But I like the artwork and I think it certainly gets your attention, which is half the battle in marketing. And anyway, there is a creepy element to the story, so it's not out of place in that sense.

Next up is my collection of first person short stories entitled The Impressionists. I'm excited to get that out, too, as some of those pieces are some of my favourite things I've written.

Which reminds me...back to work....

Friday, June 17, 2011

“The Craft” at Riverside Studios, London



I was happily surprised to receive a call from one of the Artistic Directors at In Company Theatre in London, letting me know that my short play “The Craft” has been selected for this year’s Off Cut festival at Riverside Studios. A total of 28 short plays will be performed during a three week run at the end of September and beginning of October. For the first two weeks the audience gets to vote on their favourite of the evening, and all of the finalists are voted on again during the third week. At the final performance, a panel of industry professionals, chaired by the National Theatre’s Writer-in-Residence, Moira Buffini, will choose the winners of the Playwright, Director and Company of Actors Awards.

This is a very popular event (formerly held at The Old Red Lion, where the 2009 and 2010 festivals were its most successful productions ever) and great exposure for all involved.

And since Hammersmith is a former stomping ground of mine, it’ll sort of feel like a homecoming.

Nice!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coming Soon!



My new mystery novelette The One-Eyed Guru is finally ready for primetime. I was originally going to label it a short story. However, I've since learned that a work the length of The One-Eyed Guru is technically a novelette. At first I was hesitant to call it that, as I imagined many readers wouldn't be familiar with the term. But I've decided that even if they aren't, anything using the suffix "ette" denotes something that is diminutive, so there shouldn't be a problem. I was also wary of calling it a short story because these can be as short as 1,000 words, and I didn't want someone dismissing looking into the book further if they thought it was really short and not worth spending a buck on. (Guru is around 8,000 words, by the way.)

So a novelette it is. A mystery novelette. It should go live on Amazon in the next day or two. Sales for The End of the World have been picking up lately, so I'm hoping that if The One-Eyed Guru does well, it'll give it an additional lift.

Bon voyage, Guru!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Curtains



Today, sadly, is the last night of "Suburban Redux" in St. Paul, in its U.S. premiere by those lovely people at Gadfly Productions. I can honestly say, I've never had such a wonderful relationship with a theatre company as I've had with Immanuel and Cassandra at Gadfly...and all of it online.

They are such good-hearted, driven people with a passion and love for that dying, yet ever-lasting art known as theatre. I am so grateful that our paths crossed. I hope they know how special they are.

From all accounts, it's been a great run, a terrific response to the play, and a very good time had by all. What more could you ask for?

So to all my friends at Gadfly Productions - Peace, Love, and Equality.

Andrew