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M.J. Fievre’s memoir A Sky the Color of Chaos (Beating Windward Press, 2015) chronicles Fievre’s childhood during the turbulent rise and fall of Haiti’s President-Priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide—a time of nightly shootings, home invasions, robberies, and the burning of former regime members in neighborhood streets. During the late 1980s and 90s, from when Fievre was eight-years-old to 18, Haiti’s government changed forms eight times; the Haitian people endured fraudulent elections, three military coups, a crippling embargo, and a United Nations occupation. A Sky the Color of Chaos will be featured at the Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 21.

In connection to the release of the book, Fievre had a conversation with writer Jan Becker. They addressed some of the themes explored in the book, including domestic violence, father-daughter relationship, and PTSD.

splash-footballmond

I’m a big Steve Almond fan.  I think he’s one of our smartest and gutsiest writers.  His latest book, Against Football (Melville House), is surely one of the year’s most provocative titles.  Almond offers a searing analysis of America’s most popular sport, going deep where most sports writers tend to stay safely in the shallows, challenging the reader’s assumptions about what the game means, and what its massive cultural import says about our society.

Steve and I had a great conversation on my podcast1 not too long ago, and this past week I had the chance to catch up with him via email for some follow-up questions.

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).

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Perhaps by now—if not within minutes or hours—most discussion of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, will be crowded from the news cycle. What on earth could be more compelling to Americans than serious talk about the role of bias in jury deliberation, or gun laws and cultural codes of firearm manliness, or voting rights, or who really gets to stand their ground in America?


15-views-v2-cover“As literary writers…we’re not supposed to just get the job done, we’re supposed to advance the conversation, and part of our challenge is to dig deeper and create something new, or at least approach an existing thing (such as setting) from a unique angle. Yes, our writing relies on social norms and cultural touchstones, but where genre writers tend to follow the old wrinkled tourist map, literary writers explore new territory.”

— Ryan Rivas

Slut

By Dale M. Kushner

Poetics

rizzoRemember Rizzo from the movie Grease? The indomitable Stockard Channing played a smoldering hottie who rivals the perky Olivia Newton-John. We recognize the split: Betty Rizzo struts her T & A. Wholesome Sandy flaunts perfect teeth.

Back in the day Rizzo was called a slut, a word that even sounds dirty. Leap forward thirty-five years and we’d be her cheering squad. Sure, Rizzo boasted a fine rack and leaned toward the uncouth, but like today’s female protagonists, she had moxie and smarts. Think: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Think: Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games. Think: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. These characters have more in common with the brazen dames immortalized by Crawford, Stanwyck, and Davis than they do with the kittenish Newton-John. Fifty years ago, in The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan inspired women to stash their aprons next to their brooms and see what else the world offered. How would the prophetic Betty have reacted to what Elizabeth Hand calls the new Femininjas?

“Bang, bang from the closet walls,
The schoolhouse halls,
The shotgun’s loaded.
Push me and I’ll push back.
I’m done asking, I demand.” –
Rise Against, from “Make It Stop”

“I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.” – Ray Bradbury

 

When I was in grad school, I usually stopped in Paducah, KY as a halfway point between my parents’ home in North Carolina, and my own home in Iowa. The first time I stopped in Paducah, it was late afternoon, and I asked the woman who checked me into my hotel for suggestions of things to do. It was a blustery late December day, the type that didn’t make me want to do things outside – except for the fact I’d been stuck in my car for the previous 10 hours.

In light of today’s tragedy in Newtown, CT, TNB is re-running this essay, originally published on August 28, 2012.  Thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families, and survivors. —Editors

 

Early in the morning on June 25th, about a week before I arrived in my new hometown in western Pennsylvania, police here opened fire on a car of three black man speeding towards them, killing the driver, 27-year-old Elip Cheatham.

According to eyewitness accounts, the events of the night are as follows: A shooting occurred at Edder’s Den, a bar in what most of us would euphemistically call a “rough” neighborhood. One of the victims was a friend of Cheatham’s. Cheatham and another friend loaded the 20-year-old with a leg wound into the back of Cheatham’s car and drove towards the hospital. Blocks away, they encountered a police blockade, and this is where accounts begin to splinter.

 

I have measured out my life in sentences: composing, reading, revising and discarding them; talking to students about how to write, interpret, and edit them. I have dreaded the sentence that doesn’t come easily. I have learned at times to play with words that feel like nonsense in order to discover and organize thoughts, teasing words to make clarity appear.

There are sentences with gaps and missing pieces. Redundant sentences. Muscular sentences. Transitional sentences. Sentences that sing. Then: stylistic fragments. Intentional run-ons. Does the reader trust your sentences? If you break the rules, will the reader follow? Sentences that capture complicated feelings or thoughts by uniting verbs with precise subjects and prepositional direction. I’m lost in this sentence. Is this the best place for this sentence? Could these sentences be combined?

On the morning of July 20, I was preparing to post a list of my favorite movie villains in conjunction with the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises when I discovered that a real-life villain had emerged during a midnight showing of the same.  A new Batman movie debuts, and, chillingly, James Holmes and I had the same thought: the villain is the draw.

Three of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy villains had made my list.  Nolan’s villains have proven to be particularly memorable, not exactly because they are physically intimidating but because they are enigmatic mad geniuses driven by the idea that only chaos can wipe the slate clean.  Emphasis on genius.  Part of the fear and fascination with Heath Ledger’s Joker, for example, lies in the way he manipulates his cronies in the bank-robbery scene, ending in a school-bus get-away camouflaged upon its impeccably-timed exit by a line of other school buses.

#9 Dream

By Jim Simpson

Humor

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” – Robert F. Kennedy

“Oh it’s too sad to be true
Your blue murder’s killing you.” – Elvis Costello, “Shot With His Own Gun

 

Basically, I am equal parts realist and dreamer. In most cases I know I am powerless to effect change beyond my little corner of the world, if even that. Still, I often concoct schemes to make the wider world a better place, at least in my mind. But what I am about to propose is much bigger than any “Occupy” movement. This could be the beginning of a utopian paradise. Join me in my excitement.

Put a gun in your hand, open the chamber. Take a revolver, an assault rifle, a shotgun. Load it.

You’ll first feel the dense mass of steel, polymer, or wood weight in your palms. You’ll roll the cylinder, if there is one, pop it open and snap it shut. You’ll learn the distinct snicks and clicks of safety levers and shells and the hammer. With a shotgun, you’ll beware the bite of the spring snap after you shove the last round in the loading port. You’ll see that it takes time for untrained fingers: slipping single bullets into the chamber, loading multiple cartridges into the magazine. You’ll count as you shoot. The sound of each shot will be extra startling if you shoot indoors the first time: WHOUUM for the 357 Magnum. TAP TAP for the 22. You won’t help but wonder about all the pockmarks in the ceiling and sidewalls from previous bullets poorly aimed. Gunpowder will make a shocking cloud. You’ll leave with black marks on your hands, and you’ll smell faintly of fireworks.

Glass shatters, sirens, gunfire. We met here to play cards but there’s only one thing in the world anyone can really do tonight, which is huddle around the TV set like it’s a bonfire.

Tear gas, for the uninitiated, really does make you cry.

And not in the gradual fashion of an organic cry, with the palpable build-up of liquid emotion that your body ultimately can’t contain and spills out onto your cheeks, your shirt, your lover’s shoulder.

*Author’s note: Students in the University System of Georgia must take and pass a Regents’ Exam in writing. I’ve taught a Regents’ Exam prep course, and in freshman composition I have generally been required to teach students how to pass this test. There are 635 approved essay prompts. When a student takes his Regents’ Exam, a random selection of four of these prompts shows up on the test instruction sheet. From these the student chooses one prompt.

As a writing exercise–warming up before jumping into whatever book I’m working on each day–I’ve been randomly selecting a prompt from the list of approved essay topics and writing a short essay–about the same length that an actual Georgia college student might compose when taking this test.

I don’t know if I’ll end up writing 635 essays, but this is a start. I’m calling this project “Writing Sample.”

 

 

What is one of the worst things that people do to one another?  Explain.

 

 

Every time my mother talks to her brother he reminds her that he is the “sole trustee and executor of the St. George family trust.”

 

When I was a boy I used a magnifying glass to burn insects.

 

I once shot my brother with a BB gun when he was walking into the yard, coming home from school. He spun, looking for cover, finding nothing, while I took aim, and waited, lining up the sights, before I squeezed the trigger. When he cried I called him a faggot.

 

I once burned alive a San Francisco alligator lizard with gasoline then dissected its cooked remains.

 

My best friend is what Nietzsche described as a “free spirit,” and I get pissed at him because he cancels classes, gets in trouble at work, runs out of money, and lounges on his porch drinking beer when he should be writing poems.

 

This classmate of mine and his buddies wouldn’t do calisthenics in PE one foggy day in our freshman year, so our teacher made everyone run the cross country course and I waited for this kid and broke his arm.

 

“Paul Broussard (1964–1991), a twenty-seven year-old Houston-area banker and Texas A&M alumnus, was beaten and stabbed to death in a gay-bashing incident outside a Houston nightclub on July 4, 1991 by ten teenage boys. The youths had driven from the northern Houston suburb of The Woodlands to the heavily gay area of Montrose solely to “beat up some queers,” in the words of one of the convicted teens.”

 

Once, when my wife and I fought, I threw an empty Budweiser bottle at the wall.

 

Sometimes when my mother calls and rambles on about nothing I can’t hide my boredom and desire to get off the phone and get on with my day even though with said rambling it’s obvious that my mother only wants to talk to her firstborn, hear my voice, know that I’m alive, the baby she brought into the world, nursed to viability, watched grow up safe and happy.

 

In high school I took this girl out who liked me and I knew that she liked me and I didn’t really like her back but still I took her out and I knew that I could and that I could take her shirt off and I did and I knew that I could and that I could not talk to her afterwards and I did and all of this I knew.

 

The uncle mentioned above, a gay man, suffers the chagrin of most family members for his admittedly pompous behavior. However, these family members repeatedly make light of this uncle’s sexuality and often comment on “how hard” his parents had it, dealing with his homosexuality, never once considering how hard it might have been for this uncle, brother, son, etc., to have “come out.”

 

Last week a college police officer calmly and without any apparent remorse pepper sprayed at point-blank range a group of students who sat on the ground with their arms linked in solidarity.

 

Some estimates say that as many as 78 million—nearly twice California’s population—died as a result of World War II.