alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Teaser Tuesdays

I’d watched Lee and Jason with their hands in each other’s back pockets, like it was just that easy to be a couple, or sending each other little messages with their eyes: You’re so cute, or You make me smile, or I like the way you do that. Or maybe they were saying: Too bad we’re not alone.

Teen angst from Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr. p. 37


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The Black-Iron Drum, by Von Carr

For those of you who like your fiction bleak, this week’s story is a real no-hoper.
It’s also available online at Fantasy Magazine.

I’d call this story “mythical,” both in the subject matter it treats and the rhythm in which it is told.

A woman wades through a river of corpses to escape her war-torn province. Safe on the farther shore, she buries her hardened heart at the crossroads, leaving behind the scenes she has lived through. The people of the new province suspect she is a sorceress, but she refuses to perform spells or make charms. She marries the town’s executioner and bears him two children. Life goes on.

Until. Until the execution of a young boy is botched and his body must be buried at the crossroads with a stake through the heart, to prevent him rising from the dead. Soon the town’s cattle are spooked and the hens are laying hollow eggs. At night, the woman hears the iron drumming of her heart, calling to her from underground. Her heart, iron-hard and throbbing, is leading the vampire right to her door. After all the woman has been through, it is not the vampire that worries her, but her own heart. This isn’t how it ends, of course, but it’s all I’m going to tell you.

I chose this story because Von is in a writing group with me, and I really look forward to the days when we do her stories, so I wanted to read a story by her in its final clothing. After I read it, I asked her a little about writing it, and she said that the ending had been changed; originally it was more depressing. I’m not sure how that’s possible.

I really enjoyed this story. I thought it was well-written, and quite haunting. The drum-heart is chilling, all of the minor details ring true. I love that the province is called ‘Nuncia’. That’s a perfect name. I want to name a country that. (But I don’t think I want to visit).


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Lost Story Found

Thanks to a nudge from Robb, I tracked down last week’s missing short story.

It is (drum roll, please)…’A Little Place Off the Edgeware Road’ by Graham Greene. (1939)

A man named Craven is walking the streets of London. He wears a cheap mackintosh. He is seedy and alone. Soldiers and girls pass him on the wet pavement and he tells you that he hates the thingness of his body. He tells you that he dreams of caverns under the ground of a graveyard, where all the uncorrupted bodies lie, waiting and quiescent, in their little interconnected pods. (I’m pretty sure a capsule hotel would freak him right out.)

He goes into a cinema to get out of the rain. It is nearly empty, showing a program of silent films about the Roman empire. A piano plays in the darkness. A man shuffles past his knees and takes the seat next to him, brushing Craven’s face with his large beard. On-screen, a woman in a toga stabs herself. The newcomer objects that there is not enough blood.

The bearded man and Craven nearly get into an argument, ‘an absurd and meaningless wrangle in the dark.’ The newcomer continues to talk, and lays a hand, ‘sudden and confidingly’ on Craven’s. It is damp and sticky, and Craven hopes it is treacle.  The newcomer announces that he has forgotten his umbrella, and scrabbles out past Craven’s knees.

…I don’t know why this story made such an impression on me the first time. Maybe because I was reading it alone in my apartment before sleep, instead of over a bowl of soup at a brightly-lit dinner table with company just beyond the ketchup bottle.

Maybe because of contrast. I read it towards the end of an anthology of ‘Ghost Stories’; given the typical fare of such collections, Greene’s spare modern prose must have stood out:  Banal, urban setting. Repressed. Short, tight, story. No Lovecraftian furbelows.

Reading experiences are made up of at least 50% of the ‘experience’ portion – the experience of the reader, rather than the words on the page. A story isn’t fixed until it is read and intersected. This explains not only why some books are loved by some and loathed by others, but also why I have read books and failed to feel them, or hated authors until I came back to them with a new idea of what I wanted. Just as a bad day can be vastly improved by a good book, I’m pretty sure that a good book can be wasted on a bad day.

(“Edgeware Road” appears in Twenty-One Stories, by Graham Greene, 1954.)


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Teaser Tuesdays

I admit, I cheated. I picked a random page twice to get a good one. But I had too. The sentences, most of them, are so short.

I ordered pancakes for Penelope and me. I ordered orange juice and coffee and a side order of toast and hot chocolate and French fries, too, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay for any of it.

That comes from about smack dab in the middle of Sherman Alexie’s excellent, sad, funny, squirmy, National-Book-Award-winning YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (from p125 to be exact), but it would make a perfect opening for a short story. It has description, voice, action, a ‘problem’, and  someone named Penelope. What more does a story need to get a reader’s attention?


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The History of the World, by Veronica Chambers

This story is in the collection It’s All Love; Black Writers on Soul Mates, Family & Friends.

The ‘love’ angle is that it roughly parallels three Black couples: 2 in New York & 1 in Chicago. The main character is Panamanian and lives in Brooklyn; she speaks Spanish, dates a gypsy cab driver, and works as a nanny for the dissatisfied Evelyn Cooper, wife and mother-of-two, who lives on Park Avenue, “in a stadium-sized apartment with the same marble floors and well-appointed furniture you might find in a bank or an old-money hotel.” The nanny parts reminded me of this interesting NYT article about the politics of Black women nannying for wealthy Black families.

That’s 2 sets of couples. The 3rd couple? From Chicago? When they appeared I thought, hmm, I wonder if that’s supposed to…nah. But sure enough, they live in an “itsy-bitsy house in the suburbs”, and “his wife actually thinks Ann Taylor is a big-name designer.” Then there’s a speech at a political convention and the man starts appearing on TV. Then he announces his bid for the presidency.

As you might imagine, the presidential aspirations of this modest Chicago couple are the bend in the story around which all the characters must flow, exposing their ideas about friendship, love, class, gold-digging, the Peace Corps (“Please, travel in college hardly counts”), and mushroom risotto.

This was my first encounter with a pair of fictional Obamas, but I’ve got a feeling it’s not the last.


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Teaser Tuesdays

Just heard about this from Lakeside Musing, but it’s hosted by Should Be Reading.

It is a Tuesday and I am reading a book, so here goes:

I even made her a mix tape and left it at the grave. I hope you do not think that makes me weird.

From: the perks of being a wallflower, by stephen chbosky. p.93, Pocket Books ed.

Robb recommended this to me, and I’m really glad. I like it a lot. Reading it gives me a sense of well-being. For real.