alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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What I’ve Been Up To

I’ve been busy making myself really tired.

First was the IUWC, which involved early morning classes, afternoon workshops, evening readings, lots and lots and lots of manuscript reading, and regular mortgage-paying, catfood-buying work somewhere in between. My story was discussed on the only day when there were 3 people on the schedule (other days were just 2) which made me a bit cranky, but my workshop leader Manuel Munoz was kind enough to discuss my piece one-on-one afterwards, and that’s where I got the good idea for revision. It’s a big idea and it’s going to involve ripping out huge, essential chunks of the narrative but I’m so sure it’s right that I’m almost excited to do it.

The best part about the conference is geeking out with other writers, and this year was no different. I got to know some local writers better, and met some cool new ones. I’m always canvassing for new members for my regular writing group, so at times I feel like I’m doing a PBS fund drive without the free coffee mugs and Michael Flatley DVD. Julia Glass was completely hysterical at the final night’s readings — not what she read, but the stories she told beforehand. British writers are mean to American writers, apparently.

After that it was jet-setting away to NYC for green-tea margaritas (sounds appalling, actually delicious), riverside walks in the pouring rain, and chole bhatura on Oak Tree Road (drool). I even saw the crazy clouds in Manhattan on Friday night. They looked like low-hanging cotton balls, round and individual, textured and full of weight. Everybody was stopping in the street and taking pictures up between the buildings with their phones.

'Mammatus clouds over Manhattan' by bears rock on flickr

'Mammatus clouds over Manhattan' by bears rock/flickr

Now that I’ve had enough adventure in two weeks for the whole year, I’m going to go to sleep.

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The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue – Manuel Muñoz

This is the first book of stories in my personal short story challenge. I have long suspected that the brain-parts that allow one to *enjoy* a short story rather than just appreciate it at a slightly perplexed distance are deeply missing from my literary make-up. It’s very possible that I will read what is someone out there’s favoritest story in the whole word and dismiss it with a mild “eh” and a shrug of the shoulders. If that should happen, remember –before you throw soft fruit–that I’m the one who’s missing out on things.

That said…(deep breath)

munozI read about half of the stories in The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue. The characters live in a shop-worn California town. They’re Mexican-American. They didn’t spark recognition in me – that’s not my home–but I was comfortable with them, content to rub along with them for a few episodes. But allá–now that was something I recognized.

Allá (‘over there’) is an elegant shorthand for a whole way of not-belonging, of outgrowing your home and your family and your place in the world. Allá is what the father calls where his son lives in Tell Him About Brother John. Allá means: that place I don’t understand, that place I don’t see why you had to go, that place of strangers, that place where I would mean nothing, that place I am so afraid of I’m not going to call by its name.

Everybody who grows up in a small town and goes away to college, has spent time in allá. Anybody who has blue-collar parents and grows up to get a desk job, knows allá. Anybody who falls in love with a boyfriend, when their parents were expecting a girlfriend, is a permanent exile to allá.

In the title story, the one I liked best, Emilio works the 3rd shift at the paper mill. A pallet of copy paper falls on top of him and crushes his legs. After the accident, his father takes care of him — wiping him, turning him, lifting him, dragging him. Emilio has no allá. It’s more of an ‘in here’ than an ‘over there’. But to his father, he is just as inexplicable and just as disappointing as the son who goes across the country to mingle among white Americans in a faceless city, to waste an education writing stories that don’t make any money, to live and love with other men.

Emilio doesn’t in any way choose his fate, but he ends up just as estranged from his father, his family, his community, his own life. He agrees to go to the curandera because his father believes. Because his father wants Emilio to be better more than Emilio wants it. Because he owes his father. He knows the boxes didn’t fall on him because of the evil eye–and yet, and yet.

Does the trip to the witch woman help? The answer is actually in another one of the stories.