Ep. 12: Erica Ferencik | Author of The River at Night

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Erica Ferencik is a Boston-based author whose recent release, The River at Night is a modern Deliverance set in the deep woods of Maine. I conducted a full-length interview with her for Electric Literature that talks about the research that went into writing the book and so much more.

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25 books from 2016 you need to read

Reading is probably the least sexy part of pop culture. If there is a ranking it would go: keeping up on Peak TV, catching the latest Oscar bait, and hearing the newest band before the rest of the world does. Yet literature is the longest, strongest pillar of culture, pop or not.

Here are 25 works of fiction – in alphabetical order – that made me laugh, cry, shiver, and think. Continue reading “25 books from 2016 you need to read”

Interviews with two National Book Award nominees

The longlist for the National Book Award in fiction was released today. Of the ten authors, I was lucky to interview two of them earlier in the year. Both Garth Greenwell and Karan Mahajan wrote two of my favorite novels released in 2016 and if I had to vote for a top five to make the shortlist, both would find a spot as finalists. Read the interviews of Greenwell and Mahajan after the complete list of nominated authors.

Congratulations to:

  • Chris Bachelder, The Throwback Special
  • Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You
  • Adam Haslett, Image Me Gone
  • Paulette Jiles, News of the World
  • Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs
  • Lydia Millet, Sweet Lamb of Heaven
  • Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
  • Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn

Continue reading “Interviews with two National Book Award nominees”

5 more short stories you can – and should – read online right now

UPDATE 2: Yet another 5 short stories you can – and should – read online right now can be found here.

UPDATE: Another 5 short stories you can – and should – read online right now can be found here.

My friends over at Paste Magazine wrote an article called “5 Short Stories You Can – And Should – Read Online Right Now.” It’s good. It contains one from the 1880s, 1950s, and three that were written since 2010.

It got me thinking about short stories that I like. I started seeing if they were available for free – either legally or not. We know that there is a lot on the World Wide Web and it’s easy to find a lot of PDFs or just copy/pasted stories out there. Here are five that I like; in no particular order. Unsurprisingly, most of them come from my favorite source of short stories: The New Yorker.

“That Bus is Another World” by Stephen King – 2014 

I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fan (I’m not outside of Different Seasons and Misery). I’m not a fan of horror. But I am a fan of a suspenseful narrative. And that’s what this story is. You’ll have to read a PDF scan of Esquire to get this online, but it’s there. It follows a man named Wilson who is late to a meeting he flew into New York to take. In typical King fashion, the story is not what it appears. There’s a bus, obviously. What happens on that bus is definitely another world away from Wilson. It’s a breezy read that leaves you both wanting to know more, but begging that you’ll never find out.

“Cold Pastoral” by Marina Keegan – 2012

I have been obsessed with the late Marina Keegan as of late. Her story is tragic: a rising literary star who graduated from Yale with a job waiting for her at The New Yorker, only to have her life cut short at 22 by a car accident. Her family and writing mentor put together a collection called The Opposite of Loneliness (named for an essay she wrote shortly before commencement). “Cold Pastoral” is one of those stories. It eerily deals with death. In it, the narrator’s sort-of-boyfriend dies. The character is left with a feeling of emptiness, but also of anxiety. She wasn’t the love of his life; they were just consistently having sex. Keegan beautifully weaves in numerous emotions in such a short amount of space.

“Alma” by Junot Diaz – 2007

Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her collects nine interlinked stories surrounding the relationship between a young man named Yunior and his love interest Alma. This is the shortest in the collection with a word count under 1,000, but that doesn’t mean there is any less impact. Written in second person, you become Yunior. You’re called bad names as Alma claims horrific things about you. You’re sucked in almost instantly and aren’t let go until Alma decides to let you go. There’s a resounding punch to the gut that any man – or even woman – who reads this will take some time to recover.

“Story, With Bird” by Kevin Canty – 2014

This was published pretty recently. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Canty, but I love this story. It’s not a traditional story in the sense that it just delves into bits and pieces of a narrative, but leaves a lasting impression of those moments in time. It’s about a couple who likes to drink more than they like each other. It really impacted me because it was similar in tone and theme to a story I had been editing for a few weeks. If you want to read a good, atmospheric story, then this is one short on you definitely need to click.

“Just Before Black” by James Franco – 2010

This may not be the best story by the actor-turned-director-turned-curator-turned-writer. Franco might not even be a good writer. But this was my first introduction to the actor’s stories and it stuck with me. It was nice to read a story by someone who wasn’t a “writer.” Not yet anyway. Reading it again four years later, I understand why not everyone was in love with Franco’s early work. Yet, it’s still interesting to read if you like how his views on suburbia developed; especially in his collection Palo Alto.

“The Point”

The following as a short piece of fiction adapted from the episode “Double Double Date” of the ABC series The Wonder Years. The dialogue and a portion of the narration was taken directly from the episode written by Sy Rosen and Mark B. Perry.

We had just run off from both of our dates at the school dance. The night was warm and the sky was clear. Stars sparkled over the placid town that nurtured me my entire life. We parked in my parents’ car at a make-out spot on a cliff, known as the Point, overlooking the town in my tux and her in a ravishing pale dress. The effect the dress had by contrasting with her skin drove me wild. We couldn’t believe we ran off, but we had no choice. It was as if the stars, and the universe, and destiny had bound us together.

I moved to her and put my arm around her shoulders, but my cufflink had gotten caught in her corsage. Her face turned from total infatuation to total confusion in an instant. I leaned over and struggled to fix the problem. I was closer to her than ever before, and I didn’t want to break free. As I fiddled with my silver hook and her lilies, I awkwardly relayed a story about two people kissing and getting their braces stuck together. She made fun of me for believing that they had to go to the hospital, but when I finally dislodged from her, I saw her looking deep into my eyes, mouth agape and breathing heavy.

“Maybe I’ll just stay here for a while,” I said with my arm still around her. She was pushed into me; accepting the fact I would never let her go.

“You’re so cute,” she said, her eyes never breaking from mine. “You’ve always been cute.”

I wanted her again. We had been torn apart for too long. I gently took her chin to guide her eyes back to mine once more.

“I guess that’s why you’ve been crazy about me since the day we met.”

“I was not,” she responded. She couldn’t stop staring and smiling. “You were crazy about me.”

Now I couldn’t stop staring and smiling. “You’re right.”

And that’s when it happened. At that moment, all the feelings that she and I had been trying to bottle up finally came rushing to the surface. We couldn’t hide our passions anymore. I stroked her face and felt her soft lips. Her breath was warm on my fingers. So I leaned in closer and kissed her… Right on the eye.

I pulled away and our eyes locked. Hers broke away for a moment, but returned with a fire. And then she kissed me… On my eye.

I stroked the back of her head. Feeling her velvety, midnight black hair and whispered, “What happened?”

She looked at me wide-eyed and just as nervous as I was before telling me, “I’m not sure.”

And the thing was neither of us knew. Maybe our aim was off. Or maybe it was something else.

Our glances broke again, but she spoke.

“I was just thinking about the first time we ever met.”

“Yeah,” I barely was about to get the word out of my throat. “You were wearing a little yellow raincoat, and that stupid yellow rain hat.”

Her smile grew. Our faces were inches from each other and she said, “You were soaking wet.”

“My brother told me my folks got me a horse,” I revealed to her part of the story she never knew. “When I ran outside, he locked the door.”

“You came to my house to dry off.”

“Yeah. Right,” I said, always whispering as quietly as she was. “So,” I paused to notice the beauty in her deep chocolate eyes, “Do you want to try that again?”

Without missing a beat, she informed me, “I’d like to think about it for a little while.”

Even though I was hurt because I wanted nothing more than to kiss her, I agreed with her and said that’s what I wanted. She nuzzled her head against me, resting it on my shoulder. Maybe she wanted to kiss, and I know I did. We sat there holding each other as I waited passionately. The long cuddle continued. But the thing was that’s all we did. Maybe it was happening too fast. Maybe we wanted to hold on to what we had. Or maybe we both knew there were things we had to find before we found each other.

All we really knew for sure was, as we sat there looking out over the lights of the town where we had grown up together, it all felt right. It all felt… Perfect.

“Untitled Police Vignette”

I wrote this real quick a few months ago and just ran across it again. Oh, and my bad for the lack of updates on life. (Paste is fun. Life is good.)

On a frantic Phoenician city we stand, we stare, we silently smoke our cigarettes. For Allen Winpine and myself, the night is young even though most of the drunkards are passed out in cabs or vomiting in alleys right about now. The embers light his face dully, but I notice a gleam in his eyes that I hadn’t seen in ages. We had been partners for only a handful of years, but we knew each other coming out of the academy. Our paths weaved in and out of each other as unies until we met again as plain-clothed detectives. It’s nice to see him crack a smile when a fresh faced couple asks for a smoke. Tequila leaps from their mouths. The closer I look I notice she’s more underage that I thought. I know Allen wants to beat the shit out of this punk, but we’re there on other business.

“Get the fuck out of here,” his voice is raspy. The smoke has infiltrated his lungs for far too long. I know my lungs are just as bad. He coughs, “Nothing to do here. Let’s grab a burrito or something. Where we can talk without all this Goddamn noise.”

The silent air warms me as a walk; it doesn’t hinder the flights of the butt as I flick it into a gutter. Red flares shatter against the pavement. I try to inhale some fresh air, but realize the city polluted the desert and everything is going to shit. Allen’s eyes watch me. There’s something on his mind.

“Do you ever think about getting out?”

“Of this?” I look him up and down. His cigarette is out and he lights another. I offer him my lighter. “Not unless I will the Goddamn lottery. This pension is too good to pass up.”

I laugh, he laughs, we laugh together. Our echos break the silences of the garage where we parked. I tell him there’s no smoking in my car — Mary will have a fit. We stand again, but there is no filth to observe here. We’re all alone.

“Doesn’t it ever bother you? All of the motherfuckers we have to deal with?”

“They’re the ones who pay the bills. Without them, what the hell do we have to do?”

His cigarette is nowhere near finished, but he tosses it over my shoulder. It rolls underneath a car and he tells me he’s still hungry. The burrito place he likes is down near the train. Small time peddlers lurk in the shadows, preying on thirteen year old little shits who think rebelling against their parents make them chiefs or something.

“Do you still enjoy it?”

Allen continues to rattle off his questions. I know he’s searching desperately for something. I tell him I still enjoy the hunt. That nothing gets me off like taking someone down. The faces of surprise still make me wonder how no one ever thinks they’ll be caught. Our line of work is different, I remind him and tell him that nobody ever sees us coming.

“Then do we even exist? We’re nobodies. We act like cops; we act like husbands; we act like cokeheads; and pimps; and lonely business men looking to get laid.”

“It’s our job. Would you rather be some pathetic traffic cops sitting on your ass all day. Who the fuck cares if someone is going three miles per hour over.”

“What about when you were working domestic abuse cases. Don’t you think that was worth it?” His burrito is nearly gone. Beans are oozing out of it from every which way. “Or rape? What if someone attacked Mary? You wouldn’t want the unies to be able to help right away?”

“I’d kill whoever did it myself. Come on, Allen. What’s gotten into you?”

“I just didn’t expect it all to turn out like this.”

Never before did I question if he was able to handle what we do. I think he is the best man for what we do; better than me. We fall silent. The wear and tear shows on his skin. We’re still young, and maybe he still feels young. You need to in our line of work. Allen’s eyes focus deep behind me. I’m curious to what he’s looking at, but am afraid if I look I’ll see a younger version of us: bright eyed and ready to strap handcuffs on some grotesque mother fucker. There’s no question that I’m afraid of what my younger self would think of me now. Never did I ever think I’d succumb to the methods I use now. When I first made detective, Lieutenant Braxton told me I needed to harden up. That my biggest weakness was that I was a pussy. I vowed that day to do everything in my power to never go soft. Sure I made some bad choices along the way, but now I’m here. And from where I’m sitting here is good. Allen must be going soft. I know if I ask he’ll say he is. The misery of hearing him say those words is more than I can bare.

“We have to move,” I tell him after noticing the hands on my wristwatch. “We need to be there in fifteen minutes.”

Allen finishes his burrito and thinks about another smoke. We don’t have time. Even this late at night, getting across town is a bitch. At a red light he asks me what the purpose of everything is. He genuinely wants to know and though he knows I don’t have an answer, I feel like I should. Instead, I shrug and in a whisper tell him that’s the beauty of life. A lump in my throat stops me from saying anything else. I know he’s soft. We continue driving under the speed limit to avoid a detection. Traffic cops love getting late night speeders, and we can’t afford any detainment. The red light ahead of us turns green just as my foot begins to break.

I turn left, then right, and left again. The alley is desolate. We’re early.

“Let’s go,” I tell him and pop the trunk. The muffled screaming breaks the still of the night. Whoever she is, Allen shuts her up with a blow to the head. Watching him makes me realize how better he is. I peer in either direction before helping towards the dumpster.

 

“How much is this one?”

“She was worth it,” I tell him, but his head tilts demanding a value. “It’s enough, trust me.”

The silencer muffles it all. Only a brief whimper knocks around before we pick up the body and toss it into the dumpster. They’ll be here any minutes, I remind him. I feel he’s about to tell me he wants out of our side job. They won’t like that. With a cigarette in his mouth, Allen asks for my lighter again. I let him enjoy one last drag before I pull the trigger.