There are days we are grateful for and need to take time to acknowledge. Today was one such day. Read at the College of Creative Studies Symposium at UCSB, and thoroughly relished the experience of reading to a group of interested students. They were attentive, engaged, curious about writing, all a reader could want. I felt good on stage. Read some stories, sang a little of “I’ll Tell me Ma,” and tried some of my new writing out. On top of all that, two short pieces I wrote this year got picked up by Metazen, which is one of my favorite sites for fiction. Today, the byword is grateful. Grateful. Grateful.
Saturday morning. The air is chilly. Last night, driving up from the in-laws house, an owl flew directly in front of the car, heading towards our house. Auspicious. Perhaps. The book sits on my desk, another signed copy to be mailed out to a new reader. The pile underneath the birdcage diminishes, down to a scant half-dozen. There are some on consignment at three local bookstores, shelved, waiting, waiting. In a little over ten days I’ll read at the College of Creative Studies Literature Symposium at UCSB. Funny that I work on campus in the bowels of construction and design services doing most unwriterly work, taking none home with me in the evenings. I’ll get a preview this Wednesday when Mo reads for the same series. Last year I went to see Laura Mullen from LSU read there, and had to leave before she really got started because I had Maisie with me, and she wanted to talk to the audience rather than listen to Laura’s poetry!
Books on my desk to review:
- Damnation by Janice Lee
- Blitzkrieg by Jon Gosslee
- I Stole the Rain by Elisa Ruotolo
A novel on my hard drive needs attention. I’ve got to return to that process, carve out some evening time to devote to restructuring, revising, adding to, in general improving the manuscript. Some days I feel ready to tackle that process, and others leave me wondering about the point of it all. Really, I just need a few days of silence and uninterrupted writing time to really get my teeth into the work. Maybe next month? How valuable time becomes when you have a toddler, and a seven year-old to raise and spend time with. The writing becomes secondary to tasks, to children, to meals, to life, but then it returns, reminds you of its presence, its disaffection at your ignoring its needs, and then you’re off again.
Delighted to wake up to the news that the interview I did with Alison Wells at writing.ie went live today. I’m particularly excited because Ireland is my home and the wellspring for so much of my creativity. Have a read of the interview HERE.
Both Maureen and I are featured writers/presenters at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies’ Literature Symposium. Maureen will read from her work on 10/23, and I shall appear the following week on 10/30. The readings take place in the little theater on campus, from 4-5pm.
Other than that, the new Literary Orphans issue is now live, titled The Originator: Bo Diddley, and is filled with amazing work chosen by myself and the other editors at this fine publication. I’ll be guest editing a special issue devoted to Ireland and all things Irish, due to publish in the spring of 2014.
I’ve contributed twelve episodes to Pure Slush’s 2014—A Year in Stories. These stories feature a character named the Bird Mahony, and examine his life in the aftermath of his parents’ unexpected deaths. From my memory I recall my mother and father discussing a customer who frequented my father’s pub, located in the Irish midlands, in the 1960s. This man was named “the Bird,” and little else comes back to me. His name was not Mahony, nor do I know any details of his life. Still, I’ve been intrigued by the man for years, always wanting to write something about his life. Back in 2013, The View from Here published a flash fiction piece about a character named “the Bird.” When Matt Potter invited me to participate in the Pure Slush project it seemed to me that my contributions would center around this man about whom I know so little. The penultimate episode is now available, and Stephen V. Ramey wrote this generous summation of that episode which can be read HERE. The original story about the Bird is below::
Originally published in The View from Here::
The day the Bird died, Máire was hanging wet laundry on the washing line in the far meadow. A soft wind billowed the bed sheets, and grayed, lacy bloomers swayed romantically, having seen better days. Olivia, her neighbor from across the road, made her way down the narrow path, waving her hands in the air, making sure to avoid the nettles on either side.
“The Bird is dead, isn’t he,” Máire said.
“How did you know?” Olivia said, pulling the collar of her coat tight.
“Didn’t a crow fly into the upstairs bedroom last night at dusk.” She spoke through a mouthful of clothespins, the words splintered, her tightly curled hair not moving in the breeze.
He was the first man to touch her that way. His breath beery, his hands warm, the show-band playing a slow song, the bandleader combing his brilliantine hair with a plastic comb, lisping the words onto the dance-hall air. Later, in the back of the Bird’s ’38 Ford he slipped his two ferret hands up her skirt and took what he wanted. The next month she married the bugger who owned the bar and the Bird drank down the road at Hourican’s for a long while. When he finally returned to his familiar seat he could see the swell of her belly under the apron. A lucky man, the bar owner, the Bird thought, regretting his inaction at the wedding mass and how when the priest had asked if any man present…
Three colorful bantam hens pecked in the dirt in the narrow space behind the public house. One had the bright, sharp eyes of a born killer. The Bird weighed the coins in his pocket, doing the math as to how much it would cost to purchase the creature.
“I’ll give you two sovereigns for the bantam with the bright eyes,” he said to the man behind the bar.
“I can’t sell you that bird. It’s the lad’s pet. His mother would have my guts if I sold the child’s pet for fighting.”
“Are you going to let a woman tell you what you can or cannot do in your own house?” the Bird said, his left eyebrow raised.
“It’s easy to see you’re a bachelor. If you had a wife of your own you’d be singing a different tune.”
The Bird grunted, tipped the glass and emptied the porter in one go. “You’re a foolish man to turn down two sovereigns,” he said, tipping his brim and heading for the door.
The doctor placed the tiny baby in its mother’s arms. Sure, it didn’t weigh more than a bag of flour, as fragile and ugly as a new-born bird.
When the bar owner saw the little mite in his wife’s arms, the sharp beak of a nose, the dark eyes, the curl of matted hair, he recognized a family likeness not of his own.
“He’s like a wee bird,” he told her.
“Yes, but he’s our little bird,” the mother said, squeezing her husband’s hand.
He was not so sure. Not so sure at all.
The bantams went wild when the creature slipped in the shed door. Feathers and shit flew everywhere, and the fox, if it were a fox, grabbed one by the neck and blooded it out. All that remained of the three birds was the pile of feathers on the ground, the blood splattered all over the floor. A desperate thing, the Bird agreed with the bar owner as he told him about the brazen fox that had savaged the child’s pets. The Bird fingered his winnings and thought about buying the man’s lad a rabbit instead.
In the line at the shop the lad held his mother’s hand and rubbed the back of his leg with the toe of his shoe. From behind, the Bird recognized the shape of the earlobes and his heart tightened.
“How’s the Bird?” Mrs. Flavin asked from the counter.
He reddened, coughed, muttered, “Game ball, game ball.”
The mother turned around and gave him a look that spoke volumes in its silence.
“How’s the lad, Mairé?” he asked.
She put the Woman’s Weekly and the boy’s lucky bag on the counter and banged down her coins.