Friday, March 29, 2019

News Flash


My story, "A City Like Any Other," is live today at Flash Fiction Magazine.

Naturally, it's flash fiction, which means it's 1000 words or less. Though mine is exactly 1000 words. No more, no less.

There's something else interesting about this story. Check it out--it's a really quick read!--and let me know if you discover the secret. 

While you're there, take a look at some of the other great stories by FFM's talented writers. It's a great way to start your Friday or spend some time this weekend.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Dream Theater: Disney Television!

Image from The Beaufort Gazette
Once again I dreamed I was working in an advertising agency. (This is how I spent the majority of my career.)

It was a small shop with a modest client list, and we were working on a new-business pitch. To help us, someone had brought in their friend Bob.

Bob was this old guy, in a stretched out golf shirt tucked into brown polyester pants. If he’d ever had a prime, he was well past it.

But he claimed to have a great idea: "Disney Television." He wanted us to propose creating a brand new TV channel for our client and calling it Disney Television. The name alone would guarantee "a lot of eyeballs" he promised. 

I listened to all this incredulously and finally raised my hand. "Doesn’t Disney already have a TV division?" I asked. "And lots of channels?" No one, Bob especially, seemed happy about me bringing up the obvious.

We thanked Bob for his time and broke for lunch. I was surprised to find that P_____ was working there, too. She was always pretty sharp, and I asked her to get something to eat with me.

While we were walking I asked what she really thought about Bob and his idea. Were we really going to move forward with it?

P_____ told me Bob’s claim to fame was that he used to run a newsletter for barbers. He’d given her an article from it as way of presenting his credentials. Being a copywriter, P_____ naturally felt it was terribly written.

“I just don’t see how creating a whole TV channel called Disney Television is going to help the client," I said.

That’s when I realized Bob had followed us out of the building. He'd heard everything we'd said. Now he was standing next to a wall, one that had been tagged with racist graffiti the night before. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

This is "Us"

2019; written and directed by Jordan Peele

Over the weekend I found myself rushing to the nearest multiplex, eager to get a look at Jordan Peele's extremely well-marketed sophomore effort. 

Everything I'd seen up until that point--the trailers, the enthusiastic reviews from SXSW, the one or two post-release think pieces I couldn't keep myself from reading--led me to believe this was to be one of the most layered and intelligent "horror films" (Peele's own words) released in years.

And it is. But. At the end of the film I left the theater feeling like I'd had a bit too much to eat at Jordan Peele's Creepy-Time 2-for-1 Buffet. 

If this is the first review of Us you've seen, I should probably mention that it's a home invasion thriller in which underground-dwelling doppelgangers take revenge on all of us up here on top of the world.

If that's all Peele's film had done--kept the story and symbolism relatively straight-forward and streamlined--I think he would have emerged with a better film at the end. But perhaps he's trying to double his efforts with this second feature, and in doing so takes on one more metaphor than the story or audience can comfortably handle. 

--SPOILERS AHEAD--

I'm talking about all the Hands Across America stuff that's sprinkled throughout and plays a major role in the third act. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. It pokes a finger in the eye of what was a shallow charity stunt from the mid-eighties, and I'm pretty much all for that pretty much all the time. 

Unfortunately, Peele already has so much good stuff going on in this film. The rich concept of doubles; of an underground race, starved for sunlight and fresh air, waiting to strike; of haves and have-nots and American culture and history.

But Hands Across America forces Peele to take things one or two more steps further than necessary. In doing so, it demands some story-telling gymnastics that just don't add up to much more than what's already gone before. Worse, it forces audiences to ask questions they never should, like "Wait, she was obsessed with Hands Across America?" and "She organized hundreds of millions of people over 33 years?" and "Why now?" and finally, "Huh?" 

(Though the idea does give the film its final, striking image as the "Reds" hold hands over hills and plains while Minnie Riperton's "Les Fleurs" plays in the background. It's lovely and ironic and leaves you humming a tune, but it's still not worth the price and could have been handled some other way.)

I appreciate Peele's work and have been looking forward to Us since first hearing about it. He's an intelligent and provocative writer and director whose first two films changed the conversation about horror by demonstrating what the genre can do beyond merely spilling blood.

In a way, a horror film like Us is not that different from the Reds. It's finally getting its day in the sun, being showered with critical and commercial success. This day has been a long time coming. So what if it goes overboard proving that it's been worthy all along?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Dream Theater: A Writing Class with M_____

Image from NBCChicago.com

The writing class was taking place somewhere out by the old 3M plant, in the little Iowa farm town where I grew up. M_____ had signed up for it, too, and were going together.

We had plenty of time to get there, and boarded a city bus. Only the bus turned out to be traveling in the wrong direction. It would take forever for us to circle around the route to our destination. The longer we stayed on, the more our mistake would end up costing us.

We got off at the next stop and decided to take a cab. Now, it was almost certain we'd arrive late. We wandered all over trying to hail a cab. M_____ even went into a store to get some help, advice, or directions. But when he came out, something had happened to him in there. He was completely disoriented, unsure of when or where he, or we, were. 

Worse, a whole classroom of schoolkids had arrived and were at our back, standing between us and the way out. Once we finally pushed our way through we were on the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive. No cab would ever find us there, or if it did, it would never be able to stop. We walked on the shoulder of the road until we came to an exit, the one for Belmont.

It led to an underground area I'd never seen before. A dark place where nothing but concrete existed, top to bottom, side to side. Taxis passed us by, but none of them would stop. Then a heavyset woman with several suitcases walked right up to, and then past, us.

I knew she needed a cab, too. And sure enough, one appeared and picked her up instead of us. As she was getting in, putting all of those suitcases into the trunk, I saw an opportunity to take her purse without being noticed. She deserved it for taking our cab.

Almost immediately I started having second thoughts about what I'd done. I opened the purse, thinking that I'd find some ID inside and be able to return it to her. Inside there were wads of cash, fifties, hundreds, bills so big I'd never seen them before.

M_____ and I moved on. Now all we could do was call the instructor and say that we were running late. That way they'd at least save our spots. M_____ had all the information in his backpack. The number was right there on the first page. 

Now all we needed to do was find a phone.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Dream Theater: A Visit From a Women I Used to Work With

Photo by SouthBranchChicago.com
My parents were running a bed and breakfast, in a big old house that was visibly run-down. As I walked through the rooms and hallways for the first time, noting the tattered wallpaper and thread-bare furniture, I couldn't believe how much responsibility they'd taken on. Especially considering that they'd both been dead for years.

I paused to look through one of the windows, and found C_____ relaxing on a chaise lounge in the yard. She was either staying with my parents or at the BnB right next door. It had been so long since we'd seen each other, and she'd always been one of my favorite people at D_____. I wanted to say hello, but no matter how much I knocked on the window she couldn't hear me.

Maybe I was upset. Or maybe I had errands to run. Either way, I got into my old Nissan and drove off, and soon found myself in Chicago, in an industrial area somewhere west of Lakeview. 

I parked my car and decided to walk, heading north and west. I got on and off the El, at stops I didn't recognize. I visited stores and galleries that were so strange and unfamiliar I sometimes wondered if I was still in Chicago at all. 

Before long I realized I had to return to the BnB. But I'd forgotten where I'd left my car. All I could do was trace my way back in the general direction I'd come. But I was so far away, there were so many side streets, and I kept making wrong turns. The sky began to grow dark.

I passed a restaurant with outdoor seating. C_____ was there with a bunch of other women who'd worked at D_____, laughing and having drinks. Somehow I understood that she was leaving town soon, and this was the last chance I'd have to say hello. I called her name and waved, and though she was happy to see me I also knew I was intruding on their get-together.

One of the women came out to have a cigarette, and said she was now splitting her time between Chicago and Phoenix. I told her the way things were going here in Chicago, she was better off spending all her time there. People were losing their cars here, and some never found them again.