Sixteen Seconds

2300 words
Originally published September 2013
Out of Print Blog

It was a day in March.

The sky was a flat, unimaginative northwest gray. Rain had been pouring for most of the afternoon while Charlotte ran her errands and then, just to be cheeky, wound down to a drizzle and finally stopped when she at last took shelter in the appointed cafe. Why couldn’t the month make up its damn mind whether it wanted to be spring or winter? It was hailing that morning for chrissake and it would be another two months before sunny weather became reliable. March was just a dismal reminder that pleasant weather was still a long way off. It should stop pretending to be spring, already.

The dark roast face in Charlotte’s coffee glowered sourly up at her as she stared into her cup. It was too expensive, too bitter and too hot to drink. She stirred in another packet of honey with nothing else to do. Aidan was late again, surprise surprise.

In her purse her phone buzzed. For a full minute she ignored it, blowing softly on the surface of her coffee, peeling away the heat one layer at a time in between each muffled vibration. Eventually, it gave up and stilled. She waited another minute before bringing her paper cup to her lips, scalding them again. She couldn’t have one victory — not one single victory today! Soaked to her skin by the rain, abandoned by Aidan, pestered by her phone, and burned by the one comfort she could usually count on. She clicked her tongue angrily and thrust her hand into her purse for her phone. Might as well just accept things as there were today.

She didn’t need to check it to know who had called. It was Suzie; the woman had been calling her all day. Her voicemail icon displayed a hopeful notification and disinterested, Charlotte tapped it and began counting.

It took sixteen seconds for her voicemail to get through all of the automated recordings telling her needless information: the date, the time, how many calls she had and how much space remained in her inbox. She didn’t care. She cared less about the message. At the end of sixteen seconds she flicked 7 on her screen, deleting it, and put it out of her mind.

Another honey packet went into her coffee and with her cheek pressed unflatteringly in her palm, she stared at the soggy world outside. Despite the weather, the streets were still busy with people just as soaked as she was. The rain seemed to have no effect on them. Like limp paper cutouts they carried on their business, expressionless and efficient. She envied them. She’d lived here her entire life and yet every year when the rains came and lingered for months like an unwanted relative she cursed the persistence of it, as though she’d never known a six month rainy season in her twenty-six years.

Her phone began to buzz again, edging threateningly closer to the edge of the table but she ignored it – spitefully now. The rain started again, coming down in full force and a black-capped mushroom grove of umbrellas popped up under it. Occasionally a brightly colored umbrella would bob by, on its own stubbornly rebellious against the gray of their world but Charlotte knew better; eventually, the rainy city bullied everything into monochromatics.

Fourteen… fifteen…sixteen. She turned her head without lifting it, mashing her cheek into her lips and she flicked the delete command again. Her phone sat reproachfully silent at the edge of the table. She slid it back into her purse and sighed, refusing to be guilted by a piece of technology.

Her stomach excused itself obnoxiously under her damp cardigan. There was no use in her starving while she waited; if Aidan had really wanted to eat lunch with her, he would have been on time. She stood and collected her purse. Her phone remained thankfully silent.

There were no other customers at the counter and the barista behind it looked for a moment as though she’d done her job in serving Charlotte once and wouldn’t do so again kindly. With aspartame sweetness she asked, “What can I get you?”

“The spring salad; low fat dressing. Do you have any more fruit cups?”

“No, sorry, we just sold the last one. Would you like a fruit tart instead?”

If Charlotte could eat a fruit tart, she wouldn’t have ordered wilted greens and a tasteless vinaigrette. She thrust her irritation into her purse in exchange for her wallet.

“No, that’s fine, just the salad.”

“Okay then— seven ninety-nine.”

A despairing sigh left Charlotte before she could check it, but she laid her last ten dutifully on the counter and watched it distill down into a handful of coins.

“Thanks,” she said, or thought she said— hoped she’d said as she took her change and her lunch and sat again. It wasn’t much of a meal, all things considered. A few brown edged leaves of romaine, cucumber sliced so thinly it could pass for a microscope slide and— was that dandelion?! Who the hell put weeds in a salad? Her head returned heavily to her hand and she mixed the deceptively sweet smelling vinaigrette into the over priced plastic bowl of yard trimmings. In her purse, her phone buzzed again. Why couldn’t Suzie take a hint? The woman couldn’t comprehend anything existing outside of her sphere of influence. It irritated Charlotte enough to be deliberately avoidant, just to throw a wrench in her plans. If she could, she’d tell Oliver outright that his mother’s micromanagement and constant badgering were suffocating, but then she’d have to deal with the hurt puppy looks and the passive aggressive silences.

She was halfway through her salad when the door banged open and shut and a new breeze of cold and wet spilled in. Moments later Aidan stood over her, shaking the rain from his coat onto the table and floor around him. Charlotte moved her purse and regretted for a brief, petulant moment that it also invited a seat for him. His childishness was starting to rub off on her and she lifted her head and straightened her back to hide it.

“You look like you’ve had better days.”

“Something like that.”

“Whatcha eating?”

“Weeds.”

“Sounds appetizing.”

“You’re late.” Her eyes turned up to him as he sat. She must have looked or sounded more accusatory than she’d intended. He frowned right back at her until she sighed and looked away. That look. That damnable, stony, chiding look that made her feel like a kid caught in the cookie jar again.

“Sorry,” she muttered without wanting to.

After a moment, the hardness of his expression cracked and broke away and his usual sunny features shone through. “Don’t worry about it. It’s the weather you know? Dark skies make people dark on the inside.”

“Except you?”

He grinned. “Except me. They serve anything here besides weeds?”

“Probably. Did you bring your bank account?”

“Even better.” He flashed her the gold surface of a MasterCard and then was gone again.

She took another sip of her coffee— too cold now, of course but at least the caffeine stood a chance at improving her mood. She stared spitefully into her half eaten salad.

Her phone went off again. She could almost feel Suzie’s impatience in every clipped buzz. They were even timed the same as the woman’s nervous lip smacks. She brought her phone out of exile just as the vibrations stopped. Three new messages. She was about to delete them all out of hand, when she noticed one was from Aidan. She tapped on the 1 key and brought the phone to her ear.

“Hey babe, it’s Aidan. I’ll be a bit late. Traffic around here is a nightmare. Don’t wait- go on and get something to eat. I’ll grab something later. See you soon.”

The message ended and she sighed. Only Aidan could make her feel so guilty with such friendly words. Well, Aidan and Oliver, if she thought about it. She didn’t want to think about it.

“Who was that?” Aidan dropped into the seat opposite her, surrounded by the smell of stracchino cheese and chives. Her mouth watered against her will and she quickly drowned it in another sip of coffee.

“No one. Just messages.”

“Yeah? Did you get mine?” He set a white paper package in front of her. It radiated warmth and was losing its opaqueness to grease.

“Just now.” She picked open the moist paper and stared at the cheese and chicken melted mess inside. “Aidan, you know I can’t-”

He held up a hand, his other cradling his own sandwich. “Come on, one meal off your diet isn’t going to hurt anything. Besides, everyone cheats, you know.”

There was something in the cheeky way that he said it that she didn’t appreciate. She almost sent the sandwich back across the table to him but another look down (it dolefully oozed a tendril of cheese to the paper) changed her mind. Of course, he was right – and God, it was good!

Her hone rang again.

“Fuck. I can’t even eat my lunch in peace.” Muttered of course; who knew where an overly sensitive parent might be lurking.

Aidan snatched her phone off the table while she was busy licking cheese off her lingers.

“Suzie, huh? You want me to answer for you?” He grinned an evil grin, his thumb hovering devilishly over the display.

“No!” She grabbed the phone before he could press the bright green button, careful not to nudge it herself. He lifted a shoulder.

“You’re still with Oliver, then?”

She dropped back into her purse. There was a grease smear on it that she’d have to clean up later.

“Yes, I’m still with Oliver.” She was so tired of this conversation. Life would be much simpler if Aidan would just live in the now.

“Are you ever going to tell him?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you still love him?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Do you love me?”

“Of course.”

There was silence between them. Her coffee grew colder, but she was determined to enjoy her calorie bomb of a sandwich while it was still warm, Aidan and Oliver and Suzie be damned —double damned for making her second guess her choices. She was an adult, damnit! in control of her own life. Whose business was it anyway whose bed she was in?

“So,” Aidan sighed at last. “What does mother hen want?”

It took everything in her not to send him the warning kick he deserved — he didn’t need to be so antagonistic, even if he had every right to be. She nibbled up a string of cheese sullenly.

“Nothing important. There’s a gallery opening she wants me to attend. I haven’t gotten back to her yet.”

“When’s the opening?”

“Tonight.”

“Oh.” He hid his expression behind his own paper coffee cup. Four sugar and a teaspoon of cream. She didn’t know how he could tell the difference, but she’d given him two teaspoons of cream on purpose one morning and he’d sent her back to the kitchen with a warning and a swat to her ass. Confident and casually in command —she supposed it was what drew her to him in the first place. It was so easy to give control over to him when he miraculously made it seem like she was still the one in charge.

“I guess dinner and a movie are out then, huh?”

“I told you noon. It’s not my fault you were late.”

“No, but you could have at least set out a whole day for me. We used to do that you know. Whole days.”

“I know,” she said, and set her mostly eaten sandwich back on the table. She’d never been fond of crusts.

He sighed again. “Look, no pressure, but think about it. You’re complicating your life needlessly and you’re going to end up hurting him, one way or another. You know that.”

She knew it, though it was somehow worse that he knew it.

In her purse, her phone began buzzing angrily again. They both stared at it and it seemed to Charlotte that this time that the vibrations had no intention of shutting off. Aidan stood, collected their trash and headed to the bin. When he returned, Charlotte and her phone were silent.

“You should probably call her,” he said quietly. Charlotte nodded. “Will you be free later? After the opening?”

“Maybe. You know how Suzie is with her family outings. It could be a while. It could be all night.”

“Well, give me a call if you want to come over. If you’re not held up overnight. I’ll probably be up.” He wouldn’t be, but he’d pretend that were the case, if she called him. She watched him leave without saying goodbye. He’d understand she had a lot of heavy thoughts on her mind, after all, he’d put them there.

The rain had stopped again, and here and there a few fingers of sunlight poked through the dark cloud cover. Umbrellas snapped closed and jackets unbuttoned. Charlotte watched Aidan’s head bob up and down in the crowd, turn the corner and then disappear.

She stood and slid into her coat. Her purse buzzed against her back. Outside, she finally obliged her phone and held it to her ear.

“Hello?—

“Suzie! Hey, how are you?—

“No, no, I’m all right—

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve been running errands all day. The rain has just made it impossible—

“Of course I’ll be there. Is Sophia coming?—

“Great! Tell Oliver I’ll be around at about six—

“Of course I’m staying for dinner. I wouldn’t miss it for the world—”

 

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W is for…

WW is for wonderful, witty, and whimsical:

Walls, Jeanette
Watson, SJ
Watt-Evans, Lawrence
Weeks, Brent
Wilde, Oscar
Wilson, Catherine M.
Williams, Tad
Wolfe, Gene
Wrede, Patricia C.

Finally some more books to talk about! That last post was so embarrassing.

To start with, I don’t know much about Jeanette Walls or her book The Glass Castle. This book is Alex’s, and I suppose she had her own reasons for buying it. It’s on my 2014 reading list, but until I get down that far, you’ll have to wait for my synopsis and review.

We were given Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson by a coworker who gave us a detailed summary of it. If memory serves, it’s like the movie Memento, only with less violence and a female protagonist. Interesting. I’ll have to give it a read.

I love Lawrence Watt-Evens‘s writing. The first book I read of his was Dragon Weather, which I picked up because I had my own definition as to what dragon weather was, and I was interested in what a published author’s vision was compared to mine. (Note, my 15 year old self decided that dragon weather was when the clouds in the sky all looked like dragons. Many a summer afternoon was spent on the trampoline sketching. Good times.) In any case, I read Dragon Weather and Dragon Venom but haven’t gotten to Dragon Society yet. I have read The Misenchanted Sword though, which I highly enjoyed.

I went back home to Canada last Christmas and came back with over a dozen new books. Brent Weeks‘s The Way of Shadows was one of them. It’s so new it doesn’t even have any dust on its cover yet, so it goes without saying that I haven’t read it. The bookstore check out lady told me that I’d enjoy it, and should buy the whole series. I almost told her about my experience with Magic’s Pawn, but thought the better of it. My brother was impatient to leave anyway.

I had friends in high school who crushed on Oscar Wilde, but after admitting my secret attraction to John Keats, who am I to judge? I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in 8th grade, but never finished it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, but like so many other classics that I started and abandoned at that time, I just wasn’t ready to enjoy it as fully as I can now. I’ll absolutely be returning to this book, I just have to figure out when.

Like The Glass Castle, Catherine M. Wilson‘s When Women Were Warriors is Alex’s book. I’m under the impression that she bought it for research purposes, but other than that, I can’t tell you much else about it. Sorry.

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams is one of the books that pops up on my Goodreads recommendations page all the time. When I finally reached it on my wishlist, I was quite pleased to finally have a copy of it. First of all, I was surprised by how big it is. That book towers over most of the rest in my collection. Also, it has an index of all the names in the book, which I really, really appreciate, because my goldfish memory makes it very hard for me to keep track of people in places for the first third of a book–before I’ve had a chance to attach myself to any character or plot arc enough to really care about it. I’m looking forward to reading this one, though sadly, I bought it late in 2013, so it missed my reading list for this year.

I bought The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe on a recommendation. Haven’t read it. Plan to read it. You know the drill by now.

Finally, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and the three books that come after it captured my heart as a child and I’ve never been able to let them go. I read them first as borrowed library books and when I entered adulthood with my pockets overflowing with money (ha!) I still remembered them and bought my own copies. Wrede has written in this series an amazing female protagonist. She’s Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess for MG audiences. The fairy tale / magic world is adorable, tangible, flipped and ridiculous. Shrek before the was Shrek. The dragons are intelligent, emotional and have their own society, laws, and history. I’ll always love this series; it will forever bring me back to my childhood.

 

I’m bursting with Ws today! Have any more for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above authors or their books too!

H is for…

HH is for Hell, humor, and Helen of Troy:

Hambly, Barbara
Henry, O.
H.M.C.
Hesse, Hermann
Hobb, Robin
Homer
Huff, Tanya

addendum:

Hines, Jim C.

Here again we have a collection of books I haven’t read. Pitiful, just pitiful.

We’ll start with Barbara Hambly, because I have read her, and also because I’ve been trying to do these things in alphabetical order. Have you noticed? First off, I loved Dragonsbane for several reasons: The main character is a homely, married woman who is well able to take care of herself; it’s got a really cool dragon character; the magic is impressive and unique; the dragon talks. Dragonshadow started to get weird for me. The introduction of the demons and body snatching as well as a great dislike for the villains and scenes that started to get incestuous all came together to both confuse me and diminish my enjoyment of the book. The cliffhanger ending to Knight of the Demon Queen was the final nail in the coffin for this series however, and I’ve been hesitant to read the fourth book, or even to restart the series again, even though I’ll probably enjoy it more now that I’m older. Writers, beware of your cliffhangers!

O. Henry‘s Gift of the Magi is a great collection of down to earth, witty short stories that are sure to put a smile on your face. Born William Sidney Porter, Henry was a pharmacist, artist, ranch hand, baby sitter, draftsman, bank teller and journalist before he was a writer. He too was arrested on suspicion of embezzling funds from the bank at which he worked. His father-in-law bailed him out but before Henry could make it to his next court appointment, he fled the country to Honduras where he befriended a train robber. When he finally returned to Texas to be with his dying wife, he was sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges. I almost want to say that his life was more interesting than his stories, but that would be a lie. His stories are wonderful, and if you haven’t had a chance to read them, you should.

H.M.C. is a good friend of mine and the administrator for the short story blog to which I contribute bi-annually. Her debut novel, White Walls was released last year, and if you like psych ward thrillers, you should definitely check it out.

Demian, by Hermann Hesse is another book on my 2014 reading list (I can’t even remember what number I’m on anymore). Alex gives this book high recommendations, and I generally trust her taste in books. Due to a geographic anomaly, Hesse was born with both Russian and German citizenship. After spending some time in a depressed stage in his youth, and having an increasingly difficult relationship with his parents, Hesse attempted suicide and was later admitted to a mental institution before he at last completed his schooling.

I haven’t read anything by Robin Hobb yet, and my knowledge of the fantasy genre suffers because of it. I’m taking recommendations for her work, in addition to the two books I already have in my reading queue.

While I haven’t read The Illiad, this year I did read Homer‘s The Odyssey and I really enjoyed it. The translation that I read (pictured) uses very easily accessible, modern English to tell the story clearly. I feel like a little bit of my education in basic classics has been filled now.

Nick Hornby is a very successful writer of seven novels, but the only one I have read is High Fidelity. I really enjoyed this book as one of the ones assigned in my university literature class. Like Lucky Jim it was a book that really made me think about my life and my relationships, not always in a happy light. Good books do that.

Finally, one of my favorite books of all time, Wizard of the Grove by Tanya Huff. There’s just something in this book that always draws me in–the mythology, the magic, the tangled love story, that Death is once again a freaking awesome character. Wizard of the Grove has influenced my writing in a number of ways, and it’ll always be a book I’ll cherish.

Because I’m a terrible person, I totally forgot Jim C. Hines. To be fair, all my hard covers are on a different shelf because they’re too big. So I’m correcting myself now. I haven’t read Libriomancer yet, but Alex has, and she assures me that I’ll love it. I’m definitely curious.

 

 

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Like what you see up here? What do you think of these authors and their works? Let me know in the comments.

F is for…

FF is for fat, fantasy, and filling space:

Feist, Raymond E.
Fielding, Helen
Flewelling, Lynn
Forester, C. S.

The only book out of these four that I’ve read is Bridget Jones’s Diary, so unless I can pull up some interesting information on C. S. Forester, that’s the only one I’ll talk about in detail here.

 

I have been recommended books by Raymond E. Feist for a long time. That Magician: Apprentice has finally made it to my shelf is a good sign that it will be read sometime, possibly soon. It is, after all, the sixth book on my 2014 reading list.

I read Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding in university. Of the books with female characters which we read in that class, I didn’t feel all that excited about it at the end. Perhaps it was because there was little in Bridget that I could personally relate to. Her problems as a woman didn’t connect with my problems as a woman (we have very different priorities) so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery.

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling is another fantasy book with LGBT themes that I want to read. If only I had clones of myself to read all the good books on my shelf. Sci-fi, you have failed me.

C. S. Forester wrote many books about navel warfare, including Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (pictured), which was made into an A&E television series. Interestingly, he also knew Roald Dahl, and encouraged him to write about his experiences in the Royal Air Force.

 

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Getting tired of me saying that I haven’t read these books? Which ones should I absolutely read soon and why? Let me know in the comments.

 

E is for…

EE is for empty, emotionless, and endless:

Enchi, Fumiko
Ende, Michael
Erikson, Steven

 

For those of you following along for the whole challenge, phew, light post again today. For those who are just joining in today, this is not indicative of my whole collection, I swear. E is just a light letter for authors. How many people do you know with a last name starting with the letter E?

Onwards.

Masks by Fumiko Enchi was on my reading list last year, and came as a recommended read while I was pushing through The Tale of Genji. It does borrow themes from that ancient work, and makes several allusions to it, however, like a lot of modern Japanese writing I’ve read, this book left me kind of cold. The plot itself is interesting, but none of the characters show the sorts of emotions you’d expect from the situations they are placed in. I suppose it could be a cultural difference, but the lack of any sort of conclusion or consequence in the book left me wondering what the point was.

Michael Ende‘s The Neverending Story is fifth on my 2014 reading list. Ende wrote literature for people of all ages, and was often frustrated to be branded as a children’s author only. Many YA authors these days might share his sentiment that it is difficult writing for young people, when critics jump at the chance to attack youth genres and those who write in them. Ende believed that writing was “primarily a question of patience,” and like many new novelists, his first work also received a string of rejections before it was finally accepted.

At about the middle of last year I realized that there were far, far too many books in my genre that I hadn’t read, so I started accepting recommendations from all over the place to fill the gaps. Steven Erikson‘s Gardens of the Moon is one such book, but I have not yet had the chance to read it.

 

 

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There’s got to be some more E authors I could put on my shelf. Have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments.

2013: Some Bookish Stats

Everyone likes a good look back at the previous twelve months at year’s end. No? Only me? Well, since it’s Christmas time, and I assume that no one is actually paying attention to the last few blog posts of the year, I’ll slip this one in right now. You’re more than free to click away if you’ve got something better to do. Probably more turkey eating or wine drinking. If, however, you’re trying to escape relatives for a few precious moments under the guise of ‘very important emails from the office to tend to’, please enjoy the visual summary below of my 2013 reading list:

thanks but this isn't for us tMoFSF sep-oct the elements of style the halloween tree civilization and its discontents scaramouche the incrementalists shadowdance The unicorn sonata leviathan yurei attack yokai attack sandman-the dream hunters Hawkwoods voyage tMoFSF july-aug The woman in white landmarks of scientific socialism- anti-duehring lord of light TMoFSF may-june Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde The gift of the magi The devil's dictionary 50 great american short stories One flew over the cuckoos nest plot & structure expletive deleted A book of five rings the scarlet pimpernel mythical creatures bible characters viewpoint & emotion womansword Description & setting Masks Book_SunMoonStars

books 2013 piebook format 2013

Ooo, colorful graphs and all.

My goal was to read fifty books this year. Turns out that was just a little bit ambitious. I got through thirty-four in the end, which isn’t all that bad, I think. I’ll try to set a more realistic goal for the new year. I read much more non-fiction than I figured I would, and read a disturbingly small amount of fantasy. This needs to be corrected in the new year. I had a lot of fun reviewing [the fiction books] once I realized that I could do that–give my opinions of written works. In a public place. Where people will read them. GAH!

Mostly, I just enjoyed reading again. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the last five years, I really haven’t had a chance to read much at all. Moving out of my parent’s house, starting university and moving to the other side of the world were just a few of the hectic life changes that have kept me from the sort of leisure time that I would spend with a good book in the past. Unfortunately this means that my reading library ended after high school, while my tastes have matured along with me. I’ve missed out on a lot of good books, new and old. Now, fortunately–and with the help of many likewise bookishly minded friends– I’m discovering some of those great reads for the first time.

So, for all you book lovers out there desperate for a few more minutes of alone time before braving the family holiday drama once again, what were your favorite books of 2013 and which books (preferably fantasy or science fiction) do you consider must reads?

The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars: Afterthoughts

One of the great pleasures of reading is finding the rare book that really speaks to you.  There are lots of great books around, and certainly no shortage of page-turners entertaining enough to blast through in a few days, but the few books that connect with something in your own personal experience are a special kind of treat.

For me, The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars is such a book. There were lots of little things that I could relate to, from the martial arts references to the accurate depiction of the sometimes painstaking, sometimes mesmerizing artistic process—even the folktale told piecemeal throughout the main narrative brought me fluttering back to the nights of my childhood with my copy of The Book of Goodnight Stories and all the delightful fairy tales within it. Anyone who creates artistically can find something to relate to in this book and its central theme: what does it mean to be successful as an artist?

Book_SunMoonStarsAt first I didn’t like this cover. Now I love it.

As with the rest of Brust’s work, The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars is hard to summarize as parts separate from the whole; like a spider’s web, when you start picking at one thread, it vibrates over to the next and the next until the whole thing is jiggling. The interconnection of each new string of the story loops together elegantly into the next, seemingly at random, but a pattern eventually emerges with rhyme and reason and assuredness that makes a reader comfortable in the knowledge that the author knows exactly where this is going.

The first person narration tells the story of Greg, an artist struggling (as most artists—and indeed most people—do at one point or another) with financial, directional and relationship difficulties. He and his friends have an art studio that they can barely keep up the rent on, their works aren’t selling, and their last and only chance of being recognized could optimistically be expressed as a shot in the dark. As stress grows, tensions snap over what is good, worthwhile art, and when—if ever—one should give up the dream. In the midst of it all, Greg works on his personal project: the Monster—a giant canvas that calls for a certain kind of painting, whatever that might be.

Throughout the main story arc the reader is given short glimpses of Greg’s past that make the characters pop alive on the pages. Each chapter also gives the reader a little look into Greg’s artistic mind—what it means to create art, the purpose of art and the often bare-souled road of discovery which that insight sometimes requires.

Then there’s the folktale element of the story. While not directly paralleling the main plot (that I could see, but I’ve always been terrible at literary analysis) it intersects in small ways that put a smile on my face.

Csucskári the Gypsy and his two brothers have been tasked by the king to place the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky to bring light to a world that exists only in darkness. Luckily for them, Csucskári is a taltos and clever to boot, as there are a multitude of dangerous obstacles waiting for them on their quest. I won’t summarize it further because I think these kinds of stories lose a lot of their charm in summation, but it has all the elements of the folk stories that I loved as a child, from repetition to active narrator to the nonsense logic that somehow makes perfect sense. Far from making the book as a whole awkward to read, the folktale parts were as enjoyable and anticipated as Greg’s own storyline.

But the real treat of the book is Brust’s writing style. He has a way of creating flawed yet affable characters that, in conjunction with first person narration, translates to a very real, very human voice. Additionally, the way the story is parceled out, in a broken, non-linear fashion keeps reader attention high for the next spotlight to be turned on and throw the shadows off another corner of the stage.

“If you’re going to paint a pretty landscape, at least give the viewer something to do. In this you aren’t suggesting anything, you’re just making the statement, ‘It was a nice day at the park.’ Well, so what?”

There are plenty of little parallels like the one above between painting and writing, or music making, or sculpture, or cooking, or whatever form of art you can think of to be found in this book. In the end, the message remains that art, in whatever incarnation it takes, has the shared function of connecting people in emotion and experience.

As artistic creators, we put a piece of our soul into everything we make. A piece of who we are is preserved in paint, or word, or sound, to be interpreted—for better or worse—by whoever comes across it. There is a shared human experience that is a conduit through which art can reach people across time, language, race, gender, etc. and in this way, connects us to those we might otherwise share little with.

I set up my easel and sculpt a tune of mixed metaphor.

This is perhaps the best summation of the book, and without a doubt my favorite line within it.  As different as the mediums may be, all art forms have the same power to connect people to each other. To that end, I think this book serves its purpose rather well.

Sixteen Seconds

My latest short story Sixteen Seconds just went live on Out of Print!

March is conspiring against Charlotte, a young woman who just wants to enjoy her life, guilt free. But between her boyfriend’s mother harassing her and the devil-may-care attitude of her man on the side, a life of conscience free pleasures might be as hard to come by as reliable weather in March.

In her purse her phone buzzed. For a full minute she ignored it, blowing softly on the surface of her coffee, peeling away the heat one layer at a time in between each muffled vibration. Eventually, it gave up and stilled. She waited another minute before bringing her paper cup to her lips, scalding them again. She couldn’t have one victory — not one single victory today! Soaked to her skin by the rain, abandoned by Aidan, pestered by her phone, and burned by the one comfort she could usually count on. She clicked her tongue angrily and thrust her hand into her purse for her phone. Might as well just accept things as there were today.

Check out the full story here.