Aug 242010

Jacob, the contrarian, during the EPE (Photo by Jonah Glover)




[Augusto] Monterroso is perhaps most famous for his short story “The Dinosaur,” which is said to be literature’s shortest story. It reads in full:

When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.

In an 1996 interview with Ilan Stavans for the Massachusetts Review, Monterroso recalled some early reviews of “The Dinosaur”: “I still have the very first reviews of the book: critics hated it. Since that point on I began hearing complaints to the effect that it isn’t a short-story. My answer is: true, it isn’t a short story, it’s actually a novel.”

Brevity was, to say the least, an important concept for Monterroso. His essay “Fecundity” is included in The Oxford Book of Latin American Essays. It reads in full:

Today I feel well, like a Balzac; I am finishing this line.

—from Tom McCartan’s Crib notes on “What Bolaño Read”

The Contest

Okay, the long-awaited next Numéro Cinq literary contest, The First Annual Numéro Cinq Novel-in-a-Box/Memoir-in-a-Box Contest. The rules are pretty simple this time. You have to write an entire (don’t cut corners) novel or a memoir (personal narrative) consisting of 9 (a mystic number) chapters and each chapter can be no more than 5 lines long. (By lines, I mean the number of lines that appear on the comment box on the blog.) Fewer lines if you can. Try to remember what a novel is like: at least a couple of characters or more (usually), a conflict, development through a series of dramatic actions, etc. Alternatively, try to remember what a memoir looks like: a first person narrator (and a couple of other people or more), a thematically continuous narrative line often based on a conflict and or theme, development through a series of dramatic moments or incidents, etc. Indicate on your entry whether it is fiction or non-fiction (there will be separate prizes). (Note that in the Monterroso story quoted above there ARE two characters, the guy and the dinosaur.)

The contest is open to any living, sentient being in the universe. It is not limited to people who are already on the blog or VCFA students or former students. Everyone is welcome, and also welcome to join in other conversations or suggest topics.

Entries will be accepted between September 1 and September 15, 2010 (midnight), and should be written in English (Gary) and attached as comments to this post (the usual practice at NC).

Remember the values we hold dear here at Numéro Cinq: WIT & ARROGANCE. Remember Gordon Lish’s phrase ATTACK SENTENCES!

P.S. Anyone who mentions the insidious phrase “flash fiction” will have his or her comment deleted from the blog. I mean this! Delete it from your minds. This is not a flash fiction contest.


  164 Responses to “The First Annual Numéro Cinq Novel-in-a-Box/Memoir-in-a-Box Contest”

  1. A line in this comment box is 54 characters, in case anyone is interested.

  2. This is my favorite contest idea yet. Working on mine now.

  3. Nice to see you here, Corey. Stick around.

  4. I keep thinking about this. Typical Hemingway, terse and going straight for the Lowest Common Denominator of sentimentality.

    The dinosaur novel may be excessively wordy by comparison, but it has wit and intelligence.

    I feel an essay coming on.

  5. Note: If you want your story to come out the same number of lines on the blog as you type it in the comment box, you will have to use a hard return at the end of each line. If you use word wrap, your line breaks won’t come out the same. This comment, as I typed it in the box using word wrap, was six lines.

    • I like it, Vivian. When are the next eight parts coming?

      • You like what, Gary? I didn’t submit anything yet. I’m on Chapter 7. Can we submit before September 1?

        • Vivian’s novel:

          Chapter 1

          Note: If you want your story to come out the same number of lines on the blog as you type it in the comment box, you will have to use a hard return at the end of each line. If you use word wrap, your line breaks won’t come out the same. This comment, as I typed it in the box using word wrap, was six lines.

          Chapter 2 . . . .

          Keep going!

          • No, that isn’t chapter 1, Gary, this is chapter one:

            Maid in a Box: A (Very) Short Fiction
            Once upon a time there was a fair young maid (the
            fairest of the land) whose wicked stepmother kept her
            in a box. During chapter one, her six wicked step-
            sisters amused themselves by taunting her and poking
            her with sticks through the spaces between the boards.

            (I’m trying to see if it works with the hard returns.)

  6. I got anal and counted words on random comments throughout the NC universe. I would say you have 60-70 words per segment. I’m using my first segment to describe the unwanted pregnancy, the Crimean War scenes and the Arctic expedition. I may go a little over.

  7. My next packet submission and contest posting may be suspiciously similar.

  8. Apropos of not much, the judge just made the National Post list of top ten most underrated (by whom??) Canadian writers —

    Here’s what they said:

    Glover might seem like an odd choice, since he did win the GG in 2003 for Elle, but it was a review of that book in Maclean’s that also identified him as “probably the most eminent unknown Canadian writer alive” (he was a student of Clark Blaise, you see). And how much has changed? Glover’s transgressive brand of historical fiction hasn’t won him the wide readership that more conventional practitioners of the form enjoy, and his short stories have received about as much attention as those of any other short story writer whose name isn’t Alice Munro. He deserves a higher profile.


  9. Maid in a Box: A Shorter-than-Usual Fiction
    Once upon a time there was a fair young maid (the
    fairest of the land) whose wicked stepmother kept her
    in a box. During chapter one, her seven wicked step-
    sisters amused themselves by taunting her and poking
    her with sticks through the spaces between the boards.
    One day, at the beginning of chapter two, a handsome
    prince arrived at the fair young maid’s house looking
    for the fairest of the land. The stepmother trotted out
    her seven hideous daughters, but of course the prince
    was unimpressed, and left to continue his search.
    The handsome prince spent the better part of chapter
    three visiting every house in his kingdom without
    finding the fairest of the land, so he decided to give an
    elaborate and sumptuous ball to see if a fair young
    maid might attend whom he had missed in his search.
    Meanwhile, back in the box, the fair maid was feeling a
    little cramped. After all, she had been living in this box
    since long before chapter one, and she was getting too
    big for it. She complained, to no avail, so near the end
    of chapter four she tried to figure out a way to escape.
    By chapter five the fair young maid had decided that
    she needed a fairy godmother. She consulted the mice
    that usually run around the cellars of once-upon-a-
    time houses, but they didn’t understand what she was
    talking about, so she kept pondering till chapter six.
    When she woke up early in chapter six, the fair young
    maid saw a white cat outside the box, thinking. “Fairy
    godmother?” she said. “Meow,” replied the cat, trans-
    forming immediately into a beautiful white-gowned
    woman in a shiny tiara, a sparkling wand in her hand.
    “It’s already chapter seven, and I’m not even dressed!”
    cried the fair young maid. “I don’t have a pumpkin,”
    said the fairy godmother. “Never mind that,” said the
    maid, “I can walk. Just get me a party dress and some
    sturdy shoes. Not those glass things you people like.”
    The fairy godmother waved her wand, just in time for
    the young maid to make a dramatic chapter-eight
    entrance to the castle ball. The handsome prince,
    instantly recognizing her as the fairest of the land,
    dropped to his knees and proposed. “OK,” she said.
    When he heard her story. the prince was awed. “How
    did you manage all that in such a short time?” he
    asked. “Easy,” she said. “It only took a white cat who
    could think outside the box.” And they lived happily
    ever after, or at least till the end of chapter nine.

    • Sheesh, v. This is taking the novel-in-a-box idea and running with it! Put the main character in the box too and then make pun of it.

      • Everyone, the judges have decided to allow early submissions. Go figure.

      • I love it, Vivian. Now I’m making my novel into a physical, three-dimensional box with the text inside. I just have to figure out how to post it . . .

        • Thanks, Anna Maria. A novel *is* a physical, three-dimensional box with the text inside. Have you ever seen John Steinbeck’s dedication of East of Eden to his editor, Pascal Covici? Here it is:

          Dear Pat,
          You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?”
          I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”
          “What for?”
          “To put things in.”
          “What things?”
          “Whatever you have,” you said.
          Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad, and evil thoughts and good thoughts–the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
          And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
          And still the box is not full.

        • For off the page entries we accept photo albums or videos. 🙂

    • And I love your novel-in-and-out-of-a-box!

    • Did the cat outside the box belong to Schrödinger? ‘Cause that would be funny.

      Unless there was a blue dog chasing it.

  10. Can visitors (I’m a VCFA student) submit a memoir for consideration?

  11. <>

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he did. 🙂

  12. Memoir in a Box:

    It was finally over Didn’t I know it already? Wasn’t it obvious?
    She was right, too – I had no business being surprised. We had been in the middle of the unspoken knowledge for years. It was like living in Chernobyl as desperate Russians were starting to do again now: ignoring the obvious and waiting for the symptoms to show.

    How did I figure out that Ned was sleeping with my ex-wife? I wanted to sell my wedding ring. Nick freaked. Kim said, “I’ll keep it until he’s older.” So I gave it to her, in front of her friends. She called, furious: it was a spiteful thing to do. Ned agreed. Ned? He had to be fucking her. Only one way to be sure: read her diary.

    Why stalk my ex-wife? I wanted to be fully included in my exclusion, in complete control of my helplessness. I found Lisa’s diary in her underwear drawer. Reading it was like a Krav Maga demonstration: pulled by the back of neck into a series of blows, the brutal parody of an intimate embrace. The only solution: walk away.

    The agent said: “When are you moving to L.A?” But I had kids. I couldn’t leave them and I couldn’t take them. But I could resent them and I did.. Then Caity got sick and cleaning her puke off the bathroom walls at two AM I realized: this was what I wanted to be doing. This was where I wanted to be.

    The advantages of divorce: time off, silence. The dishes in the sink are no longer a passive-aggressive statement. They’re just dishes. And no more nonogomy. A much needed new word: being sexually faithful to a woman who’s not fucking you. Happily married, I was the one guy at a party not smoking weed. Now I’m one of the guys. Pass the doobie.

    Maybe divorced men should be quarantined for eight months. The first relationship is always bad – the first pancake you test the griddle with, and invariably throw out. Sasha was a good Catholic girl, so the more obvious erotic encouragements were out of the question. She didn’t want to put anything strange or unusual in her mouth.
    “I don’t even eat sushi,” she said.

    I was happily alone when I met Annie. Solo flights – that was my kind of flying. Solo cups – that was my kind of cup! Han Solo, that was my kind of corny outer space smuggler with a heart of gold! O Solo Mio – that was my kind of Mio. Then we read each other’s work and she kissed me under the Chekhov moon.

    So we moved in together. She endured Caity’s pack of friends she battled Nick over his dirty dishes and won. She went to Grad school and I followed her like a horse clopping after another horse. I was no longer living in the past. It was a physical relief, like taking off a bulky coat I should never have been wearing in the first place.

    My Mom and my brother Peter came to Nantucket for Nick’s graduation. He walked into the house with a bag of groceries. Mom offered to help. He gave her a baffled look, said “I’m fine Mom,” and started unpacking the food. I said, “I guess that’s a look I’m going to have to start getting used to.”
    “Yes,” she said. “But you never will.”

  13. Lars Becomes a Vegan

    “Sometimes I drink too much,” Greta said.
    “Sometimes?” Lars said.
    “Okay, every night,” she said.
    “Lush,” he said. And then Lars made sweet love
    to Greta while she slept.

    When Greta woke she cleaned herself and washed the sheets. Lars brushed his teeth with her dead husband’s toothbrush. When Lars left Greta grilled sourdough bread on her Cuisinart Griddler and ate it with garlic salt and hot sauce.

    Greta drank only apple juice for forty-eight hours. She ate steak and boiled custard even though she’d been vegan for a year. The meat and milk fortified her in a way that wine and tofu could not.

    On the third night Greta slurped a full bottle of Chablis. She drunk-dialed Lars and asked him to bring beef. She was not asking euphemistically, but he was too horny and distracted to know the difference.

    Greta washed the sheets again. This time she used fabric softener that promised to smell of mountain rain.

    Lars leased a Lexus for Greta, who was grateful since her Buick’s transmission was permanently stuck in reverse. Lars’ wife Hilda drove a cream-colored Mercedes.

    When Greta spotted the Mercedes in front of her apartment complex, she called the cops and reported a strange blonde woman photographing children at the swimming pool. Lars’ wife did not return (at least not in the Mercedes).

    Lars proposed to Greta. He said Hilda hated men, him most of all. Greta dropped her gin and tonic in his lap. She called Hilda and they met for coffee and then dinner. Hilda had a nice smile and Greta had great tits.

    Greta and Hilda moved to France and raised ducks. Sometimes they would call Lars on Skype while wearing just their skivvies. Lars couldn’t figure out which one to woo back so he took to drinking Chablis and became a vegan.

    The way she drank her coffee led McNally to his conclusion, the manner in which she grasped the mug and took a deep draught, the effort to quench a thirst he somehow understood. It told him, and it made him tell her. Eventually, they would marry.
    “Really?” said Clara. “What would we tell our friends? When they ask how we met?”
    A casual observer could have taken Clara’s expression for a smirk, but McNally was hardly a casual observer. McNally saw a smile.
    It struck him as a simple question. “SingledOut dot com.”
    “The truth?” she said. “Sounds pretty drastic. Come on. You said you’re a writer. Surely you can do better. Whaddya got?”
    McNally reached down to pet the Weimaraner. He had hesitated about bringing The Big Galoot to a first meeting, but now he recognized it as a stroke of genius. The dog served as an excuse for breaking eye contact, for pausing in his conversation.
    “So there I am, walking down the street, when I hear a voice. I turn and find myself staring into eyes a shade of blue I thought existed in only one place on earth, the deepest crevasse of a glacier. Those eyes make me mistake what I’d heard.
    “Later on, she told me she actually said, ‘Good looking dog.’ But in the heat of the moment what I somehow make out is, ‘Good looking dude. You’re pretty hot. I could be falling in love with you.’ I know, I know. I have got to get my hearing checked.”
    “Jesus. You really are a writer.”
    He had published stuff that originated from lamer prompts than this. McNally stroked the dog again. Expressing himself through the medium of stories was one thing. Talking was something else.
    Clara expressed her doubts. They hadn’t even had a fight yet. Besides, what about the difficulty of merging the families–three dogs, three horses, four kids, all told? “The kids will be the least of the problems,” said McNally. He was later proven right.
    Clara’s girls loved McNally because he took them camping and told them stories and told them to call him McNally. And McNally’s boys weren’t a problem because they hated McNally and refused ever to see him again. Some people have this need to pick sides.

  15. Okay…HELP..I’m at my wit’s end. I’m trying to figure out how the hell everyone is getting their novel-in-a box comments to fit here. My word counts are lower (I’m copying and pasting entries onto my word doc!) but my lines are 2 or 3 longer than everyone elses! this a NC conspiracy, designed to drive me mad? If so, it’s working.

  16. Heat of the Moment

    They’re transferring me to Pelican Bay September 10th, so I only have two weeks to tell my side of the story. It began with teaching Susan Bishop AP English. She wrote in a blank blue book: “For an A I’ll stop wearing underwear.” It wasn’t about the grade. She was the smartest kid in class.

    Adam Bissinger makes snuff movies. He calls himself The Auteur. A-list Hollywood perverts obsess over his work. He teaches at UCLA, but never recruits his students. He could say “You’re pretty enough to be in the movies” to one of them. But he’s too smart. His most recent ‘star’ brought her boyfriend to the shoot. He had to kill them both.

    She teased me for weeks, she wore long skirts and short ones with her legs pressed tight. Then she seduced me in my office. She left the door ajar and undressed. What can I say? She radiated health and hormones and fertility, energy and passion and grace. If we have a royalty in this jaded world, that’s it, I was looking at it. All I could do was bow down.

    The Auteur attends a screening. He wants to see his film with an audience. Other directors get that privilege – why not him? Unexpected treat: the host recognizes his missing daughter on the killing bed, freaks and kicks everyone out. But he identifies Bissinger — from his hands. Observant prick. Bissinger kills him. Succinylcholine: the perfect poison. It looks like a heart attack when the coyotes are done.

    I fucked Susan on my desk. Her friend took pictures. Susan blackmailed me and I blackmailed her back. I filmed her stealing from the school safe: a Mexican stand-off, but she shot first. She posted the pictures and told her version and it was much better than mine. She got sympathy counseling. I got fired and divorced and jailed.

    I wound up at Corcoran . Everyone hated me. Some guard said I “cornholed a toddler.” So I was sodomizing babies, now — in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse. I helped my black roommate write a letter to his brother. He protected me for a while; and then got killed for his trouble. When I finally got out, I went looking for Susan.

    The Auteur knows they ‘re coming for him and he’s ready. They try to take him at UCLA, but he’s framed a fellow teacher, dropping on that fool’s life like a smart bomb at an Afghan wedding. But bombs don’t have fun. The Auteur can do as he likes, now — even use a student for his next movie. He’s never felt so free.

    I caught Susan on film, shoplifting: round two. I grabbed my vengeance-fuck and walked away. She won me back, tricked me into a robbery, yanked me into a lust-addled, drug-fueled crime spree. I wound up killing her Dad. He was evil — or was Susan just telling me what I wanted to hear? Anyway, she came off as the victim again. My lawyer’s book: “Defending the Indefensible”. I’m chapter thirteen.

    It’s the first day of the new semester. The Auteur feels blissful and weightless. Nothing but his jacket pressing on his shoulders anchors him to the ground: a handkerchief on a helium balloon. He knows all about his new student, Susan Bishop – the tragic orphan, the beautiful victim, sniffing for prey. Barracuda, meet shark. He shakes her hand, finally says it: “You’re pretty enough to be in the movies.”

  17. “Wondering Where the Lions Are”
    Adam arrives on the shoreline while robed and naked swimmers mill about, shuffling between stations, signing legal documents, waivers. Green’s Island looms on the horizon. The starter loads a gun. “Eve,” a beautiful woman says to Adam, holding out her hand. He smiles when he says his name. But he hates her, too.
    The swim to Green’s Island will consume many and Adam worries. Only those filled with desire and stamina survive. Does he measure up? No one talks of doubt. An incantatory speech is delivered. “Hale…glory….victory.” The swimmers cheer. Eve drops out of her clothes and stands naked next to him, her nipples erect.
    The starter raises the pistol above his head. The gun cracks. Swimmers crash into the waves, flailing through the frigid surf. Adam lags behind. He chokes on turbulent bubbles cavitating from kicking feet. Eve struggles with her goggles in the frothy sea, but he swims past her. The race leaves no time for mercy.
    An hour into the swim, Adam considers how all his life he has dreamed of Green’s Island. It’s closer than ever, but still miles away. Many have already fallen out, plucked by the rescue boat and taken back to shore. Others cling to buoys or float on their backs, waiting for the boat’s return. Turtleback Mountain bobs up and down between swells.
    At noon, the first sharks are sighted. People scream. Eve swims near Adam again. “Did you see it?” she asks. He flaps her away with his hand. “Dick,” she yells as he swims away. The shark snaps a swimmer and pulls him under. Gunshots fire from the rescue boat. The swimmer climbs over the gunwale. A stump stains white planks red and Adam vomits into the sea.
    The strongest swimmers reach the shore before the sun drops below Turtleback. They jump and dance on the beach. Fireworks explode in the purple sky. Adam’s shoulders cramp. Eve appears again, her eyes nearly closed. She has discarded her goggles and Adam takes her hand. Her naked breasts bob above the water’s surface.
    The shark’s dorsal fin scrapes his leg. Eve screams out. They are only yards from shore, but still outside the reef. They swim faster. The shark circles as a breaker lifts Adam’s body. Palm trees and glowing tiki torches litter the shoreline. They splash ashore, nearly on top of each other. Eve kisses him and Adam’s heart fills with unspeakable joy!
    Late into the evening there is a roasted boar, palm wine, Green’s Island drum music. Adam makes love to Eve. He dreams of his children, his wife, while Eve snores lightly beside him. At dawn, another meeting convenes. “The Journey has just begun,” an old man tells them. Angry faces search each other for answers, but no one speaks.
    The next day, Adam climbs into a row boat. Boxed rations line the stern. “West,” says Eve. She waves goodbye and Adam paddles through the surf until the island recedes, Eve shrinking on the beach. He paddles beyond the reef, beyond the azure water until, in all directions, the horizon is an empty, blue line.

    • P.S. I’m sure the erudite NC judges and readers know that my title was pilfered from a Bruce Cockburn song. I just don’t want to earn the reputation of being like that French writer previously mentioned.

    • As always, you deliver the goods when you get rid of the backfill and remember to put in the sex. Nice job.

      His wife!

  18. The Eight Things I Remember
    About the Collapse of My Parents’ Marriage (A Memoir)

    When I was perhaps ten, my younger brother and I awoke to smoke in the house. I stepped onto the upstairs landing. Several couples in the living room with my parents laughed uproariously. The fireplace flue had clogged and no one had noticed right away.

    A few years later, Dad had a business trip to Missouri, so the family went with him in the motorhome and camped. The ticks were so bad we would pour them from our shoes. In the evenings, Mom and Dad would fight about the ticks, and whatever else.

    On the first day of a family ski trip to Colorado, Dad crashed and injured his shoulder. He wrapped the shoulder in an Ace Bandage and spent the days on the couch. He didn’t shower. Mom commented on the stench.

    My brother once asked Dad, “What do you do at night in the hotel?” He laughed, “I get Kentucky Fried Chicken and eat it in bed and throw the bones around the room.” It became a running joke for when Dad left on business trips, which was often.

    “I have a problem with alcohol,” Dad told us on a weekend afternoon. “The office is going to help me get some help.”

    One morning Mom said, in response to a question I don’t remember asking, “I went to one of those loved-ones support meetings. I am not one of those people, and I’m never going back there.”

    When I was 17 and after Dad got sober, he announced at dinner he was moving out. “You bastard!” screamed Mom. “This is not how we discussed this would happen.” They stormed upstairs. My little brother stared at me, eyes dry but frightened.

    Dad took me aside and said I should be careful, because addiction can be hereditary. I stayed dry until my final year in college. Then, I realized that my vehement denial was allowing alcohol equivalent power over me.

    My brother has different memories, like of half-finished six-packs on the floor by the recliner where Dad slept away the weekends. My brother and I don’t talk about those years. I have an exact small sum of what I remember. And I prefer it this way.

  19. First Date –in-a-box (fiction)

    Flint no longer watches every photo exit the printing machine,
    not like when he first started this job, certainly not after the
    picture of old Ms. Celik’s infected cyst only inches away from
    her faded pink underwear. He stares into the K-Mart parking
    lot from his kiosk until he hears a car pull up, like now.

    Flint leans into the 12” x 12” square hole to eliminate the usual
    muffled customer request, but when he sees pouty frosted pink
    lips he hears nothing. She repeats herself and hands him a roll
    of film. He takes her name, Emily, and in a moment of bravery
    like he’s never exhibited before, asks her to dinner.

    Three days later, Flint sits in his car a block from Emily’s
    house. He knows he isn’t great to look at with his wiry frame,
    oily pocked skin and elongated face. “What is he doing?”
    he wonders, but her lips give him courage to keep going.
    With bouquet in hand, Flint rings the doorbell.

    “Oh dear, they are beautiful.” A large woman embraces Flint,
    pressing him against her bosom. She lets go and takes the
    bouquet, “I’m so glad you could be here,” then walks away.
    The room is filled with people drinking punch and eating finger
    sandwiches. Confusion makes the voices murmur in unison.

    Finally walking again, Flint searches for Emily. Swarms of
    people are in every room and no one pays him attention, but
    the murmuring is now a buzzing and he feels sweat barreling
    down his back and forehead. Timidity overcomes his courage.
    “You could use a drink,” a low female voice says in his ear.

    He turns and sees the bottom of a glass tilted up as the woman
    finishes her cocktail. “And so could I,” she says taking his hand
    and forcing a path through the crowd. He opens his mouth to
    speak and she shushes him. “This will help.” He gulps the drink
    and blurts out, “Have you seen Emily?” The woman slaps him.

    Slamming a bedroom door, Flint leans back and counts to ten,
    slowing his panic. Coats are piled on the bed; blinds let in small
    slivers of light. “What the hell?” he says. And then from the
    closet: “Is someone there? Can me?”
    Flint finds an old man squatting inside.“Get the T.P., will ya?”

    Choking on his tongue, Flint dashes into the kitchen; the
    smell of sauerkraut accosts him, a sudden crash and
    scurrying feet make him head for the front door. Flint swims
    through people, almost forgetting where he is, but then he
    sees her, Emily, a picture of her anyway, surrounded by flowers.

    His eyes grow aware and he sees the black dresses, the crying,
    the priest. “Anyone see grandpa?” a man yells walking through.
    “Sorry about before.” The woman again, with another drink. He
    gulps it down and his vision continues to clear. “Now tell me,”
    she says wrapping her arm around his, “How did you know Emily?”

    • Cheryl, This is great! Stepping out of the poetry box into a full-length novel in one huge leap! Now we can always say that NC published your first novel.

  20. Death of a Salesman in Venice (FLA)
    Even though George Gipper had punched the clock at Electrolux and said “yes, Dear” for 37 years to the above-ground pool, four children, the deck, the camper, and the Zenith black and white in the mahogany veneer cabinet, his wife stripped the house and the savings account and fled town with the Hoover salesman.

  21. Hey, DG, I just realized that you didn’t tell us the most important thing: What’s the prize for this contest?

    • This is another test. I’m trying to figure out if the lines of actual submissions are longer than they are in the yellow pre-submission comment box, like the one I’m writing in now. Someone, maybe Steve, suggested a word count of around 70 per box, but I’m thinking that might take more than five lines? So now I’ll try this and see. Testing…

    • Winter-residency tumblers of Talikser in Montpelier…if previous contests are any indicator. 🙂

      • And what if I prefer The Glenlivet?

        • I heard they’re drinking Glenlivet in Bennington.

          • Actually, I’d rather have a beer, to be honest.

            • DG also forgot to run a parallel contest for young people, though none seem to have surfaced this time. DG was thinking the prize this time would be, maybe, a ride in his minivan from the Saratoga Springs bus depot to his house, a tour of the palatial DG mansion, possibly a dip in the pool (well, you could run through the lawn sprinkler). Some cheese and crackers and a shot of Old Grandad. What could be more splendid?

              P.S. It disappoints DG that you people concentrate so much on the prizes instead of appreciating the joy of competition, the honour of victory, and the cathartic self-revulsion of defeat.

              P.P.S. Did I see Rich offering to buy Talisker at the residency again? What a prince.

  22. It’s 54 characters per line, Julie.

  23. And if you want it to come out the same number of lines as it appears in the comment box, you have to hit “enter” at the end of each line.

    Welcome to the Obsessive-Compulsives Club, everyone.

  24. This is a response to DG’s response to my comment:

    The rest of the prize is fine (except that it’s getting a little chilly to be cavorting in the lawn sprinkler), but Old Grandad? Don’t you have any Blue Light in your fridge?

    And you forgot to mention the greatest reward of all: the euphoric exhilaration of actually writing the contest entry.

  25. The Silver Mare

    Chapter 1
    Long ago, a princess and two princes lived in a castle perched between the sea and the wild woods. Their parents, the king and queen, sailed away on a pilgrimage to distant lands, leaving them in the care of their wicked uncle, who cast a spell on the children so that he could more easily usurp the kingdom.

    Chapter 2
    The spell made them lie awake at night, unable to stir, and sleepwalk through their day’s activities, while their uncle taxed the peasants and stole the king’s gold. One day, the older prince, Alfred, was thrown from his silver mare, startled by a horn’s blast. Now the prince slept day and night, unable to stir.

    Chapter 3
    Princess Rose sat by his bed, her numb fingers knitting a scarlet cloak. By night, she pondered the nature of consciousness and mourned the loss of pleasure and pain. When her parents returned after three years, they were devastated to find their first son in a coma and their other children dazed as zombies.

    Chapter 4
    The king ordered the silver mare to be slaughtered, but a servant told the queen that the uncle had startled the mare, so she set the beast free before it could be killed. When the king chastised his brother for taking such ill care of the children in his absence, the wicked one decided to slay the king that night.

    Chapter 5

    Seeing his uncle sneak up on the king with a rapier, the younger prince, Henry, woke from his trance, seized the weapon and plunged it into the wicked one’s heart. Hoping that death had broken the spell, Harry hastened to his brother’s room, but Alfred still lay lifeless, and Rose sat knitting, eyes blank.

    Chapter 6

    “Stop staring at me with those zombie eyes,” Henry yelled. Blood dripped from his hands. Berserk with grief and disappointment, he chased his sister across the castle grounds. Rose fled into the woods, wandering lost for three days, until she came to a clearing where a wood fire burned in a cottage yard.

    Chapter 7

    By the fire, a crone sat knitting a scarlet cloak. “That’s the cloak I was knitting my brother to wear when he becomes king.” “No, princess, this is your own cloak.” The crone cast the cloak over Rose’s shoulders. The princess’s eyes cleared. For the first time in years, she could feel soft air and smell lavender and smoke.

    Chapter 8

    “I can grant you but one wish,” the crone said. Rose thought of all she’d missed and longed for, but knew what her wish must be: “My brother to awaken.” “Take this silver mare to him.” Rose turned to see Alfred’s horse waiting by the cottage. Exhilarated by the return of her senses, Rose galloped back to the castle.

    Chapter 9

    She led the mare to Alfred’s window. The beast neighed gently. The prince arose from his coma, leapt onto his horse, and rode and rode for the sheer joy of sun, wind, and the pounding of hooves. Rose searched in vain for the cloak she’d been knitting, until she had to conclude that she was wearing it already.

    • This was inspired by the gruesome fairy tales, a kind of greatly mythologized memoir, but you can call it fiction.

    • Very nice. I am glad to see that you’ve finally realized that blood and violence sells books. I am a little worried about that word “crone” by which I guess you mean what the NC Style Book calls an “age-challenged person of gender.”

      But, seriously, great entry. I like the closure of the last clause especially.

  26. Oh no! I have just now found out about this contest. Phooey. The FB notes say the submission cutoff is the 15th (tomorrow!) at noon. Or is it actually midnight? Still probably too late for a slacker such as myself. But you just never know . . .

    • It’s midnight.

      This is what you get for not keeping up. Tsk. Tsk.

      Sandy, if you enter a bit late, the judge will change the time on your entry to make it fit within the official rules. Don’t tell anyone else.

  27. Thanks, dg. Mum’s the word . . .

  28. I Was Young When I Left Home


    My Uncle Jim recently wrote me an email from the West Coast that started, “I found out that my grandpa Chaney (your great grandpa) had a brother who died at age one. His name was Earl Chaney who died December 15, 1909.” It ended, “Do you live near where Obama wants to put the Islamic mall?”


    When I was three years old, my mom and I moved into my Uncle Jim’s extra room in his apartment in Lawrence, Kansas. He was divorced, and my mom was recovering from an addiction to amphetamines. We moved out the next year, when he remarried. All I remember from then is a red wagon I rode to the laundromat with my clothes and my mom.


    A tradition in my family is, every birthday, for the birthday boy or girl to give the first piece to his or her favorite person. No one in my family ever gave me the first piece of cake. I always gave it to my mom.


    One Christmas, my grandma gave me a shoebox. In it were hundreds of letters from my Uncle Ollie Chaney, who died somewhere in France during World War II. No one else in the family knew him, except that he died somewhere in France during World War II. He was drafted before he graduated. His grammar was horrible.


    I moved to Brooklyn after reading a book about Brooklyn. I wanted to have a family in Brooklyn, to be a Brooklyn family, to be Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs, or Woody Allen in Annie Hall. I wanted to be educated, cultured, a Dodgers fan, even Jewish.


    My brother hanged himself from a bed sheet when he was ten years old. The same year my father’s best friend Gary’s one-year-old son was hit by a car and killed. My other brother’s firstborn son died in childbirth. Gary met with a channeler on Jenny Jones. My brother took photos of his blue, starfish-like child. My father grew much older.


    I’ve now lived in eight different Brooklyn neighborhoods. I was living in a factory loft in Bushwick with my wife when we got pregnant, so we of course moved to Park Slope. Before our daughter’s birth, I had repeating dreams that she died before or after she was born.


    Yesterday, I got another email from my Uncle Jim. “I just saw you live in Brooklyn. Did you know that we have a relative, Preacher Roe who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers back in the fifties? It seems I am the only one who had any type of relationship with him. We used to talk on the phone and write letters.”


    Last year I was the same age, 35, when my daughter was born that my mom was when I left home. My wife says they look a lot like each other. I don’t see the resemblance.

  29. Memoir Contest

    Chapter 1
    We were Columbia grad students: he in business, me in journalism. After an evening of doubled sautéed slice pork, he handed me a list of his desires: 1) Make love with Jennifer; 2) Eat with her; 3) Go on walks with her; 4) Travel with her; 5) Be with her.

    Chapter 2
    The list touched me. Had any other boyfriend been so clear about his intentions. What did I feel for him? Was this an elaborate way to get me to bed, then dump me without regret? I could trust him. He was Swedish, a teacher’s son from the North Pole.

    Chapter 3
    We made love in his dorm room. It felt good, but few sparks, not “This is the guy I should marry” feeling. But he was kind, considerate, ambitious. Months passed. He’d be a stable husband, not like the flighty French boyfriend or the arrogant professor-in-making I’d dated.

    Chapter 4
    We moved in together. He hated New York’s heat and the mouse who inhabited our apartment. We explored the city together; he talked about becoming an investment banker, I rattled on about sources I’d interviewed. At some level, we connected.

    Chapter 5
    At the wedding, my dad said we made a handsome couple. So, we’d have beautiful kids. But would we be happy, would we be rich? Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.

    Chapter 6
    After years of infertility, the kids arrived in abundance. A daughter, then two sons, all born overseas near the mountains of Switzerland and the former textile mills of Sweden. They were absolutely gorgeous, but what Mom thinks her kids are ugly?

    Chapter 7
    Our time was devoured by children. Diapers, bottles, burping, naps. The list from years earlier was abandoned. Was there any time for us as a couple? His days were in a Zurich office, mine at home. His face brightened when he saw our kids, not me.

    Chapter 8
    We moved back to the U.S. where I found a job. Now I’d be satisfied. But the good times never came. Johan didn’t notice when I lost 15 pounds, though he remarked how his sons’ faces had changed. My eyes drifted to other men: fun, hot, exciting.

    Chapter 9
    What was the point of pretending? I asked Johan for a separation; he resisted. He couldn’t take living apart from his kids. What about the tension, the silence between us? He finally moved out of our suburban home, broken, never to return.

    • Out From Land

      We didn’t make it out of port in time. The blight
      appeared aboard the second day. You got it, you were
      sick three days, then you lived or died. I was
      intensely afraid she would come down with it and then
      she did.

      I went down to her in the hold. She was cold-skinned
      and shivering, eyes glazed, unable to talk. Soon she’d
      wake to either drown in her own blackbile or live.
      We’d know in a day.

      An island came into sight. Rock and sand and a few palm
      trees. The sick were to be left there. The captain said
      it had once had an outpost. I asked who’d come back
      for survivors.
      “Someone else,” the captain said.

      No one knew how you caught it, or why some did and some
      didn’t. The port was burning with it, the air thick
      with oily smoke and the chanting of priests. On the
      dock I helped fight them off with an oar. After I told
      her, “We’re safe now.”

      I gave her water out of my allotment. She’d already
      burned through hers. Secretly so the other two sick
      wouldn’t see. She kept slurping it down and clutching
      at me. My allotment was gone by the time the anchor
      chain rattled against the hull.

      We were just beyond the breakers of the island. The
      crew had the raft inflated and over the side.
      “Bring them up,” said the captain.
      Crewmen brought up the other sick. I brought her
      up myself. The passengers crowded away in the stern.

      Crewmen threw the other two sick in the raft.
      The captain looked at me. “The surf will carry the
      raft to shore. Get her in there.”
      The hemming and hawing toppled her and we fell to
      the deck, her head bouncing on my chest. I dragged her

      “I’m going, too,” I said.
      “Are you sick?” asked the captain.
      “Not yet.”
      “You won’t make it.”
      “Not without her I won’t,” I said.

      I got in the raft and crewmen put her over. Everyone
      but the captain looked away when we were shoved off.

  30. The Esteem of Heaven

    As all the world knows, when our King took his second
    wife, we were overjoyed. The glow of His happiness
    suffused the land. She was faultless, as we all knew,
    possessed of a devotion for our King not the most
    devoted of us could match. She was installed as Queen.

    The Queen bore three daughters. The King never tired of
    telling our delighted ears they they signified the
    esteem of Heaven. Law was promulgated: All subjects,
    under pain of death,were forbidden to sully them with
    our profane touch.

    The Queen repaired to the River Palace with Her
    daughters, to whom she was teaching the art of Poetry.
    We prostrated ourselves as Her ox carriage passed,
    noses and foreheads to the ground. Most graciously, She
    intermittently pulled back a gauzy curtain to view us.

    To the intense dismay of the Royal Personages, it
    rained heavily for nigh onto a week. The kingdom was
    everywhere flooded and we looked to Heaven for relief.
    Then the seventh day dawned bright and clear and the
    Royal Personages made ready for a poetry outing.

    The Royal Personages, wearing the brocaded robes and
    heavy headgear of their rank, boarded delicate teak
    craft in the canal. We followed on foot alongside,
    eyes down. In the skiff we were four oarsmen, our eyes
    rising no higher than a Royal ankle.

    Upstream a giant debris jam of fallen trees, collapsed
    huts, carcasses and corpses, exploded open. We
    helplessly watched a monstrous swell heave down the
    river. It burst over the sluice gates and barreled down
    the canal. The Royal craft keeled over.

    Some of us leapt into the foaming water, but the
    Steward bellowed that all must remember the law. Our
    eyes beheld horror: the Queen floating facedown black
    tresses drifting around her magenta robes. Arrayed
    around her the viridian-robed Princesses.

    The Royal corpses floated until they bumped gently
    against the lock of the first pond. We awaited word
    from the capital. We waded into the water to keep away
    bugs and birds and fish and turtles. We were not
    successful. Lowly creatures feasted upon the highest.

    The King wept piteously and declared He had lost the
    esteem of Heaven. As all the world knows, He took the
    tonsure and retired to a distant mountain monastery.
    Sadness and sickness stalk the land. Many plead for his
    return. But we have fallen and He does not come.

  31. Another entry, equal parts fiction and nonfiction. Do with it what you will!

    “Radical Default”

    Chapter I-The One That Stuck

    “My lover,” Kat told Linda in her black-cherry truck
    when she asked, belly outstretched and tender pawed,
    what this was. Linda said that they were two orbs of
    beauty when they made love and that she’s never liked
    the word “pretty” until Kat said it. They kissed.

    Chapter II- Abundancy is Not Just for The New Age

    At Kat’s birthday party her boyfriend, Ed and Linda
    stood on the porch as the other guests watched her
    open a gift card to a tattoo shop from them both.She
    blushed hard enough to bruise, the night a delicate
    tight-rope walk of nervous grace.

    III- The Heart Has Eyes Which The Brain Knows Nothing Of

    Lisa’s dog gets stolen and she wants Ed on the search—
    he has a penis even after all the sensitivity
    training. He’s a black belt and though he can kill,
    he’s slender and soft inside. Kat cancels with Linda
    so she can go, to protect him; she has large calves.

    IV-Some Flat Land Would be Nice

    This is a first polyamory-inspired tattoo, Kat jokes.
    Her personality is MSG-infused; hormones apparently
    make her funnier, somewhat erudite, interested in
    conversation. Most people just annoy her when they
    ask for her counsel or tip her handsomely.

    V-Sweepstakes Prize

    Ed wants to move in and become family with Kat—a
    sharp-angled turn from how he once stated that he
    would never get her pregnant (he had a vasectomy; she
    disliked children) and that he would never live with
    her (he was already divorced once; she got pissed).

    VI-The Shadow Side of Free Love

    A dusk-inspired talk renders Kat feeling less punk-
    than-thou. Ed’s vision of family includes dates
    spending the night. She agrees; her lack of jealousy
    feels like a house of cards she is steadying and
    constantly tending, watching for signs of swaying.

    VII-The Graceful House Guest

    Early on, her therapist had warned that if she didn’t
    date other people, she would become part of a harem.
    Kat had dated three, Ed: one; and the one was shared
    between the two of them. Ed brought home his first
    male lover in years, a dancer and bike mechanic.

    VIII-The Age of Progress

    Breakfast that day was a study in democracy. Could
    she be gay but demand her boyfriend not? She passed
    the fucking jam to the dancer. Ed did say that he
    liked her sister and her co-worker. Kat declares she
    is still polyamorous, but just controlling about it.

    IV-A Ribbon Around the Index Finger Is Fashioned

    At the tattoo shop, Kat gestures largely as she details
    the design she wants engraved in her skin.
    She wants a hammer surrounded by the Jack of Hearts.
    It looks better than it sounds. If anyone asked, she
    elusively explained it represented her Polish roots.

  32. oh man! Sorry for those two lines that got messed up! They were within the 54 character limit when in the comment box!

  33. In the Fog

    1. Edmond, OK. Labor Day 1991

    In minutes of returning home from the lake, my tongue
    swells. Laboring for air, I call to my mom in the other
    room, “Something’s wrong!” My tongue hangs from my
    lips; my limbs convulse and turn blue from the lack of
    oxygen. She screams, “Bill! Call 911!”

    2. Santa Cruz, CA. Spring 1998

    Standing on a pier in Santa Cruz, now twenty-three
    years old, sea lions barking, the Pacific Ocean break-
    ing on the sand, I call my mother from the payphone,
    “The college has an organic farm! The city doesn’t
    spray! I can get a job, have a life. Finally!”

    3. Edmond, OK. October 1991

    The blood work came back. Organophosphate pesticide
    poisoning. The same agents used for nerve gas in World
    War II. Now popular for use on golf courses, in homes,
    even in bombs used by moving companies, like North

    4. Denver, CO. December 1991

    They couldn’t say how long it would last, only that a
    period of “sensitization” was normal. My body wouldn’t
    be able to tolerate petroleum products anymore—per-
    fumes, hair spray, dry-cleaning, newsprint, paints,
    carpets, air fresheners, food dyes, pesticides . . .

    5. Questions. And More Questions.

    How did it happen? Did you get sprayed? “No, I didn’t
    even smell anything.” I start theorizing on cumulative
    exposure, but people glaze over when my answer’s not
    black and white. Was it the golf course? Did you sue?
    Was anyone else affected? When will you be okay?

    6. On the Road. 1991-98

    Move after Move after Move. I made twenty-four
    health-necessitated moves. The doctors said go to
    the beach or the mountains where the air is clean.
    I kept trying: New Mexico, Colorado, Florida,
    North Carolina, Texas, and Santa Cruz.

    7. Santa Cruz, CA. November 1998

    I met my fiancé weeks before he received my call; I
    had been unexplainably ill. One day it was clear
    enough. Wearing my oxygen mask, driving to the air-
    port, I called Roger, “All I know is that it’s pesticide. I
    have to leave.” He packed my house. I never went back.

    8. Methyl Bromide

    California grows 80% of our nation’s strawberries.
    Much of them in Santa Cruz County. In 1998, the year
    I left on oxygen, over 4 million pounds of methyl bro-
    mide were applied to strawberry fields. Even with
    tarps, 1/3 of methyl bromide applied, escapes.

    9. Montpelier, VT. September 2010

    There are still nights I think of Santa Cruz, of
    standing on that pier at the age of twenty-three,
    believing that I had finally found a safe home, that I
    was going to be healthy again. That was the good place
    —when I believed it would all be different one day.

  34. Novel in a bottle

    by Julie Marden and Christopher Willard

    Chapter One:

    The sea remained cracked. Fiona kissed the porthole glass and crawled over the three women sharing her upper berth. She still hadn’t spoken to them (nor they to her). She wanted Mr. Kinglet. One of the women cocked open an eye and appraised Fiona’s dirty-nailed fingertips as they slipped from the ladder’s top rung. The old woman snored, relaxed her girth.

    Chapter Two:

    Mrs. D from County Cork tore out pages and tossed them overboard. Gerdy the steward caught one. “Messages of condolence and sympathy are being hourly received from all continents.” He recalled Fiona’s tenderness and turned to the stack of tin plates holding the cocktail franks. “Starve. Choke. What’s the difference?” he muttered, searching the pantry for paint.

    Chapter Three:

    At the evening party, thongs were the costume party of choice, at least among the men. Captain Flegg jumped overboard (again). “Grab his leg!” Women screamed. Professor Zeugma, his teeth rotten as his desires, drove Fiona against the bulwark. “When the cork comes we’re all goners.” He stumbled off. Fiona flushed, not noticing Mr. Kinglet slip behind a mast. The air reeked glue.

    Chapter Four:
    The doldrums sang a morose litany
    Day by day, little by little,
    A number sank off the coast of Brittany,
    Gerdy gave up, began to whittle.

    Chapter Five:

    Mr. Kinglet offered Mrs. D a low lounge chair. A clavicle man, this was an opportunity. “You c-c-c can call me M-M-Miss if you wish,” stuttered Mrs. D. Her nose bounced through the air as she sniffed his Score cologne. Kinglet turned away. “I believe I’ve mistaken you for Fiona’s bunk mate.” he said. “You ef-f-ffeminate f-f-f-fop,” returned Mrs. D.

    Chapter Six:

    Most of the rooms are empty. I should know, I slept in them all. So read the last page of the diary of Eunice Brawl, dead at age twenty four and four tenths of an hour. Fingers shaking, Gerdy displayed the entry to Fiona. “Strychnine,” he said. “And strangulation with a paisley ascot.” Empty rooms, Fiona thought. Where? Alone, Gerdy painted Eunice’s words on another sail.

    Chapter Seven:


    Chapter Eight:

    Fiona accosted her bunkmate. “All my life I was told you were dead.” The woman handed Fiona a tiny lady-slipper shell. “It was your grandmama’s,” she said, using the French pronunciation. Lonely, pale, Mr. Kinglet walked in. Fiona presented the shell, which he evaluated. He put his hand under Fiona’s blouse.

    Chapter Nine:

    Everything incarnadine: clothes pulled up, off, furrowed around ankles, necks. On deck, below deck. Amidst shattered glass and shagged bodies, Gerdy found the shell filled with Fiona’s tears and pressed it to his palm. He clambered to the prow, leaped, and swam through the opening, twisting past crumbled cork, holding his breath until both sea and sky unclasped their hands to greet him.

  35. Well, now that our entry’s entered, I’d like to introduce to the NC community my friend and literary pen pal Chris Willard . Although in truth, people are way more likely to know who he is than who I am. Chris has published novels (Garbage Head in 2005, Sundre in 2009), short stories, and poems, including, the other day, some bawdy haikus at As if that’s not enough, he heads the painting department at the Alberta Academy of the Arts in Calgary. The Metropolitan Museum in New York owns at least one of his paintings. AND he’s amiable and funny. Although a native New Englander (like me), Chris has adopted Canada as his home country. I live in New England. So I hope our collaboration, at at least in intent, represents a kind of cross-border literary pollination that NC likes to inspire.

    • Very pleased to have you appear on these pages, Chris. Good choice of country by adoption. There is a bar in Calgary called The James Joyce–or have I mixed up my pubs named after writers?

    • This is my people’s choice for screaming into the blinding rage of our world. Spent my 50th in Baghdad, and get to sing Chichester Psalms in the Cathedral here in Geneve for my 51st. Guess I better learn the Brew.

  36. Speaking of James Joyce, and to avoid possible legal suit, I should gratefully acknowledge our use of the line from Ulysees in Chapter Two.

    • What about the use of an entire chapter from Tristram Shandy in Chapter Seven? 🙂

      • Oh, you’re absolutely right. Blatant plagiarism, er, I mean literary quotation. Word for word from the Sterne novel. Next thing you know they will have a full page spread on The Huffington Post. This is going to confuse the judge no end. 🙂

  37. Query: According to my perusal, there are at least three entries whose genre is not labeled. Can we assume that the ones by Gwen and Mark are fiction, and that John’s is a memoir?

    We have to choose two separate People’s Choice winners, right?

  38. I wish someone could tell me how to insert my photo where that blue thingy is.

    • I think you use a text widget and load it with the photo url. It takes some work to get the size right.

    • Vivian, you can also now use what they call a “gravatar” (globally recognized avatar) through WordPress, which you should be able to access through the dashboard. It’s very easy to post your pic through it – just upload it and it’s automatically formatted. But beware – the “globally recognized” part means that the picture you choose will also become associated with the email you use on WordPress, and possibly other applications you use. It’s kind of creepily ubiquitous, but easy. I use it.

      • Back to Sterne: in my copy of Tristram Shandy, that chapter was black. And what about the punctuation?

        I mean, come on guys.

        in the OMG department: a last minute change (induced by line number anxiety) led to the word “party” appearing twice in the first sentence of chapter three of my and chris’s novel. it should only appear the first time. sorry.

  39. I don’t use WordPress; my blog is on Blogger (blogspot).

  40. I totally wish I could do this! Unfortunately I wrote a 500 page + novel which is coming out this weekend in Spanish and I am now too busy to write because I am busy promoting it. Which reminds me of a poem by Gabriel Zaid about the irony of literary success. I won’t quote it (don’t think I have permission to), so to completely contradict myself, I will now write a novel, a riff on that poem– in 9 chapters:

    1. Watch out, she was warned, you might get what you want– in Spanish.
    2. And what you wanted is not, LOL, precisely, what you thought you wanted.
    3. Inside the nutshell there might be a nut, if you’re lucky. You are lucky.
    4. That nut tastes strange + bitter. Even though a lot of other people really want that nut.
    5. It has a certain nutrition, this is true. Many people are starving. Many people don’t appear to be starving, but they are, for they subsist on pinguinos and Coke (herewith more cruel analogies to supermarket fiction and the daydreams of wannabe TV stars).
    6. Feel confused about this for a while. Set in scenes with surf and seagulls. Flashback to highschool, reading The Great Gatsby and feeling certain, it would have been much improved with a trip to Pamplona and a bullfighting scene.
    7. Suddenly, you receive a hailstorm of e-mail from people wanting you to read their novel and (even before you read it) help them get it published.
    8. At a cocktail party, a friend confides that some other friend is saying that that someone else really wrote your book. This friend also feels obliged to alert you to a review by a third-rate “intellectual” who hates anything that isn’t about bettering the lives of campesinos, and who obviously hasn’t even read your book. You go home and, humming a tune from “Cats,” declutter your closets.
    9. It’s a sun-drenched day. Maybe a lot of people resent you, but there are people who love you, too. Anyway, other people are mostly thinking about themselves. You were warned about that, no? You have a dog, you appreciate your dog, and your dog appreciates you. You take a deep breath. You tap out another novel in the comments section of Douglas Glover’s Numero Cinq blog.

  41. Cat-in-a-Box
    Piper and I swam in the briny Chesapeake Bay at night, through bio-luminescent plankton that glowed ghostly white round our arms and legs. Jellyfish switched like flashlights on and off again. Magical, these creatures that light up when touched. Like Piper. God, how I love this woman.

    Early next morning, we sailed The Peregrine, captained by Wm. Trueblood. When we stopped to swim, I was stung by a jellyfish. We docked on Tangier Island, home to 500 people and myriad cats, one-eyed from the birds: Tri-colored Heron, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Osprey, Brown Pelican, various gulls, Plover.

    No sooner had we arrived but our friend, the photographer, began shooting birds, and Piper began ogling cats she might want to adopt. We skinny-dipped in the ocean, swatting each others’ heads to squash biting flies, and hoped the stinging jellies were distant. Once, a crab pinched my toe.

    I did not want Piper to adopt any of these sickly cats. I did not want to sail with a cat in the boat nor sit with it during the long van ride home. I didn’t want to smell a cat, or to see Piper cuddling it in her arms. I thought of worms, fleas, ear mites and feline leukemia.

    Returning to the boat, Piper scooped up a feline with a face like a mask, divided down the middle, orange and black, and asked the owner, who had ten more, “Would you miss this one if I took her with me?” Piper’s dark lashes beat over her blue eyes like pelican’s wings in a perfect sky.

    Against my sage advice, she brought the round-bellied, hard-nippled cat onto the boat, lashing its crate to the deck with bungee cords. It mewed as if its life were over. We commenced the three-hour trip back home with the wind up. Poor cat! But Piper only rejoiced. “I will call her Tangier!”

    Sailing back, she mentioned casually that if it didn’t work out, she would simply have it euthanized. I failed to hide my shock.
    “You’d never euthanize a cat, would you,” she said.
    “Not unless it was sick,” I said. I hated her just then. We’d been best friends since childhood.

    I stormed to the back of the boat to keep the captain company. Captain Trueblood let me steer the boat west toward Venus. I thought of Venus the goddess of love. Waves jerked us off course, and I over-steered until I learned to anticipate them, to feel them coming. I got better, slowly.

    Tangier, meanwhile, curled up in her plastic cage and slept. Having returned the wheel to the captain, I came back on deck and stuck my fingers through the wires in the cage to stroke the cat’s sleeping ears. There was no way Piper would euthanize that animal.

  42. Argh. I made massive cuts to get it to fit the little comment box, and now I see there was room for more. Can I remove this one and put in the version with more sensory details?

    • Cat-in-a-Box
      Our friends and Piper and I swam into the briny Chesapeake Bay at night, side-stroking through bioluminescent plankton that cast a ghostly white glow round our arms and legs with every motion. The occasional jellyfish switched on like a flashlight and off again. Magical, these creatures that light up when touched. Like Piper. God, how I love this woman, I thought.
      Early next morning, after crepes and sausages, we sailed The Peregrine, captained by reformed pirate Trueblood, stopping for a swim during which I was stung by a jellyfish. We docked on Tangier Island, saline marsh home to 500 people and as many cats, emaciated, one-eyed from the birds: Tri-colored Heron, Night Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Osprey, Brown Pelican.
      No sooner had we arrived but our friend, the photographer, began shooting birds, and Piper began ogling cats she might want to adopt. We skinny-dipped in the ocean, swatting each other’s heads in failed attempts to squash biting flies, and hoped the stinging jellies were distant. Once, a crab pinched my toe.
      I did not want Piper to adopt any of these sickly cats. I did not want to sail with a cat in the boat nor sit with it during the long van ride home. I didn’t want to smell a cat, or to see Piper cuddling it in her arms. I thought of worms, fleas, ear mites and feline leukemia. The island lacked a veterinarian.
      After a crab-cake dinner, we headed to the boat, stopping to chat with the dock-keeper who dwelt in a house with ten cats. Piper scooped up a feline with a piebald face—like a mask divided down the middle, orange and black. “Would you miss this one if I took her?” Piper inquired, her dark lashes beating over her blue eyes like pelican’s wings in a perfect sky. Our friends and I groaned.
      She brought the round-bellied, hard-nippled cat on board the boat, lashing its crate to the deck with bungee cords. It mewed as if its life were over. We started back to Fairport with the wind up. I thought about this cat whose life—and whose kittens’ lives, for by now we were convinced she was pregnant—would be forever changed on a whim. But Piper only rejoiced. “I will call her Tangier!”
      Sailing back, sitting on the deck before the cat in its crate, she mentioned that if it didn’t work out, she would have it euthanized. I failed to hide my shock.
      “You’d never euthanize a cat, would you,” she said.
      “Not unless it was sick,” I said. I hated her just then. We’d been best friends since childhood.
      I stormed to the stern to keep the captain company. We spoke of literature, etchings, Arabic, Germany and computers in the 1960s. We said nothing of cats. Captain Trueblood let me steer the boat west toward Venus. I thought of Venus the goddess of love. Waves jerked us off course, and I over-steered until I learned to anticipate them, to feel them coming. I got better, slowly.
      Tangier, meanwhile, curled up in her plastic cage and slept. Having returned the wheel to the captain, I came back on deck and stuck my fingers through the wires in the cage to stroke the cat’s sleeping ears. There was no way Piper would euthanize that animal.

  43. Novel In A Box: Infinity Falling

    Buried in snow. Hand in place—good, smart—punching
    at the snow, packing it. Black cave around my face. Keep
    poking half-inch jabs: more space, more air, more time.
    How many minutes, if I do this right? Fifteen? Thirty? Dark.
    Can’t move. Don’t panic, Mitchell. Breathe slow. Don’t waste it.
    Never heard an avalanche before, but I knew. Slab of snow
    cracking, breaking, pouring over me. Skied for the trees, but not
    fast enough. No pole in the air. Damn. Maybe one’s poking up.
    Maybe one got thrown to the top. Or a ski. Enough to help them
    find me, maybe. If they dig in the right spot. If up is up.
    Tyler was in the trees. Saw it, maybe. Dig! Slow it down. Tight on
    air. Should have worn a beacon. Tyler said, “We don’t need it.”
    Pothead, waste of air. Failing 3 classes. Emily was farther down.
    Wish we hadn’t fought this morning. She called me an asshole. Stupid
    fight. Fuck.
    Yesterday on the lift, she talked about the trees, how they’re covered in
    snow and it weighs on the branches, sparkling. Like poetry, the branches
    under the snow, so dark the green looks black. Two nights ago, walking
    outside the condo, we stopped at a lamp post and looked up. Above the
    circle of light, nothing, but inside that circle, snow coming at us like infinity.
    How much time? Slow it down. Stay calm. Snow like water and I’m
    drowning. It’s granite, squeezing me. Knees at my chest—how’d that
    happen? Can’t feel my feet. Can’t tell if my skis released. If they released,
    they might poke through. Then Tyler could find me. If Tyler digs me
    out, I’ll buy him weed for a year. Dig, man. Find me. I’m right here.
    I can hear music. My ear buds, somewhere near my face. The Fray.
    Her favorite. If I die, she’ll feel terrible. Not that it’s love. But it’s been
    okay. She called it temporary. “Just for now.” Sometimes it felt like it
    could be more, though.
    Maybe they’ll hear the music. Where’s my iPod anyway? Good. Think about
    where things are. Something real. Don’t panic. Keys, inside right pocket. Burt’s
    Bees lip balm—outside right pocket. Cell phone and iPod together. Inside left,
    I think. And the Dentyne, outside left, because I’m trying to quit smoking.
    Which now seems unbelievably pointless! Agony, to think of the last month.
    “You asshole,” she said this morning. “Why do you always have to be right?”
    Last time I saw her, we both shoved off the quad and went in different
    directions. Last time I saw her. Don’t think about that. How much time?
    Where are they? I’m dying here.
    Don’t think about dying. Don’t think about being buried in snow, in granite.
    Don’t think about being buried at all. Don’t think about suffocating—how
    long that takes. Don’t think about the dark. About drowning. Don’t think
    about the color of air, gray and fading. Think about light, right there, above me.
    Think about seeing it: light on snow on branches. Poetry. Think about poetry.

  44. infinity falling…so good. read it backwards and it was great that way!. the other way would have given me a panic attack. nice self-talk.

  45. I may not have completely followed the directions, however the profundity of this work speaks for itself.

    Chapter 1:

    “Just announced the new contest!” Jonah’s dad said. “Great!” said Jonah, and so he sat down at his computer, and immediately got up again.

    Chapter 2:

    Orange juice spilled out of Jonah’s cup as he ran to his room. He was ready to write a novel in a box to win the novel-in-a-box contest. His fingers starting clacking fiercely on his keyboard, only taking a break to sip of his delicious fruit beverage and read back a title that would forever change lives “Jonah Glover: a Novel.” He then stared blankly at his computer screen for the rest of the night.

    Chapter 3:

    Nasty screams emanated from his throat as Jonah threw his backpack on the floor. “Who does he think he is?” Full of hormonal rage and teen angst, he searched for a creative outlet. The novel in a box contest! Surely this will quell the sorrows that burdened his heart. He tapped out a title that was sure to be an award winner. He then noticed a hot girl had sent him a Facebook message–

    Chapter 4:

    After a night of deep sleep, Jonah woke Saturday morning unsure how to spend the day. He surfed the internet until he remembered his father’s novel in a box contest. He got a pen and pencil to start writing down an organizational chart of his winning work, and then spent the rest of the afternoon drawing images of a certain beloved cartoon mouse in fights with other cartoon characters.

    Chapter 5:

    Had he not chosen to watch every movie on his computer that day, Jonah surely would have written the absolute best possible arrangement of nouns and verbs ( and a few other things) for Douglas Glover’s novel in a box contest, and won it for sure.

    Chapter 6:

    (We regret to inform you reader, that the computer wasn’t even turned on today. Sorry.)

    Chapter 7:

    I twyd 2 rit abok tody but I gut nto mi dads licker cabnet.

    Chapter 8:

    Nothing could stop him now. “A visionary on a quest” the people would say. Jonah smiled as he imagined the spoils he’d received for his victory. He knew what he wanted to write, and how he would write it. But then, CRASH! BOOM! A power line went down, and Jonah’s computer turned of…

    Chapter 9:

    Slowly Jonah typed out his entry to the famous novel in a box writing contest. He knew for sure he’d at least place. How many other people could have hidden the name of the obvious winner in the first letter of the first word of every chapter?( hint hint).

  46. phew, a glover brother to the rescue!

  47. Death of a Salesman in Venice (Fla)
    Even though George Gipper had punched the clock at Electrolux and said “yes, dear” for 37 years to the above-ground pool, four children, the deck, the camper, and the Zenith black and white in the mahogany veneer cabinet, his wife stripped the house and the savings account and fled town with the Hoover salesman.
    George staggered from his cot in the storage room of The Oyster Bar to the urinal where he met The Winker. Weak from pretzels, booze and after-hours love with Greta who used her mop like a dance pole and tasted of sauerkraut and bleach, George batted his fists at the man who then caught him in a corporate hug. “Twitch gets worse when sales are down,” said The Winker.

    “These boys’ll show you the ropes, George, the tricks, hell, they’ll show you how to get the number one goddamn bestselling book of all time into every home in America and make fifty grand a year doin’ it.” George pumped hands with his new road mates, The Thumper, The Badger, The Fox, while The Winker pinned “Theological Consultant” to his lapel.
    George parked his net worth, a ’65 Rambler Ambassador convertible, under the only palm tree at the bottom of Ponce de Leon Boulevard. He sat behind the wheel and tore 112 leads on 112 index cards into tiny pieces and then he tore gilded pages by the apostle from the sample Bible and then he tore out invoice #1 from his sales book and wrote Customer Name: George Gipper.

    “There, there, Mrs. O’Connor,” said George and wiped her eyes and nose with the ruffled hem of her apron. “You just can’t take on a dollar a week instalment, what with Jim Sr. still out of work and Jim Jr.’s appendectomy bills coming in. Have some water, dear, you shouldn’t get yourself so worked up. What’s that, Mrs. O’Connor? Oh, no, dear, of course God won’t really hold it against you.”
    Poised to rap at 68 Marco Polo, George heard a muffled “Oh, Jesus,” through an open window. Clutching his Bible and order book he wedged through the doorway. She kneeled by the chesterfield, fur and kibble stuck to her heels, calves like pontoons, and an uneasy cat riding her great back as she cried, “Oh, Jesus,” but then looked up to George and said, “you came.”
    Phoebe and George lived on his commission and snacked on potato chips and each other. He loved her generous excess, the skin and folds and flesh where he hid to find himself. But panic settled when The Thumper reclaimed the stacks of Phoebe’s Bibles that packed the house, and Phoebe rolled onto George and pinned his arms with her sandbag breasts and said, “don’t leave me.”
    His wife opened the door of a prim house on The Esplanade wearing a pink Mary Kay suit and a “District Supervisor” lapel pin and said, “you’re fat, George.” He cradled a photo of his grown children and set it back on the mantle. “They miss you,” she said. Placing a Bible in his wife’s hands he said, “thank you,” and turned away. “I’ve always preferred Electrolux, George,” she called after him.
    George drove his convertible into a used car lot and made Big Al a deal he couldn’t refuse. With cheques in the mail to Greta and Phoebe and some cash in his pocket, George bought sunglasses, trunks and a towel from a thrift shop, left his suit in a Phillips 66 men’s room, picked up a case of beer and took the path to the beach.

  48. Oops. I missed the deadline. But what a great collection here! Terrific exercise, challenging and satisfying!

    A thread I’m actually reading, go figure. 🙂

    • Hey, Meg. Nice to see you here. Not really an “exercise” though. The quality and effort are way beyond that. We take these contests seriously. There is blood on the floor when all is said and done. And the writing is often beautiful, witty and passionate.

  49. I take it serious too. I wrote my own small novel. I did miss the dead tough, which may say something about my dedication, or my brain function, or both.

    It’s good to see you too, Doug.

  50. Last night I found this six word story by Margaret Atwood.

    Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

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