Nov 132010

A deeply shocking and poignant “What it’s like living here” from Court Merrigan in Torrington, Wyoming. Neither a former student, nor a VCFA graduate (he doesn’t have an MFA), Court is just a writer and a human being who joined the conversation and became part of the NC community. DG wishes there were more like him, more nominal outsiders who join the blog just because they like writing and a supportive camaraderie. We’re not a closed shop. This text reminds dg of something Tomaso Landolfi once wrote: “…is not this a world in which incredible things take place and, I would say, only incredible things?”


by Court Merrigan


Four extra bedtime stories for your daughter, five.  She grows fidgety and irritated, wants to be left alone to sleep.  Once she would have stayed up all night with you.  Now she’s three and those days are gone.  You trudge upstairs.  Your wife is in bed.  She goes to bed early nowadays.  It’s too early for you.  Time to get yourself occupied.

Two weeks it’s been.  Two weeks of closing your eyes to see Todd.

1.5 miles up Laramie Peak Trail

At first Todd looked like he was taking a nap, or had just leaned against the warm rock on that perfect seventy-degree day, looking across Friend Creek through a golden-leafed bough of aspens to the sheer mountain slabs across the rift valley.  I thought he was on the lookout for mountain goats.  He really wanted to see a mountain goat, kept on asking if we thought we’d spot one.

“Well, this is about where we expected to catch up with him,” my father said.

Irritated, I thought that he ought to be further along than this, that he was going to start talking about the goddamn mountain goats again – all he wanted out of Wyoming, it seemed – and at his trudging pace, it would be hours before we got back to the trailhead.  He was semi-retired and at his leisure, but I had a pregnant wife and a kid to get back to.

Then I noticed the odd angle of his neck, the wrist twisted behind his back, legs folded in an Asian posture he could not possibly have adopted at sixty years of age.  I began to run.  His face was slack jawed, sunglasses askew, lips a pale violet.  When I knelt and touched his face a skein of spit dribbled onto his new denim shirt, so new you could see the store creases, smell the store shelf.

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Nov 122010

I knew about the stories for years but had relegated them to that mental stack of things I never get around to for one reason or another. Only a series of accidents a few weeks ago induced me to buy a copy. I had no expectations when I started reading, which may be the best way to begin any book, perhaps to encounter other people.

The first five stories are set in the middle of almost nowhere, the Imperial Valley in Southern California, a place of deserts and fields and irrigation, the time around the ’60s. This is a good place to begin, too, with almost nothing, then see what you can discover, what you can add, as Ariel has done.

“Hunter,” below, is my favorite. It begins quietly, slowly, maybe innocently, and from that ground builds into a story that has engaged and haunted me as much as any I’ve read in a while. I didn’t expect that at all. The story is told in its images and in something else Ariel touches I’ll never be able to explain. Each time I reread I see small lights I missed the first time through.

I ran into Ariel a few weeks ago, and she gave what is the most compelling reason to write I’ve heard. She said she didn’t feel right inside when she wasn’t writing. It was this comment that moved me to buy the book.

Ariel Smart, in fact, grew up in the Imperial Valley, was born at the Green Lantern Motel, mentioned in this and other stories, and writes and teaches now in the San Jose area. “Hunter” was first published in Love and Sex in the 21st Century (New Mexico University, 1988), then in the collection The Green Lantern and Other Stories (Fithian Press, 1999). She has another collection, Stolen Moments and Other Stories (Fithian, 2003). Both are available, of course, at Amazon.

—Gary Garvin


by Ariel Smart

Cabin Number 1 of Frank Harper’s Green Lantern Motel smelled of the after-breakfast aromas of fried bacon and eggs and smoky-tasting coffee. The sound of a bulletin being read from the California Farm Labor Bureau droned from a radio placed on top of the refrigerator. Delia Harper put aside her book, Lad, of Sunnybank, and watched her father prepare the lunch she would take with her to her fourth-grade class at Acacia County School five miles from El Centro. His dark face, browned from the sun, was intent and purposeful at a perfunctory task. With a steel-bladed butcher knife, he carved cold beef from the Diamond Jim pot roast he customarily simmered on Sundays with fresh tomatoes, green Anaheim chili peppers, yellow onions, cloves of garlic, and red beans.

He placed an ample wedge of sliced meat between two thick slices of bakery bread. “Want horseradish?”

Delia turned up her nose, shaking her head vigorously. Her dark, brown hair, which her father had plaited into one thick braid, swung behind her neck down to her waist.

“Okay for you. More for me,” he said good-naturedly.

“Tell me again about Uncle Les’ work horses.”

“Not about his twenty-six milking cows? Named alphabetically, Alice through Zelda.”


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Nov 122010


Dave Margoshes is a poet, novelist and short story writer from Saskatchewan. I won’t go on about him or my long and checkered past with Saskatchewan because Dave has already appeared on these pages and I would be repeating myself. The last time I saw him my son Jonah was about six and he and I went on a reading tour of Saskatchewan, driving up and down the province in a little  rented car, meeting old friends, exploring abandoned homesteads, peering at distant bison, clattering around cluttered wayside museums. I miss Saskatchewan sometimes. Its astringent landscape is always exciting to watch and the people are delightful. When I used to edit Best Canadian Stories, I seemed to put a Dave Margoshes story in just about every other year. And now he has a new poetry collection just out with Black Moss Press (which published my first little book of stories, yea, these many years ago). “Theology” is from the new collection Dimensions of an Orchard and is particularly apt as it dovetails nicely with my Bible-reading thoughts these days. I love, here, God’s refolded tour map and “the illusion of unintended routes” and “against his own idea of tide.”



A quarter moon hangs low in the morning sky,
a thumbprint reminder that night is not through
with us, oh no, not yet. Day, night, light, dark,
the cycle carries on with tedious regularity, each
extreme laying a trail of clues leading inextricably
to the other. The seasons too pass in their cycle,
and the ages, infancy to infirmity and through
the transmigration of souls into infancy again
if that’s what you care to believe. The tides rise
and fall, the leaf buds, greens, browns, withers
all according to plan. And where is God in all
this? Puppetmaster, enmeshed in his own strings,
or tourist, folding and refolding a map? The creases
are worn thin from this incessant folding, creating
the illusion of unintended routes, a false cartography.
Like any man, God is reluctant to ask directions.
He batters on, against his own idea of tide,
seeking a way.

—Dave Margoshes

Just for fun, see also “The Persistent Suitor.”

Nov 112010

Recently I posted the first of two paeans to but-constructions.  Here lies the promised second.  (I’ll skip the ode this time.  Whew.)

Previously considered was Wendell Berry’s “An Entrance to the Woods,” which sports “But-I” constructions and uses but-constructions to introduce the theme of the whole essay.  Here I’ll look at Annie Dillard’s “Seeing,” a philosophical, literal, and historical romp through the seemingly simple act for which the piece is named.

Annie Dillard, self-portrait

The essay is packed with but-constructions.  They appear in nearly every paragraph, sometimes two-to-a-graph.  They fall into two clear types: “action/description buts” and “mood change buts.”  It is easy to distinguish between the types because, almost without fail, the action/description ones appear within a sentence, while the mood change ones are the initial word in a sentence. 

The action/description buts don’t particularly stand out.  They occur within sections of basic storytelling, rather than in the more philosophical passages of the essay.  Some examples:

I wandered downstream to force [the blackbirds] to play their hand, but they’d crossed the creek and scattered.


I bang on hollow trees near the water, but so far no flying squirrels have appeared.


When you see fog move against a backdrop of deep pines, you don’t see the fog itself, but streaks of clearness floating across the air in dark shreds.


In all these examples, the ‘but’ is necessary to accurately relate the action or accurately describe something.  They make for nice sentences, but don’t have great symbolic value.

Dillard’s other type of but-construction, the “mood-change but,” is the main method she uses to swing the essay from the thrill of seeing something new to the despair of not being able to see something, and back.  This “ocean swell” rhythm, from optimism to pessimism, hinges on the ‘buts,’ which occur at the crests and troughs. These “mood-change buts” typically also employ a more complex grammatical structure, which effectively breaks the flow of the essay and turns it in a different direction.

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Nov 092010

Philip Hartshorn as Dior; Juan Carlos Tapia as Celegorm

A lot goes into writing a fight scene – sometimes.  Our challenges for the fight scene in this film came in many forms, the first of which was the source material’s ambiguity concerning the situation surrounding it.  The following is Tolkien’s text in The Silmarillion concerning the final outcome of the Sacking of Doriath.

“…Celegorm stirred up his brothers to prepare an assault upon Doriath.  They came at unawares in the middle of winter, and fought with Dior in the Thousand Caves; and so befell the second slaying of Elf by Elf.  There fell Celegorm by Dior’s hand, and there fell Curufin, and dark Caranthir; but Dior was slain also, and Nimloth his wife, and the cruel servants of Celegorm seized Dior’s young sons and left them in the forest to starve…” -Tolkien, 242

This book in particular is written in a similar fashion (stylistically) to the Norse Myths (Kevin Crossley Holland’s translations come to mind).  The story of Dior is expanded in The Book of Lost Tales 2, but this draft was very clearly “un-canonized” by Tolkien before his revisions of the former book, so the above is all we had to work with.  I interpreted the scene into the screenplay as a confrontation between Dior and the three brothers as Dior is attempting to get his family (namely his daughter) out of the burning city.

The text from my first draft of the script concerning this scene was equally vague.  I scrawled out something about Dior killing Curufin and Caranthir, then dueling Celegorm.  I knew this wasn’t exactly how I wanted it, but I was afraid to go further, for the reasons of A) I knew I was going to let my brother choreograph the movements, and B) How was all of this going to happen?  Where is Nimloth, and how can I incorporate what happens to her?

I decided to write the death of Nimloth as a separate scene, which gave attention to the characters involved and built up the tension and relationships – both sympathetic and antagonistic- of surviving characters before the end.  This worked very well in terms of sets, locations and the focus of the actors.

Take a look at this video, which concerns my brother(our fight choreographer)’s enthusiastic efforts to materialize this scene.

Production Report: The First Stages of Fight Choreography

Putting this thing together was a tall order.  The above video was filmed in the later parts of summer when we were brainstorming just how the hell we were going to pull off any of this.  As our final weekend of shooting ended this past Sunday, the fight has been done and awaits the cutting room in a currently-crowded lobby.  Here are a few sneak peek photos (I’m keeping the fight relatively under wraps) of what came out of the final product.  Please note that these photos are captured from the raw footage of the film: nothing has been added or edited (yes, the sparks are real).

What we’ve got is a high-risk, quick-paced, colorful, 360-degree spectacle involving real swords, acrobatics, drama, and gorgeous mountains below.  At least, that’s what we’ll have after a few good days at the editing desk.

See also:

Nov 082010

DG realizes that this may be a stretch for some of you. A couple of weeks ago NC published Jacob’s poem “After Reading Heidegger and Seeing a Dead Rat” which has proved amazingly popular, partly because it’s a witty poem and partly because it gets a certain number of hits every day from people searching “dead rats” on Google (who would have thought this was an underground hot topic?). DG took off the “rat” tag, but that hasn’t stopped the deluge. In any case, this is neither here nor there to Jacob who wrote the poem for fun and who has since translated it into Latin for fun. The fact that he has a mind for this is a continual delight to his father.


After Reading Heidegger and Seeing a Dead Rat

Vidi id in bestiolam via
Secundo die autumno
Bestiola, quae bestiolae fuit, sed
Nunc nihil non fuit, sed
Aliqua non Ens
Bestiola habuerat, sed nunc
Tenebras firigidas rigidarumque habet.
In via, secondo die autumno
Enti cinctus est, in Ente,
Idquod bestiola, non iam ens, fuit
Olim, Ens in Bestiola fuit
Olim Ens fuit hac bestiola, quando ea
Fuit ens.
Sed nunc, Ens nihil non est, abfuit,
Ex hac bestiola, utique, ergo abisset.

—Jacob Glover