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August Mania:
Madness, Music, and Mannequins

August 8th, 2014

Connolly Wytovich ArnzenSorry. Couldn’t resist the alliteration, but it’s as good a way as any to summarize this month’s events.

The Madness

That’s madness of the fun variety, of course. Earlier this week I joined Raw Dog Screaming Press authors Stephanie M. Wytovich and Michael A. Arnzen for a reading at Rickert & Beagle Books. That’s the three of us on the left, standing beneath the store’s Horror sign (although it does seem as if Mike is actually standing beneath the Mental Health sign).

Stephanie opened the reading with the poem “Daddy’s Little Grave Digger,” from her new collection Mourning Jewelry. It’s the second time I heard her read it, the first being earlier this summer at the Pennsylvania Literary Festival. At both readings I was impressed with her ability to deliver the poem in a tone that conveyed both a sense of dread and whimsy. Great stuff.

She also read excerpts from last year’s Bram Stoker nominated Hysteria: A Collection of Madness and a few new poems – indicating that a new collection may be on the horizon.

Write or die 2Always the technology integrator, Mike shared a new story written using the apps Brainstormer and Write Or Die.  The first provided him with three randomly selected words: remorse, dying, and puppet. The second threatened to scream at him if he stopped writing or (worse) erase his words if he fell behind on his intended goal. Fortunately Mike managed in producing a 1,255 word first draft in under 30 minutes. He then edited it to a tight 850 word narrative, which he shared at the Rickert & Beagle reading.

Titled “A Check-Up for Mr. Bangles,” the story about a father performing a medical exam on his daughter’s toy is at once creepy and hilarious.

outside rileys1The Music

This weekend I’ll be teaming up with Duane Davis (long-time bassist for the Laughrey Connolly Band) and Lauren Connolly Moore for a show under the big tent at Riley’s Pour House.

As always, we’ll start with ballads and build to a raucous finale. The show will run from 8:00 to Midnight, and the weather looks like it’s going to be perfect for an outdoor show.

Really looking forward to this one!

mannequins

The Mannequins

This month’s Storytelling Night at Riley’s will feature our first thematic double bill: Mannequin Tales and Back to School Adventures.

We’re currently taking advance signup for storytelling. If you have a story about mannequins or a memory about returning to school, we’d love to add you to our growing roster of storytellers.

Please note, your stories do not need to include both themes. For this event, we’ll be presenting two sets of stories on a double-bill program reminiscent of the heyday of drive-in cinema.

Please check out some of the stories featured on our previous storytelling nights The Writing Life, Stories from the Theatre, and Midsummer Night Stories for an idea of what we’re looking for.

That’s a summary of the big events for this month. Updates coming soon. Until then, scop on!

Have Stories: Will Travel

October 27th, 2013

The Scop Road to BrightonContinuing the tradition of the traveling bard, the 21st Century Scop will be hitting the road this week, heading off to England to give readings at the University of Brighton on Wednesday, October 30 (5:30 PM), and then at the World Fantasy Convention’s Reading Café on Saturday, November 2 (12:30 PM). If you’re going to be in the area, I’ll hope to see you there.

Naturally, I also plan to spend time networking with colleagues at both the University and World Fantasy, taking part in the oldest form of social media – face to face contact.  We are creatures of nuance, and much of what we have to teach to and learn from one another comes across best in real conversation.

It’s the same with story performance, during which skilled readers pick up queues from their listeners and adjust their deliveries accordingly. Therein lies the quality that sets live readings apart from any other story deliver system. When storyteller and audience share the same physical space, magic happens.

Raw Dog Book Route: (A) Michael Arnzen at CMU. (B) Stephanie Wytovich at Big Idea. (C) Matt Betts at Muse Stand. (D) Heidi Ruby Miller at Bradley Books. E) Jason Jack Miller at Eljay’s.

I had a chance to watch this in action last weekend, when Raw Dog Screaming Press unleashed five of their top writers on Pittsburgh, sending them out to present a series of readings at five different bookstores: Michael A. Arnzen at the CMU Bookstore, Stephanie Wytovich at The Big Idea Bookstore, Matt Betts at The Muse Stand, Heidi Ruby Miller at Station Square, and Jason Jack Miller at Eljay’s Used Books. The readings started at 1:00 and continued until 6:00, following a course of some dozen miles.

I caught the last session at Eljay’s, where I settled into the front row while rain hammered the storefront window. Outside it was gray and cold, traffic racing by in a haze on West Liberty Avenue. But inside it was warm and cozy. The perfect atmosphere for a reading.

Jason Jack MillerJason shared a couple of excerpts from the Revelations of Preston Black, engaging the audience with his folksy just-friends-shooting-the-breeze style. It’s a voice that comes across in the writing, but hearing it live really enhances the story’s tone. And the rain tapping the wall of glass behind him added a nice rhythm to the narrative.

Of course, live performance is always an adventure. I’m sure there must have been times when an Old-English scop found himself upstages by distractions in or around the mead-hall. That’s more or less what happened to Heidi Ruby Miller at Bradley Books when a train decided to ruble past Station Square during her scheduled reading slot. No matter. Heidi scopped on, bringing her presentation to Eljay’s and delivering it after Jason concluded his reading, making for a terrific conclusion to the day-long event.

Heidi Rubi MillerHeidi read from her novel Greenshift, which is available through Dog Star books, Raw Dog’s science-fiction imprint.

Other people sighted at Eljay’s were Kevin Hayes, Laurie Mann, Diane Turnshek, and Karen Yun-Lutz – all members of Parsec, an organization devoted to the promotion of literary science-fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative fictions.

A nice contingent or Raw Dog and Dog Star authors were also there, including Michael A. Arnzen, Albert Wendland, K. Ceres Wright, and Stephanie Wytovich.

Of course, Raw Dog founders John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes were also on hand.

It was a great time, and I wish I could have stayed around for the dinner that followed. Instead, I headed out into the rain and made my way across town to do some scopping of my own at Riley’s Pour House.

Next up, we’ll revisit the topic of flash fiction with some questions submitted by the good people who attended my recent PAISTA presentation. Then I’ll be following the scop road to the University of Brighton and World Fantasy.

Scop on!

The Shortest Flashes Ever Written, or . . . How Short is Short-Short?

October 26th, 2013

813uyFzbgpL._SL1500_In an earlier post, I shared my thoughts on “Bedtime Story” by Jeffrey Whitmore – a short-short story that weighs in at a flyweight 55 words. Since then, I have given flash fiction presentations at PAISTA and in my advanced writing class at Sewickley Academy – both of which have given me the opportunity to field a variety of questions about short-short fiction.

One question that often comes up at such presentations is: How short is too short?

The question, of course, depends on one’s definition of flash fiction. If one accepts the premise that a short-short story should include basic narrative elements (character, setting, conflict, and resolution), then Whitmore’s 55 word tale is probably going to represent the bare minimum.

Nevertheless, for those willing to stretch the definition of story, here are five ultra-short works that might qualify as the shortest tales of all time:

100-jolts-shockingly-short-stories-michael-a-arnzen-paperback-cover-art“Gasp” by Michael A. Arnzen (26 words)

He posited that a person could drown in air. I told him to stop being contradictory. He raised a finger. Inhaled to reply. And never stopped.

The story first appeared in FlashShot, November 2002, and has been reprinted in Arnzen’s collection 100 Jolts (Raw Dog Screaming Press). As with much of Arnzen’s work, it’s darkly ironic and ultra-short. It might not qualify as a story under my definition, but it’s pretty cool nevertheless, and the book is highly recommended.

122557“Knock” by Frederic Brown (17 words)

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. . .

This is actually a story within a story, a two-sentence vignette that Brown uses to introduce a conventional narrative that continues for another 4,000 words. The lines seem to be a reworking of an earlier short-short by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, which reads:  Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell! Interestingly, Brown’s story “Imagine” (another contender for one of the shortest stories of all time) also seems to draw inspiration from Aldrich.

6words_Hemingway-400x266“Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway
(6 words)

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Again, whether it really qualifies as a story depends on how far you are willing to stretch the definition. Nevertheless, those six words certainly pack a punch. Interestingly, the general consensus is that the vignette probably was not penned by Hemingway. There’s a nice discussion of the story’s authorship at Snopes.com.

a747810ae7a0464f45309110.L“Cosmic Report Card: Earth” by Forrest J. Ackerman
(1 letter)

 F

Ackerman sold the story to the SF magazine Vertex for $100.00.  It appeared in the June 1973 issue and has since been translated into a half-dozen languages.

Quite a stunt.

Of course, it’s the title that makes it.

Ultimate FlashWhat Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex by Sheridan Simove (0 words)

This one really stretches the definition. It’s a book consisting of 196 blank pages, and I’m sure there are people who would not consider it fiction.

Take a look. Judge for yourself.

Coming soon, I hope to conclude this month’s discussion of flash fiction by responding to some questions submitted by the good folks who attended my PAISTA presentation last week, but first I plan to offer some reflections on the Raw Dog Screaming book event that I previewed in my October 19 post. Look for that soon.

Until then, let me know what ultra-short story tops your list of the shortest tales of all time. Use the media buttons for FB, Twitter, or Email in the upper right corner of this page . . . or (better yet) post a comment below.

Scop on !

Credits:

Simulated manuscript of  “Baby Shoes” is from TheDestinyManifest.com May 23, 2013.
“Cosmic Report Card: Earth” copyright (c) 1973 by Mankind Publishing Co, Inc.
“Gasp” copyright (c) 2002 by Michael A. Arnzen.
“Knock” copyright 1948 by Standard Magazines, Inc.
Photos of What Everyman Thinks are from Tengri News June 03, 2011.

The Stars Align

October 19th, 2013

flotsam-wfcI’ve just heard from a good friend who has a membership to the  World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. The convention sold out over six months ago, and since then memberships to the international gathering of writers, editors, publishers and fans have been trading like stock futures. If you’re interested in fantastic literature, WFC is definitely the go-to event of the year. But my friend tells me that he thinks he might skip it, toss the membership, stay home and get some writing done. Crazy? Maybe, but I can sympathize. The pull of unfinished work is strong . . . but sometime you have to resist.

This fall season has been amazingly busy, with the Baltimore Book Festival a few weeks back, the PAISTA Conference earlier this week, a performance at Riley’s Pour House tonight, and events at the University of Brighton and World Fantasy’s Reading Café coming up later this month.

1383702_10151609605645426_1348373447_nAnd there’s more.

Today, some of my good friends at Raw Dog Screaming Press and Dog Star Books are holding a bookstore crawl in Pittsburgh, with events kicking off this afternoon at 1:00 with four-time Bram Stoker winner Michael A. Arnzen reading and signing at the Carnegie-Mellon Bookstore in Oakland. After that, Stephanie Wytovich appears a couple miles north at The Big Idea Bookstore on Liberty Avenue. Then it’s ten blocks west for Matt Betts at The Muse Stand at 3:00. After that, at 4:00, Bradley’s Books at Station Square will play host to Heidi Ruby Miller before the day wraps up with Jason Jack Miller at Eljay’s in Dormont.

An amazing day!

There’s no way I’m going to miss dropping in on the Raw Dog writers before heading to Riley’s for a sound check. Seriously, if you live anywhere near Pittsburgh (say within 100 miles or so), you owe it to yourself to make at least one of these appearances. Yes, I know, there are other things to do, but who knows when these stars will align again?

In the days to come, watch this space for a couple of follow-up reports. One from PAISTA (where the good people who attended my presentation on Flash Fiction provided some terrific questions that I’d like to respond to here) and another on today’s events. After that I hope to get to at least one WFC preview before crossing the pond to the UK.

Stop back soon. More to come.

Until then, scop on!