Chasing the Absurd Muse

The following is a guest post by Gene Twaronite, whose poetry appeared in in issue 18 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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My prose poem “Food Chain,” published in Typehouse Issue 15, begins with a line guaranteed to put a reader to sleep: “I was out walking my dog.” What was I thinking? Blame it on James Tate. I had just finished reading his last book The Government Lake, consisting entirely of prose poems, published four years after his death in 2015. Many of his first lines are equally prosaic. Example: “The dog played in the snow all afternoon.” But here’s the thing about James Tate. You just know he’s going to take that line somewhere you didn’t expect—a strange world where anything can happen and you end up either guffawing or scratching your head in befuddlement.

Tate was a master of the absurd. Watching him chase after his muse like a hound zigzagging through the woods, with surreal situations and wordplay, is a mind-bending treat. I was intrigued by his poem “My New Pet” and was inspired to take the subject matter in a new direction and try writing a prose poem of my own. I’ve never been big on dogs. I’m more a python and tarantula kind of guy. I got to thinking about what would make a really weird pet, and a bright yellow banana slug popped into my head. But because it’s a dog lover’s world, I decided to have my main character out walking his slug as if it were a dog. I didn’t have a clue where this was going, but the chase was on. If there’s any message to my poem, perhaps it’s simply to enjoy the ride.

Edward Lear was another poet who inspired me to follow the absurd muse. Here’s the first line from one of his poems: “They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,” (The Jumblies). With its perfect meter and silly setup, it has stayed with me from the first time I read it. Just where are they supposed to go in a sieve? Why, to visit “the lands where the Jumblies live,” of course.

Poets who write for children are especially attuned to the absurd muse. Shel Silverstein’s poems range from pure silliness, as in “Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich,” to profound, as in the sad lesson of “Lester” (from Where the Sidewalk Ends). But even in his most silly poems there is a depth of profundity that’s hard to define. Maybe silliness itself is the message.

Any reader of Billy Collins knows that his poems are often laced with absurdity. My favorite example is his poem “Cosmology,” in which he replaces “that image of the earth/resting on the backs of four elephants/who are standing on a giant sea turtle” with one of his own: “resting on the head of Keith Richards.” And maybe I’ll just leave you with that image.

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Gene Twaronite is a Tucson poet, essayist, and children’s fiction writer. He is the author of ten books, including two juvenile fantasy novels as well as collections of essays, short stories, and poems, and a forthcoming picture book. His poetry book Trash Picker on Mars (Kelsay Books) was the winner of the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Arizona poetry. His latest book is My Life as a Sperm. Essays from the Absurd Side. Follow more of Gene’s writing at his website: thetwaronitezone.com.

Updated Submission Information

Hi all Typehouse readers and submitters! Due to several internal factors, we need to change our open reading period for this issue. Through September 1, our reading period will look like this:

  • We are closing to regular submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction as of July 11th
  • Black creatives can send regular submissions through July 25th
  • All works submitted before these dates will be reviewed, no one will rejected because they were not reviewed by the closure date
  • Feedback and visual arts submissions will remain open
  • We are also looking for a Black creative to submit artwork for the cover
  • We will remain closed to regular submissions at least through September first. Issue 20 comes out that month, and we will evaluate at that time what date we will open to regular submissions.


Typehouse issue 8, artwork by A. Riding
and S. La Fe
y

We know this is somewhat short notice, so we appreciate all of your
understanding and support! This is going to be a great issue, and we can’t wait for you all to see it.

Creating Micro Worlds: Speculative Flash Fiction

The following is a guest post by AnnElise Hatjakes, whose short work “A Diminished Chord” appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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The first time I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, I was too young to really understand its commentary on war, trauma, and violence. Rather than analyzing the work’s thematic ambitions, as my English assignment required, I could not stop thinking about what the book did in terms of craft. I had read other works of speculative fiction, but those books seemed to follow a clear set of rules, rules that dictated how the worlds of the novels operated. What Vonnegut created did not seem to abide by any rules at all. Once Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,” all bets are off.

Creating a fully developed world can require pages and pages of subtle exposition. When I was workshopping my speculative novel in graduate school, I was frequently asked for more details about the parallel universe I’d created. While I was revising, I kept worldbuilding because I thought that would make it feel more “real” and would answer questions that could be distracting to readers. What I realized, though, was that the more details I added, the more questions readers had. As soon as I got into the nuances of the economic structure, which runs on a new form of cultural capital, readers asked about how taxation would work, whether this new form of wealth could be transferred, and how exactly people could earn more capital.

For my story in Typehouse, which is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, women have literally been silenced and marked by a tattooed “A.” I spent a long time reading medical journal articles about vocal cord paralysis, and in my first draft, that research materialized in about two hundred words explaining the procedure of severing one’s vocal cords. After doing so much research, I felt like I needed to include that research to lend a greater sense of authority to the story. In the second draft, I did the opposite. I tried to take out as many of the details as I could while still giving the reader enough information. The narrator explains, “This morning, you make a cup of green tea from the stash that you secreted away last week. The flavor is sharp, and you have to take your time because since they severed the nerve to your vocal cords, swallowing has posed problems.” Rather than explaining the actual procedure, I chose to focus on the character’s experience of that procedure’s aftermath.

While I originally believed that only a novel could capture the intricacies of a different world, whether that’s a space opera or a dark fantasy, I now believe that flash fiction can do the same on a different scale. It provides enough space to pose a “what if?” question and allow the reader to contemplate the possible answers. For me, the key is not to get caught up in the minutiae of the fictional realm that’s been created.

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A native Nevadan, AnnElise Hatjakes holds an MFA degree in fiction and a master’s degree in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno, where she teaches English at a public high school. One of her stories was shortlisted for the Neil Shepard Prize in Fiction. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Juked, Tahoma Literary Review, and Typehouse, among others. She is currently completing revisions on her novel and will be attending the University of Missouri in the fall to earn her PhD in creative writing.

Humanity is the Heart of Horror

Eli HeadshotThe following is a guest post by Eli Ryder, whose short story “What Should Have Been” appeared in in issue 18 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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There’s an iconic moment in every apocalypse film you’ve ever seen wherein a character tiptoes through a grocery or pharmacy, navigating the mostly empty shelves and sweating through the quiet. Sometimes the character is Our Hero, bravely risking their own life in service of others. Sometimes, it’s a hapless redshirt whose brief time on screen serves only to let us know how horrific getting killed will be. We live their tension with them, knowing the stakes are life and death. We love to feel vulnerable, even need to, and that’s how good horror can be so good—it reminds us we’re human.

There’s a lot of blood-spraying, flesh-tearing horror slashing its way into our hearts on life and death alone. Any of the canonical slashers and their reboots, the glorious B-horror catalog, and even some comedy gems like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil draw revolted grimaces across our faces, and we love them all for it. They’re magnificent escapes, and we feel more alive when we return from those fantasies because we survived, dammit. We need those characters to suffer so that we can achieve that moment of arrival.

But sometimes the stakes are higher. Sometimes it’s a kid shaking and gasping through the store, freezing when a stray can falls off a shelf and clangs on the floor. It’s still life and death, but we’re doubly and triply afraid for the kid. Goes for dogs, too, and well-crafted relationships. There’s more than life to lose with those cases—there’s life worth living. And that adds heartbreak to horror. The kid has innocence, potential, things we still see in ourselves and lose right along with him when his toy shuttle’s lights and sound go off and the monster blurs furiously across the screen, leaving only a memory where the kid once stood.

I’m obviously thinking of A Quiet Place, but there are plenty of other examples. The first three seasons of The Walking Dead come to mind. 28 Days Later—if you didn’t mist up when Selena sees Jim’s eyes and doesn’t kill him, you’re probably a zombie.

Literary examples include Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door, which forces us to live through not only the physical torture portrayed in the book but also the emotional torture of being compliant in those gruesome acts and thus partially responsible for them. Another must-read is Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels, whose werewolf mythos is a doorway into the most beautiful and painful parts of growing up, of finding yourself. Of family. And, of course, there’s The Stand, Stephen King’s now seemingly prophetic chronicle of love that makes life worth living through the virulent plague ending the world.

These, and many others, use horror and its foundational elements to scare us into seeing ourselves and each other anew, into accepting and feeling things we’ve avoided, into processing and healing. Great horror scares us into loving harder and deeper than we thought we could and being better people for it.

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Eli Ryder is a college English professor in Texas, and his short stories and criticism appear in various online and print publications. He stole his MFA from UC Riverside’s low-residency program in Palm Desert, CA and can be found on Twitter @theeliryder.

The More You Discover, The More You Search

Fabio LastruccithThe following is a guest post by Fabio Lastrucci, whose artwork appeared in in issue 18 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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If a straight line is the shortest way to join two points, an arabesque is certainly the most imaginative. This example could perhaps explain the blurred logic of my artistic experience, a journey studded with changes of direction that took me far from the typical path and led me to discover fascinating destinations and new creative skills.

You don’t have to be (or believe you are) a new Leonardo Da Vinci to operate on several different dimensions. Everyone can do it if they do not stick to preconceived notions of success, or too rigid of plans. In my case, this choice to remain open to change was due to necessity, creative hunger, and not being someone who likes to say “no”.

Growing up between the canvases and brushes of my father, a professional painter, I had an early interest in drawing and painting. I nurtured other strong passions such as comics, science fiction, film and television, but without thinking these passions could become future professional experiences.

In 1987, at the end of my degree course in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, I joined the “Lanterna magica” theater company. The group commissioned me to design a graphic novel based on their successful play, La Guerra di Martin Senzasperanza Scemo Legale, thus starting a collaboration as a graphic designer.

The teaching of the great playwright Francesco Silvestri, who introduced me to the theatrical scene and its language, led me to open my horizons from painting and comics to set design and sculpting, where I learned to produce masks and muppets. For a young man looking for work, like me, it was exactly what I wanted. The training in painting proved very useful in this new field, and in a short time sculpture and SPFX became a full-time occupation. I joined forces with other associates in professional studios such as Golem Studio, Metaluna, and Forme. My team, based in the outskirts of Naples, specialized in the processing of foam rubber, latex and fiberglass, working for the main Italian theater and broadcasting companies.

The work was very engaging and full of challenges. At the same time I couldn’t resist cultivating an interest in creative writing, which culminated a few years later in the play “Racconti salati,” (a double-meaning phrase that means both “stories with salt” and “intelligent stories”) a children’s comedy about the new legends of the sea interpreted with actors and puppets and performed in the Dohrn Station, the Liberty Aquarium of Naples.

The variety of works in the theater asks us to develop eclectic expertise and to look for new creative impulses. With friends Fioravante Rea and Delfina Autiero, we opened a long chapter dedicated to the study and production of video clips ranging from directing to screenwriting and special effects production

This winding path has returned me to my roots, to a renewed interest in comics and illustration, working with Italian and American magazines.

I remind myself that in these times, facing our current crisis, art represents confidence and hope in a future. Change feeds the soul. New projects, new targets are both a price to pay and a prize for every artist. What will be the face of the next, unforeseen goal to be achieved?

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Fabio Lastrucci, after graduating at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, has worked for more than twenty years as a sculptor/scenographer for major television networks, opera and prose theatre, and from 2012 to the present he returns to the figurative arts with his brother Paolo (group Nuages–morbidi approdi) exhibiting in solo and group exhibitions. As a cartoonist and illustrator since ’87 he has been drawing comic books (“La guerra di Martin”. “Esodare incerto”), collaborating with advertising agencies in Campania and since 2016 he has been producing comics, illustrations and covers for Italian quarterly (Ronin, Sherazade) and American magazines (Perihelion Sf, Shenandoah, Metaphorosis, Bards and Sages, etc.).
As a writer from 2000 to today he publishes numerous short stories and from 2014 novels, essays and anthologies mainly in the field of the fantastic. He collaborates with Italian literary magazines (Rivista Milena, Delos SF) and foreigners – science fiction magazine Teoria Omicron (Ecuador).
https://www.behance.net/fabiolastra2ab
http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?275986
https://morbidiapprodi.wordpress.com

A Cat’s Inner World: The Process of Painting Cats

Jing KongThe following is a guest post by Jing Kong, whose artwork was on the cover of Issue 18 of Typehouse.

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The first time I saw Louis Wain’s painting was in a newspaper. The tabby cat in the picture has big eyes and looks left. The picture is so unusual and the cat seems to have a human expression. It looks cunning, curious, a little shy. The paintings I have seen about cats can be roughly divided into two types: realistic and cartoon. Both record the joy of life. I like cats very much, and I also like this kind of pure and childlike painting, so I searched for more of his paintings online. I was greatly affected. His cats have feelings, souls and many interesting behaviors.

For example, Wain painted a light yellow cat’s profile with a light blue background. There is a smile on the cat’s mouth. Its eyes look back. The cat looks very cunning and clever.

Another of Wain’s paintings has two cats sitting at a table and playing poker. Each cat is biting a cigar, looks leisurely and confident. They are not only looking at the cards in their hands, but also speculating opponent’s cards.

My favorite painting is the tabby cat picking grapes, the cat has a dumpy figure and a thick tail, the background is red. The tabby cat has picked bunches of grapes in its hands, but its eyes are looking at the scattered grapes around its feet. Its greedy expression looks like a person, wanting more. In order to further understand his works I tried to copy them.

For my submission to Typehouse, which became the cover of Issue 18, I drew a cat who plots to sneak-attack a parachuting mouse. A tabby cat appears in the blue sky, inhaling through its big mouth. On the left, the mouse under the parachute is very scared and holds fast the parachute rope. The cat watches the movement of the mouse closely. The cat looks cunning, but pretends to be innocent. The cat wants to eat the mouse and is determined to win.

When I draw a cat, I first determine the posture of the cat’s body, the direction of their head and the line of the cat’s sight. Then I focus on the cat’s eyes. The size and shape of the eyes convey the cat’s mood. Then I determine the position and highlight of the pupils. A cat with round eyes and large pupils expresses curiosity, happiness, concentration and even uneasiness. A cat’s eyes narrowed and squinted, feel disdainful and dissatisfied. The corner of a cat’s eyes tilt upward to indicate anger. A cat’s round eyes look up and have the feeling of fantasy and supplication. Similarly, a cat’s ears lean forward when it is curious. When a cat is angry, its ears are back, its chin is down or forward, its nose is wrinkled, and sometimes it bares its teeth. I think these details are very helpful to explore the cat’s inner world.

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Jenny loves life, nature and animals. She thinks painting is a way to explore human and animal souls. She likes traditional painting, using gouache and ballpoint pen. She gets inspiration from interesting pet stories, literary works and movies. She tries to discover the inner world of animals and human from painting

Important:

****THREE NOTES****

1.) We don’t take many current event pieces as with time between acceptance and publication they are often outdated or no longer relevant. But right now we invite Black authors to send us work of any kind, and we will have a section in issue 20 dedicated to amplifying your voices. And, the pieces don’t have to be about current events, or politics (although they can be if that is what you want). Just be a Black author or artist, creating what you love
#blacklivesmatter

2.) Also: Happy Pride Month! We still have work to do, but we’re proud of you! And that goes for ALL identities and orientations including QTPOC, two-spirit, trans, queer, bisexual, pansexual, nonbinary, asexual, genderfluid, genderqueer, intersex, demisexual, lesbian, gay, and more!

3.) We will not be accepting COVID-19 works for our September issue. The situation is too fluid, and changing by the day. We will however consider nonfiction pieces on a VERY limited basis, and they would have to be intersectional for us to consider them. If you have or will submit a piece for feedback we will still do feedback on it, and this does not apply to pieces in progress right now.

What Karate Taught Me About Dramatic Tension

Alan SincicThe following is a guest post by Alan Sincic, whose short story “Congratulations” won third place in Typehouse Literary Magazines 2019 short Story contest, and appeared in Issue 18 of Typehouse.

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I took karate for a year or so in college, and one of the things we learned early on was to be in complete control of our punches and kicks. The goal is to throw a full-power, full-speed punch that stops just short – within millimeters – of that vulnerable point on the body you’ve targeted. At the same time, you’re supposed to picture in your mind’s eye that fist of yours (specifically the ridges of the first two knuckles as they come twisting around with a snap of the wrist) smashing through the target. The idea is to punch, not at the target or on the target, but straight through the target – to shatter the ribs or to break the nose. We practiced on a “mock war-board” – a lightly padded wooden slab, a kind of springboard anchored to the wall with coils to absorb the shock. The board we would strike full-force, over and over again, to toughen up the striking knuckles and to perfect our form. Each blow we’d punctuate with a kee-aaa yell emanating from the solar plexus – a cry designed to focus the full force of one’s energy and, at the same time, to (presumably) unnerve one’s opponent.

When we sparred, however, we were never allowed to engage in full-contact fighting. Aside from the obvious difficulties – one blow, even from a beginner like me, could easily break someone’s nose – the whole point of sparring was to demonstrate, even under pressure, one’s complete mastery of technique. A blow that touched the karate gi or snapped to completion within an inch or so of the face was considered a “hit” and points were awarded. Not unlike fencing, where you don’t have to skewer someone to win the match.

Okay. So this has what to do with writing? Think of what happens in all those stories that keep us in suspense. Into the recipe they stir:

  1. A character strong enough to bend the course of events, to leave an imprint on the world around him. Before the battle the character – in a display of strength – spars.
  2. A decision of consequence. The character chooses – has it within her power to choose – whether to act or not. The choice matters because the stakes are high.
  3. A character who deliberates, confronts the options, and shares with us the moment of decision.

So here we go. The ingredients gather: the mugger meets the amateur ninja. The hero coils up into his ninja stance… and then pauses. Into the scene we lean. We find ourselves invested in the outcome. What will he do? What will he decide? How long will he hold us here, suspended in the balance?

And so it goes in a million movies and stories and books we’ve read. It’s the unconsummated kiss that ignites our interest, the slugger who sees the opening but stays his hand, the spy with the secret who (almost, but not quite) speaks. Not the bullet in flight but the finger on the trigger; not the leap into the abyss, but the lean out over the edge; not the ka-boom – no, but the tick of the timer.

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A teacher at Valencia College, Alan’s fiction has appeared in New Ohio Review, The Greensboro Review, Hunger Mountain, Big Fiction Magazine, A-3 Press, The Gateway Review, Cobalt, and elsewhere. Short stories of his recently won contests sponsored by The Texas Observer, Driftwood Press, The Prism Review, Westchester Review, and American Writer’s Review. He earned his MFA at Western New England University and Columbia and — back in the day — published a children’s chapter book, Edward Is Only A Fish (Henry Holt) that was reviewed in the New York Times, translated into German, and recently issued in a Kindle edition. For more info, visit alansincic.com.

Using Horror in Literary Fiction

Jenny StalterThe following is a guest post by Jenny Stalter, whose short story “Date With Crocodile Girl” appeared in Issue 18 of Typehouse.

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My cousins and I gathered around my stretched-out brother. We would laboriously lift him and feign stupefaction as he “floated” in the very air, unaided. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board, RISE! Light as a feather stiff as a board, RISE!” we would chant, over and over until we dropped him, which was—clearly the fault of whoever hadn’t been concentrating enough.

I recall sleepovers with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, read by flashlight. We would put pennies in our mouths and say, “This is the taste of blood.” We arranged our dolls on the windowsill, backlit by blue moonlight, and whispered that they were alive, they were coming for us, until we actually saw them move. We crushed leaves together with vinegar and Kool-Aid and the bodies of insects, concocting potions and we cast spells. We held hands and stared into mirrors and dared Bloody Mary to appear. We double-dog-dared each other into cellars and attics, returning with unspeakable tales about Raw-Head-and-Bloody-Bones or the Cucuy. We poked sticks at the bodies of decaying cats. We loved the thrill of the supernatural, of viscera and of fear. Mostly we were curious and alive.

Children’s games eventually gave way to reading the horror greats and when I was in the fourth grade, I wrote a novella called “Murder Island,” featuring hapless teenagers, a coven of witches, torture, a dungeon with a cage made from human bones, and forced cannibalism. Reading, writing and horror were in my blood. For me, horror elicits some of the most potent emotions: shock, disgust, hopelessness, fear. But mostly, it titillates my curiosity.

As a teenager I began reading literary fiction, becoming overwhelmed by its capacity to move me. Literary fiction stretched me across the entirety of the emotional spectrum. I felt connected to other people; humanity multiplied, the universe all packed into matter and consciousness. I began to use elements of horror when writing literary fiction to magnify this affirmation that we are alive. Humanoid creatures, body horror, gore, even tragedy—I implement each of these into my fiction to fully open the experience. To tease at our deepest existential fears and questions.

In my story “Date With Crocodile Girl,” I use a non-human, deadly creature to discuss human nature. There is a natural inclination to see a juxtaposition between a carnivorous reptile and a human woman but as the story unfolds, Crocodile Girl and her date discuss ethics and morality, and they find common ground. The woman discovers her most authentic self through her interaction and infatuation with the crocodile. But ultimately Crocodile Girl is still a monster. And by the end of the story, we grow anxious for the woman’s safety. We are left grappling, not only with the woman’s fate, but with the parallels between human and beast.

I want to cast spells. I want to leave you with the taste of blood in your mouth.

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Jenny Stalter is a writer and former private chef. Her work appears in New Flash Fiction Review, Eunoia Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and Tiny Molecules and is forthcoming in Cease, Cows. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. 

The Backstory of “Badass”

Pamela StutchThe following is a guest post by Pamela Stutch, whose short story “Badass” appeared in Issue 18 of Typehouse.

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During the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to follow one of my favorite instrumental hard-rock bands. It was a chance to view a successful group up-close, devoid of any glamour. I became especially friendly with the band’s bassist and only woman in the entourage. She told me about driving around the country in their van, the equipment and luggage jammed in the back, for weeks, even months on end, and how the other band members relied on her for everything from hotel reservations to paperwork for the next gig. But she liked it, she said. They had been a band for twenty years. A family. She had never thought about doing anything else.

One evening, before the set, I encountered her in the ladies room.

“They can’t even order their own meals,” she said in an irritated tone, referring to the other band members. She plopped her knapsack on the floor with a thud and put her hands on her hips. “I had to take it all down on a napkin and bring it to the kitchen or else we wouldn’t have eaten tonight.” Then she added sheepishly, “I don’t mean to complain. It just gets to me sometimes.”

Inspired by her, when I returned home I began to write a story about a traveling rock band and its only female member. When I brought the piece to one of my MFA workshops, however, I quickly saw that it didn’t work.

“These people are too nice,” my instructor said of my characters. “Think of a middle-aged punk band with Joan Jett in it. Think of a woman who won’t take shit from anyone getting very sick of her life.”

I came back to the piece with a different perspective. I rewrote it again and again, imagining my protagonist on stage, braced with an attitude, and her bandmates jaded, crude, and much different than they were in real life. I bent, shaped, and stretched my characters way beyond their original boundaries. To depict the culmination of my narrator’s frustration, I conjured up a modern-day female Jimi Hendrix who uses hairspray instead of lighter-fluid to torch the band’s equipment. The story “Badass,” which appeared in Typehouse Issue 18, resulted from those efforts.

By coincidence, the evening I found out that “Badass” had been accepted, the band I had followed was scheduled to play at a nearby club. I greeted the bassist at the end of the show and excitedly conveyed the news about the upcoming publication.

“I don’t know what to say.” She grinned, her eyes shining in the post-show club lights. “I’ve never been the inspiration for a story before. I’m flattered.”

I promised to send her a copy and she hugged me. As I left the club and walked to my car, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for the perseverance to struggle through the writing process, as difficult as it is, and bring stories to life.

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Pamela Stutch received her MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program. Her stories have appeared in Typehouse Literary Magazine and Five on the Fifth. Another story will be published in The Woven Tale Press later this year. She is currently employed as an attorney and lives in Scarborough, Maine, with her husband, son, one cat and one dog. Photo credit Matt Jones.