Behind: “La Upsell”

Intrepid Travelers Lowestoft coverHere, in honor of its recent republication, is a “Behind The Short Story” I wrote for “La Upsell.”

The short story is its own literary animal, a wholeness experienced in few words and on small bones. Some writers get a sunbeam and angel choir moment of inspiration. Others grit it out, go find the story. I’m somewhere in between those extremes.

For “La Upsell,” I was deep in a story groove, having worked up momentum on several other shorts. A rare place for me, to be fully inspired. It’s a hell of a feeling.

Inspiration went something like this: Continue reading Behind: “La Upsell”

Humor: Mark Antony, Two Hours Before His Big Speech

“Murrayus, you have the revisions?… It’s about time. That last draft you people brought me was excrement. I’m not looking like a fool in front of the plebeians, understood? I heard Brutus practicing earlier, and he’s going to kill out there. He starts in with how much he loved Caesar, and right when he has them, he gives them the twist that he loved Rome more. By Jupiter, I want to stick it to that prig…

Yes, I know I have the Caesar’s bequest thing in my back pocket. I can’t lead with the money for everyone… I’ll tell you why not. Because if I open with money, then that’s all they’re going to hear. Instead of winning them over, my whole time will just be fielding questions about method of payment. And if I just toss it out there too soon, I won’t get full credit. Timing, gentlemen. And this credit is too damned golden to split with Brutus.

Right. Let’s run through it.

‘Romans, huddle up everybody. I have an announcement.’ 

What in Hades? This is your better opening? I need to appeal to them, dimwit… No, ‘we need to talk’ is not better. It’s wooden. Give me something sing-songy, that draws them in, to catch their ears. You know, da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. I’m not the poet here, people. I’m a damned general and I’m on in two damned hours.

All right, from the top.

‘Huddle up, Romans. We need to talk. Forget Caesar. He was a canker-blossom.’

I cut this two drafts ago. How did canker blossom get back in here?… I don’t care how vivid the image is, you think me insulting the very man we want to rally them around really helps our cause? You think I can get the plebeians behind a canker-blossom? Do you really? You must, because here’s ‘Caesar’s a canker-blossom’ right back in the blasted speech.

Let’s keep going.

‘No, let Caesar be buried. Let my words cut him from our hearts. Let my words be the dagger thrust against Caesar’s memory, the dagger thrust against his ambition, the dagger thrust–’

Gods, what’s wrong with you people? You have me stabbing Caesar’s memory over and over with a dagger metaphor? It goes on five more times, me stabbing and stabbing Caesar’s reputation with verbal daggers… Yes, I know it’s anaphora. I’ve studied rhetoric, you imbecile. You don’t think the dagger metaphor sort of associates me with those who did the actual stabbing with the actual daggers?… No, it’s not ironic. It’s rubbish. Complete rubbish.

This needs so much work I’ll just scan the rest. Hmm hmm hmm. Oh, I see you have me calling Brutus a son of whore… You think it’s edgy? Look, I told you I wanted subtle. Things are a bit strained around the Capitol right now, as you might imagine, what with all the damned regicide! Perhaps you all would like to see me stabbed as well. Is that it?… No? I’m beginning to think you do…

For the last time, no, I won’t just go with the drachmas. It’s how I close the sale on the damned high oratory I’ve just laid on them, you know, the high oratory I’m giving in less than two hours and have yet to see from my damned speechwriters!

All right, here’s what we do. I’m on right after Brutus, yes?… Good. We’ll turn the tables on him. Let’s undercut his premise that Caesar had to be killed for the good of Rome. So what is Brutus’s logic? What’s his argument that Caesar had to go?… What do you mean you forgot? You had it in the draft of the speech! Ambition, you morons! Bring me something that shows Caesar had no such ambition… Like what? Do I really have to do all the work here?

Remember that night on the Lupercal?… Yes, it was quite a party. That’s not my point. If Caesar wanted to be king, he could have taken the crown then and there. Jupiter knows we tried to give it to him, but he turned us all down three times. Work that in. What else on ambition?… Yes, that he turned in the tribute from his conquests to our general coffers. Good. Now we’re going… An excellent charioteer? How does that apply? What else do we have? Think big… Concern for the poor, yes. More of that. Make it drip with that. We need to demonstrate that Brutus may love Rome more than he did Casear, but Brutus never loved Rome as half as much as Caesar did…

How? We take Brutus down a peg. You know, lessen the oratory by lessening the orator… No, I told you, I’m not calling him a son of a whore…  Because it’s a little direct, that’s why. And petty… Claim he wasn’t even born in Rome? Everyone knows Brutus is a Roman. How about this? What if we use Brutus’s words against him, make it seem like I’m praising him when I’m really letting him have it?… I know it’s a good idea. That’s why I said it. All right, so he’s going to say he loved Caesar. Give me something like ‘Then I guess he loved Caesar to death’… No, you can’t just use that. It’s snarky. Make it poetic, memorable… Yes, you can work in dagger references here, just not associated with me.

What else is Brutus known for?… No, other than stabbing Caesar. We just said that… His honor? Yes, he think he’s so damned honorable, doesn’t he? Play that up. We’ll show the plebes his many lapses in honor while repeating the claim that of course no one is more honorable than he. Set it up where I appeal to the crowd in sort of a building rhythm, closing with the same sarcastic shot at Brutus’s honor.… What you mean you don’t know how? It’s epistrophe, the exact opposite of anaphora. You knew how to do that.

What else?… He’s a wine connoisseur? How does bringing up that Brutus is a wine connoisseur tear him down? It insults the wine lovers among the plebes is what it does. All right, we’re short on time. If you can’t dig up some usable dirt, then run with the stabbing Caesar thing. But make him sound evil, not patriotic. I want Plebius Twowineskins out there thinking Brutus betrayed not only Caesar but all of Rome.

Now, what about omens? Can our people work up any ill portents? This can’t get traced back to me… No time? Damn. Props then. What can we do with props?… No, I’m not wearing Caesar’s mantle! That’s disgusting…Because it’s soaked in blood, idiot. Even if it wasn’t, could it be that Brutus or Cassius might take me donning Caesar’s mantle of victory as something like, I don’t know, me trying to crown myself king?… Put it on Caesar and carry him in? That is pure genius. Do we even know where the body is?… Fine, I’ll see if I can track it down.

I want you all back here in an hour with something I can actually read. I want those plebes eating out of my hand. Whoever brings me ‘canker-blossom’ will taste my whip, understood?…

If it doesn’t work? We’ll hand out the drachmas.”

An Open Letter to the Big Time Reality TV Producer Who Thinks All Jobs in Alaska Are Cool

Dear Big Time Reality TV Producer Convinced All Occupations in Alaska Are Cool,

I see it like I’m right there with you. I see you sitting at your desk, a mounted moose head behind you, a big map of Alaska on the opposite wall, and your people shuffle in, all averted eyes and hang-dog expressions, one at a time admitting they’ve got nothing to out-Ax Men Ax Men. You curse them. One guy says he’s got an idea about having a camera ride along with a long-haul trucker. You ask him what’s the hook, what is the driver doing while on the road. Just driving, he says, maybe sometimes it’s dark out or the weather gets bad. You tell him the idea sucks. You’re set to fire him when Continue reading An Open Letter to the Big Time Reality TV Producer Who Thinks All Jobs in Alaska Are Cool

Satire: “He Writes in the Present Tense”

Bob’s note: The old woman here is, in my head anyway, a prototype for the old man in “The Carcassonne Dream.” Oh, and the tortured subject-verb relationships…well, that kind of the point.

Today fiction chooses him. Among the crowd circling the bookstore café, he is fastest to claim the open table. He powers up his laptop and smells the coffee brewing, hears the tempest roar of the cappuccino maker. This, he thinks, is writing.

He sets his fingers atop his keyboard, the artist poising for his muse. Nothing comes. He bemoans his feckless muse and switches to Facebook.

Those without tables see he is almost out of coffee. They circle, ready to swoop. For the sake of his writing he forgoes a refill. At the Überbooks café, it is literary trench warfare.


There is a time in his past when Continue reading Satire: “He Writes in the Present Tense”