France Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

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:


Mark Antony, Two Hours Before His Big Speech

Murrayus, you have the revisions?…Finally. Two hours, and I’m up to my toga pleats in angry rabble, and that last draft you brought me was excrement. ‘You get drachmas, and you get drachmas, and you get drachmas!’ What was that? I’m not looking like a fool in front of the plebes. I just heard Brutus rehearse, and he’s going to kill out there. Stop laughing. I mean he’s good. He starts in with how much he loved Caesar, loved the hell out of that man. When that bastard has the crowd all lovey, he gives them the twist that he loved a free Rome more. And you, you have me spewing drachmas.

Yes, I have Caesar’s bequest in my back pocket. That’s my tease. If I open straight with drachmas, that’s all the plebes are going to hear. My whole speech will be fielding questions about method of payment.

Right. Let’s run through it. ‘Romans, huddle up everybody. We need to talk.’ What in Hades? This is your better opening?…What’s wrong with it? It’s wooden. Give me sing-songy, a rhythm to catch their ears. You know, da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. I’m not the poet here, dimwit. I’m a damned general, and I’m on in two damned hours.

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 if it’s vivid. Do you think my insulting the martyr we want all Rome behind around helps our cause? You think the plebes leap behind a canker-blossom? You must, because here’s canker-blossom back in the speech.

Let’s keep going. ‘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? You have me stabbing Caesar over and over with a dagger metaphor. It goes on and on, me stabbing and stabbing Caesar’s memory…Yes, it’s anaphora. I’ve studied rhetoric. You don’t believe the dagger metaphor might associate me with those who did the actual stabbing? Say, like Brutus?

This is rubbish. Complete rubbish. I’ll just scan the rest. Hmm hmm hmm. Oh, now you have me calling Brutus a son of whore…It’s edgy? Look, I told you I wanted high oratory. Subtle. Things are a bit strained around the Capitol as you might imagine, what with all the damned regicide. Perhaps you would like me stabbed as well. Is that it?…I’m beginning to think you do.

New plan…No, canker-blossom is dead, understood? Dead. I’m on after Brutus, so we turn the tables on him. We undercut his premise that Caesar had to be killed for the good of Rome. So why does Brutus claim Caesar had to go?…You forgot? You have it in this draft. Unchecked ambition. Bring me something that proves Caesar bore no such ambition…Like what? I really have to do all the speechwriting here?

Remember that night on the Lupercal?…Yes, it was quite a party. My point is, if Caesar wanted to be king, he could have taken the crown then and there. Drunk as we were, Jupiter knows we tried to crown him, but he turned us down three times. Three. Work that in. What else on ambition?…Yes, that he turned over his conquest tribute to our general coffers. More of that. Make it drip with that.

Next we take Brutus down a notch. That prig never loved Rome as half as much as Caesar did…I’m absolutely not calling Brutus a son of a whore…Because it’s a little direct. We have to use his words against him, make it seem like I’m praising him when really I’m giving him the business…I know it’s a good idea. It’s the same idea I gave you an hour ago. Right, so Brutus says he loved Caesar. Give me something like ‘Then I guess he loved Caesar to death’…You can’t just use that. I’m spit-balling. Make it poetic, memorable…Fine. You can work in a dagger reference. One.

What else is Brutus known for?…Other than stabbing Caesar…His honor? Yes, he thinks he’s as sacred as the Sky Father, doesn’t he? Play that up. We parade for the plebes his many lapses in honor, then repeat of course no one in Rome could ever be more honorable than Saint Brutus. Set it up where I appeal to the crowd in sort of a building rhythm, snap snap snap with the same closing shot at Brutus…You don’t know how? It’s epistrophe, the exact opposite of anaphora. You knew what that was.

We’re out of time. Throw in the dirt, then blast them with wounded patriotism. I want Plebius Twowineskins convinced Brutus betrayed not only Caesar but Rome.

Props. What can we do with props?…No, I’m not wearing Caesar’s mantle…Because it’s completely soaked in his blood. Even if it wasn’t, could it be that Brutus takes my donning Caesar’s own mantle as something like, I don’t know, a challenge?…Put the mantle on Caesar and carry him in? That is surprisingly genius. Do we even know where the body is?…I’ll track it down.

You, you’re back here in thirty minutes with something I can actually read. Da-DUM da-DUM, remember. Rhythm and poetic build. Bring me canker-blossom, and you taste my whip.

If it doesn’t work? We run with the drachmas.

Humor Open Letters

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

Humor Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

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