Archive for the ‘From our Contributors’ Category

Making Memories and Making Art: Issue 13.2

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

What do we do with memory? As far as our writers are concerned, they certainly aren’t going to take contributor Todd Hearon’s comic advice: “Forget it.” Instead, these 13.2 contributors’ poems explore how memory connects us with the people we’ve lost and with former versions of ourselves, trapping us as well as stp-dali-disintegration-pomgiving us solace. In Chowdhury’s poem, life and memory are cyclical, the joy of children’s “scattered laughter” inextricably tied to the knowledge that “I was born into my grandfather’s death.” In Christiansen’s poem, the memory of her grandmother inspires a meditation on aging and longing, a “kestrel . . . chitter[ing] for her fledglings” who will not return. Hearon brings us full circle, from memory as poetic subject to memory as poetic form, reminding us how powerful rhyme and song can be, how they make memories that never seem to fade.

Shayok Misha Chowdhury on “Creation Myth: Morning”: These days, I measure my time in funerals. The old ones are passing out of this world. Some young ones too. In my language, when someone dies we say they become a “picture.” My grandfather has always been a picture to me, hanging black-and-white against the walls of our family homestead at P544 Raja Basanta Roy Road, Kolkata 700029. I find myself taking comfort in that inevitable alchemy: we will all be pictures one day. This poem is a part of an ongoing series of creation myths. I mean myth not as a synonym for “lie” but as a formative truth: how we came to be. It’s a question I imagine I will never be finished with. How is that I am, that we are? I rarely write formal poems. But the relentless repetition of the pantoum allowed me, in this instance, to return obsessively to words that have always haunted me, that refuse to leave me alone. Dead. Mourning. Mother.

April Christiansen on “Dysphagia”: This poem is from a manuscript that explores themes of growing up in Arizona, the complicated relationships of family and an adult perspective on how people do and do not communicate. While the family is placed in the middle of the beautiful and stark Sonoran Desert, many of the poems deal with the places we have left the desert for and my imagined experience of those who both remained and departed. I am interested in the tension between the tangible and the intangible and how those things are experienced in tandem. This particular poem is inspired by my grandmother and imagines her thoughts and experiences near the end of her life.

Todd Hearon: Mnemosyne—mother of the muses, speaker of this poem—is the goddess of memory. That said, I have no memory of what inspired this poem or how it was composed. I think it grew out of a fragment—advice that a businessman-father might give to his son:

ON MEMORY

Forget it. There’s no future in it.

I do remember that the poem came quickly and that it surprised me with its sonnet form. I also remember being surprised during the writing that it came out on just two rhymes. But that shouldn’t surprise, rhyme being one of the best forms of mnemonics.

From Birth to Death: Robert Foreman and Anatoly Molotkov

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

medusaWriters are consummate observers: we stand to the side, notebooks in hand, pencils behind our ears, eager to see and understand the world around us. In issue 13.1, two contributors take on the task of processing the most universal human experiences—birth and death—and they do it by attempting to remain above the fray even as they enter it. In Robert Foreman’s story “Awe,” a man goes to watch the birth of a child by a near stranger. Hoping to feel something new, to experience “awe,” he finds himself in over his head. In Anatoly Molotkov’s poem “Obituary,” the author takes a sidelong look at death, “hid[ing] among reflections” like a man who observes the Medusa by hiding around a corner, able to look on her face only through a mirror. 

Robert Foreman: My first daughter’s birth was a c-section. I wasn’t allowed in the room until the very end, and a surgeon was there, too. It was a joyful experience, but it was nothing like when my wife gave birth to our second daughter, without the intervention of a surgeon, or for that matter an epidural. Whereas our first daughter’s birth was thrilling, the second’s was astonishing, and I found that when it was over I felt like a different person. I wasn’t a different person; I have all the same bad habits I had before, and I’m still a bad driver. I spend a lot of my time looking at things on eBay that I can’t afford. But I knew, as soon as Daughter Two was born, that what had happened there was unlike anything else that had happened in all the other rooms I’d been in.

Writing “Awe,” I was at least as interested in my distance from the event of childbirth as I was in the sheer astonishment of childbirth. The awareness of my secondariness to the experience colors all my memories of it. In order to represent and exaggerate that distance, I made the witness to childbirth in “Awe” a virtual stranger to the woman giving birth and to everyone else present. The moderate fun and great difficulty of writing the story lay in figuring out just what circumstances would lead someone to want to see a baby getting born, and what sort of people would plausibly let a stranger watch the birth of their child. I wanted to convey the life-changing, life-making beauty of human reproduction, but I had to work my way toward it via fabrication.

Anatoly Molotkov: When I write prose, I’m focused on telling a compelling story, on characters whose reality I expect to be authentic to the reader—it should all come together, “make sense.” In poetry, I seek a less linear approach to discourse. Poetry’s workings defy logic. A poem should not be completely understood by either the reader or the writer—instead, it should open an interpretive space in which multiple possibilities coexist. “Obituary” begins a series of poems that attempt to project a distinct, confident voice via the use of statements that do not easily lend themselves to causative relationships yet accrue as symptoms of the speaker’s views and, more generally, of the human condition.

The Art of Experience: Catherine Staples and Angela Ball

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Is poetry a pool filter that needs to be cleaned out? How can we transmute our day-to-day detritus into poetry? Two of our contributors from 13.1 grapple with how to explore and write about experiences both external and internal. Catherine Staples, in detailing the events and images that resulted in “Like a Sleeve of Arctic Air,” shows how an accumulation of sensory information can be generative. For example, the big, difficult questions here aren’t plucked aimlessly from the air, but rather gleaned from the bitter cold, childhood tales of angels, and owls. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re the protagonists of our own stories. The “horrifying novel-in-progress” that Angela Ball meadorable-owlntions seems like an apt way to think about how we’re simultaneously experiencing and creating the realities that we participate in.

Inspiration comes in many forms, but it’s our willingness to make do with what surrounds us, or once did, that allows us to create art. When the oxygen mask drops from the overhead compartment, be sure to strap it on.

Catherine Staples: “Like a Sleeve of Arctic Air” began with weather, a winter blizzard that knocked out power all along the mid-Atlantic. At first it was thrilling; we lit candles and piled on comforters. With a good supply of wood and kindling, we reveled in keeping the fire going. We boiled water on stacked logs for oatmeal and tea, and wrapped our dog Rosie in blankets. But by the fourth day the temperature in the house was dangerously low. As I rushed out to relight the fire, leaving the warmth of my husband for the cold hearth and struggling clumsily to make the matches light, I was struck by the dire nature of the cold. How thin is the veil between this world and the next? What keeps us any of us alive? As a child I had learned about guardian angels; they tempered that terrifying line in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer—the one that mentions “if I should die before I wake.” Imagination leapt from the concept of guardian angels to the plausibility of feathers, wings, proximity. Months earlier, I had been out to Rushton Woods Preserve with my Villanova pastoral literature students to watch as northern saw-whet owls were banded. These diminutive owls are flush with feathers, head to foot. Up close, you can see that the wing feathers are fringed, which muffles their flight, rendering it virtually soundless. Perhaps more remarkable, as a saw-whet lifts off your palm to return to the dark after banding, you can see but not hear it leave. The lyric impulse for accuracy is a necessity when you introduce the uncanny; with luck, the detail about wings and the dog’s knowing glance suspend disbelief.

Angela Ball: “You Say It’s Hard to Join the Hours” was written during an April marathon featuring current and former Center for Writers students and colleagues. I’ve always liked the British expression for someone who has gone a bit bonkers: “she/he has lost the plot.” I think that we form part of a complicated, continuous, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes horrifying novel-in-progress constructed of our travels through the world, during which we lean heavily on pro forma, often useless advice and rigid convictions passed down from family experience. The poem plays off of this notion.

The Art of Addition: Allen Forrest, John A. Nieves, Alison Pelegrin

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Our conscious minds notice only the tiniest fraction of all the stimuli in our environment: car horns, baking bread, ants on the sidewalk, a gust of wind, a buzzing phone. Sometimes, it seems easier to put in our headphones, tune everything out, and get through the day. Thankfully, our issue 13.1 contributors are on high alert, noticip1-bb991_powsub_g_20110812183308ng the little, the obscure, and the strange, bringing us the news of a world that is challenging and beautiful. Tabloids we might not notice become critiques of our own voyeurism, a museum we may never visit becomes a site of religious power, and the chilling fog reminds us that unseen does not mean lost. Check out what our contributors have to say about finding inspiration from the world around them.

Allen Forrest: The idea for my comic came to me as I was waiting in line at the grocery store and looking at all those tabloids at the checkout. The psychology of their subjects and headlines made me think “what if” they spelled it out a little more. I am a big fan of the late Mae Brussell and all her amazing research work—so I incorporated some of her views into this piece.

John A. Nieves: Both “Brume” and “While the Radio Was On” are poems in a series on everyday disappearances. I am interested in the way things slip from the world and the different ways people deal with that slippage. “Brume” engages the way fog erases by filling space, by obscuring. I was interested in disappearance by addition instead of subtraction, so even the final note of the poem is one of addition. “While the Radio Was On” engages a particular suspected suicide, though even the finality of that tragic occurrence (and the body disappearing below) gets called into question as the surety about the motive of the act is troubled and doubt dissolves into a narrative we all know perhaps too well. Even the doubt, then, disappears in its own way.

Alison Pelegrin: “The Doomsday Prepper’s Villanelle” was inspired by binge watching (as a comedy) the series Doomsday Preppers. I live in the deep South, where this kind of preparedness has been hard core among citizens since (and probably long before) Y2K. “Hot Sauce Shrine” came to me from all over. There is a found objects/junk museum near my house that has a hot sauce house. A lot of the imagery in that poem I have seen on a country road I drive sometimes to and from work. The last line came from a video featuring the poet Campbell McGrath—I have no idea of the source (I think this was pinned to the wall behind him), but it has always reminded me of Bede’s sparrow.

microreview/interview: A. Molotkov’s The Catalog of Broken Things

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

amolotkov1

In my reading of The Catalog of Broken Things (Airlie Press, 2016) by poet and 13.1 contributor A. Molotkov, I found a thematic thread made up of moments within longer lyric sequences where the given speaker of a poem gestures toward a spirit of assessing the nature of “broken things.”

We dive right into the catalog, so to speak, with the poems in the first sequence, “The Catalog of Broken Things,” which approach family narratives with a surrealistic sensibility. The opening poem begins:

I let my dead mother in.
She’s lonely out there on her own.
Her ears are seashells
empty of sea.

Reading these lines, I get a sense of a poetry that feels out the world through images. This aesthetic creates a reading experience where the reader is carried into the meaning-making process through sensation as much as language. The following section is another example of this sensibility at work:

11

My aunt, a shadow without a landing.
In her chest, small
streams fight for the chance to be
called river.
I list her in my catalog under tumors.
She deserves more attention.
We all do, we keep
telling the moon,
but it’s dead. It doesn’t listen.

I listen.

The concept of a catalog implies a sense of order and control; what is being wrestled with here is the lack of both. By proceeding to pit themselves against the image of the moon, who is seen as “dead” and unable to listen, the speaker, and, in a way, the poem, are in the role of providing “more attention.” This is a gesture not of repair but of acknowledgement. Life cannot be controlled and ordered beyond our personal understanding, our “listening.”

This acknowledging/cataloging voice appears again in the later sequence, “The Melting Hourglass.” In this sequence, the reader is presented with the story of Zungvilda and Goombeldt as narrated by a disembodied speaker. This speaker alternates from sounding like a family member, complete with shared memories, to sounding like the voice of the hourglass of the sequence’s title. This variation in voice and narration add to the reading experience; one gets a sensation of the lyrical line as live wire. The following section of the sequence presents the kind of torque available through this imaginative conceit:

Zungvilda shares her thoughts
I have no choice but to listen
after all she lives inside my head

she asks why men are so difficult
don’t generalize I say
but she can’t hear me in there

I’m afraid it’s a monologue
I’m afraid it always is

she wonders why every day seems to start
with wild yanking and smoke
like an old lawn mower
she muses about the interchangeable
questions and answers

she suspects that the new crater
that just formed on the moon
might be her early grave
she remembers the time

when she was a girl
lost in the forest

I remember it too
even though I was
too young to remember

The narrative turns developed in the speaker’s mediation here provide a fruitful disorientation in that the reader has to follow the lyric sense of the line as it develops. In the first two stanzas, the speaker is shown to be privy to Zungvilda’s thoughts while also being at a remove; this tension of intimacy and distance is paralleled in the last two stanzas where one of Zungvilda’s memories begins to take shape, but is quickly turned away from by the speaker.

These two moments are variations of the “broken things” theme of the book. When the speaker states “I’m afraid it’s a monologue / I’m afraid it always is,” a moment rich in metanarrative and self-awareness occurs; the “monologue” here is not only a metaphor for time and existence, but also poetry. In the same way that poetry is able to provide “attention” in the poem discussed above, poetry here is seen as able to acknowledge its limits and “broken” nature. Seen this way, the title of this collection becomes its own mission, writing as a way to catalog the broken things around us.

*

interview

amolotkov2J: Were there any challenges in writing these poems, and  if so how did you work through them?

A. M. : The challenges of balance. Once I commit to a longer work, the next question becomes: is it going to be five pages, or fifty? Working with recurring themes and motifs, it’s tempting to keep going. How to choose the length that keeps the tension, helps me avoid repeating myself, and allows for a substantial investigation? Once I settle on an approximate length and write my selections, their order becomes both an opportunity and a challenge. Ultimately, any poem could have emerged in many different ways, but happens to be the way it is, not optimal in any objective sense, but a compromise between intention and the infinity of possibilities. If we consider the many points of view and tastes the readers will bring, it’s easy to see that each word shivers with fear and anticipation for the unlikely connection it may fail to make.

My tendency in poetry is to push the text outside my own comfort zone. Often, I end up distanced from the capability to evaluate my own poems. I am in three writers’ groups in order to compensate for my myopia and my personal obsessions. Almost thirty people had their eyes on some or all of the poems in The Catalog and provided a wide variety of suggestions. I’m indebted to them for breathing their reality into my work.

*

The Catalog of Broken Things is available for pre-order from Airlie Press.

Special thanks to A. Molotkov for participating! Check out his poem “Obituary” in issue 13.1.

Find out more about his work at his website.

The Classics Revisited: Hamby and Kolbe

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

urnSince before Keats got excited about a Grecian urn, poets have been reworking, reimagining, and revolutionizing the classics. One of our issue 13.1 contributors went all the way to Greece to follow in the steps of Odysseus, and found in the modern streets full of shops the tempting decadence, and ultimately empty promise, of material possessions. Though it is not named in the poem, we feel the influence of The Odyssey in the journey of the writer and the objects for sale from all around the world.

Another contributor found the classics much closer to home—inspired by classic rock as she takes a jog—and ponders in her poem how art and context affect one another in a constant feedback loop. Thoughts of Tom Petty songs combine with “hard lines Doric/ at the mouth” to remind us that, like the classics, we are always aging, and, if we are lucky, always changing.

Barbara Hamby on “A Farewell to Shopping”: In Summer 2013 I received a grant from Florida State to follow The Odyssey from Troy to Ithaka. I reread Robert Fagles’s translation just before leaving, and I was using Tim Severin’s book The Ulysses Voyage to plan my trip. Severin built a Bronze Age ship and tried to replicate Odysseus’s voyage. One of Odysseus’s first stops after leaving Troy was pillaging a coastal town. I was in Heraklion, Crete, on my way to the spot where Severin thinks Polyphemus’s cave might have been if the story was based on fact, though it was probably highly fictionalized. In Heraklion I was walking down a street filled with the international shops you see everywhere, and the whole street seemed so tawdry. I thought, “I’m finished with shopping.” I suddenly thought of Odysseus’s pillaging as a shopping stop. The poem started percolating during lunch and I had a draft by the time we arrived in Sougia, where I did find Polyphemus’s cave. And I still go shopping from time to time.

Laura Kolbe: “Classic Rock” started when I took a run on Maine’s first warm day last year. House after house, men and women were putting to rights their porches, lawns, and driveways, while stereos and boom-boxes piped classic rock over their efforts. When I ran past “Purple Haze,” I had to stop and laugh—it seemed so incredible that a sound once deemed revolutionary, even socially dangerous, was now helping retirees maintain their equanimity while dredging gutters. Things often achieve “classic” status for their forceful, violent beauty, but once canonized, they are as rapidly, even comically, domesticated. The poem says this—and more, and better, I hope.

Make the Most of Your Toast

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Five Senses Icons

Reality often doesn’t feel half as tangible as it should, particularly when—for whatever reason—the writing of poems has become an aspect of that reality. In a world of flashing, palm-sized screens and of experiences summed up in what were once bird calls, it’s easy to lose track of the importance and pleasure of utilizing (and exploring) all of our senses. Some of our contributors for issue 13.1 attribute the genesis of their poems to physical sensations: the “walkability” of New York; a trip of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky; and a filling breakfast, complete with crisp, vocal strips of bacon.

It’s old wisdom, but good: if you’re looking for poetry—or for Papa Walt—try under your boot-soles first. 

Mark Belair: One of the beauties of New York City, for a poet, is its walkability. A stray moment here, another there—and a poem starts to coalesce. The writing of “Shadows” followed that form. The notable shadows of darkened windows, of leaves, of skyscrapers—all encountered separately, on separate summer days—came together when I sought the inviting shade of a garden willow tree. And when, calmed, I returned to the blistering sidewalk, it was the shade I myself cast that I suddenly—and only then—noticed as another contribution to the day’s inescapable variety and confusion. And this quiet poem came together.

Mary Kaiser: This poem began, like many poems in my current collection, with an overnight visit to the Shaker village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Waking up at dawn in one of the old dwelling houses, I imagined a Shaker elder on a summer morning having an experience that could be a dream, a vision, or just the play of light coming through the big, east-facing windows. I love the way Clay Mettens’s complex, layered musical setting of my poem suggests these liminal possibilities while transforming the speaker’s sharp-angled, off-kilter lyricism into a heart-rending aria.

Cate Lycurgus: “Fertility Treatments, Toast” began as most my poems do—through I line I couldn’t shake. In this case, the line was a joke of sorts—a partner of mine used to say that something would “sizzle his bacon” when he really loved it, and vegetarian me always joked it was proof I really loved him, to fry him bacon. The initial line of this offer continued to surface through morning runs and work and sleepless hours until I realized it might be the start of a poem if I followed where the sound led.

I love the seamless slippage from one word or sound to another, and the connotations it creates. As the vowels and rhymes and homophones continued to morph, I realized the line between together and separate, between new life and new death, one cell taking hold or not, is fine; and comes down to more than desire. The conditional implies refusal, and yet the poem makes a sort of fractured hope, a playful one at that, of union. Of creating something as basic as the morning’s first nourishment—bacon, eggs, toast—and plus, what’s sexier than breakfast?

 

Art Song Video Premiere!

Friday, May 20th, 2016
David Clay Mettens and Mary Kaiser

David Clay Mettens and Mary Kaiser

Don Bogen: With its score for alto flute, bass clarinet, viola, cello, piano, percussion, and soprano, David Clay Mettens’s setting of Mary Kaiser’s “He Dreams a Mother” in our Summer 2016 issue (just released) is one of the most intricate and haunting pieces in our series of art songs. It’s also the first for which we have a video of the premiere. “Hypnotic” is a word the composer uses several times in the score, and it certainly fits what happened on stage this past April. To watch, click here.

Be sure to check out the subtle performance by All of the Above, with soprano Jilian McGreen and all those varied instruments bringing out the calm yet deeply strange vision in Mary’s poem. The ending is particularly striking. Thanks and congratulations go to the composer, the poet, and the ensemble.

The poem and full score are in the issue.  You can find the other four settings we’ve commissioned to date in the art-song category of the blog.

Enjoy!

Obstacles & Aversions

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Rochelle Hurt: There is something to be said for writing against or away from received traditions and natural proclivities. Often, the result is a kind of verve and vigor we may not otherwise access. Several contributors to CR 12.2 describe their process as that of writing against the grain, whether by challenging predecessors, staking out marginal territory, or disavowing process altogether. In thinking about this, I also noticed that many 12.2 contributors formed their pieces out of difficult or negative experiences—not by turning away from them in search of comfort, but by turning toward them. This is an interesting and indirect counter to the idea of writing against. Perhaps sometimes the same kind of verve attained through writing from aversion can also be attained through writing from adversity. In other words, try the darker path.

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David Mohan: “Semblance” explores how a lover treats with time, and the psychological temporality of a relationship. My key trigger would have to be John Donne’s “The Sunne Rising,” one of the great poems about love and the passage of time, but it should be pointed out that I was inspired to write against that poem, and explore something similar to a counterpoint to Donne’s playful conceit. I love the idea in Donne’s poem that it might be possible, within the exalted temporality of being in love, to control time, but I was more interested in how someone in love has a more pronounced sense of how transient any form of human contact is. If the lovers in Donne’s poem are at the center of the universe—according to the poet, at least—the lovers in “Semblance” are rendered close to anonymous when viewed in the context of moment-by-moment flux and change.

Charles Rafferty on “Leisure,” “Antique,” and “Because He Had Been Crying”: I used to have an aversion to prose poems. I thought of them as mules—sterile hybrids. Now, I see the prose poem as a euglena—that cutthroat survivor with a foot in two kingdoms.

Allison Campbell on “Necessity”: I think I can safely say this is the first poem I’ve written via food poisoning. Maybe this is an argument for how much intelligence is in the gut, rather than the brain. I don’t know. But after a turkey sandwich from a questionable, smoothie-making-health-food-like joint, I was up all night and in incredible pain. To pass the dark hours and try to ease the discomfort, I listened to a meditation podcast. The woman’s almost unnervingly calm voice kept calling for space, to create space. And I noticed that when I could breathe around the areas of my body that felt distressed the space that breathing created opened room for some relaxation and relief. I started thinking about how the heart needed similar space, similar opening. Now, I say I started thinking about the heart—but in truth, I didn’t think, I just started writing the poem. In place of the meditation, I used the lines of the poem I was writing to pass the night. I repeated them and added to them and wrote my first draft of the poem the next day. Life’s gifts come in strange packages, right?

Dana Koster on “Endeavour”: There is ineloquence in grief, in that heart-ripped-out feeling that happens when you lose someone. You feel gutted. But you can’t write that your heart feels ripped out or that you feel gutted because those descriptions are cliché. So at a time when it’s difficult to come up with the name of a food that sounds appetizing, you’re left searching for new words to describe the oldest form of sadness. “Endeavour” came out of such a time. In the weeks after my friend Rick T. Jones died suddenly in 2014, I came across a photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour before it was retired: its stark silhouette set against the huge and vibrant ombré of Earth’s atmosphere. It struck me how profoundly alone it was and it reminded me of Rick—both his wanderlust and the lonely manner of his death. In its way, the poem is an elegy for them both.

Colin Fleming on “Old Pyke”: I see a lot of accounts of how people came to write something where their grandfather had a talisman that was passed down with an accompanying tale through generations, or they labored for years with this idea they fictionalized from a newspaper story. I don’t really work that way. Sometimes stories come to me while I’m asleep, other times they just come to me, sometimes I write them in my head in full on my ten mile walks and I type them out later, and other times I just sit at the computer and say, “okay, time to go, let’s do a story, who do you want in it, what do you want to happen.” And I make it up. For me, it’s just about being myself. I suck at a lot of things—a huge, huge, embarrassing amount of things—but writing is not hard for me. By being myself I don’t mean looking around my life at things that have happened to me, but just doing what I do and knowing that doing that is going to carry the day, find the end point I want. I’m a storyteller. I think we fetishize process nowadays, because many writers like to talk more about writing than actually doing the writing. They sometimes live in fear of trying to make the white page black. So with “Old Pyke,” I’d never been to any of those places, I didn’t base the characters on anyone, and I did it in a couple hours. I had other things to write. You’re not supposed to say that anymore, right? But that’s also how it always was for the people whose work I esteem, across a range of mediums. When the imagination is in place, plus the understanding of what I’ll call human truths, and you can just be yourself, it’s about keeping the line moving and doing the next one. Because if that’s really who you are, they kind of write themselves anyway.

Best American . . . Almond

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

mysteryCongrats to Steve Almond, whose “Now Do You Surrender?” (CR 11.2) has been accepted for inclusion in the 20th edition of Best American Mystery Stories.

As series editor, Otto Penzler picked 50 exceptional mystery stories originally published in North America during the 2015 calendar year. From that short list, guest editor Elizabeth George selected the 20 she judged most outstanding for publication in this prestigious anthology.

A excerpt from Steve’s terrific piece:

 

“How the hell do you know the name of my daughter?”

Scarface set a hand on Loomis’ shoulder. It was a tender gesture that suggested profound brutality. “Settle down,” he said. “There’s no reason for this to turn in the wrong direction.”

Tony Bennett patted his coat in the way of an ex-smoker. “Quicker we clear this thing up, quicker we’re out of your hair.”

Loomis couldn’t figure out how frightened he should be. He had to pee rather ardently. “What thing?”

“A beautiful day like this,” Scarface said. He gestured toward the sky as if the director of a community theater production had just stage-whispered at him to gesture toward the sky. “Who wants to be standing around in a parking lot? Not me.”

“To review,” Tony Bennett said. “You throw this party, what, two weeks ago? All these kids bringing your daughter gifts and whatnot. So then, just as a common—”

“How do you know what’s going on in my house?” Loomis said. “Have you been spying on us?”

Scarface exhaled through his nose, as if he’d been expecting Loomis to behave this way and it bored him. “Nobody’s spying on anybody. You’re missing the point, Mr. Loomis. Just listen.”

“As a courtesy,” Tony Bennett continued, “your wife went out and bought some nice Thank You cards. And you, Mr. Loomis, told her there was no need to waste good money on such an extravagance. Then you threw the cards straight into the garbagio.”

“I didn’t throw them in the garbage,” Loomis said. “I dropped them into a wastepaper basket. I was making a point.”

Scarface ran a thumb down his nose. “What exact point would that be, Mr. Loomis?”

“That it was overkill. We’d already thrown these kids a whole party with lunch and two art activities and gift bags and I was just sick and tired of feeding into this never-ending arms race of bourgeoisie pieties.”

Tony Bennett yawned. “I don’t understand what you just said, Mr. Loomis. But I didn’t like the tone.” He stretched in such a way as to make visible the outline of something gun buttish against his sports coat.

Loomis felt the flutter in his gut go spastic. The air took on a sour radiance. Scarface’s hand was on his shoulder again, again very gently. “Calm down, Mr. Loomis.”

“I feel like you’re threatening me.”

“Nobody’s threatening anybody.”

“We’re having a conversation.”

“Who are you? What do you want from me?”

“You don’t ask the questions,” Tony Bennett said quietly. “That’s not how this relationship works.” He slipped his hand inside his jacket and let it stay there. “How it works is you go get in your car there and drive home and kiss your wife and send those thank you notes.”