Category Archives: books

Cistern, 5pm

Cornflower yellow tiedownload (5)

dangling from his shoulder as he

stretches onto his side in the Cistern’s shadow mosaic,

his crisp blazer folded beneath his white crown.

When I approach to ask

if he might sign a petition for everyone

to start loving one another, he lowers his book and

wordlessly draws a pen from his breast pocket, and leans

forward to grab the clipboard.

“Happily Ferris After”

Happily Ferris Afterreview_alterego

 

Panera Bread gives no days off,

no fake sick days of water-tower fame,

no Michigan Avenue Beatles musical

where the world joins in for the sake of spontaneity.

Turkey and Swiss smell less romantic

than sprinting home with five minutes to spare,

or saving our friends from abject misery.

Just coughing up nostalgia,

I recall the vibration of

a leather steering wheel.

Should have driven somewhere new,

when we still had time, still had mileage.

827 Poetry Night: “In the Year of the Snake-Skin Boots” and other poems

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At my significant other’s first feature, I got the chance to jump onto the mic and share some new poems. More poems coming soon, to be uploaded tomorrow.

“In The Year of the Snake-Skin Boots” and “What Masturbation and My Poetry Have In Common.”

Releasing a Spoken Word Album: “Perfect Nights”

fkwbsldbYesterday, I stepped into the impromptu recording studio of a music-engineering student from Clemson. We had agreed to help each other, he more than me. He needed practice producing and mixing music. While spoken word may not be exactly music, it certainly sounds good recorded. I felt that my poetry required something auditory as well as visual, meaning the book that will be released in early January would not adequately cover the bases. I wanted something to accompany the book, something that would lend to the reader that special voice the poems and poet possess. Therefore, my producer friend agreed to assist me in releasing in album.

It took far less time to record than I would have thought. I was no ensemble band, no rock group, not even  an acoustic guitar player. I stood before the mic with just a voice, which makes one want to be creative. Then I blew out my voice like a burnt-out truck engine, growling and screaming and swooning and whispering into the mic until eight poetry tracks were laid down. Some I had to perform twice, thrice, ten times, while others I nailed on my first shot.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the entire experience and believe people will enjoy the product being released. No musical interludes, no gimmicks—just a poet, his words, and his voice.

We have tentatively set the release of the album for January 2nd, the date of my Augusta feature. I am very excited to return to Augusta to M.A.D. Studios to share some of the poetry I’ve penned in the past year. If this performance proves a success, I’d like to come back time and time again whenever I can. Because the book will not be prepared by then, I will release the CD.

The CD is titled “Perfect Nights,” for the poem “Perfect Nights” which captures the youthful spirit of many of my poems. Several of these poems are included on the album, poems of celebration, as well as more standard crowd-pleasers like “Skinny Dipping with Strangers” and the morose yet uplifting “Halitus.” Perhaps I will find a way for those of you who live far away to download the album digitally. Of course if you send me some money in the mail, I will send you a CD in the mail. I will be selling a majority of these, however, as open mics and feature shows and slams.

Enjoy the feature poem from the album below and keep tuned in to hear more about poetic adventures. Finally, make sure to come out to Augusta if you’re in the area on the second to experience not just me but a pantheon of talented local performers. Five dollars to get in, then free coffee and words all night long!

Poetry Book, Future Feature Readings, and Poetic Excitment

I have neglected this blog for a long time, because I’ve been fairly busy with school, but I want to re-establish my online presence here and now. I am breathing, poet-ing, and living life all the time. In the course of these events, I have a few tidbits of incredibly explosive news.

Firstly, I have decided to self-publish a chapbook of poetry, which will be entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers, named after the featured poem of the same name. Hypothetically, this poem will be released in early January or as early as late December! I will be working on it even harder once I finish final exams and begin my winter break!

Secondly, I will be performing at a number of shows in the upcoming months, including the open mics I already frequent. The soonest will come this Wednesday on November 20th at the 827. I will be performing a 25 minute feature, after which will follow an open mic and poetry slam! For all the information, check out the event here: http://www.the827.com/#!open-mic-night/cdoa

Or you can join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/556583157768045/

If you cannot make this performance, that will be perfectly fine. There will possibly be another Charleston-centric event I shall update you about on a later date.

Likewise, if you’re not in the Charleston area and clambering to experience Derek Berry’s poetic gymnastics, I have three great options for you. Firstly, I will be working in the coming weeks to produce a few low-budget videos of my performances, and maybe even some music-video-type projects for poems! Secondly, I am going to work on getting a professional recording of the poems that will appear in the book (and some other poems too) which I will be giving away for free to those that purchase the book.

Finally, I have a very exciting announcement. I will be featuring in the city where my spoken word started off– Augusta, GA! On January 2nd, 2014, I will perform a show at M.A.D. Studios, hosted by Catherine Zickgraf. I will also post again about this in the future. You can come out and see me play home field.

In other words, get psyched for the possibilities for the future. There have been other poetic concerns clouding my mind, but I don’t want to share them until they become officiated. Keep in touch, and I will keep everyone updated.

 

Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that

dasfasf

can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?

Where the hell has Derek Berry been? (A Definitive Guide)

We're not out of the doghouse yet!

We’re not out of the doghouse yet!

By the looks of this blog Word Salad, I either died or was captured by Russian spies, but I am still alive and kicking, only with considerably less free time than I would like to have. Generally, the little I do have I contribute to professional projects rather than penning funny, sad, and weird columns for this blog. My output, however, has been tremendous, and I want to share with you some answers to the question posed in the title.

I have been churning out thousands of words  a week, no doubt. One class I have enrolled in this semester requires at least one, sometimes 3, papers each week, as well as a book a week. Even for such a prodigious reader and writer as me, this class has taken a toll on me. It has also, however, taught me a lot and made me think about elements of politics I have never before considered. The semester is winding down (or rather accelerating toward the brick wall Dead  End named Finals), and I am looking forward to a summer of fun, excitement, and scholarly activities (SIKE!, says the nineties teenager).

Two writing projects currently are still in the works. After months of sending query letters, I have received interesting critical feedback on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County. Firstly, not many people feel comfortable reading about the Ku Klux Klan, even a comical modern version of it, and after extensive research, I have decided that I too find it distasteful. I expected to find a group of confused southerners emphasizing southern heritage, but mostly the organization is still quite racist (no surprise there). This couple with other problems have spurred me to begin working on other projects while seriously editing the book.

I ain’t no stranger to editing– most of a book’s life is spent in the dreaded editing stage, in my experience. Certainly, I won’t give up on the story, because it’s a story I find compelling: teenagers discovering themselves while encountering the pitfalls of adulthood in a small southern town. It’s a juiced-up, funny-as-hell, exaggerated version of my own experience and the experience of many of my friends. I spent nearly three or four months away from the manuscript and have now returned to engage in editing, and I’ll share some of my favorite passages:

“I had electric veins and ionic eyeballs. Like my heart was hooked up to a car battery, except the energy kept flowing the wrong way.”

” Some of the cities we lived in were actually less like modest hamlets and more true-to-the-core, redneck Nowhere’s. Towns where orthodontists went bankrupt on account of there being only so many teeth per capita.

The sorts of towns where no one had ever heard of smart phones or the Democratic Party or anal sex.”

“Boredom: our natural state, our default. For our entire teen lives in Lickskillet, boredom was true evil, our archenemies, the Darth Vader to our Luke Skywalker. We the free rebels fighting for sacred liberty from this, our mortal enemy we called “boredom.”

We tried everything to absolve ourselves from this carnal sin. Most drank heavily, even idiotically. Which was the best way to drink, with the high possibility of death. Most of the boys drank beer, challenging each other to gulp down more until all had passed out. Girls preferred liquor, mixed or straight. And then everyone, roaring drunk, would smash boredom against the walls. Would take off our boredom’s clothes or pass out on boredom’s lawn.”

Another project I have been vigorously working on (in the months Lickskillet lay dormant in my mind) is The Choke Artist, a story about bare-knuckle fighting, illegal immigration, obese hand models, Alabama lesbians, drug kingpins, murder, Walt Whitman, and time travel. Perhaps when I feel more comfortable with Lickskillet, I’ll post more information about this fascinating, bizarre work.

Essays, novels, and late-night scribbling have accounted for much of my weekly word count, but I have also re-delved into poetry. Last Wednesday, I came away from a school poetry slam, snagging first place. I won an incredibly awesome pen (made with wood from Ireland and GOLD), and it’s probably the best writing utensil I have ever owned in my life.  Perhaps I’ll post a picture up next week with a video of me performing the winning poems?

Now you know “Where the Hell” I went and what I’ve been doing. Check in again soon for further shenanigans.

Poem: Sob Stories

Sometimes, I feel my soul forgets its immortality

and I try pouring concrete into my chest to make myself whole again.

I’m afraid my veins will abandon me, that I’ll stop seeking the stars,

that I might stop wondering how many licks it will take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.

 

My bells must forgive their clappers,

and my trees allow mushrooms to feed on their decay.

Sometimes, I stick out like King Kong clinging to the Empire.

I burn like an angel on fire.

 

I could snowball similes until they’re sluiced with slush

Or I could mix metaphors mighty as meteorites missing the Earth by a minute margin

I could sandcastle stanzas and repeat a relentless rhyme

But poetry perpetuates only half of the heliocentric equation

Like we’re missing the bigger picture.

 

My life ain’t just a house to tear down

Give me the hatchet, I’ll cut off all the things holding me down

I’ll strip my walls and paint murals on them with my fingers.

I’ll try wearing my heart around my neck, so I don’t forget it’s there

or that my veins know me better than a lover’s touch.

 

I don’t tell sob stories, just stories. Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference.

The Case for “Drug Safety Education” Reform in Public Schools

{The statements expressed in this essay are the sole opinion of the author, Derek Berry, and do not necessarily reflect the philosophies of all of the harm reduction groups discussed}

In fifth grade, I won an essay contest for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a program devoted to keeping kids from abusing drugs and alcohol. The essay, I read in front of my entire fifth grade class and their parents, probably making them deeply uncomfortable with righteous statements of abstaining from smoking cigarettes, forgoing the consumption of alcohol.

I do not believe I even mention “drugs” in the essay because the thought of abstaining from them never occurred to me: only homeless parasitic liberals used drugs, and I lived in South Carolina where I rarely encountered this breed. (To be fair, DARE has addressed my most serious concern of prescription drug use that I address below, and I have nothing against D.A.R.E., only wish to criticize its approach).

What strikes me about the program is how the officers and teachers attempting to divert us from a life of drug abuse: just say no. Nancy Reagan pioneered the “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980′s, becoming perhaps the most influential first ladies of her time. Not only is this approach slightly rude (Just Say NO THANK YOU), its notion that feeding horror stories to children about drug abuse will deter them from experimenting with drugs is deeply flawed. For more information on “Just Say No,” visit reaganfoundation.org.

Fact: Since 1990 a reported 20.5 million people have used marijuana in an average year.

(http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr4/2Usage.html)

Statistic: 40% of Americans over the age of 12 have tried cannabis sativa (marijuana).

                (http://www.soberlifeinc.net/js/modalbox/content/g.htm)

Now, this statistic is mighty misleading because cannabis, of course, might be considered a milder drug than many people actually consume, but it gives a good idea to how effective the “Just Say No” philosophy is. If a majority of American school children went through this D.A.R.E. program and still experimented with one of the drugs that were advised against, what other drugs might they try? Despite cannabis being relatively harmless, its use often help guide users into use and abuse of harder, more dangerous drugs.

What I would like to propose is certainly not an obliteration of drug awareness education but rather a more realistic approach to educating our kids about drugs. In many middle schools, groaning school children sit through Sex Ed classes, where the philosophy has shifted from “Abstinence-Only” education to “Protection” education. Teachers and administrators realize the reality of teenage sexuality, that many teens will not abstain from sex and without the proper knowledge, could end up impregnating each other and transferring potentially life-threatening STD’s.

Naturally, I am aware that sexual education also is lax, that despite efforts information is not always transmitted in the most effective means. What proponents of sexual education have done right, however, is take into account that a portion (even if not a majority) of teenagers will experiment sexually with more than one partner and without the know-how to protect themselves, they could end up in serious trouble. We need to admit to ourselves that American youths do indeed indulge in drugs and if we want to save them, we have to be honest with them. We have to educate them.

(http://ssdp.org/resources/facts-and-statistics/)

This approach has worked more effectively with alcohol education. The College of Charleston where I attend requires each student to complete an Alcohol Edu course online before attending for the semester because they have grown aware that students break the law, that students will drink alcohol whether the law permits them to or not. Many students approach drugs with the same mindset, but during the Alcohol Education class, the only drug mentioned was marijuana and only briefly. (It made some comment about knowing what ingredients are in the brownies you eat on campus).

There grows a serious problem here, one that we prefer to ignore. The more we delude ourselves that kids will not experiment with dangerous drugs, the larger chance we take. We’re metaphorically throwing two hormonal teenagers together in a room without a condom and telling them to “not do anything bad.”

We must equip the next generation with the knowledge they need if they do experiment with drugs because to not do so is the marginalize a great portion of the younger society, to basically say that while we care about helping prevent alcohol poisoning, we have no intention of preventing drug overdose.

A brief anecdote if you will permit:

I attended a party one night and had left my bag in my friend’s bedroom. When I entered the bedroom to retrieve the bag, I found a girl laying on the bed transfixed on the television.

                “Are you okay?”

                She nodded very slowly, and I approached her, asking again, “Are you okay?”

                “Just a little high.”

                “On what?”

                She didn’t say anything, just shrugged, then pointed to her IPhone on which remained residue on a crushed-up white substance (it turned out to be molly, a drug growing in popularity among the alternative scene: pure MDMA, though it is often cut with things that are not MDMA including heroin, speed, or methamphetamine. To find out more about this drug, go here.) 

                “How much of that did you take?”

                Another shrug.

                “How much? Are you okay?” She certainly did not look alright and if then I had been informed as I am now I might have sought medical attention, but she exhibited no signs of overdose. Rather, someone had helped administer the drug, then left her alone while she experiencing a mood-altering drug for the first time.

                “It’s okay. The guy who sold it to me said it was basically harmless. I wouldn’t overdose.”

Fin.

Let’s talk about some of the immensely major problems we encounter in this story. A young girl trying a drug for the first time did not know what drug she had tried, had not inquired what the drug might have been cut with, and she was unsure how much of the “basically harmless” drug she had snorted.

Here’s a good rule to keep in mind: you can’t trust what a dealer says. Even if he’s your friend, your uncle, or your pediatrician (we’ll get to prescription drugs as well), you should educate yourself on the drugs you’re taking. You and you alone are responsible for using a drug sensibly, if you choose to use a drug. After all, if McDonald’s isn’t willing to tell you what’s in your chicken nuggets, what makes you certain that someone you don’t know that well will be honest about what your ecstasy is cut with?

Because of the lack of drug education, many people don’t know what a lot of drugs even look like. They do not know what various drugs might DO to

them when snorted, injected, smoked, parachuted, huffed, or eaten. My personal theory is that many people experiment with various drugs to “experience what they feel like,” but if people knew more clearly their full effects and also the dangers posed by various drugs, they could avoid seriously harming themselves through experimentation.

While there is no single great resource completely backed by scientific research yet, there are still resources to educate yourself about drugs. Even if you do not personally experiment with drugs, you should be aware of the effects of drugs and what to do in the case of an overdose. It is also important to know what different drugs might do when taken together (an especially lethal idea, mind you).

My most-trusted resource is erowid.org, a website devoted to proliferating this knowledge to the general public. For each drug that exists is a page listing statistics, researched effects, and chemical properties. Be able to identify whether your friend or acquaintance might be experiencing an overdose or even a “bad trip” from psychoactive drugs.

Just as important as it is to know how to prevent these events is the knowledge to deal with them if they happen. Remember that everyone has a different body weight and build, meaning that different amounts of a particular drug will affect individuals differently. If more credible sources existed as to how one should take drugs safely and what to look for, we could avoid much of the grief surrounding drug addiction and overdose.

Another good resource is dancesafe.org. Dance Safe is an organization devoted to helping people take safer drugs. On their website, you can buy drug-testing kits with which one can delineate the contents of the pills one might be taking. For more information about what drugs might be cut with and how, visit their website.

I learned about this organization and much of this information through a school group SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) which each week helps educate students about safe drug use, the war on drugs, and progressive legislation in drug policy. We do not condone or condemn drug use, only hope that through spreading knowledge about how to use drugs safely, we can decrease the rate of overdose among our generation and generations to come. Our organization is also committed to end the War on Drugs, a subject about which I will elaborate on in future posts.

Fact: More American are arrested for marijuana each year than for all violent crimes combined.

(Students for Sensible Drug Policy)

There’s one more important piece of the puzzle that must addressed: legal pharmaceuticals.

When we do teach youth about drugs, we focus on drinking underage and the abuse of illegal drugs. In fifth grade, I often rolled my eyes when officers told us of scare stories of people addicted to meth or heroin. Today, naturally, I believe meth and heroin addiction are very serious, but at least this is viewed as a problem by the American population. What often escapes our notice is the widespread addiction to narcotics.

Another Fact: The most commonly abused drug among high school seniors are prescription and over-the-counter drugs.     

                (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/prescription-drug-abuse)

Narcotics, opiates, and amphetamines all share addictive qualities, but because we receive prescriptions for them from doctors, we assume they are inherently safer to take than drugs that are illegal. Several pain-killers (such as Oxycodone and hydrocodone) prove to be as addictive as morphine, and because these drugs are seen as “legitimate,” patients tend to abuse them.

What’s just one more pill, right? You’ve just undergone surgery, so you begin taking more and more pills, building up a resistance to their effects. You take more. You try to stop taking them, but you feel so terrible without them (this is you going through withdrawal), so you renew your prescriptions. Doctor says to take two a day, but only two pills never works, so you take three, four, five. Your new prescription runs out, and you can’t renew it, so you start buying painkillers from a fifteen-year-old down the street. You’re just dealing with pain, with stress, right? You’re not actually addicted.

This is why pharmaceuticals become so widely abused. Because of the intense stigma on illegal “uppers,” many students snort Adderal recreationally. They pop a Vivance before a night of essay-writing as “a study enhancement.” Just take one more for the final exam, and then you’ll never do them again. But addiction sneaks up on you like that, dropping the trapdoor from under your feet before you get the chance to realize you’re standing on top of it.

In our drug awareness classes, we should address these problems. We cannot tell them “Do not do drugs or you will die.” They might try marijuana, then wonder, “What else did they lie about? How safe are drugs?” We need to educate youth on specific drugs, how to use them sensibly, what their effects are, and what drugs are potentially lethal, even pharmaceuticals. Too often as well, we find a kid who might be “too jumpy,” and we begin feeding him pills he could potentially abuse or even sell to his friends for them to abuse. And that sort of madness, that zombie mentality of “saying no” to certain illegal drugs, “saying of course” to legal pharmaceuticals, and never seeking information about the drugs we’re consuming– that leads to the overwhelming rates of overdose we experience.

While D.A.R.E. has addressed this and does at least offer some counsel about drug abuse, these resources should be more widely available and apparent to both youth and their caregivers.

I will conclude with a plea: begin treating drug abuse with the same amount of realism we apply to alcoholism. It can happen; it can happen to you; your friends might be addicted; your grandma might be addicted. If you’re a student at the College of Charleston or any other university, I encourage you to take the first step to help reforming drug safety education by perhaps visiting your local chapter of SSDP.

At CofC, we are currently petitioning to change the Good Samaritan Policy to apply not just to victims experiencing alcohol poisoning but drug overdose as well. To differentiate over who is important to save and who is not is a cruel determination forced upon us by the stigmas surrounding drug use that do not apply as evenly to alcohol consumption. The Good Samaritan Policy allows students on campus to call Public Safety for help if a friend is experiencing alcohol-related sickness, and neither the victim or Samaritan will face criminal charges; a member of SSDP is pioneering the change to this policy to include overdose victims as well.

For more information concerning the Good Samaritan Policy, refer to {http://studentaffairs.cofc.edu/policies/amnesty-policy.php} or contact me to sign the petition. For information, find me via Facebook or on campus. The SSDP meets at 6:30 on Wednesday on the second floor of Stern.

For more information on drug use and experience, check out erowid.org.

For more information about preventing drug abuse in raves, visit dancesafe.org.

Please consider my points carefully as we move forward in a world where drug chemistry is ever-changing; what one drug might do or might be made of can change within a week. Delineations of drugs crop up often, and we must stay ever vigilant and knowledgeable of what is out there to avoid future generations from experiencing the same overdose rates as we have.

Other Sources:

http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/

http://ssdp.org/

Memoir: Insert Grandiose Subtitle Here (Part II)

{Part I}

My mother’s agent crossed her legs and smoothed her skirt, placing the manuscript delicately on the coffee table. “Georgina, it’s not even finished.” Mum nodded, folding her hands over her knee. “And– the murder scene at the end, it rings disturbingly similar to the finale in Black Tears, you know where the killer tries to drown Detective Knaus in a swimming pool. In this, you have the main character drowning in a Jacuzzi, and maybe there’s a fine distinction, but– look Georgina.”

Mum burped out a quick apology which faltered once it left her lips. “Angelina, please, look, I can tidy up the script. I’ll change the scene even. She’ll drown in the sea or a bathtub or a dunk tank at the carnival. I just can’t stop writing Catherine Knaus novels, Angie.”

“Yes, well, you can’t write them. Not anymore. You killed Knaus off in the final book, and didn’t I tell you not to? You could still be writing her character now. But no, you wanted to go for shock value. End of the series, hero has to end. And now where are you? Writing a bland replica of the same character with a different name. Georgie, I can’t even use this– it’s, it’s… it’s fine, but your comeback must be strong, soaring, magnificent. Not– this.” She tapped the manuscript and smiled with bared teeth. “Honestly? Rhonda Flame? That doesn’t belong in a Georgina Snyder novel; if you were writing erotica, though…”

I crept another step down, peering through the banister at where they sat below me. My father entered the room, brandishing a slightly taller stack of paper than my mother. “Angie, you want some tea? Nice to see you again after–”

“No tea, thanks. Your wife and I were just discussing–”

“You know who else finished a manuscript, Angie?”

Angie the editor shifted her glasses and waited a beat. “Am I supposed to guess?” Another moment of that silence adults share when social constructs fall apart. “You?”

“Me, yes me. As you’re my wife’s agent, I was hoping you’d take a look.”

“We’ve talked about this,” mum said, pushing my father’s manuscript back toward him, away from her own on the coffee table as if one might infect another. I imagined all the sheets of paper                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      spilling onto the floor, and when you rearranged the pieces, you got a literary journey of discovery and scandal intermixed with grungy noir gore.

“It’s a tale of a broken middle-aged man, in an existential clash with himself. He’s a writer, though he has not written anything for years– oh, the crisis, it’s sort of a metaphor for writer’s block, you see. He begins looking to make his life more interesting, takes up gambling, then begins an affair…”

“Mr. Snyder, I appreciate–”

“Better not be a fucking autobiography,” my mum muttered, finishing her wine in a grand, gulping swig.

“Mr. Snyder,” Angelina continued, “I think your writing is superb, but the idea of the book is hardly marketable. There’s nothing distinct that sets it apart, you understand?”

“Bet his wife catches him shagging one of his students on his office, and all she wanted to do was surprise him on his birthday.”

“He’s not a professor, Georgina. He’s a writer.”

“Listen, both of you. I really need to be leaving.” Angelina smiled again, her teeth on vicious display, taking steps toward the door. “Georgie, we signed a contract. At least finish something, change the hot tub scene, and– my boss wants to see it by next month.”

“Next month. The fourteenth then?”

“The first would be better, Georgie. They’re awfully particular about those contracts, and I mean, maybe after Catherine Knaus died, that was a sign. That your, well at least your career in crime novels–”

“My career?” My mother stood up, though clumsily, knocking her empty wine glass onto the floor as she crossed to Angelina. “Angie, Christmas is coming up, and we can’t even–” she lowered her voice “avoid presents. We’re going to have to pick and choose. Honestly, if Michael keeps breaking windows– January 1st will be too early. Can’t it wait until at least the second or third? You’ll be too hung-over– I mean, knackered– to read it.”

“The contract, though, states that our agency will represent you for the entire Catherine Knaus series, and after that ended, we gave you two years.”

“I can have it in a month. Two weeks from now, no problem. All I need is– some space, some coffee, a little inspiration.”

“Good. I’m glad we’re all in high spirits then. Send it to me in an e-mail, Georgie. Talk to you soon.”

“But you were going to read my manuscript,” my father shouted as Angelina slipped out the door, then half-sprinted down the walk through our garden. “Well, bugger that slag with a buttered broom handle. Georgina?”

“Don’t talk to me, Richard.”

I leaned in close, trying to read their nuances, their motions, their faces. “What the hell are you doing?”

Nearly tumbled down the steps when I leapt up, my heart rocketing into my throat. “Aggie, just headed downstairs for a cup of tea.”

“Have you been in my room?”

“No, of course not. Why? Is something– um, missing?”

She cocked an eyebrow, licked her lips, then replied. “No, nothing’s missing. Just my notebooks fell over, and I know you’re a nosy little brat who likes to snoop around in other people’s things.”

“Maybe it was Michael, looking for inspiration for his Great American Novel.”

“Fucking idiot. I’m pretty sure only Americans are allowed to write those.” I nodded empathetically, then slipped away before she realized the horror on my face. The ring, she knew it was missing.

*

While reaching my arm down the air vent, the screws rolling against my knees, I wondered how I would formulate this scene in the final draft of my memoir. Would I write the scene dramatic, my breathing heavy, my fingers scrambled to find the lost ring, my eyes shifting constantly to the clock that hinted at my impending doom? Maybe not so suspenseful. Maybe more comedic.

Halfway through, my hand would get stuck and I would hear my sister begin her ascent up the stairs. At the moment, she shopped for Christmas presents with my parents while Michael sat upstairs doing whatever Michael usually did, probably writing another rip-off Stephen King novel.

As I thought about a comedy of errors, a series of mishaps in the story like a 3 Stooges cartoon but more literary, I feared my hand might actually get stuck. As if how I fictionalized the event might preemptively affect the actual event. Like a blooper, but from real life.

People in the audience at a play— they laugh politely at the gaffs but laugh the hardest when you lynch your lines, when you forget a word, when your wig tumbles off, powder clouding the air. Laughing at something that’s supposed to be funny, that only makes you a conformist. It’s the fuck-ups that really make people cackle.

I withdrew my hand and wiped the black, grainy smudge from my fingertips. When first contemplating the lost ring, I considered telling my parents, but then Agatha would know I lost the ring. Also, we had moved beyond tattle-tale-ing on each other because it meant the snitch too would face punishment. We knew so much about each other, we could never blame each other directly, only indirectly, like two hostile nations pointing nukes at the others’ capitals, knowing once we set off the explosives, we insured our mutual destruction.

Dropping the vent back over the hole, I began to tighten the screw when I heard omeone creeping down the hallway. I faced the door, my hands shaking, and then I dropped and crawled underneath Agatha’s bed. I imagined that in the fictional version of the moment, I might feel like a character in a horror movie, breathing slowly as the serial killer stalks around the bed. The door opened, and dirty sneakers trod across the room before halting next to Agatha’s book case.

After some strain, the person sat down on her bed, and I could hear pages flapping. The sneakers smelled like dirt and mashed potatoes, a hairy ankle sticking out. “What are you doing?”

As I clambered from under the bed, Michael fumbled with Agatha’s notebook to return it to its hiding place. “Shit, Neil. You scared me.”

“You’re reading Agatha’s journals? Trying to steal ideas?”

“I’m just– what are you doing in her room?”

“I’m just– I– uh– so she keeps the notebooks behind the other books on the book shelf.”

Michael nodded. “She’s smart. Turns ‘em sideways so they lie flat against the back of the book case, and they don’t stick out. But I found them this time. Have you read this stuff?”

“It’s shit.”

“I think she’s pretty good, actually. Might be the best writer in the family. I mean, at least she’s honest.”

“Honest? She’s hormonal. Dad’s the best writer.”

Michael screwed up his face. “He only writes reviews. Anyways, dad’s not all that smart.”

He only said that, I suspected, because dad refused to read his newest project. Dad had tried to read previous novels by Michael, but then Michael never finished them, and my father grew frustrated with this until he refused to not comment on any more of Michael’s unfinished manuscripts.

Being brutally criticized, my brother could probably withstand that but what broke his heart and his resolve was being ignored. As if his work had grown so insignificantly droll, my father could not devote time to criticize its quality.

The front door opened, and Michael and I retreated from Agatha’s lair to stand in Michael’s room. On the desk stood a stack of clean notebooks, a row of mechanical pencils filled with graphite sticks. “You’re planning to write a lot?”

“I have been writing a lot.”

“And what is it this time? Like, a story about dragons or is this another Philip K. Dick rip-off.”

Shrugging, Michael moved the notebooks into his drawer. “I’m working on my magnum opus. My bestseller.”

“You can’t just decide it’s a bestseller before it’s even started.”

“But it’s all about the dramatic inner lives of a group of writers, on whom the nation recognizes.”

“You mean mom? What are you writing?”

Michael took a deep breath and sat down on the chair. “Oh, well, a memoir.”

The door opened, and Agatha dropped her shopping bags in the hallway before storming in. “What were you two doing in my room?”

“But we weren’t–”

“My notebooks were on the bed, you little snoops. You don’t have to be so damned jealous that I can write poetry and you can’t. Michael, stop being so desperate.”

I cut in, “He was probably just collecting research for his memoir.”

“What a joke. Michael, please go throw yourself out of a library window.”

Michael’s face grew red. “Shut up, Agatha. You’re not even good anyway. The only reason anyone likes you is because you starting seeing that Greg guy.”

“Greg? Michael, you’re–”

“Oh, you know, just the guy you talk on the phone with every night, that boy you write poems about. He’s four years older than you, and I mean, it’s not a coincidence you’re featured in his magazine.”

“You’re a nosy little creep.”

I looked between them. “You’re dating someone?”

Mum walked in. “Dating who?”

“Greg,” said Michael. “He must be an American, and he wrote that article about Agatha, and now she thinks she’s hot shit. But she’s not. Once I publish my memoir, everyone will know.”

“You can’t publish a memoir,” said mum. “You’re not even an adult yet. You don’t know anything about life.”

Shaking my head, I looked to Agatha. “Did he give you the ring?”

“Right? Agatha, what’s going on?”

“How do you– you lost the fucking ring, didn’t you? Mum, he lost my damned engagement ring.”

Mum turned dead white, pressing her hand against the door and gasping dramatically like they do in the movies. “Engaged? Who are you engaged to?”

“Greg, probably,” said Michael, retreating to his bed.

“I didn’t to lose it. I just held that card, and then– it fell out.”

“You’re getting married and you haven’t told us. You’re not even an adult yet, Agatha.”

Michael smirked at this. “Yeah, Agatha, you’re not even–”

She lunged for me, toppling me to the floor as she clawed at my face. “You little snarky bastard. You lost the ring. I was going to give it back to him but now you lost it. And he’ll hate me. Even more than when I told him no.”

“You told him no? Agatha, what?” Mum looked even more horrified, clutching her blouse.

Everything that was happening, I could not help but imagine how awesome it could play out in my memoir. How Agatha had turned violent over her passionate secrets, how my mother felt so scandalized.

Mum called up my dad, and with Agatha, they drifted to the kitchen to discuss Agatha’s engagement ring. I sat upstairs, relieved they had forgotten to ground me for snooping in her room, and Michael began writing in his notebook.

“I don’t know why you’re trying. I think I’ve already got the memoir market for this family cornered.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m working on one too, I meant. No offense.”

Michael shrugged. “They’re probably different anyways.”

I chewed on my cheek and walked from the room. “We’re just different people. How different could they be?”

In my room, I began to write, but I found it hard to concentrate once dad started yelling. Something about how Agatha didn’t deserve to be off in California if she were just hooking up with indie magazine editors. Somehow, I could not write the truth, so I wrote something else: a story about a boy in a family of writers.

The father, a children’s book illustrator. The mother, a redundant poet. His older brother, a budding literary novelist. And a little sister, who had decided she wanted to be a doctor instead.

Every story we tell is a memoir disguised as fiction. The characters we write, they’re just derivatives of ourselves, expressions of who we want to be and who we don’t want to be. We’re obscuring the truth in fiction.

We live anecdotal lives. Everything we can do becomes just another story to tell our parents or friends or spouses when we get home from school or work or Pilates. As humans, we love stories. In the case of lying about who you are, come full-loaded with anecdotes. Stories make you believable—that’s why Hitler promoted the publication of anti-Semitist children’s books.

This is just my version of a children’s book, starring me. Everyone wants to write a memoir, to cash in on their stories, so why can’t I?

The truth, when it’s unwrapped, when it’s raw, burns our skin with embarrassment. We recognize too much of ourselves in the truth, things we could not say out loud printed onto a page. We’re so afraid of sharing our secrets, we make ourselves into a breathing sarcophagus. We write our confessions on bathroom walls, trying to find salvation in anonymity. And we only end up alone.

*

                The day after Christmas, Angie visited to pick up the manuscript for the first adventure of Rhonda Flame, the protagonist of a true-crime-inspired erotica series. Angie agreed to read dad’s manuscript too, maybe out of starch politeness.

Agatha found the ring by fishing down the air vent with a campfire skewer. We celebrated by sealing the ring in an envelope and mailing it back to California, back to Greg, who I felt slightly sorry for. Then again, if we were an American magazine editor, he probably deserved better than Agatha. If he had made that mistake, she’d be even more of a crazy, psycho bitch. Not that her foulness bothered me– it made good fodder for a memoir, that memoir I still needed to start writing.

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