Hack Writers

My fondness for searching out new (to me) online magazines and exploring their contents led me this week to http://www.hackwriters.com. This online portfolio includes travel, lifestyle and fiction pieces from new and established writers. According to the website’s About page, their material is archived by the British Library and boasts several awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association. Their homepage banner includes this designation, “The International Writer’s Magazine.”

I perused the travel page (Hacktreks) but found nothing about Ireland, to my dismay.

Hackwriters began in 1999, and there’s something satisfying about a group whose roots went down as the century turned, especially in light of all that Y2K silliness going on at the time. It suggests a willingness to plunge into the void with optimism.

The magazine is free and pays no fees to authors whose work they accept for publication. Submissions are accepted across topics and genres. Their submission page includes these caveats…no sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination in the content. They strive to discover high quality writing that is thought provoking without being offensive.

Word limits for submissions are presented as a guide rather than an absolute; between 1200 and 2200 words are preferred. The editors ask that writers considering submitting to their magazine first read previous work they’ve accepted and published. Seems a reasonable request.

Current fiction pieces can be found at http://www.hackwriters.com/Dreamscapes3.htm
The site offers an enormous selection of short fiction from which to choose. I read a few and, while I’m not even close to having read half of the stories available, I haven’t yet found a stinker in the bunch. Most of their authors have several stories in the 2013 issue. They include Oswaldo Jimenez, Martin Green, Abigail George and Michelle D’Costa. Stories are longer than what I’ve grown accustomed to reading lately in Flash Fiction magazines.

I prefer the flash format, but found reading Hackwriters’ offerings a happy diversion this week.

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Every Day Fiction (redux)

Every Day Fiction is a flash fiction magazine that publishes one story daily on their web site, http://www.everydayfiction.com. Founded in 2007, this group of talented Canadians celebrate their 6th anniversary this month. They accept all genres of fiction with a 1,000 word limit for submissions. EDF has a relatively large audience of more than 10,000 subscribers and annually publishes an anthology of the best 100 stories of the year. Every Day Fiction is considered by many as one of the best online literary markets.

This month my story, “Kin” will be published on Friday, September 6. It’s the story of a family reunion and the gathering of the last harvest in the home place’s orchard.

This is the second story I’ve submitted to Every Day Fiction and had accepted for publication. The first was “Tag, You’re It,” published in May of this year.

You can read and comment on my stories on their site. Or become an email subscriber, like me. I’ve discovered several up and coming authors whose stories are published on the Every Day Fiction site and whose blogs I’ve begun to follow here on WordPress.

I appreciate you, my readers, following or just visiting my blog and would love to hear your comments about my story. Thanks for stopping by again!

Just Beneath the Surface

life-of-pi-tiger

I’ve been considering the various explanations of the film, “Life of Pi” and its meaning. My first impression was that this was a prototypical example of magical realism. Ang Lee’s direction captured the novel elegantly. The use of CGI was not distracting – the tiger and orangutan were portrayed believably. Then my friend, Mark, introduced me to his metalinguistic view – that Pi is a story about the power of story-telling. “Life of Pi” shows what happens when a writer who, after recently abandoning a novel he’s worked on for two years, interviews a man named Pi who tells the writer a strange, disturbing tale that is also wonderful but thoroughly implausible. The Writer does not fully believe. So Pi tells an “alternate” story based on the same events as the first, but which is not as fanciful. Pi then asks the writer, “Which story do you prefer?”

The first story is a fantasy about a boy and a tiger, shipwrecked and sharing a lifeboat in the Pacific for 277 days. The boy experiences strange events, visions of beauty and horror in the depths of the ocean and floating among the stars; he briefly stays on a floating, carnivorous island inhabited by thousands of meercats. Eventually, the boy is washed ashore in Mexico where he recovers. While in the hospital, the ship’s investigators question him about his lifeboat experiences. They don’t believe his story of sharing the lifeboat with a starving tiger so he tells a second story which is more realistic and also more troubling.

The writer, when asked which story he prefers, answers, “The one with the tiger.” Pi then responds, “so it is with God,” suggesting to the writer and the viewer that God prefers to communicate with fanciful, meaningful stories, even if the stories are not literally true. The power of Life of Pi owes more to imagination than to verisimilitude. The fundamental idea is that we humans are emotional creatures who respond to stories that resonate in us, whether fact-based or not.

A further consideration about the religious message in Life of Pi, and the truth of God and his interventions in our lives, considers all three faiths that young Pi explores. The Writer character, promised a story that would make him believe in God, questions adult Pi about the influence of each one. Pi struggles to reconcile the differences between faith interpretations – specifically Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, acknowledging each contains valuable elements, even as they tell different stories. What he knows is that faith elements helped him survive his ordeal at sea.

Pi does not believe that any of the world’s religions have cornered the market on the truth and his intention is not to proselytize a specific dogma. Rather, his stories are intended to help the Writer consider which version of the world he prefers. Is it the version where he makes his way, without regards to the mystical, or the other where he can accept a presence greater than himself? That writer, like the Japanese investigators and we viewers, choose the latter.

Setting aside the story’s religious elements, an alternative theory takes a psychological perspective. And, as a psychologist, this perspective resonates with me. The characters in both stories, animals and people, represent various elements of the self – the brute, the innocent, the seeker, the protector. It is the raft, something Pi constructs himself and where he must retreat in order to save himself from the malevolent tiger, that represents faith. Does Pi truly co-exist with the tiger for those 227 days? Or is the animal story a defense mechanism that allows Pi to survive the rescue? To be able to live with the memory of the horrors he experienced with the others who survived, only for awhile?

Life of Pi is a moving story. And it is effective in its ability to reveal without showing, those elements of faith and survival that lie for all of us, regardless of our disparate experiences, just beneath the surface of our told stories.

The Garden of Allah villas

TheGardenofAllain1928beforetheH

The Garden of Allah Hotel, villas and pool
Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

From 1927 when the private residence of Alla Nasimova, silent screen siren, was converted into apartments until 1959 when the villas were sold to a bank and bulldozed into history, the Garden of Allah villas hosted Hollywood luminaries, gangsters, bohemians and barflies. Its expansive pool was the private playpen for studio heads, stars and starlets in the 1950’s, hedonists whose late night celebrations were the bane to the more staid patrons of their Sunset Blvd. neighbor, the Chateau Marmont.

The Gardens of Allah were famously the subject of Joni Mitchell’s iconic, “Big Yellow Taxi.” The Eagles’ Don Henley penned a song about the villas, “Garden of Allah,” as well. For the Laurel Canyon collective of the 1970’s, including Mitchell and her beau, Steve Stills, the hotel, villas and their 64 X 45 pool represented a lost bohemian’s paradise sprawled in the pre-war wastelands between LA and Beverly Hills. Some of the best known guests at the Marmont slummed it in the Garden of Allah’s cosy bungalows. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Erroll Flynn, Dorothy Parker, and Humphrey Bogart. When Richard Harris was tossed from the Marmont, where did he go? The Garden of Allah, of course.

The Garden of Allah was specially popular during the Prohibition; the villas’ pool parties never wanted for high spirits. John Barrymore kept a bicycle at his suite so as not to waste time traveling between parties scattered throughout the complex. Wives were kept at the Chateau, mistresses at the villas. Even Jean Harlow cross-crossed the street to keep her husband and lover apart.

By the mid-fifties as the Hollywood studio system was dismantled and more pictures were shot on location, the villas were in decline. Their guests were likely to be hustlers and transients. The bungalows were in disrepair and sorely in need of attention. The land was worth more than the hotel. In 1959 it was sold and demolished. There was a closing party at the Garden just before it was destroyed. Its contents were sold and the walls came down. They built a savings and loan on the sites with a sprawling parking lot.

Don’t it always seem we don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone?

For many years, the bank building that replaced the Garden of Allah displayed a miniature replica of Nasimova’s original home and pool in its lobby. Visitors could imagine the high times of Hollywood’s golden era on the expansive lawn overlooking Sunset Boulevard. But since 2007, even the miniature is gone. What became of the scale model of the villas so long on view? Are they misplaced, like the crate holding the ark of the covenant, per Indiana Jones? Or long discarded, lost in some mountain of unrecyclable detritus? Does some unlikely character have them squirreled away in his (or her) illicit collection?

Who knows where the model went?

Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmont

Chateau-Marmont-West-Hollywood-California

I’m reading “Life at the Marmont: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Legendary Hotel of the Stars, Chateau Marmont,” by Raymond Sarlot, the hotel’s owner from 1975 – 1991, and Fred Basten, an accomplished chronicler of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Together, Sarlot and Basten explore its history, dispel its myths, and flesh out the legends of the incomparable Marmont Hotel. The book was originally published in 1987. In the 2013 Penguin Books edition, Basten provides an afterword that brings the Marmont Hotel’s elite guest list up to date.

As you might expect, the book contains a treasure trove of celebrity stories and gossip, from the 1930’s through the 21st century. Hundreds of people were interviewed for the book, including former guests Lauren Bacall, Yul Brynner, Richard Chamberlain, Glenn Ford, Louis Malle, Robert Osborne, Lynn Redgrave, Ginger Rogers, and Donald Sutherland. The authors also share stories about the hotel itself, its renowned decor, long-tenured staff, and less well known, private playpens that existed outside of public view. Chateau Marmont overlooks Sunset Boulevard, but the views that these authors reveal are much more intriguing than the Los Angeles skyline.

The story of the Marmont parallels the evolution of early Hollywood, through its heydays in the 40’s and 50’s, and the studios’ challenges from radio, television and digital media. The book links the past with the present in a steady stream of intriguing episodes. Yes, it’s gossipy but the authors are respectful; for example, they handle to unfortunate death of John Belushi with care and compassion. Its stories aren’t limited to actors, either. Sarlot and Basten include events that featured writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, studio chiefs like Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer, and musicians like Edith Piaf, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon.

This book contains all of the glamour, the fantasy, and the dishy-ness that any Hollywood Babylon junkie could want. It’s a fun read and I recommend it whole-heatedly.

Repurposing books

I’m interested in ideas about repurposing old books and I’ve seen some clever ones, but I’m ambivalent about the process. Most of the ideas involve dismantling the books, scooping out their insides and using the covers. Or cutting pages and photography into interesting shapes and reusing them for art projects or decor. That’s hard for me to consider doing. It’s not as if I have a limited supply of old books with yellowed pages to use. There’s just something about cutting away pages from bindings that troubles me.
Still, no one wants these old books. They’re so yellowed they’re barely readable. The best thing about them are their bindings. So, here are a few of the projects I’ve considered.
book planter [PLANTER]
cookbook [KITCHEN CADDY]
book purse [HANDBAG]
SONY DSC [HOT PADS]

Dear readers, have you used books in unique ways?

Study Abroad

In May, 2013, the University of Limerick’s International Education Division’s Summer School hosted our MOSAIC group, which consisted of students from Maryville University, Columbia College, and Central Methodist College in Missouri. We joined students from colleges and universities across the United States attending UL summer school. Students chose from six different courses taught by UL faculty, including classes in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History and Creative Writing. The apartments they shared, each with private rooms and en suite bathrooms, were located in Cappavilla Village on the north campus, overlooking the River Shannon, and included full kitchens with daily breakfast service and housekeeping. Students were provided with vouchers for lunch and supper that could be used at any of the on-campus cafes and restaurants.

Excursions to major Irish attractions were provided by UL, including a trip to the nearby Craggenowen and Bunratty castles, Limerick Milk Market, and more distant excursions to the Burren, the Atlantic shoreline at Kilkee, the Flying Boat museum in Foynes, the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, and to Dublin, where students visited the Guinness Storehouse, Croke Park Stadium (home to the Gaelic Athletic Association), and the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Two of our MOSAIC students attended one of the World Cup 2014 qualifying matches between Ireland and the Faro Islands while in Dublin. We were also hosted with food and drink vouchers to attend the UL annual Party on the Plaza, celebrating the university’s accomplishments during the previous year.

Our MOSAIC sponsored excursions included a trip to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Students participated in a photography contest sponsored by the University. Our MOSAIC students, Gabrielle and Mack, took first and second place respectively. Gabrielle’s first-place photo from her trip to the Dingle Peninsula can be seen on the UL International Education, Summer School web site.

MOSAIC students also received credit for our Maryville University study abroad course, “Exploring the Culture of Ireland.” Examples of their essays and photo essays included reflections on The Troubles, GAA Irish sports of hurling and soccer, the fallout from the Celtic Tiger economic bubble, Bloomsday and the books of James Joyce, and the Irish diaspora. For 2014, UL will again offer courses in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History, and Creative Writing, and they will add two new courses: Irish Myths and Legends, and Nursing.

Ireland is known internationally as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, and the faculty and staff at University of Limerick demonstrated that sentiment every day of our experience there. I strongly recommend this study abroad opportunity for undergraduate students who want to earn 6 hours of credit and experience three weeks immersed in Irish culture. For more information, visit the MU Study Abroad web site: http://www.maryville.edu/globaled/study-abroad/