Lust and Dust in the Afternoon

The depths of depravity to which a human male can sink when left to his own devices are bottomless.

From the moment I saw the ad for the robotic vacuum cleaner, I knew I must have her.  When the package finally arrived, I tore it open and gently slipped her out of the styrofoam. I plugged in the battery charger and waited. Then I turned her on and watched as she moved onto the wood floor, gingerly testing the boundaries of her new home. She glided across the room like a goddess until she bumped straight into the wall. Alarmed, I wanted to go to her. But she quickly recovered and corrected herself, moving along the wall as if she had known it was there all the time. I laughed as she bounced off a table leg and performed her duties. Then I took her upstairs to the bedroom and let her go on the soft carpeting. As she moved into the hallway toward the stairs, my heart was in my throat. But at the last moment she paused, seeming to sense the danger that lay ahead.  Then she turned and came back toward me. When she nudged against my leg with her gentle hum I thought I would die. I turned her off and took a cold shower.

Maybe it was the little French maid outfit I bought for her that finally put me over the top. I got it from a web site that sold clothing and gadgets for robotic vacuum cleaners. At the time it seemed harmless. That’s the way it starts. One minute you’re just playing around, watching your little maid going through maneuvers, the next thing you know you’re booking a room for the weekend.

In the end it wasn’t my self-loathing that finally made me do the right thing. It was a Star Trek Next Generation episode, the one in which the rights of Data, a sentient android, are on trial. Once we construct such beings, are we not making a whole race of slaves to do our dirty work for us? That’s when it hit me. My little vacuum cleaner was more than a device. She was a sentient being, full of hopes and desires of her own.

Of course, my discovery that the little ungrateful wench didn’t exactly share my hopes and desires may have also had something to do with it. In fact, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Whether it was her “dirt-sensing technology” or simply a matter of personal taste I cannot say. But when she found out what I really wanted, she acted like she didn’t know me, treating me like just another piece of furniture. So, one day, I just opened the door and sent her on her way. I watched as she bumped and zigzagged down the sidewalk until she was out of sight.

I hope she is happy, somewhere, in her new life.

(Author’s Note: I have always loved this little story of mine, first published in Fast Forward:The Mix Tape. A collection of flash fiction, Volume 3, 2010. One can only wonder what depths of depravity await human males in the future.)

Radio Interview (Dragon Daily News)

I was recently interviewed on Green Knees, a radio show for children on KSFR in Santa Fe, during which I read three stories from my book Dragon Daily News. For those who live near Santa Fe, you can listen to it live on Saturday morning, April 30, from 7-8, on KSFR 101.1 FM • KSFR.org  or you can hear it at this link (first couple of minutes are devoted to Louis Armstrong theme song)DDN-kindlecover3-1https://www.dropbox.com/s/iudiju9ca4x12m1/GK160430%20Side%20A.wav?dl=0  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Wherever

My short story “From Wherever” was just published by Bewildering Stories – a weekly electronic publication of speculative fiction   http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue629/from_wherever.html

Those familiar with H.P. Lovecraft will immediately recognize my story as a parody of the writer’s famous story “From Beyond.” Lovecraft had an enormous influence on many writers, including William S. Burroughs, Ramsey Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and Stephen King. You can read his original story here http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/fb.aspx  

Approaching Wilderness Now Available in Print Format

For those who prefer reading print over digital books, I’ve now issued a print edition of my little book “Approaching Wilderness.” https://www.createspace/5031223                                                                                                             Approaching Wilderness (print cover)                                                                                                                                                           

Favorite Humorous Stories – Mark Twain

No survey of humorous stories is complete without including those of Mark Twain. Having assigned myself the recent task of choosing three of my favorites, I have spent many happy hours immersed in the pages of his funny tales. My chief resource has been Mark Twain. Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852-1890, published by The Library of America, (1992), from which all quotes are taken. My choices are completely personal, based not so much on a story’s literary merit but on its capacity to make me laugh. Some people will immediately take issue with me for not including Twain’s famous story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” (first published November, 1865), which was later reprinted as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” True, it’s a great funny story, but for me it lacks the sheer absurdity and audaciousness that characterize Twain’s best stories. So here are my three favorites. You’ll just have to read his stories and make your own list.

When I read “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper (first published July, 1870), my first impression was how well it applied to our current fact-challenged times. Twain did write for a variety of small newspapers and magazines, so I suspect there is a seed of truth upon which the story is based. It begins as the narrator temporarily fills in for the editor of an agricultural newspaper, who goes on vacation. Upon his return, the editor reacts indignantly to what his temp has written in his absence: about turnips growing on trees, the “moulting season for cows,” that “the pumpkin, as a shade tree, is a failure,” and discussing oyster beds under the heading of landscape gardening. Twain comes right back at the editor in equally indignant terms, claiming that he his articles have greatly increased the newspaper’s circulation (as fascinated readers clamored to find out what the new guy would write next). Twain’s final rebuttal to the editor makes this story as fresh as the day it was written: “… I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands.” Remind you of any “news” commentator or talking head you know?

“The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” (first published May, 1870) tells the story of a boy named Jacob who “always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were…” So right off the bat, with the title and opening line, we are given ample clues of the writer’s own attitudes toward childhood and the prevailing popular sentiments surrounding it. We learn in the story that Jacob read his Sunday-school books with great passion, and admired the little boys portrayed there. In fact, his greatest ambition was to be put in such a book himself. But no matter how hard he tried, nothing ever went right with him. He tried so hard to be good but, unlike the good little boys in the Sunday-school books, never got his reward. In his life, it was always the bad boys who came out on top. Finally, he encounters one such group of bad boys, as they tethered together a pack of dogs and were about to attach some empty cans of nitro-glycerine to their tails. Jacob happens to sit down on one of these cans and, well, you can see where this is going. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens to poor Jacob. Let’s just say, it was not a pretty sight. Twain concludes, “His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.”

Last but not least of my favorite Twain stories is “Cannibalism in the Cars (first published November, 1868). On a train to St. Louis, the narrator tells of meeting a stranger, a “mild, benevolent-looking gentleman,” who sits down beside him and relates a “strange adventure, speaking sometimes with animation, sometimes with melancholy, but always with feeling and earnestness.” (I love that introduction. Not only does it set the mood for the story, but it’s an apt description of the way the author himself wrote and spoke.) The stranger relates the events of an evening train ride from St. Louis to Chicago. Aboard were twenty-four passengers, all male. Later that evening, it begins to snow hard, and eventually the train comes to a complete halt, trapped in the middle of nowhere by a huge snow-drift. Days go by, and the men get hungrier and hungrier. They have plenty of wood aboard with which to keep warm, but not a lick of food. On the seventh day, one of the men makes a grim announcement: “Gentlemen,—It cannot be delayed any longer! The time is at hand! We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest!” The methodical manner by which one of them is elected, with the passengers voting on the issue as if they were members of Congress, is hysterical. It also demonstrates my long held opinion that no topic, no matter how repugnant or unthinkable, is taboo for a humorist. Remember this story was written when the tragic fate of the Donner Party (1847) was still fresh in people’s minds. At last, the train survivors sit down to their gruesome feast, “with hearts full of gratitude to the finest supper that had blessed our vision for seven torturing days.” In delicious detail the stranger recounts the culinary qualities of the man they had just consumed as well as the others to follow (yes, they went on to elect and eat others). I will leave it to you, dear reader, to see how the writer could possibly end such a tale. Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhino in a Hatbox

Rhino 1During school and library visits I’ve been performing the story “How to Stuff a Rhino” from my new book Dragon Daily News. I thought wouldn’t it be great if I had a little rhino in a hatbox that I could show kids after the program. Only trouble is, I have to keep a close eye on him. Everyone wants to take him home.

Favorite Humorous Stories – Woody Allen

Choosing the next writer to include in this series was a no-brainer. Known to many chiefly for his legendary movies and comic routines, Woody Allen was also a master of the humorous short story. But selecting which three stories to include here was a difficult task, one that forced me to spend the better part of a morning rereading some of his story collections. Not a bad way to spend some time. No demons or dark thoughts could survive against the relentless onslaught of Woody’s absurdity.

I’ll start with “The Kugelmass Episode.” If you’ve never read the story, right off you’re wondering, Who the hell was Kugelmass and why should I care? Since you’re hooked already, I’ll tell you. Kugelmass is a professor at City College who’s unhappy with his marriage. So he seeks the services of a magician by the name of The Great Persky, who promises to bring some excitement to his life. He tells Kugelmass to climb into a cabinet where he “can meet any of the women created by the world’s best writers.” All Kugelmass has to do is choose a book and Persky promises to project him into it for however long he wishes. Choosing Madame Bovary, Kugelmass proceeds to have an passionate affair with Emma, while at the same time dismaying literary professors and students the world over who puzzle over the sudden appearance of Kugelmass as a new character in the book. I’ll stop there. You’ll just have to read the story to find out how the affair turns out.

Another of my Woody Favorites is “The Shallowest Man.” Like most of his stories, it starts in some familiar setting in Manhattan and is told in the first person by an urbane narrator who is usually well-versed in literature, art, philosophy and the latest trends in modern culture. While sitting in a delicatessen, the narrator Koppelman brings up the name of Lenny Mendel as “positively the shallowest human he’d ever come across, bar none,” and then proceeds to tell a story backing up his claim. The story is deliciously cynical, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Lenny truly deserves this title.

One of the things I most like about the story “This Nib for Hire” is the preposterous name Woody gives to one of the characters—E. Coli Biggs. It is safe to say that no other writer in literary history ever considered using E. coli for a name. The main character, Flanders Mealworm, is offered a job by film producer Biggs to write a novelization of a classic old movie starring the Three Stooges. Flanders, who considers himself  a writer of serious literature, flat out refuses, then reluctantly decides to sacrifice his integrity for promised riches. Check out the story to see how the novelization works out.

Many of Woody Allen’s stories first appeared in The New Yorker. “This Nib for Hire.” can be found in his book Mere Anarchy, while the other two are part of the collection Side Effects.

 

Favorite Humorous Stories

Picture1This was going to be a top ten list of my favorite humorous stories that have influenced me the most as a writer. But I got into a nasty argument with myself about which ones to include. Since I seldom win these arguments, I quickly conceded defeat. So I decided to write this instead as a series of installments, each focusing on one writer. That way I can live with myself and don’t have to choose just one story.

Where to begin? For me that’s easy. From early on I was always attracted to writers who could not only set me to convulsive laughter, but make me wonder how in the hell they did that. Thurber was one of my earliest heroes. For sheer range of wackiness and imagination he had few equals. And his stories still hold up well today.

Three of his stories immediately come to mind. I think my favorite is “The Night the Bed Fell,” from his autobiographical book My Life and Hard Times. I do think “autobiography” is a stretch when applied to these stories. It is hard to believe that anyone’s family members could be that crazy, or that events described by the author could have really happened that way. No matter. The stories are pure fun. In fact, they inspired me to write my novel The Family That Wasn’ta middle grade fantasy about a boy who finds his family so impossibly crazy that he writes them out of his life by imagining a new perfect family in which he suddenly finds himself living.

A close second is the story “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox,” from Thurber’s later book The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze. I love the way this story starts, as if everything is perfectly normal in General Grant’s camp: “The morning of the ninth of April, 1865, dawned beautifully. General Meade was up with the first streaks of crimson in the eastern sky.” But history is about to be turned on its head. I wonder how many people, after reading this story, have gone to the Internet seeking information about Grant’s drinking problems. It’s a perfect little gem of alternative history as only Thurber could imagine it.

And how could I not include the much-anthologized “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” from the 1942 classic My WorldAnd Welcome To It. After seeing the preview for the latest movie version of this story, all I can say is, save yourself the agony and read the story instead. There’s a good reason it’s been published in so many collections. Not only is it laugh out loud funny, but it’s perfectly constructed in every detail and guaranteed to make a writer despair of ever being able to write a story like that. Now that’s a good role model! 

You can find all of these stories in the recent collection Writings and Drawings by James Thurber, with selections by Garrison Keillor, published in 1996 by Library of America. 

I’d love to hear comments on your favorite humorous stories.

Latest Review of Approaching Wilderness

5 stars. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” February 23, 2014

By

 

This review is from: Approaching Wilderness. Six Stories of Dementia (Kindle Edition)
In these short stories, Gene Twaronite provides imaginative scenes of old people experiencing memory loss and other woes of the aging process.Gene describes the dementia-stricken with compassion and humor. In each story, the central characters cope with an increasing loss of touch with reality, and experience anger at and fear of what’s happening to them. In “The Woman Who Came for Lunch,” a couple is barely coping with daily living – the man gets lost walking around the block in his bathrobe and slippers, while the woman calls 9-1-1 to report a strange man hanging around her house. The story ends with an ironic twist, at least it seems ironic and unexpected to us who are looking in on the characters. But the characters are continually dealing with the unexpected, the mixed-up, and the half-remembered.

In “No Choice,” the ending takes us by surprise, but the core of the story is the day-to-day process of dementia, as it robs the struggling characters of their minds. Gene draws us in to the lives of the protagonists, and engenders sympathy for them even if they are wetting the bed and screaming at the top of their lungs. They struggle for some measure of independence, and we are rooting for them to maintain some dignity and receive recognition that they are adults and not babies.

In “A Letter of Intent” and “Approaching Wilderness” Gene describes the characters’ passionate, if unrealistic, desire to have control over their own lives, and the resulting anger at those who want to control them or put them away in a clean and sterile facility. Both stories have a twist at the end that underscores Gene’s mastery of the absurd and humorous, even in dire situations.

The stories are well written and fun to read, even though the topic could be depressing. The characters fight with the dementia and with themselves and others at the enveloping frustration of forgetting everything. Yet, they have a certain nobility as they reject conformity, safety, and comfort, and express themselves in whatever way they can (sometimes with graphic expletives that some may find offensive). In his poem to his father, Dylan Thomas advises not to “go gentle into that good night” and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Gene’s characters do rage against their situation, and in doing so make us sympathetic with their struggle.

The stories will engage readers of any age.

http://www.amazon.com/Approaching-Wilderness-Six-Stories-Dementia-ebook/product-reviews/B00HNY8R6U/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

More Reviews of Approaching Wilderness

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Insight February 12, 2014
By KMT
Format:Kindle Edition
I suspect I am too old to say that I enjoyed reading these stories. They were very well written and well developed, but, at my age, the content was a bit too scary and hit too close to home. Nevertheless, I commend the author, for, with these short stories, he managed to make a condition we all read about and perhaps even have experience with loving ones having it, real for us. I loved the first story, where both man and woman, once obviously together as a couple, are confused about just who each other are, because of cognition that is failing in both of them. In the second, a woman becomes obsessed that her long-term companion will include her in is suicide because he cannot face what is to come. Then, there is the story of the bedpan, the family pictures on the wall that are not recognized, final letter written to express one’s last wishes and ideas, and the trek off into the wilderness searching for what was once a real-life, doable adventure. Most of these are very real occurrences in everyone’s life and to which most can relate. However, now we view them in a totally different way, through the eyes of dementia. I think the author has given us a fantastic picture of what might/could happen as we age—and possibly one most would find better off not knowing. Still, the pictures and events in the stories are real, as are the emotions that go along with each of them. Today, as we all face an aging population, who may or may not eventually suffer from dementia, not to mention that we also may suffer from dementia, this book gives us, as I said, a great insight into what really happens with dementia. I recommend all people read this, even those, who, like me, are getting on in years and who may end up caring for loved ones who suffer from it, or may suffer from it themselves. The author has done this is such a way that the reader can enjoy learning the true nature of dementia. Right now, most of us, I think, really may not have a real handle on what dementia means and how it impacts lives, and this book will definitely give this to everyone who reads it. I received this from Library Thing to read and review.