“Not in Kansas Anymore” by Rocco Versaci – selection #39 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠K♠  King of Hearts (the picture at left is, appropriate for this story, from a Bicycle deck)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Hearts is my suit for “Stories from Indiana literary magazines and journals.

The Selection: “Not in Kansas Anymore” from my copy of the Spring 2014 issue of “Midwestern Gothic” magazine.

The Author: Rocco Versaci (pictured at left upper right [from his website]), who earned both his M.A. and PhD at Indiana University, and also worked as film critic for the Bloomington Herald times. He is currently teaching at Palomar College in San Marcos, California. You may learn more about this author at http://www.roccoversaci.com/

What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

Not in Kansas Anymore

“This is some perverted backwoods version of Zen, where I’m shackled to the present moment, forced to feel each droplet of sweat, smell each dead possum, listen to each echo of thunder.”

Are you a homebody or do like adventure? How do you feel about road trips? For my part, I’m usually happy staying at home, or at least only straying to places that I’m familiar and comfortable with.  That said, I have been on my share of road trips over the years as well and enjoyed them for the most part. In a sense, this story reminded me of that feeling of being “on the road” and made me think that, in a way, being on the road is almost an altered state of consciousness…

This is kind of what the narrator of this story experiences.  We join him in medias res, pedaling across the country on his bicycle, as he’s leaving Kansas and entering Missouri (just one of the reasons for the story’s title). His reaction to seeing the “leaving Kansas and entering Missouri” sign on the road? “About Goddamn time!” (having driven across Kansas, I can appreciate the fact that it is a very long way across)  He encounters a detour, which have come to plague him during his trek.  Here we also learn a little of his background:

“Detours are another matter. Detours, I know about. I hit a big one in my mid-thirties. A lump in my chest that became nine weeks of chemotherapy. Nine weeks inside a body being slowly almost-killed. Like a lot of detours, it had piss-poor signage, and by the time I got back on the road I’d been on, it didn’t look the same.”

Smattered with details of small encounters on his trip, especially in the Ozarks, the story leaves the reader with a good idea of that ‘altered state’ of consciousness that being on the road can evoke. I liked the story a lot and it made me feel like going on a trip myself. I will NOT be bicycling, however. J

What are some of your favorite road trips (of any kind)?  I’ve often thought of going on a literary road trip, retracing some of Kerouac’s routes but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Or maybe a re-tread of (roughly) the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition would be fun.  I also have accumulated a list of great places that I visited as a child on summer ‘family camping trips’ that I’d really like to see again through the eyes of my adult self. Maybe when I retire I’ll finally have ample time to try these things…

below: from wikipedia – a map of the Ozark Mountains, where much up and down pedaling was done by the author in the story

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“The Peacock” a short story from Midwestern Gothic magazine by Drew Coles

img_5408-1I’ve been reading pieces here and there in the 20th issue of Midwestern Gothic magazine, which I purchased an e-copy of a little while ago. If you’re interested in maybe reading this magazine, some purchasing options may be found here. In my perusing, my “bicentennial year bias” led me to look for stories from Indiana authors first, and this one fit the bill.
I really liked this story, written by Drew Coles of Hanover, Indiana. I was impressed to learn that it was his first published story. I certainly hope he writes more.

“The Peacock”

Abe and Travis are brothers who live on a farm. They are close in age and have often been confused for twins – until Travis’s “recent growth spurt” that is. The locals knew enough about their family to know they were not twins. I really liked how the author described this knowledge:

“Their faces had been seen in the area for generations. The tight community ran on an elliptical orbit. Just as something stretched into decrepity it was born again, entire families reliving themselves in the same place.”

The boys have become fond of a game of “chicken” played at their Grandmother’s farm, “and on that farm their grandmother had a…” peacock. The boys would provoke the peacock into attacking them, either by poking at it with a stick (which Abe held in front of him “like the spear of a Greek hoplite” – yep, the Classics Minor in me loved that simile!) or by trying to steal one of the bird’s colorful tail-feathers. (The game was much easier before the bird had “realized it could fight back with its beak and claws.”)

If this game of “chicken” were all this story was about, it might not have sufficiently captured my interest to write a post about it. There’s something else that’s going on with these brothers, though. Something that’s probably gone on with every pair of close-in-age brothers ‘since the model first came out’:

“Though he couldn’t put it into words, the younger boy sensed that his brother was on the cusp of change, on some sort of threshold, which once he crossed over he couldn’t return. Abe also knew, but again couldn’t say, that when it happened they would be isolated from each other until it was his own time to cross and join Travis on the other side. He thought about this now as he walked alongside his brother.”

One gets the sense while reading that this iteration of their game might be the last one they’ll be able to enjoy before Travis “crosses over.” Armed with this knowledge, the reader feels an urgency in this tale that imbues it with a power that a routine short story wouldn’t have. Bravo!

 
Peacock photo from nationalgeographic.com

“Drills” by Laura Citino – Story #5 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♥Q♥ Queen of Hearts – my second queen in a row!
The Selection: “Drills” from the Spring 2014 issue of “Midwestern Gothic” magazine (about a year and a half ago I attended an event at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington (Indianapolis Eastside) that featured several local authors who had been featured in this magazine).

The Author: According to the “contributors” section of Midwestern Gothic, Laura Citino lives in Terre Haute, though based on her Twitter account, I think this may have changed(?). She is currently a fiction editor for Sundog Lit magazine. Some other writing of hers may be found on thebarking.com (Author picture above from midwesterngothic.com)

img_5408-1What is Deal Me “IN” 2016?  (For an explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster see here. Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection”of some kind. )

“Drills”

**Spoilers follow**

I wondered what the title of this story, which I had chosen mainly because of the author’s Indiana Connection, could mean. Power tools? Nope. Multiple attempts to find water for a well? Nope. The author lets her first person narrator explain:

“When I was younger, my spring times were laced with constant fear of natural disasters. Grade school was one long series of drills. Every few days I’d have to crouch underneath lab tables, for thirty minutes crammed between boys who smelled like dogs until we were released back to language arts class. Not once do I remember a tornado actually taking place. Every piercing shriek of the alarm sent us under our desks, but none delivered on the promise of disaster.”

It’s an interesting idea to think about – that perhaps, just as being unprepared for a disaster, over-preparedness for one can be harmful in its own way. For example, every child learns the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” which was probably the first time I discovered that one can become desensitized to “exaggerated” danger. But I digress…
(Boy Who Cried Wolf image from https://aesopsfables.wordpress.com/the-boy-who-cried-wolf/ )

 

“Drills” is the story of “Di” (at first I thought the narrator was unnamed and had to look closely to find her referred to by name just once(?) when she visits her father in the hospital). Di is involved in an extra-marital affair with Steven, and we join the story during one of their trysts. Their dialogue is typical of how I would imagine such a situation: Steven’s wife is the metaphorical Elephant in the Room, as Di – maybe only subconsciously – seeks assurance that Steven favors her, and Steven denies that his romantic remarks have hidden meaning: “You don’t have to make is so obvious that you don’t love your wife,” she says. “That’s not what I meant.

Parallel to the story of Di and Steven, severe weather is in the forecast for the next two days (something that’s not unusual in the spring to us Midwesterners). It seems both literal and figurative storms are brewing… Another one is Di’s father’s impending health crisis. She visits him after the tryst, and we learn that “these days it seems he lives more at the hospital than at home” and describes his condition

“from diabetes to the first heart attack to my mother’s push for healthy habits to my father’s refusal and retreat into unfiltered cigarettes and double whiskeys with ginger ale…then the second heart attack, the weak lungs and weaker heart, it’s all been a limp rather than a leap into the abyss.”

It seems neither of Di’s parents have set a great example for her if she was hoping for a happy, well-adjusted life. Her mother, for example, is an avid drinker who matter-of-factly tells her that “there’s nothing wrong with drinking away the pain.” Nice job, Mom.

The climax of the story and the storm occur simultaneously, with Steven “trapped” at Di’s apartment when the worst hits. They debate about what to do and remember “the drills we had in school.” He receives text messages “of love and comfort” and seems not to know what to do (“trying to figure out where he should be, suspended by the fear that no matter what, it won’t be the right place“). Then story ends with a great thought of the narrator, laced with multiple meanings: “I wonder how long we have until it will all be over.


The kindle edition of the particular issue of Midwestern Gothic magazine that contains this story is currently available for just a dollar at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JCSD45O/. Certainly a low risk investment if you’d like to explore this story – and others! – further.

Personal Notes: When I was in elementary school (at Indianapolis Public School #68), the Cold War was still going strong and I can distinctly remember having multiple “Security” Drills, which were quite different from the Fire Drills where we marched outside. Instead we marched to the basement and huddled against the walls holding our hands over our head. As I understood it then, security drills were also applicable to tornadoes, killing two birds with one stone.

So what about YOU? Do you remember endless drills from your school days? Does your office or workplace conduct drills (mine does, but not very often)? Do you subscribe or support any “lesser known” literary magazine or journals? If you don’t, why not? 🙂

Below: Susan Roll Leach Elementary – Indianapolis Public School #68. When I attended, the part of the school with multiple floors housed the higher grades while the “ground level” wing (that extends out from the left of this picture) was for Kindergarten thru 2nd grade – if memory serves.

A Blogoversary, and Reading Plans for the Month and Year

Bibliophilopolis turns five years old tomorrow, January 2nd.

Thanks to all readers and followers/ subscribers and to everyone who has commented over the years. It’s been an enriching experience for me, and I’ll try to stumble through and complete a sixth year… 🙂

January Reading: The Month Ahead

I’ve resolved to cut back on some of my book club involvement in 2015; I just had too many reading commitments last year, many of which resulted in re-reads, which I’ve also resolved to cut down on this year. That said, I have a few existing commitments that I’ll need to honor in January.

I’ll be reading my first graphic novel (if I don’t count all those Classics Illustrated comics I read when I was growing up, that is), the acclaimed “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This is for a book club I’ve been attending that meets at the Rathskeller Restaurant/Bar in downtown Indianapolis. It’s the club’s first graphic novel as well.

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For the Vonnegut Library book club, we’re reading Nelson Algren’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.” (pictured below – of course I picked a picture of an edition that has a spade on the cover – Deal Me In, baby! 🙂 )

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And for my Great Books Foundation discussion group, we’re reading Willa Cather‘s excellent novella, “Tom Outland’s Story.” This is technically a re-read for me, as the novella is also encapsulated in her novel, “The Professor’s House,” which I read a couple years ago.

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Then, just yesterday, I learned that NPR’s “Morning Edition” program has a book club(!) and they’re now reading Hector Tobar’s “Deep Down Dark” – the story of those 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for so many days a few years back. It sounded so interesting I bought an e-copy (before midnight last night, so I won’t be violating the TBR Double Dog Dare!). The reading is in conjunction with the author’s appearance on their program on 1/20/2015. More info may be found at: http://www.npr.org/2014/12/11/369409338/join-the-morning-edition-book-club-were-reading-deep-down-dark

I’ll admit part of my interest in this book is due to my fondness for the ending (or beginning?) of the Murakami story, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”

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That’s four books already, so my January is pretty much spoken for. Oh, I am also about four hundred pages into George R.R. Martin’s “Feast for Crows” which I can hopefully continue to read in the background during the month and finish by month end.

There are also five Saturday’s in January, and Saturday mornings are when I draw my weekly card to determine which story I read for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I have a great line-up of stories to read – in random order – this year. View it here and feel free to suggest a story for my four wild cards. 🙂

2015 Reading: The Year Ahead

The “unofficial” focus of my blog in 2015 is going to be on reading more local authors. There is no shortage of material here both contemporary and classic. One thing I plan to do in the first quarter is read Lew Wallace’s classic “Ben-Hur” which has been on my shelf forever. Of course I’ve seen the movie, but never read the book, even though I lived in the same town as a Lew Wallace Museum for four years of my life(!). There are also books by Booth Tarkington (in addition to The Magnificent Ambersons) that I’d like to explore. James Whitcomb Riley is another classic Indiana author I’ve targeted. Then there’s always Kurt Vonnegut, but I’ve read everything by him already. Seriously.

(below: I own an 1887 copy of this same edition of Ben-Hur – (I think) the oldest book in my personal library)

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For contemporaries, there’s the great Indy Writes Books anthology, the short stories in which I’ve assigned to my Deal Me In project, but there is other material besides fiction in that volume. I also want to read some of the local authors in the Midwestern Gothic literary magazine.

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I also may revisit my old “Project: Shakespeare” from 2008, which I ended the year without finishing, with roughly 12 more plays to read. That’s one a month. Hmmm….

In general, I also want to read a little more non-fiction this year than I did last year, when I managed only about 25% non fiction reading. I’d prefer something closer to a 60-40 split, or at least 65-35. We’ll see how I do on that one…

But enough about me, What are YOUR reading plans for January and for 2015?

(did you see that Jeopardy! had a contestant this year named “Ben-Hur?” He was pretty good too, winning a game or two I think. Judging by the scores below, this was not one of them)

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