Category Archives: fiction

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction – NYTimes.com

Why (some of us) love fiction and feel like it is more powerful than real life at times.  The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction – NYTimes.com.

Kiersten Marek:

Upcoming workshop!

Originally posted on Therapy with Kiersten Marek, LICSW:

UPDATE:  This workshop starts tonight!  Looking forward to it!

Innocent ❂ Wounded Child

Warrior  ❂ Caregiver

Explorer ❂ Soul Mate  ❂ Destroyer  ❂ Artist

Leader ❂ Guru ❂ Healer  ❂ Fool

“Creative Writing Through the Archetypes”

a 6-Week Writing Workshop

When:  starting Thursday, April 5th, 2012, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Where:  William H. Hall Free Library,

1825 Broad Street, Cranston RI

To Register:  Contact Kiersten Marek at kiersten.marek@gmail.com

This workshop will use the archetypes as inspiration for writing exercises. Each week we will review two archetypes and do two writing exercises. We will end with sharing and discussion. This workshop is free and sponsored by The Newport Review and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Participation is limited to 14 members.

About Kiersten Marek:  Kiersten is a psychotherapist, blogger and fiction writer living in Cranston.  She has written fiction for print and online publications and has…

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A Person Unknown

It’s strange to see the leaves still green or just turning and snow on the ground. Gloomy too. That suits my mood– don’t have to keep a smiley face on Halloween.

In honor of Samhain, an excerpt from story I wrote for Newport Review… The central character was my roommate for a time, until she moved on.

A Person Unknown

I sit by my window as darkness falls this Samhain season and I shuffle the cards, scanning the horizon for storm clouds. My only company is the person unknown. She is frighteningly beautiful, more than an ordinary possession. She wears a face of power and dignity, the face of the goddess Durga, the face of truth. Her jaw is sharp and classic. She is S-curves from head to toe–one of god’s perfect designs. A bare tree, a dragonfly, a river delta–what is left when all is lost. A person not in time, but in eternity.

She was imported and sold in the bone trade. I know nothing about her, except that she was female, small, and poor, and the poor have to sell their labor, their hair, their bodies. I often wonder who she was, but her inscrutable grin reveals nothing.

For the rest of the story of the Person Unknown, go to Newport Review, here.

Pediophobia

Friend Kathryn has a story that will make you afraid to open your closet, or walk past it, or live in the same house where the closet is, or look in the rearview mirror as you drive desperately away from the house…

Click here if you dare.

Reading the Obits

I had dinner last week with my friends Kathyn and Mary. They are both writers, and Kathryn is the editor of the Newport Review.

Kathryn and Mary proposed a game of Bananagrams, a game kind of like scrabble at which they totally whipped me. Then they proposed a writing exercise where we would write a short story using the words from our Banangrams tiles.

You know, it’s way easier to write creative fiction when you have some prompt words and encouraging company. Creative people are praise junkies, mostly. I’ll bet even Emily Dickinson wouldn’t have minded hearing from someone that she wrote real good.

Today I visited my Dad, and he was clearing out his workshop of things he had collected and never got around to using. He’s a retired commercial artist and has an eye for good stuff. He had saved some thin aluminum sheets that were used in a printing process that has been outmoded by the laser printer. This is exactly what I had been looking for.

There’s kind of an art fad of painting on metal, and I’ve been begging used olive oil containers from the Liberty Elm Diner and cutting them up to get square sheets of aluminum. It’s difficult and greasy. The printing aluminum is thinner and flat and clean. It will invite a different kind of expression.

But speaking of finding stories in random words and mystery in found things, I read the Obits in the ProJo today.

As of a couple of years ago, you will die unrecorded if you do not fork up some serious money to Belo Corp. to have your obit published. For over a hundred years, such passings were considered part of the news. But now they charge.

Anyway, the words I quote were written by people who cared and were able to share them in print–

MARY IDA HOLDEN, AGE 83

She was born in North Carolina, the last survivor of ten children–
“She was a quiet and peaceful person that was devoted to keeping the family together. Her outward appearance did not reflect her true inner strength, which we will always remember.”

Mary Ida Holden ended her life in Charlesgate Nursing Home. It is so true that the person at end of life has a history their caretakers will never know. We hope that goodness and quiet heroism will not be forgotten.

CHRISTINE M. (CHRISSY) SLOAN AGE 42

She worked in administrative jobs for several years but also was an Emergency Medical Technician and a Certified Nursing Assistant. She could have taken care of elderly women like Ida Holden.

“Chrissy was always there to provide for all living things, especially the disadvantaged, the lost, and the innocent.”

So much to write about in the real lives of real people. Why make stuff up?

Preaching to the Terrorized — An Allegory

[Seeing that Reverend Wright has emerged for more media time, I'd like to run this post again. The Good Lord spoke in parables, and so does Ninjanurse, when she manages not to forget the point halfway through]

It was a lovely day for a wedding at the Full Word of God Church, the church that takes the Bible literally. The bride and groom were both pure and uncompromised. Both home-schooled, and graduated with honors from Bible College. He was already making a good living selling Amway, and she looked forward to being a full-time Christian mother.

A guy with a guitar played that Paul Stookey wedding song, and then the guest preacher got up to say a few words to the happy couple. The Pastor, sadly, was in the hospital with a kidney stone. At the last minute they were able to get Reverend Ezekiel Bright.

Rev. Bright said a few words about the importance of faithfulness, and then launched with a thundering voice into these verses from the Bible…

“Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:

And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.

… And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her mind was alienated from them.

So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my mind was alienated from her, like as my mind was alienated from her sister.

Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.

For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.” Ezekiel 23

The Reverend was winding up to share some more of the Holy Word, and elaborate on the ‘issue of horses’ but he never got the chance. Someone tripped over the microphone cord, and in that moment the choir director signaled the start of the Alleluia Chorus while the Ladies Guild surrounded Rev. Bright and hustled him to the back of the church.

The wedding went on with great festivity, and the Ladies plied him with cake until he fell asleep from sugar overload. He woke up in an empty church with a headache and a raging thirst, and a conviction that he had been greatly disrespected. ‘Tripped over the mike’ indeed. That was no accident.

“Lord!” he cried, “Why have they forsaken me?”

“What have I done, but tried to share your sacred word?”

“Have you not told us to be urgent in season and out of season, as St. Paul said?”

Tears filmed his eyes as he stared into the darkness of the empty church, and lo– the Lord appeared to him. Jesus walked up close to Rev. Bright and whupped him on the side of the head.

“Haven’t you ever heard of ‘context’”, asked the Lord. “How can you expect to reach people’s hearts and minds when you’re throwing a holy hand grenade at them?”

“But St. Paul said…”, Rev. Bright stuttered…

“Don’t start with me!”, growled St. Paul, materializing at Jesus’ right hand. “I was a Jew to the Jews and a Roman to the Romans. Give me credit for knowing a few things about politics.”

Jesus and St. Paul then stood on each side of Rev. Bright. St. Paul whupped him on the other side of his head and then they rose in a celestial cloud and vanished.

Rev. Bright pondered long and hard after that, but he never figured out what the Lord meant by ‘context’. It sounded too much like ‘compromise’. He ended up in a church that shared his vision, with a small congregation in a compound in Idaho.

He still feels hurt that the Full Word of God church would not hear his message about marital faithfulness, so biblical and appropriate to a wedding.

But sometimes it’s not what you say — it’s how you say it.

Oh the Wonders of Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates has finally written a memoir — based on the experiences surrounding her husband Raymond Smith’s death in 2008. From The Wall Street Journal:

Joyce Carol Oates has published more than 50 novels, more than 30 short-story collections and an endless stream of essays and reviews—and that’s not counting her novellas, plays and children’s books. Now, at 71 and newly remarried, she is tackling a subject she has seldom explored in her work: herself.

Ms. Oates recently finished writing a more-than-400-page memoir detailing the aftermath of her husband Raymond Smith’s death in February 2008. She describes the book, “A Widow’s Memoir,” as practical and darkly funny (Ms. Oates says she plans to include a “widow’s handbook” with advice on fundamentals such as how to pick out a grave plot).

What a wild couple of years it must have been for Ms. Oates — between losing her husband and falling in love, remarrying and moving to a new home. Can’t wait to read the memoir!

Author Smackdown–Margaret Atwood v. Ursula LeGuin

Okay, not exactly the WWF. But LeGuin has some provocative takes on what constitutes science fiction.

Actually, these two distinguished and prescient authors have nothing but good to say about each other. I just chose an inflammatory headline because I’m looking for attention. Visit our site. Often.

Fiction is Good for the Brain

Here’s some news I feel like I’ve always known intuitively: writing fiction fine-tunes the brain.

For more than two thousand years people have insisted that reading fiction is good for you. Aristotle claimed that poetry—he meant the epics of Homer and the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, which we would now call fiction—is a more serious business than history. History, he argued, tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people. This is a strong argument for schools to continue to focus on the literary arts, not just history, science, and social studies.

But is the idea of fiction being good for you merely wishful thinking? The members of a small research group in Toronto—Maja Djikic, Raymond Mar, and I—have been working on the problem. We have turned the idea into questions. In what ways might reading fiction be good for you? If it is good for you, why would this be? And what is the psychological function of art generally?

Through a series of studies, we have discovered that fiction at its best isn’t just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.

My first serious novel was about a teenage girl who unwittingly conspires with her boyfriend to knock off her mother, manipulating him into thinking he is rescuing her from her terrible family. My second novel, The Pyramid of Human Growth, is a sort of romance between an introverted technocrat social worker (and lifelong procrastinator) guy and a lovable but difficult social worker gal trudging through the early years of her career, still trying to get over her early life trauma and move to the ultimate stage of marrying and childbearing. Currently I am at work on a novel about a woman’s death by overdose. It’s something we social workers get to have intimate knowledge about, for better (when we help prevent it) and for worse (when despite all the efforts made toward prevention it happens anyways). The working title (forgive the sarcasm, but it helps to keep the demons of writer’s block away) is “Twelve Easy Steps to Suicide.”

Hopefully someday all of my labors at fiction will result in some more published works. Earlier in my career I made a point of sending out my fiction and getting it published, both online and in smaller literary journals, but since having two children, I had to give up some of my goals (as I write this, I am being pestered for snacks). Anyway, even if they are not published, I take pride in working these things out in fiction — and believe that doing so helps me both personally and professionally. Viva the writing life!

District 9

Caution–should you visit our humble blog looking for a review of District 9, and you don’t want plot spoilers, STOP READING RIGHT NOW, BECAUSE I AM AN OCCASIONAL MOVIE VIEWER, NOT A PROFESSIONAL REVIEWER, AND I WOULD SPOIL THE SURPRISE IF THERE WERE ONE. Which there isn’t. Bummer.

I was hoping for something interesting, and for the first half-hour it was pretty good. Sharlto Copley plays Wilkus van der Merwe, a bureaucrat who is a funny nerd doing creepy stuff. He’s a tool, and a fool. Copley is a good actor, and actually the only actor in the film who gets to stretch out at all.

There’s the insectoid aliens, (Jason Cope as alien dad made his computer graphic character as sympathetic as anyone could) lots of people playing hapless bystanders and incidental witnesses, and a bunch of one-dimensional villains who exist to be eventually splatted. That leaves the viewer looking for a smart plot.

I think there’s a plot somewhere, but it got lost in the explosions. The camera work and the special effects were good. The mock News/Documentary in Johannesburg was a bright spot. But it was pretty much an action movie where you watch the bad guys chase the good guys. It’s all white noise to me. I been seeing people shoot each other on screen since ‘The Untouchables’ (b&w c.1950tv).

I was a little uncomfortable with ‘the Nigerians’ being so unrelievedly evil. Like it’s okay to stereotype as long as you sort your characters by nationality, not color. Or course, the bad guys were all pretty generic, whatever color they were. Even though flashes of irony shone through here and there, and it was a very well-produced film, your sci-fi nerd reviewer was disappointed. I was waiting for some really devastating plot twist around who these bug-like aliens were and where they came from. Maybe I’m supposed to wait for the sequel.

But I’ll go ahead and gripe about it now. A rocket to Mars would take years to get there. It wouldn’t be running on a tank of high-test and internal combustion engines. So when the alien spaceship fired up its engines I didn’t get excited. I was kind of let down. I had been hoping for something relativistic. Even Star Trek had that line thing they did with the stars when they went into warp drive. Okay, maybe the alien craft didn’t want to vaporize Earth when they took off into the faster-than-light speed they would need to attain in order to leave our solar system and arrive anywhere else in less than centuries, but after the way the humans treated them I had no idea why. In fact, there was a creepy implication that ‘the other’ will endure horrible wrongs over and over and never get vengeful. Maybe it was their alien psychology. Don’t count on it with humans.

Then again, it’s consistent with human psychology to develop a distaste for violence and revenge when you suffer the terrible consequences. South Africa had a great leader in Nelson Mandela, who suffered the worst of unjust imprisonment and served as an effective head of state.

I would have liked this movie better if fewer humans had been set up as totally evil targets waiting for our hero to blow them up, and the aliens had been more interestingly alien. I would recommend looking elsewhere if you want a real sci-fi fix.

For interesting alien/human movies, check out-
Contact
Stargate
Brother from Another Planet
Alien (all of them)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The UFO Incident
2001- A Space Odyssey
The Time Machine
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
War of the Worlds
This Island Earth
Forbidden Planet
The Day the Earth Stood Still

And from the written canon–
H.G. Wells (giant crabs at the end of time)
Isaac Asimov
Ursula LeGuin
C.J. Cherryh
James Tiptree Jr./Alice Sheldon
Stanislaw Lem
Olivia Butler
Chip Delaney
S.P. Somtow
There are billions and billions of other fine works. Readers– do you have the names of anyone I’ve missed?

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