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Thursday 3/16/23

I'm finishing a lot so I can get to much more, and work of a different stripe. As I intimated earlier, I just completed a story called "Rosa." "Rosa" will be in The Solution to the World's Problems: Surprising Tales of Relentless Joy. It's a story like "First Responder," I'd say, in that it's perfect. Structurally perfect. Note perfect.

It's funny--as in horrible, as in revealing of the evil: If someone like the person at Harper's who published "Find the Edges" was in place--that is, a person who looked at what a work was, and had integrity--then I believe that "Rosa" would be a no-brainer story to take in such a venue. An easy one to take. Obvious. It's not lesser than "Edges." Certainly not.

What I've learned with my work is this: Different people are going to cite different things--and I won't be able to predict how this will go--as their favorite or what they think is best. Someone who read Brackets wrote me and said that there were stories they could not shake free of, that stayed with them during their days. If you asked me what those stories are most likely to be, I honestly have no idea.

But there are stories that I can look at and be like, "Okay, wow, yes, that's how we do it." I can marvel at the design. Design means a lot to me. It's something special to behold a work of fiction of impeccable engineering. "First Responder" is that way. "Rosa" is that way. Of the stories that I've done in the recent past, this one is a stand out to me. There are many reasons. Design is one of them.

But because I am so hated by the people of an industry, because of the blackballing, and because there is absolutely no onus right now in publishing to publish quality work--again, it's that idea that there's no one watching, no one caring, so these people can put anything on the page or screen without push-back (in other words, they are free to publish work for all of the wrong reasons), because it all exists in a kind of vacuum--that means that no one will see this work presently. The world will see it when the world sees it.

Think about that. You had something that ran in Harper's. You have something every bit as good, and it can't run anywhere.

Now, we've looked at how Harper's works, since that other person left--or was removed, because they had integrity--and Chris Beha--who has no integrity at all, and no ability, as we've also seen--so that idea of "because this place has this name, the work published in it means something" is really bunk. It's a non-idea, because it's a non-truth. It's false. Pairing indicates nothing.

"Rosa" is about four females. I say females because I can't say it's about four women. It's about two women--a mother and a daughter, at two different times in life--and a female, the latter being the hippopotamus of the title. The fourth female--and third woman--is the hippo's keeper.

I'll put the first portion below. If I saw something like this elsewhere, from someone else, I'd fall over. I'd also think, "I must know them." My fingers would be a'flame as I made them go as fast as I could over the keyboard looking for more work by that individual.

The design goes so deep through this text. It's almost like the purest form of math. There are worlds of meaning--these constant "tells"--in all of this language, that grows in scope and ramification as the story unfolds. Every word has a crucial point. Every sentence becomes novelistic. In what it holds.

When you're writing a story, the story is in there many times over. It's not just in there in the sense that "here's the story." In the totality. The story lives in its totality in the first sentence, for example. In a clause. In a two-word phrase that is also about something is. It's about this, but it's also about the story. It contains the story.

We don't know what this character is doing exactly on this first page. To what or to whom she's administering. We want to know. We can surmise. Key words tip us off. We're pulled in. This isn't an account of "getting ready to go out," or personal ablutions. It's much more significant.


The drops always came out in twos as if the tube of the moisturizing agent—clearly labeled on its sides—had been designed to produce an outcome of pairs.

That concept of a moisturizing agent—an agent of moisture—had struck Cynthia as both rooted in biology and flowing in mystery when she first held the tube in her hands. It was as though espionage operations had been undertaken in distant, dermal lands, and now Cynthia was called on to meet with this essential government operative long embroiled in the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of cracking skin around tightly-shut eyes.

She squeezed the tube with both comprehensive sensitivity and a willing firmness, like she’d become an ally to the cause herself, one who reliably delivered the two vital, colorless drops on the tip of her index finger. No more, no less. She was the contact person who always came through.

The resulting pair of crystalline beads were separated by a space that a third drop could have consumed with just enough room to spare on either side. They looked like what would have been bottomless eyes on Cynthia's finger if her skin hadn't been there to fill in the backs.

She had forfeited any resistance to the idea that these two tiny drops contained far more moisture than their size suggested. Capitulated to an improbable truth. They could make a pickle slick all by themselves, were they being product-tested, and even a distracted user—which Cynthia definitely was not—would know after only an application or two just how far the agent went in giving everything that it had, and more.

Sometimes Cynthia wanted to knock on her mother's head to hear another sound in the room in addition to their breathing.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," she'd say, then snicker, which was how she laughed when she was nervous.

The knock would probably be like someone tapping on a pumpkin. Pumpkins had a knack for sounding hollow but not so hollow that you believed there weren’t solid contents within their curved walls.

Cynthia regarded the insides of pumpkins as memorable. There were the orange strings and the white seeds. Together they formed a strange kind of gloopy whole. It was strange, but it fit. The pairing wouldn’t have worked so well anywhere else, save in the middle of a pumpkin, with its special knack for being both hollow and full.

A long time ago, Cynthia’s mother had taken her to the zoo, a trip that itself had been a long time coming. Zoos were not very serious in her mother’s estimation. It’d been necessary for Cynthia to sell her at some length on their educational value. She lobbied for an age. It was probably all of fourth grade.

Her father would take her to any zoo she asked him to when she stayed with him, but that wasn't the point. She wanted to go with her mother. Go somewhere with her mother.

Somewhere fun. And wild. Where anything might happen, but nothing bad or reckless or at a distance. Going to a café—what her mother called "a quiet restaurant”—to read their books and not talk didn't count.

But finally Cynthia made whatever the clinching argument was—it could have been her school paper on the kinds of frogs that can live in terrariums and be happy vs. the kind of frogs that need to be in the wild or else they’ll die.

Cynthia had gone all out and made no less than three whole trips on her bicycle to the library. The teacher hadn’t expected any of the kids to do research, but Cynthia had wanted to, needed to, and with each additional outpouring of effort, she felt grown-up and that she was even on the road to being a frog scientist someday. Plus, she really wanted her mom to take her to the zoo.

And then it happened, whether it was because of the paper or not, but it didn’t hurt that the teacher had even written a note next to the grade, which was the best anyone could get: A giant A followed by three pluses, all of it in ecstatic, “wow-I’m-truly-floored” red marker. It was like fireworks.

“I honestly didn’t know this!” the teacher said, as if she was grateful that now she did, because she probably wouldn’t have found out from anyone else in the world but Cynthia.

Her mom must have picked up on the significance of terrariums and certain kinds of frogs after she read Cynthia’s paper and saw the special grade she got, because they did go to the zoo and when they saw a sign for the hippos, Cynthia’s mom asked if they could see them next. She asked Cynthia herself—which was the most unpredictable thing Cynthia had ever experienced up until that precise moment. She didn’t think she’d ever experience anything like it again. But that was okay. That’s how surprised Cynthia was and how happy she was to be surprised. And of course she said “yes.” She said yes as fast as she figured she could say anything.


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