Friday, March 26, 2010


The following matchbook stories were written collectively (three words per person) at the Issue No. 1 release party. What more can be said? They speak for themselves.


So then Jake pointed to the dart board and threw up on his supposed date, only to realize she had fallen upon someone elses. Dizzy and confused, she slid over: thud. The smell oozed across the felt. I only wished she could play along with my stoic act and pull some party ass with cue stick and 8 ball.


In your britches wheat scratches your nuts like a fiery STD. What have we got here? A pocket full of bread crumbs? Feed the birds into long life and on-again-off-again pleasantries filter through urinalysis. Dirtier than suspected, the birds crawl beneath wet urinals, kneading my doughnuts into crumbs.


One rainy day started early when Billy Jean pulled on her dog's leash. Lucy's tail wagged hard, knocking loose a filling in the skull's mouth. How dare you! College was just lost without a trace! Wet against my cheek were the gums and tongues of lands lost. Lucy knew how much her father loved the sand tears.


Darth Vader's shoes are genuine tonton. You wouldn't know they're from Payless. His dashing mind is lost in his choice of armor and words: a man-machine. What matters is his sword. And his pantaloons, his mother said. "Fuck pantaloons! Give me a light saber." He quickly grabbed his glow stick and screamed.


The box opened with a red fox monologue about your silky scarf covered in money. I couldn't afford anything else. Emotionally, I'm broke. Intellectually, I'm rich. Physically, I rock, drinking only beer. Under the scarf: Who me now? Scram fox, scram! Eat a clam. My spirit animal? Needs to be a sea cucumber.


God My Feet

Please allow me another house plant. My jade died. What's the point? Sometimes you just can't do it!!! I want a puppy instead. Plants require music and sweet nothings. God my feet. Plant my orchid, it needs nourishment. God my feet. Fungus grows incessantly. Fills my house. Who needs a bunion licker anyway?


"What the fuck," was what came in through the palindromic sigh-sound echoing down the elevator shaft. Ellen? Should I jump? "Only if you have the balls." Live, love, laugh, and take a big shit. Ah sweet relief. He decided that love is the answer to suicidal crap. Uber balls! He climbed up and pushed her off! Ah...


A bird once stood amongst bears, twittered in the treetops, unfettered, lost in revelry. The peacock presents -wasted on reds, shitty weed- and then it realized time was passing too slowly. Time for hyperdrive over the freeway and got stopped. Superbowl halftime show distracts me from myself during it all.


They stopped by, wishing they hadn't. Blood dripped down her unwilling thigh. Where are my eyeshades, she mumbled, squinting. They're all the way down the street. What should we clean up first? She started looking for the first mess they started. But of course she's feeling fresh.


Sunday Morn

Eventually, glass drinks drinker omnivorously with hands, feet, and long straws, drawn from deep pools, and end up floating weightlessly down the shadow boxin'. What the fuck? Making less progress, I fell over. Into the depths, darkness enveloped me, cold, vacant, pearlescent, streaming: a song. Do this in memory of me.

Matchbook Story ISSUE NO. 1


They watch the BIC swirl down the icy creek, a stab of yellow bobbing with luminous truth. "Matches?" Sam asks, last farewell cigarette dangling, ready. Holt digs his pockets. "No." Plan was to wrestle nic demons in the wilderness like Jesus. "How many miles back that liquor store?"

--Bruce Willey, Big Pine, CA


The first thing that struck me about Bruce's story was that it was complete. It contained all the elements of conventional narrative. We have, in the very first sentence, the essentials of exposition: the characters, setting, and foreshadowing of conflict: the icy creek tells you that the characters are outside in the wilderness; and the BIC lighter swirling down the icy creek warns you that the characters have just lost something essential to being in the wilderness, namely fire, warmth. Next, we have rising action, or the moment at which the protagonist's internal conflict is introduced and complicated by secondary, external conflicts. The internal conflict here is the paradox of addiction, smoking a last farewell cigarette in order to stop smoking, and Bruce deftly captures this state of limbo with the juxtaposed words, "dangling, ready." Soon after, in traditional narrative sequence, we have the climax--"No."--which marks the turning point for the protagonist. Sam's dilemma has gone from bad to worse: he (or she) is stuck in the suspended animation of quitting, of not yet having had his last cigarette. The falling action, or the moment where the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist unravels, is likewise suspended in the very first word of the next sentence, "Plan." The plan "was to wrestle nic demons in the wilderness like Jesus," and this plan is still possible if Sam foregoes his pre- plan to smoke a last farewell cigarette. But the denouement, or conclusion, renders tragedy. When Sam asks, "How many miles back that liquor store?" he falls to his antagonist, pulled by his addiction in the opposite direction of where he planned to quit smoking, indeed, desiring to return to the supply store of his very dilemma. This last line--the way it echoes hauntingly back into the story and then reverberates outwardly into Sam's near future--makes this story a story in its ability to continue off the page as well as to describe the universal condition of all aspiring quitters.

Of course, for those of you here already familiar with the conventions of narrative, this is only so much Creative Writing 101. But Bruce has written more than a complete story, which is why his was chosen for the inaugural issue. At the risk of paying myself a backdoor compliment, I can think of no better story to print for the first issue of Matchbook Story than a story which calls the whole enterprise into question. Whether he knows it or not, or whether he'll cop to it, Bruce has written a metafiction--a story about writing stories--which is signaled here by the self-referential title, To Light a Cigarette, headlining, mind you, a story intended for the inside a matchbook. What are matches for? To light a cigarette, answered most literally. But here, matches are also literally for telling a story. So, answering the question again, What are matches for? and answering, To tell a story, Willey's title makes cigarette smoking synonymous with short story writing. The protagonist, who can now be thought of as a writer (maybe not Willey himself, but his bio did mention something about being a mountaineer), enters the wilderness to kick his cigarette habit. What is the wilderness? The wilderness is this new, unexplored form--a story in 300 characters--and like the backpacker-protagonist required by the wilderness to reduce his everyday needs into the confines of a pack, the writer, too, is required by this new form to write a short story in less space. The protagonist's addiction to cigarettes is the writer's addiction to average short story length. The loss of the BIC lighter is the loss of technology--call it the laptop, perhaps; or built-in spell check--with which to write, or light, this story. The absence of matches is the absolute inability to light the cigarette, or to enjoy the civilized leisure of short story writing. As the cigarette is the delivery mechanism of pleasure-producing nicotine, the story is the delivery mechanism of pleasure-producing truth, of that yes! moment driven by our desire to find out, unveil, affirm, or to know. The plan, then, to wrestle nic demons in the wilderness like Jesus, is the writer's plan to wrestle a moment of truth out of this new, very short form, to see if he can go without the thing that produced pleasure before and still come away happy. But then the protagonist-writer asks, "How far back that liquor store?," doubting his ability to write a successful story in the 300-character wilderness, and, in turn, asking to retreat to the modern convenience stores of conventional short story writing. The story ends there--we don't actually see Sam and Holt head back to town or further up the trail--and this is as it should be. If, in the end, Sam marched confidently into the wilderness without his crutch, the writer would be claiming his success at this new form, cigarette/short story be damned! If, on the other hand, Sam tucked tail for the shelter of civilization, the writer would be indicating his failure to enter the wilderness. But we see neither and, so, we get to decide. I, for one, think Sam hiked on and kicked the habit. Indeed, I believe Willey has blazed a trail.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Matchbook Story - Issue No. 1 Shortlist


How could he have known that as a drugged up satanic metalhead, killing & burying a cat in a building site one night so long ago with friends he’s since lost track of, that now, after 13 years as a financial advisor, to give his kids more room, he would be buying the house that stood on its grave.

--Julian Baker, London, UK


Hiking Out of South Feather

At Post Creek we 3 shouldered our boats and climbed out. The others eased downstream 1 mile and got a night in the starlight suite with inflated pillows, maybe a space blanket. Lessons of the day: don't be the leader of the clown show, and know when to thumb a ride with bear hunters from Willows.

--Daren Commons, Santa Cruz, CA


Dr. Strangelust and Mr. Love

My neighbor's cat is passed out on the ugly, orange couch my ex-girlfriend suggested I buy for $25. (Reduced to $20, after I bargained with the guy at the thrift store.) My neighbor's cat got into a patch of burrs the other day. I picked each burr out, one by one, while he purred and loved me.

--Sam Edmonds, Spokane, WA


Central Locale

They left me at the place of impact. With the electrons swirling around the center, she yelled back "Must you always be so still when we crash."

--Fish Fishtofferson, Alameda, CA


For Your Grandmother

Your grandmother does not like Calvino. She is letting you know this right now. “You’ve read Calvino?” you ask, frankly amazed. She has. In fact, unbeknownst to you, she started reading your copy while you were sitting right there at the kitchen table, line editing a story.

--Megan Fitzgerald, Santa Cruz, CA

Soon You Lose Touch With Both

His beautiful wife killed the year before in SUV rollover, your friend says he's doing all right, but he can't relax. Talking to your wife, a dark fresh young Colombiana, your friend gives her his full attention. Your wife's friend is put off, she has enough problems with her boyfriend. She turns.

--Sesshu Foster, Alhambra, CA


The Last Cigarette

As he finally caught a first dim glimpse of the cave's fabled wonders, Roger thought he'd earned a smoke for his travails. As he greedily put a cigarette to his lips, he tried to recall Evans' warning about the place. Too late, he realized it might have had something to do with matches.

--Seana Graham, Santa Cruz, CA


Here's t' You

That bottle told the cops. I said she’d be back, but they’d found the body and then me, drinking her bubbly. What I’d shot was shot already, though, before the gun, back when she said, “Y’re dead’n’gone f’ me” and raised a fluted glass with that sharp-ass smile beneath the eyes I’d fallen into once.

--T.C. Marshall, Felton, CA


Train Tracks

I could kill that bloody bird. I imagined tying it up and leaving it by the cat flap just like a villain trussing up a heroine and leaving her on the train tracks. When I returned I found it in three neat pieces. I stared at the cat flap. I was standing by the tracks. There was blood on my hands.

--Richard Ross, San Francisco, CA


Hold On

Everyone has to hold on to something during the apocalypse. We need it, to keep us human. We have lost so much, scattered across the land. And why not? There are so many parts to choose from.

--Katie Sparrow, Santa Cruz, CA