Jen Knox is our feature author


While Jen Knox has a more generous glow to her skin than this little pug, her prose is as endearing. “After the Gazebo” pulls the reader into wrinkle of time in the sweet old wrinkles of the pug’s neckline. She’s that good! She has a gift. And, in step with the stylistic touches Alice Munro’s world-making, Knox pulls the reader into dynamic reflection. The larger questions are in play against the landscape of time’s relentless nature and humanity’s love of each other in spite of it all.

“The Prize at the End of This” delves into the motivation of preservation of life—life experiences with the creation of a bucket list:

The question—what scares you most?—cannot be unasked. I sit to write a sort of bucket list, sure that what scares me most is not to live to the fullest. For the first time since that writing practice so many years before, my words clog. I do not move. Pen cannot leave paper.

If you want to witness a very special writer with a rising voice in the literary world, read Jen Knox’s stories and  the interview. CR Stories Interviews Jen Knox. Here’s a snippet:

NIYA: I am impressed by how you take us through time, aging people and their stories in juxtaposition with the pug in “After the Gazebo.” I felt I knew the pug intimately simply by the first description of his skin. And then I began to see the pug as watcher; a gatekeeper of time and of age. Can you speak to the genesis of this story? It’s excellent and so powerful for our theme this fall.

JEN: I love how you phrased that, a watcher and gatekeeper, because that is exactly how Prince seemed to come to me. He was a device on surface—the one factor that set so many things in motion that could arguably have led to the unnamed couple’s fate—but things are never that simple. A single decision may set others in motion, and this was the guideline of the story, but I wanted to show that perspective allows for what the obvious does not. The beauty and heartbreak in life is often brought on in degrees and in deep feelings that extend beyond belief to transcend our reality. Prince is a survivor, and he is a watcher, yes. He goes through the motions of his role, but something deeper motivates him and that thing may transcend life and death. I suppose that part’s up to the reader.

We are proud to showcase Jen Knox. Please leave comments and visit up in our social media hubs.

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Jen Knox | CR Stories Interview

Niya C. Sisk interviews author Jen Knox


NIYA: Detail, detail, detail. You are a brilliant seductress of story and your weapon is image detail. But you also balance what you weave with intimacy of scene and time. While I don’t want to say, “How do you do this?” I have to ask how do you recall becoming this type of writer stylistically? Or anything at all you’d like to say about this observation?

JEN: I often begin a short story or essay by meditating on the day-to-day details of life. This could be as simple as observing a child laughing loudly in the milk aisle at the grocery; smelling sausage, maple syrup and pancakes on a cold morning; or catching glimpse of a particularly insincere smile between two people at a coffee shop. In these moments are the material for complex and vibrant stories.

Because my writing begins with detail, I try to sustain the vivid nature of that original image. As I revise though, I often realize I didn’t even come close. So detail is not only the catalyst but what I look to add after a first draft is complete. Where follow-up scenes feel flat, it is the senses that bring them to life; so as I revise, I try to slow down and imagine each scene, injecting it with as much concrete detail as I can.

NIYA: Is Alice Munro an influence? And others that are significant you could talk about a bit?

JEN: I listen to and read Alice Munro’s stories often. She’s an amazing writer and so precise. What I love, as a reader, is her characterization. Munro’s characters do not feel airbrushed. I read them and believe that they are flesh and blood; their everyday dilemmas become as large as my own. I once tried reading Munro as a writer. I was all set to take notes and look for specific technique, but the reader in me took over. I was sucked in. That’s great writing! I like to think writers, such as Munro, influence me through mere consumption. Other authors I read and love include Joan Didion, Edwidge Danticat, Tobias Wolff, James Thurber, Flannery O’Connor, and Donna Tartt. I just began reading Tartt. In fact, I’m still reading The Goldfinch, my first book of hers, and it is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

NIYA: I am impressed by how you take us through time, aging people and their stories in juxtaposition with the pug in “After the Gazebo.” I felt I knew the pug intimately simply by the first description of his skin. And then I began to see the pug as watcher; a gatekeeper of time and of age. Can you speak to the genesis of this story? It’s excellent and so powerful for our theme this fall.

JEN: I love how you phrased that, a watcher and gatekeeper, because that is exactly how Prince seemed to come to me. He was a device on surface—the one factor that set so many things in motion that could arguably have led to the unnamed couple’s fate—but things are never that simple. A single decision may set others in motion, and this was the guideline of the story, but I wanted to show that perspective allows for what the obvious does not. The beauty and heartbreak in life is often brought on in degrees and in deep feelings that extend beyond belief to transcend our reality. Prince is a survivor, and he is a watcher, yes. He goes through the motions of his role, but something deeper motivates him and that thing may transcend life and death. I suppose that part’s up to the reader.

NIYA: In “The Prize at the End of This” I didn’t feel bad for the main voice/character in this piece. I thought I would. Instead I felt inspired and wanted to sit in pow wow with her — learn from her philosophies in life. How do you suspect you accomplish this neutrality/peace when taking the reader into our deepest fears of  a life well lived by the end of things?

JEN: This piece actually arrived at a real-life failed attempt to write a bucket list. I figured it would be a fun exercise to write this list, but it turned out to be quite difficult. I began putting it off as I might an unpleasant chore. As fun as it was to fantasize about zip lining over beaches in Haiti, I realized what was scaring me was that I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. To distance myself, I began to write about not being able to write. I realized that seeing the end may offer some perspective, and I began to write a story. In this way, I attempted to examine not just the fear, but the nature of fear, which is often not logical yet so utterly consuming.

NIYA: CR Stories is privileged to have your voice in this edition of the magazine. Your pieces are moving and very rich. The language, pacing and ground you cover is remarkable. Why did you choose Curly Red Stories?

JEN: I remember arriving at Curly Red Stories and reading Joshua Mohr’s interview then his dynamite second-person narrative some time ago. I too am a natural (curly/wavy) redhead, so the name stuck, as did the impression from Mohr’s work. Later, I retuned and read more. And later, more. I read a lot of good work online, but it is less common to find a lot of good work in one place, so I’m thrilled when I do.

NIYA: What are you up to? What’s next for your fabulous career? Your goals as a writer in the next year or more?

JEN: I have a short chapbook forthcoming and a short story collection completed. I have also completed a novel. (Funny how that works: nothing is complete for so long, then all of a sudden it seems all the ends tie together.) The novel, We Arrive Uninvited, is about a girl who believes her grandmother’s schizophrenia is a misunderstood gift. As she learns her grandmother’s story, it is up to her to decide what is real. A portion of it is excerpted at WIPs. I’m very happy to be completing this novel. In many ways, the story surprised me but only in positive ways. Also, the subject matter is important to me, which makes the completion all the sweeter. I am also working on a novel that is more magical realism and odd. This one’s fun, and I have yet to title it.

NIYA: Thank you, and is there anything else you’d like to add?

JEN: Thank you, Niya. I’m a fan of Curly Red Stories, and I’m proud to be a part of your literary community.



After the Gazebo by Jen Knox


She felt it in her toes that morning, dread that she would shove into ivory heels and dance on beneath heavy clouds. He felt a surge of adrenaline that he thought must accompany every man on his wedding day.

Everything had been set in motion four months ago, when they adopted a pug that had been abandoned in a nearby apartment complex. They were unsure they’d have the time to devote to the puppy, but the pug’s bunched face and little square body seemed perfect. It would be a responsibility test, a sort of trial run before they had children.

The pug had dermatitis between his folds, which cost money to correct, as did his shots and medications. It was enough to tear a small hole in their new car fund; they had to reevaluate the year and model. The lesser car they picked had good reviews, and the salesman—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told him exactly what their real budget was—said it was more durable than a lot of the newer ones. The couple’s fate was sealed when she drove the car off the lot, when he inserted the CD he’d brought along. “Ocean Breathes Salty” began the soundtrack.


They decided on a name for their puppy after reading that the strange little forehead wrinkle pugs share is referred to as a prince mark because it resembles the Chinese symbol for prince. They took Prince on lazy walks after work, allowed him to watch Animal Planet, and each snuck him treats when the other was not watching.

They made resolutions often. Both wanted to be somewhere else, but were unsure exactly where. They lived near his family but far from hers, so they often spoke of moving somewhere in the middle. Her sister would call late at night, upset about her husband being out late. She longed to be there to comfort, to watch bad movies, make orange cinnamon rolls and tell her sister she deserved better.

The day of the wedding, they awoke five hours and twenty minutes before they had to be at the meeting center by the gazebo. Their wedding would be outside, in a park where they first met. Both had been joggers.

It would be a small ceremony. She would wear her mother’s ivory dress, still a touch tight around the hips. He would wear his OSU pin on his slant-striped gray tie. She would pick up her mother and sister from the hotel. Just fewer than forty people would surround them as they took their vows at Abaline Park at 2PM.

Prince had a habit of jumping up and down before treat time, after walk time, and this always made her giggle; her giggling made her fiancé want her. It was wedding day morning. She laughed at his pitched pants and serious stare when she walked out of the kitchen. With only hours remaining, he rushed her, he moved his fingers along her belly beneath her shirt, he led her to their bedroom where they would forget the world for almost an hour.

When they remembered the world, they became frantic. They rushed around, kissed goodbye. She took the car. Her mother, an artist, presented her with a black and white painting of Prince. She laughed, loved it. Her sister worked hard to laugh with then explained her husband couldn’t attend due to work. It had been last minute. The sisters embraced.

Prince refused to wear the doggie tux, so she clipped the bow-tie to his collar. She hoped that he remembered to pack the treats and collapsible water dish. His father was picking him up. His mother was in a wheel chair after having reconstructive foot surgery a few weeks back. She was a loud, beautiful woman. Her three grown children, husband-to-be included, had blinged out her chair while she was in surgery, so that she now called it her throne.

The gazebo was perfect. Nothing was overdone. The couple didn’t see each other until vows. The sky was overcast but with no threat of rain. Clouds framed them in pictures.

The couple kissed. Prince jumped up and down at the dance. His mother danced in her chair. Her mother sketched the children’s faces. Her father smoked cigars with his father as they talked about drone strikes then football then cigars.


The recall notice hadn’t reached them because they’d forgotten to write the apartment number on the paperwork; his email had filtered the e-copy to junk. The recall notice concerned hyper acceleration and asked that all owners of the make/model and year bring the car in for a free check. The parents would become angry and file a lawsuit. It would be a large suit, and they would become quite rich.

His mother’s foot would heal, and she would walk with only a slight limp to the two graves that sat alongside the back of the yard by an old, abandoned house. The families would gather here on the anniversary of the couple’s wedding, and they would sob and laugh and smoke cigars.

They would discuss the circumstance of death and fate, everything that had to line up. The family was rich, so incredibly rich, but it didn’t matter. The money did not reconcile how the SUV had swerved and their breaks had given way, sending their small car spinning into the median strip.

It was instantaneous for him. It was drawn out for her. She had that brief window, a chance to say goodbye. She’d told her sister that she knew, somehow, that she had thought it was just cold feet.

The sister divorced, became pregnant after a fling. Prince would live with her and rest his wrinkly head on her belly as he listened to her daydream about finding love. He would comfort her when she came home with child and was unable to sleep.

Prince would mind the child and growl at men the sister would bring home. Until his final years, Prince would be there for her, but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.



“After the Gazebo” was originally published in ARDOR.

The Prize at the End of This by Jen Knox

Bucket List Perspective

Coworkers laugh it off from the safety of their cubicles, call out easy answers: cockroaches, death, heights, death, public speaking, death, and not death but dying. I shrug and say nothing in particular scares me most, so probably death, yeah, probably that.

I am brushing my teeth, and the answer taps me on the shoulder. I am jogging, and the answer rests on my feet like weights I must lift again and again. I know it will remain until addressed, haunt me until spoken, but I run faster and concentrate on my burning quads.

I set out to make a list—a sort of bucket list. As I begin writing, however, I think of Diana. Then I think The Voice is on, and I should go watch that. I set out to write another day and realize I should call someone about something that suddenly seems important. The answer, meanwhile, is now inside of everything: my husband’s snoring, my worry over the week’s unanswered emails, and the bills that keep my life routine.


There were three of us and three words. I listened quietly as Diana repeated the same question. She read the three words a dozen times, and every time she read them they took on more meaning. We sat in a small circle, writing with only one rule: don’t lift the pen from the page. We usually did three rounds, and this was the second. Ordinarily, my words tumbled out, but this day they clogged somewhere between brain and hand. I tried to shake them loose, but I could only look at Diana’s pen. It moved swiftly across the page. My answer sat atop my pen, but I could only write about not being able to write.

Diana had survived many rounds of chemotherapy and a hematopoietic stem cell transplant since being diagnosed with Leukemia. She elected to read again, spoke of death as burden, asked the same question with the same three words: “Am I next?”

She breathed slowly, spoke with no urgency or fear, but her words lodged beneath my skin, shook my blood. I relaxed when she smiled at me because I always relaxed when she smiled. I could hear the dull hum of my apartment and the faint clicks of my husband on the computer in the other room.

“Didn’t mean to bring down the room,” she said, chuckling. Her multi-colored scarf, vivid flowers, framed her yellowing complexion but more, her warm green eyes and perfect heart-shaped face. She nudged me, woke me up.


I had been stuck in my own head, a student not yet restricted to routine but eager to get there. I’d felt slower than most, not quick to pick up materials, not quick to make and keep friends. Self-consciousness and distrust had blurred my view, so I was harsh toward people, toward life, but Diana offered another kind word for every cold shoulder. A friend had made me.


Diana once told me that there is a place in our bodies, at the back of our hips, where bone marrow and blood stem cells collect. She started practicing yoga to, she said, release the vitality. The hips are nourishing but when released, they can heal. As more time passed, however, Diana stopped asking if she was next. By the time my friend passed away, it was merciful of life to release its grip.


The question—what scares you most?—cannot be unasked. I sit to write a sort of bucket list, sure that what scares me most is not to live to the fullest. For the first time since that writing practice so many years before, my words clog. I do not move. Pen cannot leave paper.

I figure this much out: The prize at the end of life is variable, so a list means nothing. I write about not being able to write. What scares me most? I write. Is it dying? Is it dying without having taken risks, without having learned to own mistakes, without learning to smile at life—at the joys and the absurd—the way my friend did, and to  love people who are not yet ready to be loved?

I write. Absence taps me on the shoulder, but I think of Diana. She puts her arms around my rigid self. She shakes me awake.

Nathan Alling Long | CR Stories Interview

Niya C. Sisk interviews writer Nathan Alling Long.


N.S. Two things that strike me immediately as I read your pieces, “In China” and “Flies,” is your range with unifying elements and stylistic efficiency. “Flies,” for instance, was humorous while not one word too many to convey the twists and turns of action and emotion in that scene. Do you aim to hit us right between the eyes with truth in the subtle crafting of elements or do you just have a very sharp editor’s knife?

Nathan: I’m not sure, though I think my writing process is really like everyone else’s, a bit of inspiration on the first draft, and a willingness to go over it with a comb.  I’ve come to believe though that I owe my writing practice largely to being dyslexic. Several writers are, such as my literary hero, Samuel Delany, and Richard Ford, who commented once that the pleasure of this disability was that a sentence always looked different each time one came across it—it never entirely settled on the page.  For me, it meant getting used to spending hours rewriting papers in college to make them passible; from that, I got comfortable with the idea of revision.

N.S.  The tension you create in the piece, “In China” is stunning. The detail in the breath patterns of the dying person. The heartbreaking loneliness expressed in the comfort of bad news. And again, the efficiency of words. Volumes are spoken. I would imagine flash fiction is your first art. Is that true?

Nathan: I suppose it’s true, in the sense that my flash publications outnumber my longer stories five to one.  Perhaps the more appropriate way to say it is that I struggle at getting any of the other forms right.  I worked on a novel for almost five years, but it was too large of a thing for me to get my brain around.  It was like carrying fifteen bags of groceries at once; something kept slipping out of my grasp and spilling all over the place.  I also have about a dozen long stories I’m working with at the moment, some of which I’ve worked on for ten years.  I don’t give up on them, but they seem to grow as slowly as children—they might well be eighteen or older before they finally seem ready to leave the house.

But flash I think of more as an experiment, a thing I do for fun.  That takes the pressure off; it invites me to play, since, if I fail, the consequences are smaller.  My computer is a big workshop, with all kinds of failed projects.   If I have fifty flash pieces published, I have twice as many that will never see the light of day.

N.S.  Who are your influences? Are they writers mostly? Or are there other artists, thinkers, people who have helped shape your writing style and motivations?

Nathan: I love what arists and musicians do for my writing.  Really, anytime I’m in the presence of an amazing artist or scholar, even at a lecture or reading, I walk away inspired to write.
That said, I have to thank the English Department at the University of Maryland, where I earned my BA years ago.  The authors I read there have really stay with me, particularly the European writers– Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Franz Kafka, Margaret Duras, Virginia Woolf, Herman Hesse, and Rainer Rilke.  On this side of the Herring pond, I’d say Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, James Baldwin, Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Lethem, Ron Carleson, and Antonya Nelson.  My favorite living writer is probably Haruki Murakami.
N.S. You are already very accomplished, but what do you think about as your ideal life as a writer? Your hopes and dreams?

Nathan: I always wanted to be a writer, but was too intimidated.  In college, I took one creative writing class, but I stopped because my writing was full of technical flaws, as well as other issues.  Then someone told me that if you write seriously for ten years, you’ll start publishing. You mean it’s only a matter of trying for a long time? I thought.   It was a relief.  And so I wrote, while doing other things, and eventually got into an MFA, and started getting published.  I kept writing and published, but I’m a slow writer.  Perhaps that’s why flash is good for me as well.  Anyhow, now I have enough material for a collection of stories, a collection of flash, and a collection of essays.  My goal is to get at least one of these books out in the world.  I’m more interested in a good-natured press than a big named one.  And the one thing I have is patience.

N.S. What’s in the works now?

Nathan: Just working on fine tuning those three collections, really.  That, and raising my story children.

N.S. CR Stories is so thrilled to have your talent. Strong prose with layers of flavored truth, like a great Pinot is my experience of your work. But why CR? And, what about the theme: Paper, drew you in?

Nathan: I always look over a journal before submitting.  I really loved the layout and the range of writers, old and new, and the attention you gave to each—allowing us to experience two pieces, to read their bio, and then to learn more with the interviews.  It was also a plus that CR accepted previously published stories, which few journals do.


I’m always fascinated by paper, the way it waits patient and still for words to come to it (not like a curser and a bright computer screen), the way it can hold secrets, the way it can be crumpled or burnt.  I was talking to some young writing students the other day about postal mail, trying to convince them of how lovely it is to get a real letter, to hold it, to look at the stamp and the handwriting, and then open it.  Even the act of deciphering someone’s handwriting adds to the slow pleasure of reading a postal letter, as does holding a piece of paper that was once in the author’s hands, esp if they are far across the world, or no longer living. Paper holds all that in a way an email or text can’t.  I think that’s why many readers appreciate signed copies of books: the maker of the book actually touched the copy you own.

N.S. Thank you for the interview Nathan. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Nathan: Thank you for such generous question !  Nothing more to say; I’ve probably said too much already.

N.S. Nah, never!

Spring flashes out it’s paper prose with Nathan Alling Long

nathan-paper-blogpostPaper! What a crazy and amazing invention. Could you imagine us with a hammer and hundred of iron letters on our writing desks and large slabs of stone? Ah, suddenly… thinking of paper makes me feel I’ve lost a gazillion pounds and Shakespeare is whispering sonnets in my ear. Thank you paper, I love you!

Though paper was invented in 105 AD in China, our featured writer, Nathan Alling Long’s richly layered story “In China” is far from the invention of paper. The piece invents in other surprising ways. With paper as a witness to treacheries outside, it acts as unifying element of grief on the human level. This is a beautiful story. “In China” excerpt: 

Every day I read the paper, looking for such disasters—new piles of bodies found in Rwanda, an earthquake in Chiapas, a derailed train outside Copenhagen.  The worst news always makes me feel a little better, always lessens this feeling that I’m the only one with loss.

In his storyFliesI get a visceral thrill—a good physical dose of the power of paper. And, the symbolic gestures are something to consider. A short excerpt to give you a taste:

I have to say, I get pretty damn good at knocking these things off the wall. The real pleasure is hearing them land on the floor like tiny bits of paper, a faint sound, like a fallen angel. Killing is not so bad in tiny amounts, it strikes me now, and I wonder if I might be able to kill a person this way, one gram at a time. What if these flies are really one body, just broken up into tiny soldiers?

CR Stories is proud to present Nathan’s talent for the Spring showcase. Did we get other flashes for the paper theme? Yes, we did. But Nathan’s work captured the CR Stories spirit of richly layered prose using paper as a unifying element. So Nathan steals the spring show. Enjoy his work. Stay tuned for the interview next week!

Your curly red editor and founder, Niya.

In China by Nathan Alling Long

Chinese Newsprint

IN China they recently completed a dam that will flood a hundred villages.  I read about it this morning in the paper while Mom was sleeping.  Everyone was forced to relocate, but their houses remained behind.

Every day I read the paper, looking for such disasters—new piles of bodies found in Rwanda, an earthquake in Chiapas, a derailed train outside Copenhagen.  The worst news always makes me feel a little better, always lessens this feeling that I’m the only one with loss.

Once, while I was reading about an apartment that had collapsed in New Delhi, I heard Mom start coughing, a dry and sore morning cough.  I waited to see if it would stop on its own, without having to feed her a teaspoon of cola, or lift her up to massage the tiny cords of muscle that still straddle her spine. Because of a structural flaw in the steel, one of the I-beams that spanned the basement of the building crumpled around five o’clock in the morning, when the tenants were still asleep.  They were crushed beneath their ceilings and the weight of their neighbors’ belongings.  The few survivors of the collapse had laid patiently beneath the rubble for seventy-two hours before being exhumed.  I almost finished that article when I heard Mom’s cough getting dryer.  I went in and made adjustments to her bed, which seemed to help.  But this time, the coughing wouldn’t stop, and after several hours, I eventually had to feed her drops of morphine until she fell asleep.

This is the first morning in weeks I’ve gotten through three quarters of the paper without Mom coughing, without having to hold the metal pan to catch the orangish fluid that oozes out from between her lips.

For five years, this article says, the Chinese had been building the dam, so far down stream that no one could hear the trucks and trucks of concrete moving in, like a string of ants in search of water, to dump their wet cargo against the wooden frame of the dam.  For five years, the river was diverted around the dam, through a giant pipe.

When the officials knocked on the town people’s doors, everything was already in place.  The trees had been shaved like hairs from the hillsides upstream, the timber already sold.  There was nothing anyone could do.

I set the paper down to check on Mom.  She was still asleep, her face for once without its grimace of pain.  It seemed almost impossible to imagine.  I placed a finger by her nostrils, to make sure there was still breath, then I returned to the kitchen and I read some more.

When the last of the people were evacuated, the Chinese closed off the pipes and let the water flood the streets.  Most of the furniture and the cupboards, I read, had been left behind.  What wasn’t anchored down, floated away.  What was secure or heavy, simply disappeared beneath the surface.

In some ways, I suppose, this story was not as horrible as others.  No one, as far as I read, was killed.  It was simply a report about progress, which can seem tragic or hopeful, depending on where you stand.  But I couldn’t help but feel for these people, more than for the victims of other disasters.  Maybe because it seemed so easy to imagine, the lake slowly spreading like a hemorrhage, in that beautiful, effortless way water does.

I heard Mom shift in her bed.  She took a deep breath, followed by a long valley of silence her breathing sometimes falls into.  I knew these were her best remaining hours, when she appeared the most serene.

As I waited for the next breath, I pictured myself as one of the villagers, on top of a mountain there in China, overlooking that completed, stillborn lake.  I imagined it would seem almost natural—how could all that water not?  The fishing boats floating across the surface, the trees growing right up to the shore.  It would seem almost peaceful—the lapping of the tiny waves against the mountain, the reflection of the giant sky on the water—except for everything I knew that existed underneath.


Previously published in Dispatch Literary Journal

Flies by Nathan Alling Long

Fly on Paper

Flies. Lots of them. All over the table, in my coffee floating, landing on my arms and legs, buzzing around like a hundred toy planes.

I’m trying to enjoy my breakfast, but I feel like King Kong. So I roll up the newspaper and start swatting them, until one lands on my plate.

Then I cover my plate and coffee, put away the butter, jam, and bread, and go back to swatting. Thwack, thwack, thwack.

I have to say, I get pretty damn good at knocking these things off the wall. The real pleasure is hearing them land on the floor like tiny bits of paper, a faint sound, like a fallen angel. Killing is not so bad in tiny amounts, it strikes me now, and I wonder if I might be able to kill a person this way, one gram at a time. What if these flies are really one body, just broken up into tiny soldiers? A horrible thought—and it’s a good thing they don’t reassemble anything human. I don’t think I could take it, trying to slice down a fly man, not before my first cup of coffee at least, not before my toast.

I keep swatting ‘til there’s just a few clever ones left: they fly around the fan blades and only land on the ceiling. I turn the fan on, and they scatter. Then one by one I knock them off, until there’s just one pesky fly left.

That’s when Judy comes into the kitchen and asks me what I’m doing. “Swatting flies?” she asks, then laughs.

“Yes, swatting flies,” I say, not amused. This is serious work—man’s work, really, the taking of life. A pool of adrenaline has welled within me, and I feel myself now a man of considerable tactical skill.

“My grandmother used to catch them like this,” Judy says, snatching her hand once into the air.

“Good for her,” I say, “but that would take too long.” I look at Judy’s hand, still sealed shut. Then I look around the room and recognize that the last fly is gone. I know it has miraculously found itself in her palm of her hand. And sure enough, she walks over to the window, opens it up, and lets the insect fly away.

“How did you do that?” I ask, feeling a bit incredulous, and a bit wounded.

“Your hand just has to be in the right place at the right time,” she says.

“Huh,” I say, and sit back down, uncovering my coffee and toast.

Judy gets out things to make her breakfast: tea and cereal. I wait as she makes her meal then takes it into the den, humming.

Finally, I sit down and take a sip of my coffee. It’s cold. I unfold the newspaper, but now it’s dotted with blood.  I can hear them outside, tapping on the window screen, as though dying to get in.


Previously published in Monkeybicycle

Fall Writers on Change Are Here and Wow!

Whether it’s Chad Patton’s talent for image detail — the breathless turns of emotion in Marian Brooks’ stories or the pure genius of how we are transformed right then and there by the alchemy of language in Rich Larson’s flashes, this showcase is a winner! Grab a hot cup of coffee, cuddle up by the fire and enjoy the fall (pun intended)!

Important Links Below

Monstrously Unfair by Rich Larson

“You have to move out,” she tells him, pink nails kneading Hello Kitty bedspread. “I don’t want you touching all my clothes. Or seeing me change.” Her eyes are hard now, an eleven-year-old’s glitter-dusted eyes, they told him this would happen. “What if I want to have a sleepover? Or if, I don’t know, a boy came over?”

If a boy came over he’d lose his trachea, he wants to say.


She wouldn’t believe his snarls, so he lumbers out of the 28 by 48, slithers out the window. Static of her stuffed animals still crackling in his fur.

Like Chlorine and Night by Rich Larson

With our legs flotsam in the deserted pool she tells me things aren’t going to work. Her legs kick and wobble pale in the cyan, only hint at discomfort. My leg hairs swirl like feelers.

“Can I kiss you at least?” I ask, passing her the cigarette.

After a pause she says yes. Her head smells like chlorine and night. My hand finds the shrapnel of her hipbone under skin. It traces clammy thigh, our cold lips mash together.

My head: flick her cigarette into the water, like drowning a firefly. Baptize her, find flushed warm parts under ripples. Spark her.

Realtime: we bisect, there are freckles under her eyes. She looks quizzical. Her tongue tiptoes her teeth. “Whatever you need,” she says. “Whatever helps.” The cigarette goes back in like punctuation.

Shiny scar tissue on her thigh, a tetanus shot age five—her parents knew she’d be the type to climb rusted pool fences. It fits under my thumbprint. We sit and churn refractions, pretend I’ve marked her.

~Previously appearing in Fiction Brigade

Hopeful Old Man McFall by Chad Patton

I don’t remember Old Man McFall that good anymore, but I remember how he used to smoke his cigar—the one he’d never be caught dead without—on the porch, in the summertime where the townspeople used to walk by with their children and their dogs. He’d put the flaming stub in front of his face and pinch it with his lips, right at their pucker, and give a concentrated look as if he were blowing up a balloon. And sometimes, from the way the wrinkles formed around his face, it looked as if he were puffing his cheeks out, making a mockery of anyone unlucky to meet his eyes and see his face.

I’m not as old now as he was in my youth, but my mind’s telling me that he had a stuffed creature he kept perched on his lap. It was an odd creature, something no man in his right mind would ever get stuffed, let alone keep perched on his lap. Something like a chicken. Or a rooster. It had wings, I know that for sure. And it had those dead eyes, those eyes that leaked into a person’s bones and kissed them with their frozen lips. He had a house, an old house that shed paint like a dog shed hair in the sun.

He had a daughter. Somewhere down the line he was friends with one of the grandfathers of a townsperson who had now come and gone like so many before me. I think it was him who said that Old Man McFall had a lover or a live-in girlfriend or that maybe he was a widower whose wife died of too little happiness. He had a daughter who grew up all too quickly and moved away—after her mother either died, or ran away, or fell out of love—to a school she thought her father would never want to visit. I think that must have been when he got a bird, which makes me quite sure now that it was, in fact, a bird. He kept it until it died, and then he stuffed it as a reminder of the steps he’d never take to see his daughter again.

One time someone told me, and I think this was either Frank Walsch or his brother Davie, that Old Man McFall bought a plane ticket and was showing it off to everyone who passed by his porch. It was in the summer, which meant he had his cigar and aviary creature of some sort, and although he didn’t talk too much, he was unnaturally spritely that day. He waved the shallow stub in the air like a man with a winning lottery ticket and told the townspeople that he was going to see his daughter again. They smiled at him and they held their children close, walking faster down the road and wishing there was another route they could take to get back home. Old Man McFall then’d sit himself down in his chair and puff at his cigar again, stroking the stiff-as-plastic feathers of the stuffed bird. He’d hold the ticket in front of his face, squinting from the brightness of the sun, and tell himself that this was it; this was the day he’d see his daughter.

Call it coincidence, but an old chum buddy of mine got on the plane that day, the same one that Old Man McFall was supposed to board. They said it was an overbooked flight, but upon further consideration they found enough seats to pack the restless travelers into the plane’s aluminum cargo. They filed them in through the rolling red staircase, which was an uncanny facsimile of the crest atop Old Man McFall’s stuffed critter’s head, and sat them down with seats to spare. My buddy got himself a window seat and watched the crown-like ladder skirting off the wing of the plane. He thought it would be a coincidence if that was the seat that Old Man McFall was supposed to have been in, and he wondered if he would have tried to bring his stuffed creature on the plane with him, or if what was on the other side of his flight was good enough to forget that the thing ever existed. Then again, the poor old man probably never got to pack his bags. He was probably too busy holding onto his stuffed bird. But anyway, it could be that it was just a story.


Sitting Room by Chad Patton

Oversized Arm Chair

It felt like I was in a darkroom, sitting in an armchair that was somehow too big for me, maybe from a lack of foresight or a narcissistic idea that I didn’t need to “try on” an armchair. Nonetheless, it was too big for me, or at least it felt that way, and the room was black with a solitary light shining overhead, and all I could do was sip my tequila, because tequila turned me mean. But, being that I was alone, I wasn’t mean, but instead angry, seeing as there was nobody to whom I could be mean. And I wanted to feel angry. It was my right to feel angry. So I waited in anger with the television turned off and the phone by my side, and maybe, just maybe, if I had a dog I would have been petting it. But I didn’t have a dog, and a good thing too, because I was drinking tequila.


Grandfather Clock

The light grew, shedding itself on the grandfather clock. Either that or the grandfather clock moved into the light that didn’t shed itself. The phone still didn’t ring. The armchair was still too big. My tequila was starting to water down, but seeing as the armchair was vacuuming me into its core, there was no venturing outside the realms of light, into the darkness, for me to ameliorate my current situation of hydro-enhanced alcohol.

The funny thing about my grandfather clock is that it actually was my grandfather’s. Not too much funny about it. More of something happenstance than knee-slapping, yucking-it-up, laugh out loud funny. I’m sure numerous grandfathers have had grandfather clocks. Or at least the rich ones. I liked my grandfather clock for the same reason that I imagine people like the Catholic Church: ritual. I say that (1) because I’m not Catholic, so I can’t say for sure exactly why people enjoy that religion and (2) because said grandfather clock has given me a daily ritual of winding. I’m a man with no religion other than that of time. Life is an examination that will never be graded. Soon enough the stopwatch narrows down to 00:00:00, and the bespectacled man looks up and says, “Times up.” It’s then that you realize there’ve never been truer words.



And I thought about what it was I liked to think about. I liked books. I liked the smell of books, the feel of books; the way they trapped ideas within their thin lineaments made me feel, believe, disbelieve; they altered my state of mind: they were organic drugs.

My bookshelf was made of cherry, a wood that always made me want to be a woodworker. But my grandfather’s grandfather clock, who’s always been a steady confidant, told me I was running out of time for that. Running out of time like all the others before me, all the others on that shelf. Dickens, Woolf, Poe. I’ve loved them all, still couldn’t help loving them each time I saw their brains on the page. And then they left.



The phone rang. I waited two rings before I picked it up. I’d like to think that the ghosts of those before me came out to greet me at that moment, but I was still alone, and now my tequila was water. When I listened to the other end I told them “yes” and “okay” and “thank you for calling me.” Then I hung up. The call made me feel larger, made the chair feel smaller. The light, the one that was on me, was now smaller; the room was smaller. I looked at the grandfather clock, at the bookshelf, at the books between its humble slats. I sat back in my chair, drank the rest of my water with its hint of agave, and I felt, instead of angry, unnaturally calm. I said to myself: I’m coming.

Internal Injuries by Marian Brooks

I hold your head in my hands, gently. Your face softens and I kiss you, just once. But it is enough. You turn away and I know. I want to bash your head against the wall until your brains spill all over the white carpet. I want to scream in your face about how you’ve ruined everything. I want to scream until my throat is raw. My journal falls to the floor, just out of reach as if the words themselves want to hide. I hear you slamming drawers and stuffing clothes into your suitcase. You go, leaving me with a cool draft from the future.

Iron Crosses by Marian Brooks

Carl and Joyce Walker could not imagine how they’d managed to create and cultivate a 24-year-old skinhead. Both were accomplished people in their own way. Curt taught math at Northeast high school in Philadelphia. He was a local chess champion. Joyce sang solo in the choir at church and collected spinning wheels. She took pride in preparing nutritious meals for her family. There were plenty of vegetables to go around. The Walkers’ political leanings were slightly to the left—conservative, in a liberal sort of way that was hard to explain. They lived in the western suburbs.

The couple had three sons. David, thirteen, enjoyed spiking his hair and wearing peculiar outfits that looked mostly like Halloween costumes. He was an average student and had recently discovered girls. Steve, twenty, was finishing his last year at community college. He was engaged to a lovely girl, Jill, who was planning to attend veterinary school. Steve had met all of his developmental milestones as expected.

But Greg, Greg was a problem. He had no job, no ambition, and played guitar in a white supremacist band. Greg considered himself to be a gifted lyricist, spewing hate and anarchy into every discordant note. He was particularly proud of the songs he’d written for The Hoods. The Hammer of God kept pounding in his brain, in perfect rhythm with his heart. He sported a variety of tattoos and piercings, including several colorful swastikas, some with thunderbolts. His soiled socks, empty beer cans, tissues, and cigarette butts littered his room and the hallway.

Greg’s parents told him that they loved him very much but wanted him to move far, very far away. They gave him $1000 in start-up funds. Greg did move but not far. He settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania with a group of like-minded contemporaries, and proceeded to search for minorities to beat up on Friday nights after their white power concerts and several beers. At times, the beatings were so severe that the victims were simply left for dead. Sometimes, Greg was afraid that they were dead.

Keith and Matt had been arrested on weapons and assault charges, Jason with terroristic threats, and Greg with ethnic intimidation and institutional vandalism. The group of four lived over a vacant hardware store in a gritty area of the city. They decorated the walls with Iron Crosses, SS insignia, and faded pictures of Hitler. Workout benches served as tables and chairs. There were no beds, only camouflage sleeping bags. They all shaved their heads, except for Jason. He preferred a swastika set into his hairline. The four occasionally found snow removal work in winter and warehouse jobs at other times of the year. They led a minimalistic existence, which didn’t bother them much. They were part of the Aryan Nation.

Every Tuesday and Friday at six a.m. Greg laced up his steel-tipped boots, put on his plaid flannel shirt and well-worn jeans, and ambled around the corner to McDonald’s. He ordered black coffee, fries, and an Egg McMuffin. Greg relished the time alone even though the coffee was far too strong and the McMuffin too greasy. “This has to be foreign coffee,” he thought. He’d been thinking a lot lately. The guys were getting on his nerves, and he no longer felt a thrill from battering people senseless. He felt lost.

McDonald’s was usually deserted at 6:30 in the morning, except for the help. Karen Patterson took his order most days, smiling. She was a wide woman, friendly, and black. Greg never said “hello” or thanks” in the year and a half he’d been a patron there. Sometimes she’d ask how he was or comment on the weather. He never responded. Greg wanted to hate her.

The tattoo parlor was only three blocks away. Within an hour Greg flashed a new swastika on his right hand. When he made a fist, he felt as fierce as a tiger.

The following Tuesday morning Greg surprised himself trying to conceal the tattoo with his sleeve when he paid his bill. But Karen noticed it anyway and paused before giving Greg his change. She looked at him straight-on and said, “You are better than this.” He grabbed his change and never returned. Secretly, he hoped she was right.

Rich Larson | CR Stories Interview

Niya C Sisk interviews twenty-year-old-too-young-to-be-genius? think again!
Rich Larson from Alberta, Canada.

N.S. You take risks. I get super excited when I’m confused in a satisfying way. I feel like I’m in the presence of deep art. For instance, in “Monstrously Unfair” the last line makes my brain explode. This story could be so many things. It doesn’t make the mistake of being a simple scene — it turns to story with that last line. Imagination is thrown. Nice! For some, the mystery would create too much of an itch. I’m curious what feedback you’ve been given with your particular style in this regard?

Rich: A friend and reader once compared reading a short story of mine to being dumped into open water and expected to swim. Some people love that; others hate it. It’s a balance I’m always trying to strike: thrusting the reader into a busy world and often a plot in media res, but never completely alienating them.

N.S. It takes quite a listener of life to capture the inner and outer landscape of story so eloquently — a micro version of big transformation detailed with efficient use of language. What grounds you, inspires you to engage your poetic voice in story making?

Rich: What I write is often inspired by my own life. Conversations I have, things that I see, people I meet. The world’s a very interesting place if you give it a chance, and for me trying to capture it often means blending poetry with prose, particularly in flash pieces like these.

N.S. Influences? Poets, fiction writers? Your efficiency and clarity of emotional arc reminds me of Carver. Transformation is very alive in your work. But tell us more.

Rich: I have an eclectic taste in poetry and am generally hard-pressed to pick favorites in fiction, but a few names that always come to mind are Kenneth Oppel, Graham Gardner, Megan Whalen Turner and C.S. Lewis.

N.S. Seems to me you aren’t far off at all from paying your bills with your writing. What then? What are your passion plans/desires for your career?

Rich: My dream is to live off novels and make enough money to travel often. In the near future I’m hoping to go to Spain, France, and West Africa. I definitely feel I’m too young to settle down in one place already.

N.S. What are you working on now?

Rich: Too many things. I have about a dozen inchoate short stories, a play, and a sequel to my last novel currently in the works. I’m also considering releasing another collection of short stories / flash pieces for Kindle via Amazon.

N.S. Why Curly Red Stories?

Rich: Initially I was impressed by the aesthetic of the site—books/covers comment goes here—but as I clicked around through the stories and interviews, and realized the depth of quality writing and the breadth of talented writers being represented, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

N.S. Change and transformation. Such a powerful theme for any writer. We are thrilled to have such a natural talent embrace this theme. Anything else you’d like to add?

Rich: Change is often at the heart of what I write and is often on my mind. Can people affect true change, and to what extent? Can people change who they are? Can better beginnings come from bad endings? It’s something I grapple with in my own life and something I know I’ll keep exploring in the future through my writing.


What Are CR Writers Up To Lately?

CR Stories will randomly check in with writers recent publications, events and the news that makes us swoon. Here is some exciting events from our writers as of late.

Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr’s new novel coming out in february ’13. “Fight Song” and will be published by counterpoint/soft skull.






Lyssa Tall Anolik

“Eyes within Eyes: At the Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria, British Columbia” in Drash: A Northwest Mosaic, Volume VI






Jackie Davis-Martin

Jackie Davis Martin has recently had a flash fiction piece published in Flash, The International Short Short Story Magazine, Vol. 5 (“Night Out”) and has another coming up in Fractured West, Issue #5  (“Make Believe”).

She is finalizing the designs of her memoir Surviving Susan:  A Mother Deals with the Death of her Daughter and Reflects on Their Relationship (published through CreateSpace), which will be available from Amazon soon.

Changes upon changes…

Every fall I choose a theme for the year. It’s my “real” new year’s ritual. It’s the time that I ask, how will this year be different from last? What will I not tolerate again? What will I enthusiastically add? What will be hard but I’ll do it anyway? What will I not change at all because I love it as is? Of course these questions are assuming that I have an inkling of control over how my life will proceed. ; )

Nature doesn’t have a frontal lobe. Nature doesn’t pontificate its design and move the pieces around. It just rumbles through its job and lets the consequences fall. Fall: To fall into fall. I wonder if the instrument of change finds us best when we are not thinking at all? Listening to nature’s brain and taking note.

And this is why this fall’s theme, Change is so exciting to me. To ask the questions of how any life will change over the course of a year is fun, yes. To imagine and want and design how it could be. Yes. And then sit down and read a story. Come out the other side of it altered, humbled by the unexpected details that not only changed the main character but somehow moved some molecules around in your world view. Real change seems to be laughing at my questions. If change were a Greek God it would throw me a dinosaur to ride into the next chapter of my life.

We are very, very excited to read the many submissions with ‘change’ at the core of each story and to be altered in the process. In the meantime, here are a few stories I can’t forget that changed me.

Stories of note: 

The eery uprising where reality and relationship dance and yet counteract one another in Annie Proulx’s “Half Skinned Steer.”

“Running with Scissors.” A novel and film. My take-aways? Change is relative. There is no normal to deviate from. Nature in full force. Love it.

“The Search Engine.” Sherman Alexie’s book of stories, Ten Little Indians. A beautiful story about an intellectually hungry and passionate college girl in search of a missing Native American poet. The element of surprise for me was contained in the bleak complexities of the examined life. Yet all the stories in this book moved me deeply and caused me to read it again and again.


What are some of your thoughts on stories that you can’t forget that changed you?

And please let us know how our writers stories in November impact you. Comments are like that first cup of coffee – so good and ‘more please’!


Thank you,

Niya Christine, Founder & Publisher CR Stories Journal


Desire by W.F. Lantry


I’m not a good driver of horses. A black horse, a white horse, a chariot? No. The Greeks got it all wrong. I don’t want to pick between the two. I want to be one with both. Or rather, I want to feel myself feeling the experience of desire. Take strawberries. It’s not that I want to consume them, to enjoy the momentary taste. I love wanting them, I love the moment when I’m reaching out to take one in my hand, knowing its ripeness can be mine.

Miranda says it’s a mistake to wish for specifics. I shouldn’t ask for strawberries, I should just pray for something to happen. Besides, I’m always asking for the wrong thing: horses or berries or jewel-tone skirts. Sometimes I wish everything golden: the trees outside, the voices of the birds, even the curve of her shoulder. There’s a certain stage of moonlight that seems gold in November.

Miranda arrived at late morning. I’d asked her to wear her gold threaded skirt. She’d matched things from there: a blouse I could barely see under her coat, a decorative pin. I met her at the door.

The Beltway was filled with people going somewhere. I had no idea what they wanted. We turned south and went over the bridge. From there we climbed back up into construction, into a confusion of lanes, and headed west on 66.

Miranda sat beside me. As the road turned again, her form seemed nothing but curves: her shoulder, her waist, her knees. Instead of the road, I watched the folds of her skirt. They provided another set of directions.

We went over a nameless river, and I missed my turn. We had to go all the way to Haymarket. We lost the radio waves. Too far in the country for any signal to travel. There were horse farms everywhere, paddocks with goats and llamas. She said she wanted music, so I handed her my phone. “I can’t get it to do what I want while I’m driving. I can’t read the tiny instructions. Try getting Pandora to work.”

I watched her fingers dance across the touch screen, navigating menus. “I think I can make a new channel,” she said. “What would you like?” I told her I wanted the Rolling Stones. Her fingers tapped a few icons. The next I thing I heard was, “So if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy and some taste.” The sound was a little tinny, I patched it into the speakers. We kept driving along 29.

Pandora determined we needed something else. She gave us Led Zeppelin. I touched the sign of a thumb pointing down. She gave us The Who instead.

What struck me then was the difference between the landscape and the song. It was all apple orchards and half burnt barns. The planks hadn’t been painted. Signs suggested we stop for antiques.

Charlottesville’s streets were teeming with boulevardiers. I saw two with bowlers and canes. Women with parasols, an organ grinder crossing at the light. Some people actually wish for this world. It used to be my home. We drove through town as fast as we could, and headed for Monticello.

If you’ve ever read Thomas Jefferson’s garden book, you know he kept track of the weather. When the first peas came in, how many cups of strawberries were gathered, when the last frost arrived. He would spend whole winters planning next year’s garden. He had to give detailed instructions in case he was called away. He wanted to find a grape that would survive the climate. He wanted new kinds of apples. And maybe next year a vine covered walk, where he could stroll even in summer.

We parked in the lower lot and went up the gravel path. I knew the place from plate  drawings: where the gardens would be, and the smoke house. The flat fields below, the vines on the slopes, a formal lawn behind the house. He’d crafted the landscape he desired.

We went inside the house. Things were kept as imagined. Spinning wheels and tables, a writing desk faced with leather. It wasn’t what I wanted. I led Miranda back out across the trimmed lawn. We looked towards Montebello, towards the declining sun. It was windy along the ridge. Her hair was moving in the southern light. I wanted to touch her then, in that light, but wasn’t certain I could.  Her shoulders matched the golden curves of the hills.


“Desire” first appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Reason for Being by W.F. Lantry

It wasn’t Mexico, the coast of France. I was meeting a girl, somewhere near Beaulieu. I had an address in my pocket for some bar. The train from Nice was empty. Three pm.

Out the window, limestone dust coated every blossom. We didn’t go near the Chagall Museum. She’d told me on the phone she liked the place, but it’s a long walk from the station, and besides, I was going to her, not the other way around. I counted the stations along the way: Villefrance, Cap Ferrat. You’ve seen them in movies without realizing it. To Catch a Thief, Casino Royale. The whole place is like a myth, but with traffic.

Next stop, Beaulieu. I descended from the train. There’s nothing there except the cliffside to the north, and the midland sea to the south. Oh, there’s a goat path up to Èze, and you could go up the steps to the Corniche, but other than that, just the tracks. It’s no place to be.

I walked along the tracks into town. Marnie was Canadian, and I wasn’t sure I’d recognize her. I’d only seen her once, and then for coffee in town. It turned out she recognized me.

She was waving from the tables at a seaside bar. She had to walk out past the Pernod umbrellas, and the tourists. A long skirt, a loose cotton blouse. The necklace was African, hammered copper or brass, I couldn’t tell, it was reflecting too much sunlight against the dark blue fabric, and I was still 20 meters away. Hiking boots. I told you she was Canadian.

Did I mention her green eyes? I think those lured me this far, along the coast, where the sailboats wove themselves through the rented yachts. My daily existence was nothing like this; it was mopeds and autocars, and chalk dust on my sleeves. But here she was, right in front of me, pouring my eau-de-vie.

Everyone had a reason for being here. Hers was simple. Ottawa had sent her to Kenya. Now her scholarship was up, her term there finished, she was on her way home. But she couldn’t quite bear to get on her connecting flight. She’d walked out of the airport with just her bags, and found a place to stay out on the cape.

The eau-de-vie made me chatty, something I’m normally not. She told me about her year, the snow, the savanna, a tall young man she’d set those pretty green eyes on. I almost asked her if she’d been traded for goats, or bartered in some other way, but she beat me to it. I guess she was used to telling the story.

He couldn’t take her back to his home without permission from someone. She had no family there to ask, so he decided to ask one of her professors. He was English, and deeply embarrassed. Imagine, you have a student, and some young man comes up to you and says, “Would it be alright if she came to my house?”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He looked at me, and I nodded. So he made a big show of giving his blessing. Very formal. It was hilarious. The English, you know.”

I didn’t know, no one ever tells me these things. There are English all over Nice, the main boardwalk is called “The English Promenade.” I avoid the place.

“I didn’t end up going home with him. He was too worried about what his family would think if they found out. We went for dinner, and he walked me back to my dorm.”

I needed a change of scene. I didn’t want to talk about some other man, even if he was a continent away. We walked down along the beach. There was no sand, only flat river stones, trucked in. I picked one up, and skimmed it over the surface of the water. It bounced six times. She liked that. She liked watching them slide out across the water. She counted: one, two, three…

It didn’t last. We found another bar. She made jokes about the Queen. I wanted to ask her if she’d come back to Nice with me, but I knew it was too soon. The sun was beginning to set.

Those green eyes were set off by the copper necklace, and her blue blouse. Almost as if she’d planned it all, almost as if she wanted to paint an image in my mind for me to carry back with me on the train.


Email from Athens by Jackie Davis Martin

You open your emails, excited that there is one from Ellen who is in Greece visiting a daughter in her forties, like yours was before she died, and you brace yourself for what you know already, which is that Ellen and her husband Robert will be traveling to Hydra or Mykonos or some Aegean island to play with their adult daughter and son-in-law on their bi-annual double-date, expecting that Ellen will mention the sun- drenched Plaka and reedy flutes of the streets or Souvlaki as holiday dinner, and so in this mood of braced anticipation you begin to read, even though you know already—how could you not know?—that words hit like bullets even the first lines where you  tense up reading that she has been sensitive to what you are going through and so hasn’t mentioned  her daughter much; and you think okay, but what’s coming now, and what comes is a goddam hymn of praise, a paean to her daughter, of her beauty and brilliance and you think why are you telling me this, tell me of the Parthenon, and yet go on reading that Ellen and Robert were understanding of the daughter’s decision not to have children and so it has been—Ellen says from  Athens—a great sense of delight for them to discover that the daughter is now pregnant and she and Robert will be grandparents after all, and Lady Macbeth’s letter runs through your head—that you may not be ignorant of the dues of rejoicing—as she, Ellen, thinks you’d want to know, but at that point you scream, you howl, and Tom your husband comes running into the room, what’s wrong?  What’s wrong? And you tell him, she’s betrayed me! and he says she’s your friend and again you cry, she’s betrayed me! knowing of course that what she has done is nothing like betrayal and that you have betrayed yourself by equating a parallel life, that of old people alone with one child at a distance, and now she has removed herself from that parallel, and announced that she is among the special, the privileged, who have a living daughter who is producing offspring amid blue skies and green seas and you cry and can’t stop crying, its being Christmas Eve and no gift, no child, but Ellen has both, and Tom is alarmed once again that he can’t assuage your grief and when you say I can’t answer the email, I know it is petty, he agrees it is petty, but you insist, I can’t , it will stab at me all day, the jealousy is so tremendous I can’t say anything—I can’t write—and he says, they are our friends, and you cry into another Kleenex and say I know that but I can’t do it, and you don’t,  and you realize you cannot ever know what to expect there are so many sides to grief.


How to Build a House by Jackie Davis Martin

First you go to Home Depot with your boyfriend and buy those funny little felt masks that he says you’ll need, and you cuddle and pinch and lean against each other in the aisles to the point where you make out in the car in the dark parking lot before driving to his apartment to do it again. That weekend you make your first crawl into the wreckage of a house he’s bought in the city—a shell, he calls it—in shorts and tee shirt and sandals and mask, digging in mud and god knows what as he bangs and pounds and walls collapse. The masks have to be exchanged twice and you’re dirtier than you’ve ever been when, back at his place, the shower washes over both of you in rivulets of watery muck as you do it in the shower, hotly and desperately, before relaxing with a gin and tonic and dry roasted peanuts, studying his sketches of your new house together.

Next time you wear your hiking boots and tie a kerchief on your hair to haul boards and bags of debris to the dumpster out front on the cobblestones, and dust settles in layers over all your exposed skin except for your lips, which he wipes with a wet rag and then kisses, thrusting his tongue hungrily, and you find you can do it standing up, too, and don’t even have to be clean or have any walls other than the exterior one, like a stage set.

You learn to tile and grout, too, knees sore and reddened, and smiling at him, on all fours next to you, the two of you crawling together, pulling off shorts, and he mounts you that way, still holding the trowels that clatter together like cymbals. Then the painting begins, nipple pink he calls the apricot color you chose for the library; his choice is bronco brown for the master bedroom—my bedroom, he calls it—and you pretend not to notice the pronoun, the paint smells mingling with sex. When the carpeting is laid, so are you, on each floor, rough pile against bare bottom, floor by floor, the green indistinguishable from the blue, from the beige.

His things soon fill up the closets, and you think he’ll shift later, pulling on your bra and your jeans and heading down highways to the suburbs,  your own place, the teenage children in it.

What you do not learn about building a house is this: that it was not yours to build to begin with, and building becomes built. So when tables and sofas and the real bed arrive, you’re a guest in a gentrified house attractive to new dolls, and you have nothing to show for your year of labor except some fucking good times.


The Daily Routine by Anne Sullivan

Germs don’t live in the cold. That was my first thought when I woke up in my frigid bedroom beneath starched sheets. Creases still ran from end to end where they had been folded in their packaging. I traced my finger up and down one of the ridges. My alarm went off moments later. I turned it off, careful to touch only the middle of the button. A little worn spot was beginning to develop there. Sarah would have to buy me a new one.

I would tell her that when she came to pick me up, when we finally left the apartment together. We’d been working up to that for months. And today was the day.

I sat up and slid my right foot over the edge of the bed and made sure it was in the white slipper before moving the other leg. I got up quickly and moved to the window framed in by the blank white walls. I drew back one of the curtains, careful not to touch the lock or sill, because I wanted to see the weather, the only thing that caused any sort of variance in my routine.

It was drizzling down spurts of rain, which meant it was cold. I dressed in the pants and button up shirt I’d laid out the night before. I sat in the blue chair facing the door. From there, I could see everything I needed to: the window to my left, the door straight ahead. And as I stared at it, a knock sounded.

I paced back and forth for a minute. I was wearing a track in the wood, but I would never consent to have a rug put in.

I just had to open the door. One turn of the knob. But had Sarah touched the knob the last time she’d brought over my groceries? I would’ve cleaned it after anyway. But what if some of the germs had survived? They could be dripping colony-forming numbers off the handle right that very moment.

Sarah knocked again.

I pulled my long sleeves down until they covered the palms of my hands. Then, I pulled on the handle. For a brief moment, my heart sped up as I felt cold metal touching a small part of my hand. My hand recoiled. But it had only been a button on the sleeve of my shirt. I hadn’t actually touched the door handle. I contemplated getting the oven mitts out to act as my gloves but decided against it.

I took a few deep breaths. Without removing my other hand from its cocoon inside my sleeve, I adjusted my shirt so that the button wouldn’t brush up against my skin again. I stepped back three steps and then approached the door again. I reached for the handle. I felt only cloth. No metal. I pulled, and the door gave way.

Sarah stood there, bags under her eyes, hair done up in a tight bun. Her dark pantsuit looked almost black in the light of the hallway.

“Ready to go see Dr. Hudgens?” she asked, her smile slightly forced.

And that’s when the light behind her flickered. It cast a quick shadow on the railing leading down the stairs. The metal had eroded away under the constant touch of people tracing their hands along it. If that’s what the handrail looked like in my building, a building where only a few families lived, then what was it like beyond that? I’d be diving into a cesspool of unimaginable proportions. The germs were probably flooding into the room even now. Every breath Sarah took was like an aerial assault of arrows shot at night when the enemies’ defenses were down.

I slammed the door and stood staring at the blank walls.

“Jimmy,” Sarah’s strained voice sounded through the door, “I bought you a new pair of gloves. If you come out, you can wear them to go see Dr. Hudgens.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“Alright, Jimmy,” she sighed. I could hear her tucking the gloves into her purse. I could never wear them now. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

After her footsteps receded, I pulled out my can of sanitizing wipes. I inhaled the lemon fresh scent. It was like my personal cologne, and it was better than lavender for my overtaxed nerves. I took out a wipe and began to clean every inch of my apartment, starting with the door.

Jackie Davis Martin | CR Stories Interview

 Niya C Sisk, Founder of Curly Red Stories Interviews Jackie Davis Martin, Author and Creative Writing Teacher in San Francisco Ca.

N.S.  Right off the bat, I must ask, do you write stage plays? In particular, tragedy? I wasn’t surprised at all to see your reference to Shakespeare in your bio.

Jackie:   I’ve never written a stage play unless you consider the play I wrote for my girlfriends in 9th grade.  The characters were the four of us, grown up, with careers, conflicts, and exotic names.  I’m very much interested in drama, though, and attend many plays in the San Francisco area, as well as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  I like interior monologue and most plays don’t allow it.  Well, Shakespeare does, and a few others.

N.S.  While our theme this publication is “Place”… I love how your fictions transport me to places in the heart very quickly while beautifully grounded in physical description. The strength of your work is in the immediacy of emotion. Raw and delivered without self consciousness. I’m curious how you got that brave? Normally, I wouldn’t ask such a question, but I think you have the courage and self-awareness to answer it in full color. : )

Jackie:   Am I brave?  Maybe I am braver than I once was.   I remember in a workshop I took with Ron Carlson at Tin House that he urged us to “let go of the wheel.”  I also ask myself, What is this [story] really about?  I guess, in addition, I try to write what I would like to read, and I appreciate others taking emotional risks, or creating characters who are flawed or vulnerable.

N.S.  Why is Shakespeare such a strong influence? Other authors that you are influenced by and why?

Jackie: It seems silly of me to describe Shakespeare as a writer who understood so much about—for lack of a better term—the human condition.  Even his minor characters are real people; his major characters can pierce to the heart:  Hamlet, Othello, especially King Lear. And of course there is his use of language that is so beautiful and concise.  I also have always loved Dostoevsky: he seems to start at one level and then dig deeper and then deeper still.  That to me is bravery.  Alice Munro takes details and turns them over and explores them and makes them fit into other details; she’s a wonderful observer of the complications of the simplest life.

N.S.  How does San Francisco (your “place”) affect your process as a writer?

Jackie:   San Francisco is both calming and exciting.   The calm comes from the beauty of the place: it is a peninsula surrounded by the bay, the ocean, and hills and mountains.  The houses are many-colored and tightly packed create an intensity that I feel promotes introspection.   Then there is the excitement of the arts: the S.F. Opera, the S.F. Ballet, the S.F. Symphony.  I mentioned the plays before, and they are abundant and good:  Marin Theater to the north, A.C.T. right here in the City, Berkeley Rep across the Bay, as well as a host of smaller theaters and productions.  Also, there are good writers in San Francisco and a strong writing community.  One doesn’t have to search far for a competitive and supportive group to belong to, and can discover such fellow writers, as I did, through classes and workshops.

N.S.  Your voice in your prose… well, it’s very clear and strong. Was there ever a time when you realized you are a writer and committed fully to it? Or, was it a natural geography forming slowly in your soul and your life?

Jackie:   It will sound trite to say that I’ve been writing all my life.  I have boxes of old journals that I sometimes tap into (What would one feel in that situation, really?).   In high school my best friend (who is a published writer and teacher and still my best friend) and I exchanged writing.  In college I took writing workshops and classes.  Then, like many others who raise children and teach full-time, I was not able to create stories very often.  Now, teaching part-time, I focus on writing.  I still keep journals, but I don’t consider “journaling” (a word I dislike!) to be writing.  Writing has to be shaped and thought about.  I try.

N.SWe are thrilled and honored to have your work in our spring showcase. Is there anything more you’d like to add?

Jackie:   I’d like to say that I’ve read a number stories published in Curly Red Stories and I love that I am now among the contributors.   I thought that your questions were provocative and I thank you for asking them, for caring about all of us as writers.




Blarney by Anne Sullivan

“I don’t want to do it,” Tommy said.

“You have to,” Clarence spat back through the gap in his buck teeth. He held out a rusted key.

Tommy eyed the crowd around him. They were all bigger than he was.

“We all had to do it,” Danny said. “It’s only fair that you do it, too.”

“Yeah,” Seamus chimed in, “otherwise, Clarence stole the key from his dad for nothing.”

“It’s just a little game,” Clarence said.

Tommy didn’t say anything. He stared at the clovers at his feet. Somewhere behind the trees hedging in the field where they stood, a sheep bleated.

In the distance, surrounded by a moat of green hills and crumbled rock walls, the outline of an old square castle filled the sky, just as it had when he’d gone on his field trip there weeks ago. But he’d barely made it to the top of the turret. Mrs. O’Conner had held his hand the entire way up the cramped staircase. But as soon as he felt the wind pulling him at the top of the castle, he’d started crying, begging to go back down, earning him the nickname Terrified Tommy.

“He’s too scared,” Clarence said, pocketing the key.

“I’m not.”

“Prove it.” Clarence smirked.

Tommy outstretched his hand demanding the key. It was cold and rough against his palm.

“We’ll be waiting right below, and we’ll know if you don’t do it,” Clarence shouted.

Tommy trudged across the field toward the castle. Around him, deep emerald hills raced off and collided with a perpetually grey sky. The hills always looked more vibrant when they didn’t have to compete with a blue sky, as though the green was trying to make up for the lack of color elsewhere in the landscape.

Tommy pushed the key into the gate padlock. The castle fortress blocked the light from the rising sun. The gate squealed open. He crept into a tomb-like room. Caked dirt floors and thick walls blocked out any light. Empty alcoves held ominous shadows, and fireplaces became deep caverns. Stones piled atop one another led to other floors. Taut ropes, frayed from overuse, acted as guardrails.

Tommy pulled himself up the steps. When he entered the spiral staircase, he didn’t breathe. He clamped his eyes shut, took hold of the rope and used it to guide himself. Up and up he wound through the castle. Unreadable plaques stood guard on the walls. Thick cords roped off rooms with missing sections. The uneven levels blurred together, each a murky offshoot from the staircase. Just when the darkness of the staircase threatened to overwhelm him, he broke through a tiny doorway to the battlements. Fresh air rushed over him. But he didn’t let it take his courage.

He sunk back against a wall until everything came into focus. It looked outdated and shabby without all the tourists decorating it. Tommy almost missed the stone, without the little man waiting there to support those who wanted to lean back and kiss it.

He inched his way along the wall to the Blarney Stone. A small grate waited beneath the stone to prevent tourists from falling. Through the bars, Tommy saw the boys waiting below. His vision reeled, and he recoiled, clawing at the stones beneath him. He lay there until the dizziness passed. Summoning all his courage, he eased down onto the grate. His sneakers squeaked on the bars, threatening to send his thin legs through the gaps. He braced himself against the stone. Bits of green moss clung to its crevices.

He unzipped his pants and urinated on the stone, arcing to write his name across its surface. The word was unrecognizable. Several amber drops rolled down the stone and fell through the grate. He hoped they’d land on Clarence, but he knew Clarence was smart enough not to stand that close.

As he zipped up his pants, he turned to find the first rays of sunlight greeting him across the expanse of green hills. Going down was much easier. He retraced his way through the castle, making one stop at a fireplace along the way.

“You weren’t as scared as we thought,” Clarence said as Tommy reached the gate. He held out his hand. “The key,” he urged, when Tommy didn’t move.

“I hid it in the castle,” Tommy said, watching their mouths fall open in disbelief. “It’s just a little game.” He left the boys standing there as he climbed the hills, heading for home.


Passionate about “Place”

When it comes to literary devices what could more powerful than the mysterious, mercurial, silent passenger under our character’s feet? That is, the place(s) the story moves through support and ground the skein (backbone) of the emotional dynamics that play out on the page. The inner and outer landscape do a lovely dance of transformation.

Now that Beth and I have processed a healthy stack of fiction submissions on the theme of “Place,” I want to give a little attention to the masters who do this dance of transformation in their fictions and creative non-fictions so well.

Tim Cahill

Annie Proulx

Stephen King

Don George

Simon Calder

Robert Hass

Christopher Reyolds

Harriet O’brien

Annie Dillard

Garrison Keillor 

… to name a few.

When “Place” is a character in a story you know it. For example, we feel the chill of the rules crack down on Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain” — the very heterosexual, macho cowboy spirit of Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. The sense of …you guys are really in trouble now! crackles across the dry air and into our bones.

But let’s look at a few excerpts from writers whose talent with image detail and description steals the air out of your lungs. Emotions engage, immediacy is palpable.

“Guitar Central” by Christopher Reyolds – First appeared in The Los Angeles Times.

It is a mild day in the mountains of middle Mexico, a fine day for chasing butterflies or lingering on cobbled side streets, neither of which I’ll be doing. I am here to sniff sawdust and engage in arcane conversations with old men in dim, cluttered rooms.

~ I love the juxtaposition of  cliché to reality. Especially since clichés are like candy when including “place” as vital element of design in story ~


“Las Vegas” by Simon Calder.

But when it comes to gambling, tuition is better than intuition.

Beware of staying in Vegas too long. On my last evening I got so lost trying to find a way out of Binions Horseshoe Casino that I had to ask for directions back to real life.

More in the travel writing tradition but palpable. Vegas takes on life like proportions.


 “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard.

Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it … I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing. If Tinker Mountain erupted, I’d be likely to notice. But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present. It’s not that I’m observant; it’s just that I talk too much.

An argument between identity and surroundings-a struggle of nervousness in character. Beautifully developed emotional landscape in parody to the tensions of place and time.


This little article has one simple request: Get excited. Next week’s showcase is a beautiful blend of strong physical detail and emotional story arc’s that are riveting.


~ by Niya C Sisk, CR Stories founder



Curly Red Stories: Writers’ News

Curly Red Writers have been busy pollinating the planet with their talent. Let’s take a look at what a few of our writers have been up to.


Calder’s story, “out back by the rabbit pen” is now published at Switchback Issue 13.

His story, Confessions of a Baptist Janitor” was published with Quiet Lightening.

Calder is now working steadily on a novel. I can’t wait to read it!

Congratulations Calder!



Harmony has new publications at Spork, Hobart, and NAP. And she is the current fiction fellow at Emory University.

“What it’s like to die” at Spork Press

Patterson Thorndike is Dead at Hobart Journal

“FOOTPRINTS at Nap Magazine

Go Harmony!


NORA NADJARIAN (Cyprus, Europe)

NORA NADJARIAN  (Cyprus, Europe)

Exhibition is included inBest European Fiction 2011 (Edited by Aleksandar Hemon). Dalkey Archive Press, 2010

Mother Tongue is included in the anthology Being Human (Edited by Neil Astley). Bloodaxe Books, 2011

Girl, Wolf, Bones – a chapbook of modern day fairy tales: “an alternative trip through the fables and fairy tales of our youth.” Folded Word, 2011

Incredibly impressive Nora!


I’m awe struck by our writers! Growth is good. Growth is amazing!

Curly Red Stories will publish our writers news 2-3 times per year. Thank you.



A Note from Straight Blonde

Okay, so “Straight Blonde” isn’t nearly as catchy or winsome as “Curly Red,” so this is the first and last time you will see me use that nickname in reference to myself. I just had to try it out. Don’t you just have to try out the words sometimes? Type ‘em up, read them on the screen—take your ideas for a little test drive?

That’s one of the great things about flash fiction. Its design lends itself well to experimentation. Which is not to say it’s easy or fluffy, or necessarily even edgy. A quick tour around the stories on Curly Red will show you a range of tone and topics, from heavy to light, sunny days to darkest night.

Here’s the deal: whether you view flash fiction as a creative writing exercise, learning tool, or legitimate literary genre (we do), writing flash will make you work. It will sharpen your writing and editing skills. If you can craft an engaging story—complete with a beginning, middle, and end—in 750 words or less, chances are you’ll be capable of longer forms. And once you’ve got the longer forms down, turning a 10-page short story into flash is an excellent opportunity to practice “killing the darlings,” cutting all but the most essential words, sentences, and paragraphs, while leaving intact the story’s guts. Less can be more.

And, just so we’re clear: flash fiction is not the 21st century-American literary fad you may think it is. With roots in ancient fables and parables—from countries as remote from the West as China and Japan—microfiction is nothing new. (What is microfiction, and how does it differ from short or flash or prose poetry or sudden fictionIs there a difference? We’ll cover these questions in another blog post down the road.) What’s still true of the style is this: it allows you to play with words and ideas, and create a world with very few, strategically selected words. In a very compact space, you can populate this world with characters, color it with conflict, even drawn an arc. And we’re talking hours/days/weeks to make a story take shape, not months or years.

So try it out. Mess around! Sculpt some small but sturdy little tales, and send them in. I am eager to read your work, delighted to serve as editor of stories, and honored to be invited into the worlds you create. (Thanks, Curly Red!)

–Beth Bates, Stories Editor

Call for Submissions – Spring 2012 Showcase

‘PLACE’ as a character of story is such a ‘hot and intriguing’ atmosphere for a reader. Don’t we just love to visit another place in our minds? — budget vacation — lots of imagination possibilities for this next showcase. We are excited to read your work!

I do realize that the image for this post is a Diner. But this diner is so unique, I think it can only exist on a dusty road that exits route 66 somewhere near Flagstaff or a place in Turkey I never knew existed. Something about the color of that sky and the architecture. Who does that?

We aren’t very literal over here in Curly-land.

So have at it. Enjoy. And we can’t wait to read.

Go here for detailed submission guidelines…