Saturday, January 26, 2013

Zarina Zabrisky's "IRON"

     Having read other reviews of Zarina Zabrisky's IRON (copyright 2012 Epic Rites Press), a quartet of short stories, I was struck by the widespread admiration her literary peers expressed for her work. Words like, “unforgettable,” “dangerous,” and “brutal,” were most often quoted. This is not surprising: according to Zabrisky's biography, her formative years were spent in post-Soviet Russia. But, one thing is clear, and, I have to agree: Zabrisky has hit the ground running with a strong literary debut that furthers the great tradition of Russian literature into the 21st century.

     Iron is comprised of four stories; two mini-novellas, one short story, and one piece of flash fiction that drop the reader into a Russia, that, like its citizens, attempts to find a balance between its Communist past and its hedonist, capitalistic present. “Weeping Poppies,” begins with three young junkies in transit, simultaneously stealing poppies to facilitate their heroin addiction while evading any presence of authority. “The Cross of David,” opens with two women having lunch in an upscale restaurant as one attempts to convince another to assist in an internet retail scheme. “The Hungry Duck,” starts with an ultimatum given to the story's protagonist, in regards to the drunken, violent actions of her sibling. Lastly, the title piece,“Iron,” launches the reader into the mind of an almost bride-to-be as she, and her younger sister are unknowingly kidnapped by a group of young Georgian youths.

     The four protagonists in Zabrisky's stories have several things in common; they are intelligent, vulnerable, and brutally honest with themselves. The growth of Zabrinsky's women is internal, as well as exquisitely painful; they hold nothing back, which does not render them likable, but, imminently believable, as in the story, “The Cross of David,” where,the narrator, after being verbally nagged by her friend Peggy to assist in the sale of cross pendants, starts to reveal the truth of her refusal:

     I once wore a cross. For five years I wore a cheap brass cross. I could still remember the blue silk thread cutting into the back of my neck. I remembered the acidic smell of the brass. The Russian Orthodox cross—a sticklike figurine spread-eagled on the petal-like bars. A dead mosquito in a daisy. I believed it would save me, somehow. I believed in the suffering and its saving powers.

     I won't take this any further, suffice it to say that the endings to all four of Zabrisky's stories in IRON are unexpected. As for Zabrisky's narrative style; it's not pretty, elegant, or even classically feminine, and those are its best qualities. These are stories about REAL people, REAL women that one can instantaneously identify with... and, they'll get right up into your cerebellum and STAY THERE! This is what makes IRON such a stellar book! Buy a copy of IRON, read it, think about it, and read it again.

     IRON, Zarina Zabrisky, copyright 2012 Epic Rites Press, ISBN 978-1-926860-13-8, 84 pages, $13.50

Article content © 2013 Marie Lecrivain

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weird, But, Perfect: Novel Writing by Internet Committee, an essay by Eric Lawson

Note: This is the first in a series of guest bloggers for Al-Khemia Poetica. Eric Lawson (who resides in Los Angeles), is a writer, comedian, poet, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction, including his most recent collection, Snarky Haiku, (copyright 2013, Infinity Limited Press) which you can pick up for the very reasonable price of 2.99 at You can keep up with Eric's literary happenings at his blog, or join his Facebook page.

Let me just start by saying that I’ve written all kinds of crazy things. Poetry, songs, comedy sketches, plays, short stories, screenplays, and every kind of inane filler material you can imagine. But nothing in my experience has a stronger impact or provides more immediate feedback than the Internet.

An independent artist can brand and market themselves using little more than Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Blogspot or Wordpress. Uploading to Amazon has never been easier.

Still some people, myself included, felt a little lost a few years ago when it looked like Mighty Mother Internet was going to make paper books obsolete. Will paper books go the way of the dodo like CDs, and soon, DVDs? I don’t think so. Not completely. People will always treasure books. Giving or receiving a book is still a big deal to me.

Because I’m the kind of guy who likes to take on way too much at once, I thought why not write a novel? No small venture, that. I had tried a few times over the years but things always seemed to fizzle out quickly. At one point, I even considered calling a rough draft False Start for shits and grins.

Then, in the spring of 2010, I came across More false starts followed. Time passed, and I moved on to other projects, but I kept coming back to the site. I loved how each story had a view count, a story link that moves to the top of the home page with each update, and most of all, the instant and supportive feedback from the other authors and fans of the site and fresh writing in general. This wasn’t like Facebook, with people “liking,” pictures of cats in stupid outfits being tortured by their swarthy children on unending sugar highs. Here was a site with published authors and professional editors weighing in on what you have just posted. Sometimes right away. I liked that a hell of a lot.

I finally figured that what I needed to do was get back into writing short stories again. I uploaded a few of them to textnovel and the response was nearly instantaneous. Not only were people I didn’t know gushing over the stories, but they were providing informed and supportive feedback with each section of every new story that I posted. For every “Your spelling and grammar makes me want to kill my laptop with my wife’s laptop, Lawson,” there were four or five “I like where this is going. This is publishable. Right now!” I knew that when more and more of that kind of feedback started flowing in that I was on to something.

I decided to move on from writing short stories to novel chapters. I dusted off my notes on a novel outline called The Road to Ruin and got to work. I think of it as novel writing by internet committee. I know how the story ends. But it has been so freaking cool to have people weigh in as its being written. I’ve never tried anything like this before. In a way, it’s weird. I mean, it’s my novel. But in my mind, it’s the perfect writing environment. How could you not like having your own personal cheering squad that you never have to see, feed, or bribe?

For example, one woman didn’t think a secondary character was getting his due. I thought about it a lot. I ate a burrito bigger than my head and I thought about it some more. I doodled with an idea and it worked! The story needed more emotional oomph at that particular moment as it was. I’m of the belief that the most interesting characters are the ones with several faults. Having side characters with issues that directly affect the main character help create drama to drive the story (duh). What was brilliant about this suggestion was that it didn’t change the overall plot or what had to happen in that particular chapter at all. It just helped flesh out a side character. Greatly.

On the other hand, all the detailed suggestions aren’t valid. One gent put it to me that not everyone in real life is as funny or as quick as I make my characters out to be. On a lark, I tried taking out some of the zany one-liners and physical humor. It just didn’t work. It didn’t feel right or real enough. I thought back to my touring stage manager days and all of the acting gigs I’ve had. Without much instigation, I seem to be drawn to people with a decent sense of humor and those are the people and situations that I not only recall well but cherish. So, sorry Not-Everyone-Is-Funny-Dude, but you’re wrong. Even people without sharp comic timing enjoy a good laugh and try to be silly as often as possible.

Is novel writing for everyone? Probably not. I have to keep reminding myself that this thing is a marathon and not a sprint. So many ideas and…well, I have forever to finish it. But I have to say that this has been one of the most rewarding and fun experiences as a writer that I’ve had in the last few years. I truly feel like I’m on to something. Textnovel seems to thinks so, too. My story was made an Editor’s Choice for January, 2013 for promising novel in progress. I’ll let you judge for yourself. Take a gander and let me know what you think. In fact, why don’t you post a story, too? After all, we’re in this thing together.

© 2013 Eric Lawson