African Folktales

By Roger D. Abrahams

Nearly 100 stories from over 40 tribe-related myths of creation, tales of epic deeds, ghost stories and tales set in both the animal and human realms.


My goodness this was a long, hard slog!

This was my second attempt at reading more mythology, fairy tales, and folk tales in my effort to increase my awareness of storytelling archetypes. I started with Native American stories and enjoyed that far more than the African ones.

It could be that, having grown up in a Western Plains State, the Native American story-telling structure was already part of upbringing. I didn’t feel like it was, but I just had such an easier time following and digesting what I was reading.

I have been picking away at this book for over six months. And it was pretty painful.

I think I had two problems with the African folktales: 1) the names and 2) the names of animals or things that I had no idea what they were.

Many of these African folktales including a song component and our a repetitive structure, similar to nursery stories like Goldilocks and The Three Bears or The Three Little Pigs. And whenever that would happen, I would find myself trying to skim the story and then getting confused.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011

Edited by Dave Eggers

The Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, the very best pieces are selected by a leading writer in the field, making the Best American series the most respected—and most popular—of its kind.

I’m not sure where I picked this book up, but I’ve had it for quite awhile. It was one of the those books I’ve always meant to casually read, leaving it on my nightstand, and reading a story now and again. But I ended up reading them one after another.

It was a great collection. A mix of fiction and non-fiction, essays and memoir and comics.

Some of my favorite stories from the collection (fiction):

-“The Deep” by Anthony Doerr

-“Weber’s Head” by J. Robert Lennon

-“Pleiades” by Anjali Sachdeva


Some of my favorite non-fiction entries:

-“Second Lives” by Daniel Alarcon

-“An Oral History of Adama Bah” by Adama Bah

-“Game of Her Life” by Tim Crothers

-“Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz

-“What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?” by Charlie Leduff

-“For Us Surrender is Out of the Question” by Mac McClelland



Bodies by Osmond Arnesto

The first printed collection of the author’s poetry and prose. Also featured is a short story on the joys of accounting. For the lonely, the lost, and everyone who has ever known the feeling.

I met Osmond in a few of my writing classes at UCSD. He always impressed me with his comic and heartfelt way of dealing with deeply icky, deeply uncomfortable, and deeply taboo subjects. A mix of theatre actor, stand-up comic, and all-around nice guy, his writing sparkles with that unique something you sadly can’t bottle and sell.
Recently, Osmond self-published his very first work, a collection of poems and short stories. I was delighted to see the short story included as one that had been work shopped in one of my classes.

His poetic voice and style is very well established; his unique way of putting poems together reminds me perhaps of what it might have been like to read a young William Carlos Williams or Juliana Spahr. If you’ve never read those two poets, I highly recommend checking them out.

At 54 pages, my main complaint with this collection was that there wasn’t more. I admire Osmond’s ability to attack difficult subjects and break them into something comedic, however squeamish, while displaying impeccable talent, poise, and extreme breadth of knowledge. There are easter eggs scattered throughout his work for the careful reader, some of them denoted with foot notes. While the ease of movement of the work suggests a hasty dash-off, bearing that beautiful fluidity of stream-of-consciousness, further examination reveals how meticulously every line and sentence have been constructed.

Osmond is off to teach English in Japan for a year, which I’m sure will prompt many more hilariously wonderful poems and stories that I for one can’t wait to read.

His book is available through Amazon or as an e-book through Lulu’s.

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me by Kate Bernheimer

Michael Cunningham, Francine Prose, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Jim Shepard, and more than thirty other extraordinary writers celebrate fairy tales in this thrilling new volume. Inspire by everything from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and “The Little Match Girl” to Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” and “Cinderella” to the Brothers Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” and “Rumpelstiltskin” to fairy tales by Goethe and Calvino and from China, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Norway, and Mexico, here are stories that soar into boundless realms, filled with mischief and mystery and magic, and renewed by the lifeblood of invention. Although rooted in hundreds of years of tradition, they chart the imaginative frontiers of the twenty-first century as powerfully as they evoke our earliest encounters with literature.

Fairytales are always an interesting creature. Written by adults, for children, they almost can’t help, but be a little dark. And these retellings especially so.

I felt there was only one story in the entire collection that had a happy ending: “Psyche’s Dark Night” by Francesca Lia Block. I really enjoyed that story, but I would say it also probably had to do with the frame of mind I was in when I read it. I’ll be checking out some of her other work.

Overall, I enjoyed these stories, though I found some decidedly creepy. The only one I didn’t read was “A Bucket of Warm Spit” by Michael Martone. I just couldn’t get into the style.

Most of the authors were new to me, with the exception of Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ilya Kaminsky.

Aimee Bender’s story, “The Color-Master” was my absolute favorite. But then, I’m kind of an Aimee Bender fangirl.

Sarah Bynum’s story made me feel all the feelings, in an uncomfortable way. I liked it, but I also found it unsettling.

It was interesting to see Neil Gaiman try a new format in “Orange”, through just the answers in a fictional Q&A.

Another notable story for me was “The Mermaid in the Tree” by Timothy Schaffert. Very good, very beautiful story. He’s definitely an author I want to check out further.

Other standouts were “Catskin” by Kelly Link and “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumplestiltskin” by Kevin Brockmeier.

At the end of each story, there is a section of commentary by the author. This is often a discussion of the original story, the inspiration, and/or additional info on the retelling. I really loved having these included, though some of the authors definitely used it as a place to launch off on a pretentious slog of literary theory.

Gregory Maguire’s introduction is definitely worth a read…also a fairytale unto itself.

I would definitely recommend this to people interested in fairytales or for people who like some of the authors in the collection. There are over forty stories in here, so there’s a lot to go through. A very nice collection.

Short Fiction: The Christmas Village

I wrote this story a few days ago, on the plane to Colorado. The idea actually came to me back in November, when I visited the display at Seattle’s Armory Center, but I just now got around to writing it. Hope you enjoy it and Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Joseph really didn’t want to be at the Christmas Village on the 23rd of December. Or any day, really. He’d loved the Christmas Village they set up outside the mall food court when he was kid. He was sixteen now. Much too old to be at all amused by it.

But his little sister, Marley, wanted to go. His parents had promised to take her, but now his dad was stuck over at grandma’s house, fixing the hot water heater. His mother was elbow deep in Christmas cookies, having gotten a late start after her car slid off the road into a snow drift on the way back from the grocery store. Joseph had walked the two miles to dig her out and in thanks, he was now forced to take Marley to the Christmas Village.

Marley was an okay kid most of the time. She was nine, which meant she was already showing glimpses of the pre-teen brat she would become. Like the Hulk, Marley could erupt into a full-on tantrum without warning.

As they entered the doors by the food court, a wall of sound immediately accosted his ears. His stomach turned at the smell of too much fried food in one place. A baby was howling, which was about what Joseph wanted to do, too.

Marley grabbed the sleeve of his coat and hauled him towards a dense knot of people, crowded near the edge of the tables. Joseph allowed himself to be propelled along behind her.

“Look at the train!” Marley cried, shoving herself between people to press her nose against the glass. Joseph nodded apologies to the people who shot them dirty looks.

The sheet of plexiglass only came up to his stomach. A large, plastic train chugged around the track on the outside of the display. Little kids could pay fifty cents to go into the “conductor’s booth” and take a turn driving it. A coating of glittery fluff lay over everything, giving the impression of new-fallen snow.

He hadn’t been to the display in several years. Joseph noticed some new structures in the village, along with some small, printed sheets of paper tacked up at intervals on the plexiglass.

“Let me use your phone,” Marley said.

“For what?”

Rolling her eyes dramatically, Marley held out her hand. “I want to take pictures.”

With a sigh, Joseph reached into his coat pocket and handed it over. Marley scuttled away, a triumphant smile on her face.

Joseph stared at the village. Someone had obviously put in a lot of work to make it. Which didn’t make it any less lame.

To his right, a couple and their two kids stepped away from the display. He slid over to take a look at what the small paper said. A brunette girl about his age was standing there, watching the train go around. Her red wool coat was still buttoned up to the top. Joseph gave her a brief smile.

Someone had devised a series of fake newspaper issues about the town and put them up around the display. The Daily Herald was printed on the top. He glanced at the date in the upper right-hand corner. December 19th, 1897. More than a hundred years ago. He squinted at the town again. There certainly wasn’t anything modern about it, but now that he really looked, it did look very turn-of-the-century.

“Do you see it?” the girl asked.

Startled, he glanced over at her. “See what?”

She tapped a finger on the glass. Her gold nail polish was badly chipped. He looked beyond her hand to the article she was pointing to.


            On Sunday, Mrs. Hendricks reported her dog, Max, missing. Please be on the lookout from a large sheep dog.

“The dog is missing,” explained the girl.

Joseph stared at her, not sure what he should say. She certainly didn’t look crazy.

“You know the article’s fake, right?” he asked.

She shrugged. “It’s fun to look, though.”

Joseph grunted and turned back to the display. But the girl wasn’t content to leave him alone.

“Brigitte,” she said, extending her hand.

He shook, tentatively. Her skin was cool and dry. “Joseph.”

She nodded to the display. “My favorite part is the ice skaters.”

Joseph peered between two buildings until he located the thick slab of plastic that amounted to a frozen pond. A few figures twirled around the ice, to the whirring sound of machinery.

Brigitte waited, expectantly.

“To be honest, I’m not really that into it. I’m only here because I had to take my sister.” He pointed at Marley, standing on the far side of the display. She held Joseph’s phone out in front of her as she took a picture.

“She’s cute,” Brigitte said.

He nodded, though he never thought of Marley that way.

“It was nice of you to do this for her.”

He felt himself flush a little. “My mom made me.” He glanced at Brigitte.

She gave him a wink. Her eyes were very dark blue and lined with thick black lashes, the combination of the two standing out against her very pale skin.

“Why don’t I know you?” he asked. “You must go to Silver Lake.” There was only one high school in the area and Brigitte really didn’t look old enough to have graduated.

Brigitte looked back at the display. “Marina Heights,” she said.

“But that’s across town.”

She nodded.

“You came all the way over here for this?”

A smile curled her lips. “You can’t put a price on something you enjoy.”

“But why this?” He gestured at the village, all wood and plastic and tiny trees and mounds of fake snow. “What’s so special about it?”

She took his hand. “Help me look for the dog.”

As they slowly moved around the outside of the display, he tried to really look at. With Brigitte’s hand closed in his, the snow glittered a little more. He noticed the tiny embroidery stitches on the clothes of the figurines. An owl roosted in the hayloft of the barn. A cow nudged her calf in the snow. The soft glow of embers shone from the blacksmith’s shop.

And the Christmas Village seemed just a little more magical.

Christmas display at Seattle Armory Center

Christmas display at Seattle Armory Center

Short Fiction: The Caretaker

Hi guys. This is a short writing exercise I did the other day. I used the prompt for October 17th from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. Kind of quickly thrown together, but in the spirit of Halloween, enjoy!

The Caretaker

by Shannon Fox

The caretaker had lived alone on the hill for more than half a century. His hair had grown white, his limbs stiff, his eyes murky, and his tongue clumsy. He rose every morning at dawn and retired at dusk. Then, he would wait for his visitor.

The man in the black boots arrived every night after sundown. If there had been anyone around to ask him, the caretaker would have sworn to nothing about the man’s appearance except for a pair of black boots. The toes were usually scuffed, sometimes covered in mud, sometimes with bits of grass and dew clinging to them, and always bearing a smell the caretaker never mentioned to the visitor.

At eighty-four years of age, the caretaker had grown used to passing his days in much the same way. After a day spent tending the weeds that grew around the headstones and sweeping the dust and dead leaves from the mausoleum, he looked forward to sitting in his old wooden chair and eating his dinner, usually a hearty stew and hunk of bread.

The man in the black boots always came in while he was eating. Taking a seat in the rocking chair opposite the caretaker, he would wait for the man to finish eating before commencing their conversation. The caretaker knew better than to offer the man any food.

It was raining. The caretaker wasn’t worried, though. He had never known the visitor to miss an appointment on account of a storm.

He arrived just as the caretaker took the stew off the stovetop. His shoes were already drying in front of the fire, wet and muddy after a day tending to the dead in the rain.

“Lamb?” the visitor asked.

“This was a good week,” the caretaker replied.

“Have they started paying you more?”

“No. Just the same.”

“How many did you bury this week?”

“Nine,” the caretaker said, cutting his bread. “The last one was a little boy. His mother gave me ten dollars for my time.”

The visitor rocked slowly in his chair. “Not many tips in this business.”

“No,” agreed the caretaker. He sat in his chair with his bowl of stew, his spoon, and his bread.

They sat in silence as the visitor watched the caretaker eat. It continued to rain outside, the wind lashing the water against the windows. The house smelled musty on the driest of days and now it smelled quite damp and mildewed. Finally, the caretaker set his bowl on the floor.

“How many since yesterday?” the visitor asked.

“None. I suspect there will be plenty when the rain lets up.” He turned towards the window. “This is good weather for death.”

The visitor nodded and tapped his boot on the floor.

“Are you ready?” the visitor asked.

The caretaker nodded. “Soon.”


“Perhaps.” The caretaker continued to stare at the rain. “Someone must tend to the dead.”

The visitor rose. “Then I’ll come back tomorrow.”