On Female Characters

Recently, I was sent a submission. I looked over the cover letter and the summary of the piece, and I really wanted to like it. It dealt with an important topic, was set in a place I wanted to know more about, was relevant, current. But—the author was male, and the story was told from a perspective of a female, and it was one of those stories. The protagonist was thinking about her period, tampons, pads, cramps, and possible leaks most of the time, and when she wasn’t, all she could focus on was dreaming about an engagement ring and getting sexually aroused by powerful and dangerous men checking her out. In the end, she got shot. I guess the writer just didn’t know what to do with her, so he decided to kill her off. She was a disposable thing, much like her tampons.

I am not saying that a man can never write from a woman’s point of view. There have certainly been a lot of great works of fiction written by men about women. Leo Tolstoy was not in any way a feminist, quite the opposite, yet Anna Karenina is a complex human being, not a caricature who is only able to think about her vagina and what is coming out of it. Similarly, being a woman doesn’t guarantee an automatic ability to craft female characters without fetishizing and objectifying them (think 50 Shades of Grey), but quite frankly, having read for Blue Mesa Review for a while, I do notice that a lot of stories with disposable, poorly written female characters come from men. Once, I was sent a piece that began fetishizing Russian women on the very first page. As a Russian woman, I did not appreciate it.

When we create disposable sexual objects instead of female characters we harm much more than our own story or our reputation as a writer. We add to the dangerous and widespread narrative that women are commodities. Every story like this reinforces the message that women are things to be used.  Fiction obviously isn’t the sole source of such messages, but it can be a powerful source. I remember when my brother was a teenager with zero dating experience, he came up with a wonderful idea that women like men who ignore them and don’t treat them too nicely after having read A Hero of Our Time, a famous Russian novel by Mikhail Lermontov. My brother never thought much about the fact that the novel was written by a twenty-five-year-old man who probably didn’t know much about women. Instead, he instantly bought into the narrative. The stories we are exposed to matter, they shape the way we see the world.

The writers who send us pieces like this aren’t necessarily bad writers. They aren’t necessarily bad people. We all have grown up with narratives where women are disregarded, tossed, casually raped, or used as a decoration or as a reward for male characters. We take it for granted that every time a woman appears on a page, her physical attractiveness or lack thereof must be mentioned. I myself have read and even enjoyed plenty of stories like that, and it took me years and years to finally figure out what was it about them that always left an unpleasant after taste. Luckily, now I can recognize sexism, misogyny and objectification in fiction when I see them. Even more importantly, I am in a position where I can reject such narratives. And I do.

Gun Problem or Leadership Problem?

The views expressed are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Blue Mesa Review. 

 

On Wednesday afternoon, I was meeting with Blue Mesa Review advisor, Mark Sundeen, when he saw an alert on his laptop. He said there was another school shooting. Despite Parkland, FL being 2,000 miles from Albuquerque, I immediately checked my mental family schedule to place where my teenage son was at that moment. 3:15 PM, school was out, he was at tennis practice. We felt helpless to do anything, and within seconds we were back to work. This is America in 2018.

Thursday morning, I felt like vomiting as I heard the door close when my son left for school. We didn’t watch the news the night of the shooting and it rained the next morning, leaving the paper soaked and unreadable. He left the house without carrying the anxiety that left me feeling ill. I couldn’t have that conversation with him again. Ignorance was the only thing I was able to offer him. Having your child die in a classroom isn’t an abstract concept anywhere in America, including New Mexico. In December of 2017, two kids were killed in the small town of Aztec, NM. Anyone who promises a safe school anywhere in America is lying.

A few hours after my son walked out of the door, I received a text from the University of New Mexico advising that a man had pulled a gun on several people on campus and was still at-large. It was three hours before he was captured. UNM is not only the home of Blue Mesa Review, and where I teach and take classes, but it’s also where my daughter goes to school, and she was on campus at the time. Fear and nausea again washed over me. Thankfully, within minutes, she texted me with an invite to lunch. The risk didn’t openly phase her. She was born a year before Columbine, so this is the world she grew up in.

After Trump was elected, I wrote a blog post about a writer’s responsibility in difficult times. My message remains the same; we must use our skills and platform to speak out. So, I am. But I’m too angry to put a think-piece-instruction-manual-on-how-writers-should-act into the world, even if I were qualified. Writers know what they can and should do. Those who don’t know, or aren’t willing to act, are the elected leadership on both sides of the political aisle.

Both Republicans and Democrats are willfully leaving children to die in their own classrooms to placate the NRA or not ruffle their base. They’ll shake their heads in frustration and blame mental illness but conveniently forget they just pulled the individual mandate for healthcare and last year passed legislation making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns. You will see moist eyes and hear weighted words as they call the Parkland school shooting an “act of evil.” But they do this to place it in the unpreventable abstract, to absolve them from action. The implication being, we mere mortals have no power against the devil, but, of course, we still must arm ourselves in hopes of being the “good guy with the gun” while we learn to “get small” in public gatherings. The Thoughts and Prayers Playbook is well worn and predictable. And it works.

It feels like we are powerless, but we’re not. Our leadership just refuses to use the power we give to them. And if they don’t use it wisely, we must take it back. The callousness of Republicans on this issue is astounding, but I’ve come to expect it. They care more about the right to compile a military-grade arsenal in the suburbs than they do about kids getting shot in their classroom. This isn’t even a debate. Close the book. That’s who they are. However, the Democratic leadership with all their bluster and condemnation, if they choose to, can stop or disrupt the machine. We saw them shut the government down twice this year and once since the Marshall County shooting (do they even remember Marshal County?). Do they not see regular mass burials of murdered school children worthy of the same dramatic action? If our leadership believed gun violence to be the national crisis they proclaim it to be, they should let no legislation pass, allow no program to get funded, no plane to leave the ground, no troops moved, not even a Social Security check to Grandma should get issued without a fight and a roadblock until leaders on both sides of the aisle come to the table and present meaningful legislation to help stop the carnage in our schools. We cannot wait for the smell of gunpowder to leave the air. In America, the air is never clear.

In 1999, the death of 12 kids at Columbine put the country in a month-long coma. But the 17 victims and their families in Parkland will probably be forgotten in a week. I’m performing my duty as a writer, and as a father, to speak out. Our leaders must do their duty to act in memory of the kids in Parkland, Aztec, Rancho Tehama, Rockford, San Bernadino, and every other shooting victim during their term of leadership they vowed to protect. They must  stop this raging insanity or face the consequences of inaction. It is not the writer, the farmer, the accountant, or teacher who must act now. The only people who can make real change are sitting in Washington and in the 50 statehouses across the country. The role of rest of us is to hold them accountable, so I’m calling on our elected leaders to act now, or get the hell out. If not, we’ll be coming for you November like our children’s lives are on the line, because they are.

Steve Howe is the Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review

Better Not Call? A Curated Tour of Albuquerque’s Attorney Billboards

By the Staff Readers of Blue Mesa Review

 

Albuquerque’s Better Call Saul elevated an ambulance-chaser to an American icon. He represents not the nation of law and justice that we believe in, but the one of flag-wrapped scams and endearing scammers that we’re stuck with. The series’ hero, Jimmy McGill, introduced in Breaking Bad, pretends to be Jewish to attract customers, and after a few low-level cons hits pay-dirt when he brands his rackets as patriotism, complete with the inflatable Statue of Liberty atop his strip-mall office.

Anyone who has crossed Albuquerque’s sprawl knows that Saul Goodman didn’t just spring from the imagination of some Hollywood scriptwriter. His forefathers—or perhaps his imitators—populate about every billboard in town. The result is a dour gallery of stern men who insist that we’ve been wronged and, if we just had the guts to dial their number, we too could claim our share of the national bounty.

For the benefit of both fans and haters, the staff readers of Blue Mesa Review present a juried gallery of real-life Sauls, ranked in order of increasing amazingness.

(Photo: NewsCastic.com)

6. Russ Whitener

Our judges noted that like Bigfoot this attorney can apparently only be captured in grainy long-range photos. Judges recoiled from the attempt at slangy diction (Who’s Gonna Pay?) which smacked of trying to be hip and sounding like Ghostbusters. More controversially, judges discovered that Whitener died several years ago, causing one to wonder if he represents you via Ouija Board. His obituary states that he applied to 20 law schools and got into one, and he built a giant office “that housed a two-story palm tree, purple aquarium and tiled waterfall” because, in his own words, “I wanted to have something to leave on the planet to say, ‘Hey, I was here.’”

(Photo: Maxine Porter)

5. David C. Chavez

Our judges were not impressed by the magisterial gold font, the self-aggrandizing middle initial, or the ostentatious deployment of The Law Firm of… “It’s like he didn’t think people would believe he was a real lawyer.” The inclusion of the 505 area code feels slightly desperate, like he’s not actually from here. Our judges speculated that, “No one calls him. He calls you.” One surmised that Chavez did not intend to litigate “Tragic Injury,” but to inflict it. Another contemplated calling out of pity: “I feel bad for him.”

(Photo: Maxine Porter)

4. Keller & Keller

Our judges could not help but wonder if Esquire Keller’s bald pate provided an attractive roost for migratory cranes. We were duly impressed by the baroque ampersand. The question of “Where’s the other Keller?” led to a cursory search, which revealed that Billboard Guy is neither Keller nor Keller. This raised another question, whether he was a professional model. The judges scratched their heads as to how exactly a search was conducted for a bland model who resembles “unseasoned mashed potatoes.” Questions of objectification arose when one judge referred to “Mr. Keller” as “just a hot blonde.” The firm’s attempt to enamor itself to locals with the use of a Zia symbol rang hollow when we learned that it’s based in Indianapolis.

(Photo: Maxine Porter)

3. Bert Parnell

As poets, we could not resist the rhyme. It shall outlast the monuments of princes! Judges admired Bert’s “confidence,” the type of guy who–like Madonna and Cher–requires no surname. The dude even trademarked his name. Do we need legal permission to utter it? We liked the “no nonsense” face on striking red background with brawny sans-serif font, but we did wonder if he’d stolen the design from Ron Bell, who you’re about to meet. Judges respectfully suggested an offshoot: NEED AN ATTORNEY? CALL ERNIE.

(Photo: Maxine Porter)

2. Hinkle

Judges debated if these guys were the real thing or just boojie dudes trying to look like bikers, and had real doubts about whether arriving in court flanked by Dog the Bounty Hunter and the dad from American Chopper was prudent legal strategy. “Do they rock the black leather at trial?” asked one. Also, “Does he use spray-on tan?” But ultimately we accepted Hinkle’s tufness, confident that he could ruf up opposing counsel, even the judge. He appeared capable of “taking you to hell and bringing you back.” Whatever it is that Hinkle knows—we want to know it, too.

(Photo: Rebekah Rendon)

1. Ron Bell

Ron Bell takes Bert’s single name and raises him a dollar. He’s so famous around here that he doesn’t even need a name, just a phone number. His billboards are so ubiquitous that one native Burqueña sighed fondly: “I’ve known about Ron Bell since I was born.” We admired his Tom Selleck mustache and full head of hair and the chiseled brevity of the one-word slogan. Not confined to a single genre, Bell has starred in teeveemercials in a motorcycle racing suit, and bare-chested in boxing regalia. He even has his own emoji. Overall, we found him trustworthy and avuncular but one judge dissented, “I would not be comfortable if he were my uncle.” A judge noted that Bell had himself been convicted of DWI, but another judge remarked, conclusively, “Yeah, but he beat the charges.” Case dismissed.

(Photo: Carrie Adair)

Lastly, Ron Bell is widely believed to be the real-life inspiration for Better Call Saul, a mantle that he proudly accepts.

(AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

 

ABQ #MeToo Monologues

TIME Magazine did not select President Donald Trump as person of the year. Instead, TIME selected The Silence Breakers, a collective of women and men—some unidentified—who have spoken publically against sexual harassment and assault. TIME is acknowledging their courage for addressing a societal problem that is often obscured in shame, confusion, and a pervasive silence.

I regularly experience sexual harassment. And because it’s both common and painful, I often avoid writing about it. I worry about being accused of exaggerating and fabricating—being labelled a drama queen. I worry about professional repercussions for accusing respected individuals, or being seen as difficult to work with. Mostly though, I cannot always make sense of it. Being violated by people who surround you, in the classroom, at the workplace, or at home, is not easy to reckon with. At times, it seems much simpler to slip into the foggy conclusion that silence is easier than speech. It’s really a last-ditch effort for life to continue with some semblance of normalcy; a plea that the unspoken, unpleasant thing never happened. I know this to be true and yet, with the exception of a casual disclosure here and there, I am among the many individuals who largely stays silent.

The wave of resignations across the professional world should remind us that speaking and writing about our experiences not only bonds us to fellow survivors, but in some cases, can call to account those who have attacked and belittled us. Speaking out leaves a safer and smoother path for those who come in our wake.

Activist Tarana Burke has been encouraging survivors of sexual harassment and assault to speak their truth for more than two decades. Burke’s work focuses on building bonds between survivors and placing responsibility squarely back on perpetrators. After a moving encounter with a 13-year-old sexual abuse survivor, Burke pioneered a dialogue-centered movement to address the shame and isolation that survivors often feel. She called the movement, “Me Too.” The hashtag #MeToo sparked a Twitter explosion in mid-October, popularized by big Hollywood names. But Burke had coined the phrase and the concept years before. In a profile for the New York Times, Burke explained, “The power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation ― but it was us talking to us.”

Tarana Burke’s movement of radial compassion from survivor to survivor is being echoed across the country this December in an event called The National Me Too Monologues. The Monologues is a four-day writing workshop created by Tanya Taylor Rubenstein and Mary Rives that culminates in the sharing of the many different experiences of sexual violence and assault in a public forum.

A group of Albuquerque-based writers are performing their monologues on December 9. The Albuquerque chapter is facilitated by Ana June, who graduated from UNM’s MFA program last year, and Ramona King, a playwright, former KUNM Spoken Word Hour host, and storyteller.

Each Saturday for the past month, June has invited a group of local writers to workshop their experiences of sexual violence around her dining room table. Hayley Peterson, one of the writers performing this Saturday, says, “I’ve been able to experience the true power of the movement by coming together to write and share with other women. I’ve been so glad for the space and time to be open and vulnerable, to be heard and not dismissed, and to feel understood.” I, too, can attest to the wonderful feeling of acceptance and compassion that the Monologues writing group has created.

The event will take place at 6:30 PM at Aux Dog Theatre in Nob Hill on Saturday December 9. The suggested donation amount is $15 and all donations will benefit Crossroads for Women in Albuquerque.

I hope to see Blue Mesa Review’s local readers there, and for all of you across the country, I encourage you to create your own forum to tell your own stories.

Lydia Wassan is Managing Editor for Blue Mesa Review

Announcing our 2017 Pushcart Nominees

Congratulations to these wonderful writers:

 

From Issue 35:

Nonfiction

–vibe [Fragments from a Notebook] by Marcos Gonsalez

 

From our upcoming Issue 36:

Poetry

egungun by Aurielle Lucier

Fiction

Around the Parking Lot by David Connor

Nonfiction

On Playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a Nerdy, Brown Kid in Houston by Reyes Ramirez

Shattering Silence by Yvonne Conza

 

Don’t Speak! …In the First Line

by

Maxine Porter

 

As a Blue Mesa Review reader, I evaluate a lot of fiction for the magazine. I see the same mistakes made over and over again. One of the most persistent, and  most unfortunate, is the use of dialogue in the first line. So maybe you write a first line that looks something like this:

“My God, Henry! What are you doing?”

The reader has a lot of questions. Where are we? Who’s speaking? Who’s Henry? Is anyone else here? What’s going on?

Here’s another question: who cares? There’s no setting, no narrator, nothing at all to visualize—so why should I bother? Editors don’t typically make decisions based exclusively on the first line (at least not at Blue Mesa Review), but the first page is our first impression. When I see untagged dialogue in the first line, I doubt the quality of the next few pages.

Listen, I’m a writer too. I know how hard it can be to create a dynamic, engaging, imagistic opening scene that grabs the reader by the lapels and flings them head-first down the Slip-n-Slide that is your story. But free-floating dialogue lacks all context. Two people speaking into a void is boring. Two people arguing in a living room is slightly better. A girl watching through the crack in the living room door as her two suitors argue, their words growing more heated until—“My god, Henry! What are you doing?”

I care a lot more about what Henry is doing when I know who’s involved, how they’re related to each other, where they are in time and space.

“But wait,” you say, “what about _____?”

Indeed, what about ______? There are a number of novels and short stories, famous and otherwise, that open with a line of dialogue. A popular example is Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange:

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

Now look at Ray Bradbury’s short story The Veldt:

“George, I wish you’d look at the nursery.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, then.”

“I just want you to look at it, is all, or call a psychologist in to look at it.”

“What would a psychologist want with a nursery?”

“You know very well what he’d want.” His wife paused in the middle of the kitchen and watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for four.

Burgess’ opening compels me, but Bradbury’s does not. Why? For one, Bradbury doesn’t give us a setting until seven lines into the story. For another, his dialogue is fantastically empty. This is small talk—an inefficient form of dialogue. The malfunction of the nursery, and the involvement of a psychologist are both relevant to the story, but the exchange doesn’t really explain their connection in a meaningful way. Burgess, meanwhile, opens with a line of dialogue closely followed by a paragraph of narration. The narration situates the dialogue in space, place, and time.

The first line does a lot of work. It identifies the narrator and the characters in the scene, sets the time location of the action, and introduces a strong voice.

There’s nothing to say a writer shouldn’t open with dialogue—starting a conversation as early as the second line can make for an engaging first scene. I won’t call it a rule, but I’ll make an aggressive suggestion with your best interests in mind: open with narration, and if you really must start with dialogue, you had better be clever enough to get away with it.

 

Winner, Winner, Turkey Dinner!

We are giving thanks this holiday season for all those who make Blue Mesa Review possible; our readers, contributors, contest judges, our host university, and the literary community. And we want to offer a special thanks and congratulations to our annual contest winners.

 

Fiction – Judged by Lori Ostlund and Anne Raeff

1st Place – “Around the Parking Lot” by David Connor

2nd Place – “In-Laws and Out-Laws” by Evan Lloyd

 

Poetry – Judged by Safiya Sinclair

1st Place – “egungun” by Aurielle Lucier

2nd Place – “Her Word Will Land in You” by Alana de Hinojosa

3rd Place – “Starter Home” by Samuel Piccone

 

Nonfiction – Judged by Rigoberto González

1st – “On Playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a Nerdy, Brown Kid in Houston” by Reyes Ramirez

2nd – “Shattering Silence” by Yvonne Conza

 

We’re excited to share these wonderful works in Issue 36, forthcoming in early December 2017.

Are You an American Citizen? Asked on a Highway in the Middle of New Mexico (Which is Actually an American State, If You Didn’t Know)

By Amanda Bissell

 

Ok, so my dad is pretty white.

When I was younger, he, my mom, my two sisters and I would pile into our cramped car for a family road trip. Coming from my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, 45 miles north of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, this meant going through a border patrol checkpoint.

Waiting in a long line of cars while cameras on the side of the road took pictures and a dog on a leash sniffed around each car was just part of the routine. When we finally get to the front, a man with sunglasses and a very full holster would look at my dad and wave him right through, or sometimes ask one question: Are you an American citizen? My dad would reply, yes, and we would continue our drive.

During one of these trips, my mom drove so my dad could rest. Mom turned down the music and rolled down her window prepared for the usual question. But it was not the usual this time. He asked, “Where are you coming from?” “Where are you going?” “How many passengers are in your car?” “Are you carrying any illegal substances?” My mom answered them one after another and after a few moments we were back on the road. My dad said something about how weird it was, but it wasn’t mentioned again.

When I say my dad is pretty white, I mean like white white: both his parents can trace their lineage back to Europe, and he grew up in Wyoming.

My mom is Hispanic. New Mexico born and bred, both her parents having a long family history in the Southwest and Mexico.

She seemed to shake the incident off, at least in front of my sisters and me, but my dad seemed genuinely surprised.

None of this struck me until this last year with the extreme changes to immigration policies within the United States. In February of this year, my hometown made national news when over 2,000 students missed school for two days after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid was conducted and arrests were made on the outskirts of town, leaving students and their families too afraid to leave their own homes.

On September 5th, hundreds of students at the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools staged a walkout in protest of the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision leaves the lives of over 7,000 New Mexico DACA recipients, and even more Dreamers who are unable to apply for DACA, hanging in the balance as the program begins to be phased out. Recently, a coworker moved back home to Arizona because she is afraid that her family will be taken away and she won’t be able to see them.

*

A few years back, I moved from Las Cruces to Albuquerque to attend UNM. This means every time I visit home, I have to drive through this stop. It’s not really a big deal to me, and typically all they ask is if I’m an American citizen; granted, I look a lot like my dad.

Once, I was driving my friend back to Albuquerque, and as we went through the stop, she was talking on the phone with her mom in Spanish. That time, the officer adjusted his glasses while he blatantly looked from her to me, and asked where we were coming from and what was the purpose of our trip. A subtle difference, but enough that for the next half hour the words “racist asshole” came up quite a few times.

Another time, I drove back early on a Monday morning so that I could arrive in time for work. A car ahead of me must have given the wrong answer to one of their questions, leaving me in an unmoving line of cars for 45 minutes. When finally getting to the front of the line, I saw a car pulled over to the side with officers on walkie-talkies and K-9’s on leashes surrounding it.

It felt like a ridiculous excuse when I arrived 30 minutes late to work and had to explain I got held up at the border patrol checkpoint, and then feeling like I needed to specify that I wasn’t the one who was being interrogated.

*

With the recent discourse and political action, it’s hard not to question the effectiveness—and fairness—of these checkpoints. I’m not trying to say these stops are or are not unconstitutional, or that all these guys do is racially profile. But, there’s a border patrol station on the actual border of Mexico and the United States, and there are at least 30 permanent checkpoints in Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico, and at least 40 more that are “temporary.”

It’s important to mention that drivers aren’t required to show a passport, papers, or proof of citizenship when going through these checkpoints, which seems strange and pointless when you consider how easy it would be for someone to just lie and say, “Oh yeah, I’m a citizen.”

Legally, drivers don’t have to answer any of the questions, so what’s really the point? But, I guarantee you’re not going anywhere until you tell them you’re American.

How Not to Write a Novel in a Month

By

Mackenzie Thomas

 

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I have decided to gift you, dear readers, the key to my success. At the very young age of 20, I have not written four best-selling novels, not gotten 20 short stories published in various respectable journals and magazines, and I have not had a TED Talk on the art of writing. Impressive, I know. Please hold your applause. You may be asking yourself how did she do it? I will tell you in eleven easy steps. If you follow these steps, you too can be as successful as me.

 

  1. Surf your social media of choice and see all your friends hyping each other up for NaNoWriMo!
  2. Decide that you too have what it takes and join the challenge.
  3. Think of possible characters and plots while doing dishes, but don’t jot down your ideas because your hands are wet. It doesn’t matter because you will definitely remember them!
  4. Forget your ideas for plots and characters.
  5. Realize it’s already been a week into the challenge and you don’t even know where to begin. But, you like the name Sonya for a character! You don’t know which character, but Sonya will definitely appear in the story somehow.
  6. Realize that all this planning is not for you! It would be much more productive and artistic to freewrite (a.k.a “word vomit”) for eight minutes straight. That will get the ballpoint pen rolling. No doubt about it!
  7. Yes! YES! You’re doing it! Look at those words appear in fast and seamless succession. Why were you having such difficulties? Writing is in your blood! You are Stephen King the Writing Machine without the cocaine.
  8. Eight minutes is up. You read through your mind dribble and realize it’s garbage.
  9. That’s okay. Don’t panic. It’s only been two weeks and since you don’t watch TV, you have plenty of free time. You work better under pressure anyway. You just need some inspiration.
  10. Spend your time trying to find said inspiration by reading “How-To” articles just to get in the writing zone.
  11. Never actually write.

 

Before you know it, it’s been a month and you have successfully not written anything. It’s as simple as that.

 

Mackenzie Thomas is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review

 

Move Aside, NYC. The 505 is Your New Short Story City.

By Alice Yang

 

Dear New York Publishers,

Out here in the West, we continue to consume short stories set in New York, chronicling the melodrama of humanity against the all too familiar backdrop of skyscrapers, subways, and large bodies of water. Sure, New York is the quintessential short story city and is perhaps one of the best cities in the world.

But Albuquerque’s pretty great, too. Let me humbly recommend a new literary world where characters play out their conflicts in the desert, with fewer people, and (yes) unbeatable sunsets. It’s situated in the middle of New Mexico, steeped in all things Southwestern, and could be a new kind of short story city. I’ve taken the liberty to re-imagine a piece of fiction from The New Yorker:  Donald Antrim’s “Another Manhattan.”

***

NYC: “The bar next door to the restaurant was bleak and depressing, an old men’s dive, and the bar inside the restaurant would be a mob scene of people pushing for tables. She could stand idly flipping through magazines at the newsstand across Broadway. . .”

ABQ: “The bar next door to the restaurant was bleak and depressing, an old children’s psychiatric hospital, and the bar inside the restaurant would be a relatively calm scene of people waiting for their green chile margaritas. She could stand idly by the balcony, overlooking Central Avenue, illuminated by the surreal coral pink sunset. . .” (Seriously, there’s a fancy new place called Hotel Parq Central that was originally a hospital in the 1926 and then was turned into a children’s psychiatric center in the 80s. Can you say spooky and intriguing?)

***

NYC: “‘There might be a Boucher hanging at the Frick.’”

ABQ: “‘There might be an O’Keefe hanging at the Q-MAH. Or you could just take The Railrunner up to Santa Fe, where all art actually lives.”

I realize that a sign of a first-class city is that everyone is on a first name basis with the museums: the MOMA, the Met, and what-not. Nobody actually calls the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History “Q-MAH.” In fact, nobody refers to Albuquerque as “The Q.” But maybe once we land in a few literary short stories, we can start a hashtag.

***

NYC: “He peered from behind the ficus. He was wearing a ridiculous cashmere overcoat, and his suit today was a medium-gray flannel herringbone. It featured, on the jacket, minimal shoulder padding, dual vents, and a graceful, three-rolled-to-two-button stance (his current favorite lapel style), and, on the pants, single reverse pleats and one-and-a-quarter-inch-cuffed trouser legs. Why would a man ever not cuff his trousers? He kept a single jacket-sleeve button open on the left, another open on the right.”

ABQ: “He peered from behind the yucca. He was wearing a ridiculous cactus-patterned short sleeve, and his suit today was completed with a pair of shorts. It featured, on the front belt loop, mirrored aviators, not Ray Bans, because they would be stolen if left in the car. Why would a man ever wear pants in this sunny city?”

***

NYC: “Had you been walking downtown on Broadway that February night at a little past eight, you might have seen a man hurrying toward you with a great concrescence of blooms. You might have noticed that he did not even pause for traffic signals, but charged across streets against the lights.”

ABQ: “Had you been walking downtown on Central Avenue that February night at a little past eight, you might have seen a white woman decked out in turquoise jewelry and red chile earrings, hurrying past you with a great sense of awe and wonder as she recognized Burt’s Tiki Lounge from Breaking Bad. You might have noticed that she did not pause for traffic signals, but charged across the streets against the lights, easing into normal Burqueño jaywalking habits.”

Some stories are made for NYC. But many others can only be told in the ‘Querque.

 

Alice Yang is an undergraduate staff reader for the Blue Mesa Review. Born and raised in Albuquerque, she studies English and Psychology at UNM.

More of Alice’s work can be found at https://archstellagecollection.wordpress.com/