A Bit of Western Noir

Had this idea a while ago as I was thinking about America’s great tradition of dark, violent Westerns.  Worked on it in pieces for about a week.  It’s just a little snippet of flash fiction, really, but I like it.

*****

The gunman had just sat down at the table he favored when he stopped at this small town’s only saloon, when a girl scuttled over to him and started pouring out her story.

“Please help me, mister,” she said quickly, quietly, taking the seat opposite him.  “My boss is sore at me, I think he’s fixin to kill me.  Thinks I cheated him outta what I got paid last night.”  She seemed to swallow briefly and composed herself.  “I can tell you’re the kind of man can get me out of here.” She looked down into her lap. “I can’t pay,” she looked up into his face and earnestly continued, “but I’ll do anything if you save me.”

He had already noticed everything.  She was dressed in a little red gown that might have been pretty decades ago, before it had covered a hundred different professional girls.  Her hair and makeup were done in the frontier’s best imitation of mature beauty.  Her eyes were huge with fear, and she had her hands on the table in a pleading posture.  She was too young.

The saloon was tiny, really—long, but narrow and cramped.  Continue reading

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Flannery O’Connor

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

–Flannery O’Connor, 1925-1964

25 Years of Pulitzer Winners and Me

In a rare turn of events, no Pulitzer for fiction was awarded this year.  That got me to thinking about my own history with that award.  Here are my notes on the last quarter century of Pulitzer winners.

  1. 2011 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.     Sounds interesting, but I’m not really that excited by it.  Probably won’t read it.
  2. 2010 Tinkers by Paul Harding.     Read it.  Really enjoyed it.  Gave it an 8/10.  Review here.
  3. 2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.     Read it.  Moderately enjoyed it.  Gave it a 7/10.  Review here.
  4. 2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.     Not familiar with it.  The title alone is enticing, but is it enough so that I’ll look into it?  Honestly, if it’s not already on the priority list, chances are it won’t claw its way in anytime soon.
  5. 2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy.     Read it.  Loved it.  Gave it a 10/10.  No review necessary–what could I possibly add?
  6. Continue reading

Professor Huston Performs and Lectures on YouTube

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve wanted to do some kind of podcasting: I’ve always been told I have a pretty good voice, and I try to have an energetic, engaging classroom presence.  Therefore, I thought I’d post some audio of me at work, to see if anyone else out there might like it or find it useful. 

Yesterday, just in time to start the Halloween season, I posted a 23-minute piece on YouTube of me performing and giving my teacherly commentary on Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”  I’ll put it up on TeacherTube also, so more classrooms might be able to use it.

And, of course, the world finally has a chance to hear just what the magic is like in Huston’s class!

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9isY8hx-q4

 

A Latter-day Odyssey

Last summer, the LDS Church sponsored a short story contest; entries were supposed to be about pioneers and had to be under, I think, 500 words.  I had an idea and quickly threw together the draft below.  However, I never revised it properly, and the deadline passed.  I forgot about it entirely until tonight, as I’ve been sorting through old documents on my hard drive. 

This is more of a rough outline than a story.  Obviously, I wanted to draw a parallel between pioneers trekking across the desert and Odysseus struggling back home after war.  I also had to throw in a reference to Joyce’s take on the epic.  I count eight good references to The Odyssey, just in a few short paragraphs–not too shabby. 

Actually, I think the idea has some merit, and the analogy is pretty clever.  Sadly, even if I fleshed it out, the story itself would have huge problems in reconciling the analogy with historical accuracy, as is probably evident from the snippet I drew up.  And the writing’s pretty clunky, even for me.  Still, it’s cute enough to post here.  Enjoy!

I even called the protagonist “Ulysses Mann.”  Geez, John Bunyan’s symbols are more subtle than mine…

**********

16 June 1848

May the most holy Spirit of the Lord our God be with me as I endeavor to chronicle my journeys, both spiritual and temporal, and preserve in the memories of all posterity those choice events that have brought me nearer to my fellow kindred saints, brethren, and our Father.

He set down the pen, not reviewing the opening words of this new journal so much as reflecting on all that they implied. Ulysses Mann had emigrated west with a company of saints after having consecrated ten years to the service of the Church—two missions, constructing the Nauvoo temple, and other assignments from the Apostles that had kept him exhausted and in danger but, worst of all, away from his wife and son.

When he had returned to Nauvoo from a mission to Canada he found that his family had already left for the Salt Lake Valley with one of the first companies, their finances growing smaller in his absence and their best opportunity to safely travel being as soon as they could possibly go. The long-expected reunion was delayed. The sealing of his family in the temple just four years before had kept him strong during the hardships of his work, and it sustained him through the journey across the land to join his people and his family in their new home.

His travels across the dust-dark desert had been arduous, trying him and testing him, but he found that his exodus prepared him to be a better man upon his settling back home. With his company of handcarts and walkers, he had faced numerous temptations: other travelers who invited him to abandon his journey and stay with them in their hedonistic frontier settlements, the loose women there who made it far too clear that they noticed he was without his wife and would welcome his adulterous companionship, and the outright savages who attacked their group in the night, assailing them with violence and terror.

But he had made it back to his wife and son, who was now a young man in his own right, and they were ready to settle in and enjoy the rest of their lives together in this harsh new land, made a pleasant paradise by their blessed coming together.

The Lord had other plans, though. In mortality, it seemed, there would be no permanent respite from trial and trouble. The prophet had called him to take his family and establish a settlement, to aid other travelers and to defend the territory from any who would seek to take the land they’d tilled and wrestled out from under them. No such interlopers would be tolerated.

Ulysses had already staked out an area for the buildings and had designated it Fort New Ithaca. He had presented his plans to his wife and she had heartily assented to support him in their calling together, saying again and again, yes.