Apr 6 2016

Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision”

Chella CouringtonChella Courington grew up in a family of storytellers. Seduced by the written word, she pursued her Ph.D. in literature from the University of South Carolina and her MFA in poetry from New England College. In addition to teaching literature and writing at Santa Barbara City College in California, she writes and publishes poetry and fiction, which has appeared in several books and chapbooks. Here, Chella speaks about her two latest publications, a flash novella and a new collection of poetry.

Tell us a little bit about your recently released novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow.

A life in flashes, it tells of Adele and Tom, a writing couple now in California. Told from both points of view, the novella explores the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is another’s failure.

But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian South yet finding home in California, she tries to understand who she is through the past and the present.

The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow by Chella CouringtonYou’ve described The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow as a flash novella. How did flash fiction as a structural form lend itself to the telling of a larger tale

Flash fiction is not naturally a form that lends itself to a longer traditional narrative (one with a mainly linear plot line). But flash fiction does lend itself to a pointillist novel/novella where each flash provides a point, an emotional brushstroke. The combined points, artfully arranged, tell a tale.

The flash novella is a good choice for writers with time constraints because the structure allows for the creation of many individual pieces of art that can be written in bursts of limited time. Each piece is small with a focus on language and imagery, rewarding close attention and revision. The flash novella does not depend on an outline nor require high drama (murder and mayhem).

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May 15 2015

Friday Flash: The Dead Among the Dead

Behind a gate on a hill, the house skulks with the weight of its memories. It’s gardens bear rotting fruit. Vines crawl up its siding and peel back it’s wooden skin. It’s windows are cracked and broken, shutters clinging to rusted hinges, peeling away like a woman’s fake eyelashes at the end of an alcohol soaked night. The roof gapes up at the sky, open mouthed, drinking in sunlight, rain, and snow indiscriminately.

The house is home to specters, fragments of broken hearts and shards of regrets, drifting lonely and angry over the termite infested floors, nestling under the mildewed drapery, curled up in soggy chairs. They roam the many tilted floors, drift through peeling walls scattering mice, and wander into spiderwebbed rooms tasting the lingering once-was that paints a sheen over slow destruction.

When the front door falls off its hinges and the interlopers wend their way through the entry, taking up and altering space, the specters wail a distant keening easily mistaken for wind whistling in the eves. The interlopers offer up their own low moans, and for a moment their two lost nations take up a song of esurience.

Accustomed to percieving the ancient house as draped in its historic glory, as vibrant and fresh as when they were alive, the specters do not recognize the interlopers for what they are. They do not notice the flesh peeling in strips from bone, do not smell the too sweet stench of decay, do not comprehend the hollowed out emptiness of the interlopers that shamble without apparent purpose through the dim rooms.

The specters respond as they always do to invasion — slamming shutters, knocking wrinkled books off shelves, casting dark flitting shadows — expecting the screaming flight such actions traditionally evoke. But the just-bodies of the interlopers give no response other than to amble jerkily in the direction of each new sound. Confounded, the specters use up their electrostatic strength in games of fright that have no effect.

One interloper, in shuffling toward the sound of a portrait crashing, collapses through a wood rotted floor and smashes like an overripe melon on the stone basement floor. Specters huddle around it, waiting for one more to rise up and join their numbers. But the husk remains a husk with nothing to offer, not even its own ravenous hunger.

The specters learn. Unable to terrorize the interlopers into fleeing, they draw them with their howling, herd them with their bumping and knocking, guiding them to the hole to fall and smash and shatter and grow still. One unravels wire bit by steely bit until the chandelier, dusty and laced with cobwebs, crashes into a clutch of shambles, driving them through the cracking stairs into the rooms below.

One by one, the specters steer the interlopers to destruction until at last their home returns to its own quiet ruination, allowing the specters to slip back into their rumination and drift cloud-like through the fading chaos of memory.

* * *

Chuck Wendig invited writers this week to play the sun genre boogie this week. My random drawing pulled “haunted house” and “zombies” — which is utterly perfect for me.


May 8 2015

Friday Flash: The Shadows Among Us

(Note: This is in the horror realm, so wary readers be warned.)

“Look, I don’t think you understand — we open those doors, we let them in.” My dad’s voice is a growl. His eye is puffy and turning black, where I struck with my book and his face is red with rage, but in his eyes I see only terror. The same terror that had kept my family and I huddled in the locked basement, shivering in the dark for the past week.

“You don’t understand. We need water. Food,” I said, my own voice thick with fear and anger and guilt. I’m halfway up the basement stairs. The book — hard bound, sharp edged, thick as a brick — still hangs heavy as a dead weight in my hand. I suck in a stale breath. “We’re going to starve to death, if we don’t get food.”

“You’ll let them in—,” he snarls, shifting forward aggressively.

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May 16 2014

Friday Flash: Beyond Borderlands

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

“This is an auspicious day,” speaks the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, raising his palms to the passive crowd. The people squint up at the Alchemist as though staring into the sun, unaccustomed to looking directly at his grace. When his radiant smile falls upon them, a collective sigh whispers among the people. “For on this auspicious day, the people of the borderlands beyond the Seven Realms, who have been tried to the crime of sacrilege and been found guilty, will meet their punishment.”

The People of the Realms applaud with the polite respect due their Guardian.

The Alchemist lowers his hands, a light wind tugging at the edges of his robe. The robe, like the dais he stands on and towering walls of the temple behind him are laced with the luminescent weaving of centuries old magic. First planted as a protection and declaration of peace within the temple, the magic has since grown like a weed, swirling vine-like charms and enchantments into stone foundations, extending from the heart of the central city out into the Realms. The poetic pattern retains inertia, a soothing weight upon the People who do not struggle against the web. Even the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, no longer questions it omnipresence.

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May 12 2014

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

While the weekend was spent celebrating Mammas, both my own mom and my sister who is fantastic with the Little Monster, I somehow managed to be somewhat productive this week.

On Tuesday, fellow poet Lorenz Dumuk (@LorenzDumuk) and I visited a friend’s classroom to read our poetry as part of her English class. As I haven’t read in ages, I was feeling rather nervous and kind of rushed through my pieces, but as usual Lorenz was amazing. He is a powerhouse of spoken word and it’s always inspiring to watch him offer up words to an audience.

Afterward, I went home and started reading Jessie Carty’s new book of poetry, Practicing Disaster,* in order to hold on to the galvanizing feeling created with poetry.

As a result of all this hearing and reading of fantastic poetry, I poured out five poem drafts all in one go, one of which I posted up on wattpad, called “Kamikaze.”

The juiced writerly feeling didn’t fade away, and I ended up putting together a Friday Flash. The short short story, called “Four and Twenty” is a bit about baking pies and a bit about a murder of crows. I plan to make a habit of posting a Friday Flash at least once a month.

My goal for the week is to edit the poem drafts and put together a small submission to a journal. I also have one submission still out that I haven’t heard back from, which I need to send an inquiry on.

*Jessie Carty sent me a review copy of her book. I should have the review up middle of the week, which I plan to follow with an interview with the poet (something I have never done before, eek!).