The All-Teen Issue Has Launched!

Dear Readers,

Last year, longtime Inlandia Ontario workshops participant Victoria Waddle proposed that we dedicate an entire issue of the online literary journal to the creative output of teens. Of course we said yes!

Victoria got to work sending hundreds of emails to teachers, youth librarians, and other school administrators across the region. Word got out. All in all, eight teens volunteered to guest-edit. In the end, the teens selected 50+ pieces to be published in this issue, ranging from the usual suspects – art, poetry and short stories – to a short film, drama, reviews of books, music, and movies, and essays on tough topics like racial identity and Ferguson.

The work in this issue is insightful, funny, earnest, honest, smart, heartbreaking.

These kids are us, decades ago. These kids are the future.

Read them and weep.

~ Cati Porter

Field Trip to the LA Times Festival of Books By Faraz Rizvi

I first went to the LA Times Festival of Books when I was a high school student. I remember vividly the excitement at the thought of being in such close proximity to some of my favorite writers, hearing many of them read for the first time. I almost fainted when T.C. Boyle signed my copy of “When The Killing’s Done.”

This year felt different. As a recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside some of that excitement had cooled down, and the festival felt less like a pilgrimage than an assignment I had taken: After all, I was going to be starting my own piece on it shortly after I left. I thought that I would be too focused on taking notes and getting the details than on enjoying what was in front of me.

But I ended up taking no notes. As soon as I exited the 10 toward USC’s Exposition Park and rolled down the window, I felt that sunshine so particular to Southern California Spring. I dragged a friend along with me, and it was her first time attending. The invigorating sun, coupled with a cool seaward breeze, brought the excitement that I had been missing right back, almost as if it was my own first time attending.

I can’t describe you to the exact layout of the festival–it was a massive sprawl of canopies and tents, with three different sections for Children’s Lit, Young Adults, and Adults. We got lost through the labyrinthine maze of the festival looking for food trucks, which were located at the North and South entrances. To claim we were lost is perhaps an exaggeration: realistically, we would stop every few feet, distracted by a new set of books or a new reading or lecture that was happening.

I spent far more on books than I should have, but with such a massive selection on display and such interesting books it was almost futile to resist. Books from independent publishers, foreign publishers, arcane studies to rare and autographed books (a specific stall devoted to these had a volume signed by T.S. Eliot) one could possibly find anything. Poetry, which often gets short shrift in book stores, was in such abundance that I ended up spending way too long deciding what to purchase (I walked away with “Poetic Diaries 1971-1972” Eugenio Montale and “The Selected Poems” of the late Geoffrey Hill). Another gem I found hard to resist was a neglected manuscript by the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez about the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile titled “Clandestine In Chile.”

Toward the end of the festival, we sat down to hear a brief reading by Bengali-American poet Tarfia Faizullah, who read from her recently published collection, “Registers From an Illuminated Village.” Her poems were powerful, political, and brilliant. Her voice as she read, echoing back the cadences of her poems, picked up registers of emotion that swept over the crowd like grief, fear, anger, but also hope. One poem in particular that stood out, “BEFORE THE ACCIDENT AND AFTER” , narrated the author’s grief after the death of her sister. Hearing her read made the reality of what the poem described vivid, enhancing my own understanding of the text after I went back and read it. After the reading, Faizullah devoted some time to signing copies of her new book, and by the time my we ran over to purchase one, they were all sold out!

No, I don’t apologize for not taking many notes, because getting lost within the labyrinth of the festival was worth it. If you haven’t gone, I urge you to do so some year. While Los Angeles may seem a million miles away from the I.E., the LA Festival of Books gives open access to independent bookstores, publishers, and authors that we otherwise might not get to see. In times of political crises, books are a refuge, an act of resistance and a source of strength. The LA Festival of Books is a celebration of all that, and yes more.

FarazRizviHeadshotFaraz Rizvi is a writer and activist based out of the Inland Empire. He studied Political Science at the University of California, Riverside and currently blogs at https://farazriz.wordpress.com/

 

Adam Zane Cook

Emilia (Novel Excerpt)

Chapter 4: There are mouths to be kissed before mouths to be fed.

The light had been coming in through the locker room windows differently those past few days. It was not that it seemed brighter. Or not just that it seemed brighter. But softer too. Cleaner. The weather was cooler. It felt like autumn, like the long Southern California summer would abate.

This was a trick of the weather, of course. Every year the weather in Redlands cooled for a bit towards the end of September, and then the heat came back with a vengeance, usually by mid October, and stayed in the low eighties all the way to the New Year. Knowing that this respite of false fall was so fleeting filled it with a sense of dread. Like so much of life. Of course, everything ran out. But the good stuff seemed to run out so much more quickly than the bad. The quilts from my grandmother, maple syrup from Vermont, even the sun, the thing that was our hope for a greener, cleaner, solar California, would eventually run out. Light——the very light that came through the locker room windows——was not endless.

It had been a run day that day in PE. Danny Coleman lapped me twice. The second time, he stopped, put his hands against my back, and said, “Let me help. I’ll push, but you have to run.” He did this almost every week. Two years ago, the first time he’d done it, it had almost been funny. But it was an inevitability now. Like the light. Like the weather. Like the false fall. At least run days would be ending soon. There was only one more year of PE, then the graduation requirement would be filled. And then no more PE. No more run days where Coach Lopez expressed her disappointment with my 16:22 mile time. No more changing in front of Danny Coleman and having him grab my fat, my “tits,” and smelling his cheap body spray on me for hours after.

Trudging into the locker room, my breath just regained, my legs sore, my shirt slick with sweat, I took comfort in the fact that even PE was not endless, no matter how interminable it felt.

God is endless, they’d told us at church. He represented the hope that there was something beyond the looming, black punctuation mark that was death. But what came after that? More of the same? Was existence (and after-existence) just one long line? Or were we to, as one of the speakers at church had once said, look to the seasons for our answer? That the way the year repeated itself was a sign from God that we too could be resurrected? Which implied rebirth. But rebirth into this same life? Into a new life?

We had to watch a PBS documentary on the Big Bang theory in eighth grade science. The teacher, in an attempt to appease the fundamentalist students, had prefaced the viewing by stressing that what we were learning about was a theory and that none of us had to take it as fact. It wasn’t the Big Bang I had a problem with. The Mormon Church didn’t have an official policy on it, and the general consensus was that there was no problem with viewing God as the “Ultimate Scientist.” What was unsettling came about halfway in when a scientist explained the “Big Crunch,” the theory that the Universe would eventually stop expanding and start contracting and eventually compact itself into a single, infinitely dense mass, wherein it would explode and create a new Universe. And that the Universe had been doing this, making and unmaking itself, longer than time.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Big Crunch, and about how the entire universe would look compacted down. Would it be the size of a planet? A comet? A baseball? An atom? Would you be able to see it? And what would it be among? I had asked my mother about it as she was making dinner that night and she said she didn’t like to think about things like that. Which is what she always said when I brought up questions like “Where did God come from?” and “Will I be the same age as you in Heaven?”

I couldn’t explain to her how it wasn’t just that it made my head hurt to think about the Big Crunch, but that the thought made my body feel weightless and hollow, and that my chest constricted like my heart was imploding, and that it became hard to breathe, and a pin-prickly, numbing sensation spread over my entire body. I couldn’t tell her how there were only 36,525 days in a century, how that didn’t seem like that many, and how, given the average lifespan of the American male, I knew I was bound to see many fewer than that 36,525. How if I was thirteen at the time, and I lived to be as old as my great-grandpa had, 87, an eighth of my life had already elapsed. How in such moments, death seemed not only inevitable, but imminent, preferable, even. If only to get it over with.

“Why don’t you pray about it,” she finally said. “And I’ll pray about it too.”

I told her I would, recognizing that I had reached the end of the help she could give me. She pecked me on the forehead, and I left her in peace.

I wanted her to tell me that maybe the Big Crunch did go against the Church. Dismissing it outright would have made things easier, like my evangelical friends did with evolution. But if my mom, so logical but so devout, wasn’t willing to disown it… then both science and religion confirmed it: the very nature of existence was that there was no meaning, no novelty, just repetition. We were meant to repeat these patterns over and over again, like the Buddhist monks who made the same artwork in sand every day only to brush it away. In which case, there needed to be an end point for things to have meaning. Real flowers die, that’s why they’re prettier than plastic ones. Novels end, that’s why they make us cry. But if an end provided meaning, did Heaven rob life of its meaning? Even a Heaven where you were forever separated from your loved ones?

I had to pull myself back. Out of the polluted swamp of my consciousness. Back. Back. Back to the P.E. locker room, and out of the mud and tar and radioactive waste.

It will be many years before I learn the meditational breathing techniques that help in such situations. And even then, they will not help much. Instead, at that moment, I looked to the light for help. I followed it as it came through the paneled windows and fell on the floor near Chris Demirdjii’s lithe form——half-naked of course——caressed only by those thin white briefs of his. How pretty life is, I thought. Enjoy it now, you depressing bore.

It was hypnotic following the neat groups of muscles that ran up Chris’s legs. Up and down. They were not marbled with jiggly fat, like mine. They were neat, spare, fibrous. You could see the individual chords rise and fall, leading into the next group, all the way from his ankle to his calf to his thigh to just above the waistband on his briefs. There was a small razor cut just above his left knee. He had shaved his legs. Just last week, there had been a thick matting of black hair running up and down them, but they were bare now, milk white. Is that in now? Shaved legs. Even the swim team boys only shaved their legs because the coach made them. Shaved legs said a certain thing about a boy. Was Chris on the swim team now? Or was he a certain thing?

Mr. Roth was a certain thing. I hadn’t been able to get that out of my mind since Emilia had told me the other day. It was such a loss of control; Mr. Roth giving into his baser urges, leaving his wife. And for a man. A man. Even constructing the sentence in my mind felt wrong, like the social order was being undone by the mere existence of the concept. He had a wife, a house, a good job. He’d done everything he was supposed to.

Did he feel guilt over what he felt? Did he try desperately to think of girls while his mind kept going back to boys? Beautiful boys. With their smooth skin and hot breath, their garlicky odor and their piquant deodorant, their big, body-built arms so out of proportion with their bodies, their Adam’s apples, the way their hair changed in texture and color as you tracked it down their torso. I thought of Mr. Roth, glasses off, his black hair slick with sweat, his frumpy body slamming against Jeff the janitor, over and over again. Jeff’s eyes rolling back in his head, biting his lower lip, a low, guttural grunt emerging with each of Mr. Roth’s thrusts. Or switching positions, with Jeff’s taut, wiry body overtaking Mr. Roth. Again and again I thought about it.

At church we were told to envision our “future families.” Not our present families, of course, with our parents and siblings. Those people were preparation, the pupal stage that would eventually molt off and be left behind in a husky, translucent pile. No, we were always meant to consider our future family. The one that would be composed of the person we married and the children that resulted. Ever present were they, my future family. Every decision had to be made weighing them in mind. College, career, diet, exercise, where to live, whether or not to have a dual-income home. And these were decisions that had to be made now. Now, they told us. Women wanted to marry men with a future (whereas men, we were told, wanted to marry women without a past), and the only way to have a future was to decide now, not for ourselves, but for these people who would come to rely on us.

My future family always seemed to be composed of those wooden, jointed modeling dolls, the kind with smooth, nondescript features that artists use to draw the human form in different positions. They doll family was not unkind. We always seemed to be sitting around the dinner table in a house not unlike the one I grew up in, the dolls talking to each other in a language made up of the scrapes and squeaks of their various joints moving.

Earlier that morning, before Chris Demirdjii and the locker room and Danny Coleman and the run and everything else, while I was lying in bed, before my alarm had gone off, an anarchic, electric thought had occurred to me: Would I care if one of my children told me they were haunted by the certain thing? Would I tell them God hated them? Would I believe God hated them? Them, spiritual and corporeal duplicates of myself. Would I hate them?

Across the room, Chris Demirdjii buttoned up his plaid shirt, pulled on his pants, ran a hand through his hair. For the first time the thought verbalized that he was beautiful, not just the light or the hair or the muscles, but the holistic he was beautiful. And even more so standing there in that square of light. The sunshine reflecting off his black, curly hair, giving the effect of a bronze halo hovering just above his head.

Would I hate my child? And did I hate Mr. Roth now, when he had been my favorite teacher up to that moment?

Danny Coleman walked into the square of light, in front of Chris Demirdji. Lost in thought, I had been looking too long. Danny locked eyes with me, gave me a toothy smile, his eyes lupine and hungry. I immediately squinted, as if I were trying to see something above Chris. Danny moved.

I turned to my locker and started changing quickly. I had to get out of the locker room. I ripped off my PE shirt and shorts, rolled them up into a funky ball and shoved them to the back of my locker. I grabbed my t-shirt and frantically tried to pull it on. My arm banged against the row of lockers and my elbow seized with blunt pain. I paused to rub it, and in that pause Danny darted up behind. His arms were around me almost as quickly as I noticed him. They were veiny.

“God, your rack,” Danny said, lightly pinching my nipples. “If I had these I’d be playing with them all day.”

I followed a vein from the top of his bicep as it ran down his forearm. His hairless forearm. Danny had shaved them. Had they always been hairless? Or was Danny on swim team now too? He didn’t have the build for it.

In the locker room, other guys chatted, the teachers in their office at the other end laughed, and… these things are so brash in their clarity that the only option, sometimes, is that they are not the things they are. I apologize, I am being obscure. When I meet up with friends now, old high school friends for a coffee or lunch or a drink, they will say, “I always knew. We all did.” and I will say, “But no one told me.” And they will say, “It was so obvious.” And we will laugh, and I will not know why we are laughing. Things hide in plain sight. You do not see Danny Coleman sneaking up behind you in the locker room. You do not see the way your male teacher flirts with the male janitor. You do not see the clear inconsistencies in your religion, the contradictions in dogma, but you know they are there. And you know you are not supposed to see them. So you don’t. Meteors swoop past Earth and scientists tell us we should have seen it coming. Fascists win elections and the pundits tell us how blind we were to reality. And it might be late at night, and you might have never thought about killing yourself before. You might not have seen how easy it would be, via a jump from a high ledge, one of your father’s guns, by running your car in the garage, or any number of frighteningly possible methods, to pass from the land of the living to the land of the dead, if there is one. And suddenly you see it all.

Danny brought his mouth close to my ears. “You like this, don’t you?” he asked, his soft lips brushing my earlobe, conforming to its curve. They were soft and conformed to the curve of my ear. The warmth and moistness of his mouth mere millimeters away from my skin. Goosebumps spread up and down my arm. My dick hardened. In that moment, I realized it always did when Danny grabbed me.

In Danny’s arms time always went slowly. They were strong, his arms. There was no escaping them, even if I tried. They were sturdy. Comforting. I could go limp in them and he’d still have me. ‘You like this, don’t you?’ he asked again, softer this time, as if he did care whether or not I liked it. As if he would change if I said, ‘No, a little softer.’ I let my legs weaken a little bit. His arms bulged, his vein popped even more. And still he had me.

The smell was intoxicating. The fruity, vinegary smell of his fresh sweat, adulterated by the chemical spice and citrus of his cheap body spray, astringent and overbearing. Why ruin perfectly natural body odor with such obvious artificialities? His skin was so smooth, his body so hard, so strong, his breath hot against my neck, his heart beating underneath it all. Maybe I do like it, I thought. And another part of my brain answered, No, not now.

He gripped a handful of my tummy fat and slid his thumb slowly over it. “You could get rid of this if you actually tried running out there.” His deep voice vibrated against his throat. In ward choir, Danny always had to sing the low bass notes. He wasn’t bad. A little flat, but all basses tended to be. Danny’s other hand left my nipple and started to roam around. He caressed my arm, my side, my back. My breathing shallowed. “I used to have this baby fat like you,” he said. “Keep up with me next time. It’ll melt right off.” How long had Danny been holding me? It had to be longer than normal. Or maybe I was just enjoying it more. Maybe I do like it, I thought again, stronger this time. Maybe this was how Mr. Roth felt when he cheated with the janitor. And the other part of my brain answered again, No, not now. And I thought, Then when?

I needed to pull away. Danny’s constricting hold had loosened enough. I could get out. And there was only so much time left before Danny did it himself. Better to have it be under my own terms. But I didn’t pull away. I held off. Suddenly other paths in my life seemed not only present, but traversable.

Under some force, conscious and unconscious, Celestial and Terrestrial, I pushed myself back into Danny to further feel his body against me. It felt like falling. Falling into his uneven stubble snagging against my neck, and his clearly defined six pack, and his pecs, his tight little nipples that poked out of his shirt at church because he didn’t wear an undershirt. Falling into “faggot” and “nice tits” and his high-pitched, gatling gun laugh that he reserved for his own jokes, and the way he called me “Brother Cook” with rehearsed respect in Sunday school. Falling into his tree trunk arms, and his gammon legs, and his spoiled wine smell, and a hardness bulging against the thin netting of his PE shorts.

In fifth grade, when the school nurse showed us the videotape about sexual reproduction, I learned the word “erection,” meaning “the enlarged and rigid state of the penis, typically in sexual excitement.” The knowledge that I wasn’t the only one who experienced the phenomenon of having an appendage, which previously had the consistency of jello, randomly become “enlarged and rigid,” was comforting. But the word didn’t encompass everything around it. Erection sounded like something you built, something you controlled. It did not seem to indicate the feeling that your body was visibly betraying your inner thoughts, or the shame when you dashed to the bathroom in the morning, hoping no one saw. Not to mention the pressure of realizing you had to produce one should you ever wish to have future children with your future wife.

I pushed further into Danny. The hardness became harder. Oh, I thought. So that was what they felt like when other people had them. Before I could even think, Danny pushed me away, against the lockers. I banged my arm again, tripped over the bench, fell flat against the concrete floor on my back. “Fucking fa…” Danny started to say. Gone was his clement tone, his impish grin. But he couldn’t finish saying it. Because if he did, it would mean something about him—some thing about him. Like that needling saying from when we were kids. “I know you are, but what am I?” Because if I actually was the real McCoy, the fucking fag, then not only he had gotten too close, he would have actively held me there. His face had hardened into a scowl, his eyes were matte. He was thinking. And Danny’s thoughts were never anodyne.

I looked away. And when Danny didn’t move, I picked myself up, and started to change. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to provoke him. He began to take deep breaths. It was coming. Everyone else in the locker room went about their business. Guys chatted with other guys, they got dressed, put on deodorant. Chris Demirdjii pulled on a pair of jeans that were far too big for him and strapped them on with a belt. In the teachers’ office, all the coaches were talking, drinking coffee. If Danny decided to hit me he’d only get a few good punches in before the teachers got to him. And at the very least, I could ball up to minimize the damage.

I was down to my blue plaid boxers, and he still hadn’t done anything. My fingers had gone numb. My clothes, as I grabbed them out of my locker, felt like they had no texture. The only sensation was their slight weight in my hands. Danny needed to punch me soon and get it over with. He needed to punch me soon or… or I would punch him. Yes. I would punch him. How dare he wield such power over me. How dare he claim to know things and things when he was the one with the erection, the one chasing after my body. When he acted more the thing than I ever dared.

I turned to him, still in my boxers, shirt in hand. The numbness had spread to my entire body, as if I had mainlined novocaine. I looked him straight in his eyes. His wide eyes leering right back into mine. They narrowed ever so slightly. His brow furrowed a bit, worried. He broke eye contact for a millisecond. He was no longer trying to take in just me and my stance, but the wider picture, and an escape route. Oh yes. I could punch Danny Coleman. And he knew it.

“What do you want?” I asked.

He returned his gaze to me, his eyes no longer hard and set, but unstable, watery even. Confused. They were beautiful too, his eyes. I had never noticed them. Or perhaps, like Chris Demirdjii, I had, and never allowed myself to call them beautiful. But they were. Amber, with hazel flecks. His eyelashes long, soft. I pulled back to take in his full face. His scowl was gone. His lips were loose, slightly downturned. He was scared. I hadn’t seen Danny so subordinate, so powerless since we were in nursery. It was… exciting, knowing that I had made him this way. And by something as simple as getting too close. I wondered what else I could make him do.

I zeroed back in on his eyes. It was beginning to feel like the staring contests I used to have with my sister. Except with Danny, I blinked freely, as if to say, No, it’s all right. Blink away. But I know you. You’re mine now. And I can do whatever I want with you. And there is nothing you can hide.

Time had stretched out again, and I was not sure how much of it had passed.

“Stay away from me,” Danny said finally, breaking eye contact. He attempted an anxious laugh, but it got stuck in his throat and came out like a small squeak. He walked off quickly and didn’t look back.

I pulled on my shirt, my shorts. Rubbed some deodorant under my arms, grabbed my backpack, put the lock on my locker, pushed up extra hard. The locker room was almost empty now.

Danny was talking with his friends in a circle outside. They all wore tight polo shirts in blue, green, red, or in a particularly assertive mood, pink. The shirts hugged their muscular frames and tightened at the cuffs to emphasize their biceps. You could tell the difference between the boys who got their shirts from the nice store versus the department stores by if the polo shirt had a little piece of embroidery over the left pec, the crocodile or the polo player being the most desirable of these embroideries.

The boys were always rowdy and would routinely break out in violent, cacophonous laughter. It was frightening. Like thunder. Everyone was waiting behind the gates to the PE area, waiting for the bell to ring. No other group was as loud as Danny’s. No matter where you were in the hoard of people, snatches of their conversation would find you. “This weekend.” “So drunk.” “That bitch.” They were allowed to make their mark on the world, allowed to take up as much space as they pleased.

I examined Danny from afar in the group. It was seldom that I looked at the boys outside of the locker room. There weren’t enough distractions. People were more likely to notice. The locker room was a liminal space, nothing concrete happened in there, and so staring outside, in the real world felt active, definitive. But this newfound boldness was surprising to me, and I was taking to it quickly. Why should I not exact on Danny the same entitlement to his body that he took with me?

Danny was looking intently at the boy who was speaking in the group at the moment. I did not know this boy. Perhaps his hair was a little more artfully messy, perhaps the crocodile on his shirt was a bit bigger, but he was essentially a carbon copy of the rest. But Danny looked at him with such respect, such admiration, like he was studying him. His eyes, his beautiful eyes, had that soft openness of the new converts at church, people who have let their barriers down, who are ready to believe anything. Danny nodded at everything this boy said. He smiled when this boy smiled. He laughed a good half-beat before everyone else. The thought came to me so clearly: Danny wished he was this boy.

I wondered if this was how we all are: looking from person to person, hoping someone in this world was doing it right. Danny looked to this boy, this boy looked to someone else, and so on and so on. Where did it end? Our progenitors? God? And who did God look up to? Or was God just the culmination of all this longing?

Danny’s eyes darted to me, and just as quickly they darted back to the boy.

That’s right, I thought. Look away. Maybe I am frightening. Maybe I am too much to look at. Maybe you could never compare to me. And so you hate me. Maybe I am.

Maybe I am.

 


Adam Zane Cook grew up in Redlands, CA, and currently resides in the Bay Area. He received his BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. He is a substitute teacher, and is pursuing an MFA in Fiction at San Francisco State University.

Gil Zamora

Beyond What is Required

 

“You’re going to walk straight into Mexico,” Daniel told his mother. His smile didn’t quite hide his concern.

“I just need to stay moving,” she told him. She grabbed her purse and didn’t bother to tell him where she was going.

I just need to stay distracted, she thought. Her walks had started out of necessity. Julio had been driving her car that night and the Riverside Police Department kept it for further investigation. The first few weeks, there were so many people around, that any errand she needed to run or arrangement she needed to make, there would be an available chauffer. It gave people something they could do to “help.” She could feel them being proud of themselves, while she sat in their passenger’s seat and sighed deeply, almost against her will.

But after the good intentions returned to their normal lives, she still had things to do and places to get to, so she started walking. Getting to work was almost a mile walk to the bus stop. The post office and the grocery store were a disappointing shortcut through an alley that ran behind several cul-de-sacs or a hike around the park that was perpetually under construction.

When the police returned the car, she continued to walk everywhere; trying hard to not even look at the vehicle.

She had taught Julio how to drive. Her voice was horse by the end of the first lesson.

“Watch out!”

“Ay Ma, I know what I’m doing!” Julio responded. He stomped on the gas and the brake at the same time.

“Dios Mio!” she said. “Sabes que? No. No. No. I’m not doing this.”

“No Mami! Please? Mami, please… please?”

No matter how angry he could make her, her son’s big beautiful eyes had a way of undoing her convictions. With a heavy sigh, she agreed and continued the lesson, circling the mostly empty grocery store parking lot.

“You look like an ad for toothpaste,” she said and laughed when he got his license. He was so proud, but all she felt was dread and worry. She tried to shake it off and kissed her son on the forehead and told him he looked very guapo on his picture.

Both of her sons were good looking, but different. Julio’s black hair and dark caramel skin were a polar contrast to Daniel’s light brown hair and fair skin. It was hard to tell they were brothers, except to her they were like a complimentary set. Julio’s soft hazel eyes matched his brother’s light complexion, while Daniel’s eyes were black, making his pupil nearly impossible to distinguish. Julio was two years older than Daniel and they were inseparable.

When Julio was three, he demanded to take his baby brother with him to his first day of preschool.

“He can’t, he’s a baby,” his mom explained and after the tenth time, Julio seemed to accept this fact. The next morning, however, she woke up early and found Julio in his brother’s crib, trying to get little Daniel into his Transformers backpack.

They also beat each other up. Julio’s upper hand as the bigger brother ended when Daniel turned ten and stretched two inches taller than Julio. This did nothing to discourage Julio from claiming he was king of the remote control or flushing the toilet while Daniel was in the shower or tackling him and trying to fart on his head.

No matter how bad the fights—bloody noses, loss of baby teeth, torn comic books—their anger never lasted. On more than one occasion, she had gone as far as to turn the water hose on them. But after everything settled, she figured they’re just young bear cubs and hoped all the sibling roughness would teach them to fight their way through this world.

***

She walked towards the grocery store, knowing there was nothing she really needed to buy. She used to drive miles down the road to avoid that grocery store because it was where she met her ex-husband, when he was a bag boy and she a shy teenager.

Her parents had just sent her to live with her tía. She never imagined her world would become so small when arrived in the U.S. When wasn’t sitting quietly in the back of her high school’s ESL class, she was babysitting her cousins or helping her tía clean old people’s large houses. She didn’t have any social life the first couple of years. Her Tia dropped her off at school and picked her up right after. Only her solo trips to the grocery store felt like daring adventures, and Renaldo, with his smile, his confidence in his English, and his large hands, was the príncipe azul of those adventures.

They married when she was seventeen and he was twenty-one. Since the moment she told him she was pregnant, Renaldo prayed every night for a boy. He picked the name Julio in memory of his abuelito.

“My son’s going to be el mero güey,” Renaldo would say, his gentle and stronger fingers smoothing her bare belly.

Only they didn’t have any idea how much everything would change. Their studio apartment was too small. The baby’s wails and the thumping of the walls from the drug addicts above them, sparked more and more tense arguments. Even with Renaldo’s employee discount at the grocery store, there was hardly money for diapers or the specialty foods when it turned out that Julio had severe allergies to nuts, eggs, dairy, and wheat. Renaldo took a second job and when she told him she was pregnant the second time, he couldn’t even manage a smile.

Julio and Daniel were never that joy that Renaldo wanted, just burdens. She saw less and less of him. Between his full time and the part-time job and drinking with his buddies that she never met, it seemed to her that he only came home to shower, sleep, eat and shit.

When he packed his bags and headed to Jalisco to visit his padrinos, she knew he wouldn’t be back.

He had found another woman, she thought. Before he left, he hugged her and the boys, but it wasn’t the hug of a husband or a father. It was that of a distant relative that had overstayed his welcome. She could feel the pain of his estrangement coming, even with his arms still around her, but she didn’t cry. Neither did Julio who was six. Only little four-year old Danny cried. He did the crying for all of them. He cried for three days straight, resulting in a slight rasp in his voice that never went away.

 

In Junior High, Julio began hanging out in the parking lot of that grocery store, skateboarding with other boys that made her nervous. Around that time, she noticed a switch in him. The light of his hazel eyes went cloudy and sad. He began to distance himself from Daniel, to ditch classes, and she slapped him across the face and yelled at him until one in the morning when she found cigarettes in his room. Finally one day, after he was suspended for fighting, Ms. Hunt, his English teacher, knocked on their door.

“Hi, Mrs. Rodriguez,” said a slightly pudgy, young woman with a beautiful clear skin and big brown curly hair.

Ms. Hunt was nervous and that made her nervous, but she knew how to hide it better. She knew to not fidget and or avoid someone’s eyes. She led Ms. Hunt to the tiny kitchen where she served her a cup of coffee.

“Um, well, I’d like to talk about Julio and the fight… Did he tell you what happened?”

“No… He doesn’t tell me anything.”

“You see Mrs. Rodriguez, he wasn’t so much fighting… but more like defending himself.”

“What happened?”

“Three boys cornered him …and they just started teasing him, calling him names.”

Ms. Hunt looked down at her cup, then took a deep breath and answered: “They… they called him names like faggot, bitch, and um—”

“Faggot?” she asked almost under her breath.

“Yes, and um, they reached down to grab Julio’s, um, privates, and Julio threw a punch, and um, well its Beverly’s stupid, I mean, Principal Beverly’s policy that says since Julio threw the first punch…”

“But, I mean—they were trying to grab his… Does the principal know that?”

Ms. Hunt reached for the milk and pretended to concentrate on pouring a small amount into her coffee.

“Did they get suspended too?”

“Um,” she said after a slow sip from her cup, “no, they didn’t.”

“Mierda.” She was angry. She felt the whole of herself become violent. She wanted to break something, to hit the walls with her fist.

After a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by occasional slurping sounds, finally Ms. Hunt said: “I think Julio keeps cutting class because of those boys…and other people like them and well, I just think, that well maybe, it might help if Julio went to a youth support group…”

That evening, while Daniel watched television in the living room and Julio was in the shower, she ransacked through his stuff. Hiding in his underwear drawer, she found a manila folder full of pages torn from the Sears and Macy’s catalogues with men standing around in their underwear or bathing suits. Julio walked in saw his mother on his bed, holding the manila folder. He froze; his hair was dripping-wet. Then for the first time in years, Julio broke down and cried.

“I’m sorry Mami, I’m sorry Mami. I’m so sorry Mami…”

She wanted to be angry, in fact, she was sure that she wanted to slap him and ask him how he could do this to her. It’s not fair, she had thought. After everything, after all the graveyard shifts working as a janitor in that hospital, saving to buy this small house for them, after trying so hard…

Para que tu me salgas con esto? She could feel the words lodged in her throat, ready to burst.

But with her son standing before her with only a towel wrapped around him; his right eye bruised to a deep violet and his bottom lip swollen from that fight at school, the acid turned in her stomach. Her rage rose. How could someone do this to her boy? Shaking, unsure of what else to do, she extended her open arms toward him.

He fell asleep, whimpering, still only wearing a towel and in her arms. She had never heard Julio cry that way before, the depth of his pain so real, that she was terrified.

***

She walked through the automated doors and immediately spotted Omar waiting in line at the cash register. He was wearing a ridiculously tight gray sweater despite the heat outside. His hair was gelled, slicked back and his I-used-to-be-fat face (as Julio had once described it) was shaven meticulously and only a thin line of facial hair outlined his cheekbones and chin. Before he could see her, she quickly grabbed a shopping cart and sped away.

Omar had first called the house at the beginning of Julio’s sophomore year and the first time she met him, his exceptional politeness told her a lot about him. He wanted to impress her; he cared too much what others thought. When she told Julio this, he laughed.

“Wow Ma. You psychic?” At school, he told her, Omar avoided him like a plague. When they went to mall, Omar needed a cushion of three feet of space between them. Julio answered his mother’s unasked question when he said, “we’re just friends.”

“Que pajaso!” she said, “Mi’jo, don’t let people make you feel any less than you are.”

In the month that followed, she didn’t know what exactly had happened, but the phone ringing would be followed by a serious deep tone in Julio’s voice.

“Omar quit crying and stop being so damn dramatic!” she overheard her son sternly command as she eaves dropped.

When she and the boys had gone out to eat one Sunday, they came home to find one very long and awkward message from Omar, followed by seventeen hang-ups, on the answering machine.

Finally, she overheard Julio tell his brother: “Yeah, he claims to love me and all…but he won’t even sit and eat lunch with me.”

“Man, would you forget that dumb piece of shit?” Daniel asked. “Let me answer the phone next time and I’ll tell that puto that he best fucking leave you alone with his pretending-to-be-straight bullshit… Dumb-ass Drama queen.”

“Nah,” Julio laughed, “he’ll tire himself out eventually.”

A couple of weeks later, Omar showed up at their doorstep, drunk and pleading.

“I’m so, so, so sorry!”

“Please go home,” Julio said calmly, “You want my mom to take you back?”

“No! I want you…”

They dropped Omar a few houses away from his own so that he could sneak in without his parents finding out. Julio answered another of his mother’s unasked questions, “He cheated on me…I mean, it’s not like we were ever an official couple or anything, but he went out and messed around with this other ugly guy and whatever, but, you know, he’s all dumb and saying that I ‘have his heart’ and just dumb stuff like that.”

She didn’t say anything until they pulled into their driveway and although Julio was stoic, and nothing about him was asking for pity, she reached over and stroked his hair. “Mi’jo… there are hombres buenos out there, and maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll both find one.”

They both laughed. It took a while, but Omar’s calls became less and less frequent until they finally stopped.

***

She walked up and down each aisle, pushing the empty cart until she reached the produce section. She abandoned the shopping cart, grabbed a bag of green grapes, paid at the register and left. She suddenly felt very tired. She decided to take the short cut through the alley. Hundreds and hundreds of times, she had told her boys to stay out of the alleys, they’re dangerous.

Warnings, she thought, are so useless. Nothing is ever really safe.

The strong smell of urine distracted her from her thoughts. She covered her nose and walked faster.

Then, she saw a large bucket of paint. It didn’t have a lid on it and it was propped oddly on top of two blocks of wood. She slowed down as she approached it. She stopped directly in front of it and looked inside.

Floating in a half-empty bucket of beige paint, there was a small puppy. She dropped the bag of grapes and some of them, like soft green marbles, rolled across the alley. Her tongue shrank back with a heavy inhale. She closed her eyes, but she could not turn to leave. Slowly, she forced herself to open her eyes.

The puppy’s head was turned awkwardly, as if it was trying to float separate from the rest of the body; as if the neck had been broken when it was being held down. The puppy’s long eyelashes were bent down by the weight of paint and the eyelid seemed sucked in, glued shut by the paint that seeped under them. The puppy’s tongue seemed wedge between its teeth, all beige.

She started to cry, softly at first, but then, she cried without restraint. She dropped to her knees and cried the way she cried when she got the phone call; the way she had wanted to cry when she found out that they crushed his skull with a cinder block. She cried the way she almost cried when they told her that all of the fingers on his left hand were still missing. She cried the way that at the funeral, Daniel cried the black out of his eyes until they turned light hazel. She cried like the way she wanted to cry when a month later, in the mail, she got his college acceptance letter.

 

When she regained enough composure, she emptied the rest of grapes onto the ground and with the plastic bag, carefully scooped the drowned puppy out of the paint. She walked fast making it quickly into the garage, not noticing the trail of paint drops behind her.

Then, she placed the puppy in the mop bucket. She found an old can of paint thinner and poured it over the dog, knowing it might not do anything to remove the paint.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said. “I’ll bury you.”

She hid the bucket in the corner of the garage. The fumes mixed in her a strange calmness, and, light-headed, she went inside to the kitchen to wash her hands, to find Daniel and to start dinner.


Gil Zamora received his BA at San Francisco State in Creative Writing and his MFA from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He has had poetry and prose in Coe Review, Carnival and Verdad. Gil spent a large chunk of his childhood in Riverside, California and still manages a run with his cousin on Mount Rubidoux when he visits.

Tim Hatch

Across The Room

A boy gasps and cries

in Spanish

for his mother.

 

Metal slides on metal

as the key

lime curtain

parts for the doctor.

He gives me lavender

 

paste and tells me to drink.

My face freezes

in disgust

and then softens as the pain

washes away, like chalk

 

off a sidewalk.  I sink

back, muscles relaxing.

I feel        fragile.        Uncertain

 

if I’m still here by God’s grace

or dumb luck and I wonder

 

if maybe you felt this way.

Was it the promise

of death or your unreliable body

that left you wide eyed and afraid

to go

to sleep?

 

Three weeks gone

and I haven’t given you a tear.

 

I curl into a sideways prayer

on the gurney.  Across the room

the boy wails for his mother.


Dad Survives His Third Open-Heart Surgery

Don’t worry, Dad, you’ll be

talking again soon.  I’ve watched you

breathe through tubes so many

times, but I can’t stop looking

at you like someone I don’t quite

recognize.  When did you get

 

so goddamn old?  Your hair stands

wild, sparse, like a balding troll

doll in its seventies.  I want to laugh

but there are so many tubes growing

out of you.  I try counting them

but I get to your face, wonder who

you are, and lose count.  The two

largest spill out of your bed

ending in clear containers, slow

 

drip collections of blood and piss.

If you’d died under the knife, things

would be so easy.  You’d be

the father who could never live

down his mistakes.  I’d be the son

who didn’t learn how to forgive

in time, and everyone would understand

the burden of my guilt.  I could

be brave in the face of grief.  Live

my life.  It would be an easy

 

easy lie.  I used to punch

the brick wall in the alley until

I couldn’t hold a pencil.  What kind of son hates

his father like that?  What kind of man

sits next to his father’s hospital bed, sees

a lifetime of Christmas guilt and Father’s

Day backhands instead of a sick

old man on life support?  Dad, why

can’t I hold your hand and tell you

not to worry?  That this won’t last?

 

Greg walks in, presses his cheek

to yours, holds his phone like a mirror

says, “Don’t worry Dad, you won’t

remember this,” then leaves, nodding.  I envy

his approach to shitty memories.

 

Somewhere inside me there’s a slow

leak.  I know there were never enough

years to begin with, and I remember

when I threw away a prayer for you

to suffer like this every day.  I’ve wasted

so much prayer, the shame smothers

me, like a desperate hug.  No one

 

deserves this.  Your new scar, dried

blood and surgical thread, laced

through welts of old scars, looks like

a black worm eating its way

up your chest.  I drag my fingertips

across my own stratified scars

each one a permanent reminder

that you and I will always be

you and I, and I hope—

 

It’ll be alright, Dad.

Try to sleep a while.


Six-String Rising

Rouge on pale cheeks, blush

coins that somehow miss

your hollow eyes, face

 

emaciated, face white

like porcelain, like a doll

so white I want to draw on it, paint

 

your real face, not this

sunken still-life of starvation

and shame, this isn’t

 

you, this    empty    thing

in front of me, an abandoned

Cadillac, left to rust

 

in a long-forgotten wheat field I

want to see your face

again, see the smile that says

 

yeah, this is happening as you

play slide guitar with a burning

candle in a room of screaming

 

women, the smell of possibility

everywhere

I want to watch you raise the dead

 

again, with a pick and six

strings, make them dance, John

feral things, make them

 

sing a three-part harmony with God, sing

a rage of life

sing a story into being, sing of life

 

life, goddammit

who will sing

for you?

 


Tim Hatch writes poetry that explores themes of abuse, fragility, and our human obligation to one another.  He earned his MFA at Cal State San Bernardino, and his poetry has appeared in East Jasmine Review, The Vehicle, Touch: The Journal of Healing, and Apeiron Review.  He teaches English at Mt. San Jacinto College, and his collection of poetry, Wild Embrace, is forthcoming from Pelekinesis Publishing Group in early 2018.

Natalie Crick

Night Fires

It is night.

Smoke curls around me,

Enveloping in it’s touch, sustaining

A soft drifting of thought,

Languid spell of memory.

I wish it were always like this,

Moonlight reaching into every corner,

Burning it raw.

My withered eyes are like

Cherry stones lamenting

Their lost sweetness,

Singing like a shadow.

Speechless.


Plums at Night

The night is plum-dark.

Horses hang in the depths of sleep,

Haunches gleaming blue-black as

Dripping dusky fruit,

Skin enticing touch,

Misted by the press of my thumb.

I want to bite right down

To the hard grooved core,

Flesh dense as

Blood in lungs,

Pulse of the heart

Throbbing to be licked,

Thirst and murmur and desire

Rolling the tongue as the

Horse’s eyes

Turn to their whites in

Fright.

Wide and open as a cage

In the belly of the night,

Asking: ‘Do I dare?’

 


Natalie Crick, from the UK, has poetry published or forthcoming in a range of magazines including Interpreters House, The Penwood  Review, Ink in Thirds, Rust and Moth and The Chiron Review. This year her poem, ‘Sunday School’ was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Cynthia Anderson

Scenes from a Marriage

I wed the one

most like myself—

my mirror image,

washed and trimmed.

No one could fault

the rightness of it—

how he grinned,

close-shaven—

how I matched him,

beard and heart.

Each day I clipped

the captured shell—

sometimes to win it,

sometimes to give

it back. He was hard

to know beyond

appearances—

what you saw was

what you got,

a dandy dressed

in lacy white.

I indulged his whims—

it pleased us both.

Until it didn’t.

You know the rest—

the long haul, the rocks,

the wreck.

A voyage better

not begun, but one

that made me.

I learned what

I was and wasn’t—

and kept my own

counsel at the end.


Domain

Two ravens fly in tandem,

so close they almost collide.

They swoop and glide against

the vault of heaven, full

of backlit, biblical clouds,

plying the wind as the sky

darkens. There’s a storm

aloft, clouds bruised blue,

swollen to the north—

while here the sun plays

with shadows, like ravens

play with air, teasing it

and each other in this dance

where neither quite touch.

You watch. Your heart

wants to open, you know

this much. Before

your world snaps shut,

you would call out,

hover, let the gale

sail you away.


Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poetry collections include In the Mojave, Desert Dweller, Shared Visions I and II, Mythic Rockscapes: Barker Dam Trail, and Mythic Rockscapes: Hidden Valley. She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravenswww.cynthiaandersonpoet.com

Andrew Aulino

Remainder

You left me a lucky street to work in,

this historic district with pro forma

moss between shifted brick.

Movement without looking:

where memory folds

into the architecture both of

cinder-block and hours.

Each in ten years of day is

a transparent pane tinted

with your filament..

 

I pass through the neighborhood park

often under the footbridge

with its reliefs, its mice, its mass of birds.

moving on two places,

foot on brick and years.

 

You are every bird

under the bridge,

their hauntings of noise,

and the flock when it moves.

 

If I could pluck one out in midflight,

grasp it biting and slapping me

I might stop replacing vision

with memory for a moment,

see the street as feral and elusive

as the beginning, distracted with

scrapings in the dormer.

 

I lingered once for

hours past midnight;

when crickets retook

their human voices

to talk among themselves


 

Borrachera

 

1.

The Datura opens here.

 

It’s easy to love

all those names;

dhatur, dhattura,

white thorn-apple,

moonflower, locoweed in Los Angeles,

kanak and unmatt,

toloache, datura-

blanca, burundanga and

borrachero, and to

say each one

as long as it will stay in the mouth.

 

I’ve been a little drunk myself

 

even before I swallowed

(jimson-weed and Jamestown weed, as well)

the sharp seeds;

just spoke them slowly, like chewing.

 

2

On the lawn, a

shoot’s slow roar of growth

has become a tree,

spread uncurling

branches hung with flowers.

They tangled every jogger through Sunset Junction.

 

Long blossoms,

bell shapes of

oblique white,

their day-color.

 

It’s a “tree”, it’s a “flower,”

one when it’s not the other, a

bell when not a flower,

a plant and

also (I read) medicine, and poison, and more.

There’s a name for all of it.

.

At night it isn’t a tree or flower..

Stalk and verdure vanish in the dark.

The flowers lose their bodies

in a mass of white fire,

phosphorescence

alight midair

 

3.

And now day.

I set datura here,

as if it were a shoot

and this paper a lawn,

set by the gate for emphasis.

The flowering of the page.

 

It can’t keep still.

 

On heavy roots, it manages

escapes,

slips from its plot to

bud and flourish,

burn, wilt, always

elsewhere.

 

I have it right

beside the front gate;

all mine,

offering nothing.

A flower flowers;

here is beauty, take some.

 

I have been a little maddened–

 

sat under it for a night and then another

to put my arms around fire, for.

some wider kind of having.

 

That’s no way of having anything:

 

This grasping was a failure.

I repeated it every time I spoke the name

hoping I could shape  flora

with sound in the hollow of my throat.

 

It came to be better taken in

 

to chew the leaves,

swallow hard-edged seeds.

My spine in an upward twist

blood like fire down a hall,

glowing with it.

An assignation:

the datura has me by the flesh,

It does what it wants with me.

 


Andrew Aulino began spending time in with San Bernadino, Riverside, and Irvine during his early years in the Southwestern United States. He became familiar Inland Empire during many trips spent crossing California with family.  He expanded this familiarity living in Los Angeles, where he retains personal ties. He currently lives in Sacramento.

Jared Pearce

I Walk Along

To get to Benito Juarez Elementary, I walked over

South Hill, often with Jason and Eric and Tracy and Lauren

and once Jennifer who tattled on me for hitching a ride

On my sister’s banana-seater.  Drivers must have

 

Seen my sister struggling up the hill with my added weight,

And how the kids cheered us as we roared down to the light

On Sunkist, and all those adults let us go.  In class

We had been learning bicycle safety so that one day

 

I could ride my silver Roddy—upon which I’d dashed

The river, leapt the dust trails, skidded up and down Virginia

Avenue—but Jennifer and Mrs. Ruble were not impressed,

 

And two hundred fifty times I had to write, I will not ride

On the back of my sister’s bicycle, the pencil slower to push

Than uphill pedals, the limp of my cursive taking its dull toll.


 

Golden Poppies

The nova in your middle holds your flares

Stark against the deadest Iowan greens.

As a child I feared imprisonment for

Plucking you, one more star in Hollywood

Beyond my boyish grasp.

And now you’re here,

Ascending in the new place I call home,

Rooting my spinning galaxy in used

Ruts, the very lanes my dreams would orbit

And unfurl, shining through the dark matter

Of wishing, of wasting, of failing those

California Summers and Wisconsin

Winters, of losing my way as I lost

The scent of oranges, the ocean’s rush,

And how I had been divinely ignored.


 

Golden Poppies (4)

In this summer’s drench

you were lost:

the dawn of your brain

never outreaching the water-grass

 

Horizon, and there are no stars,

then, to trace

back to California,

the constellation of my memory

 

Unfurling a golden age

blazing as the stroke

of your hot petals,

a golden hole burnt

 

In Iowa’s green sea, calmly

folding me in its constant wave.


 

Curiosity Kitten

Lauren and Spring

were the queens we’d show

off for on our bikes;

the season for guessing

 

Women was ripe.  Jason

kissed Tracy before

the whole class,

and Bart groped Kathy

 

In the back, and Eric sniggered

over a poem where the speaker

put his wintered hand

on a comforting pussy—

 

We were at love’s mouse-hole,

hoping for that mystery

to peek its nose

so we could claw

 

It and make it a feast:

we couldn’t name

what made Misty’s body

or Jeanie’s smile so

 

Delicious, but if we stilled

that ball of string,

it might be mastered,

like a sparrow spiked—

 

That flying thing,

what’s it like to peal those feathers,

to touch those scaled feet,

to taste that weird beak?


Walking up a Hill

Jason, Tracy, Lauren, and I gathered pebbles

From the steep side to toss over the wire mesh

Atop South Hill and onto the north-bound Five

Traffic.  We didn’t know a penny-weight could,

Like love, smash a shield, or a pea-sized stone

Wreck a life, like a lack of understanding.

We wanted some sound, some gravity.

We must have looked like we were celebrating

As we lunged at the sky to lob our stones over the grill,

Until a driver came around, cracked his window,

Get home, before I call the cops, and

Jason and Lauren took off like shots,

While Tracy and I walked, wondering

How long we’d be in prison.

 


Some of Jared Pearce’s poems have recently been or will soon be shared in Nixes Mate, DIAGRAM, Infinity Ink, Otoliths, MUSE, and J Journal.  He grew up in Anaheim, California, now lives in Iowa, and misses the ocean and the mountains.

Larry Burns: Inland Empire’s take on Indie Author Month

Since 2011, writers and readers of independently published works have designated October as Indie Author Month.  What began as a small group of publishers and writers from around Indianapolis has grown into a national celebration.  Coffee shops, libraries, universities, theaters and more, opened their doors this month to celebrate something that millions of us try each year – writing! As a writer with a foot in traditional publishing, but a much longer history with indie publishing, I wanted to understand how the Inland Empire put this month to good use.  My writer’s training took me first to Jurupa Valley, then Claremont, and ended in San Bernardino.

On October 1st, the Riverside County Library System proudly started the month off with a day of indie author events hosted by Inlandia Institute. Taking place at the Louise Robidoux Branch Library, authors, editors, publishers, and advocates provided timely information about the state and purpose of independent publishing.  During the panel discussion, each demonstrated the winding and often varied paths that brought each of them into writing. All were energized by the variety of voices, as well as the emphasis on new voices.

This event served to highlight an ugly fact of our Inland Empire literary landscape:  a dearth of literary agents based in the Inland Empire.  Nobody in attendance could name a single one. Given a piece of independent work will not have the built in support of a national publisher, it is even more important for indie authors to have supporters to promote exceptional writing. Most, including Ruth Nolan, editor of Phantom Seed, started new publications just so there were places that could champion new work.

On the western edge of Inland Southern California, Pitzer College featured an indie event dedicated to the publishers themselves.  October 5th’s Small Press Fest, funded by Pitzer’s College Campus Life Committee and spear-headed by Brent Armendinger, focused on the interplay between independent publishing and social justice.  It was great to see a regional college take on this task.  Like libraries, they have a built in love of the written word, self-expression, and new ideas. It makes sense that higher education would eagerly find ways to support this knowledge sharing and the book crafting enterprise.

What stood out was the varied shape and feel of the books offered.  There were series of short tracts and tightly folded, accordion-style books, pop out books, books on all sorts of papers was popular.  Another stand out was the emphasis on marginalized voices, voices of women and people of color.  At the panel discussion, the overarching themes were social justice and how to create a sense of community with small presses. Amanda Ackerman with eohippus labs summed it up simply when she stated, [small presses] rely on idiosyncratic forms, information, and distribution”.  The result is a product that looks, says, and does things differently from traditional presses.

San Bernardino Public Library, Feldhym Central branch, celebrated Indie Author Day as one of 200+ libraries participating in a virtual town hall, panel discussion, and book sales on October 8th.  Program Coordinator Linda Adams Yeh provided a space to explore how each genre approaches self-publishing. Horror stories, detective tales, children’s books, fanzines, comics, graphic novels, biographies, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction offerings ensured everyone in attendance could go home with a new book.  The day featured two writers sharing best practices and processes to support artistic aspirations by drawing upon personal experience and community connections.

The nation-wide virtual town hall included an Indie Author Day panel discussion led by Jon Fine. Jon is a media consultant and the previous long time Director of Amazon’s Author and Publisher Relations. He led a panel of writers, librarians, and entrepreneurs speaking about what drives independent publishing.

Novelist L. Penelope spoke about what inspires the indie writer, stating they “want to get [their] hands into all the specifics” when it comes to the writing process. She shared what she did during that year of writing her first title.  Alongside her novel, she prepared an extensive marketing plan. She incorporated the selling of the book into her creative process.

Lessons worth remembering? First, no matter what form publishing takes next, quality writing will still be priority one.  Second, you can find great homegrown writing with a mouse click or a trip to your local bookstore. Third, independent publishing is a time-tested method to explore new ideas and sustain a vibrant, local arts community.