Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Power and Magic in "Firebirds Soaring" (Firebird/Penguin)

Here's a little bite from "Power and Magic," a story written for Sharyn November's brand new Firebirds Soaring (Penguin, 2009). It's another experiment in the world of the Southern Rural Fantastic, a tale of insects, romance, teen lethargy and energy, a teenage boy magician, and the sultriest kind of Southern heat. The short story is set in north Georgia and was written especially for Sharyn's anthology.
This slice from the early portion of the story doesn't give anything vital away. It shows the narrator, India, with her two little-girl neighbors, Maudie and Clarisse:

Clarisse marched over in her mama’s emerald-green shoes, gouging the dirt with stiletto heels. They came to a point at the toe and were embroidered with gaudy little stuck-up flowers made out of ribbons.
The English language just about buckled under the strain of those shoes. I thought. I mulled. I drew together the considerable resources of my eyebrows and started knitting. It would take a ten-dollar word to cover those babies.
“Phenomenally ugly,” I said at last.
“What?” Maud came to look.
“Your mother’s shoes,” I said, propping myself on an elbow and addressing them: “Shoes, you are the ugliest, stupidest shoes I have ever seen in my life. You are a disgrace to cobblers everywhere.”
The shoes didn’t answer, even though they were the loudest damn things I’d ever seen. But the girls and I wrangled back and forth about whether these were the ugliest shoes or whether they might be somehow special and even a dratted work of the shoemaker’s art. I won, of course; they’re just kids of eight and nine, and besides, I’m dead smart. Afterward, I suggested that Maudie stick a mimosa blossom on the toes of the shoes. She did, but the flowers wouldn’t stay on.
“You’re just growing. That’s why you’re such a slug. That’s what our mama says.” Clarisse lifted her chin as though she had ambitions to be snooty, even though she’s nothing but trailer trash.
“Oh, she does, does she? I’ll have to have a word with your mama. This just happens when you grow. If you ever grow—which I doubt, because you’re probably doomed to be a midget forever—you’ll find out. Your blood turns to honey.” I rolled onto my back and stared at the branches.
“I thought you said somebody took out the blood and pumped in honey and molasses,” Maudie said suspiciously.
You can’t fool her.
“Yeah, well,” I said; “that, too. It was bad enough before they started in with the needles and pump.”
In the silence that followed, we could hear the cicadas throwing their rackety summer shindig in the pines behind the yard.
“I’ve got a mind to call the sheriff and get him to lock up those cicadas.”
Before I could hear what Maudie had to say to that one, I let out a yowl and erupted onto my feet.
“She got up,” Clarisse noted.
“Fire ants,” Maudie said with authority, watching me rip open my shirt.
By the time I was done tap-dancing around the yard, shaking down ants, I had five big welts already starting to itch.
“I hate this place.” I buttoned up, and then bent to inspect my legs for ticks.
“Want to go look at the crickets at the bait shop?” Maudie put her hands on her hips. “Take your mind off things.”
“What things? You sound like your mama,” I said.
“We can’t go down there alone,” Clarisse said; “but we can go with you, if you want to go.” She gave me a sly look.
“You could ask, if you really want to go.” I felt thoroughly disgusted. My arm was bruised from the fall, I’d been bitten up, and I was still stinking hot.
“Will you take us?” She looked ridiculous in those shoes, with the broke-necked doll under her arm.
“You could ask in a polite fashion,” I said; “If you know how.”
“Will you please take us?”
“No.”
After that came another silence. Clarisse looked as if she wanted to hurl the shoes at me, but she didn’t.
“Can I give you some advice, Clarisse?”
She didn’t answer.
“Don’t have sex, okay?”
Maudie was outraged. “She’s only just turned eight.”
“Yeah, I know, but the way she acts . . . She’s going nowhere fast.”
“Says who?” Maudie kicked me in the shins, and I escaped into the crotch of the mimosa tree.
“Says me. Look at those shoes. Clarisse is going to get pregnant if she doesn’t watch it. I bet she can’t even add in three columns.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Maudie thumped on the tree.
“I am not going to get that—what you say,” Clarisse shouted.
“She’ll be thirty years old, banging on a cash register at the Piggly Wiggly and giving everybody the wrong change,” I said.
“I will not give everybody wrong change!”
Just when they were going at me and I was ranting in fine style, Erl Jack Falchion shot into the yard, throwing up gravel, and jumped out of his truck. He wasn’t born Erl Jack Falchion, but that’s his name now. People hardly remember what the other one was, and I’m not going to tell them. I’ve known Erl Jack since we were babies parked nose to nose on a bed. He got his name fixed when he was twelve. My gran says he paid for the change with his own money that he earned picking in the fields. His mother signed for it. He probably had to pay her for the signature, too.

Soon I'll post some images (a scrumptious jacket from Clive Hicks-Jenkins) and blurbs for Val/Orson... There are insects and there is romance in that one, too, although in an entirely different style. I'm glad that I finally wrote a long story that is entirely in and on and of the trees.

14 comments:

  1. I love it. No wonder we like each other. I think we have the same sensibility! Those shoes are great.

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  2. Robinka,

    I'm a bit obsessed with shoes because of my fan-shaped feet. The darn things never fit right. Me-shaped brands: Rieker, Merrell, Hotter...

    Trala for kindred souls--hope there are more out there somewhere!

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  3. What a delicious bite that is!

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  4. Hi jarvenpa,

    I hope all is very well with the bookstore and you and yours! I'm trying to get back to posting, but things have been over-busy...

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  5. your so awesome M

    easy spirits are good shoes for me. I have a pair of Mary Janes that I teach it and are really good.

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  6. Thanks, Miss Susannah. You're awesome too in your own inimitable way, being a splendid deconstructive speller and person of gusto.

    Still have shoes on the brain. My daughter had an organ lesson today. She has to have shoes just for playing the organ... They're not all that lovely, organ shoes.

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  7. Nice work. I don't read this sort of thing on my own, so I very much appreciate your stretching my taste horizons!
    Fan- shaped feet must provide lots of stability, so that's something to be grateful for!

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  8. "This sort of thing": I find that interesting, but don't really know what it means! I have over the years written in what other people perceive as many different--sometimes wildly different--modes, from long blank verse to historical diving to the fantastic, but they always seem unified to me. One can't get away from oneself, no matter where one goes--or who or what one becomes in transformation.

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  9. How vivid and rich your word images...and so many intriguing waving threads in so few lines!

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  10. Waving? Must have been the zephyr!

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  11. ha!
    You know...a snippet with loose threads that, in another place, are all connected...hey, it is "fantastic fiction" after all.

    my mind is turning that phrase over and over:
    "speculative fiction."
    cool.

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  12. Perhaps those threads were the first fragile stems from your garden, then! Waving in the breeze...

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  13. "Power and Magic" was one of two of the most noteworthy stories in the anthology for me. Kudos.

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  14. Ah, thank you, Pam--I was feeling edged in blue today, and that cheered me!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.