Tag Archives: books

Talking about writing

I’m returning to my drafts. This was something written …I’m not certain, maybe 2011. It was summer when the events took place; the conversation in the bar in New York. I don’t know the season when I wrote it or when I read the books I had mentioned, but I’m fairly certain I was in Portland, Oregon. So many mysteries. So much to review.


I remember sitting in a bar in New York city, maybe three years ago, talking with my friend about writing. It was an English pub. The type you see all over New York and every major city. Some people may know the difference between an Irish pub and an English pub, (flags are a good indicator) but do they ever notice that the wood on the bar is different, I swear. I think English pubs’ wood finish (or the wood itself) are darker than Irish pubs. It was just an observation, but this is not about the difference between an English or Irish pub, it is about having a conversation about writing, in New York, and having this conversation over a pint of beer (something Belgium).

My friend is a good writer, an intellectual writer, he went to Grad school. There is no tone of cynicism in the above sentence. He worked hard, and has always been an intelligent critical thinker. He worked hard to get into and out of Grad school. It was the subject of Grad school that garnered the conversation about writing. I was in New York to see another friend’s art opening. She had just Graduated from Pratt’s MFA program in painting. I was there to see her art show, but also to check out some grad schools for myself. I went to Columbia and sat on the green lawn of the white college with its false Corinthian columns and early American colonial moldings. I knew that Kerouac and Ginsberg had dropped out of this very prestigious school (well Ginsberg graduated, but not without a suspension first). For me, the school symbolized everything not “meant” for me: “Ivy league, rich, and prestigious”. I’d never get in, and if I did I’d never be able to pay for it, and honestly, it wasn’t about the program as much as it was about the name. Still the school was on my wish list of desired schools, along with Brown another not “meant for” me school. I also visted to the New School and spoke with an entrance advisor and she gave me a tour. It was spread out among Greenwich in lower Manhattan and felt very urban. Although, it has its own set of prestige it wasn’t Ivy league which felt more accessible. Both Columbia and The New School are great schools, but I didn’t apply to either. I didn’t apply to anything. I have a lot of hang-ups when it comes to education, and my ability to get into a program, and then my ability to pay for that program tends to get ahead of my attempts at trying. Plus, I am an excellent self saboteur. All I need is a few moments in my head and voila the dream dissipates into apathetic wishes! Still, at the time that I was in New York I was telling myself that I was actually going to apply, and I wanted to talk to my friend about his experiences as an MFA writing student.

Back to the English pub in New York. My friend, who went to the New School,  had mentioned that while there he really felt that he was finding his voice. This subject of voice had come up a lot in my writing classes as an undergrad.  Voice and audience. A lot of the time this is what is talked about, isn’t it? What are you saying, how, and who are you talking to? I think in many instances this is not too difficult when you are dead certain who your audience is and what you are writing. Say it’s an essay or an argumentative paper, or maybe you are a genre writer, and you are writing a romance; a thriller; a mystery or so on, and you have a formula that you follow, and a voice that makes your formula unique from other formulas. You’ve got your voice. But what if you don’t know? Or worse yet, what if you don’t want to have to even abide to an audience or have a set voice? Is that ignorant? Naive?

I’m reading Let the Right One In, (the English translation), and I have been noticing the simplicity of it. Small short simple sentences, short chapters and short descriptions. I’m reading through it fairly quickly, and I am a slow reader. It is a genre story a vampire story which is a popular genre, but it has its own unique voice, and is creepy more than scary -so far-. I am also reading The Grapes of Wrath. The sentences are long and descriptive. The chapters are long and it is taking me forever to get through, and not because it isn’t interesting in fact, it is riveting and beautiful. But it takes longer, Steinbeck is in no hurry (and why should he have been, reading was what people once did for entertainment).  It has taken 160 pages before the Joads have even left for California and that is what the whole thing is about; the dream of California. It has taken 103 pages in Let the Right One In, and there has already been two murders, some terrible information about child prostitutes, and horrible school bullies. Don’t for a second think I am comparing the two, there is no comparing, but there is a definite difference in style and who the writers are talking to. So, as a writer am I supposed to pick between these audiences? “Obviously”, in this fast paced marketing world no one wants to take the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath, but I don’t completely believe that because I am taking the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath. I am also reading, Let the Right One In; who so far in the vampire genre tears the throat out of Twilight, but John Ajvide Lindqvist (it may or may not be translated) isn’t Stephenie Meyer and their audiences are not the same.

All this rambling is coming to one thought, why can’t I write to both? I am obviously reading both. I read Jane Eyre, and I loved it, but, I also loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also like to read the Walking Dead graphic novels. Why do I have to pick this magic solo audience? So I can make money? This shit just tears me up. I know when I meet with my “teacher/mentor” in September I am going to have to say who my audience is and possibly talk about voice. I hate it. I just want to write short and long descriptive sentences that tell a story that may or may not appeal to people, oh and yes I’d like to make money so that I can write another story with long and short descriptive sentences that may appeal to old and young audiences alike or may not be liked at all. The truth is and the reason I struggle is because I haven’t found my voice and I think the real frustration lies there.

What did I learn from my writing conversation in New York? That my friend is awesome and knows his voice, and I assume he has a good concept of audience. I also learned that I have far too much of a hang up about it. A hang up that impedes the process of finding it. I know I can never market my writing if can’t tell someone what the hook is. I have to stop worrying so much about the market and the audience because when I am worried about the market and the audience and who is even going to bother reading the shit I write, something happens, and what happens is I don’t write.

I didn’t come to this conclusion while I was in the bar in New York, three years ago, I came to it right now, because I was thinking, about the incredible structural differences between the two books I am reading and the fact that I, a non intellectual, non ivy league,  low-income woman from the foothills, is reading both books and enjoying them both. Perhaps just perhaps, our commercial marketing world does not give the audience much credit for having a wide range of interests, but that is not their job.

Anyway, and but, for the sake of POSTERITY, and bringing this post full circle let’s say I did have this conclusion in the English pub in New York. Better yet, how about I had it after I said good-bye to my friend, who is currently living and writing in another country, as I stood on the platform in the subway station. I watched my friend’s train leave and between wondering which train I needed to take to get me back to Brooklyn, I thought about how I need to ease up on the worrying about the market and the agents and just focus on the love of writing for writings sake. I like that visual better because when I put it in that setting it seems so much more profound. They say you can rewrite your history. So I just did.


Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs talking, talking, talking and discussing.


Dialogue- How to Write it. Some Advice from Old Professors

For some writers writing dialogue is the worst part of writing. they feel like they just are not able to write a believable conversation. This along with all techniques of writing is a practice, practice, practice, and read, read, read, exercise, but a few tips on how to write good dialogue is also useful. As with everything in crafting your writing there are techniques. I taken many writing courses in my past (my present not so much), and I’ve collected and kept most of my notes. I took writing courses in the 90’s at Chico State California University, and in the 2000’s at Portland Community college and Portland State University. Many of these notes on dialogue are taken from various writing courses. I’ve carried these notes with me over the years, and looked back to them from time to time to give me some advice or insight into my writing. Unfortunately, I can’t attribute which part came from which professor as everything slowly over the years mashed together. 

Why use Dialogue?

Dialogue can be used to move the story forward. It serves a purpose, y ou want it to revel tension between characters. Ideally. (But, you can do whatever you want.)

Use dialogue in creative non-fiction if:
A) It focuses on a moment of explicit tension between people-or
B) It focuses on a moment of suppressed tension between people-or
C) The dialogue revels someone’s character, either through expression of what they believe, or through their idiosyncratic way of stating something.

One of the most important things to remember when writing dialogue is to avoid meaningless preamble to a real exchange (unless you feel that it is essential to the story to put in meaningless preamble- kind of like David Lynch putting a white horse, a giant, and a dwarf in Twin Peaks- what was that all about?) For example read the boring exchange written below:

“Hi. It’s me.”
“How are you?”
“All right. How are you?”
“I’m all right.”
“What are you doing?”
Yes, sure people really do talk like that because let’s face it most of the time we have boring interactions called polite fiction, but no one wants to read it (unless you have a true purpose for it).

Get to the point:
“I want to talk to you about last weekend.”
“Last weekend never happened.”

OOOO Tell us more.

There are three possibilities for how dialogue can be delivered:
A) Summary dialogue, or the brief report.

It’s efficient and suggests conversation, but doesn’t give much of a sense of how things were said:

Mary said that she had never seen Star Wars and she was happy about that decision.
Mark said he was destroyed.

Literally destroyed, but not literally because then he would be dead and wouldn’t be able to say anything.

B) Indirect dialogue, which is more detailed than summarizing but is not directly quoted:

Mary said that she despised Star Wars and everything it represented so much that she had destroyed Mark’s entire video collection, and he deserved it. After all, he had begun to call out for Luke Skywalker when they made love, (what?) and why should she put up with that? Mark said he was crushed; he had no idea she was so upset, and saying he called out for Luke Skywalker was a slanderous lie.

(Yeah, he didn’t call out for Luke Skywalker while they were making love he called out for Han Solo)

Video collection probably gives an idea of how old these notes are.

C) Direct dialogue, the most dramatic form, happens in real time as opposed to the other forms:

“I’m so sick of your love affair with Star Wars I could scream,” Mary screamed.
“I’m so sick of you!” Mark screamed back.

You can intermix the three types, with good effect.

Some extra notes on dialogue:

The writer Jerome Stern says that adverbs in speech tags sound corny.

For example: “she said kittenishly; he responded sneeringly; she hissed angrily.” If the dialogue is well chosen, the feelings of the character will be clear. If it isn’t no amount of adverbs will help the reader feel the character.

So listen to Jerome Stern unless you are writing a detective or a romance novel then keep the adverbs because it just wouldn’t be the same with out them. Here’s a nice blog post that high lights some of his views on dialogue. You can also read one of his books on writing. 

A good way to “tag” dialogue so you don’t have to say “she said/he said” is to follow the lines with an action or a thought by the speaker:

“Did you really think I’d be willing to spend my life with a Star Wars freak?” Mary pulled off her engagement ring and threw it across the room.

Or you can write like James Joyce and really confuse the hell out of your readers as to who is really talking. “Is this the narrator or the speaker?”:

Stephen looked down on a wide headless caubeen, hung on his ashplanthandle over his knee. My casque and sword. Touch lightly two index fingers. Aristotle’s experiment. One or two? Necessity is that in virtue of which it is impossible that one can be otherwise. Argai, one hat is one hat. -Ulysses,pg. 192

But you should probably know what you are doing before you make the readers work so hard.

Learning to Write by Reading

I’ve nearly forgotten how to do this. Days, months, year’s have gone by and I haven’t written. I’ve written a comment, or a post on facebook, a journal entry here or there, but no real writing. The last post I’d made on this blog was in 2016. It is now 2018. Two long years of not writing.

I can not say what brings on writer’s block. Apathy perhaps. Depression, mental fatigue, life fatigue there are so many reasons. At this moment the why doesn’t matter to me. Right now, what matters is the “How to get out of this rut”. Up! Up! and out. My writer’s mind has been too much like Sartre’s No Exit, and I’m ready to find a door. I need a door. We all need a door. Not for any particular reason other than to DO something.

I’ve had a student for nearly 3 years now. A poetry student. We meet via Skype once a week and discuss his poetry. My boyfriend has recently expressed an interest in writing, and I gave him the whole spiel on ways to improve the writing processes. I gave him all types of advice on building the craft of writing. I talk like I know what I’m talking about, but get me to the table, and there is nothing. Get me to the table? I’m not even getting to the table. I have always struggled with the things I want to do. If someone gives me a task to do for them, I’ll do it. If it’s something for me, I don’t do it. Maybe there is some deep psychological belief that say’s that I don’t deserve it.  Again, I don’t think it matters much; the source. I’ve written posts like this before, many, many posts, and the result is the same. I say some thing about how I’m going to change, and then I don’t. I’m an addict. Addicted to not fulfilling my own dreams. Some day I’ll get a head doctor, and we can explore. Maybe if you are stumbling across this post you too have had a similar pain of not being able to write. Today, I’ve decided to write down some tips I had offered my boyfriend and my poetry student. Maybe, one or two of these “tips” on improving your writing will trigger something in you and you’ll get up and go to the writing table. I hope you do. I hope it serves you. I want it to serve you as much as I want it to serve my boyfriend, and as much as I hope it will serve me. One day. Maybe. My last post from 2016 was about reading like a writer. This post continues where I had left off.

There is no order or rule to follow just think of it as learning from your teachers. We stand on the shoulders of greatness may they lift us to the stars.

1. Read books, but study them too.

I can’t remember the professor who taught me about private plagiarism. Stealing to learn. You may shudder at what I am about to tell you to try, but the key to this practice is not to publish what you write but to learn how other’s write. When you read a book you should read it for enjoyment, and if you really loved the writing, if you love the author then go back and study the writing. Go through your book like you are taking a lesson on the craft of writing by (author). First, find all of the words you don’t know and build your vocabulary. Sure as you read for enjoyment many of the unfamiliar vocabulary may be understandable in context, but don’t leave it at that go back, find that word, write it down and define it. Put the definition in your own words. Write it in a sentence. Use it. Put it in your vocabulary bank, and one day when you are writing that word that perfect word that you needed will rise up and be there for you.

  • I’m studying Tim O’ Brian’s The Things They Carried. I love the book. I think his writing is eloquent and moving. He carried me through the memory of his and the other soldiers’ experiences in The Viet Nam war. I’d like to learn his voice, and take what he has so graciously offered to me in his book.
  • I know a lot of the vocabulary in Tim O’Brian’s book, but it didn’t stop me from digging a little deeper into the meanings of things.

I wrote down the names of many weapons used in the war so I could see and know what these weapons could really do to a person and how much they weighed. Claymores, bouncing betties, toe poppers, bandoliers and more. I wrote down places in Viet Nam that O’Brian mentions in the book. I also looked up words that I knew, but at the same time felt unsure of because of it’s placement in the sentence, for example:

As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet.

  1. Hedge /hej/ noun: A fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs.

  verb:   A. Surround or bound with a hedge.

B. limit or qualify (something) by conditions or exceptions. (Ah ha, here, I think to myself, is the meaning he is using.  So I write some synonyms: confine, restrict, limit, hinder, obstruct, impede, constrain, and trap. I think that perhaps he is using the hedge as both the verb and the noun, as the verb to protect and as the noun in a metaphor to surround him self with boundary like a fence of protection.)

  • Your own words: A wall of bushes or a fence something to keep people out or from seeing into your space. To place a limit on something like a caveat.
  • Your own sentence As a hedge against further roommate arguments we put together a list of guidelines regarding the use of shared rooms.

2. Find a sentence you love.

Write it down. Then copy the sentence using your own words. *Remember to write a note that you copied the sentence from another source because if you don’t you may forget. The you’ll think you wrote this brilliant line and it turns out you stole it. On accident of course.

His eyes had the blueish gray color of a razor blade, the same polished shine, and as he peered up at me I felt a strange sharpness, almost painful, a cutting sensation, as if his gaze were somehow slicing me open. (p.46)

Tim O’Brian, The Things They carried

What an intense sentence. When I first read it I thought, “God, if only I could write like that; come up with a metaphor like that. So I might as well practice the craft.

Copy the sentence structure with some of your own words. Comma for comma: Pronoun, noun, verb, article, modifier, modifier, adjective preposition, article, modifying adjective, noun, and so on.

Her eyes had the greenish black of a bottomless forest lake, the same somber darkness, and as she looked down at me I felt a strange pulsing, almost painful, a drowning sensation, as if her stare was somehow pulling me down into the abysses of water. –Mine


This can be tedious. This can be joyous. If you are in a rush to write the novel, and to find your great voice maybe you don’t want to play around with other books. Perhaps for you it is merely a resistance to the actual act of writing, and you just want to get on with it. You should do what you need to do. I’ll do what I need to do.


Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 214-221

Endres held my hand as we ascended the stairs to the front door. The palm of his hand was cool and soothing. The street smelled like dirt and piss. It needed to rain. We sat on the stone sill of the basement window and listened to the roars from the Norwegians and what sounded like the turning over of furniture.

“Ahh Annnnnna this is so nice.”

I thought it was okay. I was drunk, it smelled like piss, and I was tired. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t go home with Marco. I supposed that I must have liked Endres, but I was starting to want my bed more than this young man. I rested my head in Endres’ lap as he played with my hair. I could go to sleep right there looking at the world from a Dutch angle. The night was a beautiful cerulean blanket waiting for me to close my eyes.

“Did you wash your hair today Annnnna?”

“No.” I said. My eyelids were starting to feel heavy, “I’m afraid of the shower.” I mumbled.

I could smell raspberries the scent was so strong I felt like I could taste them. I was certain that the scent was coming from Endres. People stumbled out of the bar laughing and holding one another up. They looked over at us and said something then stumble away like they were conjoined. Cash clumped out soon after the couple, and stepped into my frame of view. He bent at his waist his hair cascading to the ground as the tangled ends brushed the dirty cobblestones. He was eye level to me, his face side ways, his torso twisted. He looked into my face and then with his finger he traced my eyebrow. “Look how it arches so perfectly above za ie.”

He stepped back to look at me as if he was getting a better view of a painting. “Beautiful.” Then he turned and clumped away into the dark street.

“You are beautiful Annnnnna.” Endres said.

“Thanks Endres.” I said with a heavy sigh. I used his knee to push myself up as straight as I could sit.  I didn’t feel beautiful. I felt dirty and like shit. I felt like I needed a cleansing.

“Would you maybe meet me at the park tomorrow?”

I climbed and pulled myself to a standing position, using the brick-stone wall. That sounded like an amazing idea to me. I hadn’t gone to the park since the first day I had arrived.

“I would love to.” I said with a nod of my head.

“I think if I would need to find you I would. I think that I would be out walking and maybe run into you in the park. There is a place where you can see the castle; it is very nice. I find I spend a lot of time in the park. It is a very nice place.”

“I would like to meet you tomorrow.” I said imitating his cadence.

I leaned down to kiss him. It was our first kiss, and I had intended it to be sweet and short like a peck as if we were fourteen and trying out love for the first time. He grabbed me in a feverish embrace pulling me to my knees, and scrapping them against the sidewalk. I tried to cry out, but Endres had his mouth on mine, and the only sound that escaped was a high-pitched mew. He kissed at my ear.

“I want you so badly Anna. I want to be with you.” He whispered.

“Yes. I’m getting that,” I said, repressing a laugh. I climbed back up the side of the building scurrying and clawing like a rodent. I jumped to my feet and then rubbed at my knees. I immediately thought about sex with Endres. I imagined having zippers get stuck, and hitting a nail that happens to be sticking out of a wall or falling out of a window to my death because of some farcical stumbling while trying to get busy.

“I need to go. I’m tired and want my bed.” I said.

He stood up and grabbed my shoulders. “You need to go.” He said pushing me.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I said holding my hand up in a wave.

He smiled and I spun around and ran down the street toward home.

I slammed the door behind me and cringed. “Sorry sorry.” I said to no one in particular. Using the walls as my guide I slid into the kitchen. Koontz was sitting in the easy chair. He looked up at me without a smile.

“Did you get rid of him?” He asked.

“Yes. I threw him away.”

“Good. Stupid Norwegians.”

I walked toward my room, and as I did Koontz jumped up to hold me, but I shoved him back down into his seat. The momentum of my push caused me to stumbled back against the doorway. I was sick of people grabbing and pulling at me. Marco walked into the kitchen from the front door.

“Hungry?” He asked.

“Yes.” I said at the mention of food. My now drunken reptilian brain completely forgot about Koontz. “Where’d you go?”

“To the gas station.” He pulled out a wrapped sandwich and placed it on the table in front of Koontz.

“Oh no. I can not eat.” He said.

“Are you sure?” Asked Marco.

Marco and I exchange concerned glances, and we both look back to Koontz.

“You sure, you’re sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes.” He answered.

Marco and I sat down at the table as Marco pulled out two other sandwiches taking one and giving another to me.

I unwrapped the saran and opened the sandwich that looked like ham with tomatoes and lettuce, “Are those eggs and pickles on the sandwich?”

“Yep.” Said Marco eating.

“Weird.” I said before taking a bite.

Without a word Koontz got up and walked into Francisco’s room.

“Where’s Francisco?” I asked with my mouth full.

“Didn’t your momma teach you no manners? Don’t talk wit-chor mouth full.” Said Marco.

“Sorry. I’m drunk.” I let out a loud, ha, and took another bite.

“I saw him stumbling toward the A-Krop.” Marco said.

“He was very drunk,” Yelled Koontz from the other room.

“He’s fucked up. I think he’s getting drunk easily because of the stuff with the doctors.” Said Marco.

“Ahww yeah.” I chewed my food with thoughtful machinations then swallowed. I took a deep breath then blew the air threw my lips in a drunk bored manner. “Or,” I said, “ maybe it’s because we started drinking hard liquor when the crow started and now it’s the next day. Technically the next day.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Marco said as he rose and then stumbled into our plutonic room.

“Hey Annabelle.” He said as if a thought just hit him, “Will you do me a favor and listen for the door for Francisco? Because I know I wont be able to hear it to let him in.”

“Yeah sure.” I said. Then I sat alone in the kitchen, just staring, and chewing my sandwich, thinking of nothing.


A repetitive buzzing pulled me from my dreams. It was persistent and aggravating like a horsefly biting into my mind and eating my REM. I opened my eyes. It was still dark in the room. I craned my head back and saw Marco in a deep sleep. I heard the buzzing again. I rolled out of bed feeling groggy, and swayed one way to the other as if I was walking on a ship deck. I shifted like this till my equilibrium balanced out. I was supposed to do something, but I couldn’t remember what. I looked into Francisco’s room and saw Koontz asleep and snoring loudly on the couch, but no Francisco. The buzz came again in rapid succession like gunfire. I turned and picked up the receiver of the phone.

“Hello? Hello?” My voice was hoarse with the dust of sleep.

I knew I was walking around, but I had a hard time pulling myself into my waking life. No one answered on the other side of the line. The buzz started again, this time long and deep. I looked dumbly at the phone in my hand then around the foyer as if some clue where the noise was coming from would jump out at me. I hung up, and the buzz came again. Suddenly, from the muck of my brain, I remembered that Marco had asked me to listen for Francisco, and Francisco was not in his bed, so through a painfully slow deduction, I figured the buzz was from Francisco at the building door. I should never try detective work. I hit the button that unlocked the building and pulled open the front door.

There was the sound of someone clomping up the stairs slow heavy clomps, like an elephant or a drunk. I left the door ajar and then ran into my room and jumped into bed so I could avoid getting into a conversation. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him, I didn’t know him yet, really, but the real issue was that I figured by now he would be so inebriated that he would try to talk to me as he half hung out the window, something I noticed that he liked to do. This hanging out the window of a five-story building caused me a minor amount of stress especially when he was so drunk he could barely stand. He must have had a death wish; he’s tempted it more than once. There was a crashing sound from the kitchen. I threw the covers over my head and fell asleep to the sound of glass breaking.

There was a long loud moaning sound. I rolled over to face the door, and stared directly at Franscisco’s crotch. He was prostrate and spread eagle on the floor wearing his ridiculously tiny boxers and using a beer bottle for a pillow. I could have sworn I had shut the door before falling asleep. He moaned again. I looked toward the window. It was still dark outside, but I wasn’t sure what time it was.

“Francisco.” Marco yelled from under his covers. “I have to wake up in an hour.”

It must have been around five in the morning. Marco had to work early. I had no idea how he kept time. He had some sort of internal working clock.

Francisco answered Marco’s request with another longer moan. Marco threw his covers off his head, and reached over to the door and slammed it shut. I closed my eyes and fell back to sleep.


I awoke to yelling. The kitchen door was open, Marco’s bed was empty and made, and Francisco and Koontz were spitting out the kitchen window and laughing. I was not ready to face those two animals. If this was how it was going to be every night and day now that Francisco had returned I needed to find a new place. I thought about the English girls, and pictured myself trying to become an amateur drug dealer. I remembered that Francisco had screwed them over and took all their money as payment for “helping” them sell. I pulled my covers up over my head, and turned away and managed to fall back asleep even to their screaming.


The next time I woke up, anxiety grasped my sternum and sent a shutter of nerves to my brain, and I sat up holding my hand to my chest. My breaths where thick and rapid. I felt panic like I did before I first left for Prague. I looked around the room. The flat was quiet. It was possible that my freak-out before I left for Prague may have been a premonition. I didn’t want to be a drug addict or an alcoholic. I climbed out of bed and tiptoed to look into Francisco’s room. Koontz and Francisco were passed out. I had to get out of the apartment. I ran on tiptoes into the shower room stepping over ear swabs, gel, and towels. I brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face, and then walked back through the kitchen that looked as if an earthquake shook it to pieces. Francisco’s beer pillow was still on the floor. I dressed and rushed to the park to meet with Endres.


Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 209-214

Feste’s was raucous and crowded, and most of the commotion was coming from our area. I looked at my beer. I didn’t think I could take another drink. I was pretty drunk. We’d started in the morning and the whole day just turned into one extended shot glass of Bekerovka. It was like we were swimming in it. Eight or nine of us were gathered around a table near the bar. We met up with Koontz’s band, whose lead singer was a screaming, aggressive, brown dreadlocked man with a permanent scowl. He had a thick goatee and huge unkempt lamb chops. He wore black and torn hand-stitched clothing, and every sentence he said was punctuated with a fist slamming against the table. Marco sat between the singer and another band member, dwarfed by their size and staring into his beer. I felt disengaged almost high. I knew it was because I was tired, and I just wanted some quiet. I didn’t know exactly how we had gotten from the apartment to Feste’s. There had been so much drinking, and yelling, and spitting. I couldn’t figure out why I was still there and why I wouldn’t just leave. I’d gone numb. My fingers clasped my pint and I vanished into the swirling bubbles floating at the top. Occasionally, I would look over to Marco and start giggling at him, at the way he sat, expressionless, between the two Norwegian giants. He was probably wondering how the hell he had gotten there in the first place. I was wondering how he ended up in the middle.

Francisco, who had been wandering indiscriminately around the bar, brought a Czech girl named Ruby to join us at our table. He was in his element, matching the lead singer with every yell and slam of pints and fists onto the tables. Ruby, who was just as loud, shook her head when she yelled and her bright pink flapper bob shook wildly like it was on fire. Her wiry arms were covered with self-made tattoos, burns, and scars, and multiple black plastic bracelets and silver bangles that dangled from her wrists. She preferred to stand and swing the heavy wooden staff that she was holding in her hand. Francisco whispered into her ear. She pushed him away from her and slammed her staff onto the table. I looked at Marco who remained seated in a seemingly catatonic state.

“Hello Annnnnna.” Endres fell into the chair next to me. I wondered why he was so thin and quiet while his fellow countrymen were so big and loud.

“Hey, Endres.” I said. I was relieved to see him. To imagine the drug angel as the calm in the sea of giants was comical, but I couldn’t have been more grateful to see his throbbing and dilated pupils.

“When you left Annnnna, I fell back to sleep, then when I awoke I had time to think of you.”

I looked at him as he swayed forward and then back in his chair. “I thought,” he said, “about how you left and how nice it was to be near you. A girl I lived with back home her and I did what we did last night, what do you call it?”

“Sleeping together?” My words came out slowly and hesitant like a question. I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about. He was confusing me. Every moment felt heightened and confusing.

“Sleeping together.” He said, “It was nice. I think it was good Annabelle. Not making love but sleeping together.”

I felt my head spin a second, and I sat up straight. There was a loud bellowing yell as the Norwegian death metal singer slammed his fist on the table. With every outburst everyone in the bar turned to look at us. Canada Mike looked at him with a nervous expression as he wiped down a wine glass. Endres stood for a moment unfazed, and said something to me, but his voice was drowned out from all the sounds. I looked over at him swaying. He looked as drunk as I felt. I gave him a meaningless nod of my head and then looked back to my beer. I couldn’t hear anything. The room had turned into a giant single rumble, and my eardrums were humming. I slid the beer onto the table, and then slowly turned away. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going but my body wanted to move. I didn’t feel sick, but I needed air. I walked past the table. Koontz grabbed me, and pulled me down onto his lap. He squeezed me tight around my waist. I didn’t have the strength or energy to fight him off.

“I like you.” He said looking up at my face. “I don’t mean I want to sleep with you; I just like you.”

Endres stumbled back to his seat.

“You like him?” Koontz asked me.

“Sure.” I said, sighing. I just wanted Koontz to let me go and leave me alone. I was tired. I hated people pulling and grabbing at me.

“You should go to him.” He said giving me a gentle push toward Endres. “Get off me.” I said swatting his hands away. I was annoyed and drunk. I shuffled back to my seat forgetting why I got up in the first place.

Somewhere between my swatting Koontz’s hand and returning to my seat pandemonium had broken out. By the time I sat down the singer had Koontz by the neck and his back on the table. He was screaming in Norwegian into Koontz’s face as he shook him. Koontz had his arms out holding his hands up in submission. Everyone had left the table except for Marco who held his drink closely to his body, as he stared emotionless at the wall across from him.

“What happened?” I asked Enders, but he didn’t seem to notice the choking that was taking place a few feet away. This was how waitresses got their throats slit in alleyways next to telephone booths.

Ruby started laughing and jumping up and down cheering the singer on. She swung the staff around. I waited for the cane to make contact with any one person’s head. I couldn’t seem to react as the bar blew up into absolute anarchy. It all felt so wrongly normal. Marco was vacant. He had no reaction to the chaos that was ensuing around him. He was centered between the two death metalers. The dreadlock guy had to reach over Marco’s body in order to grab Koontz’s neck. I wondered what Marco was thinking right at that moment. Suddenly, Ruby began singing to Marco, and dancing. Like in a striptease act she dropped to the ground, and carving figure eights with her hips, holding the staff between her legs like a pole, she slithered up the staff then slammed it onto the table as she climbed onto it and starteed crawling across the table toward Marco. The singer had Koontz by the shirt and had pressed him up against the wall, which gave Ruby tons of room to crawl as people quickly grabbed their beers before she knocked them off. Koontz and the singer screamed at each other in a slicing language. I knew things were happening in a rapid succession, but every moment had been condensed into what felt like an extended minute; a time-elapse, it was like watching thunder storms fly over a midwestern sky. I looked back to Marco. He looked bored. I looked at Endres. He looked stoned.

“I’m gonna make love to you all night long… Gonna make love to you…” Ruby crawled onto her hands and knees and leaned into Marco’s face, nose to nose, and sang louder.

“I’m gonna make your juices flow.”

He shook his head like he was done. He took another sip of his drink then set it quietly onto the table.

“I’m gonna make you sweat.” Ruby straddled Marco who promptly stood up with her legs still draped around him. She hung on Marco like he was pregnant with her. He turned to Francisco, peeled her off, and held her out as she squirmed and kicked.

“Can you take this please?” He handed her to Francisco.

Francisco held her trying to avoid her fisted swings and punches.

“Get the fuck off me! Where is my goddamn it fucking American boyfriend!” She said thudding her open palms against Francisco’s broad chest.

“It’s not me.” Said Marco. He climbed over chairs that had been tossed to the ground during the fight and drunken band members who had returned to the table to watch and cheer the fight on.

“I’m going home,” he said to Endres and me.

“I’ll be home in a second.” I said.

“Suit yerself.” And he left the bar.

“Would you like to go outside?” Asked Endres.



Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 204-209

The man grabbed three shot glasses from the shelves above my head and immediately poured the liquor into each one. He turned with a drink in each hand one for me and one for Marco.

“I see you’ve met Koontz.” Said Marco looking with disgust at the shot. “Mutherfucker didn’t you hear me in there puking out my spleen. I’m dead man. My shit is fucked.”

“You’re funny, Marco.” Koontz said as he pressed the drink closer.

Marco relented and took the shot. With a resigned moan, I grabbed my glass. I knew how this day was going to go. Friends in town, even ones we don’t know, and it’s a celebration. I sneak in from not shacking up in a dorm room, it’s a celebration. Marco throws up from the night before, it’s a party. I was getting to know the drill. I felt a little laissez-faire to the whole thing. I really just wanted to go to bed. Koontz picked his shot up from the table and held it up high over his head. “We toast. To friends and crazy days.”

Marco and I glanced at each other. We both had the look of defeat: drooping eyes filled with water and down-turned mouths, not that we put up much of a fight. With simultaneous shrugs we knocked back the sweet powerful shots of Becherovka. I was already wondering why I made such a bad decision, and so early in the morning too. I usually wait until noon before making such a bad choice.

Koontz howled, his head bent back toward the ceiling, and slammed his glass on the table. He pulled the glasses out of our hands as Marco lurched like he was about to gag but managed to just release a short convulse.

Koontz poured three more shots.

“Oh fuck.” Said Marco, and he rushed into his room and slammed the door. Leaving me alone with Koontz. I looked to the door shocked and dumb. Why would he shut the door? That bastard.

Koontz turned to look at me. I rushed to sit in the chair as if sitting in the chair was the safest place to keep from getting an embrace. It was about the equivalent to putting my head under the covers. As Koontz moved toward me I grabbed the shot glass and held it to his chest, stopping his forward motion.

“To American pants! ” I said and swallowed my drink with a throat-burning gulp. With my thumb I pointed back toward the shower room. “So I think I’m just gonna-’

Before I could finish he spun my chair out to the center of the kitchen and climbed onto my lap.

“Marco!” I yelled. I also laughed because I could not believe this scenario was actually taking place. I had just consumed two shots of hard liquor before eleven a.m. and now I had a pygmy wrestler sitting in my lap. What were the odds? I just wanted to sneak into my bed.

He put his head to my chest like a child. “I want you.” He said.

“Oh. My. God.” I moaned. “Listen,” I said trying to get up from the chair. “I just want to go to sleep. By myself.” He moved his hand toward my face and I grabbed it with a firm squeeze. He looked at my clenched fingers like it was a romantic gesture and then back to my face and placed his other hand on the back of my head, like he was petting my hair. He smiled showing several crooked yellowing teeth. The entire act was non-threatening, but it may have been that I was tired and already felt buzzed, so any fear I should have had over some stranger creeping all over me was lost, but if he tried to kiss me I was going to punch him. I figured he’d probably like that, though.

“Marco!” I barked. “God Damnit! Come out here!”

Marco pulled the door to his room open and stared at us for a moment. “I’ll leave in a second so you two can be alone.”

“No!” I yelled, and I shoved Koontz off my lap. “No, no non no. What the hell? Do you think this is mutual? Koontz is trying to molest me here. Aren’t you? ”  I said turning to Koontz.

“Yes! Yes! I like a lovely woman.” He roared out a laugh.

“Some friend and protector you are.” I said crossing my arms.

“Shiiit girl—” I never got to hear Marco’s response since Koontz interrupted him by jumping up and lifting Marco off of his feet, and spinning him around.

“Put me down mutherfucker! I ain’t your goddamn girlfriend.” Marco struggled against Koontz’s embrace.

As funny as it was to watch him swing Marco around the room, I decided to make a break for it. I made a quick dash for the door, but Koontz grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me into an embrace with Marco. “I like you both.” He said squeezing us both tightly and nuzzling into us like we were pet bunnies.

“Oh Christ.” I moaned.

Marco looked at me from over Koontz’s shoulder, the edges of his eyes wrinkling into a narrow scowl.  “This is your fucking fault.” He said.

Koontz let us go and grabbed the bottle to pour more shots then pulled a couple more beers out of the paper bag.

“My fault?” I said rubbing at my arm. “I didn’t bring him home. You knew his name.”

“I didn’t bring him home either.”

Koontz raced around the kitchen like a spastic child.

“Did you load him up on Pixi Sticks before bringing him home?” Marco accused me.

“What? Me? I told you I never saw this guy till I walked in a few minutes ago. Then next thing I know he’s putting my hand to his heart. Where the fuck were you last night anyway?” I said.

“I don’t remember. To his heart? Hmm girl that weren’t his heart.” He looked me over and a mild smirk danced over his face. “Where were you? Comin’ in this mornin’ mm chil’?”

“Do you remember this guy?” I pointed at Koontz who beamed a smile at me then held out two shots.

“Yeah. He’s with some Norwegian Death Metal band.” Marco said taking the shot glass and holding it in his hand.

“What? You mean like burning churches and eating each other’s brains?” I grabbed my shot.

“What the fuck is you talking about?” He swallowed the shot.

“Something I read once.” I drank my shot and threw my head back.

“That’s some sick shit.”

We both handed our glasses back to Koontz . He immediately poured two more shots and held them out. We stared at the shots.

“There’s so much fucked up about this moment, Marco,” I was beginning to whine, “I cannot even bring words to my mouth.” I grabbed my shot from Koontz’s hand and spilled the liquid over my fingers.

Marco grabbed his glass and mumbled something about being sick.

I watched as Koontz stuck his head out the window and began to howl.

“So if you didn’t bring him home, and I didn’t bring him home, how did he get here?” I asked still watching Koontz bark and howl at the construction workers.

Marco and I heard a moan from behind us. We turned to see Francisco standing in his tiny boxers and stretching in the doorway, his body filling up the entire door space.

“Whaaaaaat’s going on here?”  He said with a yawn.

“Put some goddamn clothes on man.” Marco’s face was contorted and pinched, “Nobody here wants to look at your package.” He threw his shot back. “Shit’s disgusting.”

Francisco chuckled as Koontz ran to hug him and then brought him a drink and they toasted. Francisco drank then threw the glass into the sink and it shattered against the metal.

“Goddamn it.” Marco tossed his arms into the air. “Now I gotta steal more glasses from Feste’s.” He let himself fall back into the recliner and pouted.

I was starting to feel loopy from the last couple of shots mixed with the drinks from the night before. I looked at Marco. “There’s no escape.” I really wanted to feel sober right at that very moment, but I knew the day was lost. I had a choice, I still had a choice, but I was swept up into the early morning madness. It was senseless and I knew it.

“No goddamn escape.” Yelled Francisco spitting out the window.

Koontz danced around the room stomping and howling and spitting.

“Don’t leave me alone with that guy.” I whispered to Marco.

“Don’t you leave me alone wit’ em.” He whispered back. “My shit is fucked.” He said as he dropped his head into his hand, and closed his eyes.

I looked at him curled up in the chair and I stared at the CDs circling his toes. The potential for this day was lost. I knew it. Marco knew it. I watched Koontz and Francisco drinking and spitting out the window, occasionally howling toward the morning sky. This was Francisco and Koontz’s day, and the potential had not even been breeched- they were the minions of chaos. It wasn’t hard to figure out how Koontz got into the apartment. I didn’t know where this day would end up. I hoped it would be in my bed, by afternoon, and alone.


Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 193-200

I walked through the double doors and headed toward a door that opened into the backyard that was built out of an old courtyard. It was bucolic in a druggy kind of Warholian fashion. Blankets were spread over the small grassy plot. To one side of the courtyard was an actual garden with leafy greens sprouting from the ground and thin tall sticks with twine to make tepees for beans and flowers. The remainder of the small yard was a hard patchwork of grass and dirt. I sat on an empty blanket and drank my wine looking at all the various people that were sitting, laying or milling about. There was a mellow bohemian air to the crowd. People spoke in quiet tones and intimate gestures. I didn’t know any of them. I adjusted my shirt a bit, sat crossed-legged and stared off into the garden. There was a scent of lilacs and cake in the air. Sandy had baked a traditional beranek cake for Easter. I was told it had looked like a lamb, but what I saw passing from hand to hand was more like a slaughtered ameba. A guy wearing a black top hat and stripped bell bottomed pants walked into the garden carrying a guitar and a folded wooden chair. He placed the chair at the edge of the garden, between tomato plants and dangling beans, and sat down. He strummed a few strings of his guitar before he began to play The Velvet Underground’s, What a Perfect Day. I felt suddenly like I was sitting in a photograph.

Sandy ran out giggling and holding up a bottle of white. “Hold yor glasses up if you want wine.” She yelled.

People cheered and held up their glasses. I held up my empty glass and Sandy poured it to the top then moved to the next group. Someone made a joke about her needing a wine skin. Jiri rushed out and grabbed Sandy around her waist and maneuvered her and the wine back into the hostel to the soft boos of those sitting outside. I took a large drink to keep my wine from spilling. A woman with glittery face paint held out her hands; she had a crayon in one palm and an egg in the other. I smiled but shook my head with an involuntary wrinkle of my nose.  I didn’t want to color on eggs. I was certain that this crayon coloring business was not a Czech tradition in the decorating of eggs. I was certain it was a “we don’t have any money for dye so let’s use crayons instead” tradition because other than Demitri not one person could color a decent egg, and he was Russian not Czech. I watched the guitarist’s fingers slowly strumming over the strings, his brush so light it seemed as if he wasn’t really touching them. I started to notice a heady feeling, like a contact high, from all the milky people clouding around me. Either that or I was already feeling drunk from the wine. I looked down into my overflowing glass that was more like a chalice by the abundant pour that Sandy offered in her short-lived role as Bacchus.

Endres stumbled through the door in his usual fashion. He wasn’t sober today. He noticed me, trip-walked his way over, and sat beside me on the blanket. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled with a hum.

“I had a nice picnic in the park Annnnnna.”

“Hmmm.” I said, not having any response. I took a gulp of wine and set my glass on the ground. I thought about getting up, but Endres stopped me by laying his head in my lap. I looked down at him, and held my arms up in question. I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t expected to have Endres’ head in my lap. He had his eyes closed and a smile played over his lips. I looked to my wine glass then back to Endres.

“I need to be on drugs, Annnnnna, so I do not think of my first time in Prague.” He mumbled.

Endres’ eyes were almond shaped, and when they were closed they looked like smiles on a happy face. He was really very beautiful. His skin was smooth like porcelain, not a blemish. It was his coloring that was off sometimes, like he would appear blue-grey or with light plum circles under his eyes. But most of the time he was a soft ceramic white with just a faint dusting of blush. Something about his fine features, his sharp nose and chin reminded me of the feminine. I wondered what it would feel like to pull my fingers through his messy hair, and I moved a hand toward his forehead, but I stopped short and set both of my hands on the ground behind me. Now I had a male drug-addicted angel’s head in my lap. Seemed like a perfect scenario for Easter. I looked up at the sky. We stayed like this in silence for a moment until my leg began to get uncomfortable.

“Endres, I’m sorry but my legs are falling asleep. Here you can use my bag as a pillow.” He lifted his head as I removed my legs and placed my bag under him. I stretched my legs in front of me, massaging them for a bit. Endres kept his eyes closed. I wondered what time it was. How late had I slept this time? Endres had already had a picnic in the park. I had thought it was still early since the streets were so quiet, but maybe it was just that everyone was at home with their families. I flipped over onto my stomach beside Endres.

“How long were you in Thailand?” I asked pulling out a blade of grass and wrapping it around my finger.

“Mmm. Nearly a year.” His eyes were still closed.

“How long have you been traveling?”

“Nearly three years. But I do go home in between.”

“How old are you?”

“I am four and twenty.”

“Can you guess how old I am?” I asked still playing with the blade of grass. That was a stupid question; I wish I hadn’t asked it. I sounded juvenile. I realized I was flirting. This was my flirting. Terrible.

Endres turned to his side facing me and leaned his head on his palm. “It is hard to tell.”

I felt a blush wash over me as Endres examined my face looking for my age. I caught sight of Francisco from the corner of my eye as he walked from the door into the courtyard. I sat up in relief at the chance of breaking this awkward moment, and waved to him. He smiled at me, and tossed an orange in my direction. I caught it over Endres. Francisco turned back inside.

“It must be night.” I said looking up at the dusky sky. “How’d I not notice?” I began to peel the orange by first puncturing it with my nails then tearing back the skin. The rind perspired sweating drips of citrus odor onto my fingers.

Francisco returned holding two glasses of wine. He handed the white one to me.

“How’d you know?” I asked surprised.

He shrugged and set his wine down, then picked up an egg and a crayon. He sat behind me and leaned his back against mine. I could feel the heat from Francisco’s body beating against my back. Even with my initial apprehension on meeting Francisco I felt comfortable leaning up against him for support. I couldn’t figure it out. I had a sense that Francisco wasn’t to be trusted and yet he felt protective, like a guardian almost. I decided to stop fixating on it and just let it go.

I peeled off a part of the orange and handed it to Francisco. I fed a slice to Endres as he lay looking up at me. I was not the kind of woman to feed orange slices to a man, but this was not real life. This was an art film. His eyes were hard blue, striking and somewhat insane. His pupils dilated with a rapid pulse.

“Whoa.” I said, “Your eyes just did something freaky.” It was freaky like a snake’s or cat’s eye.

He smiled up at me. I fed him another orange as if pupils pulse into the size of a dime and then back to the size of a pinhole all the time. What kind of drug did that? Whatever it was it made him mellow. I took a drink of my wine. I felt Francisco move against my back as he scribbled with brisk jerks over his egg.

“I remember things I say Annnnna.” Endres said to me.

“That’s nice Endres.” I said feeling pretty warm from the wine.

“What I said to you the other night.”

“That you thought I was attractive?” I said.

I felt Francisco chuckle his back shaking mine. I felt a flush of embarrassment. I handed him another slice of orange from over my shoulder. He took it from my fingers. I took another drink of wine. I really felt like Francisco and I were bonding.

“Where’s Marco?” I felt Francisco shrug.

The sky was continuing to darken as people passed around ribbons to tie onto sticks. It was that perfect light — the magic time that photographers and filmmakers love when the light is bouncing off the spectrum and pulling out the deepest, sharpest colors.

I felt Francisco growl in frustration over his egg.

“You know I think it is going to be too dark for an Easter egg hunt.” I said.

Francisco tossed his egg and crayon into the grass and abruptly rose and headed into the bar.

It was now dark and starting to get chilly. I lay back down onto the blanket beside Endres. I felt fine being alone with him out in the Easter night. I was drunk on wine.

“I love Prague.” He said up to the sky. “Don’t you love Prague, Annnna?”

“I don’t know if I do.” I said.

“Really?” He sat up and looked at me, his expression hidden in the shadow. “You are the first person I have met that hasn’t loved Prague.”

“Well, I don’t know if I do or don’t yet. I mean, I guess it’s not what I expected. I mean my street is kinda trashy.” I said taking a drink. I was drunk and starting to feel a little cold. “Can I wear your shirt?” I asked.

“What? Are you cold Annnnna?”

“Yep.” I said feeling a shiver move up my back.

“I have a shirt you can borrow up in the room. You know Annna, a lot of beautiful art comes out of trash.”

“Yes. Yes it does.” I knew he was right.

Endres stood up and helped me to my feet and led me, wine glass in hand, into the hostel. He walked me up the first few steps into the hostel then asked me to wait for him for a second as he went to grab the shirt. I leaned on a window ledge and finished my wine. I set the glass down on the ledge beside me. I wondered where Marco was and why he wasn’t here. Endres returned. Handing me the shirt he sat next to me on the ledge. I drunkenly pulled it over my head.

“Would you like to share a splif with me Annnna?”

“Sure.” I said.

We sat on the staircase and shared the splif in silence. Once we finished Endres stood up and helped me to my feet.

“I think for tonight I am going to bed.” Endres’ said.

“Oh are you leaving?” I felt my weight sway back just slightly.

“Yes. Tonight I am tired.”

“Well, can I stay the night with you?” If I hadn’t felt so drunk and stoned I would have been surprised at my boldness. My sober side gave me a thumbs up on the forwardness- you go girl– it said.

“What Annnna? Oh no. It is not nice. It is not a private space. It is full of people.”

“I don’t care. It’s not like we’re going to do anything. I just want to sleep.” We were facing each other holding hands like we were about to play London Bridges.

“I don’t know Annnna. Why would you want to sleep there?”

I shrugged. I didn’t have a smooth answer or any answer.

He looked at me for a minute and then dropping one hand and grabbing the other tighter he led me up the stairs to the communal room.

It was a large room with multiple bunk beds and backpacks, sleeping bags strewn around. We stepped hand and hand over bags, and some people who were on floor cots. Endres let go of my hand and made up the bed as I swayed from one side to the other like a top winding down.

“I’m sorry Annnna,” he whispered, “I told you it wasn’t that nice.”

I shrugged and climbed onto the bottom bunk where Endres was assigned to sleep. I pulled up the covers and scooted in toward the wall. Endres got in after me and snuggled up behind me spooning me with his body. He pushed my hair aside and put his face into the back of my neck, and that is how we fell asleep with 25 strangers.