online magazine for short, good writing

Month: July, 2012

5 Books You Should Read

by a contributor

from Ana Cristina Alvarez, author of Support:

Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman
This concise, traumatic (and unfinished) story follows Ivan, a man who has spent the greater part of his life in the Soviet gulags, as he returns home upon the death of Stalin. The reader follows Ivan’s slow steps back into the world, where he is confronted by those complicit in the regime and becomes an unlikely support to those confessing their actions. Grossman is a true artist.

The Plague by Albert Camus.
Camus. Seriously, how can you not read anything by Camus? I’m in awe of the man. I first read this book while living in Miami, Florida. About halfway through the novel, I discovered rat droppings in my grandparents’ house and urged both them and my mom to purchase rat poison, which they did after much cajoling (I explained the basics of the Bubonic Plague, citing history books and Camus’ novel). Sure enough, my mom found a rat in the house that night. No joke.

Blow-up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar
I dare you to read Letter to a Young Lady in Paris and not laugh. I see a lot of writers attempt to write quirky premises in their stories, but you’ve gotta have more than just a neat idea. Cortázar is the god of the absurd.

The 2012 North Carolina Driver’s Handbook by NC DMV and NC DOT
Informative reading.

The Life of Schubert by Christopher H. Gibbs
Schubert is one of my favorite composers. I don’t think any other composer has gone through such a drastic change in perception, mainly because he didn’t leave much written about himself. Gibbs offers a look at the man through the art Schubert left; powerful yet intimate, blissful yet melancholic.


by a contributor

Ana Cristina Alvarez

In St. Louis, I used to hit Wiffle balls with my dad’s prosthetic leg.
He had several, but this was the prosthetic leg he hated most because it didn’t look like a real leg. There were no bumps or indents indicating toes, no plastic toenails where toenails should be. Just a leg that curled into something brick-like resembling a foot.
He preferred to wear a prosthetic leg that looked like a real leg attached to a real foot, though he always wore tennis shoes, and he always wore jeans.
You wouldn’t know he had one leg unless you asked.


Ana Cristina Alvarez attends the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she is pursuing an MFA in fiction. She bakes one hell of a flan.

See Ana’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

This Week in Words…Sort of – July 28

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Sorry, guys. This particular Treehouse staffer is on vacation this week. I’m afraid I can’t seem to tear myself away from the museums and beaches long enough to write a decent collection of literary news blurbs for you.

Fear not! I wouldn’t dream of leaving you empty-handed. I offer you instead, Flavorwire’s list of “Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds,” because who are we kidding, isn’t that what we are? Perhaps that can keep you busy for a week (not to mention all the kickass content we have for you this week and upcoming next week).

In other news, I’d also like to suggest that you check out the highlights from the acid trip that was last night’s Olympic Opening Ceremony. There’s an entire sequence dedicated to children’s literature. It’s sure to haunt your dreams for the remainder of the weekend.

You’re welcome. See you next week!

5 Albums You Should Listen to While Writing

by Treehouse Editors

M.G. Hammond

We are all aware of the drastic effect music can have on our moods and the way we experience any given moment. For instance, when watching a film, a lot of the emotional weight is carried by the musical score that accompanies a scene. The correct soundtrack can make all the difference in how much the audience invests in a character, believes an actor’s emotional portrayal, or perceives the tone of a particular moment on screen. This is why I believe the right music can be an incredibly helpful tool for any creative process. For the purposes of this article, however, I’d like to offer a short list of albums that I have found to be particularly motivational for me when I’m writing. This list is by no means all inclusive, and is mostly comprised of instrumental music (because as a vocalist I tend to get terribly distracted by lyrics), but I hope it will assist you in choosing the best soundtrack to your next writing endeavor.

  1. Largo – Brad Mehldau: This album proves that jazz is not dead, and if you somehow disagree after listening to it, I’m sorry, but we just can’t be friends. Mehldau is a jazz pianist for the modern generation, incorporating traditional technique with fresh, improvised melodies. If you’re in a laid-back mood and ready to create some memorable material, you’re bound to pull together some characters that are just as intrinsically syncopated and original as the tracks on this album. And for the Radiohead fans out there (me!), Mehldau does an amazing variation of Paranoid Android.
  2. In A Space Outta Sound – Nightmares On Wax: When you listen to the relaxed, sensual creations of DJ George Evelyn, you will honestly feel like one of the cool kids. Influenced by soul, hip-hop, and blues, Evelyn layers diverse samples over original beats and loops to create genuinely unique tracks. He states, “Today’s music is inspired by whatever has gone on before.” This, of course, can also be said about today’s literature (or any art form, really). Play this album the next time you sit down to write and you won’t believe how much you’ll get done.
  3. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone – Explosions in the Sky: If you’re itching to get in touch with your more dramatic side, this is the album for you. Generally considered post-rock, Explosions in the Sky has also been described as a “crescendocore” band, which is apparently a genre of music (that sounds a bit more kickass than post-rock). In any case, each song on this album moves gracefully through a narrative arc guaranteed to help you produce a story full of adventure and epicness.
  4. Violin Concerto/Prelude and Dance from Akhnaten/Company – Philip Glass: Glass is a composer who gives me faith that the days of the symphony are not over. He is very prolific, having written everything from operas to film scores. Listening to this album may inspire you to explore some traditional forms through your own modern lens, just as Glass flawlessly blends a heartrending romantic style with contemporary minimalist structure.
  5. Classics – Ratatat: This band is just plain fun. Mostly consisting of guitar and bass, these electronically influenced songs are full of energy and catchy as hell. Actually, just to warn you, when I play this album I sometimes forget I am supposed to be writing and instead just feel compelled to dance.

5 Things to Read on the Internet

by a contributor

from Joe Worthen, author of The Haunted Cave:

  1. Achewood – – A webcomic created by Chris Onstad that deals with the lives of some animals who live on a street. The backlog is huge and it takes a while to get with it but once you do, it’s the best thing on the Internet.
  2. My Immortal – – Some bottom-tier Harry Potter Fan Fiction. Many readers believe that a confused 13-year-old girl sincerely wrote it but others believe it’s an elaborate and painful exercise in irony. The debate still rages. Read all 44 chapters and come to your own conclusions.
  3. HipsterRunoff – – An extremely self-aware blog about indie music written in teenspeak.
  4. Yoko Ono’s Twitter –!/yokoono – Yoko Ono shares her daily thoughts.
  5. Ted’s Caving Page – – Ted documents his exploration of a nearby cave.

The Haunted Cave

by a contributor

Joe Worthen

My invincible whip broke down Sunday; the alternator shit out and I felt the soul leave the gas pedal in one tragic bloom. When I woke Laura up she thought she was home, blonde hair distorted with sweat, wearing that T-shirt she had with the anthropomorphized tire on it. We thought last night at the Super 8 was gonna be the last stop in our summer romance. But there we were, together, pushing my Buick into the emergency lane.

I smoked a menthol outside the Exxon. I could feel the heat exhaustion. It had traced me through the summer with odd chills and racing pulses. A doctor in Nashville said it was my hypothalamus, said it lost its perspective on my body’s temperature.
Laura came out of the Exxon with a fresh pack and a lemonade. She passed through the gas pumps like a specter, like rust through painted blue steel. She showed me a brochure she found for a place called The Haunted Cave. On the back, under a confederate flag, was a crude map, a diagram that set the cave about ten miles out from us up state Highway 22. We called it a temporary destination and left on foot.

It wasn’t long before the heat dipped and we felt the first drops of frayed rain. We passed derelict properties, one-room trailers submerged in planes of kudzu, Rottweilers chained to the broken frames of trampolines and rusted menageries of threshers, car parts, tractors.

When the rain got harsh we ducked into a half-collapsed black barn, hid in a storage room with horse tranquilizers and huge jars of livestock antibiotics. At first we talked about the Haunted Cave. I said I’d never seen a ghost and Laura said she saw them on television all the time.
Laura left her tire shirt on, wet and clinging. She hung her shorts and panties on the same rusted nail and lay down on the floor of the barn. I focused on the strands of her hair carving damp arcs through dust. The only thunder was distant and soon the rain let up on the roof, narrowed itself into minor drips from broken rafters.

Between the UFO museum and a bed and breakfast we found a shop called Blue Ridge Stone and Gem, which was meant to be a gateway of sorts to The Haunted Cave. Laura zoned out with one hand in a bin of polished pyrite, staring at the skylight through her aviators. I got some free coffee from a push pot and evaluated a birthstone chart. I felt my heartbeat in my fingertips; it rushed in and activated them, set my focus in a strange spiral. It was August of course, the month Laura and I were born, the last month, a month for peridots.
Laura put a geode on her Visa and we waited on the porch for a kid named Leander to come take us to The Haunted Cave, both of us dirty and wet. Laura watched the rain with her eyes half open, self-contained. Her vanity was her central axis, every time she rotated around it she became more beautiful, more effortless, less corporal.

Leander’s poncho was the color of a traffic cone, an emergency shade, easy to follow through the rain. We climbed over lichen-capped rocks. He was ahead of us mostly, sometimes too far, but he’d loop back and we’d see him again in the green/gray haze. We tempted him to stop with a cigarette and then kicked it under a coniferous tree. We asked Leander if the cave was haunted and he said it was. We asked if it was really haunted and he said that it really was. He put out his cigarette on the sole of his shoe.

Leander waited outside while we were in the cave.
We spent about an hour and a half talking to a ghost with our backs against the limestone wall. The ghost said that in death we can see our reincarnations that are obscured in life. He said that he’d been a soldier in Lee’s army of Northern Virginia, an astronaut that flew into space on a silver ship and a soap opera actor who lived on in late night reruns. I asked him what his names were and he said that names are eclipsed by death.
Laura asked if he could see our past lives and he said that reincarnations were refracted, uneven, that one man split into many and that opening his ghostly aperture, even just enough for Laura and I, could lead to a kaleidoscopic event where our overlaps became infinite and impossible to trace.
Laura looked into her geode instead.
The ghost changed the topic; he asked us if we were together.
“In the summer sense,” I said.

Joe Worthen is a graduate candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His fiction can be found in Straight Teeth Zine and Menu 971.

See Joe’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

This Week in Words – Jul 21

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Jumping right in here, an e-publisher in Britain called Clandestine Classics is getting attention for adding “explosive sex scenes” to some of literature’s most beloved classics. The argument is that it may “bring the classics to a new generation of readers,” but at what cost? The founder of the company goes so far as to imply the real motivation for the added passages by saying there’s a market for this, whether you like the idea or not. Well, of course there is. Sex sells, and that’s nothing new. But listen, Clandestine, if you had asked me (or any other lover of Austen, Doyle, or the Bronte sisters) you’d hear what you ought to already know: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. They’re called classics for a reason.

For our tech-savvy readers, a little bit of Apple news. The people over at TED have released an e-book app for the iPad, allowing users to purchase books a la carte or purchase a three-month subscription for a very reasonable $15 to access all their books. If it’s anything like TED Talks, of which I am a huge fan, then we should be able to expect great things from this app. Also over at Apple, a new magazine app is up and running. Some of the big names in magazine publishing – Condé Nast, Time Inc., and News Corp, etc. – have joined forces as Next Issue Media to present a one-stop reading app for major magazines. Currently, there are only about 40 titles on board (like The New Yorker, People, Sports Illustrated, and TIME), with more expected later this year. $10 a month gets you access to titles with a less-than-weekly publishing frequency, while $15 a month adds the weeklies to your subscription. You can still subscribe a la carte, too. The beauty of the app is that it really is one app, while other current options like Newsstand simply keep your individual subscriptions aggregated.

With the serious stuff out of the way, I have a couple of fun things for you. The first comes from Oxford University Press’s blog. OUP presented an insult rhyming game to its Twitter followers based on the dozens “slanguage.” The rules were that you had to base your insult around a lit figure, and obviously, your tweet had to rhyme. They list their favorites on the blog.

And last but not least, I’d like to remind everyone that we’re never too old for choose-your-own-adventure stories. To prove it, Johannes pointed out to me this fun little Tumblr full of choose-your-own-adventure endings when the adventure you chose ends in tragedy. It is aptly titled: You Chose Wrong.