online magazine for short, good writing

Month: September, 2012

This Week in Words – Sept 29

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Banned Books Week which celebrates (as you might have guessed) the “freedom to read.” In its honor, Guernica Magazine will be hosting a week-long series of author interviews and essays on fiction which have been challenged or banned from schools, libraries, and shops.

Penguin has filed suits against several of its contracted authors. The story goes that book advances were given to authors who in turn produced no books. Parallels are being drawn to an attempt at something similar by HarperCollins fifteen years ago. In that case, HarperCollins cancelled authors’ contracts and sued for book advances to be repaid if the authors sold their books elsewhere. It’s not quite the same thing as what Penguin’s doing: HarperCollins’ authors didn’t exactly get the chance to write their books. In any case, Penguin is taking some criticism for the move though I think it has some merit.

The Atlantic Wire has compiled a list of punctuation marks and their proponents. Authors, professors, a TV personality, and a lexicographer weighed in on which punctuation marks they favor and why. GQ’s Drew Magary, for example, takes Michael Chabon to task for a 14-page sentence in Telegraph Avenue. “Withholding that period is a real dick move,” he says. Only writers and readers can get so nasty over punctuation.

Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City, names his ten favorite narrators for Publisher’s Weekly. Each one fits one of two types of narrators: the Unreliable Narrator and the World Swallower. Among those listed are Huck Finn, Holden Caulfield, Fuckhead, and Ishmael. Probably because there are so many great narrators for his list, Wilson throws in an honorable mention of sorts for each of the top ten narrators (Scout and Humbert Humbert made the list this way).

Five Books You Should Read by Guys Named Matt

by a contributor

from John A. McDermott, author of Inappropriate Gifts for Infants:

  1. Sugarhouse by Matthew Batt—funny and sad, this memoir will teach you something about Salt Lake City and home renovation and love.1
  2. Dogfight, A Love Story by Matt Burgess—funny and sad, this novel will teach you something about Queens and crime, both petty and not, and love.2
  3. Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless by Matt Hart—funny and sad, this poetry will teach you something about Cincinnati and punk rock and love.3
  4. All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman. Funny and sad…oh, hell, the title sums it up.4
  5. Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder—funny and sad, this poetry will teach you something about America and airports and love letters and love. And ghosts.5

1 Admission: I know Matt Batt. We briefly taught at the same university here in Texas. He’s a sweet, sharp guy who wrote a sweet, sharp book. His wife Jenae is a beautiful force of nature. The book’s about her, too.

2 Admission: I’ve met Matt Burgess. Once. He married my second-cousin. He seemed nice. But I read the book because it sounded good. It is. Much better than good. Oh, my second-cousin is pretty cool. They live in the Twin Cities. Hey, so do Matt and Jenae. Matt, meet Matt. Jenae, Matt.  Georgia, Matt. Georgia, Jenae.  I think y’all would get along.

3 I do not know Matt Hart. I saw him read last month. It was like watching a one-man rock concert in a small and smoky club. We were not in a small, smoky club but I think anywhere this guy reads might feel like that. He took the top of my head off. Seriously, if you can catch him at a reading, go. And his stuff is even better on the page.

4 I do not know Matthew Dickman. I just really like his work. But you knew that.

5 I do not know Matthew Zapruder. He’s Matthew Freaking Zapruder. You don’t know Matthew Zapruder? Read his book. You’ll feel like you do. But that might just be his poetry.

Inappropriate Gifts for Infants

by a contributor

John A. McDermott

I wasn’t about to bring a yo-yo,
she wasn’t going to buy dyes from China,
anything with a sharp edge or poking
or pinching potential, nothing jagged.
We were still childless, but not witless.
We remembered the holiday headlines,
The Five Worst Toys for Toddlers and The Ten
Recalled Bears That Kill and Eight Deadly Dolls.
But these tiny plastic babies seemed right—
coddled in clear cellophane, cherubic,
both smiling, pink lips and rosy cheeks, peach-
crayon skin, still tinier white diapers—
right for little beds in little houses,
the sort our friend collected, her daughter
would inherit someday, years from this day.

Looking back, yes, they were choking hazards,
temptations to pass little gums and lodge
in her throat, her narrow esophagus.
Maybe this was some sick subliminal
menace we introduced into her house,
her latest addition yet another unintentional
mockery of our empty crib. But, no, we didn’t plan
it. They’re clearly not toys for play, they’re stamped
But maybe that’s just what attracted us,
we understood FOR DECORATIVE USE
ONLY, our girl and boy parts just for show,
nothing to prove they had a true function,
all our intentions coming up empty
month by month by month, year by year by year.
Should she have screamed at us? Nobody died—
one whap on baby’s back and the dolls popped
right out of her contorted mouth, like twins.
Even the baby could produce babies,
that’s what I saw, when I stooped to the floor,
more newborns, wet and sticky, but all there,
ten fingers and ten toes, and still not ours.

John A. McDermott’s poetry and fiction have appeared in journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Cutbank, Cream City Review, Meridian, and Seneca Review. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, he now teaches creative writing and American literature at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he coordinates the BFA program.

This Week in Words – Sep 22

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Today is the fall equinox, marking the first day of autumn. It’s also Elephant Appreciation Day, so do what you will with that.

It seems like I’m hearing about this everywhere, so I feel compelled to mention it: The Moby Dick Big Read is underway. My reluctance for audiobooks aside, I’m intrigued by this. I’ve never been particularly interested in reading Moby Dick, though I feel like I should, and this seems like a hell of a way to tackle it. As a bonus, I think most (if not all) of the narrators are British and we all know everything sounds better with a British accent.

Stephen King has announced the 2013 release of a sequel to The Shining. The Shining is one of my favorites, and I’m a big fan of Stephen King in general, so I’m actually somewhat excited about this, even if the book is called Dr. Sleep. You can watch Mr. King reading an excerpt from the book over at GalleyCat.

Harper Voyager, Harper Collins’ publisher of sci-fi and fantasy, will be accepting completed manuscripts sans agents for the first two weeks of October. GalleyCat and the Harper Voyager website have info and guidelines, but the submission portal won’t open until October 1. If only I had a finished manuscript – and wrote sci-fi.

Thank you, Missouri Review, for addressing the topic of cover letters for lit mag submissions. I’m woefully insecure about my own, and it’s nice to have a few tips to keep in mind.

5 Food Blogs in Which the Prose is as Delicious as the Recipes

by a contributor

from Christine Hennessey, author of How to End a Marriage
and The Bruise on Your Chest:

Smitten Kitchen – You’d never guess these comfort-friendly meals and dramatic photography are created in a tiny New York City kitchen. Recommended recipe: Blueberry Crumb Bars

Not Without Salt – Simple, fresh, and seasonal recipes, in a sweet family setting. Recommeded recipe: Gin and Sin Cocktail

Happyyolks Kelsey’s recipes are intimately tied to her thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Here, cooking is both nourishment and epiphany. Recommended recipe: Spring Panzanella

The First Mess – With a focus on wholesome ingredients and accessibility, this blog is as practical as it is lovely. Plus the name of the blog comes from an M.F.K. Fisher quote, so you know she’s legit. Recommended recipe: Chocolate Pecan Pie

Eating Appalachia – Both a poet and a foodie, Jes explores the culinary delights in southwest Virginia, sharing both vegan recipes from her kitchen and restaurant reviews from up and down the east coast. Recommended recipe: Plantain and Black Bean Enchiladas

How to End a Marriage

by a contributor

Christine Hennessey

Be grateful you never had kids, but wonder who will get the dog. Wonder who the dog would choose, then realize the answer is neither. Dogs are simple creatures but they give what they get and your dog was the first in the family to go on antidepressants. Just living in your house, it turns out, is a form of animal cruelty.

You should have gotten a cat.

Speak in subtext only. Argue about small things – semantics, siblings, supper – and remain silent about all else. Complain to your friends but never your parents. Go to bed late, wake up early, fight over the blankets and, even in sleep, monitor your bodies so they never graze.

You should have gotten a bigger bed.

Your therapist says the problem is communication. That you need to talk to one another, to say what you feel and open your hearts. But your therapist doesn’t know that your chest is a cavity, cavernous and black. Instead, check out all the self-help books in the library, but read none of them. A bookstore is a commitment you cannot make.

You should have gotten a different therapist.

Remember, over a bottle of cheap red wine, how it started. The first dates, the coy smiles, the sex. Remember the time you went bowling and stole the shoes, the anniversary dinner you burned and ate anyway, the day you adopted the dog, a rescue that had been neglected and abused. Pause over that word – rescue.

Remember when your parents staged an intervention during Thanksgiving dinner and made you sit outside in the freezing weather, told you to act like adults and asked why you insisted on ruining everything for everyone? Remember how you stared at each other, refused to speak, until your hands got so cold you lost feeling in your fingers.

Wonder what happened. How something so good could get so bad, how years of not paying attention can turn someone into a stranger. Finish the wine. Pet the dog. Go to bed late, wake up early.

Christine Hennessey is a teaching assistant at UNCW and her fiction has appeared in LITForge, and The Molotov Cocktail.

The Bruise on Your Chest

by a contributor

Christine Hennessey

You bruise easy and always have. I dress you in long pants, shirts with sleeves, socks to your knees, even when it’s ninety-five degrees and humid. I prefer the disapproving looks caused by your sweaty brow and labored breathing to the ones I receive when your skin is exposed, purple patterns on your pale limbs, weaving their way around your ankles and elbows.

I take you to the doctor at least once a month, hoping for a cure, though I’d settle for a reason. The doctor can’t find either, but assures me that the bruises are not life threatening, and do not hurt. “Cosmetic,” he says. “Just wait for them to fade.” You sit in the corner while we talk, playing with your doll, and I can’t help but notice her plastic limbs, smooth and unmarred.


When you come home from school with a darkening swath of skin that stretches from your ribs to your right hip, I ask if you remember banging your body against anything at school. No, you say. You don’t. I ask if there is, perhaps, a different route you can take, a path from the chalkboard to your desk that is more direct. Safer. No, you say. There isn’t.

And so I go through the house and wrap the corners of the bookcases, the chairs, the coffee table in bubble wrap, in rubber strips, in soft batting that I take from your favorite quilt. You cry when you find the blanket gutted in the trash, bury your face in the soiled fabric. I try to explain that it’s for your own good, but you won’t listen. You won’t stop crying and I send you to bed, then sit on the couch, chewing my fingernails down to the quick, tearing the skin with my teeth, while I wait for the sound of your sobs to subside. When it’s finally quiet, I come into your room, sit next to your bed, watch you breathing, your arms flung over your head.

And then I see the dark spot on your chest, the edge of it rising from under the collar of your shirt, and I know that it’s my fault. I look away, notice your doll on the floor next to the bed, and then I am holding it, cradling it in my arms. The empty eyes, the cotton hair, the smooth arms and unmarred legs. I sing to the doll, softly so as not to wake you, and in the darkness you slumber on.

Christine Hennessey is a teaching assistant at UNCW and her fiction has appeared in LITForge, and The Molotov Cocktail.