online magazine for short, good writing

Month: October, 2012

5 Games to Have Nearby During a Hurricane

by a contributor

from Meg O’Brien, author of The Story of Trucks, a Piano, Gestalt Therapy, and You:

  1. Monopoly. This game does not last forever, but it can take multiple days to finish. So if you’re looking for something to take up your time while you’re stuck inside without Twitter, Facebook, or On-Demand TV, take a chance on this one.
  2. Apples to Apples. What’s most important to you—telling the truth, Saturday cartoons, going to school, spontaneous combustion, or toes? Find out with this hilarious word-association game.
  3. Things. This game will show how well you know (or don’t know) your fellow players. It’s simple; pick a card that may or may not say, “Things you shouldn’t do at a job interview,” and try to match each player with their written response. You’ll learn new things and laugh for hours.
  4. Cranium. This is the ultimate game; it has something for everyone. Trivia, clay sculpting, humming, wordplay, winners, and losers. Choose your teammate wisely.
  5. Jenga. This game combines wooden blocks with strategy and steadiness. Make your move before it all comes crashing down—literally.

The Story of Trucks, a Piano, Gestalt Therapy, and You

by a contributor

Meg O’Brien

I went to Yellowfins tonight; it was Local Talent Night. You should have been there. But you’ve crossed the bridge—literally—to the mainland, which consists of this entire United States all the way to California.

I fell in love with the first girl and her neon personality and her raps about her truck. It sounds lame and cliché, but it wasn’t. It was fantastic. Her singing voice was nice and fit her personality like Robert Frost’s poetry does not fit his. He’s an ass, but she—she deserves a name, so let’s call her Claire—is smart and kind and insightful. Her words, rhymes, claps, and snaps shoved my body through a wall. Now there’s a giant hole in the shape of me in the back of Yellowfins. They better not make me pay for it. I’ll blame it on Claire.

The typical guy-and-his-guitar duo showed up, except the guitar was a piano and he left his typical back at his loft apartment with his long hair and love songs. He sang and he spoke and he played his piano like Ben Folds did a few years ago in Blacksburg, only he didn’t break it.

He told me he could save me. Not the Jesus kind of save me. He sang he could save me “from the I’m-so-hard-to-get-but-you’ve-got-something-special unoriginal predators.” I would quote him but I can’t remember his name; it wasn’t as catchy as his lyrics. Jack—maybe? I can’t remember, but I do remember that one of his songs was sad.

He warned us, though. He said some type of warning statement followed by, “We remember—we forget. We remember—we forget. We remember—we forget.” Then the noise from the piano rose from keys and came at me like a psychedelic tidal wave of feelings. I’m not sure what feelings swirled in that wave, but there were lots.

My therapist, Sandra, and I are working on that through gestalt therapy. I’m learning to be aware of my body language because it tells me what my emotions are. It’s hard to do. Every time I realize I’m doing something with my hands or feet or anything I stop. I need to be on a reality TV show so a camera crew can follow me around. Then I can watch my body language and know what I really want.

Like what to do about my car. To break up with it or not to break up with it? That is the question. Would no one say that if it were not for Shakespeare? There’s not that much to it. It’s not like Claire’s truck raps. It’s not like Piano Guy’s lyrics.

Before he began playing this woman sat at a table in front of me and her crack was showing. I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t want to create an awkward situation. Maybe I should have said something because I’d want someone to tell me if my crack were showing.

I’m no good in those situations. You would have handled it marvelously—like a quickie. Fast and mess-free. Not that I’d know because I’ve never had a quickie, but I imagine it to be that.

You’re not my type, you know. I hate opposites, but that is what you are—the opposite of my type. You wear slightly skinny jeans and shirts that are either behind or ahead of current fashion. I’ve never been cool enough to differentiate between the two. But you leave cool beneath every footstep—like specks of glitter you can’t wash away.

You also surf and skate—on a board. Last time I tried to skateboard this kid stepped on the back of it and I fell and broke my elbow. I haven’t surfed since I was fourteen because a jellyfish stung my arm and it hurt so bad I thought it was a shark until I realized that my arm was still stinging. In my defense, I swelled and scarred from that jellyfish.

Back to the show, though. I think it made me miss my father.

I don’t like thinking about him because he is this abstract being that I don’t understand. He’s like the internet—existing somewhere and nowhere at the same time. My only memory of him is the same as the first time I saw a dead body. We were in Annapolis for his funeral. It was my first funeral. I didn’t know that you are not supposed to poke the body, but I was four. There are a lot of things you don’t know about when you’re four.

I didn’t know that you existed when I was four, but I am happy that I know about you now—I think. My body isn’t doing anything but living right now, so I’ll have to ask Sandra what that means.

But my point to all of this is that you should be here, but you’re in California. I’ve texted you twice and you responded both times, but I don’t want to be a nuisance. And, I’m sure you regret our drinks date from two Tuesdays ago because now you think I’m in love with you—and I am in love with you. That’s the worst part. But I can’t tell you that because it would seriously freak you out. If it didn’t life would be scripted and all emotions would be empty. Gestalt therapy wouldn’t exist. And I’d rather feel love for you than have you act like you love me back for the sake of an audience.

Meg O’Brien studies creative writing at UNC Wilmington; she will graduate in December. She is addicted to triple-grande-nonfat-no-whip-white mochas from Starbucks. Her favorite part of election season is Saturday Night Live.

See Meg’s 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

This Week in Words – Oct 27

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

A few days ago, I was telling a friend of mine what a hard time I have selecting literary magazines to submit work to, because I never know to what genre my fiction pieces belong. I found my answer in Edan Lepucki’s essay for The Millions suggesting literary fiction as its own “straightforward genre like romance or science fiction” and listing a few key characteristics by which to identify it. Limited to literary fiction, I still get close to 300 results on Duotrope, but hey, at least it’s a start.

Amber Sparks writes for HTMLGiant about what not to do when putting together a short story collection. Lessons include not treating your collection like a mix tape and not misspelling words on the first page (or anywhere else). We ought to be grateful for this opportunity to learn from someone else’s mistakes. (By the way, she has a collection from Curbside Splendor called May We Shed These Human Bodies so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.)

More Halloween stuff from Neil Gaiman. Download a free scary short story written and read by Neil from and they’ll give money to charity. Win-win, right? Not enough incentive? If they get 100,000 downloads by Halloween, Neil will post a photo of himself reading one of his books in the bath, an idea inspired by someone somewhere deciding to read a Gaiman book in the bath and then take an artsy photo of it. This is the Internet.

Also, here: Halloween ideas from GalleyCat. Y’all, be safe out there.

Five Dramas You Should Be Watching On Netflix Instant Instead of Just Watching Mad Men For the Hundredth Time

by a contributor

from Lucy Huber, author of Spam and Bones:

1. Breaking Bad
If you don’t already know you should be watching this show, chances are you’re beyond help or a shut in with no access to current media outlets. It’s probably more likely that you’ve been meaning to watch Breaking Bad, you’ve seen Bryan Cranston’s wrinkly face clutching at his Emmy’s and thought “Wow, I should really get around to watching Breaking Bad”, but then put it off for more seemingly important things like “homework” or your “job”. Maybe you think watching the downfall of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher go meth lord will make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you think watching said drug lord dissolve human bodies in a bathtub full of acid will be gross. The truth is, you’re right. This show will make you feel horrible. It will make your body physically feel a constant state of panic like waking up from that dream where you showed up two hours late to the SATs naked. You will sometimes have to leave the room and plug your ears in your boyfriend’s apartment hallway because you’re sorry, but you just can’t watch this scene. But after all of this, you will keep watching. Because you will realize a TV show has never made you feel so many things before, or think so critically. You have never been so invested in the characters, the storyline, the beautiful hazy images of the New Mexican dessert. This show will make you want to throw up. And you’ll love it.

2. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks starts as a pretty standard murder mystery: a dead teenage girl washes up wrapped in a plastic tarp on the banks of a river in a small town in Washington State. The kind of stuff we’ve seen a million times before, especially since Law and Order is constantly marathoning on pretty much 30 percent of all cable channels. But then it gets weird. Weird like supernatural evil wolf spirits and mysterious owls and grief-ridden fathers whose hair changes color overnight.  Weird like the police team investigating the murder unexplainably always has an entire table full of donuts set up in rows on napkins, even though there are only like four of them. Weird like there is a lady in town who carries around a log and makes everyone talk to it. Wait, I can’t even explain this show to you. Just watch it.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you ever found yourself watching Twilight, wishing that Edward Cullen would drop the whole chastity act, do Bella in his vampire lair, turn evil, and attempt to kill her and all of her friends, while in turn Bella strapped on a pair of 90s combat boots and flowered sundress and staked Edward through the heart, you’ve probably just been watching the wrong vampire stuff. And beyond the obvious appeal of campy monsters and clever one liners, the show tackles deeper issues by taking the regular struggles of growing up and making them into supernatural problems.  The group of popular kids turns into a pack of wild dogs. The quiet girl nobody notices literally turns invisible. This show is original, funny, and smart in every way. One episode is entirely a musical, for God’s sake. Resign yourself to losing 3-4 months of your life and just watch every episode straight through.

4. Parenthood
My mom has been telling me to watch this show for like three years and every time I rolled my eyes. But actually, it turns out my mom has pretty great taste in TV. (She was into Downton Abbey while everyone else still assumed it was about a young professional navigating life and love in the streets of London.) Parenthood is about four adult siblings and their kids living in Berkley and just existing, I guess. It’s not really funny, or dramatic, it’s just true. The problems the families tackle feel real, dealing with a son with Asperger’s, lingering resentment left by infidelity, a search for meaning in life while acting as a stay at home parent. There are no “very special episodes” or saccharine Christian values. And yeah, sometimes the episodes end with a homey folk song playing over a heart-warming family event, but admit it, you kind of need that sometimes.

5. The Walking Dead
The writer of the comic book The Walking Dead is based on once said that his problem with zombie movies is that they all end, but then what? The Walking Dead explores what happens in the weeks and months after a zombie apocalypse, the choices humans make to stay alive, betrayal, fear, and boredom. A lot of episodes don’t even feature any zombies, but only the group of survivors dealing with the implications of what happens when there is nothing left in the world and nowhere is safe. That’s pretty awesome. And you know what else is awesome about it? All the zombies.

Spam and Bones

by a contributor

Lucy Huber

My father kept a box of Milkbones on top of the fridge. We did not own a dog. He told me he’d been sneaking dog biscuits since he was a kid, when he actually had a dog, hiding under the kitchen table to munch on the red and green and yellow femur-shaped treats. The Milkbones were probably full of guts and brains and bits of bone, my mother complained—they were never meant for humans to eat. But he wheeled his grocery cart down the pet aisle, picking up the big red box with a golden retriever on the cover and popped it in without the slightest hint of shame. My father was never embarrassed by anything. He ate those dog biscuits like they were double-stuffed Oreos.

It was no surprise to me that my father freely ate food originally intended for well-behaved pets. To me, every food he liked seemed poisonous: Spam, Scrapple, cans of pickled herring (a food I only discovered was made of fish and not fillets of beautiful long-legged birds when I was in my early teens). Perhaps this compulsion to eat artificial came from his heritage; he told me over and over that his father was a food chemist who worked for Hostess. My grandfather was a member of the team who developed the hot pink Zinger. In a laboratory.

When I was seven, my father went to the hospital with chest pains. My mother took me to see him after they cut him open, but I didn’t like the way he looked with a needle in his hand and a bright red slit up his chest, so she took me to the gift shop and bought me a brown and white stuffed tomcat instead. All those poison foods he’d eaten had clogged up a vein in his heart and they had to scrape it out. For months when I felt a twinge of heartburn, I grabbed my chest and wondered if I my veins were clogged, if they would have to scrape out my heart, too.

When my father came home, he filled his dresser with pills. Every morning he took a handful with his new breakfast: egg whites and oat bran. He cooked the oat bran in a silver pot and every morning I came downstairs to find the blob pulsing on the stove. Now we had unfamiliar mason jars in the cabinets: flax seed and oat bran and other mystery grains I didn’t recognize. There were no more cans of Spam. No more Milkbones. My mom bought a treadmill and assembled it in the basement. My father, who I had never seen wear any clothes less casual than khakis and a flannel shirt, bought his first pair of running shoes and scrounged up an old t-shirt from the back of his drawer that featured a hardware store logo and was covered in spots of paint. He walked on the treadmill every night after dinner; it emitted a low hum that could be heard through the whole house. Every night, the vibrating floorboards were a pulsing comfort. My father was going to be okay.

The year after my father’s heart surgery, I became a vegetarian. The healthy meat-free meals my mother made for my father were now made in double portions, one for him and one for me. But when my father made lunch, he mistakenly made me chicken noodle soup. He would pick me up from school and ask if I wanted to go to get a hamburger from McDonalds as a treat. “That stuff is gross,” I’d tell him, annoyed that he couldn’t remember my restrictions. I wondered if it was because he couldn’t imagine choosing a life like this, a life of greens and tofu—a Spam-free life. But he never complained. He ate every bite of that oat bran.

Now my mother and father live in a bed and breakfast in Vermont and actually have a dog. My father gave up the treadmill for long snowshoe walks in the park and working long hours doing things like rebuilding the barn floor. The dog only eats all-organic wheat-free dog treats. They do not feed him Milkbones. My father is healthy and happy and occasionally he sneaks a piece of bacon from the plates of their guests when he knows my mother isn’t looking, which always makes me cringe a little and remember the needle in his hand.

A few years ago, I studied abroad in Wales and bought a pack of something called Digestive Biscuits. I opened the package and ate one and then another and another. They were delicious. The thick and grainy texture felt familiar. The truth is: I had tried the Milkbones. And they weren’t half bad.

Lucy Huber is a third year MFA candidate and teaching assistant at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is studying Creative Nonfiction.

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

This Week in Words – Oct 20

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Jason Novak illustrates Finnegans Wake…in a way, I think. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, which I think is a common reaction to the actual work, but the illustrations are entertaining.

Johnny Depp and HarperCollins are launching a new imprint, Infinitum Nihil (the same name as Depp’s production company). Depp promises to “deliver publications worthy of people’s time, of people’s concern, publications that might never have breached the parapet,” which I think could go either way, judging from Depp’s movie choices.

Good news, poets: the villanelle is making a comeback, says Claire Kelley at Melville House. Without knowing it previously, I’m a big fan of this poetic form. From Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” to newly discovered favorite “Mad Girl’s Love Story” by Sylvia Plath, the villanelle has a smooth rhythm that’s easy to appreciate, even if you’re often intimidated by poetry (like me).

BBC News reports that a study in Sweden has revealed a link between creativity and mental illness, especially among writers, surprising no one.

5 Books of Prose Poetry You Should Read

by a contributor

from Daniel Romo, author of Bulletin:

1. You Can Tell the Horse Anything by Mary Koncel

Works are often labeled as prose poems when they shouldn’t be. They lack elements that comprise a true prose poem. In You Can Tell the Horse Anything, Koncel uses sentence variety, quirkiness, figurative language, and other poetic techniques to reveal everything a prose poem SHOULD be. The poems are layered, entertaining, and contain bursts of poignancy. Quite simply, this book is the perfect prose poem primer.

2. Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner

When cerebral meets supposition, the result is sexy. Ben Lerner’s sexy collection of prose poems is a lesson in ascertaining. The reader is presented with text that could be truth or a bunch of tightly-woven lies. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the reader believes in Ben Lerner’s worlds, and his words. Sly, familiar, and (c)overt, these poems shine like gold, fool’s or otherwise.

3. The Babies by Sabrina Orah Mark

Oh, Sabrina Orah Mark: You creator of mystic settings bathed in even more mysticism, lathered in language that sings so lovely, swaddled in surrealism with context for necessary grounding, dressed in darkness that’s not terrifying scary but terrific scary, I just want to let you know… I love your poems. A lot.

4. Little Known Sports by Vern Rutsala

The cover of the book depicts an old-school muscleman lifting a barbell (not drawn to scale) over his head. The muscleman is stout with slicked-back hair and a neatly groomed mustache. He wears a body suit that flatters his gym-trained physique. The white boots and dark wristbands highlight this intriguing specimen. The man appears to be strong and quite charming. With their old-school tone, slick wit, neatly-groomed nature, and gym-trained bodies, the poems in Little Known Sports are quite intriguing, strong, and charming.

5. The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle

there are big moments  in the little delights  there are little delights  in the big moments  the spaces   between   words  allow the reader to    interpret as he/she sees fit    initially it’s difficult   to have so much   freedom  as a reader       but the trees       the trees           has these words  these words that cannot      be     hidden