online magazine for short, good writing

Month: June, 2013

This Week in Words – Jun 29

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

If you want to be more creative and open-minded, you’ve come to the right place. A Canadian study has shown that reading short stories increases a person’s comfort level with curiosity and ambiguity, which in turn increases the potential for creativity and “sophisticated thinking.”

In the Huffington Post, David Crystal talks about the ever-evolving phenomenon of spelling within the English language.

Laura Bogart speaks in brutal and honest terms about rage in this past week’s Sunday Rumpus Essay.

The Los Angeles Review of Books just published the third installment in an entertaining and enlightening series of essays about fairy tales and their various retellings, both ancient and contemporary. This one is a roundtable of pieces on versions of The Little Mermaid. But you can also check out the first and second installments about Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, respectively.

Reading recommendation: If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and give Ardor a read. It’s free and online, and they have a beautiful format for their issues. (I recommend the fiction in Issue Two, to start.)


by a contributor

Third place winner of Treehouse’s contest!

Rebecca Worby


“I stayed in town with my sister Sophie last night,” said Miss Goering, “and this morning I was standing in front of the window drinking a cup of coffee. The building next to Sophie’s home is being torn down… From my window I could see into the rooms of this building, as the wall opposite me had already been torn down. The rooms were still partially furnished, and I stood looking at them, watching the rain splatter the wallpaper. The wallpaper was flowered and already covered with dark spots, which were growing larger.”

“How amusing,” said Mrs. Copperfield, “or perhaps it was depressing.”

—from “Two Serious Ladies” by Jane Bowles


High-density urban living means so many lives are lived side by side. I imagine all of us crammed so close but separate, boxed into our honeycomb homes. Loves and losses, coffee made and showers taken in parallel. Each person in the honeycomb has as much going on inside as I do, worries as much, loves as much, sometimes leaves the stove on. But I can’t think about all that. If I do, the empathy becomes too big to manage.


When I was twenty-four, I had my first and most graphic experience of hearing other people have sex through a too-thin wall. I learned a good deal about my next-door neighbor this way—or at least I imagined a story for him that made sense to me. He was in a long-distance relationship, I concluded, because I only ever heard those noises over holiday weekends. He’s better at love than I am, I concluded, when my long-distance relationship sputtered and failed and his carried on.


I think of the modernists, stream-of-consciousness expressing interiority, a mind laid out on the page. Novels take the front off of the house and let us peer in. After I read something really good, everyone on the subway platform is suddenly a little more alive, and I feel a deep well of compassion for all that humanity, even amid the lock-jawed rush-hour glares and the urine smell and the life of the city ongoing.


While Miss Goering watched the façade-less house, a man appeared in one of the rooms. He had apparently returned for something he left behind. He walked around the room aimlessly for a bit, she says, and then stood at the edge of the room looking down, arms akimbo. She could tell he was an artist. Miss Goring was afraid he would jump.


I was wrong about my neighbor. Or at least, what I imagined didn’t stay true. Later that year, the whole seventh floor began to reek of dying animals and the building sent a team in to clean his apartment, where garbage and undone dishes had festered for months. That’s how I found out that his girlfriend had dumped him. Building speculation had it that she’d gotten tired of the mess. I was relieved that the cockroaches that had begun to populate my cabinets were overflow from his horrifying infestation, and not really my problem. The worst bits of his life had permeated my walls along with those other better moments I’d caught.


In novels, details are hand-picked for us. We get to know a character in deliberate ways. In life, especially urban life, we don’t get to choose the pieces of each other’s worlds that we brush up against.


In my next apartment, a voice often floated up through the bathroom vent. A man whose wife, I later learned, lived elsewhere. Sometimes, the voice was cheery. I once heard him improvise a song about dumplings. But usually I heard him speaking to his wife, reciting a desperate refrain. “You don’t want to talk to me!” he would wail, sounding as though he were standing in my kitchen. I would freeze, stop whatever I was doing, unable to unhear. He accused her of not listening. Even I could tell that she was pulling away. I could feel his frustration as he yelled across however many miles, the same threads that connect us all stretching too thin to reach her. Should I have felt guilty about my accidental intrusion? I didn’t. But I felt sorry for them both.


“Did he jump, Miss Goering?” Mrs. Copperfield asked with feeling.

“No, he remained there for quite awhile looking down into the courtyard with an expression of pleasant curiosity on his face.”

Rebecca Worby is an MFA candidate at Columbia University. She is working on a book about atomic legacy and the complicated relationship between people and land in Moab, Utah. Follow @bworbs for musings about books, the desert, and grocery shopping.

Announcing: Results of The First Annual Literary Loot Contest for Unusual Prose

by Treehouse Editors

We’ve decided it’s about time to find all that sweet, sweet swag a proper home. So we’ve chosen the winner of our first ever contest.

We had a lot of truly talented writers submit a lot of terrific pieces to this contest, for which we are eternally grateful.

In the next few weeks, beginning tomorrow, we’ll be showcasing our three favorite pieces from that selection. In this order…

Second Runner-Up: “Walls” by Becca Worby

First Runner-Up: “Ode on a Stick” by Claudette Cohen

And the winner of Treehouse’s First Annual Literary Loot Contest for Unusual Prose, and the recipient of its enviably massive prize package, is:

“An Asp with No [AS]s” by Michelle Donahue

We’d like to thank each and every person who submitted a piece for consideration in this contest. We really could not have done it without you. Equally, we’d like to thank all the contributors to the prize package. We really really could not have done it without you.

Come back tomorrow to catch Becca Worby’s “Walls.”

This Week in Words – The Johannes Edition

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

If you read his blog – and really, if you aren’t already doing that, you should be – then you know that Johannes Lichtman is leaving Treehouse. You can hear it from him in his own words, or (and) you can hear about it from me.

Johannes has been our “coordinator” or, more fondly, “mother goose” since before a literary magazine was even a mere suggestion in a classroom in North Carolina. He collected a small group of his former students and introduced us to one another. Coming up with launching an online literary magazine was unquestionably a collective idea and a group effort, and it took some remarkably talented people to get us where we are today. But there is also no question that we wouldn’t be here had it not been for Johannes setting aside a block of time for us every two weeks because he thought we were the talented ones.

He’s going off to do his own thing, which probably involves several different things and inevitable success in each of them. So he’s kicking us out of the nest, as it were. And we’re very flattered that he believes in us to carry Treehouse on our own now. But it bears mentioning that the lessons he’s taught us, both in class and those weekly meetings, are a tremendous contributor to our ability to do this thing we love. So we’re flattered to have that level of confidence from a mentor, but more than that, we’re honored to have had his guidance for as long as he, well, put up with us. And we’re grateful, so grateful, for what he’s done for us.

I’d better wrap this up before someone starts singing “To Sir, With Love.” In short, we’re a group of lucky bastards for having known Johannes – who, by the way, should be commended for somehow convincing a bunch of silly undergrads to show up (mostly) on time for something on which we weren’t being graded. Guy’s got a gift. But we’re glad he did, because we’re all the better for it. It’s been a privilege, J. Do big things, man. We’ll be watching.

5 Works in Relatively Recent Translation

by a contributor

from Diego Báez, author of Teeth:

  1. War & War by László Krasznahorkai, trans. George Szirtes (2006)
    The second novel from so-called “Hungarian master of the apocalypse,” its running sentences propel a madcap protagonist into one of the most perplexing endings I’ve ever encountered.
  2. Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, trans. Joanne Turnbull (2009)
    This collection of stories by a lesser-known 20th century Soviet writer culminates in an eponymous novella notable for its inventive alternative to Wells’s time machine.
  3. Micrograms by Jorge Carrera Andrade, trans. Alejandro de Acosta and Joshua Beckman (2011)
    Fantastic exercises in poetic brevity. Here’s “Oyster” in its entirety: “Two-top clam: / your calcium coffer / keeps the manuscript / of some shipwreck.”
  4. The Future is Not Ours, ed. Diego Trelles Paz, trans. Janet Hendrickson (2012)
    Stories of a new generation from down Central and South America way. Check especially the zany short-orders of Ignacio Alcuri’s “Chicken Soup” and the exquisite lakehouse of Santiago Roncagliolo’s “A Desert Full of Water.”
  5. Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Katherine Silver (2013)
    Finally, the chance to read what one of the greatest writers in the Spanish-speaking world had to say about some of the greatest works in English, in English.


by a contributor

Diego Báez

Escolástico Guerra twists the blunt tip of a No. 2 pencil into the business end of a manual sharpener. He must crank the handle, for the thing’s fastened with bolts to its table. It’s not old and cheap like the load-bearing wall-borne lathes in his shanty hometown’s high schools, or colleges, so only the soft clinking of interlinking gears issues. At least until the A/C activates. Then, it’s hard to hear anything. The sharpener collects shorn leaves of typical yellow from his No. 2 pencil. Loose-leaf graph paper on the table before him bears erased Christian names and the grayed pink remains of rubber spent erasing. Fluorescent tubes light this little operation, and the room smells distinctly like shop class. The translucent receptacle attached to the sharpener looks about filled to capacity. Escolástico removes the blue cap that matches his jumper and fans himself without hope for cool. Not likely to break an actual sweat, but it sure does get muggy down here. Wet drops gather on dials and pipes that run all the way up into the rafters. He leans back in a wooden chair not designed to recline, rears back up on its hind legs. He unfastens the cap, takes a long pull from the Thermos he fills every AM with water. It sounds like someone’s unlocked the door at the top of the stairwell, a key to which few people in the building possess. Usually no one disturbs Escolástico at work, only occasionally in case of “emergency”: flooded sink on the tenth floor, busted escalator, scheduling conflicts or requests for vacation. For the most part, Escolástico scribbles into columns the names of African- and Central American low-wage City employees. He must schedule each shift so everyone gets hours without anyone working overtime, so employees don’t work successive third and first shifts, so Chaquita and Maquinta, for example, or Jarrell and Rashod don’t wind up waxing the same floor at the same hour and risk heated confrontation. These are things he weighs in his mind and considers. He considers also the high price of brand squares in bodegas, and instead usually rolls his himself. Today though, however, he removes one he found on his small kitchen’s naked table, one that’s especially fat and aromatic, from the front pocket of his navy blue jumper. The Thermos, he places on the table. A wide row of fresh lead faces away from his person, toward the stairs, down which it sounds like someone’s made progress. Escolástico lights up. He’s half done. So far, he’s completed two complex grids of 7×3, each row subdivided to indicate assignments for the building’s twelve floors. It’s a system of his own design, not one he learned anywhere from anyone. Dick Daily’s central air kicks on. Or rather, the building’s rooftop HVAC unit rumbles, pipes rattle, vents sigh. Escolástico hears all this down here, the building’s daily respiration, every hour at predetermined times. The basement has no sprinklers and cannot detect smoke, and it sounds like those footsteps are nearing. Escolástico breaks sweat, exhaling, and swears to himself in Spanish. Undoubtedly cooler upstairs, at this point, behind the building, in the alley, what with the breeze coming in off the lake. But he prefers short breaks in the basement to smoke squares or stretch limbs than interrupt what he’s doing to scale the stairs and cross the school’s populated, terribly energy-inefficient two-story atrium, out the revolving doors installed to save energy, around the corner of Lake and Wells to a place of relative cover, out of the way, between the school and City Hall, in the alley. Instead, Escolástico Guerra remains seated at his small desk in the basement of Dick Daily Junior College, whoever’s on his way down now about to dismount that last step, and schedules next week’s shifts as he smokes. He doesn’t wax floors, or restock TP, or wash the vast windows of DDJC’s atrium’s façade. He doesn’t clean up after students, or put up with their shit, or lock up the building at night. Not anymore anyway, not after spending the better part of his own personal youth mopping floors and dishing out slop, guarding his own back and others’. These things speak too near to other things he regrets, of long hours and interrogation. Of dark rooms of disappeared. Of the gnashing of teeth of cheap sharpeners.

Diego Báez writes regularly for Booklist and Whole Beast Rag. Other work has appeared most recently in KweliRain Taxi, and The Review of Higher Education. He lives and teaches in Chicago.

This Week in Words – June 15

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Steve Almond and Peter Stenson conduct themselves admirably in what is probably one of the most entertaining interviews I’ve read all year.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cynthia Cruz illustrates beautifully what it means and where she goes when she writes.

Gary Shteyngart shares a piece of memoir – entitled “From the Diaries of Pussycake” because he just can’t help himself and who can blame him? – in the way only Gary Shteyngart can: funny, touching, dark, and funny again.

Not surprisingly, everyone is talking about the NSA scandal. So far be it from me to stray from the norm. Here, though, is Sasha Weiss’s take on, not the scandal exactly, but the apparently flagrant disregard for personal privacy people seem to exhibit when they post on the Internet…which should automatically include every Internet participant by the way, because, you know, that shit ain’t private ever.

And for your fiction rec this week: “Carlos, Davy, Micah: Teenagers from Mars” in Sundog Lit’s Issue 3 by Ezra Carlson. As per usual, I’m not sure how to put the readability of this into words, except to say it’s imaginative, provocative in language, and just damn good to read.  So do just that.