Friday, September 15, 2017

"Unwrap Your Candy" by Jesse Miller

Unwrap Your Candy
by Jesse Miller

Unwrap Your Candy by Jesse Miller

Unwrap Your Candy by Jesse Miller is currently on tour with Bewitching Book tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Imagine Woody Allen made a movie about Dilbert and James Joyce wrote the screenplay. That’s what you should expect from Jesse Miller’s Unwrap Your Candy.
Thom’s life has a soundtrack. Unseen glass phalluses - thousands of them - whirring softly along conveyer belts on the other side of the factory wall. The snap and splash of eggs against plaster. The scratch-fizz-tang of cigarette lighters being flipped again and again. A thousand throats swallowing a thousand swigs of beer; a thousand sets of lungs choking on a thousand French inhales. Hard fists sinking into soft flesh; soft chunks dropping onto hard sidewalks. Plop-flush-drain repeat. And moonsong, high above, forever calling and calling, "Stud, rub her with the Stud Rubber." If only it were so simple.

Who knows why she said it. She says a million things. Thom touched his palm and imagined his hand was empty, a tiny circle at the center. Later that night, with the taste of smoke still lingering on his lips, he dreamed of them, cigarettes, but in dreams, the cigarette tips and nipples—hundreds of nipples—were one and the same. Hundreds of packs pirouetting in the air. Blond filters. Transparent paper dresses. He craved them all and wanted to eat them like food. Little salty fish sticks. He wanted to eat the cigarettes and the nipples and to put an end to the hunger and be satisfied, but there didn’t seem to be enough in the dream to kill the craving. He wanted to put it all in his mouth, Kelly and her unseen breasts, and the block they lived on, and Kelly’s older sister with strawberry curls, and her boyfriend with the lazy eye like a lure, and the ribbiting leather couch they used to roll around on when he was younger and under the rule of being babysat, and the couch itself, put the whole goddamn slippery enormous plum of the world in his mouth and chew. It was all so fucking crazy…
Thom continued to walk along the empty street, away from his apartment. When he turned the corner, one hundred thousand flash bulbs dinted at once. His eyes were steeped in thick moonlight. The hanging ball above leaked an ocean of milk.
It was so near. It was a fly ball from the diamond. A diamond itself. He wanted to wrap his hand around it and pluck the jewel from the sky. Study it. Learn by feeling the hollow places and the rocky imperfections. Put it on a mantle. Show his kids. And then crush it like an egg in his hand.
Like it was nothing.
Like it was hollow.
A used up pack of smokes.
He wove and wove, passing house after silent house. Step after step he walked, straddled between the lines of faded paint on the street. He noticed how lights left on at night for comfort or protection broke through, making a softly glowing aisle. The light was for him.
He walked on down the aisle, and his shoes clacked against the asphalt with a developing cadence. Kurplunk. Kurplunkurplunk. The lights blurred. He tried to adjust his eyes but couldn’t.
A hush broke over the street after every step. A sound and then nothing. A stress and then silence. Hushed were the houses vibrating with soft light. Hushed were the cats and the dogs coiled in contentment. Hushed were the homeowners tucked between two velvety sheets underneath a dream.
The whole of the nightworld blurred. Light became shadows, stretching off of objects, whispering to each other. Connecting things. Each step he clapped on the cool street became involuntary, less noticeable than breathing. He was being pulled. Lulled down a sandy river toward the light that rattled against the sky.
The light was for him. He bathed in it, uncovering wings. There was no silence now. Kurplunkurplunkurplunk. He closed his eyes, spreading his arms as wide as he could. He saw blue and red dots, the light of ruined worlds pinned between his mind and eyelids. The dots joined, fingers interweaving, and smashed white.
The light was for him.
His feet pulled faster at the street. The silent houses opened and then began to scream by. His heart pitched his blood forward. He was rising. Off of the earth. Above the street. Above the house lights. Above the twiggy Autumn trees. Above the air. Rising moonward. Thom’s mouth fell open, and the noises in his head leaked into the night.      
–Don’t you see, these are your lights. Those stars, those are for you!
–This is your vigil. These are for you!
–Are you hanging behind the moon?
–It’s all for you!
Curious city.
–All of it, all!
The mumbling of a motor grew louder and louder. His feet were stiff on the street, inches from the curb. The aisle was no longer soft or glowing like rows of sweet candles. The leaves had left the trees, but the branches were thick and long, hanging like hands that cover eyes at a slasher flick. He froze. A torrent of nausea cut his stomach and toppled his body. His palms ran aground and two berserk twitches rippled through his torso. He vomited.
The snarl of metal approached. His neck shivered into a crisis as his stomach broke open again. He must have French inhaled the last one.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Guest Post by the Author
No Tricks
A while ago now I came across "A Storyteller’s Shoptalk", an essay from the New York Times back in the early 80s, in which Raymond Carver ruminates a bit on the subject of gimmickry in fiction, admonishing his reader that there should be "NO TRICKS" in good storytelling. Carver goes on to suggest that writers might record thoughts of vital import concerning the craft of writing on three-by-five cards, which when positioned near one’s desk, might act as a kind of North Star while working. It’s a great piece, of course, and I nodded with satisfaction when I recognized some of the passages that have been canonized in texts I’ve used in the classroom over years. After I finished reading the essay, I tried to think of my own writerly adage to guide my work, but let’s face it: it’s hard to top that advice. It’s a great commandment, as commandments go. When written on an index card, or in the margin of a paper, the phrase "NO TRICKS" conveys almost all of the order, and intention, and authority, and ruler-on-knuckle-slapping, that a student of writing could ever need ... at least for a while.
Entering my first year of college, I had a particularly Hollywood-curated vision of an English teacher: the staid, didactic professor standing in the front of the enormous lecture hall, shuffling class notes yellowed with age, slowly tracing a finger over dog-eared texts while huffing through the exegesis of an ancient poem (pronounced po-eem, of course). This particular professor would never know the name of each of his students, or permit full-bodied participation in the discussion, or acknowledge his pupils as real people - I’m reminded here, perhaps oddly, of Descartes’ awkward claims that animals are incapable of thought or feeling. While there’s a kind of anachronistic charm to this particular academic figure, he is of course utterly false, a true fiction - all a trick, really. My actual first-year English classes were decidedly more student-focused and organic, and those first experiences became the nucleus around which I’ve crystallized my own pedagogy.
I strive for discussion-based, collaborative learning, focusing on individual thought and creativity. That sounds like C.V. fodder, sure, but it’s true. I spend almost as much time preparing for each class as the actual class itself. However, very little is canned - we’re a live show from the second class begins. And while I’m the leader of the classroom, I’m still very one of them. I generally sit with my students in the round directing traffic, and performing perhaps the best teaching trick I’ve ever learned: turning over my ear instead of opening my mouth. Our discussions are hands-on, often electric, and certainly not reheated lectures from the lectern. I guide my classes forward with questions about texts, about their work, and frequently play devil’s advocate to challenge, and ultimately sharpen, their writing. I guide my classes forward the way a captain might steer a boat, but to be sure, we are all rowing the vessel forward.
Good teachers find ways to harness all of the knowledge their students have accumulated on a topic, while at the same time, finding ways to break misconceptions down in order to start anew, and make more room for growth. I could think of a large cast of characters from my undergraduate and graduate experience who made similar impacts in my life - these people rearranged my molecules, and shaped and reshaped me as a writer, thinker, reader, and eventually a teacher. What’s interesting, too, as seasoned teachers know, it’s not just your teachers who guide you through your classes, but often it’s your students as well. In many ways, it’s my students who push me through the depths and rigors of each new semester - that’s something I wish they could understand more quickly in the semester. I tell them, but it takes time; I couldn’t get through the semester without them.
This is to say nothing of the impact my students have on my creative work. Just as I have expectations for my students to revise their own work, a practice they generally embrace, ultimately, this puts a charge in me. How can I honestly expect quality work from my students if I’m not an authentic practitioner of what I profess? They see through that shit in a second.  Really, I think I have my students - stretching over many, many terms - to thank for their inspiration ... and maybe even in some ways, expectation, to really revise and rework. This is certainly the case with my novel Unwrap Your Candy which was released on 10 September from Common Deer Press. Without a classroom of writing students to guide, and in turn, guide me, I’m not sure this book makes it into the world.
Of course, there are diminishing returns in the teaching life - after I taught my 100th class a years ago, I stopped counting. There should be a trophy but there’s not. Quite honestly, it might be easy to slip into the lazy comfort of simply reheating another lecture just to get through the next class. It’s an easy trick. To avoid this, I have to rely on my guiding principles as a teacher and play them back to myself. New is new to them, but new has to be new to me, if that makes any sense. Fittingly, a great example of this type of re-seeing came from a recent semester. After teaching Raymond Carver’s "Cathedral" a zillion times in my Creative Writing classes, it dawned on me that many of my students have probably never just LOOKED at a cathedral. So, I decided to try something new. I gathered a collection of images of Spanish cathedrals. I turned down the lights and projected the images on the big screen. Then, I had them describe what they saw; all of us wrote down what we saw and took turns sharing with the class. When it was time to unpack the story, I asked them if we could keep the lights dimmed during the discussion. They agreed. And while images of the cathedrals glowed on the projection screen, we spent the rest of the class talking in the in the near-dark, discussing a story about seeing, and re-seeing the world in a new way. These are the kinds of moments that left the deepest impressions on me as a student 10,000 years ago, and my hope is that I can offer some of the same moments for my students.
Recently at the beginning of the term in a Creative Writing class, I had a group of my writers read the Carver’s "A Storyteller’s Shoptalk" article. During the next class I passed out three-by-five cards for them to record their own rules for good writing. It was early on in the term, and so it was an interesting way of taking a snapshot of some of the craft-adage they might be bringing to the course. I suppose this is a bit of a gimmick, though I’d argue with Carver that the results are true. There’s nothing more authentic in my mind than a person rising - briefly and even clumsily - out of the role of student.
As with any class or any assignment, some pieces are better than others, but even in the clich├ęs, the class still moves forward.  We move closer to something better - that’s a classroom.
Here’s some of what my students came up with:
Use colorful language.
Stay Original.
Don't think, just write.
Too much detail can be overkill.
Use your emotions.
Don't tell the reader everything.
Don't overdo description.
You’ve got to have emotion.
Show, don't tell.
Perspective: Everyone Sees a different world.
That’s a pretty good trick.

About the Author
Jesse Miller
I am a writer and a teacher.
I tutor and mentor students working on a variety of writing projects.
I'm always looking for new ways to share my work and insights on teaching the craft of writing, and I welcome new teaching and workshop opportunities. Please feel free to contact me to read from Ark, or my new novel, Unwrap Your Candy!

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three ebook copies of Unwrap Your Candy by Jesse Miller.