What you avid readers of these posts may not realize is that this neophyte novelist has also long ago published some short stories, some of which were self-published in an afternoon as a vehicle that I hoped would transport me into an MFA program. It helped and I went to the English-based excellent creative writing program at Bar Ilan University in Israel, which is named after its founder--the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program. For those like me, I urge you to think about adding it to your list of possibilities. And if you want a look at my early foray in fiction publishing you can get a copy of Learning the Game, HERE. It's a bit primitive but was fun to do.
Speaking of fun, here's a later story about a creative writing class--mine. Though classmates were satirised, there were no complaints except for each of my fellow attention seekers whinging about insufficient word counts devoted to them.
The Holey Grail
A blue sea of Saladin’s Islamic forces, the Turkish horse, Ayyubid warriors, and Armenian mercenaries, swept from the east attacking the armies of Richard the Lion-Hearted as they marched south along the coast. Saladin, himself protected by Egyptian Mamluks, struck to prevent the Crusaders from turning inland for an attack on Jerusalem. In the late afternoon, with the battle still uncertain, King Richard ordered his Templars to counterattack the right flank of Saladin’s warriors, hemmed in by the sea.
The Templar charge slowed to a halt in a general melee near the beach. Formations and lines of attack were ripped apart. Screaming, stabbing, hacking infantry separated the knights of King Richard from the emirs of Saladin who, high on horseback, sliced through the opposing forces using mace swinging from both hands, their armored, half blind horses prancing over downed bodies in panic.
The visor on Percivale’s helm was up for better vision, taking the risk of a crossbow bolt in the eye from the Turkish horse who had dismounted for better aim. Ducking behind the neck of his warhorse, Odin, Sir Percivale held his blood-tipped sword high and chopped down in short strokes at the exposed necks of Armenian mercenaries.
A Mamluk grabbed Perivale’s spurred foot trying to drag him from his horse. Percivale reared Odin and swung in an arc, slicing at his attacker. Blood sluiced down the flute of his broadsword and onto his gauntlet. Both of his arms ached, the one from parrying blows with his shield and the other as he wielded his heavy sword.
All at once…
Ben’s eyes closed briefly. Almost three hundred words. Past midnight, his computer screen blurred. His story was due for class in the morning, How could he end it? End? Hell, what could serve as the middle of the story? What did his Hero want? He needed his protagonist to have a proper epiphany. Energized, he again attacked the keyboard.
Percivale spurred Odin forward. Saladin’s infantry fell, shouting, shrieking, and dying, under his steed. Fatigue drained Percivale’s blood lust. Odin, tired too, no longer wild-eyed and prancing in the chaos, made Percivale more vulnerable, an easier target. He felt an arrow carom off his shoulder and heard a nearby Arabic shout that he now knew well, “Insha'Allah. Die, you uncircumcised dog!” He deflected the pike that clanged on the front of his armor. Shaking off his fatigue, he urged Odin onward and jerked onto a hillock devoid of fighters where, above the swirling dust, he looked down on the pageantry of 50,000 Crusaders death-locked with Saladin’s armies next to the sea.
Ben sat back breathing heavily from his exertions. His classmates were competitive beasts and would savage whatever he sent. It wasn’t finished, but like Percivale, Ben was tired. He looked up the bulk address of his class and hit “send.”
In class the next day, with the now well-established routine, Ben’s classmates piled on, their critiques starting with his title and ending with the placement of his last comma. Leat was the only one who liked it, but she liked everything. As the comments continued, Ben inked a small series of gallows for each of his classmates in his notebook, for he was required to show, not tell, his state of mind. Daniel was going on about that very point in tedious detail, eyeing their teacher for approbation.
A useful comment came from Deborah, who roused herself from Googling engagement rings on her laptop. She thought it would be kind of arty if they strung the enemy up one by one along the city walls like an installation by Christo.
Finally, The Published Novelist—their teacher who Ben had dubbed the Hofmeister—swung his cold eyes over his class of writing students. Ben, along with his classmates, was hungry, tired, and getting testy. Wearily, the Hofmeister cleared his throat. “Well there are certainly some interesting moments here, granted of course that it’s fantasy.” A small moan escaped from Meira, the recurring fantasist of the class whose stories involved magical umbrella salesmen and bunnies.
“Some astonishing violence, I must say,” the Hofmeister continued. Almost every story had some element of astonishment for him.
Ben stifled a yawn.
The Hofmeister continued, “But I believe—correct that--know that there are some lost opportunities.” These he expounded at some length: foreshadowing... epistemological underpinnings… implicit thematic use of metaphor…problematic direction…and of course the grievous sin of handing in an unfinished story.
Naomi’s eyes drifted shut. She was a lawyer who worked billable hours and had to make up class time by working nights.
“Maybe,” The Hofmeister concluded, “Since we are nearing the end of our time, we could ask others to take a shot at how to finish this story where Ben seems to have come down with a case of warrior fatigue.” The Hofmeister looked over his half glasses for the expected titter at his little joke. Only Leat complied.
Later that night Ben received the following offering from Galina, who had also forwarded her email to Tom and Meira, that read in part:
A hooded monk-like figure, identifiable neither as man nor woman appeared before Percivale in the early evening mist and intoned, “I went into town today to get some new hiking boots, and bumped into my old friend, Jenny, you remember Jenny, and she wanted to know what this hush-hush stuff was all about. So I told her about how you felt the siege engines could really be improved, and…” With a weary gesture, Sir Percivale waved away the apparition.
Thanks, Galina. Galina was writing a novel about the development of the Bomb during WW II. Faithful and Sancho? Was she playing with him? Ben was about to fire off a retort to Galina when an email popped up from Tom, who took his cue from Galina’s piece. Tom worried about his straying yeshiva classmates.
After knight school, many of his classmates had forsaken the crusade within a year of graduation… Tom continued with a long flashback that described P’s early education. It ruined the whole narrative drive of the piece.
An email from Meira popped up on Ben’s screen.
Another apparition appeared! It was a small boy leaning on an ill-formed crutch. He was dressed in the manner of a poor London child from the 1800’s with a crushed hat, a tattered jacket too thin for this climate, and pants that were obvious hand-me-downs, and well researched. In a squeaky voice, the young and ineffably adorable boy said, “Sir, my father asked me to see whether you could join us in our tiny apartment to share our meager Christmas dinner?”
At least Meira spared Ben the bunnies.
Ignoring the emailed suggestions and fortified with shots of tequila Ben soldiered on alone. He blasted his computer keyboard at white heat, unrestrained by good sense, taste, or the need to revise. He was a steaming amalgam of James Joyce, Henry Miller, and Michael Chabon. He ignored the need for order, some meaning, assuming it would arise unbidden from the words that flowed across his computer screen. Would Sir P, alone and surrounded by Saladin’s forces, be rescued? Would Sir P’s wife, the ethereal Lilith, who so much reminded Ben of Sooka, his favorite pole dancer down at the Lady-G spot on Tversky Street, would Lilith like the Christmas present that Sir P had left behind for her? A brand new MacBook Air and not the old PC laptop that she complained of incessantly. With the loss of his stupid horse, Odin. now how was P going to get home? “Sancho, Faithful… Get me out of here!”
Again so tired, Ben identified with Sir P as all authors should and integrated the best efforts of Meira and Tom with his own and sent it off.
Soon an email came back from the Hofmeister, addressed to Ben, but copied to the entire class:
“Not bad for a very, very, very early draft. Excepting of course that our knight now seems to be transformed in some mysterious manner that I don’t think is well integrated into the whole story. There are certainly some astonishing elements. I want the rest of the class, using the iterative technique that Meira, Galina, and Tom have so nicely worked out, to help finish the piece. I’ll see you next week."
Later that evening Ben met with his classmates in a café to continue their joint effort. They packed it all in. Good and Evil named Elmer and Jack; Israel and America, allegorized as Esmerelda and Toots. Microsoft and Google, Anna and Count Vronsky, Netanyahu and Abbas, even Odin and Lilith as War and Piece--each couple remained locked in a strangle-hold indistinguishable from an embrace. How they needed each other.
A stray poet who had nearly finished her tour of duty in the IDF, and subsidized in the program by veterans’ benefits, her beret firmly in place on top of her mouse brown hair, a holstered Beretta on her belt, stood and declaimed her frustrated political-sociological-sexual reaction:
They fuck with interlocked recklessness.
Each decade triggers a
Of arms and legs, tongue and teeth.
They grope on sweaty tangled sheets,
Their children left untended.
That earned the poet desultory applause and the class returned to their ruminations. Tuffy, a malignant gerbil, high and huge on growth hormone, crushed New York City and won an Oscar, while on a planet far, far away, The Donald, elected himself while his wife exhaled strange gaseous fumes.
After more gnawing on her pencil, the poet stood, and over the chattering of the class, recited the rest of her ode.
Bloody detritus drops from the bed.
We who wonder but do nothing
Tire of the pair,
Strut and preen,
With TV time,
And high explosives.
While in the sands of the desert,
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs…
At the next class, the Hofmeister wiped his dripping nose with the back of his hand. The group had upped the ante. The unrelated imagery flashing by gave him oculovestibular nystagmus. Maybe, maybe, it’s about me, he thought, adding another filter to the page. Or maybe, it was a new fictive genre: nothingness: a depiction of what was outside of the Junk Filling the Great Void. Unmistakenly narcissistic, a trait as common among his students as four o’clock shpilkes.
But if he had to read this crap, even try to understand it, at least they could include a sex scene that had some juice! There’d been a few indifferent couplings written during the past months. One scene fraught with some mechanics that ignored human anatomy. Another with a throbbing wet cyclotron, an image that may have destroyed the Hofmeister's sex life forever. He turned the page and there it was—
The sex scene!!!!!!!!!
(See January 3, 2010, NY Times, The Naked and the Conflicted by Katie Roiphi.)
Sex! You have to reference sex!?
While Sir Percvale waited for her arrival on BA 419 direct from London, he imagined his beloved Lilith. Blonde, Nordic, she was the product of a Viking rapist and the third daughter of the tall Prince of Lauderdale. Taller than Sir Percivale by more than a foot, she was also sufficiently zaftig to satisfy those feelings that hovered beneath the romantic ideal: “to always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows, succour.” P writhed as his inaccessible crotch itched inside his too tight armor.
Lilith had not been pleased when he told her of his plans to be away for three years. “Sod the bloody Crusade,” she screeched, as he’d galloped off over the drawbridge.
But there she was at last, exiting customs. Lilith’s long gown flowed behind her and the silken scarf on her butterfly henin fluttered beguilingly. Her beauty (or maybe her size) was such that a hush fell over the onlookers waiting for their relatives. Three of Sir Percivale’s particularly good-looking vassals followed Lilith, carrying her travel trunks on their backs.
At last alone with his Lady in the small rented condo overlooking the Mediterranean, Sir Percivale knelt before her and swore eternal love, loyalty and obeisance.
“Oh for God’s sake, Percy, stop groveling. I’m not Jewish.”
“Darling, let me grant you your slightest wish.”
“Well all right, but do get up. I need a drink!”
Percivale scrambled to supply some frosty vodka from the freezer. Lilith polished off a tumbler and wiped her ruby lips.
“Much better, Percy. And now to bed!” A soft burp escaped her as she tapped her alabaster bosom.
All by himself, he unhinged his armor in the living room and put on his black silk robe, allowing time for Lilith to prepare herself.
Lilith lay nude on the bed reading People magazine and smoking a Winston, dropping ashes on the covers. Stubbing out her cigarette on the bedside table, she held her arms open and coughed wetly, “Come to mama, Darling. I need you to lick me all over. I’m sweaty from the long trip.”
Sir Percivale approached the bed, conscious of the forthcoming boon. Sliding under the covers, he slipped off his robe.
“So bashful, Deary. And what have you been keeping down here for me?”
He winced as a strong, callused hand gripped his penis. He felt a few yanks. Then nothing. He looked over at Lilith. She continued reading the magazine.
“Want to finish this article by the Queen’s footman who suggests that she might be a lesbian.”
And then after minutes of delicious anticipation, there occurred such a series of licking and biting and exploration of orifices and rubs, hugs, and burrowings, penetrations, and ticklings that Sir Percivale felt transported to some other, not necessarily higher, realm of amor, caritas, and agape.
The bedding lay higgledy-piggledy all over the room. Pictures on the wall hung askew as if after an earthquake. P was rubbed raw, turned inside out and drained.
The Hofmeister shook his head. The authors had lost the opportunity for real eroticism in their attempt at what? Not humor. How could they possibly end this piece that destroyed any sense of time, which mocked authorial, well, authority, that was composed of nothing but shards of ill-fitting fancy?
But The Hofmeister wished them all well. He only hoped he had not been infected too deeply by the imaginings of the group, so far, so distant, from the care, effort, and exactitude that he had sought to instill.
Percivale followed the secret map extracted from a water-boarded Saracen. The path to the Holy Grail.
Swinging huge fiery swords Meaning and Truth were the last of the defenders. P thought of turning back. It was too hard. The word count too high. The POV wobbly. For a moment he wished he were once more in the arms of the fair Lilith.
After a quick swig of mescal, Percivale blasted Meaning and Truth with his six shooter. He stepped over the bodies and strode to the altar where the Grail shone in a misty light. Holding it at arms length, for he always mislaid his damn reading glasses, P read at last the words for which he would devote his life…
Art manifests ego mastery---Sigmund Freud
That was deep. Freud? A Jew? Writing on the Holy Grail?
Percivale looked more closely at the tattered scrap of papyrus in his other hand. It was a map that led not to the Grail of Jesus. Sir Percivale held the other Biblical chalice, the goblet that Joseph, the overlord of Egypt, used to trick his brothers by hiding it in Benjamin’s saddlebag then accusing him of theft. So, he guessed, this was the semi-holy grail, not good to lose, for the Jews it’s news.
P set the goblet back where he’d found it. The message appeared apropos now that he had emailed Lilith his plans to write up his adventures. But why write? At that moment, his cell phone rang. He picked up.
“Finally, Percy. Why do you never answer your cell?”
“I don’t care if it’s an anachronism. I need to reach you.”
“I know you have some fighting to do, but I have stuff to do too!”
“Writing? I thought you said ’fighting'. First the Crusades, and now writing? What are you thinking!?”
“All I could find on Google, was, Ars gratia artis. Is that what you wanted?”
Leaving the chalice in its place, Percivale limped back to the impatient Odin who could smell the oats laden with molasses waiting for him in his stall in England. Faithful gave Percivale a leg up. Sancho handed Percivale his heavy lance. Odin took to a fast trot that rattled his armor and jolted Percivale’s bruised and battle-scarred body.
Faithful and Sancho followed in the limo, bouncing in the ruts and losing traction because of a fresh dusting of snow on the road. The snow fell on the battle dead and the hidden Grail. It drifted into the ruined cities, the high castles, and even onto the lowland runways at Ben Gurion airport...
The Hofmeister wiped his brow. He knew that he had failed. They always got around to writing about writing. Hell, all writers did. That’s what he guessed it was about. Had this sophomoric fluff finally ended? He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore.
In the back of the smoky Lady-G strip joint in Tel Aviv, sloe-eyed Sooka sat on Ben’s lap, a weak gin and tonic in her hand. She wriggled deliciously as he finished telling her the meaning of his recent story that used a group of networked semiotic metonymic lexemes as signifiers that would engage both the ear and the eye. Just as soon as he could find a publisher, he’d do a book tour through the major cities of Europe.
“Oooo.. Can I come? Russians love writers.”
Ben pulled his fedora to one side as Sooka nestled close. Of course she could come. Why else do writers write? It was their primary heuristic.