Good Luck: Episode Forty-One
Attn: All living memories currently living in the house of memory, the Good Luck novel is now open for submissions.
We are seeking short fiction to be published within the novel. Word limit: 8000 words.
One winner will be selected, receiving a prize of $10,000 plus publication within this novel (attributed). Good Luck is expected to win top prizes, possibly National Book Award, maybe Pulitzer, could win the Nobel, hard to say right now.
We are looking for writing that will make our skeletons jump out of our bodies and scream Death in the face till Death jumps out of its skeleton’s skeleton or whatever. Send stories about clouds that want to be rivers. Birds that swim deep. True love that is wrong. Fantasy day jobs, reality moonlight occupations. Memories of memories. Music that can knock over a brick wall. Rainbows that disintegrate dreams. Dust and gold nuggets and no animal fear. Sentences that will make our souls explode, bridges combust in flames or flowers, spaceships say fuck it and fly into a black sun. Stories full of uncomfortable joy, monkeypaw wishes, jackasses. Please, no semicolons, metaphors, or exclamation points!
This is a great opportunity to launch your own writing career, on the coattails of Bud Smith.
Of note, Good Luck will eventually probably top the New York Times bestseller list, become widely translated, etc. Hey, maybe keep an eye out for Good Luck: The Movie.
Submission fee is $20 per story.
Send as many stories as you like. But please send the fee with each submission.
Reading period ends September 9th, 2019.
P.S. — Oh, one hitch! To keep quality high, the editor will be killing whoever sends the worst story. So keep that in mind before you hit send. Thank you again.
I rushed home from the oil refinery, showered, put on clean clothes, picked up the mess in the living room where the workshop meets. I erased last week’s commentary from both white boards. At exactly seven o’clock, my phone rang. I went out of the apartment to let everybody in. Tuesday. Workshop night. Andy Tran, Caitlin Forst, Steve Andrews, Shy Watson, Jon Lindsey, Melissa Ragsly.
I said, “No Janelle?”
Jon said, “She’s got a doctor’s appointment.”
Shy said, “There was a group email.”
I said, “Ah, okay. I must have missed that.” I realized it was Janelle’s turn to have her story workshopped, and since she wasn’t here, we would only be able to workshop Jon Lindsey. And then just joking around, I said, “Maybe we’ll do some of my novel, then.”
Nobody said anything.
We walked through the marble foyer of the building, past the framed portrait of Frank Hague that said, ‘I am the law.’ When I tried the door to my apartment, I saw I’d locked us out by accident. My keys were inside on the table.
So, I took the class out of the building, across the street, to Boyd-McGuinnes Park. I went underneath my car and got the magnetic spare key box, took the key out, opened the trunk. I had three copies of my manuscript in progress, it was only ¾ of the way done but I was already sending it out to agents, desperate to make something happen in my life.
Good Luck, 144,000 words. Printed out at Staples, bound with plastic rings, an introductory page begging the powers that be to give me a chance before I died in an explosion.
I passed the manuscripts out, and said, “Not enough to go around. You’ll have to share.”
“Maybe we’ll have time to workshop the whole thing.”
We sat down on the green grass. Kids played in the park, screaming, splashing in the water. Their mothers were eyeing us suspiciously. It was a tiny public park. And the world was ending. Seas would boil soon. Gulls would tumble out of the heavens. Numbers would become useless. Desert would reclaim the swamp. God would show up and its name and face would be a joke where the punchline was your name and your face. The mothers always acted like you were a weirdo for showing up and getting comfortable. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. The chess tables were twenty feet from where the children were playing. The patch of lawn was right there too. At least we weren’t drinking beer or smoking. At least we remained positive at the gateway to the collapse of society, the final few minutes of absolute last gasp history.
We started off our workshop with a reading by Jon Lindsey. His story was about a man in Texas who was hindered in life and love by a severe fungal infection on his dick and balls. The story was twelve hundred words long. A hundred words into it, one of the mothers came over and asked us to leave. I kindly explained the story was fiction, and we wouldn’t be censored. The mother went away. Jon read the rest of his story. It was wonderful. We went around the circle once, telling Jon what we thought worked great about his story, and then we went around a second time giving him critiques. Midway through the critique circle, as I said I wished the story was more graphic, and as I gave specific suggestions about increasing the description of the fungal infection on the genitals, the police arrived.
The cops wouldn’t listen to reason, and we were ejected from the park. It was fine. The sky was bruised and ripe with color. A summer storm was raging in.
Down the hill, there was an old dilapidated house with an orange eviction notice on the door. I figured we could worse case scenario have class on the porch. Getting closer I saw most of the windows were broken out. The house was on the verge of collapse. I tried the door and it was unlocked. I said to the class that maybe we ought to get inside, get out of the weather. No one wanted to go in, so I went inside alone, found it empty except for a dog that was sleeping at the top of the stairs, but who didn’t wake up even when I said, “Here doggie doggie doggie.”
I lured the class inside. There was no furniture so we sat down on the living room floor, cross-legged. We lit up the literature with the flashlights on our cellphones. It was an hour before sunset but outside it was getting dark and soon the wind was wild, and the terror began.
Jon said, “Bud, how are we supposed to workshop your novel…”
“Same way as a short story. Think of this as a really long short story.”
“But it’s 530 pages.”
The door flew open and two men, soaked with rain tumbled in. We scared the shit out of them. They hoped to squat in the house. I told them we’d be out of there in an hour.
The men mumbled something and walked through the darkness, toward the kitchen, though it was hard to call it a kitchen, the stove had been torn out, the refrigerator was sideways on the floor, the door ripped off. They sat in the dark. When a bolt of lightning lit up the kitchen window, I saw one of them sticking a syringe in his arm. The next lightning bolt, I saw the syringe had moved to the other man, another arm.
My phone rang. It was the editor, talking excitedly. I stood up, tripped because a section of the floor was rotted out. I walked out the front door. The rain was coming down in sheets, so hard, the city was gone.
“I’ve been getting emails all morning. People are sending in stories. A lot of stories.”
“That’s what we want.”
“Yeah? I saw the call for submissions. Paying out $10,000…We’d need to read 1000 stories to…”
“Don’t worry about it, man.”
“I’m not worried about it. I need dough. But hey, what is with that thing at the end…I’m not killing anybody.”
“Don’t worry about it. That’s just to keep the quality high. If you don’t put something like that in there they’ll just send whatever crap they want.”
“Well, I’m not killing anybody.”
“Whatever you say, whatever you want.”
“William Carlos Williams sent in twenty poems already. Wheelbarrows and white chickens and cold rain.”
“That’s good. He’s a doctor, he’s got the money.”
“I’m looking at it now, he just sent five more poems. Each one is like five lines long. Apples in trees and cats in the window, somebody with a shadow falling on their face.”
“If he’s sending $20 for every little poem, I hope he sends a million. Mary Oliver send anything yet?”
“No, but I got a story from myself.”
“Oh, yeah, one of my memories of you. Was the story any good?”
“It’s great, but how am I supposed to judge the winning story if I’m sending stories and you’re sending stories and so is the angel of Death?”
“I said don’t worry about it. Just let them pile in, and we’ll figure it out last minute.”
“This is stressing me out just a little.”
“I’m getting another call. I’ll call you back later.”
“I’ll call you later.”
Rae was on the other line, crying. “I’m locked out. And I’m soaked.”
“Oh no. Are you okay?”
“Someone stole my purse.”
“Oh fuck! I’m sorry.”
“Where are you? Let me in.”
“I’m not at our building. I’m across the street. I’m locked out too. We’re having class. We were in the park but we got chased out. Come over here.”
I told her which house, the crumbling one, full of pain and misery and woe and disease and disparity but one which was dry in the storm. And then I stood out on the sagging porch, watching her walk up the block. She was getting pummeled by rain. I waved and waved.
She yelled, “They stole my fucking umbrella too!”
“Get over here,” I said. Her face had black and purple streaks from where the makeup had run. She was wearing a denim jumper, soaked. I hugged her and she cried, her crying made me cry. It was contagious. I asked what the thief looked like and she said it was a fat white guy in a Knicks jersey with a shaved head. He’d jumped out from behind a sycamore up by the Journal Square PATH station just as the first thunderclap happened. Nearly gave her a heart attack.
“Did you call the cops?”
“Not yet,” she said. “Should I do it now?”
“In a little bit. Come inside.”
Back inside the house, the junkies had joined the workshop circle. I saw their slack faces lit in blue light. Everyone was talking about their favorite piece from the new issue of The Paris Review. One of the men hadn’t read The Paris Review but began to talk in length about his favorite story, “The Swimmer” by John Cheever.
I introduced Rae and learned their names were Dom and Knifeboi.
“How do you spell your name?” I asked Knifeboi.
“It’s like ‘Knifeboy,’ pronounced the same way, but the way I spell it is K-N-I-F-E-B-O-I,” said Knifeboi.
They stood up and shook her hand and when Knifeboi saw how upset she was he demanded to know what had happened. Rae told him about her purse getting nabbed and when she described the bald man who’d jumped out at her, and where the attack had happened, they seemed to know exactly who’d done it. Dom said when the storm passed they’d go get the purse back, he owed that guy a beat down anyway. Vigilante justice was my favorite kind of justice.
We began the workshop again. Dom said he’d like to help but he hadn’t read any of Good Luck.
Everyone murmured, “We haven’t really read it either.”
“Can you summarize the plot?”
“Shit. Let me see,” I said. “Okay it starts out with the protagonist getting born and then 37 years later he’s standing around on a freezing cold day, watching a businessman buy a popsicle in the middle of a crazy city. The protagonist is too fat for his own coat now. Then the protagonist buys flowers to give to a crossing guard he’s at war with, but him and his wife get too drunk and he accidentally leaves the flowers at some random bar. Then the novel juxtaposes the protagonists current life working in an oil refinery, with his early memories, often inaccurate recollections of his childhood. Then there’s an elegy to the protagonist’s best friend, Chuck, who died of laughter while being scammed on the telephone, and then the protagonist listens to a Willie Nelson song over and over again, watches some old movies, gives some tributes to his first few serious girlfriends…um, what else happens…”
Jon Lindsey interrupted, “The house of memory stuff is pretty important, it seems. Kind of the keystone to it all. ”
“Oh yeah, thanks. Yeah. The house of memory is where the protagonist goes and visits his memories. So then it starts to make sense why the protagonist is so stupid, memory itself is infallible…or fallible. Fallible or infallible. ”
Dom said, “I’m pretty high right now, not gonna lie. Think I got it, though. Who are the main characters?”
“Everybody I know,” I said. “You’re in it now, Dom, you’re in it, Knifeboi. You’re in the novel from here on out.”
Knifeboi said he didn’t want his real name used. I said, “Okay, I’ll make you Mr. Dagger from now on.”
Melissa Ragsly said, “Bud, then there’s the trip with your brother across America, and the part about the cloud, and Durak, and the trip to the beach with the Army Survival Manual…it’s kind of…what’s the word…”
“Self-indulgent,” Jon said.
“Maybe,” I said.
“It’s a big novel. Why does it have to be so long?” Mr. Dagger said, looking at the manuscript in Shy’s hands.
I said, “In this first round of workshop critique, we usually say the things we like about the work and then in the second round, we come back around and offer constructive criticism.”
“Oh, sorry, bro. Cool how many pages it is, woot woot. It’s mad hard to write that many pages. Even if it’s shit.”
We went around the circle now, and everyone said a positive thing. They said the novel was probably funny, and surprising. They liked how anything could be possible and the rules were thrown out the window. When we came around the circle again, the criticism was that the novel lacked focus so maybe some rules would help, it had too many characters, maybe it didn’t need to be so wacky, five hundred plus pages in it had settled in on a plot with real stakes, and finally, the novel was bloated and could stand consolidation, trimming.
I said, “I guess I could delete some parts of it. Make it more serious.”
“How does the novel end?” Andy asked.
“I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m thinking maybe it will all be a dream.”
“A dream! No don’t do that!”
Shy said, “Two hundred thousand words and then you find out it’s all a dream? That doesn’t sound very good. No offense!”
Rae said, “People might get really mad. Might want their money back.”
“Shit. Then I’ll figure something else out. Maybe I’ll just have…I don’t know.”
Mr. Dagger said, “Have somebody get killed.”
“There’s a little of that coming, I think,” I said. “Minor characters though. Should I have someone important die?”
“Maybe the guy’s wife.”
“No,” Rae said.
We all looked up at the ceiling in the dark. Upstairs, footsteps. The dog was awake. Roaming. Someone with heavy boots.
Dom said, “They’re tearing this house down tomorrow.”
The rain stopped. The students handed me back my manuscripts. Next week, we’d workshop chapter three of Melissa Ragsly’s novel, and chapter three of Shy Watson’s novel. They both said they didn’t have print outs of their pieces and would email them. I apologized again to the class about locking us out, and told them that the next week we’d be back in the apartment, and I’d buy the wine and beer to make up for the weird night.
Everyone said they’d had fun. Ubers were hailed. We waited on the porch. The storm had blown out to sea. The students left. Dom and Mr. Dagger walked off down the block, sagging pants, feet dragging. Rae and I leaned against the side of the house. Shingles fell off. We talked about our day. I told her I’d almost gotten fired at work because one of our permits was wrong and I’d accidentally started a small fire while welding and didn’t have an extinguisher. She said she’d had a big meeting, her quilt design had gone well but there had been a lot of back and forth with one of the buyers from Macy’s about a shade of blue in one of the plaids. The moon appeared in the sky. We stood out on the sidewalk and looked up at it.
Half an hour later, Dom and Mr. Dagger walked down the sidewalk. Dom was swinging the purse. Rae said, “Yay!”
The money was gone from her wallet but everything else was there, except for one Visa card. I gave Dom and Mr. Dagger forty bucks, shook their hands, said goodnight. Rae and I walked over to the apartment. Went inside. Rae got on the phone with Visa and canceled her credit card. I saw the rain had partially flooded the kitchen, so I put down paper towels. The rain had soaked the couch in the living room, I threw rags on the couch to soak up the mess. I opened the window to let the hot air out of the room. I saw Dom outside leaning against the wrought iron fence of the girl’s Catholic school, smoking a cigarette.
He said, “I’m excited to read the rest of your novel, bro.”
I said, “Thank you so much.”
artwork by Bryan Tipton Bowie