July 10, 2013
“As literary writers…we’re not supposed to just get the job done, we’re supposed to advance the conversation, and part of our challenge is to dig deeper and create something new, or at least approach an existing thing (such as setting) from a unique angle. Yes, our writing relies on social norms and cultural touchstones, but where genre writers tend to follow the old wrinkled tourist map, literary writers explore new territory.”
— Ryan Rivas
“15 Views of Tampa Bay…is an exhilarating performance of literary cooperation, with writers who are used to working solo suddenly extending each other’s plots, deepening each other’s characters, and shaping each piece to fit the wider puzzle.”
— John Henry Flemming
In fast-paced flash fiction, location often takes the backburner; however, when Burrow Press recently released 15 Views Volume II: Corridor, location took center stage. In 15 Views, thirty writers deconstruct the stereotypes associated with two of Florida’s most misrepresented cities, Orlando and Tampa, by presenting honest, intimate, and fleeting glimpses of the local human condition. These stories are not postcard snapshots of resort beachfronts or Epcot Center, but drama-laden accounts of shattered dreams, inescapable poverty, and atrocious violence.
Though the writers included here had to abide by a schedule and particular rules—each had a week and no more than a thousand words to take the literary baton and advance the story forward, tie his/her segment to a previous piece, and set the scene in their assigned city, Orlando or Tampa—transitions are crisp, and the narrative focus never strays. Rather than loosely tie the stories together, all synchronize with insightful purpose and “narrative fluidity,” as Ryan Rivas states in the introduction. In a mere thousand words, writers had to present the most important aspects of their tale; there was no breathing room to lollygag on dead-end details or random observations. This format challenges the reader to stay attentive at all times. Details can’t be glossed over or forgotten since something as minute as a single thought or one-line exchange of dialogue could emerge as the main focal point in a subsequent segment.
The hard work and attention to detail that went into producing 15 Views Volume II: Corridor is uncanny. The narrative is fluid, and eerie silhouette-like papercuts kick off each chapter and add to the overall personality of the compilation. The result is a mosaic of literary and visual brilliance that captures the everyday essence of life in two of Florida’s most misunderstood metropolitan areas.
15 Views of Orlando opens with Jess, a homeless teen runaway living in the woods with a male companion who doles out lessons on memory and mindfulness. Said lessons segue into the next installment, a dark graphic narrative that depicts a car plowing over a teenage boy—the driver was texting at the time of the incident. Tragedy ensues throughout the rest of the Orlando stories in a similar fashion. A woman on a bench toils over her runaway daughter, and the heartbreak of being abandoned by her “soul mate” without any explanation or forwarding address. Two teen runaways hit the road under the belief that the open road, new outfits, and drugstore hair dye will buy them shiny new lives. A naïve young girl finds herself lured to Orlando in hopes of working as a Disney theme park princess, only to find she doesn’t “fit the mold” and has to settle for a job at a mall Starbucks. Like the film Magnolia, this collective of intertwined vignettes sheds light on human suffering, and reminds us how everyone is flawed, and no one has anything figured out. People text and drive, seek answers in the visions of for-profit “mediums,” fear Carrot Top, and harbor enough self-hate to believe “missing girl” posters are beauty contests in disguise.
Every corner of the Orlando series is exceptionally dark, especially the closing, which is narrated through the eyes of a burned out therapist who’d spent years counseling the city’s most damaged and broken souls:
“The city was sick, two boys shot, set on fire, dusk thick with dead girls. That morning, another, number nine, her Tinker Bell tattoo filling the Orlando Sentinel’s front page like a warning. Like if you were female, if you were tattooed, you were asking for it. What a city. What a world.”
This final note effectively sets the tone for the second installation of the book titled 15 Views of Tampa, which is similar to its predecessor in format and style, but errs on side of experimental fiction. Think bizarre daytime TV-like drama involving characters named Gutter Boy and Bumpo who find themselves snared in the drama between an Albanian mafia thug and his baby mama. This series also maintains the gruesome violence and urban decay of its Orlandoan counterpart, momentum foreshadowed in Gutter Boy and Bumpo’s introductory discussions on the cannibalistic habits of local wildlife, both land and sea.
The final passage ends with a succinct press release that summarizes how human remains were discovered and “picked clean by the vultures.” The only possible lead was a “tall” Starbucks cup found near the pile of bones. A forum of reader comments follows the release, each remark ranging from smart-ass, “Just another sunny day in Tampa Bay!” and “whoever did it probably needed a venti,” to distantly concerned, “when i read any of the comments above i am ashamed to call myself a resident of tampa bay.”
The conversation continues to ping-pong back and forth from serious to ridiculous to off-topic completely. One person notes how violent Tampa has become over the years, while others shift with a slew of sports’ team shout outs, racist remarks, and then back to sports again. Though the succession of these comments are, at times, darkly humorous, the situation as a whole—the death, the vultures, and community’s mentality—paints a realistic picture of how desensitized the general public has become to social issues headlining around the world, the nation, and even in their own backyard.
Throughout the final stretch of the Tampa series, Editor John Henry Flemming’s indicative introduction blared in mind:
“…nature continually reminds us of its resilience, as any homeowner knows who takes a two-week vacation and returns to find his lawn choked with foot-high weeds and his pool cage fingered-through by webs of creeping vines. If you leave something alone in Florida, nature reclaims it. And you are reminded of your irrelevance.”
In 15 Views of Tampa we are reminded how humanity can slash and burn the woodlands to farm oranges, deforest nesting habitats for another eighteen holes of golf, and dredge the wetlands to merchandise Mickey Mouse, but nature can still strip clean our carcasses, and undoubtedly remind us of our mortality, and how our reckless self-destruction often plays the lead.