There Be Giants

“What if there really are giants?” the girl asked from the backseat.

“Giants?” her father repeated from the driver’s seat. “Sure there are. Remember when we looked up that stuff? The most poisonous snake in the world, all that stuff? Remember the world’s tallest person? That guy was way up there. Forget how tall, though.”

“No, no, I don’t mean tall people. I mean giants. The ones that’re taller than houses.”

“Like in Gulliver’s Travels?”

“That wasn’t a giant,” she said from the passenger seat. “He was regular size. The people were really small. The Lilliputians.”

“I always thought he was a giant,” he said.

“Nope. But there was a giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“Right. That was a giant. A giant with a castle in the clouds.”

“What if they’re real?” she asked from the backseat. “What if they’re not in the clouds, but they’re hiding down here? Like behind those mountains over there?”

“Could be,” he said. “I can’t see over those mountains, so they could be there.”

“Would they be mean giants?” she asked from the passenger seat.

A pause, then from the backseat: “Maybe some of them. But not all. Like people. Some are mean, but most are nice.”

“Do the nice ones keep the mean ones in line?” he asked from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah. Yeah, they do.”

“Good. ‘Cause if the mean ones got loose, wouldn’t they smash things? Being giants and all, couldn’t they smash buildings to bits?”

In the rearview mirror, he could see her roll her eyes.

“Why do you go right to the violence?” she asked from the passenger seat.

“Dunno. Just figured if giants are real, then people should be worried. Those giants could snap skyscrapers like they’re made of twigs.”

“What if they’re just shy?” she asked from the backseat. “They don’t destroy things, and they don’t walk around because they’re really, really shy.”

“Could be,” he said. “So… what do they do all day?”

“Hide. Maybe they don’t want people to steal their stuff, like Jack did.”

“Like when he stole the giant’s gold?” he asked.

“Exactly,” she said from the backseat.

“But what if they built castles in the clouds to get away from us?”

“Even that’s not safe. As proven by the story.”

“True, true. I suppose they’re smart to hide then.”

“Yep. ‘Cause they’re really good at it.”

The three of them looked far into the distance, at the clouds and mountains, and tried to see if they could spot any evidence of giants.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Book Review: Leave the World Behind

front cover of Leave the World Behind book

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A world-shattering event occurs in this book. Unlike a Hollywood blockbuster, however, there’s no CGI special effects to wow us. The event occurs off stage.

The book’s characters (Amanda and Clay and their two kids) are vacationing in a Long Island home isolated from others. Except others knock on the door one evening. These others claim to own the house. The older married couple isn’t random, as they know Amanda’s name, who arranged this stay for her family in this Airbnb property. Amanda recognizes the gentleman’s name (G.H.) as the person with whom she communicated for this vacation stay.

Another problem: The wi-fi and cable TV stopped working in the house. So Amanda and Clay can’t verify what G.H. and his wife (Ruth) are claiming about a blackout in New York City.

The world, as advertised on the Airbnb property’s listing, has been left behind. Not all of it, since the two strangers show up on the doorstep. Good-bye, hoped-for family vacation.

The worlds for both families are thrown topsy-turvy as they try to piece together what happened — and is happening. What was that enormous sound? Why are the animals acting differently?

Instead of invading aliens or swarming zombies or crashing meteors, the tension in this story comes from more subtle sources. One: the characters trying to puzzle out the odd events. Two: the interactions among the two family groups and between the two groups.

Subtlety is the key in the previous paragraph. The book has a Shirley Jackson-type vibe of discomfort and potential danger as undercurrents. This story builds slowly and doesn’t wrap up neatly. I imagine this won’t be the cup of tea for some readers. Items are listed in the beginning, like the assortment in Clay’s car and what Amanda buys at a grocery store.

These are the things we accumulate. As are what’s in the house. The things we buy and use as we aim for comfortable lives. The good life. But how many of those things will help us when civilization crashes? Do we have the skills to survive in that event?

These — and other questions — are presented in this book. It’s more of a thoughtful exploration than a rush of action in every chapter.

Cherry Blossoms on the Wind

In yesterday’s post, I included photos of the five cherry blossom sculptures that I saw as part of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival. Seeing the sculptures inspired me to create a drawing of many cherry blossoms and leaves caught on the wind:

Lots of cherry blossoms and leaves scattered about the illustration, on a light-blue background

The cherry blossom illustration is available on prints and other products on my Redbubble store.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Cherry Blossom Sculptures

This year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival decided to not have a parade and street festival, which typically happen on the last day of the 2-week celebration. Instead, the festival asked artists to create designs for 26 cherry blossom sculptures, and these were placed around the Washington, DC area.

My two daughters and I had fun tracking down some of the sculptures. The festival provides a helpful map to find them.

Below are the sculptures we saw. Click on each photo to jump to that sculpture’s page on the festival’s website, which tells more about the sculpture and artist.

Sculpture decorated with heart shapes and swirls.
“Celebration” by Sandra Pérez-Ramos
Sculpture decorated with two women sitting in a tree, with many birds also on the tree. Done in a folk art style.
“Cherry Garden” by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Sculpture decorated with picnic blanket and basket of bread, wine, and fruit.
“Cherry Blossom Picnic” by Rachael Bohlander
Sculpture decorated with the word HOPE written in different styles, along the lines of graffiti
“HOPE” by Aaron Feinstein
Sculpture decorated with a grid map of Washington DC
“Community Grid” by My Ly & Jaclyn Stallard

The Churning

Image of a house and "waterwheel" sitting on an outcropping of crop land curving downward, in a land's version of a waterfall.
“Landfall” by Erik Johansson

A surreal image for MindLoveMisery’s Menagerie Photo Challenge #363. The creator of it, Erik Johansson, has a video on YouTube that shows what went into creating the image — it’s really neat to check out.


The Churning
by Dave Williams

The Earth had had enough. The planet was taking matters into its own hands.

This time, well beyond the events we had grown accustomed to happening on a somewhat-regular basis. The powerful hurricanes, “ordinary” earthquakes, underwater earthquakes leading to tsunamis, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions.

The ground moved. Some people said it was like a conveyor belt, the belt ending and dropping everything into a pit. Then, miles away from the pit, the land opened and out came the buildings, roads, trees, cars. But all those materials were in pieces. Like a bunch of machines below the Earth’s surface had crushed the materials, chewed them up, and spit out the pieces above ground.

But no machines were doing that crushing and chewing. The Earth had its own devices.

So the people who said it was like a tumbling compost bin were more accurate. The kind of bin where you throw your food waste and yard clippings, then you rotate the bin to stir up all the goodies, aerate them, in the hope they will break down and become lovely, nutricious compost for your garden.

If more people did that in real life, perhaps The Churning would not have happened.

The event occurred randomly around the planet. Scientists said they found no reason why some places were affected while others were not. If the Earth wanted to cause the highest impact, only the big cities would’ve been churned.

And some big cities had been churned. I tried typing the names of those cities for this piece, but I broke down and couldn’t do it. Everything I’ve heard about those cities, the movies I’ve seen where the action took place in those cities. Gone. Gone before I had a chance to visit them. Of course I would not have visited all of them, especially the ones far away from me. But I liked knowing they existed. They were parts of humanity’s tapestry.

That tapestry has been ripped and new patches sewn.

Seeing news coverage was mind-blowing. I didn’t believe my eyes. It has to be a movie, I thought. But no, it was real. I heard the whapping of the helicopter’s blades above the cameraman. I saw the land moving, dropping, a fresh mass reappearing. The Churning.

Then came news coverage of the aftermath. Rubble mixed with dirt. If the Earth wanted renewal, why not keep the human-made stuff underground? Why not replace it with just dirt above-ground? People said it was to remind us of not being more careful. Maybe they’re right.

We were shocked by the horror coming from below us. We’d been scared of aliens attacking us, meteors smashing us. Death from above. But it came in the opposite direction.

And now, as the dust has settled, we have no way of knowing if a second Churning will happen. So people are living as if it will happen at any time, and there’s chaos.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Victoria Ray Interview

Fellow indie author Victoria Ray invited to interview me, and I happily accepted. Also, I offered to interview her, as I was entertained by her two short story collections, So Absurd It Must Be True. I enjoy absurdist fiction, and her short stories are bursts of activity and humor and unpredictable plots.

Victoria posted her interview of me yesterday on her blog. And today, I’m posting my interview of her…


How did you get interested in writing? Which kind of writing — short stories, novels, poems — do you enjoy the most? Why?

The sheer pleasure to hold a pen? Or to see if my pen would create the unique blend of images, or build a new universe, or maybe, because, ‘In the beginning, was the Word?’

I believe writing is a part of our daily life: something – it could be a theme, a hero, an idea, or just the word – invites you, then seduces you, and at the end, absorbs you. It’s impossible to force or to stop. You, me, anyone on this planet is a writer. The only question is: what are you – the talent or a genius? The time will tell… Russian writer David Samoylov brilliantly described it:

“In this minute, a genius is sitting and writing…
In this minute, 100 talented people are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 1000 professionals are sitting and writing.
In this minute 100 000 graphomaniacs are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 1 million lonely girls are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 10 million young people (perhaps in love) are sitting and writing.
As a result of this grand event –
ONE POEM IS BORN. Or a genius, throwing out everything
that has been written in a basket.
And heading off.
but the world of literature will remember him/her.

I love writing if it creates the desire to feel, think, and reread. I prefer to write ‘compressed, short’ prose. Why? This is how I perceive the world around me.

Book covers: So Absurd It Must Be True collections and Sophia von X novel

I enjoyed reading your two collections of short stories: So Absurd It Must Be True (Book 1 and Book 2). Now I’m enjoying your novel Sophia von X. What did you think of the jump from writing short stories to novels? Was it a difficult transition?

Thank you! It was and still is a difficult transition. I wanted to try to write thrillers or sci-fi, but there’s a chance I’ll stick to absurd fiction, satire, and humor. I’m never sitting and writing the short stories, not in a usual way – it is often written brick by brick, like Lego – with attention on the construction, shape, form, model.

Example: To write the scene, let’s say 2k short story, I need bricks I’d like to use. For that, I’m collecting words, sentences, and phrases. It doesn’t matter how bizarre/wild they are or how out of context – I’ll find the place for them in my chapter or story. That’s why, perhaps, the text seems a bit rough, irregular, abstract, or undeveloped.

Writing the big novel is a different deal. Usually, I’m writing 20k (a core or skeleton), then I’m expanding the text – adding chapters, situations, details. It takes a lot of memory cells – to keep all those details in mind.

Book covers: The Life Written by Himself by Archpriest Avvakum and Buddha's Little Finger by Victor Pelevin

Your profile says you have a Ph.D. in classic Russian Literature. Very impressive! How have those studies influenced your writing?

I read and analyzed so many books (from the 11th century to modern fiction) that often, I’m leaving empty-handed at any bookstore. I love being there, though. Ah, all those books! Even if mass media products, those books are magical to me, too; full of messages and endless words. As a teacher of Russian literature, I love words. I can’t say that bookstores are selling boring books, not at all. What troubles me, the writing is nice and clean, but you won’t find any modern Prousts, Diderots, Kafkas, or Cervantes on the shelves.

Lately, many authors trying to come up with some new forms, ideas, word-playing, but still, it is rarely something different from all that what-market-wants-plot-hero-sleek-sameness.

And yes, of course, Russian Literature influenced my writing – from Life of the Archpriest Avvakum (written by himself) to modern surrealist, Viktor Pelevin. In my books, I make a unique mix of everything I know – DJ Ray NB. Welcome to my party!

How does research factor into your writing? Do you pick a topic, then research it, and that leads to ideas for stories? Or is it more often that you have a story idea, and you do research to give it believability?

Each story or novel starts from an image or a scene. When I’m writing a book, sometimes I can research beforehand. The problem with novels – they are so damn long – I see nothing, I forget everything – my mind is blurred. About short stories, usually, I’m working on each for only 2-7 days (max), and I never get back to rewriting after the piece is finished. I have to admit, I dislike rewriting. I see each story as an ‘impression’ of that particular moment/feeling.

Book covers: Seeds of Tomorrow and Harvest on the Don, both by Mikhail Sholokhov

The spontaneity and unpredictability in your short stories reminded me of the graphic novel Giraffes on Horseback Salad, which was based on Salvador Dali’s screenplay for a movie he hoped would star the Marx Brothers. Sadly, the movie was never made. Other than authors, what artists or musicians or actors do you see as role models for your writing? Why those artists?

What a fantastic title – ‘Giraffes on Horseback Salad!’
To answer your question: Ye shall make you no idols – my #1 rule
BUT I’d like to mention a couple of ingenious people:
Movies – Louis de Funès (because he is a true joy)
Literature – Teffi (a Russian humorist writer, fascinating lady, died in 1952); Mikhail Sholokhov (Nobel Prize winner 1965, Russian novelist. Seeds of Tomorrow and Harvest on the Don are my favorites: epic dramas); Dostoyevsky (so much passion, madness, and imbalance); O. Henry (fun, intelligent stories with a lesson); W. Thackeray (because of Becky and Amelia; satire, the sketch of English society); Stendhal (because he had more than 100 pen names and visited the city where I grew up); R. Sabatini (adventure and pirates).
Music – anything without words. Or silence.
Art – impressionism.

Book covers: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich and The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet

What’s one work of fiction that moved you deeply? Why did it have that effect on you?

Nothing ‘deeply moved’ me for the last thirty years, but there are modern books that made some splash. I’d like to mention Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. I know a lot of people dislike this book. They want an ‘easy-read’ crime novel. People are simple creatures, we often prefer to be a part of the flock, and in XXI – we are even more ‘simplified’ – more herd-y, I’d say. It means we don’t want to think, imagine, or reflect. Not by ourselves. We want everything to be delivered – given – gifted – placed inside of our minds.

The goal of any novel – to stretch your imagination. Any story/book is a Novel of Uncertainty; remember that. You can retell it the way you wish in your head – and that’s the magnitude, the real value, and the strength of great immortal literature.

One more book I’d like to mention – The Erasers, by Alain Robbe-Grillet: mix of avant-garde and nouveau, literary puzzle in each sentence, bizarre prose, can make you dizzy… I’m still reading it.


Links!

Victoria’s blog, where you can read some of her surreal and funny stories, as well as posts about writing and philosophy and wisdom she’s picked up from reading from various sources.

Victoria’s books on Amazon. In addition to the books I’ve mentioned here, she has published The Pearl Territory (surreal, sci-fi drama), Dulcinea and The Death Code (young adult novel), and two poetry collections.

Also! I want to mention two awards that Victoria Ray has won … Book 2 of So Absurd It Must Be True was a Finalist of the Book Excellence Awards for, and Sophia von X was picked as the Silver Medal Winner in the Fiction – Religious Theme category of the Reader’s Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest. You can see the awards on her blog’s about page.

Morning Interruption

Photo of man wearing a fedora and talking into a microphone
by Keith Channing

My story for the above photo prompt at Kreative Kue #309, hosted by Keith Channing…


Morning Interruption
by Dave Williams

The words were loud and unexpected in the city square. The words surprised me. Everyone else sitting at tables in the cafes seemed surprised, too. We looked around to find the source of the words.

“I repeat, get up and form a line on the south side of the square.”

A few people spotted him first. As they said, “Over there,” other people turned to see the speaker of those words.

A man in a gray suit and tie and fedora stood by the fountain at the square’s center. He held a microphone plugged into a speaker on the stone ground.

“We will begin inquires shortly,” the man said. “They will proceed more quickly if you are organized about it.”

Ridiculous. Because the man wore a suit and tie and fedora, we were supposed to follow his instructions? Must’ve been a prank or street theater — something like that. Around me, people muttered, asked each other what was going on.

“I haven’t made myself clear,” the man said. “This is not voluntary. A new government program has begun. We are questioning citizens to ensure only true patriots live in our beloved country. Anyone with anti-government views will be sent to a special school, where they can learn how to become true patriots.”

Even more ridiculous. This had to be fake. A film school student was completing an assignment. Any moment, the student director would appear next to guy holding a videocamera. All part of some strange art film.

Soldiers marched from the south entrance into the city square. I didn’t recognize their gray uniforms. They weren’t dressed like the soldiers I had seen on the news. Nor were they dressed like police officers I had seen. Their automatic rifles could’ve been movie props. I don’t know.

People buzzed around me, their repeated asking what was going on grew more worried, more frantic. Some people sounded panicked.

Men and women in gray suits entered the square from the north entrance. They carried desks and chairs, which they set down and arranged in a row.

The original man in the suit said, “Anyone who does not comply will be sent to the special school. They will be taught how to follow instructions and how to become a true patriot.”

A few people stood and walked to the south side of the square. That was all it took. More and more people got up from their chairs and joined them. Me among them. We formed a line, a quiet line, and watched the soldiers who watched us. We waited for the next instruction.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams