By C. Sanchez-Garcia
I realize what a great opportunity this is to plug my Coming Together book, and I suppose I should get to that, but what I really want to do here is say something else.
Alessia Brio? Are you reading this? Thank you. Take a bow on behalf of us wannabes and the old timers too.
Thank you, Alessia. Somebody needs to say it. And you don’t edit this part out.
I would also like to offer a giveaway to a selected commenter – my novella from Whisky Creek Press The Color of the Moon.
If a journey starts with a single step, a story collection starts with a single story. A single story starts with an idea, in this case an idea I came across while baking cookies. I’m a guy but I love fresh cookies and I love cook books. Cookbooks for the most part hold out a kind of wonderful lie, like exercise magazines. You look at them and persuade yourself you can get those abs, and bake that soufflé and impress the ladies all around. I was thumbing through a cookbook on cookie recipes that had illustrations of cookies, sure, but also of antique cookie jars and very old baking products advertisements. There was an old retro ad for sugar cookies that showed a young mother in a sunny kitchen looking sort of like Mary Pickford rolling out cookie dough surrounded by her three adoring children. “The cookies that everybody likes!”
What could be more punchy and to the point? Hemingway on his best day could not have written better prose than that. I just fell in love with that cookie ad and the young woman and her kids and imagined a lost time when mothers did stuff like this with children hanging around pinching cookie dough behind her back and silently worshipping her. Later I saw another ad of a ‘50s housewife in checkered dress and the inevitable pearl necklace holding up a handsome cake on a platter. And for some reason, god knows why, I imagined her with a black eye. Then I wondered where the black eye came from. Then I took another look at the cookie ad. I grabbed my yellow pad, found a place to hide for awhile and roughed out “Miss Julia’s Cake Club”.
You won’t find this kind of story in the usual erotica anthologies. Miss Julia is not a story publishers would easily touch. It’s grim. It’s painful. And the pain is real, not the playful kind. Miss Julia is a story of erotic transformation and spiritual endurance that viscerally hurt to write, but contains its own kind of truth. Alessia Brio doesn’t back off from tough stories, she gives them a spotlight and that takes a lonely kind of guts. “Miss Julia’s Cake Club” is part of a dedicated collection of stories called Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia, and not for nothing is that collection dedicated to RAINN, The Rape And Incest National Network, for the sake of helping all the real life Julias out there in the world.
There’s other things in there too, they’re not all grim, but a lot of them are not the stories you’ll find in most places. A young man in the Caribbean learning about love from an older woman, a love letter I should have written and never did. An older man whose wife has Alzheimer’s Disease and a forgotten memory which enables them to rediscover their passion for each other for a fleeting moment, because all old lovers and all moments of love are fleeting. And some silly stuff, too. A good lover should also make you laugh in bed.
But in all stories, in any genre, I think there should be characters with soul, someone to cheer for even when they’re very different from us. Take a look at the beginning of "Miss Julia’s Cake Club":
The flame under the battered old soup pot was getting weaker, shrinking from blue to orange. That’s the end of the gas, she thought. I made it last four days this time, but it’s running down. She kneeled on the dirt floor next to the little stove, picked up the aluminum gas tank and shook it. There was no sloshing sound. It weighed almost nothing now. Judging by the little ring of orange flame under the pot, she might have a half an hour, probably less.
She thought of her next door neighbor. Maybe she could bring the pot over there and heat it. But it seemed she was always asking her or begging her for something. It was too much. No, the flame would last. If she covered it she could get a boil going faster. It would be getting dark soon. Jorge would be home any time.
There were still a few minutes to look. Just time enough to look. If she hurried.
She put a frying pan on top of the pot and turned the flame up as high as it could go, but it barely rose. Bending down, she picked a couple of chipped bowls from the little shelf next to the sink, the shelf she’d made from some scrap plywood she’d found near the soccer stadium. She rubbed Bingo! Soap on the bowls, rinsed them in the sink under cold water and put them on the table. She laid a stamped metal spoon next to each bowl and waited, listening for his steps at the door.
Just time enough to look.
On her hands and knees, she knelt down next to the stove and carefully reached behind it. Feeling around in the dirt, until her fingertips brushed up against the cool slick paper, she pulled out a magazine.
On the cover was a picture of a perfectly browned rack of roasted prime rib, displayed with flowers on a gilt edged porcelain serving tray. She glanced up at the stove and saw the flame had changed color slightly, but otherwise it was holding up. She might make it. She sat in the dirt by the stove and leaned against the wall. With a sigh of contentment she drew up her calloused bare feet and rested the magazine on her knees. The page was turned down where she’d left off, and she opened it to the photograph she’d been looking at everyday for a week.
That’s the stove I want. She mouthed the letters of the oven name. V-I-K-I-N-G. It was the oven of the angels. What would it like to have a real oven, a magnificent oven, big enough even to stuff Jorge into? In the full page advertisement, the V-I-K-I-N-G oven was built into the wall of the house itself, and the rich gringa woman was about to open it to reveal some gorgeous creation for her guests. Guests. Dinner guests. How must it feel to have dinner guests? To have guests at your table, come to see you from far away, come to eat the food you’d made to please them with love and style, just for them. That would be the perfect life.
She looked up at the wall across from her. An oven like that? Judging by the height of the gringa lady, why an oven like that—it would fill up the whole wall by itself! You could roast a chicken in it, a dozen chickens!. Pies. Wonderful cakes. Lovely, lovely cakes. That would be the best of all, to bake cakes every day. People would come to see her, and she would serve them cake. She could even sell the cakes. The cakes themselves would pay for the cost of the oven. She could start a bakery with an oven like that. People would come to her little house just to look at it.
I won’t pretend to be humble about this - I love these stories. I love the people in them. I love poor Julia. I want you to love them too. They’ll help you get through the commute on the bus, the lunch break, an hour after class in detention hall; where ever you crack them open and just begin.
I come from a fun and disreputable tradition. My literary heroes were the old pulp fiction writers, names to conjure with like Raymond Chandler, Richard Matheson, Robert E Howard and Ray Bradbury. They wrote one-shot wonders for magazines made from cheap wood chip paper with lurid covers of fair maidens in peril often dressed in brass brassieres and little else. For two bits, a factory worker or school kid could buy a world of stern jawed heroes, plucky heroines, exotic villains, and bloody murders he could roll up and stuff in a lunch box or a jacket pocket. They were written for the common man who had no patience with bullshit or dullness. The old pulp writers had one commandment and one commandment only – Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader.
Thou shalt not bore thy reader, nor thy reader’s children, or thy reader’s servant, or thy readers ox or thy reader’s ass, or bore anything that is thy reader’s, no, no, no. Amen. I think it says that in the Bible somewhere. If it doesn’t it ought to.
The old pulps have died out, but to my way of thinking Alessia Brio has brought them back for many of us in her series of Coming Together Anthologies. These are the children of the pulps, the prurient and promiscuous carriers of their DNA with their chocolates box scatter mash of stories by different writers with all their different passions – and different demons. A wise person told me early on, kid, love your inner demons. They only look scary because they’re the guardians of your treasures.
I’ll make a covenant here and now with you the reader; I promise I will not bore you. I will never waste your time. You have a right to expect that. I also promise if you read these stories well you’ll see something of your own horny humanity in them too. Because you have a right to expect that. And that goes for all the other veteran story tellers and wannabes that our big mama Alessia has given a fair shot to. A lot of us are people you’ve never heard of, but after reading any one of these anthologies, you’ll definitely want to know us better.
Mama don’t raise no bums.
C. Sanchez-Garcia lives and writes in rural Georgia with his family and cat, where his personal library is bursting the walls of his house. He believes in the power of passion, and that a good love story with soul is the best medicine for melancholy.