Thank you to editors Jason Teal, Ally Harris, and Dezireé Brown for selecting this one-act play, “The Actuarials,” for Heavy Feather Review Vol 7. I am a subscriber to this beautiful magazine, and so I am over the moon to actually land a piece within HFR’s table of contents.
The issue is print-only at this time, and can be ordered at Amazon.
When I first began writing Flash Fiction, I asked Kathy Fish where I should send stories, and she suggested, because a lot of my work is hybrid prose-poem-seeming, DIAGRAM, Spork, The Collagist, and Heavy Feather. I went on to read these four magazines in earnest, and boy, was she right. I love them all.
Which reminds me of a hot writing tip: if you write with others, or workshop or take classes with others who are exposed to your work, be sure to ask them for suggested journals or magazines to check out. Many of my friends in the lit-fiction world are constantly reading, and I find one of the most under-utilized super-power each of us holds is our knowledge of editorial aesthetics.
So: “The Actuarials.”
I’ve always been fascinated with bean counters, ever since I learned the poet Wallace Stevens was one of them. I have an MBA in Marketing Statistics and Research, and always was impressed by regression analyses. That love lay dormant until two things do-si-doed in the attic of my imagination: 1) I caught a train to Brooklyn and traveled through The Oculus (pictured above) for the first time. That’s a train station, designed by Calatrava, where it seems like you can hop on a train in Jersey City and hop off in China. 2) My writing workshop had a prompt up titled “Haunted,” and 3) sorry there’s a third thing: I had gone to the Haunted House at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which is a pretty amazing event in a pretty creepy old prison, designed panopticon style. 4) oh, and one more thing… this setting and haunting and Bradburying put me in the mind to recall a line from Judith Merill’s “Only a Mother.” “We predicted it, didn’t we?… but we didn’t prevent it.” One of my all-time-fave Golden Age of Science Fiction stories.
So, with all that knocking around, here was the writing prompt:
We all have things that haunt us, that we never get over. Ray Bradbury made lists of his loves and hates and then would free-write, making what he called “prose poem essays.” This week before the most haunted night of the year, we’re going to follow the advice of Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing and write the things we can’t forget:
“I leave you now at the bottom of your own stair, at half after midnight, with a pad, a pen, and a list to be made. Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness. Your own Thing stands waiting way up there in the attic shadows. If you speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page … Your Thing at the top of your stairs in your own private night … may well come down.”
Make a list of things that haunt you. This doesn’t have to be dark or spooky unless you want it to be. Consider: What are you nostalgic for? What line from a song always punches you in the gut or makes you curious or makes you think it would make a great first line in a story? What terrifies you? What do you fall in love with every single time? Next, free-write on at least one thing on your list. Or pick several and see if you can tangle them up into a single story. Find your own Thing at the top of your own stair and write about it. Make it true or make it something you wish were true. Unbury the dead. Resurrect the past. 500 words or fewer.
That Oculus is a very haunting space. It’s like standing in a huge ribcage of air.
So, my writing workshop is pretty sporting. We will write advertisements, poetry, flash, screenplays, puppycats, hellnoes, it’s all good. I don’t know why I wrote a one-act play, but it was received with gusto by friends. That’s always a good sign! It was also received with gusto by HFR: just a few hours from submission to acceptance in January 2017, but it’s been a long wait to publication. Well worth it!
I’ll fess up to what haunts me about technology: what if some human-hating, eager-beaver, high-functioning prodigal genius goes ahead and programs them to be competitive and enthusiastic, to the point where they CRUSH US ALL? Machines will eliminate the puny humans and not bat a bolt, a la Martian Chronicles without the rules or space travel. They will do us in via 0s and 1s.
I also enjoy making up character names, but this one is not made-up. I find it a very interesting quote and one of the characters in the Actuarials refers to it:
“It was statistics, after all, that demonstrated at the turn of the 20th century that love follows psychological laws.” — Wilhelm Wundt
So, thanks for stopping by and indulging these annesplainers. I hope you hop on over to Heavy Feather Review Issue 7 and enjoy “The Actuarials.”