Literary Pasadena: Exquisite Corpse Edition

Our new anthology, Literary Pasadena: The Fiction Edition is just hitting the shelves at Vroman’s and is available for pre-order. It’s impossible to express how completely delighted I am about the book: it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and, frankly, I will never look at another anthology in quite the same cavalier way. But the quality of the writing, the variety of storytelling styles and genres, and most of all, the spirit and generosity of the participating authors has confirmed the feeling that Pasadena is an excellent place to publish and the best possible place to find authentic literary voices that express the best of the West.
Of course, I want to introduce each and every contributing author to you but it’s an impossible task given bloggish constraints. So let’s turn to our friends, the Surrealists for some assistance in telling the collective story of Literary Pasadena. They invented the exquisite corpse game by writing a word or phrase on a piece of paper which was passed on through the group. One of the first outcomes was “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” or “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine” and the name stuck. The game caught on, was adapted for images, and engaged many famous participants including André Breton, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Joan Miró.

Surrealist exquisite corpses may be found in many of the world’s great museums and are well worth a visit. MOMA featured an exhibition last year, Brussels offers permanent collections in the Musée Magritte and the Musée des lettres et manuscrits as does Paris’s Musée National d’Art Moderne. If by any stroke of fortune you are jetting off to Provence soon, be sure to visit the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence which is featuring an exquisite corpse exhibit through April 13th.

As is often the case for twenty-first century exquisite corpses, the rules of the games are adapted by the player. Literary Pasadena’s cadaver is comprised of one or two sentences from each of the twenty-nine stories, Michelle Huneven’s wonderful foreword, and my little editor’s note. Are they in order? You’ll have to conduct an autopsy on Literary Pasadena to find out.

Let me disappoint some of you right away—these were not revelatory or apocalyptic visions. All day, I had watched smoke choke the sun, and now, the east hills were lit up in white-orange cracks of damnation. The whole night horizon was an old, trembling war. Certainly, the summers had triple-digit temperatures. I had no trouble finding driveways hedged in oleander thickets. The trunks are gnarled and dark. Woody pods hang from the branches. Yet while I dithered, in some back corner of my brain, a novel was amassing like an egg on an umbilical rope.

Hiss is a red and green dragon with a yellow neck, which is a sign of beauty because the scales look like gold coins. I tell him how Hiss hatched from a green egg, which means he’s a good dragon, even though he eats knights from time to time. “It’s how they are,” Stinky had remarked, in his analytically detached way. “There’s no economic rationale for denying one’s wealth, the way some people do around here.” His laugh filled my whole universe and with the exhalation made the sun hotter. I turned around and he just shook his head.

A waiter was illuminating votive candles on outside tabletops and along the deck railing. Another waiter was lighting candles inside the house. The heat of the driveway surprises you, gritty like a beachside parking lot. You are barefoot, you now realize, and the complete lack of surprise surrounding this fact, the bitter truth of it, makes you smile. You are no longer a mother; you are a monster.

My mother was very good at silence. It was her greatest parenting asset. The black vinyl seats of her old Cadillac were cracked from the sun, a yellowish cushion showing through. The air-conditioner barely worked, she turned the key in her ignition and there was a whooshing noise. She stuffed chicken, tomatoes, corn, and beans in her crockpot and cranked it up until it turned into sludge a few hours later. She was pleased to find decent fish. She bared her lips and her teeth seemed longer. Her gold-speckled eyes shone in the moonlight. Up close, she smells good, and her skin is tanned and clear. She kisses his cheek and taking his arm, pivots him around to face a front yard full of cacti, long grasses, and gray bushes. She is a farouche girl, unaccustomed to the behavior of effusive men. She could stick her finger in the koi pond and poke a fish in the back.

For three months we lived in this enchanted dream, until one evening, over a light supper in our hotel room, I was forced to tell her I was out of money. I am the clown alongside her, a sort of angry clown, buying tickets for the movie we will see, with orange tufts of hair sticking out like Bozo. “Given self-awareness and knowledge of its own impermanence, what will a carbon-based life form do?”

You have to understand. It wasn’t my doing, wasn’t my fault. I’d never done anything like that, wandered around like a stray dog, like a person with no home, with no past. It was like we all belonged to one team. We all knew the plays and were executing them throughout the night. This camaraderie was new to me, and I relished it; the way it infused my movement and conversation.

But this time I follow Colleen. Or try to. I needed a more stable occupation. The trick of the job is to forget what had happened. The trick of the job is to acquire as little information as possible about the site, the former occupants, the current occupants, the thing that happened there, and then to forget that information. On the ground level, part of the space was crowded with stuffed animals, including a murder of ravens on their perches, a mandrill posed in mid-swing, a snarling wolf, and the bobcat. A mechanical squirrel, one of the float’s several forest creatures, glowered down at them out of depthless coal eyes, its buckteeth bared, like a captor examining its prey through slats in a cage. The sand next to the red plastic farmhouse quivered—and the black head, followed by the tear-shaped thorax of a lone living ant emerged from beneath the bodies of a dozen comrades. Or bees can smell what we can’t.

Aching and tired, I close my eyes and try to sleep. Seems like I‘ve been running for days; burned out and exhausted, but I still can’t sleep even in the land of plenty. And I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be here in ten, twenty, or thirty years, dragging my foot down that street I’ve lived on all my life toward another movie I’ve seen before. Thoughts like that can drive a man to drink. But there’s a calculus of alcohol, an inverse proportion between drinks consumed and common logic, so it’s not too many drinks later before we’re stumbling down the street together and up the surprisingly tricky outside steps to my apartment.

It has been a privilege, an honor, and a revelation.

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  1. […] Local authors Michelle Huneven, Lian Dolan, Denise Hamilton, and editor Patricia O’Sullivan will be at Vroman’s tonight to read, sip wine, and spread the word about Prospect Park Books’ new Literary Pasadena: The Fiction Edition. […]

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