Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From Here Blog Tour

Always flattered to be a part of the Grab the Lapels blog tours because Melanie Page is doing such wonderful things to get women writers the exposure and attention they deserve. In today's blog tour post, Jen shares an excerpt from her newest collection FROM HERE, then breaks down the excerpt, sharing some insights. 

Today is the second stop of Jen Michalski’s virtual book tour celebrating her new collection, From Here. The twelve stories in From Here explore the dislocations and intersections of people searching, running away, staying put. Their physical and emotional landscapes run the gamut, but in the end, they're all searching for a place to call home.

Read the excerpt from “Lillian in White,” a short story from the collection, and scroll down to see the footnotes to get into Jen’s brain and see what she was thinking!


Lillian [1] calls Roy [2] out of the blue. It had been so long since they’d dated, for him, anyway, that he doesn’t recognize the number in his cell phone. But he knows the voice that speaks and is instantly filled with the warm giddiness of promise, the delusional kind in which Lillian has made a terrible mistake and wants him back [3]. He doesn’t know if he wants her back, necessarily, but he swings his feet over his bed and pulls on yesterday’s socks.

“Roy, I know it’s been a long time, but I have a favor to ask you,” she says, her voice breaking up as Roy walks around the room, looking for a shirt [4].

Favor. Shit. He falls back on the bed, suddenly feeling the need for a few hours’ more sleep.

“How long has it been, Lillian?” He tries to remember Lillian’s specific features, recalls her perky tits.

“Eighteen months, almost. Look, I know this is probably a surprise to hear from me, but I’m not sure where else to turn...”

“Well, with that opening, how could I refuse?” Not promising in the least. He closes his eyes, rubs his temples, wondering what he could possibly offer her. Does she need a band for her wedding? Maybe his band, Fabric Softener [5], can play the song he wrote for her. Not a marriage proposal, exactly, but a tacit acknowledgment that two years together had been a long time. Maybe she needs some sort of underhanded loan, or, well, Roy is running out of ideas. He’s not the go-to guy for many things. But he agrees to meet her, anyway. He rolls over, trying to erase the suddenly perfect image of Lillian in white.

She is not wearing white when they meet, at one of those shitty trendy coffee places near his apartment. He spent twenty minutes going through the few clean shirts in the closet and is wearing a pinstripe v-neck sweater his mother bought him for Christmas last year. Respectable, somewhat. Or something. Perhaps it will distract her eyes from the mustard stain on his jeans.

It is certainly not his dumpster-diving wardrobe that attracted Lillian to him, however. It was his status as the lead singer of Fabric Softener, his creative genius and promise. Or maybe chicks just really dug guys in bands. Lillian was hot, a theater major [6] at one of the local college who was friends with a friend of Sam, the bassist. Lillian was hot. But she also was smart and funny like a friend who is a girl, like the fat chick with glasses who secretly has a crush on you and makes you laugh so hard all the time. And sometimes bitchy. But that’s girls for you.

But yeah, Lillian left him. It was hard to believe they’d been together two years, long enough for Roy to feel like it was for forever. Long enough to write a song for her [7], a song the band never got a chance to play, because Roy never shared it with them. It lived, in the closet of his heart and scrawled on the back of a grocery list, unbeknownst to anyone else.

Lillian has a cup of tea. Roy wonders if she quit drinking coffee. He orders a cup, black [8], and they take a table by the window. The round table is so small his knees brush against hers and he inhales her familiar scent.

“You look good, Roy.” She smiles that little smile of hers and Roy feels like something is squeezing meanly in his chest.

He cried—yes, he’ll admit it—cried when Lillian left [9]. It was in a coffee shop much like this one, when she dumped him, a Sunday morning after a party at somebody’s studio apartment with no place to sit. Why he has agreed to come here today, when his life was pretty good, manageable, he does not know.

“I quit smoking,” he answers although [10], in his opinion, that has made him look worse. Ten pounds worse.

“Congratulations,” she answers, and there is a hollow between them that is tepidly filled by the percolation of coffee and people.

“So,” he says after a drag of an imaginary Marlboro. “What’s up?”

      “I’m pregnant,” she says simply.


[1]. I’ve got nothing on this name, except a girl named Lillian—or Vivian—sounds like a real prima donna, like wealth, a little bitchy, to me. She has raven black hair and dark eyes and arched eyebrows, like an actress in a movie adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett novel.

[2]. I love the name Roy—if I ever had a boy (although time is short for such things), I would name him Roy. Not after Rogers—although I did work in the drive-through at Roy Rogers when I was in high school—but after Roy Rossello, a member of the boy band Menudo whom I had a crush on when I was about 12 (yes, you’re getting all the deep secrets here). He was Puerto Rican, had a bit of a shag haircut, but warm pools of eyes, and I’m totally not embarrassed to say I think he’s still cute. On a general level, I associate the name Roy with a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky guy, a little slight and boyish, with dimples and a crazy-nice smile. The kind of guy I would date, if I were straight.

[3]. I think someone had just broken up with me a few months before I began working on this story, in 2007, so I was kind of half-waiting for the call or the text or even a visit from her ISP to my website so I’d know she still kept tabs on me or something—know you, delusional stuff.

[4]. I wish I could tell you how this story germinated, but I really can’t remember. It’s somewhat controversial or sensitive, as you find as you keep reading, but I’m pretty sure I had Roy and Lillian first, floating around in my head, broken up and wondering how to get them back together, at least for a day.

[5]. It’s always been an obsession of mine to think of imaginary names for the bands I would start, once I learned how to play the bass or take up the clarinet again (and before you laugh, when I saw Patti Smith in concert, she whipped out her clarinet and it was awesome). In college, my friends and I joked we would start a band called the Electric Dandelions (after those plasma balls you can buy at head shops). We wrote a bunch of song titles, several albums’ worth, all having to do with our own private drug references. We were too stoned most of the time to actually write the lyrics or any music. After college, around the time Weezer was big, unfortunately, I wanted to start a band called Wheezie (after George Jefferson’s wife, Louise Jefferson). I would probably name my band after some obscure lyric from another band I dug. I could go on, but I won’t. Fabric Softener is actually not a name I would choose for my own band.

[6]. I think girls named Lillian would also be totally hot and be theater majors in college.

[7]. When I was a freshman, a guy wrote a song for me. It was one of my most memorable gifts ever—a song! —second to the Zippo he bought me for Christmas with my name inscribed on it. (And we weren’t even dating!) Anyway, the problem with the song is that he was a bass player and when he played it for me, he could only play the bass line, so it was hard to envision the rest. He was a huge King Crimson fan, and I always am relieved to have heard only the bass line, because maybe it sounded like a King Crimson song.

[8]. I only developed a taste for coffee a few years ago, probably because of all the candy coffees out there now (thanks, Starbucks). But it’s more like I drink flavored creamer and put a little coffee in it to convince myself I’m not drinking flavored creamer.

[9]. I am terrible and pathetic at breakups. I’m not stalky, but I will cry totally out of proportion, like I’ve lost my entire family in a plane crash. It’s embarrassing and sad.

[10]. The longest I’ve gone without a cigarette since college is two years. It’s a terrible, addictive thing, and I think the government should bury all cigarettes in that landfill in New Mexico next to those ET games for the Atari 2600 that everyone preferred to light on fire and shoot into space instead. (God, did anyone ever win that game? I remember picking up those Reeses Pieces, which looked like 8-bit dog turds, and falling in the swamp (which looked like nothing, 8-bit or otherwise).

*Tomorrow, head over to [PANK] to read an interview with Jen about the content of the collection. If you missed yesterday’s post, go to the blog PhD in Creative Writing to learn about why Jen became an author!

Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize; the short story collection Close Encounters; and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww, host of the Starts Here! reading series, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine called a “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and tweets at @MichalskiJen. Find her at jenmichalski.com.

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