2011 Knee-Jerk Magazine Essay Contest Runner-Up

It’s not that I would ever want somebody’s house to burn, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t my favorite stories to write as a rookie reporter in Chillicothe, Ohio. I had a natural kinship with firefighters. When I was growing up, my dad worked for a company called Akron Brass, which makes firefighting equipment: nozzles, valves, gauges—chances are, if you’ve seen a fire engine, you’ve seen some Akron Brass equipment. In the garage we had an Ozzie, a turret system designed to be mounted on the bumper or roof of an apparatus (the generic term for any fire engine, whether it’s a ladder unit or one an airport keeps handy in case of a crash). Ozzie was controlled by a joystick and would oscillate automatically, hence its name, spraying a wide swath of water or firefighting foam back and forth in front of the truck. It was a demo unit. I used to play with the joystick, which stuck out of a box about six inches square and four inches deep. In my mind, I was flying a fighter jet, jerking the stick back and forth to execute barrel rolls, pressing the flow rate and spray arc buttons to fire Sidewinder missiles.

Read the rest of this essay at Knee-Jerk Magazine.


The night of our third date, Michelle and I drove to an all-night pharmacy to go Dutch on a morning-after pill. Her old K-car hadn’t warmed up yet. She wore her winter coat over her scrubs, the ones with the teddy bear print, and we sat silently for a few minutes in the drive-through lane while her St. Christopher figurine rattled itself loose from the dash.

“What if this doesn’t work?” she asked.

Read the rest of this story at Hypertext Magazine.

“Ethical Hunting”

With five minutes before sundown, a whitetail doe stepped into the lane that separated hardwood forest from apple orchard. She stopped and bent her head, nosing through what was left of acorns fallen from the oak trees above her.

Read the rest of this essay at Hypertext Magazine

I ended up cutting this excerpt from my thesis when I rewrote it in third-person, but this version appeared in the Columbia/Bath Spa University journal Open to Interpretation in 2008.

“Comfort Food”


I wake up this morning after the sun’s up, which is a something of a triumph for me, seeing as I’ve been tossing and turning the last two nights, but what strikes me right away is the silence of the house. It’s an old farmhouse and has its share of arthritic creaks and moans, but this morning, it seems everything’s still. You know how sometimes a dream will come back to you just like that? Well, sitting there on the couch, with the sweet, cool smell of dew drifting off the front lawn and into the window, and the finches in the shrubs outside peeping at each other, and Godbeams pouring through the curtains onto the coffee table, just like it’s a dream come rushing back, I realize it’s because Jeffrey’s not poking at me to get him the cereal or tell him it’s okay if he watches cartoons. And I’ll never tell Tammy this—I swear I’ll go to my grave with this on my chest—but knowing he’d never again poke me awake before the alarm goes off, well it feels to me like the first day of a long overdue vacation.

My first thought was to make myself a real breakfast, the kind you can read the newspaper over. And while I’m enjoying the coolness of the fridge on my chest, I move the milk out of the way and spot, way back where Jeffrey never could reach, the cardboard box with birthday candles taped to the lid, and it dawns on me. Today he would have been five.

Read the rest of this story here.

Donna Seaman dishes about five years of Story Week interviews

by Daniel Prazer

Managing Editor/Fictionary

Donna SeamanThe first time I saw Donna Seaman interview somebody was during the 2006 Story Week Festival of Writers. I was new to Chicago, in my second semester of my MFA coursework at Columbia College, straight from two years as a newspaper reporter. So I’d done interviews. Plenty of them. But nothing like this.

Donna sat on the stage at the Harold Washington Library next to Studs Terkel and Stuart Dybek, two writers who, in very different ways, had spent their careers documenting Chicago. Stuart struck a deferential pose, sitting back in his chair and not saying much. Studs was on a tear. At 93, he rattled off one hilarious, self-deprecating anecdote after another. When an audience member asked what his day was like, he snickered and said, “Well, mine is trying to keep alive. If I wake up tomorrow, I say, ‘Jesus, what a day this is going to be!’… I’m working on a memoir. It’s called Touch and Go.” The audience—Donna and Stuart included—howled with laughter.

I, like the rest of the audience, felt drawn forward toward the stage until we all sat on the edge of our seats, grinning with fascination. Donna smiles when she talks; there’s a calm presence about her that hides a burning enthusiasm for literature. Authors respond to that, and so do audiences. At the risk of sounding like a crystal-clutching hippie, that interview felt somehow transcendent. Before that night I’d been nervous about my new city, about leaving my reporting job, about trying my hand as a novelist. As the crowd filed out the doors and into the line for the book signing, I felt like I’d be just fine.

Read the rest of this story here.


1. When I was four, my dad stood in the driveway talking to a neighbor and drinking a Michelob. I’d been playing alone in the backyard for the past hour, waiting for him to set up the tee-ball, and a thin layer of dirt was glued to my skin with sweat. Dad towered over me in the driveway, his hair black in those days, his body still lean under his Case Western football t-shirt. He looked down and said, “You want a taste?” I nodded, and he handed me the beer.

2. I told on my dad once, not long after that. “Dad was drinking and driving,” I told my mom, thinking of the glass of orange juice he had in the cupholder.

Read the rest at Flashquake.org

Flag-draped Coffins

During Grandpa’s funeral, there wasn’t much crying. This was twelve years after his stroke, and everybody had watched my grandmother become worn down by caring for him, had visited the nursing homes with their astringent odors and nondescript food, had seen him go from a man who held two jobs in retirement to an ignored shell of a person leaning to the right so heavily he seemed as if he may fall out of his wheelchair. I felt relieved as I helped ease the steel casket onto the mausoleum’s catafalque. We were finally out of the rain, and as the minister spoke, I wiped my glasses and watched it fall through the double doors leading to the cemetery.

Read the rest in the Story Week Reader.

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