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We almost always assume that a writer is most influenced by other writers. They’ve read piles of books, they’ve decided that their skills best synch up with what a given number of other authors were doing, and they take a bit here, take a bit there, mix that in with their own sensibilities, and voila, a style is born.

I’ve always found this a slipshod way to go, in part because I don’t believe a great author ever has a single style. It’s one reason I rate Hemingway as at best mediocre, and often quite terrible, like the authorial version of some droning, one-note song that can’t leave its initial starting key or augment what it is doing with additional chords.

You should know, when you read a great author’s work, that it could only be by them, usually within the space of a single paragraph, even a clause. They have a way of inhabiting worlds and characters, while possessing reams of that most overlooked of all literary qualities: energy. Their energy will be unique, and it will animate their characters, and their narrative, in unique ways. More… “Writing with a Brush”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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He swiveled around on his bar stool and leaned close to me and put his hands down my shirt. They gave off little sparks. I leaped off my stool like someone escaping flames.

“What the fuck are you doing? I’m married?”

“So what?”

He obviously had no respect for the institution.

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel… More…

It was the house. Bats flew in. The basement was crawling with snakes. The day I stumbled down there in the dark holding a laundry basket, my heart froze. Conversely, the stove was electric and not very good at maintaining a temperature. I was always burning things. The house caused multiple losses. If I were asked to imagine the attributes of the lot it was built on, I would describe the mound of an old baseball field, sullen with weeds, where the most frequent pitches were change ups thrown at seventy-five miles an hour. It didn’t have leaky faucets or peeling floor tiles. We had a really good landlord. It was in the middle of the block. It was free standing. We didn’t know any of the neighbors, which isn’t atypical for people who don’t own dogs or walk them past neighbors patrolling the grass, at their very most wretched…. More…

When I read Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Lover, I was twenty-four years old, just finishing my MFA in writing and wondering what I would do next with my life. I stared at her cover photo on the book jacket. She was seventy, wrinkled, yes, yet more so than any human being I had up until that point laid eyes on: wrinkles marking her face in every direction, while tough like elephant hide. I was horrified; panicking I consulted my mirror for telltale signs of aging. There were bags under my eyes from staying up late or drinking or a combination of both. I checked my driver’s license photo where I’m smiling. Were they laugh lines or crow’s feet? Like all women just ending a marriage, I was suddenly single, yet I was on the clock. I couldn’t believe that I had wasted all that time — four years dating, getting… More…

I sat alone in Hillcrest Cafeteria picking through a salad, when I happened to turn in the direction of the table not more than five feet away. A guy I had seen around the graduate sculpture program held a tipped glass of ice water, about to spill it over his girlfriend’s head. I was horrified. Sure, the temperature outside was torrid, but did that mean she wanted to be dunked over the head with a glass of water? What did she do to deserve it? Something threatening? Kinky? Or maybe nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe he typically sucked orange juice from her fingers as she opened the peel, licked the milk mustache off her lips, reacted out of passion several times in a day. She’d been standing in front of their table with a tray filled with macaroni and cheese, pizza and French fries. He tipped over the glass,… More…

I picked up the cordless in Andrzej’s room to telephone my husband that I would not be coming home this night. We’d both had affairs. Brutal honesty seemed like the only way to go forward. “I’m sleeping at Andrzej’s,” I told him.

“You’re what?”

But I wasn’t honest. Andrzej and I had planned to go to Chicago for the weekend. We boarded a bus and checked into a hotel and took pictures of each other in front of the baby orangutans at the Brookfield Zoo. When he wasn’t looking at me through the lens of a camera, he was gazing into my face. I loved the attention he gave me, the way he savored my opinions, as he followed my instructions on how to position his tongue to create open vowel sounds in English. We ate steamed lamb with cabbage and rode the elevated to a punk rock club in… More…

We were like Thisbe and Pyramus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying goodbye through a chink in the wall, only this was an ever narrowing door that was closing between us, neither one of us having the heart to turn around.

Ahem had asked me to ride in the university’s van with him to the airport in Cedar Rapids, and I didn’t want to. It was too much. I knew I’d make a scene, if not in the van, then out on the tarmac where I’d try to stop his plane or smuggle myself aboard. Buying a ticket and flying back with him to Indonesia never occurred to me. At least I credit myself with that. I was stupid and naïve and continued to be stupid and naïve for the next year while I schemed for ways to see him again, but I knew enough not to return with him from… More…