I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
April 1, 2023: Charlie J. Stephens
Charlie J. Stephens’s writing feels so light, a lovely counterpoint to the truths and the weight each story carries. I loved Charlie’s story “The Owl People,” published in New World Quarterly, about a couple that moves into the apartment above the narrator. Each word slides you along to the next.
In the past I thought shoeless households were a foolish attempt to try to keep the grime of the world away. My philosophy was more to let all the muck in and get stronger for it. I imagined their clean feet, housed in cotton, how they must skate across their polished floors and maybe even hold each other and dance sometimes.
This lightness in the face of heavy things offers the reader hope.
At the store, at restaurants, and on the street I get ma’am’d and sir’d with equal regularity. I’ve noticed that people are generally quick to categorize others, uncomfortable with ambiguity. When I was younger, starting around age five, people generally assumed I was a boy. I think it’s the aging—now that I’m middle aged—that causes people to linger with the feminine. Everything is softening. Everything. And when I speak, all bets are off… I like existing in the in-between, not quite fitting.
Charlie’s writing feels real, as if I were listening to someone tell me a story. In this excerpt from their flash piece, “Zeus’s Fear,” published in The Rappahannock Review, it’s the details that contribute to that feeling–the nickname Pops, the trouble with thumbs, that with aging we often start to care about what we can’t do anymore.
My grandson, Jesse, calls me “Pops” and practically has to be beaten with a stick to get off his video games. I infuriate him by always choosing a female character when I play with him, which is less and less often these days, even though I am committed to proving my point. My thumbs are no match for his thumbs. I guess that’s always been true but lately I’ve started to care. Things aren’t working like they used to…
And take a look at this amazing beginning to Charlie’s story, “Willamette,” published in Peculiar, a journal I’m happy to know about. It’s beautiful writing, yes, I’ve read this opening three times already, but the details make me want to know more–the mushroom canning factory and the mother who steams artichokes, smokes Camel Lights, and sees the color of a blood orange when she looks at the sky.
Dusk on the river that evening was darkly bruised, exhausted. The putrid spew from the mushroom canning factory up the road sputtered into nothingness as evening fell, and even the semitrucks that passed on their way from the fields to I-5 rumbled slowly like they too were tired. Mom was in the kitchen steaming artichokes and smoking Camel Lights out the window.
“Babe look, the sky’s the exact color of a blood orange.”
Recently, Charlie’s love of writing has overflowed into a bookstore. They are the owner of the about-to-be-open Sea Wolf Books in Port Orford, Oregon. And if you’d like to support this up-and-coming independent bookstore, you can already order a book. AND Sea Wolf Books is not only a bookstore, it’s also a Community Writing Center offering classes and workshops. So if you’re a writer interested in having an event here or teaching a class or a workshop, get in touch with Charlie or just leave a comment below.
Although I know Charlie from Writing by Writers events, something I didn’t know about Charlie is their passion for returning stolen land to Indigenous people. Charlie has turned this passion into action–they bought land in California and are returning it. You can read more about that here.
In 2016 my partner and I bought 36 acres of off-the-grid land in an area of the Sierra Foothills covered with pine, madrone, cedar and oak. We were greeted by owls, bats, deer, bobcat, and hawks, and by clear night skies and air that smelled sweeter than what we breathed in our Berkeley neighborhood.
Charlie J. Stephens is a queer, non-binary, mixed race fiction writer from the Pacific Northwest. They love animals and have lived all over the U.S. as a bike messenger, wilderness guide, book seller, high school English teacher, and seasonal shark diver (for educational purposes only). Their work has recently appeared in Electric Literature, Best Small Fictions Anthology, Hinterland, Prometheus Dreaming, Original Plumbing (Feminist Press) and The Forge Literary Magazine. Charlie is currently seeking an agent/small press to champion their full-length collection of short stories and novel AND readers to fill their bookstore.
Come back on APRIL 1st to read how CHARLIE J. STEPHENS spends their days.