Tag Archives: short stories

Story Shots: Vodka


Story Shots started off as an ode to tequila—that golden liquid that impairs us so perfectly. While tequila seemed to be a party liquid that made us think of margaritas and concerts, vodka has a very different relationship with our writers. Vodka for some is a social lubricant, but for others, it has a much darker connotation.

“Are you from Los Angeles? You look like you’re from Los Angeles,” he said.

“I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult,” I replied, taken aback by his strange, intuitive remark. “How did you know?” I asked.

“You look like you put thought into your outfit for tonight,” he replied with his voice flat.

Your outfit looks premeditated, too, I thought to myself. He wore an Arab keffiyeh around his neck, a black and white checkered scarf, and a thin layer of eyeliner beneath his eyes with his hair perfectly coiffed to the side.

I shifted my body from the awkward tension.

“Again, I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult.”

“It’s an observation. See, that’s exactly what I mean. People from Los Angeles are always worried about what people think, or what they mean. Who gives a fuck? I used to live there. That’s why I moved here.” He glanced around the San Franciscan apartment and returned his eyes to mine, as if summing up his statement. I didn’t see the conversation going anywhere further. Wherever he was, I didn’t want to be. He had a point that I didn’t want to mull over, in fear of losing my buzz.

I walked into the next room, which was supposed to be the dining room. Instead, the oak dining table had been converted into what looked like a mountainous collection of red Solo cups.

Someone whispered into my ear, gently tingling the soft fuzz around my skin. When I turned to admire my boyfriend, I was abruptly startled by the crass voice of one of the roommates making an announcement: “Seriously, no one wants to fucking play?”

“What are we playing?” said my boyfriend.

“Oh! So you’re in! It’s just like beer pong. You know the rules of beer pong, right?”

“You just throw the ping pong ball into the cups?” he replied.

“Yeah, sorta. Except we’re using vodka.”

I chimed in, “Vodka? Are you kidding me?”

“We don’t have enough beer. The cups are empty. No one wants to drink from a cup with some nasty ping pong ball that just fell on the floor. You score, we remove the cup and drink a shot of vodka. You can chase it, if you’d like.”

I looked around the room, spotting my flattering, yet undercutting scarf-wearing friend, and shrugged, “Alright. I guess I’m in, too.”

“She’ll drink for my shots!” declared my boyfriend.

Again, I shrugged the declaration off, assuming we were in the game to win it.

He missed the shot. In fact, we both missed all the shots. The other team, like some dauntless heavy weight champions made every single shot and I, as a result of poor ping pong throwing skills, drank all the vodka. In the morning, my nineteen year-old frame laid stiff on a deflated air mattress due to my inability to figure out how to use the air pump in my drunken stupor. I managed to stand up, twisting my back from side to side, becoming increasingly nauseous with each movement. I stopped, seemingly, while the room kept moving. And when the room settled and I was on the brink of hating myself for venturing out with enough brazen confidence to play a vodka-pong tournament, I inhaled and thought to myself, “Who gives a fuck?” Then, all sudden-like, that rumbling feeling, like an internal landslide, loosening age-old gravel, free from it’s tightened and rigid past. A moment of invigoration. All at once. And then I puked.

–Lauren Sumabot

I was nineteen. I shouldn’t have been drinking, so my drink of choice at the costume party was simply vodka and cranberry juice. The party wasn’t very intense—it was a bunch of twenty-somethings, plus one nineteen year old, drinking and watching scary movies. That all changed when there was a knock at the door. The party had officially been crashed.

These uncostumed men were older and cousins of someone living across the street. I was dressed like an angel—irony, I thought, because of my atheism. It wasn’t a sexy angel, either. I was wearing a long white robe, sandals, and wings.

After my third drink, I had to pee. I went to the downstairs bathroom only to find it occupied. That was fine. I wandered upstairs. One of the men followed me up while the rest of his crew stayed downstairs and turned the music up.

I was a little fuzzy, so as I was washing my hands I splashed a bit of cold water on my face and looked up. I was makeup-less. I was wearing a baggy white sack. I was there with my bros. The night was a little scary with the new additions to the party, but they weren’t bothering me any so I was fine. Or so I thought.

I opened the door and he pushed me back into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

“Hello,” I said, confused.

“You’re pretty,” the drunk, probably thirty year old, said.

“Thanks, I guess,” I replied as I went past him and to the door to unlock it and leave.

He pinned me against the sink counter and tried to kiss me. He started clawing at my chest.

“No,” I breathed.

He ignored my words and my struggle and continued to try to kiss me. I wiggled out of his grip and walked towards the door again. This time he pushed me into the large bathtub. I continued to push him off of me and fight his advances. As I struggled against his large body, I felt it. His gun. He was armed.

He didn’t reach for it, though. Maybe he didn’t remember that he had it. Maybe he genuinely thought I was playing hard to get and he wasn’t trying to rape me. I got away once again and got to the door before him. I ran downstairs. He followed, casually, and found his friends had left.

“You missed it!” my friends cried.

“What?” I said while eyeing the man that had assaulted me in the bathroom.

“Dude, the cops came and one of the crashers pulled a knife on him. The cop slammed him down and arrested him. The rest of the guys left.”

“Fuck,” said my assailant. He walked out the front door.

I took off my wings and sat on the couch. I stared at my sandals.



Story Shots: Fireworks

Story Shots: Fireworks Our monthly column featuring creative nonfiction from our contributors—stories so short you can read them in the amount of time it takes to drink a shot.

When I think of July, one thing comes to mind: fireworks. July is a month that is full of barbecues, beer, family, and fireworks. Americans love to celebrate Independence Day by playing with mild explosives after probably a few too many hot dogs and Bud Lights. So for this month, we asked our writers to create a story shot with the inspiration of fireworks.

“I don’t want to see fireworks. None. I’m too mad at America today.”

“Okay,” he replied.

“And I don’t want American food, either. No cheeseburgers – in fact, fuck cheeseburgers.”

“Got it.”

He listened to my stupidity so well. He shared my anger, I think, or at least he let me vent it. The Fourth was not a day of celebration for me; indeed, the fireworks depicting independence and sovereignty were lost in irony to me. Earlier that week, the Supreme Court had ruled that corporate religious rights outweighed individuals rights of free choice and privacy when it came to medical treatments. The night before the Fourth, the Supreme Court had extended this decision to include not just Christian for-profit companies, but non-profit companies as well.

I showed up downtrodden. He gave me a smile and we went inside. Nothing was red, white, and blue. We sat and watched Blazing Saddles and then grabbed some Indian food for dinner. Later that night, we both comforted his dogs through the loud bangs that echoed in the dark. For a bitter, sad lefty like me, the night was perfect.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but see fireworks going off in the air. They sparkled, but I saw no reason to acknowledge their shinning. I lost the awe and wonder of shiny things long ago, and instead of being dazzled by the brief and wondrous flash of chemicals burning up the night’s sky, leaving behind a pollutant tail of ash, I saw the burnt up cinders of freedoms and rights we had fought so hard to win not too long ago being blown away on a wind bellowing in the wrong direction.

– Amanda Riggle

When I arrived at George’s house, I pulled down the mirror and checked my makeup, spreading more balm on my chapped lips. They were at the park down the road, waiting for the fireworks to go off, and I was late. I had tried on my entire closet before settling on a gauzy, tie-dyed top and a pair of jean shorts. I made it half way out the door before realizing I had forgotten to shave. I stared down at my legs, where a thin layer of hair had begun to sprout. “Shit,” I muttered. Now, as I walked down the hill, I rubbed my ankle against the smooth skin on my calf, casually trying to get rid of the itching sensation that had begun to spread across my legs.

When I saw him, my heart began beating so loudly I could feel it rattling in my skull. My breath came in sharp puffs. I tried to summon the rhythmic chanting of my yoga instructor, breath in and out. Or was it out and in. I no longer remembered. Half the time, I lay curled up on a mat at the back of the classroom—the dark, musty atmosphere lulling me to sleep. They were headed in the opposite direction, and when he saw me, his lips curled into a smile. His sharp canines spilling over his full lips.

“Leaving already?” I asked as I joined them.

“George forgot the whiskey,” he said, lightly punching his friend’s arm. Later, the night grew foggy and dense. Ice clinking in a glass. Billiard balls smacking into one another. My torso bent over the green cloth as I closed one eye and aimed, his palm resting, for a moment, on my hip as he passed behind me. And later, spilling onto the carpet, together, because the bed we shared creaked too loudly under our weight. It was the first time I missed the fireworks. I could hear them, the high-pitched whistle as they shot into the air. The crackling, staccato explosions as they descended, their willowy branches dissipating as they reached the earth. I was nostalgic for them, even then. It felt like I was turning my back on something, leaving it behind like my belief in the tooth fairy or Santa. Like my belief in God.

– Melanie Figueroa


Author Spotlight: Mark Chiusano


Mark Chiusano is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was the recipient of a Hoopes Prize for outstanding undergraduate fiction. His stories have appeared in Guernica, Narrative MagazineThe Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Paris Review Daily. He was born and raised in Brooklyn.

Buy the book here:

TPP: Describe your collection is ten words or less.

Mark Chiusano: Far out in Brooklyn, growing up, sometimes shoveling snow.

TPP: What inspired you to write the stories in Marine Park?

MC: Plenty of books have been written in or about Brooklyn, but Marine Park is basically invisible in all that literary productivity. I wanted to show a different side of the borough from the land of popular publishing imagination.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your collection?

MC: A picture of a lesser-known neighborhood, and the best way to get kicked off a Brooklyn basketball court (don’t try at home!). If it’s possible to give away slices of pizza from Pronto’s on Avenue R that would be great too.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you were given?

MC: I once heard Denis Johnson say that he writes three minutes a day, at least, which I’ve tried to do since then—usually you write more but at least you’re sitting down and doing it no matter what.

TPP: Name two to three songs that would be on a soundtrack for Marine Park.

MC: Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” Black Star’s “Definition,” and Z100’s morning mix.

To learn more about Mark Chiusano, visit his website!

Read These Stories from The New Yorker Before They’re Gone!

(Image Source: Wikipedia.Org)

TheNew Yorker is filled with many things, from contemporary news stories to literary criticism. What I want to focus on in this post are the short stories that are often published within the New Yorker which have been free for all to access. That is about to change. The New Yorker is planning on putting up a pay wall so that only people who have subscriptions or pay for web access can read these wonderful pieces of literature.

Personally, being left-leaning and open-source-friendly, I’m not too enthused that these wonderful pieces of literature which have been open for all are going to soon come with a price tag attached, but I do understand that to continue publishing the New Yorker does need to make revenue somehow.

If you’re broke like I am, that revenue won’t be coming from you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy some of the wonderful stories that are to be found before the pay wall goes up. Below are some fantastic stories to be found on the New Yorker for you to check out before the summer is over.

The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz

The first novel I read by Junot Diaz was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Within that story, Diaz was able to create well-rounded, likable, and complex characters that jumped off the page and felt like too familiar to just be fictional beings. He has a great style that mixes family, history, politics, love, and tragedy in the way a conductor leads a full orchestra. The Cheater’s Guide to Love doesn’t fail to live up to Diaz’s talent.

Quick Bits of Literature

Literature doesn’t just come in giant, dusty tomes. It’s not that I have anything against giant, dusty tomes. Those are actually some of my favorite types of tomes, but not all of my favorite literature is a few hundred pages long. Some of my favorite pieces of literature actually come in the form of short stories.

To get your summer started out right, I thought I’d compile a list of some of my favorite literary short stories. If you want to become more familiar with literature, or you just want some good, short things to read this summer, start here!

What You Pawn I Will Redeem by Sherman Alexie has long been a favorite short story of mine. This story explores the life of a homeless Native American and chronicles his adventures of trying to recover his grandmother’s regalia. I know that sounds like it could be sad or dark, but it’s actually really funny and gives great insight into the perceptions and attitudes of those mainstream society marginalizes.

Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood is a story I use all the time with my students. This not only tells a great story, but teaches readers and writers alike what goes into telling a good story and how the ending, well, you’ll see once you get to the end.


Why Study or Write Poetry?

I’m a fan of poetry. I read it, I write it, I talk about it, write about it, and share it as often as I can. I’m also an advocate of poetry being taught to students in primary, secondary, and higher education, even if English isn’t their major.

Poetry offers a lot to the students that study it. Like other literary forms, poetry allows students to analyze and critically engage with the text, but poetry offers something other literary forms don’t—conveying meaning with as little words as possible.

The point of poetry is to convey an image or impression with controlled, specific, and brief language. While I can tell you a story in broad, complex, compound, or complex-compound sentences, poetry shies away from grammar conventions and tries to construct a new meaning of words through the misuse of grammar conventions to make the reader really slow down and contemplate what is being said within the poem.

Reading poetry is like solving a puzzle—and often times, that single poem can paint many true and varying pictures. Developing reading and critical thinking skills through poetry makes one an overall better reader, and these reading skills can be transferred to other realms as well. Being a critical thinker that can see multiple outcomes to the task at hand is a very marketable skill.

Writing poetry is also different than writing a story. Understanding the nuances of poetry can help one become a better story teller because it allows the writer to convey the same message or meaning with fewer words, but it can also help an author make better choices in diction, add rhythm to enhance the flow of a story, and give another layer of meaning to a text that can be picked up on a second, third, or fourth read of the work.

Let me tell you a story:


Author Spotlight: April Wilder


April Wilder’s short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope and McSweeney’s. She is a former James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, WI. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah, where she held a Vice Presidential Fellowship (her doctoral studies focused on “narratives of the absurd”). April lives with her daughter in Salt Lake City.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

April Wilder: A collection of tragicomic stories in which people navigate terrains of absurdity.

This Is Not an Accident
Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write This Is Not An Accident?

AW: The inspiration for every story was different. Some stories are me amusing myself (the evaluation form); some are me unpacking an image (Odd stuck in a dollhouse in “Long Dang Life”) or following a character I want to write about. The novella started with a strange walk in the park one day. Usually it’s that I see or overhear something that I can’t shake off, so I try to recycle it (in fiction) instead.

TPP: There’s a fine line between dark humor and depressing. How do you write without crossing that line?

AW: Whether or not a work is “depressing” speaks of a reader’s response, I think, so I don’t have any control over that. Interestingly, readers’ responses (to TINAA) seem to vary a lot depending on age. People under the age of 25 seem much more inclined to find tragedy and hyperbole in the book (and to be upset by it); older folks more comedy and common life.

TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

AW: I think if I had a deep inner motive for writing the book, it might be the desire to expose what in my experience becomes of modern life and the mad, mad human mind when people go around believing stories about themselves and others. I write stories to shake free of stories.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?

AW: The hard part is just showing up and sitting in the chair every day, so find out if you can do that first. I wish, perhaps, that someone would’ve encouraged me in the beginning to hold on to my work more loosely: at the time I would spend hours combing over and “perfecting” what were fundamentally crappy works to begin with. So play a lot and keep the shredder close. You’ll know when you finally have something worth combing over.

TPP: Name three songs that could be included in a soundtrack to your book (can be songs that inspired portions of your writing).

AW: The Jump off (Lil Kim); Tribute (Tenacious D); The People That We Love (Bush)

To learn more about April Wilder, visit her website!

Story Shots: First Kiss

First Kiss Banner

Love hits us all differently, and firsts are sometimes the most painful memories to recall. Firsts are the memories that never leave you. I remember the first time I got into a fight in grade school. I remember the first time I split my lip open playing softball. I remember my first day at both of my high schools. I remember my first car accident. I remember the flow of blood when I got my first stitches. Firsts live on in our memories well after our first times have passed. This is why Cupid is a little bastard. No one ever has a good first memory of getting shot by his arrow. No one has a good first love.

NicoleThumbnailIt was bland. Dead lips and cold fingertips bland. He was a womanizer and I just a girl naïveté. My friend accompanied us to the movies as a clever cover, but became an added bonus for his teenaged testosterone. Arms around us both, he complained of an ouchie on his hand, which I kissed away. Then his shoulder and neck, and finally, his lips. It was a peck. Plain pursed lips with a pop. And that was it for me. He turned to my friend and kissed her too. Her last name was Bland.

By Nicole Neitzke

AllisonThumbnail Thinking back, I still remember how giddy I was whenever he was in the same room, or when someone mentioned his name. We were in my parents’ garage on a warm, October Friday night when he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said, “yes.” Of course I wanted to be his girlfriend. Nothing would make my sixteen-year-old self happier than to hold his hand between Biology and History; the classrooms were on opposite sides of our enormous high school campus. He went in for the kiss: my first kiss. I panicked and turned my head so he kissed the side of my face, just where lips end and cheek begins. I was mortified. I joked it off and said, “That was my first kiss, and I ruined it. Can we try again?” He smiled at me and kissed me. It was still awkward, but I had finally gotten my first kiss, and I was high on happiness and excitement. We dated another twelve days before I decided I didn’t want a boyfriend. I was a heartbreaking bitch. Sorry, Daryl.

By Allison Bellows


Story Shots: Tequila

A shot of tequila is always served with a little something on the side. Before the bartender pours the shot, he or she usually pulls out a saltshaker and puts a slice of lime down on the small square napkin on the bar in front of your seat. The bartender can now concentrate on pouring the perfect, one-ounce shot. The perfect one-ounce pour is four counts with the bottle at a sixty degree angle. One, two, three, four, and then the bottle is turned upright. If the bartender is fishing for tips or not very good at counting, you might get an extra half second in there, which means you get a little more bang for your buck. But tequila comes with more than salt, a napkin, and a lime. Tequila always comes with a story or two. In the length of that four-count pour, memories start to flow just as the amber liquid escapes the bottle, landing in that tiny glass.

(Credit: Mike’s Liquors)

     “There’s a worm in it.” I tap the square bottle tentatively.
     “Yeah, all good tequila has that. That’s how you know it’s good,” she tells me as she takes a swig. She passes it to the supplier and he takes a gulp. Not to be outdone, I take the bottle and gulp. I nearly vomit, but manage to swallow the hot liquor with stomach acid. We sprawl out on the blanket she packed and watch the clouds form blobs in the sky as our eyes become crossed. We laugh as we light up a cigarette to share and ask each other to share personal secrets. He scoots close to me and I slide away. She takes my place. Before we finish the last drops of hell, the bell rings.
     “Crap. I gotta get to my AP Bio class. I’ll see you guys later.” And I depart.

By Nicole Neitzke


Rejection and What it Teaches You

I just sent out sixty five rejection letters. My eyes are beginning to feel heavy, and I’ve literally rewritten this sentence five times. While I am dying to turn off my laptop and jump into bed, I am also feeling a bit like a dick. In the past three weeks, I have read sixty seven short stories, and out of those sixty seven, I sent two on to my editor as “maybes.”

In order to absolve myself, I wanted to share a little bit about what I learned in these past three weeks.

1. Beginnings matter when it comes to short stories.

Really, this is true for all stories, but with novels, the length makes a so-so beginning more forgivable. The opposite is true for short stories. I have hundreds of stories to read through. If the writing is good and compelling, it will be recognizable within the first page or two. After that, an editor isn’t willing to waste more of their time reading it.

2. There’s a limit to how many grammatical errors are acceptable.

When I’m reading through a short story, a few grammatical mistakes are okay. After all, even when I read through some of my own work several times, a few errors still slip through the cracks. It’s hard to be objective about your own work, and after a certain point, your brain just sort of shuts off your ability to detect mistakes. However, there is a point when the editor reading your work will start to feel frustrated and more than likely move on to the next story in their pile. Too many errors makes the writer seem lazy, like they didn’t care enough about their submission to have another pair of eyes read through their work or to set it aside for a few days and come back to it themselves.