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Deleted Scene: The Scar

Lisa Ohlen Harris

Lisa Ohlen Harris provides us with a short passage that didn’t make it into her forthcoming book Through the Veil. (This post first appeared on her website

I stayed home with the baby that night. I must have fallen asleep on the sofa, because when I woke about midnight, Todd wasn’t home yet. The gathering at the Manning’s house must have run late, I thought.

While I was putting on pajamas and brushing my teeth, Todd was helping Tim out of the wrecked taxi. A couple of Arab shabab stopped at the scene of the accident to ask if they could help; they took Tim to the emergency room to have his head sewn shut.

When they left the Manning’s house, the guys had waved down a taxi. Tim sat in the front seat, because his Arabic was better than Todd’s. There was a seat belt on the passenger’s side, Tim remembered later, but it was grimy and dusty. He thought briefly that he should put it on anyway, but pushed the thought away knowing that the driver would interpret this as an insult to his driving—and a lack of trust in the will of God.

Todd woke me up when he finally got home, early in the morning. It was still dark, but I remember hearing the birds sing outside our bedroom window. When I turned on a lamp, I saw blood all over Todd’s sandals and a deep gash between his toes, almost splitting his foot for an inch or so. It should have been sutured, but he hadn’t noticed his own injury while he was at the hospital with Tim. Todd’s wound took weeks to heal, and he still has the scar. It’s easy to hide under socks and shoes.

We didn’t see Tim over the weekend, and when he came to the language school that Monday he had a big piece of gauze taped over the wound. When his forehead healed enough he took gauze off, but it wasn’t until the sutures were removed that we all saw the jagged crescent.


So there’s the “deleted scene.” The guys were in a taxi crash. Tim hurt his head and ended up with a crescent-shaped scar. It’s kinda interesting, but so what? I mean, really, why would this story matter to anyone but our family and Tim’s? I might tell about the accident when we get the old gang together, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s book-worthy.

As I assembled my chapters for Through the Veil, I wanted each memory, each chapter to say something more than, “This happened then that happened, now isn’t the Middle East exotic?”

Ultimately, the taxi accident memory just didn’t make the cut.


Lisa Ohlen Harris is Relief’s Creative Nonfiction editor. Her Middle East memoir, Through the Veil, will be published by Canon Press in 2010. Lisa’s essays have appeared in journals like River TeethArts & Letters, and The Laurel Review, and have received special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses (2009) and in Best American Spiritual Writing (2008 and 2010). Lisa enjoys mentoring and editing the work of emerging writers through her critique service.

My Emerging Tendencies

Michael Dean Clark

This is the first in a series of four entries on “being” a writer.

I’ve spent the last four years completely committed to becoming a published author and yet only recently come to terms with calling myself a writer when people ask what I do for work. Even though I’ve written since I was young, saying it out loud (and claiming it as a vocation no less) has always felt a bit presumptuous and a lot bougie. And then there’s the inevitable follow-up question:

What’s your book called?

Um, I don’t have one. Until a couple years ago, I didn’t have a single fiction credit to my name. The awkward moment that follows generally ends with another question, or really, variations on the same question:

So what do you really do? Oh, so what’s your day job then? So, writing’s a hobby then? Where does your money come from?

Since drug sales and exotic dancing don’t seem to be acceptable answers to those questions, I’ve been obliged to tell people I teach writing and am working on a terminal degree (anyone else think that a Ph.D. and cancer sharing an adjective is odd?). And then the nod comes. You know, the head bob that says, Oh, you’re a loser.

Recently, however, I’ve had a couple pieces published and some “encouraging” agent rejection letters. As a result, I find myself described in a new way. Now, I’m not a loser, I’m an “emerging writer.” I am troubled by this title as well. Am I a grizzly rolling out of months of winter hibernation? Am I a developing nation? The consensus seems to be that I’m somewhere between caterpillar and butterfly, which in my estimation makes me that nasty, gray chrysalis from which a living creature may or may not spring.

If you think I’m wrong, try out the following:

Sir, you’re going to need triple bypass heart surgery. But don’t worry; one of our brightest emerging surgeons will perform the procedure.

I know you’re on trial for murder, but you’ve got an emerging public defender representing you.

When I think about the idea of emergence, I immediately want another title. I’m trying a few out. Tell me what you think.

I am under-published. I am material heavy and publication light. I’m very market selective. My readership is still on an indie level. Commercial success isn’t all that important. My family likes some of what I write and you should too. If I’m not the next “it” writer, I feel safe saying I could be the next “that” writer.

That last one seems a bit long and probably wouldn’t go over well on a resume. Maybe the one before it too.

I guess I just want to feel less like a fraud when I call myself a writer. Then again, if great novelists like J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and Lauren Conrad from The Hills never settled comfortably into the title, maybe I shouldn’t expect too either.

Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. His work is set primarily in his hometown of San Diego and has been known to include pimps in diapers, heroin-addicted pastors who suffer from OCD, and possibly the chupacabra.

Photo Haiku Wednesday 3.3.10

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Kasan.


1. Write a haiku inspired by the photo and post it in the comments.

For extra chances to win:

2. Follow @reliefjournal on Twitter

3. Follow @Quo Vadis on Twitter

4. Twitter @reliefjournal with your haiku and #PHW (Photo Haiku Wednesday)

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The good people over at Quo Vadis have generously donated some prizes!!

The weekly winner will receive a Quo Vadis Habana Journal and a bottle of J. Herbin ink!!

Every week Relief will choose a random winner! So play along and tell your friends. See the information below for extra chances to win.

* * *

Winner will be announced via Twitter Thursday afternoons.

We can only ship to U.S. addresses right now.

You may only win once every three months, but you may play along every week for Twitter Super Bonus Points.

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Would you like to have your photo featured on Photo Haiku Wednesday?

Email your photos to Michelle:

You’ll get a photo credit link here on the main blog and you’ll also be entered in the drawing for the Quo Vadis Habana journal and bottle of J. Herbin ink the week your photo appears on the blog!

Stories like Fine Beer and Cheese: The Importance of Texture (Part 3)

Robert Garbacz

The following is part 3 of 3 from Robert Garbacz.

[Author’s Note: This the final entry in my three-part series on the importance of a rich and multivaried “texture” in which different parts of the story resist each other, making for a far more engaging piece.  In parts 1 (HERE) and 2 (HERE), I discussed Greg Mitchell’s genre-fiction “Flowers for Shelly” and Michael Snyder’s more literary “Normal People.” In this section, I turn to the issue of how--and why--readers might want to take the risk of making complicated, textured fiction.]

Okay, so now what?  Sure that’s how I choose stories, but what good can it do for those of you who actually want to write stories with texture?  Well, I’m not yet an expert writer, but I think I’ve found two simple principles:

1) Let ideas wait for a while, and don’t be afraid to mix them up. For me, an interesting idea will stick in my head for months, if not for years.  My story in the first Diner started when I was listening to way too many 1920’s-1940’s adventure radio dramas.  Somehow, a phrase came to me, “the cozy firelit tavern in the middle of the Abyss.” But it was several months before I started my story, in which I had plenty of time to fill my tavern with dead authors, throw in a generous portion of film noir flavorings, add a single-mindedly Quixotic Preacher, and a protagonist who goes along with him without really buying his program wholesale.  And then, of course, there was the proofreading, where I looked for any odd, interesting spices I could throw in.  But each stage required time, and a willingness to try to stick things together that common sense would keep apart.

2) Don’t be afraid to contradict yourself. In throwing a variety of flavors into the mix, you’re probably going to end up with a story that is true to the parts of life that don’t allow for easy solutions.  Sometimes that will feel uncomfortable, or strange, and you’ll feel the temptation to make everything neat and clean and right.  And maybe you should–for certain publishers and certain audiences.  But the best–and most memorable–tales are the ones that don’t shy away from their endings, even if the end the story leads to only emphasizes the difference between how the world should be and how the world is.

I’ll close with one more example, from a piece of genre-fiction that wasn’t published in the Diner because it was written some ten thousand years too early and was too long.  It is also, through a twist of fate, now considered literary fiction.  The story is the Iliad and the scene is the climactic meeting between the (essentially fatherless) Greek warrior Achilles and the Trojan king Priam (whose son, Hector, was brutally killed by Achilles in a cycle of vengeance).  In a shocking moment of grace, Achilles not only gives Hector’s body back for burial, but he feels a strange sympathy for the father of his dead enemy.  They eventually eat together, remembering another story which beautifully mixes horrific tragedy and simple joy.  As Achilles puts it in Lombardo’s translation,

Even Niobe remembered to eat
Although her twelve children were dead in her house,
Six daughters and six sturdy sons.  [...]
Nine days they lay in their gore, with no one
To bury them, because Zeus had turned
The people to stone.  On the tenth day
The gods buried them.  But Niobe remembered
She had to eat, exhausted from weeping. [...]
Well, so should we, old sir,
Remember to eat.  You can mourn your son later
When you bring him to Troy.  You owe him many tears.

(lines 651-3, 659-63, 669-71)

This act of compassion is not the end of the story.  As the poem’s original audience well knew, Priam’s son would soon kill Achilles and Achilles’s allies will soon kill every man in Troy.  The result–texture.  It isn’t just a straightforward revenge-tale, or a saccharine tale of friendship among enemies.  It is something more.

Homer, or whoever wrote the Iliad, chose to interrupt his tale of rage and death with a story of acceptance and commonality (or, conversely, to surround his story of acceptance and commonality with a larger story of rage and cyclical violence.)  That sort of incomplete, soulful, and very-human texture is a goal well worth seeking.


Robert Garbacz, when in his natural habitat, can frequently be seen arguing theology, politics, and art over ale with often excessive volume, haranguing his friends repeatedly with obscure but fascinating facts about Medieval literature, or staring cloyingly into the eyes of his beloved wife Hannah. Unfortunately, his natural habitat is Oxford in the period from 1930-1950. This is a bit awkward for someone born in Tulsa in 1983, but he is studying towards his Doctoral at the University of Texas in Austin and feels this is a firm step in the proper direction. His short story, “The Salvation of Sancho,” appeared in the previous Diner anthology, inducting him into this peculiar world of horror, bloodshed, and merciless ravagement of grammatical missteps.

Last Day for 4.1 Submissions!

Today is the last day that Relief will be accepting submissions for issue 4.1.  If there is a story or poem that you’ve been thinking about submitting, now is the time for you to head on over to the Online Submission System and send it to our editors.

If you don’t think that your piece is just right, then keep working on it–or, if it’s Creative Nonfiction, head on over to CNF Editor Lisa Ohlen Harris’s website for a critique.  The Online Submission System will open up in two short months for issue 4.2.