The Fiction of Zane Andrea by Nicholas Deitch

 

Zane Andrea is a current attorney, former engineer, and always writer from Southeast Michigan. Specifically, she lives near and loves Detroit, but refuses to be one of those suburbanites who claims they’re ‘from Detroit’ despite living a good half hour from the border. She has a cat, the world’s greatest siblings, and too many degrees.

I first met Zane at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 2013, and I was immediately struck by the power of her voice, in much contrast to the subtlety of her presence. I am delighted to be able to share her work with Luna Review.

ND

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The Cleansing

Penny’s big brother Frank didn’t die of a drug overdose or suicide or any of that other stuff the PMRC claimed was the inevitable result of letting children listen to heavy metal. It was a car wreck—a stupid, ordinary car wreck that wasn’t even his fault. But a few days after the funeral, Penny’s mom lost it after hearing Frank’s favorite Bulletboys song on the radio.

Penny was in Frank’s room, sitting at his desk and listening to Rockline on 101.1, when her mom opened the door. Penny figured she’d stare at the empty room for a minute, then quick-ly walk to her room when she could no longer hold back tears. That’s how it always happened in Victoria Principal movies.

But halfway through Smooth Up In Ya, Penny’s mom shrieked like Rob Halford getting his hand slammed in a door, and threw the Frank’s clock radio against the wall. Then she ran-sacked his room for his music and concert souvenirs—throwing cassettes on the ground and stomping on their brittle plastic cases, tearing his posters into crumpled snow—all the while say-ing, “I told him, I told him,” over and over, each outburst sobbier than the last.

Even before Frank died, Penny knew to keep the bits of music she’d gleaned from his collection well-hidden. You’re too young for that stuff, everyone said, even though she knew all about sex and drugs from sixth grade Human Growth and a million D.A.R.E. assemblies. Just because the song said to do it didn’t mean you had to, everyone knew that. Frank also said she was too young, but he always followed it with a wink before letting her take an old issue of Metal Edge or home-taped copy of Theatre of Pain he no longer needed because his girlfriend bought him a real copy for his birthday. She held back a whimper when her mom stopped rampaging Frank’s room and left, but relaxed when she returned a few seconds later, holding Penny’s clock radio. Clearly, she hadn’t looked under the mattress.

Still, Penny felt worse watching the purge than she had at Frank’s funeral. Goodbye, Metallica shirt with Metal Up Your Ass that Frank lied about throwing out after a gym teacher sent him home for wearing it. Goodbye, Iron Maiden poster with Eddie looking scarier than the devil ever could. Penny thought about rushing in and trying to stop mom or save some of Frank’s gear. But the “I-told-hims” were up to 11 by now, and Penny didn’t want to know what Mom would do if she interrupted.

Mom stomped out of the room again, returning with a box of kitchen garbage bags. Penny didn’t want to watch her mom stuff handfuls of Frank’s ruined collection into plastic shrouds, but she couldn’t move, so she just closed her eyes. When she opened them, Mom had finished filling one bag and started another.

Then, Penny saw light glint off something near the top of one bag. It was the pewter pentagram Frank had made in jewelry class. Sometimes he wore it on a leather thong, but mostly he’d just carried it around as a good luck piece.

Penny waited until Mom turned away from her. Then she walked out, nipping the pentagram from the bag as she passed. She slipped down the hall and made it into the kitchen when she heard her mom yelp. Quickly, Penny went out the back door and started across the yard, dropping the pentagram in the grass as she ran.

A few seconds later, a hand clamped her shoulder and spun her around. “What did you take?”

“Nothing,” said Penny.

“Don’t lie to me,” Mom said, shaking her by the shoulders. “We are not going to let any more evil in this house, I am not going to lose you, too!”

Mom patted her down like a cop, even feeling the back of her training bra and inside the waistband of her shorts. But she didn’t find anything. Obviously frustrated, she grabbed Penny’s wrist and pulled her back into the house. She made Penny carry one of the trash bags to the curb, but Penny managed not to cry until after Mom went to bed.

After midnight, Penny snuck into the backyard with a flashlight. She crawled along the area where she thought she remembered running, and searched the grass until she found the pentagram. Two hours and two dozen mosquito bites, but she found it.

 

My Biggest Fan

My neighbor Hank (God rest his soul) was a WWII vet and lifelong family-friend with a heart of gold, a mouth that would make George Carlin flinch, and story-telling skills that Baron Von Munchausen would find excessive. Like most of the Greatest Generation, Hank wouldn’t get rid of anything he considered the slightest bit useful. For example, why get rid of a ceiling fan you removed during remodeling when you could wrap it in plastic tarp and store it in your backyard for a few years? Yeah, it rains and snows out there, but that’s why God made tarp: to preserve Very Useful Things until such time that they can be put to good use. For example, when your neighbor’s kid (i.e., me) takes over her family home and doesn’t happen to have a ceiling fan.

I honestly don’t remember why I agreed to take the damn thing instead of making up an excuse. Probably equal parts deference and guilt. Hank knew me literally since the day I was born and when my parents split up eight years later, he was one of the only neighbors who didn’t pick sides. Plus, Hank was one of those old guys who’s all concrete and marshmallows. Refuse his generous offer and he’ll cross examine you—“Why don’t you want a ceiling fan? You’d rather waste money on a new one when this one is perfectly fine?”–or get a look on his face like you just crushed every dream he ever had. How do you say no to a guy like that?

What I do remember was the day of the transfer was hot, the fan itself was huge, and worst of all, Hank insisted on carrying it himself. I said I’d go home and get my car so we could put it in the back seat or trunk, but Hank didn’t want to waste time–he only lived two houses away. I offered to help him carry it but he said, “No, it’s too awkward for two people to lift.”

“Then let me carry it,” I said.

Hank looked at me like that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard in his life. “I can barely lift this thing. How are you gonna carry it?” Before I could respond, “Well, I am 50 years younger than you and have far fewer cardiovascular diseases,” Hank picked up the ceiling fan and started for my house. I had to walk next to him.

This is what I thought was going to happen during the longest two-minute walk of my life: Halfway between his house and mine, Hank’s heart explodes and he collapses to the pavement in nuclear convulsions. Maybe he even falls backwards so the ceiling fan can pin him to the boiling-hot asphalt and break a rib. As paramedics work desperately to get Hank into the ambulance—no, air transport–they ask why the rhymes-with-duck I let this fragile old man—a WWII veteran containing more age-related illnesses than a medical textbook—carry this gargantuan relic in the hot sun when I was clearly young and healthy enough to bear this burden myself. I squeak, “He wouldn’t let me,” which only intensifies their disgust. As the ambulance speeds away, neighbors exit their homes and gather in the street. Pitchforks are raised, torches are lit, and tar and feathers prepared. But I don’t run. I earned this.

This is what actually happened: Hank carried the fan to my house, put it on the garage floor, refused my drink offers, and accepted my profuse thanks before walking back to his house. I didn’t relax completely until I saw Hank the next day, his heart still in an unexploded state.

Ten years have passed. Hank is gone but that Bobdamn ceiling fan is still in my garage. You can come pick it up if you want it, but only if you bring proof of medical clearance from at least three different doctors. I’m not going through that shit again.

 

Cursing the Green

The newspapers said Seth and I died in the Arctic. It’s true but incomplete. Say “Arctic” to anyone south of Winnipeg, and they’ll picture snow, snow, and snow. An endless, obvious expanse of ice and wind, capable of killing even the most prudent, fur-clad explorer.

That’s polar. I didn’t die polar. I died tundra. I died green.

I don’t expect the living to comprehend the horror of dying in green versus white. They’re the same on the surface: lost, cold, exposed, starved, scared. But the polar Arctic always looks like a shroud, even to those who master it. Whether you’re walking or dying, ice doesn’t look like anything but ice.

The autumn tundra surrounds your death will a million shades of green, all of them cruel. Green is supposed to be life: tender, fresh-smelling leaves that yield moisture when crunched in your teeth, or lead to whatever hidden pool of water made them swell. Tundra green is plentiful, but it isn’t life. It’s short, dry grasses that a horse couldn’t chew through, and bitter lichens I licked straight from the rock when I could no longer summon the strength to scratch with even one finger.

But I saw something new at every turn—a moss slightly more emerald than olive, toothed leaves instead of smooth—and my brain would insist that this one would wet or sweeten my tongue where the others had failed. Even in my last seconds of life, a myriad of new greens swarmed before my eyes, taunting me. We’re right here. One of us is life. Life is in a leaf and you can’t even reach for it.

Seth wasn’t there when I died. When I was home, he was everywhere I turned, cajoling me to join his next mail patrol, insisting that two people could make the trip faster and with fewer provisions. It wasn’t even winter, he said, and Dawson was south of our hamlet. He promised a promotion, a raise, and a return home well before my wife gave birth to our first.

I didn’t know this was to be Seth’s last mail patrol, and that he’d begged his commander for it before his forcible retirement. I knew Seth had more pride than experience, as he answered every question about his qualifications with a retelling of his service in the Boer War. I didn’t want to leave my wife for even a week, let alone months that would keep me from watching her belly grow until I could hold our child myself. But sentimentality did not pay as well as a constable’s salary.

Seth disappeared a week before I died. In my state, I thought he’d learned the secret of green to restore his health and flee death without letting me slow him. After I died, I learned that Seth left while I slept, dragging his way to a thicker brush patch that would hide his corpse. Then he wrote a letter to his family and ate his gun.

He died too far away for me to gain any benefit from his body. He died without hearing taunts from the green. He died proud.

I died licking a rock.

After I died, I learned that Seth refused to allow either of his sons to join this patrol. I knew his sons—two hale and healthy boys a few years my junior, but close enough to manhood to test themselves against the tundra. When I asked, Seth muttered that he wanted more for his children than the life of a soldier or constable. No offense taken, I said.

And I meant it. I wanted my child to have a better life than me, doesn’t every parent? And I couldn’t wait to make it happen. I dreamed of cradling my son (I always pictured him as a boy), protecting him, teaching him, watching him grow into a strong, curious, and independent lad. The way that Seth was able to do with his sons. His two, healthy, nearly grown sons.

I never met my child. He or she never entered the living, and my wife passed in a fever. I don’t know who killed who. Neither joined me here. Seth did, but he never talked to me. Instead, he watched his sons.

So did I.

Seth’s death rushed his sons to manhood, but not sharply enough to leave lasting deficits in their characters. They stayed strong but found work that kept their clothes clean and bodies warm. They married good women who birthed healthy children.

They cradled their small, squalling infants and then handed them to their wives to feed. And the wives seemed abundant feeders. Even when they weren’t nursing, Seth’s daughters-in-law frequently had to change clothes, so eager was the milk to flow from their breasts.

But the babies wouldn’t grow. After suckling for hours, they would collapse with exhaus-tion or wail as if they’d swallowed nothing but air. Their limbs grew limp and thin, and they slept for longer and longer until they eventually stopped waking up.

Only the first of Seth’s grandchildren lived past a week. The child, a boy named after his grandfather, grew up weak and sickly. But he grew up.

At first, I cursed this child as a failure. I waited too long after he was born to reach for him. I might not have reached for him but for realizing the small comfort he brought Seth. My first efforts were impulsive and clumsy, fueled by rage instead focused on the end. His contin-ued existence seemed to taint my success with his subsequent siblings and cousins.

But Seth’s namesake will provide new opportunities as he grows. A spindly child who frequently falls ill, he may become feeble, dependent on others. He may die young or live a long, burdensome life, either end draining strength from his parents. Or he may recover, achieve manhood, find a trade, marry, try to start a family…

Seth’s bloodline know experience, more than their patriarch ever had. But they will never know pride again.

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Q&A with Zane Andrea

Luna Review: When did you first discover your passion for writing fiction?

I always loved writing, but most of what I wrote in school was nonfiction: essays for classes or contests, editorials and record reviews for the school paper, song parodies to make my friends laugh, stuff like that. My third year of college, I learned about a creative writing contest just for College of Engineering students, with categories in fiction and essay. I’d entered essay contests in high school, but they always gave you the topic to write about, like Earth Day or “Why this part of the Bill of Rights is Very Important.” I didn’t have an idea of what counted as a “creative essay.” So I decided to try a story. I got an honorable mention and $50 for it, which felt amazing. Next year, I entered again and won $100. I started taking fiction classes and writing on my own, and it’s been downhill ever since.

LR: Your stories are so varied, and so vivid. Darkest of the dark, or full of cynical humor. Where does your inspiration for these stories come from?

ZA: I have a hard time answering this question. I can explain the “thing” that sparked a specific story (image, memory, daydream, or something I overheard). But when I try to describe inspiration generally, I end up sounding pretentious (“I try to dive below the veneer of polite society and explore the extremes of human emotion”) or immature (“I thought it’d be cool”). The best answer I can come up with is that I enjoy fiction with a great deal of sensory or emotional detail, so that’s what I end up writing.

The humor’s a little easier to explain. I’ve been surrounded by sarcasm my whole life. It’s my best friend. I try not to hurt anybody with it, but sarcasm in life and fiction is terribly effective for self-defense, defense of others, truth, and – of course – humor. In my experience, cynical humor prevents true cynicism, deflects darkness before it can worm its way into your psyche. You know, laugh so you don’t scream.

LR: Are there particular writers, or stories, that have had a profound impact on the way you see the world?

ZA: My top three favorite writers of all time are Khalil Gibran, Oscar Wilde, and Kurt Vonnegut. Despite their surface differences, they have a lot in common. All three write about the significant gap between what’s commonly accepted as A Good Way To Live and what people actually value when allowed to do so. Wilde targeted the hypocrisy of upper class English society, Vonnegut did the same with the American Dream, and Gibran looked past the black letter religious laws to seek a more amorphous understanding of God and nature.

I’ve cut about five paragraphs from this answer because I know you’re looking for an interview, not a book report. If anyone wants to be subjected to my full treatise on the philosophical and stylistic overlaps of Vonnegut-Wilde-Gibran, feel free to come over with a dry erase board and some Angry Orchard.

Also, I owe a lot to Michael Moore for confirming my suspicions about fear via Bowling for Columbine. I grew up suburban—an accident of birth that affords you more safety and opportunity than most people in this world get. I’m grateful for that. But it also means growing up with an extremely narrow definition of safety and an understanding any misstep could lead to poverty, shunning, and irreparable harm to body and mind. Even when you outgrow this, you wonder if there’s something wrong with you for noticing that the people you’re supposed to trust scare the hell out of you and the ones you’re supposed to fear have yet to hurt you. Bowling effectively teaches that, yes, there’s a lot to be scared of in life, but most of it isn’t what you were taught to fear, and questioning whether you’re afraid of the right things doesn’t make you crazy or reckless.

LR: You’ve attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for several years. Being from the mid-west, what is it about this conference that brings you back year after year?

ZA: The immersion. You spend every waking minute of a week listening to stories, telling stories, writing new stories, dissecting stories, and making friends with other book junkies. Matthew Palamary’s Phantastic Fiction workshop and Lorelei Armstrong’s Pirate sessions are invaluable for writing strange fiction and carving the deadwood from your text. I also love Ernie Witham’s humor workshop, his lessons on pacing, timing, keeping a consistent voice, all beneficial principles even if you’re not writing a humor piece. All three workshop leaders taught me the importance of not being so in love with your own words that you’re unwilling to change something for the good of the piece.

Forgive me for sounding sappy, but there’s also a real sense of sanctuary. I attended SBWC every year from 2004-2006, then went on hiatus because I returned to school and started a new career. When I was finally able to come back in 2013, I was a little nervous. I’d kept in touch with conference friends online but hadn’t seen anyone in person for seven years. I’m a little afraid, maybe it won’t feel the same, maybe people won’t like my writing anymore, or I can’t write anymore… But five minutes into the first pirate workshop, it was home. Everything that mattered was the same: enthusiasm, excitement, encouragement, people willing to share the deepest, most personal aspects of their lives to total strangers out of a shared love for writing. There’s nothing like it.

And yes, spending a week next to a gorgeous beach in SoCal is always nice. Sometimes there’s “June Gloom,” but I’m from Michigan, so gloom doesn’t faze me.

LR: If you could spend a day with one writer, just hanging and sharing a good meal and conversation, who would you choose and why?

Khalil Gibran, because there’s such a dichotomy between his writing and his real life. Logically, I know this isn’t surprising. Libraries are full of dark books written by light people and vice versa. But The Prophet and Spirit Brides read more like original scripture than discussions of estab-lished scripture. Gibran wrote like a holy man but he lived like any other decadent artist—having affairs with numerous women and drinking himself into an early grave.

LR: Are there ways in which your working world as an attorney and your fiction-writing world collide, or cross over?

As a practical matter, legal and creative writing both require research, logic, rhetoric, and persuasion. In both fields, you want your reader to understand and agree with your rationale, to feel this way about one thing and that way about another. When you’re writing to convince a decision-maker to reach a particular finding, you need to anticipate and address opposing arguments in a way that makes the reader agree with your side. Scanning a story for potential plot holes and other inconsistencies feels similar—you’re still trying to create a certain belief in your reader and have to anticipate problems that might pull them out of that belief.

Also, the law is one of those professions that exposes you to the reality that the human race is stark raving mad. Lawyers deal with situations, personalities, and rules that are too crazy to exist in real life…but they do. So even when I write something extreme or deliberately ridiculous, I know that what I invented in my head can never be as bizarre as something that a person or group of people thought would be a good thing to say or do in real life. That’s strangely comforting.

That being said, I’ve never written fiction inspired by any case I’ve worked on directly, and I never will. Besides the obvious confidentiality issues (name and persona changes only go so far) writing fiction is something I do to experience a different reality. Dragging my day job into it doesn’t exactly further that end.

LR: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you, and hearing your stories, for some years now. In person, you are often soft-spoken and reticent. Yet, the voice of your writing can be quite powerful and bold. Does writing open places within you that might otherwise have stayed closed?

I don’t think places in any person can stay closed forever. Once you know it’s there, it demands acknowledgement.

The fact is, it’s easier for me to be bold on paper than in person. It’s not that I’m never loud or talkative in person, but there are a billion reasons why I can’t be like that all the time: anxiety, shyness, unfamiliarity with the person or situation, fear of offending others, situational etiquette, etc.… The same stuff is in my head whether I’m talking or writing. Writing offers more freedom to explore and polish the expression before sharing it with others, if I decide to share it with others.

LR: What do you see for your future, as a writer? A novel, or perhaps a play?

I will write a novel. It might take three decades to finish, but I am determined to complete at least one book-length work of fiction in my lifetime.

I’ve written many dialogues for fun—brief, smartass talks between two or three voices for a laugh. But I’ve never tried to write a full scene with setting and movement (“Actor 1 brushes his teeth and stares pensively at a stuffed bird while Actor 2 does the Buffalo shuffle from rear stage right to mid stage left…”). Maybe my first play should be about two people in full body casts, it would cut down on stage directions.

LR: What larger messages do you think might underlie the stories that you create?

Exposure, maybe? I like the idea of being the kid in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” who points out that the emperor is naked, but awareness is never the end of the story. If that fable played out in real life, at least half the people would hate the kid for talking shit about the emperor and ruining the parade.

A lot of my stories involve breaking points—not a violent outburst or tantrum, but the internal moment that a person can no longer deny that something isn’t true the way they need it to be. After that, they can either try a new path or continue the charade for security or because they’re forced to, but they no longer have that fight in their heads.

This is another question that’s hard to answer because I’ve never set out to write a story to explore a particular theme. It’s more about recreating the physical or emotional sensations of a character’s experience in the reader. I like it when someone tells me how they interpreted a certain section, and it’s something I didn’t intend or even think when I was writing. Of course, if someone else mentions it later, I have no problem pretending that was exactly what I intended to write because I’m endlessly clever.


 


Guest Editor, Nick Deitch: Is one hell of a lovely bastard!

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About Max Talley

Max Talley is the author of the near future thriller, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, published in 2014. His short fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Two Cities Review, Iconoclast, Del Sol Review, Chantwood Magazine, Gold Man Review, and the Hardboiled anthology from Dead Guns Press. Max's website is http://maxdevoetalley.com
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