Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest — Winning Author Profiles, Group 2

January 14th, 2019

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…..On March 11, 2019, .Jerry Jazz Musician .will publish the 50th .winning story in our thrice-yearly Short Fiction Contest. To celebrate this landmark event, we have asked all the previous winners (dating to 2002) to reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

…..Beginning on January 7 – and on every Monday through March 4 – we will publish five or six profiles of participating authors, along with their winning story.

…..For this feature, authors were provided with a list of the following questions as a guideline for creating their profile:

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What do you remember about your winning story?

Did winning this contest impact your writing career? 

What did the publication of your story mean to you?

Are you still writing?

What are five books you have recently read that you would recommend to others?

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…..Many writers responded in a short essay, and others did so via a “question and answer” format.

…..These profiles are an entertaining, enlightening, and at times emotional look at the stimulating, rewarding process of creative writing, and the people whose work has made important contributions to this publication over the years.  Many thanks to everyone who took the time to so thoughtfully participate.

…..I would also like to thank everyone who has thought enough of this publication to submit their work for consideration.  In 49 contests spread out over 16 years, we have chosen 46 winners from over 7,000 stories submitted — a stark reminder of the challenges of this art form.

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This week’s edition covers authors of winning stories #’s 7 – 11

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To read the edition for winning stories #’s 1 – 6, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 12 – 16, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 17 – 23, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #24 – 28, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 29 – 34, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 35 – 38, click here

 To read the edition for winning stories #’s 39 – 44, click here

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 45 – 49, click here

 

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Diana Spechler

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #7

Inheritance

Published November, 2004

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…..I was 24 when I won the contest for a story I wrote about a teenage girl who was in love with a boy in her high school photography class. She had mental health issues and he was wholly ill-equipped to deal with them, but they liked listening to music together. I’d entered the contest at least once before and Joe had written back to me and been so warm and encouraging, I submitted again. When he wrote to tell me I won, the first line of his email was, “Are you sitting down?” It was so touching that he was as excited for me as I was for myself. It was such a big deal for me: validation, a prize, a bit of cash, the encouragement of an editor. I felt like a real writer for one of the first times in my life. Joe was one of the very first people in the biz to support my work and I’ve never forgotten it.

…..Since winning that contest, I have published two novels and I have a memoir on the way. I’m a freelance writer who has written for the New York Times, GQ, Esquire, the BBC, and dozens of other publications. But every writer I know has a trajectory that includes an early success, a tiny nudge that kept us going. For me, that nudge was the Jerry Jazz Short Story Contest.

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…..Two recent books I’ve loved: Motherhood by Sheila Heti and Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead.

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Diana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire and Skinny, of the New York Times column “Going Off,” and of stories in the Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Travel & Leisure, Bon Appetit, Saveur, GQ, BBC, O, Harper’s, Harper’s Bazaar, and many other publications. Crown Publishing will publish her memoir Everything You Have in 2019. She has received a number of writing awards and fellowships, including the creative nonfiction prize from The Room of Her Own Foundation and residencies from Hawthornden Castle and Yaddo.

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Inheritance

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Diana Spechler

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #7.  Published November, 2004)

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…..The workers at Jackson’s favorite record store wear bumble-bee striped tights, black plastic glasses, leather boots that lace straight up their thighs. Jackson’s wearing the purple beret he always wears, with his blond hair sticking out in back, and his cords, and his corduroy jacket that smells like him. It’s April, too warm for corduroy, but Jackson always wears corduroy, along with T-shirts that tell the world he’s been to every blues concert and jazz festival you could think of.

…..To me, it all sounds the same — jazz, the blues, whatever — it’s all horns, but Jackson’s got two hundred seventeen records — vinyl, he calls them — and a saxophone, too. Clearly, he’s got music in his blood. His dad also plays the saxophone, at bars in Harvard Square, and they kind of look alike, only Jackson’s dad has eyes like power drills that would tear your clothes clean-open if you didn’t look away in time.

…..I follow Jackson as he runs his fingertips along the tops of albums. When he finds the rack he wants, he starts flipping through, his eyes glittering like the music’s already dancing around inside them.

…..“Come on,” he mutters. “Please be here.”

…..I move closer to him. I almost say, I am here, but then he says, “Sometimes I think the records can hear me. Before I get to listen to them, they know how much I want them.”

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Click to continue reading the story

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Jackson Lassiter

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #8

Natural Selection

Published March, 2005

 

 

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Fourteen Years Living

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In 2004, my job required sitting at a computer and little else. Propelled by boredom and mimicking a published friend, I commenced writing a short story. By the end, I was in deep. Writing occupied me. I was 46.

Winter. A spousal spat fueled a midnight walk to a nearby urban park. Two homeless men, mostly harmless, befriended me, invited me to their cardboard shanty. They smoked crack, I took notes. Later that morning I watched a falcon take a pigeon. No one else noticed the drama in the branches above the crowded sidewalk. Disparate elements were whisked together and soon I’d stitched together another short story.

I’d had two pieces published in decidedly amateur venues in the year I’d been writing. Meanwhile, I’d accumulated reams of rejections, including one from Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #7. But that one came with words of encouragement from the publisher. Buoyed, I submitted this most recent story to Contest #8.

I won! I was a winner!

I continued writing.

For eight years I was prolific. My work improved. I found workshops, absorbed lectures, formed writing groups. I studied the craft. Gradually, I’d earned sixty-plus respectable citations. In 2009, I was the adult fiction winner of the Larry Neal Writing Awards sponsored by the DC Arts Council, The Pen/Faulkner Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. I collaborated with an established artist on a gallery project with a narrative component. I was named a finalist in Shenandoah Review’s Bevel Prize in Flash Fiction.

I even had a website built JacksonLassiter.com.

In 2012, I published my collection, Birds of a Feather. For one unsurpassed morning, my book sat second, just under Oscar Wilde’s, on Amazon’s listing of most popular Gay Fiction. My personal pinnacle.

Then, I paused, parked atop a dozen or more incomplete pieces. All good works, but unfinished. The ingredients were gathered, the patterns were laid out. But the components sat unfulfilled and I didn’t take them back up again. Paused, I tackled baking. Crochet. And then patchwork. They are ideal substitutes for writing; one molds dissonant elements to an aesthetic whole.

My Pause lasted six years.

I read during the Pause. It’s how I held my space in the literary world. I absorbed every Barbara Kingsolver, awed by craftsmanship. I winced through Roxane Gay, horrified, yet propelled by eloquent and painful truths. Then, Jesmyn Ward floated in. The poetry of Jojo’s tale inspired.

It was the divided state of our country in 2018 that finally undid my Pause. In the midst of our national chaos, borne of my feelings of helplessness, an essay fell to the page. It is my take on a country in shambles, a family in freefall as a result. It felt to me like real writing, and it was soon published (https://cagibilit.com/my-redneck-umbra/).

I’ve since been picking at those unfinished pieces, and will soon have one ready for submission. It is 2018, and writing has reoccupied me.

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Natural Selection

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Jackson Lassiter

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #8.  Published March, 2005)

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…..The rigid wooden slats of the park bench press relentlessly against the length of my goose-pimpled back. A stocking cap rides low over my ears and most of my forehead, and a wool blanket — cocooned around my prone body — laps over my chin and tucks snugly around the sides of my face. Only my eyes, nose, and weather-cracked lips brave the raw chill. I gaze skyward as the frozen minutes slowly pass. I wouldn’t normally choose to rest here in the dead of winter, but tonight I didn’t have a choice. In life you are either a have or a have-not. Mike and I are have-not’s.

…..The arctic air mass stalled over the city is colder than hell, I think, and with this thought a snort escapes my chattering teeth: how cold is hell, anyway? The damp sound rises as mist in the frigid night, swirling lighter than feathers in the stillness above. But this remnant of warmth quickly freezes and two tiny ice crystals — all that remain of the moisture — fall back to my ashy face, an amusing pinprick of sensation on my cold-deadened skin. I blow another breath through shivering lips, and this plume goes higher than the first but just as quickly disappears. No ice crystals tickle my face this time, though. They are vaporized by the dry, subzero night before they can fall the longer distance back.

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Click to continue reading the story

 

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Mary Burns

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #9

The Sound of Dreaming

Published July, 2005

 

 

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Ms. Burns responds in a “Question and Answer” format:

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  • What do you remember about your winning story?

It was based on a true incident, i.e., the dream my piano teacher had about Louis Armstrong. It was such a vivid image that I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and thus proceeded to write a whole story around that dream. Then, about four years after I wrote it, I expanded it into a novella-length work, titled “Grace Notes”. This explores the characters in greater depth, and adds new ones, but still keeps the dream-idea as a core event of the story. I’ve always thought it would make a good movie! (every writer’s dream?!) I remember reading about the contest (I’m a jazz fan, too, of course!) and thinking, “I wonder if my story will qualify, as it’s not ‘really’ about jazz as such” but then, it was about music and Louis Armstrong and the ‘essence’ or the soul of music and how it affects the heart and mind, so I gave it a try and was stunned that I won first place!

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  • Did winning this contest impact your writing career? 

Winning the JerryJazzMusician first place ABSOLUTELY affected my writing career! It gave me such a boost and helped me believe that (a) I could write interesting stories and (b) at least some people wanted to read them!

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  • What did the publication of your story mean to you?

The publication of my story, first and foremost, helped me to think of myself as a “legitimate” writer – I was published! Even if, ‘way back’ in 2005, it was online and not in print—but then of course the Internet kept growing, and online publication became more and more the norm, i.e., ‘acceptable’, and my story was up there for all time, for anyone to see! It was a celebratory moment! I’ll always be grateful for that watershed opportunity and reward!

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  • Are you still writing?  

Yes! I started out writing short stories in 2000, and the JerryJazzMusician competition came along in 2005 and the win gave me a real boost to keep at it. I self-published my first two mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery, The Tarot Card Murders) in 2005 and 2006, after which I didn’t write any more short stories, but turned to novels. The Woman Who Wrote the Bible was published by a British press in 2010, followed about every two years by another novel. I’ve recently starting write novella-length sequels to short stories by Henry James, which I find very challenging and rewarding, and a nice break from longer works.

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  • What are five books you have recently read that you would recommend to others?

The Master (novel about Henry James) by Colm Toibin

Chicago by Brian Doyle

What Alice Knew (A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper) by Paula Marantz Cohen

The Alphabet Versus The Goddess by Leonard Shlain (non-fiction)

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore (non-fiction)

 

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Mary F. Burns writes primarily historical novels: Ember Days, Isaac and Ishmael, J—The Woman Who Wrote the Bible, The Spoils of Avalon, and Portraits of an Artist—A Novel of John Singer Sargent) as well as shorter works (Grace Notes, At Chalk Farm). Mary has been a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, and is a member of the Henry James Society. She has been a regular panelist and speaker at the North American Historical Novel Society Conference. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Stuart. She is currently writing a series of sequels to short works by Henry James.

www.maryfburns.com

 

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photo by Mary Burns

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The Sound of Dreaming

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Mary Burns

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #9.  Published July, 2005)

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…..She has begun to daydream about having an affair.

…..She imagines herself with the men she sits next to at dinner parties, their wives across the table pulling down their mouths as she engages their husbands intensely in conversation, as she lays her hand on their arms and smiles over her wine glass. Then she looks away, smiles at her own husband seated two or three or four people away from her, nods and smiles, raises an eyebrow.

…..There was a man at one of these dinners a few weeks ago, they had been seated across from each other after the cocktail hour blurred into the dinner hour, the real food and the real wine. His eyes, blue, unembarrassed, caught hers frequently, caught and stayed, caused hers to stay on his as the rest of the company grew indistinct and disappeared for seconds at a time. His wife and her husband were at the farther end of the table, across from each other as well. At the end of the evening there was, like a little gift, a warm embrace, pressing her body smoothly into his, a kiss full on the lips.

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Click to continue reading the story

 

 

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Carole Bugge

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #10

Uncle Evil Eye

Published November, 2005

 

 

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Uncle Evil Eye occupies a unique place in my writing.  All the rest of my short fiction is precisely that – fiction – but I wrote Uncle Evil Eye shortly after my father’s death, as a kind of tribute, and with his sudden death serving as a frame device for the story, everything happened exactly as I relate it.

As Jean Anouilh said, “Life is very nice, but it lacks form. It’s the aim of art to give it some.”  Normally I would agree wholeheartedly, but events on that summer night long ago unfolded in an arc so purely and beautifully structured that I couldn’t see any room for improvement.  I actually wrote about that night shortly afterwards, and my ten year old version appeared in my school’s literary magazine, such as it was.  I wish I had a copy, but the squirrels in my father’s attic devoured a lot of my early literary efforts, including a trunk of original narrative cartoons.

There are few enough triumphs in the writing life – it is a solitary and solipsistic existence.  When the rare moments of affirmation like the Jerry Jazz Musician award come along, it’s like a shot of Vitamin B, energizing and thrilling.  I can hardly overstate the effect it had on me, or my gratitude at having been chosen.  It’s worth pausing to think about the effect something like that can have on the trajectory of a writing career.

When I wrote Uncle Evil Eye I had five novels in print; I now have more than double that.  My last novel, Edinburgh Twlight, sold over 50,000 copies in the first eight months.  Edinburgh Dusk, the sequel, came out on September 18th.  I am under contract with two different publishers, and write under four pen names.  My plays and musicals have been produced internationally, and I’ve even had some modest success as a poet.  I teach and speak at writing conferences.  I’ve taught writing to thousands of students, and, like a proud mother hen, I’m delighted to say some of them can boast their own publishing success.  And I hope that one day, one of them may win a contest like The Jerry Jazz Musician award – long may they prosper.

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Carole Buggé (C. E. Lawrence, Carole Lawrence) is the author of twelve published novels, award-winning plays, musicals, poetry and short fiction.  Her most recent novel is the historical thriller EdinburghDusk, sequel to Edinburgh Twilight,and the second of the Ian Hamilton Mysteries.  Her “Silent” series (Silent Screams and its sequels) follows NYPD profiler Lee Campbell in his pursuit of serial killers. Her plays and musicals have been performed internationally, including an original Sherlock Holmes musical.  Her most recent musical is Murder on Bond Street, based on a true story.  A self-described science geek, she likes to hunt wild mushrooms.

 

 

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Uncle Evil Eye

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Carole Bugge

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #10.  Published November, 2005)

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…..My father died quickly and cleanly in the waning days of autumn, just two months before the arrival of the millennium. A massive neural hemorrhage took him — his brain, drowned in blood, was gone within hours. It was ironic that his own blood finally accomplished what years of alcoholism had not: heavy as his drinking was, he remained utterly lucid and sharp until the early morning hours of a late October Tuesday, when a tiny blood vessel in his head gave way, loosening the flood of fluid that killed him. Until then, his memory, both short and long-term, remained unimpaired. True, his body was falling apart; his liver and heart were bad, he suffered from diabetes, gout, macular degeneration — you name it, he had it — but his mind remained as sharp as the day he graduated with a PhD from Harvard.

…..The week he died he was planning on attending a bridge tournament, where he was accruing points as a Grand Master. Bridge — let alone Tournament Bridge, which can be as serious and cut throat as tournament chess — is a game requiring enormous concentration as well as keen memory, and, until the moment the aneurysm took him, my father had both.

…..My father was a mysteriously bitter man. It was as if he imbibed bitterness in the morning with his tea; it clung to him day and night, a relentless parasite of the soul. He sat at his end of the dining room table every evening, presiding over our family dinners, tearing his paper napkin into small pieces. You could always spot my father’s place at the table: shreds of napkin lay in a pile to the right of his plate, a little heap of thin white strips, discarded worries.

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Click to continue reading the story

 

 

 

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Hope Payson

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #11

Stalking Bella

Published March, 2006

 

 

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I won the Jerry Jazz Musician contest in 2006, at a time when I was writing regularly and had just started to submit  work for publication.  Winning the contest was a big boost and encouraged me to continue.   The story, “Stalking Bella”, while fictional, was infused with insights I had gained both personally and professionally. The themes of pain, redemption and healing persisted as my writing continued and was accepted for publication in other venues.  I continued both my writing and my work as a Social Worker specializing in the treatment of trauma and addiction.  As the opiate epidemic started to seriously impact my community, my interest in both understanding and telling stories about struggle and change intensified.  Life was good, until it wasn’t.

In 2011, my younger brother committed suicide, I attribute his death to untreated mental health issues and addiction—a cruel irony, as despite all I knew about these issues, I could not reach or help him.  Grief can be a powerful force of nature and my brother’s death hit me like an unanticipated hurricane.  Writing slowed and eventually stopped.  Below is one of the last paragraphs I wrote not long after his death.

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We Did Not

 

Oceans breath in and out of their shores, mist rises from cool flowing rivers, and rain glides down the palms of open leaves, as your children lie in their beds and stare at the cracks of their broken ceilings. Our parents cope with the open space in our new family tree while I sentinel our sibling history.  The fog bank fantasy that we survived our perilous childhood lifts and I can clearly see—that we did not.

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Writing, once a solace, became painful, everything led me back to my brother and facing my new awful reality.  Yet nature, art and creativity have always been powerful sources of healing, and just like the main character in “Stalking Bella”, I found myself outside wandering for hours.  Recovery happened slowly as I observed the cruelty of Winter, the thawing nature of Spring, and warm reward of Summer.  When an opportunity to work with the Survivor Theatre Project presented, I quickly accepted it.  For several months, I worked with a small group of women to create a theatrical production that addressed the issues of trauma and sexual abuse.  It was an exhausting, cathartic and profound experience that helped me to both accept my new post-loss identity and carve out a new creative mission.   You can learn more about this powerful project on their website:

http://www.survivortheatreproject.com/

 

Writing with a group and sharing that collective story with an audience left a big impact.  Inspired by the stories I heard each day at work, the loss of my brother, and my own history of trauma and recovery, I reached out to a filmmaker in 2016 and initiated a film project.   We are currently producing a Documentary that traces the personal stories of people swept up in the addiction epidemic.  My creative energy returned as I entered the process of interviewing, filming, scriptwriting and writing grants. I am excited about the quality of our production and it’s potential to help others. A description of the project and film clips can be accessed on our website:

www.recoveringcommunitymovie.com

 

As I walked, ran and trudged through a few difficult seasons, writing quietly waited for me, like an old friend who understands that although I may be distracted by others, I will always come back.  Reading my old work and working on this essay pulls me even further home to myself and the quiet solace of putting ideas into words and moving them around.  In “Stalking Bella” the main character decides to let himself “carry a small pleasure without contaminating it by his need to possess it”. This is a very strong part of how I survived the death of my brother, the knowledge that I can carry what was good about him, about us, lightly and with love.  This is also how writing works for me, it is a pleasure that waits for me, something I do not need to chase.  In this crazy reality we call life, this brings me great peace.

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Links to some published materials:

https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/1274/the-art-of-facing-an-impossible-task

http://www.cezannescarrot.org/vol2iss1/chasingthearcher.html

http://carolsmallwood.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

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Stalking Bella

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Hope Payson

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest #11.  Published March, 2006)

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…..The whole stalking thing started with the footprints. They were so large that his size twelve’s fit easily into the indents in the snow, and the space between them was so wide that following them forced him into an awkward little step-jump. Large paw prints ran parallel to the human prints. He assumed that they belonged to a dog. What else could they be? Yet, what did he know about the customs or recreational habits of these Northern Maine people? For all he knew they strutted through the pines chatting with bears.

…..Wil hadn’t planned on walking or even venturing outside of the rustic cabin much at all. In fact, for the first two weeks of his stay, he rarely left his bed except for an occasional foray to the bathroom or kitchen. Physical malaise wasn’t sequestering him, he had been cleared of bodily ailments or lingering withdrawal symptoms during his thirty-day stay at the lovely “Golden Hills Hospital” in Connecticut (no “Gold,” minimal “Hills,” no “Hospital” – just a comfy dry-out joint for junkies with the resources to foot the hefty tab). Steadily decreased doses of legal drugs had cured him of the shakes, vomiting, and living-death feeling. A more insidious menace trapped him within the cabin – the twisted workings of his own mind. Every neuron in his brain was whining for a boost of adrenaline. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere only intensified his longing for drugs, alcohol, the frenzied throb of the city, women who didn’t consider long underwear a fashion necessity, a raucous fight, or anything that could deliver him a dose of chaos. Worse yet, when he wasn’t thrashing in the grasp of his various desires, he was transfixed by a mental home video that looped repeatedly within his mind, one that portrayed him careening down the highway of his life leaving an endless series of twenty-car pile-ups in his wake. Two weeks of feeling like a living, breathing, want. Two weeks of living with himself with little diversion and nowhere to run.

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Click to continue reading the story

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(To read the edition for winning stories #’s 1 – 6, click here)

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In this Issue

“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

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This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett

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“Charles Ingham’s Jazz Narratives” — a continuing series

Poetry

Poetry by John Stupp and Michael L. Newell

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Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Art Pepper, Pat Martino and Joe Williams.

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Short Fiction

“A Viennese Tale,” a story by Matias Travieso-Diaz, was a finalist in our recently concluded 51st Short Fiction Contest.

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Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...

Coming Soon

An interview with Nate Chinen, director of editorial content at WBGO Radio, former New York Times jazz writer, and the author of Playing Changes: Jazz in the New Century.

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