Coffee Fields, Oahu, Hawaii



12/7/13: I've just relaunched this blog! With a whole new look, I'm returning to this blog and will be publishing my fictions - old and new - along with notes and thoughts about writing and being a writer. I'll also be including posts about my work with World Vision as their blog manager as well as my travels. You can now subscribe to this blog by email or through Google+, and you can leave me comments here or in Google+ itself. Come read!

6/28/11: I'm on Twitter! Follow me @MatthewBrennan7

6/18/11: My website is live! I have pages for my fiction and translation projects, news updates, a list of my publications, and information about my editing services. Check it out!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Care Package

On Twitter a few summers ago, I discovered the "Twitter fiction" trend: micro-fictions start to finish in under 140 characters. By the time I started writing them, there were entire literary journals established that were dedicated to the form, some publishing via Twitter, some on their own sites, but all following the format of a tweet. It's a great exercise in concision!

They're quite difficult. Some people's first reaction to hearing about them was that stories that compressed would be very hard to write, but I was first intrigued with the idea of writing a whole story in so few words, thinking less words, less time ... yeah, it didn't turn out that way. 

I think the hardest part for me is that so much of the story has to be implied, that you have to have a full sense of the character and plot arc before you even start writing; there's very little space to write into and explore the character. Once I get the story, paring it down to the appropriate length I found a little easier, but by then it's already a long way down the road. 

This is Twitter "novel" I wrote around Christmas-time 2 years ago, and was published in One Forty Fiction in December of 2011. For me, of the Twitter fictions I've written, it's the one that best conveys a full character and story in this few words: a true "momentary fiction"!

Merry Christmas!

Care Package
from One Forty Fiction

When donated Christmas boxes came, she gave all the little gifts in hers to the younger orphans. All except the doll. She'd never had one. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Water Is Wide

Many of my flash fictions begin with an impression. A feeling. I call them "momentary fictions" because I intend for each to turn on a single moment – if not contained entirely within one moment. Today's story began while I was at a restaurant in Olympia looking out at the way a fine, misted rain was falling out over the parking lot. That led to this story. 

This is one of my favorites for two reasons. First, I love the subtlety of this moment, but more than that, I love that this piece was nominated for a Pushcart Prize last year! It was published in The Citron Review in 2012, and last December, they nominated this as one of the best from their journal from that year. I also love how it got published ... I'll post about that next!

Here's the story ...

“The Water Is Wide”
from The Citron Review

The fine, misted rain drifted sideways in long columns as it fell, glittering down onto the silver puddles beaded across the docks. Aisling heaved her canvas sack up onto the edge of their father’s sailboat, then pushed it into the small open cabin and climbed up after it. She’d packed a blanket, knife, and an extra length of rope along with a loaf of bread, a few apples, and a small thermos of hot cocoa mixed with some of their father’s coffee. But Liam’s compass she wore around her neck on their father’s lanyard for safe keeping. She’d snuck it from his room to play with yesterday, and when their mother told her that Liam had been taken across the sea, Aisling worried that he would need it. 

In their father’s seat by the tiller, she sat and waited for the boat to start moving, looking ahead into the brightening rain; on a clearer day, she would see Scotland. Then she remembered the cleats and jumped down to the dock to untie the boat as their father had taught them, pushing off with her foot as she climbed back up, and the boat began drifting out into the harbor. The rain against her face reminded her of the wind and the sail she needed to catch it. She could reach the main sheet from the tiller, and sat down again with the rope in her hands. 

Aisling pulled, then pulled again, but nothing happened. To put more weight on the sheet, she stood, her feet leaving the deck for a moment, but still the sail refused to rise. With the hull rocking beneath her, she sat and looked at Liam’s compass. East it pointed. She thought that if she could see through the rain and clouds, she would be able to see where he was, and how to get there. The boat was moving on the water, but heading no further out to sea, and a little while later the stern bumped back against the dock, the tide returning her safely to where she had started.

(c 2012 Matthew Brennan)

Friday, December 13, 2013

How To Use The Eyes

"How To Use The Eyes" is the title poem of Margarita Rios-Farjat's second collection of poems, "Como Usar Los Ojos," which I've been working with her to translate. She is a poet from Monterrey, Mexico. It's a stunningly beautiful book of poems, and my only complaint about the entire project is that I can't work on it faster! 

There are lots of great poems that I've finished, and almost a dozen published already (this one was from Los Angeles Review, March 2013), so I'll be sharing more as this blog continues. But this one stands out for me as one of my favorites – a clear choice as the title of the collection, and a great example of Margarita's lovely poems!

"How To Use The Eyes"
from Los Angeles Review

With what eyes can I see
how to open the skin to enter the veins, 
to sink them in the restless blood, 
to seat them to decipher the soul, to rescue the luminous fibers
the golden thorns of roses devouring between the shadows
what roses now unknown, heir to which histories
tied to silhouettes turned into dust, into ghosts of roses.

How to distinguish the vine that strangles the voices of the days
and to separate the cords of ivy rounding the throat,
how to reap from the garden the stony flowers that were so much
the sun of every day, the vocal chords of life,
how to remove the vein that leads to the abandoned garden
and to root the eyes inside, how to fasten a heart in the gaze,
to leave the eyes in the soul, on the shaded petal of time
in the unbound memories of the eyelids;
what eyes elucidate the remnants of torn wings, birds without flight,
what eyes of stone understand which abysses and leave them in peace
lighten what shadows lost in the herbs of the dry hours;
how to sit inside and review the life, to gently separate the nettles,
to change calmly the route of the aorta,
the line of the hand that slices through the arm
and mends the heart to the shoulder, tethered falcon.
How to use the sickle without doing damage, to reap without blinding,
how to use the splendor of the gaze,
the silent, enlightened motion of the eyes.

(c 2012 Matthew Brennan)

Sunday, December 8, 2013


After a long time of working on my Young Adult book and not writing flash fictions, I decided that I wanted to get back into flash. But I was a little intimidated, having not worked in the form for at least 6 months or more. But I had a story in mind. With the novel, I'd been writing on the computer (I typically write by hand) so I sat down with just a notebook – no computer, no internet – and this story flowed out in not even an hour, and with not much revision to the draft below. 

Within a week, it was accepted for publication by SmokeLong Quarterly! But the best part was that they have every story they publish illustrated, and asked if I had anyone in mind. I said yes ... my wife, Jeannie! 

I also love this piece because it is based on a real moment in history, which I learned while reading the book Monuments Men – the movie adaptation of which comes out in February! It's a beautiful moment in history, and another of my favorite flash fictions. 

from SmokeLong Quarterly

Half-eaten bowls of meager rations still rested where they’d been hurriedly abandoned, the bread and cheese desiccated and colored with mold, the cups once warmed with coffee now filmed over. The pathway that over the centuries the penitent had crawled in supplication had become a gathering place, a communal table to its sheltered. But this sanctuary, too, the war had confiscated. Chartres was a ghost town, now after the German retreat, the bridges, roads, and buildings surrounding the cathedral mined in twenty-two places with explosives, enough tonnage to bring down in seconds what four generations had toiled to build.

"Chartres" (c 2012 Jeannie Beirne)
Toward the end of his first day disarming the mines, Corporal Penner had seriously considered detonating the rest of them, letting the cathedral come down. German bomb-makers were notorious tricksters, innovative, always looking for new ways to fool army engineers. Penner had missed a hidden tripwire in one, discovered it when a button on his sleeve caught on the wire, and only by pure dumb luck didn’t pull hard enough to trigger the fuse. He’d stopped then for the day, lain awake well into the night waiting for the adrenaline to wear off; by morning, a tremor remained. His hands weren’t shaking, he could still do his job – the tremor was internal, as if his body were impatient, restless, distracted. All night, he had considered the value of art, of human construction and history. He had weighed the lives of four past generations against his own. No one else was there to get hurt; no one else was there to know. Corporal Penner had finally fallen asleep planning to detonate the remaining explosives the next day, unwilling to risk his life to save no others.

But in the morning light, Penner had beheld the cathedral with new eyes. Golden beneath the dawn sun, its spires reached toward heaven, the majestic skyline of a culture, and Penner walked toward it imagining himself a worshipper coming to mass, a refugee seeking sanctuary, a sinner seeking redemption. He had heard reports from the Italian theater of the bombardment of the abbey at Monte Cassino, and just two months ago Hitler himself had been unable to order the destruction of Florence, preserving the Ponte Vecchio – his favorite bridge – despite the tactical necessity of its demolition. The atrocities of war were no secret to the world, but there was still an honorable way to wage war. Penner resumed his work, using the lingering tremor’s reminder to be more cautious and thorough.

Months before, Penner had fought another kind of tremor, fatal to anyone working with explosives. Earlier in the war, he had coped with the strain of prolonged focus in his work by drinking coffee almost constantly to stay awake. Then his army division ran out. The quartermasters promised to get more soon, but soon was too late. For three days, Penner excused himself from duty, his hands shaking violently, piercing aches sprinting through his head. When the withdrawal was over, the coffee supply returned, but Penner was done.

This new tremor from the adrenaline of his close call stayed with Penner through the rest of the job. Mine after mine, he worked his way bridge and road around the cathedral, disarming each device then storing the components until his team could dispose of them. Now, the cathedral safe, he entered the sanctuary, the first to set foot inside since the town’s evacuation, the half-eaten meals still where they’d been left. He’d felt the pain of shortage, even as an American soldier, and saw the urgency of flight in this abandonment.

Walking slowly down the center aisle, Penner was alone in the massive sanctuary. A cooling evening breeze entered through the empty windows like a breath, the stained-glass removed and stored away. Sandbags were stacked along the walls, and further gaps had been opened in the ceiling by the trajectory of artillery shells, though none had managed to detonate inside. It was some kind of miracle, Penner understood, that the cathedral still stood against this bomb-leveled landscape, and for the first time he saw himself as an instrument in a hand beyond the U.S. Army. One thing he had always liked about working on a bomb squad was never having a supervisor looking over his shoulder. He felt an unexpected peace at finding this freedom no longer true, nor wanted. Standing in the center of the medieval labyrinth at the cruciform crossing, evening sunlight slanting brightly through the empty window frames, he realized that the tremors had gone.
(c 2012 Matthew Brennan)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Fire Keeper

I'm re-launching this blog with one of my all-time favorites of my flash fictions, first published in the up and coming Emerge Literary Journal in August, 2012. It's from my "Matches" collection. I love the story's post-apocalyptic setting and especially everything present in this little world's construction that is built by what remains unsaid. If I were ever to choose another flash fiction to be the seed for another longer story or even a novel (I'm already at work on one!), this would be a top candidate.

"The Fire Keeper"
from Emerge Literary Journal 

During this first year of the darkness, all the kids in our block looked forward to our birthdays even more than we looked forward to morning. Not every day had a birthday. And despite the little gifts we were able to make for each other, despite being allowed first choice from the stew pot at meal times, it was nightfall that the birthday girl – and the rest of us – really anticipated all day when my father, the Fire Keeper, took out his magic box, slid it open, and removed one tiny, red-tipped stick, presented it to the celebrated, and held out the strike pad on the box’s side. The gift of fire, he would tell us, all sitting in a circle, was what kept us alive, and birthdays were a celebration of that life; each child on her birthday received one little flame on its tiny stick, to do with it whatever she wished. Some held it, felt its warmth in their hands; some carried it around the circle, letting us all see it up close; others lit candles with it, to take back to their own shelters.

My father had found the box, he said, the day the darkness began, dug it out of the rubble. Possessing the firesticks gave him standing in our little community, but he never used them himself, even as the Fire Keeper. He was a master, and there had yet to be a day when he couldn’t light the communal fire at dusk with a flint or with just the wood itself. I’d watched him toil over the smoking tinder in high winds; I’d watched him use his own tarp to keep his wood supply dry while he sat in the rain. But however long he left me alone in our tent, he always had the fire going by nightfall.

Today is my birthday. When my father presents me with my firestick, I reach out and take both it and the box, and my father lets me because I am his. And I strike the red tip on the rough pad and feel the heat on my fingers, the glow on my face, which I know displays the same awe I have seen on every other birthday girl’s face. We are sitting around the communal stew pot, which still sits cold, the wood beneath it still damp from the morning’s rain, my father looking to have a long, frustrating evening away from me getting it lit.

Shaking off the spell this tiny flame has cast over me, I stand up, step forward, and kneel beside the stew cauldron to lower the flame into the tinder. I have watched my father do this a hundred times with other wood and other flames, and know where to light. I smile as the fire takes to the hissing wood, I smile seeing my father smile, knowing that now the Fire Keeper’s task is finished early, his gift returned and returned again because tonight I’ll have him to myself.
(c 2012 Matthew Brennan)