Searching for the Solid


I had always wanted to write a piece that was numbered — a short fiction piece or prose poem. I had read a number of them from many masters — Charles Simic or Tomas Transtromer — and even a handful of my contemporaries: Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, and Harryette Mullen. I was already experimenting with pushing the boundaries of reality and abstraction. What could I “get away” with? How far can I go?

The day I wrote the first draft of Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu was a Saturday – clear fall skies, a crispness in the air. I decided to go to one of the local chain coffee shops, Alterra (now Collectivo), but to a location I was less familiar with, more suburban than the edgier favorite of mine. I ordered my coffee (black) and found a vacant sofa. I had planned on free writes, dropping into whatever comes out of my pen. There was a young man seated close to me, and he was reading a manual of sorts. The book had graphic images. At first I thought it was a college textbook, but instead, it turned out to be a book about Jujitsu. And the name popped into my head, I wrote it down, and started the first draft. Somehow the title of that sport, exotic to me, combined with notes one might leave a former lover gave me the impetus for this idea. I didn’t stop until I had the bare bones of ten notes drafted, and then I decided in later edits to make it less about “notes TO the guy” and more just about the relationship between the narrator and his ex. For me, this is important during free writes, not to tinker much with it while I write it. Just let it come out exactly as it does in the first draft. Next, I read a draft in my writing roundtable and got encouraging feedback, and worked on it several more times. I also read it at the KGB reading in New York City, hosted by 52/250 in December, 2012, and felt like it went over well.

Here are some aspects that are less fiction and a little closer to me than others:

  1. I do have an ex-boyfriend who used to whistle “If I Only Had a Brain.”
  2. I also hooked up with a guy (different one) in his truck parked in the Haight. It didn’t really go down, so to speak, as described.
  3. When I was much younger, I cleaned up a lot of dog shit.
  4. Two of my sisters talk every Sunday, so I just pretended I was one of them.
  5. The last time I drank a six-pack in less than an hour, I was sixteen.
  6. The elevator fart scene was completely invented, was one of those “have you ever thought what this might be like?” conversations we’d have when I lived in NYC.

For the fictional content, I drew on many various modern references (Huxley’s Brave New World, Yoko Ono, Samsonite, or Sony.) I also relied on many relationship stories I’d heard throughout the years, tweaking them so they would fit the construction of the piece. I wanted to combine the sadder pathos with shards of humor. I like black comedies, and there is an element of comedy-tragedy that I tried to balance in the piece. The last stanza (number 10) was the one I re-wrote the most — I’m still not completely solid about it. The pathos seems to be present, but the ambiguity is a risk. As readers, we are used to endings that are more neat, or solve the problems that have been presented. Themes that cycle through my work are also at play here: disappearances, missing those who are no longer in our lives, and the echoes of our own eventual demise.

When I got the news about the finalist placement in the 2013 Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction, I was over the moon thrilled. I had entered the contest because I saw the head judge was Rick Moody and I’m a huge fan. Plus, one of the first imitative pieces I wrote in college was called “Ruth” and was in the style of Gertrude Stein. I revere her writing. What I remember most about “Ruth” was the style of experimentation, repetition, irreverence and energy of the piece. So much, in fact, that when I read a poem every day for National Poetry Month in April, I read Stein’s “Cezanne,” which has similar qualities:

And then, writer Dennis Cooper, another mentor of mine, gave my first chapbook, Microtones, two thumbs up, and he also re-posted the “Cezanne” video at his DC’s blog:

And so, Rick Moody, Gertrude Stein, and Dennis Cooper = a cocktail of bliss!



Robert Vaughan leads writing roundtables at Redbird- Redoak Writing. His writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals. His short prose, “10,000 Dollar Pyramid” was a finalist in the Micro-Fiction Awards 2012. Also, “Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu” was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award 2013. He is senior flash fiction editor at JMWW, and Lost in Thought magazines. His poetry chapbook, Microtones, is from Cervena Barva Press. He has a chapbook forthcoming from Deadly Chaps this summer, and his first full- length collection, Addicts and Basements from Civil Coping Mechanisms in February, 2014.



The Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction 2013 | First Place – Jill Birdsall

Judge | Rick Moody

Read the winning stories in Eckleburg No. 18


1ST | “Salvage” by JILL BIRDSALL

Jill Birdsall’s short stories can be read in literary journals including: Alaska Quarterly Review, Ascent, Crazyhorse, Emerson Review, Gargoyle, Iowa Review, Kansas Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, and Story Quarterly. She earned an MFA degree in fiction from Columbia University’s Writing Division where she was editor of the program’s literary journal. She has also been the recipient of a NJ State Council on the Arts grant for fiction. “Salvage” first published in The Emerson Review.


2ND | “In Defense of the Body” by MICHAEL SHUM

Michael Shum is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Weave, The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Defunct, and more. He was a finalist for the 2011 Annie Dillard Award in Creative Non-Fiction and his work has been nominated for Million Writers and Best of the Net awards.


3RD | “Hello My New Friend, I Hope” by BIRD MARATHE

Bird Marathe is an MFA candidate and an instructor of creative writing at the University of Colorado in Boulder.



Chiara Barzini

Kate Hill Cantrill

Andres Carlstein

Sheldon Compton

Ruth Dandrea

John Domini

Teesha Noelle Murphy

Trevor Houser

Don Hucks

Caroline Lazar

Andrew McLinden

Natanya Pulley

Robert Vaughan

Philip Dean Walker

Lidia Yuknavitch


We want to thank the winners, finalists and all the submitters for sending us such wonderful stories. Thank you, especially, to Mr. Moody for his careful attention and judging. 2014 contest submissions are now open. guest-judged by Cris Mazza, winner of the PEN/Nelson Algren Award.  We look forward to reading your work.

The Editors



Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction Gets Dressed!

StrippedStripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash

PS Books | Philadelphia Stories, 2012 (Author unveiling, 2013)

Editor: Nicole Monaghan


If you’ve not heard about this really cool project Nicole Scarpato Monaghan put together, titled Stripped, A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction, you should really check it out. For a year, Nicole kept the authors of the stories in this anthology, secret. Bios and names were included in the back of the anthology, but authors were not matched to stories. The concept being, kill the author gender for a time and read each story unknowingly. The Anthology has officially come out and stories have been gender-dressed. Nicole unveils which story belongs to which author here.

Authors | Amber Sparks, Ashley Inguanta, Aubrey Hirsch, Darlin Neal, Ellen Parker, Erin Fitzgerald, Ethel Rohan, Gay Degani, Gill Hoffs, Heather Fowler, Jeanne Holtzman, Jess Charest, Kathy Fish, Kerri D. Schuster, Kierstin Bridger, Meg Tuite, Michelle Reale, Myfanwy Collins, Nicole Monaghan, Pamela Painter, Roxane Gay, Sara Lippman, Sherrie Flick, Tara Laskowski, Tara L. Masih, Casey Hannan, Christopher Allen, Curtis Smith, Devan Goldstein, Eric Bosse, J. Bradley, Kenneth Pobo, Len Kuntz, Marc Nieson, Marc Schuster, Michael Martone, Nathan Alling Long, Peter Schwartz, Randall Brown, Robert Swartwood, Robert Vaughan, Rusty Barnes, Sean Lovelace, Scott Garson, Sheldon Lee Compton, and William Henderson.