A Latina Goldilocks ~ Cyn Vargas’s Movable View From the Keyboard

I first met Cynthia Vargas when she was an undergrad, writing circles around her classmates. Today Cyn is a candidate in the MFA Creative Writing-Fiction program at Columbia College Chicago, and her work is lively, funny, heartbreaking, and all kinds of fresh. One of her short stories is in the early stages of film production talks. I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much about that, but believe me, I will share news with you as it comes. Mother, daughter, colleague, student, writer, and friend, Cyn is a glass half-full kind of woman who balances a full plate in one hand and a pen in the other. See what she’s got going on–

Cyn: I don’t really have my own writing space or office. My journals are in my closet under many sweater dresses (my latest addiction); Chekhov, Faulkner, and Murakami spoon my boots. I prefer to write at night, but will take the time whenever I can get time alone. When I can get a few hours of muted everyday on-goings. When I’m not at the library or tucked away in one of my secret writing spots, I write at home, on this couch, next to the patio windows, under the skylights, my dog always lying next to me. I’ve tried other places. My bed—which then is too tempting to take a nap—the other couches; but they just don’t do it for me. One is too large and one is too small. I’m like a Latina version of Goldilocks finding the place that’s just right. Here I write, rewrite, drink coffee or wine, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. An island of sorts I strand myself on—no cellphone, no people, no internet—with only words to devour, getting lost in another world for a while.

Short Story Excerpt:

My grandma yanked me by the arm, her short jagged nails—that she bit while waiting for the Cicero bus—dug into my skin. The bus doors opened with a squeak that sounded like a guinea pig. She pulled me up the steps as though afraid I would run the other way as soon as she got on the bus. I can’t say that thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

“She nine,” she yelled at the bus driver, an equally fat woman with CTA stretched out beyond recognition on her wide blue sleeve. The bus driver bent at the waist as far as she could—which wasn’t much—and looked at me. One of her hairy brows raised and she eyed me up and down as though I was a criminal or something. “You nine?” she asked me and the wind that was coming into the bus stopped to hear my answer. I felt my grandma’s nails in the back of my neck and I nodded, my head limp like empty banana skin.

“She nine,” my grandma said yet again. Sighs and a couple of “C’mons” echoed from the back.  I hadn’t been nine for almost five years.

The bus driver waved her plump hand as though she didn’t care anymore and we went in, two empty seats left, one way in the back where some kids sat and laughed and one toward the front where the old people were. My grandma said nothing and shoved me into the seat between these two old folks that reeked of Ben Gay and hairspray. They both looked at me.

“You’re not nine,” said one of the old ladies, who held on to her purse like a dying fish.  Her hands shook and the zipper clanked next to the million of keys that hung off the strap. Her lips were thin and wrinkled just like the rest of her, and big brown blotches on her face reminded me of the chocolate chip cookies at home.

→More about Cyn Vargas and her work-in-progress over at her website: cynvargas.com. And once again–thanks for reading! – PMc←

And The Winner Is… Pt 2

All right, you’re right, I promised to tell you these results a lllllooooonnnnngggg time ago, but who knew how hard it would be to compile all of the nominations for your favorite short stories? New titles just kept on coming, and old favorites kept resurfacing. Thanks to all of you who cast a vote via my Facebook page.

The folks who named writers and titles of short stories they admire come from various communities. Some are writers themselves, either published widely or just getting started. Respondents are teachers, waiters, students, actors, librarians, young, old, salespeople, politicians, administrators, and on and on and on. What they have in common is that they are all readers. And, they all read–and in many cases, love–the short story.

Long live the short story.

And speaking of living long, a number of the stories on the list happen to be classics, written generations ago. A number of writers came up more than once: Hemingway, Checkov, Shirley Jackson, our writerly ancestors; but, too, a number of contemporary writers (Lahiri, Hempel, Diaz) were high on the list of favorites. In fact, the most oft-picked short story was “Pet Milk,” by Stuart Dybek. Dybek is a Midwestern (Chicago) native who is still writing and writing and writing.

I’ve discovered other patterns in this list as well, but I’ll hold off on that for a bit. I know you can’t wait to see if your own favorite short story made the top. So below you will find those stories with the most votes, in the top four slots:

FIRST PLACE

Pet Milk, Stuart Dybek 

SECOND PLACE (TIE)

Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin

A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Flannery O’Connor

THIRD PLACE (TIE)

A Distant Episode, Paul Bowles

Fiesta, Junot Diaz

The Ledge, Lawrence Sargent Hall

Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway

The Dead, James Joyce

Where are You Going, Where Have you Been, Joyce Carol Oates

FOURTH PLACE (TIE)

Big Me, Dan Chaon

The Lady With The Little Dog, Anton Chekov

We Didn’t, Stuart Dybek

Vomitorium, John McNally

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

Pastoralia, George Saunders

The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy

Bullet in the Brain, Tobias Wolff

Rape, Gerard Woodward

◊◊◊◊◊

And there are more than seventy other stories that were named as well that I will post in a day or so, along with comments made by the readers who sent titles and writers’ names. So get your notebooks and pens ready; I know you will want to write these down so you, too, can find them and enjoy.

What’s that? You didn’t get to vote for your favorite? No worries, add a comment here (add comment button at the top of this post) and we’ll get it in the list!