The Mirage in the Rain

By Megan Robb

I know I was on my way home—home in this case being my college apartment—but I don’t remember where I was leaving. It doesn’t matter. In my memory, the entire landscape is blurred and grayed by sheets of rain. I mean sheets, curtains, heavy yet fluid drapes that made the whole world unrecognizable. To this day, I can’t pinpoint a highway, intersection, or landmark that would give me a clue as to where I was.

There existed only one building as far as I’m concerned, and that’s where I pulled over and decided to wait in the parking lot for the storm to subside. Sitting in a parked car is rarely any fun, though, so I ran inside what looked like some kind of dusty mini-mart. It was dusty all right. It was dim and had ratty gray carpeting. There was the usual rest stop merchandise and some faded greeting cards, but it wasn’t so much a mini-mart as it was an amazing treasure trove of foreign candy. There were all kinds of colorful packages with smiling rabbits and bears and words I didn’t understand.

There were giant chocolate boxes, presumably from India, with lovingly illustrated portraits on them. There were those German chocolate eggs that were recalled in the U.S. because the small toy inside each one was declared a choking hazard. There was even a candy called Weirds. Seriously. It was a U.N. summit of all things sweet. The store itself was run by people whom I’m guessing were from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

They spoke to each other in some tongue that wasn’t quite German and wasn’t quite Russian. It was all very overwhelming, but I wanted to stay there forever. Eventually, though, I did have to tear myself away from that wondrous place. The storm had calmed enough for me to be able to see outside my windshield, so I quietly made my exit.

When I returned to the familiar safety of the apartment, I told my roommate all about this mysterious shop that sheltered me from the worst rainstorm I’d ever had the misfortune to drive though. Yet no amount of Google Maps searches could tell me where the Magical Former Eastern Bloc Candy Store was or what it was actually called. For a long time I was convinced that this place had a kind of Brigadoon setup where it only existed for one day every 100 years. The more I think about it, though, the less sure I am that the store existed at all.

It’s a shame I didn’t buy anything from there. At least there would be some ephemeral proof. It’s unsettling to think it was all in my mind. I was living off campus, though, so it couldn’t have been one of the bizarre dreams I’d get from the equally bizarre illnesses that came with dorm life. I have no idea. The more I try to remember, the fuzzier the details get. Maybe it was a reverse of the famed desert mirages: a dry place in an ocean of rain.

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

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The Interview: Peggy Payne

Peggy Payne in surfing gear alongside a very brave pooch.

Anyone who has visited the South has heard of Peggy Payne.  Whether the time is spent catching up with family in Greensboro or aunts in Okracoke, her novels are bound to show up in dinner conversation–if not on the coffee table.  Her novel Revelation remains  one of the most provocative to come out the South since To Kill a Mockingbird, and since then she’s written a series of novels dealing with faith, including Sister India, a sort of religious Decameron sit in the aftermath of an Indian riot.

Ms. Payne  sat down with correspondent John Winn and talked about books, writing, and her own unique take on Southern literature

JW: You’re a successful writer living and working in Raleigh. Do you worry about being pegged as a “Southern” writer?

PP:I don’t worry about it at all; I don’t mind either way. In fact, I’d like to see the term Southern writing cover a broader range of settings than it currently does. Stories by Southerners about the urban South don’t seem to be treated as Southern stories in the national press.

JW: What is the most embarrassing workshop experience you’ve ever had?

Well, I gave a talk at a writers conference in Grand Rapids that didn’t go over well at all. And in New Orleans I spilled a whole glass of orange juice on the suit of a fellow panelist just as were to begin. I’ve frequently read pages in my writers’ group that needed a lot of work. Usually that’s not embarrassing. Once, though, I was scheduled to read and there was going to be a guest sitting in. I didn’t finish the material I’d meant to read. Wanting to keep the commitment to read, I grabbed something else. The visitor didn’t appear. I read something that turned out to be pretty bad and the others freely said so. On that occasion, I felt they should appreciate my showing up with pages in hand.

JW: A lot of your writing wrestles with Christianity and religion in general. What is it about the subject that is attractive from a literary point of view?

PP:It’s simply what I’m drawn to write about. The writing is a way to explore the metaphysical.

JW: In addition to being a novelist you’re also an active outdoorswoman. Have you ever derived literary inspiration from surfing, hiking or other activities?

PP: I find that physical activity immediately following time spent writing is good for stirring up ideas. The unconscious seems to keep working, and in a looser, more relaxed and imaginative way. This activity need not be a vigorous sport: going for a walk or taking a shower also work.

JW: Final Q: Louisa May Alcott or Henry James–who is the better writer? I much prefer

PP: James. I got hooked on him in high school because of the entrancing language and subtle psychology.

The Sirens’ Song

By Megan Robb

In an old, old story, told and retold

Sirens, a flock of pretty bird-women

Beckoned boats with mating calls: “O Sailor

Come with us and learn the sea’s deep secrets.”

The unheard verse being “We’ll take you down.”

And they kept ships crashing and men drowning

Until Odysseus escaped their trap

With bigger fish to fry waiting back home

“Tie me up! Tie me down!” he told his men

“I’ll struggle but don’t let me leave the mast”

How the Sirens’ feathers ruffled that day.

And now we need our seatbelt straps

Only our necks straining to see what

Gruesome wrecks are being advertised

By alluring lights and violent songs

From mechanical sirens in the night.

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com.

Prose Fridays: Alone at the End of the World

By John Winn

Creaky boards. This pier will be the death of me someday. But what can I say? I’m a creature of habit.  There’s nothing like sitting down here and gazing at choppy waters while the Sun struggles to peak through an overcast sky. Poetic if you ask me.

The wind’s chilly today. I can feel it on my cheeks. Must be at least fifty. I can only imagine what the temp must be in the water. Wonder if anyone’s taken a skinny dip to find out. I’d volunteer myself, if I weren’t so afraid of catching hypothermia, self-preservation and all.

Thank God for my coat.

Some of my best material was stormed up as I watched the lake churn. Novel after precious novels filled with star-crossed lovers, McMansions and lofty ideals of romance. The New York Times once called me the female Fitzgerald.  I’d correct them, but I am too apathetic to care.

The truth is, I am too jaded about love.  I’ve had too many lovers–cold women, emotionally unavailable men.   I feel like it’s a four-letter word dreamed up by suits in Madison Avenue and clerics who only want us to go forth and multiply.  About the only people who seem to care  care are the outcasts with false hope in their eyes.  The local girls mob me in their bikinis and laud me for bringing romance back bite by delicious bite.

I only wish they’d visit me twenty years from now–they’ll know the true meaning of love then.

As for me, my wrinkles are setting in.  My bones creak.  I think of the nights I used to spend naked in some stranger’s arms, pursuing nothing but wanton lust and desire only for the dream for dissipate after they left the next morning.  Now I’m a middle aged crone with nothing to show for it but a lucrative mirage of half-remembered dreams and fantasies on an iPad.  Why I get paid is beyond me.

Maybe that’s the real reason  I like this pier.  The waters have nothing to hide or conceal.  Just long, rippling raves of simplicity. No regrets to think about,  no what ifs to ponder.  Only an endless cycle of death and rebirth as the water deposits the remains of the ashes to fertilize the living shore.

One day the boards will give way and the water will claim me. But I’m not afraid of the plunge. It might be the best career move I ever make.

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina    

Curiouser and Curiouser

By Megan Robb

Pinned over my desk at work is a page from an Alice in Wonderland coloring book that my friend colored in and sent to me. It’s not some relic from my childhood; the date written on it is 9/08. Most of my personal mementoes are at my parents’ house, so when it came time for my desk to look like it belonged to me, the Alice picture is one of the things I put up. My friend’s given me many Alice in Wonderland-themed gifts over the years, but I never really identified with the heroine until recently. Throughout my life, I’ve often unintentionally found myself in very odd situations.

This was usually because I have a very poor sense of direction, even with a GPS. Eventually, though, the mantra “It will give me something to write about” became etched into my mind. Even now I sometimes seek strange environments just for the sake of my writing. The ability to adapt is something I’m still cultivating. Like Alice, I just have to accept my circumstances and go from there.

On 9/08, the time I received the Alice picture, I’d been living in Brooklyn for three months after moving from Poughkeepsie, New York. On 9/09, I had just moved from the Bronx back to Poughkeepsie. By 9/10, I was living in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m still in Raleigh, but I haven’t completely shaken off the feeling of being a stranger. I still don’t really know my surroundings well enough to be able to call them home. It’s not that I’m looking to come out of the rabbit hole. It’s just that I’m not sure which end I’m on anymore.

I’m closing with a quote that not from the book of Alice in Wonderland, but the 1951 Disney version, the one my picture came from

“When I get home I shall write a book about this place…if I ever do get home.”

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com.

Photo Essay: Memento

EDEN, N.C–Some people do crosswords, others do Suduko puzzles, and then there’s wheelbarrows.

Correspondent John Winn obtained this photo in the backyard of a local Draper resident.  The retiree–who only gave his first name, Jack–showed off this tan one-wheeler outside his makeshift workshop.  The self-named conveyance is elegant in it’s simplicity, yet it is a helpful reminder of sanity in a world lacking it.  The 83 year-old, whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s, is reminded of his wife’s illness in a thousand small ways each day. This humble reminder of his identity is self-affirming as he watches her disappear before him.

For the record, the median age in the town is 39 years.  Over 20%–nearly a quarter of the population–are 65 and older.  An unspecified amount of residents suffer from some form of dementia.

The Interview: Teresa Nash

Teresa's mysterious eyes gaze outward in a quasi-anonymous photo.

  In cyberspace, she is wickedwahine_69, a poetess extraordinaire, with in your-face, no holds barred stanzas and prose grabs readers by the throat and doesn’t let go. There is no mistaking the power of Teresa Nash’s words. Vulnerable yet fierce, feminine yet strong, in the space of a few years her ambiguous, emotive works have catapulted her from the ranks of Hennen’s anonymous cognoscenti to one of the top writers in its pantheon. Though she is anonymous no more, like her namesake, she is ferocious in her determination to succeed–but as Hennen’s John Winn found out in a telephone interview, she has a softer side as well (and a soft spot for Thundercats as well…sort of).

 JW: What is it like to live in the Mile High City?

TN: I was born and raised here, so I’m kind of used to it.

JW: I mean, is it cold?  Is it windy?

TN: It’s beautiful here in Colorado. We can have all seasons in one day.  I like the big blizzards and stuff we get in the wintertime.  Spring time is great, and summer is usually hot.  Fall is gorgeous here.

JW: Where did the moniker wickedwahine_69 come from?

TN: Wickedwahine means “badass chick” or “mean woman”.  It’s Hawaiian. Intuitively it means badass chick.

JW: You’re a nurse at a large hospital in Denver.  Do you find yourself incorporating aspects of that into your writing?

TN: Certainly! Definitely my work is something I write about so I get it all out and don’t carry stuff over from the week before.

JW: Are there any subjects that make you uncomfortable to write about? Like “hey, this is too much for me!”

TN: No.  I think whatever is in my heart is on paper.  If it’s uncomfortable to read, that’s one thing.  But to write about?  No.

JW: Do you feel the anonymity of your online presence strengthens or weakens your work?

TN: I am not sure.  Anonymity mattered to me when I first wrote on Hennen’s but not anymore since I’ve gotten to know people.  But I’m not hiding behind my words–I’m using mine to connect with people I guess.

JW: In addition to free style poetry you also dabble in haiku.  How is that different from you usual fare?

TN: I’m sorry, I did not hear that.

JW: You do write poetry and prose. You’ve been dabbling in haikus–like the Hawaiian haikus and some of the other stuff.  How is that different from the stuff you usually write?

TN: I guess I’m growing as I write a bit more.  I see what other people write and it inspires me to last.

JW: You’ve recently collaborated with Alberto Alazamora on spoken word tracks.  What was that like, and is there any chance we’ll see more like that in the future?

TN: Yeah, definitely.  I had fun working with Alberto and some of the other writers on the site.  Alberto’s probably one of the easiest people to work with because he comes up with ideas and emails them to me so that’s great.  If anyone wants to collaborate with me I’m more than happy to do so.

JW: Anyone chance you’ll branch out and do a blog or a website soon?

TN: Yeah, probably.  Right now we’re getting ready to move back to Hawaii.  So as soon as we get back there and get settled we’re probably going to do that.

JW: Final question [paper ruffles]: Who is your favorite superhero and why?

TN: Cheetara.

JW:  Any of the Thundercats?

TN: Just Cheetara. She was the bomb when I was a kid and we still watch her on the old school channels.

JW: You have a daughter right?

TN: Just one.

JW: Does she watch the cartoons as well?

TN: Yes, she does.

JW: Has the Cheetara cult expanded?

TN: Yeah, she’s watched [Thundercats] enough times to drive my husband crazy. When we got the DVDs from the library he finally put his foot down.

JW: No more Cheetara.

TN: [Laughs].  Not when he’s watching TV.

JW: I guess he watches hockey, baseball…

TN: He likes his Hawaii paddler shows so…

JW: Thank you for the interview.

TN: Thank you guys for having Hennen’s.  It’s an awesome place to vent and try to touch people.