Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest — Winning Author Profiles, Group 7

February 18th, 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 35 – 38

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

To read the edition for winning stories #’s 7-11, 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 39 – 44, click here

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

 

 

 

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Sam Lieberman

(author photo not available)

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician. Short Fiction Contest #35)

“The Usefulness of the Blues”

Published March, 2014

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I was sixteen when I wrote “The Usefulness of the Blues,” so a lot of my influences are more clear to me now than then. There’s much of Hesse’s Magic Theater concept (from Steppenwolf) in it—this sense of the subjectivity of the landscape. Our narrator’s ‘job’ seems to be to create a subjective experience, something magical, in whoever comes out of the bar. You can see it in the delight with which he tackles the psychology of the bar-leaver.

It’s a personal experience, and in this capacity he becomes something of a hero, standing in counterpoint to the impersonal, machine-like culture of our times. From any slant, we live in a micro culture, where a few voices and a few songs are played everywhere, as opposed to not too long ago, when a jazz band might play to the feeling of the crowd and improvise atop that, trying to make a special experience.

The piece ends, showing the strong influence of Joyce’s Dubliners on me at the time, with an epiphany. Indeed after the epiphany all the gloom clears and the problem (the raison dêtre for his role) goes too. Again the subjective landscape comes to fore, as if the whole world was the setting for an interior struggle, a crisis of meaning. This I think, is literature’s strongest area.

What the epiphany resolves is not completely clear, but it seems to hinge on acceptance. This can well be read as a ‘coming to terms with your shadow’ story. In the end, his music is richer for the experience, he has new shades and tones to play with, and his landscape is richer. Instead of the bars being people with strange and frightening seductresses, they’re filled with sympathetic young girls he can understand, and love for who they are. This is the interior victory that can be won from subjective landscapes.

I’m definitely happy to recommend books.  It’s kind of hard to give a top five, but these are some much loved books off the top of my head that hopefully people haven’t read.

When Marnier Was There, by Joan G. Robinson

Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Lady with Lapdog and Other Short Stories, by Anton Chekhov

French Leave, by P.G. Wodehouse

Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson

 

 

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The Usefulness of the Blues

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Sam Lieberman

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician. Short Fiction Contest #35.  Published March, 2014)

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I’m lonely most nights. It’s part of my job. You can’t be happy if you want to play the blues. But there were some nights that made my misery worth it, where I felt light for once and everything fit together. I’m sure it was the absence of thought that did it. When I think about things, I realize how awful they are. But when I float out of my chains, having known what they were like, the freedom is all the sweeter.

January 8th was such a night. I stepped out at 7 o’clock, the dark had settled in and the dusk winds softened their bite. That night I went down to one of the bars, with more than enough people for my music and me. I camped outside and pulled out my saxophone. The reed pressed my lips and I waited, holding my breath.

I didn’t play right away – that’s the mark of a fool who thinks people will pay to hear someone play. But I knew music wasn’t worth a dime in itself, it’s only good as a sort of a trip to take you away from where you are.

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(click here to continue reading the story)

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Yvonne McBride

(photo from 2014)

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician .Short Fiction Contest #36

“Fever”

Published July, 2014

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Ms. McBride was unable to participate in this feature.  At the time of this story’s publication, she was a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Fellow, a Flight School Fellow, and a recipient of the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. “Fever” is an excerpt from her novel of historical fiction set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during the golden era of jazz.

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Fever

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Yvonne McBride

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician.Short Fiction Contest #36... Published July, 2014)

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Royal had studied her from the bandstand each and every night since their first gig. Such a little thing she was. Nicely curved, tightly packaged — but such a small little thing he had a notion she would break if even his fingertips glazed her. And he had tried. To touch her. Had been trying to get close to her for the past two and all night long. She, playing the good girl from down South role he supposed, had been ignoring and evading his advances at every turn. But the need to have her came from an ache he didn’t know he had until she walked into the room and he could not shake the feeling. He supposed it was the electricity of the whole scene that ignited the spark. They had just finished a set so smoking hot the stage and the room was still ablaze.

They were booked at the Harlem Casino and it was the last set on their last night before the road trip to DC. With Brown on the sticks, Guy Hunter on alto sax, Ghost Howell strumming Cathleen, Blue on the keys and Royal’s trumpet warming his hands, he thought they could not lose. But the crowd, though attentive, was selfish in their appreciation. They had been holding back all night. They stood at the bar in the back clapping at the appropriate times and sat around the tables with the mild interest people paint on faces while being “entertained.” But that jolt. That kick. That glow in the eye when you know that they are feeling it, that your music reached down inside of them and pulled out all the buried memories and heartache, the loneliness and lovelorn ghosts of nights passed — that was missing. In its absence, a teasing, gnawing tension overtook the stage. Royal had felt it pressing down on him all night. The others had too. By two o’clock in the morning they had all had enough.

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(click here to continue reading the story)

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Kenneth Levine 

(photo from 2014)

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician. Short Fiction Contest #37

“Homage”

Published November, 2014

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Mr. Levine responds in Q and A format:

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  • What do you remember about your winning story?

I first heard Chet Baker singing on the radio a few times in the car in the early 1960’s when I was a pre-teen. I could never catch the name of the singer because my mother switched the station to something called, I think, 1010 WINS New York, a news station, before the singer’s name was announced each time. Decades later, perhaps in the 1990s, I heard him sing on a CD and immediately recognized the voice I had previously heard. Then I listened to all his CD’s, those on which he sang, those on which he played the trumpet, and those on which he did both. I thought his talent unique; there was something captivating about the naturalness of his singing and trumpet playing. Later on I watched video clips of him on youtube and saw the movie made about him. Descriptions of the performance of the protagonist’s father were based upon videos of Chet Baker on youtube. I did not see the documentary or read the biographies about him.

I began writing “Homage” in 2012, and by the time my girlfriend and I toured Europe in August, 2012, I had written many drafts. While in Europe, we stayed in Amsterdam for a couple of days, during one of which we visited the Red Light District where we walked from Centraal Station to the Prins Hendrik hotel. At the hotel, I studied its brick front and the furnishings in its lobby. When I returned home, I prepared another draft of the story, adding, based upon my observations, the following sentences: “From the airport I boarded a train to Centraal Station, across from which the Prins Hendrik hotel is situated at the Northern end of Zeedijk Straat, and by early evening I had navigated through the designated lanes over which walkers, bicyclists, and motorists coursed to stand before a bronze tablet on the hotel’s brick front that featured a haggard Chet Baker playing the trumpet over an inscription that read: ‘Trumpet player and singer Chet Baker died here on May 13th, 1988. He will live on in his music for anyone willing to listen and feel.’  In the lobby I viewed a framed print showing the worn Baker facing right and a younger, handsome Baker facing left, each playing the trumpet, with the initials “CB” in between, a small bronze plaque with ‘1929-1988’ beneath his name, and other Baker memorabilia.”

I did not ride the elevator to the second floor, nor enter Room 210 through a door with a sign on it that read, “The Chet Baker Room.” I had read about the room and I think about how it had looked when Baker died. I had no first-hand knowledge.

I started submitting the story and making additional revisions off and on until the story was published in November, 2014.

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  • Did winning this contest impact your writing career?

Winning the contest did impact my writing career. “Homage” was my fourth published story, and its publication gave me additional confidence in my ability to have my stories published.

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

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I was happy the story was published. It’s feels good to win a contest and I wanted the story to be read.

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  • Are you still writing?

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I am still writing. I’ve had additional fiction published and have a number of short stories and pieces of flash fiction that are almost ready to be submitted for publication.

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

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Five books I have read that I would recommend to others include:

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

The Bookman’s Tale, by Charlie Lovett

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr

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Kenneth Levine’s fiction has been, or will be, published in New Plains Review, Anak Sastra, Thuglit, Maryland Literary Review, Crooked Teeth Literary Magazine, Imaginaire, Skewed Lit, Angry Old Man Magazine, Jerry Jazz Musician, an anthology titled Fresh, and an anthology titled Twisted. He is the winner of a Jerry Jazz Musician short story contest and the featured writer in an Anak Sastra issue.

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Homage

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Kenneth Levine

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician.Short Fiction Contest #37... Published November, 2014)

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I deplaned in Amsterdam to confront my father. In 1990, the year I was born, after the likes of Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard dubbed him “the reincarnation of Chet Baker,” he quit his part-time job repairing cars in Gilbert, Iowa to go on a worldwide tour from which he never returned.

From the airport I boarded a train to Centraal Station, across from which the Prins Hendrik hotel is situated at the Northern end of Zeedijk Straat, and by early evening I had navigated through the designated lanes over which walkers, bicyclists, and motorists coursed to stand before a bronze tablet on the hotel’s brick front that featured a haggard Chet Baker playing the trumpet over an inscription that read: “Trumpet player and singer Chet Baker died here on May 13th, 1988. He will live on in his music for anyone willing to listen and feel.” In the lobby I viewed a framed print showing the worn Baker facing right and a younger, handsome Baker facing left, each playing the trumpet, with the initials “CB” in between, a small bronze plaque with “1929-1988” beneath his name, and other Baker memorabilia.

The clerk at the reception desk gave me the key to the room I had reserved. I rode the elevator to the second floor and entered Room 210 through a door with a sign on it that read, “The Chet Baker Room.” Bright yellow walls and a simple dresser and nightstand underscored rather than muted an aura of otherworldliness; it was as if Baker’s ghost occupied the place. I dropped my backpack on the bed, stood at the window, and as I stared at the distance from the ledge to the brick walkway below, imagined with sadness the long discordant shriek that must have been the last note sounded from Baker’s lips as he either fell or jumped to his death.

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(click here to continue reading the story)

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Don Dewey

(photo from 2015)

Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician. Short Fiction Contest #38

“Till’s Piano Lesson”

Published March, 2015

 

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In a life that has gone on even longer than the most optimistic insurance company foresaw, I have published some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, scores of stories for magazines and other periodicals, and had some 30 plays staged in this country and Europe. That said, it remains an encouraging day whenever something is accepted for publication — first because it suggests that it has impressed more than me and the trolls dancing in my head; then because it shows what fools those publications that had previously rejected it are; then because I can try to dump on that gracious editor a manuscript so old it was written on onion skin and bears the marks of carbon paper; and finally because the feeling of satisfaction usually has to fill in for the feeling of money.
In the particular case of my story for the Jerry Jazz Musician. contest, I felt great satisfaction in presenting a character (the piano instructor) based on an old neighbor whose life seemed to be one frustration after another. In many of my writings I have sought to bring to (approximate) life people who lived and died in too much anonymity, and this despite their singular characters. At best, presenting them to an audience they have never known seems like acquitting a debt.
I have never understood the question “are you still writing?” or its equivalent “are you retired?” Writers write, they don’t become plumbers or sit around chewing their ties while watching the morons on Fox.
As for recommended books, start with mine, of course. But if you insist on being altruistic about it, besides the obligatory Mezz Mezzrow, I would put in a word for the novels of Victor Serge, Buffalo Bill in Bologna; Rebirth of a Nation, the essays of John Berger; and the Eric Ambler thrillers set in Europe (the ones in Asia aren’t as good).
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Till’s Piano Lesson

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Don Dewey

 

(Winner…Jerry Jazz Musician.Short Fiction Contest #38... Published March, 2015)

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“You’re early, Till. I told you never come early.”

“Sorry. I guess my watch is off.”

“Buy a new one.”

Klein refit the crutches under his armpits and swung his crabbed legs back toward the studio, leaving Till to enter the living room for himself. Till didn’t like living rooms. He thought them banal in their predictable assembly of tables, chairs, lamps, and rugs. What he wanted to see someday was a living room with people who dropped dead as soon as they put a foot outside it. Living rooms should have been what they claimed to be.

Klein’s pupil in the studio seemed to be trying to erase his presence through sheer aggression. Had Mozart started that way? Till didn’t think so. If Mozart had chafed his tiny fingers the way the student had to be doing, grazing the wood of the adjoining note every time he aimed at the ivory, Wolfgang wouldn’t have had anything left for picking his nose. Genius simply wasn’t nourished under the wing of Edgar Klein.

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In This Issue

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