An Open Letter of Thanks to Anthony Martin for “Up to St. Paul”


Dear  Anthony Martin:

I am writing to thank you for your story “Up to St. Paul.”  (The fine folks at WhiskeyPaper did a great job with formatting the story for the Web, didn’t they?)  The story is a bit melancholy and bittersweet, but I like that.  As How I Met Your Mother and Clerks have taught us, life is a series of down endings.  I like your @pen_tight Twitter feed a great deal; you seem to recognize that we’re all part of a community and that we should all support and help each other.

I’m happy to say that the characters in your story have plenty of chances to find happiness.  In the first section of the story, the first person narrator and his father go to Vladimir’s abandoned apartment.  “Vlado” is a “pretty quiet guy” who, it seems, has had trouble putting down roots anywhere.  The narrator and his father look over the apartment, knowing they are seeing a kind of representation of Vladimir’s identity.  In the second section, the narrator receives a letter from Vladimir, who writes to tell that he is okay and is still on his journey to a bright and happy future, whatever that will look like.

Like most short-shorts, this story packs in a certain level of mystery.  After all, you only have a few hundred words to describe a big part of a person’s life!  You really can’t go into much detail or release ALL of the exposition you would like.  The first paragraph introduces the mystery in felicitous fashion; “Vlado” has gone off-grid and the narrator and his father are going to investigate.  The reader does wonder if the guy is okay.  After the narrator and Dad look through Vlado’s belongings, the father points out a list:

1. pay rent
2. ticket, union station
3. call marienka
4. envelopes/stamps
5. salvation army
6. snacks and drink
7. tell mama

I love this move because it condenses the exposition nicely, a necessity in a piece of flash fiction.  We learn about Vlado’s priorities…he likes to pay his rent, he wants to treat Marienka properly, he seems to care about others because he seems to have donated stuff to the Salvation Army.  What’s left unchecked in that list?  “Tell mama.”  What a suggestive move?  Why didn’t he tell the mother?  What didn’t he tell her?  The To-Do list offers the reader a number of meaningful opportunities for analysis.

I really like one of the images in the piece, too, but I’m afraid my affection is a little complicated.  The narrator and his father come across Vlado’s bookshelves and see

A Heller hardcover stuck out like the switch on a blown fuse.

I love this image; it’s a fun and somewhat unexpected way of pointing out a book that must have been significant to Vlado.  The image is also visually compelling…you see a long stretch of book spines and one has been moved, most certainly for SOME kind of reason.  So I love that simile.

Here’s my slight concern, expressed most respectfully.  I think you mean “the switch on a circuit breaker.”  Fuses in a residential fuse box don’t move when they blow, right?  They just turn color because of the heat.  Circuit breakers have switches that SNNNICK when there’s a problem.  Then you have to sigh and head down to the basement to see which switch has flipped.  I am pretty much the furthest thing from an electrician, so I may be wrong.

Either way, we should all learn to do what you’ve done: come up with a fun and new way to describe a fairly common literary convention.  (All of us describe the books and art that our characters have, don’t we?)

And most of all, thanks for giving us a story that allows us to escape our own lives, if only for a brief moment.  Good luck with your writing in the future!  You’ve published in a lot of cool places and it looks like you’ll eventually make even bigger waves.






Writing Craft Recap for My Kind Readers:

  • Condense your exposition with a To-Do list or something similar.  You certainly learn a lot about a person if you look at their grocery list.  (If nothing else, you learn that they’re the kind of person who makes a grocery list.)
  • Devise new ways to express a fairly common literary convention.  We’re all going to describe the books on our characters’ shelves.  How can we accomplish this characterization in an interesting way?




  • Dear Ken,

    I so much appreciate your close study of my short-short in WhiskeyPaper. Not only do you highlight some key points and moves, but you do so in a way that is both graceful and informative-to the reader and, ahem, to the writer of this piece.

    Isn’t it odd that my description came out that way? I never thought twice to revise that blown-fuse metaphor (ha!)-it just came out that way. I’ve probably said it that way in conversation a dozen times, thinking nothing of it. I appreciate you pointing out this technicality-it is a strong reminder of the resopnsibility writers and editors have to scrutinize details and consider their meanings.

    If I were Vlado I would add an eighth item to my to-do list, “Thank Ken and the Great Writers Steal”, then cross it out with a felt-tip pin. Thanks again.



    • Aw, thanks! I forgot, but I was also going to point out that you may have had your first-person narrator make a goof on purpose for some important reason.

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