Tag Archives: Ken Klonsky Novella Contest

The Best Revenge (2)

Today’s story is about not getting even.

I’ve had good reason for mulling this over.

Revenge is pointless because what’s been damaged — almost always in a relationship of some kind — is damaged for good. Anything new that grows in its place will not replace what’s lost. If it weren’t so, there’s be no vengeful impulse, no grief or outrage — or, in my case, no disgust, frustration and annoyance.

On the list of grievances that might upend a writer, I do not include rejected manuscripts. Not at all, because the editor who turns you down at least signals respect for your work by taking the time to read it. With that in mind, I’d been given more than a little respect from the press which published my manuscript A Gardener On The Moon —  named by them as co-winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. It was a delight to work with a small but cosmopolitan publisher. Sure they’d be happy to read another submission, I recently offered them a second novella manuscript and was asked to submit a query letter first. When they’d published me already? Odd, I thought. The query was turned down. “Too many authors, not enough spots,” said the email. (Gone are the days when award-winning authors were prized by their publishers!) When I inquired further, they told me they were not reviewing any new manuscripts until September 2012 and were booked up until 2013.  Then why did you tell me you’d consider my query? I queried.

The answer was obvious. Knowing the quality of my work, these individuals chose to waste my time with a fishing expedition. She writes well. Let’s see if the proposal is sexy enough to bump its way into the lineup. I guess it wasn’t.

This publisher’s backlist features no second-timers; odd in dollars-and-cents terms if you think of writers as financial investments, some of which might pay off as their works are added to the list. More to the point, there are those of us who still believe that writing forges relationships, that our fellow professionals ought to be courteous enough to respect our time and interested enough in new work to develop the writers they’ve already published. Not so — and the indifference stings.

In Helen Prejean’s book Dead Man Walking (on which the film was based), she discusses a man whose loved one was murdered and who then witnessed the execution of the killer. The man said afterwards that it wasn’t enough; he couldn’t get past the insult, he wanted to see the man die over and over. Eventually, he came to terms with an anguish far greater than any I could imagine.

I find hope in his difficult change of heart.

Living is the best revenge, the saying goes.

Along with writing.

Words stitch up the careless rents in our human cloth. They can’t mend what’s unravelled, but they grant a kind of mysterious grace. They restore our sense of dignity as only the truth can.

So that is my story.

The work goes on.

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Reinhard Filter’s Debut Novella: Retina Green

About a year ago, I learned that I’d been named co-winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest, for A Gardener on the Moon. Months went by, my book was published, and I kept wondering who my fellow Klonskyite co-winner was. Two weeks ago, the wait ended with the publication of Retina Green by Reinhard Filter — and what a super read it is. Every word counts in this trim, lean and beautifully written feat of storytelling. It’s as if Filter took his manuscript for workouts at the gym — not a gram of verbal fat on the bone, not a wasted word anywhere. Retina Green tells the story of Henry, an executive at a power company who obeys his boss and stonewalls a coroner’s inquest into the electrocution death of a young girl. In despair, the girl’s mother commits suicide. Henry, sensing the enormity of the wrong he’s done, begins to unravel in rage. He loses his job and starts his downward roll from respectability to a seedy flophouse to a shack in the city dump with a fellow down-at-the-heels homeless man named Torben Lipp. Torben’s as bright as the glint of a razor. He knows survival skills that most of us hope we’ll never have to learn. Torben also knows that Henry hates himself for provoking a grieving mother’s death. It’s when Torben starts to exploit the fury that’s eating Henry alive that the story moves toward its startling conclusion. It ends with a rare thing in fiction — a dramatic surprise ending that’s believable and really works.

Maybe that’s because at the heart of this often witty novella is a serious battle between redemption and revenge. Henry made me think of Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a man who thought that his superior intellect gave him rights denied to other human beings, including the right to kill — until he does it and comes unstrung, then later confesses his crime and seeks redemption. In Retina Green, Henry also buys into this Great Man status conferred on him as a power broker at the inquest, but when he causes someone’s death, he, too, comes apart until he realizes — maybe too late — that beyond self-loathing is a desire for redemption — in his words, “for a better purpose.” In the novella, Filter often alludes to another literary great — Captain Ahab, hell-bent on revenge in Melville’s Moby Dick, and he points to the futility of going down in rage with that metaphorical white whale.  The book leaves us wondering if forgiveness is possible among desperate people — and it does all this with wit, insight and poetry. This is Reinhard Filter’s first novella. I’ll be looking forward to the next one.

Reinhard Filter’s Retina Green is published in Toronto by Quattro Books.

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