April 2: “My Murderer Drew Me to the Murder Ballad.” by Christopher Shipman

Welcome to Saturday of AWP Week/Short Short Week at Story366! Lots to catch you up on, this last day of the book fair, the last day of the conference. I’ve had quite the day, getting to read for the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop Anniversary panel, plus getting to walk around half the book fair, meet more people, move more Moon City product, and have the third Convention Center cheeseburger—courtesy of the generous Jennifer Murvin—in as many days.

Good story from last night: Without any events planned, I decided to go and get an In ‘N Out Burger. Everyone has told me that this is the thing in LA to eat—fast foodwise—so I called my friend Collette, who’d wanted one, too, and we took an Uber to get ourselves an In ‘N Out Burger.

Of course, the closest In-‘N-Out is nowhere near downtown, so we could have either gone to Hollywood or Culver City, and for some reason, the drive chose Culver City. It was a hike, about a twenty-five-minute ride, but I was glad to get out of downtown, away from the Convention Center for a while. The line at the In-‘N-Out was long inside, and we were lucky to get a table. After waiting ten minutes, we got our burgers, with fries and shake. Then we ate. I thought the burger was good, with maybe too much lettuce on it (which might be a Cali thing, as the Convention burgers were the same), but tasty, very cheesy. I’m not sure it was worth going so far out for, but hey, it was an experience, and since I love The Big Lebowski, I now know what Donnie was getting at when he wanted to get to an In-‘N-Out so badly, at such on inopportune time.

Colette took off in another Uber to go to a reading across town and I called for my own Uber to go to a different reading and my phone died. And there I was, in Culver City, way far away, with no phone. Sadly, for a few minutes, I was thinking, “I don’t know what to do.” I realized that I’d lived over thirty years of my life without a phone, especially a smart phone, and that there was things that you did when things like this happened. For a few minutes, though, I couldn’t think of any of them. I thought I might be stuck in an In-‘N-Out Burger parking lot all night.

Then I saw a Verizon in a strip mall next to the restaurant and walked there—I’m a Verizon customer. I walked in, plugged in my phone, and the employees both asked, “Can we help you?” I told them I just needed to charge my phone, and before they could react—they were ready to—I blurted out, “And I want to pay my Verizon bill!” They were all happy about that and plugged my phone in by the register, where they helped me give them a lot of money. Of course, they tried to get me to upgrade my phone—I’ve had my iPhone 4 for four years now—but I didn’t want to do that. Just charge enough to get an Uber, get out. I ended up staying in the Verizon in Culver City for forty minutes before I got an Uber to this reading on Sunset Boulevard, for Boss Fight Books, where I had a great time.

So, that’s my quintessential LA In-‘N-Out Burger experience.

The book I read for today by Elizabeth Ellen is on the bureau in my hotel room, and since I don’t want to risk writing about that without it in my hand, I decided to venture around the book fair and find a book of short shorts to read and write about today. I found this press in the book fair called The Cupboard that was selling tiny little chapbooks and I found one with shorts in it, The Movie My Murderer Makes by Christopher Shipman. I hadn’t known this press or Shipman’s work before this, but hey, that’s part of the Story366 mission, to find and showcase new presses and authors. There is perhaps no more obscure a book I’ll write about this year than this little book that’s scarely bigger than my outdated iPhone 4.

The Movie My Murderer Makes is only forty-one pages long, and chronicles the life of a first-person protagonist who has a murderer, all stories untitled and told in present tense. Logistically, you might be thinking that this protagonist couldn’t be telling the stories in present tense because, of course, how would he know he has a murderer when he’s a kid? I guess that’s complicated, but the stories sound good, read good, in present tense. In any case, the murderer isn’t a murderer throughout the whole book, other than the fact that the speaker always calls him “my murderer.” Actually, this murderer is more of a presence, someone who is always with the protagonist, in childhood, in adulthood, showing up at key times. He goes to school with him, sits back on the couch with him, gets to know his wife one day. He’s a guy who’s always there. Is the murderer an imaginary friend? Is he the protagonist’s id? Is it a physical manifestation of his fears, his loves, his faults? Maybe none of these, maybe all of them. It’s a compelling little series of stories—and yes, even though most of them are under five hundred words, they are stories, as most of them have appeared in lit mags, and lit mags, as you know, need to call things something. So, the Story366 mission prevails.

The piece I’m writing about, randomly, is the last piece, the one that starts “My murderer drew me to the murder ballad.” I’m writing about it not because it’s the best piece, or the piece that stands out, but because it brings this little chapbook-in-stories to a close, but more so, answers the question that I had since the first story: “How does the protagonist know this man, this presence in his life, is his murderer?”

Keep in mind, Story366 readers, that I never give away endings to stories, even hundred-word stories in tiny books. I’m not saying the protagonist is finally murdered, and I’m not not saying that. What I’m saying is, I was anticipating the last story so I could find out what the deal was and then I got to the last story (as one does at the end of a book). And that’s all I really say about a piece that ends this project and is five sentences long. I’ll add that I loved the story, the ending, and this book.

Back out to AWP for one more reading, one more round of drinks. Tomorrow: more travel! Story on!

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