The Canary Press

My short story, “Hold the Pickles”, is appearing in the debut issue of The Canary Press (and they paid me real money for it)!

If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see a drawing inspired by the story.


Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm  Comments (4)  
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Five-Star Reads from 2012

In 2012, I read a lot of books—among them, only a handful inspired me to slap down a five-star rating on the Goodreads.

Here is a list of five books that compelled five stars from me in 2012; also included are tiny samples of the books’ prose.


70% Acrylic 30% Wool
by Viola di Grado

“Leeds is like one of those sadistic pet owners that waves a piece of meat in front of his dog and then gobbles it down himself. You go out and you see that sun hanging from the sky and you feel happy. You think: Maybe the snow will end. You close your eyes hoping to feel warmth against your eyelids, but the sun has already disappeared, leaving the sky opaque and off-white, the color of a raw chicken thigh. The thing is that Leeds adores scarecrows…”

Say Her Name
by Francisco Goldman

“I took a Sunday morning train to the town nearest La Ferte. In the seat across from me sat a little boy dressed in a Spider-Man costume, traveling with his parents. I should dress like that, I thought. Maybe tomorrow I will. For a moment it seemed so plausible and even reasonable that tomorrow I might dress as Spider-Man that I felt a little scared.”

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
by Milan Kundera

“Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions: (1) an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities; (2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals; (3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nations internal life.”

Donald Duk
by Frank Chin

“Big kids, little kids. Girls and boys. They rove in clumps of bobbing five-headedness. Five-headed babies bulging diapers crawl under the tables. Some five-headed people sit. Lots of five-headed hawkeyed people stand. Lots of five-headed people are caught up in the tide of milling children and torn away from their tables to clump up with other people, float on the roving children, sink in the quicksand of little hands waving to each other across islands of tables and rest against the shoals of straight-backed shiny-skinned old people who dye their hair charcoal black. The twins always elbow him in the ribs when they see dyed black hair on a head in Chinatown. Where is Arnold Azalea? A white boy should be easy to spot in this crowd of smoldering hawkeyes. Everyone acts like they live here. The kids look at Donald Duk like a stranger.”

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
by Vikram Chandra

“When we actually crossed into Texas I was asleep. What woke me up was the radio buzzing about Hindu-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad, and I fumbled with it until it clicked off. It bothered me not because of what it was about but because it seemed too messy, it had too much of the stink of belief and the squalor of passion. I wanted the blade-edge feeling I had, the keenness of my senses and the rush of the speed. ‘We’re in Texas,’ Amanda said. We flew in a long floating curve, the road smooth and the yellow line perfect and steady under us. I leaned low over the dash and peered ahead, straining as if I would see instantly the long white trail of a rocket far to the south. I looked at Amanda, and I said, ‘Cool!’ and I felt my lips pulling back from my teeth. She laughed, her hair a dark red and flying, I could see her eyes shining, and it was something like love.”


So, there you have it—books I liked a bunch in 2012.

Got good books from 2012 you wanna quote? Read one or two among the quoted five? Well, by all means, have some commentary! You’re among friends, here.

Published in: on January 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Good Riddance, Baltimore

Today I gave a two-week notice of resignation to my employer. In two weeks the date will be March 1st, which is the date of my birth–merely coincidence, but it sure is snazzy. Especially telling, because on my birthday, March 1st, I’ll be packing my things and moving up to Rochester, New York. Returning to the motherland, so to speak (although I lived in Rochester only as an infant). A relative from the Coene side of the family–my father’s side–has insisted I move into the spare room, so I can get a fresh start recovering from the pathological dishonesty and financial hardship that has dragged down my life, of late.

I’m humbled, really, by such good fortune. I’ll miss the more meaningful work of special education, but, honestly, I need something with less responsibility (see: liability), and more compensation; I need to concentrate on writing without fretting over the lives of limited children, or the bills I cannot pay. Assuming all goes smoothly, the position I hope to fill satisfies both of these needs, with the added bonus of a new environment that isn’t so new as to be totally foreign. And, given my family ties, I’ll have a decent network of support should calamity decide to pop in and remind me of my place.
Abrupt, this change; but it veers the right way.
So, Baltimore, you polluted tank of stale air, you scene without art, you scene for the scene, you cesspool of poor etiquette, of ignorance and thick racial tension, of drug-induced body counts and ubiquitous sexual diseases, of elongated rats and confounding traffic patterns. Let us declare the things in which Baltimore leads the nation! Why not? Say syphilis! Say gonorrhea! Say rape reports! Say incarceration percentage! Say drop-out rates! Say–listen carefully, now, for the hollow silence of gaping class divide–percentage of households having the highest income!
Long have I carried resentful thoughts towards Baltimore, for reasons beyond these obvious mathematical facts. True to the quality of discussion around here, the response I often get is, “If you don’t like it, leave.” Well, to all you uninspired souls who have said as much to me, I say: “Okie-dokie.”
Before I wrap things up, let me show a bit of gratitude. Baltimore has injected me, repeatedly, with potent doses of cynicism. The Good Shit. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write with so embittered and paranoid a tone. So thank you, for that.
My name is Michael J. Coene, and I’m dropping the god damned mic on Baltimore.
Published in: on February 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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Bellowing Bellow II

Recently, I finished reading The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I absolutely loved it; however, I do not recommend it to people who aren’t writers. It is definitely a book for writers. If there are any casual readers left out there who enjoy lengthy, flowery classics, then by all means, give this one a read.

Bellow uses a plethora of fancy-pants words. He’s always a bit verbose, but in this particular book he lets the vocabulary flow unrestrained.

So, the next couple of blog posts will be examples of some of those interesting, unwieldy words that writers today have no business using, simply because, well, what would be the point?


1. quiff — noun — a prominent forelock. [MJC: personally, I’d use “a prominent forelock.”]

2. homiletic — adjective — of, resembling, or relating to, a homily. [MJC: and, after looking up “homily” to find out that it means, basically, a sermon, I decided that I really like this one. Puts an edge of knowing to the description, whereas “preachy” sounds as if the narrator has tuned out the homiletic individual immediately.]

3. amortizing — verb — to pay off (as a mortgage) gradually by periodic payments of principal and interest or by payments to a sinking fund. [MJC: yet another economics term, like “repudiation” from the first Bellowing Bellow installment. The book doesn’t delve too deeply into economics, so I’m surprised at Bellow’s level of lingo in the field. Did he know these terms beforehand, or are they the result of good research?]

4. margrave — noun — the military governor especially of a German border province. [MJC: my reaction to this is almost the same as my reaction to “amortizing,” in that I am reminded of the first installment of this blog series. Instead of economics, this term is another of political caste—the former being “aldermanic”—very obscure, and very specific. I should note that no margrave, or alderman, appears in the story. These words are used to describe behavior. Very specific. But is it too specific? Can you see the difference between the behavior of a margrave, and the behavior of an alderman, after knowing the definitions?]

5. corpulent — adjective — having a large bulky body. [MJC: this is one of those words that I’ve seen many times before, but never bothered to look up. I’d always gotten a decent idea of its meaning through the context (I do this more than I should). Now that I know its definition exactly, I realize that I don’t really like it. I dunno; it sounds too pretty to be bulky. It sounds like orbs of light, or something. Doesn’t that sound right? “Corpulent orbs of light.”]


Got a dusty, old word you never can use without editors arching their eyebrows? Feel free to share it here, at the Bloggery!

More Bellowing Bellow to come.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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