Monday, March 12, 2012

Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan (03.08.12): "Shotgun Wedding" by Bonnie Jo Campbell

The protagonist of “Shotgun Wedding” started with a simple observation regarding her younger sister’s soon-to-be-husband: Clearly this groom is more accustomed to lugging hay bales and veal calves … and for whatever reason, as I listened to the author, Bonnie Jo Campbell, read her short story I couldn’t help but stare at my dishpan hands resting in my lap and wonder: If I had had more of a bad boy image, if I were a Neanderthal, a knuckle-dragger, would my marriage have survived? Fortunately, this momentary thought faded when the woman next to me said, “Isn’t she wonderful? I just started reading ‘Once Upon a River.’”

Campbell gets at the cold harsh reality of Holy Matrimony with the juxtaposition of both sisters: the young bride having the temperament of Cinderella and her older sister, the narrator, having the survival instinct of Annie Oakley. Here are a few keen observations from the protagonist: I look away, to the pastor who looms over this procedure with the gravity of a hangman ... or I’m letting my sister down by being sucked into her fairy tale … or (and this description of a passing glance with the bride may have unsettled the audience a bit) … she catches my eyes full of tears and my mouth set grimly in the memory of shooting my first raccoon dead outside the chicken house, of the shot picking its body up off the ground and slamming it against the barn wall.

Soon there’s a seamless transition from the wedding scene to an intruder scene at the farmhouse—a flashback—where the narrator protects her sister and herself from an intruder:

My father had told me to shoot a man anywhere on the abdomen, because I couldn’t miss at close range, and the twelve gauge at close range would tear a man apart. When I’d shot that first raccoon outside the chicken house its body turned inside out.

Interestingly enough, the intruder has some of the same characteristics and qualities as the groom in the story—a ruggedness that dissipates once he’s staring at the unidentifiable roundness of the end of the shotgun barrel … where the protagonist thinks … he might have seen his own self turned inside out.

Maybe because I’m a man, or maybe because I made that lengthy journey to and from the altar, or maybe because I lost so much after the divorce … hell, I don’t know … maybe I’ve been “turned inside out” because Campbell’s last scene of “Shotgun Wedding” is so hauntingly familiar, as if I’m running from the church in an attempt at shedding my old skin, my old civilized ways, as if the protagonist not only succeeds in that moment of protecting her younger sister, but has me dead in her sight: I held the gun up long after the man turned and walked down the steps and ran across our frozen lawn toward the road.

Whatever my feelings, I enjoyed listening to Bonnie Jo Campbell. Her short stories, as well as her novels, are definitely worth reading.

by JR's Thumbprints

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"nothing more to tell" / stories by george dila

After a decade of email exchanges, not to mention a soon-to-be single’s lifestyle where I can do whatever I please (within the boundaries of good decency and affordability) I finally met fellow writer George Dila. He’s the Director of the Ludington Visiting Writers. Dila appeared at the Lido Art Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, a few weeks ago and read from his latest short story collection “nothing more to tell.” Not only is Dila an excellent orator, he can sing too. He sang a few lines of “Betcha by Golly” by The Stylistics, taking on the persona of the title story’s protagonist, Vincent Root, as he drove through the dreamy tourist town of Mayesville while listening to an oldies station. Dila reads:

He and Mary had loved that album, playing it over and over again. He still liked the sound, even the sentiment, although it seemed so corny now. Corny, and not a little ironic. Ever will love keep growing strong, my ass.

As I sat in the audience listening, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Vincent Root. He suffered from a tragedy far worse than his failed marriage, a tragedy in the making as he navigated his Buick Roadmaster around the block to steal another glimpse at two young teenage girls that reminded him of ponies, or maybe otters, their bodies sleek and joyful, their movements fluid and confident, the rhythm of their gestures a bit arrogant and slightly provocative. Interestingly enough, and due to an agreed upon time restriction, if not a ploy to sell a few books, Dila left us hanging, craving for more.

Structurally, “nothing more to tell” begins with a couple of third person narratives, first Vincent himself, then Bob & Jill Regan grieving over the loss of their son who ran into the incoming path of Vincent’s Buick, and finally the first person narrative of Sherriff Parsons. The story is masterfully done, the POV shifts smooth and credible, and the ending is well worth the purchase of the book.

I’d like to tell you more, and there is more to tell, but since I’m living out of boxes and sneaking internet from fast food chains and coffee shops, I've decided to end my review now. But hey, there are eight more wonderful stories in this collection worth reading. I strongly recommend “nothing more to tell.” For more information, click here: .

Pictured from left to right: JR & George

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Poetic Travelers Presents

Friday, November 19, 2010: 6:30pm-9:00pm
Location Lawrence Street Gallery
22620 Woodward Ave, Ste A
Ferndale, MI

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010


MCBP’s first chapbook is rolling off the assembly line.

Title: Adopted Behaviors
Author: James R. Tomlinson
Content: 3 flash memoirs, 5 short stories, and 5 flashes related in some way to the human condition and/or prison experience.
Length: 52 pages
Size: 4 ¼" by 5 ½"

Initial Print Run: 75
Projected Release Date: July 2010
Price (including shipping in the U.S.): $4.00 *

*All funds will go toward MCBP’s inaugural issue. No set-up costs incurred by MCBP. No outsourcing; 100% Made in Michigan.

More details coming.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Does “being a factory rat” count for having a “real ass” job? If so, how come a majority of American autoworkers are viewed as overpaid, unskilled laborers?

In Leon Chamberlain’s self-published memoir, “Factory Rat,” he states: “There used to be millions of us. Nowadays we joke that we are dinosaurs, a dying breed.” He made this observation more than a decade ago, and from what’s written, he, along with many of his coworkers, knew the manufacturing landscape would someday change, that they wouldn’t be able to continue working on the assembly line earning a decent wage, thinking themselves valuable assets to their prospective employers.

Although his first auto job started at Wayne “Assy” in the mid-60’s, he starts with a 1970's quote from Henry Ford II:

“The average worker wants a job in which he does not have to put in much physical effort. Above all, he wants a job in which he does not have to think.”

Chamberlain’s first line of work: Installing right-hand seat belts with a powerful air gun that often stripped the chrome plated bolts. He emphasizes how everything’s related to speed, including sprinting to the parking lot with his fellow coworkers so they could make it to the Wayne Party Store for whiskey and beer during lunch break. Also, he describes how those air hoses would sometimes get caught on a passing trolley or a car mirror, only to stretch and snap, sometimes cold-cocking a worker. He quotes Studs Terkel from “Working”:

“They’ll (management) give better care to that machine than they will to you. If it breaks down, there’s somebody out there to fix it right away. If I break down, I’m just pushed over to the side ‘till another man takes my place.”

His memoir spans a 33-year career in the auto industry. Unfortunately, it does not portray the autoworker in a favorable light; it doesn’t show them as valuable entities. You’ve got a pipe fitter that spends his working hours making and selling coffee for profit, an electrician laying on a wooden bench in his crib, night after night, snoring (he promotes to supervisor), and other colorful characters trying to “stick it to the man.” “Factory Rat” is an entertaining read which gives insight into the decline in the United States’ automobile manufacturing from an insider’s perspective. --jr

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Sprung ahead, lost an hour, yet I’ve gained anonymity. Everyone needs a “time-out” now and then. I could list half a dozen reasons, six little things, but what would be the point?

There’s no sense in looking back.

Spring forward … slowly … using tiny baby steps.

When Mr. Talibi, a man of middle eastern origin who worked in his family’s Detroit party store, tip-toes into my classroom some twenty-minutes late and makes accidental eye-contact with yours truly, he speaks in a soft, broken-English sort of way. He says, “I thought we didn’t have school today,” and sensing my displeasure, “when is spring break?” and after a moment of awkward silence, rephrases his question, “we get spring break, don’t we?”

The class waits for my response.

“Oh sure, we get spring break,” I say. “As soon as the maintenance workers dump two truck-loads of sand in the yard …”


“… and the food service workers fire-up the grills and tap the kegs …”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

I raise my voice, “… and the corrections officers escort in bikini clad women for the volleyball tournament.”

He starts smiling. “We could get sponsors.”

“Hell no!” I answer. “We don’t get spring break. This is prison!”


You can read my prose in the spring issue of Six Bricks Press. --JR