SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT. JUD WIDING, author of THE YEAR OF UH. 

Assuming we’re not counting picturebooks, I started writing when I was about ten. That came in the form of some pretty dire fan fiction, which I would almost literally throw up on fanfiction websites. At 13 I decided my calling was film, so I focused more on screenplays than prose. After going to school for film, moving to LA and working at all different levels of the industry for three years, I had a distressing epiphany: I kind of hated it. At twenty-four I decided to return to my first passion. Prose writing, I mean. Not fan fiction.

One constant I’ve found in my tastes, both as a reader and a writer, is that I have a hard time getting excited about anything that doesn’t strike me as funny on some level. Not necessarily haha funny – bleakly amusing or cosmically absurd will suit me just fine. That’s a reflection of the way I, and I think a lot of people, look at the world. I find that very serious things tend to bore me. So in my own writing, I focus less on genre and more on tone. Whenever an idea jumps out at me (and I’ve yet to really figure out why one will jump while another won’t), I chase it down and see where it leads.

I live in Brooklyn, like half the aspiring writers in the galaxy. I’ve got an amateur interest in history – but not museums, oddly enough. I love reading about old stuff. I don’t care about looking at it. Go figure. I also try to fill every possible second of my day with music. I’m a proud metalhead, and contrary to popular belief, most of us are fairly omnivorous with our music listening. I’ve got a particular soft spot for funk, modern R&B and danceable pop. I spend a lot of time sitting and writing, so I like music that makes me move.

As to what I’ve produced from my sit-and-write time, I have one published novel called The Year of Uh which you can get as a free ebook basically anywhere, or you can buy the paperback off Amazon, if you are so inclined. My shorter work has appeared in Voices and Brooklyn (forthcoming), and one of my stories got an honorable mention from Glimmer Train. Late this year/early next year my next novel, Westmore and More! will be coming out. You can stay up to date on that via my Facebook and Twitter, both of which are @judwiding.


Here’s an excerpt from The Year of Uh, a romantic comedy about a young woman (Nur) from Seychelles, Africa who attends an English language school in Boston, and falls for a South Korean boy (Hyun-Woo) without having the first clue of how to communicate with him:




He knows I wanted to meet at the library, right? And not at the school?

Does he know where in the library I wanted to meet?

Do I?

Nur spent the train ride back into the city imagining all of the ways the meeting could go wrong. That’s how it felt, anyway. So what a pleasant surprise it was to discover that she hadn’t imagined literally all of the ways.

The Boston Public Library was closed, and had been since five o’clock.

Hadn’t seen that one coming. Perhaps should have; alas, did not.

The universe was round, last Nur had heard, so she looked forward to the day when her hindsight reached back, wrapped its way around the fullness of eternity and returned to her from the other side. On that day, she might be able to boast of something approaching foresight. Thus, she looked forward to it. Or backward. Or something.

Until that day, she would be here, sitting in a lovely white cocktail dress (upscale but casual, low-cut but tasteful) on the steps of the Boston Public Library’s Dartmoth Street entrance, elbows on her knees, head in her hands. A group of rowdy boys passed by and one shouted something in a tone that struck her as less than gentlemanly. She chose to believe it was “you are overdressed for the Library, which is closed, but your dress is still adorable and flattering”. She was reasonably sure that wasn’t what he’d actually said.

7:04. Maybe Hyun-Woo had gone to the school, or one of the other entrances. It was a big Library after all. And the whole big thing was closed.

Disaster.

“Nur!”

She was up on her feet like a shot, or two shots, thanks to the cracking of her knees. I hope he didn’t hear that, she wished inexplicably. What would it matter if he did?

He came trotting up the steps, wearing exactly the same thing he’d been wearing to class. A nice off-white button up shirt, olive green pants. He’d been well dressed to begin with, but Nur still felt slightly foolish for having changed her clothes for a trip to the library.

“Hey!” he said as he made a show of looking at her dress, though he spun it out into “heeeeeeey!” Thankfully, there was nothing lecherous about his gaze. As most all women are, she was cognizant of how quickly the sun could set on even the most jovial of strolls. Of course not all men were of that sort, but there was often no way to know who was until the shadows had claimed their quarry.

She returned his smile, envying him, as she did all men, that he almost certainly had no such thoughts poisoning his pleasant evenings out. Once upon a time she would try to parse this feeling, to see if there was perhaps a hint of antipathy in it. She hadn’t bothered with doing that in quite a while – she was well-accustomed to their obliviousness.

“Great!” he said, boldly offering her two thumbs up (for all he knew, she was from the sort of culture where a raised thumb meant ‘I have lain with your most cherished female relation and found the experience unsatisfactory’). She gave a coy little curtsey, like an idiot, what are you doing Nur, and quickly recovered with another great popping of the knees. Perhaps she was being overly self-conscious, but very little was breaking her way this evening.

Nur pointed over her shoulder. “Library is closed.” She knew enough, from her preliminary attempts at English study back in Seychelles and her nine days of intensive immersion, to know that “Library is closed” was syntactically graceless. But never mind that; she had a thought in her head which she conveyed in a language not her own, in a real-world context. This was a thrilling development.

So thrilling, in fact, that she nearly forgot that Library was closed.

“Aw,” Hyun-Woo moped. But not for long – he took out his phone, punched a few buttons, and then gestured for Nur to follow him. Which she did, marveling that his phone apparently worked perfectly well without the ball and chain of free internet (oof, what a child of my generation I am). He led her back to Boylston, where they took a left and walked for several blocks. She was just starting to wonder where, precisely, they were going, when he gestured for them to cross the street. As they stepped out in the middle of the street, which was jay-walking, which was a crime, nine days in America and she was already committing crimes, which was insane because she was well aware of the state of American prisons…those thoughts vanished because as they stepped out, Hyun-Woo took her hand as though he’d been doing it every day for years.

That’s when she knew the evening had changed. The original plan was to go on a little expedition with her sister, and here she was, out with a guy.

Correction: getting drinks with a guy.

He walked her right up to a bar, so packed that it spilled out onto the street, and made a ‘how did I do?’ face.

Nur almost gave him a thumbs up. But then she didn’t, because Correction The Second: she was not getting drinks with a guy.

Because the drinking age in America was 21. Nur wasn’t a big drinker, but she’d had a few in her time, and all of those had been legal. The drinking age in Seychelles was 18, and she had an entire year to grow accustomed to ordering adult beverages. She’d nearly forgotten that, for some reason, Americans drew the line at age 21, and it was a very bold red line.

Now goddamnit, how to convey all of this to him? She couldn’t think of a quick way to do it without him thinking she was trying to shirk him. She wanted to get a drink with him, but she couldn’t, legally.

She was taking too long to formulate a response: his puppy-dog face was starting to fall, less spaniel, more basset hound. Nur raised her hands in a placatory gesture (she sincerely hoped he wasn’t from a culture in which this meant ‘I have taken an informal poll of the individuals living in your vicinity and the consensus is that you emit an unspeakable odor, in case you haven’t noticed all the wilted flowers and rotten fruit you leave in your wake’)

“No! No, um…”

“Yes?”

Clearly Hyun-Woo had skipped ahead to the lessons where ‘yes’ turns out to be an endlessly versatile word, because she didn’t understand the way in which he kept deploying it.

“I am nineteen years old!” she shouted as one big word, as though blurting out an answer in a game of charades (which, in a way, she sort of was).

He gave another thumbs up. “I am twenty-two years old!”

Obviously, Hyun-Woo was intelligent. He knew a bunch of languages, and…well, that was the only thing Nur really knew about him, but idiots don’t learn bunches of language! Still, though, she couldn’t watch people struggling to scale a language barrier without thinking they look like an idiot, even as she herself was scrabbling for purchase on the damn thing.

It was a simple matter of him not knowing the drinking age in America. He was old enough, after all, so he probably read about it at some point and forgot. But Nur didn’t know how to explain it to him.

This was perhaps the single most frustrating experience of Nur’s entire life. That said a lot about the relative good fortune with which she’d navigated her nineteen years on Earth, as well as about how headache-inducingly awful this was.

I know what I want to say. It’s sloshing around in my braincase. BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET IT OUT.

Hyun-Woo was looking confused. Nur managed to keep herself from slapping her forehead. Instead, she pointed to herself and decided to use the limited vocabulary she did have.

She pointed back down Boylston, the way the came. “Library is closed at five o’clock.” She pointed to her wrist. “Eight o’clock.” Shook her head from side to side. “Closed.”

He nodded, looking at her like she was the idiot. They both thought the other looked like an idiot. This first date was going very well.

Oh shit is this a first date? Thoughts and events were all spiraling out in different directions, and at the center was Nur, looking like an idiot.

Too late to go back. The moment of truth: she pointed to the bar. How do I say ‘bar’ in English? Perhaps a plaintive look to Hyun-Woo would bring forth the proper word. After all, he’d known what to type into his phone…

Plaintive look didn’t do it. So Nur scrunched her face up like The Thinker for the cheapseats and snapped her outstretched finger.

“Ah!” Hyun-Woo lit up. “That is a bar!”

“Yes!” Nur enthused. “The bar is closed at twenty-one years old.” She pointed to herself. “I am nineteen years old.” Pointed back to the bar and shook her head from side to side. “Closed.”

“AAAH!” It was the Fourth of July on that smooth, dimply face. Comprehension burst and flickered, and then there were those little crinkly ones that were stupid but, in the context of the whole spectacle, were fine, she guessed. “YES!!”

“HA HA!!!” she exploded in kind. The press of an idea yearning but unable to be expressed had been relieved, leaving the expanse of an empty skull ready to be filled by new thoughts.

Nur turned them around, and they strolled back down Boylston. Around Copley Square, she grabbed his hand. They walked that way down to the Boston Common, not talking, not knowing how, simply enjoying the sounds of the cool, dusky city and the warmth of each other’s company.

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