We are the story.

Awake and asleep…you and me…here and now…what and where…before and after.


Once upon a time…

Stories at birth, before birth, every moment of our lives to the end.

We breathe telling tales. And then what happened? The story ends?

The story never ends. We are immortal. We are myth. We remember.

Did I ever tell you about…?

Once Upon a Time will celebrate the story—in all its manifestations, which are many, as I see it, know it, teach it, write it, work the hell out of it to this day (my favorite ‘form’, the one I began with as a writer)–and propose to tell my side of the  story on this site as I feel it.

Monsieur K. and I have created a huge and growing readership among writers and readers through Poetry Dispatch, Notes from the Underground, Basho’s Road, NBCoop News, and for a long time it has been my desire to move this passion in yet another one, two, three? areas as well, especially the sad, mostly neglected state (art) of the story today—short, long, minimal…traditional, modern, contemporary, experimental… Story “consciousness”. That’s what I’m after.

So, what’s the story anyway?

Something to be explored, told, experienced, enjoyed, as I bring many plates to the table in the days ahead, variations on the theme of who? what? when? and where?

This, like any creative endeavor, will be a work-in-progress. Which is the way we learn best. Success and failure. To throw in everything including the kitchen sink, whenever the mood strikes. I begin this work as I begin almost any new piece of writing or painting–no outline, notes, plans, nothing but a head full of images and a burning passion. Let it all tell itself, be its own story, find its own way till it forms some kind of shape that leaves me space (minutes, days, weeks, months, years later) to go back in and refine. The art of writing is rewriting…reading your own words aloud. Remembering Picasso’s words as well: “Not every painting need be a masterpiece.” I make no promises, apologies, or commitments concerning the stories I choose, the ideas I examine on Once Upon a Time. . Only ask you to bear with me. Enjoy. Take what works. Ignore what doesn’t. But give it all time to settle. Do something with it if you care. Read more…write more stories if you will. Comment occasionally if you are so inclined. (Thank you.)

CAUTION, perhaps, or occasionally: If I find myself engaged in sharing a story I love that is much too long…(given the nature of our failing internet attention span these days)…I may just lead the reader into part of the work, and hope he/she will take it upon himself to read the rest at his own leisure.

So…EVERYTHING is on the table. On its way.

Let’s begin (middle, end) with this. A piece of writing I have ‘taught’, used for many years in classes and workshops…brought to the attention of other writers who are so ‘fixed’ upon just what a story IS–and is not…a piece of writing I often tell beginning writers: “If you understand this…fully grasp what is going on here… if you seek to employ, in story, poem, novel, or essay, the true artistry of this master of the written word, you may eventually find yourself on the road to writing something memorable.”


A thrust plunged home:
Under my feet, in our bedroom—
My dead wife’s comb.


[from, THE WORLD’S SHORTEST STORIES, An Anthology, edited by Richard G. Hubler, Popular Library, 1962, 40¢]


  1. Judith Wiker

    Bravo Norberto…more juicy tidbits to emulsify, to inspire the spirit and shake the bones. Buson’s three lines are worth more than a library of verse…I remain breathless from their delivery.

  2. Norma Bader

    Does this put me on your email list? I certainly hope so!

  3. Mary Ann

    norb, thank you for this. thank you from a novice. perhaps i will be able to pick up the pen and get the words out of my head and onto paper. thank you.

  4. Jean Casey

    Shaherazad Blei! It has a nice ring…..

  5. Sheila Saperstein

    Looking forward to YOUR “kitchen sink”.

  6. Dick Finch

    Yes…the comb under foot. A few years back I volunteered to clean out the apartment of a distant relaqtive who had moved on to assisted living. Her husband had died at least five years prior, but there under his side of the bed was a can of jock-itch powder. A memory is hard to throw away!

  7. ross lewallen

    Once upon a time Norbert Blei

  8. Harry Mark Petrakis

    Gazing at the photo of the old man reading a book in the womb of that book-lined study, I wondered who he was. This wasn’t my friend Norbert Blei as I remembered him, vigorous, alert, his laugh like music. Where had that young stalwart gone?
    Then I looked in a mirror at the reflection of myself and understood. With love, old friend, Harry

  9. Shaun Melarvie

    Thanks for the inspiration, Norb.

  10. Tim Stone

    Once Upon A Time…write on

  11. Jackie

    Dear Norb: What a great idea (and what a great picture). I hope my attendance at this site will loosen the cobwebs in my story-telling lobes and let some air in.

  12. Robert M. Zoschke

    I’m glad the Door County Literary Mensa Society decided to start releasing photos of its Chairman of The Board.

  13. Marshall Cook

    Count me in on the adventure! Story is as necessary to me as oxygen!

  14. Ruth Telfer

    Love the picture and story. So many good memories as you know.

  15. Norbert Blei

    I want to thank all of you for your private e-mails to me, and those folks above for their public commentaries. It all helps feed the fire. Granted, one thing I don’t need at this time in my life is yet another website to feed/maintain. Then again…both the teacher and writer within me whisper: “ONWARD! Spread the word”– a writer’s only reason for being. Every writer harbors a little of the teacher in his words.

    Of the new and old friends who signed -n with commentaries above, I would like to say a say a few kind words to two of my oldest and best friends, the artist/shaman, Ross LewAllen of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who had an immense influence on my early and mid-years as a writer/artist. Without his inspiration, I would never have achieved the driving sense of what it means to make and ‘be’ art as a way of life. He was my closest, deepest friend for many years. I have written about him (fiction and nonfiction) extensively in my work—though our friendship came apart some years ago (a battle of the egos? … discovering other pathways?)…more years now than I care to remember. Repairs, however, are in progress, though we are older, perhaps more set in our ways, so different, so distant in miles alone, we may not even recognize each other the next time we meet. Which I hope will happen in the time we have left. There will be many new and old stories to tell.

    To see the name and words of Harry Mark Petrakis on this page, one of America’s great short story writers, makes my day, my night, my memories come alive. I occasionally speak of mentors in my early days of wrestling with all the possibilities of ‘story’ and none played a greater role in finding myself, my words, my sense of ‘place’ and ‘people’ than Petrakis and his family and community of Greek-Americans.

    A profile of him, the two of us in conversation, his mastery of the ethnic experience in pulsing narrative appears in my book, CHI TOWN. I miss our drinking and eating sessions in ‘olde’ Chicago—Greektown, Downtown, Oldtown. phone conversations, heart-beating letters. To be in the storytelling presence of his voice and word-perfect artistry, is to know how life in words upon a page redeems us all. Makes us better human beings. More alive.

    From the moment I conceived this new website dedicated to the story, the stories of Harry Mark Petrakis were always on my mind. He WILL be a featured writer on this site. I urge readers and writers to find his work–beginning, perhaps, where he began. His first brilliant collection of short stories: PERICLES ON 31st STREET (1965). I would add to this (for writers) a later memoir: REFLECTIONS: A Writer’s Life–A Writer’s Work.

    Yes, my good friend, we have not seen each other in far too long a time. We both left the Big City for rural isolation. Thank god for your work, which always brings me home–ethnic Americana.. You seemed much older than I in those early days. And, yes, true. I am now old as well. Though not as wise as you…never such a master at telling and writing the tale… bringing a smile and a heartbeat from “once upon a time…” to the serene, sometimes sad end.


  16. gretchen maring

    Short stories have always been my favorite literary form. I do believe they are harder to write well than any other form. So “into the woods”…..with the finest introduction for a story every written “Once Upon a Time…..”

  17. Peter Orner

    I love the connection between telling stories and breathing itself. How many times a day to the essential thing without even realizing it? And speaking of essential: Pericles on 31st Street and the Ghost of Carl Sandburg’s Phizzog are two of the essential not only Chicago story collections but this country’s. Thank you Norbert for the comb story…

  18. Barbara Vroman

    Yes! Harry Mark Patrakis. How great to see his name! To know he is still with us! Though his great work will keep him alive as long as people love stories. I think of sitting in a front row seat at the School of Arts with tears burning my eyes with words he invoked, I think of a whole gymnasiaum of people
    bent over with laughter at his words. The two of you….to have at the privilege of knowing such masters….!!!!

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