- Do you eat during/after your writing session? Are bagels part of the equation? What about coffee? And for that matter: psychotropic agents?
- What is the initial "trigger" (thought/feeling/idea/image) that prompted this entire story? What about this initial inspiration led you to create an entire story from this prompt?
- What's you're favorite sentence in the entire story? Tell us how it happened. Spare no details of the sentence's evolution.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Saturday, October 11, 2014
- The cover of Tampa, Alissa Nutting's debut novel, is a vagina.
- That's one of the reasons you bought this book.
- As proud as you are to have a trade paperback novel with a vagina on the cover, when you read this book on the train, you're careful to fold back the cover so no one discovers you're reading a novel with a vagina on the cover. Not that there's anything wrong with vaginas.
- When I say You I mean I.
|Debra Lafave, Inspiration for Celeste Price in Tampa|
Thursday, June 5, 2014
So I bought her book, years later, and read it.
What is S P R A W L? A lot of things, I guess. A commentary on suburbia, on marriage, on the structures and norms of domestic life. S P R A W L could be called a monograph, a story, a novella, or simply a really long paragraph. It could be called fiction, or more likely, a work of innovative (experimental? whatever that means) prose.
If this book has a plot, I don't know what it is. Plotlessness is a complaint often lodged against particularly complex or heady books (David Foster Wallace's novels come readily to mind). The single-paragraph story--it's really just one long paragraph--is a seeming hodgepodge of first-person impressions. The narrator, a suburban woman, cooks dinner and dances around the sidewalk and writes (imaginary, unsent?) letters to her neighbors. The book is a series of fragments that, pieced together, don't seem to adhere to any larger plot structure.
So if it doesn't have a plot, is it a story? Sure, why not. It is, after all, a narrative (all prose works, and arguably poems, too, possess a narrative through-line, even without a superstructure like we associate with most fiction). This book, like much so-called innovative or experimental (whatever that is) fiction doesn't operate so much as a whole but as a collection of individually crafted, independent sentences.
My tentative thesis: if traditional fiction operates on the level of the book, the chapter, or the paragraph, innovative prose pieces operate at the level of the sentence.
For Ms. Dutton, each sentence should be read and swallowed and digested separately from its neighboring sentences; the author crafts her sentences with such wit and lapidary intensity that the parts overwhelm the whole. Why would you want to see the forest when its individual trees are already so spectacular?
An example, chosen at random:
In the morning, over coffee and eggs, I'm exhorted to be an individual. In the afternoon we wash our cars. The cat climbs in and out of empty boxes in the hall. I sleep with the window open and imagine. (98)Four sentences, each portraying a different scene, a different set of impressions and concerns. The whole book is like this, really; an assemblage of disparate life-segments, memories in the making. Even though this book is written in the present tense, it seems to operate the way memory does: in fragments and non sequiturs.
I want to try writing sentences the way Ms. Dutton does. Here are mine:
My wife points out that older cats are less likely to be adopted than kittens. I drink my coffee and pick crust from my eyes. On the train to work I try to get inside the head of a shoe fetishist; does anyone fetishize flats or must they have heels? The secret to weight loss is portion control, everybody says.That was tough. My sentences kept slipping into one another.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
What is conceptual poetry?
The best definition I've heard is simply this: conceptualism treats language as an object, not simply a collection of signs denoting other objects. In other words, a traditional reading would view "A" as an indefinite article, indicating a singular noun will soon follow. But conceptualism may view "A" as a material object, a thing rather than symbol. "A" is as much a teepee with a crossbeam as it is a signifier.
That's not the entire definition of conceptualism, but this idea of the "physicality" of letters and language is what fascinates me.
Back to that thought about Vanessa Place. At Naropa, she read a piece entitled "you." It goes like this:
you you you you you you you you you you you you you you you you you you
I may have miscounted the number of you's, and there may or may not be punctuation in there, but that's the piece as I remember it from three years ago. Ms. Place read the piece in a slow, monotonous way that sort of dulled the word over the course of the reading. At first, the word "you" performed its duty as a personal pronoun--interrogative, perhaps, or accusatory--but the repetition blunted the word's significance until by the end it was just a repetitive sound. Meaningless.
Someone on Twitter accused Vanessa Place of killing poetry. My own take is this: she is reminding us of language's artificiality, its constructed-ness.
I'm interested in prose writing that uses language as more than simply a tool of conveyance. I'm interested in language that also functions as an object (take a letterpress printing class; you'll see what I mean). That's why some of my writing over the last few years has explored language as a set of graphic objects--things that can be moved, manipulated, juxtaposed, and generally arranged in ways we associate with visual art. The Backroom Diaspora, for instance, includes numerous font types, overlapping letters, paragraphs at 90 degree angles to other paragraphs, pictures, and color gradations creating the effect of appearing and vanishing language. Not only was the book a lot of fun to write/assemble, it relied on these visual considerations. It wouldn't work any other way.
More recently, I published a piece called Honest Expression for a Tranquil Now! on Scribd. (You can read/download it here.) Once again, the piece features overlapping words/narratives and other graphic elements. I published it on Scribd because I couldn't get it published in any lit mags.
There are plenty of reasons a piece may be rejected by a lit journal. Maybe it doesn't meet the needs or aesthetics of the editors, maybe the journal doesn't have the resources to format and print such an unusual piece, or maybe the piece just sucks. (It could be the last one; I think the story's pretty good, but I'm not a reliable judge of my own writing.)
Another possible explanation for the piece's rejection may be that some writers/editors are anti-weird formatting. One author I respect blogged that good writing doesn't need graphic/formal variations. The text should be strong enough to stand on its own.
I disagree with that idea, and if you read either of the two pieces I mention, you'll see why. Certain things become possible when an author experiments with text-placement, font selections, colors and shading and overlapping and other strategies. This is not to say all authors should write and format works like Mark Danielewski does. There's no substitute for good storytelling, and if an author uses fancy graphic elements to spruce up a mediocre piece, the reader will know.
Still, I think there's a place for such visual experimentation--when appropriate to the story. If I continue to play with such formal elements, I'm pretty sure it won't "kill" storytelling. I'm pretty sure the worst that will happen is I'll see more rejection emails in my inbox, and I get those either way.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Just finished Marie Calloway's what purpose did i serve in your life. Her book, like the stories of which it's comprised, has generated a lot of controversy. Sometimes the conversation about the book is more interesting than the book itself. I've collected snippets of talk from various blogs, lit magazines, Amazon reviews, and discussion boards.
Here are a few favorites:
"Marie Calloway is being given Publishing Deals for Hardly doing Shit"
"Personally, I don’t find any of these qualities to be particularly problematic"
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
I'll admit, the word "blog" is off-putting to many readers. As formal techniques, blog posts, instant messages, and other modern epistolary forms have been overused. With that said, I think my book approaches these forms in a different way. I promise this: the book is not what you expect. Okay, that's all I'll say about it. Hope you'll read it.
Like I said, there's porn.
Friday, July 5, 2013
I have three followers and they're all Google accounts I own. Someone needs to come like or follow or comment on my blog.
Do I really want to commit the time necessary to keep a blog and build up a following, or will this be both the first and last post I ever do on what--let's face it--doesn't usually offer much of a return on investment, so to speak.
My writing is available in the publications section above. Check it out, if you want.
As far as blogging goes--this is exhausting. Maybe I'll try Twitter. But probably not.