Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disaffected Prose

So, I spent some time on Friday night reading some lit zines down at my local independent bookstore. I was taken by the popularity of what I'm calling disaffected prose. I use the term ironically, which is getting me into meta-levels I don't even want to consider. That is, the authorial tone seems to be "ironic," in the snarky sense of the word.

I came of age in the 90's, so I know from ironic snark, the affect of the disaffected. I had hoped we'd moved on, and I wonder why we haven't.

Is it because these authors are folks around my age, fellow products of 90's popular culture who are still stuck in that mindset? Can they not get past the ironic distance and get to know characters? Or, as in the book, Prague, do they just hate their characters?

Perhaps we're burned out from the brutish, reptilian illogic of the Bush years, where honesty and truth were sold out, ignored, and tossed on the burning pile of rubbish in downtown Baghdad. Most of us believed the bullshit, were manipulated into enabling the world's most dangerous alcoholic/addict. Integrity means nothing any more, so that is being reflected in our literature.

Now, we don't know what to trust. Sincerity turned around and bit us on the ass. Rather, what we thought was sincerity bit us. Bullshit is what bit us and now we're feeling burned, bruised, used. Yet, that's what life does, that's the nature of society - societies have always been brutal, injust, awful places (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in, Myths to Live By.) Yet, to continue with Campbell's thought, it is incumbent on us, the writers and artists, to rise above this and to show that the likes of Shrub and Cheney cannot take our spirit nor can they sell our sincerity or our hearts.

I'm not advocating pollyanna prose. I'm advocating authentic fiction which takes risks, which gets inside of characters. Write from the heart, not a mind full of post-Bush resentment. Blow out that resentment, write real characters - don't just write about real characters. Get close, get real.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Perpetual Folly: 2010 Pushcart Prize Rankings

Perpetual Folly: 2010 Pushcart Prize Rankings

I always look for resources to help me decide which markets to submit to. Now that I'm building a significant collection of standard short stories, I'm glad to have Cliff's list here to help me decide where to submit my stuff.

I think I'm more picky with my flash submissions, as I feel that there are so many definitions of what constitutes good flash, that I really try to be picky to see who is most in line with my thinking. I have a sense that it's the same in the poetry markets.

Any poets have ideas on that?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cain, Caleb, Cameron by Matt Bell

w i g l e a f : (very) short fiction

I really liked this piece by Matt Bell. In retrospect, I'm a bit baffled that I did. I'll try to explain after some play-by-play of my reading.

He jumps right out with a strong first sentence. Two babies were expected but only one was born - this is compelling, as are the phrases "pummeled womb" and "troubled cavity." So, I'm hooked. This is visceral, this is fascinating in that train-wreck sort of way - "mistaked-toothed"? WTF?? I'm hooked.

Then comes the horrific lyricism of the second paragraph. Wow, now I'm really hooked. Damn fine writing here. "What delta of destruction flowing!" Holy crap! That's some fancy writing!

Ultimately, it's the writing and the inventive language use which gets me into and keeps me going through these few (<500) words. It's a demonically creative idea which is really given real life by a writer who likes to write - and who is not afraid to turn a phrase. I appreciate this.

After the dust had settled, the blood dried, I took another look. This thing is written from the viewpoint of a detached 1st person narrator. He's sorta there, but not really. He reports on what his wife is going through and what the kid is like, but not much more.

I'm usually livid when I see stuff like this published. Why? Because I find it to be a hollow device where the writer can distance himself from everything and just tell us a story. Like when someone tells you all about a movie. They're not involved in the movie at all, but they're telling you anyway.

Often, these narrators are just telling a story - you know, not showing...

Bell's narrator is such a wordsmith that he does show me the story. It's brought to life, and it's creepy as hell.

Compare to, Yellowfin Tuna, posted at JMWW. In Christian Bell's story, the narrator seems to be desensitized and keeps a distance from the character and the action of the story. The words are flat, the emotion is sucked out. Yet, I guess we always want objectivity when being delivered the news.

Personally, I'll take Matt Bell's approach to delivering a story - alive, rich with language, and totally visceral.

I give Matt Bell's story five jack 'o lanterns and a sack of candy corn. Yes, I know that Halloween was yesterday.