clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I keep my pens in a suffering bastard tiki mug. That's Dostoevesky next to him : _Notes from the Underground_. The association seemed appropriate. Larson's _The Complete Far Side_ vols 1+2 are farther right. That too seems to fit in the neighborhood.

I'm working on a story and today in the car explained it to my wife. I don't normally discuss stories. I let someone read them but I don't discuss or speak about them. I try to let the writing speak for me. Meaningless, I suppose. I've always felt like I don't know quite what I'm talking about when on rare occasions I do discuss them.

I don't know way I talked about it to my wife. It seemed to matter at the time. I suppose the protagonist is a bit more like someone we know than I should have let come forward and thus I feel a little self-conscious should she read it unprepared. I'll consider it a prologue - and God how I loathe  prologue. Loathe.

The examination tonight is brought from _The Best American Short Stories_ 2012 edited by Tom Perrotta. I've never read Perrotta's novels.

I was especially interested in the opening paragraphs of this collection of modern stories. There is a good collection and thus I wanted to see how the opening worked for me. I've been copying in the opening paragraphs from these stories believing that it might help me understand the language, rhythms and narrative voice better than just reading them in succession. Hunter Thompson copied some Fitzgerald  once for this very purpose.

What I've learned :

Thompson also took large quantities (heroic quantities ?) of drugs and that doesn't seem like it will work for me any better than copying someone else's words. Copying becomes a trick that you can do with little thought and certainly no internalization. I'm copying "Paramour" from Jennifer Haigh ( _Ploughshares_) and thinking about the end of the Hostess Bakeries, those disgusting sponge cake Twinkies,  and a blog post I read last week about stripping out the scenes of eating in your work.

I like Twinkies just fine but they are horrendously uninspired treats. That sponge cake is just terrible. All that's missing is your nine-year-old sister and an E-Z-Bake oven for the production of the home version of that sticky mold-resistant substance.

I don't have characters eating in stories as a rule. I do have a pair of soldiers sitting beside an airstrip eating tinned peanut butter and crackers from a ration box when a bullet takes the smaller of the two by surprise. It doesn't turn out to be a significant story from there for anyone but me and then only because of the characters I put in it who were once acquaintances. I can't speak to how common the problem of characters eating might be. I outline rigidly before I write. I stray from the outline with ease, but I do know what it is I am trying to construct before I go into the shop and start cutting the dimensional pieces.

Of the writing, I can say the opening lines are surprisingly subtle but effective hooks. Apart from that, I have no observations to report yet.

Tomorrow, perhaps I will share some of the openings and make a few remarks. So far, it hasn't been an especially useful exercise.

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