I’m getting into the habit of reading a lot of translated fiction. Some of it, fairly dark.
The best of these books, to date, has been a recently published stand-alone novella called The Hole. It’s about three prison inmates who find themselves set apart from the general population. They have a plan to get heroin smuggled into them. The plan, possibly doomed from inception, goes awry. Along the way, however, the reader is treated to a delicious banquet of transgressive, misanthropic, neuron-tingling, hallucinatory and–at times–darkly hilarious prose.
The back cover synopsis tries to pitch The Hole as “an ominous parable about deformed and wretched institutions creating even more deformed and wretched individuals”. Honestly, though, I think that pitch does the book a disservice. Certainly Revueltas (1914-1976) was a political dissident. But this novella is far more sophisticated than a parable. It’s far too honest about the messy truth of human nature to be a parable.
Is there a political subtext? Perhaps. There seems to be a bit of one tacked on to the end. But it’s overshadowed by Revueltas’ rich, anti-didactic characterizations, and by the unique atmosphere of the prison (a place of unstable identities, where one group of people easily morph into another).
Well worth purchasing.
- The German webzine Novelle – Headquarters for Experimentalism interviewed me (in English) for their site.
- It’s probably the strangest interview I’ve ever done.
- I gave a few serious answers, but when faced with of a lot of absurdist pseudo-questions I offered absurdist pseudo-answers.
- Enter at your own risk.
- There are at least two separate fringe Christian fundamentalist religious groups who call southern Indiana home.
- The women all dress in long skirts or dresses, grow their hair long, and pile it up in a bigass bun.
- They remind me of Elvira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz.
- I see them in the grocery store all the time. Like, literally, I can’t go to the grocery store without seeing them.
- There’s one that lives down the street from me. I said hello to her once while I was jogging. She wailed something like: “Ohhh, WELL…” and smiled and giggled. It was an anxious smile, I think. An anxious giggle.
- Last Halloween, as I was giving out candy to the neighborhood kids, a religious fanatic came up to the house. I didn’t know she was a religious fanatic, at first, because she didn’t look like Elvira Gulch.
- She was alone and walked up on my porch. I thought she had a kid behind her, a few steps back. But she didn’t. I was confused, but was about to offer her some candy. She declined.
- She said she wanted to give me something.
- It was a Chick tract.
- I have a collection of all the unsolicited religious stuff that I’ve been given. (Most of it arriving via mail, but some of it handed to me face-to-face, like in the case of the stick-in-the-mud I just told you about.)
- I’ve been given tracts twice by a dude hanging out around the post office.
- It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Maybe just once a year or so.
- But it’s still intrusive. From now on, I plan on telling them that I’ll read their pamphlet if they read something I’ve written.
- Or maybe I’ll ask them where they live so I can bug them at their home and try to get them to buy one of my books.
- I probably wouldn’t sell any books that way, but it would be fun.
- On Saturday, I finished revising my second novel and sent it out to beta readers.
- I did a spell check before sending it out.
- The novel makes a reference to the great Midwestern author, Willa Cather
- The spell check wanted to rechristen her “Willa Catheter”
- I preserved the great author’s dignity. I told spell check to go fuck itself.
- I spent a fair bit of Saturday afternoon in a daze, just sort of numb. So much work went into this book, and it feels weird for it to be finished. (Satisfyingly weird, but yeah…still weird.)
- I’m reminded of the scene in Misery, where the author dude has a sort of ritual arranged for the completion of each novel. (He always has a glass of the same kind of wine, always smokes the same sort of cigar.)
- My “ritual” is far less romantic. I clean my fuckin’ house. (Gotta make up for lost time. Housework always takes a hit toward the end of a novel.)
- My beloved Bengals lost Sunday afternoon. To the hated Steelers. On a play in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
- While the novel is out to beta readers, I’m working on another new book, too.
- I’m still editing my new novel.
- Specifically, I’m about half-way through the process of making the corrections in the Google Docs file.
- Today I accidentally wrote “formaldehype” instead of “formaldehyde”.
- I really like this accidental word: formalde-hype.
- What could it mean?
- Perhaps it could refer to hype that is now dead, and needs embalming. It would be used kinda like this: “Your friend is gushing about her iPhone like it’s 2009! She’s buying into formalde-hype!”
- Alternatively, it could describe the over-the-top advertisement of a new embalming practice. It would be used in the headline of a funeral industry trade magazine. Something like: “Replacing Your Customer’s Organs with Packing Peanuts: A New Frontier in Mortuary Science or Formalde-Hype?”
- But most of all, I like the idea of “Formalde-hype” being the name of a band and/or performance artist collective. Something along the lines of The Residents. They would dress up like characters from the television show Mad Men, but they’d also wear makeup to give the appearance of decay. They would sing songs about deregulation and make shaky-cam, black and white, shot-by-shot remakes of popular superhero films (with all the dialogue spoken backwards).
- Still working on the second round of edits on the new novel
- Damn, it’s weird.
- It starts out weird.
- It gets weirder.
- I mean, like, Phillip K. Dick weird. Gombrowicz weird.
- If you haven’t heard of Gombrowicz, then find time to read his novel Ferdydurke.
- When the horror community thinks of nihilism, its go-to authors are Lovecraft and Ligotti. But there are so many other shades of nihilism out there. Gombrowicz is a sort of social nihilist. By this, I mean that his nihilism is that in which people are molded by their social interactions to such an outrageous degree that no actual “self” exists.
- He cannot, however, be called a horror author.
- But so what? It’s good to read stuff outside the genre.
- What kind of author was he? Absurdist, to some extent. But he also reminds me of the French decadents.
- I sometimes wonder who would be publishing Gombrowicz if he were writing today. And what about the French decadents? Who would be publishing them, if they were starting up in the present-day U.S.? Not one of the Big Five, that’s for sure.
- When media conglomerates control the publishing business (and film, and TV, and news, etc.), they get to control what thoughts are think-able, what emotions are feel-able, and how these emotions can be expressed.
- A culture fed a diet of loud crashing, melodramatic movies will develop a penchant for loud, crashing, melodrama in social interactions.
- And social media interactions.
- And politics.
- If conglomerate control persists for another fifty years, will people lose the ability to understand ambiguity?
- If people lose the ability to understand ambiguity, will they devolve into lemmings?
- Has this already happened?
- It’s much better for me to have good social skills than good social media skills.
- Does a self exist?
- Maybe, but it’s a precarious entity. A stroke or a blow to the head can obliterate it.
- I’m not a believer in the soul, in the sense of a ghostly spirit that survives death. But I do think “soul” is a helpful poetic term for that part of ourselves that remains relatively unaffected. Our nightmares, our yearnings, and other deep matters.
- My cat is cuter than your cat.
- The Bengals won yesterday.
- One of my softball teams made it to the championship game in the league tournament.
- We fell short, but supposedly will be given runner-up T-shirts.
- Another of my softball teams won later yesterday.
- I’m a pitcher.
- It’s slowpitch softball.
- I love the game so much.
- Just finished the first round of edits on the new novel. For me, this involves printing out the manuscript, reading it, and marking it up with a pen.
- Then I’ll go through the file and make all the changes.
- THEN, I’ll save the manuscript as a .pdf and send it to my Kindle.
- THEN, I’ll read it on the Kindle. During this process, I’ll undoubtedly discover several new errors. (I always catch new errors during this part of the process. For some reason, I visually process the text on the screen in a different way than I process the words on the page.)
- THEN, it’ll go out to a couple of beta readers.
- Now I have to get ready to go running.
- I want to run for about an hour. (Lately, because of weather, etc., I’ve only been making half hour runs.)
- I’ll be playing a shitload of softball games later this week.
- My beloved Bengals lost to the Panthers yesterday. Insert feline joke here.
- Speaking of felines, Jasmine the Jazzy cat just walked in, meowed, and left.
- When, oh, when, will my Cincinnati Reds be good again?
- I’ve been listening to this cool podcast, run by a small nonprofit press focused on the translation of literary fiction. Even though that’s a little far afield from my own work, I enjoy listening to it because it offers insight on trends in the publishing industry from the perspective of a small, non-mainstream publisher. And I’ve enjoyed a couple of their books, too. Translated books, in my experience, are far less likely to contort themselves to fit the pop culture/melodrama/crash/bang/boom aesthetic.
I just realized it’s been about eight months since my last blog post. Wow.
- I’ve just finished writing a solid draft of a new novel. It weighs in at about 85,000 words. This one has been written and re-written a lot over the last year or so. I feel it’s finally getting close to the point when I can send it off to beta readers.
- Another novel (or long novella?) stands at around 30,000 words.
- Both of these projects were delayed by the fact that I wrote short stories (and one novelette) for anthologies.
- I realize I no longer want to write short stories or novelettes for anthologies.
- I realize that I’m an obsessive perfectionist with my work, and that such an intense perfectionism goes to waste when focused on short stories and novelettes for anthologies.
- I’ve partnered with an audiobook narrator to work on an adaptation of Mr. Suicide. The recording is finished, and now I’m writing up various corrections in the narration.
- I’m reading a fair bit of dark literary fiction, but not a lot of stuff that would comfortably fit in the horror (or weird fiction) categories.
- Over the last year or so, I’ve been reading a lot of Midwestern fiction and local history. (Partly for my own pleasure, partly to better acquaint myself with my regional predecessors, partly as research for the now-completed novel.)
- The Cincinnati Reds have proven quite disappointing this year.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are, at this early stage, quite promising.
- I’ve enjoyed playing slowpitch softball this summer. (My second season.)
- I’m only vaguely aware of publishing industry kerfuffles, and I find I’m happier that way.
- August marked the tenth anniversary of my first serious attempts at writing. My how time flies.
Sheesh, this one is coming up quick!
I’ll be at StokerCon in Providence, Rhode Island from Thursday March 1 through Sunday March 4.
I’ll be teaching a writing workshop, appearing on panels, and doing a reading and signing. Here’s the details.
FRIDAY MARCH 2
12:00 p.m. — 1:00 p.m. I’ll be appearing on the panel “Shirley Jackson: Master of Horror”
SATURDAY MARCH 3
12:00 p.m. — 2:00 p.m. I’ll be teaching my workshop “Goal Setting for Your Writing Career (or Hobby)” (Space Still Available)
2:00 p.m. — 3:00 p.m. I’ll be appearing on the panel “Long Fiction Renaissance”
SUNDAY MARCH 4
10:00 a.m. –10:50 a.m. Reading (along with Darrell Schweitzer and Chad Stroup)
10:50- ? Book signing (I’m assuming this could, in theory, go on until 11:50. We’ll see.)
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a lot of writers don’t care for sports.
Maybe this stems back to painful memories of middle school, when athletes and cheerleaders dominated the social hierarchy and targeted bookish kids for bullying. Maybe it has something to do with the perception (and occasional reality) that the sports world is a well of anti-intellectualism. Maybe it has to do with the fact that a novelist’s craft is often solitary, and the competitor’s craft is often practiced in the context of a team. Maybe it has to do with the publishing’s reputation for tolerating eccentricity and sports’ reputation for demanding conformity.
Whatever the case may be, I think the disconnect between these two worlds is unfortunate. Yes, writing the first draft of a novel is–more often than not–an individual endeavor. But the editing process, the publishing process, and the book promotion process are all team efforts. (Even if you’re self-publishing, you have at least one team mate–Amazon. Likely, you have several others: book cover designers, freelance editors, beta readers, audiobook narrators, etc.) And the world of sports can offer fascinating insights into how groups of people succeed or fail.
Over the next week or two, I hope to share three examples of lessons from sports that apply to writing. So, without any further ado, here’s my first:
Lesson #1. Find a Coaching Infrastructure That Will Maximize Your Talent (Writing Equivalent: Finding an Editor or Publisher Whose Approach Will Maximize Your Talent)
Streaming sites offer some fascinating sports documentaries, and one I’ve enjoyed is The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain (available for free on Amazon Prime).
Mustain was the star high school quarterback for the Springdale (Arkansas) Bulldogs. He blossomed under his coach Gus Malzahn (whose style was focused on advancing the ball down the field through passing). Mustain garnered a lot of media attention, and became one of the most eagerly recruited players in the country. He planned to attend Notre Dame, whose approach to offense was a good fit for his talents.
At about the same time, the University of Arkansas was coming off a couple of losing seasons. Bigwigs who donated to the University saw Mustain and Malzahn right in the University’s own backyard (so to speak) and began to insist that the school find a way to get Mustain to play for them. Ultimately, Arkansas ended up hiring Malzahn as one of the more powerful coaches on the team (offensive coordinator) and this was one key factor in convincing Mustain and several of his high school team mates to abandon their previous plans and go to Arkansas, instead.
The problem was that the head coach of Arkansas, a man named Houston Nutt, (yes, that’s his actual name) had a completely different coaching philosophy than Malzahn did. Nutt preferred to move the ball by running it, instead of passing it, and placed a greater overall emphasis on defense.
While the combination of Nutt, Malzahn, and Mustain yielded several victories in the early part of the season, it ended up being unsustainable. Upperclassmen were reportedly resentful at the splash made by the freshmen. They also had a loyalty to Nutt. Meanwhile, Mustain and his high school teammates had been assured that the University of Arkansas would start adopting a similar offensive approach to the one they’d had in high school, but a full commitment to that approach seemingly lagged behind their expectations.
There ended up being a great deal of friction and in-fighting. Malzahn and Mustain both left at the end of the year.
According to one of the journalists interviewed during the documentary, none of the actors in this drama really–in their heart of hearts–believed that the amalgamation of personalities and strategies could work well together. But they all convinced themselves it would. They were all trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
How does this apply to writing?
Well, all has to do with goodness of fit, doesn’t it? Mustain was a poor fit for Nutt’s offensive “system”. He didn’t have as much of a chance to develop his skills there as he would’ve in a different system. And it is my belief that most writers have publication “systems” that they are better suited for than others. This is because writers all have different personalities, different goals, different needs, and different approaches to storytelling. Just as Mustain deluded himself into thinking Arkansas was a place he would thrive, so too can writers delude themselves into thinking that Publisher X is going to be a place where they’ll thrive when in fact Publisher Y would be a better fit.
What, exactly, do I mean by this?
Let me put it like this: it could be argued that both Brian Evenson and Brian Keene write horror fiction. But that label (and the coincidence that they share the same first name) is where the similarity ends. Evenson writes a horror/lit fic hybrid and has had several titles published by Coffee House Press (among others). Keene appeals to the meat-and-potatoes, pulp horror reader and has had several titles published by Deadite Press (among others). This is admittedly an over-simplification. Evenson has written some media tie-in stuff relating to film and video game properties and Keene has sold a thriller or two to the Big Five, appeals to the collectible hardcover audience, and has done a fair bit of comics work for Marvel, DC, and others. But for now, let’s just stick to the Coffee House, Deadite contrast.
Obviously, these publishers have very different approaches. Deadite’s idea of a “good book” is going to be different than that of Coffee House. The editors will have different communication styles, professional backgrounds, and different personalities. The contracts are going to look different. Marketing strategies will be different. Distribution will be different.
But–importantly–each writer seems to be thriving where they are. Their goals are different, and each is taking the route that is a good fit for them. Keene’s work would be a poor fit for Coffee House and Evenson’s would be a poor fit for Deadite.
Different strokes for different folks.
Now, let’s think about your own career. Regardless of whether you’re newly published or been around for a while, you can ask yourself some questions to get a sense of whether or not you’re in the right publishing “system”.
- Is communication with my editor (or publisher, or agent) easy-going and natural? Are we “on the same wavelength”?
- What’s my definition of “a good book”? Is it in the same ballpark as that of my editor (or publisher, or agent)?
- Do I feel my editor, publisher, or agent “gets” me?
- Is my style of writing at the core of my publisher’s aesthetic, or on the fringes of it?
- Is the working relationship a joyful one, an up-and-down one, or one in which we merely tolerate each other?
- Do we share similar definitions of success?
These are just a handful of questions that I think may be helpful. What do you guys think?