Monthly Archives: February 2011

Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” came on the radio and she began to cry softly onto her odometer.

I’m reading a bunch of undergrad literary journals for a contest I’m judging. These stories and poems are talking to each other in strange ways.

The biggest thread is: These young short story writers cannot stop inserting music and lyrics into scenes. The girl gets into the car and who is playing on the radio but LADY GAGA? You love experiencing her in life, now experience someone experiencing her in art! The girl and her boyfriend get in the car (almost always the car) and–uh oh–there’s that Beyonce single they both enjoy! At the pharmacy, a guy overhears Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “All I Want” and taps his foot. (And then in that story there’s actually a footnote recommending “All I Want” to the reader in case he or she is unfamiliar.)

For these kids, the songs are usually a kind of insta-mood creation that over-relies on the reader’s familiarity with the song(s) in question. “I don’t know, I just liked it!” Fair enough. As John Gardner says in The Art of Fiction, “I guess every superhero need his theme music.” And in fact, I remember doing the same thing in a story I was writing in college. I don’t think it was learned, but rather absorbed from movies and TV, which doesn’t reference music but actually plays it. The radio in fiction nearly always feels conspicuous. It’s a tiny deus ex machina, God crooning some truths or ironic falsehoods about the character’s condition. Or it isn’t God, it’s just a song on the radio, just some song, in which case the song sits there, begging to be contended with.

If you’ve just got to soundtrack your fiction, the CD player and iPod are better plot devices because they can be attached to character. (The iPod on shuffle, however, could get you back in trouble. You have 7,000 songs and God wants you to land on the one in which John Mellencamp sings about how life goes on long after the thrill of livin is gone.)

Still. Music is part of life. It has its place. Never set rules about leaving stuff out of fiction. So let’s try a responsible one… how about… An hour into her drive, she noticed that music had been playing. Journey’s Greatest Hits. Still? For how many months had the disc been on permanent rotation? At what point had she ceased to hear it at all?

Or you know. Like that but better.

If I was nineteen, I’d currently be shoehorning the following into my fiction:

Typhoon

Jonsi

Laura Veirs

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Selected Parentheticals from Lawrence Wright’s “The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology”

In order of appearance.

(Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account “pure fabrication.”)

(The church says that there are no fixed fees, adding, “Donations requested for ‘courses’ at Church of Scientology begin at $50 and could never possibly reach the amount suggested.)

(The church denies this.)

(Miscavige declined requests to speak to me, and Tommy Davis says that Miscavige did not attend the event.)

(Scientology denies that it obtained the information this way, and Davis produced an affidavit, signed by Scobee, in which she admits to having liasons…)

(Davis says that King’s name never came up.)

(The church says that blow drills do not exist.)

(Davis says that Sea Org members enter R.P.F. by their own choosing and can leave at any time; the manual labor maintains church facilities and instills “pride of accomplishment.”)

(Cruise’s attorney says that Cruise doesn’t recall meeting Marc.)

(The church calls Marc Headley dishonest, claiming that he kept seven hundred thousand dollars in profits after being authorized to sell Scientology camera equipment…)

(The church denies this characterization and “vigorously objects to the suggestion that Church funds inure to the private benefit of Mr. Miscavige.”)

(The church denies this.)

(The church denies Brousseu’s account.)

(Davis says he does not recall meeting Shannon, has never scrubbed a Dumpster, and has never had a need to borrow money.)

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MAR & more

I picked up my copies of the new Mid-American Review last weekend, which features my story, “Another Village,” as well as stories by Tara Laskowski, Anthony R. Lusvardi, René Georg Vasicek, and Kevin Wilson. “Another Village” got its start as an attempt at getting into Fairy Tale Review’s “Red Riding Hood” issue, but before I heard back from them, I sent it to MAR too. Glad I did.

A new Fun Camp short is going to be in an upcoming issue of DIAGRAM.

Pear Noir #5 is great. I especially like Sheila Heiti and MV Montgomery’s stories.

A couple of things that came out last year are in the running for Best of the Web: 5 Shorts from Fun Camp in Monkeybicycle and Too Many Subjects in Bust Down the Door and Eat all the Chickens.

Jensen Beach’s first book, For Out of the Heart Proceed, is coming out with Dark Sky!