#Author Fail 16: Wendy Walker

Good riddance, failures.

Today ends this column, at least in weekly form, which for the 15 weeks past has detailed a series of missteps, blind alleys, redirections, redactions, and lessons never learned. Ok, I know, many of the writers in this space and its readers have intimated lessons, although this was never my intent.

To paraphrase the call for the column, this investigation of failure is not mean to add to the narrative of redemption constructed from hindsight, which in all is bespectacled glory reifies traditional notions of Authorship (the development over time, the mastery of headspace).  No, the idea here could be that failure can be valuable (or useless) in an of itself–as an articulation of the limits of writing, or our ambitions, of our egos.

Thus, while you may take a warm glow from all of this, don’t overlook the dark pall. On that note, we let Wendy Walker, one of my favorite writers in the tradition of constraint, feel the stage crook pulling her prose from the stage.

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My Man & other Critical Fictions

In the years following 9/11 I found myself feeling an urgent need to grapple with the issue of war. I chose as my subject the quintessential war of story, the Trojan War.  It had key female figures, both mortal and immortal.  The work would be a novel centered on three points of view, those of Helen and Paris, the conflict’s relatively clueless catalysts, and that of Athena, who plans and orchestrates the destruction in order to test a number of her new inventions.  I would call the novel The City Under the Bed.

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#AuthorFail 15: Jeff Bursey

Welcome, dear failures, to the penultimate #AuthorFail…super-hero edition.

My Schnide-y sense is tingling, and it says this column will soon go the way of the dodo. Until then, let us revel in our ineptitude.

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The Shadow. The Spider. G-8. I thought of these pulp heroes on seeing the first Burton Batman movie, and as I regularly walked to work in 1989-1990 I wondered if an audience, keen on the revamped Batman, would be interested in the Spider once more. The violent stories about him often contained traces of masochism and sadomasochism, as well as insane opponents. (He could be a bit mad also.) The 1970s paperbacks of those three figures were around the house when I was growing up, and later I read Phillip José Farmer’s ‘biography’ of Doc Savage. These memories combined with the re-visioning of Batman to give me the idea for an adventure story primarily set in India and Tibet that would link G-8 (mad from his war battles) and his twin half-brothers, who eventually would become the Shadow and the Spider. The pre-story explained a bit of what they’d done in WWI, what happened to them in the 1920s, and how two of them emerged, 45s blazing, on the side of justice (though not always the law) in the 1930s. (G-8 didn’t get out of the 1920s alive.) In 1993 I finished writing Pulpseed, and sent it off. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 14: Greg Olear

The Beast Rises (well, not really).

Dare we call this a triumph against evil?

Until next week….

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My Brain Is Full, my first completed novel, concerned the creative frustrations of a pretentious twenty-two-year old college junior—no big shock, as its author was also a pretentious twenty-two-year old college junior.  I printed up a bunch of copies of this masterpiece, shared it with (generally receptive) friends, and otherwise basked in the glow of what was my first literary success; although the New York editor I sent it to passed, saying the book “showed promise” and encouraged me to keep writing.

For my sophomore effort, I decided to undertake a more ambitious project.  Babylon Is Fallen was conceived as a Gothic novel, a work of horror that would draw heavily on Biblical allusion and End Times prophesy.  I dreamed up most of the plot during a summer working at McDonald’s: a college student would knowingly spread the AIDS virus around the small campus (which had actually happened a few years earlier at a college in my home town).  His motive?  He believed he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose job it was to bring the plague.

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#AuthorFail 13: Debra Di Blasi

Welcome back, my friends, to lucky #13. My good friend and publisher, Debra Di Blasi, speaks best for herself.

Go failure!

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Seems everybody has a memoir these days.  Seems I’ve been trying to have one for years.  Like an egg that won’t drop.  A stuck turd.  The opposite of purgation.  Ah, yes, shit. Indeed, allow me to remain scatological for a few words longer.

I’m not constipated about my past, my many lives lived large. No remorse, no regrets.  Neither the drugs nor the booze, neither sex nor abortions, neither mobsters nor terrorist(s), neither poverty nor wealth, disease nor health, Jesus nor Buddha nor nothing that cannot be and everything than might…  Failure to complete a memoir – four memoirs, to be exact – is for me a failure to apologize.  Failure to apologize is a failure to demand revision. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 12: Stephanie Strickland

Ring the bells, sort of.

Stephanie Strickland is a wonder of compelling poetic investigations. Experiencing her works–try “slippingglimpse” for a quick fix–is only slightly less exciting than having coffee with her.

In either setting, she’ll offer a series of interconnections between things that appear to have no interconnection, so that rising from the table after the event places you thick into edges of a spider web, one that has been woven around your table and one that has now trapped you, sticky and glued, to its gossamer edges.

And so, here, Strickland delights us by doing the opposite of what she normally does. Here, the web is woven, bright and clear, but it catches only itself in its word glue.

Sure, this #Authorfail is three times the length of the guidelines, but if anyone deserves the right to fail for so long, it’s Strickland.

See you next week, and the weeks of this column are rapidly waning.

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Proto-Collaboration with Potential Collaborator:  A Digital Poem In Prospect 

Stephanie:  I want to make a work of e-lit based on the mathematics of jingling (bell change-ringing).

Potential Collaborator (Jeremy Douglass):   I’m unclear right now on whether you are interested in authoring a specific work of e-literature based on the mathematics of change-ringing, or looking to produce a kind of change-ringing media player within which many works might be authored.

Stephanie:  I want to make a specific work of e-lit, but my sense is that programming the system for it would be in some sense equivalent to programming the “machine” or media player for it. I want to explore various kinds of historic “changes,” to see which would really work as a literary project. That’s not something I can know ahead of time without playing with it first. I find it is not so useful to explicitly define a whole project from the top, and so there is always a kind of negotiation going on with the programming, which in the best cases is a kind of back-and-forth. I envision a textual instrument on which many works might be authored and played.

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#AuthorFail 11: Roxane Gay

Welcome, fellow duds, also-rans, has-beens, and cast-offs.

I had followed Roxane Gay’s intriguing online posts over the recent years, and somehow stumbled upon the fact that she teaches at Eastern Illinois University. Delighted by this relative proximity to my Chicago-area enclave of Lake Forest College, I invited her to join a panel on publishing (given her work with PANK) and to give a reading will fellow Illinois writer William Gillespie (Spineless Books).

Their performances in early 2011 were anything but failures–both inspiring and strange and suggestive and absurd.  Anyone who has encountered Roxane, I imagine, has had a similar experience.

And so, it seemed appropriate to ask her, here, in the most unsuccessful corner of the internet, to discourse on the failure, the complete failure, that stands in such stark contrast to the Roxane I have seen mesmerize an audience the way a flickering candle might entrance a small child.

I have always liked the idea of thematic collections. For my MA thesis, my original idea was to create a collection of stories about motion titled (E)Motion. I was young and felt terribly clever. All the stories would be about people living on the road or dealing with unstable situations, always moving toward things or away from things. I planned to write about Mormon missionaries, truck drivers, flight attendants, traveling strippers, and migrant workers, which I hoped would give way to some kind of eloquent statement about displacement, movement and emotion. Alas, that didn’t work out so well. I spent more time thinking about the thematic approach than the stories themselves so I ended up doing something quite different–though I did end up writing a couple of road stories. At the time, I was so proud of my (E)Motion title, but I am pretty mortified by it now.

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#AuthorFail 10: Laura Goldstein

Um, well, this is embarrassing: if you checked this post this morning between 9 am – 9:26, you would have found an incomplete entry: devoid of this snappy opening, and truncated, it the main text, from its full form.

Could it be that #AuthorFail has had its first fail?  Would this then equal success.

I feel miserable, I mean happy…I mean, well, something else.

As Jean Francois Lyotard notes in The Inhuman, the sun will burn out one day.  Thus, all human activity is under the sign of this eventual catastrophe (no, I don’t think he considers widespread space colonization). I wonder if the sun will fail in its great and final task, to burn into nothing.

When you look into the sky today, enjoy the steaming ball of ambivalence–before that, enjoy this serious failure of a column from Laura Goldstein.

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#AuthorFail 9: Richard Thomas

Hello, losers.

Remember those George Burns Oh, God! movies?  Richard Thomas (maybe) does.

(This also calls to mind Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind [1976], a favorite of William S. Burroughs).

Even if we can’t all quite agree with Thomas’ assessment of the “rules” of writing (I’m in deep trouble if these are indeed the rules), we can get behind the dumping of this manuscript to the recesses of the Jaynes’ silent hemisphere of the brain.

And there, nothing quite lives on.

The first book I ever wrote was a complete and utter failure. Remembering? I’d like to forget. Two years, several workshops, and many lost nights pouring over tarot cards, books on astrology and conversations with God netted me a pretentious, preachy book that will never see the light of day. It relied too much on my personal experiences—rewriting events of my life that (at the time) had significant meaning, but in the telling were nothing but a series of drug aided, hallucinatory, dream-state apparitions. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 8: Alexandra Chasin

Greetings, earth people, from the (pain) planet failure.

Here, the atmosphere is different. The stars are different.

The entire sense of the project-to-be, an examination by NYC writer (and my collaborator) Alexandra Chasin, requires more preliminary work into the nature of the question: and what of it, when the question is pain?

Here, the question itself, perhaps, gleams always far away.

Preface:

An idea leads to a little research and a little research leads to a little more, and lines of inquiry extend and elaborate themselves fractally, and proliferate, beckoning a would-be writer in multiple directions, and two years later the representation of the medical condition of a character as originally conceived continues to elude her…hundreds of pages of quotations from articles, treatises, stunning 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-Century articulations of the matter, relevant documents, novelistic case histories, authorities, literary treatments, pamphlets, and more, and yet it still seems like a little more information might tie everything together so that the writing proper could begin.  And then it doesn’t.  

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#AuthorFail 7: Robin Becker

Robin Becker is a take-no-prisoners sort of writer.

She’s unafraid of zombies, and even if I thought her original subtitle for Brains (see below) to be superior–“A Zomoir”–she knows when to change tracks.

Thus, her entry for #AuthorFail is the rare instance where one’s agent (rare enough, perhaps) asks for the manuscript one wishes had been eaten by zombies.

Substitute “hard drive” for “zombies” and you’ve nailed the particular type of post-ironic failure we are collectively doomed to suffer.

Ah, the ennui of the computer age…

Here’s how I pitched my first novel to agents: “Spank is the story of Kym Cooper, a young stripper with a secret that could land her in jail. As a teenager, Kym had a consensual sexual relationship with her stepfather. When her mother found out, Kym killed her—and got away with it. Five years later, the police reopen the case, forcing Kym to come to terms with her past and accept who she is: a very bad girl indeed. A naughty girl who needs to be spanked.”

In all honesty, that synopsis makes me cringe. The premise is absurd, failure plastered all over it like grease on a corndog. What’s more, I didn’t skimp on the sex scenes between Kym and her scumbag stepfather. In fact, I fancied myself a feminist, post-modern Nabokov, exploring a real social issue confronting many young women. If Nabokov could do it, why couldn’t I?  Continue reading

#AuthorFail 6: Jarret Middleton

Welcome, fellow failures, to our weekly support group.

As you all know, poetry is largely worthless.

How often do you see anyone but “poets” or “earnest” “students” “reading” this treacle anyway.  When’s the last time you gave your “mother” a contemporary poetry collection for X-Mas?

You might also be interested to know that writers “suffer” to produce this particular-brand-of-failure. Yup. And this week’s correspondent offers us one tragic example of his wasted youth.

I’ll recount for you one of those innumerable brazen follies of youth which are all somehow required to obtain the badge of becoming old and bitter later on. Since I am most firmly a writer of fiction, I am happy to tell this story of a very minor window of my life and my development as a young author in quick transition from travel writing to poems to an eventual comfort in my own voice.

Four to five months of continuous travel on the road in the US, Canada and Mexico finally eased its pace and I landed in a terse New England mill town a little less than an hour inland from where I grew up on the seacoast in New Hampshire.  I lived in a two-bedroom that cost $600 a month, total.  I split it with my roommate, a sociopathic surfer and painter who was convinced he had a drug problem, though I never saw him do any drugs.  We listened to Creedence and Al Green records.  He smoked cigarettes and drew and I read Nietzsche, Lautremont, and Henry Miller and wrote poems and cryptic pronouncements on an old Smith-Corona.  I slept on a musty futon mattress thrown into one corner across a badly slanted floor.  The entire apartment was slowly tilting down the hill it was built on.  One whole half of the town was sliding down toward the river and the bridge that led to the sleeving and plastic tubing factory where I worked throughout that winter. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 5: A D Jameson

Is Big Other a failure? Of course, in every way.

See the proof below from our own AD Jameson, who ever-so-mildly breaks the rules of this column (submit!: see this), by stating that he might return to his long-suffering project, detailed below.  Even so, we may root for his continued and everlasting failure on this project, can’t we? It’s the least we can do in the esprit de corps that is this collaborative blog.

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Nearly twelve years ago, at the end of the millennium, I started writing a book called “The Music Novel.” It was set in Seattle in two different time periods: 1993–4 and 1999, contrasting the heyday of the grunge movement (culminating with Kurt Cobain’s suicide) with the fin de siècle WTO protests. It was something of a statement, I suppose, on “The 1990s,” though I was much more interested in formalist experimentation: the rift in time afforded a chance to contrast different versions of the same characters. I even toyed with some silly idea of presenting the earlier time at the tops of each page, the latter period at the bottoms, with a page tear separating them. (I was playing a lot in those days with photocopiers, and had a fondness for torn and overlapped pages.)

For the next five years, I made copious notes—hundreds and hundreds of pages of plot details, character descriptions, period research, complex thematic structures. The project swelled to encompass topics as disparate as Chinese dragons, the Book of Revelations, shrinking penis disorder, and the lost kingdom of Lemuria. (It’s OK to laugh. I laugh about it now, too.) But despite my feverish note-making, what I didn’t do is any actual writing. “The Music Novel” became a book that I instead thought about in cafes, for hours on end (an imaginary novel).

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#AuthorFail 4: Jeffrey DeShell

It’s Monday morning. The yawning gulf of your workweek stretches before you like a festering baby mouth. How long until the cold monotony of this unmatched abyss becomes heated, for a short moment, by the weekly report known in your heart of hearts as #AuthorFail?

Ho! The time for failure, my cubicle-bound friend, is now.

In this edition, Jeffrey DeShell’s entire career stands as one long flatline. He ignores the initial call (you too, may participate) to write about one specific failure–and so expands into the existential depths of Sartrean gloom, Keirkegaardian trembling, and Kafkaesque comedy. Yes, such writers are a sad and surly lot…yet we love them all the same.

For me, the concepts of failure and success slide easily into one another.  When I publish a novel, when I hold it in my hand, touch the cover, turn the pages, I feel like the object is both a success (in that it’s finally an object, existing in the world) and, inevitably, simultaneously, a failure.  The feeling of failure is real, oppressive, discouraging.

The novel as object marks, to me, a failure of possibilities.  The book is the (grave) marker of infinite options narrowed and drained into a shadow.  A shadow of what it could have been, yes, as all the choices taken, restricted and created by language in the translation from the perfect and luminous image/story in my mind to the (oft) mistaken and imprecise sentences now fixed on the page certainly marks a type of failure.  I once possessed something ineffable and beautiful, something I could only approach by writing.  But by writing, I destroyed that perfect image/story.  And so writing becomes the impossibility of communication; an impossibility that ruins the original image/story.  If writing communicates, it communicates only that impossibility. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 3: Gretchen E. Henderson

Are you a failure?

Do your loved ones turn their heads away in shame when you walk in the room or go off to “work” on your “writing”? Is the blank page better for you when it’s blank?

Ok, ok, I kid. I exaggerate.

So welcome, anyway, to this week’s installment of #AuthorFail.  Check here for guidelines to submit your own story of complete and utter failure.

Our brave cosmonaut of this week’s rocket ride is the inimitable Gretchen E. Henderson, winner of the 2nd annual Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize at Lake Forest College. I’ve been working non-stop on her forthcoming, Galerie de Difformité, a startling success-of-a-hybrid-novel, but here, in the depths of abandoned-projects-past, you are treated to her secret work of vowels.

See you next week.

For over a year, I dedicated time (including a month-long artists’ residency) to research, write, and almost complete a first draft of Ultra Sounds, an extended illustrated essay.  Using a linguistic spectrogram as its central metaphor, the abandoned book in nine chapters meditated on language, music, (dis)ability, personal and cultural identity. It began as follows:

I said HAND out loud.

I said HAZE out loud.

I said HOUSE out loud.

I said out loud, out loud, out loud.  Through 67 repetitions, I spoke sentences that varied by a single word: HAND, HAZE, HOUSE.  Almost caesuric in their mid-sentence placement, the words fed into a tiny microphone clipped to my lapel.  Over the course of 15 minutes sitting in the book-filled office of Matthew Gordon, a linguist at the University of Missouri (where I am a doctoral student in English), I articulated each sentence, followed by a short story whose phonetic similarities rolled around in my mouth each time I pronounced Dawn, Uncle Don, Dawson Street.

From the Department’s graduate student auction, I had won a Personalized Portrait of your Vowel Space, described on the inventory list: Continue reading

#AuthorFail 2: Sean Beaudoin

Welcome to #AuthorFail (want to get in on this thing? Check here for guidelines.)

This week’s installment (cue old-timey radio-play music), traces Sean Beaudoin’s novel-that-never-was-which-almost-became-an-app-that-never-was. Picture Sean right now, perhaps playing around with one of the project’s sprawling sentences the way a cat beats about a bloodied mouse.

Lawd, take pity on us poor writers.  See you next week.

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Six years ago I began a crime novel called Render Janes Is Dead, in which Render Janes, a cheapjack desert evangelist, is killed in the first scene. It was (is) a murder mystery with over a dozen characters that converge on the fictional New Mexico town of Madred, where Render’s cult-like flock awaits his return in blue teepees. The novel mainly follows a pair of hapless ex-cons whose car breaks down on the Madred exit ramp, as well as Sheriff Nyall Riggs, formerly of the LA police department, a man disgusted by the Rodney King riots and now looking for a little peace of mind. There’s a crystal meth sub-plot, sister cults in Sweden, a hot blonde assassin named La Marcel, a psychotic bookie named Car Lester, a few million in laundered cash, and more permutations than most people are inclined to stuff into any given 400 pages. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 1: Mark Spitzer

#AuthorFail is a new column at BigOther. For the details on how to submit, check here.

The column looks for instances that bury achievement and redemption and genius and artistic growth and special-ness beneath the crushing failure that often constitutes the material experience of art making and so runs counter to the individual myth(s) which power our dynamic culture machine.

Take Samuel Beckett’s line from Worstword Ho!: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

This might be interpreted in isolation as wonderfully inspirational, as suitably uplifting, as a special little parable about the triumph of perseverance and human achievement hiding deep within the secret spaces of the heart.

Here, though, we look for failure-as-failure. No redemption. No #winning. Except when we sort-of break our own rule, as Mark Spitzer does below, since his book was indeed eventually published.

Still, I know Spitzer, and this is definitely an #AuthorFail.  See you next week.

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