In Q and A, I try to get at something valuable from my fellow writers, by asking just a single question.
Installment #3: Matthew Simmons, Seattle, WA.
At what point can you tell that an idea is worthy of becoming a short story? Or similarly, at what point does a short story appear to be asking to become a novel? Consider this a process question, as much about the specifics of your writing practice as it is about how you let the work decide what it needs to be, and if there are lessons to be drawn from for others.
I find that I really only have one way of determining whether or not an idea is a short story or not. You have to take the idea to the page and work it out there. I don’t really take notes or create outlines. I know a beginning because it sounds like a beginning. I tend to know an ending because it feels like it’s there imbedded in the beginning. And the rest of it is all the writing and the looking at the page and the hitting of the delete key and the talking out loud and the shaking my head and the standing up and sitting right back down and the standing up and walking to the kitchen and the getting coffee and the coming back and the typing and typing and typing and hating and typing and loving and typing. Continue reading
I laughed a little when I found this drawing on the website for David Shrigley, a Glasgow-based artist.
There’s not much to it, but for some reason it’s funny. Also a little unsettling. I realized I was laughing not so much because it’s comedic (though it might be) but because it’s absurd. There’s hardly anything in the drawing, yet it succeeds as a complete work, whole in itself: are we being watched? Should we be afraid that we’re being watched? Should we laugh at the fact that we’re afraid of being watched? Shrigley could have included more in the way of subject – the figure of a person, a building – but would doing so have improved the work itself? He must not have thought so. And I agree, though I’m still intrigued by the reason why he must not have thought so.
Yesterday I read Matthew Simmons’s A Jello Horse (Publishing Genius, 2009), immediately after finishing Alyssa Knickerbocker’s Your Rightful Home (Flatmancrooked, 2010).
I remember when A Jello Horse was first published. There was something about a bunch of telephones. There was that cover, which is not my copy’s cover (mine is the one with the pink and the animal’s legs. See above).
I do not really remember when Your Rightful Home was first published, but I think I remember maybe meeting Alyssa in Denver this past April at the Flatmancrooked party. The reason I have a copy of Alyssa’s book is because B. L. Pawelek sent it to me. Thanks, B!
These two books, oddly, have much in common. First, you see, there are the maps on the covers. These are important. Both of the books’ protagonists leave home. Both are travelers.
I remember thinking A Jello Horse would probably be weird. I don’t know why I thought this. Maybe because of that Leni Zumas blurb.
A while ago I began to solicit videos of friends and associates reading/performing/interpreting poems from my collection, In This Alone Impulse, in exchange for a copy of said collection. A dozen or so videos into this project, I’m amazed and impressed by the range of attitude, voice and dimension the videos have exhibited. Each of these videos represents not just a reading, but a unique response to poetry, and in that respect I think they’re quite valuable and interesting art-ifacts.
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
The narrator of Matthew Simmons’s A Jello Horse takes detours to odd roadside attractions. This aspect of the book reminded me of Tom Robbins’s Another Roadside Attraction. I’m in the middle of reading Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point and he, at one point, writes about roadside attractions:
Here’s a quick run-through of the books that I read this year and came out this year. Pretty much the books that I gave four stars to on goodreads because my memory sucks. I would mention movies, but I don’t have a goodreads like thing for movies.
Light Boxes, by Shane Jones: Made me want to write bitter-sweet happy stuff. Have failed, except for prose poem-y things.
A Jello Horse, by Matthew Simmons: Publishing Genius put out this one along with Light Boxes. It has a similar tone. About a road trip to go to a funeral, but reading it made me feel happy to be alive. Written in second person, and it actually works.
Fugue State, by Brian Evenson: Might be my favorite collection by him. It felt more diverse than earlier ones.
Last Days, by Brian Evenson: A lot of fun. Love the lean prose. He’s always played with genre, but this feels like the first book where he’s totally embraced it.