The real-y real

Due to their very bad shipping methods, I just received my December 18th issue of the London Review of Books a couple of days ago. (The issues are meant to arrive every two weeks, but guess what? They don’t.) In it is an interesting article by Tom McCarthy on realism in writing that got me thinking about the possibility of objectivity and how we should consider it when writing fiction.

Foucault, Nietzsche, and many others pointed out that what we consider “real” is always structured — or, to perhaps put it more accurately, filtered — by how we think, how we view the world. You can detect these thoughts in Wittgenstein too in his post-linguistic turn, and it is one of the major reasons that logical positivism died an ignoble death towards the middle of the previous century. Personally I think that there is something to be said about speaking and/or writing in purely empirical terms, i.e. a “factual vocabulary” (see my paper “Don’t put mouths in my words” on the bottom of this page on my personal site, as well as chapter five in Tomorrow, as the Crow Flies, available on this page of my personal site), but that is a topic for another day.

At any rate, now to the main: If the world we inhabit is one that is necessarily perspective-oriented, and if these perspectives are individually bound even while being (largely; almost entirely?) culturally constructed, then how do we write about what happens to our characters in a way that reflects this? There are of course a number of approaches that could be considered here but two ends of the spectrum stand out for me: that of the internalized head-tour (if you will), and that of the external narrator. The head-tour puts us in our character’s head and keeps us there; we see things as she does and we experience the world through her and how she reacts to it, even if we find ourselves with very different intuitive responses to the events while reading about them. Paul j Rogers does an excellent job of this in his forthcoming book (more on that in the months to come). The second option listed, that of the outside narrator, poses an interesting dilemma that itself allows a number of responses. Does not the narrator himself have his own perspective on the world, on the occurrences being described, and his own biased beliefs regarding the character’s reactions to them? There is a lot of room for play here, and the more approaches taken to this issue the more interesting available fiction will become.

When working on a project, it strikes me as important to consider these aspects of how you will write from the outset and then commit to following the guidelines you have set for yourself. Change can always be introduced, but we readers would need a reason of some kind to make that shift in perspective believable. There are a thousand plot doors to be opened here. What might be really intriguing, and potentially quite jarring, would be to introduce an alteration in the external narrator’s worldview midway through the story. I leave it to all of you writers out there to wow us with your own takes on the “real”.

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New format

Dear Readers,

We’re going to switch gears a little bit here in 2015 and change from weekly blog posts to irregular blogging. Whenever inspiration strikes us! We will of course continue with our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing series, the first one will likely be in the spring but check back for announcements on that and a definite submission date. We are also planning to launch some exciting books this year so keep your eyes open for that.

We hope you continue to enjoy our unique views on writing, reading, publishing, and everything in between. We deeply appreciate your taking the time out of your busy days for us and we’re looking forward to what the new year brings.

Yours sincerely,

DSB’s soda jerks

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Happy holidays and winter break

That wraps up our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing round on the theme of Faces, we hope you enjoyed the contributions.

We here at Drugstore Books would like to wish the happiest of holiday seasons to all of our readers. For those of you whose holidays have already begun, for those of you whose holidays are just around the corner, and for those of you whose holidays will be celebrated by not celebrating, we say: Enjoy them!

We’ll be back in January with fresh content and some exciting new books to launch in 2015.

Till then, take care of yourselves and those around you.

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Generating Fast Faces by Paul j Rogers

The final installment in this round of the By Prescription Only: Themed Writing showcase on Faces comes from our own Paul j Rogers as he adds a 21st century spin to “the cut-up technique” – a literary technique that began with the Dadaist, Tristan Tzara, and was later developed by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, and David Bowie (amongst others).

Disclaimin’ away~ ♪: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Generating Fast Faces by Paul j Rogers

The following story is a “Google cut-up”.
The writer searched “faces” and then cut and pasted one sentence from the first 100 websites. (*Where possible. If only a few words were available, the writer cut and pasted those.)
The harvested text was then cut and spliced to make a narrative.
Harvested text could only be used once.
No new words were written.
Only punctuation, capitalization and spacing were altered.
All 100 harvested text cuts were used in some way.

***

         Alive with web-based applications, a modern city is a massive and ceaseless information producer. Urban neighborhoods with pervasive unemployment and poverty are home to the hungriest. One in 60 babies is born with some type of disorder. If you are fun-loving and outgoing, this is the place to be. This sunflower is thrilled to be decaying.

Dr. Seymour J. Rydal (PhD, Biochemistry) has a large jaw; it looks almost ogre-like. (The guy’s skills: restaurant health inspection, the best rock & roll, and scamming tourists on the side.) This experimenter celebrates the process, not the tool.

With the private jets, drink, drugs, clothes and haircuts, Vakula is a name that needs no introduction. She serves as a symbol for the rebellion, a role model for girls everywhere. She also shared several screenshots of their conversations via Facebook that detailed their plans to meet up.

“I don’t know what it is about your face.”
“Seduction is treachery.”
“If you’d like to complain, I’d be happy to listen.”
“This ain’t my first rodeo, cowboy.”

To read the rest, download the pdf

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Report From Agent Gamble by Nick Cody

This week our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing contribution on Faces is from the successful comedian from Australia, Nick Cody. No, wait, I mean the…

Keep this in mind: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Report From Agent Gamble by Nick Cody

“Antipathies lead to animosities. Nip it in the bud.” It took a while for my swimmy vision to bring her note into focus. By her, I mean my wife Lisa, who had scribbled the message onto a yellow note, peeled it off the pad, and then attached it to the one place I was sure to see it: my alarm clock. She gets up early but I always sleep in late. The “it” in her note referred to my resentment over a “little mission” I was given recently. I’d stayed up last night and railed against my rotten luck. Lisa listened and commiserated, nodding at what I felt were the ace points in my argument, points emphasized by pounding my fist into my palm, and then she nodded off completely. I must have continued shadow boxing for another full hour before I noticed that I’d been talking to myself. She was out cold.

I joined the Movement about six months ago and the assignments I’d been given did not exactly match my initial expectations. Read Rudolf Rocker. Check. Meet another Movement noob at the Jumping Bean café to discuss the latest work of Noam Chomsky. Check. Write a check to support the DemocracyNow fundraiser. Check.

The reading I didn’t mind. It was something I had taken for granted, a necessary blade in the armory: get the facts! And given my net worth, funding this or that group was always going to be part of the game. As far as Ethan goes, that’s the guy I met at the Park Slope café, he’s plenty smarter than me. He just needed some help getting his head around Chomsky’s critique of U.S.-Israeli policy, and that stuff has nothing to do with the intellect. Reading, meeting, discussing, all well and good, but none of it seemed like action. I’d hoped for something bad ass, like Code Pink or WikiLeaks. Instead, it was turning out to be more like book clubs and cocktail parties.

So three days ago I received my latest directive via secured email: Accept your invitation to the Koch brothers’ Halloween party in the Upper East Side, bring a costume, 1 guest…

To read the rest, download the pdf

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MSP by Andrew Oberg

Our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcase continues. This week’s contribution on our theme of Faces is from soda jerk numero tres: Andrew Oberg.

Covering our tukhuses: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

MSP by Andrew Oberg

‘All of these people. All of these people busy about their days. Big ones, small ones, tall ones, short ones, young ones, old ones. Nearly every one of them with their faces in some device or some device in their ears. They have no idea that they are about to die. They do not know that I am about to kill them. That the very technology that has made their lives meaningless and the modern world inhuman will be used against them. It is a necessary sacrifice. Their lives and our lives will make the world whole. I am sorry but we cannot wait. Evolution takes time, time that we do not have. The world could end at any moment unless humanity wakes up. I will wake it up. I and my brothers will wake it up. Our Good Guide has shown us the way, he knows the Divine Words by heart and knows how to interpret them. He has assured us that we are right and that the Holy One will bless my mission and its counterpart hundreds of others. Together we will bring these technophiles to their knees so that they may at last raise their gaze to the heavens. Our sacrifice will show the truth of The Path, and those who die with me today will become the unknown catalysts for the change that must occur. They will be remembered in their number and by what resulted later but not by their names. Our names too will quickly pass from history, but our sacrifice and our faith will not. It is enough…

To read the rest, download the pdf

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The Quiet Man by Hamish Spiers

This week we begin our latest round of By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcases. Starting us off is a piece by the always intriguing Hamish Spiers, whose contributions to our site we’ve greatly appreciated over the years. This one from him will really punch you in the stomach.

Yes, I have to post these disclaimers every time: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

The Quiet Man by Hamish Spiers

Elena Mihaylov lived without companionship. She shared no meals nor laughter with friends and nor did she work. The lameness in her left leg that had troubled her since she was a child prevented her from that.

To the casual observer, the fact that she could limp to the market every day and keep food on her table and logs in the fireplace was an unsolvable mystery. But the person who watched her for some time would observe that every week she went to her letterbox, pulled out an envelope and within it she would always find the means to survive. To keep going. And on the back of this envelope there was never any address. Just the name of her benefactor, Iosif Yakovlev. And for the keen observer that would be the sum of what they could ascertain with regards to the mystery of how one Elena Mihaylov, ageing widow without any income of her own, could get by and make it through each day that remained to her.

As to Iosif Yakovlev, one could credit far more enigma to this man than Elena Mihaylov carried about her person, with the first striking fact being that Mrs. Mihaylov had never laid eyes on him. All she knew was that, not long after her husband had died, this man, whom she had never met, had started leaving her money. He was her saviour. The one man in all the world who cared for this poor ageing widow…

To read the rest, download the pdf

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Catian Literary Taste, redux

Ahead of our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing showcase to begin next week, here’s something to get your fiction juices flowing: hand-picked by the author from our archives, Nick Cody reports on Cata’s literary scene. Enjoy!

The only publication in Cata that could even remotely pass for a literary journal is called Taste Buds. It touts the “original work of local artists” but most of the stuff it prints is facile and transparent. I can’t judge the quality of the photos, artwork and graphic designs within it, but the verse is certainly suspect. You be the judge: here are two lines by one of it’s most frequent guest contributors. A heroic couplet divided by a shrug.

“Poetry, prose, symphonies, even songs,

(shrug)

Life’s only good if you have a big dong.”

The cover caught my eye one evening while I was waiting for Mint in a bland cafe’. “20th Century American Literature: A Meager Buffet.” Now it’s true that Catians can be quite cocky about the society they’ve created. When pressed, most natives would say it’s more-or-less utopian. Obesity rates practically nil, longevity spiking, homelessness a rumor, and violent crime a shadow of all developed countries. Last year was the first time in living memory that rape and battery charges were brought to a trial, and the suspect was acquitted when defense attorneys argued that she was half his size and lacked a previous criminal record.

But even if Cata has a murder rate that most Americans would kill for, that doesn’t mean the fruits of a well-oiled society branch out into the arts. Not only did I feel that Catian poetry sucked pretty bad, but I could also tell that they had no sense of quality in others. In this case, the lack of taste was amplified by faulty knowledge of basic facts. The column I was reading featured “micro-reviews” of canonical lit. Here’s one on 1984, yes, George Orwell’s novel reviewed in a journal about AMERICAN literature!

“Our praise must remain equivocal. It’s good that Orwell defends the orgasm. But the writing on sex is of a bland, generic nature and lacks convincing specifics. Granted, it takes place in a repressive society, yada yada yada, but he could have slipped in a wet dream or two without sacrificing too much verisimilitude. In fact, the total absence of nocturnal emissions strains reader credulity. In short, it’s a futuristic novel that takes place a long, long time ago.”

And another example submitted by a different reviewer dismisses Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a single sentence. “An unsatisfactory work that could have, and most definitely should have, generated thunderbolts and lightning had the author been inspired enough to place a buxom southern belle with a ripped bodice on Tom and Jim’s raft.”

What agony, though, not being able to slap a colleague on the shoulder and share these howlers! Or even an acquaintence in a pub. Someone who would get, for starters, the delightful absurdity of lumping Twain in with 20th century letters. No, Cata wasn’t perfect in any sense of the term, but seeing Mint descend feet first, then knees, then pale thighs down the staircase to the lobby, I spun the rag onto the coffeetable and awaited a night of sweet consolations.

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The view from behind the editor’s desk

Some of you may have been wondering where I’ve gone, while others may have been wishing that I’d never come back, but most of you have probably simply been relieved not to have to read my drivel masquerading as prose and obscure thoughts pretending to be, well, thoughts. Regardless, for all of those who don’t care to know, here’s what I’ve been up to: editing. That is, editing!! (Note the enthusiasm those double exclamation marks grant.) And I’m happy to be at it because of what we’ve got in store for you.

First off, our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcase on the motif Faces will begin later this month, featuring a thriller from Hamish Spiers, a real treat of an experimental piece from Paul j Rogers, a physiological treatise/groundbreaking research results from Nick Cody, and a dumb yarn from me.

Mark Porter’s new book Get Stupid! will then appear early next year (projected) and will no doubt start 2015 off right. This will be Mark’s third book overall and his second with us; it’s a crime suspense novella that leaves readers tensely turning pages and scratching their heads right up until the very end. It’s a harder, edgier book than Dogs Chase Cars but will still please fans of that work and of Mark’s writing generally. It’s sure to win him some new fans too.

Following that, Paul j Rogers will be releasing his much-anticipated novel later in the year. I don’t want to say too much about this as it’s a work that is best read with a fresh mind, but let me just note that it will absolutely knock your socks off, as well as any ankle bracelets or toe rings you happen to be wearing. Its protagonist will haunt you like a shadow, even as he attempts to deal with his own. But much more on that later.

We’ve also got more BPO showcases planned for 2015 so don’t be shy and send us your stuff. Drugstore Books will never charge you for any services or make any copyright claims to your work, and your writing will reach a broad audience of readers in the thousands. If you’re a writer, there’s no reason not to take advantage of an arrangement like that. Except, of course, that you’ll have to deal me. Also Paul. And probably Nick. Oh, just send us your stuff.

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As Yet, Untitled

Nick’s last blog post about the titling of Inherent Vice inspired me to write a general piece about titles. But then a neon tube flickered, before sputtering out in a power short. While wafting away cathode gas, I vaguely recalled blogging about this topic before. A quick search through the Drugstore archives confirmed that I had. Twice.

My first post, nearly five years ago now, was mostly about the lack of control debut authors have over titles in legacy publishing. The second zeroed-in on a few formulas for making titles, ways of playing around with parts of speech to work a few a punchy lexical combos when you’re on the ropes.

And ‘work’ is the key word here. Full-length novels offer many title choices and working through them can be hard graft. If a writer’s lucky a title will light up, fully-formed, and stay switched on in their mind throughout the writing process. Cool beans. But we must be cautious: with repetition being a form of persuasion, it can become unthinkable to search for something better. In some cases, though, that title that’s been there from day one is the correct choice.

But sometimes the writer gets bored with those words at the top of the first page, sick of seeing them on the file names of story notes and characters. Deep down in her gut, she has a gnawing sensation that those words don’t quite say enough.

My preference is towards the poetic rather than the literal. Snakes on a Plane is wonderfully succinct – if you’re working in the action/comedy genre. It’s also unashamedly high-concept, like the movie it titles. But if your book’s themes are more nebulous (or cerebral) then summing up the plot in three or four words is probably not the way to go. Literary fiction doesn’t lend itself to literal titles.

As mentioned before, repetition is a form of persuasion, and a movie or book title acquires acceptance the more famous it becomes. To take another example from the movies, let’s look at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. There are no reservoirs. There are no dogs (unless you count the heist crew, and I think many people do as the human brain seeks to make sense of why those two words should be given such importance). Various urban myths have grown around this movie’s title, yet Tarantino himself simply bats it away as “a mood title”. This, in turn, adds to its mythical aura. (Which, I guess, is artists’ privilege.) So then, the opaque title is definitely an option.

Becoming a magpie is another route. Many well-known writers have done it. The title of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is taken from The Beatle’s song Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) on their 1965 album Rubber Soul. Of course, Murakami took out his scalpel and cut loose that suffixed parenthetical (and then the bird inside those brackets was gone). Yet given that this is the favourite song of the protagonist and that there is much forest imagery in the book, the title is actually quite literal. But those two nouns stand alone with real power. To the reader without knowledge of story or characters, those words are loaded with many different possibilities.

Another example is William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The title is adapted from a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Faulkner added the definite articles, and by doing so (like a jazz band covering rock) made it his own:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

The Sound and the Fury. Shakespeare’s juxtaposition now becomes specific with the addition of definite articles, and we want to know ‘which sound?’, ‘what fury?’. Faulkner edited his way to something ethereal. Without knowing a single thing about the book, the title makes it pop off the shelf and into your hand.

And that, to me, is a great title.

 

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