When Stories Balloon

Since reading some Raymond Carver, I’ve worked with the idea that short fiction doesn’t have to be a mini-novel. It can be a scene. It’s given me the confidence to do knock some short stories out.

I’m working on one now that’s going to be for submission to one of the magazines Author Publish keeps emailing me about. It’s all on the More Writing is More Betterer Principle.

Anyway, I started working on this short, intending that it just be a quickie. But a lot of it is dialogue, and dialogue…balloons. Especially if you want there to be any realism to it. So it’s at 2,000 words and climbing.

Which is good, because that means it has a life of its own. But it tells me that I may have something to learn about evocative concision.

Of Conan and Carver

 

One of the difficulties of approaching art of any kind is learning to drop your prejudices when encountering it. This is true regardless of what class of art you’re talking about. It’s very easy to dismiss something you haven’t read as without value, because if it had value, you’d have already appreciated it, right?

Over the course of this past year, I’ve dropped my attitudes toward two writers, one “highbrow”, one “pulp”, by taking the time to actually read their stuff: Raymond Carver and Robert E. Howard.

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Carver I came to via the film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It’s a film I’ve enjoyed rewatching, partly for its silly spirit, partly for its full-throttle ranting about Meaning in Art. The plot involves Michael Keaton (playing an alter ego of himself), adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full-length Broadway play. The story/play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” fairly reeks of that pretentious, mid-century Clifford-Odets-style talkiness that denoted Serious Art About Serious Things. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d enjoy reading less. But exposure to the movie gradually changed that, and I picked up an anthology of his shorts (the one with the same excessive title).

Howard I started reading after picking up some of the Dark Horse Conan comics. I debated buying a Conan collection or a Lovecraft one and decided on the latter because Lovecraft’s painting of his universe is often too grim for my mood. Howard made his creatures of the Outer Dark vulnerable to steel.

img_2863At first glance, you could not pick two more unalike writers: in subject matter and prose styles, Howard and Carver diverge a great deal. One practically birthed the Blood & Thunder style of pulp fantasy, the other worked strictly in American Realism. One spent his career a “lower class” of writer, the other recieved continuous critical acclaim. One created a character who has never left the scene, the other had to be name-dropped in a Oscar-winning film to remind the world of his existence.

And yet.

What struck me about both of these authors is the efficiency of their storytelling. Carver’s stories are brutally laconic; he gives you sufficient detail to sustain a narrative, and nothing more. He cuts to the quick. He covers a single emotion and when he’s covered it, he ends the story. It’s been a tonic for me.

Howard is likewise efficient, regardless of the purpleness of his prose. While Howard will stop to describe the monsters and mazes he puts his hero in, it never slows down the action. Conan stories move with an electric energy, from point to point without stopping to examine the hero’s inner life. This was never the point of them. We are along for the ride through vistas marvelous and terrible, and it all feels real and lived in regardless of how short a time we spend there. Conan himself might be impenetrable, but the world he moves through drops its secrets at a dizzying pace. So the purple prose serves to establish that world, that Conan may cut through it swift as a dagger in the dark.

Examining these two writers together, I’ve started to up my pace in the production of short fiction. The same day I picked up my Carver anthology, I sat down and penned a sci-fi short, start to finish. I built it off a fragment that had been sitting in my Tablo collection. I was never sure if I wanted it to be a short or a novella, and so never invested the thought into it. An afternoon of Carver and I hashed out the scene and put a ribbon on it. It’s called “The Filth of Living” and it’s going to be in the next issue of Unnamed Journal, as is a Blood and Thunder story of my own devising, called “The Dying Goddess”.

I don’t know if continually absorbing influence is a good strategy for an author. But I’m going to try it.

Barabbas was a Terrorist?

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Today, with The Devil Left Him out and available, I’d like to talk a little about the connection between Jesus and Barrabbas, and the latter’s role in the Biblical story.

1st Century Judea had a number of divisive sects vying for control of what Judaism meant. The Sadducees, the priests, were the most Hellenized, the most docile with regard to the Roman occupation. The Pharisees, the scribes, were most determined to emphasize their Jewishness, and to appeal to Rabbinical authority and black-letter Mosaic Law. The Essenes were the proto-monastic mystics who hungered for God in the desert. They were most connected to John the Baptist, and according to some New Testament Scholars, to Jesus himself.

Then you had the Zealots, who imagined themselves as the successors to the Maccabees who had thrown off Greek rule and in the previous century and briefly established Jewish independence before the Romans showed up. They favored a violent overthrow of Roman rule, and believed that Divine aid would secure this goal as it had secured the Promised Land for Israel in Joshua’s time (Linguist’s Note: “Joshua,” “Yeshua,” and “Jesus” are all the same word as expressed in English, Hebrew, and Greek). A subset (or ally, depending on which source you rely upon) were the sicaroi, or “dagger-men”.

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Sicaroi were literal terrorists, they would practice stealth assassination with their sicarii, or short-bladed daggers, and then blend back into the crowd. They practiced this not only against Romans, but against Jewish collaborators.

What has this to do with Barabbas?

Well, the Gospels have it that Barabbas was an unsavory character. Matthew refers to him as a “notorious prisoner” (Mt 27:16), and Mark (15:7) and Luke (23:19) say that he took part in a riot, and committed murder. John 18:40 calls Barabbas a “bandit”, using a Greek word (“lestes”) that the Jewish historian Josephus later used to refer to rebels.

Is that enough to justify my headline? Maybe not. Some historians say that the sicaroi were active in the run up to the Jewish Revolt of the 60’s AD, not during the 30’s.

But there’s an even more interesting link between Jesus and Barabbas. “Barabbas” in Hebrew means “son of the father”, and early editions of the Gospel of Matthew refer to Jesus as “Jesus Barabbas”. It may have been changed to avoid confusion.

This presents an interesting contrast between the two guys Pilate had on hand to execute on Good Friday: there’s the Messiah that Jesus claimed to be and the more direct,  political type that Barabbas could well have been. The Messiah of God vs. the Messiah of Man, as Augustine might have put it.

Which is why The Devil Left Him has a tragic, dagger-wielding Barabbas encountering Jesus prior to their more famous meeting. Check it out.

Everything is Back on Track!

New books are live. More books are coming.

The Devil Left Him is up on sale on Amazon. I just did the official announcement on Periscope.

That should have showed up on Facebook as well. I explain that the book is available, and go into a little bit about why I wrote it: a literary experiment on the Divine Character Problem. I talk about Luke Skywalker for a minute, and then can’t figure out how to turn the broadcast off, because it’s my second one.

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I’m going to publish it on iBooks as well, probably with an alternative title. I’m also doing an Amazon Ad campaign for it, to see how that does. All in all, very exciting. I conceived this and brought it to market in about a year, while working on other projects as well, and holding down a full-time job and taking care of a family. I think I can improve that time, but the future is a tease, always arriving different than expected.

Next up: getting the next issue of Unnamed Journal up. Then publishing Last Tomorrow and Void. I should be getting back on track with The Sword as well.

Everything is On Hold.

Old theology joke:

Q: How do you make God Laugh?

A: Tell him your plans.

Significant Life Decisions have paused my publishing schedule. Nothing bad; no one’s dying or divorcing. Merely an adjustment in real property ownership requiring a core-dump-level Purge of personal property ownership. 

Huh?

That sentence made sense in my head.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

After the Party

In RakeMag, a fascinating life of the man behind a poem I discovered and have read voraciously, The Wild Party.

If you were looking for a young man with a great literary life in front of him in 1928, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a better candidate than 29-year-old Joseph Moncure March. His narrative in verse The Wild Party, a tale of Manhattan hedonism and the tragic hipsters who indulge in it, had been published that spring in a limited edition, achieving an immediate following and brisk sales. (A musical adaptation will open this month at the Fitzgerald Theater). The book even got banned briefly in Boston, bringing March something every writer craves—a prominent but not damaging censorship battle.

Read the Whole Thing, as they say, but in a nutshell, after The Wild Party and a sequel, The Set-Up, he made the move to Hollywood and that did not turn out as planned. He ended up working in a shipyard, managing a sheet metal plant, and then writing and producing industrial films during WW2 (in the first war, he’d been an infantry private). That led to a second career making films for big firms that lasted through the 1960’s.

Many of these can be found in the Rick Prelinger archive of industrial films, and two inparticular— Design For Dreaming and A Touch of Magic , both Technicolor spots for the General Motors Motorama starring industrial films icon Thelma “Tad” Tadlock— have become favorites among the sort of ironists who think it’s the height of wit to mock the styles and affectations of a half-century ago. One couplet from Design, “Girls don’t go to Motoramas dressed in a pair of pink pajamas, ” has been picked up by fans as a tagline for all that was corny and square in the fifties. Do these sneering hipsters realize that the author of Design For Dreaming was once a sneering hipster like themselves?

The question is, if they did, would it stop them?

The Wild Party got a 1994 revamp with Art Spiegelman cartoons, but The Set Up is hard to come by. I’d like to read more, and I’d like to revive the concept of a narrative poem. Something to aspire to, anyway.