Monday, August 4, 2014

A Tale of Two Sydney's: Who's on, Firsr?

Although the short story is an important form for you, you have not completed a new one for about two years, although you could say you put in significant time editing and revising the twelve appearing in your June publication of a collection of previously published works.

When you begin to fret about the time passed since your last completion, you have the comfort of knowing you have two short stories launched, that there is no similarity between them except the narrative tone, which is in effect the literary equivalent of a computerized breakdown of your voice.

Even though you've written and published a number of short stories, there is no guarantee you will find the endings of either of them, a fact simultaneously pleasing and frustrating.  Both stories have kept you up at night, sneaking into your dream state and that limbo of a place between being all the way into sleep and all the way out of sleep.  

These ventures into insomnia have come, to your surprise and delight, when you were pretty well committed to other, longer projects, some of them nonfiction, although let this be said:  The nonfiction is intended to have the qualities of narrative voice you treasure in yourself and other writers, become scornful when such voice is missing from your work or anyone's work.

Seeing a story under those circumstances is of a piece with having a dream in which one of your dogs has appeared, mostly Sally these days, but on occasion Molly, Edward, and Edward's remarkable mother, Blue, whose Blue-Tick Hound bawl mouth was the canine equivalent of a Hayden or Mozart string quartet.

Each time you feel the need to check in on the two in-progress stories, it is always with the covenant you've struck with yourself to add at least a paragraph of new material or remove a paragraph.  Among the first things you look--and listen--for in your reading is the quality of the narrative voice, which you believe has become more tangible to you in all your composition because of the short stories you've written and the short stories of other writers you feel drawn to.

Narrative tone--voice, if you will--is one of your go to tools for checking the authenticity and grab of a story or essay.  If there is the slightest hint you are explaining the vision of the story to yourself instead of dramatizing it for the characters or pushing the arguments to a combustion of conclusion, the offending material has to be rewritten, often deleted, rephrased, again and again, until it fits the tone you see for it.

And what is this tone?  This tone is a feeling you often get in Real Time, after you've made a statement to which someone replies, "You're kidding, right?"  Better yet, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Some of this you got from Anton Chekhov, some from John Cheever, yet other from Katherine Mansfield, not to forget Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Deborah Eisenberg, Louise Erdrich, and John O'Hara.  Of course there are others, including writers from your great favorite magazine from the pulp days, Black Mask.  And you must not forget Flannery O'Connor, in particular her short story "Good Country People," in which a bible salesman has resolved to steal the artificial leg of a Ph.D. in literature who has renamed herself Hulda, because she believes it to be such an ugly name.

You've come to enjoy the dash of uncertainty in narrative outcomes and do so in large measure because of your observation of uncertainty in all human narrative.  But as well, you do so because of the number of times you've experienced uncertainty of meaning in the works of writers you admire, a result that causes you to constantly reexamine story and life to see if you did in fact understand what you'd thought you understood.

With little prompting, you could produce another list of writers who have what you will also call a satiric voice, one that causes you to look with great care at their work to see if there is that delicate trace of exaggeration, slipped in like a dash of balsamic vinegar reduction, that tips the work over from merely being engaging to taking up the tools of satire.

The great satirist of your youthful time, Peter DeVries, brought you great gulps of joy each time you saw his pieces in The New Yorker,  or when he had a new novel coming forth.  For the longest time, you appreciated the political views of Molly Ivins, and now, there is Stephen Colbert.  By the time you'd come to recognize these splendid sorts, you'd cut your teeth on Mark Twain and Ring Lardner.

In the same way Twain gave vigor and momentum to being the innocent abroad, you set forth to understand the Reality about you, how it has been shaped by the same sorts Chaucer saw in The Canterbury Tales, and how with little or no hesitation, that same Reality can cause you to accept things you might otherwise question.

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