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…I will start posting regularly again.
Consider June my summer vacation, even though I’ve been doing anything but relaxing.
That’s okay. I’ll get to do lots of that this weekend.
Happy Independence Day! Go read the most awesome web comic ever, The Dreamer, by Lora Innes, to celebrate!!!!
I have been busy spending time with my family, going to baseball games, traveling, and generally enjoying summer, so I’m cheating this week by linking to today’s post from my website, kellylynnthomas.com. I wrote about why parents shouldn’t try to get books booted from libraries or schools because of “objectionable” content in response to Meghan Cox Gurdon’s column on the Wall Street Journal essentially endorsing book banning.
Please read the whole thing here!
Neil Gaiman’s novel-length fairytale Stardust employs an omniscient narrator and occasional authorial interjection–both play a crucial role in not only the telling of the story, but also in the reading of the story.
The omniscient narrator was common in ye olde Literature (think Austen, Bronte, etc.), but is actually kind of frowned upon in modern writing classes.
Instead, fledgling authors are encouraged to use first person or limited third to allow the reader to get close to the character. There’s nothing wrong with getting inside a character’s head, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to deal with someone else’s neuroses (I don’t know about you, but I have enough of my own, thank you).
Authorial interjection, also known as breaking the fourth wall (although that’s more of a stage term, the first three walls being the right, left and back sides of the stage, the fourth being the invisible one between actors and audience), is much more common, but sadly almost always relegated to a comedic special effect in contemporary literature.
Gaiman’s use of these techniques serves to make the story feel more old-timey, more like a fairytale that our grandparents might have told us when we demanded they tell us a story before bedtime.
But more than putting us into the proper frame of mind, the use of the omniscient narrator creates suspense and tension, and is perhaps the most important device in the story (it’s a device because it’s used to present the story in a particular way, and it comes with certain expectations, like the main characters falling in love and living happily ever after).
Without an omniscient narrator, we would know only as much as Tristan, the main character, and half of the suspense would evaporate before it had a chance to even condense in our minds, since the forces wishing Tristan evil often do themselves in before they have a chance to do Tristan any harm.
Since we know more than Tristan, we often get the urge to yell at him for being stupid, or for not following advice or directions. Plus, it makes us feel nice and smart and quite good about ourselves for being so smart.
While the few instances of authorial interjection are used in situations where the characters are not in any grave danger, they don’t fall into the category of comedy for comedy’s sake. These instances serve to pull the reader more fully into the world of the narrator, and by extension, the characters the narrator brings to life for us.
Any emotional distance we may have felt from the characters because of the narrative filter is replaced by a closeness with the narrator. By speaking to us directly, he’s made us a part of the story. And how can you feel distant from a story of which you’re apart?
Take note that while I call this “fiction” I don’t call it a “story.” Is it one? What do you think?
(Also, please take the time to visit kellylynnthomas.com and let me know what you think of the new design!)
And without further ado,a nonstory:
A short list of strange things that I have seen during my job as an interior designer:
1. A giant squid vase. The glass made it look like it was moving when you looked at it out of the corner of your eyes, and it made me nervous. Everything else in the house was entirely normal, except for that vase.
2. Pantyhose wrapped around the base of a lamp. I wanted to ask why they were there, but decided my imagination did a better job explaining their presence than any truth could. At first I thought the owner might have a thing for erotic asphyxiation or wearing pantyhose on his head, but I didn’t get any erotic or sexy vibes from the rest of the house, so I decided that he had a secret lover who would come over when his wife was at DAR meetings and they would make love on the couch, and she wrapped them around the lamp so his wife would see, and he never noticed because he wasn’t attentive like that. I don’t even know if he had a wife, but I hope so. She would be the jealous kind, but he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t care, he just floats through life and waits for her to bring him a beer, and the only reason he took a lover in the first place was because she came to him and he was bored, so he thought why not?
3. An entire house covered in the letter Y. There were Ys in picture frames, wooden Ys, metal Ys, lamps in the shape of Y, other objects arranged into Ys, even a music stand that was an upside-down Y. The person’s name was Melissa Bracken, she didn’t even have a Y in her name. I did ask her why all the Ys and she shrugged, like maybe she didn’t have an answer, or she didn’t want to answer. I’m not sure why she even hired me, she didn’t want me to change anything, and every time I told her she needed to cool it with the Ys she rolled her eyes at me and put her hands on her hips like I didn’t know what I was talking about. In the end she asked me if I thought there were too many Ys, and when I told her I felt like I was drowning in alphabet soup with all the letters, she looked at me and smiled like a shark, like I had confirmed everything she ever thought.
4. A completely straight, single man in his 30s who had furniture shaped like human reproductive organs. There was a vagina arm chair, a penis couch, end tables that were shaped like the naked backs of muscular men and breast lamps where the nipples are the lights. I guess human shaped furniture shouldn’t weird me out, but it does. Especially the vagina armchair. I sat in it when he went to the bathroom and you sink so low into it, and the colors seem so realistic, and it’s made out of a slippery soft leather, that you really do feel like you’re sinking into a vagina. The penis couch isn’t very comfortable, in my opinion, because it’s so firm, and I had to keep reminding myself not to stare at the lamps so the guy didn’t think I was a lesbian or something. I’ve seen plenty of human shaped furniture and art, but having so much of it in one living room seems gratuitous.
5. Stuffed monkey heads in a bedroom. This woman had like 50 stuffed monkey heads, taxidermy, not stuffed animals, all different kinds of monkeys. They were mounted in groups on each wall, like a honeycomb but instead of bees and honey, monkey heads. I don’t know how she slept at night, with hundredss of dead monkey eyes staring down at her. I wondered why she didn’t have all the monkey bodies too, maybe in the basement or the attic, and maybe with a metal pole that she could screw the heads onto. Each monkey head was labeled, with its Latin name and all kinds of information, country of origin, preferred food, size, weight, everything. The stranger thing was, there wasn’t a single monkey anywhere else in the house, not even a figurine or a stuffed animal or a picture or even a book about monkeys. Just the monkey heads in the bedroom.
When I visit a house like that, no matter why they hired me, I seriously question my decision to enter this field in the first place. People are fucked up.
I’m taking a break from the metafiction this week to once again speak out about a cause I believe in (if I had more time I would have written a metafictional short story about this, since metafiction is so often used for social critique, but alas).
Many of you don’t live in Pennsylvania, but that’s okay. Rather than focusing on jobs and the economy like they said they would, legislators are attacking the LGBTQ community by proposing a marriage amendment that would outlaw any marriage or civil union not between a man and a woman. This is not the first time Pa officials have tried this, hence my post for Blog for Equality Day 2010.
Part of me feels like I should keep politics out of my blog. A bigger part of me feels that any art worth a damn is somewhat political, social or religious in nature, and the “issue” of equal rights for the LGBTQ crowd is a mix of all of those.
So, metafiction fans, please take the time to sign this petition for Equality Pennsylvania, especially if you actually live in Pennsylvania, and tell your own state and federal representatives that you support equal rights for ALL people in this country, regardless of gender, religion or sexual orientation.
Speaking of equal rights, Pa lawmakers are also trying to pass a law that would force many abortion clinics in the state to close. There’s a somewhat complex background behind this law that I won’t bore you with, but suffice it to say that a white man has decided what is best for the medical community to do with abortion clinics against the advice of actual medical professionals… but that’s somewhat of an over-simplification.
My point is this: If you are not gay, lesbian, transgendered, transsexual, bisexual or queer, if you have the full rights that this country affords, how can you possibly justify walking around telling these people they are wrong? If you do not have a uterus and will never, ever have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy, a pregnancy with complications, or needing an abortion, how can you possibly tell women that abortion is wrong and make it almost impossible for low-income women to get the services they need? If you are one of those people, you should be ashamed of yourself.
I suggest the following tactic: Select an organization that either advocates for LGBTQ rights (like Equality Pennsylvania) or the rights of women (like Planned Parenthood), make a donation, even a token donation, in “honor” of the reps who sponsor these bills (Daryl Metcalf and Matt Baker, respectively), and have the notification sent to their Harrisburg offices.
P.S. check out Blog for Equality Day’s sponsor, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.
Against my better judgment, I’m participating in Story A Day May, in which I will attempt to write 31 stories during the month of May. I just found out about the challenge today, so I’m starting a bit late, but hopefully I can catch up this weekend.
Also against my better judgment, I’m sharing the first story I wrote with you. I hope it’s funny, because there’s more truth in this than I’d like to admit.
“Writing Is A Talent You Surely Have”
For the tenth time that day, she checks her email. Her Gmail inbox displays the same three messages it has since she posted what she considers to be her magnum opus, the greatest short story she’s ever written, that anyone’s ever written, on her brand new blog the night before.
The story is about a girl like herself, well it is herself, at least mostly, but prettier and with a nice car, who starts a blog and becomes instantly popular and basically shoves it to those publishing types who think they know everything, but they don’t, do they, or they wouldn’t have all rejected her novel, which is not about herself but about her mother’s childhood in New York City, except in the novel her mother doesn’t get pregnant at sixteen and instead becomes a Broadway actress.
One of the emails is from her mother, one is from the writing forum she joined so she could talk about how much she hates writer clichés and people who THINK they’re writers but are really posers who hang out in coffee shops with laptops, and the third email is from WordPress congratulating her on setting up her very own blog.
She sighs, and thinks that this is the cross she was meant to carry, loneliness, and the purgatory of being an unrecognized genius, because she is a writer and no one, not even her mother who was always very supportive, understands, and she gets up from the computer to make another pot of coffee, even though it is two in the afternoon and she isn’t the least bit sleepy.
A new story will make her feel better, she thinks. And she has quite a few ideas, too many in fact, so she donated a few ideas to her friend Sheri who will probably butcher them, but that’s to be expected since Sheri isn’t a real writer, just one of those posers who became a writer only because she, the Mark Twain of this century, the future most well respected and well known author in America, decided that she must write, it was her true calling, and her career in business, which wasn’t going anywhere anyway, be damned.
She puts her coffee into a travel mug and takes her laptop to the library, where she knows the smell of musty books, the smell of adventures, of fiction, and the people who come and go with the strangest selections, like how to build a transistor radio and 101 things to do with green wire, will inspire her to write another magnum opus she can post on her new blog later that night, by which time her first magnum opus will have already made her famous.
When she wakes up in the morning, she yawns, stretches and reaches for her phone on the table beside her. An envelope icon in the upper left corner indicates she has an email. Her heart skips and with a quick intake of breath she checks the message.
Her heart leaps again: It’s from WordPress! She clicks the message, her finger trembling, but immediately she can see it isn’t a comment notification, but a chipper message encouraging her to post more. Well, I certainly will post more, she thinks, and checks to see how many views her second magnum opus, a story about a girl who goes to the library for a book but finds a boyfriend instead, got compared to her first.
The numbers aren’t great. Only five people looked at the second one, and only two looked at the first one. Maybe the second one is better, she thinks, but quickly dismisses the idea, because the first is so clever, and the second simply a study of life and circumstance, and of course a celebration of libraries. That story will be sure to get young girls and boys reading, she thinks, and then it occurs to her that people are suckers for romance, so of course the second story has more views than the first.
She yawns again, puts her phone down and decides to go back to sleep.
Midway through a third story, this one about aliens, she has the uncontrollable urge to check her email. She has a Feeling. But this time when she sees the new email from WordPress, she suppresses her excitement until she reads the whole thing.
And when she reads that she has a new comment, no, two! comments, waiting for approval, she tries not to smile too smugly, even though her computer probably can’t register her facial expressions.
Here we go, she thinks, here come the praise and adoration, although she immediately regrets thinking that, because what if it’s actually a negative comment? What if some girl met her boyfriend in a library and he abused her and then dumped her for a more beautiful, blonder, bustier girl and she’s angry because the story made her relive all her horrible memories and now she needs counseling and she’s going to sue…
Her mind cuts itself off when the comment page loads. The first comment is on her first story, the one about the girl who starts a blog in order to become famous, from someone named ubieranki that says, “Nothing really to talk about…” She snorts in indignation and hits the reply button.
“Did you even read the story I wrote, Mr. (or Ms.) ubieranki? What kind of name is that anyway? If you take another look, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to talk about.”
The second comment is from someone with a crazy German-sounding name, hausmittel kopfshmerzen, and it says, “Simply want to say your article is stunning. The lucidity inside your post is merely striking and that i can assume your an expert on this field. Well together with ycur permission let me grab your rss feed to keep up to date with succeeding post. Thanks millions of and please keep up the fabulous work”
She smiles, although wonders why someone would use the word “lucidity” to describe what’s going on inside a short story, but chalks it up to the fact that the reader obviously isn’t a native English speaker, and she’s tickled anyway. “Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert yet, more like an explorer, trying to forge my own path through the publishing world. Of course you have my permission to subscribe to my RSS feed, you’ll be my second subscriber (after my mom, LOL).”
The comments pour in. She probably doesn’t need to write anything else, now, right, because so many people are reading what she’s already written and it would be a shame to distract them from her magnum opuses, but she might as will finish the story about the aliens, because after all, she’s already halfway through and she hates leaving things unfinished.
Before she finishes the alien story, though, she reads through all her comments and replies, because she loves the stories about authors who take the time to answer their fan mail, and then wind up changing some little boy’s life because his parents abused him and no one ever loved him and his only friends were books, and then the author.
Comment from hotels in hong kong: “Dude… I am not much into reading, but somehow I got to read lots of articles on your blog. It’s amazing how interesting it is for me to visit you very often.”
Reply: “Thanks! If you ever come to the United States, let me know and you can visit me for real, and we’ll have lots of fun.”
Comment from detoxing your body: “I just want to say thanks for communicating such excellent work. You have opened our outlook to new and exciting topics which not many speak about. It is always great to read about another writer’s ideas.”
Reply: “Expanding horizons is important work for a writer. Thanks.”
Comment from tv through internet: “Nice site you have here… though I have a question I’d like to ask you, preferably through email. How can I contact you?”
Reply: “Thanks! My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to getting in touch with you!”
She wonders if she should send all her comments to the agents who rejected her novel, but decides to wait until she gets multiple pages of comments on all the stories, including the alien one. That’ll show them, she thinks, pages and pages of readers who love my work, and you were dumb enough to reject it. She imagines the looks on their faces, but then feels bad and decides to check her forum for writers to see if anyone else is having the same kind of break away success she is.
After agonizing over the ending to the alien story and posting it, wondering when an appropriate time to start selling ad space on her blog will be, and how many ads she should put up, and how selective she should be, and whether or not she’ll let any of the agents who rejected her buy ads, she reads the latest comments on her first two stories. Most of them are similar, so she writes the same response again and again until she gets bored and finally comes to the greatest comment she has ever seen in her five days of blogging.
“Writing is a talent that you surely have,” wrote kinoki foot pad scam. “All your great work is clearly obvious when you state yourself through writing. Your one of a kind writing will always be remembered.”
She smiles smugly and doesn’t even care whether or not her computer can recognize facial expressions. Finally, someone who gets it. Someone who recognizes her genius. She forgets to respond and instead prints out the comment, clips it off of the page and tapes it to her computer monitor, for inspiration, for the times she’s feeling a little down on herself, she can look at what kinoki foot pad scam wrote and remember that her great work is obvious when she states herself through writing.
Suck it, publishing world, she thinks.