Friday, August 30, 2013
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
"Everyday Facebook use leads to declines in subjective well-being, both how happy you feel moment to moment and how satisfied you feel with your life," says Ethan Kross, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the study, told ABC News.
Kross and the other researchers analyzed the moods and habits of 82 young adults -- active Facebook users with mobile phones whose average age was 20 -- over the course of two weeks. They texted each participant five times a day, at random intervals, and got feedback about their feelings, worries, loneliness, Facebook usage and real-life interactions with other people.
They found that Facebook users were more connected with their friends and acquaintances than those not on Facebook, but the more frequently people used Facebook, the worse they felt immediately afterward. Additionally, the more they used Facebook over the course of two weeks, the less satisfied and happy they were with their lives as a whole.
I've noticed that writers on Facebook tend to not talk about the less successful aspects of their careers. You will always hear about an acceptance, but you may not hear about the ten plus times that same writer submitted that particular story to other publishers and was rejected. Tessa Wanton said: "Sometimes we get bound up in what we see out there and especially those who are so very confident when you feel so unconfident yourself. The problem I've found is that some people just constantly go on about how successful and brilliant they are, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Even if I've found out later that what they're saying isn't true, the initial feeling of inadequacy still presides." I saw a comment, possibly at the ABC News article, stating that people who needed to constantly talk about how successful and brilliant they are are probably overcompensating for an extreme lack of confidence. Tessa agreed, saying "very true, yet even still the damage is done at that point. I would say artists in general lack confidence in what they do, seems to go with the territory I guess. Such a funny place social media, I do find I have to stand back at times, it can be utterly all consuming."
Monday, August 26, 2013
Hosted by Ashley Lister
The radio show is on every Saturday night - 8 until 10 pm UK time (we're currently operating to British Summer Time which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time). The first hour is family friendly. The second hour has a more mature content and usually includes an interview with a poet.
It's fun. I have people tweeting poems in. I have people mailing in poems (which then get read out live on air). I play poetry and music and chat with poets. I had no idea I could do anything like this.
This is the page where the radio station keeps its links: http://www.fyldecoastradio.co.uk/listen_live.html The station is called Fylde Coast Community Radio and my show is the Dead Good Poetry show.
If ERWA contributors want to listen in and see how the show develops (and gauge whether or not they'd want their writing to be associated with the project) it would be great to know they're adding to the supportive audience. If anyone does want to record a short, original poem of their own (4 mins max), I would need it in MP3 format. I'm also looking into including Skyped poems at some point in the future.
by Jean Roberta
Anyone who follows the careers of celebrity writers knows that the great American crime-writer Elmore Leonard passed away on August 20, 2013. Amidst the eulogies, his ten writing rules have been trotted forth:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify “said.”
5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.
6. Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great details describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Much as I would have liked Mr. Leonard to live past his eighties, the current media-storm of analyses of his writing style is timely for me. I am on schedule to teach a creative writing class for credit for the first time in September. Note that non-credit classes (such as the one I taught in the 1990s to senior citizens) are much different, more like hobbies; there are no grades and no pressure. This time, I will be expected to teach some useful techniques which might actually result in publishing contracts. Therefore I have been checking out “writing rules” of various kinds.
My senior colleague, experienced mystery-writer Gail Bowen (whose novels are all set in the town where we both live) has discussed Elmore Leonard’s rules with approval in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail:
Well, yes and no. My students all had to audition for my class by submitting samples of their writing to me. I have definitely seen some “Hooptedoodle” in the form of self-conscious writing that strains to be witty or memorable. It would probably be good for all my students to have to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules while writing one assignment. Writers, like singers, can benefit from expanding their range.
It doesn’t surprise me that Elmore Leonard admired Ernest Hemingway, who apparently developed his famously terse style as a journalist, pounding out news articles on a manual typewriter in various war zones. (It should be noted, however, that journalists did not always write like Hemingway. Nineteenth-century newspapers often combined floridly-written news articles with fiction, and at first glance it can be hard to guess which is which.)
I have nothing against the school of Hemingway, Leonard, and their many followers. Showing action rather than describing people and scenes can be an effective way to develop character and a plot at the same time. If dialogue sounds true-to-life as well as expressive, “said” is the only verb that needs to be added.
However, there are other ways to write. Writing about sex, in particular, lends itself to description. (“They met, they fucked, they came” doesn’t work for me as a climactic passage.) Even Hemingway resorted to an extreme metaphor when “the earth moved” for his central characters. A precious, overwrought, bejewelled and archaic style can be great fun to write – and to read.
“Purple prose,” the sort of thing that Hemingway and Leonard aimed to stamp out, is now associated with the famous opening sentence of an 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton before Charles Dickens had become a household name. Note the way this passage violates Elmore Leonard’s Rule #1:
“It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
This is not the sort of opening scene that appeals to a reader who wants to cut to the chase. In its way, however—like a lady of the evening in a corset and flounced petticoats--this long sentence is damn sexy. Notice what the author has accomplished, even before introducing a single human character. The reader is plunged into a sensuous experience, as though caught in a sudden downpour. The location has been identified. If even the housetops are “rattled,” the shelters that humans have built for themselves are clearly no match for the power of nature. And the struggling flames that fight against darkness suggest the brave fragility of human consciousness or life itself.
After this introduction, characters can be brought into an imaginary world that has already been set up. As a prologue or declaration of purpose, the opening sentence can be considered direct and concise, rather than too long. And every word contributes to the general effect.
I would like to give a “dark and stormy night” assignment, not as a joke (like the annual Bulwer-Lytton Award that offers prizes for the most extreme parodies of the famous sentence) but as an exercise in writing vivid description.
Writing "rules" can be useful in helping fledgling writers find the subjects, the styles, the genres and the philosophies that work best for them. Ultimately, however, good writing seems to me to be a matter of coherence and faithfulness to one`s own vision.
"Different strokes for different folks" is not only a snappy way to advocate acceptance of other people`s sexual tastes. It can describe a smorgasbord of different writing styles. Just as finding the best Significant Other can require kissing a few toads along the way, finding the best style for a particular piece is likely to involve a few failed experiments. And the journey can be more fun than reaching the destination.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
by Kathleen Bradean
I think I found my writer's voice years ago when we were in Taccoa visiting relatives. Seeing relatives is real easy in Taccoa as I'm blood kin to at least twenty percent of the population. It's a small town; my mother had sixty-four cousins; you do the math.
Oh, she didn't have sixty-four living cousins. There were only about twenty-eight of them. Living cousins, that is. A few got killt off in road accidents and that type of stuff. Many of the sixty-four didn't make it to their first birthday. Then there were the diphtheria and cholera years where whole branches of the family tree got pruned off in the course of a week, sort of like when a tornado goes through town and tears away tree limbs and sends them flying through your window or shattering your home and all you can do the next day is stare numbly at the damage until your eyes get itchy from tears. Then you drag the back of your hand across you runny nose and go on living because what else are you gonna do?
I only know about all the cousins that passed because there's a book that lists everyone in the family since we came over from England. One time I was real bored because it was my turn to be the person my sisters hated and they'd sneaked off to the creek without me. I knew where they were but the rules of that particularly nasty game were that you had to suck it up and take it so I had to make do until they forgave me for whatever sin they'd decided I'd committed. Seeing as Toccoa is surrounded by the southernmost crest of the Smoky Mountains and this was years before satellite, Grandma's TV only got snowy pictures and ghosts followed the actors. Besides, my grandparents belonged to the cult of 'go play outside' so after a long sigh and an eye roll that nearly got me in big trouble, I took the book out on the back steps and balanced it on my bony knees while I flipped to the page where my mother's name was listed, and my sisters and me with her, and that's how I found out about all those dead cousins. I counted them, even the babies who only lived a day. Then I crawled under the house to play with the barn cat's kittens.
My elusive writer's voice wasn't under the house with them.
We were driving around town-- We must have been on our way to church. Grandma was wearing those white cotton gloves and I had on a dress which was a miracle in and of itself-- and Grandma said "Mister L" -- isn't it funny how they called each other Mister L and Missus L instead of using their first names? Maybe because they flat out hated each other. Anyway, Grandma said, "Stop the car. I want to show the children this house." It was a big old dark green thing with a mansard roof that had seen better centuries. We said we could see the house fine from the car, but she insisted.
Grandpa didn't need to stop really. He always drove so slow we could have popped open the doors and stepped out like it was one of those carnival rides on a continuous belt, but he pulled off the road, which probably brought considerable relief to that blue Chevy that had been dogging Grandpa's back bumper since we passed the county high school.
The cicadas were buzzing like mad in towering, pale green trees behind the house. Gravel got in my shoe as we walked down the drive so I hopped on one foot while I dumped it out. Grandma stepped onto the porch and knocked on the door. When no one answered, my sisters and I shuffled toward the car, not in any hurry to get back in because Grandma and Grandpa had been bickering all morning about whether we'd go to the Methodist church (his) or the Baptist (hers) and we would have been glad to miss both. So when she called us over and tolt us to look through the windows so we could see the inside of the place, we climbed up on the porch with her. I cupped my hands around my eyes and looked into the parlor. Some guy was asleep on a couch in his t-shirt and I could hear a game on a television I couldn't see. I tugged on Grandma's sleeve and whispered frantically to her to move away from the window. Maybe I only thought I was was whispering because the man sat up suddenly. We yelped and lit out for Grandpa's car, but Grandma just stood there on the porch peering in like she never heard of a shotgun before. The door yanked open and the guy's hair, which was sticking up like he'd licked a light socket, I swear reached the top of the door frame. He stared at us sleep stupefied for a good moment. My sisters and I held hands and our breaths.
Turns out he was a cousin.
One of the living, of course. We may be southern but we aren't gothic.
Maybe you wonder how you develop your writers voice and maybe you don't. I went looking for it but got sidetracked and haven't bothered since. Supposedly, that's what an MFA program does for you. But I'm convinced that focuses on the wrong thing. If the story is first person, it has to be written in the character's voice, not the writer's. Otherwise, the writer is intruding.
I didn't find my writer's voice in Toccoa, but I can make it sound as if this narrator is me. It's channeling the way a story would be told by that narrator. It's cadence and vocabulary. It's judiciously ignoring grammar in favor of voice. I wouldn't suggest writing dialectics as a rule since they are often annoying, but those three words inform the reader about the narrator in ways that the rest of the text can't, so I did it anyway.
If you're a writer, you may have voices in your head. Let them speak on the page. Don't worry about your voice, because unless you consciously steer your writing to a different one, yours will shine through.
The Devil of Ponong series
Friday, August 23, 2013
But it's easy to become obsessed. Some writers have a goal of writing a certain amount of words every day and get annoyed with themselves if they don't achieve them. Equally, if they exceed that goal, it's a cause for celebration. Many writers (including myself), take part in sprints, for example #1k1hr, which stands for one thousand words in one hour. It's a good way to push on, and if you're the competitive sort, you want to get lots of words down and try and beat the other writers you're #1k1hr - ing with. It's friendly, though, and a good way to get a chunk of words down.
I often find my gaze straying to the bottom of the page where my word count is displayed. I think it's become a habit now. Because I do so many things as well as writing, I don't set myself a minimum daily word count. I don't even write every day. But when I do, I more often than not write down my starting word count and my ending word count so I know what I've done for the day. Naturally, some days are much more productive than others, and I find myself massively productive when I have deadlines looming.
Whatever I'm writing, I'm always conscious of the number of words, which often is crazy. If I'm writing for a call for submissions, then of course I have to stay within the parameters. But if I'm just writing a story and seeing what happens, whether it ends up as a short story, a novella, a novel, etc, then I don't need to keep track of it. However, I still do! I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, to be honest. I do like to see what I've achieved (for example I totted up my word count for the year and it exceeded 175,000 words, and that was several weeks ago now!), so maybe that's it. Maybe I'm governing myself.
I don't think that's a bad thing, then. As writers, we don't always know what's going to happen to our words, to our stories, when they're complete. They may get sent off to a publisher and rejected, then sent elsewhere. Or they may be accepted, and we then have to wait quite a while before we see them published, and even longer before we're actually paid for them. So really, it's no surprise many of us watch our word counts so scrupulously. After all, because we may have to wait months, even years, to see our work come to fruition, we need an instant boost, an instant sense of achievement, otherwise we might wonder what we're doing it for.
What do you think? Do you check out your word counts all the time? Or do you just write and don't worry about all that? I'd love to get your thoughts in the comments!
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
By Lisabet Sarai
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Now that’s a title sure to sell books. Especially if said book promises to answer that question with “the latest scientific research” by “paint[ing] an unprecedented portrait of female lust.”
I’ve mostly overcome my old bad habit of feeling compelled, for the sake of my professional development, to read every article about sex that catches my eye—from Cosmo covers offering secret bedroom tricks that fulfill every man’s deepest desires to more serious journalism like Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Yet an enthusiastic review of Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire proved just too provocative, so I put my name of the hold list at my local library. Granted I was equally wary and amused that the mystery of female sexual desire was to be answered by a male author, but the “science” in the title promised at least a certain amount of objective reportage and possibly some useful up-to-date discoveries.
After finishing the book, I think I’ll go back on the wagon as far as “read this and you’ll understand sex” come-on’s are concerned.
Predictably, Bergner’s book left my raging intellectual curiosity about sex sadly unsatisfied. However, I did gain some valuable insights into issues of importance for erotica writers: namely, the constrictions on the way we’re allowed to write about sex in mainstream publishing and our endless human quest to seek a simple explanation for our very complex and powerful urge to merge (or the lack thereof in married women, which was Bergner’s unacknowledged focus, not to say obsession, in the book).
Let’s start with the writing style of What Do Women Want? Published writing about sex is generally divided into two comforting categories. First we have the “scientific” approach, which is deemed acceptable for review in the New York Times (indeed Bergner even nabbed a nonfiction spot in that venerable publication to promote his book). This is either a sex guide by a credentialed doctor or a journalist’s reportage of what’s going on in the underfunded labs of sexologists. The emphasis here is on the “facts” tastefully and maturely presented with the aim of helping us understand our biological drives. The tone may be humorous, like Roach’s, often pointing out the ridiculousness of sex, but there can never be any obvious intent to arouse lust. That goal is left to erotica and porn, where the author is at liberty to use every trick in the book—dirty words, loving descriptions of sex acts, vivid, taboo-breaking fantasies—to inflame the reader’s libido. The price for this freedom is that such works can’t be taken too seriously, even if some do prove wildly profitable.
I’d always wondered what would happen if someone tried combining these two forms, intellectual seriousness with vivid, evocative prose. Many erotica writers do so quite successfully in my opinion. Bergner makes a certain kind of attempt by juxtaposing reportage of scientific studies and the search for a “female Viagra” (which is apparently much harder since it requires a change in brain chemistry rather than just blood flow) with decidedly flowery accounts of women’s experiences and fantasies. The experiment derails because Bergner’s heavy-handed prose requires the reader to either submit equally to the reportage and the personal fancy or to doubt both. For me, What Do Women Want? has been falsely advertised as the kind of “scientific” book that we’re supposed to respect when there is a buried personal agenda at work throughout. Perhaps the book would be less of a con if it were advertised as memoir or creative nonfiction, but then again it would lose a good portion of an audience that craves “objective” answers to the mystery of sex.
Although an inquiry into what women want could result in a very long book indeed, Bergner’s main focus is stories of women who have lost desire for their sweet, loving partners, but feel excitement for men who treat them like, well, Christian Grey treats Anastasia Steele. Yet, rather than quoting the women in their own words, he freely indulges his own writerly impulses. In the following excerpt, he’s describing the experiences of a “real” woman named Isabel:
“Women who dressed with urgent, ungoverned need for the desire of men could set off, inside her, a flurry of disdain, like an instinctive aversion to a weakness or wound. Yet whenever she walked into a restaurant where Michael waited for her at the bar, his focus seem to pluck her from the air, midfall, and pull her forward. His eyes held a thoroughly different kind of constancy than Eric’s later would. Eric adored her. Michael admired her. She was a possession, the heels of the boots she picked for him taking her across crowded rooms toward her owner. The boots were like the frames and pedestals he chose for the photography and sculpture in his gallery. He had specific opinions about how she was best displayed.”
If the book were fiction, I might be more willing to allow myself to be carried along by the strongly flavored sensibility of Bergner’s prose. But in many cases I felt manipulated, as if he were imposing his voice on Isabel among others, making her into his character, for the mere sake of showing us he can write in a Best American Short Story style.
Now Bergner does describe some interesting results of studies—did you know that in speed dating whichever sex sits still is pickier about partners than the one forced to get up and rotate? But far too many studies he mentioned dealt with women’s boredom with nice guys. Basically Berger argues that traditional evolutionary biology got it wrong. It’s not the men who are the promiscuous sex, sowing their seed far and wide while women wait for a nurturing mate, but rather the women who are even hungrier for sex with strangers, thus explaining the much touted desire gap between married men and women. By the time he attributed Adriaan Tuiten’s search for a drug to restore female desire to a broken heart when his first girlfriend lost sexual interest in him, I suspected something else was at stake for the author as well. And indeed, turning back to the acknowledgements, Bergner rather wistfully thanks his ex-wife for the faith she offered for many years.
Whether or not Bergner’s ex-wife left him because her sexual desire for her tender mate faded, his choice of highly personal writing style and a notable focus on one slim aspect of female sexuality demands that he be honest with his readers about where he comes from on the issue of marriage and the loss of desire. Yet he maintains the opacity of the traditional journalist throughout, in spite of his revealingly biased choices in language.
Now is the perfect time for me to be honest. While I am all for revising the rigid story of a natural male promiscuity and the female preference for monogamy, in my personal experience, I have always had better sex when I know and care for my partner and he cares for me. Thus, I did not in any way feel that the book illuminated the mysteries of my desire. Which leads me to the second lesson of my reading. Bergner insists we have to replace the old story with an equally simple one—it’s not men who have insatiable appetites, it’s women (which is actually the view of earlier Christian philosophers, so it’s not exactly new). But what if we human beings, male and female, all have our own ever-evolving stories about pleasure and sexual desire? Might not we all have different reasons, genetic and cultural, for behaving and desiring as we do, narratives that might also change within a single person’s life course as well as varying among different people? What if there are no rock-solid eternal truths to comfort us about what is natural in sex (or any other human behavior)?
For inherent in these “scientific” studies is the assumption that there is a normal or correct sexuality. Yet I’ve never seen a real-life example offered of this envied normal state. (Therapist Marty Klein maintains in his book, Sexual Intelligence, that the only true normal is that most adults have sex when they're tired.) Bergner does not interview a promiscuous woman who has found happiness indulging her natural urges like the rhesus monkeys in the lab. Even one of the few sexually frisky married women Bergner mentions is not a poster child for happy monogamy by his definition:
“The abruptly, she mentioned something hidden. She was a baseball fan, and when she had trouble reaching orgasm, or wanted to make love with Paul but felt that arousal was remote and needed beckoning, she tended to think about the Yankee’s shortstop Derek Jeter. She smiled at the comedy of this confession. It was only sometimes that this extra help was required, she explained. ‘Jeter is the ultimate Yankee. Tall, all-American, everyone loves him—he’s it. He comes home to me after winning the World Series. He’s still in his uniform, and he throws me onto the bed and kisses me in a frenzy all over and thrusts right into me without me being really prepared for it. He just ravages me.’”
Yes, the secret is out, the wife “sometimes” has to cheat in her fantasies to feel lust for her husband! Both Bergner and the wife seem to find such fantasies embarrassing and comic, but more to the author’s point, the fantasy is described as “hidden” (But from whom exactly? She told him about it, should she advertise it on a tattoo on her face?) and conforms to the rape-by-a-stranger fantasy that several of the scientists he interviewed claim arouses women more than any other fantasy. Bergner does not really explore the wisdom of taking fantasies literally. He allows that these women probably don’t actually want to be raped, but he does seem to assume that a mere fantasy about another man is a form of infidelity and proves his case about women “wanting” lots of sex with buff, selfish strangers in alleyways.
Okay, I’m going to get personal again, but at least I’m being transparent about my point of view. I’ve never fantasized for more than two seconds about a specific person or celebrity, nor does rape, which we'll define as nonconsensual sex, ever play a role in my rich and varied married-woman fantasies, although the partner usually takes the lead because, damn it, I get tired doing everything out there in the real world. Still my preferred fantasy partner is a faceless drone, used and discarded for his sexual value alone. I like it that way. Does my fantasy prove anything more than that my imagination does not follow society’s rules for proper female focus on the man’s personhood? And how is it that Bergner’s list of women’s sexual fantasies, told with a sort of breathless titillation, can be seen as news decades after Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden shocked the world? Alas, the book is mired in not-very-unprecedented assumptions and judgments Bergner claims to be challenging. In the end he does admit it is “just a beginning,” in spite of the promotional copy's promise to a potential reader that he or she will get some interesting answers to the title question.
So, yes, the book is mostly a waste of time if you are expecting to find out what all women want. Yet even its failures remind us that there is plenty of room for a nuanced, clear-eyed inquiry into the stories we tell ourselves about sexuality and desire. Daniel Bergner has unwittingly made his own contribution, though not quite as he intended. His book does give us a coded look into the interests and passions of one particular man, but undoubtedly a more honest What Do Women Want?: I Don’t Really Know Either would not sell nearly as many copies.
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor
Thursday, August 15, 2013
I'm going to introduce you to the most viscerally powerful short story I've ever read. Flat out. But - first I need you do a couple of things.
For your own safety, I mean.
From this moment on you should be sitting in an easy chair or maybe laying down is even better. Padding. So you won't hurt yourself.
A glass of water nearby. Maybe a small waste can and a roll of paper towels would also be prudent. Last, if possible, a spouse or a reliable friend who doesn't panic easily. Do not have someone read it to you aloud while driving a car or operating heavy machinery.
We will assume you have done these things and proceed. Attend.
The last person recorded to have fainted during a public reading of "Guts" was on May 28, 2007 at the public library of Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Strictly speaking he didn't faint as a result of the story but as a consequence of running for the exit, fainting in mid stride and hitting his head on the way to the floor. He was one of five who dropped during that reading. In Milan Italy a professional actor read the translation aloud in excellent Italian and entire rows went down as though they'd been machine gunned. Thus far a total of 73 people have officially fainted during public readings of "Guts" at least until people stopped counting. That's what stories can do for you folks.
Damn I wish I'd written it.
Stop reading this, I'm talking to you there, go to the link I'm going to give you and read "Guts". It only takes a few minutes, its not a long story at all. In fact here's how it begins.
Take in as much air as you can.
This story should last about as long as you can hold your breath, and then just a little bit longer. So listen as fast as you can.”
From “Guts” Chuck Palahniuk
Here is the link to "Guts" a short story by my literary hero Chuck Palahniuk. You can read it for free. Off you go, now. Come back after you pull yourself together.
From this moment on the blog will be divided into two camps. The readers with “Guts’, and the "Guts" virgins.
The readers are those who obediently went to the link and followed through and survived more or less intact. The virgins are those who did not take it seriously and didn’t check it out at all or those who did and found themselves unable to finish it. I fall into both camps. The first time I read it I couldn't finish it. I thought I was tough. I was not. I went back and finished it the second time, both times cringing in my seat, chewing my thumb and laughing my ass off insanely at the funny parts.
Now you Guts virgins - go back and read it. Please. Go on. Get outta here. You're missing a thing of hideous beauty. Come back when you know something. You will note that I have not told you anything about the story premise or what it's about. Nor will I. But I would like to talk about the "Palahniuk Effect", how the great man does what he does so well.
The genre Palahniuk writes in and maybe some of us also write in without knowing it had a name, is “transgressive fiction”, written in a Minimalist style. This is a kissing cousin of pulp fiction which walks a fine line on what is forbidden in commercial fiction and often cheerfully vaults over it. This would include stories that are potentially offensive either on a moral level such as “Lolita”, which on its surface after all is a sexual affair between a man and a twelve year old girl he nightly rapes, or a publishable level such as “Guts” (The first time it was submitted to Playboy magazine it was refused as “too disturbing”. When the editor attended a reading at Union Square Library in New York during which a man was carted off in an ambulance, he reconsidered his position. It appeared in Playboy in 2004). Transgressive Fiction can also include gay erotica, BDSM stories, flagellation and so on. It concerns characters who feel confined by the moral conventions of society and in the course of the story break out by doing luridly illicit or in the case of “Guts”, incredibly dumb things.
"Guts" is told from the first person POV in a very specific way. Palahniuk has several essays on writing which have lately gotten attention in the ERWA writers forum.. He has a lot to say about the crafting of "Guts". Any story opens with a particular problem for the writer, which is the early establishing of authority with the reader. This is connected with the “suspension of disbelief ”. The reader has to trust where you’re leading them, no matter how weird or revolting it is, and be willing to give your characters the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true in the case of the first person point of view, with all of its intimacy offered to the reader right up front in the voice of the narrator. Palahniuk explains that this can be done by either heart or head.
To establish authority by heart means to speak of yourself in a way that speaks straight to the reader, without putting on airs. You might do this by revealing early on something that doesn’t make you look all that good. Something which is more of the honest fool then the hero. You have to establish this as quickly as possible, in the first few sentences.
For instance this is how Mark Twain starts off Huckleberry Finn:
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
The reader likes Huckberry's voice. He sounds like a straight forward kid.
Or this, from the opening of Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”:
“She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise”.
He sounds like a dubious character, but someone worth knowing. You wonder what the deal is with his mother too.
By showing your warts early on you are being vulnerable, holding out your hand to a certain trust and intimacy with the reader. You don’t have to be a good person or even a very nice person. Just somebody worth knowing.
The other way is “establishing authority” with the head. This is in fact the way Palahniuk starts out “Guts”. Now that I think of it, this is also the way in which I have introduced this blog entry. This is usually done by listing a series of details, either technical or emotional details that show the reader your narrator has been where he/she describes and knows what they’re talking about from experience and knowledge. This is generally easier to do than the heart method, especially if you are using a dislikeable narrator. Palahniuk admits most of his stories begin with the head method, in part because he almost always uses first person present narration and most of his first person narrators are dislikeable people. For example, this is the opening paragraph of his novel “Snuff” in which a former porn star eventually commits suicide by way of exhaustive marathon sex:
He has established trust, if not sympathy, between the narrator and the reader. The events unfold. The sensory description, which is also a critical element to erotica writing, is based on the minimal depiction of a single ultra-realistic detail. The kind of detail only the narrator would know. That carefully chosen detail is a note that brings the side elements into the light. Palahniuk advises “When a normal person has a headache, they take aspirin. When a writer has a headache, he takes notes.” You try to find a way of conveying the experience of a headache, not just the bland statement that a headache exists. You don’t say the beer was delicious. You describe the beer as malty and bitter and cold. The reader decides if that’s delicious or not, not you. If you are describing a desperate man crossing an unlit railroad yard in the dead of night, a man who is compulsively afraid of the dark – and I have written that story – you don’t say “It was dark.” Hell. We know that. Instead you describe the man dropping to the ground in a fit. Digging his fingernails in the dirt, until they hurt. Biting the dirt with his teeth and weeping shamefully. Describe how it feels to suffocate with brainless panic and then seeing just in front of his eyes the moonlight glinting off a single piece of broken bottle glass.
That makes it feel dark, and feel is what you want. Palahniuk says the line that seemed to send most of the fainters spiraling to the floor is the one with the words “corn and peanuts”. That’s a very specific detail known only to the narrator until he reveals it in a way that brings the scene home and viscerally nails it.
Now, if the image of corn and peanuts isn’t turning you green at this moment, and maybe for the rest of your life, it’s because you’re a Guts-Virgin.
Come over here, little virgin.
Come over here. Gonna tighten' up your wig for you.
Come sit close to me, baby. No. More close. Touching close.
Now. What we’re gonna do. It’s all up to you. Won’t make you do nuthin’ you don’t want. Good?
Let’s see that little mouse you got, sweetie.
Oh. Oh isn’t that beautiful. Your mama gave you the sweetest beautiful mouse. Look what you’ve been hiding from me all this time.
How is that mouse . . . There. Isn’t that nice? You like that?
Put your finger there on the left button. Just keep it there like that ‘till I say.
That’s the way. Feel nice? You like that? You bet you like it. Bet your mouse like that. Bet your mama like that.
See that down there? No, lower down. See that?
Well, that’s my URL. Ever seen one of those before? Yeah? You’re not so innocent like you look.
What you’re gonna do for me is put your little pointer there, baby, right there and give my URL a nice little squeeze. That’s how it’s done. Move it right down there. Do it just for me. Then I’ll know you love me good, sugar.
You’re going good. Oh that’s sweet how you do that. Oh that’s so good. I can watch you move your mouse all night long. You’re going so good at this already and you think you like it now, sweetie, you gonna love it later.
Don’t stop here. Down there’s where all the action is. Put your little pointer right down there. Oh, that's the way. Hold it there.
Posted by Garceus at 12:30 AM