Writer-In-Residence at So Now | Necessary Fiction

So New | Necessary Fiction

August Writer in Residence at Necessary Fiction

I’m looking forward to posting a work of fiction every day in August as the Necessary Fiction writer-in-residence, following the really excellent work of William Walsh (July) and Roxane Gay (June).

I think I’ve taken a slightly different tack. I wish I could deal with the pressure of just writing a piece a day and posting it. I write almost every day, but I’m not under any illusions that my daily production is anything except something to collect and refine and possibly turn into something somewhat interesting at some point after a lot of work. My daily production is probably no more or less interesting than any monologue you can hear at the back of a city bus. Instead, I plan on running essentially six different series through the month that may lead to a month’s time a kind of buckshot approach to some of my current preoccupations with the short story

I am interested in something called American Fairy Tales, a mode of writing that has never really established itself although there are some great books by the likes of Carl Sandburg. There was also the recent fad in literary fiction featuring fairy tale stories and fantastic elements in a concoction that is closer to the Brother’s Grimm than the American surrealism called magic realism that was half-heartedly lifted form South America in the 1980s. Even so this writing seems driven more by literary forbearers and a written tradition than Sandburg’s deliberate attempt to find a form that reflected American speech.

Even though I am interested in this form, I also plan on all of my first published book of fiction, The Remains of River Names. A new edition of the book will be published this fall by the Publication Studio, and the collection contains some of the first stories I’ve ever published, such as “My Name’s Roy” which was published in a literary supplement to the student newspaper, The Daily, at the University of Washington in 1994. The collection was originally published in 2000. When I wrote The Remains of River Names in my mid-twenties, I believed it was really possible to write a book that could be so naturalistic that it would seem like the way people actually lived and thought. When one story was rejected for what an editor thought t was the story’s “thinly veiled creepy autobiography” I thought I was on the right track. It was only in reading from the book after it was published that I realized how fake literary fiction was — life doesn’t happen in scenes or dialogue or ephinanies happen all the time or not at all and are not neatly sequestered in pivotal moments. American life is far more surreal than it is real. Advertising copy is just as valid of way of seeing the word and perhaps more accurate than “gritty realism.” So I had a kind of change of heart, but not sure a change of heart toward something clearly defined. Critics I think are drawn to clear definition; fiction writers tend to prefer the fuzzy and diaphanous when it comes to literary genres and tradition.

In the vein then of the fuzzy and diaphanous I was pleased to collaborate with visual artist Taibi Mastelse who I met after she posted a tiny collage she had made based on my novel, Shoot the Buffalo to her blog. Taibi created five images and sent me titles and the collages, and I wrote a piece in response. We then revised our contributions based on each other’s response.

Also in August I will post a series of free-association short shorts I wrote with the help of DragonSpeak Naturally Speaking. For almost all my writing, I write using a keyboard, and after twenty years of typing, I don’t even think about typing. I just put my hands over the board and words come out. There isn’t really an oral component to writing at all this way. The words and sentences come from somewhere in my brain to my fingers and then onto the screen. Only after they are written, do I read them aloud. And then I’ll mouth the sentences and “correct them.” For this series I spoke a series of sentences, and DragonSpeak Naturally Speaking tried to turn that it into text. It works pretty well, but not perfectly, and in revising the pieces I let the software’s errors suggest where the short shorts might go.

Thanks to Steve Himmer for asking to do this. And you know who to blame if find my tenure objectionable. I hope you are interested and check it out.


4 Responses to Writer-In-Residence at So Now | Necessary Fiction

  1. bonalibro July 31, 2010 at 10:35 pm #


    I track literary fiction for my own blog on the topic and I was interested in reading your post. I don’t quite understand why you come to the conclusion you do that literary fiction is necessarily fake. Do you may to say that yours seemed so? I cannot claim to have read it, so I really wouldn’t know. Or are you extrapolating from particular to general? Unfortunately the lack of care for the wording on that topic in particular left me with the feeling you were being deliberately obtuse.

    I tend to think of literary writing as an abstraction of experience rather than an expression of it. In that sense it can be reduced to scenes, dialogues and epiphanies, which tend to have greater intensity than everyday life, but nonetheless get at the kernel of truth, by editing out all the noise.

    As for your method of writing, it sounds similar to my own, though somewhat more like automatic writing. I write whatever comes into my head and sort it all out later.

  2. mattbriggs August 1, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    Literary fiction, especially naturalistic fiction, often presents itself as “real,” not merely an attempt at representation, but an actual unmediated record of events. I think the current years running fad in memoirs is part of this — that is a memoir tries to close the gap between what is written and what is represented. I think in a way it is self evident that it is fake. Sure it is an abstraction of experience, but it is an abstraction that is attempting to pass itself off as “real.” I now prefer fiction that accepts itself as something made up.

  3. bonalibro August 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    I do not read memoirs, so most of what I read and write is made up and accepts itself as such. There was a tendency, though, among modernist writers to fictionalize their own lives; Saul Bellow is a notable example, Henry Miller another most likely, and while they created some lively fiction, one might wish it were more “made up” as you say, but at the time it seemed very refreshing. But, getting back to the personal memoir, the public washing of the writer’s dirty linen, especially when much of it is made up to make it more sensational, is particularly disturbing. It’s a product of the confessional TV talk show culture that we’re, unfortunately, a part of.

    In my own novel, I have a character named Johnny who reflects this aspect of America. She is quite amusing, I believe, but also quite sad.


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