Salvatore Pane

Tag: Justin Taylor

Tin House Ignites the Greatest Controversy in the History of Literature

This is going to be old news for some, but I was out of town and mostly away from the computer the last few days, and I feel the need to touch on this briefly. I don’t know if you know this, but days before the 4th of July Holiday Weekend, Tin House ignited the greatest controversy in the history of literature!

On July 2nd, Tin House altered its submission policy:

Tin House launches Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore Between September 1 and December 30, 2010, Tin House magazine will require writers submitting unsolicited manuscripts to the magazine to include a receipt for a book purchased from a bookstore. Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads. Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our web site.

Seems innocent enough, right? They’re not asking writers to buy copies of Tin House at indie stories, just any book in general. Matthew Simmons, who I interviewed on PANK, posted a relatively innocuous entry on the policy over at HTMLGIANT. Here’s the post in its entirety:

If you want to submit to Tin House, you’ll need to send a receipt proving that you bought a book in a bookstore. What do you think?

Moments later, all hell broke loose as the comments section ballooned to well over two-hundred posts including thoughts, and occasionally tirades, including everyone from Steve Gillis, publisher of DZANC Books, to Andy Hunter, co-editor of Electric Literature. I’m going to include a few of the arguments, but not necessarily in the order they were posted. If that somewhat distorts the nature of the discussion, I apologize. It’s not my intention to sway your opinion on the matter, but merely to report on both sides of the argument.

Authors Laura van den Berg and Lily Hoang both made brief comments in favor of the submissions policy. Laura wrote, “I’m for it. Especially after having worked for a lit mag. And if you only submit to Tin House, say, twice a year, then that’s only 2 books,” while Lily said:

If I start a journal/press, I’ll require people link/photocopy a book review with their submission. That would promote books and ensure that people actually read and think about the book critically, rather than just blindly consume. No? I’m unlikely to start a press/journal any time soon. Besides, with that kind of submission policy, no one would submit.

Jackie Corley, from Word Riot, made a similar argument, saying, “Why would anybody want to be in a magazine they don’t care enough about to buy a copy and read?” Blake Butler, at first, wrote the whole discussion off.  “Is it that hard to get your hands on a receipt for a book purchase? i mean, it’s not exactly plutonium. if you aren’t buying books you shouldn’t be wanting to publish one yourself.” A commentator brought up the library argument, the idea that some writers only read books they can get from libraries, which set Blake off:

i mean, why publish it if you believe in the library system over the bookstore? photocopy a zine and give it to some dudes and stick it in with the other books in the spots where people gather. that also said: not all books worth reading appear in libraries. if your reading history can be all found within the walls of a library, or all of them, you aren’t reading very hard.

Two major points came from Justin Taylor and Andy Hunter. Hunter first:

My first reaction to the Tin House policy was, “Ha Ha. Good for them.”

The economic arguments against it are a joke, as are the ‘local bookstore’ arguments. Most people can afford to buy a couple books a year. Most people live near bookstores. And if you don’t? Write a note explaining that. Not much to get outraged about.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly commenters get outraged around here, but then I realize: being outraged is fun.

Anyway, the condescension complaint is valid, although I think TH meant it in good humor – which apparently didn’t come off.

The thing that I think many here are missing is the incredible volume of submissions Tin House must get. EL is not half as well known, but we get thousands of submissions every issue, and even with 35 readers, it’s very hard to keep up. Especially because everything is read twice. Sometimes we regret our open policy, but it was the policy we wanted to see when we were on the other side, as writers. Now that we’re on the publisher side, it gets a little rough. There are many, many writers who are scanning duotrope and submitting to magazines they’d never fit in. The majority of these writers don’t seem to read enough, to be honest. They really ought to buy and read more books. Collectively, EL spends thousands of hours reading submissions, which is exponentially more time than we spend on anything else. The temptation to put up a small hurdle for submitters is understandable. Especially one that is directed at helping your industry, and supporting what you love.

For about 4 months, EL offered $6 off subscriptions to writers who submitted work to us, via a coupon code. It brought the cost of a digital subscription down to $3 an issue. Out of over 3,000 submitters during that time, less than a dozen used that code. I’m sure Tin House has similar stories.

There has been a lot of wondering, here and elsewhere, if emerging writers do enough to support the institutions which they wish to support them (i.e. ever buy a literary magazine). Tin House decided to playfully push the issue, and lighten the slush pile for themselves at the same time. It’s not so horrible.

Now Taylor:

Did anyone read the actual press release at the TH site? it’s headlined “BUY A BOOK, SAVE A BOOKSTORE.” Hardly an ignoble position or goal. It’s here- http://www.tinhouse.com/all_news.htm Also, if you read the whole post at the TH site, you’ll see that this is part of a larger project designed to instill a sense of happy pride in patronizing brick-and-mortar bookstores. Ever heard of Record Store Day? Comic Book Day? This isn’t just one day, but it’s sort of like that. From their release: “Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.”

And to all the people waging the classism argument, I would like to suggest, with all due respect–which is to say, not much–that you are full of shit and that, what’s more, you damn well know it.
Let’s say I want to submit a book manuscript to Tin House. I enclose a copy of the receipt for the last book I bought new in a bookstore, in this case ON BEING BLUE by William Gass from McNally Jackson books on Prince Street, NYC. This paperback book has a sticker price of $11.95, and I got it at 10% off because it was a staff pick.

That makes OBB about the same price as a movie ticket, or a full-album download on iTunes, or two drinks at a reasonable bar. Granted, those are New York prices, but any urban center is going to be within about spitting range of those numbers (iTunes of course costs the same all over), and if you happen to live in the sticks, where you’re used to dollar drafts all the time and $4 steak dinners–hey, good for you, bud. Spend that extra scratch on a second book.

I think it’s incredibly noble of Tin House to forgo any kind of “reading fee” that they would keep for themselves, and instead encourage you to simply present evidence of an active engagement with literary and bookstore culture today. Presumably, because you are an aspiring writer and an avid reader, you are not being “forced” to go out and buy a book just to submit your work–you probably buy books on a semi-regular basis, and so it is really no problem for you to simply dig out the last receipt you generated and send it along.

I think the people who are asking about the library card option are missing the point. This isn’t an elitist disenfranchisement scheme–it’s not a matter of proving your literacy to them. The fact that the majority of respondents here presume it is their “literary-ness” which is under question says worlds more about y’all than about TH, which I assume takes it for granted that people who write, read, and vice versa. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they don’t really give a shit if you even read the book you’ve got a receipt for having bought. They are looking for displays of enthusiasm for the process of publishing on the consumer-side, from those who would inflict themselves on the world of publishing on the supplier-side.

If patronizing a physical bookstore in order to purchase a new book at its full retail value strikes you as morally derelict in some way, then you have no business asking Tin House Books–or anybody–to publish your work. It’s emphatically not a question about book-reading, but about book-buying. They are book-makers, and book-sellers, and they are looking for people who are interested in what they do: make books, and make books available to be bought. If you hate those things, and hate them for doing those things, why would you want to court their attention in the first place, or pursue this course for your own work?

All that being said, many, MANY detractors showed up over the course of the thread. Some of the most insightful commentary came from Roxane Gay:

As a sort of publisher, I can absolutely say the money goes further when people buy our books or magazines directly from us. The distributor takes 50 percent. We’ve been working with a distributor for a year now and haven’t seen a penny.

Some of us live in towns where there are no actual bookstores but I buy books almost every day online, from big outlets and small. This requirement largely excludes people who live in rural areas. The ability to buy a book in a store is not that easy for everyone.

The rural argument was one that few of the pro-submissions camp could effectively deal with. Mike Meginnis, Co-Editor of Uncanny Valley, and Steve Gillis both had funny replies about the absurdity of the situation. Meginnis wrote, “Anyone submitting to Uncanny Valley a manuscript accompanied by a receipt showing five hundred dollars spent on pornography will be automatically accepted.” Steve had this to say:

Having had a night to sleep on the Tin House policy, I have had a change of heart. What a brilliant concept. We at Dzanc Books will now require a resume and college and grad school transcript – there must of course be grad school – with all unsolicited manuscripts. The submitter will be required to provide a reading list of all the books they’ve read in the last five years. We at Dzanc will also provide a reading list and the submitter will need to have read each book on our list and provide a review. Failure to meet these standards, the submitter will have to bake us a cake. And not just a cake but a poetic cake, and a film of them baking the cake. As we receive thousands of submissions a year at Dzanc, we have every right and reason to limit the folly of would be submitters thinking they can just submit us their work. This is brilliant. Thank you Tin House for blazing this trail.

About a day after the original post, Jimmy Chen uploaded this to HTMLGIANT and tried to recruit as many people as possible into submitting with this receipt.

But one of the funniest posts came from Matthew Simmons, the original poster, who seemed a little horrified by the amount of venom spawned by his two-sentence post. Halfway through the thread, he wrote this: “Okay. Let’s just forget I mentioned this. How about that World Cup?”

I’ve very intentionally tried to leave out my biases and position on this argument (I definitely have one), and what I’m interested in is what you think. Is Tin House‘s submissions policy the end of modern literature? Are they blazing a path that other journals will soon follow? Is their initiative simply misunderstood and similar to Free Comic Book Day like Justin Taylor suggests? Or is this whole argument ridiculous and another example of writers getting pissed off over absolutely nothing? Sound off in the comments.

Advertisements

Top 20 Under 40

The New York Times recently released The New Yorker‘s top 20 writers under 40 list. The biggest surprise is that it was the Times who broke the news on the web.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32
Chris Adrian, 39
Daniel Alarcón, 33
David Bezmozgis, 37
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38
Joshua Ferris, 35
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33
Nell Freudenberger, 35
Rivka Galchen, 34
Nicole Krauss, 35
Yiyun Li, 37
Dinaw Mengestu, 31
Philipp Meyer, 36
C. E. Morgan, 33
Téa Obreht, 24
Z Z Packer, 37
Karen Russell, 28
Salvatore Scibona, 35
Gary Shteyngart, 37
Wells Tower, 37

So did they get it right? Any big surprises? Any huge omissions? According to the comments sections on HTML Giant, this list is all wrong. I actually like a lot of these authors including Joshua Ferris, JSF, Z Z Packer and a few others. I am surprised that people like Justin Taylor or Teddy Wayne or Joe Meno didn’t make it though. What do you guys think? I’m really curious about people’s opinions on this. HTML Giant seems to be pretty negative about the whole thing, but I think the list is pretty decent. It doesn’t beat Flatmancrooked‘s sexiest author list, but what does?

Tom Bailey and the Perfect Writing Pedagogy: In Which I Discuss Abortions, Rilo Kiley and Jar Jar Binks

I attended my first workshop eight years ago (eight years! how did this happen?). We sat around a conference table in the basement of an academic building, the type from a trillion frat movies, all brick with ivy growing up and down the sides. And in came this man wearing denim, cowboy boots, and sporting the type of facial hair that could frighten Tom Selleck. The guy sat down, didn’t say a word of introduction, and opened up an anthology he edited (on the cover is a picture of him scowling alongside portraits of JCO, Hemingway, Dubus and others). He cleared his throat, said, “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits,” and read us the entirety of John Updike’s A&P.

Needless to say, my friends and I all lived in worship of this man, novelist Tom Bailey, a southern good old boy who openly told us, “I’m not interested in experimentation. My reading list’s mostly dead white men.” And we all hurried home after that first class and poured our hearts out into Microsoft Word, producing lackluster, predictable stories about break ups, losing your virginity, the death of a grandparent, or whatever other bullshit teenagers come up with (my story was about how much the Catholic Church blows and how awesome Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is; so in some respects, my unfortunate themes haven’t changed much over the years).

But then a funny thing happened over the course of that first semester: people started talking shit about Bailey behind his back. I couldn’t understand. We read the man’s stories, and it was obvious he had chops. But more importantly he had swagger. He was a living illustration of what we all wanted to become, a real life writer we could imitate. If he did it, so could we. Right?

(Check out this creepy video where Tom Bailey cries and a younger, more vulnerable Sal gives a reading in a Rilo Kiley t-shirt and awkward sports jacket.)

I didn’t figure out why all my friends got so sick of Bailey all of the sudden until I was about to go up for workshop. I printed out my masterpiece about the anointing of the May Queen and a twelve-year-old obsessed with Playstation and left it in Tom’s mailbox. A day or two later I went to talk with him about it. His office was lined with books, most of which I had never heard of (up until that point, I’d only read comic books, sci-fi, and the respective catalogs of J.D Salinger and Chuck Palahniuk).

Tom told me that he really liked one specific line (it took me awhile to track it down, but it’s “The nuns were supposed to pick the purest girl in the school, but they didn’t want any trouble, so they decided to pick a name out of a hat.”). I nodded, took notes in my little notebook and asked him about the rest of the story. He said he didn’t like it and thought I should cut it (all 22 pages) and start again with that line. He handed me a book by Breece D’J Pancake (a writer who blew his brains out in graduate school; great encouragement, Tom) and told me to get cracking.

I’m bringing this up because (years later) now that I’ve finished grad school and eight continuous years of workshops, I’m trying to figure out what kind of criticism I got the most out of. I remember how so many of my fellow students in Bailey’s class were completely shut down by his tell it like it is method which is designed to teach you the value in cutting your work and never being attached to anything you write. And that skill’s proven absolutely invaluable to me (especially in ’08 when I threw away a completed novel I now refer to as The Abortion). But some writers are absolutely crushed by this level of criticism.

This is a CGI representation of what my first attempt at a novel was like.

Justin Taylor recently posted a critique he received from an undergrad poetry teacher. To me, it seemed perfectly in line with something a writer might say to an undergrad. But in the comments section, people were split on whether the commentary was actually helpful or just cliche-ridden and destructive. I have to admit, this kind of reaction always surprises me.  Are writers so thin skinned that honest criticism is too much for them to deal with? And if so, is this really what they want to be doing with their lives? Submitting to hundreds of journals only to get a handful of acceptances? Because, let’s be honest, any criticism in the real world is inevitably a trillion times harsher than what people receive in workshop.

There’s something to be said for the, “This is good; keep going” route of writing pedagogy. But I think it’s more appropriate when workshopping novels than short stories. If someone writes a flawed short story, isn’t it the duty of instructors and fellow workshop students to make the author aware of said flaws and point out potential solutions? On the flip side, I’ve seen writers a third of the way into a promising novel put up a first chapter and become completely debilitated by the laundry list of suggestions.

After sixteen workshops, I’ve gone through a lot of feedback. And what I remember most are the harsh critiques, the honest critiques. Those made me a better writer. What I never remember is the false flattery, the praise, and all the unearned bullshit writers sometimes feel compelled to give apprentices. Case in point, a few years back when I was really wrestling with The Abortion (the aforementioned novel, not a reincarnated Chuck Palahniuk creation), Cathy Day took me aside and gently (maybe not in so many words) told me I should put it away for awhile. At the time, I wasn’t ready to hear this and sulked for a few days, but the key here (just like in the Bailey example where he plucked out a new first line from the wreckage) was that Cathy gave me something to build on. I was spending a lot of time back then creating Facebook photo albums with long, elaborate captions that went on for entire paragraphs. And Cathy told me how much she liked that voice and how little she saw of it in my novel writing. Why not write in that voice?

Well why not? So I aborted The Abortion and began writing something completely different, all the while imagining myself captioning pictures on Facebook. Is that an absolutely bizarre method? Yes. But it worked for me, and Cathy helped me find that. She didn’t worry about my feelings. Just like Tom and a gazillion other amazing mentors I’ve had, they were honest. They weren’t afraid to tell me something I wrote was terrible.

An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 1 of 3): Huh? What? Stop.

I just returned home from Denver and AWP late last night. I’m still collecting my thoughts and trying to wrap my mind around the event, and I’m not sure if I’ll make a proper post. In case I do, I don’t want to spoil the good material now. In case I don’t, highlights include: drinking with Kirk Nessett and his dog, meeting Justin Taylor and Roxane Gay, meeting two separate people who actually referenced entries on this blog, an awesome poetry reading in honor of Black Warrior Review, and great readings and panels all around.

Aside from that, this post will have nothing to do with AWP. Instead, I’m going to do my own online panel. So if you missed the shenanigans in Denver, dear readers, worry not. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to say something about literary journals. Not THE STATE OF THE LITERARY JOURNAL (I’ve already done that), but how one goes about submitting, choosing where to submit, publishing, and all the other difficulties that come with lit mags. Obviously, with only three journal pubs under my belt, I am no expert. So I’ve enlisted the help of two University of Pittsburgh MFA alumnus, Robert Yune and Adam Reger. Between the three of us, we’ve  published in different enough places (and have different enough methods) to be of use to the general reader/aspiring writer. Robert will be guest blogging the next entry later in the week, and Adam will follow after that. But for now, you’re stuck with this guy (I promise, this won’t take long).

I used to be the Fiction Editor of Hot Metal Bridge, and it was always very apparent to me when a submitter had never read our journal in their life. Our publishing tastes were quite eclectic at HMB, and we had no problem running flash fiction from an emerging writer about an obscure Tick henchman alongside a novel excerpt from the wonderful Dan Chaon. That being said, we still wanted fiction. Sometimes I received poetry. Sometimes I received scripts. The point is to read the journal you’re submitting to. And that doesn’t just mean figuring out what genres are allowed. HMB always published a wide variety of genres but not all journals are like that. You wouldn’t send the same piece to Ploughshares that you’d send to Electric Literature. One specializes in realistic fiction, and one clearly does not. Get a taste for what the journal you’re submitting to publishes. Do that and you’re already a leg up.

Ok. Ok. I hear you. Everybody knows that. Fine, assholes. What about Duotrope? I’ve been using Duotrope for about four years (I began submitting to the Colorado Review when I should have been submitting to Nowhere), and it’s a fantastic resource for any writer serious about submitting. It tracks all your submissions so you never get confused about when or where you’ve sent stuff out. That’s the part most people know. But what it’s even better for is finding journals. It has entries for every journal you can think of along with acceptance/rejection rates from the Duotrope community. Also, there’s fantastic statistics for ever journal. For example, under Weave, it says that people who submitted there also sent to Caketrain and PANK among others. It also says that people who successfully published in Weave, also published in Night Train and The Collagist. This is invaluable for many reasons.

First off, this gives you a good idea of what other journals to look at. Let’s say you love Flatmancrooked but don’t know where else to submit. Cruise on over to their Duotrope listing and see where else people who’ve submitted there have sent to. Then pick up some of those magazines. Similarly, these listings give you an idea about your current foothold in the literary world. If you can’t get into One Story no matter how many times you’ve tried, why not pick a journal a successful writer published in before they landed One Story? This, my friends, is called coming down the totem pole.

Speaking of totem poles, I know Robert and Adam are going to discuss their methods, so let me get mine out of the way. When I complete a story, I sit on it for awhile, maybe a month, then submit to 8-10 journals. These are usually reaches, but I’ll send some to places I think I have a solid chance with (but to be brutally honest, in the world of lit journals, they’re all reaches).  If the story is rejected 10 times, I give it 10 more chances. After 20 rejections, it’s retired. I’m going to go full disclosure with my stats now, so brace yourself. Right this second, I have 30 submissions floating out there somewhere in the ether. The earliest was sent July 16, 2009; I sent the latest yesterday morning. You have to be a machine when it comes to submitting. You have to be relentless. And you cannot take rejection personally. Alongside those 30 “pending responses” are 3 acceptances and a staggering 147 rejections. That means my acceptance ratio is 2.5%.

2.5%!!!!

Is there anything more depressing than 2.5%? Yes. Yes there is. Every time I sign onto Duotrope I’m greeted with this message: “Congratulations! Your overall acceptance ratio is higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets.”

HOLY SHIT! That means I’m winning. That means getting rejected 97.5% of the time is seen as some type of victory to Duotrope. These are the odds we’re up against, and it’s crucial you’re absolutely honest with yourself before you begin this process. Is your work ready for publication? Does it meet the quality of your desired publications? But most importantly, can you handle the rejection? Because like death and taxes, that’s one thing certain for every writer: rejection, a shit ton of it, 97.5% to be exact.

Review of Justin Taylor’s Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever

Hi everybody, just wanted to link to my latest book review. I’m writing for PANK now, and you can check out my thoughts comparing Justin Taylor’s new short story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever to Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus here. Let me know what you think.

Why Super Mario Bros. Will Affect the New Generation of Writers

A few years ago I came across a story of Tom Bissell’s in Best American Short Stories 2005. I can’t remember everything about “Death Defiers”, but I’m pretty sure it involved an American photojournalist in the Middle East who gets swept up in some sort of bizarre, familial poison plot. The details are fuzzy, but what I recall quite clearly is the final paragraph: a beautiful piece of prose describing the protagonist stepping on a mine and flipping through the air. I’m not doing this story any justice whatsoever, but I liked the piece enough at the time to add Bissell’s name to my “To Read” list.

I’m sure all writers/readers have similar lists. Mine’s in the back of whatever moleskin notepad I’m keeping my writing notes in at the time. The list comprises every book or writer that I need to read. Sometimes I make it through these lists in their entirety, but most of the time I do not. In the intervening years between first reading Bissell’s short story and now, I’ve seen essays of his from time to time but little else. Then yesterday, over on HTML Giant, I read that he was publishing a collection of essays about his addiction to video games (and flirtations with cocaine) called Extra Lives. They linked to an excerpt at The Guardian.

HOLY SHIT!

Finally, someone is looking at gamer culture with a literary (and serious) sensibility. Interestingly enough, the same Best American with Bissell’s piece also contained a short story about a World of Warcraft-esque human slave labor camp. But outside of that and Justin Taylor’s fantastic flash fiction Tetris/End of the World mash-up, I haven’t really read much that looks at gaming with a seriousness of intent. I was particularly drawn to this section in The Guardian excerpt:

What have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories. Once I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium. Then I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium can. Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself. Then I wanted a game experience that pointed not toward but at something. Playing GTA IV on coke for weeks and then months at a time, I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough….

It turns narrative into an active experience, which film is simply unable to do in the same way. And it is moments like this that remind me why I love video games and what they give me that nothing else can…

Niko [the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV] was not my friend, but I felt for him, deeply. He was clearly having a hard go of it and did not always understand why. He was in a new place that did not make a lot of sense. He was trying, he was doing his best, but he was falling into habits and ways of being that did not reflect his best self. By the end of his long journey, Niko and I had been through a lot together. (Bissell)

What I love about this essay is that it recognizes that video games offer a textual experience wholly unique. Literature and film require active participation to a certain extent, but no matter how much you contextualize movies or visualize the scenes in books, you can never have a  literal direct effect on the chain of narrative events in the way you can with video games. Even comic books, which require more active participation than film or books by having white space segmenting the action which forces readers to play out the missing moments of time in their minds, cannot match the interactivity of a video game.

I’m not sure where this line of thinking will carry me, but it’s something I’ve been dwelling on a lot recently as video games factor into the novel I’m very close to completing, The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist. The protagonist is a gamer nostalgic for the 8-bit games of yore and often embeds images from those games into the text. During a trilogy of scenes which take place during the early nineties, he describes his devotion to all things Nintendo via the following:

If you’ve only casually played video games, then you can not comprehend the inner depths of their joys. You don’t know what it feels like to give yourself up so completely to an alien world of colors and sprites, of repetition and absolute safety. You are no longer yourself. You are an avatar. Super Mario, an Italian plumber tumbled through the looking-glass. Link, the boy knight on a magical crusade to rescue Princess Zelda from the terrible Ganon. Samus Aran, the intergalactic bounty hunter tracking down alien eggs on a world controlled by space pirates. This becomes more “real” than the “real” world…

And so I began my descent into the world of microchips and immateriality. And so I began to fear the natural world. Because when you are represented by an avatar, you are no longer Michael Bishop, a skinny child with a broken arm and sharp ribs that push against your polar bear t-shirt. You are not weak and loathsome and oh so frightened that some threat lurks around every corner existing only to dismember you. I lost myself in those games for hours at a time, refused to leave the safety of my house and that monolithic Nintendo. I feared forests and lakes and birds and wind and most of all people.

The digital!

My first true love!

(Pane)

What’s interesting to me about all of this is echoed in Paste Magazine’s review of the aforementioned Justin Taylor’s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. Reviewer Charles McNair writes, “Justing Taylor’s first short-story collection artfully captures the view of the 200s from the perspective of a twentysomethingSeveral of his stories bear the unmistakable, bloggy influence of the 2000s. Do we sense some sort of new fictional frontier? Time will tell.” This is the first generation to come of age raised on video games and technology more advanced than the Atari 2600 and the Apple II. Will that have an effect on the writing produced by those writers? How about blogs and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones? I say overwhelmingly yes. Our sense of narrative has been irrevocably shifted by technology and it only makes sense that not only will the platform literature is disseminated through change, but the very writing itself.

Two brief personal examples to illustrate a point:

1) This is my actual Nintendo collection.

Over the past six years, I’ve managed to track down about 150 Nintendo Entertainment System games, 50 Super Nintendo Entertainment games and 20 GameBoy games. I don’t play newer systems very much because I’d usually rather spend my free time reading, but also because I know that like Bissell I have an addictive personality and remember all too well the days in high school when I would play Japanese Role Playing Games on the original Playstation for disgusting stretches (during one horrible summer before ninth grade, I played Chrono Cross every day for three weeks for at least eight hours at a time. I became so addicted that I only stopped to hurriedly eat a sandwich in front of the pause screen). Since college, I have been content to play the games of my childhood. Super Mario Bros. Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers. Maniac Mansion. Blaster Master. Fun games with marginal narratives that only take about a half-hour to complete.

All that being said, how can I not be affected by video games? Even if I don’t play much now, so much of my life has been spent glued in front of a television screen controlling digital avatars that it wouldn’t be realistic to clam my sense of narrative hasn’t been deeply impacted by these digital worlds. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this.

2) I went to college for creative writing. The program is very serious compared to other undergrad institutions and the teachers treat their pupils more like graduate students. I often bailed on the work in my other classes to work on fiction and cnf, and this was certainly not frowned upon by the real working writers who taught us. The books lifted up for us to worship were all written by the ’80’s dirty realists and their predecessors. Carver. Dubus. Wolff. Ford. Pancake. Munro. Bobbie Ann Mason. Richard Yates. And don’t get me wrong. They all still number among my favorite writers, and my devotion to Yates borders on the religious.

Unfortunately, after many years of writing each and every day, I eventually came to realize that I will never be a master of domestic realism. I don’t have it in me. My instincts naturally strive for the geeky, the nerdy, and it’s hard to hit that aesthetic in the parameters of sparse Carver minimalism. I wrote a very bad, failed novel a few years ago in the style of domestic realism. The characters were all working class, and the subject matter included decaying mines and the folly of local politics.

It was breathtakingly terrible, and after wonderful advice from a mentor of mine, I packed it away in a drawer. Since then, I have written something much more successful, and my work has begun to be published in very small publications. While working on my new novel, I found myself referencing Nintendo, putting up screen shots, using Twitter feeds, implementing blog posts, inserting web comics and even writing an entire scene in script format. People ask why I made these narrative decisions and I can only respond that it’s what felt natural and “right” to me at the time. Like Bissell, I feel incredibly affected by the prevailing technologies of my era. To deny that by reverting to a mode of writing three decades old is akin to denying myself, something Bissell and Taylor are very clearly aware of.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine