Electric Velocipedeis one of the cooler publications around, and I just got the good news that one of my stories, “The Art Disease,” will appear sometime in the coming year. 2010 is proving to be a good year, and it’s not even here yet.
Till then, here’s the opening—
Derek and Emily had the art disease, the both of them. Everyone they knew had it too. That’s one of the symptoms: Colonies, clusters, movements, splinter groups, manifestos. Clumping, the experts call it. She had a master’s in design and decorated cakes at Food One, not the one on 17th but the one near the park, open till midnight. He refused to sell out. He was determined to support himself with his art.
Selling poems in the park didn’t work out. He didn’t get that many buyers, and when he did, he spent way too much time discussing the poems with them—arguing actually—instead of writing new ones, but it bothered him when he was misunderstood, and it seemed he was doomed to be misunderstood—another symptom of the disease. He tried prose—carefully observed reflections on the vicissitudes of life—after taking a weekend workshop called Driveway Moments: The Eternity of Now. No demand. Light travel pieces with a profound undercurrent proved no better, partly because he hadn’t done much traveling and couldn’t afford to do more. He had plenty of profound undercurrent, just nowhere to put it.
I recently had a dispiriting exchange with a former student on Facebook. I’d said something about revision, being in the midst of it, and she commented she’d abandoned fiction after grad school and worked in non-fiction where revision made sense, a process she described as “tuning the language and getting the story correct.” But in fiction, she observed, “what’s to change if the story is just ‘made up’?”
Where did I go wrong? I won’t quibble with “tuning the language” except to ask “to what frequency?” And a quick perusal of Fox News, PBS, and Scientific American might lead to the conclusion that not every true story has the same “correct” for everyone. But this “made up” charge misses the point. All lies are made up, but are all equally effective? You parents are familiar with bad lies and know what I’m talking about. There are teachable, usable skills for telling more effective lies. More importantly, this student is one of my most often quoted to later classes. At the beginning of her workshop, I asked the class to talk about what they considered to be good fiction. I had the usual answers for a while, straight from English classes of yesteryear, but then she said, “It changes your life. When you read a really good novel, it can change your life. That’s what I hope for every time I pick up a new novel—that it will change me.” I would add that whatever magic the fiction may or may not work on the reader, it should work on the writer first. If the book I’m writing isn’t changing me, isn’t making me re-examine myself and my world, I feel like I should be writing a different book. So in answer to the question, “What’s to change?” I’d say yourself and others. Have you created a life-changing experience with words? No? Then revise.
I have a new story available in the latest issue of Space and Time. Along with other fine fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. It’s a delightfully weird story. I think y’all should run right out and get a copy. Barnes & Noble has it, btw. Here’s the table of contents:
Small Motel by Dennis Danvers
To Remember Riobarre by Alma Alexander
Love and War by Patrick Lundrigan
End of Our World as We Know It by Robert Swartwood
Saving Hitler by Chuck Rothman
Saint Michael’s Sword by Andrew Alford
The Mambo King of the Inter-Dimensional Dance Floor by C. J. Henderson