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Bastard Virtues Now Available for Pre-Order

6 Tips for Writers Who Want to Break the Mold

by
Daulton Dickey.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step into any bookstore or library and you’re bound to discover at least one book professing to be capital-t the underscored book to learn how to write a book that publishers and agents and readers and Hollywood producers and the Dalai Lama and maybe the Pope or some low-rent Mafioso will recognize and idolize and adore. Fiction, according to the reality in which these writers write, is an algorithm. Replace variables with values and, viola, book is done. Sale is imminent.

And that might work for some people. But if you have any ambition and integrity, then you should buy or borrow that book, tear out each and every page, and use those pages to roll cigarettes or joints. Smoke that inhales the words fermenting on the pages. Those rules are better to inhale and exhale, they’re better as permanent scars on your lungs, than they are to absorb and incorporate into your writing.

Now let’s make a distinction. Some rules are useful, such as word economics or showing in lieu of telling. I’m talking about structure. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about what information is necessary, what isn’t—but I’m modifying it: ambiguity and disconnection constitute important information as well. I’m talking about the algorithms writers and agents and editors and authors of ‘How-to’ books drill into your head. The algorithm of fiction is what we want to avoid. How else are we going to invent new ways of storytelling—and new ways of seeing ourselves—if we stick to the same tired rules?

Which leads to a question: How do we invent new forms of storytelling?

Which leads to Tip #1:

Experiment. Break the mold. Try to write in new ways, try to shake things up, to use a cliché, try to change how sentences and paragraphs and chapters flow. Try to alter what information you find necessary and what information you don’t find necessary. (more…)

Book Review: Primordial: An Abstraction—D. Harlan Wilson

by
Daulton Dickey.

Primordial: An Abstraction
by D. Harlan Wilson
Anti-Oedipus Press • September 3, 2014
Paperback: 167 pages • 5×8 • $13.95 • ISBN 978-0-9892391-5-8

In “Giles Goat-Boy” (1966), John Barth used universities and academia as the launching pad for an allegory of the cold war. Written in the style of a hero’s journey, and injected with liberal doses of absurdity, Barth’s story stomped across and skewered the cultural expectations, and evaluation, of academic and university life—which in his case doubled as the factionalism and jingoism of competing ideological and military powers.

Where Barth’s novel was a comic, absurd, metafictional romp through a city-sized university, author D. Harlan Wilson’s “Primordial: An Abstraction” is a more visceral—though equally absurd and darkly funny—evisceration of academia and college life, and the strangeness of life in general. It is unrelenting in its absurdity, it’s vitriol, it’s energyprimordialfront—and it’s also a meditation on the redundancies of life, of academia, and of intellectual and individualistic pursuits.

“Repetition is just as good as karma,” the narrator tells us. “Once you embrace it, once you ingest it—you’re bound to wallow in it.” (Wilson: 151)

The story is relayed in the first person by an unnamed professor and academic whose Ph.D. has been revoked. He had been “practicing a questionable mode of pedagogy […] writing a toxic strain of theory.” (Wilson: 11) Without his degree, without his work, he has admittedly lost his identity, so he must return to university to regain both.

This is the coil around which the story is wound, and from it springs humor, farce, and social and cultural commentary, and even brief didactic and philosophical asides. It is a short, minimalist novel told in deceptively simple yet beautifully rendered and subtly complex prose.

From his tyrannical control of his roommates, to his dismissal of his professors, the narrator flows from one facet of college life to the next. But this isn’t your average novel, and it’s not a detailed account of the ins-and-outs of college life. Instead, it is, in a way, an evisceration of academia-as-bureaucracy.

It’s also a book willing to take jabs at boring or uninterested—probably tenured—professors. And it takes a few pot shots at the sexually promiscuous culture, too, in which the students at this university forego casual sex in lieu of making pornos—in the library, the cafeteria, everywhere; a logical progression of sex obsessed, and sexually explicit, youth culture.

“Primordial: An Abstraction” is, in some ways, a Kafkaesque jab at bureaucracy where the acquisition of knowledge, even trivia, becomes the narrator’s castle. Through inquiring about details of his courses and his curriculum, the narrator is confronted with confusion and scorn without getting the answers he requires. Like Kafka’s doomed K., the narrator here can’t even get a straight answer when seeking trivia, in this case about a long dead pop star:

I say, “Did Mama Cass really choke to death on a hamburger?”

The grad student looks at the Professor. The Professor looks at the Dean. The Dean looks at another Dean. The other Dean looks at another Dean. That Dean looks at the Provost. The Provost looks at the President. The President looks at his mom.

His mom shrugs.

I say, “Well what good are you people? What good is any of this?” I gesticulate at the University. (Wilson: 94)

One subtext that sticks out is the juxtaposition of violence and academia, as if Wilson—or the narrator—is lobbing complaints against the diminished cultural stature of intellectualism and academia in favor of violence and war. The violence is also what you might expect when you force a brute—whether it’s a homo sapien or a simian—into a rationalized, institutional setting.

But in “Primordial: An Abstraction,” the violence largely springs from the once-and-future academic himself: the unnamed narrator. Muscular, he can bench 300 pounds, and he sticks to strict exercise and dietary habits. He also possesses the temper of a banshee on meth.

In many ways, he’s like a cross between Raoul Duke, Henry Rollins, and Jacques Lacan. He possesses a fiery intellect and an inability to refrain from ridiculing—or even assaulting—those he feels worthy. He is, in a sense, the muscular, short-tempered incarnation of Ignatius J. Reilly—if Sam Peckinpah had directed an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

But despite its aggression, the book is funny, with dialogue veering into Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and Donald Barthelme-esque territory—but devoid of puns or other cheap humor. It’s farcical but not whimsical or—the dread of all dreads—zany. It’s funny the way Hunter S. Thompson was funny: vicious, cruel, aggressive. But this book possess the spirit of farce absent fdharlanwilsonrom the works of a writer like Thompson.

Also, like the works of a writer like Thompson, or even Anthony Burgess, much of the humor is born out of a combination of the situation and the character of the narrator himself:

Sometimes, when I am revising my manuscripts, I forget to breath. My roommates have to remind me. I don’t like it. I don’t like them to talk at all. But they see my face go red and then gray and finally purple and despite how much they hate me they can’t shoulder the burden of my potential death. Stockholm Syndrome.

Some of them enjoy it when I flog them.

One of them asks for it.

I don’t enjoy flogging people. Not for any reason. But the Law is the Law and somebody must uphold it.

I use a cat o’ nine tails that I purchased as a Boy Scout. I can’t remember where I purchased it. But I had my uniform on when I gave the cashier my bills and coins.

I never stop flogging my roommates until I draw blood and they are sufficiently terrorized, i.e., happy. (Wilson: 73)

School life and the rigors of academic pursuits are presented vaguely—an abstraction. Work is never mentioned in detail. Classes are never mentioned in detail. This vagueness is possibly a commentary on the routine—the redundancy—of college life; or, perhaps the narrator is too narcissistic or solipsistic to dwell on anything other than himself: this is a fiercely subjective narrative.

Classrooms, although presented vaguely, are still presented as farcical—where the farce is the product of the narrator’s aggressive personality and the professors’ tired routines. He beats and bullies teachers, he dismisses or bullies students; and when he gets on with students, he ignores everything around him in lieu of conversation, even if it disrupts class. Also throughout the novel, there’s an underlying shot at the state of the hierarchy of modern, corporate-influenced universities.

In the hands of a lesser writer, a book like this might be bloated and long winded and tangential. But in Wilson’s hands, it’s navigated brilliantly and smoothly by Wilson’s mastery of the craft and his sparse, concise prose.

None of the faculty retire. They work until they die, often in the middle of lectures, barely able to articulate a coherent sentence or even stand up straight.

Administrators typically retire after two or three years, at which point they generally become fulltime Rotarians, spend more time on the golf course and the tennis court, and live forever.

This is not the case with the President, Provost, and several other kakistocrats.

They never retire.

They remain in office until somebody shoots them and claims their thrones.

I don’t know what happens to the staff. They lack one of two vital ontological components: the power of capital or the awareness of intelligence. Hence nobody at the University cares about them. (Wilson: 130)

Through its jabs at university life, through its invocations of violence, through its didactic tangents, brief as they may be, something close to humanity punches through every now and then, and the narrator is cast as more than an aggressive bully.

At its core, the novel is an existential examination of life, knowledge, and the pursuit of what once seemed graspable. Memories pop into the narrator’s mind, and they tend to show him as vulnerable, naive, uncertain. On the rare occasion he lets down his guard, he reveals himself as confused and as vulnerable as everyone else. “I write because I’m weak!” he shouts at one point.

And though, like K. in Kafka’s “The Castle,” or like George Giles in Barth’s magnum opus, the narrator continues to pursue a goal not likely attainable, and although his anger and aggression more often than not defines him, he continues his quest. For, in the end, the quest is all he has. It defines him. After losing his Ph.D., his identity, what does he have left?

“Most of adult life is spent discovering the mystery of how very little you matter,” he says early in the novel. And it’s a profound line smuggled into a fierce, aggressive, and philosophical gem of a novel, which is one of the best books of the year.

Click here to buy the book (and you should buy it here; this is an indie publisher; support them directly)

Jacopo Della Quercia: The Proust Questionnaire

 by
Daulton Dickey.

The Proust Questionnaire is a notorious questionnaire meant to gain insight into a person’s psychological makeup. Although the writer Marcel Proust didn’t invent it, he is purported to have provided the greatest answers to it on two separate occasions, which is why it now bears his name.

The first subject to answer the Proust Questionnaire on Lost in the Funhouse is—drumroll please—Jacopo Della Quercia.

Jacopo Della Quercia is ajacopo writer and scholar. His writings have appeared most notably on cracked.com. As a scholar, his field of interested is in the medieval and renaissance periods. Recently, his debut novel, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy was released by St. Martina’s Griffin.

To find out more about his novel, check out its official website here.

And click here if you want to follow him on Twitter
(You should definitely follow him on Twitter. I mean, seriously, why wouldn’t you?)

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being so overwhelmed with beauty that I can’t even describe it.

2.What is your greatest fear?
I don’t know! It changes every day. I guess a solar flare destroying the planet. That would be lame.

3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am pretty hard on myself when I don’t need to be.

4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Selfishness in all its forms.

5.Which living person do you most admire?
My cousin Evan. She travels the world like a superhero doing incredible things and refugee work. She’s also one of the most talented writers I know. Watch out for her!

6.What is your greatest extravagance?
Much like Ron Burgundy, I have many leather-bound books.

7.What is your current state of mind?
Active. And kinda hungry.

8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Oh, they’re all overrated in the grand scheme of things.

9.On what occasion do you lie?
I don’t like lying. Being honest with people makes your life so much easier.

10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Oh, don’t be so vain.

11.Which living person do you most despise?
I don’t really despise people. I’m too busy.

12.What is the quality you most like in a man?
Generosity.

13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Generosity.

14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
#PopQuizHotShot, but it’s all in good fun.

15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?
What are you trying to do? Get me in trouble!

16.When and where were you happiest?
Outdoors when without any worries.

17.Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play guitar as well as my brother.

18.If you could change one thing about yourself, w20140809-222925.jpghat would it be?
I tend to procrastinate.

19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy. It is definitely the best thing I have done with myself so far.

20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I’d definitely want to come back as a woman to see what I’ve been missing out on. I think I’d also like to try things out as a different race just for my own betterment.

21.Where would you most like to live?
Florence, Italy.

22.What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have one. I try not to get too attached to materials around me.

23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Damn, that’s a deep question…

24.What is your favorite occupation?
I am loving life as a novelist! However, I also enjoy teaching quite a lot.

25.What is your most marked characteristic?
I do tend to talk about history quite a lot.

26.What do you most value in your friends?
Reliability.

27.Who are your favorite writers?
I have too many to list!

28.Who is your hero of fiction?
Again, there are too many!

29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’d like to say Machiavelli, but I don’t think I’m a fair person to judge that.

30.Who are your heroes in real life?
I have a pretty cool family.

31.What are your favorite names?
Hercules Rockefeller and Rembrandt Q. Einstein.

32.What is it that you most dislike?
Pettiness.

33.What is your greatest regret?
I don’t remember. Besides, I try not to get hung up on regrets. Life offers countless opportunities you’d never expect.

34.How would you like to die?
Peacefully?

35.What is your motto?
“The secret to getting things done is to act!” – Dante