Friday, July 25, 2008

Man, You Should Have Seen Them Kicking Edgar Allan Poe

, but lately I've rediscovered my baser fictional urges. I'll come right out and say it, getting to the point uncharacteristically early: I sent one of my very own short stories out to two very prominent publications today, embarking on a dubious strategy of starting at the top of the pyramid and working my way steadily down.

This is the first thing I've sent out in a long, long time. I'm not sure where it even came from, the sudden interest in literature and fiction, especially the short story. For years and years, I read nothing but history and biography and other forms of nonfiction. No novels, poetry, plays, short stories. Whereas in my youth, and I am quite old enough now to speak of my youth in such a detached way, it was almost the polar opposite, at least when reading for pleasure.

Been reading a ton of Poe the last few weeks: his own work, literary criticism about him, a bio. Lovin' me some Poe right now, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

What's amazing about old Edgar is that his influence has remained so intense and so lasting, yet when you really delve into his work, I believe if anything his true greatness has been underestimated. The short stories in particular are so sound technically, so bursting with ideas and hidden textual meanings, that they can be read on so many different levels. For instance, next time you pick up a Poe story, keep this insight in mind while you read, from a critical biography by James Hutchinson:
"Poe was always keenly interested in the way between mind and body. Poe believed that the tension between these opposing selves made it impossible to achieve a harmonious, fulfilled existence. Characters like (William) Wilson typically deny one element of their selves--here, the mind. Wholeness thus cannot be achieved. Man needs to reintegrate the opposing forces of his personality, Poe seems to say, and thus achieve unity."
Elsewhere, Hutchinson writes that in his trademark horror tales, "Poe develops what is probably the animating principle of his aesthetic and his philosophy of life--the idea that mankind is forever searching for what Poe called Oneness, or the Original Unity, and that dysfunction, anxiety, aberrant behavior, and psychological perversions are the result of humans' separation from their other selves."

Sometimes Poe's very popularity and confining Gothic reputation somehow detract, or at least work against, appreciating the thoroughly modern and existential nature of his preoccupations. T.S. Eliot, Henry James and D.H. Lawrence, among others, belittled Poe, saying his work is best appreciated by a juvenile mind, among other barbs. (They're all on my shit list now.) But there is an obvious direct connection from Poe's shaken, unreliable, unreasonable narrators to Dostoevsky's angst-ridden Underground Man and Raskolnikov. In Poe's stories, the extreme mental states, phobias and obsessions of his deeply flawed characters bring to mind nothing so much as the psychological theories and insights that half a century later would consume Sigmund Freud to a similar degree.

Anyway, let's get back to me now. I know at some point I stumbled on the story in question, obviously re-read it, and was sufficiently impressed to want to share it with other people. I want to work on some new ones and get them rolling on their way. But first I want to "flood the market" with some revised old ones and see how that goes.

I once sent a short story to an anthology called The Crescent Review in North Carolina. This was a good 10 years ago, maybe more. (Just looked them up on Google; they don't appear to still exist.) Not sure how I found them, but I did get a nice rejection letter, if that's not an oxymoron. It was part form letter, but then under the title of my proposed story, "Broken Field," there was a handwritten paragraph signed by a "GN":
"This is a powerful piece. A, first speaker (questioner), is okay. B, main narrator (protagonist), moves along a confusing narrative line, mainly in third person, but occasionally in second person; mainly past tense, but occasionally in present. In our opinion, the story needs technical and mechanical shaking down, but has great possibilities."
Like a fool, I never followed up and resubmitted the story after revising it. Of course I still have the story, so it's never too late, and still not out of the question that I will send that story out again. I'm not done yet. Don't bury me cause I'm not dead yet. And don't mess with my monitors.

I remember that "Broken Field" was structured in a question and answer refrain between two characters, one ruminating on his past, expressing all kinds of regrets over decisions he had made, while the "interviewer" egged him along or moved the narrative in certain directions. I was greatly influenced by a terrific novel by Manuel Puig (Blood of Requited Love) that used the same technique. Using it, I remember it was relatively easy to write for long stretches, because of the relaxed conversational tone the story employed.

It's time-consuming to get the stories out there. Most publications want physical submissions, as opposed to online email. So you've got to make copies of the stories, write a brief cover letter, provide the old SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) and get them in the post as they used to say. There are also short story contests, but those involve a fee of some sort, usually 20 or 30 bucks. That's out. I'm still a novice, feeling my way through this.

For now, I'm not really interested in the money, although obviously now that I'm out of work again, officially on the government teat for at least the immediate future, I can use all the fundage I can attract. It's really much more a matter of fame in all honesty. Now if you'll excuse me, it's quite late, and I really must be on my way...

1 comment:

jimithegreek said...

poe is one of those writere you can read forever. i read somewhere some critic made reference somethong like calling stepehn king, the ea poe of his time! you believe that moron! good luck with the story sending, keep at it