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Meanwhile, There Were no Mice to Begin With

This HTML stuff’s not so hard. I’ve so far figured out how to center, make headers, italicise, make things bold and do blockquotes. Soon I will rule the world. Or at the very leats make the web pages of those who do rule the world legible.

This is an uneventful post so feel free to stop reading at any time.

I did get several pages written today, which is excelent. Still have yet to aquire Tom Robbins new book but my birthday is coming up (hi Mom!) So if anyone were so inclined, Villa Incognito is on my Amazon.com wishlist along with numerous other tastey treats.

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First Lines

The first sentence has to grab the reader�s attention. This is axiomatic of all writing, weather it�s a novel or an essay. Rule of thumb: the first line should lay down the basic idea of your story, your thesis; or at the very least, allude to the problem or introduce the main character, narrator. This isn�t always the case but applies roughly 99% of the time. Some first lines are more memorable then others, taking on a stature as mythic as the books they begin:

�Mother died today.�

From Camus� The Stranger. It�s a methodical statement, emotionally distant, like the narrator. For those Camus aficionados out there, notice I�ve stuck with the old British translation rather then the modern �Mammon,� instead of mother. While some may argue it�s more linguistically accurate, no one knows what a mammon is this side of the pond. Introducing unusual foreign words in the first line of your book is a sure fire way to alienate the reader�

�It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton .�

�Unless you�re Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Then this odd phrase, �immanentized the Eschaton� (which means to make eminent the end of the world) is actually the point of the novel, Illuminatus!. And yes, I said book, not trilogy. It makes no sense to read this opus as anything other then one monstro-novel and since it�s only published in the compendium edition now anyway, calling it a trilogy strikes me as silly.

�It was a pleasure to burn.�

This simple declaration begins what is probably the single most important book in the English language, Ray Bradbury�s Fahrenheit 451. At least to me, since it was the book that made me want to become a writer. Why is it a pleasure to burn? And for whom? Makes me want to run of and read it for the hundred and eleventh time.

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

This classic gem was penned by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton . The infamy of the first line has outlived the book it started by most of a century and with good reason: Bulwer-Lytton was a hack and this line, as famous as it is, is nothing short of the granddaddy of all clich�s. This is what you should not do to a first line. Unless of course you happen to be Madelyn L�ngle or Ray Bradbury who make it work in quite unexpected ways.

�The magician�s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.�

Tom Robbins , the disputed master of the first line, has given us some whoppers. Especially when you consider that, according to Robins own handcrafted mythos, he wrote this sentence the way he writes all of his sentences: as if it were its own entity, in a zen-like detachment form the one that comes after it. If we are to believe Mr. Robbins, he had no plot, no characters and did not himself even know who the magician was or what his knickers were doing in Miami when he penned that line. Personally, I think this is a bit of leg pulling on the part of the author. Having just recently written a first line of my own (and a last line, with about ten thousand others in between) I know how difficult it is to go anywhere without at least some idea of where you�re heading. Or maybe he�s simply a genius. The truth, as is usually the case, lies most likely somewhere in the excluded middle.

�One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, oedipal, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more then honorary.�

Thomas Pynchon makes many fine points in the Crying of Lot 49, most notably that an author does not always have to keep the first line short and sweet. In a book that scarcely runs more then 180 pages he manages to toss off a few ideas concerning perpetual motion, entropy, underground postal services and a possible conspiracy that grips the world, or maybe not. It�s dense little sentences like this one that make it possible to say everything in such a little space. But if you look closely, it�s all there. Not one but two characters, local color, setting, background and the impetus that starts the whole ball rolling.

P.S. Villa Incognito is out today! Hopefully I�ll have a copy before long and will post a review.

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So the query letter is mailed off. With any luck, in a few weeks I�ll hear back, hopefully in the positive. Then I�ll send my Manuscript to the agent and if they like �the Tragic Circus�, will decide that representing me will be a good career move for all involved. But especially me since it means I�ll be one step closer to becoming a published author.

You might think that the waiting to hear back is the hard part. But actually that was writing the cover letter to my query packet. I�ve sent out a few queries already and have learned to be patient (My mother, I�m sure, will be thrilled to hear this).

Crafting a cover letter is a challenge. You have one single spaced page to introduce yourself, summarize the novel you just spent three years writing, give any credentials you might have, identify the book�s word count, genre and if you have an space left over, mention your life�s goals. And do it all in a style that is reflective of your authoritative voice while at the same time, remaining professional. No sweat.

Here�s the body of my letter:

Dear Agent X:

I am currently seeking an agent for my 58,500 word novel, The Tragic Circus , which tells the story of a young poet named Simon Said and his search for meaning in a world that is slowly unraveling into chaos and absurdity.

One night Simon�s long lost Uncle Soren returns after twenty years traveling the world in search of the Meaning of Life, only to commit suicide shortly thereafter. His uncle�s sudden and seemingly pointless demise causes Simon to reevaluate his own life and when he finds it sorely lacking in meaning he sets out to continue his uncle�s search.

Along the way Simon falls in love with a clairvoyant mortician named Inez Vespertine, terrorizes a priest, gets his sister Lilly pregnant (she later gives birth to a boy named Amadeus who has the head of a wolf) and attracts the attention of Henry James Parsifal, a paranoid detective convinced that Simon is the cornerstone of a Secret Satanic Conspiracy to subvert Christianity, Democracy and Consensual Reality.

Simon, Inez and Detective Parsifal are like everyone these days, chasing their own demons, looking for an excuse to laugh, fall in love and go on with life. Ultimately they discover that living in a world where everyone you know will one day die, the only way to find meaning is to simply enjoy every beautiful and tragic moment as if it were the last.

This is my first novel but I am hard at work on my second. I feel that my stories will appeal to fans of Ray Bradbury �s work, the books of Neil Gaiman and Edward Gorey , people who understood the movie Magnolia or anyone who thinks Batman is over-compensating for something and have no problem sharing that information with whomever happens to be sitting next to them in the coffee shop.

I have included a synopsis as well as three sample chapters. Should The Tragic Circus interest you, the completed manuscript is available upon request.

Sincerely,
Keith Kisser

The plot synopsis actually was the easiest to write, thanks in no small part to Professor Mark Kniece, who taught me well the art of plotting and writing a good synopsis.

My credentials were easy; I have none. So, as you may have noticed, I just left them out.

Incidentally, the word count is so they will have a rough idea of how long the book is. Most people don�t have a clue as to how long a novel is in words but you can safely estimate between 300 and 400 words per page, depending on how the type is set.

The hard part was the genre. The Tragic Circus , in my mind, is a Post Modern Fable (for a definition, see �Wild Hares and Whimsy�, posted below). But as there is no shelf space in any bookstore labeled Fable, Post Modern Fiction or even Slipstream, which is a common term for those books that slip between the Fantasy and Mainstream fiction categories, I was stymied. But I think I found a clever way around this, while at the same time adding a bit of flavor that is evocative of my relaxed, witty voice: I simply added the bit about what sorts of authors I might be comparable to. This gives the agent (or the intern who has the task of sorting through the queries first) an idea of my audience. At the very least it adds some of the narrative voice that I used in the novel, a mixture of verbose, unabashedly poetic flavor with anecdotal asides.

Also, alluding to the fact hat I�m already at work on The 8th Veil , sends the message that I�m in this for the long haul, I have every intention of becoming a published author and that I�m not just some one trick pony so I�ll keep you in business if you keep me in print. At least, this is my intent. We�ll see if agent X feels the same way.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to invite anyone who happens upon this space to send me e-mails commenting on any of the content, but especially my essays like “Wild Hares and Whimsy” (see below). Eventually I plan on having a comments option on the screen but I’m still figuring out the HTML for that. To send me e-mail just click on the link by the title of this site.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this site was to provide a forum for litterary discussion as well so a comments ability will very much get the ball rolling on that part of my mission as the Invisible Librarian.

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No entry today.

If you are reading this, you must be hallucinating and should probably consult a physician. He’ll probably prescribe lots of pretty little pills, all colors. Skip the blue ones and go strait for the reds . They taste shiny and will make this blog entry, and the trolls under your sink, go away.

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I started reading 1984 last night. Or I should say, rereading as I have read it before but it�s been at least ten years; not since high school. I occasionally like to reread the very good books that I�ve read before, after some time has passed to see if the writing still holds up to scrutiny now that I�ve actually developed some critical thinking skills. One of these days I�ll reread The Lord of the Rings . Elvira�s reading it now, for the first time, after falling in love with Peter Jackson ‘s adaptation to film. She�s just gotten to the part they left out of the movie, where Frodo and the other hobbits meet Tom Bombadil. She�s astounded by the slowness of the pacing in the book compared to the movie.

I�ve been speaking with a number of people about the similarities to our current state of international politics. They, like myself have made references to Orwell�s book and it�s spooky sense of prophecy. But this is always said at least half jokingly, if not three quarters. But last night I was startled. It�s like �President� Bush read 1984, but didn�t get the irony. Instead he thought, �What a gosh darn good manual for running a dictatorship. Too bad Orwell�s a foreigner because he�d be great as a Secretary of the Interior. Oh well, guess I�ll have to do it myself.� Or something like that.

I could write an essay comparing and contrasting Orwell�s Oceana to Pax Americana but frankly that would be pedantic. And that�s a scary thought; that the similarities are so blaringly obvious that it�d be like pointing at the sky and explaining that it�s blue. Read it for yourself and whenever you see the name Goldstein, just replace it with Hussein and imagine that the Minister of Love is named John Ashcroft. Sleep tight!

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Cats have the amazing ability to put themselves in the most inappropriate positions at just the wrong time. For instance, Lucy right now is lying across my writing desk, trying to chew on my knuckles. This makes it awfully hard to get any writing done. If a person were to do this, I�d say, �Hay! Get of my desk, Tom I�m trying to write!� Presumably, if Tom were someone I knew he�d then take my knuckle out of his mouth, say, �Oh, sorry. I don�t know what got into me,� and climb down. If Tom were a stranger I�d call the police and say,� There�s this odd man who calls himself Tom sprawled across my desk, licking my knuckles would you please send someone right over.� But we tolerate this behavior in cats for some reason. It�s like they have diplomatic immunity.

I�m almost done with my query letter and synopsis. All I really have to do is print it all out and send it off.

The loan forms are another matter. For some reason the Feds want to know all about my parents; when they got married, if they�re still married, how much they paid in taxes, etc. which I find odd, considering my parents haven�t supported me for years. It�s really rather presumptuous of the Government to think that just because I�m going to Grad school that my parents will be the ones supporting me. I mean, I�m an adult! I have a wife who supports me now.

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Busy week, this one. I have to apply for my loan for Gradschool and I want to get a query letter in the mail so I can find an agent to represent “The Tragic Circus.” I’ll update later on the query letter, but for now, it’s time to take care of the loans…

And remember, just one more week until Tom Robbins new book!

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Wild Hares and Whimsy

There are no synonyms. Thus a Fable is not merely some species of the Fiction genus but its own unique being. A Fabulous Modern Fiction. And this is what a Post-Modern Fabulists should strive to evoke: That Aesopian quality of magic-in-reality where the strange and naked truths slip in from the edges of perception and rattle the reader into an altered state of consciousness, where they look at the world in a slightly different way then before, becoming aware of the subtle interaction between the tangible and intangible aspects of the Universe.

Many people toss about the phrase �Post-Modern� with impunity. So much so that it becomes widely regarded as a catch-all for that which is arcane, inscrutable or just plain weird. But here, I use the phrase to denote a relationship.

Technically, the Moderns wrote between the Wars, which means that the Post-Moderns were, by the easiest definition, those who didn�t get around to penning their poetry and novels and plays until after the war. I take as the beginning of the Modern Period the first production of Alfred Jarry�s Ubu Roi , on Dec. 10, 1896 and the end as July 1947, the first official sighting of a flying saucer, which put us in a different world altogether. So on the one hand, all literature and art in general made after the Modern Period (1896-1947) can be considered post-Modern. But this is simply a parenthetical convenience. Literary styles do not evolve with Darwinian regularity. They are fraught with mutation and improvisation.

Post-Modernism as an active relationship in art and literature seeks to do the same job as Alfred Jarry�s �Pataphysics, which, ��will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one� Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions��

Simply replace science with art and/or literature and we have a working definition of Post-Modernity. That I use Jarry as both the beginning of the Modern Age and a defining voice for Post-Modernism only underscores the chimerical quality of such literary conventions as schools and periods.

�The Universe Supplementary to this one,� is our own imagination, brought to life by the Fable. There may even come a time in the near future, as we move towards living in the time of Buck Rogers , when the Fable is more realistic then traditional Mimetic Realism. We already live in a world where computers and robots have become so common place we hardly notice them and where clones walk among us, at least in the in barn yards but no doubt, soon enough in the streets. If any age could bare the title of the Age of Imaginary Solutions, it is this one. Quite soon the gray area that separates that which is perceived as real from that which is perceived as imaginary will become so narrow as to make distinctions meaningless. Then we�ll all have literary jet packs and ray guns, which we use to fend of Monsters from the Id .

For all those who gnash their teeth and wail about the implicit Order of Universe and how they don�t like those weirdo stories because they aren�t Realistic, two things should be kept in mind:

1) The Orderly Universe exists only in our minds, illustrated by nothing but the devices we create in order to see the order we imagine and hope for; something said about our perception of the world rather then the world itself. And:

2) That �Realism� is a relatively new term, applied only in the last two centuries. Previously, all art and literature contained some aspect of the fabulous and not just the Classical Myths that form the foundation for our concept of Literature but also that dubious collection of fables most often mistaken for mimetic realism, The Bible .

Semantic arguments aside, those of us who reside in the Existential World must make do with language in order to shape and comprehend, as best we can, the context of our lives. For example, see Aesop�s most famous Fable, the Tortoise and the Hare. This fable is told to every child, implicitly underscoring the capitalist work ethic. I suppose the adults who teach this solemn lesson are under the presumption that children will identify with the slow and steady pace of the tortoise. Aesop certainly was. Never mind that kids love rabbits because they are fast and lazy and free. But the adults have on their side the italicized moral, laid bare before them at the bottom the page.

In Post-Modern Fables no such moral is forthcoming, at least overtly. No writer in his or her right mind would produce a novel in which the last line states the theme and subject so bluntly. Try to imagine Catcher in the Rye with the last line; thus, the inconsolable achieves nothing worthwhile. It sort of ruins the dramatic effect. But give Aesop credit, he was a teacher first. Besides, two thousand and a couple hundred years ago, audiences weren�t quite as savvy as they are to day. If you can imagine it, they were even less literate.

But here in the 21st century, we have both the literate minds and savvy intellects to reread the Tortoise and the Hare and choose which character to exemplify. If you�re in favor of the One World Economy and the Imperialist Monoculture of our Western Corporations, then the Tortoise is your herald, your sword bearer; your banner-waving hero. On the other hand, perhaps the expressionistic, bohemian rabbit is more to your liking, running circles around the plodding bureaucrat, dancing a salsa rhythm and shouting minority slogans in Spanglish. Before you choose, keep in mind, for better or worse the tortoise always wins.

This is also the major criticism of Post-Modern Art in general, that it leaves us floating in the stormy seas of uncertainty with a broken compass and a drunken captain. This is merely a manifestation of the fear that more and more people have today: that there are a growing number of individuals (mostly our children) who refuse to abase themselves before the idol of Law and Order. This fear that the status quo will crumble and plunge the world into chaos is a primal fear, right up there with starvation, premature burial and taxes and is a result of six thousand years of domestication under the tutelage of mentally constipated priest-kings. We�ve all been initiated into the secret desires of priests. As for divining the intent of kings everywhere we need not go back to historical sources, but simply turn on the nightly news and wait to see what excuses our President has tonight for bombing and pillaging.

That the fear of the failure of the status quo is an ancient fear in the human landscape should come as no surprise. But its recent appearance on the psychological radar screen of the masses is a result of several forces, the least of which is global terrorism. This new sense of evolutionary awareness can be attributed to the exponential growth of Information and its unlimited, constant availability.

We simply are no longer as provincial as Aesop and his audience because we are smarter. We are smarter because we have at our disposal more hard facts about the world around us and how it tends to function.

This sounds like a baseless assertion, I admit but it is a verifiable claim. All you have to do is take a stock count of hard, verifiable knowledge about the world. Keep in mind also, that I refer only to practical knowledge, like how to build an affordable, well-insulated house or an atom bomb as opposed to wisdom, which is personal, unverifiable and pertains only to why we should build one and not the other.

Personally, I feel that understanding this phenomenon is a lot more fruitful then running in fear and claiming the end of the world is coming just because you read it in the Left Behind series. One way to understand one another and communicate complex ideas is by poetry and metaphor. By Fable.

Contemporary examples of Fabulous Literature exist in abundance but mostly they slip bellow the radar of popular audiences, do the fact that they were not written by Stephen King. Some of these Post-Modern Fables may have been encountered on high school reading lists, such as John Gardner�s Grendal (a retelling of Beowulf from the monster�s perspective), Ray Bradbury�s classics Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles, Sidhartha and Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, various examples of the Hispanic school of Magical Realism such as Laura Esquivel�s Like Water for Chocolate or any of the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. There are a number of others that have slipped into obscurity either because their subject matter is too spicy, the author ran with politically incorrect crowds or because the author�s ethnic last name was too hard to pronounce. Some little-known masterworks include The Hearing Trumpet by the Surrealist painter and writer, Leonora Carrington, as well as the works of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis-Borges , just to name some of my favorites.

All of these and dozens more exhibit the Fabulist qualities of Poetic Concision and Sublime Magic.

The first of these qualities, Poetic Concision, is key to the Fable form. Images speak volumes while standing slender in the corner, quiet. Most of the Contemporary Fables listed above are 200 pages or less. Borges never wrote anything longer then a short story. And the reason is simple: anything more would be overkill. We do not need all the details about the child born with cloven hooves instead of feet. His presence is evocative enough. To explain such a reality with to much detail, especially in the form of pseudoscientific explanations for the genetic abnormality would ruin the dreamlike quality and spoil the point of the metaphor, which is that rational thought cannot contain the squirming, teaming verities of reality nor can it justify the alien forms of life that can be imagined and encountered. Like the elephant that walks through the room and is promptly ignored by all; this one idea says more about the human condition then all the works of Freud in volume.

Aesop never told a Fable that couldn�t fit on one page. More because he had to remember all of them as he lived in a culture with a strong oral tradition. And it is this lingering ghost of the oral tradition that is the parent of the Post-Modern Fable and also the reason for the persistence of the non-mimetic second quality.

Many Fabulous authors draw expressly on their ethnic folklore, which gives their work that implicit, magical quality. The rest just never learned to suppress their imagination. Ethnic literature and art; or more precisely, art that does not originate within the context of anglo-Saxon mythology and customs is typically non-Aristotelian in form and Pagan in flavor simply because no African or South American or Japanese or Native American or Indian story teller ever read Aristotle or the Bible, at least not until forced to by the Imperialists who followed the Missionaries around, trying to civilize everyone who looked at the world differently then they did. An aborigine does not know that he would be banned from Utopia simply because he does not color inside the lines. Ray Bradbury simply doesn�t care that he would be banned as well, he�s too busy having a blast, day dreaming

This quality of sublime ethnic magic seems to linger on, even after the advent of Secular Humanism and no amount of education can or should attempt to remove it. Oddly enough, in most countries that were once colonies of the Catholic Church, the ethnic symbolism has been reinforced, more so to win converts to the Vatican�s own jumble shop of Fables then for any practical purpose which just goes to show that organized religion isn�t all bad; the promotion of genocide, ignorance and overall fear of the unknown aside.

Dostoevsky once noted that Fairy Tales and Science Fiction stories are more dangerous then any political tract. And he was right. Where the Rights of Man spells out every Democratic Desire in purple prose, where every Vile Monarchist knows where to find it, the Fable merely hints. It lays truths between the lines, like a secret code, passed between co-conspirators under the watchful eye of the enemy censor.

In The Hearing Trumpet, a coven of little old ladies, with the help of a pack of wolves, a nest of bees and a freelance mailman named Taliesin, steel the Holy Grail from the descendants of the Crusaders and return it to the Goddess from whence the Christians stole it in the first place. While illuminating the pagan roots of the Christian Mythology, Leonora Carrington also admonishes the church for its historically cruel treatment of women, especially the elderly variety, as second class citizens. Compare this to Sinead O�Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. While more people witnessed the latter, Carrington�s book is still available with no admonishments or bans from the Left or Right. Meanwhile Sinead O�Conner was denounced lividly for weeks after the fact by nearly everyone and is to this day unwelcome South of the Mason-Dixon line or anywhere in the world where live those who think spirituality is inseparable from religion. Also Carrington manages to get her point across in 200 pages and fourteen illustrations. In contrast, the collected works of Stephen King, which run some plus or minus 600 million pages can barely manage to say anything meaningful or even coherent about society, life, death, the fear of one�s own mortality or anything at all. But hay, at least he answers all those pesky questions and leaves no room for personal interpretation, lest any of his fans be encouraged to think for themselves.

Perhaps it is this combination of Poetic Concision, and Sublime Magic that keeps Post-Modern Fables off the bestseller lists. That and the add agencies who just aren�t imaginative enough to sell Forbidden Fruit to Ma Kent. And Ma Kent, who doesn�t like mangoes or enlightenment because neither matches her sofa. And the Big Six Publishers with its seven circles of agents and editors all scratching each others backs to get a piece of the next John Grisham clone. As agent Michael Larsen wrote in a form letter to me once, �We can only make a living by selling books to large publishers.� Implying that Big Publishers only want front list authors. Worse then that, this money grubbing tells the next Bradbury, Esquivel, Hess and other mid-list authors, previously the bread and butter of the publishing business, to buzz off. �You have no home with the large houses,� bellows Corporate Moses from the mountaintop. �Nay, ye must toil in obscurity until you have the good sense to get in line and write a nice big thick-headed thriller.� (Counting the wad of cash he keeps stuffed in his beard, like locusts). �Maybe something with a plucky lawyer and his illegitimate daughter�s heartwarming attempt to come to terms with modern womanhood.�

As if sensing this trend subliminally, most would-be popular authors are unwilling to jeopardize their own status or sales with wild hares and whimsy. More�s the pity. Because literature will continue to suffer so long as the Fabulous is ignored in favor of pipsqueak voices whispering bland aphorisms and polite nods to the status quo. And what with the Grand Poobah�s over in the Bureau of Fatherland Security threatening a Police State to Rival the fearful daydreams of such egregious mid-listers as Orwell and Kafka , nothing is more valuable to our current culture then a writer who is willing to speak above a whisper.