Publish? Y/N

ROLEPLAY: You are a big New York publisher and three hot new manuscripts are dropped on your desk. Which would you publish and WHY?

Annie Proulx, Them Old Cowboy Songs. I really know nothing about Westerns. In fact, I think I just saw my first, The Searchers, this week for a class. I’ve got to say, since I now know what John Wayne actually sounds like all of those already hilarious–not to mention spot-on!–impersonations in Full Metal Jacket have just gotten a whole lot funnier. Even though my point of reference here is skewed to say the least, I must admit that certain aspects of Proulx’s Western “didn’t seem believable to me,” despite the fact that the characters were pretty well-developed (to quote one Royal Tenenbaum). At first I couldn’t understand why this pregnant teenager’s husband and family would just abandon her in some shack in the wilderness for months, only to miscarry and eventually die alone. However, now that I’ve seen this 100% authentic 1950s John Wayne masterpiece, I understand that Manifest Destiny was brutal basically any way you want to look at it, with families apparently just pushing their adolescent daughters out the door to fend for themselves–in the case of The Searchers, even at the chance of an Indian attack. See? That’s kind of messed up, too. PUBLISH? Yes.

Daniel Alarcón, The Bridge. I have to admit, I found myself skimming over The Bridge instead of just diving in. Even though I know there is a considerable audience for this kind of thing, it is simply not my cup of tea. I myself haven’t read a lot of Raymond Carver, but I’m pretty sure Alarcón would need to cite him as his literary influence. Needless to say, I’m not a huge Carver fan… I like how the protagonist’s childhood home is located in “Gaza,” a nickname used to refer to this predominantly Hispanic inner-city neighborhood, or the so-called other side of the tracks. (Got it. Very catchy.) OK, that provides a promising international/political outlet for this story, leaving me only to wonder why it was never explored. A lot of the backstory and personal information described at length here lacked any kind of real emotional pull for me, and afterward I felt pretty lackadaisical about what I’d just read, mainly because everything was left so open-ended. For instance, after the blind aunt and uncle died in a traffic accident their peers not only felt it necessary to question the authenticity of their blindness, but were also so bold as to dispute even their cause of death. Despite the fact that they were both hit by a truck, one curiously expresses the belief that the man killed his wife, while another claims that she killed him. An absurd twist, but like the Gaza reference this side-story simply fails to shape up for me. Too much like real life. PUBLISH? –That’ll be the day!

Ted Sanders, Obit. This short story is admittedly kind of pointless, too, but I think I enjoyed reading Obit just because it provides several clear opportunities for me to engage in a critical commentary. Instead of just choosing a standard POV and running with it, this short story comes at you from a lot of different angles. Obit is kind of like a funhouse mirror in that way, with its foundational image continuing to reflect and replicate itself on into infinity, ultimately leaving the reader feeling not only downright disoriented, but also anxious to find the nearest EXIT–that is, if it even exists! Sanders also comments almost self-referentially about the discursive nature of his short story: “Truth reveals itself near the story’s end, but the mother will never reveal it to her son, his father, the dog in the hall. She will have no cause to reveal it because the story, in the mother’s telling, fails to end,” Sanders concludes (so to speak). Obit also contains hints of magical realism, particularly noticeable in the fabulous passage describing the tame bear who “licks peppermints” from the palm of the old woman. In its short length, lack of extraneous detail and universal quality, Obit reminded me a lot of another “magically real” short story we’ve read this semester, The Woman Who Slept with a Tortoise.

As I mentioned previously in relation to Elizabeth McBride’s short story Final Exam: History of Art 321, I appreciate it when authors experiment with layout. Although it can just come across as pretentious, sometimes a gimmicky format can make an otherwise forgettable story really stand out. I feel this is particularly true in the case of Obit and its occasionally irksome two-column page layout. While this style makes it all the more easy to lose track of the already elusive “story,” you might argue that that is precisely the author’s intention. There are indeed a lot of different factors at play here, but everything seems to chiefly revolve around the relationship of the husband and wife. Mirroring this, the page is divided into a couple of columns that truly belong side by side: one tells his side, the other hers. The page layout thus paradoxically visualizes the couple’s unity, as well as their inability to understand each other and resulting polarization. PUBLISH? Yes!

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Searching for High Speed Internet in Rural Indiana

I’m remembering those days back when I used to live in the city and never had to worry about getting access to high speed internet. Never even thought about it. Well, if you move to rural Indiana (southern Indiana, basically, or anywhere more than 45 minutes from downtown Indianapolis) you’re going to have to start worrying about it. Here in Bedford, IN (don’t ask why I’m living here) there is no Comcast or Time Warner like there was in Zionsville or Bloomington. I’ve never even been faced with this issue before, but apparently while I’m living here for the next year or so I won’t be able to basically stream or watch any videos with YouTube or even download many songs or mp3s, which sadly for me is something I do quite often and don’t really even think about it much. One of the only high speed providers offering service in Bedford is Blaze Wifi, which I have never heard of and have no idea if they’re any good. Has anyone ever gotten service with this company before? Is their internet fast like they say it is? I’ll keep you updated on my travails to get high speed internet, and I’ll definitely post a review of Blaze Wifi’s service if it isn’t good!

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Chapbook NIGHTMARE

Well, I really liked designing my chapbook–not to mention working with Adobe InDesign for the first time–but I’ve got to say, trying to get this thing down on paper was a LIVING NIGHTMARE. So now I am just going to take this opportunity to indulge in what I think is a well-deserved rant/geek-out after a day full of paper-jamming (and not always the “cool” kind) and compatibility issues. Thus begins my tale of what will go down in my personal history as the Inaugural Spring Break Chapbook Nightmare. –Read at your own risk!

In tribute to my Futura fixation more fully elaborated upon in Helvetica Politics, I thought that using the font in my chapbook would be a fine gesture of continuity. I was like, “Hey, I have an Apple at home, so it shouldn’t be a problem.” And it wasn’t–at least not until Thursday morning, the time I alloted for what I envisioned to be a quick no-sweat print-off between classes. Intuitively sensing that it might turn out to be a problem, I even went directly to Lindley Hall so I could find the help of some CS major if things did go awry… which of course they did. What a fiasco! At first I was naive and loaded my really snazzy brown faux-papyrus paper in the printer right away, fully ready to pull the PRINT trigger, but luckily an attendant persuaded me to first indulge in what would amount to be about 40 test-runs. Even though I created and was printing my project through an Apple, the machine just refused to print more than 3/4 of each page, no matter the number of settings reconfigured and reprints tried. As the wastepaper continued to mount and nothing seemed to be working, I soon came to the bitter realization that the Apple print was just not going to happen. Admittedly, I was reluctant to switch platforms because I knew that meant I would have to give up the Futura ghost, so to speak, but with the clock ticking I wasn’t sure I still even had a choice. Sure enough, in the PC lab the test-run finally ran snag–and Futura–free, but of course the “trial” wasn’t really over yet.

At the printer I gleefully loaded my snazzy-but-in-retrospect-perhaps-too-rough-and-thick stock, intently watching as the machine started and then suddenly stopped rolling it through its quickly spun-out wheels. @%$PAPER JAM@#! Honestly, by this point I was probably hovering on the border of hysteria and just way too emotional about the whole thing, and not only because of the sentimental value of the “good paper” I was printing on–LONG STORY. Although I still feel kind of bad about doing this, I seriously was pressed for time and like a terrible person totally just left the printer jammed, shamefacedly resorting to yet another lab to print my chapbook on, regrettably, only the cheapest paper imaginable. Now I am utterly exhausted and don’t even want to go into describing my various travails trying to master the Ballantine staplers. Let’s just say IU took a hard blow that day thanks to me and my complete physical ineptitude…

Finally, to hopefully bring all of this back to the actual topic of literary publishing, just think of how easy this all might have been if when I was finished designing my chapbook I just pressed a couple of buttons to “publish” my work virtually instead of on hard copy. Or, on the other hand, how unimaginably HARD this project would have been if IU didn’t offer printers with the totally fabulous duplex printing option. Considering the enormous carbon footprint I was responsible for by the time all was said and done, I’m not sure how “eco-friendly” the print really turned out to be, but I imagine the waste would have been probably tantamount to this–plus I would have also absolutely lost my mind!–if I had had to swing this all “manual duplex.” When I think about me trying to print the whole 28 pages one at a time, with my brain outright melting every time I try to figure out which way to flip and reload the papers so they all eventually line up right… I come to the conclusion that, in that case, my cup is definitely half full. It could have been a lot worse!

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Translating Hamlet

I really loved Norman Lavers’ short story “The Translator.” As an English major I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never actually read Hamlet before… I don’t know–it’s never been assigned in any of my classes, and even though a lot of the books and films I love reference it a lot–Fanny & Alexander!–somehow I just haven’t gotten around to it yet? While I’ve not read Hamlet, I am proud to say that I have seen a totally awesome film adaptation, so now whenever I hear “to be or not to be” I imagine Ethan Hawke coolly but aimlessly meandering through the “Action” section of his local Blockbuster…! But now that I’m thinking about what a travesty this really is, I am solemnly vowing to read Hamlet after I graduate this summer, and when I do I will definitely keep Lavers’ “The Translator” in mind.

As I was reading this “metafictional” short story, which follows an Asian translator as she struggles to bring this landmark of the Western canon to the Japanese language, I was wondering how true to the original her “translation” really was. Some of the images were beautifully and poetically surreal, so I found myself thinking, “I really want to read Hamlet if that is in there.” For instance, this sentence in particular really stood out to me as being both sad and beautiful at the same time: “And everywhere that there was blood, sparrows flew out, thousands and thousands, and fighting them was like fighting the drops of water in the sea.” …Is that in the original?

If nothing else, Lavers’ short story at least succeeds in renewing my interest in reading the classics. I think “The Translator” is a good example of how even though supposedly everything has already been said and done as far as literature is concerned, writers can (worst case scenario) just build new stories based off the ones we already have. Because, as we discussed in class, even Hamlet follows the form of a classic “revenge tragedy,” and is therefore inspired by the literature that preceded it. Like I said, I don’t know how “original” Lavers’ story really is, either, but I guess I will find out soon enough.

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Final Exam: History of Art 321

“Final Exam: History of Art 321” by Elizabeth McBride was one of my favorites from The Whole Story. As a reader, the thing I like and remembered most about this short story was obviously its gimmicky Q&A layout, meant to replicate the look of a real art history exam. Well, I just happen to be an art history minor, so I can tell you once and for all that the final exams don’t really look like this–that is, in case you were under the impression that this short story was actually a real test. But maybe McBride really is just a slacker who was staring down a deadline, and at the last moment fortuitously opted to submit one of the old blue-books she found stuffed into her desk drawer for publication. (She does mention Marcel Duchamp a lot in here, so you never know.)

Beyond its catchy short-essay format–not to mention the names of all of those artists and philosophers she throws around in order to get a good grade–I personally liked how the content of her “final exam,” meant to be an Objective Assessment of her Understanding of Course Knowledge, gradually becomes more and more personal, with her test finally turning into a document of her post-traumatic psychological breakthrough. I think most people who have ever taken a timed final exam in a liberal arts class can relate to this experience to an extent, since in-class essays are all about jotting down everything you know as fast as you can, therefore always bordering dangerously on becoming an exercise in automatic writing–but only, I guess, if you have as much emotional baggage as this girl does. ANYWAY, after reflecting on this short story, I think that if I were to write “What Being a Publisher Means to Me” in 25 words, my stamp of approval might ultimately rest upon just two things, both for which this “Final Exam” gets an A+: (1) its style matches its content and (2) its content is relatable–at least to me.

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This Is Not a Story!

So I’ll just start out by saying that if I were a literary publisher I, like The Antioch Review, would also print Emile Capouya’s short story “In the Sparrow Hills.” However, as its publisher I probably would have vetoed that title and gone for “This is Not a Story,” the first sentence or “hook” of this non-story, instead. “Metafiction”–I’m so glad I learned that word!–is definitely not for everyone, so its publisher must realize that a mainstream audience is probably going to have little interest in reading what is decidedly a non-story. Not only does “In the Sparrow Hills” have about 136 literary references in it–either that or 142!–but it also features a main character with a personality basically the spitting image of the very angry and awkward Larry David. Come to think of it, he is probably also a good model for the kinds of people who actually read and write stories like this–that is, stories about nothing.

One of the things I like about this non-story is how it begins with a setup that could be or maybe even was featured on an episode of Seinfeld and therefore could basically happen to anybody: an everyman (maybe George) goes to a diner and tries to pay for his food, but finds that his credit card has been inexplicably declined. Outraged–but just on the inside–by this assumed insult to his successfulness, the man alternatively pays in cash, but then spends the rest of the evening obsessively wondering if he accidentally overpaid the waitress. Although he can’t stop thinking about her and is obviously in love with her, he starts to actually convince himself that he hates her and that she intentionally screwed him over. By night’s end, he consoles himself with some pretty harsh thoughts concerning her strong odor, finally xenophobically declaring to himself that she totally ruins the atmosphere of this, his favorite restaurant, with her “patchouli” stink… –And all of this happens in just the first couple of pages, personally my favorite part. The non-story quickly digresses away from its universally compelling beginnings into a lot of shameless learned namedropping, certainly less accessible to people who haven’t read Chekhov and Turgenev and Conrad and Borges and Kafka and Orwell and Eliot and so on. But as a girl who loves references I still think it’s a pretty good read, as even by this non-story’s end I continue to like even the main character.

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Journal of Lovesickness

Last time we ran hand in hand with someone, a telephone pole broke it up.
As we can tell from this choice line, Steve Price’s chapbook Journal of Lovesickness offers a very clever as well as relatable snapshot on the author’s many failed experiments with romantic love. This is made even more apparent by the mission statement or motto provided on the cover, which informs the reader that this journal commemorates “advances in the poetry of heartbreak,” and that this is purportedly the eleventh published volume. As I found out in class, there are in fact no previous volumes of Journal of Lovesickness, so this funny little cover detail must serve some purpose. In the first place, the cover is obviously meant to ape–or, to quote Price, maybe I mean “monkey” or “chimpanzee”–the look of a literary journal, not only through the “11th volume” bit, but also through its motto as well as its dignified and old-looking crest (which, with its creepy blurry harpist bitmap graphics, in my opinion may have been something of a misstep). In the second place, calling this the eleventh volume of this journal cleverly sums up the actual content of the chapbook, which devotes itself primarily to documenting Price’s ongoing search for his one true love, unhampered by his many breakups and “dead marriages.” Basically, the contents of this chapbook demonstrate that Price has indeed endured enough lovesickness to fill the space of even eleven journals with all of his broken “candy hearts.” Anyway, by playing on the multiple connotations to the word “journal,” Price gives his chapbook not only an academic but also a personal spin, with its short entries reading almost like a diary, holidays and months often appearing as the titles for these prose-poems.

One footnote: Why doesn’t [oops!] the poem “April” appear after “St. Patrick’s Day”? As a critic, I would point to this as perhaps another misstep laid specifically at the feet of the editors. They might say, “Hey, all of the dates and chronology don’t have to be exactly in order! You get the idea!” …But why not? Price is obviously quite diligent and doesn’t miss any opportunity to make his poetry as cute and delectable (yuck) as possible, so if you ask me they should have just shamelessly matched style and content and gone with a straight-up “matchy-matchy” look.

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