Saturday, April 28, 2012

Caitlin Horrocks and Omniscient Perspective

Now that I'm almost finished with my Master's degree, I finally have time to read book that I'm not required to read. The one I'm working through right now is This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks.

I first heard about Horrocks when she visited Ball State University (where I'm getting aforementioned degree), and she's an interesting author as well as an engaging speaker. During the visit, she talked about how some of her stories are the result of challenges or exercises she sets for herself. For example, the first story in the collection, "Zolaria," came from Horrocks deciding to write a story that went forward as well as backward in time.

That idea of stories as challenges stuck with me, and now as I'm reading This Is Not Your City, I'm trying to reverse engineer the finished stories back to the original challenge. I haven't figured out all of them in this way (and I don't think all of them had that kind of inspiration), but the story I read this afternoon seems to have a challenge behind it.

The story is "At The Zoo," which, as the title implies, is about a grandfather, mother, and son spending the day at a zoo. It's not an especially complicated story on the surface, but as I got further in to it, I noticed it was doing something unusual.

Most stories and novels (and even most other stories in Horrock's collection) these days are either written in first-person (an "I" narrator tells the story) or third-person limited omniscient (using "he, she, they," and only hearing the interior thoughts of one character in the story). People seem to think that getting in the head of more than one character is cheating or playing God or something, and it's generally discouraged.

Picture from here. The bracelet around the wrist spells out "omniscient."

In "At The Zoo," however, Horrocks moves in and out of the heads of each of the three main characters. At one point, the mother, an attorney, thinks about the mad scientist who wants to patent his time travel machine; at another, the grandfather reminisces about life with his late wife; and we also hear the boy's thoughts about how the animals must be sad to be trapped in cages. Since the thought processes and ways to expressing themselves are quite different for each character, and since there are only three of them, it's easy to keep track of whose head we're in at any given moment (one pitfall of third-person omniscient is that it can be difficult to differentiate each character's thoughts). 

The challenge that I think Horrocks set for herself, then, was to write a story in third-person omniscient perspective. And she not only succeeded, but she wrote a "rule-breaking" story that is more effective and involving than it would have been had she written it from a more traditional perspective. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting Published and Managing Expectations

Last week, I found out that my story, “The Sexton-Lily Intersection,” is going to be published in Oblong Magazine this August. This is fun and exciting and cool news, of course, but at the same time, I want to be realistic about what this “means” for me and my potential career as an author.

First, though, here’s the story of how I got to this position: I used Twitter. There’s a bit more to it than that, but not really all that much. I follow a bunch of writers and literary magazines on Twitter, and one of them mentioned this new magazine that was looking for stories. I checked out the website, and it turned out I had a story that seemed like it fit what they were looking for. So I submitted “The Sexton-Lily Intersection,” and a few days later (five, to be exact), they emailed me to say they wanted to publish it.

Now, a few reasons I’m trying to temper my excitement about my “big break”:

-My story will appear in the first issue of Oblong. Literary magazines trade on their reputation, and since Oblong hasn’t had time to build one yet, we don’t know how popular it will be or how many people will read it. Also, the best way to figure out what kind of magazine you’re looking at (and whether you would want one of your stories to appear in it) is to read what they have published, and I obviously didn’t have that option with Oblong; they mentioned several writers I like on their website, but that was really all I had to go on.

-Oblong is focused on only publishing a certain kind of story, flash fiction. Any genre can fit into the flash fiction form; it’s a form that is defined by length, not content. In the case of Oblong, they only want stories that are 1000 words long or shorter. Flash fiction is a growing market, especially on the internet--on sites such as Flash Fiction Online or SmokeLong Quarterly--  but it’s still one that isn’t very well known outside of English departments and literary journals.

-Oblong is based in England (the Brixton area of London, according to their site). I’m not sure how this will affect the availability of the magazine where I live (in Indiana), or if it will cost more to ship copies across the pond, for example. For all I know, it could open up an international market for me that I’m not even aware of yet.

So yeah, I’m not sure what getting this story published will mean in the long run, but I’m interested to see how it turns out and what I can learn from it. I’ll post updates here as the process moves along. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


So, I had this great plan.

11.      Hide illegal drugs in my rectum.
22.    Get arrested for a minor traffic violation, like running a red light.
33.     Distribute the drugs to inmates while in lockup.
44.     Collect money for the drugs from the inmates’ families when I get released.
55.     Repeat as necessary.

It was a foolproof moneymaking scheme. No matter how many times I went over it, I couldn’t find a single flaw in the plan.

Jon Stewart alerted me to the Supreme Court’s decision in a case involving Albert Florence, a New Jersey man who was arrested during a 2005 traffic stop for an unpaid fine, even though he had already paid the fine. Not only that, but Florence was riding in the car while his wife drove and their 4-year-old son was in the backseat. After the police took him in, the police strip-searched Florence two separate times before releasing him. The Supreme Court ruled that the police had not done anything wrong, and that, therefore, anyone arrested for any reason could be legally subjected to a strip search.

Attorney Susan Chana Lask with her client, Albert Florence.

As the absurdities in this story kept piling up, I realized what had happened. The government must have used their time-warp mind-reading technology to discover what I was going to do seven years in the future and stage the Florence case in 2005, paving the way for the Supreme Court’s ruling this week, just in time to foil my plan.

I mean, there’s no other reasonable explanation.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Guild: I'm the One that's Cool

Remember "Do You Want to Date My Avatar"?

The same people (cast of the web series The Guild) are back with a new song, "I'm the One That's Cool."

Where "Avatar" was more of a novelty song, I think "Cool" has potential for a broader audience. It still has gamer nerd in-jokes, but it focuses more on relatable situations like getting bullied in school, and overcoming it by being smart and awesome. The style of "Cool" is more in line with an Avril Lavigne punk-pop song than the techno-dance beats of  "Avatar."