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Author Topic: The Blue Blood: In Search of Sprightly Sperm
Denevius
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Wounded Owl

quote:
I imagine myself on my deathbed, plagued by feelings of regret. Did I do my best?

There's a kind of comfort in it, looking into the reflective eyes of the owl just before they darken, knowing that at least I tried.

But if you bend down to the wounded, tattered owl and try to patch it up, attach a bloody wing to its trunk, futilely massage its heart, you'll hardly stand back up and say triumphantly, "At least I tried!" That doesn't help the owl fly, does it?

- Oddny Eir/Translated by Philip Roughton.

Just from this opening, you'll have a hard time figuring out what this story is about, so I'm not sure if there's a traditional "hook". And the title doesn't answer many questions, but gives rise to many. Yet this opening does something that I feel is often missing in workshop fiction that I read. I feel it offers the reader the promise of something new and different.

Yes, it's a bit easier to do this when you're writing from a foreign perspective. I know nothing about Iceland, present everyday reality or past mythology. But this piece I'm reading now has been one of the more interesting short stories I've read in a while. I don't agree with the narrator, who's a feminist, yet I'm still sympathetic to her because her needs are primal: she wants to have a child.

In a way, I actually think this is what's missing in a lot of genre fiction, and especially a lot of workshop fiction. The characters often have these goals that are hard to identify with. Take Frodo, for instance. Brilliant story, but one can imagine how the same narrative in less capable hands will fall flat because, really, when was the last time the fate of the world rested in any of your readers' hands?

Genre writers don't tend to deal with relatable specifics, and I think this makes their writing feel familiar because genre characters are always trying to do these grand things. But there's only a handful of grand things one can do. Save the village, save the country, save the world, or save the universe.

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extrinsic
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Emotional, okay, complication's want feature, okay; though stuck-in-a-bathtub navel meditations of a diary-like apostrophe writer, emotional exploration without plot's antagonal, causal, tensional event sequence energy flow, that Eir is known for and metafiction like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Alice Munro, and, to an extent, David Foster Wallace, maybe Anton Chekhov too.

Metafictional parameter emphases -- event sequence de-emphasis -- for content, organization, and flow works not strongest for me, though popular for French nouveau avant-garde and like-minded francophile art-for-art's-sake aesthetes. I'll take both metafiction and event sequence, please.

Metafiction: fiction about fiction's methods, tangibly; intangibly, ironic commentary expressed about the artifices of fiction.

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Denevius
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The language is what I was pointing out, however. The specificity of it matched with its uniqueness.

I have a friend who likes to repeat a saying common in university English departments: wash the T.V. from your mind.

I think that a lot of writers find that very difficult to do. Even whey they talk about their writing, they talk about their narratives as if they were scenes in a movie. Camera angle is an oft-repeated phrase. The problem with this, though, is that exposition in screen plays is generally quite flat. There's a robustness to the prose that's missing because the 'where' of the scene is meant to be viewed and not read. And usually, there is no voice over, so the intricacies of character thought become muted.

The owl here being a metaphor for life aspirations tried and failed is specific, it's fresh, and it's relatable.

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extrinsic
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"Owl" is also Eir's pet name for her partner.
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Denevius
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quote:
"Owl" is also Eir's pet name for her partner.
*Maybe* on a subconscious level this had something to do with the metaphor being added into the opening. At the same time, I think the lack of personal affects adds to the generic feeling of a lot of genre fiction.

A decade or so ago I remember reading a self-published work by an author. I was supposed to leave a review, as we'd swapped books, and I was trying to be kind in my review because her fantasy world was very, very similar to Tolkein's fantasy world. I didn't want to come out and just say that, but other reviewers had, and it's something that upset her a little to hear.

The truth hurts, especially when you don't want to accept it.

However, after reading the book, I actually had a phone conversation with her, this person I'd never met. And I told her that, oddly enough, the strongest part of the book had to do with the relationship of the main character and his horse. It's hard to explain without reading it, but that was truly the most engaging, strange, and funny part of this fantasy novel, this hero trying to deal with his horse who had no interest in being tamed. Being a monster slayer was easy in comparison to him just trying to deal with his steed. It was the only time you were never really sure if he'd win or lose, as his horse got nothing in the bargain in riding into all of those deadly encounters.

Even ten years later that's what I remember most fondly from the narrative.

And of course, it turns out that this woman owns horses, has been riding them for years, and has several with very eclectic (or is it eccentric) personalities. She drew upon her personal experiences to enrich a world of dragons and orcs and elves, and it was basically the funnest part of the novel to read.

I just started another short story by Hannah Harlow, and I don't want to create a new thread for it, so I'll post the opening here. It's titled IN THE WOODS.

quote:
The night I met the stranger in the woods, I was ten years old and involved in an intense battle of Kick the Can in my backyard. Though the sun had gone down, the sky retained the remnants of light and would for hours late into that summer night, a spectrum of navy with pinpoints of stars, the trees black against the blue.

We lived in three houses on a hill, surrounded by miles of forest. Between the three families, we were six kids, all boys except me, the youngest. Our house was built into the side of the hill, so that when you walked in the front door you were on level ground, but by the time you got to the back of the house on the same floor, you were fifteen feet up.

An opening full of specifics, from the woods, to the house, to the narrator.
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extrinsic
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Though I haven't read "Wounded Owl," from the fragment, I was struck at first impression by the dysfunctional, perhaps toxic need to caretake the owl -- an individual and nature and nurture theme with a readymade moral-truth complication struggle. If that interpersonal relationship struggle is the intangible complication of what the short story is really about, to me, that is meaningful fiction and apropos of New Feminism. Noteworthy also, Oddnř Eir Ăvarsdˇttir won a 2014 European Union literature award for best new and emerging writers.

The narrative about the Tolkeinesque fantasy world -- perhaps a strength, perhaps under-realized, is a theme of imposed will also with readymade moral complication struggle, evidenced by the wills clash between the woman and the horse, and likewise, huh, pivots upon social dysfunction.

"In the Woods," I don't have enough information to gauge what the story is about -- specific enough detail for the setting setup, some character development, though emotionally neutral, and an event of perhaps significance; that is, a Kick the Can game, though not as artfully developed as clues about the other two above do, so that a moral complication struggle is appreciably introduced by the fragment. Vague hints about loss of childhood innocence perhaps, oriented maybe on an age-appropriate moral dilemma of a stranger comes to town. Strengthened emotional commentary -- stronger personal affect -- could clarify the vagueness.

Edited to add: By the way, "eclectic" could relate to "eccentric". "Eclectic" is a process of selective choices, at one extreme, perhaps willy-nilly cherry-picking; at another extreme, informed selection. "Eccentric" is at least unconventionality, perhaps to a point of alienation. The context for which the terms are used together implies a strong connection and also that the two terms are congruent influences of each other. An eclectic could be an eccentric and vice versa, and used together has a strong and artful emotional charge. Unconventional selection processes.

[ June 09, 2015, 02:54 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Have to say that I find myself wondering what a description of the house has to do with meeting the stranger in the woods.

It's nice description, but it feels like a sharp right turn.

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Denevius
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IN THE WOODS is a coming-of-age short story (though these stories border on novellas in their length, number of subplots and characters, in my opinion), and my interpretation of the stranger in the woods is the narrator meeting herself in the midst of change. When she finally recognizes him while playing the game, he's basically doing the exact same thing she's doing: hiding in the shadows in the woods. Though she thinks of him throughout the story, the stranger doesn't come back until the end of the narrative years later, mostly to complete the metaphor, as he's completely changed in an unexpected way from when she first met him at ten years old.

A year and half ago, on a whim, I subscribed to a literary Kindle magazine that Amazon publishes called 'Day One'. I read one story by a Korean author and remembered my overall thought of literary fiction from university and grad school (or at least what I consider literary fiction, as I know people here debate the term).

Lit fiction is kind of a downer. Everyone in the stories are always so depressed. All good fiction has characters facing challenges, but I often think literary fiction characters face challenges that they never actually "win". It's like they come to a stalemate (which reminds me, I read two stories from 'Day One' a year and a half ago), and a realization that verges on hopeful. Plus, literary fiction doesn't seem to so much as end but to kind of peter out.

However, the writing in lit fiction, the actual crafting of prose, is usually much stronger than in genre fiction, and I feel the need to sharpen my wordcraft.

Compare and contrast, for instance, the beginning to a book I read from my teen years that I had a urge to re-read recently, Christie Golden's VAMPIRE OF THE MISTS.

quote:
The last rays of the dying sun filtered through the stained glass windows of the castle's chapel and cast pools of fading color upon the stone floor. The only other light came from a small brazier that glowed on the altar. The Most High Priest of Barovia continued with his task until his old eyes could no longer see clearly. Finally, annoyed at the necessary interruption, he placed the amulet aside and lit enough candles so that he could continue.

The warm glow from the tapers illuminated the altar, but left most of the chapel shadowed. No longer a place for holy symbols and rites, the low wooden altar had been transformed into a workman's bench and was cluttered with tools for delicate metal work: small hammers, tongs, a smooth-faced jeweler's anvil, wax lumps for molds.

I mean, it's not bad, but the writing is definitely lacking. The descriptions are straight-forward. Stained glass windows in a castle chapel. Not very original but it does give you an image. The brazier is small, though you learn nothing else of how it looks, and it's giving light on the altar, where brazier's tend to be. As for the tools, the hammer is small (a bland adjective actually used twice in this opening),and the anvil is smooth-faced.

You don't have to think much about what's going on here unlike the other openings. An appearance of an owl, or the stranger, takes you for left and right turns in the narrative. Here, you know exactly what the priest is doing: working on an amulet in a chapel in a castle.

Because of the lackluster language, VAMPIRE IN THE MISTS really depends on the reader asking 'Why' to flip the page. Since I already read this, I found myself stopping midway through because there's no real fun in just reading the sentences. And even though I haven't read this novel since I was a teen, it's simplistic enough that I'm not discovering anything new in a re-read more than 20 years later.

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extrinsic
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Literary fiction is in one sense experimental. Many of the recent respected "literary" fiction classics may have been experimental when first released, maybe exciting for their novelties, though have become worn by repetition. The dreary moods of some are part of a movement for super-realistic downers, that realistically emulate real life's burdensome struggles and unsatisfying outcomes or no meaningful closure at all, just life goes on after a given event's hardships fade.

Drama, though, has an emotionally charged exposition, a development, and a denouement act in which circumstances are inevitable, irrevocable, and unequivocal, even if slightly or heavily misdirected by implication. Dramatic literary fiction proportions drama to metafiction or another experimental form or method.

Also, literary fiction uses language artfully, perhaps poetically, that is poetic for prose, more artfully than the usual middle grade to early adult convention-based genres use language. Not to say vernacular, dialect, and idiom of a non-sophisticated culture group is artless, the artful use thereof. Artful in this case to mean dramatic -- anatgonal, causal, and tensional -- and emotionally charged, and suited to the subject matter, the occasion, and the audience. Mark Twain's uses of U.S. Southern dialects are artful, for example, for the era.

I have no clue at all about the narrator's identity from the latter passage quoted above, no clue about the writer, no clue about the time, place, or situation, and less clue what the story is about on any level. Language could cue up some of those considerations. The language is an assumption of an expectation that language must be flat to be sophisticated and appealing and not call any attention at all to itself. Nothing except a mechanical style, no appreciation for an aesthetic function. Aesthetic to mean emotional appeal.

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