12 Winters Blog

Looking back, and a bit of True Grit

Posted in December 2010 by Ted Morrissey on December 31, 2010

On the one hand, I claim not to put a lot of stock in the significance of certain dates for their own sake, but the last day of the calendar year seems to encourage reflection. From a writing standpoint in particular, it’s definitely been a good one. I placed the odd and off-color story “Unnatural Deeds” with Leaf Garden, issue #8. Frankly, it took several months to find a publisher for that one, but I’m proud of it in the sense, especially, that the story is a testament to honesty — life as it really is, and not a sanitized version of it. It raised a few eyebrows, that I know of. I also placed the story “Walkin’ the Dog” in the debut issue of Spilling Ink Review. In that story I’d experimented with narrative that rests more heavily than usual (for me) on repetition of specific images, especially the color orange. It hasn’t come out yet, but Pisgah Review took my story “The Composure of Death”; it should be out this winter or spring. I realize now all three stories have in common that I borrowed their titles from other literary sources: Macbeth (5.1), “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles”; the title of Walter Mosley’s conceptual novel Walkin’ the Dog; and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “[T]he corpse had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud and muslin cap, though the countenance retained the composure of death.”

The biggest stroke of luck of course was finding a publisher, finally, for my novel Men of Winter, which the new small press Punkin House picked up in the spring and released at the end of November. Thus 2011 will be in large part about promoting the novel. I also hope to release Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella and story collection, tentatively taken by Punkin House. The first chapter of Weeping, titled “Melvill in the Marquesas,” was published in September in The Final Draft. (I meant to provide a link to the story, which was published online, but the link has become inactive again — a bit disconcerting, as I’ve been hoping it would be floating around in the ether promoting in its way the coming novella release.) I thought I would have difficulty placing the novella excerpt — it is a bit unusual, in essence a fictionalized biography of Herman Melville’s experience among cannibals in 1842, during the whaling adventure that led to his eventually writing Moby Dick — but The Final Draft picked it up pretty quickly, and even though I withdrew it promptly from other journals’ consideration, I received three other offers of publication, and two rejections with long notes of praise (highly unusual, from my experience). So maybe the novella itself will generate some reading interest.

I was also invited to contribute to Glimmer Train Press’ Writers Ask series, a well-respected how-to publication, and thus my piece “Researching the Rhythms of Voice” will appear this winter or spring. I wrote about the process I’ve gone through to write my current project, whose working title is the Authoress, as its first-person protagonist is modeled after the nineteenth-century American writer Washington Irving. In particular I’ve been reading an obscure collection of Irving’s letters in order to get the feel of his more informal prose style. I’ve written about 340 manuscript pages of the Authoress, and hope to finish within a year or so. One other writing development was my establishing a new blog via my publisher, Punkin House. I decided what the world may need is a blog devoted to helping new(er) writers find outlets for their work, thus Pathfinding.

The Authoress has taken up all my writing energy, so I haven’t written any shorter pieces, nor any scholarly papers — both of which I miss, but it’s important to devote the necessary time and mental processing to the new novel. I’m not short on ideas: I have several writing projects, both small and large, creative and scholarly, in mind.

Finally, I don’t normally write about cinema, especially contemporary American cinema, but the other day I saw the Coen Brothers’ newest offering, True Grit, and I found it quite mesmerizing and wonderful. The acting is superb (and why wouldn’t it be, given the cast?), but beyond that the cinematic style is quite engaging, epic and even biblical in its scope. I know there have been some naysayers who don’t like the idea of remaking the 1969 John Wayne classic, directed by Henry Hathaway — and I love that True Grit, too — but the Coen Brothers have remained truer, apparently, to Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, and have given us a film that is darker and, well, grittier, than the original film, great as it is.

On the reading front, I continue to make my way through Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and am enjoying it very much. Winter break is nearly over, and it will be back to the three-job grind, but I’ve managed to make a lot of progress on the Authoress.


Men of Winter

Gass’s use of enclosure & a little Shakespeare

Posted in February 2010 by Ted Morrissey on February 14, 2010

I’m carefully reading and annotating William H. Gass’s 1966 novel Omensetter’s Luck.  I’m in the process of boiling down about four chapters of my dissertation into a 30-page paper or so (an editor in England is interested in seeing it when it’s completed — I sent him the paper I’m presenting at the University of Louisville next Saturday, as my Louisville paper is a much abridged version of this one I’m working on).  But I’ve been doing a lot more work on Gass since writing my dissertation last summer, and I’ll be getting much deeper (no pun intended) into Gass’s The Tunnel and Omensetter’s, which has more intersections with The Tunnel than I’d initially realized.  Gass began working on The Tunnel essentially when Omensetter’s was published, but he’d written Omensetter’s several years before — it took him awhile to find a publisher, which he discusses in the afterword in the Penguin Classics edition.

The complex metaphor of the tunnel itself (that is, the one that the novel’s narrator, William Kohler, is digging surreptitiously in his basement) has several analogues in Omensetter’s.  For example, in the “The Love and Sorrows of Henry Pimber” section of the novel, a fox has fallen down an old well on the property that Brackett Omensetter is renting from Pimber.  Omensetter is inclined to let the fox stay in the well until it figures a way out (which is unlikely at best) or until the Ohio River floods and washes the dead fox out of the well in the spring.  Pimber, who at some level sees the fox caught in the well as himself, wants to do something about its situation immediately; he eventually returns home for his shotgun and kills the fox, also wounding himself when a ball of lead ricochets off the well’s walls and strikes him in the arm.  The fox in the well is alluded to often in the novel.  But it is just one example of enclosure or entrapment in the novel.  Graves keep showing up in the text as well, and they seem to be another manifestation of enclosure/entrapment.  For example, Reverend Jethro Furber seems obsessed with the three graves in the corners of his garden — each being the grave of one of his predecessors, and the fourth corner awaiting Furber’s own interment.

Images of falling are also prevalent in Gass’s works — perhaps more on this in another post — but now I want to mention Shakespeare and, in particular, Macbeth.  There is a significant amount of work being done on the early modern period and trauma cultures throughout England and Europe, and how that trauma was manifested in the work of all kinds of artists, including the Bard’s.  What I’ve been thinking about lately is the witches in Macbeth and the fact that they don’t seem to occupy a real, physical environment.  4.1 is a prime example.  Macbeth visits the Weird Sisters in a darkened cavern, we’re informed, but where this cavern is precisely and how Macbeth knows to go there are unstated in the text of the play.  I’m beginning to think of the witches as symbolic of Macbeth’s traumatized psyche (traumatized by his own murderous disloyalty) — this is not a new angle on the play by any means — but also, to extend this idea, I’m seeing the cavern as Macbeth’s own unconscious:  a “place” he is plumbing.  If so, then the witches’ prophecies are, in essence, prophecies to be self-fulfilled in a modern psychological context; and, in fact, it does seem that Macbeth is intent on fulfilling them:  moving himself and his army (and Lady Macbeth) to castle Dunsinane, even though the third apparition warns of his doom in connection with Dunsinane; also abandoning Dunsinane for the field of battle as the English approach, even though he’s just informed us that the castle could withstand a lengthy siege.  (My Gass-Shakespeare connection was bolstered this morning as I read the section of Omensetter’s in which Furber compares himself, at length, to Hamlet.)

There is much to ponder here, and as I continue to annotate Omensetter’s it will all be a part of my witch-like brew.