12 Winters Blog

“The Double” in retrospect and Men of Winter status update

Posted in September 2010 by Ted Morrissey on September 12, 2010

I had some quality Amtrak time this weekend and was able to finish Dostoevsky’s long story, or novella, “The Double” (1846; trans. George Bird). I enjoyed it very much. Ronald Hengley, the editor of Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (Perennial Classic, 1968), writes in his introduction that the story’s main character, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, is a reflection of Dostoevsky’s self-image:

These [i.e., Golyadkin and the protagonist of “White Nights” (1848)] despised, feeble, usually poverty-stricken personages are all introspective in inspiration and may be considered as self-portraits of the author as seen in the distorting mirror of his imagination — portraits, that is, of the Dostoevsky who was the butt of his fellow cadets in the army engineering school where he received his main education, and who later provoked the sneers of Turgenev and other members of his literary set in St. Petersburg shortly after receiving notoriety with the publication of his first fiction. (viii)

Hingley goes on to say that Dostoevsky “resented . . . almost everyone he knew,” but that “he also appears to have courted [. . . humiliating] experiences with a certain masochistic gusto.” In my reading of “The Double,” I see the tenacity of one’s individual personality. Mr. Golyadkin (whose name means something like “poor fellow” in Russian, according to the translator) resolves time and again to cut all ties with his double, “Golyadkin junior,” a duplicitous, mean-spirited fellow who seems bent on Golyadkin’s professional and personal destruction, but the original Golyadkin continues to seek out his double or to place himself in situations where his encountering his double is all but inevitable. I see this as one’s inability to totally rid oneself of the darker (or at least less attractive) sides of one’s personality. We may be able to stray from our true selves for a time, but we must always return, even if it’s against our own will.

I’m looking forward to other stories in the collection, but for now I’ve turned my attention to a contemporary novel, Adam Braver‘s Crows over the Wheatfield (2006). I’m about forty pages into it, and I no doubt will be blogging further about it in the future. I’m a great fan of Braver’s first novel, Mr. Lincoln’s Wars (2003), a book I have taught in a couple of different college courses; and readers around the world have been becoming fans of Braver’s newest novel, November 22, 1963, as it’s been translated into several languages, including French and Japanese. As I said, more on Crows to follow.

While I’m at it, a quick nod to Vaudezilla’s production of Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque. I was in Chicago over the weekend and took in the show at the Greenhouse Theater Center. It was . . . bizarre — but great fun, especially for Big Lebowski fans (who aren’t plagued by cultural timidity). Frankly, it’s the sort of thing one doesn’t have an opportunity to see much (or at all) around Springfield.

On the Men of Winter front, I’ve been exchanging emails the last few days with the graphic artist, Julie McAnary, who’s designing the cover for my novel, and we’re just about there, so hopefully it will be ready for an unveiling very soon. I anticipate some page proofs soon as well, as the publisher, Punkin House Press, is planning a release this fall.

I continue to look for a journal to publish “Melvill in the Marquesas,” the first chapter of my novella Weeping with an Ancient God, and I continue work on my novel-in-progress, informally titled the Authoress, though I’m 99.9% certain of the formal title now. I’m nearing the 300-ms.-page mark and feeling very good about the story.

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More Turgenev and a proposed release date for Men of Winter

Posted in August 2010 by Ted Morrissey on August 15, 2010

I’ve been reading from the collection of Ivan Turgenev’s stories (though some have been described as short novels). After reading the collection’s titular story, “First Love,” I read an earlier-written tale, “Bezhin Meadow” (1851), then skipped to the final tale in the collection “Clara Milich” (1882), and now I’m reading “Assya” (1857). There’s been little rhyme or reason as to which stories I’ve read and in what order. I suppose I’ve been guided somewhat by David Magarshack’s (that is, the translator’s) introduction, and his assessment of the evolution of Turgenev’s style as reflected in these stories that span more than thirty years. According to Magarshack, in his earliest stories Turgenev was especially interested in describing scenery:

The interesting stylistic feature of A Sportsman’s Sketches, as well as of Turgenev’s other stories belonging to the same period [early 1850s], is the presence of the long descriptive passages which have very little relation to the subject matter of the story. Indeed, Turgenev was for a time so obsessed with his ability to paint landscapes in words that even his letters of the period abound in descriptive passages of the same kind. (pp. x-xi, First Love and Other Tales, Norton 1968)

On the one hand, I see in the stories I’ve read so far what Magarshack is getting at. His assessment, though, that the “passages … have very little relation to the subject matter of the story” is not one that I would whole-heartedly embrace. There may be little direct relation to the plot of the story, but it seems to me that Turgenev is operating in a way that would soon become known as impressionism in painting, and a bit later as impressionism in literature. That is, the descriptive passages are often meant to reflect some meaningful aspect of the characters who are operating within or observing the scenery — that aspect may be the characters’ psychologies, or it may be foreshadowing their narrative advancement. In the story “Assya,” for example, the connection between scenery and characterization is overtly made by Turgenev when the narrator says of Gagin, a young Russian fellow he’s met in Germany and who’s awakened him early on a beautiful morning, “With his wavy, shiny hair, open neck, and rosy cheeks, he was as fresh as the morning himself” (94).

Needless to say, I’ve been enjoying the Turgenev stories. I read a bit of Turgenev as an undergraduate, but he’s one of the many authors who’ve been just on the edges of my academic radar all these years.

A couple of developments on the creative writing front: My story “The Composure of Death,” which I just began sending round last month, has been taken by Pisgah Review, a beautiful little journal associated with Brevard College, in Brevard, North Carolina. The journal is edited by Jubal Tiner, whom I met several years ago at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 (though I’m not sure Jubal is making the connection just yet). According to Jubal’s email, the editorial staff is not in love with the title of the story so they’ve asked me to consider a different title, which I’m willing to do — I have no emotional investment in that specific title. I did reply with a brief explanation of the title’s origin, which is Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” a story I allude to in my story, and why I’d chosen that phrase. I don’t know if that will change their feelings about the title, but, if not, I’ll put my thinking cap on and come up with another. With the acceptance of the story, each of the stories in my collection Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella with collected stories, has been published. I’ve also been shopping around the first chapter (under the title “Melvill in the Marquesas”) of the unpublished novella, but so far no one has offered to take it to the dance. It’s still very early in the process, and I’ve only gotten a couple of rejections so far.

The other development: According to Amy Ferrell, CEO of Punkin House Press, Men of Winter should be out in October. Still quite a ways to go in terms of laying out the pages and designing the cover, but that will apparently get intense in a hurry. PHP also wants to do some sort of online workshop/contest that I’ll lead and judge for publication, in part to promote my novel but also to help other writers find publication. Right now it’s just a concept, so that too will have to be fleshed out in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on the Authoress, my novel-in-progress. I’m about 265-manuscript pages in, and a couple of days ago I roughly mapped out the final sections of the story. I have a long way to go, but I must resist the urge to rush toward the finish line. In a sense I’ve been working on the novel for four-plus years, but that’s misleading because for three years I (almost literally) didn’t touch the manuscript as I finished my Ph.D., specifically preparing for and passing comprehensive exams, then getting the dissertation topic approved, and researching, writing, and defending it. So, really, this is only my second summer of working on the novel. I must keep in mind facts like it took Joyce seventeen years to write Finnegans Wake, and William H. Gass worked on The Tunnel for nearly thirty years — not to imply that my book will be another Finnegans Wake or The Tunnel, but rather to remind myself that a novel worth its salt takes time to write, and rushing the process is counterproductive.

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Turgenev’s ‘First Love’ plus nostalgia for the days of paper

Posted in August 2010 by Ted Morrissey on August 8, 2010

I have just finished reading — and I mean just — Ivan Turgenev’s long story “First Love” (1860; translated by David Magarshack), and I found it hauntingly beautiful, especially in terms of what is sometimes called atmospherics. Turgenev almost emphasizes development of setting more so than characterization — though of course they are so closely entwined it’s difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. For example, Turgenev writes, “Meanwhile it was getting near dinnertime. I went down into the valley; a narrow, sandy path wound its say through it towards the town. I walked along the path.” The “I” is the story’s sixteen-year-old first-person narrator, and through his infatuation with the beautiful, young (though older than him) princess Zinaida, Vladimir does journey into the valley of his soul, his pysche — and the path is indeed sandy (unsure underfoot) and winding (making it unclear what is around the next turn); and [SPOILER ALERT], as it turns out, he is headed toward town. That is, he literally returns to town (Petersburg) at the end of the story, which is set mainly in the country, near Neskoochny Park; figuratively, though, Vladimir goes from the wild and organic experiences of one’s first love to the more orderly and staid position of maturity at having survived the tempestuous emotions.

I’ve gotten hold of a collection of Turgenev’s stories (Norton, 1968) and am looking forward to diving into another, probably “Bezhin Meadow” (1851).

On the writing front, I’m still at work on my novel-in-progress, the Authoress. I haven’t made as much progress this summer as I was planning, but I did bring together a new book-length manuscript consisting of my (as yet) unpublished novella Weeping with an Ancient God and a collection of (nearly all) published stories. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it took more time and creative energy to bring the manuscript together than I’d anticipated; however, I’m glad that it exists, and I’m in the very early stages of finding a publisher for it. Meanwhile, I’ve been shopping around the novella’s first chapter as a stand-alone piece, and I’ve been sending around the one story from the collection that hasn’t been published, a short short story (2,000 words) titled “The Composure of Death,” a phrase borrowed from Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

With the arrival of August, the proverbial floodgates have begun to open in terms of the number of journals and presses that are back to accepting submissions — the gates will open fully come September. I’ve commented before that the number of electronic journals is growing exponentially, but I wonder that there may be the beginnings of some backlash. That is, there seems to be some dissatisfaction on the part of editors and writers (most editors are also writers) with purely electronic literature; there seems to be some ache to have something made of paper to hold. There are a number of journals that are offering the best of both worlds by publishing material online (including as downloadable pdf formats) and via print-on-demand books (Oak Bend Review and Leaf Garden, to name two such journals who have used some of my work). Then there are web journals that do, say, an annual “best of” print collection (Spilling Ink Review, for instance). Book publishers, too, are straddling the fence, so to speak, releasing new titles in both electronic and traditional formats (Punkin House Press and Black Coffee Press).

There are journals and presses that are totally committed to epublishing. Here’s a link to the Directory of ePublishers — and this is understandable given the low cost of epublishing compared to traditional print publishing. Also, there’s no question that epublishing is gaining in popularity among readers. Recent announcements by book-selling giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble regarding their ebook sales compared to hardbacks were bouncing all over the Twitter- and blogospheres; see, for example, the Wall Street Journal‘s report on Amazon. Nevertheless, there seems to be something that isn’t totally satisfying about ebooks for bibliophiles (at least, bibliophiles of a certain age range). In fact, a new journal is launching in spring 2011 that is deliberately looking backward to an all-paper period. The Snail Mail Review, whose web presence seems to be mainly through Facebook, is accepting submissions exclusively the old-fashioned way (while more and more journals are going to email or online submission managers). According to Every Writers Resource, the Snail Mail Review editors want to recreate the feeling of submitting and being accepted via postal mail. They say, [sic]

We are a contemporary literary journal with “old-school” style. The editors at Snail Mail Review are committed to bringing only the best in poetry and short fiction by maintaining mail-only interaction with our writers. Given their past experience as being editors, they find much to be valued in sticking to traditional mail submissions. The editors believe that nothing can beat the joy of receiving submissions in the mail box and being able to hold those submissions physically in their hands as they consider the work. Consequently, we also know the joy of a writer when he receives an acceptance letter in the mail. This is the interaction that we wish to maintain with our writers, thus Snail Mail review was born.

I must admit that I find the approach engaging — and I know of which they speak — but I’m dubious of their success (though I’m not even sure what I mean by “success”). For the last issue that I was involved with as an editor for Quiddity, we had one poet that we published who was totally nontechnological. Her poems came to us via snail mail; we had to accept the ones we wanted via snail mail; her photo arrived via snail mail and had to be scanned; her poems had to be typed and the galleys sent to her by mail; her corrections came by mail; the corrected galleys were sent by mail. . . . In short, it really slowed the process down from a publishing and production standpoint — and that was for two or three short poems. I recall when I published/edited A Summer’s Reading (1997-2004), and for the first few issues everything regarding interaction with the writers was done the old-fashioned way, including my laboriously typing accepted prose pieces that were several thousand words long. On the one hand, I think something can be gained from the experience of typing another’s manuscript (I remember being told that Hemingway thought his experience as a typist for the literary journal the Transatlantic Review was invaluable to his development as a writer himself), but it’s difficult to imagine going back to that process. Though I believe one of the downsides to electronic exchanges between editors and writers, and thus copying and pasting being the main mode of production, is that there isn’t enough attention paid to the details (or even the correctness!) of language. I seem to be running across a lot of twentysomething editors who either don’t care much about correcting texts, or they frankly don’t know what’s correct and what isn’t when it comes to grammar, spelling, etc. — they no doubt reflect a readership that increasingly neither cares about nor likely knows such “rules.”

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Authoress progress, Weeping, and a little Tempest

Posted in July 2010 by Ted Morrissey on July 21, 2010

My working on the Authoress, my novel in progress, slowed down for a couple of weeks, in large part because I was tidying up the manuscript for Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella with collected stories.  Novellas have been a hard sale, unless your name is something like Stephanie Meyer, but I’m hoping by pairing the novella with already published short stories, it will be easier to place.  It took longer to edit and compile the various pieces into a single manuscript — and it took more of my creative energies than I’d anticipated — and as such my writing was affected. But with Weeping put to bed so to speak, I’ve been back at the Authoress this week. I’ve also been doing some home improvement stuff, and these projects, though they’re not that cerebral, have been a distracting influence as well. Along with writing, I’ve also begun some research on nineteenth-century printing processes. Having it right per se is not pivotal to my book, but I’ve been throwing around some terminology, almost since page one, and I want to make sure it’s accurate. So far I’m finding that I’ve been pretty much on the mark, but I’ll probably tweak some language here and there. A metaphor has also been suggested to me via the research; I may pursue inserting the metaphor — letting it just percolate for now.  Since it’s a work of fiction I don’t consider myself a slave to historical accuracy, but authenticity is crucial to historically based novels and being accurate with those sort of details (the printing processes of the period) can go a long way toward establishing that authenticity.

In addition to the research, I’m back to reading Ulysses, specifically the “Circe” section, which is the longest and quite possibly most challenging section of the novel, essentially book-length in itself. Taking the form of a dramatic script, it is a dreamlike narrative. I haven’t done any serious scholarly research on Joyce’s work, but this “Circe” section seems to anticipate the narrative technique of Finnegans Wake, which has been described as the journey from wakefulness through the catacombs of sleep then back toward being awake at the conclusion. I’ve been trying to alternate reading a section of Ulysses with reading a shorter (probably more contemporary) novel, as there are many that I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to; I’ve “fit in” works by Hawkes, Nabokov, Solares, and Süskind whle reading sections of Ulysses. Last week I read a sizable chunk of Tom Rachman’s very new novel The Imperfectionists, and it was very good (it strikes me as more of a conceptual novel, though I don’t mean to imply that makes it somehow not a novel and certainly not less than a novel). I found it laugh-out-loud funny at times, and touching at times — but I abandoned it nevertheless. I felt a bit guilty, as it deserves to be read in full, but I didn’t seem to be in the mood for it. Being contemporary, it talks of cell phones and computers and the Internet — things my real world is filled with, and for some reason I don’t want to read about such stuff, not in a novel anyway. As a writer, I don’t want to write about such stuff either.

I’ve been circulating the first chapter of my novella as a stand-alone piece titlted “Melvill in the Marquesas,” and I’ve just started sending around a 2,000-word short story titled “The Composure of Death” (it’s a knee-slapper). It’s difficult to find open markets in the depth of summer, but already in mid-July things have begun to reopen, meaning that more and more journals have started to read again, though the flood gates won’t open until late August, early September; in other words, with the start of the academic year.

Finally . . .  I’ve been meaning to say something about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of The Tempest, which I saw several weeks ago. In a word, it was good. The Festival productions are always professionally done and enjoyable to watch. I was a little taken aback by the presentation of Prospero; he seemed too kind-hearted, not edgy enough for my Prospero tastes. I was most intrigued by the set design and costuming. In addition to its being part of the backdrop, a brilliant blue sky with ponderous white clouds was also rendered on the floor of the stage — implying I think that all of the play’s action is taking place in a sort of ethereal space. This ethereal-space impression was added to by the costuming, especially Ariel’s, which consisted mainly of body paint: sky blue with white clouds added on back and chest; then as pants he wore sort of knee-length breeches made of puffy white material, rather cloud-like if you will. At the pinnacle of the backdrop was the shape of a long-winged bird, maybe dove shaped, but filled in with the same sky-blue sky with clouds design that was on the stage floor and on Ariel (and the other spirits, too, for that matter). In some regards, the ethereal space is perhaps suggestive of the play’s taking place as much in imagination as in theatrical reality — in the playwright’s imagination? Or the audience’s? Perhaps Prospero’s or Miranda’s? I’m not sure — but I’ve been pondering it at some level since seeing the production. The Festival is also doing The Merry Wives of Windsor this summer, and I hope to get to it (though it’s turned into a busy summer in its way).

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