“Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?”
—Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov
“I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual.”
—Ray Bradbury (x)
“Mr. Sears,” by Emily Fox Gordon
Appeared in Ploughshares Summer 2016: Vol. 42, No. 2
Maybe 4,000 words?
I can’t tell from Ploughshares‘ presentation of this piece whether it’s supposed to be memoir or fiction (edited to add that on the website, it’s clearly listed as nonfiction). But as guest editors Claire Messud and James Wood say in this issue’s introduction: “We like the idea that form cannot be imposed, but is fluid and natural, improvised and up for grabs; that hiding inside each genre is the ghost of another form—the essay always about to become a fiction, the novella dreaming of being even briefer than it already is, the short story espying its larger cousin on the horizon.”
Writing about one’s adolescence from the distance of adulthood seems different from writing about one’s childhood. Less immersive. Or at least this particular story is less immersive—possibly because the narrator is focused on reconstructing the life of an adult.
“In this office we have a stupid, petty little conversation. The editor explains that if one does not italicise the titles of books it looks like carelessness. He explains that there are rules. The production manager explains that there are rules. I explain that the Chicago Manual of Style has only whatever authority we choose to give it. I explain: Look, these are two characters obsessed with numbers. The Chicago Manual of Style does not have a rule for using numerals in texts about characters obsessed with numbers because THIS BOOK HAD NOT BEEN WRITTEN when they last drew up the Chicago Manual of Style. They could not ANTICIPATE the need for a rule because the book did not then exist. I WROTE THE BOOK so I am obviously in a better position to decide what usage is correct for its characters than a group of people in Chicago who have NEVER SEEN IT.”
—Helen DeWitt (x)
“I learned this a long time ago, at great cost […] if I start from a conceptual viewpoint, or even an aspirational or thematic viewpoint, I, I … come to a dead end, I can’t do it. So the real idea was just at any given time to sort of say, ‘Okay, I need a ghost stage left,’ and just turn my attention there with as little, ah, intention as possible. Just almost like you’re trying to listen to this figure. Ah, it really is a form of verbal improv. And what you’re banking on there is that your subconscious is far enough ahead of you that the voice it provides will not be random.”
—George Saunders (x)