Sunday, 1 April 2007

In Vino Veritas

Three whisky hot-toddies to dull the pain, then two glasses of wine (ditto) (nothing works) but this is what happens when you try to use all the prompts.

America I have given you all and now I am nothing. I am elsewhere. Here, I wander the cheap movie theatres, the saloons, the fly-by-night markets, the rubble. I see the black-clad women, those tired, wailing women who choke and cough up dust; I see the thin blue lips of their children, crushed.

Once I believed in you America. I loved Elvis. My most important question was which came first, the rock or the roll? I wondered about small things like who ate the metal lost from a spoon, what happened to the quarters of the moon, what people must have felt, skin-clad, when the sun disappeared.

I live now in a stone grey town with a name like a bell, ten miles above the tits at St Tropez. Do you think that's funny, Yank, the revolutionary, retired to the hills? Why, why, why, America? Women, children, old people among them, are camping in my garden. I cannot feed them. Even to try would lead to my death. They are dying, they walk like Dachau Jews yet still all the boys are howling to take the girls to bed.

And do you know why, America? Why after all, when measuring the bottom line, it still comes down to juice, to loving? Did you not know we were made to love? Chide your mindless Caesars, explain. In the name of what? You have all but destroyed love (love is not the rape of a brown woman, not killing wide-eyed children).

I have lived in important places, times. I have sunbathed on white sand in Guantanamo Bay, I have picked orchids outside Mai Lai, chatted to passers-by in Abu Grabi, met the young girl who gathered cow-dung in a wide, round basket, who carried shit to her grandfather to bake it into bricks, ready to rebuild.

Oh, America, you sick fuck April Fool. You imagine you will be there forever? Like the Chinese? Like Romans? Fiddling while the world burns. Listen, in a corner of that fat blue sky the mill of night whistles, and it's the sound of an ending. In the finality what endures is flesh and blood, the human. Build what you like of cement and aluminium, build pyramids, great walls, monstrous faces. So? What stays is what connects, is what we remember, and it is not tall building, tanks and planes. It is not the protestations of the auto-cued Texan. In the end it's love, people breaking bread, drinking wine.

The only solution now lies in separation. We know this, even as you infiltrate, emasculate and fill us up with Starbucks soup and beef-pat discs.

But until then, continue. Imagine you rule. And let the five o'clock robots mob the newsstands, the blonde newscasters smarm and talk about collateral misfortunes, innocence, the lovers of Presidents slain. History will ask "What innocence? Whose Guilt? What eyes? Whose breasts? What sad vagina?"

You will spin and almost convince, and we will buy your DVDs. You will seduce British PMs, and they, of an imagined necessity, will wipe their hands, the devil-sold, damned.

But we, the patient, we will ignore the pains in our chest. We will cook Sunday lunch, lamb. Gravy, mint-sauce ( a real lamb, and gravy that we made, and mint from a garden). We will eat a little too much (because it's Sunday) and fall onto sofas and waste time.


Marzipan said...

Hi Alex,

I enjoy reading your blog.

I have read your articles and found them illuminating.

I have just been on an introductory creative writing course at Birkbeck college, London. One thing that was constantly stressed was the use of a 'story arc'.
I have not seen this mentioned in your articles.

What, in this piece, would you you consider to be the story arc? Is it even important?

I'd be interested to read your views.


The Boot Camp Diaries said...

Marzipan, I'm not sure that the piece should be classed as a story (though as an editor I'd allow it to compete with stories.)

It's more part essay, part rant, part prose poetry, really an exercise (for one thing, for fun, it incorporated all the prompts!)

As for story arcs, simple answer, "dunno". I have never consciously considered story arcs, or paused and worried about them, and at the last count I'd sold five crime novels and a few hundred short-stories.

How would YOU define "story arc"? Do you apply it to a short-story as you would to a novel or a TV series?


Tom Conoboy said...

We've talked about story arcs in my university classes, too, and I'm a bit wary of them. They've come from film, specifically whichsees everything as essentially a three-act story. The trouble is that it can easily become formulaic (just look at Hollywood films) and doesn't allow for innovation or originality.

The Boot Camp Diaries said...

Well my attitude is, a character, a setting, a voice, a situation then let them live

it tends to work for me...

Marzipan said...

Thanks for posting a replies, guys.

This is from my course notes..

Nearly all stories will contain the 3 Cs (Characters, Conflict and Climax). They will also have a setting, a quest (however small), a critical moment – if not a fully fledged crisis – and usually some kind of resolution, surprise or closure. The story structure looks something like this:



(creating tension)

inciting incident
(leading to quest
and conflict)


in Joyce’s ‘Araby’, for example, at a structural level, the initial situation is that the narrator, a young boy living in Dublin, is infatuated by a girl. The inciting incident occurs when she asks him if he is going to Araby. His quest is then to go to the bazaar and buy her something. There is internal conflict between the young boy and the adult world. Complications occur when his uncle does not come home until late. This creates tension and leads to a critical moment when the young boy almost doesn't make it to the bazaar. The climax comes when the young boy arrives at Araby, but it is too late and the people make him feel uncomfortable.

The theme of the story, never stated, is disappointment.

I often find this idea stifling, and I cannot find an arc in many short stories I read, but I suppose my point is… if there is no story arc, then what makes a story a story (rather than a work of prose)?

Does it even matter?