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Fiction Submission

The following story was submitted to me in hopes of having more work published by Korrektiv Press. I explained that we really are a boutique publishing house, an elite group of writers catering to an even more elite group of readers (alas, you read that correctly), and that it would take some time—not to mention a long, hard look by our editorial staff—before his stuff ever saw it through to print. The fellow responded that this was just fine—suited him to a t, in fact, since he was looking for as much feedback as possible. To which I thought, well, why don’t we just post it to the blog, opening up his work to whatever commentary our good readers choose to provide. So … Have at it, folks.

Debita Nostra

Sedately, a hand as though Michelangelo’s Adam’s stretched toward the bulletproof window, outside of which sprung April’s sweet shoots, this man’s hand anticipating no divine spark, reaching instead for infinite space. Garrett stared there, almost praying in spite of it all, sing in me muse of many harried years, I am a man unskilled in the ways of contenting, lax index finger then firming to flick an ant—exiled or escaped from the anthill’s very brotherhood—not utterly destroying it, but doing a crippling work on the hind legs. Dominion over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Should tell someone here. Insecticide. Black dots distracting work that could be done. Contrary to all efficiency and decency. Not that he cared but they would wouldn’t they. Black dots better than black plague, better than the oriental rat flea that gorged on blood and spread it across Europa, eliminating at least one hundred million in seven years, 1353-1346, as though yesterday, danse macabre, dance my little wounded ant, skeletal epitome of eternal mortality, set us dancing again, mon Dieu, Dominus. Dominion. Dominus vobiscum.

Garrett brushed back his black bangs that when hanging ceased just before they reached the eyebrows. Covering it. The broad forehead. That’s how God fits the brains in there, Uncle James had said more than once, often upon introducing him from afar but within earshot—and here he is, broad-forehead-big-brained bullox, pressing blood-blanched fingers against the off white keyboard, trying to formulate a response to client ZX3820 and failing, yet carrying on the slow-motion slog against the debt, stacking his hecatomb against the mortal god who sent summons biweekly: $123,000 total, for which reason we would like to offer you the payment plan option of $1,230 per month, which, o man, measured against your Cosmoception wages of $2,500 per month, leaves you $1,270 per month. Forget not the old cafe job that brought in $1,300 per month at best, if tips bespoke the jubilee generosity, that as dictated by that little known book of Leviticus and insisted upon by the prophet Isaiah, for the faint spirit shall become a mantle of praise enunciated by otherworldly unction.

Still failing to settle the right syntax for client ZX3820. Not for lack of sample form letters provided during orientation, but because not a single one fits. Refusing the forms as inadequate. Aristotle refusing Plato’s theory of the forms–if the father of all philosophical footnotes had one single one anyhow. Failed to figure how this world holds order also not only other-world Forms. Some semblance of home here. My father has many dwellings. Not is only in heaven but as it is, otherwise why the comparison? Client ZX3820—you enter the numbers and the computer program inserts a name which you, the staff, are unable to see, privacy—wants foundation. A shade of peach, non-scented, but can get it cheaper at even the convenience store. He heard now-departed father say have your convenience and hang all to not-yet-widowed mother when she suggested they purchase an eighty dollar keychain by which the doors would unlock and lock by your remote finger’s command. Garrett straightened his spine, felt a click or crack at the base of his back, wrote Have your convenience and hang it all as a draft, then deleted it posthaste, else that $2,500 departs like nymphs leaving you in the wasteland again, leaving no address for anyone, The yellow fog of debt that that rubs its back upon the window-panes, collectors licking their tongues into the corners of the everything.

The nymphs are departed,
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses
.

Departed, have taken with them the luggage of panic, for if deadened from dull days at work at least there no worried pacings punctuate the evenings as in the elder days, before this big break job, no heart kicks at every door knock as though Loan Co. Himself was on the other side, knocking. Dithyrambic pound with each envelope delivered, even sweepstakes nonsense sometimes looked like loan bills to bloodshot eyes. Taking more hours at the cafe, more coffee cups filled and customers humored over steaming pink salmon, seizing on others’ sick days almost as a parasite and still failing in spite of this to meet monthly payments, readying for default until an entirely oblique conversation with Loan Co. led to a letter that read “ . . . pleased to inform you that your loan has been rescheduled,” which meant, his Uncle James told him over the phone, reduced monthly payments by means of a second loan to help pay off the first which meant increased interest rates but extended repayment schedule so that at least the monthly interest and a bit of the capital balance would be in the hands of the bank every thirty days.

Comments

  1. It is clear that the author is exceptionally erudite and gifted in the craft of writing. I think the work should be published after some editing to tighten it up at the sentence level and there needs to be a underlying structure under the debris. I like the fact that it is fragmentary and flowing straight out of the ol’ noggin. It is OK if the sentences disintegrate, but they shouldn’t be overstuffed with verbiage–remember what the Idaho kid said–LOB OFF THE FAT. Also, remember even the modernists were metaphysical; there was a way out of the labyrinth even in Borges (maybe). ALSO, it is important to remember that Joyce gave a key or two to Ulysses. I see Eliot and, of course, the Bible in here a few times, but I need the whole work to gain a firm grasp of what is going on. Yes, I know that Ulysses was produced in installments. In the end, more Ulysses (and/or Borges) and less Finnegan’s. Also see Pound on USURA.

  2. With Usura

    With usura hath no man a house of good stone
    each block cut smooth and well fitting
    that design might cover their face,
    with usura
    hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
    harpes et luz
    or where virgin receiveth message
    and halo projects from incision,
    with usura
    seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
    no picture is made to endure nor to live with
    but it is made to sell and sell quickly
    with usura, sin against nature,
    is thy bread ever more of stale rags
    is thy bread dry as paper,
    with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
    with usura the line grows thick
    with usura is no clear demarcation
    and no man can find site for his dwelling.
    Stonecutter is kept from his tone
    weaver is kept from his loom
    WITH USURA
    wool comes not to market
    sheep bringeth no gain with usura
    Usura is a murrain, usura
    blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
    and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning. Pietro Lombardo
    came not by usura
    Duccio came not by usura
    nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura
    nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted.
    Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,
    Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.
    Not by usura St. Trophime
    Not by usura Saint Hilaire,
    Usura rusteth the chisel
    It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
    It gnaweth the thread in the loom
    None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;
    Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroidered
    Emerald findeth no Memling
    Usura slayeth the child in the womb
    It stayeth the young man’s courting
    It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
    between the young bride and her bridegroom
    CONTRA NATURAM
    They have brought whores for Eleusis
    Corpses are set to banquet
    at behest of usura.

  3. Charles Schmitt says:

    The sample isn’t unreadable by any means. The thing is lyrical and esoteric, almost to a fault, if fault we must find, and Mr. Russel is bang on right about its overstuffedness, but I sort of find that overstuffed quality hilarious; indeed the only problem I had with the story was that I had to read it three times and the third time out loud to figure out everything that was going on. I find it very funny in a darkly comic, tragically navel-gazing sort of way, which I hope the author will take as a compliment. It rings true. How can a $123,000 debt-load not induce navel-gazeliness?

    Usually I’m far more partial to overstuffed verbiage than to fragmentary, disintegrating sentences. Regular old fashioned British-style English is like an English garden; often overgrown and too flowery, but a comfortable place to have a drink nonetheless. But Joyce, and some others like him, are (for me) often more like a pile of the garden prunings—bits of hacked-off sentences and other yet-green trimmings; certainty not without value, but just not as comfortable for long periods. Or, put another way—regular traditional English prose is like a clean pint of British Bitter; designed to be sessionable and consumed in quantity—whereas Joyce, et al., are more like a stone jug of un-aged Irish poitín; designed to shock and intoxicate. Nevertheless, in this chunk of writing, the fragmentary sentences achieve a a weird balance by being over-crammed with excess verbiage. It’s like port—too strong and rich to have in the morning, but excellent in small doses in the early evening. If the author wants this story to be more palatable and approachable, then extensive editing would certainly be needed. Since you’re going for “elite authors and more elite readers,” then I don’t think it needs much work. What’s more elite than port?

    This debt-acedia—very interesting. Fascinating. Played out on the ants, which is a nice touch. The ants that Francis stepped aside to avoid smushing—The Joy of Intentional Poverty vs. the Sloth and Slog of Debt: Which is better for the Ants? The most insignificant and least-loved of God’s creation positioned as a litmus test of human gratitude.

    • Guiness M. Guinee says:

      By which I think you mean to say: “The piece is common, terribly, nauseatingly common.”

      To which I might add: all substance and no style.

      • Charles Schmitt says:

        Hm. I might massage the message this way; The style IS the substance.

      • Louis Maltese says:

        What exactly makes it “common, terribly, nauseatingly common?” Is it really so obvious? Or is its appearance accomplishing its artistic intent? Is it “common” by comparison, in which case we are no longer actually engaged directly with the text (especially if one is leveling platitudes like “all substance no style”), or is it “common” because it has been rendered to represent commonality – that is to say, the immediate experiential commonality of being-in-this-world as un-pragmatically educated and an economic time bomb? A comment like “The piece is common, terribly, nauseatingly common” betrays the commentator more than it enlightens us about the piece itself; just as a young student announcing that the piece “bores him” while standing with his class surrounding a late renaissance still-life painting.

        I agree with Mr. Russel that it could use some tightening, but not around the verbiage. It’s the density that discombobulates the reader. If I am interpreting the text’s literary influences accurately, this is purposeful. Wouldn’t we expect a classically educated liberal art student to be disorienting and mad in the face of an environment devoid of all classical significance.

        I would be interested in reading it with the fragmentary style being attributed solely to Garrett, and with the narrator committed to fluid prose–just to compare how it reads.

        Charles, I continue to struggle with an author’s obligation to be approachable. No doubt this work requires a familiarity with history and literature to appreciate the author’s mind, but if it was to strike smack-dab in the middle of a bell-curve could you imagine the extensive amount of unpacking it would take? Somehow Thomist and Aristotilean historical and philosophical lessons would need to be provided — how else could a reader begin to see what you found: “The ants that Francis stepped aside to avoid smushing—The Joy of Intentional Poverty vs. the Sloth and Slog of Debt: Which is better for the Ants? The most insignificant and least-loved of God’s creation positioned as a litmus test of human gratitude.” Unless, this work of lamentation is capable of evoking the reader’s cultural vacuum in such a way that they earnestly crawl to Mount Parnassus to drink its port. To drink in community.

  4. Acutely aware that I’m out of my element here, but will take one on the chin and risk venturing a few comments . . .

    Cutting to the chase, I tend to agree with Mr. Russell overall . . . yes, it’s that easy!

    I found much to appreciate in this excerpt, esp. the stream-of-consciousness feel this piece seems to be striving for. But I’d like to see a more seamless interaction between the narrative persona and Garrett. I found myself getting pulled out of perspective, felt buffeted about a bit, and thus did not experience the necessary FLOW that must be true stream of consciousness. I too found it hard to follow what was going on, but also found myself intrigued by what was potentially going on, and that is a good thing. The ant and the finger flick won me over (can I say “Do more of this sort of thing”?), and juxtaposed against The Creation it is a masterstroke of suggestive depth – these are the sorts of “puzzles” (if you will accept the term) that I appreciate as a reader; less so the dense word-smithing carried over very long sentences. Perhaps it is one of the casualties of my middle-age that I take little joy or solace in fiction that wants me to tackle it – when I read, I want to sink in to and revel in what is on the page, not spar with it: I don’t want to fight with my reading material. I appreciate being deeply challenged, but overall this piece was a step beyond that, provocative and intriguing and certainly worthy of consideration, but also requiring a bit of stylistic concession, in my humble opinion. Generally, the other constructive things mentioned in the comments get agreement from me as well.

    Maybe it was meant as humor only, but I do not believe that style can ever stand in for substance in the sense that a text cannot be simply a stylistic exercise – that is one of the sure casualties of post-modernism and is the essence of narcissism. I do not at all believe this piece carries that brand; however, less erudite readers less in love with obscure verbiage might think so. Sorry. Just had to say it . . .

    I too grapple with Mr. Maltese’s dilemma – the obligation of a writer to be at least approachable, if not clear. Since this seems to be a community in which the following comment could be accepted, I will throw it in the ring, though it is a general comment for pondering and is not meant as a critical perspective of this piece: The gift of language comes from God and God used language – the Word – to speak everything we know into existence. Those among us who are privileged to work at making art that is word-based have a very special role to fill, because we are being allowed to use God’s own chosen medium in our art. The intimacy of this privilege is staggering. God is above all clear – He speaks and it happens, He speaks and it IS. I tend to think our language choices need to reflect clarity above all else, that we must call things by their proper name, and use language to forward Truth and bury obfuscation. There is great risk, it seems to me, in doing anything else. Intellectual prowess does not save one from this risk – we need only look to the bench of the highest court in the country for an example of this. Words matter and they have meaning and that meaning should be clear, esp. in our art, because it reflects and points back to not only our culture but to our ultimate reality, which is not of this world. There is room for play and humor and experimentation and all the rest, but the motive needs to be clear. Who are we writing for and why? Goal and aim, and are these in alignment with the gift we have been given and the awesome responsibility that comes with it?

    However, to the point so cogently made by Mr. Finnegan and reiterated by Mr. Schmitt, the press is in service to the crème de la crème of the literary elite, and so that leaves me out of the circle from the get-go. I assume the illustrious editorial board will be able to sift and winnow the wheat from the chaff of this noteworthy submission, hold it up against those other chosen few that have made it through the narrow gauntlet, and determine whether or not it can hold its own in that company. Thanks for the opportunity to read it!

    • Angela, your comments are striking, you are definitely not out of your element, rather a fitting element for this public molecular compounding critique — forgive me for this flourish.

      The tension between aggressive and embracing styles is difficult to chose when the substance and force of the writing concerns something intimately severe: suffering. This piece seems to express multiple dimensions of suffering (especially in relation to your comment about The Word and words): those that are within the bounds of free will (perhaps this could relate to works) and suffering that is fundamentally part of our fallen existence (that which stands before Divinity’s omnipotence and requires a relationship, communion). The formation of Words that proceed from the Father as the Logos (the Son), those that you characterize as being “above all clear” can definitely be heard and immediately recognized as clear, but how do we characterize the human response? We can definitely attempt to portray the honest and bare response, including times of deafness before the Word, but should we aim to clearly express something greater than that? In other words, should the artist be aim for expressing the ultimate Truth, or should they clear aside the obstacles that ravage our sensibility? Basically recognizing there is that which we can speak, and that which we cannot speak, but can only respond to. Does that make sense? I’d appreciate any help fleshing this thought out…

  5. Broderick Barker says:

    Wait a second. This appears to be an actual conversation about literary matters among real people.

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