Wednesday 28 February 2007

Stubborn Town, Part Four

Stubborn Town is a story of seven chapters, posted serially by me, your disorganized host, Cheeseburger Brown.

I've officially upgraded this story to seven chapters. The mystery is deeper than I thought.

Preview follows:


Old Gord is white and grouchy, and his home is known as the Edge House because it stands equidistant between the old site of S. Inlet and the new. Edge House is the only building not relocated, emptied or razed during the great move. All Gord had to do was take up sitting on his backyard porch instead of his front porch, in order to have sight of the church steeple while putting away beers and frowning judgmentally at the passersby, as is his wont.

He narrows his eyes with menace as he spots Aglakti and the stranger approach, the latter limping and stumping along stiffly like someone in the final stages of syphilis.

This observation informs Gord's opening remarks, belting out across the street in a gravelly baritone: "Why don't you go see a doctor, you goddamn pervert?"

He horks in the grass as punctuation.

"Hi Gord," calls Aglakti. "Can we talk to you a sec?"

"What for?"

"This is Mr. Mississauga, from the Ministry of the Environment. He's here to help us out -- trying to get to the bottom of things, and whatever." She pushes her glasses up on her forehead and flashes the old man a girlish smile.

Old Gord frowns. "Why should I give a shit, young lady?"

Mr. Mississauga takes a lurching step forward. "Without a solution to this problem, the tourists will stay away. Without tourists, your town will die, sir."

"I wouldn't want you getting no syphilis on my doorknobs."

"I don't have syphilis, sir."

"So why do you walk like a crank then, taxman?"

"I have two artificial legs, sir," explains Mr. Mississauga. He tugs up the hem of his trousers, exposing the plastic and metal shaft of his left shin.

Old Gord's face softens. He lifts his own left leg which ends above the ankle. "I lost mine in Korea. What about you?"

"Thalidomide poisoning, sir."

"Huh," says Old Gord thoughtfully. He picks up his cane and pushes himself upright. "That's a goddamn crying shame. Come on in why don't you? Don't dawdle with the screen open -- it lets in those Christ-forsaken black flies."

The inside of the Edge House is musty. Sun-bleached black and white photographs line the walls, long dead people staring out through soft vignettes in wooden frames painted with flaking gold leaf: some are somber women tied into Burqua-like Victorian dresses, some are dirty-faced soldiers grinning around cigarettes, arms on each other's shoulders or making the V sign. In the livingroom there are medals pinned over the fireplace in a neat row underlining a massive oil portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

Old Gord lowers himself into the middle of a loveseat, gestures at two dusty easychairs for his guests. "So what can I do you for?" he wheezes, resting his cane against a porcelain statue of Mother Mary whose bosom has been stained dark by repeated contact with the cane's mouldering leather handle.

Mr. Mississauga has his bright yellow notebook ready. "I understand you've been experiencing nothing out of the ordinary during the nights, sir."

"That's so. I'm a Christian."

Mr. Mississauga stares into Gord's face, his chocolate brown eyes uncritical. Gord shifts in the loveseat, sniffs, and then decides to continue: "I know you government bastards think we're all trying to pull one over on the world, but I'm here to tell you it ain't the case. There's no trick to it, but there is a pattern. It ain't random, if you follow me, what happens at night. It ain't random at all."

Aglakti furrows her brow. "What pattern, Gord? What are you talking about?"

"That's enough sass, young lady," snaps Gord. He turns back to face Mr. Mississauga. "It's the sinners, Mr. Miyagi. Them what has Christ in their hearts aren't troubled at all, and them what's lost inside are flitting around at night in the Devil's canoe. It's just that goddamn simple. I don't know why you eggheads in Ottawa can't figure that out when it's plain as day."

Mr. Mississauga makes a note...

To read the complete novella get it for Kindle!


Moksha Gren said...

I'll admit to being totally confused. Or, to pay homage to your past stories...I'm enjoying being completely lost.

Mark said...

I loved the humorous exchange between Aglukti and Mr. Miss. Also, the line “them what’s lost inside are flitting around at night in the Devil’s canoe.”

Should “internal machine” have been “infernal machine?” or is Father Gomez supposed to make linguistic blunders?

The next point I’ve noticed a few times recently, on this story and others, but I haven’t brought it up.

In what POV would you consider this narrative? Obviously, it’s in third person, but I’m being more specific. At first, I thought this chapter was from Old Gord’s POV, but then the reader gets details of which Gord’s not aware (the details of Mr. Miss rooting around in Gord’s closet). Then, without indication we’ve changed “heads,” we switch back to something that Gord is thinking or feeling. Example: Gord sighs, suddenly tired.

Soon after Mr. Miss meets Father Gomez, we see things of which Gomez is unaware (tissue gobs forming after he wipes away his sweat). Again we change to a different view when Gomez “blinks at them, perplexed to see snow.” An observer would be able to infer a perplexed look, but does he or she know Gomez imagines the falling tissue pieces are snow?

I think this voice is called third person omniscient, or omnipresent. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the differences, but it seems that only one of those would provide the author with the type of head-changing we see in these scenes.

It makes it read more like a movie, wherein the camera is constantly switching to things only one character can see (and, to a lesser extent, think or feel). It was a little jarring for me when reading it.

Just curious if this is intentional or accidental.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Moksha,

It's worse than that, I'm afraid -- the homage would have to be to stories past and future, as a great deal of what we're exploring here won't really be resolved until we get to the next story...which I hesitate to say too much about, lest I spoil this story.

Dear Mark,

Thanks for the typo fix. I've been in a hurry lately, and the typo counts shows it.

The POV question is significant. As you might know, I've come from writing exclusively in the first person (CBB circa 2003), forcing myself to explore the third person mainly since the launch of this blog last August.

I initially was very put off by the third person, because I would ask myself stupid questions like, "Who's writing this down?" For me, the first person neatly closed that suspension of disbelief gap by always having an easy answer: the narrator has literally written a diary, report or memoir (q.v. Simon of Space, The Darth Side, etc.).

I admit that despite some successful practice, I remain clumsy with the third person (hence my persistence in writing in it, to improve).

Your comparison to film is very apt, at least from my point of view, since in a recent discussion with a coworker about writing I described my third person style as "cinematic" -- that is, we rarely if ever get a glimpse inside someone's head ("he was feeling jealous and confused") but instead we simply get an exterior picture ("a troubled expression crossed his face").

This is an artifact of my distaste for third person narratives which function essentially as first person narratives in disguise, but with the ability to jump from head to head. I'm sure there's a literary term for this exact thing, but I'm equally sure I don't know it is. I've never taken a writing or university-level literature course in my life.

The film comparison is also apt because I was, for many years, first and foremost a filmmaker. My distaste with the medium comes from pragmatic concerns: it's simply too damn hard and long to get a story made. It takes years, money and the cooperation of many people -- not my cuppa tea. With writing all I need is a computer and a few hours and, presto, there's the story.

Therefore, I do tend to think of stories in a movie-like context. It is fair to say I treat the narrative point of view very much like a roving camera.

I can appreciate how this can be jarring at times. I'm relying on you to flag such rough transitions. (So, thank you, by the bye.)

Thus, the short answer is: accidental. I'm trying to get a grip of the third person, and sometimes my grip slips.

I enjoy distance from the characters, and I enjoy making the reader work to connect inferences rather than my spelling them out (which, more than anything, simply reflects the way I like to read). Naturally, this is a delicate balance and I'm sure I get it wrong as often as I get it right.

Keep the feedback coming, and I'll keep the stories coming. Thanks.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

erotic chess pieces? are these whalebone by chance? i seem to recall hypersexualized inuit artefacts of whalebone featuring prominently in the pre-christian era.

The conversation with the priest seemed rushed, not as fleshed out as some of the other interactions Mr. Miss has had...

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of your third-person style. Show, don't tell, as my fourth-year high school English teacher used to day.

This thing just gets weirder and weirder. I'm glad in a way that there's another chapter, since that means more story... even if we have to wait a little longer.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Codewright,

These aren't pre-Columbian artifacts, no. You're right about the second half of the chapter being rushed -- I was agonizing over the decision of whether to press on, or to add another chapter. Really, what we have here is a chapter cut in half.

Dear Sheik,

I'm glad you're enjoying the ride.

What's happening with this story is a part of a lot of thinking I've been doing lately on the subject of interstory connectedness.

Basically, after seeing the way people eat up interrelated serials with a major story arc in common like NBC's Heroes TV programme (there are innumerable other contemporary examples of this taste), I've decided to put more emphasis on the GRAND PLOT in the development of each sub-story. I was especially interested to read that the writer team behind Heroes now has a five year plan in place, where elements of the five year storyline will be introduced bit by bit over each relatively self-contained season.

In a similar vein, I'm now more explicitly pushing elements of the GRAND PLOT into the foreground rather than leaving them as little Easter eggs for dedicated readers.

That is to say, I'd like each story to advance the larger storyline in a more tangible way than I've previously done. That means more connections, building toward a coherent interstory arc that tells a common history.

More connections to seemingly insignificant characters, and more hints about what their actions may ultimately mean in the big picture. More connections to the Secret Mathematic, and its role in the fate of Solar life many, many generations into the future (beyond the era of Simon of Space).

Thus, Stubborn Town will raise more questions than it answers, but I want you to trust me that the answers are forthcoming: I'm laying some groundwork here.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

I've wondered before; the Secret Mathematic is evocative of The System of the World suggested by Leibniz in the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.

Is there insiration there, or have you not read those books?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Codewright,

Never read 'em.

Cheeseburger Brown

Simon said...

Goddamn the Man for preventing me from commenting at work. Normally I can just get away with typing in the exact URL of the current chapter, but as soon as anything remotely resembling a fucking expletive rears its head, I'm stuck. Thankfully, Mark will email me a tidy little Word doc to hold me over until I can comment in the evenings.

I like the trend towards an over-arcing theme to the stories. And how aggravatingly mysterious this one is. Extra chapters are a bonus, too!

I don't like not having Hot Butter yet. Betcha it's because it had to cross the border to get her from Lulu. Dammit.

maltese parakeet said...

love this phrase: "...while putting away beers and frowning judgmentally at the passersby, as is his wont."