Leaving Mundania Bonanza

From my May 30 reading at WORD in Brooklyn.

Since I last wrote with an update on Leaving Mundania, the book has been cooking in the media. I’ve been podcasted, broadcasted, filmed, questioned, and written up in a variety of awesome outlets, both big and small. In case you missed one:

  • My radio-crush Brian Lehrer, who covers NYC for the local NPR station, interviewed me last Friday…and we took calls from listeners! The tape is available here.
  • According to the June Vanity Fair Fanfair feature, “Lizzie Stark valiantly throws herself into the sword-swinging world of live-action role-playing games in Leaving Mundania.”
  • I’m batting like 100% in geek parenting media. Nicole Wakelin interviewed me on Wired.com’s Geek Mom podcast, while Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf wrote up LM for Wired.com’s Geek Dad blog, noting “Stark not only did her homework, she got an A+…The book is full of insightful and expertly written commentary by someone who knows of which she speaks.”
  • Over at Tor.com, Shoshanna Kessock writes, “That Leaving Mundania is both well-written and well-researched is no question. The book is gaming scholarship at its best and most accessible, easy to read and heart-felt.”
  • Eugenia Williamson over at The Boston Phoenix ran a really nice interview.
  • The Good Men Project posted an excerpt from the book.
  • Kirkus Review has finally made their write-up public. “Rich, unexpected and compelling…Stark’s keen observational skills and crisp writing style successfully cut through those hackneyed stereotypes to reveal the very real people who are drawn to deeply imaginary worlds.”
  • Unshelved had some nice things to say, even recommending LM to a churchgoing friend with conservative views on roleplaying games.
  • On Examiner.com US larper Rob McDiarmid called the book “the most complete and accurate description of the hobby and its community to date.”
  • Fringe ran a tongue-in-cheek interview. So did Footsoldiers of the Apocalypse.
  • French larper Thomas B. says “Lizzie Stark blew my mind” and claims LM deserves a spot in “the Holy Trinity of Larp Books.”
  • American larper and Doomsday organizer Jeramy Merritt, who appears in LM, spills the beans on how to access the secret personal attacks chapter.
  • Modern Myths posted video highlights from my May 12 reading at their Northampton, MA store. There are four clips in all, and the latter ones dig into some fascinating audience discussion.
  • NYCers can catch me in Brooklyn at WORD tomorrow at 7pm, reading with James Higdon (Cornbread Mafia) and Andrew Blackwell (Visit Sunny Chernobyl!) reading from their books on pot and pollution, respectively.

Some folks have been asking for the ebook version of LM. It’s available from IPG.com, Barnes & Noble, and Google.

Lizzie Stark Flashes, Cubist Exercise

flash_ftI’m embarking on an ambitious project to write 24 short shorts.

For those of you who don’t know, a short short, also called flash fiction or micro-fiction is a short story of as few as 200 words or as many as 2,000. It’s bite-sized fiction or nonfiction. Fringe publishes them, as do many journals, but Quick Fiction is famous for publishing excellent flash fiction of 500 words or less exclusively.

My idea is this: on Tuesdays, I’ll read a short short and post an exercise intended to mimic that story. The following Tuesday I’ll publish my version. I should be writing a new short short every two weeks, and I invite you, dear reader, to read and write with me.

The exercises will be done Pam-Painter style. In the first graf I’ll explain how I think the story at hand works, and in the second graf, I’ll break down the assignment.

Here’s this week’s exercise, based on the Margaret Atwood story “Bread,” found on p. 198 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Cubist Exercise

Analysis:

In “Bread,” Margaret Atwood takes a concrete object, bread, and views it through multiple lenses. The story has five different sections, each that asks the reader to think about bread in a different way. In the first section, Atwood conjures actual bread before the reader by undermining her own directions — first she asks the reader to “imagine a piece of bread” then she says, “you don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here in the kitchen,” and describes it. Atwoods descriptions and the second person narrator drop the reader into the story’s reality. With the concept of bread feeling concrete, Atwood moves on to the metaphorical meanings of bread in three short sections that present the privation of bread and its moral, psychological, and symbolic repercussions. The final section returns to the first and addresses the complications that the interior sections set up.

Exercise:

Write a story of two or three pages that follows the five-section structure of “Bread” and deals with an elementary physical need. Portray the object of that need, present it to the reader it its most obvious sense using concrete description. Then explore the connotations of the privation of this object in three interior sections, which should not be narratively continuous, using a second-person narrator. The final section should link back to the first and demonstrate how you’ve rounded out the reader’s conception of the object you chose.

Unspeakable, Unthinkable Fiction

Apparently, some fiction does not enjoy first amendment protection.

Consider the case of Dwight Whorley. This Virginia man authored an icky pornographic story that included pedophilia, then emailed his fantasy to likeminded internet friends, Wired reports. Whorley was convicted for possessing obscene Japanese manga and for possession of a filthy piece of print — his pedophiliac fantasy.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to hear his case, setting the stage for a Supreme Court Appeal.

On the one hand, the production of written kiddie porn probably does hurt children by helping to create an atmosphere that suggests that it’s ok, or by helping condition a person’s orgasm to an illegal act that threatens the safety of children. On the other hand, Whorley’s being prosecuted for writing down a private fantasy and sharing it with others, an act that any writer will be familiar with.

The whole situation makes me uncomfortable. I generally think of writing as a safe space to experiment with concepts, situations, and characters that might make me uncomfortable in real life. This case pushes that conception to its limit.

I find Whorley’s fantasies reprehensible, but the idea that the law could punish someone for expressing their feelings, no matter how deviant and disgusting, disturbs me as a writer.

I’ll be interested to read what happens next.

Cross posted on the Fringe blog.

Recommended Read: The Age of Innocence

ageofinnocence I woke up about a month ago and realized something shocking: I hadn’t read any literary fiction in more than a month.

I drove myself to the bookstore immediately to rectify this horror, and ended up selecting The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, because I love modernist literature and wanted to get myself back on track with something I knew I’d love.

This novel has got everything: a scathing indictment of the heteropatriarchal order that Wharton cleverly puts in the mouth of Newland Archer, a member of said order; an exotic Italian countess; star crossed lovers and tragic self sacrifice.

Instead of ending the book with a marriage, Wharton lets Newland Archer’s nuptials with the conventional May Welland fall in the middle, because there is so much more story to tell.

From a writer’s perspective, the book’s ending is a perfect example of a “ten years later” ending, in which the writer flashes forward by a number of years in order to provide satisfying narrative closure. And Wharton’s ending really makes the book.

The final scene moved me so much that I started crying when trying to explain the meaning of the scene to my husband, and I couldn’t quite tell why I was crying. The ending wasn’t sad, but somehow Wharton managed to endow those five pages with a lifetime of emotion, and that is the stuff of great writing.

Cross-posted at Fringe Magazine.

Goodbye, Updike

I knew Fringe had to run a tribute to Updike when I broke the news to the editors and received this email in response:

“Damn! No more girl-at-the-supermarket-has-nice-legs i’m-a-bastard-but-i-said-so-so-i’m-immune-from-criticism stories! Wait . . . . that’s probably not true at all.”

Someone whose death could inspire such a sarcastic email surely deserved a deeper investigation, possibly from people who actually revered and were troubled by Updike (or Updick, as one ladies’ book club dubbed him many years ago).

Sure, we’ve run a project trying to speed the demise of the all-white all-male canon , and personally, I’ve spent a fair amount of time being angry at the canon, and by extension Updike, Melville and Cormac McCarthy, but while I’m feeling generous toward the dead, I’ll say that it wasn’t Updike’s fault that people liked him, and his prolific output alone makes him worth emulating and eulogizing.I was surprised that when I heard the news about Updike, I felt a little sad. I only read his work when my MFA workshops forced me to. During our discussion of “Pigeon Feathers” I’m sure I used phrases like “hetero-patriarchal order,” which is one of my favorites to say aloud because it has so many syllables.

But Updike had his finger on the pulse of a certain kind of life. Certain passages in “Pigeon Feathers” are stunning, and even if they’re tapping into the white hetero-patriarchal zeitgeist that our culture thrusts upon us, at least they tap into something real.

For some time now, my anger at the canon has been receding and the likelihood that I’ll read a Rabbit novel has been rising. As one of my mentors might say, I’m lucky to have Updike to look forward to. And I’ll get right on it once I’m done with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And The Age of Innocence. And Middlesex. And writing my book.

John Updike, American man of letters, we’ll miss you.

Cross posted at the Fringe Blog.