Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interview: C.P. Boyko

Please tell us about your interest in the short story by

(a) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? does it have a recurring theme? do you have a particular story or passage that's a favorite?)


I'm going to have a hard time answering this one. The fact is, I don't like talking about my work, because I feel like I've said it all in the work itself -- and said it as well as I'll ever be able to say it. If I had my way, the book would probably come out without even any description or blurbs on the dust jacket.

Nevertheless, here is a description of the book that I found floating around on my computer, and which is not wholly inaccurate, I think:

Psychology and Other Stories is a novel in six parts, or a thematically linked collection of six long stories, about mental illness, mental health, and the people who try to tell the two apart.

Part I, “Reaction-Formation,” is about a boy at boarding school and his psychoanalyst, who tells him he is gay. “The Inner Life” is about an ex-lawyer who is compulsively researching Freud’s use of cocaine. In “Eat the Rich and Shit the Poor,” two runaway girls hitchhiking are picked up by a flamboyant psychopath. “Paddling an Iceberg” is the story of a self-help guru, the story of one of his pupils, a dissection of self-help literature, and an example of it. “Signal to Noise” is about a business magnate whose family conspires to have him committed to a mental hospital when he begins to grow senile. The final part, “The Blood–Brain Barrier,” is a prose screenplay about a murderer in Los Angeles and the forensic psychiatrist paid to pronounce upon his sanity in court.


(b) recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)

This one is much more fun. Limiting myself to one author, I have recently discovered Marcel Aymé, whose stories have been translated into English in two collections, The Proverb and Across Paris. His stories are funny, clearly written, and use omniscience to help us see characters in all their flaws, but without looking down on them. He also wrote novels.

(c) reflecting on the 21st century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why)?

This one is a stumper. Centuries are large and heterogeneous things. It would also be hard, beyond the one built-in adjective, to make generalizations about short stories.

As long ago as 1891 John Davidson said "an author might as well offer a horse unbuttered stones as a publisher a volume of short stories." I don't think it's quite that bad, but there's no question that most
publishers prefer to put their money on novels -- readers too.

However, I recently sat on the Governor General's award jury, and of 240 books I received, at least as many of them were short story collections as mystery novels. This may have been an unrepresentative
sample, but it made me think that the short story's not quite dead -- not at the moment, not in this country.

The form that I grieve for is the novella. It's obviously silly and arbitrary to categorize stories by length (though it has the advantage of being quantifiable); nevertheless, if we agree to call any piece of fiction more than 5,000 and less than 40,000 words a novella, I can't help but wonder why more novellas aren't being written (or, possibly, published)? It's hard to believe that fictions (which comprise the universe, and all of human experience) just naturally average either twenty or 300 pages, but nothing in between. There must be some nefarious explanation. Whatever it is, it would help explain why I find most novels too long and many short stories too short: writers are writing to length.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fiction #39

New fiction! Issue #39 ...
Submissions now open for the big 4-0.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting.

Fiction #39: Lynda Curnoe

Ted’s Revenge                   

Lily was woken at 7 am on a Saturday morning by the high-pitched squeal of metal grinding on metal. It was coming from the backyard next door and it was her next door neighbour, Ted disturbing her sleep once again. He was sharpening his garden tools. She recognized the sound which rang out through the neighbourhood every spring and every fall. This time she jumped out of bed, threw on her old blue dressing gown, ran out the back door and around the side of the house to where she could see Ted’s broad back working at one of his machines.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing early on Saturday morning, making all that noise. You stupid asshole.”

But he didn’t hear.

She moved closer and when there was a lull in the grinding sound repeated. “What the fuck are you doing?”

He turned and looked innocently at her. She was furious. Ted, who loved ogling pretty neighbourhood women, including her daughter, sunbathing in their yards, seemed startled by her dishevelled appearance. She continued shouting.

“It’s Saturday morning you asshole. What the fuck are you doing waking everyone up. I have company too. You’ve woken everyone up. Why don’t you make all your fucking noise somewhere else and at a decent time?”

He muttered something she couldn’t quite hear but did stop the dreadful noise by shutting off his machine. Sure, she had won but what? What kind of disturbance would he make next week or the one after that?

Well she was awake and had to put up with a sleep-deprived day ahead of her. If she was lucky she might have a nap.

She had to be vigilant with Ted. Only swearing and shouting would make him stop. It was the way he lived his life with his wife, Ann who also shouted and swore, although, bless her, she never used machinery. When they weren’t fuming Lily and Bob would be amused at the exchanges they heard from next door. “Why did you put that there?” was the wife’s loud response to a shrub Ted had just planted.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself.” Was Ted’s reply to his wife.

To her husband Ann replied, “Go fuck YOURself.”

Lily became accustomed to Teds ape-like form shuffling along the sidewalk on the other side of the hedge that separated their properties. From her kitchen window she could see him lunging past, his shirtless belly hanging down below his waist. He never wore shorts, thank God. Back and forth he went, carrying tools, plants, whatever objects Ted needed for all his hobbies. When passing by his open garage Lily saw it was piled high with work benches, drawers filled with expensive-looking wrenches and gadgets, bulky metal shapes and furniture he was working on. No expense was spared, although he boasted that a lot of stuff he was working on had been retrieved from neighbourhood trash left out for pickup.

While Ted was reasonably wary of Lily’s outbursts and would stop working, although never apologizing, Matt and his daughter Noreen, who lived on the other side of Ted’s house got a different sort of treatment. To their complaints Ted would ask them also to go fuck themselves. Noreen said once that, at times, Ted had made her father’s life a living hell. Matt was frail and sickly. Perhaps Ted saw him as easy prey, a victim. Why Lily was able to exert some authority, at least to make him stop whatever noise he was making, she did not know. Ted treated Matt and Noreen in an appalling and contemptuous manner. In the space between their houses, behind the garage, Ted had set up a workshop in which he drilled, and sanded and sharpened all manner of automobile parts, tools and furniture disturbing them from early morning to evening. No one in the neighbourhood liked him. He was not likeable. Noreen was fond of calling him a medieval peasant.

He was stupid, ignorant, racist and homophobic, once stopping Lily as she walked by to tell her he didn’t think it was right for a black man to go out with her daughter. When challenged in that instance, Ted admitted sheepishly that she might be right. To a neighbour around the corner, he referred to her son as a Nancy boy because he liked to wear a suit and tie. Once when Lily was walking over to the local school to vote she stopped to remind Ted and Ann what day it was. He said they never voted.

But perhaps the worst thing he ever uttered to Lily was when he wondered aloud why his married son wasn’t having children. “I think he’s on the wrong side when they do it or maybe they’re standing up” he said with a drunken gleam in his eye. This of his own son, his only child.

He could tell you the asking price of every for sale property in the neighbourhood, although Lily was not sure this was a redeeming quality. Neither was a bird house filled with seeds in winter that he built and set up in his backyard. This nod to nature was offset by Ted’s cat who had a favourite place to hide, close to the birdhouse where he could pounce and eat with ease.

Ted was a heavy smoker, who had diabetes and high blood pressure and never exercised. He was also a binge drinker. She had seen him on all fours on the pavement in front of his beloved garage, puking. Other times she had seen him staggering around the backyard, stepping on flowers and sideswiping bushes. When he had finished a cigarette he would flip it on the property of whichever side of the house he was on. Lily would gather them up and throw them back over on his property. He knew the neighbours as he had lived on the street for many years and when he went out for a stroll, people would exchange greetings and discuss the price of houses. Amazingly, she once saw him walking in High Park. Perhaps the doctor ordered these walks. Possibly Ted had some inkling of his own mortality.

Of course he died. He had a massive heart attack when he was 55. His wife who seemed to hate him as much as he seemed to hate her was surprisingly heart-broken. When Lily offered her condolences Ann said she wanted to join her husband in heaven because she missed him so much.

Noreen was overjoyed at the news of Ted’s death when Lily dropped by to tell her. She and her old father practically danced a jig, right there in their living room. Lily and Bob even visited the funeral home. There Ted lay, all spiffed and stiff in his coffin, looking better than he ever had on this earth, his monstrous stomach miraculously flattened. Ted had an old mother and brothers and sisters who appeared to be genuinely grieving, standing nearby.

Lily went up close to the coffin and looked carefully at his made up face. She had numerous thoughts about Ted, and tried to be positive, as befitting a dead person, but could not. Most of her images of him were bad. She thought of his beautiful garden, but reminded herself that its beauty was only achieved by loud noises and shouting matches. Still, she stopped herself before declaring him a force for evil. As she stared at his waxen visage she was startled as his right eye, the one closest to her, fluttered and popped open. The eyeball rolled around to look straight at her, the eyelid winked quickly once and then closed, returning to the face of the dead man. Did she imagine this? It happened so quickly.

Ted died in early May and all through that summer and the following spring the neighbours on both sides of Ted’s house lived in peace. There was no noise, only the sounds of rustling leaves, birdsong and cicadas in summer. They were in the city where renovations do go on and they knew to expect some disturbances in fine weather, but there were none that year. Lily, Bob, Noreen and Matt reclined in lawn chairs that summer, relaxing with books, newspapers and cooling drinks.

But one year to the day of Ted’s death the neighbourhood erupted in noise and commotion many times worse that what Ted was able to produce in his home workshops. In February Ted’s house had been sold by his grieving widow who found she couldn’t go on living surrounded by painful memories of her late husband. Because it was a bungalow and in an up and coming neighbourhood, the new owners, developers who hoped to make money, decided to add a second storey. The house directly behind Lily’s had also been sold; now the new owners were armed with all the city permits needed for a swimming pool. Across from Lily a very small house had been sold and demolished and, after going through a series of hearings at the local committee of adjustments, an architect had begun construction on his grand vision. On the other side of Lily’s a run-down garage was being replaced and two doors down a wide lot had been subdivided and two new houses were being built.

It wasn’t even safe to go up to Bloor Street as the city had decided this was the  year to rebuild that section of the main street.

Lily could not go out to rant and swear at all these people. She would never be heard in the din. She remembered that fateful wink. Ted was getting his revenge.

*


Lynda Curnoe enjoys writing short stories. She is also a poet.