Friday, January 15, 2010

REVIEW AND COMMENTARY: THE LEGEND OF CORDES JUNCTION

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The other day, I sent an Email to my friend Arlee Bird (check into his very popular Blog, ‘TOSSING IT OUT’). I was enquiring about some gadget he has installed on his Blog, but while I had his attention, I decided to also ask him what it was about my short story ‘The Legend Of Cordes Junction’ that he found “odd.”

rLEE-b gave me permission to post our back and forth correspondence below:

STM:
I'm curious to know what you found "odd" about the Cordes Junction story. Or, more specifically, why you didn't care for it much. Input, Brother, input.

~ McMe

rLEE-b:
For me it seemed a little too cute. I was missing the acerbic cynical wit that makes your current writing so entertaining. Perhaps in the context of the tale this attitude might be inappropriate, but I just found myself nodding my head and thinking Oh that was nice. I'm not a very good critic so I don't know what you needed to do, but you usually do it in your blog posts so you know. It may have had to do with my preexisting knowledge of your writing and what my expectations were.

It also struck me as a bit odd because one of my neighbors has a sign in their front yard that says "Myrtle the Turtle".

STM:
Thanks for your take on my Cordes Junction story. I appreciate your honesty. Well... I can see what you're saying. But I'm thinking that my first impression may have been correct: that it needed to be read while imagining "I just came across this piece and don't know anything about the author." Yes, I think your knowledge of my "other" writing style, and therefore your expectations, may have colored your impression.


I don't think of myself as a one-dimensional writer, and the style I adopt to write a piece is usually determined by the tone or mood of the content of what I'm writing. My "acerbic, cynical wit" (Ha!) is an outgrowth of my inner anger and disgust. But I know I can't just come out and call people a-holes because nobody will want to read that (and for good reason). So, I call 'em a-holes but do it in a humorous (or, acerbic, cynical witty) way.

But a story about a good family man traveling with his sons, or one about a stuffed dog thinking he's a "dawg", needs to leave the "acerbic, cynical wit" at home.

However, you may be on to something. The author Phillip Jennings, after reading the manuscript for my children's book, complained of its lack of arc (although it had more plot than 'The House At Pooh Corner' has - and that's the greatest children's book ever written, in my opinion), and he said he thought my greatest gift was the ability to write political satire.

But there are several things about the Cordes Junction story that I really like. One is the irony. The fact that Myrtle went on a crusade to stop the speeding and reckless driving around the Junction, and while she was temporarily successful, she herself was the cause of the next accident in Cordes Junction. Her effort to keep the place safe introduces the next incident of danger. (There's some true-to-life stuffs in that. For example, think "Prohibition.")

The thing I like best of all about the story is that it is a mystery fiction wrapped within a fiction. Presumably most readers of the story would not know me or anything about me. So, in reading this first-person narrative, they find the author wondering whether or not the old man he met was telling him the truth, or even whether or not the old man truly existed at all. Everything about the narration gives the reader every reason to believe that the author really did have this experience and that everything he says is true. The narrator's wondering about how factual the story the old man told him is seems totally genuine. There are so many details included (street names, background of the sons, reason for his wife's absence, the song his sons sing, the "Why? Game", etc.), that any reader who didn't already know the author would probably accept it all at face value.

And yet, the truth is, not only is the story about Myrtle's Turtles untrue, and not only did the Old Man Storyteller never really exist, but even the narrator himself never really did exist. As I said, it's a mystery fiction wrapped within a fiction. But presumably, most readers would come away wondering if there's really an old woman in a Hupmobile buried somewhere along the highway near Cordes Junction. I have convinced myself that this concept was pretty clever. But of course, when a reader already knows plenty about the author, all of that element of the story is immediately lost.

Oh well, I still dig the story. But I do sincerely thank you for giving me your honest assessment, Brother. And the lack of comments from anyone else might seem to indicate that your assessment is more accurate than mine.
~ McMe

rLEE-b:
I liked your interpretation and thoughts on the story. I'm sure you are right about my opinion being colored by prior knowledge and expectations. And after the points you have made regarding the story I have a greater appreciation for it.


It's kind of like when I first saw the movie PULP FICTION -- I disliked the movie a great deal when I first saw it, but when I started hearing some of Tarantino's explanations about the film (especially the influence from one of my favorite film noir films, KISS ME DEADLY) and watching the film again I started really liking it. If I had just unexpectedly run across the Cordes story in a magazine and not on your blog, I'm sure I would have had a much different reaction.

STM:
I still suspect that your first impression of my story may have had more value than my opinion of it does. The total lack of comments from any other friends probably indicates that the story was not well liked, and so the post was ignored rather than commented upon. I like my friends; they avoid hurting my feelings. ;o)
Not the author, but the author's readers have the final say about whether or not what he or she wrote was good.
~ McMe

I thank rLEE-b for his comments. And I would be interested in any feedback any other reader might wish to offer. What aspects of the story worked or didn’t work for you, and why? I’m eager to hear not just the opinions of good friends but also those of anybody who might just be passing through here (the bathroom’s down the hallway on your left).

And please, don’t worry about hurting my feelings because I haven’t any; I’m made out of rubber.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

Links:

The Legend Of Cordes Junction (Version 1; Part 1)

The Legend Of Cordes Junction (Version 1; Part 2)

Arlee Bird's Blog: Tossing It Out

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome, however, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). Besides, I "sort of do debate martial arts", so there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, don't make me have to come over there - I'm just too tired. Play nice.
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