On the Go-Forward

The next step would be to launch an open-access publishing house specializing in long fictions.

It’s already being done for short fictions. No technical or logistical obstacles hinder extending the open-access model to novels and novellas, single-author and single-themed compilations, and other more experimental formats. The economic obstacles are minimal: most short story writers don’t get paid and published novelists get paid next to nothing, yet there’s no shortage of newly submitted texts. The obstacles are psychological and sociological…

If in the course of hosting this website, after 16 months and 144 posts, I’d been able to find any fiction writers who wanted to collaborate in exploring alternative models for publishing novels, I’d be eager to get started. That hasn’t happened. Alternatively, if I’d ever been a publisher or editor, or if I was now or ever had been enrolled in an MFA or undergraduate creative writing program, or if I’d ever taught in such a program, or if I belonged to a formal or informal writers’ group, of if I wrote short fictions and participated actively in the litmag scene, or if I’d had a novel published by a traditional publisher, or if I’d attracted significant numbers of readers to my self-published long fictions…

I imagine fiction writers getting together with their writer friends over drinks or over cell phones, talking about starting a co-op publishing house together. I imagine open-access litmag publishers wondering about branching out into novels. I imagine that some open-access novel publishers are already up and running and that I’ve just not heard about them yet…

Which future is going to show up? Maybe the system is working fine: novels still get published and read, authors still get paid, publishers and bookstores still make money. Supply and demand might seem out of whack, but the invisible hand of capitalism is always-already on the job, continually maintaining a dynamic equilibrium. Or maybe the system is broken beyond repair and it’s just a matter of time before enough fiction writers stop kidding themselves and wise up, organizing themselves into a different system. Maybe — probably — something else will happen…

Ficticities has been a work of fiction. Forecasting has always been part of the project: tracing multiple interacting trajectories from the past through the present into alternative possible futures. More importantly, Ficticities was to have been an alternate present reality in its own right — a collaborative laboratory, an experimental zone, a heterochronic heterotopia, a ficticity. When, in characterizing the agenda of this imagined laboratory, I invoked the term “postcapitalism,” I wasn’t so much pointing down the road toward what comes next, what succeeds capitalism. After all, anticipating the next thing and accelerating into it is the engine that drives capitalism. The word “novel” is a paradigmatically appropriate term for a capitalistic work of fiction, the production apparatus continually extruding the next new thing and displaying it on the shelf for a couple of weeks, then clearing it out to make room for the next next new thing. I anticipated that Ficticities might open up an alternative fictional reality inside the already-existing reality that surrounds it, an expanding bubble universe…

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For the past year and a half I’ve been occupying this bubble universe. The bubble has continued to shrink, down and down, until by now it feels like I’m the only one inside it. I find myself shrinking right along with the bubble…

Here’s what I think I’ll do now.

I’m not going to launch an open-access publishing house focusing on long fictions.

I’m going to abandon my efforts to build a collaborative laboratory.

I’m going to step back from this website. It’s easy not to write any more content; it’s harder to stop thinking about the ideas. I want to to both, before I disappear along with the ever-shrinking bubble that enshrouds me.

What’s going to fill the void? I’ll probably get back to writing fictions. Not like this kind of fiction, the fiction of this website, the designing of an imagined reality that could serve as a catalyst for constructing an actual material reality —  kind of like how a blueprint catalyzes a building. Trying to engineer a way out of capitalism into some preferable alternative entails a lot of problem solving, working through and around constraints via systematic logic and Bayesian probability trees, generating requirement specs and design parameters, collecting data and analyzing it, simulating and modeling, tinkering and iterating and overhauling. I used to do this sort of thing for a living before I got tired of it and started writing novels. I remember hitting the problem-solving phase in the middle of my first novel — it felt too much like work. A year or two later when I picked up that novel again I found myself writing with a freer hand. I’ve already written several interconnected long fictions, but nothing lately. I want to get back to it, to freehand imaginings, see if they’re still there. Let the catalysis operate in the reverse direction, the architecture of the actual world serving as blueprint for imaginary worlds.

What about blogging? For years I’d run a blog before launching Ficticities, where I wrote a lot of posts and engaged in a lot of online discussions. Blogging affords its satisfactions and frustrations. Ficticities wasn’t meant to be a blog. Originally I set it up as a staging ground for collaborative projects, but when those didn’t take shape the site morphed into a blog. Surely the most different sort of posts I’ve written here on Ficticities were my engagements with online published short stories. Those posts were moderately successful in generating visits from the stories’ authors and from their social media friends, though those interpersonal connections petered out after a few days without extending conversationally into the website’s collaborative experimental agenda. Not reviews, nor even commentary, the posts unfolded more as a strange sort of fan fiction. Even though I was maneuvering within the thematic and stylistic terrain laid out in the short fiction I’d just read, it felt freeing, even adventurous, to write my way into some alternative pathway that I’d find opening up through my active interaction with the text, moving around freely inside the fictional worlds revealed by these stories. Even if the authors of those short stories didn’t quite get what I was up to, I experienced a sense of intersubjectivity — or, better, a subjective sense of intertextuality.

I’ll continue reading fictions, novels mostly. In trying to track down writers on this website I found a renewed appreciation for the short form and for writers who excel at it. The open-access litmags open up the possibility of authorial experimentation unconstrained by commercial interests — constraints that too often render published novels more polished but also more predictable and less interesting. So I’ll leave open the possibility of reading more online open-access stories and writing something about them: probably not fanfics this time, not reviews either, but brief commentaries on aspects of the texts that resonate with my interests. Instead of posting my written responses on this website in hopes of luring the authors into my project, I’d send my observations directly to the authors if I can figure out how to reach them.  Somehow though I’ve got a feeling that this possible personal interactive future might not take shape — it’s too tied up in the Ficticities microcosm I’m trying to escape.

I could try to write up a brief rationale for the open-access novel publishing idea. I’d not try to persuade writers or recruit them into a joint venture or even engage them in discussion. I could imagine sending it out in an email to the writers whose short fictions I read online. I’d just present the idea for consideration. Maybe it’ll trigger something in their neural or social networks, if not now then later. Maybe some of them will be better positioned than I am actually to do something with the idea. This project too is probably a bad idea; hopefully it’ll fade over the next few weeks.

Another aspect of Ficticities that I’ve liked is investigating fiction not just as a vehicle for storytelling but as a way of imagining, both individually and collectively, aspects of reality that don’t exist in the here and now — the future and the past, the possible and the impossible, hopes and fears, nostalgia and regret, purpose and meaning. I could imagine extending this interest into a project, writing up my findings and musings here on Ficticities. I also see these more abstract musings about fiction finding their way into the worldbuilding and narrative aspects of my own long fictions. But here and now as I’m writing this I’m experiencing déjà vu, so maybe I’ve already been here before. We’ll see what develops.

So, on the go-forward, here’s where you’re liable to find me online:

  • For possible further meta-explorations of fiction, look here at Ficticities. As I mentioned in my last post, the URL will soon change to ficticities.wordpress.com, though now it seems that the transition will happen a month from now.
  • For my novels and other loose-handed fictional texts — the novels and novellas already in the can, the ones that need final editing and formatting, the fictions that haven’t yet been written — go to salonpostisme.com. All e-books, all free, all open access.
  • If you want to get in touch, you can send me an email at portalic@gmail.com.

À bientôt,
John Doyle

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Announcement: URL Change Imminent

Sometime in the next few days the web address for this site will change from ficticities.com to ficticities.wordpress.com.

Why? In part it’s because I don’t want to pay the $18 annual fee to WordPress for retaining the old URL. Also, I expect to be winding down my involvement on this site so it won’t matter if the address changes.

If you’re a subscriber to this website, you will still be notified by email of new Ficticities posts published under the new URL. If you don’t subscribe but visit regularly, I don’t know whether or not your search string link will still work. If not, type in the whole new URL and hopefully next time your computer will remember. But don’t do it yet, since the changeover hasn’t happened yet.

I expect to write one more Ficticities post under this old regime before the switcheroo is activated by my not anteing up the $18 extortion fee.

Waffling

I’m pretty much ready to go — the Phase 1 contents of Ficticities are taken down, the new categories are set up, the first questionnaire is written and formatted for data collection, the procedure for populating the site with content clearly specified. So why do I hesitate in launching Phase 2? Why don’t I want to get started with finding and reading those short fictions, excerpting them into virtual flânerie posts, luring writers to the site, encouraging them to fill out the surveys, amassing findings about whether fiction writers could and would want to join forces in a syndicated publishing house?

For one thing, I don’t much like reading short stories. I admire them I suppose, but most seem concerned with people and their relationships, with something happening to those people that moves the narrative along on a forward trajectory. I.e., I don’t like most short stories because they’re stories.

The idea is to find writers of short fictions, then see whether they’d like to write long fictions together. But what if the short story writers just want to write long stories, or several short stories linked and intertwined and segued together? I probably wouldn’t want to read those long fictions either.

Phase 1 of Ficticities was a kind of long fiction, with the sequence of blog posts constituting an incremental layout of design specs for an organization that doesn’t exist. I have to acknowledge that the organization I imagined is more intriguing to me than any actual organization is likely to be. Just give it another quarter-turn toward the unlikely and the absurd… Fictional organization design — it’s like fictional architecture, fictional cartography.

For Phase 2, I find myself more interested in the architecture and layout of the fictional City than with the fictional excerpts I’d find for populating it. I’d rather populate the City with my own excerpts, even if there are no larger works from which the excerpts are excerpted. I’m also interested in the surveys, not so much as means of gathering data but as formatted prose poems. The City would be populated by short fictions that aren’t stories; the City would in the aggregate be a long fiction that isn’t a story.

But if I write the City it’s likely to have a population of 1, with no tourists.

So I’m waffling.

 

Surveying the Texts: Fictional Counterfactuals

This morning I woke up thinking about the number of short fictions I’m likely to track down and read over the next 3 months. I intend to survey the authors of those texts, but what about the texts themselves — why not survey them too?

The central organizing scheme of Ficticities Mach 2: each day I track down a few online short fictions; I excerpt some portion of each text that refers to some aspect of the setting in which the narrative takes place; I accumulate a single day’s excerpts into a single post, as if I’d witnessed each of these scenes or events in sequence while strolling through a fictional city; all of these strolling posts displayed together on the site comprise a kind of grand tour of the fictional city. It’s sort of the complement to Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which what seem like descriptions of various fictional cities all refer to the same actual city of Venice.

So I’m wondering: what sort of data could I accumulate from these multiple short fictions that is relevant to the site’s core conceit? Each of the short fictions takes place somewhere in particular, but from the standpoint of the website the particulars aren’t of central concern; it’s the relationship between the fictional and the actual that comes into focus. I wonder: in a short story, can textual indicators of fictional versus actual be discerned? I don’t mean actual versus fictional places and times during which the stories unfold, nor am I concerned particularly with the author’s use of “realism effects” to make the setting seeem actual. I’m wondering about the extent to which the place and time in which a story takes place drift into realms of the imaginary, the speculative, the abstract, the unreal — the fictional.

I’m going to assay the feasibility of such a project with reference to the next story in James Purdy’s volume of short stories, a library book that I just renewed. I’m going to read it for the first time right now, making observations relevant to the proposed textual survey project.

*   *   *

I hadn’t the slightest intention of pampering Naomi, the story begins. Intent isn’t actual; it’s speculative, about achieving some desired future state. And here it’s a negated intention, an undesired future state, implying two possible futures, one in which Naomi is pampered, another in which she’s not.

the wages I paid her were far in advance of their day when she came to me… — Here the narrator is reflecting on the past, which of course isn’t the story’s actual present; further, she’s regarding the wages she paid back then as in advance of their day, manifesting a future state that would later be actualized, even though its actualization is by now part of the past.

the rumor she has been circulating… — a rumor is a dubious recounting, unverified, probably fake news — a hypothetical situation that probably varies from the actual fact.

what I did to Naomi could never, not even in a court of law, be construed as striking — again, a counterfactual speculation.

Naomi had changed. She was not a double personality… — the narrator invokes the idea of a doubled reality while at the same time revoking it.

Naomi had simply become another woman… not a doubled reality, but an altered reality.

And that’s just the first paragraph. The next paragraph begins with dialogue: “You’re a woman of at least forty, though you lie to your men friends about your age!” — again, a counterfactual.

I went on, nearly beside myself… — is this just a hackneyed old-lady expression, or is the narrator herself beginning to occupy two realities at once?

*   *   *

I can see already that the task of distinguishing actual from fictional within a fictional text would entail a lot of work. The textual indicators of counterfactuality aren’t readily reduced to sets of keywords I could easily gather and count; close reading seems required. But maybe Purdy is exceptional in this regard; maybe contemporary writers of short fiction stick more resolutely to the actual heres and nows of their storied worlds. Still, finding a needle in a haystack requires sifting the whole haystack — just as much work as finding a dozen needles.

Maybe the thing to do is to select story excerpts based on their textual counterfactuality. Or maybe I should select excerpts based on other criteria, then conduct the counterfactual analysis post hoc?

Overhaul Update

Version 2 of this site should be up and running by next week. It will look more like a straight-up blog, displaying a series of posts, with the most recent ones at the top of the stack. There will be three categories of posts:

The City. I’ll spend a portion of most days as an online flâneur wandering through online literary magazines, excerpting fragments from short fictions and posting them on Ficticities. Each fragment will be labeled with some salient aspect of the fictional City that it occupies; e.g., Menswear, Sidewalk, Speed, Windows. The fragments collected during a single stroll through the e-magazines will be gathered together into a single post, with original sources cited and linked. I expect that writers googling themselves will come to the site to see what’s up, and while they’re here they’ll be invited to respond to…

Surveys. Respondents are asked questions relevant to two main questions: (1) Could writers and readers of fiction jointly run an open access e-book publishing house of distinction? (2) Would they want to? Google has an app called “Forms” that lets you embed formatted questionnaires in blog posts, so if I can figure out how to use it I’ll be in good shape. Here’s a draft of the first survey:

How important is each these motivations to you as a fiction writer? (1 = not important at all, 5 = extremely important)

  1.  to express and understand myself.
  2.  to describe and interpret the world.
  3.  to imagine and create.
  4.  to master the art and craft.
  5.  to make an impact on the world.
  6.  for people to read what I write.
  7.  to be published.
  8.  to be well regarded by other writers and critics.
  9. to make money from my writing.
  10. to qualify for an academic job.
  11. to think of myself as a writer.
  12. other (please write in) _________________

Findings from Surveys, along with interpretations, will be posted online.

*   *   *

I’ve reread all of the posts and comments from Ficticities version 1, excerpting and modifying the Pamphlets as needed. I don’t expect to display the Pamphlets on version 2, in part because I want the Surveys and Findings to do the work via the ask-don’t-assume, show-don’t-tell approach.

Heading Out the Door

Here’s what’s going to happen now on Ficticities.

I’m going to attempt to lure a bunch of writers who have recently published short fictions in open source online literary magazines. I’ll do this by going to those magazines and reading a selection of pieces published there, then I’ll post excerpts of those short fictions here on Ficticities, along with links to the original sources. If the writers of these texts are googling themselves, they’ll come across the Ficticities references and will likely click through to see what’s going on.

When they show up here, the writers will find excerpts from their short fictions embedded in a “fictiCity” — an imaginary city comprised of various imaginary places: the Bar, the Office, the Neighborhood, the School, the Courthouse, the Dump, etc. Each place in the fictiCity will be populated by excerpts from multiple fictional texts. The idea is to create an imaginary sense of collective identity among fiction writers, all of them occupying a fictional ecosystem cobbled together from a wide variety of disparate fictional worlds.

Illustration: I just flipped to a random page in The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy, a book I checked out from the library recently. I landed on page 519, which is part of a story entitled “Easy Street.” Here’s an excerpt from page 519:

One thing of course they could not help noticing. Bewie hardly ever returned without he was carrying a heavy package or two. At the ladies’ look of astonishment, he sat down and said in a joking tone, “My wardrobe. In my profession, you have to look your best. And the film people of course insist on it.”

I could post this excerpt in the Shopping Mall section of fictiCities, or perhaps in the Menswear Store.

While they’re here at the site, the fiction writers will see prominently displayed an invitation to participate in brief online surveys. These surveys will be designed to evaluate fiction writers’ attitudes toward specific components of the fiction publishing industry, as well as attitudes toward possible alternatives. For example, a survey could ask respondents to evaluate the importance to them of getting published, of being read, and of making money from their fiction writing. Survey results will be compiled and analyzed, with results posted on Ficticities. The survey questions will encourage writers to self-reflect; the published results will give them a glimpse of themselves in the aggregate, as a virtual collective called “fiction writers.” Hopefully the surveys and findings will generate enough interest for writers to keep returning to the site, perhaps also to recommend the site to fellow writers. And of course results will be useful in evaluating assumptions about the perceived attractiveness to fiction writers of a postcapitalistic alternative model to traditional publishing.

There will also be a brief description of the alternative postcapitalistic publishing scheme I’ve outlined here previously; the rest of the content — posts and discussions, pages, pamphlets — will be removed.

Let’s say this version of Ficticities runs for three months. Suppose I find, read, and excerpt from 30 short fictions per week: that’s nearly 400 texts, 400 writers. Let’s further say that I put up a new survey every week: that’s 13 surveys, plus results and analyses. By then maybe it’ll become clear what comes next.

So there will need to be a complete overhaul of the site, which will take some time. I’ll leave it open, maybe posting occasional progress reports.