My Favorite Literary Oddities

What a weird pictureOn June 11, my new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE will be released via amazon.com in eBook and print. Currently, there is a book giveaway going on for the book on Good Reads which you can enter here.

To help prepare for the release of this odd and playful book, I thought it would be fun to write on some of the influences for the novel.  This week I discuss three writers who gave me the courage to attempt the mad surprises that come in this new novel.

There should be a warning that is given to every future English Major. It should be in bold lettering with a dark-foreboding red hue.

WARNING: This major will impact how you read and enjoy books forever.

We all scamper and leap into becoming English majors because of a love of books, imagining afternoons in classes playfully discussing our new favorite classics. The ultimate book club! Surrounded by like-minded, educated readers debating and then debating some more the next day. All that is missing is the secret handshakes, but a big part of that dream is true… What is glaringly missing in the scenario though is the in-depth analysis that comes along for the ride.

When you are an English major you are taught to deconstruct a book down to its essence, find new ways to interpret a work (maybe related to the author’s biography or the history of the time, etc.); whatever the case, when you are done with a book, it is never the book it once was to you at the start. Over time, this kind of investigation will become part of your reading makeup.

You’ve seen too much! The wizard cannot go back behind the curtain, you know it is a silly old man now! Every book is a future study, even when you don’t mean to do it. And soon you may even begin to forget what it was like to simply open a book and enjoy the tale.

For me, the great impact of being an English major is I lost the capability for shock. I can usually see most things coming a mile away. This is especially true in most genre fiction (one exception to this, of course, being the groundbreaking A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin… unless you figure out that only bad things happen, especially to good people; then the surprises slip away).

When I set out to write MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE my goal was to make something… new, something bold, something very surprising. Arrogantly, I imagined something that an English major (like me) might not see coming, something that would be talked about in hushed whispers in future classroom as students settle into their plastic seats.

“Did you see that coming?” one student will ask another. The other student would simply reply with a fast shake indicating no.

When I look back, three writers emerge as inspiration around this book. These are writers that were able to still surprise me when I first entered the fray as a know-it-all reader.  And I highly recommend them to any reader hoping to experience something revolutionary… after they read MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH, of course.

Kurt Vonnegut

VonnegutA lot of people like to compare Vonnegut to Mark Twain. Maybe it’s the bushy hair, mustache and sarcasm in interviews, but I never thought it was an accurate comparison. What many forget about Twain is that he had a capability to write in many different styles and voices, Vonnegut is always… well… Vonnegut.

Now there is nothing wrong with that! Many great writers have strong voices that follow their library from book to book (Hemingway, for example).  When I first discovered his writing, I was like a child that had just discovered a secret new candy shop, trying one after another after another… and just like that child, I had to deal with the repercussions that there was nothing new to try afterwards.

Consider:

  • Slaughterhouse-Five. Yes, everyone talks about its description of the Dresden tragedy, but it is also a story filled with time travel and aliens (that includes a human exhibit with a porn star).
  • Breakfast of Champions is filled with little illustrations (taking the place of descriptions) and an appearance of the author who simply sits at a table and watches the novel take place.
  • Hocus Pocus. Where Vonnegut surprises you at the end with a mathematical equation, assuming you were paying attention to the figures he was giving you throughout the book.

And on and on and on…

I wrote about my love of Vonnegut before on this site (here), but I am still haunted by the fact that I had his home number sitting on my desk. I just never had the guts to pick up my phone and call.

Richard Brautigan

BrautiganBrautigan has always been a mystery to me, his books feel that way too. There is always that feeling when you read him that there is something he is not telling you, some hidden nugget of wisdom that could probably put the puzzle in front of you together.

While The Abortion is my favorite of his books, when it comes to sheer-audacity in creativity I always point to In Watermelon Sugar, a world where the sky has a different sun each day and tigers politely speak to you as they devour your loved ones.  I’ve read this book a few times in my life now, still trying to figure out what Brautigan might be saying in the work. It is still wonderfully unclear.

Brautigan died at only 49, a sad loss, and even though his later books were getting more and more depressing (making his suicide really not that surprising, sadly), they were still wonderfully imaginative. For example, in his last book An Unfortunate Woman (published after his death), he actually decides at one point what to write about with the flip of a coin. In our mind we can’t help but imagine that coin spinning in the air before finally landing down in front of him and us.

John Barth

BarthIn The Floating Opera, Barth gets you to read two different things at the same time.

It is genius!

See, it is done with columns and both columns begin the same and then slowly start to change, becoming different, and if you do it just right (with the right amount of concentration and attention), you can keep up with both stories. (Honestly, it took me a few attempts to get it right, but I still walked away impressed with the genius of it.)

Genius is a great word to use for Barth, because he is more than a fun idea in a story, as an author he can inhabit different voices and styles. Consider The Sot-Weed Factor where Barth takes on the narrative style of Henry Felding. The novel is set in the late 1600’s in America and the voice fits the period wonderfully (even though the plot and twists can be very post-modern).

Barth’s books are not for the casual reader. He is not as demanding as James Joyce, but he does expect you to bring your “A” game to the reading.

MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE is an experimental work of fiction, hiding in a period genre thriller/mystery. Yes, it is exciting with many surprises, humor and adventurous characters, but it also attempts something very different… something odd.

I hope you enjoy your trip to McGregor Castle.

If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (coming June 11), My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare by Scott D. Southard

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7 responses

  1. Great post! Have you read any Mark Z. Danielewski? In terms of wildly experimental, he’s definitely on the contemporary periphery. House of Leaves is his best known work, but I think my favorite is “Only Revolutions:” two very long free verse poems stacked upside down on top of each other, going from bigger to smaller in font size as the book progresses. Mind blowing stuff.

  2. Hi there. I do not want to seem presumptuous nor come off as a hater. I assure you I am neither. What I am is someone for whom typos seem to leap off the page- or screen- depending on the medium. You have such a professional blog and as an English Major I hope you will appreciate this and not take it as criticism when I ask whether, under Richard Brautigan, where you wrote “While The Abortion is my favorite of his book, when…” the word “book” should be plural, shouldn’t it, since he has written more than one? And where you wrote “… in his last book An Unfortunate Woman (published after his dead), he…” shouldn’t it read, “published after his death”?

    Disclaimer: I am not an English Major, and I reserve the right to be wrong. But honestly, I had to quit reading the local paper because the typos got so bad that I wanted to mark it all up with a red pen and mail it back every day! I may have a touch of OCD. I did enjoy reading your blog in spite of the typos, and I am intrigued about McGregor Castle. Will have to get the book when it comes out.

    • It’s fine and I will make the corrections. Blog posts, while fun to write, are nothing like my novels and more professional writing endeavors (for example, I had an editor for my book Maximilian), so I hope you won’t hold my writing in judgment because of them. If you are bothered by those little mistakes, you must hate the internet!

      It’s hard not to notice mistakes though. My favorite story is reading Team of Rivals and finding a moment when the author misspelled Lincoln’s name.

      Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Discover the strange new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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