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Stories told in introduction

December 19, 2011

Welcome to my own little portion of the internet. I’ve built some walls out of aluminum foil for delineation purposes but it turns out those didn’t fit, so I’ve just opened it up to everybody.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Tom Auxier. During the day, I’m features editor for Nightmare Mode, a lovely website where I write about narrative in video games and where other people write about all sorts of dovely things. By night, I write short fiction, read fiction allsorts, muse about the world, and play video games.

In general, this is me without the video games. This is me talking about fiction. My fiction, other people’s fiction. It’s where I’ll post some short stories I’ve left for dead over the years, stories I don’t want to try to publish. It’s where I’ll talk about all the fiction, comics, anime, and music I can think up, without the filter that is always talking about games. Or editorial good sense, for that matter.

Basically, part personal blog, part artist’s website, part useless ravings. To whit:

The book I’ve most recently been reading is The Best American Short Stories 2011, from the Best American Series. You know, that anthology publisher who, if you went into a bookstore today, litters the shelves with collections of various types of writing. This edition’s got some excellent writers in it, most recognizably (to me, at least) George Saunders and Tom Bissell. The thing that got me, though, was the introduction by noted author Geraldine Brooks.

To put it bluntly, Brooks attacks the basic precepts of modern American short literary fiction. She makes an interesting observation, too: we’ve got an upcoming generation who’ve read perhaps more than any other generation before them. These twentysomethings were people whose minds were captured by Harry Potter, by Twilight, by all these omnibussal fantasy series. They’re engaged with reading, and they ought to be desperate to read short fiction: exciting, bite sized episodes of writing that can be fit into a short ride on public transit, a lunch break, or an evening before bed.

They’re not reading short fiction, though. They’re not for two reasons. One’s the state of the medium itself: as Brooks says, “affectless Carveresque minimalism…isn’t going to cut it for them.” She effectively encourages young writers not to be influenced by this book, because what’s in this book is the past: focused meanders through depressing climes where nothing particularly changes or happens. Everyone exists, and they do so with economy. I’m a big fan of Raymond Carver, but this holds a ring of truth: there’s only so many “Cathedrals” someone can read before they become undeniably weary of the subject matter, of the taut effortlessness. And a Harry Potter reader? Forget about it. The two styles are oil and water, regardless of the fact that I love both Carver and J.K. Rowling.

You see, young readers are approaching the world of fiction with an insatiable desire to build worlds. This article from the New Yorker puts it plainly: the strength of fantasy fiction is in its ability to approximate the movement to adulthood. Fantasy fiction exists to be mastered, just like life. One can fall deeply into the mythos of Lord of the Rings and master its complex intricacies; this mimics the twentysomething’s own lives. This is more relevant to them than a story about adulterous love, about dining room wars, about any small scene, because fantasy is metaphorically their whole life. Harry Potter, through its massive complexities, provides a master narrative. It provides every story a young person will have to go through, only in metaphor. It teaches by showing a series of events.

In terms of my own writing, it’s been an interesting discussion to have with myself (I do this. I am an only child. I’m an aggressive, motivated self-talker). Like this target market, I developed my love of fiction through a love of J.K. Rowling (and Ursula Le Guin and Anne McCaffery and Brian Jacques, but that, as I like to say, is another show). I’ve learned what I know about life through Harry’s adventures. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve going to a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with my post senior year writing camp buddies, and then discussing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows frantically with my college friends, with acquaintances who grew up with the books as much as I did.

And that’s the trick. I’m not going to discuss Raymond Carver with my friends. Even if I love a story in this collection (and I love quite a few), I’m not going to discuss it with anyone except maybe my writing group. Even if I did, they wouldn’t read it, because they’ve got an image of it in their heads already: “affectless Carveresque minimalism.” It doesn’t cut it for them.

For years I’ve tried to force myself into the standard, MFA-approved literary fiction bubble. I’ve tried to write stories about love, loss, the American family, relationships, et cetera. I certainly have things to say about them, but my mind never wanted to say them in a graduate program approved way. I didn’t want to write like Raymond Carver. I wanted to write like me. I wanted to write spare, tense prose where magical things happened and they revealed things about people. I don’t want to tell spare, isolated stories but rather create worlds, magical or mundane, which readers can learn about, which they can imagine.

I want to write the American family but then I want the gates of Hell to open up underneath their house and have them react to this. I want the world to end as the clock in each segment of the world clicks over to a certain day and to see how people react to that. I want to write understated stories about a man discovering his forgotten high school roots, but I don’t want to do it like Raymond Carver: I want there to be a plot, and I want it to be something the average reader can appreciate. I want it to be funny, and sad, and I want to capture the reader’s imagination through secondary characters, so that it isn’t just an isolated, sad little story.

In the end, I want to write the things I enjoy, because those will be the things you’ll enjoy, too.

So I hope you’ll stick around. I plan to post sporadically but frequently, about the things I write, read, hear, cook, and watch. Maybe even a couple video games, too. In the near future, I’ll format and put up some of my older fiction, the stuff I’ve given up on, so that you can get a small sense of my work. Naturally, a lot of it will be older, less high quality than the stuff I’m writing today, but that can’t be featured here (because nobody wants sloppy seconds to an internet site that makes no money).

And if you like my work, then I’d love to hear from you. I’m on twitter, can be emailed at auxiert AT gmail DOT com, and would love if you added me on goodreads or linkedin. Or leave a comment! Talking with people just warms the cockles of my cold, dead heart, you know?

The pictures, by the way, comes from the very talented Callan Rogers-Grazado from Callan Draws and Callan Rogers’ Neighborhood. She does art and offers me site design advice I promptly ignore.

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