Miniature Symphonies is a book of song-inspired vignettes, ranging from flash fiction to short essays to emotional soliloquies to the occasional rant. The songs range from heavy metal to jazz to rock to rap, an eclectic mix that means you’re bound to recognise and enjoy at least some of the songs, and be left scratching your head over what some song you’ve never heard of must be like to inspire the piece that was written. The same treatment is applied to books about music and musicians, and films about music and musicians. According to the author: “This book is to offer up the idea of inspiration and how close writing, music and film can be.”
F.J. Gouldner has a distinctive voice, and a worldview that is chock full of freedom and individuality and anti-government libertarian anarchism. This comes through in his interpretations of the songs that inspire him, screeds of individualism and fighting-the-power. There’s also a healthy dose of a desire to protect close family and friends. Then there are pieces like Carny, which look at how a life can go very wrong. There is a (seemingly) autobiographical bit at the end which gets downright disturbing, and is a brilliant piece of writing if it’s not completely true.
I’ve been having difficulty with my stories lately people people keeps saying they want to know where they’re set – which city as opposed to “America”. Which is a problem, because I’ve never lived in America and don’t know anywhere well enough to set a story there. So I’ve been thinking about Wikipedia and Google Earth and the like, with the big problem being that it’s entirely possible I’ll spend a week researching a city only to realise my story can’t be set there for some reason.
And I had this thought: “It’s getting the point where I’m just going to say ‘bugger it’, and set my future stories in places I’ve actually lived.”
This was followed by the thought: “Why the hell didn’t I start off doing that?”
As far as I can tell, the answer is that all the stories I read are set in America (or sometimes England) and there’s this idea that Americans don’t want to read stories about non-Americans in other countries, because it’s too confusing trying to figure out what American state those other countries are in (or something).
But is this really true? I don’t know, I’m not American, but one thing gives me hope. I’ve just finished reading Lightspeed’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction, following on from Women Destroy Science Fiction last year, which were obviously very popular. This breaks down the notion that people don’t want to read about characters of a different gender or sexual orientation because they won’t be able to relate – a concept I could never get my head around, since reading about characters that were very different from myself was one of the main attractions of science fiction and fantasy. So maybe people really don’t care, and they’ll read a story set in Australia or Mexico, because it’s not really that great a stretch.
And who wants to write for the lowest common denominator anyway?
I’m exploring the x-punk genres, and one of the aspects is the noir feel of the stories. The setting is dark and foreboding, people – including the heroes – operate on the edge of the law, the endings are usually less happy than not completely depressing. So I read Bad Girls by Max Scratchmann again – it’s a collection of eight short stories written in the 1980s – and it’s got those noir aspects as well as the hyper-descriptive language that tends to be used, language that makes the reader feel the grime and the characters attitudes. As an example: “A letter had clung gastropod-like to my mat and there was something familiar, sticky-sweet and nauseating about the fawning tilt of the handwriting. Violet ink on faintly scented lilac paper.”
I noticed another aspect of the genre that I had previously missed: Abuse of power. In one of the stories there is a policewoman working as a collector for a crime gang who coerces the women she collects from to sleep with her, which is a fairly blatant abuse of power. The stories that really fit the noir feel have the same thing, some abuse of power that has to be tolerated, handled or, for reader satisfaction, punished. In x-punk stories, this tends to be someone who is so rich/powerful they can effectively ignore the law with no repercussions. In Neuromancer, for example, this is the Tessier-Ashpool family. The story I’m writing already has a rich family of inherited wealth, so it should be easy to slip in some power-abuse.