The Serious Writer And His First Novel

The serious writer is working on his first novel.

He moves his household to a deserted location called Loch Llamorgan. He buys a large shovel, which he covers with tattoos lifted from a book of Maori motives. He anticipates a journey of many moons. He drives to the local liquor store and purchases supplies. He devises a plan to shelter the house from all disturbing influences: it involves a system of trenches surrounding the house, an escape tunnel from the study, and CCTV surveillance around the perimeter. He begins to dig.

When the serious writer, weeks later, finally sits down to start writing, he is exhausted and has forgotten what he wanted to write about, or why. He dolefully looks at his tool with the strange patterns on them, and at his callused hands, and he cannot hear any voices.

He composes an e-mail for an anonymous publisher expressing his sorrow over pressing deadlines, the demands of job and family, and regrets the delay in providing a synopsis. After sending the message, he lies face down in one of the ditches criss-crossing the field in front of the house, and drinks in the scent of the soil, waiting for the book to write itself.

[From: “Thank You For Your Sperm”, MadHat Press, 2013, story first published in Wrong Tree Review, 2011][Image: Atlas, drawing by Alfred Kubin, 1942]

The Austrian artist Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) was a pioneer of symbolism and expressionism. He illustrated books of Edgar Allan Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Fyodor Dostoevsky and others. His only novel “Die andere Seite” (The other side) was admired by Kafka. My father was a collector of Kubin’s graphical work and passed his collection on to me. Kubin’s fantastic, absurdist novel was an important influence during my teenage years.

«This debut collection mixes the sacred and profane, beauty and beast, the strange and the wondrous. Not necessarily in that order. Or any type of defined order other than The Serious Writer segment  […] Rather, the stories in this book seem quarantined like hungry orphans: Read me, they appear to shout from their temporary cots, take me home and love me; or better yet make love to me. Speh’s voices are consistently on pitch, his plots and settings well defined. There is a clatter in the book similar to the way Chekhov made his stories come alive.»

—from “A Certain Balanced Unbalance”, a review of “Thank You For Your Sperm” in The LitPub by Susan Tepper, author of The Merrill Diaries. Image: Venus of Willendorf.

«For years I tried to get this school out of my mind: the turgid turrets, the pathways, secrets to nowhere, the chalk dust that sat on the bannisters like white ash after an air raid, and the headmaster, a fat, bald, turbaned man with a clownish face and a monkey, who perched on his shoulder like a jester at the court of an anointed king. When I was in trouble, the regent turned his head to the muggins and conversed with him in a language that was rich in hushed tones and hisses, little screams and tongue-clicking, making you feel as if you were in deeper difficulties than you had thought, though their unnatural dialogue was mostly the worst that happened: the headmaster would smile a bazaar owner’s smile and wave me and the poisonous cloud around my head away and out of this world, while the monkey laughed, his whole body shaking with uncanny clamor. Perhaps this primate had once been a performer who retired to our school only to torture us on behalf of our suspicious parents. When I dreamt of him he always said “je m'appelle, je m'appelle” with pursed lips but never told me his true name.»

—Excerpt from: “Little People”, in: Thank You For Your Sperm; first published in Emprise Review. Reading of the whole piece: http://bit.ly/117gJ1o

Buy this at Amazon now and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Leave a review and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Send me an encouraging comment and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Pass this on to a powerful reviewer and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Mention me in one sentence with your favorite authors and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Give the book away to a donor and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Say that I’m Alt Lit and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Sell one of your duplicate DFW books to get the funds to buy this and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Send your spouse to the next bookshop to get this and I will Thank You For Your Sperm. Talk about it to your friends and I will Thank You For Your Sperm.

«Also, I did not realize that a generation of young writers had taken INDY as a plank in pursuing IDENTITY in literary careers. It’s the real truth, as my friend AQ once described it, that I had early read Tao Lin and heard him read at the Bowery and thought that no one writes as he does, and one reason he writes as he does seems to be his homages to the minimalist generation of the 80s, born in the late 40s-early 50s, his taking them to heart and not missing them or their intent. Is this a place to ask what posterity and mortality have to do with it? Half the time I imagine myself as working in an American shoe factory, and that I make shoes, one at a time, not as well as Italian shoe makers, but as well as I can, and like all laborers, though an item or a few items I make may have a significance to <100 or =100 or even sometimes 100+ shoe readers, mostly it’s unpaid labor of days, minutes, years, unseen and seen effort, appreciated, miscontrued, and jism’d in competition for notches in a leather belt, though I work in shoes, and if you compile others’ unseen and seen efforts, and especially, unseen appreciations of effort, it mounds to a collectivity not comparable to one team of swimmers who hit shore and penetrate one egg, as in John Barth’s “Night Sea Journey,” where one sperm or no sperm wins it per round, though the whole rod of spermatazoa swim in Speedos or linen eyehole tunics to their conclusion as a group. Thank YOU for Your Sperm, Marcus Speh. This is a shoe lace, white or ribbed brown or gold.» — “Shoe Lace” by Ann Bogle @ Fictionaut

Photo: Toilet time in an East Berlin nursery (1985), by Thomas Hoepker.

«Two leathery lovebirds set off to a jog through bewitching countryside. The stench from the fields was sharp and brought the animal out in Fred. His wife, Frieda, was belting along the dirt path despite her seventy-eight years. Fred’s little Martian stirred merrily at the thought of the Venus trap between Frieda’s legs. If the stars were aligned he might get lucky tonight he thought, all the way to his death that awaited him at the end of a seemingly infinite patch of bluebells, whose little heads were bobbing towards the place where Fred would fall and lie, his eye turned upward for as long as it took him to imbibe the beauty of the world for one last time and carry it wherever he’d be going, as alone as he hadn’t been in half a century, while Frieda was storming ahead of him, her chin stuck out, a fighter to the last breath, an incandescent wife.»

[From: Rites of Spring, first published in killauthor. In: Thank You For Your Sperm, MadHat Press, 2013][Photo: Bill and Lois Wilson, founders of AA]

«As I’m recording this blog post I realize that I really, really don’t like using this space to relate news, you know, raw information, subjective or objective, about what’s been happening or what happens right now. I really like to write nonfiction for the same reason and with the same aspiration as when I’m writing fiction: namely to surprise myself. I do not want to know beforehand what I’m going to say or, when I’ve said it, what I’m in for next by way of attention, or inspiration, or desperation. And I believe that this is exactly why you are reading this now. You’d like to be surprised; you’d like to have a thought that you didn’t have before, or a feeling not yet felt or have them with greater, or with less intensity, strength, duration than you’re used to. To find out what’s new you should join platforms that are known for, and to some extent have been optimized towards, sharing of news and daily information, like FacebookGoogle+ or Twitter. I regularly look at my own Facebook page to prove to myself that new things are happening to me, too, but when I need confirmation that I’m still thinking bravely and feeling deeply I return to my blog.»  [continue to read full post on the blog]

«If there is a table at which the best writers of flash fiction should be seated, Marcus Speh deserves a chair – with his name on it. In four short years Speh has gone from obscure internet ego Finnegan Flawnt to nearly a household name, at least among the three thousand or so writers competing for that tight little club listed on Duotrope, championed by small press, and swirling in constant motion among the blogs and posts and coffee house readings out there these days. It’s an exciting time, a world without agents, where anyone with the will and imagination can start a literary magazine, but the truth will out, it always does, and someday soon flash fiction will not be so cutting edge, some other blade will be forged, and student’s will study and teachers will teach and the old ones will remember when. With the publication of his first collection, “Thank You For Your Sperm”, Speh is helping to launch this genre into the main stream. Someday, names will have to named, founders have to be found. I think this collection may be one of those…» [Read full review by Derek Osborne]

I’ll be reading from my collection “Thank You For Your Sperm" on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 8 PM. The location is the charming bookstore Shakespeare and Sons, (Raumerstraße 36, 10437 Berlin).

You’ll also be able to pick up a (discounted) copy of TYFYS for friends and family — Christmas will be upon us soon. 

This is likely to be my only reading in Europe (or anywhere). Fill the stalls and snatch this moment from the jaws of time. If you can’t come: tell a friend or two.

Need further motivation? Check out some reviews. Or just look forward to the marvelous bagels baked at the bookshop.

Also, I’ll bring a pen to sign book(s) if you bring your name.

Update (21 Nov): blog post after the reading!

Strange Children
  • Strange Children
  • Marcus Speh
  • TYFYS Trailers

I never managed to get any closer to a book trailer for TYFYS than this: one of a number of songs, composed, performed, & recorded by me. Posting this reminds me of the time when I briefly studied musical composition with Michael Finnissy whose music I loved then like now, as well as John Cage’s often obscure but always energetic and never empty statements like this one, which bolsters me up right now :

“It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.” —John Cage

Photo: Margaret Barr’s “Strange Children” ballett (1955), photographer unknown. State Library of New South Wales Flickr stream.