Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Which I Celebrate Bloomsday by Thinking About My Linked Short Stories Project

James Joyce fans know that today is Bloomsday.  Fans of this blog know that I've written about Bloomsday before, here and here.  I will not be doing anything Joycean or even Irish today.  But I have spent the week leading up to Bloomsday writing fiction and thinking about my collection of linked stories.

Last night, I started looking at all the stories with a more critical eye, looking at them to see how they work together.  I had been worried that all the characters sounded the same, but I think that will be less of a problem than I thought.  My characters do all sound like white, middle-class people, but they are white, middle-class people so I think that's O.K.  There's a grandmother who sounds more distinctively Southern.  I will write a story that takes place almost 60 years into the future, but I will probably just keep the characters sounding like their ancestors.

Here's one worry that I do have.  I had planned to use some stories that I wrote in a time before I realized I was going to create a linked collection.  Some of the short stories have similar themes, similar images, similar characters.  For example, in two separate stories, I have two different characters who are haunted by the possibility of nuclear war.  I could make the argument that because both characters are adolescents in 1983, so it's conceivable that they'd both have similar fears and nightmares.

But I fear that a larger problem is that I have too many characters who are Women's Studies majors.  I could make changes so that only one of them is a Women's Studies major, I suppose.  Or I could take the same approach that I do with the nuclear stuff:  it's a time when Women's Studies was fairly new and it's not impossible that two characters who are unrelated in two different stories might be Women's Studies majors.

Or maybe it's good to have these threads weaving through the stories.  Maybe these threads make the collection more linked, in a way that they wouldn't feel linked if it was just linked by characters who show up in more than one story.

Maybe it's time to reread Joyce, who not only has the same characters making appearances throughout his work, but who also has themes and images appearing and reappearing.  How many characters in Joyce sing?  How many tenors make appearances throughout all of Joyce's work?  Statistically, were there really that many tenors in Dublin?  How many drunken men abandon families throughout Joyce?

And yes, I did my thesis on Joyce, so I do understand the demographics:  there were a lot of drunken men abandoning fathers during the time of Joyce.  Still, if you read all of Joyce during one intense grad school class, you realize that there's more than simple demographics at work in Joyce.

I need to go back to linked short story collections that I have loved to help sort out another issue:  in which order should stories go?  Chronologically?  Some sort of circling/spiraling?

I love the way that Joyce ends Dubliners, which isn't as tightly linked a short story collection as others I have loved.  I love the story "The Dead," which ends Dubliners, and serves as a coda, although it also works well as a stand-alone story.  Will I have a penultimate story?  Hmm.  One of my stories is longer and seems to contain all the themes and symbols of the others--and those characters so far are rarely appearing in the other stories that I've written.  It's chronologically early in the cycle, but maybe I'll save it for last.

So, I began the morning thinking I wouldn't really be doing anything anything to celebrate Bloomsday or doing anything Joycean--and here I am, hours later, thinking I might have solved a thorny problem in my linked collection.  And how did I do it?  By thinking about Dubliners.  Thank you, James Joyce!

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