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Greg Bardsley

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Murdaland

Five questions at Scrivo

richardsonMark Richardson and I have been comparing notes on fiction-writing for years now. We have had some great talks about it all. Whereas, he’s more likely to tell me about the latest story by nearby peninsula genius Tobias Wolff, I’m more likely to tell him about some amazing stories I’ve read in Plots with Guns or the now-defunct Murdaland.

He reads fiction in The New Yoker. I read fiction in Thuglit. And then we trade.

A few years ago, we had a debate about Eat, Pray, Love.

Along the way, he’s turned me on to some great shit in his publications. And I’m happy to report that maybe I’ve turned him on to noir and transgressive fiction. Case in point, Richardson is now weighing in on UNCAGE ME, the anthology of noir that includes my story, Hotshot 52, and has asked me to answer five questions over at his new blog, Scrivo.

Mark is a great writer with an amazing track record in fiction — every story he’s written has been picked up so far. And Scrivo already has made some interesting observations about  the pursuit of fiction-writing.

You can chek out his bog and his five questions of me right here.

Say it isn’t so, Murdaland

Shit. … A great fiction journal just bit the dust.

Murdaland on Wednesday sent a note to me and other crime writers announcing that it was “suspending publication.” Says the note, “We tried very hard in 2008 to keep Murdaland going as a viable entity, but it’s just no longer possible.”

In terms of quantity, Murdaland doesn’t leave a large body of work. It produced just two printed issues. But holy shit, did they turn some heads. In an instant, the journal became one of the more sought-after places for crime writers to showcase their fiction. It had this highbrow-lowbrow thing going, and more important, it ran some truly badass crime fiction — or, perhaps more accurately, badass fiction that happened to deal with crime.

Regardless, it’s suspended now. And, I hope I’m wrong, but it feels like it’s not coming back. Maybe I’m woefully uninformed in these matters, or maybe I’m in denial, but I’m left scratching my head trying to figure how other printed journals can find ways to make it work financially but not these guys. The other thought I had was, Why not go web-based? Again, easy for me to say. I guess I just hate to see them go.

I’m thrilled for Mario, but ….

How long did I last?

eatpray-716112.jpgTill the 28th “tale” — at which point, my system couldn’t withstand another page. The structural integrity of my psyche was shaking and quaking, and I knew that if I did venture into the 29th tale, things inside would begin to fissure and fracture and snap. I had to stop reading “Eat, Pray, Love,” the No. 1 New York Times bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It’s funny about books. I’m starting to think that writing books, especially novels, is like creating an illusion — providing carefully rendered, temporary interpretations of the world in a compelling way that suspends the reader’s disbelief and makes him want to enter your world. I’m not saying I’ve achieved this as a writer, but I do think that if your readers can’t suspend disbelief, it’s over — it’s like revealing the machinery of your illusions, the exposed slights of hand readers aren’t supposed to see.

And what makes an illusion most effective? I say it’s a dazzling distraction. I think about my favorite authors, and I realize they all possess some phenomenal literary “distraction” skills. Tim Dorsey is so damn funny, you pay no attention to the insane storylines he’s feeding you. Charlie Huston‘s prose style is so fun to read (such a literary aesthetic), you never even notice a few unlikely events that unfold in his world.

Which brings us to “Eat, Pray, Love” — in short, I wasn’t buying it.

The writing was excellent, and Gilbert’s narrative voice was compelling — and that sustained me for 87 pages. But ultimately, I could not suspend disbelief, and I couldn’t take another “tale” — of which there are 108 in the book. Somewhere along the way, this stopped feeling like a candid, authentic memoir and more like a deliberate, carefully planned-out and contrived “what-if” literary event — as in, “What if I spent a year traveling to three of the trendiest places in the world, included some angst over my divorce and bouts with depression, and wrote about it? Would that sell?”

Perhaps most bothersome was the fact that Gilbert had secured the book deal for “Eat, Pray, Love” (and the money for it) before she even set off on her journey to Italy, India and Bali, but hardly mentioned the deal in her memoir. After reading that, everything felt manipulated and controlled and fake. This wasn’t a personal, see-where-the-wind-takes-me journey. This was a planned-out literary event hashed out beforehand in New York.

Two friends of mine, Richardson and Riske, had already read the book and really enjoyed it. So we had at least a half-dozen debates. Slowly, I whittled away at them. Eventually, Riske sagged his head and sighed, “If we’d been discussing all this while I was reading the book, I don’t think I could’ve finished it.” I felt kind of bad about that — like I was ruining his memory of a great vacation. I’d had a friend do a similar thing to me with a book I’d loved — just goes to show you how subjective all this is.

And yet, I kept reading “Eat, Pray, Love.”

My wife Nancy, on the other hand, had stopped after only five pages. And now, every night, she’d glance at me and laugh to herself, saying things like, “I can’t believe you’re still reading that thing.” So one night I put the book on my lap and ask, “My friends wanna know why you had such a problem with this book.”

Nancy gets up. “Here, I’ll show you why.” She takes the book, fans the pages, closes her eyes and stops randomly on page 109. She reads aloud: “The tears begin when Mario — our host — weeps in open gratitude …” She shuts the book, tosses it to me and says, “That’s why I’m not reading it.”

And that was it for me — I moved on to Volume 2 of the crime-fiction journal, Murdaland. And I’m loving it.

murdaland2.jpg

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