Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Search Of

I consider myself to be a fairly decent researcher. When I decide to find something out, I can be quite dogged and relentless in my pursuit. Sometimes this can rise to the level of unhealthy obsession. Sometimes I have to make myself stop.

In my previous job this was a very valuable skill. A customer would contact us and say that their company wanted to make a DVD; here is the information, here is the layout, here are the assets, here is the due date. Only none of it would be complete; everything would be lacking in some critical detail, some missing piece, and I would have to burrow into the client's intent until I knew everything there was to know about it. And then I went beyond that: If we were working on a particular movie, I would learn all about the background of the movie, all of the funky little details of it, so if anything strange popped up while we were working on it (such as a black-and-white movie suddenly becoming a color movie), I would know about it in advance, and know whether it was an issue that needed fixing or not. If we were working on a title about a particular musician or performer, or a concert title for a specific band, I would become - for a brief while - a subject matter expert on that person or group. The incidental details that I learned proved useful in more than a few cases.

When things were slow I would research things on my own. What was the current state of DVD piracy, and what were we doing to combat it? What new consumer video formats were coming down the pike? What were the state flower and motto and some interesting local customs of Alabama or New Hampshire? (OK, those last two were for a friend's son's school project. Sometimes things got very slow.)

In the end all that work didn't make much difference. Now my research is done with my eyeballs, looking for microscopic pits, flecks, scratches, stains, and dents in the DVDs that I am making on my presses.

Two of my blogging friends are looking for information, and I've tried to turn my research skills to their aid. But I've realized that I have not yet utilized a very valuable research tool, one which might hold answers that are beyond my own reach.

That would be you.

So, listen up. Maybe you can help these fine young ladies in their quests. I'm going to keep on searching for information on my own, but if you can be of assistance, please get in touch with them.

Ashley from Ink On Paper is looking for a book. She actually has a book that she has written and is trying to pitch to an agent. The problem is, one of the first things agents ask about works of fiction is "Can you name a similar book?" They're looking to see how books with similar themes have sold before they actually make any effort to get a publisher interested in your book. Which I suppose is a fair an necessary thing, but it tends to discourage innovation and new ideas. In the case of Ashley's book, the structure is a combination of a framing story in the form of a (fictional) writer's journal interspersed with short fictional stories by the writer who is keeping the journal. I have come up with several suggestions, which only imperfectly approach the form she is using. Can anyone else think of a story that has a similar structure? If you can, please let her know.

Whim is looking for information - articles, papers, books, self-help groups, whatever - on the long-term physiological effects of burns. (If you don't know Whim's story, read it. Now.) Not the psychological effects - she's quite familiar with those, and can (and probably will) write her own book about them, but the long-term - say, greater than ten years after the fact - physical effects of severe burns caused by fire (as opposed to electrocution or lightning strikes) on the human body. There are journal articles out there, but like most journal articles online they are available only to subscribers or for a fee. And the only self-help group Whim has found that might fit the bill also wants a membership fee. As she pointed out, she already paid that fee when she became a burn survivor over thirteen years ago. It seems like there should be plenty of information on this topic out there. But if there is, it's buried under tons of other stuff that isn't what Whim is looking for. I'm thinking this may call for a trip to a University library sometime, particularly a University with a medical school that specializes in burn trauma. If you have any good, solid information that can help Whim, please get in touch with her.

Title reference: In Search Of, the old TV series narrated by Leonard Nimoy.


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

It seems like I've read something like what Ashley is talking about but for the life of me I can't remember what it is.

D.B. You are just too good to me. Thank you!

I have tagged you with something if you wish to participate.

Anonymous said...

The idea of putting all your short stories together in a frame story is something a lot of writers try. Here are some examples or close versions of what you're trying:

1. B.S. Johnson, Albert Angelo. A writer is writing a novel and attempts to fictionalize his experiences, then gives up and breaks the narrative frame.

2. Italo Calvino. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. A narrator describes the process of reading, but something goes wrong with each chapter.

3. John Edgar Wideman. Philadelphia Fire. A narrator again attempts to fictionalize his experience, and again gives up and then a first-person narrator takes over the narrative.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise doesn't have a frame, but was obviously a conglomeration of different stories. One critic jokingly called it, "The complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald."

5. Gilbert Sorrentino's Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is a collection of different character sketches. It lacks the frame she's speaking of, except it's sorta there, too. It does show how to put a variety of stories together.

6. Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan's Stew contains multiple frames.

7. John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse contains multiple frames as well, as well as stories inside stories inside stories. However, these are fictionalized frames -- a little different than what your friend wants. The eponymous story is a classic version of a writer framing an internal story.

I know there's an example of this besides the Johnson and Wideman examples, which are almost exactly what she's referring to.

8. Of course, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights and the Decameron are classic frame stories. To an extent, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a frame story with a very episodic structure.

9. Thomas Pynchon's V. contains a frame-like device (the search for the meaning of V.) that ends up causing a very episodic structure, but doesn't have the first-person diary feel.

10. Knut Hamsun's Hunger is about a writer trying to become a writer. Ditto Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.

11. Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School uses collage methods, similar to William Burroughs cut-ups, to achieve its effects. Also, see Burroughs, Kerouac, etc., and if you're feeling particularly perverted, Jean Genet. I think Marilyn Manson used some of this in his autobiography.

12. Christopher Isherwood's used a device called the "camera" write a series of episodic short stories in Good-Bye to Berlin, Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Down There on a Visit. The camera stuff frames the stories in many cases, and by identifying himself with a camera, eliminates that self-absorbed feel you get with some of the first-person narration.

14. Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

If I think of something that exactly fits, I'll let you know. The closest are Kundera, Johnson and Wideman.

Bill @ BN.

Anonymous said...

OK, I remembered a perfectly analogous novel:

Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook.

I knew I'd think of it!

If I can think of any more, I'll let you know.

Sheesh. Took a while to jog my memory, but there it is. I also asked a friend and he's on the case.

Bill @ BN

Ashley said...

Thanks for the help!

Super G said...

I think Whim lives in NC via her blog site. She may have been treated and the UNC Chapel Hill Hospital Burn Unit.

If she has not, she could try to contact the staff there for some guidance. They might be willing to answer questions in a general fashion OR provide guidance on where answers might be found. The UNC site lists arehabilitation psychologist on staff, they might be helpful too.

Also search down MDs e-mail addresses on the staff search of the website. I can't talk to my mom's MD at the U of Michigan because the front office and his nurse will not put me in touch, but he free answers e-mails. (Though, of course, you can't harass them).

Good luck.

t.g. said...

Want to do research for free? If you are in Luzerne County for example and you are not affiliated with a university that subscribes to the many online databases, you will need your LCLS library card. Click on "access PA Power Library" and go from there. You will have access to such databases as EBSCOHost (there's a tutorial if you are not familiar with how to serach through it). Should find what you are looking for there - free - might just take some digging.

t.g. said...

to clarify - click on access PA Power Library link on any of the libraries' sites. (Hoyt, Osterhout, etc.)