Monday, August 20, 2012

Reader's Diary #853- Martha Wilson: A Short Story About Nova Scotia

For some reason, a few months ago I started to receive a lot of review requests. No, let me use caps for emphasis: a LOT of review requests. I hadn't submitted my email or blog anywhere new, I hadn't been interviewed or given any new publicity, but somehow agents and publishers seemed to suddenly take an interest. At first I thought it was great. I've had a few Canadian publishers send me review copies before and I never thought I'd turn down a free book. My only rules were that I'd be under no time pressure to review and that a review copy didn't guarantee a good review.

But as these new requests kept flooding in, I figured it was time to tighten up my restrictions as they were. I added the stipulation that they'd be Canadian books. I like some non-Canadian books, I read some non-Canadian books, but with my Canadian Book Challenge, Canadian books have always been my larger focus, so I didn't want to accept more books that I'd probably not get to in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, I added my review request restrictions right to the top bar of my blog for everyone to see. It had no affect. I suspect that my blog name and email were simply thrown into a database and the new requests are coming from folks who have never actually read my blog. So then I tried the whole "unsubscribe" thing. You know, the whole "if you no longer wish to subscribe to these emails, please reply with the message..." I hadn't subscribed in the first place, but what the heck. The heck was that didn't work either. Nor does submitting them to my spam filter. Oh well.

I bring all this up because this email flood almost missed an email from editor Rick Rofihe. Three weeks back I reviewed a short story by Katarina Hybenova that appeared at Since then I received a wonderfully warm email from the author herself and shortly after the email from Rofihe. I won't call Rofihe's email a review request as it was simply a link to another story called "A Short Story About Nova Scotia." Maybe it was simply that he thought I'd be interested in it. But seeing as he chose a Canadian story— out of all the stories published at his website— it tells me that he at the very least took the time to check out my blog and see what I'm all about. Finally.

I was at first tempted to call Martha Wilson's story metafiction. You know, "fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion." Now, as you may or may not know, I happen to love metafiction. I can't read a lot of it at one time as it begins to lose its point, but I find it wonderfully creative and thought-provoking if done well. Wilson's story is creative and thought-provoking, but is it metafiction?

"A Short Story About Nova Scotia" begins "This is the first sentence of my short story about Nova Scotia." It would appear then, that right from the get-go, Wilson aims to write metafiction. It certainly meets the self-conscious criterion! Later she adds that her aim is "to write a short story without actually writing it." And that's where it veers away from the latter half of the metafiction definition: there's no fictional illusion to expose.

I was content for the moment to accept that Wilson's story wasn't metafiction at all, but merely writing that talked about writing. Meta-something-else. Unfortunately that led me to a whole other line of questioning: was it even a short story? What is a short story anyway? First, I had to find a workable definition. From Wikipedia:

"A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format."

and narrative:

"a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events"

Well, it could be considered sequential in that Wilson is working methodically through a process of writing a short story without actually writing one. Fine. But then Wilson adds that hers will be a short story because it had a "problem to solve (besides getting itself written)." The problem, as she sees it, is "Why should anyone attempt to write a short story without actually writing one?" The problem, as I see it, is that she had previously declared a different aim in the same paragraph (her aim was to write the story, not to decide on whether or not someone should.) It's a subtle but important difference as it renders the "besides getting itself written" (written casually and in parentheses) to be a lie. A lie= fiction. Therefore we're back to this being a short story that is indeed metafiction.

I think.

The problem and beautiful thing about metafiction is that it makes your head hurt. It's like over-thinking time travel. You can spend the day contemplating and fixing loop holes but at the end you're still stuck in the present day and, if you're like me, miles away from Nova Scotia.

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