Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tournaments Are Like Short Stories, Cash Games Like Novels

Squeeze, 'Argybargy' (1980)Anybody here remember Squeeze? That cool pop/rock outfit who were part of the group of Beatlesque Brits including Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, XTC, and a few others?

Squeeze had a couple of great songwriters in the group -- Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford -- who often were listed as co-writers of most of their tunes, further encouraging the Beatles comparisons. Jools Holland, the well-known TV host of The Tube (in the 80s) and the long-running Later... with Jools Holland, was there early on, too, and came and went during the band’s career as it stretched out over a couple of decades.

Argybargy (1980) was always my fave Squeeze LP, with East Side Story (1981) a close second. The former is packed with memorable pop nuggets like “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Separate Beds,” among others.

The tune kicking off the second side of my U.S. copy of the record is “If I Didn’t Love You.” (Not sure, but I think the U.K. version might have a different running order.) As the title suggests, the song kind of reflects on a difficult relationship, and includes a great little couplet that inspired the title of this post: “Singles remind me of kisses / Albums remind me of plans.”

Think I’m gonna have to write about Argybargy sometime on my music blog -- 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute -- if I can find the time to do so. Have been busy with a lot else of late, writing-wise, though, including writing more fiction than I have in a good while.

It was last fall that I got my first novel -- Same Difference -- out into the world, although it took a while after that for it finally to become available on Amazon and elsewhere. It’s a detective novel, set in mid-70s New York City, with the story carrying the detective-narrator Richard Owen through a number of different episodes and locales that betray my fascination with ’70s culture and film.

Since then I’ve begun working on a second novel -- not a sequel but a new story with a different set of characters and altogether new setting. Also, as was the case with Same Difference, I am not intending to involve poker in this one, either, although there will be some gambling, I think.

Truckin'Has been a while since I’ve tried shorter fiction, although I did have a short story ready when Dr. Pauly called on me recently regarding his Truckin’ series. The story is called “Burial Detail” and it’s another hard-boiled-type mystery. If you’re curious, check out the October 2010 issue of Truckin’ and let me know what you think. For those on the fence about whether or not to commit to a whole novel by yr scribblin’ friend, read the story and perhaps that’ll help you decide.

It occurred to me that reading a short story is perhaps not unlike sitting down for a sit-n-go or even a multi-table tournament. That is, you know before you start what sort of time commitment -- often not too considerable -- you’re getting into. And you also pretty much know you will be taking it all of the way to the end, however the end happens to transpire.

Meanwhile, you probably aren’t going to be reading an entire novel at a single sitting. I’ve been told by some who’ve read Same Difference that it does succeed as a “page-turner,” with characters and plot twists that make you want to keep reading. But I doubt anyone would ever read it start to finish without taking a break at some point. In that way, novels might be compared to cash games, where you can come and go as you please.

'Hitchcock / Truffaut' (1967)I say Squeeze made me think of this analogy, but there’s an observation Alfred Hitchcock once made about film adaptation that probably suggested it to me as well. It comes up in Francois Truffaut’s interviews of Hitchcock, where the master of suspense compares the experience of watching a movie to reading.

“A film cannot be compared to a play or novel,” says Hitchcock. “It is closer to a short story, which, as a rule, sustains one idea that culminates when the action has reached the highest point of the dramatic curve. As you know, a short story is rarely put down in the middle, and in this sense it resembles a film. And it is because of this peculiarity that there must be a steady development of the plot and the creation of gripping situations....”

Think about it. A poker tournament “sustains one idea,” that is, the efforts of all to claim every last chip and be the winner. In other words, all of the action or “gripping situations” that happen -- while perhaps meaningful in different ways to the individual players -- necessarily also contribute to that single “point” of it all, i.e., to determine a winner. Thus is the tourney like a short story.

A cash game, meanwhile, might have lots of different “ideas” that interact in complicated ways, depending on the disparate approaches taken to the game by the players. A “theme” might well emerge (e.g., the game is especially “loose”) that perhaps gives some coherence to it all and helps one interpret the various scenes and characters. But in the end, there can be lots of different ideas that come into play before the “action has reached the highest point of the dramatic curve.”

And, importantly, you can always stop in the middle, if you like.

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Blogger Jennifer said...

I wanted you to know that I loved "Burial Detail" and was intrigued all the way through. Great story! (I loved Same Difference as well.)

Thanks for being an inspiration at a time in my life that I am actively seeking writers and friends who inspire. You fit both categories.

10/06/2010 11:43 AM  
Blogger Dr. Pauly said...

I'd love to see the extended version of Burial Detail, but that's a biased version coming from your #1 fan.

10/06/2010 12:53 PM  
Blogger alexandra said...

awesome post!

10/07/2010 10:18 AM  

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