Smoke Signals

Once I've finished something I feel detached from it, almost as if it were written by someone else. It's like something actively blocks a particular type of memory from allowing me to feel responsible for it. So when a of my novel Smoke appeared in New Haven Review, it seemed as if the review it were about something other than my novel. This is not a knock on the reviewer, however, since what I experienced—and expressed to the reviewer—was my sensation of reading the review. This strangeness of sensation has much to do with the way I wrote Smoke, or better, what technology I used to write it. Had I written this novel twenty years ago, I’d have an office full of paper drafts and scratched-through pages. And, knowing me, I’d probably have them “filed” in a way that made sense to me, which I would have kept up on as part of the work. There’d be a massive paper trail of my hand-written trains of thought. The neuropathy of the process would be slower and vastly different. This method, process, train of thought, as it were, would provide more steeping time. The result, I think, would be a more “rational” text.

Of course, I wrote Smoke just a couple years ago on a computer with an Internet connection. So I had instant access to an unbelievable library to research chaos and string theories and deep ecology, etc. & et al., and could copy and paste and re-write at lightning speed, edit and delete, and so on, but in the end have no paper trail, no record or “train” of thought, only an end product constructed in such a way that hopefully somehow reflects this negation of memory. The result seems a form of nihilism to the old rationalistic approach to writing a text. Not only is narrative story an illusion, but the process from which it emerges is also an illusion, an unreliable memory where everything seems part of an intuitive fictioning process. And what happens in the end is simply the method or stream or whatever runs dry and dies and goes away. It often has the same effect, due to the speed of its occurrence, as waking from a dream. A text is a fossilized form of a living dream. The waking is literally a separation from the mind into the body, from the text into the self.

Proust once wrote something along the lines of—if memory serves right—as time passes by every lie we’ve ever told gradually becomes true. I’m sure I butchered that, and who knows the translation I read may have butchered the French, and I can’t remember or find where the quote came from, so the whole thing is probably a fiction. But the point is that every day I sit down to write fiction, I do so assuming I’m already a critically acclaimed literary genius. It’s a useful fiction, but then to read the first review of my first novel and have it be so positive, gave reality to the sensation of being fiction, which I’ve long theorized it actually is. The out-of-body experience of reading this review was, in a sense, anecdotal verification of my pre-existing convictions. That feeling is transcendent, or one step beyond the normal bounds of experience. Put quite frankly, for a delusional narcissist like me to be told I’m not so delusional fosters an out-of-delusion delusion that's a hell of a lot of fun…a transcendent joke on everything.

So this review was not so much out of body as into mind, like a dream beyond the memories that Smoke still speaks to me.

Finally, I’ll mention the writer’s paradox, which my late, great mentor Raymond Federman stated this way: “All writers are liars; I am a writer.” And I weave tangled webs everyday that I’m guaranteed to forget tomorrow. So in the end it will always seem someone or something else puffed out that Smoke…those signals, or whatever else I may write today or yesterday.

Chuck Richardson's fiction has appeared in Thieves Jargon, Mayday Magazine and BlazeVOX , which published his novel, Smoke. His next novel, So It Seams, will be published next year.