Saturday, September 15, 2012

All Writers Should Be Funny-Looking and All Stories Should Be Funny

'Mr. Lafferty says, "I'm the fellow who, for more than a quarter century, has faithfully maintained the thesis that all writers should be funny-looking and all stories should be funny.  Almost all of the evil in the world is brought about by handsome writers doing pompous pieces.  But sometimes readers tell me that such a story of mine is not funny at all.  'Wait, wait,' I tell them.  'You're holding it upside-down.  Now try it.'  And sure enough it is funny if they get ahold of it right.  This caution is especially applicable to the story 'Junkyard Thoughts.'  Be sure you're not holding it upside-down or it will be merely bewildering."'

Introduction to 'Junkyard Thoughts' by R. A. Lafferty in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, February 1986

13 comments:

Andrew said...

As with "Something Rich & Strange," we can thank Gardner Dozois for this one seeing the light of day. Ray going back to his mystery roots.

News coming soon.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I'm blown away how many Lafferties there are in Asimov's in the 80s. He's supposed to have faded out of the s.f. mainstream in that era, but he had quite a run in this mag during that decade. Great stuff too.

And this quote needs to be spread round more!

(Look forward to the news.)

Kevin Cheek said...

I love this quote! I have been reading it to all my friends and family (they're used to me by now, and almost expect me to insert Laffertisms into every conversation).

Now I have to find and read the story.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I know, Kevin! I was sharing it with tons of people I know too! Classic.

Also, I just read the story last night and loved it. It reminded me a lot of the feel of Three Shadows of the Wolf in that it seems to be another sort of preternatural mystery story.

Philip said...

Although it has nothing to do with anything here, this is a note to leet people know that a copy of the three volumes of More than Melcisedech can be found at http://www.coldtonnage.com/?CLSN_3127=1348204054312781fd9fc2c70eb6f3ab&keyword=lafferty&searchby=author&page=shop%2Fbrowse&fsb=1. Cost is £225 which is a lot but not a bad price.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks for the tip, Philip! You're right, that's a great price. If I had that kind of extra cash, I'd snatch 'em up in a heartbeat! Here's hoping to see them being re-issued at affordable price in the next decade or so!

Antonin Scriabin said...

This is a great sentiment from Lafferty. I must say though, I was surprised at how much darker and horror-oriented Strange Doings was compared to some of his other works. It was funny at times, for sure, but it was significantly less light-hearted than, for example, Nine Hundred Grandmothers.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Good point, Antonin. I've increasingly seen 'horror' as one of the main genres that Lafferty is working in. In fact, now that you've noticed it in Strange Doings, I bet if you go back and re-read 900 Grandmothers, you'll find there was a whole lot more of it there than you'd noticed the first time. (And as he warns in the quote above, even the story at hand, 'Junkyard Thoughts', is quite dark and has sort of a horror ending. Apparently, you have to, as he says, get ahold of it right to see that it's funny.)

Lafferty seems to me to have essentially been something like a 'horror comedy' writer (not in the sense that might bring to mind from movies of that sort of genre). Some of his stories are darkly comic 'jeremiads', warning of and bemoaning loss of our humanity due to spiritual and cultural forces Lafferty saw diminishing us. Some of it is more 'carnivalesque', which is hopeful, a sort of grotesque rebirthing and redemption. (Andrew Ferguson's dissertation 'Lafferty and His World' helpfully unpacks the carnivalesque in Lafferty's fiction - easily found by googling it.)

Lafferty's complex for sure!

Philip said...

Again no respect for context but here is an article on Lafferty I was unaware of: http://efanzines.com/SFC/ScratchPad/scrat023.pdf.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the link Philip--I ran across this one in the Liverpool archives but only had a photocopy of it.

I find it a bit limited, sadly—Don Webb's short piece from the same year on "Effective Arcanum" is much meatier; Roman Orszanski's piece on "The Sound of Lafferty" covers the same ground with more depth; and Sheryl Smith's explication of the "Easterwine" structure makes mockery of her claim (and Clute's, incidentally) that the book is in any way incoherent.

(Really, I don't get why so many otherwise good readers are so bound up with the idea that plot is the sole possible organizing principle for a novel. Why shouldn't it be idea based? The preference for plot over all else is an invention of the last 200 years or so, yet it seems ineradicable.)

Still, as an appreciation and celebration of what hooks many into Lafferty, and brings them back for more, it does its job.

Kevin said...

OK, utterly off topic here: I just read "Golden Gate" the title story of Golden Gate and Other Stories (Thank God for interlibrary loan--this is signed copy number 742/1000). Quick question and observation on the story: Is there a thematic similarity between "Golden Gate" and "Continued on Next Rock?" At the end "Golden Gate" implies that it is a melodrama that will be tried out time and time again and has perhaps been going on for a very long time--a conflict of personifications of Good and Evil. "Continued on Next Rock" is about the unrequited love story that plays out time and time again through all past and future history. In "Continued on Next Rock" the focus is more on the timeless repetition, while in golden Gate, the focus is on the melodrama and the passion. The timelessness is only implied.

Just some off the top of the head thoughts.

Kevin said...

Almost 6 months since the last comment. We be slackin'!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I know, Kevin, it's a disgrace! I apologise heartily as the alleged blogger here! But see the latest post just up!

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)