In today’s ORIGINS, Andy Devine discusses the origins of WORDS (Publishing Genius Press, 2010), his first book. His alphabetical fiction and essays have appeared in a variety of literary magazines, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, elimae, Everyday Genius, and Taint. In 2002, Devine was awarded the Riddley Walker Prize (for a work that ignores conventional rules of grammar and punctuation). In 2007, he published his first chapbook, “As Day Same That the the Was Year” (Publishing Genius). In 2009, Devine was awarded The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award (for fiction in the face of adversity). Andy Devine Avenue—in Flagstaff, Arizona— is named after him.
I had never written anything before I wrote “Words that Shouldn’t Be Used in Fiction, a Selection”—not fiction or essays, just notes and letters, things like that—but I started writing out of a sense of disgust. I was reading a lot of contemporary fiction, trying to read a lot of contemporary fiction, and was disgusted by it. I was marking out words, tearing out pages, throwing books away, and eventually I started making a list of the words that offended me. It was kind of satisfying. When I think about the novels and the short stories that generated that initial list, it still makes me smile.
After the “Shouldn’t” list, the list for “Words You Should Use in Fiction, a Selection” became necessary. I didn’t want the idea to be one of just exclusion. I wanted to offer a solution, a beginning place.
These lists were both implicit critiques of contemporary fiction—the idea that word choice was one of the initial points of failure for so much fiction. That led to the essays on prepositions and metaphors, which turned into the section called “A Grammar for Fiction Writers.” The jump to the alphabetical stories was obvious after that—the 90K-word novel condensed to 20 pages less so.
With the fiction, I feel my way through the language alphabetically. The words scroll through my mind on a kind of ticker. I sound them out until the piece feels full, until I cannot put another word in or take a word out. Particular words gain attention through their accumulation or, sometimes, because they are singular or part of a particular string.
(from WORDS, Publishing Genius Press, 2010)
A, a, and, and, and, and, and, anything, at, aunt’s, away, backseat, brother, brother, burial, but, buy, California, cemetery, did, didn’t, dining, drove, each, else, family, family, father, father, father, for, four, from, front, got, her, him his, house, house, house, huge, hung, I, in, in, in, in, in, in, included, it, its, keep, know, laid, let, lived, make, me, me, might, mother, mother, mother, mother, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, of, of, of, of, of, Ohio, old, on, one, or, or, our, outside, pack, plots, portrait, response, room, sat, seat, separated, side, suitcase, summer, that, that, that, the, the, the, the, the, the, the, then, there, think, this, three, to, to, to, together, took, until, up, us, was, was, was, way, we, we, we, we, we, were, what, when, where, with, years, ,, ., ., ., ., ., ., ., ..