January 19, 2005

Interesting Blog: Dancing on Fly Ash

There’s a lot of lousy fiction being put online these days, but there’s bright, vigorous stuff too, written by gifted young (mostly) people indifferent to the demands of the publishing establishment. If we’re lucky, it will turn out to be our equivalent of the indie rock and indie movies of the 1990s: energetic, fresh, uneven, and evidence that the creative animal will unstoppably burrow new tunnels when the old tunnels have collapsed.

An example is the blog called DANCING ON FLY ASH, put out by two twenty-something guys from Saginaw, Michigan named Matt Bell and Josh Maday. Each story on this blog is 100 words or less—a challenging exercise for the writer and a quick bite for the story–hungry reader. The tight word limit doesn’t read like a gimmick: the stories for the most part occupy their confined quarters comfortably, giving sharply elliptical glimpses of lives beset by anguish and longing. Sometimes it’s remarkable how much detail they can fit in without sacrificing readability.

Josh has a ten-part series entitled “Interview with a Dealer in Celebrity Memorabilia” which reminds me of J. G. Ballard (himself an experimenter with very short forms) in its vision of contemporary life as a prefab ruin. His stories often put cultural icons—Mozart, Elvis, Neitzsche, Kierkegaard, Madonna—or sometimes stand-ins who resemble them—through the paces of quirky, ultimately humanistic, fantasies.

Matt’s newest story, “The Anorexics’ Ball,” is a witty and bleak commentary on modern mores. Some of his recent stories, such as “The Potter’s Defense,” and “New American Language?” deal ironically yet sympathetically with the discovery of banality at the end of an arduous search for self-expression. “All the Words Are Lies, All the Songs Are True” is a bittersweet portrait of a has-been rock star.

Two craftsmen putting themselves through a rigorous self–imposed apprenticeship, and we get to watch them grow.