The Cultural Influences behind American Fables

During a conversation with my editor, when he was asking me why American Fables (the second novella in my triptych-novel Gnarly Wounds) was structured the way it is, it occurred to me that other people might also be interested in knowing the story behind the unconventional style of that book. The purpose for the aesthetics of the other two novellas in Gnarly Wounds seems fairly easy to intuit, but not so for American Fables, which, despite being relatively easy to read, strikes most readers as a bit startling at first. So, to help make a bit more sense of it, I’ve decided to provide some background about the two cultural phenomena that had fairly even hands in inspiring me to write it the way I did.

The first influence was totally random. I was watching television one night, something I do rather sparingly, and stumbled across an episode (?) of Lost that I at first suspected to be the result of broadcast technical difficulties, but which I later concluded was an intentional effort to summarize the entire preceding season in the form of a one-hour composite, probably intended to bring casual viewers up to speed on an already puzzling plot. I don’t usually have the patience to sit through an hour of what passes for television entertainment, but this particular format had me engrossed. It moved so damn fast, essentially burning through an episode every couple minutes, tossing all pretense of narrative foreplay aside. I said to myself, “That is pure narrative. I’m going to do that too.” In fact, the working title of American Fables was “Pure,” and you can still find traces of that working title/concept scattered throughout the final version.

The second major influence on American Fables was the work of Norwegian cartoonist John Arne Saeteroy (know primarily by his pen name “Jason”). My profound appreciation of his oeuvre, which contains both the minimal simplicity of three-panel narratives as well as polyvalent, ouroborian narratives that swallow themselves repeatedly and contain doors within doors within doors, inspired me to attempt an adaptation of these modes to a literary medium by creating a fractal narrative consisting of three-frame (paragraph/stanza) narratives, linked to one another in an expanding manner, employing a variety of match cuts to seamlessly transition between scenes that are often quite distant in time and/or space, thus creating my own polyvalent effect without losing the reader. I also allowed myself to use conventional cartoon elements, such as anthropomorphic characters, as does Saeteroy.

There were a number of other influences involved in the creation of American Fables (The Iliad, for example), but these two were the engendering ones that gave birth to the concepts that nourished the book through completion.

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