Levity with Brevity

My copy of Flash Nonfiction Funny cometh!

I hope the wait’s as brief as the material—rib-tickling bites of 750 words or less compiled by editors Tom Hazuka and Dinty W. Moore (yes). As the book makes its way to my doorstep, I’m looking at the anthology’s 71 contributors (including myself) and the first name to catch my eye: Chris Offut.

Three years ago, I was inspired by his piece in the New York Times Magazine about the life of one prolific pornographic novelist, Chris’ father Andrew Offut.

I wrote then about the younger Offut’s thoughts on clearing out his father’s office, a deep mine of material gathered during a lifetime that produced over 400 novels. It’s a glimpse into the mass-production of literature.

A bleeder myself—carving and re-carving words, agonizing over sentences and paragraphs, cutting and moving whole pages for YEARS before the work approximates a novel—I was astounded at the prospect of churning out a book in three days.

Offut describes the process in detail: brainstorm an idea, write the first chapter, develop an outline and follow it carefully, composing in longhand with a felt-tip pen. Offut goes on:

His goal was a minimum of a book a month. To achieve that, he refined his methods further, inventing a way that enabled him to maintain a supply of raw material with a minimum of effort. He created batches in advance — phrases, sentences, descriptions and entire scenes on hundreds of pages organized in three-ring binders. Tabbed index dividers separated the sections into topics.

Dad was like Henry Ford applying principles of assembly-line production with pre-made parts… Ford hired a team of workers to manufacture a Model-T in hours. Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days.

The article gives us much more than reflections on process. It also touches on—and moved me deeply with—a father’s estrangement from his children as they grew older.

When we were young, Dad played board games with us, taught us poker, hearts, and spades. He had a vast capacity to make us laugh. We adored him and begged him to play games after supper. He made our evenings fun. But as we got older and more mature, Dad remained the same. The humor slipped away from his oft-repeated gags. His deliberate naughtiness — when a dice roll came up six, he’d call it ‘sex’ — evolved to outright sexual comments that produced a strained silence instead of laughter. Dad missed his attentive audience, but the old ways no longer worked. One by one we did the worst thing possible: We ignored him. I believe this hurt him deeply, in a way he didn’t fully comprehend and we certainly could not fathom.

I have no idea what Offut’s contribution to Woodhall Press’s Flash Nonfiction Funny looks like. But given the range of his experience and material, I can’t wait to find out.




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