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The Life of the Author
Pasha Malla

With the launch of his first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, just around the corner, Pasha Malla, is very much alive, but is "The Author" dead? That's what he wants to know. Read on to find out how you can tell him.


 

Is the author dead? I am the author of these words and I am not dead. But one day I will die, and then I will be dead. But in the meantime: not. In the meantime I am here, alive, and available for questions or comments.

 

~

 

A particular dead author is unhappy. His books have been co-opted by a certain intellectual movement. They are being used for purposes the dead author had not intended: dissertations, theses. At conferences scholars form panels to discuss his work. For the sake of academic debate, they have agreed not to use the words, "I like this" or "I feel". The scholars are innovative, in their way: they invent words to answer questions they also invent. They answer one another’s invented questions with invented words and nod and nod and nod; afterward, drinks. But what can the dead author do? He thrashes in his grave. A few plots over lies the Door Jim Morrison with a grin from ear to ear.

 

~

 

Another dead author is a ghost. He haunts the small house where he wrote his novels, sad and lonely and semi-transparent. The local tourism bureau has caught wind of this and operates tours of the house for tourists. The tourists are led by a guide. In groups they traipse from roped-off room to roped-off room and the tourists peer into the shadows and listen to the guide, who has memorized a script about the house. Some take photographs, hoping to catch the dead author’s ghost floating around. They expect ghosts to be something that come screaming out of the walls with mouths full of blood, or to at least to hear the clanking of chains – but these are clichés the dead author would never dignify. Instead, the dead author hovers in the attic, holding his translucent head in his translucent hands, waiting to be left alone.

 

~


A living author is dying. She has written, over time, many stories based on her own life. These are very good stories, and she worries that they will be taught in schools as examples of plot, setting and character, etcetera. “Here is the climax,” a teacher might say, and underline a single sentence. “This is the most important part of the story.” The author worries about that single sentence, that it will be a moment in her life which in reality passed without resonance. Or, worse: that she had invented, that had never happened at all.


~

 

Pasha Malla's The Withdrawal Method launches May 28, 2008, at This Is Not A Reading Series

Two dead poets are friends, in an ethereal way. They fear that their work and they themselves are being slowly forgotten. Their souls are even more tortured in death than they were in life, which is to say only slightly tortured; neither ever conformed to archetype. Both enjoyed ice hockey and had nice families they took to the beach. But being dead and slowly forgotten is difficult. The dead poets wrote books of poetry with the hope of leaving something of themselves on the earth, some record of their existence and contribution to humankind. But now their books are being remaindered and dumped into $1 bins on the sidewalks in front of bookstores. Their books are being sold in thrift shops by weight. Their books are being used to prop things up or as bookends for other, newer books. In death the dead poets share feelings of impotence. What can they do? If only they’d written how-to guides on something to do with computers or money. If only sonnets hadn’t lured them so.

 

~

 

A dead author is being summoned by Ouija board. Why? The group doing this is teenagers. They are eleventh graders and have been assigned one of the dead author’s books in school. As homework, their teacher has asked them to identify the book’s theme, but the teenagers are not clear what this entails, or even where to begin. And so they have collected in a basement and resorted to the black arts. The dead author’s book lies nearby; it is being used as a sort of conduit, a device through which they hope to channel the dead author’s spirit. The teenagers sit in a circle with their fingers on a triangle of plastic, waiting for something to happen. “Are you there?” one of the teenagers asks the dead author. It takes a while, but the triangle slides to the letter Y, meaning, “Yes.” The teenagers are not sure if one of them is responsible for this, but they go with it. They have no choice. They need to pass their class and go to university and get good jobs and die, assumingly, happy. They need to believe.

 

~

 

It is doubtful that anyone will read this after I am dead. Even while I am still around, a readership beyond my immediate family and a few ex-coworkers even seems a stretch. But if you have read this far, would you like to talk about it now? My phone number is 416-871-7340. Seriously. That is my real phone number and you are welcome to call me. Unless I am otherwise occupied, I will answer. Feel free to just swear and hang up. That would be totally fine – certainly better than no response at all.

 

~

 

But now I am feeling that nothing I have typed here, in this space, is that interesting or inflammatory, or funny, or sad, or insightful, or anything. I find myself wondering what I have written that would warrant any reaction. Nothing, probably. And having provided my phone number, I am now afraid that I will not get any calls from anyone. Who would want to call me? Even the lonely, even the desperate probably have better things to do. I can already picture myself with a printed-out copy of this text, sitting in my living room, staring at the phone as the hours tick by, waiting in silence for it to ring. — Pasha Malla (May 2008)


PASHA MALLA is a writer whose work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, including Journey Prize Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Toronto Noir and GreenTOpia. He is the founder of Now Hear This!, a writers-in-schools program run through Descant magazine, and has edited an all-Canadian edition of Hobart. Snare Books will publish All our grandfathers are ghosts, a collection of his poems, in 2008. Malla lives in Toronto.

 

(Photo courtesy of House of Anansi Press.)