science experiments on your keyboard

Guest post by Pidgeonholes editor-in-chief Nolan Liebert

I am a scientist. Sure, I’m a writer. An editor even. But those are the things I do when I’m Superman. Most of the time, though, I’m Clark Kent, except my day job deals with computers. So, first and foremost, I am a scientist. I experiment, with software, with hardware, with the grease on my bike chain, with the food in my kitchen.

Experimentation is a natural part of my life, but moreover, I see it as a necessary part of life, and an even more necessary part of sudden fiction.

When I’m reading through submissions for Pidgeonholes, I love to see experimental work. Not just because it’s exciting. Not just because it’s one of the types of fiction I specifically mention in my submission guidelines. I love to see it because it means somewhere in this digital world people are still trying to push the boundaries of art.

Escher said, “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”

Any scientific experiment is based on what has worked before and how we think the results could be verified, disputed, or even improved upon.

The fact is, some experimental pieces that don’t work.

When I’m reading through Pidgeonholes submissions or checking out the work on other zines, sometimes I’ll come across a piece that simply doesn’t make sense. Stories told entirely in numbers, pseudo-code that doesn’t work, pieces so absurd it would take an MFA years to unravel.

And that’s okay. Without pushing and crossing boundaries, any art form will stagnate. However, it’s important to remember that if you’re seeking publication your audience is no longer just you. It includes other writers and readers of various abilities of comprehension.

If you want, you can read some experimental works that have inspired me recently. Rose Lemberg has a haunting longform poem that alternates voices and is carefully crafted to include multiple styles. Or impose yourself on the communiques of a unique patient as imagined by Sea Sharp. At the end of a long day, you may want to spend some time getting your emotions tied up with a hybrid piece about a porn star/mother.

Galileo said, “See now the power of truth; the same experiment which at first glance seemed to show one thing, when more carefully examined, assures us of the contrary.”

While Galileo was certainly not talking about fiction, his words can still be applied.

With sudden fiction, much like with poetry, much is left for the reader to interpret. It is missing or is incomplete or even contains incorrect data. And these gaps, these holes in interpretation, are the foundation of building an experimental piece. I love stories that I can read over and over again, unpacking and parsing the clues the author has left me. A work that speaks to me in this way, that calls me back, is a victory for the author, for me, and for the readers I aim to deliver excellent literature to.

So, get out there and write experimental fiction and poetry. Make your lists and letters and cuneiform translations, write your obituaries in Anglish, create hyperfiction that crosses multiple websites and styles, write the story of a house using CAD software. Be surprising. Work towards mastering your craft and you will find success.

Oh, and if you use any of the above ideas, I’d love to read them!


Nolan Liebert edits Pidgeonholes, a weekly webzine of experimental and international writing. He also volunteers as a reader for freeze frame fiction. He writes short fiction and poetry that can be found littering the internet. Interacting with authors, both new and established, is important to him, so feel free to harass him on Twitter @nliebert or @pidgeonholes. You can read more about him and his work at http://nolanliebert.wordpress.com/.

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