Bob Schofield Discusses The Inevitable June and His Sad-Cartoon-Apocalypse Aesthetic

Bob Schofield is a writer and artist. He first showed up on my radar when theNewerYork sent me a digital file of his book The Inevitable June, which I described as “the kind of thing that we need more of; not a gimmick or a hybrid, but something new.” I’m still not sure what the book is, but I dig it. Bob was kind enough to talk to me over a series of emails about his work. Read some of Bob’s work at his website. Read my review of The Inevitable June here. Read our discussion below.

Biblioklept: What is The Inevitable June?

Bob Schofield: The Inevitable June is a collection of 30 surreal short prose pieces, one for every day in June, intercut with black and white illustrations. The drawings don’t always correspond to the text, and there isn’t really much of a coherent “story” per se, but there is certainly momentum and direction. The book definitely goes somewhere, though I’m not sure where exactly that “somewhere” is.

I kind of just wanted to build a little world that mirrored my imagination. A kind of scale-model. So I wanted it to be a little cold and sad and spooky and, hopefully, also fun. Like some kind of weird, floppy theme park made of bound paper squares.

Biblioklept: How did you compose that “scale-model”? Did you have an outline from the outset?

Schofield: There were a few structural “rules” I came up with, and the rest I sort of made up as I went. Like I knew I’d have thirty pieces total, and they’d all be titled for successive days in June. It’s funny, a lot of the momentum in the book just comes from that progression of calendar days. I guess we’re just culturally wired to feel like we’re going somewhere when we see those days slide by. But in the book it’s all relatively arbitrary, and if you were to take the days away as titles, things would feel a lot more meandering.

Photograph of Bob Schofield by Alex Broadwell
Photograph of Bob Schofield by Alex Broadwell

My other big structural decision was to start every piece with “This morning,” which would become a kind of refrain throughout the book. I kind of thought of it a bit like a dinner bell, indicating one course of the meal was over, and we were moving on to the next.

Then as I was writing all the individual pieces, I’d cherry pick certain images and phrases I liked, and then be sure to repeat them later on. That way the reader’s brain would kind of light up as they recognized parts of a pattern, even though the pattern wasn’t really saying anything specific. I think that kind of thing is important when you don’t have a more familiar storytelling structure to rely on. You need to give the reader something to hold on to.

And for myself as writer, all these patterns and rules gave me just as much of an anchor. It meant I wasn’t just spinning off into some sort of insane, incomprehensible word soup. I’d always be aware that I’d have to wrap things up at some point, and move on to the next “day.”

Biblioklept: Your book The Last Days of Tokyo shares some of the anchoring features you mention—beginning each page with the phrase “On the last day of Tokyo,” for example, and the image of a salaryman fleeing in horror, his face an echo of Munch’s The Scream.

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theNewerYork, a Worthy Alternative to Your iPhone

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Like many (maybe most) Americans, my first impulse when I have to wait somewhere is to pull out my smart phone and dick around. I like to dick around on Twitter, which often leads me to stuff that I scan or gaze or graze through, with a kind of distracted, even half-hearted, attention. Because I’m also attending to something else—the waiting.

I had to wait, or be patient, or be a patient, or what have you several times last month, and each time I brought with me the newest or forthcomingest issue of theNewerYork—issue 3 (or III, depending on press materials). It fits neatly in my pocket and most of the pieces are a page at most—a perfect alternative to my iPhone, with none of the eye-deadening numbness that so often happens with long binges on a tiny screen.

theNewerYork describes itself as

a weird sort of literary mag. Our rule: no short stories, no poetry, no essays. We want to play around with literary form and narration, we want to screw with your mind! There will be personal letters, flash-fictions, glossaries, aphorisms, manuals, lists and other absurdities. We received over 600 submissions from all over the world. We’ve got flash fictions of sex and drugs, teenage romances, philosophical treatises, pretentious definitions, web forums, silly, sappy, scary stuff.

That’s a pretty apt description. To hijack and cannibalize my write-up of the last issue, theNewerYork’s “willingness to showcase experimentation in what goes on paper for people to look at and read is both a strength and a weakness.” This third issue sees an all-around increase in quality, from the production design, to the art, to the writing.

Highlights include Panayotis Pakos’s “Les Innumerables (A Binary Tale),” a Calvinoesque flash that imagines the dream-life of numbers, and Shane Jesse Christmass’s “My Delicate Response to a Child’s Writing Prompt Website” (quick sample: “If there were no television I’d beach my television set down within the dunes…”). Zach Davidson’s “Unstandardized Testing” claims (truthfully?) to present a set of scrambled questions from a trash bin; the testtaker is tasked with creating proper order (sample: “too lazy to do lazy something you are if you are still?”)

The most affecting piece in the collection is Anton Nimblett’s “Show & Tell: An American Game,” an analysis posing as a chronology. I’ll share only the nineteenth century portion, and, at the risk of spoiling, let you know that the story ends with the line “Show birth certificate (again, again, again).”

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The list-form, along with (or combined with) the second-person POV seems a favorite for “experimental” fiction, which can occasionally be grating (but only when it doesn’t work)—but most of the pieces here work. And if they don’t, there’s something coming up that does.

Despite the disparate tones, approaches, and geographies of its contributors, theNewerYork coheres—the little magazine has a clear (if discursive vision). Good stuff. Check out their website for more. 

theNewerYork #2 Reviewed

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TheNewerYork is a new little magazine or journal or whatever you want to call it, featuring short fiction, poetry, art, lists, labels, fake reviews, and other stuff. Issue #2, clocking in at just over 80 pages fits neatly into a man’s jacket pocket and can be read in queues or at red lights or in between other readings or discreetly during end of semester faculty meetings. (I’m pretty sure you could read it in other occasions but I didn’t). You can see the front cover above; here’s the back cover, featuring this worrisome promise:

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Maybe the best way to summarize (what I take to be) theNewerYork’s aesthetic/literary mission is to show off the issue’s disclaimer (which is preceded by a fancy Foucault quote):

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“You won’t like some of this work” seems like a fair warning, but theNewerYork is more hit than miss, starting with its excellent opener, ‘The Thank You War” by Elliot L. Ackerman, a four-paragraph flash that tackles how would-be patriotic citizens bungle human relationships with returning soldiers. Also very good is Jamie Grefe’s list “Over Thirteen,” which is a lovely little horror story that makes meaningful use of the reader’s imagination. Another list, Bruce Harris’s “Nearly A Dozen Things Sherlock Holmes Never Said” made me laugh (sample: “Watson, you’re right.”)

One of my favorite pieces in the volume is “Not a Writer” by Joseph Rathberger (indexed as “A Put Down”). You can see it below, filling up a page; you can also see the art that precedes it and the nifty bookmark that comes with the issue:

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Most of the art in the issue is black and white and all of it is varied (in style and in quality). Here is Food Poop by Shaina Yang:

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TheNewerYork’s willingness to showcase experimentation in what goes on paper for people to look at and read is both a strength and a weakness. Most of the pieces succeed, even when they shouldn’t (why is a Google translation from “Baby Got Back” from English to Latin and then back into English so funny?). The pieces in the issue that don’t succeed fail on their own terms: half-formed or poorly executed ideas, the occasionally gimmicky experiment, and, thankfully more rarely, pieces that feel too imitative. But like I said, most of the texts in theNewerYork’s second issue succeed, which is to say they entertain or amuse or baffle or occasionally move the reader. What I like most about theNewerYork is its spirit, which is daring and experimental without the heavy robes of irony that often cloak these sorts of operations. A promising beginning.