Monday, April 12, 2010

In the Memory of Ruins

One of the things I've always enjoyed in fiction is the creation by authors of meta-texts, texts that don't exist but which take on a life of their own and become thought of as real by readers. H. P. Lovecraft's The Necronomicon is perhaps the best know of these creations, but there is also The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, and The Book of Counted Sorrows by Dean Koontz, and many others.

In Cold in the Light, I tried to create such a meta text. I called it "In the Memory of Ruins." Each chapter of the book starts with a short, five line epigraph, ostensibly from "In the Memory of Ruins." Together these chapter headings tell a story within a story. Put together they reveal a secondary tale that has no direct relationship to the primary one of the novel.

Here's a couple of sample's of "In the Memory of Ruins."

Marble statues lay flat under a sky of bruise-
blue, toppled by one long winter after another.
Even the massive towers bent down their stones,
like shoulders curved by the weight of labors.
There were many places to hide.
--In the Memory of Ruins

On every side of him swirled colorless
petals from dead flowers, their beauty
leached by evil. And he raced among
them unaware, as behind him they grew
black limbs and began to scuttle.
--In the Memory of Ruins

Have you ever done anything like this in your own writing? Do you like this sort of thing? Can you think of other such meta-texts that I haven't mentioned here?


Cloudia said...

My name is Ozymandez.....

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I love it-love your prose.

I've done it just in even shorter passages but its a concept I like so much I am going to keep doing it--so that there will be some type of far-reaching mythos touching on a number of my tales however spread out they are through time and space.

Again I really liked those snippets of yours.

Bernita said...

Yes, I like meta-texts very much.Much. For me, much value added.Always gives me a little secret thrill.
I like your examples. Much. And their title. Excellent.
Funny, am fooling around with just that idea in a WIP, thought the exact method hasn't coalesced yet.

Steve Malley said...

I generally enjoy these meta-books, though I've never tried one myself.

I'm really glad there's going to be a CitL sequel! :D

Steve Malley said...

I generally enjoy these meta-books, though I've never tried one myself.

I'm really glad there's going to be a CitL sequel! :D

G. B. Miller said...

I haven't tried one myself, although the closet I've come was using the same characters and scenes from my first self-pubbed book in my 85% completed second W.i.P.

Which if you think about it, really can't compare to what you're describing.

Angie said...

I think Frank Herbert is the master of metatext -- Princess Irulan wrote like twenty books which were quoted pretty extensively in the Dune series.

It's a cool device, but I haven't used it yet. (One of these days.) Closest I came was having a character in a story write a poem. It was a simplistic little piece of doggerel, but it was supposed to be a simplistic little piece of doggerel, so that works. :)


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Not only is the whole book a kind of meta-text, it makes reference to a meta-video!

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, interesting choice.

David J. West, thanks. I really enjoy this kind of thing too.

Bernita, yes, great example. That may have been the first place I encountered it.

Steve, the plot is partially done for that.

G, it's worth having some fun with.

Angie, doing it for Cold in the Light was quite a lot of work but it also gave me great satisifaction.

Scott said...


I've always enjoyed meta-texts...don't forget "Nameless Cults" that appeared in REH stories. I also liked your use of it in CITL.

I may have to try my hand at it one of these days.

Richard Prosch said...

Great post. I enjoy the concept a great deal. Would love to give a try.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scott, I figured one of my REH buddies would mention Nameless Cults. I enjoyed doing it in CITL.

Richard, I think it's a concept where you can go small or go big. And I like how it seems to enhance the realism of a work.

Lana Gramlich said...

I love it, myself. You're the master, of course. ;)

Greg said...

I remember those passages -- they did a nice job of setting the mood for the chapters.

I can't think of any other meta-texts like that, but I'm sure there are some more. King probably did something like that at some point, right?

Are you thinking about putting those passages together into a collection?

Angie said...

Oh, and Heinlein! The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, which were eventually collected and published separately.


fairyhedgehog said...

I've never done this in anything I've written but I love it in books I read.

laughingwolf said...

yup, all good!

i've not tried it, but it's an excellent way to add additional flavor to tales

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana Gramlich, of course my dear. You just keep telling me that.

Greg Schwartz, I'm not sure about King. I'll have to look. In a way, Misery has a meta text in it. Straub did something kind of similar with Ghost story. I haven't thought of a collection of those passages but now I am.

Angie, good one. I had forgotten about him.

fairyhedgehog, I do too. It's just a great fun thing.

laughingwolf, agreed.

the walking man said...

I like the met text idea but nope never tried it. I just ain't that creative to be honest with you to write a book within a book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

THE HAIR OF HAROLD ROUX did this. I wonder if anyone remembers it today.

BernardL said...

Great excerpt. I got nothin' on the meta-text. I thought meta-text was just writing reflecting on writing. If it's more like the creation of a Necronomicon then I guess some of the ancient books Robert E. Howard mentions in his Conan stories would qualify.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, depending on how its done, it can be simple or complicated. At the simplest, just suggesting the existence of such a text counts.

pattinase, I don't know that one. Will have to look it up.

BernardL, yes, Howard did it a few times, particularly in his Chtulhu mythos stories where he played off of HPL's Necronomicon.

Voidwalker said...

I really liked your reference to the shoulders curved from labor. That was a GREAT line!

As for the meta-text thing, I've seen some books ascend from mere fiction to what people believe is fact, simply because the author weaves in so many tidbits of reality. I think people tend to instigate that transition though more than the author meant it to do that. In a way, all the extra attention turns out to help the book sell and almost becomes a marketing gimmick.

Clare2e said...

I've never done it, but not because of love. Just fear.

Actually, a friend's MS I just read uses the author-heroine's non-fiction draft of events she's investigating to provide a different slant on backstory. I love the device, and think it's cool that your has its own, independent arc.

Travis Cody said...

I haven't been bold enough to try this in my own writing, but I do enjoy it in certain kinds of fiction. Some of my favorite meta-text usage comes in books by David & Leigh Eddings.

They have managed to create an entire mythology surrounding the world in which the story events unfold. Some of it has actually been published in the form of two additional novels that fill out back story, as well as in a Codex volume that explains certain legends and prophecies.

Heff said...

I didn't know there was gonna be a test !

sage said...

can't say that I have ever tried this trick--but it's a good idea and it will keep your readers trying to figure out the hidden meanings behind the text.

G. B. Miller said...

I just remembered that Robert Jordan's unwieldy series The Wheel of Time is loaded ith meta-text.

I believe that almost every single chapter/section has meta-context contained within.

And you're right, it does sound like it's worth having fund with.

Charles Gramlich said...

Voidwalker, I think sometimes folks just throw stuff in without giving it much thought, but a lot of times it's a technique, and it can be used with music or other things, that enhances the sense of reality of the world.

Clare2e, I'm also sure that it lends itself better to certain genres than others. It seems to work very nicely in fantasy and horror.

Travis, I have a bunch of the early Eddings books but haven't read them. I should give them a try.

Heff, but if you fail the test you just get more time to drink beer. BTW, I took pics of my last great meal at a restruant and plan to publish them ala Heff at some point.

sage, I think readers like to do that anyway. At least some do. I know I enjoy it.

G, I sort of figured Jordan would have done that in his book. Of course Tolkien did it a lot. But I haven't read the Wheel of Time so wasn't sure.

Drizel said...

Havent done it before.
Don't know if I like it, kinda in two minds, it serves its purpose.
Cant really think of any right now.
Love yours:)
Have a great day:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Etain, I suppose it could be misused and probably has. I've mostly enjoyed it when I've come across it.

Michelle's Spell said...

Love this, but haven't tried it myself. I enjoy it in Love Warps The Mind A Little (John Dufresne) and a lot of John Irving novels.

X. Dell said...

(1) When reading CitL, I Googled "In the Memory of Ruins." I thought you might have canibalized it from an earlier work. If memory serves, I found a short story with that title, or with a similar title.

(2) How could you omit The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

(3) I've created meta-texts in the form of songs, television shows and websites. No books, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

Michelle, I haven't read Irving but I intend to. Will keep an eye out.

X-Dell, Of course The Hitchhiker's guide is a good example. As for the title, I published a short story "In the Ruins of Memory," and there has been a poem entitled "In the Memory of Ruins" that I've had published. I first came up with the "in the ruins of memory" when I was like a teenager and have played around with it quite a bit since then.

Leigh Russell said...

I've never come across meta-texts before. I don't think I'd be able to write one, but I loved reading the ones you posted here. Poetry rather than prose?

Charles Gramlich said...

Leigh, it doesn't have to be poetry, although it often is.

L.A. Mitchell said...

The only one I can think of recently is the phantom text Love Letters of Great Men. Huge, huge, media attention.

Erik Donald France said...

I think meta texts are really cool -- as is yours here. Will ponder for more examples.

Charles Gramlich said...

L. A., how did I miss that one.

Erik, I enjoy them for sure.

cs harris said...

They are an intriguing concept, adding to the sense of a reality that exists beyond the book. Never used the device myself. I think they work best as poetry, and I can't write poetry.

What's this about a Cold in the Light sequel?