excerpt from a manuscript in limbo

Attar sits at the table staring at his daily calculations. Sweat drips from his brow onto the parchment, mingling with the still-fresh ink, causing it to run and distort into grotesque shapes that seep across the page. Attar absently runs his index finger through the dark fluid, further smearing the neat figures into an illegible dark blot. He considers with disinterest the resulting negation of six hours of work. Crumpling the parchment he throws it on the floor, which in uncharacteristic fashion is now littered with the detritus of a listless life.

Attar’s head feels heavy, like his neck might soon fail to hold it up. With great effort he stands, shuffles to his cot and collapses upon it. Staring up through the skylight he tries doing calculations in his head but the numbers resist his manipulation. He rolls onto his side and fades into the little death.

The next morning he rises early at his usual time, feeling unrefreshed. At the oval window he stares into the garden as the morning sun burns off the remaining wisps of night mist. It will be another day like the one before it. Turning toward the table his gaze falls upon the neat stack of parchment, the pen, the inkwell. An image of Nasef as an inkpot monkey passes through his mind, causing a vague smile to grace his lips.

After breakfast Attar walks the grounds, despite his anxiety over being outside for so long. But he must at least make some effort to look for Nasef. Now is also a good time to survey potential locations for the sentinel towers. Though he cannot leave the grounds in search of Nasef he can at least commit to build those towers. And once they are built he will be able to see Nasef coming from a great distance away. For Nasef will indeed return one day. He feels certain of that.

publications update

A Set of Lines front coverA Set of Lines is now available through the Ingram distribution network, so basically from anywhere that sells books. However, it will likely only be on the physical shelves of bookstores where I sell it on consignment. Currently that includes Quimby’s in Chicago and Atomic Books in Baltimore. If you’d like to support your local bookshop you can either ask them to special order it or you can order the book from Bookshop.org, where independent bookstores receive the full profit from each sale. You can designate which store you’d like to benefit, or it will go into an earnings pool that is distributed equally among independent bookstores.

Hatred of Writing, Bunker Diaries, and Inner Harbor Field Reports have also been restocked at Quimby’s Bookstore and Atomic Books. There are order links at the bottom of both of those pages. These are the last copies, so when they sell out these titles will be out of print.

No new publications on the horizon at the moment, but maybe that will change soon. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to collaborate on writing for Ghost Paper Archives.

A Set of Lines turns one

Today is the one-year anniversary of the publication of my novel A Set of Lines. To mark the occasion I thought I would offer a little history on its genesis. In a halfhearted attempt to ‘market’ the book when the ebook edition became available, I characterized it as ‘quotidian dystopiary meets nouveau roman,’ realizing even as I did so that this descriptor would likely either repel potential readers or simply generate blank stares. Chances are, even if you know and appreciate the French literary movement known as nouveau roman (see also: antinovel) that arose in the 1950s, you are unlikely to approve of or could even conceive of its integration with dystopian genre tropes. But to me it seemed like the most accurate way to describe the book, regardless of the likelihood of such a description alienating rather than engendering potential new readers.

I didn’t set out to write a novel blending these two types of fiction, nor did the revelation that this was what I had done immediately occur to me after finally finishing it. I was just reaching for a way to explain the book, which is typically something writers hate doing, but must at least attempt if they wish to attract readers. And, to be more precise, the nouveau roman doesn’t necessarily indicate a certain type of fiction. As a so-called movement it’s somewhat controversial, in that many or most of the writers grouped within it (notably by reviewers and critics, in general) did not see themselves as particularly unified in style or theme. That said, similarities do exist between some of their approaches.  

Eight years ago when I started writing what would become A Set of Lines, I had been gorging on nouveau roman writers—specifically a lot of Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet—and they had fully captivated me with their unique styles and focus on tone and mood over plot. As to the source of the novel’s dystopian tropes, I had always been drawn to this subgenre of science fiction, ever since I was a young reader. In my early 20s I’d even played in a concept band based on Orwell’s 1984. So I guess dystopia was in my blood from an early age, though I hadn’t been actively reading it as I began to write A Set of Lines.

I had, however, begun to see elements of both dystopian fiction and my favorite nouveau roman writers’ novels collide in my own daily life: stark repetition, circuitous conversations, blurring of dreams and waking life, hyper-exposed moments of quotidian life, endless meetings, rewriting and/or writing off the past by various overseers. Steeped in this milieu, from the kernel of a long-ago dream-memory (or was it a memory-dream) I began to write…

A Set of Lines review

The writer Rebecca Gransden posted an incisive review of A Set of Lines on Goodreads. Excerpt below:

There is a shorthand inherent in tackling dystopian themes, and Stewart moulds a knowing backdrop, using that shorthand to create a scaffolding which amplifies the atmosphere of benumbed melancholy. Throughout, there is an overwhelming sense of longing underneath the surface, a longing obfuscated and perhaps suppressed for so long, that its very function is being forgotten. The unconscious mind and its rebellion against passivity in the face of the denial of human wants and dignities is very present in this novel.

ship of fools

I recently participated in Surrealist provocateur Merl Fluin‘s flash fiction game, Ship of Fools. My contribution is entitled ‘Sea Legs’. You can read all of the responses here.

A Set of Lines ebook edition

A Set of Lines front cover

At long last the ebook edition of my novel A Set of Lines is available. The book can be downloadedfree for a limited timein a reader’s choice of all the usual formats. Many thanks to GPA archivist-technician Nathan Grover for his amiable tenacity in making this happen. For more information on A Set of Lines, including how to order the paperback edition, please visit Ghost Paper Archives. Reviews of the book can be found on Goodreads and at A Wild Slim Alien.

 

A Set of Lines review

A Set of Lines has received its first review outside of Goodreads. This perceptive review comes by way of long-time comrade-in-letters and master lipogramist Daniel Williams, aka awildslimalien.

ahoy chicagoans

To those readers living in the Chicago area: if you’ve reached the point where you feel you can leave your quarantine unit without enduring heart palpitations in order to do some socially distant browsing at one of your local bookshops, my novel A Set of Lines is now available at that fine Chicago institution known as Quimby’s. New stock of Bunker Diaries and Inner Harbor Field Reports has also arrived at the store. Just a heads up that the supply of these two publications is dwindling, and there are no plans for a second printing. As always, thanks for reading and be well.

the new experiment

From its exterior the laboratory suggests disuse: a grey windowless mass of concrete block ringed by a rusting chain-link fence entwined with clumps of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. This is intentional. For inside, beneath the glare of a single fluorescent bulb, the scientist toils over his most ambitious experiment to date. He has been indoors for months⁠—his only encounters with fresh air taken as inhalations from a flexible plastic tube fed through a tiny aperture in the wall above his workbench. At the end of each day he meticulously cleans the inside of the tube with a long fine-fiber brush. He stores the brush in a locked drawer and wears the key around his neck on a silver chain.

A cistern of water sits in one corner of the single-room building. A metal safe holding nutrition wafers stands next to it. At night the scientist stretches out on a low cot set against the wall. Creeping through the twilight of semi-consciousness he approaches the hypnagogic border checkpoint and loiters there, stepping over and back across the border in an eccentric shuffle akin to backwoods buck dancing. As he dances he conjures his ideasdarting in and out of lucid dreams, imprinting theories on the inner walls of his mind.

This current experiment began following the now-infamous ‘centrifuge episode’, in which the scientist’s (former) circular laboratory began rotating in response to the frenetic activity of bodies moving outside its walls. The event scratched the flint of inquiry once again, leading the scientist to abandon the city of his birth and migrate to this forgotten rust-belt town, at the edges of which he established his current laboratory in a former small engine repair shop.

What you may ask is the nature of the experiment. What indeed. Does he even know himself…does he know himself? Does he know himself? What does he know?

(1) Concrete is porous.

(2) Nutrition wafers only come in one flavor: bland.

(3) Eventually the water will run out.

Now Available: A Set of Lines

A Set of Lines front cover

A Set of Lines: a novel by S. D. Stewart

Last night I drew all night. I copied the images from the textbook and then I drew them again freehand—I made them move on the page, lengthened the lines and darkened the centers.

The tree, the river, the old textbook—a triptych with shifting borders hangs in a place where dreams and memories intersect. Omission and loss haunt those who live here, suspended as they are in an endless struggle to connect. Contracting and expanding as it progresses, the narrative of their existence ever-circles around a shrouded core.


With cover design and interior illustrations by Nate Dorr, who since 2017 has been quietly depicting the beauty of decaying, mutated biospheres in his Disaster Landforms series.

Interior design and layout wizardry by Nathan Grover.

Read reviews on Goodreads.

Order the paperback | Download the ebook

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