Thursday, January 26, 2006

Now for something completely ridiculous


In the late 1950s, a writer named "Grendel Briarton" (who turned out to be writer Reginald Bretnor with the letters rearranged) began publishing a long series of shaggy dog stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction called "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot." After lengthy buildup, each would end with an audacious pun.

Imagine the following example expanded into a 20-minute disquisition and you get the idea. Jacqueline Spear, the famous anthropologist, dressed in furs among tribal peoples until one day she discovered her duds had been abducted. For Feghoot, it was easy to see that "Dr. Jacqueline missed her hide."

But Feghoots are so 20th-century. That brings us to Bill Dutcher, who, we are told, "lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Terry" and their two daughters. (He should move to Arizona, where they really have a sense of Yuma.) He is self-described as "a seldom-published writer who would like to be rich and famous, but not for the same thing. He is working on the former as an independent oil and gas producer in Oklahoma City, and on the latter as the creator of 'Fictoids.'"

Fictoids? They are, writes Dutcher in "Fictoids: Short Fiction ... Very Short" ($12 in hardcover from Dutcher & Co. Inc.), "a bit of fictional history, making a statement or telling a story in one sentence. A typical fictoid tells who did what, when and where. A fictoid may even be partially true, but is never entirely true, or it would be a factoid. In fact, a fictoid is just a fictional factoid."

Dutcher's Web site ( explains that he got the idea in the late '90s watching CNN and its fascination with factoids. Dutcher may not know it, but his invention is the new Feghoot for the attention-deficit new century. No more wading through a long story to get to the stupid ending. The stupid ending is contained in the first sentence!

The invention of fictoids is also the story of a self-publisher. As Dutcher writes on his site, "In 2003, encouraged by family and friends, I decided to put my favorites into a self-published book. This led to a long period of negotiating with myself over which fictoids should be in the book. By this time, I had written hundreds of fictoids, but my inner-editor felt some of the fictoids were too easy, too abstract or just not funny enough to justify being in the book. There was also the issue of how many fictoids should be in the book. Once it was decided that the book should be around 200 pages, the editing continued, but each time I would write a new fictoid I would delete an old one." Dutcher goes on to say how he picked the illustrator, New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler. Turns out you can go on the New Yorker Web site and pretty much hire their cartoonists. So he did.

The day I'm writing this column Amazon ranked the book No. 52,126 (up from No. 81,767 the previous day -- Dutcher must have sold a couple of copies). Readers who dream of their own self-publishing bonanza may want to follow Dutcher's story. He appears on the verge of breaking into the coveted No. 36,152 spot on Amazon but we'll see.

In the meantime, to the fictoids. The ones I liked the best are reminiscent of the old Feghoots, only without the length, setting up the pun or other wordplay and then getting out of the way (fast). "The Minnesota Endangered Species Act of 1974 stipulated that the mink shall inherit the earth, but if they don't go for it, they could leave it to beaver." "Egyptian Pharaoh Amir Ziplok invented self storage in 850 BC, then marketed his invention through a clever pyramid scheme."

More? "In 1928, Fannie Footloose, a highfalutin flip flapper who loved to shimmy and Charleston, shocked Newport's high society when she suddenly fled the social scene and sailed off for Paris with foppish fashion photographer F. Stop Fitzgerald."

Even more? "When the Ammonite people were driven out of Egypt in 1220 BC, their luggage was carried by the Samsonites."

Enough? "Since 1994, commuters entering Manhattan in car pools have been required to use bridges instead of tunnels, due to rising health concerns over car pool tunnel syndrome."

All I can say is, if you have to have your head examined for liking fictoids, bill Dutcher!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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