A ‘retcon’ overwrites the past; a ‘procon’ overwrites the future

Power Corrupts: Election Rigging. Launches May 2, 2019.

“Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short,” to use Wikipedia’s definition, “is a literary device in which established facts in a fictional work are adjusted, ignored, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which breaks continuity with the former.” If the hero’s sidekick dies in Book 6, leaving fans disappointed with Book 7, and is resurrected in Book 8 (with or without explanation), that’s a retcon. Retcons can also be more subtle, as when the fictional world undergirds itself with a revised history.

Does it ever happen the other way around? Can the contradictory or problematic detail happen first, while the authoritative detail appears in a subsequently published work? Would that be a “proactive continuity,” let’s say a “procon” for short?

Rodin's statue of "The Thinker" with a thought bubble that says "Hmmm."

It seems that this is impossible. At least in fiction, the detail that happens first has to be the authoritative detail until further notice; there can’t be any contradiction until the subject is dealt with twice. Right?

Election-rigging in Azerbaijan: A chronological failure in the narrative

Ah, but let’s consider Azerbaijan’s 2013 election! This is not fiction; this is a thing that really happened. When President Ilham Aliyev ran for re-election under a dark cloud of suspicion, the Azerbaijani election board released an iPhone app to display the vote tally so the public could feel confident that the election was legitimate. The app release did not go as planned. It displayed the election results one day before anyone had cast a ballot.

This incident is described on the first episode of Power Corrupts, a new podcast written and narrated by Brian Klaas that launches today, May 2, 2019, on iTunes, Spotify, RadioPublic, and Stitcher.

power_corrupts“I mean, for the guy who accidentally pressed that button—you had one job, right?” Klaas says. Though Aliyev retained his presidency, he lost what little pretense to integrity he still had. “Pro tip for all the dictators listening out there: if you’re going to just make up election results, try not to release them until at least some people have voted.”

Lesson for writers

When election results are released the day before the election, they contradict the world of which they are a part. They cannot be true. They attempt to influence an uncertain future whose possible outcomes someone already rejects. They attempt to control the future proactively. As I see it, this election-rigging incident is a real-life example of proactive continuity. (I made up that term. Let me know in the comments whether you think it works.)

People do try to change facts both before and after they happen. People want to control the future sometimes more than they want to erase the past.

I imagine it can be done in fiction, too. It may be part of what we mean when we identify an “unreliable narrator.” A novelist often deliberately embeds implausibilities and contradictions; they are part of the character development. Such unreliability can confuse or distract readers who are unforgiving or otherwise not along for the ride.

Leaving aside arts and entertainment and again considering real life, it’s important to remember that, when real people are deliberately unreliable—for example, by reporting results of an election that wasn’t held—they’re gaslighting, and that’s a tool of dictators.

EBook giveaway: ‘Painting Dragons’

Painting Dragons: What Storytellers Need to Know About Writing Eunuch VillainsCheck out the first giveaway for Painting Dragons, my recently published book about the stereotype of eunuch villains. Copies will be delivered as Kindle eBooks.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Painting Dragons by Tucker Lieberman

Painting Dragons

by Tucker Lieberman

Giveaway ends April 07, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Poems about grief (Part 3 of 3): What happens next

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”
Sandra Lim “The Vanishing World” The Wilderness
Aracelis Girmay “Elegy”
Diane Seuss “Self-Portrait with the Ashes of my Baby Blanket” Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
Ocean Vuong “Notebook Fragments” Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Katie Ford “Psalm 40” If You Have to Go
Nomi Stone Waiting for Happiness”
Jenny George “Mnemonic”
Timothy Donnelly “Explanation of an Oriole” The Cloud Corporation
Muriel Rukeyser “Poem White Page White Page Poem”
Ingrid de Kok, “Transfer” Transfer, Reprinted in Poets & Writers Magazine, Sept/Oct 1998
Cortney Lamar Charleston, “Turn the River”
Euripides Orestes (translated by Anne Carson)
Lawrence Raab “Last Day on Earth”
Ross Gay “Ending the Estrangement”
Jericho Brown “Crossing”
Mary Jo Bang “You Were You Are Elegy” Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
Camille Rankine “Still Life with House Finch” Incorrect Merciful Impulses
Andres Cerpa “Letter” Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy
Kathryn Starbuck “A Gift”
Jorie Graham “The Way Things Work”
Joy Harjo “I Give You Back”
Erin Adair-Hodges “Once I Was a Thimble But Now I Am a Bell” Let’s All Die Happy
Cameron Awkward-Rich “Cento Between the Ending and the End”
Jay Hopler “Like the Stare of Some Glass-Eyed God”
Seamus Heaney “Scaffolding”
Mary Karr “Wisdom: The Voice of God”

Poems about grief (Part 2 of 3): Identity

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Kurt Rasmussen, “Burning Girl”
Lucille Clifton, “why some people be mad at me sometimes”
Jenny Johnson, “Vigil” In Full Velvet
Katie Ford, “The Ready Heart,” If You Have to Go
Jane Hirshfield “Sheep” Come, Thief
Jean Valentine, “The Door”
Catherine Barnett “Epistemology” Human Hours
Linda Gregg “God’s Places”
Joel Moskowitz “Too Many Things” Amethyst Review
Marya Layth, [I will not be your warhorse]
Chelsea Dingman “The Last Place” Thaw
Chelsea Dingman “Winter in the Rockies”
Jane Kenyon, “After the Hurricane,” Let Evening Come
Vievee Francis “A Flight of Swiftlets Made Their Way In” Forest Primeval
Yona Harvey “Meditation on Your Escape”
“At the beach,” Yechuda Amichai, trans. by Chana Bloch
Ellen Bass “The World Has Need of You”
Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Disorder”
Larry Levis, “Linnets”
Donika Kelly “A dead thing that, in dying, feedings the living”
Mary Szybist “In Tennessee I Found a Firefly”
Lucia Perillo “Say This”
Brandon Melendez “As Respite from Insomnia, The Author Writes An Elegy For What the Night Took” The Shallow Ends
Ariel Francisco “I know you love Manhattan but you should look up more often” The Shallow Ends
Lindsay Bernal “Heartbroken in Your Memoir”
James Richardson “164” By The Numbers
Kaite O’Reilly, “22” Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors
Ibeyi, “Transmission/Michaelion”
Yehuda Amichai “Poem Without An End”
Stephen Dunn, “The Reverse Side”
Jennifer Chang “The Winter’s Wife”
Nick Flynn “harbor (the conversion)”
Michael Dumanis “Nebraska”
Hieu Minh Nguyen “Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota”
Hanif Abdurraqib “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This”
Helen McClory “An Apocalypse in Seven Stages”
Stanley Plumly “Say Summer/For My Mother”
Ilya Kaminsky “When Momma Galya First Protested” Deaf Republic
Jenn Givhan “In the Shower with Sunday After Watching Lost”
Catherine Barnett “Chorus” 
Laurie Sheck “And Water Lies Plainly”
Larry Levis “The Two Trees” The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Punish,” Not Here
Sean Thomas Dougherty “Why Bother?”
Chase Berggrun Chapter XIX
Rickey Laurentis “You Are Not Christ”
Jericho Brown “Prayer of the Backhanded”
Fernanda Melchor “On a Sentence”
Bud Smith “Wedding Day”
Gwendolyn Brooks “Notes from the Childhood and the Girlhood,” Annie Allen
Hanif Abdurraqib “For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut”
Czeslaw Milosz “At a Certain Age”
J. Jennifer Espinoza “One Day”
Ellen Hagan “What Do We Do–Now”
Donald Caswell “How It Works”
Nick Flynn “Killdeer”
Brenna Twohy, “I am not clinically crazy anymore,” Zig-Zag Girl

Poems about grief (Part 1 of 3): Immediacy

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Paige Lewis, “On the train a man snatches my book, reads,” Gulf Coast
Kimberly Grey “Heroic Sentences” The Opposite of Light
Anna Rose Welch “Desire” We, the Almighty Fires
Wislawa Szymborska “Photograph from September 11” (trans. Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Barańczak)
Vievee Francis “White Mountain” Forest Primeval
Adam Zagajewski “Poets are Presocratics” (trans. Clare Cavanagh)
Ada Limón, “After the Fire” The Carrying
Jack Gilbert “Harm and boon in the meetings” The Great Fires
Sharon Olds “I Go Back to May 1937” The Gold Cell
Ayame Whitfield, “too late,” yell/shout/scream
Natasha Trethewey “Soil Horizon”
Carl Phillips, “On Triumph” Paris Review
Diana Arterian, “driving us through a wood” playing monster :: seiche
Amy Lowell “September 1918”
Brigit Pegeen Kelly “Guest Place” Song
Kathy Fagan, “Structural Engineering,” Sycamore
Leila Chatti, “Upon Realizing There are Ghosts In the Water” Tunsiya/Amrikiya
Jennifer Wolkin “the only truth is grief and grief is the sound of silence”
Kristin Garth “Kitten Smitten”
Tracy K. Smith “September” duende
Wanda Coleman, “George Death Anniversary” Hand Dance
Raúl Zurita, “Verónica” The Country of Ice
Joe Nasta, “Fire Main”
Heather Christle “Circumvention” Arkansas International Issue 5
Frederick Pollack “Nationalism”
Mary-Lou Brockett-Devine “Dead Reckoning” Karamu
Alicia Ostriker “Prayer in Autumn” 
Anna Swir, “My friend speaks when dying,” trans. Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan, Talking to My Body
Czeslaw Milosz “Notebook” Second Space
Ada Limón “The Conditional”
Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
Joanna Klink “Elemental”
Brian Turner “Here, Bullet”
Meena Alexander “House” (see page 40) Illiterate Heart
Raymond Carver “Evening”
Danez Smith “acknowledgments”
Dana Curtis, “The Unchosen Twin” The Body’s Response to Famine
M. A. Vizsolyi “the ash leapt in place on our foreheads” The Lamp With Wings
Sam Sax, “New God of an Antique War” bury it
Sharon Olds, “Object Loss”
Polina Barskova “Manuscript found by Natasha Rostova during the fire”
Leah Silvieus “Vision” Season of Dares
Aracelis Girmay “To Waste My Hands”
Kristin Garth “Necropolis”
Javier Zamora “Pump water from the well” Unaccompanied
Brenna Twohy, “A coworker asks me if I am sad, still,” Zig-Zag Girl
Brenna Twohy, “Conversations about Top Chef” Zig-Zag Girl
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Lesson,” Not Here
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Still, Somehow,” Not Here
Brenda Hillman “On a Day, In the World”
Natalie Diaz “Monday Aubade”
Anna Akhmatova “[And all those whom my heart won’t forget]” trans. Judith Hemshemeyer
Agha Shahid Ali “Farewell”
“[I used to think silence was beautiful, but now I get why]” Anna Meister
Ruth Awad, “Lessons in Grief”
Joanna Klink “Wonder of Birds” at Length
Donika Kelly “Love Poem: Mermaid” Bestiary
Natasha Tretheway “Repentance”
Richard Siken “The painting that includes all painting”
Rachel McKibbens, “Letter from my heart to my brain,” blud
Rachel McKibbens, oath (blud litany), blud
Rachel McKibbens, “Out house” blud
Rachel McKibbens, “Una oración (bruja’s soliloquy)” blud
Mayuri Singh “lily demons, lurking”