Taping an episode of the Songs of Note podcast in a bit on Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks," which will also mean some good Memphis Minnie talk. I wrote an op-ed this AM on The General, which was strong. Yesterday I wrote a short story called "House Winds." Also strong. Downtown later today. Need to finish this Twilight Zone feature for The American Interest now.
I received a letter yesterday, and I think the writer of the letter nails what is a huge problem in publishing right now, in terms of what fiction gets published. There are a lot of other factors--you have to be one of them, you have to be part of their caste system, you need to have gone to a given school, have a certain agent, play up identity politics. But you also need to write a certain way, and that is an empty, meaningless way. This person I know had read a new short story of mine called "Come When You Can." Really good one, which I intend for that volume I now know will be called Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Endlessly Human Lives. They read it, and sent this along:
"There's nothing 'cool' about your stories. I think that may be what I love most. In contemporary fiction in America, you can almost sense that cool factor. That writer trying to be cool. Sometimes it even sounds great, but there's a hollowness to the interior. Your stories are real. Warm. Rewarding. Subtle, but not hiding anything. They're made for humans. For real ones."
Most of that, I think, is dead on correct and astutely put. What you have, with the majority of people who write fiction--what they call literary fiction--is people without talent, who are insecure, trying to show off for each other, and producing stories that anyone who is not in their cliques would laugh at. Would actually laugh at how awkward they are, how poorly written they are. That's what a Michael Ray at Zoetrope is looking to publish. That's what they're searching for. That thing that makes you groan over how truly awful it is, is what they think is good. It's embarrassing. The work is embarrassing. The more pretentious, the better. Insecure people without talent who come from money and went to what they regard as a special school use pretentiousness to mask their crippling insecurities. But these works are not viewed as embarrassing here, behind this screen, where their world exists. But no one outside of their cliques is reading it. There is nothing offered by it to anyone outside of those cliques.
Now, I think the word "subtle" can be misleading with my work. What I think this person more means is "organic." When someone says to me that something is subtle, I'm almost expecting a work in which nothing much happens. The plot points in my stories are often large. For instance, in "Crossing Deer," a girl sucks off a dying deer. That's not exactly subtle. But, within the natural organic context of the story, where the story goes, the event is not for shock value, it's part of a progression. How do you build a story where that can be the case? You have something that these people do not. I never do "Hey, look at me, ma, I'm writing" moves. All these people do are those moves. And they embarrass themselves whenever anyone outside of their cliques reads their work. Not reads it--because people stop reading it quickly. See their work, I should say. You only have to lay eyeballs on it to know how awful it is. To know exactly what the person behind it is all about. They're not trying to give anyone anything to connect with; they're trying to show off for each other.
The problem is: Stories made for real humans are the stories that can always last, and they are the stories that can matter in their time. They are also stories that can help people who maybe are not in this category of what this person means by real humans become real humans. And I think that might matter as much as anything. I think that might be, as much as anything, what I am here to do. What all of this is "for." But: Works for real humans are completely at loggerheads with the fake ass slop that the Michael Ray's of the world put forward, that go in Best American Short Stories, that get someone the genius grant, the Guggenheim, the big book deal, the speaking tour, etc. These people can look at a story of mine that millions of people could love, that Chekhov could read and think, "damn, I need to reassess my game," and it's like it's in a foreign language to them. It's doing things, and is about things, that nothing they publish is about or does. Often they hate me and they can see what I'm doing, and their hate for me is going to override everything else. But often they also just don't get it, because they've become so warped that they think the stuff any "normal" person laughs at is "important," and all of the crap and lies they insist upon. There's no reality in the literary fiction section of the publishing world; it's a fantasy camp for people who can't offer the world anything with this thing that they believe defines who they are. These people would not know great art or entertainment, often, if that great art and entertainment took a huge bite out of their ass.
That's one of the problems to be solved. It's a massive roadblock here in the quest.