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All-nighter, team book, story service, hard bop, Hall of Fame

Sunday 7/23/23

It's coming up on half past three in the morning. I've been working all night. Just made a fresh pot of coffee.

Over the last week I've written three new short stories. They are close to done but will take more work. The longest is 6000 words presently.

There's a chance it will be for No Mercy When We Get There: Stories to Wreck You. Six story collections are being done simultaneously. I'll outline them in a different entry. They are as different from each other as can be.

I never see a story collection that has any reason to be a book. That is, they aren't really books. They merely contain things that a certain person wrote over a certain period of time--and it's not like they were picking from a hundred works; they hit a number (finally!) and that was it--until they had enough to fill a book.

If they had a collection before that, it was more of the same, and their next one, when that rolls around, will be, too, because they can only write one kind of thing one way.

What's the point? That's not a book. These things have been brought together to be sold just because they're all by you and you're limited? Foolishness. And sold to who? People who are the same way who write the same things within that subculture.

Usually that's that person's friends and connections and no one else; but these people don't have real friends, and it takes so little for them to make those connections--recognizing someone else shares the same levels of mediocrity, privilege, and insincerity will do it--so the numbers can fan out when so little legitimacy is required.

That's not business. That's broken, empty person subculture incest. It'd be more pathetic than anything, if it weren't total; this is how and why these things are produced, and that's why there's no reason to read books now, or certainly nothing that is called "literary fiction." That seems to be like a huge thing to take away from the world: books of value and artistry. Seems like that would really impact the world. And it has. There are all kinds of reasons people are so stupid now. Incurious and lazy. Why they hate reality. Run from it. Curse it. Shout it down. Why they can't problem-solve and look to be victims. Why they live substance-less lives. Why it's all for show and hardly ever for real. Why they can't think logically. Think through problems. Why they can't understand what people are trying to say. Why they lack the language skills to say what they want to say. Why communication--which is vital for any healthy relationship--is now obsolete. Why healthy relationships are, too.

But you know what's even worse? Not only have such books been taken away, there is no one else out there right now capable of making them, even if they were given a chance and put forward. That doesn't just happen, that you can make them. It takes time. Abilities have to be developed. How do abilities usually get developed? They're encouraged. Nurtured. That doesn't happen now. One would have to go it alone against a system and the people of that system. What are the chances of someone being able to do that and having that kind of strength? Who is going to endure that? So that person who might have been able to produce such books won't get there and we'll never know. They would have either given in, stopped trying, written garbage and taught the garbage of other garbage writers to students, some of whom would go on to do the exact same thing, or they went in a totally different direction with their life and own a pool installation business or some such now.

It's really only done so that people of the system can look out for people of the system and they can say they're these things that they're really not. It's not being done for literature. For entertainment. Business. Readers.

A book has to have an identity and it must cohere as a book. A book itself is a character. It's a big character. Made up all of these traits and parts, like a person of depth. Sometimes with seeming contradictions. Or actual contradictions. But it must possess an identity. And you have to know what it is.

Think about the best teams in sports. The 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers, for example. Lots of parts and pieces. If you want to borrow a word from Whitman, we can use multitudes. But we still know the identity of the team. You can do it with any great team, actually, in any sport. The 1927 Yankees. 1995-96 Bulls. 2004 Patriots. Late 1970s Steelers. A book should work the same way.

"These were things I wrote over ten years" isn't enough to justify a book, let alone make for a book of value and artistry.

I've read M.R. James's "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," every day for the past six days. He really knew what he was doing with that one. He shows more skill in how he uses a single word--the way it's set up, what it plays off of, how much it does within the ordered context--than anyone writing right now in a career.

The story is sharp, funny, modern, wise, entertaining, frightening, sobering, with many fantastic details that add to the unity of the whole. And it has these modernist sparkles, too, like at the beginning, when we get a quote straight off from someone we're told isn't in the story. It's a playful story, but it's also honestly scary. Setting is perfect. The relationships click. The voices are all authentic. Everything just works.

I like when Parkins looks out the window of his room and the figure that is shadowing him is standing sentinel/watcher/lurker by the beach out in the darkness, and Parkins thinks to himself that people sure come and go late at this spot.

You get this authentically haunting passage, and also further insight into the main character, because that's exactly what would pass through Parkins' thoughts. And how can you not like the Colonel? Who wouldn't want to know a guy like that?

James was a crank in real life. Not a lot of fun, even though he was exactly where he wanted to be in his life and career. He could hold a grudge against progress itself, even the good kind. But with this story, he put all of that aside.

You don't get writers now who do that. It's always about them and what they write is shackled to their set of personal limitations.

I don't just mean their considerable writerly limitations. I mean what you get is them. Their prejudices, their thoughts, their feelings on whatever subject, their agendas, their shortcomings in their house style, which falls under the umbrella of the MFA house style that all of them use.

There's no scope. Nothing beyond them. (Not that they have a choice--because they can't invent.) They don't go into stories and the lives of characters. They dredge up their own nothingness and failings and that's what a reader is then subjected to. There's no imagination.

It's personal--it's them. None of their characters are more than they are, but instead are basic cut-outs and vain reflections. The characters are modeled on themselves.

What do you think an Emma Straub is going to do? Mix it up? Surprise you with the bold new direction? You're getting the same exact thing every time and nothing was any good from the start. It all began on what you could call the blah foot.

Who really wants any of that?

But James could set himself aside and be in service to a story. "Whistle" doubles, you might even say, as a critique of himself. It's obvious that his loyalty was to something beyond M.R. James the person, and that was this story.

His feelings aren't in the way. His insecurities don't hold him back. All of that is put off to the side because he's dealing with something beyond himself, and he knows that that's what gets answered to. He has to answer to it. That's the whole thing. And the answering is sacrosanct. Nothing can intrude upon that. Certainly not you.

The best writing is beyond you. You go to it and it comes to you. From the characters you get the story. It's their story--not yours.

Mosaic kindly sent me an advance copy of their set of Sonny Clark's complete Blue Note recordings. He's one of my two favorite jazz pianists, Bud Powell being the other. Obviously there's Horace Silver, but as a pianist--not a band leader--Clark may be the foremost hard bop player on the instrument, the way that Lee Morgan is on trumpet, and Jimmy Smith on organ. I think Art Blakey would be the drummer. My man Hank Mobley on tenor. Lou Donaldson on alto.

Walked three miles on Thursday and did three circuits in the Monument. No stairs on Friday but kept up my push-ups. I don't know how many stairs I ran yesterday at City Hall. I was doing something else and for the first time I didn't count, but it must have been at least 3000, giving how long I was out there and the amount of sweat. I certainly won't give myself credit for any more than that given that it's my fault for being lax in this regard. Today marks 2569 days, or 367 weeks, without a drink.

Quick sports note. Hall of Fame induction day for Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff. Both definitely deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but McGriff especially. I think he was just a super hitter. You look at his numbers in context and he was like Reggie Jackson in the 1970s. People were hitting less home runs during the primes of both men, but they were among the very best at knocking the ball over the wall in their time. McGriff was clutch, too, in the postseason, and the only reason he didn't get to 500 homers--back when it was hard--was because of labor issues. I thought he should have been in pretty fast--within a few years--and he never should have fallen off the ballot. It's good to see a mistake redressed. Man has kept himself in great shape as well.


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