Bad week. Bad life, and in it this was a bad week. I did hit 850 days without a drink on Wednesday. Wrote an 1800 word essay on "Casey at the Bat" for The Daily Beast, and a 1700 word piece for them on The House with a Clock in Its Walls and why YA literature is infinitely better than almost all of the execrable waste right now that calls itself literary fiction. I began an essay for The American Interest--just the first 1000 words--on the scariest American radio program of all time. Well, it's up there, anyway. There are others you could make an argument for. But mine was for "The Thing on the Fourble Board," which aired on the program Quiet, Please, in summer 1948.
I also came up with the idea for a YA novel of my own. As I re-read Clock, which I really like, I thought, shit, you can do better than this, let's come up with something. I don't want to go into the details here--it's still doing things in my mind, growing, and I want to keep it with mine for now. But it's very good. Not that it matters, because nothing seems to matter right now so long as an industry is going to make sure that I'm blackballed and there will be no coverage or support of my work. I could put out a book that simultaneously cures cancer, and this system is going to make sure there is no coverage of it.
In other matters: Grove/Atlantic turned down Cheer Pack: Stories. Why did I send the book to Grove/Atlantic? I have a book called Musings with Franklin, which is the invention of an entirely new kind of novel. It's told entirely in conversation. It is a new form of literature. It's not a play, it's not like any other novel, it's gutting, hilarious, completely different, a radical conceit, that you can study as post-post-modernism, or just love the hell out of if you're a horny seventeen-year-old. No one will do it, of course, because it is great and new, and we can't have that. They hate newness. Some publishers have told me that you can't do this, it's against the rules. A novel can't be like this, a book can't be like this, they have to follow certain forms and tropes. Really? Yeah, maybe if you suck and you're not here to create work for all time and change the world.
Grove/Atlantic published Beckett, no? As it were, Morgan Entrekin, at Grove/Atlantic, said one was not allowed to do a novel this way. Oh. In other words, sorry, so many great works of literature! You don't repeat the old forms of the past! I have no clue why these people get into this business. They're not here because they love literature. They're probably here because it's what is expected of them. They were ordered to get good grades, they couldn't fit in socially, their parents did something like this, so they became the drones they were expected to be. And it's not business. This book will sell if you give me some backing. Hell, it might sell more than any fiction book could. It is fucking hilarious. It is endlessly quotable. It's a musing unlike any other on death and what it might mean to be dead, what it might mean to be alive. There is next to no humor in so-called literary fiction right now. And the books they have usually sell nothing anyway. They put out some story collection by someone who has never been in a venue better than Copper Nickel, who teaches at some obscure New Hampshire college, who is fifty and on the fast track to absolutely nowhere. Which brings me to Cheer Pack: Stories. In that book, there were pieces accepted by Commentary, the VQR, Harper's, The Atlantic, Post Road, Glimmer Train. By an artist who has published 2500 works in their career. By someone who now dominates op-ed writing, to go along with the constant and fantastic publications, in major venues, high circulation venues, on a weekly basis. Someone who is a radio regular. Someone going places, who has great stories that people actually enjoy out in the world, not horrible Matt Bell shite that people in publishing circles--which a friend of mine labels "a subculture of freaks"--pretend to like, which no one likes. Matt Bell's mother doesn't like Matt Bell's writing. Here, what the hell, I'll give you an example of award-winning fiction, and you will laugh, because you know that you'd never want to read a book of this crap:
It's all so wretchedly bad--and this is all this guy does--but the Sylvia Plath line, just stuck in there, is hilariously bad. Can you imagine being that bad at anything?
But I'm getting off topic. I saw on Facebook that a woman had a story collection come out with Grove/Atlantic. I did some digging. Entrekin bought it. I looked her up. Now, first off, she was an awful writer. As bad as the above. And it's not like she was in Rolling Stone, on on NPR, and her fiction was in Harper's, and she does op-eds for The Wall Street Journal. She had only written--and she was older than I am--for places--and there were only a handful--that are not even in bookstores. We're basically talking lit mags that are the lowest level of the lit mags, that print up 125 copies.
Entrekin got the updates on my career from the summer. Scan the news section. I need not recount anything here. There it all is. And he didn't even reply to my story collection. He had an underling, a Harvard grad from 2012, send me her boilerplate note, adding that she had spent some time in Boston--a couple stories are set there--and they resonated, but all in all, they didn't feel passionate enough about the book.
Hmmm. Now, do you think they felt passionate about the shitty stories, from the writer going nowhere, whose shitty stories ran in shitty venues, who is doing nothing else with her career, who can do nothing else? Because you know what I know? They didn't. So why did they do that book, and not this one? Now, I could give you examples like this all day. They lie. Because they were not passionate about the bad book from the nobody, but that's one of the worst things about these people: they lie about caring about things that one should never lie about. That book of mine, from a writer doing what I'm doing--which no one else is close to doing--is a kind of utopian wet dream, or should be, for a publisher. Put the book out, buy a novel with it, buy a Beatles book with that, and ride me and ride me and ride me, because you know I'm going to give you the great stuff, constantly, I'm going to give you multiple books a year, in completely different areas and genres, and give me some backing, and I'll make you a fortune. There has never been a writer like me, there never will be again. You deliver the gift horse--do you know how many story collections have stories that have that magazine track record, before we even get into the quality of the work, which is a galaxy beyond the accomplishment of where the stories ran?--and they're like, nah, I have this shitty writer we know can't do anything to support. But if you have a Harper's story, or a New Yorker one, and it's surrounded by absolute shit, so long as you have that book, it's going with a major, or a "respected" top indie like Graywolf, leaving out that no press excels at publishing more boring and pretentious work than Graywolf, the indie boredom factory. Unless you're Fleming.
The fall issue of Boulevard arrived in the mail. It's their 100th issue. A story of mine called "Hold Until Relieved" is in it. The story is in Cheer Pack. What do you know. On Tuesday I discussed "Casey at the Bat" on Downtown, before writing about it. I wanted a little challenge, just to keep things fresh, so I decided that I would write part of the essay live on the radio, and then the next morning I reached into my memory and took the sentences I had made on the air and used them verbatim for the piece, which came out really well. You won't find a better piece of sports writing in 2018. It won't be anthologized, of course, because it's me, so it will just be buried. But it was very good.
And this is just how it is right now. I want to be very clear about that. And it's not because I've started to call them out for how they act. It was this way for years and years--almost two decades--as I knuckled the forehead, was as mild as a mouse. The hate came not from me exposing their corruption; it came from the accomplishments. It came from the talent. It came from the productivity. The more I achieved, as not being one of them, the more they shunned me, blocked me, banned me, told their cronies to do the same, and you know what? Their cronies did. People who didn't even know me, just because that's how these people live, this is their value system, the negation of actual values, character, depth, quality.
I dreaded the story running in the fancy venue, the piece going in the two million circulation paper, the national radio appearance--sometimes all in a single day, which was worse still--because I knew, in following, as a result, they would make it worse, they would double down. So I made a decision, and it was the only one left to me: I am going to expose their system for what it is, and I am going to take it down, and help build a better one, which actually cares about reading and readers and integrity and getting something out of the written word that adds something to your life, you out there, back in America far removed from this Island of Misfit Toys--and such hateful toys--that is publishing in 2018. Somehow, some way, I am getting past these people, and there will be no call for journal entries of this nature, as we'll be discussing more pleasant topics when I get to where I am going. But in the meanwhile, these truths are coming out, and there isn't anyone who can knock what I've done, or the level I do it at. I couldn't have done this ten years ago. I didn't have this body of work, this array of achievements. But if you are doubling down on me now, it has nothing to do with my talent, with what I can do for you and your company, and it has everything to do with your discrimination. Your fear, your jealousy, your hate, your discomfort that I am not one of you, from your system.
I just had two op-eds that were about to run with USA Today that were pulled back. This was frustrating, as I made the changes I was asked to make. It happens, and it's not a huge deal. It's just frustrating, time-consuming, and it costs me funds. In the second case, it was a Kaepernick piece, which I think places are just too scared to run, because I call bullshit on him being an activist. I think he's a fraud and a con man with a new business model, that's all, because he wasn't good enough to keep his old business model going. I have no problems with the USA Today editor. You just move on to something else, which I did. We will see what he says. I'll have an op-ed any time now in The Wall Street Journal on how women are just as sexist as men, the jumping off point being my ballet shirt, and I'll also be doing an op-ed for Halloween for them on what we can learn from kids as adults.
Speaking of the ballet: I was at Boston Ballet's final performance on Sunday of Genius at Play, an all Jerome Robbins program. Three works: Interplay (with a Morton Gould score), Fancy Free (Leonard Bernstein score), Glass Pieces (Philip Glass, of course). Suites two and three were best; the Bernstein was the On the Town-type crowd pleaser, the Glass the higher artistic achievement.
And speaking of kids...
The other day I was leaving the building--a building I wish I only returned to when I have moved out of here, and am back in my Rockport house, having converted this death trap of an apartment to an office in the city--when I encountered a woman and her middle school daughter, Emma.
I know Emma because we have had many encounters in the hallway. She's always smiled at me, I've always liked her--she's very verbal, albeit shy--and she never has her keys, so I frequently let her in when she's outside and I'm going off on a run or something. Her head doesn't come up to the glass, so it's always a surprise when I open it and there she is. She always has a sly smile when I look down and discover it's her.
Anyway, her mom stopped me, said that she knew my work and recognized my voice from the radio, and "this one here"--meaning Emma--wants to be a writer. We talked for five minutes or so, with Emma sometimes hiding a little bit behind her mother when I asked her questions about what she liked to write.
Her mom said she had written a book, and I inquired of Emma as to the name. She didn't want to tell me. "She's embarrassed." To which I said, "Look, you need never be embarrassed about something you care a lot about. Especially if it's something that can matter, like writing. When I was in second grade, third grade, I'd stay in from recess and work on my stories, and when I was your age I'd write, too. That thing that you think maybe, 'o no, I can't write this, that's too crazy, what will people say'--that's what you need to write. Because that's probably the thing that is going to matter most to people."
Her mom told me that sometimes the kids make fun of her for being a "nerd" or "emo"--until recently, Emma had green hair, which I once complimented in the hallway, which caused her to blush--and I said that when people make those remarks, it has nothing to do with any actual knock on the intended recipient. It's because they're threatened by someone who is smart, who learns, and to always remember it's about them, not about you. "You do your thing and be true to you, and know who you are, and you work at that writing, and you'll do just fine."
She was less shy at this point, and asked me if I did fiction or nonfiction--kind of a complicated answer--but I said I did both, and she asked me if I had ever been published, and I said "a few times," and she asked if I had a website she could check out. Her mom took my number, texted me for the site, and I told her to tell my fellow little writer buddy that any time she has any questions, or wants a reader, or anything at all, to just shoot me a note. Very nice kid.
I was off to get no fat milk for my blood pressure at that point, but the store was out of it, so instead I kept walking and spent some time at Copp's Hill Burying Ground, in the shadow of Christ Church, which most commonly is called, of course, Old North Church. I've never taken a tour there, weirdly. I would like to do that this fall, and see the steeple and also the burial vaults. I took a few photos, as summer tarried a bit and fall began to set up its residence, like this estuarial seasoning of the air.
Time to run, walk, and climb the Bunker Hill Monument. I have football to watch at noon in a bar (Zuma--Mexican dive at Faneuil Hall) while reading (Watson's The Double Helix and some humorous Edwardian ghost stories).