top of page

Let us mull

There may be a change coming here, though there are signs that word is getting out about this blog. The truth is coming, publishing. Get on the right side of sanity and decency and meritocracy before it is too late. I have been speaking with my people, and one opined that the contents of this blog are too good, they can change too much, for it not to be more visible, so we have been trying to figure out how to get it in front of more eyeballs. An idea has been floated to make the blog a stand-alone site, with a simple, direct, but memorable name that suggests the contents. Possibly flemingtruths or truthsbyfleming. The subhead will say something about the documentation of an artist's life in the twenty-first century.

I have a story collection called Cheer Pack: Stories. My third agent--none did anything--told me, when we were briefly together, that my work lacked emotional sincerity. I've never so much as crossed the road without emotional sincerity. Do I seem like someone to you who could do anything without emotional sincerity? By then it had become personal. So, truckloads of salt, as it were. I had offered the collection to Counterpoint. They put out a lot of story collections. This collection contains stories that ran in Harper's, Glimmer Train, Commentary, VQR. You get the idea. Another story was accepted by The Atlantic. Counterpoint told me, guy who has published 2500 things in his life at age forty-three, that they would not read this without an agent. In other words: if you sucked at writing, if you had never published anything in your life, but you had hit it off with some agent over drinks, or your brother-in-law was an agent, they would read that book, but a book that comes from Fleming?


Now, part of this is probably because of the shunning out there. But I spoke to this former agent--we're more or less cordial; last year they joked that they read my Facebook posts and then stole my language to impress their friends with how much they knew about baseball--and asked if they would do me a favor: Take twenty seconds and send this collection to Counterpoint. Simple email. This agent had told me what a big deal things like Harper's were. "Major achievement." I said that I have lots of projects, I'm just looking to get this book--and this book is a masterpiece that will last, but I didn't add that--off the books, nice, quick, easy. They could pocket their fee, and I could put something likely more lucrative--be that a novel, memoir, Beatles book--in their hand, which we could focus on bringing to a bigger venue. They said no. They would not send the email. Because they want to orchestrate your entire career. In other words, you are the puppet, they are the puppeteer. They are the overlord, you are the subject. This is fine if you're other writers, and you have one project every three, four, five, six years. Less fine if you're me.

One thing I'm trying to do is get out two story collections and an essay collection. Spread around with indies I respect. My focus, for making larger sums of money, with my books, is with a novel, a memoir, and to a lesser extent a Beatles book. Next year a different story collection is coming out (this would be Buried on the Beaches, in which each story is set on a different town on Cape Cod, and yet which possesses as much emotional valiance for the person in San Jose who has never heard of Cape Cod, and whose cover provides the background you see on the main page of this website), and my first film book. The thinking here is that I have a unique body of work. It takes time to get things out, the wheels of publishing turning incredibly slowly. With these two other story collections and the essay collection out in the world--and those can be smaller presses--they will already be out there for people who hadn't seen them when they came out, to discover after things explode. And they will. At some point, this is happening. Maybe via this journal and the attention it generates, maybe via radio, maybe via something I've written, a TV appearance, a controversy that gives me the flashpoint atop a platform, but something.

Then, those other works will exist for people to learn about and purchase. I'll be moving forward with new projects and books, with an audience coming with me, and that same audience can also be moving backwards simultaneously. It's like if you first learned about the Beatles in 1968 with the White Album, as if that was their debut, and then you learned that there was Rubber Soul waiting for you, and Revolver, and Please Please Me, then you caught news that they were working on something called Abbey Road, and then you learned the story as to why you didn't know about all of this sooner. And more and more about a bad system starts to come out. See? You're in the present, you have what is coming, you have what went before.

But I can't do this if those books aren't out there, though. When this happens, I want there to be a lot of books for people to buy up. I am always--underline that, put it in all caps--going to have new books, new kinds of new books, and I don't want those to have to wait to come out, getting pushed back years, once the explosion hits, because there's a gigantic backlog. The books with the smaller presses can be reissued. They're not secondary works, they are in the situation they got into because I am in the unique situation I ended up in. The smaller press can also sell the rights to the larger press. You are limited in the sales numbers you can do with that kind of (collection) work anyway, unless you are a household name (in which case you're still limited, because there's a great chance you're a household name for all the wrong reasons and not because of your ability, and without ability, the people of the system can trump you up and make you into something that extends ever-so-slightly beyond the bounds of that system--maybe--but that will always be limited because it is ability that gives work legs).

I'll be more than that, eventually. But for now, all things being equal, and all sales being close to equal, get it out there. There is incentive for these presses, because they're getting top level work, and it's from someone who is just getting started and yet who already has a singular body of work, who has already done things their other writers have not and will not. (Plus, you don't know how my lighting might strike; one of these books could be the forked tongue out of the sky that starts the blaze.) The reality is, if you're in some of these places I'm in, you're at a major. Check out the bios at those places. Check out the bios at the indies. Check out my bio. But this is a unique situation for so many reasons, and that means opportunity of a different sort right now. I will not be parting with the novel or the memoir without upfront financial incentive. I'll play a longer game with those works, if need be. But there are great books to be had presently, which can sell at some point, even if that's not straight away. We'll all eventually get our money.

But as for this agent: my objectives are different. I am not trying to do what any other author is trying to do. I am not like any other author. Now, or before. My work makes that axiomatic. This blog makes that axiomatic. Publishing is based on doing things the way things are always done, for people who can only do so much. In addition to corruption, cronyism, all of that. Discrimination. I'm not other writers, and an objective that someone like this would have for me would be far afield from the reality of what I am and am chasing down. I need a visionary. Might as well blind me and cut off my limbs and stick me in a box and open the lid every four years otherwise. But, I tried. I put that out there. I suspected it'd be pointless and irksome, but if I did what I do at this point on the likelihood that something will not be pointless and irksome, I'd not do much. And one must try in the meanwhile.

There will also be two pieces in The Daily Beast by Thursday (Beatles, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). And then a piece in The Smart Set (Beatles again). Hudson Review turned down "Funny Lines TK," but they've turned down everything I've sent them for almost a quarter of a century. A friend said this was because I was banned there. I didn't think so. I'll be banned after this, but it really does not matter. Wasn't going to do anything for me anyway even if they took something. As I wrote to my friend, an English department chair and provost, "They can't publish me because all they publish is stilted and quaint. So, the sexual content and rape scene of 'Funny Lines' shocks them, plus it's a truly innovative story that looks to be third person but, as we discover, is not really, or if it is, it's a new mode of third person that has not existed previously. And so it has gone with something, or things, in every story they have ever seen from me. They publish work for your eighty-three-year-old great aunt, if she had no spunk or spirit, ever, in her life. Actually, that's unfair of me to old women. I don't think old women are this uptight. I think they probably have spirit if they make it that far. I think they would think this is boring shit, too. There was that old woman at the reading for Dark March and BCaH, who volunteered after that 'Dare Me to Breathe' sucked and the title story of Dark March was the really good one."

Decided what I'm going to talk about on the radio tomorrow (Thanksgiving poetry; best Thanksgiving television episodes); walked three miles; climbed the Monument three straight times; and coming back from Charlestown, before I crossed the street that leads to the bridge, I decided to work hard in my head on an idea for a new story, and by the time I was 1/4 of the way over the bridge, I had almost all of it. It's called "The Indigo Arms."

I am seeing how people connect with this journal, how it matters to them, as they are writing me, sharing their thoughts, thanking me, which is encouraging, and for which I am grateful. If I haven't gotten back to you, please don't take that personally. I'm just trying to fit in so much. But you are all super kind, you all write well, I love the anecdotes from your own lives that you share with me, and it's heartening to see that such thinking, feeling people are out there. Some of you have offered when you're in Boston to climb the Monument with me, and of course you are welcome to. These people are usually subscribers. If you are one of them, and there is a change in how this journal is displayed, you'll be notified--and it will be covered here, somehow or other--and hopefully the webmaster will be able to transfer over your information so you won't have to re-subscribe for updates. She's pretty good at those things. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm still mulling. Ideally, everything would be in one place, but part of the problem is that no other writer has a site like this. You expect a site to be fairly static. This one was designed as a digital museum, where there would always be new content in the galleries, so to speak--the tabs, I mean--and you could come and hang out for a while, stroll the sports gallery, the film gallery, the art gallery, the literature gallery, read some short stories, etc. And this blog/journal was part of that, too. A lot of times people think that if you go to a site once, you need not go again, especially if it's for a business, which is also kind of what this is. Like Benjamin Moore paints. We sell paints. Okay. That's why I'm considering doing something stand-alone for the blog, because we all know what a stand-alone blog is, we all know it isn't static. And people are lazy. If they don't know you, they might not take a fraction of a second to click a tab on a website.

Going to review a concert for JazzTimes on 12/6. Been a long time since I reviewed a gig. That's at Jordan Hall. I need the money so I can get away from mag work for a bit and push hard on books. My man Zev Feldman, superstar producer (who himself walked over ninety miles in a week recently), sent over this Eric Dolphy set:

He may be one of my two favorite jazz musicians. I think Charlie Parker and Dolphy would be one and two; then again, there's Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lester Young. Andrew Hill. Hank Mobley. Tina Brooks. Tough.

Tonight I wrote a writer named Asher Elbein who did a fine op-ed on Bill Maher--whose smugness reviles me--and Maher's comments on Stan Lee. I just read it at the Starbucks. It was strong. Well-argued, showed command at the level of the sentence. I would have thought just as well of it if I disagreed with all of it. It's the writing. Often now we value things based on how much we agree with them. There is a kind of person who praises me leading off with how much they agree with me. That's fine, but it's also often not the point. The point isn't to make you disagree either. What we tend to want is this hollow form of validation that comes with someone ticking off the same boxes we tick off. Get beyond that. Think. Feel. Get inside something with your heart, but make sure your brain acts as your lights. Pull someone's field of thoughts within your own; see if that resizes and reshapes anything.

Thank Christ that two checks came tonight. One of them is from Salon. I haven't opened it yet. It will either be $1800, $1400, or $3200 out of an owed $3750. I've been sweating this.

My good friend Lisa invited me to Thanksgiving over in Cambridge. Maybe I will go if I can get on a good roll and compose several works--say, five--between now and then. It has been years since I was not alone on Thanksgiving. Every Christmas since life fell apart in 2012 I've been alone--and, in fact, I have not said a word to another person on that day, since I was last in my house in 2011. It's just too hard. I remember how in 2012 on Christmas I was spitting up blood into a coffee cup and working on a book. That was the year of my stroke. A year of many bad things, and it was just the start of a succession of journeys to new frontiers of pain. But eventually, as I said, I am getting where I'm going. I think if you read this, and you read my work, you think so, too. For some people, that is good. For others, worrisome.

But, we would all be wise to remember: it's never too late to do the right thing. Until it is.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page