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On story collections and books, and an excerpt from "Coffee @Night"

Friday 3/3/23

An astute reader of these pages--and one with a good memory and sharp deductive skills--could likely surmise with reasonable efficiency what works were done and slotted for what books. How things were dividing up. The industry-wide discrimination that I face has resulted in some things here on my end that may not have been quite as they are. For instance, as I write any one work, I write the one work to be a stand-alone work, in one sense, but I also write it as part of a larger work. I do this with extremely attentive care and focus. Planning.


One would be foolish to think I write hundreds of stories, then head out back to the story warehouse, and put fifteen of them on the loader and call it a book. Everything is built up from an initial plan and a design. I might not be so book-oriented in these matters had I not been dealing with bigots. I also know the market. I know that the places that publish short stories aren't read. People very rarely even know they exist, unless you count The New Yorker, and they definitely don't read those stories in those other venues.


The New Yorker situation will work itself out in time. I have to believe that there will be a shift in the balance of power. That is the key--a shift in the balance of power. As with a revolution and an overthrowing. Not as part of a process already in place. As we've seen, that process within publishing is entirely about other things than quality, value, or appeal of the work. It's about bad things. Very bad things.


I still think about these works individually, for when there is that shift. The forms of distribution may be entirely new forms. Forms of a post-magazine world. Certainly a post-literary journal world. I don't need anything to pad a resume or a list of career publications. Readers is what--and all--that I need at this point. Get to the readers, and everything else is going to take care of itself.


As a result of that discrimination and how I've adjusted, there are books containing stories that are not story collections. I think that's how I'd put it. A story collection is something that a person without ability and possessing an MFA does. They don't produce much. That is the nature of the beast, with all of these people. Low production. What they do produce is the same from work to work. The same writing style. The same subject matter. The same lack of value.


If they are a gay writer and you see one short story from them that is about gay people--who are also writers--you don't need to find a second story by them to confirm that that story is also about gay people who are also writers. That's how it's going to go. Each of these people do one very limited, canned thing, and not that much of it, and definitely not well. Eventually they decide to round up a number of these things. They have little on which to draw. It's really about volume. Have they hit a number where if you totaled the word count of the pieces that they do have, that they could make a book? Those are story collections. That's what presses put out. They put them out based on connection, nepotism, skin color, sexual orientation, how much support a person has. There is no other reason why they are put out. It is never quality. I really can't overstate that. It is always for one--or more--of the five reasons I just gave.


I don't write those kinds of books, which I wouldn't really call a book. Or I should say, I don't make those. I'm working from the other way around. I come from the other direction. Partially because I judged the market. I saw the writing on the wall, even as no one saw the writing in any of these venues. I thought, "Okay, here's a story for the ages. But even if these people didn't want you dead, what good could it possibly do in such and such a journal? No one will see it. No one will read it. You will be paid nothing or next to nothing for it. Is that what you want for this masterpiece that millions of people could love, which you also deserve to have net you proper financial compensation?"


I have so much work, that I could give two stories to every place out there, have it all run, and still be sitting on a mountain of work with which I can do anything else. Have in books, have come out on a separate site especially designed to disseminate my work, have feature on an app designed for my work. Anything. But my mindset has been about a maximum number of readers. Often that's involved patience.


Works such as "Fitty" and "Best Present Ever," are, I believe, the finest works of art that anyone has ever made. I don't hope that or wish it. I believe it. It's very hard, of course, knowing that you're so hated that an entire industry won't allow anyone to see those works, if the people of that industry can help it.


Worse than that feeling--much worse--is the knowledge of having what you have, and it's not doing what it can do in the world (and for you, too, your quality of life), because no one knows it exists, relatively speaking. Living with that is one of the very hardest things I live with. It may be the hardest. But then that's where faith comes in. That something will happen. But something won't happen if I don't keep going. As if they're linked. Somehow. In some way that I don't see right now. Or even conceive of. Imagine. But I also am the one doing the constant suffering, being constantly tortured, so I also have to try to remind myself that maybe that is also blinding me to being able to see or allow for the tiniest ray of hope, which I can't envision right now. I really can't. But I do continue to try. Again, that's the faith component.


Below is an excerpt from a story called "Coffee @Night." The prospective reader I mentioned above could perhaps deduce that this is a story earmarked for Become Your Own Superhero: Intrepid Exceptions to Modern Fiction, which I summarized in an entry from yesterday. The book has that element of the topical, of the newsy, of the "of these times," but the work also must be timeless, and beyond its times, or it's not the kind of work that I think is important, that I try to make.


***

Here’s what I suspect one of these women will do eventually. They’ll get sick of living on their own and having gone along as they’ve gone along for so long, while the people they know are all coupled. They will make a selection of concession. That is, they’ll just say, “Okay, whatever, it has to be someone at some point, this person is middling, no challenges, they never inspire me to rise up or grow, they ask no questions of me, sounds easy enough, they’ll do, whatever, let’s call it love, I can plan a wedding for a couple years and I will love that. It will be all about me. I have made my choice.”


They’re going to be unhappy with that union. Chances are they’ll get divorced. Regardless, they’ll get locked into being this way, all shut off externally and internally, which is what happens if you do any one thing for long enough, so they won’t have any real friends either. They’ll produce children, because they will need to in order think they have any purpose. And just for something to do. Not the best entry point for parenting. That means the kids will likely be messed up and will grow up to do a version of all of this in the future and humanity will continue to devolve.


As you can see, it’s really a lot more than merely writing “Live, Laugh, Love,” as though that was the first and last thing anyone should know about you, and everything in between. As if it said enough. But I guess it does. Just in a really horrible way.


How would you share this with someone who asks you what the first meeting was like for you and your significant other?


“She said ‘Live, Laugh, Love,’ and she was the 900th woman in a row that did so, and I was hooked for life. I knew she was the one.”


But like I said, they get very angry. They call me a loser. They say that men are toxic. The biggest variant from the normal clichés that I’ve seen in weeks was courtesy of a forty-nine-year-old woman.


I normally don’t have any interest in forty-nine-year-old women. But you also see many obese people in a row and she was quite fit. Ninety-eight percent of available people that you see are obese. You’re supposed to like that now and think it’s grand in a fetching, appealing way, not a scale-busting one. See how I had to clarify the intention behind the word “grand” there? You can’t be too careful.


She didn’t write “Live, Laugh, Love,” or any of the others clichés that predominate. She thought she was being smart because she wrote, “Let’s go for a hike.” Five words. Not a syllable more.


But it’s not smart, is it? Half a century old, and that’s all you got. Think of what a half century is. It’d nearly take you from WWI to the break-up of the Beatles. Plus, it would be a terrible idea to enter the woods alone with someone you just met, I don’t care if it’s Santa Claus and he has proof of identification. Santa Claus can still rape you. Or worse. That sounds awful. But there is worse. And if Santa Claus—with character references from billions of children—can do that, what can some random guy from the internet do?


I left all of this aside. As you can see, each time I log on, my head is in an assortment of places, none of them good. I have to limit my visits. If one is looking for a positive, you can say that you both hit the like button regarding each other. But it ends there. They wait to be written, the women. They’ve said nothing, but it’s up to you to write. Equality and all.

After you write, unless you say something extreme or they sense that they should be defensive and attack you—these two apparent extremes actually being closely situated—they’re going to give you a bare-bones “thanks” or “thank you” or—and this is a fiendish way to go—a “ty” as if you’re not worth actual words.


They are doing what they do to themselves over the long haul, in terms of loneliness (which can render you collateral damage and left to contend with your own loneliness), but you’re meant to feel in that moment as if you were put in your place and given a lesson in the pecking order. Me, here. You: lower. Take your “ty” and be grateful you got it.


I get fed up and every now and again, and for myself and the upkeep of my sanity, I have to make a remark. It’s like the baseball player Ted Williams.


Ted Williams was known for always taking the first pitch. If you were the pitcher, you might as well throw him a strike on your first offering, even if you had to take something off the old fastball, and get ahead in the count. Williams said, though, that once in a while he’d take a mighty cut at that diminished meatball, “just to keep the pitcher honest.” Often as not, he’d park it over an outfield fence.


I guess I’m doing that, but without the obvious positive of hitting a home run. I said, “To where shall we hike? The verdant hills of Anal Land? Ah, I know those footpaths well.”


I am now envisioning such a place. There’s a ghost town at the base of those rolling hills where a couple of old-timers still live. They used to be daily-brawling enemies. There was a family feud. But all of the kin has died or moved off and now these two men see each other on occasion, maybe once a week. They don’t say anything in terms of greetings, but they also don’t swear at each other the way they used to. Ain’t no spilling of blood. They’re both just there. They hunt, but separately. Game remains abundant in the those nearby fecund hills. It fairly teems.


Maybe that’s why they stayed. I imagine that I pass through—alone or with someone, but usually it’s me gone a’wayfarin’—and I befriend both of the old-timers. They each like me equally. The only rule is when I’m with the one, roasting meat over a fire late at night, I don’t bring up the other. It’s an implied rule. That’s fine. I can respect wishes, whether they’re articulated or not.


I like how people who cook meat over a fire at night always drink coffee with their supper, never mind that it’s ten o’clock, as with these two old-timers. I trust people who I think would be that way.


It’s always coffee, right? Not water. How strange would that look? Can you even imagine? Crisp, tangy meat and water? What are the other choices? There aren’t any. Milk? Hardly. Whisky? You don’t drink whisky with a meal. So coffee it is. And those guys get up so early. Doesn’t hold them back. Makes you think.


By now the woman has said that she is going to report me to the overlords of the dating site app. She doesn’t use that phrase, but it is also implied. She believes in a larger power in these matters, an omniscient “they.” It’s like when someone speaks of history. “They originally designed these bridges to also function as aqueducts.” Who is the “they?” They don’t make things like they used to. Might as well be a cosmological governing and manufacturing board or a party of deciders who each wear masks and none of whom possesses an actual name. In her zeal for officiousness and swift and merciless sanctioning wholly disproportionate to actual offense there is an expressed hope for an even greater level of officiousness than her own. That kind of pecking order is permissible.


She’s rather worked up, and she sends me a solid ten messages in a row before I have replied once. Yoga can wait. She’s not thinking about yoga now. That water bottle on the kitchen table won’t be budging for a bit. There are other classes throughout the day anyway. Screw this guy has become the order of the day. Metaphorically.


Each message is angrier than the last. That I draw breath is an affront; as is the mere concept that I am somewhere out there, existing. The likes of me. Who dared say what has been said. One can read it back 5000 times. She’s about halfway through that number by now.


If I had said, in the first place, “Where shall we hike?” she probably wouldn’t have replied, though there could have been a two-word answer. “The Whites,” for instance.


Then what? I suggest a day and time for us to meet at the base of a mountain? Straight to the woods. No coffee first. A lot can happen in the woods. One of the most underrated bad things that can happen in the woods is to be with someone with whom you’d rather not be in the woods. It’s not twisted-ankle bad, but it’s bad.


She’s going off, and after a couple more messages, I attempt to settle everything down. We need to breathe easier when we can, which is one reason people take to nature anyway, though I’ve learned that this tends to be something they say they do a lot more than they actually do it, if they do it at all.


“You don’t want to go prospecting?” I ask. “In them old, gently-rounded hills?”


I’m itching—or is it fixing?—to start talking about sluices and copper mines and good things found in tight spots, but I am laying off in terms of outward expression as I go elsewhere in my mind, far, far, far from this exchange, if one can call it that, and other non-exchanges, if one can call them that either.


I say nothing of death and baseball games and old men and their late night coffee, and a wedding planned for two years and the big day that is effused about six, ten, seventeen months later. Life as a protracted milking of a teat that’s gulch-dry, yet reminisced over and over again in Facebook status updates as if it were still yet to happen—or be reprised—and was merely waiting for the mild assistance of a freshly minted and delivered time machine. And also customer reviews done long after the fact of businesses that had some hand in the glorious day, as though there could never be a suitable number of timeless superlatives for skilled makers of highly-anticipated cakes.



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