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On the logical shock

Wednesday 4/28/21

Sports things I like: the give-and-go, reverse lay-ups, backhanders, the 6-3 double play, catchers catching pop-ups, sweep tags, hitting the opposite way, change-ups.

Bo Jackson is the most overrated athlete of all-time. People talk about Jackson in ways that don't align with what Jackson was as a football player or a baseball player. In baseball he was all brawn. No understanding of how to play the game. Look at his career OBP of .310. Simply heaved his bat at the ball. Sometimes he'd connect. Had one good year, one okay year. Meanwhile, in the NFL, never had a 1000 yard season. He wasn't as good as Sony Michel. You are talking about a guy who, at best, was slightly-above-average. Shouldn't the best athlete ever be able to do better than that? People fall into this fallacy of what makes a great athlete. They think it's about measurables. Wayne Gretzky was a far better athlete than Bo Jackson. Being a great athlete isn't a brawn thing, it's not a "look how fast I run forty yards" thing. That's a gross-oversimplification, and it's why people, on a forum like Twitter, rave on and on about Bo Jackson from time to time. Big, strong, fast does not equal "great athlete." A great athlete has great control. Great purpose in what their bodies do athletically. Everything else is just motion.

Bunch of texts came in a couple nights ago after I had gone to bed. I go to bed early usually. Looked at them yesterday morning. Were from someone who was reading "Transitionings" and "Fetch and Ferry" last evening. To run the texts together: "Reading Fetch and Ferry right now. Fucking amazing. Wow that is one powerful piece of fucking art right there. Beautiful. Transitionings is fucking awesome. There is nothing else like it. Two masterpieces right there that would make anyone else's career."

They are right. You can't even say that what is happening is disturbing. I left the world of the merely disturbing a long, long time ago. It's a million miles back in the distance.

They called me yesterday and we spoke some about "Fetch and Ferry." The uncle in the story has no dialogue--no verbal dialogue. But you wouldn't know after you read the story. You'd actually be surprised, retroactively, by this true enough tidbit. All of his dialogue is visual. For instance, the girl who narrates the story--though she's a woman, presumably, when she's telling it--talks about going to the funeral parlor for her grandmother's wake. It's her mother's mother. And her dad walks her mom up to the casket before anyone gets there. Kind of leaving the girl alone to fend for herself. Which she doesn't expect. Because this is new to her. Death is new to her. But her uncle ends up taking her up, and she talks about how he had a hand on each of her shoulders, and that felt like all that was keeping them from leaving her body and drifting off into the corners of the room. That's the dialogue--the visual dialogue. And we know what the father and the mother think of this man, to trust him with their child in this moment. The father had another family once, and the girl had a sister she never met, because the sister died before she was born. And the dad went to stay with this uncle after the first family was no more. Who has his own raft of problems. The story builds to this one moment--it builds to a number of them, but this is a key visual--of something that you'd never see coming, which the father and the uncle are doing. It's nothing sexual. Nothing of that nature at all. But it's perhaps the most intimate thing I've ever seen in fiction. A complete surprise in the story. Only, it's what I term a logical surprise. A logical shock.

My fiction is built with such moments, when the reader could never see something coming. And it absolutely shocks them when it does. But it makes logical sense. It follows. Someone else would shock for shock value. That's not what the logical shock does. Almost every other writer will ram dialogue with exposition. Look at T.C. Boyle and his generic MFA fiction. He has the characters explain the contrived story they're in to each other. And I was trying to say to this person I know that most publishing people could never understand that this is the stuff. This is what makes a work of prose art the greatest art that it can be. They've just looking for words that sound Japanese, and references to MFA programs and Westchester Country. They're not reading, they're not in an immersive experience where a single word, a single shading of a word, can change everything. The world. The worlds of the characters.

There is this other logical shock near the end of the story, where the girl engages in this moment of communication with someone you'd never expect to say something in this story. That person wants her to speak on their behalf. To speak for both of them to this father, and for more people besides. For the brother/uncle. For siblings everywhere. And the girl alters this pronoun in this line that has functioned as a riff from the first page. I've put this line in the reader's mind throughout, but I've been holding back for this moment, at the very end--it's like the resolution of a chord. When she shifts the pronoun, she speaks it as though it were italicized and we actually see it italicized. She says that she wanted to put everything she had ever known, and everything she would never know, into that one word. That second distinction is the one that tells even more. It is that. That is the stuff. That awareness she now has to make the distinction, to want to have what she is saying contain all that she knows will always be beyond her. It is a moment of human power that is unrivaled in the history of fiction. It is so emotionally intense and true. And I don't think these people would have a clue what is happening there, even if they weren't just putting in the people of the system, the people with the right background, gender, color, agent, etc. You can't write a better story than "Fetch and Ferry."

Yesterday morning I wrote a 2400 word story that is every bit as good, called "Bobotaur." It's set, presumably, in San Diego, and it's about two guys who used to be friends, who are business partners. Way back, just after college, they started a comic business. They'd go to Padres games and try to sell their first books in the parking lot, but they literally couldn't give them away. The big break came when one of the guys--who has been pushed out of the business, somewhat, by things in his own life--created the super hero of the title, which was kind of a rip-off of Hawkman, Green Arrow, and with a nod to Boba Fett. The thing was, he was a Black super hero. The company grows over the years, and the guy who created Bobotaur is coming in for a meeting when he knows he's going to be relieved of his own character, of writing his own character, because he's a white guy, and there's all this blowback on social media. So these guys have to have this conversation, and we see the reasons why things are done, because the guy who is more or less the boss at this point, is talking in this kind of casual racism. He's interested in the business optics. Sort of this scummy guy in some ways. He makes some remarks on Birth of the Nation, which he saw "on the YouTube."

The story is largely dialogue driven--and it's awesome dialogue--but it also exists in all of these different temporal spaces at once. I'd say that's a hallmark of my work. You'll go into the past, and you'll also look at a future, and the narrative will be in the present, too. We learn all of the catchphrases of the super hero, and they're pretty great. Everything is working on so many levels at once. There is this line at the end, that the creator of the comic says--which is a line that was used only in special circumstances in the comic book--that is one of my favorite all-time lines. Reminds me in a way of that line in "I Want to Dance Where the Children Play" in Dark March when the custodian is trying to shoo away the ice sculptor who is hanging around to watch his sculpture melt, and even gets down on the floor near the pooling water as these people at this dance/social gathering are still doing their thing. And the custodian says, "Job's hard enough, man."

The story is one of those works that if it was in the right place, it'd explode. Go viral. It deals with race in a way that nothing else anyone is making right now does. Here's the thing. You want to have a story where people have this raging need to take a side. That's what this story is. But it's even better when those same people who have the raging need to take a side, don't know what side to take. And this is how that story works. That is not easy to do. That is how you get people worked up in a froth, how you get them all discussing it.

Anyway. Tony Gwynn is in the story, and Mark David Chapman, and John Coltrane. It's a great story.

Once again, composed without any planning. Made up on the spot. Completed before nine in the morning. Then I walked six miles.

Yesterday's Downtown was good. Lots of strong sports talk, and art, and funny stuff from life, and lines of wit. It's still not possible for me to put links in anything on this journal--again, another host site bug that has to be fixed--but I'll put it up in the News and On air sections. As I said to Kimball yesterday, I've spoken for about sixty hours on that show, by my very rough, quick calculation. Unique radio art and entertainment. But I thought yesterday's segment was quite funny, among other things. Then I hear all of the talentless slobs who have lucrative radio jobs, and it's like come the fuck on, seriously? Not to mention all of the awful writers who give interviews on podcasts and magazine websites about how they "birthed" their dreck-y, cliched, safe-as-cotton-balls story at some writer's colony, boring you out of your freaking mind. The very sound of boredom and pretentiousness. Maybe change that? Maybe reach out and publish "Fetch and Ferry" and do an interview with this guy that will blow people's minds, just like the story will?

Someone else said to me, "I know people don't read anymore, but what you're doing isn't even reading. It's so far beyond 'just' reading. You almost can't even classify it as reading. Not as other people mean reading. And certainly not in terms of what anyone else offers up to be read."

Lastly, behold my flowing mane. Before too long I will have it sheared to the skin, and come to resemble Aloysha in The Brothers Karamazov.


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