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Punk rock triple album

Monday 4/19/21

I'm going through If You [ ]: Fantasy, Fabula, F***ery, Hope one last time this morning. I myself likewise hope my Dzanc editor does not loathe me or think I am completely unreliable. I want to do Longer on the Inside and this Joy Division book with them, pronto-ish, certainly something next year, and I'm disappointed in myself for the unpardonable lag. I have truly sucked. I knew there'd be no coverage of the book, and it's hard to have the motivation to get back into something when you know that, especially for me, because it brings home--and brings it all home hard--where everything stands for me right now with an industry. It'll change at some point. Belief in me, and working with me, will be rewarded for those who had the former and did the latter. The money will come, and the association will always be in place. "We had him for a good stretch."

I'll be honest, too. I didn't want to look at this book. I had this other book of short fiction--I still do--called Cheer Pack: Stories, and those works have come out in venues like Commentary, the VQR, Harper's, Glimmer Train. It's a Murderers' Row of stories. And it seemed, and seems, like such an obvious one to do. The stories are so strong and tight. I was frustrated with what was happening with it, and in this act of defiance--really just an act of destruction in one way, this extreme punk rock gesture--I took a huge stack of stories all written in different styles, crazy madness, this orgy of range, and I did a whole, "Fuck it, fuck everything, fuck this" kind of thing and stuck them all together. The range is outrageous. It's such an act of writerly defiance of how everything is supposed to go with a collection of short fiction. It's smashing the guitar. It's cutting the building in two. It's etching right into the celluloid.

The way it's described on the Dzanc site and Amazon is a punk rock triple record in fiction form. That's accurate. It's a literary double or triple album of a mass of styles, genres, voices. It's what the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin would have termed the "carnivalesque," but the carnivalesque times the carnivalesque.

I worked pretty hard on the revisions. I untangled a lot. I made viewpoints clear and kept the shifting to a minimum. Knocked out voice embellishments. Shaved away qualifying phrases. Went less sideways and more A to B.

The book starts in the balliest way I've ever seen a book start: with a story that takes the form of a grocery list. Which is also where the title comes from.

I mean, who the fuck does that?

I'll be honest: I'm shocked how good it is. Some of these stories go back twenty years. You wouldn't know it. I am shocked how well it works together. I was thinking in large part that I needed the money, but this book is crazy good. Even as you move from YA literature to erotica starring the ghosts of Abe Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe--which has one of the funniest bits I've ever written--in the space of a single story. But it is seriously so bloody good. I don't know how this works as well as it does. Must have known what I was doing on some level, and then kicked that up a level in all of the rewriting.

Not that it matters, but the stories come from AGNI, Conjunctions, TriQuarterly, PEN America. Most of the places have banned me. But people come, people go, life changes, things change, circumstances change, leverage changes. I'm sitting here with close to 300 available stories. All I really care about, all I ever care about, is getting them to the most people, the most readers. I can set anything aside in my focus to do that. An editor can hate me, and I can hate them. Can still send the professional email, and the masterpiece of a story. "Got the edits, thanks, looks good to me, when does it come out, please send the check here, All best, etc."

These books--Cheer Pack and here with Brackets--mark an end of a phase. There have always been strong female characters in my work, but for this earlier phase, the protagonists tended to be males. That's how it was with Buried on the Beaches. And that's not how it normally goes now. The protagonist or a story of mine now, or the narrator, can be anyone. "Fitty" was the work that changed that for me. It changed everything. And it opened up a lot. I mentioned "Buck a Drive," "Cliffs for Cliffs," and "Nickel Coffee." The last two feature female protagonists--though that's also an over-simplification--and "Buck a Drive" is kind of a joint venture. A guy and a neighborhood girl who knocks at his door.

I know someone who will say to me from time to time, "We should be having the most exciting fucking conversations about some genius new work of art you just wrote, or some masterpiece that everyone is talking about that you did, or how your new book is just going to fucking explode and people are going to have to try and wrap their minds around what you've invented this time, and instead we talk about these pig fuckers who own your fucking life."

It's true, what he says. Those would be fun conversations. I'd like to phone him right now, and tell him what an amazing experience it's been reading through Brackets this morning, all excited, like truly excited, to see how people react to something like this, which is so dynamic and unique. Crazy crazy art. But he'll phone in a bit, and I won't talk that way about the book, just like it's hard for him--I can hear it in his voice--to tell me he just read Meatheads for the twelfth time, and "Girls of the Nimbus" yet again, and how amazing they are to him. It's depressing. So I'll just say, "I'm finally pretty much done, I hope Dzanc doesn't think I suck too much, I want to do Longer on the Inside," and that'll be the conversation. Will be monotone and joyless.

But Brackets is my White Album. Which has always been my favorite official album. And it's the Beatles, "Eh, fuck it," record. Where they just stuff everything together, and it works. It's my Sandinista! It's my Zen Arcade. Those were the three records--two double LPs and a triple--I had in mind. White Album x Sandinista x Zen Arcade. Zen Arcade has a story, and this book also has a kind of story, given consistent and developed themes.

I like the cover of the book a lot. It was my idea, but the artist did a better job than I could have asked for with the way they brought it to life. It's on the Books page. I'd paste that link in here, but as usual, there are problems with the host site, and this latest bug is not allowing me to insert the hyperlink. But obviously it's not hard to get there.


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