C: I checked my email for the first time in two weeks.
C: Fwd: Re: "Cheer Pack" "Funny Lines TK" "Invisible Man on Second" "Nacho Cheese" "The World of the Lawn" "Pillow Drift"
J: The link isn't working
C: It wasn't a link. It wasn't from today. It was the title of an email I received a couple months ago in which every single one of those stories was rejected. By a shit place. That publishes Roxane Gay. Today was worse.
C: I just thought it was remarkable.
C: Harper's rejected four stories today. Didn't read them, I don't think.
J: I just read your email. I'll read the blog posting now.
C: Boulevard has ghosted me. Ending a ten year relationship.
C: They refuse to write back. I've begged for clarity. I get work from basically one person now. There is nothing else in the emails. It's a total freeze-out. Industry-wide. And you know what? Doesn't even matter.
C: Harper's knew their history with "The Last Field." One of the other stories was "Pillow Drift." And she said, "Thanks for sending these. I'm going to pass for now, but I enjoyed them." That's as token as you get. When they do the "for now" thing, you're being handled/processed. As if it was going to change next Thursday. That is someone who did fiction with you. With a second story to run there. Now it, that same story, gets no comment? None of this gets a comment? You have to say more. With a contributor, with that level of material, with one story having that history there, a story that was then placed with The Atlantic--they know about this--and then reneged on? So, you have a guy without an agent able to get the same story accepted at Harper's and The Atlantic (with neither then running it, and it being unpublishable by anyone else. Says so much, doesn't it?) You have to say more. You can't send a token boilerplate that you'd send to a twenty-four-year-old who happened to discover your email or to the kid of your neighbor in the Hamptons whose stories you had been asked to read.
J: Your blogs have been great the past couple of days
J: "chickchick" is an amazing story.
J: There are so many depths to it
J: Touches on so many things
C: I don't even know anymore. But I do know it's unpublishable. It would be unpublishable without the blacklist. The blacklist is the least of my problems.
J: I've been thinking and listening and looking at what other published writers do
J: The problem is the blacklisting
C: It's not.
J: And these other people publishing are in this system
J: All the shit out there is horrible
C: That's not the point. They're not relevant.
J: You're right about people being able to feel safe reading a lot of what's out there
C: It's not the blacklist, it's the world.
C: You could A-list me and my problems remain.
C: Not being blacklisted doesn't mean a lot.
C: It means awards within the system.
C: There's no money in that. Or readers.
J: You created yet another masterpiece in the time you had to deal with me - take on basically the world - and feel lonely and miserable
C: It's the world. The blacklist is a lesser problem.
J: This surpasses people reading or not
J: We are not talking about another writer or another story here
J: We are talking about genius and greatness
C: I don't know what that means. I just know what the problem is.
J: Never been done before
J: People are simply eating what they are fed and have become accustomed to it
C: You do down this rhapsodic road. It's not relevant.
J: This is a layered problem.
J: It's not one thing.
C: The market driver is shit. People want shit. Did you read my remarks on Gronkowski?
J: Point taken and made
C: Reading is done. It was never popular. As for the blacklist: for a long time, my career has looked like I'm A-list. Even with all I've lost, I still publish more than I ever have. Which can make it sound like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth to an initiate.
J: But that's what currently entertains
C: Note what we just saw with Downtown.
C: Note how my Rolling Stone pieces performed so poorly.
C: Why do you think ML won't give me work?
J: But it's all right here so close
C: It's my clicks. They're lower. That's not because of a blacklist.
J: I agree with the clicks - I was reading that one of the biggest things to get a decent book deal is a big social media following
J: I was also reading that over the last 3 years getting a following has become a lot harder
J: There's simply so much out there
C: Yes, I told you that. You have to supply the audience. You bring the audience to the publisher. And the hackneyed work. Better still if it scores social justice points. It's profiling. Just what they view as the positive kind. No sincerity is required. Checking of the right boxes.
J: And I do agree that part of the problem is you're not putting simple shit out there
J: One of the most watched videos on YouTube concerns fat people stuck in ocean waves
C: Roxane Gay has several millions followers or whatever it is. That's more than she had a decade ago, but she had a big online presence.
J: Gay has a cause that when people get on board with it it makes them feel better
C: But she got the opportunity in part because of her online following.
C: I have 30 followers.
J: There are a lot of things you could learn on YouTube - but 90 percent of people just watch other people fail at stuff in the videos
J: I've looked into this a lot over the past three days
J: There is a problem but I know it's fixable
C: This is not a fixable problem. It's reality.
J: Yes it is the current reality
C: I've lost so many of my employers in the last two years.
J: The entire scope of publishing is changing by the day
J: Which could be a great thing for you too
C: There's no point in doing books now. No one will put them out. If someone did, which takes years, the industry will suppress whatever it is. They control the coverage, they have the plants for the puff pieces, they control the awards, they control, really, if something even gets to market, after it's been released; they control what's in stores, where it is in stores, if the books is on those ridiculous lists of "Hot Titles for January!," if you're going to have work in Best American Stories which is just a rigged-fest for cronies, the "hot" people in this tiny world, and, of course, safety-slop writing, if you're going to get the half a million dollar genius grant. I mean, come on. Even the plethora of people who literally want me dead know exactly what I am. I haven't placed a short story in two years. Obviously I have (far) more and better works than ever--I would say I'm vastly superior in what I can do now than I was even a year ago. You wouldn't know it from work to work, but the ease with which I create works is different. I feel that I have new universes being born in my mind constantly. You feel your power increase. You actually feel powers increase. This run of stories is, I am certain of this, unprecedented in literary history. Let me put it this way. My work, for a long time now, gets to the same qualitative place. I don't have works better than other works. A given story is not better than a different story. A personal essay isn't better than a story, a story isn't better than the blog. I'm unique that way. Even the best writers have stuff a lot better than other stuff. I haven't done it that way. But let's say that each work ends up at some beautiful home overlooking the sea, lighthouses off of the headlands, spume rising in the air, moon close enough overhead that it feels you can give it a fist bump. The difference now is in my car that got me there. My car is always a better car than the time before. It travels faster than the time before. Each time I think my car can't get better, it does. Each time I think I can't just get another car, I have twelve delivered without asking. Each is better and faster than the last. Each car is like the invention of a new kind of traveling device. At first you don't know that each could even be a car, they're so new in design. I take my car to the house with the fist-bumping moon. That destination is the finished work. Which is always the same quality. But do you see what I mean? I'm getting better all the time, in the sense of the journey, the cars. That's why I sent that email title. That you could just chop down all of those stories--it's like Revolver, Hamlet, Guernica, the Choral Symphony, "Like a Rolling Stone" boom boom boom, dismissed in one note. I can't find anything like it. You can find examples of some great work, of course, getting turned down, but you don't see half a dozen mega-masterpiece blown up in one go. And what's more, they're so different from each other.
C: But anything I write like that won't be seen
C: Doesn't matter what it is.
J: It's time to change to discussing potential solutions
J: White board time
C: The blog has also been a problem. But it's not the problem.
C: They are aware of it.
C: Some don't know what it is. They've been gossiped about it. But they are under the impression it's an angry psycho attacking them. They are going to believe what they want to believe. Reality has nothing to do with it. Also, they want their system to persist. It's their gravy train. If it's about merit, and it's about people having entertaining and meaningful reading experiences, they're cooked, obviously. They want no threat to the palace of lies they've built. They want no witnesses, and they certainly don't want a vocal witness, and they really don't want a vocal witness who is smarter than they are who walks the walk in the most undeniable fashion there has been. What are you going to say? I haven't done enough? I'm not smart enough? I don't write well enough? I don't know enough? I only write a certain way? I haven't published enough? You're talking about the ultimate comedy of errors if you try to make any single claim there. Those are not even hills to consider a fight upon. They know this. So this is what they do instead. They don't want anyone to expect vision from them. Originality. To be surprised by what they have on offer. They don't want that accountability. I represent that accountability. I represent the end to their system, and the building of something different. So, they are going to have machine guns built into their eyes for anything I do or say. Even for my mere shadow.
J: Where I have gone wrong is I try to tell you I'm right and you're wrong and I don't listen
J: I am not saying I no longer believe you'll have it all. I am not saying that in the least.
J: If anything, I become more convinced you will daily
C: I know these people. I know how they think. You can't be critical of anyone here. They'll lock you out. Of course, they'll lock you out for so many reasons. I was locked out before I said anything against what occurs here.
J: I was at Target to get my kids a couple of Barbies yesterday for a surprise - did you know that the majority of Barbies are now chubby or even fat?
J: That's what the world likes now - it's okay to be lazy
C: No, I didn't. But I'm not surprised.
C: I am terrified that you can't be great and be popular.
C: Not in the realm of the mind.
C: Even with Brady and Gronkowski you see it.
C: If Brady was not a football player, and his ability was his mind instead, he would be universally loathed. I worry about that. He might have a friend like you who said he was close.
C: This also means I'll always be alone. And who would want to be a part of this cancerous hell? You know what a lot of women say they want on the various dating apps? Someone simple. It's a big thing to look for. Someone simple.
C: In this world, the quality of something has nothing to do with its success. It's all about things I do not have: a vagina, the right skin color, safe and boring work, connections, Twitter followers. The problem is not fundamentally the blacklist.
C: Truthfully, I'm beyond scared all of the time.
J: I don't think it's all the blacklist
J: And don't be scared
C: I have no family, no friends. I can't date. I can't move in here. Everything is falling apart. The walls. The appliances. I can't write anything to save me. This is real. There's not gonna be a Rockport house. It's this. That Downtown thing was not good. Its says a lot. Obviously it's just one thing. But it encapsulates a lot.
C: How do you even write at this point?
J: Well you do write and will continue to
J: And you do have family and friends
J: And by no stretch is this where it ends
J: You need to not blame yourself and give yourself a break
J: This isn't you
C: I am not blaming myself.
C: The writing will stop.
C: Because I am breaking down.
J: I know
C: It's harder every day
C: You can't do something endlessly when you know you won't be paid and no one will ever see it.
C: What is the point?
C: "Pillow Drift," "chickchick," Cheer Pack, Franklin, the essay I wrote today--they're not going to be seen.
C: Let's pretend something gets in the New Yorker (which won't happen, for a number of reasons, but let's pretend)
C: That won't help.
C: It will hurt. It'll be payback time again. When you get things like that, as I do, it becomes "we'll show him" time with everyone else. The bigger the thing, the bigger the payback. You want "good" things to happen, but you also don't, in a way, because it's going to be worse after.
C: Hell, I'm garbage to Harper's one year later.
C: It's real that people don't like what I do. That's worth discussing. I'm not blaming myself for it not being good enough.
J: It's not that people don't like what you do - it's that it's not getting enough attention
J: A lot of what you do falls right back into the same old hands as far as readers go
J: When someone else has something run in Harper's are they ever like you or are they connected big time?
J: Meaning, do they have lots of friends in publishing who get them even more attention?
J: The amount of people who have enjoyed your work would blow your mind if you knew
J: But people will enjoy and simply move on
J: Not look you up, not send an email
C: Harper's is not a high circulation venue. It is a commercial magazine, but sort of like a literary magazine on steroids. The Daily Beast, WSJ, Rolling Stone, USA Today, are totally different kettles of fish.
C: That's endorsement, that's audience, that's reaching real people--not publishing people.
C: And we are seeing 0 return. As in zeros across the boards. In book sales, Twitter followers. This is the problem. Not the quality of the work. It's appeal and traction with this world. Yes, I know it has had no support. There has not been a single champion for it. And maybe that's what it's all about. Maybe you get that, and millions rush to something, then you explode in unique ways if what you have is actually good. Who can tell right now? Hardly anything is any good at all. But what I do know right now is the data I have. It's the zeros.
C: Let's look at Downtown.
C: I'm on that show almost twice as much as any other contributor if you add up minutes per annum.
C: I'm on every week, and my average segment is almost 2x longer than anyone else's.
C: I was beaten by a guy who was on Kimball's air for ten minutes in fifteen months.
C: I've been doing this show since August 2017. I talk about everything, from painting to coffee to sports to films to literature, to ideas impacting us all in society, trends in society, language, funny things, serious things. No matter how focused your interests might be, I hit your sweet spot at some time or other. If you like Dylan or Westerns or sports history or Victorian ghost stories or underrated Christmas films or thinking about how we can use language better now or the ballet or Billie Holiday or the Bruins' playoff chances--I do it all, and I do each and every one of those things as well as all of the others. I have a great voice for radio, I sound like a nice guy, a smart guy who is also down to earth, a guy who isn't prideful and can be open about some tough things in his life, a romantic guy in the sense of believing in love and vulnerability and openness and taking chances in life and in people, I would say, too. I am oriented around pure cognition. But I am also oriented around pure feeling. Like a cross between Descartes and Schubert. We speak of the mind/body split, but what if someone was the mind/body union? The thinker and the feeler, with neither undercutting the other. And I think that is very powerful and I also think it's pretty plain that that's what I am when you hear me on the radio, not that people put it in these terms. And in that time, there has not been a single book purchased by a Downtown listener. Not one has signed up for the blog. Not one has followed my FB author page. Not one has followed me on Twitter. The lack of success there isn't because of a blacklist, or, in this context, lack of exposure. They know when I'm on. They hear me. I don't think people shut off the show when I come on. And, so, they hear me more than the other guests. But, you could go on there for seven minutes, talk about whatever, and when they do one of these tourney things, they're going to vote for you over me. Simple point, but worth making: people can be terrible at talking on the radio. Before you even get into what it is they're discussing and the quality of their ideas and how entertaining or funny they are. It can be painful listening to some people. They have a bad voice, they take forever to get something out, they keep repeating the same phrases, they say one cliche after another, they have awful verbal tics. I hear enough people like that in the Boston sports market that I reach to change the channel. I bow out fast. I can't take it. It's anti-elocution. Seems like the most absolutely basic requirement for being on TV or the radio. But nope.
C: Don't get me wrong: The blacklist is a big problem. And I'm sure the blog is known by everyone.
C: You have to understand these people. For them, something that registers a 1 on the offense scale, in reality, registers a trillion for them.
C: No one says anything remotely negative about publishing. If you even say anything not glowingly positive, no matter how obviously twisted, wrong, immoral, and just flat out stupid something is, they shut you down. They exclude you. People say nothing in hopes that they'll be hooked up. I have news for you: they're not going to hook you up if you're not one of them. It's never going to happen. So those people who keep their mouths shut--and hell, maybe some of them have actual talent--in hopes of their name one day being called, are never going to get called. They'll drop out. They'll do something else in life.
C: Someone wrote me a seven paragraph letter about how I attack women. It got me thrown off Bumble. Despite that I said nothing untowards back. I simply remarked that it would seem wiser to focus on issues of obvious anger before seeking a relationship.
J: You didn't tell me that
J: What did they say?
C: It was all because of the Wall Street Journal op-ed I wrote on the ballet. There was nothing else. All over that article. Think about that. On Bumble, it's just your first name, and I don't even think I used my real name, given the number of crazy people out there. So you have to recognize me--meaning, my face--then you have to swipe on me, just to send me a savage note of hate. Then, when I reply sans any swearing, dealing solely in truth that I would have no problem with a million people seeing, because I know somebody is always trying to goad you into a "gotcha" moment, they report you. Then you're done. That op-ed was like five months old when this happened.
C: People see what they decide they want to see, based upon how much they've already decided they want to hate you. Reality enters into nothing.
C: I went back and re-read my ballet op-ed. Not that I had any need to. I knew what it said. There's nothing not factually true in it. Actually, the most objectionable part is the headline, which, of course, I didn't write. The writer doesn't write the headline. But it wasn't liberals who attacked me for liking the ballet. I'm sure an equal number were conservatives (but conceivably less, this being Boston/Cambridge/Somerville). Though it is true that liberals are more likely to manufacture a reason to go after a white male right now. "Over-educated" adjunct professors who don't really know anything and who published something once on their friend's blog and go to the right demonstrations and hate sports and seem to have a lot of time for everything that has nothing to do with work or actually advancing culture or partaking of it are people more apt to gun for you. I don't think there's any revelation in that. They are in reality gunning for various people at various times because they're perpetually gunning for themselves, and this behavior is a form of reprieve; it gets them off of them. Sort of. People often can't comprehend what they read. Like, if you had a discussion about it, and said, "Okay, tell me a line that is wrong, that is unfair," and they tried--well, they wouldn't have a line. If they did, they'd stammer, it would be all about their emotions, rather than rational thoughts. But a lot of people are ruled by those emotions.
C: You have to understand that I write about highly intellectualized things, too. Another part of the pie.
C: For the average person.
C: Even if they can be understood by a sixth grader. And even if they're more about the ideas that are relevant to all of us as humans, which connect and define us. Or shape our lives. It's never really mostly about the Beatles or Keats. And it's about the language and the jokes and the way things are put that you won't see anywhere else.
C: But there is still the nominal subject matter. And it concerns stuff that is beyond what people put in their lives. For instance, I have to write about a painting from 1819. That's not the purview of a lot of people. It will be hugely inclusive and hugely entertaining, and someone would think "I didn't know that could be interesting." But it's not where they usually go.
C: True, the fiction is not like that. But no one reads short fiction. Publishing and MFA programs have killed it off. Even successful authors no longer have story collections published.
C: I hit The Atlantic hard. Stossel and three others. He doesn't write back. He knows what has happened. Two of the others ignore me. The last one gives me the occasional form letter. She was the one who caused "The Last Field" not to run after Stossel accepted it. She was also the reason my assigned Beatles feature did not run in 2016. And she may be the reason they did not hire me, but I am not sure about that, whereas I have documented proof of the other two things. She's cost me a lot thus far in life.
C: As you know, NPR told me to go away for now. They basically said the only reason I contributed was because of Olly.
C: You see? People don't even know what talent is, it seems. It's not recognized. It's not wanted. It's not good for business. These are the real issues. You've had it backwards.
J: I get that
J: But you surpass talent my friend
J: It's a different ball game
C: I know it's "just" Downtown, a show in Maine, but that's a statement from the audience. "We don't like this guy." Kimball likes me. James liked me. Olly liked me.
C: I live with it. Nobody likes a genius. For the most part.
C: Less so in the 21st century. Keep these texts. This is the problem. Though I hope I'm wrong. And you can rub that in my face for evermore if I am. Having something more than great talent doesn't mitigate the problem. There is nothing I can do to overcome it.
C: That's why I always come back to death.
C: You should also understand that no major publication is going to let you say anything controversial or provocative.
C: An editor of mine just plucked every last tooth out of a fairly benign article. I knew they would. They called it a screed. Now, I know that if you say something critical, maybe you share some info, too, that is factual, but that people don't know, and you say this in the most measured tones--because you know what the deal is going in--it's going to be tarred a rant or screed by an editor. Your heart rate can be at 65, you can be in perfect control of your thoughts, your sentences can be crisp, balanced, and efficacious--it won't matter. Because you're saying something true, that is critical. That's a no-no. Unless--it's against the right kind of person right now. Then it doesn't need to be true. And it can be wild and all over the place, and it won't be termed a rant--which is what a rant actually is; a rant is words expressed without control, because anger has overriden control--or a screed, which it also is.
C: It's about $$$$$$$$$
C: Anything that is not puffery risks the digital mob. The digital mob unleashes boycotts on advertisers. Advertisers pull their dollars from venues that are already struggling to continue on. So, in reality, it's the advertisers who decide editorial content, in a way.
C: This isn't as simple as you think, where good beats evil.
J: I realize that.
J: I have realized that.
C: So, this idea that I say or write something that becomes a talking point...there's no avenue for that.
C: So...what remains? Books? No. Fiction in Harper's? No/doesn't help. Nonfiction art pieces? No. Radio? No. Film? No. You need these other things to get in there.
C: There is no way out.
J: Without a blacklist, people see your work because it's being talked about in favorable terms. "Latest genius book by Fleming etc." They tell people. More people tell people. CNN brings you in because you were on Fox. You can do everything. And you do it all better than anyone else. 'I'm in San Francisco, we're having this event, we want you to speak.' When you were at the Brattle, those people loved you. There was no interference. You could go to Southie and talk to some meathead idiots about the Red Sox and they'd love you and if you teased them about not reading they'd laugh and they'd probably try and read something. You see the end, I see things ready to start. You get no support from anyone. Norberg, me, your family. Everyone thinks you're the strong one who makes up for their shortcomings. And the reality is, even the people in your life aren't telling their friends to buy your books. But what would your mom say if everyone was saying you were great and something was selling? She'd get excited and tell people and it sounds corny but each of those people would tell people. I know what Stossel thinks about you. He did nothing. It's like you're locked down in a corner. And these patterns aren't going away. Everyone has fallen into them. And you're alone and you don't want to live and honestly if you just had to deal with some of the shit I've done, that would be enough, but you go and write a masterpiece like "chickchick." How long did that even take you? All roads will lead back to the body of work. The CNN appearance. The film, the lecture tour. Some people will come to it to try and hate you some more. There will be some old hippies who smoked a lot of pot who want to take you on with what you've said about the Beatles, like they're the experts, but they will respect you. The problem with your industry is you're dealing with people who want to be you who are nowhere near as good as you. They see themselves as competing against you. That person is going to hate you. But people out in the world, who don't see you as competition are different, even if a lot of people are threatened by someone so much smarter. I listened to a lot of Downtown over these last three days with my new ear piece in the car. And I think part of the problem is you're too good for the show. Not that you can't be on it. But it's just different galaxy stuff compared to someone mumbling their way through something about baseball. You interview him at times. You switch angles, who knows where you're going to be coming from next, but it will make sense, and you have the best voice for it, you are funny and you sound like a good guy who would be the exact same way at the Starbucks if you were talking to them and not like listen 'assholes, here is the smart guy who is going to lay down the law.' Roxane Gay does that, and some people get behind it, they follow it, and I don't know why. You are in complete command. Kimball is noticeably more excited when you are on. He's better when you are on. It's actually exciting. It feels like there are real stakes, but it's not stressful, it's something you can unwind with, too. It's hard to explain. But I can't explain why you have thirty Twitter followers. It's almost like you have to stick your flag in the ground, and get in trouble, get some controversy, but not too much controversy. It kills me to hear you say that no one is ever going to see Franklin, or "Pillow Drift," or "chickchick." And when this happens, you won't even have to go to work. Because you did it all already. It's all waiting.
C: The so-called stars of publishing make no money and aren't actually read. It's just being a star inside a particular shoe box. It can make them feel good with their egos. But no one here is reaching people. It's a sealed-zone. Not a Joseph Cornell box.
J: I agree with everything you say. You're right. You're always right. But I am not wrong about what the outcome is going to be. I feel like an asshole not saying to you, 'come work jobs with me, we'll have fun, you won't have to ever deal with these people again, you took your shot, it's over.' But I believe it's going to work out for you. The way you want it to.
C: The immediate problem is what to do now. What to literally be doing. In terms of what to work on and in terms of solutions.
J: I started reading the essay you did today. It's good for people to know where you come from.
C: I've done a lot of them. There's a book of them. I don't think it matters. I do this, dead end/wall, I do that, dead end/wall. It's like a million locked room mysteries inside of each other. And I have to find the solution to all, but I don't believe there's a solution to any one. Because they're not mysteries to me. I'm rim-rocked. I can't go up, I can't go down. You realize that we can both put down our phones and you can go to bed and I can write and email you a story by the morning that can exist in 2000 years. That I cannot do anything with right now. That is, out of all of these bad feelings, the worst.