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The book written by accident

Thursday 9/21/23

I'll talk about this now. It's time.

So, I had joked that I wrote a book by accident. There was joke in the joke and truth in the joke. I wouldn't write something without great care and all of the focus I can bring to bear on that work at this point in my evolution. But I didn't set out to write this book. I set out to do it once I realized I already was, and now I'm working hard to finish it shortly.

I'll put up the list on here--as I said I would--once I get said list updated, but going back to June 2018, I've written what has to be 500 stories. That's when I also began writing this journal, which no totals over four million words. The amount of fiction I wrote in that time period also totals four million words. So yes, that's eight million words, and that's obviously not counting the nonfiction. As I've remarked, this journal is what I do between things.

A lot of those stories were earmarked--written for--specific books. There are nine of them. Some have come up quite a bit in these pages, obviously: The Solution to the World's Problems: Surprising Tales of Relentless Joy; Become Your Own Superhero: Intrepid Exceptions to Modern Fiction; There Is No Doubt: Story Girls; The Ghost Grew Legs: Stories of the Dead for the More or Less Living; Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives.

As I've been doing these 500 stories, I've also become someone who writes in different ways. I'm always someone who writes in different ways. One of the realities of my situation at present--that is, being hated, feared, envied, blackballed by all of these people in a system that will be pulled to the ground--is that the work often sits with me. It will all have its day and do its thing. It will reach everyone it was made to reach. But out of this matter of outright discrimination and bigotry, was an opportunity of sorts. To go back and to cultivate the vast relatively recent body of work. Because it was here. It had not had its chance yet.

Sometimes I look at a story from five years ago, say, like "Dead Thomas," to name one. That's thousands of works in the past. Someone had read it and they told me it was the best thing they had ever read. For me, it was this work that had been followed, like I said, by so many other works. I don't bask. I move forward. The work that matters most to me is the work being worked on right then and the work that will follow.

I went back to read "Dead Thomas"--which is going to feature in a lively entry on here about one J. Robert Lennon of Cornell and Epoch, and our friends--it's like they're a constant of bigotry and corruption--at American Short Fiction--to try and see why this person said what they said. To try and experience whatever they experienced. Read the story through their eyes.

Why that story (which is in There Is No Doubt), for instance? I do realize that because someone says that about one work doesn't mean it couldn't have been any or all of the others. But no one would say it every time. Still, I wanted to look.

And I did that. What I thought as I read the story was, "This is the best thing I've ever seen." I read it like I was someone who'd never come in contact with it before. That was a very powerful experience, and also a very useful one. A great ability to have. Not just to confirm or formally discover; but also to overhaul, when that was necessary. To know that I should. Then I got more and more comfortable going back in and taking another journey.

I am ruthless when it comes to my work. I'm not gentle, I don't sit back and praise myself. I am a dick to that work. I am a savage--a hard-assed, cruel, vicious, verbally abusive savage--in what I expect from myself and what I expect that final product to be. In the final two years, this has become extreme. I call it having the good OCD.

I have known for quite some time that The Solution was going to be a long book, with thirty or so stories. It's about joy. My thinking, as I explained, is you can't have too much joy. Joy isn't necessarily happiness. They are different. I also knew that I had this story called "Big Bob and Little Bob" that I had done a few years ago, which I wanted to revisit. My recollection was that the tone was breezy, though the contents were not, if that makes sense. The story moved like a kind of wind, hitting points it needed to hit, but not staying too long.

I read it, and I just thought, "No. Not nearly. This isn't it." I think it was 1300 words long. And I began working on it all over again. I listened to the characters better than I had listened to them before. It kept getting longer and longer. I worked on my 100 other things at the same time, but I made time for that story the way I make time for all of it. In April, I set it aside, until this week. I knew how good this story was. I knew it was as strong as "Fitty" or "Best Present Ever." Frankly, I knew it was better than any other work of art anyone has created. I had it in mind--thinking that was where it was definitely going--for The Solution. It'd be a lot longer than the stories in that book, but then there was another story that was happening, that kept growing and growing each time I sat down with it, called "Attic Cantata" and that would be in The Solution, too. Then there was something even longer called "Finder of Views," which is about this guy who uses a singular viewing device in order to--after a fashion--see his dead daughter. And that was long. Then there was the longest story yet, called "Brothered," which presently is 12,400 words.

I started thinking differently in July. For two whole weeks, I toyed with something that would be big. Artistically. And big with the world when I am not boxed in by these bigots. I thought about this other book that was happening and what it might mean to take works like "Bob" and "Attic Cantata" away from The Solution. At the same time, I was writing these other works for that latter book. I was writing for all of these books I've mentioned at once. I was--and am--often doing it the same day.

I didn't tell a single person about this. I didn't go into it even in these pages. I tried to argue against myself, to attack this position of "you should do this book of this" in every single conceivable way. But I knew what I was doing. This was part of the process of taking the time to get it right, to leave no doubt. I knew why these works went together. I knew their value in this world right now. I knew their relevance in this world, what they could effect in this world. I knew the order they'd go in. I knew another story I'd be going back into and how it would be a part of this. I knew the stories would switch off from first person to third person in rotation. I even designed the cover.

Then I wrote the 1700 word preface, which I worked on today and is close to final. Really, I've known since July now that this would be happening and it was a major work. I say I wrote it by accident, when in reality I've put so much time into all of this writing, but it also just happened, in a way. I listen to my characters. The characters. They tell me their story. I listened to something this time, too. They were part of it, those characters. But it was something bigger than myself, just as those characters are. Or where they come from is.

The book is called Big Asks: Six Novelettes About Acceptance. And it is one hell of a special book.


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