Someone needs to explain Wells Tower to me. The loyalty towards Wells Tower. Don't know who Wells Tower is if you're a normal person out in the world--that is, not part of the publishing system--and you're reading this? A quick debriefing.
About a decade ago, Wells Tower had a short story collection come out. I believe it had nine stories in it. They were each incredibly overwritten. There were no plots. It was what I call word soup. Logorrhea. With nothing to actually see here. Tower, in an interview, because he gives a bunch of them, even though he writes nothing--more on that in a moment--likened this to sheets with a high thread count. You want sheets with a high thread count, you want stories with a high thread count, according to Tower. That means, for Tower, you over-write everything, you pile word on top of word, but you say nothing.
A Tower sentence is something like "She looked like a half-cooked eraser with dreams one day of becoming a prostitute." Oh. That's not exact--it's not worth the energy to look it up--but it's close. He thinks he's like this word-painter, and other sentences go on and on and on, with metaphor after metaphor, and I think of him obsessing over lines that say nothing, ultimately, touching them up with his word-brush, consulting his thesaurus, making the metaphors increasingly risible to those of us back on planet Earth with even a half-busted bullshit detector. He writes like he has both OCD and not a clue how fiction might actually work.
Anyway, this story collection was reviewed twice at The New York Times Book Review. Two reviews. One book. Two different reviewers. Because it was that amazing? Tower then ended up on that list of twenty writers under age forty for The New Yorker. Big deal in publishing. Very big deal. Paved the road with gold for these people. The thinking being that these writers had most of their careers ahead of them, and you should watch them. They will produce much, and great, new work!
This is funny. I've seen what has become of many of those twenty, who have done squat and next to squat since. Guess how many books Tower has had come out since that story collection, which was obviously the product of his time in an MFA program? None. Not a single book. You could shit on a piece of paper after you were on that New Yorker list, and it would get published by, I don't know, Threepenny Review. But this gets better. Tower publishes like one thing a year. Maybe. What he specializes in is republishing stories he's already had run somewhere, but with a different draft. Isn't that amazing? Sometimes, the same magazine publishes the same story twice by this guy, just a different version of it.
He gives interviews. He is invited to workshops. He's a fiction judge. But he writes absolutely nothing. He can't write. He has zero ability. But people give him things. You got another draft, Wells, of that story that already ran twice? Can we have that draft? We always hold a place for you, big boy! You're one of us, lodge brother!
Why on earth is there any loyalty to this guy? Because of nine meaningless stories he had come out almost a decade ago? They were that amazing to you, publishing people? Really? What gained this guy forever-access to your inner temple? He's a brilliant writer? Great person?
Speaking of great person--this is fun. Last year, The New York Times Magazine had Wells Tower take his family, on their dime, to Hawaii, to do a nonfiction piece about what it's like to vacation there. Riveting, right? And nice gig, huh? So what does Tower do? Well, of course he does his word slop shite, only in nonfiction form, but on top of that, he goes the racist route. It was an embarrassing piece of xenophobia, from a completely out of touch, arrogant, condescending white guy. Who the hell let that piece through? They should be investigated, too. Who signs off on something so demeaning to its subject? To a people?
But this is what I came across recently. Tin House invites Wells Tower to their Tin House workshop out in Portland, Oregon. As you'll note in the article, at the fest Tower has to read a Harper's essay that came out in 2010. Why? Because he has jack shit. He can't write anything new, let alone anything of quality, and that's with people clearing the road for this guy, waving him along ahead of everyone else. (Personally, I'd feel like a total loser reading something from six months ago in that context, never mind a decade prior. I'd be busting out the new gems. And if I didn't write them that week, they'd already feel old to me. And as I was reading up on stage, I'd be writing a new one simultaneously in my head. But that's just me.)
Explain yourself, publishing. He's a genius? He charmed you? How'd he charm you? With his racism? His complete lack of production? Living off of things that were dubious at best and not remotely earned that were from ten years ago?
Why, what a model, what an exemplar.
So at the Tin House thing, the allegation is that he enacted this voice in this essay in some boorish, misogynistic fashion. Which prompted an "intervention." And of course there are all kinds of people there, men, women, people of color, all kinds of orientations. But a heavy POC, LGBT presence. Some walked out. (If there was no one there, and you're espousing anything racist or against anyone, you still shouldn't have been acting out your garbage. If it's just you at home at night admiring yourself naked in your mirror and replaying your press clippings in your head from people who might as well been on the take, and were, in a certain sense, you shouldn't be acting out this crap there either. Anywhere, ever.)
Now, there is a certain kind of thinking in audiences like this that can be part of a problem. (This is a more or less correct piece. The Nation is a pretty disgusting place--I'll tell you some stories later in a different post--so I'm not surprised.)
If you have a character, and their voice is true to their identity, and they are not you, they are not a mouthpiece for you, they can speak in a manner that is true to their identity. We can't censor this out. There will be little art left. We'd have to go through, too, the history of works of art and harrow out much of it. This is different than if the writer believes these things. Totally different.
And if you can't see that difference, you have no business being around art. If we lose this, it's game over for humanity, the purge of so much art, freedom of creation, fostering of truth. And then we have a world where only certain voices can be depicted, with artists (who aren't really artists) only allowed to create a kind of character, a kind of person; which, really, is pretty Hitler-y. The art of the written word will be replaced by stories and books that are no more than emotional support squirrels (or a dog, or whatever animal you want to use for this metaphor) in prose form. We will get weaker, more stupid, more closed in on ourselves, less equipped to handle reality, to problem shoot the real difficulties of life, make connections with others, connect with ourselves, face the world sans self-medication, and on and on, as we become more depressed, alone, broken, irreparable. We're already getting there.
Now, could Tower have read something else and been more aware of his audience? Obviously. (Well, when you only have like two dozen things to choose from, despite being in your mid-forties, perhaps not.)
But the people who were offended should have been more offended by the fact that this guy is trumped up as anything as a writer. That he is given things. That he has his balls cupped as he walks around being "Wells Tower, Important Author," despite that he has no talent, and does absolutely fuck all as a writer.
That's what should bother you. And there, too, is your discrimination on display. There is your lack of equity and justice.
And it's like, why Tin House? Why would you include this guy for anything? He's a zero as an artist, a writer, and conceivably as a person. But he has two homes I've read. And a family. How does he contribute to supporting any of that? What money does he make? Again, doesn't write anything. He's repped by Andrew Wylie. (After Wylie poached him from another agent. That's how bad Wylie wanted this fraud.) Why? What money does he make for you, Wylie?
Now, eventually (well, maybe), Tower will shit out some bad novel, and publishing will race to praise it, because--well, you tell me--that's the way it goes here. What gave this dude the golden ticket? He writes slightly more than my sister's dog. (I'm not sure if he's worse at writing, or worse at producing anything; were there Vegas odds regarding that contest, I think it'd be a pick 'em.) Should the dog get to go to the Tin House fest? People would like the dog. He's eccentric. Colorful. So, actually, he'd probably be reasonable entertainment. Not Snoopy-level or anything, but cute dog, kind of weird, could be a thing. And it's not like he'd teach you less about writing than Wells Tower.
If Tower's name was Joe Smith, none of this would have happened.