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The war against the orange pylons

Thursday 4/16/20

Yesterday I wrote an 1800 word essay. This morning I composed a 900 word short story called "You Don't Believe in Fate," which will wreck you. So much meaning and depth from so few words, plethora of length from a kind of mirage brevity. Most of it is second person. I haven't written a second person story before, unless one counts "Clam Sliders" from the end of Buried on the Beaches, which isn't really second person, first person, or third person--it's a narrative voice I've never seen before. Everything is in the tool kit. When I compose something, the relevant skills come to the fore. It's like a defense in the NFL that never plays the same way; the match-up dictates the scheme. Maybe it's 3-4, 4-3, maybe no one has their hand in the dirt, so you don't know what formations are being used. The story is going to tell me what is best to do. I can always respond with whatever that is, because it's within my skill set.


Someone read "Fitty" yesterday and said this:


"Boy, do you cover a lot of ground in your stories. There's a sense of purposeful and meaningful restraint in Fitty, despite how mobile it is. The roving point of view is masterful. The best improvisation, to me, it seems, is both crafted without being premeditated, and that's how these stories feel to me. Alive. Organic. But also crafted. Made with the utmost care. They're very surprising. And I mean that as a compliment."


Which is somewhat what I'm partially talking about. Or that's where part of the surprise comes from, anyway. The New Yorker turned down twenty stories last Friday. Twenty in one day. Fiction coordinator said he'd get caught up, and then he just started going through them from the emails. Twenty stories, all masterpieces, all completely different from each other.


I have no respect for what they publish in the fiction section. I think it's all awful writing. I send along what I send along because it's like you're Elvis, and only Muzak is played on the radio when you're ready to burst through. You don't have any respect for what's on the radio, but that's how you get heard, so you try to replace the crap. You don't do away with radio, you have to play with those cards, to mix metaphors. And I think what happens with this guy is he honestly has no clue what I'm doing. I think at The New Yorker, and everywhere else (though, at The New Yorker, connections--some of which I'll reveal, to give you an idea how sales have nothing to do with the quality of work--count for even more), it's akin to workers on an assembly line. Quality control. But anti-quality control. They're all standing there, and orange pylons are going by. The pylons all look the same. So long as they look they same--and they come from the right kind of person, with the right agent, the right contacts--they wave them through.


Now, these pylons are basic, boring, meaningless. But it's what these people are trained to see, it becomes all they know to look for, to understand. And along I come with a story. And it's no pylon. It's a world. The shape changes depending upon the angle you're looking at it from, it's every color you ever knew at once, and some you didn't know.


And I think they honestly don't understand it at all, what makes it so good, because it does not follow their simple, prescriptive hallmarks. I write like no one else in the world. Even though, paradoxically, it's easier to understand than anything they publish, in terms of the reading experience, the way it grabs you.


Does a lot of the work for you, never even feels like you're reading, and certainly doesn't feel like you're trying to gut your way through a homework assignment, which is what reading so much of the rest of it feels like. It's accessible, it's infinitely better than what they run, but they want that orange pylon. They can understand nothing else but "that's an orange pylon, that's what we let through." I don't think they need to understand or care at all about the orange pylon. I think it can be a total waste of time, but so long as it's orange and pylon-shaped--and came in from the equivalent of a literary socialite--then they can approve it.


Meanwhile, I want you to look at this. It's by Matt Bell. It's as bad as any writing you will see. He's what they call a literary citizen. He has no talent, but he's connected. He thinks publishing and the system is awesome. Literary citizen. Talks about how awesome the system is, constantly. Literary citizen. That's the term they actually use. So, I'm the opposite of a literary citizen.


His books are like 350 page versions of this. Didn't you laugh over how bad it was? How about the Plath part? It's like someone had been challenged to write the worst thing--ever been to a museum of bad art?--as some kind of funny contest to see what the worst joke of a piece of writing might be. And that's how he always writes.


I'm going to be letting you know a lot about a guy named Nate Brown at American Short Fiction soon. I'm just getting my ducks in order. I like to be thorough, I like to be airtight. I don't do anything half-cocked. But I'll just say here that American Short Fiction--and you're to love what happened there with Nate Brown and "Fitty" and how this man talked to me, and how they pick all of the work they pick (which, of course, I know all about), and how this person lied to me as they talked down to me--published Matt Bell. So did Bradford Morrow at Conjunctions, and I will have quite a number of posts about that venue soon.


But here's what I want to focus on now: Matt Bell has a book deal with a major publisher. A major publisher puts out books by this person who writes this way. Think about that. Now, this person is not in any major magazine while they're writing this awful work. It's not like you'll read their features in Rolling Stone or get their opinions in The Washington Post. No, it's all the lit mag world, which, so far as the world at large goes, does not exist. But a major is supposed to be concerned about business. I am, of course, hated and banned just about everywhere, but I want you to know that a guy who writes that way, every single time, who can do nothing else, who is an embarrassment as a writer, is shuffled into these lit mags, and has a book deal with a major publisher. I will pay you if you can give me one honest sentence saying how that whatever the hell it is is you just saw is good and worth anyone's time. It's not just inept. It's not just pointless. Even as a pastiche of self-medication writing--which it isn't, because he means this, he means this earnestly as good writing--it's laughable. This entire business is all about contacts, connections, often bullying people into what you want.


Then there's this.


A former editor--of one of the, let's say, two or three biggest magazines in the world--writes me an email yesterday, saying, "Publishing is nothing but flaming assholes. I was no saint, by any means, but just by not being a flaming asshole, you're the equivalent of Mahatma Gandhi in this industry."


Good quote, right? But that's all this is, man. There is nothing real, and nothing is about the writing in publishing. It's sick, bad people doing sick, bad people things. And if you're not a sick, bad person, and you're doing great things, all on your own, despite their wishes, their need for power and to keep you down as not one of them, they are going to want to end you and they will hate like you can barely imagine someone could hate.


There are some exceptions. But not many. I respect the exceptions a lot.


It's funny getting emails from publicists about people who got the Guggenheim, because the people who got it are all system people, all regularly hooked up, who have the right agent, the right publicist, etc. etc. The publicist helped get that Guggenheim. Because of course they did.


Want to see something else?


This guy, Paul Lisicky, who is as bad at writing as Matt Bell--and, what do you know, is published by Bradford Morrow at Conjunctions--and has a Guggenheim. Think about that, too. This is how he writes. This is one of his stories. Now, what's great about this, as you might be getting ornery, thinking "well, Fleming goes too far, he sucks, it's all a matter of taste, how bad or how pointless could a work of writing really be?" is that one can say: Just click.


Did you enjoy that? Would you love to receive a book of that at Christmas? Guggenheim. $40,000. Look at that. Look how bad that is. It's not deep, like you're supposed to pretend to think it is, it's not anything. Like I said, nothing is real here, nothing is about the writing.


You should know, too, that Bell and Lisicky teach writing to young people. Imagine being in those classes, that's what your parents are paying for, what you're racking up debt for, and those are the people telling you what's good and bad in writing? They are your instructors? Can you even imagine that? And then, of course, out come people who write like that, because that's how the system works, it teaches you to write this way. It makes writers like this. What are you going to do? Be independent? Say, no, I write this way, it's better? Who has that much fire, passion, ability? Balls.


So, people get in line, they make the pylons. No one in the world wants the pylons. People in this sub-culture--which is ultimately what the bulk of this industry is--pretend the pylons are amazing. Ergo, reading dies, there is very little coming out worth reading, people read less and less. And no one can connect the dots, but I am connecting them right here. I don't just know this, I live it. Just as I have the solution.


Moving on. Because I'm all about the writing, and I'm eventually who is going to get people reading again: I had to re-do a Wall Street Journal op-ed on sports. Which was not convenient, but I did it. I do these op-eds, and then it's total randomness. I always deliver. But I don't know what it is going to happen after. It's very capricious. There's no consistency. Can be a mood, for all I know. Then I just have to do it again, whole new approach, or find something new, and act like nothing happened, because I need the money.


I sent the final corrections for Meatheads back to Tailwinds yesterday. I spoke to someone at NPR about a segment on the book. It is a book poised to become a sensation. Not just a literary sensation. It's a wildfire book, to spread. There has never been a book like it. It's timely, it's the last bro in the era of #metoo, and it's newsy that way, the style is unlike anything, it's the easiest book to read but it's a kind of post-modern literature, it's hilarious, it's quotable, it's bittersweet, and so surprising, because as we're ripping on this meathead idiot, we're also identifying with him, and we're seeing that for all of our need to say "You're not in my group, I despite you," we're not that dissimilar. Feminists can love it--because it does take this guy apart, in some ways. It's ribald, sweet, loving, edgy, a total conversation starter, a "holy shit, you need to see this book" kind of book, and it can explode. It's unlike--literally--any book there has ever been. In some ways, I can't believe I came up with it. Wildfire book, word of mouth book, if I can just get it out there, and somehow get around the blacklisting.


Because they're going to try and make it so no one ever hears of it, so that the guy who has been in every single magazine you have ever heard of, will have no reviews, no coverage, no radio, anything. There will not be token reviews in Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly, which seemingly everyone--including your friend who just published her first ever piece of writing with a press that didn't exist a week ago in her neighbor's basement--gets coverage in. Not I. They have even taken it that far. This is twisted what is happening. This isn't just an injustice or unfair, this is malevolent.


But I have a book to light the world up, that lots of people can love and would love, for lots of different reasons. I have a hit--something bigger than a hit--waiting to be. And if you think I'm overselling the book, I am doing the opposite. It's that special. It's also as far as you can get from an orange pylon.


What else? Someone at the Times Literary Supplement called me from London yesterday afternoon, saying that she thought I had been hacked and someone was impersonating me. Last week I did learn that my email had been hacked. In a devastating blow, someone threw away ten years' worth of correspondence--thousands and thousands of full letters, many of them thousands of words long--that documented my story, what this has been like, my quest. A huge part of the history of what is happening here. Same week with the Guggenheim, the twenty stories at The New Yorker--which surely is some record--and also $1100 in missing funds, which I just can't afford. Anyway, this person was indeed in the email chain with the TLS, and, I think, The Guardian, trying to get money owed me, saying they were my brother--I don't have a brother. The woman who phoned was very nice to have done so. Her father-in-law had a similar experience. She said that the emails didn't sound like me, because they were so belligerent, whereas I was nice, which, as I said to someone else yesterday, is ironic, given that publishing thinks I'm Lucifer, which is what they will think if you are a good person who works hard, knows much, doesn't give up, and writes better. So, I then spent an hour on the phone with my bank after my three mile run, getting my accounts changed.


I'm going to be doing a big Beatles thing on the Let It Be album and film for The Daily Beast. Also, a big thing for Quillette on Dylan's "Murder Most Foul." That's good. I put together a really nice pitch on Dickens and Edwin Drood, and a nice pitch, and a long one, on the second half of Cervantes' Don Quixote, as the social media from 400 years ago that showed even then that social media destroys our mental health. Looks like I am going to be getting a new webmaster, which I hope works out okay, as I was comfortable with the one I had. We actually used to date a bunch of years ago when she was, like, twenty. I don't think we like each other especially--well, I'm fond of her personally, but I don't think she particularly likes me. But the web stuff worked and, actually, I trust her more than I trust most people. Plus, I think she's really good, she's smart, and I respect what she says.


***

It's later. I wrote another short story. "Perma-Garden." Unlike anything I have written before.