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Way down yonder in a hollow tree

Friday 10/2/20

I stayed up far too late watching Tod Slaughter and Hugo Haas films, and listening to the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, a stunning new record of Animals material cut on the BBC (sound is much roomier and has greater bottom than the bootleg releases, and I'd say you could argue this is one of the all-time great live albums), the Velvet Underground at the Matrix, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Guns N' Roses' 1986 Sound City sessions, and Jerry Lee Lewis in Hamburg and Birmingham in 1964. It's probably not a good idea to listen to those Jerry Lee Lewis records late at night, because then I wanted to pop someone. I slept late, but I guess I needed it. The push on this book while doing everything else hasn't been super easy. When it's turned in, I'll say on here exactly what I did with how I wrote it. But that's not an aspect of my process I should go into before the publisher has the manuscript. Let's just say it's a unique way to write a book, though this is my second time writing one this way. A unique way that I can write books. And this time around, I've had reinforced just what I can do when I need to, have to, want to, or there is reason to. In the future, what I've learned here may be huge.


Someone phones me this morning to ask me various questions about life and football, because they said they always think about what I would think and it's so more interesting than what anyone else would think. They always want my input. My "take." At some point this person tells me that they listen to NPR and they listen to ESPN radio and those people are morons comparatively and boring and bland as your uncle Jason, and even with the whole blackballed and hated and wished dead in publishing thing, I should be making easy millions in radio, until I figure out how to prevail with publishing, and prevail indeed. I hate this conversation. We have it a lot. We have the publishing variety, too, where this individual goes on and on about how I invent new forms of art constantly, and I should have millions and millions of dollars, that this is the best art ever made. I know all of this. I know what I do. But they just don't seem to get it.


As for the radio: People want shit that sucks. They do not want greatness. They do not want brilliant insight and humor. They want mediocrity. No one is given a job based on their ability. It's not how it works. The problem with radio is that anyone could do what the people on it do. That's the identity of radio. Any ignorant blowhard can be Colin Cowherd. That takes no skill. He's not intelligent. He's not quick-witted. As for publishing, these people can't tell anything. When they cite something as awesome, they don' believe it. It's just what they say. For all the wrong reasons. Who is the flavor of the month, who won some meaningless prize, who is the right color or gender, who has the right agent. I saw a remark on Twitter recently where someone said that your first thought when you read a truly great book that touches your soul should be, "damn, this person must have had a near impossible time getting this published." Because the rest of it is just looking for the familiar shit. Give these people something new--and it can be the best thing ever--they don't know. They're not going to call it what it is. They're the least qualified people on earth, often, to have a meaningful reading experience. That's not how they are, it's not what they do, and it goes against their entire wiring. I really don't like when this person asks me their questions. I know the answers I give are fascinating. And that depresses me. Then they start talking about "Fitty" or brand new stories from the past few days like "The Music Room." And they're fans. They're agog. They can't come up with enough superlatives. I know there is no work like it. I get that. I get that it's radical, and no one else could do these things. I get what it could all mean for humanity. But that's not a solution.


I came up with a plan yesterday for one thing, anyway. I have invented a new kind of fiction. Over the past year especially, I have written these short stories that are anywhere from a few hundred to 1400 words long. I've written them to go into a book called Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives. I've done this while writing stories of all lengths, too, but I knew when I was writing one for this book. I detest short shorts. I don't write short shorts. A short short is like a vignette. It's a scene. It's usually a pretentious, limited writer's version of deep. Because it's incomplete, and you're supposed to go, wow, I'll reads this into that, and what amazing symbolism. Bullshit. What I discovered I could do is write a veritable novel in 700 words. I could write full, voluminous--in terms of the humanness quotient--works in a couple pages. Stories with beginnings, middles, ends. And no one has ever done that. The arc of novels. But containing more than any novel. To do this, you have to have the reader know the characters in a word, two words, three words. Know them intimately. And people just can't pull that off. I can pull that off. I learned that. There is not more in a Dostoevsky novel than a story like "Jute" or "The Music Room" or "Holds," or "Read the Ice," or "Underoos" or "Acorn Caps," or so many others. And I just kept writing them. "Taffy and Grilled Cheese." Every week. And I thought, right, keep doing them, then you'll have so many and we can select later. These are not the stories I send out as often to the people who hate me, because the way they think of it is that something shorter must have less in it. Again, I am shackled to the limitations of other writers, and I hate the idea of other writers, and us being the same thing. Because if they're writers, I'm something else. Give me another term. We ain't fish in the same barrel. One of these people won't be able to step back and see the newness. Again, they don't have that in them. They'll make assumptions, they'll project. They'll term what I've done a short short, when calling the entirety of this blog/journal a short short would be no more or less valid.


So I thought what I'd do, because this is such a radical book, with commercial potential--I'm only interested in the blend--is gather up half a dozen representative stories. Write an introduction. This introduction would be a part of the book. Talk about the form, the idea. Authors used to do this. M.R. James did it. Why shouldn't I in the year 2020? You have these stories that are radical of concept. A literary person could call them experimental in nature. I don't like that term, because it flat out says you don't have total control. I have total control. I'm not experimenting. I daresay no one has ever operated with more precision. I know exactly what I am doing and the effects created.


But fine, let them say that, if it helps. At the same time, people would love these stories, connect with them, and they could read one in a few minutes, and feel satiated like they'd just devoured a whole season of something. That's a good business idea, it's a radical art idea, it's new, it's easy to write about in so many ways--theoretical ways, human ways, you can go into the depth, how someone gets so much out of so few words. Many of the stories feature women--or girls--as as the main characters and/or narrators. Because it's like a form of magic. There is nothing like these fictions of mine. Chekhov didn't do this. He did not have the degree of arc-ness, if you will. And then I'll pitch it. I'll pitch the introduction, the sample works, go into the fact that I have all of these others to choose from, and say some of what I've said here. And even if someone is like, well, you have these other story collections, this is so different, that I don't think it's like selling one form of cola next to another and they blend together. And there is just so much to pick from. You put thirty or forty of them in the book. People always talk to me like I've defied physics or what is even possible in reality with these stories. They can't get over how much is in them, and how well and instantly they know the characters. Publishing people and writing students like to talk about craft. Well, sit down and try to figure out how the hell I did this. Try to do your own version. The book is teachable on so many levels.


I'll show it to Dzanc. They're putting out a book of mine next year, a story collection, which itself is quite different, but this other one here is this literary concept album that non-literary people can love. I think it's really radical and special and provides so many talking points. I don't think you'd say, wait, we just did a story collection of yours. With other writers, yes, I get that, because they do one thing. Always just one thing. I do Beatles then I do Webern. You can't compare them. But you also can't project on me what other people do do. You have to open up your mind, see how this is so different. But I'm also spelling that out--or setting it up for people to consciously articulate it to themselves--in that intro. And just be bold--put it on the back cover. The work backs it up. Invents a new kind of writing. Which is completely fucking accurate.


I had to develop a lot, over a lot of years, write everything else that I did, the nonfiction and the fiction, going back to my earliest days of writing record reviews, to be able to get to a place that I could write these works. I couldn't have done these in 2007 or 2017. It was all part of this journey. "Jute" was part of the aha, breakthrough moment. Bradford Morrow got pissed at me--more on him soon--because he knew that someone had remarked that it was worlds better than anything Robert Olen Butler had ever written, and then I saw that the latter blurbed Morrow's latest book.


Tod Slaughter, by the way, was a British actor who starred in what were classified as lurid melodramas or mysteries in the 1930s and 1940s, but they were really horror films. There was hardly any British horror that decade. Then the war shuts things down, and British horror doesn't get going until the 1950s, which is one component of my book on 1951's Scrooge as the ultimate horror film. I will be turning in that manuscript before the year is out, and then it will be published next fall. Allowing that nothing has gone awry in this interim period. Hugo Haas was a Czech who came to the States and made these shabby noirs, super seedy. That was his thing--seediness.


Crimes at the Dark House (1940) was a Slaughter film partially based on Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. It is a total mess. But it's fun.