The first day of September is the start of fall for me. I create a new folder in my bigger folder for that year, and the writings from the summer folder that are not yet fully finished go into that fall folder right away. Sometimes a work will be carried through a number of folders, as with "The Hornet," "Carlyle," "Up the Sea," "Pre," "The Shape of the Shore." I don't like summer. I detest it (though there is no better summer book--well, it's mostly summer in the book--than Buried). August is better than July, which is the worst month of the year. My work goes into the fall folder until the last day of the year. Were one to look at any of these folders, one would think how it wouldn't seem possible that so much could be written in a season. Books are in the folder that these sub-folders are in, so in my 2022 folder, I have There Is No Doubt: Story Girls, You're Up, You're Down, You're Up: Essays on Art in Life and Life in Art, Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan, The Root of the Chord: Writings on Jazz's Essential Power and Artistry, and a novel in progress like The Year, to give an idea.
Took a look at Facebook last night. These people never fail to amaze me. A woman with no ability to write took a photo of herself crying. A teary selfie. Then she gushed above that photo about how her book proposal is now ready to circulate, according to her agent, after two year of working on it. Not the book--the proposal for the book.
These people blow my mind. They are so weak and always talentless. Two years working on a book proposal? It's a chapter and an outline. And the sickness. You know the agent (who would either ignore me if I approached them--fully knowing who I am--or else rocket themselves across the room in orgasm because they had the power to turn me down, even if I would ever go with an agent, and I never will; I am the agent) totally got off on playing editor and boss person and expert and Yoda to this person who has done nothing in their life and never will, and having them as their personal lap dog. No money coming in. Two years for a proposal. Think about that. I do that in a morning here. Two years. Half of your time in college. A power hitter can hit 80 home runs in that time. Connor McDavid scores 230 points.
You see how it's not business? It's like charity, but they get that ego stroke. So to answer the question of why on earth if you're an agent would you'd want to do this, it's simple: You are also crazy and incompetent, and it's always about ego for agents. They wouldn't get to have that ego fantasy/role play thing of theirs with me. If I wrote this agent, with my historically unique publishing track record, and an ability that no one has ever had, someone who can and does do everything better than anyone else has ever done any of it, they would not respond, or, again, they'd get off on the brief moment of what they perceived as them having the power over someone not on their level, because not only would they not get to be the smart person in the relationship, they could not handle the immeasurable gap between us and couldn't pull rank and do their facile little ego games. They also couldn't tell lies. You'd have to be real with me, because you can't tell me something I don't know, and if you try, or attempt to misrepresent the truth, you will be busted immediately.
Who wants that? That sounds hard. Your'e going to have to work hard and be great at your job and keep getting better at your job. Again, hard. You will be a part of history, and you will have the ride of your life. You will experience amazing work, non-stop, of all kinds. You'll change and you'll grow and you'll be fired up and each day will be exciting, and each time a new work comes into your inbox, from someone who can do everything and anything and always surprises you.
But you have to be good at what you do. And you have to get what is happening, what the stakes are, and you can't be scared of that. You have to understand that this isn't some writer, this isn't like someone else you represent, or will ever represent. I don't believe that agent exists right now. I just don't. I think they're all simple, visionless, incompetent, and all they can do is select work and authors that suck, bore, and matches the work from other authors who also suck and bore. I need someone better.
Someone can say, "Just play the game, etc.," and "It's all a mans to an end," but it's not even an option, because anyone trying to have me play a game with them, and even as I try to play the game, is going to be blown out of the water. That's because of the work. My artistry does not stop, and it won't be. It's just too different. And there's just too much. And the range is endless. All of that blows up the game. What's the game? Let's spell it out. You give someone a bad, boring whatever, once every four years. And it's always the same. The same book. The same style. The same subject. How is this going to work here? I'm going to be on TV talking about the NHL as some political op-ed is sparking debate and controversy across the country, as a novel is some huge seller, as a new kind of short story has just come out, as a Beatles book is published, and a film based on a book premieres, as I talk on whatever big podcast about the Civil War, as a children's book is taking off. And that will be a day. Because it's all in place. Again, that's not other authors. That's not the familiar. That's outside of the comfort zone. A comfort zone is a very limiting thing. You take the bad book from the bad author because four years have passed, and you go to lunch with an editor who is as bad at their job as you are, as visionless, as empty, but they're a publisher you've done this with lots, and this book can be compared to twenty other books you did with them that also sucked, and the deal is done pretty much at lunch, and it's back to the office for my pointlessness. And what are you going to be able to tell me? You won't be able to talk to me the way you do other clients. You're going to have to be good. You're going to have to be better than all of the other people in your profession. By a lot.
Whereas this woman? You can tell her anything. She brags about having an agent. It means so much to her. Not her writing. She can't write. They never can. For me, you'd have to be awesome at your job as an agent, and secure enough that here was someone infinitely removed from you. That agent does not exist right now. They would have made themselves known to me if they did. Then we have this writer, who wept with joy. Two years. Of back and forth with an agent--who she talked about like this agent was a deity--for a book proposal. You weep, you take a photo of yourself, you share this insanity on social media, and 500 other people just like you, who are as broken and with no talent themselves, hit that like button and serve up the encomiums.
Perfect snapshot of this subculture of freaks, which is what it is. I will think often about whether those terms are harsh, because I am not some bad person and am never unduly harsh, but that is what it is, and I'd be distorting the truth in calling it anything else. You wasted two years of your life. But this is what they like. This is what agents like. It's all about one freak having another freak for ego and enabling purposes. The stunning mental illness that is always involved. Any truth crushes these people. They walk around encased in glass, and if you don't polish that glass for them, you are the devil. And you know the thing sucks. I could look into it more. Put up this person's writing in this blog. I think we all know what we'd see. So we'll save that for other people who need to be exposed and taken down. But you know how bad it would be. And that would have also been something she worked on for two years, and you'd say, "How the hell is that possible?" given what you just read.
When I show you this awful work from The Sun, The Baffler, The New Yorker, you realize that those people spent like five years on that, right? What you're seeing is how it ended up after thirty drafts and having a dozen people just like them give them notes. That's the thing they talked about for months, years.
Let's look at this another way. Publishing has killed off reading, as we've seen, and as we've seen why. Look at what it awards, celebrates, says is great. Look who gets the Guggenheims. Just look at the examples from the past few days on here. This means that no one reads. People in publishing pretend to read. They don't read either. They're here for the community. It's like sitting at a lunch table with some nasty, petty middle school girls. That's what most of these people want. The lunch table. So: If you see this crazy crying woman, and you see Fleming doing what Fleming does, every single damn day, and how much he does, and all he knows, and the level he does all of it at--better than anyone else, and you know it, you can't deny it, you can't even plausibly try to deny it--who do you think you're going to support if you're one of these people? Who do you think you'll "like"? Who will you help? Who will you reward? Who will you reach solicit for a story? Who will you even respond to? The crazy crying woman, of course. Not because she doesn't suck, because she does. But because she's like these other people. That sucking is part of the appeal for them. It's a realistic goal, because it's not anything. It makes them feel good in their nothingness. I don't. You can be her. You are her if you're one of them. How are you going to do what I do? How would you do any of it? How would you do in 800 years what I've done this week? Thus, I become the enemy. I am shunned. Because of what everyone knows and can see. That really is it.
I know this one person who once told me about this writer who was horrible to them. Rude in a real way, not rude in a "how dare they say the truth" way. And my God, you can't write worse than this writer. But I'll look up on social media, knowing what I know, and knowing what this other person has told me, and knowing what they think--unless they're the dumbest person there is, and they're not--and they're carrying water for this awful writer who treated them like garbage.
Right from this writer's name, you know how pretentious he is. It's seriously the most pretentious name there is, just about. It sounds made up, but it's real. If ever a name said, "Hey, I'm a douchebag," it's this name. A name that says how pampered you had to have been your whole life if people hung this name on you. Then the circles you were in. Because you never would have known anyone without a trust fund who worked an honest day in their life, with a name like this. Further, this is the among the worst, most corrupt presses that publishes this guy's books. Every book there is so boring, too. But again, this person, who themselves is not a bad person by any stretch, was doing their unofficial PR work for them. Why? You know they suck. They were a dick to you, too. Why, for the love of God, are you still tonguing them?
Part of the reason is is it's just BS. People who were not this way got into publishing and they became this way with everything around them, and the kind of person around them. They lost themselves. They devolved. Eventually, they couldn't help themselves anymore. They can also go on social media, post something, and feel like they're not alone, because they're that far gone. It's like a drug addict. But that's publishing. People in publishing--and on the peripheries--try and feed that deadness inside. There's no nourishment, throwing the likes of whatever this is into your chest, hoping your body feeds, and your heart and your soul. This isn't the way to go. You're not going to get fed that way. You have to push back, by which I mean, away. You have to soul search. People can't do that. But it's easy to lie, because the praise isn't real and it's not meant to be real, and any actual enthusiasm is nonexistent, and it's easy to keep tapping that vein. They need it. It's a form of killing yourself--losing yourself is a form of killing yourself. But they need it. They can't stop.
In other matters, let's look at things on the other side of the river. Worked more on the Carnival of Souls piece, which is done, but needs to be gone over. It's 5000 words long. Along with the Elvis piece, that's 9000 words. These were both begun within the last week. In that same period, roughly, there's been new fiction ("Tandemness," "Playing Legs"; both needing to be finished and fixed), the Carnival of Souls outline and chapter--in other words, a book proposal--and the, what, six op-eds, and these journal entries. That's a week. I pitched something last night on Aaron Judge, Albert Pujols, and home runs, and sent two of the books to a publisher. I have decided that I will now assemble a book of some of my film writings. I pretty much figured out the title. I have what I need to work off of, title-wise. I say, "Think of a great title," and then I do. It's a decision.
Below is part of what I wrote yesterday for this Carnival of Souls piece, which will be in that first film book. I intend to sell this for Halloween, too. How are you going to compete with this? What could one do? That's what I'm talking about. This isn't achievable. That woman is achievable. She provides comfort to the person who lives to delude themselves. Writing like this does the opposite. It says a lot to me about someone--or confirms what I know about them--if they read this and start talking about Carnival of Souls, without talking about this writing. This writing is the show. You're not going to watch the movie and think that's the show. People like to do that, because they don't want to give me credit. And it's awkward for them. It requires too much vulnerability. "Wow, Colin, that was amazing, I've never read anything like that, I could never do it."
People can't say that, unless they're comfortable with themselves and you. When I write nonfiction, people compliment the putative subject, because that's not complimenting me. That subject is a layer between us. As is nonfiction itself. It's less naked for them, less intimate, than saying the compliment to me, about me, about my ability. I put up an excerpt of "Tandemness" on Facebook as an experiment. I didn't say what it was from. It's first person. So people thought it was a personal essay. They'll compliment an essay, but not fiction--which is what this is--because to compliment fiction is to credit someone's--my--imagination. It's a bigger compliment. There's no layer of separation. What happened? People responded, it was so great, etc., but if I first said it was a story, they wouldn't have. I don't know that for sure, to be fair. Not in this case. Maybe they did recognize it as fiction. But I know the pattern, and that washes away the benefit of the doubt. I play percentages. That's usually how it goes. The thing that I do best--the thing I am here for more than anything, by far--is I write stories. I'm not talking length. I'm talking fiction. All of my genius, the reason it exists, everything for which it has been developed, is story. Fiction. Put it this way: I have all of these lakes, rivers, and they're huge and mighty. Those are the other things I do. But everything flows into the ocean, and that ocean is fiction. That is what I am. That is what the ability is. That is that on which all is brought to bear. The rest are lakes and rivers. Are they more than anyone else's bodies of water? Are they special? Will they be around always? Yep. But they're still not the ocean.
Here's another one. I'll notice what happens when I post something about a Black athlete on social media. People who wouldn't hit the like button for anything or much of anything else--when it comes from me, even when they find it fascinating, because they do--will do it then, because they want those Woke points. They want to try and say they're one of the good ones. I watch. I don't forget. And a time will come when some people are going to have a rude awakening on here. But for now, I just watch and remember.
Some of the people I know would not want to know what I know about them. I know what they're thinking and I know why they do what they do. It's like with Sam Cooke. There's nothing to touch the writing in that book. But rather than give me credit, people who wouldn't have thought twice about Sam Cooke if they heard him as some guy singing at the subway, praised Cooke. People who wouldn't recognize his voice. Because it was that layer of separation. They were giving the compliment to him--dead guy they don't know--and not to me, which would have been direct. There can even be a homoerotic element to it; like one guy couldn't say something that naked and vulnerable to another guy. That's so far as the guys go. Obviously that's not everyone.
Now there's no way they read what's there or what I'm about to post and don't know what it is, and don't know that it's the thing. That it's mind-blowing. That it's on a level they haven't seen with anything else. They know that. It's not a finger pointing at this other better thing. The writing is by far and away the thing. But they won't say it to me, because that takes too much for them. Of course with other people you have the envy and everything. But this is how it is even with people on my side. Look at my neighbor. My neighbor and I have a very different bond. She has more mental acuity than anyone I've ever known. She looks up to me as much as one can. And as we saw the other day, she has a hard time saying something about something of mine she's read. Because she's overwhelmed by what she reads. She doesn't think any words do it justice, as she told me. Then to have to try and say those words to the person who created that work? That's terrifying. People who like you end up saying nothing.
What can people do? People can BS each other. You can lie with some empty fake superlative to that crying woman. "Wow, you're so amazing, you're so talented! Can't wait to read it!" Because that's not true, and no one means it as truth. I could screenshot dozens if not hundreds of those comments right now under post and put them up here, but why bother? This is very predictable, and anyone who reads these words knows exactly what I'm talking about and how it works. No one who says any of this praise thinks it. Not that it matters. It's the currency of the land for most people: the platitude, the lie. No one means what they say. That's so much easier. It's about other things, and lying, and greasing the wheel, and whatever is easiest. They're totally disconnected from each other, these people. None of them have real friends. They have echoes. No one has friends anymore. Certainly not in publishing. People can't be real. With me, it's all real. So that means you have to be real. People can't be real. So they either say 1. Nothing or 2. Something stupid, and the stupid stuff can come off as quite insulting. I know what's happening, so it's not really insulting as it is annoying, and hugely concerning because it's such a representative part of the problem, and it extends even to these people, who don't want me dead. Because you end up with everyone knowing what the work is and what I am, but near total silence because those things dwarf everything else. And you have to be real in speaking about that work and about me, because there's no empty sock puppet here. You're not just moving your hand through the air--your hand is now on a solid, real object of blazing light. You can't do your lip service, auto-pilot, fake compliment routine.
The people who know me and who are theoretically are on my side don't say anything either, because I render them ball-less. In the metaphorical sense, so it's not some gender deal. They're scared of me. Not because I've done anything to them. Hell, I've gotten ten notes in the past day from women--this is a little different, but follow me--over my dating site profile about how scared they are of me because of my mind. They say the oddest things to me. One said it was like reading a genius novel from the 1800s--she had no clue about nineteenth century literature--and I was too smart for her. This one woman just said something weird as few minutes ago. And I said--nicely--that I didn't think she had to declare what she did. She had just started talking about baggage. How she had some but managed it. That's how she first approached me. I said to her that that was most people, it was a given, and she didn't need to lead with that when she met someone, probably.
I have no interest in her whatsoever. I'm just being nice. I mean, she tried. She responded by saying that because my profile was so brilliant and well-written, she wanted to try and say something different to impress me, and already she had felt like she should take three weeks and work on drafts--she actually said this--trying to come up with something worthy.
This is what I do to people. It's a very nice profile. But it's very obviously me, and it's obviously unique. But it's the same as if it were this Carnival of Souls piece, or "Master of Romance," to just name a recent short story It's the writing and the mind. That is the problem, amazingly enough. So then someone who is kind--and it's not like I can say anything to them--says something dumb to me, and I just have to pretend it's cool. What am I going to do, call them out? "Why are you such a coward?" I'm not going to say that. Well, not right now. I really feel like asking, "Do you want me to just play along with you right now, because that's what we're doing, right? Or do you want to say what you think and what you know the thing is? Tell me what you want me to do? Pretend with you?"
Or they say nothing about the work and something generic about whatever that layer between us is, because it requires them to be less vulnerable than having to say something to me, and they think less can go wrong, because people are always worried about not being able to be good enough with me, or smart enough with me, but Sam Cooke, he's dead, he's not here, people parrot all kinds of compliments about Sam Cooke as it is. It's uncanny. I see it over and over and over and over again. With just about everyone on my side. In theory. It can be someone or something they know nothing about, but it's just easier for them. Or that they've barely heard of. They don't believe what they're saying about whomever or whatever that is. It's just easier.
Then you have someone who is the best artist ever, and no one is saying what eventually everyone will be saying, including the people who want that person to be recognized as what they know them to be. Think about that. That's what's happening. A friend says to me the other day, talking about his sister, that she told him that Anglerfish was the best book she'd ever read. His sister studied writing, wanted to be a writer. My friend continued, "Even talking to me, you could tell she was nervous, like she wanted to get it right and sound smart, because I knew you. Like some of you had rubbed off on me. She wouldn't have said it if she didn't mean it, because she doesn't give people a lot of credit. She's cynical. But I could tell how anxious she was, like even those words didn't do it justice and she didn't want me thinking less of her for not finding the best way of saying it."
That's the problem. More than the whole "this industry wants this man to die" thing is the problem. Because if I solve this other problem, that the entire industry wants me dead won't matter. It will get solved. One part of the solution is this, what is happening in this post. Saying what is happening and why. It adds up. That's one reason why this journal is important. Why I laid out recently some of the purposes behind it. I'm not writing all of this for my health. Or to "vent." There's no venting here. It's all for a reason. That is why I am being so clear with this. Someone I know can be like "screw him!" But also not really. Because they know this is true. And they know why it's happening and why it's happening with them. It's happening because of why I said. We can be rational about this. It's useful to be rational and deal in basic fundamentals and questions that get at those fundamentals. Should I say nothing? Is it my duty to say nothing? Obviously not. Part of solving a problem--and people don't understand this often enough--is totally understanding that problem. That's harder than it sounds. I completely understand the full nature of the problems I need to solve to get where I am going. Twelve years ago I didn't. Six years I ago I didn't. I mean, I knew a lot. But not everything. I do now. I think this journal makes it obvious and undeniable what those problems are, why they exist. They would not exist if I was not what I am. If I was merely good. Or just great. Or even the best. No. It'd only be like this if I was something else. I also fully know what I am, and the work proves that.
Anyway, here is something else from the Carnival of Souls piece.
Mary Henry is leaving her home town to be a church organist in Salt Lake City. Before she’s spoken, we know how dissatisfied she is with her life. That expression in the car says it all. She’s not religious, but a job is a job, and music is music.
Detachment is a central concern of Carnival of Souls, as is the theme of being in a place where one is not meant to be, or for where it is best or natural for that person to be. Mary Henry begins her journey, and she starts seeing a man where she shouldn’t, in ways she shouldn’t. He’s cadaverous, but can also pass for living, if one is being generous. The eyes are what are most suggestive of death, or the dead come back. They’re sunken and blackened, yet they’re animated with a piercing sharpness that suggest they know something of grand consequence. They’re eyes of celerity, but in the manner of the eyes of a person in a coffin who suddenly came back from the other side and looked up at us as we paid respects at the funeral.
The man/ghoul is played by Herk Harvey himself. If he’s not death, he’s death’s representative. The idea of death having erred and needing to correct a clerical error was a horror staple beginning early in the twentieth century, and it worked across assorted mediums. English writer E.F. Benson wrote “The Bus-Conductor,” a 1906 short story that prefigures Carnival of Souls, as does Lucille Fletcher’s radio play, The Hitch-Hiker. Orson Welles’s performance in the play in what is tantamount to the Mary Henry role on a September 1942 episode of Suspense is arguably the most disturbing broadcast—for sheer mood of dread—in radio history.
In a preamble, Welles discusses how effective the piece is as horror, and then throws himself into the work as if to say, “See? I was telling you the truth.” It’s as committed as I’ve heard him on the radio—Fletcher had Welles in mind in writing the play—and this was an artist who always gave the entirety of his being to his radio ventures, with prodigious stores of energy.
Welles’s protagonist begins a car trip across the country starting in New Jersey, and he keeps seeing this same man trying to thumb a ride at spots where the man shouldn’t be able to be because the man would have to be moving faster while hitchhiking than Welles in a straight shot with his car. Welles’s character tries to work out the math, and offers some theories how it could happen, but he’s arguing against himself, and he’s not winning.
We grasp what’s happening, and we get it in Carnival of Souls, too. These people are dead, but they’re flickering on in our world, can interact in our world, and think they belong in our world. Our knowledge of what they are—or I should say, where they are not—doesn’t undercut the drama. With Mary Henry, we still have a need to know what the hell is going on in terms of the particulars, the rules, how this will end. We nurse a hope for her, which feels a lot like a hope for ourselves. Why? Probably because she’s blameless. Or maybe because this is how death works, and who would be able to tell you? So here’s some relevant insight.
There’s this boozy, sex-starved guy named John Linden (Sidney Berger) whom she picks up for company and protection. She’ll do anything to avoid the ghoul, as does Welles with the hitchhiker in the Suspense play. He tries to run him over with his car. Doesn’t work. In Carnival of Souls, Linden is raring to go in the “Let’s get drunk and bang” sense. He’s a regular horn dog, but also not a terrible guy. You could say he has a good heart, and that heart has a tiny bit more pull than his penis, but that gap increases the more that Mary Henry’s fear becomes his fear precisely because she’ll let him do anything if he stays with her. He thinks Mary Henry is having a breakdown, and he has an honest concern for her, which itself becomes scary given that this is a man who obviously thinks nothing in the world can compare to breaking down—in a wholly different regard—someone’s resistance so that they’ll consent to sex, if only to make him go away.
Welles obviously was a man, but a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone based on the Fletcher play shifted the paradigm and its implications by using a woman in the dead-but-sticking-around part. She tries to pick up a lusty Navy kid and offers herself to him as much as you could on TV in 1960 and get away with it. Trading penetration for protection is frightening enough. When the guy essentially runs away, bolting from the car—but with some well-meaning advice first—we realize just how alone this woman is, and later Mary Henry, who if anything is in a worse situation because of who or what it is that is after her (the avuncular figure of The Twilight Zone episode is akin to some harmless Thanksgiving guest compared to the ghoul of Carnival of Souls). The world and natural order have put their back to these women. That they can still interact with the living, and the living don’t realize their state, is another layer of terror, and for me it’s the worst. Death is closure. Here or not here. For all of the complications that arise from death, death itself is simple. The judge has ruled, and what the judge says is final. But kind of here, kind of there, denies peace, abnegates closure. The living are also being used against their will and without their knowledge. It’s like putting something in the drink of life, and doing what you want with someone, or forcing them to be a part of whatever is going on which is anything but moral and pure. Characters are being overrode in this film, to different degrees. But so is the viewer, who cannot look away.
Carnival of Souls is unique because of its approach and style. They extend to the look of the ghoul, and the organ component of the soundtrack. There isn’t a horror film soundtrack that unnerves me like this one, which was written and played by Kansas City organist Gene Moore. Remember back to when you’re a kid. Did you ever enter a church, hear organ music, and think, “My, that sounds comforting.” Never happened, right? It was more like something otherworldly had gotten into that room and was now sounding off. We watch a horror film and our expectation is that once the sun goes down, the bad stuff will start. At least you know, and at least the people in the film having to deal with that horror have a better chance because they know as well. Can’t win the game if you don’t know what time it begins.
That’s not what happens in Carnival of Souls. Mary Henry is pulled towards an abandoned pavilion on the banks of the Great Salt Lake. I think of that Oliver Onions ghost story, “The Beckoning Fair One.” You don’t want to be beckoned in a horror story or film, because that means your soul—or what remains of it—is in on whatever is happening to you. It’s not your loyal ally.