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F I C S T R U C T O R a new post-electronic deconstructivist approach to understanding the writing life


Ficstructor


Ficstructor a new post-electronic deconstructivist approach to understanding the writing life

MARK RAPACZ

vď ś FICSTRUCTIVERSE a fancy press www.ficstructor.com


Ficstructor is a work of fictionalized essays and criticism. Names, characters, places, incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright Š 2013 Mark Rapacz All rights reserved. The poem Turtle Power originally appeared at Martian Lit. Cover design by Mark Rapacz Printed on acid-free paper.

ISBN: 978-1-300-77704-5


To every blogger everywhere


Season I: The Ficstructor gets angry. Prologue 1

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Prologue 2

vi

1

Inspired

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2

Chapter Has Been Deleted

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3

I don’t Always Understand Lit Blogs

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4

Mother Eff the Writing Life

19

5

2nd Person POV

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New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism: Parts I – III

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On Query Letters: Parts I – IV

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Being a Poet Would Be Terrible: Parts I – III

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Interview with Adam Robinson

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6-8

9-12

13-15

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Youth, Dignity, and Pretending: Parts I – III

52

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Free Scene for a Young Male Plagiarizer

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21

Pynchon Wasted 1800 Minutes of My Life

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22

Interview with Matt Bell

67

MFA Versus MA: Parts I – III

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On Being Productive: Parts I & II

80

Interview with Jon Chopan

85

Modern Influence and Writing: Parts I, II, & IV

90

32

TMNT Poem: The Second One

101

33

Interview with Andrew Scott

105

34

Conclusion of Season 1

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17-19

23-25

26 & 27

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29-31

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Season II: The Ficstructor gets artsy. 35

Another TMNT Poem

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The Worst Poet in the World: Parts I – III

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Furniture

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40

These Thugs Under the Marquee

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PW’s MFA Power Rankings

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42

Norman Mailer Wants My Money

138

43

Paris Review Are Professional Rejectionists

142

44

Bus Accident

146

45

Schmoozing

150

46

Peter Dexter Is a Smart Man

154

47

Let’s Get It Over With

156

36-38

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48

Spaghetti Without Tasty Meat Sauce

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49

Tortoise, Not a Turtle

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50

When a Bluesman Is Sure to Die

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Genre & Pulp in Your Face: Parts I – III

170

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Men, Like Cars and Cigarettes

176

55

Self-Promotion

180

56

My 69th Post

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57

Why Literature Is Important

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The Why I Write Misconceptions: Parts I – III

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Acknowledgments

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About

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58-60

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Prologue I: A Blog. The Ficstructor was a blog started in October of 2010. It was in active use until November of 2012. There was a day that it attracted 138 readers. Most other days it attracted between 0 and 7. Over the course of two years, readers left a total of 10 comments. Here is one of them, edited for the sake of brevity: … And you call yourself a writer? You were probably unable to finish the book, you narrow-minded minion. And if you actually did finish it, you probably did not get it, did ya? Why [do] you keep polluting the world wide web with your incoherent junk? Good lord you were just kidding ’bout posting about deconstructivism jackass, Derrida would be very thankful not to be associated with an asshole like you, you lazy (and boring) retard. ~ bryan72*

*The screen name has been altered to protect the commenter’s pseudonym.

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Prologue II: There’s a Good Chance This Is Shit. This? This is shit. Well, the entire process of the idea was shit. From its conception, to its glory days, to this—whatever it is. An end? The inevitable conclusion to wasting multiple years in the blogosphere? This is a book. No. It’s not a book. It’s a book-length work of words that more or less got strung together from some haphazard idea that fiction, literary criticism, and the beer shits can come together and make something magical. This? This is magical. I don’t know. This is a thing. This thing is about 50,000 words. You will not learn anything even if you somehow get to the end of it. You probably won’t even get lost in the world this thing—book?—centers around. Most of the time it’s a bunch of griping about the writing world and a whole shit ton of self-loathing. You like that? The loathing? I do too. It’s like my business. It may be my only business. My first wife made a point of making me a very effective self-loather. I’ve been trained. I was a good student. My current wife makes me feel terrible about myself for being a self-loather, which just makes me loath myself that much more. It’s a cycle, you see. A loop-D-loop, tilt-A-whirl of cyclical rage and depression.

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It’s how I became a writer. Where else do you put this shit? You gotta put it in a book so it stays there. Maybe you don’t. You maybe paid three bucks for this, if that, because this was a self-published piece of garbage. After a good long while in the cesspool that is the literary blogging world, I figured if I put it all in a Word doc, it may come out to be about 50,000 words. It did. I’m not the first to do this. I’m pretty sure there’s a cat book out there that did the same thing with fewer words and a better advance. And cats. This, right now, is garbage. But I came to terms with the garbage-ness of this endeavor a long time ago. Getting over that was the most difficult hurdle in becoming the writer you now see before you. It was a long series of self-realizations that sometimes appear in the pages following this prologue, and which you probably won’t read. Take my word for it, though. There are craploads of self-realizations. I’m not a smart man. I’m a man who can string words together in a sometimes-coherent way. I once thought this made me a writer. I’ve quickly learned that this doesn’t mean anything. It’s garbage. It’s trash. It’s shit. I feel better about myself already. I feel better about this—book? But you knew this was garbage. You’re smart. You’re reading a prologue that seems suspiciously like filler. And it is. This is a trashy filler piece of shit that fully embraces its garbage-ness. xii


Thing is, this godforsaken garbage/trash work wouldn’t have weighed over the ever-precious 50,000 word tonnage if I didn’t sit my ass down and write what you’re reading right now. I don’t regret it. This is good. This is my first prologue. They’re super easy to write. I feel great. And what is it with 50,000 words? At what point did that become some goal for writers? It’s meaningless. A work should be as long as it should be. This work, however, is about 48,000 words longer than it should be, but it used to be a blog. Make no mistake. I don’t pretend to believe that blogging is writing. It’s not. It’s a hobby of a hobby. It’s a brain shart that happens to come out in words. You will experience a lot of these brain sharts first hand. I mean, this thing doesn’t even really get going until around Season II (pg. 142) and even then sporadically. Like you gotta wade through reams of terrible shit to find anything worth reading. Believe me, I tried. There was a time I thought I might edit this thing. Then I looked at it, went to the fridge, and ate a block of cheese. This is the Internet. This is the Internet in printed form. Neither of us should be surprised. This should be a pamphlet. This shouldn’t even be whatever is less than a pamphlet. This should be a flyer stapled to a telephone pole looking for a missing cat blog. This shouldn’t even be a thing. This wouldn’t be a thing pre-Internet. Now it is. Shit. Make no a mistake, he says. Big man. Make no mistake that this is anything more than some poor-as-shit, desperate writer’s attempt to be able to hold a kinda thick wad of papers to make him feel better about himself. That’s all this is. It’s vanity. It’s depressing. xiii


I need a block of cheese. And goddamn right I didn’t stoop so low as to expect somebody to publish this trash for me. Don’t get me wrong. I would use the shit out of anybody who gives me an opportunity but I would never expect anyone to read through this thing. Let alone edit it. Let alone spend any given time on any given passage and give it the good old college think-through. This? This is shit. This was a few bucks out of your wallet. Maybe more. Probably less. I don’t know. I put this together only because it was easy. Only because after ten years scraping through this writing life, all I got was this book of words. This is a book. It has 50,000 words in it. You will not learn a damn thing if you make it to the end. If you bail early, I will not forgive you. Make no mistake, it’s not like I can come find you, and if I did, I would just stand awkwardly near you and pray you don’t kick my ass. Because I’m a weak man. I’m a very weak man. Look at these arms. Look at how pale I am. God. My wife sleeps next to me. Crap. It’s through this weakness that this is the only book I managed to write even though I paid the equivalent of multiple home mortgages to get my ass through writing school. So I could do this—the blogging and the self-publishing? Yuck. Only to end up as some dude who can sometimes string together enough words to form a xiv


coherent thought. A dude with pale skin and noodle arms and a trashy book he made himself. Piss. Balls. Sigh. This is winning. I won. This wasn’t easy. I lost most of my friends except for my second wife. She loves noodle arms, paleness, and words strung together that occasionally (but not usually) have meaning. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. If any of that meaning is in here—words that mean something within the garbage-ness of this whole endeavor—I should tell you it got in there by accident and it likely has more to do with what you brought to the table. Anyway. You’re welcome. F

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Season I: The Ficstructor gets angry.

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1. Inspired I’ve made it five pages in two weeks on my current story and it’s terrible. One day it may be a novella. Therefore, a blog is born from a late night drunken rant on a literary message board one person liked, a lingering hangover, and the inability to write a damn sentence that makes sense in the bullshit story I’m currently working on. I feel great.

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2. Chapter has been deleted to uphold Ficstructor quality. This chapter was shit. In a book that is peddling trash, this chapter was the trash handler. The garbage man with IBS. If you find yourself saying in your head (or outloud), “Wait a minute here, Muchacho! I paid good hard cash money for this piece of shit. I didn’t pay for a small slice. I paid for the whole thing. Give it to me you miserable, stupid (and boring) effnut!” Fine. All you gotta do is e-mail your demands to theficstructor@gmail.com and you will promptly receive this godawful chapter.

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3. I Don’t Always Understand Lit Blogs—The Ficstructor Notwithstanding. This blog is going to be different. 1. I will not write about obscure shit that no one but some specialized English department in Where-the-hellz-ever-ville really gets. I also will not write about writers who do weird things with books, like, damnit, I don’t know. You know it when you see it. It’s like when writers put some damn origami swan in the middle of the book and you have to unfold its wings or pull off a shit-ton of paper flower petals to read a story or poem, which is usually a cover for the fact that the prose or poetry suck. I also don’t read books where the words are, like, upside down, or the book goes backwards, or the book fits into three different boxes because it’s goddamned hard enough for me to read a regular book that goes in only one direction. I also don’t know what is hip and crazy and underground in the lit world, and I have no idea how to find that type of shit out. Other websites do. I read seven books a year. I might talk about those but it’s unlikely because I don’t want to reveal how much of the book I don’t really understand. I learned American contemporary literature from a monk. I never knew what in the hell he was talking about, so I became a writer instead. 2. I won’t tell you about my own works of fiction that get published. First, I hardly get anything published because, well, I’m a writer. Writers don’t get shit published. Writers 17 19


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wish their shit was published and that’s about as far as it ever gets. Second, I was raised as a Catholic Midwestern jackass who believes that coming anywhere near to telling others about the truth of your accomplishments is the same as bragging, so therefore I will be sent to hell. I don’t believe in hell. But I’m like all Catholics: I quit going to church, believing in God, and thinking Jeebus was the body of Christ, yet I still fear eternal damnation. I’m a dumbass and this is the root of my own evil. Third, why the shit would you guys care about the rinky dink fledgling zines I’ve been in? I guaran-effing-tee you don’t read zines, lit journals, or even the New Yorker (though you probably have a subscription to the New Yorker to show your neighbors that you are cultured … if you didn’t know, most of their subscription base is based on liberal pseudo-intellectuals trying to maintain the appearance of deep-thought … it’s the same reason I own one tie.) 3. You won’t get a list of links of shit I think you should see because I assume you understand how Google works by now. I probably won’t ever recommend books or writers either because recommendations usually amount to buying a book you didn’t want in the first place because you’re a consumerist jackass who owns a Kindle and find it too easy to download a book in 60 seconds, even crap recommended by people you know are stupid as hell, i.e. the Ficstructor. 4. I’m never going to list jobs for writers. Actually, I’ll do it just this once: The Ficstructor’s Job Market Update: There aren’t any. You’re a writer. You get paid in contributor’s copies. I feel hipper and more underground already. I give this blog two weeks. Max.

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4. Mother Eff the Writing Life. I come to things late. Blogging is another one of those things. I’m not denying that it’s a final gasp of desperation either. I admit that. Apparently a part of my writer self believes that a literary career isn’t a total crock of shit either. I could teach. Wait a bitch’n minute. I taught for seven years. Have you tried that racket? Nothing kills a writer’s writing quicker than teaching. Well, I used to think that until I started blogging and getting way into flash video games. Those will kill your writing. I also got a 9-6 day job. That doesn’t help either. But there really isn’t an ideal situation to write. It’s miserable labor any way you look at it. Let’s say all you do is write, like you’re some famous dude like Stephen King or someone who actually gets paid to make stupid shit up and put it on paper. Imagine that lifestyle. Like, actually imagine it. Don’t just fantasize about it the way you tend to do, where it’s all hacking away at some golden nugget of truth in the form of some crappy story about two star-crossed lovers who meet in a taxi on a rainy day and then zaniness ensues. I mean, imagine the day-to-day drudgery of it. You wake up. You hate yourself because the crap you wrote the night before was utter effing garbage. You read it, reread it, reread it again. And that kills about 15 minutes. Then you go pour another cup of coffee, making sure that you use the smallest damn cup you have in your cupboard so you must get up and leave your desk frequently as to avoid the misery of sitting there and looking at the three sentences you wrote yesterday that remind you of how very unsmart you really are. So, we’re still talking Stephen King’s life here, so I’ll use the one book of his that I ever read: Dark Towers III. So this yutz, he has his mini-cup of coffee with the kind of handle that his thumb can’t fit through, and he’s staring at his work from the night before. It’s about giant effing lobsters and floating doorways and some damn cowboy who can’t remember shit. 19 21


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That’s the entire book actually. Those three things. And, King, being a veteran of how terrible writing is, was probably thinking, “Boy, this is really complete shit. I hate myself and I wish I would die right now because I have to sit here and stare at this bullshit all freaking day. I don’t even have a craptastic job at some No-name University to distract my ass from this shit. EFF!! I’m not even a technical editor at Shit-hole Inc. where I can at least feign work all day until I clock out. This is my life. Ballz. The difference between King and you, of course, is that he gets paid millions of dollars for his stories. You–yes, you–get jack shit. All you get is the misery of seeing how dumb you are day in and day out. This, my jaded writer dorks, is what we call: The Life.

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5. 2nd Person POV: The Electric Architeuthis With Fangs That Is Also a Parasite I’ll read about one story per year written in the second person because either BASS or the Pen/Faulkner/O. Henry/Pushcart Anthology feel obligated to publish one. And after reading it, I wonder whether it is THE DAY that I throw myself off the roof of my onestory ranch house and then proceed to mash my face into the decorative landscaping river rocks that surround our quadplex like the wussiest moat in the entire world. OK, this is for the MFA crowd. You are going to have a professor who suggests that 2nd person is a good idea. He’s just saying that because he didn’t prepare a lesson for that day and he figured, “What the hell? I guess I’ll give them this shit to work on.” Second person is a bad idea. There will be one outlier in the writing world who finds it amazing and then a bunch of other nincompoops, wrongly assuming that this outlier is correct, will go right ahead and agree with the dude. Here’s the deal. You have probably read a second person story from somebody famous, and you’re thinking that since famous people write from 2nd person that it’s OK. They were paid to write that shit. I’m fairly certain there is a special interest group, a think tank, and a team of lobbyists who are trying to convince us writer schmucks that second person is worthwhile. Those big fat anthologies (I mentioned them above) publish one second-person story a year because to them they think they’re providing variety to their journal. They’re not. They’re providing their reading audience with a bad idea and a mass epidemic of cluster headaches, radiating first from the eyes and rippling back to the crown of their heads, which causes a seizure and then defecation. 21 23


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Variety happens in narrative and storytelling and conflict and plot and character and all that other crap; it doesn’t happen in POV. The fact that second-person stories exist must be some charity thing. I really can’t figure it out. Maybe it’s a liberal movement. Are there a bunch of whiners out there who want to build social programs to help prop up the needy second-person POV, as if it’s some starving baby that can only survive if we trickle out a second-person story every couple of months by bribing Lethem, Oates, or some other industry person to crap it out for the New Yorker? Second person is nothing more than a parasite nestled in the crotch of POV. For this reason, I have removed all 2s from my keyboard, number pad, and cell phone. I suggest you do the same. It’s a protest. Of course, I once met a curmudgeon who said he hated first person. Now that’s really goddamned weird. Who doesn’t like reading a story about themselves? I figure he must not’ve been a real writer because he hadn’t the ego. He didn’t understand that, to writers, every time we see the word ‘I’ we get a mental hard-on because despite the story being about boring-ass crap happening between two star-crossed lovers in a coffee shop, we think it’s about our own lives and someone has gone through the trouble to narrate it for us. Gyawd! We’re a bunch of ego-maniacal effnuts. Correction: You’re a bunch of ego-maniacal effnuts See what I did there? I think this is the last post.

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6. New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism That title is crap, BT Dubs. It’s nonsense. Maybe it’s not. I once read every other page of Bolano’s Savage Detectives because I made the mistake of reading the NYTRB and following their recommendation. From what I could gather, the book was about a few drug addicts, a couple of un-American cities, some sex, and a bunch of smoky bars and cafes. Lord. I almost smashed my face into the corner of my desk while reading it. The only reason I didn’t is because I figured if someone discovered my bloody face hanging off the corner of my desk and one of my hands resting on Bolano’s shit-tastic novel, Bolano would somehow get credit for inspiring me to do it. Like, I did it out of some manic bout with nihilistic rage (is that even a thing?). Like, his great work inspired another strung-out long hair to commit suicide because of his ideas. The truth of it would be this: I was so damn tired of torturing myself with reading boring ass scene after boring ass scene concerning a bunch of whiners hanging out in a cafe that it, the book, forcibly passed my ass out, flinging my face, in a sense, into the corner of my desk. Savage Detectives is boredom in its most violent form. Here’s a quick tip for you writers who think you can improve your writing by remembering 23 25


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stupid tips from bloggers: Anytime your story ends up in a bar, it’s about two lines from asphyxiating your reader with thick, nasty, painful painful painful misery. Bar scenes are the Sarin gas of your reader’s consciousness. Nothing–I mean absolute jack shit–happens in bars. Hemingway taught us that. And since then droves of cute MFA’ers have been trying to prove that principle wrong. Ugh. Jesus effing Christ. Bolano? It’s this post? I’m still here writing this crap? Fuck me. I’ll tell you about New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism some other day.

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7. Newer Post-Electronic Deconstructivism So this post-electronic deconstuctivism is still tacitly about Bolano. As much as I hate giving him credit for anything, he did have a good idea when he started inventing literary movements. The genius is that he realized somewhere along the line that writers are arrogant, conceited, and in need of some artificial way to bolster their own self-importance … like a writer’s ego really needs any more bolstering. Writers are also largely friendless, but I’m not sure that’s something he figured out. Just adding that to the list. So he started this literary movement in his Savage Detectives book and then I think it became a real thing. Or maybe it didn’t. I’m not too sure on that because I don’t care enough about it to Wikipedia it and find more falseified information about a literary group that may or may not exist, and one I could hardly give two shits about. So the dude had a decent idea starting a fake movement because, as we all well know, fake movements turn into real movements once idiots grasp hold of their bullshit principles and start to follow them for the rest of their lives because they take it for dogma. There are examples of this through the ages. Scientology. Atkins diet. Trekkies. Bloggers. And–damnshit–Palahniuk or whatever started them fight clubs. First there was the book, then the movie, and then a bunch of my stupid floormates freshman year of college (who never read the book but saw the movie) started to beat the living hell out of each other in the laundry room. Couple of broken noses, a few shattered jaws, more than one concussion, and finally the priest who was our floor rep started thinking that this fight club in the laundry room was no good. So, you know, it got moved to some basement somewhere. I had not the energy to find out where all the business majors were trying to pummel the last of their 25 27


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precious few brain cells into submission–well, *ahem*, those that were not already done in by designer drugs and upper class living. Those are a few small examples of a movement starting from absolute crapalistic beginnings. The majority of others, you know, involve just about every organized religion known to man. I think that’s about it for today. This is making me too depressed. Had I continued with this post, you would have experienced the following emotions: Piss. Balls. Sigh.

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8. Newest Post-Electronic Deconstructivism III So the Ficstructor, an acolyte character himself, decided to not only speak in the third person but to start a religious-sized literary movement. Now, I don’t think most ideas are good. Case in point: The Ficstructor blog. This has been a bad idea from the beginning. But this, I think, is pretty durn sweet. Mostly because it involves no physical writing, something the Ficstructor is turning more and more against. Well, no more writing of the fictions or the poems or the CNF thingies. With this movement all we have to do is talk about what we did write, which is really the only kind of writing writers do. We’re super good about talking shop, not so good producing anything of worth. Blogs don’t count, BT Dubs. Neither do Twitter accounts, self-help books, books on spirituality, books about earning money, books that talk about the ‘business of writing’, books that proselytize workshopping, books about or written by celebrities, most books about travel, or books that you have paid someone else to publish. I think I’ll lump craziest-life-shit memoirs in there and most books on literary theory because Spark Notes adequately cornered the market there, and, usually, do a better job than most PhDs. That leaves us with poetry, stories, and CNF minus aforementioned memoirs (which may become acceptable again 200 years from now). But, why in the hell do we really want to write literature? We’re writers. Our job is to avoid any writing of the literary variety and just tell people that we’re working on it. For instance, “That novella I’m churning out about two star-crossed dolphin ninjas who are sonar deaf and use their flippers and tails to communicate and kill terrorist pods

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of orcas … Yeah, dude, it’s gonna be sweet.” This is a rebellion of sorts, so I’ve started writing works that disappear from this planet before I’m even finished with them. Like, I wrote a short story in cake frosting that I force fed to my four-year-old cousin. I wrote a poem on a cigarette that I gave to a spider monkey at the San Diego Zoo, who I didn’t really think would smoke it, but then did, and it was awesome. I also peed a Hint Fiction piece into the snow when I was drunk. I’ve done others, too, but I don’t want to ruin the movement, so I’ll leave it up to my readership to carry the rest of this out. That means all two of you. You know, I’m going to be serious here for a moment and just level with you guys. This movement is a reaction against all this Internet tomfoolery where things fly around getting all digitized and permanent in some weird-ass techno-cloud that is etching our misery into the electric heavens. Writers are not writers these days; they are content developers throwing crap out into the Internet to be used as a momentary distraction for a readership addicted to flash porn. It’s nuts, really. And that shit stays there, no matter how unsmar it is. I don’t like stumbling across old Ficstructor posts that reveal how dumb I was the day before. All it shows is that I’m a douchey cockeff who flames the writing process, writers, lit blogs, lit theory, and all that. Truly, I want it gone. For good. We need to elevate the world of writing even more. It is within us writers to imagine the world how we want it to be, not constantly bicker about our reflections on how it really is … or some shit. Therefore: New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism is born. Derrida, or whatever the hell your name is (never heard of the guy until bryan72 called me a retard *see comment for “New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism”), eat your nutz off. There’s a new sanctimonious theorist in town! Where’s my robe? Where’s my beard? Stake me to the cross. I’m done.

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9. On Query Letters Part I: The Origin of Leechmonkeys This comes as a request, so there must be someone out there who also has eschewed the search for practical writing advice, coming to the only lit-blog on the Internet that admits wholeheartedly that it’s full of bullshit, useless to the development of one’s literary career. Like, people make a living peddling this crap. They get books published and desperate writers buy them. Publishing catalogues have entire sections devoted to what new writers should do to get published. It’s freaking ridonkulous. Tomes, reams, effing terrabytes of writer self-help shite has been projectile vomited into bookstores and onto the Internet, and it seems there is no end to our desire to just lap this crap up and put it on our bookshelves, never to be read, as an artifact of our own failed endeavor to become something of a writer, because the more we surround ourselves with books about what it takes to become a writer the more we start to believe that this is the truth, the path, the way to literary super stardom, when in fact all it is another testament, a full flippin’ library, a shrine in honor of our misdirected pursuit. We are collectors. We are voracious. We have no clue what we’re doing. We’re a generation of writers who don’t write; we content develop and comment. We–fer eff’s sake–blog and twit! It’s insatiable. It’s ludicrous. It’s low art. It’s a goddamned racket. I paid to do this! We’re idiots. I’m sad. The entire freaking business is a meritocracy when run correctly, but unfortunately a whole shitbunch of messy, confusing shit gets in the way. Namely, all the damn people who slow the transfer of written words to readers: agents, publishers, publicists, interns, workshop instructors, parents, clergy, friends, parakeets, mailmen, etc. Writing and reading is a two person companionship, but the industry has made it such that about a million other leechmonkeys get in the way, making it harder for you to get your crap out. And the Internet and e-publishing industry currently isn’t helping. Well, maybe it does help. 29 31


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Actually, what in the man-loving shit do I know? If the industry wasn’t there, the publishing world would look exactly like the Internet, filled with largely unreadable trash (The Ficstructor notwithstanding). So maybe we need leechmonkeys? Feck me. I don’t know. These be confusing times. I mean, Freedom was apparently the best book written last year, but for everyone who actually read the book (me being one of the victims of its pages and pages of POV stumblefucks), it was trite bullshit pushed by an industry that is in its final death throes and so has gone plain suicidal mad in its last gasps for life (and relevance). And I like Minnesota! What are we talking about here? Ah, yes. That’s right. So the request was for a post on that staid and true industry ticket to ride, the query letters. After torturing myself for upwards of fifteen minutes researching query letters on other blogs, hoping that I could find one entry that made a bit of sense (as to avoid writing this damn post so I could just copy and paste someone else’s ideas and hock them as my own … ), I realized that I wouldn’t be doing anyone a bit of good and I would have a brainfart/aneurysm (a brainfarteurysm?) in the process. Also, there’s a good chance I’d look more like the jackass I already am, and the information I would have given would have been less useful than the crap I’m about to say. A different blog would edit it down in a revision. Since the Ficstructor is going renegade against the writing life, the revision process falls well within those bounds. Eff daily writing. Eff revision. We’re in a new age of spewing vacuous bullshit, and I am now a passionate convert, an acolyte of ego-driven aggression in the form of twits and posts. Arrgh, maties! We be in the doldrums of literary progress and better man ye be who keeps the sails and flags high upon the mast, but we be felled with the cowardice and miseries of fallen man. Burn the sails, eat the first mate, and throw ye self to the sea! These be trying times, true, and only the teeth of the Great White shall set us free! ~ Captain Ficstructor Basically, my point is this: Query letters seem to be one of those things that no one really knows a thing about because it’s been scrutinized to all hell and elevated to this almost 30 32


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divine waystop in the writer’s pursuit of becoming somebody rockstar famous. Query letters really aren’t that big a deal. I think they’ve reached this bullshit status because someone somewhere is running a writing seminar and is charging poor-as-shit emerging writers mucho dineros to listen to their drivel (or they’re selling an e-book about it). Watch out MFAers. Some of this comes in the guise of ‘legitimate’ classes being peddled in your program; they’re usually entitled “The Business of Writing” or whatever. But you gotta think about it. There really is no ‘business to writing’ because there’s no damn money in it. Pets.com taught us this in the early 00s: businesses require actual products that people demand in order to become a real business, in order to turn a profit, in order to hire enough monkeynuts to make the effing widgets. No one wants our widgets, at least not enough to pay for them, so you’re stuck being the lowliest monkeynut there is: the one that is starving and eating its own poop. (I dare thee to tease the metaphor out of that extended cockamamy mindfuck!) Damnit. I’m even sadder now. The Expendables came on so I am going to see some real diesel-driven art. Thank you, Sly. Check back in the next few days for some other ideas on query letters. Or not. You may be better off not checking back, actually. Yeah.

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10. On Query Letters Part II: Misleading Points 1 and 2 For the most part a decent query letter comes down to a few key ideas. 1. Don’t be a jackass. Seriously. Like, you should know who the shit you’re sending your query to. Even though you wrote some literary piece about two star-crossed lovers who meet after they get in a fender bender in Tuscaloosa, you should probably figure out who represents that kind of crap. There are as many damn literary agencies as there are writers, seemingly, and each agency is of varying levels of legitimacy. There are true scams out there, so do some research. Research nowadays means actually reading their website and their guidelines and crap. It’s not too hard, actually … even for me. Check the authors they represent; you might know a few of these hobos who–now that they have an agent representing them–are able to squeak out a living down by the train tracks and write all day in their cardboard box/apartment. If you don’t check these places out, you’re just going to be going through a hell of a lot of work to send your book to a bunch of illiterati who only publish self-help books and vanity works, and I’m fairly certain these kinds of agencies aren’t even run by people who can read the English language. So, find a place that actually reads, like, books and stuff. Books and stuff like the crap you write. 2. Don’t sound like a jackass in your letter. If you try to sound too smart or too edu-macated or too arty, like you’re some damn transmitter of truth from some other dimension, the agency will probably think you’re a total douche (or they might actually like that … if the Ficstructor ran an agency, I would think you sounded like a total douche, so I may just be projecting). I’ve written one query letter and it got me nowhere, so I’m not really the guy who knows anything about this, but I knew one thing when writing it: If I’m misrepresenting who I am in my query letter, I’m probably also misrepresenting my work too. There are some snotty lit bloggers out there who say you should capture the tone of your work in your query letter. Really? That’s what we should do? For eff’s sake. If you have to make an 32 34


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effort to capture the tone of your writing, #1 you’re going about the writing process backwards, and #2 your novel or book probably sucks anyway. You don’t goddamn write towards a particular tone. Tone is the result of writing in a way that best strikes at the heart of your own personal, psychological, emotional, and spiritual truths. It’s not the other way around. Grrr! Roar! Mark my territory you sons of bitches! So, write naturally. Don’t think about who those jackasses are who are going to read your query letter. They’re reading about a million of them a day. Get the information out that they’re looking for. Also, don’t sound whiny. Don’t put crap publications in your bio. In fact, don’t even include a bio. Bios are misleading at best. They ask for them, but what will it get you? It’s going to give the agency an idea of the image they think you are. Are you kidding me? Are we playing spin the bottle in 8th grade and am I going to be left out again so Tara can manipulate the game by stopping the bottle on Jake Motney when it was clearly going to stop on me? Shit. Yeah, so bios are ridiculous to include. Your image is your work. Tell them about your work, not about yourself. We’re all new writers with no accomplishments that nobody has heard of anyway–even a handful of respectable publications don’t really mean anything. They don’t want to hear about your lack of credentials and they don’t want to hear about how you know you lack credentials because then you sound like a pathetic baby seal pup trying to get some of the freeze-dried fish turds the zoo sells in one of those coin-operated thingamajigs. Start a blog and bitch about how crappy this writing life is, but don’t put it into a query letter and grovel. There’s a shit-ton of groveling in this biz. It’s weak. Also, don’t make shit up. They’ll see through your lies anyway. This is a direct contradiction to one of my previous posts “Publish Your Shite.” But in that, you can brag the living hellz out of your work vocally and on blogs and shit because no one will care anyway, and you’ll just come off as a braggart and possibly a liar in the long run. But don’t yip your nuts off in your query letters. Err … if I keep going I won’t have anything else for the rest of the week. 33 35


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11. On Query Letters: Part III: Err … Points 3 & 4 And now for points 3 and 4 of Query Letters. If you’re frustrated that you have to wait days for this inane crap of a list to complete itself, I don’t have it within me to apologize. I have divided them up because I know your attention span is like mine, so you can handle maybe 50 words at best when you visit a blog. By then you’re already thinking about the next site you’re going to or you’re thinking about what new tweet just popped and you’re praying to Jeebus that it’s about you and your just-published chapbook, released by the publisher “Samsung Desktop Laser Printer.” Distribution: The corner coffee shop where barrista Sally will once again laugh at how stupid your stories are and say, “This certainly is not Cheeveresque.” To which you ask, “But did you read the subtitle?” “You mean, ’A Cheever-esque Dramedy by _________ _________’?” “Yes.” Douche. I’m not giving you a refill today.” Anyway, I’m actually doing you a favor dividing my points up like this. So, you know, you’re welcome. 3. Know that the industry is run by a bunch of whiny jackasses. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part the literary industry is a bunch of douchey douches who, despite every attempt to ruin American fiction, fail frequently enough so that good shit really does get through the pipeline and keep the literary conversation relevant … (also tons of indie joints keep the landscape relevant just by being in and of themselves totally flippin’ 34 36


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awesome.) Just because agencies and publishing houses are the gatekeepers to landing a book, it doesn’t mean they aren’t reg’lar ol’ morons like the rest of us. They make every attempt to prove otherwise, listing degrees and experience on some flashy website, but the reality is they watch too much TV and scratch their asses in public too. They got nothing more and nothing less on you even though they’re making the decision as to whether in the near future you will feel all warm and fuzzy inside or like Satan’s hellhounds are chewing on your soulnutz until, of course, they’re eviscerated with a rusty meat cleaver as to correct the undescended spirit-testicle of a work that is not quite ready for publication. None of their decisions are too important, really. Good thing is: unlike lit journals who basically punch you in the mouth by sending a rejection letter, agencies probably won’t even contact you if they think your book idea is idiotic. You just won’t ever hear from them. 4. Recognize that there’s a distinct possibility that your own book has been written by a jackass. We are writers. We by nature think we’re geniuses and everyone loves us and will fawn all over us the moment they realize how incredibly smart, charming, and totally effing writer-tastic we are. So every day it’s a good idea to remind yourself that you’re not that great, you’re book probably sucks, and the only thing you can do about it is keep writing and revising so that it becomes slightly better than readable or, if a miracle happens, better than it was the day before. Basically, make sure your work is as great as you can get it. Every work can be redrafted and revised. Every work. Even stuff you’ve had published. Writing never ends, and this is why it’s so goddamn miserable. There’s no telling when a work is ‘finished’ either, but usually there is a time where it feels as good as you can get it, for the time being. Even then, it may be good to set the work aside for a year and then return to it. Usually you’ll discover that the story you thought was amazing was really, really, really effing lame and stupid. But with a year of growth as a writer, you’ll be able to find just where and how the story sucked, but also where and how the story was a success–the reasons you thought you were so flippin’ smart and awesome in the first place. Don’t trust your writer friends either. You probably shouldn’t even have them read your shit. Also, don’t give it to family members because what in the shit do they really know? If you can find a trusted reader, do that. The closer you are to someone, though, the less likely they’ll be able to give decent feedback. (This is turning into a workshopping convo, which is a topic I’ll cover in the future). 35 37


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Err … this also just turned into a tummy-rub fest din’t it? I hope we all feel good about ourselves. If you want to feel even better and fling empty praise at something, type ‘literary blog’ into Google and go to any one of ‘em. You’ll get to hear more of that rah-rah’ing and sobbing. You will also feel souless and mindless and like you just stepped onto the set of Oprah during give-shit-away day. Self-aggrandizing praise baiters. Eff! I’m getting soft. I am stopping here and I am going to take a Lou Reed Shot. You know what that is? It’s just like a regular tequila shot only instead of drinking the tequila, you pour it in your eyes; instead of taking the lemon you throw on the ground because you don’t take fruit in your drinks; and instead licking the salt, you dump the entire saltshaker on the bar and write a New Post-Electronic Deconstructionist poem in it and then try to light it on fire. Then you take the shot glass and tell the bartender that you’re going to keep it and chuck it at the first blogger you see, which leads to you hucking the glass at the bar mirror because the first dumbass blogger you see is yourself. Bar mirror breaks. Cops come. One more overly self-reflective blog-griper removed from this planet … symbolically. You spend the rest of Tuesday afternoon in the drunk tank.

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12. On Query Letters IV: Points 5 thru 6: The Stunning Conclusion And finally … more of this. 5. What else … Synopses are really dumb. Aside from asking for bios, it’s the worst idea of any agency-required hoop jumping. But you should probably include one. They need synopses because, like I said before, agencies don’t know how to read books. This is pure conjecture and bullshit on my part, but for the writer it’s a pretty good guiding principle to assume that the agency won’t ever actually read your book–the bad agencies may, in fact, not ever read your book. So they’ll need to get the paragraph summary of it. Just give them the plot. Even though you’re a lit fiction person who has zero plot and high ideals in your novel about two star-crossed zombie wolverines who only speak in grunts and growls (and which is really a metaphor for the birth of truth and God) you’ll have to just say the book is about two dumb animals that mate and one of them eats the other’s brains. You have to go all special needs on your book and pretend you’re explaining it to an eight year old who only watches Steven Segal movies–which really isn’t too far from the truth. 6. You could do what I do … I don’t even send a query, but I’m a short story writer who has no damn chance of legitimate representation. See? That’s called self-pity. Writers are really good at it. Instead, I send my collection directly to publishers who I really like and who are putting out vibrant, readable, and awesome work. I’m not going to waste your time with a list because there are a ton. Right now the indie world is blowing the hellz up, the publishing world is becoming less centralized, and the NYC establishment is becoming less of a force, or even a place where a writer’s career is made relevant. Nowadays there are oneoff presses, e-publishing (which is still kind of a joke), and indie places doing some awesome awesome shit. And for them, dudes and dudettes, you don’t even have to write a query letter, which is at best a misrepresentation of who you are as a writer and at worst complete effing cockeff. 37 39


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Query letters are dumb. Send directly to a publisher who takes manuscripts without representation and for Gyawd’s sake, do not include a bio or synopsis in your cover letter. You want to be judged on your work, not on the pure bullshit you put in the cover letter. If they like your work, then you can tell them who you are later when they want to publish you. Your work first, your goddamn inflated ego last. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I am going to include a template for the only cover letter that isn’t total effing garbage, and one I as an editor never ever freaking saw because writers are so goddamned full of themselves they would send two pages of bio for a one page story. All that does is heighten the editor’s expectations for the work, and when you end up reading story about a dude sitting on a porch and watching a hobo jump trains (and who later become star-crossed lovers), I say, “Fe-e-eck this” in a Bostonian accent, and I burn the piece in my trashcan. And Jerbus lord, I could give a shit about past publications too. You’re a short story writer. And you sent me a story. That’s the thing that matters. All the other shit is trivial and self-aggrandizing and it forces me to judge you, and I can tell you: my judgment will not be glowing even if you went through pains to sound humble. Whatever you include, if it includes the pronoun “I”, your letter will read like the needy, pathetic, conceited, lying little writer seal pup you are, and one who is trying to waste my time and distract my attention from the only thing that truly matters: the story. The following cover letter ain’t full of shit. Here it is, you plagiarizing thieving bastards. Dear Editors, Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Desperate, Ego-manified, Insane-o-needy Emerging Writer 38 40


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13. Being A Poet Would Be Terrible: Part 1 of Some Others. First, if you’re a poet you’re never going to get published. Actually, how would I know? I’ve never written a poem. I didn’t even write them as exercises when I was trying to figure out why in the hell I enrolled into an MFA program in the first place. I usually sat there trying to look smart. You know the look. Don’t pretend you don’t. It’s that slight remove, the feigned faroff stare as if you’re actually ruminating on important shit, even though you’re really thinking about Dexter or Six Feet Under or flash gaming. You’d be better off accepting the fact that you’re a pseudo-intellectual whose far-off stare is the result of complete and utter disbelief as to how terrible your life choices have been. Life choices that brought you to a graduate school that will offer you no job prospects. Not that it’s the fault of the graduate school because they’re pretty honest about how little opportunity an MFA will give. In fact, my entrance interview went something like this … This was well before the Ficstructor became the Ficstructor, BT Dubs. The Ficstructor’s beginning is sort of like a comic book creation story without any of the awesomeness and all of the tragedy. Interviewer: “You know, this batshit crazy degree isn’t going to get you a job and there isn’t a person in our faculty who cares enough about you to help you get published.” The Ficstructor: “Gee whiz, sir! I know! I’m just here because I really love writing and I’m going to write no matter how little money I get or how miserable life becomes as a result. I’m motivated, you see. I already wrote three short stories and my undergraduate professor loved them! This is what I’m going to do. …” [The Ficstructor carries on for about 10 more minutes] Interviewer: [Doodling the face of a horse throughout the Ficstructor's monologue] Sure. 39 41


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2. We’re still talking about why being a poet is the worst thing a writer could do. So next: Everyone thinks your status updates have been well thought out. There was probably a time when you poets did spend time thinking about your Facebook or Twitter thing-a-ma-jigs. Actually, I’m sure some of you still do. This is probably true of CNFers and fiction writers, too. Honestly, if you’re doing this, stop flippin’ being so conceited. No one gives a shit how poetic, how mind-blowing our Twitter or Facebook feeds are. So if you’re trying to figure out just what to say because you think there are droves of people about to judge you on your fabulous 124 characters, or whatever, you’re more ego-maniacal than even the Ficstructor himself. … eesh … I gotta stop thinking about my Twitter things. Damnit. I’m not above being a hypocrite, alright? I’m not. Just saying. Anway, we are not going to change the world with our Twitter feed or Facebook post. In fact, the best thing to assume is that the two lines of genius that you pained over for hours is closer to the worst thing you ever have written than the best. ZZZZZzzzziiippittaaap! What the shit was that? M’ brain goo jus’ up and gots bugzapped. OK. I guess I have to change my mind. Poets (this is still about you) you’re held to a different standard. I’ve decided that you do have to mull over those postings like a straight effnut. It’ll probably help your image, or whatever. So, carry on, poets. Torture the living hell out of yourself for Twitter. What am I talking about? Seriously. Look close. This is what blogging, twitting, and flashgaming does. Look! It’s the future of literature. This might be it.

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14. Being A Poet Would Be Terrible: Part II of Some More Parts, Maybe?, Probably Not. I am hunged the shit over. Damn. Went to a b-day party last night, took my shirt off, and smashed bottles. This is the type of shit unsuccessful writers do in their thirties. Not saying I’m proud of myself. Just saying I’m not surprised. I figure the only way to really understand poets is to write about them when I’m feeling at my worst. Baseline misery for writers is pretty horrific, but for poets it’s, like, so bad I can’t even think of a decent enough exaggeration to really describe it. There is no metaphor for how terrible a poet’s life is. Their life is it’s own metaphor for drear and pain. That doesn’t even make sense. 4. Another thing poets can’t do is go completely brain dead. They write, what, 200 words a week, if that? I crap out 200 words before I pull my trousers up after the beer shits. Then I come and throw it up on the Ficstructor blog. One day this site will be full with my porcelain epiphanies. bryan72′ll have my ass for that. OK, OK, bryan72 in my head, I’m going to pretend promise you that my best thinking happens when I’m staring out my window and watching all the sad lonely people walk by my apartment/ranchhouse/duplex thing. Alright, I’ll be totally honest here. My wife and I live in my mother’s basement. You have 41 43


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any idea what it’s like convincing your new (your second) wife that living in your mom’s basement is not that big-a-deal? It is apartment-esque. No kitchen sink to speak of … well, there is a sink, just no running water and there isn’t an oven. We have to go up the stairs for that. But there is a bathroom and microwave; we also have our own species of basement bugs, which I have not seen anywhere else on this planet. Have yet to identify them because every time I type in “big ass scary bug in basement” in my Google search … wait a shitin’ minute … just did that and it’s the second bug in images. Google, you’re not always a waste of time. You just speak dumbass like the rest of us. Good to know. Nearly broke my foot trying to kill one that was clinging to the big metal pole that is in the center of our living room. Other people got a coffee table, we got a wide effing pole. Weird thing about the bugs is that when you mash ‘em right in their freaking body, a hundred of their legs pop off everywhere and they keep twitching for about a half an hour. Tried to take that pole out once, too, but I guess it is, like, supporting the entire building or something. One more reason my uncle is right in saying I should go back to school to be a plumber. But, Uncle Jim, can a plumber write a sweet blog? Probably, says imaginary Uncle Jim. Can a plumber write stories and not get them published? Definitely, says imaginary Uncle Jim. Can a plumber kill the living hell out of mutant bugs in my freaking basement, avoid any and all constructive employment, and tolerate lectures from an over-worked wife? Not a freaking chance, says imaginary Uncle Jim, which is totally unlike real Uncle Jim. Damn straight. Only writers are socially retarded enough to deal with that kind of adversity. Poets. Poets. We’re talking poetry you OCD douchey monkeytit! Only 200 words a week … yeah. That’s gotta be a lot of pressure for a poet. Every word, period, spacey-thing has to mean something. Big difference with fiction writers. Though there’s a bunch of jackasses who will tell you that they struggle over every comma and word, or whatever, they’re complete effing bullshit liars. Most of their ideas came while they were popping a squat as well. Being honest about it just ruins the sanctity of writing or something 42 44


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like that. That’s why fiction writers try to hide from it by making up stupid shit and putting it on paper. It’s the result of their severe disappointment with the romance of life. 5. Poets also don’t got any fall back. Like, they’re stuck being poets. Once you’re a poet you can’t segue those skills into anything. Not that fiction writers can either, but some of us are able to convince gullible bastard corporations that we know grammar–which is also more than likely a complete damn lie. What literary board member line edits? What literary journal is poring over stories thinking, hmm … I think this comma here is coming after a gerund … yadda, yadda, skaddadouche … Piss. Balls. Sigh. I can’t finish this thought. My ass is raw. My head hurts. My stomach is rejecting food. My self-loathing is being invaded by this pervasive sense of shame for being a totally douchey drunk douchebag last night. And I’m starting to truly believe that blogging is killing me. I have trouble breathing every time I do it. Actually, that’s about as perfect of a metaphor as I can get for the life of a poet.

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15. Being a Poet Would Be Miserable Part III: I think this is the last one … Yes, yes it is. Can’t remember the number we’re on. Maybe this is why HTMLGiant has funky numbering too. I previously thought it was post-modern or something (still don’t know what postmodern means), but it’s probably this word I just thesaurused: acedia. It’s OK if you don’t know that word because you need to be an old school fallen Catholic to throw around heavyweights like that. You have to have institutionalized self-hatred preached at you for your entire life to embrace a word like ‘acedia.’ Acedia is like laziness times a million. Where apathy and being lazy-as-shit [sloth?] is somewhat influenced by outstanding factors--loss of a job, grieving, depression--acedia is the willful refusal of joy, your own self-induced spiritual torpor. In other words, it makes you the douche in your relationship with apathy as opposed to the other way around. Like writing, Catholicism likes to convince you it’s your own damn fault. Because it is. If fiction writing is a college freshman eager to get started on a wonderful life of wonder and amusement and interesting conversation, blogging is a man in his thirties, once divorced, sitting on his couch in his bathrobe, days gone unshaven and wondering why he’s been staring at Three’s Company reruns for the last seven hours, even though he’s the one who Netflix’d the catalogue during a manic swing at 3 am the previous morning. If these two were to meet, hmm … [this is called building a scene] I guess we’ll just put them in Barista Sally’s coffee shop. Blammo! In a place that smells like too-strong Kenyan blend, vinyl, and old dishwater: Punk music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 44 46


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00s, 10s … who really freaking knows anymore … is pumped way the hell up. The knobs to the air con busted off, so it’s freezing. It’s daylight, 4 pm, but it’s still dark as an espresso shit because Barista Sally puts heavy curtains on her windows. She’s unusually tan for being a vampress [give characters contradictions]. There’s a young Fiction Writer typing on a silver Mac book, but they probably have a new name now. Something that sounds sleek and young and a few years shy of becoming a really weird name, like a name a celebrity would give an adopted child. Err … The Blogger popped by because he ran out of sugar and he doesn’t want to walk another block and half to go get it. He prefers Barista’s Sally’s insults to exercise. In fact, her insults are their own form of exercise. ACTION Fiction Writer [FW] to no one in particular, but he’s hoping people find him interesting, distant, yet intelligent: I like flowers, gardens, cicadas, and life! Blogger [B]: What the shit? You must mean stink weed, asparagus piss, centipedes, and 7.8% beer? Barista Sally: Get. Jobs. You. Dumb. Ffff– FW: Writing is my job! I love it! B: [Blogger thinks: Too tired to insult happy people. Had a job and a wife at one time, then no job and another wife. Can only hang onto one at any given time.] I’ve always been terrible at multi-tasking, Sally. How could you spin that to make it look good on a resume? [pulls a Frosted Flake out of his beard, sniffs it, eats it] Focused? Driven? FW: I gotta tweet this! B: You guys hiring here? I don’t have, like, people skills and I notice you don’t use a dishwasher. I’m not really a manual labor type’a dude. Do you open before noon? Barista Sally: Is that some kind of back-handed jab at me, douche? You haven’t bothered to put on shoes or … [looks the Blogger up and down] … Gyawd! Tie up your robe, perv. 45 47


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B: [Unembarrassed, looks down, thinks about last time he wore boxer shorts. No date in the recent past makes itself known.] FW: I’m saving this scene for my next short story, only in my version you two secretly like each other, and all of your conversations tend toward Yugoslavian WWII monuments, symbolic of the fascist obstuctionist nature of love because that’s how my one relationship in high school went! [crying on the inside because he's starting to realize the dude in the stained bathrobe and exposing himself to the barista may one day be him.] [cue 80s sitcom laugh track] Since this is still about how poetry is miserable, you may be wondering where the poet is in this scene. You may even think it’s Barista Sally, and you’d sort of be right because she does write poetry about her anorexia and relationships with rock musicians who go on to use her poems as lyrics in their emo bands, but you’d be wrong as monkey shit in a dolphin show. Poets cannot afford to go to a coffee shop. I doubt they even have proper footwear to bring them from their dumpster/house, down the alley, past the crackheads, along the broken pavement to Barista Sally’s in the first place. The poet is probably standing in line at the nearest methodone clinic. I really don’t know. The thing about poets is their lives are terrible (and on the scale of failed writers that’s saying something), but they’re always always right when it comes to their work. Fiction writers tell lies because they’re afraid of the truth, while poets tell the truth because they broke its wings, crushed its skull, and spent years ruminating on the many ways they’ve killed it before.

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16. Interview With Adam Robinson In keeping with Ficstructor tradition, the introduction to my interview will be a list of three reasons why I begrudge the interviewee. 1a. I begrudge Adam Robinson because he is actually a rock star and not in the over-bubbly teenaged girl way. Like, he’s in a band and plays instruments and people probably go to see his shows. I don’t know this for sure since I’ve never been to Baltimore. Actually, I’m just taking his word for it that he’s a rock star. I can only speak for myself when I say that I have lied about being a rock star in the past. It’s how I met my first wife. You know what? Adam Robinson didn’t even call himself a rock star. I did. 1b. I begrudge Adam Robinson for his humility. 2. I begrudge Adam Robinson because he is a published poet AND appears to be a happy person, two things that are mutually exclusive except in the rarest of cases. 3. I begrudge Adam Robinson because he is very friendly, which makes it very hard to begrudge him. The interview in which Adam Robinson’s poetic soul is crushed to smithereens follows: ____________________________________________ Adam Robinson, where the shit do you get off? Uh.

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Now, Adam Robinson, at what point in the publishing process did you realize that the publisher forgot to print the title to your yet-to-be titled collection of poetry? Are you referring to Adam Robison and Other Poems? That was a fun collection to name. I’m really proud of that name. But now that it’s been out for a year or so, I think people aren’t realizing that it’s called Adam ROBISON, without the first “N” in Robinson. I’ve done a lot of readings lately where people get it wrong in their introduction. Interesting. Was it difficult and/or expensive to commission Rainn Wilson to pose for the cover of your book? Do you think I look like him? I actually stopped wearing those glasses because I got tired of the jokes people were making. Even very funny people don’t sound funny when they’re ripping on someone’s style. Also, I got the glasses in 2003, so it seemed like time for a change anyway. Knowing that I like poets who have long hair yet are partially balding, insane-o awesome facial hair, and one word titles to collections of poetry, would you suggest that I read Howl or your untitled collection? My favorite balding writer with insane-o awesome facial hair (and cool glasses) is Robert J. Baumann. You are in a band. Yep, I’m in 2 or 3. The most official band is Sweatpants where I do guitar and singing, but we’re not totally official-official. We don’t have a lot of ambition, we just play because we’re good and it’s cathartic. Then I’m in this new thing, which I think does have ambition, but I just play bass in that. I think it might be called the Secret Sharers? And with the filmmaker and performance artist Stephanie Barber, I’m in Cardinal. We do operettas and we’re starting a project called 2kele, as in 2-ukulele. 48 50


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I too have been in several bands. I have drums, a banjo, a ukulele, a twelve-string, a six-string, and many different kinds of hand drums. I also know how to sing the Animal’s entire library at the VFW during Thursday night karaoke. Do you think we should both quit our useless pursuit to be writers and do something sensible, like start a scream-o punk band together in Milwaukee? I’ve never been to Milwaukee. I love Milwaukee. I miss it. They have a great open mic at Linnemans in Riverwest. I was in a band there called The Flying Party. It was great. Going to the VFW for karaoke also sounds great. And with all those instruments you have — sounds like you have a kind of bluegrass setup, are you a hippy? — I would seriously consider starting a screamo band with you. Why not? OK. I need to ask my wife, ex-wife, mom, and brother permission first. You’re in your second marriage now? Is it good? Why do you need your brother’s permission? I know you’re well aware of my rivalry with bryan72, an avid reader of the Ficstructor. You can think of our relationship like Poland and Germany’s relationship circa 1939, where the Ficstructor is a resistant force keeping at bay the greater forces of bryan72′s tyranny. Whose side are you on? bryan72 is smart and I think he makes some interesting points, but fundamentally he has no understanding of your larger project. Bananafish is an emerging writer who also reads the Ficstructor. I’ve been telling her that pursuing the writing life is torturous, miserable, and likely to leave you friendless, broke, and living in the nearest homeless shelter where you’ll be left to self-medicate your manic bouts with depression and rage. Is this the kind of advice you would give an emerging writer, or are you going to lie to her? 49 51


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I’d like to address Bananafish directly now. Dear Bananafish, the writing life is not hard or lonely. You just do as much as you want. If, in a little while, you find you’re not writing as much as you think a writer ought to, don’t worry about it. There are much bigger things to worry about. The only concern you should have as a writer is that what you’re working on has value, at least for yourself. Just do it as long as it’s fun. I’m sure you’re well aware that the Ficstructor started a literary movement a week ago called, New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism. Can you provide one of your own so my blog can go from a stupid blog no one knows about to a literary e-zine that is revolutionizing the conversation of American literature? Sure, I love NPED stories. How about: Genevieve found a publisher for her book. I guess I couldn’t resist a little cynicism, even if that is an old joke. I understand that you started Publishing Genius because you think you, yourself are a genius. I wrote a novel in about three weeks. The first 3,983 words concern two star-crossed lovers, a panda bear and an emperor penguin, who start a new life on a tropical island in order to escape the harsh judgment of their peers and parents for having an inter-species relationship. The last bit (about 47,502 words) I just repeat the words ‘machine pressed ham,’ which is actually a symbolic passage meant to represent the consummation of their relationship. Are you going to publish that for me? … I did interview you. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, the phrase Publishing Genius is meant to be transitive, as in, I’m in the act of publishing the genius writing of other people. But your novel sounds, uh, like — well, good job. “Machine pressed ham,” pretty funny. However, we’re going to pass. 50 52


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OK. You can promote something now. You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to send me these funny questions. Tell all your friends in Baltimore to check out the record release party for Red Sammy‘s new CD. They’re a graveyard country band. I’m going to play at the release party at the Metro Gallery on June 12.

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17. Youth, Dignity, and Pretending Part I: Youth Alright, gather ’round. Grandpa Ficstructor is going to tell you a thing or two about dignity. There was this reading. I had to go to it for some reason. Didn’t want to. Would rather’ve stayed home and drank beer and played video games, but it must’ve been part of the MFA program I was in. I don’t know. I had to go. Famous writer dude, of course, was the reader. Well, that’s what they told me anyways. I had no idea who the guy was. I remember his name was Nic something something. He didn’t have a K on his name. Wait a minute … His name was Nicholas SomethingSomething. Industry dude and he was at the big school in my city, which we knew as ‘the other’ MFA program, the one with the scholarship kids. I read an article from one of these big school brainiacs in PW, actually. It was about how she was a writer who spent her entire MFA eschewing a social life writing in her room. Do writers really do that? That sounds miserable. I think people do that maybe once or twice and then whenever the jackass is asked about it, he or she claims it’s his or her common habit. Bull. Effing. Shit. Is this jealousy, Ficstructor? No. Chalk her ambition up to naivety or something. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to tell myself. Nah, it’s jealousy. Envy. Resentment. I’m an idiot. You know, I was once in my mid-twenties and I once had a spring break when I was poor as shit, so all I did was pay for one grande coffee at Slewbucks and ‘write’ all day. Oh! Them be words I put on a page. Thousands upon thousands a day. After a week I had 25,000. Pretty sweet. So, you know, it was all garbage. The stupidest shit I’ve ever written (a lot of 52 54


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Ficstructor posts come straight out of that). When asked how much I write (I’ve never been asked), I never say ‘Oh, I write all day, every day … it’s what I do, you know … I’m just that into it.’ Or you can do the humble brag (more often the case): “I … ahh … yeah … I kind of, like, write … a lot … I mean, a lot a lot … I’m a nerd like that. It’s all I do, really. I have a book coming out soon. Marilyn Robinson is blurbing it. I’m such a dork.” Usually when people say they write all day every day, they are lying to you. Don’t listen to them. In fact, people who lie about their word count and work ethic are more than likely the ones who find it more of a struggle to write anything. The justification of their passion comes from the fabrication of their own work ethic. My guess is that a lot of non-writerly related things count as writing. Grocery shopping. Gettin’ drunk. Playing vid games. Blogging. Making a pot of coffee. Getting in an argument with your wife. These people probably often forgive themselves for being morons and saying stupid things, too. It all gets lumped under being misunderstood. … Damnit! I’m describing myself again. Grrrr. Pretenders. Liars. Naive bastards. Youth! Look close because this is who we are! Eesh … where was I? Oh yeah … the meeting of the misfits and pipesmokers. Here’s why I will now call them pipesmokers: One of the scholarship kids actually smoked a pipe and had a beard and also a funny accent despite being from Colorado. He was 25. I was at a reading with him another time, a different reading without the Nic with no K dude, and he wrote a story about a mad scientist who had to keep writing a code to stop the countdown on this clock from getting down to 0. This was right during Season 1 Lost days. Locked room. Code. Count down. Crazy man in a room. We all saw that episode. This was at the big school. Every one of these people graduated with book contracts.

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18. Youth, Dignity, and Pretending Part II: Dignity So we street rats show up with our piercings, tattoos, knowledge of more than one programming language, and good intentions; we also show up with our history of hardcore nerd dorkdom–a history filled with failed zines, late night nintendo-inspired slams, struggling punk bands, and at least one metal radio show. This was at a time when we thought we were living an artistic life of poverty, but in actuality we were graduate students still a few years shy of very real poverty and some very real addiction to drugs and vid games. The Ficstructor himself, well, he got the poverty and dork part, but slipped by the addiction stuff, but I think it’s because he never got a tattoo and couldn’t afford an Xbox. So, here we are: a bunch of writer posers in leather, smelling like old cigarettes, whiskey, and Mountain Dew (The Ficstructor don’t smoke or wear leather either) hanging with the pipesmoker kids (25-35 year-olds) at the big school, who (since we’re doing smells) smelled of the merlot they shared with Nicholas Something-Something at some Big University sponsored dinner. We were there to promote our school’s journal, of which we were all board members. So I think we had copies of older editions of the journal and Nicholas Something-Something was our contest judge for that year, so obviously we all thought we were best buds with him. When our pack converged on his table before the reading, he treated us, I guess, how you’d expect: a mongrel pack of three-legged alley dogs. Our head editor, a very non-threatening, kind, and enthusiastic person (sort of like the head person at a group home or halfway house) introduced us all. I stood toward the back because, as I said, I didn’t know who this guy was anyway. We may as well have been talking to any one of the homeless dudes we passed on our way to the art gallery. Not that Nicholas Something-Something looked homeless, but a week gone unshaven, a tatter in his elbow pads, a tear in his tweed, a good roll in some human excrement and he wouldn’t be far off. 54 56


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Our crew, however, did sort of look homeless. But this is what I was thinking from the back of our pack as my friends in Chuck Taylors and jackboots talked shop with him: [In 30s movie mafioso] “Nyaah … This fella, here, see, with the tweed and the smarts could piss himself and he’d still believe he was high on the tower looking down on us bums. See, see. Nyah, nyah!.” [ashing cigar, swigging bootleg] So he shot us some suspicious looks. Kind of like Eastwood staring down a line of outlaws, except Nicholas Something-Something’s Eastwood was suffering from some form IBS. Actually, you know what? I can’t even remember what the dude looked like. I only remember that by the time our buccaneer crew of beat poets and science fiction writers were finished giving him glowing praise for some book of essays he had written, his hand went to his pocket and he passed off his wallet and car keys to one of the brainiac assistants from the big school. She had big glasses and one of those sweaters with the giant necks. Anyway, it just got me wonderin’. Is this what the literati means when they say “dignity”? I only ask because the Ficstructor has been confronted with this issue time and again. I lump it under the dignity of writers, but it has something to do with judgment, class, and the flexion of the writer’s brain-nutz. Go to a party with a bunch of doctors and you’ll see what I mean. I claim no code of honor and I certainly feel more comfortable drunk in a bar and crawling on the floor to Neil Young’s Between the Lines of Ages than in a crowd discussing the latest Hempel story, but what’s happening here? Writing is supposed to be a classless art, not the it-has-no-class variety, but the kind where it is without the pretense of class because it’s elevated in some way. Damn shit! I mean, isn’t all art supposed to be this way? I’m not surprised. Anytime you 55 57


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run into this bullshit it just leaves you empty. I’m going to flip on my hand-me-down Xbox 1 and play the living hell out of Halo. Aliens do not judge. They merely shoot plasma rifles at this cybernetic super-marine who is about to kick some major neon-blooded ass.

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19. Youth, Dignity, and Pretending Part III: Pretending Scene: Dorks in leather sit in the front rows at an art gallery. They sit on one half, the pipesmokers sit on the other, their chairs a smidgeon closer to the man behind the podium. Nicholas Something-Something, NYC establishment man, is staring at the crowd, less so at the pipesmokers, more so at the dorks. The dorks are smiling. The dorks think he loves them. Most of the dorks know what he’s talking about; they’ve read his essays before and discussed them for fun. The Ficstructor, however, has not. This is his second reading he has ever been to. He has a notebook. It’s open, but at the moment he is severely claustrophobic. It is late fall. The heavy jackets are lumped at everyone’s feet or draped over the backs of their chairs. It makes the already stifling room more so. He hates them. The dude next to him is from the program. He smells like the booze they drank at the bar an hour before. His jacket seems wholly insufficient for the bluster outdoors. Is this what readings are? he thinks. He’s reminded of church. The cadence of a low voice, the lulling of a distracted mind. Do people even listen to this crap? They do, he sees. The audience is enraptured, or doing a good job pretending. His professors have their hands to their mouths, shocked or awed by whatever the man at the podium says. His classmates all have found a way to look comfortable, lounging and listening in fold-out chairs. The chairs here are miserable; their ergonomics designed by sadists. And the pipesmokers somehow look even more involved with these words that are strung together by a voice that is a steady rumble of sing-song and pauses. 57 59


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Apparently this is making sense. What is this? Who are these people? Writing is a mistake, the Ficstructor thinks. It’s another damn religion. He can’t pretend to like this shit. He has no idea what’s going on. He only signed on to this because he didn’t want a job and he didn’t want to study. He wanted to read some shit and write some crap he made up. What is this? Who are these people? Who ARE these people? The Ficstructor has an idea. He will pretend. Yes, that is exactly what he will do. He will find a pipesmoker, pretend he is him and pantomime his pensive looks. Being enthralled to silence, yes, that is something he can fake. The Ficstructor sees a scholar from the big school, the one with the full red beard, the one who is younger than he is but has already written a story about a scientist and a button that appeared in a locally renowned journal. The Ficstructor pinches the bridge of his nose, holds his chin, leans forward and stares at his shoes. Notices that new shoes would be a good idea. His trainers have holes in the mesh. He thinks that waterproofing would be a good idea now that it’s getting on winter. He runs through a list of possible options. Gor-tex is something that pops in his brain and he’s unsure what exactly that is or means. He feels like he’s onto something. Something big. Then, somehow, the Ficstructor’s pretending, his feigning of the attention toward the man behind the podium, of Nicholas Something-Something telling a story about two star-crossed lovers in some European city becomes not just fake attention, but real. He hears these words: “They pretended toward an experience they had not yet earned.” The Ficstructor looks up, sees that Nicholas Something-Something is looking at him, at his crew, at his dudes and dudettes, his dorks and his nerds, his computer programmers and 58 60


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science geeks, his nintendo poets and radio show host, all of whom have already failed at a number of endeavors, all of whom have landed at a writing school in order to give it (art or life or whatever) one last shot at creating something, something viable and worthwhile. Something, maybe someone–who knows?–might like or even love. But they get this, this message, this message of distinct poser-hood? How dare he. How. The eff. Does. He. Get. Off? The Ficstructor thinks. But not yet, not on this evening because it takes years for him to chew on these words. It takes years before he gets the backstories of his pals and the various artistic lives they had lived before becoming people trying to be writers. It took him to fail and fail again before he came to know that he may not be the one who faked his way into this writing life, but it very well could be those, those pipesmokers, on the other side of the room, the ones who upon entering the program were nearly handed a book deal for writing passionately for two years. Let us repeat. Passionately for two years. Passion in two years. Two years. Two years go by quick. Is that what it takes? Two years of trying. It took the Ficstructor over two years to learn to hit a baseball without aid of tee. Two years to write a book? This is all. This is it. This is such nonsense. And the Ficstructor thinks for a moment, years later, that no, no, no it is not him and his crew who were pretending, for how could they pretend toward experience when they were too busy failing to do even that. Failing and failing yet again, he knows, is far from pretending. It may be the only way real writers, real artists, authentic humans exist. And he feels good now because he knows that Nicholas Something-Something was wrong, and he says aloud, under his breath, out his window, to a busy street where the people with the jobs are, “You say we were pretending, but while they were writing, we were failing. We ARE failing. We failed.”

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20. Free Scene For A Young Male Plagiarizer You are either one of these dudes or you know four of them from your class. I’m not even really that pissed off at these kinds of writers; they just kind of make me tired. But you know the type. Weak female supporting role + strong machismo protagonist = sex and killing, or a variation of those things. The sex doesn’t always have to be physical and intense, maybe mentioned, maybe as subtle as a bat of the eyelashes. The killing may not be bringing down a cheetah or shooting a bastard in the face or whatever, but it could be slaying that corporate job. It’s a meme … I think. I don’t know what meme means yet, though. The best I can tell it’s a fat kid singing a pop song from the 90s. Trope, yeah, that’s what the lit dorks call it. It’s a trope. A Hemingway trope. I give you the following scene for use in your next male-dominated story. All you gotta do is change the names and maybe some of the actions, but for the most part you will be looking at a pure Hemingway knock-off. It may even be better than the seven Hemingway knockoff stories you’ve already written (or that one person from your writing group keeps writing). It probably isn’t. Of course it isn’t better than your own knock-off. I couldn’t even copy Whitman without throwing a big ‘ol curse word in the middle of his exultations. Ball, sigh, piss. My personal view is that you shouldn’t use it, but despite some very vocal complaints to a very small audience (myself) it seems bullshit Hemingway scenes continue to ruin American short fiction. So I don’t even know if it’s a good idea to send my Hemingway scene out into

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the world to be stolen, repurposed, and messed with so that it improves your already crappy story. Let me tell you something: neither my rip-off scene nor an actual Hemingway scene stolen word for word (or changing the names and shit) is going to help improve your crap. You should just delete any influence you’ve had from him. I know, I know. You may be telling yourself you’re just so influenced by him that you can’t help it. Well, that’s like saying my little cousin influences me so much because I have a tendency to say crapalistic and poopy pee pants in my blog posts. Actually it’s exactly the same because Hemingway writes like an 8 year old. What. The Eff. Evs. Here you go. Do what you will with it. It will not improve your writing. Steal it, ya damn thieves! A scene from Pillars Rest on Red Sands Jack entered the room. The sun shone through the window and rested on the nape of her neck. She was sleeping, but Jack knew she was not sleeping. She was waiting for his return. “I am here.” She did not roll over immediately to greet him. Jack took his time removing his boots. He polished them with the Tuscan’s handkerchief and set them by the door, next to the Modello 91 he kept since the war. Jack loved those boots. “I am here,” he said again. She had been awake this entire time. He was sure of it. “Yes, dear,” she said, so soft like her hair, which now was even more golden from the way the sun struck its goldeness as she sat up. 61 63


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“I am here. I am here.” “Yes, Jack, yes you are. Come sit next to me.” “No.” “Yes.” “No,” he said and he was about to put his boots back on. Then he did not, and so waited thinking about the wonderful warm beer he drank with the Tuscan out on the hunting reserve. She left the bed, still in her silk nightgown, and went to the table to pour Jack a drink. She brought it to him. “I know how you like your liqours. Drink this. It will be good for you. Will you stay if I give you this?” She offered the drink, but did not hand it to him. He took the drink. It was very fine scotch. “I will not stay. You know me well. OK, I will stay but only because I am already here and you know me so well.” She walked back to the bed, and the way she walked pulled at Jack with strength that was not physical. It was something else. Jack stood near her and thought about his boots. “Sit next to me,” she said. “No,” he said. “I like to drink while I stand. I can see the sun setting over Bennhadou while I stand. It is—,” he finished his scotch, which was from a good year, and he looked at her green eyes, “quite beautiful at dusk.” 62 64


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“It is,” she said. “Come by me, Jack. I missed you so.” “No, Squishy Monkey. I will not.” He went back to the bar, set his glass down, felt the setting sun on his own neck, and saw in the mirror her gaze. He went to her on the bed. “Are you my Squishy Monkey?” he asked. “No, I am not,” she said and pulled away from him. “Yes, yes you are,” he said. “No, Jack.” The sun fell from the heavens as the moon rose from the desert. The glass stayed empty. The sheets fell to the floor. Time moved like a desert stone. Jack got up and poured himself another drink. He poured one for her as well. “I must be going,” he said. “No, you mustn’t.” “I must. We are hunting a rhinoceros in the early morning. A rhinoceros is a mighty beast with a majestic horn.” He took his time putting his boots on because he knew she liked to watch him put on his boots. They were very fine boots.

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21. Pynchon Wasted 1800 Minutes Of My Life. Tried to read Gravity’s Rainbow once. I made it 400 pages, then I realized it was about a dude who gets a boner, and this boner predicts where V2 rockets are going to land in London. It took 400 pages for me to figure that out because we (Pynchon and me) are stupid jackasses. I am not going to give Pynchon the benefit of the doubt here. That book is terrible. It is nuts. And don’t let any English major tell you that they understand it. Actually, don’t let any English professors tell you they understand it either. I’ve worked with some of these assholes and also met more than one senior at Who-Gives-A-Shit-U who was writing his or her senior thesis on it. They said things like mass hysteria, crowd think, mob mentality. They compared this book to people getting crushed to death escaping a theater fire … or something. They said the book meant more than anything. They said there was more meaning in a single paragraph than most of the books they’ve read in undergrad. Really? Really. Punch me in the nuts and spit in my eyes. Jesus F. Pick a paragraph out of that book. Any paragraph. Read it. Discover that Pynchon included some really great trivia in each paragraph–trivia that requires morons like myself to need, yes, need the Internet to truly know what the shit he’s referencing. But obscure goddamn references aren’t a book. It’s not writing. Like, this would make the dudes who write Trivial Pursuit: Genius editions, well, goddamned geniuses. Maybe they are. How in the shit do I know? [Aggressively avoiding the thin line between genius and insanity crapola. I'm trying to keep this post out of the eighth grade while using an eighth grader's lingo.] 64 66


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Regardless, don’t put obscure shit in your own stories. I won’t get it. Your readers won’t get it. And the ones who pretend they do probably lie about tons of other shit in their lives as well. I understand Pynchon! I am good looking! I am an unbelievable dancer despite the braces on my legs and my missing kneecap! I lost 10 pounds this week! Black Swan was a great movie! I like life! Ugh. In the end, a good story is a narrative that makes sense. Gravity’s Rainbow is a series of references to shit you don’t know strung together in a haphazard bullshit crazy way. Shitnuts call this post-modern art. I call it a vacuous title for a ream of pulp filled with senselessness. A lot of good trees were killed, and a lot of good ink wasted. You can’t even say the writing is good. It isn’t. Anything that demands that you put the book down, go to the library, find another book, read 12 pages, and then return to it cannot be well-written. I got, like, four sentences in and then my OCD kicked in, and I went on a three day aimless pursuit trying to figure out what the shit Tarot symbolism has to do with jack all. (Nothing, BT Dubs.) Professors loves the hellz out of this shit because it’s the only work that makes them feel like total effing doucheclowns like the rest of us. Show me an unanswerable riddle and I’ll show seven PhDs specializing in it, calling it a discipline, and forming a small band of grad student acolytes that make them believe in their own legitimacy. I don’t even hate Pynchon for the book. He probably knows the book is full of shit written during a meth bender. Like it matters. There are only 2 types of people who really understand Gravity’s Rainbow: 1. The type of person whose last poem was written in his or her own excrement and blood on the walls of his or her refrigerator box/apartment. 65 67


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2. Doctors. Doctors understand Gravity’s Rainbow, not by any means of synthesizing Pynchon’s crazy bastard passages about mass hysteria, but by sheer will. You see, doctors expect themselves to be able to understand everything and anything. There is nothing in this world beyond their understanding, not even Pychon’s stupid ass book that makes you feel like a dumb asshole in some dark irredeemable way. I read Gravity’s Rainbow on a med student’s recommendation. When I told him I made it 400 pages without understanding any of it, he scoffed. Doctors often scoff at those who don’t get shit. I asked him what he thought it was about. He didn’t know. Well, he gave a doctor-type answer that sounded like a diagnosis. Most importantly, he didn’t know that it was about a dude who gets a boner that predicts where German missiles are going to land. I’m pretty sure that’s about all the book has to offer.

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22. Interview With Matt Bell In keeping with Ficstructor tradition, the introduction to my interview will be a list of three reasons why I begrudge the interviewee. 1. I begrudge Matt Bell because he has a better idea of what I’m trying to do with my own blog than I do. I haven’t decided if this is pure God-given intelligence or satanic mindreading on his part. Either way it demands a certain level of repentance that I did not think was possible outside of Sunday school. 2. I begrudge Matt Bell because he seems to have gained respect and publications not by gaming the system, but by just being a good guy and great writer. This is making me rethink the publishing industry since his existence is proof that good work does get through. I’m not saying I’m wrong in my beliefs that the American publishing industry caters to vanity works and nepotism … OK, I might be changing my mind. 3. I begrudge Matt Bell because he knows of employment opportunities more lucrative than plumbing, which flies in the face of everything my uncle has ever taught me. I believe scholarly effnutz call this a paradigmatic shift in understanding. I may need to look up that long P word before I explain this to my uncle. The interview in which Matt Bell gets ficstructed follows: ____________________________________________ Matt Bell, you are a writer who has written some books. I have not read these books. If I were to read every other page of one of your books, which one would that be? Whatever you read of mine, I suggest only reading the odd-numbered pages. They’re the only ones I tried on. 67 69


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The last book I read was Moby Dick. I read over two hundred pages of it and it was pretty sweet until the musical. Are any of your books better than that, or should I just not waste my time? Why would anyone read Moby Dick, when there’s 2010: Moby Dick on Netflix? I haven’t read a single book since that hit Watch Instantly, and I don’t think you should either. Do you know that plumbers make at least 40 thou a year plus benefits and don’t live in a basement apartment with no bathroom? Did you know that self-employed pipefitters in New Zealand frequently make over eighty thousand, are their own bosses, and get to live in New Zealand? Also, if I was a plumber or a pipefitter, I would probably know how to add my own bathroom to whatever basement I lived in. Would you rather continue living the life of a writer, as you are now, not making any money and pursuing a fairly miserable existence, or do you plan to go back to tech school to be a plumber like my uncle tells me to do? Your uncle’s not that fucking happy, and you know it. He should just move to New Zealand already with the rest of his kind. Do you hate my uncle? He’s a plumber and he has good stranglin’ hands. Whatever. If he was any good at strangling, we never would have gotten away that one time, after we did that thing to that person he cares about. Do you agree with me that writing is one of the worst occupations to pursue because it guarantees no possible security whatsoever and you’re stuck in a life that leaves you unemployable, broke, friendless, and largely self-hating, or is this interview over? Over? Has it even started yet? I thought this was the small talk part. 68 70


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I once read an interview that you like to drink beer. Only when your plumber uncle is buying. If we were to get drunk together, would we play Big Buck Hunter at the bar, then yell at each other about writing, then track my writer friends down and talk mad shit to them because I’m hangin’ with a big dog, and then cap the night off by peeing a Hint Fiction piece on the side of my ex-wife’s house? Or, would we have to forgo playing Big Buck Hunter because you’re an animal activist? Actually, I’m no longer pissing hint fictions. I’ve been holding it, getting ready to write something longer. At least a short novella. You are an editor at The Collagist, correct? Why didn’t you publish my story about two star-crossed electric eels who are secretly spies at competing covert agencies in the Great Barrier Reef? Did you know it was really a creative metaphysical treatise on the death of God? Well, we had just published a story about two star-crossed manta rays who are managers at competing branches of Home Depot, so it really felt too close. To that one. And yes, obviously, the Great Barrier Reef was a symbolic Heaven. Honestly, it’s kind of sad you felt you had to point it out. Are you going to publish it now? … I did interview you. Well, obviously.

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23. MFA Versus MA Part I: Barista Sally And The Ficstructor Are At Odds I was going to call this post Doucheyness Versus Douchery, but I realized readers probably need meaning attached to words. Or, well, meaning that leads them to an understanding of what the post is going to be about. Maybe I should have called it Poor Life Choice Versus Dumbtard Future Planning. Yeah. That would’ve been good. So this happened with Barista Sally the other day: I was placing one of my homemade chapbooks in the coffee shop; this one called “Dragon Rabbit in the Temple of Love” … It’ll be there next month, pinned to that same corkboard. If I’m lucky, some douchenut will have drawn his version of a Dragon Rabbit wanking it. My readers never get past the title. I’m a really good title-smith. “Sally, I’m putting ’Dragon Rabbit in the Temple of Love’ here. It’s a new one. It’s about a dragon rabbit.” “Really? Your story called ‘Dragon Rabbit in the Temple of Pain and Pathetic Misdirected Pursuit of a Fuck-all Life’ has a dragon rabbit in it?”

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“That’s not the title.” “No shit.” Tosses a coffee mug, hits writing arm; wrist held while grimace of annoyance withheld. It does not break because Barista Sally’s coffee mugs are cannonball-ish. Glass cannonballs. Yeah, cool. Glass cannonballs. Mental note. They only hurt if you get jacked in the head. I retrieve it, set it on the counter, ask for the dark roast. She pours me the dregs from yesterday, puts the mug in the microwave. “I’m going to school, you know.” “You are? You should do an MFA. It’ll ruin your life. But look at me,” I say. “I’m happy.” She looks from the side of her dark rims. “Dude. Every time I look at you, you make me feel bad for myself just by association. I’m doing an MA because when I write my book, I’m just going to write it. I don’t need anyone’s help. I already know how to write.” My coffee was lukewarm when she gave it to me. I, however, was steaming mad [make objects reflections and/or contradictions of inner emotions]. At first I thought it was from Sally insulting my chapbook. Then I thought it was the mug toss and the potential injury to my moneymaker. Then, an hour later during an episode of Three’s Company, I realized my pissed-off-ness was from the fact that she slagged an MFA program in her bolsterment of an MA. I thought I agreed with her, but then I became infuriated. I paced. I shut off the television. I could not take my nap. I called my wife. She said, “Let’s talk about this later.” I called her later She said, “It’s not later yet.” 71 73


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I told her our definitions of what constitutes ‘later’ is relative to our individual perceptions of time, and being in my rage-state, my sense of the space/time continuum, in fact, could bend time, speeding it up, so this truly was ‘later’ in the sense I experienced it. “Einstein would probably agree with me,” I said. She said, “Who’s Sally?” I had to sleep on it. I didn’t. But I tried. I wrote notes about this in a notebook. I think this will make sense for once. There’s an overarching goal. I believe I have point. This post will be great. Going to bed now. No I’m not. Going to sit on a couch. It’s time for more coffee. Do they have pills for this? I need a block of cheese. I should ask my wife. She is a nurse. Bad idea. She’s asleep. Going to the couch. Yes, yes. I will go to the couch now.

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24. MFA Versus MA Part II: A Tank, A Bomb, A Degree, I’m Losing Track Of This Thing You know, if you popped a beak and fedora on the MA and MFA degrees and then handed one a knife and the other a bomb, they’d sort of play out just like a Spy vs. Spy comic. The difference being: one would not end up stabbed a billion times in the back or shot in the face or poop-chuted with a missile up the butt. They both would somehow end up destroyed, blown off the face of this earth with no chance of a future. How would this look? Scene 1: MA is driving a tank toward MFA who’s tied to a tree. Scene 2: MA laughs because he’s got his tank-cannon thingy pointed right at MFA’s head. MFA pretends to be scared (See, this is the set up for a surprise ending.) Scene 3: Close up on MA’s finger punching the “blowz shitz upz” button. Scene 4: Close up on MA’s eyes. A surprised look. Scene 5: Wide shot. MFA was not really tied to a tree, it just looked like a tree. It was really a ruse to bring MA close so he could use his giant effing explosive spike/tree as a weapon to jam into the muzzle of the tank. After which MA is stabbed/exploded to death. THE END

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But that effs up the analogy. One degree does not ensure survival. One is not better than the other. One does not guarantee a shot at a productive lifestyle as compared to the other. The only thing either degree guarantees is Mutual Assured Destruction. I mean, these degrees aren’t a cartoon version of the Cold War, they’re the real goddamned thing. The pursuit of either is the pursuit of a spiritually nuked existence. Scene 5 (revised): Wide shot. MFA tied to tree/spike/bomb. Jams it into tank muzzle. Nearly stabs MA to death, but in MAs death throes he flips the OTHER button that selfdestructs the tank, killing both and taking out a few villages in the immediate vicinity that houses their friends and family members who had to deal with their neurotic rants at what a waste of a life they’ve lived while pursuing a degree that offered nothing but personal misery, familial trauma, and the loss of friends. So, this was why it was so weird to be pissed off at Sally. M’ brain goo says one thing, but this Grinstructor’s heart must’ve grown three sizes that day because–Jiminy Christmas!–I was straight insulted that she thought she could “just write a book on her own,” without an MFA degree. Write a book on your own. Ha! Go try it. It’s easy, aint’ it, Sally? Let me tell you something: When you say “the wind whips through the willows, hitting a B-minor chord,” you’re making no freaking sense. That’s batshit crazy talk. That’s the sort of precious bullshit that gets expunged from new writers, not in an MA program, but in an M Effing A program. I may be the cynical efftard who writes about Rabbit Dragons, but I will sure as shit never ever write about willowy winds hitting a minor chord. 1. What does that mean, exactly? We’re going to bounce right past the image with the willows and the winds and whatnot, and we’re going to just think about the sound. Do you know what a B-minor chord sounds like without the aid of a musical instrument? No shit. Neither do I. And I’ve goddamned learned all four chords from Neil Young’s back catalogue. I can play a D chord, a C chord, and a G chord, and an A minor chord. Do I 74 76


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know what they sound like off-hand? No. Who does? A few jackholes from Juliard, maybe. You gotta have perfect pitch to know what the hell you’re talking about. Also, alliteration is stupid. Also, precious writing gives people the shits. It gives me the shits. Meaning is important. Not passionless, poetic-seeming drivel. Fuck me. Sally, maybe your crap is good. I can’t tell anymore. Actually, I’ve never been able to tell what makes something poetic and what makes it navel-gazing, pretentious, vacuous–or all the other adjectives I use to describe writing. Usually, I just agree with the nearest person who seems the smartest. And by ‘agreeing’ I mean I never say a damn thing. What the shit do I know? Honestly. I can’t do this anymore. Last thing: This reminds me of a poem I heard once. Well, I didn’t really listen to most of it. I only remember the structure. It was a list. Yes, another damn list. It started with A and went to Z. A line for each letter in the alphabet. If this wasn’t bad enough, after Z the poet went back to A but called it A squared, then B squared, all the way to Z squared again. And if this were not just plain crazy and noise polluting the hell out of the art studio this all went down in, he went to A cubed, B cubed, and so on. Not much more to say about that, except that I ripped ass around H squared because the poem made me drop all pretense that social order existed. That’s right, Miss Manners. That happened. Friday’s post will be better. I think I will skip breakfast and lunch and then drink my dinner and try to figure out what I’m talking about. You’re welcome.

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25. MFA Versus MA Part III: Love Me, Forgive Me, Blogs Are Self-Indulgent OK. We are tying this up here and now. This is it. I found my notes from a few nights ago and I clearly was a mess when I wrote them. They are largely unreadable but one passage says, “The Dragon Rabbit Is Risen.” No clue what that means or what it was meant to imply at the time. 1. Here’s the deal. So, if you ever get the idea that going to graduate school for any Englishrelated field is a good idea, you are going to be faced with two options: going the MFA writing-intensive route, or going the MA literature-intensive route. At first glance both look equally grim. Neither one offers a life of real employment or opportunity, but they both will fulfill a few years of alcohol/drug-induced deliriums that you will mistake for true genius. You may even get some positive reinforcement from nice peers and nicer faculty. Unfortunately, this positive input only reinforces your delusions of self-worth and ideas of viable scholarly candidacy at some university down the road. Meanwhile, it does nothing for your sense of reality. After three years, you can expect to emerge as a pseudo-intellectual with a staggering grasp of the English language and a niche focus in a handful of contemporary works that often have a lot to do with the faculty who taught your courses. Basically, you will get to know your professors’ works really well because you’re such a slow damn reader that while everyone else read their professors’ books as supplements to the courses they were taking and to test the waters to see if so-and-so’s class was the right fit, you will only able to finish Professor X’s two-book library just before graduation so that you can finally have the conversation with superstar Professor X that all your peers will have had first year of grad school. 76 78


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“Professor X, was your second book a sequel to the first? Because I don’t know if it was a good idea to have character C from book 1 fall in love with character A from book 2. I mean in book 1 there was no foreshadowing that they’d be star-crossed lovers. I think foreshadowing would’ve been good, don’t you?” Pained eyes. A subtle shake of the head. “I didn’t write those books. Who were you reading?” “Oh. It’s the same last name though.” “That’s not how you spell my name.” “Your POV class was great.” “I teach deep-image poetry.” “My bad.” “Your what?” 2. I know I have more points on this. … Thank you, Braingoo, I do have more points. Sometimes you surprise me. This is the other one: Both MFAers and MAers enter grad school believing in a number of similar things. Cars, babes, literary super stardom. Sweaters. Tons of weed. Baldness. Readings. Late night conversations over cognac. Coffee. Respect from friends and family (gots the tumtum shakes … suppression … of the rage-laugh) Booze. Money. Babes. An easy ass life of telling underclassmen they’re idiots. Many, many contributions to the scholarly conversation. All the Twizzlers you can eat. Like, there’s tons of expectations that line the hellz up.

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This one especially: ”By the end of this program, I will have written a work of pure genius that the literary establishment will fawn over and I will finally be recognized for the genius I believe myself to be.” Here’s the shit, though: While the majority of MFAers will enter an MFA program and emerge with a book-length piece of garbage that no publisher would touch with their shih tzu’s shit stick, MAers emerge with … uh … NOTHING WHATSOEVER, but whatever it was they thought they learned and now have to pass off as applicable, university-level knowhow. Both enter expecting to come out with a book. Only one group does. Sure, some MAers may go on, write that book they promised themselves they would, and realize it is really just the ramblings of a manic-depressive lunatic with intermittent delusions of grandeur, but they won’t learn this until they’re, like, fifty or something. MFAers figure that shit out by the time they’re in their late twenties or early thirties. Maybe it’s a self-awareness thing. I don’t know. All I do know is that both MAers and MFAers will probably own a typewriter and a ukulele at some point in their misdirected life because they fancy themselves hipster cool and can talk about, no not books and writing, but the best place to eat a grass fed cow that was raised down the street. Christ. Now I don’t know what to think. Maybe that Ying and Yang are full of shit. Dark and light, God and Devil, Good and Bad, Cats and Dogs aren’t so much concepts that exist as much as concepts that lead you away from the truth of forging ahead and accepting that grayness and bleakness are the way of course and life is and always will be a series of impositions that you just gotta deal with. Piss … Balls … Sigh cubed. Fear not MAers and MFAers. The Ficstructor’s only job is to do the dishes after dinner and in the roughly 9 hours I have before dinner, I can’t get my shit together enough to write a piece of flash fiction. Nonsequitor (sp?) … No, I’m not looking that word up): I think most flash fiction writers work in the service industry. 78 80


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Actually, what the hell do I know? I’ll disagree with all this crap just as soon as my rage subsides, which will happen the moment my wife comes in the door and I have to go do something much more important than this bullshit. I’m making tuna melts tonight. Damn. I gotta quit making shit up. Both of us–MAers and MFAers–likely would have been better off never trying at all. More books come from people who just sat down and did it. In fact, I think these degrees are less likely to land you a book-length work (and a job) than if you never had gone to grad school. Real writers just write the damn thing. I don’t know if degrees matter. Degrees matter insofar as to convince students that there is an endpoint, that some people do, in fact, get a job with health insurance at the end of this thing. Unfortunately, those people are your professors. Do the numbers: 1 prof for every 12 students multiplied by 6-8 courses taught per year for 3 years. 12 times 7 times 3 = errr … not a freaking chance of landing a professorship after you graduate. I did get a message the other day from a former MFAer who wrote an article about owning casinos. He sounded successful and seems to know more about this crap than I do. So, I don’t know, go out and buy some dice and head to the nearest alley. You gotta start small. Low overhead costs, interesting clientele, and a chance for exercise when the sirens sound. My advice. Start applying at the nearest gas station so you can drink as many Coke Icees as you want. Brain freeze may make your intense feelings of self-worthlessness numb for a little while. Rhinotesticle in the eye! Reading matters. Writing matters. That’s about it.

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26. On Being Productive Part I: IKEA, A Dead Squirrel, A Live One, And Laundry One of my jobs is laundry. I do it at a laundromat because I’m a writer who doesn’t sell any works and my wife is a nurse who wants me to stay busy. An in-home washer and dryer are not allowed in my building and would decidedly give me too much free time anyway. Free time means I call my wife at work and complain about things or ask for her advice on something that doesn’t matter. This is what a relationship amounts to when your old enough to have kids but you don’t because the adult-type person who stays in the home is, for the most part, a sufferer of severe social anxiety and only capable of taking care of inanimate things: dishes, toilets, and anything that has wires. Every so often the world of work and home come together for a trip to IKEA. IKEA is a Swedish word that means “violent argument over dish towels.” IKEA tempers their often terrible shopping experience by feeding you meatballs. It rarely makes things better. A good way to avoid going to this hellhole is by buying a LEGO set and spending a Thursday evening with your spouse putting it together. It will give you the chance to prove that you are unable to assemble the SpongeBob SquarePants boatmobile; therefore you are unfit to assemble an end table or a couch. You will maintain your apartment’s Spartan/Hobo stylings that not only makes it easy to clean but unsuitable for entertaining guests or in-laws. It’s actually a new apartment. We’re moving on up. We’ve left my mother’s basement. We now have a sink, which is nice. And a shower and an oven. Things are looking up. Lots of new things happening here and it makes for an eventful day. Today there was a squirrel stuck in our dumpster. I didn’t know what to do about that. 80 82


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Why are squirrels in dumpsters these days? Don’t they eat acorns? Why would an acorn be in a dumpster? What human eats acorns and throws them away? I guess squirrels have evolved right along with us so it probably wasn’t too surprised to be stuck in an empty dumpster. I think what was freaking it out was that there was a half-rotted and bloated dead squirrel stuck in the dumpster with it. Apparently this is a common occurrence, which can result in death. I did not know how to get this sorted. I tried piling boxes so the squirrel could escape but it just used them to hide from me, the God-like figure trying to save his ass. So I was at a loss. Had to call my wife. She said to talk to the building manager. Did that. Building manager has a squirrel ladder for this very problem. What world are we living in? They make ladders for squirrels trapped in dumpsters? Why in the hell is there someone somewhere making money from this? Why don’t I have a job building these ladders? It’s just all really frustrating. A squirrel in a dumpster has more people looking out for it than a dude with an MFA degree. If I had a pellet gun, I would have shot the damn thing to restore some balance in this world. No, I couldn’t have done that. In the ten minutes I spent with it, we formed a kinship. We live in this neighborhood together, and because I can’t drive a manual transmission car and I refuse to learn how, our biome is pretty much the same, relegated to about a six to eight block radius. My guess is the squirrel is also afraid to cross the main freeway to the east and the river to the south. Our fears have reduced our habitable area by 3/4ths. We live on a slice of asphalt pie that includes a grocery store, a coffee shop, a liquor store, and a bunch of oak trees. One of us occasionally gets stuck in a dumpster. I know my building manager’s name. I know where she stores the squirrel ladder. This is something I can take care of. I have a purpose. I feel good about this. I am going to keep my eye on it. Watch the dumpster. Listen for scuttling claws on sheet metal. Protect small creatures from dying in a garbage can. It’s been a good day. 81 83


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27. On Being Productive Part II: The Laundromat The thing about doing laundry at a laundromat is that it will take you a good six to eight hours. It’s a good way to kill time. You have a built in excuse not to do anything else because, well, you’ll be doing laundry. It would be quicker if you had a car, but you don’t because your wife uses it for work and you don’t know how to drive it anyway. You get to walk. It takes a few trips, especially if you forget the detergent or if you have to make a side trip to the bank to get quarters. There’re a few things you should expect: 1. If you go during the day, as you can due to your life as an unemployed douchenugget, you will be the only person in the laundromat who does not have at least three children. You will also be the only one with five laundry baskets because everyone else has a better handle of how frequently they should do laundry to stay hygienic. 2a. You will get stared at because you pay no attention to the settings on the wash machines. Someone will also always tell you to separate colors from whites and all that crap, but this isn’t really necessary. You need to smile and pretend you don’t understand perfect English with a slight Spanish accent and continue throwing your clothes willy-nilly into the seven washers along that one wall by the soda machine. 2b. You will also get stared at because people will wonder why you don’t have a job and don’t have kids with you at the laundromat. They will not say this directly to you, but you will know they are thinking this. The stares are likely because you wear glasses and glasses often are mistakenly attributed to intelligence and economic security. 3. You will spend all six hours hating yourself because you will realize that this moment at 82 84


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the laundromat has been the thing you’ve most looked forward to for three weeks. It’s a big deal to you. You will notice that the mother’s with all the cute kids do this often and they all know each other and you will have a book that you will have to pretend to read as to appear to be as intelligent as you are mistakenly assumed to be. The damn glasses. 4a. You will stay on page 44 for all six hours because the only reason you bought William Trevor’s collected works in the first place is because you own a Kindle and you accidentally listened to NPR and heeded their advice. It will make you hate yourself even further. The only thing that will make you feel better is your realization that you have just enough change for a root beer and because you left your computer at home, there’s no risk of writing. You will sip your root beer, stare at a single page, listen to Mexican children get gently reprimanded, and wait for all seven of your washers to buzz in unison. 4b. You will give one of the children a ride on the laundry cart. This child will have fun. The nine other children will also want a ride. The mothers will look to you as if you were a magic babysitter sent from magic babysitter land. The kids will grab your legs and call you endearing Spanish words. You will have to tell them you are too busy doing laundry to have fun with them. You will make enemies as you slop piles of wet clothing into the children’s amusement ride. Your wife’s underwear will fall onto the floor. You will scoop it up to glares. Your enemies will begin to judge. You will assume, mistakenly, that they think you are a guy who pretends to have a wife or girlfriend so he can wear women’s clothing. You will have a brief, imaginary argument with your enemies. It will be passionate. You will be the voice defending cross-dressers worldwide. 4c. You will lose precisely three socks during this imaginary argument. One will be left in a washer. One will fall off the cart and then get kicked under the soda machine. The third will be stolen by one of the kids who can tell by your look that you are quietly judging his brother, sister, and mother. 5. You will get excited for the industrialized dryers. You will put them all on the highest setting because you will think it will save you some time. You also have a sudden need for intense heat. You will shrink most of your wife’s clothes. She will not be surprised. 83 85


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6. You will feel your world crush around you as you sit back down to read, only to find that your root beer is empty and page 44 is still there, taunting. The kids will become too loud. You’ll notice the mother’s gossip will take an odd man-hating turn even though you do not understand Spanish. Cars will pass in front of the laundromat. You will note the Germanmade models and secretly hate the drivers, follow each with your eyes, see which street they turn down. 7. You will pray for a Russian motorcycle with a sidecar and then you will return home to eat a bowl of strawberry ice cream.

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28. Interview With Jon Chopan In keeping with Ficstructor tradition, the introduction to my interview will be a list of three reasons why I begrudge the interviewee. 1. I begrudge Jon Chopan because in the long tradition of cerebral working-man writers, he is actually one of these dudes. He’s not faking it like John Steinbeck or Jack London or Ernest Hemingway. He writes, he works, he drinks (responsibly, I assume). How can I begrudge that? He’s the embodiment of what the Ficstructor desires to be … of course, I can only get my shit together enough to do one of those three things. Guess which one. 2. I begrudge Jon Chopan because he comes from a place that outwardly looks to be in shambles, but he is able to celebrate it despite all appearances. In fact, he seems to find a deeper connection to Rochester because, like many American cities (as he pointed out in this very interview), Rochester is a modern ruin, an urban cairn marking the slow decline and struggle of Anywhere, U.S.A. This is what writer dorks call the importance of place. Thoreau and Theroux both have that. Ficstructor has it, too, but the connection has less to do with the beauty behind those things that decay, the passage of time, and the symbolism of struggle, and more to do with awesome video game effects and burritos. 3. I begrudge Jon Chopan because he seems so much the opposite of my assumptions of writers. He writes to celebrate, not himself, but the people and places he has come to know and love. How in the hell do you get to that place? This guy somehow removed the Big Me from the writer. It makes no sense. The interview in which Jon Chopan gets shown the dealio follows: ____________________________________________ Jon Chopan. You are from Rochester. Rochester is a failing city that makes Detroit look like Paris and New York mated and birthed a love child in Atlantis. This must mean that you became a writer because, seriously, what the hell else are you going to 85 87


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do in Rochester besides feel bad for yourself? It’s true that Rochester, like many American cities, has fallen on hard times. That being said, in the summers I work with a buddy of mine doing decking, remodeling, and other small construction jobs. I am a grunt, so I don’t make as much as the skilled guys, but if I’ve learned anything in that line of work, it is that there is still money in Rochester and people are still looking to spend it. I became a writer because, in part, the people I come from are story tellers. It is, in part, the way we understand our world and our friendships and our families. When we work, we tell stories about other jobs we’ve done, and when we drink, or sit around and watch hockey, or eat a trash plate, we tell stories about other times we were drinking or watching hockey or eating trash plates. I think–and I can’t speak for other people or other cities–that story is truly important to us, even if we can’t all describe how, or even if all of my friends and loved ones don’t express it through the written word. I hear there is a Rochester delicacy called a ‘Trash Plate’. Is this because there are so many failed writers in Rochester that the restaurants have quit pretending that they were actually serving food and accepted that the city is full of poor-as-shit artists who, in fact, can only afford to eat garbage? The Trash Plate is one of those fine meals you only have the courage to devour when you’ve drank a twelve pack, worked a hard day in the sun, or gone too long without consuming one and, therefore, forgotten how much damage it is going to do to your stomach. Some of the more fond memories I have of home end with a Trash Plate. If we ever meet up in Rochester, we’ll have to get drunk and have one. I prefer a Hamburger Plate, all fries with a ton of ketchup. Is this the same deal with ‘White Hots,’ which from my understanding are hotdogs made from road kill? If so, do you think ‘White Hots’ are better than my povertystricken goto, ‘Pickle Doodles,’ which is Spam, a saltine cracker, mayo, and a dill pickle? Yeah, I’m not sure where White Hots come from, and I think I can count on one hand the 86 88


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number of times I’ve had one. I can’t say they are better or worse than the Pickle Doodle, but perhaps, aesthetically speaking, they don’t look quite as repulsive. Are you going to continue this writing hobby as a stopgap until the optics industry resurges after which you’ll be able to get, like, a real job with a real future at Kodak, Xerox, or Bausch & Lomb? I certainly hope, for the sake of the people I love, that these industries and specifically these companies turn things around. A number of my friends work for Xerox and Kodak, and I think they spend a good amount of time worrying about their future, their financial stability from day to day. I think as I’ve grown a bit older and maybe more mature my interest in class and the effect of capitalism on people and communities has come to inform my fiction more and more. I wonder how an American writer can possibly avoid the importance of class on American characters, the daily struggle that many Americans feel as they live paycheck to paycheck like my parents did, as they worry daily when the next round of layoffs will hit them. I teach, which would seem to be a more “stable” profession, but I’ve found that it isn’t so much different than working for any other American corporation in that you are always wondering, year to year, if you’ll be employed. But I suppose this is what happens when education is driven by profit margins. Did you flee Rochester to Ohio because by comparison Ohio is a big time literary scene? I wouldn’t say I fled to Ohio so much as I begrudgingly left New York. Ohio is beautiful and has become a kind of home for me over time, but it isn’t Rochester. It doesn’t have the same hold on me. That being said, there are some wonderful writers and teachers in Ohio, and leaving home made me realize things about the place, the people, myself that I had not realized before I left and was forced to think about why I missed it so much, about how it defined itself differently for me, more than Ohio or Columbus specifically. That all being said, I wonder if there is a big literary scene happening in one place in America. It seems like–and maybe I am reading this wrong–the Internet is the biggest “place,” what with the rise of online magazines and authors’ blogs and even print magazines trying 87 89


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to incorporate some online presence. I understand that Pulled from the River has been out since December, but according to the Amazon counter no one has read the book. How do you continue as a writer knowing that no one is reading your book? Like, do you get really depressed and sit in your basement and listen to Jeff Buckley and drink Crystal Lite and think about very dark things and then realize that three days have past and your wife is no longer living in your apartment with you? When the book comes out this December 2011 (not 2010 … ), I hope that this won’t be the case. That is, my being depressed if the book doesn’t “do well.” Although, I’m not sure sales is or should be the only measure of any book’s success. I try not to, as best anyone can, worry too much about a thing like that. Certainly I want readers and I want them to be engaged in my work. I am going to do my best to read anywhere I can, anywhere people will have me. Hopefully that will inspire people to read it, whether that means borrowing it from someone else, or getting it from the library, or even stealing it. I like this thing that Chino Moreno said about his band putting on live shows to sell albums and not putting out albums to get people to go to live shows. I think this is the same with readings, especially for me because I am at a smaller press. Basically it is about working your ass off to show people that there is something worth spending their hard-earned money on, or, if they aren’t buying it, that this is a piece of writing that is worth investing their time in. In mid-May of 2011, the Ficstructor blog introduced a literary movement. You probably have heard of it: New Post-Electronic Deconstructivism. Are you going to join the movement so I can expect you to reciprocate in some way, perhaps by publishing me in the future? Sure, I’d love to be a part of the movement. I don’t know that I am in a position to offer the kind of favor that you’re looking for. Though if you are interested in putting an addition on your house, or having a deck installed, we can work something out relative to the price, but even then I am going to have to run it by my boss. 88 90


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I got this great piece about two star-crossed mutant donkeys, who are actually alien beings that are really elementals: water and fire. But one of them has, like, amnesia and forgets that he’s the alien elemental embodiment of fire, but the other one is using him for her own sadistic means. The climax is when they do epic battle and nearly destroy the universe. It’s a lightly fictionalized autobiography about my relationship with my first wife. Will you use your connections to get that published for me? Are you even an editor or anything? I’m just wondering how you can improve my writing career. I am interviewing you. The book sounds like the type of revolutionary memoir that the world has been looking for. Again, were I in a position to publish it, I would at the very least give it a fair and honest read. I fear, however, that you have chosen to interview a guy with very little power or influence. If you are ever in Columbus or Rochester, feel free to drop me a line. I would take you out for a few beers as compensation for my inability to help in any “real” way. You can promote something now. You’re welcome.

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29. Modern Influence And Writing Part I: Apologizing For Pop Culture And The Invention Of Another Genre Occasionally I’ll read a writer’s interview in a lit journal. Actually the only time I will read an author’s interview is if an issue of the Paris Review happens to be in the public restroom and there isn’t enough graffiti on the stall to sustain me throughout my effort. So I read this interview. It’s a great poet. Everyone loves poets. I wish I was poet, but I’m not because my vocabulary isn’t extensive and I have enough trouble trying to figure out how a basic sentence works. Maybe I should be a poet. Anyway, the poet seems smart. She seems with it. But then she apologizes for knowing who Madonna and Batman are. Are you goddamned kidding me? Who the shit do you think you are that you’re so in to your writing that you have to apologize to an audience for knowing two bulwarks of American pop culture? I mean. Shit. It’s not even an apology! In essence she is telling the audience, “I am so involved with my craft that I cannot be bothered with the trappings of modern day culture, and I feel ashamed because of it.” 90 92


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But it’s not shame. It’s not shame at all. It’s gloating. It’s the worst kind. It’s pretentious effing backdoor gloating. And, worse, it’s a damn lie. She knows very well who Madonna is. Jesus. H. Then I think she started to pity Madonna. Saying something like, “I feel bad that she is so involved with her appearance that she needs to have plastic surgery. Really, I pity her.” Not only does this writer apologize for knowing a hero of American culture, she shits on her as well and does her best to convince the audience that she’s too good for Vogue. Bull effing shit. Is this what we writers have come to? We have to misrepresent ourselves by lying to our audience that we’re sheltered unibomber-esque freaks who have no access to the modern world? Do we have to pretend that we don’t know that pop culture exists? Do we have to pass off that lit culture is the only worthy culture of our inflated damn egos? I ran into this again the other day. I read a poem that mentioned the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ll tell you what. That was the best freaking poem I’ve read in a long time. I told my writer buddy this very fact: “Dude, you gotta check this shit out. It’s about Splinter, man. It’s about Splinter and Shredder. I mean, dude. Dude! It’s god flippin’ shit kickin’ awesome.” [He scans it.] “This it?” he says. “Damn right that’s it. It’s probably about a bunch of other shit. But remember Shredder dude! With the claws.” “One. Shredder had gauntlets with blades on them. Not claws. And two. This seems to 91 93


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only be about TMNT.” “I know. And that’s why it’s great.” “We went to school together, right? We did discuss poetry and influence, correct?” “Yeah.” “Just checking.” “Think this dude wrote something about Donatello? Or, no! Wouldn’t it be sweet if he wrote some comparison poem between Raphael from the movies and Raphael from the cartoon. Maybe I should write this dude an email. I think I will.” “Why are you still talking?” “My wife asked me that just the other day.” You know, I’m probably wrong about this whole damn deal. That poet from the interview probably just always wanted a Batmobile. Stay tuned for a TMNT/awesome writer dude influenced poem about the different representations of Raphael in modern media (the poet I’m talking about hasn’t written any other TMNT work … a shame, really). I’m also not talking that modern weird Ninja Turtle shit with the computer animation. I’m talking a comparison between Raphael in the crappy animated version in the 80s and the animatronic movies in the 90s.

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30. Modern Influence And Writing Part II: A TMNT Poem About The Two Representations Of Raphael Circa 1990 Here’s a new poem from a genre of poetry I invented right now. It’s called TMNT poetry. Those of you who do not read poems on blogs will not read this. It’s true, you won’t. Just don’t lie to yourself and say you will. This is both self-pity and reality, the confluence of a writer’s truth. I would do the same thing. I’m not blaming you. I’m just saying I get it. I am a writer who also does not read poetry while expecting others to read mine. This is how we exist. It is what we call the modern influence. __________________________________________ Hero In A Half Shell As a cartoon you were snarky and hilarious. They called you Raph. In real life, in the movies, you were just a straight asshole douche who effed shit up. You strained your relationships with all the Ninja Turtles. 93 95


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Splinter was your master. Your master, Raphael. Even he had to work for your respect and it was left unclear whether he earned it. Or you, his. You killed purple pajama’d foot soldiers in a ninja rage choregraphed to a Vanilla Ice song. I think. Your on-screen murder was the direct cause for Ninja Turtles 2 to be tamer. The censorship boards told you to draw your weapons less and kill ZERO people. I think. (I understood the censorship boards as both “Them” and “Mom and Dad”.) You even scoffed at Donatello’s bowstaff. ZERO is a small number. But back then I knew negative infinite minus a googleplex to be the smallest. Because I was just a kid, Raphael. Everyone knew this. Si’s made from cardboard, thrown at the big ash tree, caught in the wind, gone flimsy and useless from overuse. Wet from morning dew in a place we called the yard. Trashed by a parent who thought it was just a hunk of cardboard off a case of Busch Light returnables. Karate kicking fence posts, Raph. Telling Joey to be the bad guy, Raph. Again, Raph. Joey was always the bad guy. 94 96


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My action figure world had no clue how to cast you in our epic battles. Who would take on the hordes of GI Joes and He-men, The handful of Star Wars figures handed down from my older cousin? You should have seen them, Raph. The storm troopers were stiff-legged and uninteresting. Totally different than your foot soldiers with bendy knees and elbows. Toys change, I guess. Kung fu poses versus the goose step. Ideologies change, Raph. I put them away and brought them out years later only to introduce them to firecrackers and band saws. We do not change, Raph. On a Saturday I watched your cartoon and then jumped in a minivan. (a new invention, Raphael ‌ the world was changing, but I was onboard, you see) The minivan brought me and the dudes to a pre-stadium seating theater. We all drank water. Coke was gift back then. The rich kid got Mountain Dew. No Ice. 95 97


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This was not too long ago. Your head, I knew, was a radio-controlled puppet. All your heads were controlled by hands connected to invisible wires. It was good enough. Two dimensions became three, colors became muted, you became a killer. You changed, Raph. It was too fast. Too fast, Raphael. The whirling of a broomstick smashing pots behind the rich kid’s house.

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31. Modern Influence And Writing Part IV: Hipsters Are Dinks, Dorks Aren’t, And A Little More About The Ninja Turtles There was a part III to this series but it was so terrible that it hurt my brain rereading it. So I’ve skipped it. Lucky you. Not saying this one is any better, it’s just different (and shorter) than the other one. If you’re worried about what you missed (why would you be?) I talked about how cell phones have made a fiction writer’s job a straight pain in the ass because it eliminates nearly half of all struggles most character’s face in story; that of being unable to communicate with someone they must. Now all you do is have your character pop open a smart phone and he or she has four or five different ways to tell his or her star-crossed lover that he or she is in the midst of wrasslin’ a killer nuclear penguin from radioactive Antarctica and therefore does not have time for a relationship … the ol’ “busy saving the world bullshit.” That’s how my first wife left me. Also, the TMNT poem was a surprise hit. It makes me wonder what’s going on out there. This kept me awake last night because I was thinking of more Ninja Turtle poems. I’ve hit upon a trove of inspiration that may make me like writing again. I don’t know what to think about this. Mostly, it’s a dreadful prospect. I will tell you this: I am not going to try too damn hard on them. They are mine and mine alone and I’m easily impressed with 97 99


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myself. It may become a Ficstructor series, which means it will last maybe three weeks tops. OK, I think I only have two or three other ideas for Ninja Turtle poems. We’ll get those out there eventually. I’ve got a lot of repressed anger that is focused around them, strange to say. Had I money for a therapist this may be one of those things we explore. I’ll tell you what, imaginary therapist, I feel cowabunga party-time tubular awesome about it. Connecting to a general point about writing right now (For the skimmers, you can stop skimming now … it doesn’t get better.): A lot of good, passionate writing often gets thrown to the wayside because we’re trying to look like we know shit. The audience in our heads kills more good work than it helps. Had a little Twitter convo about this where Syntaxidermist (Seann McCollum) mentioned an absolute fantabulous poetry collection of his that is about Axl Rose. It’s unironic, passionate. The world has been waiting for this and now it has it. I am diving into his website (conveniently placed on the blogroll to the right … actually, do yourself a favor and just go to Carrion Call every day). In each and every one of us, except for the lucky ones stuck on the OCD/ASD spectrum or those suffering from some manic disorder, there is a hipster self and a dork self. The hipster self is all jaded and cool and hates the hell out of stuff. The dork self is a fan … a huge fan … of really weird stuff and all he wants to do is talk about it, but some ironically mustachioed douche eff keeps getting in the way and saying things like, “As if …,” “Yeah, that was cool four years ago,” “You’re being serious right now?” I says this to you my short short jean short wearing, weirdo hairdo, bike rider soul: And I love the hell out of my LEGO monorail. I miss it even today. 98 100


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Irony has killed so much good work in the past decade. For lack of anyone else to blame, I’m blaming Generation X. That’s right you damn slackers. Try to like something for once. Was there a lit criticism boom? My guess the Gen Xers started that. Back in the 80s when you wore stonewash, that was awesome. You did so unselfconsciously. You’re hair was huge, your styles so fucked. It was beautiful. Then you all got judgmental. Cool. A.O. Scott, man, you’re one hell of a movie critic, but if you were born twenty years earlier you could’ve been the next Cheever, but you were born at the wrong time, in a place that led you to where you are today: at the top of a mountain where you comment and critique. Not poorly, I should say. If there’s one thing your generation has developed, it’s a ridiculous level of self-awareness. Neil Young loves model trains, man. He loves them so much he bought a model train company. He owns a huge barn that houses a miniature countryside of picturesque pastures with little trains of all makes and models crisscrossing the landscape and I believe this is the reason why he is a rock god. Reckless abandonment into those things no one else cares about. I mean, shit, if it weren’t for all this too-cool-for-school ironical distance, we probably wouldn’t have so many terrible memoirs about people’s shockingly crappy lives. Those are thankfully tailing off, but in the late 90s and early 00s these shit-oirs were the direct result of the public’s yearning for authenticity. Yet it came out so bizarre … and in the end enough of them were so fabricated that you can’t help but distrust the entire genre. Don’t hate the writers, though. For our underlying suspicion of anything labeled CNF I blame publicists who pushed sales with creative marketing. (I really don’t know what publicists do, so sorry to all you publicists.) All they had to do was change one word on the back of the book– ‘novel’ to ‘memoir’–and BLAMMO! a 5,000 print run jumps to 50 thou. I have no clue who I’m talking about, really. Maybe the Ys, the Zs? Ain’t there one called the Millenials? Who the shit are they? Nowadays generations turnover at the same rate as computers. It’s Moore’s Law of self-defining dumbasses, each one trying to out compete the Boomers for influence. Sigh my face off and piss in the whiskey. 99 101


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Is this one long post just to say it was mom and dad’s fault, who are and always will be the only modern influence that matters? Get to the root of that, which is to say get to the root of who you are and why, and there you will find a burning hot ember of inspiration being dutifully protected by four hard-shelled green ninjas.

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32. TMNT Poem: The Second One Here’s another one. I think I’ll put these out on Mondays until I get tired of it. That could be as soon as next week. ____________________________________________ Turtle Power In the Black Hills we went to a replica of the Flintstone’s town where I sat in Fred’s car. My brother climbed Dino while my sister stuck her face atop Wilma’s neck. I was too short to patter my feet, which pissed me off so I decided I would not watch another Flintstones cartoon again. My dad took pictures and kept talking about the Honeymooners and repeating lines I did not understand; lines at which my mom laughed every time. Her laugh was beautiful and loud because the Flintstone’s park was nearly empty, in a rocky valley, off the side of the road. Everything was black dust, which goes to show some names are just right. We didn’t buy any Flintstone junk but went to the Gift Shack just down the road. There I found a small turtle made from Black Hill stone, carved by Black Hill hands. 101 103


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The cashier seemed incredibly old, but she was probably no older than regular cashier age. She said her people were Black Hill people but there were others, too, from elsewhere, so I asked: Poland? Before she laughed and said, no, not too far, really, my brother asked me if I was an idiot. Thus was the start to the collection. Someone, I don’t know who, said there were giant turtles who formed the earth by diving to the bottom of the ocean and bringing up clay. Then they went to rest forming all the mountains everywhere. I said, that ain’t what Grandma says, but I was thinking that made about as much sense as anything else I heard at CCD. One time I went with one of the dudes to his Sunday school where I was told angels don’t have penises or vaginas. They were like Ken and Barbie. I was thinking, man, Catholics and Lutherans are way different. I was also thinking CCD wasn’t so bad even though we didn’t play kick ball. Sacrifice was a lesson I heard all the freaking time. Every birthday and Christmas there were too many key chains with a picture of a ghoulishlooking, googly-eyed, cartoon turtle holding a liqour bottle pissing in a stream or doing the things that aren’t worth the price of a half dollar. What didn’t they understand about the collection? 102 104


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They had to be turtle-looking turtles. That was the whole point. Procured from every gift shop, gas station, knickknack store down main street. A few from every road trip. A couple from the fancy place right across from Fleet Farm where Andersons’ farm used to be. You know the Andersons. They had the orchard and let you pick their strawberries. Mr. Anderson once said at the diner that corn wasn’t selling like it used to so they’re trying something new. He tried to grow everything, but the only thing that took was strip mall. Pewter, cherrywood, oak, jade, obsidian, sandstone, rosewood, glass, porcelain, limestone, regular old clay, and more than one made from a multicolor mash of Play-Doh bits, half-dried with carpet hairs and insect legs. Bits of sand mixed in. One was made of Mount Saint Helens’ ash. And the one I called Sparky was flesh and blood. He ate cantaloupe and Mom said he’d live to be a hundred, which was the same as forever. One time my dog bit his head off right before my eyes. Then Sparky’s head emerged slowly from his shell. He was a box turtle which meant he could seal himself inside his shell. To me, he was more advanced, an improvement on the ones the dudes and I caught down by the pond. I made the dudes well aware that painted turtles were subpar, unworthy of a serious collector. 103 105


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After awhile, I gathered the rest, which were said to know kung fu although they could barely stand on their own. Even then it took forever to balance them in the right ninja pose. The shells, you see, made them back heavy. And despite all evidence a turtle is not bipedal. They had stats and descriptions. They came with their own names. They had loads of weapons, their own cartoon, their own movie, and me and the dudes would bike to the arcade to play their video game. We said it fucking rocked. It was fucking rad. Fucking check this, dude. Fuck. Ing. Tits. Fuck was a word we just learned to say. Then Sparky was given away and the others–the ones without katanas and nunchucks–were thrown into a British Knights box and crammed in the back of the linen closet. Porcelain amputations, wooden decapitations Mount Saint Helens’ perfectly formed, hard shell returning to ash That which cannot be withdrawn Explodes.

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33. Interview With Andrew Scott In keeping with Ficstructor tradition, the introduction to my interview will be a list of three reasons why I begrudge the interviewee. 1. I begrudge Andrew Scott because he has been able to stare down the literary world and not only succeed despite the overwhelming odds stacked against short story writers, but thrive in a variety of ways, all of which fall under the literary world’s umbrella of “not a freaking chance in hell.” He teaches, he writes, he co-runs one of the most vibrant and exciting literary magazines out there, Freight Stories, and he has developed a seriously awesome literary book club; also, contrary to everything we know about the paychecks teachers, editors, and writers get, he makes a living doing it. This, my Ficstructaroos, is called ambition. It makes those who lack it feel sorry for themselves. 1b. I begrudge Andrew Scott for making me feel sorry for myself. 2. Oddly enough, I also begrudge Andrew Scott for somehow making me feel good about feeling sorry for myself. It may be a Catholic guilt thing in which the only relationships I seem to nurture are the ones where I’m occasionally scolded. So, Andrew, this might mean you’re my friend now. Watch out. For me that’s always been a one-way street. 3. I begrudge Andrew Scott because he has simply made the writing life (a life full of difficult, miserable work in my mind) appear to be one that is and always will be worthwhile. This, Ficstructicons, is inspiring, and not in the after-school-special way, but in the “how in the shit does a person do that?” way. The interview in which Andrew Scott learns what a Ficstructor interview really means follows: ____________________________________________ 105 107


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Andrew Scott. You are a writer, editor, university professor, and a gamer. I used to be a few of those things, too, but now I consider myself solely a professional flash gamer because none of those other things seemed to hold a very promising future, especially if I wanted to keep up my beer drinking. Are you headed down this same path and have I in any way influenced your decision to abandon short story writing, online journal editing, or teaching for this–what some may argue–more focused pursuit of the artistic life? In the world of flash gaming, there’s a lot of disagreement about whether one needs to get an M.F.A. For me, personally, the Master of Fucking Around degree was the right move. I needed to be trained by experts, and to have three years to learn and grow from my mistakes. Thanks for setting such a positive example. Until now, I’d been led to believe that writing stories, editing literary journals, and teaching were highly profitable ways to spend one’s time. Does your writing inform your video game playing or does your video game playing inform your writing? I just so happened to be playing the old Nintendo version of Spy Hunter online when you first approached me about this interview, mostly to remind myself how impossibly hard that game is. And how it’s like writing — you’re going to crash and burn, over and over, but you keep moving forward. From time to time, I might dabble with Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, too. Writing metaphors abound in the world of gaming. What amazes me is how, as I advance through the levels, the little quirks and moves emerge from instinct and muscle memory. This has served me well in the world of publishing. Now when an editor or agent twitches an eye or takes three steps back, I know to throw a gut punch to stun them temporarily. You can’t learn that from Writer’s Digest. Your first book was called Modern Love and it had illustrations in it. Were the illustrations meant to fill up some pages because the book was so short? Even better — I asked about including illustrations by my old friend, Ed Herrera, when I 106 108


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submitted the story so that David McNamara, who owns Sunnyoutside, would consider publishing it. Mine was his second fiction title, and the first was also a fine arts chapbook. Since then, David has hired Ed do a few covers and other art pieces, so it was a good move on my part. Being a writing professor, does a chapbook count toward tenure or do they go all, “Err … it’s got a cover and pages and stuff, but I don’t know … we got brochures longer than this”? I’m not on the tenure-track, so I don’t know. None of my tenured mentors had chapbooks. For me, having a chapbook was good for a few reasons. First, I half-seriously considered giving up writing if I didn’t publish something before I turned 30. The chapbook came out two months before my 30th birthday. I also mailed copies to various writers I respect, which helped build good relationships and a few friendships. A stranger read, but didn’t buy, my chapbook at Powell’s in Portland, then solicited a story from me for Superstition Review, etc. For me, a chapbook falls somewhere between a story publication and a book publication. But chapbooks come in all sizes. Do two or three chapbooks equal a full-length collection? I’m glad I don’t have to worry about this stuff, from either side of the table. Naked Summer, your first full-length book, just came out. I haven’t read it yet because it appears that there are no pictures and it seems longer than 36 pages. Did you do this to alienate readers like me who have short attention spans and a general inability to attach coherent meaning to words and sentences? Seriously, pictures would have been nice this time, too. Literary fiction aims to alienate readers. I’m upholding a long tradition. You edit Freight Stories, an online lit journal. Can you tell us how you select a story? What are its merits … Ugh. Honestly, Andy … can I call you Andy? … I don’t care about all this business about what editors do during the selection process, the subjectivity of taste, and all that other crap. All I want to know is if you’re going to publish me. I did interview you. 107 109


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I am not going to publish you. You’re now part of a long line of talented writers who have not yet made it into our journal. It takes a long time to learn from one’s mistakes. Like calling me Andy — you’ll know to not to do that in the future. I’m always learning from my mistakes. For example, the next time someone asks me to do an interview while I’m playing Spy Hunter online, I will gently decline. I read somewhere that you are married to Victoria Barrett who is also a writer, editor, and writing professor. Financially, how do you make it work? Like, I haven’t a met one writer who makes a dime and they all seem to survive by convincing their significant other or parents to support them while they burn through the savings buying beer and other essentials. Each summer, I fight in an underground MMA circuit, which is how I pay the bills. You know how certain actors gain weight for a role? I’m like that during the academic year. I gain about fifty pounds, grow the professorial beard, wear nerdy glasses — my vision’s actually 30/10 — and slightly wrinkled khaki pants. Once or twice, I have been known to wear a sweater vest. I get into the role. Corduroy jacket. But once final grades are submitted in May, I drop that weight and tour the Far East, fighting my way to glory. It’s a living. Related, I am unemployed and my wife is a nurse who supports me. Sometimes I ask my wife to read my stories and she just tells me to get a real job or to do the dishes or leave the apartment for a bit to give her some space. I guess what I’m asking is if I can move in with you guys, get some free writing advice, and maybe be a roommate for awhile. You are homeowners. Am I being interviewed by the Quentin Tarantino character from Pulp Fiction? Tell Bonnie to chill. Call the Wolf, who’ll come directly to solve this situation. Look, there’s an upside to living with a nurse if you’re a writer. For starters, she knows how to stop the bleeding. No, you can’t live with us. Our house has a two-writer limit. You can promote something now. You’re welcome. 108 110


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34. And So Concludes Season 1 Of The Ficstructor I am taking a break. Not that I have tons of shit to do, but I am starting the reading period for the lit journal I work at. Also, to my surprise, this foray into the dark eye of the blogostorm has inspired me to write something that I consider to be a step above trite bullshit, which means I care about it even though it will come off as trite bullshit to most. It’s a short story and for some reason I take those kind of seriously. Not that I wasn’t working on a bunch of other crap before, but this one is not making me hate myself and so it’s got me a bit excited. I even pulled an Andrew Scott and contacted my illustrator friend to work with me on it. We will see where this takes us. Probably further in debt, but that’s not why we do this crap, is it? So I am focusing on that for now. I do have some author interviews coming in, so those will be posted in the next couple of weeks. I also have one more Ninja Turtle poem, which will complete the trilogy. I know what it will be about, but my lazy ass hasn’t gotten ’round to it. It will involve guns, video games, shurikens, and a dude who nearly shot my head off at the tender young age of 13. Oh, yeah. There is always the chance that I get drunk and feel the need to spout something vacuous and unimportant but at the time is of the utmost importance. Stay tuned for those. I may also enter a manic swing where very similar postings to my drunken rants will appear. You never know. I never know. Wait and see, I guess. So long for now. It’s been fer real. F 109 111


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Season II: The Ficstructor gets fartsy.

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35. TMNT Poem: The World Really Only Needs Three Of These. Same Goes For Star Wars. Alright. ____________________________________________ Dimension X His dad has got an entire wall of porn. It’s in alphabetical order, labeled according to whatever nasty shit is on it. It’s on the bookshelf In the living room. Where regular people have regular movies Like What About Bob? or When Harry Met Sally. He’s got a shit load of Magic Cards and comic books. Piled on the floor of the family room. No damn couch, though 111 113


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but they got like nine couches on the deck out back. He’s got an eight-lane slot car track in his basement. Right by the sliding glass door that’s broke to all shit. Says he punched it. That glass is thick as all hell. What a douchefuckingliar. And where the dining room should be, there’s a room where the computers are connected or something. You can play Doom II all the fuck day if you want. Fuck. Against each other. He always has a shit ton of Dew. Shit. Tons. Of it. You can just chuck it onto the road and blow them up because who the fuck cares. Wait till Fatty drives his dumbass truck by and then get one in the bed. He gets hell-a-pissed because it takes him a thousand years to clean old Dew off the back window. What. A. Fuck. Douche. Seriously. He’s got ninja stars and he threw one at my head. 112 114


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No kidding. It stuck right the hell in his garage door, which is so fucked up. He throws shurikens at it all day. And he’s got real nunchucks with the chain and wood and shit. We went to the woods and fucked some trees up, Ninja Turtle-style, though we’re way to goddamned old for that shit now. Whatever. We’re talking real goddamned katana blades and bb guns. Shooting the hell out of that dumbshit Splinter action figure someone’s mom got me for my birthday. Someone’s mom. A giant damn rat. Shit fuck, that’s so stupid. It’s like, just give me goddamned cash next time. Or beer. He’s already had a blow job. Fucking disgusting. He smokes weed. He keeps it in the kitchen cupboards in a trash bag. He smokes some shit out of a medicine bottle. 113 115


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Smells like shit, so it smells like him. There’s a giant acid burn eating the linoleum in the kitchen. Yesterday, we shot four squirrels. Yesterday, he caught one of the dudes stealing Magic Cards so he chased us out with a bb gun. Hit me in the shoulder. Hurt like a bitch. Did I mention he smells like shit. He lives in the rental up the street and they always got the air cranked way the hell up. It’s awesome. Some weird old dude always answers the door. That’s just one of his dad’s roommates. And he’s got guns. Real. Freaking. Guns. Met him a couple years ago. He came over at something like 9 o’clock, but it was a summer night so it was no big deal, you know, and, like, back then I had to go to bed, but I didn’t have to sleep because who the fuck fucking cares? He introduced himself to my damn dad and said his name and shook my dad’s hand, like he was some damn adult, and my dad made me go outside and play with this kid and he had Raphael’s sais and we threw them at the ash tree over and over again; by the time we were done the grass was getting all dewy and wet so we did ninja slides down the little hill out back, trying to throw the flimsy, plastic, shit-sai at the tree. He hit the thing every time. And we kept doing this and doing this and then it was incredibly freaking late and he wasn’t going home–didn’t want to go home–and my dad wasn’t making us come in, 114 116


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and then I made him go home, but he let me keep the sai and it was past midnight and my dad wasn’t pissed, he just let me stay up with him that late. Yesterday, he pointed a magnum with this giant ass scope at my head when I was playing Doom. I just got the BFG–the BIG FUCKING GUN–and I was about to blow the shit out of a room full of those cow-looking things with the robot legs. Ruined my game, man. Would’ve annihilated all those–. What an asshole.

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36. The Third Worst Poet In The Universe: Talk Radio In The Four AM And A Panacea This comes as a request. I believe I was supposed to shoot back a single name via Twitter as to who (whom?) the worst poet in the universe really is. That just can’t happen in Ficstruciverse. Here’s why: My thoughts and opinions are written according to a very specific style sheet. It requires me to A.) use little-used curse words whenever I can, B.) be on the edge of cynical rage and maniacal wit (but really just plain unclear, long-winded, and uninformed), and C.) write in a fashion that is just shy of serious so I can adequately cover my ass in case I actually offend someone who takes this damn blog seriously. Which happened once. It was flippin’ strange as hell. I’m not talking my ex-archnemesis bryan72 either because though he did take this blog very seriously, he had a good point. This blog is polluting the blogosphere with incoherent trash (see comment), which puts me in the very same company of nearly every lit blog known to man. Nah, this was some other dude and I actually know this other dude and this other dude told me about this new lit blog that is completely full of shit and totally worthless and should be napalmed from the planet. I said, “Surely, you’re talking about ArtsBeat, the New York Times’ literary blog.” I said ‘surely’ and referenced the nytimes because I was talking to the type of guy who thinks those are both very important things to say in conversation to establish literary cred. 116 118


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He said, “Ahh … no, actually … I’m talking about this blog called Destruct-a-fiction, or whatever. It’s a name you can hardly pronounce. I learned from this clown that it’s OK to make broad generalizations, misspell words frequently, and curse a lot.” Before I corrected him on the name of my blog and its clear reference to the final scene in Ghostbusters where “the Destructor” is chosen unwittingly by Dan Akroyd’s character, Ray Stantz, I caught myself and said, “Wow, that does sound pretty terrible. What kind of douchnugget eff fuck would write a shithole blog like that?” He said, “I know, right?” Then I think we talked about Updike or someone else equally as boring. I’d be lying if I said this interchange didn’t bring about the sudden end of Season 1 of the Ficstructor, too. Very non-Stay Puft-Marshmallow-Man of me to end this thing with so little explosiveness. So I guess we carry on, which is both OK and miserable at the same time. I mean, though this blog is full of shit, it does take a little bit of time. Gobs of it, in fact. It’s a lot of work being a cynical blowhard, which has led me to understand republicans for the first time in my life. Bill O’Reilly, you work hard. I hate the things you say, but you work hard. Who’s that other dude? The radio one? I think anyone who knows how to use the Internet has probably forgotten his name by now because who really listens radiowave broadcast radio anymore? Shit. I’m not looking it up either. I’m not going to do that kind of lip service for that fat, bald, Hawaiian-shirt-festooned man. 117 119


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His weight issues and baldness have nothing to do with anything, but the fact that he wears a Hawaiian shirt is unforgivable. Anyway, I think he’s on AM radio and my grandpa listens to him at 4 in the morning. And, no shit, he listens to this guy to drown out the many demons and leprechauns in his schizophrenic head. I’m not even sure it’s schizophrenia … could be dementia. Point is, there’s a blowhard republican eff who is so goddamned loud and stupid he’s able to cure mental illness. It affects my grandpa’s serotonin levels or something and calms him down because he’s actually able to identify this voice as coming from the radio as opposed to all the other voices, which have no physical source outside his deteriorating brain but sound very similar to most conservative extremists and are the root of his craziness. Apparently it’s worse to be aware of your own hallucinations than unaware of them, just from a cognitive functional standpoint. It has something to do with being able to accept or resign yourself to your own reality as opposed to fighting it all the time. Which makes me think of writing and why it is so absolutely godawful. You’re stuck right where my grandpa is: between two realities and you’re never really able to make sense of either and you can never accept either one as THE ONE you want to fully exist within. Basically, writing makes you batshit crazy, leading more quickly to a life full of anti-social behavior and a tendency to prejudge all your former friends’ middling successes. You also start to distrust non-threatening social entities such as hospitals, food shelves, eye clinics, and kindergartens. You sort suspect these feelings are coming on, but you’re also sort of convinced that they won’t fester, then they do, and you start to wonder when you last truly listened to real people say real things in real life and you have to find a calendar to figure it out. Alcohol helps. Sleep does too. 118 120


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So do vid games and TV. And I suppose conservative extremist radio at 4 in the morning is also some kind of salve. We’re getting away from the whole purpose of this post, which is to nominate the third worst poet in the world. Okie doke. Let’s see here. For lack of anyone else to nominate, we’ll just go ahead and say it’s that one talk radio dude. Even though he’s the world’s greatest therapist for the spiraling mentally insane, he’s full of a whole ‘lot of other terrible shit so we’ll just throw poet in there for good measure. My scale is sweeping. Man, I wasn’t ever supposed to talk about politics. Goddamn it. See where I’m going with this? I’m breaking my own rules. It’s a rebellion! Burn some tires. Push over a bus. Wield a brick and wear a mask. The second worst and the worst worst poets will be posted later. They will be determined the same way I come to all of my conclusions … by recalling whatever douchenut (people or thing!) most recently gave me the shits.

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37. The Second Worst Poet In The Universe: In Search Of The All-American Poet Yesterday Afternoon I’ll blow some minds here. I got a job. No shit. A real job with a wage and an office and benefits and the sort of things we’ve convinced ourselves are necessary to feel productive. See. See this little card! That’s called dental insurance. The day you get dental insurance is the day you enter an entirely new American class. I have the privilege to do things like go to Applebees and order an Awesome Blossom and give the server more than a 10 percent tip. I have the privilege to go to Walmart to buy a Technics 40 inch flatscreen TV when they go on sale the day after Thanksgiving. I have the privilege to show up at political rallies to tell Mr. So-and-So where he can put his policies. I have the privilege to tell every teacher that they are doing their jobs poorly and I can do better because I expect better because I am in a new American class, moving up and out of my poverty-stricken hellhole that I called the artistic life in the arty district in my city where hipsters waddle around, wearing tight ass pants and helmet-head hairdos and karabiner belt buckles. Chalk bags. Slip-ons. Dark sunglasses. Splotchy facial hair. Capri jeans. Goddamnit I don’t need this shit anymore. Because I have dental insurance. 120 122


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My new dental insurance card has also made me feel more judgmental than ever. For instance, yesterday I took the bus. I have to take the bus because I don’t own a car. My wife claims that we do own a car, but I just can’t drive it. So I have to bike and find loose change for the bus. I’ll tell you what. Say what you will about hippies, but I have no clue how the hell they bike everywhere. It’s hard as shit. My quads are fried. I got jock itch. I’m sweating all the time and my new co-workers tend to wonder why I look irritated while I’m learning my new position. It’s called pain. But there are perks … beyond dental insurance. I get to see people I wouldn’t otherwise had I been unemployed like usual. Had I been in my apartment, like usual, all I would see is a blank TV screen that screams, inaudibly, that I can’t afford to pay for a cable plan; therefore, I cannot pay to see the marvelous things contained within its plastic pixels. I am missing out, you see. But now I get to ride a bus. And a bus is full of non-pixelated amazements. I get to see a gargantuan fat man riding a dirt bike down a street in my capital city. He was so big. But not in the way that I feared for his life, but in the way that it made me happy because it reminded me of the Guinness Book of World Records circa 1987 where the two fattest twins on the planet rode mopeds. That was great. Immediately after I saw another ginormous man–this time wearing shades that Data from Star Trek would wear–and cut-off sleeves. It’s brave for any man to wear cut-off sleeves, 121 123


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but for a man who has arms the size of my quadriceps to wear cut-offs is unbelievable, especially since his wrap-around tattoo said, “Fit Is It,” in some font I’ve never seen before. Then there was the man with the long blonde hair, cut-off jean shorts, tube socks, and hightops with the headphones. He was air-drumming to the music he was listening to in his headphones. He was 35, too young to be Gen X-hair band, but too old to be Gen Xgrunge. Who was he? Well, he was a guy air drumming to music while wearing tube socks. Amazing. Then there was the dude with the one shoe begging for money. The dude who got yelled at by the lady wearing burettes that did not help her hairstyle; rather they held in place her misguided approach to modern style, making a frieze of that which should not be sculpted on a middle-aged woman’s head. Half-beehive don’t do shit, Lady. Remember that. But what I remembered was the moment you shouted at the man wearing one shoe. You said he had no pride. You said he should be ashamed. You, who had a half-beehive while carrying a stack of mail for your bosses, told this man, who defiantly stood in the hot sun and asked politely for money, to find some pride. Pride. Lady. The first proud man I meet is the first man I don’t trust. Confidence. 122 124


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Lady. Confidence is what kills the spirit. It has never been right. Father. Son. So, the half-beehive lady returned after dropping her letters in a box. She proudly walked by. We watched her, the beggar and I. We judged her, the beggar and I. I pretended to understand insanity, the beggar and I. We all thought we were poets.

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38. The Worst Worst Poet In The Universe: A TMNT Epic Unfit For Nickelodeon So I got done writing a 70 page literary meditation on the origins of the Ninja Turtles. Emailed Mirage comics to see what options there were for a fairly violent, largely plotless, somewhat poetic take on what happened surrounding the events of Hamato Yoshi’s and Oroku Saki’s falling out after the death of their dojo master (TMNT dorks, I know there are multiple ideas on this, a major one being that Hamato Yoshi was the dojo master who Oroku killed … I didn’t go that route.) The piece includes multiple POVs–a potentially disastrous mistake in the MFA world–giant holes in the plot, some good ol’ ultra-violence, a few ideas of what ninjas really are (stolen from my own misunderstandings of Eastern philosophy), a quasi-incestual relationship, many over-the-top adult situations, and so on. Basically, I was well aware that this piece would have no place in Nickelodeon world, the place where the Ninja Turtles currently reside. In fact, the Ninja Turtles, or mutants for that matter, don’t really have anything to do with this story since this piece happens well before all that weird shit that I as a 9 year old loved. Tried to get there … actually, I really wanted to be in that Dimension X with all the crazy laser guns and Rock Lords and floating, talking brains, but I couldn’t do it. Kept it grounded in some other TMNT universe. I had a great time doing it and even contacted my illustrator friend to do some work for me. We had long conversations about where and how the TMNT universe could be expanded. I was given stacks and stacks of Turtle comics to use as research, stacks I did not read, however. They were used as 124 126


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waypoints by my bedside, markers of my hapless pursuit. I was writing again, you see, and not this drivel on the Ficstructor. No. This was some serious shit based on a cartoon. I imagined myself in the heads of ancient ninjas, street-talking hustlers, black widow prostitutes. Senseis who have lost their way. Warriors who have lost their control. Children who are simply lost in the worst of worlds, facing the worst of evils, with only their pure hearts left to them for survival. But I had ideas of literature, so none of that purity garbage does survive. So the young must age and deal with those real-life things that make us bitter, old, confused, and crazy. You see? Literature. Real shit. Real life. None of this is fleshed out, of course. I excused myself the hard labor of thinking too deeply about any of it. One of my poet friends said that sometimes writing is all about fleeting impressions, so I spent my time there with the fleetingness, the hell-bent, fingers blazing, word count goals where quantity, not content matters. It was a happy time. In the end, none of it really makes sense. Still, I spent months on it. I e-mailed who I thought were the right people. Got a letter back saying there was no chance in hell that it could become anything but fan fiction. Fan fiction. That’s where I’m at, writer folks, still the 9 year old super fan of a cartoon. Sidelined yet again by my boundless pursuit of ideas very few care about. A smarter writer–shit, a 9 year old–would have foreseen this stuff, but I still cling to the idea that if you’re not desperately 125 127


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scrabbling like hell for those emotional, personal, psychological, spiritual truths that were planted in your youth, developed through experience, and challenged by pitfalls, you’re doing yourself a disservice as a writer, artist, and–goddamnit–human being (we’re getting lofty with this post). So, I am an accidental writer of the fan fictions (What writer got his or her start without being a fanboy of the imaginary places the bullies never heard of?). Noses will be upturned. Scoffs will resound. Poets will shun. Comic book nerds will snort. And I will more than likely embrace these reactions and wallow in my own self-pity, perhaps reverting to that jaded youth I was not so long ago, saying, “Goddamnit, who the shit cares? This doesn’t matter. None of this matters.” I will be further convinced that I am my own worst poet, fallen and filled with the misguided notions of Every Artist. Still, I will print out these 70 pages on my Samsung Laser Jet, read the title, feel the weight of the unbounded pages, and then decide that it’s time for this piece of senseless fan fiction to be placed in the back of my filing cabinet, a measured success in the only way a writer’s success can be measured: as an impassable object, an insurmountable passion to be nurtured, loved, lived through if only to get to the next thing. Whatever. Either way, I will no doubt be left to wonder, as I am always left to wonder after finishing a draft, How in the ever-loving shit did I get to that place and will I ever get there again?

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39. Furniture It’s move out time at my apartment. This is when all the college kids take their shit that they’ve had for a year and put it by the dumpster. Some of it is high quality trash. Dressers. End tables. Recliners. Three televisions. Storage bins. Plastic dresser things, the ones with the clear drawers–organizers, is what a big box store would say. We live by the railroad tracks and by a major freeway and by a major waterway. You could hitch to Oregon, Canada, or Louisiana depending on your taste of pavement, steel, or river. It’s an unintentional crossroads. An interchange of happenstance. The chance destination of the wayward. You see the college kids, these transients who have lived in our building for a year, dump their shit by that dumpster. It’s too hefty, scratched, and old to bring down the road to that other apartment that all the cool kids are now living at, where the beer is brewed more locally, scotch causes manly tears of pleasure, and words like “paradigm” are swung around like boar’s testicles. Those places are nice. They are where the old flour mill warehouses were, the ones that were bulldozed in an afternoon so a new warehouse-inspired condo could go up. The ones with corrugated steel accents. Brushed aluminum handrails. Blobs of color here and there. A nod to that which they’ve destroyed.

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Put a little decorative octagon on the side there. Paint it yellow. Do it, Architectman. Do it now. Stick with the primaries and secondaries, throw in something industrial, like a nickel-plated chain. The kid with the Lexus will love it. Some mills have been saved, sure. The one across the river was a ruin, burnt in some damn year the lady at the souvenir shop wants us to remember. Many people died. Mill workers from Poland, Hungary, Czech-something-something, and elsewhere. This was way back, turn of the century shit. The ones who died were the same as the ones who built this city and stopped that mighty river. Died in a fire in a place where they were mashing wheat to white dust. So yeast can pass gas in that gloppy paste so we can feed on bread with flaxen seed. The mills, the apartment, the broken furniture that will not sit in a warehouse-like abode with polished concrete floors– This is where we live, you and I. But, man, that shit will sit in our apartment lot, like that chinked dresser missing all its drawers over there. If we wait long enough a man dressed in all black will come. He will be wearing suspenders, a Poison reunion tour shirt, a wide-brimmed stetson hat, tattered, and carrying a hobo stick. Hoboman, don’t you know? 128 130


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It’s supposed to be a red-checkered hanky on the end of that stick. That funny little sack is supposed to have a can of beans and a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, hanging like a boar’s testicles. What you got, Hoboman. A reusable Target bag? Those nice ones with the white flowers on them and beautiful, stunning red, tied just so to the end of your stick. Primaries, Hoboman. You in your all black with a dash of red. Go ahead. Look over those things in our dumpster. Toss aside plastic bags. Hold the smallest bits of cardboard up to the sun. Kick the leg of a nice oak chair, set it wobbling and pay no mind to its oaken siblings. A full set, Hoboman. Check the dumpster and you’ll find the table. Dismantled, but still good. Ask Grandpa Depression. He worked in a salt factory just up the river. All that crap is still good. But don’t take that end table because it is mine and it will be by my couch tonight and I will put my beer upon it, but take something else. The rest is yours. Of all the treasures, Hoboman. A freaking dartboard? You’ll need darts for that dartboard. Or an axe. A knife’ll do. Take it then. Go on. Take it and be hobo king in the boxcar, on the houseboat, in the back of that truck with the mismatched doors, dualie exhaust, and useless mudding snorkel as if your good ol’ boy chauffer will suddenly try to forge every sinkhole you are bound to come across on your way south, north, or west. 129 131


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Because what was that you told me before you shoved on? Tell me those words again. Brotherman, you said. Go any which way but jackall is over east.

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40. These Thugs Under The Marquee So, regular readers may know my penchant for talking shit about hipsters. My rage is sweeping and it engulfs most of the artistic community I know of like a haboob swallowing an oasis. In fact, it’s partly self-hatred that produces these intense feelings and I recognize that. It’s nothing more than a glorified rivalry against that which I find familiar. But I will never grow a mustache unless it’s Burt Reynolds cool and I really believe in it. I actually can’t grow a mustache. But I can grow hairs that need to be removed every week and a half. It’s kind of like the further along you get in this grown-up world while delaying kids, jobs and responsibilities, the more you come understand how full of shit it is. It’s the reason I’ve developed severe social anxieties and avoid most gatherings where people of a certain level of specialized education are likely to be. How many times do I gotta have the conversation where the book I read … usually something to do with zombies … gets trumped by some damn professional–doctor, lawyer, investor–claiming to have a read a modern classic? To which I inevitably say that, yes, I read that piece of trash years ago and threw it across my damn living room because it was stupid– or parts of it were stupid (even if I liked it). Eventually it becomes clear that neither of us has really read the book, but parts of it so that we can end up in conversations where we’re able to condescend to our audience in the most humble way we can muster. “OH! You haven’t read such and such, blah blah. You really should because, like, if you like blank than you’ll like blankity-blank because …” 131 133


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Fuck me. It happened again last night. Son of bitch, it happened again. The thing is, my apartment is safe. My arguments are always one-sided–against my own damn self–and I only occasionally lose. Actually, I didn’t even get in an argument last night. Instead I just experienced this undercurrent of one-upmanship that will not go away. I was pretty sure all that was based on insecurities and youth–so behind us, right?–but now that people have become professionals with kids and houses and shit, it seems like this attitude has been nurtured, focused, enhanced, ready to be wielded like a dagger. It starts with books, then it goes to occupation, then it goes to life choices. I always concede on all aspects. I say it’s being a realist. My wife says I should try therapy. Go ahead. You read Brothers Karamazov, I read 14 Ninja Turtle comics. You are a director at a nonprofit that I really respect and is doing really great things, I am a part-time editor. You are on an upward trajectory, I am in a spiraling vortex of failure. Shitchrist. It’s my spiraling vortex, though, and where a trajectory will (if my understanding of physics is correct) inevitably peak and fall at the same rate it rose, the spiraling vortex should flush me out into some other kind of existence. Another universe. I may end up sucked through and down into my self-delusional paradise, shot through a black hole, out into that blinding whiteness, emerging into a do-it-yourself construction of Narnia, and I will claim victory. 132 134


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I usually only get cornered by one of these dudes or dudettes, but this time there were many more and no way to seclude myself. Usually I can survive the onslaught of CV-dropping by joking about my lack of success and saying things like, “it’s temporary, man,” or “yeah, no shit, right? you really DO only need a high school diploma to do what I do.” Ha ha! Snort Snort! Put out the laid back vibe. Assure everyone my circumstances were partly a conscious choice to avoid responsibilities. And never, ever admit to the fact that the vibe is all bullshit. The table was full, though. It was a bespectacled crowd with either straight-cut bangs or well-considered facial hair. One man was wearing cowboy boots. I wanted to wear my cowboy boots, but my wife said that when I wear my cowboy boots I can’t control myself. Which is true. I have a tendency to drink four times the amount of an average man and end up in an alley puking my face off all because I wore my boots. Introductions were ignored. No space was made for me to sit down, so I groaned a table across the patio to be near these folks. Conversations halted when I sat. No one said hello. I said hi to the one person who made eye contact with me, and she looked back at me, confused, then turned to speak with someone else Eventually, the waiter came, asked for an order. No one spoke. The waiter asked, “Are you guys ignoring me?” Thinking everyone was on the same page, I refused the waiter’s request because late-night happy hour was 15 minutes away, but then the dude wearing a beret (or, fuck, something like a beret) ordered a second bottle of white wine for himself. Everyone else ordered tidy little 133 135


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glasses of red wine or those dinky glasses of beer I never heard of. These people were uninterested in discounts. Twenty minutes later, I tried to order one of the fancy beers because they were now half price. I mispronounced the name. Four people corrected me. For three of these people “Lagun-ee-tas” would be the only thing they would say to me for the entire evening. There were conversations about exotic travel. Hushed whispers and furtive glances. Yoga and qidong were mentioned with great frequency. Someone said Nicaragua, someone else said, “No, you’re mistaken. That was Costa Rica.” Even without my boots on, I drank twice as quickly as anyone else because the beer was 50 percent off. There was an unusually long conversation about the long line at the movie theater because what in the devil could be so good that so many disgusting teenagers would wait so patiently. I mean, did they see the marquee? Must be some petty horror flick. Torture porn. Eye rolls. Seriously. I miss when that theater only played foreign films and documentaries. Yeah. Have you seen “Man on Wire”? The only saving grace of the evening was when the waiter came by and told our crowd a joke. Ahem. How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb? 134 136


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Err … the number is pretty obscure so you’ve probably never heard of it. I laughed loudly at this joke. I laughed uproariously. I continued to laugh and giggle and text this joke to my friend. I repeated the joke to the gentleman next to me. He said, “Yeah, I know. I just heard it from the waiter.” I said, “But it’s funny.” He did not smile. “I think our waiter is drunk or on coke,” he said. My giggles ended the many quiet discussions around the table. I looked up and the laser glares were not on me, but around me, close enough to radiate my skin and make me thirsty for more beer. The man in the cowboy boots excused himself, saying, “I don’t want to hear another hipster joke.” He smiled as if the entire table would understand. They did. I left, too, stumbling home in the dark, along the cobblestone, wishing I had worn my own boots, wishing the three-inch heel could clop along that road, wishing I had lost control and pissed myself in the gutter in the three a.m. But then I saw these kids–these thugs from the theater line–in baggy shirts, tight jeans, flatbrimmed hats, cocked to the left, trying to skateboard along the cobblestone on boards as long as each silence I experienced during the night. For them–these teenagers–it didn’t work out. The small wheels kept catching, and they kept lurching into the street, yelling Shit and Fuck. I wanted to take each one by the hand, lead them to the bike path, and push them, if only to give them a smoother ride. 135 137


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41. PW’s MFA Power Rankings This comes in light of a trove of open letters lambasting PW’s power rankings for MFA programs. Every year the list comes out. Every year a bunch of lit journals and lit blogs say how stupid the list is. Every year they offer the same advice to people thinking about going to MFA programs. Goddamnit. It makes me tired. Who the shit ever trusted a list in the first place? Worse, why the shit are people pissed off at a list? Lot of professor types get bothered by this crap. I think it’s one of those “who can outsmart whom” thingamabobs, so every year about a million sad writers think that this MFA ranking list deal is their chance to have an article ping around Facebook or something, an article that highlights their incredible genius (in comparison to a list). You know, it’s something they figured out, swingin’ the ol’ balls around the blogosophere because they over-analyzed the MFA world’s equivalent to Fermat’s Last Theorem (difference being: mathematical theories may in fact go on to be proven, whereas the discussion surrounding this ranking list and those who defy it go on to mean about as much as the heated arguments that occur between unicorns and leprechauns). Or whatever. Sometimes smart-ish bloggers realize that this systematic list is as impartial to his or her complaints as every goddamned Excel spreadsheet known to man, but they still manage to gripe about it in the most heady, long-winded way they can muster, and then they inset bullshit insults in the middle of their diatribes so that you have to tease out the real meaning by using an old-fashioned, fat-ass Webster’s.

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I read like nine of these blog entries from notable places, the very same places I have whined about on this very blog … so, you know, we’re going meta on our bitching. Here’s a summary of what I have found after I consulted said fat-ass dictionary and condensed the argument to its bare essentials: “Hey, List. Yeah, I’m talking to you, you son of a bitch. What’s with your rankings going all wonk-eyed and shit, stepping on my wasted life spent in a MFA program no one gives a flying eff about? I went to a program NOT on the list, b t dubs, and this makes you an effing bastard! Damn right. I don’t care neither, you shit. But I am not going to get angry because I’m smarter than that. You know what, you-shit-list-rank-whore, I am going to bitch about you to all four people who visit my blog. Because I went to an MFA program. And I know how to use, like, words and shit that make me sound like a professor-type … [insert references to other blogs no one gives a crap about along with a lengthy history about how the List was made] … You stupid bitchass list, I really really hate you. But now that I feel superior to you, I am also going to remind my readers (which is to say myself, one who thrives on self-delusion and empty encouragement) that you don’t matter because, well, you’re a list and I’m a depressed MFAer who wasted a shit-ton of money on a program that didn’t make your fancy-schmancy, pretentious, richy-rich list.” Shit. Nuts. Sigh my face off. It’s a goddamn list. Reminds me of the time I got pissed off at a grocery list that I found in my pocket. Then I realized it was actually an open list to me from my ex-wife saying she was leaving me. The zinger was hidden between “frozen peas” and “Zingers”–of all things. That hurt goddamnit, but I was not conceited enough to go blog about how much I hated the list. I just got over it and never used a grocery list again. Eff me. 137 139


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42. Norman Mailer Wants My Money And He’s Dead As Shit. So I got something in the mail today. Number one: I was surprised I got something in the mail. Number two: I was surprised it was addressed to me. Number three: It was from Norman Mailer, who despite the implications of his last name, cannot send mail because he’s dead as shit. Or, well, as dead as the dead kind of shit with the inactive bacteria. He’s dead as inert shit. I can’t really figure out why I got this piece of mail, which is totally unlike the coupons I usually look forward to–Two large pepperoni pizzas for 11.99? Pizza Hut, you got to be shitting me! Number one: It’s good strong card-stock, came out of one of them wedding-type envelopes with the fake-script font that suggests refinement to some person mentally challenged in the realm of design work; inside it’s got one of them see-through slips of paper that have a bunch of names I believe I’m supposed to recognize … Like, the one I do recognize is William J. Clinton, who is a presenter. No effing shit. Former Prez. Bill Clinton. Not only that, if you flip open the inside you’ll see that Keith Richards will also be there. Oh! They call this damn thing a gala. Swank. Effing swank goddamn shit, this thing. We’re talking pearls and nightgowns and tuxes and bald dudes wearing sparkling silver rimmed glasses. That type of shit. 138 140


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Which begs the question. Why in the hell was I invited? My best guess is that during some manic swing a few months (years?) ago I sent out a shit-ton of resumes and stories and crap in hopes that I’d get residency somewhere. That’s right. I used to be delusional. I probably sent The Mailer Center some garbage I cared about at the time. No fucking shit! Spielberg is going to be there and the “friends” list is full of a bunch of places I’ve never heard of, which probably means these are stores full of no-chance-in-hellables given away in gift bags to a bunch of rich freaks who pretend to read. Or probably do read and are more well-read than yours truly. G. Dub reads way more than I do, which is a hard lesson in humility. Oh, Jeebus! Place me upon on the hood of a Nascar and smash me into the grandstand; this working stiff needs to go out in flames, fed by gasoline, to the cheers of thousands, drunk on Bud. Number two: Open this shits up and inside you will find the cost of this thing. This gala. Want a Premier Sponsor table? 50 thou. Want a Patron Table? 25 thou Hey, man. It’s cool. You got two bosses. You’re making minimum fucking wage. Flip that burger, dog. 139 141


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Buy the Benefactor Table. Only 10 thou. Fuck. Christ. Take some overtime. Maybe a freelance gig. Work your shit on the bus. Ignore that smell. No, that guy says that every time he gets on. He never has his wallet. He never has his bus pass. He’s always going to a job interview But look at the handles on his plastic bags. Look at them. They’re stretched to sin. Black grease in the crease. How long you been carrying them bags, man? Surely you can get a Supporter Ticket. Only 2,500. Fuck. Seriously? Ask you parents. Ask you girlfriend. Ask you ex-wife. Hit your kid up for some cash. Find a lover. Find a friend. Because, sonofabitch. The Friend Ticket is only 1,000 bucks. And 755 dollars of that scratch is tax deductible. Do I gotta say it again? Tax deductible. For Bill Clinton. Maybe he’ll play the sax. For Keith Richards. Maybe he’ll read from his book. Where the shit are we, man? We’re on this bus, in this gala, in this place 140 142


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It’s all happening in NYC. Which drives like an accordion. But I ask you this, my richy rich, Bill Clinton listening, Keith Richards idolizing friends: In Mailer’s house the counter-culture built, how well do you know the public bus route?

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43. Paris Review Are Professional Rejectionists Who I Understand Better. I am an editor. If you want to be an editor, all you gotta do is outlast the next guy and be willing to work for little or, more likely the case, no pay. Longevity is a virtue that is often overlooked. A willingness to be taken advantage of is a virtue that is never overlooked. So I never really wanted to talk about this editing business, but I’ll go ahead because I’m dizzy from drunkenness and my faculties of understanding what is and is not Fictructoresque were lost after a drink called liquid Absinthe. Which was strange because I thought all Absinthe was liquid. Which another dude called “Liquid Heaven” … as a way to get the ladies drinking this weird ass drink to drink more and perhaps increase his chances of maybe going home with them. Later I saw these ladies leave as he continued to do caricature sketches—he had an easel and markers and was trying to draw everybody. He kept saying that he was “Chicago-style” even though not one person in the bar was from Chicago or knew what he meant by “Chicagostyle.” All I could think of was deep-dish pizza and polka music. No one bought his pictures either. I stumbled out feeling bad for the guy, but I also wasn’t going to sit around and let him draw me because, well, I was drunk and both trying to have fun and forget about the misery of 142 144


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working two jobs. What can I say? I wore my boots tonight. I sent a rejection about two weeks ago. It was a lengthy one. I offered advice and shit. I believe I told this writer that flashbacks are a sign of weakness and lazy writing. I told this writer that usually a flashback signifies a place in the story in which the story could be rearranged chronologically because putting subsequent micro-flashbacks (memories or whatever) pull the reader out of the narrative present, disrupting the dream, and it actually just highlights the places in which the writer has realized some important plot point and threw it in there without going through the drudgery of putting those elements where they belong. You know. Some writers still need to be reminded that revision is important. And it takes damn near an intervention to get through their heads. Contrary to my better judgment, I actually tried to help this person. My advice was long and clear. It took me a lot of time. I crafted a response. I tried to give the writer sober feedback so he or she could return to his or her work and improve it, shape it, craft it into something that an editor would respect. It got thrown in my face. This writer refused my feedback (and that of three other editors on our staff). He or she went so far as to find someone at his or her local library who had a piece about a house cat published in a porno mag. He or she cited the paycheck the person received as evidence of literary know-how. And this porno writer, this friend, obviously gave glowing praise of the story. Shit, people. Don’t give your damn stories to your friends. They will always lie to you. Always. Folks, I scoffed. I didn’t mean to. I felt like a Paris Review douche-hound when I did it–not 143 145


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to mention a total fucking lame ass pretentious elitist NYC bully, but I did scoff because my ego was hurt. I thought years of self-deprication and honest judgment of my own self-worth would be enough to shield my ego from any further damage, but I was mistaken. It’s something I gotta work through. I recommended going back to the real beginning of the story and starting again. And this was the nice advice. My real advice would have been to forget the story entirely and just move on to the next one. Most editors would have just tossed it in the waste bin after five pages. But you see I am one of those writers who has his pieces tossed into many waste bins, so I give my contributors the benefit of the doubt. He or she came at me like a zombie wolverine telling me this writer–this contributor to porno mags–had other plans. I feel like such a dumbass for scoffing. Eff, I’m an idiot. But, seriously, not that I know what the shit I’m talking about, but this was pretty clear. In addition to the many, many flashbacks, his or her piece was royally fucked. One long, rambling impression that he or she tried to pass of as story. It all took place in a single scene, in fact. It was thousands upon thousands of words long. The steady climb to the climax of the story was a series of events that repeated themselves, only the events were more pronounced. I don’t want to give the details because I try to respect struggling writers when I talk shit about them, but it was a lot like the following: Scene: Crazy person sitting in a chair in a room. Plot point #1 (2,000 words in): Crazy person does a kind of crazy thing in the room. Plot point #2 (4,000 words in): Crazy person does something that’s definitely crazy in the same room. Plot point #3 (6,000 words in): Crazy person does a crazy thing that was crazier than the 144 146


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previous two things … still in the same room. Plot point #4 (8,000 words in): Not yet the craziest thing to happen, but pretty close. Haven’t left the room, or the desk chair for that matter. Plot point #5 (the climax; 9,000 words in): Supposedly the craziest effing thing to happen in the story, but since the reader saw this coming back at plot point one, it’s no longer crazy or exciting, just tiring. Still in the room. Biggest development: Character is out of chair. Dénouement (10,000 words in): A trick ending. A new character walks into the room, main character is back in the desk chair and has to mull on the realization that he is about to experience the same exact thing over again. So, you know, what the hell do I know? I tried to be honest at least. I told this writer that writing (and especially revision) is completely miserable. I said that writing wasn’t going to lead him or her to happiness, success, or even employment. Best you could hope for is some stranger to take the work seriously and give generous feedback, which proved to be the wrong thing to do, of course. Ten years I’ve been at this bullshit and it’s worked every time until now. Anyway. I realized why those Paris Review A-holes give you a teeny slip of paper that says something like, “Why did you send this to us? Did you think we were the “Letters” section of your local SuperSave? Don’t submit to us again. Douche.” Maybe way back in the day, like in the time when writers used words like “tis” and “countenance”, the hoity-toity places did give feedback until it started getting flung in their faces like monkey shit. So, Paris Review, I understand you a little bit better now, but I am not going to apologize for the hate mail. Yeah, I won’t quit sending you that.

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44. Bus Accident Today I was in a bus accident. No one was hurt, or, well, I guess I was the only one who got hurt, but not too bad. I was sitting right in front of the back side door. When we tried to slip around a parked bus, the driver cut it too close and swiped the back corner of the parked bus. That whole deal broke the window I was sitting near, but I got through this fairly unscathed. I was prepared, you see. It’s kind of weird, though, because my entire life as a bus rider, from the school bus days till now, I always got freaked out when we passed other buses on the highway or pulled into a parking spot at school next to all the other buses. I always got freaked out because it always looked like we were gonna hit the other damn buses. They–the drivers–always cut it too freaking close. How many years? Shit. A bunch of bus ridin’ years under the old belt, which have made me highly practiced at diving out of my seat to avoid the inevitable collision and the breaking of glass. Each bus, semi, UPS truck we passed, I’d duck down and put my book over my head. Did the same thing today. Damn right, I’ve been prepared for this accident. Saw it coming the first day my mom patted my tush and sent me up those big steps to sit in the vinyl-smelling and booger-infested buses of my youth. Knife holes in the seats. Brown duct tape. Gooey crap left where the tape came off. Cigarette holes everywhere. Mashed Cheetos in the crevice of the seat. Puke traveling up and 146 148


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down the walkway which had puke-troughs constructed right in it. Prepared. Those bus builders were prepared. Mrs. Kocheski with the giant 80s glasses (because it was the 80s) welcoming me aboard. Me being just big enough to see the roofs of the passing trucks on the highway, knowing full well they were too damn close. Especially on the bridges. What didn’t Mrs. Kocheski understand about speed, velocity, crumbling concrete barriers, and a sealed death tube plummeting into the Mississippi? Didn’t she watch Rescue 911? Didn’t she see the one with the floods and the buses getting swept away in the current? Guaranteed she didn’t see any kids floating near those yellow buses in the brown water tumbling like toys. She couldn’t have because the kids were all gone. Drowned. Taken under already. Shit. We’re dead already and I haven’t turned in my drawing of my favorite foods Thank you, Mrs. Kocheski, for killing us all. I don’t blame you for killing Bryan Checkertz, though. No one liked that asshole anyway. Problem today was that I didn’t see the second accident coming. After we got safely by the parked bus, the driver pulled to the side of the road, only he once again cut it too close and he hit a fire hydrant and then a huge stoplight, the light scraping down the entire side of the bus and eventually ripping the door I was sitting near right off. He hit so hard I flew out of my seat into the aisle. No time to duck and cover. Thirty years I prepared for a bus accident. Thirty goddamned years I looked like a cowardly little snotnose diving from vehicles innocently driving down the freeway. As I got up I just started yelling, “How the shit can you let that happen twice? How in the hell? This makes no sense!” 147 149


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One girl asked if I was OK. I wondered why she asked me. Turned out I was the only one to fly out of my seat and into the aisle. Everyone else sat calmly–orderly, in fact. And I was the one prepared for this shit. I spent years perfecting my juke and jive. They all were sitting with friends talking when the accidents happened. I on the other hand was just waiting for this. I expected this. “Seriously,” I shouted again, “How can this happen twice?” The bus driver said something that sounded like a command. This guy, this Mrs. Kocheski, killer of children, is commanding us. What the fuck? Who’s gonna trust him? He relinquished all bus driver leadership duties the moment he hit the first damn thing. No one seemed to hear me or agree with my protests. Which made no sense. Clearly the bus driver did this crap on purpose. I mean a guy who was so quick to run into three things that were easily visible and stationary must be looking to eff some shit up before he quits. I kind of respected that. He even had a form and a pen at the ready, and when he asked us for our information, it all sounded rehearsed. As that was happening I tried making small talk with the guy behind me. “How the hell, man? Am I right? Like, once makes sense, but twice?” He just shook his head and acted like I was nuts. “But seriously, dude. That’s so fucked.” I waited for this dude to make the connection of the bus accident conspiracy that we were all now playing a small part.

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No response. There was no winning this. My thirty plus years of preparing for death by jets of flame and twisted metal lamentably went unfulfilled. The people around me had either been in bus accidents before or they were really, really nice understanding and forgiving people. The bus driver had things in control. He wasn’t shaking. His voice remained even-keel. He had a protocol. He was a pro. I had nothing to blame but my own cowardice. So I took that pen, signed my name, and noticed the form was no official transit form. It was the blank side of a flyer for lawn care, tape still on the corners.

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45. Schmoozing I got cupcake all over myself. You want to make yourself feel better? Buy a six-pack of cupcakes from a fancy grocery store. You have to get the fancy shit, too, because anything less will just give you a cupcake with frosting that is crusty as all shit. Crusty frosting is depressing. It makes the sad nature of eating a cupcake alone even sadder. Go all out. Get the good shit. It’s a dollar, maybe two dollars more, and you’ll thank me for it. Schmoozed with the industry tonight. It was pretty good. It was tight. My buddy and I initially felt horrible about the whole thing, but then we got drunkard and it all went swimmingly from there. Met an agent. Met another guy who does some stuff. The best part about the whole evening was that we didn’t talk a whole lot about writing, which fulfilled something that I always suspected. I like hanging with writers when we don’t talk about writing. Commiserating about anything never got anyone anywhere. I experienced a ginger and Jameson for the first time in my life. It was pretty good. It agreed with me. It made me say words to people who have talked to other people who know something about books and writing. At no point did I feel cool. In fact, much of the time I talked about my dead cat’s testicles, but that seemed to win favor among this crowd. We were in a wine bar, actually. It had those big leather chairs with the brass buttons. There was a fireplace. There was a huge wine wall that looked to be designed specifically to be 150 152


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completely functionless for a box of Firenze. So to me it was what it was. Functionless in the world of fine wine. So I ordered what the bald guy with the goatee was having. That was the ginger and Jameson and it was a fantastic idea. I believe I mentioned my credentials and that ended up being a very short conversation. I believe I took some cards and I still have them in my pocket. [rummaging in my pockets … wadded up bills, a quarter, a nickel, a bus transfer ticket, two receipts, some bid-ness cards]. They all have really clever things on their business cards and I feel like I should understand these hieroglyphs, but I don’t. Design has never been a strong suit. These things should win a prize for best business card design, but I don’t know if that award is out there. I’m going to invent it … tomorrow. I found out a few things, too. 1. If you say you had some short stories published in notable journals and you reference the journals expecting people in the industry to recognize these journals, they won’t. 2. If you say you have a novella coming out, eyes will be averted as if your business card contact information reads: “I have the bubonic plague.” 3. Your hands will stop sweating after four drinks. 4. It’s considered bad form to take the cheese off the plates that have been left on the table for fifteen minutes when clearly the person who was eating that cheese left ten minutes ago. 5. You have to make sure your nametag reads something more than your first name. People 151 153


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will not talk to you if your just put, “Steve.” You have to put something like, “Steve”, subtitle, “I wrote some crap you should care about.” 6. Cats are always a good goto if you don’t know what else to talk about. Cat testicles are even better. 7. The people who are there just to get drunk without being judged by their spouses will be there until the end. They will become your friends. If you stand on a well-known writer’s jacket as you complain about your two jobs, the wellknown writer will not listen to you complain about your jobs. He will just ask you to step off his jacket and then he will go talk to someone else. You won’t be insulted. How could you be? That guy was the type of guy who puts his jacket on the floor and then gets made when people step on it. Jackets go on coat racks or the back of the chair. Unless you live in my apartment where jackets go on the floor, along with everything else. 9. There will be a guy there named Rick. You will refuse to talk to him though you never met him and there is nothing about him that suggests he would not be very friendly. He looks very kind, in fact. You will still avoid him and it makes you feel good about yourself. 10. Someone there will have written some CNF piece and you’ll wonder how it got published, and it will spark a conversation about “niche audiences”, but the CNFer who has the large “niche audience” will not forgive you for asking the question, “Why the hell would anyone care about manhole covers?” 11. The barstools upstairs are very quiet and the bartender has a lot of good things to say. 12. The music will be so soft that you will not be able to tell if Yanni or GNR is being played and you will ask a number of people about this, who will say that they haven’t heard of either poet. 13. Another question you will have to keep asking is, “Where is the dude who brings the 152 154


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drinks?” 14. You will follow this up by saying, “I guess I’ll go to the bar.” 15. You will be gently reprimanded when someone says, “They set aside this server special for this event.” 16. You will not say, “Why am I in this conversation again. I just had it with that person, that person, and the bald dude in the corner. Is this a conspiracy?” 17. You will worry about the time your bus leaves. 18. The bathroom will be down a set of stairs, around a corner, and it will have push-button code to get in. You will have to come to terms with the possibility that you may piss yourself at some time in the evening. 19. You decide that pissing yourself among this crowd isn’t the worst that could happen. Fun times.

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46. Pete Dexter Is A Smart Man; Dreams In A Novel Is Like Crapping On The Bible; Shnovel Is A Good Word. I had two posts all ready to go in my head. Which is to say that I had two ideas that I was going to talk around for a bit and then probably whine about and then assume I’ve done enough work to establish that I’m an authority on these subjects. It would all be a lie, of course. The two subjects I was going to tackle have been tackled already in one quick line from Pete Dexter’s review of Jim Harrison’s new book found at the NYtimes. The topics were the following: 1. why pop culture references are stupid in novels and 2. why dreams are even stupider than pop culture references in novels. Dexter saved me the work. He is old-ish, smart, well-read, and a good writer. He is everything I am not so therefore doesn’t have to go through the drudgery of proving himself by composing long, useless trash to be passed off as pseudo-intellectual inquiry into literature. He’s not a moron. I’m not getting down on myself here; I’m just saying writers with clout can do far more with fewer words. 154 156


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Read this quotation (note that Dexter references himself as “the critic”): “… The critic doesn’t trust references to popular culture even if he can’t say why, and as a rule when he — the critic … — reads a novel he skips the parts about dreams.”* Good point and good advice. Tack to that: don’t write dreams in your story. I know it’s tempting and you already got three, four—shit all of your stories have dreams in them. Think about it. A story, when well-wrought, is ideally a dream-like narrative for your reader. When you put in another level of dreaming (which is usually incoherent rubbish meant to foretell some innocuous plot point somewhere later in the narrative … usually in some mystical, watery way with symbolic imagery and crap) you’re turning your story into a really really shitty version of Inception. A dream within a dream. Ooohhhh. Spooky. Real dreams make no goddamned sense and they sure as shit tell you nothing about your coming future. Where are my crystals? Now go read “Deadwood.” And after that go read “The Woman Lit by Fireflies,” which is a very weeny title for a very un-weeny Harrison collection of shnovels. shnovel – (n.) a term for a short novel, used in place of “novella” because “novella” is a very precious term only to be used if you don’t want your shnovel published or sold, and if you want people to correctly assume that your book is filled with long contemplative moments where a character ruminates while staring at one of the following: flower gardens, babbling streams, wind-swept prairies, distant mountains, or navel fuzz**

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47. Let’s Just Get It Over With And Rename The Lit Fic Genre, “Even More Stories About Broken Marriages And Growth.” I think Season 2 of the Ficstructor has officially started. Dunno. Maybe it started a few weeks ago. No clue, really. I do know that I have started writing interviews again and harassing writers I respect, expecting them to get back to me despite me being a total douche to them and, for the most part, burning every bridge that connects me in anyway to the writing world at large. No one has gotten back to me, BT Dubs. We’ll wait it out. I can wait. This means I have to come up with some posts on a semi-regular basis and the pressure of doing so means that when I sit at my computer to do it, I hate myself and then grab a beer and play video games because … Eff it. Blogging is terrible. Good thing is, I have loads of crap on the back files. Crap that you may or may not like, but 156 158


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I think we’ll learn something after reading it. You’ll get to read something I cared about and I won’t be able to hide behind a persona or create some kind of ironic distance that makes me feel superior. You’ll be in the driver seat, able to judge me the way I’ve judged all the writing life for the past few months, or whenever this cock of an idea sprouted during some dark time. I am posting my fan fiction piece about the Ninja Turtles. Here’s why: 1. I went to the fan fiction sites about the Turtles and came away pretty disappointed. It is some sick sick disgusting stuff. I don’t care what erotic fiction torture porn fantasy you people think of, but for Gyawd’s sake there is some deep held beliefs in the sanctity of the Turtles that a few sadistic effs want to destroy. I watched them as a kid, you perverts. Think Saw meets Debbie Does Dallas meets a Ninja Turtle with a thing for April O’Neil. Damn it. It’s depressing. I had to fish out my old Ninja Turtle PJs and burn them as an effigy in the parking lot to cleanse myself of the horrible horrible scenes that have now been imprinted on me. I’m pretty sure Pagan ritual shit works. Oddly enough, my rayon/polyester PJs didn’t so much burn as melt, leaving a large, black, molten squiggly thing. Don’t know what that portends to the druids, but I felt better afterwards. 2. I also don’t want a story about how Donatello goes gallivanting across Mordor with Master Chief (from Halo fame, a video game) to kill the Alien Queen (from Aliens) to define Ninja Turtle fan fiction. 2b. On second thought that story would be cool … but no one wrote that. I used that as an example of the kind of mash-up crap there is out there. Splinter and Spider Man … President Obama and Raphael … etc. 2c. I know I am shitting on 8 year olds right now and their sub par writing ability. You should see these things. Most of them are accompanied by pictures drawn in crayon. The good ones are drawn in colored pencils. I’m doing my best not feel like a straight douchey 157 159


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cockeff from casting aspersions on a third grader’s lunch time project, but in the writing world it’s these little victories that keep you going. If it wasn’t for a healthy dose of elitism and delusion, I don’t know why any of us do this. 3. This is the most important reason. I’m just tired. I am really really tired, and that’s what surprises me the most because I really didn’t want to become one of those writers who just looks plain washed-out and miserable. The kind whose wife has to say his name three, four times to get his attention while he’s staring at a blank TV screen only to get asked, “What’re you thinking about?” And due to his overwhelming fatigue, he can’t even lie and think of something that people actually think about. Instead he must tell the truth, replying, “Nothing.” And his wife must say, “That’s impossible. No one thinks of nothing.” And then after a moment of silence, when he finally thinks of something people would say at a moment like this, he says, “You’re right. I’m just worried about the bills.” And then she must say something uplifting, but he doesn’t hear her. He never hears her. This is why escaping into a world of fan fiction is going to save the world–or my world, the little sliver of it I call home.

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48. Spaghetti Without Tasty Meat Sauce I am inspired to be political today. I just watched a ton of Occupy Wall Street videos and then saw a photo series about the 99%, who write sob stories about their economic situation. Most of them are legit: no job, no house, a mess of kids, foreclosures, bankruptcy, cancer, single parenthood, crippling debt. Some are not, like this one person without kids who earns over 50k a year and somehow can’t make it work. She’s got a spreadsheet of how the numbers don’t add up, but some of that has more to do with living beyond one’s means than an economy or government that isn’t working. I’m a dude who’s hardly employed despite having a ridiculous amount of education … yet an education I in no way try to pass off as real employable skills. I went to school for too long and didn’t learn as much as I should have and read books about dragons and stuff and none of these things bear any resemblance to real skills, like fitting a pipe or building a house or counting numbers or staring at a spreadsheet or whatever the hell people do at jobs. I’m a part-timer with full bennies. Sometimes I have to freelance to get enough money to be able to buy the top of the line cupcakes for my wife and I, but since we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we can’t afford kids, a house, or cars … or whatever the hell it was that made our parents and grandparents happy … things have been looking up. Basically, we know how to make some really great Mac ‘N Cheese. Ramen is a treat as well. Tonight we ate spaghetti, no meat sauce. Marvelous. That’s OK, though, because from the outside we’re often mistaken for ultra-liberal, young hippies (which we’re also OK with), but most of that stereotype is fulfilled unintentionally. Like, we save money by not showering or getting haircuts or buying clothes or buying meat. So, you know, Eff you, “The Man,” it’s not a goddamned choice. 159 161


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Alright, I lied about most of this crap. I get mistaken for a severe dork and my wife manages to look really good in clothes that she never buys. We also shower. But no haircuts. We are poor, but making it on our own. I believe this what Charlie Sheen calls “winning.” We are winners and we know it. My wife and I wake up in the morning, often to the sound of some heated argument at the halfway house next door, and we high-five in honor of our “winning-ness.” But I ain’t going to bitch about this. I felt bad for myself for the last ten years and blamed everyone I could. Who the shit cares anymore? A living room doesn’t need a couch. A bedroom only really needs a mattress. Rubbermaid bins make for chic wardrobes. Plywood and bricks make a decent enough bookshelf. Most furniture can be found in a dumpster. We love it. It’s the new bohemian. We got these pillows from a dumpster, actually. They are red. Bright red. Apparently they don’t work with our living room theme, which from what I can tell continues to be SpartanHobo. According to my wife, red and Spartan-Hobo do not mix. Unfortunately there is a severe lack of iron swords and horse-hair helms in the dumpster at the nice apartments by the river. So we had to settle for the red pillows. There is no shortage of boots with holes in them, however, but we haven’t figured out how we can make that authentic hobo look “work.” We considered it a still piece, but lacking a pedestal the boot with a hole in it just looked like a boot with a hole in it while it sat on our floor. It spoke too plainly the truth. See? We’ve dealt with it. We’ve made compromises. We’ve stared the American Dream down and said, “Fuck you, Dream, we don’t need that shit. Because we got the red pillows from the dumpster down the street. They work as seat cushions when we sit around our coffee table that is both a coffee table and our dinner table, given to us by my aunt’s (through marriage) dead father, which got driven to my apartment by my three-years-out-ofwork uncle. We set this coffee table by the end table that we got from his sister, a fouryears-out-of-work clothes salesperson. On top of this end table is a lamp I got from my outof-work mother. Our bed frame we got from my crazy-as-all-hell grandpa who we 160 162


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can’t put in a home because he has just enough in savings that the Home will bleed him till he dies. This way, he can at least buy a twenty-four pack of Miller Lite, make incoherent and frequent phone calls, claim the twenty-year-old, in-home nurse is his “sleepover girlfriend,” and for the most part enjoy the shred of life he’s got left as my entire out-of-work family yells at each other over whose turn it is to mow his lawn or take him to the doctor or give him meds or buy his Hungry Man frozen dinners. My excuse: I got no freaking car. So to them, my family, my wife and I have won. We have shirked our responsibilities through cunning. We have never gotten jobs that would greatly affect our standard of living in the likelihood that we lose them. We have avoided kids and to them this means we have avoided a little fleshy ball of stress, pain, and debilitating debt (the latter we accrued with our own childless wiles of pursuing higher-ed … We’re idiots!). We have few possessions so we are constantly free to “just move away at the drop of a hat.” We are living free: no mortgage, no savings, no responsibilities. And, certainly enough, when we reach that ripe old age, we will look longingly into each other’s eyes and say sweet things like, “We’re freaking winning, still. Can you believe it? We are winning! The Home can’t take the money we don’t have. Boy! These bright, red pillows sure have held up the last fifty years!” Then we will high-five and shotgun a Miller Lite before we drift to sleep, dreaming of the life we lived where we never owned a home, never had kids, never made a purchase beyond produce and dairy, never held a job for more than a year or two, and–hope beyond hope– also never believed we got less than we deserved. I don’t think I know what 99% really means, but if this Okie had a wagon to pack and things to pack it with, he’d be on the road to California, dreaming of peaches.

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49. Tortoise, Not A Turtle I saw a tortoise, not a turtle, today. It was on the side of a walking path up the high banks of the Mississippi, lurching along a little gravel side trail, weaving into the edge of the woods, precariously above a steep descent, one misstep from having to tuck and roll fifty, seventy–hell I don’t know–a hundred feet into the fall-time waters, skipping off limestone juts, into stream-cut crags, landing upon stone, cracked open, entrails exposed for the hawk I saw the other day. Maybe its guts used as tackle for Hmong men fishing for carp. Maybe swallowed whole by some fella’s too-large hound, grousing in the deadpools on the river flats. Maybe eaten by some wanderer, following the river up from Saint Louis, basking in this early fall warmth, eating tortoise, not turtle, stew over a camp stove on the sandy wash on the lower banks. Barges drifting up. Tugs drifting down. Row teams zipping back and forth. Twelve-man voyageur canoes heading south, hoping to make it to the mouth, but’ll ditch in the Quad Cities. Flotsam adrift. Jetsam aswirl. An old Ford truck floating downstream, its cab, like crocodile eyes, heading for the dam. The tortoise, not a turtle, stopped me in my tracks, made me crouch, made reach out until a zookeeper from memory caught my wrist, scolded me, saying, 162 164


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Look, little boy, but do not touch. Look I did. Look it did. But these tortoises have eyes on the sides of their heads, so when it looks, it must look at you askance. Sidewise and knowing. This tortoise, not a turtle: It was the size of a loaf of bread–the good shit, not one of those long loaves of Wonder bread, gloppy paste gone to sponge. It was oblong, nearly rectangular, with curves where corners should be. The head and legs were way too small for its baked-bread body. The legs should have snapped a long time ago, its skull crushed, its neck broken from the weight–the impossible weight this small creature carries. I counted its rings. I do not know if you can age a tortoise the way you age a tree but this is what I did. Thirty-three rings on a tortoise, not a turtle, by the side of the road. For thirty-three rings it blundered slowly along a highbank, people stopping, wondering, prodding, as they do this day. They ask questions and I answer them with authority while this tortoise, not a turtle, has grown and changed before my eyes. 163 165


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Now, a pathside attraction. A freak for bikers to take pictures of, for children to gawk at, for mothers to say “Look at this turtle. It is so big.” I tell them repeatedly, “This here is not a turtle. You are not taking pictures of a turtle. You little stupid kid you are not pointing at a turtle. Look, Mother, it’s a tortoise. You can tell by the feet and shell. I read this in a book at Edinbrook Elementary years ago. Turtles can swim. Put him in the water and he’ll sink and drown and die and not even the carp will eat him. Do you even know what herpetology means? Jesus. No, I don’t think it’s native. I think it escaped the science lab at the high school. Well, then it’s global warming; they must be migrating from the south. Probably somebody’s pet. It’s not a turtle. It’s a tortoise, Little Boy, and it could have opened a latch, snuck out at night, raced across that parking lot, over the tennis court, through the field, over the busy road, cross the bike path, the foot path, and onto this trail. It’s not a turtle. No … Don’t flip it on its back. It’ll die from pooling blood. Be a better parent to your kid, Lady. Why’d you give him a stick in the first place? This thing is rare. 164 166


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Ever heard of “look-don’t-touch”? Have you been listening at all? Dude. Put the camera away. Give me that stick. Class has ended; go in peace. Go, you assholes. Get the hell outta here.” Tortoise, not a turtle, it is now you and me, exactly how it ought to be. Thirty-three years your body has grown, while your head and limbs have remained–what do you call it? Under-developed, half-grown, dwarfed, handicapped, mutated, a special need? Legs of sticks. Head of a child’s. Body bloated as time. Take heart, Tortoise-Not-A-Turtle, for when we fall from this precipice, we will know that our heads are small, our limbs are thin, and our shell is strong. We will be safe when we hit the rocks the below.

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50. When A Bluesman Is Sure To Die Saw a folksy bluesman who looks to be very near death last night. He used to be this robust fella who wore flannel and work boots and mesh caps because that’s the type of dude he was because he was actually a farmer who worked hard, with his hands, and then used the same calluses he earned through hard labor to make something beautiful. He plays claw-hammer on the banjo, the resonator, and the twelve-string. All the accompaniment he needs is a foot, a beat, a cold night, and a near-empty barroom. He sung a song about a fella whose clothes were too big for him, who never had time for a wife and kids, whose land was being taken away by the bankers, so he hung himself in the barn. “Tip the ‘tender. He’s drenched his back serving you tonight,” was one of the few things the bluesman said to us. There were old people at this show. Real-live old people who probably actually lived some of the lives this guy sung about. They wore those old-person hats, had the old-person smell. Suspenders. Funny old-person dances, with thumbs through belt-loops, frozen arms, feet doing jigs. He sung a song about a train going west and two kids who hopped it to pick oranges in California, but got there only to find the jobs were filled and death was waiting. 166 168


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The hippy in the dreads did his best to look like he belonged. He talked to the skeletonlooking dude in the Stetson and the wool trousers that were way too big for him. Looked like he should’ve been dead, but he was drunk, so he was alive. It was in the part of town that used to be working class in the 30s, 50s, 60s but now is arty and filled with people like me feigning some genuine grasp of a life hard-lived, hard-won, hardly loved. “I remember when I used to play late nights and get drunk. Now I drink tea and go to bed early,” the bluesman said. Had a conversation with a man who had to be about seventy. He wore Cash black, a Texan string-tie, and a dingo hat with the drawstrings. I wanted to be polite to this guy and I shouted words at him over the song that young hipsters and old washouts were dancing odd jutting-legged jigs to, each trying to match the other’s moves, trying to find the common ground of music. He sung a song about collecting the frozen dead at Wounded Knee. The man’s wife spoke for him and her hair was dyed brilliantly red and her makeup was stunning and her wrinkles were not hidden. An attempt to paste them together as if wrinkles were wounds. She said they came here every Wednesday night. I asked if she ever seen Charlie before. She said, “I’ve seen Charlie ‘hundred times. We love Charlie.” I asked her husband if he liked Charlie, too. 167 169


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He was wearing hearing aids so couldn’t hear a damn thing I asked him, but later on he said, “That man onstage is one cool dude.” I wondered where he learned the word “dude,” but then I realized he said it for my sake, language of youth and vitality, but then I saw these old folks around me, who seemed straight out of Charlie’s songs. Saw that even they were still too young, far too young to be the people they dressed to be. He sung a song about a widower living above a bar who lived through the War and Civil Rights, but it all meant nothing to him, as he knew nobody, had no family, and waited to die alone. You’d have to be a hundred and thirty-three to have cleared a field of stone. Sixty years ago people were already flying from NYC to LA and the train was already dead. The trolley cars that made this city famous in the 40s were burned fifty miles north, their tracks ripped up and used for scrap. Years later we all found out it was General Motor’s idea. Make room for the buses, they said. See? These people lived one of Charlie’s songs. And one’s all you need. But we were all faking it. And we drank the swill as if we weren’t. We stomped our feet as if we weren’t. We were and always will be wary of the dude in dreads and his girlfriend in the twirl skirt. It’s not that kind of party, friend. See the flannel, see the caps? There ain’t glowsticks here, friend.

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The skeleton-looking dude takes off his ten-gallon, grips two sides of the brim to help it over the hippy’s mop. Thumbs up. We’re good. Stomp your feet. “Heading off to Duluth tonight. Gotta stop at nine,” Charlie says. A man at the back shouts, it’s too early. On this we all agree. The second to last song–not the last song–this skinny man onstage in clothes two sizes too big, long hair gone ratty and sparse, cheeks sunken, and a five-day burn on his face, sings words to no instrument, to complete silence. The stomping stops, the hollering stops, the hand-claps fold, clasp. The bartender isn’t even sluicing pint glasses through old dishwater and clanking glass on glass to great clamor, in crystalline stacks. Charlie sings a song, an old gospel hymn, about a grave that won’t hold him down and the Lord Mighty Jesus meeting him halfway to heaven while the trumpets are blowing. The old deaf man in black looks toward the stage, not hearing a damn thing.

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51. Genre And Pulp In Your Face, Part I: Gandalf with a Mohawk When I get stressed out, I start reading fantasy novels. This isn’t one of those excuse postings, confessing–or worse–apologizing that I read genre work. I love fantasy novels. I love most genre stuff. I am watching Thor right now and it’s pretty damn good. Especially when the giant robot shoots fire out of its eye slit. Hasn’t happened yet, but I watched the preview about 97 times so I know it is coming. The big problem right now in the movie is that Thor cannot take his hammer out of a rock. There’s a load of literary problems with that, but in the realm of fantasy it is captivating as all hell. Tragic. Thor screaming in the mud, rain falling down, because he can’t grab his hammer. There’s a whole history to that hammer that the movie doesn’t cover because it doesn’t have to. It’s freaking fantasy, man. It’s great. I read Lev Grossman’s fantasy books in about a day and half, which actually means three weeks, but here’s what you need to know about reading fantasy works: whenever you reference them, you must pretend that it took you far less time to read than a typical literary work because, well, if you don’t do this, you will surely be judged harshly by a bunch of douche-effs. So Lev Grosman wrote the Magicians and the Magician King. Two books that have been hailed as either “Harry Potter for adults” and “a genre work with literary aspirations.” 170 172


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Both of these hailings sound like back-handed compliments to me. The books are good. Read them and like them. He mentioned something in an interview that I thought was smart. He said the first time you have a character cast a spell in a work of fiction, it becomes a very punk rock moment. Breaking the rules, going anarchy on the literary establishment, etc. I mainly like the quotation because it brings together two fringe subcultures; in my mind I see Gandalf and Sid Vicious playing Chinese checkers or something. One of these cultures is super cool and if you embrace it you also become super cool. The other makes a shit-ton of money but if you embrace it too hard, you will be insulted by bullies. Reminds me of junior high. Every kid I knew who was way into Magic Cards and X-files became a punk in high school. Fantasy is the entry drug to anarchy, rage, and good music. It’s no accident Led Zeppelin was infatuated with Tolkien. Genre, pulp revival, and monsters are now everywhere in modern lit. I’ve been mulling this over and trying to find people who agree with me. Seeing that my wife is the only person I talk to, I haven’t found many allies who care as much about this as I do. I get a lot of, “What are you saying now? … I’m pretty busy for this … Who’s Gandalf and Sid Vicious?” One of my writer buddies did send me this article from the Atlantic. Basically, it says everything I want to say only better, smarter, and more clearly. I got more on this crap, but I’m too stupid and lazy to carry on with it.

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52. Genre And Pulp In Your Face, Part II: A Listerview I continue to be too lazy and stupid to connect to a broader point so I have embraced, once again, the humble list that turned into an interview of myself. Both writing techniques are equally ego-centric and apathetic, kind of like those “novels” that are just series of letters (that’s right Robinson, Gilead was dumb). The listerview is the most appropriate form when discussing genre in the literary world because it is cheap, easy, and ripe with misinformation. A caveat, I know most writers who read books and crap know that most great writers already do loads of genre stuff. Most of my problems come with folks who believe themselves to be literary because they only read books about failed relationships wrapped in a package of intense introspection. The kind of work that just really makes you feel bad for yourself after you read it. If you haven’t noticed, feeling bad for yourself after you read a book makes you smarter. From a writer’s standpoint: the more depressed you make your reader, the more likely you’ll nail tenure. It’s like reality TV for smart people, but I doubt the range of emotion or the titillations achieved are any more developed than watching Snookie get all drunk and strip/dance in a clothing store. 1. Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves, and Wizards are on TV, in the movies, and hit big-time in books. Why is this? Good question, Ficstructor: I think it’s because when shit gets horrible, for instance when the economy crashes, wars are unending, jobs are impossible to get, greed is rampant, and day to day life is daunting as all shit, people want to escape into something that makes more sense than the world they see before them. Yes, I know what I said. The dead rising from the grave and eating people’s brains makes 172 174


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more sense than most people’s bank accounts. 2. Pulp revival in books and in the movies. Tarantino’s grind house flicks, pulp-specific publishers, noir-everything. Why are people infatuated with “bad” lit? Another good question, Ficstructor: This has a little to do with escapism, but more to do with the ubiquity of MFAers out there who are watering down slush piles at You-Name-It Literary Review. Droves of assholes like me are leaving MFA school technically proficient at telling stories about broken marriages and growth. There is no lack of literary stories meant to build a person’s resume as they vie for a position at You-Name-It University, or if they already have this position, they are trying to pad the resume and hit tenure. You’re not going to pad your resume at a respectable university if you’re writing about the Ninja Turtles or wizards. You probably won’t have been hired in the first place. Basically, when you write the literary type of story that fill most lit journals, your audience is this nepotistic, incestual group of colleagues who quietly judge your worth based on how well you can write about a failed marriage or divorce or–if you’re really out there–the wild times of some character’s youth and how that defines them. I think pulp revival is a reaction to these CV-padders who write technically sound but wholly passionless trite. These stories are empty and they fill most lit journals in existence today. It’s sad. (Of course, I haven’t read a lit journal in about 5 years so what the shit do I know?) Also, the “incestual and nepotistic” group of readers mentioned above are entirely mythical. No one reads lit journals. You’d be lucky if there was a group of incestual nepotists reading your work. I’m going to eat cheese now.

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53. Genre And Pulp In Your Face, Part III: Turdnazis No snarky intro here. I just copied and pasted the rest of this bullshit onto a blog post. You’re welcome. 3. Is the influx of genre-inspired work from this e-book craze, then? Has the ease of publishing made trashy lit “the new dialogue” in literature? I mean, Amazon now publishes people. They have a staff of editors and everything. So now they sell used diapers and books edited in-house? Another good question and point, Ficstructor, but I don’t really know what you mean. I am going to answer you this way: Pulp/genre revival has a lot to do with the e-book thing because I like the e-book thing and I like genre stuff and I sometimes like boring literary stuff and now I can get both more readily and quickly on an e-book thing. I own a Kindle. I read more on my kindle than I ever did with a hardcover book, which btw is the worst design ever for reading material. A hardcover? Seriously? Like, it’s unwieldy, you can’t read it in bed, it takes up tons of space. It’s heavy as hell. Christ. If you’re poor as shit and you have to move all the damn time and you don’t own a car, packing books in a box and carrying them from one shithole apartment to the next is the worst friggin’ thing imaginable. The best books are dime store paperbacks that can fit in you back pocket. Unless the book is 500 pages or more, which seems to be about the size that it will no longer fit in a regular pair of Levi’s jeans. Anyway, despite the benefits of Kindles and other such devices, people still like trashy books to fit the medium. Trashy books don’t seem right on a fancy, sleek machine. They need to have tattered covers and they need to both be able to be read and be prop up a desk that has gone catawampus. And they need to be used as a shield against all the A-holes in the world as they cloud your periphery and yank your better self to some place the bullies can’t touch you. 174 176


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4. Man, I don’t even know what you’re/I’m talking about anymore. What topic is this? Is this some sort of defense of your/my Ninja Turtles epic? Great question, or … err … point. Yes, it is. Seeing that I’m not coherent on this topic in the slightest, I will just say that the influx of writers doing things that are saturated with sensibilities that have been labeled as “cheap” by the literary mainstream is evidence of a healthy literary scene. Great narrative is happening everywhere and there is a teeming mass of work being thrown on the Internet that is working back into print or into print-like forms. This is healthy. It means narrative is not dead, but more alive and democratic than ever. Narrative is, itself, a freaking zombie eating our brains, and unlike Atlantians from The Walking Dead, we welcome this. 5. This is a surprisingly positive conclusion. What the shit is wrong with you, Ficstructor? Good point, Ficstructor. Though narrative is not dead, there is still an excess of work everywhere. There are more MFAers in existence, more bloggers, more Twitterers, more – ahem– “writers” in existence today than ever before. Competition is fierce and you are unlikely to be the only person with a Ninja Turtle origins story being posted on a blog no one goes to. In fact, you’re probably one in ten and the other guys are doing it better. Original ideas still win. Good writing still wins. The narratives you write will continue to be lifeless pieces of shit if it is not original or well-written. Narrative is very much alive, but the rules of the living remain the same: Survival of the fittest. Shotguns, grenades, a second story apartment without stair access, and a large store of provisions are the best defense against the turdnazis trying to devour your work. Turdnazis? Yes. 175 177


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54. Men, Like Cars And Cigarettes I thought I was of a generation of prolonged adolesence, stunted emotional growth, a population of man-boys unsure how to exist in the modern age where there is no longer a need for them to swing clubs to break the skulls of elk. Burly real-man manhood is lost, so we gotta do crap like pretend we know how to wield axes, only we don’t own an axe; we wear flannel and work boots and make up some kind of blue-collar existence based completely on that one summer when we did that one thing for that one mean guy who made us dig ditches. Yeah, man. I did that shit for a summer and I thought I earned the right to name my first story collection Boxcar. I later learned the truth to those lies so doused it with mineral spirits, burnt it in a ring of river stone, and pissed out the flames. The only words I kept were, “Steel-toe. Eagle feather. Troll dance.” Those, I fed to a pig on my friend’s farm as his father stood in a truck bed calling us both girls again. Shitchrist. And we worship fantastical men of our boyhood dreams. Captain America, John Wayne, Lou Reed. I got drunk by myself at a bar on Friday night because that’s what men do. For awhile I made up a new past where I did the drinkin’-alone thing every Friday night and the bartenders knew my name, and knew my past, which was full with regrets and trauma that were as mythical as the history I was creating for myself. These bartenders were scary young women with black tights and bad attitudes and angry boyfriends and leather something somewhere and they were rude to me and laughed at my glasses and called me a drunk to my face, possibly spit in my drink, and that’s what was supposed to happen 176 178


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because, you see, it’s interesting. I ordered a buttered pretzel with cheese and I never took off my orange backpack. Men have suitcases or satchels or something. They don’t wear nylon. But they do wear the khaki pants that are resistant to spills because, well, that’s just common sense. Who else was there, but these mad bartenders, to listen to a fairly charmed life with minor pitfalls and mediocre successes and nuclear acid firey remembrances of mistakes that caused me Catholic shame and ecumenical sadness? Old men who wear trench coats and lived a life working for the paper, sit on these barstools, and they don’t care. They don’t give a shit, so I don’t give a shit. We are drinking whiskey now. They got giant, pot-holed noses and say profound things about the waste the world is coming to. They wear those hats my grandpa wore, and drape their long coats over their stools, the wings feathering the beer-soaked floor. We watch the World Series. Look at me, Mom! I’m white, making a paycheck, have a loving wife, and I still talk about winning the lottery. Say things like, “Sonbitch, no, I don’t git it.” “Tell you what,” I say. Started chewing in my twenties to prove something to someone I do not know. I named my second collection Crookstone. That I took to a lake and threw each page into the waters and watched as they soaked up the spring melt and sunk into the darkness, cold fish taking bites of my words and shitting out stringy green shit. A perch played with a title of my favorite story: He Who Rises, so I caught the damn thing with my bare hands and threw him on the rocks on the shore. He rotted in four days, and on the fifth I crushed his bones. 177 179


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Man-boys are shithole spoiled. They are ’67 Ford Broncos running down a herd of buffalo. They couldn’t kill a mastodon to save their firstborn. Hung out with a dude who was there, equally alone and looking for man-friends. Both young divorcees, we commiserated over expensive beers and some guy eventually bought me a shot I never heard of. He told me painful stories of love, loss. Difficult and painful lives of tragedy. Losing all friends and family. Seeing Joshua trees and seeking moments of transcendence while on acid, while in California, while a cousin is being shot by the rival Mexican gang, while the FBI is about to question you, while you are on acid watching the trees, and this you escape, must escape, so you head north to be chef at a country club and here you find happiness and have kids, but she leaves you and you now pay child support, meet a new woman, have another kid you can’t afford, so you leave her, and you end up at a bar, on a barstool, next to a kid in an orange backpack getting fucked up on expensive beers, who is talking about nothing, but will listen and listen good to your stories because it wasn’t until now that you told anyone this. You tell him, you’re going home to see your family for the first time in seventeen years. You tell him being a chef is a good job. You are a teacher and a skilled craftsman. You tell him that you lost sixty pounds in the last two years and you have the cellphone pics to prove it. Orange Backpack tells you about the northern lights and waterfalls being places where they shouldn’t be. Transcending, you are transcending as you are being kicked out of the bar, stumbling to the bus, texting your wife messages with letters from a new alphabet that appeared on your phone comprised entirely of Qs and ellipses. You are puking in the bathroom, burning corndogs in the oven, sobbing for a reason that 178 180


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you hope your crying wife can name. In the darkness, your guts blacker than the dark swirling to someplace darker, you speak the name of your third child.

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55. Self-Promotion: A Reading: Tiger Eyes Now that I hit the Bigs with an e-book that has sold six copies to date (one to myself), I feel that I have enough authority to speak influentially about reading at colleges. Being a writer you usually aren’t under pressure to be in rooms with other people. In fact, based on the few years I lived with my ex-wife, people tend to avoid the room you’re in. Their avoidance is due to your extreme social anxieties that go unmedicated and manifest themselves in anti-social ways, or ways that may just creep people out. 1. Everyone knows that no one likes when you stare at their shoes when you talk. At the post-reading reception, you will think about this while you talk to people and notice that penny loafers won’t ever go out of style, knee-high boots are still in, Uggs will always be weird in any social setting, and fewer people than you thought double-knot their laces. 2. And if the shoes aren’t the “correct” kind to satiate one of your more obscure obsessive compulsions based on color-pattern recognition, people find it equally as off-putting to try to meet your eyes when you’re busily scanning the room, not to find someone more connected to talk to, but simply because your eyes play the mouse to any baby blues that look too predatory, and you’ve never been in a room full with people that wasn’t also doubly full with tiger eyes. 3. Chewing fingernails is not good either, especially when the wick is broken and then you need to find a napkin and ice to staunch the blood. 4. When beer is not present, you probably shouldn’t mention its non-existence to everyone you first meet, especially the kind people who organize the event. 180 182


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4b. Also don’t remind everyone it be great to be drunk right now. 5. Volume control. Do not shout at people across the room (or near you), mumble, closetalk, speak while eating four crackers at a time, or ask people if they are going to finish their cheese plate. 6. If someone compliments you on your reading, don’t make this the ONLY time you make eye contact, and then forget to say something, and then keep staring until they walk away. 7. The inside joke you told your writer buddy yesterday doesn’t work on strangers. 7a. Probably shouldn’t use the C-word either. 7b. Though the twenty minute joke about the octopus playing instruments is hilarious, most people won’t listen to you complete the entire saga, and if they do, they will inevitably say, “I don’t get it.” You will say, “The last instrument was a bagpipe. The octopus couldn’t get the skirt off. Get it?” 8. If you bring your mom to the reading, she will buy out all of the books just to make you look good. However, she will also hang by you the whole time holding two grocery bags full with books, a good 25 pounds a piece, and you will look like a bad son because you refuse to be that one writer dude who goes to his own readings and buys all of his books for himself, while being that one writer dude who brings his mom to his readings and she does this for him. 10. Also, if by chance you’re in a corner with other readers, you have to tell every one of them you loved their work, which is a lie. Not that it probably wasn’t magnificent work, but being on a stage in a front of people, even with a story you know by heart, a script that you spent years working on, is terrifying. Even five minutes of it is terrifying. Your fear is so great you get tunnel vision and you cannot hear anything spoken. You just see bodies move onstage and off. Then it’s your turn and you mess the microphone up, trip, smile dumbly the whole time. People laugh at the serious parts and get quiet at what you thought were the 181 183


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funny parts. It’s over before you know it, but then you’re in your seat again reflecting on the misery and you cannot hear your buddy or mom say good job. In fact, you’re pretty sure you told both of them that you were still scared, that your body has gone from numb to freezing, which leads you to asking your mom more than four times, “think there will beer at the reception?” loud enough so that the people around you must shush you and the reader now onstage gives you the tiger eyes. 9. Never ever tell any of these people your real job. They will just be disappointed. Their disappointment will first make you angry, then you will go all elitist and convince yourself that you’re a truer artist because only real artists have disappointing jobs. Then you will have a minor ASD crisis, which leads to point 3. (see above), and then you will ask one of the organizers points 4 and 4b. (see above), and then you will try to rally complete strangers to go to the bar down the street where you know there is a crowd of people with jobs equally as disappointing as your own. None of this makes you feel better so you do point 5 (see above), and then say, “Ah, fuck it,” and you take the entire cracker and cheese platter with you as your mom sober cabs you to the bar. 9a. You’re the only adult in the room whose mother is his sober cab. 9b. In fact, you’re the only adult in the room of fifty who still needs and plans for a sober cab. 11. All of the above are repeated at the bar, only you’re drunk, which makes it both better and worse.

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56. In Honor of My 69th Post: A Letter for a Misdirected Youth Dear MerlinPotter666, You are a liar, a poor sport, a terrible speller, and you need to learn how to curse like a grown man. You are a liar because it is clear that you are not in your thirties as you so claimed. You had me going when you got all patronizing and started calling your loyal teammate (me), “son” and “kid”. But, I am actually in my thirties (please stifle your gasp and jokes about gray pubic hair), and I know there is no chance in hell a real 30 year-old would seriously use the name “Justin Bieber” while flaming the Red Team. I agree that calling EvilKilla69 a “Bieber groupie” was pretty good and it did piss him off, but therein lies your foil. You revealed yourself to be younger than the wisdom you originally proclaimed at the start of the match when you told us, your loyal Blue Team, that “We got this n****z” and “Pro tip: Dn’t B a stOOpid dumba** that killz self.” Had you called EvilKilla69 “Zach Morris’ girlfriend” or something like that, I would have figured you for a man older than twelve or thirteen. I am also still peeved that you called me “a p***y times a googleplex” when I used eggseeking missiles. This is called strategy. In a game where we are anthropomorphic eggs with bazookas, we sometimes have to use things called “tactics.” That’s a military term that means “being smart on the battlefield.” You can’t just pummel your foe to death by repeatedly shooting mortars into your opponent’s face or doing head-shots with the shotgun. Neither of these weapons use precision. Granted, if you do get a good shot with a mortar or a shotgun, you take off upwards of 30 hit points, but these weapons lack accuracy and can be risky to use. You have to assess the terrain and your foe’s capabilities on the field. If they’re lobbing shots way the hell over your head, you can take your time, use precision, and slowly chew away at your enemy as if you are a piranha. It takes maturity to learn stuff like this because mostly you have to live through one failed marriage before you realize that patience 183 185


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truly is a virtue. You are a poor sport. Why were you always the first to die in combat, but also the first to place blame on your teammates who were still in the field battling for the glory of Blue Team? You look like a straight douchey asshole when you make fun of your own team. You, of all the players on the field, should know that not all shots hit their targets. If one of us accidentally misses a shot, or worse, hits our own teammate, please do not insult us. We know it’s not in our best interest to kill ourselves. But the game can be tricky, which makes it a fun game–just challenging enough to be worthwhile. I’m sure at some point you realized that all of us on the Blue Team were trying to be “v-Egg-torious,” but it doesn’t help to read your messages that say, “whiff,” “lame-o,” “f******, cum on, you p*****,” or “I seriously hope you die in, like, real life, you jerk***.” We are brothers in battle, MerlinPotter666, so comaraderie and morale of the egg-troops is very important. Often I thought you were purposefully dying just so you could talk mad smack to your teammates, but then I realized that you truly believed that you were the best player in the game, despite all evidence to the contrary. I mean, they had bar graphs at the end of each match that showed your performance to EVERYONE. Everyone could plainly see that despite the advice you gave, the smack you talked, and your love for mortars, you just weren’t pulling your weight. This is called being delusional and over-confident. The real rub here, though, is that even though you are only twelve or thirteen years old, your delusions and over-confidence will likely serve you well when you become a regional salesperson for a copper wiring company and you’ll be able to afford some McMansion somewhere. You probably will love football, too, and your fandom for some sports team will make you feel superior to most. This all points to the fact that you lack empathy. If you were empathic in anyway, you would have noticed that the rest of us were playing a gentleman’s game, making witty comments about Star Wars and Dr. Who and racing to see who could average out the stats the quickest. You would have realized that we were all twelve to twenty year old nerds (me being the exception) who just wanted to escape into a friendly game of Egg-pocalypse without having to fear the bullies we face in daily life. Now my bullies, the kind that say cruel things, are long gone (at my age bullies still exist; they live 184 186


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in every bank account, home mortgage, in most cubicles, and appear in every other marriage), so I am speaking at the behest of my Egg-playing peers who will soon come to realize that their lives will be much better than the ones they have at their current middle school. The least you could do was find another game where the rules of smack talking knew no bounds, where the rules of the Bully were maintained. Those games are out there, easier to find than our gentleman’s game. Of course, likely you stayed because you realized we were a game full of nerds, geeks, and dorks who were afraid to flame you back when you called us “d***less w**** monkeys” or any variety of racial slurs. You are on a slippery slope, my friend, because where you started as a poor sport, able to practice your curse words beyond the reach of your mother’s ears, you quickly became a sociopath and a racist and a straight douchey fucktard. I’ll have you know that these Star Wars dorks will one day be your boss at the regional copper wiring company and they will remember that kid in you who once played an egg-bazooka game, the one who’d rather be a prick than play nice. This translates to fewer promotions, which translates to less money, which translates to a spiraling life of notquite-making it, which will make you even more jaded and self-hating. MerlinPotter666, therapy is expensive and government assisted health care is being eliminated (again) by the political party you will fervently follow. Another thing: Some of the players who play Bad Eggs Online register as “guests.” We prefer the anonymity because of a few reasons. One, it’s just easier because we don’t have to do anything other than load the game–no forms to fill out, etc. Two, some of us are actually 30 years old and it hurts our egos to know that we sometimes play online games with kids and despite all rationality and beliefs that we are adults, we still feel hurt when you insult us. Signing on as a guest provides a layer of anonymity for us 30 year olds who want to commit to Eggs Online without feeling too committed. Funnily enough, this is exactly how my first wife viewed our wedding ceremony. Also, please do not assume that because we are “guests,” we are somehow lesser players, or as you seem to think, lesser eggs. Have you heard of social justice? Maybe in a civics course or something? Enough of this world is already divided along arbitrary lines of “us” and “them.” Why extend this history of bigotry and intolerance to Bad Eggs Online? Don’t you agree that cartoon eggs wielding bazookas should aspire to higher ideals? Besides, the lesser eggs are so obviously the race of eggs we’ve sworn genocide on: Red Team. Adding another layer into this basic social fabric just 185 187


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complicates things. You are also a terrible speller. A few points that might serve you well in the English class you likely pay no attention to and text your way through. a.) “Holy” does not have two Ls in it. The seven times you said “Holly shit,” I kept wondering if you had a dog or a sister who kept defecating in your bedroom. IBS is a serious problem you will learn about when you get to my age. b.) “Serious” has a lot of vowels. Vowels are the following letters: “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.” It is sort of amazing that a 7 letter word contains 4 different vowels. It’s easy to mix these up, but if you remove the consonants, you will see the vowels in the word “serious” are in alphabetical order: E, I, O, U. So if you can say your ABCs from A all the way to Z, or just remember the handy little list of vowels above, you shouldn’t have that much trouble spelling “serious” correctly when you use what seemed to be your catch phrase, “R U f****** siroeus? Cum on!!” It’s hard to take your goading seriously if you can’t spell the big word correctly. I let it slide a few times, but you so often just jumbled the letters together it was clear you didn’t know what the shit you were doing when it came to piecing a word together. Unlike the world you will soon face–the one where you will have a child out of wedlock, battle alcohol addiction, and perhaps dabble in home violence–words contain order and meaning. You should take solace in this. They will be be your shield against a future ripe with nihilistic rage and unmedicated depression. I hope you find a wife who loves you. c.) I don’t mind Internet short-hand for the most part, but this is and never will be a word: “=====(.) ~ ~ ~” You need to learn to swear like a grown-up. Adults curse all of the time. One word they especially love is “fuck.” It can be almost any part of speech. It’s a lot like the word “round” in this respect. As to counteract the number of times you used the word “fuck” during our gentleman’s game, I will replace it with “round” and explain why one of your sentences–I’m being generous calling it that–made no sense and then suggest some improvements. See the following: 186 188


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“You rounding roundwad with a roundstick up your rounda$$, rounding the round at the other rounding rounds.” What we have here is a problem of specificity. “Round” is being used in number of different parts of speech, and admittedly some of it works. For example, “you rounding roudwad.” It is a bit redundant, but I get how you were going for emphasis. I have a pretty good idea what a “roundstick” is too, but I don’t know what a “rounda$$” would be. I guess you were just taking artistic license by combining two curse words. For the last part of this gem, ” … rounding the round at the other rounding rounds.” This is what I mean about being specific. I don’t know what “rounds” you mean. I assume you mean the Red Team, but you have to specify that in an earlier clause or by using a well-placed adjective. Also, “rounding the round” is unclear. I assume the noun was a projectile of sorts meant to kill or maim a Red Team member, but why emphasize with “rounding the,” which just made the phrase more confusing? I would suggest the following for its clarity and conciseness: “You stupid round. Shoot the Red rounds.” See how clarity actually makes the statements more forceful? It takes a little finesse and good bit of understanding. Remember, more curse words doesn’t actually mean better. A wellplaced curse word is best. Also, verbs, verbs, verbs. Verbs are your friends. My ex-wife knew this very well, and in fact she is the one who taught me how scathing a well-placed “round” could really be. I gave her an entire house to avoid her mastery of bad words. In closing, MerlinPotter666, your future has not happened yet. I know I made a few dire predictions above, but you are still young. You can still make good decisions and learn from your mistakes. I’m not asking you to be more positive and I’m not asking you to stop flaming. Some of your insults were quite complex and well thought out. Commendable, in fact. It takes a good brain to be able to insult well. However, you can use this good brain for other things, too. I also know, however, that being insulting is often a shield to protect yourself from peers who you think (and usually wrongly assume) do not like you for who you are. Let down that shield, MerlinPotter666, and tell us about Star Wars or whatever geeky thing inspires you. You may find it more uplifting to say, “Wow, I like that, too,” 187 189


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instead of, “You f****** monkey tit. Suck donkey ballz.� The future is yours, just try to be a gentleman sometimes. Your brother in arms, F

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57. Why Literature Is Important Recently, I rejected a story that has a hymenectomy in it. But the writer confused that as being the reason why I rejected the story, and he “called” me on it, saying any story with a hymenectomy will forever be unpublishable. Sigh my hymen off. No, dude, that’s not the reason why the story was rejected, which I thought I made clear when I said, and I quote in an exaggerated and far less polite way: “There are too many goddamned flashbacks in this story. There should not be a flashback every page for the first nine pages. Anytime you write over one flashback, I get the shits. I shat myself nine times. I don’t want to shit myself any longer. I think I’m getting dehydrated.” Regardless, I’m fairly certain hymenectomies are more common in literature than you think. I can’t think of any works offhand, but I know I’ve read them before. So, all you ficstructicons out there (by which I mean, Sam. Sam, you still read this, don’t you?): Please respond in the comments section, citing a piece of literature in which a hymenectomy appears to give this writer faith that his piece will not be overlooked by editors because a hymenectomy occurs. Related, I don’t think there are any untouchable subjects in literature either. Like, the most extreme shit I’ve ever experienced (imaginatively) first happened in a book. That’s why we read the damn things. To experience things we otherwise wouldn’t. Being male I obviously will not ever experience a hymenectomy (though I have had nut surgery ), but through literature I get the benefit of empathizing with the experience when I read about a character who is going through that kind of pain.

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This, friends, is why literature is important. It shows the might’ve-come-to-pass without making it actually come to pass. It reveals traumatic pain without, in itself, being its cause. And, goddamn it, it makes you think about it. And if it succeeds, it either gives you a better, deeper understanding of the topic or it may even make you change your behavior and views, which might make you try to change your friends’ behavior and view and so on and so forth, until we get to the point where we’re all emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually perfect beings who can anticipate, react to, or solve all the world’s problems before we go out and break the back of this planet and its myriad beings first, and then say, “Why the shit did we do that? That was ballz stupid. We probably shouldn’t do that again.”

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58. The “Why I Write” Misconception(s) Part I: Being Angry At Writers Who Have Pay Days The other day I heard an interview with a writer who refused to Twitter because she didn’t see the point in writing something she wasn’t going to get paid for. What. The. Shit? This threw me into a terrifying spin of cyclical depression with intermittent bouts of nihilistic rage. Which in turn ruined dinner with my wife and in turn made me stare endlessly at a computer screen that was turned off while I made my way through a box of Hostess cupcakes. I guess this gets at that question of why we volunteer for this miserable life of the writer. The “Why I Write” question. The writer above made her case plain. I gotta say: I don’t get it. I don’t understand the pay part because all she is doing is inspiring another generation that there is money in this biz and, considering our dire economic times, she’s just being plain irresponsible. She’s much older than me and smarter too (not difficult), but clinging to such notions is childish. She should know better. A bunch of bushy-eyed bright-tailed MFAers are going to cling to that and read: “I can make loads of money Twittering.” It’s an extension of that baby-boomer parenting technique of “You can do anything you put your mind to and everyone will love you because I love you and you can get any job because you have a great personality.” What kind of guidance is this? I understand the delusion part of it because this game is one big trick and it’s not too difficult to convince a person, who’s 191 193


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already at therapy levels of self-involvement, to believe that talking about themselves for the rest of their lives will bring in enough money for a home mortgage, student loans, and college tuition for their kids. Ah, shitchrist! Grr. Did my best to avoid this one because of all the bigger questions and stock interview questions that get pat answers, this is numero uno, man. This is the question that makes really smart people sound like whack jobs. This is the question that should be struck from every interviewers notebook, not with a red pen, but by just straight clubbing the interviewer in the forehead so they stop acting like baby seals.* I will try to answer this question this week without saying things like, “because I must,” or “it is my nourishment,” or “it’s the only place where I find transcendence,” or “it let’s me [sigh, stares into the distance] be,” or any of that other garbage that makes writers sound as if they all come from Sedona and own a healthy collection of crystals. Fer Gyawd’s sakes, writing isn’t a Burning Man festival. Piss in my eye socket after vultures have taken my sight, Lit Establishment, don’t be this irresponsible. More to come … this is giving me the shits and I just need to lay off for a day or two. *I don’t condone clubbing baby seals or interviewers

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59. The “Why I Write” Misconception(s) Part II: Here’s 10 of ‘Em For now–or maybe this will be as far as I get, I dunno–here are some misconceptions as to why people write in the first place, starting with the first above that drove me bat shit insane. 1. I write to make money. Wrong. You will likely become poorer because of it. You will believe yourself overqualified for service industry jobs, but actually these are the only jobs you are qualified for. Your sense of elitism in this regard will keep you unemployed for many years, and not only will writing keep you poor, but you will leech off friends and family and lower the living standards for all the people you hold dear, which leads to misconception two. 2. I write to make new friends (some writers say “connect” … as if being vague protects them from recess politics). Wrong. You will lose the friends you had (see above) and the writer groups you thought were out there, full with passionate artists and arm-chair intellectuals and simple, good conversation, exist somewhere, but they are not for you. Turns out these people mainly talk about televisions shows or political memoirs or craftworks that take a lot of time and money, which leads you to the realization that none of these people can be writers because they spend too much time doing other things, like driving Audis, doing cycle cross, brewing beer with master brew kits, discussing political memoirs, or knitbombing. Many of their hobbies cost a lot of money that you will not have. You will also be unable to meet at the nice coffee shop or the nice wine bar where they regularly hang out. Most of them will excitedly accept your invitation to grab a case of High Life to chill in your apartment, but the date to do this will remain elusive and you will have drank four cases of beer before you realize these people are just being friendly and don’t want to say ‘no’ to your 193 195


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face. Soon, you will realize that their writing group is more of a rich, liberal group who are well-meaning, kind, and of the political persuasion you are, but they are not nearly angry enough to be your friends. Also, despite their MFA degrees (in addition to their MBAs), none have written a word since graduation. One or two operate successful blogs that sell clothing for American Girl Dolls and they compare this success to your unpublished short stories and give you tips on writing. Even though the lawyer with the nice teeth would pay for all your drinks at the wine bar, you will stop going. In the subsequent weeks of what you thought was your grand departure, no one calls and inquires about your absence. 3. I write to understand myself. Bwa. Ha. Ha. No. If you want to understand yourself, read some self-help mumbo jumbo and start a blog about self-actualizing. None of it will really make any sense to you, but it’s one of those things that you can easily fake. Like, you can say things like you’re looking for your own music or you’re playing your own tune or whatever. You know, all the crap that people say to themselves to forgive themselves of their many mistakes and regrets. “I didn’t piss myself while drunk in the gutter, I was just marching to my own tune.” Actual writing just leads you down paths that make you more confused about who you are and why you ended up this way. You discover your demons and get devoured by them. You will never be Luke Skywalker in your journey to become Jedi. If you’re lucky, you will be Darth Vader, but more than likely you will be your own Emperor of darkness trying to shoot lightning bolts at all the good things you once believed in. 4. I write because it helps me believe in God, or reach enlightenment, or transcend to another plane of human existence. Err … I’m not touching this one, but the short answer is no it won’t. 5. I write because I want to be famous (no one actually admits this, but this is probably the most honest answer out there). Are we 9 year old girls? Have you thrown away your tiara yet? Fuck no it won’t. Go to any prominent lit blog’s message boards and just count the number of people with published books who’ve been blogging and crap for over ten years. Recognize any names? These people have given their lives to this shit. Better yet. Go to Amazon and type your own 194 196


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name. Chances are someone who is not you, but has your same name, has a book published. Have any cashiers’ faces lit up when they read the name on your credit card? Seriously? Have they? How many times have you been in a discussion with other writers or avid readers who have not heard of your favorite author? More than once? At least twice? Sigh your effnuts off. Nobody cares. 6. I write because it let’s me be. Let’s you be what? Fer damn’s sake just tell me what it is you are being when you are a writer, aside from being some lonely sack retching words into the void. Don’t leave me hanging because I’m serious. Complete the thought. You are … 7. I write to communicate. No shit. 8. I write to discover. [Reread answer 6 and replace the verb "to be" with "to discover"] 9. I write because I need to, have to, because I must. This one just makes me tired because all I hear is: blah blah blah [insert a high pitched squeal from some kind of dying gull]. 10. I write. This is one of those cheeky declarative answers that is supposed have layers of depth and meaning. It drips of egotism and elitism and not just between writers and the general public, but between writers and other writers. The dude who says this one is the guy in the MFA program who is writing fifteen minutes before class begins. You know, the public show of commitment or something. Like, he’s the one who acts as if class time, the time he actually gets to sit down and talk with a real writer outside the blogosphere, interferes with the other 20 hours a day he spends writing. Therefore, “I write” just becomes a fact or a state of existence that he’s in perpetually. Most of the time these are the real posers (of course, this is in a crowd of wannabes). There’s probably a famous writer who said something like this and I would go track him or her down and put him or her to task and then use some kind of funny curse words to really dress him or her down, but … that would be research. Closest person I found to something like this was Marilyn Robinson who said, “When I write, I’m a writer.” Writers love both troll-under-the-bride riddles and 195 197


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obvious statements that they feel sound weighty. Imagine a plumber who, when asked about plumbing, says, “I plumb.” You would not be surprised in the slightest because you, being a writer and therefore also an elitist clown, would just assume the plumber is in someway special needs–the whole manual labor takes no brain power classist stance–and you’d probably commend him or her on his or her good work. You’d probably even say it like a caveman because anyone who would make a statement so self-evident likely doesn’t have a grasp on complex or compound sentences. “You good plumber?” “Ah … Excuse me?” For more genius declarations like this, stay tuned. I may even write about why I write. Mostly it has to do with alone time.

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60. The “Why I Write” Misconception(s) Part III: The One Where I Give A Reason Why I Write

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I am a cosmonaut.

I fall like a cat.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to acknowledge Ox Owens for cooking this scheme up with me outside 7/11 after we were multiple Prime Maxes deep. I would like to acknowledge Jeff Chon for being the only guy to truly “get” the Ficstructor project and for going above and beyond by accepting some of its words for publication at the ever-generous and -awesome, MartianLit. I would like to acknowledge theBananafish for being the first of two fans of the Ficstructor and retweeting a number of posts. I would like to acknowledge Graham Emde for chuckling a number of times when I told Ficstructor stories at lunch while we worked in Korea. I would like to acknowledge my lifetime partner in fruitless artistic endeavor and illustrator extraordinaire, Christopher Coffey, for getting roped into more than one Ficstructor scam, all of which went nowhere. I would like to acknowledge my lifetime partner in a fruitful life and my wife, Emily Deetz, who is the only one to know how much work I put into this project. She has listened to far too many of the crackpot ideas I’ve had surrounding the Ficstructiverse. He’s done. Seriously, this time. I would like to acknowledge my mom. I truly, truly hope some of this made you laugh.

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ABOUT: Mark Rapacz is the author of the dime-store novel Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Martian Lit. In 2010 he received the Pushcart Prize’s special mention distinction and recently got a piece published in the 2012 edition of Best American Nonrequired Reading. He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he works at a really nice university he never thought in a million years would employ him.

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~ an illustration by Ram Henstein (Christopher Coffey)

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post-electronic literature

A d v a n c e d

b l i n d

j u d g m e n t

f o r

F i c s t r u c t o r

“This book gave me cancer.” ~ Adolf Oliver Busch, author of The Unbearable Heaviness of Being Me “I was told there would be more hardcore nudity.” ~ Dr. Fitzgerald Simmons “These graphics suck! Why can’t I go play video games? You’re not my real dad!” ~Jayden Fletcher, 2nd runner-up Ms. Swenson’s 3rd grade spelling bee, probably kicked your ass on XBox Live last night “What are you looking at?” ~ Ox Owens, poet "He is not my son." ~ Barbara Rapacz “It’s an anti-men’s liberation piece of shit.” ~ Michael and Thomas Schwammer Professor of Gender and Equality Studies at Hansei University, Dr. Christopher Doll, author of King Ding-A-Ling: An Exploration of Anti-Homosexual Rhetoric in the Works of Oscar Wilde

ISBN 978-1-300-77704-5

90000 FICS TRUCTIVERSE

a f a ncy pu bl i s her www.ficstructor.com

9 781300 777045

Ficstructor: A New Post-Electronic Deconstructivist Approach to the Writing Life  

This? This is a book. No. It’s not a book. It’s a book-length work of words that more or less got strung together from some haphazard idea t...

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