Workshop Fiction

Why I Love Short Stories

I love the short story form. Unlike JF Quackenbush, Flash Fiction always feels incomplete to me, like an appetizer without a main course. And I love novels, but sometimes an idea can and should be expressed compactly; indeed often the joy of the short story is seeing how the author pulls off the full expression of something in so few pages.

Why I Hate Short Stories: A Short Article on Why Short Fiction is Short on Interest

I don't like short stories. I have never made this a secret. There is the occasional writer like Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez who writes short stories that I like. But these writers are few and far between.

The Steve Erickson Party

Last night Ed Champion and crew, which luckily included myself, went to a reception during the AWP conference in honor of Steve Erickson and his new book Zeroville.

I have to confess that I was somewhat obsessed with Erickson's work some years ago, so when I arrived at the building and saw the man walking up, before I could control myself I actually pointed straight at him and yelled "You're Steve Erickson!"

"Yes, I am," he said with good humor.

Later at the party I was able to grill him about some questions that had always bothered me. Specificially, "How can you teach at an MFA program when your own work is so idiosyncratic and wouldn't work in a workshop?"

He looked at me sadly, and said, "I know. And I tell my students that this might not be the best way to write something, I mean, can you imagine Faulkner dividing up his work into 15-page chunks for a workshop? It wouldn't make any sense. But you know, I was getting older and had a kid and I needed a job, and I liked the idea of teaching writing at an arts school."

And suddenly I had much more respect for the man.

I also met Kent Carroll who runs the publishing house Europa Editions which published Zeroville. Not knowing this, I asked him who he was. Turned out it was his apartment and his party. Who knew? (Well, everyone else.)

The interesting thing here is that Erickson used to be published by major presses and apparently they dropped him because he didn't sell. Which is mind-boggling to me because the man is fucking genius. But anyway, he went to a smaller press, Europa, with his new book, and it has been very successful. It looks like the classic example of a writer that the large houses just didn't know how to handle, while a small house who really believed in the work served the author much better.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Lethem showed up and I was about to point at him and yell "You're Jonathan Lethem!" but Ed thankfully stopped me. I then tried to start a completely groundless and spurious rumor that Lethem is gay. Let's be clear, Lethem is not gay. At least not in the traditional sense. However, I did go into the bathroom later and found Lethem in there dressed in nothing but a diaper, bib and bonnet, begging Kent Carroll to spank him. Carroll blanched and left the room, and Lethem turned to me, eyes wide and imploring. Well, let's just say after that he let me into his Fortress of Solitude and leave it at that...

Don't Worry Keith, We Don't Like You Either

Keith Gessen doesn't like Lit Blogs. He also doesn't like McSweeney's or the Believer. He thinks lit bloggers are self-promoting whores who, unlike Keith Gessen, are selling our collective birthrights for a mess of review copy pottage. We're "freelance publicists" who are only doing what we're doing because we want attention. Of course, we'd all be starting literary magazines like N+1 if we were making 40 dollars an hour copy editing in the fantasy trustafarian world that Keith Gessen lives in. But most of us don't live in that world. Which is fine. As any reasonably intelligent person can determine from reading Keith Gessen's magazine, N+1 and co. generally don't know what the hell they're talking about, and their greatest claim to fame to date is the embarrassing literary "career" of Ben Kunkel who—going on three years later—has yet to live up to his own Madison Ave. "The Next Michael Chabon/Jonathan Lethem/Dave Eggers" hype. Now, I'm not saying the literary world of New York is composed entirely of elitist insider snobs who wouldn't know a good book if it smacked them in the face, but I'm pretty confident saying that of the editorial staff of N+1. Even when they get it right, as they do with Michel Houellebecq in the recent issue, it's for entirely the wrong reasons, Marco Roth praising him for being different from a whole canon of books that Roth qualifies in his first paragraph as not really representing the best of French Literature anyway. Reading N+1, I often have the impression that I'm reading the lit-critical output of that Monty Python sketch where all the inbred upper class twits blow themselves away with shotguns at the end. Here are people with nothing to say and all the room they want to say it, bought and paid for by god knows who, trading on minor celebrity in the hopes of improving that celebrity. That they have money and distribution and that there are a lot of other people who think like they do is unfortunate and incontrovertible, but it is not a good reason to listen to what they have to say. I, for one, am finally done staring at the train wreck and I'm going to move along and stop blocking traffic. I suggest that everyone else do the same.