A READER (WHO IS ALSO AN ESTEEMED WRITER) WRITES

writes

 

A quick note to let you know I’m halfway through the Kootchie Towers extract you sent me, and I’m fucking lapping it up, min. I’ve just started my summer holidays and this is exactly what I needed — guaranteed laugh-out-loud (literally, frequently, most recently in the most exquisite bar in Madrid’s most exquisite barrio) extreme stimulation with dozens of tickles/prods/slaps/nudges per page. The kind of value-per-minute’s-reading nobody from the conglomerates is approaching now. 
More feedback when I get through the rest, and also the other stuff you sent me. But for now: cheers for this, hermano. This has to be one of your peaks. 
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19 Comments

    1. Jim!

      Not entirely sure what that means but, to clarify, from my side: I sent Mr. X the first 100 pages of the latest manuscript as a chum sends stuff to another chum (though if he spots a typo here or there, great; they always slip through). He sent me one of his, a few years back (after he read two of my novellas) and I loved it and so forth . I guess we’ve been doing it as a chummy courtesy for a little more than a decade now.

      But I can’t really advise anyone on a manuscript because my tastes are WEIRD (laugh) and I loathe the homogenizing enzymes of The Modern Publishing Industry. If you write a book and I like it, that’s a bad sign if you’re hoping to have a book that will sell, Jim! laugh.

      Contemporary books, for me, are too much like Paper Television! I like thorny, juicy, witty, shocking, horny, shameless, layered and nutty stuff. If you have some of that, the only thing I’d probably write in response is “FUCK YES”. Not the most useful feedback, perhaps?

      Here’s a wee fragment of the excerpt Mr. X is reading, to give you an idea of the black market economy of ideas I’m talking about: https://berlin8berlin.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/kootchie-towers-excerpt-4/

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  1. Let’s see. Off the top of my head, latest has decapitation on a Vesta, online identity theft, collapsing infrastructure, NSA-type surveillance, high-tech torture, history of art theory, dementia, gender transitioning, thruples, ecstasy + ‘shrooms + EDM, philosophy of religion/monotheism, twincest, Fyre Festival manque, cryptocurrency, the hype industries, speculative cosmology, a child prodigy, Dreamers + ICE, YouTube stars, rappers, skinny dipping, Deleuze vs. Foucault theories of panopticon, satyr plays, friend zone sex, another sex partner trying to get pregnant without telling her male, Occupy/Antifa vs neo-Nazi riot, catatonia, and climate refugee migration—among other things. Does that tick(-le) your boxes? Oh yeah, it’s technically a comedy.

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  2. A desire for connection—human, not digital—and meaning in the face of singular cosmic indifference: art? religion? philosophy? social media? success? notoriety? That’s the buried longing for the unnamed protagonist. For me, as the writer, it’s trying to capture a current reality and, while giving it ‘the treatment’, to propose a tentative therapeutics.

    There’s no Exalted Female Ideal, if that’s what you mean, though protag has what they all sarcastically call his ‘harem’—a friend group of six females (including one who’s transitioning to male) (plus the newest member, a gay male refugee from Nigeria), four of whom he’s slept with. The females are flawed, human, interesting: one runs Christian day care center for underprivileged kids (a burgeoning alcoholic), another is a coder colleague (attempts to trap him into fathering a child), another is a biracial gamer + drug/sex buddy (moving from a nitrous oxide pasttime to opiate addiction), another is his dead partner’s twin sister (deeply depressed), another is his longtime roommate a confidant with whom he’s never had sex. I’m going after female complexity, otherness, not mystery nor depersonalizing idealism. Sexual desire is only one aspect the longing for connection. Other female characters include his lonely, recently widowed mother and his despicable half-sister. Maybe if you put them all together in the right way, you might be able to pastiche an EFI. But that was never my intent.

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    1. Yeah, no, doesn’t have to be an Exalted Female Ideal compelling you (that’s probably more a 20th century thing)… it’s always just a question (for me) of what the (in-head) world-building is (really) for… oftentimes it’s a pursuit of a self-made justice or balance unlikely in the “real” world … which is the darker side of my casual theory that plugs directly into Edmund Wilson’s “The Wound and the Bow”… in which, for example, Wilson examines the six months of workhouse conditions Charles Dickens suffered as a child and which obviously shaped the egg (understatement): “But the work of Dickens’ whole career was an attempt to digest these early shocks and hardships, to explain them to himself, to justify himself in relation to them, to give an intelligible and tolerable picture of a world in which such things could occur.”

      One of the best books I’ve read in fifteen years (certainly the best *new* book) was Edmond Caldwell’s “Human Wishes/ Enemy Combatant”, which I got to read in a rough, near-finished manuscript form and then in paperback and it was soaked with the esoteric sweat of longing. I couldn’t tell what these longings were but I could feel the assertion and re-assertion and alternative iterations of the same tragicomic needs and rages, worked up to a punchy rhythm, as the chapters rolled on. An utterly coherent and personal (and thrilling for its commitment and wit) argument.

      It was only after EC died and I re-read the book that I suspected that one of EC’s deepest longings was that his suffering should have a point, a context, a purpose etc. When the protag finally becomes what he really always was… I imagine that must have been a profound pleasure for EC to write, but then, too (as I address in my linked essay) the reciprocal pain, of returning to “the real world” where none of those issues are resolved and Chaos/ Entropy (and Shitty Materialism) rule, is also great.

      But, you see, that’s why I say mine is the anti-Advice for any writer hoping to be a success in publishing. EC had secret hopes that the book might do humbly respectable numbers but I knew that was impossible… this is not the right era. People like Television now (ugh: too slick, safe, glib and shallow for me, even with FFN) and books that remind them of HBO and Netflix. Maybe if 1974 ever comes around again there will be an opportunity to aim high and do well at the same time…?

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    2. PS I DO have one little technical trick worth sharing, though! It’s something I knew but didn’t know I knew… I was doing it, before, without knowing why. So…

      … when I was about a fourth of the way through the “current” book (i’m seriously midway through four, but focusing lately on this one) and I’d dealt very thoroughly with two of the five main characters, I started on the third character. I wrote 100 pages of various attempts to handle that character and all of it struck me as somehow flat and facile… ie, it read like material from a guy in a room just making stuff up, which is a dreaded (and common) textual tone I am always on the alert for. I thought: fuck: what’s wrong? Then I realized: I handled the first two characters omnisciently, which is fine to start with, but now I needed to change the focus/ resolution, and see this third character through another character’s uncomprehending eyes, the way I see most people IRL… the uncertainty, the guess work, the incorrect assumptions formed a nice layer of out-of-focus material that suddenly made everything I had done, thus far, “pop” in high relief, like painting shadows in behind the solid objects. Mix the Certainty with Uncertainty and even Error… leave a little mystery or two in every page… solve some of them a page later… mix the sharp with the blurry! It really eases up on the virtual eye fatigue and beefs the verisimilitude and sensual engagement. With all this TV-style writing ruling the charts these days, people are reverting to the Folk Tale/ Fairytale style of flat, sequential narrative. Genre writing is famous for it and poorer for it and that’s not just a Snob Judgment. But, there’s the paradox: writing with cruder/ glibber technique sells more books!

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  3. Thanks for articulating the trick. I can’t do “omniscient”, though I’m proposing a Part 3 to current W-i-P which will be such—but with a kind of claim to authenticity: an unborn soul actively refusing conception primarily because POVChar 1 & POVChar 2 fall in love with images of each other that are illusory. The POVs are inextricably linked together but never truly meet or touch, and their narcissistic, solipsistic misconceptions prevent them fulfilling any sexual desires in a funhouse horror sort of way. (Think Donohoe’s Room meets Fowles, The Collector.)

    Speaking of the darkness and aspirations of bygone classics, by “1974”, one suspects the allusion is to GR—the big megillah. Unpublished Novel #2, McDonaldizes the GRAND theme of same (which BTW Tom McCarthy ably preluded in his “C”), locating the Westward terminus of the US empire’s expansion in 1969 Tet Laos which is, it is argued, when we all turned our expansionist aggression on each other because we had nowhere further to go (excepting the Afghan folly). The systems of control became localized, internalized, replicated. Thus fomenting the ascendance from the underground of the so-called Alt Right—think Ruby Ridge, Waco, OKC, e.g. Pitched it just that way at a major writer’s conference to a panel of agents, won the conference’s “Best Pitch” award (!), didn’t get a single request for a peek. :-( That should’ve told me something, not sure what; though your TV/Netflix argument is a likely candidate.

    P.S. Not gonna’ weigh in on your next post, but it seems someone doesn’t particularly care for the political topiary!

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  4. Tried to but couldn’t finish the film of Remainder. Book made a splash in certain circles but otherwise remained obscure (until Zadie Smith made a big deal about it.). ‘Thought experiment’ seems a fitting term for a book about neurotic repetition. Clinical another. Laborious yet another. Some find it cold and distant—same criticism leveled at Delillo & Pynchon. My tastes tend to run to the philosophical.

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    1. Jim!

      “Some find it cold and distant—same criticism leveled at Delillo & Pynchon.”

      Pynchon’s egg is something absolutely other than cold, or distant and reading it is not a dry-as-dust chore (if anything, it’s a problem of signal-overload with TP). And anyone who accuses DeLillo of that has never read a single book by the man; DD’s sentences are driven by bebop inspiration and they’re never a chore to read like McCarthy and co.’s stuff, which being rash attempts to illustrate a programmatic conceit without even an emollient droplet of Literary Talent (the dangers of The University Novelist, with her/his pantheon of chic influences… but just because you graduate the course doesn’t mean you can fucking Write, kids, though I understand the temptation to think any other outcome unfair).

      But the question that critics are forgetting to ask, these days: is the text Magic? Do those dots and squiggles drench the page with the magical infection of Experience Real or Imagined?

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    2. Read this, in Wikipeed, about McCarthy’s Remainder and ask yourself whose dicks he must have sucked to prime the siphon on the absurd hyperbole regarding such a dry and puny book:

      ****

      McCarthy’s debut novel Remainder was written in 2001[3] and rejected by mainstream UK publishers. It was published in November 2005 by the small Paris-based art publisher Metronome Press and distributed through gallery and museum shops, but not in chain bookstores[2] and then received widespread critical attention in the literary and mainstream press, with one of its first reviews, in December 2005, on ReadySteadyBook who called it “one of the most important novels written in a long, long time.” The London Review of Books called it “a very good novel indeed” and The Independent claimed that “its minatory brilliance calls for classic status”.[4] The novel was re-published by the independent publisher Alma Books in the UK (2006), and the Bertelsmann subsidiary Vintage in the US (2007), where it ranked as an Amazon top one-hundred seller and entered the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list.[citation needed] On its American publication the New York Times dedicated the front cover of its book section to the novel, calling the book “a work of novelistic philosophy, as disturbing as it is funny”.[5] In 2008 Remainder won the fourth annual Believer Book Award.[6] Zadie Smith wrote in the New York Review of Books that it was “one of the great English novels of the last ten years”, suggesting it showed a future path that the novel “might, with difficulty, follow”.[7] It has since been translated into fourteen languages, and a film adaptation directed by Omer Fast was released in 2015.[8][9][10] Several big publishing houses who had rejected the novel returned to him with enthusiastic offers, which McCarthy rejected, commenting that “it’s the same book as it was two years ago.”[2]

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    3. (and here’s Lee namedropping Tom later in our exchange)

      ***

      Lee Rourke
      01/03/08 at 3:13 PM

      To
      Steven Augustine

      Message body
      A good friend of mine Tom McCarthy is always slightly piqued when a reviewer claims to have solved his books. He is, as am I, of the opinion that their is no explanation to Literature, just questions.

      There is nothing more patronising as when an author dares explain meaning in a story.

      Speak soon, Lee.

      Lee Rourke

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  5. PS To prove that my opinion on Tom McCarthy’s cabal is not sour grapes (and that I am no hypocrite), here’s an email I got from McCarthy’s close chum Lee Rourke, back in ’07, and my response. I am not, was not, interested in playing the dicksucking Publishing Game. My response to Lee’s inquiry was a polite “no” but I was also very easy with him because he hadn’t yet published the profoundly shitty “The Canal” to synthetic squibs of short-lived applause. I gave Lee the benefit of the doubt (somewhat) on “Everyday” but “The Canal,” for me, was just more of the same old “they killed living trees for this nonsense?” shit, bigged-up by a cabal of logrolling/dicksucking cronies.

    (read from bottom)

    Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2007 05:04:24 -0800
    From: the_augustine_authority@yahoo.com
    Subject: Re: Writing
    To: l_@hotmail.com

    Regarding your gracious inquiry: everything of mine that I think is worth reading is, sooner or later, “published” on my cheap little site. It’s been my policy for a while now and I can’t tell you how much better I feel since I made that decision. I’ve published in zines, under other names, over the years, and I was never as happy doing that as I am now. I only get a trickle of traffic, I know (and half of that is punters searching for “anal torture granny lizard”), but that suits me.

    Keep at it, and, believe me, nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing writers keep at it unbowed,

    S

    Lee Rourke l_@hotmail.com wrote:

    Hullo there,

    I am not concerned with your opinions on my fictions (based on a rather obvious, transparent snippet chosen by Tony), I am, however, rather interested in your marvellous short stories. I just read a couple of them on your site. Would you care to submit anything for scarecrow? I am putting up a new issue next month?

    In good faith,

    Lee.

    Lee Rourke
    _________________________

    http://www.3ammagazine.com

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    1. Btw: that’s a fruitful comparison, Remainder-the-Book vs Synecdoche-the-Film. On the one hand, you can “show” things in books that are impossible to transmit in film… a character *feeling* a particular sensation, for example. But, on the other hand, Film is a much better medium for laboriously postmodern jokes like Remainder, because so many streams of info can be transmitted, simultaneously, in a single frame of Film; in text, the info comes in in a sequence, single-file, no faster than a reader can read. Things can drag and lose their Zing & Zest and get very old quickly. It can turn certain gimmicky conceits tiresome so quickly that only an Academic could pretend to enjoy the eventual “payoff”! And that kind of self-conscious pretending is close to “pretentious” in the fairest sense of the word, I think. Laugh!

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