Continuation of the Audience Participation Twitterstory: send me a word and I will use it in a story.

This week's word is 'skankalicious' provided by my friend and soon to be extremely successful writer Jason Korolenko, author of The Day I Left and the forthcoming Relentless - The Book of Sepultura. (Don't forget us when you're big and famous.)

(character count: 154; without title: 135)

Ear of the Beholder

“We need to talk” and “skankalicious” were deal breakers for Marie. Yet, that Bobby used both in the same sentence endeared him to her.

"So what's the Tequila Kitty project about?"

Enough people have asked me this question lately* so, since today is the official launch of the project, I figured an introduction was in order.

(*Actually very few people have asked me this question, but I wanted an excuse to write about and shamelessly promote the project. Pretending that people have asked me about it would give me an excuse and make this post sound much more conversational in tone. Anyway, I digress...)

The Tequila Kitty Project is an 'exquisite corpse*-type project involving 14 writers. The main character will be the cat in the above photograph.

(*I explain below what Exquisite Corpse is. I mention this technique as it allows me to be slightly pedantic**, and perhaps attract greater readership to this blog since I'm trying to sound all smart and literary and stuff. But I'm digressing again...)

(** Didn't you just say you wanted to make this entry more conversational in tone? Now you're saying it's going to be academic so you can introduce the 'Exquisite Corpse' technique and, by extension, show off how much you've read? Make up your mind!)

The Exquisite Corpse was a technique introduced by the Surrealists in the 1920's by founder Andre Breton. One artist would start a drawing or a story and send it to the next artist/writer, who would add the next part, without being allowed to see what was written before it, or only being allowed to see the last page or paragraph, or, if it were a drawing, the last section. (Examples of surrealist Exquisite Corpse drawings can be seen here.)

(Okay, the pedantry/digressing* is over. This now returns to the little-read blog it has always been.)

(* "You just used the word 'pedantry'!"
"Actually, I thought he said, 'peasantry'."
"Peasantry?! That's class warfare. **)

(** Sorry, dear readers. I keep digressing. Welcome to the Tristram Shandy of blog posts. Back to the explanation of The Tequila Kitty Project...)

Each of the 14 writers, myself included, will compose one chapter. We will only be able to see the previous chapter written. Each writer will have one week to complete their chapter and send to the next person on the list, but they will have full autonomy to create whatever they want, so long as it involves the cat above.

Also, over time, an interview/bio sketch will be posted with each participant of The Tequila Kitty Project in order to introduce each talented writer to a greater audience. *

(* "What if the project doesn't generate as much interest as you think it's going to? What if you don't follow through on your intent to post an interview of each participant?" **)

(**Hey, interior monologue! I'm not going to let you bait me into a hypothetical argument that will prevent me from finishing this blog post. It's not going to happen this time... Oh, damn. It just did. Anyway... Back to the subject.)

As the project progresses, I will be making more public updates to keep people interested, without exposing any of the work-in-progress. It
is scheduled to be completed in mid-February with dissemination of the final product yet to be determined. Some ideas have been proposed and, perhaps, we'll even pull in external/audience suggestions, make it a fully interactive project.

Stay tuned for more news on the Adventures of Tequila Kitty.

As always, thank you.

David Markson passed away over the weekend. The official obituaries say that he passed away on June 6, but the articles also state that his children found him on June 4th. The exact date of when he actually passed is unknown, which seems strangely appropriate. The narrator of this fragmented novel states at one point:

"Perhaps I am no more than 47 or 48," the narrator explains. "I am certain that I once attempted to keep a makeshift accounting, possibly of the months, but surely at least of the seasons. But I do not even remember any longer when it was that I understood I had already since lost track."

David Foster Wallace wrote that Markson was direly underappreciated and wrote that Wittgenstein's Mistress was "quite possibly the high point of experimental literature in this country." I would go one step further and claim that Markson was perhaps the high point of experimental literature. Period. (For the record, I have not read Wittgenstein's Mistress, but I have read This Is Not a Novel and Reader's Block, and I can't imagine that Mistress eclipses those by a terribly large margin. It is the novel where he began what became his late career fragmentary, experimental style.) In 2007 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That same year New York Magazine called him "the best writer you never heard of."

A year and a half ago I was attending a writer's conference in Chicago. One of the workshops on the agenda was a tribute to David Markson, which I had checked off on my giant conference booklet as one of the lectures I wanted to attend. I decided at the last minute not to attend as there were other more career-appropriate lectures for me at that point: how to go about applying for a grant, or how to write a query letter, or how to go about getting flash fiction pieces published. At that point I also had not completed This is Not a Novel and had not yet read Reader's Block. Had I known that the man who reinvented what was possible with a novel would pass away less than two years later I most certainly would have said, "Career be damned! This is David Markson." I have very few regrets in my life, but I can add my skipping of that lecture to that short list.

My remembrance of Markson's life as a writer and his work cannot match one of the tributes I read to him earlier today. As such, I will let journalist Sarah Weinman's much more eloquent words speak for me:

"Others will chime in with more reasoned and coherent essays on what Markson meant for American literature, and I'll link to those as I do to other missives below once they come in. But I got to know the writer's work, and later on, a little bit, the man, through his earliest output, a couple of entertaining and erudite crime novels featuring a scamp of a private detective named Harry Fannin. I'd read THIS IS NOT A NOVEL and had been excited and blown away, and just weeks later I was assigned to write my very first piece for the Los Angeles Times - a double review of those two Fannin novels, EPITAPH FOR A TRAMP and EPITAPH FOR A DEAD BEAT...
"After that review he got in touch with me - oddly enough by email, through a friend, since he did not own a computer - and we corresponded a little, by postcard and letter. I'd see him at the Strand Bookstore sometimes, one of his regular haunts, shooting the shit with the cavalcade of managers working the review copy desk in the basement...
"I saw Markson last at the public memorial for David Foster Wallace. I hadn't seen him around for several months and asked after him and his health. But the answer, at least to me, was obvious. He was more frail. He didn't have to articulate his sadness over Wallace's suicide, that a much-younger man with prodigious talent had died too soon, and that it was a far different feeling from watching friends your own age pass on. A thought passed through my head that Markson might not be around much longer and I should get back in touch, lest the inevitable catch me off-guard. Like many good intentions, it wasn't acted upon."
A friend emailed me the other day and asked if I had ever read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. I hadn't, I told her, but I had heard amazing things about the book. I have had a hard time putting it on my to-read list based on the fact that many articles and essays I have read claim that Franzen is an asshole. Anecdotal evidence showing that he is highly uncomfortable with the fusion of literature and mass-market appeal is prodigious:
There was the Oprah incident; the 2005 essay in Harper's magazine by Ben Marcus questioning Franzen for his lambasting of the entirety of experimental fiction; the essay that engendered Marcus' response, 'Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels.' Even fans of his writing find much to dislike about him.

She had heard the same things regarding Franzen and did not want to get the book for these reasons or purposes. However, she told me, it was a National Book Award winner, and since she was purchasing it in a used bookstore, she was assured that no money would be going to him. (As someone hopefully about to embark on a writing career, I hope this doesn't happen to me, and, given the state of the publishing industry in general, I have been trying to buy books new or at readings just to continue to support the industry I so hope to become a part of.)
I can't say I will run out and buy The Corrections or run to the library and take out a copy of the book: I have many other books on my shelves that I have never read. But over the past few years I have been trying to change my mentality on writers and their personalities, trying not to let my judgment of them as people affect how I feel about their work. One of the first writers I applied this regard-for-the-work-not-the-person mentality with was Ezra Pound. Pound, after World War I, moved to Italy and wound up supporting the Fascists and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini: "Every man of common sense, including the odd British MP, knows that every man of common sense prefers Fascism to Communism, from the moment that he learns a few concrete facts about both of them." He was against American involvement in World War II, against centralized banking, and was also anti-Semitic. In general, not exactly an upstanding person. However, read these short poems, including the ever-anthologized 'Alba' below:


As cool as the pale wet leaves
                                           of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn.

The Encounter

All the while they were talking the new morality
Her eyes explored me.
And when I arose to go
Her fingers were like the tissue
Of a Japanese paper napkin.

Simple, exquisite, timeless. I can forgive all of Pound's odious politics and personal beliefs for those two poems. And there are thousands more that he wrote like that.

Truman Capote was as self-absorbed a human as there ever was. He was gossipy, ungrateful to friends and colleagues, and in his final unfinished novel Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel he publicized the private lives of many of his friends and confidantes. If the movie Capote is to be believed, he turned the film premier of To Kill a Mockingbird into a bitchfest of how the legal system was preventing him from from finishing his book, not once congratulating Harper Lee. He stayed the execution of two men in the Kansas State Prison system, not because of humanitarian purposes, but he hadn't finished interviewing them yet In Cold Blood.
And yet it is that book that made me ignore Capote the man and regard Capote the artist. Within the first sentence, we understand his writing genius:

"The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'"

Within the brief space of 22 words, Capote has shown us the entire world of this lonely, prairie town. By referring to Holcomb as a village and not a town, we are given the sense of the type of dependent community of the people: in a village, every person matters, and what each person does or provides can affect everyone else: it's a matter of numbers. Most people have a geographic and demographic sense of Kansas as being isolated wheat field, prairie, long rolling expanses of hills and wheat without many people in between. For other Kansans to refer to this village as "out there" really invokes the destitution and isolation of its people. And by setting this up first, we know, just from our own reading and film mythology, that anything nefarious is possible in an isolated area. Where no people are, it's easier for something dreadful to occur.
And Capote accomplishes all of this in 22 simple words, doing nothing more on the surface than describing a landscape. But what's under the surface of the picture Capote paints in that first sentence, the subtext of those words that made him a true genius. Despite being a horrible person.

A few months back, I read a review about a new biography about Raymond Carver, one of the titans of modern writing, and the king of the minimalist short story. This passage from Stephen King, the reviewer of the biography and someone who knows a thing or two about alcoholism and its destructive effects, says all that needs to be said about Carver the person:

"As brilliant and talented as he was, Ray Carver was also the destructive, ­everything-in-the-pot kind of drinker who hits bottom, then starts burrowing deeper. Longtime A.A.’s know that drunks like Carver are master practitioners of the geographical cure, refusing to recognize that if you put an out-of-control boozer on a plane in California, an out-of-control boozer is going to get off in Chicago. Or Iowa. Or Mexico.

And until mid-1977, Raymond Carver was out of control. While teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he and John Cheever became drinking buddies. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver said of the fall semester of 1973. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Because Cheever had no car, Carver provided transportation on their twice-weekly booze runs. They liked to arrive at the liquor store just as the clerk was unlocking for the day. Cheever noted in his journal that Carver was “a very kind man.” He was also an irresponsible boozehound who habitually ran out on the check in restaurants, even though he must have known it was the waitress who had to pay the bill for such dine-and-dash customers. His wife, after all, often waited tables to support him."

I posted this article back in November on a separatand a friend replied, "I realized a long time ago that I would never want to meet my favorite authors in person..."

That is so true. I don't think I would want to have dinner or lunch with Jonathan Franzen, or to meet Capote, or John Cheever or Raymond Carver. It was a sad day when I realized that Gore Vidal, one of my favorite writers and quite possibly the best political essayist of my lifetime, was in real life an asshole. However, I still read his books and most of his older essays. (His new works and interviews are nothing more than the screechings of a bitter man.)
But it is possible to divorce ourselves of our personal feelings about an author, and still hold their art, their work in high esteem. And the converse probably holds to be true as well: Nicholas Sparks is probably the nicest man in all of literature.