On Editing A Novel #19
REWRITING YOUR NOVEL AFTER STUMBLING UPON A JOHNNIE LeMASTER BASEBALL CARD.
O man O man O man. The Master? What? No? Yes! That's just an awesome name. I've got to use this. Yes. Yes. Yes. Maybe I should just make that my pen name? No. No. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Calm down. O, good lord, LeMaster. First things, first. This novel is now about Johnnie LeMaster. Goodbye, Cornelius Buttons. Obviously, he can't be a butler anymore. He's got to be a, I don't know, the best at something. What was the real Johnnie LeMaster the best at? I guess the back of this baseball card will tell me. Jesus, nevermind. Okay, my Johnnie LeMaster is going to be completely different. First of all, he would hit higher than .220. Not that he needs to in his line of international espionage/mixed martial arts competitions but come on, no one named Johnnie LeMaster should be a light-hitting infielder. I will keep the mustache. Yes. Tagline: He bats 1.000...with the ladies! Yes! No! He can't be a baseball player. Or can he? He's definitely not a reticent butler tormented by missed opportunities. Which means he doesn't have a meaningful relationship with his Lord Windermere. Or maybe that's his nemesis? Yes! He'll need some kind of physical deformity then. Easy enough to do a find and replace green eyes for robot eyes. Great. Is Master even French for 'master?' I don't know. O, man, I forgot about Miss Farraday. Obviously Johnnie LeMaster isn't going to keep his feelings bottled up. No, he's going to... knock this one out of the park! Ah, that's no good. He'll just have to seduce her than kill her when he discovers she's a double agent working for the evil robot Windermere. I mean, she's his housekeeper, but she's also, I don't know, his assassin or something. She "dusts the shelves" could easily be she "dusts off a few agents." Good. Now let's pull back a bit. So we've got Johnnie LeMaster. He's the best at most things, including Bolivian judo. There's the nemesis. There's the mustache. He can actually hit a fastball but he'll choose not to. He's an undercover butler. But it's all for naught if I don't get a cooler pen name than his. Maybe somebody else on the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates can help. Frobel? Foli? This explains why they lost 100 games. Well, Johnnie LeMaster could be both of our names, I guess. Memoirs are in. Holy hell everything is going to be so easy now that this novel is titled Johnnie LeMaster in The Remains of Farraday. Tagline: This summer, the butler did it. Yes!
On Editing A Novel #19
* I made an Octopus 13 for you.
* I'm doing this at AWP. Should be times.
* Joe Posnanksi interview on the Royals. The worst thing about Yuni Betancourt? He's terrible. The best thing? He's terrible every day.
* What computers mean we can say part one, two.
* Front page story in the city where I live: 84-year-old man gets in armed standoff with the police because he's been married "too damn long." Nothing else happening, apparently.
* Front page story in the city where I used to live: Cops stop kids with BB guns who went on a 9-day reign of terror.
Reading List Review
Writers on Literature
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum - Ms. Hempel Chronicles
Jean Thompson - Who Do You Love
Edward Jones - Lost in the City
Christopher McIlroy - All My Relations
Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge
Alice Munro - Selected Stories
In case it's not clear, this is a class on American short fiction. Well, there's Munro, but I think American means North American. Or maybe it doesn't and Canada can deal with it. I don't care as long as I can link to my favorite Wikipedia entry for something that isn't a real thing.
I have to admit, I'm a bit torn. On the one hand, these are all great books written by obviously talented writers. Our instructor's genuine affection and belief in these books makes them impossible to ignore. On the other, they're books I'd likely never read on my own (and nothing about reading them changed my mind). That situation is, I suppose, the great thing about taking such a class, but it's also left me feeling confused about American short fiction and what it should do. Despite all the talent on display here, there's little that grabs me about these texts, at least as books (all had at least one story I could stick up for more strongly).
Take Olive Kitteridge, likely the best of the books (aside from Munro) and more than deserving of its Pulitzer. It's really quite phenomenal from story to story and is possibly the first "novel in stories" I've read that wears that label as more than marketing. It's the ideal book for a graduate school fiction class, rich in description and character, full of the supposedly genuine. It's also mostly uninspiring, at least to this writer. Each story seems to me a perfect example of what one is told to write in graduate school, the sort of stories I ignorantly associate with Iowa or whatever else I want to insult at the moment. It's heartfelt and reflective and graceful and boring. It's exactly the book I'm going to give my grandmother for Christmas (which is a compliment).
None of this is to say I didn't enjoy it or learn from it--or any of the work here--just that I don't feel it's a conversation I'm presently capable of adding to. I can't out character Thompson, or out setting Jones, etc. Each of these books does the things we are told are important and they do those things remarkably well. Those just aren't the things that brought me to fiction. Though now that I think of it, I doubt very much it was short fiction that brought me to fiction either.
And so it's good to read this stuff rather than only chasing the new. Munro is obviously a different case. I hadn't read much of her that wasn't in recent magazines. Certainly not my writing hero, I wouldn't argue with anyone who claimed her as such. "Our Chekov" as the blurb says sounds about right. I'm just more of a Dostoyevsky guy.
Overall verdict: Eyes Opened/Shut
A Political Post
Ah, I remember when I used to do these back before this blog became 10 posts a month, most of which somehow include a manifestation of my hangups about my basketball deficiencies. Well, here we go.
Healthcare reform must pass. No, not because of the poxed masses or whatever heinous things insurance companies do. Those are good reasons I'm sure--hell, they're great, important reasons--but things have moved beyond that. Specifically, things have moved somewhere lower, somewhere pettier. The rhetoric has moved to such ridiculous extremes that it's trumped the content of the bill itself. The most important result of passing the bill at this point is not any tempered reform of our broken system but the deflation of millennialist rhetoric which somehow equates benign measures like outlawing the rejection of coverage based on pre-existing conditions to Stalinism. Two examples from the last week:
* Healthcare bill an affront to God
* Ramifications of healthcare reform will be like great war of Yankee aggression
So healthcare reform must pass because of Mondays.
If both the House and the Senate approve the bill this Sunday and Obama signs it on Monday, then a week will go by and it will be Monday again. Then another week, another Monday. And then months and months of Mondays will go by and most people's coverage won't change at all, the deficit will be (slightly) reduced, bearcats won't be performing surgeries, the system will be flawed but better, and Monday Monday Monday.
I don't think it's possible to overestimate how silly so much of the talk from the right will look after each passing Monday. None of this is to suggest that the sentiment is going away--or that it isn't, at least in some cases, heartfelt--but only that Democrats need to be aware of how damning their failure would be. It puts this sort of ridiculousness back on the table for every major issue facing the country. Immigration reform = Losing the "real" America. Reasonable federal education standards = Maoist indoctrination. Wall Street oversight = Collectivization. It's going to be like the post-1993 Clinton years + crazy.
Whereas letting the continued existence of the world and America put such apocalyptic rhetoric in the proper context is reason enough to pass the bill no matter its content. O, the right is not going away and nor should they--and no matter what the Democrats will take some lumps in November--but this is the administration's only chance to make them play in something resembling good faith. Rallying the troops with 3-corner hats and talk of revolution works great now, but 100 Mondays after the bill passes, Ma and Pa Whitey aren't going to run into the streets to yell about insurance exchanges and medicare reimbursement rates.
Mr. Beck and the like can never be proven right--that's the power of their position--but they can certainly be proven wrong.
So, I entered two NCAA brackets yet watched zero college basketball games this year. That's okay because I have a complicated formula for determining what percentile of basketball success I will experience. First, I determine how many points I scored in my 20 most recent basketball games. So, Zero. Then, I calculate my approximate number of turnovers per 10 minutes played. So, Three. I simply add those numbers together then multiply by the number of games watched.
0 + 3 = 3 X 0 = 0
Okay, so then I divide that number by the number of brackets entered.
0/2 = ERROR
I may be able to chase down a robber, but I cannot spell the word 'bureaucrat' correctly. I'm usually so far off that Word autocorrects it to the word 'bearcat.' I don't even know what bearcats are. I hope they are this:
* A bearcat exercises the authority delegated to him in accordance with impersonal rules, and his loyalty is enlisted on behalf of the faithful execution of his official duties vis-à-vis bearcats
* A bearcat is a full-time occupation and job placement is dependent upon technical qualifications re: need necessarily be bear and/or cat
* A bearcat work's is rewarded by a regular salary and prospects of promotion to lieutenant bearcat
* Ultimately he is responsible only for the impartial execution of assigned tasks and must sacrifice his personal judgment if it runs counter to his official duties as a bearcat so as not to lead to a bearocatic nightmare
* A bearcat must exercise his judgment and his skills, but his duty is to place these at the service of a higher authority, like some kind of wolflion
I had 20 minutes to kill this afternoon before my Shakespeare class so I sat down at one of the little study cubicles on the second floor of the library. I saw someone I knew--Sam Amadon whose book you should pick up here--and had a little chat before beginning a short paper for my postmodern fiction class. The last line I typed was a quote from Robert Coover's essay on hypertext, "the novel… as we know it, has come to its end." when someone reached over the cubicle wall and grabbed my laptop as I was typing on it.
This confused me.
My first thought was that I would turn around and see Sam holding my computer. Not that this was the sort of joke Sam would normally make, I just honestly couldn't think of any other possibility. I didn't see Sam's beautiful, laughing face, however, but some guy running through the library holding my computer. O, that possibility.
This disappointed me.
Naturally, I ran after him--which really seems to have been the flaw in his plan all along--and chased him all the way through the second floor of the library, down the staircase, past the circulation desk, and right through the front doors where I caught him. He very politely handed me my computer back, shrugged my off hand, and ran away. I still didn't quite understand what had just happened when I came back inside panting and sweating. Two dudes came up to me and we got to have this conversation.
Dude 1: Did that dude jack your computer?
Me: I think so.
Dude 2: Dude, that sucks. Why weren't you yelling?
Me: Um, it's a library.
Dude 1: We were going to tell the cop dude but he's not there.
Dude 2: Did you hit the dude?
Me: Do I look like I hit the dude?
All through Shakespeare the only thing I could think about was what this guy's plan must have been. He clearly chose a time when the security guard wasn't at the entrance, but if he was ever in danger of getting away I would have started yelling (I was sort of joking about the library thing but only sort of. Mostly I was terrified he'd throw the computer if caught). Did he think I wouldn't run after him? Clearly if he'd heard about my exploits on the basketball court he would have thought twice about choosing me as his mark.
(It did occur to me later how strange it was that only two dudes out of the hundreds of people we ran past thought it was odd that one guy was chasing another through the library. Does this happen often here? Um...maybe.)
By the way, I'm again typing on my laptop in the library only now I'm doing it while glancing over my shoulder at the foreign exchange student with her face in a biology textbook. Try it. I'm begging you. Do it.
What It's Like to Have a Student Conference with Me, Pt. 4
Me: Sorry, I share this office. Ignore that other conference.
Me: Did you hear that?
Me: I think she said enthymeme.
You: What's that?
Me: I don't know. I don't even know how to pronounce it.
You: That's not how she said it.
Me: Man, she seems like a great teacher. You should try to transfer into her class.
You: It's too late for that.
What It's Like to Have a Student Conference with Me
You: Which one?
Me: The first one. No, we'll do the second one first.
Me: [looks at notebook for thirty seconds]
You: Did you have a question about it?
Me: Stop being racist.
Me: Wait, you're not Sara.