More Awful Truth
When I was young and inexperienced in the fine art of self destruction, I believed that getting a book in print made you both famous and rich. Boiled down to its elemental flaw, this belief was based on the notion that writing a book good enough to land in the small library in Port Orchard, Washington (as unlikely a candidate to supplant The Great Library of Alexandria imaginable) must mean you are famous–ergo rich–for I assumed you could not be one without the other.
Unlike what appears to be true in many families today, there was once a time when you were not encouraged to remain ten years old forever. When I was a child a great deal of growing up involved watching one glittering fantasy after another crumble into an Awful Truth, which then skulked along in my shadow like some sort of terrible pet Cockroach.
The effect on one’s psyche watching the degradation of a fantasy into an Awful Truth depends on the size of the whopper one once believed. When I was five, I figured that a nickel was worth more than a dime because the nickel was bigger. My grandfather corrected that error and I went forward without trauma–actually, now that I think about it–I went forward happier, because I owned more dimes than nickels at the time. But things like the promotion of Santa to Jesus then finding out that the smart people who scorn the “Invisible Man in the Sky” do as much Christmas shopping as anyone can mess with you. Perhaps only kids who actually buy the gag about the Stork have a bigger let down coming.
My foolish belief regarding writers’ fame and wealth soon followed the late December nonsense down the dumper. Mainly the money part. I soon discovered that most “working” writers live at the same level of prosperity as do struggling musicians and the guys who volunteer to wash your windshield for a “donation.” Hardscrabble writers never pass up a free buffet and their breakfasts the next day heavily depend on how many rolls they can stick in their pockets without getting caught. And never leave one unattended in a hotel room registered in your name unless you want to be on the hook for the entirety of the little booze bottles in the “bar” (ritzier digs charge ten bucks for an ounce of old number seven).
Alas, for many, living as a “Bohemian” (aka, “bum”) loses its charm very quickly. And most writers, even those who sell, must take day jobs after word gets around about their foraging habits and tendency to stretch “a night or two” of crashing on your sofa to something as permanent as a regrettable tattoo. Still, there’s a certain thrill in getting something over for the first time that makes it all worthwhile and even (although temporarily) restores your faith in things you know better about.
And I’ve discovered that the second best feeling is accepting work by someone who has never had anything published before. For some reason it makes me think about the old days, before the net, and opening my first acceptance, which arrived in a letter, an actual physical object. That happened in 1986, and although everything is done by email nowadays, and somehow less personal, I hope that the kick is the same.
One of the main troubles today is that behind every determined writer there stand a hundred hacks. Back in the paper age it was something like five, because it was much harder to submit; you had to print and mail a manuscript physically, and buying the stationary, envelopes and postage often got expensive. The electronic age makes things easier for everyone, including the hacks.
My definition of a hack is this: A person who dabbles in the art with full confidence, has no self doubts, nor ever wonders if she/he is a fake no matter what successes are accomplished. For me, actual writers are always wringing their hands over something or another, are slightly neurotic and consider anything good that happens to them (on some level) to be a hideous mistake that will soon be straightened out. There’s something about doubt and anxiety that aids creativity, albeit indirectly. Hacks don’t feel that way, they are aware of their effortless genius and become angry with editors too stupid to see it.
Fortunately, we here at the mighty LS can smell a hack submission and do not publish them. Now, I am not saying that the writers we reject are all hacks–oh no no no. Hacks rarely submit to non paying publications; but we do get the occasional stray hack, and we know one when we see one.
Still, from someone who has always taken rejection to the bone, I sympathize with those of you whose work is overlooked by book publishers and agents due to the infestation of hacks making so much noise that it is impossible for you to have any sort of chance, much less a fair shot. And now I hear that there will be machines writing books someday. It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to grab humankind by the throat and scream “What the hell is the matter with you?”
But I take heart in one notion. I don’t care how smart machines get, nothing in the universe can, or ever will, tell lies better or with more creativity than a human being–nor can any machine know despair. You have to be organic to whip up a Santa so you don’t have to explain Jesus to a small child. You cannot design that kind of inspired insanity.
FIVE PIECES WRITTEN BY WRITERS NOT HACKS
We featured four first time contributors and the person who is the only writer to appear in the credits every year since the curtain rose in 2014. Two stories dealt with the paradoxical innocence of youthful evil; one with a world that continues to change except for one ugsome thing; another with loss and we closed with a brief history of bastards.
Monday welcomed The Year of 13 by Lisa Shimotakahara. This tale is unflinchingly honest. There’s an element in youth that is spectacularly cruel yet is as natural as a Cat torturing a Mouse. At no point in life are we as self conscious as we are at thirteen. And if there’s anything wrong with us, especially in the physical sense, we are targets of abuse. Instead of sympathizing with someone even more messed up than us, we are relieved for the diversion and usually dump on that person ourselves. Most human behavior isn’t very pretty–and Lisa nailed an example of it here.
More truth arrived Tuesday, brought by our own Hugh Cron. Sign of the Times. The squeeze experienced by the poor receives more attention than ever nowadays, and yet it continues to get worse because our elected officials do nothing about it. Rents continue to skyrocket and our “progressive” governments are just as corrupt and greedy as their opposite number. It takes an especially rotten society to create a condition in which a person is not only too poor to do better than a doorway, but priced out of the pet who was her only friend. Hugh deftly explores these topics as well as the ruination of small businesses that cannot compete with the corporate giants. This will continue as long as only money matters. At least we have moral voices like Hugh’s to decry it.
Midweek greeted the site debut of Evelyn Voelter. Evelyn’s poignant Cinema could have been easily spoiled if she had leaned into it. But she showed the taste and restraint to paint a simple story that connects to the reader on a personal level. And she is right, the story should end better, it should be one of the good parts. The world should dim the lights for a moment when one of us passes.
The evil of youth returned on Thursday with Girlfriends by Donna Tracy. No one should ever underestimate her power to do harm. It’s because evil is obviously easier to do than good. And the Information Age makes it possible for us to destroy people from a distance, like a bomber dropping its payload on unseen people below. Of course something happens that you cannot take back, and this story skillfully shows what goes into an evil action and the implosions of the mind later caused by pain and guilt.
Dan Shpyra closed the week with Scoundrel Through the Ages. It is a pointed and amusing down through the ages account of the creature known as The Son of a Bitch. Scoundrel’s are interesting persons until one “happens” to you. Dan has a fine comic touch and he will soon appear again with a second story.
My thanks to the writers of the week. They give hope to the craft in an essentially hope free world.
SIGNS OF A TIPPLEGANGER PROBLEM
Drinking spirits sometimes leads to a haunting by a Spirit known as a Tippleganger Ghost. (In fact it almost always does, but few know the truth.) The quality of the Tippleganger (or just plain “Tip”) you attract is affected by the quality of the liquor consumed. Johnnie Walker Blue will result in a high end Tippleganger, eloquent, charming, and as perpetually blasted as Peter O’Toole, while swill such as Tilt and Buckfast will summon a Tip that has fewer IQ points than he has teeth (yes, “he”; all Tips are guys and the female Ghosts wouldn’t have it any other way).
Regardless of quality, the hauntings tend to play out the same. Tipplegangers are responsible for all those Big Ideas that sounded so awesome at night but turn your world to shit the morning after.
Years of research on the subject of Tipplegangers has given me an insight into their favorite “suggestions.” As you will see many involve the telephone, which Tipplegangers consider humankind’s second greatest invention, after the still.
- Prepare a box of macaroni and cheese in the same amount of time it takes for a sober person to roast a Turkey
- Call your Ex at three A.M.
- Leave a certain kind of honest message in your soon to be former employer’s voicemail box.
- Cut up extremely expired hot dogs and add them to the macaroni and cheese
- Call your Ex’s new Significant Other at 4 AM
- Call out sick with the “24-hour” Diphtheria.
- Put on your Facebook Goggles and make new friends
- Call 911 and ask if liquid vegetable oil is a suitable substitute for the oleo you do not have but need to complete your macaroni and cheese
- And if all else fails there’s the stand by: Give yourself a haircut
- All yours
13 thoughts on “Week 429: More Awful Truth; Five Human Works and Beware of the Tippleganger”
Good post and story roundup. I think Tipplegangers have a good idea about one time out of a hundred. The trick is knowing which one.
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Hello and thank you David
Yes, Tips sometimes have good ideas, but as you point out the percentage is very low. And yet people keep heeding the bad advice. So much for the old “Bud wiser” gag.
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I neglected to mention relative to “The Year Thirteen” – I got to drink with what were possibly the two most popular guys at Madison HS 50th reunion. 50 years to graduate from a looked down upon nobody. I saw Bill M, one of the two a little later. He told me that as a great jock and universally loved, he was uncomfortable in HS and later further spooked as a Purple Heart in Viet Nam. He died shortly after the reunion in a boating accident. John L who was sexually diverse and a class president was the other. He now has dementia. I don’t know what any of that means or if there is a lesson therein.
I meet some of Leila’s defintion of a hack. As a hobby writer, I don’t take much of it seriously. Whatever anybody says about writing is an opinion. As an example, some praise “Catcher In The Rye” is a classic. S King is great. S Kink is a hack.
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Nah, you are not a hack. Nor are most of the big names. The people who blog spam are and so are the ones who write formula stuff that they would never read if given the choice. Good drinking partners at your reunion. Mine will be along in ’27. Wonder if the market will crash in ’29 for old time’s sake.
Yeah I remember the bartender gave us crap about olives in my Manhattan. It was only a few months later that Bill died. The antithesis of high school jock. Good to losers like me. Appreciated intelligence. About a year later a top two bestie died. Another non-Doug. A foot taller, athletic, tops in theatre, got the women. Cancer.
I hope that your fiftieth is as good as mine was without the mortality. Hint – if you see your obit in the newspaper, don’ make plans, just go back to bed.
I satisfy some of the hack requirements. No impostor syndrome. No handwringing. I’m like whatever. Any rejection is caused by poor judgement. I have an example I could repeat. To paraphrase -“Here are the ten reasons for the rejection” and “this is so good, I’ll read it too my children”. Same story. Another version – not wrong story, wrong publisher. Reject – OK. Acceptance – OK.
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Great post – I had some of that Johnny Walker Blue stuff during the last week while at a big family celebration. I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. I like my whisky smoky and peaty and with an idea above its station. Talisker Dark Storm is my favourite. It’s been a while since my last Tippleganger experience I have to say. They may hover around the edges of my sanity but I think self preservation kicks in when you are getting wiser to their ways. As for the poverty of authors – well, it’s quite laughable how much each book actually pops into the pocket when everyone else has had their cut – unless you are a ‘celebrity’ or very very lucky just don’t expect to actually eat food.
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Thank you, Diane
Welcome back from your trip.
I have never had blue label. I do like the Johnnie Black though it’s a bit pricey. I once read that authors are lucky to clear ten percent of the sale after all the bills are paid. Still, I think that’s better than what record companies used to do to naive young acts.
I think I’ve given you this tip before Diane, try ‘Smokehead Malt Whisky’. You never need a cigar with it!!
Funnily enough I have some of that – My son bought me a bottle and yes it’s pretty darned good.
This is up to your usual brilliant standard.
Your first section regarding tips, or maybe more observation, is 100% correct.
Thanks so much for your kind words on my story, they are much appreciated.
Regarding the Tipplegangers, I’d add
– Order five Chinese meals because the Tip advises that you have the drunken hunger. (Ironically it is that much food that you need to eat the three forkfulls that you can manage from a wok.)
– Binge watch anything.
– Write poetry. Again the Tip persuades that you are especially meaningful and moody when you are steamin’.
– Refuse to go to bed until you have thrown a cotton-wool ball into an egg-cup from twenty feet. You also have to take a shot every-time you miss. What the Tip doesn’t tell you that the off-shoot of this is a two day hospital visit, sleeping and having your stomach pumped!!
All the very best my unique friend.
It sounds as though you have done battle with the Tippleganger as often as I. The shooting of the ball into the cup is something that I hope my own personal Tip doesn’t seize on. I saw what you said about Smokehouse. I’ve had the stuff and it goes wonderful with my cigarette habit!
What a true to life article. Every word so adequately represented the mental anguish that goes into writing. I think great writers would want to do it if nobody in the world but them could read It’s truly a fantastic art and a painful journey
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Thank you Stephen
I so wish some of the Awful Truth wasn’t so.