Monday, December 24, 2007

Carver vs. Lish

The NY'er is hedging its bets w/ this week's publication of Raymond Carver's story, "Beginners," which became "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love," the title story of his second collection. The magazine leaves to Tess Gallagher, C's widow, the assertion that "Beginners" is a better story than the one that emerged from Gordon Lish's editing.

I think she's both right and wrong. (Hedging my bets here too.)

What's astonishing about "Beginners," for starters, is that it's a single block of text; the sectioning was Lish's work, and he did it in really interesting ways, sometimes beginning sections w/ sentences that had been in the middle of paragraphs. He also did the usual -- taking out reactions, connections, expansions, etc. The resulting story is a more 'gripping' read in the literal sense. It's like trying to get a radio station in a car in the middle of the night. You're aware of not getting everything, so you listen harder to what you get. In "Beginners," which is more than a third longer than the final edit, there are sentences that just don't hit as hard as they do in "What We Talk About..." You just don't read as carefully -- or I don't.

The NY'er calls "Beginners" a "more conventional" story than "What We Talk About...." They're probably right. But "Beginners" is also a more complex story, and a better one, I think, in this sense: it's more particularly about something, and more successful in being about what it's about. It's more of a real story, in other words. I remember reading "What We Talk About..." for the first time and thinking, Well, definitely not my favorite Carver story. As the NY'er highlights, Lish cut a whole lot from the ending and added his own final paragraph:

"I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark."

With the Lish version, you're not as sure what the story is about, and neither are the characters; they're in the dark.

But the Lish version has got to be about something, right? Here's what I'm thinking. Lish was primarily a cutter, but w/ the ending and in two other places he added his own material, and that material is hugely revealing. First of all, the intro. Carver had his story begin like this: "My friend Mel McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking..." Lish takes the appositive out and forms a new second sentence: "My friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right." The other substantive addition: Lish switches the gins. In Carver's story, they're drinking Beefeater; in the Lish version, Mel M. calls the gin 'cut rate'.

I'm going to venture something here: Lish wants the story to be about class. In the original, "cardiologist" is just developmental material; still, it places the characters for us: they're all people who could socialize w/ a cardiologist -- all able to move freely enough within the upper-middle class, we might think. Lish's new second sentence does more to set the cardiologist apart from the others in the story. It makes him an evident exception to a rule that's not stated. In the Lish version, Mel M. is in the other characters' world, as Lish's other additions make clear: the cut-rate gin, and the fact that Mel M. -- a "mechanic" of the heart, after all -- gets sloppy in more than an emotional way, knocking his glass over on the table instead of leaving to take a shower. The Lish version of the story is a closer cousin to the stories in Carver's first collection: we're voyeurs, sort of, peeking in at helpless, fucked-up working-class life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Free Music I'd Pay to Hear (#2)

"Anti Love Song," Betty Davis (avail. @ brothersjudd)

"The President's Dead," Okkervil River (via Stereogum)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Getting Mixed Up

I'm in the process of writing a story I'd probably call 'autobiographical' in the sense that several elements of its plot derive from stuff that happened a long time ago in central Iowa. I tried to write this same story once before, in grad school -- because these plot elements I'm talking about are pretty good ones, I guess, elements that seemed to say, If you can't make a story out of us, how lame a writer are you? Fairly lame was the answer (Dick Bausch tried to be nice to that story in the way people are nice to a lost child....).

Anyway I'm just realizing something: I'm trying to think back on the actual events, and I'm not sure I really remember. What happened to me? Did 'X' happen to me or someone else? And where? And who all had knowledge?

People accuse Sherwood Anderson of fabricating his memoirs. I don't know. Maybe he did the best he could.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Indulge Me

"A Parade of Strange People," by my fave 5yr old.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New at Juked

"The Happy Family" is up at Juked.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New elimae! (2007:11)

Haven't had a chance to dip into it yet, but I see that the new elimae is up. I've got a story in it, "Captions," and there's work by people who have been publishing great stuff for a long time: Jimmy Chen, Claudia Smith, Elizabeth Ellen, Aaron Burch and others.

Myths of Norman Mailer

I ask myself, what have I to add to the Norman Mailer tributes?

Well, has anyone mentioned that Lloyd Cole gave him a line in his Eighties breakthrough album? "Read Norman Mailer / Get a new tailor." Something like that.

And a tale: Norman Mailer was asked -- by an audience member, let's say, when he was on some panel -- what he was reading at that particular time. His response: he wasn't reading anything right then because he was writing. He didn't like to read when he was writing. He compared it to having your car in pieces in your driveway and turning to watch a shining red sports car flash by....

Or that's the story.

Does it sound like Norman Mailer to you? It does me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Great Atrocities in the History of Adaptation

Read Graham Greene's 1954 novel "The Quiet American"? Fantastic book. Effing great. Seen Joe Mankiewicz' 1958 screen adaptation? Probably not. But here's its choicest moment: Pyle in the guard tower, giving poor Fowler some needed instruction: "I'm from a country that's been in existence for less than two hundred years in a very old world. Fifty years ago we were barely taken seriously as a nation, much less a great force for wisdom and decision. But suddenly, now, a watch tick of history later, the world waits angrily for us to provide the answers it hasn't been able to find in fifty centuries."

Oh no he didn't!

Poor Greene. At least Hollywood paychecks don't bounce.

How Not to Grade the Next Paper

1. Eat chips.
2. Look out the windows.
3. Pick up pieces of leaf that somebody's tracked into the house.
4. Or just think about picking up pieces of leaf that somebody's tracked into the house.
5. Eat more chips. Eat a pickle. Eat chips.
6. Wonder if you've had too much caffeine.
7. Eat leftover pizza.
8. Decide you haven't (had too much caffeine). Open a Coke.
9. Wonder if the girl you took to a dance in the Eighth Grade is up to something more exciting than this. Google her.
10. Count the number of papers remaining. Forget the number. Count them again.
11. Look out the windows some more.
12. Think about going on a jog.
13. Think about just writing about thinking about going on a jog, instead of going on one.
14. Write about thinking about going on a jog.

Unpaid Advertisements

Got that Halloween candy in the salad bowl still. And here's what I'm thinking: Snickers. Unwrap a bite-size Mars or Three Musketeers and you're bound to be disappointed. It's like, why didn't they put the other stuff in that would have made it a Snickers? Snickers, man. Snickers. (Butterfinger is all right, too, but it gets stuck in your teeth.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

New Online Issue at Barrelhouse

Just saw that Barrelhouse has its new online issue up. My story "Reengineering" is there.

Free Music I'd Pay to Hear

"Here's Your Future," The Thermals (via Subpop)

"Georgia... Bush," L'il Wayne (via Pitchfork)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Quick Fiction #12

Confession: I sometimes send stories out to journals I've never read. A couple of years ago, I sent a story called "Lucky" to a journal whose name appeared in the back of the BASS, Quick Fiction. I didn't then know that QF only publishes stories under 500 words, and it was just by chance that my story was about that long. They took that story -- Adam and Jennifer Pieroni, who run QF. I couldn't believe how great the issue was when it arrived (#9). I don't think I've ever read another contributor's copy in the space of a single day. Pedro Ponce was in it, and some other really fantastic writers: Kim Addonizio, Kim Chinquee, Jeff Parker, Edith Pearlman....

I figured that now that I knew how good QF was, I'd never get in again, but I was wrong. My story "Front Yard on the East Side of Forty Second" is in the upcoming issue, which is available for pre-order here. Again I'm in some okay company: Girija Tropp, Mary Miller, Blake Butler....

Rejection Letters

Back in grad school one of my friends' boyfriends would go, "Oh no, you're not going to compare rejection letters again, are you?"

My brother's girlfriend is a writer. I guess she gets a lot of loving rejection letters. Loving rejection letters make her sick.

I like loving rejection letters. I'm not crazy about consoling ones ("Take heart, writer. We are but one small pond in a vast terrain of...."). I'm not crazy about ones that tell me how I'm supposed to react ("Unfortunately, we've decided...." Unfortunately? For you? Then why not take the story?) But loving rejection letters.... Yeah, I'll take them.

I got a loving one a while back from another writer, Darlin' Neal, who was guest editing for the Mississippi Review online. She didn't tell me what was wrong with the story (though I'm sure something was), and she didn't tell me that the story wasn't a 'fit' for the issue (that I could see for myself later on). She said that she was happy to have read it and that the characters would stay with her. Getting a letter like that -- not a bad day.... That's the kind of thing that can get people like me addicted to their email....