June 25th, 2008

Don't Hassle the Hoff

He Used To Be A Writer

I can't believe I saved my recipe for buttered elbow macaroni (essentially macaroni, butter, and lots and lots of fucking cayenne pepper), but I didn't save the recipe for this really good kidney bean salad I made in New York. I remember it well, I remember it being the most delicious of salads I ever made, but for the life of me I can't remember what all was in it. Fuckall.

As a writer, it's damn near impossible to write unless you're alone. I understand the exceptions; comedy writers for one manage to write well in groups, but that's generally because while they're together they're more-or-less concentrating on writing. But if it's me and a bunch of non-writers sitting around concentrating on drinking beer and/or bowling and/or counting our drinks to a movie and/or trying to bounce quarters into a shotglass and/or playing Risk and/or Monopoly and/or Skip-Bo, generally I'm not getting very much writing done.

And if you go long enough without thinking about it, not writing becomes as second-nature as breathing and holding in your shit until you really REALLY have to go. But, a writer's brain never completely loses the knack. More often than not, the longer a writer goes without writing something substantial, he starts to second-guess every idea that pops into his head. He dreads staring at a blank white screen or an empty sheet of paper. He knows every brainstorming session will eventually devolve into thinking about a really nice set of boobs he saw recently.

The point is: don't cut fresh jalapenos with your bare hands and then masturbate later that evening without washing first. Your dick will feel like nine cases of simultaneous herpes flare-ups. Try sleeping with a dick on fire, see how you like that.

What I was really getting to, though, is that I think I have an idea I'd like to pursue. In the realm of writing, not masochism. Pretty much, my idea revolves around the notion that the novel as we know it is dead. You can only have it so many ways, but it generally boils down to one of three things:

an intricate fantasy where wizards and aliens and Chewbacca run around doing zany things that could never happen on Earth as we know it

a rousing thriller that's all plot and car chases and ultimately ends up as a movie starring Matt Damon or Harrison Ford

a mushy love story with either Fabio on the cover (lowest common denominator) or something a little more challenging that ultimately ends up as a movie starring Hugh Grant or Harrison Ford

Occasionally you run into a Charles Bukowski or a George Saunders or a Chuck Palahniuk who dares to be cutting edge, but even then they just end up trying to one-up their early success and ultimately fail underneath the weight of their own hype.

Story collections are where it's at. But even that is entirely overrated. The Short Story is overrated. Any two-bit hack can pull a short story out of their asses. You read collections by some famous authors, you adapt their styles to fit in with your own, you form them just how all those short story classes in college tell you to form them, you give them a beginning middle and end and you make sure to tap into a real depressing place so your reader can "identify" with you, bing bang boom you're a short story writer.

Well, it's always been my mission to move beyond those kinds of formulaic boundaries. And I think I have an angle.

Conversation. It's the one art that each and every one of us perform on a daily basis, and we don't even know it. Think about it, every conversation you ever have is unique. Even if you end up talking about the same things, you'd be hard pressed to recreate a conversation you've had verbatim. And the more conversations you have, the better you get at it.

In a short story form, you can say a lot or absolutely nothing in a single conversation. That's my point. Not EVERY short story has to be mind-blowing. Not EVERY short story has to say something important. How often in your life do you experience something truly important, truly life-altering? Very rarely, right? So, why is it that they expect you to write every piece of fiction as if it's going to somehow change the world? Especially when, in the end, it all boils down to the same thing: does the reader like it? That's it.

So, what I'm thinking about is, some short stories will be conversation-only. Just dialogue, back and forth, telling or not telling a story. Some will have exposition leading INTO a conversation as a coda. Et cetera et cetera. Playing with conversations and making a collection out of it.

Anyway, that's what I've got so far. We'll see if I go anywhere with this. In the meantime, I think I'm finally tired enough to go to bed.
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