“Real Life” Fiction

Maud points to “literature from the underground” from the ULA, everybody’s favorite group of Knut Hamsun/Henry Miller flunkies. One suspects that the ULA’s problem is their aversion to editing. So as a service to the ULA’s genius writers, I’ve decided to help them out with the first two paragraphs of Emerson Dameron’s “Uptown Valhalla”:

Thursday evening, 8:34 PM. I jerked awake on my brother?s couch in Uptown. [How does one jerk awake on something as uncomfortable as a couch? A couch will deaden your back muscles and hinder the waking process.] ?At least I don?t have a hangover; that?s a goddamn miracle,? I thought [Why express this as a thought? Shouldn’t he be feeling this or the omniscient voice expressing this?], right before the railroad spike went in one ear and out the other. [Who the hell are you? Pheinas Gage? This makes no sense whatsoever.] I glanced at the coffee table. I shoveled my hands in my pockets. Wallet and keys were not forthcoming. [To shovel is to dig and unearth some sediment. One cannot shovel and produce nothing. It is like applying a shovel to air.]

Fortunately, my sibling [Your brother? Your sibling? Does he have a name? Is this even relevant?] had a few twenties stashed in a Pokemon Stadium cartridge [Aren’t these unnecessary pop cultural references what you’re damning Dave Eggers about?] on the bookshelf. I left the apartment and plodded toward a local jazz club, rubbing the fresh, acne-like bumps on my scalp. [Did you recently shave your head or is this supposed to be metaphorical? This sounds more like eczema rather than “acne-like” description that fails to tell it like it is. Clarify.] It felt like a TB test was coming up wrong. [Yeah, and I feel like a simile tossed out in desperation.] A nest?s worth of defiant hornets buzzed ?round my circulatory system. [Make up your damn mind. Does his head hurt? Is he suffering from a condition? This is incoherent rubbish.] These weren?t coke bugs. I know what those feel like. [Too bad that we don’t, becaue you’re incapable of clarity.] They look for escape routes, whereas these li?l fellas seemed to be on some sort of reconnaissance mission. [Ho ho ho!]

Now if I were a literary editor, the above bracketed statements would be racing through my mind. I’d toss this story out in an instant. This isn’t “real” writing. It’s junk. I’m sorry to be rough on Mr. Dameron. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But the ULA has yet to offer a compelling reason why we should subsidize people who put together this kind of drivel in one draft while others spend years starving in rat-infested garrets actually developing their craft. Like it or not, there are some people who can write, and there are others who can’t.

You want real life, Wenclas? I’ll show you rooms of starving writers (and patient spouses) turning out novel after novel, receiving rejection slip after rejection slip, and continuing despite the fact that 90% of everything is crap and that bleary-eyed editors are beleagured by “aspiring writers.”

The simple truth is that when a story has so many foolish inconsistencies embedded within its first two paragraphs, even the most experimental editor won’t have the patience when the piece is competing against a vertiginous slush pile of manuscripts. And I say this is a good thing. As readers, we only have so much time in our lives to devote to the neverending amateurs and incompetent moonlighters who pester like self-entitled whiners. And even then, we have to choose from what’s published.

The ULA wants to “overthrow” the literary establishment. Well, that’s silly. Because, for the most part, these people know what they’re doing. They read perhaps more than any of us. Granted, money plays a sizable role in their decisions. But then money plays a sizable role in everyone’s decisions. Even the wannabe Bohemian writer who spends hours of his time railing against the machine rather than writing a novel.

I’d have more respect for the ULA if they were actually promoting something of value. But they are a first-class literary sham. They’re the assholes you encountered in high school who wanted divisiveness for the sake of divisiveness, fools who would spend a whole lifetime making enemies, rather than truly “fucking up the shit from the inside” like the best of subversive novelists. And as such, they deserve no respect: not from you, not from me, and certainly not from anyone who seriously cares about literature.


  1. My grandfather was a writer and some of my ancestors were writers, and sometimes I, too, like to write things. Whether they are good, average, or pitiful I don’t know and don’t really care, but that story by Dameron I can say confidently was one of the most boring and untalented pieces of crap I’ve ever read.

  2. Like Phill’s “ancestors,” I’m a make money off writing. I’m fairly new to fiction, and I don’t mind being called on my excesses. Some of this was helpful, though I think you, DrMabuse, are too much the self-defined asshole to be the competent prof you could be. There’s hungover jabberwocky in my story, sure. Guilty as charged. I had fun writing it, and people have told me they had fun reading it. Anything can be nitpicked to death. You chose this because you wanted to go on another anti-ULA rant, and I wonder why that seemed worthwhile to you. By your logic, (a) for the sake of objectively good writing, the ULA deserves to be ignored, and (b) because the ULA’s preferred writers are objectively atrocious, it will be ignored. So why are you wasting your time?

  3. “I’m a make money off writing” is wrong. “I make money off writing” sounds better. Save the deluge.

  4. Forgive me if I’m putting thoughts in your head, Ed, but you might think Rick Moody is someone who “can write,” someone who’s “developed [his] craft.” I find his work annoying and indirect. So does Dale Peck, who deconstructed the first ‘graph of The Black Veil the same way you did with my story (without so much of the contrived “irreverence”). So do a lot of people. If others want to buy Moody’s books, that’s great. If people want to award him grants, I think that’s silly, and I’m free to say so, whether or not I’m as “good” as he is. The ULA has a lot to say about corruption and nepotism in the grant system, and I think that, like your red chicken-scratches on my intentionally purplish humor piece, it’s interesting. In other news, the ULA prefers different bad writers. The world’s big enough for everyone, Virginia! If my story sucks so badly, how did it merit your attention? So you could warn your readers not to “respect” it? Geez, man, have some fucking faith in your fanbase.


    Despite their intemperate tone, every now and then one feels a spark of sympathy for the Underground Literary Alliance – there does seem to be a squirrely nut of truth at the heart of their wailings – and then you

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