Fiction

Jason Fried, a frequent contributor to Inc. Magazine, runs the tech company 37signals. In a profile about his company and his work habits, he says:

I like to read in the middle of the day, to give myself a break. I don’t read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don’t need to spend any time on a made-up story.

I completely agree. Also, I only look at paintings about real things. I don’t need to waste my time staring at what some painter saw in his head. Landscapes and portraits, now that’s the stuff. Picasso, Kandinsky, Goya, forget it. I’m like, get me out of here. But I did discover this one guy, Andy Warhol. Real things. That’s where I’ll learn something.

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The Baker

In gathering all of Carver’s stories, including early sketches and posthumously discovered works, The Library of America’s Collected Stories provides a comprehensive view of Carver’s career as we have come to know it… But it also prompts a fresh consideration of Carver by presenting Beginnings, an edition of the manuscript of What We Talk About When We Talk about Love that Carver submitted to Gordon Lish, his editor and a crucial influence on his development. Lish’s editing was so extensive that at one point Carver wrote him an anguished letter asking him not to publish the book.

-Carver: Collected Stories. Library of America

“There are always going to be readers who will feel that Gordon Lish did Raymond Carver a favor,” Mr. Rudin [Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America] said, “or at least worked the kind of editorial magic that he was supposed to, and others who disagree, who will feel that Lish hijacked the stories, cutting and shaping them to serve his own, not Carver’s, vision.”

-“The Real Carver: Expansive or Minimal,” New York Times, Oct., 17, 2007

How can we understand how others are feeling, especially people who are so different from us? I see people who lead completely different lives from me every day, and I never bother to ask myself that question.

I first read “A Small, Good Thing,” Raymond Carver’s republished manuscript that was originally titled “The Bath” when first published, from a link a friend sent me in an email. Soon after, I read a book review about a new biography of Carver; detailing how he cruelly mistreated his first wife who supported him in poverty, and was mistreated by his editor Gordon Lish, who propelled him to riches and fame. The review was written by Stephen King.

I had picked up the Library of America’s Collected Works of Raymond Carver accidentally when searching the library. Unsure of which book of his to check out, since I didn’t know much about any of his books, I checked out the one with the most stories in it. Inside was “The Bath” contained in the book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and “A Small, Good Thing,” in his manuscripts.

“The Bath” is a pale mirror of Carver’s original manuscript “A Small Good Thing.” When a story is so lightly sketched out, the smallest strokes can change everything. I wonder if Lish, as a veteran of fiction publishing, saw Carver’s words, his sentences, and he knew that he could create jarringly short stories, which would stick out enough to create interest. Maybe we would never know Carver’s stories if it weren’t for Lish creating something radically terse and sharp out of them. But they were not the stories Carver wanted to tell.

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Cloy

cloy /kloi/

verb. disgust or sicken (someone) with an excess of sweetness, richness, or sentiment: a romantic, rather cloying story/ a curious bittersweetness that cloyed her senses/ [intrans.] the first long sip gives a malty taste that never cloys

ORIGIN late middle English: shortening of obsolete accloy [stop up, choke] from old French encloyer ‘drive a nail into,’ from medieval Latin inclavare from clavus,‘a nail’

Oxford American Dictionaries

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A fair comparison

This reminds me of this.

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A Revision

According to its submission policy, the majority of McSweeny’s website submissions are generated from perfect strangers, just normal people who have something to say. My submission was called “An Open Letter to the Downstairs Neighbor who Threatened Me in the Stairwell,” for the “Open Letters to People or Entities Unlikey to Respond” category. The piece turned out to be only a couple of paragraphs long, since I wanted to keep it under a thousand words, conforming to the style and tone of the other “Open Letters.” It was rejected.

Editing was very frustrating. I cut many paragraphs where I thought that I was rambling, to keep the story tight and focused. It often felt like trying to coax spilled water into a narrow straw. The more I edited, the more I realized I was toning down the story, downplaying the incident.

Here’s what happened. A few days after we moved into our new apartment, my girlfriend and I found a note slipped under our door from our downstairs neighbor, threatening to call the police if we didn’t stop making so much noise. It was a reasonable note, since we had been unpacking and shuffling around boxes late at night. However, we had just come from three months of a very unstable living environment, and any whiff that we would not be welcome in our new environment threw me into a horribly nervous state, where my body would reject food and rest. I thought that this woman would somehow have us thrown our of our apartment.

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