Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Directing the Fire Hose

The biggest news in books this week is this piece about an editor and author, Dan Mallory. He is not as blatant a grifter as Anna March and not as absurd a plagiarizer as Ailey O'Toole, but he lied his face off for many years about his life and his hardships. In return, he attained bigger and bigger rewards from the ivory tower and the literary world. Eventually, he picked up a seven-figure advance for his novel and a big hunk of money for the screen rights.

Here's what pisses me off most about this article: Mallory got so many things that I myself want, audiences and editorships with people and publishers with whom I salivate to be involved, acceptance into fancy colleges that I never could have touched. He did it dishonestly, and that meant that he took on prestigious editing positions before he was 30. I'm doing it honestly and it's taking me yeeeears even to get a book published. I'm not capable of Mallory's dishonesty, so I must do it the slow way, and that annoys me in a desperate, hollow kind of way.

Talent plays a role, certainly. Mallory surely has talents as a writer and salesman that I do not, and I acknowledge that it's not an equal situation, where I definitely could've had a $2 million advance if I'd only lied once or twice. But I can't help thinking if he could pull off this shit, why can't I? 

I mean, the wages of this kind of dishonesty are eventually ruin and ridicule, and that isn't ideal. And I don't really want to be the person who got a big-deal editorship by lying my way into it. But it seems like he did genuinely good work as an editor (when he could be arsed). He needed a shortcut to get there, and he needed to lie a lot in order to not come into the office for months at a time (what the hell was he doing during all that time, by the way? GTA and cocaine?), but while there, it seems like he did strong work as a book promoter and editor. And he did come through with an actual book that seems like it sold enough to justify its gigantic advance, even if it might've been a tiiiiiiiny bit plagiarized. He needed the boost of lies to get where he wanted to be, but he seemed to succeed, mostly, once he was there.

What might a shortcut like that do for people who've done enough work to earn it but haven't gotten the breaks they needed? What makes Mallory think he deserves success enough to lie to get it? Who deserves easy success and who doesn't? I'm full of questions about this stupid guy, ballasted by irritation at the publishing industry for being this way, for giving monetary success to people who are good at marketing and midlist success to people who are good at writing.

Last night, someone with interested followers retweeted the Horse Latitudes piece, and it got a whole additional boost of attention and reshares and likes. Today, the author of a book I reviewed tweeted the piece to her significant following and hello, reshares and likes. Lately I'm writing about books and in publications that have momentum separate and apart from what I do in relationship to them. That means I have to do a lot less to make my name visible, which is nice, but weird, in terms of what I'm accustomed to.

About a year ago I decided to hustle whether I liked it or not, and that's what I've been doing, just putting my head down and hustling, even though I mostly hate it. Regular newsletters, regular blog posts, checking on pitches once a week, sharing every single review on FB and Twitter, handing out my business card to anyone who asks if I write, asking for advice about everything I don't know how to do, applying for all possible reviewing jobs, asking for masthead placement from editors I write for regularly, saying yes to weird opportunities that I don't know if I'm qualified for, emailing editors who've rejected me to say they might be interested in X piece that just went live, agreeing to review as many books as I can and worrying about time and placement later, hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling.

I need to slow the pace of all this, or at least change the direction of the applied force. I never again want to be as overwhelmed as I was in January, and part of guaranteeing that is saying no instead of yes (more often and more firmly. An editor a couple of weeks ago interpreted my "I really don't think I can" as "yes!"). Part of leveraging the momentum I've given myself, and now, the momentum others are starting to give me, is directing the fire hose at my hybrid essays instead of my criticism. I never want to stop writing criticism, but I'm concerned that if I keep going with it as I have been, I won't be able to pivot toward the writing that matters to my guts. Nor will I have time (thanks, Chris).

As I wrote previously, my momentum has gotten me rewards I didn't foresee, and not (yet) the rewards I hoped for. I could've lied and said that I got an MFA from Columbia even though I got an MA at CSUN, and say that I used to slush for Conjunctions even though I used to slush for a miniature audio-stories outlet. With those lies I might've gotten further faster, with a lot less trouble and disappointment, and I might've been able to point the hose directly at the work that mattered most to me from the beginning. I could've proved myself once I was there.

But would I want something I had to lie to get?

Out in the world: 

I reviewed Esmé Weijun Wang's The Collected Schizophrenias, which I think is going to be a major book, for LARB.

I reviewed Tonic and Balm, a novel in stories by Stephanie Allen, for the Masters Review. It's out on Shade Mountain, one of my favorite presses, and it's about a nearly lost realm of entertainment: the medicine show.

This picture is completely unrelated to this post but it's hilarious and I need an image so. Click to embiggen if you don't see what's funny. In other news: I am an eighth-grade boy.

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