Archive | May, 2013

I Have Something to Tell You (a Trio Bagatelles Outtake)

28 May

One: I have something to tell you.

Two: Me?

Three: Me?

One: Both of you.

Two & Three: What is it?

One: It’s very difficult.  I don’t quite know how to say it.

Two: Just say it. 

Three:  Yes.  No need to beat around the bush.

One: I just can’t find the words.

Two: Is it about us?

One: Well, since you mentioned it…

Three: Do we have bad breath or something?

One: No, your breath is perfectly fine.  I mean, no worse than most people.  I’ve smelled better breath, but that’s to be expected.  Not everybody can have exemplary breath.

Two & Three: So it is our breath.

One: No, that wasn’t it.  I really had no intention of bringing up your bad breath.  Disgusting as it is, I’ve managed to overlook it all this time.

Three: So what is it then, our moral fiber?

One: No, it’s not that.  It really has nothing to do with your moral fiber.  Everybody has their faults.  Nobody’s perfect.

Two: So you consider us immoral?

One: Well, it’s really nothing.  Don’t let it worry you. Your moral failings are hardly unique. Anyway, I think amoral would be the more precise term.

Three: So, you’re telling us we’re a couple of sociopaths with halitosis?

One: That wasn’t my intention.  Everybody has their faults.  I’m sure there are many worse, and worse smelling, people.  I really had something else on my mind.

Two:  Can it get any worse?  You’ve already told us, in so many words, that we’re a pair of amoral monsters with gutter breath.

One: You’re right.  Now that we’ve got that out in the open the other thing hardly seems worth mentioning.  Forget I said anything.


Sleeping with the Fishes (a Mr. Deadman Outtake)

26 May

Mr. Deadman had never before engaged in a ménage a trois, did not consider himself a swinger. Still, when his friends Sheldon and Sylvia Fish suggested a threesome he was curious enough to give it a try. “You only live once,” Sheldon had said. Mr. Deadman did not contradict him.

In order to set the mood, Sylvia prepared a romantic candlelight dinner. She served in a sexy negligee. “My wife is some hot number, eh?” Sheldon kept saying, winking at Mr. Deadman. Mr. Deadman was beginning to have second thoughts

Once in bed with the Fishes, Mr. Deadman lost his enthusiasm completely and was unable achieve an erection. “Carry on without me,” Mr. Deadman said before expiring.  Distracted by their ardor, the Fishes didn’t notice.

When the Fishes awoke the next morning, Mr. Deadman was gone, without a trace.

Dreams (A Mr. Deadman Outtake)

26 May

Mr. Deadman dreams in black and white. His favorite dream of all is the dream of nothingness, but when he awakens he can never remember whether he has dreamed this dream in black or in white.

Stomata (Outtake from “A Certain Clarence”)

25 May

Clarence’s walls had sprouted stomata, minuscule mouth-like openings. I’ve heard of walls having ears, Clarence thought, but never mouths. But if walls had ears and no mouths, Clarence thought, nobody would be afraid of what the walls might hear, because if the walls can’t speak, then there’s nothing to fear. So the walls must have mouths, because people are so afraid of what the walls might hear, and, Clarence guessed, what they might repeat. So that explained the stomata. Unless Clarence had misinterpreted the openings, unless they were not stomata after all, but were auricles, that is, ear-like openings. Or perhaps some were auricles and others oculi, yes, oculi, eye-like openings, and perhaps it is not what the walls might repeat that people fear, but rather the unrelenting dirty looks the walls might give them in return for what is heard.

Familiarity Breeds Content

25 May

I just came across this talk I gave as part of a panel on humor and writing at Jersey City State College. The rest of the writers were mainly children’s book authors (Jon Scieszka had gotten me the gig). I believe it was sometime in the ’90s. In it I talk about the relationship of humor to my own writing, and I still stand by most of what I said back then.

   I’d like to begin by making a distinction between humor and what I’ll call “funny writing.”  Humor is writing that tries to be funny; funny writing is writing that happens to be funny.  Humor begs for laughter; funny writing will receive it graciously.  Humor’s primary function is to make us laugh, and the function of all truly good writing (or, at least, those writing’s called “creative”) is to give us aesthetic pleasures, laughter being one of the pleasantest of all.

   Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Julio Cortazar and even William Faulkner are quite often very funny writers, but nobody would call them humorists.  Bombeck, Buchwald and Barry, those three B’s, are humorists.  Mark Twain, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman are all funny writers, not humorists; I’d venture to say that Perelman got much more pleasure from playing with language than from the laughter he received in return.  A funny writer is most interested in making writing, and if it makes you laugh, all the better, while a humorist is most interested in making you laugh, and if it happens to be good writing, all the better–unless it detracts from the laughs.  Because funny writing has no obligation to be funny, it’s more likely to be funny for good reason.  Because humor is compelled to be funny it often tries too hard, and fails, and is terribly embarrassing.

   But let me be done with my catalogue of writers, lest it seem that I’m trying too hard to make a point, and fail, and embarrass you all.  And I hope you’ll not find it too arrogant on my part if I now state, having already provided myself with a harem of flattering bedfellows, that I consider myself a funny writer.

   The funny writer is most interested in making writing.  A simple statement, and worth repeating.  Any good writer’s primary obligation (and perhaps I should add, to any good reader) is to make good writing, period.  Another simple statement.  Yet I know from experience that my contention that anything else (morals, politics, celebrations of the human spirit, or what have you) is mere icing on the cake will not go unchallenged.  In fact, I could swear I just heard a rumble in John Gardner’s grave.  Nonetheless, I said it, and I’ll stick by it, rain or shine.  But before I sink too deeply into the morass of general pronouncements, let me add, “Well, at least it’s true for me,” and save myself the bother of a nasty episode in the hallway after this is all over, or sooner.

   Well, at least it’s true for me.  I suppose you’d call me a formalist, which is another way of saying I have nothing to say, or at least nothing in particular.  I agree with Goldwyn–or was it Mayer?–if I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union.  John Cage said, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”  I’m not interested in what to say, but how to say it.  And if sometimes I actually do say something, I’m surprised, and I’m happy–happy because I’ve said something and happy because I’m surprised.

   So, if I have nothing to say then where do I start?  With the obvious, with language, and language being the mode of saying things, things do get said after all.  But even so, language is not enough, just as splashing some paint on the void will not do.  Hanging a canvas on the void–well, that’s something else.  So give me vessels, structures, form.  Content will follow.

   And that’s where the title of my presentation comes in: “Familiarity Breeds Content, or This Side of Parodies.”  Among the many givens or starting points I use to get going with a piece of writing, a number could be grouped under the general heading of Parody.  Perhaps–though borrowed structure might be more precise.  Aeschylus and Euripides (there he goes again) did not invent Orestes and Electra, or their story, but rather, and more significantly, animated them.  You wouldn’t call those plays parodies, but then again, it’s all too Greek for me.

   Test questions, tired old tales, TV sitcoms, these all provide me with structures and, for better or worse, a built-in set of expectations.

   Familiarity breeds content.  You know what to expect.  Or do you?  Language and your expectations — well, I have at least two things to play with.

Why On Earth Did I Cut This from Bagatelles?

25 May

What would you do if I died, she said.

Bury you, I said.


Innovative, Opinionated Lift Your Right Arm Author Slams Lit Lions

24 May

Innovative, Opinionated Lift Your Right Arm Author Slams Lit Lions

This ran on the Booktalk Nation blog the week before my interview. I think they chose to write about my taste in fiction in order to stir up some controversy that would lead to a larger audience for the interview.