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Last night I attended the first annual AWP Costume Parade and Ball. Prizes were given for best-all-around, most creative, and best team costumes. I didn’t win a prize, but I did get a bad burn on my face when a man dressed as George Eliot threw a lit candle at me when I pointed out that George Eliot was actually the pen name of a woman named Mary Ann Evans.

“You think I don’t know that?” the guy said. “I’m a fucking tenured professor at an Ivy League school. It’s in Boston. That’s all I’ll say.”

If the Ivy League is a trash dump, Harvard is the hobo who thinks no one can tell he’s masturbating because he’s got his hand down his pants instead of his dick out in the open.

“But you’re dressed as a man,” I said. Not caring, but fighting is fun.

“I’m the idea of George Eliot,” the guy said. “I wouldn’t expect you to get it. It’s a comment on the fact that people don’t know she’s a woman.”

I asked him how anyone was supposed to figure that out and he said the right people, who the costume was meant for, would know. I said by the right people he must have been talking about other stupid buffoons and he grabbed the centerpiece off the table—a candle, like I said—and popped me in the face with it.

The only thing I regret is that I didn’t get burned for a line more cutting than calling him a buffoon.

This was at the ball, after the parade, while we were waiting for the prizes to be announced. I was sitting across from the George Eliot guy, the rest of our table was made up of six different Max’s from Where The Wild Things Are. Max was by far the most popular costume at the show, followed by the bearded men in flannel who decided to pass themselves off as Hemingway (forget that Hemingway probably didn’t have gauges in his ears or wax his mustache up into stupid little curls) followed by ‘slutty’ takes on Austen and Brontë heroines.

There was one Jane Eyre that had especially caught my eye earlier in the evening—it’s amazing how those frumpy Victorian dresses can go from drab to fab with just a couple missing buttons, lipstick, and a blowout, especially when the clothes are struggling to contain some serious Kate Upton style curves and topped off with a sharp-featured pretty face twisted into a kind of judgmental scowl. And if we’re being honest, the scowl was what did it for me. Maybe I was raised all wrong but there’s nothing hotter than a judgmental woman. Except maybe for a judgmental woman with chalk dust on her hands and a scar shaped like a seashell at the point of her chin. Sometimes I wonder if this fairly specific kink has anything to do with why I have no memory of third grade, but when I ponder that too hard I tend to get a migraine and lose control of my bladder, so I’ll probably never really know for sure.

Anyway, I ended up at the table with all the Max’s and George Eliot because I was angling to meet this Jane Eyre. She was sitting at the table directly across, with my seat in her direct eyeline. I wasn’t in costume but in my experience all you need to do to get a woman’s attention at AWP is let her believe you’re an established writer, which means turning your name ID tag around so no one can see your name and acting like you’re caught between wondering why no one is kissing your feet and acting like you’re being stalked by a murderer.

When the guy hit me with the candle it burned my face and splashed hot wax all over, too, so I got up from the table to run outside so no one would see me cry. I thought for a moment the Jane Eyre woman would follow me to see if I needed help, that she’d hold a cold compress to my burns and we’d fall in love and go back to her hotel, make love between five and nine times and then in the morning she’d try to slip me $300 cash, and I’d realize she thought I was an escort. But she wither didn’t notice or didn’t care.

I waited around for a while outside, thinking maybe the George Eliot guy would come out and I could avenge myself upon him, but after a while I got bored and went back to the hotel. So I don’t know who won the costume contest, but I did ‘slip’ in the lobby and made a big stink, so my room for the rest of the weekend is free.


Usually, I love the bookfair at AWP for one reason: the stink of desperation. Endless aisles, table after table, all these people sitting there increasingly glassy-eyed, hoping for someone to care. To come check out their chapbooks or website or the benefits of the low residence MFA they’re offering. The desperation is so thick—especially by the end of the second day of the conference—that it’s probably irresponsible of the organizers not to have trays of Xanax set out by the exits and psychological specialists available for on the spot consultations in the lobby.

Can’t blame these exhibitors for getting a bit gloomy. These poor souls spill all this blood and shed all these tears thinking their product/publication/program matters and then travel to some distant city at personal expense to set up and share the fruit of their labor only to discover that basically no one gives a shit. And the sheer volume of people that don’t give a shit is staggering. Sit at an exhibition table at AWP and you’ll watch hundreds, maybe thousands, of people walk by not caring about your hard work. Most of them won’t even respond if you call out or make eye contact if the do accidentally look your way, because they don’t want to have to pretend to give a shit. If they look over all they’re doing is confirming that you’re not McSweeney’s, and if you’re not McSweeney’s you’re screwed.

Actually if you are McSweeney’s it’s probably no better, because what you end up with is all these folks flocking to you, all these desperate dreamers with a manuscript and a sense that they’re owed something, because the only people at AWP more desperate than the exhibitors are the folks the exhibitors are trying to attract.

Anyway, it’s typical for exhibitors to express their desperation through gimmicky giveaways at their tables. Sometimes it’s just free stuff—a tote bag, a bookmark, some postcards; sometimes it’s free books or magazines; sometimes they have food. Who can forget AWP 2012, when 87 people were hospitalized after getting the Norwalk Virus from some bad brownies at the table of one online lit journal? Or AWP 2014, when Jonathan Franzen raised money for the construction of the American Writers Museum by auctioning off the chance to have him take a bodyshot of grape Faygo soda off the highest bidder?

This year, first thing on my first day at the conference, I saw the craziest gimmick yet, and I’m actually feeling pretty upset about it. This publisher called Intensitsea, who specialize in ‘electronic post-translation literature with a focus on a systematic reduction of gender’ has a cheap Weber gas grill set up on their table next to a cardboard box full of about 150 baby silkie chicks. For every AWP attendee who signs up for their mailing list, they’ll spare one chick—and Saturday night at 5pm, when the bookfair ends, they’re going to toss the remaining chicks onto the grill and roast them alive.

I spoke with Gene Slatter, the publisher of Intensitsea, in order to find out what the fuck he was thinking; he told me that he believes the work Intensitsea is producing is of such dire importance for “the future of literature and Earth and possibly even worlds beyond the realm of common knowledge,” that the sacrifice of some baby chicks is a fair price for getting the word out.

I also spoke with an AWP coordinator who asked not to be named but said nothing about being described. A woman around sixty-years old, curly reddish hair and an amulet containing what looks like clippings of human hair around her saggy throat. I wanted to know why AWP was allowing this to happen—cruelty to animals for sure, and a fire code violation at the very least—and she told me that Slatter was being permitted the right to pursue his religious freedoms. I asked her what religion it was that included barbaric rites like roasting sweet baby chicks to death, and was told ‘The kind of religion that spreads quickly, that rings of a truth you’ve always known but never articulated, that gives names to shapes you’ve seen but never known.’

Guys, if you’re at AWP please take a moment to track down the Intensitsea booth and I guess sign up for their newsletter. It might be the only way to save these baby chicks. I thought about stealing the box off the table but I got priors and can’t take the heat.

10 Tried and True Tips For Fighting Writer’s Block

1. Try revising your draft as if someone who wasn’t a totally worthless, talentless hack was writing it.
2. Relax, remind yourself that no one who ever wrote anything worth a damn ever got blocked, and start researching trade schools in your area.
3. Find a work of literature that really inspires you and throw it in the garbage because you don’t deserve the pleasure of reading and all that inspiration was clearly some kind of illusion.
4. Go back to something you wrote previously, re-read it and take some time to contemplate how the rigors of aging have ruined your brain and deprived you of any promise you once had.
5. Catch the next flight to the Williamsburg-Newport News airport. When you land rent a car. Leaving the airport, take a right onto Denbigh Blvd, then another right onto Old Denbigh. Keep straight as Old Denbigh becomes Oriana Rd, continue on as Oriana Rd become Lakeside drive. Take a left on Victory Rd, then a right on Pond View. Park at the corner of Pond View and Wind Forest Ln, and walk to the end of the block. You’ll see a tan house, second from the end of the block. Go around back and look under the west corner of the deck, you’ll find a plastic goat mask and a parka. Remove your clothes and put these on, then come up onto the deck and wait for me, I’ll come to you, I’ll take care of everything.
6. Relieve some stress by screaming at your kids for laughing too loud (make sure you explain you’re just trying to break through a block, they’ll understand).
7. Try shaking up your routine by developing an addiction to a Schedule II narcotic.
8. Try urinating out into the yard through the mail slot in your front door (it’s not as easy as you’d think!)
9. Search the internet for advice on getting past a block. Search and search. See how many pages of results there are? So many. You know what all these pages, all these pages and pages have in common? You don’t? Better read them all, then.
10. Take a moment to reflect on the fact that being blocked while trying to write is a minor problem in the scope of the full human experience. Think of all the people starving, freezing, without shelter. Think of the refugees, think of all the people all over the world dying from easily treated diseases. All this, and you’re spending your day worried you can’t figure out what some imaginary character should say to some other imaginary character. Doesn’t that seem so meaningless, really? Isn’t that kind of a decadent problem? I mean, how unbelievably lucky you are, that writer’s block is your biggest problem. Did anyone ever throw acid in your face for the crime of trying to go to school? Isn’t that awful? And has anyone written a story about that kind of thing yet, or a poem? Maybe worth thinking about…maybe write something about that.

Harpercollins has released this 'word cloud teaser' of the first chapter of Lee's highly anticipated sequel to 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' The announcement of this book's mid-summer release has got people talking, and based on this teaser I have a feeling that talk is only going to get more and more uproarious

Harpercollins has released this 'word cloud teaser' of the first chapter of Lee's highly anticipated sequel to 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' The announcement of this book's mid-summer release has got people talking, and based on this teaser I have a feeling that talk is only going to get more and more uproarious

8 Literary Predictions for 2015

Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, due in the Fall, will miss its release date after Franzen becomes addicted to the PS Vita he got for Christmas and fails to finish the thing.

Kanye West will win the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, not for his lyrics but for the way he moves through the world.

Jonathan Lethem will be imprisoned after hijacking a city bus and forcing the terrified passengers to endure a nine-hour lecture on Philip K Dick’s use of the word ‘the’ in Valis.

Heather will dump that dickweed and we’ll get back together after she reads this super fucking sensitive poem I wrote for her.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Book Club initiative will result in Michiko Kakutani’s suicide.

Scientists will discover that if you get Joyce Carol Oates wet and feed her after midnight she transforms into TC Boyle.

Poetry that rhymes is coming back in a big way.

A team of researchers will finally discover how Infinite Jest ends.

A Brief History of the Author Bio

30,000 BP (Before Present)—The first recorded Author Bio is created by a caveman in the Chauvet Caverns who, upon realizing that taking credit for a recently completed tableau depicting a successful hunting expedition might increase his sexual prospects amongst the female members of his tribe, mashes his paint-stained palm against a cave wall.

30,001 BP—The first irreverent Author Bio is created when that same caveman, disparaging of the fact that other members of his tribe are now marking their drawings with palm prints, some bigger and bolder than his own, breaks his pinky finger before ‘signing’ a sketch of a bison.

1952 – Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is published in Life magazine, accompanied by a biography that eerily predicts the date and time of Hemingway’s death down to the very minute.

1966—Reader’s of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood are shocked when in place of a traditional bio, the back cover of the first edition features a photograph of Capote standing over the grave of Perry Smith, totally nude, with a stack of one-hundred dollar bills balanced on his erect penis.

1979—Sprightly science fiction author Harlan Ellison makes history by crafting a 10,000 word Author Bio to accompany his 3,000 word short story Verily, the Calligrapher Cried.

1984 – The Iowa Writers’ Workshop offers the first ever 12-week course devoted to crafting the perfect Author Bio. The class is cancelled after twenty minutes into its first meeting when everyone in attendance simultaneously realizes they have accomplished absolutely nothing.

1991— Brett Easton Ellis expands an Author Bio originally written to accompany The Rules of Attraction and publishes it under the title American Psycho.

1996 – The Author Bio for David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest features the last part of a cipher that, when combined with material in the novel, reveals the location of a vast fortune hidden somewhere in the continental United States. To this day the fortune remains undiscovered, although some claim that they’ll really get around to finishing the book soon, maybe over the holidays.

2005 – James Frey courts controversy when his novel My Friend Leonard, a sequel to his hit A Million Little Pieces, features an Author Bio claiming his birthdate as September 12, when in reality he was born right at midnight and technically should probably celebrate his birthday on the 13th.

2014 – The Author Bio for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage features a long description of a cat eating a bowl of cold spaghetti and the complete track listing for Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s 1950 collaboration Bird and Diz, but no information at all about the author.

A Proposed Solution to the American Poetry Problem

Where once the poetic community bemoaned a lack of readership, recently the problem has shifted—too many Americans are now endeavoring to produce poetry of their own. In a world where everyone considers themselves capable poets, artists with actual merit risk finding themselves subsumed in static, or worse, demonized as being no better than these poseurs. The poetry community hasn’t experienced such crisis since Frost came across a fork in the road (forgive the joke, I simply can’t help myself) and it is clear that a solution must be found, as this sudden zeal on the part of amateurs has already proven to be at best a nuisance, and actually dangerous in the most extreme cases.

For example, just the other day I was forced to endure an interminable wait in the check-out line at my local grocery store while the clerk, inspired by the image of two cantaloupes in a plastic sack, attempted to extemporize in free verse about the commodification of female flesh. All that his insipid mutterings accomplished was backing up the line so that by the time it was my turn to pay the ice cream in my cart had melted, Rocky Road reduced to debris strewn pond. And of course this example pales in comparison to the fact that the US Department of Labor has recently announced surges in both the jobless rate and the number of unemployment benefit applications arriving in Pantoum form, and especially in regards to the tragic tale of Flight 160, which ended abruptly in an Illinois cornfield after its pilot was suddenly overcome by the urge to compose a sestina describing the buttons on a first-class passengers overcoat, the scrap of paper containing these six clumsy lines being the only survivor of the crash.

Last month, in response to the crash of Flight 160 and the ensuing public outcry, the Institute for Higher Poetics released their list of approved poetic topics in an attempt to codify actual poetry and differentiate from amateur work, and while this was a valiant attempt I must agree with those who found the list sorely lacking. For example, the IHP lists ‘faded polaroid pictures of your former lover as a child’ and ‘sunlight breaking against a windowpane in your grandfather’s cabin’ on their approved list, but make no mention of ‘rusted combine tractors in an overgrown field’ or ‘inclement weather as metaphor for failed love.’ There are other major omissions as well, the most boggling perhaps being a complete dearth of entries regarding orchards of any kind. Can you imagine American poetry without any orchards? Would you want to? Perhaps this omission might be credited to the difficulty of the task and the limited amount of time they were given to complete it (the IHP was under some pressure from the White House, after all) but nevertheless many believe that the IHP’s attempt was ultimately futile, a glancing blow in place of the necessary total evisceration.

Luckily, I am prepared to offer what I believe will be a much more successful fix. The first phase of my plan calls for all currently practicing American poets of true merit to be quickly and quietly plucked from society and moved to a fortified compound deep in the Appalachian Mountains. According to my calculations, there are only twenty-seven American poets currently worthy of the title, so their sudden disappearance should go relatively unreported. It is likely that some poets will resist being uprooted and transplanted to a fortified compound far from their family and friends, but my hope is that once they become aware of the full scope of my proposal they will acquiesce.

Simultaneously, a group of carefully vetted academics will be tasked with sifting through the masses, searching for students who show actual poetic potential. Their findings will be forwarded to the mountain compound, where the twenty-seven poets in residence will select a single student from each of the fifty states (and possibly one from Puerto Rico, should a suitable candidate be found there) to invite to join them as students in the worlds most secretive and exclusive academy. The chosen twenty-seven will serve as their faculty, and I their headmaster.

Once the academy is established, phase two of my plan begins. This phase concerns the public perception and knowledge of poetry in American culture and calls for the immediate end of poetry education in every American school (save ours) at every level. Dedicate this class time instead to instruction in the maintenance of air conditioners, or tips for removing various stains from linen. In addition, the poetry section of every American bookstore must be removed, replaced with, perhaps, books on child rearing or how to carve intricate sculptures of exotic birds from driftwood. Bonfires will be held to destroy privately held volumes of poetry, these events festive in nature, with copious amounts of alcohol at discount prices available to participants and perhaps presided over by popular musical acts. I have already taken the liberty of reaching out to The Foo Fighter’s management inquiring as to their interest and am currently awaiting reply.

Those stubborn in their insistence on practicing amateur poetry will be discouraged and discredited by a series of television commercials in the style of the successful anti-smoking ads currently prevalent in prime time. Perhaps one commercial might depict a hip teenage boy attempting to exchange a chapbook of Haiku for condoms only to be rebuffed due to his lack of actual funds, then cut to the boy’s future when his failure to procure the prophylactics has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, and him forced to work inserting the eyelets into sneakers in order to support his burdensome family. Another of the ads might show a chic female poet enduring a harsh critique from a group of peers and turning to crystal meth in order to dull the pain, ending with her alone in a filthy alleyway, spitting her moldering teeth into her hands and wiping the blood from her chin with the very manuscript that led her to this sad state.

Phase two will be complete once poetry is either forgotten, unknown, or reviled by the masses. I expect that those of you still enthralled with the idea of some nation-wide poetic renaissance might balk at this point. I myself would once have been repulsed by the idea, save for previously mentioned events opening my eyes to the reality that the mainstream’s embrace will only cause poetry to asphyxiate and expire.

Rest assured, poetry will indeed survive. The elite students in the proposed mountain compound, guided by their twenty-seven tutors, will be immersed in the great works denied the rest of society, free from the feeble misinterpretations of boorish adjunct instructors, sheltered from shabby sonnets produced by drunken co-eds attempting to approximate hidden depths of intellectual ability. Here, poetry will thrive, taught as it was always meant to be—stringently—at the feet of established masters sharing inalienable truths. In addition, the work produced by our students will be carefully cultivated to conform to approved topics and forms. A part of each instructional day will also be devoted to rigorous instruction in the martial arts and small arms combat.

I expect at this point many of you might suspect me of planning to build a sort of heavily armed cult in the mountains, especially since I slipped in earlier that I will take the role of headmaster at the school. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, I believe that I am uniquely qualified for the position. I am the author of thirty-nine chapbooks of verse, the most recent of which has been celebrated as ‘unexpected’ and ‘lively’ by online commentators. I am also an educator of note, and have been narrowly edged out of winning ‘teacher of the year’ in my district no less than three times.

Next, allow me to assure you that the compound will not be heavily armed, I specifically stated that the students will be trained in small arms, meaning handguns, rifles, submachine guns and some light machine guns. Hardly the armory of a crazed doomsday militia. Weapons training will be necessary in order to defend the compound should it be discovered and fall under attack. There is every chance that despite our best efforts to dissuade the America people away from poetry, some of them might resist, and should they discover the school there is every chance they will become enraged with jealousy.

I may as well state here also, in a show of complete transparency, even though this part of the plan is still hazy at best, that I do anticipate the implementation of a tightly controlled eugenics program within the compound. Not immediately, we’ll give everyone six weeks to settle in. Poets will be paired based on a variety of characteristics in hopes of spawning offspring with optimum physical beauty, intelligence, and poetic capability. Will I be joining in the breeding? Possibly. Twenty-seven poets plus fifty students equals seventy-seven total persons, a very odd number, and if the breeding program is to be successful there must be complete participation. Unless a suitable student is to be found in Puerto Rico, I will have no choice but to take the hand of a specially selected female and enter the breeding chamber (there will be a special breeding chamber located on the top floor of the compound, down the corridor from my quarters and directly above the brig). How else will our new world—a world of pure poetry—survive? To forgo mating will ensure the demise of poetry within decades

Phase two of this plan should take around thirty years to complete. In that time, the original students will have grown to take the place of their tutors, their offspring will have replaced them as students, and the first grandchildren should be emerging. At that point we will rejoin American life, beings of pure poetry, having elevated the form so far above the heads of the masses that they would not dare imagine themselves capable of even the most innocent dabbling. Finally, poetry will be known as a precise art, suitable for the smallest percent of the most elevated humans. I cannot say with a certainty that the people of the future will fall to their knees in worship of our great society once it is revealed, but I suspect that is a strong possibility. If they should fail to do so, their subjugation through more traditional means should prove a simple task.

How do YOU celebrate Bloomsday?

If you’re anything like us (and you are, we checked) you wait all year for June 16th, better known as Bloomsday, the day that everyone everywhere celebrates all things James Joyce and Ulysses. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day, except with staged readings, scenic tours, and pretension instead of binge drinking. This year we thought it’d be fun to do a sort of informal survey to see how people around town celebrate in their own way. Enjoy.

Justine Castaneda, Barista: Excuse me? What day? Look, are you going to order something or what? You’re holding up the line. I don’t know what that is, I’ve never heard of that holiday. Listen, you’re going to get me in trouble. I’ve gone to bat for you, you know that. When Claudia wanted to ban you, you know I stood up to her. Just order—I don’t know what Bloomsday is, okay? Okay, listen. Grande Ice Coffee, okay? On the house. Just, just go.

Ava Gains, College Student: That sounds neat, I’ll have to look that up when I get home!

William Hudson, Postal Worker: I go down to the beach and rub one out. Best day of the year.

Bryce Hubbler, Bookstore clerk: Well, me and all my friends get together and dress up in period costumes and we do a little pub crawl and read our favorite passages aloud to one another as we go. My friends? Yes, they’re real. That’s a rude question. They—uh, they—no, I can’t give out their numbers or anything. They’re, uh, very private people. They’re names? Why do you—uh, hey, my break is over so I’d better—where do we meet? We’re, uh, well I can’t really say. It’s, uh, it’s kind of…look, I have to go, okay?

Helen Parker, Pharmacist: I don’t read for pleasure, sorry.

Shel Burroughs, Prof. of American Studies: I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time. No, sorry, I’m really very busy right now. What am I doing? What—what business is that of yours? I’m sorry I—because I’m, I’m busy dealing with family business right now, and you’re being very rude. No, no you give those back, right now. How dare you, how dare you. Give those—those are very expensive glasses and I’m quite blind without them now return them immediately or I’ll be forced to call—no, no wait. Okay, okay. Listen, lets be reasonable. No one has to get hurt, now why don’t you just put the knife away and I’ll do whatever you say. No, please, I want to. I want to, I want to help you. No one needs to get hurt, do they? We’re all reasonab—

Sgt. Peter Barnwood, Arresting Officer: You have the right to—sorry? Shit, is that today? I totally forgot to run down to the beach and rub one out. Damn it. Well, I’ll get ot next year. Where were we…yeah, the right to remain silent.

The Four Laws of Writing Humor

One of the most frequent questions we get here at Failbetter HQ is ‘How do I write something funny?’ Since we’re a journal and not an advice column, we’ve never responded…until now.

Why now? I don’t know. Why anything? Why do people have two arms instead of four? Why bother getting up in the morning?

Writing humor is a bit like getting a date for Friday night…unpleasant when forced, but if coaxed with the proper tools, feasible at least. We’ve worked up a list of what we call THE FOUR LAWS OF HUMOR that we absolutely 100% guarantee will put you on the path to eliciting giggles if not guffaws from your readers in no time at all.

THE FIRST LAW: Observe and Report

Observational humor is maybe the easiest type to master. Learn to key into the mundane and commonplace. Can you find a new angle on some shared experience that each and every one of your readers will be familiar with? Can you expose a truth about daily life that’ll have them howling? Here’s an example. I’m looking around the room I’m sitting in right now, and across from me is this big old recliner that I’ve had since college. You’ve probably got one just like it, that you hardly think about, right? I’m looking at this recliner, and I’m thinking, here’s a chair that leans way back and has a footrest…so maybe you might say something like, Hey, make up your mind! Do you wanna sit or lay down? Or maybe you might say something like, why does a chair seem so small when you’re sitting in it and your wife is nagging you to lose weight and so huge when she’s gone and you’re sitting there thinking you should turn the lights on because it’s depressing to sit in the dark but you’re too tired to get up and then you do get up to turn the light on only to realize that it’s been on the whole time, that the darkness is coming from inside of you?

THE SECOND LAW: Use Metaphor and Simile

A snappy metaphor or simile can brighten up a sentence faster than Paxil brightens my mood.

Instead of writing, ‘The room was empty’ try something like ‘the room was as empty as he felt inside.’ Instead of writing, ‘He was tall,’ try ‘He was tall as the Rocky Mountains that my wife and her new lover had a nice view of from their fancy cabin.’

THE THIRD LAW: Be Incongruous and Use Juxtapositions

Incongruity and juxtapositions make your reader’s brain go ‘say whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?’ Examples include a tiny baby lifting a huge boulder, a turtle smoking a pipe, or someone vowing ‘till death do us part’ and then taking off with another man long before either you or she is dead.


Humor works best when breaking the rules, blasting taboos and boundaries. I’m not sure why this is, though. I mean, I’m someone who played by the rules. Always did well in school, and after school I got a job and met a woman and asked her to marry me and we bought a house with a yard and planned on starting a family. All the American dream stuff, step-by-step, towing the line. But what’s it got me? Nothing. A house I can’t afford without Jen around to share the mortgage and bills. Maybe if I’d been more cutthroat at the office I could have moved up the ranks a little faster, made a little more money. More money would mean stability. But I thought, tow the line, work hard, they’ll notice. The bosses will see you’re someone they can depend on, and it’ll all pay off. Jen, when she left, she said it wasn’t about the money. Yeah, that’s what she said, but who’d she ditch me to shack up with? Some guy who got rich designing apps, has a place in San Diego, has a place in the mountains…that’s kind of funny, I guess. Yeah, Jen went there. Went all the way. Broke a vow, went outside our marriage by sleeping with whats-his-name while we were still together. That counts as blasting a taboo, I suppose. Yeah, I see how that’s funny. Makes me want to laugh. I will. I’ll laugh. As soon as I remember how.

Philip Roth Announces That He’ll No Longer Eat Pizza Bagels

Two years after announcing that he would stop writing fiction, author Philip Roth announced this week that he would no longer be eating pizza bagels.

Roth, 81, made the announcement on the steps of the 92nd St Y in Manhattan following a public reading Thursday night.

“I’ve never really liked them all that much to begin with, but they’re convenient—pop them in the microwave and they’re done in just a couple minutes—so I’ve continued on and on,” Roth told reporters. “I’ve eaten them for breakfast, lunch, as a snack. But I’m done. I think I have a box in the freezer, still. I’ll toss it when I get home.”

Roth’s agent, Andrew Wylie, says that Roth is becoming steadily more health conscious as he ages. “Years pass, we’d get together on a Friday night and eat a large pizza each—each of us, our own large pizza—then head out for ice cream after. That kind of living loses its thrill after a while, it’s only natural.”

Roth scholar and Professor of American Studies at the Bosley Institute for Learning John Tucker points out that Roth’s affair with pizza bagels was hinted at in 1998, when “an early draft of Portnoy’s Complain surfaced, featuring several scenes where the title character could not achieve sexual gratification without a plate of the snack, fresh from the microwave, cooling somewhere in the room.” According to Tucker, Roth moving past pizza bagels “is just another monumental moment in the life of a man whose life story consists of a long chain of monumental moments.”

When asked what snack might replace pizza bagels in Roth’s diet, the author replied that he’d heard good thing about Pop Tarts, but wasn’t ready to commit just yet. “This is all so new to me,” Roth said. “I think I’d like to try a couple things out and see what I’ve been missing.”

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