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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.

THE FOURTH LAW: Go There

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.”

AWP 2014 Events Worth Checking Out

AWP 2014 kicks off tomorrow, and as a courtesy to our readers we’ve put together a selection of the conference’s can’t-miss events.

You’re welcome.

Why are you not famous yet?

Wednesday, 7:45pm Hall C

A group of authors younger than you flaunt their bank accounts and discuss their various awards.

The Memoir

Thursday 2pm Hall F

Published authors and experienced editors give advice on monetizing your terrible upbringing.

The art of the erotic novella

Friday 9am Conference Room 2

Obese shut-ins who make millions of dollars self-publishing pornography discuss artistic integrity and laugh like they’re hiding something. Towels will not be provided, so plan ahead.

An evening with Claudia Haines

Friday 7pm Hall 1

Claudia Haynes published a single poem in The Paris Review 28 years ago. Join her as she discusses her process and grouses bitterly about missed opportunities.

The value of an MFA

Saturday 1pm Hall C

Teams of MFA faculty and bloggers compete in a pie-eating contest to decide once and for all whether academic writing programs actually have merit.

20 years of Zenix!

Saturday 8pm Hall C

The publishers of Zenix! join a group of authors associated with the magazine in a frantic conversation that assumes you are familiar with the publication and exaggerates its importance in cultural history.

The world needs ditch diggers too: giving up the dream

Sunday, Noon Conference Room 3

Anyone ready to give up the dream is invited to meet with military recruiters and career counselors to discuss potential opportunities as either cannon fodder or substitute teachers.

Hemingway Drafts

Legend has it that when challenged to write a short story in just six words, Ernest Hemingway quickly came back with that well-known stunner that is widely acknowledged as one of the first examples of Flash Fiction. Recently unearthed documents, however, reveal that Hemingway actually slaved over multiple drafts of the short before unveiling it. Now, for the first time anywhere, Failbetter is proud to share these early drafts, which we believe give an unprecedented glimpse into Hemingway’s mind and creative process.

For sale, baby shoes I found.

Who buys their kid used shoes?

Damn kid was born sans feet.

I’m selling my dead kids shoes.

For sale: baby shoes, slightly burned.

Shit, these baby shoes are haunted!

Keep Warm with Books

Another winter storm means that once again schools and businesses are closed, your Facebook timeline is clogged with pictures of the Wal-Mart check-out line, and every single driver on the road is crying in one voice about the inadequacy of every single other driver. If you’re like me, there’s nothing you like more under such conditions than to snuggle up and keep warm with books. If that sounds good but you don’t know where to start, consider these suggestions…

The Poetry of Robert Frost

Think about how many poems have been written since Frost died in 1963. Millions, right? But we keep coming back to these. Isn’t it time we moved on? This book is pretty big—over six hundred pages—so it should burn for a while. And if you do end up having some sick urge to revisit a Frosty favorite later on, you can find anything he ever wrote for free online.

Anything by Charles Bukowski

Having some Bukowski around the house makes sense if you’re under the age of 23. If you’re older than 23, it’s time to admit that you only still have these out of sentimentality. We both know you’ll never read these things again, that if you tried you’d just blanche at how much meaning you used to find in the endless descriptions of sad old butts and hobo vomit. I say light ‘em up, whatever age you are. If you’re over 23 it’ll lighten the load next time you move, and if you’re under 23 it’ll maybe help you get your life together a little bit faster.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

You will never get all the way through this. You’ll keep trying, sure. Every year or so you’ll say, this time I’m going straight through, and once again you’ll get to about page 150, right around where Slothrop is imagining getting sucked into a toilet or whatever, and you’ll put it aside. Torch it. Next year you can dedicate that reading time to something you might actually finish.

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism by Bill W.

This is another biggie, good for when the fire starts running a little low. You might have some hesitation about burning this one, I get that, but lets examine that hesitation. You really need some book telling you what to do? Having this dependency on a book, on these rigid rules and regulations, is that freedom? Because to me? That sounds like slavery. And anyway, what’s wrong with having a little fun from time to time? Sure, you maybe got a little out of control there for a while, but that was over a year ago. You know who needs rigid rules and regulations to keep their lives under control? Children. Are you a child? Or are you an adult, capable of deciding for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong?

So Far…by Kelsey Grammer

Kelsey Grammer’s memoir? Why do you have this? Did your doctor tell you that you would die if you didn’t get more exposure to smugness? Burn this and the books on either side of it on your bookshelf, just in case something leaked out and infected them.

Proposed Literary Remakes

The recent announcement that The Hogarth Shakespeare program has invited notable writers like Margaret Atwood to revise and update some of the Bard’s greatest hits signifies that the literary world is finally getting wise to what television and movies have known for years—you’ll never find an audience pushing anything new, you need to give people properties they’re familiar with, only dusted off just enough to feel fresh. We here at Failbetter pride ourselves on our willingness to hop on the bandwagon, and as such have prepared this list of proposed updates to some literary classics.

Ulysses

First of all, I feel like we can shave some pages off this sucker, right? I’m all for long books, I’ve read The Stand, but this thing is long as hell for a book about two guys walking around. And why are they walking around? What’s their motivation? I get the connection to the Odyssey, okay, but that’s so played out, isn’t it? What if instead Stephen and Leopold were sworn enemies, and they were in fact hunting one another through the streets of Belfast? I know the original takes place in Dublin, but moving it to Belfast lets us introduce an IRA angle, like maybe they were both involved in the struggle and one betrayed the other, and now it’s payback time. I’d keep the part where Bloom masturbates to that woman on the beach. If at that point we already know he’s a merciless killer, that’s going to make the reader really wonder what this guy is capable of.

The Great Gastby

Hm, let’s think…a super rich, super intense, super handsome guy obsessed with a beautiful woman who is easily dominated by strong personalities…what enormously successful recent bestselling trilogy does that remind me of…here’s an idea, let’s load in

a bunch of berserk S&M. As is, Gatsby is looking for Daisy to acquiesce with his take on reality and their shared history, so getting her gussied up with a bridle and all manner of clamps, we can call that a metaphor, right?

Catch-22

Swap the Mediterranean for Kabul, strip out all the humor. At the end, instead of escaping, Yossarian shoots himself in the head.  That should be about all it takes to net this one a National Book award, at least.

Portnoy’s Complaint

Cash in on the mania for dystopia by setting this in the far future, and changing Mary Jane ‘The Monkey’ Reed to some sort of sexual gratification robot. That’ll add some pathos to all the scenes where Portnoy is mean to her, because then it’ll be like, does she even have a soul? And also it’ll make some comment on consumerism, maybe, because he bought this sex robot but he kind of hates it. Add the words ‘A Parable’ under the title on the cover. People love that kind of thing.

The Catcher in the Rye

Young Holden Caufield never felt like he fit in…and on his eighteenth birthday, he finds out why when a letter from his mother reveals that Holden is in fact a werewolf. Not just any werewolf, though, for Holden is the fabled Lycan Prince, destined to guide his people to superiority over all life on Earth. Will Holden embrace his destiny, or will he discover that were-folk are just as phony as regular people?

War and Peace

Another big boy we can easily trim. Early on, there’s a scene where Pierre goes to a party and these rich guys are messing with a live bear chained to the wall…I say we run with that. Pierre rescues the bear, killing one of these rich guys in the process, and the two of them go on the run to escape punishment. Also, lets set this one in the future, too, so the bear can…maybe not speak conversationally, but it can talk just enough to make its opinions known. Have the bear occasionally comment on how great nature is to rope in the ‘Green’ crowd. I’m super tempted to say we should ditch the war angle and add in some kind of crazy plague, but the title is so iconic, it would be a real shame to lose it.

To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s tempting to set this in the future have the kids hunting one another for sport, but maybe this one we can leave alone. Some things are sacred.

Advice from the Editors

We decided to try something new here at failbetter.com: Advice! If you have any questions about, well, anything tangentially related to literature in all its forms, books, or the search for meaning in life, love and letters, let us know!

For example, Have you ever wondered why all movies that feature writers tend to portray (us) them as neurotic, tortured, maniacal and/or curmudgeonly? And how is it possible that Ethan Hawke seems to embody all of these characteristics at once?  Then this is your forum!

Email Fiction Editor Tom Batten with your queries and we’ll try our best to get them answered: tbatten@failbetter.com

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Failbetter—

I’m curious for your take on what’s probably the most pressing literary issue of the moment—what do you see as the future of the book?

Thanks,

Cynthia G.

Dear Cynthia—

Your question is a little vague so I’ll assume the book you’re asking about is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. For the next few decades Middlemarch will continue on much as it has in the past, read exclusively by English majors and shut-ins. Then, in 2035, Blue Ivy Carter will give the novel a new life when she names her firstborn son after the rogue John Raffles. Copies of Middlemarch will become a must-have fashion accessory (Dame Taylor Swift will appear at the Cyber-Grammys that year wearing a dress made entirely of pages torn from the first edition), and overprinting to meet demand will lead to widespread ecological collapse. We’re talking no more beavers, no more deer, no more owls…as for woodpeckers, don’t get too attached. By 2040… you know, I’m going to stop right there. In 2040 I’ll be 59 years old. Still young! But not that young.  If I have a child of my own this year they’ll be 27 in 2040. 27 was an all right age. Seems like I was 27 just yesterday, now I’m 32. And let’s be honest, I won’t be starting a family in the next year. You know why? Because I’m too busy fielding questions about the future of the book when I should be out there meeting people.  I tell you, I see these families walking around, parents my age, and I want to walk up to them and ask, How did this happen? What did you say or do to get what you have?

Cynthia, that’s a woman’s name.  Cynthia, I want you to feel free to write in with a question any time you have one, and maybe next time send a picture of yourself, too.

–Tom

Dear Failbetter—

I’ve recently completed writing a trilogy of novels exploring a world where Ernest Hemingway faked his death in order to join an ancient society of vampire hunters. Do you think there is a market for something like that? Or should I do like my wife wants and ask for my old job at the foundry back?

Sincerely,

Alvin

Alvin,

I think your wife really nailed this one, buddy. If I were you I’d get back down to that foundry and beg beg beg until they put you back on the payroll. Tell you what, I’m feeling magnanimous today, so how about I go ahead and take the rights to the whole series off your hands. I’m going to go ahead and send you a check for…how about ten bucks? I’m taking a loss here but I want you to get something for your hard work and I think it’ll be easier for you to move on with your life if pushing ahead with this ridiculous idea is totally off the table. I’m going to have my lawyer go ahead and send over the contracts today. Make sure you sign them before I come to my senses. One question—is there a part where F. Scott Fitzgerald is the king of the vampires and he and Hemingway do battle across the 20th and 21st century?

For real, though. Sign those contracts ASAP

–Tom

Dear Failbetter—

I’m trying to seduce a woman by appearing more intellectual and cultured and I need a little help…what’s a cool way to talk about poems?

Answer fast, she’s in the bathroom,

Anthony

Anthony—

Really, talking about poetry almost never works. What you should do is find out more about her relationship with her father and work that…if he was withholding, be a little withholding. Maybe she never felt like he approved of her, suddenly you’re not so impressed either. That kind of thing. If you are dead set on the poetry angle, though, here are some quotes you might find handy…

Alexander Ducat wrote in 1963 that a poem is “a canister that when opened reveals infinite canisters.” In 1965 Shannon Cromwell wrote that poetry “Is the sea, the anchor, the sun; everything but the boat.” Jay Sturges, moments before being executed for treason in 1971, told an Army chaplain that he had no regrets, for “regrets are for lesser men, and I am a poet. A poet takes his regrets and folds them into airplanes that he launches ceaselessly into the sun.” In 1996, poet Amala Ford told an audience in Tom’s River New Jersey that “poetry is neither the penis nor the vagina, but the friction.”

Now look, I don’t know what any of that means (except for the last one, sort of) but it doesn’t matter because she won’t either and if you act like everything you’re saying makes perfect sense she’ll be too embarrassed to admit she’s not following you. Then it’s off to the races.

–Tom

Esteemed Fiction Editor, Tom Batten

Authors, Pets, Inspiration!

So, not exactly news, but  the always interesting Brain Pickings has an interesting post about the important role pets play in the life of famous authors. As a struggling writer, I am personally enjoying my dog barking loudly and with fury at our neighbor coming in to the apartment across the hall for the fifth time this evening. Never mind that we have lived her for three years and my dog should know better. He’s cute and he’s he is always willing to watch whatever is on TV without argument.

So, some firsthand knowledge of this author-pet love: 1. When I visited Lord Byron’s home we saw a huge tomb, raised on a pedestal, near to the gigantic Byron mansion and I thought, “Oh, that must be his mother or father.” Closer inspection proved that no, it was for his dog.  And, 2. When I went to Key West, I saw a lot of roosters wandering around, but I am told that Hemingway’s cats (six-toed and eccentric as the Key itself) are also wandering around.

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My personal theory is that authors and writers need pets not just for companionship when you spend your “writing time” staring out a window but also to allow for more procrastination (see: “I can’t start this chapter until I take the dog for a walk.”)

So, enjoy some light reading about authors and their pets. Who knew  Charles Dickens had a pet raven?



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