As a part of Apex Magazine’s subscription drive, I was supposed to run my interview–which, for the record, I did in a timely manner–with Jason Sizemore YESTERDAY. But I flaked. So I’m running it today. Also, they have a lot of nifty things up for grabs in their store, like that cool She Persisted print that I can’t believe no one has nabbed yet. Apex was the first place to pay me for my fiction, so I have strong feelings of loyalty for them. Also, the more they’re able to thrive, the more I get to say “Oh, yeah, I was published by the same folks who published Famous Author X.” I enjoy that. Okay, enough. Here’s the interview:
1. Hypothetical situation: Both the podcasts TANIS and The Black Tapes have a new episode, but you only have enough battery left to listen to one. Which do you choose and why?
Why would you ask such a cruel question?
Let’s get this straight: I love both shows equally. They’re some of the best cross-genre work I’ve encountered in any media. My hat goes off to Paul Bae and Terry Miles for their ability to make believable audio drama out of some fantastic research.
Having said that…I must go with The Black Tapes. I have an audio crush on The Black Tape protagonist and narrator Alex Regan. If I’m down to my last battery, I want Alex Regan to accompany me to the end.
If I had to guess, Paul Bae and Terry Miles will be tapped for television at some point. The big bucks will draw them from TBT and TANIS, and the shows will be wrapped up. If the journey is fantastic but the destination is a bit of a drag, does that mean the experience is a waste? No.
But adding a powerful ending that makes sense and provides satisfaction can turn a good work into something you’re talking about decades later.
Short fiction has one advantage over longer forms of entertainment: the ending doesn’t have to “pop” to the degree of a novel, movie, or television show. As you indirectly pointed out, the longer you ride along with something, the bigger the expectations at the conclusion. Your ending needs to be “earned.” This means it needs to fit into the overall plot and theme. A classic conclusion fail is LOST the television series. Not enough information was given to the viewer to earn that ludicrous and obvious pull of our emotions in the last church scene. A classic conclusion success is the Ambrose Bierce story “An Odd Occurrence at Owl Creek.” The big twist is earned because the reader *knows* the unlikelihood of everything proceeding it.
A handful come to mind immediately: “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, “Lazarus and the Amazing Kid Phoenix” by Jennifer Giesbrecht, and “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad.
A more practical way to view this phenomenon is to realize that most of the time we already recognize that they’re monsters, but because of their place in society or social structure, we let it go because we mistakenly see it as advantageous or benign. Ignore the monstrous side of something, then perhaps you’ll earn their favor.
I cite the election of Donald Trump as the ultimate expression of my point.
Hard to say. He’s fiercely loyal. Wants my love and attention. He’s also well-fed.
I would answer with “probably not???” and hope for the best!
Jason Sizemore is the Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine. Sadly, shortly after this photo of him was taken, Pumpkin did indeed eat him. Happily, after a few days, Sizemore reappeared at his desk with no memory of the gruesome incident. He seems fine and himself, though maybe a little taller than he used to be, so his family mostly decided to not ask questions.
Sizemore is the author of the short-story collection, Irredeemable, which I liked a lot, though, if I’m being honest, I find a little intimidating. You tell yourself “editors edit, authors auth, and they’re two different skills contained in two different people.” But no. Not for him.
He also wrote For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher,
which is part memoir, part roast. It famously contains the story of the time Sara Harvey saved Sizemore from an East St. Louis hospital.
Also, rumor has it that Sizemore has three small pebbles embedded in the palm of his left hand from a childhood bicycle accident while he was fleeing the Pilot Knob witch child. That can’t possibly be true. Everyone knows that witch child was over by Marion, not up in the Kentucky hills where Sizemore was a kid. But if he didn’t have an encounter with the witch child, how is it that he can control the weather now? You can follow him on Twitter @apexjason. He or one of his spectral doppelgangers is probably following you already.
Tomorrow, this blog turns 11. I know children younger than my blog. I’m in the middle of a small existential crisis, but I don’t really feel any sense of crisis about the blog. I know why I do this. I get to write. I get to interact with lovely people. I get to organize my thoughts.
Ha ha ha. This is literally the only thing I do that makes any sense to me.
I wrote a thing this weekend for another place. (I’ll holler when it’s up.) I thought it wasn’t very good, but the editor loved it. It was nice to be reminded that, just because I can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes doesn’t mean there isn’t a forest.
Partly because I’m bored and cabin-fevery, but partly just because I stupidly read the comments on my Scene story, I’ve been mulling over why someone would bother to read a whole story only to complain that she didn’t really find those figures worth a story.
I mean, once you realize you don’t give a shit about the story, why keep reading it? And once you realize you don’t give a shit about the story, what do you think you’re accomplishing by making a public remark about it? Differences in philosophy–“I think you should have covered x, not y”–or anger at my being incorrect–“That’s my dad and you made it seem like he believes x, when really he believes y.” I get. I even get, to some extent, “Wow, this is really bad writing on a good subject.”
But I am fascinated by the “this story just didn’t do it for me” approach to commenting. The world is not a critiquing circle. You’re not obliged to comment on everything.
I’m really torn. On the one hand, I love that the internet has given people I wouldn’t otherwise ordinarily hear from a way to communicate with me frequently. And I do think that there’s been an important democratizing effect. Everyone can have their say.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to hear from everyone on everything. Like, if you read something and you’re like “Well, that didn’t really suit my taste,” that’s an important bit of information for you–the person who has to decide what kind of stuff is worth your time and energy–but unless you’ve asked me to write something specifically for you, it’s not really my business or my problem if it didn’t suit your taste.
I might be reading too much into this–I have spent a lot of time in my house lately–but I really wonder if this isn’t some manifestation of white supremacy–the assumption that everything created is created for you and, therefore, your realization that something doesn’t suit you does seem like a problem the creator needs to know about.
I don’t know. It just strikes me as such a weird approach to thing that I wonder about what motivates a person to persist in doing it.
This is a search term that brought someone to Tiny Cat Pants this morning. I can’t decide if this is a question–a person who has never touched a boob wondering about its general pleasantness or perhaps a poet, wondering if anyone else has ever started a poem “How pleasant it is to touch a boob.”
I am curious about how such a poem might go.
How pleasant it is to touch a boob.
I would know, of course.
I’m not a n00b.
A long time ago I liked a guy who liked me back but nothing ever really came of it except that he gave me a poem about awesome boobs, written, of course, by Lord Byron. Writing it down like that makes it sound tacky, but I found it charming and funny.
He has a wife now, and some adorable kids. Sometimes, I see their photos and I wonder if I should have tried harder to… I don’t even know, really… I’ve become someone since then that wouldn’t be a good fit for him. It’s hard to imagine the person I am now making the person he is now happy. But he made me happy once-upon-a-time and I hope the feeling is mutual.
Ten motherfucking years I’ve been blogging here at Tiny Cat Pants! A quarter of my life. A QUARTER OF MY LIFE! I’ve done nothing consistently that was good for me for that long, except this. I already got mushy on you this month, so I won’t again. I’ll just say that I hope our time together is as rewarding for you as it is for me. A lot of good things have come my way thanks to this here blog.
In honor of ten years, let’s listen to the weirdest, possibly least fortunate version of the best song ever.
I am very proud to bring you my Kelis Grand Unification Theory of all Awesomeness. My only warning is that I discuss earworms. Which means songs that, if you hear them, will indeed be stuck in your head for the rest of the day, or, in the case of “Neanderthal Man,” your life.
I’m thinking about writing about my Kelis is a genius theory this evening, but it’s going to require listening to “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies, and I just don’t know if I can do it.
I wrote this thing about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The more I type that, the more I wonder if they have some macro out there that would just type that stupid name out for me every time I needed it.
I wrote some on Diddy Wah Diddy, which, yes, I loved.
So, I have a friend, or, I guess, you can work with a dude for a year and drink with him regularly and now he’s not a friend, but just some guy you used to know in the course of a “full disclosure.” Saying he’s only someone I used to work with seems, to me, in my case, disingenuous. I liked the shit out of him and have cheered for him at various stages in his career. On the other hand, when he came through town last and saw his “friends from the Scene,” I wasn’t among the people he tried to get together with, though he apologized later, which is how I found out he’d been in town at all. So, that’s, I guess, the accurate assessment of our friendship. We kind of keep track of each other and I’ve been excited to see where his career might go.
So, here’s also the thing. He fucked up. Badly. And now a person is dead.
But, here is also the thing. As much as I read his story and imagined with growing horror what he was doing and what that would mean if he were writing about someone I knew–what if this were my friend V. instead of just some stranger?–I read his story and imagined with growing horror whether I would have written that story that way. And the thing that I keep coming back to is this: I’m not sure. Maybe not in this particular case. Maybe, if the circumstances were that I found out that a person I was investigating for a story about golf clubs was transgender and really, really didn’t want that to come out, I might back off. Maybe I might be smart enough to ask around about how best to handle the situation. Especially if I knew she’d tried to commit suicide before.
But I write about Scott DesJarlais regularly, about what a fucking tool he is. And I know he was suicidal at one point (I mean, say what you want and claim you knew the gun was empty, but sitting around with the barrel in your mouth does not make you non-suicidal) and I know he didn’t want the fact that he’d pressured his girlfriend into having an abortion to come out and I jumped right on the dog pile.
It’s supposed to be better because he chose to be a public person and he’s a vile jackass, but is it? I’m not sure.
I’m also not sure because I think a lot of writing–in my case, a lot of blogging–is pretty formulaic. I think, in fact, people’s own narratives about themselves are pretty formulaic (hence why Tarot cards work). And the whole “scrappy reporter sticks it to the rich and powerful” is a pretty strong narrative. It’s at the heart of the phrase I’ve seen bandied about against my friend–Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. I feel fairly certain that this was the strong, simply narrative at the heart of the urge to uncover this woman’s fraud (let me be clear: about her education and credentials). How dare you, rich and powerful person, try to pull one over on the public?
But it’s at the point that the simple narrative falls short that I feel uncertain. If you discover that your framework for the story is the wrong one–that this isn’t a powerful person fucking over the unwitting–how certain are you that the other simple shorthand ways you have for explaining the situation are workable, not outdated, not so bloody fucking violent? I’ve known my friend a long time and we’ve had a lot of discussions about writing and justice and sticking it to The Man. And it would have never occurred to me that, sitting in his writerly toolkit, unused but waiting in case he needed it, was “trans women are unstable frauds.”
So, I kind of don’t know how to process that. And, frankly, obviously, that’s not just a narrative he had on hand, ready to snap it into place when the story he was telling became strange to him, but one his editors also saw and thought seemed plausible and fine.
I feel kind of disjointed and incoherent about this. But I’ll just say this. A lot of the discussion of this story is about how my friend is some obvious villain. But I am certain that, if anyone reading this had sat down and had a beer with him before this happened, you’d find a guy you liked, a guy you thought was on your side.
And I get why everyone is all “Oh, not me! I would never…” But I just don’t believe it. And, in part, I don’t believe it because I would have believed my friend when he said something similar (and, in fact, as people have pointed out, he pretty much did when talking about the Kellers).
I feel like saying “Oh, not me! I would never…” is a lie. For me, anyway. I feel pretty certain I’d never write about a trans woman this way or go around outing her to her acquaintances. But I’m not certain I’d never fuck someone over in my writing as badly as my friend fucked over this woman. I’m especially not certain because I know I think there are a lot of people who deserve to be raked over the coals. I mean, who cares if fucking DesJarlais has some nights of discomfort?
I don’t know. I don’t really have a point. A woman is dead. And my friend seems to obviously have contributed to that death. And everyone else seems so angry and certain that this is beyond what a decent person would do. And yet, I know my friend and I’d call him a decent person. So, that certainty scares me.
It cracks me up when people come here looking for “Tiny Cat Pants Betsy Phillips.” I guess to differentiate me from all the other blogs called Tiny Cat Pants.
Yesterday, over at Southern Alpha, they put up a post titled “5 Nashvillians Who Changed The Course of History For Entrepreneurs.” On the one hand, it’s heartening to see people like R.H. Boyd on the list. On the other hand, they also put Ray Danner on there. Ray Danner, as you may recall, is infamous for using his company, Shoney’s, to oppress black people. He wasn’t just a racist. He was a racist who went out of his way to ruin black people’s lives.
From the Baltimore Sun.
Shoney’s said Mr. Danner would not comment on the settlement, but according to his own deposition in the suit, he was not shy about sharing his theories about hiring blacks.
“I have on occasion given my opinion that a possible problem area was that the specific store in question had too many black employees working in it as compared to the racial mix of the geographical area served by the store,” Mr. Danner said in the deposition.
According to a deposition by Mike Vinson, a manager of Shoney’s restaurants in the Prattville, Ala., area, managers with what were considered too many black employees were often told with a wink that it was “too cloudy” in the restaurant and were directed to “lighten it up some.” At other times, a white manager, Daniel Gibson, said in his deposition, Mr. Danner was more blunt, saying, “I don’t like niggers, and I don’t want to see them in my stores.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said blacks accounted for 38.6 percent of Shoney’s kitchen workers in 1989, 8.4 percent of servers, 3.7 percent of midlevel managers and trainees, and 1.8 percent of managers.
I’m not sure how Southern Alpha missed this part of Danner’s career history. Books have been written about it. And yes, Danner was an important entrepreneur but, holy Jesus, it’s not like he was racist a million years ago. The Shoney’s settlement was in my adult lifetime. What lessons, exactly, are entrepreneurs supposed to learn from Danner’s example? That, if you hate a group of people, you can use your power to deny them decent jobs and fire anybody who works for you who objects? And what kind of message are black entrepreneurs supposed to take from this? That white guys, no matter how racist, will be celebrated by your peers as long as they’re successful? I mean, maybe that’s true, but you’d think it wouldn’t be so blatant.
A commitment to diversity can’t just mean “and now we include minorities.” It has to mean, “and we make some value judgements about the guys who actively thwarted minorities.” I mean, think of it this way. If you were a young African-American entrepreneur who one day wanted to open your own restaurant chain, so you thought you’d go work at Shoney’s for a few years and move up the ranks and see how Danner did things, you could not. You could work in the kitchen, but look at those statistics. Were you going to ever be a manager? No.
The most obvious path to learning the skills you need–model yourself after a success like Danner–was closed to you because Danner didn’t want to see people like you in his stores.
Fuck this dude.
Was he successful? Obviously. Did he pave the way? For a lot of people in his communities, not only didn’t he pave the way, if he found a paved way, he tore it up so that the black people in his communities couldn’t benefit from him. We don’t have to make Danner an eternal villain, but come on! Why is anyone praising him like he’s a hero? And why would anyone who wanted to show the South as a diverse, inclusive place where anyone can be a successful entrepreneur celebrating a dude who actively worked to make sure that wasn’t true?
Yesterday, Tiny Cat Pants turned nine years old.
How weird is that?
Thanks to you all for giving me one of the most enjoyable pastimes I can imagine.
We’re rapidly coming up on the 9th anniversary of Tiny Cat Pants.
Which means that next year, I will have been blogging for a decade. A decade! Oh, let me put it another way. A quarter of my life.
Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Oh lord, that makes me laugh.
It’s up! Go check it out.
Well, let me apologize if I have your email in my Yahoo account because you probably spent part of the afternoon getting spammed by me.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened. I mean, yes, my email password was Password1234, but I thought the capital P would be tricky. Ha ha ha. No, just kidding. My password wasn’t something simple to guess or associated with me in any obvious way. Yahoo lets you track where log-ins happen and from where (kind of), so I was able to ascertain that some dude from Poland got in using a Yahoo affiliated application. I’m not sure what applications Yahoo has other than Flickr, so that’s my guess for how he got in–through Flickr somehow.
I already had in place all the things Yahoo says to have in place to keep from getting hacked–strong password, fancy picture on the login page, etc. So, other than changing my password, I’m not sure what more I can do, but I’m hoping it’s over.
Unless it’s retaliation for my snarky attitude toward government snooping in our data. In which case, yes, you got a few emails from me, but the NSA just had to sift through hundreds. So, that’s kind of fair, right?
Again, I am sorry.
Well, I’m saying that while there are only three there, but I find it interesting, nevertheless that the first comments on the piece were those comments.
I mean, my commenters aren’t normally grammatically-correct thoughtful disagreements with me.
My Iron Man post is up. It’s not as good as the other posts in the round-table, but, in my defense, I thought people would be writing about “Alley Oop” and “Sunshine Superman.”
Ugh, people. Sorry it’s been so crappy around here. The truth is that I’m lately feeling like it’s more interesting to listen than it is to talk, which makes for difficult blogging. It’s like, I wish I could read comment threads full of you guys without having to start them by saying something worth commenting on. I’m not down about it or anything. I also like listening. I’m just saying, being in a listening and reading mood is hard on a person’s writing. You can’t breathe in and out at the same time.
I’ve also not worked out a good system for writing when the Butcher is here, which means I’m feeling a little constipated in that regard. And, you know, it’s kind of weird. I went so long with having Project X to sweat over and then the Think Progress stuff and The Hooded Utilitarian that to have everything just be basically over all at once… well, it means I have to find a way to pick back up the work I most want to be focused on.
On the other hand, I got some good feedback on one of my stories, so, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could. And I think I’ve figured out the problem with another story. So, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could.
I’m hoping I can do this summer what I did last summer and take Fridays off. That would give me a good stretch of alone time I could count on. And I would love to go spend some more time in the garden at Traveller’s Rest.
I’m also secretly dreaming of a way to get into Glen Leven.
So, that’s me. Mostly listening and dreaming. The writing will come around again.
Tomorrow is Skarsgards!
You thought I was just reading all that stuff for fun! Okay, I was, but also because I was invited to do a guest post at The Hooded Utilitarian and I wanted to write about Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop by Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen, a book I really liked, but had one serious issue with. My post over at The Hooded Utilitarian is an attempt to answer the one question I thought Taylor and Austen left oddly unanswered.
I just want to thank Barry for his help with the song stuff in the middle of the post (though he didn’t know at the time that his help would be going to this end and neither did I). And to Elias for turning me on to The Hooded Utilitarian those many years ago.
This has been the roughest couple of days I’ve had blogging in a long, long time. I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble making sure I’m eating enough at the right times so that I don’t get sick. I feel like shit. Every time I see there’s another comment here, I hide from it for as long as I can before I come to look at it.
I don’t say any of this because I want your sympathy. What I want is just to give you some context for the apology I’m about to offer. In the old days, I used to love these long discussions, because I was an idiot and I thought you really could just hash this shit out in public and some good would come of it. Some minds would be changed.
But the truth is that I don’t believe that’s true and I haven’t for a while. I don’t believe big messes like the one we had here actually change minds. I think they’re just cathartic and terrible in equal measure. Often just terrible and hurtful.
In part, in order to be effective, the person moderating the comments has to have a generosity of spirit and a level of kindness and understanding that is completely outside of my ability. From where I’m sitting, it seems like you’d have to have an inhuman generosity of spirit. So, if you got in that comment thread and it sucked, yes, I knew and I am sorry. It’s just not something I can do–guide a conversation like that in ways that keep everyone on track and everyone, including myself, from feeling like they’re being attacked. I also don’t have the ability to not take shit personally. If it hurts me, it hurts me and I’m going to react.
So, that fucking sucks.
But I also want to say this–tempers were running very high, mine especially. And I know there were a lot of people just watching the shit storm from the sidelines and then forming opinions of the people involved. Or feeling like this incident solidified feeling they already had. That it “proved” something about someone, whoever the someone was to you.
One fight one time in one place is not the whole of who a person is. It doesn’t settle or prove anything about a person. We change. (Though, as I said, I doubt because of shitstorms like this). Or we hold one opinion that seems stupid or out of character but otherwise we’re fine and wonderful people. Or whatever.
God, this post is making me just want to burn this blog to the ground.
But I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to use the internet to decide who the bad guys or good guys here in town are, don’t solely use moments like these to decide. People aren’t just their fuck-ups.