How Publishing Is Rigged You thought it was a meritocracy??

8Sep/11

Gibberish Stories

Inkblot

Most of the fiction that’s published today can be categorized into one of four categories, and in this examination of prominent story types, I’ll look at the “Gibberish” type of story. Do keep in mind that there can be a fair amount of overlap between the story types. A Gibberish Story can also be a Crumb, for example. The other types of stories include:

There is an increasing trend among the Indie Lit crowd to write nothing but nonsense. A reader of these Gibberish Stories doesn't even need to pay attention to what's on the page to “get the idea” of what was written. Because in actuality, there’s nothing to get; a reader can make up the bits he might have skipped anyway, since anything goes and the actual words used in a Gibberish Story are unimportant. In the Gibberish Story, holes ooze teeth roadways and pimple scarlet booby traps of eyeball lighthouses.

The people in that Indie Lit scene try to get away with so-called-liking this Gibberish stuff because one doesn't have to understand or even read a word of it to talk about it with their friends. It's like interpreting an ink blot—nothing's wrong, per se. And it's all “art,” right? So everyone can have and discuss their opinions, they can argue the merits of one thing and the demerits of another thing they've read in a Gibberish Story. They can even “disagree” with their friends (there are few things scarier to a Lit Biz person than going out on a limb and slamming something that is counter to what all of their friends are promoting) and feel good about themselves for “taking a stand.” For the lazy and the conflict-averse, this Gibberish is perfect fodder for a literary discussion among hipsters. They don’t have to read anything, and they don’t have to make real arguments that might be counter to what their friends are saying because nobody’s wrong and nobody’s right. Everyone gets a gold star for participating, just like in nursery school.

But give this Gibberish stuff to any real person and they'll tell you that it's total crap. The security guard on the night watch at my office would get through the first sentence of a Gibberish story and quit right there. He'd tell me he'd rather pass his between-rounds time playing solitaire, thank you very much. Hell, I'd rather pass my time covered in crawly things.

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Even people who are trying to sing the praises of a specific Gibberish work reveal that the reading experience was fraught with anxiety and conflict. In the end, the reviewer quoted below (who in fact published the Gibberish work in question) admits that they let the story turn into a sensory experience. Note! Not something with a narrative (a key element to any story), but a sensory experience. What’s also crazy is that this publisher tries to spin the unsettling reading experience into something positive. But any real person wouldn’t buy this lie for a hot minute. They’d refuse to read this “literary challenge” of a book. Because real people, regular people out in the world, are much better judges of quality than publishing gatekeepers. The reviewer said:

“… I felt really anxious when I first sat down to read it and really fought to understand it on a sense-meaning level. I don’t think I’d faced such a literary challenge since college. I finally caved at some point and just let it turn into a sensory experience, which turned out to be really fun.”

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Here’s an example of a different Gibberish story: “The Death of –“ by Amelia Gray, Fifty-Two Stories, 2010.

“THE DEATH OF —–”

The logic of a house fire is a love kind of logic. A stickpin means a world if it’s stuck in the skin of the one you love. That burning flutter of ash was once a folder of sentimental poems written with bird intentions, rising, while a condensated drop of wallpaper glue rolls down the poreless wall.

Flames don’t lick as much as they love. They take what they want and revise it to suit them. A dresser drawer protects its smoldering ball of cotton like a wick in wax. A floor lamp finds new utility as a consumptive illuminator. The refrigerator melts into a monolith, backlit by snapping electrical showers of light before the power cuts in deference for power.

The house itself shifts in the way it is perceived. Panels curl back to reveal stronger stuff. The mirror shows a new face.

At these times, you learn it’s harder to leave your burning home if you spent too much time cleaning its floors. Watching those baseboards blacken should be enough to make any good woman lay back in bed and let it happen.

This is no kind of story, for starters. It's just some crazy sentences on a page. And the words themselves are interchangeable—why “bird intentions?” Answer: no reason; the words don’t matter. It could have been “widescreen flotillas.” Just go with it and have yourself a sensory experience! Is that what readers of the world are looking for? Absolutely not! Readers of the world want good stories, not nonsense that forces them to metaphorically “blur out their minds” just to get through a given story. It’s baffling that this stuff gets published at all, right?

Even a commenter at the Fifty-Two Stories site gets into the Gibberish mode, thinking their adoption of the Gibberish style makes them look artistic:

Each of Amelia's sentences are like fortunes out of fortune cookies. What they will read?

This website's font is like printed leaves half-eaten at the edges by caterpillars. Aherm.

Stories like the “The Death of—” are nothing but the results of lazy writers who have nothing at all to say. Gibberish authors don’t have any stories inside them, so they instead blurt out whatever words are banging around their heads without care for form, function, or meaning. They slap labels like “experimental” and “creative” on their work, and believe that only the most dedicated reader will be able to understand them. They’re actually proud of that insane theory. They don’t actually want their work to be understood or appreciated by the masses.

These stories are bullshit. They have no plots. They have no characters, and they have no structure. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to write a less-developed story. And we, readers of the world, are supposed to be okay with the fact that there is no story in these stories? What’s more, we’re supposed to think that these Gibberish Stories are good? Who says? Because that’s an absurd notion. These stories are crap.

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It’s a problem that this Gibberish stuff is everywhere. Blake Butler of HTMLGIANT is particularly prolific, and he maintains a total Gibberish persona across the realms that span his published work, his blog and his contributor duties at HTMLGIANT.

[Read more about cronyism within the disgusting HTMLGIANT “indie” scene here.]

From Guernica Magazine on December 15, 2010, I exhibit the following sample of a Blake Butler story:

“Dog Photo”

I was the dog photo for the second ceremony in which the women became cream. I had to hurry up and piddle so there’d be music. The floor rising toward its double: the house above our house above our house. My skin shirt had me on it, wearing another shirt with me on it wearing another shirt advertising assmeat, soaked clear through. Inside the shirt I was already holding the dog photo I would become when this began again, as it would have to. The dog inside the photo inside the shirt had become Adam. The furor of his cut glew in the divots around his “Love Me, Kill Me” smile: spittle fleck in rainbow peel over our Christmas, a ceiling we for some seconds could believe.

Blake Butler resorts to creating fake words (“glew” above) and he calls upon fecal imagery in his use of “assmeat.” The shit is not the problem. Shit’s everywhere. But Butler thinks that by calling on the shit imagery, he’s being “gritty” and “real.” And Butler loves to make up these words; he could call a teardrop “eyemeat” or perspiration “pitmeat.” Blake Butler doesn’t have enough of a grasp of the English language (or any language, for that matter) to use proper words, so he takes the lazy way out and makes up his own. The actual words used in this story are unimportant, and you could swap out words for other words without actually changing anything at all in the story. And this kind of garbage is all that he does. He can't even write a coherent book review when he's trying to write “straight,” so lacking are his writing skills.

Do you see what I'm getting at here? You yourself can churn this stuff out, simply by stringing words together in your free time. You could write a 3,000 word Gibberish story during the commercial breaks of tonight's newscast. It doesn’t actually matter what you put down on the page—Blake Butler wrote his first novel in a nonstop nine-day marathon and it’s 40,000 words of this Gibberish garbage. What is the point of these kinds of stories, though? They’re difficult to muster through and impossible to read. There is no plot and there are no characters. Why do agents (and the editors guilty of publishing Gibberish) think that we want this stuff?

How can we, as passionate readers, let these Gibberish authors know that we're not interested in what they're writing? How can we let the world of publishing know that we'd like them to publish something that was written for us? Something that's full of emotion and surprises, not these random nonsense-word stories?

If you’d read “Dog Photo” on your own somewhere, you would have dismissed it as total garbage, which would have been exactly the right thing to do. The problem is this: there’s more where that came from. And Blake Butler is represented by a top agent, Bill Clegg, who also represents the next guy whose Gibberish work appears below.

[A future post will contain more about Blake Butler and feature more examples of his Gibberish stories.]

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Here's an excerpt of a full-on novel of this Gibberish stuff. An Island of Fifty (Mud Luscious Press, 2010) was written by a guy named Ben Brooks.

Marsha lays paths & tears them up.

The mill is in sight.

Eyes are wretched chunks of light.

I carry in my palms her heart & it throbs with the pulse of a lion. She drinks oxblood on the island. There is a mill on an island. I am weary but my feet pulse with the throb of a chariot: ONWARD.

Marsha talks of beauty with the Hotelier. He is African-American. Watch his gargantuan jaw swell with words.

They stand beside the marble monolith, beside the mill, beside the chariot, beneath the charioteer.

The charioteer, the hotelier claims, breathes saffron & lives within the trunk of a great oak. He bites into the claws of crabs & washes taste away with woodbines. He pays for cold coffee skinned girls from the ships to gyrate against his spine.

Marsha feigns horror & lifts her skirt. She draws the cross over her breast. The blades of the mill begin to show cracks & the orphans grow restless. People are checking out. There is a small man in the mill who spins thread & bloodies his wrinkled fingers.

One day they will fold, his mother says.

Let them die, he tells her.

Nothing but nonsense. And it’s ever more worrisome that these stories are easier and easier to come across. The average man on the street is smarter than any hotshot agent when it comes to assessing quality; he knows that regular people are not interested in reading this stuff. But the average man on the street is not the one who decides what gets published and what doesn’t. Unfortunately for us, guys like Bill Clegg are playing that role, and they’re doing us all a huge disservice by continuing to promote these awful Gibberish authors and the stories they write.

Some blurbs and/or reviews composed by Brooks' friends are posted over at the Mud Luscious web site. Here's an example of one of them:

AN ISLAND OF FIFTY is a new literary bomb, resulting in the shrapnel of gold, ships, ocean, chandeliers, dreams, blood, & flame. Old & stale literature won’t know what just hit. This is something new masking itself in the old & I’m so so so excited.
Shane Jones
author of Light Boxes

The Gibberish language even makes its way into the marketing for these books. And you see use (and misuse) of the language by lots of writers today. They think that the incorrect use of words in this manner makes them “clever” and “creative.” They think that they’re bending language to suit their own needs, rather than “following the rules” and this so-called “rebellion” makes them feel like they’ve been artistic. Instead of executing complete mastery of the language, these lazy writers are making up rules to suit themselves, never mind that their implementation of their nonsense prose results in unreadable work.

But let’s look a little closer at the author of that blurb. Who is Shane Jones? (Use Google to look for connections between publishing people and you’ll usually find the crony connection within a few clicks. It’s astonishing how easy it is to uncover one crony stumping for another, and the evidence of favor-trading that runs rampant in publishing.) Jones is a guy who conveniently shares an agent with Ben Brooks and Blake Butler. That agent is none other than Bill Clegg, the agent who famously ditched publishing in one drug-fueled weekend, re-joined the fold a few years later and wrote a self-indulgent book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man (Little, Brown, 2010)—James Joyce sure could come up with some titles—about the events that led to his demise and collapse. Erin Hosier did a great job summing up Clegg’s book at The Nervous Breakdown:

But the recent publication of POAAAAYM and the barrage of praise heaped upon it (such as in Vogue and the New York Times), all seemingly accompanied by fresh photo spreads of a brooding and contemplative man reformed, have infuriated those scorned by Clegg and baffled early readers like me. These pieces don’t really talk about the writing or the book’s specific contribution to the so-called recovery memoir. What Jay McInerney, in Vanity Fair, calls “literary methadone” I call unbelievably pretentious, almost icky writing. (Sample sentence: “I sit back down on the bed and look out the window to the early evening light as it gentles the buildings across the street.”)

The “creative” use of the word “gentles” is laughably bad, and it’s one of many examples of such “clever” use of the language in Clegg’s book. Instead of bringing the story closer to me as a reader, such antics instead separate me from the work I’m reading.

[FORTHCOMING: Read more about critics abusing their positions by praising crony friends.]

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Is there any question as to why real people tend to avoid literary venues? They don't want to be forced to stomach the garbage that's available in those venues. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on “stories” like these Gibberish stories, and even if such stories were free, they wouldn't want to spend their precious time trying to figure out what's going on amidst the druggy glimpses of bicycle climbing tea plaids.

See? I can do this stuff all day. Anyone could—doesn't make it art.