Four Perfect Moments This Week

This week, I had at least Four perfect moments as a writer:

1. I spent some time with TC Boyle on Monday where we talked about "Hipster Nirvana," a story of mine I gave him to critique that had been giving problems since I wrote it last year in Buenos Aires. Granted, I've revised + edited the shit out of it a million times since that first draft, + it's in much better shape than it was six months ago, but still, there can't be a better moment for any writer than when TC Boyle tells another one of this his students that you're a fine writer, or even better, when TC Boyle wrote in his critique that your story had moments of transcendent beauty. WTF? Are you serious? Did I just hear that right? Transcendent beauty? Shit, I'll fucking take that.

2. Kicking it in Aimee Bender's office listening to a recording of
Flannery O'Connor read her story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Something about that moment, the intense richness of O'Connor's voice + accent, Aimee Bender opening up her office to me + some other students, simply sharing the experience together, right before workshop. It was magical somehow

3. Kicking it with Keith at Astroburger
where I ate one of the best vegan rib sandwiches + fries I've had in a long time, talking about black narratology, hip-hop, LA + girls. Also, we finally decided on a handshake--yo, that's important stuff man. How else are you gonna know how to greet your friends?

4. Discovering the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die"
only 15 years after it came out. Fuck, this is an amazing album. Hip-Hop doesn't get smoother/smarter/grittier/more real than this. I don't appreciate some of the misogyny, machismo + gun worship, but this album as a whole is fucking awesome. And don't take my wrod for it, TIME magazine rated "Ready to Die" one of the 100 most important albums of all time. By the time the glossies know what's up, this automatically makes something 10 years old . . .

A Chat with TC Boyle

had my second real conversation with TC Boyle today. We talked for almost an hour. Some of things I learned from this transmission:

1. He's reading at the New Yorker Festival next week + he's not going to bring his laptop. In fact, he never brings his laptop with him when he's on tour or giving a reading at a festival/conference. The only thing he brings are manuscripts, books he's reading for research + lots of clean underwear. For a second I thought he was telling me he's incontinent, but then I realized he just brings the important stuff. So let me repeat: manuscripts, books + underwear. Now that's a real author

2. He doesn't watch TV. Like me, he'll watch a movie on the Movie Classics Channel, an action flick at the theater or a DVD (because movies have a beginning + an end) but he pretty much avoids TV at all costs

3. He hates his cell phone. He never answers it.
--Let them call my agent, he said.
In fact, he told me he only brings his cell phone for emergencies

4. It's impossible to say something original to him. I mean, I've tried + it's just impossible. There's nothing this guy hasn't already heard, thought of or written + that really fucks with your mind after awhile. I find myself wanting to use more and more hip-hop slang because that's one of the only areas where I'm gonna represent.

--Yo TC, I'll say, let's throw up a burner on Hollywood + Vine that disses the alphabet bois. Maybe then we'll meet a bunch of bustdowns, ballas + buttafaces!

His response: neck-scratching + some mystified silence. And then I'd say: um.

I mean, there's shit I'm just figuring out that he's known for thirty years + I'm gonna have to try very hard not to try to impress him because you know what? It's just not happening. I can bring delight + intelligence + personal charm + lots of love to a conversation, but with TC Boyle (+ Aimee Bender, for that matter), you're not going to impress these people. That's their job, that's what they do effortlessly + they do it way better than you + they do it because they're not trying to impress you. They're being real, you're not. Ah, stupid defense mechanism. . .

5. TC Boyle used to take a 2-hour bus ride to SC for a whole year (each way) where, he explained, he would ultimately be the victim of racism. I laughed so hard when he told me that. I asked him if he'd ever written about his commute + he said no, not yet

6. According to TCB, if you call yourself a writer + you spend a year not writing + it doesn't bother you, then it's over. You're fucking done man. If you feel bad however, he explains, then that's a good sign

7. He tries to avoid email + the web whenever possible + only uses them for communication + research

8. We both seemed to agree that something has happened to Rick Moody's writing. I love early Moody (Demonology, The Ice Storm, Garden State). I feel ambivalent about his memoir + I just can't get into Purple America. The Diviners I'm willing to give a chance to (maybe more than once) if + when I finally get to it.

--I keep starting Purple America over again, I confessed, but I just couldn't get into it. It has something to do with all that stuttering + the computer voice just gets to me
--Yeah, he said, I've started that book several times now.

Our conversation about Rick Moody, who he's met only a couple of times, led to another one about the role of editors + agents. TCB feels like most editors don't really do shit, they just copy-edit. I dunno. At Hachette Books, I saw some of the editing that went on there + it seemed pretty extensive. Not only did some of the editors write out 4-10 single spaced pages of global suggestions to the author, but there were also several rounds of copy-edit exchanges between editor + author over the course of several months, all of which impressed me greatly. At the same time these observations were based on commercial + genre fiction manuscripts, so it might be very different with literary fiction. Additionally, I happen to know that by the time TCB hands in a manuscripts, he's already edited it so much that it's almost ready for print--a detail he's pointed out more than once. The sick thing: I totally believe it.

Another thing: TC Boyle doesn't like editors that try to rewrite stories for an author. I pretty much agree, though I'm completely open to suggestions like simple cuts + some touching up if it makes the story tighter or cleaner in some way

9. Being a persistent fucker, I asked him months ago if I could bring something in for him to take a look at since the administration screwed up + put his graduate fiction workshop at the same time as our required cultural theory proseminar. He said, --fine, just wait until the middle of the semester. So today I gave him a story. Though this is counterintuitive, I gave him one of my worst stories to critique. "Hipster Nirvana" isn't a bad story, because I have aesthetic pride after all--I'll revise a bad story until it no longer blows, then I'll revise it some more until it's decent, then again until it's good + again until it's very good--even so, it's still one of the worst stories in PORN + LOVE (my short story collection) for the simple reason that I don't know if it really works or not. Most of my stories I know, but this one I'm not so sure. I even admitted it to him that it's a B-side story. TC Boyle being TC Boyle, said he writes every story like it's his best one. I remember thinking, you would think that, punk.

Then, out loud I said:
--Come on Tom, paraphrasing Bakhtin, --the Ancient Greeks didn't know they were ancient.
--Yes, but they knew their grandparents were ancient, he said, chuckling.
--And I didn't know this was a B-side story until I was finished writing it, I said, which is the truth.
He nodded, which was about as much as I was gonna get from him.

Anyway, I know he's gonna critique that story really fucking hard + actually, I think that's exactly what that story needs. I'm planning on giving him one of my better stories next time, just to balance things out + pick his brain. I still have a lot to learn with plot + layering novelistic landscapes + publishing, but I can also tear shit up with some of my stories too. I'd prefer to give him a wide range + have him make up his own conclusions. He's TC Boyle, so we all know that's exactly what he'll do.

As I was gazing at one of the walls in his office covered by a million TC Boyle heads, all dutifully cut out from magazines, journals + book sleeves through the years + pasted in a lifetime achievement montage, I thought:

Fuck, this guy's the real deal. And he's had one bad haircut after another since the 70's