Wednesday, March 19, 2008


On a recent announcement entry on the website for Opium Magazine, some guy named Ed Tasca commented twice.

First he said: Ed Tasca 3.18.2008
I'd like to submit a short story.

Then he did another comment with his entire 7000+ word story including his phone number for contact. Just right out there in the main page, inserted his whole story for submission as a comment. [NOTE: OPIUM HAS SINCE DELETED THE STORY COMMENT AND REPLACED IT WITH A NOTE ON HOW TO SUBMIT] The story was about fishing. I think I remember about 10 stories from my MFA workshop periods that were about fishing. People of a certain age tend to seem to need to write about fishing. Maybe to help deal with their dad dying. Maybe when my dad dies I will write a story about fishing even though he and I never went fishing. I mostly find fishing pretty boring. I'm not one for sitting in the same spot for hours. Actually that's not true. I spend every day sitting in the same spot in front of my computer, fishing for email and for other shit to look at. When I was fat I sat in front of the computer playing PC roleplaying games like Might & Magic II. I kept playing the game long after I beat it, just going around getting more experience points and finding weird weapons and shit.

Peter Markus writes a lot about fishing. He writes about fishing in a way that I think is different than most others. I just read a copy of his BOB, OR MAN ON BOAT that is coming out from DZANC soon. I like Peter Markus's writing. Peter Markus out-Hemingways Hemingway for writing stripped down THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO SAY sentences. Peter Markus has phenomenal intuition. Peter Markus is very attentive to tone. He is capable of writing books that have 'bleak' subject matter but which do not feel overridingly 'bleak.' He manages to make 'bleak' seem 'uplifting' in certain senses, in a way that could be read to a child and appreciated by an adult at the same time.

I got a very nice rejection this week that essentially said they loved the work but that overall it was 'too bleak.' That they wanted to publish it but it was 'too bleak.' I have been told this before about book length manuscripts. I was told this by one of my MFA professors who is a very excellent writer and teacher. She said I was bleak all the time and that in order to balance the bleak I needed to include more light. Even when I include more light my light ends up seeming bleak, I think.

Many writers I admire write 'bleak' fiction, with little to no 'light'.

Brian Evenson.

Cormac McCarthy (though when he included more 'light' in THE ROAD he ended up on Oprah).

William Gass.

Stephen Dixon.

Stephen Dixon has one of the most bleak stories of all time: 'The Switch.' It was in the first Dixon book McSweeney's put out, called: I. One of my favorite story collections ever. Bleak as fucking night. 'The Switch' starts something like 'I wanted to try to look at it from her perspective.' and then goes on to have the narrator portrayed as sick and fucked and shitting and pissing himself and his wife trying to take care of him but being very mean because she is tired and you keep realizing throughout the story that he is talking about himself being mean to his wife in real life when he is talking about the wife being mean to the sick person in the story because he 'switched' the perspective in the beginning, which makes the writing penetrate even harder instead of 'feeling sorry', and makes you feel more and more fucked and sad and the sad makes you feel surrounded by warmth.

'Sad' stories do not make me feel 'sad'. 'Bleak' stories make me feel 'less alone,' I guess, as someone like Tao Lin would say. Not everyone thinks like that, I realize. I gave my mom a copy of SUTTREE for Christmas last year and she read it and liked it but said it was very bleak and that now she needed to read a sewing magazine or something. I can understand that. But I think there is something about 'bleakness' that is more 'real' in the telling and that I 'identify' with more often and thus in the long run feel 'better about life' in reading.

My novel-in-stories SCORCH ATLAS is mostly 'bleak' on the surface. I think there is some light in it, but perhaps the light is often 'subtle.' The humor is often 'dark humor'. There are 'uplifting' moments, I think. There are 'jokes'. I hope soon I am able to 'publish' my book so I can fixate on something else.

Now I'm going to shut up.


Ken Baumann said...

I hope you get your book published soon, too.

I don't think I could ever tell anyone that their novel was 'too bleak.' Or 'too' anything. I would feel like an asshole.

Maybe I would send letters with big block letters that say YES PLEASE or NO THANK YOU. Instructions would be attached to YES PLEASE.

Matt DeBenedictis said...

I hope you get your book published soon too. I'm a fan of the bleak as well. I find the majority of the time the light is crammed into places in a square shoved into a circle peg kind of way.

Stephen Daniel Lewis said...

"out-hemingways hemingway"

i think i read something once by brian evenson where he said something like that

he was comparing peter markus's fishing story to one of hemingway's fishing stories

it made me want to read peter markus

Prathna Lor said...

i want to read it

i looked at the opium website and i laughed

Bradley Sands said...

Where did you go for your MFA?



stephen, you should.

bradley, bennington.

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

Earlier today, someone sent me the list of bookshops (group discussions of a single old, beloved by the instructor book) for the next Warren Wilson residency.

One of the descriptions talks about how Evelyn Waugh, in his dialogue, seems to be "out Hemingwaying Hemingway."

Twice in one day. Possibly, I should go out and out Hemingway Hemingway tomorrow.

Shane Jones said...

i'm sorry blake, but you shouldn't have published this blog posting. it's "too bleak" for my taste.

Alicia P. said...

this blog post is "bleak"
i laughed and smiled


i knew it.

blake = bleak by two moves

Tao Lin said...

bleak butler

Adam R said...

It's two moves but only one switch.

Michael Kimball said...

I had a review once that said my book was bleak and I took it as a huge compliment. Was that wrong? Anyway, if something is truly bleak, then it is also probably beautiful and powerful and moving. The Road is, for instance, and Bernhard often is, and Beckett, and the two good books that Stanley G. Crawford wrote, etc.


michael, yeah i take it as a compliment too mostly. it just sucks when it 'stops' you from getting work out. i guess. maybe it doesnt suck. maybe its funny.