On Hunger

By Keith Dixon

Essay

Among the long list of indignities one must suffer with the increase of age—hair loss, mystery aches, the inherent uncoolness of having your twenties in your rearview mirror—is the particularly troubling discovery that you just aren’t what you once were. You just aren’t—and nothing embodies this loss quite so explicitly as one’s inability to recover from that which would have been a mere blip on the day’s radar twenty years ago. The hangover that troubled your morning back in college now sends you reeling back to bed for an entire afternoon; the sports injury that caused you to limp off the field for a rest now causes you to limp into the Emergency Room for a quick CAT scan. You aren’t what you once were.


You can dance, you can write…but probably not simultaneously.  This week, we look at pieces that look at the writing life.


MARIE MUTSUKI MOCKETT is eighty-sixed from her own reading.


SUSAN HENDERSON can handle the truth.


GINA FRANGELLO goes to Publishing Hell.


JONATHAN EVISON offers some unsolicited advice.


GREG OLEAR notes that most first-time novels aren’t.


ELIZABETH ESLAMI learns about titular double entendre.


RICHARD COX goes star-fishing on the Amazon.


RONLYN DOMINGUE gets clocked by the paper of record.


ROBIN ANTALEK gets naked. In a bookstore.


and


BRAD LISTI explains why you’re here.




How did you two meet?

JON COTNER: One summer I visited Boston, and met mutual friends of ours who’d rented a sprawling apartment with a screened-in porch. I was 19 and broke, didn’t really have a place to stay, so I moved into the porch. Boston was different from New York—apartments were larger, more conducive to extensive crashing. The following winter I returned to that apartment and met Andy as I stretched on a bedroom floor, shortly after the room’s official resident had left for work. It was 7 a.m. Andy entered the bedroom from the living room (where he must’ve been trying to sleep), hoping to gain a few more hours’ rest, but the bed had already been occupied by another scavenger. Standing above me, Andy looked down. He seemed a bit shocked. It was “love at first sight” in the sense of instantaneous and irrefutable friendship.


Who, or what, inspired Ten Walks/Two Talks?

ANDY FITCH: The book contains excerpts from two projects: my Sixty Morning Walks (sixty-minute walks through Manhattan for sixty straight mornings, each described in sixty-sentence entries), and our collaborative Conversations over Stolen Food (transcripts from forty-five-minute conversations recorded in public, across New York City, over thirty consecutive days). In Ten Walks/Two Talks, Jon and I decided to fuse these projects, based on our admiration for Ed Ruscha’s hybrid photographic books—such as Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, Various Small Fires and Milk, among others. Previous philosophers and poets, among them Socrates and Basho, often combined talking and walking into an interrogative, interlocutory, aesthetic and athletic practice. Here we try to do the same.


Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints appear before each section of Ten Walks/Two Talks. Why did you select his work?

AF: Hiroshige’s preference for idiosyncratic views on familiar places taught us much about how to enjoy city life. For us, he is the consummate urban philosopher if philosophy amounts to a careful picking-and-choosing of attention, a selection designed to prompt enthusiasm and engagement with everyday life, in the face of inevitable death. We didn’t want to adopt such abstract language in this book, however. Instead, we wished to put into practice Emerson’s assertion that “the glance reveals what the gaze obscures.” The rhythmic appearance of Hiroshige images is meant to remind readers of the glance’s immediacy, just when the undeclared prejudices of a sustained narrative gaze begin to solidify, and to seem “true” or “objective.”


Your talks sound more like a performance than how regular people speak. How much were they edited? Do you two talk this way all the time?

JC: During the early years of our friendship, we would meet for walks at night—following semi-frantic private attempts to read and think. Those initial dialogues had the performative aspect of two guys who, through their stammers, sought to create meaning or a language-world. We were both motivated in part by the consciousness that we  misspent our adolescence. I’d lost irreplaceable hours in a refrigerated living-room watching The Golden Girls and Wimbledon. Somehow I wanted to regain time, to at least slow it down and inhabit its flow more fully. Perhaps my dialogues with Andy sound different from “regular” conversation because of a shared, almost physiological need for engagement with the insights and moods of passing moments. Not to say the two talks in Ten Walks/Two Talks, as well as those making up Conversations over Stolen Food, haven’t been tightened. Readers will still find leaps, stutters, oscillating narratives and dialogic rhythms, but we’ve compressed the original transcripts to provide a livelier readerly experience. Editing the thirty talks took years of painstaking work. Yet surprisingly, many people believe the edited transcripts are verbatim.


Ten Walks/Two Talks is classified as Poetry/Nonfiction. How did this come about? And finally, any thoughts on “genre”?

JC: The day before Ten Walks/Two Talks got printed, Andy and I exchanged emails with Anna Moschovakis, our editor at Ugly Duckling Presse and founder of its Dossier Series. Anna asked how we wanted to categorize this book (she had to put something on the back cover). It’s funny: the three of us had been discussing the project for months, but only at the last moment did genre arise. That’s one reason UDP is so wonderful. Since the Dossier Series features cross-genre work, we decided on “Poetry/Nonfiction.” But are the Walks poetry, and the Talks nonfiction? Or vice versa? Or do both forms partake of both categories? To me “Poetry/Nonfiction” indicates the irrelevance of genre. Andy and I have, for example, published dialogues as poetry, drama, nonfiction, fiction, ethnography, literary criticism, even feminist criticism. Conversation doesn’t have its own genre. It might belong to all genres.

AF: I teach creative nonfiction in an MFA program, but I mostly assign philosophy, poetry and films to my students, and Dalkey Archive soon will publish my critical study of the artist-poet Joe Brainard. In each of these media, there is a perverse, low-affect aesthetic that I love. Within literature, this aesthetic often verges on creative nonfiction since it considers mundane existence the most overlooked of possibilities, and on poetry, since it achieves its effects through charm, elision and implication rather than faithful attention to the fact. It makes use of whatever lies ready at hand, yet remains, first of all, exciting.

Do you get the feeling that this self-interview is actually more like a self-conscious-interview?

Yes.  I have to tell you, and by you I mean me, that this just feels odd.  I’ve read the other ones on the site, and some of them are very serious, while others are very much tongue-firmly-in-cheek.  I’m glad to see other writers have come before me, blazed the trail so I can see how it’s done, but I’m sorry (which means I’m apologizing to myself) – I just can’t shake the weirdness of this single point for both question and answer.

Please explain what just happened.

I have no idea. I was in the booth facing the restrooms and Donnie came in all fucked up and I was all like, “What the fuck, Donnie?” and he was all like, “It was fucking n*****s, dude. Like three fucking n*****s.” And I was all like, “Shut the fuck up” because there were like three tables of black people in there and he’s all yelling and shit, but whatever the fuck it was, it was goddamned embarrassing because I wasn’t even drunk yet.

But fucking Donnie… Donnie is a fucking idiot.

What is your earliest memory?

I’m not sure. I have a series of tattoos, notes and Polaroids but I don’t exactly know which one is the first. Either way, I’m pretty sure somebody murdered my wife.

 

If you were not a writer, what would you be?

A bartender.

 

Thought you would say “a chef” because you so often write about food in your novels.

I think cooking for total strangers would be a nightmare. Cooking is very personal to me. I only want to share the dishes that I make with people who mean something to me.

And, my novels are not about food.

Well, here we are.  What question would you like to be asked, for starters?

‘Why is this night different from any other?’


Oh come on now, you’re not even Jewish.  Besides, you’re just ripping off Spalding Gray.

Yes, from the first piece I ever saw of his, The Terrors Of Pleasure.  It was a cable TV special in the mid 80’s and, if you hunt around, came out on video for about five seconds. Wonderful work, such a presence, and so sad what happened to him.


So talk about Spoken Word, then.  You’ve been writing all your life, yet only in the last few years did you decide to put your work out there for public consumption.  What or who inspired this leap into the unknown?

Seeing people like Richard Hell and Billy Childish who were possessed of the polymath gene: mostly known if at all for being musicians, but also writers, poets, visual artists. That they were creating and, especially in Billy’s case, getting his poetry and fiction out there for people who were interested in that sort of thing to access and appreciate.  Maybe it doesn’t all resonate or hit the mark in one’s aesthetics all the time, but hey.  Then there’s Hell’s connections to the independent NYC poetry press community, things like Giorno Poetry Systems and the St Mark’s Church Poetry Project (all excellently overviewed in the book Up Is Up But So Is Down).

Having been involved in the early Punk and post-Punk scenes back when, the DIY approach in and of itself – not waiting for a publisher to accept my manuscripts and putting in time at home and at the local copy shop – was highly inspiring and appealing.

And another utmost point is to not give up.  Never ever ever.  A difficult thing for me even now is to just get out of my own damned way, not obsess on perfection, and just let it flow.  As much as I’d love to someday (could it ever be) make some supplemental income from my self-expression, despite my advanced years I suss more and more that all one can do is be creatively productive and those who get it will and those who won’t won’t, and not to take either angle too personally.  (Though I do wish there was more communication among literary folk, no matter what their strata of success or lack thereof happens to be.)


So what’s up in your neck of the Bay Area these days as far as poet events?

The monthly Quiet Lightning series is almost a year old and is well happening, just did my second with them this week in fact.  Anything helmed by folks like Paul Corman-Roberts, or Charlie Getter (the latter being an astonishing street poet, and as much a booster and organizer for the local u/gr’d lit. community at present as anyone).

There’s a fantastic new venue in the basement of Viracocha, this sort of curio shop in the Mission.  Another performance space in the Mission called Kaleidoscope SF.  Then there’s all the justifiably renown, established lit. venues: K’Vetch, Smack Dab, Michelle Tea’s RADAR Readings.  And even with my varied misgivings about the Poetry Slam concept, Berkeley’s weekly slam at the Starry Plough has its share of near geniuses offering up exciting, quality work. Not forgetting John Shirley’s LitPunk! event, which I hope will return for its third year next spring-ish.


Five favorite words.

This week?   Autodidact.  Esurient.  Psychogeography. Catywhompus.  Kerfuffle.


Future plans?

Working on a new chapbook, my fourth for the amazing Bill Shute of Kendra Steiner in Texas, due out after the first of the year.  Getting sufficiently flush enough to road test my work elsewhere in the States (I very much want to read at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC, to name but one venue).  More music reviewing for sites like Popmatters.com, in addition to my regular blog columns The Groover’s Grotto and The San Francisco Nobody Sings.  Otherwise honing, learning, exposing, expanding, onward and upwards, to the toppermost of the poppermost.   Being the cabin boy of my creative soul.  I’m tired of talking about myself, ‘bye for now folks.


Another question…

And another answer.



“Be as vulnerable as you possibly can.”

I read this line in Sara Marcus’s excellent feminist music and culture history Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, and it stopped me in my tracks. She was quoting from Riot Grrrl, the zine, in its second issue, which was in itself quoting from the zine Bikini Kill, written by that band’s ringleader, Kathleen Hanna. This was one of several commands to the new girl order to reclaim traditionally feminine traits. Instead of seeing these traits as weak or problematic, my take is that Hanna was urging women to embrace our entire selves, vulnerability and all. (Other commands included “Figure out how the idea of winning and losing fits into your relationships” and “Commit to the revolution as a method of psychological and physical survival.”)

It would also make a good command for a writer, to be as vulnerable, open, honest and raw as one can. There are times when doing so feels not only like the easiest thing imaginable, but the only thing I can do, the only way to somehow control or explain or even acknowledge my thoughts and emotions, extreme and otherwise. Writing often feels a lot less vulnerable than speaking to people, because there are things you can do from the safety of not only your computer screen, but the safety of language, contorted, controlled, contrived exactly to your specifications. If only our emotions could be so easily mastered.

So I think writers can make good use out of Hanna’s phrase. Yet as a command for life, it’s more challenging, because by its nature, being vulnerable makes you possible prey for those who would indeed see that as a weakness and seek to exploit it, consciously or not.

I looked up the word because I thought it meant something akin to easily embarrassed, but no, it actually does mean, by definition, a form of weakness. According to Merriam-Webster, the first two definitions for “vulnerable” are “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” and “open to attack or damage.”

I find it fascinating that a movement built on the idea of revolution would embrace those qualities, and at first was startled at the connection. My immediate image of “riot grrrl” is the opposite of vulnerable; it’s fierce, in-your-face, proud, rocking out, empowered. Marcus’s book draw the connection, though, by exploring not just the music (including bands like Heavens to Betsy, which did betray vulnerability in their lyrics), but the zine culture riot grrrl spawned, and in those writings, we can see vulnerability unleashed, and also see that it’s not the opposite of empowerment; the two can coexist. We can also acknowledge that even a performer who seems to embody all those non-vulnerable qualities I cited above may very well be quaking on the inside, and the daring it takes to get up on a stage, or put your byline to your words, is still an extremely bold act, whether you swagger or cower your way through it.

On a deeper level, I think recognizing and embracing our vulnerability is being truthful about who we are. It means we might not always know why writing is our first defense and our first offense, we only know that it’s our only option. It feels like our life will stop unless we write this one thing down; not literally, perhaps, but in all the ways that matter. It means, maybe, sometimes writing something and only wondering later whether it should have seen the light of day. It means being okay with the fact that sometimes we have no barriers, no shields to protect our hearts, our egos, and that being “strong” can look like its exact opposite. At 34, I’ve never developed the thicker skin I probably should have tried to grow. Maybe I’m not built that way, or maybe there’s a part of me that needs to be a little undercooked, soft, easily pierced.

In fiction, my most personal and vulnerable pieces have been written in the second person. That distance was something I needed to truly go there, especially when it comes to what I can only describe as breakup erotica. For examples, see “The End” in Best American Erotica 2006 and my recent “Espionage” in Best Women’s Erotica 2011, both fictional stories, the former pretty much true, the latter heavily borrowed from real life. The latter starts:

You tuck your new pink and black coat, the one purchased earlier in the day just for this special evening, around your body, pull it tight like it’s cold out, except you’re indoors and the fire is roaring. You are cold, but it’s the kind of cold that can’t be heated by rubbing two sticks together or turning up the thermostat, the kind of cold that can only be vanquished once your heart catches up. Your heart is cautiously icy, watching and waiting; it isn’t safe to let it melt just yet.

It’s a story that, frankly, makes me cry when I reread it, but I’m still glad I wrote it, glad I took a situation where I felt nothing but vulnerable and could step back and assess it with a smidgen of distance, turning it into something outside of myself, where it wasn’t about me, but this character, this narrator–“You.”

I’m often so wary of being vulnerable, of being any emotion that’s too soft or scary. But I think we all have our moments when something shatters the calm we want to project onto the world, when things seem on the brink of collapse, whether because they truly are, or our minds distort our inner worlds to appear so.

This topic reminds me of Brin Friesen’s post here, “The Facebook Aquarium,” asking whether The Nervous Breakdown and its commenting community are “too nice.” I don’t know if that is a qualification I or anyone else can make, but with the internet deluged by often hateful, stupid or hateful and stupid comments, I don’t think we should discount kindness. Not to the extent that we tiptoe around each other’s emotions, but instead recognizing that any writing, or art, takes guts to share with the world, or a slice of it.

While I do believe the personal is political, unlike Hanna in the context above, I don’t think striving for vulnerability is so much a political act, as a holistic one. It’s something we can embrace and acknowledge without succumbing to it, or playing the victim. I’ve been mulling over this, my first posting here, for several weeks, and have talked myself out of it more times than I can count. Perfectionism and vulnerability go hand in hand, and the former often keeps me from exposing the latter.

Ironically, perhaps, about a month ago, I got a tattoo on my back that says “open” as a way to remind myself to be, well, open, emotionally, to not shy away from either my own fear of rejection or from experiencing new challenges, personal and professional. But old habits die hard. Embracing and consciously engaging in radical vulnerability, which is what I sense Hanna was aiming for, is not easy. I don’t think we can be that vulnerable all the time and still protect ourselves the way we need to to survive, but never being vulnerable means missing out on not just taking our writing to the next level, but our lives. I want to strive to keep peeling back the shell I often hide under, whether via simply not trying, or masking it with something more “fun,” like humor. For me, writing speaks to me loudest, as author or reader, when it goes somewhere that makes me squirm, that makes me think, “How could he or she expose so much?” I’m up for the challenge, though I’m not putting a quota on myself for X days per week of wringing myself dry on the page. How often I “possibly can” remains to be seen, but in this case, I believe the process of trying counts as much as the outcome.

Words Save Me

By Mark Sutz

Writing

You begin by finding solace in the written word.  How the letters fall one after another, then the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, the stories, the complete attempt by someone you have met only on this sheet, a paper wall between time, sometimes epic, centuries-long chunks of time, a substantial wall yet so membranous you can smell the streets of London in 1840 when you’re twelve with a bellyful of creamed tuna made by a housekeeper named Maxine in Scottsdale in 1980.

You continue your affair with the written word every day of your life, the thrill never waning, even when the sharp teeth of suicide threaten you every few years, you stave it off with the rote, delicious phrases that are your religion, your own private way to order the world, those words that draw you up from the abyss like some thread from the past and settle you, if only temporarily.  In those moments, repeating just five or ten words that someone wrote down once in the perfect order in a room six thousand miles away are enough to make you feel your blood bump along in your fingers and feet, your proof of life the salt from the tears you lick from the lonely corners of your mouth.  You are able to fall asleep, panic averted by words.

You muddle through bad times, trying times, and enjoy the moments when the black cloud abandons you for a few days or weeks or months, your affair with the written word enough to lift yourself out of bed and move forward.

You start laying down your own words, the ineptitude of your perfect, complete, pristine thought apparent when you reread the sentence or story and it is exactly the same feeling you get after you masturbate – why did I do this?  Silly, silly.

You implement daily the pen, pencil, typewriter and lay down hundreds of thousands of words over decades, not a single string of them what your mind’s eye saw in a flash.

You send a friend a story once, for no reason other than to know that one person out there will sit back with your words for a few minutes, up there, deep in your head.

You don’t hear anything from your friend, not even a potentially withering crtitique.  Silence.  You stop sending your words to friends, content that you’ve even found a few through life, no need to annoy them into avoidance.

You submit your words to people you don’t know who run entities that purport to publish stories sent in by people just like you.  You do this a thousand times.  Then a thousand more.   Occasionally, very rarely, you feel like you’re giving them a winning lottery ticket, if only the recipient would scratch off the coating and see what is underneath.  But they don’t.  They toss it aside, another losing ticket.  You hear: nothing.

You perceive faint echoes in the dark.  Always sounding like a wheezy, impatient, “No.”

You cement your self-image to this small word, these two letters carrying more weight than the text of a doorstopper of a novel.

You firmly believe this thing you use to order pizza or communicate with a neighbor about his overflowing garbage can is not a thing you really have any business trying to make your own.  Your pizza is often not what you ordered and your neighbor’s garbage still stinks, year after year.  Language doesn’t seem to work for you.

But you continue, through it all – you must, no choice.

You become certain that this activity of yours is as useful as a ‘61 Silverstream is to a death row inmate. Maybe less.  Then you write about this death row inmate and how his life would be if the guilty party was finally discovered, confessed and assuaged his guilt when he could no longer sleep.

You have another story, another prism, the only success that matters that you somehow got this man out of prison and onto an open highway, the next stop unmapped, unknown.

Okay, let’s talk about rejections.

War wounds and badges of dishonor. I’ll see your bruised pride and raise you a broken spirit.

One of my favorite rejections to date came from an editor who knocked back my submission but told me by way of consolation that one of my colleagues—an enviable Irish wunderkind—got in instead, and how proud I must be. The editor went on to say that my story (which has since been published elsewhere) was ‘a little too dry, a little airless.’

‘She talking about your story,’ said a supportive friend, ‘or her vag?’

But the strangest rejection experience I ever had was sitting at an editorial table like a ghost, anonymous and invisible, while the editors tore my story, and me, to shreds. And this isn’t really a story about that story, or the editors, or me. It’s about the fifth editor. A lone voice and a goddess, who, like the others, had no idea that the story was mine but who knew what she liked and who had the guts to champion it. This is her story.

I had applied to join the editorial team of a prestigious university anthology. I applied out of loneliness. Had  just returned to Australia, finished my degree, and knew no other writers. I had been downsized from the best job I had ever had, a staff writing gig at a big cable TV conglomerate where I had worked for seven years. Then the absentee corporate owners of our home had returned with soiled white collars and kicked us out. It was best place we ever lived in and we’d been there for seven years too. I had lost all hope, all faith in myself. I had no idea what to do now, where to turn. The unpaid editorial gig came up and I went for it. I was interviewed by two of the country’s better-known authors who teach in the writing department of one of the state’s best universities. The anthology has been going for several decades and is traditionally launched at a major writers’ festival and has kick-started several writing and editing careers.When the nod came I was over the moon. I had visions of late-night editorial sessions, drunken book chat, racing off to meetings in the winter wind, working with up-and-coming writers.

Apart from the last one, none of this was going to happen and it took roughly two meetings for me to know it. It took roughly two minutes to know that I was anything but among friends. Unlike the previous editorial team, this one was all women. And perhaps like many teams, the Alpha and her Acolyte anointed themselves thus in short shrift. This is how it’s going to be, they all but intoned. We don’t read science fiction and we hate horror. Or experimental. Cult, schmult. And as for that muscular American macho shite, forget it. Give us cancer stories, farm animals and abused kids. Any ideals I had about putting together a diverse collection of fiction representing the best emerging writers in the country shrivelled as I stumbled away from meetings in the winter wind.

In addition to myself and Alpha and Alpha-lyte, the editorial team consisted of a darling but heavily pregnant editor whose thoughts were elsewhere, a teenaged writing student who was the designated Excel jockey (my God, I hear her relentless key strokes in my dreams) and a blue-eyed goddess with a wicked sense of humor.

Goddess and I hit it off like naughty kids in the back of the class. But our joint bid for diversity, for thinking outside the Bermuda triangle of cancer-bushfires-motherless children, went unheard. Submissions to the anthology were anonymous. We got over three hundred submissions. Our job was to cull these down to sixty, then thirty five, then the final cut of thirty, with two spares just in case.

Editors were allowed to submit. Anonymously as per instructions. The story I had submitted was not about mastectomies, drought or Child Services. It was about a bunch of materialistic Xers not coping with the GFC and it was called Sex and Death. Yet for some reason it made the long list. Then the short list. The final cut meeting arrived and there it was sitting at number thirty-three on that damn spreadsheet and there was nothing I could do about it. One of the Alphas, or maybe it was Excel, had designed a flawed ranking system from 0 to 10. The flaw was in allowing both 0 and 10 as ranks, when in fact they worked as wild cards, to skew the results toward a single vision. You could, for instance rank all the stories you wanted in a 10, and all those you wanted out, a zero. And that’s exactly what happened. I brought a bottle of wine to the final meeting. Goddess and I slurped from it while Alpha and Alpha-lyte dispensed with submissions 35 and 34. Then mine came up.

It was the oddest feeling and one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was out of body, hilarious in a nightmarish kind of way. Having to sit there and be asked my honest opinion on a story that I could not admit to having written but which apparently sucked asses. Alpha began with the pregnant editor. She said she’d read it but had forgotten what it was about. Abstain. Excel jockey was next. She said ‘eh’, got the stink-eye from Alpha and gave it a 3. ‘What about you,’ Alpha asked Lyte. Lyte said I’ll give it whatever you give it. Alpha gave it a 2. ‘What kind of hateful drivel is this?’ she said. ‘The characters are all so materialistic—(that’s the point, I wheedled). ‘I hate all the brand names,’ put in Lyte. ‘They really annoy me.’ (They’re meant to, I whimpered. By now I was sucking my thumb).

‘Goddess?’ They said. ‘What do you think?’

Goddess’s blue eyes blazed. Her porcelain skin flushed.

‘What do I think?’ She said. ‘What do I think? I think that this is the best fucking story of the whole lot. I fucking love it. It’s slick and professional and hilarious. I fucking cacked myself. I give it a ten.’

My vision had begun to tunnel; my pulse was all over the shop. I was having a full-blown panic attack. I was next.

‘What about you?’ They said.

If I gave my own story a 10, I’d be crucified when they found out. The system is fucked, I thought. How’d it get this far? At this stage I had grave misgivings about even being included in an anthology full of bleating lambs and tumors, yet if I panned my story, what kind of a self-sabotaging loser was I? And what kind of traitor to the Goddess, a lone voice in this wilderness of whining wimmin?

I gave it a seven. Goddess’s face fell. I hated myself.

Alpha shook her head. ‘No no no,’ she said. ‘I really don’t want this one to get in. I just don’t like it. You don’t either,’ she said to Lite, who vigorously shook her head and nodded at the same time. ‘You?’ she said to Jockey, who shrugged. We all looked at the Breeder, staring dreamily into space. ‘I’m going to have to give it a zero,’ said Alpha. ‘I want it out’.

‘Come on,’ said Goddess, looking beseechingly at me. Remember she had no idea it was mine. ‘It’s great. Anyone?’

‘Yeah,’ I said weakly, my skin burning with shame. ‘I like it too, but there’s something I should tell you—‘

‘How can you?’ said Alpha. ‘The characters are horrible. What’s its point? I don’t even know what’s happening half the time. And what’s with that masturbating scene at the end?’

Lyte tittered.

Crunch, went the numbers, and my story fell down dead at our feet.

That night I gave Goddess her usual lift home and she was ropable. Despairing. I tried to laugh it off, but between us lay the fact that I hadn’t come out swinging in support of the story she’d championed. I felt like a traitor, but how could I explain? She’d be embarrassed and I’d be humiliated and what kind of a basis is that for a friendship? Much better to found it on a lie. Mmmm. I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the road. I felt like a wreck waiting to happen. There was, or had been, a real if tenuous connection between us and I could feel it being strained to breaking point.

‘Doesn’t she get it?’ Goddess was saying. ‘It was the only decent story in the whole fucking lot. And what was that line about masturbation? Fuck me. If she thinks that’s masturbating, she’s doing it all wrong!’

That was it. She had me at that. I pulled over and we sat there in my car in the dark cracking up and then I came out with it. The truth. A stunned silence ensued. Then howls. Real-women howls. She-wolves in the night.

Goddess and I have been friends ever since. And I like to think we always will be.


***

 

Postscript 1: A cautionary note. Before the five of us took over, the outgoing editorial team briefed us on procedure. They warned us of the pitfalls in this kind of group decision-making. Blood will flow, they said. You’ll agree on one thing only, that most of the submissions stink. But when it comes to the shortlist you’ll be at each other’s bits. Just remember this. The more divisive a story is, the more consideration it deserves. The stories that divide the team, that cause the most heated debate, are the ones that are going to lift the collection. They’re the ones that need to get in. That’s what art is all about.

Postscript 2: I have not yet resubmitted Sex and Death. I will. One day.

Postscript 3: Calls for submissions to the anthology came out again last year. Goddess wrote and sent me a damn good story. I edited it. She submitted it to the new team. It made the cut.