“Imagine a good gambler who is playing an important poker hand, the way he lays his cards down makes all the difference. With a certain number of cards, a certain number of the enemy are falling off their chairs, so the sequence of the cards can often determine who wins the hands. A writer needs to play his hand very carefully; he doesn’t need to play fifty-two card pickup with the reader and throw the whole deck in his face just because he’s got control of the deck. That’s not playing cards at all.”—Thomas McGuane
You go to the races?
Then you read the Racing Form … . There you have the true art of fiction.
“We went back to your place and listened to the White Album. We ordered in. We fought and made up and got good jobs and got married and bought an apartment and worked out and ate more and talked less.”—
Have you read Jenny Hollowell’s wonderful short story “A History of Everything, Including You”?
We’d met for a beer that had turned into three before we ever got around to talking about anything that had any meaning to either of us. That’s what happens when your best friend moves to another city and you can no longer avail yourself of weekly happy hours. Lots of mundane things had happened to both of us in the two months since we last spoke at any length. Things like the fact that two people whose souls had been so inextricably tangled together – to the point they were indistinguishable – had somehow managed to sort themselves so quickly the two could meet for drinks two months later and talk about the weather.
I lit a smoke and motioned to the bartender for another round. As I exhaled I cornered him in my eyes. “So. Are you gonna tell me what happened? Or do I have to ask?”
“You just did. Ask.”
“No, I asked if you were gonna tell me. It’s a yes/no question.”
“Alright then, no.”
I sighed. “It’s on your mind, so talk. You know, we used to talk about everythi–”
“And now we don’t. Okay? Shit changes.”
“She loved you, asshole.”
“I know. I loved her too.”
“Then what the fuck happened?”
He spent a little longer than necessary pondering his beer before sipping it again. “What did you order?”
“Whatever you had before.”
“It tastes different,” he said, holding his glass up to the light before sipping again.
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
“There was a subject?”
“Yes. Why did you break up with her?”
“Why do you care?”
“I’m just – it’s just –” I downed half the glass’s contents like what I wanted to say was a prize hiding at the bottom, just waiting to be revealed. “Because – look. You used to tell me everything. We used to –”
“And now we don’t.” He tipped his own beer down his throat and I watched his Adam’s apple bob twice. Regret doesn’t go down easy. “Now we don’t,” he said, setting the glass down on the bar. “Now we meet each other for beers and talk about the last album that got released and whether it was any good, or the last book we read. We talk hockey, or college basketball. Now? We’re bros. We don’t talk about love because you’re incapable.” He excused himself and walked towards the men’s room.
I motioned the bartender for a final round. After conducting a hazy mental calculation of the delicate equation of beers drunk over time consumed, I called a cab. Alone, I glanced up at whatever the fuck was playing on one of the bar’s five television screens, as though I was interested. I wasn’t.
When he returned to his barstool, I spun around. Our knees knocked and I left my legs there, pressing on his. “What did you mean, incapable? Incapable of what?”
I lit another cigarette and turned back to whatever the fuck it was I wasn’t interested in watching, and tried to ignore the burn. I know love, I have loved, I do love. I do. Just not … exclusively. Not … to a full stop. “Why do you say that? I’m capable of love. I’ve loved many times. I love –”
“Just don’t. She loved me. I loved her too. You get the answers to the questions you ask. Sometimes you get the wrong answers because you didn’t ask the right questions.”
“You never answered my question at all,” I said, spinning my knees away from his.
“I asked you why.”
He leaned over, sliding his barstool closer to mine. Usually I’d feel crowded, but here it felt right. It felt like old times, like how things should be. I felt myself softening. He lay his arm across the bar in front of me, palm up, and I couldn’t tell whether he was offering or begging. “It wasn’t enough,” he said. “That’s the best answer I can give you, I’m sorry. I told you it wasn’t the right –”
“Well what the fuck do you want me to ask? Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind? You know I’m for shit at asking questions. What do you want from me?”
He leaned back. “You told me she loved me. I told you I loved her too.” His calm, even demeanor infuriated me.
“But you didn’t –”
“No, I did. I did love her,” he said, finishing his last beer and glancing at the headlights crossing the front windows of the bar. “I did. But not as much as I loved you.”
Making up for Lost Time
“You fuck like you got something to prove,” the naked girl said between inhaling from a cigarette.
She lied on the bed, completely exposed and exhausted. Right next to her was a young man, also naked, also smoking a cigarette.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” He asked.
“It depends,” The girl said and took another drag, making him wait for the rest, dragging it out. “It depends if you’re proving something to yourself, or if you’re proving something to me.”
He chuckled, reached over and grabbed the girl by her chin. He lifted her face up and close; stared at her eyes, “And which one is the good one? Which one am I?”
The girl yanked her head out of his grasp and turned over. She got up with her back turned next to him and stretched a little, “Well, I’m not completely sure. I’d need to go again maybe to make myself certain…”
He reached and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her back onto the bed, “We can go again right now,” But she wiggled free and bent over to pick up her scattered clothes that littered the room.
“I think you fuck like you’re proving something to yourself, and that’s not good. What is it? What’s your…dysfunction.”
The bluntness caught him off-guard and he paused a little, thinking, brainstorming, “You know when I lost my virginity?”
“Don’t know and don’t care.”
“I was 23. Don’t you agree that’s old?” He asked.
She slid her panties on and kept searching the room for her jeans and shirt, “I don’t really care. You lose it when you want to, or get a chance to. It means nothing.”
“Yeah, well…what’s the average? 16-17? Younger now probably, these kids are fucking at 13 now. Do you know how much sex I statistically missed all those years? How many women?”
The girl stopped and turned back around to face him, “Missed out? What the fuck are you talking about? So that’s your explanation for fucking everyone you can? Not that I care, it’s just…fucked up.”
He smirked, “Fucked up? Why? How? I’m just doing what I should have been doing before. Enjoying myself.”
She managed to find her top and jeans and quickly throw it on herself, “You see, you fuck to prove something to yourself? You fuck to prove you’re a real ladies man, right?” She asked him and took her purse. “You fuck for the sole purpose of making up all those years, huh? All those girls? Fucking to prove something to yourself is a pretty fucked up thing. Fucking to make up for all that lost time.”
“Yeah, well what’s wrong for making up for lost time?”
“Hah,” She turned around and walked over to the door, only to turn around again and smile at him, “You may try to make up for lost time, but time that is lost stays lost. You’re just fooling yourself, and in the end, you’re just fucking yourself. You’re fucking for yourself.”
She opened the door and left, leaving him naked, alone and exposed.
You Can't Talk To A Psycho Like A Normal Human Being
“Oh my god! You stabbed me. Why did you stab me?”
“I think I’m in love with you. Or at the very least intensely infatuated.”
“So you stabbed me?!”
“I just don’t have time to sit around fantasizing about you, agonizing over the fact that we’re never going to be a thing.”
“So you stabbed me?!”
“Oh yeah. You’ve definitely got to die”
“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”—Tahereh Mafi; Shatter Me
On "Mary Sue"
So I was reading something a bit ago and it got me thinking about Mary Sues and that whole concept.
And that basically the concept of “Mary Sues” is about policing female characters against taking up narrative space in the same way the world polices actual women against taking up physical and cultural space.
Because think about it. When someone calls a character a Mary Sue, what are they saying? ”That character is too awesome. That character has too many good qualities.”
…and your problem with this is…?
Like there are a hundred ways to describe a character that’s so flawless as to be boring. One-dimensional. Cardboard. Unbelievable. Flat. Self-insert, if we want to go with the other connotations of “Mary Sue” but without the gendered shaming aspect. Author power fantasy. Ridiculous.
So why do we - and by we I mean primarily male authors and readers, you’ll notice - have to have this specific term that means, “Woman who has written a female character, your female character is too cool, you need to make her shittier in the name of “believability” or else I’m going to snidely dismiss not only that character but everything you’ve ever written”?
If you can’t even handle female *characters* being awesome, you’ve got problems with powerful and awesome women far beyond the help of any fictional works, boyo.
So if anyone ever calls your female character a Mary Sue, remember that what they’re trying to tell you is “I’m uncomfortable with badass female characters and I want you to make your female characters suck so as not to damage my fragile male ego.”
And then gleefully push their face into the mud, step over their body, and keep walking.
(and, of course, writing.)