Not long ago, a Princeton student swiped one of Seth Shafer’s stories from the Internet, changed it around a little bit, and won several prestigious awards for it. Despite urging from friends, Shafer didn’t hire an attorney or send threatening letters. He told Dennis Loy Johnson that he found it “surreal and amusing,” and to some degree flattering:
that [the student] would pick my story to rip off in the first place, and that it would go on to win further awards and acclaim, despite his mangling the title and a few paragraphs here and there. As an unknown, essentially unpublished writer, there are worse things that could happen to you, I suppose.
I go out each night and gather the deer like so much fruit. The largest are heavy, harder to lift than you can imagine. It is as if they are filled with lead, their bones thick, so thick. It is why I take Roy with me when I can, when he isnâ€™t taking drugs or chasing women or both, simultaneously.
I have a large red truck. Without it, I would be lost. It has dual exhausts, and will rattle the teeth in your gums. It is much truck. I keep it as clean as I can.
Also I have a woman named Tanya. She is more than I deserve. Let it so be spoken in houses of light and truth.
There is something wrong with this place, too many roads, too many people. I donâ€™t know. We are becoming something unnatural. Strangeness in the land and sea, at home and abroad. Our bones are changing.
It is the only reason I can see that the deer are throwing themselves in front of vehicles.
Strange and troubling things are afoot in Shafer’s stories. You probably won’t understand exactly why they’re happening, but you read to the end of stories like “Main Strength” regardless. The narrators draw you in, make you want to understand their predicaments.
In March, when pressed to consider the difference between his story and the stolen version, Shafer offered some insight into his preoccupations as an author:
I enjoy writing stories that are mysterious, that leave certain things unexplained, for the simple reason that I enjoy reading material that allows me to make connections for myself, or to search within my own experience for answers. But ambiguity causes much consternation among some critics, and bugs the hell out of a lot of readers. So I think it’s natural that Accidents is more, umm, prosaic, and less, umm, mysterious.
I mean, if you wanted to steal One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, would you retitle it Crazy?
Other mysterious and sometimes funny Shafer stories are available at All Story: Extra (“Boll will be the hammer, the most splendiferous, magnanimous, unfuckingholiest hammer you ever saw in cleats and a football helmet.”), Tatlin’s Tower (“Twenty-six minutes before I was hanged I’m sitting in the Horseshoe Lounge, drinking a virgin Shirley Temple.”), and storySouth (“My Baby-Doll’s tits are killing me, man.”).
Be sure to read the Carver-like, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Big, Baseball-Playing Monkeys.” Here’s an excerpt:
What I’m saying is there are some things you just can’t do. And things you shouldn’t do. And him playing baseball is one of those things. It’s criminal, man. It’s just not fucking natural. It’s a fucking crime against nature, man.
His first problem is his height. He’s sixty feet tall! That’s not good. When you’re sixty fucking feet tall you can’t get down on ground balls. It’s a thing you cannot do.
Shafer has an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s also the founder and editor of Pig Iron Malt, a literary journal mirrored at Web Del Sol. He says he “wasn’t one of those kids who dreamed of being a writer.” He doubts he’ll have much to say on this weblog, but I think we all know better.