Selections from two weeks of mail

Regarding Zoe Press’ decision to cancel its short fiction contest but keep the reading fees, a reader writes:

Neil Azevedo and Zoo Press are no strangers to controversy and the murky areas of ethics–you may recall a few years back when judge Richard Howard picked Priscilla Becker for the first Paris Review prize, whom he’d apparently both taught and published. Azevedo defended the decision, saying that Howard had not been restricted from picking a former student, nor had former students been restricted from submitting in the first place; but as in the present circumstance, I think most observers thought it smacked, as you note, of bad faith.

If you’re curious, the only mentions of this I was able to Google online are in the letters pages of Poets and Writers.

Another reader says:

Verrrrry interesting. Those guys are gonna get themselves a rep if they’re not careful. I heard one prominent poet grumble that their first contest declared its winner =way= too fast to be on the level (disinterested cynicism, since his own books are from bigger fish than Zoo.) Then this year I was taking a workshop from a poet/publisher grousing about how many houses say thank you for the reading fee then publish their friends…. Gossip, but gossip from the knowledgable, and Zoo’s lookin’ bad.

I feel like Sundance — “Who =are= these guys?”

GMB suggests action:

perhaps a state attorney general or the FTC could be contacted to investigate the folks running the contest, to make sure that it is legitimate and not a scam/scheme to separate starving artists from their money.

Two readers evaluate Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital TV series in light of the news that it might be cancelled. From Ed of Return of the Reluctant:

I generally don’t watch television, but as a Lars von Trier fan and a man who will inexplicably pick up the next two Dark Tower books (What can I say? Guilty pleasure.), I did catch the first 30 minutes of the first episode. I gave up. King can get away with crows and dead bodies conversing their thoughts in his novels, but it doesn’t work on screen. And yet King did this. It was, to say the least, distracting and amateurish..

But more troubling than any of this was the presence of the eternally unappealing Andrew McCarthy. I’d say it was McCarthy who pushed me over the edge. The fact that he was cast as a quirky surgeon reminded me of the uncomfortable experience I had ten or so years ago watching “Weekend at Bernie’s II.”

Incidentally, this isn’t King’s first foray into a television series. He also wrote “The Golden Years.” The series took about four or so episodes to find its voice. And I suspect that’s what may have happened with “Kingdom Hospital.”

Ron of Beatrice has also seen the show and weighs in:

I’ve got a season pass for Kingdom Hospital on TiVo, and I think it’s the closest Stephen King on film has come to capturing Stephen King in print in a long time. But that’s a double-edged sword: not everybody has the patience for King’s long, long build-ups, perhaps especially not in dollops spaced a week apart.

And as a fan of the original Kingdom…well, Kingdom Hospital is clearly
less a faithful adaptation than a re-imagining of the basic material with
some of King’s favorite themes grafted in. I have parts of the original I
miss, and I’m sure others do, too. But if I hadn’t ever seen or heard of it, and was viewing Kingdom Hospital totally fresh, I think I’d be impressed.

The post about Dickinson’s flowers reminds the Cinetrix of her “favorite odd thing about the library at Wellesley”:

On the top floor, just to the left of the doorway into Special Collections, there’s a massive wooden door, with bright brass handle, knocker, and mailslot, set into the wall that leads nowhere. I don’t think it even opens. But here’s the lovely thing. It was donated by an alum, and it’s not just any handsome old door, because through the mailslot Robert Browning would slip his love letters to Elizabeth Barrett.

My friend Greg responds thoughtfully, as always, to my post about David Foster Wallace. (The post was prompted by a Guardian article suggesting all writers connected with McSweeney’s worship Wallace). Greg says:

You know, I seem to get slightly more of a kick out David Foster Wallace than you do — although I’d say he can be a bit hit or miss. What’s bugging me is the apparently cultish reverence this group of eminent young authors has for him. Treating Wallace as a guru seems odd to me, in that I’ve always found him to mostly offer a cleaner and catchier retread of his more important predecessors. Someone taking him for a literary innovator while ignoring guys like Coover, Barthelme, and especially Sorrentino seems a little like a Green Day day fan saying they love punk, even while not knowing who the Buzzcocks or the Sex Pistols are. Or some filmgoer marveling at how American Beauty created a new brand of misanthropic urban comedy when they never heard of Todd Solandz or David O. Russell. Maybe it’s just me.

Speaking of the recent history of American literature, I remember when Wallace was regarded as a lesser figure in the Ellis-MacInerney-Janowitz scene. Your point about his difficulty with (or lack of interest in) creating three dimensional characters might explain how he could once have been lumped in with those writers, who a lot of critics regarded as too callow and limited to deserve their celebrity. Well, I guess Ellis and Wallace were the ones with real staying power. But, of the lot, I think only Ellis is sui generis.

A few others, including Ms. CAAF, write to say, in a nice way, essentially, “Maud you’re an idiot. David Foster Wallace is the smartest, sexiest writer alive. Pick up that copy of Infinite Jest and try again.”

Dennis DiClaudio mostly agrees with my post about Lorrie Moore, in which I said I love her early work but think her most recent collection lacks the innocence of Like Life and Self-Help:

I feel exactly the same way, and I’ve rarely ever heard someone express the same opinion about Ms. Moore. She’s such a literary darling these days that to say that ‘Birds of America’ just bored me seems like blasphemy.

However, ‘Like Life’ is one of my favorite books of all time, still influences me, and i’ve given it away to friends at least three times already.

Tom Hopkins informs me that Moore is working on a novel and mentions a recent New Yorker story that I noted on this site but never got around to reading. I’ll have to read it before I continue run my mouth about the quality of her current work.

Mark Walters forwards a link to a recent Paris Review interview with Moore. Here’s an excerpt:

INTERVIEWER: How long does it take you to write a story?

MOORE: Well, I used to be able to write three or four stories a year. And there were other stories those first couple of years that I set aside. That would never happen now. I would never write a story and abandon it….

INTERVIEWER: I heard you read from the novel-in-progress last year in New York. It seemed to have some things in common with Frog Hospital, in terms of the rural setting, the adolescent-girl main character and the tone. Can you speak about it at all?

MOORE: I can’t. Do you mind?

Among the Uncle Tupelo fans writing in, Scott McLemee says he’s a fan but, “naturally I first heard them maybe ten years after they broke up.” Same here.

And Pete says:

Given Tupelo’s obsession with alcohol (“Your hand holds the bottle/That has become your last and only friend”) I was surprised to see Tweedy being in rehab for painkillers, but not booze.

There was an outpouring of responses to my post about southern cities Mr. Maud and I might consider if we ever move back down south. I’d planned to post parts of all of them (except for the really juicy, gossipy parts about the literary cultures of various cities), and might sometime, but for now I’d just like to thank Mykull, Susannah Breslin (she’s got a new story out), Duncan Murell, Sam, Laila, Misha Angrist, and everyone I’ve forgotten or been asked not to name.

New Orleans, Durham, Chapel Hill, Oxford, Athens, Wilmington (I think of Delaware as a northern state, but most of my friends here say it’s southern), and Charlottesville were recommended. There was competing advice on Nashville. One person said, “Avoid the entire State of Tennessee,” while another said there’s a young, thriving book culture there. I have family in Nashville, but haven’t visited in a few years.


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