Some stings

Hello friendly people: I have a few upcoming publications.

I’ve recently looked at galleys for stories in WE MOSTLY COME OUT AT NIGHT: 15 QUEER TALES OF MONSTERS, ANGELS & OTHER CREATURES (ed. Rob Costello) and Out of Our League: Sixteen Stories of Girls In Sports (ed. Dahlia Adler and Jennifer Iacopelli). My story in the queer one is a lot better than my sports story, though. If I was writing it now, I’d have written a much stronger trans girl sports story. But c’est la vie.

My story Goodwill” (originally published in American Short Fiction) will be reprinted in Best Small Fictions 2023. This anthology is a fantastic scheme: they’re reprinting 113 stories, which means 113 authors tweeting about and publicizing you. And they’re not paying me for the reprint, and they’re not even sending out print contributor copies. But the thing is, the scam works! I do feel honored! A work of mine was also selected for BSF22, but that book never came out, due to a dispute with the press.

I realized after writing it that “Goodwill” was essentially an expansion of the monologue by Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”

Why shouldn’t I work for the N.S.A.? That’s a tough one, but I’ll take a shot. Say I’m working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I’m real happy with myself, cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin’, “Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area” cause they don’t give a shit. It won’t be their kid over there, gettin’ shot. Just like it wasn’t them when their number got called, cause they were pullin’ a tour in the National Guard. It’ll be some kid from Southie takin’ shrapnel in the ass.

And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, cause he’ll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain’t helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon.

And they’re takin’ their sweet time bringin’ the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin’ play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain’t too long ’til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy’s out of work and he can’t afford to drive, so he’s got to walk to the fuckin’ job interviews, which sucks cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin’ him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he’s starvin’, cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they’re servin’ is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State.

So what did I think? I’m holdin’ out for somethin’ better. I figure fuck it, while I’m at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

So like all good plagiarists I just titled my story “Goodwill” to hang a lampshade on the borrowing. When I taught, I always told my students there’s a time to name your influences and a time to hide them. And in this case it was time to name them.

Work In Progress

Am making progress on my nonfiction book: What’s So Great About The Great Books. It’s coming along well, but it’s hard writing nonfiction! Very big, complicated sustained argument needed here, and it’s actually quite difficult to make the argument (“You should read the Great Books”) in an intellectually honest way. But I’m working on it!


  • The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov – A deeply cynical work, written in 1938, in a sort of mocking parody of the Soviet Social Realist style. It’s about proleterians in a certain province who are digging a pit for a big building where they’ll all settle, and in the meantime they’re persecuting and collectivizing their local class enemy, the peasantry. It’s got an allegorical streak, and it can be a bit hard to read at times, but it’s also brilliant and haunting. Great scenes include when they take out a blacksmith’s helper, an actual bear, to point out all the kulaks in the nearby village. And when they go in search for the girl one of them loved as a youth, only to find her dying, with her daughter rubbing a rind of lemon on her lips so she can imagine the taste of food.
  • Fathers and Children by Ivan Turgenev – I first read this about ten years ago, in the same year I read Tolstoy, and it didn’t make the world’s strongest impression on me. If anything, I much preferred Dostoyevsky’s Demons, which has a similar theme (nihilist youths come back to bedevil their old-fashioned gentry parents). But reading this book in a new translation (which I got bc I’m part of the NYRB Classics Book Club), I found myself very moved. Turgenev has a subtle hand with characterization and scene. The book is a fairly quiet one–when it begins you think Bazarov, the nihilist, is going to up-end life in the district, but slowly you see the status quo settle upon everyone’s shoulders, and ultimately you’re not sure whether that’s good or bad. Has a beautiful final line: “Whatever passionate, sinful, rebellious heart may lie hidden within that grace, the flowers that grow above it gaze serenely atus with their innocent eyes, and speak to us not only of eternal peace, that great peace of ‘unfeeling’ nature; they speak, too, of eternal reconciliation and life everlasting.”


Still haven’t figured out the best way to link to articles, but I enjoyed this one in the New Yorker about Bari Weiss’s anti-woke nonprofit. Just found it so fascinating that it split apart because of conflict over transgenderism. The thing is, persecuting trans people just isn’t a moderate stance. And it’s very hard to be anti-woke these days and not finding yourself buddying up with anti-trans people.

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