In recognition of this podcast, which if the dates on this blog are any indication, took me the last 5 years to create, I'd like to tell you that we all should have a conversation about writing. In fact on our podcast we recently started a good dialogue. One of our most frequent readers, Anonymous, checked in to ask if I ever "liked" any stories. I wrote a reply. I'm posting it here because I spent a long time on this reply and wanted it to live more than one place on the Internets.com. (In general, I'll get better at this blogging thing because both Nick and Ben are better at it than me and it drives me crazy"
Dan here. (hey, readers/listeners: MUCH more to come on this questions in the next issue of the WW Newsletter! Sign up on this very site!)
First off, thanks for commenting! That makes us all feel like an ice cold root beer from a glass bottle on a steamy August day at the lake in Minnesota, the lake where you spend as much time shooing away horse flies and cursing the fact that we ever took that land from the natives as you do enjoying the chilly waters that encourage some of your external organs to return to their internal homes. Sweet, cool and satisfying. Thanks, Anonymous.
You know, I DO like some stories! Lots, even. But that's not what Wordsworthing is about, no sir, M-O-O-N that spells what WW is about. There's a great teacher and writer out there, Jo-Ann Mapson (http://www.joannmapson.com) who challenged us (Ben, Nick and this guy) to get past what we "like" and dive much deeper into the quarks and tongue depressors and cellulose that go into the making of a story, and to try to understand what all those things were doing. And, if we were extra-special-smartly, to adjudicate what was working, and, as often of more educational value, what wasn't.
Let's be honest for a moment: sometimes I watch "American Ninja Warrior" on the television. I like it. Conversely, can't exactly say that I "liked" "Schindler's List." But I don't remember who won the last jungle-gym-on-crack competition, whilst I do remember in my deepest places how I felt and what I experienced sitting in that dim theater watching Spielberg's homage to the survivors of the horror that is humanity.
To me that is the difference between what can be a likable story and what constitutes literature. Nick–and you don't want to cross that man–suggests that stories should "kick your goddamn teeth in." Now, I literally just today received my Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 electric toothbrush because I really really (I mean, just really) like my teeth, so getting them relocated to some more inward locale seems not at all positive to me, but I'm guessing we all know what he means. Stories, literary stories, should move you and change you and break your heart in some way. There are books full of stories that do this, and if you find something from Carver or Johnson or O'Connor or Carlson or Saunders, I've likely read it and I liked it. I liked it a lot. It also kicked my goddamn teeth in. Ouch.
So, at WW, we are looking to the outlets that, through their own admission (claims), offer up LITERARY writing for those who desire such a thing, such a teeth-kicking. And we examine those stories and all their parts. We look at craft, we dissect, we analyze, we react. Some elements are admirable, some worthy of appreciation, some are disappointing and downright craptastic. But, remember, these are media outlets who self-proclaim to offer "literature" to those seeking such. NBC pretends that "American Ninja Warrior" is nothing more than the mindless (and utterly likable because who wouldn't want to be able to do half that shit??!) entertainment swill that it is. I love their honesty. The New Yorker? Not so much.
At WW we are genuinely and un-ironically interested in the elements of craft which go into the stew-pot of a story; we want to suss out each carrot and onion and flake of spice and hunk of game flesh and understand what they contributed to the taste of the whole. How did the author create something worthy of me being short a canine or two? Or, as we've seen often, not? When you can do this, when you can understand how something wonderful was achieved (or missed), you are made better by it. One can go into the world and believe that with the right ingredients, combined and stirred and fretted over, one can make something that MOVES someone else. Like it they should, just as anything sublime and life-changing should be liked and appreciated. Doesn't mean I can't like Master King's "The Stand" (and I'm the MFA grad who entered the program loudly proclaiming how much I LIKED that book–and I did, goddammit, and I don't care who knows, though now I also realize it's not exceptionally accomplished from a standpoint of craft, but it made the man a shitton of money and entertained many and I appreciate the hell out of that) because I did. But Carver? Hemingway? Steinbeck? Nabokov? Those folks changed me, forever, in a way that is as painful as it is good.
Listen, Anonymous, I LOVE your question. It's the right one. Wait till Episode 4!! (spoiler alert: I LIKED the story) I–we–are more than flattered that you even took the time to put forward this meaningful query. I sincerely hope that you end up liking what we do, how we do it, and why we do it I hope it will improve you or your understanding of literature and what it is and can be and how it can kick your fucking teeth in for good and bad and you'll be forever altered by that, much as I am by the fine beers I like from El Segundo Brewery (full plug: these guys craft the shit out of some beer http://elsegundobrewing.com).
Thank you, Anonymous, from all of us here at WW for being passionate about this minuscule and unimportant slice of the internet we occupy enough that you asked a question. Let's keep a dialogue going. I like the way this feels.