January 28, 2000



A Modest Proposal


Well, well, well... It appears Jim Valvis doesn't like being challenged, and he especially doesn't like being called a monkey.

I can't say as I blame him, but, hey, what can I say? I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

(Lest you misunderstand my vision -- as Jim apparently has -- let me clarify: Jim is not a prehensile-tailed, hanging-in-the-zoo monkey; he is a metaphorical monkey. The quotation I referred to said "If you do it (writing) for the money, you're a monkey." By Jim's own admission, he writes (or wants to) for the money. It's the measure of his success. Ergo: monkey. It's a metaphor, Jim. You as a Writer should recognize that.)

I know of Jim's displeasure because he's sent me a pair of emails expressing it. But as I reminded him in my last reply, my opinion -- which doesn't appear to be a unique one -- was predicated on Jim's own words. If I misunderstood, whose fault is that? My advice to him was: "Don't like it?  Edit."

And that would be fine, that would be the end of it but for one thing: Jim says I'm a coward.

When Jim posted his anti-journal essay, he had to know it was going to reap negative reactions. He apparently has a history of posting just such smug, condescending, holier-than-thou screeds, so he's no stranger to getting flak for it. Hell, he himself admits in an old entry that he alienates people pretty much wherever he goes, so he must be accustomed to a pretty high signal to noise ratio, especially when he's the one making the noise.

With that in mind, I think it's a bit disingenuous for him to say I'm a coward because I go after "unpopular" people. Maybe I'd be a coward if I were savaging innocent little Suzy Sunshine for posting about her dolls' tea party, but I think I'm just the next guy in line when I go after someone who dismisses his critics as supplicants to the "great god Bee Ess, who sits atop Mount Turd." (And what a clever rejoinder that essay was. Simply stunning. "I'm right and you're all poo-poo heads. Neener neener." Bravo, Jim.)

Jim is far better known in the "community" than I am, and has created for himself a reputation as a superior writer. I don't read his (not a) journal, so I'm not in a position to say if he is or not; I only know that he's supposed to be a writer of note and there seems to be a bit of an intimidation factor built up around him (someone linked to my comments, saying "I didn't have the guts to say this."). So Jim is clearly capable of taking care of himself -- and of scaring off detractors.

Now, if challenging someone as well-armed as this makes me a coward, well... Then let's just call me a dastardly fellow and be done with it. Frankly, I think it speaks to a modicum of courage, given how daunting Jim seems rumored to be, but I'm sure I'm just trying to make myself look good with that.

But between all Jim's posturing and my rebutting him and the two of us butting heads, I had an interesting idea. Jim presents himself as a sterling example of All A Writer Should Be, and while I have to admit that I do admire his devotion to the craft, I'm also rubbed completely the wrong way by his condescending tone. I want to take him down a peg or two. But can I? And how?

Indeed, can I? I think pretty highly of my own talents, though I may not crow about them as much as Jim does his. My focus for the past several years has been on scriptwriting, but I started out writing short stories and that will always be my first love. I've turned out my share of short fiction over the years and I think I've still got a few good stories in me. So can I? It's been more than five years since my last short story, but I think just maybe yes.

And how? I propose a writing challenge: each of us to write a story inspired by the same subject matter, the results to be posted anonymously and judged by our readers.

The Rules:

  • The L.A. Times runs a front page feature story in Column One every Sunday. I propose that we use this Sunday's feature, whatever it is, as our jumping-off point. (I chose the Times because I know they'll run a feature on Sunday and it's distributed world-wide. If Jim has a different paper in mind that I can get a copy of, I'll accept that.)
  • We'll each write a short story inspired by that feature, 4,000 or 5,000 words long, somewhere in that neighborhood. The deadline will be next Sunday (I write slowly. Humor me.), at which point the stories will both be uploaded to...
  • A Xoom account to be created during the week, an account we both have access to, but which will be administered by a neutral 3rd party (I suggest Meg of Blue and... Blue? as the 3rd party -- her site led me to Jim's essay and I trust her to be impartial.)
  • The stories will be linked to from an index page and posted in classic double-spaced submission format, but without bylines -- only the titles will appear with the stories.
  • Voting will be accomplished by using a Freepolls poll on a separate page within that Xoom site -- readers will vote for which story they liked best without knowing who wrote either one. After a week we tally up the results and... Winner take all.

And what is this "all" the winner will take? Well, nothing really. Bragging rights, maybe, but mainly just the satisfaction of a good story written well under the gun. I can live with that. And if I lose, well, I can live with that, too. My ego is strong enough. But will I?

So there it is. The gauntlet has been thrown down, Jim. What say you?