January 30, 2000


Match Game '00


Hello. My name is Chuck, and I am a Pompous Assaholic.

"Hi, Chuck!"

My little dustup with Valvis certainly has stirred things up over on Diary-L. Some like the idea, some don't, many completely missed the point, and most seem to think we're both pompous asses. No argument here. There's no question Jim is, and my own wife says I'm an ass sometimes. I don't argue since I figure she's in a position to know.

One thing that amused me on Diary-L was the confusion over whether my challenge was a joke or not. (Because it was so obviously written with a comedic bent, I guess.) Let me put that to rest: I wasn't joking. I was deadly serious. But, hey, at least now I think I know who probably nominated one of my more serious entries for a comedy award...

It was suggested on Diary-L that publication in the Times should determine the winner, or who sells or publishes first. That's flawed for a few reasons. 1) Newspapers don't publish fiction. (At least not on purpose.) Wrong venue. Besides which, I used to write for the Times as a stringer, so by those lights I've won before we started. 2) Jim's been published in small press, I've sold a screenplay and seen it produced. I win on that front, too. No, I proposed having readers pick the winner because readers are what short stories are all about. Hell, neither one might be salable -- you could still read them online and judge which one you liked better.

But forget about the details of the challenge. Why was there a challenge at all? Because I read Jim's anti-journals essay and was rubbed raw by his condescending tone. Here was this writer of dubious achievement talking down to the world at large about why something that didn't work for him can't possibly work for anyone else, employing a tone that suggested he alone held the secrets of good writing and we should all take his word for it because we know nothing. It was opinion presented as self-aggrandizing fact, and as a writer of some experience and minor professional achievement myself, I was annoyed.

I also disagreed with a few of Jim's core concepts, namely that writing in a journal cannot help improve one's writing (see Bad Hair Days' message boards for testimony to the contrary) and Jim's mercenary attitude equating cash with success. I don't see anything at all wrong with being paid for writing, or writing for a living -- I've done both myself -- but I disagreed strongly with his nakedly acquisitive value system.

So I delved into Jim's archives a bit and continued to be insulted as an intelligent being and reader as I continued to be lectured at and talked down to, and I found passage after passage of self-serving and insecurity-revealing nonsense about what an excellent writer Jim is and how lacking and jealous everyone around him is, with the implicit suggestion that we could all learn a thing or three from him.

And so I posted a strongly yet minimally worded critique in which I called Jim an idiot and a monkey. (But not an idiot monkey, I might point out.)

Well, Jim was offended, as I suppose he should be. I'll take this moment to apologize for saying he's an idiot -- he's not; that's my shorthand for "I really, really disagree with you," as well as "Wow, are you a lousy driver!" -- but as I told Jim privately, I'm letting the monkey comment stand.

Jim basically called me out in e-mail, saying I was a coward. I decided that the best way to prove my courage while at the same time taking this blowhard down a peg or two was to challenge someone so supremely confident in his writing ... to a writing contest.

So here it is Sunday, the day the challenge was to begin. What happened?

Jim didn't like my terms. He felt I was stacking the deck, which I found odd considering he's the one who claims to have written 60 short stories last year while I last wrote one something like eight years ago. If I'd challenged him to comedy writing, or scriptwriting, or newswriting, well that might have been tilting things in my favor, but I picked Jim's own milieu for the contest. Color me an incompetent deck-stacker. In any case, Jim had some changes to the terms.

Jim didn't like having you readers vote us up or down -- he didn't trust you to be impartial, since he's been "burned out of" three awards. He suggested instead using 3 judges we agreed on. I agreed to that.

He also wanted to make the story length anything 1,000 words and up, on any subject, with the deadline to be two days after we started. I turned those terms down, explaining that I felt we should use a classic short story length since it was to be a short story contest, that I wanted a one week deadline since I wouldn't be writing on his schedule, and that I wanted us to use the same source material to insure the stories were fresh so that neither of us could sub in something we'd already written.

And Jim's kicker was that he wanted to "make it interesting:" Loser quits his journal. I hadn't made that a part of the challenge because this isn't the Wild West and I think the 'net is big enough for the both of us. I had no intention of quitting over something as silly as this if I lost and I didn't want to be responsible for making Jim quit if I won. I didn't want either of us gone, I just wanted a contest and I don't necessarily think the loser of a Biggest Swingin' Dick contest should have to bob his knob, you know? Sometimes it's enough to simply know you won -- or lost. So I said no to that.

So where are we now? Jim has refused my challenge. Not worth his time, has more important challenges to attend to. I didn't want to play "loser quits," so he's out and I'm a coward. Never mind that I challenged him in the first place; I'm the coward for not making this the OK Corral.

Well, all right, if that's how Jim needs to see it, fine. But I honestly believe that if I'd agreed to that, he'd then have insisted on changing the length. And if I'd agreed to that, he'd have pushed subject matter. And if I'd bent to that, he'd have found something else to hang it up over. There would have always been something to change because I don't think Jim wants to put his writing up against mine. Only Jim knows why.

But these are just my opinions. I'm sure Jim's are different. You can draw your own conclusions.