“Writer’s don’t have feuds anymore,” said Karl.
What are you talking about? I said. We were sitting in a writer’s bar called, predictably enough, First Edition. We had run out of internationally-themed bars, ever since Hey Man, the Isle of Man’s bar closed down, so we decided to plumb the literary bars that dotted Indianapolis.
For the last 20 minutes, Karl had been glaring at a publicity photo of some writer hanging behind the bar, muttering something about holes in glass, or something like that. I had been on a mini-rant about how plagiarists should be publicly flogged with the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, hardbound edition, when he decided he wanted to fight with other writers.
“We need more writers feuds!” he thundered, plonking his empty beer mug on the bar. “Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote used to have feuds. Norman Mailer once head-butted Gore Vidal. Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein used to snipe at each other in their books. Why don’t more writers do that?”
What the hell for?
“Because we’re all too nice to each other! Because everyone is just supposed to get along. Not make waves. Not make trouble.”
Of course. We’re a civilised society. See, I even spelled civilised with an ‘s’ right there.
“Screw civilized society,” he snapped, restoring the ‘z’ to its rightful place. “It’s sucking the very life right out of us. I can feel my very soul withering away. It needs to feel. I need something to stir it up and get my blood boiling.”
And so picking a fight with another writer is going to do it?
“Yeah, I think so. Look at that picture of that guy on the wall. René Whitehorse. Some French dude. Heh, René is a girl’s name.”
Do you even know him? I asked. I waved down Kurt, our bartender, and ordered two more beers.
“Actually, yeah. I’ve met him a couple times at book signings and parties for other writers. Pretentious little snot. He publishes one freaking poetry book — a collection of blank verse — and he thinks that makes him a book author.”
“No, it makes him first-time lucky. Kid, I’ve written 18 books so far, and I’m not nearly as pretentious as this guy. When his little ‘pamphlet’” — Karl made air quotes — “first came out, he pitched a fit at a bookstore manager because it wasn’t placed on the New Arrivals shelf with the real, big boy books. He even whined to his publisher, but nothing was ever done.”
What does that have to do with you?
“When my last book came out and it was put on the big boy shelf, I had a friend email him a photo of it and say ‘don’t you know this guy?’”
So you’ve already started the feud with him?
“Well, that’s what I’m not so sure about. I’ve started making snarky comments about him to other people, but I don’t think it’s working. I was hoping you could help me.”
Me? I don’t know the first thing about picking a fight. I consider myself to be a man of peace and quiet action.
“Uh-huh. I’ve ridden in the car with you. You’re anything but a man of quiet action.”
Whatever. Have you tried throwing a drink in his face?
“Waste of beer.”
Heckled him at one of his poetry readings?
“His last poetry reading had two people. I’m not wasting A-material on an empty room.”
Ever tried punching him in public?
“That’s a little drastic, don’t you think? I just want to have a feud with him, not be arrested for assault.”
So write a scathing review on your blog about his poetry.
“Won’t he write a nasty response about me?”
Sweet jebus, Karl! That’s what a feud is! You two carp back and forth at each other, trying to make each other sound stupid by using big words. So write something nasty about his work, and make him sound like the kind of pretentious twit who lists his weight on his résumé, like some county fair beauty contestant.
“Ooh, good one. It’s not like he can retaliate. What’s he going to do, write a woolly-headed poem about me in his next book? Both his readers will get a good chuckle over it. Great, what else?”
Write a novel with a diarrheic penguin who writes blank verse poetry as one of the main characters.
“Is that what you do with your literary feuds?”
I don’t actually have any literary feuds. I get along with everyone.
“Yeah right, what about that science fiction writer from Memphis?”
You mean where I wrote that 3,000 word blog post that he should stick with writing Big Bang Theory fan fiction?
“Yeah, whatever happened to that one?”
His mom grounded him from Facebook for three months after he used his high school laptop to Photoshop a picture of me on Attila the Hun’s body.
“So you. . .”
Count it as a total victory? Oh yeah.