SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
December 13, 2009

I’m So Glad I’m Better Than You

 

As a rule, unless I’m reviewing a book (and when was the last time I did that?) I try to avoid bad-mouthing other contemporary writers in any sort of public forum. Even when other young upstarts have taken their pathetic little swipes at me (with their puny weakling girl arms), I’ve held my tongue about it and they eventually disappeared. I’m not going to lower myself that way. Seems pointless and silly. Besides, this business is rough enough as it is, I’ve always reasoned, and petty sniping just gets in the way. That sort of behavior strikes me as little more than an act of sad desperation—the result of petty professional jealousy or a useless cry for attention. Who really gives a good goddamn these days about public literary feuds, anyway? Not me.

            So it’s with some deep embarrassment that I must confess that in recent weeks a contemporary of mine has really started to rankle my rod.

            I’ve never met him. As far as I’m aware he’s never cast aspersions my way (he’s likely never even heard my name). And to be honest, I’ve never read a single sentence he’s written. The fact that he annoys me the way he does is not his fault in any way, and I’m sure if I met him I would think he was a very nice fellow. (He might be a complete asshole, for all I know, but I’m in no position to say—though I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.)

            It’s not a matter of comparative sales figures, public adulation, professional respectability, or anything along those lines. On all those points he wins handily, and I’m fine with that. I’m quite comfortable without outrageous sales, adulation or respectability—not having those things means people leave me alone to do what I want, and so I get to spend most of the day in comfy pants.

 It’s not even a matter of his being much more talented than I am. I generally think most people are more talented than me, so getting all bent out of shape about it at this point would be pretty futile.

            Now wouldn’t it?

            Even seeing his name every fucking time I go online or open an email isn’t that big a deal—though it is growing a little tiresome to hear friends fawning all over his brilliance, updating me on his latest side projects, or informing me of how much clout he has.

            “That’s very impressive,” I tell them. And it is—though I’m always tempted to remind these people that my latest book received a very generous write up in Fangoria magazine. I inevitably hold my tongue, figuring it better not to show my bitter, bitter hand.

            No, the problem I have with this writer has nothing to do with simple matters like respect, influence, success or talent. It’s much, much stupider than all that.

            The problem, see, is that this writer and I share too many obsessions in common. I don’t just mean in general terms like “he’s a big movie nut, too,” or “he enjoys pulp novels as well.” I mean specific films, specific books, specific authors and other specific bits of cultural flotsam. These friends who are apparently in love with the man keep pointing it out, and it’s been adding up. Christ, I’m not a comic book fan by any stretch—I haven’t been able to read a comic book in fifteen years— but there is one old title I fancy (and which I’ve written about in the past): the Great Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. And sure enough, there he is spending an entire interview talking about how much he loves goddamn Plastic Man in erudite, smarty pants terms.

            That’s one small example out of a dozen or more. He even beat me to a book title once. I keep this list here, see, of potential book titles I’d like to use at some time in the future. Most of them are just godawful I’ll admit (Breakfast and Entering, A Yelp to Providence, and The Pornography of Foolishness all come to mind), but there was one—a good one—that’s been sitting there at the top of the list for years and years now, waiting for the right story to come along. Then a few weeks back another friend mentioned the title of one of this guy’s books in passing. It wasn’t exactly the same as the title I had in mind, but it was close enough that I will now never be able to use it.

            It’s starting to drive me a little nuts. I’m starting to think of all this as one more symptom of Ten Minutes Ahead of My Time Syndrome.

            Several years back, the paper I was working for hired a new editor (the seventh new editor since I had been onboard). As usual I was wearing my stupid hat when we met, and the new editor’s first words to me were “I see you stole your fashion sense from Jared Paul Stern.”

            (Mr. Stern was a then-scandal-ridden gossip columnist with connections to that same paper, who was also in the habit of wearing a similar stupid hat.)

            “Umm, no,” I replied, “unless he had a bit part in Dark Passage.” It was useless, though. To that editor I would always be the guy who stole the idea of wearing a hat from a gossip columnist.

            You see where I’m going with this. This other writer is the popular one out there talking about this crap—these movies and books and what not—so anyone else who mentions those same things now is merely trying to hop a ride on Mr. Big Shot’s coattails.

            Call it an unusually pathetic variation on run of the mill professional jealousy—and one I’m deeply ashamed to admit has a hold on me.

            None of this, again, is his fault. We’ve never met, so he doesn’t know anything about my personal fixations. And of course there’s no way he’s ever seen my list of unused titles. In no way am I implying that he, in any way, lifted anything from me; it’s all a simple (and for me, frustrating) coincidence. Or series of coincidences.

            Unless . . . unless he has seen that list of titles!

            All I can say is that if he comes out with anything in the next year that sounds even remotely like These Children Who Come at You With Knives, I’m gonna kick his ass.

 

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