The burning passion of competition is what gives sports the entertaining edge that fuels fanaticism.You can’t ask for much more than watching your favorite athletes lay it all on the line game in and game out. The type of guys that will do anything to win.
Yet sometimes that fervent attitude can cause toxic relationships within their own clubhouse. Baseball players by far have the most grueling schedule in all pro sports. They are forced to stick it out for a 162-game season packed within a six-month span (not including the possibility of a playoff run). Add in a month long of Spring Training and the hassle of traveling every fourth day and someone is bound to clash heads.
Although the sport of baseball is notorious for epic bench-clearing brawls, memorable scuffles are just as apparent within the same dugout. Whether it’s small mistakes that build up over the course of the season or the battle of egos within the clubhouse, dugout fights are not only inevitable, but highly entertaining.
Let’s take a look at the top 15 dugout bouts in Major League Baseball history.
- Carlos Zambrano vs. Michael Barrett
The Cubs’ 2001 season was off to a dismal start and the highlight of the year came in June during a fight dubbed “The Slugout in the Dugout” by the Chicago Tribune. Amidst a five-game losing streak, Zambrano took to the mound against Atlanta during a day game at Wrigley Field. HIs performance was horrendous and the hot-headed hurler had to take it out somewhere.
The broadcast caught footage of the batterymates getting into a heated verbal exchange before a flurry of punches were thrown. Allegedly, the scuffle continued later on inside the clubhouse and landed Barrett a ticket to the hospital with a busted lip.
- Matt Garza vs. Dioner Navarro
See a common theme here? Pitchers and catchers must develop a close relationship to succeed, but sometimes that relationship can turn a little sour. Exactly was the case for the Rays’ duo in 2008. After Garza had shaken off several pitches then proceeded to serve up a three-run dinger to the No. 9 hitter, Navarro called time and approached the mound.
A shouting match ensued and the two players began shoving their mitts into each other’s face in the middle of the field. Once the inning ended, Garza made the first move in the dugout which induced a major scuffle that eventually carried to the tunnel of the clubhouse. Although it seemed childish at the time, the flaring tempers may have fueled the World Series run for Tampa that year.
- James McCann vs. Jose Iglesias
After a defensive blunder by Iglesias which led to two runs by the Red Sox, the Tigers’ backstop wasn’t exactly happy. During the half-inning, McCann was seen giving Iglesias an earful. The shortstop sternly walked up to McCann and shoved him. Although several teammates were able to hold back each player, the scuffle played out for quite some time.
After the fact, manager Brad Ausmus believed that the exchange represented how badly each one of the players wanted to win. Iglesias would later come out to say that the two were able to talk it out and chalked it up to miscommunication.
- Prince Fielder vs. Manny Parra
During a successful campaign in 2008, the Brewers had captured the N.L. Wild Card spot and reached 90 wins by season’s end. However, their path to success was filled with trials and tribulations as outlined during a game in August.
After Parra gave up six runs through six frames, Fielder immediately confronted the pitcher in the dugout. The exchange quickly escalated and several teammates had to restrain the left-handed power hitter. Fielder was quick to apologize after the game and told the media that his actions were fueled by his passion and intensity for the game.
- Steve Garvey and Don Sutton
Let’s take it back to the late ‘70s for a little old school grit. Even the media during that time had the ability to get under the skin of professional ball players. Before a Dodgers game in August of ‘78, Garvey had read a questionable article that divulged the thoughts of his teammate Steve Garvey.
Prior to the game, Garvey let Sutton know that he wasn’t too happy about his critical comments. For over two minutes, a rough exchange barreled throughout the Los Angeles clubhouse. Although L.A. got the win that night, both players suffered extensive post-brawl injuries.
- Carlos Zambrano vs. Derrek Lee
Just three years after his altercation with Michael Barrett, Carlos Zambrano was at it again with his fellow teammates. During a Chicago showdown against the White Sox, Zambarano was seen throwing an all-out temper tantrum inside the dugout. He stormed from one end to the other before locking in on first baseman Derrek Lee. Manager Lou Piniella immediately sent the hot-headed pitcher home that day. Many believe that this incident was the beginning of the end for Zambrano’s career. Following the 2011 season, Zambrano was shipped off to Miami for one year and never saw the diamond again after 2012.
- Mitch Meluskey vs.Matt Mieske
Although both of these players had very short big-league careers and left absolutely no legacy on the game of baseball, their pre-game scuffle in June of 2000 is worthy of our list. After Meluskey missed his slot and showed up late for batting practice, he attempted to cut in front of Mieske as if nothing happened.
Mieske wasn’t having it as the two began exchanging heavy punches. Eventually, Meluskey connected with a devastating blow to Mieske’s eye, leaving him helpless on the ground. Both players soon fizzled and were out of the league by 2003.
- Goose Gossage vs. Cliff Johnson
This baseball beef had been brewing for quite some time before it boiled over. To make matters worse, Gossage ended up with a sprained right thumb that caused the Hall of Famer to miss several games. Rumor has it that the situation started after Gossage had thrown a ball of tape at Johnson just to get him going.
Teammates within the clubhouse had no clue as to why the two had any grievance in the first place. Johnson sternly alerted the media by stating he did not want to talk about the incident at all. Needless to say, times were much different back then.
- Barry Bonds vs. Jeff Kent
Although Bonds had a legendary career, his legacy within the dugout was a bit skewed, especially with teammate Jeff Kent. The two had several discrepancies over the course of the several seasons they spent together in San Francisco during the early 2000’s. In a June 2002 matchup against the Padres, Bonds grabbed Kent by the neck and threw him up against the wall.
It was said that Bonds was standing up for a teammate who made an error earlier that day, but neither went into detail about the scuffle with reporters. On the bright side, both players hit home runs that day despite the team’s loss.
- Billy Martin vs. Reggie Jackson
It’s very rare to see a manager completely chew out a player on live television. Although it probably happens all the time behind cameras, seeing it play out on the field is a totally different experience. The two Yankee greats clashed in a shouting and finger pointing match one day in 1977.
The ego-driven Jackson was pulled from the game in a humiliating fashion. Martin could care less about Jackson’s precious ego and definitely let him know about it. Although no physical fighting ensued, Martin had to be restrained by other players. If anything, the exchange was a testament to how badly the Bombers wanted to win during that time. Which they did… a lot.
- ELMER FLICK AND NAP LAJOIE
Time to take it back two centuries to an era where baseball was developing into America’s Pastime. Hall of Famer members, Elmer Flick and Nap Lajoie had gotten into a conflict during the 1899 season that stemmed from an incident during the prior year. Lajoie was said to have taken fly balls in Flick’s territory which didn’t sit well with the latter.
During the following season, an altercation came about after the two couldn’t decide on which player a particular bat belonged to. After several punches were thrown, Flick managed to dodge a jab which resulted in Lajoie breaking his thumb after connecting with a solid object. Lajoie would miss the next five weeks and the team’s record dropped significantly.
- Jorge Posada vs. Orlando Hernandez
A surprising dugout clash occurred during the back end of the Yankees’ dominant dynasty in 2002. Core Four member Jorge Posada was never labeled as a hot-head in the clubhouse, making this altercation that much more confusing.
“El Duque” had confronted the catcher prior to a game and connected with a punch to Posada’s head. The two were able to brush off the quarrel after Posada stated that they had taken care of it. Manager Joe Torre admitted that players are not always going to get along and that communication is the only way to get through such a situation.
- Reggie Jackson vs. Billy North
Another memorable altercation occurred in Oakland a few years prior to Jackson’s storied career in the Bronx. Mr. October and Billy North went at it in the dugout after Jackson tackled North before punches started flying. Catcher Ray Fosse, who attempted to break up the scuffle, ended getting injured in the process and missing the rest of the season with a neck injury. Jackson and North continued their bout before it was finally broken up by several teammates. Further reports stated that Jackson had been involved with several other scuffles including one several years prior with Mike Epstein.
- Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez
Sometimes ball clubs can’t get started on the right foot in the beginning of the season. For the 1989 Mets, the squad wasn’t able to see eye-to-eye even on picture day. As camera flashes were going off, Strawberry was heard complaining about his contract with the organization.
Hernandez wasn’t happy about the situation and let Strawberry hear it. After a verbal argument, Strawberry threw a punch that didn’t find its target and the scuffle was broken up. Strawberry eventually got what he wanted as the Mets let him go by the end of the season. Hernandez would eventually move on to the Indians and finish out his career in Cleveland
- Bryce Harper vs. Jonathan Papelbon
Topping our list is baseball’s most physical dugout brawl in recent years. After Bryce Harper skied a fly ball to shallow left field, Papelbon gave the young superstar an earful for not running the ball out. After a short yelling match, Papelbon exploded and shoved Harper into the corner of the dugout.
After teammates were able to quickly break up the scene, Harper and the relief pitcher took to opposite sides of the dugout. Apparently, the two had squashed the beef but Papelbon was released by Washington the following year.
No spots are guaranteed in Major League Baseball. Each team is equipped with understudies looking for a chance to prove themselves in the starting lineup. Beyond that, clubs have farm teams full of players waiting to be called up to the big leagues. With so many athletes working to take the next step in their careers, it doesn’t make sense to think that some teams continue to start players who don’t produce at a high level.
These players come in many forms. It could be a pitcher who can’t control his pitches, a position player who’s not contributing to the club’s success, or a closer who has become a liability late in games. This is a list of some notable players who don’t deserve their respective roles.
15. Bartolo Colon
He’s been around the league for a while, using his entertaining antics and impressive arm to win the respect of fans everywhere. However, Colon might be at the end of the road. The 44-year-old did not get off to a good start this season after signing with the Atlanta Braves as a free agent, registering an 8.14 ERA through 13 starts.
Things went slightly better for Colon after he was signed by the Minnesota Twins. He posted a 4.02 ERA with the team, but that isn’t a sign of continued improvement. Retirement is in Colon’s best interest at this point, unless he wants to put his reputation on the line with another disastrous campaign.
14. Kyle Schwarber
Everything seemed to start well for this Chicago Cub. After being drafted in the first round of the 2014 MLB draft, Schwarber began to show a high level of potential in the league.
This season, however, Schwarber hasn’t been so impressive. He played a role in Chicago’s run to the World Series last year, but now his statistics suggest that he would be better off in the minor leagues. Schwarber’s .120 batting average in May was the lowest mark in the league. It was bad enough to convince the Cubs to demote him to AAA. Although he is back in the majors, Schwarber seems to be filling space that could be occupied by a more talented player.
13. Jordan Zimmerman
He’s just 31 years old, but Zimmerman’s play is reminiscent of someone who has passed their prime. After recovering from a shaky start to his professional career, Zimmerman finished with ERAs below 3.66 for five consecutive years. He was in the Cy Young conversation in 2013 and 2014.
His play has declined sharply since then due to multiple injuries. Zimmerman posted a 6.08 ERA this season with a record of 8-13. He is no longer a reliable option on the mound, and it’s only a matter of time before a younger player takes his spot in the rotation.
12. Curtis Granderson
The third pick in the 2002 MLB draft has experienced considerable success in the league. He became the second in the history of the Detroit Tigers to tally 30 doubles, 15 triples, 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases in a season. Now, the 36-year old isn’t as impressive as he used to be.
Granderson picked up four stolen bases in 2017, falling behind the benchmark of 26 that he set earlier in his career. He also posted a dismal .212 batting average. Granderson’s continued lack of meaningful production means it’s time to find a replacement.
11. Kevin Gausman
At the young age of 26, Gausman still has plenty of time to work on his craft. However, his spot with the Baltimore Orioles will be in jeopardy if he continues to underperform. After a rough rookie year in 2013, a season in which he finished with a 5.66 ERA, Gausman started to find a groove. He posted a combined 3.77 ERA over the next three years.
Gausman’s numbers this season looked similar to his rookie campaign. He finished with a 4.68 ERA and a 11-12 record. While he is still in the early stages of his career, Gausman has been inconsistent enough to warrant his replacement.
10. Dansby Swanson
Fans of the Atlanta Braves had high hopes for Swanson after the team selected him with the first pick of the 2015 entry draft. He started out by playing half of a season with the Braves, hitting .302 with 3 home runs in that span. Swanson also had six errors on defense during that time, raising concerns about his reliability.
This season, he batted .232 with six home runs. Swanson needs to improve if he wants to be successful in the majors, and it isn’t worth Atlanta’s time to leave him in an important role with the club.
9. Alcides Escobar
After helping Kansas City reach the World Series in 2014 and 2015, Escobar’s value has decreased significantly. He has experienced many drops and surges in production throughout his career, batting as low as .234 in 2013 and as high as .304 in 2009.
Lately, Escobar’s numbers have been gravitating towards where they were in 2013. He finished with an unremarkable .250 average this season to go along with just six home runs. Escobar also swiped just four bases, falling drastically short of his career-high of 35 set in 2012. The Royals might want to consider letting him go before things get worse.
8. Wade Miley
A seven-year veteran, Miley had a decent stretch from 2012 to 2013 in which he posted a combined 3.44 ERA. His performance since then has been anything but impressive. This season, Miley finished with a 5.61 ERA and walked 93 batters. Those numbers prove that he is not a reliable starting pitcher. Like Gausman, Miley should be in line for replacement.
7. Byron Buxton
Buxton is quick on the basepaths and in the field. However, the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft isn’t ready to compete at a high level. Through segments of three seasons in the majors, Buxton has compiled a disappointing .237 batting average and has just 28 home runs in 278 games.
He still has time to bring those numbers up, but that development shouldn’t be taking palace in a key role with the Twins. A stint in the minors could help him become a more consistent contributor for the club.
6. Matt Moore
At one point, it seemed that Moore would never be on this list. After debuting with Tampa Bay in 2011 as a 22-year-old, Moore posted a 3.53 ERA over the next three-and-a-half years. His success earned him an appearance in the All-Star Game.
In 2014, things went south for Moore. He underwent Tommy John surgery and struggled to regain his control on the mound. He finished with a 6-15 record and a 5.52 ERA this season. At the age of 28, Moore should be in his prime statistically. Until he figures things out, Moore belongs anywhere but a major league starting rotation.
5. Trevor Story
Story made an immediate impact upon debuting with the Colorado Rockies in 2016, tallying seven home runs in his first six games. He would go on to finish his rookie season hitting .272 with 27 homers and 72 RBIs in 92 games.
2017 wasn’t as successful for Story. He hit just .239 while striking out 191 times in 503 at-bats. It appears that Story’s initial success was short-lived, and he might need some time to develop before taking on a significant role with the Rockies.
4. Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson is young and has time to continue adjusting to the major leagues. However, hitting .257 this season and continuing to struggle on defense proved to be unimpressive for Anderson. He currently has 42 errors in 243 career games, leaving much to be desired from his fielding abilities. He lacks the consistency of a routine starter, and there are plenty of players in the White Sox organization who would like to have a shot at his position.
3. Francisco Rodriguez
Unlike many of the players on this list, Rodriguez doesn’t have the benefit of time. He just wrapped up his 16th MLB season, and his performance suggests that he might want to consider making it his last one. Rodriguez posted a 7.82 ERA this season and blew six saves while tossing just 25 1/3 innings.
Despite his recent struggles, Rodriguez currently has 437 career saves to compliment a 2.86 ERA. Those numbers are nothing to be ashamed of, and it would be best for him to retire before his Hall of Fame reputation is tarnished.
2. Tyler Clippard
Clippard experienced some success after debuting with the Yankees in 2007. He racked up a 2.95 ERA through his first 10 seasons in the league while mostly assuming setup duties. Clippard returned to New York in 2016 and registered a 2.49 ERA, but that wasn’t a sign of things to come.
He went on to post a 4.77 ERA through 60 1/3 innings this season. He also blew six save attempts. Although he has traditionally been relied upon to deliver in late innings, it’s time for Clippard to find a different role considering his declining performance.
1. Jose Bautista
The man known as Joey Bats is one of the best to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform, but it’s time for the club to reconsider his role. After hitting 240 homers from 2009 to 2015, Bautista is no longer producing like he once did. He registered a lowly .203 mark at the plate this season and struck out 170 times in 587 at-bats. It might be time for Bautista to take his 331 career home runs and call it quits.
Finding the next NBA superstar is no stroll in the park. It takes countless hours of film scouring, one-on-one conversations with coaches and prospects, and a well-trained eye for the all-important “eye test.” Some prospects are obvious slam dunks – others are less-probable fade-away jumpers draped in defenders as the shot clock expires. Yet, there are off-the-radar prospects that resemble those downright impossible shots, those full court heaves beating the halftime buzzer by fractions of a second (taken by anybody other than Steph Curry, of course).
The NBA draft features the highest risk-reward, feast-or-famine sweepstakes of all professional sports drafts. Finding the next LeBron James, Anthony Davis, or Kevin Durant usually requires a top three draft pick. But, sneaking away with the next Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, or Isaiah Thomas requires taking a leap of faith on a guy based only on the inclination that he just feels right.
We don’t have to move very far back in time to relive some of the biggest draft success and tragedy stories of all time. It will outright shock you that for some of these players, coming off the draft board was the only highlight of their short-live careers, while others are some of the most respectable players of the modern day after being the last kid chosen for the playground pickup game.
Some guys can’t handle the spotlight. Other guys embrace the David and Goliath role.
So, strap in for this walk down memory lane. It’s time to celebrate the 16 biggest busts and longshot breakout NBA stars of the modern era. Many of these names you will recognize, others will leave you saying, “Who?”
- Bust: Jimmer Fredette
Let us begin with one of the biggest wasted talents every to step foot on the hardwood floors. James “Jimmer” Fredette was supposed to be the next best thing for the Sacramento Kings (after being initially drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and subsequently traded to the Kings) when he was picked 10th overall in 2011. After a collegiate season for the ages—in which he averaged 28.9 points per game, 3.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and just north of 1 steal—Fredette was ready to take the NBA by storm.
The NBA, however, scoffed in his face.
After leaving BYU with a slew of offensive records – most points scored in a game (52) and most three-point buckets made in school history (296) to name a few – Fredette was branded an offensive juggernaut with a smooth jumper before he even saw any professional action.
But the cliff was just up ahead. Fredette would finish his rookie campaign with 7.6 points per outing (career high) and only seven starts. The Kings swiftly bought out his contract, and Fredette ended up playing for four teams over five seasons. He would never start another game in the NBA for the rest of his short-lived career and left it all behind with an abysmal 6.0 career points per game average.
So why the fall from stardom? Well, as one NBA assistant who worked with Fredette disclosed, “Jimmer thinks everybody is stupid. He thinks everybody needs to come and just turn over their offense and let him shoot it anytime he wants.”
- Breakout: Jimmy Butler
A lofty 20 draft picks after Jimmer Fredette, Jimmy Butler’s name was called. The 2011 draft class was relatively stacked with players who have gone on to be stars in the NBA today. Butler ranks right up there with the best of them.
Chosen for his defensive prowess put on full display at Marquette University, Butler was a natural fit for a rebuilding, Tom Thibodeau-led Chicago Bulls team. Nobody guessed at that time that Butler would blossom into a full-blown offensive stud who can create his own shot at will and averaged 23.9 points per game over an entire season. Butler would go from a bench-riding bum to a household name in six seasons. His average points per game would increase every season.
By 2014, Butler had truly arrived.
Just to play “what if?” – the three picks before him were JaJuan Johnson (Nets), Norris Cole (Bulls), and Corey Joseph (Spurs). None of these three players can hold a candle to what Butler brings to the table.
Butler is as hard-working, determined, gritty, and superb as they come. The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to love having their new king at the helm.
- Bust: Michael Beasley
The 2008 NBA draft was all about one player: Derrick Rose. But the guy drafted right after him? Many people forget who he was.
Yup, that’s right. The same guy who was an absolute stud in his one-and-done year with Kansas. The same guy who came into the league and averaged 13.9 points per game as a 20-year-old rookie.
But did he really live up to the hype that was expected of him? Not one bit.
Over the course of his lackluster career, Beasley has produced relatively decent numbers, but has bounced around from team to team. Now, he sits with the New York Knicks and claims to be among the top dogs in the game. “As far as talent-wise, I match up with Kevin Durant, LeBron, I match up with the best guys in the world,” Beasley boasted in an interview with Bleacher Report recently.
But putting all this outlandish talk aside, the story of Michael Beasley really needs to go no further than those drafted around him. Rose was the obvious pick at one, then came Beasley. As for who followed him, none other than some scrubs named O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love.
Do I need to keep going? Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon, and Brook Lopez. Need I say more?
- Breakout: Tony Parker
Before the 2001 season, the San Antonio Spurs were already a great team. After they selected Tony Parker with the 28th overall pick, the franchise really took off.
Parker wasn’t exactly a heralded prospect coming up to the big leagues. He probably wasn’t on many team’s big boards at all. But as for late first-round draft steals, he’s as good as they come.
Let the stats speak for themselves. Parker has flourished in 16 years (going on 17), all with the Spurs. He has been the unquestioned leader of the team, averaging over 10 points per game and 4-plus assists every season other than his rookie campaign, all while being surrounded by the likes of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. He’s a five-time All-Star and a four-time champion. In 2007, he won the NBA Finals MVP.
All that from a French kid nobody ever heard of. Not bad, right? Parker is a prime example of a player making the most of his opportunity when the expectations were beneath the floor.
- Bust: Anthony Bennett
“With the first pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select…Anthony Bennett.” Who?
That was the reaction of just about everybody after Bennett was taken at the top spot. He was never supposed to go that high. Some NBA executives have even come forward and said that they had him ninth on their big board.
In hindsight, even ninth would be too high.
In full disclosure, the 2013 draft class was one of the worst in the modern era. Not too many players lived up to expectations. But at the very least, everyone picked in the top 10 have gone on to maintain serviceable roles with their respective teams.
Everyone, that is, except for Bennett.
While second overall pick Victor Oladipo is set to enjoy moderate success in Indiana and third pick Otto Porter has carved out an irreplaceable role in Washington, Bennett is hoping to make use of his fifth chance (count ‘em) with the lowly Phoenix Suns.
Some may say it’s still too early to rule Bennett a bust, but would 4.4 career average points per season change your mind? That’s what I thought.
- Breakout: Rajon Rondo
There are quite a few notable names to come out of the 2006 NBA draft class. LaMarcus Aldridge went second overall, Rudy Gay was taken eighth, and J.J. Reddick was snagged 11th. But among the notable names to have since won a championship? The 21st pick Rajon Rondo stands alone.
There are a lot of negatives to be hung up on when it comes to Rondo. He doesn’t seem to be a team player. He’s a cancer in the locker room. He butts heads with his coaches. However, putting his ego aside, Rondo has truly been a star in this league.
The accolades are enormous: four-time NBA All-Defensive team, leader in steals in 2009-2010, and leader in assists from 2011-2013 and 2015-2016. Not to mention, he is regarded as a key cog in the 2008 Boston Celtics championship machine that featured three future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Rondo has one of the sickest highlight reels of all-time, and his signature fake behind-the-back pass to get the defender to bite on his way to an uncontested layup won’t soon be forgotten.
Despite having fallen off in recent years, Rondo still left his mark in last season’s playoffs. The Chicago Bulls looked like they were going to pull off a monster upset as the eighth seed with Rondo at the helm against his former team – the Boston Celtics. But an unfortunate injury to his thumb all but derailed any chances at that. Boston went on to win four straight games and the series.
Say what you will about Rondo, but there is no denying that he’s been a star in this league for quite some time.
- Bust: Adam Morrison
In the same season that Rondo came into the league, one of the biggest busts of all time was taken with the third overall pick.
Adam Morrison, the 6-foot-8 stud out of Gonzaga University, was supposed to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Instead, what the Charlotte Bobcats got was soured milk.
Morrison was considered one of the top college basketball players of his generation. By the time he was playing for the Bobcats, he was given the nickname “The White Mamba” by his teammates. Considering who goes by “The Black Mamba,” there’s quite a bit of hype to live up to.
But live up to the hype he did not. Morrison had a decent rookie season, finishing on the 2007 NBA All-Rookie Second Team. A knee injury had him shipped out of Charlotte to even brighter lights in Los Angeles playing for the Lakers, but was promptly cut after two short years. The White Mamba’s career lasted all of four years.
- Breakout: Kawhi Leonard
Yet another notable name came out of the 2011 NBA draft. Kawhi Leonard was selected 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers (and then immediately traded to the San Antonio Spurs) as a longshot to be a superstar. If you were to tell me that Leonard would be considered arguably the best two-way player in the game today, I would have laughed in your face.
Now, it’s Leonard who’s doing the laughing.
After being picked right after both Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), Leonard experienced some growing pains with the Spurs. But there was little doubt that after seeing him through a full season, he had the talent to hang with the best forwards in the league.
Leonard’s big chance to establish himself as a premier player came in the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Leonard went mano y mano with the best player in the world and came out with the Finals MVP. Yeah, it was safe to say that Leonard had arrived.
This past season, Leonard was a finalist for the regular season MVP and likely would have won if not for otherworldly performances from Russell Westbrook and James Harden. At the rate he is playing, it’s only a matter of time before he takes home the hardware.
- Bust: Jay Williams
Jay Williams was not supposed to be a bust. The kid from Duke University was pegged to be a great guard in the NBA.
But an untimely motorcycle accident jerked those plans out of motion.
With the second overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls selected Williams. He was second only to the great Yao Ming.
For most of his rookie season, he was a starter for the Bulls. Williams was relatively inconsistent, but showed flashes of what could be. His best career game featured a triple-double against the New Jersey Nets.
But after the fateful accident in June of 2003, Williams career would be forever gone. Nowadays, he’s known as “J-Will,” a popular ESPN college and high school basketball commentator.
Williams’ story is simply one of what could have been.
- Breakout: Jeremy Lin
Only a handful of players exist who have made their mark in the NBA after not being drafted. Among the notables of this generation broke onto the scene in 2012: Jeremy Lin.
“Linsanity” was a global icon out of nowhere with the New York Knicks. Lin received no athletic scholarships to play college ball. Coming into the league undrafted in 2010 out of Harvard University, Lin eventually wound up carrying the Knicks to seven consecutive victories two years later. He was the first player in the long, illustrious NBA history to notch at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts.
The breakout performance earned him a fresh start, three-year contract with the Houston Rockets in 2012. Since then, he has bounced around and enjoyed average success in Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Brooklyn.
This coming season, the upstart Brooklyn Nets will be led by the now grizzled vet Jeremy Lin – the man who was finally given a shot and made the absolute most of it.
- Bust: Greg Oden
At 7-foot, 275-pounds, and a surefire stud with the basketball in his hands, Greg Oden was a lock to be a perennial superstar in the NBA and a franchise cornerstone. He was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007.
That was perhaps the most notable night of his NBA career.
How Oden went from being the believed next best big man drafted since Shaquille O’Neal to being the self-proclaimed biggest bust in NBA history is a marvel in and of itself. Oden fell victim to chronic health issues, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. His fall from grace was not pretty.
For many years, Oden tried to work his way back into the folds of the NBA. After sitting out from 2010 to 2013, he gave it one last go-around with the Miami Heat. Averaging 9.2 minutes in 23 appearances that season, his 2.9 points per game was a clear sign that the NBA had passed him by.
“I’m still trying to figure out my life,” said Oden recently.
- Breakout: Draymond Green
Looking back now, the 2012 NBA draft was significantly top-heavy. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bradley Beal rounded out the top three picks. Sprinkle in 31 decent players and forgotten collegiate stars (Festus Ezeli, Miles Plumlee, Jared Sullinger, Austin Rivers, and Tyler Zeller, to name a few), and you finally arrive at the 35th pick: Draymond Green.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Green is an all-out beast. As polarizing of a player and person as he is, Green is a critical component of the stacked Golden State Warriors and has been since 2014. He managed 11.7 points per game and 8.2 rebounds in the 2013-2014 season, and only got better as a scorer and defender as the seasons went on. Now, he is defending a two-season streak of All-Star appearances and a prized 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Let us also not forget that Green holds his own on a team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. Two seasons ago, the Warriors lost in the NBA finals, and to this day many people believe that had Green not gotten suspended, history would have been rewritten.
Me-against-the-world mentality and edgy antics aside, Green is a force to be reckoned with in the NBA today.
- Bust: Darko Milicic
It was practically a foregone conclusion heading into the 2003 NBA draft that the next perennial powerhouse player, the future face of basketball, and the best thing since Michael Jordan was going to be taken first overall: LeBron James. But most people cannot remember who was taken directly after LeBron.
That’s because he didn’t last very long. Darko Milicic was a 7-footer hailing from Serbia in a loaded draft class. The Detroit Pistons took a chance on him over much safer options.
Boy, were they wrong.
Milicic did manage to hang around the league for 12 seasons, but his pitiful 6.0 points per game and 4.2 boards per game would be better suited for an 8th grade gym class.
To make matters worse, every team drafting within the top five that season scored bigtime. After Milicic was taken by the Pistons, the Denver Nuggets went on to take Carmelo Anthony, the Toronto Raptors snagged Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat scored Dwayne Wade.
To think that any one of these players could have ended up in Detroit, but the Pistons got stuck with the 7-foot mishap, is a true tragedy. May the basketball gods have pity on Detroit.
- Breakout: Giannis Antetokounmpo
As aforementioned, the 2013 draft class wasn’t exactly the most stocked with future stars of the game. But easily the best thing to come from this forgettable class is far from forgettable.
Enter… “The Greek Freak.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo (say that five times fast) was the first international player taken off the board by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th overall pick. Projected to be a raw talent in need of serious coaching, the Greek Freak was already showing signs of being an elite, unguardable force by his sophomore campaign.
By the 2016-2017 season, nobody in their right mind was sleeping on him.
Antetokounmpo earned himself a starting spot on the Eastern All-Star team, and for good reason. He finished the season averaging 22.9 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks. The man showed that he can do it all, and established himself as one of the most dominant two-way players in the league. Antetokounmpo possesses the rare tandem of extremely long extremities and freakish athleticism. It’s no wonder the Bucks have all but moved past Jabari Parker as their franchise player to make room for their 6-foot-11 international beau.
People love having the discussion of who will be the next LeBron James once he retires. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your guy.
- Bust: Kwame Brown
Behold, the biggest NBA bust of the 21st century.
Kwame Brown was all the hype of the 2001 NBA draft class. He was the first player ever drafted straight out of high school. He was rated the best high school player in the world, ahead of notable standouts Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. The 6-foot-11 blue chip prospect cleaned up 1,235 rebounds and blocked 605 shots for his high school team. Those numbers are pretty incredible.
The NBA wasn’t nearly as kind to him.
Once Brown started playing with guys his own size, his lack of experience caught up with him. His best season in the NBA netted him an underwhelming 10.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds. Those numbers aren’t horrific, but not even close to what is expected of a first overall pick.
Brown would end up bouncing around to seven teams over a 13-year career. Perhaps the only notable thing to come of his career is that he set the trend for teams to draft a high school star with the first overall pick. Two seasons later, a young man named LeBron James was pulled into the big league right from his childhood home in Cleveland, Ohio. The rest is history.
- Breakout: Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas may not be the biggest, strongest, quickest, or toughest player to guard in the NBA.
But one thing NBA fans, players, coaches, and executives alike have learned in recent years about the man named after a former NBA great is that you cannot measure his heart.
Thomas was not supposed to be a notable name in the league. In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to make the final roster for the 2011 Sacramento Kings. He was the very last draft pick (60th overall). But all he needed was one shot, and he got it.
His rookie season, he averaged 25.5 minutes per game and 11.5 points. Not too shabby, considering the three guys picked right before him have yet to step foot on a regular season NBA court and play meaningful minutes.
Fast-forward five seasons, and Thomas became the belle of the ball in Boston.
How the 5-foot-9 guard managed back-to-back All-Star seasons in Beantown is remarkable. How he managed to drop 28.9 points per game last season simply doesn’t make sense. How me became the unquestioned leader of the team cannot be traced.
What’s the icing on the cake? Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past offseason for the man picked first overall in the very same draft, 59 spots ahead of him: Kyrie Irving.
It looks like the “Pick Me Last Again” banners will be torn down in the TD Garden and put up in the Quicken Loans Arena this winter. Now with a chance to play with the best player on the planet, Thomas will likely be a prominent factor of a championship team for seasons to come.
When it comes to hockey players, evaluating natural talent isn’t that difficult. Most knowledgeable hockey fans could spot a young player with the skills to potentially have success at the next level and beyond. The hard part is determining which of these talented players will be able to make the transition to the NHL. A majority of the time they can gauge a kids potential success at the higher levels, but once in a while they are way off. Every now and then a kid comes along that looks like a sure fire NHL’er, yet for whatever reason cannot take that next step when matched up against the games best. Here is my list of the top 13 NHL draft busts since 2010:
Nichushkin’s NHL career hasn’t exactly panned out as he’d hoped since he was taken 10th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. As a rookie in 2013-14, Nichushkin posted decent numbers (14 G, 20 A). A hip injury kept him sidelined for most of the next season. Then, in 2015-16, his 29 points through 79 games was a a disappointing dropoff.
Prior to free agency, Dallas approached Nichushkin with a qualifying offer that the young skater didn’t sign, and remained a restricted free agent. When the opportunity to play in his home country came up, the 21 year old signed the deal, joining the KHL’s CSKA Moscow team.
The KHL club hasn’t been all that impressed with his play, which reportedly has the team considering releasing him. Dallas still holds the rights to Nichushkin, and had hoped he would benefit from his time in Russia. But right now, things don’t look great for the former first-rounder.
Drafted 4th overall in the 2012 Draft by the New York Islanders, Griffin Reinhart was a highly touted defenseman who has spent five seasons in the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings, producing 111 points, along with a +83 plus/minus rating, in 209 games. He then spent three seasons in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, accumulating 53 points in 143 games.
The Edmonton Oilers gave up a first-rounder to acquire him in 2015. He played in a total of 29 NHL games with the Islanders and Oilers during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, finishing with a disappointing 2 assists and a -5 rating. The 6-foot-4 defender obviously has upside, but so far in his career, he’s been labeled a bust
The 28th pick overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, Zack Phillips posted eye popping numbers with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. The center posted 219 points and a +117 plus/minus rating in 192 games. He then spent four seasons in the AHL, skating for four different teams, and collecting a total of 100 points in 260 regular season games.
Never making it up to the NHL, Phillips spent last season (2016-17) playing in Sweden and now laces them up for the Nottingham Panthers of the EIHL.
The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Percy as the 25th pick overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. From 2009 to 2013, the defenseman played 218 games in the Ontario Hockey League, posting 122 points and a +55 plus/minus rating. On to the AHL where between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons he played a total of 214 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Toronto Marlies, though only came away with 72 points in total. He skated in only 12 NHL games with the Leafs during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons accumulating just 3 points.
Currently, Percy is a free agent.
This goaltender turned some heads, winning 89 of 166 games for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League. The 27th overall pick of the NHL Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes went on to start 89 games in the AHL, winning only 33 contests.
He made his one and only NHL appearance in April 2014, losing 3-2 and now plays in Austria.
The Phoenix Coyotes selected Samuelsson as the 27th pick overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. From 2011 to 2014, the center posted 198 points to go along with a +84 plus/minus rating in just 162 games played for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. From there it was on to the AHL, where from 2014 to 2017 he played a total of 136 games for four different teams, yet produced a grand total of only 55 points. He skated in 3 NHL games with the Coyotes during the 2014-15 season, but finished without a point.
Henrik was last spotted lacing them up for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.
Chosen by the Florida Panthers as the 25th overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft was center Quinton Howden. His play in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors was stellar, totaling 239 points in 244 games. But unfortunately for him, that’s the only place where he excelled. He posted mediocre numbers during his stint in the AHL, finishing with 99 points in 207 games. The slide continued during his time in the NHL, as he only posted 17 points in 97 games between 2012-13 and 2016-17, playing for both Winnipeg and Florida
Howden is now playing overseas with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.
Jack Campbell was a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program and starred for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. His draft stock rose considerably after starting for the gold winning U.S.Team in the 2010 World Juniors. The Dallas Stars used their 11th overall pick to take him. Though he had some success with the minor league Texas Stars, he ended up playing in only one game and eventually was demoted to the ECHL.
Campbell eventually got to mind the net for a single game for the Stars before being traded to Los Angeles where he also started one game. Final record 0-1 with a 4.50 GAA. A huge bust for the first goaltender to be picked in 2010.
Drafted 22nd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, ahead of NHLers like Victor Rask, Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner and a handful of other notable players, Biggs now looks poised to never play an NHL game. He had the second worst +/- rating amongst the other forwards on the U.S. National Development Team. He was also the most penalized player at both the U18 world juniors and for the U.S. U18 Development Team. He is big at 6’3″/225 pounds, he is talented, but thus far he is a bust.
This right winger played a total of 119 regular season games for the Wilkes-Barre /Scranton Penguins and Toronto Marlies of the AHL from 2012-13 to 2015-16, finishing with a meager 17 points. He never laced them up in the NHL.
Michael Dal Colle
Michael Dal Colle was drafted 5th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders. This left winger had a terrific junior career, including leading the Oshawa Generals to a championship in the 2014-15 season. In the OHL from 2012 to 2016, Dal Colle racked up 316 points and a +76 plus/minus rating in 246 games. While Dal Colle didn’t light up the AHL last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, his production was decent (15 goals and 41 points in 75 games).
Although he has put up good numbers in the minors, he has not made it to the NHL level as of yet. Dal Colle is big (6’3, 198 lbs) and he wouldn’t be the first promising prospect to take a bit longer to refine his game to NHL standards. For now though, he’s been a bust.
At one time, Brandon Gormley was considered a stud defenseman. He was a point per game man with the Moncton Wildcats and was a member of Canada’s bronze medal winning junior team at the 2012 IIHF championships. In 2010 the Phoenix Coyotes called Gormley’s name, taking him as the 13th pick in the draft. Once he was done in 2012, they assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Portland and for the most part, Gormley played well.
In 2013-14 he got his first taste of NHL action, scoring no points in five games. After that, he skated in 53 more, scoring five points and a -10 plus/minus rating. He has since faded and hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015-16.
Chosen by the Colorado Avalanche as the 17th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, center Joey Hishon thrived in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack posting a total of 255 points in 244 games. He was less than impressive in the 13 games he played in the NHL, tallying only 2 points with the Avalanche in 2014-15. He posted 109 points in 174 AHL games, but by this time his NHL window was closed.
He eventually signed with Jokerit Helsinki of the KHL where he had a lackluster season, and now plays in Sweden.
Mikhail Grigorenko was drafted 12th overall in the 2012 Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. The center had a nice career in the QMJHL racking up 178 points and a +60 plus/minus rating in the 115 games. His success continued in the AHL where he put up 40 points in 52 games.
He spent five seasons in the NHL from 2012 to 2017, but never lived up to expectations, compiling just 64 points and a -26 plus/minus rating in 217 games with the Avalanche and Sabres.
Grigorenko has moved on to the KHL, inking a three-year deal with CSKA Moscow. His NHL days are most likely behind him.
Joanna Howard is the author of On the Winding Stair (BOA Editions, 2009) and In the Colorless Round, a chapbook with artwork by Rikki Ducornet (Noemi Press). Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, Chicago Review, Unsaid, Quarterly West, American Letters & Commentary, Fourteen Hills, Western Humanities Review, Salt Hill, Tarpaulin Sky and elsewhere. Her stories have been anthologized in PP/FF: An Anthology, Writing Online, and New Standards: The First Decade of Fiction at Fourteen Hills. She has also co-translated, with Brian Evenson, Walls by Marcel Cohen (forthcoming from Black Square, 2009). She lives in Providence and teaches at Brown University.
Michael Kimball: I like the way that you often build long, complex sentences out of a string of clauses, especially, say, in a story like “Light Carried on Air Moves Less.” Could you talk a little about your thinking behind that?
Joanna Howard: For each of the stories in On the Winding Stair, I began with a particular sense of a rhythmic pattern: at times fractured and truncated, as with “The Tartan Detective,” at other times undulating, and almost breathless as with “Light Carried on Air.” The initial rhythmic instinct drives the sentence length, so that I have a sense of having completed a thought based on the need for a rhythmic pause. Beyond this initial rhythmic constraint, which is perhaps arbitrary or perhaps organic, I like the cause-and-effect relationships built up out of strings of clauses, so that a detail is presented, commented on, resolved to some degree, until it triggers the next detail. I have always liked the way the word “sentence” refers to a grammatical grouping, but also has a definition related to judgment and punishment of criminals: something which indicates verdict, as well as duration. This is how I think about sentences.
Kimball: So let’s take the opening of “The Tartan Detective” and talk about that rhythmic pattern:
“Inside this house, a precipice. The vacation repeats itself: the flight arrives late. Stationed in the inn, light breaks through the pale slatted blinds of the bedroom, carefully tucked into eyelet and down.”
I like the way the colon from the second sentence picks up the comma from the first sentence—a little bit of punctuation that balances the rhythm of the first two sentences. And I like the way the rhythm of the third sentence picks up the rhythm of the first two, but also seems to be spinning wider and wider outward, longer phrasings with a similar rhythm. And I love some of the acoustic things that are happening, the way “vacation” in the second sentence becomes “stationed” in the third sentence and then leads to a few other long-a words. Could you talk a little more about these three sentences, what is going on within them and from one to the next?
Howard: It worked just as you suggest, although the sound patterns come subconsciously, and then I move back from each analytically before going on to the next sentence. The method is one I’ve heard described as “consecution,” which I believe simply refers to sentences that build consecutively, but are driven as much by their grammatical markers as by their narrative content. It is not uncommon for me to begin with a sentence that disrupts standard grammatical expectations. The truncation, which removes the subject and verb, gives me increased flexibility with the surreal image. The second sentence takes the initial two-part structure of the fragments and builds a mirror structure, this time with two independent clauses, reliant now on concrete action rather than ambiguous or surreal imagery. Then, I like to break the pattern, the instinct being entirely sound based. I liked that what I was hearing was a kind of drone effect, with slight blips. These three sentences gave me the structure and the narrative of the story. I knew that from the elision of the two fragments of the first sentence, and the omission of a controlling verb tense, I was going to have a narrator who worked in notation (hence a detective or spy), and who had difficulty sorting out time. The second sentence suggested two narratives, running side by side, at times canceling each other out, at times building on images one from the other. Because my tendency is to hover in a space of indeterminate or partially obscured images, discipline dictated alternating these with concrete elements, so the third sentence locates the narrator, gives her a ruling tense, and the slatted blinds of film noir, but reversed, to focus on the light. I knew I was working with repetition and inversion. Funny result, given that when I sat down to think about why there would be a precipice inside this house, my narrative mind automatically assumed I would be writing a story about a couple having marital problems, maybe an affair taking place. This precipice turned out to be quite different.
Kimball: I love how much you pulled from those first few sentences, what that gave you in terms of structure and narrative and voice. That second sentence and the idea of two narratives, is that how you found your way to the parenthetical text that runs through the story or did that happen another way?
Howard: The parenthetical text was one I had brewing in the back of my mind for a while. It is a version of Michael Powell’s film I Know Where I’m Going about a girl who thinks she is going to marry a rich man, then gets sidetracked by a poor soldier on leave. Before I figured out what the second narrative would be, however, I had several sections of the main narrative (the girl detective/spy) and I left gaps, knowing that something would go there, even if I didn’t yet know what it was. Because I was still working on the theory that the main narrative was about a relationship gone wrong, I wanted the second narrative to be a sort of wild romantic fantasy, which I guess is why this film popped into my mind for the second narrative line: it’s a story in which the Scottish landscape seems to be conspiring to bring the lovers together. As I started to run the piece parallel, I began to see openings for connection between the two narratives. There was a way in which both pieces took up notions of fidelity, loyalty, and allegiance. There was also this notion of knowing where one is going, desiring to control the path our lives take, however inevitable it might be. As I worked to draw out imagistic and language chimes between the two narratives, the plot trajectory of each narrative adjusted. The game for me was to discover, within these two seemingly disparate stories, some common ground.
Kimball: I love the way those two stories come together. And I keep thinking about the other story you mentioned, the one with the couple having marital problems that didn’t get written, did that become another piece?
Howard: I think many of my stories are about couples having marital problems or relationship problems; it is just often the case that one of the partners is a ghost.
Kimball: Ghosts, I have to ask about “Ghosts and Lovers: a novel in shorts.” I love things that play with form, so tell me: What was the thinking behind the subtitle?
Howard: “Ghosts and Lovers” came out of a failed project to make a million dollars with what was, at the time, the hot ticket: a globe-trotting female first-person romance with epistolary chapters and recipes. However, when I began to write the chapters, they were coming out very short. Despite their conventional intention, they were still possessed of certain weirdnesses I can’t get beyond: fractured, gapped narrative, tentative, at best, cohesion through repetition and variation, emphasis on image, and character types rather than full-blown characters. Because I had sketched out a plot summary of the trajectory of the novel (something I had never done before, and have never done since), I was able to work them as a cycle of pieces, and because I had been spending a lot of time thinking about what constitutes a “short-short” versus what constitutes a “prose poem,” I wanted to put some of my thinking into play with the form. The subtitle was something I couldn’t resist because it does give me the image of a novel wearing shorts, as if it were in a Nair commercial. It is perhaps the most whimsical thing I’ve ever written, and because the narrative arc was already in place, I felt like I could let the individual pieces operate organically, so that some stand alone, and others are there as supporting columns. It gave me more freedom, and allowed the piece to come much more quickly than anything else I did in the book.
Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is now out in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005), both of which have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. He is also responsible for the ongoing art project—Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and the documentary films, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
,Writers On Writing
Kevin Sampsell lives in Portland, Oregon and works at Powell’s Books. He started the press, Future Tense Books, in 1990 and has published many writers including Mike Topp, Zoe Trope, Chelsea Martin, Susannah Breslin, Elizabeth Ellen, and Claudia Smith. His own books include Portland Noir (as editor), Creamy Bullets, and A Common Pornography. Harper’s Magazine says, “Sampsell’s talent for observing the ordinary….is perhaps best displayed in chronicling the cringing inelegance of adolescent sexuality: the embarrassing hookups, the acne-cream-flavored kisses, the obsession with pornography, and the preoccupation with discarding one’s virginity.” And Jonathan Ames says, “This is the kind of book where you want to thank the author for helping you feel less alone with being alive.”
Michael Kimball: One of the most striking things about A Common Pornography is the way you lay yourself bare on the page. There are so many awkward, funny, difficult, honest, and maybe embarrassing episodes in the book. How did you get to a place where you were able to do that and what was your mindset as you approached each episode (maybe especially as compared to your mindset writing fiction)?
Kevin Sampsell: It’s mainly a matter of time going by. I’m 42 now. You just get to the point where you don’t really care if other people are bothered or feel uncomfortable with whatever you’re writing. I always think it’s weird when people say, ‘I didn’t like this book because it was so depressing or so dirty.’ I don’t think an author should treat readers like children, or like they have to protect the reader. Personally though, it was hard sometimes to let go of some of these things that I didn’t tell anyone about. I didn’t even tell my girlfriend, now my fiancé, about the prostitute stuff until a couple of years ago. The dilemma I think most writers have is that they don’t care about embarrassing themselves but they do worry about how their family or co-workers or lovers will react. Compared to fiction, it’s maybe a little harder. At least with fiction you can say to your mom or whomever, ‘Oh, I just made that up.’
Kimball: Were there any sections in the book that you considered leaving out (or did leave out)?
Sampsell: You could argue that a chapter as brief as “Vibrator” could be left out but so many people get a kick out of that little paragraph—it’s almost like an energy boost, so I kept it in. There’s one chapter called “Scratchmuback” that I sort of thought was disposable or maybe not too interesting. But then I was doing an interview with Time Out Chicago and Jonathan Messinger said that he thought that chapter was kind of the symbolic hidden message of the book or something. You know, in all honesty, the book is built on fragments. I could have probably left out a dozen or so chapters and the book might still hold up. But every person has specific chapters that they seem to connect with, so it’s probably best to leave it all in. I think everyone has a different experience or creates a different ghost with these stories when they read them.
Kimball: The way Jonathan Messinger feels about “Scratchmuback” is the way I think about the introduction–in which you described having a panic attack, running naked from your home, and driving around that way. I felt as if that was a startling and honest and also beautiful way to open the book—especially since the piece ends with you finding comfort with a friend and coming to a kind of realization about your father’s death. That introduction is just two pages, but there’s an incredible amount of story presented. Could you talk about how you were able to present so much story with all the short pieces that make up the memoir?
Sampsell: I think it’s because I often remembered just the action in these memories. So I didn’t–or couldn’t–fill the stories with excess descriptions or emotional commentary. And without that stuff, there are mostly nouns and verbs. In the case of the book’s introduction, I was writing about something that happened just a short time ago, in 2008. But I had to be mindful of the rest of the book, meaning the style and feel of the other chapters. So I tried to write really direct and mostly spare. I could have thrown in more details and back story, but I think that would have slowed it down too much. I’m really happy that people find some of the chapters (you call them “short pieces,” I often call them “vignettes.”) to be as resonant and deep as a longer story. I think part of that is an illusion, or even an accident. When you read the book in stretches, I think there is a cumulative effect or a sense of the story being built little by little. Also, when you’re dealing with memories, they’re almost like dreams. And people love to interpret dreams and give their own depth and meanings to them.
Kimball: The cumulative effect is one of the things that gives a narrative arc to A Common Pornography. Another thing is the death of your father and the way his behavior seems to haunt many of the pieces in the book—and nearly everybody in your family. Did writing the memoir (or giving readings from it now) bring you to some new resolution about your relationship with your father?
Sampsell: I think his death was so recent that I was still processing it to the very end. I finished the book almost exactly a year after he died. Resolution is a funny word. I think more than anything I was able to better understand why he wasn’t the greatest father and why our home was such an unaffectionate place. I’m disappointed that it wasn’t more of a loving childhood but I’m not angry about it. I haven’t exactly figured out how to include some of these darker chapters about my dad into my readings. I usually start off by telling people that the book is full of stories that are funny, nostalgic, and pretty disturbing. And then I might say that I don’t read the chapters about my dad or sister at readings because those parts require more time and thought to absorb. So I opt to read nearly any other part that isn’t in that dark territory; and I can still read a fun variety of pieces from the book this way. Most of the other chapters can stand alone or have that cumulative effect at readings too.
Kimball: Your reading at the 510 Readings in Baltimore was great. The audience was still and quiet in that way that an audience is when it is enraptured. And I know people walked out of that reading thinking about their own memories concerning Top 40 radio, boom boxes, porn, and awkward teenage sex. You talk about the many pieces that make up A Common Pornography as a “memory experiment.” What can you say about your method that might help somebody else starting out on a memoir?
Sampsell: One of the things I’d say is make a list of memories from your childhood, which is the best place to start. Everything from the odd to the mundane. Sometimes what you think is mundane is fascinating to someone else. You can make this list by just jotting down things like: babysitter Janet, broken garage door, basketball team, Michael Jackson poster, etc. Or you could go with the Joe Brainard “I Remember” method, which is also great. In fact, when I was writing this book I had to be careful not to use that phrase all the time: I remember…
Those are good starting points. I have a harder time telling someone how to write or how to look at my method. I’m basically a self-taught writer so I think there’s a lot of naivete and simple-mindedness that just end up in my writing, whether I want it to or not. Apparently (luckily), some readers find that charming.
Here are two unofficial rules that I thought of while writing this book though:
1. Don’t write overemotionally or judgmentally.
2. Give readers some openness so they can fill in some of those blanks themselves.
[Note: This interview originally appeared at HTMLGIANT.]
Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is now in paperback in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005). His three novels have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian,Prairie Schooner, Post Road, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and two documentary films, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
Joseph Young’s book of microfictions, Easter Rabbit, was just released by Publishing Genius. Pasha Malla says, “One is tempted to compare Joseph Young’s marvelous collection of microfictions to many things — miniature portraits, maybe, or model ships inside bottles, or flashes of lives glimpsed through windows in the night.” A while back, Joseph Young interviewed me, as a reader, about one of his stories, “Eleven,” at Flash Fiction. So I thought that I would interview him about the same story, which is collected in Easter Rabbit, and I thought that I would do it by asking questions that will discuss each of the 30 words in “Eleven.”
As she read essays, she plaited one side of her hair. You’d last forever, he said, up from his puzzle. The green light of some vehicle tracked across the ceiling.
Michael Kimball: Let’s start with the first word, As, which inaugurates the story with an adverbial participle and has some nice acoustical relations with last and puzzle and tracked. Could you talk about the choices behind starting the story with As and how you think about acoustics in your microfictions?
Joseph Young: I think I have a desire in some of my stories to start them with a kind of planned awkwardness, a moment of dislocation for the reader. I want them to come in a bit confused. Wait, what’s going on here? Who are these people, what are they doing? Starting with the As is almost like assuming the reader should know what’s going on, throwing them to the mercy of the situation. Something is happening, As, and something else is happening to that something concurrently. I think it’s awkward to make that assumption of precedent when there isn’t one. It’s also a bit awkward grammatically. The “stronger” sentence would probably start with the main clause, the plaiting of the hair, especially in this position in the story. As is even a bit bland, neither subject nor action, though it implies both. That awkwardness, the inversion of both sentence structure and storytelling, I suppose it’s like meeting someone shy at a party. You ask them a question and they mumble out a sort of strange, dislocated answer, awkward. In that situation, you might either turn away, find someone else to talk to, or you might lean in a little closer. What’s that? Who are you? What did you say?
Sound is really how I make sense of what I write. It’s often that I don’t understand the content of my stories. I’m not certain why the people in them are doing and saying what they are. I don’t understand why the imagery I’m using should be used. I work by feel a lot, trusting that if a line of dialogue and a certain image give off an energy when put next to each other, then they are worth pursuing as parts of a story. If these things radiate any kind of meaningfulness then I’m okay with not knowing what they mean. But it’s their sound, the rhythm of the words, the balance and dissonance between hard sounds and soft, that lets me know I’m on the right track. If the story fills the ear in the right way, it’s got to fill the head correctly too. The beat of As and last and puzzle, yeah, it sounds right, has the right music. You don’t need to understand music to move along in it.
Kimball: Since you said that you don’t understand why the imagery you use should be used, that’s what I want to talk about. Without talking about what they mean, could you talk about the meaningfulness that is radiated by some key words that create the imagery? I’m thinking of the first use of she, the verb plaited, the pronoun he, the noun phrase green light, and the way the use of ceiling works at the last word.
Young: Green light is the easiest of these probably, so I’ll start there. Green is go, and it’s something growing. It is a light that is growing? The story to me is kind, sweet. This couple, who I so often write about, whoever they are, they aren’t always getting along so well. But in this story, the he, he’s seems quite content, quite enamored of her, of she. That green light, which I guess is a bit otherwordly (what kind of vehicle makes such a light?), likely is rather lovely, up there on the ceiling, slowly tracking slowly. The story ends there, in the air, above them, and this is nice. They have a future, it appears, up in that green light, though maybe that is mostly in he, in he’s mind, while she, she’s still down below, reading essays. The story perhaps quite naturally starts with she, there down below, while he, up from his puzzle, he rises, with his light, to the ceiling.
Kimball: The future, the use of forever is another notable word choice, but I feel as if he is saying it while she isn’t necessarily agreeing with it. The contraction, You’d, gives us You would last forever instead of You will last forever. So I feel as if that bit of dialogue gives the piece a nice kind of tension there. Could you talk about that, your use of said (instead of some other verb), and why you have he look up from his puzzle (and whether the puzzle is a puzzle he’s working on or an expression on his face)?
Young: Well, I don’t know what kind of puzzle it is. I could guess, but I think this would be unwise, better to let it stay a puzzle. It’s preferable to me not to know, in any case. But he looks up from it because, how else will he see her? If he’s lost in a puzzle, perhaps she is something he is sure of, even if she isn’t? You’d last forever, he said, even if he, and they, didn’t? And he said it because he might otherwise says it. He said it, yesterday, or, I don’t know, last year. Whenever it was, back then, right now, in the telling, it is the future. What’s that future? Did they, or he, last forever? She would, of that I’m sure.
Kimball: Why is it preferable to not know? Also, you didn’t really talk about You’d. Why did you use the contraction instead of two words?
Young: The mystery of the things you write, how they got there, out of your head, on to the paper, and then, whatever does the heavy lifting in the writing process, the thing that makes up the puzzles, back there in the dark of the head, it’s better than me, smarter. I’m wary to disturb it.
You’d, I think you were onto that pretty close yourself. You will, or you would? You would is less determinant, less set. It doesn’t even quite make sense. You would, from whose vantage? And yet, to him, I think it does mean, even if he couldn’t say what it means. It’s more generous, isn’t it? If she will last forever, she would do so regardless, from whichever vantage, his or another’s. I guess, though, I’m still not answering your question, why the contraction. Oh, I know, because it sounds better. You would is one too many beats, the wrong cadence. Plus, you’d have to drag your lips across the w, and slow the sentence down. He wants to say it while it’s there, before it gets away, before that green light comes and goes.
Kimball: The speed of the sentence, yes, the contraction gives it a certain lightness. Speed, though, there are a bunch of places where the words force the reader to slow down (which I don’t mean in a negative way, it’s more considerate and thoughtful)—the repetition of she in the first sentence and those five single-syllable words at the end of the first sentence, one side of her hair. That speed sets the thoughtful, considered tone of the piece and the phrasing is echoed in the prepositional phrases at the ends of the other two sentences—[up from his puzzle] and across the ceiling. I wasn’t sure if I was going to ask a question here, but here it is: Is there anything that you’d like to say about the syntactical repetition?
Young: That last phrase of the first sentence, one side of her hair, you might say has a similarity to the other sentence endings as well, even though there we have an object of the verb rather than of the preposition. There is a similar running down in volume in each of those phrases, a descending in voice. I like the additive power of those kinds of repetitions. But the she read, she plaited, perhaps we get that these are similar actions, with similar intents. Maybe we see there is some basis for their concurrency. By the way, I didn’t consider this until now, but the plaiting of her hair, is that a puzzling of it too?
Kimball: We only have six words left and two of them are read essays. Why the choice that she read essays rather than, say, a novel or a newspaper or a magazine? I imagine a certain thoughtfulness, a kind of attentiveness, that goes with the plaited hair, but maybe you were after something else?
Young: I will reiterate that in terms of sense, logic, I wasn’t after anything in particular, with those words or any. Most of what I’ve said here in this (exceptionally enjoyable) interview has been guesses after the fact, information revealed to me as I answered your questions. But that out of the way, the essays, presumably factual, seem to be a different track for she than for he, who tends to be in the air about things. Maybe I’ll brush aside my earlier reservation and speculate that his puzzle is her, the stuff inside her head, the twistings of whatever logic she’s engaged in. She read essays, as he attempted to read her. Except for him, it’s about light, color, and maybe this is the trouble at the heart of the story, the misconnect of color and fact. In fact, I’d guess a lot of my stories are about this, people trying to piece together meaning out of humid clouds of words (a phrase from Young’s microfiction, “Epistemology”). In other words, they make, or don’t make, meaning from things without meaning. They are often lost in this attempt, although they still do have each other, for now.
Kimball: The four words we haven’t discussed yet are in the phrase, The green light of some vehicle. I don’t really have a question about this specific The, but maybe you can give us your thoughts on articles? And I feel as if you’ve already answered a question about of some vehicle, even though I haven’t asked one, but maybe there’s something you’d like to say about the phrase that would surprise me?
Young: Articles propel the sentence, push it off and keep it moving. The two vehicles of Buddhism are the lesser and the greater. The lesser is that the liberation of the self from suffering is first, while the greater wants first to free any being from suffering. The bodhisattva is propelled by compassion. Thanks a lot, Michael.
Michael Kimball’s third novel, Dear Everybody, is now out in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are The Way the Family Got Away (2000) and How Much of Us There Was (2005), both of which have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. He is also responsible for the ongoing art project—Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and the documentary films, I Will Smash You (2009) and 60 Writers/60 Places (2010
,Writers On Writing
Christopher Higgs curates the art website Bright Stupid Confetti. He is the author of the chapbook titled Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously (Publishing Genius, 2009). Other of his belletristic prose exists in past/present/future editions of many esteemed literary organs, including, but not limited to: AGNI, Conduit, Quarterly West, Salt Hill, Post Road, No Colony, and Action Yes. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in literature and critical theory at Florida State University, where his primary research involves theorizing a rhizomatic approach to understanding transnational and transhistorical avant-garde/experimental literature. The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney (Sator Press, 2010) is his first novel.
Michael Kimball: The issue of authorship needs to be addressed. When that first email announcement of The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney went out, a few people emailed me asking if I were Marvin K. Mooney. I have used a bunch of pseudonyms over the years, but I am not Marvin K. Mooney (nor am I Christopher Higgs), and I’m pretty sure that you, Christopher Higgs, are Marvin K. Mooney. I’m basing this on the fact that Christopher Higgs claimed authorship of (Publishing Genius) and the fact that I published a piece of yours called about 8 years ago in Taint Magazine. So talk to me about the decision to strike “a novel” and “written by Christopher Higgs” on the first title page and then the inversion of the attribution – The Complete Works of Christopher Higgs” and “written by Marvin K. Mooney” – on the second title page.
Christopher Higgs: Authorship gave structure to this novel. Before Mooney: no glue, no breath, no raison d’être. Before Mooney, only a bunch of loose words. Some of those words seemed meaningfully contained—like the chapbook you mention, or even that short piece you published in Taint Magazine—but ultimately, they needed Mooney to reach their fullest capacity. This may seem paradoxical but Mooney is not me; I am not Mooney. As fingers type those words, the desire arises to put that pronoun in quotes: “I” am not Mooney; Mooney is not “me” – this may sound/look silly, but it underscores a salient point, namely that which Deleuze and Guattari sketch out in the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus: the notion of a univocal subject is completely fallacious. “I” am not singular; I am plural, I am many. (Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”) Mooney wants to erase Higgs as much as Higgs wants to take credit for what Mooney has made possible. So which is the author: the one who made the novel possible or the one who made the novel possible? Higgs is the former and Mooney is the latter.
Kimball: Let’s go back to the beginning of your answer: “Authorship gave structure to this novel.” The book begins with multiple title pages, then a conference paper, praise and critique from at least a dozen sources, quotes from other fiction writers and lit-crit theories, a section where Mooney seemingly argues with Higgs, drawings, then a new title page—“The Life & Opinions of Marvin K. Mooney, Gentleman”—that is a reference to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. That doesn’t even convey the full scope of what you do in those first 48 pages, but it is at that point, 48 pages in, that we get the first piece of Mooney’s writing that is identifiably his. Could you talk a bit more about the structure—that is, what it allows you to do?
Higgs: Mooney’s work actually begins on page three, with the strikeout of “a novel written by Christopher Higgs.” Despite the explicit claim on page fifty that “This is the first sentence in this novel,” Mooney’s work actually begins on page three – no, wait, strike that, Mooney’s work begins on the cover of the book–no, wait, strike that, Mooney’s work begins at the moment when you first heard or read about it, which is to say that there really isn’t a beginning, per se, or at least the whole idea of beginnings should come into question. Purposefully, the structure resists Aristotelian notions of unity, of demarcating a clear beginning, middle, and end. In place of those conventions, the novel plays with startings and stoppings, difference and repetition, discursivity and intertextuality, large and small openings, escapes, detours, tangents, deferments, digressions, obsessions, etc. Mooney’s work is a construction, an assemblage, it is porous, malleable, dynamic, active, and at the same time it is an object. This is important because objects don’t begin and end. If you were to consider a lunchbox, you would (presumably) not ask the question: where does this lunchbox begin and where does it end. Likewise, the novel.
Kimball: The reader doesn’t get story, in the common sense, until Page 55, though there is plenty happening. I don’t know if that makes sense. Anyway, this is a piece of fiction that has its own untraditional structure and was adapted from the piece in Taint, “Photo Album” (“Molly” becomes “Mooney”). What I’m wondering is if telling stories pisses you off, as it does Mooney?
Higgs: Haha. Yes. Stories, in literature, tend to bore the hell out of me, as a reader and a writer. For one thing, stories imply a teller who wants to tell someone something. As a writer, I’m not interested in telling anybody anything. I don’t go to literature for communication or entertainment or escape. I go to literature (as I do all art) for aesthetic gratification. This, as Kant reminds us, exists solely at the formal level. Content is beside the point. If I want a story I call my friend and ask him what he did over the weekend or else I watch a romantic comedy. Literature, for me, is about form and structure, the way stories are told rather than what is being told. I believe I acquired this approach back in my late teens/early twenties upon reading (completely by chance, as I recall) a mind-altering, paradigm-shifting, über-empowering book by Alain Robbe-Grillet entitled For A New Novel: Essays on Fiction (1963). One of the many things it taught me was this dirty secret: chances are, no one has ever nor ever will invent a story I have not already myself considered. (Take Joyce’s Ulysses, for example: a story about two dudes going about their day and in the end the wife of one of the dudes can’t fall asleep. That story is not very interesting, even if you throw in some seemingly provocative plot elements like having one of the dudes masturbate at the beach after eating a gorgonzola sandwich. It’s just not that interesting.) What is much more likely, and promises to be much more interesting, is that someone has invented or will invent a way of telling a story I have not considered. So that is what I desire, both as a reader and a writer. I want to read literature that has been produced in a way I have not read before, and I want to produce literature in a way that has not been produced before. That’s one of my goals, at least.
Kimball: OK, form and structure, I keep thinking about the Hawkes quote from Page 14: “The true enemies [of the novel are] plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking, totality of vision or structure [i]s really was that remain[s].” What would you (and also Mooney) say that the totality of the vision is in The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney?
Higgs: Paradox, maybe? The tension created by the paradox between multiple (seemingly incompatible) genres, between multiple (seemingly incompatible) voices, between chaos and cosmos, creation and destruction, open and closed systems, clarity and confusion, sense and nonsense, legibility and illegibility, communicability and incommunicability, desire and repulsion, want and need, etc. Mooney, I think, desperately wants attention, to be liked, to be esteemed, but at the same time he does everything he can to make it difficult to be liked and esteemed. He begs you to continue reading the book in one moment, when in the next moment he dares you to put it down. He needs validation while simultaneously dismissing the need for validation. He wants acclaim while simultaneously doing nothing to deserve it. So contradiction and consonance battle, rage, intensify, and, I think, create a kind of structure and vision. Maybe?
Kimball: Yeah, definitely, maybe. That’s what I liked all those various elements and how they fit (and don’t fit) together—including the interruption halfway through, the place to insert music, and the way the book ends, with encore. I’m curious about that. Tell me about the encore.
Higgs: Well, the quick (uninteresting) answer is: I’ve never seen an encore in a book before, so I had to do it. The longer (hopefully more interesting) answer is twofold: first, it is indicative of my desire to push formal boundaries, to really push them beyond what I’ve encountered in my readings—and I say that as someone passionately dedicated to the study of innovative literature. This novel is experimental. Purposefully, consciously. And I mean that in a very literal sense: one of the things I am trying to do is conduct an experiment to determine the legible boundaries of the novel as a form of artistic expression. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, this novel is an amalgam of seemingly disparate parts (“from the slaughterhouse and the dissecting table”) or more precisely, an amalgam of seemingly disparate forms: the encore you are more likely to find at the end of a Fleetwood Mac concert than the end of a novel, the hand-drawn self portraits, the mathematical equations, the biographical and faux biographical stuff, the historic and faux historic essays, the surrealist stories, the letters, diary entries, notes, quotes, etc., etc. It’s all there to create a purposefully exploded (yet somehow contained) form. As for the second part of the longer answer (sorry I’m so longwinded!) the encore is indicative of the specific inspiration from which I drew upon during the construction of the novel. The most significant, aside from my obsessive fascination with philosophy/critical theory, being the thirteen films made by Jean-Luc Godard between 1961-1967. Over the course of the three years I spent working on this novel, I studied those films intensely, taking from them (among many other things) the smash-cut editing technique, the vital potential of randomness and the non sequitur, the disharmonious juxtaposition of image and sound which I translated to literature as the disharmonious juxtaposition of emotion and information, and perhaps most importantly of all, the audacity to embrace singularity.
The Believer calls Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, “a curatorial masterpiece.” His three critically acclaimed novels are (or will soon be) translated into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and the documentaries, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Kamby Bolongo Mean River and Part of the World. His fiction has appeared in dozens of publications. He teaches at The New School, Pratt Institute, and Columbia University. Sam Lipsyte describes Kamby Bolongo Mean River as “an original and fearless fiction. It bears genetic traces of Beckett and Stein, but Robert Lopez’s powerful cadences and bleak, joyful wit are all his own.”
Michael Kimball: Why didn’t you use any commas in Kamby Bolongo Mean River?
Robert Lopez: I always start with language. It became clear right away that this narrator’s voice, his manner of speech was not at all measured or ordered. The second sentence — “I will say the hello how are you …” presented itself as one uninterrupted phrase, as opposed to “… the hello, how are you …” There was an urgency to his language, the syntax and diction and lack of punctuation all came together at once. After that there were a number of places where commas would ordinarily go, but it didn’t fit his voice or the tone of the piece.
Kimball: I loved the use of “the” in the bit you cite above and the way that usage recurs through the novel. But the lack of punctuation, it makes me think of some of the other constraints involved in the novel — everything from the fact that the narrator can only receive phone calls (and not make them) to the narrator’s limitations on understanding what is happening to him and around him. Could you talk about these constraints a bit?
Lopez: The world and the people in the world have always baffled me and I imagine that comes through in the work. It seems as though the narrators I’ve spent time with have a difficult time understanding what has happened to them and why it has happened. That the narrator of Kamby Bolongo Mean River is confined to a room with only a telephone that cannot dial out seems appropriate. I suppose most of us have felt like prisoners for one reason or another at one time or another. So far I’ve not been interested in the workplace as a setting for fiction, the office as prison, so to speak. I guess this reminds me of an argument between Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost. One insulted the other saying something like, “The trouble with you is you write about things.” The other replied, “Your trouble is you write about bric-a-brac.” Of course, they were both right and both wrong and both full of shit. So, some things interest me and others not so much. Perhaps that the narrator of KBMR wound up in a room with only a telephone speaks to the constraints of my imagination.
Kimball: Speaking of imagination, the narrator draws his life, his skewed memory of it, in stick figures on the walls of the room in which he is confined. How did that become part of the novel and why stick figures and why does he mostly draw naked?
Lopez: I suppose I’ve practiced what Donald Barthelme said about collage. I’ve mined older stories that didn’t quite work for material in both KBMR and Part of the World. So, I once had a story where a woman drew stick figures in a log cabin she inherited from her husband. (This part of the story was also resurrected in KBMR.) I imagine, for the narrator of KBMR, getting to tell his story this way was a substitute for any real contact with the outside world. The drawings are proof he was there, that he went through this experience. I saw it like cave paintings, which is why he drew in stick figures, which seem primitive to me. And all I’m capable of drawing myself, which is neither here nor there, but true nonetheless. I tend not to analyze why characters do what they do while I’m working. I trust whatever comes out, perhaps to a fault. That said, that he drew the stick figures naked makes sense. You could say he was rebelling against the uniforms he was issued and you could also say it’s indicative of wanting to escape, to be free again. None of this occurred to me as I was working on it, but as long as the action/language makes sense on an intuitive level I leave well enough alone. It’s only afterward, post-mortem, that I recognize connections and motivations and metaphors, any thing having to do with interpretation.
Kimball: Let’s talk about the revision process then. I’m especially curious for a novel like Kamby Bolongo Mean River with its non-traditional structure, all of its short paragraphs and line spaces. How much was moved around, rewritten, cut, etc.?
Lopez: KBMR started as a ten-page short story. I’d completed it and was pleased. A year or so later, I opened the story back up and was intrigued by the voice and thought I should see what else was there. Another ten-or-so pages came out, but I had to put it away for another year when life intervened. The next time I sat down the pages starting pouring out. I wrote the rest of the novel pretty much straight through, in one summer long breath. I always revise as I go, try to make sure every sentence is as it should be before moving on to the next. With KBMR, there wasn’t that much work to be done after the initial composition. It more or less came fully formed. My first novel took years and years of tinkering and revising and shuffling pages and scenes around. I suppose I was lucky with KBMR.
Kimball: The writing process, there were multiple times in the novel when I felt as if the novel worked as a figuration about writing or, sometimes, a figuration about reading. For instance, on page 11, the narrator says this: “What you have to do is understand how people use words and go from there.” Then, in the next paragraph, he says this: “My problem is I think about one word for too long.” Then, four paragraphs later, this: “The sound between words can be great or small or great and small at the same time.” And on page 64, the narrator says this: “I could go the rest of my life without words and be fine.” Was all that writing/reading commentary just going on in my head or were you after something specific there?
Lopez: I wasn’t consciously trying to comment on writing or reading or the impossibility of such endeavors, at least in a meta-fictional sense. Certainly the narrator discusses his difficulties with language, which can be interpreted any number of ways. And I suppose this difficulty with language is a recurring theme for me, but it’s not something I “try” to do or tried to do in KBMR. I have done a few meta-fictional stories where the process of putting it together was part of the narrative. Language is always a big part of subject matter for me, it seems. The Beckett quote – “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” – is entirely accurate for me. Expression often, if not always, seems like folly, yet it feels necessary at the same time. And yet, “I can go the rest of my life without words and be fine.” feels just as true to me. Certainly, this is always in my head.
Kimball: Last question: I’ve been thinking about the connections between fiction and poker, and I know you play, so what do you think: Is the mind that writes novels suitable for a winning poker player? Is there any angle there?
Lopez: I would think the mind that writes novels is suitable for a winning poker player, but unfortunately not any more so than other disciplines, lawyering, banking, teaching, etc. Certainly writing a novel takes patience and a sense of timing and so does poker. Understanding patterns and psychology is necessary for both, too. This is an interesting question. I think further research is necessary.
Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is now out in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005), both of which have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. He is also responsible for the ongoing art project-Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)-and the documentary films, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
Samuel Ligon is the author of a collection of stories, Drift and Swerve (Autumn House, 2009), and a novel, Safe in Heaven Dead (HarperCollins, 2003). His stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth, Post Road, Keyhole, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and elsewhere. He teaches at Eastern Washington University and is the editor of Willow Springs. Here’s how Sam Coale has described Sam Ligon’s fiction: “It’s a brutal unmasking of any social pretensions whatsoever, a down-and-dirty language that describes sex and violence at its most primal and primitive level. His characters, imprisoned in marginal marriages and marginal lives, eat lots of doughnuts, smoke dope, get drunk, bicker and whine and reveal their self-destructive, self-doubt-ridden selves that always seem on the verge of total collapse.”
Michael Kimball: I read a story of yours called “Blueboy” back in 1988 that has always stuck with me and it was the first thing that I looked for when I opened Drift and Swerve, but you didn’t include it in the collection. So tell me: Why didn’t you include that story and/or what was the selection process for the stories that you chose to include?
Samuel Ligon: I’m shocked that you read that story, but it’s certainly nice to hear. That was my first published story, and I did look at it when considering the stories that would make up Drift and Swerve, but it was hard for me to recognize it as my own. The syntax felt off, or the rhythm felt wrong, when up against the other stories. And I’d written it so long ago that even the language felt like someone else’s. I still feel an attachment to that story because it was my first publication, and because, when it came out, my mother called on the phone and told me she thought I should seek counseling, because the story suggested that I was probably “psychotically obsessed with death,” a phrase I still like to repeat. And while I think the story could have fit thematically, with this sort of alienated protagonist on the move, embroiled in relationship problems, it didn’t seem to mesh with the other work. With the exception of explicitly linked collections, like Jesus’ Son or The Things They Carried, it can be hard to pinpoint unifying elements in a collection. Too many collections, it seems to me, just feel like assembled stories. And I didn’t want that. So it was a matter of feeling or intuiting which stories belonged together, based, I think, on tone and sound and gravity and “thematic” elements, too, which, in the case of Drift and Swerve, had to do with a kind of actual movement. Not all the stories in the collection have characters moving, but most of them do, and they also tend to examine characters in places where they don’t quite belong.
Kimball: So tell me, what has changed about your syntax and your language over the years?
Ligon: I hope my prose today is leaner, harder, with less fat in it. That story “Blueboy” starts with a list and continues to use lists throughout its first section, and while I like lists, the rhythm of these particular lists just feels off to my ear now. The first line reads, “The custodians, the collectors, the caretakers of the dead, they wore gray cotton jumpsuits and hard plastic helmets on their heads.” Okay, that’s all right. I don’t mind the unnecessary pronoun “they,” or the rhyme of “dead” and “heads.” But the second line can’t let go of that “they,” and, worse, is overwritten, a problem that plagues the entire story: “They carried shears and burlap sacks, and they carefully clipped the drying leaves from the trees, one by one, denying the wind its right to blow them away where they would clutter up the sidewalk, only to be swept up by some hunched up old woman who would inevitably elbow you on the bus later.” I cringe at the phrase regarding the wind being denied its rights. I use two adverbs in that sentence, “carefully,” and “inevitably,” which are probably only there for a rhythm that no longer sounds right to my ear. And that’s only the first two sentences. Language is inflated throughout the story, and there’s a kind of snottiness to the voice, too, in places, which would be fine if I were trying to show the snottiness of the narrator, but I don’t think I was aware of that smug tone. Not only do I use another adverb when my narrator describes his boss as an “insufficiently mustached Midwesterner,” but I follow it with a sort of winking pair of clichéd idioms—“who said I’d get my fair shake if I played ball with him”—as if attempting to bring the reader into a superior, smart person’s club in which we would never dare use such hackneyed descriptions. That feels cheap and flat and lazy to me now. There are still elements of that early story that I like, but it just doesn’t feel that closely related to what I’m doing now.
Kimball: I’m going to leave that alone then and go back to something else you mentioned, the thematic of characters moving. Where did that notion come from?
Ligon: I had not been aware that so many of my stories contained that blatantly obvious element. Four of the stories are linked by a character named Nikki, and she’s in a different town in every story, moving through a bunch of states on a bus in one. Each of those stories seems to be about her trying to escape. That’s the urgency that drives them. She’s always about to run, or is running. And she’s always fighting something, kicking and stealing and fucking and fighting. She’s got some deep hunger, some deep deficiency in her life. I remember talking with Robert Lopez about those stories, before I showed them to him, and he said, “What does she want?” And I thought, what does she want? She wants money or she wants revenge. She wants to get away from her mother. She wants to get away, period. She wants to escape and she wants to survive. But what does she really want? She wants to be loved, I thought, which seemed like such a trite, idiotic way to think of her. But the more I thought about it, the more true it seemed, even if it felt so bland and huge and obvious and applicable to nearly every lonely character in the world. I’m not sure that made much difference in the end, but what did matter to the stories was her urgency. Her need to move. Her lack of peace, maybe. I don’t know. I started looking at other stories I’d been working on, and noticed how many of them had a similar restlessness, or had actual movement in them. I can’t believe how many cars are in this collection, the characters sort of static or trapped in moving vehicles, in stories like “Orlando,” “Drift and Swerve,” and “Arson,” or trapped in places they don’t quite belong, in stories like “Vandals,” “Germans,” “Dirty Boots,” “Austin,” and “American League.” In other stories, like “Animal Hater” and “Cleavage,” hard transitions drop the characters from place to place to place, creating another kind of urgency. So I finally recognized that movement in all these stories. It seemed to suggest a kind of isolation. And hunger, too—to have some kind of human connection maybe? To find a place to belong? I don’t know. And though it didn’t occur to me until I thought about your question, it probably has to do with my own experience, moving from place to place to place all my life, never being from anywhere.
Kimball: Another element that runs through the collection is violence. One story that stands out for me in terms of violence is “Germans” and it seems as if it is Henry’s lack of understanding that drives the violence. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Ligon: That’s interesting—as if the violence is coming out of some hole or absence. In “Germans,” Henry seems to become aware of the horror of the Nazis’ violence, or seems to identify with it somehow, almost to embrace it, or maybe just to hold onto it as he recognizes it, because of that isolation I was talking about earlier. When I was growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, Vietnam was going on, and we were bombarded by images of that war. But the war we were obsessed with, as boys, was World War II—the Germans against the Americans, which was how we divided ourselves when we played at war. It’s stunning to me now, that though that war in Europe, with all its atrocities, seemed incredibly distant to us, we were only twenty to twenty-five years removed from it. There was a weekly documentary show on TV called The World at War, that was a sort of war porn show, like the Nazi networks on cable now. Every boy I knew watched it, all these eight year olds greedily acquiring the vocabulary—Stalingrad and Auschwitz and Rommel and Goering and Blitzkrieg and Battle of the Bulge and Battle of Britain. Like these weird touchstones. When I was a freshman in college, in spring of 1982, I got pneumonia, was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, and right before I knew I was sick, before the fever spiked, I was watching a documentary about Vietnam at my parent’s house on the last day of spring break. For the first time in my life, I was struck by the horror of that war, or any war. The maiming, killing brutality of it felt real for a second. Like it wasn’t just TV. Like I’d gotten the slightest glimpse of it as a real phenomenon. I was eighteen years old and started crying—just bawling. Out of control. My mother came into the room and asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t articulate it. Somehow, for a brief moment, all the desensitization of my childhood consumption of war images and information fell away. Looking back on that, I think I felt complicit somehow in all that brutality. That was the feeling I wanted to give that little boy, Henry at the end of “Germans.” He’s just a kid, new in town, and he’s trying to find a way to belong in this new place. But he always has to be the Germans. His father won’t brag to Henry’s friends about his experiences in World War II, which seems like a betrayal. So, yeah, you’re right, he identifies with the Nazis out of a lack of understanding of the real horror of what they did, but also from another absence, I think—this hunger to belong. If they’re going to make him be the Germans, he’ll be the Germans. He’ll be the Nazis. But I think something happens to him at the end, some kind of realization of the horror of what the Nazis did and his sense of complicity in it, but also a feeling of the real isolation of being alive and sort of forever alone.
Kimball: That’s an amazing answer, so let’s try another violent story. I’m thinking of the lack of Hugh’s awareness in “Vandals” and how that makes the violence all the more menacing. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Ligon: Maybe Hugh in “Vandals” feels something similar to Henry, in terms of his isolation and hunger to belong. Hugh and his wife have left the suburbs and moved out beyond the exurbs to a house in the country. Kids vandalize his mailbox, egg his door, and for some reason he can’t leave it alone. He’s kind of like a kid in that way, playing war, building a kind of fort, acquiring weapons. What he wants most of all, probably, is to be left alone, as if he belongs in that place. But he makes the problem so much worse by not ignoring it, by sort of desperately trying to engage the “vandals” on their own terms. So he gets lost in that game and ends up killing them. He doesn’t necessarily mean to, but there seems to be an inertia at work—as if, once he’s decided to engage them on their terms, the only way it can play out is through violence. That’s the only language or means of engagement available to him. So he’s unaware of what he’s unleashing, of the likely consequences, but also just incompetent as a human, unable to transcend his idiotic need for retribution or his need to feel like he belongs.
Kimball: I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring this interview around, make it feel like a complete thing, so here’s what I have: We started with your first published story, “Blueboy,” and how your writing has changed since then. What I’m wondering about is how your writing will change after Drift and Swerve. What will change next in terms of your syntax and language?
Ligon: I’m in the middle of a multiple first-person novel right now, working with twenty or so characters, so the next thing will definitely not involve trying to weave that many different voices. I’m too close to that project to think much about how it’s working, but I’d like to try to get out of the way of the next thing I write. I reread Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life a couple years ago and was struck by how clean the prose was. I kept forgetting Wolff the writer was there at all, which was fascinating to me since the book is a memoir, about Wolff the boy. But that prose felt so clean and transparent. And maybe it’s because I’m working in the first person now that makes me want to write something with less emphasis on voice. Or maybe that’s the wrong way to think of it. I can’t remember who made the comment about prose being like a window, or exactly what was said, but I like that idea of making it invisible or unnoticeable, not smearing it up with anything that calls attention to itself. The reader needs to slip into a dream-like state through the writing, and it seems like clean, transparent prose can help facilitate that. I’m not sure how my use of syntax and language will change in the future, but I do know that I’d like to get out of the way of the writing as much as I can; I want to get rid of all my grubby fingerprints.
Michael Kimball’s novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is out in the US, UK, and Canada (http://michael-kimball.com/). The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005). His three novels have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and two documentary films, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
Padgett Powell has taught writing at UF since 1984. He has published five novels and two collections of short stories–his latest, the novel The Interrogative Mood (Ecco) His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Paris Review, Grand Street, Esquire, The New York Times Book Review and Magazine, and Oxford American; and has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and Best American Sportswriting. The winner of the Prix de Rome and a Whiting Writers Award, he has also taught at the Sewanee Writers Conference, and currently teaches at the Summer Literary Seminars, St. Petersburg, Russia. The New York Times Book Review calls The Interrogative Mood “courageous and entertaining.” Sam Lipsyte calls it “[an] ingenious provocation … another brilliant work of fiction.”
Michael Kimball: I have a question about the first question mark in The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, which is right there in the title. Is it really meant to question whether the book is a novel or is it more of an insistence that this book composed entirely of questions is in fact a novel or is it something else entirely?
Padgett Powell: That question mark is meant to diffuse the kind of irk that results, legitimately, when something that is arguably not a novel is called a novel. I was thinking specifically of Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? It chapped some ass when it was called a novel. I sought not to chap but to still classify the odd document as a novel. What with all the question marks to follow, it seemed like a natural move to let one leak onto the title page.
Kimball: It makes me think, too, of David Markson’s late quartet of novels, one of which is titled, This Is Not A Novel. But now I’m curious: Did you set out to write a novel composed only of questions or did it begin as something else? Also, how did you decide to classify The Interrogative Mood as a novel and did you ever consider classifying it something else?
Powell: It started and remained an answer to certain emails I was getting entirely in the interrogative mood. At no time did I plan a book, at no time did I submit it as a book to a book publisher. Calling a thing a novel helps it have a slim chance of someone’s buying it; it certainly could not be called anything else. Except, well, something like this (from fan mail):
Congratulations, your terrific book The Interrogative Mood will be an instant classic but in response to the ‘?’ it might not be a novel. It seems to me that it shows rather than tells issues raised by the philosophy/way of life of Pyrrhonism, in which the problem of the criterion leads to suspension of judgment and skepsis — always searching — which would make it a one-of-a-kind document in philosophy. Whatever it is? Thanks for writing it.
Kimball: If you weren’t planning on The Interrogative Mood being a book and it was never submitted as book, then how did all of those questions accumulate and how did it become a book?
Powell: I kept writing them, having nothing better to do after putting on my pants, depressed. I sent them to The Paris Review. An editor at The Paris Review bought some, quit PR, took a job at Ecco, and called me from there saying they were doing the book. I said, Okay.
Kimball: That is one of the best publication stories that I have ever heard. Also, there was something about the tone of The Interrogative Mood that I hadn’t quite figured out, something that I was fascinated with, something that allowed the narrator to ask questions about a huge range of subjects and also allowed all kinds of non sequiturs that I accepted without question — “depressed” makes that all make sense. Forgive the wind-up and here’s the question: Are you, Padgett Powell, also the narrator of The Interrogative Mood or is the narrator a fictional creation separate from you (or is the narrator maybe a fictional Padgett Powell)?
Powell: Dude, c’est moi. It’s always c’est moi. Narrator schmarrator, author schmauthor.
Kimball: OK, let’s go back to something else, the idea of originality. The Interrogative Mood is original, singular. That is what piqued my interest and that is why I kept reading. In fact, as I read deep into the novel, I began to see a double narrative at work. There was one novel, the narrator’s novel, which the reader begins to discern to some extent through the adjectival nature of the questions, the fact that the questions have been chosen to be the particular questions in The Interrogative Mood. The second novel is the reader’s novel, which the reader begins to create by answering the questions. I know there isn’t a question there, but I thought you might want to say something about that.
Powell: I like adjectival nature of the questions but confess I do not know what that means. There is always I suppose a second novel, the reader’s, who is imagining things privately and differently from the way the writer imagined them; in this case though we do have the specific theatre of the answers themselves, which the writer has not imagined for the reader, per se. That is not perhaps the exact correct usage of per se but don’t it look smart?
Kimball: That seems like a good place to end—with you asking a question.
The Believer calls Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, “a curatorial masterpiece.” His three critically acclaimed novels are (or will soon be) translated into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and the documentaries, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).
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