The stories in this collection would not be what they are today without input and support from Giacomo, Cavin, Mike, Graham, Alan, Bria, and some others I’m forgetting now, of course, with my failing memory, but I would like to note here also that Crow Jonah Norlander, now a household name for many, what with his unduly popular collection of stories winning award after award since its publication, messaged me on Twitter – unprompted, I should clarify, although we had spoken over direct message previously about mostly innocuous topics related to reading and writing – to ask if I had a story collection manuscript in the works that he could read, to which I replied in the affirmative, that I did have such a manuscript in-progress, and that I could send it to him promptly, should he desire to read it – this is how I phrased it: should you desire to read it, I said; I was in this way engaging with him coyly, pretending an earnest and unassuming affect while knowing full well why he was asking, but while also having resolved to not betray this knowledge, as an artificial means of endearment – that is, to create in him a sense of myself as aloof and open to inquiries such as this, as opposed to a calculating or expectant demeanor – to obfuscate the well-known self-promotional obsession behind a facade of self-effacement, which was necessary, I believed, and still do believe, to manipulate him into favoring my work over that of the presumably many others – as I understood it at the time he was going the rounds in soliciting manuscripts, as one with connections to the industry often insists on doing – by sheer efficacious personality, as these things tend to work, in that the work itself is often wholly beside the point, a pretense for business, as many have described it, as I am told, such that he would hold my writing (pure garbage, admittedly, examining it now, collected here, nearly untouched as you read it from the moment I sent it to him, which in itself contributes to the farcical state of things) in some level of regard, either consciously or unconsciously, when speaking to the state of things, as I later learned he liked to describe it, amongst his personae literati, out of which a rather impressive portfolio of manuscripts, all told, had been passed on to quite well-regarded editors and publishers among the top publishing outfits, or else to ever better-regarded voices in the community – Amy Hempel, for example, as I later came to learn, who I name here only to convey the particular echelon these points of contact inhabited, as Crow described them – who are perhaps more integral to the surfacing of new literary voices, as Crow often euphemized, following the standard practice at the time, in reducing the yet-established author to a single voice, which would often end up muzzled by neglect, or almost always so, in fact, and in this way my calculations in deferent meekness did the trick, as it were, such that he enjoyed the collection, that it was clear and easy to read, although this was pure nonsense, as we both recognized, due to my manuscript’s inexplicable charter, as one critic would later put it, and its tendancy to resort to bleakly transparent imitations of Thomas Bernhard and, strangely, the more forgettable names in alt lit, which quite negatively impacts the reading experience for anyone with self-worth, as if it were a ship adrift in a sea of bad jokes and futile grasps at poignancy, he said, which we both, Crow and I, considered accurate, ultimately, both before and after the manuscript was originally picked up for publication by Vintage due solely, I believe, to Crow’s intervention, but which, as I have stated already, and prior to the tweet that caused everything to implode (Hempel’s phrasing) was set to earn out its paltry advance, which Publisher’s Marketplace called, sarcastically – I can’t imagine this terminology being anything other than sarcastically coined – major, signaling to the world that my writing, in its major sensibilities, nonetheless carried only a sad crumb of value, as Crow put it, as he was often, then, comparing things to food, for some reason: a sad crumb of value for my work, a bleak stew of transparent influences, a despair-inducing dollop of art smattered against the pan, he said once, in describing the work of one of our contemporaries, which much delighted me, this imagery, but of course he no longer speaks in food-related metaphors after the accident, as he puts it, even though everyone knows it was no accident, what happened with his teeth, but the truth obviously would be upsetting for the average drone of weak constitution – which is to say most people, by our measure – and so he often spares them the wrenching and cracking and sawing and so on when addressing the teeth thing, as he calls it, or rather the goddamn teeth thing, as he is often nearly writhing with anger when complaining to me about having to address the goddamn teeth thing after doing an interview, for example, wherein the goddamn teeth thing invariably comes up, being so evocative for the average drone of weak imagination, which is to say most people, easily obsessed with Crow’s lack of teeth instead of his contributions to the literary landscape, which is, as he often complains, the real purpose of these hellish interviews, but which, of course, is barely ever explored, let alone mentioned, and in fact nearly always elided entirely, with entire conversations trapped within the pit that is the goddamn teeth thing, as he usually describes it to me, afterwards, as a pit, although of course I have no sympathy, because he alone set that trap himself, to borrow his phrasing, I tell him, when he calls – when he is occluded by anger, in his words – having yet one more time wasted his afternoon trapped within the pit with yet another useless, ephemeral idiot, as he calls them, always, another watcher and talker, as he puts it, and never a real contemporary worthy of my opinions on art, who I of course know would never reach out to him for a real conversation about his writing because such a true literary artist would never debase themselves on something as futile as a recorded interview, as he does, I point out to him, to which he often laughs, thankfully, having allowed himself to dig through hell, as he likes to say, to find humor on the other side of it, after we have embraced the futility of everything as regards publicity and publication, especially the futility of our writing itself, of our oft-derided letters, of our hobbling of language, which we spew, we agree, but which also the weak-minded masses slurp up anyway, knowing no better, in fact unaware of any difference in skill between the Jon Grishams and the Crow Jonah Norlanders of the world, a gradient which always stirs in Crow a brief cackle, I have found, and thus diffuses his post-interview temper, thankfully, allowing us to return to the matters at hand, to the real purpose of our phone calls, which is to simply speak to the incessant lack of stories with urgency in today’s literary fiction – the euphemism here, of course, as the reader may expect, being in urgency standing in for penises.