Miles Klee Verbally Spars With Literary Rival Adam Wilson

Miles Klee is a little-known novelist. Recently, he decided his best career move would be to start a feud with another writer. This is his ongoing attempt to find (and destroy) the perfect rival.

If there’s one thing the publishing industry needs more of, it’s boring white dudes—so Klee reached out to Adam Wilson, an author much like himself, except for the fact that The Strand will actually admit to carrying his work. Two years after his debut novel, Flatscreen, was greeted with a resounding “whatever,” he has returned to inflict his short fiction on us with a new collection, What’s Important Is Feeling. The title must refer to his single identifiable emotion: spite.

KLEE

Adam Wilson, right off the bat I should admit I snubbed you on the first opportunity we had to really meet. This was at the AWP conference in Boston last year: some friends and I walked out of a blizzard into a bar and spotted you sitting, I believe, with Justin Taylor and Matt Bell, both of whom I already knew—so it was probably even odder that I hesitated a moment at your booth, long enough for all of us to look each other in the eyes and anticipate some standard fumbling attempt at human interaction, only to then keep walking as if I had merely paused to collect my thoughts. I trust you remember this moment as vividly as I do, and dwell in its penumbra of disappointment always?

 WILSON

Huh, I don’t remember this at all. Probably because 1) you’re not famous enough to be recognizable, nor face-tattooed, nor super buff, nor devastatingly handsome, nor a very attractive woman, nor, um, a non-white dude (of which there tends to be a lack at AWP.) So really, I think I snubbed you. Sorry.

KLEE

Apologetic already? This is too easy. Follow-up question: now that we’ve breached the writerly taboo of engaging in direct communication, how much do you think I’ll regret knowing you?

WILSON

Depends on how well you plan to get to know me, and how high your tolerance is for Boston sports fans. If your answers are “very well” and “not at all” then you’re in for a rough ride. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind Red Sox fans, and you’re a fan of whiskey, beer, and the website RapGenius, then we’ll probably get along just fine.

KLEE

Perish the thought. I won’t be so gauche as to ask what name your middle initial, Z., stands for, because I’m sure it’s not as supervillainish as I’m imagining, but I wonder how much longer you think you can hold out before a publisher forces you to start using it on book covers? It could mean the difference between “Pulitzer finalist” and “Pulitzer winner.”

WILSON

You’re assuming I’ll still have a publisher after this new book comes out. Didn’t you read my story about the guy who bites his best friend’s dick while watching American Idol? Or the one about the couple that uses a live lobster as a sex toy? Or the kid whose grandfather gives him a handjob? Forget the Pulitzer, I’m just hoping the Goodreads PC police don’t arrest me and sentence me to ten years of reading YA books.

KLEE

Do you think, after bros like us, people will ever write fiction about drugs again? I mean, we pretty much covered it, right? We may have a few more definitive things to say about sex, but I think it’s fair to say that the drug ship has sailed.

WILSON

They better not. Or at least not until some new drugs come along. I mean, where have all these advancements in science gotten us, huh? The day Pfizer comes out with a non-addictive synthetic cocaine that is actually good for you, is the day that … well … it’s the day that I buy a lot of it, and stop caring what other writers are writing about.

KLEE

I feel more apathetic when sober, really. According to your website, you’re chums with fellow author Garth Risk Hallberg, who made headlines last fall with a $2 million advance for a debut novel, City on Fire. But are you close enough to him to successfully poison his caviar? Also, should we set all our fiction in the 1970s until people are interested in anything else?

WILSON

Garth isn’t the caviar type. Besides, if I poisoned him, then how could I ride in the sidecar of his success? And yeah, I don’t know why people like the 70s so much. American Hustle was overrated, disco sucks, and the orange-brown color palette is totally terrible for pale dudes like me. It wasn’t a good time for baldness either. That said, Garth’s book is going to be fucking awesome.

KLEE

Let’s hope he approves of your sycophancy, then. To dwell on other writers for just a moment, which author are you shelved next to in bookstores? I mean, after they move all your unsold, un-thumbed copies from the “New Fiction” display? How often do you open one of their books and wipe a booger on one of the pages and close it again? (I’m directly adjacent to Chuck Klosterman, so I have occasion to do this quite often.)

WILSON

Well, there are a lot of other Wilsons, and I hate them all. Except for my dad, who I am sometimes shelved next to. I like that guy okay. All the other Wilsons can suck it.

KLEE

Since you’re being blunt I’ll strive to do the same—and you did broach the subject, so: you’re bald as fuck. Is that on purpose? Do you think it gives you gravitas? Shiny, reflective gravitas?

WILSON

No, it’s not on purpose, you dick. Is your next question how often do I shave it? Because then you will officially be every asshole I’ve ever met. Yeah, I went bald at nineteen. And yeah, I shave my head now so I don’t have a fucked-up-looking horseshoe on my head. Why is it any of your goddamned business?

KLEE

Mmm, smooth. I understand you did an event not long ago with Dan Josefson, who published a novel called That’s Not a Feeling. Your new short story collection is titled What’s Important Is Feeling. Would you care to make a public admission of plagiarism? (Also, why don’t you have a David Foster Wallace blurb?)

WILSON

What you have to understand, Miles, is that there’s this secret brotherhood of bald writers, and we’re taking over the world with our feelings, okay? Deal with it.

KLEE

Unless you have an appropriate GIF of that sentiment, I’m afraid I can’t. Brooklyn Magazine once named you one of the 50 funniest people in that borough. Why haven’t you made me laugh yet?

WILSON

Clearly your jealousy of my membership in the secret bald writers club has blinded you to my hilarity.

KLEE

Adam Wilson, you have been a boorish clod, this interview was a grave mistake, but I am just a little bit jealous of your résumé and blurbs—except for Gary Shteyngart’s, which reads like an admission that no one else responded to your emails. Would it be at all worthwhile for a struggling writer to kill you and steal your identity? Hypothetically speaking.

WILSON

Depends how willing they are to deal with assholes like you, Miles.

Born Rivals No. 3: Michael McGrath

Miles Klee is a little-known novelist. Recently, he decided his best career move would be to start a feud with another writer. This is his ongoing attempt to find (and destroy) the perfect rival.

If anyone could match the depths of Klee’s cynicism, it was sure to be Michael McGrath, a self-described “freelance mule” and former Poe-Faulkner Fellow at the University of Virginia who has worked in every dank crevice of publishing—with very little to show for it. He proved somewhat willing to spar despite his no doubt crippling hangover.
 
KLEE
Ready when you are! Never know if I’ve sent the chat invite successfully…
 
[20 minutes pass]
 
KLEE
YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM ME, MCGRATH.
 
MCGRATH
Jesus what a way to start. I’m ready!
 
KLEE
Michael McGrath, thanks for rolling out of bed to participate in this waste of time. What would you say are your goals as a writer, and why won’t you ever achieve them?
 
MCGRATH
Thanks for having me. As you know I’m extremely busy. My ultimate goal is to get a producer credit on the Oscar-winning adaptation of my first novel. I used to want to star in it but now I don’t even want a crack at the screenplay. As to why I won’t achieve this modest goal…well, I like to think I’m at the mercy of larger forces outside my control. The economy, doltish gatekeepers, contractions in the industry, Gordon’s vodka. Plus did you know you can watch movie previews online these days? That right there sucks up a good 60% of my available writing time. Other forces outside my control include tube sites, anxiety, mild gout, fear of success. 
 
KLEE
Speaking of doltish gatekeepers, you were once a slush pile reader at the Virginia Quarterly Review, so I have to ask: why the fuck did you reject my Bob Saget fan fiction? Too hip for the room?
 
MCGRATH
Oh man I rejected everything. I even rejected something that eventually got published, which, I mean, the chances of anything swimming that far up river are really low. I was sort of removed from the case after that. We got $2.50 per piece. I like to think I gave everybody a fair shot (and there was a lot of guilt, I was sending my own stories out and so some days it would be heartening, like, Yes, my shit is better than 85% of what’s floating around out there, and then you’d get two or three dynamite ones that you’d send up the ladder and they’d get shot back down and you’d think, well, if those guys (who I hate because they’re better than me) can’t make it why am I even trying? Oh, sorry, your fan fiction: I probably would’ve given it a hearty “recommend.” Just tried: I can’t remember a single piece I read for them except for the one that got me fired. I find it hard to place fan fiction. I write a lot of it (mostly about Lo Bosworth) and it has been ROUNDLY rejected.
 
KLEE
As you are the first subject of this series to have attained an MFA, I wonder if you could enumerate for our readers the many benefits of holding such a degree. Also, how soon do you think you could become a lecherous, dogmatic, middle-aged-looking professor?
 
MCGRATH
I’d say there were just as many people in my program who wanted to be professors as there were those who wanted to be writers. You go to these profs’ big houses and they serve you tasty little meat slices and it all looks pretty good. And their schedules seemed…accommodating. I’d like to go back again, so I must have enjoyed it. But my anxieties really took over in the second year and I had a hard time working on my “thesis” (still unfinished/unpublished!), going to class and teaching. At least one of those things fell by the wayside each week. I’d like to think I was a good teacher, but my students didn’t seem to really care either way. I should say that I did have a lot of good students and I hope they enjoyed our time together.
 
KLEE
I’ll probably edit that last part out.
 
MCGRATH
Grad school was also the first time I ever met any poets.
 
KLEE
Can you name the single worst thing about grad school poets?
 
MCGRATH
They get published constantly! One guy published something like sixteen poems in one year.
 
KLEE
Bastard.
 
MCGRATH
Can you imagine publishing even half that number of stories? I mean could you even find eight outlets? There was one guy we saw a lot as slush readers who was just a machine and he had won a lot of contests and had been published in a lot of little journals, but his stuff wasn’t very good. I’ve always wanted to reach out to him and find out if he had some sort of failproof system, the way some lottos/card games can be rigged. He was sort of legendary. I just figured he was rich. Can’t figure out how somebody got somewhere? It’s usually one of two things.
 
KLEE
And now a question that cuts to the heart of whether you possess a single ounce of passion, talent, or artistry: how many pages into the new Thomas Pynchon are you?
 
MCGRATH
I’m two pages into The Bleeding Edge.
 
KLEE
There’s no “The” in the title, dude.
 
MCGRATH
I’m always self-conscious of that mistake, probably because I make it often. Once a professor put “The New Yorker” in quotes in some bit of correspondence and I got all nervous that she was mocking me/correcting me for having fucked it up in my email. So good job, you’ve destroyed me. I’d like to be married to my agent. If I had one.
 
KLEE
Last thing: earlier this year you wrote a classified ad of sorts for The Paris Review, seeking a literary mentor. You’ve also advertised yourself as quarry for anyone who might like to hunt humans. How does it feel to know I likely subconsciously filched those ideas for this immensely popular interview series?
 
MCGRATH
I figured as much. I’ve really put myself out there and have gotten very little back besides the usual Internet vitriol. There were plenty of people willing to shoot me but no mentors yet. 
 
KLEE
Michael, you have been painfully honest and probably too decent a person here—no wonder you haven’t made it in publishing.