Digressing with Vince Passaro

Vince Passaro is the author of the novel Crazy Sorrow, which you can order here. During this podcast we talk about the rare dinosaur that is Gordon Lish, when and if to pursue an MFA, the shallowness of most editors, his hatred of doing anything except writing, and how smaller presses are going to save literature.

A few noteworthy bon mots:

  • Most writers don’t believe in the stature and the power of literature that [Lish] perceived and proclaimed and made vivid;
  • Editors would rather have something easy and familiar than something challenging and new;
  • Submitting books via Submittable is like sending your work into a shredder;
  • As a freelancer, whenever you get paid, it brings you back to broke.

He said something else, something I had to agree with even if it hurts to think about. It was in the context of having side-hustles, day-jobs, jobby-jobs, or whatever else you want to call them, all while trying to write, and be a good partner, and be a good parent. And we agreed that when you’re young, it makes sense to mix it up with the world, to have your shoulders rubbed the wrong way and have elbows sharpened against your ribs and even to be the rough and tumble of someone else’s life. But then he said, “if you want to be a really, really — really — good writer, you have to make sacrifices.”

In other words, there comes a time in your life when you have to bow your neck and sharpen the ax, work the bone, and fuck the tiger. You have to strip yourself down to your bare skin essentials, you have to be willing to flay and be fileted — or is it to filet and be flayed? — but whatever it is, you need to hunker down with your be-all and end-all and get busy writing or get busy dying, to paraphrase some other genius.

And it cuts me because I haven’t bowed my neck, and I haven’t made the sacrifices. I’ve made promises I’m not willing to break, and that I have zero regrets having made. I just hope I live longer than most, that I love long enough to fulfill those promises — and then to fulfill the promise of my aspirations.

Vince’s criticism and essays have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, where he is a contributing editor, as sell as a slew of prestigious titles such as The Nation, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and others. His short fiction has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Open City, Agni, Story, Boulevard, and Quarterly West. His first novel, Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, was published in 2002 — also by Scribner’s. He lives a few miles north of New York City in an old Huguenot town with his wife, son, and a smattering of film cameras, fountain pens, and other fellow-traveling refuse from the mid-20th century.

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