Here's an excerpt:
Barn Again: A Memoir is a work of fiction. Seriously. The characters and dialogue are inventions; the occasional appearances by real people are entirely make-believe. This is not the memoir of a real person; this is the memoir of an imagined character named Jonathan Barnard Jr., which should be obvious to most people, even if it wasn’t obvious to certain literary agents who won’t be named here because their names have been forgotten.
Copyright © 2016 by Alan Good
All rights reserved. Quotations falling within the fair-use spectrum of U.S. copyright law are welcome.
Chapter two was originally published, in slightly different form, online in The Legendary, as was a small part of the preface, the script for the book trailer in chapter ten appeared, in slightly different form, online in ExFic, and chapter eleven was originally published, also in slightly different form, online in Atticus Review.
Malarkey Books and the Malarkey Books colophon are registered trademarks of Malarkey Books.
Cover art and design by Daniel Hentschel, www.hardluckcomics.com.
A literary agent is a mysterious, magical creature, cousin to the leprechaun and the genie, only much harder to conjure. Unless you’re Jeffrey Eugenides, an agent must be appeased with a new book at least every two years. Otherwise it eats your soul.
It’s a bad time to be a writer. There are more and more writers competing for a dwindling audience, and no one really cares about literary fiction anymore. It’s almost impossible for a fiction writer who didn’t study under Joyce Carol Oates to get published, and it’s just as hard for published writers whose first novels weren’t White Teeth to get their second novels picked up. But I’ve stumbled upon a great marketing strategy: repeated, highly publicized arrests. Violence, drunkenness, foul-mouthed rants and breakdowns. You must make yourself a cast member of Jersey Shore. This describes about 250 million Americans. The difference is they don’t have agents who made them hire an ectothermic publicist. I am a writer of literary fiction, not quite a dinosaur, but still useless and backward, a cultural relic and delirious dreamer. If I were starting out today I’d never get published. Without my arrests I’d be long forgotten. So quick, while I am still passably relevant, here it is, my motherfucking memoir.
If I were dead I would be rolling in my grave. Now there is an expression that is racing toward obsolescence. Soon enough we won’t have graves anymore, and within a few generations they will have disappeared from the public consciousness. The young people of tomorrow, when you mention graves, burial, or cemeteries, will give you the same look—blank, bemused, bored—the young people of today give when you mention pay phones, privacy, and grammar. They have never heard of these things, and they don’t feel like they’re missing out. The shift to gravelessness will be gradual. First, we will all be cremated, but cremation is energy-intensive and pollutive, and we will find a better solution: we will shoot our corpses into space. The sensible thing would be to launch them naked, so to speak, and let them burn up in the atmosphere, but instead we’ll send them up in expensive coffins, miniature spacecraft capable of passing through atmospheres unscathed. At some point at least some of these corpses will become zombified and, in conjunction with the zombies that arise when we empty all the current graves to make room for more necessary golf courses and housing complexes, they will nonimate the human species. Such, incidentally, is the muddled premise for a novel I am going to write (because my daughter wants to go to Harvard, and I would do anything for my daughter, even write a zombie novel) called Space Zombies; or, Zombies From Space!. That’s all I have so far, a convoluted premise and a dirty little prologue, but it was enough to sell the movie rights.
I never intended to write a memoir. I am missing the gene, so prevalent today, that compels a person to discuss highly personal information with strangers. I am with Joe Allston, the narrator of The Spectator Bird: “it is one thing to examine your life and quite another to write it. Writing your life implies that you think it worth writing. It implies an arrogance, or confidence, or compulsion to justify oneself, that I can’t claim. Did Washington write his memoirs? Did Lincoln, Jefferson, Shakespeare, Socrates?” This book is a tell-some; if it were a person, it would be the man who leaves his shirt on at a swimming pool. You will get to know some of my enemies; you won’t be regaled with my sexual history. I have been selective with the information I reveal. There is nothing in here, for example, that the authorities don’t already know. They don’t need us to do their jobs for them. The police, FBI, and sundry branches of law enforcement will tell us they need the ability to use drones, collect our DNA, and monitor our phone records and internet data to make their jobs easier, but it’s about time we stopped listening to their puling. Their jobs are supposed to be hard. The easier their jobs get, the harder our lives get. So, at least concerning easing the lawman’s burden, fuck, if I may quote NWA, the police. I’m not anti-cop, just pro-liberty. The proper attitude toward the police is one of respectful contempt, or, if you’re an obedient little ass-kisser, contemptuous respect. Their jobs are hard, their lives are hard; they’re also dangerous. Take the money that would be spent on gadgets like armored monster trucks and fucking bomb-hurling robots and raise cop pay. But to get back to business: there is a reason why the act of defecation is sometimes referred to as “doing your business.” I’ll leave the reason to be inferred by the reader; my point is that literature, like so much else now—like education, government, love, faith, sex, health—is business. The business of America, to hearken back, with the reader’s forgiveness, to Calvin Coolidge, is doing our business, and as Melville wrote, “though man loves his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.” If my druthers mattered to anyone, I would not have foisted a memoir upon you, but the market demands a memoir, and as they say, business is business.
The idea of assembling a coherent narrative from my hodgepodge existence did not thrill me. I have nothing against memoirs—when they’re penned by film directors or ballplayers or founding fathers or comedians. If I were to denigrate memoirs as so much self-indulgent, myopic, solipsistic, onanistic waste, I would be denigrating Decision Points, which is the greatest satire since Gulliver’s Travels. So a memoir can have value, but writers have no business messing around in the genre, and I certainly am not qualified to write a memoir. I’ve spent most of my awake time on this planet so far typing, followed by even more mundane habits like eating, pondering, and evacuating my bowels. I am extremely regular. I haven’t lived the kind of life that lends itself to memoir. I’ve never, for instance, fucked a celebrity or gone rogue. I don’t have any stories about George Plimpton or Saul Bellow (whom I love) because I never met them. (I’m the Billy Carter of the literary universe; I don’t get introduced to a lot of people.) My father wasn’t abusive or quirky or president or famous, no one in my family was ever involved in the mafia, show business, or politics, I’ve never taken Prozac, never been addicted to anything, never cut off one of my body parts, never been kidnapped, molested, or clinically dead for three minutes, never done anything out of the ordinary for a year, never talked to, heard from, found, or looked for Jesus, never paid or been paid for sex or maintained a blog, never been lost at sea or trapped for a week in an overturned automobile, never survived a plane crash or eaten (so far as I’m aware) human flesh for survival or other purposes, never been in on the ground-floor of some big enterprise, nor started, owned, or worked in a restaurant, never worked for the CIA (and if I had I couldn’t tell you, and if I did tell you I’d have to kill you, so watch out) or been employed as an economic or more traditional-style hitman, never gone on a quest, spiritual or otherwise, never been a professional athlete, never been a plumber, never been an aide to a controversial politician, never run for president, fucked a president, been fucked by a president (except in the figurative sense), had a parent run for president, never been acquainted with any residents of heaven, never grown up poor in Ireland, never started a school in Africa, never teaed with terrorists or run with scissors*, as, contrary to what you might have heard, I’m not a fucking idiot.
It seems like I’ve exhausted the list of possible reasons why someone would write a memoir, but there’s one I didn’t mention: literary agents. This book began, respectably enough, as a collection of essays with the rather frumpish title Seventeen Essays, but my agent burned thirteen of them and mailed the ashes to me. She called me up: “I’ve got two words for you, Johnny boy: Alsatia Alamanni. My new client whose debut novel is Suckpad. It’s about a vampire lothario who retreats, after 9/11, into a life of high-class hedonism—lots of fucking and sucking, with brand names, at times quite literally, out the wazoo—centered around his glorious, rent-controlled Fifth Avenue apartment, only to find redemption after discovering he is the father of an overweight teenage boy named Horatio who has Asperger’s, asthma, and a wisecracking invisible friend named Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. Jr. Suckpad is About a Boy meets Interview With the Vampire meets Everything Is Illuminated, who introduces them all to Million Little Pieces, with a dash of Hunger Games thrown in to attract the YA crowd.” If you don’t know what YA means, I love you.
She went on, as she always does: “Do you want to know what makes Alsatia Alamanni an ideal client? She writes books that people want to read. Books that people actually want to read are easier to sell to the publishers, meaning I make more money. Alsatia Alamanni is making money for me, whereas you seem to be going out of your way to keep me from making money. My son goes to Brown in the fall, fucko. And if you make a Brown joke I will drop you so fast you’ll get a concussion from your ass hitting the floor. I have unpleasant news for you, Montaigne: readers don’t fucking buy essay collections. Take the four essays you were narcissistic enough to write about yourself and fucking turn them into chapters in your goddamn fucking memoir so we can both make some motherfucking money. One fucking caveat, though: leave me the fuck out of it. You’ve got no idea how many fucking queries I reject just because one of the characters is a literary agent. At least one per week. They never get it right. How could they? You fucking people don’t know the intricacies of what we do. You fucking writers, no offense, shitface, think you’re so goddamn important. But you don’t matter. You are the least relevant people on the planet now. Shut the fuck up. Ideas. No one cares about ideas. That’s what fucking TED Talks are for. Readers want two things: escape and fucking. Or fucking while escaping. That’s why The Getaway is still my favorite movie. Readers want lots of fucking, highly detailed descriptions of improbable sex that is just this side of being deviant or criminal. And you give me a book of essays? Fucking writers. Without us you’re just a bunch of stuttering introverts with broccoli in your teeth. Do you know what an Egyptian plover is?”“Yes,” I said. I was about to tell her I was rereading Herodotus, but she interjected: “You were supposed to say no, smart guy. An Egyptian plover is a bird that lives in symbiosis with the Nile crocodile. It’s essentially a toothpick. It eats the shit that gets stuck in the crocodile’s teeth.” “Well . . .” I was about to tell her that behavior was largely considered to be mythical, but she interjected: “That’s me, Mr. Jonathan Fucking Barnard. I am an Egyptian fucking plover, and you are a big ferocious crocodile. Unfortunately for me, though, gator boy, you haven’t been eating too well lately. You desperately need a big meal. A book of essays, that’s like eating a tadpole. A memoir is a fucking human, a big fat Texan tourist.” I would have pointed out the flaws in the analogy, but she—more or less metaphorically—hung up on me. “Ended the call” doesn’t quite cut it; it sounds so pusillanimous. I fucking hate cell phones, those assassins of language. I took her advice, as you can see. I didn’t want to do a lot of extra work, so I collected a few stories and essays I’d written over the years but hadn’t yet published, stacked them in a pile with the four unburned essays, and bound them with a bulldog clip, which had the remarkable effect of instantaneously placing me in the crowded ranks of Literary Memoirists.
Most of the stories and essays included in my life story had actually been rejected by various magazines, both little and big. For instance, I wrote “Desert Pinochle” on request for Anarchy & Omega, an obscure journal of obvious sympathies, but they rejected it two days after I sent it to them. This book’s first chapter was meant to be published in The New Yorker, but my editor there was asking for so many revisions and changes that I got a little huffy. I refused to make any more changes or accept any more edits, so they killed the story, and I canceled my subscription. “Morning Wood” was supposed to be an introduction to a book about Joplin, Missouri, after the tornado in 2011. The book’s editors, a couple schoolteachers, asked for a general essay about what my hometown means to me, and “Morning Wood” is what I came up with. I gave it to them free and sent them a check to help with publication expenses, but they didn’t use it (the story, I mean; they did use the check). They said it was too long. They ended up using something from a local writer of ultraviolent horror porn, who is probably more well-known and well-liked than me back home anyway.
My agent has this theory about short books. She says people today with their abbreviated attention spans and their fast-food lifestyles like to buy short books because they can read them quickly and get them up on the shelf where they belong. The formula has worked well enough for Steve Martin, but the potential downside is that people might not like to buy short books because they don’t get as much for their money. Anyway, I’m tired of working on this short book, so here we are, and we shall see.
I have the great fortune to have become a well-known obscure author. As authors go, I’m less well-known than, say, Jonathan Franzen, but more well-known than—it wouldn’t matter what name I put because you wouldn’t have heard of him, but the point is I’m famous enough (mostly because of multiple highly publicized arrests) that a lot of people have heard of me, but still obscure enough, author-wise, that not that many people have read my books. I belong to a category known as the New West author, where I rank below Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, and Rick Bass, which means if you live east of Colorado you’d never have heard of me at all if I hadn’t, for instance, been involved, albeit unwittingly, in a standoff with police that culminated in the conflagration of my ex-wife’s McMansion, which you can read all about later in the book. That’s what folks in the literature industry refer to as a hook, something to catch the reader’s attention and make her (it’s usually a her) want to keep reading. I am infamous, or “more than famous,” as defined by Ned Nederlander. David Horowitz devoted a whole chapter to me in The Scribes: The 101 Most Dangerous Authors in America, the sequel to The Professors, the subtitle of which you can readily figure out for yourself. Naturally, he misquoted me and spelled my name wrong: “Mr. Branard has been quoted in a foreign news outlet as saying ‘I hate America.’” The quote is accurate to a point; I did say, on Canadian Public Radio, “I hate America,” but I was talking about the band. I am “America’s second-most dangerous writer,” according to Horowitz, who has declared “economic fatwa” against me. “Economic fatwa,” of course, is nothing more than fancypants jingo-lingo for “boycott.” Whatever term you prefer, it’s been good for my career. I almost dedicated this book to Horowitz, but I’m still irked about second place. Has Ta-Nehisi Coates ever kidnapped his father-in-law or set an automobile on fire? With respect to Mr. Coates, I doubt whether he even knows how to make a Molotov cocktail.
This is my shortest book (it’s half as long as Seventeen Essays, but almost twice as long as the first draft), perhaps my worst book, and apparently my most readable book. So I’ve been told by most of my advance readers, to whom, in lieu of that waste of time, ink, and paper, the acknowledgements page, thanks.
Some of you will read this book on some sort of electronic device, which is fine, but I hope it breaks.
 I’ve eaten, prayed, and loved, of course, but not strictly in that order. In my praying days I was more in the habit of praying first and then eating.
 Numerous online commentators, all of them apparently plagiarizing Wikipedia, display their erudition by stating that references to this bird go back to Herodotus: “According to a story dating to Herodotus, the crocodiles lie on the shore with their mouths open, and the plovers fly into the crocodiles’ mouths so as to feed on bits of decaying meat that are lodged between the crocodiles’ teeth.” But no one ever tells you where to find the story. It’s in Book II of The Histories, in a section devoted to Nile crocodiles. In my copy (Penguin Classics, Aubrey de Sélincourt translation), it’s on page 123: “Other animals avoid the crocodile, as do all birds too with one exception — the sandpiper, or Egyptian plover; this bird is of service to the crocodile and lives, in consequence, in the greatest amity with him; for when the crocodile comes ashore and lies with his mouth wide open (which he generally does facing towards the west), the bird hops in and swallows the leeches. The crocodile enjoys this, and never, in consequence, hurts the bird.”
 Naturally I did a lot of editing, crossing out, rewriting, amending, and whatnot.
 I’m not being judgmental; “ultraviolent horror porn,” or UHP, is an acknowledged genre of popular fiction. Wal-Mart sells this guy’s books. Wal-Mart does not sell my books. For an idea why, see my essay “Economic Skullfuckers: The Legacy of Wal-Mart,” which you can find online.