Max Mallory was not a “stupid writer,” like I was at age 22. I had started writing fiction in childhood, but instead of an early start it just gave me, by around age 16, the idea that I should be famous. Really famous. And rich.
I wrote a lot but was nowhere near that level. Yes, I had written a novel by age 16. In the last 40 years, I added 11 more unpublished novels to that stack. And one accepted for ebook publication.
Max was realistic. He worked on his fiction. He wrote interactive fiction. He wrote storylines for video games. He didn’t submit much for publication, if any. I asked him to enter a poem for a local newspaper contest, since he had written a lot of poetry. He wrote a poem, but apparently didn’t think what he had was good enough. He was happy to reach out to others for critiques. He worked on his fiction. You don’t publish till it’s good.
The ironic thing is, Max was far better at 22 than I was.
Since he died, I’ve had this tidal-wave urge to organize his writings and try to get them published. I worked feverishly for weeks finding his passwords, digging through jump drives and scanning his old laptops, to ensure I had every last word. Though I will never really know if I did.
In my mind I targeted the New Yorker for a particularly poignant poem, since he was a young devotee of the magazine. Strangely — let me know if you ever meet anyone else in this position — I know the last short story and magazine article he read. We took a stack of his newer New Yorkers to the hospital with us. The article was from the April 11, 2016 issue of the New Yorker: “The Voyeur’s Motel” by Gay Talese (which we both liked in a creeped-but-fascinated way) and the story was from the March 21 issue, “A Resolute Man” by Annie Proulx, which I liked and he didn’t. This surprised me. “It’s Annie Proulx!” I said. “I don’t like historical fiction,” he said, reducing Master Proulx to a cheap genre.
But now I face the dilemma. Do I take the brazen leap to presume to try to get a dead man published? If he didn’t choose that path, what right do I have? Or am I just the Ari Gold to his J.D. Salingerism?
Rushing to publication and fame was not his game. It was my old dream, manifesting itself again.
And my futile hope that it would “keep him alive.”
If I did get him published — even famous-writer published — he still wouldn’t be alive. Not really.
That door closed again.
And I cried.
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