Viral: That Week I Was Literally Literarily Famous… Sort of… // Morgan Murray
As part of our guest edited month exploring publishing and the emotionality of sharing writing, Morgan Murray writes about his first novel, where it fits, and being long-listed for Canada Reads.
There’s a scene in my book, Dirty Birds (buy now!), where the protagonist, a wet rag of a human named Milton Ontario, becomes an overnight viral sensation, thanks to a sort-of record review he manually typed on a roll of paper towel and then posted to a music blog.
Milton’s 30-some thousand word epic record review/poem/manifesto “Duck, Duck, Goose and Other Traumas” gets shared on Live Journal (it’s 2007, btw) by his childhood nemesis, who is now a world renowned pornstar (thanks to gigantism of the penis, brought about by one ofMilton’s failed revenge plots against him for stealing his girl) and beforeMilton knows it, he’s being roasted on a show that isn’t-for-legal-reasons-but-looks-a-lot-for-literary-reasons-like-Letterman and is featured on the front page of the New York Times.
Like pretty much every first-time white dude novelist since the dawn of time, my first novel is a pretty semi-autobiographical story of a white dude who looks and acts a lot like me conquering the world.
White dude literature professors and literary critics consider a lot of these books “canon.” Y’know, The Sun Also Rises,The Catcher in the Rye, TheAcrobats, BeautifulLosers, On the Road,The Great Gatsby, Post Office, hell, even Don Quixote, and so on and so forth forever and ever amen. But they’re not “canon,” they’re White Privilege Porn. They’re a sort of macho man fantasy fan fiction.
Dirty Birds is kind of that, because it’s my first novel and I’m made of hair, meat, bones, and white privilege. But I knew this ahead of time. I was tipped off. I knew that no matter how clever I tried to be, how with-it, how woke, how well-read I could feign being, my first novel would still be about a wet rag of a human resembling the worst version of me trying to transform into the best version of me.
Knowing it was coming, I tried to confront that impulse. I tried to not go easy on Milton. Not to give him the gift of success or salvation just because he’s a white dude and I’m a white dude. Neither of us deserve any sympathy. Neither of us deserve any breaks.
What came out was a sort of goofy and vicious satire of the form. As one reviewer put it, I “set [the genre of white dude macho man fantasy novel-picaresque-Bildungsroman-Künstlerroman-Roman à clef] on fire.” I set poor Milton on fire.
I made all his dreams come true, and the true coming of those dreams become the things that nearly destroy him, and much of whatever city he is in at the moment. I even had the gall—the gall!—to make Leonard Cohen, the patron saint of man-child artists, a villain (which an unhappy Goodreads reviewer said was “brutal” of me, touché).
So it wasn’t without some dread that I woke up on the morning of January 6th to an email from my publisher. My110-some-thousand-word epic record review/poem/manifesto Dirty Birds had made the CBC Canada Reads 2021 long list.
I was going viral (in a Canadian book contest sort of way).
Since then there has been a whirlwind of back-and-forths with publishers and librarians and podcasters as we rushed to arrange what has become the Dirty Birds CBC Canada Reads 2021 Loser Tour before people could back out. No word back from someone-who-looks-like-but-certainly-isn’t-not-at-all-David Letterman nor the New York Times. But the Kindersley Social and Inverness Oran both ran features, and I’ve got virtual events lined up from now until kingdom come.
It will be me talking to myself in my dining room while my mom and several other people peer up my nose on Zoom for all eternity.
In true Milton fashion, however, the other shoe dropped only a few hours later, when a mob of fools attempted to overthrow the US government. A story that has sort of overshadowed the CanadaReads news.
I’m sure that in the investigations that follow, the politicians and mob of fools will be let off easy not just because of the same white privilege that has allowed white dudes to get away with passing off nothing-burger novels and cheesy pop songs about hooking up as high art for all time, but because there will be grainy security footage of someone that looks vaguely like me trying to make a move towards a pretty girl he met at a party once and bumping into a riot police and setting off the whole scene.
Morgan Murray is a writer living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Dirty Bird (Breakwater Books) is his debut novel.