James Franco, an American actor best known for his role as Sgt. Dan Carnelli in In the Valley of Elah has been studying creative writing at Columbia University (and also film at New York University? And also is in movies? How many hours are in this dude’s days?). He has already sold a collection of short stories titled Palo Alto to Scribner, so apparently the student has become the master (huh?). Of course, until that book is published, experience of Franco’s work is limited mostly to his writing workshop colleagues, sitting around the critique table. And anyone who can get their hands on his dream journal. But this week, Esquire magazine has published a short story titled “Just Before the Black.” Excuse me, a short MASTERPIECE. Of course, you can read the whole story here, preferably in your favorite chair, with a glass of whatever it is people drink when they’re reading? Warm vodka? But I’ve taken the liberty of quoting some of my favorite lines:

My window is cracked, just a bit, and the air plays on my forehead like a cold whisper.

The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color.

I guess in some lives lived, no one tells you what to be, and so you be nothing.

I guess they didn’t have toilets. Just stuck their asses out and shat in the moat. But someone had to wash out the hole.

I am friends with a slug, and my other friends are pigs and wolves.

Joe sucks off his cigarette.

He looks at me and the blue shadow-smoke drifts over the gate of his teeth like fog over a graveyard.

James Franco, writing down the bones! More after the jump!

He smiles with rotten teeth like busted shingles, all climbing over each other, and yellowing gray teeth next to shit-colored gums just don’t go together, and I think, Why don’t you get some braces motherfucker and brush those dang things, but I don’t really think about that too much because I’m thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or already doing …

Joe just looks at me with that stupid look, covered in flowing blood, going onto his shirt like ketchup randomness, so much messier and more random than I could ever plan.

I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great, but maybe some people say the same thing about you, and you want to tell those people: “No, you’re stupid, it’s no fun being me.”

I think about the little dragon that the bong is and I so wish that dragons were real, because it would mean that none of this shit was the end of everything, because even if you were high, this world only let you escape a little bit, it let you escape enough that you knew that there could be something better, but it wouldn’t let you into that place; like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being able to enter, just feeling the heat a little on your face, and you want to cry and smile, but instead you just stare and you can’t do anything.

I can feel their mind-killing slime thought rubbing on me and corroding me and killing me.

And I think of the olden times, when knights would aim huge lances at each other and you would feel that when it hit you, feel that force of the momentum of the horses’ pumping channeled into the lance, and for a second you might know that you were really alive.

James Franco, everybody. He contains multidudes.

(Via Vulture.)

Comments (75)
  1. Tophersuxbuttz, would you like to tell us who washed out the hole?

  2. I think that editorial meetings at ESQUIRE are just a bunch of guys sitting around a conference table, staring at last months issue.
    “Gentlemen,” they ask, “how can we make it SHITTIER?”
    “Last months issue included an article entitled ‘THE ONLY CANDY A MAN SHOULD EAT’*. It was, without a doubt, our shittiest issue ever. How can we make our monthly dose of masculine anxiety even worse?”
    The answer, as it always is, was James Franco.

    *trueeeee factssssss

    • …and what is that candy? You’ve got me on the hook! Reel me in!

      • I couldn’t wait. My favorite part was this: “By the way, adults call them joo-joobs, not joo-joo-bees. You want to fight about it?”

        • I just Googled it too, expecting Clark or Heath or hell, even Big Hunk. Jujubes?! That’s the sissiest shit I ever heard of.

          • Okay, I’m sorry, but fuck that noise right there.

            I eat a lot of candy. When I turned 21, I went to a liquor store and bought a 1 lb. bag of spice drops. I am serious. I don’t fuck around with my candies.

            But Jujubes?!?!?!

            I am partial to the gummy candies. Gummi bears. Gummi sharks. Spice drops. Anything by Trolli. I will EAT THAT SHIT.

            But Jujubes are the least flavorful, most molar rending wads of bear excrement every boxed and sold to the public.

            I’ve even eaten chocolate covered gummi bears at the movies once, and though they tasted like decayed fingernails coated in wax, I would eat them again before I ate jujubes.

  3. someone has a serious hard-on for hemingway, and it is the world that suffers.

  4. I guess they didn’t have toilets. Just stuck their asses out and shat in the moat. But someone had to wash out the hole.

  5. No pillow-love poetry?

  6. “Joe sucks off his cigarette” is an obvious rip-off of my poem “Topher sux the Marlboro Man’s buttz.” WHEN WILL THE INJUSTICE CEASE?!?

  7. James Franco apparently goes to school with my friend

    I need to make this connection happen

    I am almost there

    So close

    so close

    to the Franco

  8. This sucks! Id rather read Leopold Stoch!

  9. Gabe, initially I was under the impression that You Can Made This Up. I was going to post a comment here about how you nailed it, I’m pissing my pants over here and you should just take tomorrow off because you EARNED IT. I had this all planned out in my head before I decided to follow the link to the actual story.

    As you might expect, my jaw hit the floor. THIS IS THE ACTUAL SHIT JAMES FRANCO WROTE. Dear Lord, this isn’t Gabe delivering his version of a sweet 45 minute guitar solo. No, this is James Franco’s writing. Wow, just wow. I think I’m going to take the day off tomorrow to recover from this case of blown mind I just came down with.

  10. it’s like something I would have written in 5th grade, had I been allowed to use the word: “motherfucker.”

  11. This story is full of words.

  12. Kind of wish some lances would hit my eyes right now! This reminds me of high school so hard. Everyone had just “discovered” Plath and Faulkner and were slowly realizing how tragically beautiful writing about self-inflicted wounds in run-on sentences was. Can’t wait for Franco to go through his Neutral Milk Hotel phase!

  13. he writes like an actor pretending to be a writer. or, you know, a tenth grader who just discovered j.d. salinger.

  14. in case any lurkers are in need of a username, may i suggest “shat in the moat”? or perhaps the punny “shatner in the moat”?

  15. why are you all being such non-pillows about this. So- the man’s friends with a slug and sucks off his cigarettes, big whoop.

  16. I’ve never been hit by a jouster’s lance, but I’d think it would make you feel about as alive as a bullet in the head.

  17. “JAMES FRANCO, I’M FORWARDING YOU AN EMAIL,” — David Mamet

  18. I guess in some lives lived, no one tells you what not to be, and so you be writin’.

  19. I minored in creative writing in college, and I can assure you that in even the lower-level classes, if someone had submitted this drivel to a round-table critique, he/she would have missed the next week of classes on account of the shame brought on by a savage and well deserved red-ink beating.

    Then again, if that person was, say, James Franco, he would just laugh at us and go get it published anyway because he’s James Franco goddamnit, and you can just go suck off a cigarette.

  20. Joe examined the hole in the toe of his shoe, which was there because he was poor and gritty and aware of the hard-knock realities of modern life without a lot of money and a career in the movies and television.

    “Fuck!” he blurted, using the kind of unprovoked profanity which could only be penned by a streetwise author whose social status and fame belies a deep and profound knowledge of pain and suffering, “I wish this world could ever understand me”.

    It’s like the song says, “Come on baby, light my fire”, except in this case, the fire is the small and flickering flame of my cigarette lighter as I inhale one last puff of the smoke that looks like a dragon’s breath because dragons are fuckin’ killer. Joe just looks at me quizzically while I hum The Doors and begins to bleed for no reason.

  21. You guys are being so unfair. I blame his teachers for putting him in track 3! Do you know how it feels to be told your dumb at 11? Do you?

  22. “I think about the little dragon that the bong is and I so wish that dragons were real, because it would mean that none of this shit was the end of everything, because even if you were high, this world only let you escape a little bit, it let you escape enough that you knew that there could be something better, but it wouldn’t let you into that place; like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being able to enter, just feeling the heat a little on your face, and you want to cry and smile, but instead you just stare and you can’t do anything.”

    Maybe try to keep the paragraph-long run-ons about dragon-shaped bongs to a minimum in your next piece, James.

  23. I’m pretty sure he stole most of this from Jason Segel’s character in Freaks and Geeks, then added the toilet talk.

  24. I’m loving that this is on here today. I just read some of this story the other night before bed and like 3 paragraphs in I was doing double takes and thinking, “Hmm, I’m not creative writing teacher, but I’m pretty sure this is terrible. Like, I did better in 8th grade terrible.” Good to have that validated here on literaturegum.

  25. How can the resulting collection compare to Ethan Hawke’s masterpiece?

  26. Oh dear, I thought you made up those quotes…

  27. You know, I have a lot of respect for James Franco. Dude is hot, rich, successful, and yet he decided that he wanted more out of life. He wanted an education. Props, James.

    However…

    This sucks hard. Like, I couldn’t even finish it, I’m so embarrassed for him. I’ve never even taken a writing class, and I can still recognize that this blows because I’ve read a book or 2 in my life. He’ll be laughing all the way to the bank and I’ll still be living in my apartment in a sketchy neighborhood. Such is life.

  28. Whenever someone creates a Holden Caufield in fiction I want to know if they’re doing it to try and say something about that type of characterization, yknow trying to say ‘this is why these characters work/don’t work even though they’re self-absorbed and cloying and mostly unrealistic’, or whether they literally find these characters to be the ultimate persecuted geniuses of the world. I honestly can’t tell in the James Franco story. Even though its not a very stunning accomplishment to write a story for the sole purpose of imitating bad fiction, I still want to believe that more than to believe someone wrote this earnestly.

  29. it’s a good thing there aren’t any actually talented unpublished writers out there who might benefit from a deal with Scribner or Esquire

    edgy=profound

  30. Well, this just makes me want to throw my MFA from University of Michigan right into the toilet moat, sir.

    (Just kidding, I don’t have an MFA. But I’m just as offended as if I did!)

  31. As a Mexican Jew*, I am glad to finally be recognized in great literature.**

    * I’m not
    ** It’s not

  32. He’s a regular Virginia Woof.

  33. My teddy bear love for James Franco has now been reduced to a slight fondness.

  34. So, James Franco graduated from UCLA, and they had an article about him taking 60 units a quarter in order to speed up the process or whatever. Not to mention, they had a picture of him sleeping in a lecture hall. I think he missed everything.

  35. This sounds like the ramblings of someone who just discovered he can write more than 140 characters at once.

  36. “he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap”

    “gaping gap”? James must be taking redundancy 101 to become a “writing writer”

  37. I think he’s playing us, guys. There are two ways to make lots of money selling books. One is to be really really good (In his case he would just have to be decent, since he has the celebrity to back him up.). The other option is to be really really bad. I think he knows he can’t do decent. So, he is trying for really really bad.

    Please. Please, someone tell me he at least knows this is horrible horrible writing.

    …. Ah Crap! I have that stupid “I wish I was Mexican” line stuck in my head!

  38. James Franco’s story is almost bad enough to be in The New Yorker. Almost.

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