Dear Fiend: The Letters of Stoves & Yumyum

Editor’s Note: Tasty Yumyum has checked in with his day one NaNoWriMo progress. Don’t worry: we aren’t going to be posting every single word we all write. Some days, no doubt, we’ll have nothing to share but a brief excerpt—and other days nothing worth sharing at all. But everyone loves a good intro, and this Editor’s Note sets the stage for Tasty’s new project: Dear Fiend: The Letters of Stoves & Yumyum. Later today, we’ll also be bringing you the inaugural installment in this epistolary anthology.

Dear Fiend: The Letters of Stoves & Yumyum
A Note From the Editor

It is hard to describe the feelings of glee and dread that flooded my brain upon opening my e-mail that fateful day three months ago. James Thomson of Delacorte Press, a prestigious publishing house, wanted me to take on a most curious and exciting project: curating a collection of 34 years of correspondence between two of the world’s greatest (and most polarizing) writers, Halton Stoves and Tasty Yumyum. Their on-again, (mostly) off-again relationship has spanned both decades and continents, and fans of high literature are quite familiar with their infamous squabbling.

To say that the association these two writers have shared over the years is interesting would be an understatement of most massive proportions. Stoves and Yumyum have dominated the literary world in a way usually only seen in the arena of sports. Bjorn Borg v. John McEnroe. The Bruins and the Canadiens. Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant. Yet, one would be remiss to not mention that despite their stylistic differences and oppositional lifestyle choices, these two literary giants were as close to being two eloquent peas from the same pod as the writing world has ever seen (or read). Scholars have, for years, discussed the symbiotic, parasitic nature of their work. Stoves’ A Discourse on the Modern Bar Stool would probably never have existed without Yumyum’s Bartender, Six More Please (and make it snappy). Yumyum could never have penned Steers in Clothing in Los Alamos without Stoves’ incendiary classic Two Well-Dressed Sheep Walk into a Brothel. Their respective careers have careened forward and back, to and fro, from rags to riches and back again (although, to be fair, only Yumyum truly started in rags). I can even recall nodding in agreement with my third-year English professor whenever he would proclaim “Without Yumyum, there is no Stoves, without Stoves, there is no Yumyum, and without either, there is no God.”

Upon deciding that I was the man for the job, Thomson sent me 86 boxes of correspondence, letters written on bar napkins, postcards from the farthest corners of the globe, damning reviews and heartfelt apologies. Stoves and Yumyum have both gone on the record as saying they are not at all friendly, yet some of these exchanges show evidence that, in a different time, under vastly different circumstances, these two geniuses may well have been brothers, willing to fight to the death to defend the safety or honour of the other.

Unfortunately (arguable, I agree), history is unchangeable. As it stands, Stoves and Yumyum are not brothers. They are two men whose literary shoulders have bore the weight of their contemporaries, inspiring young writers the world over. Their work has been emulated (many would argue they have been ripped off more times than a Detroit convenience store); playwright Daniel O’Shaughnessie has repeatedly admitted that Six Nuns Screaming was his first attempt at Stoves-ian absurdity, written immediately after finishing Halton’s Vicars Do It Thicker. Quite often they have been robbed blind by their admirers; Gene Trout’s Triumphant Rush is one of the most blatant literary heists known to man, published barely a year after Yumyum’s Rush Triumphantly fell short of snagging the Booker Prize.

And here I stand now, three decades after these two leviathans first crossed paths in Yumyum’s boyhood stomping grounds of Stockholm, my office filled to the ceiling with their intermingled histories. Through their correspondence, I hope to show the world how close these two really were, if not in their hearts, at least in their minds. There will be harsh words, there will be misadventure, there will be more than one occasion where the two writers came to blows. Mistresses with fluctuating allegiances, strange liaisons with transexual Polish chambermaids and, at last count, three au pairs framed for forceable confinement and sodomy. The truth is in these missives. There are also a lot of insults, lies, contradiction, criticism and defamation of the familial unit as a whole (Yumyum’s not-so-brief and passionate affair with Stoves’ aunt Melinda provides some of the most comical happenstance since Laurel and Hardy).

As an editor, I hope that, in the end, I can provide a roadmap to insight, a guideline to maybe, someday, understanding how these two goliaths of composition walked their respective paths, always taking time to study (and even attempting to erase) the other’s footprints. Beyond this introduction (and a few, sparse yet, hopefully explanatory, interjections along the way), I am not a part of the story. I have, in fact, on separate occasions met both authors and found them both highly disagreeable yet unbelievably magnetic. A book-signing session in Port-au-Prince left me with a hastily autographed copy of his then-latest masterpiece, A Womb with a Viewmaster (after having barely acknowledged my presence with a whiskey-tinged grunt, he had quickly scribbled “May all your dinners be winners. May all your weiners be salty. May all your shoes be Adidas. Yumyum” on page 37 of the book and then, with a nod of his head and a sideways glance, he had me removed by his long-time associate Farley “Foggy Pockets” Sjoestrom). One night in Twin Falls with Halton Stoves ended costing me $6400, three pairs of fine-tailoured pants and two of my toes (and I still, to this day, consider myself lucky, considering the ultimate fates of the others involved). Fortunately for you, the reader, Stoves describes this encounter in great detail in a series of postcards sent to Yumyum in 1982; I will leave it to him to flesh out the details.

Enough has been said about Stoves’ and Yumyum’s published work. Universities the world over have entire classes devoted to the deconstruction of Stoves’ Porcelain Faceplant. At last count there have been over 38 staged productions of Yumyum’s whimsical Follicular Manslaughter and New Front Teeth. I offer no more insight, and, really, no one can. Only a virtuoso can understand an expert, and I purport to be neither. All I attempt to do, with the organization and presentation of these letters, is shine a light into the darkest, most dreary corners of an old relationship between two hulking personalities.

Hopefully, at the end of the journey, you, the Yumyum fan, the Stoves enthusiast, will understand a little more about what made these men tick like time bombs, kick like mules and write like angels with pen pots filled to the brim with alcohol and ink.

And, should you not, I can only advise you follow the infamous edict of Dom Thrashington, the protagonist of Stoves’ sublime But for the Grace of Grace Goes Grace: What could you have possibly expected? If you eat shit, you wake up with the tongue of the man who eats shit.

Buyer beware. Enjoy.

—Trent Yardles, Editor.

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