Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week I’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject. This week I talked with Pinckney Benedict. Pinckney grew up in rural West Virginia. He has published a novel and three collections of short fiction, the most recent of which is Miracle Boy and Other Stories. His work has been published in, among other magazines and anthologies, Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, the O. Henry Award series, the Pushcart Prize series, the Best New Stories from the South series, The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction, and The Oxford Book of the American Short Story. Benedict is a professor in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and in the low-residency MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.

Why are you interviewing yourself?

It seems that no one else has asked to do it.

 

But there’s an occasion, right? A reason to talk to yourself about yourself?

That’s true. The paperback version of my novel, The Funny Man, became available publicly on September 25th.

Reprieve

Fourteen years ago, I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and less interesting than it sounds. A lot of people have told me about their own near-death experiences over the years, often in harrowing medical detail, imagining that those details—how many times they rolled the car, how many vertebrae shattered, how many months spent in traction—will somehow convey the subjective psychic force of the experience, the way some people will relate the whole narrative of a dream in a futile attempt to evoke its ambient feeling. Except for the ten or fifteen minutes during which it looked like I was about to die, which I would prefer not to relive, getting stabbed wasn’t even among the worst experiences of my life. In fact it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

You, Yunior, have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. An ass she never liked until she met you. Ain’t a day that passes that you don’t want to press your face against that ass or bite the delicate sliding tendons of her neck. You love how she shivers when you bite, how she fights you with those arms that are so skinny they belong on an after- school special.

Next Week: Fiona Apple is busted in Turkey smuggling a McRib sandwich!

Author, academic, and analyst Mikita Brottman never set out to write bestsellers. She didn’t even set out to write books. However, she has never shied away from exploring her interests, and as a result, has authored 10 books on various subjects ranging from cannibalism to our obsession with celebrity car crashes, with a lot of serious academic theory sprinkled in between. Her latest, 13 Girls (Nine Banded Books, 2012), is a unique look at victims of serial killers. In 13 chapters, each focused on one victim, Brottman creates fictionalized but largely faithful accounts of the murders but with a surprising twist. Instead of the usual “true crime” angle, Brottman presents these crimes through different prisms and perspectives—police transcripts and interviews with coworkers of the victims—bringing the crimes alive and showing how they ripple with various levels of intensity and frequency through the communities they disrupt.

Actor Johnny Lewis, who appeared on two seasons of Sons of Anarchy, was found dead on the driveway of a residence outside of Los Angeles on Wednesday. Early reports suggest the actor fatally attacked the home owner, an elderly woman who may have been renting a room to Lewis, before engaging in an altercation with neighbors and then falling to his death “either from the stairway, or the balcony, or one of the roofs,” according to Commander Andrew Smith in an interview with ABC News. Lewis, who was 28, also had roles in The O.C., The Runaways, and the recent Eduardo Sánchez film Lovely Molly.

TNB Music reviews an outdoor rock festival in Irvine and a Red Hot Chili Peppers show in San Diego.

EPICENTER FESTIVAL
Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Irvine, CA
September 22, 2012

Fans holding tickets for this year’s Epicenter Festival have reason to be concerned. This past Monday night, Epicenter headliners Stone Temple Pilots channeled their inner Guns ‘N Roses and strolled onto the stage two hours late for a show in British Columbia. The half-hearted apology from singer Scott Weiland, followed by zero in the way of explanations, proved to be an exasperating precursor to their subsequent cancellation of the next evening’s show in Alberta. Although the band eventually issued a statement that Weiland was ordered on 48-hour vocal rest, speculation raged that perhaps there was another explanation. After all, Weiland has never been regarded as a paragon of sobriety, and with back-to-back snafus, as Epicenter opens its doors on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon, fans and promoters are left wondering if STP will even show up for their only Southern California appearance of the fall.

It’s always a joy to sit down and talk with Michael Kimball. He’s into his cats, he plays softball (and is quite competitive!), he likes music, and he wears interesting T-shirts that make you want to scoot your chair back so you can get a good look. BIG RAY is Michael’s fourth book and, I think, his most intimate and moving. Whereas his other novels (Us, The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody) all deal with loss of some sort, and are touching and powerful, BIG RAY emotionally dives down to a whole new level. You can’t help but be somewhat changed after reading this book.

Here’s what Michael Kimball has to say about BIG RAY:

Your book is a synthesis of memoir and cultural critique. Why did you choose this form?

Because the material demanded it—isn’t this what writers usually say? Except in my case it was because the stand-alone memoir was going nowhere. The agents I sent it to all said the same thing: “I like it, but …” Then they couldn’t tell me what else was needed. So I hired an editor, sent her my chapters, and chewed my nails until we got on the phone. And the first words out of her mouth were, “The most interesting part of this book hasn’t been written yet.” Not what I wanted to hear when I was almost done with a full draft!

 

What was the “most interesting part” she was looking for?

It turned out to be connecting the dots between my personal experience and the larger culture. Some synthesizing of all those years I spent in grad school studying history and religion and anthropology.

New music reviews and staff picks for September, 2012

 

AMANDA PALMER & THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA
Theatre is Evil (Kickstarter Deluxe Digital Edition)
8FT RECORDS

Kickstarter: Believe the hype

In May of this year, Amanda Palmer launched Kickstarter campaign with a $100,000 goal to fund the completion of this album; she reached her goal in a mere seven hours. By the time the after-party yellow-book pages had settled on the evening of May 31, nearly 25,000 people had pledged just shy of $1.2 million. Palmer’s Kickstarter success built up huge expectations for Theatre is Evil. Does it live up to the hype?

Don’t let the egg on the cover fool you—it’s riddled with cracks. Nine Months (Soho Press) by Paula Bomer is the opposite of every clichéd story about mothers, birth, children, marriage and identity. It is the raw, honest and brutal story of Sonia, a mother pregnant with her third child, and unhappy with every aspect of her life. She used to be a painter, she used to run wild and free, sleeping with whomever she wanted to, living for herself. Faced with the birth of her third child, she abandons her husband, Dick, and her two boys, and hits the highway, searching for something, open to whatever comes her way.

Q: Is there a zombie Adam and Eve?

A: Yes. At least an Adam. And that, of course, would be Jesus. He is the first revenant. The first to rise from the dead and walk among us. Presumably he did not begin eating acolytes and chowing saints and lepers, but you never know. Yes, Jesus was the first zombie. If you believe in him, you believe in Z.

 

Q: How come Zombies don’t eat every part of a body before they move on to the next one?

 A: Do you eat all the toppings on your pizza, or do you pick some off? Do you always wipe your plate clean, or do you get tired of the pheasant compote in balsamic reduction after a few bites? Zombies are an amalgam of teeth, hands, gristle, and vague memories. Sometimes those memories take precedence over the logic of calorie intake.