headshots 003This is your second interview at The Nervous Breakdown. Does it feel awkward to be interviewing yourself again?

A bit, but I talk to myself quite a bit already.

 

Oh, really?

Yes, but I try to normalize it by telling people I’m just talking to my dog. Sometimes I read poetry to her, too.

 

Does your dog like poetry?

God, I hope so. Otherwise I should be expecting a visit from PETA. No matter how bad the poetry is, though, peanut butter always seems to cheer her up afterwards. I should make a note of that for my next reading: Bring large jar peanut butter.

 

Benjamin-Nugent-by-Annie-Baker-2012-768x1024Okay, so with every new client I like to ask, what do you hope to gain from therapy?

I want to become a better writer. My novel, Good Kids, published by Scribner January 29th, is derivative, monotonous trash, and I’m carrying a lot of shame.

 

On the phone, you mentioned that you’ve been in therapy before. What kind of work did you do with your prior therapist?

I often found it soothing when she would take a copy of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and write “A Novel in Stories by Benjamin Nugent” on the jacket with a Sharpie. Sometimes we’d do that with The Corrections, and with Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. On my bad days she would pretend to be a fan begging me to read some of my stuff out loud. She’d go, “Will you just read that passage from Howard’s End, where you say that stuff about ‘only connect?’” And I would say, “There’s only so much of myself I can give to any one of my readers.”

Good Kids by Benjamin Nugent1. We’re Not Going to Get Thrown in a Van

The Dads were a man and a woman. They were my father, Linus, and Khadijah’s mother, Nancy. Khadijah called them the Dads because, in her family, Nancy played the traditional paternal role. She spent more time at work than Khadijah’s father, she made more money, she was harder to talk to. She was a Dad. And my father was a Dad.

To explain why we needed a name for the pair of them, I’ll start with the Friday that Khadijah and I, with our respective Dads, ran into each other at Gaia Foods. The Day of the Dads.

It was early March, Language Day at Wattsbury Regional. As sophomores active in language clubs—I, Russian; Khadijah, French—we both manned tables, selling borscht and mousse outside the cafeteria after school. We never spoke during Language Day, although our tables stood five feet apart. All I knew about Khadijah was that she was third-tier popular, all academics, no sports, no theater, no newspaper, an organized girl who recorded homework assignments in apple green pen in high-quality notebooks, and that her deceptively black-sounding name, pronounced Kah-DEE-jah, was a product of Nancy’s Sufi years.

978-0-9836932-6-0-Stupid-Children-cover-low-Emergency-Press-214x300The first thing I did after finishing Lenore Zion’s Stupid Children was get in the shower, and the second thing I did was cry.  Like Zion’s first book, the collection My Dead Pets Are Interesting (published by TNB Books), Stupid Children is atypical in nearly every sense, but these eccentricities work in its favor, and work only because Zion is such a capable writer, rendering Stupid Children with a refreshing brutality, in both subject matter and also in her merciless scrutiny of the novel’s diverse cast of characters. Though brief, the book demands time and attention, triggering far more thought than its 150-page count will lead any reader to expect. I laughed to the point of pain on multiple occasions, and to get the tears out, which before Stupid Children, and Lenore Zion, I hadn’t thought possible.

9780986010903Alice Rosenthal grew up in the Bronx, in the 1950s, with parents who were (unbeknownst to many of their colleagues, and some friends) card-carrying Communists. I know this because Alice’s older sister, Barbara, is my mother.

When I discovered that Alice was writing a novel, loosely based on her own childhood, I was eager to read it. I’ve long been fascinated by the extremes of American paranoia. What I had not expected when I picked up Take the D Train was how piercingly it would explore the complexity of the Fifties, especially for women with independent minds and inconvenient political views.

The novel focuses on the cautious, married Frima and her more impulsive sister-in-law Beth. The trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage provides a harrowing backdrop to much of the action, which is conveyed in prose that is thrilling both for its restraint and precision.

I was curious to know more about how Alice produced such a riveting novel, after years of writing.

poseur-marc-spitz“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.”

Upon hearing these lyrics, my father, Sidney Spitz, then forty-four, took his sneaker off the gas pedal and slowed the copper-colored Mustang abruptly.

One trailing motorist honked loudly from inside her black Datsun, then sped past us. Another did the same and also gave us the finger. My father, squinting in his rearview mirror, stuck his left hand out the window to wave those still behind us around. He hit the hazards and lit up a Kent King.

“Why are we slowing down?” I asked.

baltimorefwy33

I married a parrot with green eyes
then tried to return to my old life
like a moth caught in the air ducts.
Years of nights, rubbing
his gold-tip wings against my body . . .

Night-Moves-Cover-e1360604560362Lou Reed said that when he released his noise album Metal Machine Music in 1975 (which, according to Rolling Stone, sounded like “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator”), he wanted it to come out on RCA’s classical label, Red Seal. He didn’t want fans of the Velvet Underground to buy it unwittingly, because MMM is essentially an hour of feedbacking amps. As it was, people returned to the record stores in droves, thinking that they had received defective products.

Terry Tempest Williams is the guest. She is the author of several books, including the environmental literature classic, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. Her latest book is called When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice. It was published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux in 2012, and the paperback edition is due out from Picador on February 26, 2013.

The San Francisco Chronicle raves

Williams displays a Whitmanesque embrace of the world and its contradictions….As the pages accumulate, her voice grows in majesty and power until it become a full-fledged aria.

This podcast now has its own app, available (free!) for the iPhone, iPod, or iPad, and is also availalble (free!) for Android devices.

Also: You can subscribe to the show over at iTunes, or at Stitcher, free of charge.

Listen here:

About A Bout

By JJ Keith

Memoir

“C’mon. Bare-knuckle brawl. I win, you break up with her. You win and I’ll never bring her up again.”

He put his hands on his slim hips in dramatic protest. “I’m not gonna fight you. How do you think it looks if a black guy beats up a prissy blonde?”

I wasn’t worried about how it looked. Ernie could talk himself out of anything. That boy had a candy-coated mouth and friends in every corner of our mostly white, middle-class high school. My white ass, however, had four to six friends depending on how much I had been running my mouth. Some may have called me unpopular, but the disdain was mutual. During high school I took a full load of courses at a nearby community college so that I only had to go to high school in the mornings. That summer, I had just claimed my diploma a year early and was about to leave Ernie behind to finish high school without me. Not that he minded.

“Fight me!” I jumped up and down on his bed, throwing punches into the air. “C’mon. Let’s go. I wanna be a pugilist.”

hold_me_rect-460x307
 

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Ronan Louis, the dear son of TNB contributor Emily Rapp and her husband, Rick Louis.  Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease in January 2011.  He passed away peacefully at 3:30am on February 15th, surrounded by family and friends.

If you would like to join us in making a donation in Ronan’s memory, please do so at the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, who have been a huge support to Emily and her family.

Also, please feel free to express your sympathies on the Little Seal Facebook page.

On behalf of everyone here at TNB, our most heartfelt condolences.

-BL

13220410_originalWhat’s the difference between a work and a shoot?

On the surface level, the difference between a work and a shoot is simple. In the parlance of the professional wrestling industry, a shoot is something that is real. A work describes any time the fix is in. Initially these terms were used to describe the matches, to distinguish between real contests and wrestling shenanigans — but from the very beginning wrestling was crooked as a snake. Shoots all but disappeared from the sport in the ring very early on. But language is flexible. Soon enough it was a term used to describe anything real. Truthful comments, a fight in a bar, any comments prefaced by “Let me be honest…” These were all “shoots.” It’s a term that has to make anyone associated with the wrestling industry smile if they stop and think about it for a minute. Only in wrestling would you need a word to let people know that, just this once, you are telling them the truth and not spinning a tale.

SneedYou wrote a novel, Little Known Facts, about a family in Hollywood.  What business do you have doing that?  For one, you’re not from a Hollywood family.

Hey, it’s fiction – not memoir!  I get to make things up.  I’ve been interested in movies my whole life, in the huge personalities that make films, and in the fascination many of us have with famous people.  I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote about all of these things at one time.

 

What happened when you did?

I had the most fun of my life.

*

My father said, “The decisive moment is overrated. I can’t tell you how many students of mine have wasted God-knows-how-much film trying to capture it.” Fifty or so wannabes stood outside the auditorium pretending to be cool, listening to him as if his talent would wear off on them. I leaned against the wall feeling forgotten.

He spoke to the crowd, but it was my sister Victoria who grabbed people’s attention, sneaky looks. The blond hair, red lipstick, white skin, four-inch heels: she was runway model-pretty. Her black widow dresses made her head float. Stylists across the city drooled over her sculptured hair.

She was next to me on the wall, listening, with a plastic glass of wine in her hand. I whispered to Victoria, “You know he’s full of shit.”

“This is his game, Tom,” she said under her breath.

“He’s selling the brand,” I said.

“I’m not buying,” she said.