Recent Work By Art Edwards

Late in 2011, I typed “Van Halen” and “live” into YouTube’s search box.

I’d started this habit earlier in the year, diverting myself from whatever I was supposed to be doing by plumbing my rock fan past. I’d wasted entire mornings watching Kiss, Rush and Led Zeppelin videos, each filling me with a nostalgia that, all of a sudden, wasn’t nostalgia anymore. There it was, right in front of me, as close as it had ever been. I watched some of these videos obsessively, bookmarking them, feeling something of that original surge each time. ABBA, Uncle Tupelo, Fastway (Fastway!), the supply was bottomless. It was like finding long-lost friends and those friends having stayed as young and vital as ever.

A Very Minor Prophet, James Bernard Frost’s second novel, succeeds at many things. It renders a sense of contemporary Portland at a time when the public at large seems genuinely interested in our bike-riding, rain-and-coffee soaked, Voodoo Doughnut milieu. It’s both literary and illustrated, and somehow this offers no contradiction. It’s the first novel I’ve read that takes the reader back to 2004, addressing the political and religious divides of a time when most liberals were choking on their tofu at the thought of four more years of George W. Bush. Most importantly, AVMP is its own thing, which is the first requirement any reader can ask of a writer’s work. I got a chance to chat with Frost about AVMP, and how he feels about bringing Portland to life in such a, well, Portland-y way.

For anyone waiting for the publishing industry to embrace the rock novel, 2011 has been a breakout year. First, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Then this past summer Ecco released Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, which was just named one of the New York Times‘ 10 Best Books of 2011. Scribner followed with Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, which has been reviewed well across the board, even by me, and it was also named a finalist for the 2011 Nobbies. Each of these novels takes seriously the idea that rock and lit can mix, and each succeeds in its way. Still, I couldn’t help but find something lacking in all of them. All three employ rock and roll as an effective prop or backdrop, but what about rock as the ultimate adolescent dream–the sex, the drugs, the backstage shenanigans–that motivated so many of my and other generations? Each these novels has elements of this, but none tackles it as head-on as Tyler McMahon’s debut How the Mistakes were Made.

My favorite writing adage, attributed to Ray Bradbury, is “Write only what you love.” I’ve always taken it to mean that love is the ticket into the mindset that can lead to good writing. In other words, writers are only capable of writing well about what they love, no matter how strange that may seem on the surface. On some level, Nabokov has to love Humbert Humbert to write compellingly about him. Updike has to love Rabbit. Milton has to love Satan.

Of course you can come along, Eddie. Your sleeves will come in handy on a cool day like this, but I hope you don’t mind if I cover you with this flannel. The ladies like them tight across the chest these days, and you’re too frumpy to make the grade. I suppose I’ll let you peek out a little, but try to avoid looking saggy around the collar. And should any girls happen by, I’m gonna need you to keep low.

I braved the mall for you, walking past the guy pimping the Rosetta Stone, the girl demonstrating the hair crimper, and that odd place that sells weirdly-patterned…what I guess are cell phone protectors. The kiosk salespeople are getting more hawkish in these difficult economic times. Some even dared to speak to me as I hurried by. They were probably high on amphetamine, or the waft of Cinnabon coming from the food court, but I was unswayable in my quest toward our destiny. I only have thighs for you.

I have no doubt, WD40, that whatever is in you will eventually kill us all. And yet I use you all the time, in almost every instance possible.

Like today, when my wife wanted the outdoor hose spigot removed and, realizing the likelihood of me taking the initiative, headed out the door with a flash of pique and a completely inappropriate wrench, I went straight to you. I knew the spigot, painted decades ago the same color as the house, and merely thinking of trying to crack its seal without you made my back ache, my soul wilt. You were the only thing in the house with the potential to save me, and you worked, by God, making me look like a genius and a hero. You surprise and delight me every time.

At the beginning of 2011 I bought five literary magazines off the rack at Powell’s. I did this for all the self-involved reasons we buy literary magazines: I wanted to know which ones might publish my work. I read all of the fiction in these magazines and some nonfiction, 25 pieces total. I liked most of what I read, but I loved one story in particular, “Reed and Dinerstein Moving” by Patrick deWitt in Electric Literature No. 3. I liked the story so much I vowed to buy deWitt’s novel when it came out, and lo and behold, The Sisters Brothers started getting the big push shortly after this.

The Sisters Brothers is actually deWitt’s second novel. His first, Ablutions, came out last year, accompanied by the rave reviews that produced both admiration and jealousy in me in equal measure. Upon devouring Ablutions and The Sisters Brothers, I found both feelings warranted.

I bum-rushed deWitt at his Powell’s reading in May, asking for the chance to do this interview. He was too polite to say no, and you, lucky readers, are the beneficiaries of my bravado.

You hate our president. I know the feeling well.

I hated our previous president. His policies struck me as wrong-headed, and his way of expressing himself rubbed me the wrong way almost every time. Perhaps you can relate.

In October of 2010, I was getting ready to submit my recently finished third novel Badge to agents. This process involves writing a query letter, and it’s important to have a good one. I busied myself writing the best query letter possible, and I took a draft of it to my writing group for critique. The last paragraph of the letter read as follows:

My second novel, Ghost Notes, released on my own imprint in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. My work has appeared in The Writer and Writers’ Journal, and I am also a  contributing writer at The Nervous Breakdown. In the 1990s, I was co-founder, co-songwriter and bass player with the Refreshments, a band that sold over 400,000 units worldwide, had a hit single (“Banditos”), and wrote and recorded the theme song for the Fox television series King of the Hill. I live with my wife, artist Raquel Edwards, in Portland, Oregon.

I read with interest Roxane Gay’s piece a couple of weeks ago at HTMLGIANT called “Taking No For An Answer: Some New Thoughts on Self-Publishing.” I can understand her motivation for writing such a piece, and I’m generally sympathetic with her opinion, namely, that despite the success of Amanda Hocking and the like via self-publishing, there is much writing that shouldn’t see the light of day. As a self-published novelist since 2003 and a consultant to those who pursue self-publishing, I say the same to writers all the time.

There’s been a great deal of talk lately about women writers not getting their due in important literary magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. In this survey by VIDA, it’s pretty clear that women get short shrift in the high-brow literary world.

All this talk prompted me to count the number of book reviews I’ve written lately, and the gender of those books’ authors. I’ve reviewed four books in the past year, two by men, two by women.

Three things prompted me to read and review Infinite Jest. First, today marks the fifteenth anniversary of its publication, and that seems worth more than a mention. Second, David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King is forthcoming in April, which begs a look back at his previous work. Third, the jealousy conjured in me at the time of the novel’s release has diminished, allowing for a fairer assessment. Combine this passage of time with Wallace’s suicide over a year ago and all jealously now seems, at the very least, misplaced.

Three weeks ago you came into our lives from the local Fred Meyer, your label redolent of simpler times, your frosted plastic bottle hinting at the orange bounty therein. Since then you’ve selflessly contributed cleanliness and good smell to me every day, but I’m afraid one more douse of shower water–even with your cap off–yielded none of your essence this morning. This was not a surprise as during the past week you’ve seemed less and less your vibrant, sudsy self. After much debate, we decided to put you down in the recycle bin this afternoon, retiring you with the cardboard, tin cans and random paper-y trash, where you’ll rest until the garbage man comes on Wednesday.

This is Part II of a post where I place the blame squarely on songwriters for screwing up their songs. See Part I here.

“I’ll work for your Love”-Bruce Springsteen

80% of all rock fans think the Boss is one of the all-time greats, putting him up there with John, Paul, Joni and Holy Bob. The other 20% look at the 80% and wonder what they’re thinking. We over here in the Other 20 don’t get it, folks.

For me, Springsteen’s voice does his songs a disservice. It always strikes me as over-earnest (and as I’ve written before, not liking the singer’s voice is pretty much akin to not liking the song). His singing reminds me of a soap opera star, torn T-shirt, struggling against some evil force, over-emphasizing each heavy breath.