Recent Work By Greg Boose

I don’t remember if I caught wind of it through Facebook or Twitter, in an email or if I just stumbled across a headline on the web, but when I heard that author Stephen Elliott was sending around a limited amount of advance copies of his new book, The Adderall Diaries, for free, I kept the information to myself and emailed him immediately.

He calls it the Lending Library.

Asks that people read his book in a week and then send it along. Just pay for the first-class postage and don’t mistreat the book for the next person.

I got my free copy on a Saturday, finished it the following Saturday, and am sending it on its way to the next cheapskate, er, reader on Monday.


The Adderall Diaries is the story of how Elliott battles writer’s block and an Adderall addiction in San Francisco until hearing that an old acquaintance from his S&M community has confessed to killing eight or nine people and won’t say who they are. The acquaintance is also the best friend of a man who is about to stand trial in a high-profile case, a guy accused of killing the mother of his two children, a Russian woman he met through a bride service. It’s framed by the complicated relationship between Elliott and his father who killed a man right before Elliott was born, or didn’t. But probably.

It’s a fast and brilliant read; it’s New Journalism-y where the writer sets out to report on an event but writes just as much, or more, on himself and his role in the event. It’s a true-crime memoir. It’s written on drugs, like On the Road and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The speed that Elliott is swallowing and snorting gives the book a jumpy feel, but the chronology doesn’t suffer. Unlike the author at times.

The book is brutally honest.

The book is immediately current, it’s eye-opening into the world of sado-masochism sex play (unless you’ve already read some of Elliott’s best work), and it invites you to investigate the lives of your parents before they were your parents.

And the book is, if you sign up before it’s too late, totally free (save for the postage).


Stephen and I emailed back and forth:

The Nervous Breakdown: The idea behind the Lending Library reminds me of a site I used to participate in, PaperBackSwap.com, where you list some used books on your shelf that you were totally done with, and if someone wanted it, the owner paid the shipping. Which was cool because I had too many copies of The Great Gatsby and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and I wanted to collect all the books in the Fletch series. But here you are sending out your book that hasn’t been on anyone’s shelf yet. For free. Could you tell me how this came about, if this was your idea or something Graywolf Press was looking to do with the right writer? And how did the second party react to the first party’s proposal?

Stephen Elliott: The idea was mine. I was having a “marketing” conversation with Graywolf and they were talking about getting galleys into the hands of bloggers. They had sent me a bunch of galleys to give to reviewers and people in the literary world. And that’s when I had this idea of just sending the book to anyone who requests it, but requiring they forward the book within a week.

The impression I got was that Graywolf had mixed feelings about the idea, but they didn’t say no, and they had already sent me the galleys. And I think they’re glad I’ve been doing it. I mean, I’ve always believed that you don’t make money selling books to your friends, you make money selling books to your friends’ friends. (not that I’ve ever made any money) This is an extension of that idea.

But also, you know, I just want people to read my book. I don’t frankly care if they buy it.

TNB: I can definitely see how this could pay off, especially if you already had all the galley copies: People read The Adderall Diaries for free, dig it, and spread the good news via word-of-mouth or through social media sites (if they’re able to take a break from updating everyone about their latest pedicure or what they just ate). Do you find that you’re getting more press this time around because of the Lending Library idea, more than when Happy Baby (Picador, 2004) was about to be released?




SE: I’m getting tons more press than when Happy Baby was released. I think that’s partly because of the Lending Library. But you have to understand, Happy Baby didn’t get any press. It was edited and designed by McSweeney’s and published/distributed by MacAdam/Cage, and in the middle there was this disconnect. Because McSweeney’s had designed and edited the book, there was no-one at MacAdam/Cage who had any ownership of the book, and so it fell between the cracks. Initially there were only maybe four reviews of the book. You couldn’t even order it at Borders. Happy Baby ended up doing really well and made a lot of best of the year lists, which gave me a lot of faith in the system, that if you wrote a really good book it would find its audience. But there was no attention paid to that book when it came out.

By that way, I’m not blaming anyone. I’m perfectly happy with what happened with Happy Baby. If Dave Eggers hadn’t of edited that book it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

This time everything’s different. This is really my first major book in five years. My Girlfriend Comes To The City and Beats Me Up was just a collection of short, erotic vignettes, a minor book, I think. So now I have this book coming out, and since Happy Baby I’ve done all this political organizing around literary events, along with politically inspired anthologies. The truth is, I know tons of people in the literary world now, and in 2004 I didn’t. Plus, I’ve maybe built up a little fan base from my previous work.

But you know, in the end, you live and die by the work. If a literary book isn’t really good, (and this is still a literary book, even if it’s non-fiction) then nothing you can do is going to make the book succeed. You might sell a bunch of copies initially, but if a book is going to stick around it’s going to be because of the writing. I think people think too much about marketing, and not enough about writing good books.

TNB: Speaking of marketing, it’s funny that one of the things I got the most fired up about in your book was learning that your father would actively try to sabotage your writing career, calling reporters who interviewed you to say you were lying about your hard childhood, writing harsh Amazon reviews for your books. How did you first react to these things, particularly when he wrote those anonymous shitty reviews? Did you contact him? And did you begin to wonder if your memories were correct, although it’s obvious that they were pretty sharp in your mind?

SE: Well yeah. That’s what a lot of the book is about. I definitely questioned my memories, which is a pretty healthy thing to do. We all remember things differently. It’s possible for my memories and interpretations, and my father’s, to co-exist, even though they contradict each other.

The bad reviews my father left of my books (which he’s still doing) are never anonymous. I mean, he always says something so that I know it’s him. I’ve contacted him about it in the past, but I don’t contact him about it anymore. He should say whatever he wants, whatever makes him feel better.

TNB: Your father was a writer and author of a couple books. Have you ever critiqued his work? Is there anything of his you would suggest reading?

SE: I don’t know if it would be appropriate for me to critique my father’s work, but my favorite book by him is My Years With Capone.

TNB: You’ve been published in Esquire, the New York Times, GQ, Salon.com, The Believer (which is where I first read your work), and in some great collections including Best American Non-Required Reading and Best Sex Writing. You also started your own culture site, The Rumpus. What drove your to start your own publication and was it easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?

SE: I don’t remember what I thought The Rumpus was going to be. I look at creating The Rumpus like writing a novel. You just start, you don’t know what it’s going to become. The trick is focusing on creating something good. Don’t worry about what other people want to read, write the book that you want to read. Same with an online publication. I created the website I wanted to spend time on.

I was driven to do it after I finished The Adderall Diaries. It’s my seventh book, and I wasn’t ready to start another book right away. So this was a creative project I could get under while I figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

TNB: Well, hopefully when you start your next book you continue on with The Rumpus. I just discovered it a few months ago. You going to continue to head the site up from San Francisco or will you ever make your way back to Chicago?

SE: I don’t think I’ll make my way back to Chicago. I love Chicago, but San Francisco is my home now. It was an accident. I was driving around with no plan in mind. I was a ski bum, then I coasted into Moab. I ran out of money and gas in San Francisco eleven years ago. I kept meaning to leave, but I never did.

You can buy The Adderall Diaries in September 2009 from Graywolf Press, or you can borrow it now.

Keep up with Stephen Elliott until then on The Rumpus.

Thank you, President Crow, for that generous introduction. I know we just met on the steps leading up to this stage, but you pretty much nailed me: I am a 30-year-old guy with an MFA who works with computers and constantly daydreams about having webbed fingers and toes for reasons he wishes not to disclose.

There’s that age-old question: If you could be anyone in the world, real or fictional, who would you be?

I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe Jon Stewart or Wolverine.

LeBron James or Trey Parker.

Alvin York?

Joe Biden?

My wife is pregnant.

Showing.

Growing.

Glowing.

Claire is fertilizing my seed, so to say, and supposedly on June 6th we’ll have a full grown zucchini ready for bucketing.*

This is the third chapter in my ongoing story of how I started writing semi-professionally and all the ridiculous mistakes I’ve made along the way.

The first segment revolved around me scoring an editing gig for a totally shitty magazine and almost getting sued: In the Beginning There Was an Unpaid Editing Job in Cleveland, a Potential Lawsuit, and a Bunch of Unprovoked Angry Geese.

The second installment had me milling around the (X-Games-like) Gravity Games on the 9th Street Pier in Cleveland, taking notes and feeling sorry for myself: Rewriting a Media Guide Is Easier When You’re Both Lonely and Looking Important.

This is the second chapter following, well, the first chapter I posted in July: In the Beginning There Was an Unpaid Editing Job in Cleveland, a Potential Lawsuit, and a Bunch of Unprovoked Angry Geese

(Short breakdown of the above: I’m writing and editing a totally shitty magazine in Cleveland, The Hip Pocket, which is run by a team of amateurs in 2003. I was almost sued because I said my magazine was to receive a “boatload of money” from the Gravity Games to throw a party for their athletes and I had to write a Letter of Retraction to cover my ass. Our next cover story was to cover the Gravity Games story.)

 

At 1:05 pm, I stand on the 9th Street Pier watching toned women practice their wakeboarding routines, and I write in my folded-over notebook: “What am I doing here? They gave me a press pass, a parking pass and a lot of blank stares.”

My media pass, showing the number four under my name which means that I have the tiniest amount of press access possible to the facilities and athletes at the Gravity Games, hangs around my neck and I am convinced that it makes me look important.

Like a bouncer.

Or a pilot.

Or a karate instructor conducting class in a street window.

Every time I crack my notebook to jot something down, these beautiful athletes surrounding me in their small bikinis that show wonderful amounts of side-cleavage, crane their tan necks wondering what I’m documenting and who I’m writing for.

Am I with Sports Illustrated, or am I with some extreme sports magazine that might ask them a few questions about how they’re enjoying Cleveland so far or how they think they’ll do in the competition tomorrow or who their biggest threat is, or I am I with a magazine called Hip Pocket that has only put out five issues so far in a limited distribution circle that will only last one more issue – the Fashion Issue – because this writer will be standing in his small one-bedroom apartment next month telling Jim, the publisher, that he’s losing his excitement over the magazine because he still feels left out in the cold and unappreciated and because Jim just finished saying he knew a 13-year-old girl who could “really write” and who would be covering a concert coming up which the magazine would pay her for even though this writer in front of you on this pier, who has just quit his job at the bank because he was dry heaving in his office in the mornings when he thought of what the day would bring, hasn’t been paid a fucking dime and has driven all over Cleveland interviewing restaurant managers who don’t even feed him free food like he thought they would?

Nervous, I thumb my media guide.

It has a glossary in the back defining crazy extreme sports words and phrases like: chicken salad air, Iguana air, fat, ho ho, misty flip, butter slide, mashed potato, Japan, nothing, Pornstar, stalefish air, rocket air, poptart, shove it, mcEgg, alley-oop soul, air to fakie.

To look busy, I write some of my own words and phrases related to my Gravity Games and Hip Pocket experience in the margins of the glossary, making sure that they are in alphabetical order. Here they are, along with their definitions:

B

boxed out – Originated from basketball, the action of driving toward a sweet parking spot in order to report on wakeboarding only to have some guy in a Mountain Dew SUV block your path while a sleeveless man on a motorcycle steals the sweet parking spot.

boatload-of-money – 1. A measurement of cash to be given to a start-up magazine to help with party preparations. Mentioning such an amount will often result in a huge overreaction by asshole editors who hate to see young men work hard to get their writing careers off the ground. Often followed by a Letter of Retraction. 2. Should be covered with a tarp during sea voyage.

D

dime spin – Where the writer stops immediately to turn around when a hot wakeboarding chick wearing sunglasses walks past.

G

Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Coconut Rice – An item from Riverwalk Cafe’s menu that was not offered to the writer who spent two hours on their back patio making notes and asking the manager questions for an upcoming feature.

Grog Shop – Rock venue in Cleveland Heights whose owner was too cool to return any of my calls most probably because I wrote for a magazine that she’s never heard of, or for one that she has seen and thought wasn’t worth her time.

J

jackets and boots – Answer given by the owner of the boutique clothing store, Nabici Collection, when asked what he thought would be in style that Fall.

N

Nava Locke – Pseudonym of publisher’s girlfriend who writes cringe-worthy sentences e.g. “Tori Amos can steal hearts with her music, but it takes an eccentric and unique taste to take a liking to her and her music” and “Freedom is something we all cherish deeply, it is the root of our sole purpose for being here in this country, and we are damn proud of that” and “Many people have been listening to Moby for a long time, in fact many years” and …

S

shad – Short for “shadow” where an unemployed 23-year-old hides during a media day to feel sorry for himself and draws two-dimensional skateboards with rockets for wheels.

U

Undercover – Page in Hip Pocket that appears to have 15 pictures of random Cleveland bar hoppers but always has at least one picture of our VP Sales/Marketing guy, one of our Design guy, and many of their sweaty friends hugging.

W

wallet air – The rear hand grabs the wallet out of the back pocket for a corndog or slice of pizza, but opens it up to find jack shit because this editing position has yet to pay even though I thought it would have by now. The front hand wipes away tears.

I close my media guide and watch a band I detest (Hoobastank) going through its sound check.

I’m alone, sitting in the grass.

Watching photographers zip by on the back of golf carts.

Watching organizers stay on the sidewalks with walkie talkies in their faces.

Watching men climb the stage’s scaffolding with ropes attached to their belts.

Thinking that these shorts I’m wearing should be retired after today because the grease or oil stain in the crotch looks like a permanent piss mark.

Grad school, I think.

Apply to grad school and really do something with your writing instead of faking like you’re a reporter for a respectable magazine that people recognize.

I walk past the Free Times booth behind the Science Center and wince, thinking about the lawsuit scare just the month before.

At grad school, I think, I’ll learn how to pitch free alternative weeklies like a pro. I’ll learn about Letters of Retraction and writer’s rights, slander and libel, how to correctly cover an event like this, how to write a screenplay.

Overhead a plane zooms high, its red lights on its wings looking like a colon rushing toward a faraway sentence.

Chicago has an annual celebration of print literature called Printers’ Ball.

It’s a free event where a 100 or so lit organizations come together to showcase their weeklies, monthlies, yearlies, books, posters, horn-rimmed glasses, shaggy haircuts and zines. There’s also live entertainment and lectures and films and readings.

I’m standing and painting gravestones as weird red squares, twenty yards from where the coffins of President James A. Garfield and his wife (name?) lie in the gray basement of the Garfield Monument, and I’m thinking about how much I hate my banking job.

I’m thinking about how I kinda love ATMs because they keep customers out of my bank, but at the same time how I hate loading them with cash in the mornings.

A man stands motionless on a street corner in single-digit morning temperatures.

He’s holding a sign that simultaneously calls the mayor of Chicago a dictator while demanding a certain FBI agent to stop raping his wife.

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The top portion of the sign reads: “FBI Agent Chris Saviano, Stop Raping My Wife!”

And the first thing you think when you read it is: “Jesus Christ! Somebody help this poor guy whose wife is God-knows-where getting raped by this FBI agent!”

And then the next day you see him, dressed as before, in the same spot holding the same signs, you think: “Fuck! It’s still happening? How is this still happening? That FBI guy should be fired and thrown in prison by now! And yeah, you know, that Mayor Daley is totally a dictator when you get down to it.”

But it’s on the third morning upon seeing him on the same corner with the same signs, you think: “Yikes. How long has this dude been out here doing this?”

You think about him – Farhad Khoiee-Abassi – and about the day he walked into a Kinko’s or a Fast Signs where he had to explain to whoever was behind the counter that he wanted these exact signs made. And you imagine how he had to explain that he really wanted the word “Raping” to be in red and a bit slanted, and how he wanted both the T’s in “Dictator” to be in capitals. He maybe said, “Oh, and let’s totally underline the word ‘DicTaTor’ and make the word ’stop’ into a stop sign. Can you guys make a stop sign? Yeah? Yeah.”

Oh, and on that third morning you totally start to think he’s schizophrenic.

I’ve worked down in the Loop on the corner of Clark and Randolph for over a year now, and Farhad Khoiee-Abassi has been there almost every morning.

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Holding those signs.

Staring straight ahead.

Oblivious to the whispers and the shaking heads.

If it’s cold, he’s bundled up in ski pants and jacket, hat, gloves.

If it’s not cold, wearing a full on suit.

The story, or so say the peoples on the ‘net, is that he has been in a long-fought legal battle with his ex-wife.

Custody rights.

Protection orders.

He’s self-representing himself after his lawyer quit.

He’s mocking the legal and political systems, standing out there day after day after day trying to bring awareness to his cause.

He’s been reported to have been seen in DC and New York City with his signs, always keeping the rape one, but substituting the Mayor Daley sing for another that says “Alberto Gonzales – Outlaw! Trial!”

Exclamation points.

He’s been doing this for years now.

It’s a pretty sad sight.

But the saddest thing to me is that he’s not really helping his cause out there.

He doesn’t acknowledge those reading his signs.

He doesn’t try to retell his story, doesn’t retell whatever drama has driven him to this.

He doesn’t ask for donations or pity.

Doesn’t verbalize his need for help.

Doesn’t seem to have any other agenda than to stand there, every morning, with those signs.

So, as it appears, Khoiee-Abassi gets up every morning headed for the Loop like so many other Chicagoans.

He eats his breakfast, drinks his coffee, watches some ESPN or a little TODAY show action while he ties his shoelaces, he flosses, makes sure the cats have food, and then he heads out the door with his briefcase.

Just like me.

Just like you.

Just another day at the office.

But instead of a laptop or some manila folders, Khoiee-Abassi’s briefcase holds a collapsible pole and some crazy-ass signs.

And like you or me, he’s out there doing his thing, speaking as little as possible to those around him, careful not to touch anyone, careful not to be touched.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this.

Free speech, and all that.

He’s got his agenda.

Like you and I have ours.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

Won’t.

Subside.

Now my original plan, when I finally decided that I was going to approach him, was to hand him an envelope containing a letter about how I’d like to sit down and hear his story. Get an article out of him so that he could finally explain himself. An interview for the Chicago Reader, maybe.

My girlfriend said that was a terrible idea, and after visions of him barking in tongues in my face in front of hundreds of commuters, or another one where he tries to impale me with his collapsible pole but it keeps, well collapsing against my sternum, I reluctantly agreed with her.

Then I thought I would maybe just start off by saying “Good morning” or “‘Mornin’” or “Cold one, eh?” for a week or so, breaking down the barrier until we had a real conversation. Then a coffee sit-down. Then I could get his side of this story that unfolds before so many Chicagoans every morning.

But that was so hard to do, seeing as how he stands right across the street from my building where coworkers I know and don’t know stream past every second. I thought that being seen regularly conversing with this guy by higher-ups would be awkward and detrimental to my ladder climbing.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

All winter I almost made my move, approaching and second-guessing.

Totally pussing out, over and over.

And then on a February morning that couldn’t have been over 10 degrees, I mentally lowered my balls from my warm abdomen, and I spoke to Khoiee-Abassi.

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I approached from behind.

He stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said, also facing straight ahead, but now right next to him. “So, I work across the street.”

He says nothing.

I steal a glance and he doesn’t even blink as I say: “Yeah. I see you out here all the time and I was wondering if you would like some coffee.”

Nothing.

“Or maybe some hot water,” I said.

Then there was a quick blink, but not the kind of blink that said: “Yes, stranger. I would love a cup of hot water as I can’t feel my extremities. Thank you. You are very kind. I want to tell you all my secrets.”

Rather, it was more of a blink that said: “My eyes are dry and so I choose to refresh them with a blink.”

Nothing more.

The lights changed, people swarmed the street from both sides.

Crushed, I walked into my building without looking back.

I wonder how FBI Agent Chris Saviano, the supposed raper, handles his name being out there on the corner of Randolph and Clark.

If there even is an agent by this name, honestly.

I read that in open court, Farhad Khoiee-Abassi’s wife admitted that she has never even heard of a man with this name.

Which makes this man’s stand all the stranger.

He’s out there right now.

I just saw him.

Holding those signs.

Not saying a thing.

Dressed the same as yesterday.

And I will try leave him alone.

But, I gotta say, it sure seems more than crazy to stand out there in the freezing morning wind and not take a man up on a cup of hot water.

After all, you have to take care of yourself so that you can make it to work the next day.

Igorscheck

I received an email Monday from Igor Anatsko.

I was at work and found it just sitting there, four emails deep in my inbox and sandwiched between identical responses about how the Cleveland Browns just dumped their hometown quarterback.

 It’s been just over two years since I posed naked with 2,753 other people on the edge of Cleveland, Ohio.

It’s been just over two years since I stood shivering in the middle of a park behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where I pulled my T-shirt over my head and dropped my pants and boxer briefs for a couple of hours.

All very legal.

All very much for art.

All said and done and plastered all over the news at the time.

 It was great to hear your voice again, Igor.

It was as if we hadn’t missed a beat, or it was as if you deleted my number and didn’t know who was calling you last Tuesday afternoon at 4:32.

 If you’ve spoken with me over the past several years, then you would know that I care deeply for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.

It’s just one of the many annoying things about me: I totally dig NBA basketball and I obsess over the Cavs.

That’s all I’ll really say about that because I don’t want to scare anyone away who isn’t a sports fan.

*This post is by Greg Boose and Claire Bidwell Smith.


GREG:

It’s common sense; it’s not just something you are told as a child and then realize is bullshit by the time you’re nineteen.

You don’t touch motorcycles that aren’t yours.

If you touch a stranger’s motorcycle, there’s a chance it could fall over.

And after that, only a variation of four situations can play out:

Igor, your newest email address doesn’t work now.

Sounds about right.

Par for this course you’ve had me playing on for the last six months.