Is this gonna be the kind of interview where you get all emotionally confrontational and messianic about the Mission of Literary Art in Our Great Days of Ruination, or the kind where you’re all fake-down-to-earth and fake-witty and fake modest about your achievements, or the kind where you get pissed at the interviewer for calling you out on your more or less relentless line of bullshit?

Yes.

 

Cool. Easy question first. Why do you hate America?

It’s not all of America, actually. Just the portion that uses the word “freedom” in reference to protecting corporate interests.

 

And why do you hate critics?

Because they are (not always, but too often) bitter and secretly envious of the folks they’re reviewing, and so they wind up, in the worst instances, weirdly competing with them by coming up with lots of snarky insults that do very little to provide the reader a sense of the pleasures and disappointments as to the book in question.

 

But aren’t critics doing precisely that, by holding writers to account for their lazy, self-regarding decisions?

I’d love to read a review of one of my books that held me to account for my lazy, self-regarding decisions. That would be totally awesome. Do you know where I can find any?

 

So we’re supposed to give writers some kind of free pass because they try so hard?

Not saying that. But I do feel like anyone with the courage and determination to publish a book deserves serious regard. You don’t have to muzzle your complaints. You can tell people you hated the thing. But for God’s sake, explain why. Show them that basic respect.

 

Oh, so you mean like when you called Bret Easton Ellis’s novel Lunar Park “by far the worst novel he has ever written … maybe the worst novel I’ve ever read”? That was an example of you showing him “basic respect.”

Actually, that reviews opens with a long excerpt from the book. About a third of the total review is devoted to quoting Ellis, for the very reason that I wanted readers to be able to judge the author’s prose for themselves. There were some interesting ideas in that book, and a few moments of real beauty (I quoted one of them in my review). But his best intentions were buried under clichéd prose and fake emotions. The whole thing stunk of exploitation, and a particularly American brand of exploitation, one that mistakes bloody mayhem for drama and lazy nihilism for sophistication. So I said so.

 

So you’re a hypocrite.

Yeah. Pretty much.

 

And you’d now like to apologize to Mr. Ellis.

Yes. I apologize to Mr. Ellis. I should have found a more compassionate way to say what I had to say.

 

And you admit that Mr. Ellis is a way better writer than you?

Yes.

 

And you’re going to stop sexting him?

[Pause] Yes.

 

Okay. Let’s talk about why you hate literary agents so much.

Could I just say one more thing about Lunar Park? Shortly after I wrote my review, a woman named Meghan O’Rourke wrote a piece for Slate defending the novel. I won’t belabor her argument, but here’s the executive summary: “In Lunar Park, Ellis is still pushing the fictional envelope as he always has, challenging the notion that there’s such a thing as an authentic self equipped with a compelling inner life that somehow matters.” As a reminder: she was defending the book. It’s not that O’Rourke can’t have her opinion. But her piece read to me like literary punditry. It was centrally motivated by the desire to generate controversy, rather than assess art. The New York Times pulls the same crap all the time, the most recent example being Katie Roiphe’s piece on the alleged decline in male writers willing to get N-A-S-T-Y on the page. The literary blogs are full of this sort of nonsense: the petty grudges and tastes of aggrieved trolls passing themselves off as actual criticism—

 

Right. Okay. We get it. You’re the one noble writer guy out there, slaying all the big bad dragons. The question was agents, and why you hate them.

The most honest answer I can give you is that I resent the power they wield over young writers and the way they routinely abuse that power by failing to return emails or phone calls and generally acting like bad boyfriends. I see this over and over again: a writer early in her career who regards her agent as a badge of legitimacy, or a key to kingdom of New York Publishing and who therefore neglects the vital fact that they are the talent, the one who sits there day after day creating the actual fucking art, and that, while it’s certainly nice that there are folks out there who want to help you sell that art (for 15 percent of the gross), and who want to take care of certain logistics that you, as a writer, probably aren’t very interested in or good at, those people, the agents, are still ultimately parasitic to the process. Not saying their aren’t great agents out there who do great work and help great art make its way into the world and blah-blah-blah. There are. I’m just saying the people I respect most are writers and editors, the people (like me) who sit around worrying about their characters, not their numbers.

 

Can I just say that while I find these sentiments really eloquent and laudable they are also, in some small but persistent way, insufferable.

[Zen-like silence made possible by years of psychoanalysis]

 

Let’s just move on to the part of the interview where I ask banal quasi-promotional questions about your new project, which you answer with boilerplate shit from the book.

Okay. Rock & Roll Will Save Your Life is basically Candyfreak for obsessive music fans. I wrote the book so I could stalk half a dozen of my favorite musicians and pretend that we’re friends. And also because I’m one of those twerps who can’t really locate my deepest feelings without music. There’s lots of dorko lists and a survey of my wretched music criticism and a reluctant exegesis of “(I Bless the Rains Down in) Africa” by Toto.

 

Wait, what? Sorry, I just dozed off there, just for a second. Were you being passionate and humanistic again?

Yeah, I was.

 

Is there some reason you chose a bunch of bands to profile that no one has ever heard of?

It’s not really my fault that people haven’t heard of Boris McCutcheon or Ike Reilly or Dayna Kurtz. I spend a lot of my life trying to get people to listen to them. And not just because I’m an annoying dickhead who wants to be the world’s hippest DJ, but because I really believe these folks are artists and that people would be appreciably happier if they listened to Boris and Ike and Dayna et al as much as I do. But don’t take my word for it. The book comes with a soundtrack. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can hear for yourself.

 

There’s a story in the book about your wife giving Kip Winger a boner. Do you want to expand on that?

I will allow Kip Winger’s boner to expand on my behalf.

 

What are we forgetting?

The tour. I’m gonna be doing readings with lots of music. So even if I suck, I pretty much promise the tunes will not. Oh, and if people want to buy my crazy little self-published books (“This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey” and “Letters from People Who Hate Me”) they can do that here.

 

Nice plug, Almond. Super classy.

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STEVE ALMOND (www.stevenalmond.com.) is the author of three short story collections, most recently God Bless America.

11 responses to “Steve Almond: The TNB 
Self-Interview”

  1. jonathan evison says:

    . . . ahoy steve . . .loved BB Chow! . . . also, i met your cousin elliot recently through a mutual friend . . .

  2. LitPark says:

    Ha! I love this man.

  3. jmblaine says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa.

    Can we have some more about
    Winger & Cinderella
    & Tygers of Pan Tang?

    and the Bulletboys?

    Please?

  4. Adena says:

    Just picked up “This Won’t take but a minute, honey.” Thank you.

  5. […] and (Not That You Asked). He is also a TNB contributor, and his submissions have ranged from a self-interview to a criticism of fellow contributor Joe Daley’s “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At […]

  6. I gave you twenty bucks for a copy of “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” at your interview at UC Palm Desert and you never sent it to me. I told you I’d take a lap dance instead, but you declined. I want my writerly self-published book, man. As for your collection of treasured songs, I found them on i-tunes and listened to them compulsively. What I decided is that I absolutely love how you write about music.
    But, we have remarkably different tastes in music with the exception of Pink Floyd and Chuck Prophet. Stil, I’m fairly certain we can still be friends. Let’s make a deal: Instead of my copy of “This Won’t Take But a Minute Honey” (which you owe me) I hereby challenge you to a night of Karaoke after our reading in SF at the seedy but notorious bar, The Mint.

    I want to be a part of your Rock n Roll Fantasy.

    Great Interview, especially the part about jealous literary critics and the young writers who get bitten by them.

  7. […] STEVE ALMOND on Steve Almond […]

  8. […] STEVE ALMOND has some choice words for…Steve Almond. […]

  9. […] writing circles, circles which I like to pretend include me, b) by then, he’d already submitted a self-interview (easily one of the stronger entries in that particular archive), and c) I was, not two minutes […]

  10. […] website) The Morning News interview (2010) Vanity Fair interview (2010) Smith Mag interview (2010) The Nervous Breakdown self-interview (2010) The Rumpus interview (2010) Largehearted Boy interview (2010) The Splinter Generation […]

  11. Bad Jobs says:

    […] website) The Morning News interview (2010) Vanity Fair interview (2010) Smith Mag interview (2010) The Nervous Breakdown self-interview (2010) The Rumpus interview (2010) Largehearted Boy interview (2010) The Splinter Generation […]

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