Is it true that you went to see “Jurassic World” by yourself this morning?
Let’s not talk about that.
Is it true that you went to see “Jurassic World” by yourself this morning?
Let’s not talk about that.
Sara’s adding more hot water to her bath. She does this with her big toe, moving the dial so the scalding reinforcements pour into the tub. First, her lower legs feel the temperature crank and the sensation slowly moves up her small body, the water working toward her head.
Joyce Johnson is the guest. She is the author of several books, the most recent of which is called The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, available now from Viking.
Kirkus calls it
An exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer…Johnson [turns] a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac’s evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time…there’s plenty of life in these pages to fascinate casual readers, and Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer. A triumph of scholarship.
Also in this episode: Joshua Mohr, author of the novel Fight Song, now available from Soft Skull Press. Fight Song is the February selection of The TNB Book Club. Publishers Weekly calls it “an interesting mix of Charles Bukowski and Tom Robbins, with a cinematic heaping of the Coen brothers for good measure.”
What do you mean?
It’s nearly happy hour.
How do you know?
Imagine a fantastically drab ballroom. Seven square tables have been set up in front of a large stage, each table seating two couples, including Bob and Jane Coffen. Imagine everybody has finished gumming their salmon and parsnip purée and now the overhead lights go out.
The sound of a recorded heartbeat thumps from the speakers. Loudly at first. It fades until only faintly playing in the background.
The lights go back up, and there are two people standing on the stage, a man and a woman. The man wears a sign on his chest that says SPUTTERING HUSBAND. The woman’s sign says ZOMBIE WIFE. They both stagger around the carpeted stage, weaving wildly, like blind people doped on booze without canes or dogs or good Samaritans.
A round-up of high quality tweets from people in the world of literature…
Damascus (Two Dollar Radio) is a depressing, raw, and touching novel, the latest tale of lost misfits and depraved losers from Joshua Mohr. Here we find Owen, the owner of the bar Damascus, who dresses as Santa Claus, a man with a birthmark under his nose that makes him look like a modern day Hitler. There is a man dying of cancer, No Eyebrows, who simply wants to be touched. There is Shambles, the jerk-off queen, who is willing to do just that, her marriage recently ended in divorce, haunting the late night bars with no purpose or goal in mind. There is Revv, the bartender, a tattooed drunk whose last act may be one of cowardice. And there is Syl, a controversial artist who brings a wave of doom upon the bar, stirring up trouble from war veterans by depicting dead soldiers in her painting while nailing fish to the already stagnant walls of Damascus.
Let’s start this one when a cancer patient named No Eyebrows creeps into Damascus, a Mission District dive bar. For years the place’s floor, walls, and ceiling had been painted entirely black, but that afternoon the owner added a new element, smashing twenty mirrors and gluing the shards to the ceiling so the pieces shimmered like stars, transforming Damascus into a planetarium for drunkards: dejected men and women stargazing from barstools.
Well, I didn’t work on it for 10 years straight. I wrote other stuff along the way.
I’d been inventing a new kind of filmmaking called The Unveiled Animal (how it’s germane to Derek and Mired’s bizarre, sadistic tale will soon be clear, as will my plan for revenge against my brother). It revolved around the notion that the cinema needed to evolve past actors, scripts, contrived scenes, fraudulent emotion. Movies needed to shun closure and happy endings.
Wait, we don’t have a moustache.
How do you just grow a moustache?
July 21, 2010
JE: Okay, so before I talk about Josh Mohr the writer, I just wanna’ say that I love the synergy Josh and his publisher Eric Obenauf at Two Dollar Radio have going. A publisher and a writer helping each other help themselves. Josh is writing great books and hustling (I’m guessing not for huge advances), while Eric is really working to connect Josh with readers, and doing his damndest to make Josh a successful author (not just a title). I was one lucky sonofabitch to have had such a synergy with Richard Nash at Soft Skull. Sadly, in an industry where most writers are hung unwittingly out to dry, this is a rare situation.
A few words on Josh, the writer: Josh is one of those writers I like best because he writes stuff I would never write. Approaches narratives in a way I wouldn’t approach them. Pushes himself (and me) out of his comfort zone. That excites me. Josh’s characters rescue burnt sofas. Push their lovers down stairwells. Wallow in dumpsters. And his language never ceases to surprise. Josh’s second novel, Termite Parade, was recently unleashed on the world, only a year after his successful debut (Two Dollar Radio’s first bestseller), Some Things That Meant the World to Me.
I got drunk and interviewed Josh when I should have been writing. I’ll bet he was drunk too, and should have been writing.
JM: No paranormal bodice-rippers, per se, but I do have a bitchin’ idea for a new vampire book. I know, I know, the kidz are tired of vampires… but they’ve never seem them like this before…
Imagine: a young male vampire joins the navy and he’s stationed on a submarine. Once they’re underwater, it’s always dark, so he can “vamp out” 24/7. The tag line can be “It’s always midnight at 10,000 leagues!” And on the cover, it could have a sub with fangs sticking from the front. You know, John, if we actually wrote that as a screenplay we could both retire!
But about squalor, I can’t say that consciously I’m attracted to it. I like hyperbole, exaggeration; often the stakes are the highest for those bottoming out, either literally, psychologically, or both.
So for example, in my new book Termite Parade, the hyperbolic incident is that a man drops his girlfriend down the stairs. It’s an aggressive image, but these sorts of things happen all the time. It’s ostensibly a story about betrayal; it’s the same story if the man cheats on the woman–that’s just as devastating a betrayal, though its violence isn’t grounded in physicality, but emotion.
Infidelity, though, isn’t interesting to me. I want metaphors that indict us at greater volumes than the ones we’ve come to accept as pedestrian. I want to use inflated imagery to lure readers into the narrative and often that leads me into grim circumstances.
I always start with image. For Some Things, I knew I wanted to write about a broken home, but that territory has been trampled so much over the years, I needed a new way into it. So I decided to literally break the home: its rooms drifting away from one another like the separating continents.
Once I’d established the surreality, all bets were off in terms of “rules,” so as Rhonda told me more about who he is as a real person (and yes, I do believe our characters are real people), I filled the blanks in from there. I revise compulsively; that’s where the real hard work happens, where the clay gets molded into sculpture.
Termite started from an exercise I heard that the poet Robert Haas uses: he’ll spend months working on one poem, rewriting and rewritng, trying to earn that last line (the pay-off line in any poem). But this is actually just the beginning: because then Haas uses that pay-off line as the first line of a new poem (the one he’s been interested in all along). The logic is that his imagination will go to skyscraping places if he uses the “pay-off” as the beginning, to build up from it as a foundation and traverse into daring terrain.
So I wrote a short story using the image of a man dropping his girlfriend down the stairs as its climax. I worked on it for about eight months, got it to where it was ready to publish. Then I yanked the climax and used it as the point of entry to what eventually grew into Termite Parade.
I don’t write with an outline or any kind of plan; I like the reckless discovery of surprising myself with each plot point. Of course, this leads to lots of wrong turns–maybe why I have to revise so much–but I dig that wanton, blind strategy of building story without any scaffolding around it.
I’m not a superstitious person, been known to walk under a ladder or two in my day. I’m happy to talk about what I’m working on now. I challenge myself with every book to try and tackle some literary feat of such an encoded nature that only I’ll notice. For example, in Termite Parade,”my goal was to try and create as much chaos on the page in the climactic sequence as Sam Shepard‘s play Buried Child. I’m not sure if you’ve seen a production of it or not, but by the time the action hits its peak, all hell has certainly broken loose. Shepard is one of my heroes.
I read a lot of plays because it reminds me not to rely too heavily on thought process, to let my “actors” characterize themselves on the page, via dialogue, gesture, and body language. Obviously, thought process is important, but when it’s overused/abused, interiority brings the narrative to a screeching halt.
In this new book (tentatively titled Machines that Ache in Their C: Drives), I’m working on an ensemble piece, hopefully a distant, debauched cousin to a Robert Altman film. These first 3-novels have been a cycle, all set in San Francisco at the same time, overlapping characters, locales, imagery and themes. Some Thingsintroduced a bar called Damascus, and a bunch of Machines takes place there.
The book is about an anti-war art show. A painter has put together 12 portraits of dead American soldiers. During the art opening, she nails a cat fish to each canvas, so as they hang, the room will smell like death, decomposition: it will remind the studio audience back home that soldiers are dying on their behalves. Some folks take umbrage with the artist’s expression and hostile shenanigans ensue. Where would we be without hostile shenanigans?
Of course, it’s about 38 other things, too, but that’s the only one that makes a tidy synopsis. It’s by far the most fun I’ve ever had on the page, though that might not be saying much: Termite Parade was quite a wrestling match. I’m not sure I won.
Well, I was pretty busted up by the time my manuscripts made it to Eric and 2DR. And that’s not a typo, I meant “manuscripts”… plural. My first agent couldn’t sell Some Things (Pun intended). In fact, she told me to write a 2nd book and forget about number one, and when she couldn’t sell the 2nd, she fired me. About a year later, after regrouping and finding new representation, 2DR bought Termite Parade and we were able to piggyback Some Things onto that contract.
That’s why it felt like such a coup for the indie press when Some Things went on to make O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of ’09 list. I mean, people kept saying that the material is too grim, that it isn’t commercially viable, and here’s O, one of the most mainstream publications going and they pick it out of the haystack. I was stunned, wonderfully stunned. They changed that book’s life, and I’m immensely grateful.
Two Dollar Radio only puts out four or five titles a year. It’s Eric, his wife, Eliza, and Eric’s younger brother, Brian. And that’s it! That’s the whole shop. So it’s a family thing and that grassroots feeling permeates the whole experience. I love it. I’m very comfortable on the fringe. I like that role of being underestimated. There are very few expectations of me, and so if something goes well, it’s just gravy. I feel like I’m playing with house money… except in this particular example there’s no money. Or a house.
For any aspiring writers out there, don’t just assume that one of the big, swanky corporate publishers is the right fit for you. Especially if your material is transgressive, prurient, etc. You might be better served with a smaller house that won’t consider your book to be a failure if it sells 3,000 copies. Every writer should have an editor that shares your vision of the book’s identity. You don’t want someone who’s trying to water down your material simply to fit you into a shiny marketing box. I’ve definitely found that invaluable synergy with Eric and Eliza. It’s worth much more than a big advance.
I also think it creates a huge camaraderie between us because we’re doing it all ourselves. There’s no marketing or sales departments. It’s just us shaking trees, making the phone calls, pimping books. Probably because of all my years playing in crappy bands, but I like being involved with that stuff. The thing I’m the most scared of as a writer is investing 3, 4, or 5 years writing a book, and it comes out and vanishes without a trace. Unfortunately, it happens all the time–good books get lost in the shuffle (and bad ones get hype because of nepotism). So I can use my anxiety about this phenomenon as gasoline to hop on the phone or send a batch of emails or cyber-stalk those that need cyber-stalking. I’m a pro-active cat when it comes to these sorts of things.
Last thing I’ll say about 2DR, and maybe this is all that needs to be said: I just tattooed their logo on my shoulder. That should speak to how I feel about them. And so to end with another of those dastardly cliches, the proof ain’t in the pudding, folks, it’s inked on my skin.
June 28, 2010
Recently, in the fine media tradition of griping about how sick everybody is of talking about something—and thereby talking about it more—I read a tweet that quipped, “Can we stop talking about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 already?”
The answer is no.
February 23, 2010
JE: We love the spirit of independence around here, and it gives us great pleasure to cover indie releases that may not have the benefit of 100k print runs, and deep publicity coffers, books that won’t get waterfront placement in the chains, titles you aren’t likely to read about in People Magazine, but you might, with a little luck, and some word of mouth, see on staff picks and book club walls and blogs across America.
So, I hit up every indie editor I know (every one of whom is way cool), and I asked them each to preview a title or three from their upcoming spring list. This is a really exciting, and startlingly diverse list of titles which totally confirms my conviction that indie publishing is alive and well, and will continue to flourish in 2010. This is also a long list, which is why JC has made it a sidebar, so you folks can conveniently revisit the post if you’re not inclined to take it in all at once. Needless to say, there are plenty of great editors who are not in my network, so apologies to presses not represented herein. Editors, writers, and readers, please illuminate these oversights in the comment section! (glaring absences include Akashic, Melville House and Graywolf, all of whom I’m working on, for a later post).
Here’s hoping every title on this list finds the audience it deserves! And please investigate these fine publishers further! The list is alphabetical by publisher:
short story collection – TPO with french flaps
Dawn’s writing cuts out everything that isn’t necessary to the story. She’s a writer that I think says as much in what she leaves out as most writers do in what they include. Vanity Fair just noted that the stories “are as sharp and bright as stars.”
short story collection – TPO with french flaps
Tight, wry, dark and deeply funny, The Taste of Penny agitates the senses in stories modern and mischievous. This collection captures love, relationships, and finding one’s way in the twenty-first century.
American Junkie is the story of Hansen’s life as a musician and heroin dealer in Seattle during the punk and grunge movements. It’s American. It’s human underground.
If you’ve ever stood in front of the mirror and knew you’d be a better rock star than anyone ever dreamed, and later that night made it ever more true by getting drunk and higher than Jesus, then you’ll like this book. If you’ve ever lined up coke or heroin but didn’t have the guts to shoot it straight to your blood, you’ll love this book. If you’ve ever wondered why people do drugs even when it’s killing them and they know it, this book will help you understand. And if you think that all junkies are nothing but degenerates, then this book will change your mind.
In American Junkie, Tom Hansen takes us on a non-stop into a land of desperate addicts, failed punk bands, and brushes with sad fame selling drugs during the Seattle grunge years. It’s a story that takes us from the promise of a young life to the prison of a mattress, from budding musician to broken down junkie, drowning in syringes and cigarette butts, shooting heroin into wounds the size of softballs, and ultimately, a ride to a hospital for a six-month stay and a painful self-discovery that cuts down to the bone. Through it all he never really loses his step, never lets go of his smarts, and always projects quintessential American reason, humor, and hope to make a story not only about drugs, but a compelling study of vulnerability and toughness.
Following her debut novel, My Sister’s Continent, which delved “fearlessly into questions of identity, abuse…trust, trespass, and delusion” (Booklist), Gina Frangello continues her exploration of the power dynamics of gender, class, and sexuality in this collection of diverse, vibrant short fiction. Slut Lullabies is unsettling. Like the experience of reading a private diary, these stories leave one feeling slightly traitorous while also imprinting a deep recognition of truths you did not know you felt.
It is through beauty, horror, humor and chaos that Frangello has managed to pull these ten stories out of her deep understanding of the human experience. A gay Latino man whose pious relatives are boycotting his ‘commitment ceremony’ becomes caught up in hypocrisy and splendor when his lover’s Waspy mother hires a glitzy wedding coordinator; a precocious girl seduces her teacher in order to blackmail him into funding her young stepmother’s escape from their violent home; a wife turns to infidelity and drugs to distract her from chronic pain following an accident; a teenage boy attempts atonement in Amsterdam after having exploited his naive girlfriend at home; and a socialite must confront her dark past as her husband’s deterioration from Huntington’s Disease destroys both her bank account and social standing.
Each insightfully drawn, deeply felt character moves delicately amid the despair and wreckage of ordinary life, but always towards hope. And Frangello’s oddly uplifting voice acts as the unifying thread, drawing out a beauty and dimension which demands both our criticism and our empathy.
Featherproof Books* April 2010* *$14.95* *Distributed by PGW*
Featherproof is really excited to publish The Awful Possibilities by Christian TeBordo this spring. He’s written three novels, but this book is is first collection of short stories, plucked from ten years of his work. We’ve interspersed these gems with bizarro postcards, dripping with death goo. No joke, there. The stories feature: a girl among kidney thieves who masters the art of forgetting, a motivational speaker who skins his best friend to impress his wife and a teen in Brooklyn, Iowa, dealing with the fallout of his brother’s rise to hip hop fame. In brilliantly strange set pieces that explode the boundaries of short fiction, Christian TeBordo locates the awe in the awful possibilities we could never have imagined.
TPO May 2010
The inaugural title in Other Voices Books’ new Morgan Street International Novel Series, celebrating fiction set across the globe, Currency is set in Thailand. When Piv, a small time Thai hustler, and Robin, an American backpacker, meet they are immediately drawn together by their love of travel and a mutual drive to escape the limits of their pasts. But when they run out of funds in Bangkok, Robin and Piv find themselves sucked in to an international ring of exotic animal trafficking in order to fund their big dreams, increasingly struggling to justify their choices in pursuit of their own desires. Amid cross-cultural misunderstandings and in danger from both the authorities and the criminals who employ them, the couple must negotiate the price of love and beauty in this provocative literary thriller.
TPO, March 2010
Jillian Weise’s forthcoming novel, The Colony, is by turns wickedly funny, cranky, vulnerable, and downright beautiful. Anne Hatley, a young English teacher from the South, takes a break from work and a tedious relationship and accepts an invitation to the nation’s largest research colony, where scientists (including DNA pioneer James Watson) want to study a rare gene she possesses, which affects her bone growth (she has one real leg and a prosthesis). Anne thinks she’s okay as is, but she has to fend off pressure from her peers and doctors when it turns out they want to pioneer an experimental procedure to make her the first patient to generate a new leg. Weise’s story is (in the words of novelist Chris Bachelder) “part Wellsian dystopia, part medical mystery, part Hawthornian allegory, and part reality show”—but most of all it’s a searing indictment of the way our culture treats (and has historically treated) those who don’t fit its preconceptions of health, beauty, and vitality. This is a novel that mines some of the most polarizing issues of our time—among them, medical ethics, body image, and genetic engineering.
Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk – Tony Dushane
Tony DuShane has written an endlessly endearing and compassionate but eye-opening novel about what it is like to grow up in the claustrophobic (and, at times, odd) world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone who picks up Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk will have trouble putting it down until they’ve seen it to the end. In this hilarious coming-of-age story, Gabe is a teenage Jehovah’s Witness convinced God is going to kill him at Armageddon for masturbating. Gabe will certainly be one of the most charming, sweet, and memorable protagonists readers come across this year—but he’s accompanied by a whole cast of unforgettable characters, including his best friend Peter, who writes curse words in the margins of his Watchtower; Jin, their Korean friend, who lives on junk food, and Camille, who follows Gabe around, trying to be his girlfriend. Gabe is mainly preoccupied with girls (primarily Camille’s beautiful sister Jasmine, who barely notices him), and the fear that one of his classmates will be at home when he goes door-to-door preaching on the weekends. But as the dysfunction of the adult world around him becomes increasingly impossible to ignore (his dad is an elder in the congregation who decides the fate of sinners, like the married couple who confess to accidentally having anal sex, while his mother waits for happiness on the other side of Armageddon) Gabe’s values and beliefs are called into question, and he’s forced to grow up fast. Fearing eternal damnation and caught in the only belief system he has ever known, it’s up to him to find a path to romance, love, sanity, and something like happiness. This, as one commentator (Todd Herbert of “Not About Religion”) recently put it, “is a coming of age novel done right.”
Don LePan’s debut novel, Animals, is a powerful piece of dystopian literature that will make you think twice about the food on your plate. It imagines a world one hundred years in the future where the social issues of today have spun out to their worst possible consequences. It is landscape at once utterly horrifying yet all-too imaginable, where the ills of factory farming and the abuse of antibiotics have led to mass-extinctions in the natural world. With all of the animals humans have relied upon for sustenance having succumbed, mankind must literally look to itself for new options. This book blew my mind when I first read it—in the beauty of its story, in the braveness of its vision, and in the sheer boldness of it politics. It’s the twenty-first century’s answer to the THE JUNGLE, picking up where Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser leave off, bringing home the ills of our food system in the kind of profoundly affecting manner that only fiction can achieve.
One of the insanely cool things about publishing a seasoned writer is the excuse to go back and read their previous work. I’ve enjoyed doing that with Scott Bradfield, who critics have compared over the years to the likes of David Lynch, George Orwell, and Raymond Carver, and The People Who Watched Her Pass By should astonish fans of his work and new readers alike. I think Bradfield is a supremely talented wordsmith. I was driving with my wife and business-partner, Eliza, back from spending New Years in Georgia. She was doing a final copyedit of The People Who Watched Her Pass By, when she started reading this section aloud, which considering the state of our ’94 clunker felt both appropriate and serene:
“Being driven in Tim’s car wasn’t like transportation; it felt more like staring out the window at another world going by. Everybody moved faster than you did, and pursued clearer, more meaningful agendas. The entire car trembled – latches, seat frames, undercarriage, and something round, steel-like, and unstable in the gas tank, like a large iron caster in a dented iron bucket. The windshield wipers flapped brokenly against a gray, translucent mist that grew thicker with each beat, and the dashboard fans generated more noise than heat. Out here in the woods, even the high beams lost focus and determination. It was as if you needed to forget where you were going in order to get there.”
Joshua Mohr is a young writer who has been a lot of fun to work with. He’s the first author that we’ve felt compelled to sign to a two-book contract, which for a press our size is a fairly dramatic gesture. His first book, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, defied even our expectations: it was our first best-selling title, and made some stellar year-end lists (including O Magazine and The Nervous Breakdown). But more than that, we consider it to be a great word-of-mouth success; friends sharing with friends, that type of thing. Josh’s second novel, Termite Parade, is a bold follow-up, the story of an implosion after Mired either falls down the stairs, or is dropped by her boyfriend, Derek. Like Rhonda in Some Things, Mired is such a lucid and beautiful character who I love completely. Self-described as the “bastard child of a ménage a trois between Fyodor Dostoevsky, Sylvia Plath, and Eeyore,” Mired catalogs her “museum of emotional failures” in her own acerbic and witty manner. I think Termite Parade is an aggressive look into the true nature of the human animal, and should ultimately further Josh’s reputation as a writer that readers can be afford to be enthusiastic about.
In May, we’ll release the second novel by the astounding Emily St. John Mandel-The Singer’s Gun. It’s a wild story about forged passports, corrupt families and international crime, a tale of intrigue in which everybody is willing to use somebody else to escape the past. Like Mandel’s first novel, this one turns on gradual revelations about characters you’d wish better for. And it evolves from a nearly comic, if shadowed, urban story about a young man wanting a more legitimate life into a smartly twisting novel of suspense that reaches across oceans. Mandel is the real thing, and we’re proud to have her in our list; soon every reader will know her name. Watch.
And in July, we have Taroko Gorge, a breathtaking debut by Jacob Ritari. Three Japanese school girls disappear into the dense and imposing Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s largest national park. A raggedy American reporter and his drunken photojournalist partner are the last to see the schoolgirls and, pretty suspect themselves, they investigate the disappearance along with the girls’ distraught teacher, their bickering classmates, and an old, wary Taiwanese detective. The conflicts between them all-complicated by the outrageousness of the photographer and the raging hormones of the students-raise questions of personal, desire, responsibility and unvarnished self-interest. Virtually everybody at Unbridled read this novel in one sitting, and what astounds me most is that such a page-turner has been written by an author so young. Ritari is 23.
Move over, Pulitzer. Step aside, Man Booker. National Book Award? Pfft.
We asked our esteemed TNB editorial staff to nominate their selections for best books of 2009. The only rules were: the book had to be published this year, and books by TNB contributors were not eligible. The result is the first annual TNB Best Books of the Year award—The Nobby, for short.
Here are the Nobby winners, presented in alphabetical order by author: