In the fall of 2006, I spent a semester in Prague studying in a program called Art and Social Change.  It was a terrifying time to be a progressive American, and an especially strange time to be abroad.  I was a twenty-year-old American studying social movements in a country that had been occupied for most of its existence.  It felt strange to talk to Czechs about my feelings of helplessness in politics when they had lived under an oppressive communist regime from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Bruce Chatwin held that there are two categories of writers, “the ones who ‘dig in’ and the ones who move.” He observed: “There are writers who can only function ‘at home’, with the right chair, the shelves of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and now perhaps the word processor. And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home’, for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naïvely that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.” I like this notion, but have no opinion about its veracity. I do, however, hold that when I read Chatwin I can detect the shuffle of his restless feet traversing ancient causeways, just as, when I read Melville, I smell salt air.


June in the Czech capital.  Not yet summer, but hot: twenty-nine whopping degrees, according to the blinking sign outside the bank. Even if you know that twenty-nine degrees Celsius is eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit—and I don’t; metric conversion has never been my forte—the temperature reading alone doesn’t capture the heat’s oppressive grandeur, because it doesn’t factor in the malarial humidity, or the fact that I’ve been walking around for hours and have yet to hit a patch of shade. I feel like I’m in one of those cartoons where a thundercloud is following me around, raining only on me, except that instead of a thundercloud overhead, it’s the baking kiln-hot sun.

The heat is only one of the day’s obstacles. We arrived in Prague less than two days ago, so I’m still jet-lagged. My last meal was a crude goulash made from what tasted like paprika and horse meat, and that was over twenty-four hours ago. I’m so hungry I could eat…not a horse—I already tried that—but something really big.

So I’m hot, I’m jet-lagged, I’m hungry, and, oh yeah, I’m hungover. Not just hungover. Suffering through one of the worst hangovers of all time, a hangover that belongs in the Book of Lists, if not the Guinness Book of World Records. This is what happens when the local beer is the best you’ve ever consumed, and it costs eighteen cents a half-litre, and you drink it in lieu of dinner, as it is preferable to equine cuisine, and after your tenth or eleventh refill, you decide to fortify it with absinthe—which isn’t really absinthe but a syrupy green licorice liqueur that looks like and tastes like and for all you know is NyQuil, and is only sold to hapless expats at touristy bars like Chapeau Rouge—and you stay at Chapeau Rouge till it closes at four in the morning, and the whole evening, including the cab back to your room, costs less than ten dollars.



Prague is the sort of place where you can buy a drink for everyone in the bar without taking out a second mortgage. Or breaking a twenty. My friend Chris, who’d matched me beer for beer and shot for shot, is so hungover he couldn’t even get out of bed this morning. And this is a guy who can throw down like Burton and Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That I am able to function at all is a testament to the quality of the liquid gold the Czechs call pivo.

So I’m hot, I’m jet-lagged, I’m hungry, I’m hungover, and, if that’s not enough, I’m lost. Calibrated to the neat New York grid system, my inner compass is completely useless on the tortuous byways of Prague.

The urban planning here seems to have involved paving the paths of meandering cattle. The Staré Město, in particular, is a veritable maze. With a decent map and a good night’s sleep, I might have a fighting chance. But my map sucks. And, as discussed, I’m hungover, hungry, jet-lagged, and hot, and I slept for maybe four hours last night. Plus, I’m carting around a bottle of wine, which, in my current condition, may as well be a bowling ball.

The wine is a gift for the AP’s Prague correspondent, who was good enough to find me inexpensive yet comfortable accommodations, and who I want to thank in person. The AP’s Prague correspondent is not expecting me to call, and had said correspondent been Pablo Gorondi or Dusan Stojanovic—our men in Budapest and Belgrade, respectively—I would probably be back in the hotel with Chris, sleeping it off. But I feel compelled to visit the bureau of our mutual employer, and not just to be polite. See, in addition to being hot, jet-lagged, hungry, hungover, and lost, I’m also a single red-blooded American male, and the AP’s Prague correspondent is named Nadia Romanova.

Nadia Romanova! Oo la la! I spent most of the flight over manufacturing a crush on her, even though I don’t know what she looks like, how old she is, if she’s married, or, for that matter, if she prefers the company of men. All I know is her name—but that’s enough. Nadia Romanova is either James Bond’s love interest or Anna Kournikova’s doubles partner. Either way, she’s hot. If you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present Nadia Romanova with a bottle of wine and ask her to dinner, you have to seize it, hungover or not. Who knows? She might be up for a no-strings-attached liaison with a young American aspiring-novelist-cum-benefits-coordinator.

To present the bottle of wine to the AP correspondent, of course, I must first locate the AP bureau. This is easier said than done, as I am, at the moment, walking through an urban, Czech Blair Witch Project.

The bureau is on Národní. According to my map, Národní is a major thoroughfare, or as major a thoroughfare as you can find in the Staré Město: a wide, straight road extending from the metro station at Můstek, past the National Theatre, to the Most Legií, which is a bridge. Unfortunately, what appears straight on my map is, in actuality, anything but.

I began at Můstek, so I was able to locate that. After walking around for forty minutes, I stumbled upon the bridge. I didn’t find the National Theatre, which is supposed to be visible from the Most Legií, and if I couldn’t find the biggest performing arts center in the Czech Republic, I certainly didn’t spot the unassuming AP bureau. How can I walk from one end of Národní to the other, three times, and miss it? It’s like starting at the Williamsburg Bridge and not being able to find Delancey.

I’ve long since abandoned my map and am carrying only the bottle of wine when an insanely tall blonde dude approaches me. He looks like one of the lesser bad guys from Die Hard, except for the sandals. Birkenstocks don’t exactly inspire menace.

“Excuse me,” he says. “Do you know where is Metro station?”

This is the third time someone has stopped me on the street to ask for directions since we arrived. It’s like they’re seeking me out. Do I really look like I know my way around, or is everyone else even more clueless than I am? Ironically, I am able to tell him where the metro station is. He thanks me and bounds away, on legs as tall as my entire body.

Watching him go, I spot, on a nondescript Soviet-looking concrete building, among a bevy of Slavic signs, a small plaque bearing the familiar burnt-orange interlocking A and P that is the logo of my employer.

“Hallelujah,” I say out loud.

With renewed vigor, I make for the building. Once inside, I see that the bureau is on the sixth floor, Suite 604. There does not appear to be an elevator. Just what a hot, jet-lagged, hungry, hungover guy needs—a session with the Stairmaster.

The sixth floor—which is actually the seventh floor, because what Europeans call the first floor is really the second floor; such are the wonders of the metric system—appears to be residential. There is nothing that indicates any business is transacted here. No AP logo, no sound of teletype machines, nothing. Weird. But I hit the buzzer for Suite 604.

The door opens to reveal a cute, voluptuous brunette, her hair wavy and short. Gorgeous hazel eyes twinkle at me. I was expecting taller and leaner—a tennis player—but I prefer cute and voluptuous. The only drawback, and it is glaring, is that there are two small children clinging to her like koalas, one on her calf, the other on her hip. Nothing, not even a ring with a diamond the size of Gibraltar, says unavailable more unequivocally than a pair of clingy toddlers.

Swallowing my disappointment, I give her the happiest smile I can muster in my current condition.  “Hi. Um…are you Nadia?”

Her English is fair to middling, but she manages to convey that a) she is Nadia’s sister, b) this is Nadia’s apartment and not her place of business, and c) to get to the AP bureau, I need to go back down to the ground floor, follow a long hallway to the other side of the building, and then climb up a different but equally steep set of stairs.

I’m not thrilled about the walking, but that’s the only thing. Not only is Nadia unencumbered by two small children, but the chances of her being a stone-cold fox have actually gone up. In the patois of Las Vegas, the line has moved. How much hotness disparity can there be between sisters? Kourtney Kardashian is not Kim Kardashian, but she’s still, er, kute. My buzz safely restored, I thank Nadia’s sister and go.


*   *   *


This is my first trip to Europe. Other than a long weekend in Montreal and a spring break in the Virgin Islands, it’s my first trip outside the continental United States. Oh, I’ve had opportunities. I could have gone to Paris with my high school French class. I could have spent my junior year of college abroad, instead of in New York. Can’t ask Mom and Dad; too expensive—that was my excuse for not going both times. But really, I was afraid to leave my comfort zone.

But I’m an adult now, with a steady paycheck and a yen for life experience, and I decided two months ago that I needed to get my feet wet, so to speak, with Old World water, phobias be damned. Logic would have sent me to England, because there is no language barrier; France, because I speak un peu French; or Italy, because I am fully half Italian. Plus, England, France and Italy are the obvious places for a young writer to visit, just like New York is the obvious place for a young writer to live. But none of those destinations piqued my fancy, probably because they were so obvious.

Conversely, I rejected Bucharest and Krakow and Warsaw as too alien. My college roommate, Jeff, had backpacked fearlessly across Europe in ’95…until he hit Poland, whereupon the lugubrious post-Communist strangeness gave him pause. A country that spooked the well-traveled Jeff was sure to terrify me.

What I wanted was someplace foreign but familiar, not too obvious but not too strange, a combination of East and West. What I wanted was Prague.

The Czech metropolis was an unusual choice for a maiden voyage to the Continent, but in 1998, it wasn’t that unusual. The so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989 had opened the doors of what was still Czechoslovakia, and with a bang. Prague became an obligatory destination for aspiring men of letters. That the city of Kundera, Kafka, and Klima had selected a playwright, Vaclav Havel, as its president only enhanced its literary cachet. Expatriates of a writerly bent flocked to Prague to soak up its vibrancy, its novelty, and, yes, its astoundingly cheap and delicious pivo.

If you wanted to be a Bohemian, where better to decamp than the capital of Bohemia?

Not that I was a true Bohemian. Or even a convincing fake one. Bohemian enclaves are known for cheapness and grit. Paris between the wars, Greenwich Village a generation before. Prague? Maybe in the early 90s, in its hipster heyday. By ’98, the bubble had burst. It was still cheap, but hardly gritty. I wouldn’t say I made it to the party after the keg was kicked (an apt metaphor in Bohemia), but the tap was definitely farting foam.

So: beer, life experience, aspirations literary and hipster. Good enough reasons to go where I did—but post hoc ergo propter hoc rationalizations, all. I chose Prague over Paris, Rome, London, Budapest, Moscow, and Athens—and, for that matter, Tokyo, Cairo, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Rio de Janiero, and Havana—because, quite simply, I felt like going there. Prague appealed to me, in the same way that the Yankees appeal to some people, the Mets to others. There was no logic to it. It can’t really be explained, any more than you can explain my mother’s love of the color yellow, or my friend Chris’s hatred of Led Zeppelin. I prefer Milton to Shakespeare, Bach to Mozart, Dalton to Brosnan. Why? Nature? Nurture? Or something else entirely?

Prague called out to me. And here I am.


*   *   *


Not that I’m mulling over anything so metaphysical as I climb up the last of the seven flights of stairs. The stream of my consciousness flows from Nadia to goulash to sleep to Nadia to Chapeau Rouge to the weird Czech Space Needle on the outskirts of town that isn’t even mentioned in my Rough Guide and back to Nadia. Genealogy may not be riding the last car on my train of thought, but it’s very close to the caboose. My final thought as I ring the buzzer for the AP bureau is, What will Nadia look like? Voluptuous and cute, like her sister? Tall and sinewy, like Anna Kournikova? Somewhere in between?

The person who opens the door is neither voluptuous nor cute nor sinewy nor tall. I am face to face with David Crosby. OK, he’s not really David Crosby, just his döppelganger: same white curly locks cascading from a receding hairline, same walrus mustache, same intense eyes, same leonine bearing. I half expect to see Neil Young behind him with an acoustic guitar. Or Melissa Etheridge with a turkey baster.

“Good morning,” he bellows, his voice at least a six on the Richter scale.

I open my mouth to speak, but I’m having trouble, what with the jet lag, hunger, heat, and hangover. Finally, drawing on all my powers of elocution, I stammer, with erudition that would make the home office proud, “You, AP? Me, AP. New York.”

His eyes light up even more, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.

“You are Olear!” he exclaims, possibly causing a building across town to tremble.


“Welcome. I am Ondrej. Please, come in.”

Only when I cross the threshold do I realize that he pronounced my last name correctly. This bears mention, because no one ever says my last name correctly on the first try. A dactyl, like “caviar”—and not an iambic appeal to the titular tragic king. My father, worn down by the constant and futile attempt to correct everyone, has acquiesced to the Irish pronunciation. The percentage of my own friends who think there is an apostrophe after the “O” is, I’m sad to say, somewhere between the unemployment rate and Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average. And yet Ondrej, a complete stranger, nailed it in one take.

He glances at the brown paper bag tucked under my arm. “Is that wine?”

I nod once, indicating affirmation. He nods twice, indicating approval. “Good.”

I’ve always liked the neat economy of my last name: five letters, three syllables, no schwas. I like the way it reads on the printed page. I like the way it looks spelled out in Scrabble tiles. I like that it provides my full name with so many anagrammatic possibilities (greg olear=roger gale, larger ego). I like that, if I ever get a book published, it should delight Will Shortz and his wordsmith brethren, and allow me to join Sheri Oteri in the Federation of People With Unusual Last Names Beginning With “O” Who Are Crossword Puzzle Clues More Than Their Meager Fame Allows. Even the constant mispronunciation has its silver lining; telemarketers are easy to peg.

“Wow,” I say, following Ondrej into the large but unpopulated room that is the bureau. “You said my name correctly.”

One of the empty desks, I notice, bears a nameplate and a photo ID of the AP’s Prague correspondent. My inkling that she might be attractive was right on the money. Long brown hair, fashion model face. But what Ondrej says next makes me forget all about Nadia Romanova.

“Of course,” he exclaims. “It is a Slovak name. Olej means oil, and –ar means dealer in or supplier of.” He pats me enthusiastically on the shoulder, which would have knocked me over had I not grabbed an empty desk for support. “You, sir, are Oil Man!”

The news bowls me over almost as much as his pat on the shoulder. I stand there speechless, and not because of jet lag, hunger, heat, humidity, or hangover.

I never knew what my name meant. Because of the illegitimate skeleton in the Olear family closet, the subject of ancestry was off limits. My paternal grandfather, Stephen Olear, was born out of wedlock. He didn’t know who his father was—or so he claimed. I asked him about his family history once, before he died, and, as my father predicted, he refused to elaborate. He wouldn’t even tell me what my great-grandfather’s name was; Stephen’s surname, an Americanized version of Olejár, came not from his father but his mother. His last name, then—and by extention, mine—was a matrilineal inheritance.

I never knew what my name meant. I didn’t even now how to find out what it meant. And here the Czech David Crosby, of all people, has satisfied my lifelong curiosity. (Later, I will learn that Ondrej fronts a band called Žlutý Pes, so the “Déjà Vu” comparison is not far off ).

“Nadia is out covering the elections,” says Ondrej, taking the wine. “I will take care of this for you.”


My mind is elsewhere. I’m processing the information, connecting the dots from “Oil Man” to my father’s father, who worked his entire adult life at Standard Oil. And then something else Ondrej said sinks in.

“Wait…did you say it was a Slovak name?”

Ondrej, who is now inspecting the wine (a moderately-priced but well-regarded California red), nods without looking up.

“I always thought we were Polish.”

“No,” and he is emphatic, “Slovak.”

“Wow. I never knew that.”

The unexpected depth of the exchange has sapped what little strength I had remaining. All my life, I thought I was half-Polish, and I’m not; I’m half…Slovak? I know what it means to be Polish—being the butt of jokes, mostly—but what does it mean to be Slovak?

And then my thoughts turn metaphysical.

Prague called out to me. And here I am.

Despite my inability to navigate its twisted roads, Prague seems eerily familiar to me, like a landscape from a half-forgotten dream. The Czech language, which should be so intimidatingly foreign, sounds more musical to my ear than my native tongue. Six months of immersive study, I’d be fluent, no question. The Slavic faces on the street are familiar, too—and mine must look like one of them, or people wouldn’t keep asking me for directions. Heck, Montreal felt stranger to me than Prague does, and I took French for nine years. Why should this be?

Perhaps there really is a collective soul, what the Hindus call the atman, and memories of places, of faces, of historical events, are stored there for all of humanity to tap into, as the html files of are stored on a giant web server for universal access. Just as you can only look up Tom Cruise’s page on a computer, so you can only access the atman subconsciously, when you dream. When we dream of places we’ve never been before, then, we are tapping into the atman. Our dreamscapes are memories from past lives, or else mnemonic heirlooms from long-dead ancestors.

Maybe I wanted to go to Prague because I’ve been here before.

That or I’m still drunk.

My mind is blown, to the point that I’m almost freaked out. I feel claustrophobic, I need air. Even the entrance of a naked and nymphomaniacal Nadia would not entice me to stay right now. Thanking Ondrej profusely, I beat a hasty retreat, racing down the seven flights of stairs to the street, where I gasp for breath, and head to the first bar for a cold pivo.





In his debut novel The Futurist, James P. Othmer demonstrates a talent for biting satire, gorgeous prose, and dark humor that, to me, calls to mind another ad-man-cum-novelist, Joseph Heller.  Holy Water, his prescient new novel, does nothing to alter my impression.

Jason Chambers, writing at 3G1B and here, calls Holy Water a “fine book: funny, smart and strangely hopeful for revolution.”  I agree, and I’ll add that I wish more writers shared Othmer’s ability to so ruthlessly and engagingly portray the patent absurdity of corporate America.

I chatted with Othmer last week.  Here is a transcript of our far-ranging discussion:


G.M.O.: Holy Water is probably the first work of lit fiction to reference Spoon on the first page.

J.P.O.: Are you sure someone in Austin didn’t get to it earlier, perhaps in the acks?

I wouldn’t know…I’m not that hip.

Me neither. I rely on much younger friends for that kind of stuff. For all I know, Spoon is a polka band.

I’m more of a Kenny Rogers guy

Nothing wrong with Kenny Rogers.

I wondered if you had music informants.

I have friends who come over and give me burned CDs in exchange for exotic beer and my bitter world view.

Sounds like a fair trade to me. So what’s your favorite exotic beer? Any recommendations?

I’m liking the Capt. Lawrence out of Pleasantville. Anything Dog Fish Head works for me. I’m all about the high alcohol content, until I vomit.

And once you vomit?

Once I vomit, it’s strictly Coors Light and Kenny Rogers.

A match made in heaven, if heaven is Branson, Missouri. But we digress. Henry Tuhoe, your protagonist, has very hip taste in tunes.  Do you?

I love music, but I know so many people for whom it’s a religion. I envied their obsession and occasionally their taste, and I wanted my protagonist to have that sort of relationship with, as the kids say, the hip music folks. Similar to my relationship with books.

You convey that nicely.

Thanks. Showing one’s music cred on her sleeve seems to be more popular with Gen Xers, but if the recommendations are good, brag away. Again, I’m the same way with books, not necessarily being an aficionado, but constantly looking for recommendations from others.

I think it’s also something that men of our age do to retain their perceived youth…the Gen X equivalent of buying a convertible.

Which is why I’m talking to you, hip writer of books and player of Kubb.

I am so not hip, but it’s nice of you to say so.



Kubb was a revelation. I never realized how much fun it was to throw wood at other pieces of wood. Anyway, I want Henry’s iPod.

I believe Henry’s iPod is now in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

It deserves a better final resting place than Cleveland. Yates, the eponymous futurist of your first novel, is almost a superhero. A superhero in crisis, sure, but an alpha male. Henry Tuhoe, on the other hand, the protagonist of Holy Water, is a nebbish, a paradigmatic beta male. Where on that spectrum does James P. Othmer fall?

I’m a flawed super hero. Like Captain Bedwetter or something. Or a bit of both, because both represent in a lot of ways, two diametrically opposed sort of worse-case scenario versions of me.

I can see that. There’s definitely commonalities between Yates and Henry.

Well they’re both completely disillusioned with where their life has taken them. Henry’s “conscientious fulfillment of limited expectations” and Yates’s crises of conscience.

Your characters travel to far-flung places How much actual travel have you done? Have you ever been to the Himalayas, or Greenland?

The good part about the soul-selling ad-guy portion of my life is I got to travel quite a bit. However, not Greenland or the fictional kingdom of Galado. Galado, by the way, is a combo of Swift’s Lagado and Bhutan.

Were you in Bhutan?

Alas, no. I was trying to get a magazine I was writing for, Conde Nast Portfolio, to spring for the trip to do a piece on Gross National Happiness. But my editor got fired while I was doing a piece on the ad festival at Cannes and the magazine went under soon after. Would’ve been sweet.

So how did you research it?

Henry did what I did. Google. Lonely Planet. Some incredibly poorly produced travel videos…lack of travel money (post advertising) has forced me to invent countries rather than visit them. And it’s a lot of fun. Soon I will have to take it to the next level and, you know, rule one.

It would be fun to be a dictator. And I hear you about the lack of travel. Although we do get to Connecticut occasionally.

Connecticut is the next Prague.

Ha! The prince of Galado reminded me of a cross between one of the princes in Syriana and the Ben Stiller character in Dodgeball. And I mean that as a complement

And a little Kim Jong Il, at least the version I saw in Team America. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crossing the line with absurdity, but then I turn on the news.


I was just discussing with my friends how Kim Jong Il really did a great job reading 1984 and making it a reality.

Except for the nuclear capability and the sneak attacks on South Korean subs, he’s sort of awesome.

He sure makes my heart go pitter-pat.

If he’s still alive, that is.

He does this bad-ass despot stuff, but manages to look like a drag queen Dr. No.

Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il seem to have the same stylist.

Ken Pavès, is what I heard—the guy who does Jessica Simpson’s hair.

Don’t pick on her. Poor girl’s been through so much. How dare you, John Mayer!


I may be confusing my U.S. News with my US Weekly.

Doesn’t matter. Both will be out of print by August. You read it here, first.

I don’t get the appeal of John Mayer…or Justin Timberlake, either, for that matter.

I just hope I live long enough to see the broken down, lonely, sexless versions of Mayer and Timberlake. Though JT is a surprisingly funny dude.

Yeah, he is funny. I’ll grant him that. I just wish he were nicer to poor Jessica Biel. Maybe it’s the name “Jessica” that somehow attracts bad boyfriends? As for the broken-down Mayer, that will also happen by August.

We’ve really gone high-brow here, huh?

Yeah, we should probably leave John Mayer to wither into sexless obscurity and get back to the matter at hand. Holy Water opens with a river on fire; basically, oil on the water has burst into flames. Eerily prescient, as that could happen in the Gulf any day now.

Yeah. Bad news for humanity. But great for me and my 1631 readers. What’s happening in the Gulf is what’s happening in my magical kingdom of Galado. Corporate hubris and neglect run amok.

Yup. Colin Powell, for one, spoke about water as the new oil, in that future wars will concern water.

I didn’t know the Colin Powell line, but I believe it.

It’s amazing, when you stop and think about it, that the one most integral thing we need for survival falls out of the fucking sky.

I liked the idea of having water as a theme, something natural and abundant and free being polluted and sold and fought over and, in the case of Holy Water, bottled and sold through a back-office call center in a draught-plagued nation.

I read an article in The New Yorker a few years back about how the Southwest U.S. will have huge problems with water supply in the years to come—that dividing the states into pleasant shapes, the way they did, rather than creating borders based on water supply, was a terrible idea (although great for kids’ U.S. state puzzles).

I read that article as well. Chinatown was ahead of the curve on that.

“The water commissioner drowns during a drought…only in L.A.”

In fact, the history of the town I live in, Mahopac, was corrupted by water. In 1871 neighborhoods were moved to make way for reservoir to provide H2O to New York City, and Boss Tweed had his corrupt fingers all over it.

That happened a lot upstate. Whole towns were drowned to build the reservoirs.

Ashokan, right? I have an abandoned novel that is set in that period. I like it, and there’s not one joke in the whole thing.

I think it’d be a fertile topic for a novel. The idea of saying goodbye to a hometown, forever. Sad and kind of creepy.

My dead book starts with a house being pulled by horse and capstan through a valley, on timbers.

I don’t know what a capstan is.

John Mayer does.

He’s going to need to, as his career is toast in a few weeks. But enough about water shortages, corporate corruption, and ruination of mankind…let’s talk about big boobs.

Stay classy, New Paltz.

Meredith, your book’s most buxom character and its emotional center…

Meredith, killer admin by day, big boob web goddess by night…

She’s Joan Holloway for the 21st century.



She has a great speech I’m too lazy to look up, about how the societal role of men is in flux.

Her speech does make some salient points about the state of modern man. A friend of mine was the head of research for Leo Burnett in Chicago and they conducted a world wide man study…

That sounds like a reality show.

She spoke to thousands of men in dozens of countries and was kind enough to share.

Masculinity is a theme in Holy Water. For example, there is much talk of vasectomies. I see the vasectomy as a rite of passage for fathers of a certain age, not unlike the self-mutilation ceremonies performed by some primitive tribes at puberty, perhaps also in Galado. At the risk of getting too personal: have you been snipped?

Well, Greg, no. I haven’t been snipped (the book’s original title, by the way)…


…but it certainly was in the suburban air in my part of the world and I thought it made for an interesting flash point. Have you had breast reduction surgery?

I made Jonathan swear never to tell anyone!

Does he perform that as well?

Evison does everything. I think he practices on the rabbits.

I hope I got my snipped facts right. I certainly had a lot of access to those who were, who will and who might. Some of whom were also my music muses.

I have, in fact, been snipped. It’s very much not a big deal, although it did bring up a lot of stuff for me beforehand. I think you do a nice job conveying that sense of anxiety.

Thanks. I’m a chameleon when it comes to conveying anxiety.

We’re at 2000 words, so we should probably wrap this up.

Depressing, especially in light of the fact that I’ve written about 500 in the first 6 hours of today.

What’s next for you? Book tour? Movie deal? Extradition to Galado?

I’m working on a novel about the financial world.

This makes me happy. I think you have a keen insight into the business world that many fiction writers lack, and I’m psyched for the next one.

Oddly, not a huge book tour in the U.S. I did a lot for Adland and have decided to write instead of self promote. Which is not at all like me. However, while I’ve been invited to exactly zero writer’s festivals or conferences in the U.S., I’ve been asked to attend three in Australia this summer. Bringing the whole family, which means I’ll lose about $5k by the end of August.

We novelists do live high on the hog. Well, have fun Down Under. And thanks for stopping by TNB.

Well thanks, and thanks for having me. Love TNB. Whatever the hell that is.

JC: John Dermot Woods’  The Complete Collection of People, Places and Things turned out to be one of the highlights of last year’s reading for me, serendipitously finding its way to my doorstep. The surreal little collection is a feast of animated language, whimsical tales and poignancy, and JDW’s many drawings throughout add to the fun. Here’s his contribution – prose and sketch – for our WWFIL series.

John Dermot Woods

The first time I read At Swim Two Birds, it took me two months to finish it, reading it every day. I was enamored with the idea of the book from the first scene of Dermot Trellis, the doomed author, whose characters rebelled against him and hated him, but I kept getting lost. I was living in Dublin at the time (a few blocks from where Flann O’Brien had lived) and studying with one of the foremost authorities on O’Brien at the time, which should have helped things along. But either because of the anxiety of serendipity or the lure of Guinness, I didn’t so much read the book as look at it. Where things really got going for me was at a neurological ward in Prague. I waited for hours while my friend Rob was being diagnosed by non-English speaking doctors for the strange rash that had just turned him into Two Face. Puss-ridden sores and a rosy crust had totally painted the left side of his face over the previous 48 hours, but the right side was untouched. He was told he needed brain surgery and would have to be sent back to Ireland for that. (Turns out he didn’t, but we didn’t speak Czech. They were just telling us they did brain surgery and that they couldn’t help him.) I read At Swim Two Birds while I spent the next two days, perfectly healthy and in Prague for the first time, sitting in a darkened room in an affordable but clean pension, missing out on my European teenage backpacking adventure, so I could apply a thick cream to Rob’s crusty eye every few hours until we could get him on plane. And the trick was, that I had to get the cream onto his eyeball itself, which was hidden by two lids sealed with crust. His eyes could not tolerate light of any kind, so I had to sit by a crack in the shutters to read the book. It sucked to miss a few days of vacation, but the absurdity of that scene seems only right for Flann O’Brien. It’s the closest I’ve come to living a scene from the book. (Rob’s eyes still twitches and reddens when he’s tired, a permanent remnant of the airborne illness he caught during his ill-fated Spring Break.)

Living in New York City isn’t always so great, especially when you’re twenty-two, work in public relations (under the mistaken impression that it funds you better than writing short stories or going to art school), socially awkward, broken up about the loss of some girl or girls, and your dad just died no so long ago, without warning. Through my years, I’ve skillfully avoided entertaining any serious plans of suicide or chemical addictions. Instead, I usually choose making stuff as my chosen therapy. My first girlfriend dumped me and I learned to paint. Next time the world turns black, I think writing short stories will be a fun and positive way to spend my time. Happens again. Hey, why don’t I draw comics? That seems easy. (I choose more difficult, less appreciated, and more hermetic practices each time.) More than really drawing comics (which I learned was painfully difficult and lonely), I began reading comics. And this is when I first read Chris Ware’s depressive masterpiece Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth. While it proved to me that artistic possibilities of the medium and set me on the ill-chosen and molasses-covered creative track that I’m still running along to this day, the utter hopelessness of the book (the vividly expressed generations of hopelessness) did little to assure me that life did in facthave a meaning just beyond my grasp or whatever construct of tomorrow I thought I needed. Moreover, the book itself, the object, such a singular thing of beauty, told to me to give up on all that. It’s all right to give up. Narratives are empty promises, and nothing can be enough, because it has to be-you don’t have any choice. So I quit my job shilling for lame duck dot-coms and moved to Baltimore.

In Baltimore, I met 60 Stories. It was given to me by my friend, a fresh student of Donald’s younger brothers in Mississippi, who repeatedly swore to me, in his booze-tinged Anglo-Indian lilt, “This book is haaaahtbreaking. And that is the only goal of fiction. To break the reader’s haaaht.” He was right about 60 STORIES, at least. It did just that. I thought I was done with sentimental emotional abstractions and pinning my hopes on some metaphysical order. Guess I was wrong. So, how do I explain the change of heart? Flann O’Brien never tried to sort his absurdity, Chris Ware never defines a purpose for his compulsively precise and overwhelmingly complex models, Barthelme tried to trip the story every time it turned its back on him, so I’ll follow them and leave it at that.