Lindsey-Lee-Johnson-The-Most-Dangerous-Place-on-Earth

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Lindsey Lee Johnson . Her debut novel, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, is available from Random House.

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Helen Simonson author photo_credit Nina SubinDon’t second novels always tank?

Thanks for getting straight to the point. There have to be exceptions for rules to be proven, right? Knowing a second book would not be greeted like a sparkly fresh debut all I could do was put some extra effort and ambition into the effort. Five years and 465 pages later you’ll have to be the judge!

 

You’ll never make a Thirty Under Thirty list.

I know. I was 45 when I sold my first book and now I’m 52. My husband wants to know how many books I’ll write so he can figure out how early he can retire. I tell him at least two.

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.indd“It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all the violence of action and passion. . . . Never were desperate doings so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel.”  — Henry James, “Within the Rim”

The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. Standing at the tall French windows, Hugh Grange held his breath in a vain attempt to suspend the moment in time as he used to do when he was a little boy, in this same, slightly shabby drawing room, and the lighting of the lamps had been the signal for his aunt to send him to bed. He smiled now to think of how long and late those summer evenings had run and how he had always complained bitterly until he was allowed to stay up well beyond bedtime. Small boys, he now knew, were inveterate fraudsters and begged, pleaded, and cajoled for added rights and treats with innocent eyes and black hearts.

My dad died on the night my bathwater ran with an electric current in it. Or maybe it was the other way around. My water ran electric on the night my father died. In some ways that sounds better, more poetic, I guess. For one thing, it scans. Ba-duh ba-duh ba-duh ba-duh ba- duh ba-duh ba-duh. But it isn’t truly accurate as to what it felt like at the time. It felt more like the first way.

Do you know what happens in your stories before you start?

No. Not at all. I don’t know anything. The last story I wrote, “A Country Where You Once Lived,” began life as a story about a young woman who is going to her grandparent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary celebration. In the course of what I wrote, it turns out that she is having a romance with much older man whose third floor apartment she rents. And I wrote and wrote and wrote about this young woman. Wrote about her parents. Wrote about her uncle and his two kids. But more and more I would find my mind drifting to the man with whom she was sleeping, the guy whose third floor she occupied. And I started wondering what his deal was. And over the course of some months, the balance tipped and the story became his – and the original young woman just makes an appearance for a Skype sex scene.

“The human imagination is inexhaustible, and why should we expect the creative vision that invented astronaut ice cream and God to settle for standard penis/vagina fare? Once you have the basics down, you’ll find there’s a whole world of erotic variations for you to explore–all it takes is an open mind and a junior-high-school (or equivalent) education.

Take fetishes, for example–sexuality’s big tent. Show a man with a shoe fetish a woman in high heels, and he will drop to his knees to kiss the patent leather. Remove the shoe, and a foot fetishist will jump in to worship every little piggy on that most intoxicating of extremities. Remove the foot and an acrotomophile stands ready to play tribute to that heavenly absence, the amputation. In fact, there isn’t a body part, inanimate object, or idea that someone hasn’t found a way to eroticize–one person’s excuse to park in the handicapped spot is another person’s masturbatory temple.”–Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk by the Association for the Betterment of Sex (Scott Jacobson, Todd Levin, Jason Roeder, Mike Sacks and Ted Travelstead), p.126

Imagine that you inherited a large apartment house where a core of tenants pays enough rent to cover all your costs and then some.

Life is good.  You could retire on the income and live well, but there’s a catch.  You’re not that old and it occurs to you that now and then one of those tenants dies.  You can’t wait them out; you need to replace a few now and then, and there’s no guarantee that the replacements will pay as steadily as the tenants before them.

Few books in recent memory have caused as much of a stir as Reality Hunger, the 219-page “manifesto” by David Shields.

It’s a book that defies easy classification.

An argument.  A clarion call.  An affront.  A life story.

An unapologetic assault on the literary status quo.

An essay-memoir-pointillistic-literary-collage-and-exercise-in-appropriation-art, one which argues that a new artistic movement is forming, a movement which prizes as its virtues things like randomness, self-reflexivity, reader/viewer participation, and the total obliteration of the line between fiction and nonfiction.

The book has been greeted as a revelation.  A game-changer.  A thunderous ars poetica.

The book has been greeted as reprehensible.  Tired.  An irresponsible attempt to subvert existing copyright law, all while generating a massive wave of cheap publicity.

Writers in particular have reacted strongly to the book.  Some with venemous anger; others, a fit of nervousness; others still with unbridled enthusiasm.

“To call something a manifesto is a brave step,” writes Luc Sante in the New York Times.  “It signals that you are hoisting a flag and are prepared to go down with the ship.”

Shields—as far as I can tell—is still afloat, and he was kind enough to speak with me recently about his life, his work, and his assessment of the cultural moment.