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

I’m not sure what to make of Darin Strauss after reading this memoir.  To me it seemed like fiction, or at least at first glance it did.  Mr. Strauss has gone through a fairly traumatic event, and since it happened early in his life, he’s had time to process, and maybe figure out a way to deal with it.  He killed someone.  It was an accident, and it couldn’t be helped.  The writing here is crisp, sharp, cliché-free, and brutally honest.  It reminded me of the Stewart O’Nan novel Songs for the Missing.  By the end of Half A Life you realize you’re reading something that really happened, and it’s true, which makes it all the more potent. It’s published by McSweeney’s, and is on sale this month.

This novel took forever to make it my way, and it’s probably because I worship the movie.  Now that the adaptation of Never Let Me Go is about to grace the big screen, I think it’s a fine time to revisit this classic, as backlist sells.  I love how Anthony Hopkins was chiseled in my mind while I read this book, the clueless butler who is only serving his master, even though that master is a Nazi sympathizer.  The book is equal parts beauty and masterful writing; Ishiguro lets us see the butler, but only feel what he sees, not what the butler feels, because he’s void of emotion.  It took me years to finally read Remains of the Day, and it’s worth every second you spend with it.

Dogfight, A Love Story came to me right alongside other books that Random House wanted me to read, somehow this little gem shot to the top of the pile, because after I read the first few pages I couldn’t put it down.  The two brothers at the center of this story might remind you of a modern dayEast of Eden, but with lots of drugs, pitbulls and a scam involving a pocket full of chocolate…that all takes place in Queens, NY. You’ll love the urgency of Matt Burgess, the detail’s that might be overlooked by the common man, in this book, take your breath away.  There is a wonderfully vibrant scene around a dinner table, involving a baseball game and a pregnancy, which should leave you in awe.  As far as debut novels go, this one is great, and it confidently stands alongside The Imperfectionists and Mr. Peanut.

 

 

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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.

We all know writing can be tough. So every once in a while, you probably surf around the Interwebs, looking for funny sites to distract yourself from your cursor blinking on your blank Word doc. Maybe in one of those comedic searches you’ve even run into a much-loved site called Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves. Maybe you’ve chuckled at a huge black terrier stuffed into a squirrel costume, or a chihuahua dressed as a turkey. And maybe, just maybe, you laughed.

Well prepare to chuckle again- WordHustler turned the mastermind behind this hilarious site, writer Duncan Birmingham, loose on WordHustlerInk to interview his most challenging subject yet: himself. Birmingham is a successful screenwriter who managed to turn his popular blog into an even-more popular humor book published by Random House! How did he do it? What’s the secret? And, most importantly, how did they get those boxing gloves on that pit bull?

WordHustler Duncan: Duncan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell our readers how this book deal came about?

Real Duncan: Sure, Duncan. I spent three years slaving away on a novel nobody would publish. A year later I started a blog with photos of pets dressed in sombreros and R-rated captions and I got a book deal within the month.

WHD: Why pets?

RD: Mailer, DeLillo, Roth; they’ve all focused on the human condition in America. I thought it was time that a writer was brave enough to tackle the pet condition in a post 9/11 America.

WHD: Oh boy, is this really going to be that kind of interview? Seriously, what made you start this blog?

RD: I’d gotten a couple holidays cards with the family pet all dressed-up in antlers or a Santa’s hat and just looking like they wanted to bite someone’s face off. Those are the only holiday cards I keep on my fridge all year long. I found similar photos on the internet, came up with a title that made me laugh and started a tumblr site-which is very easy even for a Luddite like me-where I linked to the photos and did little captions. Pretty soon people were sending me their own pet photos.

WHD: What kind of pet do you have?

RD: Currently, none. I’m allergic to cats but am ramping up to get my first dog. I’m researching breeds now. I have to be content to dress up my friends’ pets for now.

WHD: But you hate dressing up pets?


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RD: Wrong! I love it. The Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves ethos is that I like to poke fun, but deep down I know that pets who are dressed-up, toted around in baby backpacks, married off and groomed into ninja turtles are probably the most beloved pets of all. When looking for the perfect photo submission, the term I use is “over-loved.”

WHD: Do you think a blog is a good way to get a book agent’s or a publisher’s attention?

RD: It depends on the type of book. My book deal came around the same time as a few other blog-to-book deals (This Is Why You’re Fat, F*ck You Penguin) and so my blog got a lot of attention in these articles proclaiming the death knell of publishing. So certainly for a concept that is humor-based and doesn’t have a lot of text or has an interactive element, the blog is a great way to get attention. Otherwise, I think a blog can be helpful as a way to build a fan base and get your name out there. Certainly there are many examples for non-fiction writers getting traction for their work from their blogs. For fiction writers, it seems a little trickier.

WHD: What was the process for you?

RD: It all happened very fast. Most of the photos are submissions that were emailed to me, but a few were photos I sought out on a Flickr or pet sites and requested the owner let me use. Some people heard the title and shut me down cold, but most had a sense of humor about it, were excited to show off their pets and were very sweet and encouraging about the whole endeavor. So basically, I combed through hundreds of photos and weeded out the best 160 for the book. The tough part was resisting posting a lot of them on the blog first cause they’re just so good you can’t wait to show them off.

When it came time to caption the photos, I read lots of Vice Do’s and Don’ts , dug up my The Far Side collections for inspiration and tried to think of each photograph like a one-panel cartoon. Some of the captions are omniscient narrator, but most are the pets speaking with emotions that range from suicidal to sardonic. I’m a method writer, so I was sleeping on the floor and crawling around on all fours for weeks while writing this thing.

WHD: You write for film and TV as your day job. Is there a Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves movie in the works?

RD: It’s very hush-hush, but yes I do have a script that’s kind of The Incredible Journey meets The Night Porter-type thing with tons of franchise tie-in potential. We’re out to talent now. I’m legally obligated to keep quiet, but let’s just say we’re hoping to get a certain leading man whose name rhymes with Dom Grooze. Arrggh, I’m such a blabbermouth.

Well this blabbermouth sure seems to be full of good info! Thanks to Duncan for the spectacular introspection required to delve into the depths of one’s own soul. What are you doing to market your own work in an original and attention-getting way? Take some time to not only perfect your projects, but your writing personality, because that’s what really catches that agent or editor’s eye.

But, as we all know, writing has gone to the dogs. :)