How much we need our lives to mean something, how much we need to have purpose. How eventually we all end up searching for, or being driven to do something with our lives, which in essence is the search for some form of immortality. We want to leave something behind, be remembered for something. It’s a fundamental aspect of human experience. Traditionally people have found a route to this in their jobs, family, community, culture but for various reasons people are becoming less needed and these things are losing effectiveness as places where we can find those elements. Why? Because the world is changing very rapidly and we are having difficulties keeping up. I feel this is the core reason for all the dysfunctions and disorders people are experiencing. So I thought about that. Are we in some transitional period that people will eventually adjust to? Is it simply change and evolution the Western world is going through, or is it degeneration and decay? I explore these questions in the novel via the possible revolution that happens. Are the people who undertake these violent acts nihilists, or idealists? Are they in search of a better future, or are they just out to destroy?
Nethery stepped off the train at St. Charles station. He made his way outside the main hall and and across a plaza until he stood at the top of a broad marble staircase that looked out over the city. It was a clear day and he could see the Old Port in the distance. He examined his map, and between that and following the majority of people he descended the staircase onto the Boulevard d’Athènes. He followed that to the Canebière, and then headed for the Old Port. Along the way he stopped at Centre Bourse, a shopping complex, a block off the Canebière. After a brief search he found a boutique and bought the first suit he found that fit, a Hugo Boss. He also picked out a shirt. From there he made his way to another boutique and bought an expensive pair of Persol sunglasses and at a third shop he picked up some black dress shoes and some socks. As he went from place to place he discarded his old clothes.
We mad fly; we
Dream dry; we
Scribble drunk; we
Fake the funk; we
Keeps it real; we
Sly conceal; we
Royal hall; we
Southern drawl; we
Bleed tears; we
Clink cheers; we
Fling curves; we
Gnaw nerves; we
Break it down; we
Class clown; we
Write raw; we
Down by law.
September 07, 2010
Over the past few years, I’d read great and magical things about The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and sundry other burgs. I scrolled through photos and comments generated by each reading and thought, Holy hell, that looks tastier than pizza. Each city fielded a deeply talented roster and the sense of excitement and cohesion was palpable. I looked forward to Seattle’s shot.
Dealing to Kurt Cobain? Riding Layne Staley’s Hog? Hiding heroin for Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan?
TNB contributor Tom Hansen’s book American Junkie may be more than these mind boggling rub-ups with Pac Northwest music icons, but those details alone make us want to check it out. Read the full review over at City Arts.
The first time I threw up I was very young. You know what I’m talking about, barfing, blowing chunks, etc. I don’t remember what happened exactly, probably I ate something. It happens to us all. Vomiting in those circumstances is very unpleasant–head in the toilet bowl, sweating, retching, your entire body heaving, trying to expel whatever it didn’t like. That stomach acidy stuff gets up into your nose, whatever. Sucks. Afterward you still feel bad, pushing back the nausea so it won’t happen again.
I was about fifteen. Kind of innocent. Just beginning to discover some things. I had gone over to a friend’s house. His parents were gone and we’d gotten our hands on some booze, vodka or whisky, I can’t recall. We got smashed, threw up and lay around moaning about Charlie’s Angels. Some time later with that same friend we got our hands on some Bacardi 151 rum. Here’s a tip. Do not eat cashews before drinking rum. Rum/cashew puke is pretty bad. I haven’t been a big fan of either ever since. In fact, the strange old bus driver in the town I lived in used to offer me cashews when I boarded the bus. “Cashews?” she would say, holding out a bag. “No…urrmph,” I said, trying to hold back the queasiness.
When I was sixteen I went to a big house party. I had always been a very quiet and shy boy, very much a loner in high school, and I saw this as maybe a chance to meet some girls. I hadn’t been kissed since the fifth grade and all of my friends had lost their virginities except me. Here’s another tip. If you want to get in with the popular kids at school and maybe hook up, don’t get smashed on booze and pot and throw up on one of the school’s cheerleaders. That was the end of my love life until I met Punk Rock chicks a couple of years later. Thank God for Punk Rock chicks, and then later, strippers and hairdressers. But I digress.
Puking was always very unpleasant for me, and usually followed by a shitty hangover. Not very fun. That’s how my vomiting career went until I discovered Opiates. They made throwing up kind of cool. I would drink a bunch of beer, smoke some pot, take twelve Percodans, some girl would be talking to me outside a punk show, I would lift my finger to indicate they should hold on a sec, turn my head, “Hwhaaugh!” throw up into the bushes, turn back and continue chatting her up. Opiates made throwing up no more unpleasant than spitting, or pissing, or taking a dump. I didn’t feel bad after and could keep doing whatever it was I was doing.
And then I graduated from Percodans to heroin and suddenly stopped throwing up at all, ever. And that was the end of my barfing career, and the beginning of another career, but I already wrote a whole book about that.
Lit fans! TNB fans! Bookish folk! AWPers! Hold onto your hats, it’s time for some TNB served up in a Rocky Mountain oyster stew. That’s right, TNB’s Literary Experience (TNBLE) is coming to downtown Denver, Colorado!
WHEN: Thursday, April 8th. Doors at 6pm; program begins at 7pm
WHERE: Meadowlark 2701 Larimer St. / Denver, CO 80205, (303) 293-0251.
Readers will include award-winning author Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night / Edinburgh), Ben Loory (his story “The TV” is in this week’s New Yorker magazine!), Tom Hansen (American Junkie), Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies / My Sister’s Continent), Aaron Dietz, Megan DiLullo, Erika Rae, and poet Erica Dawson. Denver’s own Col. Hector Bravado from DenverSixShooter.com will emcee.
Live music from Hideous Men, Iuengliss and Ryat will follow at 9pm.
Happy Hour goes from 4-7, $1 PBR, $2 wells and domestics.
No cover; $5 suggested donation.
For more information please contact Erika Rae – [email protected].
Don’t forget yer spurs.
November 1991. I stared out the partially fogged up window, my cheek pressed up against the cold glass. Down the street people at the grocery store were going about their lives, on their way home from their jobs. Walking into the store. Pushing shopping carts. Making choices. Standing in lines. Opening the backs of their Jeeps. Loading bags of groceries. Closing the backs of their Jeeps. Strapping kids into car seats. Driving home. It was raining.
I hadn’t left my room for three days, hadn’t slept in four. Most of the time I’d been at the window. During the day I watched the people down the street. At night I stared out into the darkness, seeing shadows move or imaginary rodents in the bushes. Every half an hour or I would drag myself from the window and over to the mattress to fix up another speedball, or two or three, or however many. I threw the used syringes on the floor. Every week or two Monica would come in and gather them all up and take them to the needle exchange, come back with a couple grocery bags full of new ones.
I heard the deep rumble of a Harley pull up outside the house. It was Shifty. Ordinarily I didn’t let customers come over to the house but I had been ignoring my beeper for three days and I was running out of money. These coke binges had been really screwing me up. As long as heroin was all I used everything ran like clockwork, but once or twice a year I would feel an irresistible pull to shoot coke and then it would have to run its course, usually a few days, maybe a week. I would shut myself in a room and not come out. I could hear Shifty’s motorcycle boots clomping up the stairs. He knocked.
“Come in,” I said.
He opened the door, took one step inside and froze.
A few days before this Monica and I had been on our way out to see a movie. The Addams Family. As I was pulling out of the driveway, Sharon, our roommate, pulled up. She’d just spent a week at her mother’s in Eastern Washington, detoxing. She rushed over and stopped me before I could back out of the driveway, an urgent look on her face. I knew what she wanted. Usually I would give someone like her the lecture, “You’re past the worst of it. Why do you want to get messed up again?” It had never worked, but I usually gave it a shot. And when they persisted, which they always did, and I relented, which I always did, I would say, “Be careful, your tolerance is down. Do it in two or three shots.” But that night I was in a hurry, Monica and I had to get to the movie. I ran into the house and sold her thirty-five dollars worth, then ran back to the car and headed for The Cinerama downtown. I thought the movie was dumb but Monica seemed to enjoy it. When we got home I went straight up to my room to do a shot. I had just finished when Monica knocked and stuck her head in.
“Sharon’s dead. She OD’d.”
I’d seen it before. People OD’d and died most often after they tried to quit. Their tolerance would be down, or they would get drunk and want to get high and that was that. People should just stop trying to quit, I thought. Then they would have a tolerance, some margin for error and this kind of shit wouldn’t happen. Sharon had been a nice girl, smart, quiet, not pretty enough to be a stripper like Monica and had struggled to get by with a regular job. I told myself that this is what happens when you choose this life. I told myself that where Sharon was now wasn’t so different from where I still was, that I was the living dead and she was just plain dead. I told myself, and Monica told me too, that it wasn’t my fault. All those things might have been true, or not. I wasn’t sure what my level of responsibility was. But I knew one thing, I had to get out of there. The cops would come, and the medics, and I didn’t want to be around for that circus. I cleaned all the syringes out of my room and packed up my drugs. As I walked out through the living room I looked over at Sharon’s door. It was open slightly. A picture formed in my mind, of her in there sprawled on the bed, her eyes open, staring, a needle in her arm.
Shifty stood there stunned, looking around the room. The entire floor was covered in syringes, two or three deep in some places, like hundreds of driftwood logs washed up onto a beach.
“Come on,” I said, “sit down.”
He stood there, staring at the syringes.
“Hey!,” I said, “come on.”
Finally, he snapped out of it and walked slowly and carefully over to the mattress, his boots crunching on the syringes. It sounded like someone walking on a gravel road. He sat down carefully on the corner of the mattress. Speechless, he looked around the room again at the hundreds of used syringes and the bottles of piss.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“A hundred,” he replied.
I began weighing up his piece.
“Man….,” he said, looking around, “this is….wow.”
I chuckled. “Yeah.”
It was shocking, I suppose, to him, to other people, even ordinary junkies. But to me it was simply the natural landscape of my world. I finished weighing up his piece, he thanked me and left, his boots crunching on the way out. As soon as he was gone, I began cooking up some speedballs.
My veins had been gone for a couple years. They’d simply dried up, run away from the onslaught of needle pokes. It’d happened quickly, over a few months, it seemed, with the big ones. Then the smaller ones went as well. I wasn’t about to do what my friend Nikki did, sit in a hot bath for hours trying to raise a vein to the surface of her skin, or mess around forever stabbing myself a thousand times. Some junkies got all wack about the ritual of shooting up and would sit there playing with their dope and needles for hours. They were half-asses, part-timers, dilettantes. Minor leaguers. It wasn’t some gas-powered radio controlled model airplane, it was heroin. You do it, you get strung out, it ruins your life and you die. End of story. Get the drugs inside your body so you can get on to the next thing, even if it was just staring out the fucking window. Even if it was just dying.
I lifted up my pant leg and unwrapped the ace bandage from my calf, then removed the wad of soaked paper towels and tossed it onto the floor. The wound was about six inches long and three inches wide. It was deep. At first I’d used little veins in my calf, ones that didn’t take too long to find. But eventually, they’d gone too, and I began injecting the heroin right into the flesh, into the muscle. Not skin-popping, shooting with the tip of the needle just under the skin, but deeper. It wasn’t the same as hitting a vein, not by a long shot, but it did the trick. I felt it. First a black spot appeared under the skin, about the size of a quarter. Then the skin on the surface just sort of dissolved, peeled, melted away. I could rub it with my finger and it would just sluff off. Then the black flesh under that melted away as well and left a wound, a hole. I figured it was the high potency of the shots and all the crap they put in black tar heroin that caused the flesh to die.
The wound didn’t bleed, or hurt, it only oozed a liquid the color and consistency of olive oil. The heroin seemed to cauterize the flesh and kill the nerves, so I shot there again. I would have left it alone, moved to another place but I soon discovered that I felt the shot a lot stronger when I shot into the wound, almost as strong as before when I had veins. I figured it was all the tiny capillaries trying to repair the flesh that carried the heroin to my heart and then my head faster. And so it went. I continued shooting into the wound until it got bigger and deeper. It didn’t affect me at all, I watched the flesh dissolve away, as if driven by some weird desire that if I could just get to the center of myself I might be able to find out something about myself. I began trading for and gobbling antibiotics to keep the wounds from getting infected. It didn’t smell bad and it wasn’t draining pus, so no worries. I packed it with paper towels and wrapped it with an ace bandage to keep my pant leg from getting wet.
I went to stick the needle into the wound and it stuck. I let go of the syringe and it stayed there, wobbling. I got a firm grip on it, pulled back and it sprung free. I felt in the wound with my finger. I had noticed this hard lump in the wound before but hadn’t thought much of it. It didn’t look like bone, I thought maybe it was a tendon or something. There was a little edge that I could get a grip on with my fingers. It was sort of loose, and I moved it back and forth, then more rapidly, jiggling it.
Suddenly it came free with a sucking sound, like a stuck boot pulled out of the mud. I held it up and examined it. It was about two inches long and a half an inch wide, and looked like a little piece of rotten driftwood except it was blood red in places. One side was smooth and rounded, and the other was porous like a sponge. With a paper towel I rubbed it. I could still see red in places but now some of it was off-white. I was pretty sure it was bone. I sighed, and decided I had better find another place to shoot, the other calf, my buttocks, shoulders, something. But that would have to be next time. Right now I needed to get the heroin in me. I injected the shot into the wound, away from the area where I had pulled the bone fragment.
I placed the piece of bone in a little wooden treasure chest, the one I’d kept firecrackers in as a kid. A couple of days later I took it out and examined it. It had dried. I tied a string to it, made a necklace and wore it around my neck. A medal of honor. Something I had picked up on the battlefield. A trophy, a memento. A souvenir of the enemy.
Well, it wasn’t my idea, really. Other people encouraged me to write it. I’ve never been into memoirs or nonfiction much. I had reservations about memoir, that it was becoming the reality television of literature, that it was losing credibility, becoming not art, not literature, but just schlock. Bullshit. Garbage. But I began the project anyway, in the beginning partly to push back against that, you know? And then I received some encouragement and after a while it acquired a kind of momentum, especially after I figured out what I wanted it to be.
There was a process of elimination. The obvious thing would have been to do a journalistic document of a period in Seattle history, the Grunge thing, or an uplifting memoir of my personal struggle. But that sort of thing has been done before. So those were out. Of course, everything has been done before, but I wanted to find a fresh approach to the subject of drugs, heroin. That took a few years to get sorted out, while I fumbled around, eliminating one idea after another. At first I wanted to call it Dope Dealing for Dummies. I could have gotten away with it too, legally, framing it as an instruction manual on drug dealing, because the story ends badly, but the Dummies title is copyrighted, or trademarked or some such and I wouldn’t have been able to use it. Anyway, after I discovered how to approach the story, that’s when it took off.
Yeah, once I began questioning the disease model of addiction and thinking about it as something more inevitable, or fatalistic, thinking about my addiction as a kind of slow death and my recovery as a painful resurrection. That might sound hyperbolic, and people look at me strange when I say it, but I was able to do that, and not deviate from the truth. Of course I wasn’t actually physically dead, but I was as close as one can come. I had totally given up on life, on living. I hadn’t seen that approach to an addiction story before. From the other books about drugs, you still don’t get an idea of how bad heroin addiction can be, the utter despair, how close one can be to death and how a person can welcome that and still go on for years and years. You really don’t. With any of the contemporary drug memoirs, you get the feeling that your reading something written by a person with something going on in their life besides drugs. You get the impression that the authors, the subjects, are and were alive, that they haven’t really, totally, given up. In terms of self-destruction, they were amateurs. David Carr’s book Night of The Gun for example is very interesting, the self-examination, the exploration on the subjectivity of memories, but really it’s about a journalist and family man who takes a little vacation into the drug world. American Junkie is exactly what it says it is, a story about a person who had no identity, who was unable to define himself, who had nothing to lose, a lost soul who made a home in a kind of dead place and stayed there for a long time.
It is. It was. It’s a modern tragedy, more than anything else. It’s the story of all the junkies you don’t hear about, the ones that died alone in some shitty motel room. I certainly didn’t want to do what I call ‘the postmodern memoir,’ where I play the victim, where it’s all about my weird family and how it screwed me up. I didn’t get screwed up so much by any person, I got fucked by something more profound and eternal, my nature, my blood. But look, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. American Junkie isn’t all doom and gloom, there are some funny parts. And there’s some hope, because I survived. It has an element of survival literature to it, like Papillon, who spent twenty something years trying to escape Devil’s Island. The difference is that after a point I gave up and accepted my imprisonment to heroin. I had reached that point where the drugs didn’t work anymore, and found something there. Limbo, purgatory, Hell, call it what you want. The point is I wasn’t actively trying to escape it. That just sort of happened.
One of my guiding lights when I write anything is what Nelson Algren said in the 50’s, “a writers duty is to give voice to the voiceless.” I mean, who’s more voiceless than the dead, right? All the real junkies are dead, the “people who died” as Jim Carroll would say. I was one of them. Somehow I didn’t go through that last door.
Riveting, heartbreaking, devastating, those are words I’ve heard to describe it. Girls read it and cry and wanna give me a hug. And I’ve been told that the book is addictive, people open it and then they’re hooked. They can’t stop. That was unintentional. But I’m glad people are affected by it, ordinary people. That was intended. I definitely wanted to avoid it becoming pigeonholed as ‘outlaw literature’ so to speak. A book that simply ‘preaches to the choir,’ a book by a junkie for junkies, serves no real purpose. So far, it’s looking like I achieved that goal, men and women like it, as do booky people and non-booky people, forty-somethings and teenagers, people who have done drugs and those who haven’t.
Again, it has to do with the kind of non-existence I was experiencing. I didn’t really know them. I didn’t really know anyone, and no one knew me. I sold drugs. That was all. I had customers, not friends. I saw them for a few minutes at a time, they gave me money, I gave them drugs, we mumbled a few words, slurred, and that was it. To have those people take up a larger portion of the book would have been untrue in the broader context and on top of that sensational and exploitative. But I included those parts because they contributed to the story, because it highlighted a theme of the book, my lack of identity, and despite them being like me they at least were someone, and were able to call themselves something.
If you ask any true heroin addict, they’ll tell you that their addiction began long before they stuck that first needle into their arm. That’s what the backstory is all about, a self-examination where I try to find where my addiction began, how my life got so fucked, charting the events that changed my attitudes, the events that led me to the point where a kind of death was preferred over life. Charting the erosion of hope. How living in America and our culture contributed to it. Most addicts are predisposed to drug abuse, but all that means is that they’re on the fence, in the balance. They could go either way. At some point something, or an accumulation of somethings reach a tipping point and sends them down the wrong path. I wanted to explore the forces that pulled me off the fence, and then the wind that blew me over the wrong side of the tracks. It fascinated me because I didn’t have a particularly bad childhood, you know, the usual things, abuse and that shit people often point to as the cause of anti-social behavior. I just always had this immense aloneness that was like a steel bar inside me. And I wanted to see if I could find out why my addiction was so much worse than most.
I stayed with heroin using and dealing even as my body was completely falling apart, even though I was obviously dying, because unlike most addicts, I wasn’t good at anything except selling dope. I wasn’t a writer, or family man, or father, son, anything, before the drugs. Sure, I was okay at playing music, but I was utterly unsuccessful with it, and a person can’t live in a vacuum. When you don’t have an identity and can’t define yourself by what you do, and you are not strong in yourself, you will cling to that one thing you are good at through Hell and high water, even if it’s destroying you, because otherwise it’s like you don’t even exist. That’s what this story has that other drug memoirs don’t.
I was halfway through the book when the James Frey scandal broke, and I just wanted there to be no question of the book’s truthfulness. So I dug up everything I could. I think some kind of documentation should be a requirement in nonfiction now, actually. Besides people making up these fantastic stories, memories are just so fallible. If a writer’s going to classify their story as nonfiction, as real, they should have to be able to prove it. Otherwise, just say it’s an autobiographical novel. Originally I got the idea from Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. She used her psych reports as a counterpoint to the narrator, another view to what she saw. But with me it was just about proof. Call me a cynic, but this is one of the problems with memoir in particular, an author is writing about themselves and that makes it highly vulnerable to spin. It’s insidious, omitting certain facts here and there, focusing on one aspect and ignoring another that paints a slightly different picture. It’s like reality TV, the subjects know they’re being filmed. The author is aiming his camera at himself. So I undertook this method where I wrote about myself as if I were writing about a stranger. I disconnected my ego from the process, as much as I could, without making things up.
Besides all that, I just thought people aren’t going to believe some of this unless I have some documented proof. You say you have a huge open wound on your leg and you’re pulling fragments of bone out of it and making them into a necklace–I’m just not gonna believe that unless I see something. Plus, the documents were necessary for me to reconstruct the story. There were 276 pages of hospital records, daily doctors’ notes, etc. I was in such a fog in the hospital that I never would have been able to recreate the timeline of events without them. Just like I had to interview dozens of people to reconstruct the other storyline, of my addiction and drug dealing. It was nonfiction, so I had to be accurate and truthful.
I have never really been into nonfiction. My influences, as far as style and theme came from novels, most of which were based for the most part on the author’s experiences, most of them more concerned with creating understanding for their characters rather than sympathy, most pretty bleak with depressing and/or ambiguous endings. I asked myself “Why can’t I do that? Do I have to follow this drug memoir formula?” I encountered some resistance about this, actually. When the big publishers in NY looked at American Junkie they loved it, but thought it was too bleak, too grim. They wanted the happy ending, they wanted me to find some redemption. I understand why. It has to do with a kind of escapism and simplicity that the public wants. Well you know what? It’s not that simple, it’s not black and white, drugs bad, recovery good. There is always the grey. I was a heroin addict and dealer for a long time. I found a degree of success doing it, money, status, stability, security. I found peace. That was the truth. And when I quit, it wasn’t like the sun came out for the first time in twenty years. I was in the hospital for six fucking months and came out a broken man, physically and emotionally, to an extent. There was no saccharine happy ending. I did permanent damage. There were lasting consequences. Besides being the truth, I felt it was the responsible thing to do. Apparently it wasn’t as uplifting as some people wanted, but they seem to have forgotten that the ending of nonfiction doesn’t have to be that way any more than a novel’s does. The catharsis a reader experiences when they finish a book, even nonfiction, doesn’t have to be all ‘happy shiny time,’ all it has to show is that the protagonist has turned a corner. Which I did.
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.
This is a bag.
This is a bag on drugs.
It’s that time of the month again. No, I haven’t had a sex change. It’s time for me to write something. Every month, they said. I don’t know what to write. Ever since I gave up poetry, and chose to pursue longer writing projects, my mind has gone blank when it comes to shorter writing projects. I suppose I could list my smartass facebook updates. In between the other stuff.
Tom Hansen is in line at Wal-Mart. With my little tent, drooling over tomorrow morning’s bargains. The parking lot is filled with Scummers. I have a couple PB&J sammies to tide me over. I hope I don’t get trampled.
I live in a cramped attic. It has a very low ceiling, just a few inches over my head. Very little headspace causes a kind of claustrophobia, I think. A kind of pressure. There’s about six feet of horizontal ceiling and then it begins to angle downward on both sides. I think it affects me. It confuses me. Is it a collapsing wall, or a pushed down ceiling? I can’t decide. I do know this; I don’t want to bang my head because it reminds me of a kind of music I hate. I live in fear.
Tom Hansen likes the ones that are a little dirty.
I know one more thing. I have a messy desk. On it right now are five hats, two empty coffee cups, a large bottle of hydrogen peroxide, three pairs of sunglasses, a screwdriver, a large regular candle, a big black skull-shaped candle, eight books (Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Chourmo and Solea by Jean-Claude Izzo, Paper Shadows by Wayson Choy, Whatever by Michel Houellebecq, Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg, and Lila Says by Chimo), a lamp, a flashlight (the power goes out here a lot), two ashtrays, four empty cigarette packs, one half empty cigarette pack, two light bulbs, three rags, a flash drive, a Zippo lighter, a Bic lighter, a bottle of Ronson Lighter Fuel, a bunch of blank cd’s, adidas deodorant, a pack of Bic Metal shavers, dozens of scraps of paper and countless letters I am terrified to open.
I write in an uncomfortable chair. I heard some writers spend thousands of dollars on their chairs. Henry Miller said he couldn’t write if he was comfortable. So maybe that’s good. I use an IBM X31 laptop to write on. My trusty little weapon. Most of the letters are worn off. There are bread crumbs and dust and dirt and shit in between the keys. Sometimes a key gets stuck and I have to push down hard and you can hear a crunching sound. I’ve been waiting for the laptop to die for two years now but it doesn’t want to apparently.
The next guy who has to use ten thousand words to order his coffee is gonna get it. Why do people have to regale their baristas with epic tales of their cute dog and his flourescent orange poop when there are a hundred desperate coffee junkies in line on the verge of collapse?
Here’s another thing I know. Nonfiction is tricky especially when you’re writing about yourself. You need to put your perceptions under the electron microscope. You are that frog you had to dissect in high school. Cut yourself open. Hold your nose.
Hey Joggers! Thanks for fucking my afternoon.
I know one more thing. But I forgot what it was.