Paula Priamos’s The Shyster’s Daughter is a beautifully written, charged, addictive “detective-noir” memoir—utterly absorbing and packed with sharp details, evoking a Southern California rarely seen on the page, replete with strip bars and casinos.

Priamos investigates the mysterious death of her high-profile defense lawyer father, describing the shady deals and characters that led to his disbarment.  She also gives a vivid portrait of her Greek American family caught up in the scandal-obsessed, drug-addicted culture of California in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

It was 4:30 p.m. by the time we got on the road. Me, Melinda, and Jane.  The sky over the southern San Joaquin Valley was heavy with rain clouds. I drove. The road was slick.  The San Emigdio Mountains were topped with snow.  “You sure are quiet,” I said to Jane. Normally she was ruling the conversation. She called it a “Janeopoly.” I figured she was plotting out her novel, Puro Amor.  Not long ago she told me she could write entire paragraphs in her head and remember them for transcribing later.

An hour or so later we zoomed down the Hollywood Freeway, took the Highland Avenue exit and headed west onto Hollywood Boulevard, on our way to Book Soup. We were nearly late for the reading.

The bookstore was small, cramped, packed floor-to-ceiling with shelves. The reading area was an aisle essentially, a few folding chairs leading to a podium.  Bunched in the crowd were some writers from TNB, several of whom I’d never met. Kimberly M. Wetherell, filmmaker and writer, wore black glasses, her red hair a fire of loveliness. She mentioned that I was no longer two dimensional—no longer just words on a screen. I said something about being a figment of her imagination.

Duke Haney, author of Banned For Life and Subversia, stood in a corner wearing a black newsboy cap and a leather jacket. He was talking to Rachel Pollon, another TNBer.  She stood about half his size and got shy when I asked her to talk on camera.  “Meet Hank,” Duke said, pointing to another tall guy.  Hank stepped forward and handed me a photo of a face with the word “awesome” on it.

Lenore Zion had long, curly hair—different than when I last saw her.  She looked younger.  She asked what I had been up to. I mumbled something about 2010 being a year to write off and later bought her book, My Dead Pets Are Interesting.

Greg Boose came up and offered me a friendly hello.  He was taller than I expected, and handsome. His wife, Claire Bidwell Smith, was taller than expected, too. Both have striking eyes the color of the sea.  Greg asked me how long I was staying in town. I wanted to say a week. I wanted to say I had a suitcase and was looking for a nice padded bus bench.  “Probably headed back tonight,” I told him.  “Though maybe I’ll just stay and find my way back in the morning.”

Joe Daly, TNB’s music editor, came over and introduced himself.  His hair was shaggy, he was unshaven, he looked like rock and roll.  For some reason I had expected his hair to be short.

I met Ben Loory, too.  He has a gentle soul and a contemplative smile. Later, when he read a story of his called “The Well” and said he might cry, I almost started crying myself.

I didn’t get to meet Victoria Patterson. She read an essay about farts in literature, and her hands were shaking as she read.  It was hilarious.  Everyone laughed and held their gas.

Then there was the master of ceremonies, Greg Olear, author of the new novel Fathermucker.  A dark sweater covered his “Brave New World” T-shirt.  He gave me a guy hug and we made small talk.  I met his wife, Stephanie, too—not a writer, but a ferocious singer.  Steph was all hugs. She talked to a college friend from Syracuse, and they laughed about old times.

 

 

WATCH: GREG OLEAR/TNBERS AT BOOK SOUP

VIEW: JANE HAWLEY PHOTOS FROM BOOK SOUP

 

After the event, many of us headed over to Mirabelle, a nearby bar and restaurant. Brad Listi carried a sack of books and asked what I was up to and where I’d been. I didn’t want to dish out my sob story right then, so I just talked opportunities, my new book of poetry, the interest of an agent in my novel Anhinga, and so on.

Inside the bar, Jane came suddenly to life. She talked and talked and I grew quiet as she and a new friend walked to where Ben, Duke and the others were hanging out. Greg was at the bar drinking a beer. He ordered me some water.  I listened to Stephanie and her friend talking about their college days. I was content.

Melinda was quiet. She used to write (Lenore recognized her from her defunct blog), and she does have a voice. But now, for the most part, she just comes to my Random Writers Workshop, where I prod people like her to write novels and dream big. Jesse from the workshop was there, too. He downed a few drinks and talked shop with Ben Loory.

We were there for about an hour before heading home.  Jane fell asleep in the back of the car and began snoring. Rain poured over Interstate 5, turning into slush as we hit the Tejon Pass, the hump over the San Andreas Fault that marks the downward slide into the Central Valley.

“You okay?” Melinda asked. She could tell I couldn’t see the lines on the road.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “Just gotta see the lanes. I don’t mind driving in storms.”  I was smiling a little, eyes  straight ahead. I felt strangely at ease, like I was passing through a kind of personal storm, releasing it, washing it away on the rain-slicked desert road.

As we rolled back into Bakersfield, Jane woke up. By now it was one o’clock, and still raining.  I pulled into Melinda’s driveway.  We got out.  Jane said a quick goodbye, ran to her car, and drove away.  A pile of leaves in the neighbor’s gutter had caused a flood in front of Melinda’s house. I grabbed a hoe from the garage and started moving the pile. Melinda watched me briefly, then went inside, to bed.  I stayed outside and pushed and pulled and hacked at the pile of leaves and branches until a stream was created.  I stood alone in the rain and watched the water flow down the street.  Rain came down against the lawns and streets of Bakersfield in the night.  It was quiet otherwise, no signs of life, and I stood alone in the rain, content to know that the flood was gone.

 

 

With a circulation of over two million, Gustavo Arellano’s nationally syndicated column “¡Ask a Mexican!” uses satire, humor, and history to expose ignorance and stereotypes, educate, and piss people off all at once.  Arellano is a longtime staff writer for the OC Weekly (now managing editor), and he’s been the subject of press coverage in the L.A. Times, Houston Chronicle, Reuters, Mexico City’s El Universal, The Today Show, Hannity and Colmes, Nightline, The New York Times, Good Morning America, Utne, and The Colbert Report.  His new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is scheduled for April 2012.

Through “¡Ask a Mexican!” and his subsequent book of the same title (and soon to be a play), I learned many things, including what a Dirty Sanchez means and how many Mexican swear words originate from the simple word mother. My idealization of César Chávez was busted open. Of Newport Beach, where I went through junior high and high school, and where my family became members of the Balboa Bay Club, Arellano writes, “The Balboa Bay Club represents all that’s reprehensible with the Old Orange County.”


James Brown’s memoir The Los Angeles Diaries is one of those books that writers hear other writers discussing with reverence, and that’s how I discovered it in 2004. This River, out now, serves as a postscript to The Los Angeles Diaries, and it equals its precursor in both skill and vision.

James Brown’s prose is tight and spare, which contrasts starkly with the chaos of his life, including the suicides of both his siblings, and his own battles with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Each chapter from The Los Angeles Diaries and This River is a stand-alone piece. The layering of chapters—and now of books—delivers a staggering panoramic perspective.

Of This River, Tim O’Brien writes, “A beautifully crafted and intensely moving book. Without artifice or pretension—without false moves of any sort—James Brown goes after the biggest literary game: death, love, children, degeneration, hopelessness, hope.”

Jim and I met when we discovered that our books had the same release date of March 1st. I was already a fan of The Los Angeles Diaries and had emailed him long before to tell him. We soon decided to team up and do readings together, as well as simply support each other through the publication process. In this spirit, he agreed to answer my questions.

 

 

 

 

In The Los Angeles Diaries, after a scene with your father, you write:

I’ve mined the territory before, if not this particular moment then something like it, and I’ve done it so often that I find myself confusing what actually happened with how I imagine it. In trying to sort between autobiography and fiction, or invention, and then trying to put the pieces together so that they make some kind of sense, I’ve come to think that the truth as it occurs isn’t of much use to me other than, say, as a catalyst for a story.

As a writer, I’m curious about this passage. I’d just like you to comment further. Why memoir over fiction? Or not. You’ve written fiction as well. How do you distinguish the two, etc?

 

Memory is fallible. It is also non-sequential. I can’t recall the past precisely as it may have occurred, especially whenever it is I’m writing about took place many years earlier. But I can recall more than its essence, and what I’m after when I write memoir is an emotional truth that, I hope, transcends the straight, literal experience. Memoir is not journalism anymore than it is fiction. At the same time there are lines you simply don’t cross in memoir that you would or might in fiction. You must tell your story, to the best of your abilities, as honestly as you can in memoir. It’s presumed you’re telling the truth in this genre, and you owe it to your reader to uphold that presumption, or promise. To blatantly do otherwise is to lie, and that’s the art of fiction, not memoir.

 

We’ve discussed a little about subject matter—whether you choose what to write, or whether it chooses you. I’m wondering if you could speak on this topic?

 

I believe the material chooses the writer, if the writer allows it. You write about what you care most about, what you know most about, what you think most about, the memories that haunt, your obsessions, your shortcomings, your successes and failures, and how all these experiences and feelings have shaped how you see yourself and others, particularly those you love most in this crazy world.

 

You come from a working class background. You and your brother and sister chose to pursue careers in art. Can you speak about this?

 

I’m not sure. I think my brother set the pace when he chose acting. His passion was contagious, though our mother started him on this path when he was just a kid. My brother, like my father and sister, were also big readers, and I think I originally began writing to please my brother, since I looked up to him so much, and soon enough it became a passion, which is a good thing, because as a teenager I’d also developed a strong interest in crime, the easy money, the rush that comes from robbing and stealing, as well as drug and alcohol habits.

 

Do you envision a third memoir? Or is that impossible to know?

 

I do envision one more memoir, but I can’t, and won’t, return to the dark places of my first two. This third one I want to be about getting and staying sober. I want to show another side, a better one built around this wonderful gift I’ve been given in sobriety, a second shot at life.

 

Did you have a structure in mind for your memoirs or did the pieces collect and build into a cohesive whole?

 

I had a structure in mind, but it wasn’t sequential. I wanted to write about only those events in life that affected me most, the memories I couldn’t shake, that I’d lived with for years. I felt if I didn’t write The Los Angeles Diaries, if I didn’t just come out and tell the truth about the things that haunted and troubled me, of the ugly person I could be and had become in large part because of my addictions, that I could never move forward. The book has a beginning, middle and end, just not in that order.

 

Your prose is, like O’Brien points out, without artifice or pretension. I’m curious about what writers you admire—and which writers influence your work.

 

Actually I’m a big fan of Tim O’Brien, and his work, particularly The Things They Carry, has had a strong influence on me. I also admire Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov, Raymond Carver, and Hemingway.

 

You have quite a history with the publishing industry. Can you give an overview of your experiences and comment on the industry?

 

The industry has been good to me, though I could always complain that my career could and should be better. But what’s the point of whining? “Less successful” writers would call me ungrateful. “More successful” ones would think I’m jealous. The point is, it’s the process of writing that defines success, not publication. You know when you’re doing good work, and when you’re on a roll, a streak, there’s your real pleasure. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Jim and I will be reading at Skylight in Los Angeles on March 16th at 7:30 p.m. and at Vroman’s in Pasadena on March 24th at 7:00 p.m.


Hair

By Victoria Patterson

Essay

 


 

It’s gratifying to publish without gatekeepers, and, because of this freedom, there’s a goldmine of scrappy, unique, and creative posts on TNB.

I enjoy reading the comments sometimes as much or more than the posts.Commenting is a skill, one that I haven’t developed.

TNB thrives on the intelligent, lively, supportive, and witty personalities of its core contributors.

On my TNB year anniversary, I list 20 aspirations and thoughts about my writing (sort of like a New Year’s resolutions list), with the hope that you offer some of yours:

 

This email was written to Justin Benton in December 2009 in response to his essay “How to Disappear Completely.”

 

Dear Justin,

Again, thanks for your essay.  I’d been toying with the idea of deactivating my account, and your essay was the tipping point.  Since deactivating, I’ve gone through all sorts of emotions and experienced various things.  I figured I’d give myself permission to email you.

FB is not healthy for people like me.  I joined for the wrong reason–purely self-promotional.  To sell my book.  And I went at it aggressively.  (I had something like 620 friends at the time of my deactivation.)  The more desperate I felt about my book sales and thus my prospects for selling my novel, the more actively I campaigned for friends.  Then I felt bad because people were posting about their lives–genuine, heartfelt–and all I posted were articles I’d written and good reviews, etc.  So I tried to throw in a few pithy and/or heartfelt posts now and then, or comment on other people’s posts–to disguise my blatant self-promotion.  And I just found myself thinking way too much about what to post or what to comment–instead of what story I might write.

I found that FB was a black hole of massive time suckage.  The voyeuristic writer could spend hours poking around on FB.  I knew too much about people–all of this useless information rattling around.  And some of it was very personal information–but I knew it in an impersonal and artificial way: a fellow writer’s mother committed suicide; the “friends” who went into labor and gave birth; mothers in distress with toddlers and newborns, lonely and seeking empathetic listeners, or complaining about the monotonous parenting drill; a “friend’s” relationship drama, which kept me guessing as to his latest love triangles; a “friend’s” struggle to stay off booze; another “friend’s” attempt to appear sexy and hip, posting sad, provocative photos of herself.

FB enhanced my misanthropic tendencies.  The “friend” getting her MFA at a well known college, trying to sound wise and hip and cool, posting photos of fat people at Wal Mart, all to further enhance her hip persona. The “friend” who referred to her children as “kidlets” in every one of her super upbeat and therefore tremendously sad postings.  “They’re people,” I wanted to tell her.  “Don’t demean them with that awful term that’s meant to be cute, but in the end reveals your own desperation.”  It seemed as if everyone was shouting, “Look at me!  Look at me!  I’m important!  I’m somebody!”  And it just got so noisy.  And it made me sad.  And then I was doing it as well.

The only temptation to go back on FB has come when I’ve received good news about my book.  I want to post it, in a gloat post, so that others can comment, and slap my back. But when I think about the glut of other writers self-promoting on FB, I realize that it probably doesn’t help that much with book sales.  In fact, with some of the more well-known writers I’ve friended on FB, by reading their daily postings and twitterings, I’ve found myself less likely to want to read their work.  I won’t name any names–but there’s something off-putting about needing constant attention, and the mystery of a writer is killed.

I did have two people contact me in a where are you email, why’d you quit FB because I enjoyed reading links to your articles, etc., and I directed them to you essay and my comments as an explanation–but so far, that’s it.

With two young children and a busy schedule, I have minimal time to read and write–and quitting FB has been liberating, allowing me to refocus.  I’m relieved.  I feel tugs of FB withdrawal, but I remind myself that just because I don’t post about my book receiving an accolade, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count or didn’t happen.  The tree did fall in the forest, and I don’t have to direct every one’s attention to it.

I hope I have the capacity to stay off FB.

Thanks.

Best,

Victoria Patterson