Recent Work By Simon Smithson

I met Cynthia Hawkins through our mutual contributions to TNB, and I instantly liked her take on the world of cinema, how it overlaps into a wider culture, and its – at times deeply personal – connection to her own life. Also, she has a great story about meeting Ralph Fiennes and then seeing his penis in Red Dragon. So it was a pleasure to work with her on some deconstructions of 80s action movies, The Expendables, and the modern-day sequels to and remakes of those same 80s action movies (sometimes all the mis-en-scene in the world just isn’t as important as watching Randy Couture punching a burning Stone Cold Steve Austin in the face). And it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with her on the anthology Writing Off Script, which is now available on Amazon, and which this interview is taken from.

This time, rather than working through our favourite action flicks, Dr. Hawkins and I are skipping over a lot of the throat-slitting and explosions in favour of what turned out to be a more academic discussion; I sincerely hope I come off sounding more intelligent than I feel [editor’s note: I don’t].

SS: Let me begin by saying I like this project very much; I’m fascinated by the idea that different art forms and the techniques behind them can overlap and complement each other’s inherent strengths and weaknesses. Is it pretentious of me to cold-bloodedly use the word ‘synergy’ in the opening paragraph? Almost definitely it is, but either way, I think there’s something – and probably a number of things – to be learned from different mediums, specifically, in this case, film. And I think the obvious starting point is to ask: what have you, Cynthia Hawkins, as a writer, learned from film?

CH: The overlap in the arts, I’m fascinated by that as well and how you can listen to someone describing the craft of painting or composing music and so on and it’ll sound not so unlike someone describing the craft of writing.

Probably the biggest thing I learned from film early on was how to visualize the story I wanted to write, how to understand it as a sequence of scenes to be experienced as viscerally in the writing as it might be on screen. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that they see their stories like little movies in their minds first, but there you have it! What about you? What have you, Simon Smithson, as a writer, learned from film?

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from films is the necessity of properly working the mechanics of art. And the biggest inspiration I’ve had on that front was from watching Orson Welles movies. I was a real late-comer to Citizen Kane; of course, I’d heard all the hype about ‘best movie ever made,’ ‘20th century genius,’ etc., etc., and I honestly wasn’t expecting it to hold up under the weight of my expectations. But maybe five minutes in, I was transfixed.

There’s something about Kane that feels like there’s such a degree of control to every last part of it – the angles, the set-pieces, even the depth effects that they invented for the film (thanks, Wikipedia), but that kind of artistry is utterly invisible unless you’re looking for it. If you look at the opening shot to Touch of Evil the same thing is present – that one-take shot that follows all the movement down the street from the first frame to the bomb going off, in this easy, high glide – it makes me think of clockwork. There are all these tiny moving pieces, not one out of place, every piece doing its job in total harmony with the others, but you don’t see them with the clock-face shut. You just see the end product, smoothly working away.

This reminds me, if I may reference one of the authors in the anthology, I’d once complemented D. R. Haney on his impeccable craft as a writer, being as obsessed as I am about the mechanics behind things, and in reply he’d said he’d hoped everything was done so seamlessly no one noticed the craft. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it: “Properly working the mechanics of art.” I like the way you put that.

And now for another reference. In Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, there’s that scene in which a viewing of Citizen Kane revolutionizes the way Sam and Joe draw comics, having been inspired by Citizen Kane’s “inextricable braiding of image and narrative.” Chabon spends something like three pages extolling the film’s innovations, so now I always think of that novel when anyone mentions Citizen Kane. I’m wondering if, like Sam and Joe, you’ve put into practice any particular technique you’ve gleaned from Citizen Kane in addition to the greater goal of mastering the mechanics of art? Or can those sort of cinematic tricks even translate to writing?

Well, I scream more threats about Sing Sing at people now when they interrupt my writing time. It helps.

But Haney’s right, as he usually is when it comes to questions of technique. That’s when you know someone’s good at what they do – when you can’t see the workings of the woman being sawed in half, you just see the end result. It’s the same way you never see the hours upon hours that, for example, baseball pitchers put in – you just see them deliver that 103mph fastball over home plate and it seems perfectly natural and effortless.

Sorry, I’m straying off topic.

Kane made me think more and more about what was going on with my writing and how I could consciously make the decision to make it better. I became much more aware of the interplay of all the moving pieces; character and narrative and plot can all be made to work together seamlessly, and that awareness, I think, if it’s leveraged, serves to make a piece as strong as it can possibly be. And I spend more time editing now than I used to, and a much bigger part of that process is actually thinking about what it is I want to come away with at the end rather than making a slapdash run at the finish line.

Speaking of technique and cinematic tricks, I have a question – have you ever worked on scripts? If so, have you found it altered the way you looked at other forms of writing?

I haven’t, or at least not professionally, but I once adapted a prose manuscript I was writing just to see if it might work better as a screenplay. Of my many obsessions, the rhythm and sound of language is one, and of course all of that goes out the window when you’ve pared something down to the dialogue of your characters for a script. I don’t know if that exercise prompted me to look differently at other forms of writing, but it certainly made me look at my own fiction writing as being too dependent on the fineness of the prose to carry a story rather than the characters themselves. I think this must be why my go-to movies for writerly inspiration are always ones with exceptional dialogue, movies by Richard Linklater or Tarantino, for example, because dialogue is the cog in the machine I really want to fine-tune.

But I want to ask you this same question because I know, or at least I think I know, that you have worked on scripts.

I have, and again, we’re back to technique. That being said, I’m hardly professionally qualified when it comes to scriptwriting, so any advice I give should probably be taken with a bag of salt.

One of the standard questions my more-qualified-colleagues ask about scripts when we’re fine-tuning them is ‘What’s the purpose of this scene?’ It’s one of those classic questions you can practically hear Well-Dressed Hollywood Guy #1 asking in a pitch meeting, but as with most clichés, it’s so familiar for a reason – scenes in a script should have a purpose, whether it’s establishing character, setting time and place, driving the plot forward, or, ideally, some combination of things. Obviously there are more examples to give, but the point is that a scene shouldn’t just be sitting there idle.

And that question is something I’ve taken back with me to other forms of writing as a way of paring back the unwanted fat: What’s this thing I’ve written doing? What’s its purpose? You can do literally anything with the blank page once you’ve begun; the point is to do something that works. Why does the mailman unexpectedly enter on page 22 of your novel? Is he bringing a couriered letter in to reveal your lawyer main character is about to get served with a paternity suit from his last client? Is it because the flying head of Baron Veronica has been pursuing him through the outskirts of the village and now the mailman is seeking refuge in the first place he sees with a horseshoe on the door, a horseshoe that will later become important when the three heroes discover its mythical origin? Or is it just because? Because ‘just because’ isn’t – 99 times out of 100 – a good enough answer. Plumbers don’t tack extra taps onto pipes ‘just because.’ Car designers don’t throw an extra handful of parts under the hood at random and cross their fingers that something cool will happen. And writers shouldn’t either.

If you don’t write a novel, or at least a short story, titled The Flying Head of Baron Veronica, I think I might.

“What’s the purpose of this scene” — that’s a great question to ask. I’m reminded of a professor who used to point to a passage in a manuscript and ask, “So what?” Your way is less curmudgeony. All the fat trimmed. All the tiny pieces in working order. I do love the idea of film-inspiration leading to a tightly constructed, well-crafted, well-honed work of fiction. I feel like cracking my knuckles and getting to work, in fact. Maybe on The Flying Head of Baron Veronica. What do you make of, though, (or do with, in terms of inspiration) films that are a bit looser? Say, Godard’s films in which randomness isn’t exactly ruled out or Jarmusch films in which long moments of nothingness are left in?

Oh, TFHOBH is to be my opus, and Mr. Holland can eat it.

Well, this is where we enter blurrier territory, but I think with directors like Godard and Jarmusch, who are two favourites of mine, what’s happening really is integral to the film as a whole. Setting tone, creating a universe, creating the kind of experience that draws you in (especially Godard) is something that isn’t necessarily plot or character dependent – and it adds so much (if it’s done right). Like that great moment from the start of Blade Runner; we don’t even know who Roy Batty is at that point, but we have this overarching view of the city and that one bright blue eye. Or Sam Mendes and his water-as-death symbolism; not integral to the plot, but certainly powerful. And that, I think, is when you start talking about the director as auteur; someone who brings a vision of a time and place to life – which is something that good authors can also do. The Beach, by Alex Garland. His descriptions of the main character, Richard’s, travels in Thailand are immediately familiar to people who’ve been there, but also, in a strange way, immediately familiar to people who haven’t – the scene is just so effective in its description.

The challenge I think, when making a film, is doing it in such a way that you create the scene with some immediacy – you’ve only got about two hours, on average, to create and maintain this world. The challenge when writing is to not waffle on for thousands of words (word limits are great tools, that way).

I think Jarmusch’s films, more than others, have taught me as a writer not to shy away from the quiet spaces of a story if those spaces are, in fact, part of the experience. There’s a scene in Stranger than Paradise I’m always referencing in which the characters are watching television for several minutes. We can’t see what they’re watching. We can just see the flickering of it on their faces. They don’t say anything. They don’t react. It’s the same thing when they go to have a look at the lake and there’s nothing but fog to stare out at. Anyone else might have cut those scenes out in favor of moving the story along faster, but that juxtaposition is, in a way, the story.

Of course, then I have to decide as a writer whether I’m creating a quiet space that belongs in the narrative or indulgently waffling on for thousands of words. Ay, there’s the rub.

Writing is hard.

Or look at what Jarmusch does in Coffee and Cigarettes – it isn’t a plot as such, just a layered interconnection of themes. He uses the repeated lines, the black and white film, and the whole notion of coffee and cigarettes to stack layers of meaning vertically, not horizontally. He’s not necessarily constructing a narrative, just building upon what’s gone before. Again, juxtaposition and convergence are integral to the story.

Christ, did I really just say ‘stack layers of meaning vertically, not horizontally’? Why don’t I just give in and get myself fitted for a black turtleneck?

But that kind of touch is really important in terms of artistic merit, and hey, artistic merit is important. Which is exactly why it’s hard, and vice versa. Fortunately, the editing process exists to pare down the waffle and turn into that space of quiet meaning. Stephen King had a good line about subtext in writing – to paraphrase, if you find little subtextual icons occurring, by all means, roll with them, but don’t break your back trying to shoehorn in a meaning that isn’t there.

You know what killed me? And I hate to say this, but the film adaptation of The Godfather. I know it’s heresy, but damn. No dice.

Only someone in a black turtleneck would say such a thing! There’ll be a horse head in your bed in the morning. But … this is where I admit to something I’ve been harboring for half a lifetime: in short, I agree. I’m curious, though, if your criticism is of the film on its own merits or of the film in relation to the novel?

If a black turtleneck I must wear, then I’m going to wear the blackest damn turtleneck the world has ever seen. And I’m going to eat the most organic yogurt while I listen to Ravi Shankar and smoke unfiltered European cigarettes.

The Godfather, to me, is a prime example of displaying what books can do that films can’t (obviously, that cuts both ways, and there are things film as medium can accomplish that the written word cannot). The book is fantastic in its attention to depth and experience – one good example is the introduction of Paulie Gatto, right at the beginning. The novel has a great little section about Gatto idly planning stealing the bridal money bag, which has been growing fatter and fatter throughout the day, and acting as this watchful, ambitious schemer from the word go, and that’s a part of his character that only gets more and more important. By contrast, the film has this throwaway line of him sighing ‘If this was anybody else’s wedding!’ and then bam, move on. It may not sound like much, but it adds up, and it makes watching the film feel jerky and disjointed. So yes, my criticism is very definitely regarding the film as compared to the novel.

How about yourself?

I wish I had equally intelligent reasons for dismissing it (though I did appreciate some of my favorite actors in iconic roles and can do a mean Don Vito impersonation), but, alas, I really don’t. I’d seen it during my gangster/mafia-film phase, and when viewed with all of the other greats it was the one that had interested me the least. I should re-watch it as a grown-up to be more fair to it … or, perhaps better yet, read the novel.

It’s a rare case, I think, when a film adaptation manages to get everything just right in respect to its source. Novels just have so much more room to move in.

One thing I wish novels could do that movies can do is have a musical score. I mean, sure, people have played with the idea, marketed their books with playlists, but it’ll never be to the same effect as what film can do with the right piece of music synced to the action in a scene. Maybe this is where I get my obsession with tweaking the sound of the language in my own fiction. I gave poet Jayne Cortez a ride to a reading once, and I’d been surprised to find she’d shown up without the band she’d been known to read her poetry with. When I asked her about it, she said, “Tonight I’m my own band.” So maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m trying to be my own musical score. I have to say, I’m laughing a little at myself as I type that. And I’m wearing a black turtleneck and finishing off some organic yogurt.

One day, I’m sure, the singing birthday card technology will evolve to the point where your wildest dreams come true.

I agree; you’re actually dealing with two mediums, combined into one, working together, when considering film and music. There have been a couple of times now where I’ve heard the film score before seeing the film; it’s amazing the difference it makes to the whole experience.

As for the use of music itself – Zimmer and Nolan, for example? Those guys make for a mean double act. Two-Face’s final scene in The Dark Knight is underscored by this slow, building cello and string piece which totally darkens and spells out everything unfolding. An additional extra of music – and Zimmer’s a prime example here again – is that recurring leitmotifs can be used in a way that’s totally subtle and below the immediate viewing threshold.

Man. Directors have it so easy, you know?

Zimmer and Nolan, yes. Or the Coens and Carter Burwell. Or Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. I love these sorts of double acts.

So, let me ask you about the possibility that being influenced by movies could lead one astray as a writer. Yes, the arts can influence and overlap, and you and I and a lot of other writers love that — but I know many who believe film to be the one medium that has been gradually eroding the art and readership of the novel since its inception. So what do we say to this camp? Do they have a valid point?

It’s tough to say; I think the pervasiveness in film in culture is something that has an effect, like it or not – but as to whether it would actually erode the art of the novel? Well, that comes down to the novelist, doesn’t it? Matthew Reilly, for instance, is renowned for his approach of basically writing action-scene novels as if they were unfolding on screen, and his readers love him for it, but I’m not sure that cinema automatically influences authorial choices. The audience might change, it’s true (after all, the reality is that time and money are finite, and audiences can only invest their stores of both in one thing at a time), but there isn’t anything keeping writers from working on and evolving their craft.

What’s always interesting are the book-of-the-film releases. I used to love those when I was younger – have you ever read one of those things?

One. John Carpenter’s Starman: A Novel. I read it when I was a kid after obsessing over the movie for awhile in my kid-like way of obsessing over movies that don’t quite deserve it. I mean, we all know Carpenter’s masterpiece was Big Trouble in Little China. This book-of-the-film had four co-authors, I think, and came off as if perhaps they were just padding the screenplay and doing so in the most straightforward language possible. My young, obsessive self was not impressed. I will say that film seems to translate more easily to a novel than adapting a novel to film. With the latter you lose a lot in the adaptation, and in the case of the former you get a pretty lean and mean narrative that moves right along. That’s not a bad thing… as long as it’s as lovely as it is functional, I suppose. John Carpenter’s Starman was not.

So why were you drawn to book-of-the-film releases and what did you get out of them? Particularly as a writer?

Big Trouble in Little China. Now there was a movie. I used to watch and re-watch that obsessively as a kid, especially the opening fight scene. And the bit where Lo Pan and Egg Shen duke it out with as magical avatars of, I don’t know, purple and green light or something.

I think, as a kid who read a lot, I wanted to experience the movie I loved in as many ways as possible, and the book-of-the-film adaptations were a great way for me to do that. But then, unfortunately, I discovered that often things took place in the books which never took place in the film, and it threw me (I was pretty young). I wanted to know why I’d never seen the giant spider in Last Crusade, the Vigo-possessed Ray almost crashing the EctoMobile in Ghostbusters 2, or the Riddler having a super-buff bodysuit in Batman Forever. Then I grew up and found out that it was because the writers were often working from older screenplay drafts that had been edited before release, and so whole scenes were in the version they were working from that didn’t end up in the film.

I think I learned that sometimes, it’s best to leave well enough alone. Sometimes it can be great to get further insight into a character’s thoughts and feelings; another strength of the novel. However, sometimes the license taken by the author went too far – in the book of The Terminator the author goes into the Terminator’s point of view and it totally destroys the image of this thing as a merciless killing machine; an absolute. Sometimes it’s good to be black and white, rather than gray.

There’s that (probably well-worn) creative writing assignment in which students rewrite another writer’s poem by hand — the idea being that you process things differently when you write them out (as opposed to read or even type) and the close consideration of the poem along with the physical act of writing might jar something in your creative mind. There’s probably equal value in writing out a film scene or two, maybe finding economy in storytelling or finding the language of a scene. And if that’s true, those book-of-the-film authors must be nuts-and-bolts wizards … maybe even secret creative geniuses.

By the way, I am now wishing that I’d begun this whole conversation by saying in my best John Wayne/Jack Burton accent, “This is Cynthia Hawkins for the Pork Chop Express, and I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’.”

Well I’m not sure if there’s been an adaptation of Big Trouble in Little China. There may still be time yet…

Hunter S. Thompson famously did that – rewrote other works in order to gain insight into the process and the mind-frame of the writer, learning by doing, if you will. It requires a certain presence of mind, I think, as does learning from film as a writer, or vice versa.

Ah well. Come back and talk to me again after I’ve watched Citizen Kane a few more time, and I’ve stolen Welles’s genius.

And then put it to work by writing the book adaptation of Inception 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema, is out now through Calavera Books, and available on Amazon and Kindle-supported devices as a downloadable ebook. All proceeds will go towards benefiting the JET 14 Program through the Joplin Schools Tornado Relief Fund.

Neal Pollack changed my life one time; the year was 2002 and I was twenty, by day studying for the second year of an English degree, by night working bar in city clubs. Like most of my peers I was still trying to find my way in life, and the bloated, over-serious study materials and ever-duller blend of vampire fiction and subtextually desperate classroom readouts that flooded my Creative Fiction classes had all but killed my ambition of writing for a living in favour of the idea of moving into hospitalities management (not that I was by any means immune to the lure of inflicting my bad writing onto everyone around me; most of my essays were fanboy attempts at being Chuck Palahniuk and falling leagues short of Chuck Shurley).

And then a friend loaned me a copy of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, and I, for the first time in my life, found a book I truly couldn’t put down. It was as flawlessly put-together as any of the best works I’d ever read, excruciatingly funny, and it viciously ran a satirical razorblade across the hamstrings of the 20th century’s most puffed-up, pretentious pieces of creative non-fiction and literary journalism. And, most importantly, it was the first time for a long time that reading had provided me with a genuinely good time.

I’ve been going to bed lately on a pile of jagged stones covered only by a thin cotton blanket half-eaten by moths. This is one of the worst possible sleeping arrangements I could imagine. Sometimes I wonder how things got this way, but I have to remember that I am a journalist, novelist, radio producer and poet, and I am here in Albania to find out what life is really like for a family in the poorest country in Europe. I have personally borne witness to much human suffering. People here are beset by unwanted refugees, obscure diseases, and limited opportunities to express themselves through fashion. I must tell you: things are not good.

– The Albania of My Existence, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

In short, Pollack made me want to be a writer again, and I started to follow his blog (which in turn lead me to the likes of Matt Tobey, Ian Carey, Greg Robillard, and Darci Ratliff. And, regrettably, Wayne Gladstone. And shortly after Pollack followed up the Anthology with Never Mind the Pollacks, a rock and roll novel that featured a(nother) fictitious version of himself as the world’s greatest rock critic, and unwitting instigator of some of the greatest moments of rock history.

The rain came. Pollack opened his mouth, filling it with acidic water. He spat a broad stream of it onto the stage. It caught Dylan between the eyes.

“Judas!” Pollack cried. “Judas!”

Never Mind the Pollacks

From there, Pollack moved into non-fiction territory with his parenting memoir Alternadad, the detailing of his quest to maintain his lifestyle and coolness in the face of becoming a father, and Stretch, the yoga memoir that now sees him carrying out pose requests at readings. Oh, and he’s one of the guys behind the parenting community Offsprung.

And now Pollack has released his newest work, Jewball, a book featuring basketball players, Nazis, punches to the face and knives to the heart, drinking, gambling, sex, love, and standing up against the forces of darkness; not necessarily in that order. In a sign of the time he’s released it himself through Amazon, and now, on TNB, Pollack discusses Jewball, basketball, the realm of noir and the age of the ebook.

SS: In brief, what’s Jewball about?

NP: It’s a noir comedy centered around a Jewish basketball team in the 1930s. The team’s coach unwittingly incurs a gambling debt to the German-American Bund, and the team has to do battle with American Nazis while also trying to claw its way to another basketball championship.

Do you think it’s a book you need to be knowledgeable about basketball or Judaism to enjoy? It keeps pretty faithfully to those two themes throughout – that being said, I don’t know a point guard from a plate of brisket, and I loved it.

I think having knowledge of or interest in those subjects would certainly help you get interested in starting the book, but once you’re immersed, Jewball is a pretty breezy read, intended for a general audience. It’s more of a noir book than a Jewish one. The Judaism isn’t laid on too thick, and while there are a lot of basketball scenes, most of them don’t get very technical.

What’s a point guard?

Point guard is a position on a basketball team. He (or she) is generally one of the shorter players; their function is to handle the ball efficiently, and to make it easier for other players to score by passing intelligently and reading defenses. They should also be able to score a bit when needed, and it’s important for point guards to make their free throws. They get fouled a lot, particularly at the end of games, because they’re always handling the ball.

What’s brisket?

It’s a cut of beef that’s often served on Jewish holidays. Generally braised, with vegetables and stock.

The characters of Jewball are all drawn from real life – the SPHAs, the Bund, David Berman and William Dudley Pelley; these were all real people. How did you find the process of writing characters that were at once a blend of fact and fiction? How much did the real-world origins of, and events surrounding, these guys color their roles in Jewball?

It depends; for some of the supporting characters like Berman and Pelley, I often turned real-life stories, garnered from nonfiction accounts, into scenes. As for secondary leads like Gottlieb, Litwack, and Kunze, I used their bios as jumping-off points, deploying some true-life stories. But because they had to play a bigger role in the narrative, I inevitably had to fictionalize a lot of their personalities and their actions. Inky Lautman, who technically was a real person, I cut from whole cloth. There’s very little material available describing Inky’s actual character and personality, so while he’s the protagonist, he’s also the least historically accurate of all my major characters. Meanwhile, certain characters, like Natalya and Charlie Shostack, were wholly fictional. That mix and match between the “real” and the “fake” informs most history-based fiction, and I drew upon the writing of historical fiction writers who I admire, like Gore Vidal, Conn Iggulden, and Kevin Baker, to try and achieve historical versimilitude while also spinning a fun story.

Tonight, like after every Saturday SPHA game, several virginities would be lost and seeds of future generations would be sown. Lips would get sucked on until they bled. Everyone was togged to the bricks and ready to stroll down Seduction Avenue. The folks in the crowd had suffered the requisite tight-quartered Shabbat with their toothless bubbes, whose apartments stank of boiled onion, whose stories about the Old Country were growing increasingly maudlin. Yes, yes, the Cossacks killed your cows and burned your synagogue. Your pain is immense. Thank you for sharing. But now it’s Saturday night.


I was thinking about a blog piece you wrote some time back about watching Shaolin Soccer and the idea of good and evil meeting across the sports field occurred to me as a motif that both Jewball and Shaolin Soccer share; one of these big, human themes that’s more than just which team gets more points on the board. More than that, though, there’s something of heroism in both of them – and in just about any good sports story you care to name. Add to that the noir ideal of the not-so-good guy fighting the good fight in a not-so-good world and you’re got Inky Lautman, the protagonist of Jewball. These larger ideals of good and evil – were they something you kept in mind throughout the writing process?

Since the novel is about Jews fighting Nazis at the dawn of World War II, those themes inevitably arise. But I also wanted some shades of gray in there. My “Inky” character is a basketball player and also a thug, though the real-life guy wasn’t. The Nazis are evil in the book, but I also wanted to paint them as bumbling and somewhat human. All the good guys have huge character flaws, except Litwack, which is kind of a flaw in itself. I read a lot of novels by Alan Furst, and he’s excellent at creating flawed protagonists who suffer from broken hearts and come from broken homes. He puts those characters against a broader historical backdrop. I tried to do the same thing with Jewball.

Did you find any inherent challenges in writing a sports novel? It’s not that common a field; did you draw any particular inspiration from either other sports works, or from non-fiction sports writing?

I don’t think a sports novel is harder to write than any other kind of novel. You have your subject matter, and your story, and you just have to lay them out with clarity and intelligence. I didn’t read much sportswriting specifically for the book. For inspiration, I mostly turned to the classic noir writers of the 30s and 40s, for mood, dialogue, and sentence structure. The book is well-served by that, I think. I like a good sports magazine feature as much as the next guy, but they’re not a great source of novelistic inspiration.

I agree with you on the noir front and how well it serves Jewball; there’s a certain peculiar enjoyment to the genre itself, and how you can sink your teeth into it – which compliments how enjoyable it always is to watch some Nazis getting their just desserts, in the face, at speed. And I liked how you paid such attention to creating the neighbourhoods and urban scenes; giving them a life of their own apart from the narrative – another noir twist?

A sense of place is very important to me as a reader. The best noirs have great plots, of course, but I rarely end up caring or thinking about the story when it comes to say, Raymond Chandler’s books. In fact, as a noir reader, I often find myself skimming narrative bits so I can get to the parts where the writer describes the vibe of place, or somehow captures the essence of a time. I wanted to do that as much as possible in Jewball.

You’re a big Jim Thompson fan, if I remember correctly – did his work touch on Jewball at all?

Only very indirectly. I turned more to David Goodis, who wrote so beautifully about Philadelphia, for this book, and I’ve also been reading a lot of Donald Westlake lately. For the Harlem chapter, I went back and read some Chester Himes.

You know what? Gottlieb thought. Fuck New York. Try spending a few months in Philadelphia and see how you like your life then. We’ve got all the soot, all the dirt, all the bums, all the corruption, and all the venereal disease that New York has, but we ain’t got DiMaggio or Broadway. Our dames are shorter and maybe not as smart, and lots of them are Catholic. It’s a real shit sandwich without the trimmings. But we still wake up in the morning, or sometimes the afternoon.


I’m always curious about how people learn and develop their writing chops and how it shapes their later work – the famous example being Hemingway and his ‘journalistic’ style of prose. In a book like Jewball, as opposed to your last couple of non-fiction offerings, you’re writing a fiction novel, you’re writing a big cast of characters, some action-packed scenes of basketball and fighting, and wrapping it all up in this over-arching storyline – and that’s a combination that I haven’t read in your work before. A lot of that seems counter to your original journalist background – is it something you draw on, nevertheless?

I think my early journalism work in Chicago prepared me pretty well to write this type of book. In my 20s, I covered some very gritty stories and wore out a lot of shoes walking the beat. This is definitely a new type of book for me, but it’s the type of book I’ve always wanted to, and always intended to, write, and I’m thrilled that I was finally able to make it happen.

As for the release of the book – what informed your decision to self-release it as an ebook as opposed to a traditional hardcopy?

It just seemed that the time was right. The technology has more than arrived, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial impulse. Also, my agent was very encouraging, so I thought, why the hell not? The process hasn’t been without its drawbacks, and it’s certainly an underdog, but let’s put it this way: Other than the first chapter, which I wrote in 2008, I started this book in February, and as I’m typing this sentence, it’s October and the book is about to come out. If I’d submitted this via the normal publishing process, Jewball might not have appeared officially until 2013.

How are you feeling about the whole ebook revolution in general? Apparently ebooks are now outselling printed by two to one on Amazon, and incredibly, three to one on Barnes and Noble. It’s a far cry from the days when the industry was proclaiming the ebook would never take off and even Stephen King couldn’t make any money from it. How do you think the changing landscape will affect authors?

It’s hard to say. Big publishing is certainly not going away, and it does appear to be finally adapting to the new landscape. It will be hard to do a “quality” launch via ebooks because the industry is so invested in gatekeeping their so-called literary standards. I also think that the biggest-name authors will mostly go through corporate houses because it’s a lot less work for them. In general, though, I think this will be good for most authors, because the options are limitless.

The SPHAs scored three baskets almost before the Rens had their warmups off.

Finally, the other team woke up and got down to business, jostling inside, making long set shots from the perimeter, restoring order. It was 26–21 after Shostack split a couple of free throws, 26–23 a few seconds after that, and then they went back and forth for a while until Inky spotted an opening, swiped the ball from the Ren point guard, and drove down for a six-foot spot-on setter that drained the nylon out of the net and drained the life from the crowd. They’d gone to 36–31 with twenty seconds to go. It looked like the SPHAs were going to (yet again unofficially) claim the title of the best basketball team in the known universe.


What was the nuts and bolts process of writing and releasing the Jewball ebook, from start to finish – as a kind of Cliff’s Notes for other readers or writers who may be interested in going down that road but haven’t yet gotten to grips with the process.

I wrote the first chapter in 2008, rewrote it in 2009, showed it to my editor who basically ignored it, and then shelved the idea for a couple of years because I wasn’t quite sure where to take the book. Then my agent approached me with the idea of self-publishing, and I said I had this basketball story I’d been meaning to tell. He encouraged me, and that was all the spark I needed. I started writing Jewball in earnest in February. By Memorial Day weekend I had a first draft. My friend Tom Fassbender, who once ran a nifty noir-themed publishing concern in L.A., agreed to look at the manuscript. He did, gave me a few notes, and by the end of July, I had a manuscript. That was a little over three months ago. Since then, it’s been copy-edited. As I write this, it’s being formatted for the Kindle. From first sentence to first sale in eight months: Big publishing couldn’t begin to dream of that speed. Getting eyeballs to the book will be hard, but it’s hard no matter how you publish.

With the great power of writers these days being able to self-publish so easily to handheld or online platforms comes the great responsiblity of the traditional work of the publishing house – editorial, marketing, design, rights administration (if they get so far as the last one). Do you wonder if, with the gates as open as they now are, we might swing to the other side of the pendulum? A great morass of underdone, unskilled work clogging up the waters of the literary marketplace?

It’s possible, I suppose. But any serious writer is going to make sure that the editorial side of things is taken care of; you need to have pride in your work. I will always work with editors whether I self-publish or not. Designers are readily available for hire; I got a friend to do a brilliant cover for Jewball. Marketing is a ball that big publishers often drop; you can viral market yourself fairly easily, and if things start going well, you can always hire a publicist for a real big push. My agent is taking care of the rights administration.

So Jewball is kind of a hybrid project. I retained my agent, hired a great copyeditor, and worked with publishing professionals all the way down the line. I just did it a lot more quickly than I otherwise would have been able. And while the book may or may not find more success through this method, it’s certainly just as good a product as it would have been if I’d published it through a conventional stream. It’s an experiment, and experiments don’t always succeed. But sometimes they do.

If you had to recommend a noir primer to a reader unfamiliar with the genre, what would be your recommendations, and why?

There are so many choices. I’d start with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, and probably Jim Thompson. There’s a nifty collection from the Library Of America that collects noir novels from the 30s and 40s by masters like James M. Cain and David Goodis. That’ll fill your nightstand or your Kindle for months.

How do you think the Phoenix Suns rebuilding program is going?

The Suns don’t have a prayer as long as Robert Sarver is the boss. That guy is the tool of tools. He’s made a tragic mess of a proud franchise that should have won a couple titles in the aughts.

Jewball is now available through Amazon.com. Neal Pollack’s site can be found at www.nealpollack.com.

Building an entire pop-cultural universe after its inception in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, these days the modern zombie tale shows more resilience than its shambling horrors, especially at the box office—the first new wave of zombie films made its arrival with Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, and subsequently led directly into Zombieland, The Walking Dead, and 28 Weeks Later on the big and small screen. Zombie video game icons Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead received rave reviews from gamer mags and fans alike, and even pillars of the literary canon, most famously Pride and Prejudice, have felt the clamp of rotten teeth around their skulls. No matter what the medium, in today’s publishing climate, zombies make for good storytelling and better business.

We were somewhere in Colorado after driving the day through Nevada and Utah, and we had miles ahead to go. The sun had set only a few minutes before, the twilight dimming over racing lengths of the Colorado River that we raced in turn, and the blue-edged black of early night was swiftly flooding the sky; we pulled into a gas station below a ridge lined with fast-food restaurants. Their signs were electric and bright against the deepening dark of the winding hills we’d driven behind us, and the plastic yellows and reds made the clean white and green panels of the gas station look more natural, somehow.

We were the only customers until a young couple in a black SUV pulled in across the empty lot. They stood close together on the other side of their car while they filled up, and talked in low voices. They both wore jeans and dark hooded tops; he put out a hand and touched her shoulder, awkwardly.

The distance from horizon to horizon above us, above the buildings and the highways, was vast, in its size, in its overwhelming impartiality. Dust from the road blew across the concrete beneath us; it settled and then passed as the breeze picked back up, and swept out into the shadows and the emptiness of the mountains and the valleys.


We were somewhere in West Texas and the man with the gut overhanging his belt was smiling as he spoke. Sweat beaded at his temples and he wore expensive-looking sunglasses under the white brim of his faded baseball cap. He was looking at Zara so I assumed he was talking to her; through the thickness of his accent I had no idea what he was saying. I kept the handle down and watched the numbers on the pump gauge race higher and higher. We’d come too close to running the tank empty. We’d been driving with the fuel light on for the last few hundred miles of old derricks and faded red soil and scrub. The orange LED had become increasingly apparent with every cresting hill that revealed nothing ahead but more of the same wide flats.

The air-conditioned convenience store of the gas station was a world away from the harsh dry oven heat of the morning outside. I grabbed a couple of bottles of water from the fridges and a pack of jerky from the display hooks and walked to the counter.

I paid with card and as soon as I’d signed the receipt and handed it back the lights flickered once and shut down. With a last despairing whine, the air conditioning choked into silence. Instantly the interior fell into shadow and the air turned still.

Customers groaned. The counter staff, a trio of women between fifty and sixty, fluttered to the computer and tried helplessly to turn it on.

‘Sorry,’ one of them called. ‘No gas. The pumps have gone too.’

Another minute and we would have been stuck here until the power came back. I made my way to the backroom bathrooms using the light of my phone’s screen to light the windowless corridor. When I came back out the power was still off. We got back into the car and drove away, leaving behind us the powerless gas station and the waiting customers, waiting still.


We were somewhere in Mississippi and we’d just crossed over both the state line and another one of the endlessly long bridges across the water. It was afternoon and I’d texted a photo of the road ahead of us to Joe Daly in San Diego. I was writing a text to someone else when I pressed a wrong button on my phone and it deleted the three weeks’s worth of conversation we’d been having.

The sun was over the sea and behind the ragged ghosts of clouds it was in glory; Zara reached down into her bag for her camera and passed it over to me.

Soon the long green marshes and waterways gave way to concrete sidewalks and suburban buildings and we found a low-roofed gas station circled with pickup trucks, with mothers in pulled-back ponytails and busy walks, with teen basketball players and laughing men in singlets holding beer cans. As we stood by the entryway a man with a head of tangled brown hair and a thin, scratchy beard walked up to Zara with carefully deferential steps. With all politeness, in a voice like road gravel and iron filings, he said hello.

‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ he asked. ‘Do you suppose I could buy a cigarette from you?’

Zara smiled and gave him one, waving away his offer of money.

‘Thank you,’ he said, and held it up to us happily, almost as if brandishing a prize. ‘First one I’ve had since I got out of jail this afternoon.’


We were somewhere in New Mexico and Zara was inside the gas station, buying something to drink on the road. I was leaning against the rough stone rear wall around the corner from the automatic doors, smoking. I’d barely lit up when the big Native American standing next to his truck straightened up and walked over to me.

‘Hey man,’ he said. ‘How are you today?’

He looked like he was somewhere past forty years old. He had a battered black cowboy hat and his face was solid and scarred and round. He wore a weathered denim jacket and a t-shirt that was rumpled and old over the size of his torso, all slack with fat and slouching muscle.

‘Well, thanks, man,’ I said. ‘How about you?’

He nodded once or twice at that, looked away, looked back.

‘Pretty good,’ he said.

He looked away, looked back.

‘That’s some accent you got there,’ he said. ‘Where are you from?’

His voice was slow and deep; melodic within a single register and unfettered by any trace of emotion.

‘Australia,’ I said. ‘Melbourne, Australia.’

‘An Aussie,’ he said, pronouncing the middle sibilants with hissing American esses, rather than buzzing Australian zeds. ‘Wow, you’re far from home.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, smiling. ‘I’m on a road trip with a friend of mine.’

‘OK,’ he said, and looked away, looked back.

‘Chester Healy is my name,’ he said, and he stuck out a hand. We shook, and his grip was even in its strength.

We spoke, and I started to notice his speech fell into a pattern free of any of the flowing syntax I associated with conversation. He broke his replies apart with that curious look away, look back, wordless every time. Our talk fell into question, response, pause. Question, response, pause.  And Chester Healy casually, unthinkingly, dropped curses where they seemed out of place, further breaking the rhythm of his words.

‘So where have you been to?’ he asked, and he lit a cigarette.

‘Oh, everywhere,’ I said. ‘We started in LA, we drove out to New York across the north, then came down South through Washington and through Louisiana and Texas, and now we’re headed back to LA.’

He paused, looked away, looked back.

‘Washington,’ he said, saying the word as if it had some further importance than any other. ‘So did you get to see that fuckin’ nigger they got there, the one who keeps throwing his weight around?’

‘Of course,’ Chester Healy said, after a pause, look away, look back, ‘My wife is a black lady, so I can’t say too much. She gives me a hard time when I say fuckin’ things like that.’

Zara came around the corner then, and I introduced her. Chester Healy looked around at the cars at their petrol pumps and rubbed a hand across his chin.

‘I better be movin’ on,’ he said. ‘Things to do.’

He paused, looked away, looked back.

‘Say, do you have a spare couple bucks?’ he asked.

I only had a five in my wallet, and I handed it over. He shook my hand again. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘If you’re going near Flagstaff, watch out for smoke. I heard it fuckin’ over the radio. That whole place is fuckin’ on fire.’

His face, for the first time, split into a grin.

‘It sure was nice to meet you though,’ he said. ‘Never met a real live Aussie before.’


We were somewhere in Nebraska and I was drinking Red Bull. Zara had never tasted it and she sipped from the can and pulled a face.

‘Is it always that sweet?’ she asked, and shook her head. ‘I’ll stick with coffee, I think.’

I smiled and tipped the can up to swallow the last of it. The sweet, faintly chemical taste of energy drink was cold and sharp. A tingling wave ran over my scalp and I resisted the urge to run my hand through my hair.

For no apparent reason, the gas station garden beds were dotted with cheerful plastic dinosaurs. In lime green they stood watch over the roads leading into and out of the place, wet with the faint haze of rain that gently soaked the air.


We were somewhere in South Carolina and we’d been driving through a morning of thick, sweet-smelling warmth on our way to Charleston. The roads were overgrown and verdant at the sides, and pleasant in their dense miles of dark and leafy green. The night before we’d pulled in to the deserted parking lot of a small and modern-framed church to plot our route and the air had been awash with the scent of cinnamon.

It was sunny and the highway was lined with white honeysuckle. The plants were reaching and alive; long, long vines strung the trees further back into the woods. We drove into a gas station and when I got out of the car the sunshine was a gentle heat on my back. A flock of birds flew overhead in a long V and one of them called out a whistling arpeggio. Away in the foliage, another bird, unseen, called back.

Zara went inside while I worked the pump, and we passed each other at the doors as I walked in to get something to eat. I wandered through the aisles and the attendant kept a curious eye on me as I walked back to her with a handful of muesli bars.

‘So…’ she said slowly, in the first true Southern accent I’d heard on the road. She was pretty, in a plump, flushed way, and her sharp-collared white shirt was open two buttons at the neck. Her hair was streaked blonde and she wore golden rings. ‘Where are you all from?’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I’m from Australia.’

‘Well,’ she said, and she smiled and leaned in towards me, ‘That lady out there in the car? I don’t know who she is to you, but I couldn’t understand a word she said.’

‘Ah,’ I said.

I returned to the car and as I was pulling my seatbelt on I told Zara what the woman inside had said.

‘Right,’ Zara said. ‘That explains why she was smiling and nodding so much.’


We were somewhere in Iowa and the storm had finally broken. The rain had come down in pounding torrents as we crossed the swollen Mississippi, and it had thrown hard across highways where the only guides through the blattering screens of water across the windshield were the fading red brake lights of the cars ahead, but for now, the clouds were exhausted, and holding back their recovering strength.

The turnoff to the gas station took us up a winding spiral road that wrapped around a hill in the middle of nowhere, nothing more than a place for people who need to refuel. The lot was busy with traffic, so we filled up and then moved the car to park by the embankment around to the side.

People bustled inside, talking to each other across the racks of road stop clothing, filling up cups of coffee at the dispensers, poring over the dried-out convenience foods in heating cases. Zara was fascinated by the hangers full of Jesus t-shirts emblazoned with psalm numbers and sorrowing pictures of the Saviour on the cross. She searched through them while I went to the counter to pay.

A bald man in rimless round glasses was there, talking to the clerk, and the two of us struck up a conversation. He’d been the principal of the local school for twenty years – appropriately, he looked like James Tolkan, the principal from the Back to the Future movies.

He was friendly, and we spoke a little about how long he’d lived out here, in this quiet space far away from the cities. He asked if I knew much about Iowa, and I mentioned Field of Dreams. He laughed at that, and we traded lines back and forth. He saw a lot of truth, he said, in the one about Heaven.

When I got back outside the air was cool and damp. Down below the top of the hill, soft green land stretched out, far into the distance. The sky was a rolling patchwork of light greys, and close. The breeze blew, only slightly, and I looked out to the smoky wisps of rain on the horizon, away on the edge of seeing, and then back to the peace of the place at hand.

I love self-help.

I love it as a concept, I love it as a physical, tangible reality of subliminal tapes and mail-order DVDs and weekend seminars, and I love the earnestness of the gargantuan industry that surrounds the idea your bootstraps are not only a handy way of tying your shoes, they’re also the very first rung on the ladder to happiness. I love books with relentlessly upbeat titles and smiling, tanned people on the front cover, packed with page after page of advice and instruction on how to turn a life around in the space of a few focused months of consistent, applied effort.

Jamie Iredell’s The Book of Freaks serves as a post-modern encyclopaedia of sorts; a collection of observations on the varied populations and situations of the world in the 21st century, arranged, conveniently, alphabetically. It’s much in the vein of the better-known Stuff White People Like, although without the overarching tongue-in-cheek approach. Rather, Iredell has created a mixed bag of sorts: some of the articles are dripping with snark and subjectivity (ENVIRONMENTALISTS: These humans have taken a political and ethical point of view and transformed it into a religion), while some verge on the meditative (LEGLESS MAN: Today you crossed your legs while eating your sandwich, while the legless man-clearly a veteran:tattoes, grizzled gray beard-chewed along jabbering at you).

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mickey was talking, and when Mickey was talking, his hands spoke with him. They were childlike and stubby-fingered, so out of proportion to the dense fat of his forearms and the rest of his bulk they may as well have been the product of an amputation. In jerks and flutters they flew above the arcs of his speech, soaring on the volume of a voice that always bordered on too loud.

Tall Mac was driving, and that was the problem. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it had been Fat Mac instead, we would have been safe. Not that Fat Mac, eighteen as well and just as awash with testosterone as the rest of us, was any more immune to the lure of flooring the accelerator along Chandler Highway, or revving his engine at a stop light, just to hear it growl – far from it – but when it came to the road, Fat Mac had a natural affinity that none of us shared. Driving was something that lived in his bones. His nervous system came into focus at the turning of the ignition; he could no more come to harm behind the wheel than Mozart behind a piano.

The City of West Hollywood will be holding its General Municipal Election this Tuesday, March 8, wherein its citizens will be able to elect three members to the City Council. The City itself is famed for being strongly pro-Democratic, deeply concerned with human rights, and leading the United States in a number of progressive issues – West Hollywood’s track record of being at the forefront of passing legislation includes creating registrations for same-sex domestic partnerships, the adoption of mandatory green building ordinances, and the formal denunciation of Arizona’s controversial SB1070. As a microcosm of budding movements in social justice beyond the age of Thomas Aquinas, and of the political economy of the causes of today’s American Left, it’s a fascinating, exciting place. And, with only days to go before Tuesday, incumbent Councilmember Linsdsey Horvath, who is running for re-election, has been kind enough to grant an interview to TNB.

SS: For those unfamiliar: who are you, where do you come from, and what do you do?

LH: My name is Lindsey Horvath.  I am a fierce equality advocate, a dedicated public servant, an effective grassroots organizer, and a champion for social justice.

I’m originally from Cleveland, OH.  I went to high school in Las Vegas, and I then attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where I graduated Cum Laude as a Political Science and Gender Studies double-major.

Currently, I work as an entertainment creative advertising executive, and I am honored to serve on the City Council in West Hollywood, CA.

And what is it that has lead you into following a political career? It can be a difficult life; especially in the US, I’d imagine.

I have always felt a calling to be of service and help those in need, and I believe we are all called to help the least fortunate among us.

While I was raised in a fairly conservative, Catholic family, I found my true home in grassroots activism on progressive issues during my college career. I learned that the values I had always held were more in alignment with liberal ideas and Democratic politics, and I began organizing events and actions that addressed the injustices many people face throughout the world. I believe that issues of gender define the 21st century civil rights movement, and I wish to work in service to it.

I’ve also found that serving in local government has afforded me the opportunity to protect our vulnerable populations.  I joined the City Council in West Hollywood in 2009, after long-time Councilmember Sal Guarriello passed away at the age of 90.  My now-colleagues unanimously decided to go through an appointment process, and ultimately they chose me to serve out the remainder of Councilmember Guarriello’s term.  As an organizer in the community, I learned how important it is to have elected leaders who are willing to listen to the needs of people and fight for justice.

Prior to serving on the Council, I was Chair of the Women’s Advisory Board and served in a variety of community leadership positions including President of our local National Women’s Political Caucus; President of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women; and Producer and Organizer for VDAY.

It seems we live in a time when the public are simultaneously growing more disenchanted by, and passionate about, their lives as political individuals – and their leaders. Which political leaders inspire you?

People are inherently political because politics encompass each of our personal experiences -Carol Hanisch summed it up perfectly when she said “The personal is the political”. It’s interesting how many people tell me that they “aren’t political” – but they religiously watch Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow, or they are really annoyed by potholes on the street they drive every day to work, or they don’t know why there aren’t more resources to help them care for their aging parents. While the political process can be disenchanting for some, I think a strong, inspiring leader can make all the difference in calling people to action.

My greatest political hero is Hillary Clinton.  I am still so thrilled I had the opportunity to work on her presidential campaign and witness an intelligent, strong woman pursue the highest level of leadership in our country.  Her bold work as Secretary of State has gained respect for America in the international community, while calling attention to the atrocities that gender minorities face throughout the world.  She inspires me to use every opportunity I have to create the greatest amount of good for people.

The most inspiring leaders are those who see the challenges ahead… and decide to go forward anyway.

If people vote for Lindsey Horvath on the 8th of March, what is it they’re voting for? What are the key features of your platform?

I represent a new generation of progressive leadership in West Hollywood.  I am committed to making West Hollywood a sustainable, age-friendly, diverse City that is as much a world-class destination as it is a community where everyone feels at home.

I will work to protect and create affordable housing in our community.  As a renter, I understand the value of our Rent Stabilization Ordinance and wish to protect the quality of rent-controlled housing in the City.  Our City was founded on rent control, and as such our City’s core values include a commitment to affordable housing.

I will maintain our proven record of fiscal responsibility.  Our City has earned a AAA bond-rating – the highest possible financial rating for a municipality – for our sound fiscal management.  In a time where many cities and states are facing devastating budget cuts and significant layoffs, we have been able to increase funding for social services, to take on capital improvements, to create much-needed green space, and to enhance public safety without laying anyone off in the City.  This is the kind of leadership I want to see continue.

I am also committed to enacting our Climate Action Plan, which will help us significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and foster the growth of a new economy in California.  In particular, I am focused on implementing energy efficiency retrofits to existing developments as well as cultivating new modes of public and alternative transportation, such as zip cars, shuttles, and bicycling.

And I am personally invested in welcoming a new generation in West Hollywood, as well as supporting our aging population, to ensure that people have the services they need at every stage of life.

Most importantly, I want to keep West Hollywood a safe community.

You’ve already spent time as a council member for West Hollywood; your endorsement list is a who’s who of Californian progressives such as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Inspector General Laura Chick. You must be doing something right – what changes and successes have you overseen during your tenure?

Thank you very much for the compliment.  I have been honored to work with such incredible leaders.

While serving on the Council, I was proud to be part of the effort to create our first middle school in West Hollywood, and I secured computers for their inaugural class.  I have fostered community partnerships that will provide funding for affordable housing for LGBTQ youth in West Hollywood.  And I have collaborated with organizations like Break the Cycle and GLSEN to protect our youth from dating violence and bullying. I also collaborated with LA County Commissioner for Older Adults, Barbara Meltzer, to create a regional symposium on creating age-friendly communities, which highlighted ways for our City to allow people to age in place.  I want to support people at every stage of life.

I worked with LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to secure funding to test the DNA in every kit in the backlog of untested rape kits.  This backlog – about 5,000 in LASD in 2008 – will be cleared by June.  Additionally, I created the West Hollywood Community Response Team to Domestic Violence after hearing about an increased number of incidents.   This targeted, multi-agency approach – including a variety of domestic violence experts for same-sex and transgender relationships, teens, seniors and Russian-speaking residents – will ensure that survivors get the help and resources they need quickly and easily.  It is critical that we keep our community safe.

I worked with my colleague, Councilmember Abbe Land, to create the City’s Bicycle Task Force to explore and implement new ways to make cycling safe, fun, and a real mode of transportation in and around West Hollywood.  I also initiated a recycling program for CFL lightbulbs.  Protecting our environment is a vital part of ensuring our quality of life.

Given that West Hollywood is set in one of the world’s capitals for entertainment and tourism, and it’s a place renowned for championing gay rights and social services, have you found there are challenges particular to the city itself?

As a densely-populated, urban, 1.9-square mile City, it can sometimes be a challenge to maintain a balance between a vibrant, world-class nightlife and residential concerns.  With regard to the infrastructure of the City, one of our greatest challenges is protecting and creating affordable housing.  During this difficult economic time, we have seen a need for increased social services.  In 2008, we saw the devastating passage of Proposition 8 and have subsequently been subjected to the emotional roller coaster that is the Court process.

Every City has its challenges, but what makes our City special is the way people come together to address them.  I am grateful for the active participation of our residents and the remarkable service of our City Hall staff.  I am consistently impressed by the ways in which people step up to help one another in a time of need.

West Hollywood also has a long history of upholding and expanding social justice – how do you see this continuing into the future?

West Hollywood’s commitment to social justice is what drew me to the City.  West Hollywood has been at the forefront of many progressive issues: we are the first pro-choice City in America; we are the first City to institute domestic partnerships; we have consistently supported universal, affordable health care for all… the list goes on and on.  I enjoy reminding people who come from more conservative places that it is our City of progressive values that also has a record of financial success.  I want to ensure West Hollywood maintains its status as the “progressive City on a hill.”

When Arizona passed its discriminatory SB1070, I authored our City’s resolution denouncing their actions, discontinuing City-related travel to Arizona, and implementing financial sanctions against the State, which made us the first City in Southern California to take such action.  I also hosted our City’s inaugural Harvey Milk Day celebration and represented West Hollywood in the National Equality March in October of 2009.  I remain committed to social justice and believe that no one is equal until everyone is equal.

How have you found this campaign so far?

The campaign is at times surprising, refreshing, disappointing, inspiring… and everything in between.  It is truly democracy at work.

It is clear that people are passionate about the City of West Hollywood and what it means to them.  I have welcomed the opportunity to discuss people’s frustrations with the way things are, the current leadership, and decisions that have been made in the past.  I have enjoyed the chance to discuss what has made so many residents and businesses fall in love with the City.  And it’s this diversity of opinions coming together that will make our City better.

Hillary Clinton once said, “What we have to do…  is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.”  This campaign has been quite an education in doing exactly that.

Also, I have found I am most grateful for steadfast friends who are there for me any hour of the day to remind me that I must stay the course and remain true to my values.

You’ve drawn comparisons to Hosni Mubarak; it seems a little… vitriolic… shall we say, to draw a line between a local candidate with a history of campaigning for women’s rights and a man once ranked 20th on a list of World’s Worst Dictators.

I have been called a lot of things on the campaign trail, and it seems the most “vitriolic” come from people who have never spent time with me and who don’t really know me at all.  Such extreme language is used to get attention, but I think people have grown tired of political rhetoric.  I want to be a leader who helps bring people together instead of furthering the divide.

Of course, such attacks are hurtful but I take each criticism as an opportunity to learn – either how I can be better in my leadership or how I can create the space for people to disagree in a healthier way.

If elected, what work will you do for West Hollywood?

Most importantly, I will work to support our City’s core values – respect and support for people, responsiveness to the public, idealism, creativity and innovation.

As such, I intend to protect the rights of renters, to encourage responsible, sustainable development, to maintain the social services our residents need and deserve. To fight for those who work hard to make our City a world-class destination and a leader on gender-progressive issues, and support our diverse populations (Russian-speaking, LGBT, and senior).  I am committed to ensuring the cultivation of a new generation of leadership, and to creating opportunities for young people to become engaged in their communities.

I will ensure that the City maintains sound fiscal management to protect our much-needed social services and programs, especially in the wake of devastating statewide budget cuts, and reinvest in our commitment to the environment.

The official website of the City of West Hollywood can be found here.

The official website of Councilmember Horvath can be found here.

It was around two years ago that Zoe Brock first suggested I write for The Nervous Breakdown. We were in her San Francisco lounge room and I’d made it to about the space between ‘some’ and ‘how’ in the thought Maybe this will get me laid somehow¹ when I said ‘Zoe, I’ll do it.’

With thanks to Facebook’s search function, apologies to Dave Gorman, and gratitude to Northern Hemisphere Simon Smithson, who agreed to answer my questions and be my friend.

Hello, Simon Smithson! How are you, who are you, and what do you do?

Who am I? A 34 year old Englishman, father to my 21-month-old daughter Libby, husband to my lovely wife Becky.

What do I do? In a nutshell, I work in an office. It’s a very nice office mind, (we even have an escalator), but still 9 to 5 office drudgery. Sometimes I feel like a battery hen.

Not quite the glamorous, globetrotting lifestyle that you, my namesake, appear to lead. Strangely, since befriending you on Facebook, my Gmail inbox has been replete with invites to parties and other exciting gatherings. Though it seems possible that I might be invited to parties on the other side of world by strangers, it seems more likely that your friends have instead been confounded by our similar, yet mirror-image like, email addresses and have sent me these invites in error. However, I am now able to explain that I am not the handsome, literary Kiwi to whom they intended to extend the hand of friendship, but am in fact a grumpy, exhausted, Yorkshire-dwelling Englishman who simply happens to share the same name. They must find the experience confusing, and slightly disturbing.

I am glad to hear you’re good – and in three months, happy birthday to Libby!

You know, I’ve never worked in an office with an escalator? And now I really, really want to.

I’m afraid I have to correct you, however. I’m an Aussie, not a Kiwi. If I let that one slip through to the keeper, I’ll never hear the end of it. It’s similar to being confused for a Welshman – something I learned from my grandmother, who, as a matter of fact, was from Yorkshire, as is my mother. They were from Rotherham – are you anywhere nearby?

Which brings me, by a neat piece of coincidence, to something I’ve been looking into recently. Yorkshire puddings. I’ve never had one, and I’d always had a mental image of a creme caramel kind of thing. Tell me, is this something you’d regularly eat? I realise this is perhaps not the kind of question you saw coming.

The escalator is overrated. The office is supposed to be one of the most energy efficient in Europe, though how they can acheive this with an escalator (in actual fact 4 escalators!) that run 12 hours a day, and a glass roof is entirely beyond me. Perhaps it’s just one of those self-fulfilling proclamations, like ‘this is the longest bar in the world’ (my university bar) or ‘this is the longest pier in the world’ (Great Yarmouth Pier), both of which are blatantly untrue, but have entered local folklore.

My humblest apologies about the geographic confusion (I notice you didn’t contradict the ‘handsome’ or ‘literary’). I can’t claim that geography is a strong point of mine; this I can only blame on poor choices early in my education (choosing German over Geography is a somewhat confounding choice; I can now speak the language, but have no idea where Germany is, or how to get there).

Rotherham is about 40 miles from my doorstep. It seems a strange coincidence that your family originate from so nearby. I’m not a native Yorkshireman, though I’m rapidly approaching the point where I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived elsewhere, so will achieve honorary status. My father’s family originate from the next County south. Maybe we share a common ancestor?

You’ve fallen into a common trap with regard to Yorkshire Puddings, which are not in fact a dessert, but an accompaniment to a ‘roast dinner’, which otherwise consists of a roasted meat (typically chicken, beef or lamb), roast potatoes and boiled vegetables, all served with gravy. In a bizarre twist they actually have identical ingredients to pancakes, but rather than made thin and fried are made thick and baked in an oven. If done properly they come out delicious, light and air-filled. If I make them they come out thick, heavy, and much like an unpleasant pancake.

My university bar was never going to lay a claim to anything; I worked there, and let me tell you, it was a decidedly low-rent operation. But speaking of bars, and Yorkshire, is there still a bar called The Atlas, opposite a cemetery, in existence, that you know of? Apparently my great-grandparents ran it for a little while.

I wonder if we do share any ancestry – my English ancestors went by either the surname Walton or the surname Dewick; and I think they got around a little.

As for backgrounds, did you know we have a crest? We have an actual, honest-to-God family crest, that, I guess, we can officially use. I’m not sure how one goes about using a crest, but it gives me a sense of belonging that feels strangely comforting. Typing my own name into Google has never been so rewarding.

So how is life in England, at present? I’ve always meant to visit, but never gotten around to it. My great-uncle, who’s an ex-Royal Marine, keeps telling me I should go back and visit.

Yorkshire is a pretty big place. However, a brief bit of research on Google Maps shows this.

Which appears to be a pub of the same name, opposite a graveyard, in Rotherham, so perhaps this is the very place! At the point at which the Streetview car captured the image the pub was up for lease (and given the state of the UK economy it probably still is) so if you feel like a return to your roots it presents an interesting option!

Neither Walton nor Dewick ring any bells, though I do know that at some point my family name was ‘Smithson-Hogg’. Thankfully they dropped the second of the two barrels before I came along. Simon Smithson is quite long enough thank you.

Not sure about the correct usage of a family crest. Does it have a motto? Are there eagles on it?

I often wonder whether our name has any link to the Smithsonian museum; is this something that you’ve thought about? Have you ever been?

Life in England is currently fair to middling, it’s a pretty average kind of place. Where are you currently? You seem to spend a lot of time alternating between Australia and the US, why is this? Talking of Australia, are you affected by the floods that I hear so much about? Coming from such a small, and thankfully generally natural-disaster-free, country events on such a scale boggle my mind.

I was wondering recently how similar the signatures of different people with the same name will be. This then got me thinking about the possibilities of fraud between two people with the same name; to prove I’m me all I need is my passport or driving license bearing my name and picture. This I could also surely use to prove I’m you. How does this work if one has an entirely common name like John Smith? Can I just go into a bank with my passport and withdraw all funds for any one of the inevitable gaggle of John Smiths on the banks records? How fragile this concept of identity!

A pub landlord you say? Well… I’ve heard of worse ideas. Although I don’t know about this whole warm beer business. Is that true, or just a cruel and unusual stereotype?

Simon Smithson-Hogg? I can’t even imagine what kind of person you, or I, would be, with such a name. It’s just so… so very different. The emphasis on the syllables is all different, it changes the sounding out of it… how strange. Maybe this is something people should do as a daily meditation; throw a ‘Hogg’ on the end of their name to see how it sounds.

The crest has a knight’s helmet, three suns, and a number of feathers. I’m not sure how it’s officially used, but apparently you can get it in mousepad form. Which must have been what our ancestors had in mind…

I’ve never been! I’m not sure if James Smithson had ever been to the States – I know he charged his son with founding an institute for the benefit of all mankind, and he had enough ready cash that he could just up and order such a thing done and be reasonably confident it would be taken care of.

Which segues neatly into my back-and-forth to the US and back. I used to live there, until I was left jobless by the GFC and moved back. Now I’ve got friends from my first stay, from back here, or from TNB, and that makes it a lot easier to go over. And, honestly, I just love it. Have you yourself been?

I’m in Melbourne right now, and, thankfully, unaffected by the floods. Queensland has been hit the hardest but my home state is also not faring too well, with record flood levels in some towns. What’s been great is the reaction of the country; people have been so good about coming together to support those affected.


I think we’re going to need a passport comparison. Mine is shocking, by the way. It’s a horrible scrawl I developed in primary school and never trained myself out of.

We probably shouldn’t publish them to the internet though.

Glad to hear that the floods haven’t affected you directly. The news coverage in the UK has pretty much stopped now, which is either an indication that the situation has improved, or that something sensational involving either X-Factor or Pop Idol has overtaken events.

The warm beer thing is a bit of a myth, though until recently bitter (served at room temperature) was more popular than lager (obviously served chilled). I’m not sure Rotherham would prove a good location to cut your landlording teeth; it does have a reputation for being ‘a bit rough’, which generally means you’ve got a much greater chance than is acceptable of ending a night out with fewer teeth than you started with…

It would be interesting to know the origins of the family crest, though I suspect these things are just generated at random by some dubious website nowadays. Does it have a motto? I’m fascinated by the idea of having something potentially inappropriate in modern times as an official family slogan.

I can’t believe that with all your cross-Atlantic (does that apply if traveling from Australia to America? Remember my lack of geographical prowess!) traveling you’ve not yet been to our museum! I’ve got some friends who live in Washington DC, so I really ought to visit at some point. Unfortunately I’ve only visited the US three times, and I doubt either can be considered a real taste of the place; the first was to Orlando with my wife’s parents, the second was to Las Vegas to get married, and the third was to Los Angeles to do some work for Harbor Freight in Camarillo.

I have to confess I had to look up the meaning of GFC; I’m going to blame it on the late hour, and the lousy week I’ve had this far. What did you do before the redundancy?

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve resumed reading Sparks. I absolutely need a break from Infinite Jest, which isn’t as riveting as I was led to expect. I’ll let you know my thoughts as I progress further, though so far I’m enjoying it very much.

There is no motto for the family crest; we’ll have to come up with something. ‘Orbis non sufficio’ would seem to have the requisite amount of flair – although I think that may be taken.

And no – I think that’s trans-Pacific. I’ve yet to set foot across the Atlantic; between the two of us, though, we’ve crossed the two big oceans. Maybe after the next redundancy I’ll have a crack at the Baltic, or the Adriatic.

Two jobs before the redundancy I was in PR; one job before I was in consulting, for the redundancy itself, I reviewed porn sites.

I know. Best job ever.

And speaking of which – I think it may be time to say good job, Simon Smithson, and adieu, on this interview – we’ve covered a lot of ground and the internet is a tyrannical master on how much space we can allocate. Sir, it was a pleasure, and I’m honoured to share the name.

What’s your middle name, by the way? Mine’s Nicholas.

Unfortunately we don’t also share a middle name, mine’s John.

It’s possible the redundancy was a blessing. I can image that job would play hell on your joints.

Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you better, though it may turn out that few others find this conversation interesting I’ve found it rather enjoyable!

Carpe Botulus!

To my darling Cecilia,

I’ve spent much of the day – such a harsh and lonely day! – reclining in my recliner and daydreaming of the house we once shared, of the days that once were, and are no more. I ate the remaining crabcakes – such last and homely crabcakes! – and washed them down with recollections of the home we made together, where we, or at least I, had so many good times. In the afternoon I bought some shirts.

And I was nearly overcome by the brutal and unforgiving strength of my fond memories. Nostalgia gripped me like a headlock from Jean-Claude Van-Damme, except around the face, and every time I tried desperately to break the hold of the past and steal a gasp of the present, all I could taste was another muscly mouthful of sweating Belgian.


I laughed as I remembered lying on my hammock in our shade-dappled orchard backyard, sipping on a glass of iced tea (as cold and refreshing as if it had been squeezed straight from Martin Sheen’s heart), the sun on my face, watching you gingerly reshingle the roof. I chortled heartily as I remembered you, shaky-voiced and trembling, confessing you had a mortal terror of heights. I guffawed until I couldn’t breathe and I started to faintly taste vomit as I recalled the terrified shrieks of anguish you made, falling three storeys up, only to hook your ankle on the giant breasts of one of the gargoyles that I had selected, and you had paid for and installed, some months previous.


Those were the days, all right.

How I wish we still lived together now, Cecilia, because then my heart would once more be overflowing with love. And also, because I wouldn’t have to leave the house, or even the couch, really, to get laid.

But mainly, it would be about my love.

My love for my swimming pool, which cherished and understood me better than you ever could. Diving into its cool, forgiving waters was like hearing a choir of archangels sing Handel’s Messiah. Closing my eyes and drifting through its peaceful shallows was like listening to Mariah Carey’s sensual audiobook interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. Swimming into the embrace of its darkened depths was like watching Joe Pesci get pulled apart by rabid timber wolves. It was my solace, and my bliss, and my respite from your well-meaning but misplaced and wearyingly continual attempts to engage me in conversation.

Just as there is no longer a you with which to spend my life, so too is there no longer a swimming pool in which to avoid you in.

And it’s breaking my heart, Cecilia.

I spend my nights alone now – alone and shirtless, gently rocking back and forth in this rocking chair that we bought together with your money for your mother, feeling the cool night breeze slink in through the open bay windows and caress my naked torso with gentle fingers. Sometimes I eat a sandwich and play Mortal Kombat to take my mind off my troubles, it’s true, but that’s not very often. Sometimes I wonder if Lord Byron would have been so moody if he’d had the chance to assume the role of Raiden, God of Thunder, and teleport from one side of a room to another, shooting bolts of lightning as he did so.

But Mortal Kombat is no you, Cecilia! Just as you are no swimming pool! I’ve been forced to make do with sneaking into my neighbour’s hot tub at nights, although, I have to say, the most entertaining part of these little endeavours lies in selecting which of the secret passages I have devised into his back yard to use – an idea that I lifted in its entirety from an Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Three Investigators novel:  The Mystery of the Falsified Paternity Test.

Do you remember our secret tunnels, Cecilia? I’m sure you don’t, because I never once shared the location of them with you, as it would most likely have raised questions about how I never had to buy gas, and your car kept getting siphoned clean, even when you parked at your sister’s house seven blocks over. Let me just say this – that with a shovel and determination, a packed meal and an up-to-date map of the municipal sewer system, a man can get his hands on a surprisingly large amount of his de facto wife’s car’s gasoline. If you catch my drift.

If I must spell it out for you, what I mean to imply is that I spent a lot of time watching your sister undress.


I’ve said it.

The moon is full and the Glenlivet is good and the night is hot, Cecilia. Hot like the sex you had with Steve Buscemi on the Oriental rug that I brought back from the Orient, along with a scale model of the Orient Express. Although there were no Gypsy thieves making gas attacks on that particular miniature.

How happy I was when I walked in the door with that rug, proclaiming ‘Fuckin’ awesome! Check out this badass rug! I already totally love it way more than I’ll ever love you! I sure do hope I never catch you having a sex with a male celebrity or overweight female celebrity on this!’


I asked for one thing.

I turn for you, tragically,


Hi again, Cynthia Hawkins! I guess this was inevitable-we’ve spoken about the past history of action films (or at least, that part of it that fell in the 1980s), we’ve waxed lyrical about The Expendables and how it’s a modern-day retelling of those older stories… but we haven’t covered the extensions of those series; your Predators, your Die Hard 4.0s, your-and I’m sorry to use this words on such an august site as TNB-your Crystal Skulls.

Man, I hated that film.

To my darling Cecilia,

It’s all gone wrong, Cecilia. And I spend my nights lying awake and alone in my cold, comfortable bed, under my cold and comfortable duvet, tearing my memory to shreds and then tearing those shreds again, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when everything started to come undone.

Was it when I first set my sights on the distant heights of success, stood up tall and proud like my adorable monkey ancestors looking out over the rolling grass of the African veldt, and said ‘Yes, I will be a writer. A writer who dedicates himself to the wonder, to the art and the intricacy of his craft, to the dark forests of human nature, to the ravenous whirlpools of believable characterisation, and the majestic, lofty skyscrapers of interesting plot scenarios, but also, who makes a lot of money, sells film rights every week, and spends a lot of time in his Jacuzzi with at least two women?’ Was it when I challenged Frank Sinatra Jr. to a winner-takes-all pentathlon, my only understanding of the pentathlon coming from that Dolph Lundgren movie, Pentathlon? Or was it when you first set eyes on that rat-fuck Steve Buscemi, and your heart and, more concerning, your body, were lost to me forever?

I still love you, Cecilia. I still remember our first night of passion under the watchful eyes of your Chat Noir poster, in your fashionable and hip second-floor apartment, when we destroyed two beanbags and I broke my wrist. I still remember those lazy afternoons, when we lay content in each others’s arms, like basking oysters in the sun, and I kept saying ‘Man. Do you remember that night when I broke my wrist while we were having sex? Fuck, I’ve told so many people about that. Honestly, I’ve just been grabbing strangers from right off the street and telling them all about it. Straight up. Jive. Sassafras on the fifteen-hundred. Funky drummer.’

Then, as now, I had no idea how to stop once I had started using street lingo.

The slow murmurs of memory are a song that steals my sleep at night, my every pillowcase ruined by the acid of my tears. I remember how you played the guitar, your fingertips gently whispering a command to every fret they romanced. I remember how I’d be woken in the midnight hours by the sound of you inventing your latest invention, your muscular shoulders strapped tightly as you rained hammer-blows down on glowing steel.

And I remember coming home early from work to find you riding Steve Buscemi like a champion thoroughbred who has been breakfasting on finest Bolivian Red for a week and is starting to like it.


I don’t care that you loved him, if I ever see that man on the street I’m going to pistol-whip him like a red-headed stepchild. I don’t care that he’s got biceps like train carriages, or triceps like city buses, or calves like suitcases full of boa constrictors – the big kind of suitcases, and the big kind of boa constrictors. Whenever I think of you, Cecilia, and, believe me, I think of you often, your face is blotted out by Buscemi’s laughter. The laughter he laughed while he declared me laughable, as I stood in the doorway to the lounge room and I screamed ‘Cecilia! Steve Buscemi from Fargo, and Armageddon, and a host of other, equally-memorable character-based roles! Oh, merciful God, no!’

He didn’t even miss a stroke. He just kept laughing.

Fucking Steve Buscemi.

Did you do it to punish me, Cecilia? Did you do it as revenge for all the times I said I wanted a time machine so I could travel back to the day when the Breeders were filming the clip to Cannonball, so I could have sex with Kim Deal while she was wearing a wide variety of different but entirely flattering outfits? Because I only said that a dozen or so times, at most, most of which were while we were at breakfast with your friends – and I want you to know I was playing to the crowd when I used the phrase ‘and probably Kim Deal’s sister, Kelly Deal, at the same time.’

Because Kim, really, was the prize from that family.

Can’t we try again, my love? Without that sexual powerhouse Buscemi to ruin it all?

I miss you,so much. Every time I sit in the rocking chair we bought for your mother’s birthday and  I subsquently decided was too good for her, I think of your smile. I remember how I laughed when you found out  I had stolen the chair back from your mother’s party with the aid of my friend Harry. It was the funniest thing since Harry’s brother (Larry) asked me to be the best man at his wedding, and that bridesmaid thought that I was winking, when in fact I was blinking, because I’d been thinking.

So much has changed, my heart. My deepening madness has taken me to strange and unforgiving places, and I’m not the man I once was. I’ve been working out, Cecilia. No longer do I need two breaks to finish a glass of low-fat milk. These days I drink full-cream milk by the carton and I can hurl a half-brick through a car windshield from four blocks away.

Your new boyfriend is driving a Mercedes now, right? A black 2007 model with heated seats, triple-coil suspension, and a slight scratch on the top right hand corner of the underneath of the intake manifold? And he finds that sometimes he needs to re-adjust the seats after spending the night at your place, almost as if someone has made duplicates of his car keys and is embarking on a long-term campaign to subtly throw off his balance, little by little? So that someday, at his beloved Zumba classes, he over-extends and snaps one of his equally-beloved vertebrae, perhaps somewhere around the superior articular region?


I have to go now, Cecilia. I have a deadline to meet, and maybe, when I am very rich, you will love me again. If this is the case, please let me know what levels of affection would correspond to what amounts of money.

Christ, I love you.

I burn for you, tragically.